This is the third and final installment in my autobiographical Mount Airy Lodge saga. If you’re reading this before reading the first two parts, you’re doing it wrong.
Then read this one. You’ll be glad you did!
And, without further ado, sit back and enjoy the exciting conclusion of The Cray Cray Vaycay!
A game of tennis. That, I decided, would take my mind off of the ratty, scuffed up, boring bathtubbed awfulness of Mount Airy Lodge.
Maybe if I played tennis hard enough I would forget that Mount Airy Lodge forced me to pay 50 cents for a bucket of ice.
And if I played really hard, maybe I would forget that this Mount Airy Lodge vacation was all my fault. I was the one who had been conned by their commercials. I was the one who had begged my parents to book a vacation here. I had no one to blame but myself.
So a lot was riding on this game of tennis. The fact that I didn’t play tennis was irrelevant.
As my family and I tromped toward the indoor tennis courts, I lagged far, far behind. I was nervous about what I might find. Would the tennis courts have no nets? Would the space be overrun with sleeping hobos? I had no idea.
Mom was the first to enter. As she did so, she said, “Ooh!”
And it was a good “ooh!”
Unlike the rest of Mount Airy Lodge, the echo-y, indoor tennis courts were in beautiful shape, new and well-maintained. They were, dare I say, classy. They looked like a place where Jimmy Connors might practice his backhand.
Maybe this tennis game could shove our vacation in a new and more positive direction.
Doubles partners were quickly decided. My older sister, Gina, and I would be on one team, Mom and Dad on the other. The Young against the Old. Mom and I faced off near the net. Dad and Gina were at their respective foul lines. Dad would deliver the first serve.
Inspired by my surroundings, I eagerly clutched my racquet. I bent my knees a little and did that bobbing thing that the professional tennis players did on TV. I don’t know why they did it, but it seemed like the thing to do. I peered over my shoulder to find Gina doing the same bobbing thing that I was doing.
Dad bounced the ball a few times, gearing himself up for his serve. Mom, the only one of us who did play tennis, focused like a laser on the rectangle where the serve was to land.
Wow, I thought. Look at us! Just look at us! My family and I are playing a game of tennis!
I can’t overstate just how unusual the moment was. We didn’t normally do sports as a family. We didn’t normally do much of anything as a family. A typical day in our house was Dad hanging out in the basement, Mom ironing on the ground floor while watching a VCR tape of Psycho on The Big TV, and me farting around in my bedroom upstairs. Gina’s M.O. was to be out with her many friends driving off to God-knows-where doing God-knows-what.
Don’t get me wrong; we all liked each other—we just never felt like testing how much we liked each other. We were simply a house full of happy, satisfied loners.
So this moment on the tennis court was unusual. It was something special. I recognized it as a Moment To Remember. So, to this day, I remember every detail:
I remember Dad tossing the ball skyward.
I remember seeing his racket slice through the air in a whistling, whipping blur.
I remember his racket smashing that ball with a ferocity I didn’t think was possible.
I remember the ball veering a little too low and a little too left.
And I remember the deafening, sickening, echoing THWOCK! as the ball slammed against the back of Mom’s head.
Then I remember thinking: Oh, f—.
Mom wobbled, but she didn’t fall. She did, however, have a look on her face I had never seen before or since. It was a blend of emotions: agony coupled with fury coupled with a calculated yearning for some kind of terrible, horrible revenge. It was terrifying.
With my doomed father by her side, Mom staggered back through the door from which we came. I didn’t know what would happen next, exactly, but a plausible scenario played itself out in my mind. Once back in the room, Mom would ask Dad to open up the balcony doors so she could get a little “fresh air.” Dad would do as he was told. And, before he could see it coming, Mom would deliver a shove that would send Dad on a gravity-fueled, face-first journey to the parking lot three floors below.
Then Mom would force me to be her alibi.
Unlike me, Gina never wasted time worrying about plausible scenarios. She lived for the moment. “Let’s do the paddleboats!” she chirped.
The Mount Airy Lodge pond looked pretty on the commercials. But that was because they didn’t shoot any closeups.
The pond was green. Unnaturally green. Like lime Kool-Aid.
But I was eager to put the tennis fiasco behind me, so I sallied forth without comment. Gina and I hopped into the least waterlogged boat along the shore and began to pedal.
If I may digress for a moment, paddleboats are stupid. They are probably the most inefficient use of leg power ever created by man. For the average person to make a paddleboat sputter 20 yards from shore, he must expend enough energy to run a double marathon.
Even by normal paddleboat efficiency standards, this journey was unusually exhausting. Moments after pushing away from the shore, Gina and I, two healthy children, were wheezing in agony.
We soon discovered why. The pond wasn’t exactly liquid. As our paddle turned, a muck the color and viscosity of pesto sauce churned in the boat’s wake. As this pesto reached the surface, we were smacked upside the head with its aroma, which was not very pesto-y.
It’s hard to describe the smell. It was sort of like sulfur mixed with armpit.
“Jesus!” Gina sputtered.
A flock of geese appeared overhead. As they glided over the water, every last one of them took a large, runny dump. I am not so naive to think that there isn’t goose poo in every pond, but this was something else entirely; this rainstorm of feces was too well-organized to be a chance event. The Mount Airy Lodge Pond wasn’t a place for geese to poop, it was the place for geese to poop. Gina and I were paddleboating in an open-air goose sewer. Valiantly fighting the dry heaves, Gina and I pedaled like mad for the shore.
The rest of our vacation played out more or less the same way: even the most modest attempts at fun were met with crippling disappointment.
The indoor pool was blindingly over-chlorinated. The horseback riding horses were missing. The food was cold and icky. When we sent this food back to the kitchen, it returned the table hot and icky, which is even ickier than cold and icky.
One by one, each of us dropped the pretense of having a good time. Mom gave up the act the moment the tennis ball hit her head. The empty stables did Gina in. And Dad, usually so adept at mindless positivity, was unable to escape the gravitational pull of our collective despair.
A part of me wondered if this place was a psychological experiment to determine if a Poconos vacation could drive a well-adjusted family to murder. If that was the plan, Mount Airy Lodge failed spectacularly.
We didn’t murder each other. In fact, as the disappointments stacked up like cordwood, we became more stoic.
And together, as a family, we began to find fun in mocking the sheer awfulness of the place. The crappier things got, the funnier it all became.
We proudly checked out that Sunday morning with our tempers in check and our dignity intact. (Except for Dad. As he wrestled with our luggage, Mom gave him a swift, unexpected kick in the ass that sent him sprawling. It was belated revenge for the Tennis Ball Incident. It was also the funniest thing I had ever seen ever.)
It was time to go home. In a matter of hours, Gina would run off with her gaggle of friends to go God-knows-where doing God-knows-what. Dad would plod down the basement stairs and read a book on World War II. Mom would set up shop on the ground floor to tackle a load of dirty laundry.
And I would retreat to my room to reflect on the weekend—feeling older and wiser.