*I wrote this blog somewhere in the middle of Wisconsin… The land of cheese. And cranky old men.*
A semisaurus rex passes and sprays a fine mist of dust and dirt straight into my eyes. Since I had been looking at a beautiful sunset to my right, my eyes were wide open when this dust storm flew straight into my face. Instantly my eyes slammed shut, but the damage had been done. Little bits of dirt and pebbles stung my eyes and I began to stumble around, trying my best to get down into the ditch and not wander blindly into the road. I felt grass below my feet and knew I had made it off the highway. I reached around my back to my pack and felt aimlessly for my water bottle which was in one of the bag’s side pockets. My fingers fumbled on a small metal container and before my mind could register what I was feeling I heard the sound of compressed liquid and air escaping. I had accidently just set off the small bottle of mace that hung to the side of my bag. Somehow the safety lock on the container had gotten switched to the “off” position and I swore loudly just as another semi beast rolled by.
The semi sent a gust of air over me as it passed and it pushed the cloud of mace spray straight into my face. Though my eyes were still clamped tightly shut, the pain was unbearable. I began to rub my eyes. Whoops. Wrong thing to do. The pain doubled and I cursed myself for being so stupid. Obviously I had just rubbed it deeper into my eyes. I reached around my pack cautiously and found my water bottle and opened it up, pouring the contents slowly into my face. What people thought as they drove by me, I can only guess. But I’m guessing it was pretty comical.
A half hour later, I was able to open my eyes into miniscule slits and continued on my way. I knew a small town awaited ahead of me and all I could do was to get there and find more fresh water to flush out my eyes. Within twenty minutes I came to the town’s welcome sign and began to walk down its “main street”. The town was perched on a rocky cliff and it overlooked a very wide area of the Mississippi River. Even through my burning squinted eyes I could tell it was going to be a beautiful night. I came around a corner and saw that the next few blocks were lined with old, small houses whose front doors looked past main street and out to the river. Each house had a small attached garage and I just noticed that almost all of them were open. As I walked past each one, I found the garages accompanied by old men who were sitting in lawn chairs and staring out at the mighty Mississippi. Many had coolers of beer next to them and more than half wore overalls.
Each man gave a nod as I passed by and I answered with my own, red-eyed head jerk in return. Coming to the last of the old houses I saw a particularly grumpy looking man sitting in his green and blue lawn chair. I gave him a nod and he replied with a low grumble. Without taking his gaze off the river he asked, “Where you walking to.”
“Miami!” I said energetically, wiping a few mace tears from my eyes. He grunted in response. From this angle I was now looking down the street I had just walked up and could see all the old men sitting in their chairs and drinking their cold beers. “You should all sit together sometime… you know? Take turns hosting each other in your garages. It could be like a little party every night!”
He looked up from the river and stared at me like I had just the most offensive thing he had ever heard. He nodded over to his neighbor’s garage and said, “You’ll never get me within five feet of that damn Anderson…” I looked over to his neighbor and saw that he (Anderson, I take it) was now glaring over at us.
“Neighbor rivalry?” I said jokingly. “Have you ever seen the movie Grumpy Old Men?” I laughed uncomfortably. My ability to make situations amazingly awkward was shining through, brighter than ever. The old man looked up with great dislike and grunted one more time in disapproval. As I turned to retreat he asked, “You been cryin’ or something?” He was looking at my eyes, which were no doubt still red and puffy.
“Funny story!” I exclaimed, determined to make this old geezer smile. “I accidently sprayed myself in the face with mace!” It came out before what I even realized what I was thinking. I laughed uncomfortably, hoping this guy didn’t think I was a complete idiot. But by the look on his face, it was most definitely too late. I looked back down the street and now saw Anderson waving over at us. I waved back and the old guy at my side whipped around to see what I was waving at. “God dammit, Anderson!” he yelled. “Keep your big nose outta my business! You hear me, Anderson!”
“Aww. Shut up, old man!” Anderson yelled back and I laughed. “Who you got over there, Eddie, your new girlfriend?” he said, adding a great laugh when he finished. My smile fell off my face and I thought about saying some kind of clever retort, but none came to me. Before I could think of anything, the old man at my side, Eddie apparently, was on his feet and shaking a fist at old Anderson. “You crazy old coot, you scuffle on over here and say that to my face! Or is your fat ass too heavy to lift outta that chair?!”
Anderson’s smile faded as well as he jumped out of his chair with surprising strength and speed. His beer spilled over the smooth concrete driveway as he shouted back, “Don’t make me, Eddie. You know I will! Just give me a reason.” Eddie just laughed and started yelling his retort as I slowly backed out of his driveway, back towards the road. As Anderson made a rather offensive gesture I slipped out onto the street and began to walk along my way, looking back in time to see Eddie puffing up like cat trying to make itself look intimidating. Note to self, I thought as I wiped my stinging eye for the hundredth time. Don’t spray own face with mace. And more importantly… give old men their space.