I spent the better part of yesterday futzing about in the garage, organizing shelves that had slowly accumulated a rather impressive variety of crap over the last few years. Normally, I’m fine with allowing the garage to be generally disorganized. It’s not attached to the house and over the years, it’s become more of glorified storage building than anything resembling a little cottage for our cars. I unwillingly started organizing the garage because I had nothing better to do while the pest control technician conducted indiscriminate chemical warfare to take care of unwanted interlopers inside my little homestead.
You see, a few months ago, my next door neighbors moved out in the midst of a divorce. They were generally nice people, despite the fact that their lived behaviors fit redneck stereotypes so perfectly that they make Jeff Foxworthy’s observations on the matter sound like those of an Ivy League sociologist. Near the end of their tenure as residents, they acquired a pair of puppies for their four children, with the purpose of training them as hunting dogs. The novelty of two little puppies wore off quickly and they were left in the backyard to their own devices, with only minimal attention from their once fawning owners.
I hate it when people buy a pet only to partially discard it a few months later by neglecting it in this precise way. There really wasn’t anything that could be done about it though, as the dogs had shelter, water, food, and secure fencing. I was glad to see them go, in a way, simply because I wouldn’t have to think about it every time I walked out on the back deck. Due to the neglect of their little furry compatriots, the dogs became infested with fleas, which naturally spread to my lawn and colonized my poor dog like a bunch of scurvy-ridden, foul smelling Spanish explorers in the 16th century. I suppose it was kind of the neighbors to leave a parting gift. I just would have preferred the flea farm hobby kit to be more like Sea Monkeys and less like a flea apocalypse.
I unknowingly gave my allowance money to a white supremacist who sold me a rip-off product and then used the profits to buy weapons for the KKK. You can’t make this up. It’s a miracle I’m not more cynical.
I’ve always enjoyed day-trips. The liberating and expansive feeling of going to and from a distant destination, all in the same day, has always carried a satisfying sense of completeness. When I was young, my family would undertake ill-fated long voyages by car to distant destinations, often requiring several stops at local tourist attractions in fascinating places like Disneyworld, or somewhat less impressive locales like “Dogpatch USA“, in rural Arkansas. As I grew older and family funds grew tighter, the grand scope of family trips decreased, though I always appreciated that my mother was willing to do, out of love, ridiculous things like drive four hours north to Topeka, so that I could tour the state capitol building and take pictures for a 4th grade class report on the 50 states.
Because I’m not wealthy enough to fund grand interstate pilgrimages to exotic amusement parks, most of my family outings have taken on the form of the latter. Day-trips and short ventures just a few hours away have been happily adequate and I recognize that a great many families never take any kind of day-trip together, much less to a state park a few hours away.
A few weeks ago, I packed up the family to trek into the Oklahoma wilderness on a voyage to pick up my oldest daughter from a week at a summer camp for Student Council. On the way back, we planned to stop at the Great Salt Plains and dig for salt crystals. While this might be incredibly boring to the average adult, I can’t imagine any kid that hasn’t secretly hoped to uncover a crystal or gem while digging around in a sandbox or backyard. My daughters are getting older at a rate that far outpaces my ability to catch up, so any time that I can get them to still be a kid is a time that I cherish.
We arrived at the sectioned off digging area, which is predictably in the middle of nowhere. A fairly nondescript county road stretched ahead over featureless land. Crop fields were demonstratively partitioned by houses, encircled by the occasional copse of trees meant to break the wind in this part of the state legendary for its Dust Bowl conditions. Suddenly, the sleepy prairie transformed before my eyes into a minimalistically marvelous and absolutely barren, blindingly white moonscape.
Looks like someone missed a spot..
After my parents divorced in the late 80’s, my mother, brother, and I spent the next decade moving in and out of numerous rental houses, condominiums, and apartments in my hometown. Our first rental house was located on the north edge of town, just south of an abandoned subdivision project. Because of the oil industry bust in the early 80’s, the planned expansion of my new neighborhood had stalled out, with only one house ever being even partially built.
The subdivision’s roads had been built, paved, and given street signs. Nearly pristine blacktop streets, laid out in a rough grid, criss-crossed five city blocks. Because they weren’t being used for anything other than a make out spot for teenagers late at night, the unpopulated city blocks made perfect bicycle race tracks on which to settle heated neighborhood rivalries between prepubescent boys desperately trying to evoke unquestioned machismo.
In between each street was a cleared tract of land, absolutely devoid of trees, mounds, or anything but long grasses, thick brush, and random rocks. These weren’t bucolic meadows bounded conveniently by city streets. These were long fields filled with thousands of cockleburrs. As much as I loved walking through the fields, I hated the cockleburrs. I hated the sound they made when I tried to pull them off my shoelaces. I hated pricking my fingers a hundred times in a vain effort to pluck them off with my pink, tender little digits. I’d eventually resort to using my mother’s needle-nose pliers to tug them free of their tenacious grip on my shoes.
Olive-sized pellets of pure, unadulterated, spiteful evil.