April 2001


Greetings from the land where the buffalo roam. More on this later. Well, Evan and I have been on our second camp-out. I don’t intend to go on all of them (there is one each month) but now would seem to be the time since the weather is so nice. When it gets hot, I’m out of there. But this weekend, the weather was good so off we went.

We went to a state park in the Wichita Mountains of southern Oklahoma that is adjacent to Fort Sill. It was a long trip – about three and a half hours and we didn’t even start until nearly 7 PM. Just goes to show you, you can put up a tent in the dark. This park is in a wilderness area that contains, among other things, a herd of elk, longhorn cattle, and a large herd of buffalo. I guess the correct term is “Bison” but only the naturalists at the park call them that). They roam freely because (and if you’ve ever seen one up close, you know what I’m talking about) they’re huge. They go wherever they want. Kind of like that joke about where the 800 pound gorilla sleeps. Thankfully they’re fairly gentle and not aggressive. Unless they have babies nearby but even they are smart enough to keep the babies from herds of chattering boy scouts. Certain individuals did in fact roam through out camp even though we didn’t see them. We saw evidence of them if you know what I mean. Big piles of evidence. I can imagine the bison leader looking at the camp of sleeping boy scouts and telling his buddies:

“Hey let’s go crap over there!”

The boys took, I think, an unhealthy interest in the bison dung. After a few dares and double dog dares, one of them finally picked up a buffalo chip and threw it. It was a popular topic of conversation. I’m proud of Evan for his comment:

“Okay…I think you’re a little too interested in the buffalo poop.”

Amen brother.

This camp-out featured a somewhat different set of boys and parents and this time, actually included one mom. Like most women, she was just as capable as any of the men outdoors plus she managed to keep up her expensive manicure for the entire weekend. Showoff.

My favorite dad though was a man I’ll call “the guy with the big red truck”. He had every guy’s dream pickup. It was the biggest Dodge Ram pickup available that isn’t classified as construction equipment and was bright red. Every boy in the troop wanted to ride with him. Heck, I wanted to ride with him. He could seat six in the cab! Unfortunately, it was a diesel powered thing that sounded like a garbage truck. It had a license plate on the front reading: “My Wife Made Me Buy It”. I love it. He was a quintessential Oklahoman with a loud, outgoing personality and a buzz cut that everyone instinctively takes a liking to once they realize he isn’t going to beat themup.

Our mission on this camp-out was to hike and boy did we hike. We hit the trail and marched 8 miles. That’s equivalent to about 20 miles for us city boys. One of the boys led the way and the scoutmasters brought up the rear. The patient, saintly scoutmaster who radiated confidence for the boys who got tired and feared they couldn’t make it. He could make them believe that he could have a helicopter in there to get them if necessary. Along with him was the guy with the big red truck who could make the others believe that they really did have it within themselves to make it the rest of the way and could feel proud of themselves. Not to brag or anything but Evan made it without a hitch. He had a look on his face though that looked like he was about ready to leave the whiners to the buzzards. He even commented on the beautiful scenery which is pretty non 10-year-old-like. Of course, he is almost eleven.

The mom also had a way with boys and hers was the second most popular car to ride in. She had a CD player. They apparently had a pretty good time in there because they all piled out of the car laughing when we got there. Her own son didn’t ride back with her though – he just had to have a ride in that big red truck. The following conversation was fairly typical on the hike:

Some random boy:

“Hey Mrs. Roberts, look! Buffalo poop!”

Mom: “EEwwww!”

Scoutmaster: “Mrs. Roberts, is that a snake?”

Mom: “EEEEKKK!”

The first “EEK” was followed by a record setting 20 yard dash which was, of course, the point of the snake comment. I, unfortunately, was ahead of the mom and was on the receiving end of a rather impressive (for a 5′ 10′ woman) body block. I kept my feet though because, of course, I ain’t gonna be knocked on my ass by no girl! It still kind of hurts though.

We hiked past a small canyon with walls that were maybe 40 feet high. On the other side was a group who were rapelling down the side. There were girls and women among them. I overheard the following conversation:

Boy 1: “Dude, gimme your binoculars!”

Boy 2: “What for?”

Boy 1: “I want to check out those girls!”

Boy 2: “What, the one going down now? Dude! She’s totally old! She’s like 40 or something!”

Boy 1: “So? I like’em old! She’s still hot!”

Scoutmaster: “Guys…let’s move on. And find something else to talk about.”

Now there’s the guy I want in charge of the troop. Did he pitch the little twerp over the side? No! He took the high road and brought the focus (so to speak) back to its proper place.

Now let’s admit it; this would be so much more boring if all I did was talk about the pretty scenery and the majestic animals. Sure there was plenty of that but that really doesn’t read all that well. People are more important anyway and after some of the conversations around the campfire, I appreciate the people in my own family all the more. Actually, there wasn’t much wood around (victims of previous Boy Scout camp-outs, I guess) so we sat around the hissing Coleman lantern. After hearing about all the spouses who snore like buffaloes, grind their teeth to the point of requiring medical attention, drool in their sleep, or just have some unfortunate intestinal malady that requires the investment in an industrial strength exhaust fan in the bathroom, I felt the need to find a phone and tell Melissa just how much I appreciate her and the fact that she does none of these things. Which I did tell her as soon as I got home.

On the way home, we stopped off at Fort Sill to see the museum of artillery. Now, I ask you: can you think of any place that would be of more interest to a group of boys than a half-mile long semi-circle of cannons? I defy you to come up with anything better. Even I felt my old heart beat a little faster at the sight of the monstrous-sized gun that fired the only nuclear warhead ever launched from a cannon. The mom did her best to be nice and look interested. And I was able to introduce the memory of my own Dad to the next generation by telling them about how he had been fired at by the strange-looking German Nebelwerfer. They were suitable impressed that they actually knew someone who knew someone who had been there and that these were not simply meaningless artifacts.

We topped off the weekend with a stop at the Flying-J truck plaza in Oklahoma City. I’m sure you’ve been there, right? It’s one of the few places that can accommodate 18 boy scouts who smell of campfire smoke. It’s also one of the few places with parking spaces big enough to accommodate a Dodge Ram pickup. It seems that truck stops have showers for rent and I almost took advantage of the fact. I might have had it not been that we were only two hours from home. As we pulled up, the guy with the truck parked next to a Miata. We could have stepped from the truck into the Miata. The drivers (two young women) looked up nervously. I don’t know why – it was a truck stop after all. The guy said:

“Don’t worry, I won’t run over ya!”

One of the boys in the back seat was overheard to say:

“Man, I wouldn’t be caught dead in that car.”

Other boy:

“Why?”

First boy, with a look on his face that said this should be blatantly obvious:

“Because a Miata’s a chick car!”

Another male bonding moment.

So, it was a good trip. Now, I always try to present a dignified demeanor. I’m naturally a quiet person and only offer my opinion when I feel it’s relevant – not just to hear my own voice. And, I worked hard to become an intellectual; I don’t hide it and try to make sure everyone knows it just in case they ever need a rocket launched or something like that. Those who haven’t had the good fortune to know many rocket scientists tend classify us as people to “watch out for” while we’re on rugged expeditions. It is true that writing software doesn’t do much for your physical conditioning and I was a bit concerned about my ability to hike eight miles over rocks. The scoutmaster’s wife was apparently concerned too; before we left, she put her hand on my arm and said “Are you going to be OK?” I suppose most guys would take offense at such obvious doubt about their masculinity but I soak up sympathy like a sponge so I responded “Well, I hope so.” Upon returning, she checked on me first. I had changed into my former cubmaster Indiana Jones hat; more than anything else just to hide my greasy hair that was sticking up all over. But, of course, that hat also makes you look cooler. I climbed down from the big red truck with a swagger that was brought on by an aching back but I was met with the comment:

“Well, you look like a new man! You look like a camper!”

To the extent that I was unshaven, dirty, smelly, exhausted, and aching from the avoid-the-snake body slam, she was correct. But like any real guy, I assumed she meant that I was just a little more studly than when I left. Amazing how guys can leap to such ludicrously incorrect opinions of themselves isn’t it? I also believe that my pants are tight around the waist because they’ve shrunk, not because I’ve gained weight.

So, the weather was good and we only had one injury – a twisted angle (one of the older boys) – so the weekend was worth talking about I guess. Back to the air conditioned havens with hot running water and flushing toilets! I sure wouldn’t mind having a truck like that though.

Easter around our house went much the same way it always has: with the family going to church, but this year it included Evan trying to squeak out the halleluya chorus with his armpits on the way home. Quality entertainment.

Mel’s family always seems to get together for a big meal somewhere; this year it was at our house thus giving us an excuse to clean the house up. This year was a bit different in that Melissa not only got a new easter dress, she got an easter minivan. We had been pursuing a used minivan for some time and on Good Friday, I handed the check over and was handed the keys. Pretty exciting.

Donations are gladly accepted.

And yes, I had the transmission checked out before I bought it.

Even better, I bought it from a guy who lives on a golf course. His back yard is always littered with golf balls from golfers like me. He offered me a sackful which I gladly accepted. (That was the golf course I played recently into whose hazards I lost three balls. I have now come away from that course with more balls than when I came – not a bad profit.)

Our new employer (EDS) had a benefits fair today and was giving away freebies: small sets of teeny screwdrivers. I thought “Hey! Tools!” but an office-mate pointed out that tools to screw with could be taken the wrong way when used in the context of a new employer. It might suggest what they were about to do to us. Indeed, it seems they are providing us with the tools to do it to ourselves. Hmmm….

We had way too much candy yesterday. The kids still like to do the easter egg hunt thing so we had to go hide eggs. Unfortunately, they are old enough that they want to hide eggs and make *us* find them. When combined with their older cousins, they made the job a tough one for us. We were digging eggs out of gutters, digging them up out of the ground, and retrieving them from the centers of sticker bushes. One was up the tailpipe of one of the cars. We did this in the front yard due to the presence of the dog in the back yard. Didn’t want to find any of those unwrapped tootsie rolls if you know what I mean.

By the end of the day, we had eaten so much stuff, we needed a nap but couldn’t sleep because of all the sugar and caffeine.

Spring hit us pretty suddenly this weekend. Just two weeks ago, Evan and I were shivering our way through a campout with freezing temperatures. The weather continued apace until last Tuesday when it suddenly reversed itself and the temperature soared to 85 degrees where it has remained. (Just in time for my first 18 holes of golf – how convenient). In just a few days, the trees have leafed out and the grass has leapt skyward. Unfortunately, I had to cut it down but at least it’s green now.

I like this time of year. You appreciate it more when there are four seasons and the spring is more of a welcome change than it is in a place where the weather is nice all the time. Plus, winter slows the termites down a little. The wind was consistent yesterday so the kids and I went to fly a kite. I guess it was me that wanted to fly the kite, the kids seemed to use it as an excuse to get a little hot and thirsty and then negotiate a trip the QuikTrip for a slushee. What a pair of couch potatoes! I wouldn’t have been annoyed if they hadn’t started this the moment the kite got off the ground. They say you shouldn’t discuss business before the 5th hole and I don’t think you should discuss slushees until the kite has crashed at least once.

Of course, it was palm sunday yesterday so the kids got to march into the church service waving palm branches. I always enjoy that, all the little kids dressed up in their frilliest finery (the girls that is) waving palm branches in a self-important way and then singing. The fifth grade boys were notably absent this year; perhaps a result of an unfortunate palm branch swordfight incident at some point last year. Only the choir director knows for sure and he ain’t talkin’.

They had to do this for both services and so there were those of us who were undiplomatically waiting in the wings to grab our children and make off with them rather than sitting through the same sermon twice. Nobody was surprised or offended. It’s been the same since I was a kid. I was, fortunately or unfortunately, at the door which was guarded/usherd by Doug Quinn – Broken Arrow Ledger or so he introduced himself. A real newspaper reporter, sort of. Ah yes, the Broken Arrow Ledger (circulation in the dozens). He interviewed me, for that is how he talks to everybody and he does, indeed, talk to everybody. He greeted each little old lady by name and remembered all their birthdays:

“How are you Mrs (fill in the blank), you had a birthday this week didn’t you? How old are you now – 29? Oh, it’s 92 now? I guess I got it backwards. Is that really your age or have you just quit counting? Ha Ha.”

Between the prelude and the first hymn I felt like I had given him my life’s story; pretty much against my will too. Lord help me if I’m ever interrogated. Anybody who has ever confided in me better watch out; your treasured secrets may wind up in the Broken Arrow Ledger. There’s not much else that’s newsworthy these days what with the low crime rate and all.

This is also the time of year to fight weeds. The dandelions make their appearance this time of year. Dandelions – the scourge of suburban landscapers everywhere. If the military were to ever design a plant, the dandelion would be something that they would come up with. It has all the valued qualities that any weapon system has. It keeps low to the ground to avoid the lawn mowers and thus it has stealth. It has a long central root that breaks off easily which contains most of the plant’s nutrients and is thus survivable. It has a nice looking flower so that you may decide not to kill it until you realize too late that it is only attractive in a superficial way but down underneath is truly ugly and will soon take over the world. It keeps low until suddenly, the seed pod shoots up during the course of a single day and distributes thousands of seeds on the wind in a blitzkrieg of a plant attack. One week your yard looks normal – next week it’s pockmarked with the craterlike leaf patterns of dandelions.

We don’t fight for our lives, food, or property any more so we take the battle to the lawn and we continue the primal struggle; this time against weeds. You can take no prisoners; those well meaning or misguided individuals who feel that lawns are somehow unnatural or that wild plants have their own intrinsic value are guilty of a form of broadleaf sedition. From their lawns spring the seeds of invasion. There can be no mercy; we fight them back with our own weapons of mass destruction – broadleaf herbicide.

Some have given up – like the Roman Empire before it fell, they have hired mercenaries; the lawn care services. Let one payment be missed and the mercenaries stay home and the barbarian plants invade before you can say Weed-B-Gone. But I continue to fight my own battles. I’ve seen my own father out in the yard attacking them with a blowtorch and I continue the fight with the nerve gas of the plant world. Better living through chemistry!

Then I think; what the heck? Let’s go get a Slushee! Let the dandelions go for another day. They will, of course, be there tomorrow.

This is also the time of year that the termites usually pop up, sprout wings and fly off in search of another house to munch on. We haven’t seen any of those so perhaps my home is safe from them for the time being. But you never really know do you? They work from the inside out. You may think you don’t have termites but they’re there somewhere in your neighborhood. Chorodane is outlawed now so you can’t protect yourself. What will you do? If you find out, let me know.

The dog takes the arrival of hot weather hard. She is one of those breeds that has a winter coat and when the hot weather hits, she doesn’t shed immediately; she has to sweat it out (literally) until that thick fur falls out. So she begs to be let in now. In the winter, she’s quite happy to stay outside, coming in only to lick the crumbs off the floor. Now, she doesn’t want to go out – it’s too hot for her so in she stays. It’s just as well; after I moved our fence and made the back yard about 15 feet larger, she had 15 more feet to build up speed whenever she rushed towards the fence to bark at nothing. She used to only be able to get up to about 20 miles an hour – now she can make it to about 25 mph before she had to hit the brakes and skid to a stop and crash into the gate, barking all the way. When it is wet, she skids and lawn grass flies everywhere culminating in a huge shower of mud against the gate. There goes the lawn again.

I failed to shut the gate properly the other day and she opened it and was gone. She has, in the past, gone great distances but this time, it was just too hot. After taking a brief walk and, no doubt, marking some territory, she arrived at the front door much to our surprise; panting and begging to be let in to cool on the tile floor.

So, here we are. The weather is good and life is good. Here’s hoping it stays that way.

Last Saturday the kids participated in the twice-yearly piano competition that they’ve gone to every year since they’ve been taking lessons. It’s organized by the music teachers who feel that each child must suffer the horrors of public performance followed by ruthless evaluation.

Sickos.

My kids have beaten the system though. Evan couldn’t give a rat’s ass. Erin accepts it as a challenge and goes in with her attitude at full bore and let’s ‘er rip. Both methods are quite effective as evidenced by their most-excellent scores. Their teacher was quite excited – one wonders if they are the first of her students in awhile to get high scores. She was a little *too* excited if you know what I mean. What do I mean by “high score”? Well, Evan was classified as a “winner” (what happened to the “we’re *all* winners” idea?). He had to attend another concert tonight and perform for his trophy. Erin was named ‘honorable mention’ and got a ribbon and didn’t have to perform. You know her; this was a terrible affront to her. She’s still seething about the fact that she didn’t also get a trophy. Evan was more worried about having to sit next to two strange girls than about playing the piano. I keep telling him that this is a great way to pick up babes but he’s not buying into that yet. Good thing too.

We were looking forward to the concert until the first little toddler skipped up the the piano, climbed up onto the bench, swung her little feet and proceeded to play like little Mozart. Melissa looked at me and mouthed “are we in the right place?” The level of talent was intimidating. But Evan climbed the stairs and gave the performance of his short career. Flawless if I do say so myself. His teacher was beside herself too in her own way (she’s pretty quiet.) He then reaffirmed his manhood by taking the last two steps in a flying leap offstage. He then sauntered off with his hands in his pockets like he was bored.

They got their picture made for the paper (the Broken Arrow Ledger – circulation in the dozens). The photographer kept trying to get the kids to bunch up but the boys weren’t getting any closer to those girls than they had to. About 10 inches away was their limit. Erin commented that she had under-dressed. All the other girls wore “shiny clothes.”

We are two parents that are pretty darned proud right now. So, if you’re on the verge of gagging at this point, just go right ahead but don’t tell me about it. As I often say: “a good time was had by all.”