This is a story about when I went up north again last weekend for my friend Natasha’s birthday. It’s also a story about how Dee-Dee and I almost died.
This is when we first got into the kayaks and decided that we should head toward the calm waters of the channel.
This is when we made it to the calm waters of the channel.
This is when Dee-Dee tried to take a picture but filmed me instead.
This is when she did it again.
This is when we were in awe of nature as we came upon a flock of ducks on the lake.
This is when we realized that they were decoys and we had just kayaked into a duck-hunter’s lair.
This is when Dee-Dee didn’t understand why I was turning around so fast.
This is when I yelled , “THEY HAVE GUNS! They are hunting! Those are not real ducks! THOSE GUYS HAVE GUNS!”
This is when, for the one millionth time, we got really quiet and just took in how incredibly gorgeous it was.
This is when we decided to head back and quickly realized that the wind had picked up substantially.
This is when Dee-Dee was beached by the wind.
This is when Dee grabbed onto the back of my kayak.
This is when I tried to tow her back to safety.
This is when my lower back gave out and I told her to save herself. She totally did.
This is what we did when we got back from almost being killed by hunters.
The newton is the basic unit of force.
The mole is the basic unit of substance.
The pascal is the basic unit of pressure.
The chopstick is the basic unit of fun.
And at its peak, last night reached 89 gigachopsticks, nearing dangerous levels. Fortunately for me, I just upped my capacity a few weeks ago to 1 terachopstick, so I was under no risk of system shutdown.
It all began with the happiest of text messages on Monday night, as I sat alone at an Italian restaurant outside my hotel in Portland, sipping some orphan wine and jotting down notes for my meeting the next day.
if ur not too jet lagged do u want 2 grab a quick beer?
It was Vahid. I looked at my watch, looked at my meeting notes, looked at my watch again, and replied:
my curfew is 11pm. lets drink!
My curfew was quickly broken as Vahid gave me a sneak preview of what he had in store for all of us on Wednesday. Drinks and food and pinball and karaoke – a certain recipe for fun. For the next two days, I hoarded quarters at every opportunity.
Finally, on Wednesday night, I met Vahid, Brandon, Sibyl, and her BF for dinner, where we quickly fell into our routine of drinking, eating, temporary tattooing, and cruelly text messaging people who weren’t there.
This night was special, though, because at the stroke of midnight, it would be Sibyl’s birthday.
“I hate surprises,” Sibyl said, “So don’t do anything to surprise me.”
Vahid didn’t look up from the text messages he kept sending, but let slip an evil grin. About 20 minutes later, one of Seattle’s finest walked in the door and sat down, at which point we all expressed our joy by taking turns feeding him.
All my curly-haired boys sitting at one table… I almost cried. Brandon doesn’t like to show his emotion, so he lets his tattoos do it for him. Five lonely, deadly teardrops.
After dinner, we all headed to a local bar for some karaoke, where Asia finally joined the crew. Vahid and I started off the evening singing the longest and most difficult song in the entire universe, Paradise by the Dashboard Light. There was virtually no background track, so it was kind of like we sang it a capella. And although Meatloaf is typically not meant to be sung a capella, I think we managed just fine. The rest of our table thought otherwise.
When Asia got an entire bachelorette party onto the dance floor with her spot-on rendition of Bust a Move, we knew that the bar had been raised. Brandon had never sung karaoke before and swore he wouldn’t attempt it unless they had Jim Croce’s Operator. Being a karaoke virgin, he didn’t understand how entirely likely it was that they had the song in their repertoire, so when we told him it was there, he just smiled an uncomfortably toothy grin.
“What’s Dustin singing? If I’m singing Operator, he has to sing something too! Just pick something for him – Christ, he’s been looking through that book for an hour!”
Dustin rolled his eyes, sipped his Apple Pucker and ginger ale, and said he wasn’t going to sing.
He flipped the pages angrily, “They only have one John Mayer song. How can they only have one John Mayer song?”
“Please tell me you aren’t going to sing a John Mayer song.”
“Well, no. But how lame that they only have one. Sheesh.”
“Here – why don’t you sing Edie Brickell?”
“Geez, do they teach you kids nothing these days?”
“That’s old person music, Jenny.”
I almost started to lay a beat down on Dustin, but it was Sibyl’s birthday and I didn’t want to ruin the festive mood at the table. She was exempt from karaoke since they didn’t have her favorite Joan Jett song, so by the end of the evening, everyone else had sung except for Dustin. He finally caved to the pressure and put in a song – a secret he wouldn’t reveal to anyone.
Eventually, his name was called and I shrieked as I saw that he was singing Paul McCartney’s Blackbird.
“Ohmigod I love that song! Wait… where’s Brandon? Where’s Asia? They’re going to miss it!”
The music cued up, Dustin stepped to the mic, and out of his cherubic mouth came the voice of an angel. He was like the male Charlotte Church.
“Blackbird singing in the dead of niiiight… take these broken wings and learn to fly. All your life…”
It was so lovely, and so incredibly sad all at once, because up until that point, I had no idea that Dustin was a castrato. It’s such a barbaric practice, but after hearing the sweet sounds of this man-boy, I now understand that the Italians had it right.
As it neared midnight, we decided it was time to finish off the evening with a pinball rematch. Asia dominated at pinball the last time I was in Portland, and I was determined to make a better showing this time. My first mistake was letting her pick the machine, because clearly she had somehow rigged The Addams Family machine to make all my balls go straight down the middle and all of her balls go into the BONUS! BONUS! BONUS! FREE GAME! 4,000,000 EXTRA POINTS! COUSIN IT TRIPLE SPECIAL BONUS! YOU JUST WON AN ALL-EXPENSE PAID CRUISE TO COZUMEL BONUS!
Every game ended the same: 20,000,000 for her and 135,000 for me.
My other big mistake was ever playing pinball with a left-handed person in the first place. Clearly pinball machines are unfairly set to make the balls shoot toward the left flipper. Left-handed people have everything so easy in life, it makes me crazy.
After losing my fifth straight game to Asia, I realized that I was thinking too much. Sometimes your eyes prevent you from really seeing things, so I decided to channel my inner Tommy and see how I would do blindfolded.
“Brandon – you will be my eyes. Just tell me when to hit the flippers and I’ll let my other senses take over.”
In retrospect, I probably should have asked Asia to be my eyes, since Brandon had lost to her every time as well, but I did manage to beat my previous score somehow, even though I’m pretty sure I never once hit the ball.
I didn’t fare much better on the other games – Asteroid, Dig Dug, Burger Time, Dance Dance Revolution, Fake Tetris. But I’m proud to say that I owned Ms. Pacman. Owned her, I say. Stick with what you know, I guess.
At 2:00am, the game room/bar finally closed down, so we had no choice but to end our fun-filled evening. A few unspent quarters jangled in my pocket as we walked down Couch Street to Dustin’s car. Several good-bye hugs later and I was sleeping soundly in my king-sized hotel bed, dreaming of the day I finally find a right-handed pinball machine and beat Asia. And that will be the day I tip the scales at an unprecedented 100 gigachopsticks. Until then, I’ll always have Ms. Pacman.
This week, I’m flying out to my Pacific Northwest home-away-from-home for work, and as soon as I get back, I’m heading back up to my cabin-away-from-home again with Dee-Dee, Nat, and a whole assortment of other characters to celebrate Natasha’s birthday.
Throughout the course of these two trips, I hope that I will encounter much drinking, karaoke, fishing, mystery, and intrigue. But in the meantime, I have an enormous favor to ask. Since the introduction of Pickles the Cat into my family, my other two cats – Kodo and Podo – have become insanely jealous. Today, one of them chewed off the shoelaces to my running shoes and another one vomited on my kitchen counter. Now that I think about it, those two events might have been related.
I think they’re just crying out for attention, and I know Dr. Spock would tell me to not reinforce their bad behavior, but he’s dead and I’m alive, and ain’t nothing gonna change that.
When I try to think back to when their outbursts began, it was actually long before Pickle’s arrival. I kind of think it started when I changed their names from Mr. Lionel Richie and Ms. Dionne Warwick to Kodo and Podo. Maybe they liked the flash… I’m not sure. It’s not like they ever sing. But whatever.
So I figure it’s probably time to change their names again, and that’s where you come in. I’ve got a few options below, but am really open to new ideas. As with the last time we did this, here’s a brief bio on each of them:
Weight: 13 lbs
Age: 7 years
Best Feature: Prominent nose
Likes: Trying to escape out the back door, sitting in window plotting escape route, medicinal catnip (for glaucoma), napping, attacking his sister, eating shoelaces, looking at spiders but never actually doing anything about them
Dislikes: Not being able to escape, collars, showers, hats of any sort, being placed underneath the laundry basket
Weight: 10 lbs
Age: 7 years
Best Feature: Pearly white teeth
Likes: Apples, screaming, pacing in circles, eating plastic grocery bags, licking yogurt cartons, napping, stretching, feathers
Dislikes: Vacuum cleaners, ironing boards being opened, collars, bonnets, dishtowels tied around neck like a cape, manicures
So dear friends, please help me.
Q: What should I name my cats?
a) Komodo and Pagoda
b) Puff and Stuff
c) Barack and Hillary
d) Donnie and Marie
e) Bootsie and Mittens
f) Fat Boy and Little Girl
g) Other (please explain)
#17 – Sid & Marty Krofft
17a. H.R. Pufnstuf
17b. Sigmund and the Sea Monsters
17c. Land of the Lost
17d. ElectraWoman and DynaGirl (Thank you Gary, for reminding me that Marlena from Days of Our Lives played the role of ElectraWoman)
#18 – The GiggleSnort Hotel (this will only ring a bell to Chicagoans… I don’t think it was ever syndicated)
Thank you, YouTube, for letting me know I didn’t make this sh*t up.
“Oh, Jenny – before you head back to Chicago, look in the laundry room. I picked something up for you at a rummage sale.”
“Ohmigod! What the hell is that?”
“Isn’t it awful?”
“It’s seriously the creepiest thing I’ve ever seen!”
“Do you want it?”
Still life with kitten.
Silly kitten. Where are you going?
Hey! Get down off of there! I’m not kidding!
Okay, now what are you doing?
Come on. Take that banana off your head and let me take some normal pictures, will you?
Hey Kodo. Meet your new buddy.
Don’t worry, I wiped him off with antibacterial soap.
Best $0.50 ever spent.
Recently, I did something I should have done at least ten years ago. See, all my life I’ve had ideas – big ideas – but nowhere to put them. Sure, I write them down on Starbucks napkins or backs of envelopes, but sometimes my ideas are bigger than that. They need room to breathe and grow. They can’t be captured on a 4” x 4” square. They can’t be fully explored with just a black Bic pen.
And how many times have I accidentally wadded up gum in one of my million dollar ideas? Too many times to count, I’m afraid. Shoved into the deepest recesses of my book bag, these ideas withered and died. Out of sight, out of mind, as they say.
What these ideas needed all along was a white board.
So a few weeks ago, I braved the back-to-school crowds and took the first step toward fulfilling my destiny as an Ideas Woman. It’s only been a short time, but I already feel like a different person – organized, productive, visionary.
I can tell already that I need a much bigger whiteboard, maybe wall-sized. And I also need at least a dozen different colored markers that are scented, because in order to come up with the truly big ideas, you have to engage all the senses. In fact, my next big idea might be to create scented AND flavored markers. Write that down!
Actually, I’m not quite ready to present my other next big idea yet, but I will tell you that it has to do with how annoying most people are. I guess it’s more of a big theory than a big idea, but this whiteboard doesn’t judge. The most important thing to remember about white-boarding is that you shouldn’t lock yourself into a rigid set of rules – ideas, theories, concepts, philosophies, goals – all will be welcome on my white board.
I suspect that the white board is going to become an important part of my life moving forward, and will help lead me to personal and professional success beyond my wildest imagination. I mean, in just this short time, I’ve already witnessed one of my big ideas come to fruition. Nothing can stop me now. Nothing.
“Hey Jen, it’s Nat. When you get this, can you meet me at the train station and bring $2? I’m on the train and I thought I had one punch left on my ticket, but I was wrong, and I don’t have any cash on me. Hurry!”
[Five minutes later]
“Hey Nat. You seriously don’t have $2? We’re leaving for up north in ten minutes – how do you not have any money on you? I’ll meet you on the platform.”
“Oh, don’t worry about it. The conductor just shamed me instead.”
“He publicly shamed you?”
“Cool. Then I’ll meet you in the parking lot.”
Since Natasha had to work a half-day before our trip to our friend Dee-Dee’s cabin in northern Wisconsin, I spent the morning doing some last minute preparations for our adventure. Bottled water, full tank of gas, Deep Woods Off!, bag of raw almonds, and a fishing hat from Target – I had everything I needed for our northern excursion.
After picking up Natasha at the train station, we made a quick pit stop for hot dogs and then called Dee to let her know we were on our way.
“Perfect! I’ll have the truck all packed and ready to go.”
“Truck? What truck?”
“My dad’s truck.”
“Jen – ask her if it’s a moving truck. Is it a U-Haul?”
“Dee – is it a U-Haul? We’re not taking a U-Haul on a 5-hour drive are we?”
“Ask her if we all have to squish in the front seat.”
“Do we all have to squish in the front seat?”
“Is it a passenger vehicle or a commercial truck?”
“It’s a passenger vehicle. Will you just get up here? It’s a nice truck!”
“Ask her why we need a truck.”
“Hey – why are we taking a truck? What’s wrong with your car?”
“I told my dad we’d bring up the dining room table for the cabin.”
“Dining room table.”
“Ask her if the table is already in the truck.”
“Is it already in the truck?”
“No, we have to move it in.”
“We have to move it in.”
“I knew it!”
“Nat knew it!”
“Just get up here! It’s not that heavy!”
“Fine. We’ll see you in a bit.”
As it turned out, Dee-Dee was right – the table wasn’t all that heavy, although we gave up after wedging the third chair and our bags into the back of the truck. Her brother could take the other five chairs the next time he went up to the cabin, we decided. We were on a race against the clock since our goal was to get there before sundown, partly because we wanted to take photos of the sunset, but primarily because Dee’s family cabin was set back about two miles into the thick woods and she’d never find it in the dark.
“All right – is everyone buckled in? Did we forget anything? Here we go!”
“YEAH! Road trip up north!”
“YEAH! Girls weekend!”
We had been driving for a couple hours when Natasha looked over and yelled, “Dee! You’re out of gas!”
“What? Oh crap. Crap! You were supposed to remind me to get gas!”
I sipped on my long since melted iced latte and said, “Oh, don’t worry. The gas light isn’t even on yet. We probably still have at least a gallon or two left. We’re fine.”
“Okay, Jenny. Obviously you don’t know Nat’s and my history with running out of gas. It happens to us a lot!”
“Yeah, like all the time.”
“I’m not worried.”
We rolled into the gas station just as Dee’s gas light binged on, and I just smiled. While I was waiting for the restroom to free up, I bought a Wisconsin map, since Dee-Dee had been going off of memory up until this point. I needed something to occupy my mind, and charting our exact distance every 20 minutes or so was just what I needed. As I soon remembered from my trips up north as a child, there’s not much to look at along the highways of Wisconsin.
Sometimes you see some windmills.
An occasional bobcat.
But mostly just truck stop porn. And Dee-Dee refused to stop, even though we were in a truck.
Natasha kept saying that this trip would change us all, and at first I doubted her. When you’ve known people for 15 years, it’s hard to be surprised by them, but when I discovered that both Nat and Dee-Dee knew all the lyrics to every country song that came on, I realized that the trip had already revealed more secrets than I ever could have imagined.
As we veered off the highways and started winding our way down country roads, it suddenly sank in that we were in the middle of nowhere. Glorious nowhere.
“It is really gorgeous up here! We should totally start our own commune,” Nat suggested.
“I’m in, as long as we have working bathrooms. But what’s the approval process for letting people into our commune?”
“Oh, it’s only going to be the three of us. And Farnsworth. And maybe one or two other people we already know really well. This isn’t some hippie commune where anyone can join.”
“Okay, cool. You had me worried there for a minute.”
Even though it was pointless, since the small country roads we were looking for weren’t even listed, I couldn’t stop looking at the map. It was close to 7:00pm, and the sky was getting darker and darker.
“Dee! Can’t you go any faster? The sun is going down! How far away are we?”
“We’re close. Real close. I think this is the lake where I caught the biggest walleye of my life when I was seven. No wait… maybe that’s not it. I know our turnoff is either before or after the boat landing. So just look for the boat landing.”
“What road did you say we need to turn on? Bass Lake?”
“No, I think it’s Crab Lake.”
“Because we just passed Bass Lake Road. Are you sure?”
“Not really. Wait – did it say Bass Lake or Crab Lake?”
“It said Bass Lake.”
“No, I think it’s Crab Lake. Did we pass the boat landing yet?”
Dee-Dee somehow navigated her way through the unmarked gravel roads that were cut into the woods, and we eventually pulled up in front of the cabin. We barely had time to acknowledge how gorgeous the cabin was because we were rushing to throw all our food in the refrigerator and quickly run down to the pier.
I did, however, have enough time to take note of the 12-foot statue of an Indian standing in the living room.
“Whoa! Okay – what the hell is that? You never told me about any Indian statue, Dee!”
“Sure I did – I know I must have warned you about him. Didn’t I?”
“Mmm… no. Pretty sure I would’ve remembered.”
“Oh, well, there he is. Now hurry up! It’s almost dark!”
We got to the pier just in time to catch the last few minutes of the sunset, and stood on the dock in silence, soaking in the beauty of the landscape.
“Ohmigod I can’t even stand how beautiful it is here! I want to move here! Can we go fishing tomorrow? And kayaking? And get up real early and eat breakfast on the porch? And can we grill out and drink wine and watch bad movies? And go for long walks in the woods? And can we go into town and eat country food? Can we?”
“We can do all of that, and more.”
“And then we’ll pool all our money together and buy a plot of land down the road for our commune.”
“Yep, this trip will change us all.”