Friday, August 18, 2006


In Which We Go Into that Den of Wolves...

Well, there I was, stucker than stuck, hanging on a smooth boulder, trying to climb up and out, or flailing my feet around trying to find a foothold so I could go back down into the Bear Cave. At any moment, I expected my mother to come peering over the boulder and say, "See? What did I tell you?"

And just then, I felt a powerful hand grab the belt lug on the back of my pants and tug, pulling me back down into the Bear Cave (and also, coincidentally enough giving me the mother of all wedgies).

I felt another hand grasp my calf and push it forward towards the cave wall.

"There's a foot hold just six inches below your foot. Let go. I gotcha," said a voice from inside the cave.

I did what I was told and slid back in. I heard something tear in the back of my pants as all my weight rested on that belt lug. And then I could feel a small outcropping with my foot and was able to let myself down.

Then I turned and beheld the face of my rescuer.


Well, I had a closer look than that:


It was a look I'd seen many times on his face, an expression of disgust at having to bail his little brother out of touble again, but also one of slight disbelief and amusement, the barest smile tugging at the ample jowls around his mouth.

"Thanks," I said. "How'd you get up here so quickly?" My brother, who is not quite at the apex of human performance, had elected to walk up the Flume at his own pace, which I took to mean that we would probably meet him coming back down. But here he was, sweating and gasping a little bit. He had obviously run to help.

When he caught his breath and pointed to the mouth of the cave. There stood a familiar silhouette that waved at me. It was the Brownie.

"She went and got you?" I asked as we both took a moment to recover.

"Oh no!" my brother said. "She called to me. So loud I could hear her above the sound of the waterfall." He paused. "And by God she's cute. She didn't yell 'Help" or anything lame like that. She just yelled 'Uncle BB, come get Daddy. He's in the Bear Cave and his butt got stuck!'" He chortled to himself while I imagined this cry echoing off the walls of the Flume, enriching the lives of the hundreds of other tourists trooping up the gorge that day. "I thought, I gotta see this and came as soon as I could. Shit, I love that kid," BB exclaimed, still chuckling.

"Hey!" someone called from above.

We looked up. There in the hole in the roof of the cave, Thomas was peering down.

"Aren’t you coming up, Dad?" he asked, and my heart sank. I had to admit to my son that I wasn't quite strong enough to climb through a simple gap in the rocks.

Thomas took the news well, which is to say it didn't really register with him at all. Instead, he looked to my brother. "Hey, Uncle BB. Wanna climb up through this hole?"

My brother just looked at the size of the hole, then gave his nephew The Look.


Then he shook his head. "Sorry, kid," he said. "Not a big enough shoehorn in the world to get my ass through there."

So in the end, with the Brownie in tow, we walked up and around and were reunited with the family. Thomas told everyone in earshot how he had climbed the Bear Cave, something that not even Daddy could do.

I let him brag about it, even as we continued our walk and came to a sign bearing the legend Wolf's Den, one of the other Forbidden Places my mom had warned us away from in childhood. Still, friends who had more permissive parents had always enjoyed using it because if you went through it quickly, you'd emerge near a set of old steps that would take you back to the trail as a kind of shortcut.


The sign reads:

This narrow one way path, involves crawling on your hands and knees and squeezing through rocks.

As you can see, Thomas was already on his way there. I followed, hoping I wouldn't have to climb up anything again. I also took some pictures along the way, to show you how narrow and close the place was.


What amazed me was not the size and shape of the den, but the fact that Thomas led the way in near pitch blackness. This is an anxious kid, you may recall. The kind of fellow who is scared of going up to his own bedroom at night, even with every light in the house blazing.

There were good acoustics in there, and from somewhere ahead and above us, I could hear a familiar female voice rattling off a list of possible hideous fates awaiting us. My parents must have run their arthritic asses off to get around the trail to the steps on the other side of the den ahead of us.

"...I mean they call it the Wolf's Den for a reason. What if there's one in there? Or even just a coyote? What if there's a hole or crevasse in the floor that they can't see. What if one of those big slabs of rock suddenly slips and crushes him. I love him so much, I think I would kill myself if anything happened to him."

My mom paused in the diatribe to breathe and I allowed myself a smile Aww, that's sweet, I thought.

Then Mom said, "Of course, I'd be upset if something happened to MM too, but I swear if anything happens to my grandson, I'll just die on the spot. After I kill that little shit for letting him go in there." By the way, "little shit" is what my mom called me as a child whenever I did something that I just knew would annoy or scare the daylights out of her. I still answer to it, I'm sorry to say.

I'll tell you, it was pretty dark and smelly in there, just like a real den of wolves. And for a second, I flashed to a single comic-book panel, from an old story that just happens to contain my favorite line ever written in a comic book. This isn't because it's a vintage Batman story from the 1930s, it's because, as wiser men than I have observed, it's menacing without making a goddamn lick of sense.


Having not read that particular comic, Thomas wasn't particularly worried that this den might be summoned from the forest at any time, thirsty fangs and all. He just pressed on, feeling his way.


Then he shouted, "I see light. I see a hole!" And when I squeezed around a corner, I saw that he was already worming his way between two massive rocks. And being my mother's child, my heart leapt into my throat.


Suddenly I remembered every news story I'd ever heard about children stuck in wells and old mines and collapsed buildings. I recalled every "Drama in Real Life" story I'd ever read in Reader's Digest (I used to call them "the monthly amputation story" because no matter what the drama was, someone always seemed to lose an appendage) and I uttered what I have come to call The Daddy Prayer: Dear God, if something bad is going to happen, please let it happen to me instead of my child.

But my angle of view clearly fed my worry, because when I got closer, I could see that the opening was more than wide enough for Thomas. In a second, he was through the crack between the two mighty boulders and grabbing the steep wooden steps that led out of the pit and back up to the trail.

"Oh thank you GOD!" my mother cried dramatically, hugging Thomas and brushing cobwebs off of him. "This is why I never let your father go in there when he was little. I couldn't stand the anxiety."

"But he's in there now," Thomas said, confused.

My mom faltered, then became her sarcastic self again. "Yes, that's true. But he's biologically redundant now so it doesn't matter as much as it used to." BB and my dad chuckled at this. Even Her Lovely Self laughed.


"You know, I'm only about 10 feet away and I can hear you just fine!" I called from the den.

"Well, come on then!" my dad called.

And I was coming, you know? I just didn't want to be rushed. I'm not a claustrophobic person by any means, but the crack that Thomas so easily wriggled through seemed a mite tight to me, especially since I'd put on a good 20 pounds since the last time I'd been to the Flume. I took a breath, then removed my belt pack and tossed through the hole. Then I climbed through.

And immediately my foot slipped on a wet rock and I turned sideways, bashing my elbow. I recovered and got on my hands and knees to finish my transit through the hole.

Except I was stuck. Stuck again!

Only this time, it wasn't a cliffhanger. Somehow the back of my pants seemed hooked or stuck. As it turned out, the tearing sound I'd heard when BB rescued me from the Bear Cave was my belt lug and a healthy chunk of waistband ripping loose, not only exposing a slightly indecent portion of my lower back, but also creating a flap of durable cloth that became easily wedged between some rocks on the roof of the hole I was crawling through.

Thomas bounded back down the steps to encourage me. "You okay, Dad? Don't be scared. You can make it."

Not without ripping the ass out of my pants I can't I thought.

"Don't worry about me!" I said cheerily, even as I tried to reach behind me and try to feel where I was stuck. "I'll be right along."

"Okay!" Thomas said. He grabbed by belt pack, took out the camera, snapped a picture


then disappeared back up the steps.

I had no leverage at this angle. I pulled forward. I pushed backwards. Nothing was working. I tugged mightily on my pants but the fabric, which had torn so easily when my brother yanked on the belt lug, had obviously been torn all the way up to a stronger seam that refused to break.

Great...just great, I thought. I could imagine the ignominy of having to be rescued by park staff. And I could already see my brother giving me The Look.


No, all in all, I'd rather they left me here. After a year or so, they could just rename the place "Skeleton Cave" or "Dumbass Pass" or something.

And then I heard a strange noise.

It was like a low rumbling and seemed to be coming from everywhere. Bits of rock began to fall around me, pelting me from high above. I guessed they were bits of rock falling from the two glacial boulders I was stuck between.

Holy-O Jesus, I thought. Twenty-five thousand years these rocks have been sitting here and TODAY they decide to move. The idea struck me that I wasn't just in a jam; I was about to BE jam.

I braced my elbows on either side of the boulder and pushed like I was trying to give myself a hernia. I started digging my feet into whatever rocks were behind me and shoved and shoved and shoved.

Suddenly, with a great ripping sound (and a smaller one signalling the accidental emission of human methane) I exploded out of the hole and onto the soft dirt just in front of the steps.

I turned and looked at the hole. No more rocks seemed to be coming off, nothing seemed to be moving. I caught my breath and looked up. High atop one of the boulders that formed the Den, I saw BB.

"Were YOU dropping those rocks down on me?!?" I squeaked at him, my voice a little high from the excitement. My brother just stared.


"Well?!?" I cried.


Then he couldn't help himself and started laughing his ass off. With a huff, I brushed myself off and clambered up the stairs to the path. Thomas was waiting and he was ebullient.

"Wasn't that GREAT, Dad?" he yelled. "That was the coolest thing ever! We climbed through caves and holes and cracks! It was SO awesome!!"

"Speaking of hole and cracks, ol' fella, you just might want this," said my Dad, handing me a lightweight windbreaker. A group of teens tromped by, pointing and tittering in relation to my backside, which was now on full display, a brand-new attraction there at the Flume.

Face red--from the exertion of getting out of the Wolf's Den, you understand--I tied the windbreaker around my waist and marched off after my kiddos, my brother's high, raucous laughter still ringing in my ears.

I'd love to tell you I got my revenge that night--putting shaving cream in his hand and then tickling his nose while he was aleep, switching out his toothpaste with Catlax--but I decided to call it even. He had saved me from the Bear Cave cliffhanger fair and square. I guess he deserved to scare me out of my pants too.

Anyway, all that really matters is that Thomas considers it one of the Best Days Ever. I think it's safe to say everyone else enjoyed themselves too.

And if asked, I just smile and say I had a ripping good time.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

Well I sure am awfuly fucking glad you decided not to get revenge, you total ass strep! You swore you deleted that fucking picture!

Little shit. I shoulda left you in that cave til a bear came along and at your sorry ass.
I'm sorry, BB, but that hat has GOT to go.
Wow... sounds like a marvelous time... Many memories your son will take with him everywhere...

The best thing about your stories is that I can picture them in my head... You write very well!!!!
Great story MM, as usual!
I for one am very glad a cave bear did not come along and "at your sorry ass."
Wow - our family vacations were NEVER that full of adventure. Not even the time dad made us stop to check out a logging museum.
hahahahaha XD

I love The Look. It had me laughing out loud!

Great story :)

Sorry about your pants :>
Next time y'all go on vacation, BB has to bring a camera. I'm bummed (pardon the pun) that there's no picture of MM's windbreakerless ass.

Also, I think it's a cool hat.

Also, Into that den of wolves which I shall call from the forest you shall be cast to die by their thirsty fangs! Hahahahah! All Your Base Are Belong To Us!!
Ah, it was a true MM vacation after all. I'm just glad no hospital visits were involved this time.
The whole thing reminded me of Winnie the Pooh...have you been hitting the honey jar to hard MM???Your brother kinda looks like rabbit....
ahhh, so your book title was more appropriate than one might thing?

I Am The Ass Man.

I was hoping for a little more photographic documentation of the reason you are called the ass man. I'm just saying.
Best day ever!

Loved the story. Felt like I was there, and I am kinda glad there's not "Ass man" documentation. :)

although, since you posted yet another bikini HLS pic (previous post or two), maybe it's time you got your due.

Biologically redundant? Oh, ow.

If you are biologically redundant, your mother is too. Is that why the Brownie wouldn't save her from a car crash?
That picture of your BB is TOO FUNNY.

Btw - ya GOTTA get that Yankees hat away from Thomas. Ugh.
That story rocked! - I couldn't resist.

(No wonder it hit home when I called you a little shit!)

Your collection of "ass" stories alone would make a "large" book!
Batman has absurdly long legs in that picture. Just thought I'd point that out.
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