Tuesday, October 26, 2010


"Philip, just think, how many men can say they slept with a lesbian, orchestra conductor nearly twice their size and age?" I said to Philip for the second time that day when what we assumed was Karen's Cessna flew over our boat as it took her to try to identify land that didn't exist. Which is also what I was thinking about as I watched Karen; dressed in her pajamas, play Brick House on her flute the morning after sleeping with Philip. Maybe three or four at the most, I thought. Which led to me wondering how many men got to listen to a renowned lesbian conductor play the hit from The Commodores on the flute after just getting shagged by their friend and boat mate. In that category I have to assume there is only one, me. And while Anna and Bren were there neither knew about the liaison between Philip and Karen and since they were both women were not eligible for my survey anyways. But the thought that rang in my ears more than Karen's flute was what she'd said to us the first day we met her, "I just need to fall in love first."

Karen came to Long Island, Bahamas in part as a vacation but specifically there because she'd purchased two parcels of ocean front property she'd discovered online. With the stock market eating away at her savings she felt the land to be a better investment. Ocean front property in the Bahamas with its stable government and proximity to the U.S. seemed like a better idea than Central America. Staying at Chez Pierre known more for it's food than accommodations Karen told us she was determined to befriend the fussy French Canadian proprietor Pierre. Trip Advisor warned guests Pierre was temperamental.” I decided before I left I was going to win this man over, make him like me." she'd said. It sounded strange to want to win someone over you didn't even know, especially someone known for being an asshole. Who cares what he thinks of you? I thought. But Karen, accustomed to dealing with artists, decided attitude was something that came with the territory for those who sought perfection.

The way she was eating her shrimp you could tell she was interested in what we were saying. Either that or the shrimp weren't that good. Karen was the conductor for the Illinois Symphony. And though I didn't know any maestros something about her looked the part, in certain ways reminding me of other women I knew in the arts. She wore a face that reminds you of Emma Thompson but larger. At over six foot tall, it's fair to say she was big boned; she'd have been quite fat if it weren't for her height. We were talking sailing with our friend Gary when Anna invited her to join us at our table. 

We'd made the thirty plus mile day sail from Georgetown, Great Exuma to Salt Pond, Long Island specifically for the Long Island Regatta. In the Bahamas the racing boats are made of wood with large masts that support a massive sheet of canvas. Many are built in Nassau but a few come from the out islands. Traditionally, the boats had to be sailed to wherever the race was to be held. Not an easy thing to do when you consider the size of boats and the hundreds of nautical miles of ocean that the Bahamian Islands are spread across. These days the boats are brought to the race on larger boats. The Regatta boats are small but carry ten to fifteen men, most acting as ballasts hanging off the windward side to prevent the boat for toppling over. And since being ballast isn't a high enough honors to prevent crew from going out the night before a race and getting shit canned it isn't uncommon to find your way onto boat the day of the race.

Upon hearing about our limited experience as sailors Karen started to consider the idea for herself if her contract with the symphony wasn't renewed the following year. Her most significant concern was the availability of pharmaceuticals as she kept referring to "my condition" and after pressing insinuated it was heart related. And indeed she had issues that were heart related because when asking Gary about his opinion on catamarans she said, "I just need to fall in love first.” Before we left the restaurant, Long Island Breeze, Gary invited Karen and the rest of us over for drinks on his boat that evening. 
When Karen climbed in the dinghy it was clear she hadn't spent anytime on the water. She lumbered awkwardly, her feet unable to anticipate the movement of the boat she nearly toppled forward. She gave an embarrassed smile. I noticed her pale ankles freckled with mosquito bites. They were nearly the same diameter as her upper calf, more tree trunks than leg. Aboard his boat Cool Change, Gary served Rum with Coconut Milk garnished with a cherry. We shared stories about being on the water. Philip told Karen about being in marching band in highschool. During an awkward silence Anna asked Karen to share a funny moment from the symphony. Karen shared a story about a famous violinist who was giving a performance with her. Not only was the guest of honor a great violinist he was also wheel chair bound and before the show, as Karen was wheeling him through the theater the wheel jammed and she nearly dumped him from his chair. Karen blushed and laughed as she told the story and everyone else joined in to make her feel comfortable. I said, "that's really funny" which is what I do when someone tells me something that isn't but I'm not up to fake laugh. 

It was after 9:00 when we left Gary's boat to go back to Long Island Breeze for the Regatta Party and the live Rake and Scrape Band. The band was charging $10 cover but since we arrived from the back via our dinghies, we hoped to go unnoticed. After ten or so minutes of doing our best job to blend in with the patio furniture we were busted. Karen paid cover for Gary, Philip, Anna and I. In return we bought her a five-dollar rum cocktail. As we sat on the patio, only a few other people had arrived but the main restaurant was still mostly filled with diners. Karen decided to enjoy her cocktail in the pool and proceeded to remove her clothes, revealing a one piece she wore underneath, shortly, after which a staff member instructed her to put her clothes back on and remove herself from the water. Not too long afterwards a couple of younger women in small bathing suits jumped in but not one said anything to them. Now wet and slightly intoxicated she sat on the patio chairs with us drinking a rum punch looking sad. I felt like sitting down next to her, putting my arm over her shoulder and saying, “Sweetie some people are just mean. It’s not about who you are on the outside.” But in reality it is about who you are on the outside and since Karen was in her fifties I figured she knew that by now.
The next few days we didn't see or hear from Karen. We spent each day at The Regatta only slightly watching the race. With barely enough wind to fill their sails the race wasn't as exciting as it might have been were the weather different. The stalls at the Regatta Park were filled with vendors. Bahamian fair food, conch fried or ceviche style, hamburgers, jerk chicken, Kalik and the surprisingly tasty Sky Juice which is gin, coconut milk and coconut water over ice.  I bought conch fritters from a woman wearing a Publix apron. Each evening they had music at the park. One night Gary, Anna and I watched a once famous Bahamian musician named Jay Mitchell. He performed soul music in a Bahamian-Blue outfit studded with rhinestones and glitter, the shirt entirely open exposing his sweaty chest. As he sang local strung out drunken Rastas, some of who were passed out earlier during the race awoke from their stupor to sway around him. My favorite was his new song Gotta Keep My Belly Full which made the Rastas rub their bellies in circles as he sang
“Gotta keep my belly full Gotta keep my belly full
Like a Rasta I don’t eat no pork
But I’ll eat a lobster
without a knife and a fork
Gotta keep my belly full”
The day after the Regatta, Gary returned to Great Exuma. Philip, Anna and I decided to hitchhike south to see what we'd see. Unlike the other Bahamian islands no one was quick to give us a ride. Eventually a white pick up pulled over with two British guys. Curly and John were developers building a marina in Stella Maris, on the north side of the island. They were from Andorra, a country that none of us had heard of and sounded more like a region in Narnia than 181 sq miles of land between Spain and France. However they had wheels so we hopped in. They gave us a lift to Max's Famous Conch Bar. We had a few beers, used the wifi and chatted with John and Curly. At Max's Anna received an email from Karen. She was at a restaurant nearby with her friend Bren, who'd flown in a couple days before. We got a ride from a guy leaving Max's and he took us down a dirt road that led to the coast. He left us at the tiny restaurant where Karen's rental car was the only one occupying the parking lot. Outside a baby white goat clip clopped around the wooden patio. Inside Karen, wearing pajamas gave us warm hugs introduced us to her friend Bren and insisted that we share their lunch of fresh lobster and salad with them. Karen told us she still hadn't found her parcels of land and was beginning to worry if they even existed. Unable to reach the person who'd sold them to her things were looking sketchy.
Bren was the kind of person you met and were suddenly old friends. She said whatever came to her mind, which was often inappropriate but funny. She was Karen's antithesis peppy and exuberant in contrast to Karen's exhausted aura. Bren was large but somehow more demur than Karen. An accurate personal ad would describe her as voluptuous. She wore make up. Karen wore pajamas. It was obvious she spent time getting ready in the morning. She also made Karen switch accommodations from Chez Pierre to a rental house on the southern end of the island near Clarence Town because she needed air conditioning. Bren and Karen were lesbian friends who'd met online and hung out two or three times before.
As lunch concluded Curly and John wandered into the restaurant on their Sunday ritual Bar Beer Hop. I mentioned to Karen that they were developers and might have information related to her property. Karen interrogated Curly on what he knew. After hearing the details Curly told Karen she'd likely been taken. Curly also informed Karen that there wasn't much legal recourse she could pursue, that the modern day pirates of the Bahamas were in the business of selling titles to land that didn't exist. Karen maintained a positive self-depreciating sense of humor on finding out she'd probably lost $40,00 she held up her glass and said, "here's to me getting screwed in the Bahamas." She laughed but you could tell it hurt.
After lunch we went with Karen and Bren to Dean's Blue Hole, the world's largest. Anna and I chatted with Bren and floated 663 feet above the bottom of the hole while Karen and Philip snorkeled. As we were leaving Karen received a call on her cell. It was a reporter from Illinois calling for her reaction to the symphony opting to not renew her contract. The newspaper must have read "Symphony Conductor Startled." Karen, unaware of the decision until the reporter called was in shock. She asked more questions of the reporter than he did of her.
While Karen drove, Bren in the passenger seat and the three of us in the back Philip made implications as to his sexual prowess. The fact that Karen and Bren were lesbians on a vacation together didn't inhibit Philip from overtly flirting with Bren. Bren, the playful type, flirted back. A lot of it involved talk about sticking things in butts, spankings and putting things in one another’s mouths. Thinking of her friend's day Bren suggested we get wine, quick. We stopped at a restaurant (liquor stores in the Bahamas are closed Sundays) and Bren bought us dinner and wine to go. While we waited for our food Karen went for a swim in the restaurant pool. I hoped no one kicked her out this time.

At the rental house Bren and Philip, still flirting, unpacked the to go boxes and plated dinner for everyone. Conversation at dinner became overtly sexual. Bren was winking and whispering to Anna. Philip was winking at Bren and Karen looked strung out. She made a comment I can’t quite recall, likely because I was startled when she began to remove her shirt. I had the bad feeling everyone was about to get naked and since I was only interested in seeing one person at the table naked I was thankful when Karen put her shirt back down and with that the conversation changed directions. But after dinner the conversation moved back towards sex when Karen sat on the floor while Bren, Anna and I sat on one couch and Philip on the other. Karen became hyper-talkative. Karen and Bren talked about vibrators, shapes, designs, wattage. She made Bren out to be a sort of wishy washy lesbian because she used to be married. Karen only had sex with a man once, when she was in her mid twenties and described it as awful and completely unsatisfying. Her entire life her Christian family made her afraid of sex with men. It was treated as something bad and dirty; to be avoided and so not to disappoint them family she became a lesbian. “Maybe I need to give men another chance, just for the hell of It.,” she said. Eventually Bren went to bed and Anna and I did shortly after. As I was getting a glass of water Philip and Karen were looking out the window at the lightning.
The next morning on the way into the kitchen I didn’t notice anyone awake. When I turned around Philip crept in and whispered
“Dude I have to tell you something.” 
“What?” I whispered back
“I had sex with Karen.”
“Really? What? Oh my god Philip. Not uh. Really? She’s a lesbian.”
“Yea. I know. She came out of her room and was like Philip I want to have sex with you.”
“If anything I thought you’d have sex with Bren or both of them.”
“I know me too. How old do you think she is?”
“Old. But it doesn’t matter. You did the right thing. She was having a bad day. Philip, just think, how many men can say they slept with a lesbian, orchestra conductor nearly twice their size and age?"

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