We're on a pontoon in the middle of Gull Lake. The sun is cooking everything but two oversized misshapen circular marks over my eyes. We're listening to Ace of Base or maybe Run DMC, drinking summer-flavored beers wrapped in camouflage cozies. Dong and I are sitting a table and I've just abandoned a cover story about Kristen Stewart because, as far as I can tell, it was written before she and RPat broke up so the whole thing feels kind of false.
"Tell me a story," I say to him.
Dong is cute as a commercial. Lean and freckled, just enough product to push his hair into a peak. His calf muscles look like they should be charred on a grill and served with mead at the Renaissance Festival. He bites his thumb nails. He bakes like a dream. He claps to get people fired up -- he might even say the phrase "fire up!" -- and sometimes he laughs so hard that he collapses in half at the waist.
I've known him since he was among the top three colorers in the class. When he painstakingly perfected his handwriting to something that could be sold in a gift shop. When it was very popular for young girls to etch his initials inside of a heart. When he had keys to the high school gym, where he shot basket after basket after basket and subsequently became one of the greatest guards in Hiawatha Valley League. When he loved Jolly Ranchers. When his shorts were stained with drops from the Blizzards he made at work. When he drove a car that continued to run even when he had removed the keys from the ignition.
"A story," he says. "Okay. On Thursday:"
He had to get something on his car fixed, he says, so he took it to the shop. The place was close to his gym, which is why he picked it in the first place. About a mile, he said. He felt lame getting a ride from one of the shop's employees -- it was only about a mile from Lifetime Fitness -- but there was a weird fence he would have to walk around, which made it a longer walk than it had to be. If only there was a hole in the fence ...
"There is," the guy told him and pointed out a spot where Dong could take a shortcut.
He worked out for an hour and a half, showered, and began walking. He found the spot through tall ditch grass and as he was cutting through his foot hit something that crunched like the exoskeleton on a bug. But bigger.
"It was a deer carcass," he says. "And I'd just put my foot into it. Not only that, but some of the innards, like, got splattered on me."
Now that's a story, I think, impressed that not only could he tell me something fantastic -- but it actually happened just two days earlier. I stare at his head and imagine that he's got one of these for every day of the week.
I went to a cabin near Brainerd with a handful of my favorite people. We ate cheddar-flavored things from boxes and dipped snack food into other snack foods. Someone brought a huge tub of hummus that everyone always seemed to be eating, but which never seemed to decrease in volume. We drank beer. We tried to play dice games, but lacked the capacity to understand the rules. We all kept mistaking the Starbursts for dice and the dice for Starbursts. We switched to cards and went around the table naming the mascots for Minnesota high school teams, which has become a favorite pass time (for some of us, and a loathed pass time for others). We went to bed very early by my personal standards, but late enough for the neighbors who assumed we would carry on all night.
Fannie and I went to Target and ended up at a Bloody Mary bar. Then we went out on a the lake in the pontoon and drank and ate more, still not making a dent in the hummus. Then we ate pizza and while everyone danced I watched a man in a Sauce Hockey T-shirt simulate sex acts with unsuspecting members of bachelorette parties. He left none of his technique to the imagination. So much thrusting. I have to imagine that at one point his older brother said: "Anyone can dance, brah. Just make like you're doing it."
Meanwhile, I had a spot near the men's room and every time someone busted in or out, they threatened to nail me with the door. This was great fun. The door would whip open, Z would smack it with his hand and yell "ARE YOU OKAY!?" while eying the perpetrator.
Noticeably absent from the trip this year was Pole, who was literally on-site but something was mucked up and somewhere between intake and export, his food took on a liquid state. He went to bed at 8 p.m. and didn't make it to the pizza-dance-sex dancer party. Also of note: Fannie and I got the big bed.
Now I'm home watching "The Omen" and dreaming of lettuce.