Muggle Reads

Like most of you, the things I used to consider “fun” or “enjoyable” radically changed in mid-May. Activities I had always enjoyed in the past suddenly seemed either not so awesome or simply not available. Good-bye, hockey. Concerts. Parties. Restaurants. Travel. Haircuts. Oil changes. Ok, I’ll stop. This is getting depressing.

But even what we were allowed to do took on different feelings and I found that things I could do safely from home still didn’t appeal to me or rescue me from the quarantine funk I felt myself slipping into.

Reading was one of those things.

Usually an avid reader, these past months I’ve found it hard to concentrate on anything longer than the ingredient label of the hand sanitizer bottle. I couldn’t face an unhappy ending or even conflict between fictional characters because, no. Real life has enough conflict as it was. The plot had to be completely linear with zero surprises, and if it was non-fiction? Well, that certainly was not going to be a non-starter. These parameters sort of limited reading choices.

At some point I realized being deprived of art and literature certainly wasn’t healthy either; and the advice that I gave my children about exercising their mind, body and spirit a little every day during the Dark Ages wasn’t being practiced if I only yelled at Chopped contestants all day about the improper use of sea beans and gummy bear confit. So Louise and I decided to mix things up and end our reign as the Only Two Literate People You Know Personally On The Planet Earth Not To Have Read Harry Potter.* Welcome, pop culture reference enlightenment from the 90’s.

Not only were we thoroughly entertained for months as we read voraciously through the seven volumes, but our creative appetites were whetted and our imaginations opened like the portrait of the Fat Lady at the Gryffindor dormitories. Like a portkey at the Quidditch World Cup. Like platform 9 3/4 on September 1st. Like your hand when slapping me to get me to stop talking about Harry Potter as a full-grown ass adult 25 years after it’s release.

But since our time in Hogsmeade, the joy and love of reading have returned to pre-pandemic levels and although I still prefer an assured Happy Ending, I can be a little more adventurous on how to get there.

What are you reading?

10 points for Gryffindor.

*Butch and Sundance now earn this title and will probably hold it for eternity after listening to us drone on like Hagrid giving a soliloquy on Norwegian Ridgeback dragons or something.

Present Day

That’s sort of how we got here even though I’m still not exactly sure where here is.

The news is chronicling the next fresh hell and if you’re reading this in real time you know that I’m referencing either the death of a beloved Supreme Court Justice and the hyprocisy to replace her, threats not to pass power peacefully after the election, protests over yet another example of injustice and racism, a spike in Covid-19 cases, heat-rays or taxes not being paid by the grifter in the White House.

And it’s only Monday.

Who among us thought that we’d be entering another season in a pandemic and social and civil unrest all around us? I’d be lying if I claimed I thought shitstorm season wouldn’t have passed by now. And while some days feel darker than others and coming at us more frequently, I do hold out some hope that the light will return.

Maybe we just aren’t looking in the right places.


August

School.

Sort of.

If you would have told me at the beginning of this mess that the start of the following school year would be in jeopardy after stopping in-person classes  on March 5th, I would have called you a cotton-headed ninnymuggins and taken your lunch just to teach you a lesson about saying hurtful things.

But here we are.

With a child in middle school, high school and college, we’ve got 3 distinct Back To School plans and I’m really on the fence on how this is going to go. Obviously, we all want our kids back to normal school. We want extra-curriculars, sports, clubs, lunchrooms and head lice over deadly viruses. But I would be a liar if I said I knew how that could be safely accomplished currently; and then I’d just change my mind again in 5 minutes.

Instead, let’s just give these kids a lesson in Do As We Don’t Really Say And Definitely Not As We Do And Sometimes As We Intuit And Nothing As What Scientists Say While Ignoring Science Math And History Because First Graders Are Expected To Figure This Out When The Adults In Charge Won’t.

And then I’ll take remidial English and work on those run on sentences on misuse of capital letters.

April

As castaways from society, the first couple of weeks felt like Gilligan’s Island–all laughs and coconut cream pies for every meal. The second half of the month was more like The Island of Doctor Moreau as we devolved into unrecognizable creatures; angry, furry, and growling at each other and no one was wearing pants.

Although everything had ground to a halt, we still had hope that it was temporary and while Easter would be in quarantine, by May Day we’d be in the relative clear. Those spring celebrations would be postponed just a few weeks and this quarantine was going to be in our rearview mirror if we had anywhere to drive.

Obviously, that didn’t happen.

We celebrated birthdays with caveats that party guests would be forthcoming. Rainchecks on happiness. Movie nights, days, weeks. We cooked! Things that we weren’t necessarily hungry for or things you really shouldn’t prepare yourself–I’m looking at you sushi and yogurt–but we were supplying our island and honing survival skills without even knowing it. We were going to be rescued any day now…

It is now Day 182 on the island and counting. Our distress signals go unheeded but we can fashion a mean facemask out of banana leaves.*

*Please note that’s the only thing I’m willing to use the banana leaves for despite the biggest shortages at the grocery store.

Also, Ricardo Montaban owes me a refund because this is the worst episode of the season.

Who are you wearing?

One of the more underrecognized departments is Costuming and Merchandise.

Not Disney, Silly. I’m talking about Louise.

She’s in charge of the logo and matching wardrobe we all sport on these trips, and let me just say, this year’s design was epic.

I might be making this fact up, but I think they say you can see the Epcot ball from space. After this week, you could add our group of 14 in the matching gold reflective T-shirts to that list with the Great Wall of China. We really are a sight to behold, and despite the obvious fashion statement, it does serve a greater purpose of keeping us altogether in a crowd. On the day we laundered our shirts and arrived to Hollywood Studios dressed all random-like, the only way I could identify our group was by the teenagers begging to wear them again for the Gram. (I also was still suffering from the swimmers’ ear, so it is possible I wasn’t hearing them correctly.)

It helps to have a uniform when we are playing our roles in Snow-Not-Quite-Right and the Ten Dwarves. We’ve got Sweaty, Texty, Sticky, Line-Jumpy, Always Hungry, Fortnitey,  SnapChatty, Summer Reading Avoidy, Sunscreeny, and Visco. (Roles are interchangeable by the minute.) Louise and I both resembled the Evil Queen offering up suspect snacks from our backbacks that probably have turned to poison by now.

And speaking of Epcot, if it’s possible to create an international incident in a fake country, consider our party officially banned from at least 2 pretend continents.

Our offical apologies, Japan.  I realize our mass extradition was made simpler by our identifying dress.

Winning

From my prolonged silence on the matter, you may have assumed that we succumbed to our various illnesses. Or perhaps we contracted Legionnaires’ disease at our Atlanta hotel because there was a Legionnaires’ outbreak at our Atlanta hotel. Or maybe we have been stuck atop Space Mountain all this time and none of you have bothered to contact the proper authorities. Thanks a lot.

None of the above actually occurred–except there really was a Legionairre’s outbreak–and instead we just found ourselves dead on our feet at the end of each day and trying to get our Magic Bands to open up a bottle of wine. Which to our disappointment, it never did. Thanks a lot, Walt.

Though it does turn out that a proper corkscrew is about the only thing a Magic Band can’t do, and we got pretty savvy using it to do all sorts of things around the Magic Kingdom. Our first park day was a success–and the weather was perfect, being just shy of 1200 degrees, with a late afternoon storm of boiling hail. Somehow, we brought 2 rain ponchos for 14 people, so that worked out just as we had planned.

After having gained entry without the dreaded Supervisor Call Over or the Guest Services Walk of Shame, hitting all of the big rides with a Fast Pass itinerary that was surely the envy of all, finding the one restarant serving sangria for lunch, and outwitting further Legionnaires’ from the misting fans all over the property; we pretty much won Disney on Day 1.*

 

*I only write that last reckless sentence after a safe return from atop Space Mountain and a clear pulmonologist report.

 

 

 

Halfway there and indeed, living on a prayer

Un-stranding yourself from an island is more difficult than you might think.

After 5 days on the beach, a Quincearna baseball game and a private fireworks show from one of the world’s richest men that we just happened upon with no invitation; we attempt departure from the sheer randomness of that sentence and half of our vacation is over.

We leave this part of the Sunshine State a little battered–if we tally up the ailments we stand at 1 sprained ankle, 2 swimmer’s ears, 437 bug bites, a 2nd degree sunburn, a latent case of Strep throat, and suspected case of flesh-eating bacteria accompanied by severe hypochondria.

In other words, we are our usual hot mess by Day 6.

But vacationing with us stops for no one, so we pile into the RV (shocked that it’s still at the sketchy campground we left it) and head for a stock up trip to Publix and Walt Disney World! (The two establishments that have most of our money, btw.)

Disney campgrounds really are a superior camping experience. To accomodate our small army, we also have 2 cabins so we can spread out a little, but truth be told we could have filled a third. Heat makes things and people expand, and it’s hot here.

After an incredibly efficient camp set-up and our first of 300 Magic Band search and panic missions, we end our long day with the most expensive Mac and Cheese/BBQ Buffett this side of Space Mountain but grateful we aren’t cooking it. We turn in early because a theme park awaits in the morning and everyone knows that’s the perfect environment for a few compromised immume systems and heat sensitivity!

BRB, R&R

We’ve all spent the last few days “relaxing” on the beach. Dad-style.

This has included planning a tennis tournament with the kids in 110 degree heat with athletes 30 years younger and more able; and then spinning drama and controversy from said tournament that they themselves crafted the framework and rules.

~Recovering physically from the tournament, both from the injuries incurred, and the egos which were bruised.

~17 daily trips to and from the beach carrying an inordinate amount of beach toys and adult beverages, but never seeming to have the right number of either.

~Sand-removal. From so many places and people parts sand just shouln’t be.

~Ice runs. Because Dads need a lot of ice; and need to talk about the means, amount, melt-rate, etc. about as much as they need to talk about Dream Teams in every sport.

~Dream Team compilations and drafts in every sport.

 

But to be fair, in between all of this “relaxing,” there’s been a lot ice cream fetching, fishing, firework-watching, wildlife appreciation, intense binge watching of the new season of Stranger Things on Netflix and superb grilling.

Just make sure he flips the burger with the good arm and doesn’t mistake the Aspercreme with the ketchup.

But it’s a fun cult

As a high-ranking member of the logistics committee, I recognize that when all 15 of us descend on a location in our uniforms of matching T-shirts, crazy hair and road-weariness, it takes a few minutes for onlookers to figure out exactly what or whom they’re seeing. Is it a poorly-run summer camp or a rogue family reunion gone terribly wrong? I’ve seen the look of confusion wash over the faces of Publix cashiers, ticket-takers at baseball games and now ferry-boat captains as they try to comprehend our little army;  a mix of wonder and distaste as they try to match up the very skewed child:adult ratio. Then they might hear Louise start praying aloud or me yelling across aisle 9, “I swear to all that’s good and holy, if there’s not BOGO Pinot Grigio in my cart in the next 38 seconds, there will be hell to pay!” and they logically and sadly conclude that we are some sort of cult.

I believe this is how we were regarded upon entering the island.

We’ve been to this particular island destination many times over the years. It’s truly one of our favorite spots on the planet. But there is definitely a science to the preparation of an isolated destination such as this, and for years our goal has been to pack so that we never have to leave for any of our supplies. In other words, to be a group of people living semi off-grid, self-sufficient, and cut-off from the rest of society while mumbling nonsensical secret codes to one another like, “Where’s the bug spray? You remembered to pack 3 different kinds of gourmet stuffed olives for your martinis but you couldn’t manage room in the bag for some OFF?” Or when Louise tells the woman at the check-in counter that it doesn’t matter which charges go on which credit card because it’s all the same anyway and the woman looks horrified and says “Sister wives,” as she goes to the back to call the authorities.

Cult probably isn’t too off-base.

But at least we are an inclusive cult, always seeking new members. We met up with old friends here and now all of the kids are calling one another, “Brothers,” which doesn’t exactly dispel the cult myth, but it’s heart-warming nonethless. The strangers fighting for grill space with us probably aren’t quite ready to join, but I’d bet they’d accept a pamphlet to learn more about the program later.

So all is well as long as you know the secret handshake and tythe in margaritas.

See you on the mainland, Brother Reader.