Call of the Wild

At some point in our lives we begin to understand and accept our strengths and weaknesses. This is a good thing, if for no other reason than to answer that pesky interview question. “Life coaches” explain that there are good weaknesses and bad weaknesses. During an interview you want to reveal the good ones. These are easy to spot because they are actually strengths masquerading as weaknesses, like a sheep in wolf’s clothing. “I’m a perfectionist!” or “I really need to develop more of a work/life balance” said with a slightly weary but cheerful demeanor implies that you will be working your ass off.

If you are asked “What is your biggest weakness?” and reply “Oh, pornography” or “I’m a mean drunk” you have revealed a bad weakness and will most likely not be offered the job. If you do get the job, congratulations: expect some exceptional office holiday parties.

I was thinking about my strengths and weaknesses while curled in a fetal position on the back seat of a parked Chevy Impala at four AM in a Maine forest. The conditions were far from ideal, but self-improvement is rarely comfortable. At the very least, it requires a departure from your comfort zone. Lying in the back seat of that Chevy was about as far away from my comfort zone as I cared to venture.
Several weeks ago Paul said that he and the kids were going camping. He used that “You’ve never joined us before, and there really is no excuse” tone. In a moment of weakness, which for me is a gin and tonic, I agreed to join them: For one night of their four night adventure.

I tried to convince myself that this time, it would be different. I’ll try harder. Reasoning it out like a battered spouse should have been a warning sign. Previous camping experiences as an adolescent boy scout consisted of wet stinky tents, unidentifiable food, sleep deprivation and listening to a variety of body noises, none of which particularly appealed to me. But time had softened the edges and as I bought my train ticket bound for Maine, I was actually a bit giddy.

Paul and the kids picked me up at the station. “Our campsite is a little close to the Interstate, but the constant sound of the cars is like white noise. It will help you sleep.” Paul said optimistically. I was willing to believe him. As we pulled into the campground, I must admit, it was beautifully groomed. Then we drove deeper and deeper into the woods, until it was eternally dusk.

On our walk to the pool I couldn’t help but notice that the only language I heard was French. How very cosmopolitan I thought. A young French Canadian family consisting of a mother and her six year old boy and four year old girl joined us at the pool. Here is an interesting observation, when children whine in French; it is just as irritating as it is in English. Now my French is a little rusty, but even I could figure out that the girl was not happy that her older brother was trying to drown her. Maybe the mother was a deaf French Canadian.

There really is little else to do at night while camping than sit by a camp fire and drink. Fortunately, I happen to like burning things and enjoy a nice glass or two or five of wine. As the evening wore on, I began to find more things to burn, the wine cork, the trash, pine needles and finally, the wine bottles themselves. I watched them all curl and melt and felt a strange fascination in the destruction of everyday objects. Paul was scared.

Crawling into the tent, I felt sufficiently buzzed enough to pass out and sleep through the night. Then I heard the cars, and motorcycles and Mack trucks. Layered on top of that was Paul’s snoring, which apparently he only does while sleeping on an air mattress in a tent. Somehow I was able to fall asleep, only to be awakened by a troupe of French Canadian hippies that decided to camp next to us at 3:00 AM. Can Canadians not afford hotels? I was covered in a moist cold filmy dew. For a while I lay there listening to Paul’s snoring, drunk French singing and muffler-less cars in the distance: the sounds of nature. Unable to stand it any longer, I crawled into the back seat of our car, and bent my legs back upon themselves.

“Ok, now I can check this off my bucket list” I thought to myself. But what occurred to me was that now I have a weakness masquerading as strength. When someone asks me what one of my greatest strengths is, I will say “I can make the best of bad situations”, but what I will be thinking is “I like to burn things.”

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