I'm Paying You to Make Me Feel Foolish?

Family Vacation.

I supposed these two words shake up a different cocktail of emotions in everybody.

I think of two things: seafood and awkward photographs.

Bring on the Admiral’s Feast. I’m no sailor, but I’ll prove that a man can work up a mean hunger doing nothing much at all. Peel-and eat shrimp. Broiled scallops with paprika and lemon butter. Bronzed mahi mahi. Garlic encrusted grouper with steamed vegetables. Delicately fried crab cakes made from 99% real lump meat. Mixed green salad with tomato vinegarette.

We eat and eat and eat then we go back to the house and have dessert—homemade Kuhlua cake; Key Lime pie; Ghiradelli Chocolate Chip Cookies; Blue Bell Ice Cream.

At breakfast we talk about lunch. At lunch we talk about dinner. At dinner we talk about what we’re going to do that night.  The whole family gets caught up in that delicious beach rhythm…eat, recuperate, eat, rest, eat, beach, eat, sleep.

My family always goes to Nashville-on-the-Gulf, otherwise known as Destin, Florida, and we always eat at the same restaurants—Pompano Joe’s and The Back Porch, McGuire’s Irish Pub, Dewey Destin, Mellow Mushroom one day for lunch, and the perennial favorite, The Red Bar in Grayton Beach.

Last year saw two departures from the usual routine: 1) we gave Harry T’s a second chance; 2) we paid a photographer to take a family portrait.

We all get to pick the restaurant one night of the vacation, and my older sister chose Harry T’s. Kids eat free on Tuesday nights.

My oldest niece Emery was riding on my shoulders when we came up to the restaurant. Giggles the Clown was outside painting faces.

Imagine the dry, cracked mud in a dry riverbed. Now imagine painting it white and smudging two red circles, almost like the Japanese flag on elephant hide. That would be Giggles’ face with the addition of some skinny yellow teeth and watery blue eyes.

She was in her late 50s or early 60s. Her voice sounded like someone had sanded down her vocal cords before scoring them with a razor.  A forty-year relationship with Marlboro comes at a cost. The crispy blond hair with grey roots and sagging breasts must have come from a relationship with something or someone else.

Placing her hands on her knees, she bent over and asked Emery if she wanted her face painted. I think I took a step back. Emery put her chin down and bit her lip. She scooted so close that she was leaning against my right leg, and her little hand tightened around my fingers. Poor thing. The tears were coming. She had a dilemma:

Giggles’ sidekick was tying balloon animals, and she wanted one. She did not, however, want Giggles within a ten-foot radius. I didn’t blame her. If you’ve ever seen demonic clown in Stephen King’s It, then you understand.

Stephen King's It

Giggles the Clown

A balloon animal wasn’t worth getting her face eaten off as she was dragged down to hell by this painted harpy who was all up in her business. Reinforcements, however, showed up just in time. Elizabeth and Jim calmed her down, and she later strutted up to our table wearing a balloon crown.


At dinner, my seared tuna was delicious, but the basket of fried something that my dad ordered tied his intestines into knots. He was still feeling rotten on Thursday evening when we surprised my mom with the family portrait she’d always wanted: our family wearing white shirts and khaki shorts on the beach with the sea oats, sand dunes, and ocean. You’ve probably seen it on Christmas cards.

My younger sister did all the research and hired a photographer named Steven Frame to meet us in the Wal-Mart parking lot. A photographer with the last name of Frame? Appropriate.

His wife came with him, and at first I liked him. He got us all situated for this shot ::

Big, Happy Family.

Big, Happy Family.

Mom was very happy.

Everything would have been perfect if Professional Photographer didn’t suggest couples shots too. He took shots of my mom and dad; then, my younger sister and my brother-in-law; then, my older sister, her husband, and my nieces; then, my two sisters and me; then—

“Why don’t we get a shot of you?” he said.

“Just me? No, I don’t think so.”

“C’mon. It will only take a second.

“I’d really rather not.”

“Oh don’t be a spoil sport. Just go sit right over there, and I’ll snap a few quick ones.”

Emery had her dilemma, and I had mine.

Not only was Mr. Frame reinforcing the fact that everyone else in my family had someone except me, but he was also insisting that I sit for my high school senior pictures, as a 26-year-old.

Let’s me get this straight, I’m paying you to make me feel foolish? Like a bad haircut. Super.

Whatever. Sometimes the most direct route to comfort is through extreme discomfort. Like removing a splinter or running the metal nail file underneath an ingrown toenail.

Fine. Let’s get this over with. I hate you.

Fake smile. Sand up my shorts. Praying Mantis-like positioning of bony knees and elbows.

Here was the result ::

Look at this clown!

Look at this clown!

Mental note ::

· Hold myself and cry tonight in my empty bed.

· Find photographer’s home address and exact vengeance.

· Go out for the football team this year.

· Ask out gorgeous blue-eyed waitress at Café 4 as soon as I get back to Knoxville.

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