It had been two summers since my boys had last seen their cousins Josh and Ben, my brother Ric’s kids. Too much time; the kids change so much in just six months. If we let too much time go by, all five childhoods would slip by us, and we would lose the chance to have them form childhood cousin friendships.
I worry about such things. Call me sentimental.
The last time, Ric and Leslie, their sons, and my sister Robyn had driven from Tampa up to Manassas to stay with us. I knew I couldn’t manage a reciprocal drive down to Tampa. Talk about a bridge too far… last year, the boys barely survived our six-hour car drive up to New York (they still have the imprints of my choking hands imbedded in their necks). So Ric and Leslie, recognizing my conundrum, were kind enough to suggest meeting half-way. Ric took a look at the map. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina looked like it would fit the bill nicely.
Of course, as fate would have it, three days before we left, I came down with a bad sinus infection. Two days before we left, my right ear felt like it might, just might, be getting infected; I applied some topical antibiotic cream before going to sleep. Unfortunately, the cream encouraged the accumulation of wax, which, by the time I left for work on Wednesday, completely clogged up my ear and left me half-deaf. My work neighborhood in downtown DC includes a CVS Drug Store, so I went and purchased a small medicine chest’s worth of ear declogging remedies. None of them worked, or at least they didn’t work quickly enough. That night, though, I was able to flush out several big, gooey chunks of wax with a bulb syringe. Able to hear again, I hoped this was the end of my ear-related tsuris.
Unfortunately, such was not to be the case. I woke up knowing I’d developed an ear infection. I also knew I’d simply have to tough it out. We’d pre-paid our hotel bill, cancellation wasn’t an option, and, besides, my family and Ric’s family had been planning this trip for months. I consoled myself by saying at least I wasn’t getting on an airplane. Or going deep-sea diving.
The drive down to Myrtle Beach was less agonizing than I’d feared it might be. Having my twenty-year-old stepdaughter Natalie in the car with us as a third adult helped, as it evened the odds up. On the drive down, Natalie, who has started a small business with a girlfriend making beaded bikinis and other articles of clothing made of beads, worked on a bikini top for my wife Dara (which, she boasted, was the largest article of women’s wear she’d yet attempted). The worst incident on the drive south was Natalie getting car sick and having to jump out of our van in front of a small town Ford dealership, where a young salesman assumed she’d come to look at a Mustang or Focus. He rushed over to begin his sales pitch, and got to her side just in time for her to barf, her expulsion barely missing his shoes and the tires of a used Crown Victoria.
By the time we hit Myrtle Beach (which my boys thought looked absolutely AWESOME!), my ear was throbbing like one of Peter Lorre’s eyeballs in The Raven. I deposited my family at our hotel and headed straight for an urgent care clinic. The doctor poo-pooed my concerns about my ear. She said the redness was due to my having irrigated the ear the night before, and she insisted the pain I was experiencing was due to inflammation of my jaw joints (even though I told her I don’t grind my teeth or eat anything like hard candy). She prescribed me some ear drops and told me to take large doses of ibuprofin. I knew it wasn’t going to work. But you can’t argue with a doctor, especially not with one who is a stranger.
That night, I let my brother get in the pool with my kids and his, as I didn’t feel up to it. The next morning, Friday, I felt even worse — the drops hadn’t done a bit of good — but I decided to tough it out and take the boys to the beach and the pool. The beach was a trial; I was losing my voice, and as any parent of young children will tell you, losing your voice is equivalent to having every last drop of parental authority leeched out of you. Without your voice to project righteous fear into your offspring, your only fallback is to physically lay hands upon your wayward children. Easier said than done in the pounding surf, while you are feeling as energetic as a sack of congealing cement. I didn’t let me kids stay in the waves for very long. The combination of their lack of common sense with my lack of energy and voice made disaster a near certainty, so I let discretion take precedence over valor and hustled them into an indoor pool, where my lack of a voice wasn’t so much a disability.
The next morning the throbbing in my right ear had become a pounding. I dragged myself back to the urgent care clinic. A different lady doctor saw me. I couldn’t place her accent; she was from some Eastern European country. She didn’t have to look at my affected ear for very long to make her determination.
“Oh,” she said, “this is BAD. Very BAD. Must prescribe for you big antibiotic. Stronger than what we have here. MUCH stronger. I phone in to CVS for you.”
She was true to her word. Those pills could’ve choked a mastodon. Still, given how my ear was feeling, I was more than happy to force the first pill down my throat.
The families had agreed that we would take a break from the hot sun and find some indoor activity for the day. We settled on Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum. This was a pretty pure specimen of the genus “tourist trap;” but we were tourists, and we were willing to be trapped, so long as we were trapped somewhere with air-conditioning. The museum’s biggest attraction was a life-sized wax figure of the Lizardman, a gentleman who has subjected himself to a series of body modifying surgeries and massive tattooings in order to transform himself into a Cockney version of one of The Alligator People. I preferred a tiny display of intricate paintings done on butterfly wings. However, by the time we reached a display of medieval torture devices, including a mechanism for pouring boiling wax into a prisoner’s ear, I was feeling rather tortured myself, and I had the family drop me back at the hotel room so I could hide beneath the blankets.
I convalesced by watching a pair of Netflix movies on my laptop. I’d long wanted to see Woody’s Allen’s first film, What’s Up, Tiger Lily?, which had been quite groundbreaking back in the mid-sixties. Unfortunately for my enjoyment of the film, popular culture (particularly children’s cartoon shows, with which I am intimately familiar) has so thoroughly absorbed the ethos of What’s Up, Tiger Lily? that the film’s zany gags just aren’t funny anymore. However, I did enjoy the grade B Japanese gangster movie aesthetics a good deal, especially the cars, the sports coats, and the strippers. I tried watching Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange next, but I didn’t have the energy to keep up with Alex and his Droogs and turned it off just before Alex was scheduled to be reconditioned.
The next day, Sunday, was our last full day of vacation, so I forced myself out of bed and down to the pool and beach with the boys and my extended family. The antibiotics had corralled the infection a bit, so I was feeling a tiny bit stronger. Fortunately, the boys were more interested in digging tunnels in the sand than in conquering the surf, so I wasn’t forced to act as lifeguard and was able to enjoy the steady breeze while sitting in a folding chair at the water’s edge.
That evening, after dinner, Ric and Leslie very kindly offered to take my boys off Dara’s and my hands and treat them to a round of mini-golf at the Atlantica Golf Palace next door to the restaurant. Ric emailed Dara and me the photo below of our boys and his. Apparently, my infection has spread to all five young men, transforming them into flesh-craving zombies. As you can see from the photo, they are advancing hungrily upon my brother, brandishing their golf clubs in menacing fashion, preparing to beat in his skull and feast upon his brains. If I don’t make it back from Myrtle Beach, you will know that the infection has spread beyond my family to the thousands of other families crowding the beach for the July Fourth holiday week. Thousands of families who will soon return to hundreds of communities around the country, bringing this zombie plague with them… perhaps to a community near YOU…