Hello, my friends. Welcome back! It’s great to have you here. “Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.” I’m like a fungus: after a while, I grow on you.
Yes, I’m slowly getting back to the important things in life; camping and writing so, God willing, the blog will go back to a certain regularity and, hopefully, be more informative and entertaining than ever before.
I don’t know whether it was all the time I spent editing and revising Born Bent Over for ebook publication, or just the typical day late and a dollar short realization continuum that is my trademark, but a funny thing dawned on me the other day that set off bells and whistles all over the atomic wasteland I call a mind.
Before I go any further, let me clarify one thing: I have been an avid camper from my short-pants days in the Cub Scouts and have probably logged more hours in the woods than a few middle-aged bears I know (most of them are moving into the suburbs now, anyway). I have camped extensively up and down the east coast and have even hiked a significant portion of the Appalachian Train. Suffice it to say, with all that experience and the fact that my first book, The Tenderfoot’s Guide to Family Camping is in its’ third printing and still receiving great reviews, I might be considered somewhat of a camping expert: in my own mind, perhaps, but an expert nonetheless.
That being said, and in keeping with my Born Bent Over birthright, I have had some experiences in the woods that would have most mere mortals running for the comfort of a Holiday Inn. It’s my lot in life. I accept it and have learned to deal with it……somewhat. If something didn’t go wrong in everything I do, I’d get extremely nervous and start chilling the beer and awaiting the arrival of those five, thirsty, dreaded horsemen (whom are rumored to be coming December 21st, bwahahahahaha!!!!). That drunken sot guardian angel of mine, the infamous Murray, just keeps falling deeper and deeper into the bottle and the Victoria’s Secret catalogs and the proverbial poo just keeps hitting the fan.
Am I bitter? Nah! I just pray daily that the curse ends here and my children and grandchildren are spared the wrath.
Anyway, back to my intended point (I tend to drift). Just a rough pass through the moldy, yellowing, brittle files in my gray matter brought back some graphic horror stories from camping trips past that really got me thinking. Some of them are so bizarre that, at the time they occurred, the only way I could avoid a stint as a guest at Happy Acres on their Celebrity Haldol and Shock Therapy package was to opt for selective amnesia with the hope that, if the memories ever resurfaced, they would do so well past the statute of insanity limitations and become funny fodder for future campfire stories. A few of them still send a chill up my spine; but I’m long past PTSD due to the far more frightening events that have made up my everyday life for lo these past fifty-two years.
So, I said to myself, “Self, why not compile those stories into a new book? Born Bent Over Two: Camping Stories No One Would Ever Believe. I can even hear the banjo music theme song now. I guess I’d better learn to play one before I finish the book. Look at the pretty colors! Squirrel!!!” The seventy-five voices currently occupying my gray matter all agreed in unison that a compilation of all those horror stories would be a great idea. That’s the first time that ever happened. They’re such a diverse group, as those of you who’ve read Born Bent Over well know.
One story comes immediately to mind. This tale may not be for the faint of heart, so those of you with a weaker constitution might want to skim down to the end. This ain’t pretty.
Picture this, if you will: Orlando, FL, the Year of Our Lord 1993. My son was seven at the time and my daughter was just the cutest little two year old holy terror you’ve ever seen. Up until that point, we’d been avid tent campers. I had always been a tent camper and, by golly, I was going to remain one til……..OK, til I started waking up paralyzed from sleeping on the hard, root-riddled, damp ground. I was thirty-three with the body of an eighty year old and the whole “roughing it” thing was losing its’ appeal rapidly. To top it off, Florida is Africa hot: always. No exceptions. Throw in the constant, 300%, humidity and you’re pretty much living in a twenty-four hour sauna bath. We needed AC just to breathe! At the time, we were camping, on average, two weekends a month. What’s a dad to do?
Swallow your pride and buy a camper, that’s what. For the kids sake, of course.
Having never before owned a camper, I asked around a bit and did some research on what type of camper would best suit our needs. I was on an extremely limited budget so whatever I decided on would, without fail, be not-so-gently used and require a great deal of elbow grease and fix-it acumen. I figured I had those so, on one crisp, clear Florida Saturday morning, my son and I, “Campers For Sale” paper in hand, went cruising.
I don’t know how many counties we covered that morning, but by early evening, almost ready to call it a day, we passed an old farmhouse somewhere in Deland with, as “my” luck would have it, a pop-up camper, fully erected, sitting on the front lawn with a For Sale sign on it.
We stopped to look, but it appeared to be in immaculate shape so I assumed our stopping was for naught. My son jumped out of the truck and went running up to it as the owners, who resembled the sweetest pair of Norman Rockwell grandparents you ever saw, came to greet us. Here’s where that old line, “Never judge a book by its’ cover.” comes into play.
After some sugar-coated introductions and their oohs and aahs over how cute my wing man was, I asked right up front how much they were asking before bothering to inspect it. If it was something astronomical, we’d just thank them for their time and go home and try again another day.
“Eight hundred dollars and not a penny less,” grandpa said. Danny had absolutely no poker face back then. “Dad! That’s what you said we could spend! We can get it! Yeah!!!” I could have strangled him right about then but, as I said, he was such a cute little guy.
I proceeded to look it over closely, pretending to know what the hell I was looking for while Danny was doing his own inspection of the inside and extolling grandma with his camping acumen.
“The tires are new, the wheel bearings were just packed and she don’t leak a drop,” the aged, used car dealer from hell proclaimed. I still stick pins in the voodoo doll I had made of him in Cassadaga on a later camping trip.
I had to admit: a visual inspection of the “beast from hell,” as I would later name it, was impressive. I spent a good thirty minutes checking this and “ah-ha-ing” that, pretending to be somewhat of an expert.
“Sir, as you can see, I’ve got two small children at home. We love camping and we’d like to get out of our tent and into a camper, but to be honest, the most I could possibly come up with would be six-hundred dollars. I’m sorry we wasted your time.”
“Aw, give it to um, Henry,” the aged Stepford wife giggled as she was listening to another of Danny’s stories while telling him how cute he was. He was always such a little ham.
“Well………. Sure; what the hell. Ma and Me were young once. Six-hundred and she’s yours!”
I couldn’t believe it! I’d finally won one (or so I thought). My dumb ass usually ends up offering more initially than the seller was thinking of asking in the first place. Danny got his poker face from me.
With Danny’s staunch and boisterous supervision, I paid the man, got the camper hooked up to the hitch, waved our good-bye’s and thank yous and we were off.
The following weekend I spent familiarizing myself with all the gadgets and doo-dads, cleaning this and that, fixing the tail lights that didn’t work and preparing for our first trip in a camper. We were all as elated as a fat kid locked alone in a candy store over night, all working together, prepping for the following weekend. After a full weekend of preparations, we went inside and perused the Woodall’s Catalog for a great place to go on our first trip. After a whole bunch of giggly back and forth (Shelby suggested Hawaii), we decided on Tomoca State Park in Ormond Beach. It was relatively close to the house, had full hook-ups, fishing and hiking as well as an interactive Native American exhibit; the prospect of seeing that thoroughly fascinated the kids.
I spent the entire week packing this and checking that: trying to insure we had everything we needed so that nothing could possibly go wrong and put a damper on our first camper outing.
Boy, was I a dreamer.
Everything started off well. We’d gone out for groceries the night before, packed the coolers, sundries and half of Toys R US in the van and made it to the park without incident. Ah, but the plot thickens.
We no sooner got the camper set up when the sky decided to open up with a deluge of biblical proportions. No biggie, right? Wrong!
The rain relegated us to the confines of the camper for the duration (which turned out to be the entire weekend).
Again, no biggie, right? We weren’t in a tent any longer. Like the late George and Weezie, We were movin on up! We had a camper with electricity, running water and a VCR with stacks of movies for the kids just in case such an emergency befell us. We were no amateurs!
We’d been inside for about all of ten minutes when my wife began a sneezing fit, followed closely by my asthmatic son. The sneezing we might have passed off, but the advent of the hives and swollen eyes from both of them told me only one thing: those “sweet, kind” former owners had dogs who camped with and slept with them in the camper; contrary to their claims to the negative. Both my son and my wife were terribly allergic to dog hair and I specifically asked Ma and Pa Kettle if they’d had any dogs in the camper.
I was digging through a cabinet, looking for the first aid kit containing the Benedryl when I heard a pop and my daughter crying out that the TV went off: and right in the middle of her favorite movie……which she’d watched six-thousand times. At just about that time, I began to feel as if I was being subjected to the Chinese Water Torture. Drops of water were coming down on my head at an alarming rate and, as I later learned, on top of the TV, too……which shorted out (eating Shelby’s favorite tape in the process). Water was pouring down on the beds, the counter top, the floor…..you get the picture. The canvas on that camper was about as water repellent as cheese cloth.
But, if you spent just a month in my shoes, you’d learn quickly to always look for a silver lining. You know it’ll never come, but you look for it nonetheless. It’s what keeps me out of Happy Acres. Determined to save the day, I went out and pulled the plug to insure the whole thing didn’t short out, dug the umbrellas out of the truck and took my soggy band of stoic campers to see the American Indian exhibit……..which was closed for renovations.
We went back to the camper to regroup and see what we could salvage, hoping that the rain would pass quickly as most Florida showers do, when we realized, rather shockingly, that when I backed the camper into our site, I’d parked directly over a very active, angry, fire ant mound; the inhabitants of which were now occupying the inside of the camper, en mass…….and they were pissed!
A winner never quits and a quitter never wins. Head hung in defeat, (it should be obvious by now that I’m definitely not a winner: at least not in the literal sense) I loaded the family into the truck while I, now soaked to the bone, collapsed the camper and prepared for our trip home. I could have used Moses at about that time to part the angry sea because it was high tide inside the camper and, even collapsed, water was pouring out from under the half-doors.
In an attempt to mount the trailer tongue on the hitch ball, I realized that the jaw wasn’t opening and the two refused to mesh. In the interrum, the deluge had reached a point where I was considering building an ark. The wind decided to join the parade and, in some places (namely right where I stood) it was actually raining up. We’re talking serious rain here.
Expletives spewing from me like a man possessed, I opened the back doors of the van to get at my tools and, hopefully, fix the receiver. I’ll never forget Danny’s little face as he looked over the back seat, eyes puffed closed and a huge bugger stuck to his upper lip as he asked, through slightly swollen lips, if I needed any help. All I wanted was to get everyone home safely, find a huge cliff to push the camper off of and reconsider taking up golf when, in my rage, I accidentally reached under the receiver a little to far just as it decided to relent and come down with a resounding SMACK!, (followed closely by a series of loud, effeminate shrieks) sandwiching my finger between it and the hitch ball.
You’re laughing, right? Admit it. But wait: it gets better.
My van was a three speed with the shifter on the steering column. My wife couldn’t drive a three speed. My nearly-severed finger was now resting in a cup of blood-soaked ice that I was holding between my thumb and three remaining fingers. Daddy needed to get to a hospital to have his finger sewn back on before shock set in and Daddy had to drive there. I still remember fondly my little ghoul two-year old wanting to see Daddy’s boo-boo finger and just staring at it without the slightest bit of revulsion or disgust, just amazement. My lil punkin!
Go ahead and laugh. This was just a day in the life for me.
I made it to the hospital, using language (derived from pain and my inability to drive a manual transmission truck with one hand, I assure you) that probably still haunt the kids dreams, (who am I kidding? They could probably teach me a few new expletives) only to find that the local hospital didn’t have a hand surgeon and they needed to call one up from Daytona Beach. Thirteen hours later, with an IV catheter still in my arm due to a disinterested nurse and pain meds sufficiently on board, two bored-to-tears, screaming kids who were acting out the American Indian war dance they never got to see and a tired, hungry, disheveled wife in the waiting room, (not to mention an enormously large bandage on my hand and my arm in a sling) we headed home in torrential rain, pulling a trailer with a three speed that I was steering with my knees and reaching my left hand over the wheel to shift: the gear shift that was on the right side. Did I mention that the van didn’t have power steering? Just wanted to paint as clear a picture as possible.
That’s one of my more mild camping experiences. We didn’t have to bury any bodies on that trip.
And I still love camping! The rumors must be true. My mother did raise an idiot.
You know life has dealt you lemons throughout when you’re working on a sequel to a book on just how screwed up your life is and there will still be tomes more to write. Ain’t life grand? Admit it: you wish you had my life.
Right now I’m awaiting a slight reprieve from the Florida-like weather we’re having here in SC so I can drag Nosty’s Nook out of the barn and get her ready for what I hope to be a long and frequent camping season. I’m hoping that September through May brings about some fantastic camping weather and I can get out and do what I love best……..well, second best, but I’m currently camping alone so that prospect is a moot point.
I may be fifty-two, but I ain’t dead!
In closing (the crowd moans, “Thank God!”), things are hopping at Danby Mountain Press. Aside from the forthcoming sequel to Born Bent Over, the Paramedic sequel is nearing completion and should be published later this year. On top of that, Danby Mountain Press has added an audio studio to our glamorous, skid row, publishing facilities so our published works will soon be available as audio books. Busy, busy, busy. I don’t date much, can you tell?
Until next time, and as always, my friends, I wish you peace, love and every happiness life has to offer. Until the next blog, beware the couple from the American Gothic painting trying to sell you a pop-up. It’s sure to be a lemon!
If you haven’t read my latest ebook, Born Bent Over: Flashing the Vertical Smile at Middle Age, shame on you. Everybody needs a good belly laugh and Born Bent Over is sure to please. Download your copy now. You won’t be sorry.
Again, my many thanks to my wonderful sister, Michelle, for her hard and creative work on our website. We all know who got the brains in the family. Stop by and check us out. We’ll be uploading some new stories very soon.
©Brian Greenleaf 2012. All rights reserved.