14 April 2016

Every Picture Tells a Story

Look up. Look wayyy up. That’s me on the tortoise.

So (early) seventies. Kevin Arnold had nothing on me.

Look at those groovy plaid pants. Looked fine to me back then, but I was seven-years-old and about to enter a world where everything I would wear would come from The Husky Collection . . . sold only at Sears.

But that’s another story.

What really bugs me are the blue socks – a fashion crime committed why wearing groovy shorts. Mom, what were you thinking here? Christ, no wonder my dad called me ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy.’ It’s not my fault that my mom dressed me funny and my dad didn’t care.

Has ANYONE seen socks like that, especially on a young boy, since 1970 – or ever?

It is July 1970 and the tortoise I am nervously (don’t let the smile fool you) straddling is at a popular tourist trap called Reptile Gardens, just outside Rapid City, South Dakota. It’s still there although I doubt they have the staged Wild West gun fight (with dead cowboys and everything) anymore. Damn PC.

Same thing with the FBI tour six years later: the agents were nice enough to demonstrate a Thompson sub-machine gun on a firing range. Nifty. Some years later they did away with it, blaming improper ventilation in the viewing gallery. 

Sure.

Imagine: guys got ‘shot’ with blank guns and actually fell backward about 10 feet into a hayloft. Up until that point it was the coolest thing I had ever seen. Now imagine doing that today. A real excuse for a ‘trigger warning,’ if I ever saw one. Some traumatized child crying out “mummy, is that man really dead?” Or “ow, that noise hurt my ears.” 

How dare you show kids this . . . this . . . nasty history? They don’t teach this violence at school. The violence is confined to the streets around the school and on Netflix.

I know I sound like a lot of other old fogeys before my time, but God only knows how we survived into adulthood with all the toy guns and jarts and all. It seems like we didn’t know that there was a killer hypodermic needle behind every privet hedge waiting for our tender feet.

Same with Yellowstone National Park, which was the ultimate destination for this family trip. There are ‘mud pots’ at the park that bubble up from the surface with a satisfying ‘plop’ which reminded me of farts and, frankly, smelled worse. The mud pots are deceiving in that they are superheated from underground thermal streams.

Note this modern day photo:
Mommy can we play in the mud?
 Now dig this: when I was there, there were NO fences – just planked walkways.

We were actually told a kid was grab-assing around (my dad loved that phrase) and fell into the mud pots and came up skeletal. 

No fence. You grab-assed around, you fell in, you died. Tough shit.

Disclaimer: I think this is true, but I was seven. A kid remembers strange things. I heard about a kid who died mixing pop rocks and Coke. I could believe it, but I couldn’t prove it and I was damn sure not going to try it.

But the point remains. Kids listened to their parents and park wardens and adults in general in situations like this and lived to tell the tale. Parents were responsible, for the most part.

And I’m 53 and get off my damn lawn. I know how this sounds. I remember a specific world, filled with scrubbed kids, dirty hippies, fun TV (seven channels) and having my father backhand me across the room when I misbehaved.

Well, you didn’t think this would be all sunshine and roses, did you?

Anyway, back to the tortoise and the dweeb.

I didn’t want to get on the tortoise. My dad made me. 

If you think this is faintly ridiculous, try to imagine how HUGE that beast looked to a kid that stood barely over four feet tall? And, to top it off, I had heard about snapping turtles. This, of course, was not a snapping turtle, but how was I to know? I thought: one false move and this think he’s going to snap a leg off. Notice I placed my leg toward the back to protect them from Mr. Turtle (Hell, I didn’t know the difference between a turtle and a tortoise. I thought it was a mutant 150-year-old giant turtle). 

“Just get on the goddamn thing so I can take a picture,” dad yelled (he yelled a lot but he didn’t know it). “Your sister got on it. What’s wrong with you?”

As I have repeated ad nauseum, I was seven. But I could have started a list back then of what I thought was wrong with me. 

Nevertheless, I was afraid that if I didn’t get on Ol’ Snapper, dad would pick me up and put me on the poor animal, so I slid on it – carefully. Dad snapped the photo and I got off sliding backwards away from those menacing jaws.

“See, was that so bad,” dad taunted. He did a lot of that too. “Kid I don’t know about you sometimes.” 

That was the first iteration of Hank Hill’s “that boy ain’t right,” and I would hear it often throughout childhood. 

As strange as it may sound, this stop at Reptile Gardens was the last happy memory of this whole vacation. While pulling out of the parking lot, dad ripped the gearshift right out of the floor of our ’69 VW van, freezing the gearbox in second gear.

And for the love of God, don’t romanticize those hippy vans (why my dad ever bought a ‘hippy van’ remains a mystery). They were unreliable and, as obvious here, good for shit in pretty much every way – and they still are.  As far as I’m concerned, Volkswagen is Hitler’s revenge.

So that would turn the Happy Family Vacation into a desperate struggle to return home to Ohio. Part two of that odyssey next.

But at least we have this one last picture of a terrified young man disrespecting one of nature’s most dignified creatures before everything went to Hell in the Badlands. 

So this photo will remain, until I get tired of looking at it, as the blog’s mascot. It represented the last moment in my life before I realized that things could go very wrong in the world and, sometimes, mom and dad aren’t omnipotent beings.