Economy Forces Blobs into Retirement

Leaving my house at 6 a.m. yesterday on the way to work, I drove down our clay and rock road listening to the two AM stations that both operate on 1030 battle for static dominance when a deer jumped out at me from the tall grass on the side of the road and yelled, “THERE’S A BOMB IN THAT FIELD!” I slammed on my brakes just in time to let him pass. I sighed and thanked God that I started drinking my coffee earlier than usual, and also that I wasn’t drinking coffee when the car stopped suddenly.

Thirty minutes later I ran over a rabbit.

I’ve always had a problem with camp blobs. The forty-foot long bags of air that kids jump on and off like their on the moon. As a ten-year old camper, I was terrified of heights. I had trouble climbing the ladder that led to the jumping-off platform. Plus, once you were up there you had to jump. You couldn’t climb down.  Later, as a counselor and then the waterfront director for Camp War Eagle, I made my peace with jumping onto the blob, but I also made sure that any seven year old who changed his mind and wanted to climb down was allowed to do so.

War Eagle keeps its blobs in a man-made pond called the Cove, which is about twenty feet deep and dark water but was surprisingly clean this year. In the past we’ve had problems with algae and then dead fish. One summer, no matter how much we cleaned, there was always one more dead fish for a camper to find and then throw at the pretty girl lifeguards. Now they’ve solved those problems with aerating the water with two big air pumps twenty feet underwater. However, that’s where my new problems began.

As waterfront director, one of my responsibilities was keeping the blob tied together. There’s six feet of bungie that gives the blob its bounce, then twenty feet of yellow poly-something rope that runs down to a metal H structure at the bottom with all the leaves and little kid glasses. When one of the ropes popped off and sunk, I would have to dive for it.

Although I conquered my irrational fear of heights (I’m not going to die dropping eight feet onto a big air bubble), I’m holding strong to my totally logical fear of sea monsters. And though I personally dropped the two thirty-pound aerators in the Cove, everytime I look at the bubbles swelling up to the surface, I have to stop my mouth from yelling, “Everyone out of the water!”

When blobs became untied this summer, I’d float right above where the rope sunk for a good three minutes of deep breathing exercises, then I’d tell the lifeguard on duty that if I wasn’t back in thirty seconds, he was to get the nail gun from the wood shop and come after me. After two years diving for ropes, I still haven’t seen the monster, but I think he’s nocturnal.

I’m thinking of all this because yesterday, three of us took the blobs out of the Cove for the winter. I had to paddle around and cut the bungies before towing it to a dock. It took the entire maintenance staff to pull the blob out of the water – for a floating air mattress it weighs an obscene amount. As they left, they wished me good luck with the cleaning process. Later, I found out why.

Being inside of a blob is a lot like being swallowed by a whale. It’s about the same volume and it smells like a split-open tauntaun. And I thought it smelled bad on the outside. Once you finished scrubbing it dry with towels, you realize the back of your shirt is soaked in blob juice from the collapsing ceiling (it’s always slowly deflating, no matter how much air you pump in). After Justin, my co-worker, and I crawled out, we had to go to the lost and found and change clothes. I got new shorts out of the trash can.

The blobs now reside in boat storage along with every other inflatable and many locked boxed whose contents no one can name. But the Cove montster – he’s still out there.

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Hillbilly Porkchop Round 5K Mud Run

This past weekend was the second running of the Hillybilly Porkchop Roundup 5K Mud Run down in Van Buren, Arkansas. The first, which I missed in May, plowed through someone’s farmland acreage. One family, including cousins and friends and in-laws, decided to put together an obstacle course 5K on their land, just for the heck of it. It did so well that four months later they moved it to the River Off Road Park beside the wide and dirty Arkansas River. Signs were posted at the entrance off the highway: “TRUCKS ONLY.” My friends and I were in a Pontiac Vibe. We went anyway.

After registering in a leaking green pop-up tent, we high stepped through four-inches of mud that was supposed to be the pathway to the starting line. The mud started early that Saturday. After a few minutes we quit warming up because a) it was heavily raining and b) none of us had trained for the race.

The Hillbilly Porkchop Roundup 5K Mud Run attracted a much different crowd than I expected. In high school, our football team’s offensive line used to run in the Race for the Cure. We’d run for two and a half miles behind middle aged soccer moms and then get scorched in the final stretch. Our offensive line coach, Coach Yoakum, would be waiting at the finish line to make fun of us as we threw up. Coincidentally, prom was usually that night, so we’d have to shower thoroughly.

However, in the mud run maybe a quarter of the contestants finished under 30 minutes. Most were around 45 and probably another quarter were clocking in at over an hour. The heat that ran before ours included a good ol’ boy in overalls and camouflage who started walking after the first twenty meters. There was also a bride and groom, wedding dress and tux, who ran a pretty decent first mile until the fourth obstacle.

We ran in the team division – our five guys all worked at Camp War Eagle together. I took off a little fast after the starting gun, but I had to slow down when two shirtless members of another team went down in the first mud pit and started wrestling. Before the race one of them had confessed that he started drinking at eleven that morning (our heat was at one). They took a little longer to finish that everyone else.

The obstacles on the track started and ended with mud hills, but were pretty diverse for a hillbilly setting. We climbed over concrete pipes and ran across haybales; I slid through a mud crawl and had to climb a Marine style rope wall. There were two tire hills – I fell face first down the second one, though at that point I had outdistanced/been left behind by the competition and no one saw. Early on in the race I was trailing a teammate, Justin, and an opponent when we came to a rope swing across a puddle about four feet deep in the middle. Justin swang and landed in the water.

“SNAKE!” he yelled, and then reached down to grab it (the race course initially surprised and amazed him the least out of our whole team). “Oh no,” he said as it pulled it up. “It’s just a gar.” Sure enough, a floppingly alive fish about five inches long curled and twisted in his hand. Before he took off running again, he threw it at me. It hit the other guy.

Not only do some people want to finish as fast as possible, but there are also little foot-long rubber pigs scattered throughout the course that runners collect. Part of the competition is to collect as many as possible; however, since most of the pigs are collected by the front runners, the people who finish first usually have the most. I finished with nothing.

Before the race we were given shoe chips that electronically recorded our time as we crossed the finish line. There was a U-Haul trailer filled with electronics processing all the information. After our team finished (the rest of the heat ran for over another hour) Justin was walking off his lung pain when he tripped over the extension cord and killed all the computers recording the race. “Don’t worry,” a guy in overalls and a lip full of chew said, “it’s not like the rest of them count.”

We were wave nine out of probably twelve. After a healthy Chinese buffet (Vincent’s Chinese “Buffet” – in quotations, implying you know what I mean) we returned to the mud track to see if we made the medal ceremony. All that was left was the family members in green shirts and dirty denim deflating the arch at the starting line.

We won everything. Fastest individual, fastest time, most team pigs, and most individual pigs (Mark had eleven pigs – he ran the last mile bear hugging an armful of rubber). Instead of a medal ceremony, the master of ceremonies went to his Chevy Silverado and pulled out five medals, along with a wooden plaque with a rubber pigs super-glued on. “We made this last night,” he said, “so be careful with it.”

Home Alone

This past week the overall director of Camp War Eagle paid for the 30 plus membered permanent staff to go to San Antonio for a week of meetings and golf. It was given as a Christmas present last year and cashed in during warmer weather. Unfortunately, since I’m a new hire – and not technically permanent – I got left behind.

I made my family disappear.

On Monday I arrived to work at 6:50 in the morning, unlocked the maintenance building and happily set off the security alarm. When it switched from a beeping console to a siren on the camp-wide PA system, I called my boss. He was on vacation.

I spent the rest of the day scrubbing bathrooms and listening to Dave Ramsey’s radio show. It’s the only talk channel Joe the Polish Carpenter knows about.

Through the week there were three of us. Justin and I are in the same boat – young and penniless – and we worked for Rob Whorton, who has the face of a sweet seventh grader with a mustache and the body of an orca with big mechanical arms. We had finished our work lists in the previous week, so every time we’d go to him for a job he’d start with, “Oh, I don’t know,” and look outside at the rain. “You could weed eat…but why don’t you just tidy up in here instead?”

Eventually we did weed eat, but he was really nice about it. I wore sunglasses and pants made out of that lead dentist bib I have to wear when Dr. Roark takes x-rays of my teeth.

We dismantled and disposed of thirty metal military surplus bunk beds. I asked Holly if she wanted any for our marital home. She didn’t respond. We also put together a foosball and an air hockey table and smashed up old computers with sledge hammers.

We’re about halfway through retreat season, when companies and schools will rent out camp property for a little weekend team building. Apparently when that season ends, the real work begins. There’s no telling what power tool they’ll let me handle. In fact, this week I asked our groundskeeper Morris to teach me to use his backhoe. Morris is an outside contractor and puts so many items in the breast pocket of his shirts that they turn into V-necks and his white chest hair bleeds through. He also supplies his own pigs for the weekly ‘Pig Chase’ we have during the summer. I figured with no one else around, this week would be perfect for me to damage something and blame it on the growing armadillo problem we’re dealing with.

Morris looked at me and said – “In my will, I’ve requested that you never touch my backhoe.”

So I’m still practicing with the socket wrenches.

Long Story Short: New Gym Membership!

Most people I work with on the Camp War Eagle maintenance crew have a specialty. Rob does heating and cooling, Daniel does engines, even the other new guy Justin does AutoCad. I had to be shown how to use WD-40 yesterday. It took me three tries to lubricate the gate hinges. But the upside to being inefficient is that I get the sponge jobs – the ones that soak up time without demanding skill. That may be digging out a drainage ditch (that’s not the upside part) or driving into town to pick up a camp van from the autobody. An hourly wage to listen to talk radio? And it’s tax-deductible! Maybe.

Last week when I was digging out the drainage ditch and having so much fun Pete, the camp director, came up and said, “You need to shave and put on some dress pants. We’re sending you to a business expo.” Cha-ching! They can’t send Joe the Polish carpenter to a business expo – they need his skills every day, plus no one can understand him. But me – they can spare me, because all I do is scrub bath tubs (Scrubbing Bubbles smells like mangoes – it makes me hungry, so I only do it before lunch).

I loaded up a van with recruiting materials and took it home. The next day I pulled up to the John Q. Hammons Convention Center which, to my surprise, is not named for the guy who resurrected dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.

A business expo is a lot like Comic-Con, but for dorks. While it’s my life ambition to attend Comic-Con, once as a child I got lost in a business expo at the Northwest Arkansas Mall. I’ve been plagued with nightmares since. Furthermore, instead of dressing up like a Stormtrooper I had to dress like my dad.

The expo covered the entire floorplan, including hallways, of the convention center. In all this wonderful space, War Eagle was given a booth in the very back, facing a beige wall. People would turn the corner and say, “Oh! You scared me. I didn’t know anyone was back here.”

Old people would turn the corner and say, “Where’s the restroom?”

Megan, one of the front office ladies, came with me. We were promoting group and corporate retreats at the camp facilities. We didn’t do so well. We did make friends with our booth neighbor, Jamie, who was promoting retirement home massage therapy.

There were two competing gyms walking the floor in similar tight black polos. They handed out literature and spoke badly of their competition. The third time World’s Gym passed our booth, the man who looked like Steven Lang from Avatar stopped to play the Plinko game we were attracting grandmothers with. He won a free frisbee and told us to keep it.

“You,” he said to me, offering free month at his gym in one hand, “You need to work out.” When I took the card he added, “Just kidding.”

I looked at the logo on the card and said, “Actually, I gave up working out for New Year’s. It’s been going pretty well so far.”

“What?” he said, partially stunned. Looking at his confused face I realized I had made a mistake in joking with one of the Expendables.

“I mean, I’d love to come. This is where the World works out, right? I’ll see you there. Maybe you can bench press me sometime.”

Spoiler: She Said Yes

At the end of summer camp, Camp War Eagle hosts a banquet for its summer staff. Old counselors come back to camp once the kids leave. Girls put on make-up and dresses and guys stand in all the corners talking about them. “She looks like that? I would’ve flirted with her more had I known.” Awards are given out and finally we have Encores, which is my favorite part of the summer.

Encores is a half hour to an hour of skits that make fun of all the dumb stuff counselors did over the summer. It covers twelve weeks of material, mostly things people hoped everyone forgot about or thought no one knew. My first year, on the very last day of camp one of the office girls saw me in only my underwear. Also, it should be said that by the last day of camp I had run out of underwear and was wearing an inappropriate piece, meant only for humor and never for actual underwear. Anyway, in the fourteen hours between that embarrassing moment and Encores, my underwear was stolen and ended up in the production. They made me come up and claim it.

In my five summers I’ve graduated from punchline to writer; this year I stole a hat but nothing else. However, I did write some funny lines about specific camp romances or verbal tics of the camp directors. My biggest contribution to Encores was proposing to Holly.

Throughout the show, we had called various counselors up to accept awards. Most Flatulent, How Not to Treat Seven-Year-Olds in the Haunted House, Red Flag Behavior Award. At the very end of Encores my writing partner Jen said, “We have one more award – Holly Dulin, come on down.” She thought she was receiving an award for peeing in her pants during Orientation. I came out behind her and took and knee and proposed.

That’s Josh Matlock’s hat in the background. Boy, did we get him. Zing!

She said yes. And the bear in the picture behind her is about to eat that man. Ominous?

We’re getting married in December. Until then I’m working on the maintenance crew at War Eagle while she student teaches. We’re also working on being married. For instance, last week I made parsley almond pesto and, while I was walking out of Wal-Mart with the ingredients, I stopped at the Redbox and picked up Battle: L.A., where Marines fight aliens. Great, right? After we processed the pesto and boiled the water I showed it to Holly.

“What in our relationship makes you think I’d ever watch that movie?”

So we watched Tangled instead.

And she was right. She’s always been vocal in her opposition to people-fighting-aliens movies. I need to learn to accept her as is. Also, Tangled made me laugh.