Renting a vacation house is an experience much like stepping on a dog’s tail; you know something surprising is bound to happen, but you don’t know if you’ll hear a heart-stopping yelp or receive a bite to your leg.

Okay, that was a terrible metaphor, but it’s the only one I could think of when recalling my recent vacation at a lake house.

Growing up, I never really had the multiple-family vacation experience. It was just my parents and my brother and me in a tent, attempting to sleep while trying to avoid touching the sides of the tent like it was an electric fence...even if it didn’t rain.

When the opportunity came up in adulthood to join other families to vacation at a destination, I found myself completely objecting to it, but folding under pressure from my wife, who reassured me that I could touch the sides of the lake house and not get wet — rain or shine.

We assembled the crew of my wife, my step-daughter, my mother and me, my brother and his family and our two friends and their families to stay in a seven-bedroom house on a private lake in the Poconos.

I like the idea of every family contributing not just money to rent the place for a week, but each family making dinner for everyone one night out of the week, working together to help keep the kids entertained, discipline the kids when necessary or telling the kids about the birds and the bees even though they were all under the age of 10, but you never know. That’s why I was banned from story time.

It was like a hippy commune where nobody worked, everybody helped everyone else and it was only for seven days, which is two days short of the average time for a mutiny to break out and end in bloodshed.

Anyway, if you’ve never stayed in a rental home like that, a strange thing is checking out the appliances as well as the condiments in the home.

There’s always this mix of old and new appliances that the owners have purchased and replaced over the years as well as silverware and dishes that kind of match in the sense that someone has purchased as many nondescript things they can find during their adventures time traveling.

“Hey, these 1983 ceramic bowls with handles on them will go wonderfully with these 2004 yard-sale coffee cups,” the house owner would say while setting up condiments left behind from previous renters for the next ones to use, like some kind of lame prize. “Hey, this powdered creamer is only a tenth full, but I’ll let the next renters worry about that.”

Anyway, I’ve gotten away from my point about the actual weirdness of the place. In the kitchen, above the pantry of pots and pans from years 1994 to 2007, sat an off-white statue of what looked like a two-foot tall tick with four arms, two legs, an oval head and with two faint dots for eyes and a line representing a smile that went all around the head like it was the equator of the Earth.

Next to the thing was a brown wicker basket.

During the week, I initiated much discussion about the statue and its purpose. Such guesses included if it was there to remind us there were approximately 980,000,000,000,000 bugs around the lake, if it was something given to the owner after purchasing a set of spatulas and a replacement coffee pot from a gypsy yard sale or if it was a deity that wards off evils of the lake if you offer a sacrifice in the basket of your wife’s last Mike’s Hard Lemonade.

My sister-in-law said a similar statue was in her and my brother’s room, so I toyed with the notion that it was some kind of fertility symbol, but with six maniacal children running through the house, reproduction of the species wasn’t on anyone’s mind.

It really didn’t matter because we didn’t pursue any kind of worship or offering for the thing. Now that I think about it, we really didn’t even respect tick-god-statue because of the regular midnight group mooning of the thing initiated by my mother.

But a lot of weird stuff happened during the week like the kids kept insisting that a ghost was closing doors when it became windy, my wife accused me of ignoring her as I was drinking beer and smoking cigars with the guys instead talking about feelings with her, I woke up every morning dehydrated with a pounding head and an upset stomach and everyone each lost a pint of blood due to relentless attacks from mosquitoes that have become immune to citronella candles and weaponized bug spray.

Other than that, it was a fine vacation, but I still find myself wondering if the whole experience was a dog’s yelp or a dog’s bite, and if I could have done anything to avoid it.

My conclusion, let the next renters worry about it.

According to Hofmann is written by staff reporter Mark Hofmann of Rostraver Township. He hosts the “Locally Yours” radio show on WMBS 590 AM every Friday. His book, “Stupid Brain,” is available on

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