Tiny Pieces of Childhood

I stood in the childhood driveway of my best friend’s house and simply marveled at what was before me. This is how a pirate must feel after digging up a lifetime accumulation of treasure, long left in its chest and now excavated in preparation of a well deserved retirement. I don’t know for sure, but it felt like my eyes might actually be twinkling. It was that kind of a moment.

“Wow” was the best I could pull off.

The Doctor smiled on and basked in the glow of a happy friend.

“Enjoy!”

The happy moment I now lived had begun decades ago, but its fruition had only been set into motion two years before…

It had been a beautiful summer day as Action Girl and I drove along the winding roads of New Hampshire, Short Stack snoozing heavily behind us, strapped into his car seat. The trees were deep green and broad leafed and overhung the rural roads with muscular ancient branches, turning our drive into an undulating and twisting tunnel, dappled with the light of the sun. Being native to this part of the country, my wife and I have an abiding love of it and miss it quite a bit. It’s the type of place where we feel instantly connected with the land. I love where we live now, but being “back home” makes me nostalgic and drunk with memories.

Lost in my own private thoughts, Action Girl jolted me back to the moment at hand by reminding me that I was under the gun, so to speak, and totally unprepared. We were almost to the place where my all-but-blood brother would soon be married. The Doctor and I have been best friends since the third grade and this being his wedding, I was the best man, and as such, I was going to have to speak publicly about him at length during the reception.

Naturally, I had done nothing in preparation for this moment.

That’s how I roll.

Since it seems to be a spouse’s job to try and save their significant other from making a total bumbling ass out of themselves, she decided to see if she could help me overt a verbal train wreck that was looking all the more likely as the miles ticked off and we got closer to our destination.

“Okay.” Action Girl pulled out an old scrap of paper and pen from the car console. ”Give me some facts about your friendship”

As I ticked off various points, thoughts and entertaining moments from our long friendship together, Action Girl scribbled them down in the form of a bullet list. I’m pretty good at talking off the top of my head and rather than reading from a scrip, a good list like the one being compiled would be just what was needed. Most of the items I recounted barely got a response from her, until one in particular made her stop writing and look up at me.

“Really? Wow! That’s the one. Talk about that, for sure.”

We pulled into the parking lot and roused a sleeping Short Stack from the comfort of his seat and strapping him to my wife’s back, headed down the beautiful carriage road that lead to the idyllic, garden setting of the wedding.

The choice of venue was beautiful, as was the bride and the ceremony as well. Things went off mostly as planned and I got to spend a wonderfully surprising amount of time with The Doctor just prior to and after the nuptials. It was a perfect day.

We sat back to enjoy our after “I Do” meal and after a fashion, staff appeared dutifully filling our empty champagne glasses, Action Girl gave me a gentle prod.
“Now’s probably good.” A smile and then, I’m fairly sure, a silent prayer that I wouldn’t make an ass out of my self.

Show time!

I’m not a bashful or reserved person when it comes to the public, which can surprise some people since I’m not normally interested in being in the thick of what ever is going on. I’m a periphery sort of guy and prefer to watch than direct. When I get to talk, however, it can be hard to get me to shut up again and go back to listening. My dear wife has pointed this out roughly fifty-two thousand four hundred and sixty five times. With a reassuring gulp of beer, I stood up to address the crowd of friends and family.

I don’t recall a lot of the specifics that I spoke about, drink in hand and mind wandering. I can recall the smiles and various heads bobbing in agreement as I described my extra-familial little brother and I took that to be a good sign that I was neither boring nor off track. I forged ahead.

“I could tell you that The Doctor and I have been close and constant friends for years, but that’s really a cliché that we’ve all heard before at occasions such as this. What I want is to give you an idea of just how deep our loyalty to each other goes.” I scanned the crowd of wedding guests and took in a vista of scientists, engineers and other proud nerds. They would understand.

“I’ll just say this: We pooled our Legos.

Gasps and murmurs bubbled up from the guest tables. Perfect! I had read my crowd correctly.

Legos, for those of you who somehow do not know, are those little, multi-colored, interlocking bricks that have become the ultimate prized item for any geeky child and the ultimate bane of their parent’s. Filling the categories of being tiny, easily lost, both painful and likely to be stepped on and, oh yes, unimaginably expensive, amassing a good Lego collection can take a lot of convincing on a kid’s part. In the end however, they are totally worth the work.

When The Doctor and I first began our friendship, we were only half way through grade school and our own individual caches of plastic mini-bricks were modest, but adequate. As I look back, now as an adult, I marvel at how much of their discretionary income my parent’s spent to feed their son’s Lego habit. Legos have always been pricy and for the money spent, you didn’t get a lot in the way of pieces. It’s a testament of their devotion to a happy child that I had what I did. They didn’t have a lot of money, but I did have a nice little bucket of Legos to play with.

Then, The Doctor started to come over to play.

The two of us spent innumerable hours on our hands and knees, driving our creations across floors in both his house and mine. So, many, in fact, that I can, to this day, clearly remember the pattern and texture of all the rugs throughout each of our homes. Whole days may have passed when neither of us were more than a foot and a half off the ground. T was what we did. Eventually, as the years passed and our friendship came to be an obvious rock of permanence in our lives, we dared to do something that only people who were close as brothers would ever consider.

Through years worth of birthdays and Christmases, each of our collections was something to be proud of. They were impressive in terms of both diversity and scale. Together though, it would be something of childhood legend: A resource that would enable a Lego builder to construct just about anything. Possibly two of anything!

And so, we did it.

One day, into the hopper they all went and from this mountain of plastic, we extracted the materials for one wondrous project after another… for years. Just about every weekend, we built together and creating a cornucopia of beweaponed space ship fleets and mighty fortresses to do battle with. Then we’d break them down and start again. It was wonderful.

As time moved along, Legos, like so many focuses of childhood, moved to the back burner and then off the stove completely. Eventually, our huge collection of plastic bricks was packed away and forgotten all together. We had moved on.

Then, the day of my friend’s wedding came. After I had wrapped up my soliloquy with the necessary champagne toast to the bride and groom, the cake had been cut and eaten and things calmed down to chatting and strolling, I couldn’t help by find The Doctor and ask.

“Hey, what ever happened to all those Legos?”

He grimaced a bit as he thought about where they could have gone.

“Eesh. I think they went to my cousin. You can ask her if you want. She should be at table four. I doubt she has them any more though.”

It was worth a shot. I looked over at my little boy playing in the grass with an adoring wedding guest and guessed that someday, he too might get the Lego Fever. When I found the cousin, the outlook got worse.

“Oh, wow. My mom never hangs on to anything like that and I haven’t seen those Legos in ages. I’ll ask though, if you want?”

Over the years I have learned that in situations like this, you say, “Yes” to questions like this. You’ll regret it later for sure if you don’t and I wasn’t going to regret not trying this time around. I didn’t expect anything to come of it, but hey, why not?

Two years later on a visit back to my hometown, I was reaping the benefit of my inquiries.

“Are you sure? Don’t you want to hang on to at least some?”

The Doctor just smiled back and shook his head. There they all were. A huge box, filled to overflowing was in my arms and I honestly wondered how I was going to get it in the car. I’d find a way though!

The pile has now been passed on and happily, is in the very capable hands of one Short Stack and is appreciated just as much by him as it was by us. It has in fact, become part of my life again as well. After Lulu Belle is put to bed, teeth have been brushed and jimmies put on, it’s time to break out the Lego box.

I’ve built him a new one just for this purpose and it is the size of his mattress and just barely clears the bed frame. Inside are thousands of little pieces of memories of a happy childhood from long ago as well as the fuel for one being woven today. Just about every night, the two of us play and build and as I lay on my side on his bedroom floor, I can just about see the world through the eyes I once did. The Doctor might not be here to build and play with me anymore, but Short Stack makes a great playmate. I hope that he thinks his dad does too.

Now if you’ll excuse me, there are some space ships that I need to get back to constructing. You see, we have a launch schedule to keep…

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 V

I’ve always been happily surprised about rocks encountered under the surface of fast moving, fresh water. That might sound odd until you understand that most of the submerged rocks that I’ve encountered in my life were in the ocean. These tend to be sharp, covered in disgusting, entangling seaweed and for a bonus, sprinkled with razor sharp barnacles or little living pincushions called sea urchins. The exposed bit of flesh that gets dragged across or smashed into it by the assassin like wave you never saw coming, tends to fair pretty badly. Then, there’s the fun of having salt water rushing into the new wound. SUCH FUN!

As my head scraped along the bottom, I looked out through what appeared to be the inside view of a snow globe. The water was crystal clear and what made for spray and foam on the surface, were zillions of dancing bubbles that tickled your skin, here in the belly of the river. The rocks were smooth and slime free here and it looked more like a meticulously carved waterslide than the maw full of pointed teeth that I had imagined. I began to realize that there was likely no way a person could actually injure themselves on the rocks, even if they tried. The water just swirled them safely away. There was still the drowning aspect to consider though and with that in mind, I pushed off the smooth granite with my feet. After a brief moment of “What-the-hell?” when I bonked my head on the upturned raft, I managed one again to suck some air into my lungs and was released from the watery silence and into the roar of the river and catcalls from others who were there to witness this scheduled car crash. We were helped out of the water, found our towels and headed for lunch.

Much of the rest of the day was consumed with…. Well… consuming. I did mention the bar, correct? Sandwiches were eaten, beers were had and as more and more waterlogged campers showed up, the four of us made room. In the evening, we chatted with others, compared rafting experiences and when those ran out, dragged out the war stories that every young man seems to have. More beer, more stories, bigger logs on the campfire. It was a great way to round out the day.

We were careful not to over do it too much though. Tomorrow we needed to be on our game. We needed to stay sharp. After all, the guy you sitting next to, laughing and offering you the next round, was going to be chasing us through the woods, trying like hell to shoot us. To be fair, we’d be trying to do the exact same thing. It was going to be fun!

(insert gross generalization here:)

We all choose to do stupid things. If you’re a girl, the stupidity tends to fall into the category of dating the guy with the huge motorcycle and the neck tattoos, spending a month’s wages on a pair of shoes or asking your flellah If he likes the green scarf or the blue one better. All in all, it’s mostly emotional pain they inflict on themselves. Guys, on the other hand, tend to make their stupid decisions with physical pain as part of the deal. Blood is a common sight among young (and old for that matter) boys. Both sexes will insist that it was all worth it. We humans are kind of predictably thick that way.

I don’t know for sure, but I’m willing to bet that if you could build a time machine and go back to an age before the invention of gunpowder, somewhere you could witness the moment where two little boys would be running around, playing and one boy would cock his finger, point it at the other, and as he brought his thumb down, yell, “BANG!”

“What was that?” the other would say.
“I don’t know. I just felt like I had to do it.”
Shall I try it?
“No, you can’t! I already shot you!”
Looking confused. “…With what?”
“I have no idea. But you’re dead and I win!”

The satisfaction felt by the first boy would be immeasurable. It’s in our DNA. What can I say?

Shooting stuff is a pleasure that seems to be innate in boys. Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t avid female shooters out there. I know they’re are (and I’m not just saying that because I live with a woman who owns her own high powered rifle). It’s just that, like it or not, boys want to shoot things. Most of us make do with fingers, sticks or toys. A few of us get to actually do it for fun!

Technically, what we had were NOT called guns. Actually, if you called them a “gun” you’d usually wind up with some stern looking individual in body armor and protective mask wagging his finger at you and telling you to cut it out and use the correct term. They were markers. Paintball markers. And don’t you forget it.

paintball gun

I’m here to tell you something.

That’s bull.

They are guns.

Wonderful, WONDERFUL guns… that shoot paintballs!

The idea behind them was one of the best B.S. cover stories that I’ve ever heard. It goes something like, “The Forest Service guys needed a way to quickly mark trees for cutting. After years of first, tying on little bits of cloth to use as markers and then later turning to spray paint, some enterprising forester came up with the idea of using paint, held inside a gelatin ball. The ball could then be flung from an air hose… thing… that he cleverly decided to call a “marker” rather than, “An awesome paint shooting gun that you could ‘accidentally’ pop the other ranger in the back of the head with when he wasn’t looking.” You can guess which project pitch would more successfully receive funding. The final product was a gizmo that looked like a gun, made a sound like a gun and worked like a gun, but was called a “marker” so that it might slip below the radar of helicopter parents and anti-gun wonks.

Marker.
Gun.
Whatever.
Lets just call in what it is… A BLAST!!!.. I mean… paintballing.

Paintballing is perhaps the pinnacle of every little boy’s dream about shooting. No more, “I got you! – No you didn’ts.” No more, “You’re out of ammo – No, I’m not’s.” No more, “You missed – Nuh –Uh’s.” Here you got to actually shoot your friends and there was no begging off. It is awesome.

Oh… And it hurts. That somehow makes it all the better. To most boys, this is an important component. Don’t believe me? Ask any little boy if he wants to play touch football or tackle. Parents want to see “touch.” Kids want to pummel each other, and right now, we were getting ready to pummel everyone we could… using marble sized blobs of paint fired from high pressure air guns as many times as we possibly could. Tomorrow was going to be fun!

-Ok. Maybe the next post will be the last one in the story…. No promises though.

How Much to Get Drown and Shot? Part IV

Somehow, not only did I manage to stay in the boat, but so did everyone else as well. As it turns out, making the raft out of rubber is a very clever thing to do. As we headed over the edge, the entire boat started to bend, undulating down the falls like an enormous, drunk slug. All we needed to do was ride the slug!

Laughing, shivering and lightly sputtering, we peeked out from under the edges of our helmets and waited for what was next. As it turned out, the command was to start paddling like mad. Our uber-hip river master in the stern had us come about hard and head for the opposite bank of the river. More miniature falls awaited us as we zigzagged back and forth, purposely aiming for the spots that looked the nastiest. Charged up with an unhealthy quantity of whitewater fueled bravery, we obediently flailed away at the current until we were poised to make yet another run over the rocks.

This was getting fun! I was feeling downright competent after we easily negotiated the third or fourth pile of frothing river and thought that all the helmets and lifejackets were a bit overkill for the activity. A few moment’s later, I started to reconsider this.

“Now this is where we really hit some rapids.” The voice of Uber-Cool came to us from his seat where he had been steering our raft. “When I say to, everyone stow their paddle, fast! I’ll do the steering but you don’t what paddles out when we go through the gap!”

Gap?

Just ahead of us, massive rock formations started to squeeze the river down narrower and narrower. The water foamed and picked up speed quickly. Then, just as we heard the command, “Now! Stow paddles!” I watched from my figurehead like seat, river simply dropped from view. No sooner had we complied with the order than the raft shot through a water carved opening in a wall of stone barely wider than our boat. If we had paddles out, they would have been smacked back on both sides. And then, we were airborne.

rafting2
(Not us, but you get the idea)

Something a tad unusual about me is my relationship to water. I can swim, obviously. I wouldn’t have imperiled myself like this if I couldn’t. I mean, really? Who would? The problem I have is with the act of swimming. I’m not bad at it, but it’s not what I ever would do for fun. You see; I sink.

The moment I stop actively working at remaining on the surface, I inexplicably go right to the bottom. My wife, who is a water baby and would live in a swimming pool if we had one, doubted me for years and simply assumed that I was being a curmudgeon when we went to the beach and I inevitably begged off getting in the water myself. Finally, after years of implied curmudgeonhood, I proved my point by simply walking into the water. Just before my head disappeared, I took in a nice big breath and strode beneath the waves like Godzilla walking into the sunset, but much paler and less scaly. From the surface she watched through goggles as I simply strolled along the bottom in slow motion until my air gave out and I swam my way back to the top. Swimming is nothing but work for me and so I avoid it.

As the raft hit the froth, I just managed to shut my mouth in time before the river filled it for me. Sputtering, I came to the surface, clinging to our raft with the zeal of someone who just got religion. Better than half of my boatmates managed the same trick and after we fished the less pious ones out of the water, we paddled for shore, laughing, grinning, some hacking up a bit of fun here and there, but all alive. Uber-cool was not satisfied. Obviously, we were doing it wrong. A quick and soggy seated van ride back to our starting point and las than five minutes later, we were back on the river once more.

“This time,” Uber-cool informed us, “I’m going to hit the gap a little differently. We’ll probably loose more people this time.”

I didn’t like the way that was put. I didn’t really feel like being “lost,” even if it was planned. As he promised, he managed to hit the falls in such a way that the raft took on a life of its own. It bucked like it was alive and a good thee quarters of the paddlers went flying into the drink. Thanks to the type of work I was doing at the time, I had a pretty mean grip, and do to this, and only this, I managed to stay attached as my entire body was catapulted from the raft. Hanging on to the line that circles the boat, I remember looking down on it with my feet high above me. When we crashed back down, I literally dove back into my seat. Slightly painful, but less drown-y.

Still unsatisfied, (they must have had a betting pool going), Uber-cool set us up again for a third go and this time met with success. Getting the best view of the swirling water possible, my head was the first part of our ship of fools to hit. The raft had gone end over end and landed upside down to the cheers and hoots from those on shore.

Last, (or possibly, Second to Last) installment later…

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?

As I walked up to the out door tiki bar, the unmistakable shape of my friend, Ioseph’s back greeted me. I had been looking for him specifically and, lucky me, he was not easy to miss. Flaming red hair, big in every direction and as per usual, decked out in a Hawaiian shirt. I quietly strode up, reached out both hands and wrung his neck.

“Why…” I started to enquire through clenched teeth. “did I have to drive seven hours to have a beer and play in the water?!?”

Ioseph, having quickly recovered from his momentary strangulation, simply stood up and turned around, me still dangling from him like a peeved remora.

“You look like you need a drink!” Ioseph thinks everyone needs a drink.

Letting go and wordlessly taking his spot at the bar, I allowed him to order me a large, cold beer on his tab, and sucked down half of it in one lift.

“Better?”

“Grumble mumble rumble…”

Where we were, was the “the middle of no where” Canada and the reason we were here was Mountain Man’s bachelor party. Of the four close high school friends, I was the first to marry and I kept a tight rein on the pre-wedding festivities. I admit, I can be a bit of a wet blanket at times and so thankfully, my friends were decent enough to keep things sane on my bequest. It’s not that I don’t enjoy having fun. It’s more that I know Ioseph.

And knowing is half the battle.

Ioseph, when given tabula rasa is prone to go… nuts. There is no way, NO WAY, that you will be able to predict what he will get in to in the name of a good time. He is in possession of one of the most dangerous mixes of personality traits that I know. He is: self deprecating, funny, highly intelligent, totally uninhibited in any way, can justify just about anything and is instantly forgivable for just about any of these actions. If the year were 1720, I have no doubt in my mind that he would be a pirate, a royal governor of some tropical island, or both. Probably both. Luckily for the world, he’s also a very nice guy. Just bananas.

The reason he had chosen Canada was because we had nixed the idea of Vegas.

Ioseph in Vegas… *shudder*

The drive here had been a long one and I had done it alone. My directions were essentially to go north until I hit Montreal and then hang a left. When I ran out of pavement, I was just about there. I was tired and my butt hurt and I needed another beer. I couldn’t for the life of me understand why we couldn’t go white water rafting in the States. I requested my beer and paid with an American twenty. The bar tender handed me a fresh pint and twenty-two dollars in change. Hmm. This might not be such a bad thing after all.

It was already dark out and I still needed to get my stuff out of the car. I joined my friends, Ioseph, The Doctor and Mountain Man and got the lay of the land. It was time to make camp.

This, to be sure, was my kind of camping. Any campsite that comes with an outdoor bar, indoor bathroom facilities and food made by someone else gets the thumbs up in my book. For people like Mountain Man and The Doctor, I’m sure it was eye rollingly cushy, and it was, but it was also exactly what I was up for after my marathon drive. After flopping out my sleeping bag in the tent, I was unconscious in a matter of moments. Maybe it was the beer, the drive or both, but I did know that I’d better get rested up. Tomorrow was one of Mountain Man’s last days as a bachelor and there were big plans. We were going to see if we could get sucked under a raging river, flung against massive, unseen, underwater rocks and not get killed!

Hey! It’s important to have goals!

Ran out of time today.More later…
-TP

Do not take the night train from Munich to Prague

Last night was one of THOSE nights. The reality of having a baby or toddler is that you don’t get a consistent, good night sleep for… well, I don’t know… It’s been two years now of sleep being interrupted, sometimes several times a night. With Lulu Bell on the way, we know that this is only going to get more entertaining. To this mix, add that I am a far lighter sleeper than Action Girl and as of this writing, far more mobile, seeing how Lulu Belle will be joining us in about three weeks. So the up shot is, I am almost always the one who gets up to attend to the two AM call of our son. When I’m away from my family overnight, it almost kills me because I want to be there with them. On the other hand, during such occasions I sleep like the dead. Sometimes when I know I’ll be alone for a night, the anticipation of a full night’s sleep is almost like the excitement before going on an adventure… but far quieter. My definition of a good time has defiantly changed with age.

All this makes last night far more painful. Last night, Short Stack was sound asleep, yet Action Girl and I were wide awake… for hours… and hours. It was awful. We had initially woken up to deal with our kiddo, who needed a pants change and a fresh bottle, but he was quickly back in bed and playing with candy penguins and dump trucks full of cookies. I actually heard him laugh in his sleep at one point. For various reasons, neither of us could manage to fall back to sleep. It was crazy-making. Action Girl gave up first and moved to the sofa down stairs. I shortly followed and took up residence on the other sofa. As I sat there sipping my warm milk and looking out at the front yard, I remembered the worst… by far, WORST night we had ever had together.

About seven years ago we had been traveling through Europe on the cheap. It’s hard to imagine, but you used to be able to do that. We were traveling cheap partially because funds were limited but also because we were with with my best friend and “brother”, The Doctor. The Doctor is a year younger than I and we have been best friends since we met in a combined 3rd/4th grade class room back during the Velour Shirt Age. We are both only children and we have always referred to our selves as brothers. He has always been part of my life. I can always count on him. He has a heart the size of the moon, an intellect that astounds me on an regular basis and he can be unbelievably cheap at times.

We had traveled together, the three of us, for about two weeks. We had been having a great time and seen a lot. Mostly we had stayed in youth hostels and for those who have never tried this, they they can often be pretty awful. The noise, the crummy beds, the drunk fifteen year olds. Ahh, good times. We had endured quite a few of this sort of establishment when by accident, we happened across the best B&B ever in Oberammergau, Germany. It’s called der Gasthaus Rose. It’s been tarted up a bit since we were there, but even then, it was like an oasis of civilized living, and back then, very inexpensive to boot! After all the fun and excitement of hosteling, this place was heaven. We were going to spend one night. We spent three.

The travel plans were to go from Oberammergau to Munich and from there to Prague. The Doctor was getting impatient sitting in a sleepy, little alpine village and wanted to get on the trail again. We elected for just one more night of down duvets and pastoral serenity. His offer was to head out a day ahead of us and secure lodging for the three of us in Prague. We’d get one more night in Oberammergau and he’d greet up at the train station when we arived. His insistence was he would take the night train and thus, not miss out on a day of exploration that would other wise be lost in travel. We would take the same train the next day. We agreed and he pushed off, traveling pack attached to his back like a giant nylon tick. The two of us walked into the town, spent too much money on a wonderful day and shuffled off for a happy evening in the shadows if the Alps. We had no idea how much we would be cudgeled by fate the next night. The Ammer river snaked through the village, looking for all the world like it was made of Sapphire Gin and the cow bells could be heard up in the low pastures. It was so beautiful just then. It was going to get ugly tomorrow.

oberammergau_1900.jpg
(Oberammergau in 1900. It isn’t all that different today. Just more tour busses and fewer horses.)

More tomorrow.

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