Adventures in Autistic Parenthood

Monday, August 25, 2014

Authorized to Work:

Even Dexter thinks Dudes are funny.
  At our annual 'What the Hell is up With Dude?' meeting (It's actually the IEP meeting) I, once again was given the suggestion that David should start his 'Transition' into an adult program. What this will tentatively entail will be a supposedly growing number of hours at a Work Program. Almost immediately I was told, No, that doesn't mean Dickensian Workhouse. I immediately cancelled my order for gruel for Dude's breakfast. What it did mean was that David would have the opportunity to work, part time, and earn some money while he did it.
     This has been talked about several times before over the years, but never acted on. He made it as far as BCRC coming to observe him in the classroom to judge his 'fitness' for their program. After only a little while they decided that 'he should wait' because 'I don't think he's right for our program... yet' Translation: Nuh uh, no way, no how. But this time the school district decided to kick in some extra money for an aide to stay with him while he was 'working', so BCRC said, 'Well.... I suppose he can come. 2 days a week, 3 hours a day to begin with.'
    Ever since the IEP (Individualized Education Program) meeting toward the end of the school year David has been convinced that he no longer needs me to further his dreams of Las Vegas Elevator Glory. I mean, he's still trying to get me to bankroll the whole thing, but if the ol' Dude-Dad doesn't come through (which he probably won't), then Dude will still have it covered. Partially.
     I received a letter about mid-June from the BCRC (Beaver County Rehabilitation Center) the agency that I immediately 'filed' (yup, you guessed it. Still haven't found it). I was in the middle of re-flooring and painting the kitchen at the time, so I've got a built in excuse. I dimly remember that someone named.... uh.... Whatshername (Stephanie) wanted a face to face meeting with the Dudes and have them worship with her at the altar of her god, Bureaucracy. A less factitious and flowery version would be that she wanted us to call and make an appointment because there was half a truckload of paperwork to fill out and, oh yeah, while you're here we'll walk you through the place. (if there's time) Due to my advanced filing system this letter (with the accompanying phone number) was immediately and irretrievably lost. Forever. (not kidding)
     Luckily for me, Stephanie is much more on top of things than I am. She called at the end of July to make the appointment that I was going to do once I'd found the paper. Really! I was just about to do it when she called. When Stephanie called she was expecting to meet some disagreeable ass who would continue to cause trouble and drag his feet until everything had to be done with no time left to do it. She was close, but what she got was a forgetful ass who was willing to adhere to any schedule, just unable to come up with one of his own. So, on the next business day the two Dudes where in Brighton, in the rain, and fairly nearly on
He's got a job!
     Dave had been continuously repeating the refrain, 'He has to go to the BCRC to get the money to get the tickets for the Vegas!' all weekend. Now that we were actually at BCRC I just about needed a whip and a chair to keep him contained.  One of their buildings was converted from a single-story multi-office building, so naturally we parked at the opposite end from their office and had to pass 4 or 5 no longer operable glass doors to get to the one that worked. Dave had to try each and every one of them, yelling, 'We're here at the BCRC!' I had to drag him back down the short sidewalk every time until we got to the main entrance.
      When we finally reached the entrance, I was pushed slightly aside and arm-barred from walking toward the actual front doors. I looked at Dude suspiciously, thinking that he was getting me back for denying him the other 4 doors walking down the side of the building. (I didn't actually, but it's still my fault somehow) I was puzzled for a minute when Dave Got out his 3DS (in the light rain!) and held it up in front of him to, I assumed, take video of our (his) entrance into 'the BCRC'. I shrugged it off to his continued excitement about starting his Vegas Trip Savings Program. Then I looked up and saw that these doors weren't ordinary doors. These doors were special doors.These doors opened like elevator doors! As the Dude procession made its way slooooowly into the building the secretary looked up from her desk. And waited. And waited some more. To get the angle he wanted on the shot Dave had his 3DS in both hands in front of him and above eye level. So he looked like he was carrying a bomb with a mercury switch or bearing the Chalice down the aisle for a Catholic Mass. That may actually be fairly close to the way he feels about the thing, anyway.
     So to reassure the lady I told her he was recording her doors. I'm not sure that cleared anything up for her, and I'm pretty sure she wasn't reassured at all. But, being a veteran of many weird people entering her building she just blinked and said softly ('cause that's how you talk to dangerous crazy people), 'Can I help you?' I quickly repressed the urge to tell her she didn't have the appropriate degree, and simply stated, 'Yes. We have an appointment with..... crap!' I'm pretty sure our appointment wasn't actually with Crap. But with me and names I couldn't be absolutely certain her name wasn't Crap. 'Uh.... we really do have an appointment.' I struggled with a name.... any name.'It's at 11:00...' She was momentarily completely unhelpful. Dave, of course, was more like perpetually unhelpful, 'We need to start the BCRC and get the tickets to go to Vegas to see the elevators.' She looked between us, seemingly unable to tell which one of us was the one that qualified for participation in the program. Dude smiled charmingly at her, 'It's only the casinos!'
   She blinked again. Then she seemed to shake it off, turned to me and said calmly ('cause that's the other way to talk to dangerous crazy people), 'Is this an intake tour?' I nodded, 'Then you need to see Stephanie?' My brows drew together as if I were actually considering her statement had an alternative, 'Uhhh.... Yeah. Probably. Could be. Let's try Stephanie?' I was hoping she'd dive in there somewhere and prevent me from drowning. She nodded (thank you!), 'Stephanie takes care of all that.' I smiled. 'Then we definitely need to try Stephanie.' She really couldn't tell which one of the Dudes was the mentally 'challenged' one here to enter the program. And... we're both named Dave so we probably couldn't tell either. (that makes absolutely no sense)
Professional Dude
    I have the feeling Stephanie was quickly and intensely briefed by our confused friend, because it took a bit longer for the both of them to come back to the lobby than the 20 foot trip would imply. At any rate Stephanie seemed happy to see us and she immediately took us on a tour of the two buildings. That is to say, she led us into the building across the street, but Dave seemed to be leading the tour, pointing out the break room, the vending machines, the bathrooms, and the tables and chairs. Dude had his nose in every nook, he was very excited and babbling at warp speed the whole time. Stephanie gamely tried to give her 'tour speech' which quickly became, 'tour notes' and then 'the occasional word in edgewise while Dude was drawing the occasional breath. I give her full points, for a rookie she did pretty good.
     They have two different programs at BCRC, well... three really, because one is chopped in half. There's the 'work' program, which includes the 'school program'. That is where all the employees are doing small, repetitive tasks, mostly for some business that get some kind of incentive to source through the program. The 'school program' basically is an introductory level, and the tasks that they perform may or may not have anything to do with an outside business. Then there's another program in the main building where they're actually running a business, making candy bouquets for sale and distribution. That's the goal, evidently. To work your way up the chain until you either can get an outside job, or can be trusted to work in their business. Dave, of course, spent the whole time in the second (one story) building looking for elevators and babbling about Vegas.
     One thing about having a special needs kid... You'll never forget your name. Even after having your mind wiped by the Evil Genius' mind wiping ray, you'll still be able to sign your name to the innumerable forms that need to be filled out every year. For any of you that haven't seen my signature, it looks like someone did that trick where they pretend to sneeze and then blow Silly String out of the can held next to their nose. I have a friend who's a doctor that actually asked me for signature lessons, it's that screwed up looking. And for the same reason: Because of the hundreds of thousands of times I've had to sign my name over the years.
     One thing about Dave being over 18... He now gets to sign quite a few of the forms. When our tour was over, Stephanie led us into a small conference rooms and a medium sized stack of papers to fill out. Dude's face lit up (rookie) and he said, 'Now he gets authorized to work!' He's got pretty good eyes, because I had to take another step or two before I could read 'Work Authorization Form' on the top paper. 'He has to get Authorized so he can go to the BCRC to get the tickets to go to the Vegas!' Stephanie looked confused and looked to me for translation. (This is not the first time someone has done this) I explained, 'He wants to go to Las Vegas so that he can ride all the elevators.' She nodded as if I'd explained everything, but I could still see the confusion in her eyes. I ignored it. I'd given my shot, and that was all she was going to get. I see myself as more of a Doorman to Dudeworld, not a Tour Guide.
   Once she started the bureaucratic ball rolling she started shuffling the paperwork at us like a blackjack dealer. David was very enthusiastic about signing his name and getting 'authorized' at first, but about halfway through he began to lose steam. Sighing every time another paper was slid his way. I completely understood where he was coming from, but considering he was about 200,000 signatures behind me, I couldn't muster much sympathy. When we were all done (finally) Dude gusted out a sigh and said, 'NOW, he's authorized to work, and get the tickets for Vegas next year!' He looked up at me, and being the party-pooper I am I said, 'I'm not sure a part time job will get you to Vegas in a year.' He was hearing none of it, 'It's only casinos!' He said with a slight pleading note in his voice. My father always called me a 'Hard-headed Dutchman', but even I wasn't completely unmoved by his pleadings, 'We'll see.' The marshmallow said finally. 'YES!!!' As if I'd already shown him the tickets, 'He gets the tickets and goes to the Vegas and records ALL the elevators!' he shouted. I am sooo doomed.
    I happened to glance over at Stephanie and I could see the light showing faintly in her eyes. She was beginning to brush the edges of what it could mean to be sucked into Dudeworld. Here be Dragons. Indeed.
     When we got home Dave immediately wanted to do to apposing things. He wanted to keep the paperwork we brought home, and at the same time, he wanted me to get the physical form and the direct deposit form filled out at once, so he could begin ordering his tickets to Vegas immediately. We compromised... Dad style. He put all the forms on the dining room table and under threat of immediate decapitation or worse left them there and went to play his games.
     So.... 14 days later, the first day of school was upon us and Dave was very excited. Very very excited. The
First day of school
and Dad's got notes!
amount of understatement here cannot be overstated. Dad was excited to. For a very different reason. For Dude, the return to school (already an exciting event) signaled the beginning of his Journey to the Mecca of Elevator Goodness. I, on the other hand, was excited because this was the first time in 10 years where he actually stayed the same size through the summer. So it was the first time in a decade that he didn't need 3 Sherpa to take home all his new clothes from the stores.
   I sometimes don't understand how important Dude can be to other people, until it slaps me in the face. I mean, there was the whole 'Dude's not going to Vegas?' fiasco and now.... the David needs a physical form filled out so he can go to BCRC debacle. If you look at the picture on the left you will see clutched in his hot little hand The Book and several loose pieces of paper. 2 of those pieces and another in The Book that called for the death of the Procrastinating Dude-Dad. Well... that's a bit melodramatic, but he did come home with 3 different notes telling me he needed the physical form filled out before he could start BCRC and there was tugging of the heart strings telling that Dastardly Dad (twirling my mustache as we speak) 'He's really excited about going and it would be a shame if he couldn't go, wouldn't it?' I know... I teared up when I read it.... 3 different times... in 3 different notes... from 3 different people. I didn't even get one note for the 14 bucks I still owe them from lunches last year.
   Well, okay, there probably weren't any tears, but I did immediately call his doctor to see if his last physical was close enough that so we could avoid having to make an appointment and just get the form filled out. By the time I found out (less than 10 minutes) Dave had whipped back through the room 4 different times saying, 'He needs to get a physical, so he can go to the BCRC!!' I finally told him that if he said it one more time he wouldn't have any physical left, so we wouldn't need the form. When the nurse told me that all I had to do was drop off the form, Dude and I jumped on the bike and headed out. For various reasons, Dave is still seeing a pediatrician and the office has a small entryway where the receptionist sits and then a door to the left for 'sick kids' and one to the right for 'well kids'. Dave was either hovering over my shoulder or darting for one of the doors shouting, 'He needs to get the physical!' the whole time I was talking to this nice woman. She promised me, without fail, that the forms would be ready for me to pick up the next afternoon. After I explained that to Dude I looked back at the nurse and said, 'You know, if they're not ready tomorrow, I'm going to bring him back and leave him here.' She laughed and assured me that they would indeed be done. I don't think she took me seriously, but I've already given the address to the bus drivers, 'just in case'.


Friday, August 15, 2014

Dark White Nights:

       This post has almost nothing to do with Dude. Fair Warning.
       I want it stated for the record that 2:00 am is a bad time to start a story. That being said, 2am is my time. Especially on the weekends. I'm not waiting to go anywhere, or for anyone to come home. No one's going to interrupt me and my doing of nothing. It's quiet, which is a precious gift around here. 2am is the time of day when you realize how noisy the rest of your life is. You've pretty much got your little corner of the world all to yourself. By and large, even though you probably wouldn't trade your family for the world, just about anyone can use some time when the world is quiet and you're the only person in it. You can wrap your arm around Boredom's shoulder and say, 'It's just you and me, pal. You. And. Me... So, whattaya want to do?' Mostly my Boredom just looks back and me and says, 'I don't know.... whattayou want to do?' Great... even my boredom is a smartass...
     What white nights are good for, if they're good for anything, is introspection about the past. Unfortunately, as a species we're not really geared for the nocturnal, so many times this will lead to dark musings and self-doubt. Well, that and getting pissed off at people from your past. But that's kind of like yelling at idiots in traffic. Raises your blood pressure, but they don't get a damned thing out of it. Okay, there is one further benefit. You get the sole, and undivided attention of your cat. That is also sometimes not a good thing.
     Someone (okay, more than just one) told me once that he could never predict what would come out of my mouth. He also said that I had some funny stories to tell. I had no argument with either statement. I did say that he was not the first person to make these observations... Hell, he wasn't even the first one that week. I did explain to him that even my bizarre sense of the ridiculous couldn't explain away all of the funny crap that just seems to happen around me.
     Case in point: While I was a stagehand in Florida I had a gig setting up the stage for Paul McCartney's New World Tour. Linda McCartney had declared the entire tour to be vegetarian and the carnivores were restless. A company from Michigan, of all places, was following the tour and erecting the steel scaffold that makes up the structure of the stage. The main problem being, the first week of May the average temp in Michigan was 45 degrees with 57% humidity, and the actual temp in Orlando? 92 degrees with 87% humidity so in the first three days of assembly 15 members of the 60 or so man crew fell out. 3 of them literally falling out of the steel with symptoms of heat prostration and heat stroke. So my company was called in to fill in the gaps, and then by our second day, take over the gig.
     Jackie, a gypsy on the steel crew, or someone who independently follows a tour and works the steel, walked over in my direction, twitching her left arm like a person with a mosquito bite on her shoulder blade. Most of my crew knew Jackie, as she was through town a couple times a year, but I had only met her the day before. I asked, 'What's wrong Jackie?' thinking that there was some sort of bug (which Florida has a plenitude) in her shirt. She said, 'I got my nipple pierced yesterday, and it itches like hell.' Which is a hell of a thing on your 3rd job with a company, and I was 7 months removed from a somewhat less than worldly rural environment. Okay, I was a hick from the sticks and had never even known someone with a nipple piercing and here I was within inches of a nice looking athletic-bodied woman who wanted to talk to me about it. This was destined to be an educational experience.(I had no idea) Trying not to act like a 13 year old with his first copy of Playboy, I decided to play it cool. 'Itches pretty good, I guess.'  She twitched a couple of more times, scowled at her (small, but well formed) chest, looked up at me and said matter-of-factly, 'Yeah. Wanna see?' Before I could even react she grabbed the strap of her tank top, drew it quickly aside and showed me the offending ( or offended) breast and the aforementioned nipple piercing. This was not a flash-viewing, she fully expected me to examine her accessory and the flesh around it, and look for swelling or irritation. Now here I am, a married country boy in a fairly populated city, in the middle of a football stadium in broad daylight with a woman I barely know showing me her tit and asking me to look closely at it.
     I knew right then and there that I had chosen the right line of work.
     Still trying to be all worldly and cool-ish I tried to remember where her eyes were when I said, 'You know if you put band aids over those they wouldn't move around so much and irritate your nipples.' She brightened immediately, 'Thanks! I think I'll try that.'
     Now even if you took away my somewhat humorous take on the situation and simply stated, 'When I worked my third gig in Florida, a woman I'd just met walked up to me and showed me her boob and the nipple ring inserted therein.' It doesn't make it any less bizarre. So while some of the funny stories can be chalked up to the way that I tell them, the fact remains that some pretty weird shit happens around me quite frequently.
    Only some of that weird shit is named Dude. But that is pretty weird sometimes. By this time you might be wondering, 'This is semi-interesting, but when is he getting to the Dude-stuff?' Well, that's another great thing about 2 in the morning... You don't have to follow any rules or live up to any expectations. Even your own.
   Oddly enough... relatively speaking, The reason that was only my third gig was because 5 weeks before I was helping to move the company warehouse to a new location and had fallen off a loading dock, breaking my collarbone, separating my shoulder, and requiring 9 staples in the side of my head to keep my punitive brains from falling out. (I know I have something resembling brain matter in there because I required an MRI because of my head injury) (I asked the Dr. to send the proof of brain to my father immediately)
    I was all alone on the asphalt with the wind knocked out of me, unable to use my left arm. Every one else on the crew was in the motor-home inside the warehouse having a 'pot-break'. So the only person in the building not stoned fell on his head and was lying bleeding in the parking lot. Take that OSHA!
    By the time any of the stoners realized that I was gone I had crawled to the side of the building and was sitting up against it, trying to remember how to breathe. Someone saw the blood on the parking lot and I was found and the ambulance called in short order. After that I was sort of.... dragged out into the parking lot after having a bag of ice placed against the back of my neck in some sort of stoner triage and first aide.
     Once the non chemically enhanced ( I assumed) paramedics arrived I was immediately placed on a back-board and then duct taped to it. Immediately after taping my broken, bleeding, long-haired head to the board it was discovered that I hadn't been fitted with a neck brace. The placing of which required, you guessed it, the removal of the 3, count 'em, 3 wraps of very sticky tape from around my very, very, hairy head. 'Yeah, it's okay, dude. The pain from my broken bones, bruised ribs, torn ligaments, and the 6 inch gash in my skull will just drown that out.'
     It didn't.

     I read somewhere that paramedics, at least the ones who are also firemen, have to, as part of their training, carry a 150 pound manikin either 50 or 100 feet to pass their test. So with three of them there, theoretically they should have been able to lift an NFL offensive lineman in full gear at least as far as the gurney 2 feet away from their supine victim. I weigh somewhere between 240 and 250 pounds. Should be nooooo problem, right? I got a harmonized grunt, a jostle and then dropped from a height of about 4 inches off the tarmac. Ouch. At that point I was glad they'd ripped out hunks of my hair to put on the neck brace. Not only could the limp-noodle brigade not lift me to the gurney, they also required help getting the damned thing up in the raised position, and then called the guys back to help them get it into the ambulance. I was starting to become concerned with the fitness of the Florida Health Care System.
     I don't know if any of you have had a Concussive Brain Injury but on the trip to the hospital the medic asks a series of very basic questions that, if I hadn't been about half groggy, would have annoyed the hell out of me. You know; Name?, Birthday? Address? Date? Do you remember how you got hurt?' (Yeah, I took a gainer off a loading dock and only got a '3' from the Russian judge.) I answered all his questions, growing less muddle-headed and more annoyed the whole time. Until he asked me what day of the week it was. 'Uhhhhh....' Was my response. I just couldn't remember. It was bugging me more and more as the 20 minute trip went on. I was really getting anxious about that damned stupid question, even though it isn't all that unusual for me not to know the day of the week at any given time. When we reached the hospital and the guy opened the back door I raised my head the little I could and yelled, 'WAIT!!!' He rushed back to my side, 'What's wrong?' he asked, beginning to become frightened. 'It's Tuesday.' I said, portentously, and relaxed my head back down on the board. 'Yes... yes it is.' he gritted through his teeth. Then he bent his head close, looked me in the eye and growled, 'Don't ever fucking do that to me again.' What was his problem? I mean, he asked... didn't he?
    Another cool thing about head injuries... No, and I mean absolutely NO pain killers. So after X-rays and slings (no arrows) and being jostled around for about an hour it came time to 'take care of' that little bleeding problem at the crown of my head. Sans-anesthesia.  I was beginning to regret that I wasn't a stoner.
   The Doc (the guy was just not dignified enough to call him Doctor) rolled up on his stool, looked me in the eye and said calmly, 'I need you to promise me something.' I placed my working hand to my chest, 'Doctor, we've only just met.' He chuckled a bit and then resumed his serious expression. 'I really need to to promise me something.' I waited for more. And waited. 'What?' I finally said. 'I need you to promise before I tell you what it is.' 'Uh huh... that crap didn't even work for my mom when I was 6, dude.' His earnestness eventually wore me down and I made the promise. 'I need for you not to hit me.' I was confused. 'Well.... I have to put these 9 staples in your head, and I'd rather not end up a patient here to do it.' That was when it occurred to me that he was going to be shoving 3/4 of a dozen small lengths of steel into my delicate (but still manly) skin without even the benefit of an aspirin. I was really regretting not being a stoner at that point. But all I did was nod my head, grab one of the side rails of the bed, turn my head and say, 'Let's get on with this.'
     The bright side was, I got to keep my hair. And that was the only bright side. After fiddling with my skull-covering for a moment... CHUNK!!! I grunted in pain and gripped the bar harder. Some more fiddling... CHUNK!! If only I hadn't promised, I'd be beating the hell out of him with my one good hand right now. Twice more huge surgical steel pylons were driven into my cranium.... then nothing. I opened one eye and peered back at the doctor. 'What the hell are you waiting for?' I growled. He seemed to be fascinated with my right hand. He shook himself, looked at me, and said, 'Are you okay?' I wanted to throttle him. Other than that I was just peachy. 'I'm fine, let's just get on with this, okay?' He kept glancing between my eyes and my hand, nervously licking his lips a couple times. Then he nodded, 'Let's get this done.' I finally looked down at my hand grasping the bar. I had bent the 1 inch diameter pipe about 2 inches in a direct line, now that I think about it, between that pipe and his jaw.
     CHUNKchunkchunkchunkchunk!!! Suddenly this guy was Machine Gun Kelly with the medical staples. 'Okay, we're done!' as he pushed himself back, the little steel wheels on his stool squeaking as he flung himself across the floor. I sloooowly unlocked my fingers. They were definitely going to have to replace that, I thought, looking at the bowed metal. I grinned fiercely at the quivering Medico, 'It's a good thing I promised, isn't it?' He gulped.
    I went home and scared the hell out of my room-mates, and also my wife when she got off work. You know, on account of me looking like I'd spent the day playing in traffic... angry traffic. The next
day when I got back from the Osteopath, where I'd been having fun holding 50 pounds of sandbags with my bad arm so they could get good X-rays of my broken shoulder, I got a phone call from the hospital; They had noticed something in the MRI and could I come to the Emergency Room to talk about it. No, they wouldn't discuss it on the phone. It was dire enough that it could only be resolved by a personal visit. Well, I couldn't get there until the next day, so if it's one of those 24 hour Death-Virus things, I was completely out of luck. 'I'm sorry, sir, we can't talk about patient information over the phone.' Fuck. 'I guess the rest of this conversation is completely worthless then, huh?'
 'That's fine, sir, we'll see you tomorrow then?' Oh great! I'm so doomed. There's no treatment or cure, nothing they can do for me, so another half a day won't make any difference. Brain injuries make you paranoid... did I tell you that?
    After a further 14 hours of imagined brain tumors and cranial defects and depression over my lack of anything to actually put in a Will, I was once again facing the doctor who had so cleverly avoided getting beaten by me just 36 hours before. 'You've broken a tiny bone in your face, it's cut a sinus and we need to give you antibiotics to prevent infection.' I stared at him in amazement. 'That's it? Y'all scared the crap out of me for a sinus infection?' You know how when you've been really scared, you get mad when you should be relieved? I looked at him and grinned (it wasn't a nice grin)'You didn't make me promise not to hit you this time.' He laughed. He quickly stopped laughing when he looked at my face. 'I'll just go get the antibiotics.' he said as he turned and disappeared out of the room. Chicken. He even made a nurse come back with the drugs to keep out of arms reach of me, I guess. Hell, I only had one that worked. What was he afraid of? A sudden case of Bent Bedrail Syndrome?
   I would normally take this space to make some parallel between these stories about me and some event/detail of or in Dude's life. Nope. Not this time. Me, me, me, me, me, me, me. Mine, mine mine! I'm a happy miser! (Daffy Duck reference) One other thing about 2 in the morning.... It doesn't have to make sense.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Tuppence a Bag:

Over the last year or so, I've taken it as my familial duty to show my niece, Alexis some of the interesting things about her/my adopted state. Of course since Dude-Dads are only consistently Dude-Dads and not tour guides, showing her around isn't exactly a regimented, or even predictable event. Things around Dudes rarely are.
    One of the things that I've been meaning to get around to taking her to do is  (as Raine and I took to calling it) feeding the 'Fat Fucking Fish' at Pymatuning (pie-muh-toon-ing) State park in Northwest PA. Let me explain: Pymatuning is a man-made lake that was formed in the 1930's that straddles the PA-Ohio border. It was actually formed from reclaimed swampland. It's a pretty good sized lake that has a smaller lake kind of attached to one side that's used as a large sanctuary for the young fish released from the hatchery further up the shore from the spillway that connects the two bodies of water. (take a breath, man!) The spillway is a concrete half-bowl about 20 yards across that the water from the smaller lake flows down into and then under the road to the main lake. It seems that, almost since the spillway was formed people have been gathering there to throw chunks of stale bread to the fat, greedy, well-fed, but very ugly, brown carp that now gather there by the thousands to gobble up the offerings. It's really kind of a disgusting, roiling, fishy carpet of carp when they get going, with hundreds of ducks, geese and gulls gobbling up whatever tidbits are left.
   On the face of it, it doesn't sound like a very interesting thing to do, but Pennsylvanians have been traveling there for generations to participate in a super-sized version of feeding their goldfish. There are postcards from the 30's and 40's touting Pymatuning as 'The Place Where Ducks Walk on Fish'. (something I never saw) because of the density of the carp feeding frenzy. In every other State Park in PA it is illegal to feed the wildlife anything, but here they sell old bread at the concession stand along with hoodies and T-shirts and other touristy things.
     While Raine and I had mentioned to Alexis that we'd been there a couple of times we had never taken her there. On one recent Saturday I was feeling a bit restless and asked everyone if they wanted to go to Pymatuning sometime that day. Raine wasn't feeling well, but Alex and Dude were willing to go. (actually, I don't really know if he was willing or not, but he was going) So we loaded up in the car, bought a loaf of cheap bread and headed for the fish.
   Normally I have a sense of direction that makes people (Raine) sick. I can generally find things I've never seen before in places I've never been to before. Raine calls it my 'radar'. Well, I must have forgotten to charge the batteries, or I left the remote with Raine because when we unknowingly arrived at the lake I immediately took a wrong turn. Then another. We went on a big, looping circle through Eastern Ohio and NW Pennsylvania for about an hour. And then, just to prove the first two weren't flukes, when we had almost made it back to the lake again (still couldn't see it) I quickly executed a third wrong turn and sent us back 10 miles to a town we'd passed through on our original stab at getting to the lake. Naturally bypassing the town that's right on the edge of the entrance to do so. I also wish to state for the record that this entire time I had an atlas in the trunk that I had completely forgotten about until we'd hit Greenville for the second time. Once I'd pulled it out I found that I had been within rock-throwing distance of the lake, not once, but twice. I don't really get upset on the few times this kind of thing happens to me. I've learned to just ride it out. I think Alexis may have been expecting some sort of meltdown, but Dave, not knowing how long it should take to get to Pymatuning was content to sit in the backseat until the cows came home... or the batteries ran out, which ever came first.

  After finally making it to the lake and getting a park map and directions from a Ranger (and possibly divine intervention for all I know) we finally made it to the spillway. Dave was so ready to go by this time he completely forgot the bread. But we finally made it to the railing preventing the fish feeders from becoming fish food, where we waited for Alexis to catch up to us with the bread. Dude had been there before, and had witnessed and incited the feeding frenzy and seemed to have fun doing it, so I wasn't ready for him to mutter something about 'greedy fish' and 'Got to feed the ducks!' Well to feed anything he'd need some food. We looked around to find Alex methodically feeding the 'poor starving fish'. Throwing out bread like she was feeding grain to the chickens. I walked over and stopped her before she could tear apart the whole loaf feeding the greedy things. She said, 'But they're hungry!' I assured her that people stand at the railings from early in the morning until dark and never run out of fat fish to feed. I told her to take a few steps down the rail from her grain-dependent fans and see what happened. 'All you have to do is stand at the rail, and the fish will show up whether you feed them or not.' She looked down at the rows of gaping mouths and said, 'They do seem to be well fed.' I laughed, 'You could stand there all day and never see a skinny fish.'
     We walked over near Dude and I handed him a slice to distribute to the masses. He immediately cocked his arm back and was ready to fling the whole piece into the air. 'Wait a minute!' I said quickly, 'Tear that up and throw the pieces!' He looked at me like I was from another planet. (And there's no direct evidence saying I'm not) He simply tore the piece in half and cocked his arm back saying, 'Here you go ducks!' and gave it a mighty heave. It was doomed from the beginning. Not only was the gauntlet of portly pisceans about 10 feet deep at that point, but since the breeze was blowing right in his face it forced his grain-parachute to land in the water about 3 feet from the edge. He looked down with disgust at the carp rapidly
and kind of grossly making his offering disappear. He then looked up at me, 'He has to get it to feed the ducks.' I looked down at the now bread-free water. 'You're going to have to rip it into smaller pieces, or it'll never get there.' He seemed to consider my advice, tore his half slice into further halves, cocked his arm back like Billy Dee Williams in Bingo Long's Travelling All-Stars and winged a throw that just barely managed to clear the back edge of the throng and into the duck's territory. One of the ducks darted in and snatched up the bread and hurriedly paddled back to the Duck Zone and safety for his feet, from nibbling fish.
     I was explaining to Alexis how not only was this the only publicly owned land that you could do this, but it was actually illegal to feed wild animals in PA State Parks. Unless you had a license and that food was attached to a hook, when David decided that he was the friend of all flying creatures. He came over to us to demand more bread because he had to 'feed the geese and the ducks and the American Eagles.' I had a brief flash of him throwing bread to customers of AE Outfitters, but quickly banished the thought. Now while there are 4 or 6 pairs of bald eagles in the park area and they do nest on an island in the sanctuary part of the lake, I hadn't seen any. The three kinds of birds in the immediate area were Mallard Ducks, Canadian Geese and some Ringbilled Gulls. As I handed him more bread I told Dave, 'Those are seagulls, Dude.' 'American Eagles.' He repeated. I shook my head, 'Sea. Gulls.' He cocked his head at me, 'Sea gulls?' He asked. I nodded, gravely. 'Seagulls.' And I heard him as he turned away, 'Sea gulls' He stated gravely, 'from America.' I shook my head and gave up. Figuring that was about as close as I was going to get.
An American (Ringbilled) Seagull
     Since we'd only brought one loaf of bread it didn't really take all that long to fling it all out there. I didn't keep track of how much of David's share actually went to the Ducks and American Seagulls but he seemed happy with the result. And he did drop some little bit of bread straight down occasionally. I think to keep the greedy carp up next to the platform.
      After Alex took a quick walk over to the spillway to see the greatest and ugliest concentrations of fish we hopped in the car and drove across the bridge that bisects the main lake. That being the only other interesting thing about Pymatuning if you don't have a boat or a fishing license. Thankfully I was much better at finding my own house than I was finding the lake, (after all, all my stuff's there) so the return trip was rather a lot smoother. Unfortunately my earlier delay meant that we couldn't stop at the Apple Castle, an orchard and farm market slightly out of our way, but probably closed. So instead of apple products and farm fresh produce (I knew they also sell donuts, but didn't tell anyone) we had to struggle through on hot dogs and french fries and apple sauce... I'm actually proud at how brave Dude was about the whole thing.