How Not to Island

Friday, May 31, 2019 | 0 Comment(s)

It was one of the most amazing snorkels I’d been on.  
It is Christmas Day, and there isn’t a person in sight. My wife and I enter the placid Caribbean waters like a secret, our only company silence and stillness. The visibility is crystal clear, and the ocean is alive. My wife and I work our way along the left side of the cove, searching for unexpected beauty and octopuses’ dens. As a matter of fact, when searching for octopuses, the tell tale sign to look for is a small pile of shiny white discarded mollusk shells, most often clams, just outside any cave-like opening or overhang. Often you have to dive down to even have a chance of spotting an hourglass shaped eye peering out from behind the defense of a large tentacle, blocking the entrance. On the other hand, if you are looking for unexpected beauty, I have less advice. Be still and try to find a calm. Admittedly that is more or less good advice for finding unexpected beauty anywhere. 
Snorkeling, for me, is extremely meditative. While I don’t ignore my swimming buddy or anything, with my head submerged, I’m tethered tightly to my present. And in this case the present is an underwater seascapade, brimming with bolting colors and oddly shaped marine life. Being in that present for any amount of time is a real gift in a world of computers, cellphones, and the internet. Getting to snorkel alone, sans noisy tourist groups, is a particular treat.
I see the barrel chest of a massive barracuda, at least 5 feet long, gliding between my wife and I just as I am made aware of the even larger barrel of a kayak, stopping short just a few feet from where we were floating. As I took my face out of the water to alert Erin to the massive sea beast passing through, I instead hear, “Oh Hello, HI!” 
This barracuda is legitimately 5 feet long and thick, so initially I ignore the unexpected greeting in order to get my wife’s attention, to ensure she doesn’t miss this unexpected beauty. 
“Hellllllo!!!!!,” croaks the woman sitting in the boat. She will not be ignored. 
The moment passes. The sea creature returns to wherever sea creatures retire when their moment of unexpected beauty is unexpectedly interrupted. 
“Hello,” I reply less enthusiastically, glancing up at a White woman in her late 60’s with a nasal, dare I say New England, accent. 
I should pause here to say that there are only two ways this interaction could go. The first, would be a friendly greeting as two vacationers happen to cross paths. Her insistence on getting my attention already eliminated situation #1. The second way, well, it goes like this.
“Is that your car?”  
I can’t tell if her voice is getting more comically nasal in reality, or if its just an automatic defense mechanism happening inside my ear canal.
We are, the three of us, on a tiny all-rock beach close to absolutely nothing. There is a driveway leading down to the “beach” area that has two cement parking slabs. There is only one car, ours, in sight. Her question is a bit like travelling miles into the Alaskan bush, finding a place that serves food, and then asking the server if he or she lives there. It is less an actual question, and more a convenient lead in to whatever line of questioning that person is chompin at the bit to follow. Did I mention that my wife and I are snorkeling alone? I don’t want to be talking to anyone, much less someone with the chutzpah to kayak out to start some bizarro conversation with strangers enjoying a moment of bliss. 

"You two look like you're up for a convo!" 
“Yah, that’s our car.” 
My answers will continue to get shorter and shorter, not because brevity is clarity, but because I take offence to this entire interaction. I mean, I’m kicking my feet to stay upright over here. That’s not exactly how I planned on enjoying myself out on the water. But, I’m kind.
“Your license plate says, “DAYENU”, that’s Hebrew, are you Jewish?” 
When she says the word “Jewish” I feel a desperate need to submerge my face back down into the saltwater – with or without my snorkel. I don’t auto-hate religion, but I know what viral strain of religion she’s about to effluence, and I want to be submerged in preparation. 
“Yes,” I say.” 
“We’re Jewish too. My husband and I. We like to come down during Christmas cause it’s quiet.”
She doesn’t sense the irony.
She continues, “So you must have a house down here . . . “ She wants me to fill in all her nosey blanks. Satisfy her curiosity as she is, apparently, the keeper of this tiny bay. 
“Yes,” I say, a few bays over.”
“Oh, wonderful wonderful, we have a house down here as well, right over there.” 
She says the word wonderful twice, but neither time do I feel she is using the word correctly. It was more like a vocal tick that came out of her mouth as her mind was busy doing social comparisons and math regarding our house and car, versus whatever crazy she uses to measure worth.
Her house was down close to the water on the opposite side of the bay. That actually made sense, in that I still had no idea where this woman had come from. Now, with her house identified, I realize that she must have seen us snorkeling from her house, then decided to get in her kayak to come say hi/investigate. In my humble opinion, that’s absolutely deranged and shows that appropriate boundaries were not something this women brought with her down from New England.
“It’s funny (another word that I feel certain she has misused), I’ve never seen your car. You must have bought recently?” She is continuing this conversation AT me. 
This question is a trap surrounded on all sides by delusion. First, she is acting as if she is a local. She is presupposing that since she has regularly vacationed down on the island for many years, that she is a permanent fixture, in the mix with the local community. She has made a sub-category in her mind where she is a “kinda-local.” This is a little White lie she tells herself in order to feel less guilt for owning a vacation house on someone else’s island. I know this guilt. I deal with it way differently. Second, she has now begun her attempt to feel superior to me and Erin, in regards to our status on the island. I’ve found this to be a pretty common social feature of wealthy people, while being a total waste of time and energy. And it’s particularly inappropriate in regards to an island that no people present have any real native social currency.
“We’ve been coming down for about 30 years now,” I reply. I’m both not giving in to her nonsense, nor continuing this full on loony-bin of a conversation that, I remind you, is taking place atop the water in the middle of our picturesque morning snorkel. 
I’m now annoyed, borderline angry, and this woman is showing no signs of slowing down. She’s telling me that she’s been coming down that long too (who cares). I’m thinking maybe her own family won’t talk to her, I don’t know. But our Lady of the Bay is significantly cock-blocking our special snorkel together, and I start suspecting she’s going to pull bagels and cream cheese out of her kayak’s back hatch, and start a whole Coffee Talk episode with us. "I’ll give you a topic, St. John is neither a saint nor a john. Discuss."
My wife has taken over the conversation, as she realizes I’m steaming. Lady of the Bay is here to dish, and no amount of polite hinting will end her quest for more and more of our attention. 

The Lady of the Bay tried chatting up this duck as well. 
And then, in a moment of anger, liberation, and absolutely zero frontal lobe activation I say, clear and loud, “Well, OK then, have a Merry Christmas!!!,” and begin to reapply my mask. 

I’m Jewish!,” she immediately responds offended, “We JUST talked about that!”

I have never previously in my life wished a stranger an absent-minded Merry Christmas. Ever. This was the first time. And I swear I didn’t say it with malice in my heart. I really didn’t. If “seeing red” is a thing, then that was my brain state when the words escaped. And, make no mistake, they were words of escape. They were my best chance to continue my snorkel unmolested. But. At the same time. I have written extennnnnnnnnnnnnsively about how much I hate Christmas’s all encompassing mix of church, state, and capitalism. How it is has become the “flesh” colored crayon of religious holidays. The fact that I dropped a C-bomb on this woman so reactively is, to me, the funniest, most hilarious morsel of this whole tale. It is the most unexpected beauty found floating in the middle of a Caribbean Sea.

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