The perils of Hornik family vacations can not be overstated. Danger lurks in every corner for a family of klutzes, neurotics, weaklings and all around wimps. And, despite some rumors to the contrary, the Horniks are just that. As a results, leisure time provides just enough window of opportunity for general misfortune to befall us with disturbing frequency. For the skeptics among you, let me chronicle the misfortunes that have befallen us to date in Cape Cod (although I highly doubt that there is anyone reading right now saying to themselves, “that can't possibly be — the Hornik family seem so robust and athletic to me,” so I suppose this is more an act of self-flagellation than investigative journalism).
Let’s ease into the pain that is vacation on the Cape with your run-of-the-mill beach ailments. Apparently the Hornik clan is blessed with an anatomical malady that I like to call “proximus thigh maximus” — we have fat thighs and they rub together causing chafing and burning when lubricated with salt water. Now when I say “we,” I am clearly not referring to my wife, because only a complete idiot would include his wife in a sentence about fat, rubbing thighs. First and foremost, I am not a complete idiot and, secondly, my wife’s thighs are extraordinarily small and could not possibly chafe even if she tried to rub them together like a cricket. The rest of us, however, have some big-ass rubbing thighs, causing us to walk back from the beach as if we have spent the day riding bareback across the open range on our trusty steeds.
The Hornik family also seems to have significant foot problems on our summer vacations. No part of our feet is immune. We inevitably forget to sunscreen our feet, resulting in lobster-red foot tops. This is not the worst place to get sunburned, but it does make it tricky to wear shoes, thus increasing the vulnerability of the bottoms of our feet. Without shoes, the beach is like a minefield. Scattered throughout the beach are razor-sharp shell shards that are clearly drawn to Hornik feet like metal shavings to a magnet. To look at the bottoms of our feet one might assume that we had recently engaged in some ludicrous glass walking ritual. Slashed and hacked, Hornik beach feet are not a pretty sight. And without shoes, the walk across late afternoon beach sand is like crossing a lava field. The pain of the burning sand rivals the sting of each new shell cut. The faster you move, the quicker the fire walk, but the greater the likelihood of additional lacerations — a Faustian bargain at best.
At home our feet take refuge. We soak them in the tub. We put them up on the coffee table. We anoint them with soothing antibiotic ointment. But even our home is no asylum, as my son discovered shortly into our vacation. Having arrived home after a strenuous day of reading at the beach, he rushed over the threshold, headed for the mildewy couches. But before he could get there he felt a jab at the bottom of his foot. He looked down and discovered that he had stepped on a bee. Not a live bee, mind you — a dead one. In a final act of defiance as he passed away in the sauna-like sun room, the bee lay himself out before the door, stinger aloft. It was a long shot, but if all went well he could inflict some post-mortem pain upon the family that had trapped him in this inhospitable clime. Had my son been wearing shoes, the bee’s ploy would have been derailed. Alas, the burnt tops and slashed bottoms of my son’s feet made shoes a torture device in their own right. So he marched into the house barefoot and sprung the trap (the bee had clearly been virtuous during its short lifetime and was being rewarded for his good deeds). Not only did my son get stung by a dead bee, but the stinger was lodged in his foot, causing it to swell and ache for days to come. (It would appear that this kamikaze bee technique is well known to the stinging insect community of Cape Cod as my same son sat on a wasp later in the week but emerged unscathed thanks to a pair of jeans and less impressive positioning — apparently the hornet was less virtuous than the bee at the doorstep.)
The rest of our bodies are by no means immune to vacation maladies. Our delicate skin is brutalized by sea water, suntan lotion and biting flies. In an effort to avoid both skin cancer and, more importantly, those God-awful long sleeve sun suits you see overprotected children wearing at the beach, each vacation morning involves the application of layers upon layers of sunscreen. Applying layers upon layers of sunscreen on a 3 1/2 year old is a bit like catching a greased pig — the target of your affection is constantly moving, and the more successful you are at the task at hand the more slippery he becomes. It’s not surprising I miss his feet tops. I’m lucky if I manage to cover more than 75% of his body while wrestling his little body to the ground and then dodging his well-timed punches and kicks.
After the suntan lotion comes the bug repellent. In an effort to avoid being eaten alive by the biting flies that congregate around the beached seaweed, we apply bug repellent on top of the layers and layers of sun screen. Sure it stinks to high heaven, but that’s how you know it is working. If it smelled like a bouquet of flowers, how would it possibly keep away flies? And on those few days in which, out of laziness or forgetfulness or simple neglect, we have failed to slather the kids with bug goop, they have returned home with big, raised fly welts a plenty — the kind that itch so badly you scratch them until they bleed, causing you to have big, raised, scabby fly welts. But the bug repellent is not without its downside. The kids are clearly allergic to the stuff, so in exchange for avoiding a few big, raised fly welts, they get a body full of tiny itchy pimple-like bumps across their backs, their fronts, their arms, their legs — pretty much everywhere. Big itchy bumps or little itchy bumps, that’s the choice. So far the kids are opting for little itchy bumps, but as the rash spreads the scales may yet tip.
Once covered in sundry lotions, we’re off to the beach, where perils lurk around every sand dune. Along with the Ginsu shells, rocks of various sizes create dangers of their own. During one day this week, as the tide was coming in, the kids and I jumped in and about the crashing waves. Unfortunately, the tide had come in to a point such that the waves were crashing at the base of the beach’s incline, precisely where all of the rocks and rubble had gathered from the earlier outgoing tide. The waves struck this rock basin with sufficient force to churn up the piles of rocks at the base of the seashore. When thrown into motion by tons of undulating sea water, it turns out that rocks can pick up a fair amount of momentum pretty quickly. This ankle deep water was thick with churned up stones. No matter where you ran, bang, your feet were brutalized. No one escaped ankle bruises and the worst of us emerged from the waves limping and bloodied.
Retreating from the water’s edge, the kids convinced me to partake in a summertime ritual. This ritual has been carried on by generation upon generation of beach goers. It is the calling of the sand. You can hear it echoed on beaches worldwide . . . “bring your young to the shore and bury them!” And that is precisely what I did. Unfortunately, my kids decided to increase the difficulty of the task by having me bury them standing up rather than lying down. The lying down burial is a piece of cake. It takes a relatively small amount of sand to mummify a prone body. But it takes exponentially more sand to grow a hill of sufficient height to engulf even the shortest of children (which I have). The task would have been nigh impossible with your typical little plastic yellow shovel. Luckily, I was armed with bigger artillery than that. I had a sand shovel that seemed better suited to home construction than child covering. So I figured I was up to the challenge. And indeed I was. The only problem is that along with my contractor’s sand shovel should have come a pair of standard issue work gloves. They would have saved my hands from the indignity of three colossal blisters. But this being vacation and not Habitat for Humanity, I had no such luck and emerged from the child burial impaired for days to come. If you thought a popped blister burned under ordinary circumstances, you should add a little sea water to the mix. That was the last burial of the season. (As a side note, when burying a child, show some caution when patting down the sand in and around your child's neck — while a strike to the neck may not always draw blood, I am told it stings a bit.)
In an effort to recover from our cuts, bruises and blisters, my wife and I handed my parents a “Get Out of Jail Free” card and headed to Nantucket for one peaceful evening. The ferry ride was fine — no slipping on the poop deck. Our dinner was fine — no food poisoning to speak of. Our bed and breakfast was passable — no bed bugs or shower falls (although our room air-conditioner did periodically, without warning and without apparent cause, make a sound akin to a 1920’s biplane passing overhead, which made uninterrupted sleep somewhat mythical). It turned out, however, that walking proved a bigger problem than we had anticipated. My wife and I strolled toward the center of town musing at the near uniformity of Nantucket automobiles. Apparently the older your Jeep, the bigger the status symbol on Nantucket. In fact, the locals took such umbrage with one of their neighbor’s new Hummer that they had affixed a “I Have A Small Penis” sign to its bumper. But had it been a 1978 Jeep Wrangler with rusting tailpipe, they would likely have embraced its oldness and sameness with great zeal. They may even have awarded its driver a pair of pinkish culottes or whale print cotton pants, either of which would have been just as ghastly hideous as every other island resident’s legware.
But none of that was of any consequence to us as we meandered our way towards town, unencumbered by our typical posse of little Horniks. We had a rare day of relaxation and relative quiet, and we were enjoying it — until it happened. The sidewalk literally parted before us, consuming one of my wife’s feet and causing her to tumble like a marionette (OK, in reality she lost her footing on a relatively minute crack in the sidewalk, but if I told that story she would look like quite the doofus, so I’m going to stick with the sidewalk opening up thing). My wife fell to the ground, gashing her knee and — horror of horrors — scraping her toe nails. By the time she stood up, her knee was dripping with blood as if she had been in a skateboarding accident. But she was far more concerned with whether or not anyone had seen her trip than the severity of her wounds. Only when I assured her that the view of her tumble had been well obscured by the Jeep Grand Cherokees to our left and right did she begin to feel the pain of the fall. Worse yet, she began to feel the pain of her scuffed pedicure which would have been an embarrassment anywhere but was particularly acute in Nantucket. Unfortunately, there was little we could do about the toe nails. The good folks at the White Elephant, however, not only served us a delicious lunch overlooking the harbor but brought us antibacterial ointment and a couple of big Band-Aids with our lobster chowder. Now that’s service!
We returned to the beach house somewhat rested and somewhat tattered but in good spirits. Similarly, the kids had survived a night without us — they were somewhat rested and somewhat tattered but in good spirits. My parents, on the other hand, were less rested and somewhat more tattered but nonetheless in relatively good spirits. So, give or take a minor footwear accident, our trip to Nantucket was a success. Unfortunately, the merriment of our return was brought to a crashing halt upon the discovery that my son could not find his new Red Sox cap. We searched throughout the house for the hat but to no avail — he begrudgingly went to the beach without it but not without sulking the entire time he was there.
Being the devoted father that I am, after dinner as the troops settled in for a long night of weather reports and local sports coverage, I continued the great hat search. I looked behind beds. I looked under couches. I searched drawers. But to no avail. Jokingly, one of my kids suggested that the chipmunk living in our house may have stolen the hat (yes, there was a chipmunk living in the house again this summer — commemorating it, you can now buy Chatham Chipmunk t-shirts). Leaving no stone unturned, I decided to look in the chipmunk’s favorite hiding place under the stairs. I pulled away the bookcase blocking the stairwell and peeked in, hoping to find the hat and numerous other treasures that had gone missing but unnoticed. No such luck. All that was under there was the same old crap (literally and figuratively) that had been under there the year before when I had trapped the first couple of chipmunk house guests (this summer I managed to trap three of them — it’s a bad trend that suggests next summer I’ll be trapping four).
In frustration, I lunged out of the stairwell, wondering where to look next. And then I felt it. A jolt of pain in my head. The severity of the pain was sufficient to induce a sort of guttural grunt and cause me to fall to the floor. As I lay on the floor, I contemplated two things: 1) would I ever be able to stand again, and 2) where the fuck was that hat? While I heard my wife ask, “Are you OK?” it didn’t strike me as a priority to actually answer the question. Apparently my wife didn’t find this particularly comforting and sprinted through the dining room to find me lying on the floor holding a bloody sock on my head. I frankly have no idea where the sock came from, nor do I remember holding it against my head. In fact, I didn’t realize until then that I was actually bleeding. Yet, I was. Profusely. It turns out that the rungs of the stairs come to dagger-like points along their bottom edge. A gentle tap against them would likely have caused a laceration. Thrusting one’s head into them with great vigor, on the other hand, was certain to do significant damage. And it did. The question of the evening quickly turned from “what happened to the hat?” to “should I go to the hospital for stitches or not?” When the bleeding ultimately stopped and my dizziness subsided (more or less), I decided that stitches were unnecessary, a decision I will undoubtedly regret if I ever have the misfortune of going bald. That cut is going to leave one hell of a scar. And to this day we never found the hat.
Since no one could top my bloodied scalp, the remainder of our vacation has been relatively uneventful. Sure, we’ve had more shell cuts, more chafing, more sunburn, more fly bites, more rashes. But the bleeding has pretty much subsided at this point. And as we head back home from Cape Cod tomorrow, I am already looking forward to next summer. There’s just nothing better than relaxing at the beach.