Cannonball Run

Splashdown was the “big” “fancy” water park when I was growing up. Right off the side of the freeway, you could see the four bright, white slides nestled into the slope of the hill that ran along the south side of town. They called to us from the car.

Come. Cool off. Hang out. Splash down.

Once my brother and I scammed our way into a class trip there. We weren’t even in the class, so I’m not entirely sure why we were allowed to go, but it was glorious. The slides were thrilling. The kid area even had a splash park with a big wide slide and umbrellas with waterfalls coming out of them. There was candy. Junk food. The lines weren’t too bad. It was Kid Heaven.

After we had a taste, we wanted more. In the summers, we would plead with our parents. “Pleeeease can we go to Splashdown? Pleeeease.” The answer was always no.

One hot day, my dad proposed we go for a little adventure. My dad usually didn’t take us on adventures but I think there may have been some parental one-upmanship happening if I recall correctly. We were instructed to get our bathing suits.

The bathing suits weren’t a guarantee that we were going to our holy waterpark, but to go to Splashdown, you had to drive past it, then exit the freeway and double back a bit. So when the slides came into view, my brother and I were sure. We celebrated loudly.

The driveway into the waterpark is a long, straight road. As we drove down it, we passed a municipal pool. A typical rectangular pool, with diving board and lots of people.

And what poor, sad people they were! They were just two short minutes away from SPLASHDOWN. Did they not know that? Did they just see a pool and go, “Oh, this is it!” Did they settle?! Did they say, “Oh no, this is fine, I don’t need waterslides or JOY.” I pondered this out loud. My father said he couldn’t imagine. Well. Moments later we could.

At the front gate, my father checked his wallet. If this was an old-timey cartoon, I’m sure a fly would have flown out of it. He hadn’t taken into account the cost of the waterpark for the three of us. We trudged back to the car.

Driving back down that long road, we eyeballed the pool. It was considerably cheaper. Though we had originally turned up our noses at its 90-degree angles and lack of fun, twisty shapes… it was water. And we didn’t want to go home empty handed. We turned into the parking lot.

The pool was packed. My brother and I hustled into the water and immediately jumped in. Toot toot from the lifeguard’s whistle. They yelled at us to get out of the pool. Our dad gathered us up and explained it was Adult Swim.

WHAT. “No kids right now.” UGH, WHY DID WE EVEN DO THIS. We expressed our displeasure with our dad. We were a bit bratty, complaining about his lack of planning to have the money to go to Splashdown and now here we were, standing next to a pool we couldn’t even GO IN.

Hours passed. Years. I aged a hundred years. My feet melted off on the sidewalk. I had a full beard. Everything was terrible and I was a skeleton ghost and Adult Swim would never end. Until it did a few minutes later.

We got back in the pool. It was nice and refreshing, though we did our best to still be disappointed because it wasn’t SPLASHDOWN, DAD. He would check in. “You guys doing alright?” “Yeah, dad, but it’s no SPLASHDOWN.” “Do you kids want to play Marco Polo?” “No, I want SLIDES, DAD.” Like I said, a bit bratty.

My dad eyeballed the diving board. “Splashdown doesn’t have a diving board.” This was a moot point to us. It’s not like we were going to use it. I mean, no one was using it. Everyone was IN the pool. Besides, the diving board was approximately A MILLION FEET in the air. It was a death wish.

My dad explained to us he was on the swim team as a kid. None of our schools had a swim team so the concept was foreign to us. A POOL AT SCHOOL? SHUT UP. He was pretty good too. But he hadn’t used a diving board in years.

He climbed out of the pool.

“GOODBYE, DAD. NICE KNOWING YOU.” We called to his back. He climbed up the ladder.

At the top, he looked like an impossibly small speck. We gazed up and soon the others in the pool noticed. There’s a man on the diving board. He’s going to jump. He’s going to do it. “That’s my dad,” we beamed.

He took a run at the end of the diving board. Jumped. Sprung off the end. His arms tucked in around his knees. In perfect form, my dad did a textbook cannonball.

The splash was huge. Half the pool splashed out. Everyone was hit by the spray. My father surfaced and everyone clapped and cheered.

My dad smiled and we congratulated him. He had forgotten how much fun it was. He jumped out. He was going again.

The excitement of the cannonball encouraged others. A small line formed. Other kids and adults took turns taking the long climb up and diving off the ledge. But no one was doing a cannonball like my dad.

My dad went up a half dozen times that day. People were happy and I remember him having the biggest smile on his face. We stayed until the sun was setting.

The next day, once the smiles had faded, my father’s lack of planning reared it’s ugly head once more. You see, he had completely forgotten to bring any sunscreen with him. We were all beet red and I was laid out on the bathroom floor with the worst sunstroke I’ve ever had. My dad couldn’t even help us. One thing he’d neglected to take into account was how six cannonballs could take a toll on his bad back. He laid in the bed, sunburned and unable to move.

I can remember laying on the ground of that bathroom. I can see the ceiling in my head. Feel the burning heat trapped in my skin. Aloe couldn’t touch it. I just needed to be still.

“Worth it.” I can remember telling my mother. “It was worth it.”

BEERS!

I’m going to warn you at the start: I’ve been drinking. (NOTE: I wrote this post last night. I mean, it’s casual friday, but not THAT casual.)

Now, when I say I’ve been drinking, I don’t mean like, “WOO! Let’s tie on a few more, boys!” like crazy woah. I mean I’ve had a beer. One beer with dinner. I know, I’m a lightweight. It’s sort of sad and adorable (or so I’ve been told). Remind me to tell you the story of how I drank ‘four beers for AMERICA’ one fourth of July. Actually, nevermind, that story ends like you think it does.

I like beer. Our beer of choice is called Shiner Bock. It comes from Shiner, Texas. The brewery is like 100+ years old, started by this German and Czech family. The beer was pretty well known in Texas when I was living there, but not really outside of it. Bocks are lagers, but this isn’t like your Bud Light or your Labatt or other really popular lagers. Bocks are darker. Actually, darker makes me think of Guinness. It isn’t like that. It’s just a well balanced beer. Very tasty, especially cold.

We drank and enjoyed our Shiners. It was the beer of choice at parties. We went to a five course dinner at Ruth’s Chris that had a Shiner pairing menu. We visited their brewery. We even bought some bar art and had it framed.

shinerart

When we got married six years ago, we were shocked and excited that the inlaws were able to find it and have it at our wedding. It was pricey but the guests enjoyed it and we were happy to have a little bit of Texas in Michigan.

Note our delight as we are handed cold Shiner beer on a summer night where we are wearing like four layers of clothes.
shinerwedding

As the years past, we started seeing reports of friends from all over the country who had found Shiner and enjoyed it in their home state. Eventually we could find it at Kroger and Meijer here in Michigan. We were floored. I’d like to think that the wedding had something to do with it.

rubyredbird

This evening, I’m enjoying Shiner’s Ruby Redbird. Shiner does seasonal beers and this is their summer jam. IT IS TASTY. There is NOTHING better on a hot day than drinking an ice cold Ruby Redbird. The flavor is Ruby Red Grapefruit (from Texas, natch’) and ginger made into a delicious beer that is crisp and refreshing. I hate grapefruit, but I love this beer!

Before Shiner started to be popular, you couldn’t get the specialty beers anywhere but Texas. A couple summers ago I found them here in a Meijer and I: a. freaked out then b. bought every six pack they had. It miiiight have been before 11am. I might not have cared.

I just finished my beer. It was good. If you like beer, you’d probably enjoy it. You can find it in most specialty markets, but sometimes it’s in the cold beer aisle in Kroger, next to the Shiner Bock. Give it a shot. And thanks for not being judgey about the whole ‘posting on my blog when I’ve been drinking’ thing. We’re cool, right? Yeah. So cool. Everything is cool. Except my face. My face is warm. What were we talking about again?

Hey Jude.

This week’s story is far away from the snow and ice of January. It’s almost twenty years ago in June. I was taken to this place while in traffic listening to music a couple days ago. The Beatles song ‘Hey Jude’ popped on and suddenly I was there.

To tell this story, I need to share with you a name I was called in elementary school: Retard’s Sister. It’s an ugly word in an ugly phrase. I know the term was medical jargon some years ago but in my childhood it was an insult, made all the more venomous by the fact that it was true.

My sister is, to use appropriate terminology, developmentally disabled. The details of why and what and whatever are unimportant here. What I will say is that I likely have an elevated level of compassion and empathy because of not only my experiences with her but others like her. In middle school I was at a school assembly where the head of the class for the non-ambulatory (read: wheelchair) kids said she needed a Teacher’s Assistant. I literally leapt out of my seat in the bleachers and ran down to her, “I can help! My sister is disabled!” I was gently told that we could talk *after* the assembly, but my concern was that someone would get to them first. Someone less qualified who didn’t care like I did.

I did that job for two years in addition to a smattering of other activities like softball, school field trips, plays… but the most memorable of these events was always the year end picnic. Every year at the end of the school year, all of the school district’s disabled classrooms would get together downtown at a rented pavilion at the park. The teachers, the aides, the bus drivers – everyone. The kids had everything you could imagine. Games and toys and BBQ and cookies. The tube fed kids would stick to normal diets, of course, but maybe they would blow bubbles or get their faces painted after lunch. It was just happy.

I can remember running around with kids, some I knew, some I didn’t. Disabled, autistic, Down’s, wheelchair –  it didn’t matter who we were or that we didn’t go to school together. We were playing.

And there was a karaoke machine.

I was such a ham in those days. But I had nothing on these kids. They lined up to put in their request and when their name was called? They jumped up like they won the lotto. And they would sing. Sing free of worry or judgement and fear. Just sing with all their heart. My sister was fond of country, so we did a duet of ‘Don’t Rock The Jukebox’. I would run around helping out on and off, but it all stopped when I was my sister’s belting buddy. I wasn’t Retard’s Sister – I never was. I was just ‘Sister’. Plain and simple.

When the song, ‘Hey Jude’ came up, there was a singalong. Over a hundred voices singing ‘na na NA naaaah, heeeey Jude’. Over a hundred voices having a great time.

Take a sad song and make it better.

Let me tell you about ladybugs and forts.

When I was halfway through elementary school we moved “out of town” –  which was only fifteen minutes away from “in” town. Still, it seemed we’d immediately jettisoned ourselves to the country. The area was a brand new subdivision and still very much ‘under construction’. Most of the roads in and out were just dirt, and the house plots only home to real estate signs and huge swaths of a plant we called honeysuckle (dalmatian toadflax, a weed). A lot of summer days of my childhood were riding through those endless plots and weeds on my bike, picking the flowers off the honeysuckles, sucking the nectar out, and make swords out of their long, woody stems.

A few houses had sprung up near ours, wooden skeletons looming in the distance. We would investigate them on the weekends in the summer, when the workers were absent and the daylight seemed to last forever. We’d play games and climb the unfinished stairs and talk about what we thought the finished houses would be like. Our parents told us not to, and sure there were a few falls through open unfurnished holes into the basement, but we always crawled up out the window wells and never told a soul. It’s remarkable no one broke their leg.

Among the amber waves of weeds and yet-to-be-filled domiciles was a small hillside next to our home, known ominously as THE HILL, with an industrial trash heap at the top. WHY was there an industrial trash heap in this newly forming neighborhood? WHO KNOWS. It, too, was verboten but we adventured there on our bikes anyway. We suspected the developer didn’t much care about what happened to the trash so it all ended up there. Tree stumps, metal tubing, wire, buckets, unknown discolored plastics baking in the sun… I’m sure we risked life and limb going into the heap, but we did. The BEST PART was the pile had been stacked in such a way that it actually made an enclosed cave you could enter with different little “rooms”. That part was mostly giant pieces of tree and tree stumps. I’m amazed we never had an issue with ticks.

We pretended it was our fort and we’d truly moved OFF THE GRID, into the WILD. We had a club that was disbanded almost as quickly as it was formed, due to a breakdown in communications over what the “secret password” was. It spent a good deal of time as a spaceship as well. It was the perfect playground.

One day, us neighborhood kids gathered and headed up to the heap at the urging of one of our own. Something odd was in the heap. We parked our bikes at the top of The Hill and looked out on the pile. A young tree had sprouted straight up in the middle of a sea of trash. The trunk was at least an inch round and it rose up into a perfect canopy of leaves at the top; a topiary with a perfect sphere. I remember it being large when I was a kid, but everything is large when you’re small.

None of us remembered seeing the tree before. Had it been planted? Had it just popped up over night? We probably just hadn’t noticed, but it was quite the sight to see a perfect tree growing straight out of the waste. We were bombarded with so much talk of recycling and ecofriendliness in my new elementary school – it almost seemed like some sort of staged reinforcement of the message. “EVEN OUT OF TRASH, BEAUTY CAN SPRING. REMEMBER TO COMPOST!” We ignored the tree and went into our cave and this repeated for a few days. But again, one of the kids called us out of the fort. “LOOK.”

The tree was now covered with hundreds of ladybugs. The branches and leaves were coated, a humming sea of red dots flowing all over the heap tree. Occasionally one would fly away. We were transfixed by the sight. We waded through trash to get a better look. We were awestruck. It was magical. It was Disney. It must have a meaning. We stared until nightfall, when the calls of our parents for ‘dinnertime’ urged us home.

The next day we went back to see the ladybug tree, but they were all gone. No trace of them. As quickly as they came, they had disappeared. Had we dreamed it? Could we all have had the same dream? The tree seemed so unremarkable now that it wasn’t swarming with life.

Soon the tree was gone, too, crushed by some additional metal waste that was soon our “mountain” on The Hill, which the boys would climb to go “hunting” and bring “food” back to the fort. We stopped playing on it when someone cut their leg pretty good on some rebar. Years later it was cleared it away and a house was built there, but it could never be as good as our fort.