Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Battered and Fried, Cat Eats Woman Whole, Still Bitter.

In December of 1999, when the world was preparing for the promised attack of 0's and 1's, Y2K style, our friend, Henry, suggested we all head to the Bahamas to drink rum on the beach while the rest of civilization went Skynet*.

I'd only ever been to the Bahamas one time, in high school, with my mom and sister, all of us broke, on a lark. We spent a few days on Paradise Island, thus named because it is such a steaming shit hole. The beaches are indeed beautiful, but inland was, at that time (1983), a third-world version of Las Vegas, without shows, free buffets or happy hours and with a terrifying racial divide.

Because Paradise is an island, everything has to be shipped or flown over and thus a box of Triskets costs $12. Room service was out of the question. 

We managed to have a good time though, in large part because we decided to only sleep in our overpriced cubicle and spend the rest of the time mooching off a friend who was staying at the Club Med up the road. Aside from the date rape my sister narrowly avoided at the assailing hand of an overzealous "G.O." (Gracious Organizer, I kid you not), Club Med was a much better bet. We discovered slammers early in the trip - a shot with some carbonate that you whacked on the bar and slammed down your own gullet, preferably in rapid succession - and things improved.

So, when Henry suggested Cat Island, one of the more remote islands in the Bahamian chain, I was enthusiastic. I envisioned something like one of the more remote Hawaiian Islands, maybe Kauai, where fine hotels dot pristine beaches and men in crisp whites bring you cocktails with little grass skirts, like panties, on the glass. I imagined it would be possible to slip away for a pedicure and new flip flops on a quiet afternoon, or maybe rent a bike to cruise the outer reaches on a leisurely pedal. 

Our Cat Island hotel was more like a cat box - six concrete bunkers on a patch of sandy scrub. Meals were included as an option.  You'd inform the Bahamian proprietress in the morning if you'd be taking meals and if so, $35 per, was added to your bill.  Beer was $5 a bottle, and we started a collective tab with our drinky friends.  Meals were made from local ingredients, which, on a prickly island in the middle of the ocean, is fish and corn meal. Delicious for the first-through-third meals, gag inducing for the balance. 

The rain started right away.  A light and constant drizzle, not enough to warrant an umbrella, even if we'd had one, but enough to make me wish I'd packed a hoodie. Enough to moisten me uncomfortably.

The TV in each room was hooked to a satellite that was controlled by the bartender in the main building, where the Heineken and powdered eggs were served.  It was his whim, be it a soccer match or spanish language soap opera, that determined what all the cabins would be tuned to. Your programming options ran the gamut from 'on' to 'off'.

The road that ran the length of the island was so high with overgrowth on either side, that it was impossible to see anything other than pavement and mirages of other, better vacations. We walked this road for many miles, unable to see the ocean that we could smell and taste. There was no commerce, very few people, and a terribly infirm donkey with sores on its head that hung unnaturally low.  Even the jackass was depressed by Island life.

Hungry, we came upon a shed with a sign that indicated it was a store.  Anxious for a retail experience of any kind, and food other than a spam omelette, we trundled in.  The shelves were barren but for some outdated Little Debbie cakes and a fridge keeping cool a huge log of bologna. We bought a pound of the meat, sliced by hand into 1/4 inch slabs and a pack of Strawberry Shortcake Rolls.

Now, before the Interweb gets all puffed up and sends me irate email about the natural beauty of Cat Island, bear in mind that these people are not my friends. More importantly, they were likely staying at the wildly expensive resorts at either end of the Island, where exorbitant prices allowed for brush removal and chaise-lounges. The only thing spectacular about my Cat Island, other than its being the birthplace of Sidney Poitier, was what went on under water.

The men in our group, all experienced sailors and snorkelers, hit the tides early and long, exploring the shallows and depths in the warm current, ignoring the cold rain that soured our bologna above ground.

Its not that I didn't want to snorkel, its just that I wanted to do it in the sunshine, not shivering in the gloom. But I decided, finally, to don a mask and flippers and have a look at these fishies before they were dusted with cornmeal. 

Flap-slapping in fins over the beach made entirely of boulders, I slid my body into the current, mask on, ready to see the splendor of the sea.  I paddled out with Vild but he swam away, fast and far, show-off snorkeling, leaving me quickly alone to nervously explore the underworld. Immediately my mask filled with salt water.  I'd stop and tread, fumble with the dry, cracked rubber straps, spit into the lens, lather, rinse, repeat.  But my pin head could not make suction with that old husk of a mask, and with the current slapping me against the coral, my skin was beginning to nick and bleed with every swell. I was miserable and becoming desperate. Some buddy system I thought, at the very moment that the first stranger I'd seen on the island paddled up to me in the surf and with great excitement asked me if I'd been lucky enough to see the shark.

I know intellectually that fear of sharks is largely irrational.  There are compelling statistics to back this up.  But bleeding from the knees in stormy waters, abandoned by my future husband, unable to see under water, cut to ribbons by an unfamiliar reef - this is not the moment I review statistics.  This is the moment I shit my pants. 

My husband will tell you that he was never more than twenty yards from me, that I was but arms length from shore, that the blood on my knees was nothing more than a pin prick, that I was never in any danger, that the shark was never anywhere near me.  And because he says these things, I can get mad at him all over again, every time I think of it. 

I tried to swim to shore in a dead panic, but the coral, which upon review was the real danger to my safety - imagine swimming over the tops of submerged pine trees with needles made of glass - I could not see it. I was clumsily, blindly, swimming across broken bottles.

In my estimation I am alive today only because that shark had already eaten breakfast, and the bloody cloud that wafted fragrantly out from my body was no enticement. 

In Vild's estimation, I am alive today only because of therapy and a rigorous protocol of anti-depressants.  

I think we may both be right.

In The Terminator Series, Skynet is an artificially intelligent system which became self aware and revolted against its creators.

Monday, May 18, 2009


(This photo is from the film Taxi Driver and is the only one I could find of Playland and 1970's Times Square) 

In an act of brilliant masochism I had my babies two years and one week apart. Lily was first, on May21, and Lou, two years later, on May 14th. What this means is that until they are old enough to make their own fun, vis a vis, throwing up on their classmates in the back of their friend's parent's car, their poor mother will be doomed to indecision and conflict regarding the celebration of their birth. Two parties or one?

The very thought of two separate days blowing up balloons, after spending my own youth blowing out my lungs, is a little like asking me if I might staple my lips to a frogs ass and blow it into a handbag.

The options seem to be: spend $300 for three hours at some inflatable house of staphylococcus or attempt to host the thing at your own house, wheezing out your windbag, serving your flabby cupcakes and watching the kids throw all your couch cushions on the floor. In my case, twice in one week.

When I was a kid in New York, my parents would take me, and maybe a friend, to an Italian restaurant I loved because it served spaghetti with meat sauce. The waiters would flirt charmingly with me and offer me spumoni, with candle, for dessert. My folks would let me drink fourteen Cokes with dinner and then we'd go over to Playland on 42nd street, a wonderfully seedy arcade in 1970's Times Square.  This was long before Giuliani had all the hookers dyed to match and the heroin addicts shuttled over to Queens. The homeless were still called bums and what is now known as the Theater District featured another kind of theater altogether, the naked-blow-smoke-rings-out-your-twat kind.  In other words, this was before Pussy was replaced by Cats.

My dad would hand me a roll of quarters and I'd play Asteroids and air hockey until my eyes were spinning around in my head and my hands were shaking.  The bathrooms at Playland were not for young ladies, even ones desperately hopped up on caramel fizz.  So one time, for my birthday, I peed through my wool maxi skirt in front of the ski ball lanes. Good times.

Damp with urine and smelling of my dad's cigarettes, the balmy tinge of divorce in the air, we taxi'd home. My mom mopped off my legs with a warm washcloth and I climbed into bed hugging a plastic car connected to its remote by a long insulated wire.  Bliss.

There were no goodie bags, no entertainers, no party hats.  Only gifts that might kill you, either from the anticipation of receiving them, or faulty wiring, food that was your favorite, and family.

It's not that I never had a birthday party. Certainly I did.  But what I remember now is the twinkling danger of Broadway, the weight of quarters in my hand, and the smell of wet wool.

I'm sorry my darlings, it is but tootsie-rolls falling from Batman's pinata ass for you.  Peeing on yourself will have to come later. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A No-Drainer

This image is of an invention intended for use in a high rise fire emergency. The theory being that you could suck sewer air instead of smoke and survive. But to me, its a perfect illustration of how I can often feel day-to-day. Certainly on this day.)

Shit happens.  In our house it happens in a big tubular way.  Usually around 7:25 a.m. when my husband shoots one off like a cannon and heads to work. Normally this would be great, enviable even, but one day about a week ago it became passive aggressive and possibly actionable.
For the second time in as many months, I heard water running somewhere in the house.  I was upstairs and assumed the sound I was hearing was the slosh slosh of our dishwasher, which seems to be constantly employed. So I ignored it. You'd think, at this stage of my suburban pioneering, I'd have learned never to ignore anything in this house.  If it makes a sound, something is flooding.  

I played stuffed animal-super hero-school-train track-peril-rescue with Lou for another hour before I decided I should probably start one of the six loads of laundry accumulating on the basement floor.  

As soon as I was on the stairs to the lower level of our split-level, I saw the shimmering current spreading out across the family room floor, with little life rafts of Vild's doodie paddling to the shores. It was 10 a.m. Water had been flowing out of the bowl for two and a half hours. 
Our family room is, sadly in this case, home to the woodstove and thus a ton of woodchips, sawdust, and ash.  Blended together with flooded turd water, this combination makes a potent formula I like to call, Human Tears. 

My little boy, who was with me two months ago when this exact same thing happened, said, "Oh Mama, I'm so sorry this happened to you." Touched by his empathy and compassion, I hugged him tightly.  He waited a few seconds, then said, "Can you make me a PB&J?"

I got my wellies from the garage and waded over to the bowl to turn the water off at the source and assess the damage.  A half inch of water had flowed out from the bathroom, turned left and headed into the office, where it was heartily sucked up by the thick carpeting that my husband and I took from the old house and installed ourselves.  When we bought this carpet we got the extra thick pad, because his parents paid for it. Its absorbent indeed and wicked the moisture all the way to the bookcase and edge of our guest bed.  

The water, not content with ruining our office also turned right out of the bathroom and streamed down into the basement, where  our friend, Craig, had just spent a week installing new drywall.  A dark circle of moisture extended from the base of the stairs in a sodden arc that seeped under the barf-board closets that hold all the dress-ups and every linen we own.  The towels within were humid while the dress-ups managed to absorb only the odor of Vild's doodie water.  Every piece of laundry was soaked with toilet water.  Tons and tons of laundry. Almost every piece of clothing in our possession. 

It just so happened that Vild was fully engaged at work that day.  He had two dog-and-pony shows for potential clients, and then a glad-handing dinner with them in the evening.  So he couldn't come home and bail, and I couldn't really yell at him on the phone the way I like to when his fucking stupid house attacks me. 

These situations do not bring out the best in me.
Vild just sort of proceeds, he's all, these things happen, we'll handle it, no big deal, one foot after the next.  But me, I  sop up the waste in my pink rubber boots while a shadow crosses over the sun. I feel the weight of every bad choice I've ever made, every isolating decision, every injustice ever done to me.  Spleen conquers heart.  I feel completely alone; I am a scream unheard. I think of all the friends I have in other, better parts of the world. I think of my sister, how she'd be there with me, margarita in one hand, mop bucket in the other, if she weren't living what seems a much better life in a sunnier clime.  I think of all my local friends, and their builder homes with powder rooms instead of below ground shit holes like the one I'm plunging and I feel sickening, soul-crushing envy. This isn't reality, its bile, and I take medication for the condition. But none the less...

I wish I could isolate one emotion, one plumbing emergency, and freeze it in amber like a prehistoric sample, to be analyzed calmly later by academics in khaki pants and pith helmets, after the water recedes. But instead I'm ankle deep in the morass of self-pity, choler and toilet tissue. And I find there are no pills for this.

Why Vild didn't fix the toilet after the first time I spent the day wringing out the couches, I can't say. Why I didn't follow up with some harping and grousing, also a mystery.  But two is a charm, as they said on the arc, and I bought some new tank guts later that day.  Vildy's sticky poo cannot be helped, nor can my ire, but we go forward, the torrent of the giant gym fan blowing away the sadness of the day, while Fabreeze makes everything seem fresh and new again.