“My mom has worms in her butt.”
Aw, kids say the darndest things. Fortunately, at least for Susan, this wasn’t my kid. It was my nephew. Announcing a fact about his mom. Worms! Butt!
This was old news. Decades old. Said mom, Carolyn, had pinworms when she was a child. Her son, now six, just learned this. This news astounded everyone present. As far as we understood, middle-class Americans don’t get worms. None of us had ever heard of these pinworms, even though Carolyn insisted that this was a common childhood occurrence. It’s hard to news like this about someone you’ve known for half your life and not immediately lay into them with merciless, sarcastic joking. The next hour or so was all about worms. Carolyn’s worms. In her butt.
Susan’s family was visiting for the weekend. A quick hit to celebrate her dad’s birthday. This happens every couple of years. They’re a close family, they like to spend big chunks of time together. Something Susan and I usually avoid. With the exception of our kids, we don’t spend chunks of time with anybody. When her family comes to Gettysburg, they don’t stay with us—they stay with Susan’s parents who live a mile away. So we get the benefit of family visits, but we still retain a quiet oasis where we can escape. Her dad’s birthday is July sixth, frequently abutting a long weekend—Independence Day. Convenient for these family get-togethers.
I had a similar situation growing up. Every single birthday weekend of my childhood was spent at the beach. My birthday coincides with Columbus Day – this used to be a holiday, before it became common knowledge that Christopher Columbus was a monster. My family went to the beach twice each year. A week in the summer, and a long weekend in October. The purpose of the October trip was for my dad to fish. Because it was my birthday weekend, I always got to invite a friend. It was a good deal for me.
As I write this, the Fourth was last Monday. A cold and rainy day. I doubt I’ve ever said that before. A cold Fourth of July. I’ve lived my life in the mid-Atlantic states. For me, a pleasant July day is anything below ninety degrees and ninety percent humidity. Hot and sweaty is the norm. This year is weird. Reports from around the world indicate that this is the record breaker. The year global warming slaps our collective face and screams “Wake Up!” But in southern Pennsylvania, we’ve only had a handful of days in the eighties this summer.
Yesterday was bordering on chilly—cool enough for everyone to wear long sleeve shirts. It was spitting when I woke up and it drizzled off and on all morning. My kids and their cousins gamely made a go of the pool, but mostly because we went the day before and pool passes are good for two consecutive days. At eight dollars each, the passes are kind of a rip-off, but if you return for the second day, it becomes a reasonably good deal.
So there we were, the kids in the pool, freezing. Pretending they were having fun; the adults under a pavilion talking: politics, parenting and worms. By early afternoon it settled into a steady deliberate rain that didn’t quit until long after Susan, the kids, and I went to bed. Late. Hours later than we planned. Stressing about our early departure in the morning. All because of the worms. But I’m not talking about Carloyn’s worms anymore.
Departure? On July 5th, our summer vacation started. Not the out of school part for the kids—that happened on June 1st—but a two-week fly-away to Nevada, Arizona and Utah. Like my family growing up, we spend many of our summer getaways at the beach. A cheap and relaxing trip. But every couple of years, we accumulate enough credit card points to get four free roundtrip flights. We almost always go to the American Southwest.
The buildup to this trip has been rough. Or at least not relaxing. There was the long weekend with Susan’s family in town. Hours and hours of socializing when we were supposed to be packing, knocking out last minute preparations for our long absence. Another huge problem has been our car. And of course, we can’t forget the worms.
On Fathers’ Day, we drove out to a nearby park for a hike. The park is only twenty miles away, but there is a small mountain to cross on the way. Near the top of the mountain, our car began to overheat. Just as the gauge hit red, we crested the hill and everything settled back to normal, everything was fine. Until we started our return trip a few hours later. It was a long ride home. Forced breaks at a motorcycle clothing outlet and a lawn statuary store. Not the places we were likely to stop, but those were the places where the car overheated and needed to cool down.
I never went into the biker store—I stayed in the parking lot trying to troubleshoot the car problem. But the statue store got my full attention. Being Fathers’ Day, my family encouraged a purchase. My kids wanted me to select a concrete replica of Bigfoot. The pose is perfect for our small, wood-cresting property. The primate appears in full forward motion as he glances over his shoulder to see who’s watching him disappear into the trees. It’s the iconic Bigfoot pose. We’ve all seen the photo. It translates well into a statue. At this point, I was reasonably certain we were looking at an expensive car-repair, so I opted instead for a salt and pepper shaker set featuring a bald-headed, tear-drop-eyed alien.
So was the repair expensive? I still don’t know. The car is now at its third auto repair shop. We’re spiraling out farther and farther from home. Proximity isn’t the best way to select a mechanic for a major car repair, but we’re lazy and unconnected. We don’t have much experience with this.
In the decade we’ve lived in Gettysburg, our car issues have been mild: brakes, oil changes, that sort of thing. The one time we had any serious car trouble, two separate repair shops each gave an estimate of over $3,000. We traded both of our cars and few thousand dollars for a used Mazda 5 minivan, and we started over. This was six years ago. We still have that Mazda. It’s a 2008. It’s our good car. The one that isn’t working right now.
Our other vehicle is a 1995 Dodge Dakota pick-up. It’s loud and drafty, and the truck ceiling is simply the inside of the rusted metal roof. About a year ago, the gear shift indicator stopped working. It always reads Park no matter which gear you’re in. And the gas gauge always reads Full, even when you’re on fumes. As of ten days ago, the wipers no longer work either. But the truck is reliable enough to get around town—our two-mile radius town. It’s also extremely well accessorized. Bike parts hang from the rear-view mirror, metal animals are bolted to the outer frame, and bumper stickers cover every inch of the back and have begun crawling up the sides. It’s a cool truck. But it’s a tired truck too. We don’t need to drive it much; we have another car… our reliable 2008 Mazda 5.
During my troubleshooting at the biker clothing store, I verified that the fan was operating and the coolant was filled. With my automotive repair knowledge completely exhausted, I dropped off the Mazda at the first repair shop (the closest one). I let them know that the car only overheated while driving up hill. Like me, they checked the coolant and the fan, and then they let the car run for two or three hours in their parking lot. When the car didn’t overheat they said the problem had fixed itself. If we had any more trouble, we should consider replacing the (working) fan ($574). We barely drove across town before we overheated again. The next repair shop—the one a mile farther out of town—couldn’t diagnose the problem either, so they suggested a new radiator (~$500).
Our truck can’t travel the 160 miles to the airport and back. A major breakdown seems unavoidable. Losing a wheel at seventy miles per hour on the interstate feels more serious than the same mishap a block off the Gettysburg town square. With our minivan still out of commission just a few days away from our trip, we panicked. None of our friends would be available to make the dawn trip on a workday without any notice. After futile calls to rental car agencies and the airport shuttle, we got in touch with a local shuttle service. Readers living in an urban or suburban area are no doubt thinking “Well, of course!” or even “Duh!” But that sort of thing isn’t available in Gettysburg. No professional drivers, just a few word-of-mouth contacts, retirees looking for some extra cash.
Asking around brought us to Sid. And we were set for a 5:30 AM pickup.
The wretched weather cancelled the Fourth of July fireworks, so we bailed out on the family reunion early. We were home by 9:00 for our final trip preparations. The last minute packing; lining things up by the front door. cooking up a batch of sweet rolls to eat on the way to the airport. We would easily be in bed by 10:00. Everything was on track… until we found the worms.
Giving some final attention to our cats, Susan started to replace their water bowls, and scoop out some fresh food. On the edge of their food area, which is simply a grouping of bowls on an upside-down welcome mat in our family room, one of our cats had been sick. A glob of vomit was balled next to the mat, gritty and wet. Smaller globs trailed away. Sort of like a comet (yes, a vomit comet). As Susan prepared to mop up the mess with paper towels, she noticed the motion. Each chunk was writhing. Each chunk, alive with tiny worms.
Now we’re in Vegas. A couple of days of sight-seeing, a trip to the Hoover Dam, people watching on the Strip. 100% losses at the slots. $1.00—and that’s likely to be the extent of it. I’d rather play the lottery. It takes hours or days to lose my dollar playing Mega-Millions. This morning, after a relaxing breakfast at the make-your-own-waffle-station in our hotel, we’re heading out for part two of our trip—a few nights at the north rim of the Grand Canyon. No crowds, no Wi-fi, no TV, not even cell reception. This is where the real vacation starts. From our perspective, Vegas is just a launching pad. Something to see only because that’s where the plane landed.
We’re not sure what to make of the worms. The hours spent Internet searching while we should have been sleeping were inconclusive. Not ringworms, roundworms tapeworms, or even translucent woodworms. Of course the first thing we checked was Carolyn’s pinworms. Nothing would be more likely than our own private outbreak just hours after ridiculing Carolyn about hers. But pinworms are a colon thing; they don’t thrive in the stomach and intestines. They wouldn’t be thrown-up by a cat. In fact, we couldn’t really find any worms that looked like ours that are capable of living in the stomach. As I became more and more stressed by the dwindling gap to when Sid arrived, our shorter and shorter night’s sleep, Susan and I grudgingly accepted that these were gnat-larvae. Possibly eaten and later purged, but more likely dragged into the house as part of a plant or some other dead thing that the cats ate.
None of us have felt great since we’ve flown out west. Nonstop headaches: but so many reasons could contribute to this. A little jet lag; a crazy long travel day; breathing recycled airplane air; the elevated altitude; dehydration—our bodies and our sinuses; the crazy heat—106 degrees yesterday. Or maybe it’s the worms. Maybe we are infested. Maybe we’re a few days away from true illness. Purging writhing masses of squirming larvae. Admission to a poorly equipped, remote, hospital. Hooked up to an IV drip of whatever pesticide they pour into humans harboring worms.
This would trend well on the Internet. “Family of four dies of freak worm infestation.” It’s the natural progression of our current health news. Zika, brain-eating viruses, e-coli, salmonella. At our next stop, the Grand Canyon, people sometimes die of Hantavirus—a disease contracted from ingesting deer-mouse feces.
With so much competition, our worms will only be news for a day or two. But during that period, while everyone thinks they, too, might die from a new species of worms, news outlets will milk us for all we’re worth. When the reporters get around to talking with Carolyn, she’ll say “They were a pretty nice family. I know we will miss them for a while. But boy, they really got what they deserved.”
Then Donald Trump will send out provocative tweet, and our worms will be forgotten.