This is an offshoot of the original Liam & Janet blog. That blog has become overrun by Liam's inability to keep his mouth shut when something annoys him. The serious rants there seemed incongruous with the humor columns. The plan for the humor columns continues to be to post a new one every Friday, plus occasional extras when the mood strikes.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Rope Wasn’t Hemp, But I Got High On It Anyway

Gather round, boys and girls, it's time for Grandpa to tell you more of the adventures of Captain Liam of Bozo Command!

When we last left our hero, he had just completed a "zip line" course, flying through the treetops at high speeds suspended from a thin cable and looking just as agile and dexterous as a manatee washed up on a Florida beach, but with a thicker overall layer of blubber. Not, technically, subcutaneous blubber, but our hero was terrified, so there was definitely blubbering going on.

In the morning, Captain Liam had a scheduled encounter with his arch nemesis, Perky Mo, on the high ropes course of doom, and it is here that we begin today's tale.

To begin with, boys and girls, the name "high ropes course" is a bit like calling yourself an expert at "Super Mario Kart" just because you can beat your Dad, who frankly doesn't understand these new-fangled video game systems and wouldn't know the "turbo boost" button from the "kill-o-zap ray" one. What's that? There is no "kill-o-zap ray" button? Shaddap, ya little pipsqueak, Grandpa is trying to tell a story here.

Anyway, Captain Liam arrived at the "high ropes course" somewhat discouraged to discover that by "high" they meant not more than 15 feet above the ground at any point along the course, and by "ropes" they meant logs and cables and very few actual, honest to goodness ropes. Frankly, the most actual danger Captain Liam and his fellow attendees were in was that Perky Mo would speak a harsh word to them, if they failed to get permission before transferring a safety strap from one cable to the next. Or before climbing across the next obstacle. Or before stopping to scratch one's nose, Perky Mo was big on everyone obtaining permission for anything more complicated than inhaling.

The Earthshine Lodge had warned Captain Liam that he should plan for the ropes course to take at least two hours, and he figured it probably would take that long… if the entire group consisted of snails who, on noticing the perilous ankle-twisting fall below, froze in fear and had to be rescued by Perky Mo or his assistant. As it was, Captain Liam completed the course, waited for all of the other participants, and then completed the course a second time in just about as much time as I've been telling you whippersnappers this story, not including that little argument we had about "Super Mario Kart".

At the end of the course, boys and girls, Captain Liam was led to a "secret surprise", which turns out to be something they call the "leap of doom." This meant that our Captain had to strap on a "belay rope" and climb about 35 feet up a tree and stand on a platform about the size of a standard issue postage stamp. Then, using the same cat-like agility for which Captain Liam is not known, leap off of this precarious perch in the vague direction of a trapeze hanging about eight feet away, with the intention of catching it and hanging for a few moments, before being belayed back to the ground by Perky Mo's assistant. And on a side note, children, if you've never gotten belayed, Grandpa highly suggests you try it. But please don't tell your Mom I said so, or she'll put Grandpa back in the home.

Now, there are two things I have to tell you about Captain Liam's leap. The first is that he was the only one in his group of 10 people or so who successfully grabbed the trapeze and held on. The second is that Captain Liam is not, let's face it, a small man. He is also not exactly a spring chicken. He resembles the small, spry young Perky Mo about as much as Rush Limbaugh resembles any given member of the Chinese Women's Gymnastics Olympic team. And so it was not without some personal injury that he did in fact manage to grab and hold the trapeze, and in truth probably the only reason he was successful is that Perky Mo's assistant was a slip of a woman, and so if Captain Liam had missed in his grab, he feared he would likely have plummeted to the earth at nearly unimpeded speeds while launching this nice young woman holding the other end of the belay rope hundreds of feet into the air.

Here's the way the actual jump went: Captain Liam took a deep breath and momentarily considered whether he could pull this off without looking like a large wad of Jello flung via catapult, said a word that your Mom would wash your mouths out if you said it, and jumped. Across the open space he sailed with all of the aerodynamic grace of a sack of overripe potatoes, scrabbling frantically for the trapeze bar and finally grasping it with both hands… at which moment two shoulders, two wrists and one elbow, with the kind of simultaneous precision Olympic divers can only dream of, dislocated as one and the remaining elbow made a sound like Grandpa’s car did yesterday, when he forgot to use his clutch.

Which is why as of today, our heroic Captain is now "Captain Liam of the NSAID Patrol" and (this is true) this story was written at about half speed, as he keeps having to rest his right arm and type entirely with his left.

*          *          *

This would have been the conclusion of the story, had I finished this essay when I started it, 8 days ago. However, as is my wont (yes, I have a wont, you should get one too, they're ever so helpful, and they don't shed nearly as much as they did in our grandparent's day), I put it aside and let the humor "marinate" (in much the same way that compost "marinates" into soil).

Since that day, my oldest two children and I decided to go kayaking, on the last day of our trip to my parents' house. This was on Friday, the events of the rest of the essay happened on Monday, but I have, as you might imagine from my age, 40+ year old joints, and I'm ashamed to say I haven't kept up with the regular maintenance since the manufacturers warrantee expired, and so Friday was just long enough for the pain in my elbows and shoulders to go away, but not enough for the damage to heal, and so as my daughter and I paddled our way out to the middle of the lake, they began to ache again. And I know I've made a lot of jokes about my aging memory, but the truth is that it is depressing just how long I was thinking "wow, I’m out of shape" before I realized just what, exactly, I was doing to myself.

When I realized it, of course, it was already too late, and so as we turned the kayak around and headed back towards shore, my shoulders and particularly elbows were noticeably stiffening with each successive stroke of the paddle. The shore which, based on the effort required to get out to the middle of the pond seemed to only be about 50 yards away suddenly seemed miles away and by the time we reached the shore we were (this is also true) being outpaced by the octogenarian couple who were also out for a nice kayak.

All of which I mention because there's a certain wry humor in driving back to the house entirely with the left hand because the right arm has become almost entirely immobile, and then realizing just how difficult it is to shift even an automatic into gear when you can't use your right arm.

And lest you think I'm kidding, I honestly and with no exaggeration reached around with my left arm to turn off the car and take the keys out, because the right one simply couldn't produce sufficient torque to turn the blessed car off.

I'm old.

Copyright © August 16 & 22, 2008 by Liam Johnson.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Olympic Quickie

First, I was watching Olympics Women's Gymnastics today (TiVo delayed, I'm still watching from last week while I was on vacation), and I got to thinking, I hope gymnast Liukin doesn't have a sister named "Bette", because with parents with a thick Russian accent, it's bad enough that they constantly remind her that she's "nastia liukin" than the other girls around, but to play favorites by naming a sister "bette liukin" would just be over the top.

(I was going to call this "Two quickies", because my wife made a joke in the car today that I thought might belong on here as well, but neither she nor I can come up with it at the moment, the sad fact of life for two middle aged brains. If we recall it, I'll come back and post it later.)


P.S. I can only assume that "Bette" in Russian would be pronounced with two syllables, like the German "bitte".

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

I’m Not Single, But I Sure Am Swingin’

Those who know us know that August is the time for our yearly trip to Maine, and has been for the last ten years or so, and so this past week we got all packed up and on Saturday Janet and I and all five kids went to North Carolina, a state which is identical to Maine in every way except for all of them, but which this particular August has the two features most important to every family's yearly vacation: My Mom & Dad.

The reason my parents didn't feel that they wanted to make the long slog up to Maine this year is that my mother has been diagnosed with clinical insanity. Well, I'm not sure she's been officially diagnosed, but she's clearly insane, because one of the first things she offered to Janet and me when we first arrived was the chance to go spend a night at a wilderness lodge alone, just the two of us, leaving the five children with her for over 24 hours.

We tried to warn her. We really did. Please understand, I love my children to death, but there are five of them, consisting of about 7 teenaged egos and about 9 "terrible twos" tantrum-ers, and when they really get going, there's not a power on heaven or earth that can keep me from jamming pencils into my ears (#2 only please!) in order to stop hearing the squabbling.

But she didn't listen, and so as I write this, it is 4 a.m. and I'm lying awake in the lodge, having had a blissful 15 hours away from the kids and a somewhat less than blissful attempt to sleep on a mattress that … well, let's back up for a few seconds. The lodge we're at is called "Earthshine" and it really is a wonderful place. They have beautiful views of the Blue Ridge Mountains all around. The entire lodge is done up in a décor I'll call "wilderness chic", meaning that it all looks like several burly men with beards and flannel shirts came up here with axes, hewed down a batch of trees and assembled them into housing, furnishings, light fixtures, plumbing, etc, but then as soon as they were done another several men wearing the latest fashion and swishing slightly showed up and appointed the place with nice carpeting, ceiling fans and drywall.

Except that I know it could not have been gay interior decorators that took hold, because the ceiling is my old nemesis, stucco.

But anyway, the furniture in our room is largely hand made of rough-hewn logs. The bed posts look like four conveniently co-located saplings growing out of the floor, except that they've been cut off at a level I can best describe as "perfect for hitting me just beneath the ribcage as I walk back from the bathroom in the dark". And the mattress is one rectangular 8-inch thick slab of oak.

Or maybe it just feels that way, because this being a wilderness lodge, it has a number of wilderness activities designed to make the out-of-shape middle aged sloth use muscles he thought had long atrophied into nonexistence, such as hikes and … well, more hikes.

But they also have (and this is a REALLY good idea if you have a 42 year old body prone to aches and bruising) something called a "zip line" course, which of course my 17 year old soul insisted I run right to and try first thing when we got here yesterday.

They take you to the start of the course, and they outfit you in more safety equipment than is normally afforded a construction worker or a coal miner, but here's the key: Every bit of equipment is carefully designed to prevent you from actually dying, while studiously avoiding hindering "the experience", by which I mean the various scrapes, cuts, bumps and bruises that one could possibly obtain.

So they get you all strapped up into this gear, including one large piece of metal and pulley wheels clipped to a large nylon strap and clipped to your harness, the strap being just long enough so that when they first hand it to you, the heavy metal piece swings down and clonks you right in the shin. When it happened, I thought they were just careless with the warnings, but I now realize that this was done intentionally, because they measure how much fun you had by how insignificant the pain in your shin is compared to the other aches at the end.

There's a lot of instruction and (at least if your guide happens to be "Mo", a nice young man with a rapid fire delivery and a level of perkiness not seen since Mary Lou Retton or an accident at the caffeine factory) a whole lot of jokes. Mo is the envy of stand-up comics everywhere: he has a captive audience, because once you begin the course, you are at all times clipped to one of the various and sundry safety lines, because you are also about 7000 feet in the air. While zipping between the trees I distinctly saw private aircraft flying past beneath me.

Zipping, as you've probably guessed by now, involves clipping the large metal thing to a steel cable strung between two trees and gliding gracefully from one to the other and at the last second, performing a little tuck move to land deftly on the small platform at the target tree. Or, at least, that's how most of my fellow "zip heads" did it. For me it involved pushing off from the first tree and immediately spinning around so that I was careening backwards, screaming my fool head off until the platform slammed into my lower back and the guide (who, by the way, also has a body mass about a third of mine) tried desperately to hold onto my harness and keep me from sliding back to the middle of the line, where I'd have hung like bait for the various vultures wheeling around in the sky.

It occurs to me, though, in case I'm starting to sound like "Captain Eugene of the Dork Patrol" here, at least I at no time ended up hanging upside-down, a fate which happened to someone I know of, who shall remain nameless but with whom I at one time had the distinct pleasure of creating two children. This was not on this particular trip (in case you were thinking "wow, what a romantic guy Liam is, bringing his ex-wife along on a romantic get away with his current wife!") but was a story which had been relayed to me earlier.

All in all, though, it's a lot of fun, but it does take its toll on the middle aged body, which brings us back to 5:30 a.m. (yes, it's taken me an hour and a half to write this crap!) lying on a bed which I'm sure under normal circumstances would be "pleasantly firm", but in my current condition feels like "paving cement but with less give".

Later today, if I can manage it, I'm supposed to go on their "high ropes course". The 17 year old soul is ecstatic. The 42 year old body is grumbling warily. And the 13 year old sense of humor is hoping to make some crass, immature jokes about it.

All assuming I don't first become food for the vultures.

Copyright © August 11, 2007 by Liam Johnson.

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