APRIL Part 2
This computer lives the life of a laptop in a TV ad. Showing up in a New York bar for a book pitch one week, strapped to the top of a truck and hurtling down a jungle road the next. I nearly fainted when the driver unloaded the bags at the hotel, and the bag with the computer wasn’t in the trunk. Then he pointed to the roof and grinned. I grinned back. Tightly.

We're back in Mexico; It felt good to be back. And good to be alive, considering the landing. As we touched down we felt a great gust of wind hit the plane; it lifted us up on one wheel, and everyone in the cabin gasped: uh oh. Death. There’s a bad omen for your vacation: violent fiery catastrophe. The pilot seemed to fight with the beast, and for a horrible moment it felt as if the plane had skidded ever so slightly sideways; then back in the other direction, then: straight. The wheels bit the runway and we screamed to a stop.

Sometimes the captain comes out of the cabin to greet the passengers as they leave.

Not this time. Perhaps he just doing the post-flight checklist, or chatting, or throwing up.


But now we're here, at the Fiesta Americana and this, ladies and gentlemen, is living. Let the hoi polloi baste in that cement hive by the shore; we’re in a casita again. I can’t believe our luck - but it’s not really due to luck but a fortuitous infusion of spine. To explain: the clerk at the hotel said there was but one room remaining in the entire hotel. One. And it was on the ground floor. I asked if there were any casitas available - two years ago we’d stayed in this wonderful little hut whose rooms were twice the size of the average rooms, had a big fan, a safe, a huge bathroom and a balcony with a hammock. That was my introduction to Cozumel, and I’d never equaled the peace of rocking in that hammock on a sultry night with a tequila in one mitt and a book in the other. Well, they did have casitas, for $30 extra a night. Worth it, I thought. But Sara wanted to see the ground floor room, just in case. Off we went.

Private. Small, barren, dim. Small.

The porter wagged his eyebrows when we told him this was the only room. Nonsense, he seemed to suggest. He said we might insist that we get a casita at the regular room rate. “Tell them you came for a view of the ocean,” he said.

Now, I hate to haggle. I am not a good haggler, because I trust people too much. It’s my North Dakota upbringing: why, the price posted must be fair, otherwise they wouldn't ask for it! No sense being greedy. But this is not North Dakota. Went back to the front desk, said the room wasn’t acceptable, got a blank look: okay, sleep on the shore, amigo, what do you want of me? I proposed the casita deal. Much Spanish twixt clerk and manager. Much. Fast, sibilant, hushed. The deal was approved; we were shown to our room.

As before: the porch overlooking the jungle, the hammock, the gigantic shower, the sunken living room, the same picture on the wall, and the same exotic perfume I've come to call the Cozumel Aroma.

"What is that?" I asked my wife.

"It's must."

Well, okay, but I still like it.


Tonight was Mexican night at the cafe / liquortorium near the scuba docks. )You'd think every night would be Mexican night.) The hotel proudly calls this place The Dive Bar! and no one has the heart to tell them this has another meaning in American culture. We didn’t attend Mexican night, since it was $28 a head for buffet, and the food at this hotel isn’t very good. It doesn’t help that they call the food Typically Mexican Cuisine - again, a subtle example of the perils of translation. They mean Epitome; the American visitor reads it as “Average.” Anyway - Typically Mexican Cuisine was followed by Typically Mexican Entertainment, and by the time we wandered over they were no longer charging admission. Usually this is the sort of event that gives me hives: locals in a caricature of local dress, acting silly for tipsy tourists. (I found the main index picture left behind on the ground after this event.) I can just imagine these guys stewing: three years of hotel management school so I can wear a fargin’ Pancho Villa moustache.

This time I was completely charmed. I was so happy to be back, happy to be back at the Fiesta, and happy to be seeing all everyone laughing and acting like people on vacation. There’s something to be said for wrapping your arms around the cliches and doing a stupid dance, and that’s what we all did that night. At the end of the evening they played the reigning trio of dance hits: Macarena, which will always be wedded iron-clad to the political convention circuit of 96; Mambo #5, which Sara found amusing. Look, she said, those kids, those two little boys, they’ve worked out a dance routine to this song. I watched them and was reasonably sure they were replaying the video’s danceMas peculiar. A day without time. Mostly cloudy, occasional rain, but of course everyone still sat at the beach, which got a bit surreal at time: all these mostly-naked people on chairs looking up at the rain. A few yards away there were three guys standing, drinking beer and amusing three women who were in chairs, drinking beer. They were there at ten AM. I looked up at eleven, and they were there, standing, drinking beer. At noon they were there, standing, drinking beer, and they were there at one, and two.

At 2:30 Sara and I went for the afternoon snack; watched a young man sweep up the plaza, and speculated about his life. When I walked past him on a trip to the sanitarios - and really, is there any less apt word for a public bathroom? - he had three tree leaves in his dustpan. Back to the beach. The three men were standing, talking, drinking. At four I went back to the sanitarios. The same young man was cleaning the same part of the plaza. He had three tree leaves in in his dustpan. When we left the beach 45 minutes later the three men were still standing, talking, drinking. I had the damnedest feeling that I had spent the day in Robot Cozumel, or that I was living some advanced form of time while everyone plodding along on the normal track. Spooky.

Into town for another fabulous supper. Guido’s. None better. It sounds ridiculous, insisting that the best place on a Mexican island is not only named Guido’s, but is a pizza restaurant, but it’s true. And we don’t go there for the pizza, either - even though it’s fabulous. (How good? I don’t ask for extra sauce. THAT’s how good.) No, we go for the nightly fish dishes. Of my many rotating definitions of paradise, this is one: sitting at Guido’s at sunset watching the fat red coin slide into the ocean, knowing that fish non pareil is en route, watching the citizens go about their evening rounds, watching the pink mottled cruise-ship passengers stumble past, sipping that hot black coffee and having a good strong Cuban cigarette. Of course, this year we’ve edited out the last detail. No matter.

Actually, I had the pizza. (Sara had the fish.) I figured I’d take the crusts into the plaza for the dogs. Mindful of the number of strays, I actually brought some rawhide sticks to Coz this trip, thinking I’d give them a taste of American delights. There was a dog outside Palmeras, begging from the diners. I gave him the crusts. He sniffed. He did not eat them. He figured, correctly, that something meatier was forthcoming from the diners at Palmeras. Later, while Sara shopped in one of the stores, I saw a dog trotting up the sidewalk; I bent slowly and offered him a rawhide stick. The dog gave me the wariest look I’ve ever seen from a dog - he stopped, shrunk back, eyed me and the stick with immense suspicion and disdain: what the FOK ees the matter with You? he seemed to say. He walked away, and turned around once to look at me in disbelief. I’ve never been dissed so deeply by a dog.

Later we found the adorable Jasperesque mutt that hangs around the northeast corner of the plaza. Ah hah! I went off in his direction, rawhide at the ready - but as I approached, the maitre’d of Morgans whistled for the dog. The pooch trotted over. The man threw the dog a big bone. Again: dog failure. So I stopped in a farmacia and looked for dog food; all they had was a tin of Potted Meat Product. This is the stuff that makes Spam look like filet mignon - it’s pink and moist and quivery; it smells like an alcoholic’s liver. I bought a tin (no odd looks from the clerk, although I surely would have been curious) and went outside to give it to the dog. I opened the tin, thinking I’d give it to him any time now . . .

Ten minutes later, I’m still walking around town with an open tin of Potted Meat Product. No dogs. Anywhere. I threw it away, cursing.

We had dessert. When we came out of the store, there was the dog. Finally! I gave him the rawhide. He took it, tentatively, then dropped it: not food. Got food? So I got out the jerky, the big treat, the nice juicy meat, and gave him a piece. We were friends now. Good friends. Broad tail wag, bright eyes. He’s just a puppy, really. Like all the street dogs, amazingly well-behaved. I wish I could take him home. But instead I have to content myself with putting money in all the Humane Society boxes so they have enough pesos to euthenize him when he’s hit by a car and someone brings him in. Instead I have to run when he’s eating, or he’ll follow me.

“Success!” I said to Sara. “Now RUN!”moves. Even so, it was impressive; when I was 12, the idea of going to a foreign country and performing hip-twitching choreography for strangers wasn’t part of the Scout Handbook. Then, of course, "YMCA," which brought half the audience onto the stage to dance. I watched Americans and Spaniards and Mayans on stage make the moves to a song about the manly thrills of rooming-house copulation, and I thought: the West has won, hermano. Game over. We’re too protean. We absorb everything and turn it into a game. The culture’s too big, too much fun, contains waaay too much sugar, but who’s counting calories tonight? Step aside. The American Century was a dry run for the American Millenium. We’re the catalyst. We’re the medium, we’re the procrustean bed with a mint on the pillow -

“You’ve had enough tequila,” my wife said. And of course she was right. I would have been disappointed in myself if I hadn’t.

____

Wake; yawn; CNN and thick black coffee. Off through the woods to the hotel, through the lobby; pass the palefaces checking in, snicker: newbies. Check in with Senor Towel: dos, por favor, 911, gracias. Past the pool, over the bridge that vaults above the road to Chankanab. Wife goes left to get a table for breakfast; I pad down the stairs into the sand to stake out chairs. It’s nine, and it’s sunny, and it’s hot. A day of food, fiction, fish and floating awaits. I’m happy. Very. Mucho.

Good snorkeling, even though the waves were in one of those moods to show everyone who really runs things around here. I laid in the shallows watching the crabs get knocked around - I’d been looking for shells, but half the shells I saw had occupants or squatters. I had to pity the poor fellows; every wave picked them up and knocked them around and deposited them elsewhere. Impossible to get anything done under those circumstances. It would be like sitting down in your office chair and being blown into another building just as you started to make your calls. You pick yourself up, find the elevator, go across the street to your building, go up to your cubicle, pick up the phone - wham! You’re across town. Annoying on day one, but if that’s your entire life you’d be sick of it soon. It’s a wonder crabs don’t just kill themselves out of pique and fury.

Wandered into town. For a while we’ve wanted to eat at Acuario, simply because it looks so cool - blue back-lit sign with elegant script, the promise of dining among glowing fishtanks. So we gave it a try. Walked in: empty. Not a good sign - but we were early. We’re always early. My fault. I like to eat early; I don’t believe in the gorge-totter-snore combination that seems to guide my countrymen. So we had the place to ourselves while we ate and watched the sun set. Sara had a lobster, and it wasn’t very good. I had a snapper stuffed with shrimp, and it wasn’t very good. The coffee wasn’t very good. The sun went behind the clouds just before it dropped. The bill was too high, and the waiters oblique. Example:

“Is that a lobster tank?” Sara asked, pointing to a big burbling enclosure outside the restaurant. The waiter said it was not. Half an hour later, the people at the adjacent table asked: “Is that a lobster tank?” The waiter said it was not.

“Well, what is it?” the woman asked.

“Shark.”

Oh, SHARK, eh? I guess we hadn’t pressed the point to the waiter’s satisfaction. At the end of the meal we went to look at the shark, expecting a yard of cartilaginous evil. There were two sharks. Two big nurse sharks. Motionless. They had arranged themselves so their snouts touched, and their bodies formed two sides of a perfect triangle; their fins overlapped, and the apex of their arrangement pointed directly out to sea.

Spooky.

Damn spooky. We watched them for a while . . . then left, in silence, as if we'd somehow been spared.

Downtown. A rain shower struck while we were strolling around; I sent Sara to the Fama duty-free store while I took refuge in a side street shopping arcade. (Had to procure some cigars.) Rain makes any place seem familiar. Rain makes any town feel like home. People may speak differently, act differently, smell and joke and eat differently, but everyone runs for the caves when the gods lean down and spit. I walked back to the Fama store, listening to the hiss of the cabs on the street, thinking: sounds just like New York.

Another terrifying cab ride back to the hotel. Sometimes you get a sane driver, a fellow who intends to live to see his latter thirties; more often than not you get a laconic maniac who will pass on the curve, drives with two fingers and has the depth perception of Brittany Spears fan. This time the driver not only drove fast, he carried on a long loud conversation with the dispatcher, shouting over a rap tune about the various types of Bitches in the world. Then let’s SWING INTO ONCOMING TRAFFIC! If I must die, I’ll die in a Cozumel cab, thank you, but please, let me be 80, and let me be coming back from ANYWHERE BUT ACUARIO.

Some day Cozumel will finish the rest of the southern highway; someday they will pave it and illuminate its treacherous turns. I mean, the roadbed is built - it’s graded and ready for hot-top. “When will they finish the road?” I asked the driver the other night. He gave a short shrug that said: Mexico. (In Italy, it’s a long shrug.) (And it means “Italy.”) Things move at a pace that would make any North Dakotan rip out his hair in fury. There’s a hotel that’s been standing, unfinished, for years - the investors went belly up in a crash, and no one’s finished the project. And no one ever will. This year I saw two new condos built along the road - on our first day we saw workmen in the kitchen . . . and that was the last time I saw anyone on the jobsite. Up the road, they’re building an addition to a building that’s been abandoned for years; perhaps the new part will be abandoned, as well. The Club Cozumel - a strange warren of stucco buildings - is as eerily empty this time as the last.

And then there’s Kiss My Cactus. It’s right next to Ernesto’s, for all you old Coz hands. (The San Miguel Ernestos, not the Sur version.) It used to be Planet Hollywood, and I’m happy to see Planet Hollywood gone. Kiss My Cactus is gigantic, a big raised floor with a big balcony and a big broad bar, backlit, ringed with tall chairs. On one side, a huge cigar emporium, humid as the Sternwood family greenhouse. It’s just big. And empty. Every night. No one seems to know what it is. Restaurant? Bar? If it’s a bar, it seems to be a well-behaved bar, and that’s not what people necessarily want, and if it’s a bar for ill behavior, you’ll certainly stand out, because there’s no one here. We had a drink there the other night; sat by the sidewalk and watched the cruise-ship visitors stagger past, watched the bleary hoarse victims of Carlos ‘n’ Charlies’ drinking games stumble along, watched the herds of Caucasian females, lithe as gazelles, flit past with their cautious eyes, ridiculous braids and raw fresh tattoos. No one went to Kiss My Cactus.

Tonight when we walked past, it was closed - for construction! All the chairs - gone! The bar - demolished! Workmen were busy doing . . . something. So perhaps the bar we saw was just a beta version. For their sakes, I hope so.

Tomorrow: snorkeling. Reading. (I’m chewing through a book a day, which was the plan.) Now: Quetila. Sorry, tequila. I made my usual request: cerveza Leon, tequila Hornitos. For once - finally! - the waiter clucked with approval at my beer choice. Leon, good, he said, when he brought the bottle. No one else get Leon. Everyone get Dos Equis, Corona. But Leon - he pointed to the label - made here. Yucatan.

It’s their Leinies, perhaps. It’s certainly the best beer in Quintana Roo. And I have one, right here. And limes. And my wife is next to me, reading a book I just finished, and in a minute I will ignite this big stogie. Everything is dark beyond the perimeter of the bar, except for the turquoise glow of the pool and the shimmering lights of the mainland beyond. I want to live here. Just toted up some numbers - by the time this trip is done, I’ll have spent more time in Cozumel over the past three years than I’ve spent in Fargo.

After four decades on this globe, I’m finally getting my priorities straight.

____

Around ten AM the couple waddled over to the edge of the beach. They came, they saw, they scratched themselves. Probably late thirties, early forties. He had one of those goofy faces that you just knew got mean and small when he drank; she had a face that was already mean and small, but got bigger and happier when she had a few under her belt. You could tell by his physique that he hadn’t lifted anything heavier than the Fall Preview issue of TV Guide in some time, and she did many reps with the dessert fork. None of this would be particularly unusual or worthy of comment had they not produced a boombox, turned it up high and proceeded to sing along to WHY  DON’T  WE  GET DRUNK AND SCREW.

Everyone hated them. Instantly. Heads went up, faces darkened; even the oldsters along the back palms, lined up as if they were auditioning for “Cocoon,” woke and snorted. This is a quiet beach. We’re here for the waves and the wind and the surf and the serene pristine purity of the atmosphere. We can take the daily siren, the cars on the road, the clangy cargo of scuba tanks delivered every other hour. But this was something else. The boombox had been extracted straight from hell, and it clear that the man’s musical tastes had ossified in high school. All the hits of that moron Jimmy Buffet. “Eye of the Tiger.” Unspecified C&W songs whose titles expressed some obvious bit of wisdom. A little U2 to show he was up with the times. “Heard it in a Love Song,” a tune that includes one of the more aggravating lyrical omissions: “I was born a wrangler and a gambler and I guess I always will.”

BE, I said under my breath, just as I’ve said that over and over again for the past 20 years. Frankly, I’m tired of covering for the Ozark Mountain Daredevils. Time they stepped up to the plate and admitted the made a mistake. “We omitted the verb to save the rhyme,” the singer should say. In a press conference. That’s all I ask.

CAINT BE WRONG.

I was the first to go over. “Could you turn it down a bit?” I asked. No response. Okay, let’s appeal to his sense of courtesy: “If you’ll notice,” I said, “no one else has a radio here.” This is the sort of fellow who does nothing for anyone who prefaces his remarks with “if you’ll notice,” unless that person has a badge or issues his paycheck. But he turned it down three db. I walked back. The music went back up.

Then, the perfect crowning touch: the guy reaches into his beach bag and pulls out a do-rag. Puts it on his head. It’s the Confederate Flag.

A few songs later, Sarita is peeved. She goes over and asks him to turn it down. He doesn’t even react, but the wife turns it down. And that was the end of the troubles. They sat on the edge of the beach and drank themselves into a stupor. At one point they stumbled down to the beach with snorkeling gear; I never did see them again, come to think of it.

Later we had a real treat a few yards away: nekulturny Americans of the moneyed variety. Nothing worse than people with much money and no idea how loud and low they’re appearing. Pick your worst image of the ugly American, and they conformed: mudslide physiques, small heads with ferret-features, jewel-encrusted sausage-fingers, piercing voices that bossed around the help in bad Spanish, the kind of voice that makes it seem as if it’s the Mexicans’s fault for speaking Spanish. Two couples - one in their 50s, one in their 30s. The older ones were the worst; the lady told an involved story about her episode of nude sunbathing on the deck, and how it turned out that EVERYONE could see her. Keep in mind that I’m THIRTY FEET AWAY from these people, but they’re SHOUTING their stories. Finally the 30something female goes to get something, and the older lady yells out “Show us your tan line on your butt.” The younger woman obligingly pulls up her suit. Then the old lady shouted out the line that defined the day at the beach:

“NOW SHOW US YOUR BUSH!”

Manners, people. Manners.

More snorkeling. I spent more time near the shore examining the detritus of the shells and fossils; I love it there. The rapture of the shallows! That line defines my career; might as well define my vacation, as well.

Tonight, sitting at Guido’s, we saw a moped accident. Amplification: the obligatory moped accident. This one was rather minor, as they go - instead of some poor vacationing soul launched into eternity, it was the time-honored scenario of a drunk wandering off the road into the path of a scooter. A scooter traveling at the apex of its capabilities. There was a dull thump and a dull grunt and the dull scrape of plastic on asphalt. I stood and glanced and called out DOTTORE, thinking perhaps the Italian would suffice. The driver and the drunk did not move. A waiter from the restaurant waddled out, as did two waiters from Carlos & Charlies who had stopped by after work, still in their cartoon Mexicali outfits. The driver was revived quickly enough, and he pulled his bike to the side of the road. The drunk was a sack of wet mashed potatoes, and - as befitting a fellow who’s just been struck by a vehicle - was picked up and dragged to the sidewalk. To my surprise three uniformed men of indeterminate alliance appeared within minutes - harbor police? Town police? I recalled the news item on the Coz.net news page, a plea for police radios. But then I noticed one of the khaki-clad officers was talking into a cellphone. Ah: an elegant workaround. An ambulance appeared a few minutes later, ahh/oohing its way to the site with the siren sound no longer heard in American cities. It’s the siren sound to which we’ve all become accustomed, the one that’s become just background noise. Hearing it again is like hearing a long-forgotten top-ten tune. It’s Classic Siren!

Anyway, the paramedics got out and fussed with the drunk, but by now traffic had backed up for a block. One idiot chose to honk. One fargin’ moron in Jeep: EEEEP, EEEEP. The taxi driver a few cars up opened his door, leaned out and glared at the honker, and I thought of the afternoon at the beach -

Before the 70s couple. Before the crude quartet. Before any of them, we were all treated to the OhMiGod Blondes.
Young, blonde, drunk, stupid, loud and American: to hit six of six in a foreign country is to ask for fatal scorn. Beg for it. But there she was perched on the wall over the water - one short shove or one big laugh or one more drink and she might well fall over, fall back, legs and arms flailing like half a dancing spider, striking her skull on the rocks below . . . but we can only dream. She’s holding forth on the events of the night before, which seemed to consist of MIGUEL saying SOMETHING to SOMEONE if you can BELIEVE it

- she manages to wake up Sara, who’s sleeping, and who’s half a beach away. And still she brays. The waiter comes by and she orders another drink. The louder she gets the more banal her tales sound, and the more pointless her story, the more she hoots and shrieks -

SHHHHHH!

A middle-aged Japanese man has had enough. He has stood up by his cabana, mustered his courage and said what needs to be said. He is a slight fellow, pale and stooped, but he has the bearing of someone who for ONCE in his LIFE is going to take a stand. This is it. This is his moment. This is where he draws the line. The girls keep chattering with their glittery arias -

SHHHHHHHH!

And the girls stop - look up - see the Japanese gentleman.

SHHHHHH!

Everyone on the beach is staring. Not at the Japanese gentleman. At them.

They fall quiet.

Anyway. On the street outside Guido’s, the taxi driver stares at the rude honking driver behind him. And the dork in Jeep stops honking. Everyone waits. Silently. The mopeds course through the clotted traffic, corpuscles threading the narrow capillary corridors until they come to the scene of the accident. They idle patiently until the ambulance whoops away, and then they rev their own engines and squirt back into traffic.

When the bill came at Guido’s, there was an envelope for adonation to the local Red Cross. They ran the ambulances. It was all staged! I thought for a second, then remembered: they always left this envelope. Tonight it was particularly apt, though. A good reminder. You can get run over in paradise, too. Especially in paradise.

Early that day, when Sara and I left the beach, the 70s duo was still lost at sea; the quartet had passed out, and the OhMiGod girls were drunkenly complaining to the manager. They’d lost their keys. It was everyone else’s fault.

____

Herewith the last Coz bleat. Pictures to follow. Dreary rainy Mpls bleating resumes Monday.


Grind me blind and garotte my goat, anything, ANYTHING but turbulence. I know it’s just what it is; I know the plane isn’t going to crash, but nothing else wants to make me put back a gallon of vodka and sprawl back in the seat with my mouth open, insensate as the lucky luggage in the hold below.

Going home. The best and worst part of the trip. Best, because we get to see the dog and sleep in the big soft bed. I can make a pot of coffee and . . . and . . . see if the VCR taped “Cops,” I guess. Okay, the coffee part sounds good. Although the coffee at Guido’s was really exceptional; best on the island. Did I mention I get to see Jasper again? He’s probably forgotten all about us, but he’ll be happy to get home. It’ll come back fast. Once he gets home he’ll be back in the groove, and once I drop the Frosty Paws on the floor, he’ll know this is where he should be.

I hope I’m just as certain.

Oh, nonsense. I could never stay there, and by the end of the trip I’m always happy to go, You just can’t sit on the beach and read forever, and eight days is enough. No more, no less. Nine days? Ridiculous! This morning we were already in the mindset you get when on departure day. I get sad and impatient; I feel as though I’m just pretending now, and the tan is a costume best shed soon. I look at my watch: okay, we have to check out at one, it’s 11 now . . . best settle the bill next time I got to the hotel . . . back to the room at noon. . . finish another chapter of the book? Don’t want to be in the position I was in 98, when I ran out of reading material an hour before landing, and was reduced to reading the safety instructions for the plane. (Sitting quietly and just thinking is not an option, not on a plane that is bouncing around like a carnival ride.) So I’ll read another few pages - hey, is that a storm front out there? Might the flight be delayed? If it’s delayed too long we won’t be able to get Jasper; they go to bed early. . .

And then I realize, with dismay, that I’m already in the mindset of home. Here I thought I’d left that on a hanger by the front door. Of course not; whereever you go, you
aarea there, aand sometimes that’s the problem.

Well, let’s just go snorkel, then. I stood up, got my gear and walked back into the ocean. One last conversation with the fish. Has to be done. You have to say goodbye. See you next year. In the general sense, of course. The population changes from year to year, I imagine. Hah, hah, fish! You die! I live long time, I come back again and you will be bones! Hah! I win!

Not that I think such things. On the contrary. There’s always a moment on these trips where you realize how old the earth is, and how your time here is just a sneeze, a wink, an itch that time scratches. Even the island is new, compared to the plates on which it sits. If you doubt any of this, walk in the ocean, put your face in the water and look, look down. There it is, the rubble of another world, the calcified graveyard that stretches for hundreds of thousands of miles in all directions. Fossilized sealife litters the ocean floor - ancient sponges, weeds, ferns, turned into rock, pushed up towards land, beaten every minute of every day by the waves that slug the shore. Big pieces become smaller pieces become sand. It’s a slow process, rivaled only by the time it takes to evict someone from their apartment in New York. All these pieces were alive for a short period of time, but that was a neglible percentage of the time they spend dead. In fact, they spend all their time being dead. It sucks, being a fossil: that’s today’s metaphysical moment.

Favorite moment of the trip: sitting with Sara at Guido’s watching the sun set, waiting for the evening fish. And there was four versions of that moment. Lucky, lucky me.

Oddest moment: walking past the Kiss my Cactus bar the day after it had been closed and ripped to pieces, and finding it not only reopened, but EXACTLY the SAME as it had been the day before.

Happiest discovery: I like cigars.

Saddest discovery: Leon has changed its fine old label to something that looks like ersatz Busch-swill. But the beer’s still good.

Happiest tequila-assisted paragraphs: to follow. Written a few nights ago. I stand by it:

When I was very small my dad gave me a cassette tape recorder for my birthday. (Magnavox.) Cassettes were the new technology, almost Bondian in their miniaturization. The deck came with a free cassette: Quiet Village by Martin Denny. I thought this was the coolest music I had heard in weeks. I listened to it all the time. In the late summer sunsets I sat in the backyard of a North Dakota suburb and thought of strange places where people wore fronds and drank from coconuts and lived in huts thatched with grass.

I am currently sitting in a hut roofed with sheafs of grass; it’s nearly midnight. The shuffle-play feature on the MP3 player just called up “Quiet Village” by Martin Denny, and halfway through the song I realize that the beat of the music is perfectly synchronized with the cheep of the insects outside the screen.

You get this feeling infrequently in life - an illusion of synchronicity, destiny and perfection; liquor is usually a co-conspiritor. The Denny song, for example, rolled over to, of ALL things, a piece of incidental music by John Barry, used for a scene in a Las Vegas casino; were I in Vegas now, this would have been a galvanizing moment as well. Then again, I listened to this music in Fargo as well, dreaming of the world to come. If I keep moving and the machinery keeps singing, who knows how many other connections follow?

Two, maybe three. It wasn’t that big a record collection.


Book report: (keep in mind I bring page-turners to the beach, unlike my wife, who brings Dickens, Rand, Tolstoi, etc.)

Waiting. Dreck. Harlan Elison, I will never trust you again, unless you can give me personal assurance that your blurb, which was admittedly subject to interpretation, was indeed meant to warn instead of praise. “It moves,” said your blurb. “Oh how it moves.” Oh how it didn’t. A miserable piece of Tor-dreck (the number of good Tor authors can be counted on one hand, and Brett Davis is two of them) about a hidden species of hominids who are about to supplant homo sapiens. Great idea, miserably executed, and incredibly depressing; in the many, many passages describing what a shite-sack humanity had always been, and many more passages detailing a litany of ecological catastrophes, one sensed that the author was siding at every turn with the creatures who regarded humanity as an infestation deserving of extinction.

According to the cover, the book was recommended by NPR.

Quel suprise!

Man of the Hour, Peter Blauner. Read only one book by this guy before - “Slow Motion Riot.” He is the real item. The blurb was by a certain Steven King, whoever that might be, and it praised the book as “great social fiction.” I have never thought of books in those terms before: social fiction. It seems a rather redundant description, but it fits. Blauner writes great sweaty tense tales of New York; every day seems to be high noon in August. On the surface, the stories are incredibly depressing, if you think about it - but once you think about it, you realize that underneath the events there is great hope and wonder. A nifty trick. This guy is going to turn into the Dickens of the age if he keeps this up; he’s really, really good. I ate the book in one day - started it by the ocean at 10 PM, just finished it at 10:30. I love vacations.

L. A. Requiem. This is amusing. I bought the book thinking: finally! I get to see if all those glowing reviews were right. The book I was thinking about was actually called “New York Nocturne,” or something like that. No matter. As contemporary noir goes, this was top-notch. I had the feeling I’d wandered into the middle of a series - probably so; I’ll have to check. In any case the author nailed a perfect combination - a sidekick so laconic he makes Tonto look like Don Knotts, and a narrator whose exploits humanize, explain, and mystify even more the character of the sidekick. Neat trick; great book.

Return to Mars, Ben Bova. I found this on the Free pile at the paper a few months ago. I’d read Bova’s Mars book on the last Coz trip, so it made sense to read the sequel on this voyage. It was as frustrating, thrill-less and curiously memorable as the first. Bova seems obsessed with race, and the idea that scientists of varying racial makeups, chosen for a two-year interplanetary mission, will view each other strictly through racial paradigms. In the first few pages, the main character - an American Indian, hence someone more spiritual than anyone else - returns to the Mars settlement, and finds the small fetish he’d left behind. For him it is a reverent moment. The evil white corporate villain character scoffs, and says “heap big magic, eh?”

Sigh. Bova just isn’t very good. At one point he actually has a character thinking “I’ll show them. I’ll show them all.” Well, Ben, you’ve shown us. You’ve shown us all.

Basilica, by William Montalaban, or something like that. Great concept: ex-cop tangles with South American drug dealers, does bad things, loses family, enters monastery, winds up as a brother in the Vatican, then sees old friend elevated to the Papacy. So he’s the Pope’s Marlowe. If James Crumley had written a novel that took place in Rome, it would be this one, and I say that for bad and for good. But mostly for good. I really don’t need more novels about indestructible 50- year old men who can beat up 20 year olds, let alone more books with long messy contrived climaxes. Next book I write, the hero is simply going to find the bad guy and shoot him, and that will be that.

Link, by Walter Becker. This could have been an X-File episode - scientists discover an extraterrestrial connection with the Mexican pyramids. In fact, it was an X-file book, one I heard as an audiobook while driving to Fargo one day. Link was well done - moved at a neat clip, and the scientific and historic aspects were fascinating. It’s the old Chariots of the Gods stuff, only better done. Given where I am right now, it was a pleasure to read, even though it needlessly went through much Indiana Jonesy huggermugger towards the end. Another interminable climax with an ending that’s really a let down, unless you consider that it set the stage for a sequel. And what good book doesn’t? (Most.)

Rose Madder, Steven King. A very strange book - quiet, tremulous. At the end you hit the back page with a picture of the author, and the words “Steven King is the world’s best selling author.” And you think: yes, that makes sense.

Angels Flight, M. Connoly. Good procedural from a good writer. Haven’t finished it yet - last year the last book I read on the last day was a Connoly story. Same this year.

Better get back to the books. The plane touches down in an hour. The wheels squeak, we shuffle out, file through customs, head back to the old brown world. Home again. Next?

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