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.”

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.

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.

Crime scene two

I studied criminal justice at St. Cloud State University (SCSU) in Minnesota. In one of my classes we watched a reenactment video of various crime scenarios. The excitable host would critique the actions of the victims, and explain what they should have done differently. Then he would yell,

“Let’s give them another chance!”

The actors would reenact the same scene, behave correctly, and not wind up victims. It was entertaining, and surprisingly effective. I have thought about many of the lessons from that video over the years but the one on “crime scene two” stands out in particular.

Crime scene two is where your dead body is dumped, or the site of your murder. The killer first abducts you (from a public area) and then takes you to a secluded, usually wooded area, aka crime scene two. Alive, you should never allow this to happen (jump out of a moving vehicle, run from a loaded gun to your head) as there is virtually no chance of survival at crime scene two.

Cracked Heel Relief
SCSU hosts an annual trivia weekend that boasts 50 hours of non-stop trivia. The first year we played our team name was “Cracked Heel Relief.” The following year (my personal favorite) we called ourselves “Smell my Jif.” We came in last place each year, but won the prize for best name. The Cracked Heel Relief year was 1991 – before the World Wide Web – so we had stacks of books strewn about the apartment. To answer a question correctly, we had to either 1) know things (not likely), 2) look them up in reference books and almanacs (limited success) or 3) call people and ask them. It was an early version of “phone a friend” – the version where you wake people up in the middle of the night and annoy the shit out of them with questions like, “What new color puff was added to Trix cereal this year?” (Lime green).

One year a trivia question was about a city in Italy found at the “heel of the boot.” The answer was Brindisi.

My friend Patti and I knew this city well. Too well.

The heel of the boot
On a map, Italy looks like a boot, and Brindisi is located at the heel. Our trip to Brindisi was in 1989 and came on the heels of a whirlwind month-long tour of Europe on a coach with 44 people, followed by a semester in the heart of London, as part of a study abroad program. Patti and I stayed for a month after the program ended to backpack around Europe and visit some places we didn’t see with the group.

In our infinite wisdom (probably clouded by our stay in Amsterdam), we decided to head straight from Amsterdam to Corfu, Greece. And to get to Corfu we needed to take a ferry from Brindisi.

When our train arrived in Brindisi, as is true with most air and train terminals, locals surrounded us offering cheap taxis, hotels, food, etc. We eschewed all “deals” and went to find the ferry terminal. Unfortunately it was the off-season, we had missed the one ferry that left for Corfu per day, and had to spend the night. Due to limited funds our first choice was the youth hostel.

While we were at a bus stop trying to figure out the public transit system, an older gentleman pulled over to ask us if we were going to the hostel (I’m sure it was our backpacks rather than our spiral perms, Girbaud jeans and over-sized exaggerated v-neck tops that tipped him off that we were not from around there.) He kindly offered to drive us there. He said he knew right where it was (out-of-town, in the middle of nowhere) and that no public transit routes went there. I should have recognized these as red flags, but, blinded by a free ride by someone who was old, like a dad, and therefore harmless; I ignored them.

Patti firmly declined. She had a bad feeling. He argued with her. He seemed taken aback and miffed that we would not take him up on this very generous offer. He tried to persuade us, playing on our fear that dangerous people were lurking, waiting to take advantage of young American students, but Patti held her ground. He finally sped off in anger, and I called the youth hostel to get directions. I heard a recorded message saying that it had closed for the season. Patti and I looked at each other in horror. He was going to take us to crime scene two.

Shaken by our near abduction and subsequent grisly murder, we hightailed it back to the train station and approached the pushiest and most annoying of all the locals.

“Please, here is all our money, take us to your hotel.”

Once in the room, we finally exhaled and relaxed a little. The room looked clean, was reasonably priced, and we started to feel safe. And that is when we decided to unfold the comforter at the end of the bed. Our eyes widened along with the stain.

“Oh my god.

Is that blood??


We stared at it in shocked silence for a full minute or more. This was not from a mere flesh wound; it was massive – multiple gunshot wound sized – and took up more than half of the fabric.

It didn’t appear fresh, but it was there.


Was a body wrapped in it, taken to crime scene two and disposed of; the comforter returned, neatly folded and placed back on the bed? More likely the killers moved the body some other way, but why leave the bloody evidence behind? And the hotel staff must have known because they folded it.

As in trivia, we had no answers.

Many adventures and close calls followed Brindisi; wild dogs chased us on our rented mopeds in Corfu and I had my passport stolen in Paris, but they all paled in comparison. Brindisi is forever stained on our brains, like that bloody comforter.

Brindisi, Italy is a heel. Geographically and metaphorically.

And no amount of Cracked Heel Relief can save it.


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.


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 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.

ps: your friend is dead

This is a story about death, high school reunions, and friendships.

Found under: Stories/ps: your friend is dead