Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Billy Joel Must Have Been Talking About This River... er... Creek of Dreams

This is the excitement that is my life. Like Snickers with the peanuts and the nougat, my weekly routine is just chock full of adventure. For example, just the other day, I drove over to my
sister's house. I know what you're thinking, WOW, all the way to your sister's house. Now bear in mind that this was on a whim, no planning, no mapping, just pick and go. That's not something just any ole person can handle, that's only for experienced adventurers like myself.

Okay, to the lay person, a Sunday drive to a relatives may not seem terribly exciting, but let me tell you about this is no simple trip across town, if I recount the things I underwent it will probably remind you of that old Atari version of Pitfall, with the vine swinging and the alligator hopping and the falling into giant scorpion pits. We are not talking about smooth sailing here. The trip starts out with one of those treacherous and nerve-wracking red left turn arrow intersections. Sometimes I have to wait a long time. Waiting for just the right moment is not easy, you get the shakes, you get anxious, you nearly jump the gun. This obstacle requires the patience of a... well, the patience of someone who is really really patient. Later, there's a slight curve in the road that takes the coordination of a fighter pilot to navigate, which is followed way too closely for none but the highly trained by a left hand turn - INTO TRAFFIC. And, as if all that wasn't enough, there's a four way stop that no one but the finest of drivers can coordinate, one false move can lead to tragedy. Then, right when you think you've hit the home stretch,
there's a hill. This is no ordinary hill, this one goes up AND down. Only the most alert and highly trained drivers should even attempt this portion of the trip. Most people would be better off pulling over and walking the rest of the way, but not me. I'm brave. I make this trip, believe it or not, almost every week. I am an adventurer.

Alright, so maybe I'm no Allen Quartermain and my sister's den isn't the crypt of the ancient pharaoh of death, but I am an adventurer.

Really I am. I'll prove it.

Each time I drive to my sister's house, which really isn't all that exciting, I have to drive through the neighborhood I grew up in. You see, my sister and her husband live in one of those new subdivisions that was built on what used to be some one's corn right behind the street I lived on as a kid.

Back when I was a lad, the whole area that my sister's neighborhood now sits on was corn fields, woods, and a few dirt roads. What is now one hundred and thirteen prefab houses was tree forts and snowball fights and dirt clod wars and sledding and being chased by the farmer's dog for getting to close to the house and a really weird and slightly creepy area in the middle of the woods with discarded rusted out cars from the forties and fifties and... well, tetanus shots.
Most of my early childhood memories took place in what is now Mrs. Denver's petunias, some young couple's half bath, or the two car garage down the street. Each time I make that drive, there's a little bit of me, deep down in there all mixed in with the guts and the innards, that's kinda sad.

The worst part of it all, the hardest thing for me to deal with, is the destruction of the creek. They rerouted part of it. Some of it was filled in. Other bits just went and dried up. Whatever it was, when that little stream disappeared some of the happiest times of my youth were washed away with it.

That creek was the center of my universe for a good decade. Frog hunting, spy games, fantastic hides and incredible seeks, rock skipping, wading, when the rains had come - swimming, incredible GI Joe nautical battles, crawling through the drain pipes to follow it to the other side of the road, ice skating, speed sledding, really narrow hockey games, and the best winter time sport ever - smashing ice with big huge rocks. That creek was everything, to all us kids. Now it's gone.

The best creek adventure took place the summer of my eleventh year. My sciencey minded friend Jerry spent the entire long winter designing a raft. Finally, after all these years, a vessel with which we can explore portions of the creek further than our tired peddling legs could bike us or our aching little feet could hike us.

The design called for a large piece of wood that we could sit on and something underneath that would trap pockets of air. Jerry, being one of those genius type kids that you either really want to be friends with or beat up, had a perfect plan within weeks. The problem would be gathering the necessary materials. Seeing as how Home Depot doesn't extend a line of credit to most prepubescents, we had a scavenger hunt ahead of us.

My job was to find wood. Construction site dumpster diving became my forte. Soon I not only had a four foot by four foot section of plywood. It was quite a sight, but I dragged all the way home.

While I was playing cat burglar in the construction zone, Jer was testing scale model rafts in his bathtub. His initial design called for several dozen air filled Ziploc freezer bags taped to the bottom of the board. They didn't support the weight.

I thought I was the hero of the summer when I stumbled across a giant piece of Styrofoam, about the same size as the wood, but about four inches thick that I figured would add to the floatiness. Jer agreed, although he used the term buoyancy. I like floatiness. It did a good
job of raising the wood portion of the raft out of the water, but still not enough to support our bodies.

Like that guy in prison who can get you whatever you want, like a dime bag or a tuba or an emu or maybe a Backstreet Boys poster to hang up there in the cell, Jerry seemed to magically get the materials he wanted. So his dad had nothing to take his lunch in, so his brother's paint supplies got all dried out, so his mom (probably to this day) wondered why her meatloaf was suddenly bare and freezer-burned up there in the icebox, none of that mattered, beacuse one day when I came over, he suddenly he had several hundred air filled Ziploc freezer bags filling his bedroom. Busy meticulously hot glue gunning them together in neat little rows, Jer was jittering like a crack fiend. I had no idea how he'd done so much work since the day before,
but he quickly taught me a valuable dietary lesson that came in quite handy in the subsequent college years. Jer had drank four liters of Mountain Dew to keep himself up all night to get work done.

"Ifitwasn'tfortheinsanelyfrequentpottybreaks," he explained, his hands shaking and his eyes twitching, "Iwouldhavebeendonebeforeyouevengothere. Gimmethatglassofpopovertherewouldyou?"

Jer made a bed of baggies and instructed me to lay down on them to test their strength. A loud pop let us know a plan B might be a good way to go.

Subsequent highly caffeinated nights "sleeping" over at Jer's house testing models and new theories accomplished two things. One, we found that Ziploc doesn't make a product that holds up to well against twigs, rocks, and other snagging agents in the creek. Two, we added
immensely to Jer's growing collection of empty two liter pop bottles.

Cartoon light bulbs dinged.

The pop bottles. I knew they were floaty. Jer knew they were buoyant. We had dozens of them and they were much stronger than plastic bags. Within minutes we were arranging the two liters in nice neat columns. Jer busted out a new hot glue cartridge and we were underway.

Soon we realized that we only had enough pop bottles to line about a quarter of the raft. We'd need more. A lot more. Spring was rapidly approaching. The wet season, when the creek would be highest, and our adventure best, was almost upon us. We had to hurry.

Fast forward to one of those movie musical montage scenes, some upbeat peppy pop song cranking in the foreground like "I Want Candy" or "MmmmBop." The film cuts between shots of two little kids going door to door asking for empty pop bottles, chugging massive amounts of soda
outside the local convenience store, pulling a wagon loaded with recyclable plastics around the neighborhood, raiding garbage cans, scavenging their own fridges and dumping into the sink partially filled bottles of sweet carbonated nectar, even a highly intense moment during which a caffeine withdrawn Jerry screamed at a neighbor for offering us the stupid one liter bottles.

Jerry had done some high falutin' calculations and determined that we'd need one hundred and thirteen bottles to safely support us on the raft. I never even thought to question his figures. He was good at math; I used calculators to spell words out upside-down.

The first big rains arrived just as Jer and me were finishing up the raft. Just over a hundred beverage containers glued to a big piece of polystyrene with a large hunk of plywood on top. Damn the Wright Brothers. Screw that Arch thing down in St. Louis. To hell with John
Titanic, or whoever it was that built that big boat. This. This, ladies and gents, this was a marvel of modern engineering. Like Huck Finn with petroleum products. We were adventurers.

Now to test it. The raft made debut in Jer's backyard. It floated just fine in the pool, yeah, I fell off into the barely melted, algae filled (isn't chlorine supposed to take care of that) swamp Jer's
family called a pool, but the raft was successful.

Next, the maiden voyage. The creek was thawed. The water was rushing. It rained and rained hard for nearly a week. We were afraid we'd be swept to far down stream. We were afraid the raft (I actually somehow just typed fart) would be pulled away before we could even jump on board.

Adventurers don't delay though. This raft had to launch. The show had to go on. The captain had going down to do (get your mind out of the gutter). The ship had to set sail. The fat lady, well, I guess that doesn't fit, so the fat lady can take a break and have a Twinkie.

Justifying our next decision with the claim that Jer and I both had to remain on land, each on one side of the creek, with safety ropes to keep the raft under control, we went on a mission to kidnap my sister. She'd be Laika, the Russian dog that was the first Earth creature in space. She'd be Lewis, or maybe Clark. She'd be Neil Armstrong, Columbus, Jackie Robinson. A pioneer. A legend. A living representation of the American adventurer's spirit. She'd tell Mom.

Somehow we talked her into coming with us to the creek. Somehow we talked her into stepping onto the raft. She actually seemed excited to be included and kind of asked for us to shove the raft off. Everything looked good. She held onto the safety line and started to float gently down stream. On one side of the creek, I shouted encouragements and had a death grip on the rope. On the other side, Jer held on tight while he did some more calculatin'. At about the same time, Jerry realized that the raft was much lighter than any of his previous figurin' had figured for, and that raft really started to get moving, fast. Before long, we had to jog to keep up with it.

Heavier rains than we had accounted for had that little boat cruising. Jer, possibly because all that brain power made him slightly top-heavy, slipped, fell, and lost his end of the safety rope. When he tells the story, he recounts a version in which, holding on for dear life, he was dragged nearly fifty feet by the raft, but he's a liar, he fell down, went boom, and my sister (along with any hope I had of seeing outside this coming summer) was floating away.

I held on to my end of the rope and ran as fast as my little legs would carry me. My thighs were burning, my feet were pounding, my tiny little heart was pumping so fast I thought it'd burst right there in my chest. I willed it not to though; I had to save my sister. Not only was I an adventurer, I was a hero. Indiana Jones always saved the girl. Even if it was a bratty little sister with severe tattle issues, he'd come to her rescue.

The raft was moving so quick that we got to the point where we were both holding on to the very ends of the rope. It was taut. I stopped and dug in like a tug of war anchor, but it wasn't enough. Her little hands couldn't hold on any longer and the line slipped from her fingers.

I tossed the useless line aside and resumed sprinting after her. losing ground when she went through a viaduct under the road and I had to climb the embankment, and some more during the barbed wire fence - hole in an unpleasant part of my shorts - I'd rather not talk about it
incident. Pretty soon, with all the twists and turns and curves of the creek and all the slipping and sliding and falling I was doing running on the muddy bank, she was out of sight.

Before long, Jer had caught up to me on his bike, panting and breathing hard. He jumped off at full speed, handing the Schwinn with the banana seat off to me. I was far more athletic and even in my current state much more able to catch the raft before it reached the real river a few miles away.

Panic took a little more of me over with each turn of the pedals. The longer I went with out finding her, the more scared I got. Every curve of the stream led to a new sense of hope that I'd spot her as I came around the bend, each one a heart crushing disappointment.

Finally, I could hear the sound of the river in the distance. Just having that sound hit my ears filled me with dread. I knew that hearing it meant I was way too close and my little sister was probably way too far. Then, as I came over a hill, the river now in my sight, I saw her. She was lying face down in the mud by the river, the raft, fully intact, but overturned, was up in the weeds beside her. I dropped the bike and sprinted down the hill. Boy Scout CPR/Heimlich
Maneuver/all sorts of first aid gobbledy gook training rushed through my brain.

She was dead. I'd killed my sister. I was convinced of it.

Then, as I got closer, I could see her back slowly rising and falling. The steady rhythm of breathing. A new jolt of adrenaline took me the rest of the way at ThunderCats Cheetara like speed. As I approached I could hear a whimpering sound, no, it wasn't whimpering, it was... it
was... singing.

My sister was lying in the mud, perfectly okay, perfectly happy, serenading a frog with the chorus of "I Feel Pretty, oh so pretty...." When I finally got to her she sat up, smiled, and asked if we could do it again. "Next time tell your stupid friend to hold onto the rope though," she added.

As much fun as she had and as much as she promised while we hiked home not to tell Mom and Dad, within seconds of walking through the door, she'd spilled the beans about her adventure on the mighty rapids. The parents were quite unhappy, phone calls were made, like number
Johnny-5 -- rafts were disassembled, and the recycling guy wondered how much pop one family could drink in a week the next trash day.

Like the Titanic, that good ole raft's maiden voyage was it's last.

Every time I drive by where the creek used to be, on the way to tattletale's house, I think about the good times. I miss it. I wish it was still there. My sister, she has kids, she's probably glad it's gone. No rafting adventures for her youngest. Then again, none of them will get to sing West Side Story songs to amphibians either.

I told you I was an adventurer.

Vote for this adventurer for Humor Blogger of the Year over at HumorBloggers.com, or just check out the other funny blogs in the running.


eve cleveland said...

I wish my brother loved me enough to risk life and limb to come see me!

PlainOleMike said...

It's not love. She just makes really good snacks.

Preston said...

Your stories are great. And to prove it, you're appreciated over at my blog. :)

Bee said...

Damn! All I did was stick my little brother in between the mattress and box spring while I sat on the bed!

Also, "sciencey"? I expect that from me but not from an ENGLISH tAEcher...