It was before Nafta and it was back when vertical blinds were popular.
I know this because I worked in manufacturing, packing vertical blinds.
And we were busy.
We were so busy that my department was on mandatory overtime.
I don’t know about you, but I find the word mandatory to be abrasive. And if you put an abrasive word like mandatory in front of another disturbing word like overtime, and both of those words are referring to your life, it is not good.
As far as I could tell Californians had very large windows and many, many patios doors.
At the tender age of just over thirty I was working long, hot, hours, boxing up those vertical blinds to ship out.
I was punching in at 7:00 AM and racing against the clock to make my quota, by filling cartons full of blinds and small parts and filling in the gaps with expanding foam that I am sure is all still sitting in landfills.
It was the year I learned that hips serve more purposes than just carrying around babies.
I also discovered the importance of balance.
When you pull a sixteen foot carton off a packing table and place the edge of that box over your protruding hip bone, you are going to want to be pretty darn precise about the weight distribution of that box, or you will go down with it.
But practice makes perfect.
And once you manage to get an end of that long cardboard carton onto the cart, you can slide that beast the rest of the way in by using everything you’ve got.
What I am trying to say is, during the summer of 1989, due to weeks of mandatory overtime, Millie Noe was buff.
She was in pretty good shape, steal toed boots, safety glasses and all.
Do you know what else she was that summer?
And I think all that tiredness is what made her want to kill her sweet Sven that pleasant Saturday afternoon when she arrived home from work.
“Hi,” he says and smiles that cute little grin of his.
The one that won Millie over.
I dragged myself out of the car.
“Hi,” I say, shutting the door.
“Guess what?” he says.
“We are going canoeing.”
I saw my life pass in front of me as I heard his words fading in and out.
“Don’t worry, Millie. You don’t have to do anything. I’ve got everything packed. We are going to Duck Creek. It’s less than an hour away. It flows into the Wisconsin River, so we can take out tomorrow next to Hooker’s Resort.”
“But,” he says, “the girls are counting on it.”
I then notice the canoes are already strapped on top of the car out in front of the house, the trunk is partially open and there are absolutely sleeping bags sitting in there.
The girls that he was referring to were Adrienne, my almost thirteen year old step daughter and her friend Katy, who seemed to be spending the weekend with us.
“I am picking up the boys tomorrow,” I said.
The boys I was referring to would be Marques and Rene, my eight and six year old sons, who were at their Dad’s place.
“We’ll be back,” he says.
Adrienne pops out the kitchen door with her hair in a pony tail and she was carrying her fishing pole and tackle box, with Katy on her tail.
“You are screwed,” I heard a voice in my head say. “You are done for.”
You know that kind of tired when your legs feel like you are just dragging them along? The kind of tired when your spine is all rubber and it doesn’t hold you up? And the kind of tired that you just want to lay on the couch in front of a fan while somebody spoon feeds you ice cream?
That was the kind of tired I was.
But Sven promised me that it was going to be so much fun and that we would be home before noon the next day.
“Why bother?” swirled through my mind. “A one night canoe trip? What is the point?”
And pretty soon we were whizzing past a sign on the interstate.
A sign that I’d never noticed before.
A sign that I have never missed since.
Bugs really bug me.
I hate bugs.
If they would stop buzzing around my ears and my eyes I still wouldn’t like them, but I might not hate them.
But they don’t stop.
So I hate them.
And I was slapping those bastards all the while we were loading up the canoes with the camping gear and the two girls were chewing bubble gum and watching the show.
The first hour on the water the trip seemed to be okay.
Maybe Sven was right.
It was a slow and beautiful setting sun.
And before it set, we fished and fished, with no luck.
And mostly in the canoe behind us. The kind of snags that only a father can untangle.
No big deal.
We would just turn our canoe around and paddle against the current.
It wasn’t real strong.
We pulled over to shore and we girls peed behind the bushes.
No poison ivy this time.
Back to the creek.
It was narrow and it lent itself to bugs.
There was a guy sitting on a branch hanging over the water.
He nodded as we passed.
One of those Deliverance guy kind of nods.
We continued on down the creek for another half an hour, maybe forty-five minutes.
“Dad!” came a call from behind us.
“What?” he sighs. “Another snag?”
“Katy can’t find her purse. She thinks she left it back there, where we peed.”
Sven and I paddled against the current, searching for the spot.
We passed the guy on the branch.
We found the spot.
We found another spot with bushes.
We found another spot that could have been where we peed.
We paddled back.
The guy on the branch nodded.
We made our way to the girls who were anchored.
They both have snagged lines and both are waiting for Sven to untangle them.
And they found Katy’s purse.
It was in their canoe.
“I don’t understand. We should be running into the Wisconsin River by now,” Sven said, every few minutes as we paddled.
The sun was getting very low.
There was no river in sight.
There was no place to camp on Duck Creek.
The sun disappeared.
No place to camp.
Now it’s late.
I am pointing a flashlight straight ahead to guide the boat brigade through pitch black.
And do you know who loves a spotlight in the dark of night on Duck Creek?
All flying bastards.
My arm looked like the arm on that commercial of the day where the guy sticks his hairy arm into a glass box full of mosquitoes through a hole in the side and none of those mosquitoes land on his arm, due to the insect repellent he was wearing.
I must not have had the same brand.
“We should be running into the river any minute,” said Sven.
Well, we never did.
We pulled ashore and dragged our canoes onto dry land, and followed a path to an opening in the woods.
We pitched our tents on a small clearing, that clearly had served as a campground before.
A fire crackled outside my zipped bedroom door.
The other three roasted hotdogs over an open fire and seemed to be having a nice time.
I didn’t give a shit.
I’d grabbed a cold wiener out of the cooler and I ate it inside my sleeping bag, with just me, myself and my five thousand mosquito bites.
My brilliant master plan was not to speak to Sven.
It was easy.
I fell asleep before they even got to the S’mores.
The morning sunrise and the strong, black, coffee delivered to my sleeping bag, shaved an edge off my murderous mood.
I decided I would just maim him.
We broke camp, climbed back into our canoes and shoved off.
The Wisconsin River was right there, two hundred yards in front of us.
We pulled over at Hooker’s Resort two hours later.
Sven and I made a car run and returned to pick up the girls and the gear.
They both were waiting with a fish on their line.
And both those fish had swallowed those hooks.
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Life started out briskly the other morning.
Dried poplar leaves twirled a foot above our driveway.
Silhouettes of dark clouds were on the horizon.
“LAST CALL,” read a handwritten sign at the sweet corn stand.
“What?” I thought. “They are flashing the lights on and off already?”
Instead of giving mouth to mouth to my once vibrant impatiens, I ripped them out of the dirt by their long legs and put away their pots.
My Sweet Sven’s calling in life is to gain knowledge. He likes facts.
And so this sentence came out of his perfectly formed lips.
“Hey Millie, did you know that we are going to lose two minutes of daylight every morning and every night this month?”
“It’s already Daylight Savings time?” I gasped.
“What? No. In September we will lose an hour and a half of daylight.”
Because of these harsh words, I, me, Millie Noe, now have a hankering to can my garden.
I don’t mean can it, like kick the can down the road.
I don’t mean can it, like doing the Can-Can.
I mean chop it all up. Put it in jars. Seal the lids shut in a double boiler. And stack them in the pantry.
Which is really weird, because I don’t have a garden. I don’t have a pantry. And I don’t can.
Question: Why is there life?
Millocrates: Life is nothing more than a record album.
We all come out, hot off the press, screaming at the top of our lungs, with the same amount of play time, which is 876,000 hours.
I don’t mean to brag, but I was once in a rock and roll band.
Okay, it wasn’t exactly a rock and roll band.
I mean, we didn’t play any instruments.
I guess I should say, that I was once, one half of a duo. My friend Sue and I got to sing before my brother and his buddy Bruce, took the stage.
They had real instruments. Well, I should clarify. My brother had a real guitar and Bruce had a rubber practice drum pad. But his drum sticks were real. Bruce’s parents weren’t willing to invest in all that noise until he proved himself worthy.
But stardom cannot always wait for parents.