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It was an arctic Michigan night. We’d snuck into the state park, climbing over locked fences and hoisting our toboggans over our heads. Our parents thought we were at the local greasy spoon eating cheese fries.

The six or seven of us floundered through piles of snow through the trees to where the wooden toboggan runs stood tall in the moonlight. We climbed up to the top of the towers and began flying down the tracks.

Then I turned around. Jess was lighting a fire. To a bundle of fireworks. On a wooden structure. Underneath a grove of bone-dry pines.

“THIS IS FUN!” yelled Jess.

Jess has been proposing grand schemes and I have been cautiously vetoing them since she was 9 and I was 10. This MO has carried us through high school, our shared college dormroom, downtown LA, downtown DC and now … Europe.

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“You’re going to Italy?” my dad asked eagerly. (I get my traveling bug from him). “Are you going with a tour group?”

“No,” I said. “Jess and I are going just for the fun of it.”

A long pause. “Is that … wise?” Dad queried. It’s possible he was thinking of the time a 14-year-old Jess, practicing in our shooting range, whirled around with a .12-gauge shotgun pointed straight at him and screamed through her earplugs, “Did you ask me something, Mr. Hughes?!!?”

Jess’s parents apparently whispered, “Thank you, God,” when she told them I was her travel buddy. Our high school days were littered with times that Jess got to go somewhere because I chaperoned her was going, too.

In many ways, Jess and I aren’t the same people we were back when we threw mudclots at our little brothers. Adventure is in my blood. She’s the only person keeping patients alive during surgery. But fundamentally, we are the same as we were back then.

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“I’m bringing my classy red leather satchel with the strong zipper to carry when we’re traveling,” I told her as we discussed our schedule.

“I’m going to bring my fringed hippie purse,” she enthused. “The rainbow side satchel with the peace sign on it. I’m going to safety pin it shut.”

I guess the silver lining in this is that pickpockets won’t even see me when she’s around. Perhaps I can also get her a hat with a neon arrow and flashing lights screaming, “AMERICAN TOURIST.”

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, and what better time to resurrect it than before a trip Jess and I always said we’d always take when we were high school. No one wants to read a travel blog full of “today we went to the Sistine Chapel,” “tomorrow we shall explore the Colosseum.”

But The Adventures of Mariann and Jess, Europe Edition?

That shit’s pure literary gold.

Stay tuned!

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Somewhere in Indiana, Ron Swanson is gleefully sipping whiskey and grilling “Food’n’Stuff” steaks in celebration of the government shutting down.

Alas, I am not a government worker, so I do have to work, but if I were free today, this is how I would celebrate in honor of the greatest man I know.

Ron

Pour a glass of Jameson for breakfast, followed by all the bacon and eggs I have. Not a lot. All of them.

Head out to the woods for a quick hunt and shoot at quail. Yell Boola Boola Boola when appropriate.

Have a bonfire burning all of my HR manuals collecting dust and NOT get a permit to do so.

Volunteer with my local Catholic school tour with elementary children and when walking past the capitol tell them, “Why does government matter? It doesn’t.”

Watch a documentary on National Parks. Perhaps shed a tear or two at the sight of the Grand Canyon. But still claim the government shouldn’t run them.

Carve a wooden duck while sitting on a bench in front of the library.

I won’t call up all my closest friends, particularly my best friend. We still never talk sometimes.

Buy seven Super Gulp pops and drink them all in row in celebration of the freedom of obesity.

Get Turf’n’Turf for lunch. Drink whole milk because I hate liars.

Since the National Zoo is closed, go to Whole Foods.

Go to Assateague Island to show respect to some small horses.

Stop at stand on Eastern Shore to eat a turkey burger – a drumstick wrapped in a burger.

 

Happy 20 Years

21 years ago, he came into my life.

That dirty rat who married my sister.

Oh sure, the first few times he met the family, he may have pushed me on the swing. He may have won over my childish heart by reading me a book. He may have given the best piggy-back rides known to mankind. But my adoration was short-lived.

Because he STOLE MY SISTER. My sister, the tea party-planner extraordinaire. My sister, the sweet hug-giver. My sister, most generous with pan pizzas and Laffy Taffy, was stolen right from under my nose while I was being taken in by her suitor’s charms.

What.the.hell?

On August 7, 20 years ago, I sullenly crossed my arms and refused to smile for any of the photos. Every pictorial record of their wedding day is rendered … classic? … with a small blonde girl in Mary Janes and white-bibbed dress scowling at the camera. It became my childish mission to make his life as miserable as possible. My memories are pretty faint since I was so little, but I remember being glued to my sister’s side during the entire reception and pushing him away every time he tried to kiss her (so gross!!).

My never-serious sister being very serious during my brother’s wedding last year … proof the Hugheses can behave if they absolutely must …

Through the 20 years since, there’ve been many sweet little babies, a lot of laughter, much backyard volleyball and football,  nieces who watched the same movies I watched with my sister, nephews who have the same charm as their gregarious daddy. I’ve seen a couple who have the marriage I want someday, with lots of fun, spats, forgiveness, faith, growth, humility, and healthy doses of sarcasm and farm living. I’ve been the recipient of multiple cards and pictures and care packages as a college student and when I timidly ventured out into the big bad world of My First Real Job. I stood with them on the hardest day we’ve ever seen as a family when a sweet, fuzzy-headed baby boy left us behind to go Home. We marveled over the miracle of twins that came along a few years later.

It’s a tough world out there when it comes to marriage. Sometimes the pain and hard work and commitment makes it not so appealing to we millennials. But I think I had an advantage in being able to witness the last 2 decades of beautiful, but not always perfect, marriages of all my sibs.

It’s been a great 20 years! Here’s to another, full of euchere, insults, weddings, babies, hunting, bonfires, reminiscing around the dinner table and probably at some point dealing with a daughter who’s going to be the same perfect brat her mother was.

Bring it.

You disgust me, you annoy me, you interloper named “Tourist”!

You clutter my streets with your indecision, clueless

to the harried traffic around you, all jammed

because you halted mid-crosswalk with queries of best local clams.

You cluster on the sidewalk to gawk and to stare,

At that shop’s reindeer cardigan, half-price—ah, so fair!

Oblivious to the crowds around you who cannot pass

while you admire cheap shiz through shiny window glass.

Oh look, you think, squealing in delight

at that graceful vase locked in your sight:

“Authentic, genuine, Annapolis, hand-made!”

(Actually from China—shopkeepers, well-played)

You coo over seafood, and the specialty crabs,

“Where’s the best place to drink, which places are fab?”

You fool and menance! you doddering, pandering ass!

Do you think I’ll reveal my spots, awesome and first-class?

Look, you gasp, pointing at tall ships

How wonderful it must be to go on sea trips!

But the only people who sail forth on the bay

are the rich snobs who wouldn’t give you the time of day.

I love children, but yours are a rotten breed,

You tire them on a hot car trip and expect them to be

quiet and sweet while you trudge through the town

but it ain’t only the ice cream that’s having a meltdown.

So here’s to you, Tourist!  You who haunt my sunny city,

I wish I could run you over; I’d feel zero pity.

And it would serve as a reminder – so others would remember

To stay away from Naptown, unless it’s freaking cold November.

(Found this scribbled on a piece of paper shoved in an old purse … this was written live-time three years ago…)

There’s nothing like a flight (save, perhaps, a bear trap caught on your leg) to make you appreciate the small luxuries in life.

It’s not until you’ve been stowed precisely in the middle of the plane’s belly that you realize the joys of the toilet. That window seat you fought your seatmate so voraciously for is now a curse because in order to answer Mother Nature’s call you have to edge past Dirty Old Man Who Won’t Get Out Of His Seat and Sleeping Lady Who’s Sucking Unsuspecting Insects Into The Vortex That Is Her Mouth.

So you sit. Until you’re beyond just uncomfortable. You weight the variables. Is it worth it? You squirm. Can you hold it? You panic. The question is now, Can you make it?

You fly out of your seat, tripping over Sleeping Insect Lady and Dirty Old Man, and almost faceplanting into Man With Sports Illustrated For A Head in the opposite row. Dodging glares from him and his over-protective wife, Girl With Vogue For A Head (they share the same last name), who, by the way thinks you were trying to hit on her husband when all you wanted was to avoid the seat creeper, you scurry down the aisle, past Token Screaming Baby and Man Who Laughs Ridiculously Loud.

Then there’s the drink cart. Eager travelers poke their heads over seat backs like a field of prairie dogs when that little metal cart comes squeaking down the aisle. Patrons weigh the options of unsalted peanuts and unsalted pretzels carefully. Never have dried, tasteless blobs of carbs been so alluring.

Halfway down, the harried stewardess informs my seatmate that she’s out of Diet Coke. Sleeping Insect Lady acts like the very last bottle of some priceless wine has just been sold at a garage sale.

When this tragedy is finally solved, Sleeping Insect Lady (who is no longer sleeping, but for clarity purposes we will keep the moniker), makes a great show of pulling down her tray.

She smooths out her thin paper napkin as a resting place for her meal. Her alternate choice for the Diet Coke — a Diet Water — is placed neatly to the right, her peanuts stacked in a neat pyramid to the left. She delicately taps her hands and lips on the extra napkin she requested from the stewardess. She slowly and deliberately crunches each piece. These are the types who prompt American parents to admonish Junior and Julia, “Eat all those peanuts, kids, there’s thousands of children in Africa and passengers on airlines who’d love to have your dinner and Diet Water.”

At this juncture I pull out a magazine and pretend to be enthralled by hosts of Sky Mall offerings, but Insect Lady, now that she’s been fed, decides to mingle with the proletariat (that’s me) and tell me her life story and the bloody details of her divorce.

500 million years later, the plane lands, but not before she’s made a few derogatory remarks about the stressed out airline stewardesses and one more about her rat-bastard husband, for good measure. She asks me if I checked luggage (baggage buddies!) but I tell her, no I didn’t check anything.

And for that reason alone, I shall continue to carry on.