Category Archives: Work Camping

Knives

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The two women and four kids came in ten minutes before the mercantile closed.

The women looked so young to me, although they were probably in their early 30s and were obviously the mothers of the children.

The first woman who came in had her hair pulled back into a tight bun. She wore those hiking tights so popular with athletic (and not so athletic) women these days. Her scoop-neck t-shirt dipped just enough in the back to show the tattoo of a lotus at the base of her neck. Her son was maybe nine, her daughter around six.

The second woman had loose dark hair and glasses with square black frames. Her shorts were quite short, and she wore white almost-to-her-knee socks with her boots. She had a sarong or a large scarf or an East Indian tapestry draped over her shoulders with a side hanging over each breast. At first I thought she was topless under the sarong/scarf/tapestry, but when she turned, I saw her black bikini top. She had two boys with her, one about five, the other probably ten.

They were on a souvenir buying expedition. The children were turned loose in the store while the women looked at magnets and t-shirts and Christmas tree ornaments.

I have twenty bucks! the littlest boy exclaimed, to which the boy who wasn’t his brother said, Who cares? (It soon became apparent to me that this boy had just about had it with the younger kid.)

The little boy’s mom said, That’s not cool to the older boy, but the grin on her face told me she thought it was all pretty funny.

It turned out that while the little boy was clutching a $20 bill, he had to share it with his brother. Each of the four kids had a $10 souvenir budget.

They circled the store eliminating possibilities. The walking sticks were too expensive. The t-shirts weren’t enticing (and probably too expensive anyway), and none of the kids were interested in stuffed animals.

The mercantile sells these wooden whistles carved to look like forest animals.

The boy who didn’t care about the little kid’s twenty bucks was the first to find his souvenir: a wooden whistle carved to look like a bear. He tried to get the other kids interested in the whistles too, but he was the only taker.

(How do you know it’s a whistle? his little sister asked.

Let her blow it, his mom said.

No! said the boy with concern on his face. She can’t blow it! We haven’t paid for it!)

The older of the brothers tried to convince the little one to pool their money and buy something they could share. He showed the little boy a breakable “I Love California” bank, and the little boy about had a fit. He screamed his negative feeling about the bank until—finally—his mother told him to chill out. I was beginning to think the little boy controlled the whole family.

Then the older of the two brothers saw the pocket knives.

We keep the pocket knives in the glass display case. People can’t touch them unless a worker hands them over.

How much are the pocket knives? the bigger boy asked.

I told him they were $6.95 plus tax.

Can I see one? he asked.

I didn’t really want to hand one over to the kid and have to take responsibility for whatever might happen, so I said, We’ll have to see if it’s ok with your grown up. The boy rolled his eyes behind his Buddy Holly glasses.

Bikini Mom was across the store. Grown up? I called to her. Oh, grownup?

She looked at me, blinking, as if I were an intruder in her secret dream world.

Can he look at a pocket knife? I asked her.

She said he could. She didn’t even walk over to supervise.

The mercantile sells these “razor sharp” pocket knives. We keep them in the display case until someone asks about them.

I pulled out the cardboard knife display and set it on the counter. The boy grabbed a knife and examined it.  His little brother watched with great interest.

I’ll get this, the big boy declared.

I want one too! I want one too! the little brother hollered.

You have to get your parent’s permission, I told them. No way would I have given that angry little brother a knife. I’m not sure the big boy was really ready for one either.

The older boy rolled his eyes at me again. Can I get a pocket knife? he called out to his mother.

I want one too! I want one too! the little brother hollered some more.

Bikini Mom said sure, they could get knives. She hadn’t even come over to take a look.

I turned to her and said, You know the box says they’re razor sharp, right? Of course, she didn’t know anything about the knives because she hadn’t come close enough to gather any information. However at the words “razor sharp,” she did walk over.

The little brother was still hollering, I want one too! I want one too!

The boy from the other family was very interested in the knives. He also wanted one. Bun Mom told him he was NOT getting a knife. He said he’d had a knife before…And it broke! his mother said, and you’re not getting one! Her tone of voice left no room for argument, and the kid dropped the subject.

Meanwhile, Bikini Mom and her oldest boy examined the knife. They couldn’t figure out how to close it. I showed them. Both moms started talking about safety and being very careful and this is not a toy. The little bother kept hollering about how he wanted one too, and I thought the big boy might roll his eyes right out of his head.

Bun Mom told her friend this knife thing might not be a good idea. Maybe she should consult with the boys’ father, Bun Mom said.

Emboldened by her friend’s caution, Bikini Mom told her boys they could not have knives. I was relieved and put the knives back in the display case.

The older boy followed his mother around the store, hassling her.

She must have said she didn’t want the little boy to have a knife, because I heard the big boy say, Then just tell him no! I could tell he was completely exasperated. I suspect the little boy was hardly ever told no.

The big boy finally wore his mother down, and she told him to go ask his father. Presumably, the father was on a campsite nearby because the boy wasn’t gone three minutes.

He said yes, the boy told his mom.

Even for your little brother? Bikini Mom asked.

Yep, the boy said. I wondered if he’d used the words “razor sharp” when he described the knives to his father.

The boys used their $20 to each get a knife, plus a box of candy and a pack of cheap plastic finger lights. The big boy immediately opened his knife.

How do you close this again? Bikini Mom asked.

I told her The Man would show her, and he did, but neither the mother nor son could do it.

If he can’t even close the knife, he shouldn’t have it, The Man whispered to me.

Can I carve with this? the older boy asked.

Absolutely NOT!  The Man told him. He told the boy the knife wasn’t made for carving. It would be dangerous to carve with that knife, he said. The Man tried to scare some sense into the moms by telling them about times he’s sliced into his own hand while carving and how now he wears a special protective glove.

You can only use this when you’re with your father, Bikini Mom told her boys.

Someone’s going to bleed tonight, I whispered to The Man.

He just shook his head and told me quietly that no one under 13 should have a knife.

I took the photos in this post.

Patience is a Virtue

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I was alone in the mercantile when the couple came in.

While they were obviously older than I was—both the man and the woman had totally white hair—neither of them could be described as elderly or frail. Neither seemed feeble or weak. In fact, they both seemed fit and outdoorsy, just two people in their 60s who’d finished walking the trail and enjoying the trees.

When they came through the door, I gave them one of my standard greetings: How y’all doin’? or How’d y’all like those trees?

The man greeted me in such a normal fashion, I’ve forgotten what he said. Then he walked fully into the store and started looking at the merchandise.

The woman, however, stopped in front of the counter I was standing behind. She looked at me and said, Excuse me.

I waited for a question to follow, but none did. Nothing followed. The woman stood there holding a small cluster of needles from an evergreen tree. She looked at me with a strange little smile on her face, but she said nothing else.

I felt uncomfortable about the entire interaction. Had the woman said, Excuse me because something I’d said had offended her? She didn’t seem upset, and she was smiling. Had she done something to make her feel she should excuse herself? I hadn’t heard her burp or fart, and there’d been nothing for her to bump into. Why was she standing there, looking at me and grinning like the Mona Lisa?

In reality, she only stood and looked at me for a few seconds before she moved to the man’s side, but her scrutiny seemed much longer to me.

After giving the couple a few minutes to browse in peace, I asked them, Where are y’all visiting from?

(Side note: If any of my more grammatically gifted writer friends know a better construction for that question, please enlighten me. It’s been bugging me for years.)

The man named some town I didn’t know. He said his brother-in-law had suggested they visit the national forest  and see the giant sequoias. We agreed the brother-in-law had given them a pretty good tip, and I let them go back to their browsing.

About that time, the woman told the man they really needed to get on the road.

He gently told her they had plenty of time, and he wanted to do some shopping.

I want to go home, she told him.

I need to go home! she said more urgently.

The man told her again, patiently, that they had plenty of time and they would head home after they’d done some shopping. She told him a few more times that she wanted, needed to go home, but he stayed calm and distracted her by asking what souvenirs she thought different people might like.

As they moved from the display of coffee mugs the woman began complaining about the hat she was wearing. It was too heavy for her head, she said. It hurt! She indicated they should leave it behind. I’d noticed the hat when she walked in. It looked expensive and well-made, something a serious hiker or birder might use to shade his/her head. Would she really ditch it in my store?

Honey, the man said sweetly, that’s my hat.

As they moved through the store, I heard the woman repeatedly ask the man if he wanted the evergreen needles she was carrying. Each time he said, No. You can leave them outside, as if he’d never heard the question before. He never sounded irritated.

I started piecing together a story about the man and woman, and although some of my details may be wrong, I think I got the main idea.

The man and the woman were a couple, as in marriage.  Even if they weren’t actually married, that’s the sort of relationship they had. The woman was suffering from dementia or short term memory loss, maybe from a brain injury or a stroke or Alzheimer’s. In any case, the man was caring for her lovingly, patiently, gently.

As the couple placed their souvenirs on the counter for purchase, the woman placed a water bottle we do not sell in front of me.

Do we want to get this too? she asked the man.

Honey, that’s our water bottle, he said calmly.

I’ve thought about those people long after they left the store.

I want to emulate the man’s patience and calmness in the face of his partner’s short term memory loss. I get so irritated when The Man asks me the same question for the third time, even though I want to meet him with love and compassion. I want to follow the stranger’s example and simply answer the question again, not get caught up in the anger of he doesn’t even listen to me! Maybe he does listen, maybe the lady listens too, but their brains can no longer process the information into memory.

Let this be my prayer for patience, compassion, the ability to answer a question calmly and with love the fifth, the tenth, the twenty-fifth, the one hundredth and forty-second time it’s asked.

Dudes

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It was a hot day, and I was alone in the mercantile when the dudes walked in.

There were eight or nine of them, all probably in their mid to late 30s. The oldest guy had a craggy face and was either bald or had very short hair under his ball cap. As soon as he walked in, he said, I heard you give away really cool stickers here.

I wanted to say, We don’t give away anything cool here, but I held my tongue.

Instead I said, We’re out of stickers because I thought we were, but then I remembered the generic design we still had. Well, we do have these, I said while walking over to a display in the back of the yurt. The man followed me, but barely looked at the stickers. I don’t think he had any interest in stickers he had to pay for, and I don’t think he really believed there were free stickers for the taking.

The dudes milled around for a few minutes, then filed out of the yurt. One more came in to pay for his access pass. When he left the mercantile, he hollered at the other dudes to pay for parking, so they all filed back in.

One guy put a pint glass on the counter so he could pay for it along with his day pass.

The older guy said, I heard you get a free beer when you buy one of these pint glasses.

The mercantile doesn’t sell beer, but even if it did, I doubt people would get a free one with pint glass purchase. The dude many have thought he was just being funny, but it felt more like he was fucking with the sales clerk to me.

Yeah, I said with an absolutely straight face. Bring it to the bar down the road and let them know you’re there for your free beer.

The man smirked, and one of his dude friends still standing in line said, Really? I think he was about to snatch up a pint glass of his own.

I guess I’d sounded even more serious than I thought I had.

No, I said sadly, not really.

Love that deadpan humor, the dude paying for the pint glass said about me.

Two more dudes paid for access passes, then they all went away.

Dog Water

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One of my coworkers at the mercantile is exceedingly nice. She answers every question in great detail and baby talks to every infant who enters the store. She also really loves dogs.

On one of the first days the mercantile was open, a tourist came in with a little pug dog on a leash. The little dog had just walked the trail with the tourist and was obviously hot and tired. My uber-nice coworker began exclaiming over the cuteness of the little dog and sweet talking to it. She somehow determined the dog was thirsty, which was maybe obvious by the way he was panting and dragging his tired little doggie ass.

I don’t know if the tourist said he didn’t have a bowl and/or water to give the doggie a drink, or if my coworker thought the dog needed water right now, but watering the dog became a situation. The coworker pulled a blue enamel mixing bowl from the camping supplies shelf and filled it with water from the gallon jug we workers had been using to fill our bottles.

The dog lapped up the water greedily, and the tourist seemed appreciative, but as far as I was concerned, the coworker had gone above and beyond her line of duty. It was nice of her to help a person unprepared to provide water for his dog, but I‘m sure it was the thirsty little critter she cared most about.

The coworker paid for the blue enamel mixing bowl, ant it became the official dog water bowl. Every day she comes into the mercantile, the coworker fills the bowl with water she brings from home. She even made a sign that says “Water for your dog.” The sign has a picture of her own dog on it. She sets the sign on a small easel and places it near the bowl.

It was hot one afternoon when a tourist came into the mercantile asking about water. One of us explained we hadn’t yet received the permit to sell food and beverages, so we had no water for purchase.

Where do you get the water for the dog bowl? the tourist demanded.

I fill it from my own personal bottle, the coworker told him while holding up her water jug.

Do you have any that’s cooler? the tourist asked. The water out there is really hot, and my dog’s spoiled. He wants cooler water.

I thought surely the man was joking, but the coworker dutifully trotted outside with her jug so she could put cooler water in the bowl. Presumably there was a pampered poach out there who appreciated her dedication to dogs while lapping up the cooler water.

I was surprised by the man’s nerve (although by now, nothing should surprise me). I believe if someone does a kindness—like putting water out for dogs—people should appreciate what’s offered, not ask for an upgrade. Also, if I had a prissy dog who wouldn’t drink warm water, I’d have enough water in the cooler to take care of all humans in my party and the prissy dog too. Mostly, I’m of the mind that any creature thirsty enough will drink the water provided, even if it’s warm.

Unprepared

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A Boy Scout walked into the mercantile.

I know it sounds like a joke, but that’s how it happened. It was a busy Saturday at the trail, complete with Boy Scout troops who’d just finished a week at t their nearby camp and were stopping to see the giant sequoias on their way home. Young men between the ages of 12 and 15, most wearing their uniforms in sloppy, disheveled ways, had been in and out of the mercantile all day. None of them had made a purchase.

The Boy Scout in question burst through the screen door and demanded, Do you have any water? Where’s the water?

Scouting clip artHe was 12 or 13 and had hair made greasy by heat and hormones. He wore glasses and had not taken great care when he put on his uniform. He looked rumpled and agitated.

I’m sorry. We don’t have any water, I told him

I told him the truth. The store had only been open for two weeks and the company hadn’t yet been issued the proper permits to allow us to sell food and beverages. The twelve baskets for snacks and the two coolers for beverages were empty.

You don’t have water? he said with rising concern as he ventured further into the store and checked out the coolers for himself.

I’m dying of thirst! he said with teenage theatrics.

You’re a Boy Scout, I said. Aren’t you supposed to always be prepared?

Obviously, I didn’t think this kid was literally dying of thirst.

We’ve been at camp all week, he told me. We ran out of water.

Was it possible the adults in the group were letting the kids run around in the heat with no water to drink? Did the boy mean his troop was out of cold water? No matter what was really going on, I had no water to offer him.

As the Scout walked toward the door to leave, The Man said to him, You could do what Bear Grylls does and drink your own urine.

I will never do that, the Boy Scout declared as he walked out the door.

I guess he wasn’t dying of thirst after all.

Image from http://www.picgifs.com/clip-art/scouting/clip-art-scouting-642687-690771/.

Fire on the Mountain (Reprise)

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Our employee appreciation pizza party was supposed to be yesterday. The Man and I scheduled our whole day around it. I sure was excited to stuff myself with delicious pizza.

We were at the public library when I got the call. The Man had gone inside to print insurance documents, and I’d stayed in the van in the blistering heat with the dog. The Man had been having trouble completing his task and had come to ask me for help when my phone rang.

It was The Big Boss Man calling to tell us the pizza party had been postponed, There was a fire on the mountain. The road to Babylon on that side of the mountain was closed, and three of the campgrounds run by the company I work for had been evacuated and shut down. We’d have to eat pizza another day.

Almost exactly the same thing happened last year. A fire started on the mountain and one of the two roads to Babylon had been closed. I’d gotten the call saying the party had been postpones while I was still in town. As The Lady of the House said, what are the chances a fire would postpone our pizza party two years in a row?

Since we wouldn’t be eating pizza, we bought our groceries as quickly as we could so we could get out of the heat. The drive up was a little tense because we didn’t know what we would find at the top.

As The Big Boss Man had warned me, the main road leading to the entrance to our campground was closed. The exit lane was left open, but the entrance lane was barricaded and had a large “road closed” sign in front. No one was guarding the road, so it was easy enough to swing the van around the barricades.

We went right to the mercantile to call The Big Boss Man for an update, but we found him driving through the campground. He pulled his truck near our van, and we talked for a while.

The fire is big and threatening homes (some seasonal, some year-round) and property, so there are many firefighters trying to control it. Our campground, the trail, and the campground where the mercantile is located are not officially closed, but the the authorities want to discourage extra people from being up here, hence the roadblock. The reservation service has cancelled all reservations for Labor Day weekend at all of the Forest Service campgrounds on the mountain. The company I work for will lose all the revenue, as well as all the revenue the mercantile and parking lot would have brought in.

Where does this leave us?

The Man was supposed to work in the parking lot today, but since no one is likely to cross the barricade to visit the trees, he’s not needed there. The Big Boss Man said he could scrape and paint picnic tables, as he’d been planning to do some point later in the season.

The Mercantile is closed, so I’m not working there today. The Big Boss Man said I could help paint picnic tables, but I’d rather have another day off. However, I can’t afford to not get paid for too many days. I’ll have to find something to do tomorrow or the next day, but I don’t know how The Big Boss Man can possibly keep me, The Man, and three other camp hosts (if and when they come back up) busy if there are no tourists.

I don’t feel as if we are in any danger. Unlike during the fire time last year, we haven’t been warned an evacuation may be coming. Ash is not falling from the sky onto the campground. (Ash is reportedly falling from the  sky in the campground where The Big Boss Man stays, twelve miles up the road.) Last night the light looked normal, but this morning it had the weird yellow cast I learned last year means a fire is nearby.

It’s a waiting game now. Will there be any work for us? Should we stay or should we go? If we go, where? The story will contine to unfold in the next few days. For now, I’m taking the day off, sitting at the mercantile and scheduling blog posts while The Man paints tables.

If you pray or light candles or send good vibes, please put in a word for the firefighters, the people and animals whose homes are in danger, the campers who won’t get to come up here for their Labor Day weekend, and for me and The Man, who need to work and would like to eat free pizza soon.

Humor

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Humor is an interesting phenomenon. What’s amusing to one person might not be funny to someone else. My humor tends to be deadpan, so people often think I’m entirely serious when I’m actually joking. Oh how I love the people—The Lady of the House, Madame C, Nolagirl—who bust out laughing when I’m not even trying to be funny. To be thought hilarious is to be known and understood.

My humor fell short recently.

In the mercantile where I work, we sell a lot of souvenirs. What most everyone wants is a souvenir sporting the name of the trail they just visited. They don’t want something stamped with a vague “California” or “National Forest.” They want their very specific destination emblazoned on hats, shirts, mugs, shot glasses, magnets, and Christmas tree ornaments—especially Christmas tree ornaments.

Several times customers have looked at Christmas tree ornaments and expressed dissatisfaction because the name of the trail is not on the ornament. A couple of times I’ve joked, Just get a Sharpie and add the name on there! People have reacted with more or less (usually less) amusement.

The other day I made the suggestion to a complaining lady looking at an ornament, then added, If I had a black Sharpie in my pocket, I’d do it for you, but I only have an orange one.

Not only did the lady not smile, but The Man started elbowing me in the back. I guess I didn’t sound as funny as I thought I did.

Actually, for a joke,  I don’t think it’s a bad suggestion. Why not just make an ornament (or any souvenir) say what it needs to say in order to jog the memory of a wonderful trip? Having a souvenir labeled in a factory doesn’t make a memory any more valid.

Later that same day, The Big Boss Man was hanging out with us in the store, and he mentioned people not always understanding his sense of humor. I said, Me too! In fact today, and I told him the story of the lady and the ornament. The Big Boss Man cracked a smile and chuckled, I swear he did!

When I got to the part about The Man elbowing me, I said, I told him I was joking!

The Man interjected, It wasn’t funny! No one was laughing!

I thought it was hilarious,  I maintained.

I guess I was the only one.