Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Things Stupid Kids Do: Episode 2, Part II (The Journey Meanders)

It had never occurred to me that the smiles and words of encouragement I got from fellow undergraduates as I carried a heavy wooden canoe to a river in preparation for a 95 mile "day trip" might be anything but well-wishing. Within four hours of these smiles and words I knew that they were motivated by lust for the prime dormitory space that was on the verge of opening up due to the anticipated deaths of the current occupants.

FYI, a lazy river gets lazier when lazy canoe-ists enter its waters. Bugs (not the nice kind) come out for a lazy brunch (there isn't anyplace to go or hide when you are in the middle of a swarm in the middle of a canoe in the middle of a LAZY river); the lazy sun shines brightest upon the brows of the lazy people sweating lazy drops of sweat which trickle lazily down their damn lazy butt-cracks.

Why the emphasis on indolence? Turns out that four hours of laziness on a lazy river flowing lazily south is enough time to realize that we had made an enormous mistake. Hm, "mistake" isn't a good enough word. There was NO WAY that too lazy kids were going to paddle their lazy asses UP river in the humidity and heat to take-back their commitment to the canoe trip. By this time, we had defaulted into this river wedlock. Locked in. Death, Taxes, This Trip. No deposit, no return. We had traveled beyond the event horizon.

In other words, after a full day of traveling down the river, we finally beached our water craft below the Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park. We climbed the steep bank to the campground area and set up our tent in a place that was least likely to get us caught as non-paying guests of this fine resort. It felt good to have a place to sleep, and cooking up the little bit of prepared food we brought made us feel like Stanley and Livingstone or Lewis and Clark. Those cheap, crappy hot-dogs were outstanding! We dined and mused about our travels thus far. We figured we'd traveled about maybe 30-35 miles of the 95-ish total?

In actuality, it was probably less than 8 miles.

We had finished Day 01 (of 3?) in our grand adventure... ignorance of how little we had actually traveled wasn't exactly bliss; having devoured our provisions, we couldn't help but anticipate how hungry we were probably going to be by the time we got home (in maybe a day and a half?). Had we a GPS tracking device to actually tell us that we had closer to two weeks left to go, we might have panicked a little bit. So that would be bad because it could have distracted us from the class iv rapids we were going to hit mid-morning the next day.

We packed up that morning, relieved we had not been discovered by the park manager, and loaded the canoe with excited anticipation (we had little else to load, having eaten and drank nearly all our supplies). The day was cool but sunny and promised to be excellent for river travels. The water was smooth, gentle, and flowing. What else could we have asked for (except bug spray, drinking water, food, and sun screen)?

The next couple of hours were uneventful except for having to carry our canoe up a steep hill through trees and scrub then over a ridge that marked the eastern bank of the damn we had to get around. (If it hadn't been for the effort, scratches, swearing, sweating, and bruises it took to get around the damn, I wouldn't have spelled it the way I am spelling it.)

At some point as we drifted down the river post-damn, we started to notice that the water was picking up some speed... becoming rapid you might say. Then suddenly we were in it! White frothy water splashing and bouncing us left and right faster and faster usually between the boulders in the river, but sometimes toward them!

My friend sat up front, oar in the water trying to keep us from smashing on the rocks by poking at them, while also screaming navigation pointers like "LEFT!" or sometimes "RIGHT!"

My job in the back of the canoe was to try to steer the tiny craft safely between the obstacles he loudly (and with a slightly panicked tremor in his voice) identified. I couldn't see right in front of us, but I could see further ahead in the river where things were going to be getting a lot worse. There wasn't really a lot of time to think ahead because we were trying our super-duper best to stay in one piece and pointing the right way.

Then it happened. While my friend was screaming instructions, and just as we were heading into the bad spot, I pushed my old wooden oar against a boulder to keep us straight and the oar snapped. In one hand I was suddenly holding a stub of wood (handle and button) while the other hand automatically reached out to grab the blade as it bobbed up from the water. At the time, a significant part of my attention was used up by being impressed that I was able to snatch the broken bit out of the water so readily - I'm sure it looked cool. My friends repeated screaming "Right! RIght! "RIGht" RIGHt! RIGHTRIGHTRIGHTRIGHT!" refocused my attention, but I didn't actually know what to do.

Best I could come up with was to jump ship. I rolled out of the canoe and touched the riverbed pretty easily. My friend had felt the canoe tip when I jumped out and was on board with me being not on board and ended up joining me in the water when he saw the broken paddle. So we were able to physically push the canoe through most of the worst part of the rapids (sometimes having to swim) until finally a safer part of the river showed up. There was a short beach with people doing the whole white-water-rapids experience, plus some picknickers. We walked the canoe to shore and plopped down.

After a few minutes some of the professionals in the water approached us to ask if we were alright. They also offered some food and DRINKS! We accepted and wondered aloud what were were going to do now. We explained that we were on a trip from Plymouth to the Merrimack river close enough to home to be picked up by parents.

"Why?" Asked one of the younger enthusiasts. "To avoid the toll!" was the joke we added...

Mostly this is where we started to internalize exactly how f-ed up this adventure was.

What were the hints?

(1) We were hungry, and were told that our trip is probably going to take a few more days.
(2) We were thirsty, and were told that there were at least four or so more damns we were going to have to bypass. One of which for sure was going to be tough to do. (We kinda thought we did that one already, but no, that was the easiest one of them all.)
(3) We were told that these rapids were "nothing" compared to what was further down the river.
(4) The looks on the faces of the people with more experience than us... Like they wanted to memorize all of our features so they could remember us when they saw our obituaries in the news later. Or, if they ended up finding us drowned and down-river.
(5) The incredibly generous gift that they gave us! An aluminum replacement paddle! I remember asking if they were sure that they could part with it, and I was told it was just an emergency paddle. Not a very good one or one they would want to rely on because it was slightly bent. My friend and I looked it over carefully and were unable to detect even the slightest defect. That really made us feel ignorant and marked for a watery death.

This is where smarter people would have called it a day, phoned parents for a pickup, and gone on with their lives. But we were embarrassed and just wanted to get out of there. So we jumped back in our canoe and headed on down the river. Neither of us wanting to be the one to pull the plug on the adventure, but probably both wishing the other would.

After about two more hours of lazy floating, baking, and feeding small insects, the horrors of our near-death experience were forgotten like a boring dream. In fact, the trip was exactly becoming just like a boring dream. We didn't have a lot to say to each other at this point (I'm not much of a conversationalist anyway) and the river had gone pretty wide, meaning the river wasn't flowing all that fast. Most of our paddling was side to side to escape the larger swarms of biting bugs.

Then we saw something odd above the trees down the river. A giant plume of black smoke and a blue helicopter circling around it. The river was slowly bringing us to the end of our trip, which coincidentally would also be our next near-death experience.

Friday, December 09, 2016

Things Stupid Kids Do: Episode 3 (SCUBA-Doofuses)

I think that it is very important to begin with the observation that the SCUBA symbol looks quite a bit like the universal symbol for "NO" except just reversing the hues.

When I was in high school, my best friend and I were able to take SCUBA lessons. Not much more to say about that (and it is only peripherally related to this blog entry) except I remember getting to class one evening and I'd forgotten my bathing suit. So I was allowed to dip into the lost-and-found for a "loaner" suit. There was only one men's bikini extra-large suit. I went with it. So, not to put an image in your head, but… Imagine doing that trick where you peel an orange so that it is all in one piece and then sort of try to use that to cover up the mid-section of a ruler. For the entire lesson my suit kinda floated around me whilst all of my goodies bobbed and peaked around the edges of the suit. NOT a fun evening for anyone.

So, back to the main story.

As part of the SCUBA lessons, we were required to purchase some SCUBA gear: Face mask, snorkel, and fins. Because this was all based in New England, we couldn't get the little flippers you probably are thinking of (as depicted above). NO. We had to purchase fins that looked like they were normally only issued to military SEAL divers! These bad-boys were BIG and HEAVY. So heavy that we also had to purchase diving suit boots so the fins wouldn't cut up our feet. Here, this is what they looked like (along with the basic boots).
The idea was that if we had to drag-race speedboats or out-swim sharks (or just deal with the wild ocean currents of New England), these would do the trick. Look at them! They even had vents built into them; very heavy-duty.

All of the above is just so you now know why I had SCUBA boots in my possession. Otherwise, it would just seem like, for "some reason" I have what looks like part of the gimp costume from Pulp Fiction. Depending on the context, the boots could fit what you'd expect to wear as a super-hero, or, as a participant in an S&M orgy.

One of the places my friend and I would frequent was the Methuen Mall. It has since been demolished, but it was THE place for high school kids to hang out back then. One of the anchor stores there was Sears. If you passed all the way through Sears to the lawn and garden section, you came to a semi-outdoor section that featured an above-ground pool filled with temptingly swimmable water. This section could be locked off from the store via sliding doors. BUT, the pool was still technically outside (in the elements) and only out of reach off hours due to the giant (15-feet high) black metal fence in which it was enclosed.

I don't know how many times we walked past or around that pool until one day it occurred to us that we could maybe sneak back one night, jump the fence, and have ourselves a swimeroo in the Sears pool! As soon as the idea struck, we began to plan.

(1) Need to travel light in case we need to make a fast getaway. So bathing suits ONLY!

(2) Make sure there aren't any witnesses, so we should do this around 2:00 in the morning on a week-night (we picked Wednesday).

(3) Don't want to draw attention to our activities by parking our car (white 1970 Ford Pinto coupe - Google this car up folks) right next to the Sears lawn and garden area. So we will park our white car in the darkest area of the parking lot, about half a football field away. Did I mention that the car was white?

Problem: How can we get to Sears from the car and then back to the car across all that parking lot filled with pebbles and bits of glass without destroying our tender teenaged tootsies (feet)?

Solution! Wear our SCUBA boots! They will provide enough protection from small bits of debris AND they are designed (DESIGNED!) to be used in water - so we wouldn't even have to take them off!

We had our plan. Of course, because we were nerds, we did some dry rehearsals.

First we needed to find the perfect blind spot to park the white car in the parking lot.

Found it!

Next we needed to get a feel for how long it would take to run back to the white car.

Timed it out!

We were ready to go, so a date was chosen. I picked up my friend (quietly) from his home around 1:15 in the morning. Both of us in our late 70's style men's bathing suits (yeah, you should do a Google search on that, too - it will help paint the picture for what's coming up later) and black SCUBA-boots drove to the mall which was about a 30-45 minute trip.

We parked our white car in the perfect pre-selected spot. Hearts pounding, we trotted stealthily toward Sears which had somehow managed to become a full football field's distance away. Our heads were spinning around the whole time looking for any potential trouble. I remember looking back at the white car and thinking how it didn't look very well hidden in the shadows. You know, being all white and all. But despite our racing hearts, our fears of mall security (or the cops) suddenly showing up, and our white car attracting attention, everything went as smooth as butterscotch pudding right up to the Sears lawn and garden center fence.

My friend started to size up the situation and was about ready to use the terrain and the side of the building to scale the fence. I saw that his plan to get in was perfect! But this was when it occurred to me that we would also need to get back out. As I looked around the inside of the fence, I realized we would become trapped inside. Getting out would be next to impossible since getting in meant we would have to drop down from the top of the barrier. Not to mention that our hands would be wet from the pool water which would make it pretty slippery if we tried to shimmy up the fence posts to get back out in a hurry.

Basically we stood there for about ten minutes trying to figure out how we could get out of the cage before we finally just called it a night. Honestly, it was a 60-40 mix of relief and disappointment.
We never did go back. We never did get into that inviting pool. But this is where the story actually begins.

We drove back toward home (Plaistow, NH) and as was our standard method of operation, we stopped at the all-night McDonalds to fuel ourselves up with some food, and then we stopped at the gas station to fuel up the car. We were like a NASCAR pit-crew when it came to gassing up. My friend would take care of the gas cap, unlocking it (this was back when people were paranoid about fuel theft) and placing it carefully on the car roof in time for me to have paid the $2.00 we were willing to spend on gas and to put the fuel pump in the tank. Once fueled up, one of us would replace the pump and the other would replace the gas cap (careful not to lose the key) and we'd be back in the car and off in no time!

Well, this time we forgot to replace the gas cap and when we turned the corner on route 125 to head up the hill and into Plaistow, we could hear the cap scurry along the roof and leap into the darkness beside the road. There was a small gravel lot here (filled with broken glass bottles, rusty nails, dead animals, barbed wire, razor blades... well maybe I exaggerate) so we pulled over and hopped out to try to find the damn cap in the damn dark.

So paint this picture in your head: Two scrawny teens in short tight swim suits, no shirts, wearing black S&M boots, prowling around the side of the road at 3:00 in the morning. Suspicious looking much?

Of course this is when the police finally appear. Oh! Not just ANY police. No... no way-siree! This squad car has my uncle and another officer in it. They are instantly questioning my friend as he is half-ignoring them and half trolling around looking for the gas cap (he was never intimidated by authority figures like I was - in fact he had a tendency to be a tad antagonistic). As soon as I saw it was my uncle, I occurred to me to view the situation from his standpoint. Immediately I went to the car and started peeling off my boots to throw into the back seat. Those suckers are NOT easy to put on OR to take off. So now I am barefoot in this dark gravel (glass, razors, pin-cushions, etc.) lot. Yay for me!

As I am about finished with this, the other officer with my uncle shines his flashlight on my friend's stylish kicks. "What the hell do you have on your feet, son?"

That's when the other officer (my uncle) shines a light on my face and recognition dawns. After a disgusted shake of his head he shines the light up and down my friend and tells us to hurry up and find the cap, then get home.

To this day he probably thinks my friend and I were up to something pretty kinky. Not sure if he ever shared the story with my dad (probably did)… but I never heard about it.

So, what's the big deal? Well this was back during my superficially liberal days when I was secretly homophobic, but outwardly supportive of almost any lifestyle anyone wanted to live. I think I figured it was a safe position to take since I'd probably never even meet someone who was non-straight. There was a strong sense back then that my family, neighbors, etc. would never support alternative lifestyles, so I prided myself in holding such progressive views. Truth be told, if someone introduced themselves to me and openly admitted they were gay, I'd have probably done an about-face and walked smack into the side of a building without thinking just to get away. So this evening was perspective-building for me. I realized I was going to need to do a lot more self-management to be prepared for when that meeting might one day occur.

Take-away moral: Always keep your illegal-activities wardrobe and accessories separate from your law-abiding wardrobe and accessories. Or, always bring a change of clothes when you are going to do something you don't want to get caught doing.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Nun Shall Pass...

...without posting even a stupid little image...

Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Adventures of Mildly Misinformed Man!

Episode I: MMM vs. Customer Service

Customer Service Operator: Hello?
MMM: Yes, hello. I would like to lodge a complaint… on behalf of JUSTICE!
CSO: Ooohhhkay…?
MMM: Last week I had one of my appendixes removed, and I never received as much ice cream as I could eat!

Episode II: MMM vs. The bank

Bank Teller: How are you today sir? Can I help you?
MMM: Indeed you can, young miss! I was just interacting with your ATM device and I noticed that you are making time travel services available to your customers and this must be stopped… for JUSTICE!
BT: I’m sorry… how’s that again?
MMM: Outside… on the ATM… the screen informed me that there were limited time travel opportunities available, and that I should talk to a teller if interested. Even if you limit the time travel opportunities there is far too much room for abuse by criminals! You must withdraw the offer… for JUSTICE!
BT: I... see... Let me get my manager...

Monday, February 29, 2016

Where do Bad Blogs go to Die?

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Damn and Death to Deadlines! But here's a kitty!

I had every intention of writing my next masterpiece before the end of the month (i.e., last minute). But I woke up feeling miserable today (sore throat). So, given that I have a tendency to gravitate toward being a baby when I am sick... I just didn't FEEL like writing the next chapter of bad behavior. It's in my head and wants to be written, but not by this month's deadline. Instead, here's a photo of one of my cats doing what I plan to do in the next few minutes (in bed, not in my chair).

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Things Stupid Kids Do: Episode 2, Part I (The Journey Begins)

My first year in college was a short one. During the earlier summer orientation I scheduled myself into Calculus (bringing with me barely any background in algebra from high school), Anatomy and Physiology (plus lab), General Psychology, Chemistry I (plus lab), and some other course I cannot for the life of me recall any more (I should look it up someday). As long ago as that was, I still remember one of the “helper students” looking over my schedule and remarking, “Wow, you must be really smart.” She was cute, so I was flattered by the comment and felt pretty great! But smart? No, only just barely smart enough to have that uncomfortable feeling that maybe I had created a schedule that I might later regret. Indeed, come the first semester of my college life I did not do so well and was invited to not return for a second semester.

It was embarrassing but at the same time, quite a relief. I hadn’t really wanted to go to college. My family expected it, so being a path-of-least-resistance kinda guy, I let the currents sweep me along. But by having the school drop-kick me out, I was released without ever having to go against the family expectation. Yay! Finally I could have some “real world” on my plate!

Turns out real life with only a high school education and no marketable skills can serve up a pretty tasteless plop of inedible nastiness on one’s plate. In a short time I decided to re-apply to college (a different one). Because I’d already established myself as a loser, there were no more expectations about me and what my future should hold. I was on my own. To help out with my real life experience, and in response to hearing that I was planning a return to college, my mother insisted that I start paying rent.

So I applied and was accepted into college (again) – opting to not transfer any of the mediocre grades I had received before flunking out a year ago. It was a clean slate and I was somewhat determined to make a better showing of it. So my first semester I received an A in every class but one. That class was “French I” which was “taught” by an authentic French professor. In his class I earned (get ready) a big fat F+. In my entire history of experience with colleges, I have never since heard of the plus/minus option being applied to anything less than a grade of C. Obviously then, that was not a good class for me and, in addition to what will form the crux of Part III of this blog some day, it killed my motivation to keep fighting for the A (since I would now never be able to achieve a perfect 4.00). So what would be the best major for me to get into?

My interests have always waxed toward the sciences (physics especially) but back then I was the perfect storm of stupid and lazy. I didn’t want to work hard at learning so I majored in psychology (thinking naively that it was an area built upon a foundation of common sense and furnished with intuitively obvious theories and ideas). By the time I realized my naiveté I was in too deep. But I did what I could to protect my stupidity and nurture my laziness by only putting in enough effort to get fair to good grades. After all, I was starting to consider that graduate school might be a good way to put off the “real world” a little longer. Besides, doesn’t graduate school work where you automatically graduate with the security of a nice high-paying job? It’s pretty much automatic; I think it’s something like a coupon at the bottom of your diploma that you tear off and cash in on the job you want. In case you wondered how it worked.

Not that it’s all that relevant here, but I wanted to add that the ONLY reason I ever even started to consider pursuing a doctoral degree was because I had “that professor” who made me think that, if HE was able to get a doctoral degree, then I certainly can! (I really thought he was an idiot.) So even today, although I hope to genuinely inspire students to continue on and develop their expertise, I secretly wonder if I am “that professor” to some of them.

Without giving too much of a future month’s topic away, I should mention that my best friend and I were living in an all-male dormitory called “Hall” which we lovingly (cough-cough) pronounced as Hell. Fortunately we were moved to the newest dormitory on campus (right next to the library!) the very next semester. It was a co-ed dorm in almost the strongest and most literal interpretation of “co-ed” possible. As it turns out, my future wife lived a few doors down from us. An amazing coincidence, no?

My first ever full year of college was a very long one. I didn’t get many opportunities to get home to visit and there were a lot of events that added stress and fatigue. NOT TO MENTION that winter in the northern parts of New Hampshire involves a combination of two horrible things: Snow and Cold. Correction: FUCKING snow and FUCKING cold. So when the end of the semester began to thaw its way onto campus my roommate and I decided the best way to celebrate would be to borrow a big green wooden canoe from my aunt and uncle (the Blatchfords are always and awesomely generous) and take the Pemigewasset (“Pemi”) to where it runs right into the Merrimack river and follow that pretty much all of the way home! It couldn’t have been more than about 100 miles long of a trip. Plus it was all down-river (we would never even have to row, right?!).

Here, take a look at the map. We wanted to go from the top red circle to the bottom red circle. Possibly further if we had enough daylight, but anywhere in that bottom circle would be a pretty simple pick-up point for our parents to come get us.

So it was settled! My friend and I arranged to get the canoe (with its two wooden canoe paddles) delivered to our dorm for the last day of the semester. We had a pup-tent in case the trip lasted more than a full day and we purchased our provisions: A couple bottles of Coke and a package of hot-dogs. This was going to be an awesome first-time canoe trip for the both of us!

Things that never occurred to us at the time we shoved off into the river:
  1. Mosquitoes.
  2. There are a bunch of dams that we will need to carry our canoe around.
  3. These damn dams are embedded between steep banks and thick wooded areas with virtually no canoe-sized paths.
  4. Deer ticks.
  5. Just because you are going with the flow of a river does not mean that you will be making any time whatsoever. 
  6. Gnats.
  7. A 95 mile trip moving at 1 mile per hour will take about 4 days of constant travel unless you paddle.
  8. Bugs.
  9. One package of hot-dogs is not enough food for a trip that lasts longer than a half hour.
  10. No-see-ums.
  11. A calm lazy river can become a hysterical frenzy of white rapids very quickly.
  12. People should never go on a long canoe trip down an unfamiliar river; especially if they have never been in a canoe before in their life.
  13. Wooden canoe paddles are no match for rocks and rapids.
  14. It is very difficult to paddle through rapids in a big green wooden canoe if you do not have a functional paddle.
  15. It’s pretty easy to swallow one’s pride when you need help from more experienced adventurers.
  16. People have a difficult time hiding that look on their face that says, “This is the last time anyone will ever see these boys alive again,” when they wave good bye and wish us luck.
  17. You should mind your own business when you come across a burning Cadillac in the middle of the woods in the middle-of-nowhere in the middle of New Hampshire.