Chapter 22: The Lonesome Crowded West, Part 1

It was a decent run. Not great, and not a long run by any means, but long enough to cause the average person to break a decent sweat on a sunny, summer morning in Montana, and leave a particular individual with over-stimulated pores coated in a thick layer of the perspirated fluid, surprisingly a nice adhesive for synthetic clothing; about as good as anybody can do after a full night of spooks. And not to spoil the work I had achieved, I opted to purchase an ice cold, sugar free Rockstar that morning instead of my usual original flavor, saving me about 250 in empty calories.

“Alright, when do we head to Pony?” I asked as I burst into the room with a swift and expended strut. “Oh man, that felt good… you know, exercising and stuff? You’ve heard of it right? Gretch?” There wasn’t much of a response. It was like I was talking in a foreign language or something. “Well, you guys should do some research, and maybe consider trying it out sometime. It might actually be good for you. Definitely works for me, as you can tell.” Still, no response was afforded, even as I continued my mellow strut across the room. Man, what crawled up their butts? “So, what time’s checkout?”

“The usual,” said Bill, lying on the bed while surfing the web on his iPad.

“Well, in that case, I’m going to take my time in the shower,” I said strutting towards the bathroom, taking my sweet time, of course. “…Because I pretty much deserve one after a nice run, considering our solid night of drinking. I mean, that’s what I do in order to keep my physique. Drinking and life choices have consequences, and if you don’t do anything about it, it’s going to knick you in the butt one of these days; at least that’s what Pat says. I’m sure you’ve heard of him. He’s your dad after all… Gee Gretch, I wonder why I haven’t seen you on a run this whole trip? Don’t be getting all lazy on me or anything.”

Gretch just shrugged her shoulders and kept scrolling through her phone, pretending to ignore me (although she didn’t do a very good job). It was as if something kept grabbing her attention—something of concern, causing her to constantly look up at my direction, an offense that eventually wore me into boredom.

“Hey, what’s that sign say behind you?” she asked.

“Oh, let me see.” I quickly rummaged through the items, anticipating their low significance. “Room rate one hundred and something bucks, don’t do any damage, checkout time, no smoking… nothing really. But enough chitchat, time for a shower. Let me gather all of my stuff…” Another ten minutes of chitchat passed before I finally gathered all my “stuff” and went into the bathroom, Bill and Gretch remaining relatively quiet through the whole thing.

“Bill, what time did you say checkout was?” I heard Gretch ask through the shower door, already stripped down to my birthday suit.

“12:00. It’s always 12:00. It’s the standard at every hotel.”

“Are you sure? This says 11:00”

“11:00?” I uttered with a growing sense of apprehension.

“Well what time is it now?” asked Bill.

“It is… 11—11:20!?”

“NOT 11:20!?” I exclaimed, whipping my head out of the bathroom door. I looked at Bill and Gretch and they looked at me, and then at each other, and then around the room. It was covered in a large scattering of clothes, computers, and old-fashioned ingredients. Each of us shot up, reacting to an internal siren that suddenly went off inside our heads. Their faces were just as wide and shocked as mine. It was a disaster, a complete disaster.

“Oh God, we’re late!” screamed Bill.

“We’re all screwed! I yelled back. “It was the ghosts!”

“Gretch, stuff everything you can!”

“I can’t—I can’t fit anything else into my bag!”

“You have to! Zack—“

“Getting dressed! Where’s the supervisor? Stall her!” I hurried to cover my superfluously sweaty body with a fresh, clean pair of clothes, cringing as each article of clothing became soiled the instant it made contact with my skin.

Bill peaked his head out the door. “Super’s coming!”

“I can’t get my pants on! They’re stuck to my—“ I tipped over, falling out of the bathroom and onto the floor. Gretch began panting, which eventually led to strenuous breathing, then to hyperventilation, desperately attempting to zip up a suitcase that was well beyond its volumetric capacity.

“Zack, your pants are on backwards!” screamed Bill. “C’mon Gretch, I need that suitcase closed!”

“I’m trying, but I can’t—“

“30 seconds!”

“The Old Fashioned mix! It’s still there!”

“Leave it, we don’t have time—“

“I’M NOT LEAVING WITHOUT IT GRETCH!”

“20 seconds!”

Gretch ran across the room with a load of clothes and threw them onto a random bag. Only a quarter of the clothes made it in. The rest were thrown in random directions, flying across my face and across the beds, a frantic panic with a one in a million chance of landing in the right place.

“Gretch, quit screwing around!”

“Why are your pants on your head?”

“What do you mean on my head?”

“10 seconds!”

“Damn it Bill, get in here! We need your help! Here Gretch, throw the rest in,” I said, holding the bag open.

“Even the whiskey—“

“Everything—NOT MY PANTS! I NEED THOSE!”

“5 Seconds! Zack, get to the bathroom. Pants on, now! Gretch, it’s go-time. Wrap it up!”

“God, I can’t—“

“Gretch, do it—DO IT!”

The door swung open and in came the supervisor. “What’s going on in here?”

“Just two guys packing a suitcase,” said Bill who was standing side by side next to Gretch.

“And one guy takin’ a dump,” I said as I walked out of the bathroom with my pants on; each leg correctly placed in its correct and corresponding hole. Even the fly was zipped completely up. The supervisor perused the room, our bags packed, clothes on, and besides a couple unmade beds and full trashcans, relatively spotless. Each of us stood perfectly still. None of us dared to make a move.

“Two guys packin’ a suitcase, and one takin’ a dump… I don’t know. Somethin’ don’t seem right here…” She studied our demeanor as if she were waiting for one of us to crack.

“…Somethin’ ain’t right…” She took a good look around the room once more. She didn’t like what she saw. Yes, there was something else going on, some other presence lurking about, but no evidence to convict.

“Keys mam?” said Bill, sticking out his hand with a set of room keys. She grabbed them and turned to the door, muttering under her breath as she walked away. “Something ain’t right. Somethin’ ain’t right…”

 

***

 

It was a two-hour drive west on I-90 from Billings to Bozeman, the last harbor for modern culture where we stocked up on goods before heading out to Pony—bagels, butter, pizza, beef, beer, liquor—the basic necessities.

“Oh Zack, go ahead and put the Coors Light up here,” said Lea while we loaded the groceries into the Subaru. “And put a couple in the cooler, just so they’re nice and cold when we get to the cabin.” The idea sounded legitimate, and we had no quarrels with cold beer, so we did as we were told. “You know what, never mind, I’ll just carry the cooler myself. There’s not enough room in the back.”

“But Lea, I think I can make enough room in the trunk,” I suggested. “I mean, look at the back seat. There’s barely anything there!”

“Oh, it’s fine, I’ll take it.”

“But mom, how about you just put it in the back seat?”

“Bill, just—I don’t want it tipping over and spilling around on the ground.”

“But if you set it on the floor, it won’t. Here, you can wedge it and it’ll hold firm—“

“Bill!”

“…Ok mom, hold it in the front seat…” Bill acquiesced to the stern and alarming tone his mother directed him with. Any further objections were useless at this point, let alone dangerous, even if they were rooted in common sense.

 

***

 

The Benz had much more difficulty picking up AM radio waves as we turned onto Highway 84, and the rock cliffs scaling the Madison River between Norris and Harrison didn’t help either. Thus, we were forced to forego our usual choice of conservative talk radio for the more contemporary sounds of Third Eye Blind, not the worst consequence in the world.

Onward we went behind the Subaru, our guide to the cabin as it followed the signs from Harrison leading to Pony. “How come Gretch is driving right now—wait, is that what I think it is?” I asked, staring at a hazy silhouette of a figure lifting a cylinder to its mouth.

“Oh my God. Caught red handed!” blurted Bill. “She just couldn’t resist.”

“Unbelievable,” I said shaking my head. “I mean, that’s something I’d expect from Gretch, but Lea?”

“I wish I could say I’m surprised…” said Bill with a look of defeat spread across his face. We finished the drive to Pony, a little more solemn about the world, and a little wiser.

The first road at the onset of town led to an abandoned school. Made from bricks that were easily over a century old, it was the first of many of its kind from the community’s gold mining days. A few more gravel roads branched off like capillaries from the main drag, leading to more old building and homes sparsely scattered about with their own, unique homemade decorum. We continued on, looking up from the bottom of a valley that looked to eventually lead to a mountain peak overlooking the town, one that gave me a craving for exploration.

That exploration would have to wait however, for coming up on our left was our immediate destination as determined by Gretch and Lea. “Pony Bar,” the sign said, hanging above a set of deer antlers, sharing its property on a Main Street only a couple building lengths long. We parked and entered with a flavor of cautious excitement. The Mercedes was widely outnumbered by the horses parked along side of the weathered bar, an old, wood-stained saloon that was absent of change but for one, single renovation soon after its conception during the days of the Wild West.

“What will it be guys?” asked the bartender.

“I’ll take a Coors Light,” quickly replied Lea. Taking after her mother, Gretch ordered the same.

“What do you have on draft?” I asked. “Anything local? What’s your seasonal on rotation—better yet, what’s the best IPA you have on tap?”

“…Hun, we got Budweiser and Bud Light. Take your pick.”

“Uh… I guess… I’ll just take a Bud Light…” I hung my head, not quite in shame, and not quite in disappointment, but somewhere in between.

“That’ll be two dollars.”

“Whoa, two dollars!?”

Lea looked as if she were rather popular around the joint, greeted by each patron who came by like she was a long lost daughter of the town, all grown up and returning for the first time in years. It gave Bill, Gretch and I plenty of time to observe the array of knick-knacks decorating the bar, many of which you’d find at your grandmother’s house, an oddly fitting look for the joint. There were cowboy hats, skulls, horns, mounts for a variety of different animals, pictures of old, pictures of new, pictures of athletes and country stars that found their way into town, and even a .22 caliber rifle that was up for raffle. “I want that,” said Bill as his eyes fixated on the firearm, devising a strategy to win and bring it back to Boise with him.

“Man, there are lots of black and white pictures around here. How old is this place?” I asked.

“Pretty old,” said Bill. “Been around since the old days. I hear it used to be a brothel too.”

“A brothel? You mean, there used to be prostitutes?”

“Yep, some pretty greasy stuff.”

“There’s also been a couple of shoot outs too,” added Gretch.

“Yea, I’m pretty sure people have died here. Possibly right on top of where we sit…” I sat and wondered about the old tales of the Pony Bar, which ones were true, and whether or not I’d survive in a time like that.

The gentleman talking to Lea excused himself to the bathroom. A short window—now was my chance. “So Lea, I hate to be a narc, but I saw you participating in illicit activities earlier.” My heart pounded over the confrontation I so much wanted to avoid, but my principles disallowed it, unable to live with the heavy burden of guilt weighing me down.

“I’m not sure I know what you’re talking about?” she replied.

“Mom, we saw you in full view pounding the Coors light in the car while Gretch was driving. That’s illegal, big time.”

“Oh, don’t you guys know? You’re allowed to have a beer on the drive between Harrison and Pony.” It’s not that we didn’t believe her; we just weren’t fully comfortable with the supposed rule. But who was I to question a Pony native? I looked forward and sipped on my beer, pondering in deep concern over Lea and her well being while I finished it.

“Don’t worry about it…” It was a tough request to swallow; my perception of Lea had just been altered, and permanently I feared. “I’ll tell you what, here’s one on me,” said Miss Social herself, flipping me a small, wooden disc. “Does that make you feel better?”

“What’s this?” I asked.

“It’s a Wooden Nickel.” Under further investigation, the picture of an Indian outlined with the words “Wooden Nickel” was a dead giveaway. “It came from the gentleman that was just talking to us. Good for one free drink of your choice. Go ahead!”

“Wow, I uh… heheh, gee, I’ll take another Bud Light then. A Wooden Nickel… I could get used to this.”

 

***

 

We each helped ourselves to one more beer before departing to the Dutcher Cabin, only a half-mile from the Pony Bar as the crow flies. We passed the school and a few other old structures, and then drove up a gravel drive where we parked on the outside of a wooden fence that marked the bounds of the Dutcher property. Perched up on a hill, the cabin overlooked Pony’s main street and the mountains beyond it. After a quick unpacking, Bill drew his attention to the large stone placed in the middle of the yard, sending his imagination into a creative spin. It didn’t take long before a makeshift fire pit came into production, built using spare pieces of wood, metal grating, and stone hidden around the cabin with the intention that it could eventually be used as a grill.

While Bill busied himself perfecting the details of his grill-in-progress, I couldn’t help but stare out into the precipitous landscape that surrounded the small town. On the other side of the Pony Bar laid a long, mellow hill. Up close, logic and experience deduced that the hill was made up of rough and treacherous surfaces, sharp with rocky objects and steep in unsuspecting areas. But from the distance, it looked to be a rich source of lush grass that spread down a delicate slope, sending delusions of grandeur through my head—dreams of youth and carelessness; three kids, running up to the top, racing and laughing the whole way before making our journey back, a long descent to the bottom by laying down and rolling our way to its base like the wheels of a steamroller. And when it was all over, we’d make the trek all over again, and again after that, until Lea would call us home for dinner, bringing about a bountiful amount of rest and sustenance so we could do it all over again at the emergence of another long, summer day.

And beyond those hills laid the unknown, virgin to all eyes except the mountain peaks laid directly to the west in the path of Main Street, the watchful mothers of Pony and all her surrounding land. It was a world that had yet to be explored, waiting for a group of avid explorers to finally arrive and discover it, for there was still much frontier left to be unveiled. Although the right thing to do would’ve been to assist Bill with his imaginative inception, I was rendered useless by an imagination that was running wild on its own. So I sat and sipped on my old fashioned, gazing out at the landscape in wonderment of what could be uncovered by our eyes for the very first time, while Bill, brandishing a vodka screwdriver of his own, tinkered with his grill in meticulous fashion, looking for any way to improve upon his creation.

And Gretch… well, let’s just say that Gretch did what she always does, and did so until Lea called us in for dinner…

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We gathered around a table next to the kitchen area where a box of pictures had been placed in the middle. With a plate of pizza slices in front, each of us took our turn sifting through the pictures, giggling and laughing at old photos of Gretch and Bill in their childhood sporting the typical, goofy little kid haircut, as well as family reunion photos of Bill’s parents as young adults clad in short shorts and bright T-shirts, as was the appropriate style in the 70’s and 80’s. One picture in particular showed the family before a sports run posing with matching outfits, while Pat, Bill and Gretch’s father, stood alone on the side, aloof, his outfit out of sync with the rest of the family’s. That one was probably my favorite, or at least the most memorable.

Bill took a quick trip to the bathroom while I snuck off to finish unpacking my belongings, something that none of us really put much concentration into, but not before taking a quick peak into Bill and Gretch’s room. There were two twin-sized beds with bulky, wooden frames on each side, the same one’s they had slept in as kids.   Two quilts that looked as though they had been woven by their grandmother covered each bed, and laying on them were artifacts from Pony’s past—clothes, toys, and a stack of magazines. One of them, entitled “Life,” featured a picture of their grandmother sitting with her schoolmates. By the looks of it, nothing in that room looked to be younger than 50 years.

The walls that separated each room didn’t quite reach the ceiling, meaning that privacy was not easily attained inside the cabin, proved by the distinct sound effects that were more than vivid during Bill’s private time in the bathroom. Next-door was the master bedroom of which Lea graciously offered me. It seemed as though she was content with sleeping in the den that was past the living room area on the other side of the cabin, where she could lay on the couch while she fell into a slumber to the hilarity of late night television. And really, the den wasn’t so much of a bad deal. Jimmy Fallon has been on a roll as of late!

The sun’s fading glow brought us back to the outside so us kids could revel in the beauty that dressed the final hours of daylight hovering over the west. “Hey Zack, wanna put on some tunes?” asked Bill.

“Sure, what would you like, some Modest Mouse?”

“Yea, and maybe that new Third Eye Blind CD we were listening to.”

“Coming right up.” I began to set up my computer for music, noticing a slight shiver in my fingers as I moved the mouse over the selection of artists on the screen. “It’s getting a little chilly out here! Good thing I brought that big, blue raincoat that I bought from Costco a few months ago with me.”

I ran into the house and dug through my suitcase, pulling out my big, blue raincoat that I had bought from Costco a few months ago. Being that it was a quality coat for less than half of what you would pay for a Patagonia or any of those other stupid REI-equivalent rip-offs, I was eager to put it on and show off both my fashion and bargain sense to everybody. “Alright guys, I’m ready. Let’s make ourselves another old fashioned and head out—“

I couldn’t believe it. Across the room from me stood Gretch, wearing a big, blue raincoat that she had probably bought from Costco a few months ago. Well, maybe not exactly from Costco, but nearly identical to mine, or close enough to piss me off, which I’m sure was her intention. “Come. Freaking. On.”

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Darkness overcame the Montana Sky, leaving a large splattering of stars above to entertain us throughout the night. Each of us stared up in amazement at the mysterious balls of fiery gas above us, wondering how many millions of miles away they were and if there was anything of importance among them. There were tens of thousands, possibly even hundreds of thousands lying out there in front of us to gaze upon, and millions more beyond the sight of the naked eye. Is something else actually out there? The odds on that night looked very favorable.

“Look, a shooting star!” screamed Gretch.

“There’s another one, make a wish!” I told them.

“What about that one?” asked Bill, pointing to another light moving across the sky.

“No, that’s a satellite.”

“Oh…” Each of us remained quiet for a moment. It sounded like there was a hint of disillusionment in his voice before he decided to speak again. “You know, you’re the first friend I’ve ever brought out here.”

“Really?”

“No joke.” A slight grin grew across my face. I couldn’t help but take in the statement with a nice serving of pride. “In fact, there’s only been one other person who has ever come with us to visit.”

“Who’s that?”

“…Megan Mills,” replied Gretch.

“Megan Mills?”

“Yea, Megan Mills. And you guys got in traaaaaa-ble!” said Bill in a nudging manner.

“What happened?”

“Oh nothing. We were out drinkin’ with some of the locals at the Pony Bar and then went into the mountains and got stuck. No big deal.”

“Dad was piiiiiised!

“I don’t even know why. I’ve been in worse situations with Megan Mills and survived.”

“Probably because you were with Megan Mills.”

“Yea, Megan Mills.”

“…Megan Mills,” I whispered under my breath as my eyes opened wide and my mouth hung agape, consequences of zoning out into deep space. The name was starting to become as legendary as the sea of stars above us. “Oh look, another shooting star!”

“Where?” asked Bill, darting his head across the sky.

“It flew right under the North Star.”

“Where’s that?”

“Here I’ll show you.” I came in close to Bill and hovered over his backside, pointing my arm across his cheek in an effort to guide him in the right direction. “You see, first you find the Little Dipper. It looks like the Big Dipper, but the cup is smaller and the handle looks longer. The North Star is at the end of it. See? In fact, if you look over at the Big dipper, two of the stars at the end of the dipper part line up and point right to it over there—“

“Click.”

“Wait, what was that?”

“A camera—Gretch?”

“GRETCH! Knock it off!” Gretch snickered away as she pointed her phone in our direction and snapped away. Once again, her immaturity ruined another educational moment, unable to fight the urge to snap a picture of Bill and I in a somewhat “suggestive” pose.

Bill and I looking at the stars

“Ok, ok, sorry you guys. Let’s walk down the street a little bit,” She suggested. “We’ll have a better view of the stars.”

“I mean, we really don’t need—you know, that’s actually a good idea Gretch,” I told her. The suggestion bought her some time to regain what little respect she had remaining after her antics, which were inappropriate at best. “I should probably get a flashlight, just in case.”

“No need, I already got one.” Bill and I looked at each other and nodded our heads. Impressive…

We followed Gretch a quarter mile down the road where we were free to view the sky with little obstruction. “Look there’s another one!” hollered Gretch, her reaction to another shooting star floating across the sky.

“I see it too,” yelled Bill.

“Make another wish,” I said as we focused on the last remnants of a fireball leaving a streak across the sky. “Let’s see if we can find one more. That’ll be five!”

“You know I sort of miss this type of stuff,” mentioned Gretch. “Being out here, away from it all. You just don’t get this in the city. It’s almost like you’re truly free—you get to escape, and remind yourself of what really matters… like family.”

“It’s sort of like— That’s weird…” I thought to myself. “Gretch kind of sounds like a boundary babe right now…”

“Like what?” asked Bill, catching me lost in a heavy trance among the stars.

“It’s like the Bou— never mind…” I twitched my body and threw my head in a downward direction.

“Yea… this place sure brings back some good memories,” said Bill. “Even with the crazy neighbor girls.”

“You mean the ones with the weird house made out of glass bottles that used to yell at mom and dad about snow plows?”

“Yea, they’re the ones.”

“Do they still live there? Maybe we should go over there and say hi? Maybe they’re a couple of babes now…” I added, nudging Bill with my elbow and letting out a slight chuckle.

“I really doubt that,” he fired back.

“Yea, maybe that’s not so much of a good idea,” said Gretch. Bill let out a slight chuckle, giving the impression that a reunion would simply be awkward and possibly troubling. “Too bad you couldn’t visit when we were younger, Zack. You would’ve liked this place.”

“I think I already do.” I looked over at Gretch, and couldn’t help but release a mysterious smile. Maybe she has a soul after all… “Hey Gretch, no wrong answer, but just out of curiosity, who was your favorite of Bill’s friends when we were growing up?”

“Oh, I’m not quite sure actually…” The answer should’ve been quite obvious, but I let her take her time, being that I was in such a congenial move. “I mean, I was friends with Josh’s sister, but he was always busy doing push-ups and being way too awesome for us.”

“Yes, keep going…”

“And Collin was nice, but he was also kind of weird, in the best, Collin way possible of course.

“C’mon G. C’mon G!”

“I guess I would have to say you—“

“That’s right, you—“

“Your one friend. He was kind of weird looking, but was always nice to me,” she said with a large grin growing across her face.

“Weird looking? Weird looking, like how?”

“I don’t know, maybe like an alien or something?“

“Wait, you’re not talking about Ben Wood—“

“Yea, Ben Woodward!”

“Ah Ben Wood—BEN WOODWARD?!?! Are you freaking kidding me?” I turned my back and stomped my way back towards cabin. Bill reached out for me.

“Zack, wait, she didn’t mean it—“

“Forget it! She blew it!”

I walked the quarter mile back to the cabin—alone. In the dark. All. By. My. Self. It was a risk I was gladly willing to take. My pride was on the line after all.

I stormed into the cabin, without saying another word to anybody. Immediately, I crawled back into bed, foregoing the courtesy of shutting off the lights or stripping down to my pajamas. I had nothing to say to them for the rest of the night.

 

***

 

“Oh look who’s back,” snapped Gretch, with once again, one of her overly astute observations.

“I forgot my computer, and I have a lot of work to do tomorrow.”

“Yea, sure you do.”

“Yes, in fact, I do. And just to let you know, I don’t need your attitude. All I need is this computer. And that’s it.” I shut my laptop and snatched it from the deck, stopping Third Eye Blind mid-track, and stormed back inside, with nothing left to say for the rest of the night.  “That’s all I need…”

 

***

 

10 seconds later I swung the door back open. “I need my power cord. I don’t want to run on a depleted battery.”

“Zack, we’re about to go in. Do you need help with anything—“

“Listen Bill, I don’t need any help, I don’t need you, and I certainly don’t need her! All I need my laptop and this power cord. That’s all I need.” I stormed back into the house. Bill followed me, or at least I think he did. I didn’t bother looking back.

 

***

 

“I don’t want to leave a mess, so I’m grabbing my old fashioned cup too,” I said to Gretch as she slid passed me through the doorway. “And don’t pretend like I need anything else. All I need is my laptop, this power cord, and this old fashioned cup.” Gretch slammed the front door shut, leaving me outside by myself.

“And that’s ALL I NEED!” I turned the doorknob.

“UNLOCK IT!”

Chapter 21: The Ghosts of the Dude Rancher Lodge

900 miles is a long long long long WAYS in a car…

-Modest Mouse

 

“What exit do I get off of again?”

“How should I know? It’s probably the first one when you come into town. What does your phone say?”

“I don’t know, I’m talking to you on it.”

“Oh… Um, I think there’s an Arby’s or something close by when you get off.”

“Mmmmm… Arby’s… Hold on.” I reached over and clicked the “previous” button on the music player.

“Just open up Google Maps and type in ‘Dude Rancher Lodge.’ You should be there in a couple minutes after you take the exit.”

“Oh. Well gee, now that you mention it, that’s actually a good idea. I’ll see ya soon!” I ended the call and did exactly as I was told, my coordinates set to the Dude Rancher Lodge of Billings, Montana. Hmm, better start the song over, just in case.

10 minutes had passed without any sign of a Dude Rancher Lodge, or even an indication that I was getting close. “Seriously, where the hell is this place?” I let out a sigh of exasperation as I firmly pressed on the “previous” button one last time—for the third time. “I swear this is the last time.”

And then there it was, a mere 2 blocks away; the Dude Rancher Lodge, a two story brick and mortar motel topped with wood siding, proudly erected to my immediate left. I happily pressed the “previous” button one last time and called Bill. Aside from the fact that it was located in the middle of a city, the motel was appropriately named given its appearance.

“I’m here. Come out and meet me— Dude, I don’t know which room you’re in—well I don’t know where that is… C’mon that’s just confusing, just come ou— Well, I have a lot of crap to carry— Just meet me outside… I’m in the parking lot—DUDE! Why can’t you come out? It’ll take you like, two seconds… because man, I just need you to— dude, please, just come out and—oh, ok, cool. See ya soon.”

Another minute passed. C’mon Bill, where the hell are you? It’s been two minuets, hurry up why don’t you—damn it!” I paused the music. The amount of time it was taking for Bill to get out was really starting to get under my skin and spark a fuse. “What the hell’s wrong with him? I just drove 12 hours to get over here and he’s taking his sweet time! I grit my teeth and started shaking my head, frustrated with pernicious thoughts bubbling inside. “And now I have to start this damn song over again. Why must I be so disrespected? In what way do I deserve this… this insolence? Why, the moment he shows up, I’m gonna jump out of the car and—BILL!”

I quickly pressed play on the music player, cranked up the volume and jumped out of the car. Bill walked across the parking lot with a giant smile ripped across his face. I matched him smile-to-smile and spread my arms out for a hug, while an upbeat tune played from the Benz.

“The boys are back in town…” The chorus by Thin Lizzy repeated, coupled with a scale of notes plucked rapidly in the scale of G Major. “Oh man, what a coincidence!” I exclaimed. “You started to come out, and this song started playing. That’s awesome!” His smile grew even larger.

“It’s like it was meant to be! You mentioned you needed help getting your stuff?”

“Oh me? Naw, I got it. Just my backpack and a couple of Rockstars is all I need.” I grabbed my goods and followed Bill to the room, barely able to hold in my excitement. “You know, it feels like years since the last time we hung out.”

“I know right! Actually, when was the last time we hung out?” he asked, the lock on the door to the room giving him trouble.

“Honestly, I sort of forget. Yesterday, I was in Minnesota, and before then I was in Wiscon—“ Bill popped the door open. “Gretch! Oh my God, how are you! You look grea—uh, I mean… hey… what’s up?” I nodded my head and shrugged my shoulders. “Good to see you… I guess.”

“Hey,” she said while lying on one of the beds, giving me a quick nod before burying her head back into her phone. After all I’ve done for her… typical.

“Well, you wanna hang out for a while? There’s going to be a BBQ at our Aunt and Uncle’s house.”

“Bar-Be-Que! Bar-Be-Que!” I began to chant. I wouldn’t stop until Gretch was forced off the bed and into the car. Bill soon joined in on the incantation.

“Bar-Be-Que! Bar-Be-Que! Bar-Be-Que…”

***

“Hello, I’m Zack,” I said and waved as I walked through the front door, making the customary introductions to Bill and Gretch’s extended family.

“Hi, I’m Bill’s uncle, Bill,” said Bill before greeting Bill. “How are you Bill?” said Bill to Bill.

“I’m doing well. It’s good to see you again Uncle Bill,” answered Bill back to Uncle Bill. There was something about their conversation that developed an ever-growing grin across my face, though I could never quite figure out what it was.

“Well Bill, Zack, and Gretch, are you guys hungry?” asked Uncle Bill.

“You betcha!” I answered. “Why, I haven’t had anything since I stopped at Carl’s Jr. back in Bismark!”

“Well good, we have a few burgers and brats cookin’ on the grill for ya.”

Burgers and brats… again? “…What the hey, burgers and brats sound good… for the 4th time.”

“Do you have any beer?” asked Getch. We knew she would pop the question; we just didn’t think it would be this soon. No amount of preparation could’ve prevented Bill and I from sinking our shaking heads into our hands. We quickly made our way towards the backyard patio, retracting ourselves from any previous association. No shame, whatsoever…

“Lea, how the heck are you?” I said with a heightened pitch as I walked through the doorway and onto the deck. It had been ages since I had seen Bill’s mom, a great and festive lady through and through. And wouldn’t you know it, sitting beside her was a signature can of Coors Light, a sight that called for a hug.

“Welcome to Montana,” she said back to me before introducing me to the rest of the family. There was Bill and Gretch’s Aunt Ann, Aunt Sue who was married to Uncle Bill, and their cousins Michael and Helen. They offered me a Coors Light of my own, of which I gladly accepted and joined them in the social circle, gazing over a landscape that was still in transition between the barren plains of North Dakota and the rugged frontier of Montana with the setting sun finally making its grand entrance, late, as I knew it would be; a setting that unlocked the gregarious side of my personality. Forget small talk. Let’s get right to the issues! Our conversation started out on the conservative side, for I was unwilling to pull a Gretch and blurt something out that would have even the mildest consideration of being labeled as offensive.

“Have you guys seen the new Rihanna video that just dropped? It’s called ‘Bitch Better Have My Money,’ or BBHMM for short.”

Helen and Aunt Sue’s eyes lit up with excitement. “Helen and I listened to that song the other day,” said Aunt Sue.

“Oh man, the music video is pretty bad! They kidnap this girl and beat her up and make her do drugs and stuff.”

“Maybe we should all watch it a little later,” replied Helen. It was an activity I wasn’t the least bit apposed to.

“So what else do you do besides watch BBHMM?” asked Aunt Sue.

“Well, that takes up a lot of my time, and usually the rest of my day is spent trying to build submarines and stuff. Yea, I know, it’s kind of boring. In the meantime though, I’m trying to be a writer!”

“Oh that’s very neat,” replied Aunt Sue. “What have you been writing?”

“Well, I’m trying to finish up this story about a boy who has to deal with his dying dog. It’s pretty sad and all. It’s like the dog is really old, and the boy comes home, and then he has to re-examine his life, and wonders what he did wrong, and eventually has to make a decision whether or not…” I could tell the mood was getting a little somber. Not to spoil the evening, I quickly switched topics. “…I mean, I don’t want to ruin the whole book or anything, But I write other things too. I have a blog that I keep up with from time to time, and I even wrote a screenplay a couple of years back.”

“Oh really, what’s it about?”

“Well…” I hesitated, unsure how to explain the intricate plot of the screenplay. “I mean, it’s kind of complicated, so I don’t know if I should to go into details. It’s almost better if—“

“Just go for it, I’m sure we can figure it out.” I took a deep breath and a nice swig of Coors Light, finishing the rest of the beer’s contents. Here goes nothing… 

“So there’s this cat burglar… and when he robs a house, he leaves a calling card. He uses the bathroom and… he doesn’t flush. I call it, ‘Turd Burglars’.”

“Oh,” was the common reply around the social circle, coupled with a wide-eyed look and a long, taught, “lips-are-sealed” look.

“Oh look, I’m out of beer. Better grab another one.”

“We still have that bottle of wine in the fridge, don’t we mom?” said Helen.

“We do indeed! Why don’t you get some for our guest Helen,” said Aunt Sue. What the heck, why not? Helen disappeared into the house, only to reemerge with a half-full liter sized bottle of cheap rosé.

“Here you go. It’s all yours,” said Helen, eager to hand me the bottle.

“Anybody else want some?” I asked as I looked around. The rest of the group seemed just as eager to watch me drink it straight from the bottle—so I did.

“Dinner’s ready!” suddenly cried out Uncle Bill, making his way to the kitchen with a plate full of burgers and brats. We all scurried to load up a plate of our own with a unique arrangement of burger, brat and all different types of fixin’s. After filling our plates with grub, we reassumed our positions on the porch and continued our conversation between bites of meat and sips of wine.

“I’ll tell you what Lea, I love those two to death, but oh my gosh were they bad,” I began, preparing myself with a hearty sip of wine. “After the wedding, they kept laughing, and giggling, and chuckling in the backseat. It was so distracting, and it made me miss the turn off to the hotel! And don’t even get me started on the roundabouts or how they wouldn’t shut up in the hotel room. I could barely sleep that whole night! And Gretch, boy oh boy has she developed quite the potty mouth as of late…” Lea sat and listened, shaking her head harder and harder in disbelief the more I continued. That wasn’t the way her children were raised, that was for damn sure, and her distress caused me to take another good gulp of wine.

“Don’t get me wrong though, we still had some really good times on the road,” I continued. “And for most of the trip, we were on our best behavior, at places like Jackson Hole, especially Denver, Kanses, Iowa, and Minnesota!” Both Bill and I filled them in on our adventures and they happily listened, although there were probably certain details that were inadvertently left out, being that so much had taken place during our travels.

Our plates gradually became empty as our conversation went on, my bottle of wine turned from half full to a quarter full, and the sun continued its decent across the semi-rugged plains of Billings, suggesting that darkness would soon overtake the sky. “Hey Zack, before you guys leave, would you mind taking a family picture of us?” asked Aunt Ann.

A loose rumble came from my insides as she asked, warranting suspicion of an allergic reaction. “Maybe I should slow down,” I told myself, for I had felt this way after drinking wine before, and the results were always devastating. Shake it off son. You’re on a roll. “Sure, I’d love to,” I said, graciously accepting the request. I lined the family up in the living room, Bill and Gretch on the left side, Michael and Helen on the other, and all of the aunts and uncles in the middle.

“Ok, here we go. Say cheese!” I clicked the middle of Sue’s phone and the camera app made a clicking noise. “Wait a minute, something’s wrong. It didn’t take the picture correctly.”

“Well let me take a look,” said Sue, rushing over to see what was the matter.

“I did exactly what you said, but it just took a picture of my face.” Sue took a look at the camera and paused, as if she were holding her breath. After a second, she let out a snort, and then exploded into bursts laughter.

“Oh my God Lea, look—he took a picture of himself!” It was all she could let out before another round of breathless laughter overcame her. Lea came over and examined the close up of my face sprawled across the screen, so resolute that you could see the fine details of each strand of unshaven facial hair under my chin. She suffered the same fate.

“You have to press the button and it’ll switch over—“ Sue continued before once again succumbing to the hilarity of the situation. The reaction was contagious too, for everybody joined her in expressing their amusement, Ann, Helen, Michael, everybody, except for two… Bill and Gretch crossed their arms and shook their heads, their faces seething with jealousy. “Ha ha, very funny Zack,” said Bill in a very sarcastic manner.

“Oh my God. Typical Zack joke,” followed Gretch. Years of family gatherings and a lifetime of work and preparation in order to create such joy and comedic celebration had paled in comparison to what I was able to achieve in just one evening, and in it producing a response of pure envy, boiling and firing so fiercely that it reached the inevitable breaking point of containment. It was understandable, but unfortunate, really; a joke so funny, that it actually caused me to laugh—at my own joke! That rarely happens, ever!

After a minute of calming down (and believe me, it took a while for everybody to settle their britches), I was finally able to take the picture. Bill and Gretch forced their smiles, trying to hide their irate emotions from seeping out any further, unlike the others whose smiles were all natural. And sadly, by the look of the picture, everybody could tell.

“Hey Helen, do you wanna come out with us?” asked Bill after he had given himself a minute to calm down. “I think we’re going out to some of the bars tonight.”

“That sounds awesome!” she replied with a spurt of excitement. Before hoping into Lea’s Subaru (previously borrowed by Bill to initially get to the BBQ) and headed back to the hotel, we made our rounds and said our goodbye to the rest of the family, including Michael, whose age unfortunately hindered him from partaking in the nights festivities. Bill ensured him however that when the time came, he would with no doubt guide him through his rite to passage.

“So what hotel are you guys staying at?” asked Lea, parting her concentration between her kids and a battle with me over the volume of the music playing over the radio. However rude it may have seemed, I felt it necessary to support our penchant towards classic rock, a fondness I knew full well that Lea once loved, making her sudden opposition baffling to all of us.

“Isn’t it something about dudes?” I replied. “Dude Ranch Inn or something?”

“…You mean, THE Dude Rancher Lodge?” asked Helen, each succeeding word more alarming than the last.

“That’s the one!” answered Bill. We continued the conversation about the hotel while Helen grew mysteriously quiet, almost completely sinking into her seat. Her silence was buried under a mixture of our excited chatter and The Cars, “Just What I Needed” that kept being turned up against Lea’s will until we were dropped off at the hotel.

It was straight to business the moment we entered our room at the Dude Rancher Lodge. “Alright Helen. We’re giving you an honorary punch card,” I told her, followed by an explanation of its use and the number of derogatories allowed. “Gretch blew through hers in no time, a horrendous experience I never want to live through ever again. Even I, I’m ashamed to admit, had a major blow up due to some behavioral issues of certain individuals, but you my friend, get to start out with a clean slate!” I handed her a makeshift card with her name on it made out of a paper coaster provided by the hotel. “Go ahead and start! You can use swears, racial slurs, anything that comes to mind!”

“Um, I might just wait a while on that one,” she said. “And actually, maybe we should start heading out to the bars soon—“

“Oh nonsense! Let’s have a couple of Old Fashioneds before we head out! We need to pre-funk a little bit anyways. And besides, there’s still the premiere of Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money” music video!”

“You know, on second thought, we can probably skip the BBHMM premiere, and really, the bars around here aren’t that expensive, so there’s really no need to pre-funk—”

It was no use, for I had already set up the computer and had BBHMM on queue. I clicked play and for the next 7 minutes, we studied the theme and message behind the explicit music video that involved the kidnapping, drugging, and torture of an unsuspecting executive’s wife, images that were both disturbing and at the same time, intriguing. All the while, my body was engaged in a torture of its own. It could no longer be ignored, the excessive intake of wine had no doubt caused a reaction, and an allergic one at that; my body actively rejecting the toxins I had put into it. For several minutes, I masked the symptoms—swollen throat, runny nose, and rumbling bowels, hoping each would go away with time while we analyzed the finer details of the video, looking for a deeper meaning associated with the madness… until the madness inside me reached the point of no return.

IMG_1588

BBHMM Premiere

“Uh, you guys, I think the wine… it gave me… I… I gotta go to the bathroom!” I ran to the door and turned, one final request before go time. “Do you mind waiting a few minutes?”

“Well, how about you just meet us over at the bar?” suggested Helen. She was ambitious in her quest to get out of there, and maybe I couldn’t blame her. From the sound of it, the nightlife in Billings had potential, much more than waiting around and listening to some dude destroy a toilet.

“Ok, yea whatever. Text me.” It was all I could fit in before succumbing to a fast and effective relief forced upon me by the laws of human decency. I’ve been known to do some crazy things in my day, but making a mess when it’s not necessary isn’t one of them.

For the next several minutes after the initial wave I sat and waited, making sure there weren’t any further eruptions. People tend to do a lot of thinking when they’re stuck in a helpless situation, which has been the case for a good portion of my life so far. You pay better attention to detail, and notice things you normally wouldn’t. And in that moment of solitude, I could hear a faint tapping. The further I paid attention, the taps seemed like they had turned to knocks—audible knocks on the door.

“Hello?” I called out. There was no answer. “Bill, is that you? Helen? Gretch? Gretch, is this a joke?” Still, no answer. “C’mon you guys, this isn’t funny anymore!” Another set of soft knocks resumed. “Who’s there?” I tried to stand up, but could not, as I was cemented on the ring of which I sat until my task was complete—a task far from completion. By the time I had finally finished, the knocking had ceased and there wasn’t a soul in sight. I hurried out of the room and to Hooligans Sports Pub, where Bill had told me to meet.

***

I walked in and found the trio right as the server set a fresh pitcher on the table. “Is there anything else you guys need?” he asked.

I perused our table, eventually coming to a collective and steady nod with Bill and Helen. “I think we’re good—“ I caught one last glance at Gretch. “Um, on second thought, you better bring us another pitcher.

“Coming right up,” said the server before making his way back to the kitchen. Helen watched as he disappeared into the depths of the bar, ample distance to ensure a private conversation could be maintained. She looked left to right, one more check to make sure the coast was clear, and then leaned in, prompting us to do the same.

“You guys do know about the Dude Rancher Lodge, right?” she asked us, her voice soft and quiet.

“What about it?”

“Well, some lady and her husband started building the place in the 1950’s. A couple years after it was finally built, the husband died in a tragic car accident, so the lady lived in the hotel with her kid until she died sometime in the 80’s. Ever since her death, people have seen strange things going on all over the hotel.”

“Like what?” asked Bill, leaning even closer in to set his level of intrigue.

“TV’s turn on and off, people will hear a knock on the door, only to find nobody’s there, and people have even heard and seen children roaming the halls at night.”

“Oh my God…” It was a subconscious reaction that neither Bill nor I could refrain from saying.

“So, you’re telling me, there’s like ghosts and stuff?” asked Bill.

“Yea. The place is haunted by the lady, her husband and her son.”

“Whoa…” both Bill and I replied, leaning back just as if we just had our mind’s blown. “I knew I heard something when I was on the crapper!”

“What room are you guys staying in again?”

“226 I believe,” said Bill. “Why?”

“226… oh God. That’s one of the—never mind. You guys will be fine.”

Bill leaned back in his seat and dozed off into space. “So we’re in a haunted hotel… Weird.”

“I don’t believe it!” It was a sudden, out of character shriek. We whipped our heads around to Gretch, sitting back in her chair and pouting, her face so tight face it’d scare a pit bull. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!”

“Gretch, don’t be disrespectful to the dead,” I pleaded. The last thing any of us needed to do was to piss them off.

“Screw the dead! Why don’t you all just shut up?”

“C’mon Gretch, we’re just having a little fun.”

“I don’t care. There’s no such thing as ghosts!”

“Gretch, how do you even know—“

“Zack, just—just drop it. Ok?” requested Bill, hoping silence would eventually defuse the situation. I honored his request out of respect, timed perfectly with the arrival of another pitcher of beer. Gretch poured herself a pint, immediately drowning herself in the sorrows of alcohol, the cause and solution to all of life’s problems. No emotion besides anger was displayed. As fast as it was poured, it was emptied into her body for processing; its contents filtered through the liver for future distribution, a process that was to be repeated until Gretch became a much more tolerant person.

Four or five pints later, we called it quits and returned to the hotel. I looked back at Gretchen and Bill, happily stumbling together as a loving pair of siblings would. “Lea would be proud.” I thought to myself. From that sight, I came to a conclusion that Gretch was able to find peace with the ghost after all, making the outing a success.

IMG_1598

What the heck was in that whiskey???

“Well Helen, if you need to, you can bunk with us tonight,” said Bill as we walked back into our room at the Dude Rancher Lodge. “We have more than enough space for one more if needed.”

“Um…” she contemplated, staring into our room as if she could sense an evil presence lurking about. “Thanks for the offer, but I… I think I’ll just head home. My dad’s on his way to pick me up anyway.”

“Well, can I make you an old fashioned while you wait?” I asked, already starting the process of making one for myself.

“Eh… thanks, but I think I’ll pass on that one.” A quick jingle sounded from her phone, informing her that she had received a message. “Oh, that’s dad. He just got here!” Helen gathered herself while the rest of us positioned ourselves to say a proper goodbye.

“It was awesome hanging out with you Helen,” first said Bill along with a hug.

“Yea, I’m glad we finally got to go out to the bars,” followed Gretch, her turn for a hug and goodbye.

“It was nice meeting you.” I said to her. “Hopefully we can all make it back here again. I think I like Montana a lot so far.”

“Agreed. I really hope I see you again,” she said, parting words that left me with a hint of concern. I took a long sip of my old fashioned and then rattled the glass around, pondering over the silence that filled the room.

“Hey, did you guys feel like Helen was a little agitated whenever she was in the room?” I looked at Bill who shrugged his shoulders, then to Gretch. She awarded me no sign of acknowledgment. “Gretch? GRETCH!”

“What?” she replied with irritation, her eyes buried into her phone and fingers tapping away, feeding the gluttonous social media beast.

“What the heck’s on your phone that’s so damn important, Miss Anti-social?”

“Oh nothing really. Just messaging your future wife, that’s all.”

“What do you mean future wife?”

“Her name’s Brecken.”

“Oh yea. That is your future wife,” replied Bill. “You guys are like perfect for each other! Like peanut butter and jelly!”

“Two peas in a pod,” added Gretch.

“Milk and Honey.”

“Bread and butter.”

“Dude, I already have a future wife. And you know that Bill! 15 years! Remember? Do you really think I need to get myself in any more trouble?”

“But this one’s the real deal! You have to,” again said Gretch.

“Look, I appreciate the offer, but I’ve already fallen in love with way too many people so far this trip. One more—that’s just overkill.”

“Just look at her picture real quick, would you?” asked Gretch. She held up her cell phone with a picture of my “future wife” on the screen.

“Ok, she’s a babe, I get that, but c’mon! Now’s not the time to make any sort of commitments.”

“Just give Zack a break Gretch. He’s had a long day of driving, and I think it’s past his bedtime. You know he gets a little cranky at the end of the day.

“Thank you,” I almost said out loud. At least somebody has some sense to quit.

“Isn’t her family loaded too?” asked Bill.

“Wait, loaded?” I asked, with slight confusion.

“Oh yea, she’s super rich,” answered Gretch.

There was a slight pause. Bill and I looked at each other, as if a great epiphany had been bestowed upon us. We could feel it, moving through our legs and up into our bodies, slowly widening our eyelids and diluting our eyes, a heavy force overtaking us, awakening us into convulsive retractions the longer we stared. It drove us towards insanity, to a point of no return, a total blackout of reason, where all forms of resistance had become futile. I had to speak, had to say something, had to release this energy suddenly built up within me, energy that didn’t seem natural, or normal; almost as if it were… paranormal. Something was just edging us to act, to move, to—

“MAMA MIA WE GOT THE MOOLA!!”

“HELLO!” hollered Bill. We grabbed each other for a hug, nearly going in for a kiss. We hopped up and down, grasping each others arms as we circled round and round in place at the edge of the bed.

“Mama mia we got the money WE’RE RICH!!!”

“Time to get paid!”

“We got the mowwww-nay!” I jumped up onto the bed and bounced up and down like a stiff Billy Goat.

“QUACK QUACK QUACK,” Bill blurted back before hopping up onto the opposite bed.

“AHHHOOOOOOOGA!”

“ARRRGG, WOOF WOOF WOOF!”

“AOHHH-OHH-OHH-OHH-OHH-OHH-OHH-OHH-OHH,” I cried out and repeated, patting my hand against my mouth to signal an Indian war call.

“Haha ha,” said Bill using a laugh that insinuated calming.

“Haha ha,” I joined, feeling the calm myself.

“Ha.”

“Ha…ha.”

“Ha-HA ha.”

“Ha-ha, hee, haha…”

“haha ho. Haha heehee hee, haha hooooo hoho. Heeheehee hahaha hohoho—haha HA haha—hahaHAHAHAHAHAHA!”

“HOOOOOOOOOOOO—“

“WAAAAAAAOHHHHHH!!!”

“WE DID IT BABY!”

“MAMA MIA WE DID IT!”

“WE’LL NEVER HAVE TO WORK AGAIN!”

“WE HIT THE JACKPOT!”

“DWOOBLE-WOOBLE-WOOBLE-WOOBLE-WOOBLE!” It was a sound that came from my mouth as my index finger flicked against my lips in an up and down motion, over and over again until an obnoxious scream from Bill broke my attention span.

“OHHHHHHHH—“

“WOAHHHHHHHH—“

“WOOOOOHHHHH!”

“HAHAHAHA!”

“HEEHEEHEE!”

“HOHOHO…”

Nobody’s sure what made us act like we were in the middle of a Tim and Eric Haunted House sketch that night. It wasn’t known exactly how long it lasted or when it finally came to a stop. In fact, there wasn’t even much evidence that the event ever occurred. But it couldn’t be denied by any of the guests that a strange and disturbing occurrence was heard, coming from room 226 of the Dude Rancher Lodge that evening.

***

“Man, I don’t know about you, but I feel like a million bucks,” I said to Bill the next morning as I rose out of bed.

“That was the best night’s sleep I’ve had in years!”

“What about you Gretch… Gretch?” Bill and I looked over at her, pinned against the corner of the wall, eyes wide and bloodshot. “What the heck happened to you?”

“Are you guys freaking kidding me?”

“…What are you talking about?”

“You were acting like animals. Literally, both of you.”

“What do you mean animals?” I asked. Gretch had to be talking crazy talk. “Look, this is what happened. Helen left, and then you tried to set me up with some babe, and you showed me her picture and told me she was loaded, and then… then…”

“Then what?” asked Bill.

“I… I don’t know.”

“You’re tellin’ me both of you don’t remember anything?”

Bill and I looked at each other with bemusement. “Well, what happened?”

“You guys were totally out of control. It’s like you went psychotic, like you were… possessed…”

“Possessed? By… by who?”

“By gho—” she paused for a second. “Ghosts…” said Gretch as she stared off into space. Bill and I joined her, each of us just as stunned. “The Ghosts of the Dude Rancher Lodge…”

Chapter 19: I Miss My Friends When They Are Gone…

“There’s something in a Sunday that makes a body feel alone.”

-Johnny Cash

There’s some truth behind Johnny’s words, evident by the somber mood looming in the Benz. Not much was said during the car ride to the Milwaukee Airport. Was it because the whole night before was spent dancing and sweating out half our body weight, thus lacking any extra energy to move our mouths? That was a good possibility. Could it be that there was still a little disdain felt amongst us, having dealt with a pair of sardonic siblings that stayed up too late raising hell? The probability was high—quite high in fact. Or maybe—not likely, but just maybe, the morbid feelings were simply based off sadness? After all, we were only a few minutes from having to say goodbye.

To be honest, I’ve never been that good at goodbyes. I never say anything until the end, and then it’s like I can’t shut up, blabbering on for 15 extra minutes sometimes, a deficiency in my personality that has annoyed the hell out of my friend Austin Moody for decades, going as far as to coin the term “World’s Longest Goodbye.” And judging by Bill and Gretch’s lack of dialogue, they weren’t very good at goodbyes either.

“So you’re going to see the farm girl tonight?” asked Bill, finally breaking the long period of silence.

“Yea, I think I will.”

“…That’s cool,” he replied, shaking his head while perusing the cityscape, followed by another minute of awkward silence. Although I never saw Bill as a liar, I wasn’t quite convinced that he thought me seeing the farm girl was “cool.”

“Oh man, they have a Cheesecake Factory here too! I wish we could’ve gone there,” I said as we passed the restaurant, an appendage of an upscale shopping center. There was no response, which is typical whenever I favorably mention the Cheesecake Factory in front of anybody for some reason. I don’t know why? They have a great selection of cheesecake, and I really do like their fried macaroni and cheese balls. “…So, how long are you going to be in Montana for?”

“I don’t know. A couple of days maybe. Possibly a week?”

“That sounds fun.” Honestly, there wasn’t really anything said that alluded to “fun,” but the reactionary phrase came out anyway. “What is there to do over there?”

“You know, just hang out and stuff. Go to the bar. Drink beer maybe; go to the river…”

“Oh, right on.” I nodded my head and did a little perusing myself, giving up on the whole talking thing altogether. It would be at least five more painful minutes that were scarcely filled with random comments about the weather, scenery, news, Seattle Seahawks, and a myriad of other topics that nobody cared about until we would reach the airport.

I pulled up to the curbside drop off area and immediately began unloading the luggage from the trunk, as if it were part of an important mission. Bill and I stood a body apart facing each other after all of the luggage had been placed along the side of the curb. “Well, I guess this is it,” I said. “For the most part, it’s been a pleasure.” I stuck out my hand and he extended his, initiating a shake.

“Glad I could be a part of it,” he said as our handshake seamlessly turned into a bro hug.

“Have a safe trip, and take care of yourself.” Gretch stood few steps back form him and to the side. “Gretch, look after him for me.” Gretch sent me a nod, assuring me that she would.

It was the stupidest thing. Right after I said goodbye to Gretch, I got this weird feeling, like somebody had punched me in the throat, making it swell up and all. There was this bump, or lump, or something. It’s not like it hurt, but it kind of made me sad, then kind of made me mad. And to be honest, it kind of pissed me off a little bit! “What’s going on? Why did that happen?”

They waved a final time before turning and walking through the sliding glass doors of the Milwaukee International Airport, disappearing into the wonderment of airline infrastructure, becoming one with the thousands of others taking part in public commerce, each with a story and destination of their own. “I guess this is it, just me, a Benz, and 2000 lonely miles. No more Gretch… no more Bill…” I stood at the edge of the curb, staring through the hectic congregation of travelers, jammed into one solid image of moving, human flesh, an image that Bill and Gretch easily became lost in, one that I feared would consume me in time. “Whatever, I got an organic farm to go to.” I slid back into the car, slammed the door shut, and stepped on the gas without saying another word to anybody.

“Let’s see, Maggie gave me Kassie’s number.” I rummaged through my phone, ignoring the dangers of performing such a maneuver while driving. “Voicemail?” I swiped my finger across the screen and let the message play through the speakers of my car.

“Hey Zack, it’s Cousin Brian. Sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner, I just got back from the lake for the 4th. Anyway, me and Cousin Erin are at the house hanging out. Give me a call back if you need a place to stay. We would love to see you.”

“Oh man, Cousin Brian and Cousin Erin, I remember telling them I’d be in town. I haven’t seen those guys in over a year! But I already had made plans… I’m going to the organic farm, and it’d be unorthodox of me to go back on that. I mean, I confirmed it in my head and everything! But then again, they’re family. What kind of cousin would I be if I didn’t go and see them? The more I think about it though, Cousin Brian and Cousin Erin have always been reasonable people for the most part. They’d understand my dilemma. They have to! It was all thrust upon me out of nowhere! Besides, it’s always been my dream to live on a farm—well, not a “dream” dream, but you know, it’d be fun to hang out on the farm and stuff, especially with a farm babe at the end of the night, watching the sunset on the swing over the cornstalks, thinking about life and the universe… And besides, there’s something about farm babes that I kind of dig. And one day at a farm—heck, that wouldn’t be half bad. They probably have a bunch of good food there too, since they grow it there and all, even if it is just vegetables and stuff. I mean, vegetables aren’t my favorite thing in the world, but I’m sure they’d be all right if I gave them the chance. All of those yuppies at Whole Foods seem to be fond of them. Then again, so do the hippies—oh geez, I bet ya there’ll be tons of hippies there… exactly like Whole Foods. That means no Rockstars for a day—whoa, I haven’t done that in, gosh, I don’t know how long… And man, what would Cousin Brian and Cousin Erin think about that, ditching them for a farm babe and a couple of hippies who don’t like Rockstars? Now that I think about it, I might be a little heartbroken if I was in their shoes. And the disappointment in Bill’s face… I don’t know if I could bear it—wait a minute, why do I even care about that guy? He ditched me for Montana! And if he was around, I’d have to deal with all the crap I’d get from Gretch, and… and—“

Then it hit me, a wave of sense smacking me like a 2×4 to the face. “Ah, who am I kiddin’? I don’t even like organic food! Never have, and probably never will! That stuff’s for freakin’ sissies! Not me though. I like my Slim Jim beef jerky, easy cheese straight from the can, Applebee’s 2 for 20 menu, my daily Rockstar Energy Drink, whether it’s the original 280 calorie—56 grams of sugar kind with a bunch of chemicals or the white cans with all the aspartame. I live off that stuff! I haven’t gone without one in almost five years, and I wouldn’t change a single thing about it! I’m half man, half preservative! What can I say? I love my genetically modified foods! I’m not even ashamed to admit it! Always have, and always will…”

“Kassie, you’re the best farm girl I know, and you’ll always have a special place in my heart, but the organic life’s just not for me… Not to go all Bill O’Reilly on everybody, but I just can’t go against my principles—not this time. I sincerely hope that you find it in your heart to forgive me someday…”

I picked up the phone and clicked on the last missed call entry on my phone. “Cousin Brian, it’s Cousin Zack. I’m coming to Wasau. Let’s party!”

***

I walked into Cousin Brian’s house after a grueling three-hour drive from Milwaukee that required a nap at a rest stop, arriving right at the tail end of the US Women’s soccer team’s thrashing of Japan in the World Cup. I mean, I’m not a huge soccer guy, but I love America, and man (or woman in this case) did Japan get womped! Like 5 to 2 or something. Even I know that’s a ridiculous score for soccer! Good moods were flying all around.

“What’s up Cousin Zack?” said both Cousin Brian and Cousin Erin at different intervals. I proceeded forward and delivered a set of hugs before jumping into some customary small talk. “Have you had any dinner? We have a bunch of leftover burgers and brats we need to get rid of from the 4th.”

“Well… uh, what the hey, why not? Let’s have a couple burgers and brats!” My response was a bit hesitant, for it was almost my 3rd dinner in a row that consisted of burgers and brats since my arrival to the motherland, but hey, I’m not going to complain about food that’s offered to me, especially if it’s free! So each of us loaded up a plate with a pile of burgers and brats along with some of the fixin’s on the side and treated ourselves to another good ol’ fashioned Wisconsin feast.

“You should try some of these beers I have. Most of them are brewed locally in Wisconsin!” I grabbed one that said “IPA” on it, opened it with my keychain and took a swig, issuing a nod to show my approval.

“Man, I love how everybody’s getting into microbrews these days. They’re popping up all over the place! People are actually starting to appreciate the taste of good beer now!”

“Really Zack?” butted in Cousin Erin. “After the whole MGD incident?” Of course she had to bring up the time where everybody got mad at me cause I bought “Miller Genuine Draft,” acting as if I had performed a sacrilegious act. One time. I guess it wouldn’t be a Wisconsin trip without its honorary mention.

“That was like 2 years ago!” It didn’t matter, for they still found it necessary (and will for the rest of time) to pummel me with insults for the next few minutes. “But seriously, enough about the MGD talk, you guys should come back out to the Northwest sometime. They’ve got a bunch of great breweries all around. You’d love it!”

“Yea, I’d really like to,” said Cousin Brian. “Actually, the last time I was out there was I think for your Eagle Scout Ceremony, right when I turned 21. I remember hanging out in the hot tub and drinking a beer with your dad. That was pretty rad!”

“Didn’t we go out there when we were younger too?” asked Erin.

“We did!” replied Brian. “I got to ride my bike to another state! It was awesome!” What Brian always forgot to mention whenever he retold the tale (of which he has numerous times throughout his life) is that our house was only a 5-minute drive from another state.

“Yea, you also farted in my face in front of everybody, for no reason!” I had to rudely remind him of the incident. “All I was doing was sitting in the family room playing with Legos, and you came up to me and ripped a huge one!” They all laughed, for it was in fact a pretty silly memory before moving on to more contemporary topics of how I can perfectly push grandma’s buttons, recounting a couple of my more recent successes. Soon after, the sun began its slide beneath the Earth’s horizon, marking my last day spent in Wisconsin. We cleaned up the patio table and moved inside in order to prevent a swarm of mosquitoes from feasting on our flesh. “C’mon in Cousin Zack. You can make us a couple of Old Fashioneds.”

“It would be an honor.”

***

 

Cousin Brian’s liquor table was well equipped: Jim Beam Kentucky Bourbon, Jero Old Fashioned Mix, Angostura Aromatic Bitters, Maraschino Cherries, 7-Up, and olives, an extra ingredient that Cousin Brian liked to add to his old fashioneds; his own unique, personal twist that he swore by. I conjured up two cocktails, heavy on the Jim Beam, and handed one to Cousin Brian (Cousin Erin opted out of having one, being that she had to go home soon). He took a sip and nodded his head in approval. “Not bad… not bad at all.” I sat down in relief, taking a sip of mine as well. I too was satisfied with my creation. “So tell me about your trip so far.”

I told of the tales from Idaho, our journey into the Gran Tetons, and the best and worst of what Wyoming had to offer. They got a little (but no too much) insight on the whole Denver escapade (or debacle, depending on whose opinion you receive) and our travels through flyover country. And of course he was briefed on my 30th birthday experience with honorable mentions of the boundary babes. As I began talking about Wisconsin though, something else suddenly interrupted my train of thought. “So tell me. What exactly is a Supper Club?”

“Oh man, we used to go to Supper Clubs all the time back in the day! There was one we’d go to in Appleton on Thursday’s that served this awesome prime rib. We’d get a couple drinks in us and stay for like 4 or 5 hours sometimes!” He went on about Supper Clubs for a while, seemingly forgetting the true nature of the question. Reminding him of its original intent however seemed inappropriate at the time, thus prolonging the mystery of the Supper Club. “They have a couple of good ones in Neenah by Lake Winnebago. If we have time during the family reunion, maybe we can convince everybody to go to one in a couple of weeks.”

“Oh yea, the family reunion, I almost forgot!”

“Yea, I’m really looking forward to it. I’ll bring the Wave Runner out and we’ll have a good old time.”


Me and Cousin Brian SurlyCousin Brian and I with our Surly’s – Family Reunion, Lake Winnebago

“Oh man, I do like Waver Runners! It’s crazy that I’ll be in Wisconsin twice in one month. And of course I’ll have to make myself out here for a Packer game before the end of the year. It’s just too bad we couldn’t have it all at the cabin. I would’ve loved to hang out there one last time.”

“I know, I’m going to miss that place. We had a lot of good memories there. Luckily I got to go and visit a few more times before they sold it.”

“Man, the last time I was there, I think around two years ago, Nick made me do the belly flop off the dock in front of a bunch of people, like 50 total—some of which were babes. That sucked, big time!”

“Haha, I remember that, quite well,” added Erin.

“Remember the first time we all went there?” I asked. “It was right before grandma and grandpa’s wedding, and you and soon-to-be Cousin Hans took an old Champaign bottle and filled it with a bunch of soda and started drinking out of it while Cousin Hannah played the piano?”

“Oh geez… yea I remem—“

“And then you went upstairs where all of the parents were at and started stumbling around acting like you guys were all sloshed! That was hilarious!”

“…Yea, yea, I know… we were all pretty crazy back then.”

“And then Grandma got all mad, and mom and dad—“

“Yes, Cousin Zack, I do remember. I remember it all too well…”

“And what about the time you walked through th—“

“C’mon, who doesn’t remember that story?”

I beleaguered Cousin Brian with a few more embarrassing stories, sending his head into a constant shake from side to side. “Haha, well, I better get going,” said Cousin Erin. “Unfortunately, I have work tomorrow. Not really looking forward to going in.”

“Understandable. It was awesome seeing you,” I told her as I stood up and gave her a hug.

“Tell everyone I say hi. See you all in a couple weeks.”

“I’m looking forward to it.” I settled back onto the couch with my old fashioned in hand and took another swig, readying myself to resume our conversation. “Man, I thought you guys were the coolest kids back then. Why, I remember how you and Cousin Kevin each got paid 5 bucks to walk Grandma down the aisle at the wedding! I only got a dollar for being one of the flower boys!”

“And then Cousin Kimmy started dancing up a storm on the dance floor.”

“Dude, she was losing her mind, and she was only like 8 years old, same age as me! She danced so hard she fell on the floor! I was right next to her when it happened!”

“Haha, she was definitely one of the craziest of the cousins back then.”

“Well, I think we all kind of had our moments growing up… like when we were all at the cabin and you couldn’t stop talking about American Pie and how it was the best movie in the world!”

“That was a good movie for the time! When was that, 1999?”

“Yea, the year we drove out there all the way from Washington. That actually became one of my favorite family vacations of all time!”

“Ok, yea, I think I remember now. Cousin Holly and Cousin Kimmy came over with Cousin Kevin, and they were playing Limp Bizkit and stuff. And Cousin Kimmy had a really big potty mouth.”

“Oh my gosh, I know it! She couldn’t stop swearing! It was awful! Speaking of potty mouths and crazy people, Alicia’s coming to the reunion. You’ll finally meet her husband Derek.”

“Oh yea! Do you like him?”

“Well, he’s a little brash, and kind of funny looking. You know, a little deformed around the edges here and there, like a hunchback. But overall, he’s a good guy. So yea, I think you’ll like him.”

“Well good! I bet grandma and grandpa will be happy about that.”

“I know it! It’ll be good to have the family all here again. I love it whenever we have an excuse to come out to Wisconsin.”

“The only thing after that is to just move out here! By the way, when are you moving out here?” His question was delivered in a facetious tone, however I felt the hint of a serious undertone in its framing.

“Man, wouldn’t that be the dream. I got friends trying to get me to move all over the place! Boise Idaho, Minneapolis Minnesota, Nick and Cousin Holly are even trying to get to come out to Milwaukee. Just so many decisions you know!”

“Well, at least you know you’re wanted. I’m sure you can find something anywhere you go. My company has me flying all over the place, and I’ll actually be going to Austin in a couple of months. I’ll have to get together with Emily while I’m down there.”

“Nice, she’d like that! What are you gonna be doing down there?”

“Well, it’s a new region for our company, so we’re trying to expand our client base. You know, doing the usual sales pitch presentation, going out to dinner and schmoozing with the potential customers, giving them the whole spill, that kind of stuff.”

“Do you like it?”

“You know, they treat me pretty well. Every time I let them know I’m think about finding another job, they seem to give me a raise and more responsibility, so I guess it’s good. What about you?”

“Hey, it pays the bills, and I can’t lie, I do get to work on some pretty cool stuff. But man, working for the government can be a pain in the ass sometimes. You gotta deal with inspectors looking over your shoulder for the most minute of details, all the way to the tiniest squeeze of a turd pebble out of your butt crack. It’s drives me crazy! And when you make a mistake, it’s like you just committed a deadly sin! And trying to get everybody together at the right place and right time to get a job done, it’s like it takes an act of God just to get a job certified or something! And man, don’t get me started on signatures on paperwork and material ordering.”

“Well, you probably get good benefits at least.”

“Yea… can’t complain about that. A decent amount of leave each year, good 401k matching… they even send me on travel every once in a while. Like last month, I was in Alabama doing some Quality Assurance and auditing stuff for a sub-contractor of ours. The work wasn’t all that fun, but I liked the traveling part.”

“Well, I guess that’s why they call it work isn’t it?

“You have a point there. Damn, they way we’re talking, it’s like we’re already ready to retire.”

“I mean, we’re pretty much almost there.

“Ha, yea! 7 years down, only about 20… 20 to go…”

A cold chill shot through my veins, shooting thousands of little bumps all over my skin. Something struck me, a ton of bricks slamming down on my chest, leaving me completely breathless. My God, it happened… I’m… we’re… we’re adults now…

“You all right Cousin Zack?”

I thought it’d never get me, but it was the shock of time, the ultimate killer. It finally snuck up on me, the most deadly of physical dimensions, and perhaps the most unforgiving. It doesn’t wait up. It doesn’t stop. And one day, it gets you and rolls over you, leaving you stunned and wondering how to catch up… catch up to a time that is so far ahead, with no sign of slowing; a time that slays you, leaving you with nothing but thoughts… thoughts of purpose, meaning, and the people that make them up…

“Yea, I’m good… I uh… I think… I just… I miss my friends when they are gone…”

There was silence, except for the sips and ice rattles coming from our old fashioneds. Maybe a similar thought had gone through Brian’s head too. “You’ll be alright,” he finally said to me. Remember, you still have family. And that’s above and beyond the most important thing of all.”

“Yea… God, family, and the Green Bay Packers…”

Both of us stared outward and pondered the phrase made famous by Vince Lombardi for a minute. Cousin Brian looked at his watch. “Man, it’s passed 11 now. Better get to bed. Got a full day of work tomorrow.” He took a final swig of his old fashioned, finishing the rest of it off then popping the leftover olive in his mouth. “By the way, if you’re serious, we really should go to a Packer game this year. We have a hook up for tickets. Front Row, near the 50 yard line.”

“Yea, let’s do it. Maybe for Packers and Shi—sorry, Seahawks.”

“Heheh, sounds good Cousin Zack. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Yea, see you tomorrow. Thanks for everything Cousin Brian.”

“Anytime. We’re family.”

Green Bay Family

We in fact, made it to a Green Bay game.  Packers and Seahawks (PS, we won)

Me at Green Bay

And here’s an extra one of me, just because I look so freaking awesome!

I stayed up a while longer, finishing the last bits of my old fashioned. I took my time with the drink, time that was diminishing with every passing second, thrusting me back to a world I had escaped from what seemed like so long ago… It was time that I desperately needed, but could barely afford.

***

Having found the will to move again, I placed the old fashioned tumbler glasses in the sink and readied myself for bed, knowing it was wise to take advantage of a good nights sleep after such an eventful weekend. After brushing my teeth and slipping into my gym shorts, I slid into the makeshift bed that Brian had set up for me in the spare bedroom. Hoping to squeak a quick run in the next day if the weather permitted, I grabbed my phone to set an alarm for a decent time. “Wait, a missed text?” It was Bill.

“Hey, I was doing some thinking on the plane ride over. If you’re up for it, and/or if it’s on your way, you should meet us in Montana and hang out in Pony for a couple of days. I think you’re going to like it over here…” 

Pony Montana… Sounds like such a peaceful, wonderful place… I laid in bed, imagining a quaint little mountain town tucked away in the rugged landscapes of Montana. I wonder what it would be like, living in the Wild West? I bet they have a lot of cowboy types, being that it’s most likely a small rancher’s town. It probably hasn’t even changed in years either… like a place where time stands still… yea, I think I’d like that. I’d like that a lot… Pony Montana, maybe I still have time… I kept my eyes closed and thought of such a magical place filled with cowboys, friends and family. I thought, and then thought some more, until my mind joined the state of my tiresome body, sending me into a deep slumber.

Chapter 12: Enter the Motherland

Bill’s eyes widened at the sight of four F/A 18 hornets screaming across I-94, the heavy roar and air compression from its jet engines so close to the ground it nearly brought the Benz to a shake. His fascination with airplanes has been no secret, having walked into moving traffic nearly a week and a half before just to get a glimpse of a 747 flying over his house, making the impromptu Blue Angels air show a wonderful welcome to work off the joyous, yet costly obscurity Minnesota had dealt our bodies the night before. The ecstatic feeling remained onward over the many ripe green pastures lining both sides of the highway, each with its own set of silos set at the back corner of the field.

A large water tower greeted us at the onset of each passing town with it’s name plastered across the tower’s circular surface, as it was the first visible sign of civilization between the miles of agriculture during our drive through America’s Dairyland; an unusually unique sight for natives of the Pacific Northwest. Friendly faces and refined manners greeted us at each pit stop, whether it was for food, gas, or beer; a community ever so eager to welcome foreigners (of which we clearly were) to the lovely place they call home.

“You know, Wisconsin is exactly how I imagined it to be,” said Bill with a modest smile on his face. I had a strong inclination that he would feel that way. Yes, this was it. We had made it, our 2,00 mile mission complete.

We had finally reached the motherland.

“If only I could just see some cows…”

Sure enough, within a mile of his words, there lying to the driver’s side was a pasture full of Holstein Friesian’s, your stereotypical spotted cows exactly like the ones pictured on the milk cartons at your local supermarket. Again, he looked onward with approval, his first impression growing more favorable by the minute. We continued down a county road that eventually became flanked with a light packing of forest, where to the passenger side laid a strange wooden building behind a scatter of trees, its empty parking lot seeming very unusual for an afternoon.

“That’s odd. Why would they have a strip club in the middle of nowhere?” asked Bill. The sight was baffling to me as well, the pink pillars and exotic lettering on the door being a dead giveaway. “Wait, it says… Xavier’s Supper Club… What the heck is a Supper Club?”

“I’ve heard of those before. It’s like a place where you eat food and hang out and stuff. They serve you drinks and then they give you dinner.”

“So it’s pretty much a restaurant then…”

“No, not exactly.”

“Then what’s the difference?”

“Well, a restaurant will have… well they just… you know… I guess I’m not exactly sure…” The mystery of the supper club would leave us in wonder all the way to the unincorporated sections of the Fox River Valley where my Aunt and Uncle resided.

“Well, how ya doin’!?” said my Uncle Mike as he greeted us at the front door, using his best, most welcoming and full Wisconsin accent, the zenith of Midwestern courtesy; one I’d been waiting for since our departure.

“C’mon in, make yourselves at home!” said Aunt Chris following the friendly, Midwestern drawl of Uncle Mike, more than excited for the chance to provide hospitality, as is the standard for all Wisconsin Natives. “Grab yourself a beer and c’mon out back. We got some burgers and brats waiting for ya! And you gotta try my sugar snap peas. I just plucked them from the garden today. They’ve been growin’ like crazy!”

With a cold, frosty PILS-ner in our hand, we walked across the wood-stained floor of a living room decorated with early 20th century artifacts and into to the backyard, a half-acre long haven for flora and fauna where Audrey, her son Dino, and a grill full of burgers and brats awaited us. Dino greeted us with reluctance at first, not an uncommon reaction when two strange hunks show up in your hood. “Hey Dino, you wanna give Bill and Zack a tour?” asked Uncle Mike. Dino’s eyes brightened and he popped right out of his chair, reacting to the sudden rush of blood through his legs. A tour meant a chance to cruise the golf cart around the compound, an opportunity no 8-year-old can ever pass up.

“Follow me!” instructed Dino with an enthusiastic stride towards the cart. We obeyed his command and hopped in with the promise that we’d be back by the time dinner was ready.

“Go ahead and give it a little gas,” said Bill, a phrase that prompted Dino to permanently slam the pedal to the floor, turning a momentarily peaceful garden tour into Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride—Bill’s famous last words. Dino’s narration was exceptional, provided the speed we approached each planter, shed, tree and every other yard object that was barely averted as we skid across the lawn. It was a nicely landscaped garden from what we were able to observe, and would’ve given the scenery much more appreciation, if only we weren’t already busy holding on to dear life.

Dino received a lecture upon our return about his reckless driving, something we learned that he had been punished for in the past. Little did they know Dino was merely the victim of provocation, urged to break the rules by a couple of dinguses that should’ve known better. We kept silent through the scolding, for all would be well the moment a ground up mixture of burger, brat and bun entered our bellies.

…A moment later, a mixture of burger, brat and bun entered our bellies, and all was well.

“…So we were driving today, and came across this place called a ‘Supper Club’,” I mentioned after biting into a big chunk of brat.

“Oh yea, supper clubs!” Aunt Chris jumped in. “They got a real nice one in Menasha that we used to go to all the time. Great prime rib!”

“So are they like restaurants?” asked Bill.

“Well, you go to a supper club, and you can sit and hang out, talk to your friends and meet other people,” explained Audrey, having spent time in the service industry.

“Oh. So it’s a lot nicer than a restaurant then, like a restaurant/bar mix?”

“Not exactly. You see, you go and order your drinks first, and after a little bit, you order your food.”

“So I take it you have to order whatever they’re making that night, like home-style?”

“No, they have menu’s at supper clubs.”

“Alright… I take the drinks real special then.”

“Well… we’ll put it this way. Either the drinks are good and the food is bad, or it’s the other way around.”

“…Oh… ok. I think I’m starting to get it…” Bill and I nodded at each other, our secret signal of understanding. Under the guise of our stoic faces was a harsh reality that couldn’t be hidden having spent nearly a week together in a car—we were left even more confused about supper clubs than ever before. Even a later Wikipedia search failed to provide clarity, leading both Bill and I to the dismal conclusion that we may never truly understand what a supper club is.

“Look, at dem orioles up in da tree there,” said Uncle Mike, his observance causing a head scramble with Bill and I, for orioles are not common birds from our neck of the woods. “They like to come visit every couple days or so with a few humming birds. See em’ up in the tree?” He pointed to a small opening in the tree branches, taking Bill a minute, and I two just to focus in on the yellow bird. “We don’t mind em’ really. It’s the deer that we can’t stand though. Dem bastards come in da middle of the night and eat all of the rose heads! That’s why we hang a sock with a bar of soap right next to em’. It’s supposed to keep em’ away, and its done a damn good job so far!” Bill and I shook our heads in agreement, impressed with my Uncle’s wealth of knowledge, one gathered not from reading textbooks and studying, but from years upon years of hard work, trial and error, and honing in on his trades ever since his days as a young bachelor; an old art-form that has gone lost to the Millennial generation. “How about we c’mon back? Let me show you my shop.”

The walk through the garden, once traversed under extreme circumstances was now a light stroll, making it possible to take in the surroundings with ease. “Your grandpa helped me build this house years back before he passed. Got most of da lumber as scrap from the ol’ closed down sawmill. Barely had to pay a dime,” he continued as we examined the finer details of his property, strolling through the open lawn filled with an even mix of flora—towering trees sheltering all forms of plant life below it, wild bushes outlining the bounds of the well-maintained lawn accompanied by sprouts of flowers, a garden that laid home to the heavily boasted sugar snap peas, and traces of wildlife who were more than welcome to live in harmony with its providers, as long as they followed the rules.

Bill’s eyes grew in wonderment the moment he stepped into the shop, an adult playground filled with band saws, table saws, drill presses, lathes, compressors—any type of tool that could possibly be useful to a man and his imagination to build. “Let me show my newest project,” said Uncle Mike, leading us to his woodturning and wood-burning benches. “Here’s a plate I just made outa a block of cherry wood. I’d been experimenting with different woods for a couple months. Finally I came out wit something that woks.” He showed us a wooden plate with the etching of a hawk resting on a hard foundation with a sun glowing behind it, drawn from the wood-burning technique that left a dark imprint on the surface of the wood as a hot metal rod pressed against it. “Each type of wood burns a little differently, so you really have to practice and control the temperature just right.” Bill overloaded my uncle with a deluge of questions as the Clint Eastwood character in “Gran Torino” played over and over in my head, a proficient working man who had acquired an accumulation of tools over his lifetime, although I don’t think Uncle Mike could ever be half as cranky as Eastwood’s character, even if he tried (Not even praise of Scott Walker could piss him off that much!).

“I want one of these someday,” said Bill, his eyes still stuck in a state of wonder. “Where do I start?”

“Take it from me. The first ding you gotta do is get yourself a heated floor. By God they saved me from freezin’ my ass off more than a few times in da winter…”

A bowl of the highly touted sugar snap peas awaited our return from the shop, freshly picked by Aunt Chris. The crisp vegetable snapped in half as the name suggested, breaking away at the first sign of tension between my teeth, sending a fresh cut of greens to cleanse my body of any impurities left inside it from the night (and perhaps week) before. For once, I think I could appreciate the simple and refreshing taste of a fresh vegetable, although given the choice, I’d still go with the processed and genetically modified combination of Slim Jim’s and Easy Cheese any day.

As the sun set on our first night in Wisconsin, we gathered around my Uncle’s homemade fire pit, made out of a circular piece of sheet metal 10 feet in diameter that had been cemented into the ground, surrounded by cement slabs pressed with wildlife tracings, another scavenger find from an old mill from a few years back. Flames rose from the ground 20 feet into the air over at its initial lighting, the full size logs providing enough fuel for a solid, sustaining flame into twilight, with many more trunks of wood to be added that would last well into starlight.

There was something peculiar about the moon that night. I can’t remember if it were a full moon or some other phenomenon, but its effect seem to cause a raucous with some of the animals, even going as far as to give Aunt Chris and Aubrey the urge to share a mother/daughter bond by jump out of their seats and singing “The Age of Aquarius.” Us boys remained silent as they fearlessly belted out the tune, adding to it exotic hand motions and flamboyant gestures, neither of them concerned at the prospect of waking the neighbors; our only regret being that we were absent of the song’s lyrics and general progression, therefore unable to participate in such a sentimental moment.

The night turned to black, hinting at the notion that it was near Dino’s bedtime. The glow of fire, moonlight, and a vast splatter of stars left Bill, Uncle Mike and I to think about the mysteries of life and the universe. As each of us sipped a whiskey on the rocks, we discussed the important issues stirring about the world today—The current state of affairs circling around the Green Bay Packers and the overrated legacy of Brett Favre. “He was just a Cowboy,” my Uncle Mike opined. “Mike Holmgren just knew how to control him, that’s the only reason they were any good,” he added; an undeniable analysis I couldn’t have agreed with more. Bill of course added his own thoughts about his beloved Miami Dolphins, and I’m sure we all took our own shots at the Shi—I mean Seahawks.

I couldn’t help but ask about Grandma, part of my scheme of gathering ammunition to give her a hard time. Much was needed, for I planned on a surprise visit at her new retirement home the next day. Of course I was warned not to tease her too much, for it’s well known around the Fox Valley that whenever I’m in town, I’m the most flagrant and repeat offender of torment when it comes to grandmas! It’s not that I mean to, but it just happens… Hey, when you’re good at something, why quit? (Grandma surprise video provided below, heheh).

“Remember that time you took my sister and I fishing and we caught like 20 fish?” I asked him, the conversation of family a natural lead into one of my favorite Uncle Mike memories, one I’ve brought up multiple times in past visits.

“Oh God ya, that musta been 20 years ago! I swear we musta cleaned that pond out! I been to that same spot many times since then, and never caught any other fish. I keep tellin’ my buddies and they never believed me!”

The talk of fishing transitioned to hunting, of which my Uncle was a quite avid participant of the sport. He told us of one of his most recent accomplished of which he nabbed two turkey’s with one shot, and afterwards, I made him promise to show Bill the black bear he had claimed many years ago. I even had to throw in a shameless plug for “Uncle Mike’s Sausage,” made famous during my childhood, as it was always a treat to find my mom pulling out a large tube of his venison from the mail.

We sat around the fire until the early hours of morning, sharing stories, memories, and wisdom while watching the raging flames thin into the atmosphere, a solid streak of vital energy fade into nothing with the contrasting sky. Once the blaze dwindled into sweltering coals of ashed timber, we added layers, myself clad in my newly accrued Surly crew cut sweatshirt, for the state of minds had reached a rare level of harmony worth sustaining, no matter how discomforting the weather may turn.

It had been a 2,000 mile trek so far through some of the best and worst the country had to offer. We had crossed glistening mountain ranges and dipped through pernicious valleys where the vilest of human creations lay. Relationships had been broken and formed, old friends had been reunited, and love had been found and lost, but not forgotten; left to be rediscovered once the fruits of our wisdom had reached full development. And through it all, every up and down thrown at us had been swallowed, taking the brunt of whatever emotion thrust upon us and spitting it back at the world as a means of carrying on, pushing towards that impossible goal that we hoped to someday be attainable.

“You know, I’ve been a lot of places,” said Uncle Mike. “I’ve worked, and traveled, and explored all over da place. But this… this is the best place. There’s no other place I’d rather be than right here… right here…” So we stared up into the night sky, the same familiar sight I had seen 2,000 miles away, yet struck by a comfort not felt in a long time. We had reached our destination after what had seemed like an eternity, home being a place barely recognizable if not for distant memories. The pilgrimage to the motherland was complete, but our journey was not over. It was far, far from over… and there was still much of a story to tell.

And through our pondering into the great reaches of space, thoughts that reached farther than the distance galaxies our eyes gazed upon, a congruency ran through our minds, an improbable thought only met through the miracle of fate.

“This is where we would be someday. After it’s all said and done, we would come back, for this is where we were meant to be… for all time…”

And someday… we were going to find out once and for all what a damn supper club was…

Broventures in Tulum

Saturday, February 21st, 2014, 1:15 PM

Man, I can’t believe it’s here! I’ve been waiting for this moment, ever since we got the news over Christmas! And after hitting up the gym 5 times a week for the last 2 months, I’m ready. I’m finally doing it, baby, Spring Break! And get this, I’ve already had two Rum and Cokes, and we haven’t even taken off yet! Man, First Class is awesome, mom and dad really hooked it up, and so are my washboard abs! Sorry, I know I shouldn’t brag, but I can’t help it. All those protein shakes were totally worth it!

Oh, they’re doing that safety presentation thing. Damn, the flight attendant looks hot right now… That’s right girl, show me how you inflate that life vest—hold up, she’s coming over, looking right at me. I think she’s checkin’ me out… Let me give her the nod, ok, here we go, “What’s up? How you do— oh, my com—until when? Yea, I can—geez, sorry—uh, yes mam.” Ok, I guess they’re making me put my computer away for a little bit. No worries, I’ll be back. Spring Break Cancun, here I come!

 

Saturday, February 21st, 3:00 PM

Dude, First Class seriously hooks you up fat! A full meal, movies and everything! And the funny thing is, my poor little sister is stuck sitting in coach. Sucks to be her! I can’t wait to brag about how many free drinks I’m getting! Oh, speaking of drinks, hold up… “Oh miss, can I get a… yea, what was that one you gave me earlier, a shardinay or something? Yea perfect!” This old broad keeps coming around and filling my glass with wine whenever it’s empty. I’m not really a fan of the stuff, it doesn’t quite go down smooth like a nice, cold Keystone Light, so I’m just kind of shooting them down as fast as I can. Hey, as long it gets me drunk and it’s free! That’s my motto.

I think we’re staying at this resort, called the Tulum I think. My sister sent me some pictures and the place looks hella rad! Beachside, like 5 or 6 rooms all together, cabana style villa. I can’t imagine the babes I’m gonna be able to bring back and party with. I’ll let mom and dad take the upstairs. They’re old timers anyway, they’ll be in bed by 9. Not me though. I’m gonna party all night and sleep all day.  That’s my motto.

“Oh yea, can I try the rose kind? Yea, the pink stuff, thanks.” Let me down this real quick… whoa, there we go. This wine stuff gets you a little loopy… Where was I? Oh yea, first thing’s first, I’m hitting up the beach and the pool. They’ll be crawling with bikini babes, and babes who like to party. And then shots. Yagerbombs, cherry bombs, vodka Redbull, Tequilla Shots, Jello Shots, Body Shots, Vod— “Oh yea, get me a shot of that red stuff… Cool, thanks.”   I’m going hard, 24/7. YOLO! That’s my motto.

I bet MTV’s gonna be down there too! They always come down for Spring Break, and they have the best rappers, always. I’m talkin’ Pitbull, Mac Miller, Macklemore… those guys get me really pumped! I’ll find out where they’re partying too, it’ll just be like that one movie, Spring Breakers, where those chicks go out to all of those ragers and meet that one du

 

Saturday February 21st, 9:30 PM

Man, I don’t know what happened. I was kicking it with all of these old farts in First Class, pounding wine shots and what not, and the next thing I know, we’re here! Oh well, heheh.

Anyways, we’re taking a shuttle to our first hotel right now, the Courtyard Marriott. The driver looks like a pretty cool guy, like he knows what’s up. “So where’s the best clubs around here? You know, the biggest place to party and stuff? Hello…” Well, apparently the driver isn’t much for conversation. It’s like he can’t hear me or knows what I’m saying. Oh well, at least he’s letting me drink a beer on the way. Man, this is the life, just like those “Find Your Beach” commercials. I can finally relate.

“Hey, what do they take around here? Dollars? Yes, no, anybody?” Whatever, I’ll just give him a dollar or something for driving. They like that kind of stuff.

Well, this is it! Tomorrow’s the start of a full week of partying at the Tulum!

 

Sunday February 22nd, 9:00 AM

Down in the hotel lobby, waiting for my sister and her husband, Derek. I guess they’re gonna drive us to this Tulum place. Man, I’m pumped and ready to go! I can’t wait to get on the beach and— oh, here she comes right now. Does she see me, ok cool, she’s walking towards us, and she’s got a smile on her face… must be glad to see me. Ok, she’s got a really big smile on her face… That’s weird. I know I haven’t seen her in like a year, but it keeps on getting bigger. What the heck?

“What’s up Meathead Rob Lowe,” is the first thing that comes out of her mouth.  I actually don’t know what to say, I… I’m beyond words. I think that’s the nicest thing she’s ever said to me…

 

Sunday February 22nd, 10:30 AM

For some reason, we’re going to Costco right now, who the hell knows why? I didn’t even know they had them down here, but regardless, it seems really unnecessary, for I’m just ready to go down to the pool to start drinkin’. It’s actually starting to kind of piss me off a little bit, but whatever. We’ll do what THEY want to do. While I’m here, I might as well stock up on some supplies.

 

Sunday February 22nd, 10:35 AM

I grab beer, tequila, Red Bull, and Doritos… the basics. All ready to go. Where did my sister’s go?

 

Sunday, February 22nd, 11:15 AM

“Yea, what about it? Because I want it, that’s why—What’s it to you!?” Great, now both my sisters are having a fit over this stuff, I don’t know what the big deal is. It’s not like I’m giving them crap about their wine and cheese and olives and more wine and other crap, let alone the fact that it took them an hour to get like 5 things. God, they won’t stop arguing and telling me to listen, saying there’s not enough room in the car or whatever. It’s not like we needed any of this stuff in the first place? Come on!

And out of all the things, what they’re most pissed off about are the Doritos! Something about not eating authentic Mexican food… I forget exactly what all they were saying, I wasn’t really paying attention, but they keep screaming at me to put them back. We’ve literally been going back and forth for the last 5 minute about the damn Doritos now, and it’s starting to cause a scene. All these people are looking at us like we’re crazy and—Whatever, it’s not even worth it anymore. I’m over it. They win.

 

Sunday, February 22nd, 11:18 AM

I can’t do it. Don’t care. I want it, I like it, screw it, I’m getting the Doritos.

 

Sunday February 22nd, 1:00 PM

Um, why are we driving away from Cancun? The hotel shouldn’t be way the hell out here. I’m trying to ask, but sister keeps on going off about how this rental car place screwed her our of a Jeep Wrangler. I mean, what’s the deal with this Jeep Wrangler anyway, and why does she have to have it?

 

Sunday, February 22nd, 1:10 PM

Seriously, she won’t shut up about the damn Jeep! It’s like her life is completely ruined over the fact that she can’t drive around and look cool. News flash: Who Freaking Cares! You have a car, get over it! My God, if I have to hear about that stupid car one more time, my head’s going to explode! Meanwhile, we’re still going in the wrong direction and the way she keeps on blabbering, we aren’t turning around anytime soon.

 

Sunday February 22nd, 2:00 PM

Well this just sucks. All to my glorious surprise, Tulum isn’t a hotel, it’s a town, nowhere near Cancun. It’s so nice of them to tell me this now. And worst off, the fact that I didn’t know is apparently hilarious to everybody. What a bunch of BS, and frankly, this really pisses me off. So yea, I got her to stop talking about the damn Jeep, but who cares? I just gave them a new thing to talk about. That and that stupid show about Girls.

 

Sunday February 22nd, 3:00 PM

We’re driving through this Tulum place, which isn’t even a town, but a village made out of sticks and straw in the middle of a jungle. And would it kill them to make the roads just a little wider? It’s not like they don’t have the real estate. The last thing we need to do is get in a crash with a smuggled bag of Doritos in the back.

There ain’t much for partying either, and every babe I’ve seen so far has some boner walking along side. I guess it’s better than nothing, but still, I ain’t digging it. Wait, now what’s goin… Ok, so we’ve just passed the town, and we’re starting to drive on this sketchy dirt road. What are we doing?

 

Sunday February 22nd, 3:15 PM

So we’ve been on this long dirt road towards the middle of nowhere, with a bunch of tropical trees on each side. How long do we have to drive till we get to this place? And what’s with all these “topes” anyway, Spanish for either “Bump” or “Pain in the Ass.” They’re everywhere! That’s like 4 in a row now that we’ve bottomed out on. Maybe if my sister wasn’t driving like a madman, then—Uh oh, here we go again… Ok, that’s good, let’s just take this nice and slow. We’ll get over and… Ohhhhh… Well, there goes the bottom of the car, she’s gonna have a good time explaining that one to the rental car place… and there she goes again about the stupid Jeep Wrangler… Great. Just great…

 

Sunday February 22nd, 3:30 PM

Ok we finally make it to our house, and good thing too, because I gotta take a dump. It’s a cool looking place, I’ll admit. Too bad it’s in the middle of Bum F*** Egypt. How am I supposed to pick up any chicks all the way out here?

 

Sunday, February 22nd, 3:35 PM

“So, you’re telling me I don’t put the toilet paper in the toilet, but in the trash? What’s the point? That’s completely disgusting…”

 

Sunday, February 22nd, 3:36 PM

So, their toilets can’t handle TP, and neither can anyplace else around here, at least that’s what the husband and wife who are the caretakers of the place supposedly said, according to my sister. So it looks like we put our used TP in the trash from here on. This is freaking ridiculous.

 

Sunday, February 22nd, 6:00 PM

Mom and dad pull in. They’re all in a good mood, happy to be here. Good for them. My mom asks me if I’m excited. I respond accordingly.

“Yes, I am so excited to be all the away out here, away from everything, with no TV, nobody else around, and nothing to do but spend an entire week with my family. This is going to be SUCH a great vacation…” She smiles gives me a giant hug, and tells me she’s excited too. My dad looks back in pride. From what I gather, neither of them understand the concept of sarcasm. I need a drink. Or two…

 

Monday, February 23rd, 10:00 AM

Time to check out the beach, I mean, as long as it’s right there, and its private, then why not? It looks pretty nice, at least so far, except for these piles of seaweed that are everywhere. Doesn’t bother me though, I’ll just walk through it and—UGGHHAA, God, I think a squid just grabbed my foot or Octopus or… Oh, just the seaweed. No big deal, it’s just so slimy and everything. It threw me off, freaked me out a little bit. I’m good. Really, I am.

 

Monday, February 23rd, 10:02 AM

Ok, lets try again. Everything’s good, and I ain’t a wus. Just start with the ankles… good. And down to the knees… that’s right, now—AHHH forget it. I’m out.

 

Monday, February 23rd, 9:00 PM

Spent the afternoon in town shopping with my mom and sisters, while my dad and Derek went to the grocery store. So, I pretty much did absolutely nothing until dinner. Really, the only awesome thing that happened was there was this topless babe walking on the beach near town, but I was standing there with my mom, so I had to pretend I didn’t see her. In fact, except for a quick glance, I didn’t see her! Just my luck.

I did grab some more Tequila though, we’re just about out back at the house. I needed it, too, especially now. That Costco stuff went quick

I know I shouldn’t, but it’s been a long day, and that waiter took his sweet time with the bill too. I’m just gonna take a quick little swig—DAMNIT! Freaking Topes! Tequila everywhere! I swear to God, Topes piss me off!

 

Monday, February 23rd, 9:07 PM

Ughz. You know, this dirt road is kind of creepy at night, with all the jungle trees and all. It feels like some guerillas are all hanging out on the sides, watching us drive by. And any second now, some cartel guy is going to pop out of nowhere and take us all out. How much you want to bet that after we get around this corner there’s going to—

JESUS CHRIST! Holy Mary… My God. Sweet Jesus. Holy Crap. What in God’s name!…

 

Monday, February23rd, 9:08 PM

Yea, so we almost died. Head on collision. Barely missed it. That bastard was out of control. I’ve never heard so many dirty words come out of my family’s mouth at once. Good thing I got all that… Never mind, tequila’s all over the floor.

This sucks.

 

Tuesday, February 24th, 9:00 AM

Since there’s no gym here, I might as well run on the beach to keep my tone, just in case. Also, I need to clear my mind. Mom and dad were all worked up about me spilling liquor all over the car. Something about drinking and driving in Mexico can get you in trouble. It was an accident for Christ sakes, big deal? I wasn’t even driving, and they probably do that stuff all the time around here!

 

Tuesday, February 24th, 9:15 AM

Dude, running in the sand sucks. I just keep sinking, unless I run on the buttloads of dried seaweed all over the place. What’s with all this seaweed anyways? Out of all the places, all the world’s seaweed just happens to show up right here, on the exact day we decide to come.

Oh, there’s another house on the beach. I wonder if there’s any other babes around? Ah, doesn’t look like it, at least not right now. I’ll check it out later.

 

Tuesday, February 24th, 9:30 AM

So as it turns out, right after I passed that house, this rabid dog started chasing after me. The little turd wouldn’t stop either, followed me for like a half mile, I nearly passed the hell out I ran so hard in the sand. Pissin’ me off. I can’t get back now, unless I run passed that thing, which I don’t really want to deal with right now. It probably has rabies or something dumb like that. The road can’t be too far away, maybe I’ll just cut through a little jungle here.

 

Tuesday, February 24th, 9:40 AM

It’s just been one giant mistake after another now hasn’t it? The road’s way farther out than it should be, leaving me stuck in the middle of the jungle. I swear some critter is going to jump out and attack me. Every time I step on a dry leaf it’s like they’re rustlin’ around, plottin’ and schemin’ on the low. Or it’ll be something stupid, like stepping on a big old snake or having a spider bite me. Or what if I happen to stumble upon a drug ring camp out in the forest here? How the hell do I explain myself out of that one?

That stupid ass dog. I’m about ready to turn back and whoop it’s ass.

 

Tuesday, February 24th, 7:00 PM

Good news, I made it out of the jungle alive, and I didn’t have to beat up any dogs. Bad news, my mom insists we stay in tonight and play this stupid game called “The Settlers of Catan,” and I’m almost all out of booze. I’ve played it before with them, and I know exactly what’s going to happen. I’m going to win, and everybody’s going to get all butthurt about the whole thing and start crying. It literally happens every time we play.

The thing is, it wouldn’t be such a bad game if everybody didn’t have to spend 5 minutes on their turn figuring out what they were going to do. It’s like “Gee, maybe you could’ve thought about that when the person before you was taking 5 minutes?”

 

Tuesday, February 24th, 7:05 PM

Just found out that this is Derek’s first time ever playing. Awesome. He’s gonna take his sweet time because he doesn’t know what he’s doing, and then he’s going to do something stupid and screw me out of winning, I just know it.

 

Tuesday, February 24th, 8:15 PM

Guess what. Derek just built a road that leads to nowhere right in front of me, and pretty much just screwed me out of winning. I’m honestly on the verge of losing my crap right now.

 

Tuesday, February 24th, 8:45 PM

Oh, my God. This game is taking FOR-E-VER!!!

 

Tuesday, February 24th, 9:00 PM

Game’s over, and now I have to deal with my little sister parading around like she’s the Queen of Catan. Yea, congratulations, you won your first game. You had a newbie screw everybody except you, and then you happen to have all your settlements on 4’s, which got rolled like 5 times in a row. Yea, you should be really proud of that, and the way you’re acting too. What a waste of two hours, and a giant load of BS. This game pisses me off. And I barely got anything for dinner tonight too. At least I still have my… what the. Ah Hell no— “WHO THE HELL ATE ALL MY DORITIOS?!?!”

 

Wednesday, February 25th, 11:00 PM

Nobody ever ponied up to eating my Doritos, surprise surprise. Anyway, today was kind of boring. We went to these ancient ruins, which was just a cluster of tourists running around aimlessly. The place wasn’t even that cool, but they managed to squeeze 5 bucks out of me, and everybody else who went there. And then there was this girl who was trying to do handstands and get her picture taken by the ruins, except she didn’t know how to do a handstand, so she just kept trying over and over again, right in front of everybody. It was freaking ridiculous! She was like 20 years old too, which I didn’t know people still did handstands at that age, unless they’re kind of kinky, which I don’t think she was, because she didn’t know how to do a handstand. But yea, everybody’s trying to be all nice and polite not to get in her way, and its taking like 10 minutes, so finally they—wait, what the hell is that over—

“OH F*** THAT!!!”

 

Wednesday, February 25th, 11:02 PM

A giant ass rat just walked into my room. I swear to God if there’s one thing I hate, it’s rats. Looks like I just woke everybody up too. My sister’s are running in freaking out, and now my parent’s, and, hold up… “No, it’s ok mom. Yes, it’s gone now… a rat. I said a rat. No, not a cat, a rat. A big ol’ rat… Yes mom, I’m fine… Yes, I’m sure it was a rat… It was really big… Don’t worry—ok I’ll shut all the doors before I go to bed…”

 

Wednesday, February 25th, 11:04 PM

I can’t believe I dropped the F bomb in front of my mom… I’m a horrible person…

 

Thursday, February 26th, 2:00 AM

So as it turns out, it wasn’t a rat, it was this thing called a lemur according to my little sister, who probably ate half of my Doritos, and still won’t confess, but that’s beside the point. That bastard was huge! And now everybody’s all freaked out, so they shut and locked all the doors, which sucks, because I gotta take a whiz now, and I can’t get to the bathroom without knocking on the door and waking everybody up. “Well, why is the bathroom door locked, and why can’t you get in?” you ask. Well, it’s because the villa we’re staying at is weird, and I don’t want to explain it cause it’ll take too long, so it is what it is, ok! Long story short, I’m taking a whiz on the beach.

 

Thursday, February 26th, 2:03 AM

Wow, I never noticed how well you can see the stars from out here. It’s actually quite spectacular. There are so many of them, 10’s of 1000’s. Maybe even millions! I can pretty much see any constellation out here. Look, there’s the big dipper right there! Oh, and over there, that has to be… Well, um…

 

Thursday February 26th, 2:05 AM

Gee, as it turns out, that’s the only constellation I know, heheh. Whatever, the stars aren’t even that cool. I’m done peeing anyways.

 

Thursday, February 26th, 5:00 PM

So, today we’re supposed to have this giant fish dinner that the caretakers made for us, and we’re all going to eat it together and it’s supposed to be really good. Heck, I even got a glimpse of the fish, and even I approve. This thing’s a pretty big deal to them. They even brought their daughter over too, and while she might be a nice girl, well, um… let’s just say, she’s not really my type to put it nicely.

 

Thursday, February 26th, 7:00 PM

I’m chowin’ down on this fish. Man, this thing is good. It’s got onions, and peppers, and hot sauce… I’m really going to town!

My older sister’s talking to these people in Spanish, and my mom’s talking to them in English like they understand everything single word she’s saying. They’re all laughing and stuff, and all I’m doing is eating. These are some big old fish!

 

Thursday, February 26th, 7:10 PM

Now they’re all pointing at me, and keep saying my name. My sister keeps on saying “ci.” It means yes, I know that, I’m not an idiot for God sakes. And they keep using this word, “matrimonio.” I don’t know what that means, matrimonio. But anyway, my sister just keeps on saying “ci” and the dad keeps laughing and has this big old smile on his face. They’re looking at me now like they’re questioning me. What did I do? All I’m doing is eating some freaking fish and now suddenly I’m the “Bell of the Ball!” And why does this girl keep staring at me? She won’t stop, and she keeps smiling. This is freaking me out man. “Yea, whatever, ci ci.” I just want to eat the fish.

 

Thursday, February 26th, 7:11 PM

Now what? They’re all screaming, hooting and hollering, getting all happy. The dad, the wife, they’re all just ecstatic all of a sudden. Was it something I said? Oh great, this girl’s staring even harder at me. And smiling…

I don’t like this at all.

 

Thursday, February 26th, 8:00 PM

I ate a whole entire fish. I’m done. I’m never eating… ever, again.

 

Thursday, February 26th, 8:10 PM

The caretakers are leaving for the night, but the dad gives me this big hug and says something like “Mi familia.” Yea, familiar with what? I never found out, he just hugged me again and then left. And their daughter waved one of those creepy finger rolling waves on her way out too. I’m just glad that’s all over. What a weird night. Man, I’m stuffed.

 

Friday, February 27th, 1:30 AM

Oh my God. I can’t believe it happen. This is awful.  It was inevitable. Montezuma’s Revenge has finally struck. Ugh, I feel like Hell.  It was the damn fish. It had to be. Oh God. Just a… Ahhh help me Jesus, it hurts so bad. I can’t stop.  It just keeps… UGHZ.  I woke my sister’s up too. I had to. No. Other. Choice. Door was locked. I had to go. Why is this happening?  Oh, I hate lemurs so much right now.  And fish, and—oh no, here it goes!  No…

 

Friday, February 27th, 2:30 AM

Not again!!!

 

Friday, February 27th, 3:00 AM

This is bad. This is so bad. It’s even worse than I’d imagined. Worse than Ben Woodward and the Toilet Bowl Massacre… No, nothing’s worse than that. But this is still bad. Wait… Yea, never mind, this is way worse…

 

Friday, February 27th, 3:45 AM

I have literally destroyed the toilet. As in, this thing is no longer recognizable, every square inch of it. I can’t even describe the abomination that was created. I am honestly disgusted at myself, and my body. It’s a travesty to the human race. It’s so disgusting and ugly, I’m not even proud of it. It’s horrific.  God, I think this could even be illegal, and all I can do is sit in shame over this monstrosity, and pray for forgiveness. God help me. God forgive me…

 

Friday, February 27th 4:00 AM

Please God let this be it. This is the worst. I really hope I can pinch it off and just sleep now, cause I don’t know how much more I can take. Oh, you got to be kidding me. What’s wrong with the toilet now? It’s not even flushing. Why won’t it… the toilet paper… I didn’t put it in the trash like they… Oh, F my life…

 

Friday, February 27th 1:00 PM

Well, I’m pretty much out of commission for the rest of the day. The rest of them went to a nearby beach, one without seaweed. Whoop de freaking do. It was nice of them to ditch me like this. I’d never do such a thing, but that’s just me.

So I decided to do a little reading, an activity that’s light on the stomach. They have a couple books here to read, even this one from this dude, Ernest Hemmingway. I’ve heard a couple of the smart and nerdy babes in class talk about how he’s so romantic and stuff. You know, the one’s that act all smart because they know literature and everything. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to get acquainted with my old friend Ernest, and his book, “The Sun Also Rises.” Besides, there’s something about a girl in smart looking glasses that kind of turns me on…

 

Friday, February 27th, 1:10 PM

Screw that, this book sucks, just a bunch of drunken A-holes. It ain’t even worth it. What a pile of garbage. What a waste of my freaking time…

 

Saturday, February 28th, 10:00 AM

It’s our last day in Tulum. If anything, I might as well run to this bridge we pass on the way to town and take a picture of the ocean from there. Those types of pics get at least 15 or 20 likes on Instagram every time, guaranteed, half of which are from babes, and probably a couple extra since it’s in a foreign country. It’s totally worth it. I figure this, I can get some exercise, get a picture, and maybe meet some more babes while I’m over there too. Kill two birds with one stone, that’s my motto.

 

Saturday, February 28th, 10:30 AM

Oh, what in the hell? Yea, I’m at the bridge. I’m also stuck in a damn monsoon. Right when I got here, it came down, right out of nowhere, Forest Gump, Vietnam style. It’s like I’m that EPA butthole on Ghostbusters when they blow up the Marshmallow Man and all that white goop dumps all over him. I know exactly how he feels. So much for that Instagram pic, and my phone. And here’s to a 2 more miles of running in the pounding rain.

I said it once, and I’ll say it again. F. My. Life!!! That’s my motto.

 

Saturday, February 28th, 11:00 AM

Yea, go ahead and keep laughing, you heartless souls. I’m so glad my siblings think all of my suffering’s hilarious. Maybe I should stick them outside for an hour and see how they like it…

 

Saturday, February 28th, 7:00 PM

Well, it’s done raining, and it’s our last night in Tulum and we’re at dinner. Everybody is kind of in a bummer mood. I for one am glad we’re leaving tomorrow, because frankly, I’ve had enough of this place for one week. And now everybody’s bummer mood is kind of putting me in a bummer mood.

 

Saturday, February 28th, 7:05 PM

The waiter comes by, kind of a weird dude, taking our orders telling us about all the nice stuff they have. “Just get me the steak, and a couple beers, and some shots.” I’m getting tanked tonight. I don’t even care anymore.

 

Saturday, February 28th, 8:00 PM

I had hella beers and shots, and ate a steak, and I’m not even drunk. Well, whatever, I’ll be home tomorrow anyway, so who cares. I’ll get drunk then.

 

Saturday, February 28th, 8:03 PM

Well here comes the waiter again. Great, now what does he want?

“Thank you very, very much. Say, I have question. Do you play American Futball?”

“Who me? Well what do you mean, I have before and all…”

“Like, uh, what you say, profesonale?

“Oh Pro Football, in the NFL. No, but thank you, that’s awfully nice of you to say so…”

“Oh man. You look like profesonale. You look like one man, very handsome. Throws American Futball.”

“Um, you mean the quarterback?”

“Ah yes, quarter back. What his name? Roger, I think. Wears color of green. Play by water. What you call it, Bay?”

“You mean Aaron Rodgers?”

“Ahh yes, Aaron Rodger. My favorite. Fantastic at Futball. You remind me of Aaron Rodger.”

“Well, uh, gee, I don’t know what to… thank you… I mean, I can see where there’s a connection, but… just, wow, that’s just… wow!”

 

Saturday, February 28th, 8:05 PM

I am literally at a loss of words right now, as in I don’t know what to say. That was one of the nicest things anybody’s ever said to me… Oh my God. Dude, I… I think I’m gonna cry…

 

Saturday, February 28h, 8:10 PM

Say what you want about the Mexicans, but they sure are an honest bunch of people. Nice people too. I don’t think I’ve ever been treated with as much respect as I have here. What a great little town. Truly heaven on Earth…

 

Sunday, March 1st, 7:00 AM

Well, on our way to the airport now, and just went over our last Topes, at least for a while anyway. They’re really not so bad, once you get used to them. My sister may disagree, she’s still yelling over them and the Jeep Wrangler, but I can’t be too hard on her. I just don’t think she has the same sense of culture as I do.

And you know, Tulum isn’t such a bad place if you think about it. Sure it’s not for everybody, but that’s ok. I guess it just takes a certain person to like this type of stuff. A type of person who’s cultured, willing to try new things, somebody who has a sophisticated sense of appreciation for the world. Somebody like me…

I don’t how keen my family is about coming back, but that’s ok. I just don’t think they were able to connect to the people like I did, that waiter last night being the perfect example.  Man Aaron Rodgers…  I just can’t believe it.  I still feel like a million bucks!

Maybe someday, they’ll learn to appreciate the finer things and people of the world, like me. Hell, I feel like this whole experience has changed my life! I don’t know exactly what happened either. Last night, well, that was just amazing…

Oh well, until next time. They can enjoy places like Cancun. You know where you can find me.

-Grizzly Chadams

President’s Day is Coming…

It was nearly a year ago to this day when it all happened.  Sometimes, I wish I could forget, but turning a blind eye would be a treasonous stab in the back for the good of humanity.  It was my duty to remember and protect, for aside from my desires, an event like that leaves a permanent scar in one’s mind, to the extent where every aspect of that infamous battle can be recalled so clearly, so vividly, as if it were only yesterday.

 

I’m not proud of many of the choices that were forced upon me during that weekend excursion to the winter wonderland village located in the Northern Idaho wilderness, but choices were made to defend the honor of my family name, to send a message…  That we won’t be pushed around, that we will stand and defend what is rightfully ours.  No matter the cost.

 

It began with myself and sir Coby of Sammamish crossing the treacherous Cascade Mountain Range, a route of which many had fallen before us.  As for experienced riders in our native land however, the advanced trek was completed with relative ease.  All the while, our warrior cry, a compilation of songs in the form of the Pink Floyd album “Animals,” echoed through the passing townships.   We made our presence known to it’s dwellers loud and clear; that we mean no harm, and bring nothing but respect to their people, but any unnecessary inconvenience may result in calamitous consequence.

 

That night I reunited with my clan in the Dischman Micca Territories, just outside the borders of the Spokane Valley.  They are proud decedents of the Scotts and Germans, and it had been more than a month since our last meeting, a month that seemed to last for ages.  Although the reunion was joyful, it was short lived.  Our journey was far from over, for we would soon venture north, close to the borders of the great wall that separates us from our Canadian brethren.  A mountain village they call Schweitzer, located in the heart of the Bitterroot Mountain range.

 

Upon our arrival, we expected a modest cabin that would provide the basic necessities of shelter.  I stepped out of our vehicle, jaw dropped, eyes widened.  The shelter that was given to us for the weekend of the Presidents wasn’t a cabin at all; it was a royal palace.  3 stories carved out of the finest logs found in the Pacific Northwest consisting of limitless luxuries, easy access to the village’s amenities, and even a few secret passageways hidden within the structure.  One of these was discovered as I inadvertently leaned on a false wall on the bottom level of the palace.  “Is this a dungeon,” I thought to myself as I stumbled into the shallow opening.  It had to be.  But when I found a source of light, it was suddenly revealed that I was standing in a fully furnished liquor room stocked with the finest wines and spirits collected from many a great lands stretching from the vast corners of the world.  It was a personal treasure cove, but one of which I could not plunder, no matter how much temptation urged me to do so.  I would guard this fortune with all my might until its rightful owners returned.

 

I sealed the entrance to the secret liquor room and made my way up the wood polished staircase past the big screen TV equipped with a satellite dish.  My mother was busy cooking us a Fazarri’s pizza dinner (half Shotsy, half Panther) in the state of the art kitchen located on the middle level, where you take a step and immediately feel a warm sensation underneath your toes from the heated flat-stoned floors.  Although I have some culinary experience with select dishes, I calculated that my skills could be of use elsewhere by shoveling the outside walkway and upper decks.  After a visit to the storage shed to grab the necessary equipment underneath the guest apartment, I set foot on the deck to begin work, but only I couldn’t find the strength to move a single muscle. 

 

I looked outward at the setting sun over a dazzling view of the Bitterroots.  I was able to see as far North as Canada, and west to the Montana border.  But perhaps the greatest sight of all was that of Schweitzer Mountain itself, covered in a fresh blanket of snow; all for us it indulge in, to carve in the unsullied powder on our mountain equipment, as if we were creating our own personal masterpiece in nature’s backyard.  An art that only the creator could truly appreciate… and would to its fullest extend.   As the oldest male figure present in my family, I saw a mountain wanting to be ruled by a fearless leader, endless valleys looking to be discovered, and masses of land begging to be conquered.   The mountain was mine, and mine for the taking.  Nobody could stand in my way…

 

I’ll never forget the moment I saw his face.  Just when I had my mind settled for a peaceful takeover, on the brink of a world finally at ease, that menacing figure appeared before my eyes.  He stepped out of my sister’s car and delivered a disturbing smile, letting me know immediately that he meant to take over my standing as king of the mountain.  He was nothing but trouble. 

 

Thomas was his name, but it could’ve been easily mistaken for Lucifer, for this little 5 year old had all the signs of being the spawn of Satan.  Hell, anything closer and he might as well had horns growing out of his head!  We stared each other down until he dared to utter a sentence that sent chills down my spine.  “Snowboarders are weird,” he said to me.  How in the world did he know I was a snowboarder?  And to speak to me first, let alone insult me, in my kingdom?  This was setting the stage for a showdown of epic proportions, where I feared that no side would favor in the end, no matter the victor.

 

From the get go he wasted no time finding unique ways to push our buttons.  Whether it be pranks, insults, or genuine bratty behavior, the boy had the energy of a Jackrabbit during hopped up on steroids and wasn’t showing any signs of slowing.  He begged me to perform a number of wrestling moves on him, which I fervently resisted.  He was relentless however with constant nags and physical abuse.  I couldn’t give in…  That’s exactly what he wanted me to do.  But a wild swing a little too close to the family jewels- that crossed the line.   He wasn’t getting away with that one.

 

I snatched him off the floor, flipping him up over my head so he could peer into my eyes with everlasting regret before I pulled off the finisher.  I threw him down with debilitating force on his back and onto the bed.  The Jack Knife Powerbomb, a move engineered to deliver a maximum amount of pain to one’s backside, made popular by wrestling legend’s Kevin Nash and Scott Hall.  Thomas bounced a foot off the bed, busting his knee during the second landing.  A soft cry was heard from the kitchen, causing my mother to intervene.  And of course, I got slammed with a lecture about how I should be more careful, and no more roughhousing, yadi yadi yada.  Thomas however had planned the whole thing out, and his little experiment had paid off.  He had turned me into the bad guy within a matter seconds, and there was no way he was getting in trouble this weekend.  Not from my mother, my sister, and certainly not from me, unless I was willing to accept a severe punishment.  Another ugly grin grew across his face.  This was far from over.

 

That was child’s play compared to his next discovery.  Thomas had found his way into the palace’s arsenal, stocked plentiful with Nerf guns and ammo.  Excitement grew on his face equivalent to that of 5 red bulls being shot gunned at once.  His energy level became too high and powerful to control, even with the copious amounts of mead I consumed during the process.  I couldn’t hold a conversation, relax, or watch Downton Abby with my mother without being pelted multiple times by a string of bullets.  I couldn’t endure the attack much longer.  It had to come to an end.

 

I retreated to the outer boundaries in shame, for the devil himself, Thomas, had overtaken my keep.  It was a devastating blow, one of which I feared there was little recovery, but I was determined.  The battle may have been lost, but the war was far from over.  By weekend’s end, I would retain the throne that was rightfully mine.  I just needed a plan…

 

I set up a secret meeting with my sister, Lady Emily and Sir Coby of Sammamish.  The task I asked of them was arduous, but it had to be done.  I knew they could perform it, even if it meant having to endure a night of suffrage.  I instructed them to take Thomas back to their quarters where he could celebrate his victory with hours of playing the Nintendo Wii, all the while providing him an endless supply of candy and soda.  They would keep him up as long as they could, for the following day would be the true testimony for all visiting the mountain resort if Thomas could handle the title of king for a day.

 

I met my comrades at the resort the next day, both deprived of much needed rest.  I didn’t want to know the horrific details, but as time passed, I could tell they had completed their mission to task, draining Thomas of any stamina that had been built up prior to last night’s hooligans.  It was barely our first run when the complaints about the cold set in, or how he just wanted to go back to the house to play with his Wii.  It was going to be a very long day for our buddy Thomas.

 

“Skiers are better than snowboarders,” he would you say, and remind me with taunts of similar fashion.  “Skiers better than snowboarders?  We’ll put that statement to the test,” I told myself as we made our way towards the South Bowl Chutes, a double black diamond run consisting of steep terrain, sudden cliffs, and walls of trees that only the most experienced riders can maneuver successfully.  “You think you’re so hot Thomas?  Prove it.”

 

He looked down at the drop, quivering in fear.  Pressure came from all fronts.  “C’mon Thomas,” screamed Coby waiting behind him, growing frustrated as precious minutes of skiing and exploration were wasted away at Thomas’s hesitation.  Maive, Thomas’s older sister by two years stood at the bottom of the run hurling insults to her brother shaking in his ski boots, as any good sister would do.  “Nananan boo boo, Thomas is a scaredy cat,” she kept teasing.  That was the final straw. There was no way he was going to let her bruise his ego like that.  It was go time.

 

He took a step and descended upon the bowl.  He gained speed; too much speed.  In a panic, he turned his body to stop, hockey style, but his little legs couldn’t handle the initial velocity after the drop in.  He caught an edge and flew, landing smack dab on his face.  Down the mountain he went, screaming head first for help along the way, but with no way to stop.  There was nothing anybody could, so we watched as he ate it down the double black diamond, all the while Thomas watched a tunnel of white light appear with a golden gate far in the distance.  After a while, all that was visible was a dust cloud of snow descending down the mountain at an exponential rate, with the occasional ski accessory, whether it be a glove, pair of goggles, boot, or even the skis themselves fly through the air.

 

After it was all said and done, It had been a minute long wipe-out where he had slid on his face down ¾’s of the run, lost both of his skis, and was left in a pool of tears as if he had just broken every bone in his body (Which he didn’t.  Kid’s always like to pull that bull crap, making their pain seem way worse than it actually is.).  Lady Emily ran to his aide, for any injury to her employer’s children could prove to be costly.  Maive stood at the bottom, laughing so hard that she could hardly control her bladder.  Sir Coby gathered the equipment that had been scattered across the run, or at least what was left after the carnage, which was an amazing feat considering the tumble.  I watched in the distance as Thomas sat in humiliation.  We made eye contact, only for a second, for he quickly looked away in disgrace the second he realized my stare.  But I continued to glare, gazing into the pathetic and disoriented figure.  “Skiers better than snowboarders???  I put that statement to the test.”

 

Lunchtime had arrived, and we settled to a little dining table we had claimed.  Snacks had been prepared to appease our appetites, for the traders at the mountain food market were known to swindle you for a few extra bucks when they could.  In front of Thomas sat his lunch, a hot, fresh “cup of noodles.”  He kept begging for candy, but my sister was much too wise to give in until he had finished lunch.  So he sat, playing with his food, swirling it around in the cup, staring at it, doing everything he could with his lunch except for consuming it, delaying the inevitable, and complaining every step of the way.

 

This process continued for well over 10 minutes, and several times I watched as he nearly tipped the cup over the edge while sloppily playing around with the prepared dish.  I stuck my hand out a time or two to catch it before it fell, warning Thomas of the disaster waiting to happen if he continued his careless ways.  He didn’t listen, and continued to play with his meal, which was typical of any kid his age.   No more warnings would be given.  He was going to have to learn the hard way.

 

I watched the whole thing go down as if it were happening in slow motion.  Could I have prevented it?  Yea, sure, but nothing was going to convince me of saving him from the tragedy taking place.  Not this time.  He tipped his cup of noodles too far to the edge, and the hot, steaming, contents fell onto his lap, severely scolding his torso.  Slowly, his mouth opened wide, eyes squinted, and two streams of tears dripped down his face, all before he took a deep breath and let out a putter of soft cries that crossed as a cough.

 

Many mothers gathered around to tend to his needs, but not me.  He knew better, and he would receive no sympathy from me.   In his head, he would hope that such an event would receive so much pity that he could go home and play Wii and eat candy without finishing his lunch.  Not a fat chance.  Not as long as I was around.  We still had a long day of skiing ahead of us.

 

A backside run had brought us to the Stella, a 6 six-person high-speed chairlift that controlled the flow of patrons with horserace style gates that opened and closed when it was time for the next group to board.  Little Thomas made his way to the front leaning forward on his poles, eyes barely level with the top of the gates.  His eyes kept wandering, unaware of his surroundings.  By the time he had arrived at the gates, he finally realized they were quickly approaching the vicinity of his face.  He tried to react, but it was too late.

 

BOOM!  The gate fully closed at a fierce speed, but not before striking Thomas right in the nose, an event none of us saw coming.  A gush of blood left his nasal cavity and spilled onto the snow, leaving a trail behind for all to follow.  The lift operators snickered at the sight, unable to contain themselves like the audience members of America’s Funniest Home Videos when a clip of an unsuspecting victim gets smacked in the balls; another black eye to Thomas’s ego.  He shed tears of pain all the way back to the top of the mountain.  I took it as a sign that the snow gods were working in my favor.

 

To add to his distress, a wrong turn left him and Sir Coby stranded past the lodge, leaving the only option of a hike.  Sir Coby was furious, making Thomas carry his skis all he way back up the hill.  By the time they had reached the top, Thomas had nearly collapsed, sending everyone the image of a Vietnam soldier who had just returned to base after an escape from the Hanoi Hilton, where he was brutally tortured for weeks on in.  With a sudden change of luck however, the day was coming to a close, and we were set on retiring to our keeps.  His fate for the rest of the night would be determined by his actions, and his actions alone.

 

Back at the palace, I had made a safe guard of all the Nerf guns in the house, placing them on high ground, where Thomas’s disadvantaged height left the weapons out of his reach.  He was growing ancy, bored out of his mind and suffering from the withdrawals of not being able to play the Nintendo Wii for almost 12 hours.  “Please, can I have the Nerf gun,” he pleaded, desperate for any type of sympathy.  Over and over, I refused, but I had to hand it to him, he was persistent.  He wanted that Nerf Gun, bad.  He needed it, for his own sanity.  Withholding a weapon of that magnitude from a five year old was unbearable torture, worse than any water boarding technique that the Taliban were ever forced to endure.  Eventually, I gave in, for even the greatest of kings can show a hint of compassion from time to time.

 

“Do you give me your word that you will not shoot me, that you will not attack the innocent with this weapon, that you will wield it with honor and use it only when necessary?”

 

“I promise,” he answered.  So I handed him the weapon.  In our family, a promise is held above all else as the most sacred entities one came make with another soul.  A broken promise would not be tolerated in my kingdom, and would result in an unspeakable curse that would plague him for years to come.

 

5 minutes later I was in my quarters rummaging through my goods, and I felt a sudden sting across my back.  I turned and saw a short, devilish figure sending me a smile that screamed of pure evil.  My eyes beamed towards his weak body, a terror released from my pores.  The boy had broken a promise, a sacred bond of trust that we had shared.  This would not let this stand.  Not on my watch.

 

“You’re lucky that God forgives,” I said to him as I cocked my Nerf pistol, fully loaded for an intense battle.  “Because I don’t.”

 

I emptied a full clip of bullets without any sense of mercy to his flailing body.  This was war, and a blind anger possessed me to keep squeezing the trigger, nailing him with every shot.  He fled across the bed, sending blind bullets back my way, but unable to connect, not even a single one.  Both our clips were empty- not a problem for a veteran warrior like myself.  I rapidly reloaded and ruthlessly pressed forward to release havoc on my enemy.  Thomas just squatted in the corner, a small sense of joy still bound up inside of him, for he continued to spill sputters of laughter from his mouth.  It was his only defense.  I ended that real quick.

 

I unloaded another round to his head as the laughs gradually converted to screams the further the massacre dragged on.  My second clip emptied, and my opponent lay, completely helpless.  The lesson had been taught.  He was ready for surrender.

 

“Stop… Please, Stop!”  He continued to plead, but I could not feel any sense of pity at that moment, especially for somebody who had broken such a sacred promise that we had made mere minutes prior.  I loaded up one more round and continuing to pummel his head at point blank range.  He covered himself in the fetal position, assuming defeat.  All of a sudden, the barrage of bullets had stopped.

 

He turned his head and opened an eyelid, a small peak with the mindset that this horrific battle was finally over, and I was gone.  Instead, he set his sights down the barrel of a gun, one Nerf bullet left.  We both waited for a moment, remaining completely still.  Any false movement could result to be detrimental.  He had surrendered, and was left to my mercy.  “I’m sorry,” he uttered, the most sincere apology he had ever given in his entire lifetime, and probably among the most genuine I’ve ever witnessed from one of my opponents.  He had finally realized the error of his ways and was ready to make a statement, for this day was the day that he would change his life for the better, to live with dignity and bring honor to his family name.  I knew it, and he knew it.  Peace could finally be achieved, once and for all…

 

I squeezed the trigger.  POP!  The Nerf bullet left my gun at a high velocity and struck him square in his open eye.  He let out a cry so vicious, so horrendous, that it captured the pain of crashing down a double black diamond, spilling a hot cup of noodles on his lap, being smacked in the nose by a horse chute, and the struggle of a treacherous hike back to the lodge, combined.  He let out screams that no man should ever hear, mimicking those of World War II vets who had nightmares after coming back from the Pacific front.  But I just stood there, emotionless and immune to the pain he was suffering.  I eventually walked away, leaving my rival cobbling in despair.  I would make sure that he’d never forget this night for the rest of his life.  That this is what happens when you mess with Grizzly Chadams; so that every time he saw my face, he would bow down to my reign, for he could not, and would not let any of his family or friends face an ounce of the devastation that he endured during the brutal battle of the Bitterroots.

 

That night, I descended upon the village with Sir Coby and Lady Emily to a vast celebration of our victory; a laser light show featuring a collaboration of selected music from Pink Floyd…  Our battle cry…  Our ancient ancestral song that we traveled with signaling our presence from township to township.  It was a sign, and a tribute… This was our village.  We ruled this land, even if it was only for one weekend out of the year.  So we indulged in our victory with dance and drink, and would remember this day for years to come, a short stint of happiness until our next battle, which very well could be our last.

 

As President’s Day draws near, our enemies grow stronger in numbers, and now, a year wiser, come back to us, thirsty for revenge.  It would be wise never to come back to the small village in the bitterroots, but yet, a sense of duty, of pride, of honor draws us back.  Thomas will surely be edging for another shot at the throne, and I will be there, ready to deliver a deathblow much more stern than the year before.  I do not wish the events to unfold the way they did a year prior, but am willing to do what is necessary for the good of my family, and to protect the people of Schweitzer, no matter the cost.

 

President’s Day is Coming…

So as it turns out, Michael Jordan wasn’t born in North Carolina…

Ever since I was born, my mother has reminded me of the fact that I was born in Wilmington, North Carolina. Yea, no big deal right? Wrong, because there’s another big part to it… That it happened to be the same hospital where Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player of all time, was born. It was a fact that I repeated time and time again throughout my life. In grade school, the kids would hang on my every word and repeat the story to others as if I were a legend. Through my college years I would tell the tale and be met with responses along the lines of “No way!” or “Get out of here!” and other expressions of excitement. Even now as a working professional, I still tell the tale and receive the nod of approval and ever so slight grins that grow at a slow, yet proportional rate. I repeat it as if it’s my mantra, my motto.

It was one of my proudest claims to fame, a highlight of my life, and a great pick-up line for the ladies. In fact, it was merely a couple weeks ago that I was attending a bachelorette party and I laid down the line in front of a large crowd of babes, where they all smiled with a heightened level of impressiveness. And for those that are wondering, yes I said bachelorette party, and yes, aside from the over abundance of phallic objects, its was really fun (thanks to the efforts of a few boundary babes)! Even better than any of the bachelor parties I’ve ever been to, no offense to those bachelors, especially my buddy Alex. I love you man, but being stuck in the middle of the woods at night with a busted up rig that can’t start in weather that was around 10 degrees wasn’t exactly the greatest moment of my life. Especially after the fact that we nearly rolled off the edge of a cliff and to our deaths about 10 times, but that’s a whole other story. Let’s just say I’m happy to be alive to tell my stories after that incident.

But the point is, I would walk into a room and spread the truth in front of a crowd of people, and instantaneously I would be greeted with astonishment, with a slight wave of jealousy coming from a few. What could they say that made them relevant?  Nothing. I was always one step ahead.

It had been nearly 25 years since I stepped foot in the motherland, or crawled for that matter, and I was ready for a welcoming reception home. I met my compadres Mike and Jason at Jay Bee’s World Famous Hotdog’s in Statesville, North Carolina, where I have no idea why their hotdog’s are considered to be world famous. Every place I’ve been to that claims they have world famous hotdogs have always left me with a feeling of disappointment, such as Ben’s Chili Bowl in Washington DC. If you’re going to say you have a world famous hot dog, it better be damn good. At least don’t call them world famous so your standards shoot through the roof. If you don’t claim it and your hotdog is terrible, I won’t really care, but when you claim world fame status and your hotdog stinks, your reputation and integrity fly out the window in my book, and leave me with less satisfaction than if I ate a 1/4 pound all beef kosher dog from Costco, except that those actually aren’t that bad. One, they taste better, two, they’re only a buck fifty, three, a 22 ounce drink is included, and four, they don’t even claim to be world famous! They just let the taste of their juicy dog do the talking, and that’s the way I roll.

Anyway, after eating my less than mediocre world famous hotdog, we headed to our destination in Asheville, NC, telling story’s of the glory days when we were hooligans roaming the streets of Moscow, Idaho. We were a minute away from the house when the story popped into my head, and I found the perfect segway to tell my great tale of fame. “Dude, this is my first trip my back to North Carolina since I’ve been born. And I don’t want to brag or anything, but I happened to be born in the same hospital as Michael Jordan.

Mike tweaked his head toward me with a sudden look of confusion. “Uhh, Michael Jordan was born in Brooklyn New York dude.”

“Bull crap,” I swore back to him. He was wrong. He had to be. I knew he was going to take offense to my statement, just like he always does, and of course he wasn’t going to believe it, he never believes anything I say, but he couldn’t prove anything this time. What the hell did he know? He was seriously going to go against my mother’s word? I don’t think so. Not even he has the balls to go there, and when it comes to arguments with Mike, trust me, we’ll go to the deepest and dirtiest depths just to prove a point. It’s personal.

“Wikipedia it man,” is all he said back.

“Wikipedia isn’t a source!” I wanted to screamed. That’s like the first things they teach us in college! God I couldn’t believe he just said that! Wikipedia? C’mon! It took a lot to hold back the fury that bellowed inside me, because I was freaking mad!  Lieutenant Dan mad when he’s yelling at God during the hurricane in Bayou La Batre. Bill O’Reily mad when he’s told to play it out. Freaking Kanye West mad when Taylor Swift robs Beyonce of the best video award at the MTV VMA’s!

But I kept my cool and held my tongue through the whole ordeal. Now was not the time to blow up and cause a scene. I was about to meet the remainder of his family that I had not yet met, including his mother, and impressions to me are above and beyond the most important. Besides, there was plenty of time to prove Mike wrong and make him look like a fool, an act I get more joy out of than being that kid who receives an Xbox for Christmas! All I needed to do was wait for the opportune moment. Patience is key in situations like this.

Luckily for us, nothing brings a bunch of testosterone craved boys together like a classic Pay-Per-View UFC match, including an epic bout between Rhonda Rousy and Miranda Tate, and watching Anderson Silva’s leg snap in half. I know people are gonna hate on me for saying this, but seeing that live was freaking awesome!  And even better than that was the epic Packers and Bears matchup that proceeded the following day. Wow, that was one that’ll go down in the history books. It’s 4th and 8 with 44 seconds remaining in the game. the Pack is down 27-28 and the Bears are lined up for a jail break blitz. 7 defensive linemen vs. 6 on the offense. Rodgers snaps the ball and Julius Peppers runs towards Rodgers unblocked. John Kuhn the fullback dives in front of him with a last ditch effort to deliver a block. He barely slows the bastard, but it’s just enough for Rodgers to escape within a fingertips length. Out of the pocket he spots a wide open Randall Cobb in the middle of the field. He delivers a strike and into the endzone goes Cobb, ball in hand… and that’s when me and Mike went bonkers. We were jumping up and down in the bar, yelling, calling, texting, hugging complete strangers, and even in some instances, kissing (ayayay I know, I almost got slapped for that)! But in the end it didn’t matter, for we were full of cheer and were going to spread it around to everyone we could see, including Bears fans! You’re probably asking why, but it’s just the kind of guy I am. I can look past those types of things for one night.

We made our unmistakable appearance known to all at the various bars we visited, and by the evening’s end it had been a complete night of unforgettable memories and passion. Yet something was still bothering me deep inside as I lay in bed at the end of it all. The controversy of Michael Jordan’s birthplace still lingered, and I just couldn’t shake it off. I had to know. This had to be settled once and for all.

I picked up my iPad and googled his name. I hovered my finger over the link, but couldn’t quite press down on the screen. What was I nervous for? This was my mother’s word against Mike’s. There should be no sense of hesitation inside of me. But there was… “Man up,” I told myself before I pressed down on the link and watched the circular bars rotate in the upper left corner of the iPad, waiting for the answer, my heart working overtime against the disproportionate level of alcohol in my bloodstream. The answer would come soon. I was right. I had to be right. The screen finally refreshed and there popped up the wikipedia page. I gazed down at my answer in plain black text, waiting for me at the right hand side of the screen.

Michael Jordan: Born – Brooklyn, New York.

My heart sunk at the answer presented in front of me. How could this be? My mother had been lying to me my whole life, and I bought into until just now, when I finally saw the truth. How was I going to tell all my friends whom believed my story throughout the years? How could I even bare the thought of facing all of the babes I had met at the bachelorette party now that I’m a phony? And the worst of all, how will my relationship with my mother resume now that that sacred bond of trust has now been broken?

I awoke the next morning, pretending that the whole incident never happened, but it was no use. “Oh, by the way, did you find out where Michael Jordan was born?” It was a cheap shot question I could not defend, and he said it so smugly in front of everybody. He was mocking me big time, and I tried to play it smooth, but all that came out was one of those pathetic looks of the same fashion as the one that is permanently engrained onto Jay Cutler’s face. And he stood there in his pompous stature that makes James Franco look like Mother Teresa. No other words needed to be exchanged. Congratulations Mike, you won the argument, and my life is over. I’m sure you feel no shame whatsoever. In fact, I bet you’re ecstatic. I hope you’re happy, and I hope the torment you put me through along with a newly broken family was worth it for you.

I can’t believe she did that, out of all people, my own mother! I’m completely devastated. Those types of things just shouldn’t happen. The thought of sneaking off to get a McRib before Thanksgiving pales in comparison to this quarter century fib. It’s probably going to be at least another quarter of a century before I fully recover too. But then again, I did get over the fact that Santa Claus didn’t exist, so maybe there’s hope for a rebuild of our relationship. Although I think a lot of chocolate chip cookies and cheesecake may be required for the rekindling (*hint hint*).