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. ❤

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!)

U.F.O.’s, WTF?

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“U.F.O.’s, and aliens, and alternate universes, oh my!”

The first time I explored “Alien Territory”, both literally as a region of the U.S. I’d not previously been to and figuratively as the area of North America best known for  U.F.O. intrigue, a’la Roswell and Area 51, my senses and “alien radar” were abuzz!  Though I’m skeptical regarding abductions I don’t rule them out completely and I’m just happy to say I can’t speak from personal experience (and I’d like to keep it that way).  End of the day, I’m a believer, and have even made the mecca to the U.F.O. museum in Roswell, New Mexico from S.E. Florida twice, a destination only reached through purposeful intent due to its remote location.

On an extended road-trip through the southwestern United States, my friend & I knew we had officially entered X-Files domain when we passed an electrical box on a busy street corner that was currently doubling as a canvas for an amateurish but passionate painting of a large alien head and U.F.O. that dominated a background of night sky.  Accompanying this imagery were the brush-stroked and thought provoking words, “Do you believe?”.  This random but clear welcome to “Alienville” demanded a brief filming & photo op that we obliged by pulling over in the bustling intersection, unashamed & unapologetic, giggling, tourists.

Many miles to go to that days destination, the sunlight slowly disappeared until it winked goodbye on the western horizon.  With its departure there was no civilization present as far as the eye could see to offer even the faintest glow to cut the pitch black, desert, darkness as we navigated our rental car onward.  Traveling the dark and barren landscape, vehicles passed us and visa-versa only at noticeably extended intervals.  Fortunately, as good friends do, we had no trouble amusing ourselves as the hours and the miles ticked by, aliens naturally being a discussed and revisited topic of conversation along the way.  Until……suddenly……

”WHAT WAS THAT?”, I yelled out in alarm and excitement, leaning over her to get a better look out her driver’s side window.  “What?  WHAT?”, she loudly responded, uncertain whether to be alarmed or intrigued.

Me:  (Stammering and exclaiming) “I SWEAR, I just saw a light going across the sky and it just DISAPPEARED!”

Her (again):  “Where?  WHERE?”

Me:  “It was right out your window……”

(nervous giggles while she drove and I continued gazing intently)

Me:  “THERE IT IS AGAIN but IN A DIFFERENT PART OF THE SKY!”

Her:  “Where?  WHERE?  Oh my god! Where?”  (obviously working with limited dialogue under the circumstances)

Me:  “I swear, I’m not kidding you! I just saw it again but in a different part of the sky!”

No other cars in sight, it was just us, the desert, and the aliens.

I rapidly began fumbling in the darkness of our car for the video camera we had brought along to film our journey for future Memory Lane viewing.  This *obviously* deserved inclusion as part of our vacation experience and, more importantly, documentation for official, scientific review!  Despite my amateur filming skills and our mutually distracting squeals of excitement, disbelief, and shock, I managed to get the video camera out and the lens into focus.  I directed the camera towards, and recorded, out the front of the windshield into the void of the empty sky as we waited for our next Visitor From Beyond to make their presence known….and we were not disappointed!  This time BOTH of us saw it – “Oh my god!  Oh my god!  Oh my god!”

Her:  “I saw it!  I saw it!  Ohmygod!”

Me:  “I told you!  Ohmygod!  Pull over!  PULL OVER!”

(Insert ear piercing, extended, exclamations, merged together in a non-sensical, audio train-wreck.)

Then…..silence.

Too entranced to pull over, to do anything other than gaze with hypnotized wonder into the ebony infinity above, we saw yet another, this time clearly a different light that was much closer though which disappeared just as quickly as its companions.  Then, just a moment later, it played its role in this extraterrestrial game of “Simon Says” as it too reappeared.  A little bit longer and….AGAIN!  Same thing, different place in vast sky.  They…were…EVERYWHERE!  We were absolutely beside ourselves and it truly was one of the most exciting and intriguing moments of my life until…….

Her:  “Oh my god.  They’re PLANES!”

Me:  “Noooooo.”

Her:  “Yes!  Look!  You can barely see them because it’s so dark but there are clouds in the sky!  Every time we see a light it’s a plane and when it disappears it is going behind a cloud and then comes out the other side!”

Me:  (Gazing intently, the car loud with silence)

****There it is AGAIN!****

…..and now I see the damn cloud around it’s lights.

(Insert sound of deflating balloon *here*)

And so the road trip, us, and life moved on with one new item, a helluva’ entertaining vacation video segment, and one remaining item:

I still believe!

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SACAGAWEA (A Gemini Shout Out)

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Sidestepping from humor to wonder for a moment.  Messages of love & support from “The Great Beyond” the subject of the day, for today is my O.G.’s birthday.  O.G. stands for “Other Gemini”, one of those nicknames that presents itself without thought and that sticks like glue to the degree that you no longer address one another by your real names.  My best-friend and I’s “glue” was the unintentional but funny & permanent result of his “post bitter break up phase” with his partner of 15 years.  Shortly after their break up a mutual friend was regaling his ex with a story of whatever Eric (aka: My O.G.) & I’s latest escapade was.  His ex failed to find the amusement in the shared story (though I’d bet that it was, indeed, amusing!  Heh, heh!) and sarcastically responded to this mutual friend, “Ugh!  They’re just like each other!  It’s like the other Gemini!”.
Other.
Gemini.

Really?

Ohhhhh, how we laughed!
And so “O.G.” was born.

My O.G. was only 48 years old when he passed away, an age I will be surpassing just a few days from now.  It’s a long, drawn out, sad story of terminal illness that there’s no fun in sharing but suffice it to say that it ended with him passing away on July 23rd, 2014.  Almost three years later I am grateful to now be in a place where I remember him mostly with a warm heart and triggered smirks, if not flat out laughter, ever thankful for the undeniable bond and multiple, undeniable, messages he has sent me from that “Great Beyond” previously mentioned.  This is the tale of one of those messages.

If you paid attention in U.S. history class (I plead the fifth) then Sacagawea is familiar to you, the Indian princess that assisted Lewis & Clark on their expedition.  Despite the fact that I’m sure I was “taught” this in school, I knew nothing of Sacagawea until the day that my O.G. showed me some rare coins that his grandmother had given him that featured this historical & strong female.  As best friends do, we somehow morphed this into a good luck mantra where any time we wanted something good to happen we used it as a manifesting chant: “Sacagawea!”
Fast forward to about a year later after he showed me the patinaed coins.  In ailing health but not yet aware of the true severity of it, Eric decided it was time for a change.  He was ready to head back to the western part of the U.S. where his roots were and start a new & fresh life, power washing off the bad juju, memories, & struggles of his past few years in Florida.  With a heavy but supportive heart, I bid him adieu as he loaded up his U-Haul, only to have my breath taken away when I saw the image displayed on the side of his rental truck:

Sacagawea.

There she was!  A huge profile, proud & braided, ready to accompany him as his prominent, lucky charm on the road to his new beginning.  WOW!  Never before had either of us seen this U-Haul image and, after he pulled out of the driveway, neither of us encountered it again in the years to follow.

I received the dreaded but not unexpected phone call from his brother in California mid-morning on July 23rd, roughly three years after Eric had moved away.  I knew when I talked to my O.G. last that it would be just that…the last.  He literally told me that as I cried.  I told him that wasn’t okay and he had to wait for us to get together one last time yet he firmly but gently let me know that I needed to understand that wasn’t going to happen.  With tired, peaceful, matter of fact, he made it clear that his death was imminent and that I needed to accept it.  I remember sitting on the edge of my patio crying while I talked to him that last time, pleading and telling him how much I loved him, tucking myself in under a blanket of tears and sorrow that night after our conversation ended.

The very few following days involved him being admitted, once again, to the hospital, a place that he had become all too familiar with.  Naturally, I called to speak with him there but the nurse that greeted me on the other end of the line told me that he was not taking calls.  I implored her to let him know it was *me*, which she kindly accommodated as she put me on hold to relay that information.  When she returned with the shockingly same message, “he was not taking calls”, I knew that this was, indeed, “it”, and that our last phone call was, as I had felt but tried to deny, his official “goodbye” as he embraced his fate.

I called my mother that night, distraught and devastated, and, as wonderful & wise mother’s do, she told me that the best gift I could give him was to let him go.  Upon hanging up I laid on my couch and cried & cried, speaking out loud through sobs in my living room to Eric despite the fact that it’s only occupants were my two dogs.  Urgently I hoped, and even believe(d), that he could somehow hear me – feel me – as I took my mother’s words to heart, letting him know that I understood and it was okay to “go”.

And so, the very next day, it was.
And so I crumbled.
And so he was gone.

I got the phone call that he had passed away in mid to late morning and immediately collapsed on another one of my best friend’s doorsteps, gratefully located just two doors down from my own.  What transpired from there is a blur but I know that, through the hotline, she & a small collection of other friends created a shared mission to transport me for us to gather at one of their swimming pools to lay in the sun, soak in the water, and just “be”.  No pressure to talk yet not permitting me to be alone as reality set in.  The mutual friend’s place was not far, less than a mile away, though I remember nothing of the drive.  Our arrival, however, is a crystal clear and vivid, cherished memory, now & forever.

I have a foggy recollection of the car I was riding in pulling into a parking space in the private lot.  I remember just sitting in my shotgun space, my friend telling me we were there and “let’s get out”.  Through a molasses fog I managed to open the car door, looking up as I was ready to exit…..and there was my U-Haul, O.G., angel!  As I mentioned previously, though he had been gone for three years I had never again encountered a Sacagawea U-Haul until that moment yet there it was at the end of the parking lot directly in my line of vision, this Indian princess that I firmly believe did not greet me by coincidence that day.

A finger inserted into a spiritual, emotional, light socket, I instantly snapped alert.  Liken it to having smelling salts shoved under my nose & spirit, suddenly and brought back to life, emotional & aware.  Instantaeously, I became a bubbling brew of tears and laughter, as this incredulous sight shone on my face and my sorrow with the sun.  No, this wasn’t coincidence.  This was my friend!  My O.G.  Letting me know he was still with me, always.

When we had his memorial a month & a half later I gave the eulogy and shared our background & meaning of Sacagawea, punctuated with this “day of departure” U-haul encounter.  “Sacagawea” then became the battle cry of honor & tribute, glasses clinking together, shouted at random during this farewell gathering of friends.  He would have loved it!

After his passing I contacted his brother and requested those coins, which he sent and which I am deeply grateful to have now & forever.  One is attached to the urn that I keep outdoors in my “hang out” space where I spend the majority of my free time so that he is with me most often.  Another is in my vehicle so he travels with me wherever I go.  A third Sacagawea, not made of metal but of ink, is with me every moment of every day.

As a side note, only very recently (within the past month) did I notice that the font that I selected for my scripted “Sacagawea” tattoo actually creates an unintentional “O.G.”.

Unintentional on my part.
Universally intended flair.

Happy birthday to my O.G!  Forever young.

“SACAGAWEA!”

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The HIGHS & lows of Balcony Living in 3 Parts (Part 3 – Chapter 1)

TMS-Statler&Waldorf-BalconyBoxSeriously, what could be next?  So far we have live brass, illicit drugs, stunning sunsets, thumping bass, & wanton sexual encounters.  Like, seriously, how much more can balcony life provide?  Oh, more, I assure you!  And so we find ourselves at “Part 3”.

This final chapter is an ode to the “F You’ of South Beach living.  While beautiful folks jetted in from beautiful places there were still those representing a dedicated (as opposed to the more commonly seasonal) residency.  While the velvet ropes and “guest list” checks at the majority of establishments judged us we were busy doing the same, feeling superior in our ability to indulge in pizza, beer, and comfort from above minus a $30 cover charge for equal – if not better – entertainment.  Oh, and don’t forget we get to have pizza & beer!  A model’s life is not one I envy.  Kate Moss once said, “Nothing tastes better than skinny.”.  WRONG!  Gurl, you haven’t had a slice from Bona Italian Restaurant in Wilton Manors.  I may envy your paycheck but I KNOW you envy my pepperoni!  *nom*nom*nom*

Moving to South Beach was a large culture shock despite the fact that I moved there from just a few states away and was just what I wanted.  I found the overwhelming melting pot of nationalities fascinating and incredibly intriguing.  On any given day, a few blocks stroll in my neighborhood meant encountering an average of five different dialects spoken by those sharing the sunny sidewalks.  What I did not anticipate was the unexpected and unfortunate degree of pretention prevalent & practiced within this Pastel Paradise.  As an ex-pat from “The South”, unapologetically representing real people and real life, I gravitated towards the residential anomalies that shared this shockingly rare similar philosophy & outlook.  With that, we find ourselves at Part 3, though involving two chapters.

Chapter One:  TOM
Tom and I met and established a quick and easy friendship when I moved into the balcony apartment next to his, the same one previously referenced in Parts 1 & 2 and that serves as the stage for this final tale.  Together we shared and lorded over our erroneously coveted and shared perch, our balconies divided only by a whisper of metal division.  Privacy was not an option when it came to the pursuit of outdoor zen time due to our coinciding schedules regarding geographically elevated enjoyment.  Fortunately for both of us, we shared a friendly, welcoming, and conversational attitude that found us quickly graduating from frequent, unintentional encounters in our shared space to intentionally coordinated outdoor, collective, chill time spent swapping tales, discussions, and laughter.

We shared a kindred spirit and “buck the system’ attitude towards South Beach living.  Rather than bend over backwards trying to blend into a world of “champagne & caviar” we defiantly waved our pretzels in one hand and beers in another.  I will never forget the day that we’d both had it up to *HERE* with the South Beach pretention & “pretty people” and both dressed up in loosely construed costumes – me in “cowgirl” attire, him in “Jimmy Buffet” mode, big straw hat and all.  We grabbed some sidewalk chalk that I had and graffitied the sidewalks of Ocean Drive until the pavement got boring so we drew on one another’s faces for a canvas change of pace.  Whiskers, moustaches, etc., etc., and then meandered into one of the outdoor hotel bars where…shockingly!….we couldn’t get served!  We waited & waited, giggling non-stop and ever harder as the bartenders continuously passed us by until I looked at Tom and said, “Gee, do you think they think we’re not cool enough?”.  Skip to us cackling all the way out and you’ve got a solid concept of our shared attitude with no apologies and that I’d do all over again!  (Kardashians, take note – put down the selfie phone mode and pick up some sidewalk chalk.  You’re missing out!)

But I digress.  After uncounted days & nights spent in our shared outdoor space, Tom came up with a way to entertain himself from the balcony one evening, a friend of his riding shotgun.  Lucky for me, I happened to be present and a witness to the harmless, gleeful, additional middle finger he gave to South Beach one night.

I can’t remember the day of the week or even how late into the day it was, all I remember is walking onto my balcony to find Tom & his friend leaning over the railing on the opposite side of our dog gate height divide, both doubled over with stifled guffaws.  To set the scenario that added to my confusion, Tom was holding a fishing pole over the side of our third floor plateau.  Though it took a moment, I digested (with glee) that Tom was dangling a transparent fishing line baited with a five dollar bill for the sidewalk salmon.  As I settled in to the Mischief Section, time and again he would lower the line until it laid gently on the concrete within enticing focus of those in transit below. And then….wait…..
Like a lion to its prey with bets hedged, here comes the next pretty buck and/or gazelle and, let me tell ya’, “See a penny, pick it up” ain’t got NOTHIN’ on a five dollar bill, ESPECIALLY one that “magically” whisks away when “oh so casually” reached for.

“Was it the wind (even though there isn’t any)?”
“Should I try again?”
“WHAT IS HAPPENING??”

I’ll leave the rest up to your imagination but, trust me, if you are ever bored and happen to have a balcony, a fishing pole, and a five dollar bill handy, I promise you that “bored” will no longer be a part of your evening.

Trust.