My hometown is geographically beautiful. There’s lots of greenery and hills and fields of gently undulating corn. But when I lived there, I didn’t pay any attention to that. I was solely focused on not dating a hillbilly. I tried to really hone in on my biology lab partners and the marching band boys. If you were in Anime Club, you were on my radar.
I think that I was so deeply opposed to dating a country boy because I knew, deep down, I longed to be one. Whenever someone said they were having a bonfire, and would I like to come and crush a neighborly beer can or two, I was like, “COOL THANKS BUT I’M MAKING LOBSTER TAILS THAT NIGHT AND ALSO I HAVE A PASSION FOR CLASSICAL MUSIC.” Meanwhile, I secretly attended the Ohio State Fair Jessica Andrews Concert, as well as Tim McGraw and Faith Hill’s Soul2Soul Tour. I was also working on a prototype for my country-themed mystery board game called Who Dunn It: No One Brooks the Rules ‘Round Here.
Coming to New York meant that I could bury that closeted country part of myself. I could meet a rich, sophisticated rower, or an artsy type who followed the Of Montreal tour circuit religiously, or anyone who didn’t own a camouflage onesie. Enter Ultraman. He was tall and charming, he had a visible tattoo that he designed himself, he listened to The Pixies, and, after searching his apartment one morning while he slept, I found no evidence of whittling tools.
For Labor Day, Ultraman invited me to his family’s cabin on Lake Superior. He explained that his whole extended family comes up for the weekend, and that there was a parade, and lots of food, and a town-wide celebration called “The Fish Boil.” It struck me as a weekend of rustic good times. “Wonderful!” I said to myself, picturing a well-manicured lawn in the picturesque English countryside–as well as the entire cast of Downton Abbey.
As we pulled into the long driveway leading up to the cabin, the first thing we saw was a sea of campers. Some were personalized, some were not, but all of them had one thing in common: a distinctive-looking beer cooler. Ultraman explained, “Need them to look different, can’t be drinking someone else’s beer!” then added as an afterthought, “If you need to go #1, try to do it in the outhouse, ’cause the septic tank fills up really fast here.” I felt my bladder shrink in horror.
Once we pulled in, all of Ultraman’s relatives began to emerge from their campers–some of the children popped out of bushes, waving sticks. The first of the relatives to reach us was a large, bearded man, who Ultraman congratulated on “his recent kill.” Seeing my confusion, the kindly bearded man explained he had just shot a 350lb bear. With a bow and arrow. And that he had brought the “ass meat for grillin’.” He and Ultraman shared a hardy laugh, while I tried to pickpocket the children, hoping one of them had some candy I could stress-eat.
For breakfast, there was French toast, fruit, a pile of bacon, and a water cooler filled entirely with vodka/bloody mary mix. When Ultraman looked at my plate, he said, “You got the wrong kind of bacon,” went back up to the pile, pulled out an identical piece of bacon, and set it on my plate. Then he looked at me like I had just miscalculated elementary math, slapped my back, and went outside to sit by the ever-burning bonfire.
He came back in and found me staring longingly at the shower, and suggested I go take a dip in the lake, cause “that’s how the dogs get clean.” I shed a tear as we walked down to the beach, where about seven dogs were running around like a mismatched pack if wolves. There were terriers, labs, and mutts, and only one of the brood was fixed. Most of the weekend, the male terrier desperately tried to mount and impregnate the female lab, who didn’t seem to notice. They were completely feral.
One night, two of the mutts got into a fight, and one of them almost lost an eye. The injured-eye dog spent the rest of the weekend sprinting into the lake and diving to retrieve large rocks with his mouth, completely unprompted. He’d then find the nearest human and drop the rock at his/her feet. He had obviously gone insane.
The Fish Boil consisted of a few stands selling homemade scented candles, a cowboy playing an accordion, an Eagles cover band, a fire truck, a bunch of beer kegs, and about two hundred people waiting in line for the fish dinner. When we finally got to the front of the dinner line, I saw what I assumed where pots of coffee. “Ahh,” I thought, “how lovely, a cup of coffee!” But why was that woman going to pour coffee on the fish? What was coffee fish? Oh. That’s butter. Those are coffee pots full of butter. I later learned that it was actually someone’s full-time job just to melt the butter for the Fish Boil. It took her days.
I was given two pieces of unseasoned boiled fish, an onion, a potato, a piece of bread, and, of course, butter. I ate about three bites of fish, then tried in vain to pool the butter into one section of the plate and pour it into my mouth. Ultraman, bless him, showed up about five minutes in with an ice cream cone. “You’re a champ,” he said gently, as I ignored him, grabbed the ice cream, and bopped his little cousins back down like Whack-a-Moles as they popped up, asking for a bite.
But in the 36th hour, something strange happened. When I was a junior in high school, someone suggested we have a game set up at prom; a game called “cornhole.” People were all for it. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it had to do with hunting and camouflage and beaten-up pick-up trucks, and it wasn’t going to be at my prom. My prom was going to be all flowers-and-romance-and-ball-gown-and-hymen-gently-breaking-with-the-sound-of-flying-doves. There would be no mounted deer heads, no daisy dukes, no PBR at my prom. I wasn’t going to look back on my prom and think “cornhole.” I wasn’t going to let someone Beavis-and-Butthead my goddamn night of magic.
Ultraman and his family play a game called Baggo. It consists of trying to throw beanbags into a hole that’s cut into a wooden platform. In the 36th hour, Ultraman and I started playing Baggo, and within an hour, we were challenging everyone to play us. Some magical chemistry ignited, some winning combination of Ultraman’s lanky arms and my cock-eye created a Baggo force to be reckoned with, and we were going to dominate. I wanted to Bagg-own the entire Ultraclan, I wanted them to fear me–because out of fear comes love.
During the fourth round of Baggo, somewhere amidst the artful web of shit-talking I was weaving as I closed my bad eye and let the beanbag fly, I made a comment about the weirdness of the name “Baggo.” Ultraman’s cousin responded, “Yeah, they call it something else in the South. Cornhole, I think?” And that’s how the world ended, not with a bang, but with the sound of a single beanbag hitting the ground.
The small, perfect teacup that was my world shattered. I had done a hick thing, and loved it. It was like I had just beaten a turkey to death with a frying pan, then taken it back to my log cabin to make a stew for my many illegitimate babies. It was like I had just rummaged through a junkyard to find a new door for my truck. It was like I had just played Cornhole at prom.
And so I spent the rest of the weekend in a self-destructive mode of redneck. Want some bacon, Keely? OH YEAH, GIMME ALL THE BACONS. Wanna beer, Keely? IT’S SOMETHING O’CLOCK SO OK, HAND IT OVER. Wanna shower, Keely? JUST SWAM WITH THE DOGS IN THE LAKE. Wanna brush your teeth, Keely? NOPE. What do flying doves make you think of, Keely? TURKEY HUNTING SEASON. Wanna have some bear-ass meat, Keely?
YEAH, FORK IT ON OVER.