Can I Go Now?

Nothing makes you want to get away more than encountering a screaming man on your way to get a salad.

I brought my dinner to work yesterday, but as often happens, I didn’t really want it. It was rice and chicken and broccoli and it was boring and seemed like it was going to be kind of heavy. I decided I wanted a salad instead, so I climbed out of the basement (which was really probably half the motivation for wanting to score some chow somewhere else) and headed down the block to fetch one. As I crossed the street, I could hear a man yelling. This isn’t terribly unusual, and I figured it was probably a homeless man out of my line of sight.

But as I approached the restaurant where I meant to get my salad, I discovered I was wrong. In fact, it was a guy I believe to have a home, in his 30s, wearing shorts and sandals and a hooded sweatshirt (a sweatshirt, in 90+ degree heat), and bellowing into the phone. Something about “..and now she’s dumping it on me?! She’s dumping it on me after I wasted a hundred minutes of cell phone time?! I wasted a hundred minutes on my cell phone and she’s dumping it on me now?!…”

He was standing about ten feet away from a silent homeless woman who I’ve seen before. She intrigues me because she’s black (I don’t mean to be culturally insensitive with that vague description; quite the contrary – I don’t know if she’s African-American or an Islander or otherwise), but she paints her face darker. With big round circles left unpainted around her eyes. Like she’s making her own private statement on Vaudeville or something. I’ve wondered before if she’s just touched in the head and doesn’t realize she’s already dark-skinned. But given her company on the sidewalk, tonight I was thinking she might have been the saner of the two.

With Sweatshirt Guy screeching away, I rolled my eyes behind my sunglasses and walked into the restaurant. It took 20 minutes to get my salad because there was only one person preparing food and there were about four people ahead of me. When I walked out of the restaurant, I was surprised to find that the same guy was still standing outside, yelling into his cell phone. And I could swear I heard him call the person on the other end of the line “Mom.”

Wow, I thought as I stood at the curb waiting to cross at the light. You’re a real winner, huh? I could still hear him yelling after I’d crossed. Who was this guy? Who were his friends? Who could possibly like or love him? He’s screaming at his mother through a cell phone on a city street with lots of people around. And it’s not just that maybe she’s hard of hearing or the connection is bad. There’s definite anger involved.

You’re not real, I thought. You are a character in a sitcom or something. I’m being punk’d. You cannot be real!” 

And then I thought, You don’t see nonsense like this in other countries. 

I have been fantasizing lately about fleeing the country and visiting some really awesometastic place. Not like Bengali or Bora Bora (although I have friends who went to Bora Bora and let me tell you, the photos were pretty freaking awesometastic). No, what I’m craving is something more “oldest established.” London. Paris. Rome. Florence. Prague.

Yeah, I’m mostly limiting my fantasies to Europe, I guess. But I think I want to go somewhere that I have an image of in my head, as opposed to some totally new place where I don’t know what to expect. I mean part of the fantasy is the idea that it could actually come true, right?

I’ve been to Paris. Before I went, I had told several people at varying times that I would generally like to spend my money traveling to different places rather than returning to the same place. It was a big part of the reason I had repeatedly told my friends in Melbourne that I couldn’t come back to Australia before I’d done some more globetrotting. When I returned from France, I promptly told everyone (except my friends in Melbourne) that I had lied. I wanted to go back to Paris as soon as possible. I know it’s obvious and trite and, like, soooo 1900s, but it’s true. I fell in love with that city and I didn’t get a ton of time to explore it, so I have to go back and finish my unfinished business.

Bonjour, Rive Seine..

I want to go to London. I used to not really be enamored of London at all… I didn’t really care if I saw it or not. But now I want to go, and I can’t really say why. The accents are cute. What? It’s all I got. That and the stone structures everywhere.

Even when the rioting broke out, I still sat at work and deliberated and decided I would rather be there than in a basement. I knew the unrest had gotten bad when the postcard my sister had sent from London several weeks ago threw itself off my refrigerator door two nights ago. When even the stationery is in an uproar, there’s a problem. And you have to be impressed by the solidarity.

When I bent over and picked it up, I looked at the collage of photos of the city and sighed.

I want to go to Italy. One of my coworkers just returned and had all these great stories about randomness that happened while he and his family were there. They just jaunted up to Castel Gandolfo from Rome one day and wound up being blessed by the pope. They got lost in Venice. How great does that sound? To get lost in Venice? It’s hard to care that you’re lost when you don’t really know where you are to begin with. They ventured into neighborhoods and found hardware stores and markets and I kind of hate my coworker now.

Then I came home and I watched back-to-back episodes of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, and one of them was in Rome, shot entirely in black and white. And now I want to go to Rome in black and white, please.

From planetearthdailyphoto.blogspot.com

I realize that I was just in a pretty great place.

Castaway Cay, Bahamas, with a storm brewing

I’m ready to go to another great place now, thank you.

I don’t know what’s causing this craving for change and adventure. I’m a little bored, I admit, but that happens sometimes. I guess I’m restless, but that’s a motivator. It’s only been three weeks since my vacation. Most people would tell me to shut up. But apparently the Mickey Boat and getting out of the basement and walking down the street to find a guy screaming at his mother on a cell phone is not enough adventure for me.

At least if there was a guy screaming at his mother in France, it would sound nicer.

********
Now, for my lovely subscribers and/or commenters: the laptop works. You can imagine my relief when I closed my eyes and squished up my face and turned my head away while I hit the power button to find out what would happen. The lights came on, the little computer music played, and I swear, angels sang.

Glory, hallelujah.

Advertisements

“Righteous! Righteous!” Thoughts On a Disney Cruise

Disney cruises are magical.

They have to be. How else do you explain why 1500 crew members working 12-15 hours a day for months at a stretch are so damned pleasant all the time? Pixie dust. They gotta be hittin’ the pixie dust.

I have returned from my Amazing Race trip. As you have been able to tell if you’re a subscriber, I didn’t get to post while I was away. I’m sure you’ve survived that particular horror relatively unscathed. To be honest, I did occasionally wonder about how I could write a post about the trip when really, nothing funny or worthy of snark happened.

What? Nothing worthy of snark? In my world?!

Let me see if I can work something up.

I’ll spare you the day-by-day synopsis of what we did on this trip, because you don’t know me in person and therefore you don’t care. So I’ll just say we set sail Friday evening from Port Canaveral and arrived Saturday morning in Nassau, where only my Parents and I got off the ship because Sisters 1 & 2, Brothers-In-Law 1 & 2 and the Nephs were all trying to get a handle on their respective life schedules at the time. (When you put twin 3-year-olds and a 16-month-old on a cruise ship full of pools, water slides they’re an inch too short to ride, larger-than-life Disney characters and food, after a flight and shuttle or a long drive, you get combustible conditions. They were astonishingly good on the trip, with meltdowns associated only with lamenting their height and the 8:15pm dinner seating, which was decidedly past all of their bedtimes, but regrettably could not be changed for a party of 11. I did have to chase Neph 1 halfway down the length of the ship on the pool deck because he has a tendency to take off, but that was it.)

About 1/3 of the pool deck on the Disney Dream, empty because of a tropical storm at sea.

In Nassau, Parents and I promptly looked for and found ways to part ourselves from our money. I’m sure it’s a beautiful and interesting city, but we barely got more than three blocks in from the shore. We were in port until 2am but Parents are not particularly adventurous, and therefore no excursions were scheduled. No big deal. I set foot on land and can therefore say I’ve been to Nassau.

Nassau from the upper deck

Here’s the kind of awesome thing about cruising to that town: there are tons of jewelry stores within spitting distance of the ship, and they lure you in to look at their sparkly shiny things with promises of free sparkly shiny things. And then… they actually give you the free sparkly shiny things. Fine, so I bought some other stuff to go with the free thing at the first store (because what can one do with a loose one-carat midnight sapphire other than set it in something?). So I have a new pendant. And then we went to another store offering free 1/2 carat gemstone pendants… and they actually gave them to us. A free pink topaz on a silver chain, and eh, ten bucks for the matching earrings. Then, the saleswoman said if we went to their other location, two blocks away, we could get a free smoky topaz, too. And so we did.

It was like trick-or-treating for jewels.

Sure, they’re probably not that valuable, and sure, they generally look better set in yellow gold, and sure, I don’t wear silver, but that’s immaterial. I didn’t pay for them.

The next day was Castaway Cay, which is a Bahamian island owned (nay, leased for 99 years from the Bahamian government) by the charming giant rodent and his pals. Although it’s a little contrived and you’re stacked on top of each other like cans of sardines in a grocery store, you’re still sitting on a Bahamian island with a cocktail in your hand, splashing around in the blue-green water, so shut up.

All complainers, walk the plank!

That brings me to a larger point with which I did battle several times over the course of the trip: there can be, really, no complaining on a voyage like this. You are entertained at every moment you so choose, by live shows, first-run (Disney) movies, swimming, sunning, drinking, eating, dancing and lounging. The presence of vermin is assumed (this is how Disney gets around rodent complaints – “What did you expect? Our most popular characters are mice!”), you have literally everything you could possibly want or need at your beck and call (for a small fee if you want it delivered to your room)… and if you want to complain about the fee to deliver something to your room, you can’t, really, because it’s being schlepped there by some poor 20-something from an Eastern Bloc country who’s working, have I mentioned, 12 – 15 hours a day with a smile on his face all the freaking time, listening to songs from Bedknobs and Broomsticks and The Little Mermaid all day, every day, just to make your spoiled ass Feel the Magic. And the service is unbelievable.

I suppose you could complain, but you’d look like a jerk.

I had a little trouble navigating this dichotomy with Parents. Mother is not much of a complainer, but Father tends to randomly spout thoughts that come out as though they’re complaints, and when I try to counteract them with possible explanations, he gets irritated. My point, which I don’t make aloud in so many words, is that you apparently had thousands of dollars to burn by giving it to the Disney people and making them cart you around on a ship and feed you unlimited amounts of food prepared by relatively top-notch culinary artists, and cater to your every need, taking you to poor locations where you soothe your conscience by telling yourself that tourism is their greatest economic contributor and therefore the people there need you to give your money to the Disney people and make them cart you to their island, so you can spend more of your money.

Which is actually true. But still makes you out to be a d-bag, doesn’t it?

Now how do you say that to your father? You can’t.

And you do spend money. Not everything on the ship is included in your cruise package; you do have to spend extra on gratuities, particularly at the end of the trip, when you give to the stateroom host, the head server (which Father complained about, since you don’t see him much more than once a night – but you give him literally a dollar a day per person in your stateroom, so deal with it), your main server and your assistant server, who, by the way, is busting his ass to make your indecisive, mixed-message-sending self happy as an animated clam under the sea). You pay extra for merch and you pay extra for alcohol.

Bahama Mamas, served up by Dorian of St. Vincent. Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me.

Oh, yes. The alcohol.

That’s where roughly $150 of my end-of-voyage billing statement came from. Plus $100 for the above-mentioned gratuities (I handled Sister 3’s end as well, since she was my stateroommate and she’s only 21), and $150 for a massage, which I got easily, despite the Disney Commies telling me everything was booked when I tried several times before departure.

Oh, and $40 for professionally-done photos.

Sucka.

But they make it so easy, you see, because they give you a little card with Donald Duck on it, and it has your name and some code numbers on it, and you use it for everything, from getting into your room to turning on the lights to accessing a foreign country to buying stuff. You use it so much in four nights that, when you get back on American soil, you’ve forgotten that you need keys and funny-looking paper and metal cash and, like, a thought in your head to get around in life.

But this card, my friends, this card is further evidence of the communism at work. They use it to track your every move. They scan it and your picture pops up. It tells them what room you’re in. It lets them charge you for stuff. It might as well be a microchip implanted in your flesh. It’s so fabulously convenient that you lose sight of the fact that you are basically under their control with that one little card.

Ahhhhhh, villainy disguised as charm. Gets you every time. Hell, that’s what Disney movies are about.

A bunch of Disney Bad Guys (and Gals) on stage in one of the Dream's onboard theaters. No flash photography; my camera picked up the ambient light just fine.

Still, I have exactly zero complaints about this trip. I even got to spend a little quiet time in the Quiet Cove pool area, sans children (people actually obey signs on Disney cruise ships!), watching the watery world go by for two hours as I sipped a cocktail and dozed on a cushy cabana seat as we shipped out from the Bahamas to head back to the States… slowly.

Does not suck.

I’m glad I grabbed that time, because the next day we were at-sea the whole day, which meant all 4,000 passengers on board were on the pool deck, and Quiet Cove was overrun by Worn Out Adults. I took 365 pictures with my camera (hooray for digital). I saw the Nephs’ faces light up with happiness and made my family laugh with my quips. I saw sunsets and super-impressive lightning storms (we sailed around a tropical storm) and laughed in the rain. I rode a giant twisty turny on-board water slide in a raft.

And I got my picture taken with Minnie Mouse. For whom I have newfound respect, because the people on these ships work so incredibly hard, away from their own families for months, just to make you happy and make some cash that they can send home to their families in Indonesia and Bulgaria and Slovenia and Peru.

It’s a small world, after all.

——
Featured image of Crush from “Finding Nemo” NOT swiped from Disney film, but taken by me onboard during a little dinner entertainment. Don’t sue me, Mickey.

Cat and Mousecapades

Me, to the cat, exasperatedly: “You really must grow opposable thumbs.”

Cat, nonplussed: “Meow.”

I’m going on vacation. This vacation has Amazing Race-like qualities, in that it will take several legs and modes of transport to arrive at the eventual destinations… but it is not at all like the show, in that it requires positively no energy other than schlepping to said modes of transport. With thousands of my human kin, I am embarking on a four-night Disney cruise.

Which is somewhat odd, as I have no children.

I do have nephews. They’re going. That’s how we justified the reservations.

This trip will involve my Parents, Sister 1, Bro-in-law 1, Twin Nephs, Sister 2, Bro-in-law 2, Youngest Neph, Sister 3 and myself. It’s actually pretty great that we still do the group vacation thing, though it doesn’t usually involve the wide-open sea and a giant, luxurious cruise ship full of larger-than-life rodents and princesses. We’re trying to extend the life of that group vacation effort indefinitely, even though some of us have bred, and I moved away from everyone 16 years ago and never got closer than two hours away since, and then my parents moved away even farther than I ever was (thus giving me the privilege to rebuff all passive-aggressive forms of scorn for having moved away at all).

But, as you know if you’ve ever gone on a vacation as an adult, it involves a great deal of planning and chore-doing before you actually depart. And combined with the joys of full-time employment, long commutes and other obligations, that means you get to do a load of Whatever Colors There Are, To Hell With It laundry at midnight the night before you leave, while you alternately stuff things into luggage and wander around your home muttering to yourself incessantly about what needs to be done before you go.

And, in my case, have a dirty martini.

I’ve been on one other cruise, and it was 12 years ago. That time, though, my parents had taken care of everything. Which means I had no idea how laborious a task it is to get it together to get on a big boat and go somewhere. The communists at Disney want to know everything about me, including the name of my firstborn, and if no such child yet exists, the potential name of my firstborn, and if the potential doesn’t exist, the reason for the lack of said potential. I’m signing contracts, I’m filling stuff out online, I’m being urged by Goofy to make sure all my passport information is entered, I’m triple-checking baggage tags, I’m making a list of the lists I need to make and checking that stuff off, I’m communing with the Department of State… it’s overwhelming.

Leave it to Mickey Mouse to turn grown women into whirling dervishes.

Rat bastard.

But seriously, I’m looking forward to it… now. Because I figure everything’s done, and what isn’t… well, it’s not going to get done at this point. Once I leave work, I’m driving straight to Sister 2’s house (2.5 hours), going to bed, getting up a short time later and heading out with her, her hubby, their tot and Sister 3 to the airport, from which we will fly to Orlando, and then take a shuttle to their hotel, and then get picked up from there by Parents, who will take Sister 3 and myself to our hotel, where Parents are also staying. At some point, Sister 1 and BIL 1 join up with us, with Twin Nephs in tow, having gone to Orlando early to visit BIL 1’s brother and his family.

They drove all night (cue Cyndi Lauper) last night, and I understand Twin Nephs did not want to sleep in the van, because they thought they had to sleep on the “Mickey Boat.”

We stay tomorrow night at the hotels, and around noonish on Friday, we board the Disney Dream for four nights of seafaring adventure. Ports of call: Nassau and Disney’s Castaway Cay. They own the joint.

It’s an island.

And they own it.

Imperialists.

(I actually love Disney, for the record. But come on. You know they’ve got a plan for world domination.)

But I digress. What’s done is done and what isn’t, isn’t. And in point of fact, what almost wasn’t… was getting someone to feed the cat. The cat, having been acquired as an allegedly low-maintenance pet, developed transient diabetes a few years ago, throwing in a UTI and pancreatitis for extra fun, and now cannot eat dry food. She has to have wet food, and wet food cannot be left in a great heap on the floor for days and days and days. So I need a cat-feeder if I go away for more than two or three.

My Budd-ish neighbor, Shanti-Mayi/Toni, has my spare apartment key. She has two cats, Agape and Tres-Siete (three legs, seven lives left), and she’s very kind about feeding my cat if I go anywhere. Alas, Shanti-Mayi/Toni appears to be out of town.

Would that I had realized this prior to 11pm last night.

Okay, this is fine. I have two other neighbors, and they’re both super nice and love animals. They’ll help.

Notes went up on doors. The night passed. The notes were still on the doors come morning.

Oh. They’re not here either.

(What the hell, people? Am I the only one in the building? Okay, new rule: if ever there is only one person in the building for an extended period of time, said person should be notified of their status as the solo resident so that they don’t go trying to save the rest of the group in the event of a fire, for naught.)

So… everyone’s gone. And I’m going to be gone for six, and possibly seven, nights.

Me, to the cat, somewhat desperately: “You really can’t open cans by yourself?”

Cat, still nonplussed: “Meow.”

Sigh.

I was coming down to the wire. The carriage was about to turn into a pumpkin. This morning, while I was madly cleaning the apartment, doing laundry, washing dishes and calculating time constraints, I had to email my former neighbor, Ali. “Ack! HELP!” was the subject line. I begged her to either come dump a supply of the cat’s food every two or three days, or come get her and take her to Ali’s place, whatever works. Ali now lives 20-25 minutes from me and she’s a single mom, so this isn’t an easy drill. I sweetened the pot with an offer to have her and her son stay at my place at least for the weekend, using such luxuries as cable, internet access and pool passes, and granting free and unfettered access to my bookshelves and DVDs.

I think she bought it. In any case, she’s feeding the cat. Phew. That was close.

Her agreement to help, and possibly stay at my place for the weekend, then necessitated a flurry of new and unplanned mandatory activities, like putting fresh sheets on the beds (requiring another load of laundry), vacuuming the whole place instead of just the part a casual feeder would see, cleaning the bathroom, and figuring out where to hide two separate keys: the one to the building and the one to my apartment. I think that was fairly well accomplished, unless someone finds the one I hid outside before Ali does on Friday. Then we could have a problem. The management won’t let her in because they don’t know her. I’m not reachable at that point, and even if I were, I couldn’t come home. I’m with a giant mouse, on his boat.

And as we know from a previous post, the cat isn’t so great about catching up with mice, or knowing what to do if she did.

Bon voyage, readers. I wasn’t able to write any posts ahead of my departure. I’m told Mickey does offer wi-fi at sea… but he charges for it, of course.

Commie. 

Cat. Nonplussed.

 
——
Featured image from palmbeachpost.com
 

Things I’ve Learned On the Beach

 

Vacations are not breaks from learning. The powers of observation can be amazing educational tools. I’ve learned more about bathing suits than I ever thought possible. Notice, I’m not saying it’s good. Below, a list of lessons. Yes, they’re kind of critical. But clearly, somebody has to say it.

1. European men still think Speedos are the way to go.

I really don’t understand this. It’s like they stubbornly refuse to wear any bathing attire other than a Speedo. And apparently, the more brightly-colored or wildly patterned, the better. I’m amazed I didn’t see anything with feathers strut by. Why do these guys not understand how incredibly UNflattering these things are, even when you’re 26 and gorgeous? Are they really comfortable? How is it possible that they’re comfortable? If you want to be seen, wear one. If you want to be seen and not make people look away, stick to trunks.

1A. The only thing worse than a guy in a Speedo is an old guy in a stretched-out Speedo.

I don’t think I need to explain this. But it did remind me of an episode at a different beach a few years ago. This guy wearing some sort of natural-colored fishnet “cover-up” decided to make camp right next to us. He had long, curly bleached blond hair and a leathery tan. He wore, I kid you not, a stretched-out gold lame’ Speedo. And…

…wait for it…

a fanny pack.

It was like Sammy Hagar went on a bender, forgot where he was, and decided to catch some rays.

Exactly like this, but with a belly and a tan. Wait. It might have actually been Sammy Hagar. (Image from the uber-classy sucksorrocks.com)

After he was finished with his visit, he climbed on a bicycle and rode off.

I’ll let you fully process that image.

Okay then.

2. There is seriously  no end of middle-aged, potbellied men who believe it’s perfectly acceptable to show at least two inches of butt crack while walking around the beach.

These men are usually with their wives. I don’t understand how they’re permitted to get away with this. They’ve got their shorts slung so low, everyone else is subject to their posterior crests. And it’s not cute. In fact, it’s usually furry. And not kitten furry or puppy furry or baby bunny rabbit furry.

3. There is also no end of women of all ages who wear ill-advised bathing suits.

I suppose I should applaud these women and girls for having a healthy enough body image to flaunt the flab, the cellulite, the jiggly bits. In a way, I think it’s great that they’re comfortable with their bodies. But people, I’m not that old and I’m a healthy weight, and I still keep my cellulite covered. It’s just polite. I know that my flaws lie in my proverbial trunk, and I’m not going to show you what they are. It’s so much sexier if you don’t let it all hang out. What is it about the current times that make people thing it’s better to show everything right from jump? Am I my grandmother? Are there kids on my lawn? I don’t think so.

4. There are also plenty of girls and women who don’t feel the need to keep their legs closed while they’re lying about on the beach. One of them was facing me directly. And when I say her legs were not closed, I mean if her doctor were around, she’d be totally ready for a quick pelvic. She was from some other country, but I’m  not having that as an excuse. Knees together, love. Where is your mother?

But, turns out…

5. There are parents who seemingly don’t care what their daughters look like on the beach.

Now. I have plenty of therapy-necessitating issues borne of my mother ‘s criticisms. But never, not ever, did I wear a bikini, untie the top strap that goes around your neck, tie it behind my back instead, and then slouch over to play cards. Legs akimbo, and fabric I mean barely covering nipples. She could have been wearing pasties, for all the good this bikini top was doing while she had the top strap tied around her back. And her parents were right there. Right there! How does that happen? I wasn’t even allowed to wear a bikini for as long as I lived in my parents’ house. I swear, I didn’t own one until I was 22. But here’s this lovely 17-year-old girl with a sweet face and she’s all exposed. In front of her father. I wanted to roll up my magazine and smack him in the head with it.

I don’t get it.

6. Trying too hard automatically negates attractiveness.

This is one of those things you don’t learn until you’re older, and God, do I wish I knew it ten years ago. The people I see trying too hard are younger, and it breaks my heart. They’re teetering on four-inch heels and wearing short skirts that they keep having to pull down as they walk. Their hair is all Done, but it’s humid and it’s breezy, so they’re getting frustrated with it. It’s hard work to be beautiful. But at their age, it’s harder to just let yourself be beautiful, and that’s sad, because it’s so much easier to look lovely naturally when you’re 22. I just want to stop these girls on the street and tell them to relax. Don’t make it so much harder than it is. I say this in all seriousness and heartfelt sincerity: there is more beauty in grace than there will ever be in glamour. If you’re not comfortable, you’re less beautiful. Let it go, and it will come to you. You’ll be irresistible. All the great ones knew it: Hepburn, Kelly, Bacall. There are famous, beautiful women right now who know it: Halle Berry, Diane Lane, Ashley Judd come to mind. Confidence and grace. They’re what make you beautiful. They’re what make men stare. Hairspray and spandex are for rookies.

I Am Woman, I Am Invincible, I Am On Vacation

Vacation makes you do things you wouldn’t do in real life. Random sex with strangers. Drunken misbehavior. Brazen breast-baring.

(You thought there was going to be a picture there, didn’t you? Fine, here’s your gratuitous, implicative photo:)

Unmade bed suggests sex. Bikini top suggests the reciprocal toplessness. Happy?

Yeah, I don’t do any of those things.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t get down with my personal version of my bad self.

One of the things that I like about being on vacation in a faraway Happy Place is the complete anonymity. I walk around like I own the place, because by now I’m familiar with the area from having been here a few times, but nobody knows who I am. I am that mystery woman who ducks quietly in and out of little shops, maybe twice, maybe three times (there’s a gallery here that I love, even though in the four years since I first set foot in it, I’m pretty sure only one item has sold – and of course it was my favorite item). She wears a Mona Lisa smile. She’s somewhere between annoyed and amused when strange men whistle at her as she passes by. (Annoyed because it’s obnoxious, immature, stereotypical, lecherous behavior. Amused because a compliment’s a compliment, and hey– someday, they’re gonna stop looking.) She wears dark sunglasses. She mostly looks brooding, but when she smiles, her whole face changes. And then she pays cash and disappears.

My bad self is quite the enigma.

The other thing I like about vacation in a faraway Happy Place is the freedom to throw caution to the wind. This is relative, you understand. See first paragraph as example of cautions I still keep.

I stay up til 2am watching trashy television. I sleep in. (This hotel’s blackout shades are a gift from the heavens. Ten a.m. in Miami and you’d never know it. Amazing.) I drink two mojitos at 2:00 in the afternoon, and am entirely unaffected. I don’t have to do a damned thing I don’t want to do. If I want to get to the post office to mail my godson a postcard, but I don’t make it in time, you know what? To hell with it. I’ll go tomorrow. Because I can. I don’t have to do anything.  I don’t even have to stay with my friends. I can venture off on my own, and no one will be offended. Its’s glorious.

I can eat new and exotic foods. I can have ice cream for breakfast (but I don’t; I’m a savory breakfast person). I can paint my nails very bright colors that I would never wear to work. I can entertain the notion of buying myself a new piece of sparkly jewelry, or trying on a ridiculous, Carrie Bradshaw-esque outfit. I can wear outrageous earrings and sexy dresses and unreasonably high heels, and totally pull it off.

I am invincible when I am on vacation.

Right now, I’m drinking a Diet Coke from the mini-bar. That’s right, I said mini-bar. Since arriving, I’ve also had a small can of Pringles, half a bottle of cranberry juice and the vodka they had in there.

See that empty space on the top left? Thats where the Diet Cokes used to be. But the big Evian bottle lying on its side on the shelf is from the drug store. Im not paying $3 for a 16 oz. bottle of water. Im not THAT reckless.

Reckless abandon, people. It comes in many forms.

Vacation: All I Ever Wanted… and Also Cancer

 

I know, I know. Cancer isn’t funny (despite my college friend’s hilarious and totally unexpected joke one day: “You know what’s funny?” – blank, expectant stares – “Cancer.”  – peals of hysterical laughter at the inappropriateness). And honestly, I’m not laughing this time. But I’ll get to that in a few paragraphs.

So, my fight with the universe has at least led me to victory in the effort to get here to my Happy Place. I’ve now been here for 36 hours, having arrived late Sunday night after a daylong traveling adventure.

First there was the rich experience of people-watching at the airport, about which I could not resist writing an entry on the first flight. I say “first flight” because technically there were three to get me here. I flew from home to Milwaukee (because who doesn’t fly to Milwaukee on their way to Miami Beach?), had a three-hour layover, and then flew to Tampa, where we stopped to deboard/pick up about 100 passengers in what appeared to have been an even exchange. One of the flight attendants did an excellent job briefing the people in the emergency exit row, two rows ahead of me, about their duties. She was very thorough. She also told them how many people and babies were on the plane.

She told them three times.

That shouldn’t make me nervous, right?

My people-watching continued thanks to the family of the most stereotypically accurate New York Jews I’ve ever encountered. Now – don’t get me wrong – I have zero problem with where they’re from or what faith they practice. Zero. But people who unknowingly play directly into stereotypes crack me up, and this could have been a Seinfeld episode. Naturally, they sat right behind me, with the woman on the phone before takeoff with her apparently addle-minded mother (“Mom, did you have an awltuhcation with someone today? Did you have an awltuhcation? Did you have a disagreement with someone? I was told you had an awltuhcation.” and then “Okay, Mom, heah’s what weah gonna do” followed by the plan, and then, “Don’t you tell me no, Mommy! Don’t you deah tell me no, Mommy!” Mommy? You’re like 53 years old, you’re calling her “Mommy?”)  Meanwhile, her husband was next to her, lamenting repeatedly, “Oh, my Gawd. Shhhhhhhhhhh. Shhhhhhhh.” You know how some people actually shush louder than most people talk? Fascinating.

But they were very nice.

Incidentally, here’s what I don’t understand about airlines. Part of the reason for what can only be described as ridiculous ticket prices these days is the fuel, right? So why is it that a silly circuitous fuel-burning route from the east coast to Milwaukee to Tampa to Ft. Lauderdale costs less than any other flight on any other airline? Aside from the mind-numbing hours of travel which, I realized, totalled nearly what it would have taken me to just drive to My Happy Place, already.

Anyway. Once I got to Ft. Lauderdale I had to get my pre-paid shuttle to Miami Beach. I’ve done this more than once and I like the company I use, because they’re cheap and prepaid and it includes the tip. Sure, you share the ride with other people most of the time, but how bad is that? You’re on vacation. There’s no schedule and no need to be annoyed.

The people on my shuttle did not see it that way.

I dunno, it was late, they were travel-weary, I get that. They were good-humored, but with a bite. And I don’t think they understood our driver.

Our driver was a mildly deranged Russian guy whose name I never got, but who looked not a little like Telly Savalas. I wound up in the front passenger seat, which had been moved far forward to accomodate the gentleman seated behind me. No problem, I like sitting on the dashboard. Now, Telly was refreshingly unencumbered by the social pressures of driving within legal parameters. I thought it was a kick, but then, I was on the dashboard and could see better than the 25 people we seemed to have behind me, who were vocally concerned for their collective well-being. Telly, in what I believe was an effort to assuage their fears and convince them that he was more than capable, launched into a story about how his papa wuz chief of eh, somesing like troopers, same ting, in his hometown on Black Sea Coast. Telly drive since 12 years old. Wiss pillows under. Papa wuz very good friend wiss district attorney, there, very good friend, 50-some years. They like drink, and they like play card. In backseat. So, when they start drinking and playing card in backseat, Telly drive. And even though only 12, everyone know not pull over ziss car. Everyone know who car is ziss.

I was delighted by this story. The others were apparently only more concerned. They didn’t really get why he was telling it. Plus they kept alerting him to the pedestrians that kept wandering into the path of the van while he enthusiastically told his tale.

At one point, while most of the people behind me were chatting amongst themselves, Telly turned on the radio. Light rock. Chicago, “Will  You Still Love Me?” Interrupting everyone’s conversations, Telly bellowed: “A little muzik, eh? Not too much. Just little. Why not, right? EVERYBODY OKAY WITH AIR CONDITION?”

 I love this guy!

Very happy with the hotel, too. My trips to My Happy Place have been sort of like Goldilocks’ visit to the three bears, out of order. First hotel: fabulous, at a discount rate we’d never get again. Second hotel: tragic and horrible. Won’t make that mistake twice. The walls were paper thin, the doors were two inches off the floor, every word of every person’s conversation was clear from four rooms over, and not one member of the staff spoke English. I’m not a hater, but if you’re in the service industry and most of your visitors are Americans, you should probably speak some English. But this hotel is great: friendly staff, very helpful, lovely accomodations, lots of perks and extras, and the walls are the appropriate thickness. Except, I discovered, the bathroom wall. This morning I heard a man sneezing and thought he was actually in my bathroom.

The first full day of vacation dawned. Here’s what I love about the way I do vacation: no schedule. Do what you want, when you want. Eat what you want, when you want. It’s so great. Given the horrific sunburn I got last year, and the fact that my natural shade is surprisingly similar to the shade of Florida sand…

I match the beach!

…I slathered on the Coppertone Water Babies waterproof, oil free, unscented SPF 50 with zinc oxide and headed out. Yummy overpriced food: check. A walk to the drug store to fetch some bottled water, as well as deodorant and toothpaste, which I had forgotten to pack: check. Beach chair and towel from the hotel: check. Now. Beach.

This doesn't suck.

Ahhhhhhh. Yes. Toes in the sand, book at the ready, trashy magazines in the beach bag (I only read these on beach vacations), water bottle handy, sparkling, blue-green water in front of me, amusing people-watching… excellent.

Two and a half hours later:

WTF.

How does this happen with Coppertone Water Babies waterproof, oil free, unscented SPF Freaking 50 with Freaking Zinc Freaking Oxide?!  Dammit!

Now I’m definitely getting cancer. After last May’s sun poisoning and now this, I’m definitely set. Crap.

So, then I was worried. I got a little anxious between coming back from the beach and dinner. I was starting to go a little downhill, mood-wise. The very real possibility of cancer will do that to you. I was already thinking about the conversation I would have to have with Jack about the diagnosis and how I would need him to be there for me, and how his emotional unavailability would be a problem. The awesome dress I was wearing to dinner  now matched my right arm and left shoulder. My friends were kind enough to pretend not to notice this.

Then we had sangria and authentic Peruvian food and that made it all better. Did you know sangria and authentic Peruvian food cures the possibility of cancer? Yup. It’s true.

But I only had one glass of sangria, because I was worried about dehydration in the wake of the fresh sunburn and last year’s sun poisoning.

Still, a good night.

Today, the debate is over whether to make it a shopping day so I can stay out of the sun. I do have a long-sleeved cover-up, but I’m pretty sure I would pass out from heat stroke if I wore it. And walking around from shop to shop won’t necessarily keep me shaded.

Maybe I should have Telly drive me…

You’re Hilarious/Annoying, Depending On My Mood

If there’s a more target-rich environment for people-watching than an airport, I don’t know what it is. From the second you walk into the place, it’s anthropological. In a matter of moments, the observant traveler can tell who flies fairly often and who hasn’t flown since Pam Am was still in the air… and who is just neurotic and obnoxious and lacking any self-awareness whatsoever.

I happen to be traveling the day after a major storm cancelled several flights. That meant that, when I walked into the airport this morning, there were approximately 427,000 people in the check-in line for Southwest. I had already checked in online, but I needed to print my boarding pass (print connection fail) and had to check a bag because I was bringing my purse and my laptop bag onboard. (Also, I cannot travel without mousse for my hopelessly flat hair, and they don’t make mousse in three-ounce cans. I don’t know why, but they don’t. This leads me briefly to wonder if the hair product people are in cahoots with the airline people. Then I realize I’m an idiot for wondering that.)

The line is longer than I’d ever seen it, but I have plenty of time. I’m sure that half the people in the line with me have plenty of time, too, but you’d never know it based on the panicked expressions on their faces. These are the People Who Don’t Fly Much. Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m not some jet-setter. I fly maybe three times a year, but that’s a lot compared to other people. I happen to know that the Southwest check-in line moves faster than one fears when one first arrives in it. And the security line moves faster than it appears, too.  Plus, if you’re checking a bag and don’t have your boarding pass printed, there’s a lonely, largely unrecognized set of kiosks where you can print it, and then you can get in the much faster-moving of two check-in lines (which usually blur into one line at some point, so that when they do split, it totally confuses the People Who Don’t Fly Much and the group I really can’t stand: the Neurotic/Obnoxious Self-Unaware.) I don’t mind offering this little gem of boarding pass information for people who have young kids and a lot of crap to carry. I told the family behind me, and they were, like, hugely grateful.

Once in a while, when a line is really long, airline employees will come through and find those with flights departing sooner. They’ll put those people toward the front of the line. This rarely elicits objection from other travelers; we all know the stress of worrying about missing a flight. But boy, does it bring expressions of concern to the faces of the PWDFM and the NOSU folks. In an airport, there is rarely a perpetration of injustice (racial profiling notwithstanding). But the NOSUs, in particular, are always looking around for it anyway.  If they think they spot a sign that they’re not being treated fairly, they complain to the other people in their party. This mostly involves whining and nasality and twitchy blinking. It’s a hoot. Next time you fly, if the security line isn’t backed up all the way through the maze of retractable barriers, duck under the barriers to get to the end of the line. You will completely freak out the NOSU people. They will think you’re doing something very, very wrong because you didn’t schlep through the maze in its entirety like some unthinking rat, and they’ll look around for a TSA officer to arrest you. When that doesn’t happen, they’ll look around at everything in general, and blink a lot.

Now you know who the NOSUs are.

PWDFM and NOSUs are so easily intimidated by all of the micro- and macro-processes of air travel that they wind up shorting out a synapse. Just when they figure out how one line works, they have to get into another one. It’s overwhelming. “Wait, which security line is for us? This looks like one line for the A gates, but I’m a B gate.” It doesn’t matter. If you go through this line, you can access both the A and B departure gates. (There is a large sign that explains this, right above the line.) “Oh, now we have to take our shoes off?” Yes.  “Why?” Because of Richard Reid.  “I don’t want to take my shoes off.”  Well, that’s sort of immaterial. “Why do I have to take my shoes off? They tie.” You’ll survive, and retying your shoes will not make you miss your flight.  “I have to take off my belt, too?”  Yes.  “Why? What can a belt do to a plane?”  It has a metal buckle. It’ll set off the alarm on the x-ray machine and you’ll hold up everybody else.  “Honestly, they make it so hard these days.”  Just take off the belt, pal.

Note: the people who keep asking questions after the first “why” are NOSU. The PWDFM stop asking questions after the first “why.”

Okay, we’re through the security line and we’ve re-dressed ourselves. Now our travel companions need to get into the Starbucks line. This is a whole other Thing. After the difficulty of beverage choice and the fumbling for cash or a debit card, there is usually a loud and harrowed search for the decanters of half and half, whole milk, 2% or skim. The search means slinging around (oversized) carry-on bags and hitting people with them. If it’s morning, the Starbucks run may explain the behavior on display. Ohhh, she hasn’t had her caffeine yet. But if it’s midday and there are NOSUs in the Starbucks line, you’re hosed.

Now we’re at the gate. When you fly Southwest, you get a special, bonus way of determining who is a NOSU: the boarding process. Infrequent fliers and those who don’t usually fly SWA tend to get befuddled by this process, involving the letters A, B and C (boarding groups) and the numbers 1-60 (an approximated order in which you can get on the plane within your boarding group). PWDFM and NOSU seem to have to be in exact boarding order. If they are holding, say, B23, and they find that the person one or three or five spots in front of them is holding, say, B28, well… forget it. They’re quietly outraged that this person is supposed to be behind them in the boarding order but have clearly cut in line. They repeatedly lean sideways to eyeball the line-jumper. NOSU people are big on rules, be they clearly defined or completely made up based on inference. Those who fly frequently with SWA know that the boarding order within a group really doesn’t matter if it’s in a 15-spot range, since you’re getting on the damned plane at the same time anyway, plus why be in such an all-fired hurry to get on a plane and sit there for 20 minutes, going nowhere, just waiting to find out what overweight, bad-breath bearing, hint-missing close-talker is going to sit next to you? This is why I prefer being a B group boarder: NOSUs are more likely to need to be first, so they check in earlier and wind up being A group boarders.

This guy stood there, first in line to board!, for like 20 minutes by himself. All hail, king of the NOSUs!

By the time I’m on the plane, they’re already seated, but the hapless Cs aren’t on yet. So there are still aisle seats available, leaving me free to choose a comfortable spot away from the NOSUs. I just have to hope none of the Cs have bad breath.

 On this flight, I’ve hit the jackpot: the middle seat has remained open, and the woman in the window seat joined me in mocking the NOSU who struggled for ten minutes trying to get his (oversized) carry-on bag into an overhead compartment, holding up half the Bs and all of the Cs. “How can you be so unaware of the people around you?” the woman in the window seat asked me. Score. We like her.

 Flight is a great equalizer. In-flight, everyone is the same, with one caveat: people who intentionally (not accidentally while looking for the reading light) push their flight attendant call buttons before the plane takes off are NOSUs. Other than that, we’re all in this tin can together, so read your book or take your nap (or write your blog entry) and relax until we get there.

Disembarking the plane is a horse of a different color. The next test is what happens when the “fasten seatbelts” sign turns off. If they jump out of their seat immediately, regardless of how far back they are in the plane or how they have to crouch to keep from hitting their head on the overhead compartment, they’re NOSUs. (I nearly took a picture of this, but then I figured a NOSU would demand that someone would arrest me for taking photos on a plane.) I far prefer the people who patiently wait their turn to stand up, get their bag and file out of there. Those are the people who get it. NOSUs just want off the plane as soon as possible, and they don’t care who they bang into or cut off in the endeavor. I figure that’s probably because they’ve been on the plane the longest, having clamored to get in their seat first.

Then there’s baggage claim. Frequent fliers and PWDFM wait pretty quietly, even if it’s taking forever. PWDFM are more likely to worry that their bags have been lost, but that’s understandable. NOSUs, though… they stand right up against the carousel, looking expectantly up the ramp for their bag to come down, even when the carousel hasn’t started moving yet. They issue preemptory threats to the airline and wonder aloud what they will do if their bag has been mislaid. They talk on the phone about how they’re waiting forever for their bag. (This is where I’m reminded of comedian Louis C.K.’s smart and hilarious rant about how people are never happy, even though it’s a miracle we can fly coast-to-coast in five hours and all be alive by the time we get there.) Then their bag comes down, and they box out everyone who might be moving toward the carousel so they can get it. It’s huge, so they have difficulty wrangling it off the belt, and then they sometimes have to open the bag right then, amid all the other people, to make sure that everything is still there.

I’m recovering from having my foot run over by a NOSU’s 40-pound roller bag and reaching for my own luggage when I hear a NOSU loudly explain to her phone friend, “I only checked the stupid bag because I needed my mousse. I looked everywhere – they don’t make it in that three-ounce size! You know, I think it’s just a way for the mousse people and the airlines to make money…”

Ugh.

My Fight With the Universe

The universe is trying to keep me from going on vacation.

I am in a fight with the universe.

This cannot possibly end well for me. And yet I battle on. I’m an Aries. It’s what we do.

It's in the stars. See? You can totally see a ram there. Pfft. (Image from astrolosophy.com)

It’s a fascinating (read: sucky) phenomenon. Every time I’ve taken a vacation (all three times) in the 2.5 years I’ve been at this job, the week that leads up to it is craptastic. Every time, I have to work an extra day. That is the case this week, with a bonus: six straight days, plus OT on some of the days. Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not completely, you know, ungrateful. They do have to pay me for this extra time, and that’s going to help me pay for my vacation, which is currently being sponsored by the good people at AT&T Universal Card. But the problem with this recurring pre-vacation phenomenon is that I can’t get a damned thing done before I go. I can’t shop for sunscreen and a flattering bathing suit cover-up. I can’t buy cute but inexpensive shoes that work with the whole summery beach look, and the flattering cover-up.  I can’t do laundry. Everybody knows you have to buy sunscreen and a flattering  bathing suit cover-up and cute but inexpensive shoes and do laundry before you go on vacation.

Know what else? My car’s headlight is out. Those (three) of you who read my blog from two days ago know the drama this could entail. Also, the car may or may not be trying to poison me, so I want to get that checked at the same time I get the headlight fixed. I feel certain this means hours sitting at a car shop, and the possible premature forking over of the overtime pay in defiance of the plan to pay for the vacation with it, since Uncle Sam is only giving me $23 back on my taxes. (But I’m a patriot who believes freedom isn’t free. Plus, last year I owed $97, for reasons passing understanding. So I’ll take this year. ) 

Getting the headlight fixed and the exhaust system checked in my five-year-old Honda will take at least, I figure, 3.5 hours that I don’t have.

Also, I realized today that my driver’s license is expiring on…wait for it… Saturday. The awesome part of that is that it’s the day before I get on a plane. Are you kidding me with this? Zero wiggle room. Nada. If I don’t go to the DMV, and I mean like in five minutes, I’ll be hauled off by the Homeland Security people and the terrorists will win. So, add “spend an entire day at the DMV resisting its almost guaranteed effort at sucking my will to live” to the list of Things To Do Before I Leave. Except I don’t have an entire day, because I work right up to the day I go.

Here’s the other thing that will get me hauled off by the Homeland Security people: when I threw my back out, my friend gave me leftover prescriptions from when she threw hers out. I have a Ziploc bag in my purse, containing six Oxycodone pills. They’re there because I never took them; I took the prescription strength ibuprofen and the muscle relaxers that were also in the bag, and kept them with me so I could take them at work when it was time for another dose. My back is still screwed up, but that’s not the point. The baggie is still in my purse. Which means if I get pulled over because my headlight is out, or if I get detained at the airport because my license is expired, I’m going to have an all-expenses paid trip to prison. So I suppose I really shouldn’t complain about the $23 tax refund.

And I should clean out my purse.

Technically, the first three days of vacation will be spent visiting family, because I happened to schedule the vacation time and then found out my parents will be in town at my sister’s house, and I discovered this before I booked the actual vacation trip, which means I have to go visit the parents or I will be doomed to hell forever for not honoring my mother and father. And bearing false witness, because I certainly wouldn’t tell them I could have been there. (Plus: they’ll be babysitting their darling twin three-year-old grandsons while my sister and brother-in-law are out of town, and my nephews are sometimes a test of patience, and my parents are closer to 60 than they are 59, and I’m pretty sure Pop-Pop might actually lose it on the older of the two, who happens to be my godson and who happens to be a very tough customer sometimes. So I feel I have to A.: protect said godson from the Wrath of Pop-Pop; and 2.: Help foster my parents’ sanity as they grapple with two. Three-year-old. Boys. For five. Days.)

(I’m only going for 2.3. I adore my nephews. My mother makes me insane. I’m splitting the difference.) 

My sister’s house is two hours away, and my mother is very excited about making me dinner on Thursday in honor of my birthday (which is not Thursday). She hasn’t gotten to make me a (not) birthday dinner in 16 years, so this is big. I have to be there by cocktail hour on Thursday, latest. Which means I have to leave by 3pm. Which means I have to get to the DMV at, like, dawn.

This is why I’m in a fight with the universe.

Then there’s the fact that I’m flying Southwest to Fort Lauderdale en route to My Happy Place, and recently, the universe ripped a hole in one of their planes, mid-flight.

Ruh-roh...

Spring Vacation 2011. What could possibly go wrong?

If I can get there, I will be rewarded with relaxation and yummy food and cocktails and kooky funky shops and white sands and soothing seas and sunshine and warmth and happiness.

White sands and soothing seas and sunshine and warmth and happiness. Like I said.

Except the forecast says there’s a pretty good chance for all-day storms two of the three full days I’m there.

Of course it does.