Filed under: Writing
It’s been a while since I’ve written here in what I call “The Notes Blog.” I’ve toyed with the idea of renaming or refocusing, but for better or worse I’ve established a presence here. I sometimes submit my URL as vinnybogan.com or vincebogan.com both of which resolve here.
I still journal furiously. I’m the crazy guy on the train with the moleskine on my lap. Lately my focus has been to develop an online presence with The Brooklyn Sutras my Buddhist training site. I augment Sutras with social media in a bid to “get it out there.” So please follow me
In recent weeks I find myself turning back to “Notes” as the last few Negril trips are looming large in my scribbles. It takes time for me to sort out the many crazy tangents jouncing about in my undisciplined mind.
The experience of my 50th Birthday Extravaganza was profound, and stupid, and unexpected, and fun, and and and . . .
And I’m finally ready to write about it. My 51st party is only a few months away
November 30, 2014
There are so many things to do in Negril, but sometimes the most fun is to do nothing but be there. Being there is a different kind of nothing, and Negril regulars understand this definition of being.
It was one of those weeks in Negril where one could bounce around and be the belle of the ball, or just chill and recharge before the Christmas rush back in the states. To that point I hadn’t made a decision either way.
By the time I felt the need to move from The Castle it was somehow Tuesday. It’s funny how that happens. I rolled out before nine AM, and I was in the back seat of a route taxi two minutes after passing through the silver Castle gate.
I love corrupting the faithful route taxi driver. He took me down to the NCB Bank, and I paid him 500J to wait until I finished getting cash and grabbing a case of Red Stripe. Once back in the car the young driver offered to take me on a tour.
“How much?” I asked.
“500J” he responded too quickly.
“Deal! Take me somewhere I haven’t seen and I’ll give you a good tip.”
“Challenge Accepted!” He didn’t say, but that was the feeling I got from him as we shot through the round-a-bout and down the Beach Road.
The wind in my face on a beautiful Tuesday morning, I began to wonder if nine twenty-five was too early for a Red Stripe. I guess I decided it was since I opted for a Ting in a glass bottle. In my opinion, Ting in a glass bottle tastes better than Ting in a plastic bottle. We shot up past the A-I’s and over the new bridge around to Orange Bay and then inland into the hills and dales beyond.
I love backwoods Jamaica. I’m always amazed how Jamaican drivers are indifferent to pot-holed roads and impossibly steep hills. It’s rides like these that the familiar reassurance of “No Problem Mon” holds actual weight.
We came out on the road from Sav la Mar a few miles outside Negril proper when a quick left turn took us back into the bush. Minutes later we were driving slowly along an isolated beach. My driver looked at me with a “I bet you’ve never been here before” look, and instead of saying, “Isn’t Blue Hole just over there?” I just smiled and enjoyed the ride. Soon we were on the ass-end of West End Road and fifteen minutes later I was loading my little fridge in Deluxe One with warm Red Stripes.
Rob of Negril.com and Real Negril.com fame had a webcast scheduled down at Fun Holiday on the beach. Invigorated by my morning trip I decided lunch at the beach, followed by some beach beers was a good idea.
This time out I wanted to stretch a little, so I walked into town. I had no illusions of making it all the way to Fun Holiday, but I was hoping to make it to somewhere near Canoe Bar. I don’t like walking around that blind corner on the final dip into town.
I ran into a guy I always seem to run into in Negril. I hopped into his van and he took me out to Fun Holiday, all the while offering me every diversion, substance and pastime available to we wayward travelers. I begged him off with the, “Look for me later. I’m meeting up with some friends tomorrow who love all that crazy stuff,” line.
There wasn’t much going on at Fun Holiday, but I loved seeing Rob and saying hello to the boardies, at least to the financially independent ones who are in the chatroom on a Tuesday afternoon. (You know who you are…)
The only other person there was a young Jamaican girl named Nikki who seemed annoyed that I wasn’t paying more attention to her. She gave me a huff as she left.
The day was cool and the beach looked great. For someone who goes to Negril so often I’m not very fond of the water. I love walking along the waterline, and I love walking to the many bars along the beach, but the surf rarely goes above my knees.
About an hour and four beers later I’d only gotten a few hundred yards. I was talking Football with a bartender, and I had a nice buzz working when I noticed my new friend Nikki, her sixth sense honed in on my buzz, closing in for the kill. Though I kind of like the attention, I’m grounded enough to see what was happening. Attractive twenty-two year old women no matter where they’re from don’t have any interest in middle-aged men, even when the guy is a charming bastard like me.
This experience seems to happen more and more as the years go by. Is Negril changing or am I? Obviously both change constantly, but I do try to keep away from such situations. Once in the situation, however, extricating oneself is tricky. Lucky for me the bartender noticed I wasn’t buying and chased Nikki and her friend from the bar.
His help added dramatically to his tip, and after a really good fish sandwich he arranged for a driver to give me a ride back to The Castle. Nice.
A nap later it was time to head out to 3 Dives for more webcast and a great Jerk Chicken dinner. I arrived at 3 Dives about half an hour before sunset. I grabbed some beers, ordered dinner, and busied myself making stupid faces and odd comments into the webcam.
Just as Rob and Lisa were telling me about a reality TV show that was filming in town, a bald dude in a white suit showed up and began to bounce around the place like, well, like a reality TV host.
I had never seen Hotel Impossible, but Anthony Melchiorri is an infectious guy. He shook hands and asked about everyone there. He shook my hand and finding out I live in Brooklyn, he threw on his Brooklyn accent and told us he’s originally from Sheepshead Bay.
Intrigued by the webcast Anthony zoomed in on Rob. He got all excited when he found out Rob “is” Negril.com, and he started flexing his marketing muscles while his entourage chowed down on Jerk Chicken and Red Stripes. By the time he and his crew left, Rob and Lloydie had arranged for them to come back Thursday night to feature 3 Dives and Negril.com as marketing tie-ins with the hotel he was revamping.
It was late when Rob and Lisa dropped me at The Castle. The fully booked resort had many guests partying all over the place. I made my rounds, drank more beer and it was well past midnight when I bid my fellow revelers goodnight.
What a day . . .
July 20, 2013
Now and then I find myself at this corner bar in Soho. Maybe it’s the pool table, the rough clientele, though I do like the wrap around windows. There’s a nicer place a few corners away, but I feel comfortable here.
By day it’s the quintessential old man’s bar, full of townies, with Bud drafts and shots of Fleischmann’s. By the way, where do they find townies in Soho?
And then there’s late night. When I find myself stumbling though the door post three AM, I know I should question the choices made in the preceding hours, but I don’t. The last bar is the last opportunity. There’s an aspect of last chance hopefulness that graces this tawdry place at three-twenty AM, an unlikely maybe hanging in the acrid air.
One more cocktail, one more witticism, one more drunkenly bared honest word to turn the tide. A word that will break through the separation we spend our lives straining to transcend, while simultaneously expending all other energy fortifying that same wall. Why must we shroud our needs with alcohol and half-truths? Yeah, same here . . .
June 23, 2013
Another lovely morning along the cliffs of Negril. Well into my second cup of coffee, and just finished a wonderful breakfast made by Teddy the Chef here at The Castle.
I’d planned to get home early Friday after work, attend to some last-minute details and get to bed early. Of course that didn’t happen.
I ended up working till about 7 PM, then made the plan-bashing step of the night and met up with some work friends. We wound up having an impromptu sort of sad makeshift payday holiday party.
The married people had to get back to their families, but for me it was still early enough to get the “Last Boat Out of Hoboken”‘; so dramatic. It sounds like a movie from the 1940’s, but it’s what the boat dude announced (with much bravado) several times before closing the gate.
It must have been nine-thirty-ish, so I had been officially on vacation since I left the office at seven so I decided to splurge on a taxi back to Brooklyn for me and drinking pal Gabi. For some reason she and I find ourselves stumbling out of Hoboken together from time to time. We get in the cab near the Trade Center and off to Brooklyn we go. OK, home by ten thirty-ish sleep by eleven, taxi to airport 4 AM. No problem.
No sooner did we get in the cab when my phone started buzzing. It was “The Lerches”! They were in town and were looking to meet up in Soho within the hour. I looked over at the beautiful-but-too-young-for-me-brunette and asked, “Blue Ribbon in Soho?” She responded, “oooh oysters . . .” Gabi is never one to turn down a party. So I halted our driver, I think I may have actually even used the word “halt”, and he detoured the few blocks over to Sullivan at Houston.
It was great to see The Lerches so unexpectedly. They were in town for SantaCon, and had just gotten back from Negril a few weeks ago. I hope they got the kiddo home before mid-day happy SantaCon turned into late-night drunken evil SantaCon. It can be unpleasant.
As usual Blue Ribbon did not disappoint. Papa Lerch ordered the big-grande raw-bar extravaganza, with caviar and shots of vodka. There was more food and more shots. We got a little blurry, but it was a great time.
Gabi took off around midnight and “The Lerches” graciously paid for dinner then we went to find a night-cap bar. We ended up at a corner bar on Prince off of Broadway, but it was late, Mama Lerch was getting tired and I was to be on a plane in a few hours. We said our goodbyes and I got a slow R train back to Brooklyn, so slow in fact that I hopped out at Atlantic Ave and grabbed a town car home. I walked in the door at two-thirty AM.
The driver was picking me up at three-forty five, so I did what any overfed slightly buzzed person would do. I pounded a Red Bull, got in the shower, put my traveling clothes on, and fed Rosie the Cat.
Being a bit OCD on packing, was a big help in this situation. I had everything laid out and ready to go. I guess I know myself too well.
The driver was right on time, and I must have slept in the car because we were at JFK in like 30 seconds. I zombied through “Web-Check-In” and security and into my seat. It was a great trip, I slept all the way through.
I arrived in Sunny Jamaica around nine-forty five AM and was through the airport gauntlet by ten-thirty. I waited for a couple I’d met on the immigration line who’d suggested we split a cab to Negril. We found a driver, they haggled the price, and away we went.
Our driver was the serious type. Straight-through, no stops, and he drove fast. Very good choice. It seems every year the trip gets shorter. Every year they finish a bridge, or re-route around a town, or simply improve the roads in general. We dropped the nice Canadian folks off at one of the All-Inclusives just north of town, and I was at The Castle before noon.
The place looked great. It was a bright sunny day, wonderfully hap-hazard xmas decorating here and there. A lot of familiar faces. Ed “Ras-Walleye” and his lovely wife, Teddy, the staff, and of course Petrona and Susan.
I did my normal arrival routine. Change clothes, unpack then over to the store for supplies. I encountered Milly the Juice Lady on the way over, so I came home with some orange/pineapple juice too. “Home” meaning my room, Deluxe #1 at The Blue Cave Castle, after nearly ten years staying there, it feels like home.
I don’t know exactly what time, but I opened my second beer and realized I was exhausted so I “took a nap” expecting to be up for sunset. I woke up at just after ten PM. I guess I needed the sleep, and the tropical air is great for sleeping.
Sunday I just stayed around The Castle reading and decompressing. Other than a short trip to the store, and two sunset beers at the No-Limit bar; I did nothing.
December 17, 2012
Ahh what a welcome sight that Guinness tap was as we finally got into Shannon Airport in County Claire Ireland, but we were still far from our destination.
No, I didn’t actually order a Pint of Guinness upon arrival. It being 5:45AM local time I felt it a wee bit early and opted for airport coffee, and then we went searching for our bus to Dublin.
Yes a BUS to Dublin! We arrived at JFK about 3:00PM for a 5:40PM flight and Aer Lingus would not let us check-in. 3:30, then 4 o’clock, and still we could not check in. The line began to grow longer and angrier as time wore on. Luckily, we were near the front of the line so we were among the first processed when the line started moving.
The check-in kid seemed stressed as I gave him my paperwork, and in almost a whisper he said, “Sir, I’m afraid your flight has been cancelled.” Yes, CANCELLED! But before I could get too pissed, he quickly offered us seats on a 6:20PM flight to Shannon with connecting bus service to Dublin.
Yeah its a pain in the ass, not to mention adding almost four hours to our trip, but at least we could leave that night. Many people in the long line did not get that option. Nice job Aer Lingus! (note: Irony)
We boarded and had a nice flight to Shannon, and the morning drive to Dublin Airport afforded us a pretty ride through the Irish countryside. From Dublin Airport it was a quick run to Dublin City Centre and to our hotel The Arlington O’Connell Bridge.
It was about 9:30AM by that time so we stored our bags at the hotel and staggered out into the Dublin morning to fine some food and some coffee, and to then get into what Dublin had to offer.
More to come . . .
April 19, 2012
Many of you have no idea that I am a world-class film guru. Well, I am, and here are my 2011 Oscar Picks and Predictions:
Best Documentary: Feature
Restrepo – I haven’t seen this one, but I still think it should win. I don’t care if you’re pro-war, or anti-war. Get over yourself. The men fighting at fire base Restrepo didn’t have the luxury of your bougie opinions.
Best Music: Original Score
Hans Zimmer should win for Inception but the Nine-Inch Nails dude will win for The Social Network however undeserved.
Best Achievement in Costume Design
Who really cares, really?
Best Art Direction
The King’s Speech – I don’t know much about art design, but I know what I like, and The King’s Speech is beautiful in every detail.
Best Achievement in Cinematography
Another subject where I’m in the dark technically, but I liked True Grit. I loved the wide-rangey range shots. I’m a sucker for the wide-open west from my travels as a kid. Inception looked great too but it was too techy for awards.
Best Adapted Screenplay
The Social Network will win. The book, which I liked, read thin and linear like a screenplay, but since Sorkin is everyone’s favorite quazi-political screenwriter it’s all him.
Best Original Screenplay
The King’s Speech – See a pattern yet? I loved the story of how a little West End play can make it through the gauntlet to become a major motion picture. It reminded me of the little train that c-co-could.
Aronofsky should win for Black Swan, but Fincher will win for The Social Network. I didn’t get a vote, but everyone is on Facebook and for some reason that seems to matter.
Best Supporting Actress
No idea on this one. I think Amy Adams could win, she’s kind of hot, and she’s a good solid actor, but I’m afraid the kid, Hailee Steinfeld from True Grit is the sentimental Jody Foster, Tatum O’Neil favorite. By the way, if Hailee does win someone needs to keep poor Dakota Fanning from slitting her damn wrists!
Best Supporting Actor
Everyone is saying this is between Christian Bale and Geoffrey Rush for The Fighter and The King’s Speech respectively, but my pick is Jeremy Renner from The Town. The guy was terrifying as the menacing best pal of Afleck’s lead.
Natalie Portman – But watch-out for Michelle Williams, everyone knows she got screwed not winning for Brokeback Mountain. Rachel Weisz really? I say no.
Colin Firth – He was great in The King’s Speech. I’d like to say it’s rare that I tear up in a movie, but I got misty watching Free Willy. Colin Firth’s performance was heartbreaking, subtle and powerful all at once. This is a must-see.
The winner is … wait for it … The King’s Speech!
I may have tipped my hand earlier, but I loved this movie on every movie loving level. It looked great, it was well shot, well paced, and had really special performances all around. Of course the leads were great, but the drunken-fat-pirate-dude from The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise was an excellent Churchill. A deadly serious role but he somehow lightened every scene he was in. It was nice to see Helena Bonham Carter in a movie without a screwy get-up or any CGI appliances.
The simple story of a guy learning to move forward in life by dealing with that one thing that had held him back. This was no superhero story, nothing miraculous happens, he simply presses on. It was a beautiful story even if he was regular guy with regular problems, but the fact he was British royalty thrust into the limelight during the opening moves of World War II makes it a magnificent story.
February 25, 2011
I woke up around 8AM, well that’s not really true, it was more like I stopped sleeping sometime around 8AM which for me is way late even on the foggiest of mornings. I’d slept so late that Kris was already showered and had gone down for coffee. I stumbled over to the fridge, groped for a bottle of water, and then over to my bag for a handful of Extra-Strength Excedrin. Even after the entire water bottle I was thirsty.
As if on cue Kristine bangs on the door, “Are you decent?” “Yeah sure,” I replied. “Good, I need some money, the Orange Juice Lady gave me this.” she said as she walked in holding an overproof rum bottle filled with Millie’s Orange Mango Juice, “It’s really friggin’ good.” she added between swigs. I have no idea what Millie actually charges, but I usually give her 500J and she seems happy with that.
It’s one of the joys of life at The Castle, I’ve mentioned before all the cool neighbors and neighboring restaurants, but it’s more than that. Millie seems to arrive at the perfect moment every time. I don’t think I ever had a “I wonder if Millie is gonna stop by today” thought that I can remember. She just appears when you can really use some fresh squeezed juice or just some fresh fruit. I’d chalk it up to coincidence, but it happens over and over again trip after trip. Let’s face it, she’s an OJ psychic.
It must have been a mixture of Millie’s juice, the cool shower and the Excedrin, but by the time I made my way out into the bright morning yard for the day’s first cuppa I felt totally revived and ready to conquer the day. Our little crew had commandeered about half of the big picnic table under a canopy of braided palm fronds that serves as the social center at The Castle.
This had been Meg and Jay’s fourth or fifth trip to Negril and the second that year. They had gone to The Grand Lido the previous January to attend “Rat Dog Daze,” several days of Deadhead fun in the sun with Bob Weir and friends. After someone has been to Negril several times, especially in a relatively short span of time, it seems that the decompression comes faster and the slide into Jamaica time happens much more quickly.
“We were thinking about Half-Moon Beach for today.” Meg offered. Half Moon Beach is about Meg’s favorite place in the world, and it seemed as good a day as any to venture up there. When The Kid came down to join us Meg filled her in on the wonderfulness that is Half Moon Beach and the collective decision was made. I added that a nice brunch at Selina’s would be the perfect preparatory detour landing us fat and happy on the little crescent beach spot right about noon. It was agreed and we went to our respective rooms to get our beach stuff.
Now I love Negril’s Seven Mile Beach, I have even gotten to know and love Bloody Bay Beach, but for a classic tropical beach experience in the general Negril area, for me it’s Half Moon Beach. About four years earlier I had been in Negril with a girlfriend who wanted to tan her boobies somewhere quiet and uncrowded. It happened to be Easter Sunday and we were having brunch at Selina’s, and it was Selina who suggested Half Moon Beach. That first trip was special. Being Easter Sunday there were several Jamaican families picnicking on the beach. The boob tanning idea went out the window, so she and I spent most of the day in the crystal clear water playing with the local kids. Later that year I was in Negril with Meg and Jay and shared with them my new find. On subsequent trips it’s a spot I rarely miss.
Selina’s is always great. I’ve been going there for years, and on Sundays brunch is tradition. I normally don’t do Big Roy’s Banana Pancakes but I was fearing the onslaught of a mighty hangover merely postponed by juice and analgesics, so I indulged. Jay had the same and I think both ladies ordered the American Breakfast. The food was great; fresh, hot and plentiful, and as always the Bloody Marys lived up to their “Best In Negril” reputation.
The Sunday Brunch Band had gone on break soon after our arrival and came back as we were finishing. Normally coffee and Bloody Marys lead to Red Stripes and an hour or so of lingering and mingling, but Half-Moon was waiting as was our driver. So we said our good-byes and headed north along the beach road.
The only time you ever see Half-Moon Beach crowded is during the twice-weekly Wild Thing anchorage, and I’m sure it gets busy during the season. This time there was a smattering of fellow travelers, and a few more arrived later in the afternoon, but twenty people does not a crowd make. We were lucky enough to take possession of the area near the big Seagrape tree at the water’s edge and proceeded in our revelry.
Sun, sand, ganja and Red Stripe, by mid-afternoon we had retreated to the bar for some snacky food, and another round of beers. Our driver was long gone, but a guy named Sonny had dropped off his fare and was lingering hoping not to deadhead it back to Negril so we cut a deal.
On the was back I talked everyone into a quick stop by Ossie’s Jerk Centre to sample the famous Jerk Pork. Unfortunately there were only two portions left, but really that was enough. We needed beer refills and the couple succulent chunks of porky yummy-ness did a nice job of holding us over till dinner.
Kristine negotiated a great deal for a Black River trip with Sonny our driver for Monday or Tuesday, so good a deal in fact that I expected not to see him again. He said he’s stop by in the morning to see what we wanted to do. Keeping plans loose was one of my goals for this trip, I didn’t want to feel as if we were working off a checklist all week.
Back at The Castle, we joined the rest of the big picnic table crew and became acquainted with Jim Zeppa and his friend and ex-daughter-in-law Nancy. Jimmy was a character to say the least, an older gentleman from Canada who’s spent his life in the music business. An old-school raconteur who held court every afternoon during our stay. He and Kristine hit it off. His name-dropping of talent large and small alternated as entertainment and background patter, but however received he just kept on going, all the while adding a sweet sentimentality to our week in paradise.
February 11, 2011
Just before Thanksgiving I got an email from my sales manager, “Hey Vince, Are you up for an install in the Caribbean around Christmas?” I responded simply, “Sure, I’m game. What’s up?”
Over the next month or so the project began to take shape, but the date was pushed forward with almost every contact with the client. Finally in mid-January we nailed down a February 2nd start date, I wasn’t too confident that the place would be ready in time, but the guy said to be there, and if they weren’t ready it was on him. Who am I to argue? Okay, I argue with clients all the time, but I have a rule to never argue with clients that send me to The Caribbean in February.
January in New York City was the snowiest ever. Really, ever! Though I was hoping for a crippling snowstorm the day of my return, I was getting worried that a snow storm would keep me from leaving on time. In the days before my trip, an ice storm brewing in the mid-west was set to hit on the day I was scheduled to leave. Waking up on Tuesday the 1st, I was happy to see wet rather than snowy sidewalks as climbed into my taxi.
I got to the airport on time, through security, and into the waiting area with over an hour to spare. Waiting to board, my fellow passengers and I were glued to CNN in the gate area as they breathlessly covered the huge storm coming at us from the west. Once on the plane it was obvious that the rain had turned icy.
“Attention Passengers, This is your Captain speaking. We are delayed on take-off due to the weather…” The voice boomed through the American Airlines Boeing 757. Okay here is comes I thought. He didn’t give us much info, and said we’d know more in “a few minutes.” The next thing we heard was that the 9AM take-off was delayed because we needed to get in line for de-icing, which was fairly terrifying, and that our scheduled departure time was now 10:30AM. Upon hearing that and seeing the ice pellets bouncing off the wing outside my window, I feared that plane was not getting off the ground.
As it happened, a de-icing truck actually came out to us, and moved us way up in the conga line. After watching the de-icing procedure, we were informed that our take-off would be at 9:20. Cheers erupted from the hundred or so souls praying to get to the islands, and out of the Big Apple deep freeze.
The flight was uneventful and even with the delay we arrived at Cyrus King Airport in St. Thomas about twenty minutes ahead of schedule.
It was a bit of a process getting from the airport on St Thomas, over to St. John. I would have enjoyed it more if I was on vacation and not traveling for work, but I was very focused on seeing what shape my work site was in. The airport was tiny and my bag took only about a beer to show up on the carousel, in minutes I was in a taxi driven by K9 Joe, a retired police officer who was very proud of his service, and who regaled me with his stories even going as far as handing me a portfolio of photos and press clippings.
We went around a corner and up a hill and boom there was harbor. The view was stunning, no less than six magnificent cruise ships docked about bay, they looked less like a collection of ships than like a city in a future where they build skyscrapers on their sides. There were hundreds of smaller craft filing the spaces between, some massive in their own right, but dwarfed by these leviathans of all-inclusive luxury.
K9-Joe looked with contempt at the scene that had me agog in the passenger seat explaining the traffic would be horrible if we took the coastal route, so we headed up into the hills. He promised he would get me to the Red Hook Ferry Dock in time for the 3PM. Until then I didn’t know there was a 3PM to St. John, but I felt confident K-9 Joe would have me there on time to catch it.
After a whirlwind drive along the spine of St. Thomas, I paid Joe and bought my ferry ticket as the 3PM to St. John beginning to board. It was a sturdy craft, but it lacked any kind of island charm, if it was in Jamaica it would be green, yellow and black with Bob Marley classics blasting throughout.
Still in partial work mode, I made a few calls back home to check on my guys to make sure things were going smoothly, they weren’t but I was sixteen hundred miles away, and I could only give moral support. I tried to relax and take in the delightful island views.
Arriving at St. John I found a taxi to take me to my hotel. The driver said it was “Just up the hill,” and he wasn’t kidding because it was only about a quarter mile up the road. I had been worried because I didn’t know where the work site was, or how far it was from my hotel, or if any of the cell numbers I had would work. Luckily, my fears were allayed as we cleared the boat dock area, The Crab was just around the first curve about halfway between my hotel and the beach dock.
Entering “The Inn At Tamarind Court” one walks into the restaurant area and the actual hotel is to the left. I went to the office and attractive brunette behind the desk smiled and said, “You must be VIncent!” “Yes I am, but please call me Vinny.” I replied in my charming way. She handed me the key, and in minutes I was exploring my room. Now the rooms at The Tamarind are basic, and well, they’re basic, but I’m not too picky as long as they are clean which my room was. It kind of reminded me of my first minutes at The Negril Yoga Center back in 2004, which I was reminiscing about as I unpacked.
I didn’t waste much time, I threw on a pair of shorts, brushed my teeth, stepped into my flip-flops and off I went. I hit the open-air bar and met Amy the Bartender who sold me a $3 Red Stripe, and gave me the lay of the land in Cruz Bay, St. John, USVI.
After a couple or three, I was wobbly enough to take a walk about the neighborhood. I went down to The Crab to find a construction site, which at first scared the hell out of me until I ran into the Chef whom I’d known from their places in New York, and he said they were still on schedule. His confidence caused me to take a second look and I saw that under a layer of construction dust, saw horses, scattered tools, the place wasn’t really too far away.
At this point in a restaurant opening the will and focus of the owner to kick a little butt and hold fast to the schedule makes all the difference. Nothing will force the various contractors to get the job done in the dwindling time allotted than the promise of serving guests i9n three days. The two young brothers who own and act as the operations team for this successful little chain fit the bill, and the next morning the pace of everything seemed to quicken.
From my site visit I walked down towards the boat docks where there seemed to be a lot of bars and shops and the like. Along the water I sat at The Beach Bar for another Red Stripe, but didn’t stay. It was too nice, I was looking for some more interesting places.
I found myself across the street at Larry’s Landing which seemed like a townie bar, and not surprisingly I met several locals. Being a part of the US (sort of) the Virgin Islands attract people that don’t fit so neatly into normal society, and then there are the twenty-somethings not ready to take on the pressures of real life after college. One girl explained it like this: “Well after college, the economy went to shit, so everybody was like, stay in school and get your masters, but I don’t know what I want to do, right? So I was like, stay in Michigan and wait tables or wait tables in paradise? No brainer, duh?” I couldn’t argue.
I went back to The Tamarind for dinner sometime after dark, and there about a dozen people in the open-air bar and restaurant. Amy introduced me around to the mix of locals and fellow guests. By the time I was done with dinner I was clinking beer bottles and buying rounds for the convivial group of misfits. I felt right at home.
At that point it kind of hit me, drunkenly heading up to my room with fresh Red Stripe in my hand, I looked back at the motley crew which I had just been a part of, yeah I wasn’t too thrilled with my room at The Tamarind, pretty old, needing remodel, but I REALLY like the kind of people these places attract. For me vacations are as much about people along the way than about the scenery of the location.
It was a Negril moment. Not fancy, but people who demand fancy can annoy the shit out of me in a dozen different ways. I like this place.
February 10, 2011
There’s an ethereal quality to The Castle’s morning stillness. Whispering a subtle greeting, the day shifts gently into being. A familiar opening. I sat quietly watching as The West End stirred lazily. By 6AM the road was awake, and the distant whine of a fisherman’s outboard brought with it the faint smell of coffee wafting across the yard.
I walked to the ledge and saw no one. My eyes were no longer sharp enough to see if the urn light was green, so I made my way down the cool stone stairway, across the prickly tropical grass, and over to the coffee hut. Though in full percolating glory, the coffee wasn’t quite ready to go, so I padded back upstairs for my binoculars to spy on the fishermen who, by then, were dotting the horizon.
Well into my third cup I heard Kris stir back inside the room. By the time I went inside to ask if she wanted a coffee the stirring had stopped. A blessing and a curse, Kristine inherited the “sleep of the dead” from me. We can sleep though anything, I once fell asleep during a Van Halen concert. True story.
We had our breakfast at Teddy’s Hideaway, actually back in the restaurant, which was a lot nicer than last trip. Teddy’s has really found an audience in Negril. When Petrona and Susan first added a food at The Castle I thought, “Cool, this is so convenient.” and the first time I only had a few breakfasts. It was nice not needing to forage for every meal, but wow, the Lobster Thermidor is something special. On the previous trip with Mom and Dad our best meal was served by Teddy out in the yard at sunset. It was a great time.
Early afternoon brought Meg and Jay in from Montego Bay with Kenny. I’d known these two Deadheads for six or seven years by that time, and it was the first time they were meeting “The Kid.” I hadn’t realized how often I refer to my beloved daughter Kristine as “The Kid,” so much so that when I asked, “Do I really?” they all started laughing. Jay said, “Dude I knew you for like five years before Meg finally asked you her actual name.” It’s funny when a mirror is held up like that. I’d truly never gave it a second thought. When I returned from Jamaica I began asking friends about this and every one told me the same thing. Sorry Kid
The four of us walked over to Choices for pre-sunset dinner that night. Choices is always a good choice. A key feature to staying at The Castle is the number of excellent restaurants and bars within walking (or stumbling) distance. The food is always good at Choices, though for the life of me I can’t remember what I had.
Back at The Castle, we watched the final moments of sunset and relaxed in the yard with some fellow travelers. It was still fairly early though Kristine and Meg were showing signs of fatigue while Jay and I were raring to go. Saturday night is The One Love Reggae Show at The Seastar Inn! We were encouraged when I logged on to theRealNegril.com Webcast to find the party already swinging. I entered the chat room to say hi, and Rob offered to send the Seastar taxi to pick us up. How cool is that?
The girls encouraged us to go and have fun. They were both tired and decided to stay in and do their nails, or their hair, or whatever it is that girls do. We did make an attempt at changing their minds, but it soon proved to be without fruit.
The taxi they sent was huge and very well air conditioned. Within minutes Jay and I entered the brightly lit oasis that is Seastar. We sought out the Webcast Crew and made our introductions with the folks hanging in the general webcast area. It was great to see Rob & Lisa, but I was taken back when they asked, “Where’s The Kid?”
The Seastar Drummers were just taking the stage as we settled in. What a magical experience, I am always moved by the total way produce their music. I didn’t realize I was in a drum induced trance till someone yelled, “Vinny!” I may have been that I was a bit drunken too. Jay had started an unhealthy shot roller-coaster. He bought a huge round of shots for the group, so it became my responsibility to handle the next round, then another guy felt similarly obligated, and so on. I’m not sure how far it went. I have a convenient rule about the number of shots I will do in one night, I don’t count them.
I have a fuzzy recollection of leaving, and then piling out of a smaller taxi into yet another bar, or was it two other bars? I missed sunrise Sunday Morning.
January 19, 2011
Kristine was probably having seconds thoughts as the Negril breeze drew closer, and my Negril mania heightened. “Bug spray, you need really good bug spay!” “We need to be on the road by 4AM, I’ll get the taxi to pick me up first and we will come by your place. Don’t oversleep.”
Finally the morning came and I arrived at Kristine’s place at about 4:05AM. I was relieved to see the lights burning in her second floor apartment, and a wave through the gloaming as she heard her phone ring. In minutes we were whizzing down the Belt Parkway making JFK Terminal C in about half an hour. Checked in and drinking coffee at the gate a few minutes after 5AM, we were finally on our way.
True to form Kristine was getting to know all the people sitting near us on the plane. We managed to cheat a little realizing our seats were A and C, so when B came we just moved to two unoccupied seats behind us. I was half-expecting a hassle from the flight attendant, but this was Air Jamaica. No problem.
The flight into Kingston was uneventful, the Kid slept most of the way. My browbeating not to oversleep was handled as only one in their early twenties can. She stayed up. I relaxed and read my book. I tried to watch the “Irie Vibes” or whatever they call the in flight programming, but that didn’t last too long. I may be a ball of anxiety pre-trip, but once on the way all that stress really slips away.
My expectation of flying into Kingston was that all the Port of Entry passport crap would happen there during the layover, so once in Montego Bay just grab the bags, hop into Kenny’s Taxi, Red Stripe, spliff, and the road to Negril. But as often happens with expectations, they were dashed as we sat starving in the terminal area where the only open food outlet was Burger King.
Now I’ve spent a dozen vacations in Negril without having it my way, but we were tired and got, well, I don’t remember what we got. I do remember it hitting the spot, and about fifteen minutes before we boarded our Mobay flight Kristine wheedled a few cocktails out of the lady setting up the terminal bar. It was after all, a little past 9AM, and it was Kristine’s Birthday.
The flight to Montego Bay was breathtaking on several levels. The vast Jamaican mountains with their smoky blues and exuberant greens brought on oohs and ahhs from we on the starboard side, while the crisp Caribbean Sea captivated those on port. Punctuating the splendor, the morning sunshine heating the moist mountain air formed dramatic updrafts which offered us a staccato rhythm that bounced that huge Airbus A-320 all the way to Mobay much like the rocky Jamaican roads would do in decades past.
Upon safe arrival in Mobay (there was applause), we walked briskly to immigration and cruised right through. The same thing with customs. Nice. Right outside the door a some kid had a sign saying “Vinny” and when we walked over he handed me a cellphone. It was Kenny! “I’m stuck in a little traffic my brother, run a tab the beers are on me!” Even nicer. It was definitely time for an icy cold Red Stripe, so we made out way to the bar and ordered up four beers. Four? Yeah, we knew the first two would be empty by the time the transaction was completed. Judge as you might.
I love to people watch at the airport bar in Mobay. The hustlers sizing up their prey, people from Iowa attempting to sort through some local drama, I just take it all in. Kristine is beginning to decompress too. I just smile as she takes a long pull from the brown squat bottle. There is something magical about how those first beads of outdoor Jamaican sweat are quenched by that first Red Stripe on the back of your throat. It sneaks up on me every time.
An older guy offers us a ride but we decline. We buy him a beer, and he tells us about the depressed business climate on the North Shore. “Hey man, all the cool kids go to Negril.” I say as Kenny’s bounds into the area, “VINNNNNYYYYY!!!” I introduce him to Kris, and at once we are in his warm embrace both literally and figuratively.
We learn that Megan and Jason had booked Kenny for their ride in the following afternoon. I love to drum up business for Kenny, he has never screwed me. Ever! He’s on time, he gives a fair price, he tells a good story and, most of all, my Mom really likes him.
Kris and I feel a second wind come on as we cruise though Montego Bay proper, and on along the coast. The party had just begun!
January 10, 2011
Normally I post lots of photos with my stories in order to break the monotony of the telling, This next series of posts will be mostly sans photo since my daughter Kristine has forced me into a no pic post pledge.
This last Negril trip was one I’d been hoping to do for years. Taking the Kid to The Castle. She is always so busy getting her adult life off the ground, but on Christmas 2009 I suggested a birthday trip the following May. She was in.
The original plan was for her to bring her roommate along, I’d pay for the room and Kristine’s airfare, and all her roomy would have to handle was her flight. I spoke to Petrona at The Blue Cave Castle and tentatively booked two rooms that shared a patio. The lower tower for me and Deluxe 3 for Kris and her friend.
So many times I’d traveled to Negril alone. Everyone thought I was weird, but you’re never really alone in Negril unless you want to be. My family being amazing, loving and always willing to look past my weirdnesses, encouraged my frequent trips, and finally in 2007 I talked Dad into spending a few days in sunny Negril. I am proud to say that Dad “got it,” and through his story-telling the family maybe “got it” a little too.
For several months upon returning, Dad’s affirmative response to any question was “Ya Mon,” yeah, the apple doesn’t fall to far from the tree. But all those Ya Mon’s must have made an impression because when Dad and I began discussing a return trip in we were able to talk Mom into coming too.
I’d been to Negril many times. I’ve gone solo five times, with friends or girlfriends five times, twice with my parents, and now finally a trip with Kristine. This would be her second Negril trip. I’d sent her and a boyfriend (grrr) back in ’05 for her nineteenth birthday. Some people were a bit scandalized at the time, but I knew Negril was a friendly safe place as long as your not an asshole.
When there is a Negril trip in the offing I check airfares almost daily, I read airfare and airline related news, and I keep an eye on the Negril.com Message Board all to predict the airfare climate on or about my planned trip date. I love to get an amazing deal on airfare, though lately it hasn’t been so easy.
This trip I wanted to book in early March, but couldn’t get a solid commitment from the Kid’s roommate, so I held off. It was killing me. It was a great rate, like $289 R/T from JFK (Yeah, I know! Killing me!). A few weeks later the Kid told me her roommate had lost her job and couldn’t do the trip. I feigned disappointment and booked the next day at a decent rate of $315 each. I was glad to have Kris all to myself for the week. It would be the longest time we had ever spent together since she was a very little kid (insert ominous minor-key organ chord here).
Around this time, my friends Megan and Jay said they were planning a get away too. It all happened pretty fast, but after a few emails plans were aligned. Book, Pack and GO! The stage was set!
January 9, 2011
So there I was, just minding my own business in the comfy confines of Ozzie’s, a coffee shop on 5th Avenue in Park Slope. I was working on a piece I’d written on a scrap of paper a few days ago (http://bit.ly/2cMYKv), when a young woman stopped and asked me, “Are you a real writer?”
Her name was Michelle, an attractive yet somewhat disheveled twenty-something brunette. A few years ago I would have thought the she was hitting on me, but a subtle blend of maturity and reality keeps that from being my first conclusion these days. She was here to meet-up with a group of people to read and comment on each other’s writing. This was her first “Meet-Up” and she didn’t know who may be in her group.
“I’m forty-five minutes early,” she admitted, and went on about how she felt like she was on a blind date and seemed dubious about her compatriot’s motives. My motives were clear. I planned to sit here and bask in the glory of talking with a beautiful woman half my age for as long as she’d have me.
“Don’t you have name tags or a secret handshake?” I queried mustering my charm while trying not to seem too lecherous.
“This is my first time, so maybe they’ll show me!” She giggled, and then she effortlessly floored me with, “So what do you write for?”
Wow, two poignant questions in five minutes. I know she was expecting the name of a magazine or website, but the way she phrased the question, for me, was much more broad. In response I talked in platitudes about the love of writing, and the need for artistic expression. She seemed satisfied with that, and so the conversation continued until her group grew to become obvious. We exchanged email addresses to share our work, but as she joined her group, I was stuck with her question, “Am I a real writer?”
I knew I was not satisfied with the tepid answers I gave my new friend. I’d been working under the idea of “Audacity:” if one has the audacity to step up and tell the world he is a writer, then dammit, he is. It sounds good, there is even some truth to it, but it’s only a first step. Temerity gets you moving, but now what?
I don’t have an answer right now. There are a lot of “should do’s” and even quite a few “am doing’s,” but it’s time for the next step.
February 6, 2010
In the fall of 2008 on becoming a formal Zen student I took part in a small private ceremony where over tea and light conversation my teacher, Daido Roshi, presented each of us with our grey student robes, and our oryoki bowls. Items linking us in the long line of Zen practitioners back to the time of The Buddha.
It is customary for the student to offer a small gift of appreciation to the teacher at this time, but what do you give to the man who has everything? It had to be something personal, something with history, something with a story.
Starting in the 90’s I began spending my vacations is a little town on the western tip of Jamaica. I often stay in the same small hotel, and I have become friendly with the families, restaurateurs, and shopkeepers in the little neighborhood close to the hotel. In these years I also began to explore eastern philosophy and to practice various forms of meditation. Mornings in Negril became synonymous with deep introspection peppered with ganja and robust coffee while gazing into the void of the great Caribbean Sea.
Several months after beginning to study with Daido Roshi I found myself back in Negril, this time with my Dad. On the first day, my friend Elvis called me over to his stand just outside the hotel’s gate. The first thing he asked was, “How are the brothers doing?” as if they were old friends who’d emigrated to the States a few years earlier. Actually “The Brothers” were a pair of crescent moons carved from planks of pimento wood with beautiful expressive Jamaican faces he’d made for me as a birthday gift for my daughter. Elvis is a gifted artist with the ability to get right to the heart of the matter.
He held up a block of wood, ironwood he told me, and as he held it he began to ask in a mystical sort of way, “What can I show you in this block? What do you see?” Along with being a wonderful carver Elvis was no slouch as a salesman, but I was in a hurry to get back to my Dad so I blurted out, “Have you ever carved a Buddha?” This got him. He looked at me puzzling images through his mind until a light went on, “The fat one, wit ‘im big belly?” “Not exactly,” I replied and began to speak of the type of Buddha I was referring to. He listened with rapt attention and finally replied, “I’ll look on the internet and we’ll talk tomorrow.”
The next evening Dad and I returned from a day of sightseeing and I stopped by to see Elvis who showed me a catalog of some kind containing several Buddha images. As we looked at them he said, ” ‘im like Rasta men in the mountain praying on Jah Rastafari.” He turned the rough-hewn block in his work worn hands, placed the it on the workbench, and crouching down he began to describe the finished sculpture which he could clearly see. I didn’t interfere, he got it, he got it in a way that filled the whole room. I thanked him, and said I’d see him in a few days.
Dad had left for the states, but I still had a few more days in town, and I hadn’t seen Elvis in a week. The next morning I went out to forage the fruit stand for breakfast when I saw Elvis’ smiling face waving me over. The statue was wrapped in some kind of oiled cloth and Elvis was rubbing it furiously as if to whet my appetite. When he unveiled it, I was blown away. The statue was so much cooler than I could have ever imagined. Imagination tethered to experience simply limits possibilities, but in this statue Elvis’ world met mine. I paid the first price he mentioned without a haggle.
I knew that one day I’d donate this treasure to Zen Mountain Monastery, and when the subject of a gift on becoming a student came up, I knew exactly what to do. I was so happy to let go of this unique piece of art that held such strong meaning for me, but with Daidoshi’s illness seeming to be taking hold at the time I went through this process, I never had an opportunity to share what this item actually was.
My next trip to Jamaica was in the Spring of ’08 and I hoped Elvis and I could collaborate on another unique carving, but several months earlier he’d stepped on a nail and was having serious health issues. Routine health care isn’t routine in a country as poor as Jamaica. Later that year I became a formal Zen student and I gave the Rastaman Buddha to my teacher.
I didn’t return to Jamaica again till September ’09 where I found Elvis’ carving stand abandoned. I asked around and was heartbroken to hear that my friend had passed away in the same month I offered his work as a gift. He’d lost his foot to the nail, and weakened by tetanus he succumbed to “flu”, probably pneumonia, a month or so later.
I spent a little time sitting in the dilapidated old stand sharing beers with Elvis’ brother who was working to sell off what carvings he could. Sadly in their weathered state they were not appealing to the passing tourists who would never have the honor to know the sweet man I knew as “Elvis The Carver.”
January 16, 2010
Sitting here with my fab new netbook I miss my pen and paper. The computer is great for writing the thing you plan to write, but when there’s no plan I find myself missing the meandering of pen on muted vanilla page. So unimportant, so much room for error and mispunctuated expediance, but here in the world of 64 fonts, back space and the character map, I feel limited. It’s like the first few weeks after I moved from dollar store composition book to sleek elastically held Moleskin. “Look at beautiful paper with it’s delecate lines, surely this is nothing to be scribbled on!” After a while I got over myself and was back in writing practice full swing.
Maybe it has something to do with my horrible typing skills. Writing on paper is a tactile experience, free flowing thought to words without the editing inherant in my slow typing. I want transfer to typing completely, that’s my goal. It’s not because I bought this cool new toy, that’s a cart and horse issue, I actually bought this cool new toy because I wanted to affect this transition. Using a computer, a wordpress blog and Google everything promises to make the writing process much more efficient. Writing on paper, re-writing, re-writing again, typing into a computer, posting, editing, re-posting, yada, yada, yada, is a pretty tedious process, and to ever expect this writing gig to go beyond hobby status something has to give.
So with the help of the comfy coffee houses of Brooklyn (I’m at Has Beans right now), I will be working through this. I apologize in advance for any schlocky prose you may encounter.
August 29, 2009
Maybe it’s because I have a nasty cold, and I’m a little grouchy, but as the city braces itself for the impending onslaught of the dreaded swine flu, I wonder if this is all some kind of social experiment. A lesson in control from our friendly faceless puppet masters.
OK, so maybe that overstates the problem, but this media apocalypse is way overblown. From the news to the office, from the subways to the streets a pall of uneasiness has swept my little corner of the world. The housing crisis, pirates in Somalia, failing banks, bankrupt auto makers, the list goes on and on. It’s relentless. People on edge, society all keyed up, then this?
When things are broken, or even when they seem broken, people look for someone who promises to make it better, they abdicate their responsibilities, and the pendulum swings towards tyranny. The path of history is crowded with the muddy footprints of they whose over-reaching has led to the disenfranchisement of cheering crowds.
I don’t believe in messiahs. Life is to be lived one day at a time, one moment at a time. I can’t stomach the thought of a future kept in constant crisis, with people betraying their better judgment for some collective cure. It either ends up as a Demolition Man prozac world of neutered sameness, or Roddenberry’s Borg. Neither is very appealing.
My suggestion? Let’s all take a step back and gain a little perspective. When I used to run fast-food joints we’d train the cashiers to never focus on the line out the door, but to just handle the customer right in front of you. Give them your full attention and the line will take care of itself. I think it works in life too.
May 1, 2009
There was a time I thought plastic (vinyl) fences were a good idea, you know, practical, easy to maintain, long lasting. A man becomes pragmatic and expansive when in the reassuring embrace of The Home Labyrinth Super Store.
Last week I was on a commuter train, minding my own business, trundling through the back yards of suburban New Jersey. Everywhere I looked, endless tracks of plastic demarcation gleaming in the morning sunshine; ice cliffs calving into a sea of banality, one after another, ever new, ever fresh, ever cheerful.
Is my worldview changing? Warped by a few years of introspection, or is it Brooklyn? Am I becoming like those self important Park Slope nose-down-lookers? I’m not quite there yet, but I wonder about those fences. Plastic yard borders surround plastic houses full of plastic things, and even a plastic car on a driveway not yet plastic, though I’m sure teams of plastic scientists are at work right now to remedy the situation.
A banana tastes best as it begins to rot, entropy is what is, an intimacy conspicuously ignored. What price pricey perfection? Standards skewed, Jones’s up-kept, what are we teaching these kids? Causes affecting more causes effect again moving through someone’s idea of BMMRs and minivans choking the cul-de-sac. But it’s OK everyone has GPS to navigate the sameness.
I hope they can find their way…
March 22, 2009
At first I thought the situation called for an ode, “Ode to Rebecca”, but our entire relationship consists of two emails and a phone call. An ode might be a bit much.
Maybe I should explain:
Friday night I went over to my friend Dee’s place in Crown Heights. She had somehow come into possession of a wild bird, and she wanted me to help her set it free in Prospect Park. It’s a whole other story. Our original plan for the day was to meet up in Manhattan, have a few drinks, and then go to see the new Indiana Jones movie. So after the bird was free and happy in the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, we hopped on a 3 train heading into Lower Manhattan.
Street level somewhere near City Hall I pulled out my trusty Blackberry and hit the Google Maps Button. Within seconds it told me where we were and where we needed to go. I love my Blackberry. I’m almost obsessed with it. It holds everything, numbers, emails, to do lists, music, and lectures on mp3. And of course I have it all tricked out just the way I like it, in the picture you can see I even created a Negril Notes theme for it. Okay, I could be a little obsessed.
The map on my Blackberry said we were too far away to meet up with our friends before the movie started so I hailed a cab and we hopped in. And that’s when it must have happened! My Blackberry fell out of the pocket of my jacket. I always wear that jacket and I hop in and out of cabs, subways, busses, you name it, and that Blackberry has stayed with me every time.
When we met up with our movie companion we found out the nine-thirty showing was sold out and that we were on for ten o’clock. We walked to Chevy’s around the corner to kill some time, ordered Margaritas, and made chit-chat. Dee’s friend was very nice though she was obviously crazy for me, Dee pretended not to notice. Sometimes it’s not easy being me. Anyway, After only one round we walked over to the Regal Battery Park, found decent seats, and settled in to watch Harrison Ford do what he does so well.
I reached for my phone to make sure it was on vibrate, and it wasn’t there! I checked my other pockets; nothing. I stood up and looked around my seat; nada. I raised me arms and screamed “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!!” Okay I didn’t really do that, but I was pretty upset. I headed back to Chevy’s to see if maybe I took it out and laid it on the bar for some reason.
Indiana Jones was playing in five of the theater’s eleven screens, and we were in theater number eleven on the top floor. Some other showing had just gotten out and the down escalator was jammed. My stress began to build, the escalator moved glacially, and I felt like a trapped animal. I checked my pockets for duct tape to wrap around my head to keep it from exploding, but I had none! Instead I took a deep breath and tried to relax. When I was calm and still several floors from street level I realized all the people around me were talking about the movie, discussing in detail things like the plot, and the ending!
Finally back at the bar the pretty yet vacant doe-eyed bartender, who made us the shitty margaritas, disappeared for several minutes finding a manager. Meanwhile I found the bus boys and asked them in Spanish if they found a phone, I didn’t know how to say Blackberry in their native tongue. “Si Si,” the taller one said and my stress just deflated, I hadn’t realized how hard my heart was beating. “Thanks Guys,” I said as I started counting out twenties as a reward for their honesty, but I nearly broke into tears when they handed me a scuffed up Motorola Razor.
Walking back into the theater I began to think philosophically. “It’s not like I lost a kidney.” “I have almost everything backed-up.” “I’m just going to look like an ass at work on Tuesday.” “I don’t mind looking like an ass.” “Who cares what those bastard think!” “Who needs that f*****ng job anyway!!” Now back on the escalator I asked the big football player type ahead of me if he had any duct tape. He just looked confused, and began walking more quickly up the moving steel stairs.
I plopped into my seat in failure and disgust. My companions were sweet and consoling, which made me feel better, and by the time the myriad previews were over I was able to let go and really enjoy the film. Indy Rocked!
The rest of the night I kept calling the phone hoping the evil bastard who had it would pick it up. I was planning to threaten that I could track them on the GPS, though I never actually loaded the friggin’ program.
Saturday morning I had my spare cell phone charged up and working, and I sent the number to all the people who might need to get a hold of me over the weekend. I kept calling the Blackberry which I keep on vibrate. I pictured it buzzing under the seat of some cab never to be found. But life goes on.
I took the 63 bus through Park Slope to the Food Co-Op, and as I sat there I rang the Blackberry again.
“Hello” Holy shit! Someone answered, and she didn’t sound evil at all! She’d found the Blackberry in a taxi the previous night and was waiting for me to call and claim it. I must have sounded like an idiot on the phone, I was so excited, and happy, and exuberant, and relieved that I almost didn’t write down her address.
She was like a Blackberry finding angel, she seemed as happy that I found my phone as I was. Whoever stereotypes New Yorkers as uncaring troglodytes are just as wrong as they can be. I’ve only been living here a year and the people have been great. Rebecca the Blackberry Angel is just another example.
I blew off food shopping for the time being and took the 63 all the way to the Atlantic Avenue Train Station. In minutes I was on a 4 Express train to the Upper East Side. From Eighty-Sixth and Lexington, I all but ran to the address Rebecca had given me, and that I’d written on the palm of my hand. The doorman seemed a bit suspicious as I trundled through the revolving door almost out of breath.
But, as I yanked out my wallet to show him my identification, he handed me the grey envelope that held my beloved Blackberry. I think I actually caressed it as I gently pulled it from the envelope and removed the bubble wrap. Yeah, she actually used bubble wrap! This is a woman of substance!
Before leaving I asked the doorman, that if I sent flowers or a gift basket to the building with her first name on the card, would she get it. He assured me it would.
Later that day I looked around the web for some token of thanks to send to Rebecca the Blackberry Angel, but I couldn’t make up my mind. Flowers seemed corny. A fruit or cheese basket seemed too, I don’t know. I went to Harry & David’s to send a Moose Munch basket, but again it didn’t hit the mark. So I did what I always do in times like this, I called my daughter Kristine for advice. She suggested I make a donation to New York Cares in our heroine’s name. Kristine and I are recent members. We believe in the cause, and they do great work.
I emailed Rebecca the Blackberry Angel to say thanks again, and to tell her in lieu of flowers or some such thing that I was making a donation in her name.
The next morning she emailed back saying it was a nice thought but not to make the donation in her name, but in the name of:
“all of us who will loose a cell phone or need a hand, and appreciate the kindness of strangers.”
She went on to say that she has been the beneficiary of annonymous efforts, and if I wanted to give something towards the “Big Karma bank in the sky,” that I should go for it.
And I did.
Thank you again Rebecca. Words can not describe my appreciation.
May 26, 2008
For years I’ve been moving towards eastern philosophy for the answers to my questions. I tried to find my place in conventional western belief systems, but I just couldn’t get past the invisible man in the sky thing. The Force, Universal Consciousness, call it what you will, but that’s what madeÂ sense to me. I wanted to cut through the BS, to get to the point.
A friend gave me a copy of The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts. In this book I saw the question phrased in a way I understood it, and the open ended answer seemed to point directly at me.
Born and breed Irish Catholic the idea of a non-theistic religion took a long time to sink in. Over the next few years I read voraciously on the subject. I read the popular books; The Celestine Prophecy, The Alchemist, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, and even The Dancing Wu-Li Masters. I also read dozens no one’s ever heard of. I went to workshops on “Realizing Your Chakra Energy,” participated in Drum Circles, and other like-minded New Age-y things.
I did a lot of meditation, but I wasn’t very consistent. It was this style one week, this tape the next and so on. No matter how much I sat I didn’t realize any realizations, skies opening or enlightening, but there was something there, something I couldn’t quite grasp, something that kept me coming back.
So, when I moved to Brooklyn last July I made it a point to go to the Zen Center Of New York City to see what they had going on. I wrote about my experience that first Sunday on this site, but not much since. There’s a Buddhist saying: He who knows does not speak, He who speaks does not know. So read further at your own risk.
People always ask, “What do you do there?” Well, we mostly sit, there’s some chanting, and some great teaching.
“You just sit?” Well not exactly, we do Zazen, a form of sitting meditation which is hard to explain, you just have to do it.
“Do you chant prayers to Buddha?” No, chanting isn’t praying, and Buddha isn’t a god.
For something fairly simple it’s very hard to explain. Zen Buddhism is experiential in nature, and it takes time for the clouds in your mind to part for it all to start making sense, and even then it only comes in glimpses. There is something about theÂ practice of sitting quietly and doing nothing, to sit with your own mind, which opens a whole realm of possibilities.
All the books I’d read pale in comparison to an actual thirty-five minute session of sitting. As it was told to me that first Sunday in beginning instruction after describing the mechanics of sitting Zazen; a very easy to say, but to truly enter into it is the most challenging thing you will ever do.
The challenge is the question, “What is this life?” and for twenty-five hundred years people have been coming to The Buddha for a path to the answer. An answer that can’t be given to you, one you must figure out for yourself.
More to come…
April 20, 2008
205, Damn! The scale in my mother’s upstairs bathroom shouts up at me in bland grey digits.
At first weighing the scale showed a more agreeable, albeit false, 186, but I knew it was just toying with me. The fluffy artichoke green toilet mat somehow got stuck in the lower left corner of my mom’s digital scale. It’s the only scale I ever use. First, it’s a good scale. My sister Anne bought it for Christmas or a birthday some years ago. I don’t know how you buy your mom a scale as a present, but I guess it’s a mother/daughter thing because mom loves it, though somehow I doubt a son could have gotten away with such a gift. Oh yeah, and second, I tend to trust things digital.
I had estimated 209-212. I usually err on the high side so as to stave off disappointment. Those of us in the girthy set play these games with ourselves. So after a quick shower and a pee (every ounce counts) I tried again. I tapped the scale with my foot to awaken it, waited for the display to read 0.00, and then stepped on.
“Blink-Blink 205.0” Well, several pounds less than my estimate, but I was exactly 205 at Christmas, and I was hoping to break the stalemate.
It was a bit before 5AM, so I called a cab and got dressed. Oh, did I mention I was naked for the first few paragraphs? By 5:12AM I was at the Edison Train Station, and by 5:16AM I was headed south to Philly. This was my second trip to Philly in the past five days, and since I was sans car I had more trains, trolleys and busses in my future. But for this trip I’d planned a Phil-a-riffic treat for myself! I de-trained at Suburban Station in Center City Philadelphia at exactly 7:09AM, and since time was a factor in my little scheme, I ran up the several flights of marble stairs to 16th & Arch Streets; 205 not withstanding.
Like the Philadelphia Landmark that it is, there stood Tom’s Lunch Truck, my favorite street cart on the planet, standing humbly just where I left it seven months ago. If this was an audio blog, Handel’s Messiah would be playing in the background right now. It took all the strength I had not to run up to theÂ cart giggling like a girl scout.
Tom and his wife were friendly as ever, but to my horror they looked upon me as a total stranger. Was it my Brooklyn-Cool black leather jacket? Or had it just been too many months? Maybe in the food cart business a man only has the synaptic space for a rotating recall of current customers. But then, as soon as I ordered my Scrapple, Egg & Cheese on a Roll with Hot Sauce, the lights of recognition flashed and I was back in Philly on every level.
“Regular coffee light and sweet?” Tom’s wife asked with a grandmotherly smile.
“Where-a-da-hell-a-you-been?” Tom’s Eastern European accent inquired, suspecting that maybe I’d defected to the new halal guy around the corner.
“I moved to Brooklyn.” I parried.
“Brooklyn? They don’-a-have e-scrapple in Brooklyn.” His playful smile returning.
“I came all the way from Brooklyn for this.” I half-lied as his wife handed me my bag of wonderful scrappley goodness.
“Don’t be a stranger…” Tom shouted as I crossed 16th street heading for the EL.
Down in the subway, a strange place to catch an EL, I had just missed the train, so I had a rare several minutes completely alone to enjoy Tom’s gastronomic creation. I’d like to put into words the amazing taste of this, The King of All Breakfast Sandwiches, but mere prose would never do it justice. Poetic chops the likes of Whitman, Ginsberg or Frost, could, maybe, on a good day, possibly describe the wonder of this meal. “I don’t think I will ever see a tree as lovely as Scrapple Egg & Chee… z”
I was still bathed in the post-coital high from the above mentioned culinary orgasm as I made my way through 69th Street Station in Southwest Philly. I was struck by the familiarity of these people, my Philly bredren. All hearts pumping midnight green Eagles blood, grudgingly supporting the Giants over the hated, cheating Pats. All around me were hundreds of cheesesteak eating, Wawa shopping, blue-collar warriors setting out to do good on a crisp Tuesday morning in January. I felt at home.
January 30, 2008
Into the Wild is Jon Krakauer’s exhaustive, insightful, if sometimes bleary-eyed look at the life of Christopher J. McCandless, and his unfortunate death in the Alaskan taiga during the summer of 1992. An admittedly semi-objective biographer, Krakauer is able to get past his infatuation to give a deep, even beautiful account of this young man’s life and how he affected those around him.
After reading the book, and dubious of Hollywood’s popcorn culture, I expected the movie to be an idealistic, hero-worship story of a man-boy searching for himself amidst a cast of wacky characters and weepy out-of-touch parents, but bravo Sean Penn, I was wrong. The film was engrossing, and deeply moving. It did smooth over several key points in the book, but I’m sure the book glossed over some key points in the truth. On both fronts we are left with a worthwhile story that actually inspired thought as opposed to only inspiring another handful of popcorn.
I found myself relating to the character of Chris McCandless though I didn’t find him noble, at least no more noble than myriad young men who’ve searched for truth in their lives. Reading between the lines I felt his anger, his narcissism, and an immaturity that, several years out of college he still held on to. His too-late realization of these issues, before a series of seemingly simple errors lead to his death, left me aching with sympathy.
On another level I know this guy. I have a daughter who is about the same age as McCandless when he began his wandering, and I very clearly remember myself at his age. I knew something wasn’t right, and I too ran away. Not to the desert or the frozen north, but into the arms of a beautiful woman, and into a life I was no more ready for than was McCandless. Like his Alaskan Adventure, I thought marriage, family and a mortgage would solve my problems, quiet my demons, in effect be The Answer.
Part of me sees McCandless’ death as a coward’s suicide. So wrapped up inside his own trunk as not to see the forest. Yet another part of me can understand a plan gone awry. After the death of my hastily built fortress, leaky and incongruent, I fought through years of my own wilderness, hurting those who came close, and lashing out in silence at a world thought unfair and cold. When I finally endeavored to look up, the pieces of life were hard to find.
Have I come out the other side? I don’t know. What I do know is that while I feel for Chris McCandless and for those out there like him, you can’t just climb up a mountain and die there, figuratively or otherwise. Life isn’t that easy! You must come down from the mountain, and bring what you’ve found there into the world.
December 15, 2007