This is a story about doing what your mother told you. You know, "Always wear clean underwear in case you get hit by a car and end up in the Hospital"; "Don't run with scissors. You could fall and get hurt"; "Don't sit so close to the television; you'll ruin your eyes." This one involves the "Behave yourself when you're out in public. You never know who's watching" directive.
A long number of years ago, when my sons were still in grade school, I used to use them to fulfill my own childhood fantasy: Spring Training. What was better than sneaking out of school a couple of days early before vacation began and driving down to Florida to watch major leaguers and major league wannabes take batting practice, catch fly balls and otherwise run around in the sun in funny uniforms. It was springtime. The start of a new season filled with hope and optimism for all. For many players this sensation lasted only until mid-April, but for a couple of weeks in March all was right with the sunny world of the Florida Grapefruit League.
Over the years our annual vehicular trek assumed a ritualistic regularity. The first night in Washington to visit a friend. The next day, a long one, to the Red Roof Inn near Jacksonville. And on the third day, pitching a tent in the grassy fringes of a trailer park outside of Lakeland in the morning and strolling through the Detroit Tigers complex for the rest of the day. This was followed by a visit to Duff's, an all-you-can-eat restaurant, where our goal was to make the manager visit our table and ask us to leave.
Ah, yes, pleasant memories all.
It so happened that during one of the years my sons were forced to indulge my childhood dreams I had by some stroke of hypocritical misfortune been elected to the Parish Council of St. Aedan's Church in Westville. I dutifully attended monthly meetings and painfully endured the discomfort of being in the company of others purer and more devout than I. My goal, which I conscientiously strived to attain, was to not embarrass myself. And, for the most part, I like to think I accomplished that. Well, almost.
One of our regular stops on the road South was at South of the Boarder, a tourist trap located-you guessed it-on the boarder between North and South Carolina. South of the Boarder, if you were a kid-or a 45 year old lawyer who didn't want to stop being a kid-was a place you just had to stop at. And the reason was the billboards. Beginning almost 200 miles away and reappearing with increasing frequency as you approached its location were inane billboards announcing "Pedro says Hot today chilly tamale. South of the Boarder- 50 Miles Ahead," or something equally silly.
Maybe not sophisticated, but it worked. First you started looking for the kitschy billboards. Then you started looking for the place itself. By the time you got to the North/South Carolina boarder there was no way-at least not if you were in our car-that you couldn't stop.
And stop we did. South of the Boarder was the epitome of schlock. Backscratchers. Bumper stickers-Love is Grand/Divorce is Twenty Grand; My Kid Beat Up Your Honor Student; Jesus is Coming/ Look Busy. T-shirts similarly emblazoned. Toothpick holders. Miniature first-name license plates. Nonsensical key chains. You know the drill. Stuff you would never buy anywhere near where you live, but you're on the road and who cares. It's only a buck and the guy in the next office, you're thinking, will laugh like hell when you get him one.
Now it's just that kind of "no one will see us-who cares" thinking that gets people in trouble. What happens in Vegas doesn't always stay in Vegas.
It so happens that way back in the corner, way back behind the bumper stickers, backscratchers and t-shirts, is South of the Boarder's very own X-rated section. This small, out-of-the-way room contains photos, playing cards, and assorted implements and ointments not seen in polite company. In fact, I doubt if some of these materials are even allowed on the internet.
In any event, my version of this sad chapter of my autobiography is that I had lost track of my sons and, in desperation, I parted the beaded curtains and wandered into this Gomorrah of the South searching for them. After examining the 10' by 14' room intensely for 45 minutes without finding my sons, I parted the beaded curtains, this time from the inside. I emerged, eyes glazed, in a disoriented and distracted state. My reverie was immediately shattered: "Why Mr. Dow. How good to see you!" And there before me, not five feet away, was Mrs. Grava, then-President of Saint Aedan's Parish Council.
It really wasn't that "good" to see Mrs. Grava. And while she responded that no, she hadn't seen my sons, I knew she didn't buy it. And so, it came to pass that I finished out my term on the Parish Council far short of achieving my goal of avoiding embarrassment.
My mother, of course, was right. You never know who may be watching. I no longer run with scissors. And I can assure you I change my Fruit of the Looms daily.