1,000 Ways to Die (of Embarrassment)
4:30 a.m., Friday 6/1 I feel a tap on my leg. I open my eyes and see my friend Mary standing in front of me. “Are you ready for an adventure?” she asks me. I sit straight up in bed and croak, “You need me to take you to the hospital, don’t you?” She looks so pitiful and says in a voice that has been weakened by her persistent asthmatic cough, “Yes.” I jump out of bed and start getting ready.
This is how our girls’ trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico began. First destination? The E.R. at St. Vincent Hospital, downtown Santa Fe.
Jamie, Christina, Mary, and I had been planning this trip since January. Jamie got us a sweet deal that included round-trip flight, hotel room, and rental car. We talked about it for months, trading ideas and excitement via email, text and phone conversations. The morning of our trip, Thursday, 5/31, I picked Mary up at her house and she was near tears, feeling sick with congestion, asthma and watery eyes. Her husband, Jon, pressured her to go. He realized he hit his limit with her when she gave him a “Don’t mess with me” look as she picked up her travel bag and suitcase. To appease her, he quickly changed subjects and sweetly replied, “I like your bag. It’s pretty.”
She said she would drive to the airport with me and decide from there if she would go. She did. On the plane ride, she popped her eardrums and filled up with even more congestion that later turned out to be a sinus infection. Jamie was nervous to fly as well. She said she preferred the old school ways of traveling (which means driving), but will fly if necessary. To quell her nerves, she ordered a vodka and poured it into her smoothie / juice drink on the first leg of our trip from St. Louis to St. Paul, Minnesota (it’s how we got the sweet deal). She drank a glass of wine before the flight to Albequerque, NM, and obsessively read magazines and quietly cringed when the flight hit pockets of turbulence. Christina slept in the front seat from our drive to Albequerque to Santa Fe. For awhile I noticed her taking pictures of the landscape as I drove the Chrysler Impala while Jamie and Mary talked and coughed in the backseat. I tapped Christina’s arm to point out more mountains in the distance, and that’s when I noticed her eyes were closed and a faint, delicate snore issued from her mouth. The only sleep I got that day was during takeoff on the first plane ride and I was awakened only when Mary tapped my arm to ask me if her coughing was bothering me. It wasn’t.
Nor did it bother me to ride in the cab with her to the E.R. at 4:50 a.m. the following day. As we awaited our taxi at the corner of our hotel’s parking garage, we both noticed the soft lighting from the garage was enhanced by the Spanish classical guitar music being pumped through the outdoor speakers. Mary began to laugh and cough and said, “It’s too romantic and so dramatic.” I then noticed it as well. We dubbed the music “Mary’s soundtrack to the E.R.” I shivered a bit in the brisk morning air and we both wondered when the cab would get there. I told Mary (who was dressed fashionably in a long jean skirt, bright blue blouse and cream sweater and wedge-style slip on sandals) to hike her skirt up and show some more leg so we could get a better deal on the cab fare. This comment brought on laughter which triggered more asthmatic wheezing and coughing.
When the cabbie, and old guy in his late 70s, finally pulled up, we got into the car and noticed that he had the radio blaring. Pumping out of the speakers was the Eagles’ song “Hotel California.” Mary and I looked at each other and began to laugh again. As we turned the corner, Don Henley sang the lines “You can check in any time you like, but you can never leave. . .” as a processional was rounding the corner near the old Cathedral St. Francis of Assisi. The first man in the line carried a heavy wooden cross in front of him, and about 12 other solemn pilgrims followed.
When Mary met me at the waiting room to the E.R., she informed me that she not only had a sinus infection, but she had pink eye. “They told me I have something called Conjunctivitis.”
“Pink eye, you mean?” I asked.
“Well, they’re not calling it that. But yeah. I have f***ing pink eye. Can you believe that? F***ing pink eye,” she said.
She worried to the nurses that she might have spread the virus to all of us. They were aghast and didn’t know how to respond when she jumped out of her chair and began to frantically wash her hands. “I have f***ing pink eye?! F***ing pink eye!” she yelled as she squirted on more soap.
Fortunately she never passed on the conjunctivitis, but she felt remiss and put herself in another hotel room for the remainder of the trip, hid in side alleys and tiny courtyards to cough up a lung, and silently worried that she would die a silent death from asthmatic coughing, sinus congestion and f***ing pink eye.
The trip was not a bust, however. Jamie, through her “Groupon” deals and research, booked us facials at a spa for Friday. Mary couldn’t go, so I took her deluxe facial. I knew I was in for a treat when I saw Jamie and Christina come out from their rooms glowing, smiling, and seeming to float on the soft, cottony clouds that passed through the azure New Mexican sky.
When I got into the room, the woman began telling me of all the procedures she would do on my face and all of the tools used. I began to panic. There was the microdermabrasion oscillating machine, the skin purifier that had tiny diamonds one the end and buffed away dead skin cells, the electro-current bars that sent tiny electrical shocks to my facial muscles, and the LED light in which I had to wear small goggles and I was strictly informed that I couldn’t open my eyes for 15 mins while it was on my face. Minus the cattle-prod looking electro-current machine (which made my skin feel like thousands of pin pricks tingling all the way up to my hairline and sent my lips into Elvis-like quivers involuntarily), I relaxed and enjoyed the entire process. My skin glowed for at least a day. My spirit did too.
Another plus to the trip that made us happy was the food. Christina was the one who pointed out that even the food was presented in an artistic fashion. The first night we arrived we found a small Mexican restaurant that served the best mole (pronounced mol-ay – a type of chocolate based sauce served over shredded chicken or turkey). You could taste the chocolate, cumin, cinnamon and coriander in it. Every day was a new sensation for our taste buds. Except for Mary. She still couldn’t taste anything and therefore ordered hot teas and soups at every meal. Tortilla soup. Garbanzo bean soup. Mushroom soup. Chicken tortilla soup. Soup with beef broth as a base. Soup with chicken broth as a base. Christina and Jamie always ordered a delicious fare, but Christina always said she was suffering from food envy whenever she tasted what I had ordered. Cheese quesadillas with spicy guacamole and flakey tortillas. Blue corn tortillas with red and green salsas. White navy bean soup and Ceasar salad with roasted pine nuts and alfalfa. Lavender lemonade. Pan au chocolate, yogurt and fresh fruits. Nutella crepes.
On the last night, Christina and I finally ordered the same dish: butternut squash lasagna. Under less snooty conditions, I would have licked my plate clean. I’m sure Christina felt the same way. We sat in the swanky courtyard with fancy table settings, umbrellas, lights and snobby, middle aged people. We named as many of these snobs as we could and imagined what kind of lives they lead. The snobbiest of the bunch we called Trudy and Bill. Trudy, with an upturned nose and a swish of her wine glass before drinking, harped on Bill in silent undertones and smirked at the rest of the snobs around her. We believed her to be a prize-winning-snob of pugs or dachshunds at hoopty-dooty dog shows while Bill was a retired professor of engineering. There was also Jean, Margie, Janet and Ester who met at a tai chi class one fine Sunday morning. Linda was a marketing executive who was the once mistress and now wife of Stephen, an Audi and other expensive car dealer. Allen was paying for his and Cheryl’s meal with his preferred MasterCard from Citibank while Vivian, wearing a white and pink polka-dotted , flowy blouse, sat at another table and sloshed wine on the table cloth as she laughed at Jennifer’s joke. I told Mary that I thought Vivian was an art dealer and Mary turned up her nose and said, “With a blouse like that she books Caribbean cruises.” We laughed at the thought and ate our desserts of creme brulee and chocolate soup. Yes. Chocolate soup.
Canyon Road, Take Me Home
“This is a penis statue,” I said to myself as we walked up to the first art gallery on Canyon Road. We had made it to the mecca of artists, and the first thing I saw was a large, black obelisk jutting out from the rocked landscape. Mary, Jamie and Christina walked into the gallery and didn’t mention the giant penis, so neither did I. “Did they notice the penis?” I asked myself. I pushed the question and image out of my mind and entered the gallery as well. The artwork was exceptional and it was filled with beautiful Southwestern landscapes and vivid impressionistic paintings of nature. “This is what we came for,” I told myself and I talked to my friends and listened to the gallery worker as she discusses lighting and detail. I smiled and walked out of the gallery feeling very cultured and refined. Then, I stared at the penis statue and began to do a Beavis and Butthead chuckle and monologue inside my head, “Penis. Heh heh heh heh. Penis.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Christina aim her camera at something. She replied more to herself, “This is inspiring,” and took a photo. “Did she take a picture of the penis?” At the angle I was standing, I couldn’t tell. But, my inner prepubescent child said, “Take a picture of the penis,” so I took a picture of the penis and chuckled again. I was just classy enough that I didn’t involve my friends into my inner thoughts of penis statues and how much they cost and who would put one in their yard. So, I followed them and kept my thoughts to myself. . .until later when I saw a sculpture of a man’s face on a giant boulder and I felt compelled to pretend like I was picking its nose. “Click” went Mary’s camera and my inner, teenage boy mentality was digitally captured for posterity.
Our meandering down this art road did render some moments of true awe and beauty, however. There were lovely and unique sculptures of muse like women and a beautiful one of a dress floating in the wind. There were sculptures of origami birds and paintings of landscapes and abstract images that momentarily transported us to another world. There was also Beverly Jean. An artist in her late 70s or early 80s, Beverly Jean had white hair that was tied up into a 1950s style bun. She wore khaki colored pants and a button up blouse and had on matching flats. Her black-rimmed glasses highlighted the black band in her hair. She had a khaki colored, curly-haired poodle named Koko next to her desk. Koko let us pet her and she licked our faces and showed more excitement than Beverly Jean who was a force to be reckoned with. Already I could tell I liked her. She was direct, honest, and spoke exactly what was on her mind. She sold me a print of her beautiful poppies and graciously signed the print before rolling it up. Halfway through, her arthritic hands gave up on her and she politely commanded me to hold the poster as she tore off some more tape. I ended up doing the rest of the job myself and felt very honored that she entrusted me with this task. She visited with us all some more, let us look through her book and pet her dog. She smiled at me and told me I have lovely skin. It was refreshing to be around a person who was so grounded and on a genuine path of following her passion. She was unassuming and focused on what is important in life. There was no ego about her when we walked in her gallery, and I felt uplifted after I walked out. That is when you know you have had an experience.
Out on a Cliff
Before I write about the last portion of the adventure, I need to mention some of the interesting, soulful people we met on this trip. The man who sold Mary her beautiful stone and silver earrings was a Navajo tribesman. He was an excellent craftsman and took great pride in his work. We met him on the plaza in downtown Santa Fe where he and other Navajo men and women had their art displayed on colorful blankets on the ground next to the museum. It was evident that he knew what he wanted to do with his life and he just did it with a quiet passion. He talked to us about how he chooses the stones and looks for patterns. If he can’t find the shape or pattern at first glance, he just has to jump right in and begin the process and pay attention to what the stone is telling him to do. A true mark of an artist: combining both skill and intuition so as to create something beautiful and unique.
Another Navajo craftsman, who obviously was a hard-working and proud yet humble as well, let us pick up the raw stone with which he created unique jewelry. He also mentioned that he had to pack up his wares soon because he had to get home and work in his fields. He has about an acre of corn and though he planted it with a tractor, he goes out on foot every day and checks his crops. He was the one that told us that there is a lottery system for people to sell their wares in this spot. He said every day people drive from the pueblos (a better term than “reservations”) to see if they will be able to sell their work. If they are lucky, they will, and if not, they must find another place or go back home and try it again the next day.
I connected immediately to Marvin Martinez, a Navajo ceramics artist who specializes in the unique black pottery made from ash and clay from the region. He and his wife have been crafting vases and bowls for 25 years now, and Marvin began learning the art from his grandparents when he was 12 years old. They learned from their grandparents, and so on. He sold me a small vase that he picked out for me. On one side was a set of butterfly wings that signified transformation. Between the wings was the image of dancing rain that signified renewal. On the back was a set of eagle wings that signified power and strength. He mentioned that this was an important vase to his people and that he wanted me to have it. I almost cried and couldn’t speak of it until now. It was such a beautiful gesture from a beautiful, soulful person. A kindred spirit.
Marvin also confirmed my directions to Bandalier National Monument (directions my dad gave me on the phone while he was on the golf course). Bandalier is home to the ancient cliff dwellings of a tribal people once called Anasazi. We made the drive there on Sunday, 6/3 in the early afternoon. While we were on the shuttle bus heading towards the canyon, we all noticed a monk in his late 30s or early 40s. He was dressed in a sage colored robe and had his rosary wrapped around his belt. A simple wooden cross hung down his side. He wore brown colored Teva sandals, and when he exited the bus at the ranger’s station, he put on a camouflage baseball cap. We all adored him. None of us mentioned how much we liked him until we met up with him on the trail by the cliffs. He was so grounded. There was a strong masculinity to him due maybe to his husky frame, bald head and graying beard. What made him extraordinary was his quiet, unassuming manner. Clearly he was comfortable in his own skin and definitely he was on his own path in life. He had a twinge of melancholy to him, but was surrounded by an aura of kindness. To top it off, he had a sharp, curious mind and always stopped to read his guide book and then look up at the cliffs and soak in the wonderment of what he was seeing. When Mary, Jamie, Christina and I came near him, he pointed out the petroglyphs on the cliff that we had not noticed before. We all gawked at the one that looked specifically like a 2 legged dinosaur with a large mouth like Dino from The Flintstones. Jamie and I contemplated what it could be. He laughed more to himself and turned to Jamie and said, “Toucan-dog” and smiled.
He read from his guide book for us and filled us in on the tribe’s real name (which I have forgotten) and gave us a brief historical background. As we stayed to admire the cliffs and surrounding area a bit more, he walked ahead with a sense of reverence. We never said goodbye to him. We just watched him quietly walk ahead of us until he rounded a bend and he no longer was in sight.
Thank You For Your Business
When we reached Albequerque Airport on Monday, we returned the rental car to the Avis station. The middle-aged man checking us in was wearing a khaki colored uniform complete with pressed pant legs and a service cap with a shiny, black patent leather bill. He looked spiffy. He acted spiffy as well. He professionally went through his checklist and when Jamie returned the keys, he smiled and said to us all, “Thank you for your business.” How often do you hear that phrase as a customer? It’s a rarity for sure. It was a simple comment, but it was made from someone who was serious about his job. This made all the difference.
Knowing spiffy Avis man existed helped me get through the flight check-in where we were all herded like lambs to the slaughter through metal detectors and sent one by one through a body scan. Jamie and Mary convinced Christina to check in her bag when we saw the long line through security. Once we boarded our flight from Albequerque to St. Paul, MN (again, this is how we got the sweet deal), we noticed all of us were in row 39. The last row of the airplane. Jamie and Mary were on each side and Christina and I were in the middle. All of us got go smell the emissions from the plane, and we all took in wafts from the stinky bathrooms that were nearby. I would have gladly traded Mary and Jamie their seats and listened to the loud and obnoxious roar of the engines and the wind than to sit and have people unwittingly fart in my face as they herded themselves to the bathroom.
We were not let down, however, when we were on our last leg of the trip back to St. Louis. The two, young Delta flight attendants made us feel like valued customers. They smiled, looked people in the eye, joked with us, and anticipated our needs. They loved their jobs. They too looked spiffy in their uniforms. There is something to be said about wearing uniforms, creating art, cooking excellent food or traveling a specific path with a specific purpose. It gives a person a sense of pride and dignity that transfers to those around them. It makes the person who comes in contact with him or her feel human and visible. That grounded sense of duty and service when done with humility and honesty translates to how we treat ourselves and others. Is it possible that this is the way to world peace? Or am I just seeing the world with rose-colored glasses? Or with f***ing pink eye?