I made a huge mistake yesterday.  I looked in the mirror. Here in my mind’s eye, I am a crisp, shiny red apple, but in the mirror, I more closely resemble that cucumber you forgot about for two months in the back of the refrigerator.  Remember how it was swollen and foamy?  Remember how it collapsed in your hand when you tried to throw it out? Remember the little brown puddle it left on the shelf? Yeah. I’m closer to that cucumber now.

Victor loves road trips.  He finds serenity behind the wheel on a long trip, whereas I might could crawl out of my skin. The first day we drove north for about 14 hours.  It takes at least that long for my whining to manifest itself inside his tranquil bubble.

By the second day we were able to exit the car to check out Annapolis and Washington, D.C.  This trip coincided with a major heat wave.  It was 107° on the coolest day we were there. Victor likes to walk, meander, really.  The heat and the humidity don’t bother him. He’s soaking in the culture.  I’m soaking in sweat and learning just how long it takes me to develop a heat rash.  (Not long.)

I did see a wedding dress draped with a tartan plaid wool shawl and with lace epaulettes in a shop window. It looked perfect for Michael Jackson, if he had ever decided to get married in a gown.  I showed it to Victor, but he said “what?” Victor doesn’t always get stuff.

If you want to tour the Capitol, you can’t carry a purse bigger than 4 ½ by 6 by 8 inches.  You can’t hardly zip the bare essentials into something that small.  There’s a lengthy inventory of items that I really must have, because I am a prudent person. Victor says you only need your wallet and your reading glasses.  Men.

When we got to the Capitol Visitor’s Center, I really had to put my back into opening the doors. They’re blast-resistant.  Maybe we should put blast-resistant windows in our house, you know, for Armageddon. I imagine they’re quite pricey, though, and my discretionary cash is already going to replacing new sidewalks with newer sidewalks in Boynton, Oklahoma.

Quite a few congressmen and senators passed by us because they were doing that whole debt-ceiling thing.  All of them were shockingly impressive-looking people.  Way taller than regular people… stick-straight posture… lantern-jaws…quality designer suits… full heads of shiny, perfectly styled hair.  To be a politician, clearly you don’t have to be impressive; you only have to look impressive.

I do enjoy mining Victor’s head when I’m trapped in a car with him. For instance, he maintains that the most repulsive bad breath has two origins:

1. Keeping a small dead mouse between your teeth and gums.
2. Keeping a rind of a firm Swiss between your teeth and gums.

You can’t argue with him.  Just because you don’t know anyone who does these things doesn’t mean it isn’t nasty.

Victor also pontificated on the subject of prostitution.  He says if you are going to have sex with a stranger, it might as well be a rich stranger and that he hopes he taught his daughters that if they find themselves needing cash, they should not overlook this lucrative path to solvency.

To look at him, all rumpled in misbuttoned Hawaiian shirts and stained, saggy travel shorts, you just wouldn’t appreciate what a font of knowledge he is.   Victor is the anti- politician.


When our kids found out that we would be going to Amsterdam on our next trip, they badgered us not to miss the chance to smoke dope when we had the opportunity to do it legally.  We were called wimps for voicing doubt. We were reminded that we probably would not return to Amsterdam again, old as we are.  They pleaded with us not to be pussies.

A coffee house in Amsterdam is the place where you can buy and smoke marijuana, but not a cigarette.  That would be illegal.  Oddly, they do not have coffee there.  On our first day there, we had an Indonesian Rijsttafel near a coffee house. We passed it and it looked to be a pretty rough place.  There was an imposing bouncer-type dude outside wearing black leather and chains. We took him as representative of the clientele, and kept walking. There was no way we could walk inside that place.

We passed another coffee house the next day that had almost as alarming-looking characters outside it.  (I never knew people could pierce the backs of their necks and their breasts!) We left that place for people with a more powerful mission to smoke dope.

Two days later, we were in a very respectable part of town where there was a coffee shop.  Victor looked at me and asked what I thought.

“Uh, I don’t know,” I waffled.

Victor said that if we didn’t do it in this upscale neighborhood, we never would.  We didn’t want to disappoint the kids, right?

Victor walked inside and I followed.



It was located kitty-corner across the street from Rembrandt’s house.  It was as classy a coffee shop as we had seen.




The man at the bar gave us a drug menu.  We bought a marijuana cigarette and asked for matches. The joint was very narrow and conically shaped.  A third of it consisted of a filter of some sort. It was unimpressive. Victor lit it and we each took a puff and coughed violently.  We were out of practice.  I told Victor I didn’t think I could smoke it.  He said that it was now or never.  I didn’t want to disappoint the kids, did I?



We each took another puff and coughed like consumptives again.  We sat for a while and looked at the joint in the ashtray.  The matchbox was made in Sweden! I thought that was amazing!

Victor suggested that we try a really little puff and see if we didn’t cough so much.  So we took one or two wee puffs more.  About ten minutes passed.  I told Victor that I’d had enough.  He blinked at me.  He said he’d go get us cokes.

We sat over our joint. Half of it was still untouched. We drank some soda.  We looked at the joint.  We drank some more soda.  We looked at the ashtray.  I wondered where it was made.

Victor suggested he drop the partially smoked joint in the soda can. Then we could leave and walk home.  It seemed like a good idea to hide the fact we couldn’t finish it.  I guess we were embarrassed that we turned out to be minor league dope smokers.




I asked Victor if he could find his way home to the hotel.  I couldn’t have found my way in the best of circumstances.  It was my good fortune to have married a map-reading whiz.

My mind was meandering.  I feared I might wander away from Victor to follow my thoughts, so I asked him to keep checking that I was nearby.  He said I could count on him.

We were about two miles or more from the hotel as the crow flies, but the way the streets were mapped out, (do you remember the map I had you draw in an earlier piece?) it was about 100 miles.

I marched behind Victor carefully.  In most places it was impossible to walk next to each other because of the crowds and the swarms of speeding bicycles. After we had walked a block, Victor stopped and appeared puzzled.  He studied the map and then he turned around in a circle and, without speaking, started walking fast.  I tried to catch up, but first I had to explain to my knees that they had to lock with each step, or I would fall down.  If we had kept walking, it would have been all right, but when we stopped, my knees simply discontinued standard operation. Victor was totally involved in the whole map-reading experience and I didn’t want to interrupt him to ask if his knees were functioning normally.  I was anxious to get back to the hotel.

After a few minutes of walking, I stopped and yanked on Victor’s sleeve.

“We are in a hotel lobby!” I shouted.

He looked at me.

“Huh.  Well, it was a hotel lobby, but now it has turned back into a street again,” I said.

Victor patted me on the back.

While we walked, Victor peppered his map reading with mumbled responses to questions that I hadn’t asked.

“Thirty.”

“Yellow, I think.”

“Over there.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Possibly.”

Victor continued to stop, looking puzzled, at most corners to scrutinize the map. He invariably turned around 360 ° and then took off again suddenly.  I really needed to hold on to part of him.  It was quite congested and there were a surprising number of policemen staring at us, who subsequently morphed into tourists who were not actually looking at us. I tucked a finger in his waistband and trailed him closely.

“Victor, things are not what they seem,” I said.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“What we see is not necessarily there,” I said.

Victor blinked at me.

When I asked Victor if he remembered that I were with him, he did not look surprised to see me.  I took that as a good sign.

I was seriously thirsty, but I did not want to mention it, because I had no intention of stopping until we got back into our hotel.

In actual time, it took an hour and a half to walk back to the hotel.  Victor got us back without a single mistake. When we got to the steps of the hotel, I asked Victor if he thought my knees would be able to understand what a staircase entailed.  He didn’t hear me, but I needn’t have worried, because my knees were able to figure out just how to act when faced with both climbing and descending a staircase.

When we got to our room, I filled the hotel glass with water several times and drank each glass quickly.  It was good water!

“My mouth is dry,” Victor said.

I poured a glass of water for him and brought it over.  He took a couple of sips, and handed it back to me.

“My mouth is dry, but I’m not thirsty,” he said.

“Huh!  I always thought they were the same thing!” I said.

I didn’t like how my lungs felt.  It was as though they were still filled up with smoke.  I wanted to know if Victor felt the same way, but it was way too much trouble to ask.

I lay down on the bed and closed my eyes.Victor said that it was 5:00 and we could leave for dinner at 6:30, if that was all right with me.

“We’ll see,” I said.

“Aren’t you hungry?” he asked.

“Nope.  I just want to lie down and watch where my mind is going,” I said.

Victor got out his computer.  I went into the bathroom and noticed that the tiles were blooming with tiny blue flowers. I had not noticed that they had tiny blue flowers on them before. It appeared that being stoned made possible for me to see how pretty things were.

When I got back to the bed, Victor looked at me and popped up on his elbow.

“What are you eating?” he asked.

“I’m not eating,” I said.

“Then what do you have in your mouth?” he asked.

“My mouth guard,” I answered.

“Why are you wearing your mouth guard?” he asked.

“My teeth are grinding.  Using my mouth guard is only sensible,” I said.

He went back to the computer on his chest.  He was reading his email.

I lay down on the bed and after a while I took out my mouth guard and poked Victor.

“Don’t. Sell. The Farm,” I  said.

“All right,” he said.

“I mean it,” I said.

“Okay,” he said.

I was impressed that he was doing his email.  Victor has terrific powers of concentration.

I poked him again.

“Don’t make any big decisions,” I said.

“I won’t,” he said.

“This is not the time for making big decisions,” I said.

“I understand,” he said.

After a while, I began to say something to Victor but stopped.

“What?” he said.

I started to laugh.

“I just realized what I was going to say doesn’t make sense,” I said.

“What were you going to say?” he asked.

“I was going to say that I was happy that there were no bicycles riding around our bed,” I said.

We laughed a lot about how hard it would be for me to get to the bathroom at night if there were bicycles speeding around the bed all night long.

Victor was also laughing about something he was reading on the Internet.He tried to read it to me, but he was laughing too much for me to understand anything he was saying.

Victor remained obsessed with eating.  He asked me every few minutes if I was ready to leave for dinner.  I finally gave in and we walked to a restaurant. Victor took great pleasure his meal.  My meal was good, but I could have skipped food and just stayed in the room to think some more.

Later that night I was truly disappointed to see that the tiles in the room were just plain brown.  They were far prettier covered with tiny blue flowers.

I have a lot of trouble sleeping. I have just about every sleep disorder a person can have, things you’ve never heard of, esoteric sleeping disorders.  When I can’t sleep or I wake up and can’t go back to sleep, Victor wins. I’m too tired to write or to paint, so I give him massages. He can get a massage when he’s fast asleep, wake up enough to enjoy it and then go right back to sleep. He’s an unusually gifted sleeper.

Recently we were in a hotel in Sweden where there was this sign in the bathroom:

 

 

My daughters both love “products.”  I got my love of “products” from them.  I wanted to try all of them. The “Schampo” and the “Balsam” were both in the shower. I didn’t know if the “Balsam” were a conditioner or a body wash, so I regretfully didn’t use that one when I took my shower.  I didn’t want to body wash my hair after “schampoing” it, in case it wasn’t a conditioner.  The only balsam I know about is that really unusual wood that is so soft you can carve it with your fingernail.  I couldn’t figure out if that would be good for conditioning my hair or washing my body, so I used a bar of soap I saved in the plastic hair cover from the last hotel.

 

 

 

 

 

Also on the counter were these two lotions:

 

 

 

 

Naturally, I couldn’t sleep and Victor was snoring away, so I grabbed one of the lotions and tore off his blanket and gave him an exceptional massage.  Victor does love a massage, regardless of whether he is asleep or awake.  I gave him a good, hard working over.

But I was still awake.

So I snatched the other lotion and gave him a second massage with that lotion. I thought it would be interesting to compare them.  It’s not like I had something else to do in the middle of the night.  My eyes wander out towards my ears when I’m tired, so I can’t even focus to read. The massage started out perfectly, but after a while the lotion dried out, which was weird. I had never had this happen before.  His skin felt like paper. Victor mumbled that he thought perhaps the aloe vera was not a lotion but was instead a liquid soap. I went into the bathroom and ran water over my hands and, by golly, it sure got sudsy.

So I returned to Victor and I told him he had to get up and take a shower, because he couldn’t leave the liquid soap rubbed into his skin all night. Surely he would get a rash or at the very least it would dry out his skin and make him super itchy. He was snoring again.  I shook him awake and repeated myself. He declined. He had no intention of jumping in the shower in the middle of the night.  He wanted to sleep. He didn’t care one whit about the state of his skin in the morning, or ever, if truth be told.

But I felt bad about using soap on him for his second massage of the night, and I still wasn’t tired, so I gave him a third massage with the original lotion. I gave him a super-long, super-greasy massage to try to counteract the crusty film of dry soap. By this time, I had tired myself out enough to go to sleep myself, which sometimes happens.

In the shower the following morning, Victor was completely obscured in suds, without having to use any product whatsoever. It was as though I were watching a body wash commercial where they used lots of computer animation. And in the end, his skin was soft and smooth as a baby’s bottom.

In our four decades together, we have been continually calculating and honing all sorts of strategies which make our living together function as best it can. When we first retired, we were together all the time. That might sound like fun, but it did not turn out to be.  After we came to our senses, we decided to do our volunteering in different places and on different days, so that we have some time apart. This keeps us from being together 24/7, which we quickly discovered was a recipe for getting on each other’s nerves. We’re in our sixties now, and we simply don’t know how much longer we will have together. We want to make the time we have good time.

Don’t get me wrong, we still get into arguments; we’re far from perfect, but you learn certain tricks over the years. I can’t say I know what tricks Victor uses to keep me from making him crazy. I’m sure that he must have tons of them, though. I know I can’t be easy to be around all the time. My kids have told me that enough times. These maneuvers must be covert or they simply wouldn’t work. I’m quite sure he has no idea how often I have to count to ten and to ten again until I can answer a question that might well have resulted in a snide answer, without the requisite pause to get knee-jerk anger out of the equation; or how often I keep my eyes closed tightly when he is driving, so I don’t make that squealy noise that escapes when I think we’re about to be smashed in a massive car accident. That squealy noise really ticks him off. You know, that is the sort of thing is that I mean here. We had to learn the art of making concessions to each other. The art of compromise, done clandestinely, so as not to call attention to itself, done smoothly, no keeping score. (That part’s important.)

There was a time when my sleeping difficulties used to cause friction between us. He used to wake up if I left the bed and then he’d be grumpy all day from lack of sleep. When I figured out that he didn’t care if I woke him for a massage, it totally fixed that problem. It gives me something to do when I’m bleary and tired and it makes him happy. I really feel a sense of accomplishment when I can make Victor happy, since Victor is calibrated a bit off to the cranky side, truth be told.  Frequently it leads to a nice bit of hanky-panky which is always rewarding.  He goes right back to sleep, and there is the added bonus that sometimes it wears me out enough to go to sleep myself.

When we got married, we honestly didn’t understand what being together entailed. We each came with pre-conceived notions that turned out to be hopelessly fanciful. It took us a good long time to learn that for our marriage to survive and to thrive, we had to work at it. We had to figure things out. Sometimes it was hard, but we fell in love for a reason and over time, consciously working at it, we grew together and fell in love over and over again for a million other reasons. For Victor and me, the world is our oyster now, for as long as we have together.

(Excuse me a minute, Victor is hollering at me from across the house, so I need to count to ten a few times before I go to see what he wants this time….)

 

The other day we were relaxing and reading the paper when an ad just jumped right out at us. There was going to be a fund-raising dinner at the Elk’s Club that very night. Ordinarily, this would not have gotten our attention, but they were having Zydeco Night! Not only that, but they were serving real Cajun food! Zydeco is good for dancing and it’s the kind of music that just makes you happy deep inside your chest. It must rearrange your endorphins, stacking them high, one on top of the other because you can’t help but be transported to a happy place.

We adore Cajun food, but it is the one type of food that we simply cannot find anywhere in the Miami area.

We bought tickets over the phone and drove that night to the Elk’s Club. I took several pictures of the outside of the Elks Club, but the Neon on the sign was so splendiferous, all I could get was a bright green smudge, so you’ll just have to believe me on this one.

The people were very, um, festive. The women were wearing some exceedingly dazzling clothes. I have never seen as large a concentration of women anywhere sporting so many sequins and glistening dots that caught the light and reflected it out in all directions. The fabrics were all remarkably stretchy and formfitting and the theme seemed to be animal print, glittery animal print.

One woman, for instance, had on skintight snakeskin print sparkly pants with sparkly black high-heeled shoes and a sparkly leopard skin print blouse and a tight sparkly black vest.  I thought that a tiara would have finished off this outfit perfectly, but, alas, her head was utterly bare of ornamentation, a fashion faux-pas, in my book.

Most of the women were dressed in a similar manner, but in stunning variations. It really gave you the impression that you were in another country altogether, a culture where the women had super cool native costumes. I’ve never seen a cluster of women wearing such unusual finery anywhere else in Miami.

I became aware that Victor and I looked downright dowdy. Now, dowdy is nothing new for Victor, but dowdy is just not how I roll. I was definitely a tourist in the Fabulous Land of Sparkly Spandex.

(Note to self: when attending a fund-raiser at a club beginning with the name of a wild animal, dress your butt up. Get out that bedazzeler from the back of the closet and put those skin tight lycra jeans on that haven’t seen the light of day in years.)

Oddly, the Elks men did not appear to belong with these women. There was not a vaguely shiny thing among them. They looked humdrum; they looked like us. I resolved right then and there never to be caught anywhere looking humdrum again.

When the dinner was to begin, everyone was assigned a table. We were at 18. There were two other couples at the table that were quite friendly. They told us about all the good works that the Elks Club did. It was quite impressive.

We had some terrific gumbo to start. There was a lot of shouting in order to hear each other at the table because the room was enormous and packed with people. The hubbub was virtually throbbing. One nice man kept answering things that we didn’t ask, but sometimes this kind of conversation can be fascinating.

(Nice Man) Fourteen years!

(Me) My name’s Irene, what can I call you?

(Nice Man) We’re so glad you came to our fund-raiser!

(Me) Well, we love Zydeco music and Cajun food, so it sounded like a good time.

(Him) This here’s Paula, she’s my bride.

Paula was sitting right next to Victor and it looked like she had a lot to say to him. Her eyes were flashing and her hands never stopped moving and touching Victor here and there while speaking. Paula was animated. Victor looked totally passive, but ultra polite. Sometimes he can be awkward in social situations with strangers. I couldn’t hear anything they said over the clamor in the room, but there sure was a lot of liveliness occurring inside the Paula vortex, into which Victor appeared to have been sucked.  I figured the zydeco music and the Cajun food would loosen him up.

(Me) What do you do for a living?

(Nice Man) I’ve lived here all my life, but my bride is from up North.

(Me) Where up North?

(Nice Man) My family had a hardware store at first and then branched out into a chain. We had stores in three counties of South Florida.

(Me) Do you still work in hardware?

(Nice Man) She came down here in ‘86.

(Me) What made her move down here?

(Nice Man) Absolutely, my family has hardware in the blood.

(Me) Do you have any family still working in hardware?

(Nice Man) You bet I sail! In my opinion everyone in Miami should have some kind of boat. We’re right here by the warm, beautiful Atlantic Ocean, right? That right there is nothing to waste!

(Me) My husband, Victor,  always wanted a little boat, but I told him he really shouldn’t get one until he learns to swim. He thinks I’m over cautious.

(Nice Man) I only have the one son and he lives in the Keys. Great fishing there! Now, Paula, she’s got three girls, but none of them are in Florida.

(Me) Any grandchildren?

(Nice Man) Thanks! Here’s my card. Now you give us a call and we’ll all get together, hear?

(Me) You bet.

We had to file up when our table was called to pick up the rest of our meal. They had red beans and rice, which did not deserve the name since there was no discernible spice in the recipe, and a dish with chicken and shrimp in it that they called Jambalaya. I have made Jambalaya for my family for years. I’ve been to New Orleans many times and have had Official New Orleans Jambalaya and it has never been pink and creamy. The problem was that it tasted pink and creamy. You would think that the adjectives pink and creamy would be confined to dessert, but this was decidedly not dessert. People just don’t make dessert with chicken and shrimp in it, at least not where I come from, and I’m from all over.

Nice Man and Paula really seemed to enjoy their creamy pink “Jambalaya.” They had two or three helpings. Victor and I figured that this was Elks Club Jambalaya, a sub-category of the real thing.

There was some generic sheet cake for dessert, but I had really been jonesing for red velvet cake. Seriously, this was Zydeco Night with Cajun Food, wouldn’t you expect red velvet cake or piping hot beignets covered with powdered sugar?

Then the Zydeco band came on stage. They were from New Jersey. Now I understand that people can learn to play music that is not at all from their area, I mean just look at “The Commitments!” (I urge you to listen to the complete song in the latter link. It will knock your socks right off your feet! If it’s cold where you are, put on your sneakers first.) These people are from Ireland, for heaven sakes, but they sure sing rhythm and blues like Americans.

I understand from a trusted source that some of the greats in Zydeco are Wayne Toups, Zachary Richard, and Rockin’ Dopsie and that this is what Zydeco is supposed to sound like. (You should listen to this all the way through also. It’s fabulous! You should be aware that this in no way approximated what we heard that night.)

These New Jerseyans were playing their New Jersey Not-Zydeco Music so loud that the tables were bouncing a bit. I got out my box of earplugs and handed them around the table. My purse is prepared for anything.

We finally decided that we had had enough adventure for the night and when we got up to leave, Nice Man and Paula hugged us both as though we had been the best of friends forever. I thought that was awfully congenial of them.

When we got out to the parking lot, Victor shook his head and told me that Paula was rubbing his leg all night long. Whenever he moved his leg away, she would find it again with her leg and continue the rubbing. It was just exhausting for him to try to get away but not insult her. He kept jiggering his chair away, but she’d jigger hers right back over to his. Victor is so careful to be polite with strangers, sometimes it just wears him right out.

Well, my eyes were opened, I can tell you that! I suppose you have to peek under the table now and then to check what mischief might be going on, when you’re eating at an Elks Club Dinner. I shredded their card when we got home, (that hussy!)