You can't believe everything you read.
Recently I had the pleasure of speaking at the Defense Intelligence Agency Rod and Gun Club's regular monthly meeting. I'm not much good at that sort of thing, but the talk went all right and I even got a couple of chuckles.
When I opened the floor for questions, there were some about fishing and hunting. Then a gray-haired fellow in the back of the room, who had been quiet up to that point, raised his hand.
"You have a very persuasive way of writing," he said.
"Thank you very much."
"Uh, that's not exactly how I meant it."
"A couple of years ago," the fellow said, "you wrote a story about turkey hunting with a guide in the mountains of Virginia. You told all about how beautiful it was in the springtime and how you heard the turkeys gobbling and the guide led you straight to where they were.
"You didn't get a shot, but you made it sound so exciting and interesting that a friend of mine and I got together and decided to hire that guide for four days at $80 apiece per day."
The gray-haired gent said he and his friend were somewhat taken aback by their experiences.
"You didn't write anything about the accommodations," he said. "We were pretty surprised when the guide led us out in back of his house and showed us to his hunting lodge -- a leaky old tent."
It turned out to be a raw and rainy night, and the two paying guests spent most of it huddled in the corners of the tent that didn't leak, trying to stay uphill of expanding puddles of cold water and hardly sleeping.
The guide summoned them on cue at 4 a.m., and they left for the mountains.
"The thing was, he was in shape and we weren't. He took off up the mountain at a half-jog," said the disappointed turkey hunter. "He'd get ahead of us and start calling. We'd hurry up and get to him, but by the time we got there the turkey had moved, and he'd sprint off through the woods again. By 7 o'clock in the morning we were so tired we could hardly move."
They didn't get a shot at a turkey that morning, but my report had pointed out that a nice trout stream ran right in front of the guide's house, so our intrepid adventurers brought along fishing gear. Like me, they were impressed by the cold, clear water and the vast stretches with no other fishermen around.
Also like me, they never got a strike.
That night it poured again, and the next day the hunt was much like the first, only the two hunters were twice as exhausted. On the way back to the lodge, the two gentlemen decided they'd had enough and canceled the second half of the trip.
They grumpily paid $160 apiece and were appalled when the guide, bidding them farewell, said cheerfully, "And I look forward to guiding you again next season."
The gray-haired fellow in the back of the room said he'd been thinking about that trip for two years and waiting patiently for the day "I'd get to ask you about it, face-to-face."
It's like this. To keep reporters from being influenced by gifts, the newspaper requires you to pay for trips, then put the cost on your expense account.
But that doesn't protect you from insidious forms of favoritism.
The Virginia guide said the $80 included room and board, which sounded like a pretty good deal. When I got there, he said he was in the process of remodeling the lodge, so if I didn't mind, he'd put me up in the room he and his wife usually slept in and they'd sleep downstairs. Ah, that featherbed was warm. And who could blame a guy for remodeling his lodge? My mistake was not asking for a look at the regular accommodations.
I'll admit I was a little nonplused with the hunt, which seemed to end before it began. It was over about 8:30 in the morning, when the guide stuck me in a stand of trees and left with the advice that I should keep alert -- that you couldn't tell when a turkey might stumble by. Meanwhile, he went off to do some chores. Maybe he was fixing up the lodge.
Anyway, paying for your hunt has a way of influencing the story you write, too. When I thought about putting down, "$80, Virginia turkey hunt" plus another $80 or so in transportation costs to get there and back, it occurred to me the boss wouldn't care much for spending that kind of money for a two-hour hunt that ended with me sitting alone in a tree.
So I skipped some of the bad parts.
Somehow I knew that would come back to haunt me.
Sure enough, it did.