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SAILING AWAY

Nearly a mile west of San Juan harbor, the helmsman held No Bad Days northward, out to sea. The mainsail was full and the prow divided the water evenly, creating snow white water on each side. The vessel was manned by Captain Hewitt, his helmsman, and an apprentice seaman. I sat in the recessed area behind the mainsail, out of the way of the boom and the rigging and the crew.
“Hoist the mainsail,” the skipper called, and the two Nicaraguans went to work, the helmsman carefully instructing the apprentice as they went to work; cranking heavy winches a little at a time. The mainsail went all the way to the top, and the sail billowed out even more, looking like a woman full-term with triplets. I carefully climbed out on the foredeck and hung on tight while I watched for whales.
“Now bring up the jib.”
“Okay Captain.” They untied the line that secured the sailcloth to the smaller boom on the front of the craft, and then brought the small triangular sail to the top of the mast, securing the lines to cleats on the deck using figure eight loops. I pulled the tab on my ball cap to the next notch and pulled it tight over my head as the wind buffeted from the side. The four passengers with me were hunkered down in the aft deck trying to keep out of the wind.
The skipper leaned hard on the wheel, and the vessel responded by turning five degrees to port, listing heavily to that side. We all took positions on the high side, and held tight to the stainless steel rail as the sleek craft gained speed. I felt the light spray in my face and marveled at how she cut the water so gracefully; a woman so fine that when she entered the room you would pretend to be sipping your cocktail just so that you can steal a glance at the way she walked. Not overly showy, nor flaunting her sexuality… But walking through the room casually, gracefully; shoulders slightly back, chin slightly up, and the small movement of her hips, almost a swagger, but not quite… exuding confidence and poise. My heart beats faster as I wonder if she’ll dance with me.
Ocean spray hit my face with delightfully cold droplets as the mansions on the hill north of town passed by on the right.
“You all right, buddy?” The skipper yelled at me, smiling.
“Perfect, my man. Couldn’t be better.”
We laid in at Playa Blanca, and anchored in the natural inlet with white sand beaches and emerald green water, framed by untouched tropical jungle. Two other sailboats were in the harbor, anchored closer to shore, both laden with beautiful women; all wearing string bikinis, and many of them swimming.
Within minutes I was in the water with my skin diving outfit. In my mind’s eye I envisioned a fair-haired mermaid beckoning me to swim closer. I swam for a while in the clear blue water, breathing slowly and surely through my snorkel. I know she’s here somewhere.
Reason finally prevailed over fantasy, however, when I got tired and had to head back toward the boat. I wonder…what would a mermaid do if she had to pee? … Just sayin’.
With my last strength I climbed aboard No Bad Days, and we headed back toward San Juan Del Sur, me taking one last look at the beach. Beautiful, I said, as my heart pounded harder. I never did tell the guys about the mermaid thing.

RICE AND BEANS AND SWEETNESS

Life is just a dream
Lucky you;
Lucky, lucky me!

Have you found
Higher ground
Or are you lost at sea?
Do you know
Where you go
Is where I want to be?

So cast your troubles into the sky;
They can be the stars in our eyes
And we can count them all another day,
From far away.

Life is just a dream…
Lucky you;
Lucky, lucky me!

Life is just a dream…
Lucky, lucky me!

Sung by Kat Edmondson

I had been in Nicaragua less than three months and was bitten by scorpions three times. That should have been warning enough right there, telling me that, as rough and ready as I thought I was, I really didn’t have the true grit it takes to make it in Nicaragua. So, not knowing any better, and having this silly sense of accomplishment at having adventured to a brand-new world full of palm trees, coconuts, and sand, I stayed on.
I went down to Pali and bought rice and beans, came home and cooked it and put away enough for the next few days, then I went down and bought a motorcycle and began exploring the countryside.
In my travels I came across a few watering holes I really liked, one of which is Dorado’s. A tiki shack bar on the beach with a thatched roof and open on both sides, and the sea breeze blows right through. I drank rum with Dyrti Dan, Shirtless Harry, and Fisherman Mike; and Bob kept serving us, even when we ran out of money. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll catch you tomorrow,” He’d say.
One night I was sipping rum in the corner of the beachfront bar with Fisherman Mike and a sweet Nicaraguan couple. I drank all my rum and the rest of theirs, and came to rest in a lounge chair out on the beach. The account of the whole story is a little fuzzy to me right now, but I do remember the familiar voices of Fisherman Mike and the old man telling me I was going to be all right. The next day I asked Mike, “What happened, and what did I do?”
“You were no problem at all.” He said they gathered me up and walked me over to a taxi, and then the old man put me up in a room at his house. I remember waking up and marveling at how I arrived at such a pristine environment.
My journey has not been like Alice who fell down the rabbit hole, but rather more akin to Aesop’s fables, and maybe more like Gulliver’s Travels; but there’s more to it than that. My wanderings have been travels of my mind, soul and heart, led on by muses who tantalize me with visions of laughter, love, and happiness; promising me everything and leading me on just to see how gullible I am.
I do feel a little bit like Gulliver… He was a storyteller like me, and townsfolk would gather around him and listen with delight as he told of the politics in his home country. Even though he professed that his stories were God’s Truth, they took his tales with a grain of salt.
Gulliver signed on for a voyage to the East Indies, but the ship wrecked and he washed ashore on Lulliput, where he woke up to find he had been tied up with lines by tiny people. He was in quite a fix for a while, but eventually broke free and left that place.
Gulliver then wondered into the land of the giants and, exhausted, climbed up into a tree to rest, and eventually fell into a deep sleep. When he awoke, he was astonished to find two giants sitting directly below him, leaned up against his very tree, sleeping. As the story goes, Gulliver devised an exit plan. He dropped nuts on the giants’ heads until they began fighting, and then escaped while they were thus distracted (an astute assessment of US and British foreign policy).
Eventually a huge eagle picked up Gulliver and carried him out over the ocean and then dropped him, where an English freighter came by and rescued him. When Gulliver told the mariners his story they thought he was crazy.
If I told you my story you’d think I’d gone crazy too. As my beloved housekeeper Evonne often said, “It’s fun being crazy.” So that’s okay, I’ll save that story for now and tell you this one. Besides, if being crazy was good enough for her, it’s good enough for me, so I’m not going to worry about it.
Fisherman Mike says that aliens not only exist, but they’ve been here on Earth for a long time. While I agree with certainty that there is other life out there among the stars, I’m not fully convinced that we have alien DNA.
Myself, I fear the giants, those malicious beasts that are furiously stomping around our planet, creating mayhem everywhere they go; and bellowing, “HE WHO DEFIES THE GIANT MUST BE CRUSHED”*. I don’t know if my minuscule existence will be a lasting thing, or will I be wiped out too?… But get this: What’s even worse for me, way worse than the giants, worse than anything, are all those lines with which the little people bind me; it’s harder to get rid of those. I struggle with them.
But, you know, like Sinatra said, “That’s life… That’s life and I can’t deny it. I thought of quittin’ baby, but my heart just won’t buy it.”
Truth be known, I’m only blaming the little people for the lines, because I think my bonds are self- imposed. Those lines are the hardest ones to break. And the thing is… I know I don’t suffer alone. We all suffer some. We are fellow travelers on this rocky road called life.
My suggestion to you, gentle reader, is to read and be encouraged by the fabulous Poet of Freedom, Friedrich Schiller–
“If you have never seen beauty in a moment of suffering, you have never seen beauty at all. If you have never seen joy in a beautiful face, you have never seen joy at all.”
From my cottage overlooking the coastline I can step back a little bit and take a larger view of the world, one with more perspective. I lay in my hammock one night watching the rain when an electrical storm rolled in from the south and within minutes lightning and thunder lit up the village and the hill on the north side where the statue of Christ stands. Bolt after bolt assaulted the statue as I watched amazed. Then suddenly a trio of lightning bolts struck at once with a powerful report. I thought the statue would explode in a burst of light, but it never did (I found out later that the builders had wisely installed a lightning rod for just such an occasion). I watched the show for a long time. It slowly crept over the town and worked its way up the coast, the flashes and thunder feeding into the night sky. I went to bed a happier man having witnessed it.
I began hearing the street vendor the next morning after that electrical storm. I could’ve heard them before and just never realized it, but that morning the vendors call came to my ears while I was still sleeping in. Maybe it was especially quiet that morning, right after the electrical storm when his voice registered in my ears. As the days went by, sure enough, early in the morning the vendor’s cry came up from the barrio. I wanted to meet this vendor and see what it was he was selling, and down I would ride my Moto and meet him.

I hear the sweet call of the street vendor as he makes his way through the barrio at the bottom of the hill. Every morning I hear his soulful cry. To describe the sound he makes I could only accomplish it by asking you this one question: Do you remember when you had your first baby and you played a little game of hide and seek with her, when you flipped the baby blanket over and said, “I see you!” Do you remember the love and excitement in your baby’s eyes, and the way it made you feel? You flipped the blanket back down for a second and then did it again. “I see you!” You remember, don’t you? That’s the kind of call this sweet man has chosen, music so sweet that I want to run down the hill and buy something from him. It’s his soul, the sweetness of it.

*Ken Follett, THE FALL OF GIANTS

LIKING MACHACA

While living in Southern California, my two daughters and I always enjoyed vacationing in Mexico. We especially liked Baja, and through a realtor friend of mine, I leased a beach house on the south side of Ensenada Bay in an area called Agua Caliente, a community of American ex-pats. We enjoyed summers playing in the surf, collecting seashells, and exploring the rugged Baja coastline.
Each morning we strolled down the seashore to a little ochre-colored restaurant nestled on the beach, separated from the water by only a small stone and mortar seawall. The rugged cement building had defied the Pacific Ocean for many years, and was as quaint as it was strong. The layout of the interior was purely Mexican, the whitewashed stucco walls were accented with painted red flowers and green banana stalks, and large windows facing the ocean made the restaurant seem much bigger. Rectangular tables were surrounded by brightly painted wooden chairs and brown ceramic floor tiles.
The small proprietor and her daughter divided their time between serving their customers and tending to the thin strips of meat hanging on open-air racks just outside the back door of the kitchen. This Mexican version of beef jerky would be rehydrated and pounded until tender; the reconstituted meat would be an ingredient in our favorite breakfast dish, machaca con huevos. She would fry the stringy meat along with onions, spices, and scrambled eggs, then scoop onto a plate and serve with rice and beans – delicious!
We had slept in, and the beach and sunshine made for a happy morning as we trekked barefoot down the shoreline toward the restaurant, past the hot springs where the warm sand squished up between our toes with every step.
We climbed over the short seawall and staggered through the door with sandy feet, tousled hair, and sleepies still in our eyes, and, sitting on wooden chairs around the table we liked so much, the one in the corner with the panoramic view of the beach out the large windows, we ordered our usual machaca con huevos, along with ice-cold Cocas in glass bottles.
The girls and I were only getting settled into our morning meal when the creaking of the screen door signaled her entry. Even though I’d had numerous fantasies about a lean, tall, big breasted woman coming into my life, still, I was surprised and delighted to see the woman who entered and sat down at the table near us.
“Do you think it’ll warm up?” I asked.
It did. We had exciting chemistry from the start. During breakfast she and I decided to take a two-mile run down the beach, and in the following days we spent more and more time together.
She was a good storyteller, and we’d sit around in the evenings at my beach house, me drinking whiskey straight, and the girls requesting more stories. She told stories that left us in delighted awe, and sometimes tears. Sometimes it would be me saying, “Tell us one more story!”
She acquiesced anytime I wanted sex, and sometimes had difficulty keeping all her clothes on at any given time. My girls grew accustomed to seeing her walk around the beach house in various stages of undress, dispelling any notions they might have had about our chastity.
A week went by, and even though she was a school teacher from Arizona and had the entire summer off, she needed to make a few calls in order to extend her vacation.
So the next week there were four of us walking down the beach; the ocean lay calm under a cloudless sky and the waves coming onto the shore arrived not as ocean waves, but merely ripples like the waves children make in their wading pools, and made the sound of a babbling brook, washing one row of tiny seashells upon another with each successive slap of the water. We were carefree.
“Samantha! Samantha!” came the sound of a man’s voice from behind us.
Samantha turned, stunned for a second, and then recovered. “Joe, what are you doing here? What a surprise!” Samantha said as she hugged the man strongly. “Joe, meet Rick and his daughters.”
Joe and I shook hands and I said, “Hello.”
“This is my boyfriend Joe,” Samantha said.
I suddenly realized I was in the middle of a tenuous situation, and my knees went weak and my heart pounded in my chest. “Pleasure to meet you,” I muttered.
“We’re just meeting up for breakfast, want to join us?” She asked Joe.
“Sure, I’d love to. I was so bored in Arizona, and I decided to come down to Baja to be with you for the rest of your vacation. Surprise, huh?”
“Yes, totally,” she said as she smiled at him and glanced at me nervously. The girls rolled their eyes at me and wagged their heads, as if to say, `Dad, how do you get yourself in these kinds of situations?’ We continued plodding up the beach toward the restaurant. We sat at our usual table and ordered our machacas and Cocas, but tension hung in the air, threatening to pull all the oxygen from my lungs. Even the Latina waitress caught on to what was going on, and as she took our orders, her large dark eyes gave me a stern Catholic scolding. I cringed under the power of her accusing gaze, and thought she must be related to the Pope himself.
“Joe, you’ve got to try the machaca. It’s shredded beef, and they mix it with eggs when they cook it.” This was about the last intelligent thing I said that morning, for as the meal progressed, the conversation turned in an uncomfortable direction.
“Thank you, I believe I will.” He said to the waitress, “I’ll have what he’s having.”
She smiled at him, and shot me another stare of condemnation that would require several mea culpas and some Hail Marys to mitigate. I smiled back at her with my best look of innocence, but that didn’t cut any ice with her, and on top of that, my daughters turned coat on me and joined the waitress with that same Pope-like stare.
“Have you been having fun down here?” He asked Samantha.
She could only blush, “Yes, I’ve been having a lot of fun. The grunion are running, and we caught some last night.”
“Who?” He asked innocently, still very much the gentleman.
“The whole neighborhood,” I volunteered. “A bunch of us were down at the beach catching them by hand. We cooked them over an open fire right on the beach.”
“Yes, they were quite good,” she said.
My heart began to beat harder again. I started feeling lightheaded and a little punk (pardon the pun). I tried my best to give a genuine smile, but was hampered by the scowls given me by my girls, and of course, the waitress, who now stationed herself behind the counter where she could watch me better.
She served our breakfast, along with Coca-Colas all around, and Joe dug into his food with enthusiasm, followed by my daughters and Samantha, with me bringing up the rear. The machaca smelled so delicious I wanted to eat the whole thing, but my appetite had slowed down to a pitiful crawl as I tried to keep an upbeat countenance in the face of my dire circumstances.
“What else did you do?” He asked.
“Oh, I went diving at La Boufadora one day, and another day I took the car and went sightseeing. Mainly, I’ve been babysitting Rick’s daughters quite a bit and having fun with them.” Another blush.
“Cool,” he said as he inhaled his machaca. “I hope the grunion are still running tonight; I want to taste them cooked over an open fire like that.”
“Yeah, they should still be running,” I confirmed.
The girls ate their machaca while they watched my every pathetic movement. I wanted to simply eat my food and get out of there, but at the rate I was eating, it would have taken an hour and a half. Not only that but I couldn’t eat it. My machaca was unappetizing now, and I toyed with it with my fork, and every now and then I took a small bite and chewed thoroughly while I listened to the happy dialogue between Joe and Samantha. Breakfast seemed to go on for hours.
“Aren’t you hungry?” Joe asked me.
“I think I drank too much tequila at the grunion feed last night. You want mine?”
Joe quickly traded plates with me and ate my breakfast, and carried on a lively conversation at the same time, with me only contributing a lame yes, no, or an occasional grunt in an effort to sound conversational.
Breakfast finally over, we all walked back up the beach, Joe happy to have experienced machaca for the first time, and me wishing I could have eaten mine.

HIGHWAY BLUES

I cruised south through the California desert without a care.  I had the top down on my ragtop caddy, and my baseball cap provided the only shade for miles around while the one hundred degree wind rushed around me, the dry air like a sauna.  The grapevine was twenty miles ahead, and the tug-of-war between machine and hill would soon begin, but I knew the caddy would breeze by the line of cars alongside the road spewing clouds of steam; she had a proven record of speed, power, and endurance.  With the radio blasting, nothing behind me but memories, and the world in front of me, my car was a rocket hurtling through space and time, and I was its captain.

I’m a love struck baby

Yeah I’m a love struck baby

You got me love struck baby

And I know just what to do

 

Sparks start flyin’ every time we meet

Let me tell you baby you knock me off my feet

Your kisses trip me up they’re so dog gone sweet

Ya know baby you can’t be beat

 

I’m a love struck baby

Yeah I’m a love struck baby

You got me love struck baby

And I know just what to do

 

The sun approached its zenith, and updrafts of ghostly opaque heat rose from the Highway, causing the distant mountains to have a dreamlike appearance, as if an apparition.  Cars off in the distance would first sparkle, then be born as a single cell organism, and then grow and mutate in the heat until they were fully formed, and finally pass me in a gust of wind, only to mutate back to a single cell organism, and then evaporate completely.  Aware of only my presence on the roadway, me and my caddy sped along, full-size.

At first a slight tremor, and then the car sagged on the right side as I eased off on the gas and fought the steering wheel in an effort to control my trajectory.  I held on with white knuckles as the vehicle shuddered and shook slower and slower.  I looked for any turnout, but there was none, so I selected a point ahead where the road was wide, and touched the brakes ever so lightly.  The car made growling noises as the front right tire lost its air pressure, and in its final death throes the tire fought against the pavement until motion finally ceased.  I turned off the engine, and then in the heat and silence of the California desert, I pondered my situation.   I had on a pair of slacks and a white short sleeved dress shirt.  Clearly not the type of clothing one would need for changing a tire in the desert.   Do I really have to change this tire?  Answer: yes.  Okay, let’s check out the spare, I told myself resignedly.  I walked back and opened the trunk to find a good spare, but looking further I found my lug wrench had been bent so badly it was unusable.  So there I sat in the desert with a spare tire, but without a lug wrench, in the hundred degree heat.  Oh well, I said.  I’ll figure this out.

“You ain’t going nowhere looking like that,” I said to my Cadillac.  “Let’s get you fixed up, and we’ll be back on the road in no time.”  I wanted to talk nice to her, even though I knew we were pretty screwed at that point.  She reminded me of several other women I’ve known in my life, wanting a strong man at their side, but not knowing what to do with him once they have him.  I knew I needed to stay strong and upbeat in the face of this emergency, so I weighed my options, which didn’t take long.  I knew I wouldn’t last more than an hour out there in the desert heat, so walking twenty miles to the nearest gas station was not an option.  I grabbed the bent lug wrench and tried to remove a lug nut on the offending wheel.  No dice.  The bent lug wrench was entirely useless as it was, just like I thought.  My only option was to try to straighten it.  I asked myself, ’How in the hell do you straighten a bent lug wrench in the middle of the damn desert?’  No answer.  I wiped the sweat off my brow and looked at my already stained clothing, and got depressed.  Nobody loves me but my mama, and sometimes I think she’s lying.

Stay positive.

The answer came ghostly to me in the vaporous updrafts coming off Interstate five.  The light pole shimmied and swayed in the afternoon heat, the refracted image wiggling and morphing as a dancer.  Lug wrench in hand, and sweat pouring off me, I made for the light pole.  Upon arriving, I saw exactly what I needed.  The anchor bolts stood up past the nuts securing them, and miraculously, the socket of my lug wrench fit snugly over the top of the bolt.  Using the light pole as a fulcrum, I leaned on the steel handle with all my strength, straightening the tool back to its original configuration.  Thank God for small favors.

The tire change in the extreme heat of no man’s land made no small task.  I jacked the car up and removed the flat tire in so much dirt and sweat that the combination formed a muddy stew on me and everything I touched.  My clothes ruined, I soldiered on, fighting the heat and frustration until finally the last lug nut was secure.  With my last strength I pounded the hubcap onto the wheel using forceful thrusts of the heel of my right hand, and then ratcheted the bumper Jack until it fell loose from the car.  With my heart pounding and the promise of water several miles away I threw the flat tire and tools into the trunk and jumped into the driver seat, grimy clothes and all, and headed toward the nearest civilization.

I got to my apartment that evening and called my sweetheart, who said she would be coming right over.  “Wait, don’t hang up,” I said.

“What is it?”

“You still love me don’t you?”

“You know I do,” she said, and laughed.  “Did everything go okay on your trip?”

“It went well, honey.  I thought of you the whole way.”