The Selfish Asshole


I’m a selfish asshole.

Hear me out.

In exactly two weeks I’m going be 29. And in 29 years of living (plus 9 months in the womb where I didn’t accomplish much) I have never really had to ask for much.

I grew up in a loving household full of people who (while they may not have always understood me, and frankly, who can blame them) always supported me.

I have written before about I have such an abundance of things in my life that I regularly have to purge my life of material possessions. It’s a position that so few people ever find them in, a position I try to remember whenever I feel myself wanting for something.

In the weeks leading up to my birthday I like to take stock of my life. I like to spend some time contemplating, thinking, and comparing where I am now to where I was a year ago. It can be challenging as I constantly find myself coming up short of the places I’d hoped, or expected, to be.

In addition to reflection my birthday usually involves celebration. Typically there are two types of gatherings.

I will do a birthday dinner with a small group of my close friends at a really nice restaurant. We make toasts, we laugh, and we eat incredible food. And then I will set up a get together for my larger circle of friends, something where people can come in and out of at their leisure, stop by, celebrate for as little or as long as they’d like.

And I won’t lie; at both affairs I usually don’t pay for a thing. And I’ve never had a problem with it. I mean on your birthday you should be able to get whatever you want. At least that’s been my mentality.

But for some time now I’ve been feeling a weird strange cloud drifting over my soul. I’d be lying if I had said it was a recent phenomenon, but it is only recently that I have started to pay more attention to it. It’s a feeling that I’m not doing enough.

For the past 4 years I’ve lived alone. For the past 6 I’m floated in and out of jobs that I thought would bring me the things I’ve wanted. I’ve received raises, title changes, and new responsibilities.

In that same time I’ve traveled. I’ve had incredible experiences in places around the country and around the world. I’ve taken up hobbies that have occupied so much space in my mind that others can attest I am sometimes less present than I should be.

More than anything, I have had opportunities.

When I’ve wanted something, the thing I have wanted is so far above the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy that he would probably be baffled that one person could possibly want for so much.

My highs have been higher than I could have possibly imagined, and my lows, while sad and challenging and life changing, have always been something I could eventually work my way through.

There has always been a road. And while that road may have been concealed, or bumpy, or long, there has always been a road. I have never been without a road. But for so many others, that has never been the case.

And I know this. I know it the way people know war and famine and poverty exists. They are the kinds of things we may try to remind ourselves, but never too often so as not to make ourselves feel sad. After all, there is only so much we can do.

Right?

Here’s the thing. I don’t do anything.

When disaster strikes a far away country in the form of a tornado or a tsunami I give money to the Red Cross. When my friends do a marathon to raise money to fight cancer I give money to their cause. I have situational generosity. But I never really give anything that requires anything.

A handful of years ago I went to work at a nonprofit thinking that would give me the feeling of generosity and altruism I had hoped would at some point infuse my life.

But for a myriad of reasons, those feelings never came. I wasn’t more generous or giving towards those in needs while I worked there, I was just more awareness. But awareness without action is like a kite without a string.

So I left that job to pursue something I loved. And I was a happier employee than I’d ever been and for many moons that feeling of wanting to give back remained held at bay.

I think we all kind of wait and hope for that moment when everything changes. We expect that moment of clarity, that single instant when our worlds come into focus, our worries fade away and the single most important clear and obvious needs of the universe come into focus.

Though for most people those moments never arrive. It seems silly to admit that I have been waiting for a moment like that when my life has been supersaturated with such moments.

So after two weeks spent on the west coast spent socializing, contemplating and interacting in different cities with different people over different issues, I’m done waiting.

And that is why on the eve of my 29th year I’m “giving up” my birthday to raise money for a cause that takes every single cent it raises and uses it to bring clean drinking water to those in need.


The facts of how clean water can change the world are truly overwhelming. And if you’re interested in reading about them you can find them at Charity: Water.

So what does this mean?

That means this year I will be passing up that small gathering at the fancy restaurant to celebrate me.

That means this I’m not having a party where people come and buy me drinks. Sure I'll still get people together, but the drinks will be cheap, and nobody is allowed to buy me a single one.

Even as I write this though, even as I tell you that I am proud to be committing to raising $1,000 dollars for this incredible cause, I am also aware what a copout it is.

Sure I’m “giving up” my birthday this year but what am I actually giving up?

I’m not giving $1,000 out of my own pocket. I’m asking my friends to help me. I’m asking people instead of buying me drinks on my birthday, to take 29 bucks and put it towards something that actually matters.

While I have no idea if I’ll reach my goal, I do know that it already feels good to want something that will help somebody who deserves it, somebody to whom the words ‘want’ and ‘need’ are exactly the same.

Fiji - Staying There

Traveling with me is a bit like taking a very frail, weak stomached, gangly child out of the recovery room and into the world for the first time.

That is why packing my suitcase to visit an island on the other side of the earth entailed me filling my suitcase with the following items.


That is 2 bottles of SPF 50, 2 bottles of Bug Spray, a bottle of Aloe, a bottle of Pepto, a jar of gummy vitamins, travel toilet seat covers and toilet paper, individual Neosporin packets, and a box of Anti Diarrhea medicine.
Now you might be laughing thinking who would need such things?

Me. The answer is me.

After an amazing first stop in Los Angeles for a day, Lauren and I hopped on an overnight flight to Fiji. We landed at 5 am and hopped a bus to our boat, which would take us to our first resort.

Here’s a tip for all you folks out there. Some things are good in chewable form Dramamine is NOT one of them.

Bleah.

So anyway we travelled away from the mainland up past an island group called the Mamanucas up to the Yasawas. There were tiny islands everywhere you looked.

Some islands were only big enough to hold a palm tree; some were big enough to hold a mountain. And there were some that were just big enough to hold a hotel. It was like a perfect fit.

Now there are a lot of things I can tell you about Fiji. I can tell you how perfect it was. I can tell you that that the sun, sand, and ocean were so perfect I would regularly scream out curse words from my beach chair because it was so amazing. I can tell you that travelling by ferry between the dozens of islands of all shapes and sizes made me feel like a pirate explorer at sea, except for the fact that I didn’t have a peg leg, a parrot, or scurvy.

But after a while that would just get annoying. And plus the goal of this is not just to make you jealous (cough cough).


I would rather tell you about how my favorite part of the trip was getting to indulge in things I never get the opportunity to living in New York. Things like…

Doing Nothing.

When we first got there, we met an older gentleman named Jim who was semi retired. He told us that he spent half his year working in the states and half his year living in Fiji.

Internally I judged him. Wondering, how could somebody spend all his or her time doing nothing?

Well, I figured it out pretty quickly.

Every day we woke up when the sun came in our room, threw on our bathing suits and went down to an amazing breakfast of fresh fruit and omelets. Then we went down to the beach. When we heard the conch shell blow that meant it was time for lunch. We’d eat lunch, then go back and nap in our beach chairs. Or swim.  Or just lay in the ocean and float. (Not me personally, because apparently I can’t float) Or just sit in the sand.

When cake suddenly appeared on the bar, that meant it was 5 o’clock. When the sun went down, that meant it was time for dinner. And when mosquitoes bit you, which meant it was time for bed.


That was pretty much the schedule every single day. I was so disgustingly happy the entire time.

Some places you look at and think, oh wow, that place almost looks fake it’s so surreal. Fiji was the complete opposite. It was like I was a part of the landscape (and I honestly moved so little I pretty much was). But everything was so vivid, so real, to just incredibly beautiful. It was like being a part of the most beautiful painting.

But even though we were docile and relaxed the local wildlife was not. Like one night when Lauren was out on balcony of our hotel room and turned to me and said:

Are there monkeys in Fiji?

I felt a slight panic, as at the time both of our doors were wide open. And knowing monkeys’ penchant for leaping on to things, I fully expected to be drop kicked as a chimp came flying through our room.

But alas know it was just a gigantic bird the size of a monkey weighing down a branch. And I would have given no further though to it, had I not woken up in the middle of the night to birds screaming at each other over money they owed each other.

I’m guessing. I can’t imagine what else would require birds to scream like that at 2 in the morning.

The most terrifying experience though happened our first night in the second hotel. Listening to the breeze is a great way to fall asleep but in the dead of night I heard a sound that I immediately thought was the earth trying to swallow a cheetah.

It sounded like this first 10 seconds of this video.

I sat up in bed terrified. “What was that?” I asked. Lauren barely stirred, turned over and said:

Sea Cat.

Oh… cool.

Of course now that I was up, I had to go to the bathroom but was so freaked out from the Sea Cat that I thought one of our suitcases was a cat and almost peed myself.

But not all of the critters were terrifying, some were just hilarious, like the hermit crabs.

I had never seen so many in my life. They were everywhere, always moving, always with someplace to go.

On our last night at the Octopus Resort, we participated in International Crab Racing. Basically what happens is the staff collects 100 hermit crabs from the beach into a bucket, and then dumps that bucket out in the sand. Guests can then pick crabs to enter into the race. It costs like 3 bucks to enter a crab into the race.

Having known about this race the whole time we were there we studied many of the crabs on the beach. We even followed some of the quicker ones and considered training them to enter the race. But we quickly realized we’d have nowhere to keep said crab until the race started. So we just picked our crabs when everyone else did.

However, I made sure I got one of the quicker crabs out of the bucket. In fact, I got 2. They were quick sleek little crabs, and I liked their style. Lauren picked 1.

There are 3 heats. If your crab isn’t in the top group to make it through to the next round you can yell out bribe afterward, and for 3 more bucks you can send them into the next round.

The first heat happened and my 2 guys made it through, but Lauren’s didn’t.

BRIBE!

The second heat happened and again, both of my guys made it through. Lauren’s didn’t.

BRIBE!

Then it was the final round and in a nail biting finish my crab finished second place which meant we got 2 free drinks. Woohoo!



And that night was the peak of my physical excitement, exertion, and bliss. I’ve never been so excited to retire!

For a complete recap, check out this video!

Dial 1 for Confusion

Cell phones have allowed us a tremendous amount of freedom. We can talk to our friends wherever we may be, make dinner plans, chat with our relatives, and yell at our cable provider from any place in the world. They have freed us from the bondage of land lines and the tyranny of the corded telephone. But there is something cell phones have not been able to free us from.

And that is the wrong number phone call.

I got my first cell phone in college. I was actually studying in Italy and it was more for emergency purposes than anything else. Nobody except a couple of friends back home and my parents knew I had one. I didn’t really get many wrong numbers. And if I did, they were in Italian and I couldn’t understand them anyway.

When I got back to the states I got my first brand spanking new cell American cell phone with what I thought was a pretty random Arizona cell phone number. Little did I know that number was 1 digit off from the Sunburst Resort.


People would call me and the conversation would go like this.

Hello?
Hi I’d like to make a reservation.
What?
I’d like to make a reservation for the 26 through the 30th of next month.
Um…. What?
Is this the Sunburst resort?
Oh. No.

And then they’d hang up on me all frustrated. Like I was the idiot. Like I’m running around town scratching the last digit off the phone number on the printed materials of hotels through the Phoenix metropolitan area. Some nerve I had, not taking their reservation over the phone for the hotel they didn’t call that I don’t work at.

It started happening so frequently that I thought about actually just taking the reservations and letting them fend for themselves. Hey, it’s not my fault they screwed up. But by the time I came to that resolution they stopped calling.

I also used to get calls for somebody whose nickname was “Golden Boy.” This would not have been nearly as confusing had his real first name not been Rich.

Hello?
What’s up Golden boy?
What?
Is this golden boy?
I don’t think so?
Is this Rich?
Yes.
Rich Gulden?
Oh. No.

My dad’s cell phone number used to be 1 off from the towel department at Bed Bath and Beyond. People called him on more than one occasion to get a conversation that went like this.


Hi this is Fred.
Hi can I have towels please?
What?
Can you transfer me to towels please?
You have the wrong number.
This isn’t Bed Bath and Beyond?

No you idiot face, I’m playing a prank on you. You know us folk in the bedding department, always screwing with the guys in towels. What the hell do you think?!

Did they think my dad misheard them?

Oh TOWELS. I thought you said trowels, and I was thinking to myself, man, we don’t sell any shovels.

You’d think the wrong number would result in more hilarity and less anger and frustration. People always end the calls so abruptly. As though I am going to keep them on the phone just to make fun of them.

Like my friend Julie who got a call from some guy freshman year looking to rectify problems with his girlfriend. Julie was not his girlfriend but after hanging up and trying to call his actual girlfriend only to get her voicemail, he called Julie back to ask for her advice.

Perhaps he was a womanizer of wrong misdials; perhaps he liked the sound of her voice. We all found it quite strange that he called her back for relationship advice. Perhaps he didn’t have any friends of his own. Maybe he really needed a (very) impartial third party to help solve his problem. Maybe he was really in a bind.

This must have been the thing because he called her back a third time to ask some follow up questions. And Julie, bless her heart, stayed on to chat with him to humor him and engage in a story. She really commits to the fun. And it was her thought process that I channeled recently when I had a similar scenario pop up in my own life.

Last week I was out with my good friends Josh and Marissa whose wedding I attended 2 years ago. After a dinner full of delicisiousness and more than our fair share of wine, we headed out to a pub to keep the night going. Well a couple drinks later Josh’s phone rang with an unknown number. He wasn’t going to answer it so I asked if I could. The following conversation is not exaggerated or made up.

“This is Ramon” I said as I picked up the phone.
“Oh I’m sorry I think I have the wrong number.
What number were you looking for?
(She gives some number that is not Josh’s)
Oh no that is not this number, who were you looking for?
Oh I was looking for my daughter.

It was at this point that I wondered about this woman. A. Why is she still talking to me? B. How much does she really care about her daughter if she can’t even take the time to put her on speed dial?

Where is your daughter?
She’s in her room.
Where are you?
I’m in my room.
Are you in the same house?
Yes.
You are calling your daughter from inside the house?
Yes, her music is too loud and I was going to ask her to turn it down.

It was at this point that I realized this woman must really not like her daughter if she doesn’t even want to see her face to tell her to turn off her music! How far could she be away from her? Close enough to hear the music but not far enough away to need to call her?

Oh, do you usually call your daughter from inside the house?
Sometimes.
Oh OK, well, I hope she turns down the music.
Yes me too.
Take care have a good night.
Thanks you too.

And that was it. We will never know if her daughter turned down the music. Perhaps I could have been more helpful, given her more guidance, suggested more solutions.

Or maybe I could have just transferred her to towels.

The Bavarian Buff

Like many New Yorkers, I get a fair amount of my random knowledge and news blurbs from small televisions in the elevators in my building. They flash a series of headlines, stock quotes, and other current event updates throughout the day. I am in the elevator about a half dozen times over the course of the day and I will catch 1 or 2 stories each time that I am in there.

While leaving work one day last week I was preoccupied with something but glanced up for a second to catch this headline.

German Nudist Hiking Trail

Whatever I was thinking about before, was quickly forgotten as my mind tried to wrap itself around the ridiculousness of this news story. I did a little more research to find out the details. This is what I found:

Germany is launching a new hiking trail for tourists who like to walk in the nude. The 18km (11-mile) route runs through the Harz mountains in central Germany, between Dankerode and the Wippertalsperre, near Leipzig and is receiving praise for giving nudists an opportunity to express themselves more freely.

Now, I am not a hiker. In fact, I know very little about hiking. But I am of German lineage. And I would now like to take this time to make fun of my people. For the sake of this post, I will be taking the side opposing the German Nudist Hiking Trail.

I will start with the obvious. Hiking usually involves being out in the wilderness with bugs and critters and other things. There are places on your body you should never NEED to put sunscreen, never mind bug spray. These are the parts of my body I do not want to expose to mosquitoes or poison ivy. And ALL of those parts get exposed during nude hiking.

I mean, can you imagine trying to explain that to your dermatologist?

Oh yea, I was hiking in Germany. What's that you say? No, no I was not wearing pants. What? No, no underwear either.

I would also like to point out that from what i do know about hiking, it is not something you should do barefoot. Good socks and hiking boots seem to be necessary equipment. So if you are wearing shoes and sock you are not technically naked. I know I'm splitting hairs here, but I just want to point that out.

Being German I know that when I am outside I should stay as covered up as humanly possible. There are many kinds of sunscreen available but the only kind appropriate for me is SPF Poncho.

Germans take good things to the height of ridiculousness. I mean... just look what they did to dancing.

Some things are good in extremes. Giant beer? Good. Giant bratwurst? Very good. But this latest spin on hiking just doesn't seem to be an improvement at all.

Also shouldn't the possibility of chafing along turn them off the naked hike? And again, does backpack = naked?

I just don't think it's necessary for a nude trail. I mean, even the animals on this trail aren't naked. They at least wear fur!

What also scares me is Germans affinity for travel. in my travels around the world I have noticed they travel more than almost any other country. This naked hiking thing is something that could possibly spread to other trails in other countries!

What if I DO decide to take up hiking? I don't want to have to worry about being accosted by Frau Hatenmypantz. But in fairness to the trail itself, the proper authorities (be they naked or otherwise) have put up a sign warning people that says;

If you don't want to see people with nothing on them, you should refrain from moving on.

But if I saw that sign, I would probably just think it was a joke. I wouldn't honestly believe there was a chance I would see some naked people!

It is also understood that some kinds of naked are hilarious. Like watching somebody streak across a baseball field from hundreds of feet away. That is hilarious.

Watching somebody streak towards you in the middle of the woods? That is terrifying.

As I understand it, undergarments were made to enable us to move quickly with ease, thereby streamlining the transportation of ourselves. So what happens if a bear made his appearance in the woods and you had to run? I can't imagine running naked feels (or looks) good.

Also I am curious as to when it is that these naked hikers remove their clothes. Is it before they even leave the house? Do they gear up that way? or do they arrive at the trail head and somebody just fires a gun and yells STRIP!

Is the park ranger for this particular trail naked? Shouldn't he or she be? Because if they park ranger isn't naked, I can only imagine the kind of perverts you'd get applying for that job.

And also can clothed folks be on the same trail? If you have committed to an 11 mile naked hike you have probably also committed yourself to not taking any sit down breaks. I know I am not crazy about putting my bare butt on public toilet seats, so, putting my bare butt on the world of nature? I mean jeez.

Plus I don't like animals seeing me naked. I think they judge me. A cat saw me naked once and I might be exaggerating here, but I am pretty sure it was judging me. It cocked its head as if to say; "You disgust me pale boy. Cloak yourself."

And then the cat walked into a closet and tried to dig a hole.

My point is this whole naked trail thing can only be a harbinger of bad things to come. I know this might seem like a momentous occasion to some. And there is a probably a swell of enthusiasm for would-be nude hikers around the globe.

So for all you who are exited about what this trail means, and the opportunities it presents, I will say to you what my parents said to me when I got too excited about things as a kid.

Keep your pants on.

The Heat!

New York City is a fiesta for your senses. Be it your nose, your ears, or your eyes, there is always something potent to be aware of. It all varies by season, but summer is by far the most intense experience. The heat multiplies everything by a factor of 100, bringing about an attack on your senses so profound it is almost unbearable.

During June, July, and August the heat in New York City starts climbing, threatening people's mental health and changing them for the worse. On some days, the temperature and the humidity rise to heights previously thought impossible. And once subtle smells become unavoidable. It is on these days that the whole island seems to reek of rotting milk and hot pee. And no matter where you are or where you go, you cannot escape that scent.

These heat waves almost always peak on garbage day, when thousands of denizens throughout the city have taken their decomposing filth and trash from inside their home and deposited on the curb for pickup. Heat, Trash, Milk, and Pee, I mean, that's like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse right there. On these most magical of days I am almost hoping for the meteor to hit earth and put us all out of our misery.

The heat is nearly inescapable. Breezes don't exist and shade is a joke. And in effort to draw people into their establishments, many stores will leave their doors wide open using thousands of dollars of electricity to blast their air conditioning onto the street as if to say, "Not only are we cold inside, but we also hate the earth!"

But it works. It doesn't matter if it is a lingerie store or a fruit market, people like myself walk in without paying attention to the sign outside just because the arctic blast is so refreshing it is damn near impossible to think of anything else.

It reminds me of the time I was walking around St. Kilda in Australia. My bag with the good sun block had been stolen, so on this particular morning I had to buy a new one. Unfortunately I couldn't find the one I liked, and the one I purchased was apparently made from corn starch and paste.

Not only did it go on thick, but it completely clogged my pores. So when I began to sweat, and sweat profusely at that, my whole body took a whitish tint. And with not even a stitch of cloth to dry myself off, I very much resembled a lanky German geisha.

I sought refuge. Coolness, where art thou? This is summer in Australia; surely they must have "Air Con" everywhere, right? But there were no such places around. After much searching, this clothing store was the best I could do.


















Under the guise of being a paying customer, I actually took a couple of shirts into the dressing room. But really, once I closed the door I just stripped, sat down, and hoped to cool off for a bit.

I probably was in there too long because after a bit I heard;

Is everything OK in there sir?

Uh... yea. Just um... checking the stitching on this shirt.

I actually did end up buying a shirt with no sleeves which I still own. Which makes sense for me and not just because I have huge biceps. I sweat a lot in all seasons. this probably isn't going to win me any female fans but it is a fact.

And even though I sweat, I still maintain a high standard of hygiene. Through the use of soap and modern deodorant, while I may sweat, I certainly don't stink.

This is not the case for some of the people in my city.

Scantily clad shower haters are all up in your business. Especially when you are on the train. I don't want to touch anybody else's skin to begin with . But your sweaty, smelly skin?

Oh my god gross.

And as a side note, I will never understand that if hot air rises, and cold air sinks, how come when I am 50+ feet underground in the subway, I feel like I am on a conveyor belt going through the oven at Quiznos?

The other day I was on a train that a couple of kids ran for. Lucky for them they made it. Unlucky for me they smelled like fart. A pair of farts. A pair of farts sitting next to me on the train.

Awesome.

Part of me thinks we, as a train car, should be allowed to vote people out of the car if we have a majority. But I think a power like that is kind of dangerous. And also, thinking back, I probably would have been kicked off that day I had to ride the train drenched and topless. (Story for another time.)

I know this is mean, but often when I am on the train and I see somebody running for it, I kind of hope they don't make it. I know it's not nice, but from experience, 9 times out of 10 the person running for the train isn't gorgeous, jolly, or smell like a peach cobbler. No, in my experience the person running for the train contributes one or all of the following.

1. Stink
2. Sweat
3. Frigging Crazy

Just please sit down, relax, cool off, have a mountain dew, and catch the next train.

When I lived in Arizona, the summer would get up to 115 degrees regularly. And I swear to god if you even say something dumb like "But it's a dry heat" I will karate your face right off of your head. Because you know what? Dry or wet, heat is heat. And when people die of exhaustion, nobody ever asks;

Well was it a wet or a dry heat exhaustion?

Dry heat. You want a dry heat? Put your head in your oven for a half hour and see how that feels.

But what made AZ tolerable was the fact that every building had air conditioning blasting at gale force levels. So on a day full of classes, I would walk outside where the temperature was 108 and then walk into a room where the temperature was like ... 8.

And despite how hot it got out there, sometimes I kind of miss Arizona. maybe it's the reliability of the AZ air conditioning. or it could be that even thought it got up to a million degrees out there... it never smelled like pee.

Yea, maybe that's it.

The Airport and the Painting

I fell in love with this painting at the San Telmo market in Buenos Aires. It was fantastic, very much for me, and I was delighted I was able to talk the guy down from 500 to 400 pesos. My only concern was that I would have some challenges getting it home.
Challenges turned out to be an understatement.
The tough thing about backpacking in a foreign country, or anywhere for that manner, is carrying 40 pounds of your own stuff on your back wherever you go. I am lucky enough to have a pretty nice backpack so getting around isn’t too cumbersome. But it has a lot of straps and attachments that hang off.
So I have an oversized duffle bag with a shoulder strap that I stuff it in before I check it in when I am getting on planes. It helps keeps the bag protected and in good shape.
When I was leaving Buenos Aires for the last time I had scheduled a cab to the airport so I figured I would put it in the duffle ahead of time as I would just be going from the curb to check in.
I lost count of how many miscalculations I made on this trip.
I get to the airport and at curbside check in there is a machine that wraps your suitcase in cellophane a bunch of times to ensure it stays sealed under the plane and no one has gone into it. They charge about 10 dollars for this.
I figured this would be a great way to protect my painting. I ask the man to wrap my painting, and while this was probably the first time this man had ever done such a task, or possibly used his arms (he looked like a Double Dare contestant in the middle of some sort of awful physical challenge) we manage to bundle up my painting nicely.
I go inside and get on a very short line to check in. I am excited about this. All I have is my bag to check in, my small backpack to carry on, and my painting which is about 20 by 30 inches. I was somewhat concerned about it fitting in the overhead compartment.
So I checked with one of the airline reps who once again (all together now) did not speak English. So I am trying to ask him if it will fit on the plane, but this has brought a whole new line of questioning about.
He wants to know if I have a receipt for the painting. Of course I don’t because I bought it at a market. He says I can’t get on the plane without a special something or other from an office at the very end of check in. I calmly accept it and with my 40 pound duffle bag slung over my shoulder and my painting delicately in hand, walk down to where I thought he pointed.

After 10 minutes on the wrong line the gentleman at this particular window is very accommodating ands starts giving me people’s names to contact and office doors to knock on. I decide to just go back to my guy at check in, plead ignorance and frustration and try my chances.
Poor decision.
I schlep my 40 pound bag back to the check in desk where the guy insists I get the documentation I need. My previously unflappable cool has given way to a very obvious frustration which I am sure doesn’t bother him because he doesn’t really speak English which shouldn’t even bother me because I am in ArgenFrigginTina.
Finally he learns that he needs to tell me to go to the police depot, which is located 1000 yards past the wrong place I went to last time, in baggage claim inside of a suitcase, under a bridge, guarded by a fleet of magical unicorn-riding trolls.
Well, it might as well have been anyway.
So back I go carrying pack over my shoulder like I’m a lost mortician hauling a dead body to the incinerator.
I finally find a man who asks me if I have a painting, I tell him yes. He gives me an acknowledging nod and shows me into a room. When I get into that room 4 men in uniforms (with no guns or any other type of official thing on them) tell me I am in the wrong room.
So I walk out and the same man who told me to go in sees me, walks me back in, tells the 4 guys in uniform what I am doing. They nod their heads that I am, in fact, in the correct room.
So another non-English speaking man comes out and asks me where I bought my painting. I tell him. He asks for my receipt, I tell him I don’t have one. He then says I can’t take the painting on the plane.
As though this guy was the last line of defense against art thieves in Argentina. Surely no thief would try to get on a plane without a receipt for his stolen painting! In hindsight I am pretty sure I could have written “Rich bought this…no seriously, he did” on a piece of paper and it would have sufficed.
The guy insists I can not leave the country with my painting.
He was acting like I was standing there with a dead Alpaca full of exotic birds and needle drugs. It was a damn painting. I bought it at the market. How does this not suffice?!
Finally he brings in an English speaking woman who knows I am about to start kicking people, and calmly explains that if I undo the 10 dollar wrapping job I have on my painting and show it to the man, AS A FAVOR (they really emphasized that) they will let me take it with me.
But they really wanted me to know that this was only a favor.
A favor really? Ok well I’ll make sure the next time this turd waffle is trying to leave America with something he rightfully owns, I’ll do him the favor and let him. What the hell?
He hands me a box cutter so I can undo the protective wrapping on my painting. Immediately I realize these employees are not cut of the finest cloth because they know I am visibly pissed, yet they still decided to hand me a weapon.
So it takes me 5 minutes to undo the green cellophane around my painting and when I finally show it to them, I swear to you, and I can’t prove that they said this;
“Oh yea that is nice.”
”Yea it’s beautiful.”
But I can’t prove that.
They say it’s ok that I can rewrap it and the man will walk me over to check in to vouch for me, because apparently we are now BFFs.
So I rewrap it, which is kind of like trying to rewrap your Christmas presents after you’ve already torn off the paper. In fact when I finish trying to put it back together, it looks like it was wrapped by a 5 year old.
I walk all the way back to check in desk and walk to the front of the line, because I am NOT about to wait on that crap again. And if somebody had challenged me about it, it would have been sad, but I would jammed my painting in their eye.
My new friend says my painting is NOT in fact stolen, and belongs to me.
As though if I had shown him Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” and pinky promised I had bought it at the market, he would have cleared this as well.
Idiots.
I eventually made it through security but I was so frazzled I wanted to just sit down on the floor of duty free and crack open a bottle of Blue Label. But I didn’t. I came home, and so did my painting, undamaged, and in tact.
It now hangs happily above my bar. Which is appropriate, because I need a drink every time I think of what it took to get that painting home.



The Iceland Cometh

One of the things Buenos Aires also had to offer was a man from Iceland named Ragna. When I met Ragna the first night he was nice enough for about 40 minutes. Then he started talking more... a lot more. So much more that I took to staring straight up into the sky to avoid participating in the conversation.
One hopes to meet cool interesting friendly travelers on the roof of a hostel, not people who lecture about how great Obama is and the quality of Bush's decisions and the world economy and the Icelandic sunset schedule and life in Oregon and how to bargain and blah blah blah.
I came close to leaping off the roof, but instead 4 of us, including Ragna went to dinner. Thank god I had somebody else to talk to.
The next night we are all sitting on the roof drinking chatting and eating empanadas at midnight when we decide its time to go out, because people don’t leave until after midnight. So a couple of Americans, Ragna from Iceland, a Polish chick, and an Israeli dude head out for some drinks. We are enjoying ourselves when Ragna starts getting a little strange.
He orders a Cubra Libra (because apparently its 1988) and then sends it back. He orders another and then sends that one back. I say something like, ¨Man I guess they make bad drinks here huh? ¨
What Ragna must have heard was,
¨I HATE YOUR COUNTRY AND BJORK AND ALL ELSE IT PRODUCES! ¨
Ragna starts saying to me, ¨Do you have a problem with that? Do you? Do you have a problem with me?¨
I do a double take with another American to see if Ragna is kidding but we are both not sure. It happens again and I kind of joke it off because I’m not sure what is going on.
We finally get our bill and he asks me if I want to pay for his drinks as a sign of friendship. I'm not sure what kind of crazy America-Iceland treaty exists in his world but the last thing I want to buy for this maniac is a drink. I attempt to politely decline which seems to put him off.
He then casually says, ¨Oh its nothing, I’m on coke.¨
WHAT?
Now my knowledge of drugs is equal to my knowledge of Spanish but ít didn’t look like he was on coke. Or so I thought. As it turns out, apparently as we were sitting at our table drinking Ragna had been not so discreetly giving me the finger the whole time, which I didn’t notice. So we all leave to go to another bar, and the other American and I hang back and just let Ragna and crew keep walking off into the night.
Peace out.
So the 4 of us are at a bar now where Poland and Israel are working on their international relations and the other American who speaks Spanish is sitting in a director’s type chair talking to some Argentinean women. I sit down next to him and since I don’t speak Spanish I just sit there like I’m Regis Philbin´s crappy fill in co-host.
We got home at 6 in the morning.

Fast forward to my last morning in Uruguay. I flee on another grey morning. I go through customs where the nice people ask me questions that go like this.
"Habla Espanol?"
"No"
"None?"
I'm not sure if they were expecting me to burst into Spanish here and say something like, "AHH Just kidding. I love messing around with South American customs officials. I really got you guys huh?"
I take the 3 hour boat back to Buenos Aires and check back into the same hostel. It is amazing how some hostels become these ever evolving families of people coming and going. I slide right back into the sway of things. Right away I make sure I book tickets to 2 events.
The first event is a Tango show. Tango has its roots in Buenos Aires when it was first danced by the immigrants, and there being not enough women it was danced man on man. (Can you imagine how different Dancing with the Stars would be if THAT didn't change.)
I go with a bunch of other folks from the hostel to a very dodgy neighborhood called Boca. The show is very Disney, there are characters that walk around, and even a town drunk. Though considering the show went on for close to 3 hours I began to wonder if he was in fact "acting."
We have a decent dinner where a tango couple come around and take pictures with people. One of the guys at my table refuses to take a picture with the tango woman. I can understand though. I too find it offensive when strange exotically dressed women who don't speak my language ask to take a picture with me while throwing their leg around me like a sash. Yea, what a turn off.
There is something about me folks. At large group gatherings there is something about me that makes the players in these events search the crowd, find my goofy face and pull me out to play along. It happened with the Big Foot show in Orlando, the Hula Dancers in Hawaii, and of course the Tango Show in Bs As.
So I get pulled out onto the floor to dance tango with this woman who keeps screaming "PASSION" at me and while she is leading I am trying desperately to keep up. She then jumps into my arms and has me spin her around while screaming, “DO YOU WANT TO BE MY BOYFRIEND?”
I was pretty sure I was going to get dizzy and fall down or accidentally drop her. Luckily I survived and so did she.
The next day I went to a traditional Gaucho ranch. These were the original lonely cowboys of Argentina. The place has horse rides, a huge Asado and a little show.
I had been really interested to go to this and kept asking the people at my hostel front desk to look up shows for me. But I kept mixing up the word for Gaucho Ranch with the word for Parking Lot. So I kept saying to the desk
"Can you book me a reservation for the parking lot? I really want to ride horses around the parking lot."
You can imagine the look they gave me. This happened at least 4 times.
So I go to the Estancia and ride horse. My horse is friendly and doesn't really follow directions. There is a photographer walking around taking pictures of us on the horses. My horse refuses to pose and walks away so this woman is screaming at me.
"STOP STOP, STAY RIGHT THERE!"
Are you kidding me? I am not a centaur. Contrary to what you may think, this horse is not just an extension of me, it is its own animal and I do not speak horse. He just ignores her. I do too.
I also quickly realize why nobody wears shorts while riding a horse. If I could pick any word to describe riding a horse in shorts that word would be Chafe.

We have a massive lunch where I eat blood sausage. It tastes exactly how it sounds.

So we finally get out of there and head back to the hostel. I change my clothes and head to a 9 course tasting dinner with another American.

We had some ceviche, some goat cheese foam, some caramel apple and lots of other things but there are 2 that really kind of stuck out in my head.

The first was the lamb. It was 2 small pieces. I have only had lamb a handful of times. But this lamb was unlike any I had ever had. It was tender, and the texture was incredible. The taste was outrageously good. I was in love with it.

I tell the waiter it was my favorite. And he asks me if I know what part of the lamb it was, which I don' t. So he tells me.

It was tongue. Lamb tongue. And it was goooood.

The other dish that figured prominently in the meal was the octopus with tomato air. The tomato air was essentially bubbles that tasted not so awesome and the octopus well... I am not a squid or octopus fan.

And this octopus isn't even deep fried. I don't so much look at it I just pop a large pink piece into my mouth and start to chew... and chew... and chew. And then I look down in my bowl to actually examine my meal. And I see the suction cups. And I realize why I don't like it.

It tastes like I am eating a rubber bathtub mat. I feel like one should not eat anything found in a bathroom.
Luckily my last 2 meals in Buenos Aires were steak, and lots of it. Seeing as I am back in New York now I am already going through withdrawal. I crave to feel the feelings I felt in Buenos Aires.
Maybe I will go out and buy a steak... or maybe I'll just go chew on my bathtub mat.

You're A Gray

So my last night in Buenos Aires there was this big rumor about some drum show that was going on. I didn't know much about it except that everyone was talking about it like Jesus had risen from the dead, and taken up the bongo.

JESUS ON THE BONGO, ONE NIGHT ONLY.

So myself and the other 15 or so kids from my hostel leave like a heard of cattle and go to this drum show near... I don't know what. We wait on line for about an hour before we enter this outdoor arena with a huge orange iron staircase. We stand outside drinking over sized beers and waiting for the fun to start. Finally around 8 a group of 20 or so drummers come out stage and fire up the music.

It was awesome, bongos, and all manner of percussion being banged and hit on, heavy thumping beats, dancing, and laughing. Culture gyrating and mixing like a drum smoothie. It was awesome. We then went out to dinner afterwards where I waited an hour to get a plate of uncooked ham and cheese and salami. It was salty but tasty.

I did wake up in the middle of the night thinking that I REALLY wanted to return all of the food I purchased. However, I was able to hold on to my purchases.

The next morning I wake up and pack up my crap to get a cab to the port to take a boat to Uruguay. So I get up to the counter at the port and the man says, "Do you have your passport."

I literally scream, "FUCK!"

Counter guy then says to me, "You can't leave the country without your passport."

Oh really Columbus? Thanks for the hot tip, I was hoping I could get into Uruguay with a package of Duty Free Mentos and my charming smile, but I'll go back and get my passport.

Jerk.

It's 10 am and I'm trying to catch and 11:30 am boat. So I shlep my shit and hop back in a cab driven by an old white haired dude with awesome posture. Immediately this guy punches the gas and we are off and flying. He pauses at a red light to offer me a cough drop. I figure why not, so I take his mentholly goodness.

Light turns green and my driver starts weaving through Buenos Aires like a Geriatric Steve McQueen. It is awesome, he's honking, shifting, cutting people all off, and still able to say the rosary and kiss his beads as we pass the churches. He never loses his cool, he never changes his perfect posture. He even offers me a cigarette. Perhaps he thought maybe his driving might cause me to crave a nicotine addiction at this point in my life.

So we hit the hostel, I grab my passport from the safe, and make it back to the boat with plenty of time to spare.

I take the one hour boat to Uruguay. Go through customs, which is basically a guy who shrugs when I show him my passport. I try and store my bag at the bus station but nobody speaks English so I end up paying this woman at the cafeteria 3 dollars to keep it behind the counter.

I walk around Colonia which is a UNESCO world heritage site. To be honest I really don't know what that means, but I'm starting to think that just means that a place is really old with no other tourist options. I spend a couple hours, snap some pictures, have some pizza and Uruguayan wine which tastes like grape ocean water.

Mmm grape ocean water.

I take a 3 hour bus ride to Montevideo. Another white knuckler since I don't know how to convey that I don't know where we are going. All I can say is,

"At what time... Montevideo?"

So I get to the... I don't want to say 1 horse town, because I saw at least 12 different horse drawn carriages on the street in the 36 hours I spent there. So I go to dinner. I go to bed.

I try to sleep but between the Israeli kid who snores, and our bedroom door which doesn't... what's the word... close. Our balcony door doesn't close either. And because its a windy night the wind makes our bedroom door slam close like an angry pubescent teenager leaving the house on a friday night.

There is nothing more awesome than being woken up at 2 am by a slamming door to realize you have slat marks in your side from the worlds awfullest bunk bed and now you can't fall back asleep because of the snoring Israeli and you lost 3 of your earplugs so all you can do is jam one earplug so far into your head that whats left of your brain starts squeezing out the other side.

I wake up, go for a walk on a cloudy day, get a sunburn. Have lunch, eat ice cream. Finish a book, sit in a hammock, have a giant asado (grill) where I eat like 6 different kinds of meat... twice.

I hang out with an Irishman and a tool bag 20 year old from Washington. The Irishman buys a round of drinks, I buy a round of drinks. and then I realize why I never buy drinks for 20 year olds... they don't return the favor.

Toolbag.

I would like to tell you more but I am really not sure what happened to my one earplug so I must go and make sure I actually took it out... 2 days ago.

McGruff Goes to Argentina

Welcome to sunny Buenos Aires, where the culture is rich and the sidewalk is a frigging minefield. In all honesty it looks like the city suffered an anvil storm about 3 years ago because every 20 feet there is a MASSIVE hole in the sidewalk. They are not repaired so much as they are just kind of filled in with rocks, or not filled in at all. I trip every 8th step. I have twisted each ankle so many times I´m surprised my feet haven´t started facing different directions.

So I got into Bs As (that is how you abbreviate it) and caught a shuttle into town. Going through customs was a lot easier and I didn´t have to pay the 135 dollars I had to pay to get into Chile. I´m still not sure why they charge people that. It´s like they said, ¨Hey we don´t have too much cool stuff here how do we get more people to come? Charge them!¨

So I clear customs behind a man who when he was asked if he was from the United States he shivered like he had just put his thumb in a socket. Turns out he was from France. Yea I wouldn´t like it if somebody screwed it up for me either.

So I check into my hostel and go out for a stroll. I want a slice of Pizza and since Bs As has a tremendous amount of Italian culture (half the people here have at least 1 Italian relative) I find myself a place to have a slice. Good, tasty, delicious. I walk for a while and decide I want another. So I go to another place, and seeing as my Spanish is what it is... I accidentally order a whole pizza.

Now I watched the guy put it in the oven, but I couldn´t very well stop him at that point because all I would have been able to say was

¨No no, one pizza, ONE pizza.¨ So I just paid for it and ate most of the damn thing.

Bs As is beautiful and old and diverse and a little dirty. There are so many unique neighborhoods and places to eat and the shopping is incredible. So many neat and different stores. It is still probably 90 degrees out but I love it. I don´t know what the temperature is in New York and I don´t want to know.

So my second day I take a gorgeous stroll along their revamped Puerta Madero area which converted all of these old shipping building into trendy lofts and restaurants with a beautiful promenade.

I was needing a snack so I went and got an empanada. I couldn't really understand the menu, but they had something called Bife Suave, which I interpreted to mean Slow Beef... or Handsome Beef. Either way it sounded tasty. So I ordered my Handsome Beef Empanada and it was good.

I then went and found an ice cream place and ordered a cone. For you Spanish speakers out there you might know that the word for ice cream cone and the word cucaracha are damn close. I am just glad I got what I intended.


The woman then proceeded to scoop and pry a pile of ice cream the size of a bean bag chair out of the freezer. I worried that perhaps I had accidentally ordered 10 ice cream cones. It took her no less than 5 minutes to get the chair sized scoop out, but I did not complain.

I then took a 4 hour bike ride around the older parts of the city really getting a feel for the city, the immigrant neighborhoods, the new yuppy buildings etc. The city has a lot to offer.

This is where I was about to tell you a story about something that happened over 2 days but for safety reasons I will jump ahead in my story and skip this part for now. You will understand later.

The next morning I go to the San Telmo market which is full of antiques and art and local creations, lots of locals, lots of tourists, lots of walking really close to people. Places like that always make me a little concerned.


I´m always very cautious, I wear a money belt, don´t carry a wallet and keep my head on the swivel. So I´m walking enjoying soaking it up when I feel a woman walk uncomfortably close to me, and my spider sense starts tingling. I keep my eye on her and she just looks shifty. She´s too tan to be a tourist, her backpack is conspicuously empty, also meaning she´s not a tourist, and she wasn´t with friends.

So I don´t think of it until I see her again, 5 feet away from me, standing next to some German couple and she is definitely eyeing his wallet. She moves in close behind him and turns to look around. That´s when I hit her with the crook eye and she froze and tried to play it cool.


But I just kept staring at her. She stood there looking uncomfortable. I warned the German couple but realized I couldn´t just follow this chick all day. I´m not batman, I´m not polizia. And I can´t report her for being sketchy. I don´t know how to say that in Spanish. Hell if people went to jail for being sketchy I´d be serving a life sentence right now.

So I just walked away knowing that chick was probably going to get someones wallet, but like Smokey the Bear says, ¨Only YOU can prevent creepy locals from picking pockets in the markets of Argentina while you´re on vacation.¨


I was wearing my Tampa Bay Devil Rays hat this day (Thanks Grandpa) and it had provoked a couple of conversations. While at the market, a woman approached me and asked me if I spoke English (which I do) and then asked me if I was from Tampa.

Long story short she takes a picture of me and her husband and says;

¨Tell your grandpa that you met someone in Argentina who works for the Devil Rays... my husband´s the General Manager.¨

Unbelievable.

So I walked around a bunch more, bought some things, and looked over more stuff as the San Telmo market devolved into stinky hippies selling stuff they made and burning incense. I walked over to the wealthy Recoletta neighborhood and another market.

At this point I was starving so I sat down at an outdoor cafe to have lunch at like 5pm. Every meal I have had I have either been way too early or way too late for, as much as I try to blend in with the locals I cant eat dinner at midnight, go to bed at 2, and be ready for lunch at noon.

So I sit down and in my fake Spanish order something I thought looked good. My waiter, a dead ringer for Daddy Warbucks, comes over and when I tell him what I want says a bunch of stuff in Spanish and turns to a different page in the menu.

I guess he didn´t want me to have what I ordered.

So I look on the page he turned to and point to something fairly priced that says Especial in front of it. Especial? Well that must be good! He seems delighted by my choice. He brings me my half bottle of wine (which is something very prevalent down here, its way better than just one glass) and gets my setting all put together.

Then I understand why he smiled.

He brings me out what appears to be a fully grown adult cow. And I realize, I ordered the steak for 2. It doesn´t even come on a plate, its comes on a miniature grill because they want to keep it warm as I eat my 437 ounces of beef. Well, when in Buenos Aires...

I am no longer capable of burping, I try to burp but all I can do is... well... Moo.

I saw the Cemetaria Recoletta which is home to the richest families in Buenos Aires. These massive mausoleums are unreal. It is like a tiny walled-in city, but instead of every one living in massive homes, they live in these massive stone closets, and instead of living, they are dead.

Its kind of weird to catch yourself leaning against one and then go, OH MY GOD I AM LEANING ON A DEAD PERSONS HOUSE.

I saw Evita's grave. Didn´t take a picture because it seemed too creepy.


The next day I went to the Zoo, did shopping in SoHo (they have one too) and had another salad to combat my beef-itis.

There is much more to tell but I am tired, I have to prepare myself for a big day of fighting crime and ordering 2 meals at a time. Ciao Ciao.

Foosbeach

One of the problems with not knowing Spanish in a Spanish speaking country is transportation. Riding the metro is easy enough. Especially when its as beautiful as it is in Santiago. Taking a three hour bus ride to the coast however, is another story.

I was on my way to Quintero for a couple days at the ocean. I went to the bus station and bought a ticket for what was called the ´Direto¨. I thought that meant it would go directly to the beach and I could just get out there.
No, apparently direto means that the bus will pick up every single person on the highway with their thumb out, and make tons of stops in random towns. The whole trip was a white knuckle adventure for me because I didn´t know what the destination looked like and more and more people were getting off the bus. Finally at the last stop there were just 3 people left when we pulled up to a dirt field where people were riding horses, luckily my stop was the next one.

So I get out, take a taxi to the beach. The taxi, like every single taxi I have been in since I started my trip, was of course a Toyota Yaris. (You could start a clever side business Sophie) I get to the beach and am greeted by a lovely German girl who works at the hostel which is just a cute pair of houses steps from the beach.
So I drop my stuff, slather on a ton of sun tan lotion and go for a stroll along a dark sanded beach. Of course I put the lotion on myself so I couldn´t reach every spot. So there is a very red bat-shaped rhombus in the middle of my back now. Perhaps I should have gone against my instincts and said to Angie ¨Hey we´ve just met, but hows about you rub some lotion all over me?¨ Yea perhaps so.

The first night a bunch of people from all over checked in and we had a pirate party. Most of you know I do not need a reason to act ridiculous. Drinking in itself is enough of a reason. So as you can imagine, dressing as a pirate while drinking the local favorite Pisco, did nothing to subdue me. If anything it added to the nonsense because I was able to buy an eye patch in town. This was only kind of cool, because while I got to end every sentence with ¨ARRRR¨ I also kept walking into shit.

So by the time 1 am came, and we´d had some drinks, and I was trying to shoot pool, while wearing an eye patch... well, let´s just say we never finished that game.

The next morning I tried surfing in an ocean with an extremely powerful undertow. Our surf instructor was face down on the beach when we met him. He also didn´t speak English. He was very friendly though and I had a Mexican friend with me who helped translate. That however did not enable me to do any real surfing.
I did a lot of paddling, a bit of flailing, and some partial drowning. And then my cord broke and my surf board floated away. So I watched as the locals on the beach laughed at the skinny pale kid trying to run after his surf board which was moving way faster than him. It was around this point that I stepped on a sharp sea creature... or a steak knife... it really could have been either one. So I pretty much lost at surfing

We then went into town, got some groceries so our Mexican friend could cook us a feast. When we got back we played paddle ball and volleyball. I lost at volleyball as well. So I had pretty much lost at every activity I had played. So for that nights Mexican feast (we all dressed as banditos) we headed down to the bar and I tried to redeem myself at pool. Once again I lost.
All of a sudden someone from the hostel comes up to me and tells me these two Chilenos want to play me in Foosball or what they call, ¨TAKKA TAKKA¨ (say it out loud, its fun).

I honestly thought I was about to get hustled. Like this was some sort of a scam. Hey, get the gringo with the bat-shaped rhombus on his back to play Foosball, we´ll take him for every peso he has. I was even more skeptical when before I event agreed to play these kids are betting. They wanted me and the Australian kid who I´d been paired up with to bet them beers. So I said OK.

It is at this point that I must reference my senior year in college when we had a Foosball table in our house. This is one activity I do not suck at. Those Chilenos bought us some beers after a rousing game which we won 5 to 1, then they won the second game, but the third game we claimed in the name of of the pale folk! They had raised the stakes at this point so we were playing for empanadas! We felt bad taking their money though, so we just kept their pride. It felt good.
I woke up the next morning with a considerable amount of mosquito bites on my feet and hands and arms. There is one on my finger so big that it looks like I am wearing a flesh colored engagement ring.
Not cool.
Hopefully I don´t get yellow fever, but there´s really no guarantees in life.
I jumped into town around noon to go back to Santiago and got right on a bus which said ¨Direto¨ and this bus stopped at every street for about an hour. I was nervous I would never make it back to Santiago. Also when I got on the bus the driver handed me a tiny key which I said wasn´t mine, then he said something which I pretended meant it was for the bathroom. So I kept it.
As you can imagine my Spanish is still nonexistent. I only know 2 phrases, and ¨Please don´t molest me¨ has turned out to be only slightly more useful than ¨My wife is an engineer.¨
So I get back to Santiago, crash for the night, go to the airport the next morning and fly to Buenos Aires super early. I will tell you about Buenos Aires as soon as my rhombus heals.

JFK to Nowhere

Normally when someone goes on an exotic international adventure they start with some crazy tale of how they almost didn´t make it.

My tale will be no different.

My flight left on Friday at 10 am from JFK airport... or so I thought. Turns out I was leaving from LaGuardia... which I didn´t realize until I was already at JFK. So clad in my beachwear I ran outside (where the temperature was 8) to wait for a bus that didn´t come, got in a taxi, and while suffering the worst case of hypertension of my life, made it to LaGuardia airport to catch my flight to Atlanta, where I hung out for 2 hours before catching my flight to Peru, which left late, leaving me 15 minutes to get to my gate to catch my flight to Santiago.
As we are getting off the plane the flight attendant gets on and goes, ¨There are 2 people going to Santiago Chile, Joe shmo and Richard...¨

Dramatic pause

¨Boomka.¨
Hey that´s me! So me and my special attendant SPRINT through the Lima airport to catch my plane... and sit on it for 45 minutes before it took off... without my luggage.
Yea my bag didn´t make it until about 12 hours after I did. Oh well.

So I have spent the last 3 days in sunny Santiago (where it is about 90). It is somewhat blended city of no real skyline and an atrocious poo colored reservoir that runs through the middle. As well as an ungodly amount of large, depressing looking dogs who just lay in the middle of the sidewalk like they just got laid off. And don´t say awww because most of them look like they got the mange.

But despite all this I was excited to get out into the city and hone my Spanish skills.
I probably should have ACQUIRED some Spanish skills first because nobody in this city speaks English. My communication has been reduced to a series of awkward shrugs, confused pointing, and caveman like grunting. It´s actually kind of embarrassing that I can´t communicate better. This is by far the least English speaking country I have ever come across. I wouldn´t say this is a beautiful city necessarily but it is interesting.

My first night the hostel had an all meat barbq on the roof and I ate so much meat I expect to pass a fully formed cheesesteak at some point in the near future. I met some Aussies and some Brits and we went out and drank some Cristal. Not the champagne mind you, but the local beer. That and Escudo, both very drinkable. We got home from our dance party at around 3 am and I slept til almost noon, which is fine, because nothing really happens in this city until then.
I spent the next day at the city´s museums. I went to a Chilean History museum which essentially said this on every exhibit;

¨The indigenous people did this. Isn´t it interesting? Yea we don´t know why they did that.¨ 

Apparently early Chileans snorted a lot of drugs but nobody knows how they got them.

I checked out the modern art museum which had an entire floor dedicated to Chilean Comics... since I don´t really speak Spanish the whole thing was pretty much wasted on me. I also checked out the home of poet Pablo Neruda, where my guide was like a pint size version of the latter half of Cheech and Chong. His moustache was not to be reckoned with but he was by far one of the coolest people I have ever encountered and the tour was all the more awesome because of him.

I had a great lunch of Salad (I figured I could use the roughage after my all meat binge) and a glass of fresh strawberry juice. Delightful. I have so far avoided the local custom of a Hot Dog loaded with Mustard, Ketchup, and Avocado.

Oh my god I almost threw up just typing that.

Anyway today myself and some good kids from MIT went wine tasting at 2 different vineyards. It was way out of the way, and thank god I was with them because the power of 5 people not knowing Spanish was way better than my own incompetence. We squeezed 5 people into a cab several times, including on the way to a restaurant our cab driver did not recognize so he kept stopping and asking strangers on the street where it was eliciting the exact same reaction every time. They would extend their arm all the way as though they were pointing to the moon and presumably tell him to just keep going.

It ended up being worth it because my bacon wrapped steak, which was roughly the size of a duffel bag, was awesome. The vineyards were beautiful, decent wines, but I didn´t find any I wanted to take with.

Tomorrow morning I will abandon this city for the coast, 2 and a half days at Quintero to just chill and read and do squat. I cannot wait.

But before I go, my first horrible experience of the trip.

I did not sleep very well last night. Well I did from about 12:30 until 3:30 when I awoke with a shock to the awful sound of a family of sea lions being slaughtered. No no, no sea lions in my room. It was just the chubby German in the bunk across from mine wheezing and snoring like he was running some kind of comatose marathon.

At first I thought he had managed to accidentally slip his closed fist into his mouth and was trying to breathe around it. Then I was almost positive his entire arm had become lodged in his esophagus. This was excessive sleep apnea. Every snore got louder and louder until I was sure he was either going to wake up, or choke.

I have to admit I was sitting there praying for choke. But nothing happened it just got louder and louder. I wanted to throw something at him, or roll him over... or beat him to death, regretfully I did nothing. And so I spent a considerable amount of time listening to what evolved into him breathing through a mouthful of wet spaghetti. Hands down the most awful snoring I have ever heard. God help him if he is still there tonight.

To the Beach!

Taking Shots

How much would you pay somebody to stab you?
Probably nothing right? If anything you would probably ask to be compensated for being stabbed. And you most certainly would not go out of your way to be stabbed. You’d probably avoid it at all costs.
Normally I would be like you. But I recently paid 290 dollars to be stabbed. Not once, but FOUR times. Twice in each arm, by my doctor. It was almost a deal at 75 bucks a stab.
I leave this Friday for South America. I’m taking a two week vacation to Chile, Argentina, and possibly Uruguay. Apparently South America has diseases and stuff that I need to be protected against. Of all the countries I’ve visited before, these are the only ones I’ve been vaccinated for prior to traveling.
I think it was probably a good idea considering there was a 4 year stretch of my life where I got Mononucleosis, Strep, and Shingles in rapid succession… and that was just in college! If you add my time in Spain, Turkey, and Australia to the list you can include Bed Bugs, Salmonella, and some kind of weird rash.
So I’m pretty determined to ward off disease on this trip.
I went to my appointment with my nice, but slightly socially awkward doctor. He asks me where I’m going and types the names of the countries into his computer database.
“Ok Hepatitis A, you’ll need. And Hepatitis B. And let’s see here, Tetanus booster. And Yellow Fever. You’re going to Buenos Aires and where else? You’re not going to any of the…” and he rattles off the names of like 5 different regions of Argentina. And because I haven’t done as much research as I should have, I haven’t ever heard of any of them. I half lie and half guess that I won’t be going to those regions.
“Oh yea, umm, no just going to hang out around Buenos Aires,” I say, completely lying to my doctor.
Then doctor says “And here’s the good news…”
At this point he chuckles but then kind of catches himself realizing he might have said the wrong thing.
“Well not really good news, but, um, none of these are covered by insurance.”
Of course not. (Smooth delivery on the joke by the way Doc) Why the hell would yellow fever be covered by insurance? I suppose if insurance were around during the renaissance period, insurance companies would have been like, “Oh yea the Black Death, oooo we don’t cover that. Not deadly enough.”
How much do they cost Doc?
“Their all around 100 dollars each.”
My butt cheeks instantly clench and my heart rate goes into over drive. Shit. I’m going to go broke before I even get to South America.
“What was that third country you are going to?”
Now I’m in full on panic mode. I can’t afford any more shots! I’m being inoculated against half the diseases in South America, could I really need any more? Do I want any more?
“Oh,” I say, “it’s Uruguay, but I wasn’t even really set on going there, I was just going to go for a day and if I need more shots I’ll just skip it,” once again straight up lying to my doctor.
My heart is out of control and I contemplate the consequences. I made it through 10 days of Montezuma’s revenge in the Mediterranean, how bad can Typhoid fever be? I mean really, do I even know anybody who has ever had Typhoid? I’m sure if it was something to worry about I would have heard more stories.
If I go to Uruguay or anywhere else, I just won’t eat or touch anything. I’ll Purel the hell out of everything before I touch it. I won’t eat any fruit, and I promise not to hold or lick any frogs.
But luckily I don’t need anymore shots. So we go into the stabbing room and I take off my shirt, and doctor comes in with 4 different viles.
Really doctor? You can’t mix a couple of those together like a Hepatitis smoothie or something? Do you really have to shove 4 different needles in my arms? He picks up one vile looks at it and says, “Oh this ones not right.” And he leaves to go get the correct bottle.
My heart, again, goes wild.
He comes back in with the correct vile, “It was on the wrong shelf, they had it on the wrong shelf.”
Well it’s a good thing you read the label doctor because if you had injected me with Avian Chicken Mutaba and I had died I don’t think the “Wrong Shelf Defense” would have worked in a court of law.
Then he asks me which arm I want to hurt more?
Oh this one doctor, please, give me pain here! I opt for 2 in each arm, so I have my pain equally distributed and won’t have to walk around the office like Quasimodo with one arm hanging dead at my side.
He gives me that awkward laugh again before saying, “Um, ha-ha, you’re going to be in pain tomorrow.”
I hate you. Do you know that doctor?
So he stabs me once, twice, puts a band aid on. Walks around to the other side, stabs me once, twice, and puts a band aid on. He then gives me a yellow card with some epileptic scribbling on it and tells me not to lose it otherwise, “They won’t let you back into the country.”
Thanks doctor. Good piece of info there. You’d think that would have been included in a pamphlet he gave me, and not just a side note like, “don’t forget your vitamins.”
The rest of the evening the pain in my arms starts to come on, the soreness is setting in. I go to sleep and hope for the best.
By the time I wake up the next morning it feels like a gang of monkeys had been pounding on my arms throughout the night and I had somehow managed to sleep through it.
The pain is numbing. If I don’t move my arms it’s almost bearable. But if I try to move my elbows even close to parallel the pain in my arms almost bring tears to my eyes. I considered wearing the same outfit for three days straight just so I wouldn’t have to lift my arms above my head to take off my sweater.
The pain feels like somebody is trying to pull my arm bones out through my shoulders without making an incision.
Sitting, standing, leaning, and walking are all painful. The only position that seems appealing to me is “crumpled heap.”
I consider drugs, but don’t want to numb myself so that I accidentally cause more damage. I just want the pain to go away as soon as possible.
The knowledge that I did this to myself doesn’t really make it any better, nor does thinking about what would have happened had I forgotten to go to the doctor before I left.
Really I won’t know if these shots were worth it until I come back to America disease free. But if I come back with Typhoid, I’ll be sure to let you know if it was worth it.