Germs From Around The World

Ever wonder what starts a fad or a trend?  I think it’s an unanswerable mystery.  If it weren’t, everyone would be inventing Pet Rocks and making shitloads of dough.  I actually had a Pet Rock and thought I was pretty trendy. But deep down I wondered why on earth I spent my babysitting money on such a stupid thing when I could have had another pair of those groovy Scandinavian Earth Shoes I coveted, even though they made my calves hurt.

A few weeks ago, I took my niece, Maddie, to Seattle. I love Seattle. My son lives there and the food is always great!  Lots of oysters. I hate oysters.

Naturally, I wanted to make the trip memorable.  Here’s a recap:

ME: So…what do you want to see first?  Space Needle?  Pike’s Market?

MADDIE: Yeah, all that, but what I really want to see is the gum wall.

ME: What’s the gumball?  Is that some kind of sculpture?

MADDIE: No. Not the gumball. The gum wall.

ME: [No words. Just a vacant stare]

MADDIE: I saw it in a guide book.

ME: [ditto the vacant stare]

I’m starting to feel a little angst here but hey, I’m a trooper,  so we start our trek to find this so-called tourist attraction. I admit, I wanted to get it out of the way so we could do other stuff like find the Beecher’s store and eat ourselves into a cheese coma.  I mean, it’s just some wall tucked away somewhere near Pike’s Market. Pretty convenient and it actually had an address, so said the travel guide. How bad can it be?

The guide book did not do it justice. It was not a wall.  It was a kind of “tunnel” of sorts under Pike’s Market covered side to side, up and down and every which way in half-chewed gum.

It was a petri dish of germs the enormity of which I couldn’t quite grasp. I think if they’d had this gum wall in 1346, it would have surely been ground zero of the Black Death.

This wall of potentially infectious I-don’t-know-what, was the strangest thing I’d ever seen and I’ve seen some pretty strange things in my life. What is it that’s so compelling about chomping a wad of Big League Chew then smushing it onto piles of other half-chewed wads covered in saliva from mouths that have been God-knows-where?  I noticed myriad languages being spoken in that bizarre tunnel of staph and mrsa and wondered if perhaps it made people feel a part of the global community. Like being able to say something like “Hey, dude, I went to Seattle and now I’ve been to, like, every ‘stan country there is….sorta.”

In my mind, I was thinking more like this: “Hey, I went to Seattle and visited that gum wall and now I have this pesky open wound that just won’t heal.”

But I digress…

Maddie shoves some gum in her mouth, chews just long enough to coat it with her own personal cooties while I chatter aimlessly as a means to take my mind off where I am and trying not to breath too deeply.

ME: Bazooka was my favorite bubble gum as a kid. I can still taste it!  It was super sweet and really, really hard. By the time the soft stuff came out like Bubblicious, I was way past my bubble gum chewing days. Unfortunate timing for my tooth enamel, I guess, because that damn Bazooka sent me to Dr. Bob, the prison dentist, way too many times.

Maddie hands me her phone.

MADDIE: Wait til I find the right spot.

ME: Maybe look for a red piece. Could be from Russia…or maybe Switzerland.  Or how ‘bout that bright green spot?

MADDIE: Ooohhh, yeah! Ireland!

She finds her spot, gingerly smushes it into the wall as I snap her picture.  I breathe a sigh of relief that it’s over.

As we’re leaving, I see a pole that’s covered in deliberately crafted strings of hanging gum in every color of the rainbow.  I find it disgustingly attractive and snap a pic.  It resembled something out of a Dr. Seuss book. I secretly christen it Seuss-a-licious.

ME: Let’s go take a bath in Lysol and find that cheese place!

MADDIE: Okay.  But not until we see the haunted soda machine over on John street.

Shopping At 36,000

What I love most about being confined in a long metal tube with hundreds of people I don’t know with questionable hygiene habits…is the shopping.

Yeah, there’s the cheap thrill of not knowing  whether the pilots have their hands firmly in the 10 and 2 position on that steering thingy. Or whether they’ve tapped into internet porn on the Wi-Fi and their hands are elsewhere… but it doesn’t compare to the euphoria of thumbing through the SkyMall Magazine.

It makes all your worries about the unlikely event of a water landing evaporate!

Of course, one should don one’s noise canceling headphones to drown out the devil’s spawn in the seat behind who’s pawing the back of your seat with his little cloven hooves… but once you’ve snapped those puppies over your lugholes and made the sign of the cross eight times? You’re golden and it’s time to enjoy the shopping experience.

Although it’s fascinating how many devices there are for growing hair [I counted 5 in one issue alone], a few things I felt compelled to order were more in the vein of what I’ll call “lifestyle enhancers”.  Like the Genuine Bamboo Tiki Bar.  It makes me want to invite Ginger and The Professor over for cocktails around the lagoon.  Or The Relaxing Magic Showerhead that turns boring ‘ole hand-help shower heads into powerful, vibrating…uh…okay, let’s skip over that one for now and move onto The Gentle Motion Back Stretcher.  It’s an apparatus.  You strap yourself in and bend over or kneel on….oh…..never mind on that one, too.

Let’s talk about what I really wanted but didn’t get: the MyLife Bead Bracelet.

It allows you to tell your life story in personalized beads.

There were lovely beads you could get with heartfelt affirmations engraved in them like “strength” and “peace”.  You can get beads with dates and names of significant events in life like marriage(s).  As I was assembling all the dates of MyLife Bead Bracelet, I realized that it was turning into a MyLife Bead Necklace what with all the dates and names and “voted most likely to join the circus” and “teenage pregnancy” took up more than one bead. It was getting too damned cumbersome so I gave up.

Oh, well.  There’s still The Mustache Mirror.

“Ever wonder how you’d look styled with a ‘stache? Three bushy, manly lip ticklers are printed boldly at the perfect level so you can try one on for size.”

Gettin’ it.




“I’m Going To Have To Ask You To Leave”

I know I’ve been traveling too much when I start losing articles of clothing.

Not the kind I used to lose when I was young and single. A few bits of lingerie here and there were expected but not entirely pain free.  I mean, those “special” little loincloths could set a working girl back a few clicks. Leaving special knickers behind was a hard lesson in fiscal responsibility back then.

But now that I’m old and married? Losing articles of clothing is just downright irritating.

My favorite flip-flops, for example. [both of them]

A beautiful camel-colored pump [only the right….not the left]

And the worst to date?  My cherished Burberry scarf. I spent all day scouring a New York hotel in a frenzied search.  A few  guests fled when they saw me pawing through the housekeeping trash in a darkened stairwell.  I tried to explain but when a wild-eyed women holding a smelly banana peel in one hand and the remnants of a New York Times in the other, the overly-gentile take on a harshly judgmental attitude. I suspect they reported me to the front desk.

No matter. I have been judged harshly a time or two on my road to respectability.

For the love of Pete, we’re talking Burberry here! What self-respecting fashionista wouldn’t get their paws a little dirty to get back such a cherished accessory?  You soak your hands in a little clorox and redo the manicure and you’re golden.  Small price to pay if it means reuniting with finely spun cashmere.

Oh, did I mention it was cashmere? Burberry cashmere?

Changes the game, don’t it, sisters and brothers united in fashion?  Now you understand the magnitude of the situation. It was the proverbial all-is-lost moment in this tragic tale of fashion.

I had broken the oath of no cashmere left behind.

I was ashamed. I was not worthy.

So I went the way of the coward….Straight to the hotel bar and into the outstretched wings of a large, Grey Goose.

Yeah, I stayed long enough to start spittin’ out feathers but I was in distress, okay? Cut me some slack!

Then lo and behold, just as the bartender was about to call security, an angel appeared before me. Cocooned in a glow of pure white light, arms  stretched toward me in offering. I blinked once, twice, struggling to focus.  Yes, yes… it was  human. And it was wearing a suit with a name-tag.


No, the haircut was all wrong and he wasn’t smiling. It was definitely the concierge.

And he had my scarf! Oh, happy day and praise the Baby Jesus. The blessed one had my scarf.

I reached for it, snatch it away from the stoic concierge.

I buried my face in its creamy softness and cooed.

I was asked never to return to this hotel. [probably over that whole dumpster-diving thing]

I didn’t care. I had my scarf.





The Nirvana Chronicles – Day One

There is no place on earth that cleanses my soul like The Big Island.

Perhaps in another life, I was Hawaiian and I always feel like I’m coming home.  Or maybe there’s just something in the air here that makes me feel like I’m half a planet away from anything unpleasant.

Whatever the reason, the moment I step off the airplane and clamber down those familiar metal stairs twenty layers of daily grind fall away.  It’s a feeling I get a hankering for about every six months or so…like an internal alarm clock that tells me my psyche is getting threadbare and needs a mend.

And the healing comes quickly.

Day One was spent watching a sea turtle work its way up onto the beach for a sunbathe.

It was fascinating.

I first saw it rolling in the clear crest of a wave as it surged toward the sand, the sun catching it just right as to illuminate the journey.

Each wave carried him a little closer.

There was no hurry.

It made me think about Time and how we humans are enslaved by it.

And I decided that today I would not be.

So I waited and I watched as the power of the surf had its way with that sea turtle. He didn’t mind. He let himself go…patient…suspended and tossed about in that brilliant curl.

He would get to the beach in due time…on that one perfect wave that would propel him to his destination.

He made it. And there I was ready to snap a quick shot.

I thought to myself how odd it felt….

Me with my iPhone…to which I am chained and cannot live without.

And the sea turtle with nothing more than a wave to help it along.

I suspect I will have many more days of contemplating such things.

I want to stay this way forever.


Like Flying In Heaven

I’m reading Keith Richard’s new book and it opens with him reminiscing about getting arrested in Arkansas in 1975.  They were driving from somewhere to somewhere because they’d had an especially harrowing flight and didn’t want to fly any more.  I think he described it as “much sobbing and screaming” with Annie Leibovitz hitting her head on the ceiling of the plane.

I would have driven, too, if the plane I was in dropped thousands of feet really, really fast.  I would have left the hash and cocaine on the airplane where it belonged, though. I probably would have never flown again.  Well…that’s just what anybody would say in that sitch…and then they’d get right back on like I did.  I’ve had that dropping from the sky experience and the only thing it’s good for is to give you a taste of your own stomach which has no practical benefit that I can see.   But I’m a soul who likes to wander so I just paint my yellow belly over with some happy, happy color – like black, my personal fave – and suck it up.  What choice is there?  I had a Greyhound bus experience way back when that I’ve spent years trying to forget.

So flying it shall be.

My paranoid fear of flying manifests itself in bizarre plane crash dreams with happy endings. Yeah, I know.  But I’m full of contradictions.

Often, I’m riding on the OUTSIDE of the aircraft which explains aforementioned reference to “on the horse”.  I watch calmly as we plummet into a corn field or careen down a crowded freeway all the while telling my sleeping self and those around me who may be sobbing and screaming – like people I’m supposed to know but always look like people I don’t know – that all will be well.  “Who wants to go to Miami anyway when you can use the Dan Ryan as your own personal landing strip.  Don’t get that experience every day, do ya?” I tell them.  This generally calms them down until we crash safely which usually wakes me up.

This is a recurring them for me, these quasi-crashes.  That and possessing the ability to actually fly myself.  I had a doozie the other night where I actually had to teach my husband that he could fly, too.  He was skeptical.

When I’m actually awake, I’m not a great flyer.  I don’t outwardly panic or act like an idiot even though my innards are flopping around like beached carp.

I rarely look out the window lest it remind me just how insanely far from terra firma we are and how in theee hell this contraption doesn’t drop like a stone and wouldn’t it be better if some brainiac could just invent a molecular transporter to deliver us to Aunt Jen’s in Omaha instead? It would save so much time and energy and fossil fuel.  But I guess for now, it is what it is and I’ll have to deal with the low-tech version of flying and all the shit that goes with it like security lines.  Oh, the overwhelming panic when I showed up for a flight last week and realized I was wearing boots!!  Up to the knee boots with no zipper. God damn it! My feet start swelling the minute they step foot inside an airport terminal.  Now some poor schmuck has to wait behind me while I try and wrestle these babies off my sausage feet.

But today I am having a peaceful flight.  Perhaps I’m dreaming but I’m not out on the  wing so probably not. The weather on the ground was bleak and gray and drizzly. A typical Midwestern winter.  We had to climb and climb through white, soupy haze that went on for what seems like forever until….


Bright and glorious.

A beam hits the screen of my iPad and shoots a blinding arrow of light into the left eye of the man sitting next to me. This ruined his otherwise kinda good mood. Thank the gods it’s my husband and he can tell me to tilt the fucking thing away from him without offending me.  I do and he thanks me.  He tilts his own just right and blinds me back.  Ah, revenge….the foundation of any solid marriage.

Below us is a virtual sea – an endless sea, actually – of white fluff.  It’s flat like the middle-state we just left but without any broken, winter cornstalks… or Wendy’s.

It’s cool.  Oddly peaceful.

Like flying in heaven if you believe in such things.

Or maybe it’s just because I’m going home.


Beginning At The End

Sometimes I have a hard time trusting happiness. Like it’s going to pull some cosmic rug out from under me just when I think I’ve got it all.  My  negative inner-voice battles my positive inner voice constantly.  My psyche is perpetually exhausted.

God, that’s so Woody Allen.

I have that feeling right now after the Austin success. Probably brought on by the weird flight home.

Delayed…..some sort of “computer glitch” we were told. Uh huh.

[I can still make it!  I’m sure the next flight is delayed, also!]

We take off finally.

But not until after an irritating display of technological idiocy from the woman squeezed into the seat next to me.

[Stop that!]

She keeeps punching at the personal video screen in the seat back in front of her. She made me and my techno-pea-brain look like Stephen Hawking.

How many punches does it take to figure out the fucking thing is NOT a touch screen?

[Doesn’t she know that the poor dude sitting in that seat can FEEL that?]

We finally take off but we’ve  eaten through quite a bit of the 37 minute Houston to San Jose layover.

[Don’t worry.  It’ll be fine.  I’ll make it.]


We climb a little.

But not very much.

I’m still seeing freeways….and  cars moving on said freeways.

Hmmmm.  Shouldn’t we be seeing that quilt-like display of farmland and funky looking crop circles thingies you see out the window….when you head OUT of one city and on to the next??

Okay….Im having a flashback to that time in the Philippines when the single engine plane I was in had to land in a goat pasture. Same feeling of why the hell isn’t this thing getting any higher?

[Oh, this is just great!  I finally make something of myself after fifty long years and fate snatches it from me on the way home??]

My heart starts to pound.

I feel faint.


A little queasy.

I think about grabbing the vomit bag.  On Continental, they double as an I’ll-be-right-back seat saver.  They are a lovely shade of blue.  The ones on United are white and remind you NOT to put them back in the seat pocket after use.  Good to know.

Techo-dummy leans across me to look out the window.

[Please return to your own space!]

She smells like lavender and fast food. Two smells that really should not end up in the same place.

For a second I think she may have the same thought. About the lack of altitude, I mean. Not the lovely-flowering-plant-meets-Big-Mac thing.

Then I had only one thought and that’s how annoying people with no concept of personal space are.

[Okay, This is good…a thought other than…the end is near.]

She leans back.

[Thank you.]

Starts punching that damn screen again.

[That’s funny.  She LOOKS normal. Perhaps it’s some kind of….disorder.  Just ignore it.]


We are still flying a little low but we’re still airborne so I’m starting to feel a wee bit better.

We take two sharp banking turns.

One hard left and then a few minutes later a hard right. I’m talking hard. Like some people were actually making that silly “I’m a soaring airplane” sound we made as kids, our skinny little arms stretched out like wings. Something like this: reeeoooowwww. You know the sound.  You’ve made it.  It’s just a little hard to spell.

[Stop doing that!  I’m getting scared all over again!]

Anyhoo, I don’t know geography that well, but I think Houston is a pretty straight shot from Austin as the crow flies so the only thing I can think is that they’re slowing us waaaaay down so we don’t get to Houston too early.

More munching on that layover niblet.

We arrive.

2 minutes to get to the gate that is 6 1/2 miles away.

I run.

And I am not a runner.

But today?  I was O.J-fucking-Simpson…pre-indictment.

My knees ache.

My lunges feel like they’re exploding.

[I thought I was in better shape.]

There is no one at the gate counter.

I beat on the glass door.

Hello?  Somebody? Anybody?

I run up to a guy at a little booth.

Can you help me?

Sorry, I don’t work here.

[Then why the hell are you standing in that booth?  At the airport?  Don’t answer that.]

I can see the plane…it hasn’t left!

A guy from Continental finally appears.

No…I cannot get on.  They have closed the doors.



Six hours in Houston….

I called my entire family, watched a couple of movies, missed my husband like an amputated arm.

But I made it home.

And I am happy.

Say….does lung tissue regenerate?

I. AM. IRONMAN….not really

This weekend was the Ironman Triathlon in Kona, HI.

It just so happens that we’re in Kona.

Just to be clear….I am not in the competition.

There are many, many very fit people here in Kona.

Just to be clear…I am not one of them.

Yeah…I can run a mile if I’m being chased by a homicidal maniac but generally, I prefer yoga and a brisk walk.

And on one such brisk walk pre-Ironman, I encountered a few of these very fit folks.

One in particular is single-handed responsible for damn-near ruining my vacation.

She was spectacular.


Off-the-charts fit, running in ubershort shorts and a tight running top (sans bra fat spillover).

Washboard abs.

No visible sign of perspiration.

Nothing whatsoever jiggled.

She smiled cheerfully.

I shuffled past, my iPod ear buds barely able to stay put in my profusely sweating ears (yes, ears CAN sweat, smartasses).

I briefly considered shoving her into the razor-sharp lava rock minefield we were passing by…but….

…pity took over.

My hatred evaporated.

What might life be devoid of M & Ms and Vodka?

Oh, what a sad, sad, existence.

I minded my business and let her be…poor, poor deprived creature.

I thought about her many times as I sat on the beach, swathed in a sheet (two eyes cut out, of course), sunning my feet.

Who needs rock-hard abs when you’ve got a good pedicure, right?

You Think You Know Someone….

….and then they go off and buy something like Corn Nuts.

I’ve known my husband for what seems like forever and he has never, I repeat, never bought a bag of Corn Nuts.

I sent him to the store to get munchies for the mini-bar since the hotel charges $35 for a bag of pretzels.

And this is what he comes back with?

I mean, what the hell IS a Corn Nut anyway??

Is it corn?

Is it a nut?

It simply cannot be both.

I am on vacation.

I do not want confusion.

I do not want a corn snack dressed up like a peanut which is, to me,  a corn snack in drag.

I want Cheetos.

I want Baby Goldfish (cheddar, of course).

Jeez!…who IS this guy!!

I’m not even gonna mention the Cracker Jacks.

The prizes are completely lame these days….just fyi.