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Serpent's Egg - Prologue
Soluble Words
A Ghost Between Us
Jane Meyers One
50 Things I've Done
The Real One (Part 5) The Real Story of Santa Clau...
The Real One (Part 4) The Real Story of Santa Clau...
The Real One (Part 3) The Real Story of Santa Clau...
The Real One (Part 2) The Real Story of Santa Clau...

Click to go to the most current Cliff Between the Lines
Life, viewed sideways. Emotions, amplified. Answers, questioned. Me, between the lines.

- A Wounded Heart, Who Can Bear?
- Drowning Under a Tidal Wave
- Clawing My Way to the Sunlight
- Yes, Santa Claus, There Is a Virginia
- Fugu
- Touching the Spirit
- A Hole in the Universe
- Riding on the Dreams of Others
- Turning Into a Shark
 - A Heart, Ripped Asunder
- Surrendering to the Roller Coaster
- Hunting in the Jade Forest
- Dodging the Shark
- Dancing With Invisible Partners
- The Captain and the Harliquin
- Courting the Devils
- The Captain Makes His Mark
- Mad Dog to the Rescue
- Innocent in the Big City
- Dropping the Ball Briefcase
- Scrambling Brains
- Cheating the Reaper, Again
- What If the Man Behind the Curtain Is No Wizard After All?
- All of Us Have a Soundtrack
- Working With Broken Machines
- Happy Anniversary, Baby
- Standing on Stars
- Running the Film Backwards
- Identity Crisis ("Who am I?")
- Can We Ever Really Admit the Desires of Our Heart?
- Forgiveness is a Rare Thing
- Having Your Heart Caressed By the Creator
- Working With Broken Machines
- A New Leg to Stand On
- The Real Spirit of Christmas
- Chatting With Infinity
- Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder
- We All Have a Great Capacity for Loss
- Brushed Lightly By Might Have Beens
- We See the World Through Our Own Looking Glass
- Every Storm Passes Eventually
- Accidents Can Introduce Destiny Into Our Lives
- Freedom Depends on the Walls Around Us
- Pulling Aside the Velvet Curtain
- Riding the Razor's Edge
- Dying With Strangers
- In Your Face
- Between the Lines
- The Bobcat
- Angel With a Coffeecup
- Innocent in the Big City
- Chains of Gossamer
- Playing With Knives
- Stumbling Through Memories (Ooops)
- Picture This
- Running the Film Backwards
- Playing the Score, Tasting the Music
- Coins and Corals and Carved Coconuts
- My God, I Confess
- Exotic in Thin Air (Part 1, Speechless)
- Exotic in Thin Air (Part 2, Taxi)
- Exotic in Thin Air (Part 3, The Pan American)
- Exotic in Thin Air (Part 4, Guano)
- Exotic in Thin Air (Part 5, The Andes Express)

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More About Cliff Hursey

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"From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and imaginary lines, going where I list, my own master total and absolute, Listening to others, considering well what they say, Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating, Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me."

Walt Whitman (1819-92)

"When I look back now over my life and call to mind what I might have had simply for taking and did not take, my heart is like to break."

Akhenaton (d. c.1354 BC)

And now, the current weather, from some random person we pulled off the street:

The WeatherPixie

Saturday, February 14, 2004

Exotic in Thin Air (Part 3, The Pan American)

Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English aventure, from Old French, from (assumed) Vulgar Latin adventura, from Latin adventus, past participle of advenire to arrive, from ad- + venire to come -- more at COME
1 a : an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks b : the encountering of risks
2 : an exciting or remarkable experience
3 : market day in the third world

Ecuador only had one train, and we had tickets.

It was a tour that promised a bus ride through some out of the way villages on the first day, then a ride on the country's only train the second. It was irresistable, and I had booked it as soon as I discovered it.

The day started with us sleepily getting on a tour bus, about 15 of us. We headed south down the Pan American highway, all of us looking over each other out of the windows. I had not thought about the fact that you can see a lot more from a bus than you can from a car, since the window is a lot higher.

As a matter of fact, you could clearly see down into the ravines where lots of other buses had run off the road, crashed down the mountainside, and were left as a crumpled pile of metal since it was too difficult for rescuers or emergency crews to get down there, and nobody was using the sides of the ravines anyway.

That made me feel really secure.

As we passed from valley to valley, through pass after pass, the climate would change in apparently random and amazing ways. In one valley, it might be almost desert. In the next, there would be lush forest or farmland, in the next evergreen forests. But the oddest at all to me were the vast numbers of eucalyptus trees.

Yeah, you read that right. Ecuador, and eucalyptus.

No, it was not a native tree. It seems that early in the 19th century a wealthy landowner brought some trees over from Australia, thinking that he would like to have them on his estate. Well, turned out that they liked the climate even better than the one in Australia, and they have now spread like mad over millions of acres of Ecuadorian forest. The countryside smells like a huge cough drop.

Our first stop was at a hacienda on a huge estate. We drove down the main drive lined by stately eucalyptus trees to a large and ornate white stone and wood home on a circular drive.

Inside, we were told, they were to offer us breakfast pastries and coffee. If I remember, the breakfast pastries were more like cornbread. The coffee, well, it was really unique, and for Ecuador that's saying a lot.

We had been having the Ecuadorian coffee since we arrived, so we were used to getting coffee that really should have been called expresso. A pot of coffee in Ecuador comes in a four ounce cup. It is guaranteed to keep you awake for at least six months.

So, I went to pour some of the coffee into my cup. It was sitting on top of one of those desks that close up, leaving the front tilted at a steep angle and a small level place on top. I picked up the coffee pot and noticed something on the front of the desk.

Someone before me had dripped a drop of coffee on the steeply slanted front of the desk.

It had not moved.

It was sitting there, stickily perched, with the consistency of thick chocolate syrup.

Sheesh, now this was strong coffee!

I slowly glopped about a tablespoon into my cup. It reluctantly and slowly fell in like warm caramel. By filling the rest of the cup with water I was able to make it passable, although still really strong.

But it did taste odd, given the ever present eucalyptus scent...

Our next stop would be market day at Latacunga. This was an Indian market (all the indians in the area are descended from the Incas, btw, and many of them still speak that language) and the market was not a normal tourist destination. Among the hundreds of people there, we saw no other tourists, at least no obvious ones.

We parked some ways from the actual market and walked in. We were greeted by mass of people, mostly indians, buying and selling anything you can imagine. We heard a voice from a loudspeaker and went closer to see what it was.

It was a greasy, skinny guy with a tired anaconda. He was actually selling snake oil.

Or at least he said it was, and he seemed to be saying that it would be useful for all sorts of things.

Yeah right. We didn't buy any. The anaconda didn't seem real excited either.

We walked up and down the rows of blankets and food and clothes. This was the real deal. We saw everything from woven hats to lots of ladies cooking who knows what in woks.

Yeah, woks. I thought that was odd too. But it seems to be the national pot of Ecuador.

We gravitated to a building on the edge of the market, and I looked down into it to see table after table of fish. We were getting ready to walk in when one lady produced a large cleaver and WHACK chopped the head off a big fish in one powerful resounding blow.

"I don't want to go in there," my fiance said immediately and firmly. We didn't.

We came to a group of women who were cooking what looked like cornbread and cheese cakes. I wanted one. She said the price, but all she spoke was the indian language. I started to hand her some paper and a pencil, but with a bit of shrugging she was able to get across to us that she didn't know how to write. So, out of ideas, I handed over one of the smallest Ecuadorian bills, watching her closely to see if I needed to give her more.

Conversation instantly erupted among all of the women, with them looking at the bill then looking at us then back at the bill. No one seemed like they wanted to touch it. then the oddest sequence of events happened as my wife and I watched, hoping we hadn't done something wrong.

First, the women started going through their pockets, jabbering wildly. No one seemed to produce anything.

Then, one of the women did produce a grocery type bag. They held it up in front of us and said something. I nodded, which is usually a safe thing to do.

As soon as I did, the first woman took the bill, and immediately loaded ALL of her cakes into the bag.

Then, all of the other women did the same.

I must have had fifty corn and cheese cakes. They handed the bag to me, grease already starting to soak through the sides, while they grinned broadly.

They did not, between them, have change for the smallest of the bills. They had given me change in cakes.

I thanked them with a broad smile and we made our way back to the bus, where all of our compatriots had a laugh at our expense. I had to accept the cakes, you see, for to refuse them would have been condescending and rude. then again, I am American, so I am allowed to act that way in foriegn countries...

By the way, the cakes were good.

Each man takes care that his neighbor shall not cheat him. But a day comes when he begins to care that he does not cheat his neighbor. Then all goes well -- he has changed his market-cart into a chariot of the sun.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 - 1882)

Permalink: 2/14/2004 11:26:00 PM |
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Blindly on the Tightrope

lithium carbonate
Function: noun
1 : a crystalline salt Li2CO3 used in the glass and ceramic industries and in medicine in the treatment of manic-depressive psychosis
2 : a potential killer

Well, I overdosed.

Not on purpose, mind you, but the various meds they have me on decided to argue, and almost took me out in the process. Boy, that would have been a wonderful Valentines present for my wife, huh? Love ya honey, think I'll just get sick and die now.

The doc put me on lithium about two months ago, and it works better than anything he has ever tried to stabilize my moods. I was rocking back and forth (you can check my blog entries during that period to see it) and the lithium held the boat steady.

Problem is, the effective level for lithium is right about here, and the lethal level is here plus just a little bit. It's a tightrope walk on the best of days, and a critical and sometimes fatal mistake on a misstep.

I guess this week was a misstep.

Since I went on lithium, I started having some mild side effects, like hand tremors and drowsiness and stuff. These are fairly common, so did not concern me much. But two weeks ago, a side effect I had not noticed started this whole chain of events.

Before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I was a type II diabetic. My regular doc and I had been throwing every pill in the book at it with no real success. When I started treatment for bipolar disorder, lo and behold the blood sugar levels dropped to normal ranges almost immediately, and stayed there. With no medication.


No pun intended.

Anyways, two weeks ago, I overheard that lithium could have repercussions on heart health. I figured I better check that out, so I did some research on the web. Well, at therapeutic levels it can cause problems, but they take a long time to develop and are easy to spot, plus they go away when the lithium is stopped.

But, I started finding another problem. It seems that lithium can cause diabetes. Hmmm, wonder if I should check my sugar levels? Even though I had been checked right before starting lithium and was fine, I took out my test kit.

Regular level should be 120. I was at 270.

And during the next day, it went way over 300.

This was not good, and I called my doc. Long story short, he put me on Advantia.

Now, with that, I was now taking seven prescription meds for one problem or another. That's asking for it.

During this week, I began trembling more and more. The drowsiness got worse and worse. Wednesday night I pretty much passed out for over an hour on the couch and only woke up when I smelled dinner burning since I had not heard the alarm.

I staggered around for thirty minutes, unable to get my footing or balance well. My head was splitting. I went to bed hours earlier than I usually do, too tired to go any further.

The next day at work, the same thing began happening to me at about lunch time. I mentioned it to a coworker, who made the obvious suggestion to call my doc. Honestly, that hadn't occurred to me, as used as I am to barreling through problems. So I called. I do not want to think where I would be today if I had not started that process.

The secretary said he would call back that evening.

Unfortunately, he was unable to.

The next morning on the way to work, I called and left my work number so he could call me there. But about thirty minutes after I arrived, I went rapidly downhill. Soon, my legs were shaking and I was having trouble walking. My head was aching and I had an uncontrollable thirst. I felt like I could pass out at any moment.

I called the office back. "Listen, I'm going somewhere right now. Is it the emergency room or your office?" I told the nurse. She suggested the office, they would try to work me in. I said I would be there in 30 minutes. I called my wife who left work to meet me there.

I was worried about driving myself. I really was not doing well at all.

When I said I was leaving, Gary said that I always did stupid things, like trying to drive myself to the hospital. He did not, however, offer any help.

So I left.

The drive was pretty uneventful, except for one portion where I went on this really high and narrow bridge overpass. But I made it. Barrel through, like always.

So, I got to the doc's office.

Lithium poisoning.

Fortunately, we caught it before I needed to be in hospital. He told me to stay off of it all weekend, we'll start again on Monday morning.

I think the Advantia somehow made the lithium dosage concentrate in me. If I had kept going, I would have died.

Well, I'm glad I am still here. Last night, even still suffering from the effects of the poisoning, I took my wife to a jewelry store and let her pick out something for Valentine's day. She said I was the best husband ever for doing that.

I don't know about that, but it was sure better than the alternative!

(Note: It's Saturday and I feel a lot better. The lithium is getting out of my system. The next couple of weeks are going to be interesting, to say the least.)

[Medicine is] a collection of uncertain prescriptions the results of which, taken collectively, are more fatal than useful to mankind.
Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 - 1821)

Permalink: 2/14/2004 02:37:00 PM |
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Friday, February 13, 2004

No definitions or quotes this time, its time yet again for my Blogger Idol top five for this week!

All of the entries this week were especially interesting to me, since I was the unnamed guy that suggested the topic of "Oops." Originally, I had thought that it would generate personal stories of times when we were less than stellar, but I was, as usual, amazed at the differing ways in which it was interpreted.

So, without further ado, here's my top five in no particular order, with an extra one since my list is late:

I read and liked all the entries this week. Well, except one.

Just kidding! I really liked them all.

Looking forward to week five...

Permalink: 2/13/2004 05:32:00 PM |
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Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Exotic in Thin Air (Part 2, Taxis)

Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English aventure, from Old French, from (assumed) Vulgar Latin adventura, from Latin adventus, past participle of advenire to arrive, from ad- + venire to come -- more at COME
1 a : an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks b : the encountering of risks
2 : an exciting or remarkable experience
3 : What you can get to by taxi in Ecuador

Armed with my backwards phrase book and a map of the city, my fiance and I set out to explore Quito.

Our first stop was the bank. We cashed $100 in USD's. We got back, in the largest bills they made, a two inch stack of sucre notes. We would encounter this dichotomy the entire time we were there. What was big to us would be trivial to them, and what was trivial to us would be big to them. The exchange rate was no exception.

I jammed the bills into my wallet as best I could, and we grabbed a taxi for the City Centre, which was supposed to be the best place to start seeing Quito.

About four blooks from the square, the taxi stopped and the driver refused to go any closer.

Our limited command of Spanish (make that no command at all) meant that we could only guess at what he was saying. He kept saying something and pointing down the road, shaking his head "no." We figured he meant that he did not want to go further for some reason, which was correct, but it turns out that wasn't what he was shaking his head about.

We paid him and set out on foot. As we got closer, the press of people got tighter and tighter, and we were hearing music, until suddenly we broke free of the crowd and found ourselves in the middle of the street.

In front of something VERY strange indeed.

They were wearing masks made out of screen wire and painted, which gave them the really strange quality of being able to let you see their expression through the mask. There must have been a hundred of them, and they were stomping and chanting their way rapidly right in our direction in a frenzied mass.

We moved.

Some sort of festival/celebration was going on, we never found out what it was. They had brass bands, speeches, the whole shebang. We wandered around the square, carefully avoiding the soldiers with submachine guns.

You would never believe the varied uniforms the soldiers there wore. We must have seen at least 20 or thirty different ones, from regular fatigues to blue camo (blue? To hide in what?) to something that looked like it was from the 1800's. But they all had submachine guns.

We went into a church that was just off the square, and were astonished. The inside of the church looked like it was solid gold! Actually, they used seven tons of the stuff, and it shows. The altar is massive, and the place gives you a feeling that you are very insignificant and tiny and God and the church is very not insignificant and tiny..

Which might explain why all that gold is still there after all these years.

We went for lunch in a little restaurant we found off the main roads. We went in and were seated. No menus arrived. Food began to appear, course after course after course. No one so much as asked what we wanted to drink, but they did bring us what I think was cantelope juice.

The bill for both of us combined was less than $2.00, with the tip.

From there we climbed up Panecillo Hill and took in the views of the city from up there. Don't try this today, there are muggers and pickpockets. Take a taxi. On top of the hill towers the statue of the Winged Virgin of Quito, a gift to Ecuador from France. (What is it with the French and gigantic statues? )

Speaking of taxi, by now we were pretty darn tired. I didn't want to walk all the way back to the hotel. So on our way down, we eagerly looked for the first cab we could get.

A couple of them just sped by, one turned off his sign when he saw us. We were in a residential area, maybe he was heading home. Finally, this young boy saw what we were doing and asked us if we could help. Sure, and he grabbed somebody from a nearby building who had a cab and all of us headed back to the hotel.

Just before we arrived, the driver, through the boy, tried to tell us the fare. It was far above what his meter said, and we knew he was ripping us off, but even the inflated price was less than $2.00. We paid him, and were rather unprepared for what awaited us when we pulled up.

ALL of the hotel's taxi drivers immediately ran outside and started screaming at our driver. He was screaming back just as hard. Apparently, you are not supposed to drive a taxi up to our hotel unless you are "authorized." Ours wasn't.

Later, we headed to the airport in an "authorized" taxi to get our luggage. Long story short, the customs soldier ended up having to break the lock on my suitcase because I had left the key in the hotel room. Maybe a few of those bills cramming my wallet would have made that not happen.

That night, tired and hungry, we ate at a place called Vecchios, an Italian restaurant across the road from the hotel. We ate there several times during our stay. In a country that was so strange to us, Italian food was familiar, and it somehow felt like home a bit.

Bright and early the next morning, we approached a taxi driver about seeing some of the sights outside of the city, including the Equator, which is not far away and an obligatory tourist stop. The driver's name was Luis, and he spoke passable English, looked friendly, so we hopped in.

What a ride we had! Luis was expert at navigating the rough country roads that were the only things you could find once you got outside of the main city area. We barrelled through little town after little town, mostly on dirt and clay roads, scattering kids and goats and chickens as we blew through.

Our first stop was the Equatorial monument. We did the tourist thing and stood with feet on both sides of the Equator at once, and got a certificate that said so. Luis took one look at it and dragged us back to the indian lady and her daughter that had sold it to us and made them fill it out and sign it, since we had bought a blank one.

From there, Luis drove us up a winding mountain highway, paved, with guardrails, that was better than anything we had been on so far. Suddenly, the road just...ended.

Thats all, no turn to the side, no place there at the end, just a dead stop and a railing overlooking a steep valley.

That wasn't just a valley, Luis told us. It was a live volcanic crater.

We looked in, and saw a village and farms.

The temperature inside the crater is kept warm by the presence of lava just below the surface. This lets them grow triopical fruit in the crater. The people live in it too. Since there is no road to the bottom, at harvest time the people of that village must load the entire harvest onto their backs and climb up to the highway where trucks will be waiting.

Incredible. Only in Ecuador.

Our next stop was at an old Inca ruin that had just been discovered. It was a boat shaped fort that guarded several valleys. While we were there a local boy came up and spoke to us about it. Turns out that no one had even known this fort was there until the early 80's when they had floods, and the soil had been washed away, revealing the tops of the walls. Since then, the archeologists had been having a field day with it, no pun intended.

He said, gosh, when I was young we used to ride motorcycles up here. The little houses down below were constructed out of stones that looked suspiciously like the ones in the fort, too.

You never know. At least not in Ecuador.

Luis took us back to the hotel, telling us about his son. His son was legally considered a medical paraplegic, although in actuality he was fine. Luis had arranged that so his son could avoid the draft. Most well to do people had paraplegic sons. Luis made enough money at his taxi driver job to support his family nicely, wear nice suits, and put his son through college.

The price for our entire half day excursion...$20. With tip.

That night, we wanted something a little more like home. So we went up to the desk clerk, a very friendly young lady with impeccable English, and asked her where we could find something like fried chicken.

"Excuse me, could you repeat that?" she asked.

"We would like to find a restaurant that serves fried chicken."

"Fried chicken?"

"Yes." I was beginning to wonder if I needed to fish out the phrase book.

"FRIED chicken?" she repeated yet again, her eyes wider than they should have been. "Why would anyone want to fry a chicken?"

I think it was at that precise moment that I realized that no, Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore.

And tomorrow we would take a bus tour, then take the only train in the Ecuadorian Andes.

Assuming the track didn't wash away and the train still ran. (More later)

Your travel life has the aspect of a dream. It is something outside the normal, yet you are in it. It is peopled with characters you have never seen before and in all probability will never see again. It brings occasional homesickness, and loneliness, and pangs of longing... But you are like the Vikings who have gone into a world of adventure, and home is not home until you return.
Agatha Christie (1890 - 1976)

Permalink: 2/10/2004 02:02:00 PM |
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Monday, February 09, 2004

Stumbling through Memories


This is this weeks Blogger Idol entry. The topic this week was "Ooops," which is deuced difficult to write about, and its my fault since I suggested the darn thing. Ooops.

faux pas
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural faux pas /-"p?(z), -'p?(z)/
Etymology: French, literally, false step
1 : BLUNDER; especially : a social blunder
2 : my most vivid memories

There is nothing that burns itself into your memory quite like a socially challenged instant. I'm trying to decide whether to write about my own blunders or other people's Charlie Chaplin moments.

OK, other people it is then. Twist my arm.

The time of our lives when we are most likely to really mess up on stage is when we are teenagers, and it is really important to us not to do that at the same exact time in our lives. I saw my share of social stumbles and public displays of destruction, believe me, particularly since I spent my time in a resort town and everyone thinks they become invisible when they go on vacation.

I remember one time when I was riding in my Spitfire through the campground where I lived. Spitfires were little two seater sports car convertibles, and I loved mine. I was taking this guy somewhere, let's call him Rick because I can't remember his name, nor do I care to. Anyways, we were coming up to a bridge and there were a couple of really pretty girls in bikinis walking down the right side of the street.

"Hey, pull by real slow and I'll pinch her on the (blankety blank)," he said.

It was such a stupid statement I immediately dismissed it.

On the left side I saw my best friend, he was fishing in the lake by the bridge. "Hey, catching anything?" I asked.

"Nah, just a couple of big mouth bass, I threw them back," he said.

Suddenly, all in an instant, Rick was pounding on me and shouting "Go, go!"


I turned and looked, and the girl he had just pinched was pretty much mauling him. Served him right. I was laughing so hard I couldn't drive off right away, and she just kept plowing into him.

At least he had the grace not to hit her back.

I remember another time when my uncle wanted to bring his new girlfriend over to our house and introduce her to us. We were in one of those houses on stilts at the beach, so you had to go up the stairs to get in. The house didn't really have a front door per se, just glass doors on each side. We had opened them to the screens to let in the fresh air and the ocean breeze.

They come tripping up the stairs, and are all smiling and waving when BLAM the girl walks right into and through the screen door, which came careening into the living room.


Not one of her more graceful moments, I expect. The relationship didn't last very long.

But I think the biggest set of social blunders, by far, was committed one night by my best friend John. As far as faux pas go, this was a symphony.

We were about 16. We had to be, no one any older would have done something so idiotic, and we could drive so it had to be 16.

John and another friend of mine named Jeff had somehow gotten a big bottle of cheap vodka. At least I think it was vodka, it might have been grain alcohol. We'll call it vodka, easier to type. Anyways, they wanted to drink this stuff and did not have any mixers.

But Jeff, ever the resourceful one, worked at a tropical juice bar. He brought home a jug of the cherry syrup that they used to make cherry snowcones with to serve as the mixer. This stuff was concentrated flavor, cherry on nitrous, and just a little thinner than pancake syrup.

Yeah, you can see this one coming, can't you? So did I, which is why I didn't even have a drop of the stuff. I watched as they downed ice tea glasses that were about half vodka, half cherry syrup.

Needless to say, they were lit like a Christmas tree and getting brighter by the minute. So, of course, they decided it was a good time to go down to the beach.

We went. It was before the season, so it was deserted. Good thing. Within five minutes, Jeff was face down on the beach trapped with his shirt tangled around his head saying he wanted to go streaking but unable to actually do something coordinated, like stand up and take his shirt off simultaneously, and John was crying in a corner telling me how good a friend I was and please don't leave him right now.

Which is actually what I planned to do. When you are sober, it is like drunks speak a different language.

"No, PLEEEEEAAAASSSSE!" cried John in a voice that reminded me of a person who had just lost their entire extended family in a tragic accident involving marshmallows, "Please don't leave us! You're my besht friend and my onlys friend. Eversh."

I thought about it.

Jeff giggled from the beach, rolling around in the sand, still trapped in his shirttail.

"OK, but you guys gotta get some food in ya."

John was delerious with joy, and Jeff was, well, giggling but when we got him untangled he was fine with it. So we took Jeff's car and I drove.

"Wait, we gotta pick up Michelle too!" they begged. Michelle was a friend of ours, and was usually up for anything like this. Even though it was almost eleven, we stopped and Jeff talked her into going.

The only place in town open twenty four hours back then was a little local restaurant that I think was named the Golden Skillet or something. It wasn't a chain. It served everything from pancakes to seafood, and you could get any of it any time. The place was decorated in 1960's IHOP chic with the obligatory overweight waitresses carrying huge plastic golden pots of coffee all over the dining area all the time.

We walked in and sat down. Jeff and Michelle on one side, John and I on the other. The waitress came and brought our menus; Jeff, Michelle and I had coffee, John only wanted water.

John was not looking so good. I figured we better just leave him alone. He sat there real quiet with his water glass.

Jeff ordered fried shrimp. Michelle ordered pancakes, since she had been asleep it was morning for her, sort of. I forget what I had.

John ordered, well, nothing. He just sat there being real quiet with his water glass and occasionally mumbling something or other to it.

Other people came and went, including a table full of really large muscular African American football players/wrestlers/weightlifters/mafia hit men who sat down just behind us. These guys were the type that make chairs creak by just walking into a room, before they ever actually sit down.

Finally, here were the meals. The waitress dealt them out like cards with a practiced hand. Shrimp, cocktail sauce, side of fries, pancakes, maple syrup, whatever. We all dug in.

Except for John, he just sat there real quiet with his water glass. Apparently they had come to some sort of deep understanding.

The conversation got more and more boisterous, which happens when you have a drunk at the table like Jeff. The jokes grew more and more outrageous. All the while we are munching away at our meals, except for John, who is just sitting there being real quiet with his water glass and trying not to look at anyone, or move his head at all for that matter.

Finally, the situation crossed some kind of imaginary line, and Jeff thought we needed something even more outrageous at this point. He picks up a shrimp and studies it like a scientist looking at a new animal. "I wonder," he says, "What this would taste like," he pauses here for dramatic effect, "With pancake syrup on it?"

Another dramatic pause.

Then he dips it in Michelle's syrup and pops it into his mouth.

John, against his better judgment, has been following this. He watches the greasy fried shrimp dive as if in slow motion towards the syrup, sliiide across the plate, rise glistening and dripping with maple flavor and pancake bits, and vanish juicily into Jeff's mouth.


John dumps his water onto the floor.

Then he throws up, into the water glass, volume and capacity not being his strong points when drunk, apparently.

And it is bright cherry red. Everywhere.

John sits there stunned. The waitress runs over, and she also stands there stunned. It looks like John has exploded.

I jump up. "Please don't make a big deal about this, he has leukemia and he's real sensitive about it." Well, hey, I wasn't all that good at the excuse thing. But she seemed to believe it and ran off looking for a mop and a cloth.

"Maybe you better sit outside until we are done," I said to John.

"Umharrumph," he says, nodding his head and making unpleasant gurgly throat clearing noises. He stands up.

Too quickly.

And tumbles backwards right onto all of the big huge African American guys behind us, who were trying their darndest to ignore us and enjoy their dinners, knocking them and their plates every which way.

"OOOOOHHH, MAAAN!" John exclaimed in a drunken slur, with a volume level that only a drunk can reach. "I'm sorrrry! I usually don't f*** with nig***s." (You can fill in the blanks, I'm sure.)

HUGE ooops.

They all stood up like one person, with the intent of slowly killing John and then feeding him to the seagulls.

"No, wait, please!" I shouted. I grabbed John. "He's drunk, he didn't mean anything by it!"

I rushed him out to the parking lot and dared him to move from the car hood. He didn't.

On the way home, Jeff insisted on driving. He looked OK, so I said fine. (I would never do that now, btw.) We dropped Michelle off.

"Uh, Jeff," said John from the back seat. "I don't feel so good."

"Better pull over," I said. We did. I pulled the seat open for John.

He leaned forward and threw up on the floor of Jeff's car.

Jeff giggled.

I walked home from there.

Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say that there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe.
Frank Zappa (1940 - 1993)

Permalink: 2/09/2004 01:20:00 PM |
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Exotic in Thin Air (Part One, Speechless)

Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English aventure, from Old French, from (assumed) Vulgar Latin adventura, from Latin adventus, past participle of advenire to arrive, from ad- + venire to come -- more at COME
1 a : an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks b : the encountering of risks
2 : an exciting or remarkable experience
3 : Ecuador

Ecuador, 1987

Our plane climbed the Andes mountains like an eagle struggling to lift its prey to its high nest.

We climbed and climbed and yet the ground never really pulled away; it was climbing at the same rate that we were. The flight was crowded, and after so many hours the passengers were far from fresh. The lines to the restrooms were long and slow. Somehow the tropical heat and humidity from Quayaquil had seeped into the plane during the last stop, and it was still uncomfortably humid.

I watched the cloudbanks as we lifted through them. Our ears popped every few minutes. We continually shifted in our seats; after that many hours they were uncomfortable, cramped, and we were ready to get to where we were going.

The bathroom line snaked forward a few inches next to our seats, and we settled in for another 30 minutes of steady climbing.

My fiance and I were headed for a week long stay in Quito, Ecuador. I had won free tickets on Eastern Airlines (may she rest in peace) and had picked out the most exotic place they flew to. Hey, I figured, why not. Boy, did I make a good choice on this one!

Suddenly the clouds parted and there, on what looked like a very small mountaintop, perched the Quito International Airport. From where I was sitting, it looked like just a patch of concrete, impossible to land on.

It turned out there was just enough room, we made it down without any problem. Its amazing what brakes those planes can have when they need them! We strained to a stop right outside of the terminal.

We disembarked to a beautiful day. The late afternoon sun was bright in the sky, and the temperature was about 70 degrees.

The temperature in Quito is ALWAYS about 70 degrees. All year.

We cleared customs, and were told that our luggage had not made the same trip we did. Oh joy. Maybe tomorrow it would be here, check back. OK, we would. Fortunately, we had a change of clothes in our carry ons. We grabbed a cab into the city.

Quito is at about 3,000 meters above sea level, so the air is really thin, at least for someone like me who was used to living at about six meters above sea level. Everything I had read said to take it easy the first day or so so we would not get altitude sickness, for which the only cure was a decrease in altitude, something I did not want to do. So, that is what we had planned for the evening. Check in, have dinner, go to sleep.

We checked into the Hotel Alameda Real. This was the second nicest hotel in Quito, and we had booked the suite. At the current exchange rates, it cost us about $60 US per night, a steal in anyone's book.

We headed to the hotel restaurant for dinner, since they would accept US dollars. It was small and intimate, only a few tables, and dimly lit. We ordered filet mignon and a nice Chilean wine; it was our first night and we felt like celebrating.

The fact that the side vegetable that was served was popcorn was our first real inkling about the oddness that pervades Ecuadorian culture from an American point of view.

When the bill came, we were in for a shock.

The grand total, filets, wine, and all, was just over $10.

"This must be wrong," I said to my wife. We figured out the exchange several times. It wasn't. We left a five dollar tip just because we felt guilty.

We slept like stones.

The next morning, we awakened early and were eager to see the city we had only glimpsed in the dark. When we walked outside, the streets were almost deserted except for a few drowsy cab drivers. We walked the neighborhood, and the only other person outside was an old lady selling bread door to door. We never saw her, but we could hear her song that she sang as she went from street to street, echoing through the morning stillness. I had a cassette recorder with me, and I taped her calling. I'll never forget that moment, it was full of magic and strangeness, a welcome into a world I never really knew existed.

Eventually, stores on the main thoroughfare began to open. Here, a video store. There, a carry out restaurant with at least a hundred chickens on a giant rotisserie. Traffic picked up, people began walking the sidewalks. Bit by bit, the town stirred and came to life.

I think it was right about this point that I realized we had lost our English-Spanish phrase book. It began to dawn on us that we were in a Spanish speaking country, and had no idea how to speak to anyone at all. Between us we knew "gracias", "ole" and "Feliz Navidad."

This was not good. Not at all.

So, we went into a book store, looking for a phrase book. Guess what, if you are already in the other country, you can't get a phrase book! What you can get is one of their phrase books.

So, armed with a brand new Spanish-English phrase book, we set off again.

Reading a phrase book from another country is an entertaining experience. For example, these are some of the phrases it was teaching our Spanish friends might be useful in English speaking countries:

"I berg your pardon" (sic)
"Happy Christmas!"
"Does the room have a televisor?" (sic again)
"Where is the reception office?"

In the restaurant section, here is the selection of meats it offered for a Spanish speaking person to order in an English speaking country:

and my favorite, "Roast Cow with Mashed Potatoes."

The seafood section started with the ever popular "muscles" and progressed through "gilthead" to "barnicles." Yum.

Later in the medical section, you would be taught to say things such as "I've often headache" or to politely ask your nurse for the "splitt cloth", the cotton, and the "chiffon."

Yeah, it was gonna be a fun week. (more later)

When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.
Clifton Fadiman (1904 - )

Permalink: 2/09/2004 11:24:00 AM |
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