Another Brief Hiatus

It was just after sunrise on the Holland House beach-view deck when a Carnival floating city wafted slowly into port. The ship’s arrival, of course, changes everything on the Dutch/French Island of Sint Maarten/Saint Martin. Though a pristine, emerald water, white sand tropical beach paradise, St. Martin is short on valuable natural resources leaving tourism and retail as their primary economic base. This lack renders the arrival of cruise ships quite significant. With this history in mind, one wonders why the tiny island ended up split (Dutch and French respectively). But then again, say what you will about the French, they’ve always known how to “chillax.” Some things are worth fighting for, right? Priorities. Again, not a crucial hotspot for imperial holdings, but there were plenty of skirmishes and smoky gun battles in the early days. In fact, Saint Martin/Sint Maarten changed hands many times between Europian powers in the early days. Still standing are some of the old stone forts overlooking many of the island’s inlets offering proof of Saint Martin’s turbulent past.

Hotel Holland House is in an area under the government of the Netherlands; the immediate locality is called “Philipsburg,” one L short of a burg with the same name north of Hays. Phillipsburg, Kansas is nestled within a county that regularly produces grumpy people simply unable drive like persons with purpose. Locals on St. Maarten resemble these Kansans in that, on this morning, they seem a bit on the lethargic side, smiles are rare. And traffic lights are superseded by lazy roundabouts and grumpy, grumpy traffic cops. But oh, things get cheerier when the cruise ships dock. Lots of foot traffic on the concrete “boardwalk” many more dollars, euros, yen, bat, yang, pesos, etc. in circulation.

The ship is in and the eerie buccaneer grin on my waiter’s  countenance foretells tourist plunder ahead.

THERE YOU ARE…
Sampling the local spirits, you may find Caribbean beers most agreeable. Of course, Red Stripe is available, if not at the bars, then mini markets peppering the narrow cobblestone walkways. Presidente” and “Heineken” are available are available to enjoy with or without citrus. Among other choices, a particular local favorite is a salty number called “Caribi.” There may not be a connection, but in the 14th century, war-like cannibalistic Indians called “Carib.” named the island “Soualiga,” which means Salt Island. This due to its main mineral deposit. In fact, the remains of the Great Salt Pond can still be seen in Philipsburg today. So there’s that. My doctor tells me to avoid excess salt, and so I find myself here… hmmm. And you know what they say… “wherever you go…”

I’m here with a group of students in their first years of higher ed. on, what is for many, their first international sojourn. There is plenty of time for cultural exchange, but the students have a primary mission, which is to assist local entrepreneurs in their various endeavors. Later on this day, after the day’s experiential learning, the cruise liner is GONE, and the locals are back to their original grumpy bearing. Over in a remote corner of the beach-view cabana, an author is interviewing local entrepreneurs, digging for gold to use in his latest book. He’s an interloper and doesn’t know how cranky the hotel’s employees can be and so dared to move a stem glass to make room for his recorder. This audacious breach of manners drew a hissing demand to put everything back where it was. Luckily, he’s interviewing locals, and they run interference for him.

FISH OUTTA WATER…
One might find it weird being among the scarce few honkies in streams of people drifting around a beach community. After all, it IS the off-season, so few tourists are to be found. The locals are primarily of color and don’t appear troubled with questions of social justice. In contrast to the racially tense air in the US, folks seem generally peaceful, at ease on their island. One might wonder, however, where are the interlopers’ boundaries? For example, one customarily bold tourist from the Midwest US, a person used to taking 40-minute uninhibited walks at the end of his workdays told me he tried to do it (walk) on this morning, but found himself feeling super unwelcome (ah, fresh perspectives). He ended up skipping the morning walk but may screw his courage up later in the day. After all, he’s on island time now. He knows those grown accustomed to the world starting engines of commerce somewhere around 7:00 am will have to adjust, and should probably get used to not having breakfast till 7:00 am on the island.

Many are the opportunities for wonder in “Paradise” as local celebrity, Ife Badejo calls it. One of the more popular adventures is a trip around the island in a canopy-covered motor boat. It is speculated that three out of twenty Midwestern landlubbers on these excursions grow quite seasick and throw up overboard, or worse, on boatmates. Sometimes when a hapless landlubber regurgitates the morning’s breakfast on their neighbor, it starts a chain reaction of stomach evacuating fun. Ah… good times. Luckily, tour organizers have the foresight to install water hoses starboard and stern conveniently for these unfortunate situations. Other wonder inspiring diversions include jungle zip line courses and, of course, shopping and cosmopolitan cuisine out the wazoo. The zip line requires one to screw courage up good and tight. Although a rider may have two safety lines and a workman’s glove to prevent plunging to the mango peppered ground, they also have friendly guides that help the persistently squeamish. Some just can’t hang, and the numbers are about the same as those of the party boat seasick variety, just different individuals.

On the “boardwalk,” music piped through systems reflect a contemporary selection of club mixes and autotuned saccharine pop. There is one hotel that simply can’t get enough of Whitney Houston’s catalog, played by Kenny G., on his super melodic clarinaxiphone. I overheard one patron mention that if he heard another rousing tootling of “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” he was going to snap, and it wasn’t gonna be pretty. Of course, this was an idle threat. He finished his breakfast enduring two or three more iterations of the upbeat, bouncy Kenny G. selection. However, when Bob Marley kicks in, faith is restored, and one gets a saltier taste of island culture.

Lunchtime, things get spicier. One is more likely to hear Bob Marley at a place known as the “Lazy Lizard,” just a few ticks to the left of the Holland House deck. A super popular lunch spot, the proprietor not only serves delish nibbledy gibblies, he also has a line of fruit-infused rum that rocks, on the rocks or neat. Get jerk wings at the Lazy Lizard and prepare to burn. Cool yourself with a slash of Guava Berry infused rum and then get ready to sleep. You’re on island time Mon. Napping is good, and the Lazy Lizard is a knock-out… KO!

ISLAND TIME… ??
Now, don’t fool yourself into thinking island time is not a thing. Every appointment this group of Kansas landlubbers makes with Islanders ends up where they, the landlubbers, show up promptly, and the natives scheduled to meet them are at least 30 minutes behind. This leads one to conclude, in super unscientific ways, that island time is very much like “musician time.” I
am qualified to comment on this… don’t ask. Anyhoo…

…if you want islanders or musicians to be a certain place at a certain time, you have to lead the target by at least 30 minutes in order to keep everyone happy and PROMPT.

ISLAND SECURITY… ??
A curious bit of advice might be overheard from Holland House staff to tourists, warning them not to take a right on the “Boardwalk” after dark unless accompanied by a group of four or more… or if a girl gaggle, at least one burly fella must go along. Going left from the Holland house is not much better, but at least the locals say it is. Traveling the main arteries of the island, you may pass by a “security station” touting “riot squad” in their branding. If that makes one curious, a simple search reveals recent answers to the question, “Do the French and Dutch ever squabble after all these years?” … the answer is, maaaaaaabe. Toward the end of the busy season in March, 2016, a major access road connecting the French and Dutch Quarters was entirely blocked to vehicles. According to the local newspaper, the
Daily Herald, At least two barricades composed of car wrecks were seen on the main road going through the district in addition to many turned-over garbage bins, and rocks and debris were strewn over the road. District officials say the action was the work of French Quarter citizens taking matters of dispute into their own hands. Officials commended the local security forces for exercising restraint even though reports of opportunistic young people manning the barricades and charging people money to go through were verified. A spontaneous march by “Saint-Martin Wake Up,” from the French Quarter to Marigot was stopped by the Gendarmerie in the interests of public order.

OH, THE WATER…..
Swimming… sea swimming… well, there’s no surf just outside the Holland House deck, so boogie boarding or, god forbid, actual surfing are not options. If you brought your gargles, you can maybe enjoy a spot of communance with little tropical fishies, and if super lucky, a sea turtle, or even a ray or two. However, for those with bald cranial domes, and no aspirations for future melanoma, the kelp braids can feel startlingly like the tentacles of massive sea monsters…. especially when your gargles fill with eye burning sea water just as you find yourself in water deeper than your barely 5’ old, fat, bald person frame… AND… if you’ve only recently seen netwebb memes of looming shark bodies lurking in water much shallower (deep breath). From that vantage point, it’s easy to hastily conclude…. THERE BE MONSTERS!

TOURIST PLUNDER, DENIED….
So, now that the cruise ships are gone, the Buccaneer’s grin is dissolved from my waiter’s face, and the natives are grumpy again, a particularly rapacious shopkeeper tried to charge me double retail for a 
pair of Tevas… doh! And… some of the student honkies have taken to calling me  “Captain Ron Swanson.” I don’t know why… I’m a pussycat… even though I had to let the shopkeeper know I was super not interested in paying double retail for the sandals. 

Anyway, here I am… a brief hiatus from the daily grind. It’s been a joy. Six months removed from the last hiatus on the slab at the DeBakey Heart Institute. Neither of these breaks were planned, at least not by me. Mother Nature and the excellent DeBakey staff took care of the first. For the second break, I was asked to fill in for my boss so she could deal with a death in the family. I told her to think of me as an option of last resort because I didn’t believe I was up to an international excursion only six months off the slab. But no one stepped up (?) and I didn’t want to keep her from familial obligations. After all, six months should be enough healing time, right? Right… so here I am… exactly six months to the day: Reborn, 11-15-2016 On the flight to paradise, 5-15-2017. I’m glad I came, but not sure it will have the effect my family and close friends would recommend. Evidently, I’m a type-A, as in “ADDICTED to busy” kind of person. Don’t get me wrong, I love my vocation, but full emersion with it keeps me an arm’s length from the rhythm of my “original drumbeat,” an impractical avocation. Not to mention… that well-worn lesson, “Nobody on their deathbed ever said they wish they had spent more time in the office.”

I probably need to make adjustments.
Maybe get in touch with my inner type B.

We shall see, we shall see.

Almost Done

When handsome darkness flies toward the light… and brave saddle brats refuse to fight… and rain pours down wisdom from the sky… I am almost done.

When the rolling pain comes closing in… and a million micro-biting robot chins… sink deep afflicted flesh within… I am almost done.

Almost done… bustin’ my hump on this treadmill of a life… got to be… got to be a better way… gonna get up off of my knees and follow my original drum… gonna do it before it gets too late.

When gaming fans jump to their feet… and worried myth swallowers skip a beat… and flaming sword chasers facing the heat… well… I am almost done.

When challenge junkies trade and fall… and terrified teetotalers do the crawl… for style peddlers speaking for us all… I am almost done.

Almost done… swabbin’ decks on this ill-begotten cruise… it’s been real… but it’s time to go… gonna step… up to the bridge and chart out a change of course… go from down and out to gung-ho.

At the close of yet another day… as babies sleep and angels pray… I find the strength to clear my throat and say…

I am almost done…
I am almost done…
I… am… almost… done.

MOAB

I’ve had this feeling since i don’t know when
pushin’ out my game from a 12 gauge pen…
I’m restless… don’t know why.

It’s hard to anchor to a holograph
hard to carry toonage in a holey sack…
I’m racked yea

Ready to ride

But ridin’s kinda pointless when there’s nowhere to go…
Endless field of strangeness from above and below…

Weightless

And prayin’s not an option when you can’t find a soul…
When the naked truth exposed reveals a gaping hole…
I’m paid out…

Ready to ride

Got a black bomb and it’s tickin’ away…
Gonna take it out on the blue highway.

Gonna make a change… gonna start today…
Gonna tie the branches up and throw them away…
I know…

Overdue

Try… try… try again but just can’t see…
Someone pulled the rug out from under me
I swear…

Don’t know who

I had myself convinced it was the real deal…
And how can one resist such a strong appeal…

GUILTY

But somewhere deep inside I know I’ll find some truth…
And hold it high so everyone can see it too…
The pearl… from the shoe…

Got a black bomb and it’s tickin’ away…
Gonna take it out on the blue highway

Blue highway…
Ready to ride.

The Judgement

Turning on a spit…
Don’t forget to save a hit…
For the child inside a pit…
All alone without a bit…
of strength with which to split…
Extra words of twisted wit…
For the king and all his shit…
And all the things that make us quit…
The transcendental seizure fit…
A flight bound to slip…
Through a dimensionary tsunami of love.

Oh the judgment of God…
will be harsh… will be swift.
Movin’ down through the stratosphere…
to the folly of man. And we…
the righteous agents of God…
have got to face the awesome truth… 
Sometimes redemption requires discipline.

The stone will roll…
And mockingbirds will toll…
For whom the bell sings droll…
simple steps on patrol…
Where kindness creates a hole…
Where blackness takes the soul…
Where winding river’s scroll…
Through the universal hole…
For jesters to control…
The ultimate goal…
Unleash the earthquakes of war.

Oh the judgment of God…
will be harsh… will be swift.
Movin’ down through the stratosphere…
to the folly of man. And we…
the righteous agents of God…
have got to face the awesome truth… 
Sometimes redemption requires discipline.

I AM the dark tower of gold…
I AM the story told…
to children eons old…
For withered words sold…
masses follow pipers told…
Firebirds dripping droppings bold…
Mean sharing bounty cold…
Cash drawn from workers hold…
Power in their hands… sight behold…
The miracle of ONE voice ONE indivisible fold…
Of labor to the power of all but none as the
random judgment of GOD.

…the judgment of God…
will be harsh… will be swift.
Movin’ down through the stratosphere…
to the folly of man. And we…
the righteous agents of God…
have got to face the awesome truth… 
Sometimes redemption requires discipline.

“I’ll see you on the other side
of the judgement of God.”

The Crimson Tide

I saw a dream of fire and iron branding faces soul of I, and specters rising up like the Northern Lights. While word is spread of mental pollution, masked hoods burning crosses at dawn, and I the dreamer fading, nearly gone.

A good man gathers gear and a rifle heading for a moment of truth, and federal guard troops clashed with the local thugs, while broken ethnic romeo soldiers busting out their songs of hope, go fading out like so many lightning bugs.

The crimson tide…
drowning the quick…
bury the doomed,
but oh, how life goes on,
and flow with the tide…
pirates and saints… all to comply,
and clouds are weeping welcome from the sky.

I heard a leader’s lackey nay a plan of creeping bloodless coup, while terror craftsmen blend into the walls. And those who act will feed the legations, with a pure and steady hand, and hearts of stone will be the ones to stand. I dreamt a good man man drove his assault team only justice to defend, a waiting posse for the bordello. And gathered mobs proclaim solidarity with the pure and spotless blood, and Hell jerked, belching fire from down below.

The crimson tide…
drowning the quick…
bury the doomed,
but oh, how life goes on,
and flow with the tide…
pirates and saints… all to comply,
and stars are weeping welcome from the sky.

A mob descends on armchair conspirators mess of mental sickness to clean and I the dreamer rose up to lead the band, of outcasts raising voices bound to set intention to stone, while merchants steal the brass of their own. And those who dread the end of excitement… no more bullets no more bombs… go on to see how dark the night can get. I saw a good man level his rifle forcing death to reconcile and face the tide of blood feud and regret.

The crimson tide…
drowning the quick…
bury the doomed,
but oh, how life goes on,
and flow with the tide…
pirates and saints… all to comply,
and God is weeping welcome from the sky.

God is weeping welcome in reply

Geisterfahrer

Mary Sanchez… fell in love
Time with her Romeo was never enough
Headin’ southbound Santa Fe…
Makin’ plans for their big day
In a red Ford sedan on a sunny Saturday
Off into the early morn…
Waved goodbye with a kiss
For a beauty salon on the south side
of her bliss

And you who carry the world…
without an alibi
Turn away from the river of tears…
There’s so much pressure on you
Too much to do… ain’t no time…

Jimmy James Fitch… came unhinged…
Playa’ livin’ large drove a jet black ‘Cedes Benz
Fell on hard times… conditions so unkind
Lost direction… lost perception…
and finally lost his mind…
Turned his Benz into Santa Fe…
Headin’ north on a southbound lane
with the pedal to the metal…
determination on his face

And you who carry the world…
without an alibi
Turn away from the river of tears…
There’s so much pressure on you
Too much to do… ain’t no time…

Mary’s Romeo got the call
Found Jimmy James Fitch…
Found Mary… saw it all
Saw the red Ford sedan…
The black Mercedes Benz
Tangled up in a blacktop bed…
of shattered diamonds

And you who carry the world
without an alibi
Dive deep into the river of tears…
And meander to the ocean…
There’s nothin’ but time now…

Time
Time
Time

Bad Day in the Rocky Mountains

 

The plan was simple. Lisa, our mutual friend Tim, his brother Tom, and I would go for a nice quiet road trip through the Rockies — something we often did for grins and giggles. This time we planned to visit Tom’s college buddy in Grand Junction. We would stay Friday and Saturday, then drive home Sunday in time to watch the Broncos game on TV.

By the time we made it halfway through the six-hour trek, pangs of hunger could no longer be ignored. We pulled into the next town, Glenwood Springs, for a bite. Not able to find a fast-food restaurant, we chose the first eatery that looked casual. It turned out to be a barbecue shack, and the ribs hit the spot. As we savored the last few bites, Tom, with a toothpick in the corner of his mouth, assumed a sober tone and began telling stories about his college buddy. He recounted several tales of drugs, guns, and dubious visitors speaking mangled Spanglish. This inspired a panorama of expressions from Lisa’s face, and she repeatedly commented how little of that sort of thing happened in her hometown, Pilger, Nebraska.

“Don’t worry Lisa, Tom’s pulling your leg,” Tim said, not altogether convincingly. “He loves to embellish. Actually, his buddy did some time for possession of marijuana in the seventies, but I’m sure he’s done with that nonsense by now.”

Lisa looked relieved, but I was beginning to wonder just how well Tim knew his brother.

The final leg of the drive was relaxing. As we reached the mesas and orchards of the area, the sun looked to be in perfect position for a spectacular setting. I was cursing myself for not bringing the “good” camera when Tom, from the co-pilot seat, called for a left turn.

“Only ten miles,” he said as the sound of rubber on gravel began to mix with that of the radio.

“I thought he lived in town,” Lisa said with a distant note of worry.

Tom turned to face her in the back seat, “Fear not,” he said with a crooked smile. “Jasper is wealthy, and he’s actually down to earth. Besides, you like horses so much, I figured you’d enjoy the ranch.”

Lisa looked unconvinced, so Tom continued. “Lighten up my dear. Beautiful this time of year. The parties are fun.”

I think Tom fancied himself a Zen poet. Lisa, however, did not appear amused.

Upon arrival, to my surprise, we found Tom was right. Jasper’s house was beautiful; a sprawling ranch with an outdoor pool and hot tub in the backyard. The green apple and peach orchards stretched beyond the stables as far we could see. Also, a friendly bevy of merry-makers was by the pool, and topping it off, Jasper proved a congenial host.

“Welcome, welcome!” he sounded earnest. “I’ve been looking forward to meeting you,” Jasper said after Tom’s introductions.

Just then the sun was beginning a grand exit and most everybody, for a brief moment, seemed spellbound. The moment was stunning, and after sighs and wows faded, the porch lights came on, and the party began with a vengeance.

This is where I should have pulled back and found a way to get us out. These people seemed to be of a different universe from what Tom had described, and it was apparent that they were deep into a collective cocaine binge. I could tell because their conversations were way too energized and the guys were accompanying each other to the bathroom (a practice that is reserved for girls where I come from). Something was nagging in the back of my head… it just didn’t feel right. After a while, I was able to loosen up and, a few beers later, found myself carried by the kinetic mirth of the moment and that’s when the trouble began.

Someone standing next to me saw them first. Three motorcycles idled in past the parked cars and into the backyard. When the metallic-blue gleam of the guns came into view, the entire crowd broke into panicked chaos. The rapid firing seemed to go on forever, and when the shooting stopped, the motorcyclists rode away.

Jasper’s backyard could have been a turkey shoot, but the gunmen caused no physical injuries, other than scrapes and bruises diving for cover. Mentally, however, I was changed for life. In the short time for the assailants to empty clips, I saw all; my failures, my family, and all the beautiful things that routinely get taken for granted. I imagined myself paralyzed and wheelchair bound. That was the scariest thought. Not that I might die, but without any health insurance, being shot and hospitalized, I would suddenly become a crushing burden to my family.

After the dust settled and everyone calmed down, I began to browbeat Tom for leading us into such a mess. He apologized abjectly; he didn’t think there’d be any hassles. He did admit to knowing of Jasper’s continued involvement in the illegal drug business but never dreamt of exposing us to anything dangerous. Jasper, he thought, was a prudent man in choosing friends and business associates.

To me, that seemed like the central lesson of the day. Yes, these are maddening times; choose your friends wisely.

We drove home that night; fled like spooked horses. We were glad to be no worse for the wear, but no one could sleep, and none of us would ever be the same. “I can see it now,” Tim said as we crested Lookout Mountain. It felt as though we’d never get far enough from that scene, and a heavy sigh of relief came over me as we did. At the time, I felt a great antipathy for the city, “Yuppie-town” as we not-so-affectionately called it, but on this night, as we gazed down at the twinkling lights of downtown Denver, no sight could have been more beautiful.