Tag Archives: beer

9/11 — 10 Years

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I was working at the local vet clinic, greeting clients, entering patients’ charts into the system, getting everything ready for the busy day of surgeries and appointments ahead.  One of our regulars called in while our waiting room was hectic and I was helping another client.  Now, this regular usually told outlandish jokes that no one found funny, so you shouldn’t be shocked when I told her, “That’s not funny,” and hung up on her when she began to tell me that one of the twin towers had been struck by an airplane.

I finished checking in my patient and had just waved her owner out the door when one of the technicians came running from the back, urging us to follow him – something big had just happened on the news.  I had already forgotten my crazy, unfunny client on the phone, and so there was no dawning of realization at this moment.  The other receptionist and I followed him obediently into the treatment area and joined the group surrounding the small portable radio sitting on one of the counters.

My client’s news was confirmed on the radio hastily by a big-sounding man.  He was reporting live from the scene, describing destruction and chaos we couldn’t imagine with something akin to excitement in his voice.

Then there was silence.

“Oh my god!  Oh my god!  Another plane has just hit the second tower!  OMIGOD!!”  Our reporter no longer sounded excited, but fearful.

Our office manager walked in as we were being told of this horrific tragedy.  We pulled ourselves from the radio and moved on with our own hectic day.  As the receptionist and fielder of phone calls, I received many from clients, friends and family of coworkers, and my own best friend, relating the news, worrying about loved ones who were currently in NYC or even in one of the towers.  News trickled in about two more planes.  By the time I left for my only Tuesday class at 1:30 p.m., I was in shock – I couldn’t believe such horrible things had happened.

On my way to campus, my best friend called again.  “Classes are canceled.  Wanna get some lunch?”  We ate our greasy pizza and drank our cold beer, as silently as everyone else in Little Italy, as silently as the whole town, as silently as the nation.

Dispatches from the Road: Icing the Bear

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Joey in toga

When Joey suddenly wrapped himself in a sheet and yelled "TOGA!", we knew it was all down hill from there.

It was Long Beach, in July 2004, at the Holiday Inn. It was a comfortable hotel, very clean, and the room afforded plenty of space for four young men secure enough in their sexuality to see no wrong in sleeping two to a bed. If you’ve spent literally full days at that point crammed into an ‘89 Bonneville with three other guys, of course, it doesn’t take much for a given space to appear downright roomy by your perspective.

As you entered the room, to your right was a small alcove with a sink and vanity. Just beyond was the door to the shower and toilet. That door open outward, so as not to swing in and hit a person sitting on the toilet. It was a thoughtful design, but that night, as Scott showered and I brushed my teeth, I found its fatal flaw.

See, the gap between the door and the door jamb was just a little too wide. Not so wide you could see through it, but wide enough that the blade of a pocket knife could slip in and have room to work on the latch of the door. So, actually locking the bathroom door was more of a courtesy – a temporary encumbrance to let someone know that the space was occupied more so than any type of actual security measure.

Without giving the observation much thought, I finished brushing my teeth, casually slipped my knife in and jimmied the lock, opened the door, and tossed my plastic cup of ice water over the shower bar.

Scott yelped, and we all had a good laugh.

Unwittingly, however, I’d begun an arms race that would end in a cataclysm that we could not have foreseen when we embarked on our “Slap the Nation” adventure.

Bigger Boards, Bigger Nails

A day passed. Next in the shower was Cameron. Ice water was at hand, but the previous vessel seemed inadequate. A plastic cup has its place, but the room did come with an ice bucket that was just waiting to join the party.

We filled it with ice, then with water, and let it sit while Cameron bathed, doubtlessly dreaming of the strippers and hookers that awaited us in Vegas without much thought to poor Scott, who only hours earlier had stood in his same condition, cold, shivering and alone.

I jimmied the lock, and there we waited, posted by the door, listening for the shower to cut off. Timing was everything. We needed to get the chilled ice water over the curtain rod before the curtain opened and Cameron had space to dodge the onslaught of ice. The water stopped, the door flew open, and the ice water rained on our bleached-blonde friend.

Cameron squealed, and we all had a good laugh.

Knowing Your Victim

Third for assault was Joey. Joey hates beer. We made the mistake of buying beer we hated. Ice bucket, ice, and God-awful beer bought from the cheap liquor store around the corner from the hotel. Perfect.

The venue was different. We didn’t want to wait for Joey to shower; we wanted to get him while he was even more vulnerable than that. We waited until he was on the toilet.

We didn’t have to wait long.

Messed up bathroom

Cameron, surveying the damage after we assaulted Joey in his sanctuary.

The door swung open and we acquired our target. Joey looked at us with puppy-dog eyes, helpless and unassuming. In the blink of an eye, it was over. The grooves of grout along the tile floor became tributaries of bad beer flowing around islands of ice cubes. We thought the room stunk before we drenched him with beer, but there we left him, our poor Joey, good ol’ Joey, awash in beer and his own extremely unpleasant stink.

It was a terrible way to go… to the beach, which we did, like, a few minutes after we busted in on Joey.

Assaulting the Sasquatch

That I was next was not lost on me. It was my fate, set by my own foolish, extemporaneous endeavor to pull a fast one on a friend. I could still see the flimsy plastic cup, cloudily opaque and clanking dully from the ice within, leaving my hand. It turned so gracefully in the air then plummeted, like the nose of a Japanese Zero on a kamikaze dive, first aloft and angled skyward before plunging toward its destiny.

From that point, I knew that every nap, every crap, every second I went un-soaked in ice was borrowed time. Verily, the train was coming, and there I was, bound to the tracks by the ties of my own poor foresight, incapable of seeing how far it still had to go.

I had to shower, but I could shower smart. In the corner of the bathroom was a pile of dirty towels. I retrieved two of these and tied one end together. I then wrapped it over the shower curtain rod and the hook on the back of the bathroom door, and knotted the other end. I then took my dirty boxers and shoved them into the knot, first so that I would have a frame of reference for detecting movement, and second, so the first person to stick their head in the door would immediately get a face full of Tony funk. It was an awesome trap, given what I had to work with. The Vietcong would’ve been proud.

The only other defense mechanism I had was myself. Rotund, hairy – a body only a woman with poor eyesight could love, and even then only in the dark. If they made it through the trap – if the dirty boxers didn’t deter them and the towel-lock didn’t stop them – they would have me to deal with: hairy, wet, naked, and at peace with my commitment to tackle the first poor bastard who came through that door.

I’d but barely begun my shower when they came for me.

The doorknob wiggled. The door opened as far as the towel rope would allow. Cameron had point.

“It’s blocked,” I heard him to say.

“It’s blocked? By what?” someone asked.

“I don’t know – it looks like a towel and his underwear,” Cameron said, sounding uncertain. The psychological presence of the boxers was having its intended effect.

“Well, push,” someone said.

Push? Damn. I knew my trap wouldn’t withstand a, you know, shove. So, as Cameron put his shoulder into the door and barrelled through my defense, I put my Plan B into action, expecting to turn the tables.

Like so many other little ideas I’ve had, it didn’t go as planned.

I flung aside the curtain and threw one foot out of the tub. It hit the floor, and I began to crouch in a sumo wrestler stance. I yelled, “Yokozuma!” I don’t know what it meant, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. Over my man parts was but a washcloth. (It was a big hotel-grade washcloth, by the way, for those of you snickering right now. A BIG wash cloth.)

It was at that moment that friction failed me.

First, I saw my foot – the one I’d used to step out of the tub. It was no longer on the floor. It was almost at the same elevation as my head. That wasn’t supposed to happen. I then became aware of the feeling of freefall. The door, the walls, Cameron – everything was getting taller as I fell toward the floor. I saw movement, and looked up to see my washcloth, the only covering I had, as it twirled freely through the air.

Then I landed. The offending foot was behind the toilet. The other was still firmly planted in the bathtub. I was as wide open and exposed as a man can be. Someone screamed. I looked up to see Joey and Scott scrambling to climb over each other, both in full retreat.

Not Cameron. No. He was committed. He looked back at the Scott and Joey and the tangled clump of limbs they’d woven trying to be the first one out of sight of this unexpected, grotesque occurrence. Then Cameron looked at what he was holding.

The plastic cup and ice bucket had given way to the trashcan, filled full of ice and brimming with water, just as the bow and musket had given way to the thermonuclear missile.

Cameron looked once more at me, grimaced, then closed his eyes and steeled himself. This was his duty. The voice in his head reminded him of that sacred creed: “Go big or go home.” Just as my destiny was to be soaked in ice water, so his was to do the soaking. And he’d pulled out all the stops.

He lunged. The spray of ice and water cast a rainbow as they moved, in slow motion, through the air. I called my senses together and began barking orders to my wayward limbs. Feet, together! Hands, grab curtain! Body, duck behind the sheet of vinyl; it’s all that might save you!

Back on my feet, I wrapped myself in the curtain. The water rained down on my shoulders, but the bulk of the ice hit in the curtain and collected harmlessly in the bottom of the tub. Like a refugee rescued from a frozen river, I was wet and cold, yes, but I was alive.

The last thing I saw was the door slamming home as Cameron fled. My towel rope dangled uselessly from the curtain rod, still tied, still with my underwear crammed into the knot. At the end of the rope was the hook from the back of the door. It still had a chunk of the wood from the door attached to it.

Seeking again that familiar false sense of security, I locked the door. I turned the shower to hot, and washed away the ice until I had a place to stand and finish my shower.

It’s over, I told myself. Thank God. Now, there can be peace.

Prologue

Peace was fleeting. The following morning, Joey told us how he awoke that night. Cameron, Joey’s bed buddy, was writhing in his sleep, mumbling. Then he screamed, and began to whimper. Joey woke him enough to calm down and go back to sleep.

One can only imagine what awful trauma Cameron was reliving that night. But we know sleep helps you store things in your long-term memory. It prevents you from forgetting. And since that day, Cameron’s smile has been a little less wide, his laugh a little less loud.

Of course, that could’ve just been the venereal disease we figure he got in Vegas.

Jekyll Island Daydreamin’

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I wanna go back to the island,
Where the shrimp boats tie up to the pilin’.
Gimme’ oysters and beer
For dinner every day of the year and I’ll feel fine.
I’ll feel fine.
I wanna’ be there;
Wanna’ go back down and lie beside the sea there,
With a tin cup for a chalice, fill it up with good red wine
And I’m a’ chewin’ on a honeysuckle vine
— Jimmy Buffett, Tin Cup Chalice

Just a month ago, I spent hours alongside the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen. The water was blue and so crystal clear that you could see the coral beneath its cloudless surface. The sand was fine gold, the breeze was gentle and soothing and the beach chairs were splendid and inviting. I could not have anticipated the utter and absolute breathtaking beauty of the Bahamas. There, in Lacaya, at a Radisson resort we sat, my wife of these almost six years and I, thumbing through our books and baking in the Bahamian sun alongside a gorgeous, meandering pool and pristine sea. The next day, in Nassau, the story was much the same. Even the industrial port from which we departed on a decrepit water taxi to Paradise Island and the famous Atlantis Resort featured splendidly clear waters and welcoming locals.

Sydney Lanier Bridge from Driftwood Beach

The Sydney Lanier Bridge, as seen from Driftwood Beach at sunset, circa 2006.

Still, however, my heart yearns for a place with far less beauty but much more meaning.

I’ve been to Paradise Island, but I long for Jekyll.

It is silly, I know. Only these few weeks returned from a once-in-a-lifetime cruise to a tropical paradise, and here I am pinning for a place that, I swear, smells like my farts. (Really. It does. That’s how my wife knows it was me. “Did you fart? It smells like Jekyll.”) It’s old, rundown, and the water is tinged the shade of brown that would be familiar to people who have lived or worked within sight of a cesspool.

But I’m not alone in my longing for the crusty sands of Jekyll. Just last week, my wife asked if I thought we should go down this year. Her question is ripping my soul asunder, because the obvious answer – “Hell yeah!” – is less obvious than it ordinarily would have been.

She’s in school, pursuing her graduate degree in nursing. Money’s tight. Time is scarce. My dryer has been screeching for a month because I’ve had such limited opportunities to attempt a repair. I can only cut grass every two weeks, owing to her school/work schedule on weekends. It’s all I can do to do what I’m doing.

Still, that quaint barrier island beacons me. I know that 90 percent of my affection for the place is owed to nostalgia – it’s where my family vacationed when I was a kid, and it’s where I’ve enjoyed some of the happiest times with my wife.

Oceanside Inn and Suites view

Oceanside Inn and Suites. Threadbare is beautiful.

See, there’s a motel down there – it’s called the Oceanside Inn and Suites. It’s just an old roadside motor lodge, dating from decades past. It’s old and threadbare, but it’s clean. The showers are stained with age, and not want of cleaning. And they have these rooms, called Lanai suites, which look out over the pool and the beach at the same time. You can get one on the ground floor, with a patio door that opens right out onto the ground with an easy stroll to the beach, but I prefer the ones on the second floor, where a balcony elevates you so you can see over the dunes to the ocean and vistas beyond.

And the thing about Jekyll is, once you’ve been once, there’s really nothing else to do but sit on the beach and watch the tide come and go. There’s a small putt-putt course, a great historic district and some small shops and restaurants, but that’s it. The island boasts some renown for its golf courses, but that’s not for me. I’d rather walk the beach and look for shells than walk the greens and look for balls.

Ashley and I have been several times, but the details of all those trips rather run together. I know the first time was very special, because I’d always wanted to take someone I loved down to show them how much of me comes from the small space of time I’ve spent on that sandy spit of land. I remember once we went when it was so windy you couldn’t leave your folding chair on the beach to wade into the water for the chance that they would be carried off in the breeze. And once, it was mating season for some small, black bugs that didn’t bite or sting, but swarmed everywhere, mounting each other.

But I also remember days spent out on the beach, just sitting in our folding chairs with our books, watching the seagulls hover in the wind. Waking up early to watch the sun rise over the ocean. Eating fried shrimp for lunch and dinner every day. Sitting out on the balcony with a pipe, a beer and a box of chocolates. Wandering around the seaside village on St. Simons until we found this great local restaurant with the most scrumptious coconut shrimp. Strolling through the “Millionaires’ Village,” wondering what ghosts were watching us from the dark windows above.

There’s a package store on the island, an IGA and a few restaurants. That’s all I need. Beer, booze, food and beach. A bottle of bourbon and a big Jacuzzi tub in the Lanai suite, with the lights off and the blinds open so I can see the moon reflect off the water.

It’s calling me. It’s calling my wife, too. I want to go. It’s so hard to stay away. But, I feel like this is one of those tests, where you offer a kid one marshmallow now or two if they abstain for a minute. I want to go, but I want to go right. Not for a long weekend, but for a long week. I want to go and be there until I’m bored with it, until I’m ready to go home. That’s a good vacation.

Beach chairs

"And out on the beach there sits two empty chairs that say more than the people who ever sit there..."

Maybe next year. October, when the crowds thin down and the only other occupied table at Latitude 31 is a group of old women sipping martinis and laughing a bit too loud. The ocean will still be warm, but the heat will have broken for the fall. It’ll be time for our anniversary.

But, then again, if you’re determined enough, who’s to say you couldn’t talk your way into all three of those marshmallows?