Friday, April 9, 2010

Coots is Dead

Remember how Woody Allen as Alvy Singer spoke directly to the audience at the beginning of the film "Annie Hall" and disclosed that the signature joke of his life is the one about two overweight women sitting in the giant cafeteria at one of those big resorts in Upstate New York where the first woman says, "the food here is just terrible," and the second women replies, "yes and such small portions, too!" Alvy goes on to explain that this represents his attitude toward life - that it's full of pain, misery and suffering and's over all too soon.

Similarly, the signature joke of Coot Mathews' life, a lifelong resident of Houston, Texas, who recently died at the age of 86 after decades of fame as one of the most fearless oilfield firefighters in America goes like this: A Texan is touring heaven with St. Peter as his guide and everything the Texan sees he claims is better in Texas. After a while, St. Peter gets tired of this routine and shows the Texan the raging fires of hell. Impressed, the Texan has to admit he has never seen anything like this but then adds: "There are a couple of good old boys in Houston who can put that out for you." As everyone who knows anything about Houstonians and hellfire, at least one of the guys in the story, and probably both of them, had to be Coots Mathews.

Although christened Edward Owen Mathews, he became known as Coots when only a child and the name stuck his whole life. His claim to fame was the strategic use of explosives, learned in the army during World War II, to put out oilfield fires. Although incredibly dangerous, Coots became the go-to person when oilfield fires were raging out of control. Most of the time he knew what to do to tame them. His closest call during a long career of close calls occurred when his leg was pinned down by a giant crane as a shattered oil well spewed poison gas. His close associate, Red Adair, raised an ax to chop off Coots' leg to ensure his escape, but just as Adair began to lower his ax to deal the life changing blow, Coots found the strength to pull his leg out from under the crane and walked away without injury.

Years later when Red Adair was asked if he really would have severed the leg of his friend, he said definitively: "A one-legged Coots is better than no Coots at all."

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