Sunday, July 24, 2016

STACKED




So I get this opportunity of a lifetime—an invitation for a trip to Aruba with free lodging, thanks to my lifelong friend (and I do mean lifelong, since she was two and I was one when we met which, BTW, makes me one whole year younger, a fact she lorded over me in our youth and which I lord over her in our senior years) Ginger who, with her husband Bill, owns a condo there. Right on Eagle Beach.

Oh, mama!

Once I got there, there were big decisions to make: how late to sleep in, which beach to loll around on, how many pina coladas to have before lunch. Heavy stuff. The word ‘paradise’ is over-bandied, but this came pretty close, especially since I’d just left 17 degrees and four inches of new snow in Chicago.

We got to the pool this one particular morning, making great fuss over securing beach towels to our lounge chairs with colorful plastic parrot-clips. Sun block: slather, slather. Shades, check. Sleazy novel, check. Are those angels singing? Yes, melody riding on the island breeze.

Right about the time I’m getting to the chapter where Slade finds out that Bridgett’s chin is actually an implant and he is seriously considering calling off the wedding, Ginger chirps, “I’m hungry. I sure wish someone would make me a sandwich.”

I, basking in the tropical sun and gratitude over her invitation into this glorious place, jump up and offer to run up to the condo and do the Dagwood bit.

“What kind do you want?” A simple question, right? It should take me about 15 minutes tops.

“Um, let’s see, “she contemplates. “We have ham and turkey, Gouda and Swiss. How about a turkey and Gouda, with mayo and lettuce and butter.”

“Got it,“ I say and head toward the condo.

“Wait!” she cries. “It has to be put together in a certain order.”

“OK, what order?”

“Sourdough bread, then butter, then lettuce, then Gouda, then mayo, then turkey and more lettuce, then the sourdough.”

“BBMGLTLB,”  Got it.” I step away.

“No! You got the mayo and lettuce mixed up,” she says.

“Why is the order so important?” I ask, sorry the moment it was out of my mouth, remembering the time when we were five and six (did I mention she’s a year older?)and I got a fifteen-minute explanation about why her bedroom clock was set ten minutes ahead of the actual time so that if she was running late getting ready for something, she could take comfort in the fact that she was actually ten minutes ahead of where the clock told her she was and thus ensuring her prompt arrival at said destination.

Back to Aruba: “Well, duh! Because the lettuce keeps the butter from sticking to the Gouda and what would be the point of having lettuce between cheese and turkey? It’s illogical.”

“What happens if I make it upside down—with the lettuce and the mayo on the bottom?”

“I’ll know if you do.”

I get a flashback to when we were kids living in Detroit across the street from each other. Did I miss this side of her back then? She seemed so normal when we would sell Kool-Aid on the front lawn. We had agreed that first the pitcher was filled with water. Then the Kool-Aid was added. Then the sugar (the olden days). Then ice. Simple.

At this point I should explain that I have always enjoyed yanking her chain. I say, “OK, let’s see if I have this straight: sourdough bread, butter, lettuce, Swiss, mayo turkey and more lettuce, then bread.”

“Right. No! Gouda, not Swiss. We are in Aruba, after all.”

“Oh, sorry.  Butter, lettuce, GOUDA, then mayo, turkey and lettuce.”

“Right.”

“All on marbled rye.”

She pulls her shades down and gives me that ‘I’m barely tolerating you’ look I first saw the day I surreptitiously floated a water beetle past her in our kiddie pool.

“Ok, ok, I’ve got it straight.” Once again, I turn toward the condo.

She calls after me, “Don’t forget to cut it on the bias. I’ve seen how you cut your sandwiches all right-angled.”

I trot back to her chair, giving her the ‘Are you serious?’ look I gave her the day we’d ordered the hamburger platter lunch at Woolworth’s fountain and found out we didn’t have enough money to pay for it and she refused to use the money her mom had given her to buy potatoes on the way home.

I’d had enough. She was winning this battle of wits. I sauntered over to my beach bag and pulled out a small pad of paper and a pen. “Here, draw me a diagram of how you want your sandwich,” I said, entertaining the urge to include real sand.

Her face lit up, and she got right to work. Before long, she had a diagram that could rival any architect’s skyscraper proposal, including a stack of ingredients floating vertically, as if by a ghostly presence. On the top of the diagram floated a piece of bread, with a picture of an old man holding a pan.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“That’s a picture of a Gold Rush miner in San Francisco, where they invented sourdough bread. It’s to help you remember.”

Beneath that rested a small square with a little cow smiling next to it. Obviously, butter.

Then a raggedy leaf drooping from a bunny’s mouth.

Then a circle with a little Dutch girl next to it, complete with Dutch girl hat and wooden shoes. Gouda.

Then a shape reminiscent of an amoeba I saw under a microscope in ninth grade. “You want an amoeba in your sandwich?”

She grabbed the paper and squinted at it. “That’s a blob of mayo,” she asserted.

“Then why’s that icon for the Internet next to it?”

Again, she frowned at her list. “Anybody could tell that’s an oil well. Mayo’s made from oil.”

And finally at the bottom was a neat square divided in half by a precise diagonal cut.

Grabbing the diagram and scurrying up to the condo, I quickly assembled said ingredients in said order, cut saidly diagonally.

Delivering it, I was paid with a big Aruba smile and a heartfelt, “Thanks!”

I settled back with my novel, hoping Slade will cut Bridgett some slack with her chin issue.

“Ahem,” comes from the next chair.

I look over at her.

“Remember when we were about seven and we were playing Parcheesi and I said you cheated and threw the board up and scattered all our pieces?”

“Yeah.”

“Well. I know you didn’t really cheat. Sorry.”


“That’s okay,” I counter. “Actually, I did.”

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

WUF

         A crash and screams from the living room. I dashed in, praying “Please God, no blood.”
         “What happened?” I shrieked at the two stunned faces of my young sons.
No blood.
“Timmy knocked down my Wegos!” three-year-old Bobby screamed, blasting a fistful of Lego pieces at Timmy’s face.
         “He smashed my puzzle,” Timmy shouted, throwing a handful of puzzle pieces at Bobby, then lunging at his throat.
         Dashing into the crossfire, I pulled them apart, holding the two wrigglers as best I could. They flailed at each other, hoping to score one more hit, since they knew they were already in trouble.
         “Stop this!” I growled. “Brothers are supposed to love each other.”
         Bobby glared at his brother. “I don’t wuf you. I hate you!” he declared.
         Timmy spewed, “I hate you too!”
         “Enough! Both of you, wash your hands and brush your teeth. We have to be at the dentist in half an hour.”
         Grumbling and glaring at each other, they headed for the bathroom with me between serving as firewall. I stood in the doorway as they begrudgingly completed the assigned tasks, elbowing each other away from the sink as much as they figured they could get away with.
 We piled into the car, combatants secured by snugly drawn seatbelts.
Shaking my finger, I threatened, “And I don’t want to hear a peep out of either one of you.”
As I started the car, muffled sounds from behind me.
“Peep.”
“Peep.”
At the dental office, Bobby fared well, but Timmy needed a tooth pulled. As they readied his brother for the procedure, Bobby contented himself in the waiting room by trying to dismantle a toy truck, while I tried not to think about what my little boy was going through in the dentist’s chair.
After many long minutes, the nurse appeared and said, “All went well, but Timmy needs to rest awhile before going home. You can join him if you like.”
I walked gingerly into the dimly lit room.
Timmy lay in the chair, still, his eyes half closed, bloody gauze held between his teeth; a thin stream of blood-tinged saliva ran quietly down his chin. My heart sank.
Bobby, puzzled and shocked, stopped at the doorway and quietly eyed his brother. He walked slowly to the chair, staring, then stretched out his chubby little hand and covered his brother’s.

“I wuf you,” he whispered.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Has Anybody Here Seen Kelley?
by 
Kelley Callahan Chikos

         
           The classroom was hushed. My two classmates and I stood up front to each present our portions of the project we had created together.  I was the last to present. As I took a deep breath to begin, the instructor slapped her thanks on us and bowed over her gradebook.

            "Excuse me," I said, "I haven't presented my part yet."

            Entering our group grade in her book, she looked up and exclaimed, "Oh! I'm so sorry! Please present your portion."

             This was the first time I suspected I was invisible.

             Then there was the time at the gym.  As my fitness group of five labored on a line of treadmills, the trainer worked her way down, recording each member's nutrition habits and goals. As she finished up with the woman next to me, I readied myself to answer her questions. Instead, she turned with her clipboard and walked back to her office.

            Hmmm.

            Yet again, there was the time at a banquet when the server refilled coffee all around our table of eight. You guessed it—after she had replenished the cup of the woman next to me, she turned and peddled her pot to the next table.

            "Excuse me," I called after her. No response, so I stood and walked over to her. "You missed me; I'd like some coffee please."

            She turned and gave me a blank stare. "Sorry," she mumbled. "I need to refill my pot, then I'll fill your cup."  She scurried into the kitchen, returning minutes later, and picked up right where she'd left off.

            Son of a. . . . .

            I don't need to be pampered; I'm content to wait my turn.  But this situation is getting serious.  I mean, what if one day I'm crossing railroad tracks and a steam engine comes along?  I can just hear the engineer, trying to explain the remnants of my human existence glittering on the rails, "Trust me—I'm positive the tracks were free and clear when I came through."

            So I set upon a quest. I needed to find out why this is happening and what to do about it. I went to the logical expert source—the Internet.

            According to one psychologist (and for $49.95, he could teach my spirit to fly--sans body-- to Tibet to see the sun rise)  I don't think of my needs as important.  Thus, am content to stay in the background while others engage.

            I sat down and gave myself a good talking to. I got a mirror and repeated, "You're a vibrant, confident hunk of female" until I could no longer stand the sound of my own voice.  I was brilliant!  Borderline arrogant! I was ready to take on the world!

            I set about changing a few things at the next social opportunity, which just happened to be a writers' conference. As our table of strangers sat at dinner, we began introducing ourselves. Smiles and nods all around.  I drew a breath to introduce myself and. . . .

            "OH! Can you believe how yummy these crab puffs are? Seriously?" the woman two seats to my right shouted. All eyes turned to her as she stuffed her cheeks, squirrel-like, with the pastry. I decided then and there that Cheeks was her true name.

            Making smacking noises with her lips, she foretold, "I'm going to hate myself Monday at my Weight Watchers weigh-in. Oh, well. Life's short." She smirked.

             Following the cheeky endorsement, I reached for the crab puffs.

            "Oh, Sweetie, you've worked so hard, you deserve to splurge. Here, have another," the woman to her left decreed, shoving the tray out of my reach.  The rest of the women nodded and clucked their approval at her lapse in judgment.

             Damn.

            She took so many, I expected her to dig a hole in the cheese dip and bury some puffs for later.

            Enough already!  Before I knew it, my voice boomed across the table, "Why don't you try a carrot stick or two, Cheeks?"

            All eyes turned on me.  All at the table fell silent. Cheeks's cheeks bulged with crab as she stared at me for a moment, uncomprehending. The others followed suit. (They looked at me first! Oh, yeah!) Then Cheeks turned to me and, slowly reaching for the crudités, said, "Thanks. I needed that."

            Soon, everyone at the table was happily crunching on veggies, leaving all the crab puffs for me. I'm not prone to guilt.

            The servers came around, refilling everyone's wine glass. Just as Herve tipped the bottle toward the rim of my glass, another server psst-ed him, "Herve, go fill Hollywood's glass." Herve responded by abandoning my empty glass and turning toward Hollywood.

            "Yo!  Herve! First things first, buddy," I said, grabbing him by the belt loop and extending my glass.

            Herve looked at me, as if for the first time.  Did he think he was seeing a vision, like that guy who saw a profile of Donald Trump in his burrito?

            "Oh!" he exclaimed and, glancing at my name tag, "I'm so sorry, Madam Kelley! Please, allow me," as he brimmed my glass.  "And please accept these for your personal pleasure." A plate of crab puffs magically appeared from behind his back.  He then reached inside his jacket and produced a beautiful bouquet of yellow roses—in a vase!—and set them at my place. "They pale only in comparison to your beauty, Madam!"

            "You're a dear, Herve," I gushed.

             After dinner, the guests headed for the book-signing tent.  I detoured to the piano bar, hoisted myself atop the instrument and launched into a rendition of "Second Hand Rose," the likes of which still echo in the pilsners.

            I've kicked this invisibility thing.  At the next conference, Cheeks and I duet.

            She'll sing harmony.

              

Thursday, February 19, 2015

TRICKLE DOWN TEACHING (FINALLY) IN THE eSTORES!

This is the book pedagogical humanity has been waiting for! Full of anecdotes and advice on the REAL world of teaching--not that romantic stuff that's portrayed all over the media.

Based on real-life heartbreaking and triumphal experiences, Chikos tells rookie teachers all they need to know to launch their careers mightily, from Day One, by harnessing the awesome powers that lie beyond the classroom. These largely unknown forces can quickly build a solid platform of support for the tenderfoot, making the infinitely complex job of the teacher a snap!

How, you ask, can a talented, dedicated and curious young teacher discover these prized secrets? Easy! Just go to either: Smashwords.com  or Amazon.com (Kindle Store) for a free preview!

Paperback is in the works via Amazon.com--stay tuned!

Go get 'em, Teach!


Cover design by Caligraphics at:  www.caligraphics.net

Sunday, August 31, 2014

30 YARDS

by Bob Chikos
Guest Blogger

At 13, I learned that quitting is a solo act, but overcoming adversity is a team effort.

In 1988 I entered high school as an obese, unpopular D student. I wasn't interested in high school for the intellectual discourse, as a route to college and career, or to explore different subject areas.

I just wanted to play football.

Twice-daily pre-season practices took place at the Brainerd Building, a World War I-era campus where freshmen were stored, down the street from the main campus. The football field bore signs of antiquity, like the H-shaped goal posts on each end. The ground was rock hard, stiffened from that year's heat and drought, a terrible summer in which 47 of the 90 days claimed new heat records. Low-lying, gnarled weeds dominated the grass, which was bare in the middle, worn from decades of use. Our cleats ripped what hardy vegetation could survive and left small puffs of dust in its place.

Those first two weeks were the closest thing to hell I'd experienced. The relentless sun beat down while we practiced calisthenics, group drills and conditioning, over and over, to turn us from soft boys into hardened men.

Stance:  butt down, head up, shift weight forward to lead with momentum.

Tackle:  arms around the dummy; drive, drive, drive.

Wind sprints. Push ups. Sit ups. Combinations. All while wearing 20 pounds of equipment.

My abs hurt. My quads hurt. It was hard to breathe in the heat and I constantly hacked. No matter how hard we tried, the coach belittled our efforts. I kept asking myself,  Is it worth it?

Shoved our way through blocking drills; charged, crouching, through metal chutes and crashed into each other at the sound of the whistle, like two bighorn sheep battling for supremacy. The only way to survive was to earn respect and the only way to earn respect was to fight above your level.  Junior high had been social Darwinism, but this was physical Darwinism. Occasionally, someone would get hurt. I felt bad for them, but it allowed me to take a knee for a few minutes.

One morning we ran in place, knees high. The coach blew his whistle and we hit the deck, face first, landing in a push-up position. A small bee in the grassweed stung my hand; I reported it to the coach, hoping for an out.

"Do you think you can still practice?" he asked.

"I don't think so."

He showed me a 'Come on!' face, but folded at my bluff. He had someone fetch ice to stop the swelling. I sat against the brick wall of the gym, next to a player who was out with tendinitis.
.
"You're sitting out for a bee sting?" he asked, rolling his eyes. He looked away, sneering, "Pussy."

With every practice, behind the goal posts, two girls from our class, team managers, sat with clipboards. Running past them, I'd flex my puny biceps, hoping they'd be impressed. They didn't seem to be. Just as well; I was too shy and self-conscious to talk to them outside of practice, anyway.

Cars and vanloads of upperclassmen drove along the adjacent road. They yelled, "FRESHMEN!!!" and threw ice from their Burger King cups at us. Our coach looked at them, then turned to us and said, "It doesn't take anything for them to do that. It takes a lot for you to do what you're doing." Finally, a little pat on the back.

That was also the year I lost my first name. Our coaches slapped white athletic tape on our helmets and wrote our last names in marker. From then on, I became 'Chikos' and, later, 'Cheeks.' I stopped thinking of myself as Bob and started thinking of myself as a representative of my family. I was carrying on the tradition of people who went before me, people who had sacrificed in war, immigration, and working every day at rough jobs so they could support their families. Being a Chikos became something to be proud of and I needed to be worthy of the honor.

During afternoon practice, we were like dying men in the desert, crawling toward a mirage which, in this case, was a long pipe, about six feet long, bolted to the side of the gym building. It had holes drilled in it, like a flute, and when the coach turned it on, water came shooting out. We'd wait, throats dry, mouths encrusted with dried saliva, tasting dirt and salt.

Then one day the water didn't come.

"I don't know what to tell you boys," the coach said. "The best I can say is to just grin and bear it until it comes back on."

Easy for you to say, old man. I thought. You're not the one dying out here.

Minutes later, the water came on, shooting several feet in the air like Old Faithful, the precious water trickling all over the unappreciative sidewalk. We gave relieved sighs, like prisoners of war who had just heard the cavalry bugle.

Coach noticed, but he wouldn't let us drink. I thought of Tantalus, the Greek mythological figure who had an unquenchable thirst and was forced to stand in water, with the inability to drink it. Mythology had become reality.

At night, I'd always have restless sleep, dreaming I was sweltering at practice, my helmet squeezing my head and my body getting hit from all sides. We couldn't afford air conditioning, so I'd wake up sweating several times a night, my sheets clinging to me. One night I woke up screaming with my first charley horse; my dad ran in to massage it out. Every morning I woke with deeply aching muscles and new bruises replacing the old ones. I was never ready to go out there again.

But I always did.

Then, one fateful day, two guys came late to practice. At the end, when we were overheated, filthy, with our eyes stinging from sweat, the coach sat the two offending players on a tackling dummy and had the rest of the team bear crawl the length of the field, which was like climbing a horizontal mountain. When his whistle blew, we stopped crawling and sprinted to him at the 50-yard line, where he stood like the only girl in port. If even one person didn't make it back in time, we all had to crawl more.

This happened several times, as there would always be one or two guys who wouldn't quite make it in time. Each round our legs got weaker and we became more exhausted. I had little upper-body strength, so my arms weren't helping to propel me forward; my legs, aching at the hamstrings, did the work while my arms just propped my body up, like a lopsided house on stilts.

I finally realized I didn't have what it took. I was out of shape. Crawling the fourth time through, I couldn't see through the sweat and I couldn't wipe it away because my hands were supporting my weight and equipment. I was thirstier than I'd ever been, dry air on a dry tongue. I crawled to the goal line and heard the whistle. I started to sprint, but my legs were on the verge of collapse and I inhaled only wheezes. I got to the 20-yard line and slowed down. Those 30 remaining yards might as well have been 30 miles.

It was then that Eric Casey, a fellow lineman, grabbed the front of my jersey, and dragged me along.

"I can't do it!" I pleaded.

"Yes, you can! I'm not doing any more bear crawling and neither are you!" he barked, muffled by his mouth guard. He kept running, dragging me along beside him.

We got to the 50, and the coach was finally satisfied. Practice was over. I unsnapped my chinstrap and pried off my helmet, my soaking hair dripping and my body radiating heat. I wiped my face with my filthy jersey.
Doubling over and wheezing, I cried, not caring anymore about the social consequences. The sweat and the tears met in my eyes. I had wanted nothing more in high school than to play football, but I decided right then that it was over.

"I'm quitting," I said to Casey.

"Dude, you're not quitting," he said, looking betrayed.

"I just can't take it anymore," I said, with the high-pitched squeal of a boy going through a voice change.

"It'll get better," he said, still taking measured breaths from the sprinting. "Just don't quit."

He was also a freshman and hadn't experienced a full season either. He just went on faith that it would improve.

I didn't quit. Maybe I didn't want to disappoint the guy who wouldn't leave me behind. And he was right. It did get better and I became a stronger person for sticking it out.

I'd like to say this was the breakthrough to a stellar football career, but it wasn't. I had a middling experience that lasted just two seasons. But what I learned was far more important than athletic glory. I've since run through worse gauntlets in life, including a cancer diagnosis. And, much like those latecomers who were excused from the torture, it hasn't been fair. But every time my proverbial legs have given up and I'm gasping for breath, ready to quit, there's always been another Casey, dragging me by my jersey to help me through those last 30 yards.



(Ed. note: this memoir was inspired recently when Bob learned Eric Casey was about to undergo serious surgery. He reminded Casey of that day so long ago, and what it had meant to him. Casey came through the surgery fine, and said Bob's remembrance had helped keep him strong. It was as if Bob was now pulling Casey's jersey.)

Monday, July 7, 2014

Remember the (Ouch!) Alamo!


          Hearts thumping, palms sweating, my younger sister Peg and I glided down the sidewalks of downtown San Antonio, getting a huge kick out of finally trying out Segways. Inching into our sixties, we were determined to seek new adventures.  I think it was the hotel clerk calling me 'dearie' that really sent me over the gutsy edge.
            We arrived at the Segway tour place in early evening, along with Norm and Bert, two fit men in their forties.  Easy-going and friendly, we soon were all laughing, excited about our new sport.
            Handing us our helmets and insisting we sign waivers releasing them from all responsibility 'including death,' our leaderTom directed us out onto the sidewalk, and brought us each a Segway.
            A Segway is a battery-powered personal vehicle with a foot platform mounted between two wheels. The platform rests on an axle, to which is attached a chest-high pole. On top at right angles to  the pole is a straight handle bar with grips like a bicycle.
            Lined up on the contraptions like soldiers too lazy to march, we listened as Tom explained:         "The forward and backward motion are controlled by tipping your feet gently forward or backward. To turn left, lightly press down on the left side of the handle bar. To turn right, do the same on the right. To slow down, assume a half-squat, pressing your heels gently down. To stop immediately, assume a low power-squat, jamming your heels down. That's all there is to it!"
            He straightened his shoulders and began a review drill:
            "Segways, right!"
            We gently pressed down on the right handles and our machines curved right.
            "Segways, left!"
            Ditto.
            "Segways, forward!"
            Pressing toes down, forward we rolled.
            "Segways, slow!"
            Four gentle squats slowed our vehicles.
            "Segways, power-stop!"
            Our four butts jutted out with vigor and we all came to an immediate halt.
            Satisfied with our skills, Tom twirled his Segway and commanded, "Follow me!" 
            Like ducklings after Father Duck, we proceeded in a smooth line. Quack, quack, quack, quack.
            In control, I relaxed and enjoyed the power of gliding along. Down into the street, up onto the sidewalk, around the lamppost, around pedestrians. I decided to name my Segway 'Saucy Girl'.
            Our ease quickly weakened as we encountered the rapidly increasing Saturday evening theater and restaurant-going crowds, with hand-holding couples creating unwitting barriers and window-shoppers clogging our path.
            Obstacles loomed: uneven sidewalks, pedestrians, curbs, cars, other Segways. Just watching where we were going took on a life of its own. I power-squatted as a lanky man grabbed his small child, ice-cream cone flying, and leapt for cover behind a lamppost.
            Coaching myself to breathe deeply, onward we rolled, onto the rumbly bricks of the Alamo pedestrian mall.
            Ah, space!
            Tom called back to us, "Careful of those traffic barrier posts up ahead. The passing room between them is a little narrow; you don't want to clip them with the Segway wheels. "
            "Easy, Saucy Girl," I cooed, guiding her to roll midway between the posts. She was with me.
            Suddenly, Saucy Girl pitched erratically as one of her wheels butterfly-kissed a curb I'd been unaware of. She jerked wildly in all directions, like a cat on fire.
            I was flung to the ground, hitting my helmeted head on the curb. Stunned, my primary goal was to get back on the thing, maybe convince onlookers that I was a Segway stuntwoman filming a movie.  I lurched toward Saucy Girl and hopped upon her as though nothing had happened.
            A man on the sidewalk, who could have been a colorful extra in my fictional movie with his bushy moustache and sombrero, laughed good-naturedly, "Atta girl," he called, "You get right back on that thing!"
            Thanks, pal. Could you say that just a little louder? I don't think they heard you in Vladivostok.
            Assuring Tom I was okay, we proceeded between the posts, across the street and down the sidewalk.
            Quack quack quack quack.
            Around a building we pressed on. Then past a corner where flowers rested in their little dirt bed.
            From behind me I heard, "Yaaaaa!"
            Power-squatting, I turned to see Peg sprawled on the sidewalk. The uneven flowerbed had tipped her Segway. Bert gave her a hand up. She immediately crawled to her Segway, mimicking my classic stuntwoman pose, and hopped back onto it, calling, "Forward, charge!"
            But her fall had shaken me up more than my own. Maybe it was the big-sister thing that made me decide this adventure was more trouble than it was worth, like the summer we played with the beehive. I decided our stuntwoman days were over and said to Tom, "You know, I've lost my confidence. I think I'd like to go back and let you guys enjoy the tour without the demand of being amateur paramedics."
            Peg agreed, and we all did a 180 back to the shop.
            Gratefully foot-borne once again, we headed for another San Antonio landmark --the Menger Hotel Bar, allegedly the very place where Teddy Roosevelt had recruited his Rough Riders.
            Scraped-up but undaunted, we sipped our Chardonnay and perused travel brochures.
            "Hmmm, here's a movie we could see about the Battle of the Alamo. . . . "
            We looked at each other and laughed.  "NAHHHHHH!" 
            Peg held up the brochure that advertised ziplining in Central Texas and said, "Ready, Dearie?"    

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Leaving Aruba









            They mob and bob. They squeeze and wheeze. They wiggle and jiggle. I dash from one person to another, asking, "Is this the way? Is this where I find my way?"

            I approach a giggling young couple who are holding hands and eye-gazing each other. Obviously newlyweds. "Can you help me?" I whimper.

            "Well, we're at the end of the line for United," they bubble, wrapping their arms around each other. "Is that what you need?"

            "Yes!" I shout.

            "Then stand very close behind us and follow steadily."

            I nestle myself as closely behind them as I can manage without dancing cheek-to-cheek-to-cheek. Within a mere—well, ok, I lost track of the time--I am at the United Airlines desk, the agent smiling graciously. I hoist my bag up and she checks it lickety-split.

            With boarding pass in my sweaty little hand, I am directed out of the building through a sunny courtyard, smack into the end of another line. A customs agent stands outside, pre-checking passports.  Approved, I am directed into Line 3, where a more official official stamps my passport a good one. The newlyweds are still smiling but no longer holding hands. Seems the honeymoon is waning a bit.

            Out of Line 3, around the corner into a vast room where suitcases litter the floor like so many ragged puzzle pieces. A cheery young man asks me what my suitcase looks like.

            I tell him it's blue with big yellow sticker of a smiling hunk of Gouda on the side and that I certainly don't want it back. Ignoring me, he finds it in the sea of Samsonite and shoves it gently to my side. I shove it back at him and take off. He's wise beyond his years and runs after me, slipping it into my hand, wishing me a safe journey.  I'm not sure if he's talking about the flight or the odyssey between me and the gate.

            The security check looms. I have made the mistake of wearing sneakers which require untying and retying at security check. Also, I'm wearing a lightweight jacket and sweater underneath as I will be landing in the ten degrees of Chicago and in all likelihood a blizzard. My bladder hints that I may have also made another mistake.

            I zip through security unscathed. Re-robing, I enter the next room which is the You Ain't  Seen Nuthin' Heretofore American Customs line. Serpentined stanchion-and-colorful plastic chains systems cordon us off. They are designed to make the giant, bladder-stretching, patience-sucking, warranty-running-out-on-your-atomic-watch line look short. Halfway along, I notice the Newlyweds toting a toddler by the hand while she cradles yet another infant, this time in pink bunting.

            Soon I am bored enough to talk to my fellow chain-gang members. Pulling out my standard opening line, I turn to the guy next to me and say, "Hi, where ya from?"

            "Chicago," he states. Great. I'm in line with two million people from all over the world and the guy next to me is from my hometown. Terrified at hearing, "How 'bout dem Bears?" I turn to the middle-aged woman on the other side of me and lay my opener on her.

            "Connecticut," she answers with a smile. Ol' Connecticut here turns out to be a tsunami  of information and she's excited about initiating me in the ways of getting past the American customs agent.

            "OK," she says conspiratorially, "When you get up there they'll ask you if you have any fresh produce. The answer is no."

            "But I have a banana in my pocket," I mumble.

            "No, you don't," she answers firmly. Then they will ask you if you have any alcohol in your luggage. The answer is no."

            "I've got half a dozen Balashi Beers in there."

            "No, you don't. They will ask you if you have been to a farm during your visit. . . ."

            "Hold it," I say, "I did go to the donkey sanctuary. Have you been there? It's fascinating and. . . "

            "No, you didn't." She seemed pretty sure of herself.

            "I didn't?"

            "No."

            "Why didn't I?"

            "Because if you did, they will put you in a line that is so long it's considered interplanetary."

            I'm getting nervous now, because I'm exquisitely bad at lying.  But I really, really don't want to get put in the Interplanetary Line of Waiting. So when I finally get to the customs agent, I fork over the banana, blurt about the beer, but deny the donkeys.  She locks with my eyes and raises one eyebrow. My bladder is crying Uncle and with the slightest provocation I'd admit to anything including the secret of the Bermuda Triangle.

            She buys it!  I pass onto the hallowed American Soil Within Aruba.

            The Newlyweds shuffle close behind, followed by their teenagers.

            Bananaless, I head for Line 53. Another security check; shoes untied, jacket off, sweater off. Attempt to lose luggage. No one is willing.

            On the other side, a smiling young man standing next to a conveyor belt asks for my suitcase. I zip it in front of him and grab him by the collar.

            Nose-to-nose, I threaten, "Look, kid, I don't want to see this suitcase again, see?"

            Cool-headed, he smirks and says, "Trust me." And I do.

            I look ahead of me. Gates and waiting areas. A few vendors. Couple of restrooms.  Waiting passengers strolling lazily. I dash toward the restroom, feeling reborn.

            United has my plane waiting. I am the first passenger on board, and feel pathetically victorious that there is no one—NO ONE—in front of me. I stow, sit and snap myself in.

            "This is your captain speaking. We're going to have a little delay. Seems some folks are still in line. . . ."

            An hour later, folks with connecting flights clawing at the upholstery, ten people board late, skulking quickly down the aisle, shielding their heads from the verbal wrath of the seated passengers. The Newlyweds are across the aisle looking at brochures for a retirement villa. . . .

            Soon, we are backing away from the terminal, engines singing. The green, blue and red Aruba—One Happy Island sign touches my heart one last time and we are airborne.


            I sip my Chardonnay and feel compelled to tell Aruba one more thing, "I did too see the donkey sanctuary!"