Campgrounds sometimes make great confessionals.
Oh, not deep, dark, scary stuff that the priest hears and which must sometimes send shivers up and down his spine — just stuff that people, who probably won’t see each other again, want to get off their chest or spit out like an angry bull stuck with the matador’s sword if it has built up over a considerable time.
He rode his bike past, liked our little rig and stopped. We sat at the picnic
table splitting a sparkling water.
He was a senior citizen from the great Commonwealth of Kentucky as he called it. He was venturing into Yankee land, which few Kentuckians do, unless very reluctantly for work. He and his wife pulled a fifth-wheel and he said she wanted to see Lake Michigan because those Kentuckians who had ventured north told them that it was an amazing sight because you couldn’t see across, just like an ocean. They wanted to see for themselves.
Well, we sat there on the first day of June wearing down jackets. “Is it always this cold in June?” he asked.
“It has been an unusual winter and spring if you can call this spring,” I complained.
“I got that but could I ask you to speak up. The hearing is on the way out.”
“Oh, sure,” I spoke a little too loudly.
I knew he was kind of antsy and wanted to talk about something so I just
asked him how it was going and out poured the complaints like bourbon
at a Derby party.
“I’m 75 and I’m making a list of all the damn bad stuff I got from my
mom and dad and I’m angrier than a retired racehorse facing a bolt through
the skull and a boat ride to France to become a sautéed filet of whatever
the hell French is for horse meat.”
He dove right in. He must have been holding this in and ruminating about
what he called fate for quite a while. I was a little shocked at his
candidness, but, hey, he probably wouldn’t be seeing me again. I would
be like a bartender listening to a guy who would never visit the bar again.
“So, I was born with an undescended testicle and a hernia on the same side.”
Goodness, I thought.
“Sorry if I’m being too blunt, but being 75 I haven’t time for niceties.
I hope that’s all right.”
“Fine,” I stated loudly.
“The dumb doc after he fixed the hernia, told my dad that the testicle would
descend on it’s own like a mallard duck diving for food. It didn’t and I
had to have special surgery when I was a teenager to bring the damn thing
down into my scrotum. That was no picnic I can tell you. Well, the word
got around the school that I was having some kind of surgery that was very
private. Well, of course. It was my privates. There was speculation
galore but I never said a word.
“Then when I was seventeen I noticed a bulge in the back of my leg. A varicose
vein. What the hell! Well, from there they spread pretty fast. In college, I was encouraged to try out for the lead in Spartacus but I was afraid of wearing short pants. That would have been embarrassing. I had them operated on when I was thirty and it was surgery to make a butcher laugh — scars everywhere.
“Well, over time they started to fade but the veins kept popping out and I have had countless injections over the years. Thank the Lord, I’ve been free of them
for three, four years now. Did you know that you can lose tons of veins and
still get along? I’m living proof. My uncles on my mother’s side all had bad
legs. Thanks, Mom.
“Then when I was about twenty-five I started going bald. Again, thanks, Mom.
“When I was forty, I started to wheeze while jogging. Yup, adult onset asthma
from growing up around my dad who smoked three packs of cigarettes a day —
in the house. I’ll have it the rest of my life. At least it’s under control. Thanks a lot, Dad.
“Back to the testicle.”
Must we, I wondered.
“It was up in that hot house for years instead of the cooler climes below, so it became the smaller, weaker sibling.
“Two years ago, it hurt down there every time I rode my bike so I had surgery and out it came — dead as a doornail and resembling a dried up, dwarf, morel mushroom the surgeon said.”
Seriously, I thought to myself. TMI. But he kept going.
“Good thing it came out when it did or I would have been looking like an
old Lance Armstrong. I called my two kids and asked them if they were happy
to be alive. They said yes and I told them they could thank my left testicle.
“Thank the Lord, I can still function without the aid of stuff like Viagra.”
I hoped he wouldn’t volunteer his wife for confirmation.
“Well, around the time the testicle died, I started growing man tits. The
two are related. I googled it. Yeah, the big joke on the old Jerry Seinfeld
show. Remember the line about the guy having to wear a bro? So, now I have
to have that surgery.”
I averted staring at his chest.
“Oh, and I’ve had three more hernia surgeries. Thanks again and again, Mom,
and last year the eye doctor told me I have glaucoma in my left eye
and have to take drops everyday for the rest of my life.”
And then he started to sing sarcastically a paraphrase of an old Beach Boys song.
“And we’ll have fun, fun, fun till I go blind in my left eye.
“I’m getting tired of thanking my mom. Oh, and osteoarthritis of the knees and bursitis of the elbows and crowns galore in my mouth because of super, soft teeth ALL FROM MY MOTHER’S PEOPLE!”
I wondered if he were shouting because of his hearing loss or simply for emphasis.”
“So, here I sit sipping sparkling water because I have a fatty liver and had
to give up booze and sugar and fatty meat.
“Well, I guess I should be happy. The old ticker is still ticking away and I
can still ride my bike and best of all, pain free, if you get what I mean.
“Oh, did I mention the bunions from my mother’s side and the gout from my
grandfather on my mother’s side and those, God awful, leg cramps that come
on like a Sumo wrestler has my legs in a choke hold?
“Oh well, never mind. I gotta go. Thanks for the chat and the sparkling water.
I do thank the Lord that we have been given two of a lot of things.
Say, this is all just between you and me, right?”
“Right.” And then I remembered to speak up. “Right!”
“Gee, I feel a whole lot better. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.”
As he peddled off into the sunset, I thought he didn’t look so bad for
inheriting all that stuff. Then I couldn’t stop thinking about
all the stuff I had inherited from my folks. The longer I sat there the
angrier I got and the more often I said in a sarcastic tone, “Gee, thanks, Mom.
Maybe tomorrow before we pack up and head home I can find someone here
I can talk to like that old fart with the bad limp who walks his old
dog with a bad limp. I’m sure he’s been through enough to understand.