Category Archives: Work Camping

Loud

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The campground was full—or nearly so—on Saturday night, including a couple with a reservation for the site right next to the host site where The Man and I stayed. The couple rolled in at dusk, while The Man and I were cleaning up after dinner. The temperature was dropping, and I wondered if the woman next door would be warm enough in the short shorts and  sweatshirt she was wearing By the time I crawled into my van and hung my curtain, the couple was standing next to a raging fire.

The next morning I was up early, got dressed, ate breakfast, went to work. It was a normal day.

When I returned to the campground around 6pm, I noticed the people who’d been staying on site #8 were now on the other side of the campground on site #4. That was unusual, but not unheard of. Sometimes people wanted to change sites for a variety of reasons from proximity to the restrooms to wanting to camp closer to friends.

While the tent still stood on site #9 and the stove sat on the picnic table, no car was parked on the site. The campers must have gone off on a day trp.

The Man and I said hello and had some How was your day? chitchat. Then he asked me if I’d heard the people on site #9 the previous night.

No, I told him. I hadn’t heard anything.

The Man had become friendly with one of the campers on site #8. That guy had told The Man that the people on site #9 had spent the previous night having boisterous, loud sex. Apparently the woman had been particularly vocal.

Damn! This was probably the most exciting thing that had ever happened in the campground, and I had slept through it. I hadn’t heard a sound.

Is that why the people on site #8 moved to site #4? I asked.

That indeed was the reason.

I wonder if the people on site #9 were exhibitionists and wanted everyone in the campground to know they were getting it on, or if they were overcome with passion and didn’t realize how loud they were being.

The Man hadn’t heard anything the night before either, but he’d parked his minivan in a nook past our campsite so as not to crowd the people next door. He was maybe a little too far to hear sex sounds from site #9.

On Sunday night I had to go down to guard the Mercantile. I was sorry to have to miss whatever auditory sex show was going to happen that night on site #9.

On Monday morning, as soon as I returned to our campsite and saw The Man, I whispered, Did you hear anything? while looking pointedly toward site #9. He hadn’t heard a thing. Either he’d slept through the caterwauling or the folks on site #8 had moved for no reason.

A Gift of Avocado

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The family came into the Mercantile late on a Sunday afternoon.

The short fuzz of the tall fellow’s hair was mostly grey. The woman had short hair too, stylishly cut, but in need of a trim. The child was maybe three and appeared to be a boy. From the conversation I overheard between the adults, I determined the child was their kid, not their grandchild as I might have guessed.

The adults let the kid run around. He wasn’t destroying things, but he was touching everything and moving things around. He certainly wasn’t being told to look with your eyes, not with your hands or the Spanish equivalent, no toca. The parents didn’t demand the kid hold an adult hand or stay by an adult side. Basically, they were letting him do what he wanted with minimum parental supervision or intervention.

The adults were busy picking up items they wanted to buy and piling them on the counter. I guess their shopping was interfering with their parental duties. I got the feeling most things they did interfered with their parental duties. In any case, it looked like it was going to be a big sale, so the employees of the Mercantile silently tolerated the child’s behavior.

The Big Boss Man was in the Mercantile too, using his phone to utilize the internet. He conversed with the adults as they shopped. I stood tired and mostly silent behind the cash register waiting to ring up the sale.

One of the adults mentioned their reservation had been for this night and the previous night, but they’d only just arrived. It seemed they hadn’t been able to get things together to arrive on time. They were thinking of staying the next night too, since they’d missed the first night of their reservation.

I don’t know if The Big Boss man was just feeling generous in general or if he was inspired by the growing pile of merchandise on the counter, but he told the couple they could have their site for free the next night if they decided to stay. Of course, The Big Boss Man lost nothing by making this offer. The couple had paid for a night they hadn’t used and since Mondays are typically slow, the site would probably sit empty if the couple decided not to stay. The Big Boss Man is good at being generous in ways that don’t cost the company money. He’s all about generating goodwill when he can do it for free.

I rang up the family’s purchases. They spent more than $100, which definitely stimulated The Big Boss Man’s feelings of goodwill. I packed their purchases into a large shopping bag and sent them on their way with wishes to have a good night!

The other clerk left for the day, but The Big Boss Man lingered. Sometimes he does that. Sometimes I’m hoping for a quiet last half hour of the day alone in the Mercantile, but The Big Boss man hangs around until closing time. It looked like this was going to be one of those afternoons.

Sliced Avocado FruitThe father of the rambunctious child came back into the Mercantile. I want to give you these, he said. He handed me and The Big Boss Man each a large, green, perfect avocado. He tended about 200 avocado trees back home, he said. These were from his trees.

I thanked him profusely and energetically. I love avocados and to receive one as a gift is high on my list of wonderfulness. The Man and I ate the avocado that night. It was perfectly ripe. Sometimes niceness pays off in delicious ways.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/avocado-close-up-colors-cut-557659/.

Phone Home

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Seven Assorted Colored Rotary TelephonesNot three minutes before the young people walked into the Mercantile, I’d been telling the new camp host how The Big Boss Man did not like visitors using the phone in the store to make calls for any reason he did not consider an emergency. He’d allow phone calls for fire and bleeding, and I bet broken bones would have met his criteria for an emergency, but to him car trouble didn’t count. Car won’t start? Flat tire? Keys locked inside the vehicle? The Big Boss Man thought you should go to the payphone eleven miles away to make your call.

This phone policy put me and the other clerks at the Mercantile in an awkward position. I didn’t want to displease my boss, but I certainly wanted to help people. Also, it wasn’t the boss who had to tell the woman traveling alone who’d locked not just her keys but her phone, her ID, her cash, and her credit cards in her car that she couldn’t use our fully functioning phone—it was the store clerks who had to do the dirty work.

I explained all of this to the new camp host in the course of our conversation, and he just shook his head. He was really into helping people and couldn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t let a driver having problems with a vehicle call for help.

Just as the camp host left the Mercantile through the back door, three young people walked through the front door. I’m not sure how young the people actually were, but they all looked at least 18 to me. The two women could have been a little younger than 18 or maybe a little older, but I’d be astonished to find out the fellow with them was younger than 22. In any case, the three young people before me appeared to be adults.

The tallest woman stood in front of the counter looking sad. She had straight dark hair and wore a loose shirt over a bikini top. She started talking to me in a voice so low I couldn’t understand her words.

Could you speak up? I asked. I can’t hear you.

She looked completely startled. Maybe I’d spoken too harshly. Maybe she’d learned speaking softly helped her get things she wanted from people. In any case, she raised her voice and started again.

We don’t have any phone service out here, she began.

No one does! I interjected.

And I need to call home to let my parents know I made it to the campground safely, she told me.

A big girl like you? I wanted to say.

How old are you? I wanted to ask. For once I kept my big mouth shut.

If my parents don’t hear from me, they’re going to file a missing person report, she told me. Whether she was exaggerating or if she had really grown up under such helicoptering, I do not know.

I gave her a big speech about my boss and the phone, how he thought it should only be used for emergencies and he definitely would not consider her situation an emergency. I’m going to let you use the phone, I wrapped up my speech, but you CANNOT. TELL. ANYONE.

She solemnly agreed not to tell anyone, and I handed her the phone. She dialed the number, and there was a long wait while the phone rang before the young woman reached her mother’s voicemail. She explained she’d reached the campground, had no phone service, and would not be able to touch base until the next day when she returned to civilization. She hung up the phone, and I was glad the entire interaction was coming to an end. It was time for me to close the store and count the money in the drawer and go home for the day.

But wait! There’s more!

I’d assumed the young woman’s two companions were there for moral support, but no, each of them also wanted to call home and reassure their parents that except for the lack of cell phone service, they were fine. I couldn’t believe this! Grown ass people (or at least it seemed to me) insisting on calling mommy and daddy to check in from the first day of a camping trip! What would they have done if there had been no telephone in the campground?

I let the two other young people use the phone. I couldn’t tell them no after I’d told their friend yes. This was the problem with letting a visitor use the phone—it was never a quick 30 second call; it was always some sort of ordeal.

Where are y’all from? I asked the first young woman as her friends used the phone.

Orange County, she replied.

They were only a few hours from home! They hadn’t even left their home state!

Finally all calls home were complete. The young people thanked me, and I ushered them out so I could close up shop.

As I was closing the front windows, the phone rang inside the store. I ran to get it and answered it using the script taped to the counter, identifying specifically the store where I work and myself, then asking How may I help you?

The woman on the other end of the line seemed flustered. She must have the wrong number, she told me. She thought her son had just called from this number.

I sweetly assured her that he had. There was no cell service up here, so he’d used the store phone to let her know he was ok and that she wouldn’t hear from him again as long as he was up here.

She laughed and agreed that’s what he message had said. (Then why did you call here!?! I wanted to shout, but I held myself in check.) She thought maybe she could catch her son if she called right back.

No, ma’am, I said, he’s already gone, which was the truth.

I’ll be damned! It was some kind of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie scenario.

If you let a gal from the O.C. use the phone, then her two friends will want to use it too, which will make you close the store late. Then the young man’s mother will call back and interrupt your closing procedures with her chatting. She’ll want to talk to her son directly…

I was beginning to understand why The Big Boss Man didn’t want us to let visitors use our phone.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/seven-assorted-colored-rotary-telephones-774448/.

Cups

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The campground where the Mercantile was located didn’t have running water. It didn’t have running water during the three previous seasons I worked on the mountain. At the beginning of last season The Big Boss man was confident the campground would have running water before Memorial Day. As of late July, the campground was still bone dry. As far as I knew no one was working on the water system. After Independence Day, The Big Boss Man had stopped talking about getting the water to run in the campground.

Almost every day, people came into the Mercantile looking for a faucet or a water fountain. I’m sure the camp hosts saw as many (probably more) people looking for water than I did. Visitors wanted to fill a water bottle or wash their hands. Every time someone asked for water in the campground, I had to explain there was none.

We sold cold water in the Mercantile, and a significant portion of people did buy it to drink. However, fewer people (significantly fewer people) spent $2.50 for 16.9 ounces or $3.95 for a gallon of water to use to wash their hands.

One Wednesday afternoon, I was working alone in the Mercantile. Two older men came through the door and ignored my greeting. Both men were probably in their early 60s, and each was wearing long pants and a long sleeve shirt despite the heat. Their clothes were not trendy, and while not shabby, didn’t look new. These men had not dressed up to come up the mountain. They looked like hunters or fishermen (or maybe both), working class outdoorsmen. The skin on the second man’s face was a strange mottled red, as if his sunburn had been sunburned, and he wore an expression of anger or maybe just impatience.

I could tell they were looking for something, but before I could offer to help, their eyes lit up. They’d seen what they were seeking.

They made a beeline to the beverage cooler and considered their options. I heard some mumble grumbles about the cost of the water. I understood their consternation, but there was nothing I could do to change the price.

The first man who’d come through the door carried the gallon of water up to the register where I scanned the barcode and asked for $3.95.

Clear Plastic Cup on Gray SurfaceDo you have cups? The fellow making the purchase said.

We have coffee mugs right over there, I said while pointing helpfully,

No, said the red-faced man. Paper cups. To drink this, he said gesturing to the gallon of water.

Oh no, I said. We don’t have anything like that.

I guess they figured if they paid more for water than they paid for gasoline, cups to drink it should come with the purchase.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/sunset-cup-water-drink-87383/.

Whistleblowers

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The most annoying items sold at the Mercantile were whistles.

The first season the store was open, we sold a plastic device consisting of a whistle, compass, thermometer, and fold-out magnifying glass. The whole deal was on a clip so it could be snapped onto a backpack or zipper pull. We displayed these items in a small basket on a low shelf. Sometimes little kids picked one up and blew into the whistle. Usually when this happened, the kids’ parents didn’t want to buy the whistle, and who could blame them? If I had a kid, I wouldn’t want it further annoying me by tweeting on a whistle for hours a day. If one of the other store clerks or I could intercept the blown whistle before it was tossed back into the basket, we’d squirt it with some Windex, wipe it with a paper towel, and call it clean enough to sell.

Late in the first season, the Mercantile received whistles carved to look like bears, owl, eagles, hummingbirds, and blue jays. Made in China, hung on long cords to be worn around the neck, and brightly painted, kids loved these. The problem was, if a kid blew a whistle and the parents wouldn’t buy it, it was difficult to clean. Can mouth germs on wood be killed without damaging the wood? We tried to solve the whistle problem in the Mercantile’s second season by hanging them out of the reach of little kids.

We thought we’d solved the problem. Turns out medium-size kids, big kids, and even adults like to blow whistles they have no intention of buying.

Personally, I would never go into a store and blow on a whistle because yuck! How many people before me had the same idea and already put their mouths on the whistle? Germy!

If the other clerks or I saw someone messing with the whistles, we told them if they blew a whistle, they would have to purchase it. Sometimes we even used cute little slogans we made up like You blow it, you buy it or You try it, you buy it. Some people got very defensive and told us they had no intention of blowing the whistle. You’d be surprised how many people do blow them, we told the defensive customers.

I was surprised by how many parents didn’t think it was gross to put back a whistle their kid had put in its mouth. One dad picked out whistles for his kids who were both under seven years old. He handed the whistles to the kids and let them blow on them for several minutes. Then the kids saw the other whistles and decided they’d rather have bears than eagles.

Can we switch these? the dad asked me.

I had to tell him no. Your kids already had their mouths on them, I explained while he looked perplexed. He just didn’t see the problem with selling something that had been in the mouth of his child to someone else. I’m not even a germophobe, but yuck!

Adults blew the whistles too, then didn’t want to buy them. At best, they just blew air through the whistle, then assured me they didn’t put their mouth on it when I called them on their action.

Hello, I wanted to say. You just blew your germs into that whistle!

They must be like my five year-old childhood neighbor who got downright pissed at the suggestion she had germs. I do NOT have germs! she howled before running home to her mother. I wasn’t taunting her, just telling her the facts.

Some adults full-on wrapped their lips around the whistles and blew. The other clerk had it out with a grown man one morning while working alone. He blew a whistle and she told him he had to buy it since she couldn’t sell it to anyone else. The guy moaned and groaned and complained about how he didn’t understand why he had to buy it. My coworker stood her ground despite her pounding heart. Even the guy’s friend told him he needed to buy the whistle. Finally the guy did pay for it, but left none too happy.

One Saturday afternoon in early August of my second season in the Mercantile, I almost lost my mind over whistles.

It started when three little boys came into the store unsupervised. The oldest was maybe ten, the middle kid eight or nine, and the littlest boy probably six. I was working the register, so I said to the other clerk, Unsupervised children.

I know, she said, but she didn’t walk over to keep an eye on them.

I saw the boys were near the whistles, but I was busy with a customer, so I didn’t say anything to the boys. Then I heard it: the unmistakable tweet! of a whistle being blown.

You’re going to have to buy that whistle now that you’ve blown it, I called out, and everyone in the store went silent.

When I looked over, the big boy and the little boy had stepped away, leaving the middle boy standing alone holding an eagle whistle. He’d gone pale beneath his freckles.

I can’t sell it now that you’ve had your mouth on it, I told the boy sternly.

Can’t you wash it? the big boy pleaded.

No, I said. It’s wood.

At that point the big and little boy left their friend behind and walked out the Mercantile’s door.

I don’t have any money, the whistleblower said, then I’m really sorry.

I figured getting his parents would be fruitless. Anyone who’d send three little boys into a store alone probably wasn’t going to pony up for a whistle the kid had blown. Besides, the kid’s apology had softened my heart. I think the kid really was sorry, at least that he’d been caught, at least that he was in trouble.

I held out my hand for the whistle, which the boy handed over. I accept your apology, I said, but next time you go into a store, you better think about where you put your mouth.

I thought surely I was done with the whistle drama for the day, but there was a little bit more right before I closed the store. The other clerk had gone home, so I had to deal with the drama alone.

The family came in about 15 minutes before closing time. Judging from the way the women were dress, I was confident they were Muslim. In addition to a mom and dad who were probably in their early 30s, a girl who was maybe nine, and a boy who was probably 12, the man pushed an old woman in a wheelchair.

The family stopped by the wooden whistles, and I thought I heard a tweet. I wasn’t sure, so I didn’t say anything. The family made their way slowly through the entire store before the man came up to the counter to make the purchase. He had a whistle in his small pile, so if someone in the party had blown it, at least he was buying it.

I thought the family would leave once the purchase was made, but no. All but the young boy went back to the whistle display. I couldn’t understand the language they were speaking to each other, so I figured they’d decided the family needed more whistles.

The younger woman took two whistles from their hooks, put her mouth on the business end of one, and blew. Tweet! She handed the whistle to her young daughter who followed her mother’s example. Tweet! The girl handed the whistle back to her mother who blew into the second whistle. Tweet! She handed the whistle to the girl who also blew it. Tweet!

The family was delighted by the mother/daughter whistle duo. I could see the delight on their faces. Mom was delighted. Daughter was delighted. Dad was delighted. Grandma sitting in her wheelchair was delighted. (The young boy was nowhere near the whistle fest, so I didn’t see his face, but maybe I would have seen embarrassment there instead of delight.)

I would have been delighted too, if they had brought the two whistles (each priced at $8.95) to the register for purchase. Instead any potential for delight I felt turned to chagrin when I saw Mom hand the whistles to Dad and Dad reach to rehang them on their hooks.

I’m sorry, I called out. I can’t sell those after you’ve had them in your mouths. I held out my hand so Dad could give them to me.

Every member of the family (except the boy, who I still couldn’t see) looked confused. Why can’t she sell the whistles now? their faces seemed to ask.

I just hoped they wouldn’t think I was being weird because they were Muslim. Of course, I would have reacted the same way if they were white or Latinx, African American or Asian, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, or Buddhist. The problem was not where they were from or the religion they practiced. The problem was that they were human, and humans got germs!

The next day, the other clerk and I decided the only solution was to put the whistles in the glass display gas with the knives, the hand sanitizer, and the Claritin. If even adults can’t resist blowing into a whistle they haven’t yet purchased, our only choice was to keep the enticing toys under lock and key.

Photo courtesy of https://pixabay.com/en/whistle-attention-warning-referee-2475470/.

 

 

Potato Chips

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During my second season as a clerk in the Mercantile, the most talked about products we sold were not the Smokey Bear souvenirs or the t-shirts or the plush birds that made authentic calls provided by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. No, the most talked about products in the Mercantile were the large bags of potato chips.

The bags of chips were purchased in the lowlands with an elevation of only 470 feet. They made the trip up the mountain with The Big Boss Man to our elevation of 6400 feet. According to the AZ  Central article “Nothing Says Fun Like a Bursting Bag of Potato Chips,”

The amount of air in a bag of chips is fixed. If the package was sealed at a lower elevation and carried to a higher elevation the air inside of the bag will swell against the reduced atmospheric pressure.

Kids and adult alike noticed the expanded bags. People often thought the bags were about to explode, but in the time I worked at the Mercantile, I never experienced a bag of chips spontaneously bursting.

Some people thought the bags were full of extra chips. I bet those folks were disappointed when they opened their bags and found them—like most every other bag of chips in the world—only half full of salty, greasy, potato-y goodness.

One man told his family the heat had expanded the bags. I almost started laughing. I’d never seen a bag of chips expand like that in the heat of the desert or the hot humidity of the Deep South. The man spoke with great conviction, even though he was wrong. Actually sir, I said, it’s because of the change in elevation from the valley where the chips are bought to up here.

The fellow looked skeptical, but he didn’t argue with me.

If everybody who talked about the bags of chips actually bought a bag of chips, we wouldn’t have been able to keep the bags on the shelves. Unfortunately, most people were content to talk and not buy.

Late one afternoon while I was working the entire day alone, an elderly man came into the Mercantile. He was a talker, but I was not keen on listening. One of the things I hated about working retail was being a captive audience. Any yahoo who came into the Mercantile could stand in front of me and talk, and I was compelled to listen. It’s amazing how many shirts needed folding when someone decided to talk my ear off on a topic other than giant sequoias or merchandise available for purchase.

The old man said, Those chips expanded because they’re packed at a lower elevation. He said it as if he were telling me something I couldn’t possibly know.

I smiled sweetly and said brightly, That’s right! There’s no potato chip factory on top of this mountain!

Of course they were packed at a lower elevation! Of course the elevation change is what made the bags expand!

We didn’t speak any further about the potato chips and their expanded bags. Perhaps the fellow realized I didn’t need him to school me.

Line for the Restroom

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It turned out to be an unusually busy Monday at the Mercantile. The Fourth of July was two days away, and lots of people must have taken vacation time and left the city to visit our mountain. The other store clerk was about to leave for the day, so I took one more bathroom break.

This photo shows the restroom building the women were lined up outside of. The lined formed on the left, outside the door marked “women.”

When I stepped onto the Mercantile’s porch, I saw quite a line of women outside one of the restrooms, but not a single person standing in front of the other one. Those particular restrooms still had signs labeling the one on the right for men and the one on the left for women, but in reality, the restrooms are identical. Each has a hole in the floor leading to a lined pit in the ground. Over the hole in the floor sits a tall plastic toilet that provides a seat and a lid and some distance from what’s in the hole in the ground. Any person of any gender can pull down pants or lift up skirt, sit on the seat, and deposit waste material into the pit. When the pit is full of waste material, a pumper truck (like those that clean out porta-potties) comes up the mountain, pumps out the waste material, and hauls it away.

I’ve never been one for strict restroom segregation, especially when the restroom consists of one toilet behind a door that locks. While I would not saunter into a men’s room with a row of urinals and multiple stalls, if I’m alone with the toilet, what difference does the sign on the door make? Yep, I’m the gal at the bar who’d go to the deserted men’s room if there was a line in front of the ladies’. I’m not going to pee my pants in order to help uphold some made-up gender norms.

So I walked out of the Mercantile and saw that line of women and girls in front of one restroom and not a single person in front of the other restroom. I knew which one I’d be using despite the designation on the door.

As I walked out of the Mercantile, a grown woman was yelling through the closed restroom door to the person who’d just gone in, Don’t sit on the seat! Don’t sit on the seat!

By the time I approached the little building housing the two pit toilets, a little girl had walked up to the still closed restroom door and was screeching, Hurry up Savannah! Do you know there are seven people in line, Savannah?

I bypassed the entire group, and I approached the restroom which had no line. I knocked on the door and received no response, so I pulled it open. The room was empty and not even dirty! I locked the door and did what needed to be done.

Savannah may have exited the other restroom by the time I came out, but at least one more woman had joined the line. Still there was no one waiting for the restroom I was exiting. Apparently these ladies needed specific permission to throw off their gender shackles and use the unoccupied restroom. I would be the superhero to give them their permission.

There’s no waiting in that one, I said to the line of woman and tossed my head to indicate the empty restroom.

But…that’s…we thought…one of the adult women stammered.

It’s all the same hole, I said matter-of-factly as I strode toward the Mercantile.

When I looked back the adult woman who didn’t believe in sitting on the seat and several of the girls had formed a line in front of the restroom I’d just used. I’m proud to have helped them make their gender shackles just a little weaker.

I took the photo in this post.

A Kindness of Brownies

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It was my first weekend back in the parking lot.

Later in the summer, I would work in the Mercantile as a clerk. That was the job I’d been hired for. In the meantime, The Man and I were getting campgrounds ready for the season. Now it was Saturday, and I’d told The Big Boss Man I’d work at the parking lot collecting access fees and answering questions.

The people with the big white dog parked to my left. They got out of their car and headed to the trail. I noticed them because their dog was not only beautiful, but also very vocal.

When they returned to the parking lot, they spread out a blanket next to their car for the dog to lie on. The dog was a rescue, the woman told me. She hadn’t had the dog very long. He was great with people, but too aggressive when he introduced himself to other dogs. I’m working with him, the woman said to me.

While the dog reclined on his blanket, the humans had one of those picnics that consists of standing at the car’s open hatchback and snacking on chips and fruit.

Pile of Baked Chocolate BreadsMaybe I looked hungry, or maybe she just appreciated me listening to her talk about her dog, but the result was the same. Do you want a brownie? she called out to me.

You know I do! I answered excitedly. Brownies just happen to be my favorite food group.

She had a big plastic storage bag half full of homemade brownies. She offered the bag to me, but I said I didn’t want to contaminate the whole bag with my dirty hands. She laughed, handed me a napkin, then pulled out not one, but two brownies for me.

It’s like you know me! I joked.

I gobbled down one of the delicious chocolate squares and wrapped the other in the napkin and tucked it into my backpack’s small front pocket. I would give that one to The Man when I saw him later.

Any day including a gift of brownies is a good day for me. What a yummy way to start my work season!

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/pile-of-baked-chocolate-breads-887853/.

Doug

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Hi, I’m Doug, he said, extending his hand.

We were at the trail’s parking lot. It was early—still morning—and the lot was mostly empty.

I was confused. Who was this guy introducing himself to me? Why did he want to shake my hand? The Big Boss Man hadn’t warned me of a visit from a company or Forest Service bigwig.

Doug had thick, well-maintained dark hair. His face was shaven, and he looked wholesome in a nondescript way. He wasn’t ugly or exceptionally handsome, but he had good teeth in a big smile. He was dressed in what I think of as “golf course casual”—khakis and a knit shirt with a collar. He was maybe a little older than I am—early 50s, probably.

I reached out my hand to meet his, and we shook. I told him my name.

Are you the docent? I asked. It was the only reason I could image for him to not only introduce himself to me but to also offer his hand.

The what? he asked, startled.

The docent, I repeated, even though I was pretty sure he’d heard me, just had no idea what in the hell I was talking about.

He gave his head a little shake and asked, What’s that?

How to explain “docent,” I wondered.

I thought maybe you’d go out on the trail and answer questions, I said.

This notion made him chuckle. No, he couldn’t answer any questions, he said. He’d just come to see the trees.

You introduced yourself, I tried to explain, but let my sentence trail off. Never before had a visitor walked up with a handshake and an introduction, so he’d really confused me. I didn’t want to offend him though. He’s only done something confusing, not anything weird or creepy.

You were sitting her alone, he shrugged. I thought I should introduce myself.

I was beginning to think Doug was an extrovert. I suspect only an extrovert would walk up to a stranger sitting along and offer a handshake and an introduction. It seemed so natural to him. He didn’t seem to be experiencing any anxiety or inner turmoil. He saw me sitting alone, so he stuck out his hand and told me his name.

Where are you visiting from? I asked him. It was my standard make-chitchat-with-tourists question.

He’d come from Las Vegas, he said. He’d woken up at 2am, he said, and couldn’t get back to sleep, so he’d decided to go on a road trip.

His mother lived in Yosemite, he went on. He was going to go there soon, he said, to help her get ready. He had to get the boat ready.

Is this even possible? Do old ladies life in Yosemite? Is there a lake in Yosemite were old ladies and other people boat? I didn’t ask any questions. I was beginning to wonder if Doug’s extrovert personality was perhaps enhanced by some chemical. (Caffeine? Cocaine? Methamphetamine? Who knows?) Insomnia; impromptu road trip; babbling about boat, mother, lake, and Yosemite; talking to strangers could be signs of drug use or an exuberant personality—or an exuberant personality on drugs.

He didn’t really seem high—no twitching or jerking or obvious paranoia—and I didn’t really care if he was, but I was ready to get back to my book. (I am not an extrovert.) I steered the conversation to the trees and the trail, and Doug decided he was ready for the walk for which he’d traveled through the dark desert night. He crossed the street, and I never saw him again.

 

 

Sloth?

Standard

The cars in a caravan of about 15 parked in the overflow lot in front of the Mercantile. I don’t know if the people in the cars were a family or friends or what, but the folks from the group who visited the Mercantile ranged in age from babes-in-arms to senior citizens. Of course, the children who came inside ooohhed and ahhhhed over all the things they wanted but their parents weren’t going to buy.

A little boy who was maybe five walked right over to the wagon full of stuffed animals and pulled out a monkey.

Wait? What? A monkey? On a mountain in North America? Why in the world were we trying to sell a stuffed money? Those were the questions I wanted answered.

The plush toy in question is not visible in this photo.

I’d just pulled the monkey out of our plush toy back stock earlier in the day. Why are we selling a monkey? I’d asked the other store clerks. Neither of them had any idea. I tossed the monkey into the big wagon with the stuffed bears and raccoons and other woodland creatures. Maybe we’d sell it eventually.

The boy honed in on the monkey, picked it up, and carried it over to his older sister who seemed to be about nine. Look, a sloth! he said as he handed the plush toy to her.

The sister looked as confused as I felt. A sloth? Really? While selling a stuffed sloth in the middle of a North American forest on top of a mountain made about as much sense as selling a toy monkey in that location, I didn’t think what we had was a sloth. It didn’t look a bit like a sloth to me.

The sister was scrutinizing the tag attached to the toy’s ear, trying to find an indication of its species, I presume. I sidled up to her and said, I think it’s a monkey. She looked startled. Maybe she was surprised to find an adult getting involved.

My brother said it’s a sloth, she told me.

I know, I acknowledged, but I think it’s a monkey. I walked away from the girl then. I didn’t want to creep her out by hanging around.

A few minutes later, a man who turned out to be the dad of the two kids came into the Mercantile. He looked around at the goods for sale and found himself in front of the wagon full of stuffed animals. His daughter must have returned the monkey to the wagon because there it was, looking up at him. I’ll be damned if he didn’t exclaim, Look! A sloth!

The father had an accent that led me to believe English was not his first language. Had he somehow gotten confused in his study of animal names and thought the critters English speakers call “monkeys” are called “sloths”? Had he taught his son the names of animals, thus passing down the monkey/sloth confusion? Had the girl child learned the proper animal names in school, but the boy child hadn’t gotten to that lesson yet? Or could it simply be that what looked like a monkey to me looked like a sloth to others?

A few weeks later, a different little boy solved the mystery.

He was probably seven or eight and made a beeline to the big wagon filled with stuffed animals. A Sasquatch! he exclaimed as he plucked the monkey/sloth from away from its furry companions.

A Sasquatch?  I pondered. This kid might be on to something.

Is this a Sasquatch? the kid asked the adult who seemed to be his father.

I don’t know, the father said. Why don’t you ask? he said, gesturing to the other clerks standing behind the counter.

The boy marched up to the counter with the monkey/sloth/Sasquatch in tow. Is this a Sasquatch? he asked one of the other clerks.

I have no idea, she told him.

I took a good look at the plush toy. Yes. I could see how it was possibly, maybe, perhaps supposed to be a Sasquatch.

I want the Sasquatch, the boy told his father,

You only get one thing, the father told his son. He mentioned a half dozen other things the boy might want from the Mercantile, but the boy stood strong. He wanted the Sasquatch.

Just before the other clerk rang up the purchase, I ran over behind the counter. Let me see that! I demanded, grabbing the plush toy and finding the tag attached to its ear. Yep, there on the tag with the barcode and item number, in tiny letters it said, “Bigfoot.” Mystery solved. Why hadn’t I just looked there in the first place?

I took a photo of the stuffed animal in question and planned to share it here, but I’ll be damned if I can find it. It probably actidentally ended up in the wrong folder and I’d never renamed it, so itsname is just a bunch of random numbers. Sigh. Blogger fail.

I took the photo in this post.