Pitching tents

***I promised my good friend Brian that I would write something about him for his birthday, but I never told him I would make it comfortable.***

Growing up with a mother who couldn’t decide which man she wanted to nag for the rest of his life meant that we moved. A lot. My earliest memories are of being at a beach somewhere as a very young baby (and not just because I saw the pictures). Flash-forward a few years to fun-and-cockroach-filled times in Biloxi, MS, where you learned early on to always shake out your shoes before jamming your feet into them. Nothing like a greasy, itchy smear on your sock to start the day off right. I have more concrete memories of the time we lived in Colorado, but once we returned to California, I was finally able to start making (and keeping for more than a few months) friends.

Upon our less than triumphant return to California, my grandparents were pressed into service, taking on full-time parenting duties of my brother-from-the-same-mother and I, while their daughter flitted about her butterfly-like existence in pursuit of something. I moved between grade schools for a bit until we settled in one location long enough for me to feel like the world wasn’t going to get up-ended before I could blink. I started to come out of that we never stay anywhere long enough for me to not be the new kid shell and make friends at school. This was about the same time that Micronauts were the kill me if I don’t have this toy for lads. It has relevance, believe me.

Micronauts

They had all sorts of quirky-fun parts that were interchangeable and made these goofy hair-helmet-nauts into some of the coolest futuristic cats in the toy box. And Brian had some.

I spent days cajoling him into letting me just play with one, then came the campaign to let me keep one. It’s how we became friends. Not that he let me keep one, because he didn’t. As any good parent-fearing child will tell you, the doom for giving away even toys you didn’t like isn’t worth the eternal friendship of a thousand gold-coin-spilling leprechauns. You spend eternity packing bags for that guilt trip. But that process began an on-going association that would lead to what I refer to as The Big Deal.

In an attempt to make me pay for my ceaseless (seriously) efforts at scoring one of his Micronauts, Brian took great pains to ensure he sat next to me at lunch and hassle me endlessly about the kind of chips I might be willing to share that day. As all kids know, food trades are fair game, as long as you aren’t giving away valuable plastic ware. Parents are only concerned about the food you are (or are not) eating if it inconveniences them in some way…like a trip to the emergency room to make a withdrawal from the gastrointestinal piggy bank, or where on earth is my Tupperware sandwich keeper?? As long as you don’t mind missing portions of meals they don’t have to watch you eat, neither do they. When all else fails, there’s always the lying.

With the Micronauts becoming more and more of a lost cause, I focused in on another item Brian was frequently showing off: his ant-burning magnifying glass. To my youthful diminutive stature, this thing was HUGE. It filled my palm to overflowing and was beautifully convex on both sides. I didn’t know I wanted it until I was pushed to ask for it during a particularly annoying snack-badgering session at lunch.

The expression MMM, BAAAARBECUUUUEEE is forever etched into my deepest storage banks. Even more than the most annoying song you could ever imagine (HEEEEY Achebeyo!). Seriously, if there are any interrogator types reading this, “MMM, BAAAARBECUUUUEEE” repeated over and over is quite possibly as effective as water-boarding. It was that moment when I learned that I could focus my inner snapping last nerve into a beam of negotiating genius. Luckily, before I dashed myself to the ground under the lunch bench to scream and (you saw this coming) pound sand, my frantic gaze fell on the magnifying glass.

Okay, I’ll give you these delicious barbecue chips (which I secretly hated) in exchange for the preeeeeciousssss.

Suddenly, the badgering stopped and I could see his internal calculations begin. Would it be worth the potential parental pummeling to satisfy that burning need for salty, barbecue(ish)-flavored possibly-potato slices? A few minutes of him being deluged with his own medicine (pleasepleasepleasepleasepleasepleasepleasepleaseplease) and the decision was made: an amalgam of unhealthy chemicals and maybe-food for the magnifying glass. As happens during times of extreme duress, we became fast friends.

At some point, we hung around together so much that people thought we were brothers. We were very much alike back then: wide-eyed, innocent goofball boys who chased lizards and ran from girls. You know, the Great Cootie Epidemic of the ’70s. We even had regular “camping” sleep overs, where my grandparents would put up a tent for us on the grass next to their bedroom window in the side yard and let us stay up all night being goofy.

We’d compose grand melodies about the girls we liked (“They’re just my two little cutie-pies…”) and fart until neither one of us could breathe. One time, we made the fatal mistake of zipping Rocky the poodle in there with us, and woke to the consequences of conducting chemical weapons testing (methane) on small animals. It looked like someone had mashed up Fruit Loops, oatmeal and carrots and left them in not-so-neat little piles all over our sleeping bags. We never made that mistake again, and Rocky was deemed canis non grata at all future camping excursions, side-yard or other.

As the years rolled on, Brian became more popular and well-adjusted, and I became more awkward and shy, so our paths began to diverge somewhat. We’d see each other at school and were friendly, but we weren’t as chummy as before. I know it sounds all teen-genre-movie, but it really wasn’t. We were just people who knew each other and traveled in different social circles. I could embellish it into something big-screen worthy, but you’ve seen it before.

It wasn’t until our senior year of high school that we would get to hang out again for more of what made us friends in the first place: shenanigans. We took a group trip with more of our original grade school friends to Ensenada, Mexico and stayed (with adult overseers, of course) at a beach campground. We had more VD-free fun than kids should be allowed to have, including bartering our meager belongings for hand-crafted carvings and shiny things for girls back home, as well as which sub-street level doors not to enter if you didn’t want to vomit uncontrollably (seriously, lady, inter-species nightmares for years). We also found two items which wound up making this trip one that none of us would ever forget: cheap, plentiful fuegos artificiale and an abandoned hotel under perpetual construction. We were in singed-eyebrow heaven.

Brian getting his shenanigans face on.

It’s a wonder we didn’t spark an international incident, as we were not terribly scrupulous about where we aimed or launched our massive bundle of fireworks. There were bottle rocket ambushes down half-constructed chimneys; there were M-80 I hope we didn’t really hurt anyone retaliations; there were string-of-Black-Cat diversions and more near misses than should have been possible, considering our lack of regard for our own, or our compatriots’, safety. We exited the battlefield not knowing who won and not caring one bit. It was to be our last bit of crazy fun before we all ventured off to the futures that awaited us.

Brian would go on to become a missionary in Chile, and then become (of all things) a fireman back in the U.S. I would go on to join the Air Force and come home for the infrequent visit. We never did get another chance to hang out and get silly, but I never forgot my friend, or the bonds we forged as goofy, fearless kids befouling a tent with the by-product of musical fruit.

Happy birthday, Brian.

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5 Comments on “Pitching tents”

  1. Meg Says:

    I think this is your best ever column. Its much lighter on the grossness and much better in the thoughtful content department. I think you should model all of your entries after this one. I really enjoyed it. 🙂

  2. Brian Grant Says:

    “MMM, BAAAARBECUUUUEEE” is a registered trademark of Grant Industries and may not be used without the express written consent of Grant Industries or its subsidiaries.

  3. Dad Says:

    You are much weirder than we thought, but at least, now we know where the farting started (your step mother thinks it might have started with me).


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