Tuesday started well. I woke around 530 and thrashed around a while, finally dragging my sluggish butt, a camp chair, and my stack of pulp science fiction novels down to the beach–David Weber’s take on the old Keith Laumer “BOLO” stories, which was pretty cool, and an old Sci Fi Book Club anthology of A. Bertram Chandler’s John Grimes: Lieutenant of the Survey Services stories. I’m enjoying both immensely–the Bolos are super-powerful sentient battle tanks that lend themselves to some heavy duty metaphorical thoughts about the nature of service, sacrifice, and war while the John Grimes stories are just good old fashioned testosterone-addled space adventures from the days when writers imagined rocket ships landing fins-down on strange and distant worlds. A lot of people don’t get that good speculative fiction, whether it’s space opera or fantasy or whatever, is rarely just about what it looks like it’s about on the surface, and I love that.
The family joined me a little later, and we spent the increasingly cloudy morning swimming in the still-welcoming waves, drying off, and reading. Around noon it began to look like rain, and an hour later we were safely at an Outlet Mall in OCMD–if by safely I mean that we fought out way into the parking lot and found a space. Actually, my wife followed a guy back to his car and begged him to wait for a few minutes until I navigated the gridlocked lot to take his place–how about that for some bold points? I was suitably impressed–things were getting very Darwinian in that lot, more cars than spaces circling like vultures and approaching a state of gridlock. I smelled anarchy and trembled–my wife never flinched.
Outlets…shopping…I try to be a good sport about it, and did pretty well in the first place we went, holding things that the women in my life may or may not want to try on at some distant, foggy point in the future, but after a couple of these store visits I relegated myself to the row of husbands and fathers leaning against walls and posts on the sidewalk in front of the stores. We made some good bonds out there, commiserating and reassuring each other that this, too, would pass. I talked to a young man with a couple of small children–one about 3 in a stroller, enraptured by a handheld electronic game, the other a baby in his arms, and mused about the obvious thing these outlets need: a sports bar for men. At one point, he shook his head and said, “I was 18 when I went to Bosnia. Three trips to Iraq, twice to Afganistan–you think it couldn’t get worse, then you come home and your wife takes you to the outlets.”
I wasn’t sure how to respond to that one, then he cracked a big smile and laughed. “Nah, this isn’t like war. It’s just as boring, all the waiting, but in a war you at least get to fight back, eventually.” Then he kissed his little baby on the forehead and said, “This isn’t so bad, though.”
No, it wasn’t–and when my family finally emerged it was with demands that I find something to buy for myself, but they never have my shoe size–14–at these places, and I just got some new shirts about 8 years ago. There’s nothing I need, short of one of those $400 stand mixers, and the truth of the matter is that my vintage Sunbeam does everything I need. Since it looked like the rain wouldn’t be stopping, my wife suggested an alternative….
“Let’s go see that movie you want to see.” She said. “The raccoon movie.”
The raccoon movie! I didn’t need to be asked twice–we had a daughter use her magic telephone to get movie times and split, heading inland to Salisbury, MD because we were confidant that 26 miles of highway driving would be faster than crossing the gridlocked bridge and driving through 107 blocks of rain-day Ocean City traffic.
As we headed east, the rain increased from sprinkles to drizzle to wall of water that seemed like a fire hose was aimed at our windshield. We tried not to think of our tent back on Assateague, where we’ve been driven off the island by storms and flash floods twice before over the past decade. We had several days on reservations left and weren’t going anywhere.
Our denial was made easier by “the raccoon movie,” Guardians of the Galaxy, the perfect matinee–funny, exciting, plenty of tongue-in-cheek–just the kind of thing to crawl into and disappear for a few hours on a rainy day, which is what it’s about, right? I would have sat through it a second time, absolutely.
Eventually, we had to face the inevitable–our campsite back at Assategue had been pummeled by the storm. A small tear in the rain fly and been wind-twisted into major damage, and the rain made it’s way inside, soaking all of our sleeping bags and pillows. We agonized even as we tightened the guy lines and replaced the loose spikes, should we give up, suck it up, or retreat to a motel–if we could find one–and deal with it in the morning. Consensus favored the latter, and we actually struck out on a search only to stop about 2 miles from the campground. “We’ll never find a room,” I said. “We should suck it up, deal with this, whatever–worst case, we’re awake all day and we sleep on the beach in the sun tomorrow.”
It seemed like we just needed someone to say it–back we went, sleeping under a few old blankets, jerry-rigged pillows. I slept in my fleece jacket instead of a blanket–fleece stays warm despite being damp. In the morning, the sun rose into a clear blue sky–draw what conclusions and lessons you may, but we stuck it out and were rewarded.