Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Man With The Beard

The best way to find drugs is to grow a beard. As a result of a bet with Chris and Philip my face looks and feels like an overgrown vagina but I get to claim the title of champion. Our wager was not based on thickness or length, but who could tolerate having one the longest. Chris and Philip shaved but for now, I'm kind of attached to it or rather, it is attached to me. And so when those individuals who sell drugs see someone such as myself with a beard they immediately assume this guy needs to get high. Here in Aruba, a man that hangs out by the cruise ships puts his hand to his lips and asks me if I smoke He asks me three times a week as I run by him, each time as if he's never seen me before. I'm running, sweating and trying to stay conscious in the heat and this man thinks what I'd really like at the moment is some marijuana. At the end of my run as I cool down, walking along the dock towards our dinghy a fisherman says, "Yo, if you ever want to come smoke, just see me, I can get you whatever you need." I could use some water. The Dominican men would grab their face, nod, smile and say Chevo which means goat. Then they'd offer me prostitutes and cocaine. "You look like you do cocaine. Allow me to get you some." said a man in Samana as an introduction.

I get stared at by men and women. Children grab their parents hand tight as they look up at me as I pass. In the middle of the night they wake up screaming for mom. And when she runs in to see what is wrong the child looks at her terrified, "It's the man with the beard, he was in my nightmare." And the mom holds the child, pats it on the back, "Don't worry it's just a dream, he can't get you, it was just a dream." The only way I could be scarier is if I was Muslim or worse, black.
Enjoying coffee and a cigarette at a cafe with my puppy an incident occurred which caused whispers among the other patrons. The curious puppy and the fragile coffee cup met resulting in the dog being doused with semi-hot coffee. She wailed and screamed as if the end was near more scared than actually burned. At the same moment, reacting like she'd trained for moments like this, an overly protective waitress rushed up and doused her a second time with cold water. I laughed while the puppy now sat stunned at the sudden hot and then cold sensations. While the waitress fretted over the dog I looked around at the other tables all watching the scene, like an actor looking out into the audience. A few moments later I heard someone whisper "Did you see what the man with the beard did to that puppy? He dumped hot coffee on her head."Not just that man with the puppy. The man with the beard, as if the beard makes me inherently more evil.

But it's okay because when I hear them whisper "The man with the beard." it reminds me of when I first met Anna and had not a beard but a bird. I was babysitting my friend Josh's cockatoo, CJ, while he was away for a few months. Cockatoos are highly social birds when Josh learned this he started taking CJ to bars. In order to keep the bird comfortable I decided to do the same. The problem was that most bars aren't cockatoo friendly, something about the shitting and feathers in people's drinks. I was kicked out of a couple and tolerated at the rest. It was only at Chez Pierre, where Anna worked, that he was permitted to crawl up the bar, climb on Anna's arm as she shook a martini and dance up and down in rhythm with the shaker, raising the feathers on his head and let out a loud CAAAAAAA. Anna just laughed. A talented bird, CJ's other favorite activity was taking the cocktail straws from the bar, one at a time in his mouth and tossing them on to the floor.  One day speaking with her manager she said, "I think I like someone."
"The man with the bird." she said.

And since Anna and I have been watching the History Channel series "The Most Evil Men in History" the whisper about me dumping coffee on the puppies head also makes me feel like maybe I'm on or should be on that list. Maybe we just haven't gotten to that episode. And I think about the men who are on the list and their facial hair, men like Atilla the Hun and Ivan the Terrible and I wonder if they got offered drugs when they went for a jog. If Ivan really was that terrible or did he just seem to be, like a man with a beard who appears to have dumped coffee on a puppies head.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

120 Nights in Jail: Night 3

The following post as well as any others under the 120 Days title are from my experiences between November, 2008 and February 2009 at the Wakulla County Jail.

At 5:00 the lights came on, startled I sat up quickly. I looked around and remembered where I was. The inmate in charge of serving breakfast banged on the glass three times and yelled something unintelligible. Later I realized he said, "chow time." I noticed the blanket that was covering my lower half, it appeared to be a reddish brown. It was tattered near the ends with a few holes throughout. I held a piece of it close to my eye to determine what color it was. When closely examined I could see it was actually a combination of green, blue, brown, red, orange, yellow, black and grey like those tightly woven carpets they install in schools and public buildings. I threw the blanket off and went to stand in line to get breakfast.

As happened the day before an inmate in an all white jumpsuit slid a tray and a small Styrofoam cup of water through a slot in the door to each inmate. The trusties handed us our food while a guard stoodby with a clipboard making note of who received their meal. Again, I was asked my number which I still I didn’t know what number the guard was referring to. This time the skinny black kid who was handing out the trays decided he didn't have time for my ignorance and told the guard “twenty five, twenty five.” The guard looked at his clipboard and said, “no.”A second time I tried to explain I don’t know my number but the guard would look down as if he didn't hear me and then moved on to the next person never acknowledging or letting me know the actual number I was supposed to say. The black kid handed me my food and water. This guessing game repeated itself at every meal for the rest of my time in Wakulla. After about a week I stopped trying to explain and just guessed different numbers for every meal. 

Breakfast was two pieces of white bread pretending to be French toast along with a ketchup packet of syrup along with grey oatmeal all served cold to go with the climate of the jail. After carb-loading most inmates went back to bed as did I. 

At 5:30 I again watched work release leave for the day, knowing I was supposed to be with them but unable to do anything about it I just watched jealously as they left. 

Around 10:00 the intercom said, "BRANARD! BRANARD! Get dressed." I was so excited I leapt off the bed slipped on the orange flip flops I was assigned and ran to the door. After a couple minutes a man who became synonymous with freedom, Lt. Hoppi Strickland opened the door to the pod. He looked down at his a manila file folder and up at me and said, "Brainard?" I nodded.  "Come with me Brainard." 

Lt. Hoppi Strickland, every bit the good ol’boy you’d expect with a name like Hoppi Strickland, was an old man, probably in his early sixties, bald with stiff movement and poor posture. As I followed him through the corridors of the jail I noticed the bunched skin on the back of neck where it met the collar on his green sheriff uniform. It looked doughy and I could smell his Old Spice. When my dad used to wear Old Spice I never cared for it but it became a smell I loved. If you were smelling Old Spice you were about to be free, at least for the day.

Following him through the jail would soon become the best part of everyday. Me and the ten or so other work release guys would walk as he led us to freedom. I pretended we were POWs and we were his guys and he was our captain, he'd swiped one of the enemy uniforms and was now leading us out of the enemy prison. Hoppi, as everyone called him, looked like the older cousin of R. Lee Ermey, the drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket. He was strict but nice at the same time. With a crotchety grumpy tone he'd zing an inmate and then laugh at his own joke.  He was the only person in the facility that seemed to care about the inmates, just not too much where it'd be obvious to other guards.
 For me and the others on work release he was the most powerful person in the jail even though he wasn’t the administrator. He was our freedom and everybody liked him. 

Hoppi led me to the lobby of the jail and held the door for me to walk out into the only parking lot i ever considered beautiful. When I stepped through the door, the sun on my skin felt as if I'd just left a toxic cocoon. The warmth of the day reminded me what it was like not to be cold. It felt as if it was the first time in about 40 hours, my body was awake.

Hoppi took me to his office which was actually just a shed outside the jail across the parking lot. Opening the door to his make shift office you’d expect to see lawn mowers but instead it’s filled with filing cabinets, a large wooden desk, so large it's surprising when you open the door. It looks as if the shed was built around the desk because it would never fit through the door. The desk was exactly the large wooden type you'd expect for a sheriff and surrounded by framed photos of his Brahma Bull, Pete, who he referred to with tender affection as, “a good ol’boy.” On his desk were business cards for “Strickland’s Goats and Hog” with the sub-head “live or skinned, whole or parts.” I imagined him skinning a hog. It was a good fit for him.

He apologized for not being able to get me out yesterday and confirmed that my truck was around the corner at the health department and told me I needed to return by 6:30. He took me to the shed next door to change. My clothes and keys were in a blue bin waiting for me. As quickly as humanly possible I removed my clothes, pulled my Noles shirt over my head, put my legs in my jeans and ran out of the shed before someone changed their mind. I imagined a sniper taking aim and realized running from a jail was not a good idea. When I started my truck it idled a little higher for a minute, as if to say, "Glad to see you Jeff." I lit the best cigarette in the world and took off towards Tallahassee. At a stoplight I exchanged glances with a middle aged lady in the car next to me. She smiled and it occurred to me she had no idea I was currently an inmate. On the way to Tallahassee the whole world seemed amazing. I stopped at the first gas station I came to for a coffee. As I handed the clerk my debit card I could see her staring at my arm. On my wrist was the yellow band that read Wakulla County Jail. I smiled weakly at her and she smiled back in discomfort. I wondered if she'd report an escapee purchasing coffee.

Back on the road I said hello to the birds, telephone poles and pine trees. I could stop at Circle K if I wanted. Or McDonalds or Publix or take a tour of the Old Capital. Until 6:30 I could do whatever I wanted. Instead of any of those things I went to my office to see my wife and friends. I called my mother and she instructed me that this was to be our routine. I was to call her every morning as soon as I got in my truck so she knew I was okay. She also informed me that Barack Obama had won the election.

Allison met me at my office with our dog Benson and we hugged the kind of hug a soldier receives when they return from war. Her eyes were puffy, she looked tired and sad. Benson hyper at seeing me licked my face as if he understood the situation. She brought me sandwiches and cottage cheese and I told her about the carb-loaded breakfast, Lt. Kelly, the pod and my tattered blanket. I tried to explain things as if they were funny which only had the effect of making her cry. I told her about the zebra stripes thinking that the image would make her laugh but it only made things worse. At the time I didn't appreciate the stress she'd endured in the past forty hours. And while I was scared and uncomfortable in jail at least I knew what I was facing. She did not and her imagination was likely worse than my reality. Ironically, the more sad she became the more positive I became. She stayed for a while. At my desk I read the news to catch up on the election. Eventually she left to go buy me socks, boxers and plain white t-shirts.

Four or five times that day I repeated my stories from the past two days to my bosses, friends and family. Repeating them gave me a small amount of confidence in my situation, perhaps understanding it better, not being there and laughing at the ironies and silliness of the whole situation. My afternoon was spent teaching forty students at Florida State University how to be more creative. Part of my job involved teaching an advertising class called Creative Strategy. This semester class was Wednesday from 3:30-6:00. I'd have to excuse myself at 5:30 to leave to head back to Wakulla. The duality of my life left me slightly amused.

At 5:30 I left to return to Hotel Wakulla. On the way I listened to Johnny Cash and sang
"I Got Stripes.......Stripes Around My Shoulders
  I Got Chains.......Chains Around My Feet"

I parked at the health department, called Allison to tell her goodnight and that I'd gotten to the jail in time. I wandered back to the shed where I'd changed that morning. A few other guys on work release were there waiting. We sat and smoked cigarettes on a picnic table while they talked. At exactly 6:30 a guard came out of the jail and let us into the shed. His name was Lt. Strickland, he was old, probably in his seventies. He was tall, grouchy, wore dentures and had an extra amount of skin beneath his chin that flapped when he spoke. The ten other men and I placed our real world clothes in a blue bin with our name and photo on it and changed back into criminals. The new socks felt especially soft on my feet. Once everyone changed and the Lt. Strickland led us around and into the jail through the back. He ordered everyone to wait up against a wall while he went into a control room.

Standing across from the one way glass I could see my reflection. I suddenly felt that this was all wrong. I thought about being a kid, being a little playful, a little smartass but never bad. About highschool and being disruptive but never a serious troublemaker. I always made honor roll, did they know this? Honor roll kids aren't supposed to be in jail. I was a drama nerd not some punk that smoked in the parking lot. Drama nerds don't go to jail. I squinted at my reflection and thought about college about the scholarships I'd received about graduating with honors. Sure I partied but everything I did illegal was silly, nothing seriously criminal. And here I was, my reflection telling me I was wrong. I thought about buying real estate and stocks about working as a consultant and teacher. Consultants aren't supposed to go to jail. I stood there looking at my reflection slightly shaking my head wondering how I'd gotten here, not realizing everything I knew about myself was beginning to change.

Lt. Strickland returned wearing rubber gloves with a a large black guard named Porter also wearing gloves.  Porter looked like Fat Albert except he serious, almost comically mad. I wondered if he was a bad dancer and because of his size I assumed he was probably bad at sports. Even though it is unfair it made me feel better to pretend that his anger was a result at failing at two things society expects black men to succeed at. I imagined him crying in his pillow after being laughed off a basketball court. This allowed me to believe he was just misunderstood and not purely evil. Porter had huge bulging green eyes that delighted in what was to follow. They ordered us from the wall to a small eight by eight holding cell and instructed us not to use the toilet. Waiting in the holding cell I can see a certain stiffness in a few inmates. Lt. Strickland asks for the first two and Porter says I'll take the next two. Four inmates leaves the cell. The remaining inmates joke about how Lt. Porter is tough and loves to get a piece of ass every night, our ass. A tough looking inmate who reminds me of my uncle Steve except with a white patch of hair on his otherwise brown head says, “if you don’t like it don’t go to jail.”

Meanwhile I had no idea what they were talking about or what was about to happen. Then Porter returned and said, "next two." Eager to end my anticipation I followed him into a small janitorial closet. In the closet I was surprised to find another equally large but much less menacing black guard wearing gloves.  He nodded at me. Which I thought strange because guards don't normally show any signs of acknowledging that you are alive. I nodded back and stood there. He nodded at me again. I was beginning to wonder if this was some sort of code until the other inmate started undressing and I realized what his nods meant. The nod meant "take your clothes off." As I began undressing the guard extended his hand and asked for my clothes. He turned them inside out and felt the seems for anything that could have been hidden. I was instructed to remove my socks and my underwear. I remove my underwear, now standing completely naked when the large guard with the kind eyes says,
"Open the pouch."
"Excuse me?"
"The pouch, I need to see in the pouch?"
"The pouch?" I say, very naked equally confused.
"On your underwear man, where your dick goes, your pouch."said the other inmate frustrated with my naivete.
"Oh. right. okay, the pouch, oh." I said trembling naked trying to separate fabric from fabric.

Then he says, “cough.” I thought this meant he was going to check my testicles like a physical, which I thought a nice and a surprising service for a jail to offer. Standing upright I covered my mouth and went “acch.” Porter and the other guard laughed along with the other inmate who said, “no, he doesn’t want to check your nuts, turn around, bend over, spread your cheeks and cough.” Considering this for a second I stood there blinking, like when you call a dog and he just looks at you, I looked at the guards for assurance this is what they wanted. I followed the instructions, bent over, my head near the ground with my hands reaching back to spread my cheeks I went "acch" and shouted, "is this good? Is this what you wanted?" The guard said, "yeah that's it, you can stop now" approving that my asshole was in acceptable condition. He handed me my clothes back.  I quickly redressed and asked his name. “Sgt. Thomas,” he said. I told him I’d never done that without knowing a person’s name but complimented him on doing a good job.

After the exam the door was opened and we were told to stand against the wall while the remaining inmates from work release could be checked. We were led back to the pod where I saw a fat old man showering. Men were playing cards as they greeted some of the guys from our group. I went back to my bed and pretended to sleep. It was 7:00. The room was loud with laughter and playful yelling.  I wondered how anyone could laugh in jail. I thought about getting out the next morning at 5:30. I calculated that I only had 10.5 hours. I was still awake when the lights went off at 12:00.

Monday, September 27, 2010

"How are you going to eat?"

When we told people we were going to live aboard Desdemona and sail around The Bahamas, The Caribbean and wherever else a common question we were asked was, "Well when you go to these places what are you going to eat?" The question implying that outside of America food didn't exist. And while we never found that to be the case, certain aspects of acquiring a good meal were not as we expected. Fishing and spearfishing played a large role in how we planned to feed ourselves. When we went to the dive shop in Ft. Lauderdale to purchase our Hawaiian sling and our pole spears the woman showed us a video of serious spearfishermen. This was going to be easy, I thought, we'll jump in the water, shoot a couple of fish and dinner is served. A fine theory but what I hadn't considered was the water. Everything about the many beautiful Bahama shades of blue says, "I'm tropical and warm" and yet the water temperature read out on our instruments disagreed, "bullshit you're tropical" reading somewhere between 60-70 degrees farenheit while we were in the Northern Bahamas in February, March and April. No fish I could imagine was worth what for me, a Floridian, was the equivalent to joining the Polar Bear club.

It was in Hopetown towards the end of April when the water reached a still unacceptable but-fuck-it-I'm-sick-of-waiting 72 degrees. Lobster season had closed the day before but we could probably get away with one or two and claim stupid American tourist defense if we got caught. There was a close reef only thirty feet off the beach in front of the Hopetown Harbour Lodge, a small quiet boutique hotel on Elbow Cay. We were all excited, we loaded all of our gear, fins, masks, slings, spears in the dinghy and headed across the harbor to shore.
"Are you ready to harvest the bounty of the sea?" I asked Philip
"YEAH! The bounty of the sea!!" Philip echoed
"Do you think it's a good idea to carry these spears through the hotel?" said Anna
"Of course! How else are we going to catch dinner? I said. "Besides I don't think they'll even notice. And if they did what could they do about? It isn't illegal to spearfish."

To get to the beach we had to walk up the hotel's long stairway entrance, through the hotel lobby, across the grounds, through the pool area, then through the middle of the beach restaurant.  What Anna was trying to tell me was that if we only attempted to take the benevolent looking green and blue masks and snorkels we might have made it through this minefield without being noticed by hotel staff. Her implication was we'd look like we  didn't belong, that somehow the four, six foot aluminum spears each of us carried over our shoulder that drew the notice of the entire hotel as we made our way to the beach looking like a small band of Maori tribesmen made us look out of place. The four of us just walked across the hotel as if it was normal for us to be carrying a giant spear. As we walked I thought "Why wouldn't we be carrying a giant spear?" I stared back at people thinking "Where is your spear? Do my clothes not match or is it the giant spear you're staring at?"

When we got to the beach we stuck our spears upright in the sand and threw our gear down. I saw a mothers order her children out of the water. They looked like weak swimmers and it made me think that if we didn't find any fish what other prey we could go after.  Before we could get our masks adjusted to our face we were approached by a man who looked way to serious for his hawaiin shirt. The shirt apparently the hotels uniform, he introduced himself as the manager. He was pale for living in the Bahamas and rather paunch with a moustache. I figured he was coming to wish us the best of luck in our hunt.
"Are those your spears?" he said and looked at them shaking his head in disapproval
"It appears they are with us" I said.
"I don't mind if you use our beach. All beaches in the Bahamas are public." he said
"Ok great!" said Philip
"But I do regret to inform you that you cannot spearfish at this beach."
"Well I regret to inform you that you have mustard on your face." said Philip
The man started to feel around his lips in his moustache. "That can't be I have eaten anything today."
Anna, Chris and I started laughing at the unexpected change of direction the conversation just took. I leaned in and squinted to get a look at the man's mustard face. The man continued to paw at his face and check his hand.
"Up a little to the left." said Philip "No over. Yeah there it's covered in mustard.
The man rubbed but the patch of yellow remained in his moustache.
"I think that must be just his moustache." said Anna
"It looks like you have mustard in your mustache but you don't. I guess I just thought it looked weird." said Philip.
Mr. Mustard Face wiped at his face a little more, his face now red, he reminded us not to use our spears, turned and left. We snorkeled sans spears. Entrees swam by us, a large lobster taunted me.

As we were about to leave Chris went to use the bathroom off of the lobby. As we were waiting for him Philip and I noticed a red basket of undisturbed chicken nuggets resting on a bench in the lobby.
My hands full of snorkel gear I whispered for Philip to take it. Philip with his backpack and sunglasses on looked back and forth moving just his neck. He spun hiding the nuggets, holding them at waste level we giggled our way down the stairs. Philip and I waited for Chris on the street while Anna walked ahead wanting no part in it. Chris met us downstairs and said,
"Hey guys, I just saw Mr. Mustard Face when I left the bathroom. He was looking around in the lobby, apparently he'd left his lunch, a basket of chicken nuggets lying around."
We all laughed when we realized the nuggets were previously owned by Mr. Mustard Face.
"Who needs the bounty of the sea when you have nuggets." said Philip
Philip held out the basket to Chris and we walked towards the dinghy dipping our nuggets in what else, mustard.

Friday, September 24, 2010

120 Nights in Jail: Night 2

The following post as well as any others under the 120 Days title are from my experiences between November, 2008 and February 2009 at the Wakulla County Jail.

After falling asleep sometime after midnight my first night I awoke startled by a voice over an intercom. I couldn't make out what it said, it had the quality of most drive-thru windows and from what I could tell was coming from the front of the pod. All the lights were off except for one row of overhead flourescents. The room was a symphony of snores, some loud and nasal, others deep and slow. I scanned the room, everyone was sleeping except two men who'd just crawled out of bed. Eyes fixed, I watched them from my bunk as they pulled on work boots. They went to the door, it opened and they left. Unsure of the time I was concerned. Was this work release? Should I have left with them? When I made my over to the clock on the wall it read 3:00. I did my best to climb back into bed without waking my bunkmate. The second time I awoke all the lights had just come on. It was 5:00. They were preparing to serve breakfast. I could see inmates in white jumpsuits through the plexiglass with metal carts filled with food trays Most of my other roommates, crawled out of bed and formed a line by the door. Some stayed in bed and covered their head to block out the light. Everyone was wearing plain white t-shirts which I thought made them look like a team. Others woke up and began brushing their teeth. I chose to brush my teeth as I knew I'd be leaving shortly and could grab breakfast on the way to the office.

After brushing I went back to my bunk and sat down. I heard the voice come over the intercom again at 5:30, it’s Wizard of Oz-esque, you're not sure where it's coming from, it's loud but since I'm in Wakulla instead of booming and grand it was twangy and incomprehensible. It sounded like the person on the other end didn't understand what they were speaking into was a microphone connected to a speaker, as if they believed they had to actually project their voice through cinder block walls. When I asked another inmate what they had just said he said, "work release." 
"Do I just leave?"
"No, they come get you, they'll call you." 
I was concerned that since everyone else in work release had a ride picking them up it would be clear when they needed to leave but that Lt. Strickland, perhaps forgetful in his old age,  wouldn't be aware that I was now a resident here and that no one would be picking me up because of our secret arrangement. 

At 6:00 the intercom came to life again and I moved from my bed to the front of the room. More inmates left. Perhaps if whoever was behind the one way glass in the control room saw me sitting here waiting to leave they would realize and quickly take corrective action. Of course it did not occur to me at the time that jail isn't really focused on customer service and further, I was just sitting there like someone who wants to get out of jail. Everyone wants to get out of jail.

Unsure of what to do next I watched the clock and waited. After my first night, expecting to be released at 5:30 am for work release the anticipation of coffee, a cigarette and seeing my wife (now ex-wife) drilled holes in my mind. At 8:30 the intercom came to life and two names were called. Two elderly black men lined up at the door. I lined up with them, waving to get the attention of the people in the control room. The intercom came to life, "ahhhhaaa I thought, I'm getting somewhere" 
"Whaddya need" blared the voice
"To go to work, I'm supposed to be in work release."
"Doorspen." said the voice.
"Excuse me?" I replied
"Doorspen." it repeated.
"Pardon me, I can't quite understand what you're saying."
"The door is open." said the voice with irritation.
Though I'm not a master of communication, the implication of this statement meant "it's okay to go ahead and leave." I followed two other work release inmates out of the pod and down the hall. They appeared to know what they were doing and because in jail no one tells you anything, there is no orientation, you simply follow what appears to be right. They walked into a small janitorial closet as a guard was passing, I stopped him and said, “I’m on work release, where do I go?” He directed me to follow him down another hallway, opened the door electronically and let me into an adjoining hallway. He turned away and left. Now I was alone, in a hallway somewhere within a jail and because it is a jail and not a movie theater the exits are not quite clearly marked. After wandering a maze of adjoining hallways I spotted a green exit sign. I imagined my image from the video camera appearing on a black and white screen somewhere, what I must look like, a prisoner in stripes making his way through the jail. Was anyone watching?

The exit I discovered was the back entrance of the front lobby, I saw the front door to the jail, the one I used the night before when I turned myself in. It was as if I could walk out and and undo everything, like I was never here. Can this be it? Do I just walk out? I paced back and forth unsure what to do. Eventually I made my way back to the door the guard had opened for me and found the guard that let me into the hallway. I asked if he could help me find where I was supposed to go, briefly explaining my situation. When you’re talking to a guard you have a half of a sentence worth of their attention, it’s as if they’re not fully listening so you have to be quick before you lose them. Before I could finish he was already on his radio and asked me to follow him. I could tell we were walking back down the rabbit hole towards the inerds of the jail. We arrived at a control room outside of which stood three more guards, one of whom would be the Queen of Hearts herself, the scariest person I'd ever encounter and a constant source of fear and nightmares.

She was an old female guard with a jacket and her grayish brown hair pinned in a bun. Incorrectly, I assumed the woman would be the kindest of the bunch and so I directed my plea towards her. She’d have to be sympathetic I thought, “she’s probably a mom of a kid just like me.” Her face was white like and looked like bread dough. She looked as if she’d absorbed the colors of the jail after the many years of being there. Her eyes hung low in her head, her cheeks sagged creating jowls that began to shake. The woman’s face squinched like someone poured acid on her and suddenly she screamed “What the fuck do you think you’re doing with that goddamn shirt?” Her squint eyes were fire, I was about to be eaten by a lion. “You’re not supposed to have that if you don’t give it to me in three seconds you’re finished.” “Excuse me, I’m sorry, I’m not sure I understand,” I said. I was wearing a yellow FSU shirt beneath my zebra stripes. The guard who booked me told me it was okay and not to worry but now I was worried. “Take it off,” she barked. Nervously I took off my zebra shirt and the FSU shirt below. Standing in the hallway shirtless, “You’re trying to escape,” she said as she snatched the shirt from by hand. “No ma’m I’m on work relea-” “Shut up” she ordered, she directed the guard to return me to my pod and said” if you so much as budge from your bunk you’re never getting out of here.” The guard, Nichols, who had let me into the hallway earlier and then back to the control room now escorted me back to the pod his hand on my arm as if now I was suddenly a threat to escape. On the way back he said, “You shouldn't have left if you weren't called. Now you got in trouble.” I told him about what The Voice on the intercom said. "That don't mean you can leave, just means the doors open."

Returning to the pod the other inmates that watched me watching the clock all morning gathered around me. One asked, “What happened, thought you were going to work.” I told them I got in trouble by some kind of demon inhabiting a woman's body. They all nodded in unison and said, “That’s Lt. Kelly.” As if nothing else needed to be explained.

The pod had four phones on the far wall. Calls can only be made collect which cell phones do not allow. Communication with family now impossible, the only landline I knew was my office. I picked up the receiver and the phone was dead. An inmate yelled, "phones don't turn on until 10:00." I climbed into bed, unsure what to do. I knew I needed to get to work. Most of all I needed to call my wife because I knew she'd be worried. At this point I encountered a part of captivity that perhaps today is more impactful than in the past. In a world where communication is as easy as a text message, where all the information you could ever need is obtainable wherever you are the inability to communicate, to receive the information you need is painful. I could not find out why I was not being released and I could not tell anyone about it. Why wasn't I being released? Why wouldn't any of the guards talk to me? How long would this last a day? A week? A month? What I didn't realize at that time was that all those periods of time, a day, a week, a month were irrelevant in jail. When you're captive, time does not function the way it does when you're free. A day was not just twenty four hours, a week not just seven days. New measurements of time were needed, measurements that fluctuated depending on the situation at the moment.

At 10:00 I called my office. Scott answered the robot that told him an inmate from the Wakulla County Jail was calling and he accepted the charges. I told Scott what had happened. He was going to call Allison, my wife, let her know what happened and have her call Alex, my attorney. Since no one could call me back I told him I'd call back in an hour. 

At 11:00 Allison was at my office so I was able to talk to her, a small bit of relief. I could tell she was scared but trying to do her best she was waiting to hear back from Alex. I told her I was fine but I'm sure my voice said otherwise.

I tried to ask another guard about my work release but he couldn't hear my frequency. The only ones willing to provide information are unreliable sources, the criminals. One of the other inmates over heard my conversation and told me it usually took a month or two for your work release application to go through. I did not have a month or two, I needed to leave now. Lunch was served, two green cold hot dogs, four pieces of white bread, a packet of mustard and something resembling coleslaw but completely orange with kool-aid to wash it down.

At 12:00 Allison had spoken with Alex and he told her to give him an hour. 

At 1:00 Allison said, Alex spoke to the Sheriffs office and discovered the mix up was due to an incomplete work release application and they would get back to him with what information was needed. The Sheriff's office was in the same building where I was located and yet it took a collect call, to a wife, to an attorney, back to where the collect call was coming from for information to be given and received.

At 2:00 Allison hadn't heard from Alex.

At 3:00 Allison said, Alex said, The Sheriff's office said the missing information was a signature by a particular jail administrator that was not in the office today as it was election day and many senior jail administrators were out of the office campaigning for Sheriff Harvey. It could not be signed until  tomorrow. Nothing could be done. Allison apologized even though it wasn't her fault.

Once I realized I wasn't going anywhere today and possibly not tomorrow it actually helped how I felt. I could stop anticipating, stop trying to figure out how to get out. I talked to a few inmates even though I had no interest in it. I preferred to lay in bed and make up stories in my head about what each of the other inmates had done like pretending one frail-skinny albino man was an arsonist who burnt down twenty tanning salons.

At 5:30 the meal carts came to serve dinner. Other inmates in white jump suits slid one tray through the door at the time. Everyone stood in line against the wall waiting to be served. When it was my turn a guard who stoodwith  a clipboard next to the inmate serving trays asked for my number. Unsure what this I meant I said I did not know my number. He said not to worry about it and I received my tray. The tray contained a chicken drumstick, grey instant mashed potatos, some kind of unidentifiable bean and a piece of yellow cake. I ate the drumstick and gave away the rest. Even though my body hurt from laying down I returned to my bunk within five minutes of receiving my tray.

At 6:45 everyone who'd left on work release, about fifteen guys returned to the pod. They were in rowdy and in good spirits compared to everyone else. Men played cards at the table, others watched TV while others conspired on bunks.Since it was election day I assumed they would turn on one of the news channels to see who our next president would be. I thought it might be especially meaningful to the three black inmates who were watching TV. They skipped right passed the election coverage and turned on football.

Everyone seemed so comfortable, like they were kind of happy or even if they weren't happy they all seemed okay. Like when you first get a puppy and the first few days it just kind of sits in the corner unsure of it's new environment. I just stayed in bed and tried to avoid thinking of my wife lying in our bed all alone. To avoid thinking about how I disappointed my parents. I did this by trying to remember things I'd forgotten. In Kindergarten, making a Christmas ornament in the shape of a tree with my picture in it. The "field day" themed birthday I had. I tried to remember as many kids in each class from Kindgergarten through highschool.  I tried to remember regular ordinary days, not special occasions, like what did you do on Tuesday? What about the previous Tuesday? Tuesday two weeks ago? It was uncomfortably cold without a shirt under my zebra strips. I had no socks either and the thin blanket was only long enough to keep my feet tucked in or my arms but not both. I tucked my feet in, curled up and at some point I fell asleep.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Reason You're a Stranger

Occasionally there is a good reason behind certain traditions, even if it's not visible on the surface. But as a contrarian and as an idiot, it seems that I learn only from experience. Whenever someone warns me, cautions me, I just don't listen. Never have. Don't play with that knife you'll cut yourself. "We'll see about that." I'd think and ten minutes later be running for the first aid kit.  Like all American children I learned to be ware of strangers. This is great for keeping children safe but not great for making friends. Perhaps the reason people claim they have difficulty making new friends and meeting new people is rooted in the word "strangers." It sounds bad. It automatically assume strangeness. When we first met, Anna and I decided we'd no longer use the word to reference people we didn't know, we'd simply refer to them as "unknowns."It seems less bias and judgemental and since I'm always judgemental of people once I meet them, I thought I'd let them start off with a clean record.

At anchorages, amongst one another, boaters quickly morph from strangers into the classic TV image of neighbors. They keep an eye on your boat, lend you tools and even leave fresh baked banana bread on your companionway. Invitations for boat drinks and dinner parties are the norm.

Off the northern tip of Long Island, not the Long Island with trains, smog and New Yorkers but the Long Island with conch, clear blue water and Bahamians at the anchorage at Cape Santa Maria we had three boats as neighbors. We met them all at once at the hotel bar as they enjoyed happy hour and invited us to join them. One was a Catamaran named Sol' Surfin' with Gary and Celeste from California in their mid forties. Another was Rosenante, a monohull with George and Donna from Miami. The last, a trawler, occupied by two men named Jerry and one of the Jerry's wife. All of them had taken similar paths through the Bahamas, shared many anchorages together and clearly did not consider each other strangers.

"I invited Rosenante and Sol Surfin' over for breakfast tomorrow." said Anna
"Why?" I said, thinking mostly of having to do the dishes.
"Was that bad? They seem nice." Anna offered.
"Gary is really cool, he was telling me about his catamaran and he's a really nice guy you should talk to him." said Philip
"The one with the long hair?" I asked
"No, that's George, the other one, the one sitting next to me." replied Philip
"Everyone is going to bring something. I think I'm going to make the spinach quiche thing. Does that sound okay?" said Anna
"Sure, yeah that's good." I said, not really meaning it.

The next morning when George, Donna, Gary and Celeste arrived I deposited myself in the Captain's chair at the helm. I spoke mostly with George because he looked the most intriguing, probably in his mid forties, his natural bleach white wiry hair swept back into a ponytail and his face was decorated with a long pointy hipster style goatee. He spoke like a professor, someone sure of what he was talking about, almost as if speaking, the act of it, brought him satisfaction by curing the ignorance of everyone else with his voice. And it wasn't surprising when he told me he was a professor, some kind of biomolecular scientist, at The University Miami. So I let George talk at me for his benefit. Gary would always chime in to agree with everything George said. Gary and George liked to brag about things they'd seen or done, none of which were all that impressive to anyone but themselves but for their benefit I feigned amazement by raising my eyebrows and saying "oh really, hmmm." My level of interest in conversation with Gary was as low as Gary's sense of humor. He would ask questions to know information nobody would ever care about like,
"What kind of threads do you have on your keel bolts?"
"Jeff, do you know about our keel bolts." Philip would reiterate.
"I have no idea." I'd say disinterested.
"Don't feel bad, I don't know ours either." and then unexpectedly he was laughing. Since he had a catamaran he did not have a keel which I guess is why he thought this was richly amusing. Confused why he was laughing I fake laughed to make him comfortable.

I noticed Celeste, Donna and Anna were talking about something having to do with sewing at which I curled my lip and squinted. Anna is amazing with "unknowns" she's witty and funny. She is wild, adventurous and creative in conversation. One of my greatest joys is to watch Anna make people uncomfortable by bringing up things that are typically taboo which is why I was annoyed to hear that they were talking about sewing.

Before departing the group decided to go spearfishing later in the afternoon. This did not bother me as I knew being underwater would at least limit my irritation with our new neighbors and also I'd heard the reefs off Cape Santa Maria were excellent.

The hunt yielded little, George shot a small triggerfish and a grouper and I shot a lobster. While I was still underwater plans were made for everyone to go over to Rosenante for dinner and drinks.
"Hey Philip you want to share this lobster with me?"
"Well I told Rosenante we'd take it bring it over when we come over for dinner."
"You did what? Why? Why are we going over there?"
"Jeff you're the one who usually likes to be social. Why do you dislike them so much?" said Anna
"I don't know they just bother me."
"Gary is really cool, did you talk to him?" asked Philip
"Yes I did and no, no he is not cool, he laughs at his own jokes and he creeps me out."
"You laugh at your own jokes." Anna chimed.

That afternoon the three of us dinghied over to Rosenante. After the customary tour of the boat we settled into the cockpit. I sat as close as possible to the side of the boat the dinghy was tied up to, already envisioning a quick exit from this get together. Everyone was overdosing on drinks and George's delicious triggerfish ceviche and equally tasty, Celeste's conch fritters, that were more like conch nuggets due to the amount of conch in each one. Unfortunately the wonderful food was accompanied by conversation with Gary and George. Every five minutes I'd look at the dinghy imagining an escape. The dynamic between the two couples was unusual. I convinced myself they were swingers.

Before sunset the Jerry's and the wife of Jerry arrived completely hammered. Jerry's wife and the Jerry sans wife had gone to the hotel for happy hour and had neglected to anchor their dinghy. The incoming tide took the dinghy out of the bay. Fortunately for the Jerrys, a sailboat in the next bay to the north noticed a drifting dinghy and recovered it and returned it to the wasted duo. When they arrived at Rosenante the wife of Jerry was taking joy in Jerry's mistake. Slurring, slapping her lap and talk-screaming the story of losing the dinghy, she was clearly trying to humiliate the Jerrys. She disliked boats, boating and the ocean. It was clear that this was a source of tension between her and her Jerry. She made it clear to everyone she was a "city girl" and cruising around islands not her idea of a good time which was a strange point to make in front of a group of people for whom it is. I hoped I could segue the conversation from losing a dinghy to my need to get in our dinghy and get the hell out of there. Before I could George stood up and said, "I will be getting high now, if any body would like to join me please come to my cabin, one at a time." Now I knew Philip would never leave. Everyone took turns going downstairs and smoking out of a socket with George.

And then as the sun went down and the alcohol and THC took effect the evening went from annoying to just fucking weird. Gary got out his guitar and started playing. Donna passed out several drums, a wooden flute and a tambourine. I declined an instrument while everyone started to follow Gary's lead in the most appalling version of California Dreamin'.
"All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey." sang Gary
"and the sky is greeeeeeeeyyyyyyyy." harmonized George
I looked at Anna, horrified at the scene, hoping she'd be a source of reality within this nightmare. Instead she had on a giant goofy grin following the beat on a small bongo drum. Looking around everyone was playing an instrument. Donna and Celeste were swaying with their eyes closed. Jerry's wife was standing up in the center of the cockpit, her hands above her head, swaying her hips and shaking her ass off beat to the music.I nudged Anna hard in the side. 
"What are you doing?" I said under my breath.
"I know you're drumming. Why are you drumming? Don't you see what's going on? This is weird. They're going to try to indoctrinate us. They're going to make us like them.
Anna giggled loud and kept drumming. She knew these people were off but where as I was annoyed by it she was amused. I felt I was kidnapped, held hostage by this cult of tools. I was concerned at what was happening to my girlfriend and my friend Philip, they were being brainwashed. I thought of my heroes, people like Bob Shacochis and I shuttered at what I was bearing witness to. I started to panic. My body began to tremble.

"I gotta get out of here." I whispered.
"Stop it. Here you want a drum. Is that why you're upset?" Anna teased.
"No. No I don't want a drum. I don't want a flute or a fucking tambourine either. I want to leave before the orgy starts."
Anna laughed and kept drumming.

They took a break after a few other songs including a version of The Boxer in which Anna vocalized the "PSSSH!" sound of the cymbals. From the other side of the cockpit I over heard George, with intense seriousness, tell Philip that he was able to control other peoples mind. Philip, clearly impressed provoked George to continue.
"It's really quite simple if I think something it is electrical impulses, positives and negatives and your mind also functions off of electricity. By focusing my energy I can control what you think." I squinted at George and thought "Well how come I still think you're a tool? Can you control that?"

"Whoa, that's awesome. I really did not know that was possible." said Philip
And then from my other side Gary says, "Did you know that the whole universe is corn? Everything, everything is corn." George nodded in agreement as if this was an obvious thing to say like, "Tomorrow is Sunday or water is wet." I gave Anna a look, as if to say, "Now do you see what I mean?"
"What do you mean the whole universe is made of corn?" Philip said.
"I like corn." Anna added clearly taking pleasure in my disdain for these people.

"I do to" said Gary, "In fact I love corn, it's the essence of everything." He began large sweeping movements with his hands as if he was approaching a meditative state. "Me and you even, we eat cows, cows eat corn thus we are corn. I am corn, I just am. I'm corn."
"I hate corn." I said
"Why" said Gary.
"No reason, it's just not good to me. It bothers me. Corn bothers me."
"Corn cannot bother you, you are corn, corn is independant of positive or negative emotions." said Gary

I looked at Gary for a moment, this middle aged organic, california hippie with a pooka shell necklace then turned to Anna and said, "I know why they call them strangers."

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

120 Nights in Jail: Night 1

The following post as well as any others under the 120 Days title are from my experiences between November, 2008 and February 2009 at the Wakulla County Jail.

Well, 105 nights to be exact, when you factor time off for good behavior (yes that is a real thing, not just something from the movies).

In the beginning of October, 2008 I was sentenced to serve 120 days in jail in the Leon County Jail. My attorney, brilliantly convinced the Leon County Jail to let me serve my time in Wakulla County, the next county to the south, about an hour away from my home, so that I could be in their Work Release program. Work Release, just like it sounds, allows a person to leave jail to go to work. "It'll be like staying at a bad hotel." said my attorney. I left the Wakulla County Jail everyday except Sundays (yes, as far as the jail new I worked Saturdays)  at 5:30 am and reported back to the jail by 6:30 pm. Lieutenant Hoppi Strickland, made an exception for me and gave me permission to drive myself to and from the jail. He instructed me to park around the corner at The Wakulla County Health Department, walk around the stand of pine trees and tell nobody, especially other prisoners.

Before jail, for a long time I’ve been into adventure travel and longed for my own adventures. Having eighteen rental properties among other obligations at the time made solo kayaking the Pacific an adventure that didn’t seem like something I’d be able to fit into my schedule. The way I constructed my life I couldn't pickup and move to Tehran for a year just to see what it's like, at least not without disassembling everything I'd already put together. I longed for adventure, an escape from the mundane but didn’t realize what I’d wish for would come to me in quite this way. It did and it was the perfect form of adventure travel for my life at the time because it allowed me to continue to keep up with my obligations. It wasn't an awesomely horrific experience, I wasn't stuck in a Pakistani prison confined to a hole, fed only a scoop of moldy maggot infested rice. Nor am I the wrongly accused sympathetic figure that was screwed by the system. I am just a regular guy who made a bad decision or two and ended up in jail, just like any other American idiot.

I should have foreseen the ironies I’d later encounter during my time at Wakulla when getting into jail was as difficult as you’d think getting out would be. I turned myself in,  as directed by my sentence, no later than 6:00 pm, November 3, 2008. I thought turning myself in would be more monumental than it proved. I'd hoped to walk in to the jail, hands in the air while a waiting sheriff would say,

"You Jeff Brainard?" in the slow country accent native to Wakulla.
"I am" I'd say doing my Johnny Cash
"I been waiting for you, ya dirty ol' dog."
None of this happened. No one even knew I was there. For the first thirty minutes I sat in what I figured was the lobby. Finally I started milling around and found a nurses office and she took me down a corridor where I am told I should have known to have been the whole time. I was now at the real lobby for the jail. The carpet and comfortable chairs were replaced by a cement floor and a metal bench. Behind me and in front of me were one way windows. Behind those windows were guards processing prisoners in and out of the jail. To the left of me was a long hallway of white cinder block walls ending with a heavy gray metal door.

As I waited inmates walked by on there own as if they had some where to go but no reason to go there. Guards walk past with authority but seem to have developed an ability to know you were there without looking at you. And because no one acknowledges your existence it begins to make you think you’ve become forgotten altogether. One of the guards looked like Steve Irwin and I thought "how bad can this guy be, he looks like Steve Irwin and The Crocodile Hunter is a jolly guy.  It appears the main criteria for being a guard is a particular body type for males stiff movement but a large belly with a slow moving waddle. The female guards are required to be every bit of cliche you'd expect when you hear the words "female prison guard." Short manly with man like skin like a leathery cowboy with a short quick paced walk. I tried giving head nods along with a hello-smile but it had no effect. If anything they probably thought, "Why does this kid keep smiling? He's obviously intoxicated. We'll let him sober up before we do anything with him." I waited on the metal bench for three hours waiting to get into jail.

While serving my time on the metal bench I the metal bench across from was occupied by twenty some Hispanic illegals waiting to be booked. What I learned from the group ambassador, the one who spoke English was that Wakulla is a drop off facility for Immigration and Naturalization. The men who sat across from me committed crimes in Florida, they all served their time in the county for which they were charged. Now they were waiting in Wakulla for INS to pick them up to send them back to Panama, Mexico or wherever they called their homeland their homeland. Why the little county of Wakulla was the waiting room for illegals I am still unsure as it is not near any major city or airport.
A fat one from Cuba was both jolly and mischievous. He kept trying to make phone calls when no one was looking. He would slide back and forth from the end of the bench to the phone, tickled as if he was getting a way with something. Perhaps he was just amused by pushing buttons and pretending to talk to someone. Apparently he'd never seen one way glass before as the guards knew exactly what he was up to. One came out and said, "the phone is turned off, it isn't going to work." The man simply giggled.

The most dominant feeling the jail gave me at this point was sterility and coldness. A sterile that did not feel clean but a sterile of indifference like gray on gray. The jail is cold not just in personality but literally. The temperteure set on miserable

At check-in, a guard with the name Zimba on his uniform sat me across his desk and asked me my name. I wanted to reply, "Osama Bin Laden" but knew better. I asked the concierge how long he worked at the jail. How he liked it. Was it what he wanted to be doing. What he likes to do in his free time. The same thing I would do as if I was checking into the Marriott. Zimba was nice, he was young, tall and wore glasses. He looked like he played a lot of video games. I wondered why he, or anyone would have chosen the profession of Jailer. To volunteer for a life sentence of being in jail. And while I smiled and responded to his answers I was scared. I wanted to make this process last for three months. Inevitably it didn't, I was booked and fingerprinted.

I was told to follow a large black guard (clearly the bellhop). Again I made conversation to avoid the inevitable.
"Do you enjoy your job? I said. 
“No, this place is too corrupt.” was his answer
We walked past large rooms of inmates. I wondered which would be mine. A few inmates stood at the inward facing window of their pods doing strange movements with their hands. I asked the black guard with the eighties high top haircut, “How’d they learn sign language?” “They learn it in here,” he said, “People will always figure out a way to communicate.” "What do they have to say?" I wondered, they're both in jail?

He took me to a closet to change into my new wardrobe, zebra stripes. I thought these were only used in old movies. I removed my jeans and stepped into my new clothes. The shirt I wore over a yellow FSU t-shirt (Way to represent. Go Noles!). The zebra outfit was stained with paint and dirt and the material was rough and unflexible like something you’d use to cover a grill, a smock of sorts like wearing canvas.

I was handed a small laundry bag which included two non-fitted sheets, that were once white and now a dingy yellow. If the sheets were new the package would list the thread count at 2. Also in the bag was a pillow case a small towel, a wash cloth and a tattered, paper thin blanket no bigger than the kind you receive on an airplane and resembling something a homeless man would discard as useless.
 I was given one travel size toothbrush and mint toothpaste and a roll of toilet paper. "Travel size?  Where am I going?" I thought. And then the bellman showed me to my room. He called on his radio to open the door to pod three and the large heavy metal door slowly slid open. He instructed me I was to sleep on bunk fifty four (none of the bunks are numbered).

The room or pod that was my home away from home for the next 120 days was three side cement block appointed with one side thick Plexiglas pane windows. It was comforting to know that if Kim Jong Il lost it and sent his nuclear weapons across the globe from North Korea to Wakulla, at least me and the other inmates would be safe. The room came with 59 inmates plus me on metal bunks. I've never seen an army barracks but this is what I imagine only more gray than olive. The bunks were cold and just long enough for your feet to hang over the metal lip. Laying on your side you could feel the cold metal through the mattress press into your ribs, the mint green plastic mattresses like thin versions of lawn chair cushions.

I made my way past men playing cards at the eight metal tables bolted to the floor with metal chairs bolted to them and wandered the rows of bunks. Many inmates were hanging out on their bunks chatting like they were at sleep away camp. Which made me feel like even more of a kid, a kid who just wants to go home. I located the only open bunk, the top of the last bunk in the back of the pod. I spread the non-fitted sheets on my bed. My pillowcase was yellowed from use and came equipped with hundreds of those little round balls of fabric you find on old t-shirts.

I got into bed and took in the rest of my penthouse suite. In the front of the room, above the Plexiglas windows was a 15 inch TV perched half way up the 25 ft. ceiling. In the back of the room was the shower which drained into an open gutter and three stainless steal toilets without seats and two urinals. The urinals smelled as if they’d never been flush, as if they were made from steel piss composite. The pod had six small windows near the ceiling that ran horizontally, no bigger than six inches tall. They allowed you to see just enough sky and trees to see what you're missing.

That night I didn't step off my bunk. I did my best to will myself to sleep. Instead all I could do was lay on my side facing the cinder block wall and try not to cry. The lights went off at 11:30.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Something Missing

In the Bahamas, off the west coast of Eleuthera lies an industrious island called Spanish Wells. A small "Loyalist Island", meaning it's residents are white people of British decent, their ancestors left the U.S. during the revolution to escape the rebellious colonist and keep allegiance to his royal highness. As a result Spanish Wells is a great place to go if you enjoy the outcome of generations of a small group of people breeding among one another. The guidebooks will tell you about Spanish Wells' fishing fleet which supplies the States with a large amount of fresh fish and lobster but the real treat is the crossed eyes, large foreheads and the confusion that results when everyone has the same last name, Pinder.  The citizenry is largely a god fearing group, with an affinity towards racism which is much easier to find than the alcohol as there is only one place serving beer.

As we approached the dock in our dinghy Anna noticed a man smoking a joint along the water. As Chris, Amber, Philip, Anna  and I disembarked to search for a place to eat the man approached us and introduced himself as "The General." A nice way to describe him would be to say he had the look of a homeless man who just showered. The General had the physique of a laborer, strong forearms with many scars, trim with slicked back long blond hair, probably in his mid thirties but his face looked much older. As a result of their British background and their limited gene pool most Loyalist, The General included, sound reminiscent of a combination between Forest Gump and Captain Jack Sparrow. He is of the breed for whom people say, "something is missing" The implication of the "something" being intelligence and in this case genetic diversity.

Immediately following his introduction The General showed us his roach and asked if we'd like to acquire some for ourselves. Philip, as the most experienced pot smoker in our group and the only one who cared about it quickly stepped into his role as pot negotiator. Philip did not take kindly to The General's blatant offer. Philip prefers to be subtle, as he tends to be suspicious of people. He offers vague assertions to people he thinks sell drugs and somehow they seem to understand what he's talking about. For instance, once, outside a grocery store a man asked how he was doing, "Just living in the clouds." he responded and somehow shortly after a deal was arranged. Philip, not even looking at The General said,"Naw, were good man" as we continued to walk towards town.

The General, walking slightly behind us like a stray dog, yelled, "Ello General" to a man watering his grass. Chris said, "Wait a minute, I thought you were The General?" "Everyone calls me The General so I call everyone else The General even though I'm The General." Obviously this isn't confusing to people who live on an island where they all share the same last name. He then asked again if we'd like to buy some "really good 'ome growed stuff."
Philip, clearly annoyed, said, "Fine, let me see what you have for fifty dollars."
"Well see, you give me the money, I gotsta go get jit from me uncle."
"Listen to this joker" Philip announced. "We're going to go eat in here I'm not giving you any money bro."

Halfway through dinner a loud knocking on the window is followed by "PSSST Ey ey it's me, General, I got some bit of stuff." All of us turn to see The General's face in between the slats of blinds mashed up against the window screen. Philip goes outside and returns with some sample joints while I'm still imagining what the scene outside the restaurant looked like as The General must have been peering through different windows trying to locate us like some London orphan.

Sunday afternoon, a couple days later, The General came to our boat to see if we'd like to go with him to a family picnic to buy some pot. If the last line didn't sink in, please understand we were offered an invitation to a family picnic to buy drugs.

Philip agreed because of the quality product The General supplied us with and Anna and I because of the entertainment. The three of us hopped into his flats boat and headed down the channel towards the west side of the island. Here, The General ran the boat aground on a sandbar as we were assured the picnic was just a short walk down the beach. Suspicious, "Could this be a setup?" we worried but continued. As we walked The General decided to take us on a visual tour of his bodily scars

"This is from when I crash me motorcycle into a pole." as he showed us a missing piece of his leg bone
"Why did you do that." I said
"Was too much drunk. But I don't even drinks no more ever since I the third time I crashed me cycle. Now I just get high because I don't drive into poles when I'm high"
"You've crashed your bike three times?"
"Yeah too many poles, whenever I see poles I just drive into them."
"What kind of bike do you have"
"Don't have any bike anymore"
"Maybe that is why you don't drive into poles."

About a hundred yards down the beach an odd site appeared. What looked to be a huge ball, the size of car, floated in the water. It was white and appeared to be marking something, but what? Was it a marker to signal DEA agents to swoop in and get us I wondered?

"Man my skin is so dry I need to moisturize today. Do you ever use Jergens?" Philip asked.
"Yeah, I like to Jergens. Jergens, sometimes I Jergens." The General used Jergens as a verb as if he did not really know Jergens was a moisturizer.
Philip and The General then high fived to Jergens. "Yes!! Jergens!" laughed Philip.
Do you see this?"The General held up his left arm, "Sometimes I spill my blood. I cut myself, sometimes. Sometimes I like to drink it, but sometimes I just let it spill out."
Anna and I looked at each other unsure if it was okay to laugh.
No one said much else.

The picnic was marked by the giant floating ball which turned out to be, not a signal for the DEA, but a massive piece of flotsam, once an advertisement for a club, now converted to a yard ornament, albeit a yard ornament in the ocean. Onshore was a picnic table under Casuarina trees. Seated was a massive elderly woman in a moo moo, her chubby pink skinned and even less genetically diverse than she grandchild, two young black Bahamians and an alcoholic-skinny elderly man smoking a joint off of his car key. Unlike his behemoth spouse his fashion sense indicated his affinity towards marijuana by displaying a giant pot leaf and the words "God made man, God made weed, Man made Beer, In God We Trust." I've always done well in reading comprehension but I'm still trying to puzzle meaning out of this shirt.

The General made quick introductions and we all sat down at the table and enjoyed a pot head's Sunday afternoon picnic off of the old man's key while warm rum and coke was offered for refreshments. The chubby grandchild was having hunger pangs and as a result ordered to the sea to remove conch from their conch garden, a small fenced in area of grass, twenty yards offshore in about three feet of water. Chubby made a couple slow trips between the shore and the garden with a conch in each hand, his wet t-shirt trapped in between rolls of fat. Out of breath from what must have been a years worth of physical activity, he huffed as he was sent to the neighbor's yard to pick a few sour oranges for the conch salad. The old man and The General began to clean. Philip diced onions and tomatoes while the grandmother prepared the best conch salad in the Bahamas. Unfortunately for Chubby, his grandmother used a bit too much hot pepper for the child and he soon began to sweat as his pink hue darkened to red. His grandmother suggested he sit in the shade while the heat passed. The old man sold Philip fifty dollars worth of his homegrown marijuana and rolled more for the picnic. We all sat at the table, there was little conversation, mostly everyone just watched the giant piece of flotsam loll around between the waves.

On the way back to the boat,  The General, pointed out a tree in the marsh that they used to smoke.
"See that et's the Brolliweed, I remba when we use'ta smoke the Brolli as kids, like cigarettes ya'know."
"Which one is the Brolli? Philip said.
"Tat one over there."
"It uhh green one, looks like tree" as he pointed to a stand of trees and brush.
"General, all of them are green."
"I know, they are some greeeen trees out here." laughed The General.

Philip and I asked The General about local fishing spots and he gave us specific directions we'd never be able to decipher. "My mom loves the fish. She goes and fish all the time and boy if she don't catch her some fish.

The General dropped the three of us off back at our boat. Before we were finished relaying the events of that afternoon for Chris and Amber,  I heard an an outboard choke and, "ELLO! ELLO guys General ere, guys it's General." He handed me three bags of frozen juvenile snappers, jacks and grunts.
"Where did you get all these fish?" I said.
"My moms, they live in her freezer but I thought you wanted some feesh so General got them from the freezer and I brotcha these feesh."
"Wow, thanks General, that was really nice of you" I said holding ten pounds of fish that looked more like bait than a meal. I fake smiled at the fish and then back at The General. For a minute he just looked at me, waiting maybe for an invitation to come aboard. "Alright, well. Have a good evening General." I said and went down into the boat.

The next night I scorched and fried the snappers whole and threw away the rest of the fish. They were small and bony but there was enough of them for everyone to have a few.

Picking away the flesh from the sharp little bones I thought about The General's mom, I imagined her tired from a hard days work but then she goes out to the dock with her hand reel to fish for these little Lane and Mangrove Snappers. And then she's at home and she goes to her freezer, she's going to fry up a couple fish, maybe a few for The General too. And when she reaches in her freezer she notices, something is missing. Confused she walks into the next room to ask her son about it where she finds a roach on the table and The General, on the couch drinking his blood or maybe Jergensing.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Necesito la anfetamina

A British friend of mine, Emma, is always preaching the importance of having a balanced life. I practice her advice by slowly enjoying a cigarette before and after a long a five mile run. Plenty of Vodka the night before a morning workout.


Before leaving the Dominican Republic Anna and I thought it wise to resupply our medicine cabinet with prescription drugs. In the DR you do not need a prescription to buy drugs from a pharmacy, you simply need the name of the medications and the pesos to pay for them (which in the DR isn't very much). So we compiled a list of medications, the brand name and their generic equivalent in Espanol and went shopping. Our list was as follows:

Immitrex-for Anna's migraines
Adderall-for fun and staying awake long nights on the boats
Concerta-for fun
Oxycontin-for fun and to balance out the Adderall and the Concerta
Tramadol-for rainy days and injuries
Antibiotics-for anything we might do to ourselves while under the influence of any of the above

In two days we visited every Farmacia in Samana able to acquire everything except the stimulants we adore. At each Farmacia I'd pull out a wrinkled, stained sheet of paper and say, "Tiene los estimulantes? Necesito la anfetamina, la dextroanfetamina." The pharmacist would study my list, squeeze their lips together say, "la dextroanfetamina?" Occasionally they'd go to the back and return with random medicines, one tried to offer us a cream for Eczema. I'd say, "i un problema para pagar la atención" Out of desperation I tried miming symptoms of ADHD trying to look distracted I'd look at the wall, then at deodorant, look at the newspaper, sniff Anna's head, then rifle through my pockets. This only made me look crazy and the pharmacist cocked his head to the side, confused, the way a dog does as if to say, "I'm not sure what you're telling me." I was startled by how focused I became looking for medication for people who cannot focus. After returning to most of the Farmacias a second time with new names for the drugs like "metilfenidato" the pharmacist would simply shake their head. 

Walking in between Farmacias complaining to Anna, "They must have people with attention problems here, what do they do with them?" Anna's ADD responded with "Do you ever wish you had a tail?" 


Thursday, September 16, 2010


If you're unaware Aruba is a former Dutch colony and as such has many Dutch people living and working here. We've even convinced a few of them to be our friends. As an American it is not fair for me to insult the Dutch and their ability to speak English seeing as how most of them speak four or five languages and I can barely speak one. But since I am an American it is my nature to be unfair and insulting as much so as it is their's to be cheap. One of our new Dutch friend's doesn't know how to use possessives in English. For instance, instead of saying, "That is Bill's car" she says, "That is the car of Bill." or "The wife of Bill" or "The home of Bill." Initially I was confused, I thought it strange sounding but now I've recategorized it as delightful, it makes everything seem very grand, even regal. In my head I hear trumpets that go BMM BMM BMM as I get dressed telling objects "you are the shirt of Jeff, you are the bathing suit of Jeff and you are the sunglassses of Jeff." Anna and I have taken to talking this way between each other, "I must stop at the office of Debbie."

A side effect of this way of speaking makes things that are mass produced suddenly become more unique. "You are the coffee of Jeff." I whispered to my Starbucks. Even insignificant objects that I'd  never declare possession of are now proclaimed as part of my kingdom. "You are the cutip of Jeff and "You are the dirty paper towel of Jeff."

When I start to catalog all the things that are "of me" it begins to feel become a little overwhelming and I'm not quite sure of who retains ownership. I'm constructing a mental Of Jeff Tree, like a Family Tree but just all about me. Is the coffee of Jeff still the coffee of Jeff now that it's inside me? What about when I pee it out? Fuck, what about pee? Is it the pee of Jeff once it goes into the ocean? Do I still retain ownership of coffee cup even though it is in the trash can? Will the coffee cup of Jeff become the coffee cup of the trash man? Suddenly I'm considering becoming a hoarder but I don't have space for that. All this makes me think of documentaries I've watched on Egyptians and how they buried  royalty in the pyramids with all of their possessions even pets until we dug them out for the purpose of making documentaries. Sure they were buried with gold and I'm talking about being buried with a paper coffee cup but no one is robbing my grave for a coffee cup.

Even more complicated are people. Is my dentist from  a year ago still the dentist of Jeff? Forget lovers, I am concerned about the number of cashier's I've had. How can I even document all them? What if I wasn't actually the one buying anything? Should I only count the ones I've had playful banter with? Is my first grade teacher Ms. Gillespie still the teacher of Jeff?  I'm sure I use something she taught me, so in a way she's still my teacher and yet she's also not.

Who is of me and who is not? When do we stop being of one person and become of someone else?  For you this may seem trivial or just an issue of semantics but to me it's of historical importance. If I don't figure this out now what will they write in the textbooks? Who will know whether to come to my funeral or even send an "I'm sorry I couldn't make it but I'm so sorry note." It's not that I'm planning on dying, ever, but it's really the only time everyone "of you" gets together. So I'd at least like to get it right or I could just go back to using apostrophes.

(By the way what happens to a persons Facebook page when they die? If I do end up dying can I write status updates to be posted posthumously).

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

How to say no to street vendors and human smugglers

Samana is the Dominican Republic’s Daytona Beach. Being there you get the feeling that it’s past it’s prime, Michael Jordan returning to basketball, once bigger and greater than it currently is today. It is faded paint and cracked sidewalks. It’s where Dominican’s go to vacation and still a lure to whale lovers, primarily Europeans, as the humpbacks migrate nearby in Winter months. The infrastructure along the waterfront or Malecon is dilapidated if not bizarre. Along the sidewalk, The City, probably in the late eighties or early nineties installed what can best described as large cement abdominal wheels turned on their side, with a stairway leading up to the “wheel” portion of the platform for people to look out at the water. It fits in with the period of architecture called The Jetsons, when designers must have thought we’d be flying around on hoverboards any day now. About fifteen of these eyesores line the waterfront in a variety of faded orange, purple, yellow, green and blue displaying rusted stairways. Some local graffiti artists have added a special touch to the eyesores. I imagine their illegible spray paint says, “I’m sorry my city installed such ugly features along what would otherwise be a very nice waterfront.”

Behind the water the city rises and falls abruptly with mountains, palm trees and bananas that look like they’re ready to take over the city and reclaim it in the name of nature. The sharp peaks and valleys look like what it would be like to be inside a half eaten jar of peanut butter. As in all Dominican cities motorcycles are everywhere except here the motorconcho taxis feature a rickshaw attached to the bike. Also like other Dominican and Caribbean cities many buildings and home display what I call an “Eventually.” An Eventually is like a porch, a pool or carport but it’s actually nothing at all. If you’ve ever been to the Caribbean without a doubt you’ve seen one. It is when a building or home appears to be under construction but also looks like it’s been there for fifty years. One or two levels of the building are complete but ten foot twigs of rebar stick up through the roof and it is clear someone is thinking, “we’ll get to that, eventually.” But in the meantime it’s just a bunch of rusted metal sticking out of a roof and it looks like the image you’d think of when you hear words like “poor” or the phrase “third world country.” Another Eventually that is very popular in Samana are beautiful cement set of stairs on the outside of the building that lead to nowhere. You could walk up the stairs and be on the second floor of a one story building. A lot of people look at Eventuallys as sad and ugly but to me Eventuallys are just optimism.

Because of the remaining tourist industry the town has a section of small shops occupied by annoying hawkers trying to sell cigars, bad paintings and ugly knick knacks that have nothing to do with Dominican Republic like wooden elephants. Anna’s name for the hawkers is the “Mi amigos,” because whenever you walk by their shop they do say, “Mi amigo, mi amigo, come look inside my shop.” Or “Mi amigo, where are you from mi amigo.” They stop you in the street and do everything but handcuff and mace you to force you into perusing their wares. I enjoyed walking by the hawkers once Anna, taught me to say, “No, amigo, usted es mi enemigo.” and “Por favor dejar de hablar para mí.” or PLEASE STOP SPEAKING TO ME. I enjoyed backhanding them with my new Spanish phrases. It reminded me of one point in my childhood when I found one of my mother’s French books from college. At the top of one of the pages she’d written, “ferme ta bouche” and when she told me it meant, “shut your mouth” my response to everything became “ferme ta bouche.” Anna, though she amused by anything I said in Spanish, preferred a more passive tactic of dealing with the hawkers, walking four blocks out of the way to circle around them.

At the Supermercado, trying to ask for Red Bull sin azucar a large dark Haitian in perfect English offered some help. His name was Willy. He was not handsome, was not fat but had a large belly. We asked him if there were restaurants on the East side of the town, he nodded and offered to take us there. As we’d learned nothing was free in the DR I said you can just tell us how to get there. He insisted it was not a problem to take us and that we’d have difficulty finding the restaurants. We looked at each other unsure, but since this is how we usually found adventure we both nodded okay. Now, following Willy through the city we learned he had a girlfriend who worked for Sirius radio in some state like Idaho and he learned about us, on our sailboat heading to Aruba. Something about how he spoke, he would over complete sentence with excessive explanation and held his hands in front of him like he was holding a grapefruit. It felt as if he was trying very hard to figure something out and even when Anna and I offered truthful answers he’d somehow put together the wrong conclusion.

“So where are you from.”

“El mar” I’d say

“What do you mean el mar, I think you do not know what that means. El mar means the sea you cannot come from the sea.”

“Si, el mar.” Anna would affirm

Willy puzzled repeated “You come from the sea?”

“On a boat” I’d offer

“Oh so you came here on a cruise ship. I see that is different than what I understood you to mean”

“No we came here on our boat”

“So you came here and bought a boat, that is not what I was understanding before, when you say that you are from the ocean and that you live in the harbor that is not what I would expect you to mean.”

And on it went….

Paying more attention to Willy try to reach a conclusion and listening to him explain the difficulties in balancing a U.S girlfriend and Dominican lovers we didn’t realize he’d taken us right into the heart of Calle de la Hawkers. Here he said, "I just have to run into my store for a moment." Willy was a hawker. His English a huge advantage for his business his store was sad and depressed me. Willy disappeared into the back of the store. Anna and I sat outside drinking our Dominican Cider, Benedicta, waiting for Willy to do whatever it was he was doing. As we sat outside the store I imagined other people were probably thinking we were hawkers I saw a couple and was about to come approach them with my best “mi amigo, mi amigo come into my store” when another hawker intercepted them. After ten minutes of waiting on Willy, our ciders gone we both decided we no longer cared what restaurants were east of the town and left.

Between where our dinghy was docked and Calle de la Hawkers was a newly built development of tourist shops and a bar. It was a plaza of shops that would have looked lovely in a small American town but the cracker style architecture looked strikingly out of place in Samana. At the bar we sat down at an outside table, I ordered a Presidente and Anna a vodka grapefruit. Before our drinks arrived Willy did. Like the neighborhood kid you’re forced to play with he took a chair and asked why we left. Not understanding that this is what people do when they don’t care for your company. We apologized and blamed the heat for making us ditch him. He asked if we’d still like to see the restaurants to the east, we said yes but not now. While Willy and I shared my Presidente he began to inquire what it was like going from country to country in a sailboat. I told him about all the things that were wonderful like the water, the people, the different cultures and the joy of arriving in a new place. But what Willy was actually trying to uncover, what he wanted to know was the literally the technicalities of going from country to country, immigration.

“Is it difficult to go from one country to another?”

“Well that depends, but no, not really” I said

“Would it be difficult to take people with you?”

“To where? No, not really.”

“Anywhere, the U.S. or the Bahamas.”

“I am not going to the U.S. or to the Bahamas.”


“I don’t want to go there.”

“But you could?”


“What if I could pay you $5000 per person? I could have twelve people on your boat tomorrow. And another twelve more every time you return. I could do this for you. You could be a very wealthy man. I could do this. You would have to take me for free. But you’d get $5000 for everyone else. Would this be possible?”

“Yes, it’s possible, it’d be easy to do, but I cannot do this for you.”

Willy went on for about an hour explaining that it would be no problem for me. That’d I’d have all the easy money I ever needed and since he was Haitian, he knew many people both in the DR and back home to fill the boat. I suggested he steal one of the boats from the harbor and fill it with passengers and drop them off in the Bahamas.

“But you see I was trying to help you become a wealthy man and my plan makes everyone happier if I were to do that you’d be left out”

He made it sound like it was a small favor like lending him a gallon of gasoline. Weary of saying “no” and afraid I might say yes just to see what happened I wanted to say, “Por favor dejar de hablar para mí.” Finally, Anna and I indicated it was time to go. Willy offered me his cell phone in case I changed his mind.

A few days later Anna and I hiked east of the town into the mountains. Here the jungle thickened and we found there were no restaurants. The lights we saw were not places to eat but only smallish cinderblock homes decorated with Eventuallys.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Airplane of the Sea

If you never thought dead stingrays were beautiful talk to me. If you think that the French own the deed to the language of love title then talk to someone else because we can't be friends.

One of our first days in the Republica Dominica we were walking along the dock in the town of Luperon. We'd just arrived and my Spanish was on a three year olds level (literally the dogs new more Spanish than me) but still, I couldn't resist the urge to ask people questions to talk to strangers and say, "Why are you riding a tricycle dressed up like a giant red penguin." Because as a newcomer I'd like to know that this is how one sells ice cream in the DR. And as we're walking along the water an old man was pushing an equally as old bicycle. Along each side of the back tire were baskets which held two triangle shaped objects. They looked like wings the color of sand but were clearly flesh. There was a small hole punched through each wing in which the man ran twine to secure them to the baskets.I knew they were stingrays but I had to ask.

"Que es?" I said.
His response I will never forget, "el Avion de el Mar"
Ahh Bonita! Take that France. If you've ever seen stingray swim a more perfect way to say stingray does not exist. I no longer call them stingrays, from now on they are "el Avion de el Mar."


When you're at sea for five days like a long car ride you and the other passengers come up with games to pass the time. One day in the middle of the Caribbean, sailing from Samana, Republica Dominicana to Aruba as the sun gave way and Mr. Moon began his watch of the earth Anna and I played "Would You Rather?"

"Would you rather be a llama or camel" she asked. I chose llama.
These type of questions reframed went back and forth between us for thirty minutes.
"Would you rather be able to read people's minds or would you rather glow?" I asked.

Anna thought, she bit her lip and looked at the ocean and looked back at me and then she said, "I....I would rather glow." she said. "mmmhhh," she reaffirmed, "I would rather glow."

At this we laughed hard for ten minutes as we repeated the line and how both weird and funny it sounded. We laughed because Anna chose glowing over knowing people's thoughts. and we looked at each knowing that this was a conversation that probably never comes up among most people much less sailors in the middle of an ocean and one that was representative of our typical dialogue.

The rest of the night we didn't say much. Occasionally we'd laugh and say, "I would rather glow." Then things would get quiet, we were moving along, Desdemona was sailing well we had long sleeve shirts on because of the cool breeze and warm sun tanned skin. It was comfortable in the Caribbean everything was like "el Avion de el Mar."

Monday, September 13, 2010


There is a an area in Aruba that women flip their hair back and smile while thinking,  "I feel fat"as they do their best version of sexy, one leg over the other, chest slightly forward. Dads tries to get the whole family to smile at once without their teenage sons rolling their eyes. Children are ordered to stand still and strangers are given the instruction "it's easy just push here." For some reason all tourists in Aruba find the Renaissance Marina dock an inviting location for filling their memory card. The scene is nice but not overwhelmingly beautiful. It's a man-made marina cluttered with a couple local fishing boats,  a lot o Bertram and Viking sport fishing boats and a few sailboats. The main shipping port is directly behind the marina to north so if you're facing west taking a picture of someone with the water at their back I imagine you'd be inclined to crop the right side of your photo to remove the giant ugly freighter that is poking it's nose into "Aruba Vacation" album. There isn't anything designating this area as a great location for a Kodak moment but for some reason, Americans, Europeans and Latins alike all decide, right here, this is it, we need to remember being right here. It isn't that they snap a photo of the marina itself, it's that this is where they say, "Honey, go stand over there, I want to take a picture of you here." and out of the fanny pack comes the digital camera.

I am not a shutterbug myself but I enjoy watching strangers take photos of each other. It's an awkward situation with squinting, excessive fake smiling and accidental blinking. Whenever I see people taking these type of posed photos of each other it makes me feel that I am significantly better than them. It's not that I am, it just makes me feel as if I am because at least I am not holding a goofy smile for 30 seconds while someone with a straw hat that says, "Aruba" across the top tries to capture a moment in which I look nice. It feels overwhelmingly contrived and forced. I feel uncomfortable for them. And when I see these models, especially women, posing at the marina, to me it says, "This is me, trying to look as happy and as cute as I can." I can't help but smile at how cliche and self conscious they look. It goes beyond age and culture. At those moments I wish someone was taking a picture of me watching them take pictures of each other because I am smiling and it's big, excessive and not fake at all.

It makes you feel that even if there are so many differences in the world. If we don't understand each others languages, cultures, religions and politics at least we all agree on where we should pose for a photo in Aruba. I imagine the different homes these pictures are framed in. Some nice extravagant homes with granite and ceilings that reach to the heavens while others are dusty sort of places with stained carpet and little decorative gnomes. Some in hallways next to hundreds of other family photos. Others are on display in the bathroom, featured next to the liquid soap dispenser. A guest over for dinner might admire it while washing their hands and think "What a nice family." but what they never ever think is "What a nice fake smile." And meanwhile back at the marina in Aruba a dad is scolding his teenage son, "Steven, please... Smile, you're ruining the photo, Steven, now!"

And I'd like to put my arm around Steven like the Ghosts did for Scrooge and say "look don't feel so bad, your family is a bunch of dweebs but look around you, every family is a bunch of dweebs, it's the way of the word. When your dad wants you to fake smile for him, oblige and everything will move along a lot less painfully. You are just humans, doing something humans do, trying to remember a moment."