Four on the deck

“Four on the deck?” the host asks.
“Um, well, we’d rather sit inside, actually.”
“Four on the deck?” he asks again, pointedly.
“No, it’s raining and cold. And we can see lots of empty tables inside.”
“Four.On.The.Deck?”
“Um…OK.”

We were hungry, and hung over. We were also cold and wet and exhausted. And now insecure, offended and confused. What just happened? We hung our heads and dutifully followed him outside to the lone, sad table the deck. At least it was partly under an awning. The rest of the tables had chairs flipped upside down on top of them; the deck was clearly not open. As we walked through the restaurant to our outcast table, all eyes were on us. It felt like a movie scene, where the music and talking stopped as a spotlight appeared above us.

This treatment came at the end of a short camping trip, and apparently our reputation had preceded us. The four of us had piled in Julie’s Buick Special, loaded with the essentials – an absorbent army tent, and several coolers of beer. Judging by our hairstyles, Deano had been dating Dominic (a stylist) for some time. 80’s spiral perms and processed orange highlights were replaced with slick, bold cuts and shocking color choices. We thought we were so cool.

By all accounts, we were the worst campers. We were loud, obnoxious, and intoxicated. We spent the day at the beach drinking beer and frolicking in the water. Deano was mooning us via hand stands in the water. We found some floating logs and took turns trying to sit or stand on them, to various degrees of failure. I had a moment of clarity at one point late in the day when I realized we were not the only four on the beach. It was packed with people, many of them children. When did that happen? We were in our own world, and while it was a blast for us, I’m sure the rest of the campers viewed it differently.

Back at our campsite we needed a few items. Mainly ice for the beer. Maybe a hunk of bread to soak up some alcohol. So the boys went into town. They were gone longer than we expected and had a strange look when they returned.

“What happened? Where is the ice?”
“We don’t want to talk about it.”

To this day, I am sure I don’t have the full story. They went to a local bar, made best friends with the owner and a few patrons, but then something went wrong. It had something to do with them being gay, but that is all I know.

We woke up to pouring rain and in a puddle of water in the absorbent tent and decided to head home early, stopping for breakfast on the way.

Four on the deck?

It’s easy to say this was discrimination against gays, but we have to also accept the fact that gay or straight, we were inconsiderate assholes. It could also be the case that the host at the restaurant had no idea of our previous antics and was discriminating solely based on appearance and odor.

Over the years, we have used the expression “four on the deck” countless times to describe any situation in which we feel outcast, isolated or discriminated against. Or we are seated at a bad table at a restaurant. It has become a joke, but on that day it felt real.

I grew up in a mid-sized city in central Minnesota. Of our high school graduating class of over 300, not one was “out.” I met Deano at college in the same city; we lived on the same floor of a co-ed dorm. He had a girlfriend. He and I hit it off immediately. He didn’t come out to me until years later, after he had moved to Minneapolis. We went out for drinks at Liquor Lyles. Located in Uptown, Minneapolis, Liquor Lyles had red vinyl booths, a scary back room that we called “The Accused” room (after the Jodie Foster movie) and served fried chicken, pickled herring, and a big block of government cheese for happy hour. The perfect place for such an announcement.

We all suspected he was gay at this point, but he hadn’t come out to any of us. That night he didn’t tell me until we were walking home from the bar and I pushed him into it. Later, he told me how nervous he was about it. I couldn’t understand why he didn’t trust me enough with that information and I was hurt by his lack of faith in me. But he was thinking about the city he had to leave to be himself; the city where I grew up and was still going to college. From his perspective and experience, that conversation may have ended our friendship. I say to anyone – please give the people in your life a chance to know you. The real you. You might lose some, but not the right ones. Deano and I have been friends for 28 years.

LL
Back at school, I wrote about sodomy laws for my senior thesis (like you do.) Specifically I wrote about repealing Minnesota’s sodomy law. I majored in criminal justice and in one of my criminal law classes I read a case where a gay couple in Georgia were convicted of violating Georgia’s sodomy law (they were consenting adults, in their own home) which carried a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. (Bowers v. Hardwick, 1986.) The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, who voted 5-4 in favor of Georgia’s sodomy law. One Justice noted the length of the sentence could be considered a violation of the 8th Amendment (against cruel and unusual punishment), but still voted with the majority opinion. I was outraged. This would be my first foray into this amendment; later I became an advocate against the death penalty, which I believe also violates this amendment.

Since I hate public speaking of any kind, I was terrified on the day I had to defend my thesis. But because I was passionate about the topic, had done meticulous research on both sides of the issue, and knew I was right; the fear quickly turned to defense. I was all – bring it on! There are so many misconceptions about sodomy, and an overwhelming consensus that no one wants to even say the word. It’s like George Carlin talking about head cheese (“I can’t even look at the sign!”) If you ever want to make someone uncomfortable in any situation; I recommend using “sodomy” in a sentence. Any sentence.

Sodomy is anal or oral sex between consenting adults (same or opposite sex.) Period. If it’s not consenting, that is a violation of a different law. If it’s in public, that is a violation of a different law (why do some people think gay people only have sex in public?) The laws against sodomy have rarely been enforced against heterosexual couples. In the Bowers case the court ruled that the right to privacy specifically did not extend to consensual homosexual sex. The case was a major blow to the gay rights movement, and not in the good, sodomy way.

Fast forward almost three decades and there’s a completely opposite four on the deck situation. My husband and I are in Hawaii with his daughter and her fiancée (a woman.) This time the deck is THE place to be. It has a killer view of the ocean and it’s warm, inviting and serene. Times have changed, certainly – gay marriage is legal in many states, younger kids feel safer coming out, many public advocates are out and proud, and there are no longer any state laws against sodomy – but discrimination is still alive and well.

View from the deck. Four on the deck?

View from the deck. Four on the deck?

While I’m happy and proud of the progress so far, I look forward to the day when the universal meaning of “four on the deck” is “you are welcomed and accepted here.” Everyone.

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Jury Duty

Oh no. There it is. The dreaded JURY SUMMONS in the mail. They had to put it in all caps, too. On the flip side, in case you don’t get it, it says “OFFICIAL BUSINESS.” Despite all this, many don’t appear at all. They told us this during the selection process. Their first question was, “Why did you come here today?” Um, because I was SUMMONED for OFFICIAL BUSINESS, that’s why. Honestly it never crossed my mind that I could simply blow the whole thing off. And I’m not one to always follow the rules.

This was the third time I have been SUMMONED for OFFICIAL BUSINESS, or SOB. The first time I was working for the ACLU. I knew, and my co-workers confirmed, that I would not be selected – too liberal. To make sure, I spelled out “American Civil Liberties Union” on the questionnaire. I should have capitalized it. I was the first one kicked off by a peremptory challenge. That means one side can dismiss you without giving a reason. “It’s not me, it’s you.”

The second time I was SOB I was to appear at a regional court. I was brought to a courtroom for questioning and even though they are not allowed to tell potential jurors the specific facts of a case, it’s not hard to figure out. The defendant was there and I immediately pegged him guilty. He just had that look about him. We sit down and the first question the defense attorney asks is, “Do you ever think it’s OK for a man to hit a woman?”

That’s an easy one, I think, eyeing the guilty party smugly. I knew you were an asshole.

The attorney says, “Let’s start with juror #1.” I sit back and relax, confident in her answer. After all, it’s not a hard question and only requires a one word answer.

“Well…Ya know…” She starts.

NO I DO NOT KNOW.

“I mean…” she pauses for effect. “Like, I guess if someone was coming at you with a sledgehammer.”

WHAT? Am I on candid camera? I look around the room. By now juror #1’s got the room “thinking.” And one by one each referenced the crazy. “Well, yeah, I guess maybe in that sledgehammer situation,” someone would say. This went on in some variation until it got to me, juror #16.

“No.” I said.

And just to make sure I was clearly understood by these idiots, I added,

“I do not think it is ever OK for a man to hit a woman.”

They thanked me for my service and sent me home (it’s not me, it’s you.) They selected juror #1 for the jury.

The third SOB’s a charm. But first I have to do time in the jury waiting area. I sit down, pull out my kindle, and that’s when I hear it. Smooth jazzKill me now. Do they want us to find everyone guilty? But that was just to get us started in a foul mood because it was only piped in for the first hour or so. After lunch they played theme songs to old tv shows. Dragnet, the Andy Griffith Show, Bonanza.

It might as well have been the theme song from the Twilight Zone.

I get called to a courtroom and this time I’m confident I’ve got it made; I know how to get myself off a jury. Just be “normal” and slightly rational. But what I didn’t know is that it’s also a simple numbers game. I was randomly picked as juror #11 so I sat in the jury box during voir dire. Voir dire is when they ask their leading questions and “inadvertently” tell you all about the case. This time none of the questions applied to me nor were they directed at me so I figured I was home free; they didn’t know a thing about me. But if they don’t remove you for cause or as one of their peremptory challenges, and your number is 1-12, YOU ARE ON THE DAMN JURY.

And so I found myself a juror for the first time. A civil case where the only issue we were deciding was how much money to award the adult children for the wrongful death of their mother. What a strange thing to deliberate with 11 strangers. We missed out on all the fun of deciding innocence or guilt and instead had to put a price tag on the death of a 78-year old woman. Specifically, how much care, companionship, guidance and love she would have given her children in her 10.5 years left of life. Yes, even how many years she would potentially live had been previously decided for us.

Because none of those four things (care, companionship, guidance and love) are quantifiable, the plaintiff’s’ attorney tried to play on our sympathies. They presented testimony ad nauseum as to how wonderful she was, how healthy, and how much care, companionship, guidance and love she had provided (and therefore would likely have continued to provide) her grown children. There was even a handy slide show to visually illustrate all the ways she was providing said things. In contrast the defense tried to show how “squared away” the children are anyway and how they didn’t really need their mother anymore.

The plaintiffs also tried to prove that the deceased experienced “emotional distress, fear and anxiety” in the 1.6 seconds before she was killed instantly by a semi. If they could prove that, then we were to also award damages to her estate.

Both lawyers were so annoying I found myself wishing I had a sledgehammer.

The jurors were allowed to take notes and I found myself writing things like “WE GOT IT” and “STOP TALKING.” Since we weren’t allowed our phones or a TV in the courtroom and I had finished picking at my fingernails, my thoughts wandered. I thought about something I had read years ago – alleged transcripts of testimony from court cases. One of them in particular:

Q: “Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a pulse?”
A: “No.”
Q: “Did you check for blood pressure?”
A: “No.”
Q: “Did you check for breathing?”
A: “No.”
Q: “So, then it is possible that the patient was alive when you began the autopsy?”
A: “No.”
Q: “How can you be so sure, doctor?”
A: “Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.”
Q: “But could the patient have still been alive nevertheless?”
A: “It is possible that he could have been alive and practicing law somewhere.”

Finally the plaintiffs rested and the defense promptly followed. Apparently they couldn’t be bothered to call a single witness. They dismissed our alternate juror (#13) who I named “tan juror” because she looked like a young version of tan mom, but with hooker heels. She was out of place with the rest of us in our sweats and hoodies. I thought my name for her was fitting to begin with, but even better when I found out her name is “Sierra.”

"Tan mom"

“Tan mom”

The 12 remaining jurors went to our room to deliberate. We ranged in age from 20 to 80. Naturally the eldest of us volunteered to be the foreman.

Having no other options, we started throwing out arbitrary numbers. It didn’t take us too long to decide and we only needed 10 of 12 to agree. We had some spirited discussions and were all able to provide input but in the end the case was (as I imagine many are) decided in direct relation to our individual and collective desire to get back to our own lives. And since this case had been going on for seven years, hopefully allow these children who lost their mother to do the same.

Overall, I was happy to get the SOB. More importantly, the case got me thinking about my own mother and how much do I value her life?

Well … ya know… is she coming at me with a sledgehammer?

You win, I’ll place…whatever

I am not competitive. That is, until I get behind the wheel. In my car I’m a completely different person; I throw trash on the floor, talk to myself, scream obscenities at others, and become extremely aggressive. I take great pride in winning a race or a battle that I have decided I am in with another vehicle.

One day, stressed and crazed in stop-and-go (mostly stop) traffic in an exit-only lane, determined to not let anyone in, at any cost, I thought to myself – WHY? Why am I letting this get to me? I am only hurting myself.

Then I remembered a line from the Jerry Seinfeld special “I’m telling you for the last time.” About horse races, he says:

I’ll tell you one thing the horses definitely do not know.
They do not know that if you should accidentally trip
and break your leg at any point during the race
we blow your brains out.
I think they’re missing that little tidbit of information.
I think if they knew that
you’d see some mighty careful stepping coming down that home stretch.
“Take it easy, take it easy.”
“You win, I’ll place… whatever.”
“The important thing is your health.”

Since that day I have changed how I drive (for the most part.) I take deep breaths and chant, “You win, I’ll place…whatever.” I try to play nice with other drivers, because it’s dangerous not to, and the important thing is your health. But I can only tolerate maybe three random acts of niceness – aka ignore three complete asinine moves of other drivers – before I hit my limit and revert back.

“REALLY???” I yell. “R.e.a.l.l.y.”
“You’re gonna pull out in front of me and go 10. Niiiiiice.”

Or,

“Nice fucking blinker, asshole!”

Or, my favorite in its simplicity,

GO!!!!!!!!!

You get the drift.

Here are five of the worst offenses, in my opinion:

5. Blinkless
Did you know that blinkers come standard on every car? And they are free! They are also quite helpful to other drivers. One of the most annoying of the blinkless are the ones who turn at the last second and I could have gone minutes before, had I known you were turning. If only there was some way of alerting the other drivers that you are going to make a turn. Some sort of signal. Oh, wait, there is. It is called a blinker.

Then there are the ones who, after the light turns green, realize “oh, hey! I have this strange wand-like apparatus, what does this do?” and turn on your blinker. So now, stuck behind you, I will probably miss the light. Thanks, ass-wipe. Where are your manners?

4. Ass-riders
The ass-riders are especially annoying because I tend to drive fast. But if someone is on my ass then I purposely slow down. This is hurting both of us, so back off and we can both move forward. Literally and figuratively.

3. Sneakers
The sneaker comes in various forms. The most common are those who try to sneak in (or out) of an exit-only lane at the last moment, cutting in front of all the drivers who have followed the rules. This is frustrating to both those who have waited in that lane, and to those who do not wish to exit, but have to slam on our brakes because you decide to cut into a lane where the traffic is going zero mph from a lane where the traffic is moving at 60 mph. This is intentional and we all know it. You are an asshole. And you probably also use the HOV lanes illegally and think we do not notice because you have tinted windows. No one is falling for that banana in the tailpipe.

2. Lefties
Lefties are those people who camp out in the left lane on the freeway. You know who you are. The left lane is a passing lane. Even if you are going faster than most people, there will be someone who is going faster than you. Or who would go faster if you would move the hell over.

1. Slow pokes
As my dad would say,

“This guy went for a walk and took his car along.”

Driving slow is just as unsafe as driving fast.

There many forms of slow pokes but I dedicate the number one spot for the slow mergers, because they are equally annoying and dangerous.

Merriam Webster defines merge as:
verb. 1. to become combined into one; 2. to blend or come together without abrupt change: merging traffic.

The key here is “without abrupt change.” When you merge into traffic going 30 mph, and that traffic is going 60 mph, someone is making an abrupt change, by slowing down to let you in. This is not the intent of the merge. And of course you continue to go 30. Thanks, shit for brains. Smooth move ex-lax. You take the #1 spot.

[Honorable mention to those who block intersections OR sneak in on a red light in front of someone who stopped at a green light to NOT block the intersection. You suck.]

________________________________________
This post is dedicated to Scurvy (the person, not the disease.)

Walking it out

The accident happened on a warm, sunny day on Lake Crescent in the Olympic Peninsula. The early morning sun cast a blinding, shimmering light on the water as the canoe silently floated across the lake. The only sound was the intermittent dip followed by the drip, drip, drip of water off the side of the paddle resting across my lap.

Lake Crescent enchanted me from the first moment I saw it and became more treasured when I got married there. The water is so clear you can see a dizzying 10 feet to the bottom. A far cry from canoeing the Mississippi river where we put off swimming until it was so damn hot that the brown, murky abyss actually looked inviting. Once in the water, we’d slowly lower our hands under the surface to see how long until we couldn’t see them anymore. It happened immediately.

“You have a completely torn ACL and MCL.
It’s a twofer!”

The doctor held up his hand for a high-five. I fived him, thinking – is this guy for real?

If you look up a torn ACL in Wikipedia, it says “Torn ACLs are most often related to high impact sports or when the knee is forced to stop on a dime at high-speed and when the tibia moves forward in relation to the femur. These types of injuries are prevalent in alpine skiing, Soccer, American football, Australian rules football, basketball, rugby, professional wrestling, martial arts, and artistic gymnastics.”

Surprisingly, canoeing does not make the list.

Scene of the crime. Lake Crescent, Washington.

Scene of the crime. Lake Crescent, Washington.

On the day of the accident, I had already fallen in the water once. To get us over some rocks near the shore, I was sitting with one leg out of the canoe pushing forward as my husband pulled from the front when the canoe tipped ever so slightly, popped me out and instantly righted itself. As if it was telling me in the Amityville Horror way –

“Get.Out.”

An avid canoer all my life (and in this very canoe, transported across country from Minnesota to Washington), I can count on one hand the number of times I have fallen out of a canoe in 40 years – three. On this day the number jumped to five.

Wet but otherwise unscathed, I climbed back in and we paddled around, the sun warming my legs and drying my shorts. We canoed to the far side of the lake, circled around so we could drift slowly past the wedding site, then headed to shore.

My husband got out first and was holding the front of the canoe. I grabbed the bar in front of me tightly, keenly aware that the canoe (literally and figuratively) had already turned on me once.

I stood and carefully stepped one foot out into the water when the canoe (now with no weight in it) caught a current and started drifting away. I tried in vain to pull it back using the leg and arms that were still in it. As I started to do the splits I simultaneously realized,

“Oh my god, I’m going to fall.  AGAIN.”

And I did. Almost the same fall, only this time I sat there not only stunned, but hurt. I had injured my knee.

The full implications of what happened that day continue to unfold, more than three months later. I am still quite immobile. I am slow. I can’t work out, I can’t take stairs, I grab handrails and I limp. I watch in envy as someone runs for the bus. I have no desire to take public transit, but I sure wish I could move like that. I feel and act OLD.

But one result I could not foresee isn’t physical. I have realized that when I go for walks, I re-energize. I get inspired. My feet move forward automatically but my thoughts zigzag all over the place – creating, contemplating, deciding – I do not notice what is around me or listen to music. I zone out.

After, I’m moved to write something new, or have come up with a different direction to take a story. Maybe I have worked through an issue, or found a solution to a problem I didn’t even know I had. Sometimes I’ve devised a life-changing plan. The process is what I call “walking it out.”

Not being able to walk means more to me than just not walking. And that is the worst part about the accident. So when I got my “twofer” diagnosis and was told my options are surgery or live with an “ACL-deficient knee;” I already knew my answer.

All our rooms are non-smoking. Unless you want to smoke.

I moved from Minneapolis to Seattle in the summer of 1996. Ice was the main reason why – freezing rain, to be precise. I parked my car on the street in such a way that the rain came up to about mid-rim of the tires and then froze solid, freezing my car to the ground for five days. During that time, my roommate Kim and I ‘skated’ our way to the local bar, only a couple blocks away, and I had my epiphany and delivered my impassioned speech.

“NO ONE has to live here!”

I think I actually pounded my fist on the bar for effect.

“People can MOVE!”

She said, “I’ll come with you,” and we never faltered. We left the following summer, selling anything that wouldn’t fit in our cars. It was an adventure. But first I needed a new vehicle.

I was terrified of manual transmissions. People in the Midwest don’t know from hills, and when I see the hills now that I was either petrified to drive up (in case I had to – gasp! – stop mid-hill) or walk up (gasping for breath), I have to laugh. I wouldn’t even label them inclines now. But hills, as most things in life, are relative. So, as soon as I knew I was moving, I happily sold my stick shift – a sporty Acura Integra – and bought the only car I could afford – a not-at-all sporty 1995 Geo Prizm. I could walk up a hill faster than this thing. But it had an automatic transmission.

On the road trip, Kim and I had yellow and purple walkie-talkies. I led the way so I tapped my brakes if I wanted her to turn on her walkie-talkie. She flashed her headlights to alert me. We had a blast until we got to the mountains and my car would slow to a crawl despite the gas pedal jammed to the floor. I had to use those slow vehicle turnouts as semis and 90-year olds sped by.

Drive your life
I had been in Seattle for a couple years when my friend J came to visit on a work trip (aka expense account.) She didn’t rent a car, she rented a Cadillac. Driving that Cadillac changed me. I became power-hungry. It was the first time I had the vehicle to match my true inner being and it was intoxicating. I come from a long line of “lead-foots” and driving it felt as natural as breathing. After she left I begrudgingly got back in the Prizm, hit the gas, and it took a good ten minutes to get up to 30 mph. I scoffed out loud. We both knew it would never last.

The Cadillac came with a sense of power, freedom and independence, and I wanted it all.

During J’s trip we also reserved a room at the Alexis hotel in downtown Seattle for a night. We smoked at the time and you could smoke in hotel rooms then, so she had requested a smoking room. When we arrived there was an ashtray on the end table but with a note in it that said “Thank you for not smoking.” Outraged, she called the front desk and received the following explanation, “All our rooms are non-smoking. Unless you want to smoke.”

McRebel
I had a teacher in high school named Connie Crane. She taught speech and English. She used to order pizzas for the class on the last day. We loved it, of course. I had her for speech in ninth grade and then English the following year. On the last day of English class we excitedly sat down, only to receive the awful news. She told us she got in trouble with the powers-that-be about the pizza. They said under no circumstances could she order pizzas for her classes. She did a great job of telling the story, and had impeccable timing, in what I would classify as a persuasive speech.

She paused for effect. Then smiled.

“But they didn’t say anything about McDonald’s!”

She proceeded to fetch a huge cardboard box from the hallway, filled with the telltale paper McDonald’s bags full of food.

I think about this often. I attended an experimental school from K-6. We didn’t have grades, could decide which classes we wanted to go to and when, and had all kinds of freedom to learn and grow. It was fantastic. I was shocked when I got to seventh grade and had every minute planned out for me; I felt like I had to leave the building just to change my mind. But by high school I had grown somewhat accustomed to my prison sentence and was biding my time until college. Then Connie Crane bucked the system. She was a rebel. She was my hero. She taught me Speech and English but more importantly she taught me an important life lesson.

Life is like the smoking motto of the Alexis hotel. All rules should be followed.

Unless you want to break them.

Campingness

As I recline on a lawn chair in the midst of giant Douglas fir trees, sipping coffee and mesmerized by the dancing fire; the smell of bacon wafts over me, and I am overcome with campingness.

Douglas fir canopy.

Last weekend I was tent camping with my best friend for the first time in over 20 years. I scrounged up a classic picture from our last camping trip where we are staring down at the tent lying flat on the ground, dumfounded as to how to put it up. We reenacted the photo for this trip, even though we are now pros.

Then and now.

This time around we were in the Pacific Northwest, not the Midwest; children and husbands accompanied us, and we brought real food that we prepared instead of a bag of chips and a cooler of beer. But we laughed and connected with each other just like last time. We even made friendship bracelets, a nod to our tenure as Girl Scouts.

Are you ready for the summer? Are you ready for the good times?
Camping as kids, before we even pulled into the site my brother and I would start fighting over whose turn it was to “pop-up” the camper. We loved to turn the crank and watch that Jayco come to life. After that, we had zero interest in helping with any other tasks. Instead, it was on our bikes to explore the campground before commencing the “begging to go to the beach” ritual.

We would spend all day in the lake or playing in the sand. Even if I came out of the water covered in leaches, my tears were only a momentary break. Mom pulled them off, covered the wounds with smiley face “dambaids,” and I was back in the water to face the next adventure.

We played board games inside when it rained, and the deafening sound of rain on a plastic roof is one of my all-time favorite sounds. I remember feeling simultaneously scared and safe inside that camper.

The fish and game commission has raised the legal kill limit on campers to three
Some of my favorite camping trips involved imminent danger. One summer at YMCA camp, after backpacking all day to the top of a hill, our group of 12-year old girls and our camp counselor, all of 18, had settled into the tent and were playing cards, just as the sun started fading. I looked up and saw a black bear perfectly centered in the middle of the triangle opening of the tent and filling up all the tiny squares of the screen door. He was about 10 feet away, his side facing us, his front paws stretched up on the rock where our packs were leaning. From a 12-year old perspective and seated position in a flimsy nylon tent, he seemed 20 feet tall. I was laughing so hard (I laugh when I’m scared) I almost couldn’t spit out,

“Oh my god, there’s a bear.”

Something in my tone, despite the laughter, made the rest look at once. The counselor, who had read somewhere that loud noises scare off bears, grabbed a flashlight and hit it against the back of a small metal sauce pan.

“Ting!”

It was a noise so soft I wondered if the bear even heard it. He did. He very slowly tilted his head sideways toward us, as if to say, “You have got to be kidding me.” He finally ambled off to try to get our food down from the tree. The counselor suggested we quietly exit the tent, put on our shoes, and slowly walk away. We fled in a panic in our socks, running at full speed back down the hill.

Here’s an update on tonight’s dinner. It was veal. I repeat, veal.
Everything smells and tastes better outside. And the fresh air mixed with the rudimentary cookery and makeshift prep brings a rustic charm to each meal. Our pop-up camper had one of those stoves that slid outside. We would fry up bacon and make “eggs in a basket” – buttered bread with a hole cut out of the middle and an egg fried in the center.

Inside, we sat at the table that would later fold down to become my bed and ate off square, primary colored plastic plates. Since we camped in the Midwest, we couldn’t eat outside unless we were safely confined in a screened-in tent, because of the mosquitos. Every meal tasted like it had a slight hint of Off! bug spray. We ended each day around the campfire roasting marshmallows for s’mores or baking “pies” in the pie iron, made from Wonder bread and cherry pie filling.

If you let me, I could be your good friend
When I was older I got to bring a friend along and we would take the canoe out to “flip it.” Flipping a canoe on purpose is thrilling, but not that easy. Once it’s flipped, you can swim underneath and pop your head up in the space between the water and the bottom of the canoe, which is now on top. We would rest our forearms on the bars in the middle of the canoe, tread water, and share secrets. To the outside world, it might be an abandoned upside down canoe floating down a river or resting in a lake. To us, it was an aluminum fort oasis.

The kids are brats, the food is hideous
Ahhh, summer camp. I had my first boyfriend, first kiss, first dance, and first heartbreak at a summer camp. It was also my first taste of independence, which was delicious. I felt powerful and liberated. Camp was where I could make instant new best friends, develop several crushes, and acquire skills and confidence, all while having unbridled, non-stop fun. I was devastated each time it ended.

I have so many fond memories of summer camp that I got married at one. The festivities spanned an entire weekend and guests stayed in cabins with bunk beds, laughed around bonfires, and danced under the moondust… that drifted down from heaven…

Cabin

Cabin at Olympic Park Institute. Photo by Jenny Jimenez.

Makin’ It
Whether acting as a verb or a noun, the word “camp” makes me smile. As soon as I hear it I get that rush of camping happiness – “campingness.” The feeling is a mixture of fond memories, nervous excitement, and a sense of freedom, mixed with a peacefulness found only when immersed in nature. The feeling is describable and indescribable, universal yet personal. It comes from being surrounded by people you love, sharing stories and laughter, stoking campfires and relationships.

It just doesn’t matter!
A few things have changed since I went camping as a kid. Alcohol is involved, and I no longer dare ride a bike or don a swimsuit. I have the same canoe but wouldn’t dream of flipping it. I still light the marshmallow on fire for my s’more, but the pie iron is now used for gourmet grilled cheese. We play music and tell stories around the fire, but music from an iPod and stories laced with profanity. We all – even the kids – have smart phones and can update our Facebook status from the tent.

But the feeling is the same.

Excuse me!

Yesterday afternoon I was sitting in my living room trying to think about what to write for my first ever blog post when I saw the UPS driver pull up and drop a box on our front porch. I figured (rightly) that it was something from amazon.com as we are obsessed with amazon and receive packages from them nearly every day.

I was still sitting, gazing out the window a few minutes later when a nondescript white pick-up truck came to an abrupt stop in front of the house. The driver jumped out, ran to the front porch, snatched the box, and ran back to her car. It all went down in mere seconds.

Shocked, I somehow managed to run outside to confront the assailant. For reasons still unclear, I yelled:

“Excuse me!”

She turned and gave me a strange look. As if she wasn’t expecting to see a middle-aged woman on the front porch in slippers, politely berating her as she sped off.

It wasn’t the Steve Martin version of excuse me either, which would’ve been awesome.