Adventures in Autistic Parenthood

Monday, April 29, 2013

Time Was:

   On a recent return to the Homeland, I saw this old clock on the wall at my Aunt Barb's house. A CocaCola promotional item from the office of my maternal Grandmother. It has a lot of memories for the both of us, and we talked about it quite extensively during my visit. I was thinking about that conversation after I returned home and it brought to mind this story, and reminded me of the effect it had on my life.
My grandmother owned and ran a small CocaCola bottling plant in my hometown. I used to love to go there. As I was growing up  myself and my only two sisters at the time ( I got two more later) lived about 4 blocks away and during the summer we would visit quite often. And, as long as we didn't get in the way of the workers, (I'm sure we never did) we pretty much had the run of the place. In her office there was an old (but not antique) commemorative pendulum clock hanging from the wall facing her desk. We were all forbidden to touch the clock. Mostly because we all loved it, and we were a bit rambunctious. For some reason the fact that the front face of it was actually a glass door that opened, and a pendulum that actually moved fascinated us. In a world of electronic clocks this one had style.  We begged and begged but were never allowed to do more than stare at it from over the back of the chair that faced grandma's desk. Until that fateful day when we were finally old enough (or had driven her crazy enough) that she would finally allow one of us, and only once every visit, to wind the clock one turn and gently push the brass weight at the bottom of the shaft. My mother was horrified. Probably because she knew she would be held responsible for any damage done. And, frankly, we were capable of quite a bit of damage. I heard Grandma tell her that the clock was broken anyway, and there wasn't much more we could do to it. And truly, it would only run for about 3 or 5 minutes before it stopped completely again. But since our attention span was measured in microseconds this was an eternity of time to us and we were well satisfied. Mom still fussed a bit every time, certain that her mother had no real idea of the damage we were capable of, and that the only suitable playground for us lay in the more industrial areas of the warehouse portions of the plant. Where we had, it is true, once disabled the industrial elevator 3 different times in the same day. But, despite the odds against it, the clock took no further damage.
   I still (these many years later) remember how proud I was to be able to finally open the door, take out the heavy key and wind that clock, and how incredibly jealous I was when it wasn't my turn and I had to stand to the side and let one of my sisters do it. I  remember the feel of the bob as I, ever so gently, pushed it to get the motion started and I can also still hear the stately, hushed tick-tock that would vibrate out of it for the few minutes it would run until it stopped.
   I don't remember the reason (I was only about 8 or 10 at the time) but one day I was at the Coke Plant without my sisters or my mother. So, actually, I was on my own, as my grandmother had a great many admirable traits, but maternal instinct wasn't one of them (and she had 10 kids). I'd like to think that as a very independent woman herself, she liked to encourage that trait in others. But I'm almost forced to admit that, to her, children just weren't that interesting as people, conversation-wise anyway. So I was basically on my
The Coke Plant. Many MANY moons later
own and, having once again explored the dim, dark secrets of the Bottling Plant, I was quietly (for the most part) sitting across from her in her office just looking around the place. My mother's family had been bottling soda in that building for over 100 years and quite a bit of that history was just gathering dust around that office. I really was trying to be good but then, as now, when there's a question in my head it's like an itch. If I don't ask it, it just keeps growing more and more itchy until I let it out. So, even though I was potentially submitting myself for one of my grandmother's famous sarcastic tongue-lashings, I just had to ask the question, it was getting too 'itchy' to be ignored.
'Grandma.' I said cautiously.
'Yes?' she answered, sounding mildly irritated at being interrupted.
I took a quick breath, 'I thought I heard you tell Mom the clock didn't work?'
She looked up from whatever she was doing and raised her eyebrow. 'It doesn't. Hasn't worked for more than a few minutes at a time in years.You kids just love winding it, so I let you do it.' She looked at me with a bit of curiosity for a moment, and then back down to her paperwork. Even then, I knew that time to a child is more than a little fluid, and entirely subjective, but I knew it had been longer than a few minutes since I had wound the clock. I ran it through my head: I started out in the office, and wound the clock, then I had wandered all over the Plant, grubbed around in the storerooms upstairs, and generally been nosy as hell in the back office/storage room and then had been (mostly) quiet in the office for a while. But I still had no idea whether it had been more than 15 minutes. I twitched and fidgeted for a few seconds paranoid that the noise would stop before I could ask the question.
'Grandma?' I asked timidly.
'Yes?' Her voice had a bit of an edge to it now.
'If it doesn't work, why is it still ticking?' Thinking about it now, it would have been at least an hour, or at least 20 times longer than it normally ran.
She looked up. Furled her brow and cocked an ear at the clock. She could see the pendulum gently moving and we could just hear it ticking over the ambient sounds of the building. 'Huh,' She said, then looked at me and gave me a wry smile.'Guess that'll teach me.' She then (much more quickly and accurately than I) estimated the amount of time, and then said, 'What did you do to make it work?' I shrugged. 'Well, if it's going to work, it might as well show the right time!'  She said, managing to sound enthusiastic and matter-of-fact at the same time.
She then instructed me in what to do, and supervised my gentle adjustment of the hands while I was standing backwards on an armchair. Amazingly, after I'd sat back down we had a bit of a conversation, mostly centered on the clock. I tried to explain, in my limited fashion, why I liked it so much, and she may even have told me that it was a promotional item, and not quite as antique as it appeared. About the time that our conversation was starting to peter out (perhaps 15 or so minutes)  the pendulum stopped moving. We both stared at it for a few seconds, but not even a hasty push of the bob or a turn of the winding key would get it moving again. I'm not even sure if it ever worked after that until almost 40 years later when my Aunt Barb had it repaired.
   I was disappointed. But not entirely, or even mostly, because 'The Special Coke Clock' quit working. Ours is a large family, and even as the oldest grandchild, it's pretty easy to get lost in the mix. So the time I had spent talking one-on-one with my grandmother was, in my fanciful mind, kind of a small magical moment, seemingly engendered by the movement of the pendulum of that special timepiece. Its silence seemed to signal the end of that special time. My grandmother misinterpreting my despondency, said, 'It's okay. It kept time for that little while, we should just be glad that it worked for that long.' I'm certain she didn't mean to say anything profound. It was just one of those off hand comments that aren't meant to be
important, but for some reason strike a cord in someone. For some reason, probably because it had nothing to do with the reason I was sad, I actually thought about it and completely unintentionally it had a profound effect on my life. Especially 30 or so years later after I'd all but forgotten the phrase, but still tried to maintain the attitude.
    For most of my life, with varying degrees of success, I've tried to be happy that things worked or went well, and not get too wrapped up with disappointment when they didn't, just deal with it and move on. That became especially helpful when Dude came along. I definitely needed that attitude to get through raising him up. (or him raising me up. Jury's still out on that one) We are excited when things work out or work well. And when they don't, we don't focus on the fact that good things aren't happening, we just deal with the problem and move on. We try to be happy that the clock keeps time for the time it keeps it. We're very Cheeseburger-Zen about life around here.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Land of Ahhs? :

For some strange reason, or another, (it's surprising how many of my stories begin that way) I was overcome with the urge to visit my Homeland two whole months earlier than normal. Now this urge does happen occasionally. The unusual part is that normally there's no opportunity to actually indulge in the notion. But this year, due to uncooperative weather (not enough snow) Dude actually had extra days tacked onto his Easter Vacation (f-u, PC!) and I was going to have to take an extra day off work to cover one of them. I turned to my Partner in Dude-Crime (Raine), and said, in a facetious tone, 'I'm thinking about running back home over the weekend. What do you think?' She looked up from the ads she was perusing and replied in a flat voice, 'Take Dude.' and went back to her commercial flyer. The entire problem, and both of the men in her life, dismissed as casually as a passing breeze. Be that as it may, in less than 72 hours the 2 Dudes were wending their way into the Sunset
     Well... That's how they'd say it in the Novelized version of the movie. (I want Hugh Jackman to play me, complete with Wolverine claws and... ... ... Forget I said anything) But the reality was just a bit more complicated. Because, unfortunately for those breezes, Dudes can't actually just cross-fade to the next scene. Cars had to be rented, bags had to be packed, vacation time had to be begged for. And worst of all... ex-wives had to be called. (damn my courtesy, anyway!). And also, I had to prepare David for a break in schedule and to be good in school without actually telling him why he had to be a good boy. You see, according to the Book of Dude, all trips should be made through airports, giving all and sundry the chance of taking elevator and/or tram rides before getting into large aluminum tubes and flying through the air to do it again in another state. That's just the only way for people to get around. I couldn't tell him we were going to Kansas without raising his expectations of an airplane ride, and I didn't want to disappoint him. So I just told him that if he was a good boy, we would do something 'cool'. Without ever identifying what the 'cool' thing actually was. Somehow this brilliant (desperate/thrown together) scheme actually worked. Dave got good notes, talked about the 'cool' thing we were going to be doing, and absolutely didn't have a clue as to what that was. He just kept coming home every day saying, 'I've got the good notes so we can do something COOL!' And that was good enough for me.
    At long last, the car was rented and packed and the Dudes rode off into the sunset. Literally. In the late evening we drove west toward the heart of the Midwest. (I don't care what Ohio says, they are not in the Midwest) Dave was mildly disappointed that we went to the airport but didn't use the elevators. That was mitigated by getting to ride in our 'new car'. 'Nice new red car, Dad!' For those that don't know; I like to drive. I have nothing against flying, I've flown hither and yon any number of times, but I just enjoy being (in control) able to pull over whenever I like, eat whatever happens to be close to the highway, and able to see out the front of whatever vehicle I'm in. I also have very wide shoulders and don't like to elbow my neighbors, so I tend to spend the entire flight hunched over and pinched in. Not the most comfortable way to spend 2 hours. I also have the ability to drive from 12-20 hours at a time, so there aren't too many places that I want to go that are much outside of my range. Normally the trip from Pgh to KC takes about 14 hours or so driving time. I generally leave after work so I take a 2 hour nap somewhere in the latter stages and make it by the next morning. To me, this is no big deal, but it's evidently some sort of Iron Man Triathlon of driving, because people are always telling me that I'm crazy for doing it. I tell them I just get on the Interstate that goes right past my house, make one right turn and keep driving until I pass the big racetrack, then make another right turn...easy. Of course there are 950 miles between those two turns, but still.
 So our 2 intrepid explorers drive on into the night. Despite Dude's incessant talking, he's actually a fairly decent travelling companion. Other than a distressing tendency to call out loudly 'Oh No! We're out of gas!' Every time we have to stop for fuel or drinks (3 times each way) and then; 'We've got to get going to KC/Pittsburgh to get the GAMES!' Every time we got back on the highway, and kind of a siren call to read out either highway markers or billboards at random intervals he's actually pretty good in the car.
   Now David has inherited my stubbornness, but not the stamina evidently. Because about 1 am I noticed that he is starting that jello-necked head bobbing thing in the passenger seat. I tried to tell him where the lever to lay the seat back was, but he couldn't find it. So, being ever aware of highway safety and the fact that I'm driving a Focus in the midst of a pack of semis, I reached across his body, pulled the lever and shoved him with my elbow until he was lying back in the seat. Mission aclomplished, with a minimum of horn-honking and death threats. Except for one thing. He wouldn't stay down. He would lay there quietly for just long enough for me to think he was asleep and then startle the hell out of me when he'd pop up like some autistic jack-in-the-box, looking around blearily for a while, then nodding off until I told him to lay down again. I tried to tell him to go to sleep any number of times but all I got back was something I couldn't understand about 'something....blah, blah something... understand?' He wasn't very coherent, and I wasn't really paying attention, but I got the distinct idea there was some element missing, but had no clue as to what it was. Dude has slept in a car any number of times, but not this time. I was tired of playing Whack-a-Mole in the pitch-black at highway speeds, but I was also 400 miles into a 1000 mile drive and had no attention to spare to figure out what the problem was. After 20 minutes of Dave's yo-yo imitation I grabbed his coat out of the backseat for him to use as a pillow when I  caught the word 'blanket'. I awkwardly spread his coat over him with one hand at 75 mph, and 30 seconds later he was out like a light.
    Which meant that I had some peace and quiet (and complete control over the radio) for the next several hours. But it also meant that 4 hours later, when I wanted to take my nap Dude was ready to go, (Time for Breakfast?) even though he'd briefly been up a couple of times. I laid my seat back, covered up with my hoodie and said, 'Quiet you! And lay down and go to sleep!' I must have looked especially cranky, because that's exactly what he did.
    A couple of hours later we were up and off again, and several hours after that we were in the heart of Kansas City. But instead of immediately heading for the hometown, we pulled a detour in almost exactly the wrong direction to visit my Aunt Barb. Barb's only 5 years older than me and I have the distinction of being the only one of her many nephews to have whacked her in the head with a big stick. As far as I know. I was 3 and her brother, Rick gave me the stick and the instructions, and I'm pretty sure she's over it by now, because she requested a picture of mine blown up to put in her shop. The town that she lives in is set up with the classic Midwestern town square with a large brick courthouse in the middle. Her shop is on one side of that square, facing the courthouse.
    Our first day in the Homeland was Surprise Visit Day. Sometimes my surprise visits don't work out so well,(it's hard to surprise somebody when they're not there) but that day, I was in the groove. We pulled up to her shop just as she got out of her car and started walking in. I rolled down my window and said, 'Hey, do you know who owns this shop?' Strangely enough, she didn't immediately run the other way screaming for the National Guard. And even stranger, she actually invited us in. Where Dude and I spent several minutes bothering her in her salon, and puzzling the hell out of the lady whose hair she was coloring. (I also checked out my/her picture, but despite what you might think, that wasn't the primary reason for the visit)
   Dude was pretty good in her shop, for Dude. He was sticking his nose in everywhere, babbling incessantly and mostly remembering to ask for a soda... after he'd already pulled it out of the cooler and started to open it. A sharp clearing of his father's throat might have had something to do with his return to manners, who's to say? After the politely confused lady's hair was colored and Barb's husband was surprised by PA Dudes as he was walking to the building next door, (He works in the courthouse in the center of the square) David and
Dad: No that is NOT a GameStop!
I 'walked the square'. I was photographically stoked by the Victorian architecture while Dude was somehow under the impression that we'd traveled 1000+ miles to buy a copy of 'Wreck it Ralph' only to head back home so he could put it with the rest of his movies. He kept repeating, 'Got to get the Wreck it Ralph, with the Blu-Ray and DVD copy!' And when that had no effect, 'I got the good notes, so we need to get the Mario Bros., and take it home with the Games!'  I'm pretty sure the only thing that saved me was that there was no GameStop or video store on the square.
    After our tour of the center of town we went to Barb's house for a 'chat'. Now, in my mom's family that doesn't mean what it means to everyone else. In our family the word 'chat' indicates that we spent the next 4 hours hitting the highlights of just about everything that had happened over the last 40 years to just about everyone we know. Not because we hadn't talked to each other in 40 years, but because that's just what we do. Dude is the extreme that proves the family rule in the talking department. Early on, during the obligatory tour, David, with his amazing Dude-like powers, found Barb's Wii in a closed cabinet underneath her TV. Once again, only Dad's intervention prevented him from just doing his thing. (I mean, c'mon Dad! sodas are for drinking, Games are for playing. What's the problem?) But at least he had something to do while we were talking. As a matter of fact, after a couple hours he was already better at the two games they had, than they were after a couple of years. Because it was a weekday and some people still had that annoying 'work' thing going, we cut our talk short (for our family) and David and I were on our way once again.
  Every time we got into the car Dave was certain that we were headed back to the land of the GameStop. But this time we were off to my Goddaughter Jenny's house. To yet another small town in the middle of Somewhere Kansas, with not a GS in sight. Jenn had recently given birth to my Great-Goddaughter (okay, I just made that word up) Squeaker. (Brynn, actually, but she did squeak a lot) Small towns are quiet and you kind of get used to a routine of action (or lack of it), so having a large man unexpectedly pound on your door, saying that he was looking for a baby and heard you had one, is something of a startling event. But we were invited in anyway. Dave is a divining rod for gaming systems, spin him around blindfolded in the middle of the Gobi Desert and he will point like a compass to the nearest electronic device. While I was making strange baby-noises and showing off my Super-Power. The one where any baby almost instantly falls asleep while laying on me, (Ask any new mom if that isn't a super-power) David found yet another Wii system. Unfortunately for him, the controller didn't work, so he was out of luck. Jenn and I were having a nice time, catching up and talking about babies and such, but with nothing to do the lack of sleep started to catch up with Dude. After I caught him face-down on the couch for the second (or third) time, I decided it was time to go into town to my sister's house. Because, since we're family, she has to let us stay there whenever we're in town. Yes, there are many down-sides to being related to me.
   When we finally got to my sister Beth's house in my hometown (she would probably get upset if we didn't stay there. Or, at least that's what I tell myself) Dave found his third gaming system of the day. My nephew's old PlayStation II 'abandoned' in the front room while he was at college. Beth said that he was free to use it, but she wasn't sure it was hooked up. I assured her that wouldn't be a problem, and in less than 5 minutes, without either of us moving from our chairs, we heard the sounds of gaming from the other room. I cut his action short after a couple of hours, because even with the Playstation recharge he still needed to get some
   The next morning my Sister and nephew were out of the house and Dude was unusually quiet at the PS2, so I took my e-reader and sat out in the backyard, soaking up that special kind of quiet you can only get on a weekday in a Kansas small town. (trust me. I've been around) Those two hours turned out to be the only time of peace for the entire weekend. Soon my sis and nephew were back and then we were all in a flurry to go our separate ways. Dude and I were off to visit my #2 mom, Mata, who unofficially 'adopted' me once I was past the age of traditional adoption, and the home-team was off to find a new truck for my nephew. After a bit of a snag where I went the way I wanted to go instead of the way she told me to go we made it to 'Lonesome Dove', Mata's hideaway. (I still ended up in the right place, it just took longer) She tries to tell me that she doesn't live in the middle of nowhere. Maybe not, but she's got a hell of a view of it from her back porch. She also has 2 dogs, about 8 alpacas, 3 horses, a donkey, 2 goats and a revolving population of wild geese. But all of that didn't mean anything to Dude. Because one thing she had was an older iPad that she had gotten out especially for him to play with. Is that cool, or what? Dude thought so. As a matter of fact she is now David's favorite Kansan, yours truly included.
   David did like the dogs, they were friendly, but once he got that iPad in his hand all of the animals (us included) could have walked off into the fields and he wouldn't have noticed a thing. I know this for a fact because that's exactly what she and I did, and I'm pretty sure Dave never knew we were gone. Also, wonder of wonders, there was a 10 minute video of an elevator ride on the pad. He played that over and over. I'm not even sure he noticed that everyone in it was speaking German. And if he did, he didn't care. #2 mom didn't get the full Dude experience because every time either of us asked him a question about all we got out of him was 'We have to go to (about 4 different places) to get to the elevators!' or some other elevator driven comment.
     After meeting her husband and talking a bit more, it was time for us to be on the move again. I drove David to KC so that he could have a day with his mother, and I turned around so that I could visit my eldest son in Lawrence and to watch the KU Jayhawks lose to Michigan in the NCAA Tournament. Which he and everyone else in the house totally blamed on me. The whole house was darkly muttering something about me bringing my PA jinx to Kansas. The next morning I retrieved the Dude from his mother and we went back to my hometown (Thank Vishnu for unlimited miles) to have lunch at the only Mexican Restaurant in town with my sisters and a couple of nieces and my nephew. We were the last ones there ('cept for Alex) and everyone tried to chat David up for a bit, but all he cared about was his tortilla chips and cheese enchiladas. After an extended family-type goodbye, Dude and I gathered up our things and loaded up the car. 'Let's go home Dude.' I said when we were finally ready to roll. 'Yes!' he said quickly (and loudly) and I was inordinately pleased that he was so enthusiastic about returning home. Until he continued, 'We have to go home to get to the GAMESTOP to get the GAMES!!' Returned to earth, by the reminder of reality of where the rest of us stood in in Dudeworld, I shook my head ruefully, put the car in gear and headed East toward the land that William Penn founded.
 Dave figured he didn't have anything to prove on the ride back, so about 11:00 or so, he kicked the seat back, covered himself with his coat and crashed out, only waking up for the interesting stuff; Gas stations, Steak and Shake, large cities, and really sudden turns of the steering wheel. We almost stopped for a nap in Ohio, except for three things. 1: It was Ohio. 2: It had gotten much colder and that woke me back up when we got out of the car, and I couldn't have slept anyway. And 3: I looked at the 'You are Here' map in the rest area and realized that I was only about an hour away from home. So back on the Highway we went. (Got to get to Pittsburgh, to get to the GameStop to get the GAMES!)
  When we pulled up in front of the house I briefly contemplated sneaking in the house to surprise Raine, cause I'm the kind of guy who thinks that kind of thing is funny. Only one thing held me back. No, not discretion, or even self-preservation. I was travelling with the least stealthy being in the known universe: Dude. That boy couldn't sneak up on a rock during a fireworks show in a stadium full of deaf people. 
At any rate, our two Drained Dudes were finally ensconced in our Island Paradise. We were so excited to get home that we immediately... went directly to bed. (do not pass Go, do NOT collect 200 games)
  David started bugging me for his 'Good Points' Game just about 30 seconds after I woke up though. I get the feeling that for him the whole trip was just a huge, long way around to get to GameStop. I mean, I know I know I take the scenic route some times, but c'mon!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Falling Niagara:

   The other day Rain declared a Family Outing Day, and gave me carte blanche to drag everybody (including her) somewhere, anywhere away from the Home Cave... Providing it wasn't more than 3 hours away from the house. Seems that she thought that she had to set a distance limit, mostly because she doesn't have a passport. (Honey, I don't know how we got to Ireland by car...) But where I really wanted to go was Niagara Falls, but that was 3 1/2 hours away. A mere 1/2 hour past the deadline (you know, that line that you cross and then you're dead?). Proving Dude isn't the only charmer in the family I alternately charmed and made sad, puppy eyes at Raine, wearing down her resistance (and good sense) until she agreed to a trip to the largest falls (by volume) in the world. Dude was stoked. Not because he had any clue where we were going, but because he knows that when Raine comes along on an outing, there will be a minimum amount of walking in the woods. Or mostly none.

  So I crammed them (quickly) into the car and immediately headed north. Dude had his 3DS to keep him amused, and Raine had.... well... me, I guess. I can be entertaining enough, I suppose, but I was glad we had a working radio in the car as back up. (I'm sure she was too) Also, to prove I'm not exactly a novice in these situations, I also had an MP3 player to whip out, like a magician when Dave started complaining that his batteries were getting low. Which he did just after we crossed the NY state line. I also had one more Dude-trick up my sleeve. I am a self-admitted compulsive photographer. Not the really annoying kind that drags out tons of pictures of blurry traffic scenes through car windows, strange half focused objects in the foreground of family picnics, or  endless boring pictures of even more boring family events. I mean, I still take those kind of pictures... I just don't show them to everybody. Just the people unable to move fast enough to get away.
  Anyway, I brought along enough cameras for everybody. I think I may have even had one left over. I started passing them out, I handed Dude my very first digital camera, a Kodak Easyshare, as we were going through Buffalo . Dave, now in electronic heaven (3DS, MP3, and camera) started randomly saying 'gotcha!' from the backseat, accompanied by the subtle click of the camera. Then followed by, 'Yep, that's the shot. Gotta get this one to the Bugle before noon!' I told him they would hold the presses until we got home.
     After a no doubt fascinating rendition of how I'd lost Pat Travers and his entire band in a snowstorm at the I-90/190 interchange in Buffalo during my roadie days, we rolled through Buffalo and into the town of Niagara NY. Naturally, since I normally count on my built-in homing instinct, we hadn't done any research at all about the falls, the town, the park, or even Canada for that matter. I mean, we had some vague notion that our Neighbors to the North had some pesky 'rules' about entering their hockey-driven domain, but we had no real notion of what they were. Like true old folks we knew perfectly the rules of 2 decades before, but were pretty fuzzy on the current version. So we cleverly avoided needing this knowledge by planning on staying on the Apple-pie side of the border. As for the rest, we decided (it was sort of a decision anyway) to 'wing-it'.
      For those of you who don't know, the Interior Department has a slightly psychotic attitude about our National Treasures. I'm not talking about clear-cut logging or strip mining in National Forests (both of which are allowed with permit). I mean their treatment of the cattle... uh tourists that visit our national places by the millions every year. When you first near any National Park you're bombarded at random intervals by brown signs telling you how to get to everywhere. Which is cool, but they're placed so randomly and so far apart that you never know whether or not you're lost, it also presupposes that you know where you're going in the first place. So the first thing is, you need to know where to go (ie: which signs to follow) to get to the place that has the maps... you know, the things that tell you were everything is... including the place where the maps are (catch-22 anyone?).  State Parks Departments all over the country make wonderful, concise and legible maps.  Our federal government had theirs done by the same company that does Disney's. They make it look like you've stumbled into a hitherto unknown Theme Park called Waterfall Pirate Park instead of an area including an awesome work of nature. Oh, and good luck getting any information out of the 'Information' booth people. If they have any information short of where you can spend your money, they're doing a good job of hiding it.

    But even without 'Information' an open spigot like the Falls is kinda hard to miss, even with a Disney-map for guidance. We made our way to the American Falls, following the dull roar of the humongous thing. We stepped out onto a walkway, and there it was; a 6 foot thick, 1000 foot wide, 180 feet plus high, several tens of thousands of gallons a second, largest amount of falling water I'd ever seen in my life. And I was seeing less than half of it. I was awestruck. I was mesmerized. I didn't even start taking pictures for almost 5 minutes, and for me, that's a record. For several long moments I merely stood, open-mouthed and stared at this incredible remainder of the last ice age. I was absolutely entranced by the power and majesty of this Natural Wonder. Dude? Not so much.
   Initially, he nearly refused to get anywhere near the railing. Not because he was scared, necessarily, but mostly because he wanted to go back to the car/home/games, and thought that once we were through with this 'walk' he could do that very thing, and these 'waterfall' interruptions were just getting in the way. After I finally got him over to the railing he almost looked impressed for about 2 whole seconds, then he started hamming it up, leaning over the railing above the 180 foot drop, saying, 'I could fall.'

 Even though he has a propensity for trying to scare the crap out of me by leaning over large, semi-to-completely dangerous bodies of water just to see me turn into a larger, even more spastic Don Knotts to keep him from falling into it, two things ruined his performance. Firstly his completely deadpan delivery marred the effect a bit, but the fact that he was almost 4 feet away from the railing he was 'leaning over' completely destroyed the effect. I gave my usual response to his theatrics. I rolled my eyes to the heavens. I then waved him over to the rail so he could see the sights... Or to get him in a better position to pitch over the rail. He's a lot bigger and heavier now than he used to be, so I needed him closer. After staring uselessly (to Dude) at the water for a while, and several failed attempts at interesting David with the Maid of the Mist(s) as they plied their damp trade on either bank of the violent river far below, we decided to get closer to the Falls for a better view. Well, Raine and I wanted a better view anyway. David wanted something entirely different. Dave wanted elevators.
    Elevators are Dave's thing, even more than ketchup, mac and cheese and ranch dressing combined.(Which just sounds... disgusting) And since Niagara is the template from which Branson , Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, were poured there were plenty of nice, shiny, nearly brand new, but tatty places to spend your children's inheritance on by buying useless crap that'll end up in the trash within hours of your getting home. But, occasionally, there is something fairly cool, but incredibly eyesore-ish and Niagara is no exception. They call it the 'Observation Tower', although it's really a big deck with a tower stuck through the end of it. But Dude could have cared less. Because what it had, was an elevator. Right outside, behind wrought iron fences about 8 feet high, but there it was, the handicapped access elevator for the Observation Tower. Right out there were he could see it. Suddenly the Falls meant nothing more than water spilling over a table edge. All he wanted in the world was to go to that elevator. By
crawling over my recently horizontilized body if need be. Somehow I had to distract the intractable, to out hard-head the proverbial Dutchman to beguile the un-beguile-able (yeah, I know that's not actually a word) in a Titanic struggle of Wills. And, as I've said before, he's getting a little heavy to be tossing around.
   Somehow I persuaded Dude to, if not ignore the elevator, at least entertain the possibility that there were other things to look at in Niagara and the bare chance that there might be other elevators somewhere out in the vastness of the universe. Yeah... I don't know how I did it either. But I eventually managed to get him back to the railing and take some pictures. He was so distracted by the elevator-interruptus (I'm just making up words right and left) that he didn't even ham it up for the camera. After a couple of solo-shots and one or two with Raine I started to put my camera away when I heard a brisk voice saying, 'All right, parents, we're done here. Nothing more to do. Time to be moving on.' Raine and I came to a full stop. Looked at each other, and then at my son who was briskly trying to herd us on our way. 'Let's go, let's go. Nothing to see here.' he said briskly, trying to lead us off, he knew not where. Nor did he care, as long as we were moving. I mean, here we were at one of the Wonders of Nature, a moving Glory of the Natural World, and something I've been wanting to see most of my natural life. And we were being hurried along by an autistic version of a Monty Python bobby. I was seriously waiting for him to say, 'All right, all right. What's all 'is then?'. But if he called me 'Squire' I was going to dunk him in the river. 186 feet below.
    So a strange sort of tug-of-war ensued. Raine (who hadn't been to the Falls in years) and I (who'd never been) wanted a more leisurely tourist-ish experience; Wandering through the grounds, checking a couple of souvenir shops and semi-authentic Native American (Canadian) jewelry stands that dotted the park. I mean, we weren't going to buy any of that crap. Our grandchildren already aren't getting any inheritance. We just wanted to see, you know... stuff. Dave, who's the least 'stuff' oriented guy I know, just wanted to get the whole damn thing over with. He would be striding purposely along ahead of the ambling adults, 'encouraging' us to 'move along' and no matter how vigorously I yanked the (metaphorical) leash, he was soon off again. Oh he'd stick around us old fogies for a bit... To say things like, 'We need to get to the Mall/Airport/Pittsburgh to the elevators!' or 'Yep! It's certainly time we were going.' Or even 'I'm sorry, I have to work in the morning, so I must be going.' (I hadn't heard that he'd actually become employed, but if true, I was going to start charging him rent.) Every time I'd pause to take a picture he'd say, 'Yep! that's the shot. We have to get it back to the Bugle!'  He even once, in a fit of hurry-it-up desperation said, 'Oh my! It's 8 o'clock, time for bed!' It was 2:00 on a weekend afternoon, about 9 hours before he actually went to bed. The whole time he's dragging us along the path, both metaphorically and physically. Trying, I imagined, to get us out as quickly as possible to increase his chances of being near elevators he can actually use.
 After 3 years (in Dude's mind, 20 minutes to the rest of us) we made it to the Canadian Falls. Dave was not only completely unimpressed, he was already calculating our rout back to the car, In the midst of all of that crowd, as happy as people  watching a 6 foot thick 1000+ foot wide column of wintry green water fall over a 180 foot wall bashing the hell out of the rocks below can be. Well, except the guy with 7 kids (I hope it was a tour group) and a really really bitchy woman who demanded that he do everything, while continually insisting that he did everything wrong, Dude was the unhappiest one there. I mean, the Korean newlyweds were paying more attention to the Falls than he was! And they were almost totally involved with the camera guy, the mother(s)-in-law and each other.(Raine was happy, she was waiting on top the hill for us to do the sight seeing thing and walk back up to her).
   On the way back up the hill to where Raine was waiting he was bounding ahead like some sort of bizarre gazelle/mountain goat genetic mutation, saying, 'We have to get to Pittsburgh, to get the elevators!' Wishing I'd actually purchased the tow harness from that horse-drawn logging guy, I followed my son (at ever increasing distances) back over the bridge, Goat Island, another bridge, and across the park in something close to record time. Then I got to feel like Stretch Armstrong (showing my age) with Dave in front straining to get back to the car and Raine behind trying to look at 'one more thing' at the Native American jewelry tables. Somehow I got everyone to the car without being stretched completely out of shape, or chucking anyone into the river. The drive back home was punctuated by a few renditions of  'The restaurant's open, remember? I wonder if it's time for dinner?' Then Dude reached waaaay back into the archives with 'Would you like butter...? Or honey with your bread, Pooh?' I also received a couple of pokes in the right shoulder from the female passenger. But after a stop at Steak and Shake the ride from then on was pretty quiet, and pain free. (soooo worth the money) Luckily for me, we didn't have to actually drive through Pittsburgh, so I didn't have to explain to any security people what we were doing in their buildings on a Saturday evening. (Really, sir, there's no need to call the police, we're just here to ride the elevators.) We eventually arrived back home with varying degrees of satisfaction. I, because I'd finally seen something I'd wanted to see for years, was completely satisfied with the trip. Raine and Dude seemed to be most satisfied with the conclusion, and retired to varying degrees of couch-potato-ness (another new word!) and shook their heads over my wandering weirdness.