When my wife and I retire in a few years, we plan on doing some traveling. My wife has this idea that if we buy a $40,000 camper and pull it with a $60,000 truck that gets three gallons to the mile, and we stay at campgrounds for fifty dollars a night, we’ll be money ahead, rather than wasting seventy-five dollars a night for a motel room. (I’ve learned after years of marriage that the proper response to this, no matter what I’m thinking, is: “Yes Dear.”) She decided we needed to go to a camper dealer to look at campers, because it’ll only be another four years or so before we retire, and it’ll take her at least that long to decide which one she wants to buy.
It’s amazing what they have in campers nowadays, and it is all push button. Push a button and the living room slides out. Push a button and the kitchen expands. Push a button and the awning comes down. Push a button and the fireplace lights. If they could just hook up a computer to push the buttons, the camper wouldn’t even need us, and I could stay home.
When I was a kid, I normally camped out in whatever I could get ahold of: a cardboard box or a lean-to I’d made. I never had trouble sleeping in anything—to this day my wife says sleeping and death are close to the same thing with me. The problem was, if it rained, a cardboard box turned to cardboard mush and lean-tos became leak-throughs no matter how well they’re built. One day at the hardware store I came across a cardboard tube with a tent in it. The picture on the outside of the tube showed a tough old trooper by a tent I’m sure would have fit the needs of Roald Amundsen on his journey to the South Pole. It said, SIX-MAN PUP TENT, and more importantly, 100% WATERPROOF.
I ran home, grabbed my birthday money and in less than an hour I was sitting at home with my first-ever tent. I took it out of the box and looked at the picture again. What I had gotten was a big piece of green plastic. It reminded me of the plastic you get when you pick up clothes from the drycleaners, although not nearly as heavy. There were two wooden poles in three sections to hold up each end of the plastic, several bent pieces of number nine wire to serve as stakes and several pieces of black cord. There was no floor, and it wasn’t big enough to hold six men if they had been members of The Lollipop Guild. I’d paid good money for the tent so you better believe I was going to use it.
At the time I had three main friends: Franny, my outdoor friend who I did outdoor things with, fishing, camping, etc.; Jasper, my indoor friend who I did indoor things with, reading, writing, playing chess; and Otto my backup friend who filled in if either of the other two couldn’t fulfill their obligations. Somehow Jasper found out Franny and I were going camping and invited himself along. Franny was my outdoor friend because he had a cool head and was easy-going. Sometimes he was so easy-going people thought he was asleep. I swear a spider could crawl up his shorts and he’d casually say, “I didn’t know there were tarantulas in Iowa.”
Jasper, on the other hand, was a skinny little guy. Doctors could take X-rays of him with a six-volt flashlight. Most of the time you’d think he had a tarantula in his shorts. He’d run around like his hair was on fire and the world was coming to an end if he ran out of tissues. He wasn’t the sort of guy I wanted roughing it with us. I knew he’d never make it through a full night in the woods, but I didn’t want to turn him down and have him get mad at me—Otto couldn’t play chess worth a hoot.
The three of us went out to the woods and set up the tent. After we’d eaten and toasted marshmallows over the fire, we turned in for the night. Jasper looked nervous. Off in the distance I could hear the faint rumble of thunder.
“Sounds like a storm’s coming,” I said as we snuggled into my 100% WATERPROOF tent. “In case you wanted to know,” I said to Jasper, “your house is that way.” I pointed off to the south. I knew there was no way he’d be here in the morning. In moments I was sound asleep.
I woke up just before dawn and Franny was laying on his back looking up at the sky. It had turned into a beautiful night. Not a cloud in the sky. The stars were shining, and I could see the Big Dipper and Milky Way.
“The storm must have missed us?” I asked Franny.
“We got some pretty good winds, but I think the rain went north of us.”
I raised up on an elbow and looked around. “Where’s Jasper?”
“He left a while ago.”
I chortled smugly. I knew he wouldn’t make it through the whole night. I lay back down smiling, looked up at the stars and asked the obvious question. “Where’s the tent?”
Franny shrugged. “The first good wind gust took it. Those little tent pegs popped out like champagne corks. I think one of them might have hit a raccoon.”
“I paid good money for that tent,” I said. “You could have at least tried to save it.”
“I did, but that plastic is really slippery and hard to hold onto.”
“You should have wrapped it around your hands.”
Franny nodded. “Jasper did that. He grabbed the corners and wrapped them around his wrists and tucked them in so tightly, he couldn’t let go if he wanted to.”
“So what happened?”
“The wind started blowing really hard, and it picked up the tent. Jasper went with it like he was riding one of those parasails. It was really something to see. When he flew over the top of me, I grabbed hold of his ankles.”
Franny stopped for a moment and raised up to look at me. “You know to look at that plastic you wouldn’t think it would be tough enough to hold two people, but it did.
“We kept crashing into trees, and I was sure the tent would get hung up on one of them, but it never did. When we were high enough that I could see we were going to clear the top of the trees, I grabbed a branch and let go of Jasper.
“I shinnied down the tree and ran after him, but with my extra weight gone, that tent and little guy really picked up speed. I lost sight of him after about a quarter-mile. I could still hear him screaming for another ten minutes or so. It was really loud. I’m surprised it didn’t wake you. You really are a sound sleeper.”
Jasper finally came down when the wind died. The tent acted like a parachute, and he floated safely to the ground somewhere up in Minnesota. He didn’t get hurt—except his underwear. He ruined his underwear, and the tent had a small tear in it.
I’ve had a bunch of people ask me why I haven’t done a blog post for a while. I told both of them that I’ve been busy working on my next novel, The Almond People. It’s a light horror novel. Those of you who have lived in my area are going to recognize some of the places and a lot of the lore. Those of you who haven’t lived in the area can just enjoy a good story. The novel is finished now, so I’m going to try to post more often.