My Most Embarassing Moments, Part

My Most Embarassing Moments, Part Two

When I was six, my family moved from Austin, Texas (where my dad had been working with the Association for the Understanding of Man, chasing UFOs and working on his book), to Exton, Pennsylvania, where my great-grandfather had moved to work with the Pennsylvania Railroad. We moved into the tenant farmer’s house at Arrandale, the biggish country house that my grandfather had first seen while fox hunting, and that he had encouraged his father to buy and restore.

On my first day of school, my mother and I walked down the long, tree-lined driveway to wait for the bus. We sat on the stone gates and waited ten minutes, then twenty, then forty-five: it seemed normal, I guess, for the bus to be late on the first day, but we were pretty far off the beaten path, too, and the driver might have missed us. After a while I guess my mom decided that the bus wasn’t going to show up, and that she’d better drive me to school.

She wanted to know if the bus eventually arrived, however, so she left me at the end of the driveway while she walked back to get our navy-blue Volkswagen Beetle. I had strict instructions: watch to see if the bus came, but don’t get on it (thereby avoiding uncertainty as to my whereabouts.)

Of course, no sooner had she disappeared from sight than the yellow bus pulled up: first day of school, bus packed with kids, the driver late and flustered. The door slapped open.

Face clear, conscience untroubled, I stood calmly by the side of the highway, feet rooted to the spot.

“Come on, kid, get on the bus!”

I had been to several years of Montessori kindegarten, and was used to following orders. ALso, I had a good idea of the chain of command: Mom first, bus drivers nowhere. What’s more, being a deeply spacey kid, I was completely unequal to the task of explaining that the bus was forty-five minutes late, taking car, wanted to see if bus came but orders are to recon and report, not to embark, etc. So I stood there placidly and shook my head.

“No, I’m not going to get on the bus.” I was probably wearing little-boy sandals at the time, too.

“Come on, kid, get on the BUS!

“No, thank you.” By this time every window on the near side was filled with incredulous kids; I’m sure the bus was listing to starboard with the weight of all the elementary-school gawkers. Like I said, though, I was a Montessori student, gently raised, with no experience of public-school ridicule; I probably had the demeanor of a guest refusing a cup of coffee at a cocktail party.

“Thank you, no, I’m not going to get on the bus.”

So the bus finally roared off, carrying its cargo of frustrated and incredulous amazement. If this was a Disney movie, I would have been a hero, carried on the shoulders of the inspired student body, borne triumphantly from class to class. But the other kids on my bus route were third- and fourth-graders, too young to think rebelling was cool. Not getting on the bus was about as cool as having to wear corrective shoes, or needing special earplugs during rec swim. I was often stopped at the water fountain: “Hey, aren’t you THE KID WHO WOULDN’T GET ON THE BUS?” “Yes,” I would answer, puzzled and starting to get dismayed, “yes, I am.”

That actually blew over, until I added further laurels to my name: “The boy who keeps getting up and wandering out of class” (my Montessory training, again): “The boy who writes on the walls” (I had been dragging my pencil, ERASER FIRST, thank you, along the grooves between two bricks when returning from recess): “The boy who TAKES DRUGS IN SCHOOL” (I had palmed my morning multivitamins, pocketed them, then swallowed them in a fit of remorse during art class.)

Which is the reason I was sent to Westtown School the next year, after my second-grade teacher became so frustrated with my polite, spacey, abject inability to follow the public-school rules. Thirty seconds after walking through the door at Westtown, I had a cubbyhole, a place to hang my coat, and was working busily at the craft bench, which was a world of relief.

My Most Embarassing Moments, Part

Kiki, My Beach Role Model

Kiki, My Beach Role Model

Kate and I bought a package tour to the Bahamas with Apple vacations; we took a charter flight to Nassau on Southeast Airlines, a carrier we’d never heard of, with a plane ten years older than normal, tiny aquamarine Sixties seats, and flight attendants that hadn’t been hammered into the effulgent Delta or Continental mold, quite.

Our companions on the plane (and through the whole trip), were pretty interesting: there was Hot Pink Dress with Thong Lines and Clear Plastic Heels Woman*, Blonde Woman With Goatee Gigolo Man (could also be referred to as Eighties Cappucino Maker Couple), and the Jane Austen Twins: outgoing junoesque woman with introverted rubenesque woman friend in tow. Oh, and there was The Cranky Family.

My favorite passenger, though, was Mellowest Man in the World, aka The Tarantino Traveller. His real name was Kiki, we learned later. Kiki was in his forties, black, with slightly relaxed hair and sharp lamb chop sideburns that reached to the corners of his mouth. He wore big biiiig sunglasses encrusted with gold, and an old-school walkman — metal band over the top, foam earpieces on the sides. Also: a Mediterranean-style medallion on a gold chain, an open-throat short sleeved shirt, and nylon clamdigger pants. And he looked tough.

Kiki sat in front of me on the flight down, and we went three hard-fought rounds over the seating: he reclined waaay back, then realized that my right knee was embedded in his kidney, sat up and started over. Then we sat next to each other on the jitney bus to the Nassau Beach hotel, where we got the “Welcome to the Bahamas, Now Relax, You Cranky Americans” lecture from the bus driver**.

It wasnt’ till we got off the bus that Kiki’s demeanor changed; he stepped out and everyone in front of the hotel burst into exclamations: “Kiki! No way, mon!”, and there was lots of touching of outstretched fists. (The accent is on the last syllable, by the way: “KiKI“!)

Sitting on the beach the next couple of days, we got the rest of the story by overhearing the beach vendors’ conversations: “What, you don’t want to go on my booze cruise? But we’re having a raffle, giving away a t’ousand dollars? Are you rich, from Beverly Hills, you pass up a t’ousand dollars? You marry a rich American, like Kiki?”, gesturing at the man himself, still in the shirt and clamdiggers, still with the Walkman, nodding his gold-encrusted and lamb-chopped head blissfully on a beach chair under a palm tree.

Kiki knew everyone on Cable beach: the guy who hacks open coconuts and makes Bahama Mamas in them (seven dollars), the T-shirt lady (Budweiser label shirt that says “Bahamas”, twelve dollars), the hair braiders with brushes and tools in black rolling suitcases (quarter-head $60.00, whole head $100.00, visited by every college student on the beach), the waverunner jockeys (half-hour $60.00, whole hour $120.00), and the parasail-boat operators (15 minute ride, $50.00, $5.00 to watch.) Plus the booze-cruise captains, the Banana Boat man, and the itinerant, backpack-wearing Cuban Cigar Seller (“Cuban Cigars! Let’s… Get… Smokinnnn!”)

Kate thinks that Kiki was a beach vendor that made good; married American and moved to Philadelphia. Not that the folks on the beach weren’t doing well: everyone seemed to own their own operations, and ran them any way they pleased. OUr parasail operators both had shirts emblazoned “J&R Watersports: Loved by Few, Hated by Many, Respected by All”), which I’m pretty sure is not the slogan of a large, centrally franchised organization.

Once or twice a day, Kiki would come over, do the fist-touching thing (“my man!”), and tell me about what he was listening to on his walkman. He was either blissfully happy, or incredibly stoned, or both, and he’d talk to everyone on the beach: Russian Countess woman, Austen couple number 2, Lonny (Chest-Fur Man Who Might Have A Toupee.)

We flew back with the same Apple Vacations crew, everyone dressed roughly the same but three to six shades browner, and Kiki had his tough-guy face on again once we boarded the bus at the hotel. The last we saw him, he was plugging a quarter into a payphone in the Philadelphia airport, maybe asking his rich American bride to come pick him up in a long limousine and a sable coat, with a fresh batch of tapes for his Walkman.

Come to think of it, Kiki didn’t have any luggage.

* Kate’s waxer-lady tells Kate all kinds of stories, like the woman who called her for an “emergency bikini waxing”, because she’d “just been given a trip to Jamaica at the last minute.” Kate’s waxer lady was pretty sure that the bikini waxing was a business expense, if you know what she means. And that she would have been wearing clear acrylic heels.

** THE CRANKY FAMILY (crankily): “Hey, where’s our luggage!?” PAUL, THE BAHAMIAN BUS DRIVER (in rich, measured Caribbean tones): “Don’t worry about luggage, my Aphrodites and Cleopatras! We have an application in to the government to turn the whole island into a nudist colony. If the luggage van pulls up to your hotel by two o’clock, our application was denied. If you don’t have your luggage by two o’clock, then strip!”

Kiki, My Beach Role Model

Kate and I are in

Kate and I are in the Bahamas right now; we came down Sunday morning, are staying until Thursday afternoon. That’s three days of beach-i-fying, which is much needed, I realize now that I’m down here. In fact, it’s a little bit of explosive decompression; I find myself wavering between comatose just-want-to-lie-on-a-beach-chair lassitude and lets-stand-this-island-on-its-ear cantankerousness. Oh well, at least I’m not the first to get cranky on vacation, and Kate and I are actually having quite a nice time. The Bahamas have a booming tourist economy, and unlike Vieques the native population seems to be reaping the benifits of the American tourist dollar, often in the form of $100.00 hair braiding sessions for every one of the dozens of twelve-year-olds on the beach each day.

I hopped into the Internet cafe to get some wedding invitation addresses, and now will get off again. See you!

Kate and I are in