MAL DE MER AND OTHER MISERY

By Steve Dresselhaus:

While I am a missionary now, with a message of hope for a brighter, better future, both short and long term, I have not always been a nice person. In fact, I went through a season of my life when I was pretty much nothing but a self-serving, pleasure-seeking adventure junkie. I lived and worked as a SCUBA guide and instructor at several spots in the Caribbean and tropical Atlantic.

For a single guy, this really was a dream life. Diving, adventure, shipwrecks, sharks, fast boats, tall blond tourists, white sand beaches and palm trees all made for a pretty exciting life–which tragically eroded away until nothing was left but middle class suburbia, but that is a tale of woe and misery to be told later. Back then in the 70s, prior to suburbia, there were several of us, really only a handful of us, who early on became certified SCUBA instructors with a cluster of certifying agencies. NAUI, PADI, CMAS, YMCA were the letters after our names; and people thought we were either board certified brain surgeons or part of a clandestine branch of the military. Those who knew us and what we did, with feelings  of awe and envy, referred to us as the “bronze godlings.” I’m not making that up, they really did. Now 35 years later, “pale Buddha” is a more likely moniker.

Lest any young man be lured into this lifestyle with unrealistic expectations, I must, in the spirit of honesty and transparency, engage in full disclosure. Dues must be paid in order to reach this earthly Nirvana, that wonderful place known only to underwater adventurers. The heavy price extracted from me to become a bronze godling, a man of the sea, was enduring chronic “mal de mer,” “mareo,” or–as they say in proper French–“hurlies de les cookies.” I got seasick. I mean like, really seasick every single day. Not just the kind of seasick where I felt icky, but the kind where I became the envy of every rail thin fashion model in America. I became a virtual hurl-o-matic. Every day I would captain my boatload of tourists out to the dive site. Every day started with me being the gallant man of the sea, the teller of tales, the fearless one, the tier of cool knots, the fixer of all things broken , and the source of the legend of Fabio. I would stand at the helm reading the far horizon, the northeast trades blowing through my shoulder-length sun-bleached hair as the boat raced across the transparent blue water, my bare suntanned chest and broad swimmer’s shoulders glistening in the tropical sun, and then wretcheleguglegurp, I was at the edge of the boat, on my knees, hands on the gunnels, my face over the water, and doing what we euphemistically call “feeding the fish.” Day after day I got so sick I thought I would die but was afraid I wouldn’t.

The aura of the mighty man of the sea was shattered in a heartbeat. The bronze godling became a mere mortal. The tall blond tourists shifted their attention to the potbellied rich guys with all their new equipment, assuming a direct correlation between cool equipment at sea with a cool Porsche on land. I was left to contemplate death alone. In my humiliated and weakened condition the local deck hands brazenly called me to my face what I already knew they called me behind my back, “El marinero verde,” (the green sailor.)

To my credit I stuck it out, I endured the pain, the humiliation, the rejection and the ridicule. The day came when I did not barf at sea. The day came when I did not feel sick nor even queasy. When that day came, however, I did not revert to being a beneficent bronze godling. No, I became a cruel manifestation of Neptune, eager to seek revenge on those who had laughed at my misery and taken advantage of my weakness. Harking back to my Nordic roots, I became the merciless thunder-throwing Thor. I became the angry god of the sea, whose sole purpose was to inflict hurlies de les cookies on people who only wanted to have a good day at sea.

My co-captain and I would often take unsuspecting individuals fishing. There was a great spot south of Key West, near the lighthouse at Sand Key, where the Gulf Stream would butt up against some reefs, making the water rough and choppy but full of fish. As our clients* would grow silent, which is the very first evidence of seasickness, the evil within me would well up. “Seymour,” (not his real name since I don’t know what the statute of limitations is for premeditated causing of seasickness), “what do we have for lunch?” “Well, cap’n,” my co-conspirator would reply, “we have some leftover cold, greasy fried eggs with the burnt brown, crusty edges. Want one?”

To the growing sounds of silence emanating from our tourists a bit of local color was added, green, not real green, more of a bile yellow, more of a jaundiced color, but close enough to green to be called green. Silence and green: my Neptunian evil was beginning to reign in triumph. As my clients’ misery deepened, my sadistic joy increased exponentially.

“Seymour, toss me the knife. I need to cut some more squid for bait. No wait, never mind. I’ll bite the squid in half.” There is a direct causal relationship between rough water, rocking boats, engine fumes, raw, slimy, mucus-slathered squid being bitten in half and severe, eruptive hurlies de les cookies. With this method I’d say the success rate of intentionally inducing sea sickness approaches 100%.

The audible results of biting raw squid in half while in a rocking, bouncing boat full of silent, green, fume-sniffing tourists from Nebraska could best be compared to the building crescendo of the 1812 Overture which culminates with the cannon blasts. Boom, boom , boom de boom BOOOOOOOM. The sounds became primal, animalistic, subhuman. The sounds revealed the apex of misery. I reveled in my cruel victory. The visual image of a boatload of flatlanders in the final stages of hurlies de les cookies will be left to the imagination of the readers, since small children may be reading this and I don’t want to get in trouble with the Federal Communications Commission for printing objectionable material online.

Those days of intentional cruelty are long gone, and yes, I really am a missionary. I am a changed man. Now I preach a message of love and reconciliation. While I may have repented of my evil days of yesteryear, I must confess to looking back on those fun, wild days with no small amount of yearning and nostalgia. If you the reader happen to be one of the people in whom I induced hurlies de les cookies, I humbly beg your forgiveness, although, if given the opportunity to do so again, I’d jump at the chance faster than greased lightning.

*Because the institute I worked for received grants from government agencies at times, many of our clients were junketeering government-type people. They deserved no mercy. To my knowledge, I never intentionally mistreated an honest tourist.

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Nanny Nanny Boo Boo TSA

By Steve Dresselhaus

There is an inviolable law of the universe which states  cum tempus breve est janua clauditur citius.  (Loosely translated this means the closer the time to the closing of your boarding gate at the airport, the surlier,  more  incompetent and more deeply maladjusted the TSA agents become.)   TSA agents are endowed  with some kind of psychic powers,  able to sense stress levels  in the sweating, panting,  wide-eyed travelers nervously rocking back and forth on  their feet, rolling their eyes towards heaven, and like a high speed metronome glancing at their watch every other second.    These agents  also have sensors capable of detecting the agony of sleep deprived, jet-lagged travelers who are on the final leg of a multi-day return trip from the most remote parts of Africa.  I was  now only one short  two- hour flight from home when the TSA agents  devolved into cruel sadistic despots determined   to make my  life and that of the other travelers even more miserable than it was.   I was only two hours and a short car ride from home.  Only two hours left to go  after two days of hard travel with enough time zone changes to imbue  Greenwich mean  time with true significance.

When  TSA  agents see  a passenger rushing from the international terminal attempting to make a connecting flight, they flip a switch and life goes slow mo.  As the frequency changes, their voices deepen  and their body movements go glacial.  You can detect the individual oscillations  of the quartz crystal in  your watch.  Concurrent  with the change to slow motion, lines instantly get longer as people spontaneously generate in front of  you,  disproving the theory of gradual evolution and evidencing  that Louis Pasteur falsified the outcome of his research on the spontaneous generation of life.    I have personally witnessed the instant apparition of new life forms in front of me as a worm hole to a parallel universe opens, and dozens of humanoids  suddenly  block my way to the  head of the line.  At that point, half the  TSA staff   abandon their posts, and every other passenger becomes a post-retirement-age  non-English speaker, none of whom remembers   that  both a photo ID and the boarding pass must be presented to the TSA.  Of course their  passports are located in secret locations  long since forgotten; and it takes an experienced archeologist to dig them out.

It is now that  the TSA staff become faux friendly and chat up everyone,  not only  to eat up the time clock but likely in a Machiavellian attempt to make the people happy so that the guaranteed   crash to  bitter disappointment over their  missed flights is  all the  more cataclysmic.   Then someone in management who has clearly been promoted to his point of incompetency decides to have each TSA agent handle two lines of harried passengers.  What ensues is a comedic hay foot straw foot as the TSA folks try to remember if the last passenger they hassled was from the right or left side of the podium.  Blue uniforms are known to be a major contributor to  dyslexia.

Once the  passenger has cleared the first TSA obstacle, he or she enters the luggage search and body scan area.  Experienced travelers know all about the little zip-lock rule for what to do with your  liquids, about taking off  their shoes, about taking their  laptop out of the luggage and putting it in its own tray.   Experienced travelers know how to confirm the emptiness of shirt and pants pockets by doing the Macarena self-check.  The problem is that in my lines, no one but me is ever an experienced traveler.  Every other passenger seems to be unaware of the fact that coins, jewelry, and navel piercings all show up on the body scan, making  a secondary search a line-slowing reality.  Then there are the kids with so many ear rings that the TSA guy says, “Sir, please put your  spiral notebook in a separate tray” before he realizes he is looking at the head of a teenager.    French Foreign Legion desert boots–the kind with stiff rawhide strips that lace up to your armpits–should  be banned from airline travel.

Finally, it is your turn to go through the body scan.  Feeling  like a lizard,  you enter the terrarium.   You raise your hands in surrender, the human equivalent of the beta dog on its back, legs in the air, waiting to be sniffed by the alpha dog.   When enough people have had the opportunity to humiliate you,  TSA lets you out of the crystal cage–but only as far as the yellow footprints on the dirty carpet.  You stand, legs spread, waiting to see if the TSA agent thinks you are worth touching or not,  all the while desperately praying that the passenger before you didn’t  contaminate the yellow footprint with Mozambican foot fungus.   The proximity to your plane’s departure, now only minutes away, determines the length of time the TSA agent will look at you before deciding whether or not to touch you.

Then come the dreaded words, “Sir, is this your bag?  Step this way please.”  I don’t know why they say “please.”   False manners are a form of hypocrisy; and my guess is, it is just one more ploy to disarm you as they attempt to make you miss your flight.  “May I open your bag?”  What kind of question is that?  If I say “No,” I will not only miss my flight but likely spend the night in some federal hoosegow  on trumped-up terrorism charges or, worse yet, become the target of an Obama drone.  “Yes, go ahead, but can you do it quickly because I’m about to miss my flight.”   “Sir,” comes the surly and edgy reply, “May I open your bag?”   I had already said “yes” once, but I repeated myself in case the TSA agent suffered from some kind of comprehension disorder.  “Yes, but please do it quickly because I am about to miss my flight.” Wow, my comment must have put me on the top of some kind of FBI terror watch list.  My lone agent through some kind of miracle mitosis became  three.   They slowly opened my carry-on, one zipper  tooth at a time – click, click, click.  I had never counted the teeth on a zipper before, but I think there are several  gazillion of them.    They opened the carry-on and with gloved hands went through everything.  I derived some small pleasure in that the only thing in the bag was dirty laundry which I hoped–after 48 hours in the bag en route from Harare, Zimbabwe–reeked of dirty, sweaty clothes.   After touching everything, they took it out of the bag, placed it in trays, and ran everything through the X-ray machine again.

Something prompted them to call over their supervisor to look at the X-ray image on the monitor.  Discussion ensued.  Jokes were told, about what I don’t know, but the three of them plus their supervisor all laughed, each chuckle eating away at the zero margin I had to make my flight.  The speeding second hand of my watch   seemed to   gather speed in direct proportion to the slowly petrifying  and fossilizing  bodies of the TSA guys.  They brought my stuff back to the metal table, the kind used by Nazi torturers because of their easy cleaning properties, and said I could repack my bag.  The threat to national security proved to be an extra battery for my laptop which had already been through eight, yes eight,  X rays.  Why TSA chose this time to threaten me with enhanced interrogation and why it  took them those five interminable minutes to go through this process only proves they knew I was about to miss my flight.

I jammed the  dirty clothes back into the carry-on and ran down  the concourse. “This is the final boarding call for Jet Blue to Chicago” sounded out over the airport PA system. “ Passenger Steve Dresselhaus, report to gate 18 immediately.”  Out of breath after my half marathon to gate 18,  I arrived to see that the sign  now read,  “gate closed”; but the door was still open.  Like an NFL  receiver I dove for the podium, body parallel to the hard floor,  hand outstretched, boarding pass  clutched in my fingers, hoping to cross the goal line before the door slammed shut.  “Are you Mr. Dresselhaus?” queried the friendly  Jet Blue agent.  Like, who else could I be, running to make the flight like that?    Winded, out of breath, unable to do anything other than wheeze out a nearly inaudible yes, I nodded in the affirmative, handed the agent my boarding pass and then walked down the ramp to the plane and my two-hour flight home.

I did it.  I beat  TSA fair and square on their home turf.   I outlasted a federal agency.  Despite their best efforts,  I made my flight home.  With  the words to Queen’s  song  “We are the champions”  ringing in my ears,  I  say to the TSA with my  head held high and gloating in my heart,  “Nanny nanny boo boo.”

BIG BIG BOOKS

Steve Dresselhaus

Some people enjoy reading books, big thick books, books whose Russian authors have names longer than most of the books I read. In the books I read, the name Fyodor Dostoyevsky would be considered three complete chapters, that of Alexander Solzhenitsyn an anthology.

I don’t begrudge those individuals who are fond of big books with few if any pictures and who are capable and interested in discussing what they read with other likeminded erudites. Me, I lean more towards the literary genre known as “autocollants actuelles” which Google Translator tells me means “modern bumper sticker” (MBS). The short , pregnant-with-meaning statements on MBS’s often guide me to wisdom and knowledge and offer up a world of understanding and insights just waiting to be unpacked by an inquisitive mind.

Caution must be exercised, however, because there does exist a cheap, tawdry sub-genre of MBS; the literary equivalent of grocery store romance novels found between the chips and dip and soft drink aisles. This kind of cheap trashy bumper sticker says things like “My son is an honor roll student at Jefferson Middle School” or “God, Guts and Guns.” About the first, who really cares about the spoiled nerdish brat, although it does show the parents are at least bright enough to have determined the gender of their child. The second trashy MBS, if nothing else, shows a mastery of English vocabulary, at least of three and four letter words and the ability to recognize that today is brought to you by the letter G.

I tend towards appreciating the deeper meanings ensconced in the non-trashy MBS’s. Deep things like “Life is hard and then you die.” Or my current personal favorite: “God’s original plan was to hang out in the garden with a couple of naked vegetarians.” These MBS’s, both essentially true, convey deep meaning and should be discussed by people with names like Nigel and Hortense, or Percival and Honoria, who sip wine and nibble cheese as they stand around in small clusters with wrinkled brows, stroking their chins and saying things like “I say there” or “ jolly fine observation there my good man,” or “ be a good chap there.” If you are smart you always have to have a “there” somewhere in your sentence.

Actually (and I say this with furrowed brow and my index finger and thumb on my chin), bumper stickers do have a lot to tell us about our values and beliefs. The short clever statements sometimes do reveal who we are, what we believe and what we hope for. “Life is hard and then you die,” is not all that unreasonable of a philosophy. Life is hard and, yes, every last one of us will die. What we make of this life while we prepare for the next are things we need to discuss while sipping wine and nibbling cheese. How do we make this life as fulfilling as possible while investing in the next? Since we can’t really understand this life, much less the next one, we need an outside source of help from someone who can actively help us negotiate both phases of life; someone who has gone before us marking the trail, someone who has been there and done that. My choice of an MBS to help me live now while I prepare for tomorrow? “Jesus: Servant, Savior, Sovereign.”

————CARWASH TACOS————

DSCF3393The car wash phase

Steve Dresselhaus

Sonny and Cher, baseball and hotdogs, snow and skis, car wash and tacos. Come again? Car wash and tacos? It makes sense, well….maybe not, but this combo does exist in Zapopan, Mexico, one of the huge municipalities making up the urban area surrounding Guadalajara. Tlaquepaque, another municipality, has nothing to do with the story; but I just like the sound of Tlaquepaque and wanted to say it a couple of times.

Because of a business trip I was in Guadalajara. My last night there I went out with some co-workers and had some really tasty tacos, I mean really good, authentic tacos. The tacos were so good that they expose Taco Bell for what it really is: an obscene, profaning , non-convincing counterfeit of the real thing. Taco Bell is to tacos what Picasso is to women. While looking at a Picasso you have to intentionally override logic, common sense and what your eyes tell you and willfully deceive yourself into believing that what you are observing is an eye, a leg, or an unmentionable female body part, and not a starfish dining on a loaf of bread. You then put it all together in your mind and convince yourself that what you are looking at is indeed a woman and that the painting is worth $50 million. The emperor is truly and totally buck naked. In a similar fashion, if you are willing to override common sense, logic and what your senses tell you, it is possible to deceive yourself into thinking that Taco Bell is authentic Mexican fare. Seriously, I enjoy the food at Taco Bell, I really do; and I would gladly do a TV commercial for a Burrito Supreme; but I would like clarification as to the ethnic roots of Taco Bell’s products since there exists no observable link to Mexico. Is it Uruguayan? Congolese? Klingon?

The car wash part of this particular business fills the daylight hours from nine to five when the restaurant is a car wash. It’s not the kind with the billion strips of felt lapping at your car like a hungry kitten after milk in a saucer, but the kind where young men hose down the car reminiscent of the dancing gas station boys in Zoolander, and then hand wash it with soapy rags. At around 5:01 PM, from somewhere, in some sort of reality TV home makeover, industrial grills, fridges, serving counters, tables and chairs spontaneously appear onto the still drying car wash floor, transforming the car wash from Autolavado Mayo into Famoso Mario’s taco restaurant. Minutes later the first customers show up. I don’t know if the car washers mutate into restaurant staff at the speed of punctuated equilibrium, where they instantly and seamlessly morph from one career choice into the next, or if there is a more gradual evolution with a time of ambiguity and role inspecificity: “Hola Señor. Do you want hot sauce and guacamole with your car wash this afternoon? Or “Meester, how about some Armor All with your taco tonight? Sí? ”

      The restaurant is located on a busy city street corner. It has no walls. A pleasant ambiance is provided by the large city buses and trucks which rumble by, causing the plastic chairs to vibrate you in full body massage mode. Unlike the expensive three minute massages in vibrating chairs at international airports, these bus massages are free. An additional side benefit is the periodic injection of carbon monoxide straight from the bus’s tail pipe into your face, giving you that languid, relaxed, sleepy, (“like dude, the world is kind of like OK dude”) feeling as the carbon monoxide molecules bind with your hemoglobin, making oxygen transfer to your cells a sporadic occurrence. As hypoxia sets in, the deepening blue hue of your skin begins to attract Avatar fans who start hitting on you.

The menu at the taco restaurant was an exhaustive compendium of bovine physiology. They serve cow and bull parts I did not even know existed. Tongue, brain, cheek, eye, palate, cartilage, tripe (including “golden tripe”) udder, snout, and the parts we will simply label as gender specific, are all listed and served. All in all, the menu looks more like a plagiarized Gary Larson cartoon than the offered fare of an established eatery. Rumor has it that the University of Texas is considering giving three hours of college credit in veterinary science to anyone who eats his or her way through the entire menu at Famoso Mario’s.

I ate the meal with four other friends. My chair was near the end of the food preparation area, right next to the chopper. The chopper, who doubles as the restaurant bouncer, is the big, burly, sweaty guy with a large meat cleaver who places the meat on a solid wheel of wood, a six-inch- thick cross section of a tree, and then whacks the meat into small pieces. His hands fly faster than the wings of a hovering bumblebee or an Obama insect drone. His hands seem to go into reverse slow motion as the frequency of his chops accelerates to match that of the ambiance-enhancing fluorescent light tubes suspended by greasy chains from the rusty tin roof overhead. During brief pauses in his work, I happily confirmed that he still had ten fingers and no fresh, fluid-oozing injuries. Because of my proximity to the chopping block and the chopper’s ADD-sans-Ritalin style of chopping, I was continuously moistened by a warm meat juice mist wafting my way as if from an atomizer at Nordstrom’s perfume counter. I felt the tiny droplets of eau de la viande baptizing me throughout the entirety of this culinary adventure . I was almost afraid to walk home after the meal because of the roaming packs of semi-feral street dogs* seeking sustenance in the urban jungle and me smelling like a freshly opened bag of Purina dog chow. Thankfully I arrived home intact and untasted.

     If you are ever in Guadalajara, a must stop is a taco fest at Famoso Mario’s. Don’t arrive early unless your car is dirty. I highly recommend the experience; and the tacos, at least the ones I had, were really really good.

*Compelled by honesty I must admit that I saw no roving packs of semi-feral street dogs. However, in my defense, I must say that simple logic, and decades of experience in many other large South American cities, would make the existence of these roaming wolf pack wannabees likely.