Saturday, January 29, 2011

You Take the Highland, and I'll take the Low Road

        It was July of 2010, and I had recently gotten engaged. My fiance and I had planned a trip to Asheville to visit my uncle and attend the largest North American gathering of Scottish clans. It was the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games (or GMHG). It is the granddaddy of all American highland games.
        This was the second time I had attended the GMHG. This time was just about me exposing my new fiance to what she should expect from the remainder of her days as the wife of a proud Scotsman. The GFMG did not dissappoint. There was the standard fare of Highland dancing, red bearded men throwing heavy things, bagpipe bands, and British "cuisine." I put cuisine in quotations because the Brits are known for many things, their food is not one of them. If you want to know how to create an Empire and squander it, call Britain. If you want to know how to cook a fine meal, skip the Brits and move on to the French or Italians.
       After absorbing the full breadth of the festival during a single lap around the field, my fiance and I began our mission to find my clan's tent. Sure enough, we found it within minutes. It was nestled in between the Munro and Bell clan tents. This was funny to me since those were the clans of two of my fellow Scottish friends. I took a quick photo using my Blackberry's camera. I sent it to them directly, and posted it to Facebook with a footnote that read "BFF tents at the GMHG!" I'm not proud of it, I've had more creative moments, but I had already partaken in the beer and whiskey tasting and that was the best I could do in my semi-innebriated state of mind.
        We approached my clan's tent and were immediately surrounded by my fellow clansmen. I had known them for mere minutes, but as far as they were concerned we were family. Such is the the Highland way. We paid a minimal fee of $25 toward our annual membership of the Society, and our benefits were immediate. There was a second tent that bordered the field where all the games were taking place. We could see the sweat fly off the competitors of the Caber Toss as they exerted themselves to flip the 150 pound telephone poles end over end. We could hear the panting of the Border Collies as they wrangled the sheep into the pens at the heed of their master's whistle. We could hear the "click clack" of the patent leather shoes of the Highland Dancers on the make shift dance floor. And we could sample the free finger sandwiches and beverages as we sat and witnessed the glorious sites from the shaded safety of the tent. I will say again, this was July in the valley between the mountains. The wind was blocked by the giant piles of craggy rocks, but the sun was still ever present. Needless to say, it was hot. Also needless to say, beverages were a hot commodity. A bottle of water at any of the vendor's booths was $5.00, but they were free at the clan tent. My $25 fee paid for itself within the hour. The Scots are as cheap as they are proud, so the connection between frugality and pride was not lost on the other people in the tent.
       We were then joined by another couple of new members to the Clan Society. These two were not what I expected to see when I turned around. The guy was skinny and had a brown ponytail, and the girl (I assumed wife or girlfriend) had no interesting attributes worth mentioning. Luckily for us (and this story) another man entered the tent. It turned out it was this man's father. He looked like the quintessential Scotsman. Red beard, whiskey gut, and a certain something in his casual stride that just seemed right. Ponytail's posture perked up immediately. It wasn't a purposeful response, it was instinctual. Whiskey gut dad took Ponytail aside, and they had a very intense conversation. They're volume and tone was subtle, but I could tell the subject matter was intense. The intensity rose when Mrs. Whiskey Gut stumbled into to the tent (refer back to the whiskey and beer tasting). Our attention was drawn to their conversation. Without being nosy, I turned my ears' full attention to picking up as many lines of their dialogue as I could. Alas, I was not able to pick up a single line of sensical data. Until the last one. Ponytail let out a single huff of breath and said simply "So, somebody received an email and that is why I'm in North Carolina."
       What did that mean? I assumed immediately that he was not from around here, which was surprising because Ponytails were a standard haristyle in Appalachain America. How far had he traveled to get to these games? Was his induction into the Clan Society a rite of passage? Did he do so to win the love and approval of Whiskey Gut? I turned to my fiance who was just finishing her 3rd finger sandwich and 2nd bottle of water (about 65% of our membership fee worth of consumeables), and I asked if she was hearing any of this. She chewed and swallowed the last of bit of turkey and replied with a simple "huh?" I turned my attention back to the Ponytail vs Mr and Mrs Whiskey Gut dispute, but they had vanished into the summer air. I chased after them until we were separated by an oncoming pipe band. I retreated to the tent to rejoin my fiance. The bagpipe music filled the air with deafening sounds, and my imagination filled my brain with questions. What did that email say? Why was he in North Carolina? Where is the closest bathroom? My recent consumption of three cold bottles of water caused me to seek the answer to my third question first.
       On my quest to find a pot to piss in, I pondered the answers to my questions and I came up with the only possible scenario. Ponytail (who I refer to as PT for the remainder of this story) was a struggling musician who lived in New Jersey. His father WG (guess what that stands for) was a prominent North Carolina lawyer who owned a nice house in the mountains of Asheville, NC. And Mrs WG was a stay-at-home mom and wife who had devoted every last moment of her life to raising PT during his formative years. It is assumed that the hairstyle for which I have named him is a point of contention in the WG household, but it is not the most weighted point by a long shot. This email that brought him from the stench saturated air of NJ to the clear and crisp air of NC is what was truly interesting.
       One morning, his father must have woke him up to discuss life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But whose happiness were they pursuing? It didn't matter, because WG was a professional negotiator and PT was putty in his hands. Before they knew it, they were on the road with the compass on his Lexus LS300 pointed southward. Their 10 hour 45 minute drive from Trenton, NJ to Asheville, NC was one of little conversation and much conjecture. WG spoke of financial opportunity while PT only wanted to discuss the subtle differences between Whitesnake and Motley Crue. The leather seats stuck to the exposed skin of his upper calves and lower thighs, and PT wished he would have worn a longer pair of cut-off jean shorts. The simple nature of their conversation was broken all of the sudden when WG asked PT where he was all last year. This was a subject that had yet to be broached in the WG household. You see, PT was in college and according to his account he was doing quite well, and according to WG's bank account he hadn't been cashing the checks he was sending for room and board for the last six months.  In an act of appreciation for his upfront request of information rather than the normal passive aggressive comments, PT volunteered the info without further delay.

He said, "Well dad, I dropped out last semester and I've been a roadie for my friend's band ever since. They appreciate me for who I am, and don't expect anymore from me than I expect from them." 

WG responded quickly, "What do you expect from them; room and board, proper compensation, college credits?"

PT says simply, "Nothing dad, I don't expect anything from them."

WG said, "Well then, that explains your comfort in their returned expectations. If you want nothing from them, and they want nothing from you, how could anyone be let down?"

       This conversation made PT tired, and made WG hungry. They were almost to NC by this time, but far be it from WG to ignore his hunger. That gut is 70% whiskey, 20% fried chicken, 5% BBQ pork, and 5% lack of perspiration. Before they could digest their meal (which was 100% BBQ pork) they were approaching Grandfather Mountain. They were greeted by PT's girlfriend and mother. Apparently his girlfriend was flown in to be vetted by his mother and debriefed on his parents' master plan. This plan involved a fake email account opened by his father under his son's name. A resume was created, embellished, and posted on mutiple job search sites. WG was fully aware of his son's roadie status long ago, and now he was also aware that his son had lied about how long this had been going on. You see, PT had stopped cashing the checks his father was sending about 6 months ago, but he was on this tour with his friend's band for that last 18 months. He would soon learn how much 12 months can matter.
       His father parked the car in in front of the gates of the Grandfather Mountain fairgrounds. He got out and walked to PT's side, he smiled to himself, and opened the door. PT got out, turned to get his duffle, turned back to get out of the car, and walked right into a right-cross from his father. Minutes later, he came to with an ice pack on his temple and a throbbing sensation in his brain. He was in the Hamilton Clan Society tent now and in front of him was his girlfriend. They quickly caught one another up on their experiences and explained how they had both come from the same place, yet had taken completely different routes to get there. She led him into the second Hamilton tent that bordered the field. She did so under the guise that they would spend the remainder of the day enjoying the games just as he had done as a child with his parents every year of his childhood. That is when they were greeted by his parents again. This time, they wanted their interaction to be in a public place. They began slowly, each one discussing how he had let them down. His father expressed his dissappointment in his fradulent cashing of the school checks while he was "off galavanting with those rocker hooligans." His mother plucked his heartstrings like a professional harp player. Saying things like "I spent every waking hour of my life trying to mold you into a person who would eventually contribute something great to the world, and this is how you repay me?" And his grilfriend asked him if he would break all the promises he made to her just he had done to his own parents. He choked back tears, because even though he didn't know anyone here he still didn't want to be seen in public weeping like a "wee lass" (as his mother would say).
       That is when his dad laid the "big news" on him. He had been selected to interview for a highly sought after position as a trainee at the biggest accounting firm in all of Asheville. PT was dumbfounded. He asked himself how he he been selected, how had they heard he was graduating, and how did he get an opportunity without ever applying for it. As his questions mounted, he finally spoke up and asked them to his parents directly. At this point he was beginning to think they had some part in his being selected. He was right.
WG explained how he and his mother had created the online profiles and an email address in his name without his permission. He explained how they had submitted his resume to many different accounting firms, and worst of all he admitted to tricking him into coming to NC under false pretenses. But he qualified it all as an attempt to help him. It wasn't malicious, it was just a dad doing his best to provide for his son.
       PT looked back at his father, gathered himself, and responded loudly "So, somebody received an email and that is why I'm in North Carolina?" He continued quietly "thanks dad, it was only a matter of time before 'Rough Macchio' broke up anyway." 
       PT cut his hair and is still working at the accounting firm to this day. He and his girlfriend broke up, and he is now engaged to a young blond with fake tits and a bland personality. Mr and Mrs WG are now divorced, but still live together because it is the fiscally responsible thing to do. Me and my fiance are now married, and plan to attend the Northeast Florida Highland Games in Jacksonville this February. Rough Macchio did not break up. In fact, their debut album just went triple platinum.


  1. The caber toss, that was my favorite event on Nintendos World Games