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Grumpy Vacation, part 1

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posted on Aug, 10 2018 @ 06:44 AM
It is said that Lake Tahoe is 99.1% pure: that the water possesses a degree of clarity such that from the surface, one can see objects at a depth of 100 feet. I guess that’s pretty impressive but I have awful vision, so what do I really know? I wish I could fathom the forces that allow – no! require! – such a thing to exist in a world that seems so goddamn filthy.

My father started investing (is that the right word?) in a timeshare at The Lodge at Lake Tahoe after (presumably) a considerable pay-raise when his employer “went public” with the release of one of its highly successful CAD products. That was a good year for my father.

I was in sixth grade: the year I got sucker punched in PE by Dan Hicks and the swallowing trouble started. I guess I was a runt, is what most people would say. It wasn’t a good year, but eventually it ended and I earned a break from Dan Hicks and his fists and from school, and my family went on vacation to Lake Tahoe.

Most of my earliest memories of Lake Tahoe lay like sunken treasure far below the 100 foot depth of clarity but a few still surface now and again: coveting a sunburst (or was it maroon?) Stratocaster on the wall, behind the counter in a pawnshop; huddling from a ferocious wind at the peak of Mt. Tallac with my father and uncle Dennis, and eating bagels and cream cheese and trail mix and shaking up used Gatorade bottles filled with Crystal Light powder and creek water while observing the breathtaking panorama of the Sierra-Nevada; swimming in the pool in the courtyard at the Lodge, studying but neither fully comprehending nor being able to articulate how the dancing water could be so peaceful and so chaotic, both at once.

I remember the morning we ate breakfast at the Hard Rock Cafe in Stateline before driving back to Oregon.


It’s hard for me to feed myself; I have a problem swallowing food. The general term for this is dysphagia and many things can cause it, but I’ve had it since old Dan Hicks got me in the guts. He got me real good.

The swallow-reflex is a four stage process. Stage 1, as in everything else, is preparation: it is chewing your food. Stage 2 is the transport (by the tongue) of this revolting masticated matter to the back of the throat and stage 3 is food passing to and through the esophagus by way of muscle contractions called peristalsis. The esophagus passes food to the stomach at stage 4. You know what happens after that. (Poop.)

Over the years I have come to visualize the process as a linear relay race; the starting-, baton hand-off-, and finish-lines being stages 1 through 4, respectively. Imagine that food is the baton and the swallow stages are the relay runners. Let’s name them, in order, Teeth, Tongue, Throat, Tummy. (Sometimes, couples who breed large volumes of children give them all names with a common first initial. It is now convenient for us to do that, too.)

So far, for me, I can depend on a solid race from Teeth. But sometimes, Tongue digs in his heels, comes to a screeching halt and clings to the baton when he should be handing it off to Throat. I hate to say it, but Throat is sort of a milquetoast. In fairness, most of the time he manages to wrest the baton from Tongue, but he could use some weight lifting or maybe a little more confidence. And it beats the living hell out of me what Tummy is doing. He must be at least an average runner – I’m still alive – but at that point of the race, I’m usually so nervous that he’s going to hurl the baton and start hauling ass in the wrong direction that I can’t bring myself to pay much attention.

I never had a problem with liquids, and I quickly identified the worst-offending solid foods, which, combined, is the all-American supper: steak & potatoes. The intensity of the problem fluctuates according to many factors but at times it’s enough of an issue that maintaining a healthy weight is a formidable challenge. It’s imposing enough on my gustation that, anymore, I rarely share a meal with anyone other than my wife and daughter, often foregoing that. Public meals are as rare as a bloody steak. (I’m sorry about saying that; I can’t help myself.)


During all these intervening years, my parents have had their one-week-per-year timeshare at the Lodge. Also during these years, I got married and my wife gave birth to our daughter.

Something came up for my parents this year, and my mother offered to let the wife and daughter and I stay at the Lodge during their week. We were happy to accept and excited to take basically our first family vacation.

We don’t have lots of money but somehow, I managed to scrape together enough cash and credit for our trip. It wouldn’t be anything too fantastic, but we could afford the gas to get there, food to eat and maybe several things to do that didn’t cost a whole lot of money. I won’t lie: I am basically a loser. Nothing really ever went my way so far. But I believe Tom Petty was right: even the losers get lucky sometimes, and luck was mine and I had the means and the inclination to give my family something we’d all enjoy. I was the Lucky Loser goddamn it.

(Cont., next post)

posted on Aug, 10 2018 @ 06:53 AM
a reply to: DictionaryOfExcuses
The morning we left, I vomited a cup of black tea five minutes after drinking it. It struck me as odd. but I felt better afterwards, so off we went. It was hot all day and the drive lasted fourteen hours. In spite of it, the drive was fine. We played the alphabet game and we listened to music and then I would get irritated and ask could we all just shut up for a while. And after being sonically-massaged back into a sociable mood by the white-noise of the tires smooshing against the road we’d do it all over again. I tried to find good times to say wise fatherly crap to my daughter. That’s what you’re supposed to do, right? When at last we arrived at our room, I collapsed on the bed in my clothes, asleep in minutes. (A true rarity for me.)


The first day in Tahoe, I slept until noon and laid in bed until 1 o’clock. I finally got up when the wife and daughter returned from the pool. We were all still worn out from the long drive, presumably with assistance of the increased altitude, so we rested and started researching things to do. We all came up with one thing that we each wanted to do that wouldn’t drive the other two into psychosis. The daughter wanted to go horseback riding, the wife wanted to go for a hike, and I wanted to find a quiet location from which to (piss-poorly) watercolor the sun setting beneath the western peaks surrounding the lake. So far, everyone was happy and I was the Lucky Loser.

We all got hungry eventually, and I suggested that we eat a public meal at Zephyr Cove Diner, a place about ten miles from the Lodge that I remember from my childhood. I vividly remember a sign in the window of the diner, boasting the world’s greatest milkshakes, which is why we stopped in there when I was a kid. And the milkshake was something else, out of this world. I tried to get my daughter excited about the milkshakes but she didn’t seem to care much.

I didn’t exactly remember where the place was but I was sure I’d find it if we got in the car and just started driving. The wife drove. It stressed her out that she didn’t know where to go. It stressed her out that she didn’t know where to turn. It stressed her out that she couldn’t instantly locate the entrance to the parking lot, that there were so many people walking around, that she couldn’t just navigate smoothly with other drivers in the lot. Christ. I should’ve driven the damn car.

We entered the restaurant and were greeted by a male twenty-something middle-eastern host who was taller than me and had a massive staring problem. I hate it when people stare at me. He sat us underneath the goddamn air conditioning vent – how in God’s name can anyone justify that sort of cold? The host left and when our waiter arrived, my wife requested to be seated in the sunshine by the window.

If I was pressed to identify the exact moment that our vacation started to go south, that was it right there.

Any idiot could have instantly identified the waiter as a self-evidently despicable asshole. He has the glasses, the wannabe handlebar mustache complete with the amateur wax job, the fresh tattoo sleeves with edgy Katakana script, the openly broadcasted, completely unearned confidence and the permanent smug smirk on the type of face that people universally want to smash the teeth out of. Christ. These days, I guess it’s unwise to go around saying the plain truth like that.

With a sigh, he moved us to the table the wife wanted and we all ordered drinks. I got black coffee, I can’t remember what the wife or daughter drank. If history is any indication, probably plain old water and chocolate milk, respectively. Our waiter slugged away to fetch the drinks and we started looking at menus. It was at this point that I noticed: nowhere could I find the boastful claim of the world’s best milkshakes.

Our waiter came back to take our order. He was obviously irritated that we asked to be moved, and I wanted to bridge the gap. I am not especially good at small talk, but I was the Lucky Loser. Right?

“I remember this place from when I was a kid...twenty, twenty five years ago. There was a sign that said ‘World’s Best Milkshakes’...I was telling my daughter about it, but I don’t see it that a current claim or have you guys been dethroned?” I smirked the nicest smirk I could and – a true peacemaking effort – looked at him directly in the eye for a split second or so.

He kind of cocked his head and gave me an incredulous look. “That’s...uuuhhhhhhhhuhuh...a rather bold…..uuuuhhhhhhh…claim.”

Why isn't small talk working? I'm being nice and I even looked him in the eye - a true peacemaking effort. Why is he trying to make me feel small? Maybe I wasn’t the Lucky Loser after all. In that instant, the world was reduced to me and him, and only one of us could survive in this cold, dark, Godforsaken place. I could feel my throat harden in aggression, I could feel the surging of ancient and familiar runt-rage coming on.

“And I,” I began (Ground. Center. Be cool.), “Am not the one who made the claim.” My jaws ached with a courteous smile and I thought, Goddamnit just once would one of you smug bastards just play ball?

I ordered fish and chips. The wife ordered a burger, lettuce wrapped, with no cheese. She can’t have the stuff and it’s no joke. (Diarrhea.) The daughter: macaroni and cheese, a perennial favorite.

My daughter and I went to the gift shop attached to the restaurant. Looking at the keychains, refrigerator magnets, postcards, t-shirts, sweatshirts, backpacks and ball caps, I mused about how all these useless items are probably included in some big official figure, like the GDP or something. What a senseless goddamn waste.

“We’re not spending money here. Let’s go.”

“Okay daddy.”

(Cont., next post)

edit on 10/8/2018 by DictionaryOfExcuses because: (no reason given)

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edit on 10/8/2018 by DictionaryOfExcuses because: (no reason given)

posted on Aug, 10 2018 @ 07:01 AM
a reply to: DictionaryOfExcuses
We got back to the table and our food arrived almost immediately. My wife’s burger had cheese on it.

“I ordered this without cheese,” the wife said. She said it politely.

The waiter’s shoulders dropped in that fed up, gay, “God, thend me dantherth!” kind of way.

“Yeeeaaahhhh...I’m just not sure about that.” Great. Our waiter is the hip, edgy, disaffected Bill Lumbergh of Zephyr Cove.

“Oh, I just...I’m really sorry, I just can’t eat it.” She really couldn’t. My wife is easily flustered, and you’ve already had a perusal of my social skills. For everyone’s sake I stayed out of it.

The waiter audibly sighed through his nose, pursed his lips, picked up the plate without a word, and started for the kitchen. Awkward. Was it really that big of a deal? My daughter and I were sitting there with hot food, feeling weird.

“Should we wait to eat?”

Another audible sigh. “No, go ahead.” God.

Well, the good news was that even though her plate would be coming late, she and I would probably finish our meals at the same time on account of my swallowing problem – the dysphagia. I am a slow eater, and I am not good at levity, but I tried because I wanted my wife to cheer up.

“Well, the good news is that even though your plate will be coming late, you and I will probably finish our meals at the same time.” She knows about the dysphagia. She sighed again and looked out the window toward (easily) dozens of fortunate assholes – probably cheese-eaters, every single one – out on Zephyr Cove Beach, having a better time than my family.

I could tell that, as usual, I was only making things worse by trying improve the situation. I started the public meal, trying not to notice the other people in the restaurant. The first mouthful of fish went down laboriously, even with coffee. I struggled and started and winced but managed to choke it down.

A bad sign.

I brushed it off as a fluke, a one-off. I’d reset the game via a delicious french fry, with a heavy enough hailing of common table salt to instantly crack an elephant's lips on contact. As is my common practice, I waited several pregnant minutes, to compose myself, before attempting the next bite.

And it was strike two: I choked on the french fry. Ok, I assured myself, No big surprise there.

(I mentioned earlier that potatoes are at the top of the offending foods list. And even though it’s true – potatoes in nearly any form make me choke – I eat them because 1) I am a dumbass, 2) I really like potatoes, but what’s more is 3) I like the idea of potatoes: rustic, hardy, versatile: a romantic symbol of the common man.)

By that time, the wife had gotten her order from our pissy waiter and was crunching deafeningly away on the lettuce-wrapped meat disc, and the daughter was already almost finished and eyeballing my fries. I love the wife but Jesus Forgot Christmas! she is the loudest chewer I’ve ever heard.

This time, Throat, you're gonna take this goddamn baton, even if by brute force. (I admit, that sounds revolting in a way.) Facing down the terror bubbling in my abdomen up through my chest, looking from the corner of my eye to ensure that nobody else was watching what must certainly looked like an avant garde physical comedy routine, I took a third bite, a nibble, with plenty of lubricating tartar sauce. Slowly, carefully, I masticated the vanquished fish in my jaws.

I choked on it. I felt tiny bits of flaky fish meat in the wrong tube. I spluttered, gurgled, burped, winced, starting in my chair. I threw my napkin (which I was anxiously clutching) down on the tabletop. “Well just forget it then!” I whisper-screamed. An old woman in a pastel blazer sitting at the bar looked over at me. I hate it when people look at me.

I was fifteen minutes and three chokes into a public meal. I resigned myself to the coffee. I lifted the cup to my lips and took a normal draw of the tepid, mediocre fluid. Throat wasn’t taking it. For the first time ever, Throat utter failed on liquid. I turned my head as I spluttered and gasped, coffee exploding from my mouth and onto the window next to me. Several people looked over at me, including our waiter. My face burned, my eyes watered and my entire body throbbed as I picked up the napkin I had hastily thrown during the preceding tantrum to wipe the coffee from the window that didn’t have the sign boasting about the world’s greatest milkshakes.

Somebody evidently told the waiter that he was required to come back, and when I asked for a box, he looked down at my plate, saw all of my food, essentially untouched, drew one of those gay, deep, gay, slow, “I just can't even” types of breaths and turned away to get the box for my untouched food.

Then he came back with the box and snidely asked, “Can I get you anything else?”

“Just the check please.” And just one reason to put you through the window.

When the asshole waiter was off getting the check, I glanced down at my hand and caught a glimpse of my masonic ring. I reflected for a moment about how it is my responsibility to rise above and be the bigger man in these types of spread the mortar of cheer upon the bricks of friendship or some such trite feelgood garbage. I reached into my pocket and removed a twenty dollar bill as our waiter emerged to view with the check.

“Look, you’ve been very accommodating toward my family and I, and we appreciate it. Take this,” I said, thrusting the bill toward him, “and split it, ten for you, ten for the guy who made my wife’s plate.”

He looked a little surprised, and the words “Thank you” leaked out of the toothed opening of the front of his face. We paid the bill and when my family and I walked out, I walked like I always do, like I expect someone to start some goddamn problem with me. You learn to do that after a while. I turned back to look for the last time at the waiter, for twenty-thousandths of a second or so.


“I’ll drive back honey,” I said. We got in our gray Hyundai and drove back to the room. That was the first day of our first family vacation.


edit on 10/8/2018 by DictionaryOfExcuses because: (no reason given)

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posted on Aug, 10 2018 @ 07:08 AM
That was a great read and I even learned about dysphagia.

For some reason I can't flag it but if I could, I would. Well done and thanks for writing it so well.

posted on Aug, 10 2018 @ 07:21 AM
Man, that does suck. I will try not to complain today. Hang in there.

posted on Aug, 10 2018 @ 07:42 AM
a reply to: Justso
a reply to: SprocketUK

Thanks a ton for reading youse!

Five more days of vacation to write about! I'll post it as soon as it's written.

posted on Aug, 10 2018 @ 08:17 AM
a reply to: DictionaryOfExcuses

Thanks for sharing. It opens my eyes to others. Yours is touching. You write so clearly and personally. I do enjoy reading it.

posted on Aug, 10 2018 @ 08:46 AM
a reply to: DictionaryOfExcuses

Looking forward to it

posted on Aug, 10 2018 @ 10:22 AM
a reply to: DictionaryOfExcuses

Another great read. I really enjoy your writing style!

posted on Aug, 11 2018 @ 01:41 PM
Strong, Strong imagery!! I know talent when I see/read it!!!

Just in case....
edit on 11-8-2018 by olaru12 because: (no reason given)

posted on Aug, 11 2018 @ 10:03 PM
a reply to: DictionaryOfExcuses

That was a good read.

I look forward to part two ...

ps. Stay away from dry crackers. 😏

posted on Aug, 11 2018 @ 11:48 PM
a reply to: Timely

It's so rare to see you outside the acrogym.

Feels awkward, like I've bumped into my boss at the DMV.

Thanks for reading Timely!
edit on 11/8/2018 by DictionaryOfExcuses because: (no reason given)

posted on Aug, 12 2018 @ 02:25 AM
a reply to: DictionaryOfExcuses

Lol !

My pleasure !

Now get back to composing the rest of your travelogue !

posted on Aug, 12 2018 @ 03:36 PM
a reply to: Timely

I've got work piled up so the second installment might take a minute.

However, last night I whipped up a quick story for the writers competition. If so inclined, check it out:

posted on Aug, 13 2018 @ 08:54 PM
Great read! Looking forward to your second installment!

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