Cookies in the Freezer

I was always a little confused by what exactly a Girl Scout was. As a youngster, I remember seeing the cluster of girls in their green and brown uniforms with their various ranks displayed as quarter sized badges sewn onto a sash that was worn like an earthy version of those seen at a beauty pageant. Rather than reading, “Miss Russet Potato”, or some other title, the little dots showed the trials and tribulations that the wearer had undertaken and mastered.

This was a foreign world to me. Not only did I have no sister to demystify the organization for me, but I was never part of the male version either. Boy Scouts, though they undoubtedly did neat stuff, had one major flaw as I saw it. They still had to follow directions given to them by adults. Though I was hardly what you would have called a rebellious child, I was happiest when doing what ever I wanted to do. I would put my head down and get through the things that were expected of me, but when it came to unstructured time which I had control of, there was just no way in hell that I was going to put it in the hands of more people who would be telling me what to do, where to do it and how it was to be done.

The funny thing is that I always had a mild fascination with the “Scouts”, be they the boy or girl variety. The friend who I have been closest with my whole life, The Doctor, eventually attained the rank of Eagle Scout and many, many weekends I was left on my own while he want off with his troop to camp in the woods, paint park benches or… do what ever else Boy Scouts do. I believe there was some sort of a “Jamboree” thrown in there somewhere. I have no idea what that was about.

As far as our friendship was concerned, he left the “Scouting” stuff at the door when he came over to play and we never really talked about it. The only time I actually saw him in his uniform was during his Eagle Scout indoctrination ceremony and I think it was odd for both of us. It was held in a church hall, long after he, himself had left organized faith far behind on his personal road. There were, naturally, big American flags hanging up, just at the time he was starting to seriously question what our country was doing in the world and it involved jumping over symbolic sticks… which both of us found mildly humorous. I still have no idea what the sticks were about.

Now, lest I offend, let me say that I do not in any way look down upon those who choose the Scouting life. In many ways I was jealous that it just didn’t seem to fit with me. I love camping. I like doing projects. I LOVE riflery, which you can, if I’m not mistaken, get a merit badge in. I would have lived at the rifle range. For some reason though, I instantly chafed at the idea.

I think it was the neckerchiefs.

cub-scout-fred

If the Boy Scouts confused me, the Girl Scouts baffled me. I had a lot of friends in the neighborhood and we all lived on the edge of some serious forestland. We all lived in those woods and the girls whom I spent many a long day playing with were of the rough and tumble sort. Tom Boys, to be succinct. They were right there with us, scraping their arms on branches, skinning their knees and peeing in the bushes. These girls were FUN! When I looked at the groups of Girl Scouts patiently waiting for their den mothers to direct them to what ever fun that awaited them, I couldn’t help raising an eyebrow at their neatly pressed blouses, perfect and jaunty barrettes and those brown knee skirts.

SKIRTS?

To my mind, skirts were reserved for things like school and church. The girls I knew never opted for skirts and why would they? They offer poor protection form thorns and rocks and then there’s the whole tree climbing issue. The Girl Scouts uniforms were all done in dark green and tan, giving the illusion that they could step into the jungle and take on the Vietcong, but really… it was like having an camouflage bathing suit. What’s the point? Then there were the merit badges.

I knew that the girls didn’t get to do the same stuff that the boys did. A topic that is still to this day, a point of some grievance by Action Girl. She was cast out of her brother’s Cub Scout den when she started to have too much fun doing all the projects that the boys were doing. When offered the trade to Brownies (the Girl Scout starter rank) she balked. Sewing and singing just didn’t stack up well against setting things on fire and using hatchets. She will forever be a disgruntled Boy Scout wannabe.

The Girl Scouts do, naturally, have on major feather in their barrettes, however.

The cookies!

For those who live beyond the borders of the United State, I hope, with heart felt sincerity, that whatever country you live in has an equivalent to a Girl Scout Thin Mint.

thin-mints

Every year, Girl Scouts in the thousands pour out of meeting lodges and church basements and hit the pavement, going door to door in their neighborhoods with long sign up sheets and catalogs showcasing various cookies that can be ordered from Girl Scouts of America. It’s a fundraiser for the organization and one that I believe, will never leave the G.S. of A. short of funds. The cookies offered are not available in stores anywhere to my knowledge and even if there were an equivalent, it just wouldn’t be the same. The beauty of Girl Scout cookies is that the ordering happens months before the cookies actually arrive. Just long enough for you to have totally forgotten that you put your name down for an obscene quantity of sugar and chocolate covered snacks. They are divine. They are to be savored. They have just arrived!

A hand made sign on a lamp post down by the store gave notice that the cookies were on their way and would be arriving on Saturday and I mad darn sure that I would be around. As I say, there are many different cookies that the Girl Scouts sell and many of them are very, very tasty. It doesn’t matter though. I just want the Thin Mints.

A mint flavored chocolate wafer covered in more chocolate and bundled in a sleeve and two sleeves to a box, I wait for them with anticipation every year. I thought that they were perfection in a cookie until my Wife showed me the error of my ways. There was, in fact, a way to make them even better. They need to be kept in the freezer. Oh, ho ho ho. I’m in heaven. As I write, there are two boxes in the freezer, one having been mildly pillaged and two more in the deep freeze in the basement. I’m hoping that I’ll manage to forget all about them until mid summer, but that’s a long shot. I can hear them calling to me just now.

So, I still don’t understand the draw of the Scouting life and though I know that the Girl Scouts have beefed up the types of merit badges they offer to include more outdoorsy kind of activities in the hopes of appearing less… 1950’s, I’m still clueless as to what their goals really are, but that’s ok. They just need to keep me in Thin Mints and I’ll keep handing over the contents of my wallet to the nice young girls on the front step in the brown and green uniforms. At least I think they were Girl Scouts.

If Lulu Belle ever decides to join their ranks, I am truly doomed. Doomed and in a sugar coma… So I guess I won’t know about it, at any rate. And now… If you’ll excuse me, I feel a freezer raid coming on.

Don’t Step in What the Bear Left. Part II

With a sigh that all but shouted the word “WUSS!” Mountain Man bent to the offer and as the motel came into view, we pulled into the mostly empty parking lot. Our residence for the evening was exactly what you’d expect of a motel that was out in the middle of nowhere. It was thread bare, tired, and I’m guessing, last updated in the seventies judging by the paint choices of avocado green and harvest gold. What it did do is keep up out of the rain that night. To be honest, it was a fairly light rain and the news didn’t report of any tornados swooping out of the sky in search of young girls in blue dresses and accompanying dogs. As I lay in bed listening to the patter on the roof that night, I admit I felt fairly vindicated. We might not have been in mortal danger had we camped, but getting damp involved the crappy shower in the bathroom rather than a squishy sleeping bag.

The next day we were out and on the road as early as we could stand it. Mountain Man had instigated a cunningly evil rule for our road trip. Something to get us moving and moving with determination. Breakfast could not be had in the town where we slept. We needed to rack up some miles before dealing with our stomachs. Out here, that could mean quite a spell. We trundled along and eventually found sustenance, but not our friendly waitress’s friend. It’s an imperfect world. By lunch, we were making some really good progress and were closing in on the upper peninsula of Michigan. We decided that we would take our mid day break on the Canadian side of the Great Lakes and pulled of the main road to search for food. What we found, were bugs. Lots and lots of bugs.

Here’s something that you might not know. The Mayfly is a little over an inch and a quarter long. It lays its eggs on the surface of fresh water, which then sinks, and hatches into a nymph. This nymph can live for about a year or so, nibbling on all sorts of aquatic interests. Then, one day, it will go up to the surface, break through its outer skin and emerge into the air as a fully formed mayfly, looking for love and looking fast. It often has only a day or so to fulfill its function. Now imagine all of these nymphs doing this at the SAME TIME. What you get is roughly a billion-zillion mayflies cavorting around, mating and getting squished on your car.

shadfly01

As we pulled into town, the place was literally alive with mayflies. They covered every horizontal surface. They covered every vertical surface. They covered you if you stood still for more than a minute or two. Having them crawling and flying everywhere was revolting but it wasn’t half as disgusting as the sound each foot fall made as you walked from your bug-guts covered car to the MacDonald’s, flattening mayflies as you went. The thing that finally killed the last vestige of my apatite was when I grabbed the door to enter the restaurant and my fingers squished a couple of mayflies that had been hiding out of site on the back side of the handle making whoopie. As I did my little gross out dance, furiously trying to fling the mostly crushed yet still wiggling remains of the hidden lovers from my hand, Mountain Man and I came to the same conclusion. We nodded, bolted back to the car and got the hell out of this freak show. I honestly do not remember getting lunch that day. It was going to be a while before I could face anything I would want to ingest.

It was shortly after this that the trailer caught fire.

Well, “fire” might be pushing it since there were no actual flames, but it was burning up. Mountain Man was driving at the time and happened to glance in the rear view mirror. What he saw was blue/white smoke billowing out from the left wheel of the trailer, totally obscuring the road behind us. He immediately pulled off the road and we leaped out to find just what the hell on an empty, open trailer could possibly catch fire. There was no break system, no electrical except for the lights and nothing not built of steel. As we waded through the evil cloud of burning rubber, the culprit made its self known. Each of the two trailer wheels sported a little sheet metal fender and the one on the right had come half loose. One of the two bolts that held it there had wiggled loose and dropped the fender on top of the spinning wheel and done a top notch job of chewing it up. The friction from the fender had just about completely burned through the rubber. So, a tire change was made with our one spare and the fender was reattached with a twisted bit of coat hanger until a hardware store was located and better fix made.

I remember getting some sandwiches at a truck stop in Minnesota and checking our next move on the map. It was getting late. By the time we left the last inhabited landmark on our map, it was dark. The episode with the bug invasion and especially the tire cost us a lot of driving time and left us looking down the dark railroad cut with me behind the wheel. It was right about then I noticed that the dash lights had died. All of them. It was a moonless night and it was pitch black in the car.

“All we need to do,” declared Mountain Man, “is drive down the railroad bed about two point five miles and look for a grassy landing on our right.”

“The problem,” I pointed out, “is that I can’t see the odometer. The dash light is dead. I’ll have to use the dome light.” This is the point when we discovered that yes; the dome light too had bit the dust.

I looked at the black spot where I gauged Mountain Man’s head should be as he sat in the passenger seat. “Do you have a flashlight?”

“Um.. No. Do you?”

“You’ve got to be kidding. Neither of us brought a flashlight?”

This was going to be tricky. You couldn’t see anything in the car and the only light to be had anywhere was from our own headlights. Not so handy to see things INSIDE the car, as it turns out. Then I remembered my keychain. About a week before as I had prepared for this outing, I had gone to make a pilgrimage to Eastern Mountain Sports, our local camping supply retailer. As I had been cashing out, I spotted these silly little keychain fobs that looked just like miniature Colman lamps.

coleman

On an impulse, I bought one. Inside the diminutive lamp was a sixteenth of a watt bulb that was powered by a watch battery. I fished it out of my pocket, turned the knob and, Voila, we had light. Not much light to be sure, but when it’s pitch dark, it’s amazing how the tiniest bulb can make the biggest difference. I set the “lamp” in front of the odometer and crawled the car down the cut.

Let me take a moment to describe this so called road that we were on. It had been made, perhaps a hundred years ago by the railroad to cut across the swampland of this corner of Minnesota. Having seen its last train decades ago, the tracks and ties had now been stripped and the top of the bed smoothed a bit. It was still fairly bumpy but more importantly though had the added bonus that it was almost exactly as wide as the wheel base of the car. Plus, it dropped off heavily on each side. If you happened to take your eyes off it as you drove, you and your hapless vehicle would very quickly slide down a forty-five degree gravel bank for perhaps eight feet and wind up in the trees. You might be able to recover form this situation if you were lucky. Maybe.

My hands were glued at the ten o’clock and two o’clock positions and my eyeballs were focused directly forward as I navigated the car along at just better than running speed. I had been driving unblinking like this for perhaps ten minutes when Mountain Man spoke.

“Um… I think we missed it”

More later…

Flame On!

As we stood at the base of the tree, I was taken by three facts. First, that it was a very, very tall, and old white pine. Second, that it stood at the edge of a forest that pretty much turned into most of western New Hampshire. Third, that branch that the lit sparkler that had been accidentally thrown into was starting to smolder.

My friends offered verbal assistance.

“Um… Crap!”

One of them in particular, my friend Ioseph, did a helpless little dance under his tree bound, burning magnesium stick and attempted to complete an intelligible sentence in an effort to coax it down.

Oddly enough, none of this required the application of alcohol or other foreign substances. Heck no. This was par for the course. After all, Ioseph Fork Beard was there!

I have a group of friends who have been part of my life for very much of it. We all live in various places now and though none of us are more than a state or so apart, adult life has made visits infrequent. I miss them terribly some times, but for the safety of our various families and others who might be passing by at the time, it’s probably a good thing.

The Doctor was the first of my life long pals. He and I grew up at each other’s houses and I consider him my brother. On at least one occasion, I can recall giving both my and his Mom a Mother’s Day card. We both had keys to both houses and used them often. We’re that close.

The second member of the group was met for the first time when The Doctor and I attended a summer computer camp. It was some time in the 80’s and we, as aspiring nerds, decided to spend part of our vacation in a college basement staring at black and green monitors, coding in BASIC. It was there that we met another aspiring geek, the very young, Mountain Man. Well, to be fair, we were all young.

Mountain Man attended a different school than we did and so, after camp was over, we lost touch with him for a while. We would meet again, later in high school, but when we did, it was with the adoption of the fourth member of our circle. Enter, Ioseph, Fork Beard.

In high school, he had no beard to fork, but he didn’t need one to stand out, either. Ioseph does not blend into a crowd well. Perhaps he would have a shot at it if the people in the crowd were all tall, flaming red heads and bear like. Otherwise, you’re going to see him first.

Ioseph Fork Beard was an large, awkward transplant to the region and seemed to be a bit lost in the massive high school-factory that we all attended. One of us introduced him to the group and pretty much immediately, he was in. Ioseph had a few big things going for him. Firstly, he was immediately likable. You couldn’t possibly help liking him. It’s a super power of his. Secondly, he was the first of us to have his own wheels. While some of us had access to a family car, Ioseph had his very own. It was a white, Ford Escort and he could take it out when ever he wanted. That was some serious freedom. Thirdly, and most importantly, he was up for it, whatever “it” happened to be. If you came up with a crazy, half baked plan and brought it before the group, he would bake the other half and was on for the ride. Some might think that this was his way to gain popularity and access with a tight knit bunch of friends, but you would be utterly wrong. He just wants to try anything that sounds like fun. I’m fairly certain that if a government agent came to his door and told him that they wanted Ioseph to travel to the rebel infested mountains of Wehateyoustan and make a drop to the spy hiding there, his bags would be packed before the pitch was finished. Personal safety is not so important to him if it sounds like the peril will lead to a once in a lifetime experience. He’s always up for peril!

The other thing about Ioseph that you need to know is his head stone. He has one. We got it for him as a gift. Actually, it was The Doctor who got it for him since he had a gift certificate from the local monument company (don’t ask). It’s not very big and fits better on the edge of a desk than it would in the grass of a quiet cemetery, but it’s the thought that counts. The inscription reads:

Ioseph, Fork Beard
Consumed by a fire
“Oops”

This might seem a tad… harsh, but it was actually well received with a lot of vigorous head nodding from all those present. Ioseph has a well known and amazing ability to get in unusual, and often flammable, predicaments. To make matters even more interesting, he hasn’t limited himself to just one of the four basic elements when it come to destruction, but for this chapter, lets just focus on fire.

There was a story about an errantly aimed roman candle and a cut and dried out corn field. There was the time he decided to sterilize the lab desk in high school with alcohol from the Bunsen burner… and light it. (Please picture here, liquid fire dripping off the desk edges and onto the floor before the pie sized eyes of the science teacher.) Then, there was the sparkler, thirty feet up in a bone dry tree on the edge of the forest.

That, in a FEMA report, is Iopseph. I’m pretty sure that the only thing that keeps him out of federal prison is his super power of likability. He honestly does none of this stuff with the slightest bit of malice. It’s always with the most wide eyed innocence that he gets in these predicaments and at this point in our friendship, the utterance of the word “oops” from his lips will send us all leaping for the nearest window. With Ioseph around, life is ANYTHING but boring.

The four of us stood there in my back yard, all focusing our minds on putting out the tiny fire that we could see flickering amongst the needles on the branch tip. Ioseph continued his dance. “I’msorry! I’msorry! I’msorry! I’msorry!” It was a catchy little tune, really. I was seriously regretting pulling out the long forgotten box of sparklers that I had found in the closet. I was regretting even more the idea of tossing them, lit, into the air. To be fair, it was I who had done it first. Its long, shooting star-like contrail arching through the darkness and into the yard. Arching, I should add, into the MIDDLE of the back yard. You know… AWAY from the trees. Someone else tried it and then Ioseph did. His first toss put it directly onto the ancient pine tree at the edge of the property.

We were way too far away to get the hose to it, but that didn’t stop me from trying once the flames became visible. I hauled it’s reluctant coils through the flower beds, flattening the ones unfortunate enough to be in the way. With the water on full blast and my thumb held like a vice over the opening, the spray of water was short easily by twenty feet. We watched. The tiny flames got smaller, smaller and mercifully, went out. None of us took our eyes off the spot until every last red ember cooled and disappeared. I’m pretty sure you could hear our collective sigh of relief in Vermont.

Sparkler time was over for the night.

Oddly enough, Ioseph doesn’t work with fire for a living. You can tell, because the greater Boston area where he lives hasn’t been consumed in a mushroom cloud. We don’t see him often enough these days and I miss his dangerous company. I’ll see if I can get him to come up for a visit before the summer is over.

I might, however, wait until we’ve had a good soaking rain before I make the offer, though.

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