“Never Work with Animals or Children” – W. C. Fields
“Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit drinkin’ ” – Steve McCroskey
|A clear violation of Rule 5.|
On a typical night Up the Lake, after pretty much every one else has gone to bed, I used to enjoy a Southern Comfort while reading by the fire before turning in. (This was my pre cardiac inspired red wine days.) Though I had been cutting it with seltzer as I (and my innards) aged, one summer I decided that I should probably stop for various reasons (better health, better example, and better at not falling into the fire). Thanks to one extended weekend at the end of June, this decision needed to be heavily reviewed.
It was obvious from the beginning of that year that there was what can best be described as a marked increase in nature Up the Lake. Whether this is due to excessive rainfall, biological rhythms, or deities with a sense of humor is unknown. On my first trip down the lake, I saw what appeared to be an old shirt or towel on the dock. I got closer, and noticed it seemed to be far wrigglier than most discarded laundry. I realized it was a snake on top of something. Closer still and what the snake was on top of turned out to be a pile of other snakes which slipped back into the water in multiple directions as I got there, looking very much like…um…a separating pile of snakes. (I don’t have any good analogies for that.) Later research led to the discovery that it was a “mating ball.” Ick.
The year also brought an increase of the non-wild animal life to our cabin. My Aunt’s seven month old yellow lab, Curtis, had already been introduced to the rest of the family. Though large and powerful, Curtis was what is technically known as a Snuggly Dog, and was very happy leaning or resting on the rest of us. This was, however, not the case with his brother (my Cousin’s dog) Hudson, who my Aunt watched for much of the summer. Hudson was smaller sleeker and built much more for speed. Also, he was dealing with a combination of his new surroundings, groups of new people, and a nine hour drive in a cage. This led to behavior that both my daughter and niece warned anyone in a fifty mile radius about (with appropriate dramatic hand motions),
“Don’t go near Hudson…He’s TOOOOOOOO jumpy!”
His enthusiasm was contagious, leading him and his brother into almost constant professional wrestling displays, amid shouts of the rather unusual phrase, “Rule five: Don’t eat your brother’s head!” Hudson also played with his mouth open. For most people, this means the occasional puppy nip on the hand or arm, yet for some unknown reason (again, divine comedy springs to mind) he was much more focused on my hind quarters, providing even more entertainment for the masses.
The first day of the long weekend was pretty uneventful, aside from a few interactions with Hudson the Heiney Hound. Even with rain drenched wood, I got the fire going easily. This was because of the last remaining pieces of an old cabin that was torn down. This wood was rotten enough to burn when fully submerged in the lake. After finishing some non-alcohol enhanced reading, I got my rest for the big day ahead.
The reason the next day was big is that it contained two separate parties. The first was a bridal shower, which I usually enjoy, since I don’t have to go. However, with all the women folk heading out, it was up to me to watch Anabelle (five) and my two nieces, Aurora and Veronica (three and one). Uncle Billy was in charge of the battling bow-wow brothers, but he chipped in as well. For example, when one of the girls needed to use the bathroom, he would watch the others so we didn’t have to have a full Outhouse Parade.
The festivities began at lunch, Aurora and Anabelle should have been mostly on their own once I supplied cold cuts and bread. However, I spent the whole time watching/helping/begging them to stop assembling and disassembling their food into sandwiches before eating them. My sister, Kim, assured me that Veronica loved turkey and cheese. What she neglected to mention is that what she loved about them was smearing them on her tray, and spitting them at me. She also continually threw whatever was on her tray to the floor. Robbed of all my normal exclamations due to the children, I was reduced to yelling “Pasta Fagioli!” (Pronounced: “Basta Fazool!” for the Italian impaired) at her. This became what I called her, and when I did, she answered with a deep raspy laugh, sounding much more like Louis DePalma than a one year old girl should. Luckily she decided she liked Italian bread, so I threw about a loaf and a half at her, which she devoured while the other girls continued their art projects.
Once we all survived lunch, everyone wanted to go out and play. The two older girls spent most of their time using the hammock as a chrysalis, and then running about with butterfly wings on. My offer to take a turn was vetoed immediately. This was partially because I had no butterfly wings of my own, but mostly because I told them it was going to take a VERY LONG time in the hammock to transform me. Being barred from the chrysalis was not a huge deal however, because Veronica was engaged in her favorite game, “Give Uncle Jeff a Coronary”. When following a one year old around the hills and rocks of Up the Lake, falls are pretty much a given. Basically, I considered it a victory if the kid didn’t roll more than a yard after hitting the ground.
The rest of the afternoon was a mix of reading time, snack time (more bread for the baby!), outside time, and running in from the rain time. It’s all a little blurry. The original plan involved me getting all the girls into their outfits for the evening party, and meeting the women at church. This plan was changed to Rosa and Kim coming home early to get the kids dressed. I believe that original plan was scrapped when they realized MY original plan to accomplish this included duct taping the children to the nearest tree. Kim and Rosa came back to the lake, just in time for the follow up counseling of my daring rescue of Anabelle, who accidentally locked herself in the outhouse. After a brief stop to nap, I mean pray; in church we went to the evening party.
To give everyone an idea how long Up the Lake endured, the party we went to was for Johanna’s 80th birthday, and she started going up as an infant. We all had a great time, the kids danced up a storm (using genes they don’t share with me). Then we headed back for the start of the real chaos.
Aside #1 – Bug Man
At least once per year, from grade school up until adulthood, someone has said to me, “Hey, bug man, what is that, and can you get it out of here?” Insects, arachnids and other crawlies have never really bothered me, and I am the designated person to rescue my wife, child and others from any and all sized bugs. (Although, I was very proud when Rosa protected the girls by saying, “It’s just a daddy long legs,” and threw it off the cabin door. I was also proud of the little “Icky icky bleah” dance she did when they looked the other way.) Anyway, to sum up: when someone is scared of, grossed out by, or needs information about a bug, they call me.
Upon returning to the cabins, I tried to get a fire going during the brief dry spell. With all the rotted ex cabin gone, I had to use other methods, (some of them, I am embarrassed to admit, chemical). One method involves pulling the logs from the middle of the pile where they are protected from rain by the surrounding wood. Pulling one such log revealed (and remember, this is Bug Man talking here) a FRIGHTENINGLY FREAKIN’ HUGE SPIDER! There was a great deal of girly like screaming from an unnamed source as I battered the behemoth, and its giant collection of eggs, with the previously dry log. Once the flaming garbage disposal was in operation we all started to settle in.
Aside #2 – The Mouse Whisperer
The cabin that led to the pile of excessively flammable wood had been unsealed for quite a while before my cousins razed and retooled it. The removal of their easily accessible home, along with the removal of the mattresses that were in it to a more outdoorsy location, created a visible increase in the local mouse population. (Translation: There were mice, and they were visible.) Aunt Dolores’ opinion of mice caused Uncle Billy to acquire a task. This task quickly expanded into a hobby, a quest, and finally, an obsession. He started with a couple of traps, and kept building until he found himself cleaning and setting a multitude. Each evening, he’d set each one and place them on an inverted garbage can lid, then carry his hors d'oeuvres of death for placement all around the campsite. Night would fall, and as each little snap would echo in the darkness, he’d laugh Renfeild like to himself and whisper, “Got one.” There was a scorecard hung prominently on the wall for all to see his progress. His catches became fewer and further between as the summer went on, and though he cleared out the area very well, we kept seeing droppings on the back bedroom step. He never caught any back there, and we didn’t figure out who was leaving them.
Everyone was already in the bedroom, except for Kim and I, and Mom who was heading in through the back door. She came back to the front quickly proclaiming she knew where the droppings came from. While the animal responsible was mouse sized, and somewhat mouse looking, it had far more altitude and invertedness than a standard mouse. As we walked around the house discussing the droppings, my Aunt and Uncle misheard and thought one of us stepped in a surprise from the dogs. This led them into a parallel but unrelated conversation to ours about the theoretical locations of dog surprises and how they should be nowhere near the cabin. Eventually we got our conversations synched up and Mom showed me the bat hanging under the peak over the back door.
Let me state for the record that I like bats. I like watching them in the field. I like reading about them. I like that they eat mosquitoes. I like the signal based on them inked permanently on my arm. I do not, however, like the stories I’ve heard of people who ended up needing rabies treatments when there was one in their home for an unknown period of time that could not be captured. Therefore, our flappy freeloader had to go. I’m a fan of nature and all, but once it crosses into the home front, it needs to die.
I went to get the only available armament with proper range: the twenty five foot spray wasp killer. Mom stood behind me with the flashlight and expressed concern that she’d be unable to run away in her party outfit and heels. I lovingly told her to go away, and took the flashlight myself. I was feeling very manly and protective when she then expressed concern that she’d be even more unable to run away in her party outfit and heels in the dark. I put my manly protectiveness to better use and walked her back to the kitchen. With my Aunt (who likes bats as much as she likes mice) watching out the window, I began to spray the invader.
I knew that bats attacking people’s hair was a myth, and their agility and sonar would enable them to avoid hitting anything too big to eat (i.e. my head). I was convinced that one of two things would happen:
(A) the bat would immediately decide he didn’t like being sprayed and fly away
(B) the bat would immediately be stunned and drop to the ground.
I was, therefore, wholly unprepared for
(C) Where the bat did nothing immediately except get sprayed a lot, so when it tried to fly away (ala (A)) it was no longer aerodynamic.
Its rapidly descending flight path brought it directly toward my face in a dazzling recreation of the opening credits of Scooby Doo, Where Are You? (Also, thanks to the large amount of Noggin viewed in our home, I kept thinking of this adventure as a twisted reverse version of the Wonder Pets. Therefore, as I could see the angry looking beast appearing larger at an unsafe speed, all I could hear was a three year old duckling sing, “THIS IS SEWIOUS!”) The bat hit the ground following some girly like screaming from both sides of the bedroom wall. I sprayed it some more as it crawled, and then realized in a brief moment of clarity that I’d forgotten to bring anything to hit it with.
By that point Rosa started looking out our window as well, wondering how badly I’d hurt myself this time. I dashed toward the kitchen where I could hear my sister and mother in another helpful conversation. It consisted mostly of the phrases, “He’s running,” “Why is he running,” and “It’s bad that he’s running.” I lovingly yelled the informative, “Shut up, I need a shovel,” and sprinted back to find…nothing. My Aunt had to switch windows and lost him as well. I started looking around for the puddle of bug spray, and when I found it was able to follow a trail, Sherlock Holmes like (if Holmes followed harmless woodland creatures instead of criminals, was assisted by yelling relatives instead of Watson, and had none of the proper equipment for his job…On second thought, maybe I don’t have any good analogies here either.) The wobbly wet trail weaved up a nearby tree, and there was my friend over my head again. I managed to knock him down without a close encounter this time, and brought the shovel mightily down upon him; or, sort of upon him. Actually, I brought the shovel mightily down upon the rock right next to him, causing him to open his wings to full size and flap around on the ground. Again there was much girly like screaming from the shovel’s target, the shovel’s wielder, and the shovel wielder’s Aunt. Amidst the screaming, I dispatched the thing and tossed him into the woods. While Eric (the shovel wielder’s Aunt’s son) was in the bedroom, he has been blessed with the Frissora family gift of slumber (and earplugs), and didn’t know anything about what happened until morning.
The events of the day convinced me that I could break my decision this one time, and indulge in a large rum and coke before passing out.
The next day was actually sunny so we went down the lake. Thanks to the perpetual rain, the water was slightly above the temperatures usually seen in penguin documentaries. Anabelle asked to swim to the rock, and not wanting to discourage her even though my joints all froze up as soon as they hit the water, I took her. Sensing that her father’s limbs were rapidly becoming useless appendages, she instinctively knew that she must swim across the lake as soon as possible.
The speed a five year old in a tube swims is akin to the speed [age based choose your own analogy: Older Readers: Drunken College Students, Younger Readers: Senile Senior Citizens] pay for groceries. It also shares the lack of focus and direction. Accompanying Anabelle through the near frozen waters required close to infinitely more swimming strokes than if I’d swam alone, all the while reminding her to attempt to go in some kind of approximation of a straight line, and to conserve some of her energy by not talking continuously throughout the swim. (Neither suggestion was heeded.) I was very proud that she made it the whole way by herself, and managed to hide the fact that I had lost the ability to use my arms and legs by doing an impression of a stepped on sand castle when we returned.
A battle with the wet wood to get the fire going was required for the second night in a row, and either the undead spirit, or evil twin sister, of the previous night’s monster spider put in an appearance, accompanied by more log swinging and girly noises.
The events of the day convinced me that I could break my decision this one time, and indulge in a large screwdriver before passing out. Of course, as I bent down to the liquor closet to get my nip, Hudson the Heiney Hound got another one of his.
Even after that weekend, I was still convinced I didn’t need a drink every night, and was therefore not going to buy my bottle of Southern Comfort for the Fourth of July weekend. After all there were only three work days before returning to the lake, how stressful could it be?
Work consisted of inane repeated requests from Japan, inane repeated requests from China, and an inane repeating radiologist from Seattle. After the third day, I came home early through randomly problematic New Jersey traffic, partially to go Up the Lake, but mainly because the house had no power (and therefore no phone by the time I got there). Rosa was awaiting a call from the doctor as she had an allergic reaction to an antibiotic the night before and still felt poorly. This required me to get the generator going in a torrential downpour. The power came on in time to shut down the generator, send Anabelle to Mom’s and take Rosa to the ER to make sure she was OK. Rosa was treated for the reaction’s aftershocks and released. We scooped up Anabelle, packed up the car, and then picked up the LARGEST bottle of Southern Comfort in the state of New Jersey.
Fourth of July weekend featured not only the return of Hudson the Heiney Hound, but also his new guise as Hudson the Hammock Hound, where he tried to join me in the hammock while eating my book, the hand holding the book and the arm holding the hand. There was also the continued increased presence of snakes. We all spent a chunk of Saturday watching one dislocate its face so it could swallow a fish. (Remember, there’s no TV up there.) The next day one came through the swimming area aiming at the back of Kim’s head. I tried to tell her, without alarming her (or little Alex that she was talking to), “Kim, get out of the water and take Alex with you.” However she figured it out too soon, and had leapt over the poor child screaming by the time I got to, “water.” Then I joined in the yelling with, “Grab the kid!” but she was half way up the beach. Alex’s mom grabbed him to calm him down after being hurdled by a screaming lunatic, as I had already herded the reptile back into the weeds by doing what must have appeared to be a very splashy version of the chicken dance.
Unsurprisingly, I needed a second bottle before August.