If I were a member of the Kona Coffee Growers Association, I’d consider a class-action suit against the suppliers for the in-room coffee machines, because they're not doing the Kona name any favors. Granted, the prefab packets promise a Kona blend, which could mean they mix ground tail of newt and cigar ash into the stuff. It has a peculiar and particular taste, and after a summer in various motels it’s become the taste of in-room coffee. But it's off-coffee. It's just not right. It has no floor. Then again, all the coffee around here is wrong. Wrong. The waiter explained the other day that they serve Dougbe Edberts, or Douge Housar, or Dougb Frezh, or some such Dutch brand. Which is fine; it's a nice roast. But they serve the reconstituted variety. It's replicator java. They boil down actual real coffee into a potent ichor and stored it for later use; when the time comes, hot water is added to make it whole again. Sorry. That's not coffee. That's a Civil Defense ration for bomb shelters.
We woke around nine. More or less. Me, I woke around three and played that old favorite game, find the chamberpot. Since there’s a window on one end of the room and a mirror on the other reflecting the window, you’ve no landmarks. You could be heading towards the bathroom or the door. (The latter eventually has more clues, such as a plate glass window in your face.) Then I went back to sleep, and dreamed I was at a resort not unlike this one, chatting with a masseuse; she had to duck out for an errand, and asked me to watch the place. In came an middle-aged lady who had apparently come for the Scab Festival up the road. I woke, and was glad to be out of that job.
Breakfast was served by a Peruvian immigrant. That’s the second Peruvian I’ve met in Minnesota. You’d think they would have stopped somewhere along the line; what keeps them going all the way up to Minnesota? Did he slam on the brakes around Des Moines and skid all the way here? He fed us Spanish omelettes, which supposedly contained genuine spicy Spanish sausage but actually contained one of those finely minced bland German sausages that seems like a waste of the whole point of sausage. The omelette was slightly less than the size of a wrestler’s thigh. A cup of sour cream was provided for dipping. Plenty of hash browns, but the top was hot and the bottom uncooked, always a mark of a sloppy kitchen. In short, the average meal in these parts: gigantic, cloying, inert, and depressingly wasteful. And it was a dollar more than two eggs and bacon, which makes no sense. There's no middle ground with breakfast. Nine pounds of meat and cholesterol are ten bucks; a scant scrambled ration of hen fruit and pig flesh costs $8.79. Don't tell me the difference is toast, because they both offered toast. Everything on the breakfast menu contains toast. Order toast, you get a side of toast.
I’m not really irritated by these things; just preparing for my senior years, when I will amuse myself by coming up with new reasons to send back the meal at Denny’s.
After that debacle we staggered out of the coffee shop, laden and leaden, and headed for the marina. The only vehicle we could rent was a paddleboat, and I couldn’t say no. Me, I like an engine, two of them if possible. I don’t trust anything that depends on me for its locomotion. I may get bored. I may get tired. Then where are you? The middle of the lake. Then the gulls come. They go for the eyes first.
You have to sign a waiver, which was obviously cobbled together by a staff member tired of dealing with irate customers who took their camcorder in the kayak and turned it upside down. “By signing this, you understand that water is wet,” was one of the lines. Really. Good for them. I put all the gear ashore before we set out, and then we began thrashing our way into the blue. I’m sure there are various exercises I could have done to prepare my thigh-musckles for the journey, but I’m a busy man. The subset of muscles required for operating a paddleboat at great distance are not often required, and it seems a waste of time to build your workout routine around then, We went out then did circles then came back. I was reminded of everything I didn’t like about going to the lake as a kid: being hot under a life jacket, for example. A scratchy, damp, cinched sack of kapok reeking of lake water. At least it was pliable; the old ones (bright yellow, branded with the name of the folks who made the water skis) felt like you’d strapped on lacquer-soaked paperback novels sandwiched between fiberglas planks.
I love the water, but I prefer to be next to it. Unless it’s a powerboat, and even then I cannot help but believe I am about to kill everyone.
After we made it back – alive! – we went to the beach. Well, Wife and Gnat headed into the lake while I checked the wifi in the other lodge: bingo. Checked the mail to see if my editors had questions, checked the websites (instapundit: usual mood of bemusement, considered endorsement and gentle chiding; the Corner, bleak doom; Unofficial Apple Weblog, aneurism-inducing prose but neat links, etc.) I didn’t feel like reading weblogs. It felt wrong. “Pathetic,” that’s the word I’m looking for. I stowed the gear and went down to the lake.
Wife and Gnat were already in the water, bobbing around a giant inflatable device the shape and size of the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile; I was encouraged to enter, if only to share the joy that comes when you are immersed up to your neck and the searing, incandescent pain of the freezing water begins to abate. Criminey. It was hot up top, on the beach, but North-Atlantic cold in the water. I could see why the fish spent so much time learning to make feet and breath air. A sensible approach. But we were there for two hours, making sand castles, trying to catch minnows (an absolute impossibility, since everything you do trips a defense mechanism. I considered putting a bucket in the water and letting Gnat herd them in, but of course they have a peculiar disinclination to swim into large dark open things.) After a few hours we headed back to the cabin; my Wife went to play tennis, and Gnat and I explored the old lodge. The creepy part. It has the original signage from the 40s, which is cool:
Then she swam some more in the other pool – I think there are nineteen.
We had dinner in the second-best restaurant, which should have been called the Anne Hathaway. The hostess was from England; the server was from Bulgaria. The paper this morning said there weren’t enough jobs to go around. Do tell. Oh: the desk clerk was from Poland.
The menu was small, which often means the chef has designed five peerless entries, any one of which will represent the peak of his art. Or it could mean they run the same things every night. The cordon bleu actually looked good, for once; apple-smoked bacon-wrapped cran-orange glazed yam frittatas, or something like that. My wife had the walleye, a local specialty. We ordered a grilled cheese for the tyke and watched a family take a group portrait on the lawn. Everyone was dressed in white. Four dark-haired brothers, two blonde wives. Everyone in that family was either busy or interested, then.
The salads came, and I knew we were in trouble. White lettuce, carrot shavings, two meaty tomato halves. Even the dressing was flavorless. Ranch dressing, purportedly, but it could have been Elmer’s Glue. You got the impression of eating an actual salad without any concrete evidence. It was a rote outstate salad, in other words. People accept these things without comment or complaint. Then came the entrees: the fish was certainly fish-textured; my chicken had diverse components, but it was utterly bland. Gnat’s grilled cheese had more flavor, and that was because of the ketchup. I swear: you get 30 miles out of town, and everything, no matter what it’s made of, tastes like broiled Play-Doh. It’s odd; you’d think they’d pay more attention to the food, since that’s what people remember. Apparently they remember it well, inasmuch as nothing comes back at them an hour after eating. Me, I feel like I’ve been eating a damp quilt every meal.
Now we’re back at the cabin, resting up before the ordeal of mastication that will be dinner. There will be s’mores and a bonfire at night, and an early turn-in. My wife’s tired from playing tennis and I’m tired from just thinking about playing tennis.
Back from the s’mores. The bonfire was raging, right on schedule. A nice young fellow (from Lithuania) brought the s’mores ingredients and some sharp sticks. When we’d finished we went inside to the lodge to play some games – Kerplunk, and Chutes and Ladders. The other two families were present, including the White Family, still in portrait uniform, and the Cow Family, who exude a deadening gravity so great chairs move across the room towards them when they sit down. Earlier today they entered the pool while Gnat was swimming, and the wife said something to the husband. He said “What?” three times before he got it, and then, I swear, he said:
"I know, I thought they’d have three seagulls too Vicky told me how to turn off two, but that wasn’t enough. It’s just like driving cattle, I guess."
Back to the room. I’m back on the porch, having a nip and a Panter, and now I’ll go inside to start the book I figured I would have finished by now. But I’ve been having too much fun to read.
Up and out tomorrow, and then it’s back to the Fair, which will seem odd – to go to the Fair, then have a weekend, then a three- day trip, then return to the Fair, well, it makes it all seem almost interminable, and that’s grand. The end of summer always slips away; runs through your fingers an hour at a time, and then you look up and see the first golden leaf, and wonder why you didn’t know it would all so flee this fast. Not this year. Not at all.
From the edge of Gull Lake, with crickets and a moon: see you Monday.
(New Diner; click below to listen in your browser to the MP4 version and, I hope, subsequently subscribe. Because it's late and I don't have full access to my site at the moment, please make sure you're listening to Diner090106; it's called Summer's End, Again. If the page you hit does not reflect this, by GOD, my good man, bail out before you suck up anymore precious bandwidth, and go for the main page, which should have the link. If this doesn't work, thow your hands in the air like you just don't care, and wait for the MP3 version on Monday.)