Thanks. No Really, I Mean It

Picture a frosty gin and tonic here in about an hour and a half

If you’ve seen some recent posts of mine, you might suspect I’ve been having a peculiar time in the Bahamas. I have the unique skill set of being able to turn a stretch of time on this lovely island into a cage of sorts. Nonetheless, this image above shows where Alice and I went snorkeling this morning.

The water was sharply clear. We saw a lovely school of blue tang romping about a big chunk of coral. (They were tangy, indeed.) I appreciated the moments we were there, and that’s what I need to keep uppermost in mind. Appreciating the tangy moments. I’m still working on appreciating those with less tang, but there’s progress there too.

Thus, with gratitude, Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Operating Without the Net: It Bites, Then It Sucks

There's a cruel jester under the cool cap

This looks like a quart of ordinary ice cream. (Ignore the fact that Haagen-Daz and its European provenance is an illusion from the get-go). No, no ice cream this. This is the price of human folly, the crucible that shows the hollow core of the soul, the stuff that dreams are made of. But how can this glop of eggs, cream and sugar be any of that?

The concept comes from the spirit of Magritte, who painted under his famous image of a pipe, “This is not a pipe.” No, this alleged ice cream is a symbol of my boiling frustration over losing control of my situation. That situation is that Alice and I are house-sitting in the Bahamas, on a 3 ½-acre compound that was a former wilderness school. There’s a main house, some cottages, and a number of dorm buildings, just a long fly ball from the shoreline.

It’s the Bahamas, right? Beautiful beaches, lovely people, umbrella drinks at mid-day. Sure, that Bahamas is here. But Alice and I came here to work and play, and work daily, since we aren’t island jet-setters, and can’t afford not to work. But our work is all Internet-based. Gotta be online, all the time. Only the Internet hasn’t worked properly here since Hurricane Irene. It might be on for 10 minutes, off for 3 hours, on for one minute, off for an hour, off for an entire day. Yesterday, I was supposed to be on a Skype call to my main clients. I was knocked offline at least 10 times, and finally knocked off for good that day. Our homeowners didn’t quite elaborate on just how squirrely the connectivity is.

The Gorge Also Rises
We are both so accustomed to the Net just working that when it doesn’t—and doesn’t in an arbitrary way, the gorge rises. My gorge. We’ve both missed some deadlines and there’s no end in sight. The Bahamian Net providers have been here 5 times in 7 days, and are supposed to be here again today. They can’t figure it out. Better yet, they had a big layoff at their office yesterday—the main tech who comes out here was laid off. Zing!

So, we can’t work. But we can scratch. The no-see-ums and mosquitoes here are murderous. Below is a picture of Alice’s thigh from a couple of days ago. When the dogs that we are taking care of here escape the compound (they have multiple devious ways), we must chase them to retrieve them, but we must chase them through a boggy zone where the mosquito is the dominant species. No applications of Off, Skin-So-Soft or rum can deter them. Speaking of rum, I was so frustrated at all this business the other day that I slapped a nice cool drink of pineapple and rum right off my chair into the bushes, followed by a fusillade of curses. Those who know me know that the day I throw good liquor into the bushes is the day The Beast has risen.

You should see the other leg

Get Back to the Ice Cream Already
What this all says to me is that I’m so used to controlling certain things that when that control is wrested from me, my inadequate coping skills don’t provide much backup. And what does this all have to do with a quart of Haagen-Daz? This: I bought this quart of ice cream out of spite. One factor is that I could control the purchase of this ice cream. The spite part is that this ice cream cost me $14.50. Yes, when I heard the price, I just laughed. These are the only bites on the island I’ve truly enjoyed.

Postscript, Minus the Sting
Last night, when I was washing the dishes, I lifted this little platform above the sink that the dish-scrubbers sit on. Underneath was a little scorpion, tail-flag waving in greeting. He didn’t actually alarm me—he was a beautiful little creature. I didn’t have the hysterical reaction I’ve developed when I roam the mosquito-zones around the house, slapping madly at the air, my face and legs. Instead, I got to study my little friend, and then was able to capture him in a wine glass and put him outside. He was a bit angry at that, stabbing his laden tail against sides of the glass. I’m hoping I made him angry enough to go sting a squadron of mosquitoes or two.

PPS By the way, I do realize that I am a large crybaby. But hey, it passes the time.

How to Unsuccessfully Try to Convince Readers That You’re Suffering

Digging the local brew at Tippy's, a fine institution of learning and scholarship

They do say travel is broadening. I’ve found it can also be narrowing. I lost 15 pounds in my first six weeks of my year in Micronesia, mostly because we didn’t understand how to shop on our island, with its scattered roadside stands, few stores (none of which resembled the supermarkets my suburban upbringing inured me to), the oddity of some of the local foods (i.e., dog), and gastro-tremblings from the water.

If you know me, my losing 15 pounds meant that I then weighed about as much as a pair of socks. I do have big feet, but still …. But once we adjusted, and learned how to island-shop, there were wonders at the table, mostly from succulent lobster at $2.00 a pound, and yellowfin tuna at fifty cents a pound. (I never inquired about the price of dog.) And when I say “adjusted,” I meant we learned to relax and go with the weirdness of things, and in many quarters, to truly appreciate the weirdness.

That suburban upbringing I alluded to—that was the condition that needed broadening, and broaden it did. Though I might thin out again here: a half-gallon of milk is $6.00, a box of cereal is $7. Maybe I’ll be eating my socks, since I don’t really need them here.

“Here” is the island of Eleuthera, in the Bahamas, where Alice and I are house-sitting for a couple of months. Eleuthera is one of the Bahamas’ “out islands,” meaning it’s not one of the glitzy resort islands, like Nassau. Even though it’s 110 miles long, there are less than 8,000 people here, which is about the number that lived on Kosrae, the Micronesian island where we lived a few years ago.

No, Really, I’ll Be Working
Eleuthera bears some tropical kinship to Kosrae, in that they share warm, azure waters, hot sun, warm, damp air, coral reefs, and that certain languor that seems native to islands. This isn’t a vacation for us: we’re going to be toiling at the keyboard as usual, though more sweatily; however, being able to take a mid-afternoon dip in the nearby shimmering waters will remind us that this world isn’t like our own. It is amazing to be sleeping so close to the sea again, with that big, blue womb’s encyclopedia of sounds—whispering, churning, crashing, slurping, whooshing—rolling over us in the night, since there isn’t any reason to close a window here.

Except for the gigantic insects. And the mosquitoes. And the snake we saw on the walkway yesterday. All those hermit crabs. And those crazy, charming curly-tailed lizards that are everywhere. The profusion of local wildlife also reminds me of Micronesia, detailed in a “travel surprises” piece I wrote for the L.A. Times: surprise, there’s a spider bigger than a spaniel in the living room! (One does adjust: one never goes in the living room again.)

So, my intention is to write a number of travel pieces while I’m here, and soak up some local culture. (That means rum.) I’m going to write some more about the travel-writing process in times to come. In the meantime, I’ll try to see where that beetle dragged off my briefcase…

This Is Not an Olive

Nah, Bentley's too skinny for lunch

I’ve been reading a guide to the Bahamas, and in it is more than one reference to the “gin-clear” waters. Somehow it pleases me to think of the ocean as one giant cocktail, and since I favor both the martini and the gin-and-tonic, I like to drink that concept up.

I spent a year living on a speck of a Micronesian island, whose waters were gin-clear as well, sometimes up to 200-foot visibility. Considering that there are scads of engulfingly beautiful corals, impossibly bright, darting fish and impressively large aquatic beasts there, it was perhaps less a cocktail than a massive, boundless aquarium tended by benign, giving gods who thought “more is always better.”

One of the first times I went snorkeling there, a large ray winged its slow, flapping way about four feet underneath me, just above a raised coral ledge. My girlfriend Alice, who was watching nearby, thought I handled that exceedingly well, since the ray’s wingspan was probably seven feet, and I’d only seen such things on television. I did appear to handle it calmly, but that was because my brain froze when I realized that a large creature from the big blue had decided to synchronize its swim with me—I was incapable of movement.

Shark Sightings Are Good for Thinning the Blood
Frozen movement wasn’t the case on another snorkeling occasion, when a six-foot reef shark appeared about 15 feet away from us and then actually veered in our direction for a moment. Seeing a top-of-the-food-chain predator suddenly appear and actually nose my way shot me backward in the water about ten feet, as though I was wearing a jet pack. Alice was behind me, and thus I pushed her vigorously back as well. It was only later that I explained, when she expressed gratitude for protecting her from the shark, that I had no clue she was behind me. The hero exposed. (By the way, reef sharks are generally pretty well-behaved, but tell that to my exploding heart.)

Anyway, the reason I’m again contemplating gin-clear waters is that Alice and I are heading to the Bahamas to house-sit for a couple of months on the island of Eleuthera. It’s not exactly a pleasure trip, because we’re going to try and keep our regular contract work schedules, but I’m sure pleasures will be had. Some gin too. And I’m going to try to find my inner Bill Bryson too—he’s in there somewhere.

Bonus Halloween Treat (Well, More of a Trick)
Squidoo is publishing a series of magazines, and one of them is about Halloween. I wrote a little piece about some of my own Halloween doings—kids, don’t try this at home.