Other Vacationers

Some of the other vacationers
We had been here just long enough that we’d grown restless from eating in the hotel for breakfast and dinner, and last night made plans to try the bigger resort next door. Our hotel is a small, quiet, boutique affair on a broad crescent of Caribbean beach, where all the neighboring properties seem larger and louder. Some are teeming with tourists, their stew of folks from all over seasoned with drawling, boisterous, hard-drinking Americans, like that one who tells the waiter, “It don’t matter,” and then makes him explain every item on the menu, because she, “don’t want nothing fishy.”
At the encouragement of several members of hotel staff and cab drivers, we walked down to the community Thursday fish fry, in the park. Nothing is especially cheap on this island, and when we bought two bottles of local beer, it came in big, milky plastic cups and was $10. There were many food vendors, so I guessed the best was the one with the longest line. Even the grilled corn was going to be $3 an ear. We lined up and drank our beer.
“Hey, it’s Missouri!” shouts the big pink fellow ahead of us in line for conch fritters.
He elbows his wife. She’s distractedly humping the air, dancing to the reggaeton blasting from the stage. Her eyes don’t focus on his face, but she peels her lips away from her teeth in a grimace of recognition. Is that a drunken smile? “You know,” she continues, speaking upward into the direction of the other couple in line with them, “Those Canadians are traveling with their kids.”
“Who wants to pay for all that!?” hoots her husband with a vote of support.
She jabs him back with an elbow of agreement, missing his belly and tipping not imperceptibly off balance.
Our hotel is full of people traveling with their kids. There was the tiny gent at dinner the other night in tiny navy topsiders without socks and tiny pressed khakis and a tiny white polo shirt and tiny suspenders. I was really looking forward to seeing him entertain himself with a parent’s pocket full of tiny cars, or a bunch of stickers and a new coloring book, but, no, his mom hauled out an iPad and set him up watching the glowing screen like a zombie, and the parents spoke in hushed tones in Russian without even glancing at him in his stupor. Do they even give out crayons in restaurants anymore?
Then there is what I call the Chas Tenenbaum family: with the nerdy dad in white tube socks and tightly belted, high-waisted khaki pants, the trim looker of a dark blond wife an obvious emblem of his financial success, and his matched set of curly-black-haired boys, the spitting images of dad, never out of arm’s reach, despite being on the verge of properly rambunctious Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn sort of ready-for-adventure age.
Contrast these to the French Canadians we hear thundering in circles upstairs whose arrival in the restaurant is announced by their three squealing miniature ruffians. They appear to be five year old brother and sister twins, with a bonus 4 year old brother who can’t quite always keep up but will fling himself forward and over and around and through in every effort to. The father doesn’t stop talking, and the mother doesn’t even glance down to see them kick off and deposit their shoes under her chair at breakfast so they can run tight laps on the patio, tagging each other with wadded napkins clasped in their unsupervised and undisciplined fingers screaming in their own unintelligible blend of French and English. Their breakfast ended in tears as the youngest slipped the room key into a crack in the table and couldn’t get it out.
It’s not just families with small children here. There are a number of older couples, and I am as charmed by the careful escort of the frail wife to the water as I was the young mother with sleeping infant on her chest under a beach umbrella. There is a moment at the water’s edge, where the surf rolls in and out and the footing is rough and loose, where a couple of the unsteadier guests have needed an arm to hold and a word of encouragement.
The day before yesterday, Chas Tenenbaum and the boys took a football to the sand and stood not far enough apart in a triangle tossing it. None of them seemed to have ever tossed a football before, and the younger boy missed every catch. The mother puttered about the loungers and joined them, making a square. The figure formed by the bodies constantly reformed as the ball dropped, the only sound that carried to me was the mother’s apologies.
And then yesterday, at the beach, the Chas Tenenbaums commandeered a stand-up paddleboard as a family and were taking turns balancing on it, mom at the tail and dad at the nose. When the dad took his turn on the thing, the little one pressed on the board near his mother, at the nose, insisting, “I’ll stabilize it.”
“No,” the father shouted. “Get off.”
Soon enough, he lost his balance and fell in again. The parents dragged the board back to its spot on the sand and retreated to their lounge chairs, and the kids swam, bobbing in the swells. In the end, there was just the younger boy left, only his nose and forehead visible, floating purposelessly in the water. Finally, a moment of entertaining himself.

On our way to dinner, we saw the older couple with the fragile wife, trying to take selfies in the pastel light of a beach sunset. She was unhesitant in asking me to take a picture of them, with her iPhone. It’s still one of my favorite things to do: take pictures of strangers for them. We promised her a full report on the restaurant next door.


We picked up our young dog from the trainer and he’d given her the nickname, “Quinny.” Back in those days, the Mythic Times, when software monopolies had hot and cold running spigots of money, when we had perfect house in the city and a farm on an island, we had a dog trainer who trained dogs for Seattle’s rock stars and lived on his own archipelago. He had a PhD in psychology and a rapid-fire banter full of references to E.P.A. Superfund sites and Shakespeare. There aren’t many people I’ve met who I had to struggle to keep up with verbally but talking to him was like the one mile of the Boston Marathon I ran in the 80s with my dad: I had to go as fast as I possibly could just to keep up.
I had to look up this word, “quinny.” And it was maybe 2000 or 2001, so I would have started in our Oxford English dictionary, where I thought I’d find it between “quinnet” and “quino,” but it wasn’t there. Imagine my surprise when the Internet told me it was an Elizabethan term for “vagina.” It’s also a baby stroller company; take that for what you will.
Crude terms for vagina also include “cunt,” “twat,” and, the primary insult of my childhood, “pussy.” Being a pussy had nothing to do with the other meaning of pussy, as in cat. Being a pussy was being a sissy, a weakling, a coward. “Wuss” was a variant on “pussy.” When my older brother teased me into an unsoothable rage, I wrote his name and “IS A PUSSY” in huge letters inside my closet. It was still there when my mother sold the house. Being a pussy was the One Thing we tried hardest Not To Be. It was the sine qua non of screamed insults you could hurl from a passing car, with or without mooning.
Since I was a known cry-baby, I was, de facto, a pussy. I am still a cry-baby, and a huge pussy, avoiding difficult, mildly stressful tasks like calling the dry cleaners to yell at them about my lost Rag & Bone scarf, or balancing the checkbook (two months overdue), or going to the dermatologist for the annual mole check.  I cry when other people get bad news, when I talk about people who’ve been mean to me, or in riding lessons when it goes especially poorly, or well.

Now that I have been empowered by my beloved Internet to embrace my real qualities, and to own my pussiness, and tell the sissy-haters that, baby, that’s woman-hating bullshit nonsense, I’m just gonna shed public tears about Mike Brown and Eric Garner like a real proud, pussy.

Tiger, Quartz, Robin, Goose and Magpie

A good friend once had the misfortune to overhear a mutual acquaintance refer to me as “The Tiger.” It could have been worse, like “The Badger.” I hear badgers are fierce when cornered, willing to fight off much bigger predators, but short-legged and heavy-set. Or “She-Bear.” That too would have been pretty bad. At least a tiger has stripes, and is strong and powerful, and eats people. My statistics professor in business school once explained to the class why men have longer limbs than women by saying, “Short men eaten by TIGER!” It’s in my notes; I wrote it down.

I felt bad for my friend who overheard it, because she was really puzzled if she should tell me. I decided that a real tiger does not care what you call it. I bought three different tiger t-shirts, so if asked I could explain that someone gave me a nickname.    No one really ever asked, and I like my tiger shirts.
“Quartz” is something my mother’s father called my older brother–not all the time, but sometimes. I like the sound of “Quartz.” We called him “Grandpa,” but referred to him as “Grandpa Nuss” to distinguish him from the other “Grandpa.” “Grandpa Nuss” mostly called me “Maggles” and sometimes “Magpie” and even “My Mugwump,” a favorite.  My older brother always called me “Margaret,” and was for many years the only person who called me “Margaret,” even though it is my given name. He relented when he heard my kids call me “Maggie.” Every once in a while someone will ask me why my children all call me “Maggie” and not “Mom,” “Mother,” or something. This is a hard question for me to answer. The truth, which might be boring, is that my oldest child was very smart and very talkative at an early age and simply called me what he heard others call me. From there, the younger ones do as their brother does. Some people seem to see it as a sign of disrespect, or rebellion, or even anarchy.  If it bothered me, I would have needed to fix it about 19 years ago. If my children calling me by my first name is a sign of the coming end of civilization, I guess I’m sorry about bringing the end of civilization. I didn’t mean to.
I called my mother “Mom.” I still think of her as “Mom.” My mother called her mother “Mother,” and her father “Daddy,” all the way to the end of her life. As a unit, her parents were “Mother and Daddy.” (Yes, I know.) She called her grandparents “Mamo” and “Pam.” I did not realize that “Mamo” and “Pam” were not their real names until I was an adult.
My father’s father called him “Robin,” and I think it suited him. He was busy, and funny. Robins sometimes eat so many honeysuckle berries they become intoxicated. They also eat worms. Dad appreciated a low-fat source of protein, and moderately-priced white wine.
My youngest son is called “Gus,” short for Gustav, which I sometimes still pronounce “Goose.” The neighbors two doors down have a small white dog named Gustavo, and when they call him they say, “Goose,” or even “Goose-Goose.”  The neighbors directly across the street from them also have a small white dog, named Angus. They call him “Gus,” and sometimes “Gus-Gus.” I have opinions about naming a pet with a person’s name, but I will save them for another day.