Monday, September 7, 2015

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

September is here and although it's still hot, the nights are getting cooler. I know a lot of people love the change of seasons, but I always get sad when autumn arrives. To me it means winter is right around the corner, and winter equals death: the death of evening light, the death of throwing on minimal clothing to run to the store, the death of barbecues, ankle bracelets and oxygen-giving green stuff. To steal a line from my friend Max Low: Fall is like the day before you have to go back to work after a vacation. You can't enjoy the day fully because its freedom is temporary.

Now I'm depressed. What were we talking about? Oh yes, my summer vacation. So many friends on facebook were fascinated by the travails of this year's annual trek to Michigan that I've been meaning to blog it for weeks. So here it is, hopefully not too long, I've included photos to make it more interesting.

As mentioned in previous blogs, I threw an M80 into my previously happy 12-year relationship this year and Drew and I are both working on repairing it after some dubious behavior on both our parts, instigated primarily by yours truly. Drew loves staying in my mother's guest house in Cedar, it's lovely and relaxing and very close to some pristine Lake Michigan beaches. My sister Lisa lives five minutes away and my brother Nick times his vacation to coincide with ours, driving up from North Carolina with his girlfriend and cat. It is a chance for us to relax and reconnect, this year being more important than others past because of the recent emotional upheaval.

My mom does Air Bnb for the guest house and is booked solid all summer long: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/1303360?s=TCx9

Our flight there was the usual nonsense of late first flight, necessitating a stressful run through Chicago O'hare to make it to the connecting flight. We're used to it.

When we got in, my brother announced his beloved cat had run away. He and his girlfriend are madly in love with him, they named him Professor Putz, pronounced Pootz, as in "foots". I told them that "putz" is Yiddish for the male member, to which they both responded separately, "It's Pootz, not Putz." However you pronounce it, the cat was gone, and they were bummed out and spending most of their time roaming the woods and surrounding areas in search.


So that was bummer number one.

Two days into the vacation, a rainstorm was due. My sister claims that I am darkness incarnate and always bring storms with me. She calls me Darth Mare and the ringtone on her phone when I call is Darth Vader's theme:



I kind of like it, but I've always wanted to be a supervillain.

My mother has about 12 acres, covered in trees. And she has 3 ginormous willows surrounding her lovely pond. This is me on Day 1 at the pond. So serene, so ready to meditate and finally get my shit together:


The next day my sister and I invaded her friend's pool. It was a fabulous day. I'm modeling a tee that Storm sent me. It says "Wish You Were Beer". Yay, Japanese people ripping off my old band!


Never mind that near-dead child floating in the background, he survived.

My sister:


I was overjoyed to be in that pool because it was super-heated and I hate the cold water of Lake Michigan:


Sadly, it was not meant to last. The storm started out rough, but didn't feel out of the ordinary. I love thunderstorms and we watched from the house as rain blew sideways, hail came down and trees waved wildly in the wind. Then we heard trees cracking and my mother freaked.

I have to tell you a quick anecdote that will help paint a picture of my mother. She is a kind, generous, elegant, beautiful, well-educated woman of a certain age who loves the woods and runs her property by herself.



She owns a beautiful little house, a guest cottage, a giant shed, and a garage, plus a pond that takes quite a bit of maintenance, fed by a small stream that runs next to it. She is single by choice, lives alone and maintains all of this on her own, no easy task. Her driveway is a long dirt road, and she runs a snowblower by herself in the wintertime in order to be able to get in and out of town. If she doesn't pull up the weeds in the pond in the summer, they will take it over and turn it into a swamp. She goes into it in waders every year and rakes the muck up. This involves large rakey tools, a rowboat and a lot of muscle, usually wielded in the blazing sun.

It's horrible. Drew and I helped last year and I lasted exactly a half an hour. The stuff from the bottom of the pond smells disgusting, I get crabby in the hot sun and kept gagging at the smell. Then I accidentally stabbed my toe on a vicious bit of tree laying on the ground (wearing the wrong shoes) and simply could not go on. I limped bleeding and angry into the house, showered, put on a comfy dress, got myself a glass of lemonade and sat in a reclining lawn chair and watched the two of them continue. Not my proudest moment, but I was injured, damn it.

This year my mother did some work on the pond on her own. A branch fell on her head while she was dragging through the muck and it knocked her onto her back into the water. Luckily, she told us, it was in the shallow end so she didn't drown while lying unconscious for an indeterminate amount of time. Upon waking she discovered her head was cut open and blood was running down her face. But she wanted to finish the job, so she got up out of the water and continued the backbreaking work as blood ran down her face, congealing on the tip of her nose. She finished after a time, went in the house and cleaned herself up and found that she really could have used a stitch or two, but instead chose to use a butterfly bandage. My childhood is littered with examples of the use of butterfly bandages and one instance of her tying my brother's hair in a knot to hold a wound shut. After this she sat on her patio and had a well-deserved beer and called it a day. That's my mom.

Back to the storm: we heard trees cracking and when we realized they were coming down, my mother went out, in the midst of the lightning, rain and wind, and started dragging downed branches around. Drew and my brother rolled their eyes and went out to help her. I stood in the doorway shouting at them to get out of the dangerous fray, but they couldn't leave her out there alone even though it was madness. And then the power went out. And then my mother informed us that with the power goes the pump that pulls her water supply from a well.

Yay, vacation! No power OR water! We drank because there was nothing else to do in the fading evening light. I went to bed at 9 pm when there was no more visibility; my brother and Drew got completely wrecked by candlelight. The next morning began the hungover assessment. This is a milder example of the breakage, some trees were cracked lower down to the stump, some pulled right out by the roots, most fully destroyed.


About 10 giant trees in all, the willows the most tragic because they make the pond so beautiful. The news that we could get on our limited access, quickly to be out of juice phones informed us that it was not just a storm, but a tornado, and huge swaths of the area were out of power, one town completely cut off because downed trees blocked every inroad. My mother's best friend lost every tree on her property, a store in the nearby town had its roof ripped off and thrown into the road, entire forests of trees laid on their side and the one gas station/store with power was overrun by freaking-out tourists and locals. Armageddon!

My mother began working bright and early, dragging branches from one pile to another while directing my chainsaw wielding brother. Drew used a handsaw and a wheelbarrow. I could not weasel out of this one and put on some practical shoes to drag smaller branches and manage the burn can. Because I like to burn shit down, both literally and figuratively. I happily poked at smoldering green stuff that created great billowing waves of heavy smoke that coated my skin and hair.

Disgusting, heavy work in the hot sun--all of my brother and mother's issues manifesting in this one sweat-soaked destiny. She was obsessed with getting everything cleaned up immediately, to the point of working to exhaustion. She thinks my brother, the youngest of five siblings, is still a kid and she rides him too hard. He misunderstands her intentions and simmers enraged, a lifetime of family dynamics and poor communication quietly creeping to boil over on the surface. He yells at her, she gets weepy. Drew toils patiently and and plays peace-keeper, I roll my eyes, try to interpret for everyone and do as little as possible physically, which is still too much for my manicure and mentality. I shout that I was not meant for hard labor. Drew worries that I will set myself and/or the surrounding woods on fire. Which, I have to admit, is not outside of the realm of possibility, I once accidentally set a piano on fire.

No shower after all of this, and all water for the flushing of toilets and washing of bodies is carried in heavy buckets up from the stream.


Luckily we had a friend with power who loaned us his generator and gave us giant jugs of drinking water. The generator was placed in the garage with a long cord with three outlets running from it to the house, one outlet went to the refrigerator, the other to the freezer, the third to my phone. My mother has a photo of me squatting in her driveway, frantically tapping at its screen, desperate for outside contact. It was just sad.

By day three, the labor, boredom, and lack of shower had taken its toll. My chin looks weird here because it's featuring a giant mosquito bite. Did I mention that the mosquitoes were relentless?


Drew got stung by a wasp on his stomach, causing him considerable pain, itch and swelling. Then I got hit over one eye by a couple of what I'm guessing were genetically modified mosquitoes. My eye swelled to epic proportions instantly. I refused to allow myself to be photographed in that state, and my brother recoiled when he saw me and asked, "What the hell happened to your face???"

You know what happened to my face?? Stupid Michigan, that's what happened to my fucking face.


My mother, meanwhile, was veering wildly out of control, or rather, way too in control, which is her go-to reaction when feeling anxious or stressed. She festered about getting the yard clean and held us to a complicated meal schedule that soon stopped up the sink garbage disposal. She came up with a system of washing dishes in the yard with pans full of creek water but wouldn't let us help her with them. Everyone got crabbier and crabbier. My brother was close to breaking, working all day on breaking down trees and roaming the woods in the evening looking for his cat. I was actually sick of booze and stuck to water, a sure sign that something had gone terribly awry.

I phoned my sister, also suffering without power, and said, "Nick is going to kill our last remaining parent, Drew's hands are bleeding and I am squatting in the yard washing dishes like a goddamn aborigine. This ship is sinking, please help." We discussed grinding up xanax and slipping it in Mom's food or water. In the end we simply made her sit on the patio with me and drink wine while Lisa grilled burgers on the world's teensiest grill.


It was clear we were in need of reinforcement and my sister made some calls. The next day our friend Tim Young, who owns Food For Thought, showed up with his chainsaw and son, and another brother, Tony, and his wife showed up with a wood chipper. There was some discussion of putting Mom in the chipper but Tony said we'd have to freeze her first, so that idea was scrapped.

Assessing the damage:


Things get more entertaining:




And productive:



Drew got to drive the tractor because no one will ever let me drive anything. Ever. That's the top of a giant tree that went down behind him.


Will Mom fit in the chipper? We'll never know for sure:


And finally, mercifully, on the fifth day of no power, when our spirits were broken, our eyebrows unplucked, and none of us cared to live anymore, the power went on. I celebrated by taking a blissfully hot shower and drinking more wine on the patio. That is not the Professor at my feet; unfortunately he is still missing as of this writing.


We finally had some time to relax and spent a day on my brother-in-law's boat:





My sister's glove has to do with a cut finger and a Hunger Games survival theme that carried us through our trials.

And then, just like that, it was time to go home. Drew and I once again found ourselves stuck on a plane full of screaming babies as it sat unmoving for hours on the tarmac. The first flight was cancelled and we had to get off the plane and make new arrangements. I couldn't wait to get home to NYC, but Drew was tense and very sad that he only got a day or two of real vacation. On the next plane, which also sat doing nothing for way too long, this asshole spent hours with her head lolling about like a bladder on a stick, repeatedly flopping her itchy hair onto my shoulder:


I really wanted to go through her bag and steal whatever drugs she was on, and was prepared to kill her if necessary, and then quickly take out the kid behind me kicking my seat before anyone noticed what was happening. It took us 12 hours to get from Michigan to New York City, upon which we found our luggage had been left behind on a later flight. Drew graciously stayed to wait for another interminable couple of hours while I went home to take care of the cats.

This is what I learned from this particular summer vacation:

-- If you live in the country, it's good to own a generator.

-- You can't put someone in a wood chipper unless you freeze them first.


That's pretty much it.


5 comments:

Tracy Grant said...

Sorry it was "The Storm of the Century ," for you. I live abut an hour from Cedar and it was an interesting storm to say the least. Thank you for sharing your adventure.

M. Raffaele said...

Tracy, hope you didn't get hit too hard? Quite the adventure for everyone in the area.

dssgirl said...

This was incredibly funny while still capturing the desperation of your group's situation. Absolutely the best piece of writing (that I've read) you've done so far, and published. I think you should submit this one for publication. It's that good. Write on goddess! xxxx

Marilyn said...

Very well written. Not sure if I agree with all the assessments of me since I am in actually quite perfect in every way. I have since purchased a generator and a new and better chain saw...all set for your next visit.

Unka Joel said...

First time I have read your blog. More t
han a couple laughs. You scored big time on my sister, but I love her, like you. I really didn't know you had to freeze people in order to run them through a shredder, but it does make sense that they be a bit more solid. Thanx for the tip, and the giggles...