Monthly Archives: May 2013

Vacation Part Three: Coming Home

I’m back from vacation. I talked about going away, about swimming, and now, well, there’s really not much left to say. We spent the whole day traveling and all I want to do now is go to sleep. But I’m determined to write something.

The whole day was all about the actual travel, getting from one place to another place. And I always think, it shouldn’t really have to be this way. I mean, a flight from New York to Puerto Rico only takes about four hours. That’s nothing. That’s not even half of a workday. But our whole system of travel, of airplane travel, yes, historically speaking it’s unbelievable that human beings have access to pretty much anywhere on the planet. But wasting an entire day on only a four-hour flight is a little crazy.

Today was definitely a little crazy. We wanted to check out one last Puerto Rican restaurant before we headed home. And we planned it out so we should have been able to. But as soon as we got in the taxi from the hotel, the driver started chatting us up. “How’s it going? Where are you visiting from? How long were you here?”

I don’t mind chitchat. I don’t necessarily prefer it, but I’ll always engage in a conversation. If I don’t have anything to say, I’m an expert at maintaining eye contact, putting on all of the appropriate facial expressions, throwing in stuff like, “Really? Huh. Wow. No way,” at perfectly spaced intervals to trick the conversationalist into thinking I’m an active participant.

But again, there’s a limit. The conversation has to be somewhat normal. This guy’s questions started getting a little too specific, slightly veering off the normal Q&A route. “What did you like about Puerto Rico?” What did I like? What am I going to say? “I liked the weather. I liked the people. I liked the food.” Bingo, that’s what he was looking for.

“Oh you like Puerto Rican food? I don’t. Not anymore. You see, I’m a vegan, I switched to a vegan diet about four years ago. I only eat potatoes, liquid yeast, string beans …” and this guy starts telling me his whole diet, how it cures every disease, how he’s going to outlive all of his friends and family members.

And it got weirder. The food talk lead to a one-sided conversation about genetically modified food, about the evils of the food conglomerate Monsanto, how they’re teaming up with the oil companies to keep us all enslaved. He told me to take out my phone so I could look up these documentaries that he kept mentioning every other second. I didn’t know what to do, so I just took it out and pantomimed the hand motions.

It was taking all of my effort just to act like I wasn’t in the middle of one of the craziest conversations of my life. He was going off about food, about aliens, about the second coming of Christ. Not knowing what else to do, I was still clinging to my guns, “Really? Wow. That’s unbelievable. Huh,” until finally he made a turn off the highway and there we were, right in front of the airport.

“Hey man, why are we at the airport? What about that restaurant?” and he kind of smiled, “Oh yeah, sorry guys, I guess I got a little caught up in our chat. Hold on, I’ll turn around,” and he made a u-turn, got back on the highway, and it was like bumper-to-bumper traffic. While we thought we had the whole day planned out by the minute, first we already lost like twenty minutes heading to the airport, and now we were supposed to wait in traffic, eat lunch, find another cab, and make it back in time to catch our flight?

“So where was I? You know Jesus only ate potatoes, in fact …” and I looked to my wife like, we can’t do this, we’re not going to be able to get lunch. “Hey buddy,” I told him, “look, I don’t think we’re going to have time for lunch anymore. You’ve got to take us back to the airport.”

He got quiet. “Now you’re telling me?”

Like this was all my fault. He was genuinely pissed off. “Yeah man, sorry, I don’t know what to tell you.”

And we sat there in awkward silence as the car crawled toward the nearest exit, we got off the highway, back on in the opposite direction, and there we were. I couldn’t believe it. Maybe I was acting too captivated by this guy’s theories? Maybe he thought he finally found a kindred spirit in all things insane? And then when I made him do that double u-turn, he realized that I didn’t really care?

I should have been like, don’t worry about the restaurant, or lunch, or even the flight. Please, continue, I want to hear more about how Monsanto hates the fact that you’re a vegan, or why weather patterns are really a trick played by extraterrestrials to keep us from seeing their ships fly overhead.

And it’s all because, what, because I have to be at the airport three hours before a flight? We’ve got to wait on the tarmac for an hour just so we can take off? And then stand around at JFK for another hour before that luggage conveyor belt even kicks into gear? More waiting. Another cab. More traffic. All of the sudden it’s midnight. Why am I so tired? How could a whole day have passed and I didn’t get a chance to eat anything? Again, I think about people travelling along a dirt road in a covered wagon, everybody coughing and wheezing with typhoid and dysentery, so yeah, I’m very, very spoiled. But come on, why does a four-hour plane ride have to be such a huge deal?

Vacation Part Two: Swimming

I’m still on vacation. We spent the whole morning sitting on the beach. Every twenty minutes or so I’d go into the ocean to cool off and go for a swim. I started thinking about swimming, how it’s this natural state of being that I rarely get to really experience. I fill my lungs up with air and bob along the surface of the ocean, paddling in, lunging out.

Whenever I swim in the ocean, I get all of these crazy thoughts. I at once recognize the vastness of the sea, how tiny of a blip I am occupying this planet, the cosmos. I’ll go out a little bit, the water’s only ankle deep. Then it’s waist deep. And then I’m on my tippy-toes, bouncing up and down, enjoying as close as I’m going to get to weightlessness in my life. And after that I’m in over my head.

There’s always that urge to see how far I can swim out. And I’d love to. I mean, I’m a distance runner. I’ve run like eight marathons. I like to think that there’s a very high upward limit for what my body is capable of sustaining physically. And so I wish I could have a controlled environment, maybe a boat sailing next to me, making sure I don’t cramp up and drown. I’d love to know just how far I’m able to swim out before actually not being able to take any more punishment.

I’m sure it’s got to be hours, I’m pretty good at rationing out energy. And yet I’m never able to swim out more than five minutes or so without getting spooked and heading back to the shore. I always panic. I always think, what if I can’t make it back? When we were living in Ecuador, we’d head to the beach every month or so. There was this one spot that we frequented, and way out past the breakers there was a giant buoy. Every single time we’d visit, I’d mentally challenge myself to make it all the way out there.

Maybe I’m being a little dramatic. Maybe anybody who swam in high school or college would look at this buoy and call me a total wimp. But it was maybe twenty minutes of swimming once I got past the point where I could no longer touch the ocean floor. I know it was twenty minutes because I eventually wound up making it out there. It only took a year or so of mentally preparing and then actually committing myself to the challenge.

I made several unsuccessful attempts, the first dozen or so times I’d get maybe half of the way out there before freaking out and turning back. I’m saying freaking out, but what does that really mean? I’d think, even though I know that I’m physically capable of doing this, out here there is absolutely no margin for error. I’ve never had swimming cramps, the kind of debilitating pains you’d associate with the word charlie-horse, but they have to exist, that whole don’t-swim-until-twenty-minutes-after-eating rule has to be there for a reason.

And so it was always this self-induced mini panic attack. I’d get out there, I’d start thinking about cramps, about accidentally swallowing some water, of maybe some weird type of a sea animal brushing against my leg – no joke, one time I saw a sea snake in the water – making me freak out. And just the idea of me freaking out made me start to freak out. My deep breaths would become increasingly shallow. I’d feel a burning throughout my body, not a real burning, but a good enough of an imaginary burning to let me know exactly what it would feel like to run out of gas right there, nobody to save me, slowly realizing that these breaths would be my last.

Like I said, eventually I made it out to that buoy. It’s all about getting past that point of no return, when you realize, look, yeah I’m freaking out now, but I’m closer to that buoy than I am to the shore, and so if I’m really concerned about survival here, I might as well swim all the way out. And so finally I made it. It was a little deceiving, because even though I thought I was halfway out, it was probably more like only a quarter of the way out. I guess the vastness of the horizon played some tricks with my depth perception.

When I made it out there, the buoy was much, much bigger than it had appeared from the shore. And there wasn’t anywhere really to grab on, the whole surface of the object was corroded, like the government dropped it in there twenty years ago and figured, yeah, we probably won’t have to replace this thing for another fifty years. I looked back at everybody back on dry land, and it really was way too far.

But knowing what I knew, that I made it out there, that I didn’t have a panic attack and die, it spared me from suffering a similar fate on the journey back. And so it was the only time in my life where I was able to go for a really long swim, a distance swim, and just enjoy it without being way too conscious of my impending doom.

And I’m thinking about this because I tried to go for really deep swim today here in Puerto Rico, but I couldn’t. It was the same deal as always. I got out there, maybe like one or two minutes past where I could stand up, I chickened out. I treaded water for a minute or so and then immediately headed back. This time I just kept imagining a stray wave, something that maybe formed months ago miles out, a gust of wind over a still patch of water, it started rolling, started heading toward the shore, where I’d be, swimming, vacationing, and it would carry me all the way out, one mile, two miles away from the sand, and I’d be out there for how long, alternating between on my back and treading water, hoping that I had the strength to make it back alive. No thanks, I went back to the bar and ordered another Mai Thai.

Movie Review: Fast & Furious 6

I was a junior in high school when I went to see The Fast and the Furious in theaters. It’s been a while, but I remember something about an undercover cop joining an underground street racing gang in Los Angeles. People raced for each other’s cars. Honda Civics could drive right under the beds of sixteen-wheelers. And every vehicle came equipped with Nos, some sort of a magic gas that gave an extra speed boost, essential to coming from behind to win a drag race.


Fast forward ten years to Fast & Furious 6. Most of the original cast is still here, Vin Diesel, the other guy, the girl (although she has amnesia, which we’re reminded of every ten minutes or so.) The Rock’s part of the crew now. So is Ludacris. I don’t know, maybe I missed something during parts two through five. Aside from the familiar faces and the close-up shots of people shifting gears, I really don’t get how things could have connected from point A to point wherever we are now.

But it totally doesn’t matter. Fast 6 is a standalone movie. You don’t need to know anything about the franchise, I don’t even think you need to speak English. You just sit back and you watch cars go fast, you watch things blow up, you watch crazy fight scenes.

The plot has about as much to do with actual storytelling as iceberg lettuce has to do with being a vegetable. It’s green, yeah, and I guess it came from the ground, but it has zero in the way of nutritional value, it’s just a means to devour as much salad dressing as you want. The story has something to do with Vin Diesel’s racing gang trying to take down a criminal racing gang. The evil gang is trying to steal some sort of a military computer chip. They never really hone in on the specifics, but it’s a really valuable and powerful computer chip.

It just reminds me how far we’ve come from the first movie. I clearly remember a scene in part one where Vin Diesel and the other guy are standing around an old PC, bewildered as some hacker nerd guy explains that, “You can find anything on the net.” They’ve since caught up with the technology. Ludacris is constantly surrounded by at least a dozen computer screens. The bad guys have guns that fire computer chips onto cars, “chip-guns” I think they’re called. Again, I’m not certain about the specifics, but they can somehow disable any car’s computers.

Fast 6 is an action movie that has a very loose affiliation with cars and racing. The bad guy has a car. There are a lot of chase scenes. They do manage to squeeze in one underground drag race, but they never explain stuff like, where’s the course? How do the drivers know where they’re going as they swerve into oncoming traffic and try to lose the cops? Why can’t the racers ever figure out that whoever uses their Nos first always winds up losing?

But like I said, all of this stuff is unimportant. Pass me the salad dressing. I want to see more explosions. I want to see The Rock jump from one car to another. Anytime he tells someone else to, “Take the wheel!” it’s a sure sign that he’s seconds away from dramatically exiting the vehicle. As I’m sure you’ve seen from every preview and commercial, there’s a tank. It flattens every car that it comes into contact with. Except for the car being driven by a member of the good crew. This car gets slowly eaten, giving the good guys a fighting chance at survival.

Why is everybody so concerned with keeping this computer chip out of the hands of the bad guys? “It’s about family,” Vin Diesel tells us, I think. It’s hard to understand him, because he’s always talking in this barely audible baritone whisper. The director must have told him to take a handful of Nyquil before every shoot, because it’s all Diesel can do to spit his words out.

“It’s about having a code,” the bad guy tells us, over and over and over again. “My brother once told me that it’s essential for every man to have a code.” And he’s not talking in the abstract at all. He’s serious about his codes. “Mine is precision,” whatever that means.

But seriously, it doesn’t matter. This movie is absolutely bat-shit crazy, and it’s totally on purpose. It would have been terrible had anybody taken anything going on in this film seriously. I was dizzy, because the cameras are constantly circling around everything, swooping around the action scenes, swirling around people standing still talking to each other. Watching Fast 6 is like riding the Gravitron at a local carnival. What’s the point? Who thought of this shit? I liked it, I think, even though I’m kind of nauseous, and the whole place was way too crowded. Can I ride it again?


Even though I’m on vacation right now, I’m still committing myself to sitting down to write something every day. But it’s really hard to concentrate because it’s so beautiful outside and I don’t want to be at my computer trying to figure out what to write about. It’s hard enough doing this at my kitchen table back in New York, where I’m almost completely desensitized to the world around me. I’m able to, sometimes anyway, completely clear my mind from all distractions, open up my imagination to topics such as, what would it be like to wait tables in space? Or, do I really believe in the magical properties of crystals?

But here it’s like super hard, for all of the obvious reasons. There’s this ridiculous beach outside. I’m sitting in my hotel room in a bathing suit trying to just belt out a blog post, just one short piece, just something. I didn’t get any writing done yesterday, because we were traveling. It was one of those get-up-at-six-in-the-morning days so we could catch our flight. That’s great, but of course my brain wouldn’t let me fall asleep until two in the morning the night before.

When we finally made it to our hotel yesterday afternoon, all I had the energy to do was sit on the beach and drink Mai Thais until my body couldn’t keep its eyes open, some time around seven PM. I woke up this morning at nine, but my wife had to pry me out of the bed. I can’t believe I used to pull all-nighters like this once a week when I was in college. And it was nothing. I’d spend all day totally goofing around, realizing that I had way too much work due the next day, but I’d shrug it off, head to the library, and stay up all night getting my assignments done. What happened to me? At what point did I turn into this guy that becomes a zombie the one time a year he only sleeps for three hours before a flight?

By the way, it’s funny because, I wrote this whole blog post a while back about Delta Airlines, how they wronged me in the past, how I swore I’d never fly with them again. Guess which airline had the cheapest flights to Puerto Rico? Guess who flew Delta Airlines? Whatever, I flew in protest.

This morning we got up, we had the hotel breakfast, and then we camped out on the beach, my wife lying out in the tropical sun, absorbing its golden rays and bronzing herself like a pro. Me, I was committed to the shade like a cockroach, religiously reapplying sunscreen every twenty minutes. I’ll still burn, but it was worth it, to be able to sit outside. I got to read, something I really don’t let myself find enough time for.

We’re only on our first full day of vacation here, but if I had to find one thing to complain about, it’s that there are way too many vacationers here complaining. We’re at a total American beach destination, and yeah, I work in the service industry, so I guess I’ve sort of fine-tuned myself to automatically detect the frequencies of others’ discontent, but I’m really shocked by how so many Americans can come to a beautiful tropical island and just find everything to complain about.

We went out to dinner to some seafood restaurant in Old San Juan. Everything was as perfect as you’d imagine an amazing seafood restaurant to be. We had ceviche, we had whole red snapper, we had these fried fish balls. Man, everything was just f’n unbelievably delicious. The only thing that put a damper on our good time was these two ladies at the table next to us complaining the entire meal, to each other, to every single staff member that came over. It was beyond ridiculous. They ate an entire dish and then complained that it wasn’t enough, arguing over the bill for an hour after they finished their last bite. Our waitress wound up buying us a round of drinks after they left because we had to sit next to that vortex of negativity the entire time. What a bunch of entitled brats.

And then today at the beach, there was this couple complaining, loudly, to everybody around them about how long it was taking for the hotel staff to get them a beach umbrella. Just get one yourself if you want it that bad. It was one of these scenes where the woman was walking around in every which way, grabbing anybody that wore anything remotely resembling a uniform, “Excuse me? Can we have an umbrella? Everybody else is getting umbrellas. Oh my God. We need an umbrella,” to the point where like three employees eventually came over with three different umbrellas, the second and third one realizing that they had all been contracted to repeat the same job, muttering to themselves in Spanish the absurdity of this lady’s demands.

Anyway, that’s my only complaint, other people complaining. That and me not being able to concentrate on my writing, because I’m having a fantastic vacation.

The “I Hate New York” Blog Post

Wow. New York City. I hate it. Just kidding, I love it. But seriously, it’s terrible. Haha, that’s my way of telling the Internet how much I love it. Do you get it? Did you read that Onion article? No, you don’t get it. Unless you do get it, in which case, congratulations, you live in New York. If you don’t get it well, you’ll still read this, you’ll think, man people from New York really don’t like living in New York. Ha. You don’t get it.

i hate ny

One of the best things about living in New York is getting to complain about New York. You get to say things like, “Only in New York!” but only to non-New Yorkers. If you ever said, “Only in New York!” to a New Yorker, they would immediately call you out as a tourist, as a non-New Yorker.

Like if I’m visiting my friend in some other city, I don’t know, somewhere else, Baltimore, or, yuck, Cleveland, and it’s three in the morning and we’re in the suburbs somewhere and it’s dark outside and there’s no noise anywhere, I might say something like, “Hey, lets go run to the corner store and get some more beer,” and they’d be like, “What are you talking about, it’s three in the morning, nothing’s open, and everything’s too far away to walk,” and then you’d say, “Oh yeah, right, it’s just that, where I live, you can get anything, any time, and it’s all right down the block. Only in New York!” and your friend would be like, “Listen, I want you out of my house before breakfast tomorrow.”

But if you’re all the way downtown waiting for the one train going up, and the train rounds that corner, and it should be empty because it’s the first stop, but it’s not empty, there’s a homeless guy sitting there, and he’s got his pants all the way down, and he’s masturbating, if you look to the person waiting next to you and you say, “Only in New York!” that person – haha – is going to know right away that you’re not from New York, that you’re not a real New Yorker.

No, real New Yorkers embrace that man. They sit next to him like it’s no big deal. They drop trou and join in on the fun. Because don’t you tell me what the real New York is. You’re not entitled to tell me or anybody else anything about New York. Once you start talking about New York, it’s gone, it’s out of your grasp, and just like that, you’re not a real New Yorker anymore. Maybe someday years from now when you’re visiting those same friends out of town you can look back fondly upon the incident, watching their disgusted reactions as you matter-of-factly explain what went down that one time on the one train. Maybe. Probably not. We’ll see.

But let me break my own cardinal rule for a second here and say that the current real New York thing to do is to write blog posts about how much you hate New York. Do you really hate it? Not really. But you can’t write about how much you love it, because what are you, from Long Island? Everybody knows that doesn’t count. Sorry pal, get back on that 5:37 Long Island Railroad train to Hicksville, I’ll see you next week at the Nassau Coliseum. “I hate New York” is the new cool way of saying, “I love New York.” But whereas the old love slogan was too universal, too easily shared by everybody in the world willing to pay ten bucks for ten “I heart NY” t-shirts, “I hate New York” brings just the right amount of New York exclusivity.

Oh my God my apartment is so small! Holy-moley, could this train be any more crowded? Jesus Louisus, these people in front of me are walking so slow! Seriously, do those cars really need to be honking their horns that loudly? Let me tell you something, you just have to go check out this new gastro-barber shop I found in YahBrah. What neighborhood is YahBrah? Don’t ask, just nod in agreement, tell your friend that you’ve already been there, that the Blendingtown Heights location is much truer to what they’re going for, what they were trying to speak when they jumped on the gastro-barber shop bandwagon.

Because really, New York’s such a terrible place to live, right? Haha. But seriously, I leave New York and I’m like, “Oh my God, New York is making me crazy!” but then you realize, wait a second, it’s a part of me now, I’m a part of it, and so I love it, and I love hating New York, and I love telling everybody that I hate New York, and when somebody says to me, “Well, if you really hate it that much, why don’t you just get out?” and then you can go, “Ha!” because you did it, you nailed it, them, whoever it is you’re talking to, talking about. They don’t get it. They’re not a real New Yorker. Ha.