Saturday, October 28, 2006

It's a Small "World" After All

(In my last post, I mentioned that I had another "coincidence" tale regarding my sister-in-law. The following is also a true story!)

A fellow blogger, whose writing I respect and admire, told the story recently of a friend being “outed” about her daily habit of tuning into “All My Children” for the last couple of decades. I guess we have all been guilty of watching the soaps at one time or another, and many of us probably chose to “out” ourselves in the hope that the person we were talking to would be just as enthusiastic about their daily dose of unreality as we were.

My grandmother had gotten me into “Days of Our Lives” when I was ten. I know, I know…I was a little young to be quite so interested in the drama of the soap world, but back then you didn’t need an “M” rating to watch the passion between Doug and Julie. Dare I say that it was…wholesome?

Eventually, I became addicted to “Another World”, which followed “Days”. I was pregnant with my second child at the time, and I spent a lot of hours alone and longing for adult interaction. Watching the soaps, I found that I could transport myself into “another world”, even if it was only for an hour. I lived vicariously through the passion, love and emotion of the characters on the show. I fell in love with a rogue character (whose name I will keep anonymous out of respect for the gentleman who portrayed him), and couldn’t wait to tune in every afternoon to see what trouble he was cooking up that day. A few years later, after my marriage had ended, I was presented with the opportunity to attend an "Another World" luncheon. When I met this gentleman in person, I thought that he was just as charming and adorable as he was on the show. So about a month later, I decided to write to him and send him my picture and my phone number.

Less than a week later, I received a phone call from a man stating to be this actor. At first, I didn’t believe that it was him…and then I gained my composure and enjoyed a 30 minute-long conversation with the most smooth-talking Romeo that you could imagine. Little did I know what I was getting myself into. He called the next day, and told me that his house on Long Island was “under construction”, so how would I like to meet up with him at his hotel in Manhattan for lunch? Then we could pay a visit to Victoria’s Secret, so he could "buy me whatever I wanted” and, according to him, we could go back to his hotel where I could “model” all of the outfits for him!

Okay, I admit…I was feeling a little desperate after my husband left me for someone else, but thank God I wasn’t stupid. I politely told him that I would consider it (I already knew the answer was no, but I will admit...if I were a different kind of person...say, to the tune of Paris could have been fun). He told me to think it over and that he would call me the next day.

He did call the next day, and the next day after that. The clincher was when he called one afternoon right after my kids came home from school, and they started to have a rip-roaring fight over a toy. They ran through the house like Tom and Jerry and finally ended up between my legs, crying and whining while I embarrassingly stood there on the phone and exclaimed “What can I say?!? This is my life!!” He politely told me that he had to go, and would call me again tomorrow.

I never heard from him again.

Well, life goes on. Several years later, I remarried and became very close with my new sister-in-law. One day, while we were having a ladies night at her house, she started to tell the story of when she dated “this guy from Another World”, and she went into detail about how all he seemed to care about was getting into her pants! I stood there in amazement, and said, “Hey, wait a minute!! That’s my story!!” She looked confused, as did all of the other women in the room. It turned out that she actually dated this very same soap star for a few weeks and came to realize, as I did, that although he was a really nice guy, he was definitely a player and not worth investing any emotion into. We laughed over the similar stories and pointed out how small the world actually was that the two of us were “involved” in some way with the same male star of a soap opera.

I no longer watch the soaps, and haven’t for about 9 years. I found that once I met my present husband, my life became a soap opera of its own with ex-wives, ex-husbands, ex-girlfriends, ex-boyfriends, his kids, my kids, our families, our friends…who needed to watch it when I could live it every single day?!? Although I admit...I could use the commercial break now and then.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Strange but True

Years ago, when I was married to my first husband, my in-laws were trying to rent out their house in Florida. They were living down there for a couple of years, but decided to come back to New York when they discovered that they missed their children and grandchildren too much. The process of trying to rent out the house became cumbersome; they had to keep flying back and forth between the states to interview prospective renters, and they weren’t happy with anyone that they met. Finally, they found a young couple with a small child who were moving down to Florida from NY. They presented themselves to be responsible, and seemed to have the financial clout to faithfully make their rental payments every month.

One day my mother-in-law decided to share with me the specifics of the couple who had now been renting the house for a few months. She spoke of the wife, and what a good mother she seemed to be to her little son. She told me that she was pregnant with her second child, and that she seemed like a lovely person. The only thing that bothered her was that this girl’s husband seemed too young to be making the salary that he did. She said that she didn’t trust him, but what could she do? They were making the payments and keeping the house up. I assured her that everything was probably fine, and chalked her mistrust up to her feeling out of control all the way up in NY, and her tendency to judge everyone and everything that she couldn't understand.

I had nice memories of the Florida house. It had a huge, unfurnished living room, a Florida-white kitchen, a cozy den with a small couch off of the kitchen and a screened-in pool to match the dozens of other screened-in pools that surrounded the man-made lake in back of their home. My kids spent many hours in that pool when they were little, and would spend way too much time chasing the lizards that would speedily crawl across the patio during the day.

A couple of years later, the couple decided to move, and my in-laws knew it was time to sell the house, as they were getting too old to continue the draining process of trying to rent it out. Right about this time, their son and I began to go through our divorce. I began to slip away from his family as well, and pretty soon I was on my own raising my two children. I only had contact with my ex-husband for child support purposes.

Eventually, I started dating a man who would later turn out to be my next husband. During the first month that we were dating, he showed me various pictures of himself and his family. One picture in particular caught my eye; he was in a pool, and it looked somewhat tropical and familiar.

“Oh, that was my sister’s house in Florida,” he said when I asked him where he was.

“Did she live in Boca Raton?” I queried, “Because that looks like the same neighborhood that my ex-in-laws lived in.”

He said that he thought so, and we decided that it would be quite funny indeed if it was the same neighborhood, and they in fact knew each other. He went on to show me some more pictures, and I forgot about it.

Several months later we were at his parent’s house to celebrate his dad’s holiday of Passover. His sister was there, and we started to chat about nothing in particular . She asked me where my kids were. Coincidentally, I told her, they were also celebrating Passover with their dad at their grandparents' house, right around the corner at the local senior citizen complex. She asked if I was talking about the senior complex that was a stone’s throw away—I answered “Yes…we can literally walk there!” She then asked me what my kids’ grandparents’ last name was. When I told her, her face dropped.

“Anita and Jack????” she answered in amazement.

“Yes, that’s them! Why?”

She answered, “...Because I rented their house in Florida!!”

There was a moment of silence in our state of sheer disbelief. Imagine that! When I looked at the pictures of my boyfriend at his “sister’s house in Florida”, and said that it resembled my ex-mother-in-law’s house, it actually WAS my ex-mother-in-law’s house! He and I got a kick out of the fact that we swam in the same pool with our kids, albeit at different points in time. We laughed at how there seemed to be an over-abundance of lizards at that house, and how all of the kids spent lots of time unsuccessfully trying to catch one. We all wondered what the chances were that the world could be so very small.

I eventually got married again, and my husband’s sister and I remained close. One unfortunate footnote: My ex-mother-in-law was right. The husband did make his money too fast, and didn’t do it in the right way. Now he's "away", and she and her kids are the ones paying the price.

...I guess sometimes mother-in-laws are smarter than we think, as much as we hate to admit it.

(this wasn't the only coincidence that my sister-in-law and I shared. Next time I'll tell our other small "world" story!)

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Early Bird is a Partridge

I knew it was bound to happen, but I admit, I forgot. Unfortunately, it happens every year, and every year I forget just the same.

I promised myself I would not go to the mall until at least November, so as not to see anything that would remotely remind me of Christmas…but apparently, I’m only good at keeping my promises to other people, and I’m very disloyal to myself.

Our girls needed winter clothes, and my husband said that we should go to the mall and get them some. Yes, my husband. I don’t know about anyone else, but the shock of hearing those words come out of his mouth made all rational thought leave my brain. I was too busy getting him out the door and into the car before he changed his mind to remind myself that the mall was off limits until the week before Thanksgiving.

No, I’m not the Grinch. I’m not uttering “Bah, Humbug” under my breath at the sight of a department store gone Christmas wild. The fact is, I absolutely LOVE Christmas…it happens to be the most wonderful time of the year (to me and Andy Williams). But the problem I find is that every year the decorations come earlier and earlier, doing nothing but numbing us all to the joys of the season and the thrill of finding the perfect, meaningful gift while listening to your favorite holiday songs piped over the store speakers. Instead, we all go about the season fretfully trying to find outrageously priced items in exclusive stores for people who put more emphasis on the gift-giving aspect of the holidays than actually enjoying them for what they stand for. We buy right into the marketing world’s ploy to get us to spend more money sooner by “getting us into the Christmas spirit” with decorations and lights, only to have the stores pull them right out from under our feet on December 26th , when we can finally relax and enjoy them.

When I was little, the stores didn’t decorate for the holidays until the day after Thanksgiving. Somewhere along the line, it became the day after Halloween. Now, it’s October 15th, more than 2 months away from Christmas, and there are trees and lights throughout the mall. Pretty soon, we’ll be seeing Christmas trees on top of the sunscreen display after the Fourth of July (actually, this may have already happened in a few places).

The other aspect of the pre-holiday season that gets to me is the once-novel “24 Hours of Christmas” music played by select radio stations. I thought it was great when one of the stations in our area decided to expand their Christmas music play list to the week before the actual holiday. Another radio station joined in the next year, and for the week before Christmas you were actually able to flip to another holiday station if you couldn’t stand to hear one more “Pah-Rum-Pum-Pum-Pum” on the one you were currently listening to. Flash forward to last year: Now there are at least four stations playing Christmas music 24/7, and one of them actually had the nerve to start the Monday before Thanksgiving! The ironic thing is that all of these stations will stop playing Christmas music completely at 12 midnight December 25th, which for some of us is right in the middle of our celebration. Talk about post-holiday depression…our gathering hasn’t even ended yet, and the media has already moved on to the Super bowl.

In my family, Christmas week was always considered the week after the holiday, and it wasn’t unusual to still be listening to Nat King Cole right up to New Year’s Eve. Friends and relatives were still stopping by to visit throughout the week, and it was still as festive a time as the previous seven days. Now, Christmas is run by the supreme evildoer of all time—money. Christmas becomes as disposable as a toddler’s dirty diaper on December 26th. It has no use anymore, and no one wants to look at it because it makes them sick.

I long for the days when the holidays still had meaning; meaning other than end-of-year corporate financial statements. When taking a stroll or a drive on a peaceful night to view decorated houses brought more joy than an iPod Nano. When a cup of homemade eggnog could warm your heart better than any outfit from Abercrombie and Fitch. When gathering with friends by the fireplace to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” was more desirable than running serpentine through the mall, rushing from crowded store to crowded store while people sneezed on you, cut you in line and stepped on your toes without even so much as a “Pardon me.”

My son actually asked me today, in all seriousness, when we were going to put up the tree. When I reminded him that we do it the day after Thanksgiving, he replied that it’s almost Halloween, and Thanksgiving is “only, like, three weeks later”. My point is valid…he has fallen prey to the early signs of the season, and his internal clock is off-kilter. He should be having visions of candy-corns and caramel apples, but instead he’s seeing sugarplums.

Dear God, give me the resources to help my children learn to savor the Christmas spirit in the season that it belongs in. I don't want to spend the next two months falling prey to the media and the mall. I want to relax and enjoy the gatherings at my friends' houses during the month of December. I want to bake sugar cookies from scratch while Frank Sinatra croons about those J-I-N-G-L-E Bells the night before Christmas Eve. I want to sit in the living room where the only light comes from my tree and the fireplace, while getting chills up my spine as Celine Dion sings "Oh, Holy Night". You just can't enjoy these things in October.

At this rate, it might be over before it even begins. As long as I never hear one of my kids say, "Mom, when are you taking down the tree already?", I guess I'll be fine.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Coming to Terms with Present-Day Life

(I realize that this article should've been posted a month ago, but I didn't think to write about it until this week. My apologies for the untimeliness.)

Nine years ago, I moved to a small town on Long Island that is presently my home. I was newly divorced, and the small Cape Cod-style house that I purchased was just perfect for a single mother and her two small children. The large front yard was ideal for impromptu soccer and football games, not to mention tag and whiffle ball. The cozy backyard had a deck off of the dining room where I would spend many a Saturday morning sipping tea in an Adirondack chair under the trees that hung over from my neighbor’s property. The inside was small, but charming; the living room had wood floors and a wonderful brick fireplace, and the kitchen was done in a warm and comforting oak. My bedroom was on the first floor; each one of my kids had a small bedroom upstairs. I couldn’t be more grateful for my adorable little home, or more thankful for where it was located.

As the years rolled on, I eventually couldn’t go to the local supermarket without seeing someone I knew. I belonged to the Catholic Church, and apparently, so did most of the town. No matter where you went—dentist, doctor, dry cleaner—you were bound to see someone familiar. And I loved every second of it! I took great pleasure in waving to people I knew while strolling down the main street and admiring all of the beautiful homes, most of them older and some even designated landmarks. This street would be the sight of our yearly Little League Parade on opening day. I would walk along the sidewalk as my son and his friends strutted proudly down the street displaying their team banners. I remember thinking back then that life doesn’t get any better in a place like this, and I would be happy to live here for the rest of my life. I was content, and I was safe. That is, until 9/11/01.

I realize that no matter where you were on that day, be it as close as Pennsylvania or as far away as Hawaii, 9/11 gave you a new reality. I left work after the first tower fell, and raced to my cousin’s house several blocks away from my own. Together we went to our children’s schools to see if they were letting them out, which they weren’t. We decided to go to our local supermarket and stock up on canned goods and water. We perused the aisles for anything that we could store in our basements, God forbid we had to hide out below ground for any reason. When we left the store and drove down our main street on that beautiful day, all I can remember thinking was how insecure and uneasy I felt. I wondered if I would ever feel safe again.

Being so close to the events of that day changed my mentality in a way that I can not even describe. As the days went on, there was a strange stench in the air as ashes and small, feather-light particles fell sporadically from the sky. Then the funerals started…all day events for dozens of people around the area who perished in the towers. Some were from Cantor-Fitzgerald; countless others were firefighters and police officers who worked in the city but lived in and around our town. Everyone knew somebody who died in the tragedy, myself included. It was a sad, surreal time and it will be with me for as long as I live.

As it stands now, you can’t go over a bridge or through a tunnel without reading several signs describing what “strange activity” would look like, and “If you see something, say something.” I can’t help but feel that we are a giant "bulls-eye", and the scariest thing of all is that if the bridges and the tunnels are destroyed, we are stuck here on the island without a way off. My once-perfect Shangri-La has become nothing more than a prison to me, and there’s not one thing I can do about it. If my husband and I did not have ex-spouses to worry about and our kids were little, we would’ve been out of here a long time ago. Add to everything the outrageous cost of living on this island and my dream has become my nightmare. My house is worth three times what I paid for it, but the taxes in this area went up as well and have earned the honor of being the highest taxes in the nation. Don’t let me forget to mention that there are now six people living here instead of three. And we have new neighbors that moved in next door from Queens, who decided to cut down every beautiful tree in their backyard, leaving my deck the heat equivalent of Death Valley. This same neighbor actually asked us to remove a very old, large maple that’s justthisclose to his property, to which of course, we said “No way!!” (I’ve always wondered about this, anyway: Don’t people come to this area for the trees and for the fact that they don’t want to live in a cement jungle anymore? Why does everyone from the city always cut the trees down, and try to make this town look like where they came from?). Sometimes, I just want to scream in frustration. Other times, I just feel helpless and hopeless.

My husband and I have made a pact that we will move away from here when our youngest graduates high school in 4 ½ years, God willing. Whether we do it or not, we need the dream to get us through each day. Neither one of us has ever been very good at living in the matrix, which a lot of people do around here; floating around almost as if 9/11 never happened or was a dream, and that nothing horrible like that could ever happen again. My own physician told me that most of us don’t even realize the stress we’re under just existing in a post-9/11 world (for example, I never used to think about anything while crossing the previously-mentioned bridges except the upstate destination that I was headed towards. Now my whole thought pattern changes when I read the safety signs, because I’m reminded of the reality of living in NY). Our dream home will most likely be a log cabin up in the mountains with enough room for our kids and their families for generations to come. Yes, this is our vision…and as the bible says, “A man without vision shall perish.” Or in other words, as I mentioned in a previous post, “If you give up your dreams, you die.” We’re not ready for that yet, so we will keep on “keepin’ on”. It’s a matter of our sanity—and our survival.

Friday, October 06, 2006

A Day in the Life

I noticed that several people mentioned the infrequency of my posts, and it got me to thinking about the reason for my tardiness. Procrastination definitely plays a role, this I know. However, I have a very crazy life. As I sit here in my basement to type even these few words, upstairs Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra are singing “The Lady is a Tramp”, my husband is running the bathtub faucet and traipsing up and down the stairs next to me with huge buckets as he changes the water of our 90-gallon fish tank, and my stepson is in the next room playing a new rap song that he wrote and recorded. All this, and the dryer is running as well. Who can concentrate?

I knew deep in the recesses of my Word program, I had typed a description of one particular day this year because it just seemed incredibly I decided to share it with you (…please bear in mind that this was not written for a post, only for my need to vent, so the grammar may not be perfect). For those of you who ever wondered…


Wake up, start getting ready for work. My daughter says she’s ready, but takes another 3 minutes after I’ve gotten into car to actually come out, now wearing a different outfit than 5 minutes ago. We drive to the high school, she’s early for once. Go home to pick up other two kids, get my lunch, kiss husband good-bye and apologize for not being passionate the night before and falling asleep in 30 seconds flat. Inform him that I am not a man, and I need more preparation than climbing into bed to get my engine humming. Get kids off to middle school, give my son the daily lecture about not being ready on time and does he think he’ll be able to follow this rule since it’s already May and I’ve been repeating it daily since September? Ask him to please get out of the car and go around the back of it like my stepdaughter does so I can bolt to work, since he once again made me late. He argues that I will only save a few seconds than if he walks in front of my car, and although he’s probably right, I just need to feel that I’m at least that much closer to work by peeling out of the parking lot and having the kids breathe my burning rubber. Race to work, make it there with 3 minutes to spare. Get participants off of buses; copies of bus lists have everyone’s name cut off, so I try to make new ones while at least 20 out of 35 people vie for my attention about such things as runny noses, last night’s function, someone said something mean about someone else, someone’s going to a bowling dinner tonight, etc. Try very hard to validate everyone’s conversation without screaming and running for the hills. After about 20 minutes, I’m instructed to take 6 participants to another day hab site so they can spend some time there while we entertain some new kids at our site who are ready to graduate high school and move on to the “Next Step” (our program). I take them; one girl starts complaining, ready to cry, that it’s too squishy in the back seat of the van, her ankle hurts, why does she have to go to the other site, it’s not fair…within 5 minutes, someone says something that cracks her up, and she continues to laugh uncontrollably for the next 10 minutes. Drop off these 6 participants and return back to my site to pick up 4 other participants that will come to a job at a senior center in Pt. Washington. We have to leave early because of the impending HS group that’s coming, so I decide to kill time and go to WalMart to see Marie Osmond, who’s signing autographs for a new book or something. She’s supposed to be there at 11am, so I figure if we leave WalMart at 11:10, we’ll still make it to Pt. Washington Senior Center by 11:45. After listening to much griping from my guys about waiting around for someone they’ve never even heard of, we leave after realizing that it’s 11:10 and she will be late. We get into the van and head off to Port Washington. My daughter calls me on my cell phone and tells me that she doesn’t feel well, can I come and get her (no). I tell her to call back at 1:00, and I’ll see what I can do. All 4 participants fall asleep in the van; one boy is talking and snoring at the same time, if that’s possible. We finally get to Pt. Washington, and go in our usual entrance. We’re informed by some strange lady that we have to go “under the church” for the senior lunch people that we’re supposed to serve, due to the fact that the regular lunch room is decorated for someone’s anniversary party. We start wandering around all of the buildings, and end up down cement basement stairs that have no railing (she did say, “under the church”). I have two very unsteady participants, and I try to help them down the creepy steps. We get to the door at the bottom and there’s no handle, no one answering our knocks, and an extremely dark, gloomy room on the other side of the door glass. One of the senior citizens is wandering around as well; he can’t find his way either, so he tells us that he’ll go look while we try to make our way up from bottom of the stairs. He finds the location across the parking lot in the actual church (..and on the main floor, besides). We go in, and everyone has already begun eating lunch (we’re supposed to serve them). We sit down to eat our lunch; I shove my pb&j down my throat and get up to collect everyone’s garbage. One of the seniors chews food, puts it in a napkin and hands it to me. We then get up and leave, 20 minutes later. We get back to the site, and I’m rushed out to go to a “company picnic” meeting at the Plainview office that I stupidly volunteered to be a committee leader for in our site. My daughter texts me on the way there: “Can u come get me” (no). I apologize, tell her I love her and to hang in there. We discuss different things in the meeting. It ends at 2:00; the leader of meeting says, “Don’t worry, you can go home and still get paid for 2:30.” Yes, but I have my site’s van (my coordinator’s suggestion), and I only get paid until 2:15. So I race back to the site, and realize once there that I still have 5 of the participant’s books to write up. I’ll have to do them tomorrow, I figure, and I better leave to get my daughter, since it’s now 2:20. Get my daughter who is miraculously better, and now wants to drive the car. We go to nail salon to pick up her books that she left there last Friday. We go home, she immediately goes on computer, I go upstairs and eat ¼ box of cereal while picking through mail…tax return checks are in there, but not what I hoped they would be. I leave to go pick up my son. He gets into car and immediately starts asking if I can take him to the game store because he has early birthday money, it’s burning a hole in his wallet and he needs to spend it NOW (he didn’t actually say that, but he may as well have). I say no, not until his tutor leaves later on. He sighs and says that I would always do this for my daughter and starts with the guilt crap. I dismiss him, and he immediately forgets about it to tell me to look at a video on his phone, which I can’t do because I’m actually driving. So I pull over, look at a video of something that only he understands, and say, “Oh, that’s nice!” Suddenly, someone with a gas scooter goes flying past the open passenger window, scaring the pants off of both of us. My son laughs for 5 minutes, because he thought it was a lawnmower doing 50mph. We go home. I decide to start paying some bills and figure I’d better get the charities out of the way because I’ve been using their address labels for about 8 months and never sent them any money. I realize after a while that my dog, Freedom, has an appointment for a lump on his leg in 15 minutes, so I rush him out of the door while my other dog starts barking and running around like crazy because it’s not him going out. We get to the vet, and Freedom immediately pees like a racehorse onto the floor and the entry mat. They have to call someone in to clean it, while I stand there embarrassed because every person in the waiting room has obviously never seen a dog pee before, judging from the horrified looks on their faces. In the waiting room there is a cat in a basket (yes he’s real, and he just sits in a basket), guinea pigs, hamsters, an iguana and a very friendly, loose parrot that Freedom decided he wanted to taste—so they put us in a room by ourselves to wait for the vet. At this point, Free gets so nervous, he pees and starts to crouch for a poop, to which I screamed, “NO!!” and one little piece fell out. I scrounged around for paper towels, picked it up and wrapped it tightly. He paced and paced, all the while shedding hair like ticker-tape confetti, most of it landing on my clothes (why am I wearing black sweatpants?). I realize he probably has to go badly, so I take him outside where he makes such a mushy poop that I can’t even pick it up with the paper towel I brought out. Not to mention the 5 minute pee he took on a tree…I think he was a camel in another life, he holds a lot of water. We finally go back in and see the doctor, who loves Free but thinks he has a bad cancer from oldness…$200 later, we leave with antibiotics, powder, and the knowledge that he needs surgery for another $500. And if they find the bad cancer, he’ll need chemo. I go home to find my son with the tutor, who sympathizes with Freedom’s fate. My husband is there, getting angry at the cost of the vet and the unnecessary comment that we should put an old dog through chemo. My stepdaughter’s mother keeps calling and wondering where she is (we are too; we just figured that her gymnastics practice went on long because of a meet tomorrow). And my daughter surfaces to tell me she’s going out with my favorite person, KS (a boy she’s liked since she’s 12 who constantly leads her on). And, can she have money? I give her $3 and my son throws a fit that see, he’s right, I only give to his sister. The house is a mess, I’m trying to heat up leftovers, and all of a sudden I feel goo on my bare foot and realize that one of the dogs just threw up in the kitchen and I stepped in it. To which the tutor gets hysterical laughing. We eat, and I tell my son I can take him now. We go….

That’s how it ended, most likely because something ELSE came up that night to interrupt my writing! However, we did find my stepdaughter, my son did get his video game, my dog is still alive (so is the parrot), and we all lived happily ever after.

Monday, October 02, 2006

A First (And Last) Time For Everything

I usually consider myself a fairly “earthy” sort of person. I really enjoy nature; so much so that I drive my kids and friends crazy just admiring something as minute as a late October bloom on a fading rosebush, or a floating autumn leaf with blazing reds and oranges covering it’s delicate skin. I was absolutely thrilled this past June when a family of Baltimore orioles decided to build a nest on a tree branch in my front yard! Never having seen them in this area before, I relished watching all of their activity early in the morning while sitting on a bench, relaxing with a hot cup of tea. For the last 17 years, our annual family vacation has taken place in Lake George, NY, in a modest cabin amongst the fragrant, tall evergreens with a wonderful view of the crystal-blue lake. Yes, nature is something that usually brings me peace of mind, and a feeling of spirituality, a connection to the earth that I can’t explain.

Because of my love of the great outdoors, I thought that it would be no problem to go camping with my husband, something that I had never done before in my entire life—strange, because I really do appreciate all that this wonderful earth has to offer. What I didn’t realize is that most of what nature has to offer is better off being admired from a distance—a very sizeable distance.

At some point in what I’m convinced was a very inebriated conversation, my husband and his brother decided that they should take their camping-virgin wives to a remote spot that they had accidentally found earlier this year in upstate NY for a weekend of rugged camping. I was very wary at first, as I usually prefer to wash my pots and pans in filtered running water, not a protozoan-filled lake. And of course, there’s nothing like using an actual toilet with tissue paper as opposed to squatting by the base of a tree and using leaves. As the official camping day approached, I began to have feelings of dread. How am I going to handle not being able to shower or wash my face for two days? I guess this means no makeup…that’s a scary thought. So, with baby wipes in tow and a few of my daughter’s Pond’s facial wipes on hand, we packed up our small bags and closed up the house.

We decided to leave at 6:30 p.m. instead of 4 p.m. so as not to get stuck in major NY traffic. We went to my brother- and sister-in-law’s house to pick them up, and once he was finished packing everything except his After Nine tuxedo, we left. After doling out walkie-talkies, my brother-in-law, R., drove my husband in his car, and I drove my car with my sister-in-law, E. We had lots of catching up to do, and the ride seemed to be going pretty quick to me, since we were going towards Lake George and I’ve made that trip so many times. We stopped once to get gas and use the restroom, and once to relax and eat dinner. By the time we drove through Lake George, it was 12:15 a.m.…a little late, but we purposely did take our time.

We drove along the road that was supposed to lead us to our destination for about 20 minutes until my husband walkie-talkied me and said that nothing looked familiar. We all pulled over into a parking lot, and R. called up OnStar to help out (not my mode of choice; I prefer a good, old fashioned map myself, but since my husband and R. had no idea where they were going, it wouldn’t matter if we had NASA guiding our course). OnStar said we were going in the wrong direction, so we backtracked and went down another road. Word to the wise: Don’t trust OnStar. Especially if they sound confused, and take over 15 minutes to give you some sort of idea of where to go. We were led up a mountain road that became more desolate and dark with every passing minute. When we finally passed a sign for a town that I knew was about 30 miles east of the area that my husband said the campground was in, we decided to turn around.

On our way back down the mountain, we encountered a state trouper and asked him for some help. He took out a pen and drew on the map that we had in the back of the car, telling us “exactly” where to go. Hallelujah! It was now closing in on 2:15 a.m., and we were ready to crash. How we were going to set up camp at this late hour was beyond us, but we looked at it as some sort of “Little Rascals” adventure, and figured we’d wing it as long as the turtles didn’t march into the lake with our lanterns.

Caution to every tourist visiting the Adirondack region: Don’t trust the State Troupers. They’re bored. There’s not much going on up there, so they need to create their own excitement. As we drove down yet another road with no lights, no cars and nowhere to pull over for what seemed to be an hour (hey wait…it’s 3:15 a.m.…it WAS an hour!), we realized again that we were not headed anywhere near where our destination was, and that the State Trouper was probably laughing his fool head off by this time, knowing that he sent us to North Deliverance, USA. E. started feeling very uncomfortable stomach-wise from eating at the afore-mentioned rest stop, and was starting to get upset. She walkie-talkied R. and started yelling at him about his lack of a sense of direction, his lack of consideration, her horrendous stomach ache and something regarding the heads of turtles. He proceeded to beep back and a lovely fight ensued for about 5 minutes until we happened upon a mirage in the middle of all that darkness.

I guess mountain people need to relax and have fun just as much as the next person, but we found it awfully strange that there was a bar in the middle of nowhere and we hadn’t passed a gas station for 45 minutes. E. was happy that she could finally use a bathroom, but when she viewed the patrons leaning on each other to keep each other standing upright and the grand total of 12 teeth in the entire room, she decided to just let loose right there in the parking lot. She wiped with some Dunkin’ Donuts napkins left over from the onset of our trip, and ran back into the car. We concluded that there was no one in that bar sober enough to wonder who the stool-dropper was; they’d probably all be worried that it was one of them, and they just didn’t remember. Since there was no Dunkin’ Donuts within 50 or so miles of this town, we figured the added element of the commercial napkins would throw their brains into a tizzy.

As if things couldn’t get any worse, it started to pour, and at one point we had to swerve our cars so as not to hit what R. thought was a baby bear, and I thought was an alien. At 4 a.m., we passed by a popular ski slope and happened upon a small Alpine-themed motel. There was no one in the office, so my husband switched spots with E., and we all curled up as best as we could in our car seats to sleep. At about 7 a.m., I awoke to a tattooed, Harley-Davidson tough guy staring into our windshield. I nudged my husband in a panic, and he opened the window. This mean-looking thug actually turned out to be the owner of the motel, and in his very Long Island accent (thank God!), he empathetically asked what time we got in. He apologized for sleeping in his house next to the motel and not above the office as he usually does, but he said he couldn’t imagine anyone coming to this area on an “off” weekend, in the rain, after 1am. Ha. For $30, he let us stay in a room with 3 queen sized beds until we were ready to start our trek to find a campsite that E. and I now figured was a figment of our husbands’ over-active or liquor-induced imaginations.

After catching a quick nap and freshening up a bit, we hit the road again at about 9:30 a.m. to a camping destination that the Harley guy said we’d really like, since E. and I had had our fill of trying to find some delusional fantasyland that may not even exist. As we approached the area, ominously called “Thirteenth Lake”, our husbands realized with glee that this was actually the campsite that they had been looking for all along! After conversing about the chances of us ending up there after all we went through, and how the men could even forget the name of that lake, we pulled into a gravel parking lot with about 3 other cars. We started to unpack in the rain, which thankfully subsided to just a sprinkle here and there as we took almost 3 hours to set up camp. E. reminded me that we needed to sign our names into a journal-type book that was housed in a compartment on a small, wooden stand that was put there for our own safety in case we got lost in the woods. I was a little put off when I saw that Mike Meyers had signed in, but I assured myself that we were probably amongst hikers with a good sense of humor.

There was no denying the beauty of Thirteenth Lake. The mountains were breathtaking and covered with evergreens mixed with trees whose leaves had begun to change. The lake was peaceful and quiet, save for the sound of faint cricket chirps and the occasional call of a loon or a hawk. There was a beaver dam and felled trees that they had excavated all on their own. Since this was state land and not an “official” campground, throughout the day we would see scattered hikers and fishermen coming through the small trail next our setup.

After a deliciously campy lunch of hot dogs and hamburgers cooked on the campfire, we took turns on a raft and rowed out into the lake. We hiked just a little to sense our surroundings, and conversed with a couple in their 50’s that were backpacking their way up the mountain to camp out, a first for the woman as well. As evening approached, E. and I popped open some wine, and the boys got out their martini-shaker (what camping trip would be complete without one?) for their mixed vodka drinks. We cooked filet mignon steaks and some more hot dogs for dinner, and wondered how our digestive systems would hold up for the remainder of the trip. We hauled any food remains and garbage to the car, against the advice of one hiker who suggested that we hang our food from a tree to discourage the bears, as they’ve been known to actually break into cars when they’re hungry enough. We all decided that we’d rather have the bear destroy our vehicles than to have him sit with us staring at a bag of scraps hanging in the air, waiting for us to lower it down so he can have a midnight snack. After all, he might get impatient and decide that one of us will suffice.

About the time that we realized that we couldn’t see 5 feet past the campfire and the lake had completely been engulfed by the darkness, we heard our first coyote howl. E. became paralyzed with fear, holding a flashlight in each hand, and I started to chop some wood with an axe to get my mind off of the impending night that I would have to spend with nothing separating me from the wildlife except the thin nylon of my tent. The guys, of course, loved every minute of this adventure, although I tend to think that vodka can give one a false sense of security, not to mention a real sense of stupidity. After a few hours of playing “Guess the Noise Coming from the Woods”, we decided that the fastest way to daylight was through a good night’s sleep, and we retreated as couples into two tents.

I was feeling a little jumpy at first, but the continuing strains of “Ghetto Superstar” coming from my brother-in-law’s cell phone ringtone library next door helped to drown out the lonely coyotes and put my mind at ease. I had just fallen asleep when I heard a faint scratching at the tent next to my head. Since we had kept the campfire on for light, the shadow on the tent wall exposed a leaf that was slowly drifting down the outside of the tent. I decided to help it along, and flicked it with my thumb and forefinger. The wind started to pick up, and the rain started to fall again. I heard R. (or was it E.?) snoring, and there was finally enough background noise to lull me to sleep again.

I again awakened to another leaf skimming the side of the tent, and as I turned over to flick it off, I realized that the shadow of this leaf was heading upwards, and had four legs and a tail. I screamed and my husband woke abruptly, looking bewildered and reaching for his Machete next to the blow-up mattress.

“It’s just a lizard, what’s wrong with you?! Go back to sleep!”

“I can’t sleep! Whose idea was this?! I can’t stand this anymore! Please tell me it’s after 5 a.m., so I know that this night is almost over!”

He lit up his watch, and I saw 2:45. Oh well, I thought to myself. It’s not 5 a.m., but at least I must’ve slept a little.

“It’s 12:45.”

“No it’s not, it says 2:45!!”

“Well, you must’ve missed the ‘1’, look.”

All I could think was, how can this be? It’s only 12:45, and daylight won’t peek through this pitch dark for at least another 5 hours. How am I ever going to fall back asleep??

We lay there quietly, trying to ignore the fact that now that the wind died down and the rain stopped, we can hear the coyotes loud and clear. They’ve been calling each other all night. Haven’t they found each other yet? Apparently, it’s so dark that they can’t even see each other, and they have to play a game of howling Marco Polo until they do. The minutes rolled slowly by, and I wondered why I didn’t hit any of my friends up for a Valium before I left.

Just when I finally started to relax and drift off into a not-so-peaceful slumber, I heard the footsteps. What was even scarier was that my husband heard them, too, and sat straight up.

“What is that?!?!?” I inquired in a panicked whisper.

“SSHHHH!!!! Don’t SAY anything!!!” He anxiously whispered back.


I felt as if I were going to faint…give me a bear, give me Bigfoot for crying out loud, but don’t let there be some deranged nut walking around in that darkness looking for unsuspecting campers to dismember!!

“Stop it!!! It’s not Mike Meyers!!! It’s probably a bear, just BE QUIET!!!”

Whatever this creature was, it began sniffing between the tents, which actually put me in a panic that we really were dealing with a large mammal of some sort. Hopefully one that already ate dinner, I thought to myself. We waited for what seemed an eternity even though it was only about 5 minutes, and finally, the footsteps headed towards the woods and out of our camp. My husband and I tried to convince each other that a bear wouldn’t just scratch open our tent for no reason and eat us (even though he told me to get my head away from the side of the tent), and that they really didn’t like to eat people anyway, only berries and fish. Yes, that sounds good! Berries and fish, not humans! Okay, let’s huddle real close and pray with all of our might that we will fall asleep and wake to a glorious, sunny, critter-free morning.

We finally woke up around 7:30 a.m.…but not to glorious sun, only more ominous clouds and occasional sprinkles. The rain held off long enough for us to cook a delicious breakfast of eggs and bacon on the campfire, but as we were packing up to leave, the skies opened up and drenched not only all of our belongings, but us as well. Even the men were exhausted and anxious to get on the road, so after about 2 hours of soggy, muddy packing, we headed down the mountain. Good bye, Thirteenth Lake. It was quite an experience, but I will never visit your human-void, critter-laden shores ever again.

As we made our way back towards Lake George, the skies started to clear up as if to say that our nightmare was truly over. We decided to spend the day in town, and after some light shopping, a nice lunch and a great game of laser tag, we started on our journey back to Long Island. As we were driving, my husband asked me to tell him honestly how I felt about my first camping experience. Although I don’t think he was completely surprised, I know that he was slightly disappointed when I told him that it was probably my last. I assured him that although I enjoy sharing new adventures with him, to me this was the equivalent of dragging him to the mall at 6:00 a.m. for Macy’s One-Day sale, trying on 12 different outfits, 24 pairs of shoes and finally ending up at the Estee Lauder counter for a total makeover, complete with full facial hair removal.

Some things in life are strictly there for men to enjoy and I believe that camping is one of them--along with the Ultimate Fighting championship, Jackass movies and AC/DC. Other things, such as Glamour magazine, Victoria’s Secret and Nora Ephron movies are best enjoyed by women (alright, maybe with the exception of Victoria’s Secret). On the slim chance that I become melancholy for sleeping in the great outdoors, I’ll stick to pitching a tent in my own backyard, where I only have to worry about the opossums under my shed. On second thought