"Ah, Sweet Relief"
About six years ago, my dad was staying with us for a week. After a few days, I saw a post-it note stuck to the front of a book he was reading. Naturally, because I am governed by a set of conveniently-flexible boundaries, I went right over and plucked it off the cover.
In my father's handwriting, it said:
"What this house needs:
This note is interesting for a couple of reasons.
First, it reveals a lot about my dad and his needs/values. Even four years after his death, I imagine him sitting in his big loung chair, an afghan draped over his skinny shoulders as a shawl, a tv tray next to him, supporting a box of Kleenex and the remote control. When it was time for Jeopardy, I was free to join him, but I wasn't free to interrupt or to lurch towards that remote on its stick-legged, blonde-wood island. His entire existence was predicated on the items in that post-it note list.
Secondly, the list reveals what was *not* important to me at age 33. My nose didn't run much; I didn't need small tables that could escort me around my house; and I was generally lit from within by a warm spiritual afghan.
Six years later, I find myself here, tonight, with a tv tray next to my bed (gotta prop the latest Ayun Halliday book on something), blowing my nose repetitively as I hack the last of Guatemala City's pollution out of my respiratory system, huddling under three fleece afghan-like blankets (our tv room thermostat currently reads 58 degrees. We are damn cheap, even when it's torturously cold outside).
At any rate, it would seem that my dad's post-it note was rather Nostradamuseun in its forecast of what I would need. As an homage to my dad, I give you now my post-it note for the country of Guatemala.
"What Guatemala Needs:
A few roads that aren't built entirely on a curve. The occasional straight bit of asphalt, allowing for speeds exceeding 45 miles per hour, might keep first graders from vomiting and turning pale at the very notion of getting into a vehicle that could, even by accident, start to move down one of those roller-coaster highways.
On a related note, some emissions standards wouldn't hurt. All those diesel fumes pouring into following cars are enough to make anyone take out an empty popcorn bag and hold it in front of him/herself for a three-hour drive, just in case of a fume-inspired yackattack.
Fewer firecrackers. I can tolerate the exhuberance for fireworks in general--heck, viewers never know what explosion of color will blossom forth next, and what is life without mystery?-- but firecrackers give no visual bang and simply serve to keep awake unwitting visitors to the country for hours and hours and hours. And then another hour.
Again on a related note, the country could use more rooster casseroles, liberally sprinkled with potato chips. Roosters, as a rule, should die. I realize most of them are pretty tough and sinewy, so the casseroles might involve some complex slow-cooking of the bird (flavored with a bay leaf) in a crockpot first, but such labors are worth the end result, which would be no more roosters crowing at 4 a.m., even though the sun won't arise for two more For-the-Love-of-the-Sandman hours.
Natives who do not worship all things American, and by this, I mean Folgers coffee and chain restaurants. Indeed, Guatemalans themselves do not think to purchase or drink Guatemalan coffee; Folgers strikes them as the prime choice. And we learned, when we treated a native preschool teacher who had showered us with kindness to a birthday dinner, that her reaction to our urgings of "No, really, you can choose any restaurant in the city. Whatever you like. Don't worry about expense or convenience" was to run through the posh-est possibilities ("Em, TGIF is good. So is Chiles") before landing on the best she could imagine, "Oh, yes, Pizza Hut for sure."
Drunk people who pass out instead of managing to hang onto consciousness all night long. Those who stay awake while inebriated feel compelled to crank terrible, bass-heavy music starting at 2:45 a.m. and ending half an hour before the alarm to get a travelling family off to the airport begins its beeping. Conscious Guatemalan drunks are unerringly able to choose music that is only heightened rather than diminished when an intrepid visitor goes so far as to turn on a fan and put earplugs in. Conscious drunks manage to sing wildly and off-key for a minimum of four hours, deaf to the sounds of the quiet weeping of the neighbors, audible through the thin walls. And without a doubt, as is the case in every reported story of conscious drunks in said country, such wired drunks have guns and love to fire them randomly...so protesting, banging on the wall, or slipping a note under the door is unadvisable. Indeed, dear Guatemala, my heartiest wish for you is that your drunks stop carrying guns and start passing out after three sips of your terrible 3.2% Gallo beer."
Photo: A Guatemalan Kleenex, which could be draped over an unconscious drunk
So would it really be so much to ask, O Hospitable Guatemala, that you straighten your roads, lessen your pollution, drown your firecrackers, kill your poultry, promote your tamales, and hobble your drunks?
On the other hand, if you did, you'd be a whole lot less fun. Uninterrupted sleep and functional lungs are the province of the passport-free.