We didn’t have a lot of extravagant family vacations growing up. My mom stayed at home, while my Dad went to work. Mom would take odd jobs here and there to help bring in supplemental income, but we didn’t have a large surplus for frivolities. Usually our vacations consisted of places within driving distance. Places like the SeaTac airport where we’d spend hours riding the tram and watching planes gallop down the runway. This was back before security was tighter than the eye of a needle.
While we lived on a shoe string budget my parents still provided some great adventures. One of our greatest ones was that of the Steam Boat Twinkie, an inflatable yellow raft barely big enough for two full-grown adults, let alone one full-grown adult and his two unsuspecting children. Dad had found it on sale at the Pay & Pack hardware store, a business that has long since gone the way of the Dodo.
Our merry adventure began at Steamboat Lake, just east of the Cascade Mountains in Washington. In the middle of the lake was a Pygmy Island. I asked Dad if we could paddle out to it. He said “sure,” then went back to furiously pumping up yellow Twinkie with the bicycle pump he’d brought. Mom unfolded her puke colored lawn chair. She set it next to the lake, sat down and burrowed into her book.
I asked her if she was going to go with us.
“No, but I’ll sit here and wave to you from shore,” she said, without looking up from her book.
At last the hour had come, Dad declared. He hoisted the raft above his head and marched it down to shore. It made a wet plopping noise as it landed on the water. He held it steady for us while we climbed in before he got in. Using the plastic paddle Dad pushed us away from shore.
We glided out onto the water and set a course for Pygmy Island. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, nor a tear in the eye, when we left. There were nothing but smiles and the feeling that all was right in the world, if only for a brief tender moment. Mom gave us a warm wave and smile before nestling back into her book.
Dad started a slow steady rhythm with the paddle. Droplets of water hit the sides of the raft and occasionally my bare legs. I tried to adjust, which made the boat rock back and forth. Dad told me to keep still, something I was never good at as a boy. I was always fidgeting.
“But you keep dripping water on me,” I whined.
“I don’t care. Sit still,” he barked.
As we approached the island Dad looked for a safe place to land. It was surrounded by jagged rocks. We sat for a bit enjoying the bucolic view. It was tranquil. Serene. The smell of fresh air. The sound of nature…and bubbles. Dad glanced over the side of our ship. A steady stream of bubbles was erupting from our back-side.
Dad began swinging the paddle side to side like a samurai sword. Water flew about us.
“I’m getting wet,” I complained. Water crept over the stern of our vessel and went down the back of my pants. I shot up out of my seat. “My bottom’s soggy!”
“Sit down,” Dad yelled, quickly pushing me down.
My sister Rose didn’t appear too concerned. She sat with a blank expression in the bow of the farting Twinkie while I kept standing up and Dad kept pushing me down, a game of whack-a-mole on the high seas.
Out of nowhere the sky turned black. We all looked up. The sky opened up and sheets of water began to fall down on us. There was no way my Dad could swim to shore with one child on each arm. He had no other choice but to paddle to shore like a mad dog.
By the time we reached shore the raft was nearly deflated, our cockpit was filled with water, and no one was smiling. Mom waded out into the water to help bring us in.
While mom helped pack us into the car Dad strangled the air out of Steam Boat Twinkie with his cold, shaking, blistered hands.
The ride home was a long wet one. Not much was said. Mom would snicker every once in a while. Dad would shake his head, still steamed. As I gazed out the window of the car I wondered what other families vacations were like. Did anyone ever get that Disney ideal, or does this same crazy Griswold family vacation shit happen to every family?
They say he who finds a wife finds great gain. I say he who finds a wife with a daughter finds even greater gain. He also finds privacy to be scarce. While I enjoyed my past life as a bachelor I wouldn’t trade it for what I have now. I relish being a husband and father. Lola, my 8 year old dahjah, brings much joy and entertainment into my life. She’s witty like her mother, but has a loud personality, and a deep sultry voice. She’s also a quick learner. Usually it takes a while for a child to learn the concept of knocking. Unless you put them on an accelerated learning path.
It was a typical week night in the Axelrod household. Around the time when we all start getting ready for bed. I turned on the shower head. It hissed to life. Steam began to billow up to the bathroom ceiling. I de-robed and threw back the shower curtain, about to step into a warm cascading waterfall to wash away the remains of the day, when I realized I left my toiletry bag in the bedroom. I don’t like starting my nightly routine without having everything I need first.
The towel was hanging from its hook. My better judgment said “hey, maybe you should put on a towel first. You are completely naked after all.” Whereas the fly by the seat of your pants part of me said, “Pants? Who need em?”
I agreed with my latter half. It would only take 5 seconds. With that I brushed aside my better judgment and flew without any pants into the bedroom to retrieve my toiletry bag. I was about three-quarters of the way to my work bag when I noticed the bedroom door was cracked. Odd. I could have sworn I shut it before going into the bathroom. I should probably close it before someone comes in.
No sooner did I have the thought when a little pair of feet came racing through the hallway toward the door. I saw the window from the corner of my eye, wondering if I had time to jump through it. There was also the bed behind me. I could have time to roll my up in the blankets like a burrito, or cover my nakedness with my wife’s teddy bear, Rufus.
They say in life threatening situations there are two responses that are triggered. Fight or flight. There’s also a third response, to freeze.
When Lola burst through the door we looked at it each other in wide eyed, wide mouth horror. I never wanted it to be this way. I wanted the first man she saw naked to be her husband on her wedding night. We both screamed while I dove into a crouching tiger, hidden penis stance.
She ran back to her room.
“I have to go?” She frantically told her father who she had been talking to on FaceTime.
“I have a lot of homework to do, and I still have to shower and brush my teeth,” she said then abruptly hung up on him.
My heart was pounding I figured the first thing I should probably do is tell her mother what happened. She may be concerned. I grabbed the towel off the hook in the bathroom, wrapping it around my waist, wishing I had done so in the first place. My wife was in the kitchen cleaning up.
“Honey, you may need to go talk to Lola,” I told her.
“Why, what happened?” She sounded concerned.
When I told her what happened she couldn’t stop laughing. Not the reaction I was expecting.
When we went to Lola’s bedroom to console her we found her hiding under her purple blanket, where she stayed for the remainder of the night. No amount of soothing would bring her out.
In the morning as I was getting Lola’s snacks packed for school I felt anxious. Finally her door opened. She staggered out looking like a purple ghost. I tried to console her, telling her it was ok, that these things happen. She was still too embarrassed to look at me.
At school she kissed her mom goodbye. Instead of hugging me goodbye, as she normally does, she shook my hand and said, “Nice to meet you,” as if I was a stranger she was meeting for the first time. Then she stepped out of the car and hurried into the school yard.
Usually it takes a while for a child to learn the concept of knocking. Unless they walk in and see you naked.