Travels With Grumpy

Travels With Grumpy

This is me, Grumpy, with my owner. I’m the one in front. We have been together for over 40 years. One of us, on a good day, still has the maturity of a nine-year-old. I’ll let you guess which one.

This is me, Grumpy, with my owner. I’m the one in front. We have been together for over 40 years. One of us, on a good day, still has the maturity of a nine-year-old. I’ll let you guess which one.

Hi, there. I’m Grumpy. No, not that Grumpy. I’ve never met Snow White. Do I look like one of her minions? No, I’m Grumpy the bear. My owner, Tim Jones, adopted me in 1980 when I was a mere cub, barely 4 inches tall (and wide). I’m still the same size today because he never feeds me.

I need to get some things off my chest. I’ve kept silent for the past forty years. That’s in part because, technically, I’m a stuffed animal, with no vocal chords nor, for that matter, a mouth – unless you call this tiny strand of yarn below my nose “a mouth.”

You see, I’ve been bounced around by Tim, his sister Betsy, and their pal Dale for decades. The three of them have traversed the globe, taking turns with me riding shot gun. I’ve been to five continents – six if you count Iceland. Go ahead – correct the brainless bear by pointing out that Iceland is technically not a continent. Why would you expect a stuffed animal to be an expert on world geography? I’ve had virtually no schooling, since Tim and his cronies never saw fit to take me to school with them – , or even so much as let me watch a TED Talk. So cut me some slack, okay?

Over the past forty+ years, I’ve trekked to Paris, Berlin, Rome, Ireland, Switzerland, Russia, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, South Sudan (during a civil war, I might add), Indonesia, China, Machu Picchu, Bali, and Scranton, PA, just to name a few. (Gotta say, I was surprised how much I liked Scranton. Good people.) Oh, and one more destination: The North Pole. More on that later. Dale, through his contacts at NASA, arranged for me to ride on the Space Shuttle, but then they cancelled all Space Shuttle flights forever. A pretty extreme way of keeping the Grump from exploring outer space.

Lest you’re thinking, “Wow, Grumpy, what a charmed life you’ve led. I’m so jealous,” – don’t be. These were not exactly Rick Steves tours – with the exception of a Rick Steves tour we took of Northern Italy. Um, what was my point? Sorry. With fluff for brains, I get easily distracted.

My point is that most of these journeys were no picnics. While I have explored all four corners of the globe, it is usually in cargo, in the bottom of a suitcase, inside a shoe, with no view and no free soda and peanuts.

When Tim and I flew to Paris, sure, he took a selfie of us in front of the Eiffel Tower. But did he let me check out the view at the top? Heck, no. It was one quick photo, then slam – back in the backpack.

Top row, L to R: Grumpy balancing atop a termite mound in Botswana; studying a map of Ireland in a B&B in Shannon; NOT catching the view of Mont Saint-Michel, France, from our hotel room. Middle: Grumpy checking out Komodo Dragons in Indonesia; downing Fanta’s with the locals in Zambia. Bottom: Grumps contemplates his empty glass of Merlot, oblivious to the 9th century Mahayana Buddhist temple behind him; so close to bathing at a sacred temple in Yogyakarta, Indonesia; examining the wrought iron work on a balcony in Paris.

Top row, L to R: Grumpy balancing atop a termite mound in Botswana; studying a map of Ireland in a B&B in Shannon; NOT catching the view of Mont Saint-Michel, France, from our hotel room. Middle: Grumpy checking out Komodo Dragons in Indonesia; downing Fanta’s with the locals in Zambia. Bottom: Grumps contemplates his empty glass of Merlot, oblivious to the 9th century Mahayana Buddhist temple behind him; so close to bathing at a sacred temple in Yogyakarta, Indonesia; examining the wrought iron work on a balcony in Paris.

One time, Tim, Dale and I trekked to Zermatt, Switzerland, home of the world-famous Matterhorn. I was stoked to join them skiing down the powdered slopes, taking in the incredible vista. But Tim shattered my dream,  claiming skis didn’t come in my petit size. I doubt he’d try that lame excuse on his true favorite stuffed animal, his brainless beagle Snuffles.

When Betsy ventured to Machu Picchu, she made certain to snap the classic tourist photo of me with the ancient ruins in the background. But before I could ask, “Is there a Starbucks nearby?”, boom again, back into the duffel bag, wedged between a leaking water bottle and her sweaty socks. I gave her a scathing Yelp review.

Throughout these wanderings, I’ve spent countless nights in dodgy lodgings. Man, these three people are cheap. They seemed to prefer hotels without elevators. Picture me scaling the stairs on my half-inch paws to Dale’s 4th story room in Jakarta. Whoever manufactured me didn’t know much about teddy bear paw design. But there was a bed – which  Dale wouldn’t let me snuggle in. I had to crash in the sink. Not even a pillow, much less a mint.

Here I am at the North Pole, thanks to a really crappy cruise ship. Not complaining, but the all-you-can-eat buffet sucked, and they wouldn’t let me play shuffleboard unless I agreed to be the puck. So unfair. [This is a real photo of Grumpy at the North Pole. At top is a photo of the actual Russian ice breaker Grumpy took to reach the pole.]

Here I am at the North Pole, thanks to a really crappy cruise ship. Not complaining, but the all-you-can-eat buffet sucked, and they wouldn’t let me play shuffleboard unless I agreed to be the puck. So unfair. [This is a real photo of Grumpy at the North Pole. At top is a photo of the actual Russian ice breaker Grumpy took to reach the pole.]

When Tim and I flew to China, I was exhilarated! Maybe I’d see the Great Wall, or perhaps the Terra Cotta soldiers. Wrong again. Turns out, he was there to adopt some cutesy baby girls, not travel with Grump. In fact, my presence was an accident as I wasn’t even supposed to be in his luggage. Guess how much attention he paid me once he stared into their innocent googly eyes? Correctamundo. None. I would have been better off back home hibernating.

Don’t ask me what the food is like in London, Lugano, Leningrad, or Lusaka. How would I know? Tim, Dale, and Betsy rarely took me out for dinner. I haven’t a clue how I’ve survived these 40 years without a proper meal. Oh right, because I’m an inanimate object made of stuffing. Duh!

Even my trip to the North Pole was bogus. A friend of Tim’s booked passage on a Russian cruise ship sailing out of Murmansk and I hitched a ride. The view from our cabin? One star. Nothing to see see see but sea sea sea. The unlimited buffet featured only unlimited cod. Do I look like a seal? No casino, no wave pool, no Trivia Night. A total bust.

We fought pack ice for seven days before finally reaching the pole. I picked the wrong time of year to shed my winter coat. It was freeeeeeezing out! But what a thrill to step onto a massive ice floe. Not bragging, but I’m pretty sure I’m the first fake bear to have set foot, er, paw, at the North Pole. Talkin’ to you, Fozzie. After that fleeting commune with nature, I was back below deck.

Through all these misadventures, I’ve stoically accepted my place as the quiet, accommodating sidekick. I never complained, despite the fact that not once in all of my globe-trotting did my travel buddies let me bob in the hot tub or order room service – or even use the remote. That’s why I had to set the record straight.

Uh oh. I just overheard Tim talking about another trip to Paris. Oh, non, non, non! Parisians are such snobs.

That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps my owner, Tim Jones, is off base.

L to R: Dale, Cousin Betsy, Tim, Sister Betsy, Dave

L to R: Dale, Cousin Betsy, Tim, Sister Betsy, Dave

[Author’s note: The story behind the story: When I was in my twenties, I bought a small teddy bear. Round and about the size of a softball, he had a frowny face. So, I named him Grumpy. I decided that all my closest friends needed their own Grumpy’s, including my sister Betsy and my friend, Dale. So, I bought them each their own. I wasn’t going to share mine! See photo.   

It eventually became an ongoing challenge between me, Betsy, and Dale to take photographs of our respective Grumpy’s in increasingly exotic locales. The three of us have been doing this for the past forty years. 

Many of the most extraordinary trips mentioned in this piece were taken by Dale or Betsy, both of whom share a love of travel. But it was my Grumpy who actually sat on the pack ice at the North Pole, having trekked there in a Russian ice breaker. Suck it, Dale and Betsy! – TEJ]

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© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2020. Edited by Betsy Jones.

How I Got Crabs

How I Got Crabs

Yum, Yum. Look at this crab pot filled with so many mouth-watering Dungeness Crabs. At the grocery store, it can cost up to $9 a pound. That’s pretty darn expensive. Save money by doing it yourself. All you need is a $3,000 boat and $500 in crab pots, rope and buoys.

Not long ago, my wife and I moved to Camano Island, a tranquil, semi-rural community with lots of retirees. People here love four things: God, country, family and crabbing – but if they could only pick one, for sure it would have to be crabbing. People here are seriously into this activity. Just how serious? As you arrive on Camano Island, you’re greeted by a giant metal crab sculpture. The local newspaper is called The Crab Cracker. And if you confide in someone, “I’ve got crabs”, they won’t recoil in disgust. They’ll reply with, “Fantastic! Mind giving me some?” 

Having lived here for two years, I’d never bothered to find out what all the fuss was about. But after relentless pressure from neighbors whose constant nagging included questioning my patriotism, in the end I caved. Last week I finally went crabbing.

Most “crabbers” own their own crab boat and equipment. To get started you need the following essentials:

  • A motorboat – or if you’re cheap, then a rowboat
  • At least one, and ideally two or three crab pots
  • A buoy marker and approximately 100 feet of rope for each crab pot
  • Bait – typically chicken or turkey legs, or if you’re in a pinch, Lifesavers candies – the crabs grab onto the little hole in the middle and get stuck. Let me know how that works, dude. (This last bait option should only be used if you’re a complete idiot.)
  • A case of beer, to dull your senses and help you forget about what in the hell possessed you to take a rowboat instead of a motorboat with 25 mph headwinds out there
  • A sharp knife to kill your small crustacean victims in cold blood – or to take your own life if you have rowed out too far and you suddenly realize you’ll never make it back to shore before nightfall

Continue reading “How I Got Crabs” »

A Sign I Have Too Much Time on My Hands

A Sign I Have Too Much Time on My Hands

Do you know the distance from my house to the South Pole? Of course, you don’t. But I do. That’s because I recently erected a giant sign pole complete with weather vane in my front yard that displays the direction and distance to several far-flung places, including the South Pole. How far is it from our house here on Camano Island, Washington to say, Cape Town, South Africa? Glad you asked: 10,199 miles southeast. Distance to Pitcairn Island? 5,022 miles almost due south. Moscow, Russia? I have no idea. But I can see Russia from my back door, so no matter.

For years, I’ve been fascinated by those rustic towering poles with signs pointing to remote locales like Timbuktu (yes, that’s an actual place). Maybe it’s the wanderlust in me or my long-held interest in maps. Or perhaps I’ve read too many National Geographic articles about the lost tribes of Borneo. Whatever the reason, I decided to plant one of these (poles, not Borneans) in our yard as a fun conversation piece. Prior to this project, the only thing quirky about our house was my wife’s husband.

I asked my wife if she’d be okay if I built one of these and gave it a prominent location on our front yard. To my amazement, she did not protest in the slightest. Even when she woke from her nap, and I asked her again, she was still moderately amenable. She had just two conditions: first, I had to promise to not do a sloppy job. Second, I could not try to conscript her assistance with this fool’s errand. Deal, I said, knowing all too well there was no way I would live up to the second condition. Continue reading “A Sign I Have Too Much Time on My Hands” »

Swingin’ in the Rain

Swingin’ in the Rain

swingin in the rain - tee shotRecently, I played a round of golf with my longtime golfing buddy Kevin. Kevin hates it when I refer to him by his actual name in my posts, so that’s how I will refer to him – because I just like to piss Kevin off. We were scheduled to play a round, but I called him an hour before our tee time to report that it was raining cats and dogs at my house. “Really? Well, it’s sunny and clear here,” he said. So against my better judgment – which judgment is shaky at the best of times – I decided to go ahead and play.

We were met at the course by the rest of our foursome, Ron and John. And just like Kevin had predicted, it was clear and dry – conditions that were going to change dramatically about fifteen minutes after we teed off.

Kevin and I have been playing golf together for 17 years. It has evolved into something of a rivalry. It often comes down to the final hole before Kevin knows for sure whether he beat me by double digits or just single. You see, Kevin is a really good golfer and, with rare exceptions, I allow him to beat me – mostly to placate his fragile male ego, which shatters like broken glass if he loses to me in anything. And also because he is the far superior golfer.

Ron, John, Kevin and I teed off at the first tee. Kevin hit a gorgeous drive 270 yards straight down the middle of the fairway. Then it was my turn. I smiled as my ball landed eerily close to Kevin’s – by which I mean 100 yards closer to the tee box and banana-sliced 40 yards into the right-side woods. Oh yeah. The game was officially on.

As we reached the second hole, I noticed a few gentle droplets of rain. Kevin shook it off. He was sure it would pass. His smart phone’s weather app said it was going to be mostly sunny by afternoon. But at 8:15am, the sky was looking foreboding, like the skies over Mordor. As Kevin headed up the second fairway and I headed due east into the right-side forest, I noticed the raindrops were coming down harder. Wisely, I had decided to bring a jacket. Unwisely, I’d soon discover it repelled water about as effectively as toilet paper. And I forgot my golf cap.

Continue reading “Swingin’ in the Rain” »

So you think you can dance?

So you think you can dance?

Soccer Dad Shuffle - Psy and NormEvery generation brings with it a new dance craze. In the ‘60s young people were doing the Twist. In the ‘70s everyone was wearing green leisure suits (and by everyone, I mean my late Uncle Sid from Scranton) and disco dancing was the rage. In the ‘80s line dancing was the latest craze, featuring the Electric Slide, a favorite among attractive women who were way out of my league.

Recently, Korean pop star Psy created a dance sensation with an annoyingly infectious horsey dance to the tune of Gangnam Style. And just a few months ago, millions of people the world over made their best attempt to demonstrate what uncontrollable group epileptic seizures must look like, in a bizarre dance craze called the Harlem Shake.

As our nation’s population grays, it was just a matter of time before another dance craze would sweep the nation – aimed at us slightly older high-steppers. And I’m just the person to launch it. It’s called the Soccer Dad Shuffle. What does a middle-aged family man know about dance moves, you ask? Plenty. I have tripped the light fantastic countless times (and by countless times, I mean more than five but less than nine), including almost three wedding receptions, last year’s company Christmas party, and my neighbor’s son’s bar mitzvah in 1989. (Again, my apologies to Mrs. Bernstein for the damage to her toes.)

Continue reading “So you think you can dance?” »