The second morning of our visit to Carlsbad didn’t particularly start out with an auspicious omen. Wifey, still somewhat disgruntled from yesterday’s catastrophe, challenged me to prove my manliness on the love tester. It was standard fare: from zero to Latin lover, with varying degrees of frigid in between.
I put in my twenty-five cents and, mindful that my children, wife, and half the restaurant were all watching, gripped the handle and willed it to come up “Hot Stuff.” The lights flashed, the buzzer sounded, and…
Nothing happened. The whole thing went dark.
“You broke it!” said the boy.
“You didn’t even register!” guffawed the clerk.
“That sounds about right,” said Wifey.
“I guess I’m too much man for it,” I said. “Couldn’t get a bulb high enough, so it done burnt out.”
“Yeah, that’s it,” said the girl. I’m giving her an extra Christmas present this year.
On the way out, the boy begged for a temporary tattoo. Feeling generous, I decided to spring for one since he’d done such a good job of eating his breakfast. The display tattoos were all lions battling dragons in circles of fire and such. Manly tattoos, at home on any Hell’s Angel or rebellious teenager with more money than sense.
He got a toucan in a sombrero sitting in a heart made of roses. “Disappointment” does not begin to describe his state of being.
“You know what I think?” said the girl loudly to no one in particular. “I think that this machine is designed to cheat little boys.”
“You must be right,” he said. Then he cast a suspicious eye at me. “It’s probably owned by some parents somewhere.”
Sighing, I came up with another fifty cents. “I’ll tell you what, if your sister wants that tattoo, then I’ll buy you another one.”
“I would like that,” she said. “Can I have another one, too?”
“No fair!” He said. “Then you’d have two and I’d only have one!”
“You either get the toucan or nothing,” I said. “Which is it?”
“Toucan,” she said. “Thank you.”
The next tattoo was a pirate skull wreathed in flames with a scorpion on its head. I think the machine’s designed to cheat parents into buying two tattoos, personally. It’s probably owned by some kid somewhere.
I’d made us reservations at 11 to go down into the King’s Rooms at Carlsbad Caverns. This is a very private, personalized tour, only offered to important visitors to Carlsbad who are willing to pay six bucks extra to see it. Armed with our sweatshirt for Wifey, we headed down the elevator to catch our tour.
As we exited, we were greeted by a huge display of Carlsbad Caverns jackets. Like any normal person, I decided the only appropriate action was to complain.
“Where were these yesterday?” I asked angrily. “My wife almost bit off my head!”
“After you made a scene I remembered we had some under the counter and brought them out. This is all I have left. You want one?”
“Can we p-p-please have one?” said the girl, teeth chattering.
“I would l-l-love one as well,” said the boy.
“I only have adult sizes,” the woman said.
“I’ll take a large and they can share it. How much?”
“They’re twenty bucks, but since you called me a bitch yesterday it’ll cost you a hundred.”
Damn my mouth. “Deal.”
Twenty minutes later we were ready for the tour. There was only one problem: the Skankletons’ cousins had come along. Why this gaggle of nimrods felt it necessary to holler, carry on, and slap one another in Carlsbad Caverns instead of the comfort and privacy of their own home, I do not know.
Whatever the reason, they were along with us, and unfortunately right in front of us during the forced trail march to the King’s Room. Listen, I love a good burp joke as much as the next guy, but there’s only so many times you can burp, make an echo, and then say “she did it” and have it be funny.
Maybe once. Twice if it’s a really good burp.
The other interesting member of our tour was Mr. Cool. I could tell he was Mr. Cool because he was wearing sunglasses in a cave.
I’ll repeat in case you missed that: sunglasses. In a cave.
Yes, he looked like a dipshit. He fell down a lot, too. I checked: he wasn’t blind, nor was he visually-impaired. He was just too cool for his own good. I actually worried that he’d end up plummeting into a crevasse and being lost forever.
I never did work up the courage to ask if he wore the sunglasses at night.
So we went on the King’s Room tour, and it did not at all disappoint. What a magnificent experience. If you go to Carlsbad, I highly recommend it.
I also recommend you do not go with the ranger I did who, while a wealth of information and a delightful girl, could profit greatly from some public speaking courses. The tour itself is an hour and half, but there’s a good ten minutes of “uh” in there from here. Here’s a sample of her dialogue:
“This is the, uh, King’s Room. It’s called the, uh, king’s room because, uh, it’s big. Welcome to the, uh, king’s room. It’s big. Uh, if you have any questions about, uh, the King’s Room, or it’s, uh, bigness, you can, uh, ask them now, here in the, uh, King’s Room.”
I learned a lot, though. Did you know that they filmed Journey to the Center of the Earth in the, uh, King’s Room?
At one point they turn off all the lights so you can see what the cave “really” looks like. Which is to say, pitch black. Of course, Mr. Skankleton took this opportunity to belch, then yell out:
“Could I stay down here?”
“If only we could be so lucky!” Wifey yelled.
“Who said OOF!”
When the lights came up, Mr. Skankleton was sprawled out with a big rock on his face. We never did ascertain who threw the rock, but I know that Wifey was dusting off her hands when the lights came up and a piece of the retaining wall next to her was missing.
Nobody down on our end said anything, though, except a few congratulations and one high five. Mr. Cool even slipped Wifey a five-spot with his phone number on it. If he’d have had a cowboy hat I’d have driven away alone, I’m guessing.
After the cave we did what any family enjoys during a spelunking trip: we went pervert watching. We were wandering around, looking at underground stuff, when Wifey nudged me.
“What the hell is going on over there?” she asked.
If you want to pay 3 bucks, you can rent these foot-long “Talking Ranger” devices that, when you press a button, will narrate various facts about the cave. A really lonely woman had rented one, and was in the process of punching buttons and rubbing it in her own nether regions as she squatted and writhed next to the railing.
I’m just glad we didn’t go by any low-hanging stalagmites while she was in the area playing “sit and spin” on them.
She seemed to be taking the offer to “get in touch with the cave” a little too seriously. I put my hand over the boy’s eyes, and we forced the girl to turn around. I know, Jocelyn Elders wouldn’t approve, but these choices should really be left up to the parents.
“Should we say something?” said Wifey.
“Like what, need a cigarette?”
“No, I mean to the rangers?”
“I’ll take care of it.” I said.
We all boarded the elevator, which travels up at nine miles per hour. See? I was paying attention. At the top, Wifey nudged me as Madam Pervert dropped off her auto-tour.
“Burn this one,” I said to the ranger standing helpfully next to the display.
“Why?” asked the ranger.
“She knows,” I said, pointing to Madam Pervert.
Once outside, the entire family forgave me for yesterday’s disaster, and we swore never to speak of it again. I, of course, immediately immortalized the entire affair on the Internet to make sure that years from now we’ll have that treasured memory of a crappy day to look back at and laugh.
Or discuss in therapy.
Once back at White’s City, Wifey decided that I needed to go to the auction in progress. She’d been frustrated of her desire to buy some glassware, but insisted that since I hadn’t yet bought a souvenir I needed to do so there.
“Why can’t I buy one like a normal person?” I asked.
“Because this is an auction,” she said. “You can bid on it.”
“What do I want to bid on stuff for?” I said.
“It’s more interesting to have something you bought at auction than some piece of crap you paid for in a gift shop.”
For some reason I found this compelling, and hastened into the auction.
There’s a certain kind of madness that sets in when you are in an auction. Specifically, you begin convincing yourself that every poorly-carved horse genitalia that some cowboy used for comfort on those lonely prairie nights is really worth a lot of money if you could just find yourself the right bidder.
What you have to remember is that for the auction house, you are the right bidder for the piece of crap that is currently being offered.
I ended up buying five things: four pieces of metal that they claimed were swords and a piece of wood that once belonged to Billy the Kid. It had twenty notches in it, one for each man he killed. The metal only cost me about a hundred bucks, but Billy’s Kill Stick cost six hundred bucks.
But how many people can say they have an authentic Billy the Kid Kill Stick? Only me, I figure. It was signed “Neal” but the auctioneer said that Neal was Billy’s official carpenter, and even signed his gun handles.
Once I’d finished at the auction, I joined my family at Death and Fun Water Slides and No-Fault Amusement Park, otherwise known as a pool and two water slides. I did not expect great fun; in fact, I expected a quick compound fracture or a spinal injury.
Like good parents, we accompanied our children up the four flights of stairs to the top of the water slides, which creaked with age and dripped from every joint.
“Are they suppose to do that?” Wifey asked.
“Sure,” I said. “That’s to keep the water pressure down.”
“You go first,” she said.
“No, I insist,” I said. “Ladies first.”
“I don’t know how to do it,” she said. “You show me.”
“You just sit on your ass and slide down,” I said. “Surely even you could figure that out.”
See what I did there? Screwed up with that last part of the sentence.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” she asked.
“It means I’ll go first,” I said. “But I insist on taking the boy with me.”
At the top of the stairs, we found a gaggle of teenagers cavorting in flagrant violation of the “no horseplay” sign.
Anticipating trouble, I took the True Path of the Pussy.
“Let’s just go back down and hide in the room,” I said. “There are rowdy teenagers up here.”
“NO!” The boy insisted. “We’re going down that slide!”
“Even if it kills you!” said the girl.
“Let’s not get our hopes up,” Wifey said.
I sighed and approached the gaggle of teens, expecting to be found the next day beaten and hanging by my underwear from the flagpole out front.
Sorry, flashed back to college for a second there.
They parted like the Red Sea for Moses. One of them, their leader judging from his backwards hat and Alpha Male posture, gestured to the slide.
“Please, sir, go on ahead of us.”
“That’s okay,” I said. “You were here first.”
“We’re going to take some time up here,” he said. “You and your lovely family go on ahead and enjoy yourselves. We don’t want to be a bother to you, sir.”
He said this without a trace of irony or cockiness; it was utterly sincere. I don’t know what they put in the water in New Mexico, but they have most polite slacker teenagers anywhere in the country.
We slid down, and I discovered that with a five-year-old on your lap the exposed bolting can rip a generous chunk out of your ass when you go over it.
At the bottom, having snorted a gallon of water, I helped Wifey out of the tube when she arrived.
“He called me ma’am!” she said. “What nice boys!”
“It almost makes me want to go again,” I said.
“HEY DAD!” yelled the boy from atop the stairs. “GET A MOVE ON, WILL YOU?”
All in all we slid about thirty times. Turns out that the teens, when they were all assembled, hooked themselves together like the Barrel of Monkeys and then would all slide into a great tumble at the bottom of the tube, crashing into great fits of laughter.
But only if they weren’t disturbing anybody else. Damndest thing I ever saw.
Later that evening, I stopped by the shopette to pick up a beer, and I was carded. Now, I appreciate the thought, but I don’t look anywhere near 18.
“I need to see an ID,” the clerk said.
“Will my unlaminated, out-of-country, undated driver’s license with a picture that doesn’t look like me do?” I said.
“Sure will,” she said.
“Okay, let me go make one,” I said. Moments later, I produced the not at all realistic looking document (which is actually real).
“Thank you, sir,” she said.
Once I’d taken care of that I headed back to the room. There I found the children setting up their poke-cards.
“These are some really rusty pieces of crap you bought,” Wifey said. “Hope you didn’t pay too much for them.”
“I didn’t,” I said. “Did you see the kill stick?”
“No,” she said.
“This is a great poke-card holder you got!” the children said. “We love it!”
“What?” I asked. “What are you talking about?”
“This,” the girl gestured to a piece of wood holding up a poke-card. “We broke it up and put the cards in the notches.”
“It didn’t have enough so I made more!” the boy proudly held up my also-ruined bottle opener that he’d been using to notch the stick.
“That was my Billy the Kid Kill Stick!” I said. “You’ve ruined it!”
“It was obviously fake,” Wifey said. “He didn’t get killed twenty times.”
“Forget it,” she said. “It’s not like you paid a lot of money for it.”
“Right,” I laughed. “It was cheap.”
Sometimes it’s good to be the one who pays the credit card bills.
After this, we went to see the bat flight, the highlight of our visit to Carlsbad. I will be honest with you: this is not to be missed. Not only is it cool, it’s free.
Hundreds of thousands of these bats come swarming up out of the cave mouth, swirling off into the horizon like a cloud of vampiric fury.
The only bad part is that the bats don’t keep a schedule, so you have to wait through a variable amount of ranger blah-blah before they arrive. And you can only listen to so many bat facts before you start humming the theme to Batman and fidgeting in your seat.
For the boy that was five minutes. I held out about ten.
But finally the bats came, and it was awesome. The boy, though, didn’t particularly care for it. Too many swirling, swarming bats for his taste. So he had to be held and comforted throughout the event.
As we were leaving the girl noticed the “adopt a bat” sign. For five dollars, you get a certificate, a bat fact sheet, and a picture of your bat. You can name the bat whatever you like.
“Can we do it, dad? Please?”
“No,” I said. “We’re going back to the hotel to go to bed. We have a long drive ahead of us tomorrow.”
At that very moment the boy, who has alternated between apathy and displeasure since we arrived, began to cry.
“What’s wrong?” asked Wifey.
“I want to adopt a cute little bat!” he wailed. “But you won’t let me!”
I’ll admit it: I caved. Listen, it’s easy to be judgmental from the other side of the computer screen, but you weren’t facing a seven-hour drive with a bat-deprived child the next day. So I sprung for two bat adoptions, because I can’t very well let two children pick one name.
Well done, National Parks Service.
Once we had those in hand, it was back to the hotel and to bed. Oh, and this famous bat photo of the adoptee?
A freaking postcard.
Well done indeed.
Tomorrow: KFC catfight!