Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Lessons Learned

"Exactly how 'roughing it' is this trip going to be?" asked T one night.

"It'll be fine. It'll be an adventure! I mean, what could possibly happen?" I replied.

Lesson Learned #1: Never, ever ask that question.

The trip to our campsite, located just outside of Independence, CA (Population: 534), was a pleasant, uneventful trip. We caravanned up with another couple & their daughter & grandkids (who referred to me as 'Mr. J' the whole weekend - T was referred to as 'Mrs. J', 'Ms. T' &, inexplicably, 'Ms. 10' & then 'Ms. 8' [she'd been demoted for some reason]) & made our way up the 395, through the Owens Valley &, finally, at about 530p, to our site in Gray's Meadow, which, being located on the arid side of the Sierra Nevada’s, was neither particularly gray nor very meadow-ish. So much for truth-in-advertising.

We unloaded the vehicles & began to set up camp. Our hosts told us that, in addition to reserving the site & providing all of our food for the next couple days, they also had a tent we could use.

Lesson Learned #2: Whoever designed our tent & decided that it could hold three people was being woefully optimistic. Or smoked crack regularly.

Having the car parked right next to us was nice, as we had all of our schtuff right at hand & didn't have to haul everything out. Which was really good, as we didn't have room to turn around in the tent, much less have a duffle bag big enough to carry a human body in there with us. We inflated our mattress & then went over to the main part of the site that would wind up being our kitchen/dining area/living room & proceeded to have the first of many tasty meals, again, provided by our gracious hosts. After cleaning up, we retired to the fire ring on our side & chatted a bit before hitting the sack. We crawled into our spacious accommodations & drifted off to sleep.

Lesson Learned #3: Purchase our own tent before we go camping again.

We awoke a couple hours later to horrendous pain in our shoulders & hips. This was due largely to the fact that, over the course of that short amount of time, our mattress had deflated & we were lying on the ground.

Lesson Learned #4: Test out your air mattress for leaks by sleeping on it at home before you take it out to the middle of nowhere. It's better than finding out in the middle of the night. Trust me.

We attempted to inflate the mattress again, but to no avail; our mattress had gone to Inflatable Mattress Heaven. In between rolling around, aching, hurting, swearing under my breath & dozing off, T had to use the l'il girl's room - at least 40 times (though, she'll say it was only twice).

Lesson Learned #5: When choosing a camp site, keep in mind the size of your wife's bladder versus the distance to the bathroom.

As it was dark & we were in "Active Bear Country," I escorted T to the facilities. I assured her that if a bear came charging out of the woods, I'd run & get help as fast as I could. She didn't find the humor in that. I didn't find the humor in being awakened from what little sleep I could get whilst laying on terra extra firma. I'd say we were even.

Returning to the tent, I proceeded to make an attempt at softening things up a bit, all the while telling myself "It's an's an's an adventure." I finally got our accommodations as comfortable as I could & tried to go to sleep. Unfortunately, I had Toby Keith's "Who's That Man Running My Life" (or whatever it's called) stuck in my head & kept pondering how in the world Mr. Keith expected me to feel sorry for his predicament when, according to the lyrics, he up & left his family & never bothered coming back. Then, when he did come back, he just ended up hanging out outside the house, whining & moping about not seeing your kids. Cripes, he even left the dog! What kind of country singer is he?!?

Anyway, after spending the better part of an hour alternating between the stupidity of a Toby Keith song & debating whether or not to just climb into the car & call it a night, I finally fell asleep by amusing myself with changing some of the lyrics to the song (don't ask). Five minutes later, the sun was up.

Lesson Learned #6: Toby Keith has no one to blame but himself.

Packing a change of clothes & my toiletries into my backpack, I headed to the bathroom to freshen up for the day. Unfortunately, the sink only had one spigot - the cold one. Taking a deep breath, I poured the coldest water I have ever felt over my head. Immediately, the fuzziness from the previous night's lack of sleep changed to such a startling clarity with a ferocity that quite nearly knocked me backwards. I was more awake than I'd ever been in my life.

I returned to the camp, trying to shake off the self-induced instant hypothermia. T asked me if I'd help her with washing her hair, to which I agreed. Apparently learning from my stupidity, she grabbed a pitcher full of hot water that was being heated up to do the dishes later.

Yeah. I'm a bright one, all right.

Anyway, as I have short, spiky hair, I can get away with a towel drying & some hair goop. T, on the other hand, has longer, fine hair that requires a bit more attention. She needs things like a brush & hairspray & a blow dryer.

Lesson Learned #7: A 2006 PT Cruiser can be turned into a 150hp, 4 cylinder hairdryer. Just turn the heater up on 'high.'

While we were cleaning up camp after breakfast, I experienced the first of many assaults on my person by Nature, as I felt what I at first thought was a large bug nailing me on the top of my head. That would've been preferable to what it really was. It turns out that, out of the acres upon acres of wilderness that surrounded us, a bird decided to drop its load right where I was standing (the first of two times). The real kicker is that I wasn't even under a tree - I was out in the open!

After cleaning up, we headed toward town to go hunt down a replacement mattress for us. On the way to Lone Pine, we stopped by the Manzanar Japanese Internment Camp, a sobering reminder that our country is capable of some incredible acts of stupidity. To hear the stories of these people - American citizens, no less - that had everything taken from them & were imprisoned, under the "this is for your protection" guise makes some of the things that the government is currently pulling on us all the more concerning. I'm not some conspiracy theory wing nut, but I do believe that history can repeat itself for those who don't learn from the past.


After that somber trip through history, we made our way to Lone Pine, which, despite being a town of about 7 people, has three sporting goods stores. The first (&, as it turned out, only) establishment that we entered was a sporting goods/hardware store that looked as if someone took every item that they thought that anyone might want, stuck them in a building, then shook the building, mixing everything up with no rhyme or reason.

Lesson Learned #8: Be very specific when air mattress shopping. There is a difference between a camping mattress (which basically amounts to a pool floatation mattress) & an air mattress.

Twenty minutes later & nearly $70 lighter, we left with a box full of the hope of a good night's sleep. We returned to camp &, after lunch, I set about inflating our new mattress.

Lesson Learned #9: Wal-Mart's Ozark Trail brand of outdoor equipment sucks. How did I come to this conclusion? The piece of crap first mattress, a folding pocket knife that wouldn't lock in the closed position (leading to, I'm sure, a wonderful stab to the leg at some point) & the later discovery that our host's tent ripped when it was pulled a little more that the stitching could handle (which wasn't much) have all left a bitter taste. We'll be sticking with Coleman from now on, thank you.

T & the others piled into the cars & headed to another site about 3,000 feet higher than we were. I opted to give the new mattress a spin by taking a nap. Ah, & what a glorious nap it was! While I nodded ("nearly napping..."), I got the first hint at the weather that was about to make its presence known, as several gusts blew through the area. I thought at one point I'd open the tent flaps & find a dead witch underneath it & a bunch of freaky midgets poking out of the foliage. After that, it started to sprinkle. Fortunately, our tent wasn't an Ozark Trail product (see Lesson Learned #9) & it held up quite well.

The others returned eventually & we closed out our last evening with a good dinner, a campfire & s'mores.

Lesson Learned #10: Nature hates me.

I learned the previous lesson at about midnight, when not only did the gusty, Wizard of Oz type wind start back up, it also started to - you guessed it - rain. T yelled out to God, saying "All right! We get it! We're not supposed to be out here!", while I started laughing at the thought that, if it rained hard enough, at least our mattress was holding up & we could stay afloat on it.

Lesson Learned #11: Nylon is not only waterproof, it also has amazing water absorbing abilities.

Once again, T had to go use the facilities. This was where the rather small dimensions of our tent really made themselves known. For, you see, there wasn't enough room for us to comfortably put our shoes on & trying to exit the tent by standing up (instead of the tried & true method of crawling out on all fours, due to the soggy ground) proved to be an exercise in balance, contortion & coordination. Fortunately, we were both able to get out of the tent without divorcing.

We crawled back in &, as our wonderful mattress was holding up (thank you, Coleman Company!), we soon were on our way back to Dreamland.

Upon waking up a little while later, I put my hand on my pillow to adjust it a bit & found it to be wet. A quick feel of the sleeping bag that was up against the tent elicited the same result.

Lesson Learned #12: Don't put your bedding up against water saturated nylon.

We were met the next morning by a beautiful, blue sky & snow dusted mountain tops just a few thousand feet above us. It was the first clean air we'd breathed in a week, due to the 2007 SoCal Marshmallow Roast going on all around us. We went down to the creek & poked around a bit & I followed some deer tracks up a hill until my innate dislike of being bitten by a rattlesnake kept me from following further through the brush. Not that there was a rattlesnake; I just wasn't going to chance it, given Lesson Learned #10. We returned to camp, wrung out our gear & set to the task of loading up the cars. A short time later, we said our goodbyes over lunch & then made our way back home.

When we got back closer to home, we stopped at Rubio's (we had a hankerin' for some fish tacos & chicken burritos). Neither of us being springtime fresh, T was concerned that we might run into someone she knew from work. I jokingly told her that Rubio's is the one place where I will almost always run into someone from work.

It was then that we ran into Scooter from my department.

Lesson Learned #13: Sometimes, it's just better to shut up.

So, we survived. We weren't eaten by bears or trapped & forced to live off the carcasses of our dead co-campers. No poison berries were consumed. I daresay we did pretty well for our first time out.

And we learned a lot, too.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Silly Things

I keep staring at the monitor, but nothing happens. Maybe if I try looking intently at the keyboard…

Nope. Nothing.

Why was I blessed with such incredibly good looks instead of telekinesis? Why couldn’t I have both, maybe with a bit of independent wealth thrown into the mix? Oh well. Can’t have it all, I suppose.

Guess I’ll have to use my fingers instead.

The other day, I was talking to my older sister, trying to finalize the headcount for Birthapalooza 36 next Sunday (count so far: Me, T, The Boy, & my mom – a rowdy bunch we are). She informed me that, sadly, she would be otherwise engaged next weekend & would be unable to make it (apparently, seeing Genesis at the Hollywood Bowl trumps seeing your brother’s slide down the downhill side towards 40). Stifling a sniffle & trying my best to not let on how utterly crushed I was that she’d rather spend her time watching a pasty, balding Englishman try to recapture his former glory, I told her that it was OK, that, barring being hit by a bus, the invitation was open for next year. This led to the following topic:

Do people say “barring being hit by a bus, I’ll do such & such” because the likelihood of them being hit by said bus is relatively low?

Think about it – do you ever hear someone say “If I don’t blink my eyes at some point in the interim, I’ll do such & so forth”? I mean, you really can’t do much about blinking, at some point, over the course of, say, 12 months. Being hit by a bus, on the other hand, is something that you do have a bit of control over. Unless the bus is a stealth bus, you usually will see one coming in your direction, giving you enough time to move out of its way. Maybe if you’re particularly dense, you might stand a better chance of being hit, in which case, do the gene pool a favor & stay right where you are. Not to take anything away from those poor souls who have accidentally been hit by a bus; it just seems like when you use that as a potential out for doing something in the future, you’re aiming kind of low. (Although, imagine the irony if you actually were hit by a bus at some time. I mean, after your bones mend & all, of course.)

We went on to discover that there are other things that have an even lower chance of happening & thus keeping one from making it to their little brother’s birthday, such as being eaten by a shark. Living about 70 miles inland from the Pacific, I feel confident that, on an average day, the odds of me meeting & being consumed by a great white are low. In fact, I actually do have a better chance of being hit by a bus.

This issue went further when we considered that the likelihood of being run over by a bus driven by a great white was even lower than being attacked by a shark in the middle of the Mojave Desert. We did determine, though, that, while buses do not have a mouth &, by default, lack teeth, you could still get your hand ‘eaten’ if you stuck it in the engine while it was running, in which case, please see my comment about doing the gene pool a favor.

So, here’s the ranking of things that might keep one from joining their youngest brother on his birthday next year, from highest to lowest:

Being hit by a bus

Being eaten by a great white shark

Being eaten by a bus

Being hit by a bus driven by a great white

Monday, October 08, 2007

Per Request

Note: I wrote this last Friday. The contents of my pockets have changed a bit, but I wasn't about to rewrite this whole thing, so...



Wow...this place got dusty. Look at all the cobwebs. Kind of gives it a little seasonal ambiance, I think.

Anyway, Amy is apparently starved for some good quality entertainment & requested that I write something - anything. Even about the contents of my pockets. Well, Amy, since I aim to please here at MLCotW, I bring you -


Let's start with the Right Front, shall we? First up, my key ring. My key ring is a fascinating collection of keys of various make & use. On the first ring, we have my non-descript apartment key; my mailbox key (an Ilco); another Ilco brand key (I have no idea what it goes to, but it balances out the ring that it's on); my YMCA membership fob (sadly unused as of late - but, hey, no naked men stories; that's a plus); my Air Force dog tag - hey! I'm a B Positive (a funny story - the tag is stamped with your religious preference. I had a friend who didn't choose a specific affiliation, so his was stamped NO DENOM. If you looked at it quickly, it looked like it said NO DEMON. OK, maybe that wasn't so funny. You can blame Amy for asking me to write again); & lastly, a brass key fob with an eagle & my favorite Bible verse, Isaiah 40:31, inscribed on it: "They that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run & not be weary; they shall walk & not faint." The second ring is home to my car keys, which, since T took the new car (Yay! We got a new car!), adds up to two - one, an official GM key & the other a copy (yet another Ilco - did they corner the market on key copies?). The third ring is simply there to hold rings one & two together. Just functional, not flashy.

Anything else in there? I had a dollar, but spent it on a Dew this morning, so, that's it for the Right Front. Oh, wait - the Watch Pocket, probably the most underutilized pocket on pants today. Not in mine, though, for I carry an actual pocket watch. On a chain! It classes me up a bit, y'know?

Moving along to the Left Front, where we'd usually find a wad of receipts (I refer to this pocket as my "filing cabinet," as I keep any important scraps of paper that I know I'll need later in there), but, I cleared all those out this morning, leaving just my MP3 player, which you wouldn't normally find in there. I've since moved it back to the safety of its padded case, where it's all snug & sound.

Making our way further east around the equator, we find the Left Butt Pocket. This is home to my work badge (I get work related discounts just about anywhere I go, so it pays to have my badge handy). I also use this pocket for pieces of paper that are too bulky to fit in the Left Front. Fascinating, yes?

We end our tour of the compartments of my pants with the Right Butt Pocket, home to my wallet & my ever present ink pen, complete with a rubber band around it to keep it from committing suicide & jumping out of the pocket all the time. My wallet is about 1 1/2 inches thick & about 3/4 of an inch of it I could probably get rid of. The current inventory consists of the following:

• My ATM card
• A Fantastic Sam's 12 for 11 Club card (only 4 more to go!)
• A business card from my bank
• A GameStop 'Edge' card (10%off used games! Woo hoo!)
• A Harry & David Preferred Customer card
• An outdated ATM card
• My medical insurance card
• A Superstar Video card
Another outdated ATM card (I'm thinking I need to clear those out)
Yet another medical insurance card - geez!
• A Park 'N Fly card
• A Hollywood Video card that I haven't used in about 5 years
• A Schlockbuster gift card that probably has about $.43 on it
• A business card from a city worker
• Another Superstar card (each location has its own card - is that retarded or what?)
• A business card from the pastor that met with us when my dad passed away
• A business card from the deputy that took my report when someone broke into one of the cars last year
• A business card from one of the thousands of local thrift/antique (read: old crap) stores in town
• My license
• The Boy's ATM card
• Pictures
• About 153 more business cards
Another friggin' medical insurance card!!!
• Lint

So, there you have it. I hope that Amy & anyone else who still comes here in the vain attempt to find something new has enjoyed it.

As for me, I've got some ATM & insurance cards to shred.