Tribute to an Angel From Uganda

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My mind is so much with my faraway friend, Barb Mal, as she hits her milestone 50th birthday, and the first without her sweet, charming, mother who recently passed away, I remember (as I often do) with so much appreciation, respect, and love for how our bond began.

I was “shipped away” to Quaker boarding school in Nowheresville, Ohio, my last year of high school. Apparently my penchant for good times and bad grades had hit the ceiling for my parents (LOL) and off I went, kicking & screaming. Of course, in my teen angst I was determined to hate it there (which, fortunately, did not last long) and my first day there was sheer misery. Lonely and isolated, I was a stranger in a strange land, as I watched the many returning students hugging & laughing after a long summer apart in an era where email & texting had not yet been invented and long distance phone calls were a luxury due to the cost. Witnessing all of these joyous reunions only served to make me feel more alone and so I wandered down the brick path of the grounds to a swing set that was located away from the main building but still visible. I sat there silently swinging alone and crying, throwing myself a proper and fully self-indulgent pity party, drowning in loneliness, distress, and anger, when I saw out of the corner of my eye a lone girl walking down the path towards me. I was thinking to myself, “Please don’t talk to me. Please don’t talk to me. PLEASE don’t talk to me!” (LOL) as my pity party only had an invitation for one and that was ME. Still she walked closer until she got to the swing set and silently sat down next to me. I did not look up, as I was crying, embarressed, awkward, and dedicated to being anti-social so as not to like anything about the place. She sat and began swinging slowly next to me in silence as I continued to stare at the ground until, after a short time went by, she quietly said, “You know, it’s not so bad here.”. OMG – I literally am choked up writing this! It truly is the sweetest, most selfless, kind thing that I think anyone has ever done for me. It’s especially notable because Barb was a returning student and so easily could have chosen (as I’m sure I would have) to have focused her attention on those happy, post-summer, reunions but she went out of her way to comfort a sad & lonely stranger. I knew from that moment that she was a very special person. 32 years later, we are still bonded. My parents referred to her as their “bonus daughter”.
She is kind, strong, intelligent, cultured, and empowered. Not only do I love her, I respect her enormously. She is an incredible single parent of a wonderful daughter, Edisa, whose father she met as we were out for my bachelorette party and whose flirtation I unapologetically interrupted as I stole her back away for the night! LOL I was with her to go home from the hospital after she gave birth, this tiny, new, adorable, creature SCREAMING in the backseat of the car with us laughing hysterically in a state of shock & awe, exlaiming to one another, “WHAT DO WE DO NOW???”. She figured it out….like a champ.
I love you, Barb Mal, and look forward to spending your next milestone birthday TOGETHER!!!
We should all be so lucky as to have a friend like her. ❤

Vegas “I Do’s” – Angels & Aftermath (Part 1 of 2)

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ANGELS

Though I’ve been to Vegas many times, you throw a wedding (your own), Halloween, and a “visit from beyond” into the mix and, well, it’s one for the books.  “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”….except for this.

I remember working with a guy in my late teens that had recently gotten married in Vegas on Halloween. I also remember thinking that was the most horribly unromantic thing I’d ever heard of. In 2004 I got married the day before Halloween…in Vegas. Yes. Yes I did. And we had a BLAST!! Interesting how time and age, and planning a second wedding, changes your perspective on things.

In our own defense, my second (now 2nd “ex” though still a cherished friend) husband and I initially had more traditional if still casual plans for our nuptials. Both long term residents of Florida and “low maintenance” types, we explored our local options and ultimately put a deposit down on an outdoor, covered, picnic table laden spot at a nearby state park appropriately located along the Atlantic shoreline. Our chosen and secured venue offered corresponding access to the beach for a planned, barefoot vow exchange followed by a DJ, food, dancing, and drinks involving minimal cost and maximum fun. Alas, life does not always cooperate and my father’s diagnosis of a brain tumor, and his accompanying rapid decline, quickly converted the foreseen fun of planning our event into an overwhelming chore as my time and energy was clearly focused elsewhere. Not wishing to delay our “I Do’s” despite the situation (silver linings serving as a welcome and helpful life raft), some quick internet research provided an easy solution. For the “low, low price” of $475 (insert used car salesman voice *here*) we could secure a venue, a non-denominational minister, a video, and play our own music at a ceremony in Las Vegas. Tropicana Chapel, here we come!

Though I was from a loving family, my mother and siblings were only in an emotional and monetary position to provide a tentative “RSVP” due to my father’s failing health. As he ultimately passed away just weeks prior to my planned nuptials (his departure undoubtedly making the afterlife a much more entertaining and delightfully dorky place to be) they understandably passed on attending as we all still reeled from our loss.

My fiancé & I made our plans with no expectations regarding attendance but sent invitations to special friends near & far letting them know the ceremony locale had taken an unexpected turn. We made it clear to everyone that they were enthusiastically welcome but that their presence was requested without pressure due to the now increased expense required to join us on our special day. Imagine our delight when our wedding was attended by 22 friends from 5 states, far and beyond anything we expected or hoped for!

The wedding ceremony was brief, casual, and filled with laughter and love. Obviously, we kept things simple, opting for a single friend at each of our sides at the altar. Very early into the short ceremony our delightful officiant, whom we’d met just minutes beforehand, commented in front of the attendees that my husband’s “best man”, a very close, lesbian friend of ours, was “The best looking best man he had ever seen!”. Little did he know how much those words would haunt us as that “best (wo)man” shared his flattery with everyone within a 1,000 mile radius for the next five years! I will concede it was pretty unique and big props from someone that conducts hundreds of ceremonies a year so we’ll give her a pass.

Our personally tailored, non-traditional, “blink and you’ll miss it” ceremony ended with us singing to one another, alternately and off key, a song from “The Wedding Singer”, an 80’s based “rom-com” starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore. (For those that aren’t familiar consider yourself served!). As in the movie, Billy Idol’s voice came over the speaker system (this time in the Tropicana Wedding Chapel) to announce the song. Ironically, his introduction even mentions Las Vegas which, ironically, I didn’t even realize until I looked up the lyrics once again as I wrote this.

I wanna make you smile whenever you’re sad
Carry you around when your arthritis is bad
All I wanna do is grow old with you

I’ll get your medicine when your tummy aches
Build you a fire if the furnace breaks
Oh, it could be so nice, growing old with you

I’ll miss you
Kiss you
Give you my coat when you are cold

Need you
Feed you
Even let you hold the remote control

So let me do the dishes in our kitchen sink
Put you to bed when you’ve had too much to drink
Oh, I could be the man (one) who grows old with you
I wanna grow old with you

Upon completion of the ceremony my new husband and I bounced together back down the aisle, wearing huge smiles and big hearts, “Silly Little Love Songs” by Paul McCartney & Wings serenading our new status. As a collective, happy, hubabaloo, everyone present piled on to the party bus we had rented, shouting and laughing until we disembarked at our uber classy reception location, the “Big Dog Saloon”. The following hours were filled with shared food and ample drink, joyous toasts and spontaneous speeches. When it was my turn to speak I acknowledged my father and his absence, the first time I’d allowed myself to tearfully touch on his loss on such a joyous day, before pushing it aside to remain focused on the happy vs. the sad, knowing he would approve.

After sucking it up and getting back in the moment it was once again time to invade the party bus and head to our next, and final, destination. Through my research I’d discovered a new nightclub in the “Old Las Vegas”, Fremont Street vicinity, that was wholly appealing for our non-chi chi and still youthful crowd.

As we piled off our party bus for the last time, the driver no doubt screaming a silent “Hallelujah!” as he pulled away, we walked into the club with a minor state of shock. Though our posse was in “full swing” apparently, at least by Vegas standards, we were WAY ahead of the game as we surveyed our barren surroundings. “Cavernous” is the word to perfectly describe the place – an enormous warehouse type venue, all concrete, incredibly high ceilings, and vast empty space. That said, our mood and celebration were not deterred, collective policy always remaining it’s “Who you’re with not where you are”. Bonus – We clearly had our choice of comfortable seating available to secure as a group. Champagne glasses half full not empty, thank you!

At this point in the tale it’s important to remember that we were in Vegas the day before Halloween. Though our primary focus was obviously on our wedding festivities it was hardly a bland and boring landscape beyond. Kinky and questionable Halloween shenanigans were already in full swing throughout the tourist zones and gaining momentum and numbers the later it got. Whether mandated by city ordinance or not it seemed that we had missed the dress code memo that did not permit wearing more than 1 square yard of fabric, preferably made of latex or fur.  It is with this in mind that as everyone in our circle chattered, laughed, and clinked glasses, I alone noticed – with unintended and uncontested tunnel vision – a solo female walking slowly yet deliberately across our path. Dance music blared while the other stray, early bird revelers traveled in hedonistic packs around the massive space on a mission for mischief yet this woman traveled alone, unnoticed and ignored by everyone but me. To me, she silently commanded the room, an anomaly in this environment holding a spiritual spotlight.

She was dressed as an angel. Not just an angel but a modest angel, simultaneously making her both invisible and glaringly obvious. She wore a floor length, white gown and huge, beautiful, majestic, white, feathered wings. Her hair and makeup were unique in the fact that they were simple. Natural. “Angelic”. The halo perched over her head served as the beautiful bow that launched the soaring arrow of immediate, deep,  recognition and understanding into my heart. Involuntarily and almost violently I elbowed my new husband as he sat at my side, snapping him out of the shared conversation. Looking at me with surprise, unsure whether to be alarmed, concerned, or annoyed, I urgently motioned for him to follow my gaze. My new husband as my only witness, the angel still slowly crossing our path, I told him with uncontrollable tears and laughter, “THAT’S MY DAD!”.

Together we watched as she disappeared into the other end of the club. We never saw her again while we were there but I only needed to see her once.

Thank you, Dad, for coming to my wedding. The soul knows.

The Karaoke King

Frank Sinatra, you’ve been served!  I imagine this Father’s Day there may be a “sing off” going down inside the pearly gates where Rat Pack crowd cigar smoke doesn’t stink and carries with crooning over the clouds.

I put Google to work early this morning to do its stuff and after a few keystrokes it quickly served up the lyrics to “My Way” by Frank Sinatra.  Though appreciative of Sinatra’s music I am not a “fan” in regards to personal ownership of any of his tunes nor do I know any of them by heart.  My Dad, however, loved that song in particular and when occasions arose for him to dust off his Karaoke King crown it was one of his two favorite “go to’s”.  We played that song at his memorial and it amazed me how prolific the words were, perfect for his “swan song”.

My full family went on a short, Caribbean cruise together several years ago, generously gifted by my parents to celebrate my dad’s retirement together.  Predictably one of my dad’s favorite activities sailing with my mom on their umpteen cruises was the onboard karaoke.  I thought this was pretty hilarious.  My Dad doing karaoke – you MUST be kidding!  Can’t wait to tell my friends about this!  Ha, ha, ha, and blah, blah, blah.

Let me tell you what – he FLOORED them!  Yes, if there was no age limit, my Dad could truly have been the next American Idol!  Well, that and a makeover.  Sorry, Dad.  Your tragic wardrobe choices, most notably the shiny, silver Keds with the dark dress socks and plaid shorts, live on in infamy  But I digress.

I very begrudgingly went to see him “perform”.  Although I didn’t let my folks know that was the adjective I would have used I’m certain they were wise to it but appreciative of my attendance all the same.  I went into the lounge being used for this hokey pastime and took a seat.  The girls performing upon my arrival were tipsy, young, and giddy…..and just plain AWFUL, exactly the performance one would expect from cruise ship karaoke.  Painful to sit through.

When the warbling, drunken, trio’s song blessedly came to a close the Cruise Director called out a man’s name whose companions apparently had signed him up without his knowledge because he adamantly refused to do it while his friends caused a jolly scene, egging him on to no avail.  Dad was next in line and offered to go ahead.  Problem solved.

Here we go.  Keep a straight face.  I know I can do it.

He. Was. AMAZING!

“And nowwwwwwwwww……the time is near……”

BEAUTIFUL!!  He sounded BEAUTIFUL!

All of the sudden the attending crew member broke out these slowly spinning, multi-colored spotlights on him.  Ambiance, why thank you.

The room got quiet.  He sang like a tenor angel.

His first round of the chorus, “I did it myyyyyyyyyyy waaaaaaay.”, had the audience erupting in applause & whistles.  He was a supahstah!  As he continued singing there were occasional whoops and whistles, and even one loud & enthusiastic “YEAHHHHHH, BOB!” from the back of the room (they had introduced him by his first name before he began.).

As the song and my papa songbird came to a close, I kid you not, he got a heartfelt standing ovation from everyone in the room.  There was no denying – it wasn’t just me – he was incredible.  I have never been so proud of my father as I was at that moment and I will never forget it.  It is, without a doubt, something that will make me smile in 30 years as it does now while I remember and write.

The following day I participated in some additional cruise ship fodder, some type of trivia game where I was paired with an older couple who looked to be around their 60’s.  As we chatted casually they mentioned how they were just in that same lounge the day before and I said I was too, to see my Dad sing karaoke.  Turns out that’s why they had been there too.  The woman asked what my Dad sang and I said, “My Way” and she exclaimed, “FRANK?  Your Dad is FRANK???” and began acting like a wrinkled school girl!

Again, I smile even bigger now.  I wonder if there’s groupies in heaven?

And now, the end is near

And so I face the final curtain

My friend, I’ll say it clear

I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain

I’ve lived a life that’s full

I’ve traveled each and every highway

But more, much more than this

I did it my way

Regrets, I’ve had a few

But then again, too few to mention

I did what I had to do

And saw it through without exemption

I planned each charted course

Each careful step along the byway

And more, much more than this

I did it my way

Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew

When I bit off more than I could chew

But through it all, when there was doubt

I ate it up and spit it out

I faced it all and I stood tall

And did it my way

I’ve loved, I’ve laughed and cried

I’ve had my fill my share of losing

And now, as tears subside

I find it all so amusing

To think I did all that

And may I say – not in a shy way

Oh no, oh no, not me

I did it my way

For what is a man, what has he got

If not himself, then he has naught

To say the things he truly feels

And not the words of one who kneels

The record shows I took the blows

And did it my way

Yes, it was my way

(My favorite picture of my dad, sitting inside a giant bubble maker that he made)

Cervesa Hammock Smack Down

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Home to rickety rented golf carts, mystery concoctions at suspect establishments, and borderline concussions, welcome to Costa Maya, Mexico!  It’s just like the brochure!

A trio of peeps in full celebration mode, we set off on our cruise to Mexico together to ring in the milestone birthday of our attending guest of honor.  Through juggled frozen cocktails, new acquaintances, and spontaneous naps, the three of us managed to collectively hit the ground running in our various ports of call.  Costa Maya being the final one we were extra ready to explore and make it count.

We’d opted not to book any excursions in our various destinations as we chose to explore on our own and, well, because we were mostly broke.  Unscheduled and unescorted adventure offered both a smaller price tag and more flexibility while in each day’s destination, a mutually agreed upon win/win strategy.

With no game plan and a sense of adventure we moo’d our way off of the gangway in the passenger cattle herd, excited & eager for whatever the day chose to yield.  We made our way through the mandatory shopping area of that day’s port without too much distraction knowing we’d return on our way back to the ship for any last minute “must have” tchotchkes that we previously never knew we had to have.  Upon exiting the obligatory labyrinth of shops we were somewhat surprised to discover that we were, essentially, in the middle of nowhere.  Vast “nothingness” blanketed the landscape as far as the eye could see though there was a large and beckoning convoy of rickety golf carts lined up with enthusiastic local representatives giving the “hard sell” to all who happened to pass by.  Lucky for them, these now “fish out of water” were ready and eager for transport based on this barren location and this looked like just the ticket, especially since the 4 wheeled, rusty contraptions gave us complete navigation and freedom to the destination(s) of our choice.  After the requisite bartering we had keys in hand, me behind the wheel for first shift.  Peeling out at whatever pathetic top speed it would allow without falling apart, we guffawed and squealed in unison down the dusty and unknown road.

With a spontaneous photo stop along the way, the turquoise ocean and a large, brightly colored fish sculpture as our backdrop, we eventually encountered our first sign of additional life, a small, beachside, campground that was mostly occupied by low brow RV’s next to a tiki hut.  Intrigued as we were, we decided to keep going while filing it away as a potential pit stop upon our return.  There was more to explore!

Over the next 15 or so minutes we passed large swaths of “nothingness” that were briefly and sporadically interrupted by small pods of occupancy that served as a reality check due to their abject poverty.  We continued on until we, literally, came to the end of the road at a modest tourist “village” that was comprised of independent, rustic, low rise hotels, no name convenience stores, and a sketchy looking watering hole or two.  All of these establishments were clustered along more of the stunning, picturesque, beachfront where music could be heard beckoning over the sound of the waves hitting the shoreline beyond the buildings.  With no choice but to U-turn our eyes all fell upon the same neon beacon in the window, our limited gringa knowledge of Spanish unanimously comprehending the word “Cervesa”.

***Rattle, rattle, rattle – Rickety-rick-ricket***, we brought the cart to an abrupt halt on the side of the road (the only manner in which I think it was able to come to a stop) and hopped out.  Into the tiny street side store we went, yelling the magic word to the cashier as we entered, “CERVESA!”, likely the only word he heard daily from the cruise ship passengers that bothered to venture this far out.

Individually selected and blessedly cold bottles of beer in hand, we beelined around the corner and on to the beach where we were greeted with a delightfully casual & funky ambiance.  The music louder now yet not overpowering and in rhythm with the waves, there were a smattering of palapas and people.  Though immediately clear that this was primarily a “local’s joint”, exceptions being ex-pats vs. one day tourists, we were not made to feel unwelcome.  All of us instantly charmed, my own sights immediately fell upon an inviting hammock perfectly draped between two palm trees.  Never one to contain my enthusiasm, I indulged my intrigue with abandon as I let out a delighted cry of appreciation for this postcard perfect opportunity.  I ran to the hammock, fresh cervesa in hand, and plunged into the inviting, woven, rope, back first.

(Universe hits fast forward button)

**ZIP**

**FLIP**

**BAM!**

Though I (clearly) love hammocks suffice it to say that one did NOT love me as, upon contact, it IMMEDIATELY spun into a full, rocket launch, 360 spin before spitting me out like a swig of bad milk onto the sand below.  The HARD sand below.  Like, have you ever hit the ground – or had a friend hit the ground – with an audible *thunk*?  If you have yourself then you know that when you hit the ground hard enough for your connecting body part to make a noise (in this case, my HEAD) it takes a moment to recover and realize what happened.  If you’ve been on the spectator’s end of such an encounter then you know that the natural, human response of good friends goes like this:

Step One:  Spontaneous, sincere, huge concern

Which, upon determining friend in question is not hurt enough to call an ambulance, proceed to…

Step Two:  Hysterical and prolonged laughter

It should be noted that there were two, older, Mexican women that were sitting in chairs at the edge of the hammock that joined heartily in on my friend’s laughter.  To this day I’m convinced that was not the first time they’d encountered such a situation and that they are still there, dedicating their free time to waiting for more tourists like me.  Hell, they may have even rigged the thing…and props to them if they did.  Gotta’ create your own fun when you live in a one-horse town!

All that said, despite a 360 spin with a “full steam ahead”, involuntary dismount and a borderline concussion, I did not spill ONE DAMN DROP of that cervesa!  Rock star point in pocket, thank you, don’t try this at home.

Without the beer in hand I’d have no choice but to give this a score of Hammock: 1, Me: 0.  Under the circumstances though I firmly stand that it cannot be debated as anything less than a solid tie.

“SALUD!”

hammock(Immediate aftermath – still smiling.  Viva Mexico!)