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I'll be looking over my shoulder 

Now that they have the media might of McClatchy backing them, the SLO Tribune folks seem to be taking things a little too seriously. They seem finally to have decided that it is time to crush my fragile butterfly wings with their giant stone grinders.

I woke up Sunday afternoon and padded out in my bunny slippers yes, mine are made from real bunnies to unroll the local Paper Of Record. With leg-warming alarm, I discovered what I assumed then was a special talisman edition, printed just for me. To back me off of the Big Story, no doubt.

There, all over the front page of my paper, was a picture of a dead fish, all milk-eyed and puckering at me in an aquatic kiss of death.

A warning, clearly, from one fish-wrap scriber to another: Back off or be fish-bait.

It rattled me, I'll admit. After my hands stopped trembling, I resolved to change into a fresh pair of dry pajama bottoms and figure out which Big Story I was onto and, you know, write it or something.

Fear turned to anger, however, when I saw that they'd sent the same edition to all of my neighbors, even that sweet elderly lady who keeps all the cats and calls me "Robin" (not my name, by the way!). That seemed to be taking things too far.

And then anger turned back to fear again when I realized that they'd littered the entire town with these fishy forewarnings. The second wave of fear freshened up my damp flannels and left me literally and figuratively steaming on my front porch.

What brass ones, to be willing to waste an entire Sunday run just to back me off!

For a moment, I wondered if the psychologists had been right. I wondered if I was being paranoid. I wondered if this was actually just some sort of news story. They do that sometimes at the Trib, you know.

Alas, no. The story said that there was no news about the photographed fish: Things were much the same as they've always been for rockfish.

So, it was true, the "story" was merely a ruse to push me back, to back me off, to intimidate my intimations.

Maybe it would never have come to this if I'd responded to the horse head the Tribune's goons left in my bed a while back. And I was scared at first. But after a while well, company is company. Color me crazy if you want, but I'm not above looking a gift horse in the mouth, even if I can see light at the other end.

And color me crazier and maybe a little bit stupid if you'd like but I finally figured out what all the hullabaloo about nitrates has been. All this time, I thought people in Los Osos and Morro Bay were complaining about the "night rates" problem, and with what I've paid for an evening's stay at some of the more notorious motels around the county, I've been up in arms right along with them. Night rates. Ugh. Don't get me started.

Well, too late!

You think night rates are too high? So do I! Especially if I'm paying by the hour!

You think night rates are creating cause for concern? I agree! They're unconscionable, but it's not like I can bring anyone back to my place. Have you seen it? It's a dump! And that horse head is starting to stink.

You think night rates need to be looked into? Join the club! Membership dues are very reasonable, and you get to learn a really keen secret handshake. I've been excited for weeks to teach it to more people, so imagine my giddy joy I nearly wet myself, but I'd run out of dry pants when I heard about an upcoming meeting in Morro Bay, where the county's health director is going to give a presentation on the very notorious topic on March 26.

Again, remember, here I thought it was going to be about night rates. I wasn't planning on going I figured that a "health director" would skate over the matter of exorbitant fees for a room with paper-thin walls and a vibrating bed that shakes less than a lamb's tail, and would instead talk about herpes or genital warts or some other disgustingly gross venereal diseases that I don't want to see pictures of but then I actually saw something about the event in print.

Nitrates.

Boy is my face red! Fortunately, no other parts of me are, so I certainly don't need that VD talk, which is good, because the Morro Bay meeting, of course, is all about nitrates, not night rates. In fact, it's a public hearing on the health effects of nitrates, which, turns out, are some sort of salty ion things that come from fertilizer and crap and show up in soil. I dunno. There might be more to it than that, but hey, I'm not the expert. If you want to know more, go to the meeting. It's at 7 p.m. at the Vet's Hall on Surf Street.

Show up. Learn a bunch. Then impress your friends with all your newfound scientific knowledge. Just be sure to clarify, because you don't want them thinking you're talking about one thing, as we've all seen the embarrassment such a mix-up can potentially cause.

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