It’s ten past nine in the morning and my ass boasts the gridiron stripes of a beach chair.
I’m trying to read my book—a jaunty little beach read about AIDS in the 1980s—but I keep getting distracted.
I’m getting distracted by the beautiful Dominican women who are getting distracted by the Speedo-clad European men who are getting distracted by the unmistakable sounds of Pitbull drifting ashore from the island about a mile out.
Maybe I’m misremembering, but isn’t there a G-20 rule that Pitbull is only allowed to be played strictly between the hours of 11pm and 4am? You know, the timeframe when you can shamelessly acknowledge that you somehow know every word to every Pitbull lyric. Of which there are three.
I guess that rule doesn’t stand in the Dominican Republic, which is where I’m staying for the week with my husband and mother-in-law. It’s day three of our much-needed vacation, and we’ve each taken the morning to do our own thing. This was an unspoken arrangement necessitated by the former evening’s discontent slash disembowelment courtesy a dinner at the resort’s French restaurant. There should be a G-20 rule that Caribbean island hotel chefs don’t attempt French cuisine. Yes, the food here is total shit. I’m hungry and have been sustaining the past two days mostly on room service pineapple slices and the rogue mints strewn about the resort’s makeshift lounge areas. Their clear candy dishes double as ashtrays in the evening. Everything here is damp.
No matter. I still give this Caribbean island resort 10 out of 10 stars. Because it is, after all, a Caribbean island resort. But to be honest, trying to decide what to do with myself this lazy, self-directed morning has been a bit of a task for me. Three reasons:
- Like a forlorn beached whale, I feel uncomfortable and exposed, flown in here from the gaping wounds of the Midwest cornfields. This means I am a white lady that’s as white as the putty-colored sand I’m now trying to happily dig my toes into, and I have to apply SPF-100+ sunscreen every hour to avoid sun poisoning.
- Having fun, enjoying myself, playing, are not things that come easily to the bumper crop of workaholics from which fate has planted me like a rotten apple tree. In some twisted way of coping with the undercurrent of guilt I’m experiencing for enjoying myself on this vacation, I feel a bit relieved that the faux-French restaurant’s attempt at a lobster thermidor the night before tasted… like the putty-colored sand I’m now trying to happily dig my toes into.
- As stated, the book I brought to read on my super-duper-fun-time-vacation is making me fall in love with characters who will ultimately die terribly, tragically from AIDS.
Equally disheartening is my sudden awareness that the last time I was supposed to be lounging sublimely on a foreign beach, for my honeymoon, the book I had brought along to read was about a man with an addictive overeating habit searching for his lost, troubled son with an addictive heroin habit. It’s as if my subconscious tries to armor me with subtle reminders that where there is pleasure found, there is almost always potential-pain afoot. My subconscious is like an annoying shoulder-angel dressed completely inappropriately for this vacation in a turtleneck. I assume my shoulder-devil looks like Pitbull.
This spiraling train of thought is interrupted by a neon orange flying saucer careening toward my head. It plops a foot away from me, but not before I can pretend to give a socially-acceptable level of effort to stop its descent. Like a Dominican Republic Daria.
“Ay mate,” says the strapping hunk of meat strapped in Speedo now inches from my face. He bends down to retrieve his frisbee. “Beautiful day, no?!”
“Yes,” I say.
“I’m having such a wonderful time,” I lie.
American to Aussie (in a land we’re pretending is ours when it’s convenient) we nod good day. I watch him walk away, thankful for the opaque sunglasses that let me surreptitiously stare at his Speedo bum while I appear, to anyone watching us, to read.
How do I become someone like that? A person who has a healthy enough respect for pleasure and the spiritual fortitude to enjoy it that I remember to pack a toy while I dally in the breeze that threatens to carry that same toy to <<<shudder>>> the beach next door where children are allowed. Instead, all I find remarkable right now is the way the palm tree waving above my head looked like a bodacious, billowing burlesque feather from my balcony an hour ago. But now, upon closer inspection, looks and sounds like sun-beaten, hairspray-crusted, dusty, rattling window blinds.
I apply sunscreen for the fourth time. I mostly associate palm leaves with Catholic Sunday school and Lent. I feel like, when I trace my lifelife, that there are always people, scared adults mostly, along the road reminding me like soothsayers that there was some man somewhere, sometime who died for me to live this way—so modern and unencumbered. Jesus. Soldiers. AIDS victims. Starving monks. iPhone makers. Pineapple pickers. Mermen.
Meanwhile, a seagull suicide bombs into the ocean.
Pitbull croons undisturbed.
Four days later, my husband and I are back in Chicago. We’ve deposited my mother-in-law at her car to drive herself back to Indiana. She’s glowing like golden corn silk with her new tan. I’m glowing like gooey glue paste with no sunburn. This is considered a win by all involved.
And despite notions I’ve give you to the contrary, I’ve decided I had a ton of fun on my vacation actually! After all, on our last day the islanders let us sail a catamaran on the ocean unattended. No training or anything. Just a life jacket and a wave. They told us where to sit as we hoisted our privileged American asses on the totally-unmotorized plastic ship and pushed us off with giant, totally-unsarcastic grins.
COFFEE IS HOT warning label-era child that I am, I’m used to having to sign a waiver of liability to do anything except cut my own toenails. Our next of kin could have sued the resort had we gotten eaten by sharks at sea, corpses on a catamaran. But instead they just let us figure it out ourselves. It was fun… refreshing, even if the food wasn’t.
It’s snowing in Chicago, but we’re both still on this oh-catamaran-my-catamaran high. So much so that we put off unpacking our bags and checking our emails and decide to play a game instead. And not just any game. We’re going to play the Ten to Ten, a game devised by my husband, Justin. Justin is our two-person family’s self-appointed Minster of Fun, because clearly I’m no good at things like having a good time, unless you count when I am drunk, but I can’t do that anymore because I did drunk as dangerously and as extremely as I do sadness.
We started playing the Ten to Ten this summer. Here’s how it works.
From a miniature velvet drawstring bag, one of us draws a dice. There are three sets of dice in this pouch, and each set is a different color of a CTA line near our apartment. Depending on which color we draw—red, brown, or blue—we will take a CTA train from that colored line to a destination. Our destination is determined by the number we roll next using the drawn dice. Once we have our color and our number, we refer to a map. On this map, we have numbered stops on the red, brown, and blue lines that we don’t visit that often but would like to see more of.
The rules of the game are that we have to now travel to that destination on the CTA and spend 12 hours exploring around the area—from ten am to ten pm.
This game is the most fun thing I’ve done since I quit drinking. I think that’s why Justin created it. He knew that, without unchecked alcoholism to help quiet my brain’s chaotic queries of crucifixes and syphilis, civilians droned and babies caged, I didn’t know how to have fun in a healthy way. He knew that, in fact, I probably never knew how to have fun in a healthy way. Fun to me used to look like a blackout.
But today I am almost two and a half years dry. And today, destiny has handed us a good mood and selected us a Brown dice and rolled for us a 6. Off we cruise by bus, then traincar to the Wellington stop.
First, we stop by a place that calls itself a bread café and eat dinner over a tiny table for two. I take a picture of the lace curtains that have happy chickens sew onto them. We stop by a free art gallery we stumble across as we traverse the neighborhood’s sidewalks. We get ice cream. The beauty of the Ten to Ten is that if forces us (me) to get out of our heads (my head). Without having a specific destination or two to hit up before heading back home, we find things we never would have otherwise.
For example, by 8 p.m. this evening we’ve ventured South enough to be on DePaul’s campus. Passing a gymnasium, we see volleyball players warming up through the crack of the heavy gym door. A game is starting. Do we wanna watch? Why not. They have volleyballs to kill and we have to hours to do the same. We fork over five dollars and climb the staticky bleachers to a seat.
As we cheer for the Lady Blue Demons, of which for the next hour we are diehard fans, we remark that we never would have done this together had it not been for the Ten to Ten. We finish out our evening strolling the campus, poking fun at the college’s marketing slogans by night that I very well could have written in my job by day. When we finally get back home, I smile behind Justin’s back as he unlocks our apartment door. It’s a real smile, as if I’m pushing clueless foreigners out to adventure and sunset on a catamaran. In this moment I feel so genuinely happy and I’m thankful for this person. A person who manages to always show me happiness despite his own lifeline landlocked by distress and anxiety, fear and sleep apnea.
He is a game maker and a game changer.
My very own Mr. Worldwide with a conscience.
My Pitbull in a turtleneck.
And a Speedo if I ask nicely.