Justin Hall's personal site growing & breaking down since 1994

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Saturday, 27 July -<link>

Tomorrow I leave for a family reunion of-sorts in the Lake of the Ozarks, in Missouri. One of the world's largest man-made lakes serves the middle-western United States as a place of recreation. My cousin is bringing his powerboat from Colorado, my uncle is bringing his jetski from Nebraska - a week of gasoline powered entertainment! And card-playing and books to read. And talking to family. And writing as one might write away from fast internet and wise lovers.

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Sunday, 28 July -<link>

Primary report from the human recreation colony: "Lake of the Ozarks" Missouri.

A large concrete dam at the end of a river has made a lake. The twisted riverbed now hundreds of meters wide and not moving is a locus for water-based personal entertainment. Most of the participants in these recreations seem to be transient; people and culture imported to this region for the purposes of secondary activity - non-work, distraction, "vacation."

While human beings might share the desire to pursue happiness, here the rituals and implements of pleasure have mutated into a specific form - the result of a combination of factors: geographical, historical and social. In conjunction with my team of 19 other researchers (heretofor referred to as "family") I will undertake a week long participating study, exploring the nature of a "vacation" in this particular man-made recreation colony.

slim jim
Research team leader Jim fingers a canister loaded with snaking strands of four foot long beef jerky.

Team leader Jim and co-coordinator Linda admire our collection of recreational foods - native supplies for this vacationland. While appearing to be massive, the supplies did not cost as this researcher expected. Team leader Jim remarked, "filling up carts with sugar and salt is cheap."

Monday, 29 July -<link>

Crystal makes and sells the legendary cinnamon buns at Stewart's, a diner in Osage Beach near the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. A young woman in jean shorts and a faded Stewart's t-shirt, she cheerfully sets about to fixing up all the buns they have for Justin and his uncle Jim, out of towners vacationing nearby. These cinnamon buns are about as big as Justin's face and thicker than his wrist; Justin and his uncle will be buying all the buns they have left that day.

crystal pours

Justin leans towards her, towards these giant baked treats to ask, "Those buns have sugar in them?"

Crystal continues pouring thick sugar frosting out of a pitcher labelled "tomatoe juice" to cover the buns until they sit in plastic containers one inch-deep in pure thick liquid sugar. She answers, "They've got brown sugar, white sugar, powdered sugar - every kind of sugar we can think of. I just made these this morning," she puts the pitcher down to grab a spatula. Pausing to point at a half eaten bun nearby, she continues, "and I'm eating that one over there. My boyfriend says, you oughtta get on a treadmill and run some of that off." Her face and posture shift, she wrinkles her brow - "I say, I've had three kids, I'm doing pretty good." She looks to Justin to punctuate her point as she carries a pile of sugar covered, plastic sealed buns to the register.

Justin nods and asks, "Do you bring any of these home to your boyfriend?" Implicit in the question, he hoped, was his thinking maybe Crystal's boyfriend would appreciate the fresh buns and leave her alone about her weight.

Crystal makes a face. She shakes her head, "he doesn't get any."

Sunday, 4 August -<link>

Family Gathering

For the last week, I have been a part of a family, a group of 20 people related by blood and marriage. From Nebraska, Colorado, Ohio, branches of my family convened at a house on a lake in Missouri. Swimming, water skiing, horsing around, playing board games - mostly just talking, relaxing and taking stock in one another.

Uncle Jim and Justin, on friend Ron's motor boat "The Indefensible" - named after Warren Buffett's plane.
The eldest of the group, Uncle Jim hosted this gathering in large part because he fondly remembers having these affairs in years past. Forty and fifty years ago, his family would gather at various farms in North Central Nebraska (round about Rock county), for a few hours at a time. Maybe the family would stay at the cabin on the pond for a week, and different family members would swing by. More recently, the family gathered to travel hours across Nebraska from the airport to visit Gramma and Granpa. But when they passed away, our family lost one regular purpose to gather.

So Uncle Jim rented a vacation house on Missouri's Lake of the Ozarks and invited his nephews, nieces and cousins to come visit. My Uncle's time on this lake mirrors the shifting role of this vacation spot itself. When he began visiting the lake nearly two decades ago, there were prevalent party people on boats drinking and carrying on. You can still see that on the lake, but now those people in "Party Cove" have been pushed away from the rapidly expanding number of residences. And most of the residences seem to bring families - as we were, using a former party spot for family fun. Infrequent beer was the most serious drink, board games kept us up late, and and there were no thongs allowed.

Aimee stands in front of the "no-thongs - we're a family water park" sign at Big Surf water park in Osage Beach.

Age Tracking

This family setting put me in context; I saw myself aging. Previously at other family gatherings, I would spend time explaining my work, projects or finances; perhaps hoping to seem professionally on par with my hard-working relatives. But I was often the youngest around, and often unemployed freelance, so I didn't always feel quite in the same league of maturity as my mother / brother / stepfather / uncle / aunt / cousins.

This last week I realized there was little question I was an adult, at least, I felt like one.

Sunset over the Ozarks - looks like "God" does on the teevee sometimes.
Meeting a friend of my young Nebraska cousin, an incoming college freshman, I asked, "How is school? What do you think you might study?" Immediately that struck me as a question adults asked, not a question that young folks ask other young folks. I tried to think of what I asked kids my age when I was that age. Maybe I asked them about school, or more likely, I probably asked "What's up?" or "You smoke bud?" But this kid in particular was wearing a shirt that said "CHRIST" in big letters, and "me" in small letters, on the front, and on the back a quote: "He Must Increase, but I Must Decrease" (Christian Bible: New Testament: John 3: 30). And he said he played bass in a faith rock band. So "you do drugs?" doesn't seem relevant for him, and not so relevant for me since I've slowed down. I could have asked "Why did you pick Jesus of all the various spiritual teachers?" But I do less spiritual sparring than I used to.

Tommy and Turner try the napkins on their heads at the Osage Beach restaurant "Mexican Air Force."
The next day I was sitting next to wiry, hyperactive eight year old second cousin Turner during a board game. He was tapping a pencil, swirling a notepad around a table with his hand and humming, all while bouncing up and down by bending his knees. And fervently looking around. I put my hand on his hand, removed the pencil, pulled him on to my leg, wrapped my arm around his waist in a mildly restraining hug, and told him to calm down. I told a kid to stop twitching. Instantly thereafter, a rich mosaic of memories flooded my head - thousands of instances, a mere fraction of the total number of times my mother told me to stop whistling / quivering / bouncing my legs / shifting about / talking too loud. Heck I still get chided for twitching and talking too loud, mostly by Jane and Chris Hecker who avidly polices my hyperactivity as it seems to remind him of his own.


This week I might have manifested some habits that seemed stodgy to me at seventeen. But I didn't quite fully assume the role of adult as I'd envisioned it when I was a youth, frustrated with stupid rules and lives lead in fear. I didn't refrain from participation. I went toobin'.

Toobin' here means grabbing ahold of plastic handles sewn along the outside of a giant inflated piece of plastic as it is dragged along the surface of a body of water at approximately twenty five miles an hour. You have nearly zero control over your direction or velocity. On water with any sort of wind or other boats around, you are bounced around near constantly while being splashed repeatedly in the face. Your skin sandpapered by vinyl and plastic, your stomach and groin pounded as you bounce uncontrollably. Your shoulders, arms and back strained from hanging at the end of a swinging string, as your weight is towed high-speed behind a careening powerboat. If you grab hold real hard, you might remain on through all this flinging about. But these tubes often flip over, since the weight of an adult on top of air-filled balloon has little desire to remain either upright or the other way around. So you find yourself gripping plastic handles sewn along the outside of a giant inflated piece of plastic as you are being drug underwater at twenty five miles an hour. Deluded, I thought it might be possible to flip this tube and right myself to once again ride on top of the waves. I rubbed the skin off of symmetrical knuckles trying to stay on. The only way to end this suffering is to let go, and hope that none of the other nearby boats run you over. But as your boat circles to catch you or one of the other three people recently flung, you're likely to be razored by the rope between tube and boat. At least that's what happened to me - all of this, leaving me battered, bruised, aching, scraped and sunburnt.

Tommy and Danielle take a big bounce in the yellow tube on the left, while Adam stays lower to the water in a smaller tube on the right.
jane photo - so tough?
Toobin' wound - rope dragged across shoulder at high speeds.
Photo by Jane

It's so occasionally unpleasant, deeply hazardous and fraught with danger so as to seem purely stupid. Amusement park rides seem risky enough, and those circumstances are controlled to a greater degree. This is roll your own fun - get a gasoline-powered vehicle and attach a person to the end of it. Viola - entertainment. As I was gripping ahold of the handles being dragged into full body pain I started talking to myself, "I am not this bored," wondering how I had agreed to sample this form of human distraction. While I am curious about stimulation, it might be okay to decide that some stimulation is more than I need. This is too desperate, I started to think, why do I need to learn to have fun with an inner tube dragged rapidly along a lake when straight diving off the side of a pool is still a thrill?

"38 fucking years old. If he joined the Green Berets, there was no way you'd ever get above Colonel. Kurtz knew what he was giving up. The more I read and began to understand, the more I admired him. His family and friends couldn't understand it, and they couldn't talk him out of it. He had to apply three times and he had to put up with a ton of shit, but when he threatened to resign, they gave it to him. The next youngest guy in his class was half his age. They must have thought he was some far-out old man humping it over that course. I did it when I was 19 and it damn near wasted me. A tough motherfucker. He finished. He could have gone for General, but he went for himself instead."
- from Panu Virtanen's Apocalypse Now Transcript

I count Colonel Walter E. Kurtz among my role-models. There's a moment in the midst of the film Apocalypse Now when Kurtz's dossier is being reviewed by Captain Willard, the protagonist. Kurtz was a leading figure in the army who somehow went rogue, left the professional track and instead studied deep the black arts of primitive soldiery. The language used to describe his work to learn new skills at an advanced age comes back to me when I think about refusing to do dangerous or difficult things that probably won't kill me. If Colonel Kurtz "humped it out" then maybe I can too.

Water play - king of the plastic floatation device! I'm in swim goggles, with Tommy hanging on my back. Photo by Dave.

I think my young cousin Britney might count Colonel Kurtz as one of her role-models as well. Our family rented a large house at the end of a cove on the lake. Down a short walk from the house was a quiet inlet, with a diving platform and a boat dock. Nearly every day for the last week we would spend some hours swimming around, diving, pushing each other off, splashing, squirt-gunning and wrestling for water toys. It was largely unstructured, slightly dangerous and wildly fun. Intergenerational - nearly everyone participated in one form or another. I thought, well, I'm older than most of the kids in this water, my size and cunning will serve me disproportionately. But these "kids" evened the odds - Ashley might grab my hair and pull my head back hard, smiling sweetly, while Trey squirted me in the eyes chanting "oh yeah."

Britney especially, she had figured out how to win while we were wrestling for pool floats. She would dig her fingers into a large open wound I had on my shoulder from toobin'.

Kids rasslin' - here I take on my athletic Uncle's Wife's Sister's daughter Cassandra while Trey and Ashleigh look on.
Aimee drives Melanie at "La Pointe" rumored to be the best kart-racing track in Osage Beach because of fast cars and a track with lots of turns.

Thanks much to Uncle Jim and Aunt Lori for arranging and hosting this family gathering!

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