One early March day dawned bright and clear, the morning sky washed that deep shade of cornflower blue that only comes after a good rain, or so my wife told me.
“Could you please pipe down, and pull the blinds closed a little tighter?” I mumbled into my pillow.
The shrieks of my children preventing me from resuming my slumber, I rose to greet the day, albeit in a surly manner. After a desultory attempt at work, I was forced to acknowledge that this day must be spent outside. I summoned my two oldest sons, Slug and Weasel, to my office, pointing imperiously for them to sit at my feet.
“Something wrong with your finger, Pops?” snickered Weasel as he slouched against my desk, kicking his leg aimlessly at my computer’s reset button.
“We must seize the day and hike to the Ranger Hole!” I trumpeted. “But first, I will tell you a story of the road marches we had when I was in the Army.”
My sons concealed their pleasure by rolling their eyes and holding their stomachs, groaning. “Seriously, Dad,” whined Slug, “Can’t we just hike to the Hole and pretend we listened to your stories?”
Two stories and four hours later, we climbed into my trusty bronze car and careened up the valley to the trailhead. “The problem with kids today is that they don’t have any stamina,” I warned. “You two watch me carefully and you’ll see how a real hiker handles a trail.”
“Can we get going yet, Pops?” Weasel droned. “How many times are you gonna lace up your shoes?”
We set off at a brisk pace; I wanted to see how quickly these soft youngsters would fall to the wayside. Just as I expected, they were soon both out of sight.
“How long do you want us to wait for you?” shouted Slug from the top of a small mountain.
“Slow and steady wins the race,” I wheezed.
“I don’t know about slow, but you don’t look any too steady.”
Weasel always did have a sharp tongue.
Their boundless energy was beginning to discourage me, as I puffed up an incline that rivaled the North Face of the Eiger. I motioned for the boys to halt, and after five or ten minutes, caught my breath. “Say, I just remembered that I left my camera in the car — why don’t you two run back and get it.” Craftily, I hung the camera across my back where they wouldn’t see it until they returned, when I could apologetically ‘discover’ it. Lacking my years of hiking experience, they both fell for this ancient ruse.
“You sure didn’t get very far,” griped Slug, returning. “The car is locked, and you forgot to give us the keys.” He didn’t even seem out of breath, so I gave him the keys without even a twinge of conscience. A kid like that needs more exercise, I’ve always thought.
In what seemed only moments, he and Weasel had returned, resuming their disrespectful practice of prodding me forward. “Ha ha ha, that was some joke, eh?” I laughed nervously. “I had the camera all the time.”
“Very funny, Pops — nearly as funny as the time you had me and Slug search the beach for your Palm Pilot, until we remembered that you don’t own one!” Weasel chortled, poking me expertly in the small of the back with his walking stick.
Finally we reached the river, where I passed the time entertaining fantasies of pushing both of them into the glacier-fed waters. It fell to me, as their father, to provide these impressionable young boys with an example of maturity and good sense. This was a bit of a problem, since I had managed to grow to adulthood without acquiring either.
Slug seemed to respect and understand this, as he retrieved his hat from the patch of stinging nettles where I had thrown it. “You sure are a scalawag,” he guffawed, tossing my wallet into the bottom of a ravine.
The trip back to the car was even worse, if possible. Weasel amused himself by running laps around me, loudly keeping count. Slug jogged ahead, ostentatiously taking naps whenever he found a comfortable bed of pine needles. I found their vulgar display of physical prowress very distasteful, and said so:
“I find your vulgar display of physical prowress very distasteful.”
As I sagged into the driver’s seat of my little bronze car, muscles aching and gasping for breath, I took the only revenge possible:
“There I was in the woods. The rain was pouring down, and my M-16 was slung across my back. Suddenly, the Sergeant-Major popped out from behind a tree. ‘Gimme 20 pushups’, he roared … ”
This posting made in honor of Pat McManus, author of many hilarious short stories.