Alas, my shirt is also on vacation

Alas, my shirt is also on vacation 
By Aaron J. Brown 

Every human on earth traces his or her origins to people who once conducted their affairs entirely shirtless. These people may have walked the plains of Africa, the rocky crags of Europe, the wilds of North America or the Asian Steppe. Wherever they roamed, their taut bodies glistened in the sun. Sure, they may have time-to-time tossed on an ancient bison pelt for warmth, a loincloth for protection, but by and large our ancestors got all the service they needed without shirts, shoes or a two-year contract.

They were also whip smart, which was both good and bad for us. In just a few eons they built societies, systems and technology. I can write this on an iPad with a Bluetooth keyboard. The only downside was that they also developed mac and cheese dinners, pizza and the cookies sold at Holiday gas stations. Along the way, they made shirts, wore them and, in due time, preferred to wear them. They would remove the shirts, time to time, look around, and either by will or direct request, put them back on.

We went on vacation this week, a little jaunt down to the Brainerd lakes to stay at a water park. Many would enjoy this event simply for its surface value: quality time with the kids, the thrills of a tube slide. Toss on the swimsuit, hoss. Throw on the bikini, princess. Got tats? This is your time.

But for a desk worker of northern European descent, such occasions include an additional dimension. Sure, family fun, tubes, etc., but also NO SHIRTS.

Shirts could get sucked into the intake valves, mangling the wearer beyond recognition — a fate that I could tolerate, but the water park’s insurance company will not. So I ball my soft, comfy, brushed cotton t-shirt onto the patio table next to a row of resigned parents drinking Miller Lite from aluminum bottles. I am confident they won’t steal it, for they have already given up on far more pressing matters. I drape a placemat-sized towel over a decade of physical neglect before abandoning it as futile.

It wasn’t as bad as feared. Nearly all of the adults there were the parents of kids about the same age as our boys, a factor that makes their lifestyle fairly similar to ours. On a sliding scale, I was doing pretty well. We saw a big lady poured into a bikini walk by. Moments later, my wife though she saw her lose her top, only to realize that it was, in fact, the woman’s husband. A summer-long diet proved both wise and well timed for us. Nevertheless one finds no forgiveness flopping one’s derriere into a tube designed to frighten children in warm water. You’d have to do a lot of crunches to make that look OK. And I don’t do crunches..

What more is there to say about the water park than “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaa!” (the sound of children), “Bwoooooooooong!” (the sound of pumps) “Ggssshhhhhhhhhhh!” (the sound of water) and, of course, “DING … DING … DING DING DING DINGDINGDING SPLOOOOOOSH! (the sound of the dumper bucket, which tolls thrice an hour, prompting every kid in the joint to run toward it while the teenage lifeguards carve a notch on the faux rock, marking the countdown toward quitting time.

By the end of it, Christina and I found ourselves sitting in the area for exhausted parents. Her, planning the next several days of trying to get her hair to look normal again. Me, nursing a wrenched back from hauling inflated nylon up a Sisyphusian stairscape.

A mother was taking iPhone pictures of her daughter in the area under the burgeoning dumper bucket. The bell began to toll and we realized that this mother, who had just arrived, did not know that the bell indicated several hundred gallons of water were coming soon. We looked at each other, and smiled at the fact that this situation amused both of us. A much kinder dad rushed out to warn her. I won’t lie; we were disappointed.

Perhaps this was a sign it was time to go home. My fears of shirtless escapades overcome, we returned exhausted from fun, not labor. A true vacation, indeed.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from the Iron Range. He writes the blog and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio (


This is my Sunday column for the Aug. 18, 2013 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune. A version of this piece aired on Saturday’s episode of “Between You and Me” on Northern Community Radio.

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