Sunday, July 31, 2011

Thank You, Puerto Rico

“My name is Alfred.”  Odd.  The Puerto Rican gentleman introducing himself at baggage claim as we wearily stumbled up to the carousel after the four-hour flight.  The driver.  I expected Alberto, Alejandro or Augustus.  I guess I was being a bigot.  Shame on me.  Waiting for our bags, The Redhead was clapping and whooping, happy to be free from the States for a while.  The rest of us (The Brunette, The Dude, The Man and me) were unexcitedly hovering to snag the luggage.  Locals ambled by, making eye contact and smiling.  Weird.  One lady cruised by carrying a lap-dog to the aww’s of The Redhead and The Brunette.  The woman made a beeline to my friends, allowing the two to pet the pup.  Downright strange.  Never in Houston.  I started loving Puerto Rico at that moment, even before I dived in.

Alfred led us to the van.  We five climbed in.  First stop, the local mainland-based grocery store to stock up on provisions.  Along the way, we passed one-story plain square dwellings with peeling paint and cracking stucco walls, saw roadside carts overflowing with fresh local fruit, and became incorporated into snakes of traffic that attempted to, but never quite, held to lanes.  At the shopping center, The Man, The Redhead, The Brunette, The Dude and I all filed into the store, to the apprehensive warning of The Dude.  “At this moment, this man has all our stuff!”

I laughed.  “C’mon, buddy.”  Although Alfred was a bit above it all, I thought him trustworthy.
We grabbed the staples:  cookies, cheese, chips, coffee, three bottles of wine, three bottles of rum.  We were good to go.

When we arrived at the condo building, we elevatored to the sixth floor.  Alfred saw us inside, was tipped and, faster than you could say “boo,” disappeared.  Ok…  We immediately made our way to the balcony.  Perfect.  Palms, pool, sand, beach, bay.  We waited there for a few minutes as a storm quickly moved across the aqua vastness, dumped rain (dissipating before running ashore) and produced a welcome in the form of a bright rainbow.  We dispersed to our respective rooms to unpack, change into swimwear and head for the beach.

The Redhead and the Man relaxed on lounges and read.  The Brunette, The Dude and I swam in the warm clear water.  All the while worked by the push and pull of the waves, the world back home kept a firm grip on me.  After a couple of hours of sun, we headed up to the suite to plan next steps over our principal drink for the trip:  piña coladas (That damn song from the 70s followed me the rest of the vacation).

We trekked over to the main building of the resort - a hotel - to grab a taxi, discarding Alfred in the hopes of hiring a more personable, less smug driver.  We did.  A handsome young native named José.

Demerit for José?  Dropping up at a marginal restaurant that he suggested.  We all laughed because Alfred had recommended the same restaurant.  Kickback?  Maybe.

Plusses for José?  He had spent time in the States for service in the armed forces, so he got most of our stupid pop references, and he also laughed with us at our skewed senses of humor, especially when The Dude overshared about an interest back home, a woman possessing some abnormal physical features.  In addition, José played salsa music for us on the stereo as we rode, painting pictures of weekend festivals in the small towns and people dancing in the streets.
Before saying good night, we asked José for advice on one thing to check out while we were on the island (two outings seemed an overwhelming proposition for the lazy lot of us).  His suggestion? Old San Juan.  The original historic district of the city.  We made plans for him to pick us up the following afternoon.

Riding through the emerald hills, then the flat stretches clogged with vehicles, and finally along the freeways slipping through the heartbreak of decaying housing projects and the skyscrapers of the tourist district (and still work and worries from Texas keeping me distracted), we arrived at the original sector of the island capital.  The quarter was unsurprisingly charming and loaded with tourists.  We arrived a bit late, around 5 PM, and almost all of the shops were closing.  We did a bit of souvenir shopping, then headed to another restaurant at José’s suggestion.  Racies (translated from Spanish – “Roots”).  Delicious.  Though I experienced a bit of discomfort, due to my overly PC nature, at the displays of the various races of the island and their contributions to its culture:  the Natives with arts and crafts; the Spaniards with religion and the Spanish language; and slightly prejudiced in my view, Africans with their spirit as “indefatigable workers,” At any rate, I ordered mofongo, a local dish served with a choice of various seafood or meat (beef, in my case, I am Texan) over a base of fried and mashed plantains.  My serving was mouth-watering and completely satisfying.

After the unimaginative fare of the grill the night before and the delicious food from the restaurant in Old San Juan, we did gather that cooking most of our meals in the condo would be most time-practical for the remainder of the stay.  On the way back to the resort, we asked José to stop by the grocery.  We shopped a bit more sensibly this time:  bacon, steaks, broccoli, potatoes, sweetrolls.
Arriving at the suite, The Brunette and I decided on an expedition up the coast.  We walked past the hotel grounds with the teeming vacationers, continued up the beach passing jetskis and motorboats, and happily happened along a beautiful lagoon with a cloud-topped mountain framing the background.  We crossed the chilly waist-deep water, coming upon a local woman out walking her dog.  We smiled greetings and attempted (unsuccessfully) to pet the skittish pup.  And without my noticing, my outside world fell away.

For the rest of our time there, I focused on Mad-Libs with my friends in the evening, pool and surf during the day, and waking in the morning to stunning views of the clouded peaks of the rainforest.

On our final day, The Man and I body-surfed together, alone.  I said to him the things that I say when we are by ourselves.  Those marshmallow words.

One of the best parts of the trip?  José became a real person while running us around.  He shared about his wife, his daughters, his family in Boston and New Jersey, his compromise to live near his wife’s family in a village near the resort instead of enjoying the more modern-day conveniences of San Juan, where he was raised.  He also shared with us his decision as a young man to stay on the island, giving up the opportunity to study in Tennessee on a baseball scholarship.  His sacrifice made for love.  Less than a year following his choice to stay, the relationship fell apart:  his sweetheart gone and the offer of a free education passed.  Poor guy was still kicking himself.

We had a bit of extra time the morning of the flight back to Houston.  José offered to take us along the coast, where the locals gather to enjoy the beach.  As we weaved through the lush foliage skirting the road, the beach would suddenly appear, revealing the brown islanders adorning the turquoise waters.  We went through small settlements dividing the way, where people gathered around food stands that radiated delectable aromas.  We passed a large civic park where throngs of children romped and ran around colorful structures.  José said that he would stop at any point where we would like to take pictures.  None of us asked.  Maybe we did not want to take this special part of the island away from the citizens.  The trip along the seaside was José’s gift to us.

As we approached the airport, the world back home started encroaching again.  But not in a bad way.  I was looking forward to seeing our pets and home.  I was ready to return to work with my batteries recharged.  I would face Houston with fresh eyes and appreciate my hometown a bit more (at least until she frustrated me again with some minor infraction).

Standing at the curb of the airport sidewalk, our Puerto Rican friend gave each of us a solid handshake and a warm look in the eye.  It had been a wonderful trip to an island where time attempts to stall, but the progress of the States speeds in.  The most important thing I learned?  The beauty of Puerto Rico is in its beaches, its rainforests, its architecture, and its music.  But essentially, the splendor is in its everyday beautiful people.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

RETREAT! Surrender. charge?

Rough weekend.  Crashed after an especially stressful work week.  

Saturday mid-morning, read up on tragedy in Norway.  Horrific news.  Soon after, take a nap (bad idea), just to have an exhausting daymare that The Man had to talk me out of.

Spent 14 hours in bed, Sunday night/morning/afternoon.  Finally dragged myself from the bedroom and into the house.  Flipped on some 70s tunes for background sounds while cleaning the kitchen.  “Dream Weaver” “Billy, Don’t Be a Hero” “Angel in Your Arms” “If You Leave Me Now.” Feeling stronger.

Headed to dinner with friends.  Listening to Elton John’s Tumbleweed Connection.  Ate Mexican food with the pals with whom I will share a Puerto Rico jaunt in a couple of days.  Feeling even stronger.

Home.  Ironed shirt for work.  More 70s music.
Typing this.  New Order “Leave Me Alone”  Ready for tomorrow?  Ok. 


"Leave Me Alone"  New Order

Sunday, July 17, 2011

"Go to the Mausoleum Door and Act Like You're Knocking..."

That's what I told him, to raised eyebrows and a shrug.

Sunday, July 17, 2011.  Glenwood Cemetery. Houston, Texas.

In the middle of the city, the memorial park was lush and quiet.  The mid-morning weather was warm and muggy as we wandered around the park, taking pictures of each other in goofy settings and gorgeous spots.  After thirty minutes or so, we’d had enough of the rising heat and the morbid ridiculousness, so we headed out to shop for produce. 

Browsing over broccoli, nectarines and almonds, I mentioned to The Man that I planned to post the pictures that we had taken that morning on Facebook.  Then I immediately talked myself out of it, citing the potential displeasure of my conservative friends and family at the possible perception of my being sacrilegious or disrespectful.  The Man gave no input either way (he’s good at listening).

When we got home, I still wanted to post the pictures to the internet.  But I pushed the want aside.  Until…

I usually catch up on reading my favorite blogs on Sundays.  I always go to The Bloggess first.  And what should I find today?  A video post of a speech that she made at a blogging convention.  The topic?  “The Art of Being Furiously Happy.”  The gist of the speech was about not sitting in the shadows, but stepping out and doing what is fun and important.

I stopped the video in mid-transmission and immediately loaded the graveyard photos on Facebook.  (I realized when resuming the video that I had subconsciously ripped off Jenny Lawson – she’d taken photos in Glenwood Cemetery herself months before).

Still feeling a bit of apprehension at posting the pictures, I called and warned my sister before I hit the “Publish” button on Facebook.  All she did was laugh.  I released the photos.

The Bloggess helped me to remember to be both silly and proud of it.  Thanks Jenny!

So we’re back to…

“Go to the mausoleum door and act like you’re knocking.”


He did.  Wow, not every man would take that direction.  But mine did.

"Deathwish"  The Police

Sunday, July 10, 2011

"You're My Sunshine"

How often do we snap at our loved ones when something completely unrelated to them has angered, hurt or disappointed us?
I pulled that the other night.

I had a particularly difficult day at work, and consequently, I’d come home feeling raw.  The Man and I ate dinner.  Around 8 PM, I went to lie down in the bedroom.  The phone rang (one of his old friends), I set Innervisions by Stevie Wonder very low on my iPod and soon feel asleep.

I woke to “Living for the City,” and a kiss on the cheek from The Man.
I grumbled, “You woke me up.”

Surprised, he said, “I’m sorry.”

I pouted the rest of the evening.

A little past our normal bedtime, The Man came up behind me as I sat at my office desk.  “Well, I’m going to bed.” he said quietly, and then he kissed me on the shoulder.  I said "OK" flatly, but didn’t turn around.

After a few minutes, I realized that I was being a jerk.  I walked into the bedroom, leaned against my dresser and sighed.  “I’m not sleepy now.  You woke me up earlier.”

He laughed.  “I know … you told me that.”

I smiled, apologetically “Sorry for being grumpy.  I’m not upset with you.”

“I know.”

“It was a rough day at work…”

“I figured.”

"I just wanted to go to sleep and escape the day."  Then I vented a bit about the earlier trials and the resulting anger, hurt, and disappointment.  He listened; he just listened quietly.

At the end of my monologue, I said, “I’m sorry.  I really try to keep work at work. Thank you for listening to me.”

“That’s why I’m here.” He smiled.

“You are so important to me.”

“I know.”

I can walk around grumpy, and this is what I get:
As I am leaving for work in the mornings: “You look so cute today.”
When I come home from work, a tight hug and a beaming smile: “This is the best part of my day.”
Absolutely anytime at all, a deep look into my eye:  “You’re my sunshine.”

"You're My Best Friend"  Queen

Regardless of the scowl on my face, my heart is warm and light.  The warmth makes my face glow; the lightness sets my feet in the clouds.  And daily, I'm convinced of just how lucky I am.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Squeezing the Tedium - Lemonheads-Style

Incredibly bored.  That’s how I woke this morning.  At five a.m. on a Sunday morning, insomnia jerking my chance to sleep-in from under my feet.  I played a computer game for a while; that didn’t relieve the monotony.  I thought about going to smoke a cigarette.  Problem.  I quit a couple of months back.  So I surfed the net awhile, came across an article by Jocelyn Anne on ProBlogger entitled “What to Do When You’re so Boring You’re Boring Yourself,” and laughed.  My mind jumped to Evan Dando.

Evan Dando, the leader of The Lemonheads, released a solo album back in 2003 called Baby I’m Bored.  I don’t own this … yet.  But I immediately wanted to listen to some Lemonheads.

I got turned on to the Lemonheads by a co-worker, when I worked at a record store back in my early 30s.  This co-worker was a long-haired intense rocker named Darren, who volunteered to make me a mix tape by a group that he thought I would like.  I cringed inwardly but said “Sure!” politely.  I imagined death metal with screaming satanic vocals and wailing guitars.  To squash my prejudice, Darren was incredibly insightful and sensitive.  The Lemonheads, with their mix of alternative rock and pop punk sounds turned out to be one of my favorite bands. 

The mix tape included the bouncy “Down about It,” the edgy “Alison’s Starting to Happen,” and a punky cover of Suzanne Vega’s “Luka.” Plus a totally different kind of song.  Although Evan Dando is straight, he wrote a song named “Big Gay Heart,” included on the CD Come on Feel the Lemonheads.  The song is a country-styled song, tenderly crooned from the point of view of a resigned gay guy directed at a hostile homophobe.

The steel guitar, weary singing and overly earnest lyrics make the song seem sincere to the point of being almost tongue in check, until the end of the first verse eases in and drops:

I don't need you to suck my (whoa!)
Or to help me feel good about myself
Well, all right…

"Big Gay Heart"  The Lemonheads

The bridge of the song goes like this:

Why can't you look after yourself
And not down on me
Just a few simple words, in the vein of "take care of your own business," that many can recognize.

I ended up listening to The Lemonheads for the remainder of the morning, enjoying the wry lyrics, the poppy rhythms and the odd surprises (what other group would cover “Frank Mills,” sung by the Chrissy character in the musical Hair?). I didn't need a cigarette, a game or the internet. The boredom had been squeezed out of me.