Tuesday, September 09, 2008


I face my new camping chair – the $5 clearance job with drink holder – at the grove of redwoods behind the tent and try to read.

Everywhere, someone to break the peace. One connected group has the next four or five campsites beside us – a total of about 200 people. Okay, 30, but still. They won't shut up. I mean, I talk alot, but there is a season (turn, turn, turn). What I'm dealing with is a cacophony of overlapping conversations that is truly non-stop.

The older I get, the more silence I need. When I was in college I lived on the 11th floor of a building that sucked up all the city street noise from the busy road below and when I wasn't doing my homework in the window seat to the serenade of sirens, I was buzzing around a suite populated by eight (count them) women. Not anymore. The thought of such an existence now makes me want to vomit.

On the way here, I announced in the car that no one was to speak to me. Mike ignored my request, asking if I'd brought the bug spray, commenting about the street signs. “Shut up,” I told him calmly. “Be quiet.” For a whole 30 minutes – oh kind karma! - Isaac was asleep, all his “Mama, looks!” hushed. Ever find yourself going on vacation with the exact people you need a vacation from?

When we arrived at our reserved site there was a tent already there. It was a large one that belongs, we'd come to discover, to our garrulous neighbors. There was also a gaggle of kids ages 6-13, I'd guess, sucking on blow pops and playing with fire. Mike got out to talk to them and got back in 60 seconds later with the report. “Their parents are 'somewhere over there',” he huffed fluttering his fingers in the vague direction of a clearing. “They don't know anything.”

As we headed around the small loop to go back to talk to the ranger at the kiosk, a woman called into our window, “Are you in 210? They just put the tent there to dry it out; I'll tell them to move it.” We circled back.

Slowly, ever so, the woman approached a crowd of seated adults engrossed in conversation. While we waited with a three-year-old bucking to get out of his carseat, four people began walking in what appeared to be the pokiest, most disinterested meander I've ever witnessed toward the drying tent.

We watched them coming. We watched; and watched. They became distracted by something off to the side, stopped for a moment; one drifted out of line; they walked on, still miles from their destination. It was like watching a rock video, the band lumbering in slow motion, dramatically cresting the hill, silhouetted on the horizon by the setting sun, headed for their instruments which, come the next scene, they would play in the suddenly pouring rain.

At this point, my husband, who gets angry approximately once every three or four years, leaped out of the car. “Can we help you hurry?” he said, addressing the band, “Because we need to camp!”It was typical of the sudden, unexpected nature of his outbursts, and of the charmingly moronic phrases he constructs in an attempt to show his true ire. Some people, like, oh, me, become verbose with anger, can't think of a word I don't like. Whereas Mike, on the other hand, loses even what few sentences he might have shared in better times.

Once, before we were married, we had booked a flight back to California from Boston that turned out to be delayed two hours – then five, six... nine. The airline staff did a hideous job of helping the tired, frustrated passengers cope. By hour seven, they returned our pleas for information with out and out rudeness. A pro at anger, both passive and active, I am content to mumble “Dickhead!” slightly louder than necessary after turning from the agent with attitude, but for Mike it proved too much.

“Look!” he said, red in the face and advancing to the counter. “You!...I'm!...THIS!...” He was wagging his finger, beside himself. “Not okay!...OKAY!?” he spat at top volume, clearly furious and made stupid by the adrenaline coursing through his gentle veins.

“Honey?” I said quietly, taking his arm and leading him back to our seats.

If I was looking forward to talking, conversation, it was at our next stop – two nights at a hostel on the water. When I recall the European hostels I've stayed at I think first of the kitchens, locatable by the low roar emanating from under the door, a happy crowd engaged in multi-lingual conversation, the table so covered in the brown necks of empty beer bottles no one could put down an elbow. The discussions centered around the local sights, the current political milieu, plans to meet up that next afternoon at the café around the corner or the following month in Turkey. Laughter. Songs.

I thought it well-timed then, that we were set to arrive at our hostel right around dinner time. The first sign I noticed was “Alcohol Strictly Prohibited.” Shit. We just hemorrhage boredom in this country. Everything is a warning. Nothing is allowed. In other parts of the world you can climb all the crumbling ruins you like and if you fall it's your own damn fault. Here, an entire panel of Isaac's beachball is dedicated to threats about misusing the apparent instrument of death.

I was further disappointed when I found the kitchen – empty. Everything was quiet. A solitary young woman smiled at us briefly from over the lid of her laptop in the living room before plunging on through cyberspace.

Later we would meet Martin. White-haired and dressed in red biking shirt and tan shorts, Martin would prove a constant during our stay as would his stories of Internet dating, his suspicions about the blondes from Nigeria, and other tales of ladies on line. On this first evening, after talking to us for twenty minutes about how he met Svetlana and consequently lived four winters in Siberia, he announced magnanimously, “I'll tell you my story...” I listened to the monologue for a while longer. It was just more talkie-talkie. I was beginning to crave silence again already. While Mike nodded on (off?), Isaac and I sneaked away to watch the sunset.

1 comment:

bobbie said...


It's strange. I'm trying to determine if knowing the people involved in your story enhances it, or maybe detracts from it a little. Haven't figured that one out yet.

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