It wouldn’t be a trip to the Mountains without Rubber Chickens, Government Contracts, and Stromboli

A few tips and observations from a recent trip into the Appalachians and Smokies:

Rafting, and Chickens:  If you schedule a rafting trip and notice that the guide has replaced the T-grip of his paddle with a rubber chicken, don’t go.  The rubber chicken is detachable and he will drop it into the river.  And then, with the apparent mental constitution of Tom Hanks after months on a deserted island, he will dive out of the raft to retrieve it, abandoning you and the folks from Sheboygan who can’t row in rhythm to save their fucking lives and keep hitting your damn paddle.  But he will at least recommend that you watch out for that big rock there called “Jaws” and most certainly to avoid the one farther down named “Timmy.”  “Why is it named Timmy?” you’ll ask stupidly, wasting the few precious moments that remain of your life.  And as he grabs for his chicken, he will yell “Oh, that’s the boy who, you know… least we raised enough money for his momma to get him a real nice wheelchair!”

Car Engines, and Prayer:  If you intend to drive a car in small mountain towns, know that it will not start unless you hold a lit cigarette in your left hand, which you must hang on the steering wheel like a ham hock drying in the sun, and say “oh gawd damn” each time the engine fails to turn over.  When it does eventually start, offer the quick mountain prayer, “that’s right mutherfucker.”

Hiking, and How To Do Local TV Interviews:  When you are told about a good four-mile day hike, this means the U.S. Forest Service will dispatch all available Rangers to search for your ass when you don’t return home by Thursday.  When you are pulled out of the helicopter at the closest trauma center to an awaiting crowd of local TV reporters who ask you what happened, and you blame the person that recommended the trail, you will be told, to the sound of great laughter, that all folks in those parts learn about distance by teaching crows how to fly in a straight line and then come back and report how far it is.

Photography, and Government Contracts:  If you stop to take a picture of a junkyard and the political signs posted there, be prepared to engage in a conversation with a local about the infamous Contract of ’43 which he ain’t never seen a dern penny from even though he’s “got a stake in it,” and the government done seen fit to take all the taxable land and now it’s only about 10%.  And Heath Shuler, who ran for Congress before but he ain’t runnin’ again cause there ain’t no more taxable land, well he ain’t worth a shit and whusn’t much good a quarterback anyhow.

Telling Time, and Coffee Makers:  If you visit in the offseason, know that all towns are inundated by busloads of New Jersey tourists, all of whom wear three watches, and each of which are calibrated to the atomic clock in Switzerland.  And by god, I promise you that if the complimentary hotel breakfast starts at 7, they will descend on it at 7, each and every last one of them, telling the poor old lady at the omelette station that they have a bus tour to get on by 8 but they really need to get on by 7:45, no later, so they can sit on the left side because the driver said it’s the best side, and just add a little more cheese to theirs, oh just a little more, and where is the coffee, oh it’s in the same place as yesterday, and the day before?

Restaurants, and Divorce Paperwork:  Many restaurants have two hostess stations, one outside and one inside.  The one outside is presumably for patrons who are inhaling or shoving a tobacco product into a facial orifice and, as a result, aren’t allowed within 75 feet of food prep areas.  If you are one of the few non-employees to actually go inside, just before you are able to ask for a table, the hostess will abandon her station with a cell phone mashed into her ear and shout “where the papers at? How’s I supposed to know where the fuckin’ papers at? They ain’t never sent me that crap!”  And you will wonder if she is, for the time being, married to or otherwise related to the rubber chicken raft guide.  (Additional note on Stromboli:  If you are dumb enough to order one, know that they are made entirely of cheese.  Trust me, that’s not bread crust, nor is the other material pepperoni.  And despite all your chewing and swallowing, your body wants nothing to do with this so-called “pepperoni cheese pie” and will not absorb even one single calorie of it.  In other words, the train’s gonna come out the tunnel the same way it come in.  And to punish you for this poor menu choice, your body will keep you in bed for three days without tolerating food or water while somehow causing you to gain seven percent of your body weight).

For the Pigeon Forgers:  It’s Vegas-on-crack for kids, Batman!

And Dollywood:  “Free ice water is available at many venues.  It’s a perk that few people at Dollywood know about,” or so a customer service representative will tell you if you ask where you can park.


Geeking Out at the Diamond

Before I had any thoughts of my son playing baseball, we had heard that one of the local youth baseball leagues was pretty competitive.  I took this to mean that winning mattered a lot to the kids and that yelling and bursting forehead veins mattered even more to the dads.  I usually try to avoid this nonsense and was pleased when things seemed pretty calm and fun when my son joined the league over the summer.  That is, until people started looking at me sideways.

Over the last half-dozen games or so, I have realized I am becoming one of those dads.  But it wasn’t just one bizarre or inappropriate behavior, rather a Forrest Gump “never know whut you’re gonna get” kind of thing.  Here’s a sampler (there’s clearly some funky stuff going on with the font colors in this WordPress theme, so please bear with me):

The Elbows-and-Knees Dad – This dad, although generally laid back, provides two pieces of guidance to his son when he comes to the plate – 1) “Keep your elbows up,” and, 2) Immediately before the pitch is thrown, “bend your knees.”  The result is a batting stance that looks like a woefully undersized Atlas trying to hold up the sky with a stick, along with the facial expression of extreme discomfort that one would expect from holding such a posture.  And when the pitch comes, the boy chops down at the ball and finishes in a camel spin, foot high in the air, for which the Canadian parent sitting in the opposing bleachers gives full marks.  A close cousin of the Elbows-and-Knees dad is the Tuck-In-Your-Shirt dad.

The Primate – This dad stands up against the fence near home plate so that when his son does something, like walk back to the dugout at the end of the inning, he can jump up and down in plain view of the child and all his teammates and yell something incomprehensible as if channelling his inner baboon who’s just caught a glimpse of a nearby female’s bright red fanny.

The Congressman – Knowing next to nothing about a topic doesn’t stop this dad from speaking at great frequency, length, and volume about it.  A parent at a recent game might have seen this dad yelling “Throw the ball!  Get it out of your glove!  Get rid of it quickly!” even though his son wasn’t even on the field at the time.

The Consoler – When a child falls down for any reason, such as from a lack of balance while tying his shoes, these dads run onto the field and surround the boy, asking him repeatedly, “are you ok? Are you sure you’re ok?” until the boy believes he really is injured and crumbles to the ground in a heap of trembling and sobbing.

The Thespian – This dad appears on the scene in a rush and just before game time.  But his real identifying characteristic is his use of language.  For example, instead of encouraging his son to run hard through first base, he will shout “All Attendant Haste!” with a tear in his eye and hand on his breast.

The Clapper – This dad claps not only the loudest but he must also be the last one to stop clapping.  On occasion, he will give one single loud clap for no apparent reason, perhaps just to ensure he got in the last clap. Having two Clappers at the same game can result in a competition similar to two Japanese men of honor bowing to each other.


Grocery Store Chronicles – Part 1

Looking over the grocery list I’d scribbled out while driving, I figured that I didn’t need a cart.  Surely I could handle these items with a basket and a free hand:

  • Pack of Pull-ups,
  • 6-months Napkins (apparently I felt it was necessary to specify the length of time, though I have no idea how many napkins this would be),
  • 2 boxes Juice Box,
  • 2 boxes Popsicles,
  • 2 boxes Cracker Packs

Ah, Starbucks.  Right inside the door.  The conversation with my wife just moments before about a friend who’d quit coffee while on a 10-day vegan detox had given me a headache, so I grabbed a small (Tall) coffee, had a sip, placed the cup in my basket, and started my stroll through the store.

After putting the variety packs and then the juice boxes in the basket, I began to sense my mistake.  But my lack of interest in making the wise choice – returning to the front to get a cart – won the day, so I continued my spree.

As I weaved around another aisle, I saw some marked-down leeks back over in Produce that I just couldn’t pass up.  Oh, and some fire-starter sticks, which also created a strong demand for some firewood, which I ran back outside the store to grab.  Perhaps I thought I would start a fire in the mudroom sink when I got home (to cook the leeks?), because we don’t have a fireplace.  Again, I passed up the opportunity to exchange the basket for a cart, and I dashed back inside.  Who the hell set off the alarm?  Probably some moron who’d left the store before paying for their stuff.

Anyway.  Wow, this coffee sure is strong. And it was hot, too, as I felt it splash through the slats of my basket and onto my leg, shoe and floor.  Jeez.  Where’s the cleanup folks when you need them.

After alerting the butcher about the mess out there, I made my way through Dairy and Frozen and decided, finally, to correct my mistake.  I put everything out on the floor to survey what I had, shoved the wood under my right arm, and decided that the juice boxes and crackers would be the easiest to kick along the floor up to the registers.

I made it to Self Check-Out and began picking out the long splinters that had poked through the firewood sack, through my shirt, and into my ribcage.  And it was then, and only then, that it hit me.

Holy Shit! I have completely forgotten how to put on a t-shirt!  I mean every frickin’ time I’ve put on a dark-colored tee lately I get this embarrassing deodorant smudge.  And as I walked past the Lotto machine while carrying something like eight plastic grocery bags (I had forgotten the enviro-bags that I keep in the front seat of my car for this exact reason) I noticed in its reflection how big my man-boobs had gotten.  Damn, girl!

And I forgot the milk, the reason I went to the store in the first place.

Sweater Meats and John Travolta

Here’s a little clue about what it’s been like to live my life.

Some years ago my wife dared me to put on a dark pink sweater of hers that even she wouldn’t wear and walk outside to get the mail.  Maybe I dared her to dare me, she said “whatever,” and then I felt obligated to follow through to avoid looking like a complete pussy. But whatever.

So I put it on and walked out to the mailbox, no problem, until I was a few steps on the way back when my neighbor roared around the corner and into his driveway in his Mac truck-inspired Dodge Ram pickup.  I hurried across my lawn.  Notice I didn’t say “I ran,” because I don’t.  Apparently, I learned to move from watching claymation films.  I flow-morph in an unbalanced and haphazard way to my final, and usually unfortunate, destination (Oh No, Mr. Bill!).  And standing inside the now-closed and bolted front door, at 6-foot-5 and wearing what looked like a vest made of salmon flesh, I wondered if he’d seen me.  Maybe he drives with his eyes closed, I thought.

“That was quick,” said my wife, briefly looking up from whatever she was doing.

“Ed just pulled in,” I said, trying to catch my breath.

“That’s a surprise,” she responded without emotion, having known that this precise thing would happen.

I sat down on the couch knowing that this big adventure into the world would be my last for a while.  I’d stay in my bubble until I got bored with its predictability and then I’d jump out with something else absurd, though maybe not quite so Ethel Mermanish next time.

So to hell with John Travolta.  He jumped out of his bubble in that movie and he died.  That, I think, is a metaphor.  And you don’t need to guess what would’ve happened if he’d stayed in the bubble.  Just look at the real John Travolta.  He gets famous, and then brainwashed, eventually dressing up like an alien shill for Dianetics.

And there you have it.