Sunday, August 10, 2008

How I spent my summer -part 1

Part one: checking in

I hate going on vacation. I hate vacationing for the same reason I'm not a fan of my birthday or most major holidays. I tend to get my hopes up for mediocrity and walk away feeling shafted when I can't manage to pull off even the low bar. I take these personal failures pretty hard. Family vacations are the worst since I'm dragging along my family into another of my unhappy misadventures. My average vacation is best described as a series of small tragedies staged in a gorgeous setting.

We were broke to begin with. Thanks to some car repairs in June, my little bit of savings had been halved. I'd hoped to take my family to Columbus, to the zoo. Everybody seems to like animals. Supposedly, there was an aquarium not to far away, too. It seemed vaguely educational, positive, and while not as exciting as cliff diving or snorkeling off the barrier reef, a good fit for us. But with two hundred bucks, for a family of five on a four day trip, that seemed about as likely as me pulling a flop-eared rabbit out of my ass.

Through my connections, I managed to score us the use of a cabin in Canaan. It sounded like a good idea: fresh air, wide open spaces and a certain amount of seclusion. Since the beach a few years ago, the idea of a shorter drive to someplace where we could all unplug sounded like a great idea: no tv, no internet, no nothing.

Selfishly, I was hoping to clear my head and relax. I've been having a lot of nightmares lately. I just wanted a break and to go someplace where I didn't have to feel like we were being stared at.

It started to unravel the second I picked up the keys. I was given a warning that the place wasn't quite as fabulous as I would have hoped. It was seldom used, not particularly well-maintained and there were some minor problems.

"Check on the mouse poop," I was told. "Bring a broom."

I wasn't worried about a few mouse droppings. I understood a cabin in the woods, seldom disturbed by people, would likely be a bit dusty and dirty. Mice would find their way in. Mice will do as mice do.

The cabin was beautiful. The living area was huge. There were plenty of windows and lots of space for people to sprawl out. There was a fully working kitchen with a dishwasher.

The kids made a run for the second floor bedrooms. This was going to be better than being stacked like firewood in a tent. They were going to have their own rooms, but under the big windows overlooking the woods, there was a drift of black grains similar to wild rice -as if someone had tossed a couple of boxes of Uncle Ben's onto the floor. Both bedrooms looked like this. Visions of a throbbing brown carpet of mice moving around beneath the beds of my children danced in my head.

While they settled in, I completely lost it.

"Downstairs," I yelled. "Get downstairs."

They looked at me as if I was nuts. Other than the dark hills of mouse shit, the rooms were a vast improvement to the ones they have back home. The walls are made of real wood. The windows looked out on something besides the bedrooms of the neighbors. The roof didn't look like it was slapped together by drunks who never got above a C in carpentry class.

While they grabbed their stuff and went back downstairs, I cleaned up and tried not to vomit. The vacuum cleaner helped, after I took it apart and fixed it. I grumbled loudly about not staying in a place filled with mouse shit. I already wanted to go home.

I calmed down. Finding the stack of invoices from Orkin over the last year helped. The exterminators had been in every month for well over a year. The mouse shit was old. Mickey and all of his friends were long dead. Nobody had cleaned up and this made sense, given the people who had stayed here previously. None of them had families. They would have had no reason to use the second floor.

I could see no reason why we should use it either, actually. So, we didn't.

I had been told there were some problems with a leak at the water pump. I was advised to use it carefully, to shut it on and off to flush the toilet and to take showers. The leak was like turning on a faucet. I'm not an expert or anything, but running water over electric wires looks bad.

After some discussion, we agreed we were stuck. It was already nine o'clock. Everybody was hungry, and it was black as pitch. We decided to stay the night and see how it went. We parked the kids on the couches in the living room, which was still better than what they were used to, ate some lunch meat with bagels. Everyone slowly went to sleep. I slept like a political prisoner. I dreamt I was in a weird third-Reich inspired torture chamber run by my editor.

By morning, I'd figured out a sort of solution to the water issue. We could run the pump for a couple of minutes safely, long enough to flush the toilet. Anything longer than that seemed like asking for a grisly death by fire. Showers were out of the question, but we were near a couple of state parks and resorts we planned to visit. If we swam, we reasoned, we could shower at a bath house. We considered it camping, but with a tent made out of lumber.

We decided we could manage. We'd seen worse.

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