I was 16 years old and fishing at a small pond in upstate NY with a boyfriend when the ranger came around. I don't know if he was a "real ranger" or just some guy in green with a badge, who was hired to keep the rules.
We'd abandoned our fishing poles by the edge of the pond, but his line was still in the water, pole stuck into the ground, bobber floating along. My fishing pole lay on its side, not even a worm on the hook. We'd retreated into the shade of the tree, to do what sixteen and seventeen year kids who are supposed to be fishing do...
What are you thinking?
We were eating our sandwiches and drinking our soda.
The Ranger guy had blocked in our car, parking behind us and shouting to us from the top of the ridge. He told us to show him our fishing licenses and ID, both of which I didn't have, but the driving boyfriend did.
As the boy went to the car for his wallet, the ranger dude took me aside, glanced at the backseat of his car and explained how he thought he should, "Take me over his knee, and spank me." (I swear to GOD)
Of course, I was a good little girl then. Innocent even. I didn't know I should have kneed this perv in the groin, then thrown an elbow to the bridge of his nose.
I was just embarrassed to be reprimanded and told him I was sorry that I didn't know the rules about fishing licenses. I told him I wasn't even fishing, just out with my friend.
He said, "Why are there two poles then?" I said, "I guess to double his chances."
When the boyfriend came back with his ID and license, the ranger asked him which pole was his, and the dude ratted me out- saying later, "I thought you wouldn't get in trouble, because you were under age."
Of course, at that exact moment, "my" pole begins to wiggle and the ranger goes down to the water's edge and lifts out a nice fat fish.
Sure, the guy was jerk, and sure he probably started me on my path of hating authority figures, but... the only thing I could think about was how mad my parents were going to be, and what kind of punishment would follow.
Dad was pissed- not at me - but at the system.. something I didn't really understand then.
I hoped it was as simple as just explaining that I didn't know I needed a fishing license in a pond on unmarked land. Right, Dad?
No. We had to go to court.
I'm not kidding.
And sit around waiting for our turn, then listen to the ranger get chewed out by my dad... and then we had to pay a fine.
And I had to publicly apologize. (??)
So, with all this old crap in my head, you can imagine how well received Mr. FREAKING Park Ranger was when he appeared out of the dark at our campsite- 7 plus miles up a steep incline- late at night, with no coat or pack.. just a headlamp and a deep voice, and a too shiny badge.
( to be fair, it was noted in the camping papers that we had filled out at the station that morning- with the old lady- not this dude- that someone might come by to be sure we were where we were supposed to be- IE: to check that we survived the hike... ) ok. Sure. So, pop in, verify the occupancy and say good night.
But, oh no. We were in TENNE-FRICKING-SEE.
Let me set the scene:
Debbie and I had just finished a daylong hike. Two sections of trail, a boulder crossing, and a rocky, uphill terrain, in the sun, with minimal stops and minimal food. Her feet were killing her, and we had to rush to set up camp before dark. We gathered some wood, set up tent and bivey, and I surprised her with the two cans of beer I'd snuck into my pack from the trunk of her car. This was a cause for celebration, after all. I drank mine as we got the fire going and began prepping our dinner, then crushed and tossed the empty into the trash bag I'd started. Debbie left her half full beer against a stump near the fire, as she cooked her meal. We'd just finished eating when Officer Dickwad showed up.
After we got over the initial scare of the dude sneaking up on us... he came from BEHIND the site, not even down the trail... we greeted him and verified that we were the people listed on the paper he pulled out of his uniform pocket. He then put his hands on his hips and said, "Do you have any firearms or weapons?"
"Do you have any fireworks, or guns?"
"Do you have any drugs, alcohol or firearms?"
Fucking 'Go Fish', Dude.
"Then you won't mind me searching your tent?"
He did. He went to my tent, unzipped it, pawed around in my sleeping bag, pulled out the attached air mattress... and then.. went THROUGH MY BACKPACK.
I. AM. NOT. KIDDING.
The whole time, I see Debbie's beer can across the campsite, half in shadow.. and she, has no idea she should go sit on it. Instead, she begins to "talk" to Officer Dickwad. To ask him questions, and tell him stories, and invite him to tea-- ok, not tea, but just about. I am sending her telepathic messages to please, in the name of sweet baby Jesus, shut up, and make Mr. Creepy go away.
It wasn't working. He then went through Debie's bivey and sleeping quarters, then approached the fire to rustle through all the clothes in her bag, asking again about firearms... we are pretty certain he touched her panties.
SO, now... I am throughly creeped out. and just then... ( like the fish of my childhood) he sees the beer can.
"You do know it is illegal to bring alcohol into this park."
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
The rules were all over the place... but me and rules? We sorta have an agreement to disagree.
I like to break them. Some asshole somewhere likes to write them. like this:
We explained it was just the one can, the celebratory one, and he was welcome to pour it out.. I'd hike it back out tomorrow.
"Nope," I said, "No more beer." Thinking, I sure wish I'd brought a gun, though.
Dickwad looks at us, picks the beer can, testing it's weight and says, pointing back the way he came, "I'll just take it back there and dump it out where the bears won't smell it."
We watch the headlamp bob off, pause and a minute later return. He hands me the empty can. I swear he was holding back a belch, then proceeds to tell us of a group that had a keg party back there one night. A keg party 7 miles from the road- any road.
Are you fucking kidding me???
In the morning, Debbie and I look at each other over breakfast and wonder if any of it was real. Full moon, tired minds and bodies... a single can of beer...
"Panty Sniffing Ranger!" she says.
Which gets me thinking.
On the whole hike back down off the rim, through seven miles of streams and rocks
and across a few bridges, I rewrite the encounter.
First, as a porn movie, "Time for your tick check, ladies..." then as a horror flick complete with rabid bear, then as a drama featuring a ranger's secret past, then as a coming of age comedy ala Superbad, and finally, as a sort of Goonies meets Indiana Jones, with Zombie Park Rangers.
So, whoever you are, Mr Park Ranger, if you even exist.... I thank you.
For the imagination provoking encounter, for the knowledge that beer needs to be hidden better in Tennessee, and for reminding me once again that I should always carry a gun.
This one's for you, Panty Sniffer.