[So I wrote this a few years ago, and I may have even posted it before, but I couldn't find it online anywhere, so perhaps I'm just crazy. Anywho, I was cleaning out some folders, found this and screamed "OH MY GAWD I FORGOT ABOUT THIS." So, here ya go.]
It was the summer of my fourth grade year in elementary school and I was excited to be taking an actual family vacation. We had taken many “trips” and “vaycays” over the years, but they were always to the same place – Topsail Island. It was a small island off the coast of North Carolina and only a forty-five minute drive from the family farm. It was the kind of place where bored grandmothers would take their equally bored grandchildren for a day at the beach, wearing bright nautical t-shirts and polka-dot sandals.
“Why don’t we go somewhere wonderful and whimsical,” I said, “like Paris?”
Mama would say something like, “Why don’t you plant one of those wonderful and whimsical trees that will grow hundred-dollar bills instead of leaves?” And Daddy would chime in with, “Or you could just pull it out of your ass, boy.”
It didn’t take long for me to start referring to our little vacations as “outings to the coast” or “weekends at the cape” or “holidays at the sea,” hoping that people would assume the Mediterranean, Fiji, or an archipelago in the Gulf of Mexico. Of course, only the giggly girls in my class believed me, or at least pretended to, and that was only because I was cute and "one of the girls."
This particular summer my parents informed my brother Clif and I that we would be going to the beach, yet again, only this time we would be driving three hours to the Outer Banks. I was little more than mildly excited for the better part of a week until I realized something wonderful - I would be able to climb that big lighthouse that looks like a black-and-white candy cane. How glamorous, I thought. Me, at the top of Cape Hatteras, leaning over those undoubtedly rusty handrails declaring, “I’M KING OF THE WORLD!”
Cleary this was the point in my life when the only movie that existed in my world was Titanic. I had saved up a month’s worth of dish-duty allowance to take a stroll through the vast VHS selection at Wal-Mart. I was very particular, and had no reason to be nice. Who are those Men in Black, and why are they wearing sunglasses when this store is clearly well lit with blinding fluorescent bulbs? What exactly is a Monty and how do make it Full? What Powers does this Austin person have that I don’t, and why would anyone suggest that his face suggests anything International or Mysterious? And there it was – the movie that no one in my family wanted to sit through in theaters. Love, sex (whatever that was), betrayal, destruction and an early twentieth-century wardrobe – all I wanted out of life wrapped up a little plastic box labeled “SALE - $14.99”.
I watched it twelve times that week, at a maximum of three viewings back to back.
“JASON, if you turn that movie on again I’m going to throw it out the window. Now go do the dishes,” Mama said.
“You would look so good in that dress, Mama,” I said, “just look how it sparkles and flows. If only you could walk in those shoes.”
“It’s funny because it’s true. Now go do the damn dishes.”
I just knew that one day I would wake up to find that I had transformed into Kate Winslet overnight. I would slide out of my silk-draped bed, walk onto the sea-sprayed patio and look into Leonardo DiCaprio’s eyes.
“Where to, Miss?”
“To the stars.”
Clearly, it was imperative that I get to the top of that damn lighthouse as quickly as possible.
“Are we there yet?” I said.
“Are you seriously asking me this question?” Daddy said.
“Well, it feels like we’ve been on this bridge for hours.”
“It’s only been ten minutes, Jason.”
“Is that natural, though? I mean, how long, really, does it take to go across a bridge?”
My brother yelled a highly exaggerated version of “please be quiet” and the trip proceeded, silently, for what seemed like an age.
The next two days consisted of battered seafood, awful tourist attractions, and rain. I’m sure some of it was interesting, like that whole Lost Colony thing and those vast wetlands full of big white cranes and crabs that could snap your hand off. But my mind was set. I had a goal.
We arrived at the Cape Hatteras Light House, ponchos on the ready. I pretended the ramp from the parking lot to the information building was the loading dock onto the grandest ship in the world, and I, of course, was wearing a big, floppy white hat. When we finally made our way through the crowds, I wanted to throw my self overboard into the sea of gravel. There it was, my only chance at a good vacation, and it was... on wheels. A nearby sign read, “CLOSED – MOVING IN PROGRESS.”
“I mean, is it legal to move a lighthouse? Can we sue them or something?” I asked on the way to another, presumably mobile, landmark. “How can they do this?!”
“Are you going to be like this the whole time while we’re on the ferry, because if you are I’ll gladly throw you to the sharks.” Mama said.
“Wait, we’re going on a ferry? Like, a boat? An actual boat?”
“How else do you expect us to get t—“
“NO ONE TOLD ME ABOUT A BOAT!” I screamed, and began panting heavily.
Screw the damn lighthouse, I thought. It can crumble. I am going to be on an actual ship, over the ocean. I ran through my mind all the possible scenes I could reenact. I figured the attempted suicide off the back of the ship would be a tad bit dramatic, so I decided to go with my original “king of the world” bit. I imagined the cabin of the ship – lined with mahogany staircases and crystal chandeliers. I would socialize with the crème de la crème of my fellow ferry passengers, and make witty comments on political affairs while smoking from a three-foot long cigarette holder.
I was slightly disappointed when we rolled onto what was more of a floating rusty tuna can than luxury ocean liner. It’ll do, I thought. It’ll do. Making my way to the front of the ship was a little more difficult than I had imagined, since walking through a group of passengers was something like herding cattle. When I got there I was disappointed still, since the front of the boat was flat instead of coming to a grand point. How anti climactic and unattractive, I thought. It’ll do, though. It’ll do. I climbed onto the first railing, let the wind and the salty water touch my face, spread my arms, took a deep breath and said, “I’M KING OF TH—“
Everyone was laughing. Not at my theatrics or the way I delivered my impeccable line, but at the cascade of sea gull shit that was running down my face. On my sprint to the bathroom I noticed an old couple, splitting their rips, with a video camera the size of a compact car parked on the man’s shoulder.
“We’ve finally got something to send into America’s Funniest Home Videos!” his wife said.
This was not the Oscar I was hoping for. My moment was over. My life had come to an abrupt end. I could feel the thick, gooey, chunky mass of crap dripping slowly down the left side of my face. This would never happen to Kate Winslet. She would at least get some exotic bird to shit on her head – like a peacock or a bird of paradise.
I threw myself into the bathroom and with a great deal of effort locked the door. The situation did not improve. The once white walls were now a dark yellow, with cheesy pick up lines and phone numbers etched everywhere. The floor may have been solid once, but now it was cracked and uneven, just like the toilet seat, which is no big surprise given the size of my fellow ferry passengers. The mirror was foggy and pretty much useless. Throwing myself overboard would be so much easier. At least then I know everything would we washed off thoroughly.
Once I had splashed about five gallons of sulfur-smelling water over my head, the door decided to jam. There I was. Shit faced and crying on a dirty bathroom floor. Later in life I would come to discover that people cry shit faced on dirty bathroom floors all the time, but they are usually in college and there is usually no actual shit involved. Eventually a woman came to the door, undoubtedly to crush the toilet seat even further towards its demise, and succeeded in turning the doorknob on the first try.
“Hey,” she said, “you’re that kid who ju—“
I wanted to walk up to her, put my face an inch away from hers and scream, “YOU’RE A WHALE.” But instead I said, “Nopesorrygodbye!” and darted out the door.
I decided, then and there, during that twenty-second sprint to our off-white SUV, that this was the low point of my life. The point after which you could see only sky. I could be broke, single, have a hearing problem and live in a shoe box without any actual shoes, but I would be beautiful, like Kate Winslet, holding on for dear life off the back of life’s most fabulous ship.
I finally reached the car, climbed in the backseat, and rode across the ocean in a Jeep Grand Cherokee for what seamed like an age.