Time Capsule Vacation

Wagoner, Oklahoma is not the Kennebunkport of the Red States, so before I make reference to “our cabin,” kindly divest yourself of any Cape Cod imagery.

In fact the term “cabin” should be met with suspicion whenever an Oklahoman drops the term, as we are often referring to a shack sprouting from some anorexic creek, or perhaps a refurbished outhouse wherein unsupervised nephews concoct meth.

To illustrate the modest nature of Oklahoma cabinry, Grampa Heaton once owned a “cabin” in Northwest Oklahoma which began life as a chicken coop.

After he and Mrs. Heaton split up, he needed lodging and for whatever reason decided to move into a decommissioned chicken coop. Why he did this, (as opposed to a motel, apartment or cave) has never been fully explained. Presumably Grampa did not think is ex-wife would find him in what had recently housed commercial fowl. Knowing Grampa Heaton, she probably had very good reason for trying to find him. And he probably had very bad reasons motivating her.

Poster on wall featured above

Grampa spent a couple of years expanding and tinkering with the coop until he could actually reveal its existence to building inspectors, and if you saw it today you wouldn’t think it terribly different than any of the other nearby houses. But its first residents were egg-plopping livestock, and this is my main point: that there is no element of Eastern Seaboard aristocracy when I refer to my family holiday locations.

Our cabin, the one I’ve just returned from, comes from my mother’s side of the family, and to my knowledge has never had chickens living in it (though possibly raccoons). My maternal grandfather bought it dirt cheap in the 1970’s, directly resulting in today’s astoundingly tacky interior decorating and fascinating electrical system.

I wasn’t alive in the 1970’s but I’m savvy enough to recognize a decade utterly devoid of elegance and style. When you drive through a city and say, “My God, that hideous building looks like a giant cement cardboard box. It’s like a prison for art students. Who would erect such a monstrosity?” The answer is of course that a 1970’s architect did. Then filled it with asbestos. Then bought a leisure suit.

So our cabin is not only from the 1970’s, but is also the repository for crap we didn’t actually want at the time. Think about that.

It is filled with the refuse of the 1970’s which was too terrible to be kept in the 1970’s. If a chartreuse recliner was so glaring that Aunt Mildred couldn’t stand its frame polluting her home in 1972, we would cart it up to our cabin in Wagoner. There to join whatever other random flotsam of decoration we didn’t think we could ethically pawn off at a garage sale.

For a while this made our cabin so monstrous in terms of décor that had we invited anyone with an interior decorating degree to set foot on the multi-colored shag carpeting, they would have immediately burst into flame, like Dracula entering a church.

However with the ascent of hipsters, it’s swung back around and is amazing. Because hanging out at our cabin is goofing off inside of a time capsule. The closets brim with polyester shirts sprouting huge bat-wing lapels. There is a pith helmet and bee keeper suit, a kerosene lamp, a black-and-white television with my Nintendo attached. There is a Cold War-era gas mask.

And of course we’ve added our own junk over the years. My brother and I realized about the time I graduated college that we’re the only ones who particularly like the place, and so we spent one summer modifying it into a bachelor pad of our own designs. One room has Soviet-style Battlestar Gallactica propaganda posters. A Napoleon bust holds vigilance over the mantle, and recently a broadsword mysteriously showed up next to our fireplace.

But it’s not the time capsule element which makes the cabin so pleasant. It’s the scenery. The building itself is very modest, but it’s built on a thirty-foot cliff overlooking Lake Fort Gibson. For some reason no one has developed the land on the other side of the water (presumably cannibals live on that side of the bank– I’ll talk about the indigenous peoples momentarily). Many a pleasant hours can be whiled away sitting on the back porch, hypnotized by the lapping emerald waves, the distant shrubbery of the opposite shoreline, and sipping whatever foul light beer the locals sell.

The locals deserve note, because Wagoner is not the flagship town of Oklahoma tourism. The library is technically existent and I’m sure there are many lovely residents with teeth and perhaps even magazine subscriptions, but if you spend half an hour at the local Wal-Mart you will be convinced the town is an ongoing thyroid experiment conducted by the federal government. I haven’t looked into the history, but I can only assume circus freaks established the town by hiding out along its cliffs from an even larger gang of circus freaks pursuing them.

They are highly patriotic, for which I commend them. In 2009, when I returned from a year in the United Kingdom and was feeling particularly wistful one evening, I hoisted a large Union Jack up our flagpole, drank three fingers of teenage single malt, then contended myself over the next few hours searching for any remnant 1970’s Playboys someone might have stashed under a bed. (No such luck– Mom’s relatives are not only respectable, but Baptists. I don’t think they’ve ever contributed a single bottle of liquor to our booze arsenal, let alone nudey magazines.)

The following day, after the neighbors spotted the alien flag, seven of them erected hastily-painted “AMERICA– LIKE IT, OR GET OUT” signs along the road for my benefit. (My favorite neighbors, for some reason, own a donkey, which hangs out in their front yard guarding whatever it is donkeys guard. Presumably illegal immigrants.)

Here’s an example of a local newspaper from last week:

Normally we would would have spent a weekend so close to Independence Day celebrating the birth of our nation by shooting fireworks at passing flocks of birds, or possibly jet skis. However my brother recently resurrected our boat, which is older than both of our ages combined and has hence been dry-docked since the last millennium.

After four months of Frankenstein tinkering, Adam brought the sloop back to life and commissioned her the Sea Bitch. I suggested the more elegant-sounding HMS Thatcher, but defer to Adam given that the vessel owes her reinvigoration to him. (In certain ill-informed British circles, the two names are actually synonymous anyway.)

The boat did not crash into anything, sputter to a halt, or even explode. Not even once. In fact the only source of nautical problems encountered the entire day were specifically engineered by my brother to sew discord amongst his crew, thereby retaining leadership through divide-and-conquer tactics. Adam purchased two captains hats, full knowing there were four of us on the vessel, three of whom would spend a good deal of time and effort fighting over who got to wear the hat.

After a pleasant day on the emerald waves of Lake Fort Gibson, we snuggled the Sea Bitch into her birth and proceeded back to the cabin to kick back and fish. Adam and his friends used poles, but as noted earlier I had spotted a broadsword auspiciously leaning against the fireplace and took it upon myself to go spear fishing with it.

Broadswords are very inefficient at hunting carp with. I did manage to kill a carp– or at least mortally wounded one. Carps are apparently the armadillos of the fish world, and if you mean to kill one with a sword you’ve got a lot of bludgeoning ahead of you. (I’m toying with the idea of modifying the sword design to a much smaller version, and curving it, and maybe “baiting” it with some kind of fish goody, like Camembert cheese, or cocaine.)

In case you’re curious about the prospects of me standing at the shore of a lake, screaming at carp and hacking away at them with a broadsword, I was sober. Dead sober the whole weekend, in fact.

Andrew Johnson described Washington, DC as “Twelve miles of swamp surrounded by reality,” and in keeping with his astute observation, I needed to get the hell out for my own sanity. And I didn’t want to dilute any precious holiday reality through liquor.

Instead I imbibed a good deal of tonic water and limes over the course of the weekend, thereby staving off scurvy and malaria while simultaneously investigating several hours of unabrogated reality. Which is good, because you really shouldn’t go carp-swording on the edge of a lake at night if you’re schnockered.

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Andrew Heaton is a writer and standup comedian in New York City. If this post made you laugh or think, kindly "like" it on Facebook.


  • Martin
    June 27, 2012 - 12:35 am | Permalink

    You know, I’m astounded that the Wagonerians (???) haven’t come after you with pitchforks yet. Not just on principle– it doesn’t sound like you’re trying very hard to be diplomatic with them.

    • T
      June 27, 2012 - 10:48 pm | Permalink

      Here here!

    • Heaton
      June 28, 2012 - 2:17 am | Permalink

      Who says they HAVEN’T come after me?

  • Norman
    June 28, 2012 - 2:09 am | Permalink

    True story, I used to have a broadsword modeled after Conan the Barbarian’s weapon of choice. It gathered dust for years before I finally used it to clear overgrowth in my backyard before moving out of Oklahoma. Those weeds broke the dang sword!

    • Heaton
      June 28, 2012 - 2:17 am | Permalink

      It’s a pity that your sword broke, but by that same token, you probably spooked the neighborhood kids something fierce. You should use swords for lawn maintenance as often as possible.

  • Don in Huaco
    July 11, 2012 - 4:53 pm | Permalink

    While a Texan shouldn’t comment too loudly about poor white trash in any other state, I must say that Oklahoma has THE finest PWT in all the land. I haven’t been to the WalMart in Wagoner, but I have been to Idabell, Hugo, and McAlister. Thyroid, eh…and all this time I thought it was chromosome count. Well played, and next visit get you some McMurtry’s “Choctaw Bingo” for a soundtrack.

    • Heaton
      July 23, 2012 - 12:52 pm | Permalink

      I give Hugo bonus points for having an allegedly haunted graveyard, an annual hot air balloon festival and (I believe) the facilities for where circus animals hang out during the winter. I am told that Idabell has enough meth users to qualify as a low-grade zombie movie at any time. McAlister has some a good Italian restaurant and the amazing spectacle which is the McAlister Prison Rodeo.

      What is PWT?

      Downloading “Choctaw Bingo” right now!

  • Rural AR Mom
    August 8, 2012 - 1:06 pm | Permalink

    Senator Will of Verden, Aerican Empire, is from Wagoner (and a friend of mine). I’ve been to Wagoner, but did not realize Lake Fort Gibson was quite that close.

    Yeah, I didn’t really have a point.

    • Heaton
      August 8, 2012 - 3:39 pm | Permalink

      I’m astounded that a visit to Wagoner, Oklahoma did not trigger more vivid memories and observations. (It’s possible you’ve suppressed certain memories.)

  • James Riff Wreath
    December 16, 2012 - 5:07 pm | Permalink

    Maybe this is NOT a popular opinion to state…..and I mean no disrespect…..but I’ve always ENJOYED going to Grandpa’s cabin in Wagoner when the chances prevented themselves; I never had a problem with the way the cabin looked inside or out; in fact I was rather taken with its appearance… and I always found Grandpa Barbour to be one the snappiest, dapper dressers I ever knew; his great style and elegance defined him…it made him an INDIVIDUAL. and I remember spending a Halloween weekend once at the cabin…and having a great deal of fun and recollections of fond memories….but ; those ARE MY OPINIONS….I suppose I just have fonder memories of things such as this….but each his own :)

    Godspeed on Wings of Black,

    James Riff Wreath