Saturday, June 28, 2008

Recommended Beachwear: a Burqa

If this place wasn’t heaven, then it had to be a close runner-up. Here we were at Villa Del Palmar Flamingos, a luxurious 5-star resort in Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico, an up-and-coming beachside community about 10 miles north of Puerto Vallarta. I was vacationing with my best friend of 30 years, Pam. She had generously insisted on treating me with this fabulous trip to commemorate my “zero” birthday.

“Hey, I don’t have a husband to indulge or kids to send to college,” she reasoned. “I make good money, so if I want to spoil my friends, let me!”

And who was I to argue?

From swimming and shopping to excursions and dining, each new day seemed better than the last. And today we were experiencing the ultimate in decadence: sunning ourselves on a gorgeous beach straight from the cover of a travel brochure. Pristine sand sparkled like sugar. Palm trees danced in the soft tropic breeze. The sky was a stunning Peacock blue, the temperature a balmy 80-degrees, and the only sound was the gentle crashing of waves. That, and the voice of our waiter asking, “Another margarita, senorita?”

Did life get any better than this?

I was nestled under a huge beach umbrella, propped up in a comfy chaise lounge. To my left was a stack of magazines and to my right, a margarita glass the size of a child’s wading pool. My feet were buried in the sand, my legs covered with a towel, my head tucked inside a baseball cap, and my eyes shielded with Jackie-O sunglasses. For double sun insurance, I had lathered myself from top to bottom in SPF 75.

“You look like a beekeeper in a burqa,” Pam snorted as she eyeballed my attire. She was sprawled outside the zip code of my massive umbrella, exposing as much skin as a modest person is capable of exposing. When I asked about sun block, she waved me off like a bothersome sand flea. “I’m wearing SPF 15,” she mumbled as she rolled over on her stomach. “Besides, I’m half Mexican. I don’t burn. I tan.” And then she fell asleep.

Alrighty, then.

Now, if we freeze-frame this moment, we can see why it serves as a prime example of why God never saw me fit to have children. No doubt, the Almighty, in His infinite wisdom, foresaw numerous scenarios in which my precious little snookums would say something like, “but Mumsy, I want to run with scissors!” and I’d respond with, “Okay sweetie, but it’s dark outside, so be sure to look both ways before you cross the freeway.”

Because this is where I failed Friendship 101. In hindsight, I should have screamed, “SPF 15? Girlfriend, are you CRAZY? Why don’t you just soak your virgin skin in a nice soy sauce and honey marinade, and then barbecue your bodacious bod over a George Foreman Grill?”

But I didn’t. Instead, I gave her a nonchalant, “Okay, doke” shrug and promptly buried my SPF 75 slathered snout into the latest issue of “More” magazine. And for the next five hours, the only time I moved was to wave my hand for a margarita refill, reach for another magazine, or adjust my chair to avoid the shifting sun. It was, indeed, a perfect day.

Not so much for Pam.

That evening, when I observed that she may have overdone the sunbathing, she brushed off my concerns. Nah,” she said with just the slightest grimace. “I always burn a little at first and then it turns into a nice tan.”

But when she emerged from her bedroom the next morning, I wasn’t looking at a “nice tan.” I wasn’t even sure I was looking at Pam. She walked as if she’d been spray-starched. All I could see were the whites of her eyes and, when she opened her mouth to groan, her white teeth. Her skin, a fiery fire engine red, was radiating heat so fiercely that I swear, it kicked on the air conditioner.

“Does this mean we’re canceling our massages today,” I asked?

My, who knew the eyes were capable of spewing such venom!

And so, alas, for my best friend, heaven took a temporary turn for the worse. Still, Nuevo Vallarta in winter is one pretty hot place to visit. And if a virgin-skinned tourist happens to be wearing a meager SPF 15, the operative word might, indeed, be “hot.”

Just ask Pam.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Inspiration in Plane View

Take my photo. I guarantee, you’ll make a few bucks when you sell it to Travel+ Leisure, maybe Conde Nast Traveler, or perhaps Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel. I’ll pose for you, maybe even smile.

Because any travel magazine will pay handsomely for a picture of the voyager who found reason to utter seven simple words that have never before escaped the lips of any globe-trotting human being; one succinct, yet stupefying sentence destined to join the renowned ranks of other deep and insightful world views, such as, “There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” (Robert Louis Stevenson), “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page (St. Augustine), and “Wow! Brazil is big.” (George W. Bush).

But first, in order to appreciate my momentous words, you have to understand the circumstances in which they were inspired. So sit back, Grasshopper. Prepared to be blown away.

It started with a plane ride. A mode of transportation, once considered mundane, that is now on par with other personal affronts like colonoscopies and gastric reflux. But a necessary evil that my best friend, Pam, and I had to endure if we wanted to pursue our vacation in Mexico. And so, like countless other travelers before me, when we arrived at the gate, I got on my knees, folded my hands, squeezed my eyes shut and recited the Passenger’s Prayer:

Please, dear God, Buddha, Zeus or whoever else might be on duty. Spare us crying babies, kicking rugrats in back of me, or nimrods in front who feel it their God-given right to recline their seat all the way down, even though it means my knees are imbedded in their kidneys, their head is in my lap and they’re staring straight up my nostrils. I beseech thee, no terrorists, drunks, or doctor-defying idiots who insist on traveling despite being recently diagnosed with (select the most recent episode of “House, M.D.”): a. tuberculosis, b. meningitis or c. Ebola. I pray, most Holy One, that thou wouldst see me worthy of eluding seat-hogging brethren whose claim to fame is that they once appeared on Maury Povich for no reason other than their weight exceeds that of a tractor. And my final and most fervent prayer of all: please, I beg of thee, no in-flight movies featuring Nicholas Cage. Amen.

Then, as boarding began for First Class passengers, Pam nudged me to join the line. “No,” I told her. “It’s THEM. First Class.”

“Yeah, I know,” she replied with an ear-splitting grin. “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!”

And voila! Just like Harry Potter catching the Hogwart Express from the mythical Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross Station, I found myself joining THEM. Entering a magical realm that I knew existed, but had never experienced. I swear, trumpets blared and angels sang as I floated into that hallowed sanctuary known as First Class.

It was everything I ever imagined. Spacious seats that embraced me like a lover’s arms. Leg room so plentiful, I could actually cross my leg without cracking my nose with my knee. It was clean. Quiet and inviting, with a beam of sunshine gently warming each and every plush leather seat. And the flight attendants…all instant Best Friends Forever (BFF)! Would I prefer steak or chicken on my fine china plate? How about a Caesar salad and a glass of wine? When I asked about the cost for a Chardonnay, my new BFF studied my Curious George t-shirt, loopy grin and star-glazed eyes. And recognizing a First Class virgin when he saw one, he replied with a kindly smile, “Madam, trust me, if you’re sitting in First Class, you’ve already paid for the wine.”

SaWEET! But as I reveled in my luxurious surroundings, bonding with my fellow First Class peeps with a “yeah, I’m one of YOU,” simpatico-type smile, I suddenly realized that this precious flight was just three and a half hours long. Only 210 minutes in which to enjoy a world that my bank account would never again allow me to enter. Cinderella would soon leave the Ball and hereon in, future air travel would again revert to sticky floors, suspicious sulfur-like smells, and stale pretzel sticks ensconced in Kryptonite pouches.

And with this dawning awareness came forth a bubbling boil of panic that swelled in my breast and inspired the aforementioned words, thus sealing my spot in travelogue history. Seven immortal words destined to give hope and remain etched in the minds of all coach passengers who might believe, as I once did, such a concept impossible. Because in the flush of First Class passion, I cried for all the plane to hear,


Weighty words, indeed. Ripe with the potential to forever alter the perception of air travel. And words that will always be attributed to me, an aeronautic pioneer who managed to find beauty in the belly of the beast.

So go ahead, take my photo, now. Before my next coach flight wipes the smile off my face.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

It's Father's Day and Everything is Beautiful

Mary was a hippie.

A real, live honest-to-God patchouli-wearing peacenik, the kind so common in the sixties. Hippies were still flocking to San Francisco’s popular Haight-Ashbury district in 1969, but this particular flower child was an adult, with a husband and two kids, living in mainstream suburbia. Next-door to us.

And she drove my dad absolutely, drop-dead-ready-for-the-loony-bin bonkers. Here he was, a committed “God Bless America” love-it-or-leave-it, flag-waving, John Wayne worshipping, card-carrying teamster, and here was Mary. Our new next-door-neighbor, who dressed in free-flowing caftans adorned in every color of the rainbow. She didn’t bother with make-up or shoes, wore her blonde hair long and free, often with a flower tucked behind an ear, and believed in making love, not war. She relished sharing her peace-loving philosophy and every afternoon, would flash Dad the peace sign when he pulled into the driveway after yet another grinding day at work, paving roads and filling potholes.

“The ‘V-sign’ stands for VICTORY, not PEACE,” he would roar whenever he caught sight of her friendly two-fingered salute. As if “peace” were such an incomprehensible thought.

Mary drove my dad ape-shit nuts.

But he wrought a simple revenge in the form of the 1969 Ray Stevens hit, “
Everything is Beautiful.” Even by sixtie’s standards, the song was corny.

Everything is beautiful

In its' own way
Like a starry summer night
Or a snow covered winter's day

Everybody's beautiful,
In their own way
Under God's heaven
The world's gonna find a way.”

Dad changed the lyrics. Just a bit. And every night, after Mary flashed him the peace sign, he would stomp into the house, remove his yellow hard-hat with the “God Bless America” sticker slapped across the front, and bellow his own version of the Ray Stevens song:

Everything is beautiful

Even though it’s not.
Mary thinks it’s beautiful,
And she’s a BOOGER-SNOT

Today, Mary’s long gone, God knows where. Another city, another state, another dimension? And Dad’s gone too, but his absence is because of a brief but valiant struggle with Leukemia. On this Father’s Day, 2008, I find myself playing my scratchy 45 vinyl of “Everything is Beautiful” over and over. The recording may be the Ray Stevens’ version, but that’s not what I’m hearing. What I’m hearing is Dad’s tribute to Mary. It makes me smile. And miss him.

Happy Father’s Day

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Perils of Healthy Eating

Aren’t we all trying to live healthier lifestyles? I know I am, if only to live long enough to one day witness the look on the face of a certain, “global warming is a joke” friend when he sees that his favorite fishing hole has been replaced with sand dunes.

That’s why I recently dragged my sorry butt back to the gym. Started lifting weights to dodge that osteoporosis bullet. As for vitamins, apparently it’s “One-a-Day” and not “One-a-Month.” Okay, fine. So I'm popping pills: multivitamins, calcium tablets and Primrose capsules. I’m swilling Flax seed oil and choking on Omega 3 horse pills with the same gusto once reserved for squirting Hershey syrup straight from the bottle into my gaping pie hole.

I’m buying low-fat this and non-fat that, even resorting to reduced-fat ice cream, which is such an oxymoron it makes my eyes spin, but actually, it isn’t so bad. Probably only because my rapidly depleting brain cells can’t recall the orgasmic delights of my old flame, Ben & Jerry’s. I tried a low-fat boxed brownie mix made with vanilla yogurt instead of butter and alleluia, the batter was delicious! I lapped the spoon like a starved street dog, although I was disappointed to find that the baked results ended up tasting like chocolate liver. I even sampled a sugar-free version of my favorite chocolate syrup (not to mention any names, but it starts with an "H" and ends with a "Y"), hoping it would complement my reduced-fat ice cream. I kicked back my head in delicious anticipation of the chocolate elixir and squeezed the bottle’s contents into my watering mouth.

And promptly spat it out. Eeww. Eewwww. Eewwwww. It was nothing short of sheer blasphemy to associate an ingredient as beloved as chocolate with this toxic waste. I was so disgusted and disappointed, after rinsing out my mouth with the nearest liquid available, which happened to be Palmolive dish soap, I drove to Safeway to return the swill. And along the way, made a quick stop at Trader Joe’s and bought a bottle of "Midnight Moo." Yes, I know it’s the real-deal chocolate syrup and hence probably bad for me, but hey, it’s organic and I’m a chocoholic and it doesn’t burn a hole in my tongue and taste like freakin’ battery acid, so cut me a break, please? I’m trying here, really.

Which explains the prunes. Let me explain: At the office where I work, junk food is as commonplace as oxygen. It’s just there, ever-present, alluring, tempting, inviting. Come hither, it beckons. Let me melt in your mouth, not in your hands. And I succumb to its evil pleasures and polish off an entire three-pound bag of M&Ms with the same automation required of blinking and breathing. It’s a robotic bend-elbow-bring-hand-to-mouth movement that I perform unconsciously. Type type, handful of M&Ms, type, type, another handful, type, type. Get the picture?

Ah, but now that I’m older and wiser and alleluia, see the light, I realize that candy is Satan and fiber is our Savior. And surprisingly, I’ve discovered that dried prunes aren’t all that bad. They’re sweet, they’re chewy…what’s not to like?

And I’m no fool. I figure, why not put replace the bowl of M&Ms with the bag of prunes? Think of all the Satanic sugar I’ll avoid, thus sparing havoc on my cholesterol levels, kidneys, heart, colon, teeth, blood pressure, liver, yadda, yadda, yadda. So I pushed the bowl of M&Ms far away, and placed the bag of dried prunes within arm’s reach. After all, prunes are loaded with antioxidants, fiber and all sorts of good compounds. Just looking at them, I was feeling healthier already. It must really be true that with age comes wisdom, because in my younger, foolish days, I would have never swapped M&Ms for prunes.

So the day began: type, type. Prune. Type, type. Prune. At the end of the day, I reached for one last prune.

And found the bag was empty.

I swiveled from side to side to give my light-fingered coworkers the evil eye. Who had pilfered my prunes? But then I remembered that everybody was off-site today. Well, it’s a small bag, I figured. I couldn’t have eaten that many. I read the label.

There were 24 prunes.

But c’mon. Prunes have an ill-deserved rep. We don’t ridicule raisins, dis’ dates or titter at figs. Why should I succumb to lowbrow humor and allow myself to be concerned about the rumored aftereffects of eating a couple prunes? Or couple dozen?

That seemingly innocuous question was answered during my drive home…you might have heard of my commute: it was tapped as the sixth worst commute in the Bay Area…the infamous afternoon drive on Highway 92 eastbound. There I was, sitting in a parking lot of a freeway. Tapping my fingers on the steering wheel, moving five feet every five minutes, growling whenever someone cut in front of me (“Hey nimrod, it’s called a turn signal!”), listening to KFOG play Talking Heads Burning Down the House for the bazillionth time that day--when suddenly, there it was. A strange sound. What was that?

I listened hard.

Turned off the radio. Sat in silence, straining my ears…and there it was again.

Gurgle. Gurgle. Gurglegurglegurgle.

It was my stomach.

You know how a clap of thunder detonates with that skin-tingling reverberation that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand on end just seconds before lightening strikes?

I started sweating like President Bush at a Dixie Chicks concert. Suddenly, the red sea of brake lights before me became much threatening than just my usual afternoon annoyance. I realized, with a sickening dread, that 24 prunes were, indeed, nothing to scoff at.

And thus began my encounter with the real weapons of mass destruction. Coupled with the daunting awareness that a healthy lifestyle might not guarantee a long life.

But it will guarantee a life that feels long.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Not So Neat, These Things Called Feet

And lo, I declared but three things not pleasing unto me: Nicholas Cage. Beets. And feet.

Nope, no fan am I of our gnarly appendages south of the ankle. Can’t really tell you why, only that one of my earliest memories is when I was three, maybe even younger. And I’m crying and kicking and screaming because my mother is making me wear those cute strappy white sandals that all tykes wear. Even back then, I recall feeling naked because my wee toddler feet were exposed. Later, as a five-year old in love with The Beatles, I remember the surprise I felt the first time I saw a photo of John, Paul George and Ringo, and they were barefoot. The Beatles had feet? I thought their ankles were simply attached to their pointed black boots. It never occurred to me that there were feet inside.

Yes, my issues run deep. One might say…uh…to the very core of my “sole.”

Now, with summer approaching and the onset of sandals, it’s almost impossible to avoid the sight of my ten-toed nemeses. Some of which, let’s be honest, could use a little work. Jagged nails. Grime. Hair. Corns. Ick. And yet, despite my disdain, once in a while I myself will succumb to sandals, lured by trendy styles and cute colors. But I always feel naked, undressed, exposed. My tender skin is rubbed raw by offending straps and even in the hottest weather, my toes usually feel like frozen little Popsicle sticks. Then there’s the whole vulnerability issue. More than once, my exposed toes have been crushed by one hard, misplaced heel. Summer sandals may be a relief in hot weather, but they don’t offer much support, which once helped contribute to a painful bout with
plantar fasciitis. And don’t even ask me about the time I ran into the corner of a wall and broke a toe. Want to talk about mind-blowing, seeing-stars pain? Hmmmph! Never would have happened in the armor of my close-toe shoes.

So problematic, these awkward appendages. But when I mentioned my anti-foot fixation to my co-worker, Wendy, she looked at me as if moose antlers had sprouted from my ears.

“Where you frightened by a foot as a child?” she asked. Wendy loves open-toe shoes. She wears flip-flops year round, even when it’s raining ice cubes. If there were such a thing as open-toe ski boots, she’d be the first in line. Clearly, she was not going to relate.

“No, I just think feet look like misplaced monkey fingers,” I tried explaining, but to no avail. She continued staring at me like I had stepped out from an episode of “The X-Files” and surely, Scully and Mulder couldn’t be far behind. Wearing sensible shoes, of course. Close-toe.

“Oh! Are your feet…” she lowered her voice in a sympathetic tone, “…not pretty?”

That was it, right? I must have a webby three-inch middle toe that could double as a divining rod.

But nope. As far as feet go, mine are okay looking, not that anyone will ever know. Because barring poolside parties or days at the beach, it’s pretty likely my smooth, straight tootsies will remain securely tucked inside sensible shoes.

Close-toe, of course.
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