Thursday, July 31, 2008

Slip Sliding Away

Several weeks ago I made Wifey an offer that she couldn’t refuse: in order to minimize the amount of packing we had to do, I’d buy both her and I nice clothes so that we could go to church with my parents in something other than shorts.

Then I’d forgotten all about making the promise. Turns out she hadn’t, though, and this morning she decided to call me on my offer to go shopping “somewhere nice” so we could find some fancy clothing. So, it was off to the stores, just the two of us.

We went to a store called Goody’s, which if you don’t know is a store common in the South where you can find nice clothing that isn’t terribly expensive. Wifey is very choosy, but she managed to come up with several items that she liked enough to try on.

This is a big deal, since Wifey typically finds one item, tries it on, and hates it. But this time she had about eight different things she wanted to try on. We located the dressing rooms easily enough, despite the fact that there were neither customers nor sales associates to help us navigate the tangled store. It was like Omega Man.

“The sign says only five items,” she said. “Can you hold some while I go try these on?”

“I ain’t holding nothing,” I said. “Just take ‘em in. What are they gonna do, throw you out of the store?”

“I guess,” she said reluctantly. Wife always wants to follow the rules. I, however, am a scofflaw.

After looking around, I realized that this was simply too good an opportunity to pass up: an empty store, lackadaisical help, and Wifey willing to try stuff on. I picked out the trashiest dress I could lay my hands on and tossed it over the dressing room door.

“Here,” I said. “I saw this and thought you might like it.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

“Do it as a favor to me,” I said.

She sighed. So many things start out that way, after all. But like a good wife she tried it on and, if I do say so myself, looked quite fetching in it. At least, I wanted to go fetch her, but the dressing room door locked. So I had to content myself with peeking in through the two-inch gap around the door.

Thank goodness for poor maintenance, I kept telling myself.

“You gonna get nekkid in there, or what?” I asked her.

“I’m not going to get naked,” she said. “Go away.”

“What if I stick a dollar in through the door slat?” I said, pushing in a bill. “Could I at least get a little nipple?”

“Go away or I’ll call security!” she said. For the record, though, she still took the money.

“In Goody’s, no one can hear you scream,” I said. “You wanna join the dressing-room club?”

At that point a hangar hit me in the eyeball. I swear, that woman doesn’t ever want to join any clubs. I’m beginning to think she’s a violent loner.

Eventually she chose out some clothing she liked, a red paisley skirt and black top that made her look vaguely like a 19th-century school marm. I picked out a fishnet stocking/black garter belt combo to go with it that she promised never to wear, but we’ll see. I can be very persuasive when I beg.

For myself, I went with the classic black shirt/gray slacks combination. No need to mess with a classic, right? Plus, it has the added bonus of making sure that every single flake of dandruff that falls off my head is advertised to everyone within eyesight.

And that’s gotta count for something.

Then it was on to shoe shopping, or as I like to call it, hell. There is no single thing I like less in the world than shoe shopping. Here’s why:

When a man buys shoes, he goes to the spot in the store where they have that kind of shoe, he picks some out, he tries them on, and he buys them. That’s the end of it. So I did this: go to black dress shoes, do not wander around in sandals and boots, do not spend $200.

Women in a shoe store are like Jeffrey in those Family Circus cartoons where he goes all over creation to go from point A to point B. Wifey wandered all over, looking at every conceivable style and type of shoe that they possibly offered.

“You’ve never worn four-inch stiletto red heels in all your life,” I said when I caught up to her. “Unless you worked as a prostitute for a while that I never knew about.”

“I was just looking at these,” she said. “I’m searching for a comfortable pair of black dress shoes.”

“You’re not going to find them in the slattern section!” I said.

She grumbled something about how unhelpful I was and wandered off.

Because shoes were buy one, get one half price, she ended up buying two styles of black shoe: regular and open-toed. I picked the open-toed shoes out over her protests, as she’s never worn that style of shoe in her life. But I thought it went well with the fishnets.

Finally we were finished: one pair of clothes for each of us. Total time: three hours. Ay, carumba. So we went to Ruby Tuesday’s for lunch, one of the few restaurants where we hadn’t yet eaten.

The waiter was a nice guy and did a good job, other than right at the beginning where he brought me a coke instead of an ice tea. When I pointed it out to him he furiously apologized.

“I’m so sorry about that,” he said. “I know better, too. You guys always order the same thing.”

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that we’d never been there before. Of course, it’s possible that Ruby Tuesday’s waiters have a group mind, and he was recalling collective memories from all our other visits to other Ruby Tuesdays in other states back when we still lived in the US.

But somehow I doubt it.

That afternoon, we had a mini family reunion. My cousin, his girlfriend, and each of their daughters were coming over to play with my children, along with my aunt (his mother). In order to help wear out the children, grandma and grandpa set up the Slip N Slide in the front yard.

It was quite a complicated affair, a three-lane behemoth that ran about ten feet and ended in a small pool at the bottom. In flagrant violation of the instructions, we set it up to run downhill so that the children could gain maximum speed and increase their injury potential.

Once we had that set up, we were ready to go.

First one up: the boy. He ran, jumped onto the slide, and immediately smacked his head against the ground. Springing up, he declared it the devil’s toy and refused to step foot on it again for the rest of the afternoon.

Smart kid.

Next up was the younger of the two cousins. She ran at it, jumped on her stomach, flew to the end, flew off the end, and skidded five feet on the ground. She declared it the coolest thing ever.

Then came my daughter. She hesitantly stepped on it, crab-walked down the length, and said it was okay.

Finally, the older of the cousins. She sat down and scooted down the length of the slide like a dog trying to wipe it’s ass on the carpet. She said it was too difficult

I had had enough. “Out of the way!” I bellowed. “I’ll show you how to play with this toy!”

I ran at it and dove stomach-first, intending to slide to the end and show them that it takes speed to do this properly.

What I actually showed them was that the ground is hard, and when you weigh more than forty pounds it hurts like hell to slam yourself into it. I felt the impact all the way to my armpits, and by the time I got to the bottom I worried that I had permanently injured myself.

The children were amused. “Again, again!” they cried. The boy even insisted on riding me down, like some sort of perverse water park ride designed to punish unruly prisoners.

Every time I went down the slide I could actually feel my bones fracturing and muscles tearing. I eventually had to take breaks to chug a gallon of milk to stave off osteoporosis. When I finally convinced them to release me from sliding, every part of my body ached, including several places I was unaware that I had.

In total, I slid about four times. Finally in too much pain to continue, I crawled to the shower and put myself under the hot water.

“Sore?” Wifey asked when she came in to check on me an hour later.

“Uh-huh,” I said. “How are the kids?”

“They’re still sliding,” she said. “They’re not old men.”

“I’m not old either!” I said.

“You’re the one soaking his feet in Epsom salts, not them.”

When I’d finished, I hitched my pants up to my armpits, went outside and sprayed them all down with the hose. Damn kids were on the lawn, after all.

After dinner we caught up with my cousin and his family, having a good time.

The evening went on and on. I was sore, and very tired. But everyone was having too much fun to leave and let me go to bed. And I’m too young to have to crawl off to bed just because every muscle in my body aches like I’ve been run over by a steamroller.

So I did the next-best thing: I sent the kids to bed. Oh, sure, they protested because it was 7:15 and well before their bedtime, but I had to have some reason to chase everyone off and go moan myself to sleep.

After all, I’m not getting any younger.

Damn slip and slides should come with a warning: DO NOT USE IF YOU ARE OVER 10 AND HAVE ANY SENSE OF SELF-PRESERVATION!

Tomorrow: Catching Up is Hard to Do

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Death to Furby

When I came upstairs, I heard the familiar morning sounds: cartoons on the television, children and grandparents chattering about everything that’s happened over the vacation, the microwave cooking breakfast. But there was one unfamiliar voice, and nobody seemed to be paying attention to it.

It sounded like a deranged miniature poodle had learned to talk, but then gotten extremely drunk. “Mama,” it said. “I’m sick. Need medicine. BEEELCH! Feel better.”

When I came into the kitchen, I saw to my horror that each child was seated next to a Furby.

“Look what Grandma gave us, daddy!” said the boy.

“You can teach them to talk!” said the girl.

“Waa! Waa!” said the Furby. “I’m hungry!”

“Oh joy, rapture.” I said over their wailing. “I missed having an inconsolable whiny creature around the house.”

All that psychic energy invested in a vasectomy, down the drain because of four double A batteries and an overgenerous grandmother.

“Where did you get these?” I asked.

“I found them down at the secondhand store,” grandma said. “Aren’t they great?”

“They’re awesome!” said the boy.

I just shook my head.

“You know what’s the best part?” Before I could answer, he told me. “Mine doesn’t have an off button!”

In my opinion, whoever designs a noisy toy with no off button should be beaten with a sack of nickels. I think this should be federally mandated. Any candidate who advocates this would immediately earn my vote, regardless of their positions on any other subject.

Once we’d eaten and cleaned up, we headed over to my brother’s house to visit him and his family. He had a day off from his busy schedule as a bikini inspector, and his kids are near the age of my kids, so we’d planned to get together and “do something” so the kids could be reacquainted.

We had no fixed plan because that sort of thing just dampens family fun. We were going to play it by ear.

Four years ago when my parents retired, they moved from Washington state back to Tennessee to the town where I grew up. They bought a house with an in-law suite, then told my brother and I that it was so that either of us could come visit at any time and stay with them for as long as we wanted.

His house is a forty-minute drive away, as it is in the next town over. So essentially, it is my duty to come visit the grandparents and stay with my children.

At any rate, we grabbed what we needed (swimsuits, a toy for each child, and sunglasses) and headed over to his house. It’s a nice house, located downtown in a real, live, city. Oh, sure, you sometimes get to see prostitutes walking the streets near their neighborhood, but that gives the area local flavor.

Only it’s not the kind of local flavor that you want to lick without a tongue condom.

The children had a wonderful time playing. I showed my brother the priceless artifacts I’d bought at auction, and he pretended to be impressed, which is really all I could ask for. It’s hard to get too excited over rusted chunks of metal.

In the afternoon we went over to a park in the city that features incredibly overheated playground equipment and a small water park. When I say water park, what I mean is spraying fountains and some water cannons that the children can shoot at one another.

Thankfully, the cannons cut off if you point them at the benches where the grownups sit. I wish the guy that had worked on them had designed the Furbies.

While there, I heard a woman with tattoos down her arms and a nose ring complain that her in-laws don’t give her respect and treat her like she’s a bad mother. Actual quote:

Sympathetic friend: “Where’s your son?”

Tattoo Annie: “I’m not sure where he’s got off to. He was here a minute ago. BILLY! BILLY!” Shrugs. “I’m sure he’ll show up.”

I signed up for her online parenting courses right on the spot. I’m wondering what the thousand dollar lab fee was for, though.

Did you know that if you point a camera at a child, you can manipulate them into standing on the water jets and getting them to shoot up the leg of their swim shorts while pretending to take their picture?

Did you also know that their mothers think this is cruel? So you need to only do this to your own children. It’s hilarious family fun, though.

Well, it was fun for me, anyway.

After that, my brother offered to take all the children away with him to their church’s VBS program. Since this offered a chance for Wifey and I to be alone for the first time in weeks, we not only took him up on it but pre-emptively ditched my sister in law so that we could be alone.

I would say she deserves it, but she really doesn’t. But we ditched her anyways, with extreme prejudice and with no guilt whatsoever. Then we had the difficult problem of deciding what restaurant to go to. I wanted to go to The Melting Pot, but we didn’t really have time.

But I wanted to mention in writing that I love the Melting Pot. Everyone should go there, even though you have to take out a second mortgage to afford it.

So we settled on Outback Steak House. Say what you will about OSH, but since it’s got those blooming onions with spicy crack on them, Wifey loves it. She’ll eat just about anything if it involves onion.

(Get your minds out of the gutter. I’ve never tried that. Well, once, but it felt like somebody was feeding my dick into a meat grinder when some got on my pee slit and I spent four hours in the emergency room because “dick discomfort” isn’t considered “critical.”

Damn female nurses and their gunshot wound fetishes.)

As we drove towards Outback, I started to give her the old razzle-dazzle to see if I could get her pilot light started. It never hurts to try, right?

“So,” I said to her. “Seen any good westerns lately?”

She looked at me, pursed her lips, and prepared to say something terribly sexy. Only I don’t know what it was, because just then a Furby farted in the back seat.

“Scuse me!” it said. “Hahahaha.”

“Did he bring that damned Furby?” she asked.

“Sure sounds like it,” I said.

“I’m sick,” it said. “Whaa! Feed me!”

It kept this up for the entire drive to the restaurant. This is not conducive to intimacy, but it is conducive to thoughts of suicide.

Or homicide.

Or, even better, Furbicide.

We sat down inside and the waiter asked us our drink orders.

“I’ll take a Sam Adams,” I said. I needed something to dull the ache in my head from listening to Furby chatter for fifteen minutes. Plus, I’d never had a Sam Adams, so I thought I’d try one.

“Can I see your ID?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said. “If your X-Ray vision will run twenty miles.”

“You don’t have ID?” he and Wifey asked at the exact same time.

“Nope!” I said.

“Then you can’t have a beer,” he said.

Damn ‘ID Everyone’ laws. I’ll pass for 18 the day that Pamela Anderson passes for a good actress. We ate a good meal (and drank soda pop like wholesome American teens) and then headed back over to my brother’s place.

The whole way there the Furby farted, burped, and cried. It was like having a deranged five year-old in the back seat. The damn thing didn’t go ten seconds without saying something.

When the children returned, thrilled with their evening out, we headed back to grandma and grandpa’s house. It’s about forty minutes.

The whole way the Furby farted, burped, and cried for food, medicine, and mama. The boy tried to gently sooth it, spoke softly to it, threatened it, and generally did everything a good parent should do to calm an unruly child.

“Let me try,” said Wifey. He handed it up to her. “SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP!” she shouted while shaking it like a Polaroid picture.

“Just hand it to me,” I said rolling down the window. “I’ll fix it up real good!”

“No, let me try,” she said.

She then spent the next ten minutes cradling it next to her breast and trying to calm it, but it ignored her and continued to whine and moan. We couldn’t take the batteries out because we didn’t have a screwdriver.

We couldn’t toss it out of the window because of vague ethical considerations, but I eventually convinced the boy to give it a shot.

By the time we got back, the family had two new rules:

1) Furbies are so special that they need to stay at grandma’s house

2) Furbies may never ride in the car ever again under any circumstance

We got in and put the children to bed, then turned in ourselves.

The first thing I did was start farting, burping, and whining to get Wifey to comfort me by clutching me to her breast, too.

Didn’t work, though. She just made me sleep on the couch.

Tomorrow: Discovering New Methods of Pain

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Garnets and Grossness

We woke up ready for action, adventure, and breakfast. Fortunately, all of those lay in store for us on our last morning in Gatlinburg. After a hearty hotel meal of tiny donuts and stale cereal, we discussed what we wanted to do.

That was when the girl shocked us with a terrifying revelation. “I want to get my ears pierced,” she said. “Right now.”

Let me tell you something about the girl: she does not like pain. Even having her hair cut makes her wince. She’d been having a mental argument about whether the benefit of sparkly earrings was outweighed by the pain of having a hole punched in them.

Quite frankly, Wifey’s description of having an ear pierced didn’t help. “They take this big needle, attached to something called a gun, and they shoot it through your ear.” She made it sound like spear-hurling at a hundred paces or something.

“Does it hurt?” the girl would ask.

“Yes,” said Wifey. “And once you have one done, you can’t wimp out and not have the other one done. So if you’re gonna get ‘em done, get ready for pain in both ears.”

But the girl had decided that now was the time, and she was quite insistent. So our other plans for the morning (hitting the Pigeon Forge outlet malls to find clothing for the children) were put on hold as we seized the moment to get her ears pierced.

Down the street from the hotel was Claire’s, a store that specialized in ear piercings. And lucky us: the ear piercing was free with purchase of a “starter kit.” The girl picked out which kit she wanted, settling for her birthstone.

“Make sure to get fourteen karat gold,” said Wifey. “Because you know I have an allergy to any metal but fourteen karat gold.”

“I have an allergy to non-satin sheets and doing housework,” I said. “When are you going to help me with that?”

“Right after you finish a game of backgammon,” she said.

I got the feeling she still hadn’t forgiven me for yesterday.

Inside Claire’s the girl took the seat of honor, her jaw set in grim determination. Wifey held her hands and tried to calm her. The piercing attendant went to work preparing the apparatuses. I filled out paperwork.

During all this the boy, who was somewhat put out by having to stand in a girly store for thirty minutes while everyone worried over girly things, managed to find the single most inappropriate item in the entire shop. I swear, he’d find something inappropriate in a Cathedral bookstore.

What he found was a sheep that, when you pressed it, ejected a brown balloon from its ass like it was blowing either shit or a big solid fart out the rear end.

He held it up in front of the girl. “Three, two, one, PPBBBT!” and then he rocketed it up in front of her. She, of course, laughed, because he is a comedy genius.

“Stop it!” I said.

“I’m just showing her my poopy rocket,” he said. “I’m trying to calm her down.”

“Well, don’t do that,” I said.

“Okay.” Then he held the sheep up, poopy butt inflated, and began to fly it around. “Poopy sheep, to the rescue!”

“Don’t do that, either!” I said.

“Hey, look,” he said. “Mr. Sheep, how are you today? FART!”

This line of play continued for about ten minutes, as a crowd of five to sixteen year-old girls gathered to watch the upcoming piercing. I became nervous, because the boy and I were the only males in the group, and I wondered if we were going to be accused of violating the sanctity of this ritual because of his playing with Poopy the Sheep.

“Can I take him to a weapons shop?” I asked.

“No!” Wifey said. “What if we need you?”

“If you need me to do something during an ear piercing, you’re pretty much screwed,” I said.

“You stay,” she said. “You, play with Poopy over there!”

“I want to see them punch a hole in her ear,” he said. “I want to see the blood.”

“There will be blood?” the girl began to get out of the chair. “I don’t want this any more!”

“Never mind,” said the technician. “It’ll be over in a second. When I count three, I’m going to do this ear, okay?”

“Okay,” said the girl.

“One, two…”

POW! She hit the ear on two. I could tell the technician had worked with children before.

“OW!” yelled the girl. This did not inspire confidence in the onlookers, but was apparently allowed because no one howled for her blood. We were still the only two males in attendance, and I swear I heard drumbeats off in the distance somewhere.

“Sorry, honey,” said the technican. “This time I’ll count all the way to three.”

“You’d better,” said the girl dangerously.

“Okay, one…”


“Two, three, it’s finished.”

“That’s it?” asked the girl.

“Yeah, that’s it,” said the lady. “What do you think?”

“They’re beautiful!” said the girl. “When do you bring out the big gun?”

“We don’t have a big gun,” said the lady, holding up the small box she’d used. “Just this.”

“I thought there was going to be a big gun hanging from the ceiling.”

“No, Mr. Bond,” I said ominously. “I expect you to have pierced ears!”

“Have you been watching crap with them again?” Wifey asked me.

“I wouldn’t dream of it, Octopussy.”

“You know I hate it when you call me that,” she said.

“Can I have Poopy?” said the boy. “After all, she got pierced ears.”

So we finally finished up and left, with holes in our flesh and a sheep that shoots shit out its ass. This is not a bad metaphor for any trip to Gatlinburg.

And this starter kit? Its cost was suspiciously close to an ear piercing plus two gold earrings. I’m just saying.

Next we got underway to Pigeon Forge, home of Dollywood, miles of minigolf/go-kart places, and outlet malls. Wifey wanted to do some clothes shopping here instead of back in Europe, where everything costs an arm and a leg and still doesn’t fit quite right.

The road between the two towns winds through the foothills of the Smokeys, which means you pass through dense forests and, at one point, a tunnel.

“You know,” she said to me. “If you were a dipshit, you’d honk right now.”

HOOONK the car behind me went.

HOOONK the car in front of me went.

“Can I join, too?” I asked.

“If they all drove off a bridge, would you-”


Hey, I’m both a joiner and a dipshit. I make no excuses for this.

We went to the outlet malls at Tanger, who I will say make a good, clear map to allow you to find every single overpriced children’s clothing store that they offer. Children wear clothes for about a week before they grow out of them, hate them, or ruin them. Why do they cost sixty bucks again?

“I thought Outlet Malls offered bargains,” I complained.

“No, you’re thinking of second-hand stores,” she said.

I won’t bore you with the details of our visit to store after store after store searching for whatever, other than to say that by the time it was done the living among us envied the dead.

After that it was time for lunch. As we drove, Wifey proposed various places. The children sat in the back, oblivious, watching a movie.

“How about Taco Bell?”

“We had that recently,” I said.

“What about McDonald’s?”

“We can have that at home,” I said.

“What about Arby’s?”

“The Arby hat looks like a condom,” I said. “And they have that horsey sauce that looks like spooge.”

“What’s a condom?” asked the girl from the back. She’d taken off her headphones.

“Yeah, daddy, tell us.” Wifey said. “What’s a condom.”

“Um, uh,” I pondered a moment. “I’ll tell you when you’re older.”

“Why don’t you just take her back to the zoo for a visual aide?”

“That’s not helping,” I noted.

“I never said it was,” she said.

Inside the restaurant (Subway, if you must know) we heard the new Sweet Home Alabama. I don’t know who made it, but they should be punched in the mouth and never allowed to make music again. They’ve ruined a perfectly good song with their off-key caterwauling.

Other than that it was a good meal.

Finally we were on the road again, and in no time we arrived at my parent’s house to begin the next leg of our odyssey: the Family Visit.

Tomorrow: Dinner for Two

Monday, July 28, 2008

Patience is a Virtue

I awoke at 5:15 yearning to play backgammon, and found myself faced with the eternal question: let sleeping spouses lie, or dare to live the impossible dream?

On the one hand, if I attempted to wake my spouse for amorous purposes, she might respond favorably. This is the “maybe” case.

She may also wake up, see me sucking her breast, and slap me silly. This is the “not today you sick bastard” case, with possible repercussions of “how-dare-you-touch-me-there-when-I’m-sleeping-you-pervert” that will shut down your sex life until she has suitably gotten revenge, like leaving you high and dry until after the reality television fade wanes, sometime around 2012.

Ultimately, two roads diverged in a horny wood, and I chose to take neither of them. I wasn’t enamored with the choice between maybe and never again, quite frankly.

Oh, sure, I could have played a game of solo backgammon. But at 5:15 I was looking for somebody to assist me. After all, I’ll still be there later if it comes to going it alone.

So I went back to sleep.

At 7:30, Wifey finally stirred. I strategically placed the dice cup in her hand (so to speak) and proposed a little pre-breakfast backgammon. After all, the children were sleeping soundly.

“I don’t think so,” she said. “I gotta pee.”

“What, is it Wednesday already?” I asked.

Note to self: camel jokes cause Wifey to clench her fists, and should be avoided while she’s handling sensitive equipment. While she relieved herself, I writhed in a non-erotic fashion in the bed.

So we got up. Well, I was already up, but we got out of bed and got dressed and went for breakfast. And then we headed into Gatlinburg to soak up all the tawdry tourism we could possibly handle.

First on our list of must-see attractions was Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum. It’s got the perfect mix of family tourism fun: not too bawdy, not too scary, and full of amazing things that bring to mind Jack Palance.

And more Jack Palance means more fun. Dean Cain sucks ass.

So we went inside. The guardian of the museum was a pig-faced woman with one single tooth who spoke like she was straight out of Shakespeare, which was somewhat unbelievable in and of itself. She never once suggested us buying a package which would have saved us a ton of money, since Ripley’s has bought about half of the attractions in Gatlinburg.

You know what? That’s totally believable.

So it was into the museum to view the strange, the odd, and the unbelievable. Only it’s all totally true. Because Ripley would never lie, would he?

My daughter immediately announced that she was a skeptic, and she didn’t believe anything. The boy said that he felt that Ripley was a reliable witness, and so everything was totally believable, especially the shrunken heads.

As we wandered through the exhibits of dog-headed boys and two-headed goats, I decided to see if I could get Wifey’s motor turning. In my best Jack Palance voice, I said:

“There is a man in this museum who can give you a mind-blowing orgasm. Believe it…or not!”

“Nah, I checked,” she said. “The wax dummy of the eight-foot man isn’t anatomically correct.”

“I meant me,” I said.

She smiled at me. “Past performance does not indicate future success in this area.”

After Ripley’s Museum, we went to Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokeys. It is, and I kid you not, one of the greatest Aquariums I have ever been in, and I’ve been in Aquariums in over ten states. And before anybody asks, no, I do not have the same problem as Troy McClure. I just like looking at fish.

We also picked up a three-pack pass to go see the Aquarium and two other Ripley exhibits in Gatlinburg. We had several options, but after reading them over it was clear what we were going to do: Ripley’s Davey Crockett Golf, because the boy was still channeling his inner Davey, and Ripley’s Mirror Maze, because everybody loves a Mirror Maze.

In Ripley’s Aquarium there is a thousand-foot shark tunnel that takes you inside the tank, with sharks and rays swimming all around you. It was awesome. A good time was had by all.

After that we were starting to get a little tired. “So,” I asked the family, “Anybody wanna go back to the room to get a little rest, maybe take a bath?”

“Yeah!” said the boy. “I want to play with my new toy shark in the super fun bathtub!”

“Yeah!” said the girl. “I want to play with my new manta-ray toy in the hurricane bathtub!”

“Not really,” said Wifey. “I’m feeling a little nauseous from the fish stink in there.”

So we went to the Mirror Maze. Now, this was great, except it cost me 10.50 to buy a ticket for the boy (the lady at the aquarium assured me it was cheaper this way).

“This better be one hell of a mirror maze to cost 10.50,” I grumbled.

If you’ve never been inside one of these things, let me tell you: they are terrifically disorienting. Poor lighting, mirrors everywhere, and your wife slapping you for even groping her reflection.

And the slap you get if you grab real boobie? Unbelievably hard.

They also make you put on little plastic mittens to keep from smudging the mirrors, which in the East Tennessee heat (average July temperature: 92 degrees) and humidity (85%, except just after the rain, when it plummets to 84%) begins to be a little bit of a problem.

After about ten seconds I was dumping sweat out of my glove. Since Wifey was wearing white, I was trying to get a wet T-shirt thing going, but she dodged too well and I ended up hitting an old lady from Louisiana. That actually started a scuffle over whether or not I then owed her beads since I had displayed her saggy goodies, and she hit me in the head with a purse, one of those macramé bead affairs that left a small cut just over my ear.

Meanwhile, my family left me behind in the mirror maze. Which was okay for me, since they played the same ten seconds of music on an eternal loop, much like the elevators in hell, and all I wanted to do was get out of there.

What was not okay was that I couldn’t find my way back out of the mirror maze, and when I finally got out my family had been standing out there for like ten minutes waiting on me.

“Am I glad to see you,” Wifey purred. “Let’s got take a nap, handsome,”

Then (and I was not expecting this) she stuck her hand down my pants. I almost didn’t even notice the guy in the cowboy hat with the big sweaty handprint on his ass complaining to the desk manager that somebody grabbed him in the mirror maze.

You know what? I have a motto: I don’t care who lit the pilot, as long as I get to cook the roast.

And I think you know what I mean.

So we rushed back to the room, over the loud protestations of our children. This ended up being a good thing, because about two minutes before we made it one of those southern summer storms popped up that drops five gallons of water per square inch for about fifteen minutes.

It was enough to drench us all. Inside, we put on a DVD for the children to watch, while Wifey and I went into the bathroom to “dry off and clean up.”

“So,” I asked her as she stood in the tub so I could close the door. “You wanna play some backgammon?”

In response, she jumped on me like I was a trampoline.

You know how sometimes, as married people, you make love? We didn’t do that. It was pure lust, a fire of need deep within us. I was powerful. I was passionate. I was aggressive.

I was finished in two seconds.

“Was that it?” Wifey asked me.

“Um, I think so,” I said.

“That was not even remotely worth it,” she said.

“I suppose I don’t need to ask if it was good for you?”


“Well, look at it this way,” I said. “Later tonight, I’ll be sure to satisfy you.”

“Why? You got a friend coming over?”

Okay, I deserved that, but it was something of a cheap shot.

After we’d rested some, and I’d wallowed in feelings of inadequacy, we headed out again. I had a very simple plan for the evening:

Go to dinner at Burger King (damn Pokecards).

Play minigolf at Ripley’s Davey Crockett course, located just across the street from the aquarium.

Come back to the hotel room and restore my manhood and amorous reputation by rocking Wifey’s world with the most complete Backgammon game she has ever played in her life.

“Should we take the car?” she asked me.

“Nah, we can walk,” I said. “I saw on the map that it’s right across from the aquarium.”

“I just don’t want you to be too tired out tonight,” she said. “Don’t forget that you owe me.”

I snickered. “You won’t be sorry, I promise.”

So off we went. As we reached the main strip, the girl saw Ripley’s Moving Theater, complete with giant dinosaur head breaking out of the front of the building.

“I want to do that,” she said.

“Sorry, we’re going golfing,” I said.

“I didn’t get to pick anything,” she said. “He picked golfing, you picked the aquarium, and mommy picked the mirrors. I didn’t pick anything. I pick the theater.”

“It’s only fair,” said the boy. “Unless you love me more.”

I sighed.

“I will not go in there,” Mommy said. “It says it causes motion sickness, and I get motion sick. But you guys can go, and I’ll just meet you in Burger King.”

After verifying that it should be thirty minutes, we were on our way. The children and I entered the waiting area, where we found a family reunion of about ten people, a knot of Indian (from India) tourists, and assorted other people in front of us.

“This isn’t too bad,” I said. “We should be in the next show, since this little area is hardly filled.”

Time passed. And passed. And passed. The children read every brochure for every sleazy place and crappy attraction in the greater area. But, finally, the one-eyed clerk came out and announced we were going to start the next show.

He then proceeded to admit people. He had to look at their ticket, then make a tick mark on the piece of paper, then make a mark on the ticket, then let them in. That’s it. This took a minute per person. I know it took a minute because I timed him.

The second problem was the knot of Indian tourists. It was like watching a clown car unload. Every second another kid or adult came out of the group, but it never got smaller. It just stayed there, the same size, to disgorge another person. It really helped me to understand how the hell they fit a billion people on the Indian subcontinent watching them. Indians are apparently compressible, unless this group was giving birth to ten-year-olds, which seems unlikely, since all the women had chosen to wait outside and it was an all-male group of tourists.

Finally, they ran out of people, and the usher announced we’d have to wait for the next show.

In eighteen minutes.

I did a quick count of those still waiting: we weren’t going to go in then, either. We’d go in the show after that.

“Let’s go,” I said.

“What about my choice?” the girl said.

“See, I told you mommy was better,” the boy said. “She’d never let this happen.”

“The tickets don’t go bad,” I explained. “We’ll come back after golf.”

We met mommy at Burger King, which was curiously empty even though it was 6:50.

“You’re early,” she said.

I explained the situation. “We’ll just swing by after golf,” I said. “No problem.”

“Will we have time?” Wifey asked.

“Of course!” I declared. “No problem!”

So we ordered our food. First problem: no credit cards. Okay, I had enough cash to cover it, but barely. It took every penny I had.

Second problem: no Pokemon cards.

“Can we finally stop eating at this godforsaken hellhole?” I asked.

“The next one might have them,” said the girl.

We ate in silence after that, the children subdued from disappointment, me subdued from failure, and Wifey wishing she had a husband who could live up to all his blustering talk. I swear she swooned when Desperado came on the radio, but she admitted nothing.

Then we were off, down to Davey Crockett’s Mini-Golf.

Once we’d hiked a mile past the Aquarium, she became suspicious that I didn’t know where the hell I was going.

“Let me see the map,” she demanded.

“The map shows that it’s right next to the Aquarium,” I said, using that voice that you only use to accuse spouses of calling you a dumbass for daring to question your decision. If you’re married, you know that voice.

She opened up the map. “The map clearly shows it way the hell and gone past the Aquarium.”

She handed it to me, but I had to step beneath a streetlight to read it in the purpling light of the growing dusk. I easily found the dot that said “Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokeys.”

“Right there!” I pointed to the Davey Crockett dot. “It’s right next to the aquarium!”

“It’s right next to the R in Ripley’s, dipshit,” Wifey said. “The actual aquarium dot is after the word ‘Smokeys.’ Look, there’s a shitload of street between the two of them.”

“Oh hell,” I said. “I think you’re right.”

“You know, a forced bataan death march after dinner is not conducive to intimacy,” she said.

“I am aware of that!”

“And you’re hardly proving me that you’re competent to finish the job that you started so poorly earlier.”

“I’m aware of that, too!” I said.

So we continued the march, with Wifey and the children voting about whether I was stupid, evil, or both. Only the girl took any pity on me.

“It’s okay, daddy, maps are hard to read,” she said. “Especially when they have words on them.”

Finally we reached Davey’s, and I have this much to say: it is at least worth the price of admission, assuming that you like mini-golf. And you get tickets for 36 holes, even though no one in their right mind plays more than 18 holes of mini-golf with a five-year-old.

After our round, Wifey looked over at me. “If you think I’m walking back up there, then you’re as stupid as I was this afternoon.”

“There’s a shuttle,” I said. “It goes to the Aquarium.”

“How does that help us?” she asked. “It’s right across the street.” And she used that totally fake voice that you use to mock your spouse.

“Don’t be a smartass,” I said.

So we headed over to the tram stop and waited for it. After about fifteen minutes, it finally came, and we boarded.

“That’ll be two bucks,” said the conductor. “Exact change only, please.”

Wifey dropped in six quarters. “We’re not with him.”

I patted my pockets. Nothing.

He shrugged at me. “Sorry, sir. Everybody’s gotta pay.”

The tram was just about empty. “But-but-but-” I gave Wifey a pleading look. “Please?”

Sighing, she dropped in two more quarters. “You better last longer than a fart tonight,” she said. “Or I’ll be squeezing those quarters out of your balls.”

“I understand!” I said.

And we were off.

“Look, daddy, it’s almost eleven!” said the girl.

“It’s waaaay past our bedtime!” said the boy. “I love vacation!”

“Me too!” said the girl. “Don’t you love vacation, mommy?”

“Yeah, except it’s too short,” she looked at me. “Especially when your father and I play backgammon.”

“You can play backgammon at home,” said the boy.

“We’ll see,” said Wifey. “We’ll see.”

Soon we were walking up the road towards the hotel. Just as we were about to turn off, the girl stopped and tugged on my hand.

“Daddy, what about the theater? Don’t you love me?”

“For the thousandth time, NO!” yelled the boy. “They love ME more!”

“I forgot all about that,” I said.

Wifey sidled up next to me. “Don’t worry,” she purred. “I’ll pick up some dessert, go back to the room, and slip into something more comfortable. When you’re finished with the theater, come finish what you started earlier.”

So we went to the theater. Luck was with us: we were first in line. I was worried that meant the theater was closed, but no such luck: eventually more people shuffled in. Finally, after the standard fifteen minute wait, we were ushered inside by a much more competent attendant.

“Here we go!” said the girl.

“I can’t wait!” said the boy.

I’m going to tell you everything you need to know about Ripley’s Moving Theater in one simple sentence: so awful even a five-year-old is disappointed.

The idea here is that while they project an image on the screen, your seats move and vibrate to give the impression of motion. The reality is that the seats don’t move very well, and the image is so poorly shot and chosen that you are continually jarred out of the idea that you are moving.

Like when, in the monster truck rally, you are continually shown shots of the driver’s face or the truck’s rear bumper. Listen, watching Cletus’ brow furrow as he runs over a school bus is just not exciting, okay?

After the monster trucks, we went on a dune buggy ride through the desert. After that, it was over.

“We didn’t go underwater,” said the boy. “Like they showed in the preview.”

“You’re right,” I said. We headed outside, me somewhat quickly in anticipation of having hot buttered Wifey for dessert.

“HEY!” the girl screeched to a halt. “Where was the dinosaur?” She faced the theater, which had a huge T-Rex head bursting through the façade. “There wasn’t any dinosaur!”

“Um, that’s true,” I said. “There wasn’t.”

“This ride sucked,” she said.

“Yeah!” said the boy. “It sucked bad.”

Typically I don’t like such language, but they were right: it sucks.

Speaking of sucks, I was in a hurry to get back to the room, so I frogmached them out of there at double-time.

Soon we were back at the room. Inside, I found Wifey face-down in an empty powdered donut box, completely naked except for the cowboy hat and sleeping like a log.

Looks like any backgammon played tonight will be played alone.

Tomorrow: Spend ‘til it hurts.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Only One Problem

When I finally dragged my lazy butt out of bed, I found the children on their second round of waffles, courtesy of Aunt M. They were also both clutching stuffed rabbits that I had never seen before.

“Where did you get those?” I asked.

“Aunt M gave them to us,” they said.

Oh, joy, more crap to haul back to Europe. Just what I needed.

I sat down and began eating my breakfast. As I ate, the children cycled in and out of the kitchen, bringing things that they found around the house.

“Can I have this beanie baby?” the girl asked.

“No!” I said.

“Sure!” said Aunt M.

“Can I have this stuffed monkey?” asked the boy,

“No!” I said.

“Sure!” said Aunt M.

I gave up at this point.

“Can I have this book?” asked the girl.

“Sure!” said Aunt M.

“Hey, one of you grab that hall clock!” I yelled. “We need one of those!”

By the time they were finished, it was like the scene from How the Grinch Stole Christmas where all there was were hooks and wire. I would have been embarrassed, but I was too busy trying to fit the gransfather clock in my car before they noticed it was gone.

Then the children invented a game called Bed Smush. They were sleeping on an inflatable mattress, and like all inflate-a-beds it had deflated overnight. So one of them would lie down, and then the other one would leap off a footstool onto the mattress, rocketing them (and various stuffed animals) into the air.

This game was best played in front of the large display case holding 6,000 Precious Moments figurines, their eerily-wide eyes staring down at the leaping children of doom. Closer and closer they came, each leap risking hundreds of thousands of dollars damage, as well as some scalp injuries.

But let’s be honest: if you’re going to ruin a forty-year-old priceless collection of breakable stuff, the only way to avoid prosecution is to bleed profusely.

When I heard the crash, I chose to finally investigate the laughing and discovered the joy of Bed Smush. Fortunately, nothing was broken.

“If either one of you breaks anything, then Aunt M will be mad,” I said.

“No she won’t,” said the girl. “We can do anything we want here. It’s heaven.”

“Yeah,” said the boy. “She’s better than you and mommy.”

As we prepared to leave, someone mentioned how hot it was. The boy immediately declared that he could fix it, then went outside and twisted the dial on the large thermometer that hung on the deck.

“Now it’s cooler,” he said.

The Noble Prize committee immediately called.

We finally left Aunt M and Uncle B’s. There was much crying, especially by the children. But not by me. We were finally heading to my love-nest destination: Gatlinburg.

If you don’t know the town, it’s a tawdry little village in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains that serves as a jumping-off point to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is a festival of hillbilly sights and sounds, and is the type of place that the phrase “tourist trap” was coined to describe.

It’s also a frequent honeymoon destination, so you can easily find “romantic” rooms. I had reserved just such a room:

Double queen beds, overlooking the creek, with a gas fireplace and a private balcony. The crowning achievement: a two-person whirlpool Jacuzzi tub, big enough to stretch out and enjoy each other’s company.

That’s right: it came with a big ‘ol sex tub. And one of the benefits of marrying a woman who grew up poor is that once you’ve paid for the big ‘ol sex tub, she feels compelled to use it lest you lose your money.

I am not above appealing to her baser nature to get laid. My general plan was to walk in, point to it, and say “Look, an erotic tub. I guess we need to use it erotically. Let’s get naked!”

So we set out on the road to Gatlinburg: me horny, the children sorry to leave Shangri-La, and Wifey with a touch of nausea, possibly from a boat outing sans Dramamine.

After I’d driven a couple of hours, I decided it was time for lunch. Actually, I decided it was time to pee, and near enough noon to justify eating. Plus, I wanted Wifey to drive for a while so I could catch up on my blogging, which I hadn’t done for a few days.

Your enjoyment, dear readers, is just that important to me.

We stopped at McDonalds, over the protests of our children. Damn Pokecards. Inside, it was a very nice establishment. I ordered, then waited for the food while Wifey and the kids found a seat. In reality I was using a pole to scratch my back, which was now peeling and bothering me to no end.

An elderly man and his wife approached the counter.

“I want a Big Mac with nothing but meat, cheese, and pickles,” said the man. “Lots and lots of pickles.”

“Ooookay,” said the woman. “What else?”

“I want extra pickles,” he said. “Did you get that?”

“Yes I did,” she said. “It doesn’t come with pickles, but-”

“I want pickles,” he said. “If there’s not enough, I’ll bring it back.”

“He will,” said the woman. “I’ve seen it.”

“There will be plenty of pickles,” the cashier said. “What else?”

“Just pickles,” he said. “And cheese.”

“I know, but what else do you want?”

He got exasperated. “Just pickles!”

“And cheese,” said the old lady. “Don’t forget the cheese.”

“I’ve got a Big Mac with pickles and cheese,” she said. “What else do you want to order?”

He sighed and spread his hands, looking around as if to say see what I have to deal with? “Nothing else!”

“Then your total will be two fifty-four.”

“For all my food?” he asked.

“You only got a sandwich,” she said.

“Oh, no, I want the meal. And an ice cream cone.”

“And my food,” said the lady. “Don’t forget my food!”

So they went through the process of ordering everything else, which was no mean feat. I was amazed at the cashier’s patience. Finally they finished and my food came up, giving me the opportunity to step between them and the cashier.

I leaned across the counter. “You should give him a cup of pickle brine to drink.”

Her eyes lit up and she glanced into the back. I can’t be sure she did it, but he did return his drink because “it tasted a little flat.”

We proceeded on to Gatlinburg, the children getting more and more excited as we came into an area that just screamed VACATION FUN AHEAD! Because nothing is more fun that seeing forty-two Dollywood Dixieland Stampede billboards in a two-mile stretch of highway.

All I could think about was the sex-o-matic tub.

“Feeling dirty?” I asked Wifey as we drew close. “I sure am.” Clever double entendre, eh? She suspected nothing.

“Yeah, I think I’ll take a shower tonight,” she said.

“Maybe a bath,” I said. “A nice, relaxing whirlpool bath to help ease out the aches of your tired muscles from the drive.”

“I guess,” she said.

Fool. She didn’t know what erotic pleasures awaited her.

Soon I’d checked into the hotel and we were walking into the room, or as I dreamed of it, Dr. Rod’s Romantic Love Nest and Kid Prison.

The room was exactly as described: gas fireplace, two large beds, whirlpool Jacuzzi tub sized for two, bathroom, and balcony over the river.

Except the damn Jacuzzi was sitting right next to the beds, and when turned on made slightly less noise than a plane crashing. I guess this is the way it had to be, because the actual bathroom was so small you had to close the door to get to the toilet paper. Only, to close the door you had to stand in the shower cubicle.

Because people on their honeymoon with two beds in the room often want a romantic interlude in the tub in the main area, but never need to take a shit. And if you have the runs, for the love of God be sure to close the door before you start.

“What is that for?” Wifey gestured at the tub sitting incongruously in the middle of the room.

“It’s for kids to take a giant super-fun bath in!” yelled the boy. “Thanks, dad, you’re the best!”

“You can make bubbles!” the girl said. “We can have a hurricane bath! You are the greatest!”

“I was hoping it was an aqua-sex machine,” I said.

Wifey laughed. “I don’t think so. Try again.”

“But can we still play normal Backgammon tonight? Please?”

“It doesn’t seem likely. I was kind of looking forward to a long, hot, bath. And I don’t think that tub will be used like you hope,” she said. Then, to tease me, she put on the cowboy hat. “Looks like you’ll be ridin’ the range solo tonight, pardner.”

“You sound like a dork,” I said.

Tomorrow: Not Worth the Wait

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Caviar with Everything!

The bad news: my son woke up at 5:45 AM.

The good news: he chose to go into a room that was not mine.

Aunt M knew that something was wrong when she felt a hot breath on the back of her neck. Rolling over, she found the boy staring at her.

“Where’s Uncle B?” he asked.

“He’s downstairs,” she answered.

“What, you mean he has to sleep downstairs?”

“No, he got up early and went downstairs.”

“Oh,” the boy said. “You wanna hear a song?” Without waiting for an answer, he started to sing Summer of ’69 to her. I hate that song, but it’s on his iPod because his mother has no musical taste whatsoever. What can I say? I love her anyway.

“Would you like to get in bed with me?” Aunt M asked.

“YES!” he leapt into bed before someone realized that the children, in our house, are never allowed to get into grownup beds.

Some few minutes passed before he decided to begin educating her.

“Do you know what the most sensitive part of a boy’s body is?” he asked.

“No,” said Aunt M. Bear in mind that she is a nurse who has written teaching texts on the subject, so is well familiar with anatomy.

“You might think that it would be the butt,” he said. “But that’s wrong. It’s actually the privates. Not the butt part of the privates, but the penis.”

“Oh, I see,” she said, laughing.

“I get hit in the butt a lot,” he said. “About once a day.”

“Why is that?”

“Because my parents spank me,” he said. Disclosure: the boy has never been spanked in his entire life.

“Why do they spank you?” Aunt M asked.

“Because I’m very naughty,” he said in a rare moment of honesty.

“Would you like some breakfast?” Aunt M asked.

“Yes!” he said.

At that moment the girl wandered in. “I want breakfast, too,” she said.

Entering the kitchen, Aunt M asked them a question that was far too open-ended. “What would you guys like?”

Let the bidding begin!

The girl opened with “Bacon!”

“Cereal!” raised the boy.

The girl saw that with “Eggs!”

“Toast!” said the boy.

Finally, the coup de gras: “Banana bread!”

“Yeah, banana bread!” said the boy.

“Your grandma told me you like that, so I made some yesterday,” Aunt M said. “I’ll get you some.”

So she cut them each a slice of banana bread and sat them down. The boy took one look at it and pushed it away.

“What’s the matter?” she asked.

“This has nuts in it,” he said. “Banana bread doesn’t have nuts.”

“The recipe said to put nuts in it,” Aunt M said. “So this banana bread has nuts in it.”

“Mommy’s banana bread doesn’t have nuts in it,” the girl said.

“Grandma’s banana bread doesn’t have nuts in it,” the boy said. “I don’t like nuts. Suck them out.”

Aunt M laughed. “Well, if you don’t want nuts, then you can’t have this banana bread.”

“You can make some more,” the girl suggested.

“Yeah!” said the boy. “Just open another box!”

“Try again,” Aunt M said. She proceeded to make them cereal, bacon, and toast.

“I would like an egg, please,” the girl said. “Hard-boiled, with no soft stuff inside, but not warm. I like them cold.”

“How about if I boil an egg and put it in the freezer for a while?” Aunt M suggested.


So that is what they did. When the egg came out, the girl declared it “still too warm” and it went back into the freezer, where it was forgotten about for the next 30 minutes. When the egg finally came out, it was frozen to the dish.

“This is no good any more,” the girl said. “Can you make another one?”

“It’s this or nothing,” Aunt M said.

“I’ll eat this one,” the girl pulled the egg apart. “But I don’t eat the yellow. Can you throw it away?”

“Okay,” Aunt M tossed it in the garbage. The exact moment that they yolk passed into the can, the boy spoke up.

“I like the yellow!” he said. “I would have eaten that! Can you get it out?”

“You don’t want it now,” said Aunt M.

“Then can you please boil me another one and freeze it so I can eat it?”

“Maybe tomorrow,” said Aunt M.

About this time, I emerged from the bedroom to find them both being waited on hand and foot. I don’t get treated this well, and I’m the sole wage-earner in my house. I focused on the boy.

“What are you talking about? You’ve never eaten an egg in your life,” I said.

“I know,” said the smiling boy. “But I MIGHT like an egg yellow. You never know, daddy. Tastes change.”

Once breakfast had been finished, we went fishing. Uncle B has a really nice boat, and he, the children, and I went out on it to do some catfishing. As an avid sportsman, Uncle B knows the ins and outs of all manner of hunting and fishing.

As somebody who never does this sort of thing, I know enough not to stick the hook into my own thumb. Although I do have a secret fear that someone will reel back, hook my eyeball, and then cast it forty feet out into the water, where it will be devoured by a barracuda yet all my nerve endings will perfectly function and for the rest of my life I’ll be wracked by horrible pain in my vacant, staring socket.

An eye or a testicle. Either way, it doesn’t sound pleasant.

Apparently in order to catch fish, you pick the one spot on the lake where every single particle of light from the sun hits at the exact right angle to make a sunburn itch painfully and make sweat drip from every pore in your body. Then, when you’ve made sure there is no breeze whatsoever, you wait.

And wait.

And wait.

It was enough to remind me of why I’m not an avid sportsman, but rather somebody who goes to one of those places where there’s a stocked lake with half-starved fish that will attack anything you dangle in the water, like drunken horny college boys at last call in a darkened bar.

That, or the fish case in the supermarket. Those are the prime fishing holes for me.

In fact, forget about all those other places and let’s just go to Red Lobster.

After about thirty minutes we were parched, so it was time to pull out a drink. The girl was sitting on the edge of the boat dangling her feet in the water, just in front of the drink hatch.

“Can you hand me a drink?” I asked the boy.

“Sure!” he said, opening the door and promptly dumping his sister into the lake.

After we’d finished laughing and fished her out (everyone in lifejackets: safety first), everybody said sorry and we went on. We picked another fishing spot and dropped our lines. Then I settled in to watch the fish finder, Uncle B busied himself with the trawling motor, and the children began dangling their feet in the water again.

I heard a SPLOOP behind me and turned just in time to see the girl’s hat disappearing beneath the waters. She bobbed up a second later, with far more aplomb than I think I would have managed.

“Could someone please pull me out of the water?” she asked.

In her position, I’d have said several kid-unfriendly words. After some time, we got a call from the shore that Wifey had come out with Aunt M and was ready to join our expedition. When we went back to shore to pick her up, the girl announced that she would prefer to disembark and seek further adventure on the shore.

The boy wanted to keep fishing. Until the exact moment we cast off the rope, when he decided that he, too, wanted to go ashore, thus ensuring the maximum amount of messing about and wasted effort until we got everyone where they wanted to be.

Plus, Wifey was somewhat disenchanted that her darlings had abandoned ship the moment she came aboard.

We fished a few more spots, catching one decent-sized catfish for our four hours of effort. But since there’s a big difference between 0 fish and 1 fish, we were happy. Plus, the quitter children didn’t get to see it, which teaches them a valuable lesson about perseverance.

Or something like that. I imagined that they were probably back at the house, sipping Virgin Marys while Aunt M fanned them as they ate peeled grapes.

On second thought, strawberries and cream. They don’t like grapes.

Back at the house, what we actually found was Aunt M busily slaving away over the grill as the children sat inside and watched cartoons. It seems they’d conned her into a barbecue, with various meat courses on the menu such as veal, elk, and longhorn antelope lightly glazed in an olive oil/basilica sauce. Aunt M had cleverly converted all requests into “hamburgers” and was working on those.

Once finished, we sat down to eat and everyone dug in. Everyone, that is, except the girl.

“What’s the matter?” I asked. “These are really good hamburgers.”

“She’s not eating,” said the boy. “You should spank her.”

I’ll take a moment to note that the boy typically does not eat and gets in lots of trouble about it, and his general prescription for any problem with his sister is to spank her. We don’t spank in our house, but we do hold it out as a potential punishment should the children cross the line so completely that they need the ultimate punishment.

So “spank” in our house is a code word for throwing the book at another child. It is always the boy’s first option for how we should deal with the girl.

“I was told there would be hot dogs,” the girl said. “Those are not hot dogs.”

“It’s basically the same thing,” Wifey said. “You like hamburgers. Could you please just eat one?”

“No,” she said. “I want a hot dog.”

“Spank her,” the boy said. “Spank her good!”

“Hush,” I said. “You had hamburgers just before we left Europe.”

“Those weren’t hamburgers,” she said. “Those were A-1 burgers. They’re completely different.”

“That’s backtalk,” the boy said. “Spank her twice.”

“Hush,” I said again. “Or I’ll spank you.”

“I have A-1 sauce,” Aunt M said. “Do you want some of that?”

“It’s too late,” the girl said. “They’re already cooked.”

“Could you try it with A-1 on it now?” I asked.

No, I want my hot dog,” the girl said.

“Daddy,” said the boy. “You know what I’d do? I’d spank her.”

“I’ll make her a hot dog,” said Aunt M. “I’ll just microwave it.”

“I would like it on the grill,” the girl said. “Like everybody else.”

“That’s it, if you don’t spank her, I will,” the boy said. “She needs to learn.”

“Hush,” I said.

“No grill,” said Aunt M. “Microwave or hamburger.”

Seeing she had no choice, the girl acquiesced and agreed to a microwave hot dog. To paraphrase Walter Kronkite, when you’ve lost Aunt M, you’ve lost the war.

That afternoon Aunt M took the children next door to visit her neighbor. This visit went well, until one child referred to Mr. B, and was viciously corrected by the boy that it’s “Uncle B!” and don’t you forget it.

A fistfight was narrowly averted by bringing out popsicles. The children also received parting gifts, which can be translated as “some kid’s crap that I want in your house instead of mine.”

As a thank-you I sent back over two fruitcakes and five pounds of lima beans.

Meanwhile, we washed clothes. And by “we” I mean “me” because Wifey informed me that, thanks to another round of snoring by someone who will remain nameless and undersexed, she was going to go take a nap.

So I decided to take revenge on her: I washed the only working key fob.

What else was I supposed to do? It was in her pants, and I didn’t check the pockets. The only real interaction I ever have with her pants is figuring out how to get them off of her. So it stands to reason that I never realized there would be keys in them.

When she woke up, and I finally admitted a few hours later that we now had no working remotes to open the car with, she said a bad word and called me a few names. Fortunately Uncle B managed to work a little magic, and we dried out the remote I went swimming with. It will now lock the car. It won’t unlock it, but you can’t have everything in life.

Yes, we can still get the car open, just not by remote. We have to do it by hand, the old-fashioned way.

And you know what? If you ever find yourself in this situation, don’t say “you’re old enough to remember when this was the only way to unlock cars, so you’d figure you’re used to this.”

It’s not conducive to intimacy.

Tomorrow: Pickle Sandwiches for Everybody!

Onwards and Northwards

Somebody was snoring all night last night. I won’t say who, but he looks like a Viking. Oh, sure, there have been some uneducated opinions comparing him to a hobo, but those people are largely ill-informed cranks with no proper knowledge of Scandinavian custom.

Wifey was not well-pleased. In fact, she awoke at 5 AM and announced that the snorer would either sleep in the bath tub or with the fishes. So I opted to get up.

As a peace offering, once everything was packed and ready I took the family to Bob Evans for breakfast. She likes Bob Evans, because they serve good biscuits and gravy, and every true southerner loves biscuits and gravy.

“I still hate you,” she said. “You snored all night and kept me awake. Don’t think that Bob Evans will make it all better.”

“I don’t,” I lied. Bob Evans always makes it better.

Our plan was to have breakfast, then meet up with Uncle G to go to Incredible Pizza Place. There was stuff to do there, he said, and then after that we’d head up to visit our family near St. Louis.

And by “our family” I mean my family. I was really hoping she’d be in a better mood, or this was going to be a difficult couple of days.

But Bob Evans always works. When she went into labor with our daughter, Wifey wanted to go to Bob Evans instead of going to the hospital so she could have one last, good breakfast. When I got a job 2000 miles away from the house we’d just bought that she loved, I broke the news to her at Bob Evans.

It’s like a silver bullet, and every problem is just another werewolf.

There was a little bit of a line at Bob Evans, apparently because Memphis couples were having lots of marital problems. But I wasn’t worried; we had plenty of time. We were seated quite quickly and, because I am an engineer, we had quickly worked out what we wanted.

“What can I get you to drink?” the waitress asked.

“I’ll have coffee and orange juice,” I said. “The girl will have milk, the boy wants apple juice, and she wants milk and orange juice.”

“Got it,” the waitress said. “I’ll be right back.”

“I still hate you,” Wifey said. “You snored all night and kept me up.”

Have I mentioned that Wifey does not function well on low sleep?

Time passed. We waited. More time passed. We waited some more. Finally, the waitress returned.

“I’m sorry, what did the little boy want to drink? Iced tea?”
“No, apple juice!” the boy said.

“Okay, so that’s apple juice for him, coffee and milk for the lady, decaf soy lemon twist latte for you, and orange juice for the girl?”

“There’s not a single drink in there that’s correct,” I said. “Coffee and OJ for me, OJ and milk for her, milk for the girl, and apple juice for the boy.”

“Got it,” the waitress said. “I’ll be right back.”

“If she puts anything expect milk and orange juice in front of me, I will hold you personally responsible,” said Wifey through gritted teeth. “I hate you for snoring all night.”

“Fair enough,” I said.

Fortunately, the correct drinks arrived for everyone. We ordered, hoping the food delivery went somewhat better than the drink delivery. It did, only it took about twice as long.

You know what? When your wife is fatigued, and you sit for an hour in Bob Evans while the waitress makes a mockery of your drink order, for some reason it doesn’t improve her mood.

Finally, after a long delay, we’d eaten. As we exited the restaurant, I checked to see if the power of Bob Evans still held.

“Do you still hate me?”

Wifey slapped me jovially, hard, right in the sunburn. “No, I could never stay mad at you.”

If I didn’t know better, I’d swear she did still hate me and did that on purpose.

We picked up Uncle G and headed over to Incredible Pizza. If you’ve never been, it’s like Chucky Cheese without the goofy animatronic crap and built by somebody who knows that kids don’t come to places like this for pizza, but rather for games.

I was struck by the Jesus fish over the doors. Apparently, they’re a wholesome family-themed religious place. Okay, no problem. I’m wholesome and family-themed, too.

Well, except after dark. Then it gets a little blue.

At the entrance the lady stopped me. “Sir, if you want to receive the free handouts then you’ll have to go around to the back,”

“I don’t want your handouts,” I said. “I want to come inside.”

“You know that we don’t allow the less-fortunate to disturb the guests during opening hours,” she said gently. “Just go around back and you’ll be taken care of. Now please step aside so that this lovely family can go in.”

“Yeah!” said Uncle G, his arm around Wifey.

“I’M A VIKING!” I said.

“An evil spirit!” she said. “Do you need an exorcism?”

I sighed. “No, three adults and two children. Can I have a hobo discount?”

Inside we availed ourselves of the games. What fun!

They have a G-Rated “Grand Theft Auto” where you drive a police car over tickets, then received the number of tickets you managed to hit. The boy loved that one.

There is also a Hilbilly Shootin’ Gallery, which I did. I love those things, where you use the laser-light rifles to make stuff happen. This, however, was the single lamest shooting gallery I have ever used. What crap.

They had a blacklight minigolf course that was super-fun. Wifey won, mostly because I let her. Uncle G was barely beaten by the girl, who trashed-talked him like she was Shaq to his Kobe.

“What’s the matter, can’t even beat a little girl?” she asked. “Want me to take your shots for you?”

I would have intervened, but Uncle G had it coming.

The buffet is so-so, nothing to write home about. But as I said, who cares? You don’t go to a place like that for the food, after all.

After lunch we dropped off Uncle G and prepared to head north, to visit some actual family, my paternal grandmother, and my aunt and uncle. As we always do before we get into the car, I took a pee stop, and I forced the children to do the same.

Camel girl, of course, was good ‘til Saturday, as she just went last full moon. I swear, she never pees.

Well, the girl is in and out in about five seconds. The boy? Somewhat longer. In fact, it went on long enough that I went inside to check out what the problem was.

It was like a massacre scene from an old Western, only the handprints weren’t in blood. They were in poop. All over the imported Carrera marble bathroom counter.

“I’m okay!” the boy insisted angrily. “I don’t need ANY HELP!”

I don’t know what the definition of “self-sufficient” fully is, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t include being in a bathroom with poopy hand prints all around you. Also, remember that Uncle G is a bachelor who, although friendly with our children, has no children of his own.

I was horrified. “Just hold still and let me clean up!”

“I don’t need help!” and to prove it, he wiped his hand on the wall. “I’m getting it all off, see?”

“Just stop!” I tried to think of the best way to handle this. Perhaps, if I just bundled everybody into the car quickly, we could be off before Uncle G noticed the damage. Maybe we could blame it on robbers with poor sphincter control.

But that didn’t seem likely. So I started the long, laborious job of cleaning up the bathroom using toilet paper soaked in sink water. Finally, we emerged, the bathroom and the boy no worse for the wear. I, however, had used half a bottle of hand sanitizer on myself.

“What’s going on?” Wifey asked me.

“You owe me a blow job, that’s what’s going on. Let’s go.”

It was a long drive north, about 4.5 hours. We got out of Memphis later than I wanted, so I needed to go non-stop. But, I was also fatigued. Remember, in order to placate Wifey I ended up sleeping on the toilet this morning, which was not very comfortable.

But I couldn’t very well ask her to drive, since she told me in no uncertain terms that since this was my family, driving was my problem.

So I did what any reasonable person would do: I bought a liter of Mountain Dew Code Red and drank it almost continuously.

At hour three, I had to pee, so I stopped and took a leak. So did the kids, so that was a good stop.

At hour 3:15 I had to pee, so I stopped and took a leak.

At hour 3:30, I had to pee, so I stopped and took a leak.

I did the same at 3:45, 4:00, 4:15,and 4:25.

“Can’t you wait five minutes?” asked Wifey.

“NO!” I said. “I got a potty emergency!”

Each time, I peed more and more. I swear the last time my urine was carbonated.

When we arrived, I’ll honestly say that I didn’t know what to expect. We don’t see them all that often, and this was the first time we’d ever gone to visit them. Typically they come down and visit while Wifey and I stay with my parents over the summer. But since we were so close, I’d arranged to stay with them for two nights.

We finally arrived there pretty late in the evening, about dinnertime. The children, also unsure what to expect, were unusually subdued during the meal. We had a nice chat with everybody and caught up.

Although we’d planned to go to Six Flags the next day, due to the sunburns we called this off.

“Don’t worry,” promised Uncle B. “We’ll find something fun to do tomorrow, I promise.”

We’ll see, won’t we?

Tomorrow: Kids gone wild

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Everyone is Wrong Except Me

Sunburn sucks, but there has been one nice perk: because Wifey is singed on the upper shoulders, it is painful for her to wear shirts. So whenever possible she’s been going topless.

“I’m sorry to everybody that I’m walking around without a shirt on,” Wifey apologized to us this morning.

“That’s okay, mommy, your bra is beautiful,” said the girl. You can always count on the girl for support.

“You want me to shoot it?” Little Davey was still walking around in cap and toting his rifle. I was taking great pains to make sure he didn’t smash a mirror or TV during one of his many bear fights.

“I dunno,” I said. “Those bra straps look awfully painful. Are you sure you wanna keep that thing on?”

In addition to all the other vacationing I’ve been doing, for the past several days I took a vacation from shaving. It’s a pain and I don’t like doing it, nor do I like having razor-face first thing in the morning.

Ladies, spare me your angry comments about razor-pit. I didn’t start the patrimonial oppression that considers smooth pits and legs sexy. I do continue it, but only to fit in.

I used to have a beard back in college. Unlike every other hair on my body, my beard is red, and I think when it’s fully grown out I look like a Viking. I love my beard. But when I got my first job I had to shave it off (safety reasons), and I’ve kept it off ever since for a combination of safety and office politics reasons.

Wifey, knowing that it’s generally unacceptable for me to have a beard, has always told me that I’m welcome to grow one. It’s like the wife who tells her mechanically inept husband he can build a hot-rod; she gets to look magnanimous, he gets to pretend like he’s a real man, and everybody knows that the status quo will go unchanged.

But this vacation, I’m striking a blow for freedom. I’m growing back my Viking beard.

Anyhow, at breakfast today, somebody in my family finally commented on it. I know Wifey realized what I was doing, but was afraid to mention it. She didn’t want me to call her on her promise and hoped I’d just forgotten and that I’d get back to shaving.

It was the girl that brought it up. “Daddy, haven’t you forgotten to shave the last few days?”

“I’m growing back my beard,” I said.

“I don’t like it,” the boy said. He never minces words. “You look bad. Shave it off.”

“It does make you look like a hobo,” Wifey chimed in.

“Does not,” I said. “It makes me look dangerous. Don’t you think so, honey?”

Everybody looked at the girl, and she began to wilt under the pressure. “Not really,” she admitted. “It’s gray here, and here, and here, and I think it makes you look funny. You really should shave it off.”

“But with the cowboy hat, don’t I look rugged?” I put on the hat for effect. “What do you think, pilgrims?”

Wifey frowned at me. “What did I tell you about that accent?”

“You look like the man in the park who peed on the bench,” the boy said. “I liked him. He’s funny when he falls down.”

“I don’t care what you all say,” I insisted. “I’m keeping my Viking beard.”

“Hobo,” corrected Wifey. “It’s a hobo beard.”

After a quick trip to Wal-Mart (our Official Vacation Sponsor) we had picked up some new sunburn cream and some SPF 30 stuff. Let me tell you: in addition to smelling like menthol, the sunburn stuff didn’t work all that well.

(Quick digression: did you know that if you spray menthol shaving cream on your balls then it burns like the fire of a million suns? Just thought I’d give any men out there planning on doing manscaping that advice.)

(At least, that’s what I hear.)

We started our morning by having breakfast in the hotel. I headed down there first, to get started, while Wifey and the kids came behind. As I sat down with my cup of coffee, the breakfast watcher stopped me.

“I’m sorry, sir, but this is for hotel guests only,” she said.

“I am a hotel guest,” I said. “Here’s my key.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, sir,” she apologized. “Sometimes the indigent sneak in and try to steal food.”

Does no one show proper respect for the pillagers of the sea?

Once we’d eaten (or, in the children’s case, smashed up food in an eating-like display), we were off to pick up Uncle G. His house is nice, and located in a really nice suburb in Memphis. Personally, this makes me nervous. I’d rather that Wifey not realize that Uncle G represents a significant step up from me. And he doesn’t have a blog where he makes fun of her.

“Morning,” Uncle G said. “You gonna start riding the rails or something?”

“Why?” I asked.

“You look like a hobo,” he said.

“Don’t you remember my beard from college?” I asked. “It looks great, like a Viking.”

“No,” he said. “The Vikings used to live on their ships.”

“I don’t care,” I said to four sets of eyes starting at me. “I’m keeping my Viking beard.”

Uncle G had planned our day’s activities, with the caveat that he doesn’t know much about planning family fun, so he took no responsibility if it turned out not to be a good time. We assured him that his agenda (morning at the zoo, riverboat cruise in the afternoon, evening at a famous fried chicken restaurant) sounded great.

First stop: the Memphis Zoo.

In retrospect, the protestors should have signaled that all was not well with the zoo. There were dozens of them at each road leading to the entrance, shaggy-faced granola-crunchers handing out flyers protesting the zoo’s lavish spending on Chinese Pandas. They are also angry that the zoo has cut down some “ancient forest” to make way for a new attraction.
The only thing that makes me mad is that the new attraction wasn’t ready. I mean, really, what’s the use of building new attractions if they’re not open for the Summer season?

The other thing the group is mad about is Zoo admission, which is 13 bucks. I’ve paid 13 bucks to park at other zoos, so I was pretty happy. I couldn’t see what all the complaining was about, personally.

The papers were signed by The White Rose.

“Does Memphis have some kind of super hero,” I asked Uncle G, “like Batman with a social conscience?”

“No,” said Uncle G. “Memphis has a bunch of carping assholes.”

“We have those in Europe!” I said.

“You want some more?”

If there’s one less thing we need in Europe, it’s assholes carping about the environment. We’re pretty much full up on those.

I confidently strode up to the ticket window. “Hello,” said the elderly lady behind the window. “If you want to speak to the head keeper about getting a sweeper’s job, you’ll have to come back during the week.”

“I have a job,” I said, “I-”

She frowned at me. “Why don’t you just use the employee’s entrance?”

“I don’t work here,” I said. “I want to come visit the zoo.”

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I thought you were one of the homeless trying to get a job as a pooper-scooper.”

“VIKING!” I yelled. “I look like a Viking!”

“Excuse me,” Uncle G said. “My family and I would like to visit the zoo sometime today, sir.”

Everybody’s a comedian.

My overall impression of the Memphis Zoo is that it is a well-built, well-maintained zoo that has a wide variety of animal species. Nice place. But I will note that there is a hodge-podge of themes that confuse the guest. Egyptian entryways give way to a more standard zoo décor, until you get to the inaptly-named “Asian Hills” which are little more than a place to put the Pandas.

The rest of it is pretty much “zoo standard” and nothing to write home about.

“Everybody pick your favorite animal,” I said. “And we’ll be sure to go see it.”

“Cats,” the girl said. “I like the big cats.”

“River otters,” Wifey said.

“Monkeys!” cried the boy.

“My second favorite animal is the bears,” said Uncle G.

“What’s your favorite?” I asked.


“How about I take him back to Wild River Country?” I asked Wifey. “We don’t want to disappoint him, after all.”

“Just go,” said Wifey. “Hobo face.”

As luck had it, we could go in order of preference: cats, then otters, then monkeys, then bears. So that is what we did.

One thing the Memphis Zoo does is that when an animal has a birthday, they have a table manned by volunteers where they give out prizes, you can write a card, and you get a little noisemaker. So at the lions, they were giving out horns that you blow into and the sound like bicycle horns.

I hate those things, and from the look of things, the lions hate them, too. I thought Wifey was going to berserk and start ramming those down people’s throats. We did not allow our children to have them, but plenty of parents handed them to two-year-olds and let them blow almost continually in them.

Wifey managed to find a compromise that pleased almost everyone: whenever any noisemakers hit the ground, she stomped them to pieces. If the child cried, Wifey would apologize, then the parents would have to go back to get another noisemaker and we’d escape.

I love that woman more every day.

Past the cats there’s a little aquarium. I don’t actually approve of having aquariums in zoos, as it seems like you’re mixing two things that, while good, should be kept separate. It’s like serving fish tacos: there’s just something wrong about it on a fundamental level.

Inside the aquarium, we got to see two turtles trying to procreate the species.

“Why does that turtle have two tails?” asked the girl.

I pointed back to the entrance. “Look! Ice cream!”

After that we saw the laziest group of River Otters ever. I threw a rock at them just to see if they were alive. Turns out the zoo frowns on this, but since it was hot and I’d been sweating and I had my Viking beard I just rambled enough that everybody was afraid to make eye contact with me.

Past the otters we entered Primate Canyon. At least, we would have, if it’d been open. It was closed. So we settled on viewing the Bonobos (which are apparently the zoo name for Chimpanzees now).

We stood at the glass, the five of us alone. One bonobo was chasing another one, who was baring its teeth at the pursuer.

“Looks like those two are going to have a fight,” I said.

“We should go,” Wifey said. “Now.”

“I want to see them fight!” I said.

“Me too!” said the boy.

Finally the chaser caught up to his prey, right in front of the glass. He (the pursuer) pressed her (the pursued) up against the glass and then started screwing her.

Right in front of the boy.

Oops. Why haven’t I learned to just immediately do what Wifey says?

“Look, they’re dancing!” said the boy.

The male had his face scrunched up and was really going at her, despite the fact that a baby monkey was now crawling all over them. Frankly, I was glad to see that somebody else’s kids mess with them while they’re trying to get their groove on. I didn’t want to be the only one.

“Let’s go,” I said.

“I want to watch the monkeys dance!” the boy said.

“You know what I think?” the girl said. “They’re either dancing or they’re having sex. I think they’re having sex. They’re having sex, aren’t they, daddy? That was monkey sex. He was sticking his-”

“What a crazy DANCE!” I said. Then I leaned close to the girl. “You’re correct, but quiet. I don’t want to explain the birds and the bees here in the zoo.”

She swung her head around. “There are birds and bees having sex? Where?”

“No fair!” the boy yelled. “I want to see the sexy birds!”

“Let’s go see the bears!” I said. “Now, without any further discussion!”

“Are they dancing, too?” the boy asked.

“I hope not.”
After the zoo, we had a nice lunch and a rest before going to the riverboat. If you’ve never had a riverboat cruise, then I suggest you take one, but not for an hour and a half. And I hope your boat historian is actually funny, as opposed to ours, who thought he was funny but really wasn’t so much.

But we did learn a lot about Memphis, like that it built a pyramid as a venue, then immediately built another arena and abandoned it. They could at least bury mayors in it or something.

For dinner we went to Gus’s, a famous fried chicken restaurant in downtown Memphis. Great place. It serves this deep-fried, super-spicy chicken that’ll clear your sinuses out. I loved it.

Wifey, who uses salt sparingly because “it’s got a lot of kick,” was somewhat less enthusiastic. She took one bite and had tears streaming down her face with flames shooting out her ears. She had to drink four glasses of soda just to wash down each bite, accompanied by enough cursing that even the Memphis natives were embarrassed.

A good time was had by all.

As we left, I swung by the counter to pay the bill. “Oh, it’s no charge for you, sir.”

“Why not?” I asked the woman.

“Because Gus cares about everyone, so we always feed one homeless person a night for free,”

“I’M NOT HOMELESS!” I said. “I’m here with them!”

“Oh, please excuse me,” she said. “I’ll just add on the required 15% gratuity for a group this large.”

“Don’t you care about me at all?” I asked. “I’m going to be shivering on a grate at midnight when you’re back in your luxurious house.”

“Nice try,” she said. “That’ll be $154.40.”


“Your wife did drink forty-two sodas,” she said. “Free refills don’t count if you abuse the system.”

In retrospect, I’m glad I queued up MacArthur Park on the juke box before we left.

Tomorrow: Another Uncle, with a side of Aunt

Monday, July 21, 2008

Sunny Side Up

You know that a trip to the water park is ordained when you wake up and see that the sun is shining and there’s not a cloud in the sky. Weather report called for sunny skies and temperatures in the 90’s all day. Perfect water park weather.

The Holiday Inn North Little Rock once again proved itself staffed by competent, friendly professionals as they agreed to store our critical baggage in a side room while we played at the water park. So electronics and chocolate stayed nice and cool while the car spent the day parked in high heat in the sun.

Everything was coming up Plebian!

The water park was Wild River Country, in North Little Rock. It has a wide variety of attractions and fun for the whole family. The plan was to spend the morning and early afternoon there, then drive to Memphis, where we were meeting an old friend.

WRC was a reward to the children for many long hours in the car and being dragged to the Alamo. Everybody in the family likes water parks, so this should be a winner all around, right?

I knew that this was going to be my kind of place when, as we came in, I saw the cowgirl stripper heading up to the birthday party decks. She wore a lime green cowboy hat, a sarong with golden tassels on it, and a skimpy top with gold nipples emblazoned on the center of each cup. I started humming happy birthday and following her, only to be stopped by my family because “we’re supposed to stay together.”

It was enough to make a guy long for breakfast in White’s City.

We stored our stuff in the storage lockers, applied sunscreen, and went out to enjoy the park. First disappointment: the whole-family ride, where all four of us could ride down a tube together, was closed.

Almost everything was coming up Plebian!

We had a lot of fun going down the various rides, splashing in the wave pool, taking the lazy river course that circled the grounds, and generally enjoying our time together. Particularly fun was the wild raft ride, where everybody got in their own tube and then went down a rapids course in them.

I will admit a certain amount of perverse glee in watching Wifey get in and out of the tubes. She is not tall, so she finds it very difficult to get in and out without some serious flailing of arms and legs to finally get inside. She’s mastered this sort of hop/fall backwards move that gets her in, but afterwards must do some serious readjustment of herself to be comfortable, then her suit to remove the mother of all wedgies.

Like a good husband, I help by laughing during this procedure.

Well, we rocketed down the first rapids, Wifey in front clearing them no problem. Then came the boy, who is light enough that his tube rides almost atop the waves. No problem for him, either. The girl also flies through with no issue.

Then comes dad, who has been shooting off his big stupid mouth the whole time making fun of his family. Guess who hits the bottom of the rapids sideways, flips out of his tube, and hits his head on the bottom of the river? Yup. Then a ten-year-old girl crashes atop me as I struggle to grab my tube, which is floating away.

Lots of things were coming up Plebian!

As we frolicked in the water, having a great time, I noticed that there was something in my pocket. You know those little key fobs that have the buttons on them so that you can lock and unlock the car? I’d swum with mine.

We’d received two, and fortunately I’d taken one off and given it to Wifey. But this morning when I’d changed into my swim trunks at the hotel I’d stuck my keys in my swimsuit pocket. Now, here I was, in the pool with my key. Oops.

I always wondered if they were waterproof. Now I’ll find out.

Turns out they aren’t.

Some things were coming up Plebian!

I finally made it down the course, somewhat worse for the wear but otherwise alive. Except for the extreme mocking from my family, lead by Wifey. But isn’t that what togetherness is all about, poking gentle fun at one another?

The other noteworthy ride was one called The Vortex, which allows you to see what a turd feels like when it is flushed down a toilet bowl. You come shooting down a long tube, into a giant funnel, which swirls you around and around, until you finally fall out the bottom into the pool.

Wifey would have no part of it. The girl went first, screaming her head off and loving every minute of it. At the bottom, she ran out of momentum and had to jump into the pool. Then the boy went, hollering and having a good time. When he reached the bottom the lifeguard caught him and he didn’t even hit the water. Then along came dad.

It turns out that what a turd feels like is disoriented. Somehow, I ended up shooting out the bottom of the damned thing head-first before I even knew I’d entered the tube. As I surfaced I was having a serious debate with myself about who I was, and what I was doing here.

I’d settled on Amelia Earhart when I spotted my loving family, pointing and laughing.

Several things were coming up Plebian!

Eventually we went looking for lunch, and found it at the ridiculously overpriced food stand run by those not trustworthy enough to be bored-looking lifeguards. Halfway through lunch, Wifey pointed at the corner of the food court.

“What’s going on over there, are they worshiping the cat god or something?”

Sure enough, a small group of fanatics had gathered bringing offerings to the cat god, a scruffy-looking feral tabby that occasionally emerged from the rotted wood that made up the retaining wall. The children were trying to entice it to come close enough to pet.

“Can I go pet the cat?” asked the girl.

The image of a diseased feline biting my children ran through my head. Just what every vacation needs: rabies shots!

“No,” Wifey said. “Eat your chicken.”

Because it’s a water park, in order to keep trash from filling the pools there are no straws or lids. So my son did what every five-year-old does when given a giant cup of fruit punch with no straw or lid: he dumped it all over himself within ten seconds.

A few things are coming up Plebian!

After lunch it was time to hit the water again. Did you know that when exposed to sunlight, concrete can become very, very hot? It felt like we were firewalkers trying to get from one part of the park to another. I find it difficult to believe that there’s not some remedy for this problem. By the end of the day, my feet felt like they’d been flayed.

We went back to the Lazy River, a good way to relax after eating but still participate in the joy of the water park.

“Closed,” said the lifeguard. “Somebody pooped in the river.”

“The Skankletons are here?” asked Wifey.

Not so many things are coming up Plebian!

So we settled on going to the wave pool, which was a lot of fun. While there, the children decided they wanted to do one last run down White Lightning, a giant water slide. Wifey, who hates heights, wished us well.

Atop the slide I had a nice conversation with a few Arkansas locals, who told me two bits of information:

Mystic River is a much, much better water park. This came from the woman, who said the only reason she was at WRC was because they had free passes.

The Memphis Zoo is not to be missed. This came from the man, who giggled like an idiot when he told me this. I figured he was soft in the head. But they were a nice couple.

Finally we made ready to leave. As we dressed, I noticed that my skin felt a little tight, despite the fact that I’d applied suntan lotion liberally to myself.

Wifey came out and I saw that her arms were very red.

“Lift up your shirtsleeve,” I said.

She revealed a lobster-red arm, with a long purple bruise to boot. It looked like she’d been hit with a sledge hammer.

“What happened there?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she said. “But it sure hurts like hell.”

I lifted my shirt. “Does my back look burned?”

“Yeah,” she said. “But I don’t understand; we put on sunscreen.”

“It must not be waterproof,” I said.

“I’m not burned,” the girl bragged. “Because I play in the sun all the time.”

“I’m not burned,” the boy bragged. “I was wearing a vest.”

Wifey produced the sunscreen and looked at me in horror. “Oh my God, look what I did.”

It was SPF 15. Now, you have to understand, we are pasty white people. We do not tan. We burn. We need SPF 80, then we work our way down from there gradually, at 5 SPF per week, until we get to SPF 50. We can tan with SPF 50 to an off-white, sort of an ivory-meets-eggshell color.

The only way we’ll look tan is if they bronze our corpses. SPF 15 sunscreen to us is like basting sauce to a turkey. We’re pretty much screwed.

“Oh hell,” I said. “This is going to be an interesting couple of days.”

Nothing was coming up Plebian!

We hopped in the car for Memphis, with a brief stop back by the Holiday Inn to pick up our luggage. Best hotel ever. I would not hesitate to stay at it again.

Then we were off. About two hours into the trip, quite close to Memphis, I began to feel the effects of sunstroke: delirium, tiredness, and extreme pain in my sunburn.

“I don’t feel so good.” I mumbled.

“You want me to drive?” Wifey asked.

“Maybe,” I said.

“Tough shit,” she said. “I feel like hell.”

She looked it, too. The bruise was swollen up out of her arm like a snake was trying to work its way out from underneath.

Somehow we made it to the hotel and checked in and made it to our rooms. I do not remember any of this. As soon as we were inside, I collapsed into sleep to shake off my heatstroke.

An hour later, after rest, rehydration, and a shower, we were ready to go. I phoned our friend and we went out to dinner. It was a wonderful time. Though he’s not related, we give him the honorific Uncle, so for purposes of blogging we’ll call him Uncle G. The G is for Great, because he picked out a really awesome restaurant for us to go to called SkiMo’s.

After a good dinner, during which we were helped by a new hire on her third day of the job, we headed over to Baskin Robbins for ice cream.

By now Wifey was wincing from the pain of her clothing, as well as having a massive purple bruise up the side of her arm. Never in all my life did I look more like a wife-beater. All I could think about was those old commercials exhorting you to call police if you suspected battery, and the knowledge that Uncle G would be happy to step in as pater familias if I had to serve 5 to 10 for spousal abuse.

At Baskin Robbins I got the true introduction to Memphis. While we were enjoying our ice cream, an older man (maybe 45-50) came in with a much younger woman (20 to 25). He was dressed normally, but she had on stiletto heels, short skirt, fishnets, sleeveless blazer-blouse, and teased-up hair.

Daughter? Well, sure, if he was a creepy incest father who needed to have Social Services called on him for inappropriate touching in the Baskin-Robbins. And as long as the cops were involved they were there they could pick up the creepy wife-beater in the corner.

Halfway through their order her cell phone rang and she excused herself to go outside and take the call. I leaned over to Wifey and said,

“I need to go change my wig.”

If you’re not as much of a Simpsons geek as I am, you will doubtless miss the reference (from when Milhouse’s parents divorce and his girlfriend Starla steals his car by using this line). Wifey, though, knows Simpsons and so she laughed so hard that mint chocolate chip ice cream came out her nose.

The boy decided that the line itself was hilarious, so he started to repeat it to his sister as loudly as he could, then would laugh like a hyena.

The John thought we were all crazy and was thankfully not a Simpsons fan.

“So she’s like a hundred-dollar-an-hour girlfriend?” I asked Uncle G.

“About twice that in this neighborhood,” he said.

I didn’t ask how he knew that. I don’t want to know, quite frankly.

After that it was back to the hotel, and bed, because we had a lot planned for the next day.

Only, Wifey couldn’t sleep because of the sunburn and the bruise. And I didn’t sleep so well, either, because of the sunburn and because I was terrified that I'd brush up against her bruise and in retaliation she'd do something horrible to me.

But the children slept soundly. That’s of little comfort, quite frankly.

Tomorrow: Memphis’ X-Rated Zoo