Paper Has Lots Of Vitamin Z
Gawker.com had a contest this week where readers were invited to submit stories about their worst summer vacations ever. Grand prize for the most miserable experience? A beach towel or money or something. I don’t know. Didn’t pay that close attention. At any rate, this contest got me thinking about my own most dismal vacation experience. It actually occurred in October, which immediately disqualified it from participating in Gawker’s thing. Still, it was pretty awful, and at least warrants a blog post. There was fighting, there was sickness, there was the inexplicable consumption of paper.
I believe I was in the fourth or fifth grade. My father, a builder of homes, had just completed work on an abode in Ticonderoga, NY, which is approximately four hours north of where my family lived in Connecticut at the time. Pops had to go up there for one final inspection, so he decided to make a “guy’s vacation” out of it. He invited a banker friend (Wingus) and his teenage son (Dingus) to come with us and spend a couple nights watching the World Series in this completely empty, unfurnished, and unheated house. The four of us piled into the banker friend’s minivan and prepared for maximum wackiness.
In my view, the wives were smart to stay home. The minivan was so loaded up with camping crap Wingus brought it couldn’t take a hill faster than twenty miles an hour. Reaching Ticonderoga took ages. The whole way, Wingus was busting Dingus’s balls about being too fat for his age. Every time the poor kid went to eat something, Wingus would start whining about how his first born should be watching his weight because he didn’t want him to end up like one of those motorcycle-riding twins in the Guinness Book of World Records. Dingus would usually just happily chirp, “I’m large and in charge!” and leave it at that while manifesting his anger in other ways—namely, forcing me to eat Starburst candies while they were still in the wrappers.
“Paper has lots of Vitamin Z,” Dingus would angrily mutter while staring me down. What could I do? I didn’t want to get pummeled. After a while, I got used to the taste of wax paper.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been to upstate New York in October, but it’s fucking freezing. Stupidly, I thought I could get by in just my Mickey Mouse sweatshirt. My father implored me to put on a winter jacket, but I was all, “I’m ten years old! I’m invincible!” Cut to me shivering in my sleeping bag, freaking out because I can feel my throat and lungs swelling to dangerous levels. I had indeed contracted the Croup, and I required some sort of medical attention. Unfortunately, I absolutely could not wake my father up that first night. We were all sleeping on the floor, which is never the most comfortable arrangement. Who cuts logs without a mattress? My father. I did all could to try to rouse him save a sharp nut-stomping. It was hopeless.
Obviously I made it through that hellish eve, but I don’t remember what was done to quell my illness. I’m guessing Tylenol and lozenges. I’m not complaining—it’s not like I had a gaping head wound—but I definitely didn’t sleep for more than ten minutes at a time that weekend until we got back to Connecticut and my mom gave me some prescription-strength shit she had lying around.
Wingus and Dingus’s fat fight reached its climax at an otherwise lovely greasy spoon the following afternoon somewhere in downtown Ticonderoga. Dingus ordered some incredibly decadent plate, and all hell broke loose. They were just screaming at one another. Vein’s were a-poppin’. Aren’t kids supposed to be kinda fat when they’re thirteen? That was my viewpoint. I just wanted to eat my toast and play with my Spider-Man. Why were my dad and I being dragged into this Morton Downey, Jr.-style debate? This was supposed to be a fucking vacation!
At least we got to watch the World Series uninterrupted by the usual distractions. This was in ’88, when Kirk Gibson hit that home run with his two busted legs or whatever. I really felt a lot of national pride over that, or whatever.
A Ticonderoga memory I have that I desperately wish was part of this shitty Wingus/Dingus fabric but actually occurred a few years prior was the time my dad bought me this gigantic sloth puppet from some vendor on the town’s main drag. Yes, there was at one time a person (or persons) who sold gigantic sloth puppets as a business somewhere in this country. Hey, it was the ’80s. Lots of crazy shit was going on back then.
Anyway, this guy was walking around the block demonstrating one of his miraculous sloth puppets, the legs of which wrapped around his waist while his left arm went up the puppet and his right arm held a wooden stick that controlled the puppet’s free arm. Basically, it was made to look like the puppet was clinging to your torso as you manipulated it. It was probably as close as you could get to one of Jim Henson’s Muppets for three wooden nickels and a rabbit’s foot. I don’t want to think about how much this weirdo was selling them for. If it was more than five dollars, he should have been arrested.
I couldn’t take my eyes off this weirdo and his sloth, but not really because I wanted one. I thought it was one of the strangest things I’d ever seen. Alas, my dad mistook my strong gaze for admiration and, God bless him, ran into the store and bought me my very own full torso sloth puppet. Mine was custard yellow, outfitted with sunglasses, a bandana, and a little cowboy hat. It was the Hank Williams, Jr. of sloth puppets. I was dumbfounded that I now owned this thing. Sure, I used it a lot while we were in Ticonderoga that one time, but after that I banished Slothy McGee to the darkest corner of my closet.
If ever you enter the confines of my parents’ house, you will see mounted on a wall somewhere a photo of me and my mom standing in front of Lake George in which I am “wearing” my recently acquired sloth puppet, an Ocean Pacific t-shirt, and an Indian headdress for good measure. I’m laughing in said photo, probably because it was all I could do to keep from crying.