This essay represents the second post of The Angry Czeck Century Series, a thought-provoking collection of penetrating harangues of rancor leading to the Angry Czeck’s 100th Post. You are currently reading Post 89.
For weeks, the Angry Czeck has tried in vain to muster up a useful post –– essential if I am ever to complete the Century Series! However, in the wake of several half-finished posts concerning politics and society languishing on my desktop, I opted to go a different direction.
When the Angry Czeck was five years old, he and his family lived in an ancient farmhouse owned by his grandparents. Angry Dad was a college student. Angry Mom waited tables at night in a hotel bar. I still remember her outfits. Leggy.
My parents were barely in their 20s, and while Angry Mom was the only one drawing income, we weren’t about to starve –– my grandparents would never allow it. But we certainly weren’t swimming in dough. We dined religiously on grilled cheeses and bowls of tomato soup. We wore our clothing to the threadbare threshold of durability. We watched rainwater dribble from the ceiling and cascade into assorted pots and pans when the weather turned surly.
For Angry Mom and Dad, these were not days of squalor. Rather, it was an Era of Freedom! Though Angry Dad was a slave to his chemistry texts, and Angry Mom was a servant to under-tipping college kids, life on the farm represented a kind of rule-less utopia.
On weekends, we played host to beer-drenched barbecues punctuated by the ring of tossed horseshoes. On the farm, my father and mother could consummate their marriage unfettered; liberated twenty-somethings with little to do in the mornings. On the 4th of July, we ignited hundreds of professional-grade fireworks into the sky – a borderline felony in Illinois – and smirked at the state troopers who parked on the other side of the cornfield, dumbfounded to finding the gravel road that led to our home. It wasn’t the good life, but it was a good life.
Perhaps because tradition or society dictates its necessity, Angry Mom and Dad plotted a family summer vacation during me and my brother’s fifth angry year of existence. For reasons lost in the ether of history, the chosen destination was Colorado. I remember my father sitting in his cigarette-burned easy chair, counting a small number of $100 bills in his hands, fanning the paper like a winner of Monopoly. To my parents, this must have been a small fortune.
The trip between Illinois and Colorado is a long one, especially in the cramped hind-section of a 1979 Datsun F-10. Even to a pair of small five-year-olds, the travel accommodations weren’t exactly ideal. As a mercy to my parents, my brother and I slept a great deal of the way. Remember, this was an age before iPods and portable DVD players. My brother and I couldn’t even read. We could only annoy, aggravate, and irritate.
We were not to see Colorado in style. Our itinerary not only included a handful of inexpensive hotels, but also a couple nights camping in the Datsun. If we splurged, it must have been during our visit to a “ghost town” called Central City, a tourist trap that invites you to live the days of the Old West.
An old-timey photograph commemorating our visit to Central City survives to this day. (It hangs in the hallway of my parents’ house.) Mom wears a kind of Mae West dress with a choker around her neck. Dad looks very sharp in a dark suit and cowboy hat. Between the two of us, my brother is the Nick Barkley of the Angry Clan. He sports a dark vest, checkered shirt, and black cowboy hat. The six-shooter at his hip shows that he means business. If my brother is Nick, then I’m Jerrod Barkley. I wear a tame brown ensemble, brown hat, and I hold a Winchester close to my side.
(The photographer instructed us not to smile, as was the custom in those olden days. But five-year-old Angry Czeck was a clenched fist of defiance even then! When the photo arrived by mail to our farmhouse a month later, the Angry Family was depicted in a stoic demeanor –– except for me. A little smile had crept onto my face. When I saw it, I cried. I wanted to look tough and mean like everybody else. I ruined the photo.)
Perhaps the crowned jewel of our vacationing agenda was the ascent up Pike’s Peak. Not only would Pike’s Peak test the heroically miniature engine of the Datsun F-10, it would prove to be the ultimate test of Angry Dad’s threshold for aggravation.
Pike’s Peak is just over 14,000 feet tall, and is named after the awesomely monikered Zebulen Pike. Zebulen! One can drive up its granite summit courtesy of a 19-mile stretch of serpentine road barely the width of an old Datsun. It was while ascending Pike’s Peak that we discovered that Angry Mom was afraid of heights. As Angry Dad weaved up the face of the mountain, Angry Mom kept her head bowed, refusing to appreciate the view.
At the top of Pike’s Peak is a gift shop and restaurant. Happy to have survived, the family leaped out of the exhausted Datsun and descended upon the gift shop.
I don’t remember many details concerning the Pike’s Peak gift shop, except that Angry Mom promised me and my brother one item from its inventory. For some reason, Angry Mom was pushing the Indian headdress, which in hindsight would have made for a cool accessory. However, my brother and I were leaning towards the toy pistol set, which included a six-shooter, a holster, a belt, and for some inexplicable reason, a plastic whistle. A whistle!
We folded ourselves back into the Datsun, and Angry Dad pointed the grill towards the road leading to the winding descent. Angry Mom tightened her seat belt and loudly drew in her breath. Occasionally, she gasped at every suspicious crunch of gravel beneath the tires. Angry Dad asked her to take a snap shot with the camera. Angry Mom reached into the glove box, grabbed the camera, pointed it out the passenger side window, and snapped the photo without even looking through the view-finder. Dad muttered darkly about the width of the gravel road. If there were guardrails installed on the side of the road, I don’t remember them. It seemed that we were one blown tire from a 14,000-foot plunge of screaming death.
Meanwhile, my brother and I were blowing the hell out of our plastic whistles. Toot! Toot! TOOOOOOOOOOOT! My cheeks puffed merrily with ever piercing whistle blast.
We had probably only descending one thousand feet when Angry Dad calmly turned his head to us and said, “The next one of you who blows a whistle is going to be sorry.”
Let it be noted that the Angry Czeck, at any age, never wants to be sorry. Immediately, I stashed my whistle away. Better to live than to blow. I passed a wary glance to my brother, fully expecting him to follow suit.
Instead, the whistle was still in my brother’s hand. More disturbing still was the cheeky glint break dancing in his eyes. Slowly, he brought the whistle to his lips.
Suddenly, the entire world was thrust into an episode of The Six Million Dollar Man. My movements, even my voice, was stretched into a dramatic slow-motion segment. I saw my hand reach for my brother’s whistle. Too slow! I heard my voice whisper, “Nooooooooooo!”
But I was too late! Expending a sliver of breath, my brother emitted a faint sound from his whistle only Benji and my Dad could have heard.
With a boxer’s speed, Dad reached behind his seat and plucked the whistle from my brother’s mouth. He dropped the whistle beneath the accelerator pedal of the Datsun, and then he punched the gas.
In a flash, we were hurtling down Pike’s Peak at 30 miles per hour. Forty! Fifty! At fifty-two MPH, the crack of breaking plastic could be heard above the painful whine of the Datsun motor. Angry Dad tapped the brakes until we had returned to a less suicidal speed. He leaned down, scooped up the pieces of whistle, and deposited them into my brother’s lap.
Sure, some of you Left Wingers may not view Angry Dad’s punishment as model parenting, but you can’t argue with results. Neither my brother nor I blew a whistle in his vicinity ever again. Besides, if you were twenty-two years-old, and you were driving a Datsun F-10 down a skinny road 14,000 feet in the air, and you had a pair of five-year-olds blowing the hell out of plastic whistles – well, you ain’t thumbing through your copy of Dr. Spock.
As for the rest of the Colorado vacation, things went pretty smoothly from there. I got altitude sickness and threw-up in my brother’s hair. I still remember Mom working over a public water fountain, scrubbing the vomit out of my brother’s hair.