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.

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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