Tent: A Biography....or....Tommy's Kind of a Dick...
Several years ago, during, and shortly after finishing college, I was working for the fine jokesters at the Goodwill Industries. I did a lot of stuff, but mainly I supervised donations.
One day, when I was trying to find anything to do but my actual responsibilities, I began picking through a pallet of merchandise that had been donated to the Murfreesboro store by the local Target. Target did that a couple times a week, back in the day...they'd donate a few goods, returns and closeouts basically. I'd say they did this mostly as some manner of tax and/or inventory write-off. Most of what we got was broken and useless.
As I was picking through that particular pallet, I found a tent. A large tent. A 12x10, three room, take your family and the current President's Administration camping tent.
At the time, that particular store could not sell tents. I always got conflicting answers...one was that it somehow violated the lease agreement. Another was that there were liability issues. A third answer was that more money could be gotten for them at a different location, so we shipped them out. I always took all of those answers to be fancy-ass ways of saying "I don't know quit bothering me."
We got that tent, though, and I asked the manager of the store if I could buy it.
"Sure," she said. "Gimme a dollar."
I did, in much the manner that most transactions are performed in this country, doing my very best not to stare at her cleavage. That last part was a singular problem I had when dealing with this particular store manager, but I suppose that's something I probably should have left in the "Don't Share This Shit On Your Blog" file.
So, with the trade of a single dollar, I was now the owner of a giant-ass tent.
To this day, I'm not really sure what I was thinking when I bought the sumbitch. I already was the owner of a couple of tents, both of them more logically sized for the overnight lodging of a single or a couple of people.
I suppose I was muchly afraid that I'd end up going camping with the 1984 Chicago Cubs, and not have space for all of them to sleep. Gary Matthews was a big sumbitch, and I'll bet Leon Durham does a lot of sleep slapping in the midst of a coke fit.
I used the tent a few times. Maybe three. And one of those was probably the first time I'd set it up in my folks' backyard.
It was big. It was unwieldy. And while the novelty of being able to stand up straight inside a canvas structure not also housing three rings and a guy sweeping up elephant shit is something notable in my life, the tent did not get used too often. Mostly, it was carted around, move to move. It had lain undisturbed under the steps in my parents' basement for almost four and a half years, now.
My friend Lisa told me a little while back that she was taking her nieces and nephew camping, since she was on vacation and they were on a break from school.
(This is an aside and has little to do with anything else...but dammit kids get out of school a lot. Seems like if somebody farts too loud, they get out....)
Well, I offered them the use of the tent, since she'd be trying to sleep three rambunctious tykes in the woods for a night.
I dug it out from my parents' basement. I set it up first on their deck, mostly to protect it from a golden christening on the behalf of their dog, Max. I don't blame him. It's his job to pee on things. I wish that was my job. I'd be pretty good, and I doubt I'd have to put in much more than 40 hours a week doing that....
I then took it down, and set it up in Lisa's yard.
I should note here, that even after having putting it up twice in two days, it's still a booger to try to put together. This tent was on the back end of the first-generation of those fiberglass poled tents that replaced that klanky aluminum poles from my youth.....efficient for one person to put up, it was not.
Yesterday, I get a call at work..."I need a little help."
So, after work, I wander up toward Chilhowee, and start to set up a tent.
Now, like I said...this is a first gen tent with a lot of these fiberglass poles...some were actually fixed to the fabric.
Problem is, with multiple moves and a few years sitting in a basement, the fabric was not strong as it once was. Thus, tension was not there to keep a.) poles in place and b.) keep the top of the tent fabric in place...
AFter several minutes of trying to jury-rig the thing into place...I decided it wasn't going to work well enough to keep Lisa and the kids comfortable and dry.
A call was placed, and Shyam saved the day. A quick drive in from McMinn County, and Lisa now had a proper tent in place.....
Well, goodbyes were said, and my one-dollar tent was rolled up as well as one can in the dark. It was tossed into the back of my truck, and down the mountain I went.
There were troubles at work, so I spoke to my grocery manager on the phone as I wandered down the mountain, keeping my foot on the brake more than anything. I wasn't picking much speed up as I went.
I finished the conversation, and proceeded to drive down the mountain with my general reckless nature. I'd rolled the window down to enjoy the fall air. As I picked up speed, I heard a sound I'd never heard out of my truck. I can only describe it as "Fwip!" followed by a "Weeeeee."
I hit my breaks, and listened. I drove a little more, and did not hear the sound. I figured I'd run over a branch that I hadn't noticed, or something to that effect.
I pick up a little speed, and immediately hear the sound again: "Fump!" and "WEEEEEEE!"
I hit my breaks, and in the glow of the light on the back of the cab, I see the culprit. I hadn't rolled the tent very well at all, and as I'd picked up speed, the fabric of the tent had started to act as parachute, and had begun to inflate with the passing air. The "Weeee" sound was one of the fixed fiberglass poles scraping against the top of the bed of the pickup truck....
I do not consider myself an angry man. For the most part, I'm laid-back and easy to get along with. However, there are those at work who have lately come to witness what constant time and pressure will do....the anger is a slow boil, but it does pop to the surface more often than I like. It is a struggle...but I am slowly finding ways to deal with "the little shit."
Suffice it to say, those methods were of little effect as I happened across a dark scenic overlook with a magical sight.
There are dozens if not hundreds of these green trashcans all around the Cherokee forest now, among others. They are squarish, with a flat, latching lid that faces you almost on a parallel. They are fixed to the ground, so that they cannot be knocked over, and trash cannot be easily accessed by bears.
I'll say that these things serve a purpose I'm not sure the creators intended: They make it hella-hard to throw a tent a way.
But, it can be done. After my initial attempt at insertion was denied. I took a deep breath, and uttered the magic words: "Get in there you sumbitch..."
And with a grunt and a splintered fiberglass pole, the bulk of the tent made it into the trash receptacle.
Let me stop to say this:
1.) I'm probably tremendously lucky that I didn't pop out an eye, or something, with that broken fiberglass pole. That's generally what happens when I do something stupid. It's a bit of instant karma that I've come to appreciate in my life...no sitting around waiting for my idiocy to bear fruit.
2.) I apologize to the Park Worker who's gotta dig that mess out. Especially since the door would not latch after I shoved the tent in. Luckily, I think that mess would likewise thwart a bear, so I think the original mission was accomplished.
After my triumph, I took a look around, stepped around the trash cans, and took a leak against the CCC-constructed wall. It was not a commentary on that fine Depression-Era project. More a confirmation that as a man, the world is my toilet.
I was kinda sad to see the tent go. But the pragmatic side of me says "it's been sitting taking up space at my folks' house for four years, unused....it's not a great loss."
Still, I feel a bit like a dick for stuffing it in the trashcan like that. But, I suppose I'll live with that alright, especially considering my original impulse was to set the thing on fire and hurl it down the mountain.
Anyway, I don't have a good way to end this except to say I had a brief telephone conversation with Shyam after the fact...and it just further confirmed that she and I are probably two different sides of the same coin. Minutes before my trevail with the tent, she'd stopped at likely the same overlook with the same rock wall, and sat and took a quiet moment to meditate.
Leave it to me to wipe all the peace off that little ledge....
Anyway. Lisa and the kids are heading back today. A little too rainy for much fun up there. I gotta call and ask if my path of carnage is evident, as she passes by....