Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Jesus Lizard, Part Ten -- Guatemala Ho!

We were on our way to the Guatemalan border the next day by noon. But not before the Shared Bath Incident. Hierarchies have a way of seeping in whether invited or not. Get a group of people or animals together and they must align themselves into those dominant and those on the bottom. It was becoming clearer and clearer that I was sifting to the bottom of this group. My age alone put me at a disadvantage, but it also became clear that Miss Rockbottom, being accustom to a high rank as a school teacher, and an even higher position due to her being a New England Christian Scientist meant she was made of Ice Age deposited granite, not flesh, and therefore impervious to anything but dynamite, something I didn't have in my kit. And she made it known among the others simply by her stride and her cosmic bullying that they were to consider me of Sherpa status.

The more generous of you might believe your Sherpa to be a master of sorts, one who keeps the camels well-fed and in an agreeable mood. A useful Sherpa knows the signs of the sky and when to take an alternate route. But I was not that kind of Sherpa, I was lower than the camels, I was to sleep outside the circle of fire and know my cast was something akin to the village idiot. I dutifully took on this role. It was the only strategy to take if I were going to make it to Guatemala and back again, and once out of the jungle, I would have to swim with these lady sharks off the Belizean coast. I had a long journey ahead and succumbing to my placement at the back of a herd of oxen, to walk in their dust and swat their flies was fine with me . . . eventually, I would write in my journal while waiting for my final plane home from the Miami airport, "They had their trip and I had mine." But my cast was sealed over the sharing of a small bathroom the night before we left Guatemala.

Nigel and I had sent London back to Dangriga for the errant duffel bag, there was nothing to do now but have one more cold beer and plan our itinerary for the next day. All of them, the old oxen had gone to bed, but a few strays came up to the main house to find me and Nigel bent over our beers. They had no idea that we were working, they just assumed I was up and making trouble of some kind. When I finally retired to my suite at the far end of the compound, it was close to midnight and a light was on in the room next door, the door was ajar and I heard humming. It was Katrina Ghandi, one of our younger travellers. She was 49, perhaps 50 and she hailed from the San Francisco Bay area, which gave her an air of extra coolness that I was drawn to, but she didn't associate with dirty Sherpas. I went into my room and looked around it for the first time, I realized I hadn't been there all day and now all I could do was unpack my pajamas and take a shower. We'd be birding in the morning and then leaving for Guatemala, for the Temples of Tikal, and this was just a pit stop. I scanned the room, there was a wide window that looked out onto the night pastures -- this made me take a deep breath and imagine the little mustangs asleep on their feet dreaming of Spanish galleons and a bloody battle with the Mayans.

But there was no door in my room that would lead to a bathroom, so I poked my head out into the hallway and there, to my left was Katrina's door still emanating a sort of meditative glow and next to that was another door. I stepped toward it, opened it and turned on the light. Ah, yes, a tidy little shower and sink with a toilet that was much cleaner than any I had seen since Dangriga. I noticed a small bag of toiletries on the shelf above the toilet and a bra and panties hanging over the shower curtain rod. Of course, this was Ghandi's gear and just as this occurred to me, she appeared at the door, "Miss Wolfy? What are you doing in my bath?"

"Uh, well, good evening Miss Ghandi. I think we've got a shared bathroom suite here. I won't be a moment, just need a quick shower, then its off to bed with me."

"Shared? I can't believe I'm sharing a bath with you. That's just not possible. I was told all my accommodations would be private. I certainly paid for private accommodations."

It was at this moment that I knew I was the Help -- I was no longer a human sharing this jungle adventure and now I had to stand my ground for a shower and nightly ablutions. "Miss Ghandi, its just for the night. We will be settled into the Tikal Inn by sundown tomorrow night and I am told it is practically a three star hotel by Guatemalan standards, plenty of water closets for everyone."

"Three star?"

"I don't think we can wish for five star in Guatemala, that might be asking too much."

"I really can't believe this . . ." Ghandi looked down the dark hallway as though someone of some kind of authority would appear and she could complain and have me forcibly removed, but there was no one but me and the camels. She let out a big huff of air, and brushed past me to pull her under things from the curtain rod. She scooped her toiletries up into her arms and brushed past me again, "I was meditating you know . . . I am beginning a two day fast which I plan to end after I reach the top of Temple Five in Tikal. I need complete quiet to begin this spiritual journey, do you understand? Miss Wolfy? Do you hear me?" I nodded and said nothing in return. But I took note that now one of my travelers was planning not to eat anything for at least 48 hours. She was not the most hardy looking woman and what with the heat and humidity and the intense hiking I knew we were to face to get up to Temple Five, I became concerned. But then I decided not to care, I thought, fine, let her faint from low blood sugar somewhere about half way up Temple Five, let her visions be powerful! Life altering! I just need a damn shower.

The road to Guatemala, the Western Highway, is a jaw breaker of a trail. And when you cross the border, you know you are not in Belize anymore. The bucolic colonial jungle atmosphere dissipates immediately, and is replaced by something politically torrid. The Guatemalan police stamp your passport and at some point not long after that they put the bus on this pulley ferry. We of course, let the bus go first, without us, and I wondered if this might be It; if the ferry which was pulled across this reach of dirty river water not wide enough to discourage even the most unambitious of bridge builders, might capsize with all duffel bags accounted for and not accounted for and bird guides and binoculars and Panama hats, but the Mayan boys got her across. There was a black burro tied to a banana tree on the other side and he switched his little tail at the jungle flies and he twitched his enormous ears and he seemed happy to wait for the Mayan boys to ride him home at sunset. I was glad he wasn't pulling the ferry, not fitting work for so terrific a burro.

One of the first sights we saw on the Western Highway inside Guatemala was an enormous rancho that sat on a hill across a verdant valley of soybean and yam fields. There had been nothing but roadside shanties up until this grand thing appeared in the distance, like Oz, sparkling with terracotta tile roofing and a veranda that must have teemed with Mayan Help. You could imagine the helicopter pad that sat behind the main house and the stable full of Andalusians. Nigel explained there were several families who basically owned and ran the country -- in Guatemala, you were Mayan or you were part of these Spanish cartels. It was beyond the Haves and Have Nots, it was the definition in its most extreme form. The cartels controlled everything -- and there was no secret about the source of their wealth. Drugs and farming. They told the government what to do, they told the people what to do. And if you didn't do what they said, they killed you and left you to be eaten by howler monkeys. The tangle of the jungle rebels, the CIA, these cartels, the trafficking of drugs to and from the US, and the complete disregard for human rights was so complicated that it was impossible to believe that this was actually a period of peace in the country. Only a few years before no American was safe to travel in Guatemala, and frankly, as we bumped along the Western highway, I wondered if it was ill advised to be there at that moment. We traveled deeper into the country and the bus began to groan and our merry band grew quieter and quieter. I passed out cold drinks and whispered to Nigel that Miss Ghandi was looking somewhat ill, "There's always one in the group, one who makes this some sort of religious experience. Americans are a funny lot, they want to renounce the fact that they're white in places like this. Let her have her visions and if she passes out, we can handle it."

We came to a particularly poor looking village, there were chickens and dogs and children sitting in the road. The chickens looked to be the healthiest of the group. Most of my group just stared straight ahead. They had come to see birds and temples, not poor people. The idea that this highway was haunted by the ghosts of guerrillas and the victims of genocide was unimportant to them. About a mile past the village, London stopped the bus. He opened the door and whistled. Two tiny Mayan children, a girl of maybe 4 or 5 and a boy of 8 or so came running out of the jungle. They were naked and their hair was long and black and completely wild. They smiled these white bony smiles and jumped in the door of the bus and London went down to them and hugged them fiercely. There were giggles and screams of joy. I looked at Nigel and before I could ask, "Those are his kids." There was a nervous rustling behind us on the bus. London let the kids go and walked to the back of the bus where he garnered a large cardboard box. He took it forward and out to the side of the road where the children waited for him. A tan puppy came bouncing up the road and it wiggled and shrieked as London handed it something to eat from the box. He carried the box back into the jungle and the kids followed him. They were like Mowgli and his little sister, I expected a band of wolves to appear in the shadows too. "His kids? Really?"

"He considers them his kids. They live out here on the edge of the village in a dog house. They have no one but London. He wants to smuggle them back to Dangriga some day, but he hasn't figured out how to do it yet. In the meantime, he stops every time we pass. He brings them food and clothes."

"Clothes?

"They never wear them. We think they trade them for food with the Mayans in the village."

"Why don't the people in the village take care of them?"

"We don't know. They're mother is dead, she might have been a prostitute. Or involved with the cartels or the guerrillas. They are afraid to go near the children for some reason. Bad juju you know."

Some time ago, a few chapters back, I told you about Jeanne, the pleasant lady who took no sides in the hen house on our bus. The lady who sometimes ventured to stay up slightly later than the others and genuinely seemed to enjoy her beer. We even played a few rounds of backgammon together. The one who was a Federal employee? You remember Jeanne? If not, here's her chapter. Well, its right about now in the story that I want you to be conscious of her presence on my bus. Cause its a few miles down the road, after we stop to put in supplies to London's Mowgli and Miranda of the Rain Forest that we pass a rebel camp. As we get closer and closer to this camp, Nigel tells everyone to put their cameras away, I mean, away! Put them up in your duffel bags and your binoculars too. And don't even put a pen to paper. Don't look at your watch or your compass. Don't do anything that might be construed as trying to record where the camp is or what it looks like or how many boys might be guarding the gate with AK47s. Just act as though there isn't even an 8 foot fence with death heads painted on scraps of tin, just mind your own damn American business, or they're gonna come out and want to board the bus and go through our bags and ask questions and then we're going to have to give them money to be on our way. That's all, just money.

So we drive by this menacing plot of land in the jungle and there are indeed boys patrolling the fence line and their guns are bigger than them and we try to ignore the death heads and what they imply. And its at that moment that I remember the story of the American nuns who were raped and murdered in Guatemala in the 80s...one of those nuns was from Westport, CT. My hometown. She rode horses at a little farm that sat up the rode from my grandparents house. When the news broke that she was one of the missionaries murdered, the neighbors told everyone how sweet a girl she was. But I remembered seeing her ride in their field once and she was beating this horse mercilessly -- and she was shouting at him as though he were some Godless child. I didn't know she was a nun at the time, I just thought she was sort of nuts. A year later she would be left for dead in a Guatemalan jungle. She didn't deserve that, no one deserves that, even if she did beat horses. But that's the thought that came into my head as we seemed to float past the rebel camp, it was as though the bus knew we were in grave danger. And we just thought we were a bus full of American tourists, a bunch of nature buffs who wanted to see birds and lizards and the thousand or so kinds of palms and the temples, don't forget the temples. But what we didn't know was that we had a CIA agent in our midst. Jeanne was sitting quietly, glancing out the window, sipping her bottled water I had brought to her. She knew what she was. But we didn't. And all it would have taken was for someone idiot like Miss Rockbottom to decide that even rebels couldn't tell her whether she could take a picture of their death heads or not and WHOOSH, those boys with the AKs would have swooped down on us and when they saw who Jeanne was, because all she'd have to do is give them her passport and they would see the tremble in her brow and they would know she was CIA and we'd all have been dead. Call me paranoid, go ahead. Call me a scaredie cat, but think about it, would you like to be on a bus full of Americans and ONE covert CIA agent on the Western Highway of Guatemala? It was 1995 and not enough time had passed for the rebels to be forgiving. The country was still in turmoil, and just because Bill Clinton was in office, and not that old spook George Bush senior, didn't mean that we were safe. But we went on past, nothing happened, well, nothing til the bus broke down . . .

Founder's Day


Well, almost.

Time flies, doesn't it? Well, they say it does, when you're having fun. Good readers, my imaginary readers of San Jose, its been far too long since I have reached out to you and expressed my gratitude for your valley of silicon, your shops of coffee, your mild temperatures, your nearness to the Pacific Ocean, your bravery whilst sitting atop the San Andreas Fault, and your good humor towards me . . . yes, I shamelessly use you, and Dionne Warwick, and Burt, oh Burt Bacharach. You, San Jose were founded by the Spanish and this blog? Was founded by ruffians, none other than T.S. Dogfish and Liotta. I have them to thank for this little mess I am in. Yes, good people of the rarely rained upon San Jose, I am up a creek, something we have down here in the South, where yellow-bellied sliders sun themselves on rocks til hound dogs come down the trail noses down intent on possums and fox and raccoons, not caring about some fat sleeping turtles in the middle of the crick, but the turtles slide into the tea-colored water and disappear for a spell while the hounds get on their way, deep into our humid oak forests . . . woops! Where was I? Oh, the mess I'm in!

One year ago, I followed Dogfish and Liotta on a whim. Thought I'd just make a joke of it, ramble incoherently, put songs in your heads . . . oh, I have a song for you today too! Here it is, listen and let it plant itself in your mind for a day or two. Oh! My! I do drift. I had no intention of committing my heart to this space, and despite some of the pain its caused (an angry family member, maybe two, the Starbucks Incident, some badly edited stories put up before their time, accusations of sloth and obsession) it's brought me much needed distraction, something that my elders said I was far too susceptible to for many years, and discipline (dee-ca-pleen!) all at the same time. I managed to write a book a couple of summers ago, and it was really a feat in concentration for me. I shut myself up every afternoon for the entire summer and by Labor Day, I had this thing I had done. I didn't know what to do with it, but there it stood in front of me. As the book makes its way from door to door trying to sell it self, I do this, I bide my time blogging and haunting and haunting and blogging. Its made a better Wolfy of me, but I can't help but feel ambiguous about it sometimes, don't ask me to explain, not now, just read, oh and and watch this!

Monday, August 23, 2010

My Summer Vaction -- Redux


Almost made it there in 10 hours, but hit a traffic jam at Exit 40-A on the Merritt Parkway, and it took me another hour and a half to go the last 10 miles of the trip . . . how ridiculous is that?

My right leg was covered in chigger bites from an attack in the previous week while doing yard work in NC, so everyone in CT either politely averted their eyes from my diseased looking leg, or they blatantly stared and asked “What is WRONG with you leg?” To which I answered, “Chigger bites.” To which they asked, “What are Chiggers? I have never heard of THAT?” I told them it was a Southern thing and they wouldn’t understand. Mainly they were afraid it was something they might catch from me.

On the first day, I ate lunch with J. and his children Max and Margo at Gold’s Delicatessen. I had a Ham and Swiss on Rye.

J. said he hates Swiss and then told me a funny story about having lunch with his father two weeks before: “So I’m at my father’s house and he asks me if I want a ham sandwich. I tell him yeah, sounds good. He brings me the sandwich. I say to him, is that Swiss cheese? You know I don’t like Swiss Cheese. He says No, that’s Jarlsberg!” After he told me the story, I wondered if it was some old Odd Couple routine and not an actual thing that happened between him and his father. We had just been talking about the Odd Couple, the show vs. the movie. He said he liked the show better than the movie and I said I liked the movie better than the show. So I wondered if he told me that to test my knowledge of the show, not the movie, cause I know its not a scene in the movie. And so I don’t know whether it was really a lie or not.

We walked on the beach with Max and Margo after lunch -- Max didn’t want to get his feet dirty walking in the sand and wanted to go home and watch TV instead, but I negotiated with him. I told him I don’t live near the beach, so walking on the beach would be really special for me. Max gave in. While standing on the jetty at Compo Beach, we saw the biggest sea gull we had ever seen before -- he was positively gigantic. He was Albatrosss-sized. He flew off and landed on some rocks covered in gulls in the distance. He landed on the peak of the rocks and flapped his wings and the other gulls knelt before him. We declared him King of the Gulls. I was certain he was an absent friend and actually not a bird at all, he was a magical thing really.

Later that evening, I put on a dress and there was some drunken idiocy that took place. Earlier in the evening, I had declined to go to the Mohican casino in eastern CT with J. on the grounds that it might cause a controversy, but now that I think about it, I should have gone to the casino and lost some money at the roulette table instead of participating in the drunken lunacy. But who knows what’s really the right choice in a circumstance like that? And I hadn’t read my Free Will horoscope for the week, so I was without cosmic guidance . . . and my absent friend was flying over the Long Island Sound in the form of a gigantic sea gull and so I couldn’t text him and ask for advice. You see?

The next day was spent running from my host’s cleaning lady and her extremely loud vacuum cleaner, which wouldn’t have been so bad if my head had not been so swollen with grapes. I tried lying on a chaise by the pool, in the shade, listening to the one cricket singing to all of Westport, but the pool guy arrived and so I had to go back in the house and lay in my guest bed and pile pillows over my head and hope that someone might stop by and kill me to relieve the pain.

By sundown, I had driven myself to Westport Pizzeria where I ordered two slices and a mozzarella salad and a Coke on ice and this caused my head to return to normal size and I went to a reunion party -- 60 or so people whom I rode horses with as a girl. Hadn’t seen them in 30 odd years. I sipped ginger ale as they repeated my mistake of the previous evening. I found out that some of them still ride and some of them have children and don’t ride and some of them were actually afraid of horses all along and now that they are grown up they are not afraid to admit that, and some of them are still quite mean and rude, and some of them are so lovely that I wish they lived nearby so I could talk to them at least once a week. It was a like a Fairfield Fellini film, La Dolce Vida with a preppy attitude and finger sandwiches.

Somewhere in there I had a fight with my sister, by text. A first for me. I do not recommend fighting with anyone by text. Fight in person or scream into the phone, but a fight really loses all its oooomph and meaning by text. You would think the nasty one liners would take on a special quality, but they fizzle by the time they reach their destination and leave you wanting for more emotional release. Which makes me think that I should say something clever about sexting now, but I won’t.

With no hangover the following day I felt unfettered and spent most of the day lying in the sun with my host and another childhood friend who had also recovered from the drunken idiocy of two nights before and we shared our utter relief at the fact that we were not dead and we celebrated by diving into the pool and declaring it too cold and then lying in the sun again and declaring that we were burning up, so we dove into the pool and declared that we were FREEEEZING and then we looked at our host and she made us lunch, which was so charitable of her that we decided to go out to dinner that evening and I announced that I would pick up the check so everyone would be my dates. And I also declared there would be no drunken idiocy, just idle chit chat over expensive rich food. Our host’s daughter picked the spot and she declared that the owner was indeed HOT for her and so we, of course, wanted to go to this place and see who this person was.

I made good on the dinner date -- although I suffered a relapse of the spins and nausea due to a Caesar salad that believed that Anchovies must be the first and most apparent ingredient and my entire constitution was enveloped by Anchovies and the effervescent effect of my lovely glass of prosecco was of no use and to make matters worse, they put us at a table in the mezzanine section so we had to use our compact mirrors to spy on the action below. But the evening was not a complete loss as we did get to observe the owner who is apparently taken with my host’s daughter and he was quite something to watch, with his tailored shirt and his Euro pecs, which we threatened to lay our hands upon, much to the horror of my host’s young daughter, and the more horrified she was concerning our attention to the man, the more attention we gave to him, because what is better than embarrassing a friend’s daughter? Really? It just makes you crazy with power to make a 24 year old girl horrified by your loud voice and your silly behavior. It made me sad not to have a daughter of my own whom I could embarrass on a daily basis!

There was some incident in which I drove a BMW the wrong way up a one way street, and I was the designated driver in this instance, another first for me, so perhaps that should also be a last?

Two mornings were spent in bliss over toasted onion bagels with 1/2 the cream cheese from Oscar’s . . .

I spent a delightful morning at the FCHC horse show with one of my most loyal blog readers and his lovely little girl who was riding her darling show pony that day and the discussion was lively and civilized, and as though we were old friends, which may be due to the fact that he reads this blog, so how wonderful is that. Ain’t the cyber world interesting?

There was a long walk at the Longshore Club one morning with the host’s daughter who was not holding any grudges with me over the embarrassment of the previous night and thankfully she drove the overly complicated BMW to get us to our walk . . . the idea of a car that asks you to sign a waiver before you put it in first gear is really beyond the beyond for me, and maybe for you dear readers. The first part of the walk was no walk at all but a leisurely lingering in great big adirondack chairs overlooking the water where we watched the sun urge sailors to sail. We observed a man and a woman running toward the sailing school and there, from a distance, we saw a crowd of people gather with various canvas bags and sailing gear readying for school, sailing school, which is really the only type of school I would like to attend now, now in my old age. Don’t you just like the sound of it? Sailing . . . School. Who taught us that Cellar Door sounded beautiful? Was it E.B. White? I agreed. But now I believe that Sailing School has the same feel on the tongue and in my mind.

We sat on the dock at some point and tried to figure out the nature of a grey junk vessel named The Gloria out on the water -- she did not look seaworthy at all, and yet my young friend and I liked her, we fancied the idea of spending a day on The Gloria on the Sound. We became dizzy as we sat on the dock and I spied a little cedar sail boat that I believed might be the most perfect little sail boat I had ever seen and I didn’t take its picture, because these days we take pictures of everything we like with our phone cameras and this little boat didn’t deserve that, she deserved to just live in my head and I promised myself I would let my absent friend know about her. And just before we became so disoriented by the movement of the water and the steadiness of the dock, a man came along with a box of Dunkin’ Donuts and he asked us if we had ordered the donuts and we screwed up our faces at him and he laughed and jumped on to his lovely sharp speed boat and admitted that he was delivering the donuts to his son and some 10 other boys who had camped out on Cockenoe Island for the night. I wanted to go on the voyage with him to deliver the donuts and see the boys who had spent the terrific cool night on the island, but instead we watched him motor away, leaving a little wake of olive and white water and it occurred to me that those donuts would make excellent bait.

Some time later The Starbucks Incident took place and this was unfortunate, but amusing all the same and because it is not resolved yet, it will remain unexplained.

And somewhere during all this I saw a friend who I hadn’t seen in 20 years and I met his fiancee and we discovered something amusing -- we both drive red Ford trucks, although his truck is far more impressive than mine . . . a red F250 on mad high off-road tires always trumps a red Ranger on run-of-the-mill city tires. But it proved somehow that we have always been of like-mind, even though we are completely different in all other ways, and this was confirming of the way the universe works, its cosmic effects that we poo-poo so often really exist. It also confirmed that old friends live inside one another somehow.

My most enlightened observation of the week? What does my hometown smell like in August? Like walking to school.

And then? I drove home, on a Sunday, against my better judgment and I was surrounded by families in minivans for as far as the eye could see and it took me 12 hours to get to my southern home, but I was glad of my return, more so than ever. Let Fall come now . . . she is ready.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Wisdom of the Lingerie Lady

When I went there in June to buy me some new underdrawers and a silky slip, the nice ample lady behind the counter in Dillard's lingerie department was speaking frankly with another amply lady about changing bra sizes, "Seems in the summer I'm a 42D but when winter comes, I'm a 46D. So I keep two sets of bras." And this caused me to glance down at myself and I felt pale and without any sort of heft at all in comparison to these sweet brown women. And then they touched on the subject of laundry detergent and I learned that Woolite was no thing at all to mix with water and silky underthings, that it works like acid and eats holes in everything, "Woolite is for Wool!" they said and so when I was ready to pay for my little handful of nylon and silk that must have seemed like a little pile of handkerchiefs to them, I asked what should I use instead of Woolite? That I had used Woolite for all my delicate things for years, and they said, Gain, cause its the mildest and it smells so so good. And then they said to stay away from Arm & Hammer detergent too, that it eats holes clean through sheets and husband's work shirts. I laughed and thanked them, "to think you believe something almost all your life, and then you find out you're wrong. I wonder what else we believe to be true that is actually false?" And they shook their heads and smiled and said, "Girl, keep your eyes and ears open, and the truth will come to you." More like I should go to the Dillard's Lingerie Department once a week for my information.

So this morning I returned to the Dillard's and while browsing through the strapless lacy things, my phone rang. It was my sister calling regarding matters of the heart, and we talked and talked. At one point in the call she apologized for being on the toilet while talking to me, because couldn't I hear the flush in the background? And I told her, "No worries, I'm standing here in a dressing room trying on bras, not an easy feat by the way, so we are both completely inappropriate in our mobile phone etiquette this morning." And then I gave her my advice, was it sage? I don't know, but I finished the call by recommending that she not let the cad move back in again. I deposited my little silk treasures on the counter and the lovely brown lady looked up at me from her inventory project and smiled, "Sounds like some good advice to me."

"Oh, yes, my lovely 41 year old sister just gave the heave-ho to her 26 year old boyfriend for the second, maybe third time."

"Child!" She shook her head sorting through my purchase, recording the prices in the register, delicately with her manicured hands, "Child! Change the locks and don't let the boy back in. He's looking for a mother. Yessir. That's all a 26 year old boy wants . . . to be mothered. Your sister needs a man!"

"Yes m'am, I agree. M - A - N!"

"M-hmm- let a young girl with energy take care of him. We don't have that kind of energy anymore!"

She wrapped my new things in tissue paper and handed me the shopping bag, "You tell your sister to take care now, buy herself somethin' pretty and forget those little boys!"

M-hmmmm.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Jesus Lizard, Part Nine-A—The Quiet Before the Mind Storm in Guatemala


Warrie Head Lodge was a sanctuary. We had left the heart of darkness back in Dangriga, along with the jaguars. Now we were in the land of hummingbirds and kinkajous. And if I knew what awaited us in Guatemala, I would have stayed put in Warrie Head—claimed fever and visions, and let the caravan go on without me. But clairvoyance was never my strong suit, so I took sanctuary for granted. The lodge sits in the rolling green hills of central Belize, near Belmopan. Its an unassuming place, with a main house and one long low building that reminded me of a shed row stable more than an inn. Each suite had a brightly painted door, some blue, some yellow, and there was a more modern two story addition at the end of the shed row. I would be staying in a suite upstairs in the back I was told.

The place was really not unlike a country motel one might see in eastern North Carolina, the kind of place one stops for the night before driving on to the Outer Banks the next morning. There were three or four little brown horses, mustangs, descendants of the Spanish horses that landed in Mexico with Cortez a few centuries ago, grazing in a valley that fell away to a creek behind the lodge -- their tails softly switching at flies put my mind at ease. To spend the night somewhere in the vicinity of horses would improve my dreams, I thought, as I stood staring blankly out at the green of the field. They might act as exorcists and drive the malarial visions from my slumber. I drifted away for just a moment and was riding one of the mustangs near the creek. The little mare felt strong and energetic beneath me as we made our way through the deep banks of the creek. There were banana palms all around us, and the trill of honeycreepers and the slightly annoying shouts of kiskadees. But the little mare stopped suddenly and pricked her ears, she turned her head slightly and for just a moment, instead of heeding her trembling nostrils and the sudden appearance of the white of her eyes, I admired her handmade rawhide bridle, the creamy tan of it against her bay face, the feel of the braided reins in my hands, but I was quickly turned from my thoughts of the Mexican saddler who crafted the bridle to a desperate attempt to stay on the little mare as she spun and bolted back up to the pastures behind the lodge. She left me lying in a heap at the edge of the creek facing a small band of peccaries. They were covered in mud and they ran toward me, one with his mouth gaped open, his little yellowed tusks threatening to tear my pale flesh . . .

“Wolfy?”

“Oh, um... what?” I was no longer sitting in the mud being devoured by peccaries.

“We can unload dee bus now, they’ve all gone birding and on a walkabout. We have dee room assignments, so we can get dee bags in deir proper places and then perhaps have a limeade.”

“Ah, yes, bags and then a limeade. Sounds like a plan, London.”

I was relieved to hear that the bird lists were back out and the search was on for such marvelous things as the Violaceous Trogon, the Black-crowned Tityra, the Tropical Kingbird, the Green Jay, or one of some twenty or so types of flycatchers, who made Belize home. Not that we hadn’t been witness to some wondrous birds near Dangriga. Why, I snagged a Golden-olive Woodpecker for my very own bird list in the Cockscomb Reserve, but I believe I was running from a jaguar or a zombie dressed as a jaguar at the time, so it was only a fleeting and distracted viewing. As I began hauling suitcases to the rooms with London, a smile came across my face, yes, I thought, maybe Dangriga was the bump in the road of our trip, we might have smooth sailing from now til we depart, only ten more days to go, what could possible happen?

Evening fell, the birders returned from the jungle, it was cocktail hour . . . “Miss Wolfy! Miss Wolfy! One of our bags is missing!”

It was the nice Quaker couple from Pennsylvania. Mrs. Quaker's bag was there, but Mr. Quaker's large duffel bag was not. We went out to the bus in the dark and searched. Nope. No dice. Nigel called the hotel in Dangriga. Yup. The bag was left in Dangriga. We were to leave for Guatemala at 10 am the next morning, how were we going to get Mr. Quarker’s bag in time? There was much talk back and forth. London said he would go get it. In the bus? Yes, in the dee bus. But London, you’ll be up all night! And you have to drive all day tomorrow. Nigel can do some of the driving tomorrow, I can nap. No worries. I go, now, see you in the morning. The bus roared to life, and Nigel and I stood in the dark driveway with the lodge warmly lit behind us. We watched the red tail lights of the bus bounce away like little rubies in the night. The stars were astoundingly numerous above us. The tree frogs peeped and peeped and peeped, “Look!” Nigel pointed to something dark and huge looming in the sky, “Fruitbats!” I felt like Dorothy, about to be carried away to the witch’s castle.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

What I Did on My Summer Vacation, The Final Installment -- I Find the MerMan


I was glad to return to Westport after 3 days and two nights in the City, which makes me extremely tired and overwhelmed. My friends who live there don’t understand what the City does to a girl like me, one who lives in the woods. The sensory overload is equivalent to a psychedelic trip for me . . . I can’t stop looking, looking at the people, the street vendors, the store fronts, the signs, the buildings, the occasional tree. This is what the inside of my head sounds like when I walk up the street in the city, “o ah those shoes, but wheee italian ice! coconut! that old man sitting under that awning that is blowing in the breeze, ahh there’s a breeze, in the city, and its so terribly hot, but the awning is gently flapping and it adorns that old man, his skin is so dark and he looks like Ibrahim Ferrer in Buena Vista Social Club, he’s smiling at me . . . oh, i would like to sit under the awning with him and speak Spanish, but I can’t speak Spanish! Oh ah there’s a taxi with its fender hanging off and its throwing sparks and it must be awful to be the woman who is riding in that taxi, where is she going? will she be in there for long? oh ah people, i don’t see this many people in a year at home, maybe ten years, oh ah sorry, excuse me, i have got to stop losing my balance, i am walking crooked . . . why? why can’t i keep straight, this coconut italian ice might be the closest thing to heaven in a paper cup ever, oh ah that building with the fire escape with someone’s t-shirts hanging on a line, all the t-shirts are blue, navy blue, some kind of uniform, his wife washed all his blue t-shirts, they are blowing in the city breeze that comes from the Hudson, is that where it comes from? or is it just the stirring of the air from the busses and ah oh, that’s a beautiful church with the shady tiny park, there’s something blowing down the sidewalk, what is that? its paper, ah oh um god, look at that lovely boy with the duffle bag over his shoulder, and his shins are bruised and he’s winding his way through all the people, their faces are serious, serious, they are going somewhere, he’s gone down the subway steps now, the boy, with laundry? in his duffle bag? Maybe he’s going to Connecticut to see his parents, oh screee it says screee the graffiti on that wall, good god look at all that garbage in that alley! oh a Walk Don’t Walk Walk Don’t Walk -- what street is this? where am I? Did I go too far? Yikes, oh um, they are playing handball! The dog is watching them, he looks so hot, he’s panting, but he’s with one of those handball players, I am sure he belongs to one of them, Summer Dresses 1/2 OFF oh they’re ugly or are they? Stop, don’t buy a dress, but maybe . . . no stop, don’t buy a dress! I’m thirsty, my tongue tastes likes coconut, my ears feel funny, I think I’m getting a blister, shit, I won’t be able to walk all day tomorrow if I get a blister, maybe if I put more weight on my right foot then the blister on my left foot will just go away . . . oh ah how does she get her hair to do that? LINGERIE XXX TOYS . . . that window! oh ah, the mannequin is hysterical! Who makes a mannequin with red hair wear something like that? DONT WALK but I should walk anyway because everyone else is walking and texting and talking on their phones or to themselves . . .

See? my brain just has to take in every bit of it, and now its two months later and I have forgotten everything I saw, except for my bicycle ride on the Hudson with Gretchen and her son . . . it was such a sunny Saturday and there were Dominicans EVERYwhere on the banks of the river, cooking and dancing and the air was a hazy mix of light bouncing off the river and the smoke of seared meat and if the air was colored with chili peppers and turmeric, I wouldn’t have been surprised in the least, and their was music coming from little stereos set up on picnic tables and it mixed with the voices of the crowds and the whir of speed boats that seemed too close to shore as they left a wake of white water and disappeared in the shadow on the GW Bridge. And it seemed like it was some fantastic holiday. But it was only Saturday. There were streamers and little Hispanic children in paper crowns because it was some Aunt or Uncle’s birthday and they were playing baseball in the grass and some of the men were wearing their club baseball shirts because they had played an early game in Inwood Park that morning, the park where Manny Ramirez cut his baseball teeth, and the women are wearing these bright dresses that are loose over their big bellies and their lovely round asses and their hair is tied neatly but a strand or two has come loose in the wind off the Hudson and they bend over to kiss a daughter. And they are all so happy to be out of their hot apartments and by the river watching the sailboats and the occasional rusty barge with the Cloisters behind them and the chalky cliffs in the distance barely visible because the green of summer is upon them. They are celebratory for no reason other than its Saturday. And I had such a hard time believing that I was there on my friend Gretchen’s neighbor’s bicycle . . . he never uses it, sure, let your friend use it! And I am zipping in and out of oncoming bicycles and watching Gretchen spin ahead of me and her son, all eight years of him, weaving his bicycle, because a boy of eight never wants to ride in a straight line, and we gasp when he almost hits two women walking, but he misses them and we shout to him, ”Stop weaving!“ but he can’t hear us over the music and the din of all those languages all around us. We pass a set of old tennis courts and they are packed with people not in tennis whites hitting balls and looking quite adept with their rackets and the dayglo tennis balls. And it struck me for just a moment that this bike ride was the bike ride to end all bike rides for me, it really was a dream that I was going to wake up from, sorry that it was over, but it was just Saturday on the bike path on the Hudson just north of the GW Bridge, that’s all, and when a man sped by me on his bicycle with a red milk crate strapped to the back occupied by a border terrier looking backwards at me, I was forced to giggle, yes, giggle, because that dog was in his element, and he took every curve and slight swing of his master’s bike as though he were in Calcutta, and perhaps that dog was reincarnated, he once had been a British soldier’s dog and he had killed mongoose and cobras.

On my last night in the city we picnicked in Inwood Park with all the families that lived nearby and Gretchen’s son was like the King of the boys in Lord of the Flies and they ran to the outer edges of the park and climbed the rock outcrops as we sat on blankets and drank wine and one of the mother’s talked on the subject of becoming a new stepmother and the other mother’s softly advised her and I remained quiet because I am not a mother and my stepmother was not an exemplary example to offer this young pale woman, so I watched an old couple eat ice cream while they sat on a bench so close to eachother that you thought they might have been sewn together. Our bucolic evening was shaken by the screaming of one of the boys though, he emerged from the deep green rock outcrops surrounded by the other children, and it was the fourteenth incident of the evening, there had been a fall from a tree earlier and a poke in the eye and the stealing of a stick and the punching of a boy in the face by a younger girl, but this was more serious, because the boy was not reporting back to us alone, he was practically being carried by the other children, and he yelled, over and over and over, like an old Jewish man not like a boy of seven, ”Oh my GOD, Oh my GOD, Oh my GOD!“ and he wouldn’t stop, he crumpled into his mother’s lap, the new stepmother in fact, and his words became muffled in the skirt of her lovely dress, but they were the same words over and over, but they were echoing in her belly, the belly he had come from, and then we saw what was causing his horrendous stress, he cupped his right hand into his left hand and the fourth finger, the right ring finger was bloodied and smashed to bits. I recognized that broken finger, because I broke the same finger only a few years ago and the sight of the boy’s broken digit sent an electric shock into my now crooked and slightly arthritic finger. I quickly looked for more wine. There was none. So I watched as the Inquisition began . . .

how did this happen?

D. smashed his finger with a rock!

On purpose?

Oh no, oh no! We were playing Archeology and we were smashing rocks like we always do and T. put his hand right under D.’s rock and BAM!

Is that true? did you see it happen too?

Yes, we were all there. D. didn’t do it on purpose, he was looking for crystals!

Oh my GOD! Oh my GOD! Oh my God!

D. its okay, we know you didn’t mean to hurt him.

When the inquisition was over, a phone call was made and we all sat there as the park was getting darker and darker and the old couple had gone home and they were replaced by four Dominicans that had been playing soccer in the little meadow earlier and now there were fireflies rising out of the dark grass and I wondered if the fireflies could hear the cries of the boy.

Minutes after the phone call was made I see an astounding figure striding into the park. He looked like Tarzan in a Hanes T-shirt and khaki cargo shorts. His thick black hair was flying behind him as though he were moving much faster than he actually was, he emanated some sort of light, like that of a satellite blinking on and off and on and off as it orbits, and he was headed straight for our little band of humbled children and distressed mothers, who were busying themselves with packing up the evenings’ picnic, neatly folding blankets and making sure that everyone went home with the tupperware that belonged to them and as Tarzan got closer I poked Gretchen’s husband in the arm and said, ”Who is THAT?“

”Oh that’s T.’s father.“ he replied

”What is up with him? Why does he look like that?“

”Oh, he was the star of Hair on Broadway last year. He just got back from doing the London production for, I dunno, six months, something like that. The New York Times called him “A Force of Nature.”

“I would say that is an understatement.”

And with that the Force of Nature scooped up the boy, who went silent in his arms, and they disappeared into the city in search of an emergency room.

*****

So I returned to Connecticut and it seemed like the prairie compared to the City, and I shed my city clothes and put on a bathing suit and dove into the blue of my friend K.’s pool and drank wine as the sun once again put itself to bed and I wished for the sound of cicadas, but my hometown isn’t noisy with the creatures of summer nights anymore, but I didn’t care, I was glad to be floating in the water with thoughts of the Long Island Sound resting nearby.

That night I tucked myself into K.’s now grown little girls room and instead of throwing all the flowered pillows to one side, I put them all around me and I embraced them like a twelve year old girl might, a girl who was much more feminine than I was at twelve, because I had spent the last two nights sleeping in a little boy’s room in the City, a room with one window that looked out on the yellow brick building next door and a neighbor’s air conditioner upon which sat two pigeons. The boy’s room was filled with books by Roald Dahl and Matchbox cars and a fire engine and his bed was small and hard, but he had an orchid sitting in a pot in the window next to a green curtain, and that made me sleep well.

But on this first night back in Connecticut, which would be the night before my last day, the day before I would get into my truck and make the long wonderful thoughtful drive back to North Carolina, I had a dream:

I dreamed I was picnicking in Inwood Park and my friend Jarret came with his children Margo and Max, and Margo was wearing blue cat sunglasses. The actress Colleen Dewhurst, who played Annie Hall's mother, stood up and performed this odd combination of voice and breathing exercises and bad poetry. We could barely hear her. I kept walking closer to her and she would move away, and walk in determined circles, all while reciting powerfully. When she was finished, I sat with Jarret and he said, "She was awful...just words!" and I thought “just words are okay.” Then Jarret told me I should read Soljenitsin because I would discover that my voice was coming from the same place and I thought, “Really? My voice is Russian?”...I returned home to my childhood bedroom from the park and began rearranging it and then, I woke up.

On my last morning, I walked to Burying Hill Beach, while my host K. slept . . . she never emerges from her bedroom before nine or ten, unless she is lured by pancakes, but that’s another story, for another day. I had promised myself that I would make the long walk to the beach on my last day, so that I could take thoughts of the old beach, the beach my grandmother had grown up on and the beach she walked in the years before she died, home with me. Its one of the smaller beaches in town and it is pleasantly near the Greens Farms train station and accompanied by a good sized marsh that sings with red wing black birds and the whir of dragonflies. A few people were parked in their cars in the lot when I got there. They were drinking their coffee and watching the sun rise over the Sound. I imagined some would leave soon and catch the next train into the City, where they would toil all day.

I walked out to the jetty and I sat there for the longest time watching the tide come in. A red canoe was on the water to the south of me and it gently held two people who made me think of Pequot Indians transporting onions before the colonists came and built the churches and the stone walls. The tide began to gently rise over the jetty and I decided to climb down and walk up the beach. The cars had all left and I was virtually alone on the beach. I walked a straight line in that place where the water meets the sand, and let the water touch my heels. The sun was in my eyes and I regretted not having my sunglasses, so I cast my gaze downward and I found two perfect yellow beach rocks, the kind of rocks that when wet they are absolutely alive and luminescent and when dry, seem rather dull. I picked up both of the stones and decided I would take them home. I would keep one for myself, and the other would go to a friend, who would remember the quality of these rocks, who would appreciate a piece of the hometown he has been away from for so many years. As I straightened up I heard a man’s voice. I turned and looked out to the water, and the sun pierced my forehead sharply and when I was able to focus again, I saw a man waist-high in the shallows. His hair was dark and his bangs fell long and to one side, his chest was bare and brown with sun and as well defined as any Greek statue might be. I squinted and he shouted over the din of the salt water air to me, “Come in! The water is lovely!” Was he speaking to me? I turned around and scanned the beach. There was no one else. He was speaking to me. And the water was quite lovely. It was clear as a window and it was sweetly pawing at my toes. I stuttered. I didn’t know this man, yet he was inviting me to swim with him. I was in my khaki shorts and a t-shirt. and I suddenly wished I had brought my bathing suit . . . it was stupid of me to leave it back at the house . . . I wouldn’t make the same mistake again. But all this was going through my head and the man stood there in the water, mixing the waves with his hands like he was casting lines for sea monsters, and I managed to awkwardly answer him, I was embarrassed really, “Oh I am sure the water is terrific! You will have to swim for me though. Enjoy.” I think that’s what I said, something like that, and I turned and continued walking up the beach with my right foot in the water and my left foot on the damp sand, where it would sink slightly to the place where the hermit crabs burrow, and so your heel touches them and they prick you with their tiny claws. I turned my head back to see the man, my cheeks still flushed with some kind of embarrassment and wondering if I might turn to stone, and his top half had been replaced by his legs! He was doing a hand stand in the water and walking on his hands, and his knees were gently bending and flexing and the soles of his feet were reveling in the sun. And before he gently somersaulted back out and took a deep breath I headed up the stone beach wall and up the stairs that led to the changing rooms and back out toward Beachside Avenue.

That night I told K. and her daughter of my encounter with the Swimmer and they asked, “Was he cute?”

“Yeah, he was cute.”

“Why didn’t you go swimming with him?”

“I didn’t have my suit with me!”

“That’s no reason not to go swimming with him. You’re a skinny dipper from way back! You should have gone swimming with him!”

“But I didn’t know him. I didn’t know who he was. And besides, it was morning.”

“It was a beautiful morning! You should have gone swimming with him!”

And then it hit me, and I blurted it out across the dinner table to K. and her daughter, “You know what?”

“What?” They asked.

“He was a MerMan! That swimmer was a MerMan!”

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Books Have Feelings Too . . .

yes they do . . .

Down By The Waste Water Processing Plant . . .

So I was driving to the store late yesterday afternoon, and the heat had come back. I crossed the bridge over the river and saw the water cascading over the dam and there was a fisherman down in the shallows, he looked content, fish or no fish. I rounded the corner and saw it was near quittin' time at the Water Works, the men were standing by their pickup trucks talking about the things Water Works men talk about. They are all big men with bellies that hang over their Carharts, but their arms are strong you know. I imagine they all live cross town, maybe in Efland and up near Hurdle Mills, where they keep black angus steers in the fields they inherited from their granddaddies, for just a little somethin' on the side. So maybe they talk about beef prices and how many Mexicans are down in Siler City now . . . Little Mexico now, that's what they call it.

But I drive past them and I see two girls. I've seen them before, walking on this road, they are all of twelve or thirteen maybe, lately in their bathing suits, usually a t-shirt but no shorts and bare feet, and sometimes I have seen them with these two boys, with pale chests and young tattoos, the kinda tattoos that are just-the-beginning you know. One of the boys usually has a towel around his neck and a big inner tube looped over his shoulder and that tells me they are all going to the river, which is an enviable thing to do on these hot days, better than getting in that electric blue low-rider with the muffler that must have cost Daddy a month's wages and going to the mall way over in Durham.

Yesterday though, the girls were alone and they were lying in the grass under the no-shade of a telephone pole near the side entrance of the Water plant. They were wearing nothin' but their bikinis and some deep purple nail polish and their bellies were soft and biscuit white. They almost looked like they had been hit by a truck, but they were flailing about some, right as I passed, the one with the long auburn hair, picked up her head and rolled over onto her stomach and put her chin in her hands, and she bent her knees so that her feet were up and she flexed her ankles up and down and up and down, which was the kind of move you see most teenage girls make on the beach, but these two were lying in the kinda dirty grass on the little slope on the side of the road. They were barely a few feet from the six foot chain link fence that surrounds the Water Plant and within viewing distance of that trailer that they raided for some damn reason last year, there were some real bad characters living there, it wasn't the long hair and the beards that made them seem so bad, it was their wives sitting in the dirt yard on old wet upholstered recliners watchin' their babies run near the road in their diapers, that sorta made you wonder about their ways of living.

Anyway, the girls looked kinda wrong, lying there in the grass in my rear view mirror. And when I drove back from the store with a paper sack full of tomatoes and a new jar of mustard and one of those already roasted chickens cause its too hot to roast a chicken in my kitchen theses days, the girls were still sitting there in the grass. Their boyfriends were nowhere -- or maybe the boys had lost interest, school is starting soon so maybe they were working on their car instead of messing with these two birds. Now they were sitting up Indian-Style, and they were smoking cigarettes and I got the feeling that they thought they were pretty damn tough sitting there on the side of the road, in their faded bikinis with the worn out straps. I wondered if the Water Men had told them to go home, and then I thought probably not, cause men like those don't really get involved with girls like these, they got their own wives and girls at home that they got to have Talks with you know?

I got to the bridge and the fisherman was gone and the water of the river was running fast and bottle green.