Saturday, May 29, 2010

"...and it does the rest!"

I swear to you, this is a true story. I'm telling it with no embellishment, exactly as it happened not five minutes ago.

You think advertising isn't effective?

It's 6:13 on a Saturday morning. I know that precisely because I was starting my coffee maker and it has a clock on it.

Seven-year-old Isaiah appears, rubbing his eyes and telling me he sprained his groin while sleeping.

I don't know. I didn't ask.

A moment later he's in our TV room as usual for a Saturday morning but instead of cartoons I hear something that sounds like an infomercial. I expect that to change to Spongebob Squarepants momentarily but it doesn't. It's too loud. I go into the TV room and ask him to turn it down. He does, but he still doesn't change the channel and he is transfixed on whatever he's watching.

"Isaiah," I say, "why are you watching a commercial for a floor sweeper?"

"It's a very good floor sweeper!" he explains, with a great deal of animation. "It's very lightweight and with the Haan© steam cleaner you just add water and it does the rest!"

As the dogs are my witness.

© 2010 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

Monday, May 24, 2010

Kids just don't get it.

Life is difficult. It's complicated. Kids don't understand that.

Well, why would they? We handle all the complicated stuff for them. They just play. That's their job and most of them do it exceedingly well. You can even say they're experts at it. The sad thing is that we were all kids once but for some reason as we get older and the world gets more complex we think we need to find more complex ways of having fun. It usually involves a lot of money and frequently a lot of time and planning.

Now you're thinking, "Oh, fiddle-faddle! I don't need a fancy vacation or dinner at an expensive restaurant to have fun." Maybe not but I'll bet I can't get you to giggle your way through an afternoon by playing in a cardboard box.

Forgive me for saying so but I can't imagine you and your closest friend squealing with delight for hours while running through a sprinkler.

And I'll bet most of us would consider planting flowers a job rather than a pleasure. Maybe both if gardening is a hobby or one of your particular adult pleasures but it is still definitely a chore.

My grandsons just don't know how boring life is.

Please don't tell them. They'll figure it out in their own time.

© 2010 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

Saturday, May 22, 2010

RV versus Tent Camping

(Reposted from my RV travel blog: Thataway Road.)

I don't make the distinction.

Like most people I started camping as a kid in a tent in dirt campgrounds with my dad, mom and younger sister. Sometimes my dad and I would go, just the two of us. We'd hike and fish and sleep on the ground under a gazillion stars without the tent or even the campground.
Those times are cherished memories. But, now that I'm older I love not having to get my fat, creaky body off the hard ground in the middle of the night to walk 100 yards in the cold to a fly-infested outhouse.

To me it's all "camping" whenever I spend more time outside than inside
and don't have things I should be doing.

I think that's the key to it, right there. When you're camping you have things you must do but nothing you should do. You leave your guilt bag at home.

As kids we pitched a tent in the backyard and watched the sky for UFOs all night while chowing down on RC Colas, Hostess Snowballs, Look bars and Chicken Bones candy. We always woke up the next morning with the sun in our faces; the tent was getting hot and we had kids Sunday morning hangovers from too much sugar and not enough sleep.

Now I awaken refreshed, in a quiet RV park around 5AM, in a soft bed next to my sweet wife. I tiptoe across the carpeted bedroom to use the proper bathroom and from there I close two sets of pocket doors behind me to give Carolann her privacy in Slumberland. I press "START" on the preset coffeemaker, feed and walk the dogs, boot up my computer or pick up my book and begin the day on the sofa, swaddled in creature comforts, blinking cobwebs out of my brain.

At a sensible hour, say six or seven, I might go outside and take my leisure in a folding chair, perhaps making a campfire if it's still chilly. Sometimes I read. Sometimes I just sip coffee and greet the neighbors as they walk their dogs.

Here's an embarrassing revelation: as much as I enjoy having coffee and reading a book outside I also enjoy watching a movie first thing in the morning on our motorhome TV. Just sometimes. How decadent is that?

Who made the rule that "camping" must imply "roughing it"?

When you get right down to it camping has nothing to do with where you sleep and change your clothes. It doesn't matter if you get your milk out of a fridge or an ice chest or whether you cook over a campfire, a Coleman stove or in a microwave/convection oven in your Mini Winnie. Camping is just being away from home free to do what you like because you left your guilt bag behind. It's the people you're with, the deeply gratifying thoughtful and funny conversations with family and good friends you never seem to have enough time for. It's eyes that sparkle just because you're all together and the stress is gone.

Camping is unleashing your spirit and letting it run joyously free like a dog chasing gulls on a beach.

And when you go home, as you must, your heart is happy knowing you'll do it again.

And that guilt bag isn't nearly so heavy.

© 2010 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

Sunday, May 16, 2010

My dad, the inventor

Nearly sixty years ago my dad did something that seems pretty goofy now, but at the time we were all amazed and impressed. He was very proud of himself.

This was back in the fifties when TV was black-and-white, we only had two or three channels and a huge number of American households didn't even have a TV yet. Nobody had more than one. That would have been as silly and pointless as having two cars!

TV commercials in those days seem quaintly funny in retrospect. Some seem flat-out unbelievable. Click here and check this out:

"More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette!"

The commercials annoyed my dad. Not the messages themselves, just the fact that there were any. He thought all TV programs should be absolutely free. I don't know if he ever considered why anybody would bother to create them if they were.

I don't think it bothered him much that his favorite program, The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports was presented by the Gillette Safety Razor company. Boxing was purely formatted and made sense: three minutes of two guys trying to kill each other followed by a one minute commercial and then back to the fight.

I think Dad felt that having us watch a commercial in that situation was more a matter of respecting the fighters' private dignity than commercialism. I think he also figured -- as an afterthought -- it was better that his six-year-old son watch an Old Spice commercial rather than be subjected to the between-rounds visuals of two guys sweating, bleeding and spitting teeth into a bucket while receiving one minute of facial reconstructive surgery as fat men yelled at them before they go back out to resume the effort to kill or be killed.

Dad was sensitive like that.

Incongruous as it seems now, any of these commercials might have popped up between fight rounds. I remember them all:

"Bosco gives me iron, and sunshine vitamin D!"

But Dad seemed to think that TV commercials were essentially the same thing as somebody intruding on our private home life. It was almost as if John Cameron Swayze or George Fenneman were making a habit of walking right into our living room every few minutes and interrupting our evening's family entertainment.

So, what did he do?

My dad invented the MUTE switch!

I kid you, not.

Decades before the invention of TiVo and the insufferable mysteries of universal remote control units, my dad attached a long cord to one end of our TV's speaker through the rear of the console. The other end was attached to a simple two-position plastic switch that allowed him to click the sound on and off at will!

Sure, we still had to watch and wait for the commercials to end but we didn't have to actually listen to stuff like this...

"That's a woman for ya! I ask her to get my shirts whiter... "

© 2010 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

Saturday morning...

It's the pause in our week. It's the moment we put down our worries, responsibilities and busy thoughts.

Just for a moment.

-- My hummingbird is sipping nectar from the backyard feeder I filled last week. He goes away and comes back for seconds.

-- The barbecue smoker stands proud and manly on its pad, ready for the lovely babyback ribs it will soon receive and slowly perfect over the long, busy day.

-- Over breakfast as my wife is hurrying off to work she has this conversation with the seven-year-old:

"That's a nice outfit you're wearing, Nana!"

"Thank you, Sweetie!"

"It looks really old!"

-- I drive to the newspaper stand outside the donut shop on Route 66. The usual crowd is there, old men with their coffee and cigarettes enjoying the chilly morning air, the rising sun and each other's company. Some read newspapers. One has a racing form. They all sit alone at separate tables while talking to each other from the privacy of their individual space.

A similar scene is going on at the nearby Starbucks but it's an entirely different crowd. They have lattes and laptops. No smoke; less conversation.

The sun is fully up. Yard sales are underway.

I have things that need doing and it's time.

Saturday morning is fleetingly sweet and perfect. I pray for another one next week.

© 2010 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

My Travelogue: An important memory!

Everywhere Carolann and I go in our motorhome or Lance truck camper I keep a travelogue. It's sort of a combination diary/travel guide. It reminds me of the places we've been, the experiences we've shared and the things I've learned but might forget if I don't write them down.

This entry, written eleven years ago, falls into that last category: lessons remembered.

* * * * * * * * * *

July 2, 1999: Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park RV Camp at Beaver Creek, Cobb Mountain, CA.

No kidding. That's what this place is called.

When I decided spontaneously to take this weekend trip alone to get some writing done it didn't occur to me that this is the July 4th weekend and that all the nice RV parks along the Mendocino Coast would be booked. So, I'm here instead.

This place is located ten miles west
of Clear Lake as the crow flies, 21 miles from the town of Lakeport. I know a lot of people who love Clear Lake but it never did much for me. It's one of California's inland, low-altitude lakes that gets brutally hot in the summer and here I am in July. If it wasn't for the excellent air conditioner in my Lance camper I wouldn't be typing this, I'd be running like a crazed dog to the ocean where it is forty degrees cooler.

This doesn't look anything at all like the Jellystone Park I remember from the cartoons. No mountains, no pine trees; no green grass or cute bears wearing hats and ties. No pic-a-nic baskets.

Unlike the lovely pictures on the park's website it's mostly sparse, brown grass with a few scrub oaks;
very dusty, dry and hot.

Did I mention this is July?

The park consists of five or six rows of graveled roads and hard pan RV pads. It does have a small, dark green man-made body of water they call a creek and people are paddling around in kayaks and peddle boats which are free to the paying public. I suppose that's nice but they're making a hell
of a lot of noise and the water looks scummy to me.

As I drove into the park muttering to myself about all of this I thought Carolann would hate it here and then I immediately realized, no, she would not. This place would be a virtual theme park compared to the similar but humorless places she used to camp as a kid whereas I grew up in the campgrounds of the High Sierra, the Rockies and California's scenic North Coast.

Suddenly, I realized for the first time that I am a camping snob.

The many kids in this park are having a ball, splashing obliviously in the dark, creepy-green creek, laughing, riding bikes, running and kicking up a dust cloud folks can probably see in Glenhaven. The adults are clustered in small groups shaded by trailer awnings enjoying snacks and cold drinks, telling stories, sharing memories, laughing heartily and often.

I, on the other hand, was silently cursing the heat, the dust and the noise looking for a pristine spot to dock my Lance as far away from these lovely, happy people as possible.

I don't like admitting that but it's the truth. Suddenly, I am ashamed and a little bit lonely.

As a future grandpa (I hope,) I need to remember this day.

I want to never forget that when you're a kid heat is no big deal and a little water and a lot of dirt are pretty neat things to have together in one place.

These are the places and times that define families and construct future generations.

While writing this Travelogue entry I just saw a doe and two fawns grazing not a hundred yards from here... over there, by the three long-abandoned, rusted cars and the pickup truck with no wheels or doors.

I guess beauty is where you find it.

© 2010 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

Saturday, May 8, 2010

They call me "Hoss."

Did you ever have a nickname? Did you ever want one?

I'm betting the answer is yes to at least one of those questions, although most people never have a nickname that sticks and is used more or less by everybody they know. For the sake of the discussion here I'm not talking about diminutive forms of your actual given name like Rosie for Rosemary or Dick for Richard. (Now, there's a discussion we need to have some day.)

No, I'm talking about nicknames that have absolutely nothing to do with anything.

People with... shall we say unusual first names often have a nickname like Bud. I don't think any little boy was ever called Bud or Buddy on his birth certificate but the world is full of guys called Bud. When you get to know them better you learn the truth. These guys typically have real names so weird even their own parents wouldn't use them. I have two friends everybody calls Bud though their given names are Harley and Clerin. No disrespect intended but those are odd names. My own father dodged a bullet because his middle name, like John Wayne's real first name, was Marion. It was apparently a fashionable name in the 1920s but please, who is going to name his son Marion these days without also teaching him martial arts so he can defend himself?

Girls typically acquire nicknames that begin as simple endearments: Kitty, Angel, Candy, Missy, Boots, Peaches.

Seriously, one of my dearest friends in the world is a woman named Ruth but almost nobody knows that. She is called Boots by everybody. And even though I have asked her why I can't remember her answer. She's just Boots, that's all.

I also really knew an adult woman called Peaches though I never heard of anybody called Plums or Apricots. Academy Award-winning Actress Gwyneth Paltrow has a daughter whose legal given name is Apple but that's a Hollywood affectation that we can shrug off even if the poor little girl never will.

Don't get me started on what became of Chastity Bono. We all saw that coming forty years ago.

I had a high school baseball coach who called me Ted. That was because I was a left-handed power hitting outfielder like the real Ted whose last name was also Williams. I thought that was cool but nobody else used it. No surprise there. You can't use a real name for a nickname. If your name is Mark but one guy calls you Ralph you think everybody else will pick up on that? Nah. I don't think so.

For the past twenty years I've gone on regular camping trips with a bunch of guys I used to work with. One of them started calling me Hoss ten or fifteen years ago because I am large and have a beard and always wear a cowboy hat. It seemed kind of fitting and I'm fond of it but only from these guys. I don't want my son's in-laws or my wife or mom calling me Hoss.

I guess no matter how you look at it a nickname is a term of endearment even if the name is something less than flattering like Shorty or Bug. My wife and her first husband used to call their premie son Bug because he weighed only four pounds when he was born. He lives with us now. He's about to turn thirty and looks nothing at all like a bug. I'll just leave it there.

Nicknames are interesting. What's yours? Or what would you like to be called?

© 2010 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Shake, Rattle and Roll: The Williams Family Wild West Roundup

My favorite vacation is the one we took about 13 or 14 years ago.

It was our first motorhome adventure and in spite of some fairly significant problems along the way, I was hooked. RV travel, I decided, is the only way to live.

I was a popular radio personality in Sacramento in those days and managed to talk an RV dealer into giving me a brand new 38-foot gas-powered Class A motorhome to take wherever I wished for two weeks. The deal was, every morning I would phone the radio station and do a short report (aka, "commercial") explaining where we were, the exciting things we'd seen and done, how wonderful the motorhome is and how the luxurious convenience of that motorhome had brought our family closer together in blissful, eternal bond.

And where you could buy one, of course.

Sweet deal, huh? It was for me, though I'm pretty sure the RV dealer felt differently when we returned.

"On the road again!... I just can't wait to get on the road again!"

I like to start every road trip by treating the family to a loud, bad rendition of Willie Nelson's signature song as we're putting the sticks and stone house in our rearview mirror. They roll their eyes and groan but I know they'll remember me sweetly for it when I'm gone.

And so, we were off; Carolann, our sons Nathan and Jeremy, Jeremy's girlfriend and eventual wife, Emily, and me.

Like a band of gypsies we went down the highway!

Sacramento to Sparks, Nevada, is only 135 miles but that's where we stopped for the first night because we got a late start and having never driven a big rig before three hours of stressed concentration was about all I could handle.

Oh, yeah -- and somewhere in the first hundred miles our brand-new, never-used motorhome had lost all electronic functions in the dashboard. It drove fine but we had no idea how fast we were going, no clue as to whether we were about to run out of gas and no headlights.

For some reason the turn signals and brake lights didn't want to have anything to do with this calamity and continued to work.

Poised on the western edge of the great deserts of Nevada and Utah and pointed THATAWAY with no patience for sitting two or three days in a Reno repair shop, we accepted the challenges and charged into our two-week, four-thousand mile adventure the next morning with no electronics to guide us.

We thrilled to the spectacular Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City and played peek-a-boo with the puckish prairie dogs of Devils Tower, Wyoming.

We meandered in awe through Yellowstone Park and hiked lightly among its world-renowned geysers.

We drove the literally-breathtaking Beartooth Highway to its dizzying eleven-thousand foot summit and beyond, into Red Lodge, Montana, the Little Bighorn Battlefield, Mt. Rushmore and the Black Hills of South Dakota including historic Deadwood and the magnificent Crazy Horse monument. Then, onward to Zion National Park, across Southern Nevada into Southern California and then 400 miles north and home again. We did it all in two glorious weeks sans electronics.

We never drove at night, we bought gas at every opportunity and my wife and son gauged our highway speed using roadside mile markers and a watch with a second hand.

But, wait...there's more!

Our never-used motorhome, plastic carpet covers still in place, began literally falling apart by the mile. Cabinet doors wouldn't stay shut. The bathroom and refrigerator doors wouldn't stay shut. A window screen blew loose. Mirrors began to rattle. Stray screws began falling out with such frequency we could never walk barefoot inside the rig.

Duct tape became the primary theme to our homey decor. It was everywhere.

At one RV park, inexperienced as we were, Carolann and I managed to back into a very solid bush. Bush, though biologically correct, is a bad way to describe it. It was more like a boulder with branches and leaves. It did not manage to shake some sense into the electrical system but it did make a scratchy dent in a lower panel that seemed to get bigger each time I looked at it.

Oh, and did I mention that our beautiful young future-daughter-in-law was highly prone to motion sickness but too embarrassed to tell us? Somewhere in the Rockies she learned for the first time she is also prone to altitude sickness. The poor thing was pretty miserable throughout the trip.

The dealer was apoplectic when he saw us limp back onto the lot. Wearing four-thousand miles of road dust and squashed bugs, duct tape flying like streamers in a Home Depot parade, we surely looked like Clark Griswold's Cousin Eddie and family arriving for National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.

But honest to God, this is my favorite family vacation of all time. Because between the knicks, bruises, queasy tummies and duct tape door locks we shared a million smiles, hugs and laughs that we still carry in our hearts.

The best memories are full-spectrum life experiences: the good, the bad and the sticky.
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