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Wednesday, September 22, 2010



We recently went camping with our neighbors at lovely Schroon Lake in the Adirondack Park area of upstate New York. If you really want to get away by yourself and get in touch with the outdoors, take your family camping once in awhile. What is lovelier than sitting in the shade, reading the paper as nature hustles and bustles around you? Eventually the rest of your family will find your campsite, but you might be able to get through the Sports section. There is nothing like the aroma of burning wood to greet you as you unpack your car. To be honest that burning smell turned out to be our clutch. The sounds of the wild permeate the scene: mostly other couples arguing. I thought how it would make a great reality show: “Housewives of Schroon Lake.”

It takes a little while to set things up, and I’m sure most of the couples were arguing about where to put up the tent, hanging the tarp, how to situate the kitchen facilities. But at our campsite, I am for once the king. The reason? I am the only one who knows how to tie a bowline knot. No campsite can long survive without a bowline knot holding everything up. At the campsite I answer to NO ONE, which basically means that I don’t know how to work my cell phone. As it happened there was no cell service there anyway, and we had to resort to communicating the old fashioned way: email.

We sat around that evening drinking beer by a fire, wondering if the office was supposed to be on fire. Normally we would tell ghost stories, but we didn’t know any ghost stories. Instead we recounted all the ways in which we had abused children. Paul admitted to spilling beer on a baby. He was carrying a full cup in one hand and a bulky bambino in the other. My guess is that someone asked him what time it was and that’s all she wrote. If he wore his watch on the other hand that baby would have a welt on its head the size of a golf ball. I told about the time I was at Kenny and Claudia’s party and I felt that the children were not toasting the marshmallows correctly on the fire. I tried to demonstrate the most efficient method (basically sticking it into the coals and singeing it beyond recognizability), and when I went to grab the kid’s marshmallow stick the little white cylinder went careening about 10 feet and landed on another kid’s leg, where the gooey meteorite stuck long enough to give him second degree burns. All night long, moms were pointing at me, whispering to one another and shaking their heads.

Campground restrooms are not a welcoming sight. Every visit is a new opportunity to commune with all types of bugs and other wildlife. I saw this cootie climbing up my commode that must have been four inches long. This creepy crapper crawler must have been training for this day for months, his Mount Everest moment. He was prevented from reaching the summit by the Times crossword puzzle. During that time a spider had built a web from my leg to the door. Then when you go to wash your hands, there are never paper towels in any campground. If you’re lucky they have a blower, which sounds a lot luckier than it actually is. The thing takes a half hour longer than just wiping your hands on your pants. At least there are no automatic paper towel dispensers. When did we, as a society, become too weak to remove paper towels from a holder? I put my hand under one of those and NOTHING EVER HAPPENS. Then as I am walking away I hear the noise, I turn and there is the towel. I run back over and the machine sucks the towel back up. I coax it back out, dry one hand and try to get another out to wipe my other hand, but it feels I should have gotten the job done with one. I have to go away and return disguised as someone else. On the plus side I pass by the urinal and set off the automatic flusher 3 times.

That reminds me I am thinking about putting separate men’s and women’s rooms in my house. Our bathroom requirements seem to overlap only minimally. For instance whenever I’m at someone else’s house and go to take a pee, I find that the wife has installed a fuzzy cover over the toilet seat. Guys: you know what happens next. You put the toilet seat up, and let her rip, and right in the middle the thing falls down and the startling sound causes your directional gyroscope to go haywire.

Anyway, it was time for bed. You don’t realize that your tent is pitched on an incline if you’ve been drinking; you assume it’s just YOU listing to the left. But when you wake up you are both huddled in one corner, and everything round in shape that you happened to bring along has rolled there too.

One time we heard some rustling noises outside our tent. It sounded like something large, and we speculated quietly as to what it might be. I suggested that it could be a rustler, because of the noise. My wife thought it might be a skunk or an opossum, but what if it was a coyote or a bobcat, or even a bear? Luckily we were armed, since I had one of those camp tools that has a pair of pliers and a knife that I can’t actually get my fingernail to coax out of its niche. My wife thought I had better go chase it away whatever it was, or vice versa, either way she is a winner. It turned out to be a cat, but it was pretty big and possibly wild, and there was a shape in its belly that might have been that of a six year-old boy, so I let it be and got back in the tent. I thought it was best to err on the side of caution, although I am not picky and will do it just about anywhere.

Cooking breakfast at the campground is one of life’s little pleasures. Food in general tastes so much better, maybe because you have to work so much harder for it. The last time we fired up the cookstove, there was a tiny ripped gasket and the whole thing caught on fire and almost blew up the propane canister. I knew we were almost out of gas, so I was reluctant to put out the fire before at least cooking the eggs, but hysterical screaming and yelling really inhibits my creativity in the kitchen. As a public service let me remind you always to plan an escape route before starting any fire around an open propane tank.

Incidentally, the Adirondack Park is really a system of private and public lands that according to my map spans an area approximately six inches by four inches, although much bigger in person. The State of New York sought to buy up the almost 3 million original acres because it was thought that deforestation would destroy the Erie Canal and economically cripple the state. The Iroquois Nation occupied a good portion of the land. For the most part they had sided with the British during the Revolutionary War, not realizing that there would be hardly a decent restaurant if they won. As a punishment, most were displaced to reservations in the Midwest, yet if they had left them where they were (namely our campsite) they would have been more effectively punished by the constant barking of a little white poodle-type dog that I am ashamed to say I often called a particular disgusting name in its own language.

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