Happy New year!
I guess it’s time for my “What I Did on Summer Vacation” entry, huh?
What I Did on Summer Vacation, by D. Spouse
This all started because I wanted a hat. A warm hat.
Living above the snow line here at the top of Mt. Crumpit it gets cold, oh, 12 months a year. Sometimes more. I mean cold. I don’t even own a refrigerator, just an uninsulated steel locker on the back porch.
Our first night in DangerHouse my alarm went off at 3am. At 3:30 I stepped out the door to go to work.
At 3:30:01 I stepped back inside and put on my coat, hat, and gloves.
It was August.
By October I knew I had to up my hat game.
Since starting in radio I’ve become a scarf guy. I drive to work in the middle of the night, then jump from my car straight to yakking into a microphone. If my pipes are frozen when I arrive at work I sound like Bobcat Goldthwait on helium for the first hour. So I wrap a scarf around my neck like a Palestinian kid slinging a rock at a Merkava Mark Iv.
That was pretty much all the barding I needed for quite some time, but as I say once we moved to Ice Station Jersey it was a whole ‘nother story. A mere scarf wasn’t gonna cut it. What good was having my throat warm if you could hold a curling tournament on my brain? I needed a warm hat.
And so began what has turned out to be a decades-long Grail Quest.
See, I can’t seem to find a warm enough hat. Everything I’ve tried, from K-Mart specials to well trained Pomeranians, has left my size 7 3/8 shivering. The latest fail was an “Authentic 100% Wool Navy Watch Cap Guaranteed Warm to -71 Celsius!” from Amazon that turned out to be…well, not an “Authentic 100% Wool Navy Watch Cap”, unless the US Navy is now contracting out its hat production to Vietnam, and “100% Wool” now means “10% Wool, 5% Polyester, 85% ‘processed recycled plastic’ “.
Then a couple of months ago NewWifey(tm) asked me if I wanted to accompany her on a work trip to Cape May. A shop there hired her to teach a class at the beginning of October, so she was gonna take a long weekend and get ‘er done.
Now I had gone with her the previous spring to that same shop for another of her classes and had a good enough time, I suppose. The seafood was spectacular and never-ending, our room was half a block from the beach, and we even almost boinked in the sand. Best of all, the tourist tsunami that turns Cape May into the Calcutta of New Jersey every May through September hadn’t arrived yet so we were able walk on the beach again without stepping on a fat dog food salesman from Iowa in a Speedo, or a hypodermic needle.
But…I dunno. Watching a bunch of beehive hairdo’s sit and stitch alphabets and pictures of cats onto swatches of glorified burlap wasn’t really my thing. “I think I’ll pass this time” I said to NewWifey(tm).
She was nonplussed. “What? Why not? I thought you had a great time, other than the abbreviated boink.”
“Eh. I just need a break from the smell of Ensure and Depends. Why can’t you book a gig with the Girl Scouts one time?”
“Aw c’mon, go with me. You don’t have to hang out at the event itself, you know. Why don’t you go online and see if there’s any attractions in the surrounding area you can drive to while I’m working?”
So I did, but nothing really grabbed me. I went back to NewWifey(tm).
“I don’t know, babe. I mean, there are a couple of wineries that are open to the public, and even a distillery where I can get really plowed. But they’re pretty far, and frankly Jersey wines are just a step above gasoline. There’s some naval museum or something not far off, but I’m not gay. And there’s an alpaca farm a little further out.”
I added that last one just as an afterthought, and immediately regretted it. I’d forgotten how much NewWifey(tm) loves alpacas.
“SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! ALLLLLLLLLLPAAAAAAACCAAAAAAAAAAS! SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!”
“Honey, I – ”
“Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeease take me there! I wanna see alpacas! Please! Pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease! I’ll blow you! Right here. Right now. I WANNA SEE ALPACAS!!”
She did, so I did.
When we passed through the farm gate the first thing we saw was a dead alpaca:
Then another in the background:
“This doesn’t look promising” I said. “So far we’ve seen two alpacas, and two of them are dead. That’s not a good ratio.”
NewWifey(tm) was as white as that one ex-paca. “This can’t be” she gasped. “They can’t all be dead…can they?”
We drove further in.
A few tense minutes followed as we wended our way slowly down the dirt road. Then around a corner a barn came in to view, and –
Alpacas. Live ones.
After parking you first encounter their most adorable specimens in a small pen, guaranteeing face time. The pen is attached directly to the gift shop. These guys know what they’re doing.
The first one we saw had a penis for a tail.
NewWifey(tm) seemed appreciative.
The main group was just steps away.
NewWifey(tm), being NewWifey(tm), was determined not only to view alpacas, but also befriend them.
“I’m gonna feed them” she said. “It looks like they like grass.”
That seemed reasonable. They were all eating grass.
So NewWifey(tm) picked a fresh stalk from our side of the fence, nice and long and succulent, and held it out.
Every alpaca in the place ignored her.
NewWifey(tm) grew increasingly agitated at their indifference.
“Look you guys!” she said, waving the stalk. “Here’s a nice one – better than those stubs you’re eating. You can have it, really. C’mon you stupid alpacas. DAMMIT, EAT MY GRASS!”
Nothing. She was actually poking them in the nose with it in an attempt to get them to open their mouths. They just walked away and started grazing on stubs again.
By contrast, the little fuckers seemed endlessly fascinated by my camera.
NewWifey(tm) was miffed, but still determined. “Let’s go in the shop” she said. “I want answers.” She grabbed my arm and dragged me through the door.
Inside, she stopped. The entire place was filled not just floor to ceiling, but across the ceiling, with alpaca shit. There were alpaca t-shirts, alpaca hoodies, stuffed alpacas from rice grain to life size, alpaca wool blankets, alpaca wool jackets, scarves, hats, coats, throws, gloves, snuggies, and area rugs, plus alpaca statues, alpaca paintings, alpaca snow globes, alpaca puzzles, alpaca keychains, alpaca shaped chocolates, and for all I know actual alpaca shit. NewWifey(tm) just stood there with her mouth open.
“Honey” I nudged her, “Didn’t you have a question?” I pointed to the sales lady, who was almost invisible against the far wall. In her alpaca wool eared hat, shawl, skirt, leggings, stockings, fingerless gloves, and booties, she perfectly matched the wares around her.
NewWifey(tm) walked right up. No preliminaries. “Why are there two dead alpacas inside your front gate?”
The woolly sales lady just smiled. “You’re the ninth person to ask me that. They’re not dead, that’s just how they sleep. They’re like those fainting goats. They just plop right over. Don’t worry, they’ll be up and around at feeding time.”
I could see NewWifey(tm)’s forehead smooth some of its lines. That one must have been bugging her. But then –
“Speaking of feeding time, how come they won’t eat the nice juicy grass I picked for them? I poked them in the nose with it and everything!”
Another smile. “Yeah, they’re funny that way. They eat the crummy little nubs in the field, but not good stalks from your hand. You know what they will eat from your hand, though? Carrots. Alpacas love carrots.”
NewWifey(tm)’s face fell. “We don’t have any carrots.” She looked at me. “Do we?” I shook my head.
“If you buy something” the woolly sales lady said, “I’ll give you a bag of carrots.”
She grabbed a basket and took off.
That place knows what they’re doing.
Two minutes later NewWifey(tm) dumped a pile of alpaca t-shirts, alpaca hoodies, 5 different sized stuffed alpacas, an alpaca wool blanket, a jacket, three scarves, a hat, a coat, two throws, gloves, two snuggies, an area rug, an alpaca statue, four alpaca paintings, an alpaca filled snow globes, three alpaca puzzles, two alpaca keychains, a bar of soap in a felted alpaca wool sleeve, and seven boxes of alpaca shaped chocolates on the counter.
“That will be $1,749.50” said the clerk.
That snapped NewWifey(tm) out of it. She put everything back except a pair of gloves and the soap cozy.
“$34.90” said the clerk. Turning to me she added, “You know, we have some very warm mens knitted caps. Does it get cold where you live?”
I stopped NewWifey(tm)’s hand reaching for her wallet.
“How warm?” I said.
“Alpaca wool has been used to keep people alive at the top of the Andes since the Incas.”
“$22.50 lined, $34.90 for 100% wool.”
“Honey, give her $69.80” I said to NewWifey(tm), and went to pick out a hat. A snow white model had my name on it. I couldn’t wait for winter to hit so I could laugh at it.
NewWifey(tm), meanwhile, couldn’t wait for something else.
“Where’s my carrots?” she said to the clerk, who laughed and produced a baggie. “Here you go” she said. “The bigger pens are out back.”
I followed behind.
Zoom in. Check these guys out. They know that smell a mile away:
It was at that point I lost NewWifey(tm) completely. She wasn’t this happy on our wedding day. Or night.
Behold the magic of carrots:
Somebody’s not happy at being overlooked:
She had to boot these kids out of the way to get to the last group:
They had a nice chat about carrots. The alpaca was in favor of them.
The drive home, all three and a half hours of it, consisted primarily of her beginning sentences with, “Did you see the alpaca that….” Which was fine with me. It was a nice change from listening to the usual three and a half hour long diatribe about anything from periods to how much wax beans suck.
The reason I delayed writing this entry until now is….the hat. The 100% Unlined Alpaca Wool hat that kept the Incas alive 722,000 feet up a mountain in the Andes in the middle of winter. *
I wanted to see if that hat would actually be the hat I’ve been waiting for since I moved to the top of Mt. Crumpit in 1999. I wanted it to survive at least one December before reporting back.
The search continues.
The hat sucks.
My head froze wearing that thing – and that was only in November! How the hell did the Incas manage to survive that long if that’s what they were wearing?
I actually called the Alpaca Store.
“You should have gotten the lined one” the woolly sales lady said. “They’re warmer. 100% alpaca wool is so fine it makes a very open weave.”
“Why didn’t you tell me that when I bought it?”
“Your wife was drooling. I just wanted you out of the store.”
Shit. It’s back to the hot water bottle and babushka, I guess. Until we go back next year when I can get the lined one.
(Hey, you know what DID live up to the hype? That stupid felted alpaca wool bar of soap! Get in the shower, soak it til the lather seeps to the surface, then run that soft, wet, rounded bar over your body and it’s almost impossible not to rub one out. I’ve never been cleaner in my life, I take so many showers now.)
*Wait, do they have winters in the Andes? I guess it doesn’t matter. At 722,000 feet (thank you, Wikipedia) the Andes are probably as cold as the surface of Pluto year round. Seasons are moot.
(10 bonus points to anyone who knew the title was a Frank Zappa reference.)