Be Real, Got To Be

Part I.

II. Wednesday-ish

The motion of the boat is both amusing and reassuring. At first, I wondered if Sunday night’s dinner was going down. Then I wondered if it might come back up. Then we started drinking, which had the unexpected side effect of making unsteadiness on my feet relatively normal.

On Sunday, we met Youlia, our waitress. She might be 22, speaks four languages and hails from Kiev. She’s obviously very bright. She suggested I buy beer by the bucket. I considered making out a will and leaving her my jewelry but Monday night, I didn’t order the bucket of beer. No, as Siobhan and I annoyed a random German kid and a Christian family during Steven Page’s Vanity Project show, I nursed a beer I would have preferred smashing over the sound man’s head. After an hour of soul-crushing boredom, I allowed as how the Vanity Project show had been a bland aggregation of mid-tempo songs about agonizing breakups unfolding in slo-mo and never actually concluding. The German got up in a huff and stomped off. We assumed it was over between us and him, or for that matter anyone offended by my hugely charitable critique.

The little theater was packed but emptied. We stayed, moved closer to the stage by joining a mother-son pair we’d met at lunchtime We understood who we were dealing with when he said he lived in Georgia but once made a pilgrimage to Kevin Smith’s comic book store. She ranged between pleasant company and socially toxic at unexpected intervals. She made a fried chicken and watermelon joke that left me positively speechless, so I turned my attention to ambushing a waiter since there was no way for us to leave. We were comfortably seated in a cushioned round booth while around us hundreds of people pressed body to body, waiting for the next show. When I turned back to Siobhan, she appeared to be mouthing words that made no sound. The son, somewhat aware of our shock, said, “Now, Mom, people don’t say those things anymore.”

The show we were waiting for was both simple and complicated: BNL’s Steven Page and Harvey Danger’s Sean Nelson presented the songs of Paul McCartney. Siobhan and I had seen Sean Nelson earlier. He is a rumpled giant whose hair makes him even taller. He looked like a Far Side character wandered into the bar, was taking offense at something said by the piano, and I don’t mean near it.

I did not at all mind Page and Nelson talking about how they as young musicians suffered for their love of McCartney. The stories were vastly more interesting than the songs. Siobhan and I both enjoyed hearing Let ‘Em In and Just Another Day, but it was late by then. Enough people had lost interest that I could see an almost clear path to the door and did not doubt my ability to clear the rest of it, so we went. It was after midnight and we had a 7:15 wake up call, which I assure you is always an authentic, crappy experience.

It is worth noting that the television in our room has ABC, NBC, CBS, Discovery, and TNT subtitled in Spanish. In the afternoons, I can indeed catch a few minutes of All My Children before I konk out but even that does not come without an undercurrent of extreme weirdness: these channels come from Colorado. They’re two hours earlier than Eastern Standard Time and they warn constantly of blizzards and 58 degrees and pleasant. I can’t tell what time it is or if I need mittens to step onto the balcony. I have mixed feelings about this, knowing that Pete shivers in the pitched gray of New Jersey while I’m slathering goo on sunburn. This, like everything else about the trip, has been for me a sharp lesson in whom I’m oppressing and how. Last night, a drunken woman at the next table in the lower level formal dining room who kept shouting, “I know what I’m saying! Sweet poontang! Poon-TANG! Poon-TANG!” Boy, did I want to oppress her. Tonight, another table full of drunks held a symposium on their relative anatomical strengths at the same improbable volume, causing Siobhan and I to swear off the lower level dining room for the remaining duration of our journey, but not before the waiters put on a dance extravaganza we could not actually see. This was fine by us until one of the drunks turned to our waiter, a dignified, professional waiter of some years who happened to be black, and slurred, “Aren’t you going to dance?” Yes, I wanted to oppress that asshole with a baseball bat.

It’s another story when we get off the boat Tuesday in bathing suits to lie on the beach on Grand Cayman. I awoke to find the Disney Magic, taller than anything I could see on the island, parked about 150 yards outside my bedroom window, two more cruise ships further away and, as I discovered later, three more on the ship’s other side. They reminded me of cattle, so I named the boats Matilda, Martha, Bessie, Bertha, Edna, Enid and Cowpurnia. Then I went to breakfast, because it’s hard to sunbathe glamorously on an empty stomach unless you’re a famous anorexic.

Siobhan and I took the water taxi, mysteriously called a tender, to the shore, where we were herded into a caged room plainly decorated by Albert Speer during his seldom-documented tropical period. Then we were herded to an outdoor concrete bus stop thing, after which we were marched to a parking lot. By this time, I expected cocktails by I. G. Farben, but we stuffed ourselves onto small, exotic buses. A bored woman in an ill-fitting uniform drove us through a traffic pattern that put Rube Goldberg to shame to a stretch of highway lined with evidence that every major conglomerate owned a piece of Grand Cayman, and no scrap of property was too scrubby to be left for the people who lived there. At least, this was my impression as we passed the Blockbuster Video, Subway, Quiznos, KFC, McDonald’s, Burger King, pre-fab malls and a slew of familiar chain hotels. After we disembarked, we were herded to a small section of beach with deck chairs and left to our own devices for several hours, during which Siobhan took odds on the domestic dispute two rows over. Yes, the beach was pretty. Yes, the water was gorgeous. Yes, we turned interesting colors on a Caribbean beach, but the whole thing is and was a shamefaced lie, and it was harder to talk to our bus driver when at 10 a.m. we passed smashed tourists hanging from every window and deck of Margaritaville and The Hard Rock Café. It’s either Percy or Geertz who said that our presence as tourists changes the place, and though I knew that, I was ashamed of my complicity in the theft of this island from its people, not to mention two KFCs within a shitty one-mile stretch. Naturally, I bought Pete a t-shirt so we never have to go back.

Siobhan waves goodbye to an island that’s already lost.

The show the night before and the episode on Grand Cayman convinced me that I was done going along to get along, and from then on, I went my own way – often on the jogging track. And it went pretty well until I went my own way barefoot.

Part III.

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