What are you wearing? Well you can't read this column dressed like that. You need to expose yourself a bit more. Roll up your sleeve. Just one sleeve will do. Now pinch the thin skin of your forearm between your fingers. Not too much. Get a nice thin layer of epidermis. Now pull. Pull it out as far as you can. Got it? Look closely. Commit this image to memory. We'll come back to it.
Did you do it? Seriously? OK, roll down your sleeve. People are starting to stare. Let's get to the story. Let's talk about my neighbors' dogs.
I hate those dogs.
My next door neighbor has two. The family behind us has two. And while the neighbors themselves are decent and kind human beings, their dogs are four-legged Hell. They bark and howl for hours on end (the dogs, not the neighbors). It drives me to a near-homicidal rage.
Every day I hear the same mindless din of dogs barking at nothing. I live in a town where one can be cited for loud snoring, yet those beasts are allowed to carry on like Bob Dunning making fun of Sue Greenwald's hat. Incessantly. It was against this backdrop of canine cacophony, that my lovely wife decided we should go camping and "get away from it all." We used to go backpacking to get away from it all. But now that I have small children, a bad back and a job without paid vacation time, we go camping instead. We may not escape the aggravations of humanity, but at least it gets me away from my neighbors' dogs.
And so we went. We pitched our tent at the edge of the Bodega Dunes campground, directly across from a family whose car stereo pumped out what can only be described as Bulgarian disco. Seriously.
When night descended and the fog wrapped us in its chilly embrace, we tucked our s'mores-smeared children into their sleeping bags. The Bulgarian disco ceased and we enjoyed blessed quiet.
After a few pleasant hours of poking the fire with a stick and eating graham crackers, my lovely wife and I snuggled into our sleeping bag and fell fast asleep. And we stayed that way until about 3:00 a.m.. That's when the barking started.
My eyes snapped open. My blood pressure shot to dangerous levels. Had my neighbors gone camping too? Were their dog's following me? I stared up into the darkness and waited. Surely, whoever owned the dog was awakened too. Surely they would put a stop to it. But no, the barking continued, unabated.
By 3:30 a.m., I was convinced that I couldn't possibly be the only one in the campground who was livid at this inconsiderate ass and his worthless cur. Surely I wasn't the only one grinding his teeth and contemplating unspeakable acts of violence. Someone would do something. Some large, intimidating person would do something. That's what large intimidating people do. It's their job. Being neither large, nor intimidating myself, I would just lie there and wait for Mongo to act.
By 4:00 a.m. I had lost all faith in the big, scary people of the world. They were missing a prime opportunity to use their powers for good. I would have to act. I would be the heavy. My righteous indignation would more than make up for my smallish stature. This dog was going to stop barking even if I had to bury it in dunes (though I would take care not to disturb the ecologically sensitive snowy plover habitat).
I stabbed my legs into my pants, jerked a sweatshirt over my head and set out into the night. I would have slammed the door behind me, but that's tough to do with a tent.
The fog was nearly opaque. The barking seemed to be coming from the campsite just around the corner. I stalked off in that direction, but the road made a confusing twist and I found myself walking away from the barking. I retraced my steps, and set off down another road which surely led to the . no. This was also wrong. I did this for a good 20 minutes.
Anger gave way to confusion which faded into an unsettling epiphany. Not only did all roads lead away from the dog, the barking was rather faint EVERYWHERE except my campsite. Nobody had done anything because nobody could hear the dog. Nobody but me.
The hills and dunes formed a sort of natural megaphone. At one end was my tent. At the other end was a group of houses, one of which had a dog that wouldn't shut up. In between us was about 400 yards of impenetrable brush, a creek, and a chain link fence.
I was tired and grumpy. I had to pee. I hung my head in defeat, and shambled to the restroom. I did what I needed to do there. When I was done, the unthinkable happened. I reached down and, well. I don't know how to put this delicately. I trapped a very sensitive part of my body in the teeth of my zipper.
It was, as my young son might say, "very owie."
In an instant I was no longer sleepy and dough-headed. I attained an incredible sense of focus and urgency. I was caught, and 100 percent of my attention was focused on escape. The situation was bad. I wasn't "a little pinched." No. I was held fast by several of the zipper's cruel teeth.
I'd go into the horrifying details, but this is a family magazine. Remember that thing you did with your arm earlier? The pinching thing? Well it looked a lot like that.
At first I tried to gently tug everything back into place. Then I tried to unzip. Nothing budged, and every movement, no matter how gentle, was armpit-drenching, eyeball-rolling OWIE OWIE OWIE.
I could take no more. There was no time to be gentle. Things were starting to swell. I had a terrible choice to make. I needed to either unzip or pull free, and I needed to do it with one short, decisive jerk. I chose to unzip.
I actually saw stars.
Gently, ever so gently, I surveyed the damage. There was no blood, but two lines of deep red squares were pressed into my skin: scarlet railroad tracks of pain.
I put everything away ever so gently, and walked back to my tent.
"You're a hero," my wife mumbled from her Gore-Tex cocoon.
"You stopped the dog barking."
She was right. I was so shaken by my experience in the restroom, that I had forgotten all about the dog. It was silent. A sense of peace settled over me. I could sleep. The dog was quiet (though through no fault of mine) and no part of me was stuck in a zipper. I was free.
I snuggled up to my wife's warmth. The chill from my sweat left me. I was still owie, but it didn't matter. I'd survey the damage in the morning. I could sleep.
And sleep I did. I slept for nearly an hour before the dog started barking again. I stared into the darkness and awaited the dawn.
Getting away from it all? Fooey.