I want to tell you about my vacation. In the military, we don’t really get vacation. It’s called “leave,” and you don’t always get an opportunity to take it when you need it most. I needed it real bad this time, bad enough to call it vacation. But let me warn you, this was not really a vacation. This story involves sex, drinking, driving, allergies, and cursing mothers. Oh, and jumping over walls.

OK, so I went on vacation to Fayettenam. That’s Fayetteville, North Carolina, for those not in the know. You know you have arrived when you were on 95 North, laughing for 45 minutes about how crappy South of the Border has become, and then suddenly you are surrounded by lots of soldiers and plenty of pawn shops. If that has happened on your way to Raleigh, you landed in my “hometown.”

Anyway, my mom lives there and it was time I saw her. Also, my driver’s license needed renewing. Why not kill 2 birds with one stone?

“Mom, I’m coming to visit you.”

“OK, honey, when you get here?” She’s Filipino and has an accent, but it’s not a super-thick one. She never taught me her native language because then I would know what she was saying to her friends on the phone. Damn clever lady.

I told her I’d be there tomorrow. It’s not a long drive, and I’m coming alone.

“You gonna bring the grandkids?” How cliché. No one wants to see their own kids anymore; they just want the smaller versions of you that they can give back once they break a second vase.

“No, mom. Michelle is going to keep Logan with the other daycare kids. And Gabby is in school.”

“OK, I see you. I love you!”

And off I went the next day to see mom. I decided to leave at 5pm because in bizzaro world that is the perfect time to hit the highways in Charleston, right? Especially Monday, right?

6 hours later, I arrived 2 hours past the time I should have. 526 sucks. Especially in the rain. Back roads suck, too, when you don’t know them. And your hometown sucks if they keep sticking new buildings in front of your landmarks. But I finally arrived at mom’s house. I was happy to see her after she opened the door because it had almost been a year. She’s such a sweet lady!

“Hey. You didn’t bring the kids?”

“Mom, Gabby is in school and Michelle is keeping Logan, remember?”

“Ohh. Oh yeah. Well come in, baby!”

Oh, the love. Mom was singing on her plug-in karaoke machine as I unpacked all my junk and my dry cleaning. It’s her new hobby. It even has “Stairway” on it. I still question the lyrics, and why I scored a 72. I sang with Momma’s Blues band in Charleston, dammit! I’m better than 72!

I went to the car for the real reason I came to visit. Mom now has a pick-up/drop off dry cleaning service at her newly opened alterations store! And since I’m the son of the owner of Lola’s (Skibo and Cliffdale if you are in Fayettenam!), my stuff gets done free. That would be about 7 sets of uniforms, which costs a first born in Charleston.

“Just for that, mom, I’ll cut your lawn ’cause I’m sure it hasn’t been done in awhile.” And it hadn’t, because when I went back to get other uniforms from my car, I thought I saw a bobcat hiding in the grass. It turned out to be a used Volkswagen. Time for shut eye.

I woke up sneezing. Mom sells Avon, Mary Kay, and has a lot of scented candles in the house. I’m allergic to some of that stuff. I was in no condition to sit in the DMV for pics, so I slept a little bit longer. I spent the day doing basically nothing except turning in my uniforms, driving past the old high school, and trying to do things to my mom’s computer. You remember when you first got a push-button, cordless phone and tried to go back to the rotary phone? Didn’t that rotary phone just seem to take forever? The same can be said about dial-up and high-speed cable or DSL. “I’m not going to spend money on fast Internet, honey. It’s too much.” I guess so. I’ll just log on, cook dinner, read the Old Testament, and then maybe I can check my mail.

I went about the business of the DMV. It was as it is anywhere: what you actually have to get done takes 10 minutes, but if you forget anything (like I did about 4 times), it will take 3 hours. I forgot my cash and they didn’t take debit cards. I forgot proof of insurance, so I went back for that. It wasn’t current, so I had to call the insurance company to send me a current copy. I forgot my dad’s new address, so I had to go back for that, too. And on top of it all, I saw a very familiar girl standing in line, awaiting her DMV adventure.

“Hi, Uncle Paul.” Oh my God. The oldest one was now…16? The “oldest one” would be a daughter of Aunt Vee, one of my mom’s best friends. Aunt Vee is cool. My mom lived with her family for albeit through some tough times. She is a chill lady that has 2 girls who are in the “developing” age. They used to be my pals when I visited them as elementary schoolers. I could take them out for ice cream, play video games, and laugh at their Pokémon cards. They loved Uncle Paul. But when they turned 12 and 13 I was just that guy who was the son of Auntie Beth who is the friend of my stupid mom-that-won’t-let-me-see-Insane-Clown-Posse-next-week. The “oldest one” has since moved on from Pokémon, now collects Yu-Gi-Oh and is actually a pretty good anime character artist. I feel very chronologically advanced.

I met back with my mom around dinner time. I told her I wanted to eat at this incredible Chinese buffet called Super King. Mmmmmmmmmmmm. AYCE Crab legs for 12 bucks plus everything else! Mmmmmmmmmm. I can actually afford crab legs in a place that’s further away from the ocean.

“Honey, we go to the Korean restaurant for fish, OK?” Well, maybe I’ll have Superking another time. So My mom and I met with Aunt Vee and Aunt Ann at the restaurant. The food was OK. I don’t eat kimchee, but these ladies acted like it was free food in Vegas.

Mom’s got a cool posse. She has about 13 really good Filipina lady friends, but these two are her closest ones. It is Aunt Vee’s anniversary, and her husband has no plans, so Aunt Vee is bummed.

Aunt Ann makes me laugh. She’s got a hobby now of playing electric guitar at some of my old open mic hangouts. She’s pretty damn good, too. Carries her own amp, sits on a stool, and does her best “Hang on Sloopy.” But Ann’s oldest son has become “rebellious.” He’s 19, has no real job, started dating a girl who hates his mom, therefore HE hates his mom. Why do young men always fall for the first girl that boinks him? Anyway, he got into a fight with the parents because those two had lied about their boinking habits, and now he’s gonna go “live on his own.” With his friends, of course, who will eventually kick him out because, again, he has no real job. She’s pretty fired up and is cursing worse than my 4 drill instructors combined.

It was time for a night out with the ladies!

We all like to sing, so we went karaoke bar hunting in Fayetteville. I thought it would be easy, but it was a 2 hour, 10 bar drive. The adventure was still fun, though. I found out that the Korean Square on Bragg Boulevard is very Korean and that those aren’t just your ordinary massage parlors. That’s what my mom said. All we did was crack jokes and try to cheer Aunt Vee up. “Son, I give you props for hanging out with us old ladies.” Like I said, my mom is such a sweet lady!

At one point we ended up in the downtown area. It used to be fightin’ words when someone said “your momma work on Hay Street,” but it is no longer a street of tranny prostitution. That street has cleaned up. The whole downtown has cleaned up and, in fact, got snooty. Annie told us there was a good band playing at a street corner bar/restaurant. We went in around 9:40pm. “The band starts at 10,” the hostess said.

“OK, where will they play?”

“Right there.” She pointed to about 3 square feet of floor and a doorway. “We’ll just go see them.” As I headed for the door, the hostess stopped me. “No. Right THERE.” She pointed even more towards the 3 square feet of floor. “Ahhhhhhh.”

We started to make our way towards a table so that we could, at last, order drinks for Aunt Vee. The hostess, once again, had to correct us.

“Will you be eating?”

“Umm, no, we just want drinks.”

“Well, we don’t serve drinks at the table until the band starts. You’ll have to drink at the bar.”

My mom wasn’t going to sit at the bar. She doesn’t drink or smoke, so that wasn’t going to happen. We sat on a bench for about a minute of silence. Annie looks at me. “Are you drinking?”

“I’ll drink if you drink. What about you Aunt Vee.’

“Oh, I don’t care.”

Another minute passed.

“That’s it,” said mom. “Let’s get out of here.” We went through the back door because we didn’t want to look at the hostess and her stupid 10pm rule face. However, the back door lead to a patio that was surrounded by 4 foot of brick.

“We’ll, I guess we’ll turn around.”

“No, I can make it.”

“Mom, are you sure you can climb this?”

“Oh, please.” One by one, the ladies scaled the bricks. Eyes were averted as I held the hands of these 3 ladies, determined for a night on the town, swung themselves over the brick border. Nothing was going to stop them from singing or drinking!

“Let’s go back to the shop, honey. We’re tired.” I just laughed. I drove them back to the shop so we could all say goodnight. I was tired from all the driving and laughing at their conversations from the whole night. All I had to do was say “so, what do you think of Dave’s girlfriend?” to Annie and she would just start cursing. Poor lady. It must hurt for the mother-son relationship to be strained. But she laughed, too, when she talked about his idiot actions, like asking her for gas money so that he can go to the mall and buy an 80 dollar throwback jersey. And we did make Aunt Vee laugh, even though we couldn’t do tequila shots together. I learned a few Christmases ago that you can never out drink a bartender.

I went back to mom’s place and slept for 12 hours. Sleep is easy on vacation. When I got up, sneezing once again from some almond-mocha-strawberry scented candle. I went to tackle the yard. It was only fair, and I needed some fresh air while I was switching from Yahoo to Hotmail.

I don’t know what happened to the yard, but I did see two jungles surrounding my mom’s house. I had a lot of mowing on my hands, and she didn’t have a riding mower. Mom didn’t get a chance to mow her lawn for about three months because it had rained every other day and she had been setting up her shop all days in between. Nonetheless, it was the least I could do for about $70 of free dry cleaning.

If only I knew I was also allergic to ragweed. I knew the mowing was going to take work, but it couldn’t handle the jungle. This was about the smallest blade you can get on a push mower. It cut off about 8 times, and that was just the front yard. Each time, I wiped my brow and cut the sucker back on. As I wiped my brow, my eyes would water just a little more. I would sneeze just a little more. After an hour, I was just coughing away. I went inside to wash up and breathe. Of course, the almond-mocha-strawberry scents weren’t helping, so I just said “screw it” and jumped in the shower, except I couldn’t really see for some reason. When I got a look at myself in the mirror, I got a glimpse why: my eyes had become blood red and swollen like 2 ticks on a basset hound. I could officially add “ragweed” to the list of crap that makes me sneeze.

After the blind shower, I called mom once again and told her I’d swing by after a nap because her lawn tried to kill me. 3 hours later, I woke up and finally made my way over after running a few errands. The swelling had gone down some, but everything was still a pain to look at. I had no shades, except for my wife’s trendy rimless ones. Lose my manhood for a minute, or crash my car?

Manhood left for a minute. I pulled up and gave mom a kiss. I took the shades off and she jerked back. “What happened?” You know, she’s not quite “at that age” yet, so I think she just enjoys hearing some things twice.

“Mom, I told you, I had allergies.”

“You got medicine?”

A close up of a woman

“Yes I do.” I stopped at my dad’s house on the way to mom’s store that does alterations at a competitive price. I was supposed to deliver some fish to her for whatever reason. When he saw me, he thought I got into a bar fight. “Take this fish to your mom,” he said, “and dear God, get something for those eyes.” On the way from his house, I had made a stop at a friend’s place because his car was parked out front. He is a traveling computer repairman, so I thought myself pretty lucky if he was home. He wasn’t home, but his longtime girlfriend was there. She’s a hypochondriac, thank goodness! When we dated almost 15 years ago, she was a hypochondriac then. Sometimes, it is good that people don’t change. Hypochondriacs are cool people when you have no money and need drugs. I just hoped whatever she had was legal and wouldn’t get me kicked out the Air Force.. And she came through for me with what I would call crack-for-allergies. She probably saved my life because my vision was not improving as time went on.

You ever had Tussin? Not Robotussin, but Tussin? Tussin is like drinking caterpillars, but it cures everything up to Hepatitis C. I had its equivalent in allergy pills. It wasn’t Benadryl, but it was this pill that was horrendously bitter no matter which part of your mouth you put it in. You couldn’t drink the water fast enough. But within 30 minutes I was floating into my car and I magically whisked away to Lola’s (next to Starburst video on the corner of Skibo and Cliffdale. Yes, I’m plugging my mom’s store, which also does wedding planning and flower arranging.)

I picked up my dry cleaning and headed home. I was still floating. I had to have been, because I was beginning to like the rimless shades. I think I kissed mom goodbye. I know I stopped at Taco Bell and that one truck stop outside of Florence that sells duck figurines for 12 dollars. I was so tempted to get one, but I settled for the 3 dollar coffee that had so many surprising options. Truckers like nutmeg and hazelnut flavoring with their French roast? If it wasn’t nighttime, I would put those cute shades on and drink my coffee in front of the store, watching people purchase those fake Hummel figurines and a “Best of Larry the Cable Guy” on cassette.

When I finally got home, my wife gave me the biggest kiss and hung and asked if I won the fight. I told her my whole story, drank some orange juice, and just slinked into bed. What a damn vacation.