Hunger

When I was 14 years old, I made the choice to become an ovo-lacto vegetarian.  I would eat animal products (like eggs and milk) but not meat.  It was not an easy transition.  My grandfather raised cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and chickens – many of which wound up at the slaughterhouse.  I still remember my first vegetarian Thanksgiving.  My regal Grandpa Harold was amused.  He didn’t think I’d last, and there was no way I was getting the satisfaction of him thinking my decision was anything other than typical teenage rebellion.  My Gram was positive that I’d die within a week due to lack of protein — she tried to sneak meat into my food for the next decade. Ron, our farm foreman, was outraged.  He told me as I passed him the potatoes, that what I was doing was an insult to my family, to our way of life, and directly to my Grandfather.  Grandpa’s eyes twinkled.  He always did like a little sass.

I did last, though – as a strict ovo-lacto vegetarian for 14 further years, until I moved to Honduras and had to fish for food.  I got pretty skinny before I got good at it.  I still don’t eat red meat.

Why would I become a vegetarian when bacon tastes so good?  Almost every meat eater in my life has asked me some derivation of that question, and I’ve thought about it for a long time.  I originally stopped eating meat because my best friend in high school, Karen, quit and got really thin.  I was vain and chunky – but that’s not why I kept going.

When I was little, we lived on our family farm.  There weren’t a lot of other kids around, and my parents worked all the time.  My brother wasn’t born until I was 3, and I really wasn’t keen on the whole idea of having a baby around anyway.  At some point, against everyone’s wishes, my Grandfather gave me a young goat to keep me company.  Her name was Schwanlea.  I spent every minute I could with that goat, and continually freed her when the Rev tried to pen her up.  She got on top of the cars and ate the garden.  She ate everything.  When my little brother started to toddle, I taught her to run at full speed across the yard and knock him diapers over tea kettle.  This did not win me any big-sister-of-the-year awards, and wound up getting poor Schwanlea de-horned.  Eventually, we moved away from the farm.   Schwanlea stayed behind.  I got to see her on holidays, and she always remembered me.  Grandpa bred her and built himself a good sized goat herd.  I always missed her.  I still do.

We moved to Montana first, and then to South Dakota.  I recall one winter supper especially.  I was maybe six or seven years old at the time, and we were eating weird tasting spaghetti.

“What kind of meat is this,” the G.P. asked.

“Goat,” replied my Mother.

It was one of Schwanlea’s kids.  My Grandpa had shipped us the meat. I threw up and cried myself to sleep for about two weeks after that.  From then on, I was suspicious about meat.  You never know when you might be eating your best friend.

Grandpa always warned us not to name the lambs.

There are many other experiences that made meat distasteful to me, but fundamentally I think that animals are sentient – that they have feelings, that they know that they exist, that they understand pain and feel joy.  There is a bitter algebra at play here.  How can I eat a chicken and not eat a cow?  It boils down to this: everyone has a level.  If I can kill, slaughter, and prepare meat without overwhelming guilt or sorrow, then I can eat it.  If I’m not morally or emotionally strong enough to do it myself, then I shouldn’t eat it.  Killing is a regrettable business.  It’s not one that we should hand off to other people lightly, at least I don’t feel that I should.  Meat doesn’t come only from the supermarket.

Other people are different.  The Rev for example could bottle feed a baby calf while saying, “Oh baby calf, you’re so cute! I’ll eat your face.” And she means it.  It would take about four hours of actual hunger before Mom started getting out the cookbooks looking for the best recipe for “Neighbor’s Cat.”  Dad (who used to kill badgers with a hammer to protect the farm) seems to think that killing is a distasteful but necessary part of being a man.  I know how to fish and snap a chicken’s neck.  We all have levels.  That we have a choice in what we eat is an amazing luxury.

People get angry with me because I don’t eat enough meat, or because I eat too much.  New vegetarians are often preachy.  I’m I was insufferable at age 14.  What you find out though, is that no matter how vegan you happen to be, there’s someone out there who is more so.  This is true of every single vegetarian … except one. That guy has the right to get holier-than-thou on everyone else, but I’ll bet he’s pretty tired from all the foraging.

I once knew a young Buddhist acolyte.  He lived in Canada, and every fall on a certain holy day, the monks would go to a local pet store and buy every goldfish.  The slow, but joyous procession would march down to the river bank, and set all the fish free at once.  Then, having done their good deed, they would turn and dance joyously back to the monastery, the acolytes bringing up the rear.  My friend said it took a minute, but that all the goldfish died due to the shock from the cold Canadian water.  “Plop…plop…plop…they all floated to the top.”  He didn’t think the monks knew.

On the other hand, meat eaters are often just as aggressive, and have been known to literally try to shove hamburgers into my mouth.  They pretend it’s a joke.  I don’t hang out with people like that twice.

The choices I make in this world – what I eat, what I wear, who I love – are not necessarily an indictment of the way anyone else chooses to live their life.  My choices are an expression of myself.  You aren’t me.  You don’t have to understand.  You don’t have to do it, too.

We don’t all fit into the same sized pants.  Why would anyone ever think we could all fit into the same lives?  Relax.  I’m not going to eat you.

goat 2

A goat will stand on anything that is raises the goat even slightly higher off of the ground including; hills, dog houses, cows, hippos, canteloupes, turtles, trucks, motorcycle sidecars, giraffes, stuffed animals, fences, tractors, the outhouse, little kids, grain troughs, roofs, my Mom, and (in one spectacular example of the greatness that is the goat) our house cat, Ginger. She was not amused.

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An Open Letter to the Guy Who Left His Tighty Whities on the Street

Dear Sir,

I don’t know what compelled you to discard your not very gently used tighty whities by the roadside.  I can only imagine that you had a personal emergency situation and decided that throwing them out your car window was the equivalent of magically transporting them into another dimension, preferably one populated entirely by appreciative dung beetles.  I can assure you that this is not what happened.

Instead, your underpants sat in the middle of the road, being run over by cars and soaked by last night’s rain, until my dogs found them this morning, that is.

A bit of background here: I am responsible for the exercise needs of two large dogs, Rowlfie and Stadler.  At a combined weight of 154lbs, they possess the towing strength of approximately one Clydesdale – two when they see a cat.  I give them their work out by attaching their harnesses to a two-headed leash with a handle like a waterski tow cable, and let them haul me around the neighborhood on my bike (Gertrude), while I burn out the brakes and yell, “NO SQUIRRELS.”  It is, admittedly, a pretty stupid way to save time since it’s ultimately going to wind up at a minimum breaking both my legs and rupturing my spleen.  However, the canine contingent seems to really enjoy it.

The morning was pleasantly cool – a mere 83 degrees and I was excited to go for a long “ride.”  By the time we reached the street in question, the dogs had settled in to a nice companionable trot and everyone was enjoying the beautiful morning by the sea.  I noticed your downstairs debris from about half a block away, but mistook them for an HEB bag.  Not thinking the dogs would have any interest in said stupid bag, I continued on course, happily listening to my music and thinking that the world wasn’t such a terrible place after all.

Unfortunately, thanks at least in part to people like you; the world is not a bucolic paradise.  It is, in a word, often quite crappy.

I turned my gaze from observing the way sunlight runs liquid down the palm fronds back to my happy dogs, thinking that one of them might shoot me a thankful grin.  Instead I witnessed my ever-curious, pokey-nosed Black Lab, Stadler, gleefully scoop your streaked tighty whities into her eager jaws and then begin tossing them up into the air, catching them as she ran. She didn’t miss a stride.

“OH NO!  GOD NO!” I screamed, immediately and accurately assessing a situation so terrible that the story must pass into urban legend, a cautionary tale to terrify young dog owners.

“RELEASE!” I yelled, trying to get her to drop your underpants as a Gertrude ground to a wheel peeling halt.

Stadler, carrying a prize so spectacular that any compulsion for obedience was vehemently overridden, did not release.  I dismounted and tugged her closer to me so that I could remove her new most favorite toy from her jaws. I grabbed your underpants by what I hope was the waistband and began to pull.  The circuits of Stadler’s admittedly small brain lit up like an ambitious Christmas tree.  “GAME!  GAME!  GAME WITH AB! TOY!!!” She began to pull in earnest, planting her back feet and mock growling.

I hollered at my poor dog, all the while trying to ignore the fact that I was trying to wrestle a pair of underpants of the genus Horrible Horribulus away from her.  Stadler began to give way a tiny bit as I pulled her front feet off the ground, but still hung on like a barnacle.  I started to try to shake all 74 pounds of her off, still yelling stuff like, “STADLER!  THIS IS DISGUSTING! OH GOD!!  EWWWW!!!”

And that’s when 82lb Rowlfie joined in, grabbing a corner left unclaimed by the original combatants.  Rowlf snapped his gator mouth shut, braced his stocky bulldog body and started pulling for all he was worth.  I am nothing if not competitive, and there was absolutely no way these dogs were going to take your nasty man panties home with us.  I uttered a cuss so long and profoundly disturbing that it can’t be reproduced in print (I know this because I tried and the paper kept catching on fire), placed my other hand on your undies and faced the rapturous canines.

After a couple of minutes, Rowlfie’s weight and strength dislodged Stadler.  She tried to get back in, but she couldn’t maneuver around Rowlf to get another bite of your drawers.  I reeled Rowlfie in like I had a swordfish on the line, gradually winding your tighty whites around my right fist.  Eventually, I won the terrible taffy pull, dislodging old Rowlf with one great final tug.  Exultantly, I held your corrupt contribution aloft as I remounted Gertrude, and made to start our ride anew.

I probably should have noticed that both dogs were sitting, ears perked forward, staring almost lasciviously at their new FAVORITE TOY OF ALL TIME as I held it out of reach.   I didn’t, though, because trying to mount a bicycle holding a leash in one hand and a pair of disgusting underwear in the other is more difficult than you might imagine.  As I accomplished the task and made ready to resume our journey, I angrily hurled your beleaguered briefs at the nearest curb.  They flew like a fastball and landed in the gutter with a disgusting “splat.”

And that’s when both dogs ran directly over me and my bike to retrieve them.

As I lay in the street, my helmet knocked cockeyed and my body bereft of all air, I watched the now uncontrolled canines joyously tearing your underpants to shreds.  They fought until they finally stretched the elastic waistband to its breaking point, and then scooped up the remains and brought them over to me (still tangled, defeated in Gertrude’s frame)  – to see if maybe I could fix the toy so that they could play some more.

Eventually, I managed to tear the scraps out of their dog faces – although I’m pretty sure at least some fabric made it into their digestive systems.  This time, I bagged your trash pants in a poop sack and went home.

The final resting place of your tighty whities was in my big green city dumpster.  They were given an eloquent final eulogy the premise of which was, “Sons of blanks who throw their blanking downstairs detritus out the car window so the blanking dogs can get it.”  If you would like to hear it, please contact me at editor@islandmoon.com, subject line: “Penitent Douche Canoe.”  I will be happy to recite it for you verbatim.  You owe me a heartfelt apology and three pink “Hello Kitty” Band-Aids.

Sincerely,

Abigail Bair

Doggers

Some people are altogether too pleased with themselves.

 

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Super Fly Super Fry

Earlier this year, I noticed that I was lacking in the arena of culinary prowess. I could reliably concoct such delicacies as cut up vegetables with ranch dressing, cheese and pickle sandwiches, pizza pockets, and microwave popcorn – but those dishes lacked panache, even if served on the nice plates.  I decided that since I have oodles of time, I might as well do something productive with it and learn to cook.

The problem with being single and trying to learn to cook is that you always wind up with tons of extra goodies.   It’s tough to eat one splurge meal and then go back to a heathy diet of chicken chunks, roasted broccoli and quinoa when there’s a five layer chocolate cake and 4 pounds of lasagna sitting in your fridge.  Also, I’ve been taught my entire life that wasting food is the moral equivalent of hitting a starving person in the face with a baseball bat.   Even if I can’t exactly tell you where the starving children are, I know they’re somewhere and they’re very angry that I fed the extra pasta to the dog.

My inelegant solution to the Leftover Conundrum is to invite my parents and friends over to eat, and then load them down with all the extra stuff.  The problem with feeding the Rev and the G.P. is that Dad is a finicky eater.  He passionately despises every white condiment and sauce; mayonnaise being the prime offender.   However, the G.P. loves pie the way Scrooge McDuck loves gold, and the promise of the dessert greatly increases the probability that Dad will show.   I’m pretty sure he’d swim in pie given appropriate amounts and a little privacy.   Mom is much easier.  I called her last Tuesday and told her I was craving coconut shrimp and invited them over for a Friday night pig out.  The Rev didn’t hesitate.  “We’re IN!” she exulted, not even bothering to check with Dad.

I decided the menu would consist of coconut shrimp, French fries, fried breaded cod, a cucumber salad with a simple vinaigrette, homemade bread, and strawberry rhubarb pie.  My friend Tamara offered to bring ingredients for fresh mango margaritas.

superflyOn Friday, I got up early to start cooking.   My bread had to proof for a couple of hours before I could pop it in the oven, so I opened my new cookbook to the page that read: “Foolproof Pie Crust.” I started gathering ingredients …until I got to the line that read “1/4 cup of vodka.”  Um…what?  I read the text again, and then the entire recipe which said that the vodka helps make the crust moist enough to roll out easily, but evaporates so that the result is a “flaky and soft.”  That sounded a little like dandruff to me, but I had vowed to actually do all the steps of the recipe, rather than just the ones that seemed sane.   I had, however, recently consumed my emergency medicinal vodka because it was critical that I watch a Lifetime Television for Women movie of the week, and I needed to turn off 83% of my brain to enjoy it.

I rode my bike to the booze palace, taking Stadler (who thinks cheese sandwiches are the culinary equivalent of dinner service at the Ritz) along.  It was only 8:30 in the morning.  The lights were on, but the doors were locked.  We peeped through the windows, Stadler’s black nose leaving a delicate snot print, but no one was there.  Store hours weren’t posted, but morning exercise makes me insufferably positive, so I cheerily thought I’d try again later, and rode home.

At 10:30, we returned to the now bustling store.  I blithely asked the clerk for her cheapest bottle of vodka. Still wearing my dog jogging outfit (which is basically a ragtag assemblage of holey clothes worn in optimistic layers to prevent slips of nips and nether cheeks), I looked pretty messy and sweaty.  The look the clerk gave me resembled the frigid glare of a librarian who has just caught a tontine of teenagers gleefully defacing a rack of public health pamphlets celebrating “The Wonders of the Human Prostate.”

“It’s for baking!” I cried, defensively.  “I only need 2 ounces.”

“Oh, well how about these small bottles of Absolut.  They’re $2 each,” she sailed smoothly from suspicion into sales mode.

“What’s that one over there for $1.78,” I responded, eyeing a pint on the lowest shelf.

“That’s more than you need,” she said, misgivings restored.

“Just the alcohol content is important.” I insisted.

“Okay,” she tersely replied, ringing up the small bottle with exaggerated irritation.

I was still riding high on endorphins, and so didn’t immediately grasp that my ratty apparel and sweaty dishevelment caused the saleslady to think that I was one bandana on a stick away from being an alcoholic hobo whom she’d ultimately have to evict from her parking lot for publically swilling rot gut hooch while arguing with vodka induced Valkyries.  It’s also possible that she witnessed my curious Labrador and myself peeping (creepily) through her store windows.  Plus, Stadler did leave a snot print.  That tends to irritate some people.  I made a mental note to wear a hat and extra-large sunglasses next time.  Incognito is often the only way to go.

Dinner went very well.  My Dad was satisfied with the fare, going so far as to say that the coconut shrimp was “delicious” and that it was amazing how you could make much better meals at home than you can get at restaurants, for less money – completely dismissing the fact that it took me 8 hours to prepare the meal and two to clean it all up.   As I was packing up leftovers in my Hillbilly Tupperware (cottage cheese tubs I save for leftover dispersal, since anyone born after 1985 is categorically unable to wash and return borrowed dishes) the G.P. allowed that although my strawberry rhubarb pie was “perfect,” I was a flawed chef.

“I’ll bet you have mayonnaise in your refrigerator!” he accused.

“Sure do,” I replied.

“Gross!” he snorted, disgusted.

“Be sure to bring my pie home,” he ordered the Rev, and walked out my front door.

The Rev took a genteel sip of her margarita, and said (with a sly grin), “Someday, I’m going to tell that son of a bitch what’s in his beloved deviled eggs.”

She did bring him his pie, though.  Love endures.

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The Kite Bummer

Whoever decided that children flying kites is a fun and healthy way to spend an afternoon is probably currently sizzling on the same special rung of Hell as stereo instruction authors, tax auditors, and people who put the toilet paper roll on the wrong way.  Several years ago, obviously participating in some mass delusion caused by excessive Mary Poppins, I decided I’d buy kites and fly them with my then very small nephews.  I purchased super cool Star Wars and SpongeBob varieties, captured the kiddos and Stadler (my loyal, but intellectually challenged, Black Lab) and walked down the block to the local park.  It was a gorgeous day – sunny, with the perfect amount of wind.  I was sure that I would cherish the children’s delight for the rest of my life.

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This is what I thought would happen.

Wrong.

Approximately two minutes into the adventure, both kids and the dog were hopelessly tangled in the string.  The children were sobbing and struggling, getting even more snarled.  Stadler just sat there, tongue lolling out the side of her mouth, waiting for me to save her.  It took nearly twenty minutes to set everyone free, mainly because children can’t hold still for more than a nano-second unless they’re hypnotized by Doc McStuffins.  It didn’t help that Stadler kept bringing us sticks, which in turn got interwoven with the kids, kites and string, and then had to be tugged out by the puppy.

Finally, after chewing through some of the more difficult parts, I got both kids loose.  They ran away to play with the dog, leaving me with haggard bits of kite line which I tried to roll neatly back on to the spools.  As soon as I got one cleaned up, Jovanni begged to try again.

A strong breeze crept up as he began his ungainly run, and his kite sailed into the sky, soaring with the grandeur of an eagle.

“JOJO!” I yelled, excited.  “IT’S FLYING!  YOU DID IT!”

Jovanni stopped, turned to look up and promptly let go of the string.  The freed kite continued its graceful ascent, drifting out of the park and over the horizon, far out of reach.  The world hung from a single strand of gossamer, and then dropped as Jovanni’s mouth turned from an ‘O’ of astonishment, to a howl of unbridled, inconsolable despair.

“It’s GOOONNNNE!  MY KITE IS GONE!!!!  AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!”

Avery saw his brother’s anguish and joined in, crying in sheer solidarity.  Stadler brought him a stick, but it was no consolation.

That was it.  I quit.  I gathered up both children, hooked Stadler to her leash and started the horrible trudge home, cramming the tattered remains of the SpongeBob kite in the first trashcan we saw.  The children marched slowly, bawling like they were off to eat sand in the gulag rather than walking one block to their grandmother’s house where they would get cookies and juice while watching cartoons.  I vowed never, ever to fly a kite with children again.

Cut to this summer.  The boys were visiting, and the Rev had spent quite a bit of time and money trying to find healthy activities for them.  The day they arrived, I walked into my parents’ house and Jovanni ran up to me clutching a suspicious bundle.

“AUNTIE!  GRANDMA BOUGHT ME A KITE!  CAN WE GO FLY IT?!?”

“Not right now, buddy.  Let’s wait until we go to the beach.” I told him.  I grabbed the Rev and said, in a hoarse stage whisper, “What the Hell, Mom!  You know what happened last time.”

“Ohhh,” she tittered.  “I forgot about that.”  For the record, the Rev has the memory of an elephant who grazes solely on gingko biloba.  Revenge is a mother – more specifically, my mother.

I avoided the kite flying until the boys’ last weekend.  The G.P. and I were slated to cover a Dog Surfing event at Horace Caldwell Pier and decided to take the kids with us.  Jovanni saw his opportunity.  Getting good pictures of dogs surfing isn’t the easiest gig in photojournalism.  Essentially, you have about two seconds between when the animal gets on the surf board and when he falls off. Those two seconds should be used for adjusting your zoom and focus, but in our case they were occupied by a kid screaming bloody murder while brutally dragging a kite down the beach.

Jovanni lasted a good ten minutes before he got the string horribly tangled.  He handed me the mess, begging me to fix it and then ran out into the surf to Boogie Board with his grandfather and brother.  I sat in the sun, painstakingly untying knots for an hour.  I had adopted the policy of not carrying my trusty knife with me after Avery found it in my purse.  “Look what I can do, Auntie!” he cried, brandishing the open blade.  The Rev’s luxury kite string was too tough for my teeth.  I was angry.

Finally, I finished.  The line was neatly rolled back onto the spindle.  The G.P. appeared and announced it was time to load up.  We had brought an incredible amount of crap with us – chairs, umbrellas, an entire Holiday Inn’s worth of beach towels, enough fruit snacks to feed Mongol horde, endless bottles of water, vats of sunscreen and bug juice, phones, cameras, wallets, glasses (reading and otherwise), a travel radio, beach toys, boogie boards – all of which had to be lugged back up to the truck.    “Boys, you’re going to have to carry your towels and ONE OTHER THING each, okay?” I said, as I loaded three wooden chairs onto my back.  Avery complied, grabbing a giant sack full of water bottles and his boogie board.  Jovanni whined and grabbed his kite, which he drug behind him, letting loose the string, immediately snarling it.

“JOVANNI BAIR,” I exploded, “IF YOU TANGLE THAT KITE STRING AGAIN, I SWEAR BY EVERYTHING HOLY I WILL NOT FIX IT.  PICK THAT UP RIGHT NOW!”

Jovanni picked up the tattered kite and ran to the truck.  We fastened everyone in, and started down the road.  Small sniffling sounds crept from the backseat, growing increasingly louder as the adults pretended not to notice.  Finally, the G.P. asked what Jojo was crying about.

“Auntie said she won’t ever fix my kite ever again,” he wailed, sobbing pitifully.

At that very moment, I developed a new theory about the etymology of the phrase, “go fly a kite.”  I’m pretty sure it really just means, “Go [redacted] yourself.”

At least that’s what it meant when we got home and I said it to my mother.

Jovanni was fine.  He never mentioned his kite again.  The Rev reports that she threw it out yesterday.

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Brush Hogs

Last Sunday, I had to make an emergency call to the G.P.

“Dad, that stupid tree on the fence line has collapsed and now there’s a brush tunnel that looks like it goes to a magical fairy land, but is just really scratchy and leads to the overgrown weeds in the easement.  We’ve got to cut it down.”  I knew what it was like in the tunnel because I thought it would be cool to make it into a fort where I could read books, drink lemonade and eat peanut butter cookies.  This theory proved false when I was attacked by red ants and got slashed to pieces by pokey branches.  Plus, I nearly lost an eye.  The only way I’m wearing an eye patch is if it’s a part of my pirate outfit.  Or, like, if I get a sty.  In any case, “attacked by tree” is not a valid reason to become a Cyclops.

“What do you want me to do about it?” the G.P. grumbled, sick to death of working on my devil yard.

“Can you bring that pole thing with the saw on the end over?  I’ll just cut the bad limbs off.”

It was actually a nice day.  The overcast sky had mitigated the big burn of summer, and it looked like it might rain.  Dad agreed to come over, noting that if I was going to mess with cutting down a tree, wearing some head protection would be smart.  Frankly, that’s always a good idea.  I once knocked myself out in a Holiday Inn swimming pool on New Year’s Eve by swimming directly into one of the sides.  I inhaled a little water, which caused me to wake up and surface to all my friends laughing hysterically at my spluttering.  I tried to pretend I hadn’t almost killed myself, but no one bought it due to a forehead dent, and they cut me off (booze-wise), and also wouldn’t let me go to sleep.  I had to sit around bored (and very damp) until 9 a.m. when I then had to drive everyone home.  It wasn’t my worst New Year’s.  Still, you understand why people are always suggesting I wear helmets.

I knew from bitter experience working with Dad, that I’d better be well into the job before he got to my house, so I grabbed my big loppers and started cutting the branches that I could and hauling them to the curb.  I had a decent pile going by the time the G.P. pulled up.

“Why are you doing that?” he asked, disdainfully.  “I’m just going to saw the top branch off anyway.  It’ll all fall at once.”

I said something about smaller pieces being easier to haul to the curb, which was an acceptable platitude.  Dad got to work with the pole saw, trying to cut through the broken-yet-still-thick branches that had created the tunnel.  My theory was that I’d only need to saw the limbs about two-thirds of the way through, and then I’d climb up in the tree and stomp on them to finish the job.  I was on the top of the fence climbing up into the oak when Dad nixed this idea.

“What the hell are you doing now?” Dad hollered, abruptly halting his long distance sawing.

“I’m just going to stomp on it so it falls!”

“Get the hell down from there, you idiot!”

Pouting, I started my descent.  I have always loved climbing trees, and the ancient one in question was particularly good with lots of sturdy branches and hand holds.  In fact, this was the tree I had once drunkenly designated as the one in which I would build a treehouse so that my friends would have a place to stay when they totally messed up their lives – but not a very nice one, so they would also leave.

I leapt off the fence and started looking for something to do, just as the branch the G.P. was working on cracked in two.  I grabbed the leafy end and started pulling that part out of the tunnel, intent on hauling it to the brush pile.  It fell from the tree with a loud crackle – and wonked my father right in the face.

The world slows down dramatically when you’re sure you’re going to get killed.  I swear there were about three days of time in between Dad cussing and then spitting blood, and me managing to speak.  In that eternity, I was wrenched through a grist mill of guilt.

“Dad, I’m sorry!” I finally managed.  “Are you okay?”

My father spat again and returned to his sawing.  His righteous anger rolled towards me in waves.

But he said nothing.

I began to very carefully haul more branches to the pile that was beginning to resemble deadfall from a Stephen King story.  Dad sawed, and the pile and the silence grew ever thicker, punctuated only by the G.P.’s occasional genteel expulsion of bloody spit.

Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore.  We’d eradicated the tunnel, the remains were stacked and ready to be hauled off by the city. The remaining work was more for finish than function.

“That’s good enough, Pops.  Let’s quit.”   I offered, trying to find a fragile peace.

“Let me get this one down first,” Dad said, chopping at a particularly thick limb.

“Okay,” I replied, still in shock that he hadn’t turned me into emotional mush, yet.  The branch fell and I lugged it to the pile.  Dad took a sip of iced tea from his Yeti, as he put his saw into the back of his truck.

“This whole tree is a mess, Ab.  It’s going to have to come down.  We can either pay someone $500 bucks to do it, or I suppose I could just buy a really good chainsaw.”

“Why don’t you just get the chainsaw, Dad. The city comes out again in October.  We’ll cut it down in September, and I’ll just work on rolling all the bits out to the ditch for a whole month.  I’m sure I can get it done.”

My father scoffed, got into his truck and drove away.  I’m still not sure what the verdict is.  I’m pretty sure Dad is never going to cut anything down with me ever again.  That’s okay.

I really like my tree.

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The De-Evolution of Man

In nature, every mama bird must at some point allow her fledglings an attempt at flight.  Whether the impetus to release her young comes from nurturing or annoyance, it is still a biological compulsion – although one that occasionally results in full-bellied felines.

I’m not sure what made the Rev decide that my father and I were capable of providing care for my small nephews for three days, but I’d wager it was pure irritation combined with the bitter algebra of necessity.   There may have also been just a soupcon of “I’ll teach those jerks to appreciate me” thrown in, too.  Dad and I are convinced that she rearranges her kitchen once a fortnight for purely that reason.  If no one but Mom can ever find anything, we probably have to keep her.

In any case, the Rev unceremoniously left us to fend for ourselves while she went to what Dad called “some preacher concert in San Antonio.”

I know you’re worried, so I’ll just tell you right now: NO ONE DIED.

Day 1: Home Sapiens

I spent most of this day with the family getting sunburned while chasing children with sunscreen at Schlitterbahn.  After hauling ourselves and our arsenal of kid-specific water junk back to my parents’ house, I cooked a couple of pizzas for dinner.  The G.P. thought I had made way too much, and yelled at me.  I snuck a piece to Stadler (my dog) in the interest of proving him wrong.

After dinner the evening pretty much went as follows:

Chase Avery (age 6) into shower.  Kid starts yelling for help.  He has broken the cold water knob.  Rescue child from certain death as he is not smart enough to just get out of the shower.   Excavate pajamas from the Jabba-the-Hut sized pile of clothing that had grown fungus-like on the floor of the boys’ room after somehow sensing the Rev’s absence.   Insert kid in pajamas.  Put kid in bed. Yell at other kid to take shower. Avery is missing. Find him in the great room playing with Dad’s pool table.  Put Avery back in bed.  Give him a book. Continue to scream at Jovanni to take shower.  Chase Jovanni  into shower with shouting and threats of no more waterparks.  Avery is not in bed.  Locate Avery at dining room table making “animals” out of pipe cleaners.   Physically carry Avery back to his bunk.  Exhort him to “STAY!” Frustration caused me to resort to commands that work on the dog.  Repeat pajama excavation for Jovanni while Avery shouts helpful archeological advice from the top bunk.  Run around behind naked Jovanni with pajamas.  Tackle kid.  Insert second kid in pajamas.  Put Jovanni in bed.  Avery has vanished again.  Find him trying to lasso dog with an extension cord.  Haul kid back to bed.  Jovanni has stayed in his bunk.  MIRACLE!  Screaming/panic ensues because Avery can’t find a stuffed giraffe which turns out to be the size of a contact lens after we tear apart the bedroom looking for it.  Both children finally in bed.  Say goodnight, go to close door, “WE WANT A STORY.”   Give up.  Yell for G.P.  Let Dad finish putting the wee heathens to bed.  Clean kitchen. Go home. Collapse.

Day 2: Homo Neanderthalensis

The next morning, I arrived at my parents’ house early. I let myself in the front door, and headed to the kitchen.  It was already wiped out.  Dishes and peanut butter encrusted knives were stuck to every inch of available counter space, with entire constellations made of bread crumbs between them.  Every cabinet door was open, with the exception of the one that concealed the trashcan.  I sighed, grabbed a fresh dishcloth and got to work.  The children hadn’t yet awoken.

Avery emerged, shirtless and ruffled.

“What do you want for breakfast, Avox? How about some fruit and yogurt?”

“No.” he muttered, eyes narrowing for a fight.

“How about eggies and bacon?” I suggested.

“NO, AB!” he yelled, still a slumber-fuss.

“What about PIZZA then?!?!”  Hoping against hope that he’d eat a couple of pieces (there was still a 12 inch brick of pizza slices preserved in plastic wrap on the bottom shelf of the fridge).

“YEAH, PIZZA!” Avery shouted, excited to get an unusual breakfast.  I heated two slices up for him, and snuck Stadler a third.

At about 2 p.m., the G.P. texted to ask me if I could help him take the children to a place called “Get Air.”  I was finishing the Island Moon’s new website (www.islandmoon.com)  and couldn’t leave.

“That’s ok,” said the G.P.’s final message.  “What could go wrong?”

A few hours later, the G.P. and the kids returned home bruised and battered.  Evidently, the best thing to do at “Get Air” is play dodgeball.  Unfortunately, some of the kids playing the game were prodigies trained since birth in the art of viciously beaning other people with red rubber death balls.  Avery had a black eye, and Jovanni sported a big bruise on his jawline.  Dad bought them fried chicken, mashed potatoes (which looked more like Elmer’s glue with pepper), and biscuits for dinner.  The kids picked at their food, claiming to be “too sore” to eat it.  I brought them some ice cream – a miraculous cure.

deev

Day Three: Homo Erectus

On the third and final morning of the Rev’s absence, I arrived shortly after dawn.  The gentle morning light slipping tenderly between the blue and white floral curtains revealed that the house was in a state of near total disrepair.  Detritus was strewn thick as seaweed — I counted at least four pairs of tiny (and quite dirty) tighty whities in the living room alone.  The oak dining table was covered in crayons, half colored copier paper, pipe cleaners and something sticky that might have been either glue or melted popsicles.  There were glasses half full of goopy and mysterious liquids stacked haphazardly on every available surface.   Sofa cushions littered the floor – the only marker designating the once great “Fort Brat” that tragically appeared to have been nuked from space.   Forlorn, fluffy dog hair tumbleweeds drifted across the slate floors.  Sanitation had taken a real nose dive.

The men emerged soon after my arrival.  They communicated almost entirely in grunts and shoves, lapsing briefly into pigeon English to answer my questions. They had devolved into itchy, sticky, proud farters.

They were extremely happy.

Stadler and I backed slowly out the front door, not wanting to witness what came next.   I feared they would start spitting on the floor and marking territory.

That night, Mom returned from her liturgical journey.  By the time she arrived, the well-trained G.P. had whipped the house into shape and forced the children into mismatched but modest clothing.  I think that the boys had a lot of fun being boys.  Still, it’s probably good that it was only short term.  Otherwise, property values would plummet, neighbors would move, the CDC and the EPA would get involved, and Canada would start gently suggesting ways to solve the global health crisis generated by my family.  “Fire is cleansing, eh.”

“Grunt,” the G.P. would respond.

At least I got rid of all the pizza.

 

 

 

 

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The Turning of the Screws

The decision to travel to an amusement park with small children is best made on the spur of the moment, much like when one jumps off a cliff.  If you stand on the edge for too long, you’ll be consumed by second thoughts, which tell you that, should you decide to take a chance and plummet, you’ll surely die – or at least post an epic belly flop.  It’s better to hold your nose and just take the plunge.

I can say, with some pride, that last Thursday I announced my intention of taking the G.P. and the small children to Schlitterbahn after having barely thought about it at all.  The kids were excited about a day at a water park, and Dad had been talking for months about how he wanted to float the Lazy River.  We got the necessary coolers/backpacks/water toys loaded up and coated the children in a layer of sunscreen so thick we could have shot them into space without risk of atmospheric immolation.  Away we went, returning only home once because Avery “forgot to poop.”

We arrived at the park and checked in easily.  I got lost trying to find the cabanas, and walked my poor trudging family the long way around, with some complaint from the troops.

“How far is it, Auntie,” whined Jojo.  “It takes forever to get there!”

“Yeah,” offered the mutinous G.P.  “It seems like there might be a shorter way.”

There was, but the path was designated by an arrow pointing directly up into the stratosphere.  I ignored it and veered in a direction which seemed like it didn’t require a helicopter.  Like many of my decisions, this one was regrettable.

Eventually, we arrived at Beach Access 10. The G.P. and the boys couldn’t wait, and took off down the Lazy River.  I reclined on a lounge chair with my book and a bottle of water.

Thirty minutes later, Jovanni appeared.

“Where are Grandpa and Avery?” I asked.  They were supposed to all stay together.

“I don’t know. I guess they went a different way,”   Jojo yelled, drifting away on his tube.

After another half an hour, my nephew reappeared like a clockwork canary.

“Jojo! Did you see Grandpa and Avery?”  I asked, chasing him through the shallows with the sunscreen.

“Nope!”  He laughed, happily plunging down the river, a streak of white lingering, skunk-like on his back.

“FIND YOUR GRANDFATHER!” I screamed.

I inherited my directional impairment from my father.  It was entirely possible that Dad and Avery could wind up floating the Lazy River for eternity, doomed to pass close to Beach Access 10, but never reach it, like pitiful characters from Dante’s Inferno.

Finally, I saw my soaked and bedraggled father porting his inner tube across from an adjoining pool, while Avery bounced alongside in his little red life jacket.

“GRANDPA GOT US LOST, AB!  We went around and around and around!” Avery hollered, wriggling like a minnow as I valiantly tried to baste him with sun goop.

Avery must have betrayed Dad’s great secret, because  the G.P. glared at the oblivious child before saying defensively, “You could spend years just going in circles on that damn thing.”

You could,” I replied, making an ill-fated grab for Avery and face planting in the shallows.  I emerged, spluttering, “Jojo’s been back twice.”  Dad huffed off toward the cooler and grabbed a bottle of water.

“Let’s go again, Ab!” Avery said, happily climbing into a two-man tube, ready to set sail.

“You take him,” said the G.P. “I need little break.”

At that instant, Jovanni shot out of the access canal like an otter covered in Crisco, just in time to join us.  We went around and back in record time, thanks to Jovanni’s navigational skills.  I gave the kids some snacks and chased them with the sunscreen.  I adopted a linebacker’s approach, but small targets are difficult to tackle.  The kids began begging for a ride on the roller coaster.

Dad decided that we all ought to go.  We covered up all our material possessions with towels – invisibility cloaks as far as thieves and coolers are concerned — and headed up the hill.  Avery was scared to ride the roller coaster until Jovanni called him chicken.  Evidently, being called a fluffy murder fowl makes one very, very brave.

There was no line when we arrived, but there was a sign with a cartoon dog that said you must be “this tall to ride.”  Avery put his back against the ruler and peeped over his shoulder.  He wasn’t even tall enough to ride with an adult, unless you counted his frothy mop of curls, which they didn’t (I asked).  Jojo was tall enough to go all by himself.

Avery collapsed in a puddle of disappointment beside the ropes that surrounded the line.  There are few things in life worse than screwing up your courage and then having a cartoon bloodhound tell you that you’re too short.  Jovanni didn’t help matters by running around crowing that he was “finally getting tall enough.”  Tears began to pour down Avery’s round little cheeks.

Then the power went out.

The great blue screws that drove the torrents of water ground to a halt.   The call of, “Power’s out!’ echoed mournfully across the firmament, and folks began the slow march to the exits – dragging disappointed children and still-full coolers along behind them.

“Avery!” I exclaimed, “Look!  No one gets to ride!”  A smile crept across his face, and happily bounced up and took my hand.

“Is it broken?” he whispered, in total awe.  I’m sure that he had wished very hard that no one else (especially Jovanni) could go on the ride either, and was afraid he’d destroyed Schlitterbahn with his mind.

“No, Avox.  There just isn’t any power right now.”

“Can we come back when there is?” he begged.

“We sure can,” I replied, swiping at sunscreen streaked across his nose.

“That’s GREAT!” he whooped, dancing away.

We got our stuff and joined the exodus.  The G.P. looked over at me, as I Sherpa-like drug the cooler and all the towels and beach accessories back to the car, keeping a watchful eye on the small children.

“That’s a hell of sunburn you’ve got there,” he said.

My chest and shoulders looked like the unfortunate result of crossbreeding an iguana with a beefsteak tomato.  I put sunscreen on everyone — except myself.  The children thought this was very funny, and so our outing ended in laughter … and aloe vera.

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