Sunday
Jun192016

Horsing Around

One Summer while vacationing at our cottage, Anthony and I decided to go to Macinac Island for a couple of days. The historic island is a little over an hour away from our cottage and is home to the Grand Hotel. The Grand Hotel is best known as the hotel that Christopher Reeves went back in time to find the love of his past life; Jane Seymour in the movie “Somewhere in Time”. The island is also famous for it’s natural beauty, fudge shops and for being “car-less. The only mode of transportation are your own two feet, bicycle or horseback. Given that my second biggest fear in life (second only to little people) is horses, every time I’ve visited the island I opt for bikes or walking. I’m not sure that I’m afraid of horses as much as I just don’t trust them. They seem to know this too. Every time that I’ve even been near one, I can tell by the look in their eyes that they have a devilish plan to either bite or kick me to death. I’m also not a fan of the way they smell.

Anyway, somehow, Anthony managed to convince me that it would be fun to take a horse and carriage ride around the island. He guaranteed me that there would be a man driving the carriage and  there would be “no risk of danger”.

And he was right. The tour of the island was delightful (except for the massive amount of poop, I mean, how much do they feed these animals?). The tour started at the stables and took us by the Grand Hotel, down the main street, the old fort where the French fought the Brits in 1700- something, along the beautiful Lake Michigan and Lake Huron shorelines and finally past some of the island’s grand old mansions. One was particularly beautiful, it was set off the road a bit, and the front yard was designed to look like an old English garden. “And to your left is the Hamady’s house”, our diver informed us. “The Hamady family was a wealthy family from Flint that owned a grocery store chain in the mid 1950’s and they used to spend their summers on the island”, he continued.  “Notice the beautiful gardens that were planted for privacy over a hundred years ago. These are the oldest gardens on the island and they could never be replicated unless you plan to live to be 130 years old and if ‘only the good die young’ only my wife’s mother will live that long”, he continued with a sad attempt to get a laugh.

After touring a few more spots, we returned to the stable safe and sound. Sensing that I was becoming more comfortable around horses, Anthony tried to push me another step further. “Hey, I have an idea”, he said like it just came to him “let’s rent horses tomorrow and take them around the island.” “No”, I said, “I’ve seen enough poop to last me a lifetime and besides, it’s one thing for them to behave when they are pulling a two- ton carriage full of tourists, but it’s another when it’s just me on it’s back”. It would be the perfect chance for them to get their revenge and take out all their frustrations from an entire summer of slavery. “Come on, when will we ever have this chance again”, Anthony said. “They are just old sweet animals that want to go for a walk”. I could tell by the look in his eyes that he wanted this more than life itself, so I decided to put my phobia aside and agree.

The next morning, after a restless night of weird horse dreams, we made our way back to the stable. “Now, whatever you do, don’t tell them you’ve never ridden a horse before”, Anthony insisted. “Otherwise they’ll give you a dud that won’t move”. “O.K.”, I said “I won’t”. After giving us a short lesson on how to get on and off the horse, how to make them walk and stop, it was time to be introduced to our playmates. “So, how much experience do you both have?”, asked the stable hand. “Oh, I’ve ridden quite a few times”, Anthony announced with confidence. “And how about you”, asked Mr. Green Jeans. “None”, I yelled. “I’ve never been on a horse so make sure you give me your slowest one”. I knew Anthony was mad, so I couldn’t even look at him, but I couldn’t help it; I’d rather ride at a safe speed of one mile per hour than be galloping along at the speed of light hugging the side of some cliff only to have Mr. Ed suddenly see a mouse, come to a screeching halt, forcing me to fly off his back like a nelly cannon ball and end up dumped into the freezing cold waters a hundred feet below. Like I always say “better safe than sorry”. 

As we started our wagon train, I have to admit that I started to like it. My horse didn’t move very fast, and he was probably blind, but I could tell he liked me. He seemed to appreciate my nervousness and interpret it as tenderness. Anthony’s on the other hand was much younger and full of energy and didn’t seem to appreciate the pace I was going.

“I have an idea”, Anthony said after an hour of thumping along, “let’s go by those big mansions we saw yesterday”. “O.K., I said, lead the way”. To get to them we had to ride on a slight incline and I was beginning to feel sorry for my friend Flicka. I could tell he was tired (sort of like me when I have to ride my bike uphill). He would stop to take an occasional rest, smell the flowers and of course, poop. Anthony’s just acted like he wanted this to be over by galloping up the hill like it was nothing.

About half way up the hill, Anthony stopped to wait for me to catch up, but his horse didn’t seem to like this idea. As I approached, I noticed his horse doing something weird. He began to move backwards, butt first, into the brush off the side of the road. “What are you doing”, I asked Anthony, wondering why he was making his horse do this. “I’m not doing anything”, Anthony said, “my horse is”. “Well make him stop!”, I demanded, “there’s a big drop off and he’s backing himself and you right toward it” this was followed by a frantic “jump off”. But, just in time and just like in the movies, one of those carriage rides with all the tourists showed up out of nowhere.  The driver could see something bad was about to happen and loudly informed his passengers that he to stop and save us. I don’t know who was more embarrassed, me or Flicka, we just sort of looked at each other like “OMG”. The driver somehow got close enough to the possessed horse and grabbed his head and pulled him out of the brush and back onto the street. The group of tourists applauded so loud, you would have thought they just pulled a baby out of a well. Me and Flicka were happy this ordeal was over, but Anthony wanted more.  “Let’s go see the Hamady’s gardens”. “What?” I asked, you almost died and you want to do more?” And in pure Anthony fashion, he said “why not? We’ve come this far”. Reluctantly, I agreed, but only with the condition that that would be our last stop.

The gardens were even more impressive up close. The ancient flowering shrubs were taller than our horses and exploded in beautiful hues of orange, purple and yellow. Not only were they amazing to see, but they smelled awesome. Even our horses seemed to like it…at first.

I don’t know if he was bored, angry or if he just had an itch, but suddenly and without warning, Anthony’s demon-horse decided to destroy the Hamady’s century old garden. At first, Flicka and I weren’t sure what was happening.  Satan started by walking into the center of one of the gigantic shrubs and standing there with Anthony on his back looking mortified. Then the monster began to lift up his legs and pounce down on the branches, smashing them to smithereens. It was like one of those show horses you see in the circus that dances to the music, only without the music and on someone’s prize garden.

The horse continued pounding all four of his feet up and down for at least two minutes, moving from shrub to shrub completely flattening everything in his wake. Flicka and I were in a complete state of shock as we watched these historic gardens being trampled to death with Anthony screaming helplessly “No, don’t do that, stop doing that!”

Then finally, our hero showed up again. Yes, once again and from out of nowhere, again, the same carriage driver with the same group of tourists were coming down the street and had to stop and save us.

A few years later, after we thought it was safe to show our faces on the island, we took another horse and buggy tour and this time, however, the Hamady House was excluded from the tour.

 

 

Monday
Sep142015

Monkey See

When I was a kid, I had an obsession with my stuffed animals. Not only did my orange giraffe have a name (Steve), he was also deemed the king of my rather large stuffed animal kingdom. The queen was a Siamese cat named Gwen and the twenty or so minions consisted of everyone from bunnies to lions. I loved them all, but my favorite was a black and yellow monkey named Louie. There was something about Louie that reminded me of myself, so I decided that Louie was going to be the youngest of the group, just like me. My stuffed animals had personalities too, Gwen was very aloof, Steve was suave’ and Louie was best described as eccentric, marching to his own beat and often times opting to sit out on a game of “Hide and Seek”, so he could go off by himself and play with his own stuffed toys.

Louie

I know I showed favoritism, but I couldn’t help it, I just loved my little Louie more than everyone else.

One day, my parents decided to take me to the zoo so I could see live versions of my animal kingdom. I was so excited; I was finally going to meet a real “Louie”.

We wandered around the zoo for a couple of hours observing camels, bears, lions and even flamingos and I was starting to get bored. “When do we get to see the Louie’s”? I asked. “Oh, in a few minutes”, my father said, “We still have to go through the reptile house“. I hated snakes and the idea of spending time looking at them in waterless aquariums didn’t do it for me. I’m not sure if they were trying to torture me or if they simply wanted to save the best for last, but I was growing impatient. “Can’t we just skip the snakes and go see the Louie’s?” I snapped. This was met with my father saying, “I’m sorry you’re so bored with reptiles, but snakes are very important creatures”. He then went on and on about how they keep the ground cultivated and how nurturing they are, blah, blah, blah. 

After what seemed like an eternity in the annoying reptile house and we were finally making our way to the Monkey exhibit, I heard my mom say “oh dear”. Then they whispered to each other. “What?” I demanded, afraid of hearing the answer. “Jeff, we’ll have to come another time to see the monkey’s.” “What?” I asked again as I started to feel dizzy. “The Monkey House is under construction”. This time my “What?” wasn’t so passive, it was more of a “you have got to be fucking kidding me”.

“It will be open in a few weeks, Peanut” (my mom always called me Peanut). When you’re eight years old a few weeks means it’ll never be open again. “WHAT!” I screamed again for the fourth time, “THIS CAN’T BE HAPPENING”. I had just spent an entire afternoon looking at ridiculous elephants, boring tigers and ugly baboons and now I was going to be deprived of the only reason I agreed to go to this stupid zoo in the first place? It was so traumatizing that the rest of the afternoon is a blank. We didn’t go to the zoo very often and all I can remember is thinking that it would be years before I’d ever have a chance to see a live Louie again.

And it was years, 40 to be exact (unless you count the Holler Monkey’s in Costa Rica, but I don’t). When I turned 50, instead of having a party, we took a trip to Bali.

Along with being known for it’s incredible scenery, beautiful beaches, exotic rainforests, Bali is also home of the Monkey Forest.

The Monkey Forest is located in the middle of a town called Ubid, Bali’s cultural center. It’s at the end of a street lined with chic stores and restaurants; so it seems a bit out of place, but nonetheless, I was very excited because after all those years, I was going to finally meet a live Louie.

Upon entering the park, there were hand written signs alerting us of pending doom, “Warning: Monkey’s Can Be Aggressive”, “Please Hold Tight To Your Valuables” and my favorite-“Don’t Stare At Monkey’s”. First of all, I thought, we were in a monkey park, how can we not stare at them? And secondly, what were they going to do if we did, throw bananas at us?

Along with the signs, there was a place to check our bags, sunglasses and whatever else that could possibly tempt a monkey. There were also people selling bananas. “You like feed monkeys?” one of the sweet Balinese Banana Vendors asked, while another would try to sway us her way by saying “Monkey like banana, you want monkey to be friend?” I was starting to wonder what would happen if we didn’t have bananas. I mean, if they were our friends if we had them, what would they be if we didn’t? So, we decided we better carry some treats.

Anthony gave the woman five dollars in exchange for a bunch of bananas and we were on our way. We were only four steps into our journey when I realized the importance of checking our belongings. An extremely forward monkey jumped out of nowhere onto Anthony’s leg, then climbed up his body until he reached his hands. He then grabbed all of our bananas and made an attempt at our shopping bags before screaming some sort of rebellious monkey chant and running off to the next victim. “Bad Monkey”, I said loudly, hoping that all the other monkeys would hear and comprehend English. “That creep just took all our bananas, so no one else can have any, he’s a bad monkey! He’s just lucky he didn’t take my new shoes or there’d be hell to pay. Bad, bad Monkey!”.

Anthony gave me his “Really?” look and we turned around and checked our bags, before restarting our journey.

The beginning of our hike was beautiful. It was a very hot day, so the canopy of trees was a welcomed relief from the brutal sun. And we saw monkey’s-hundreds of them. They where everywhere and even if they weren’t there, I could feel their eyes staring at me from some obscure treetop. And these weren’t just ordinary monkeys; they were fearless and human like. “These monkey’s are kind of aggressive”, I said as one of them tried to climb up my leg. “It’s like they’re forming an army against us”. And the sounds they made sounded like nothing I ever heard before. Instead of the innocent “oo-ah-ah”, it was more of an “OOOOOOOOOOO, AHAHAHAHAHAHA, EEEEEEEEE! And they were jumping from tree to tree just above our heads, swinging from branch to branch like some sort of wild animals. And to make it worse, they could sense my growing anxiety, because they began to bully me. One of them stopped me in my tracks by hopping down from his perch and onto the pathway right in front of me. All I remember was his big mean monkey eyes as he stared at me. “Don’t look at him”, I heard Anthony say as I began to panic. “But he won’t move, am I supposed to just walk up to him like a game of chicken?” “No, just ignore them, they're sweet, just look at that little girl over there playing with one”. This last comment didn’t make me very happy. Not only was I being terrorized by my childhood best friend, I was now being accused of being a bigger sissy than a five year old girl.  “Move”, I screamed. “Move it or else”. “Or else what?” Anthony asked. This was answered with a sarcastic “whose side are you on?” I had no choice but to continue to walk toward this creature. As I slowly approached him, he didn’t even budge; he just glared at me through his wicked eyes. As I slowly tiptoed around him, he just turned his head and stared as if to say “Gotcha human”. And I swear he told all his friends because it kept happening everywhere along the hellish trail. They’d all wait until Anthony safely passed, then they’d jump out of nowhere and land right in front of me and give me the evil eye. “Let’s get out of here”, I said, “I’ve had enough, they hate me and the feeling is mutual”. “Oh Jeff, they can just sense your fear, quit being a baby”. A baby! Easy for him to say, they weren’t threatening to eat him. “O.K.”, I thought, “I have to do this”. I decided maybe if I pretend I’m not scared they might sense that I’m brave instead and leave me alone.

The little girl had no idea who she was playing with.

So I continued my walk with my inner voice assuring me that they were all just harmless little creatures that want to be my friend. This seemed to work for a while until their constant screeching finally got to me, I broke-“We have to get out of here”, I demanded, “find the exit because they’re ‘freaking me out’”. And I started to walk fast, which probably wasn’t a good idea because they like to chase. Suddenly I heard the bushes rustle, so I started to run until I heard Anthony laughing extremely hard. “What?” I demanded, as he continued snorting. You see, Anthony finds humor in my anxiety and decided it would be funny to throw a rock into the brush, knowing full well that I’d think it was a giant ape. “Was that you?” I asked accusingly as he was filming me. I could tell the “would I do such a thing?” look on his face that he was guilty.

“Get me out of here”, I screamed, “I can’t take anymore”. He knew I was close to my breaking point (which isn’t pretty), so instead of risking me having a complete meltdown in the middle of Bali’s renowned monkey forest, he agreed to leave.

“I think the exit is this way,” he said. “You THINK”, I said, “YOU THINK it’s this way?” By now, sweat was dripping down my face and into my eyes. “I can’t even see where we’re going” I yelled as my eyes started to burn. “Just lead the way with your voice”. As we approached the exit, something wasn’t right. “I don’t remember it looking like this”, I said as my eyes began to clear. “Excuse me”, Anthony said to the Balinese Park Ranger, “is this the only exit from the park?” “Oh no”, said the Ranger, there are two, do you know which one you came in from?” “It doesn’t matter!” I yelled, “It’s an exit!” “But our stuff is checked in the locker at one of the other ones”, Anthony said, “So we have to find the right one” and we no idea which one it was.

This nightmare was not about to end…

The other exit was completely on the opposite side of the park too, so we now had to maneuver our way though monkey hell all over again. Then, as we stood there debating on how to get out of this horror movie, I was almost knocked over by a strong shove on my left hip. “What the hell?” I said. Then I looked down and this freakishly looking half monkey/half devil with white eyes and long fingers nails just stood between Anthony and the ranger doing nothing but staring at me. And for some reason, I couldn’t do anything but stare back. I wanted to run, but I couldn’t; my feet were frozen. All I could do was stand there and look into its evil eyes.

 

Evidently this was the wrong thing to do, because this creature must have mistook it as an act of aggressiveness, because along with showing me it’s teeth, it let out a very long and very loud hiss in my direction. It was just like in the Omen, when Lee Remick took Damien to the zoo and the monkeys sensed that the devil nearby so they began attacking them.

And the rest is a blur. I vaguely remember running fast toward the right exit, dodging tourists and flying monkeys along the way, but that’s about it. The next thing I knew, I was in the safety of a bar, vowing never to go outside again.

 

Thursday
Jul232015

Tiny Bubbles

I consider New Years Eve to be the holiday of “forced fun”. The pressure to have a good time on the 31st of December is unlike any other day of the year. The idea of staying home alone or simply having another couple over for dinner sounds great, but it just doesn’t seem like enough. I mean it’s the night we celebrate the ending of a year while ushering in a new one, so we are supposed to have a night of debauchery, aren’t we?

My parents wedding anniversary was on December 31 so I grew up in a household that had double celebrations on the last day of the year. For me, New Years Eve consisted of eating pizza and French Fries with my brothers while my parents got all dolled up as we waited for the babysitter. As soon as she’d arrive, they were out the door and we were allowed to eat junk food, drink as much Coke as we wanted, and sit on the living room floor and watch TV. When it got close to midnight, we’d gather our new streamer embellished noise makers (which included paper horns, plastic rattles and this weird metal thing with a handle that twisted around and around and made a sound resembling a flooded engine on helium) and go onto the front porch dressed only in our P.J.’s and serenade the neighborhood as we welcomed in a new year in sub-freezing temperatures.

The bar was set pretty high and it wasn’t until December 31, 2001 that it was matched…

My friends, Roger, Paul, Bill and another Paul had decided to get out of town and usher in 2002 in Palm Springs. 2001 was quite a year; Anthony and I had discovered community theatre and had leads in La Cage Aux Folles, we had just finished remodeling one of our salons, went on a vacation of a lifetime in Africa and like the rest of the country, we mourned about September 11. So by the time the end of the year came we had much to reflect on and a lot to look forward to.

Bill, Paul, Anthony and I stayed in one of Palm Spring’s mid century modern hotels-turned gay guesthouse and Roger and Paul stayed in another one (only theirs was much nicer) right next door.

The holiday was shaping up to be one of my favorites of all time. We laughed, ate great food and partied like it was 1999. On New Years Eve we decided it would be fun to go to a restaurant called “Shame on the Moon”. After an “accidental button push” to On-Star (which in my defense was new at the time and I wanted to see what the button did), we arrived in full New Years Eve mode (tipsy).

After dinner, my friend Paul announced that he was going to scope out the restaurant, which usually means he was checking it out to see if there was a party we could crash. When he came back he told us about a “fun” couple he met that was sitting alone and we should “go meet them”. “Go meet them” in my group of friends doesn’t literally mean to “go and meet them”, it’s actually code for “there are some people that look like they’d be fun but for some reason they’re not, so let’s see if we can liven them up a bit”. In other words, we were obnoxious.

Paul was right, when we entered the room where they were seated, we saw two men in their 40’s with very colorful clothing, big hair and big glasses, and a decorated table with battery powered blinking Christmas lights, the only thing missing was FUN.

As we approached them, Paul announced to them that we were their entertainment for the evening and they looked like they believed us too. We introduced ourselves and began doing the whole “gay geography” thing; “Where are you from?” “Oh, you must know so and so”, “Didn’t we meet once in Provincetown”, and so on. We chatted for about ten minutes about surface stuff before the conversation took it’s usual turn to stage two of meeting people. The “what do you do for a living and how long have you been together” portion.

Things were going well until we got to the third stage of meeting new people-The “the comfort/discomfort level; As I mentioned earlier, this couple had on very colorful outfits that in my opinion, only people with total confidence could get away with wearing. One of them was wearing a velvet jacket patterned with giant scissors in an “Esher-like” design and the other one was so bad that I’ve blocked it out of my memory.  Even their shoes were decorated with over the top sparkles. It was quite confusing, and like driving by an accident scene, I couldn’t help but stare. “Um, where did you get your outfits?” I blurted out. Not that I wanted to shop there, I just felt I had to say something about them. “Oh, do you like them?” one of them asked, somehow mistaking my question with a compliment. I tried to reply, but all that would come out were three words, “There just very…” I couldn’t think of anything to finish my sentence. No matter what I said, I knew my face was going say something different and they’d see right through my desperate attempt at being polite. It felt like an eternity as they waited for me to continue, when my friend Paul stepped in to try and save the day. But he didn’t. In fact, he made it worse by telling them, in his drunken voice, “they look like the interior of my Volare’”.

Then there was nothing. We were all in such shock that we couldn’t even gasp. Finally one of the now insulted two-some broke the silence by saying “I’m sorry, did you just say that I look like the interior of an old Plymouth?”

Not knowing what to say, we just announced that it was time to go, that it was very nice meeting them and we hoped they had a Happy New Year.

On they way out, I couldn’t help but peek in on a party that was happening in one of the dining rooms. “Look, they have balloons”, I said to Paul (not the one that had the Volare’, but the other one), followed by “let’s take some”. And before you knew it, their party was void of color and the two of us were running out to the car with enough helium filled balloons to fly around the world.

This New Years was shaping up to be one for the record books, first we had a great meal, then we insulted people and now we stole a roomful of decorations, I never felt so alive!

With four-dozen balloons in tow, we made our way to the getaway car where we were faced with our next dilemma. How were we going to get the six of us, plus 48 balloons in the car? I told everyone to get in first and then I tried my best at squishing the balloons in around them. “There”, I said as I managed to squeeze in the first dozen, with just a few minor casualties. “But where are you going to sit”, asked Anthony. It was then that I realized either it was the balloons or me, unless I could convince Roger to make two trips and I could tell by the look on his face that that wasn’t going to happen. So, without hesitation, I let them go. They actually looked liberated as they danced their way to the heavens; it was almost like they appreciated being rescued from that party.  We all watched for a few minutes as they made their way first past the roof lines, then over the tree tops until eventually they were just little dots in the night sky. “Bye-bye my friends”.

With the memories from the evening’s events behind us, we decided it would be fun to have a little nightcap in the hot tub at Roger and Paul’s hotel. Bill and Paul were tired and decided to call it an evening, so Anthony and I changed into our swimsuits and snuck into their motel grounds to meet them in the Jacuzzi.

It was about to be the perfect ending to a perfect evening, until what happened next…

We were making our way down a long, outdoor corridor to the hot tub that Roger and Paul had already gotten into. They looked very comfortable and relaxed and I couldn’t wait to join them. Everyone else must have still been at the clubs partying because the grounds were empty and it seemed we were the only four people around. We were almost to them, when all of a sudden and without any warning; one of the motel room doors swung open in my face and stopped me dead in my tracks. And what came out of that room still haunts me to this day.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing (as a matter of fact, I still can’t); I watched in horror as twelve naked Asian midgets slowly emerged one by one and marched single file directly to that hot tub.

“What are we going to do?”, I asked as I began to shake. “I can’t go in there now”. “We have to Jeff, it would be very rude if we didn’t”, Anthony preached. “But, I can’t”, you know my phobia, now multiply it by twelve and add a thousand because they’re naked”. By now they were all in the hot tub looking at us as if to say “come on in, we don’t bite”. Anthony is much better than me when it comes to situations like this; he just jumps right in and faces his torturous reality. “Come on Jeff, it feels great”, he said as he climbed in the boiling water.

A small part of me wanted to just do it; it was New Years after all- a perfect time to face my fears and just get over it. But that didn’t happen, instead I walked over to Paul, leaned down into his ear and whispered, “I’m so not getting in that water”, then I turned and ran away as fast as I could to the safety of my own bed.

“Facing my fears” was just going to have to wait until 2003.

Tuesday
Jun232015

(Not) Dressing for Dinner

Maybe it’s because I’m a bad cook, but I’ve always believed the most important part of hosting a successful dinner party is the right group of people. It doesn’t matter if you’re serving hot dogs or prime rib, if the chemistry isn’t right between the guests, a party can go south in no time.

Of all the dinner parties, I’ve gone to in my life; almost all of them have had the perfect balance of people and food and alcohol, a handful have been awkward, and one in particular goes down in the history books in a category all it’s own.

It was the summer of 2004; I had just turned 40 and was celebrating every chance I had. We had been invited to stay with some friends at their vacation home in Saugatuck. For those of you that don’t know Saugatuck, picture Provincetown without the steroids. It’s a small town on Michigan’s southwest coast that started out as an artist’s retreat and eventually grew into a haven for eccentric, liberal and open-minded people. Only two hours from Chicago and Detroit, it has great restaurants, sandy beaches a lot of shopping and is home to the largest gay resort in the Midwest. Needless to say, it doesn’t get much better if you’re looking for a good time. There’s also something about Saugatuck that makes you loose your inhibitions (or maybe it’s the alcohol, which I’m quite certain is in the water system).

Anyway, on this particular day, Anthony and I, along with our hosts, Roger and Paul were invited to a dinner party at another friends house, Paul and Bill. It had been a long day of partying; Bloody Mary’s at breakfast, a clothing optional pool-volleyball game and a boat ride on Lake Michigan, so by the time dinner came, we were pretty tired. I LOVE naps, but I have a rule; no napping after cocktails. I usually don’t wake up, and if I do, I’m groggy and in a bad mood so it’s better to keep drinking until I pass out. My no nap rule applies for Anthony too, only he doesn’t realize it. “I think I’ll just close my eyes for a few minutes”, Anthony announced about an hour before we needed to leave. I tried to stop him, but I couldn’t, “I’ll be fine, just wake me up in a half an hour”, he said as he made his way to the bedroom. And that was the last thing I heard him say until the morning, he was out!

I, on the other hand was in rare form and ready to play.

The moment I walked into this particular dinner party I knew it was going to be an exceptionally fun night. All the right people (except Anthony) were there, the weather was perfect, the music was right and the mood was celebratory. It was like going to your first party in High School without parents being home. Everyone was in great spirits; we felt young, energetic and decadent. The only thing missing were the chaperones…

After socializing and downing more cocktails, it was time to sit down for dinner. Since the weather was so exceptional, Bill and Paul served dinner on their beautiful outdoor patio. I can’t remember what they prepared, but I do remember that it was delicious and messy. It was so messy in fact that Paul was wearing an apron at the table. I’m a messy eater as it is and the fact that I wore white shorts made it certain that I would drop something on myself. With each bite I took of our first course, I carefully leaned over my plate and wiped my mouth with the napkin that was carefully tucked into the collar of my shirt. “I wish we could eat naked”, I said, “it would make it so much easier”. A few minutes passed and it was time for the second course. Paul stood up to clear the plates and as he passed by each of us, one by one we let out a dramatic gay gasp. You see, Paul was still wearing his apron, but that was all he was wearing; somehow, without anyone noticing he managed to take off all his clothes. “It’s your birthday month Jeff, so I’m granting your wish”; he said “we can all eat naked”, then he confidently disappeared into the house. Now, the thing with mixing alcohol and my “anything but shy” group of friends is that you never know what will happen, and tonight was proof of that. After the initial shock of Paul’s nakedness wore off we naturally did what any other mature group of adult men would do, we got naked too.

And I have to say, apart from the fear of dropping hot food on Mr. Wiggly, it was truly liberating. When you attend a naked dinner party, all the thought and effort that goes into picking just the right outfit out that doesn’t make you look fat doesn’t matter. You don’t have to worry whether someone will be wearing the same outfit (because everyone would be). And, just think of all the money you’d save by not having to go to the dry cleaners.

It was quite a bonding experience too. There’s really nothing like sharing stories over a good Cabernet, while sitting next to your best friend wearing nothing but a wristwatch. The only awkwardness was at the end of the meal when we had to get up from the table. The weather had turned a little chilly and we all had shrinkage worries. Thank God, my friend Emmanuel (not his real name and since I don’t know any Emmanuel’s I know I’d be safe using the name) got up first. Emmanuel is the life of the party, exudes confidence and loves a good time, but by his own admission, his Mr. Wiggly is a midget. So after seeing (or not seeing) Emmanuel in his full birthday suit, we all felt better about clearing the table.

After we finished the dishes and we decided it was time to get dressed, another friend named Paul (for those of you keeping track, that’s three Paul’s) announced that he was going to change into something more comfortable-whatever more comfortable than naked was. As the rest of us were putting our shorts, shirts, socks and shoes back on, Paul was in the other room alone, giggling.

“This is going to be good”, we’re talking about a man who once tried on a woman’s sundress in a country store and asked the cashier if it made him look fat.

 I don’t know what was more shocking; Paul #2 being the first one naked or Paul #3 coming out of the bedroom wearing what his version of “more comfortable was; a full-length white wedding gown.

Like the rest of us, Paul loves attention, and one way to get it was to not only wear the dress, but to make sure the entire city of Saugatuck saw him in it. So, without hesitation, he jumped on a moped and whisked off with the rest of us running after him like frantic bridesmaids. He cruised down the main street waving at stunned passerby’s as we paraded behind him. Every few blocks, when he noticed a house party, he’d stop just long enough to give the surprised guests a story to tell. “Here comes the bride”, he sang as he twirled up to their doors. “Don’t you want to kiss the bride?” Then he’d drive off.

 I have to admit, usually things like this make me uncomfortable, but I was having fun. I mean can you imagine what it was like to one minute be serving Strawberry Shortcake to your guests, when suddenly a bearded stranger in a bridal gown crashes your party, singing wedding songs with four of his closest close behind attempting harmony?

After a few more stops, we decided to call it a night. The events of the day were finally taking its toll and we were all exhausted.

When I got home, I couldn’t wait to fall asleep, so I quietly crawled into bed where Anthony asked, “Is it time to go to the party yet?”

 

 

 

 

 

Monday
Jun152015

A Shiny Night in the Big Easy

 

We flew into New Orleans late on a Saturday afternoon in April, where we were meeting our good friends Toni and Tammy-two sisters from Jacksonville, Florida and their good friend (now ours too), Julie.

Toni and Tammy are two of the most generous people you’d ever meet. They both have a zest for life and like all of my friends, love a good time.

The three of them arrived a day before us so they had ample time to shop and drink before our arrival. I gave them one assignment “to have a cocktail waiting for us” and they accomplished this with flying colors.

 Our welcome present

I refer to this particular group of friends (myself and Anthony included) as the “Queens of Shiny Things”; meaning whenever we’re together, we become easily distracted. It doesn’t matter what it is; a pretty ring, a happy puppy or something as simple as a dandelion, if one of us sees something that intrigues us, we follow it like Dorothy and her entourage on the yellow brick road. We also become very focused in our conversations and once we get deep into a topic, we don’t hear or see anything going on around us.

After a delicious meal of traditional New Orleans fare, we decided it would be fun to walk around the French Quarter until we found just the right place for music.

That weekend happened to be The French Quarter Music Festival, so there were even more live performers than usual in this city known for it’s music and food.

As we started our journey, we came across an amazingly talented street violinist, who played the electric violin. We stood around with a small group of fans listening to her until we decided to find something else shiny.

 

Street Performers and Tammy

Making our way along the French Quarter, with Toni and I in the lead, someone in the back must have seen something exciting and decided to follow it, splitting our group in two. Toni and I were chatting about how hair color dictates fashion when we realized we were separated from the rest of our group. “Where did they go?”, I asked, knowing full well Toni didn’t know any more than I did. “I don’t know, but I have to pee”, Toni said with a little dance. And I did too, so we found the closest and least of the undesirable bars to stop into.

This is where we met Bob.

Bob was a shirtless and very colorful homeless person adorned with many necklaces, peace sign earrings, and dark sunglasses. He had gray shoulder length hair tied into pig tales with weaved flowers across the top of his head (think Frida Kahlo meets a skinny, drugged induced Santa Claus). And Bob was as eccentric inside as he was outside. His tales were interesting and sincere, and he exuded wit and charm.  And he took a liking to us, especially Toni.

Along with being one of the most gracious and genuine people on earth, Toni is truly interested in people’s stories and what brings them to where they are in life. But along with her genuineness comes a slight bit of naivety, and what she didn’t realize was that for Bob, this was love at first sight.

“Now tell me your story of Katrina”, Toni asked of her new friend. Toni loved to hear locals retell their stories of surviving the most devastating hurricane in U.S history. After hearing Bob’s long first chapter about how the storm rolled in, Toni wanted more, so she went on by asking “how did you survive the storm living in that box”. Bob was thrilled someone had taken an interest in him and although he seemed harmless, I could tell by the look in his eyes that he was becoming more and more infatuated with his love interest.  “Oh Bob, it must have been terrible having nothing but cardboard between you and the water”, she continued. Bob was in heaven as he kept telling his heroic tales of riding out the storm in a U-haul container. Not to stereotype, but I’ve found one of the problems with striking a conversation with Homeless Bob’s is that they don’t know when to stop. To them, the line between standard social homeless etiquette and wanting a lifelong commitment is blurred. This was proven when after about ten minutes of chitchat; Bob invited us over to his box for a nightcap. I had to think fast because Toni was clueless that she was only moments away from a marriage proposal.

 I knew I couldn’t do it alone, so I decided to step aside and call Anthony. “Where are you?” I whispered through clenched teeth. “Oh, we’re in a store” he said, “they have the cutest coasters, I think we should get them for the island”. “I don’t care about your stupid coasters”, I snapped, “get your ass here now, we met a homeless man named Bob who has fallen in love with Toni. She won’t stop asking him questions about Katrina, he thinks they’re dating, I think he plans to make her Mrs. Bob and bare his children and I can only hope they have her genes. I need you guys to get here fast before I end up a bridesmaid at a toothless wedding, HURRY!”

After giving him the name of the bar, Anthony assured me he was on his way, but said I should try to get Toni away from Bob as soon as possible. After I hung up, I returned to the happy couple. “So, Bob, Toni and I are going to head off now to find some good music, it was nice meeting you”.  “Oh, I know just the place”, Bob said, “follow me”. “Thanks, but our friends are on their way and I think they have other plans”, I said as I tried to end their affair. “But, Jeff, if Bob knows of a great place, we should go there”, Toni interjected. “Yes, but I think Tammy already has a plan”, I gently disagreed. “No she doesn’t, she was hoping we’d meet someone that would tell us where to go, remember”.  My exit strategy obviously was not going to work, so I had to get Toni away from Bob so I could let her know what Bob’s intentions were. “Can I see you for a second?” I said in my high-pitched voice as I pulled her aside.

“He has a huge crush on you”, I began “so unless you have a thing for unstable men that call a parking lot home, I suggest we get away from him”. “Oh no, he doesn’t, he’s just a lovely man”, Toni said. “Really, then why is he picking flowers from his hair and making you a bouquet?” Toni looked over at Bob, who, as he was carefully putting flowers together, caught her eye and blew a kiss in her direction. “Oh-no, Oh my, what are we going to do?” Toni asked in a panic. “Just do what I do and follow my lead”, even though I had no clue what that was going to be.  

“See you Bob, take care”, I said as I began pulling Toni toward the door. “Wait, I made something for you”, said the desperate stalker as he came toward us with his floral arrangement in hand. “Look, isn’t it pretty”. We were almost out the door when the shiny thing struck again. “Oh, yes, those are beautiful, where do you get your flowers”? “TONI”, I demanded, “focus, don’t ask him anymore questions, we are trying to get away, remember?” “Oh yeah, I almost forgot, let’s go”.

We almost made it too; but Anthony, Tammy and Julie arrived just as we were making our getaway. “Hi guys, where’d you go”, Julie asked, followed by “who’s your friend?” SERIOUSLY???

Toni and Bob

I decided to give up on my mission to save Toni from her “husband in waiting” and went with the flow. We ended up being escorted by Bob to the bar where his favorite band was playing. “They’re really good”, Bob said as we stood outside the door, “but we’ll have to listen to them from here because I’m not allowed in”. Sensing there was a story there, I grabbed Toni by the hand before she had the chance to ask him about it and pulled her inside while bidding farewell, “oh, that’s too bad Bob, but we really need a drink, I gotta pee again and it’s supposed to rain.

Lessoned Learned: When in New Orleans, always have an exit strategy.

One thing I can say about Bob is that he did have good taste in music. Although it wasn’t typical New Orleans Jazz or Cajun, but something called Zydeco (think bluegrass with a combination of country and Hillbilly), I really liked it.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve found in every group, no matter the size, there is an adult; meaning the person who makes sure everything is under control and that no one wakes up in the morning in a stranger’s bed. In our case, it was always Tammy. Tammy has an incredible amount of common sense and knows when it’s time to leave the party. She’s the first one to buy a round of drinks, but also the first one to make sure we stay hydrated.

The bar was packed, but we got lucky; a group of people had just left and we found ourselves sitting in the front row. I love watching people dance, so it was a perfect seat.

Julie, Toni, Anthony, me and Tammy

Anthony is a great dancer, so when Julie dragged him on the dance floor, it was no surprise that he jumped at the chance. Next up was Tammy. This surprised me; Tammy was the adult and was supposed to watch over us as we stumbled around, not be one of the stumblee’s. Toni and I watched in horror as our designated adult grabbed a washboard vest from one of the performers, strap it on and begin playing it on stage. “Oh my God, we have to go”, I said to Toni, “Tammy is out of control, who’s going to watch us?” It was then that I realized something disturbing; I was the evening’s adult and it was frightening. I’m usually the one kissing strangers at the bar or the first one naked at a pool party; this was simply not a role I was familiar with. So I did what any other adult would do, I got another drink.

Upon my return, I found myself being pulled onto the dance floor. No one ever believes me when I say I can’t dance. But I really can’t. I can tap my fingers in rhythm, but the minute I add feet, I look like a drunken windmill on Ecstasy. It just isn’t pretty. “Oh, no, I can’t dance”, I said to the stranger. This was answered with a loud screeching “Woot-Woot”. And tonight’s attempt was no different. It didn’t take long, however for my mullet headed dance partner to realize I made Elaine from Seinfeld look like a pro before she walked away. This type of dance floor abandonment used to humiliate me, but now I find humor in watching the look on my partner’s face as they begin to realize what they’ve got themselves into. It’s funny to watch the terror in their eyes as they move one way and I mimic them until our heads collide or when I twirl them around and end up twirling myself in circles until I fall down. And it always ends with me saying the same old thing “See, I told you I can’t dance”.

The beauty of my lack of rhythm is that once I’ve proven to the entire bar that I’m a hazard on the dance floor, I’m usually not asked again.

After I made my way to the sideline, I watched for a while as everyone took turns wearing and playing the washboard vest. “Come on Jeff, it’s your turn to wear it”, said Anthony, knowing I wouldn’t. “No thank you”, I said, “you’re wearing it just fine”. It may have been jealousy because I didn’t know the first thing about playing a vest, but it just seems wrong to be wearing an old fashioned washing machine/musical instrument that’s cleverly disguised as the newest trend in fashion.

After a couple more cocktails, I decided if I was going to be the “adult of the evening”, I had the right to announce that it was time to go. So, I did, and they followed. “Wow, that was easy”.

“Where to next?”  Toni, Tammy, Julie or Anthony asked as we made our way down the street. I just continued walking, knowing they couldn’t possible be asking me this question. “Do we know where we’re going yet?” one of my entourage inquired after a few more blocks of walking aimlessly. I am not good at planning and I was quickly realizing that the adult of the evening was not only is in charge of getting everyone home safe, they are also responsible for determining the agenda. This was definitely out of my comfort zone; I’m a follower.

Not knowing the city at all, I wasn’t sure what to do, but my followers were in desperate need of direction. So, I had to be brave. I channeled Jim Jones, took a deep breath and blurted out “let’s go to Bourbon Street”.

My posse was now happy, we had a plan and their fearless leader was going to take care of them.

Not having a clue where Bourbon Street was, I hailed the first cab I saw and demanded he take us there. “Dude, I’d be happy to take you there, but it’s right behind you” said the slightly sarcastic cabbie as he pointed to a street sign above my head with the word Bourbon on it. “Oh, well, then thanks”.

“Now, lets all stay together”, I dictated as we made the turn onto a very loud, seedy and somewhat sticky road with thousands of our closest friends. And in under a minute, I was alone, my people were M.I.A. and I was being stalked by a large creepy kitty cat.

Beware of the Kitty Cat

I started to walk back from the way we came and found Toni walking by herself. “Where is everyone”, I asked her in which she replied, “I don’t know, they were here a minute ago”. I told her to stay put while I go look for the others. The first one I found was Anthony and he seemed oblivious that he was alone “where did everyone go?” I asked and his reply was exactly the same as Toni’s “I don’t’ know, they were here a minute ago”.

“I took him by the hand and led him to where Toni was, only now, she was gone. “Doesn’t anyone do what they’re asked?!" This was seriously like one of those dreams where you’re running and running but you aren’t’ getting anywhere.

“O.K, you stay put and if you see Toni, make her stay with you, O.K?” Anthony agreed. So, again I made my way down the street searching for my easily distracted friends. This time I didn’t see them, but Toni found me. “Where did you go?” she asked. “Where did I go? Where did you go?” I yelled. Realizing none of this mattered; I grabbed her by the hand and led her to Anthony. “Now, we need to stay together or we’ll never get out of here, just stay with me”.  I assumed that by now, Julie and Tammy must have passed us up, so we moved forward along the Mardi Gras route. “There they are” I heard Toni say as she broke away from us, disappearing into the crowd. Anthony and I walked in the direction where we last saw Toni, but she was gone. “Oh my God, how does this keep happening?”

 We had no choice but to keep moving, the crowd was getting larger and larger and everyone kept moving forward. It was like we were a part of a flock of birds flying south, there was no way out.

We finally made it to an intersection and we stepped aside to get our bearings and I lost it, “I just can’t be Dad anymore, I suck at it. So far, with me in charge, Toni nearly married Mr. Cardboard, Tammy bought a washboard vest on Amazon and I’m sober. I’m just not good at it, I'm supposed to be the lost drunk talking to strangers!”

And with that, Anthony assumed the "Dad" role and within a matter of seconds, he found our wandering friends. “Look, there they are, see Jeff, everything is just fine, I don’t know why you got so upset”. I wanted to kill them all! It seems my three amigos found entertainment in watching a man do funny tricks with a folding ladder in the middle of the street, “Isn’t he great?” asked Tammy, followed by Julie asking “don’t you just love him?” I couldn’t believe it, all this time and effort we spent looking for them and they didn’t even realize they were missing; they thought we were with them the entire time.

After reuniting, we decided it was time to head back to the hotel for a nightcap before something else captured our attention. We found a taxi large enough to fit all of us and we instructed the driver to take us back no matter what we say (or see).

Other images from the rest of the weekend.


 

Rumored to be the largest wine cellar in the south

Street Band in the Big Easy