Rocket Garden, Part II

The amazing thing about situations like the one the two of us found our selves in, being with a large crown of like minded individuals intent on a common goal and all sharing a common interest, is that the air practically crackles with joy and exuberance. Everyone is happy as a clam to be there and just feels lucky to have had the chance to attend, and in fact, they were. Each and every person who I was now looking at busily milling about and reading the various informative plaques and laughing as their picture was taken, arms locked over their neighbor’s shoulders, grins plastered a half mile wide on their faces, all of them had been vying for their own golden ticket in that computerized virtual waiting room, hoping against hope that they would be picked next so that they could race through the reservation process and get to be here right now. We were all thrilled at the prospect of spending the entire night in the out of doors, feeding the Florida mosquitoes and gazing in awe at the constructions of, now forty or more years obsolete.

“Dad! Look at them!” Short Stack was riveted to the spot as he watched two young boys leap gleefully into a mock up of the two man Gemini capsule.

….This was seriously noteworthy for him. Long before we had even gotten anywhere near the airport in Maine, he had asked me about the possibility of getting to climb into a real capsule. At the time, I was seriously dubious about this possibility and said so.

“Boy, Buddy. I don’t think that they let people just hop into the old space capsules.”

“Why?”

Always with the ‘why’.

“Well, because they are really important. They’re something very special to a lot of people and they want to make sure that nothing happens to them.”

He had looked shocked. “ I wouldn’t break it! I’d be REALLY careful!” And to be fair, I honestly believed him on this point and I had told him so. I think he’d rather brush his teeth with a Brillo Pad than damage something that had to do with space.

“The problem is, that not everyone is as careful as they should be. And even then, accidents do happen. So, I think we’re just going to get the chance to see some capsules, but not get into them.”

It made sense to me. When was the last time they let you try on the Queen’s crown jewels or sit in the Spirit of St. Louis? And yet I, in my dopy literal way, hadn’t even considered the possibility of capsule mockups for the kids. Even the big kids! I was wrong and there was little chance that I would be allowed to forget that any time in the near future. Short Stack ran for the display as if fired from an enthusiasm gun, stopping just at the base of the stairs to wait for his turn and then scooted up to the opening. Though the capsule was designed for two, my happy little astronaut was solo.

“Dad?” He was incredulously studying the control panel which was nothing more than a giant sticker vaguely resembling what might pass as space capsule controls.

“Yah, I know.” I was anticipating his line of questioning at the lack of authenticity he had sadly discovered. I was trying to work out how to lessen the let down.

“Oh! I bet it’s so people don’t break things. Right?” He seemed to quickly brighten with his logical explanation and was visibly proud at what he considered a mystery that he had solved all by himself. You could practically see the lightbulb switch on over his head.

I smiled and told him that he had it figured out, “Exactly!”

His spirits buoyed, we continued on through the grounds to see what else awaited us. The crowd was still filing in through the entry gates and would be for the next several hours. Right now, the groups of Shuttle watchers were pretty thin on the ground. It felt like a private party and to some degree, it was.

The paths that wound around the grounds like open water through a swamp brought Short Stack face to face with items after item of his adoration. Pulling him away, even for a moment, was going to be difficult. Even though we still had something in the order of five hours to wait before any action on the launch pad began, I was getting worried about finding a good spot to watch from and every minute more and more people were flowing in.

“Woah! Look at THAT!” For once, it wasn’t a rocket that had caught his attention. It was something far more universal for kids his age. Off in the not too far distance, plumes of water blasted out of the ground at regular intervals, lit from unseen sourced in lurid greens, blues and reds and it immediately mesmerized him.

“A fountain?!? What’s that doing here?”

We’ve seen fountains before, naturally, though most are not run-throughable like the one he was standing transfixed before just now. No pool of water surrounded it nor was there any impediment at all. Just the bare expanse unfenced of concrete with hidden, subcutaneous nozzles blasting skyward and beckoning him with an open invitation to soak himself extensively and dramatically in a half second of unsupervised glee. It was this moment that my Dad Radar started to chirp madly. Not because of the water hazard, but rather due to the subtle but definite change on the wiggling that my son was doing. Like most four year olds, he is constantly in motion, even when sleeping. I’m convinced that children his age are made up of roughly seventy to seventy-five percent raw, nuclear core-with-the-rods-pulled energy. The trick is not in containing this power, but rather understanding and harnessing it. To do that, you have to be able to read it like a rafter reads the ripples on a river. With enough practice, you get to be a master at telling the, “I have ants in my pants and need to play” wiggle from the, “I have thirteen seconds before I have to explosively pee” wiggle.

As I looked down at my son gazing into the multitude of squirting, gurgling, rushing jets of joyful water launching into the air and then spatter back to the ground in big wet droplets the size of quarters, I understood that I had little time left indeed, before his own personal dam broke and I’d have to spring into full blown damage control mode.

“Hey! Let’s go find a bathroom, Pal!”

Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle. “Yah! Let’s go do that!”

When a four year old admits that they have to go pee, it means that the countdown is easily into the single digits. Time to run!

I briefly entertained the notion of watering one of our countries national space monuments, or at least the flowers that had been planted around them but… no, I quickly decided that it probably wasn’t a great lesson to impart to my son unless I wanted to look forward to having progeny who would later be picked up and booked on a public urination offence. That, and I was pretty sure we’d get caught this time too. For expediency’s sake, I pressed our weighted down stroller into service once again, tossed him into it and flew through the crowds toward the first building I could find that advertised relief for all. I was starting to understand more and more about what exactly my duties were going to consist of on this adventure and Chief Bathroom Scout and Enforcer seemed likely to rank high on the list. Minutes later, refreshed and happy, we were back outside in the late night air, heading for the launch viewing lawn. By now, it was pushing one thirty in the morning and things were starting to fill up. We needed to set up camp before all the good spots were taken.

The grass was thick, course and wet by now, heavy with the evening dampness that had settled on plant and slow moving person alike and once again I was relieved that my wife had insisted on some warm weather clothes in addition to the Hawaiian shirts and shorts that I had selected. Short Stack seemed to utterly miss the point of trying to stay on the paths and within seconds his feet were soaked. He didn’t seem to mind.

All around us, people had set chairs, coolers, blankets or simply sat on the grass, their patch claimed by the dispersal of their backpack’s contents. My gaze zipped around until I saw what I had hoped I would.

Tents!

On the slight hill that marked the boundary of the viewing area sat two, large dome tents. Each was easily big enough for three or four people and what it meant was that our little low profile, one man job was going to be a-okay. If the NASA police hadn’t said “no” to them, then there was no way that they could say boo about our set up. Happily, I found what I guessed would be a nice place to make camp and pulled it out of its stuff sack, ready to assemble.

When, a few weeks ago, I had tested this thing out in the front yard, I had been concerned about one aspect of its design. In the same way some animals have retained odd and now outdated bits of their evolutionary past, this tent actually required the use of guy wires to hold its shape. My worry had been that I, personally had been a victim of nighttime guy wire trips and the idea of essentially setting up a booby trap in the middle of several hundred people, all of whom would be looking up, seemed like a scary proposition. When it came time to actually use the tent now, I found that I had inadvertently solved this problem by cunningly forgetting the tent pegs back in the car.

Peeeeerfect. Okay. Time to improvise.

“Is that how it goes together, Dad?”

I don’t know if it was the fact that the tent hung down alarmingly in the middle like the sway in an ageing horse’s back that had caused Short Stack to doubt my abilities or perhaps it was that I had secured the far end to our stroller, the only object I could find to use as an anchor. It wasn’t elegant, actually, it looked pretty poor, I had to admit, but it was standing in its own sort of way. I doubt it would have earned me a merit badge, but providing someone didn’t trip over it, the wind didn’t pick up and the mosquitoes weren’t overly persistent and/or fat, I looked like it just might do the trick for our one night under the stars. With our home secured, I happily unburdened myself of extraneous equipment and popped it into the tent.

“That’s it, Short Stack. Our tent is all ready for us later on.”

“But dad, there’s one thing we didn’t check.”

I perked up. He’s a sharp cookie and I try to pay attention when he points out items of interest. More often than not, he’s usually right.

“What did I forget, Buddy?”

A big smile broke across his face.

“I think I should test it out and make sure it’s okay on the inside too!”

So, in the spirit of teamwork, thoroughness and letting my kid be a kid, I stripped off his sodden footwear and tossed him in.

“How does it fit? Do you think it will do the trick?” I squatted in front of the entrance and tried to see into the dark nylon cave. A freckled, smiling face beamed back at me from out of the semi-darkened cave.

“It’s awesome!”

Sensing that there was a real possibility of loosing a lot of time to zipping around in this little synthetic cocoon, I lured him back out with the one thing I knew would work for sure.

“Hey, I think I see a playground!”

“WHERE?!?”

He popped his head out like a prairie dog looking over the plains.

“Right over there. Just behind the food tents. See?”

The allure of a playground, better than that, a NEW and unknown playground rivals the pull of the largest super massive black holes when it comes to children and this one, as we could now see, was one not to be missed. Covered by a dome like canopy, we could just make out the shapes of ladders, slides, stairs and rockets. A rocket themed playground. That sure wasn’t here when I last visited. My parent’s would never have gotten me out of it again.

“Can we go play on it?!” Now?

“Yah, but let me.. Ack! Hang on! You need your… Woah! Almost… One more… Ouch!” Somehow, I had managed to get his shoes back on him as he pretty much ran for the attraction. I only stopped briefly to zip the tent shut and lock it with a mini-padlock I keep on my bag. A silly step perhaps, but it made things feel a bit more secure. When I turned around, he was nowhere to be seen. My heart stopped. At least I knew where to look, and I ran toward the play area, alive with kids clambering over its structure like ants.

My heart beating faster than comfortable now, I scanned the venue. How to find my own little ant?

Traveling Together

“Hi Mom. Yes, I just got on board a few minutes ago… Oop, looks like were starting to move. Yah, I’m excited to go too but I’m missing the kids already.” I was trying to keep my voice down as I spoke into the phone, aware that the rest of the train car was nearly silent.

This is going to be a special couple of days. Not only am I taking off to go play all by my self, just like other adults do, I was getting there by rail. The “there” part is Boston, and the “all by my self” bit doesn’t mean “alone” as much as “not having to referee small children bent on annoying each other and cleaning up my living room which has been turned into a multicolored mine field of easily crunchable toys.” Action Girl is at the helm of the house for the next forty-eight hours and I’m getting a chance to reconnect with my inner adulthood and an old friend from High School, Ioseph.

I’ve spent some really wonderful time on trains over the years. I like the sway of the cars, the muffled rumble and the view of the back sides of cities and towns that the you get no other way unless you spend a lot of quality time with hobos and drifters. As I type these words right now, my coffee is at hand, my legs are crossed and I’m bumping along at fifty or so miles per hour, watching the trees go whipping by just past the lightly grimy windows. My train departed right on time and, for me, the unusual thing is that I’m doing this in my own country.

The vast majority of my rail experience comes from time spent over seas. The U.S. woefully underutilizes rail as a form of domestic travel and if you can find a train going from a place you live to a place you want to go to, it’s a noteworthy event. Europe and much of Asia is exactly the opposite. If there isn’t a train to whatever little podunk village you want to get to, it makes you stop and think, “Really?!?” Naturally, if there’s no train, there’s nearly always a bus.

I love that.

Here, in the land of the automobile, things are very different. Once, rail crisscrossed our country, taking goods and people just about everywhere they wanted to go. I’m aware that there was never the sort of rail coverage here that there is overseas, but still, it was pretty darned good. Then, for reasons totally inexplicable to me, they started to tear up the tracks. Literally. I remember this happening in my hometown when I was a kid. As a child, I can clearly recall running full tilt out of the cobbler’s shop where my mother was valiantly trying to get me crammed into a new pair of very nice and highly uncomfortable back-to-school shoes. I ran not because an escape was in order, but because the train was coming through. The tracks used to run right through downtown and bisect Main Street bringing all traffic to a halt bringing every kid within jogging distance out onto the sidewalks. It was great. Then one day, the tracks were gone and sold as scrap. I couldn’t believe it.

I didn’t get a chance to ride on an actual passenger train until years after I managed to finally get rid of those shoes. True, I did take a “scenic rail” trip with my Grandparents aboard a steam locomotive, but we didn’t really GO anywhere. It was really just a gigantic carnival ride and though I did manage to get a cinder stuck in my eye by hanging out the window like a dog in a station wagon, it was at least fun. But it was only part of the equation. I’m lumping the Disney monorail into this category as well. Though not steam powered, it was still essentially a “ride.” Come to think of it, steam would make the monorail far, far more cool and awesome. Can you imagine that one? Ohhh!

Once I started traveling abroad, I got my chance to do the train thing for real and I instantly fell in love. This was the way to travel. Leg room, sleeping compartments, the ability to ride them all night and wake up in not merely a totally different country, but a different region or even continent, and all at eye level. I loved to fly, but trains offer you a human touch that you just can’t get at thirty thousand feet.

Sometimes that human touch can be a bit powerful and hit pretty high on the Irony-O-Meter.

As I boarded my train, I looked down the empty car to pick my seat. Now, I’m not an overly tall individual, nor am short. I like to think of my self as stunningly average. I measure in at almost exactly six feet tall and though the seats on the train are far more generous in the leg room department that just about anything with wings theses days, I nevertheless eyed the four vacant front row seats, boasting easily six feet of open space in front of them, with envy. I couldn’t take one for the simple reason that I had also noticed the sign overhead mentioning that these super convenient, leg friendly seats were intended for individuals who might have legs that weren’t so friendly to their owners. They were reserved for the disabled.

No problem. I had a whole car to pick from and quickly sat in down in the next row. It was about this time that my Mom had called to see if I was already on my way. We chatted while I watched the freight yards disappear and give way to trees and fields. It was a wonderful way to spend the morning. When the conductor came though and took my ticket, I was taken a bit by surprise by something you don’t see much any more, but recovered quickly and don’t think I showed my reaction outwardly. After he left, I thought no more about it and went back to my window view.

At the next stop just a few minutes away, new passengers piled in and shuffled past my seat hauling bags like unruly children with travel plans of their own. The car was still only about twenty percent full, but this seemed to be all the excuse that was needed for the woman who plunked herself down in the reserved section and then, sitting just a bit sidewise, take up both seats. She was sixtyish, very well dressed and had no baggage to be seen outside of an expensive looking purse. The aura she projected was of a woman who did what she pleased. I don’t know where her sense of entitlement originated from, but I do know that she was ill prepared for what happened next.

Guilt, is an amazing thing. Some folks are impervious to it; some simply have a very high tolerance. People like me, crumble at the notion that someone, somewhere might be disappointed in my actions in some way. I’ve learned to live with it. This lady, looked like she had some pretty good guilt armor. She appeared unflappable. Then the ticket agent returned.

Dutifully, he examined and punched her ticket while the woman did her best to not pay him any but the most cursory attention. Then he pointed out the sign.

“You might not have noticed,” he said in a quiet but firm tone, “but these seats are reserved for disabled riders.” As he said this, he tapped the very obvious sign hovering a few inches over her head. The tapping, he did not with the hand holding his paper punch, but his other one.

The hook hand.

You don’t see many hook hands these days. Most amputees use more realistic prosthetics, but this, I feel, did a far superior job of pointing out her error. The effect it had on the able bodied woman in the disabled seating was obvious. She turned a shade of red that matched her silk scarf beautifully and after a mumbled apology and rapid gathering of personal effects she said something about how it was no problem to move to another seat which she did, eyes averted from the rest of the car passengers.

The rest of the trip down is uneventful from my perspective. The towns roll by and soon, Boston will loom ahead. I’ll be down just for an overnight and I’m staying with my friend Ioseph, so who knows what’s planned. The ride on the train though is something that I have already found a lot of joy in. It gets people all together in one place with a common goal. We’re all on the same track, literally and figuratively.

A smile shared here.
Something interesting, overheard there.

It’s all good. It gets us closer to each other, even if we’re not actually engaged in conversation. You loose that in a car. We learn how to be around other people and to respect them a bit better; something the red scarf lady got a refresher in today. Hopefully it will stick with her better than before.

I’m almost at my destination now and I expect to have a lot of fun while I’m here. I have to confess though, I’m already looking forward to riding the rails again, back home.

All aboard!

Over There

“So, I hear that you just got back from Venice?”

Tony, the woman on the other end of the phone line corrected me with the sound of wistful emotion coloring her voice.

“No, Florence. I was in Florence, Italy actually.”

By the sigh that followed the word “actually,” I knew the answer to my next question before I even put it out there, but to ask anyway was proper form. I’m all in favor of letting people gush when they have it in them. Blissful gushing is one of the pinnacles of personal happiness and I, for one, wasn’t going to deny her the chance.

“Oh! It was just so… Oh! All the famous people who’ve lived there and all the beautiful things that they left behind for us to see!”

Smiling, I let her go on for as long a she wished. The enthusiasm in her voice made me smile broadly.

Tony lives alone out here on the island, and is kind enough to watch Lulu Belle for us from time to time. Since her own son, daughter-in-law and grandson live on the other side of the country, it gives her a chance to do grandma duty for our little girl while giving us time to actually accomplish things like work and… work some more.

“Have you ever been to Florence?” The question was asked with the bubble like hope of having a fellow traveler to compare notes with. Sadly, I had to tell her that, no, we hadn’t been so fortunate.

This was followed by the inevitable, “Oh! You should!”

Should, indeed. Acton Girl and I would love nothing more.

We knew all to well what starting a family would mean to our vagabond traveling method. It wouldn’t put a crimp in it. It would crush it in a vice like embrace until turning blue in the face and going limp. Travel, at least for the next seven years or so, would be sporadic, far more tame, or possibly unknown all together. It was a trade we both willingly made, but it still smarts from time to time.

Like, when we think about it.

When I was five, my parents did an incredibly brave thing. They took their very young child and put him on a plane with them. When the door shut, it would not open again for six hundred and twenty-nine hours. Well… perhaps that’s stretching it a bit.

Six hundred and twenty-six hours, then.

It was a very, very long flight from the East coast to Hawaii and when you’re five, the miniature dynamos that run in your chest are controlled by a squirrel that operates your brain, and he keeps them running at full tilt, fueled on a diet of soda, potato chips and pure excitement. I have always maintained that if we could figure out how to harness the power of a five year old, our planet’s energy problems would be solved. That, and you’d wind up with a five year old who’d actually listened to you when you spoke to them.

Win / Win!

I survived the trip and have no memory of the interior of the overhead luggage racks, so I’m assuming that I behaved my self, though memories are a tad sketchy.

That was my introduction to travel and amazingly, things went well enough on that trip that my parents decided to keep taking that little squirrel powered kid with them and I have benefited from that immensely. I had the chance to make some truly amazing journeys as a child and young man and have seen parts of this world that most people know only through history class or movies. Some of the things I saw and places to where I traveled no longer exist at all or are not a place a U.S. citizen could now comfortably walk. For those experiences, I am deeply thankful.

As I grew older, the travel bug stayed with me and with my independence and a new found life-long companion, I had the chance to travel without Mom and Dad and see what that was like. It was great!

Action Girl and I have made several foreign trips together and have really gotten proficient at our own style of travel. We bring packs and travel by train a lot. We look for rooms to rent rather than hotels or hostels. We buy our food at local markets rather than looking for the next restaurant and we are masters at picking a town on a map, hopping on the next train out of town and then making it up once we arrive wherever we picked. If there is no room in town, we’d hop back on the train and try the next stop.

eurorail

Oh, Eurorail Pass, how we love thee.

We vacationed like this for two reasons. The first is because we like it. The second is that we don’t have the cash to do it any other way. To be honest, I’ve traveled both ways, and I like our method the best. We seem to slip into the crowds rather than gliding over them. Rick Steves would approve, I think.

It’s summer here in Maine and Action Girl and I haven’t been on a jet in about three years. “Getting away,” for us means slipping off to the restaurant down the road while Grandparents watch the kids. We sit in our chairs, chatting about what adorable thing Lulu Belle did today or what Short Stack found at the beach as we sip at our drinks, sample each other’s entrees and make furtive glances at watches to see how much time we have left before running home to relieve the troops. As we talk, a sporadic stream of neighbors and fellow islanders walk by on the way to their own tables and make the inevitable comment, “So, who’s watching the kids?”

Us, being us, we tell them, “the cat” and we’re hoping he gets them litter trained tonight.

But, that’s us.

Short Stack is only three and a half and Lulu Belle, sixteen months. I don’t think we’ll take them on a jet for a while yet. I can just barely remember my trip to Hawaii when I was five and don’t see the point in dragging children on a big vacation that they won’t remember. This weekend, we’re trying something new and visiting a local New England attraction. We can easily drive there and might even have the chance to meet up with my blood brother, The Doctor, and his family. It won’t be Florence, but I’m willing to bet that it will be interesting. With three kids under the age of four, how could it be anything else? At least we’ll have them outnumbered.

We’ll see how long Action Girl and I can hold out before we crack and impulsively buy tickets to some corner of the world. I don’t think we’d have any problem slipping back into old travel habits. It’s just going to be more challenging with munchkins coming along for the adventure. In the mean time, I’ll start getting things lined up for our road trip this week. We’re only driving from the Maine coast to northern New Hampshire, so the journey should take about two hundred and thirteen hours.

It can seem like that car occupants, anyway.

Oh, Amtrak, how I wish you were here. They have overhead baggage compartments, you know.

How Much to Get Drown and Shot? VI

We had all piantballed before. In fact, Mountain Man had gotten me into it many years previously when free time was more copious and bones tended to bounce rather than break. Ioseph had joined in with his own paintball gun that he brought with him from Ohio when we moved to our area. Only The Doctor had shied away from it and I attribute that partially to his mother being mortified and the expense that accompanied the game. I almost called it a “sport”, but that’s a bit like calling water tubing an Olympic event.

The groom-to-be had stopped going paintballing long ago, but I had gotten into enough to cough up the dough to buy my own, top of the line, paintball gun. Naturally, by this time, what was once my cutting edge paint thrower was old and outmoded by whatever coolness was being sold these days, but still, I was familiar with it, it shot well and bringing it along gave me the air of a professional yahoo, rather than that of the laymen yahoos whom had to rent their guns. It’s good to be a professional!

As we suited up with face and eye protection, bought fifty bazillion paintballs and got our CO2 tanks filled up, we started looking at the others who would be joining us out there.

Uh oh.

In the prep area were a bunch of guys (yes, and a few girls) chatting and standing around in matching outfits, tricked out gun rigs and WAY too short haircuts. One, I remember specifically looked like a dead ringer for a shorter, fleshier Rutger Hauer from “Bladerunner”. Not good. This was a team, and obviously, one that played together a lot.

Bad!

I’ve been down this road before. What happens is this: You, the unknown in the jeans and US army surplus jacket picked up on the way to the field with the tag still attached the collar…. YOU… are expendable.

Or worse…

Bait.

If we were in a Star Trek episode, we would have all been wearing red shirts and named Ensign Smith. We were grist for the mill.

This was going to be no different. No sooner had teams been decided, safety jargon gone over and the field opened for the day, then the four of us found ourselves pinned down under a flying curtain of paint. Abandoned by the others, we were wiped out in the first few minutes.

*WHACK!* I’M HIT I’M HIT I’M HIT!!!!!!

Yelling this is vitally important since it’s the only way to stop the pain and humiliation. Also, the one who is shooting you had likely disappeared into an adrenalin fueled haze that is hard to hear through at times. Being so close to Montreal, I probably should have been screaming, “Arrêtez s’il vous plaît!”

As we managed a head-low run back to the staging area, we looked at each other knowingly. This would take planning.

Games of paintball only tend to last about ten minutes at the most, so in short order, we found our selves back on the field, and this time, with a super secret, sub-plan to our team’s plan.

It was this: Screw em.

We were the four musketeers and the rest of the team members who were ostensibly there to fight along side us would be used only as human shields. If possible, we would keep them between the other team and us. If we beaned one in the back of the head by accident… well… those things happen sometimes. This plan worked much better. For us, anyway.

In the next few games, we managed to survive far longer and if we didn’t actually win, we could at least claim not to be the first ones heading back to the benches covered in multicolored splotches. I don’t think Rutger thought much of us, but hey, we were having fun and he was the guy who had hung us out to dry the game before.

Eventually, in the last game of the day, the four of us wound up holding our fort with our flag with only one other team member. The dire circumstance we were in was the thing of movies. Gunga Din comes to mind. Holed up in our fort, surrounded by an overwhelming enemy, running low on ammo and getting picked off one by one.

“THERE’S ONE!” *POP POP POP POP!*
“WATCHOUT OVER BY THE BARRELS!” *SPLAT! SPLAT!*
“OW! I’M HIT!”

There was no surrender! Ammo ran out and one at a time, we were picked off by the opposing team and the flag was eventually lost. But it was a noble and valiant fight! Bruised, wet with perspiration and multicolor paint, we struggled to our feet, limped over to the other team and shook hands and laughed. We must have been the best losers that they had dealt with in a while because the compliments they gave us were charitable and copious. We told them about where we were from and why we were there. Congratulations were given to Mountain Man as the ref closed up the supply shed. On a whim, I called to him.

“Excuse me! I have a favor I’d like to ask you. This is our friend’s last few days of bachelorhood and I was wondering if there was any chance we could use the field, just for the four of us?”

I fully expected a disapproving frown and headshake, but instead, he paused for a moment and asked what we had in mind.

“Well, I was thinking that we could have a private game, just for a few minutes. The goal would be for us to shoot him.” I pointed over my shoulder at Mountain Man with my thumb.

I heard my friend/potential target laugh behind me.

The ref thought for a moment more. “Sure. Why not. Do you have any paint left?”

We didn’t, but our one-time enemies came to the rescue. I think they just wanted to see the massacre rather than being motivated by any kind of altruism, but the effect was the same. They happily forked over some paintballs and once our hoppers were full, I turned slowly to face Mountain Man and in a low a low voice, said one word.

“Run.”

The image of his thin body speeding like all get out through a pinewood as paintballs flew after him will always be emblazoned in my mind. The game was over when we were out of paint. No calls of, “I’m hit!”, it was a one sided battle filled with uncontrollable laughter, paint and black and blues. Though he defiantly came off the as the heaviest hit, he held his own well enough and laughed the loudest. It was an absolute hoot.

Later that day, I started my seven hour drive back through the Canadian countryside and toward more familiar lands. It was a beautiful day and not a cloud in the sky. The radio was filled with unknown radio stations, the traffic was sparse and the driving, easy. There were some fairly soar bits of my anatomy from two nights and days of being foolish in the open air, but I was smiling. I had even given Ioseph a hug before leaving on my trek back. It was great to see all my friends again and we had all made improbable plans to do this again soon. They naturally wouldn’t materialize, and we all knew that, but it felt good to go through the motions at any rate.

About a month later, Mountain Man was married and we got to see each other again in a more subdued environment. It was a good wedding to be sure, but no one was drowned or shot or made to sleep with mosquitoes trying to suck you dry. It just wasn’t the same.

Mountain Man and his lovely wife have two kids of their own now and The Doctor was married not that long ago and has one of his own as well. Ioseph alone continues on in search of the ultimate party and near death experience and he does a laudable job. One day though, I think he might get married too and THAT bachelor party… that one, just might do us all in for good. I’ll be there though! You can bet on that.

I just hope he wants to have it a bit closer, or at least…. NOT in Vegas.

How Much to Get Drown and Shot? Part III

As it turned out, we had a while to wait once we get the to the rafts. The big black masses sat in the grass like rubbery, inflated whale carcasses and we, playing that part of lazy and opportunistic seagulls, lazed all over them in the sun. It was just too inviting in the cool morning air not to stretch out on their black and rapidly warming cadavers. Finally, once some unknown criteria was met, (perhaps the river was deemed wet and hungry enough to be fed stupid Americans) we were told to listen up as someone I gauged to be far to young to be in command, stood up on a nearby humpback and gave us our last, “this is how not to die” talk. He was obviously knowledgeable about his topic and his painfully groomed, nature-boy look gave his words gravitas, at least among those who weren’t snickering at him. Again, I remember nothing of the talk. You can blame it on the river water that later clogged those synapses, if you like.

As different groups grabbed various rafts and headed for the water, my brain momentarily switched back to Dad control and, drawing on many years of reflexively trying to snag the front car on every rollercoaster I’d ever ridden, I impulsively took a front row position in my own raft. I rationalized this to my Mom’s side by hypothesizing that when we hit the whitewater bow first, I would not have to worry about loosing my front teeth on the helmet in front of me. I tried not to think about the rocks and their role in the fun-to-be.

The river was looking downright placid where we put in and fairly shallow as well. Looking down through the crystal clear and heartstoppingly cold water, I could clearly see softball sized rocks rolling by on the riverbed not far below me. It was shallow enough to stand up and fairly quiet, but the river was wide here. That changed ahead. That’s a lot of river to squeeze down. Things would change soon.

Behind me, The Doctor was paddling away and as I glanced around I spotted Ioseph and Mountain Man happily chatting as they dutifully drove us on down the river. It had been a long time since I had seen them together in a raft together and Mountain Man, for one, looked far more relaxed this time.

Our previous raft adventure had been years and years prior and the boats were far less rugged. And smaller. Much, much smaller. That time, My Father, Ioseph, Mountain Man and I had gotten it into our heads to go and visit a lighthouse on a nearby island. The Doctor had been absent, and as has been the case in previous adventures, when one of the “Group of Four” was missing, my Dad happily filled the spot. The island in question wasn’t more than a quarter mile off shore and was famous for being covered in the most luscious blueberries and raspberries. They grew so plentifully, that they stained the rocks as they fell from the bushes.

Armed with Ziploc bags for the berries, two inflatable rafts of the department store variety, life jackets, paddles and at least three brain cells, we cast off from shore and rowed like heck for deep water. I was in the raft with my Dad and when we were roughly half way there, my Dad happened to look back to check on the second boat. He immediately burst into poorly stifled laughter. Glancing up from my furious water pummeling, I could scarcely manage the same. The other raft was bobbing along after us but the occupants made for quite a picture. Ioseph, roughly the size and shape of a bear had just about bent the raft in half as Mountain Man, tall, thin, lanky Mountain Man perched on the bow like a worried pirate’s monkey. The look on his face said it all and as far as I can recall, it’s the only time I’ve ever seen him afraid for his life. Ohhh, for a waterproof camera!

This time, things looked downright orderly. We had a huge boat, filled with behelmeted, smiling fools, our life jackets were actually being worn and I’m guessing that the dozen or so of us had nearly ten brain cells that functioned! We were set!

The tempo of the river started to get faster and we needed to paddle less and less to make headway and more and more just to go in the desired direction. Mostly submerged rocks made the water start to froth here and there and then, I saw it. The first waterfall.

As waterfalls go, it wasn’t something terribly spectacular. You’ve no doubt driven by more menacing ones with out noticing them at all. If you brought a date out to see it, you’d never hear the end of it. It was perhaps seven feet high, but lest me tell you this: When you’re actually ON the water, that’s a mean looking seven feet. My face froze in that “I’mhavingfunohmyGOD!” grimace as the water that had previously been under my bit of raft dropped away. As the whole thing started to nose over the edge with me as the hood ornament, all I could hear was the rush of falling water and from behind me, The Doctor yell, “YAY! WE’RE DOOOOMED!”

I didn’t even register the full body smack of the freezing cold water. Adrenalin is simply amazing stuff.

-Later, Parte the IV!

How Much to Get Drown and Shot? Part II

When the morning came, it arrived like it always does when one is sleeping under a few microns of nylon and down. Too early. Unlike most first nights spent in the woods, I actually slept like a log. All the night noises that usually make me flinch awake and stare into the darkness as I run through my mental lexicon of snuffles, breaking twigs or bug noises, were beaten out by the strange exhaustion that comes when you’ve spent hours and hours driving in unfamiliar territory, hoping that you’re going the right way. The beer, I’m sure, was a helpful sleep aide as well.

All of us, shambling and bleary eyed, shuffled off in the directions of showers, sinks or coffee vending systems in our own private rituals of restarting our mental engines in preparation of today’s events: “Trying to have as much fun as we could with out drowning.” Once the other campers/would be rafters had all gotten vertical to one degree or another, we assembled in the main building for our orientation talk on water, boulders and how to keep your head above both. The mix of people here to have fun in the nearby white water was about what you’d expect. Mostly youngish, mostly male and mostly not paying very good attention to the talk, present company included. The problem was that we were in the wrong mindset for paying strict attention to a lecture. We were there to have fun! The few, obvious hangover victims spent the time hovering over steaming cups of black coffee, the young yahoos blithely chatted to the other young yahoos and the rest of us spent our time looking at the photos on the walls of rubber boats full of smiling, terrified people, seconds before going for an impending and inescapable swim.

rafting

To be totally honest, I remember NONE of the talk. I’m still here, so I’m guessing that I didn’t miss anything. After we picked up our helmets and life vests, we all clambered into the club van and headed for the river. We could hear it from our campsite, but this, as it turned out, wasn’t where we were going to be putting in.

These are always odd moments for me. My parents come from very different stock when it comes to adventure and the way they see the world, and being a mix of that, it often puts me in a position of some discomfort. If I had multiple personality disorder, I’d be one of those crazies you see on the street corner having heated arguments with my self.

Mom, is cautious.
Actually, Mom is VERY cautious. It’s not that she’s a fearful person. She’s not. It’s just that she likes to have thought out every possible angle of every situation before it’s approached. She needs a plan and if the accumulated data indicates that things will not be in her control, then she tends to avoid it. In plans, she finds comfort and things like throwing your self into a raging river with a dozen other people and a raft the size of a van that may, or may not smack you in the back of your head, just doesn’t come out sounding like a good one. This plan would obviously not be played out.

Dad on the other hand, likes to wing it. Plans are good and all and come in very useful during the workday, but when it comes to fun, he’s almost always happy to simply step out the door and see what happens. This is a man who, when he was younger, would go to the airport with a toothbrush in his pocket and get on the standby list, just to see how far his meager funds would get him. If the flight was full, he’d get on another list and see how that panned out. This kind of adventure would make my Mother bananas. Again, it’s not that it would scare her so much as the fact that she couldn’t plan for all the eventualities. Her brain would overheat as she tried to map out every possible coarse of action that could happen. Dad calls it having an adventurous spirit. His father in law refers to it as, “Ready, Fire, Aim.” Both ways of living have their benefits and the two of them actually compliment each other very well. After almost forty years of marriage, I guess I’d say that it works well for them.

You might think that since I am a product of these two philosophies of life, I would be perfectly blended of each part and able to plan well for life’s journeys, while still being able to let go in the moment and see what comes, but that’s not really how it boils down in my psyche. It ends up being more like a cage match between the Id and Subconscious, the winner gaining control my actions until the other can wrest them from the other’s grasp. How this usually plays out, is with me about to do something dangerous and fun, huge grin on my face and fists clenched when, “DING!” the Mom side finally gets the Dad side in a full Nelson and screams, “What the HELL are you doing here?! Are you seriously about to attempt this? What ARE you THINKING?!”

These are not calm moments for me and they usually make me hum nervously as I look around at where I am in a desperate effort to either distract my self until the moment passes or find a window to leap out of and escape. This was one of those moments… but the van was moving and the windows only cranked out a few inches. There was nowhere to go except in the drink. We pulled off the road and into a small clearing filed with enormous rafts, paddles, more vans and more nervous-but-trying-not-to-look-nervous would be drowning victims. The nearby river looked calm and flat as it lazily rolled by.

My Father’s voice whispered through my head, “You paid money to raft on THAT? Man, did you get ripped off!”

Mom then added, “Thank God! I hope you brought a snack and towel.”

More later…

Rolling Down the Snow

So, last night, the car started acting funny. Actually, there was nothing funny about it. The car was packed to the gills with small, wiggling children, seven tons of groceries and many hard won trophies from the hunt at Target. We had been out since eleven that morning and, naps be damned, we had stayed out until close to three thirty! Sometimes in the effort to have some semblance of a normal life, not to mention trying to actually accomplish goals you set for your self (such as having food to eat) you need to forgo the normal routine that ostensibly keeps your children sane but keeps you anchored to your house. This is exactly what we had done and we had the station wagon full of booty and crazed children to prove it.

The excursion had all in all, gone well. Neither Short Stack nor Lulu Belle had inflicted an emotional meltdown on us and both seemed happy for the chance to do something interesting. The rainy, cold weather had prompted me to do something! By ten that morning, I was looking down the barrel of hours and hours of hanging out in the living room with the kids, slowly going insane to the pitter patter of raindrops. Normally, I’d have jumped into a project, but with both kids home, that was decidedly NOT going to be a possibility. Plus, I didn’t want to.

By the time we were pointed homeward, the sky was looking brighter, the February rain had stopped and Short Stack at least, had managed to nod off for a few precious minutes. We were wrapping up a good afternoon outing. We drove back to the boat terminal and were the first car in line to board the ferry for the trip back to our island home. When the boat was ready, we drove on, parked and shut off the car.

Bad move.

Some time later as the ferry pulled up to the dock, we got the kids back in their seats and turned the key.

“Raur… raur…. raur.”

“Oh, you have GOT to be kidding me!”

My wife, Action Girl, was driving at the time and she was looking at the dashboard with a mixture of disbelief and hate-lasers. If any mortal being had been given that look, they would have had to shield their eyes or burst into a torrent of flame. The car, on the other hand, didn’t seem to care.

“Raur… raur… raur…”

There was obviously no way it was going to crank fast enough to catch. Having to make the other cars behind us wait while the crew went to get the onboard jumper pack was bad enough, but remember, Action Girl is a captain here. This is her turf and she knows every one and they know her. Plus, she HATES to be embarrassed. Needless to say, I wouldn’t want to be the car right now.

So, with a jump, we got home with our cargo. It just about died when we pulled into the yard and after going for a quick spin to charge up the battery, I’m pretty sure it’s the distributor or possibly, the alternator. Either way, it’s not reliable and is scheduled to go in to the garage later this week. Should be a fun drive to get it there.

This morning we all got up early enough to have a leisurely breakfast before heading in our various directions. Action Girl is working an AM shift and needed to be gone on an early boat and Short Stack needed to get to pre-school. Lulu Belle and I were the only ones loafing at home today. Not trusting the car to behave was no problem for Action Girl. She didn’t need it to get to the ferry landing and thus, to work. The question was, how to get my son where he needed to be. His pre-school is on the island and not a very hard walk at all, but as anyone who has gone for a stroll with a nearly-three year old can attest, the power of the “distraction” factor is with out equal. Everything is worth inspecting with deep interest and care when you’re that age. To make matters more patience grinding, Short Stack is in the full blown “why” phase of life.

“What is that, Dad?”

“It’s a parked car.”

“Why is it parked there?”

“Because, the people who own it must have left it there.”

“But why did they leave it there?”

A quick intake of breath as I see the conversational precipice loom before me. “Well, maybe they live in the house next to where the car’s parked.”

“Why do they live there?”

“Everyone has to live somewhere.”

“Why does everyone have to live somewhere?”

I rub my brow in an effort to smooth out some of the rapidly deepening wrinkles. “We all need a place to be, I guess. Look Short Stack! Is that a robin?”

He’ll easily blow past my pathetic attempt to redirect the conversation and pulls things back to the confounding persistence of the car to remain parked there as well as the philosophical need to belong to a place. All this time, we will have moved, oh… two and a half feet if I’m lucky. I try really, REALLY hard to answer each and every question he has, but if we are attempting to actually get someplace, it would have been faster to box the two of us up and mail us than let us walk.

No. Walking there was out of the question. Plus, yesterday’s rain had turned into last night’s snow and a couple of inches of the fluffy stuff covered everything. Remember, two inches to an adult equals at least five to a three year old. If we walked, the tulips would be in bloom by the time we arrived.

Action Girl actually came up with the solution. The roads were still covered and perfect for the sled. When breakfasts were finished and snow suits donned, I packed Lulu Belle into the kid carrier backpack, hoisted her up and strapped her in. Then, we dusted off the sled. Short Stack needed little encouragement to hop in and was beaming from under his knit hat as he hugged his school bag.

“Ready, buddy?”

“YAH!”

The orange plastic sled easily scooted along and as I trudged along, we left a trail of compressed snow, happy laughter and exclamations of glee. This was the best way to go to school ever! The trip took marginally longer than it would have with the car and was defiantly more appreciated. The sun was bright, the wind low and the world sparkled with its clean, while mantle. We arrived without incident and once he was pealed out of his layers of winter clothing, he happily joined the table of other children covered in paste and construction paper. I had to actually ask for a hug and kiss goodbye.

As Lulu Belle and I tromped home, sled tucked under my arm, I looked down at the trail we had only just made. It was still flat and unblemished by footprints. The crisp outline of the track stood out strongly on the smooth snow and it made me think of times long past. Days when the roads were rolled after a snowstorm to pack it down for the horses and sleighs. When children going to school by sled was probably anything but odd and looked forward to as part and parcel of the winter season.

rolling2

It’s days like this that I really love where I live. Being in northern New England provides us with the “Currier and Ives” old world of barns and colonial era houses that I enjoy so much and island living means that traffic is thin at worst and non-existent at best. It also makes the sledding all the more satisfying.

I almost decided to keep walking when we reached our front yard but Lulu Belle was starting to flag and her crib was calling to her. It was, after all, time for the morning nap. I walked up the steps and looked back at our trail, now starting to melt in the morning sun. By the time I need to go collect Short Stack this afternoon the snow would likely be gone or at least, un-sledable. Looks like we’ll be walking after all.

I’ll be sure to pack provisions for the trek. We might be gone for a while and have to make camp.

“But why do we need to make camp, dad?”

“AAAAAAAAAAAA!”

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