Here’s this week’s episode of The Port City Chronicle, the continuing serial novel of Gretchen, a 46-year-old criminal defense lawyer, and her family and friends, seeking love and happiness in Portland the hard way:
“Would you be both husband and mother to me now that my mother has dementia?” Angela asked Ethan. Her mother had recently moved into assisted living.
“Yes I will,” Ethan said, without taking his eyes off the tv. “But now run along, your mother has to watch pre-season football and scratch his crotch.”
He’d been glued to the TV all month long watching the Olympics and the steady stream of election news. When Angela complained about not taking a vacation, he said it was unpatriotic not to cheer on American athletes competing in the Olympics or follow the struggle between the alt-right and progressives in real time. Apparently the same argument applied to pre-season football.
At any rate, trying to beat him at his own game, I told him if he was so patriotic he should come hike Mount Katahdin with Grace and I to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the national parks. But Ethan pointed out Baxter is just a state park. Only Tim agreed to go on the trip.
Meanwhile Angela was getting more and more annoyed. She’d gone camping every summer in August with her mother as a kid and thought of it as a birthright.
“Can you at least stand up long enough to get Henry’s Frisbee off the roof?” she asked. “I set up the ladder.”
Ethan tried to make Tim do it.
“I’m not going up there,” Tim said, shaking his head. “What if I fall off and break every bone in my body right before my vacation? I’m scared of getting killed right before I’m supposed to leave.”
That got him a dirty look from Ethan.
“It’s not that I don’t want to help,” Tim said defensively. “You know how I am. I like to take action, get things done. I take out my tools, some of them electric, some of them acoustic, fix things, and move on to the next problem.”
Ethan glared at him again.
“You haven’t even finished the articles I told you to do before you go. Not to mention proofing and posting the editorial.”
“It’s not that easy,” Tim said. “First I have to make sure Brendan hasn’t insulted anyone, though I probably have to put it up regardless. Then I have to fact-check everything, though it doesn’t have any facts. So it takes more time than you’d think. You see my pointlessness?”
What we could see was that Ethan and him had been watching a lot more TV than usual without seeming to care what they watched, including events like kayaking that never interested them before. Watching all those sports in the Olympics had gotten them totally out of shape.
At first Tim tried to blame it on the heat. “No, I’m not going outside,” he said, when Henry wanted to play frisbee. “You want my eyeballs to fry in my head like eggs on a hot sidewalk?”
In reality he was trying to preserve himself for vacation. “I always get sick right before vacations,” he said, as I went out to do the yard work he wasn’t helping with.
“Your immune system is much better than mine,” he said. “I wasn’t nursed very long, you know. Because I got a tooth at 4 months.”
It was a lot more information than anyone wanted.
“Look, I already have eczema,” he said, pointing to a rash on his arm.
“I thought you had shingles,” Ethan said.
“I had that too.”
By the time we left for Baxter, Ethan was glad to be rid of Tim even if he didn’t think he deserved a vacation.
Not that it was easy to have him along. Nature made him nervous too. While Grace was admiring the views from Mount Katahdin he was worried about her falling off.
“Make sure your shoelaces are tied,” he shouted from down the trail.
Then he was afraid of a moose we spotted at a distance in the woods.
“Look, there’s a bull over there,” Grace said excitedly.
Tim averted his eyes. “You’re not supposed to look at them.”
At least Grace saw the humor in it, but it only made Tim even more scared.
“You’re especially not supposed to point and laugh.”
Plus he was also anxious about not working. “I dreamed Brendan was editing my articles and I kept saying I knew those edits needed to be made.”
“It’s almost not even a dream,” Grace said. She was getting sick of Tim’s issues herself, even when he tried harder to participate.
“Look at that beautiful hawk,” he said, as a shadow passed over the path.
“It’s a crow,” Grace said.
He squinted at it. “How do you know?”
“It says so on it,” she said, rolling her eyes.
Then when she saw a marmot in the brush, he annoyed her by constantly trying to spot one himself.
“Is that a marmot or just a bird?” he asked, as something dashed across the path in front of us.
“I don’t know,” she said desultorily.
“Can they climb trees, because whatever it is just went up a tree?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I realize when I go on vacation with you how much there is I don’t know.”
There were also little conflicts in our tent.
“What is this pile of socks over here?” Grace asked. “They have holes and they’re filthy. Are these being thrown out?”
“I don’t know,” Tim said, looking through topographical maps for the next day’s hike, “I have to go through them.”
“There’s some t-shirts in here too. Also with holes. What about them?”
“What are we talking about?”
“What do you think I’m talking about?” Grace asked. “Old socks and t-shirts. I didn’t switch to talking about Nietsche.”
Tim also inserted himself into our private conversations even when most men would have known to stay out of them.
“I wish I had a swimsuit that fit me more like my underwear,” Grace said to me conspiratorially, when we’d gone for a dip in a pond near our campground. She’d gotten a new bathing suit that turned out to be a little too retro.
“I know what you mean,” I said. “A bit more youthful.”
“Hm,” Tim said. “Claws come out.”
It was a relief when, a few days into our trip, we got a text from Ethan saying they were coming up to meet us. We needed more people around to dilute Tim. And I figured Ethan would have to acknowledge he was wrong about vacation. But he had an explanation.
“It’s not just Baxter anymore,” he said. “As of a few days ago, this is now a national park, thanks to Obama and Burt’s Bees.” Sure enough, the signs for Katahdin Woods and Waters were already up.
When Ethan pushed a kayak out onto one of our new national lakes, even Angela had patriotic tears in her eyes. She hesitated a moment looking for a tissue.
“I thought you didn’t like kayaking,” she said to Ethan.
“It doesn’t matter what I like,” he said, smirking at her. “Your mother’s telling you to get in the boat.”