It could not have sounded more divine.
Tall, shadowy pine trees; a bubbling creek with clear, pure water; meadow upon meadow of swaying wildflowers; temperature in the seventies, and a cute little log cabin with a loft at a lodge.
When my husband suggested we get away for the weekend and celebrate my birthday in the White Mountains, I couldn’t have been more enthusiastic.
To Arizonans, the White Mountains are an incredible escape a mere four hours’ drive away; to the rest of the world, they’re the place where logger Travis Walton said he got sucked up by a UFO and then disappeared for five days while aliens put things in places unseemly. To me, they were a place with no phones, no television sets, no computers, no fax machines, just a cabin with a wood-burning stove, a feather bed, and a forty-degree drop in temperature, which I especially needed since I had just received a zipper burn on the back of my neck from my dress by engaging in the mortally dangerous activity of going to get the mail while it was still sunny outside.
When I told my mother about my birthday plans, she simply said, “Must be a popular place. Your sister is heading up there, too, but at least her boyfriend sprang for a fancy hotel. Why won’t your husband pay for a hotel? Why are you staying in an old shack with a woodstove? How can that be fun? I bet you’ll leave with a nice case of lice.”
“We’re not staying in a shack. It’s a cabin with a feather bed and a loft,” I said, thinking that she was one to talk. I’ve spent a great deal of time and effort in therapy trying to forget the majority of my family summer vacations. They were spent driving roughly far enough into the desert and away from our house that we couldn’t physically run back to it after it was discovered that my parents had only sprung for one hotel room for the five of us and it was 117 degrees outside, making escape far too sweaty an option. To make matters even more closely resemble the comfort level of Guantanamo Bay, my mother consistently struck a claim for one of the double beds as we entered the room by throwing her purse on it, digging out her bottle of Tylenol and her pack of Winstons, and then sprawling out with her eyes closed and her hand over her head. This not only left the rest of the family one bed for cramped quarters but created an undeniable bounty of opportunity for pinching, slapping, and pushing between my sisters and me and sometimes even my dad, to which my mother would respond by roaring from her yacht of a bed two feet away, “SHUT UP all of you! If you people haven’t noticed, I’m on VACATION!” We were additionally blessed as a slight, cool drizzle fell like mist as soon as we drove into the lodge driveway and then checked in. As I opened the door to the White Mountains cabin, it was exactly as I had pictured it–well, outside of the shag rug and the black fur of mold in the shower. My husband sighed peacefully, put his hands on his hips, and looked around. “A whole weekend of this!” he commented excitedly. “Can you even believe it? Listen. I don’t hear a thing but that slight prattle of rain hitting the tin roof.”
“Wow,” I said, smiling wide. “To think, four hours ago, the seat belt left a burn so extensive we could have added a side of A.1. and called it dinner.”
I unzipped my bags and unpacked my array of snack options, then stood gazing out the window at the steady, patient dribble of rain. My husband spread out on the couch and cracked open a book. “This is the life,” he said with a smile before he started to read.
“Wow,” I said, still staring out the window. “You gotta love this rain.”
“Yep,” my husband said without looking up from his book.
“Love the rain,” I added. “Oh, I do, I do. I dooooo.”
I walked around the cabin, rolled around on the feather bed, and when I was done, it was still raining.
“What time is it?” I asked.
“Two-thirty,” my husband answered, and returned to his book.
“Hmmmm,” I pondered aloud. “Are you hungry?”
“You just ate a pack of Twinkies, four bags of chocolate Twizzlers, and twenty-two servings of Funyuns on the way up here,” he said, not looking at me. “I got full just by watching you.” I walked around the cabin again, checked for stains on the sheets, and to see if the people before us had left any foreign hairs in the bathroom, because even though my own bathroom may be filthy as a truck stop, I at least know the filth is mine and from where it has emanated. Strange, unknown filth is another story altogether, and I am saddened to report that an errant hair– belonging to neither my husband nor myself–made a rather obnoxious appearance at the bottom of a hot tub in our hotel room and absolutely ruined our wedding night. My new husband, however, was not grossed out enough to refrain from pointing the video camera at it and pressing the record button, leading to an odd and uncomfortable situation later when my family viewed our honeymoon tape, thus forcing my mother to drag me into the kitchen to say, “That in there is a little sick. It’s not too late. The pope will understand. You can still walk away.”
After not finding any hobo hairs in the shower, I climbed up to the loft and looked at the rain from the window up there.
“What time is it?” I called from the loft.
“Two thirty-two,” my husband answered with a sigh.
“Are you hungry yet?” I asked.
“Let’s play a game,” my husband suggested. “We could play ‘I’ll Give You a Dollar for Every Hour That You Don’t Speak a Word.’”
“Hmmm, that’s odd,” I said. “Across the way at the lodge, a person on the third floor just looked directly at me and then shut their curtains really fast, like in a huff!”
“Why are you spying on people, Mrs. Kravitz?” he replied.
“Please come down from there before we find out that the person you’re spying on is a sniper.”
“I’m not spying,” I insisted. “I’m just . . . soaking in my surroundings. I’m taking in the scenery, and discovering who our fellow lodgers are.”
“You know, this is how Hitchcock movies start,” he warned me. “And then before you know it, I’ll be the one running through a cornfield being stalked by a crop duster because my wife had to spend her birthday peeking in other people’s windows.”
“I saw something in the window and I looked as an automatic reflex. You know that I am curious by nature,
” I said. “If it was a pubic hair, you’d
be the one taking pictures of it by now.”
“And you were the one who said, ‘Don’t worry, my parents will think it’s funny,’” he responded. “Now they look at me like I showed them a movie of what happened in that hot tub before we even got there.”
“Oh, shut up, they totally thought it was funny,” I said as I climbed down the ladder from the loft. “I’m going to take a walk around the pond, see what I can see.”
“You mean spy,” my spouse said.
“I mean see,
” I iterated. “There’s a little lake next to the lodge, I’m just going to go down and poke around.”
“All right, fine, I’ll come with you,” he said, putting his book down. “I don’t want to get a knock on the door in an hour telling me that you’ve lodged yourself in a dumbwaiter or gotten stuck in a tree trying to get a better view inside of someone’s room, Harriet the Spy.”
As we left the cabin, I noticed a sweet scene near the lake as a young mother lifted her rather new infant up out of the stroller and faced the baby toward the water. “Look at that new mom showing her baby the ducks and the ducklings!” I exclaimed.
“How cute. Isn’t that cute?”
“It’s all adorable,” my husband said as he put his arm around me tenderly.
“Did you just see that?” I gasped as I pointed to the thirdfloor window of the lodge. “The curtain in that window whipped closed the second I looked up there!”
“I will give you two
dollars for every ten minutes you don’t peek into someone else’s room,” my husband said. “Or dessert! I’ll buy dessert!”
“Oh, well, that will be nice,” I replied. “Fat Girl Eats Gargantuan Chocolate Cake Alone While Husband Looks On in Silence and Other Diners Think to Themselves, ‘Poor Husband with the Fat Wife. Why Can’t He Stop Her? She’s Just Getting Fatter.’” This issue, in itself, has been a thorn in our marriage, because although I married a truly, really, super-nice guy, he has a defect. An unforgivable, loathsome, irritating defect. To me, it’s horrifying and at times nearly repulsive, but I’m just being honest here by admitting that my husband is not a Dessert Guy. I know.
Even though it finally put me at ease by blowing a hole in my theory that he might be gay (listen–if you’ve played beard as many times as I have, both knowingly and unknowingly, you’ll find yourself looking at even your dad with doubtful eyes), there’s something about a man who would carelessly abandon his wife when it came to her favorite course. There’s something about a man who can simply too easily declare himself a traitor when the waiter finally brings “the little menu,” begging off because he’s “too full,” “would rather have another beer,” or is “not really in the mood.” I mean, I just want to scream, flick him on the head with the back end of a spoon, and inform him in a quiet, yet strong (hissing) voice, “Let’s really think about this. When’s the last time I asked you to do something for your
benefit?” If there’s anything sadder than a chunky woman scarfing down a dessert all by her lonesome, it’s a fat girl with no boobs, but eating cake by yourself in public is pretty damn sad. Dessert should always be a group activity; it is that
happy of an event that everyone needs to partake, lest those with the least self-control feel a little intimidated by the one in the group with an offensive 13 percent body-fat number (which I view as tragic, anyway; should we be shipwrecked together and find ourselves on a barren island, my body can survive for years off the stockpile in my ass alone plus an additional season for each upper arm, but Miss 13 Percent, sadly, will be dead by sundown). If a bite of chocolate mousse is so entirely offensive to select group members, let this be known: I’m not asking you to eat as much as me, I’m just asking you to engage.
You can pretend, for all I care, take only one bite, it leaves more for me, anyway, but GODDAMN IT, don’t make me eat dessert alone at this stage in the game; it’s the least you can do for your fellow man.
“You’ll buy dessert,” I said carefully, laying wide the trap, “but I hate eating it alone.”
“I’m not a Dessert Guy,” my husband shot back strongly.
“I think I need a closer look at the lodge.” • • •
An hour later, in the lodge dining room as my bananas Foster was being set ablaze by our waiter, I was clapping gleefully in wild anticipation as my husband held a fork aimed at the flaming plate of joy and love as I had instructed–well, almost. “This is the part where we clap!”
I growled to him under my smile, still keeping the beat.
Just as we were about to dig in, I heard an odd noise. TINK-thud-thud. TINK-thud-thud.
When I turned around to see what the noise was, I saw a man in his late thirties, early forties, with messy hair, talking to the hostess.
“Are you selling food?” he asked her.
“Do you mean to ask if we’re open?” the hostess responded, looking a little confused.
The man stood there, looking at her for a long, long, long time.
“Uh, uh, um, yeah,” he finally said. TINK-thud-thud. TINK-thud-thud,
I heard again, and this time it was getting louder.
“Yes, we’re open,” the hostess assured him, to which he nodded and vanished. TINK-thud-thud.
“What is that noise?” I turned back to ask my husband, and that’s when I noticed that my dessert fire was totally out and I had missed most of the bananas Foster pregame show.
My husband shook his head and chewed on a rum-soaked banana.
“This is good,” he said.
“I told you,” I said with a giggle as I dug my fork in. “Look at what you’ve been missing all of these years when you just sat there and watched me eat like I was a zoo animal.” TINK-thud-thud.
“What is that?” I asked him again, and that’s when I saw his eyes widen.
And the sound got louder, and louder, and louder until it was directly behind me. TINK-thud-thud. TINK-thud-thud.
Out of the corner of my eye, as I pretended to be exceptionally perplexed by the shape of a banana, I saw the cause of the commotion: a woman who had the body shape of a pretzel nugget passing by our table, moving with the ease of an iceberg. In each effort of mobility, she raised her flabby, enormous arm with all of her collective energy, lifting her metal cane, which had somehow lost its rubber-stopper-sound-muffler end, then ramming it heartily into the floor, after which she would clomp her huge feet. TINK-thud-thud.
From the corner of my other eye, I saw my husband swoop in with a spoon and suck up a large percentage of the melted ice cream and the gooey, ooey, rich caramel.
“Don’t get carried away,” I cautioned. “From now on you can poke at it with your fork and maybe move stuff around, but the rest of it is mine.”
After the woman had passed, a hulking presence behind me blocked out most of the available light, and it took every ounce of self-control I had not to turn around to see if I was about to be eaten by Lord Voldemort. Slowly, the figure passed by our table like a storm cloud, and I saw it was the man with the messy hair who had asked the hostess if she was selling food. He had the biggest boobs I had ever seen on a man, big enough to not only benefit from restraints but require brake lights. His T-shirt, which had perky little capped lady sleeves, stretched brazenly across his boisterous bosoms at the same level of stress that had caused the hem to hover over his belt, exposing just enough belly to make witnesses cringe at the impropriety and check their own waistband. Bringing up his rear was a pear-shaped gentleman, very heavy in the derrière, with graying temples, who appeared to be the patriarch of the group. One additional man, who also looked to be in his late thirties, completed the group, and his outstanding physical characteristic was that one eye was sunk about a half inch lower than the other, and his skin emitted a pallid, waxy glow, almost as if he had freshly woken from a feverish bout of malaria. His spine slumped forward and a wet stain, roughly the size of a diseased liver, marked his shirt, stretching from his shoulder almost to his midsection.
The entire restaurant fell quiet with a hush that was solid and impenetrable as the family shuffled around their table and took their seats. There was no discussion, no small talk; they were every bit as mute as their fellow diners. All eyes were on them, drinking in their oddity, their lopsided eyes, their stains, and, of course, the mammary glands.
Slowly, as the group opened their menus to see what type of food was for sale, a murmur began to fill the restaurant back up again with the necessary noise.
“It’s a family or a gang,” I informed my husband in the smallest whisper, which I intentionally laced with intrigue. “Only crime or genetics can bind those kind of characters together.”
“Family,” my husband volleyed immediately. “I couldn’t even imagine how many prison populations you’d have to cull to produce that sort of show. And no neck tattoos, dead giveaway. Plus, if it was a gang, who do think is the brains of the operation over there?”
I looked back over at the table and saw that all of them had an equally hollow look in their eyes, although they were all looking in different directions–out the window, at the front of the menu, at a fork–and their jaws hung wide open, as if they were buckets tipped at an angle.
“Do families like that really go on vacation?” I asked, finding it hard to believe. “I thought they just stayed home, added more newspapers to the already-six-foot-high stack, and watched their cats breed.”
Then I wondered what my own family would have been like on vacation if none of us had ever moved away from home, and I imagined it would be at some casino hotel with a good view of downtown Phoenix. Around the dinner table at the all-you-caneat chicken fingers and meat loaf buffet would be my father, who no longer spoke because of his seventeen stress-induced strokes, and myself and my two sisters as the three of us pinched, slapped, and threw garnishes at each other while my mother remained back in the room, sprawled out on one of the two double beds with her hand over her head, enjoying the morphine stomach pump she’d paid a doctor from Tijuana to implant.
Not a pretty picture, either.
“But what if they’re holed up here in a cabin after pulling a job?” I asked my husband.
” he choked out. “Are you serious? Which one of them would you say isn’t
on disability? The man asked the hostess if she was selling food.
I doubt if all of their brain cells pooled together are active enough to pull off the top of a Jell-O cup, let alone a heist.”
“No, I’m telling you. Look at them over there, all lost in a whirlpool of criminal thought,” I insisted as the man with the google eyes tried to catch a reflection of himself on the back of his spoon. “Not all scallywags are deviant and smart. Just like in any group, there are bound to be the ones who took Beginning Larceny more than once, you know. They’re the ones on the short prison bus.”
“Are you that bored that you really need to fabricate some drama?”myhusband asked. “Because if you are, I’ll sit you down on the couch and turn on theTVfor our next vacation.We’re supposed to be relaxing, and taking it easy. But all you seem to be interested in doing is getting yourself all worked up about a family whose tempo is considerably slack and who you believe is the James gang. Well, they’re not. They’re just a bunch of people with potholed DNA looking for the cheapest thing on the menu, I promise.”
“Maybe they’re planning on robbing us,” I added. “Maybe they’re planning on robbing everyone here. This lodge is in the middle of nowhere. No one would hear a thing.”
“Yes, we’re at a cabin in the middle of nowhere,” my husband reminded me as he took the last bite of my bananas Foster.
“We’re not on the Riviera, we’re not in the Caribbean, we’re not even in Phoenix. What is the most valuable thing people bring with them to a log cabin? An iPod and a bag of marshmallows. I doubt there’s a safe behind the microwave at the front desk with Vanderbilt jewels in it, and if someone wants our bag of marshmallows, I know I’m not the one willing to wrestle them to the ground for it.”
“Listen,” I hissed. “All I know is that someone has been peeping at me through windows, and so far, the Clan of the Cave Bear over there are my best candidates.”
“Are you done with dessert?” my husband asked curtly as he took his napkin from his lap and placed it on the table. “’Cause I’d like to get out of here before you start putting people under citizen’s arrest for having lopsided eyes and giant man boobs.”
“I bet it’s a disguise,” I mumbled under my breath as I followed him out. “I bet they’re faking being a special-needs family.” For the rest of the night, while my husband sat on the porch with his iPod earphones inserted in both ears, I couldn’t stop thinking about that family. The facts fit, in my opinion; none of it added up. Why would they take a vacation all the way out here? They didn’t look like the outdoors type. It wasn’t like they were going to go hiking or skiing with their walking aids and huge butts. And there were no phones at the lodge, no televisions, no radio. What could they be doing all day? Over dinner they hadn’t said one word to each other as far as I could tell, so conversation was out of the question. They didn’t look particularly happy, or like they were on vacation. And, if the oldest “son” had to ask the hostess if she was “selling” food as opposed to “Are you open?” they clearly didn’t get too much social interaction. I had only one feasible explanation for the whole scenario.
Then, as I was peeking out the window, I saw the group of them emerge from the lodge restaurant and head over to the biggest cabin on the property. I knew how much our cabin had cost, and it was an arm and a leg for a double bed with polyester sheets, a pellet stove, and dirty bathroom. Their cabin was a twostory deal with picture windows all along the back that looked out right over the lake.
“For a quick getaway!” I whispered to myself.
I jumped when I heard a noise behind me, and I saw our front door open.
“What if there’s a machine gun in that cane?” I asked my husband when he stepped back into the cabin and pulled an earphone out. “The rubber stopper was off of it, and there could easily be a trigger in that handle.”
“One more word and I’m putting this back in,” he said, nodding to the earphone. “You’re being ridiculous.”
“What could they be doing over there? They have the big, huge, expensive cabin, you know,” I added. “What are
they doing over there? They didn’t even talk to one another.”
“That’s how you know they’re a family,
” my husband insisted.
“Hand me the marshmallows so when they come to conquer us I can throw them our riches to avoid getting mowed down by a piece of medical equipment.”
Then he gave me a dirty look, put his earphone back in, and went outside.
From across the way, I saw the clan mammary male lumber toward the front window, give me a long, solid stare like a Bigfoot, then reach over and shut the curtains.
Excerpted from The Idiot Girl and the Flaming Tantrum of Death by Laurie Notaro. Copyright © 2009 by Laurie Notaro. Excerpted by permission of Villard, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.