393. Blues, Stay Away from me

Doug Sahm on the Victrola, well, Pandora on my laptop, but I like the old timey sound of the former technology. Long, long ago I recall hearing Doug sing “Is Anyone Goin to San Antone?” on an FM station, back in the day when FM meant more cool and less commercial. I liked his sound then when I was 16 or so. It fit with Dylan and the Dead. I bought his album Doug Sahm and Band, and lo and behold there’s Dylan and David Bromberg, and many other performers I admired all jamming together. They all knew Doug. I liked that they liked one another. It was a fraternity without Greek letters, hazing or keg parties… just good tunes.

But the point of this post is not fraternal good will nor the Blues; it is instead as old as the first book of the Bible…envy. Joel the intrepid lawyer of Coffee Nation is in Europe this week and next on a musical riverboat cruise. Not the Blues, mind you, unless you count The Blue Danube. No, he is cruising along the Czech waterways from Prague through thousands of sleepy waterfront towns whose names I am afraid to pronounce, following a very urbane schedule of classical music and gourmet food and drink along the way. He’s expecting Smetana, Dvorak and Mahler, champagne, prawns and caviar, but wait…

“Viking cruises?” I inquired.

“No, actually it’s another line that is smaller and caters to the boutique crowd, such as myself, who require the finer things in life. The ratio of guides to passengers is 4 to 1.”

“That’s amazing, Joel. So if your boat has 50 passengers, then you must have 200 staff, is that right?”

“Oh heaven’s no! I mean 1 to 4. Good Lord, we’d sink with your numbers.”

“Now I understand Viking uses drones and border collies to direct their passengers around Europe. It’s a big cost saver.”

“Well, I think you are exaggerating as usual. In any event I’ll be missing from Coffee Nation for the next two weeks. (Long silent pause.) What? No good byes? Not a single hug?”

“You are dead to me, Consiglieri. Go. Do what you must.”

Joel slinked away from the coffee shop like Judas on his way to the High Priest. (Well, that last sentence was for an overly dramatic effect and not in any way to be taken as truth.) He actually walked out like a man in suede Hush Puppies going on a wonderful vacation of a lifetime.

What he did not know was that I had managed to hack his email account with Par Excellence Euro Cruise Lines, PEECL, to switch him over to a competitor shuttler of schmucks, Angry Huns Adventures, AHA. It’s run by former members of Monte Python’s Flying Circus who create a lifelike atmosphere of pirate slave ships for the bored traveler who has seen it all. Milquetoast Masochists Magazine gave it five stars. Once the guests register they are taken into custody on false charges and shackled to an oar below the deck of an old R0man warship. It’s so real that often satisfied passengers rave that it is almost too real when their hands begin to blister and they must eat rancid food and contend with real river rats. Oh it’s great pistachio flavored panache for the discerning palette.

I can picture it now as a long black car meets Joel at the Vaclav Havel Airport.Image result for russian mafia driver pictures

“You are Joel, yes?”

“Why, yes, I am. And I am very eager to begin my all inclusive musical river tour of the Danube. It’s so exciting for a sousaphile such as myself. Do you play an instrument, Boris?”

“Shut up and get in car, Meester Viseguy.”

“But, but, there must be some mistake. I, I, uh, no need to be so hasty and rude, Big Fella. Hey, I paid a lot of money for this suit. Give me back my Panama hat!”

Once inside the shuttle limo, he is blindfolded and handcuffed. His human rights and all hope checked with his bags in the trunk for the next two weeks. Behind a double layer of duct tape he buzzes harmlessly to himself, “I am a United States citizen, a veteran and a lawyer. I know my rights.” But it’s only so much buzzing in the back seat of the newish Moskvich as Boris weaves into downtown traffic and finds the Lugubrious Lady Star just about to cast off from the ancient quay.

Bound hand and foot, taped lip to earlobe, Joel had to hop like Lowly Worm onto the Death Ship, Lugubrious Lady Star, flying the black and gold flag of the Angry Huns Adventures. He was forced under the deck into the dim and desperate galley of 47 other would be passengers; given the number 34; and henceforth ceased to be Joel.

All the other 47 wild eyed passengers were likewise duct taped and shackled to an oar. Clearly he needed to get to the U.S. embassy and file a complaint. He had to call his VISA platinum card representative and stop all payments. He had to find his way back to America and Coffee Nation. “Crack” snapped a moist leather whip expertly wielded by a large woman named Varushka in a forest green KGB outfit, short skirt and tall black boots.  Blood red lipstick outlined her snarling words.

“Comrades, you vill row or you vill taste the vip.”

Joel struggled to raise his hand.

“Number 34, you have question? Untape his disgusting capitalist mouth, Viktor.”

“Ouch. You don’t need to be so rough. Madam, I believe there has been some sort of mistake. I booked a musical tour of the Danube with Par Excellence Euro Cruise Lines and I think I’ve been somehow mistakenly placed on your loading list. Now, I’m sure it’s just a paperwork oversight… and what is a ‘vip’?”

“Silence, maggot. Ve make no mistakes. You vere mistake not ve. Viktor, tape again.”

The hopelessness was heavy  in the humid air below deck as 48 shackled prisoners began to row in unison. Viktor beat time on a conga drum.

Varushka called out the speeds, “Cruising speed, Viktor.” As Viktor pounded out the rhythm, Varushka cracked her whip above the shackled prisoners’ heads. “You vill keep the beat or else be the beat. Capichenakov?” she threatened.  As the old wooden ship creaked and shuddered against the river’s current, a strange music blared on the deck above. Joel thought he was hallucinating at first, then he realized he’d heard this song before. It was AC/DC singing “Highway to Hell”.

“Oh dear God, kill me now”, he buzzed into the back of the duct tape. “This must be the cruise ship on the River Styx. I should have stayed at Coffee Nation.”

–to be continued.



187. Transitions

Image result for too much luggage pictures at airport and a babySo Grace and the Boo Boo bear had to fly home on Saturday morning. But first there was  a two hour drive to BWI.  Little Leah had been diagnosed with bronchitis the day before. She was having trouble breathing through her nose as she sucked on her binky. Not a good combination. Stu was better after a night’s sleep. It was Grace who was sick now and seriously sleep deprived. The rollicking holiday upper GI flu was raging through her, and we had to get to the airport by 10 a.m. Nothing was working out. Even her sister Erin had reinjured her own ankle while running to catch a train that wound up being late leaving NYC. That required a doctor’s visit on Friday.  Sister Jess was coughing and hacking too. But Grace had the jackpot… Abysinnian Anthrax Flu. It’s hard enough to travel with 100 pounds of checked luggage and a baby and baby stroller, but add acute sickness and five bags of Christmas presents to the mix. See the problem?  How to eat the figurative elephant with a plastic  spoon and a thimble?

Well, the baby presents had to stay at our house. That was an easy decision. However, getting into the car and driving winding, curving roads for an hour to Rte. 15 was ugly. Nothing felt right as she sat doubled over next to me, throwing up into zip lock bags while Stu tried to comfort the fussing Leah in the back of our tiny Honda Civic. That space is small to begin with, but when you add a puking mom and crying baby, well, it started to feel like I was one of the famed Chilean miners two miles underground, without food or water, running out of air and way too close to bodily functions. Tension congealed in the cabin, thick and viscous. I drove as fast I could. If I focused on the task of safely speeding down the interstate while rubbing Grace’s back, I would not have to process the agony gushing out of her periodically. Thank God, Leah slept for most of an hour in the middle of our trip through Hell.

Image result for route 70 baltimore traffic jam pictures

At certain awful moments Grace gasped, “I can’t do this.” My right foot just stepped harder on the accelerator, 80 and 85 mph on Route 70 East. I imagined the Maryland State Trooper pulling me over. I would simply let him or her draw their own conclusions from the emergency room in a phone booth scenario that we were. In times like this I have to shut off my empathy receptors. A switch unconsciously flicks to the off position, like butchering that beautiful deer earlier this month. You can’t maintain that emotional/spiritual connection and do the hard task at hand. The will must override the compassionate heart. The lovely lull was over, Bloggywogs. It was war in a car. I didn’t dare turn on the radio because we had passed the irritation threshold and were running out of oxygen. At her lowest, Grace reacted hostilely to Stu’s comment about a good night’s sleep helping with symptoms.


“Shut UP!” Then, after a moment of silence, “I’m sorry. That was mean.” It was the Absynnian Anthrax Flu demon talking first followed by the daughter I know and love. I felt more and more like Chilean miner #9, Marco, the part time goat herder, wishing I was with the goats right about now instead of slowly clawing for survival on Rte.195.

Leah woke up agitated and began crying again. Stu ran through his empty box of baby management tricks too quickly. Grace hissed out, “Sing to her. It doesn’t matter what your singing voice sounds like!”

Well, Stu complied and sang, “The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round…. the baby on the bus goes whaaa, whaaa, whaaa, whaaaa, whaaaa, whaaaaaa….” but it was no good. Somehow the airport had moved a good ten miles farther east and we were going to explode from the extreme cabin pressure.

Stu was learning what I’d learned decades ago:  when the sickness and stress bubbles are erupting like champagne and battery acid in a Styrofoam cup, keep your head down and mouth shut. Nothing, I repeat, Nothing you say can possibly help. Even though Stu had trained to swim out of a submerged helicopter in pitch black water without freaking out,  he was not skilled in domestic warfare in a car. He had no chance.

The transit from one place to another was in full raging swing. From home that isn’t home any longer, to a place that is but not for long… Ft. Rucker, Alabama. From routine to controlled chaos. From formerly familiar to nearly hallucinogenic. From hard to impossible. Civilian reality to military mundanity. Those were just a few of the transitions whirling about the loaded down cherry red Civic with tan interior. Pressurized like an overinflated set of steel radial tires. From sick to well and back again. From pleasured expectation to sore butt reality with no rest stops in between.

We finally got to the departures ramp and circle at the terminal….Southwest, United, Air Tran, Delta. “Oh, Thank God!”  I ran in and procured a wheel chair for Grace. Stu hired a skycap to haul two huge bags and three small ones while he put Leah in her folding stroller. The problem was this:  there was no one left to push Grace in her wheelchair. I could not stay because the cops were ushering motorists away from the curb as soon as possible. I hugged her goodbye and exchanged “I love you”. She felt frail and small again, like a little girl. She leaned on the wheelchair and slogged forward toward the automatic doors where Stu was checking in the mammoth bags.

I pulled away breathing hard and deep, wishing I could take her pain and pressure off her shoulders, knowing full well that such things are what carve parents out of soapstone. Love sacrifices. True. And you never stop parenting. Amen.