The Hess Report


Monday, August 29, 2005

Holding Chaos at Bay 

Welcome back to the Hess Report.

Between putting down new floors in the majority of my main floor square footage, dealing with Maddie breaking her wrist, being insanely busy at work with many people off or out, fighting off a whole-family ten day virus, working on Blogs To Books, and trying to squeeze the last couple of drops from summer, I haven't really had the mental capacity to write anything worth reading. Oh sure, I've had a few minutes here and there, but my mind was always quite distinctly on something else. Well, the floors are almost done, Maddie is squarely into the whining about itchiness phase (would that be (b)itchiness?) of wearing a cast, coworkers have all returned taking some of the pressure off of me, the virus is gone although I'm still feeling quite run down, Blogs to Books is shaping up, and school has begun which means that summer's really over. So, hopefully, the chaotic dynamic of the last month has receded and can be held at bay for another year.

This past weekend, although Joy and I really didn't feel like it, we packed up the camper and headed out so the girls could have a last bit of summer fun. We tried a new campground, this time one with wireless Internet in the office/store, that can also be accessed from some of the closer sites. It seemed a little nicer than some of the other places we've stayed over the last couple of years, and actually had shade trees over many of the sites.

They had two playgrounds, one of which sat just up the hill from our site. Mostly nice kids, and the girls were fine playing there with only an occasional check-in from us. Once, Lucy hit the bathrooms (which were clean and also nearby), and asked me to wait for her. As I waited, two little boys came up to me, and the oldest one said:

"You're a policeman."

I smiled at them. "No, I'm not," I said.

"You're a policeman," the kid said again.

"No really, I'm not. What makes you say that?" The fake badge? The tactical shotgun I've taken to carrying around? The belt-clip donut dispenser (sorry, Ben)?

The kid narrowed his eyes. "I just think you are," he said. "Why are you standing here?" Meaning, of course, outside of the women's bathroom.

"I'm waiting for someone to come out."

He gave me a look like "Yeah right, I know what you're up to," then he and his little brother ran off.

It rained or misted pretty much all day on Saturday, and Lucy fell off a bridge and hurt her armpit (she's fine, and it was only a little two-foot bridge without any kind of railing and no, we're not bad parents), so it was kind of a crummy day overall.

We also got a new neighbor, two sites over. Although we were separated from them by two stands of trees, we could still hear what I think was the grandmother. Their party consisted of four mulatto children ranging in apparent age from five to nine and one flour-white but red-necked as the day is long grandmother. At least, I'm assuming it was their grandmother. Upon hearing the unceasing rage and vitriol with which she addressed those four kids, the only scenario my brain could come up with was redneck grandma + trailer-raised trashy daughter + black guy looking to score = four mulatto kids and one rage-filled, hate-consumed woman.

One odd thing I noticed about her outbursts was that she did not swear at the kids. She was probably aware that screaming obscenities would get her thrown out of the campground. So she kept it to stuff like this (and read this in your worst, most horrific drill sergeant scream, non-stop):

"Do you want your marshmallow to get brown? Look at it! How will you know it's done if you don't look at it? HOLD! IT! UP! TO! YOUR! EYES! YOUR EYES!!!! DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOUR EYES ARE?! DON'T LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT YOUR MARSHMALLOOOOOW!!!"

I'm not kidding. That's basically a direct quote. It reads kind of funny, but trust me that it was not. Needless to say, this was extremely disquieting, as we'd hear one of these outbursts every five minutes. We felt horrible for the kids, as neither teacher-of-hundreds!Joy nor I have ever heard that level of verbal abuse heaped on kids with such consistency and such energy. Of course, we really wanted to do something about it, but while such actions as hers were completely unacceptable, they were equally unactionable. Though it's a vile practice, and I'm sure that worse goes on in the world, screaming at, berating and belittling the kids you are legally in charge of is not a crime.

I was slicing some kindling at around 7 o'clock Saturday night, when I heard her shout "I'll hit you but good, and you'll feel it too!" Now, if she had said "I'll whip your ass good!" I would have had to let it slide, because as horrible as she is, that would have been within her purview as a free citizen to decide to mete out to her children, right or wrong though she may be. But to me, a reasonable observer, the word "hit" sounded like a threat of assault.

Despite the testimony of certain kids at the campground, I am not a police officer and don't have a legal standing to do anything when I hear a threat like that. But I knew her mentality well, having grown up around it. She wouldn't respect decency or the law, but she'd already paid for her camp site, and she'd be damned if her $27 was going to be wasted, especially on account of the half-breed brats.

Feeling that I needed to act on an imminent assault by an adult against a minor, I put down my knife and marched over to her camp site.

"Excuse me," I said.

"WHAT!?" She turned to look at me in what she probably assumed was a threatening, authoritative manner, clearly someone who was used to being feared. Good luck on me, lady.

"Yeah. I heard what you just said, and if that happens, I'll be informing the camp managers, and you'll be out of here tonight."

"I DIDN'T SAY NOTHING! I DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT!" Wild eyes, and once again with the belligerence and shouting.

"Well, I heard you, and so did everyone else around here. I know the managers (lie!), and they don't put up with that kind of garbage."

"WHY DON'T YOU MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS!" I was actually impressed with her ability to not swear at me.

"I'd be able to if it were quieter." At which point she shut up. That was the last we heard from her. Not another shout. Not another growl. I'm sure it started up again as soon as they were in the car on the way out, and that in the grand scheme of things not a bit of difference was made in those kids' lives. But all four of them were sitting around watching me tell their horrible grandma that she was wrong, bad and unacceptable, and that I was willing to do something about it, and that in the end someone else had the last word with the old troll. Maybe that will stick in their minds when they're old enough and big enough to fight back and have a chance of winning. Two of the kids were the little boys who had earlier told me I was a policeman.

I hate doing crap like that. It puts me in fighting mode, and it always takes a little while to come down from it. Correction: I hate doing crap like that without proper backup, which in this case would be the ability to call down the wrath of God and burn her away to cinders with a column of fire from the sky. But we all know that's not going to happen. Actually, I'd settle for a Federal law enforcement ID and a S&W .40 inside my waistband. I'm guessing that would work for situations of this nature.

Sunday made up for the multiple suckitudes of Saturday. The weather was beautiful, and we took a little hike down to Slippery Rock Creek, which seemed like more of a wide shallow river than a creek to me. A trail led into the forest, skirting one of the river's tributaries, and we followed it. Over the centuries, this tributary had carved a ravine into the forest, and glaciers had left their giant boulders strewn about. The stream flowed under and around the rocks, through multiple levels, pooling and cascading as the terrain dictated. The wooded and rocky walls of the ravine sloped upward on either side of the stream, and the treetops met overhead, blocking out all but a few shafts of direct sunlight.

The place was cool, humid and lush. It reminded me of some of the matte paintings of the elven forests from The Fellowship of the Ring. We climbed the rocks and spent some time there. It was very relaxing and worth the entire trip just to see.

After the forest adventure, we had lunch, packed up our campsite and headed home. To the delicious smell of dead mouse, lost somewhere in the walls of our house. Ah well. It could have been worse, like the smell of dead parakeet.

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