Monday, June 30, 2008

Unrequited Something

You can't really call it an affair, I suppose. And it certainly wasn't romance; there were no sweet whispers in small Chilean cafes or handholds, or long walks. It was, however, the sexiest something of my young life up to that point. It crackled under our skin. Electricity. Chemistry. Something purely in the realm of the physical. It was intoxicating and inescapable.

We walk into the kitchen to fix tea and grab beers; four of our colleagues sit in the room just ten feet away. I barely get around the corner before he slams me back against the wall and kisses me hard all over, and I have to restrain myself from fucking him right there, in front of everyone...

There was something about him—maybe it was being in Santiago, maybe it was the my youthful audacity, maybe it was the water going the other direction in the toilet bowl—that made me want to have him. To own him. He spoke several languages; something I find intimidating and extremely sexy. I spoke with my body, and it was something that probably had a similar effect on him, I imagine. He was older; I was still in college and had nothing in the foreground but sex, music, and work. I was traipsing about life, feeling exceptionally comfortable in my body, had no illusions of a relationship and was now running full steam ahead through the beginnings of a personal sexual revolution.

The tension that has been building between us for the last month explodes and it feels like I have never had sex in my life, never felt my heart pounding from pure lust, and I don't stop myself from gasping when he grabs my legs and pushes me up the wall. All I want to do is rip our clothes off; I wrap my legs around his waist and pull him tightly to me. He hastily pulls my top up and presses his face to my bare chest, kissing and sucking; my fingers twine into his hair as my back arches off the wall, my body not allowing me to register anything but this, now, him, more...

I was drawn to him from the moment I saw him, and him to me. It was strange—we looked at each other that first time and knew we had to have this person; we never even discussed it. It happened as naturally as a handshake. I stepped off the plane as a student—his student, actually, but we rationalized that he wasn't technically my professor, although he was an associate professor on our project, and I was part of the student group. Looking back, I get the feeling that everyone turned a blind eye to our involvement. They knew, and they knew they could do nothing about it. None of us could.

The tea kettle starts to scream and we force ourselves apart, suddenly very much aware of how quiet the conversation has become in the next room. Well, it only makes sense; he did just throw me against the wall. We compose ourselves and walk back in to silence, which soon turns to easy chatting and laughing over drinks.
"Carolina--" I whisper later—she turns those deep brown eyes on my face, smiling.
"Yes. We heard you." Oh shit.
"It's not a big deal, no one cares," she assures me. "Americans are so uptight about sex."
Not this one, sweetheart, but some...

We never did have sex; that happened to be the last passionate moment we shared. I used to count it as one of the minor tragedies of my twenties, but since then life has become far too serious with serious things to consider in serious ways, and I find myself strangely pleased that it did not end with sex. It leaves the story somewhat unfinished, with a feeling of anticipation and wanting. After all, that is what keeps me interested—that something.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Happy Birthday, Martin Aimes! (Part II)

The assault on his nose ended almost immediately, to be replaced with a stifling feeling of heat and the smell of dust. Afraid of what he would find yet still infinitely curious, Martin slowly opened his eyes only to be blinded by the brightness of the sun beating down on him. The fear he felt at finding himself in a new locale with no explanation as to how he got there was ratcheted up several hundred degrees when he realized he stood in the middle of a dusty street, large wooden buildings rising up on either side of him, and that a large and angry looking man stood at the opposite end of the street with a gun pointed in Martin's direction.

The angry man was dressed much like the men from the Westerns Martin had so enjoyed as a child, and he realized, looking down, that he too was holding a gun and dressed like an extra from The Rifleman. Fear more than instinct made him squeeze the trigger, and he jumped what felt like 15 feet in the air at the explosion that emanated from the barrel of the gun. Shaking in fear, he threw the gun down even as a large whoop went up from the people standing on either side of the street, watching this showdown. Guns were fired into the air in celebration all around him, and he cringed and shook with each one. Men poured onto the street around Martin, slapping him on the back and yelling for whiskey for the hero. Martin allowed himself a small smile at being called "hero" and looked forward to a bracing shot of whiskey from the saloon he found himself dragged into, but the smile quickly faltered and disappeared when he heard a loud crack from above his head, as the people around him yelled and scattered away from him. He looked up to see a large, ornate chandelier tied to a huge beam that sunk inward and broke apart even as he watched. As the chandelier shot rapidly toward his head, Martin had time to think "Again?," before he was overtaken and shot back into the dark.

Next Martin awoke to find himself in the Industrial Revolution, in a large factory producing some product or another. Men and smoke surrounded him, and he found himself covered in grease and grime, and sweating profusely. As per the previous experiences, he became aware of his situation even as shouts warned him of some disaster. He looked up, expecting to see the ceiling of the building hurtling toward him, but instead fell flat to the floor as an explosion rocked the factory around him. After several confused moments, foremen came around and started ushering men out the door, and Martin found himself shoved unceremoniously into the street. He decided to take advantage of the longer duration of this visit and take in some of his surroundings. He walked down the street, nodding at people who passed him, and generally enjoyed his bizarre once-in-a-lifetime journey. That is, until shouts around him warned him, once again, to look up just in time to see the next in the series of head-trauma-causing objects whistling toward him. This time it was a large, dead, vulture-like bird, beak pointed straight at the crown of his head. "Oh, you have GOT to be kidding," his mind exclaimed shortly before being pierced by five pounds of carrion fowl and hurtled back into the blackness.

This time, Martin came to comfortably seated in the grass, leaning against a tree and surrounded by music and the smell of marijuana. Looking down at himself, he saw his clothes were of varied shades of tie-dye, and he suddenly realized the music he was hearing was Jimi Hendrix's famous version of the Star-Spangled Banner. Amazed at his good fortune at being able to see such a legendary musical moment, Martin threw back his head and whooped with pleasure.

And saw a naked man sitting in the tree above him, holding a set of bongos hooked on one finger and gesticulating wildly toward the stage. Martin's joyous yawp turned into a resigned sigh as he watched the bongos slip from Tarzan's finger, and he thought to himself "Stinking hippies," before the bongos crashed into him in the least musical way possible.

When the blackness and dizziness subsided for the last time, Martin found himself laying on his own couch, in his own home, in his own time. The chair was not where it had been when he sat in it, and a quick perusal of his house likewise turned up no mystery chair. Since his head still throbbed and he could still detect the faint smells of farm animal, grease, dust and pot, he quickly came to the conclusion that all the experiences were real glimpses of himself throughout history, and that once the chair had shown him these sights, it had travelled on without him to who knew where or when. He wasn't sure why the chair had shown him these things, except maybe as a warning to go through life with a hardhat. Martin realized he had only a few minutes until his guests were due to arrive, and so rushed upstairs to clean up and change for the party, filing away his journey for examination later.

He had just finished his ablutions and was slipping on his shoes when the first knock came on the front door. Giving himself one last look in the mirror, he smiled at the almost-40-year-old version of himself in the mirror, and laughed at what he was quickly becoming convinced was the dream he must've had while dozing on the couch. He giggled quietly to himself at the sheer absurdity that a mystery chair could take him on a space-time tour of his previous lives. He was still giggling to himself when he opened the door and welcomed his friends to his home. And he was still giggling to himself when he heard one of the supports he had installed for the Brazilian sculpture, under which he was currently standing, crack and start to give way. His giggle subsided when he looked up in time to see the 300 lb. sculpture slowly descend toward him, the figure's huge erect phallus pointed straight at his skull. "Happy birthday, Martin Aimes," he thought to himself even as the black embraced him once again.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Bees and Strawberries

The sting on his face was clearly swelling. He was horribly self-conscious all of a sudden. For the entirety of his adult life, he had managed to steer clear of bees, and now, today, a bee found its way downtown and attacked Jim, as though it was targeting him because it somehow knew it would cause him a greater deal of pain than it would anyone else. He fell to the ground in agony and the most gorgeous woman he had ever seen happened to be passing by, and of course she stopped to help him. When it became clear what the matter was, she took his hand to lift him up and then she accompanied him to the emergency room. She assured him that she could stay with him throughout this ordeal, if he wanted her to. He nodded miserably, having no one else to call.

“My name is Alice,” she gently remarked.

“I’m sorry we’re meeting under such circumstances, Alice. I’m Jim.”

He feebly smiled at her, trying to ignore what he felt was surely an incredibly disgusting rash developing around the spot the bee had stung. She smiled warmly at him in return, and he melted to the floor. He was now in love with her, and particularly with that dark, curly hair hanging loosely at her sides. But he could barely stand to look at her, and he inched away from her on the bench as far as he could without seeming rude, because this beautiful, kind woman smelled awfully strongly of strawberries.

Bees and strawberries. Jim cursed his parents for carrying the prone-to-allergies genes without said genes actually manifesting in either of them. Instead, they were passed down to Jim, in whom they manifested severely. He was tested for every allergy he could possibly have, and it boiled down to two: bees and strawberries. He hated the summer, and flowers, and sugar. He cursed his one real misfortune in life.

As a teenager, he became fanatically obsessed with his allergens. He learned everything there was to know about bees and strawberries (The most well-known bee species is the Western honey bee and the most commonly cultivated strawberry is the garden strawberry). One evening, as an adult, he watched a television show about the pollination process of bees on The Discovery Channel (Most bees are fuzzy and carry an electrostatic charge, which helps in the gathering of pollen). That same evening, his fanatical obsession switched gears. The Discovery Channel was now his sole joy in life, having given him something to look forward to every night (The Discovery Channel debuted on June 17th, 1985, and he is so glad that it did). He hated his job, and women mostly terrified him, and he couldn’t have any pets in his apartment building, and despite having lived there for three years, he still hadn’t made any real friends, so The Discovery Channel was his company (The Discovery Channel’s slogan is The World Is Just Awesome, which Jim appreciates but mostly disagrees with).

was on her way to the local New Age/hippie store, In Tents In Cents, where she bought many of her candles and all of her incense, when she saw Jim fall to the ground. Always wanting to help, she rushed to his side, day’s plans forgotten. She helped him up, and he mumbled something about an allergic reaction to a bee sting. “I don’t need an ambulance,” he said, “but I do need to get to the hospital.” So she hailed a taxi to get them there. He reminded her of Alan, her next door neighbor, although Jim was scrawnier, and awkward. Alan was never awkward. Alan was gorgeous and tall, sweet and polite, funny as hell. She hadn’t seen him in a couple weeks; he was away on business. Somewhere in Spain, he didn’t miss her. She thought she loved him, but he considered her nothing more than the friendly woman next door. She briefly wondered about Jim’s love life, but by then they had arrived at the hospital, so she didn’t ask.

In the emergency room, Jim thought that if only he could distract himself from the smell, maybe he could scale down the escalation of this already hellish experience. So he focused on her necklace. The chain was long, and the bright green parrot at the end of it hung squarely in the center of her torso. ‘I am not allergic to parrots,’ he thought. ‘A parrot might be nice.’

And then she noticed.

“Oh, do you like my necklace?” she asked. Startled, he looked up into her face.

“Yes… It’s quite lovely. You like parrots?” he managed to choke out in between raucous coughs, which in turn caused her to rub his back good-naturedly, which itself caused him to cough even louder.

“Oh yes, I just love parrots. All animals, really. I have a parrot at home. His name is Barry, and he’s just great…” He tuned out after this, and tried to let the sound of her voice soothe him. It didn’t, because even her breath seemed to reek of that god forsaken fruit.

“You know, we’ve been waiting for a while,” she suddenly changed topics, “and your rash and cough are not getting any better. I’m going to go talk to someone in charge, see what I can do.”

“Wait, wait. Let me ask you something first. Do you ever watch The Discovery Channel?”

Half-out of her seat, she sank back down. “The what?”

“You know, The Discovery Channel. They play all kinds of interesting shows about science and space and sharks.”

“Oh. It’s a television channel. I’m sorry, I don’t even own a television set. I can’t remember the last time I watched one.”

The rash instantly spread across his already-red face, and he could feel the burn; as if all this weren’t already embarrassing enough, now he had really made a fool out of himself. He smiled the pitiful little smile of a defeated man, and cursed himself under his breath as Alice walked away to consult the woman at the front desk. Jim did not notice the small battle that ensued between the two, nor did he witness the final concession made, entirely missing the first (and perhaps only) time two women would ever (technically speaking) fight over him. He did immediately notice, however, when Alice came striding back, his troublesome genes forcing his poor nose to twitch at the smell.

“Well, I have good news and bad news,” she announced.

“Bad news first, please.”

“Anyone that could possibly help you is busy, and as long as you aren’t visibly dying, we have to wait.”

‘If only I could plug up my nose and get rid of this rash, I could spend all of eternity waiting next to you,’ Jim thought as he said, “So what could possibly be good news, then?”

Alice grinned mischievously and pointed to the muted television perched in the corner of the room. This television, normally kept strictly on the public access channel specifically created for hospital use, had been changed for the first time in twelve years. Perhaps it was Jim’s sad demeanor that had convinced the woman at the desk. Regardless, The Discovery Channel’s swirling-Earth, instantly recognizable logo was now displayed, miniaturized, in the right-hand corner of the screen. As only pure, random luck would have it, a program about the African Grey parrot was on. The closed-captioning ticker scrolling along the bottom read: “These parrots are particularly known for their cognitive capabilities, thought to have evolved due to their history of cooperative bird-feeding as largely tree-dwelling birds in central Africa.”

“Hey!” Alice exclaimed, “That’s what Barry is! An African Grey! And he is quite smart; he calls me by name and everything!”

Jim’s heart rate decreased. His rash stopped burning. Even the swelling seemed to have petered out, and was now reversing itself. The Discovery Channel did for Jim what Alice’s voice could not, and within minutes, even his coughs grew less and less frequent. He looked over at Alice, who was now reading the ticker with rapt attention (“African Greys have been kept as pets for over 4000 years”), and was struck once more by her beauty. Filled with gratitude, he braved the smell and scooted closer to her. ‘Oh, to hell with it,’ he thought as he reached for her hand.

Happy Birthday, Martin Aimes! (Part I)

On the eve of his 40th birthday, Martin Aimes travelled in time.

That’s how it felt to him anyway. It could easily have been a product of an undiagnosed aneurysm or a flashback from his more drug liberal days, but Martin was convinced that the rapid rush of images he saw was a personal journey through his own timeline. He’d never been one to buy into the idea of past lives or destiny, but the chair and the sights it showed him quickly changed his opinion on the subject.

Martin had spent the day prepping his house for the celebration that evening. Finger foods were in the refrigerator or oven as necessary, beverages chilling in one of the dozen or so coolers housed in the garage, decorations collected from Martin’s various journeys across the world had been hung or strategically placed throughout the house. He had even somehow managed to hang the 300 lb. ceremonial fertility sculpture he had acquired in Brazil over the arch connecting the living room and front entry area, though he was convinced it would probably come crashing down any second, leaving Martin to celebrate his 40th with a personal injury lawsuit. But he was incredibly proud of the sculpture and the journey it represented, so up it stayed. The use of his souvenirs as decorations was his way of celebrating the 40 years he had already lived, and of the many things he had seen in that time. It was also to be a reminder that he still had many things to see and do, and that despite this milestone in his life, he had many years in which to see and do those things.

Since he had already thoroughly cleaned his house to the point that every surface sparkled and squeaked, even the cloth curtains, he was almost completely ready for the party when the knock on the door came. He answered, expecting to see an early party-goer, and was instead greeted by a nice but modest looking chair on his front step. He stepped out and looked up and down the street, but saw no one running from his house, nor any cars he didn’t recognize from the neighborhood. Assuming this chair was an odd gift that would be explained at a later time, he dragged it into the house and closed the door.

Martin had several friends who were practical jokers, so he thought it prudent to thoroughly examine the chair for breakaway legs or a false back before trying to sit in it. The chair was of average dining room table size, solid wood that looked old and expensive and stained a light chocolate brown. It lacked any flourishes or adornments, and looked like it was created for solid function rather than airy form. There were no notes or greetings of any kind attached to the chair, save for a simple card reading “Happy Birthday, Martin Aimes,” so the mystery of its origins remained a mystery. But the seat was nicely padded, the construction looked to be of quality, and Martin (an avid lover of antiques of all kinds) decided that he owed it to the chair and the craftsman who created it to put it to its intended use, just for a moment. So he sat and leaned his head back against the chair’s back, and closed his eyes for a brief rest before making his final party preparations, which is how he ended up taking the strangest and most intriguing journey of his life so far.

The rush of dizziness that overtook Martin as soon as he had settled into the chair startled him, but he simply attributed it to the work he’d been doing since he got up at 8 AM that morning. He figured keeping his head back and eyes closed for now would allow the spell to pass. He realized how wrong he was when the smell of manure and dirty humanity hit him. Thinking again of the joker friends and the riot act he would read them for stinking up his immaculate house, he opened his eyes and quickly rose from the chair, but stumbled both from the continuing dizziness and from the sight that greeted his eyes.

Martin had been to France on several occasions, and loved every trip, but had never seen it like this. Everywhere he looked he saw horses, goats, cows, and other animals associated with farming. Stalls of fruits and vegetables surrounded him, all staffed by dirty and unkempt French people. Most alarming was the smell. His nostrils were assaulted by a mix of human and animal waste, rotten produce, and almost sentient funk of thousands of unwashed humans. Thinking he was dreaming, Martin pinched himself, but only succeeded in adding a smarting arm to the rotten stink and bizarre images surrounding him. Being an avid student of world cultures and history, he easily recognized the dress of the people as being from the mid-1700s. Certain of the impossibility of the situation he found himself in, Martin stood stock still and tried to simply observe, at least until a fat Frenchman started pointing and yelling in his direction.

Martin had never fully learned French, despite his numerous trips to the country. He understood some basic phrases, but would find himself hard pressed to communicate if left alone with solely French-speaking people. So he reeled from the confusion that hit him when he realized he could understand every word the fat man was yelling, and even more when he realized he was yelling back in French. Of course, despite the fact that Martin’s confusion and embarrassment made it feel like this exchange took an hour, it all happened in a split second. It was just enough time for him to realize that what the fat man was yelling was “Look out, you stupid pig! Above you!,” and for Martin to look up and see the globe-sized chunk of masonry hurtling toward his head from the building behind him. “Merde,” thought Martin, and then all was blackness and dizziness again.

Friday, June 20, 2008

I'm Big In Brazil

A few years ago, we traveled to Rio de Janeiro for my cousin’s wedding. My cousin had been engaged once before, but a few months before the wedding, they broke it off. My cousin was heartbroken, had to un-invite all the guests, explain without explaining too much. But then he manned up, went to law school up in New Hampshire, met a vibrant and beautiful Brazilian girl, and ended up having what would literally be a fairy-tale wedding in Rio. Let this be a lesson to all of you who are nursing a broken heart: things can work out like the following.

Up until this trip, I had been out of the United States exactly one other time. We went to the Bahamas for a weekend. It was rainy and overcast the entire time, except for approximately 15 minutes. I have never been abroad. I have never been to Canada or Mexico. Despite my adventurous trek cross-country, I am hardly a world traveler.

But we were going to Brazil! This magical mantra served us well in trying to get the necessary time off for the trip. My brother is a first grade teacher. It would be his only vacation time for like four years. I just started temping a data entry position for a pharmaceutical company. I might not have a job when I returned. But we were going to Brazil! Just the concept of going to a foreign country seemed exotic and alluring to our countrified PA asses.

Little did we know what we were in for.

My family is close. Cousins are like brothers, it’s just the way we were raised. Fernanda, my cousin’s intended, had spent several Thanksgivings and Christmases with us, so we already knew how much we liked her. But her family embraced all of us with open arms as if they were going to marry us. Fernanda’s parents were divorced, so we weren’t ever sure who was who. There were so many family members, but everyone was so loving and kind, we just ended up hugging and kissing everyone. As far as we were concerned they were all our family, and they loved “The Americans!”

The wedding was taking place in Rio, and we were staying in hotels near Ipanema Beach, which served a young man well in penning a song about a certain girl from Ipanema who went walking, and Copacabana, which served a not-so-young man well in penning a song that continues to moisten adult diapers to this very day.

For most of the trip we careened around from celebration to celebration, never knowing what was going on. None of us spoke a lick of Portuguese. But we were determined to be adventurous. The first night, we went out to eat at an Italian restaurant, and the menu had some Portuguese words, and some Italian words. I just picked something at random. Erico, Fernanda’s father, asked what I ordered. I said, “I don’t know. I hope it’s good!” It turned out to be boiled bull scrotum. But they seasoned it so good, you’d never know!
(Actually, it was a variation on chicken saltimbocca. I’m adventurous, but I’m not retarded.) I went home and promptly learned all the words for different foods. This is how I was able to learn how to order from the juice bars and different restaurants. It didn’t work so hot when my brother and I wandered off to Bob’s Burgers for lunch, only to get Grade K meat (some orphan meat, mostly soy and lawn clippings). It was the only slip up in an otherwise magical trip.

There’s no decent way to say this, so I’m just going to put it out there: Fernanda’s family is pretty much royalty. Her father works as one of the executives for Globo, which is THE network in Brazil. Over 85% of the homes in the country watch Globo. They’ve got money and power and influence. We just assumed all Brazil was like this. We have been spoiled and it is worth it.

The engagement party was held in their penthouse apartment overlooking Sugarloaf, which houses the big statue of Christo, the giant huggable Jesus that you’ve seen in every shot of Rio ever taken from an airplane ever in the history of ever. We rode in through the gated entrance, flanked by guards in bulletproof vests and armed with semiautomatic machineguns. They sent us up, six at a time, in a small elevator, which opened on their apartment. There, everybody that is even remotely related to the wedding was there, dancing around in the huge apartment, and pounding liquor. They would serve caipirinhas, which is sort of a Brazilian martini. Essentially, you take two shots of liquor, mull it with fresh fruit, and serve chilled. It’s called different things if you use vodka, or sake, or whiskey, or rum. Usually, they serve it with Cachaca, which is a version of rum that tastes like rocketfuel teabagged with a monkey sack when taken straight, but magically tastes like Kool-Aid when mixed with fruit. Erico constantly kept on hand Johnny Walker Blue Label. His step-son Fabio, a true party-machine, always kept on hand cases of Sugar-Free Red Bull (sugar free means you can drink more and keep the same caffeine effect without getting sick). I love Brazil!
They told us they had a little surprise for us. Up the elevator comes a bunch of guys carrying various instruments, all dressed in Hawaiian shirts. We’re like, Oh, sweet! Live music.

Then the first samba dancer arrived.

She was easily over six foot, and that was before she wore sparkly heels, and a giant two foot bedazzled headdress. She was cocoa brown, and wore nothing much more than a glittery bikini, draped with beads. We were agape. Then the next one arrived. And the next one. And the next one.

There were about five or six in all, when the samba players started jamming. Everyone danced with the samba dancers (from the best samba school in Rio – according to Duda, Fernanda’s brother and a party promoter). It was insane. My tiny mom and dad are jamming out with these Amazonian goddess in spangled finery. I thought things can’t possibly get better than this. And this was knowing that full well, tomorrow afternoon we’d be served dinner at a chirrascuria, which is an all you can eat meat buffet where they bring grilled meat out on swords until you belch out “No Obrigado”.

However, my cousin, his girlfriend, and I myself were whisked off that next afternoon to see Globo, while everyone else went sightseeing. Because, we were the screenwriters. I was fresh from graduating from BU, and Mark was in the middle of signing a deal to option his television pilot with the networks. So we were the screenwriters, and we got our own private studio tour. Which was amazing. They make a serial soap opera called “Bang! Bang!” which is set in the American Wild West, and features characters like Zorro, who is an incredibly gay blade, and Elvis. It’s somewhere between Deadwood and Arrested Development. It’s hilariously Telemundo. One thing that’s pretty amazing about their soap operas is that they only run it for one year. No matter how popular they are (and the numbers on this thing are ridiculous – everyone watches it) they cancel the show after one year, and then start with a new show entirely. I think this is a great idea.

The wedding itself was amazing. Fernanda had about 60 bridesmaids and groomsmen. There were three flower children, and the front tableau was my uncle, Fernanda’s mother and step-mother, and her father and step-father, as well as my mother and father (my aunt had died, and so my cousin wanted her sister – my mom – to stand in for her). I was paired up with my cousin’s cousin, so we were both smiling clueless Americans. My brother got paired up with this gorgeous Brazilian girl, who, as we were walking down the aisle, started shaking like a leaf. Later, we asked her why. She was explaining that most of the celebrities in Brazil were in the audience. It would be the equivalent of walking down an aisle and seeing the cast of Oceans’ Eleven on one side and the cast of Charlie Wilson’s War on the other. (and yes, I know Julia Roberts is in both, I assumed she’d be cut in half and portioned appropriately.) The wedding ended up getting written up in the Brazilian version of People magazine. My mom was in People magazine. I want to see how that ties in to Jury Duty.

That was the best part of the wedding. Nobody cared who anyone else was, we just all danced and laughed and had a great time. The reception was held in the Natural History Museum. It was more like a rave. There was booze and food and techno music. They busted out glowing sunglasses and glowsticks, and flashing rings and necklaces, and those LED whisk looking things. It ran until 5 AM. I spent most of the time drunk on caipirinha and Johnny Walker Blue and Red Bull. Fernanda told me I kept coming over to them and jumping up and down and asking when Carnival was. I was invited by six different people to come and stay with them. At one point, I blacked out for two hours. When I came to, I was kissing this statuesque beauty and still dancing. I was going to go home with her, when my cousin pulled me aside and said, “Noooo! Dude, I’m all for everyone having a good time, but that’s dangerous.” Turns out she lived in the most dangerous favelas. So there would have been me, in my tuxedo, wandering the streets of the Brazilian ghetto at 4 AM, trying to get a cab. Still, it might have been worth it.

We spent the rest of the week recuperating at their villa in the mountains. Yeah, it was a villa. It was insane. We watched Mozart and the Whale two years before it came out in theatres in their private screening lounge. I got regaled with epic tales of my drunken cavorting. They kept telling me I made friends with Jo Soares. And I’m like who? And they said Jo! He loves you! He wanted to take you home so you could marry his daughter! He keeps asking how you are. I said, “Tell Jo I’m great!”

Jo Soares, it turns out, is the Brazilian equivalent of David Letterman. He wanted to have me on his show. Later on, I found out that Jo apparently was up visiting with television executives up in New York, and he was telling them how he met their Brian Prisco. And they go, “Who?” And he says, “Brian Prisco! He is a screenwriter! He is very wonderful!” He was under the impression that I was a celebrity. So was I.

It was a magical time, and I am forever ruined from ever leaving the country, because it will never be as magical a time as that wedding with my family. But take three things away from this: 1) if someone breaks your heart, the best revenge is to marry a beautiful Brazilian princess. 2) never be afraid to try new experiences, unless they involve fast food restaurants and ghetto murders. And 3) always get drunk at weddings, it will make you a star.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

I Left My Soul There, Down By The Sea

We'd been in South Africa for a week, visiting my parents. We were scrabbling around a mountain path, a long, winding, twisting path that curled its way up and around. It was right by the ocean, wandering through air scented with salt and sand and seaweed and the earthy, thick smell of the mountains. It's a heady combination, especially for my sister and I, traveling far and long to be there; her from New York City, me from Boston. My parents, wind blowing through my mom's hair, wind... um... gently shifting my dad's graying afro, were smiling at the joy on our faces.

We came to a bridge. A long, steel-reinforced, wood-slatted, rope-railing bridge that swayed in the high wind. It connected the path we were on to another path on a smaller rock formation, and across an ocean inlet. I can't remember if we were on the Atlantic side or the Pacific side of Cape Town. The bridge was spectacular - my father rushed ahead so he could turn around and photograph us as we clambered across it. My mother, nervously smiling, gripped the railings with white knuckles, determined to enjoy herself.

My sister and I do not know fear when we are together. Separately, we have our weaknesses. Together, we don't understand fear. I think sometimes her own brazenness simply makes me stronger. We giggled and laughed and bumped and shoved each other as we stumbled along the bridge. My parents made it to the other side, and stopped, sitting on a rocky outcropping, taking drinks of water and watching our hijinks.

We paused, leaning against the high rope walls of the bridge, gazing out at the sea, breathing in the sweet, salty air. The smiles on our faces had never been bigger, the sights we saw never more beautiful. We were probably 25 feet above the water. Gulls aimlessly drifted above us. Smaller birds flitted beneath the lazily swaying bridge.

We looked down at the water. My sister smiled at me.

We looked over at my parents. I smiled at her.

We grabbed the railing, hauled ourselves up, and without a word, without a second thought, without a sideways glance... we leaped.

At the time, the fall felt like minutes. It was likely not even seconds. We smashed into the water, a frozen, salted blast that shocked my entire body. It hurt my ribs to breathe. My lungs could barely keep the breath in them as I sank beneath the choppy, frigid surface. I let myself sink as long as possible, then kicked once, twice, three times and exploded to the surface. I tread water desperately - the surf was much more intense than I'd thought. My sister crashed through, looking like a black-haired devil bursting through the broken glassy waters. She screamed in shock, joy, with raw energy. We clutched each other momentarily, and turned our faces to the sun, feeling that small trickle of heat.

My mother was in an absolute panic. My father was rolling his eyes.

They should have known better, should have suspected. My sister and I are of the sea. Some people like mountains, some people like sand, some people like forests. We live for the sea. We do not fear it, not its brutal chill, not its depths, not its currents. We were raised near it, and it's a part of us. We grinned, dancing on the edge of madness as our hearts pounded and muscles strained, as our cold-weakened legs kicking to keep us afloat, spitting out the briny water, eyes shining.

Finally, we swam in stuttering, muscle-burning strokes towards the rocky shore. We pulled ourselves up, teeth chattering, bodies clenched in shivers, cramping, feeling absolutely, gloriously happy. My mother fussed and slapped me on the arm, trying to look stern and failing. My father, as is his way, took a picture.

That evening, we gathered at one of my aunts' house, regaling our local cousins with our foolish tale of craziness. They laughed along with us, giving each other "what can you do? They've always been crazy" looks, slapping us on the back and tipping back bottles of Castle Lager. One of them asked us, "Where were you again?"

We told her.

The air in the room got thicker, and the bemused looks turned to looks of surprise, shock, fear, anxiousness. My cousins stared at us, bodies immobile, silent.

"What?!" I asked.


"You guys! WHAT?!" My sister demanded.

Another cousin finally replied.

"They... you... that's..."

He started over.

"Jesus, you two. They go shark-cage diving there. You know, with tourists and marine biologists and stuff. They choose it because there are so many sharks around."


We do not know fear.

We are of the sea.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Is this considered having been to "me"?

Chest pain.

Who knew that's all it took?

That is how you get into an emergency room.

Dragging on the cigarette, I found, was causing a complementary aching tightness in my chest. I thought "I should put this out before I die". I went back inside and figured I would go back to work. At least there was only about an hour left, but first, let's look up those heart attack symptoms. Left arm, right? They're always talking about the left arm and that's "Actor Conveys Cardiac Arrest--Squeeze Arm, Check Carotid Pulse, Collapse".

My head's feeling a little light.

Wait, arms feel tingly. But it's both arms. Can't I ever get this standard shit right?

Feeling a little woozier still.

"Uh, hey, uh, I'm gonna go to the hospital, okay?" Should I drive all the way back home where I was examined for a possible concussion last night? (my car was rear-ended three days ago, and while my neck wasn't hurting quite as much my head sure did last night). I'm stopped at the light thinking....thinking...and then I look forward and realize I'm looking at the hospital across the street from the library. "Oh, right. Yeah, this'd probably be best". And the bouncers just waved me right in. And we're unshirting and bringing out the sticky pads and bringing out the IV and the guy from billing walks into the examination room with a clipboard asking for my insurance card and to sign a form. "Hang on, I write with this hand" I say, as the IV goes in.

"Hey mom, yeah I'm at the hospital, just so you know. They say I'm not tachycardic so....I'm just waiting on blood tests. Apparently they have to do it twice? So...I'll just be waiting around here, I guess".

I mean, really, how mortifying a call is that to make? But you know you'd catch hell if you said "hey, I went to the emergency room last week cause I thought I might be having a heart attack". The family was freaked out enough when I told them I'd fallen off a chair onto a wood floor landing on my chin and then driven myself to the hospital holding toilet paper against the giant hole in my skin. So, yeah, awkward.

Mom shows up and we're just hangin around forever. I think Mission Impossible II was on. That's the one with Thandie Newton, right? Now, I've got a vacation in a few weeks. I was concerned enough about injured back muscles possibly making it hard to travel, let alone having a bypass, and I'm working on trying to get promoted and getting a new apartment so I really do not need to have medical leave and recovery fuckin with my program and money and birthday next month.

So, after three hours.

Three hours. The shifts have changed, the blood was drawn again.

After three hours Doctor P.M. comes in and says "your heart's fine and you're not having heart trouble. You're having an acute anxiety attack". In the back of my mind I'm appreciating the humor of leaving someone on a heart monitor for three hours with no communication and then saying "you seem nervous". I was hyperventilating. I was exhaling for too long. That sounds like a really stupid thing to do. Isn't my medulla oblongata supposed to be taking care of my involuntary breathing? I'm not breathing fast, I'm slowly breathing out too much without noticing it.

What kind of a dumbass is my brain? I can't even hyperventilate right. I was told Lexapro was more what I was needing, not blood thinner.

I quit habitual smoking anyway. It's easy when you've had a vacation flash before your eyes!

Now for some reason cigarettes usually taste pretty awful unless I'm in a bar. So, you know, that's a pretty healthy balance.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

June Theme: Oh, The Places I Have Been

It is June 3rd. I am obviously not running behind. I'm just giving you a couple of extra days to think of your stories. You know the theme: tell us where you have been. Where have you traveled to? Have have you seen? What situation did you find yourself in that you just had not anticipated? There's a whole wide world out there.

As a little side note, I realized that Father's Day is in June, not July like I originally thought/implied. This was a very common mistake, made by people who did not grow up celebrating Father's Day. We will be celebrating fathers here though. In July--when everyone else has moved on and forgotten about all of the wonderful things that dads bring to our lives.

For now, it's June. You chose the theme. Tell us your tales!