We camped a few summers when I was a kid. I’m not sure if my parents actually enjoyed camping or whether they endured it in their efforts to create family memories for me and my sister. My parents did try hard to instill lasting memories in us, always dragging us to Civil War battlefields and random rock exhibits, threatening that we’d better “enjoy it or we’d never get to go anywhere again” if we dare complained in the backseat.
But as hard as they might have tried, I don’t have warm memories of Mom and Dad around the campfire. I don’t remember the first time they showed me how to make a Smores. I don’t remember shaking Jiffy Pop over an open flame. What I do remember is my sister got a tick. She was one of those bad luck kids, always getting bit by things like jellyfish and bees and the mean horse at the pumpkin patch. Horses are assholes. But the tick was the worst—a bloodsucking image seared forever into my brain, partially-burrowed under the skin of her scalp, it’s ripe butt sticking out and engorged.
So why the hell am I going camping, again? What if I get a tick? Lyme disease? It has a 14 day incubation period. How will I know if I have it? Should I shave my head? Do I need some sort of anti-venom? What about mosquitoes? West Nile? What about freaking bears? WHAT ABOUT SHOWERING.
I’m too neurotic for this. I’m a fretter, like my mother. I thrive in grey areas. I enjoy metaphorical language. I’d rather do the essay question than the multiple choice. I’d rather bullshit my way through instead of knowing the exact answer. I prefer a little flourish. I delight in a little drama. These are horrible camping skills.
My father, on the other hand, is the kind of guy who has a frustratingly simple, clear-cut solution for everything. He isn’t the kind of guy to research Lyme disease. He doesn’t need to. He always knows someone from high school who it happened to. He doesn’t wring his hands. He doesn’t consider multitudes. He simply gets a butterknife and cuts the tick off your head.
“You’ll be alright, kid,” he said to my sister. Somehow, it was always true. He put a baseball cap on her, and handed her a soda.
The girlfriend and I were going camping. I needed to prepare. Camping needs supplies. I excel in this area. I’m a better shopper than the girlfriend. Back in the day, I put years in as a retail employee. It takes a vet to cut through the clutter and extract out the bargains. Oh yeah, it’s a jungle. The first thing I purchased was this fifty-two quart cooler.
I fantasized about my future together with this cooler. Not just for camping, but for one day when we have a deck and parties. I’d keep that cooler fully stocked and ice cold. Nothing’s better than reaching into a cooler for an ice cold beer outside in the sunshine. I love the feeling of lugging a ten pound sack of ice, hugging the coldness to my chest, ripping open the plastic, and pouring it into the cooler, hearing the ice clatter against the cans.
I fantasized taking it tailgating to Ravens games—even though we’re not season ticket holders, and even though I wouldn’t want to drink at eleven AM on a Sunday in a parking lot in the winter. Still. The cooler contained possibilities. A path to a house with a deck, a path to lots of friends drinking in the sunshine, a path to season tickets and eleven AM drinking.
“We already have three coolers,” the girlfriend said.
The other three coolers I own are small, the kind you take to the beach to hold a couple of sodas. This one was the party van of coolers.
“You should have at least bought one with wheels,” she said.
Pffft. Wheels. That would be like a child safety seat in the backseat. Why don’t we also pack some baggies of Chex mix and some grape juice boxes for the babies? This is the party van. It’s for beer and raw meat ONLY. It doesn’t need training wheels. I want to do things the hard way. I don’t want to tweely roll it to the camp site. I want to experience this. I’m a neurotic writer who’s about to spend two days in the woods. I want to carry it in a sweaty, stumbling, brute-force kind of way.
“Whatever. And you don’t even eat meat.”
Beer and tofu doesn’t have the same ring to it. Which brings me to the next thing on my list. Tofu Pups. Tofu Pups are the adorable-sounding vegan cousin of hot dogs. The same fun hot dog shape we all love, without the hooves and ass. I’m going to kick these up Emeril-style with fancy Horseradish Mustard. I know camping should be about eating hooves cooked over a flame, topped with classic French’s Yellow, but I’m just not ready for that next step, yet.
While I’m in the grocery store, I also pick up a case of bottled water, a case of soda, and a case of beer. It works out to forty two beverages for two people for two nights, which means we are each rationed 10.5 drinks per day. Do I think we’re going to drink this much? Do I think I will become crippled with an insatiable thirst for Miller Lite that has sat in a tub of melting ice next to TOFU PUPS? Do I think lost, dehydrated campers might suddenly surround our campsite attacking us with sticks?
That would be absolutely terrifying.
I’m not sure what I’m thinking. About this whole camping thing. And what to do if I get a tick. I guess I’ll be alright. Somehow, it’s always true.