Wednesday, July 30, 2008

"Self Actualization for the Kindergarten Set"

Many of us, even those who have been tracking Amy Winehouse's adventures at the crack pipe, might be unaware of a certain famous Creature of the Pit.

However, if you are a 37-year-old white male, I wager you're well aware of the beast called the rancor, he who spiced up RETURN OF THE JEDI, one of a little-known series of films linked under the overarching title of STAR BARS. Whoops, I mean STAR CARS. Er, WARS.

For those of us who were otherwise diverted in 1983 with viewing FLASHDANCE or THE BIG CHILL, the idea of "the rancor" is a foreign one, as far from our experience as the revolutionary idea, floated in 1983 by a maverick company named Apple, of a thing called a "touch screen." As if such a thing would ever replace good, old-fashioned face-to-faceishness. No wonder nothing became of that upstart company and its 24th-century inventions.

In fact, for me--a bit older than 37, lacking a penis ('tho I briefly cradled John Bobbitt's before it was reattached to his body...and, all together now, EWWWW), but undeniably white in that particular fashion of pasty-yet-freckled--the notion of "the rancor" has remained outside my ken until quite recently. Last week, in fact. My acquaintance with this George Lucas-inspired character came from der Wee Niblet (named thusly for purposes of this blog, but who, earlier this year, then decided his real-life name should be Dinko, which lasted a few months, until he had exactly a day of wanting to be called Fruit Leather before deciding the ring of Paco suits him best--that is, until he about-faced on his feelings for tacos a few weeks ago and realized his most-bestest name is actually Taco, but we are still allowed to call him Paco, too, since it strikes him vaguely as being the sound made by beef in a crunchy tortilla shell). My Niblet is 5 right now, but he's already achieved the status of male and white, and he shows all signs of one day reaching 37. In short, he's raw STAR WARS material, ready for the shaping.

At this juncture, Niblet's understanding of STAR WARS is limited but passionate. A few years ago, he watched the Ewok scenes in RETURN OF THE JEDI. Plus, he lives in a neighborhood with three eight-year-old boys, whose job it has been to equip him with an arsenal of movie jargon, such as "Millenium Falcon" and "Death Star." He doesn't quite know what these terms mean, per se, but he knows they are really cool, to the point that, before a road trip last week, when he was given the chance to choose a book for the ride (an amuse bouche for the car seat), he selected a STAR WARS sticker book.

That book was a steal at $3.99.

Even by Mile 64 of the trip, we'd gotten at least $4.36 worth of entertainment out of it; and, mind you, I fully intend to send the publishing company that extra 37 cents. The lad poured through the book's pages, neither peeling nor applying a single sticker, but rather monologuing about each character, about which he knew a smidgeon. His fascination, of course, was most snagged by the rancor.

When he first, announced that he weally, weally liked this creature, I didn't quite understand that it was a movie beast. Rather, I felt a moment of communion, of knowing, of kindred spiriting, of shouting out, "YES, you, too, now understand the rancor! I have felt it daily in adulthood, whether I'm watching weathermen trying to be cute or my country's president trying to govern!! YES, Sweet Child of Mine, we can come together on this rancor issue!!! Let's light up a smoke and tipple from the bottle of gin as we bash about in unrelenting bitterness..."

Oh, wait. Seems I'd jumped ahead.

As my sails deflated, I noticed he was pointing at the page, where some toothy cinema monster glared out at him. Oh. the rancor.

never mind.

Niblet's attention was caught. He wanted some explanation, some fleshing out, of this new crush. I had nothing--nussing...until I later had a chance to delve into the InterWebs, which coughed up this bio off

"The rancor was a terrible creature hidden in a shadowy chamber beneath Jabba the Hutt's throne room. A five-meter tall towering hulk of muscle and reptilian flesh, the rancor walked on two stubby legs and had disproportionately long arms to capture prey. Dominating its flat face was a salivating tooth-filled maw. Its armored skin was so tough that the beast could slough off blaster bolts as little more than annoyances.

The rancor served the dual purpose of not only amusing Jabba, but also disposing of unwanted servants, musicians, or anyone else the Hutt would want to get rid of. With a shout of "Boska!" Jabba would activate a secret trap door in front of his throne. The victim would tumble into the underground chamber as a viewing grate opened to allow Jabba and his depraved audience a glimpse of the gruesome proceedings. A creaky retaining gate would unleash the beast. The rancor would make short work of any unfortunate soul dropped into the pit.

Luke Skywalker reversed the typical fate of a rancor victim when Jabba sent the young Jedi tumbling into the monster's lair. Skywalker was able to escape the beast's clutches, and lure it back into its pen. When the rancor stood beneath the retaining gate, Luke hurled the skull of a previous victim into the control mechanism. The gate came crashing down on the rancor, killing Jabba's pet."

And there we had it. The rancor. For me, Niblet's crush fell into a Bionicle/Transformer/Pokemon class infatuation: all little boy, all robotic and furry and gadgety.

But then, hosannah on high, the crush became intensely more fun, when, at the end of our road trip, we stayed at the home of friends who own their own model of Young Boy, one who had just seen STAR WARS the week before. This boy--let's call him Trooper--was a bit more versant in all things Lucasian, but still unformed enough in the jargon...and in his verbal expression of the sound "r"...that he proved the perfect match for my own "r"-lacking lad.

They were weally, weally well matched. Consequently, they enjoyed several lengthy car trips across town, strapped next to each other in their carseats, leafing through the sticker book, monologuing about their mutual crush on

"the wanker."

Indeedy, many a mile passed with them hollering out, "No, I'M the wanker! You call ME the wanker!!" or "Wait, YOU want to be the wanker? Okay, you're the wanker."

In its many permutations, this conversation tickled the parents on board.

You see, we had long suspected, particularly when our lads were really tired and whiney and mopey and cranky and full of the suckwad, that they,

in a galaxy all too near,


a couple of wankers.

Friday, July 25, 2008

"Stop Being So Square, Big Daddy"

I would have made a great 1950's housewife--and not just because I can whip up a chrome-plated five-can casserole and smoke and drink like a fiend while pregnant.

Witness this exchange between The Groomeo and me, transcribed from the dictaphone in our secretary Miss Walcott's shorthand during the year 1958:

Groom: My ear still hurts. It's been feeling swollen or infected--totally weirdsville--off and on for days now. It's fine for awhile, and then it hurts up the wazoo. I'm feeling like a real party pooper.

Me: Are you thinking it's time to have the doctor spin by the pad for a housecall?

Groom: I don't know. I'm not really sure if it's bad enough to see that shuckster Dr. Kildare just yet. That square is bad news.

Me, channeling Jane Wyatt in "Father Knows Best": Maybe it would help if I hoisted my well-starched crinolines and peed in your ear?

Groom: It's not a jellyfish sting, you know. Good thing you're toting around a classy chassis, or you'd be clutched, Nerd.



(off to Sardi's to check my Ooh-La-La lipstick in the bathroom mirror and await the reviews)

Monday, July 21, 2008

"More Importantly"

The sad part, for me, when I look at this photo of two immensely lovely women exchanging rings and making a life-long and public commitment to each other, is the fact that you can't see I was wearing some seriously kick-ass earrings.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

"Rolling Down the Avenue to My Early Retirement"

It's official. Although I've been fighting off encroaching fine lines for several years now, and although I've been crochety for far longer than that, I've always maintained I'm still "young" (or, more recently, "young-ish").

But now, the sham has been revealed. Undeniably, I is old.

I know this for sure because, just the other day, I found myself kvetching about "kids these days" and how they have "no respect." I believe I even shook my fist at the heavens.

In short, at some point when my jowls were sinking deep into a hand of pinochle, and I asked Edna to pass me another one of those hard candies I keep in the jar in my living room ("in case the boys come 'round"), my spirit donned a pair of black knee socks and sandals and went out to mow the lawn. My chi became geriatric.

What caused my sudden heaval into John McCain's peer group? Students, of course. Or, as we call them at The Home: them bratty ingrates who wouldn't know proper treatment of their elders if it whupped them upside the head.

Case in point:

For the last few years, I've taken it upon myself to create a publication for my college's English department. The point of this publication is to celebrate student writing--to gather together a representative sampling of the best student work from the year and, after editing it so that it's actually readable, putting it out in paper (and, this year, blog) editions, with the sum effect being, "Look, random readers: some of our students are able to write in complete sentences!" What's more, some of them do it with style and intelligence.

So I spend each academic year urging my colleagues to gather the best of their students' writing (with their signed consent) and submit it to me; at the end of the academic year, when I lay breathless and heaving from grading and reading and administering final exams for my own students, I gather a small committee to read all the submissions and select the best of the pretty-good. We end up with about 150 pages of text, which I then, to signal the start of my "summer vacation," edit and format. This takes me weeks. I am a sucka that way. Eventually, I send the final proof to the print shop, where we run a couple hundred copies; this year, I also put together a blog site of this publication.

The whole point is to honor students' efforts, right? That's what my youthful spirit used to tell me.

This summer, though.


There's this student--not one of mine. I've never seen or met her. It can stay that way. Chosen for inclusion in the final publication, her essay was written in our department's advanced composition class, which is generally devoted to the finer points of research writing and citation style. However, some instructors also include other modes of essays, in this case a personal interview. So this student--let's call her Krusty--wrote up a report of an interview she did. It was an interesting read, on a topic that tapped into a modern-day issue of widespread importance. For the purposes of this post, let's pretend that issue is Prejudice Against Clowns and that she interviewed someone with a bulbous red nose, in full make-up (not Amy Winehouse, interestingly enough).

For me, her essay was simply one of 30 that made the cut...until the trickle of emails began, picked up here midstream:

From: >>> "Krusty" 06/06/08 8:05 AM >>>
is the student web publication out yet?

From: Jocelyn [mailto:happy]
Sent: Fri 6/6/2008 9:25 PM
To: Krusty
Subject: RE: Essay Submission

Yes. I sent out the link to the entire campus (students, employees,
and faculty) a few days ago. Here it is again:



From: >>> "Krusty" 06/08/08 6:30 PM >>>
why was the title of my paper changed

From: Jocelyn [mailto: slightly-bewildered]
Sent: Sun 6/8/2008 9:03 PM
To: Krusty
Subject: RE: Essay Submission

Okay, I just looked at your paper again to see what you meant. Yea, we added the colon plus the words "An Interview" because it was the only submission from Comp II that wasn't a research paper, and readers of the Comp II work would be expecting a research paper, so to avoid their confusion, we clarified with stating it was an interview. Basically, your paper was different from the others in that section,and we wanted people to know that; that's why the title now reads "Sending in the Clowns: An Interview" instead of "Sending in the Clowns."



From: >>> "Krusty" 06/13/08 9:21 AM >>>
well i really dont like the title... can you change it to "sending in the clowns" an interview by Krusty ?

From: Jocelyn [mailto: just here to accommodate you]
Sent: Fri 6/13/2008 2:24 PM
To: Krusty
Subject: RE: Essay Submission

I can change it on the blog, but it's too late on the paper copy, which has already gone to the printers.

From: >>> "Krusty" 06/14/08 7:45 AM >>>
i am very angry that the title was changed without my consent

From: Jocelyn [mailto: are we serious here?]
Sent: Sat 6/14/2008 10:22 PM
To: Krusty
Subject: RE: Essay Submission

We were simply trying to honor you with including your work. Editorial changes are part of any publication. I already changed the title to what you suggested (which, basically, consisted of getting rid of a colon and hitting return) on the blog; I'll be glad to take your paper off the site entirely, if that makes you feel better. It's too late on the print copies, but if the title is too distressing, you have the choice of not sharing the paper publication with people you know, at least.

Having two clarifying words added to an essay seems to be overwhelming any good feelings you might have about this honor. I'm very sorry such a small thing has become the focus of your thoughts; I hope at some point you can appreciate that your work was even selected.



From: >>> "Krusty" 06/20/08 9:08 AM >>>

You are a very rude woman. And yes, the title does bother me because the title i gave my work had meaning. and it is too bad that you cant take feelings into consideration without writing an insulting letter. I am not stupid and i do understand why you changed it. But there was a better way to have done it and kept more of the original title. But i suppose i can not expect someone who doesnt deal with being a clown to understand how much the title means to myself and others to have.

From: Jocelyn [mailto: it's all I can do to keep from throttling you]
Sent: Fri 6/20/2008 11:11 AM
To: Krusty
Subject: RE: Essay Submission

Krusty, I'm extremely confused. Extremely. I just reread what I wrote and can't see what's striking you as rude there. I was serious--not sarcastic--about being willing to remove the paper from the site, if it's distressing you. I also was serious that I'm very, very sorry you're not feeling honored or getting enjoyment out of your paper being selected.

Tone very often gets lost in email, as yours have felt quite aggressive and overly-strong to me, but I've been trying to read them as though you're simply trying communicate your feelings and not attack someone who was putting together a project intended to promote and celebrate
student work. That I've become a lightning rod for your reaction continues to surprise me.

As a sidenote, since you don't know me, it is presumptuous for you to assume you know anything about what clown training I might have participated in or have undergone in my life, by the way. And I don't mean for that to sound rude but rather corrective of an overstepping of bounds.

As I step back and try to review your concerns objectively, I find myself still stymied as to why you feel the title change impacted its effect. Your paper was titled by you as "Sending in the Clowns." The title in the publication was "Sending in the Clowns: An Interview." I guess where we're butting opinions is that I just don't see--nor does anyone I've asked during this exchange of emails--how adding "An Interview" compromises the meaning or impact of the title. And after you expressed your unhappiness with that title, I changed it immediately on the Web site so that it reads "Sending in the Clowns" An Interview by Krusty. I did what you had asked, yet you're even more angry.

I can own the fact that I did something that made you angry. But you're the one who's in charge of her own reactions beyond that. Truly, I'm not trying to be rude, but I'm also really trying not to let your reaction take over something that was meant very innocently and that I've rectified to the best of my ability.


From: >>> "Krusty" 06/21/08 7:47 AM >>>
the paper is a profile... not an interview.

From: Jocelyn [mailto: I can't tell you how done I am here]
Sent: Fri 6/21/2008 2:34 PM
To: Krusty
Subject: RE: Essay Submission

Oh. I asked your instructor, before putting together the publication, what genre the paper should be labeled, and she said it was "an interview." I'll change it on the Website, if you want, to "a profile."



That has been the last I've heard of her ('til she stumbles across this post, and I'm forced to hire Kevin Costner to be My Bodyguard). I'm choosing to take her radio silence as a sign that she ultimately was awed and amazed by my continued calmness in the face of her obsessive and over-zealous pursuit of this issue. At this moment, she is doubtlessly holed up in a wood-paneled basement, below Mom and Dad's den, scribbling furiously in her journal about the deep regret and shame she feels for the way she dared to communicate with a perfect stranger, one who is, even more, instructor at the college she attends.

Yea. That's the ticket. She's terribly sorry that she turned me into an aged harpie who goes around croaking about "those bobby soxers and their dangerous long-haired music."

Were hers the only example, I could put the story to bed and muse on it there, as I rub Ben-Gay into my aching joints. But the truth is, she's one of many. College teachers are regularly receiving inappropriate communication like this...all...the...I-spent-how-many-years-in-graduate-school-and-now-put-in-50-hours-a-week-holding-nervous-hands-and-being-supportive-of-students-who-complain-when-they-receive-a-9/10-on-an-assignment-just-to-have-you-crap-on-me-like-this? time.

Fortunately, 84% of the other students redeem the lot and give me faith that there's something to this slagging away in the Inspiring Minds Mines. However, when it's 2 a.m., and I'm up leafing through my albums of WWII (the good old days), I start to think


early retirement can never be overrated.

There's a bit of a rub, of course, since I'm our household's breadwinner. Someone needs to eat the sh** so we can eat the bacon, right?

Behold this joyful noise, though:

Inspired by my grumblings about ruff-necked performers who cram into VW's and have Internet access, Groom has determined to up his unicycle training and infiltrate the circus...

...where he will not only earn us a glittery paycheck,

but where

he'll also be perfectly positioned


roll some serious treadmarks onto the clowns.

Saturday, July 12, 2008


My marriage succeeds on many levels. Groom lets me sleep big many muches, when I need it. Groom cooks me food and sets out large plates. Groom laughs hard when I'm mean and small and petty.

Even better, Groom and I have spent many-an-easy hour making lists of "Famous People Jocelyn Gets to Sleep With If She Ever Encounters Them in the Febreze Aisle at the Target, and They Happen to Proposition Her There." I know many marriages have this List; such Lists can provide mental comfort--an emotional escape hatch--to those who feel that commitment somehow closed doors, snipped options, and dug the first foot of the grave.

For me, I don't think The List is about that, though, as every inch of Groom's 6' 3" frame is hot and tasty, like a Wendy's Double Classic Burger without Pickles. I'm completed by my commitment to him.


Don't I maybe need something new to talk about at family gatherings, when we all meet year- after-endless year, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our glasses of lemonade, staring at the lake, whiffling on about the weather? Wouldn't it make for a memorable holiday reunion with Great-Aunt Ruthie if I could announce that, thanks to Groom dropping me off at the talk show host's condo in Santa Monica, I shared afternoon delight with Jon Stewart? Wouldn't that put some stuffing into yet another limp family Thanksgiving?

Truly, my List of Possible Celebrity Bangs doesn't reach so high. I get nothing from mainstream hotties like Brad Pitt, save a small annoyance at his slanted Oklahoman vowels, one that leaves me wondering, "Is he really talking about a pin, or did he mean a pen?" Sit up straighter, Bradley, and speak righter. And stop wearing those silly newsboy hats.

No, I go for a more off-beat, quirky, intelligent, full-voweled kind of appeal. Give me crooner Lyle Lovett or producer Don Was or interviewer Charlie Rose over leading man Shia LeBeouf and his wispy faux-brooding any day.

But more than anyone? I would like to have Michael Kenneth Williams "meet me by the Febreze" at--how do you say it?--exactly this very minute, pulling behind him a fold-away bed and a cart full of candles and perhaps Cesaria Evora in the flesh (except she is required to turn away and examine the paper towels as she serenades us, for she has a mug so scary that it could suck the oxygen right out of a conflagration even as searing as mine and Michael's).

If you have never seen HBO's The Wire and basked in the multi-faceted brilliance of my Michael's turn as Omar, Killer with a Code, then you have not only missed out on "One of the Ten Reasons to Still Love Television," but you have missed out on previewing my next date, and how else can you seal your approval onto the man who will be plying me with a 2002 cabernet just beyond the hand brooms and bleach?

That he plays a homosexual on The Wire is irrelevant to my attraction; just ask either of my Prom dates in high school, both of whom have since gone on to post-Jocelyn loves named Scott and Jason. I like to think I helped define their course.

But my Michael? Groom agrees: he's already coursing.

When Evora's final note dies away, and the candles sputter their last, and the shelf-stockers stop their blushing, I'll aright myself, hitch up my garters, run one last tender finger over Michael's scar, and tromp off to meet Groom over by the clearance grills.

Although I'll have mopped up what I can with the available dryer sheets, a clean-up will most definitely be needed on Aisle 12.

Monday, July 07, 2008

"My Favorite Tool"

Sure, there have been a lot of contenders over the years: words, books, swizzle sticks, a solid foundation garment. Each of these has served as a tool in its own right, opening doors for me and then, three hours later, getting me tossed right back out. But they've done the job.

Occasionally, as well, I've overcome my esoteric tendencies and turned my bleary eyes towards implements that can be wielded for practical purposes:

From liquefy to pummel heartily, each button pushes one of mine.

Good for forty whacks. You know who I'm talkin' to, Salvador.

The "tool," Ground Zero; the template for all other tools

Tool, Version 2.1

Indeed, I've always had my arsenal of little helpers (shout out to Vicodan!), those things that I grab when I need help getting through the unforgiving hour, when I've used my one phone call and I'm still stuck for bail.

In the last months, though, I've had to expand my repertoire of what I'll latch onto in a moment of need as our household, specifically our backyard, has descended into a state of low rentitude that makes even Brett Butler recoil in horror:

First, there was the red compost bin that occupies more square footage than our bathroom. Then we added in the tetherball pole for good measure (works great as a stake upon which to dry my jerky after a good bear kill). Not yet satisfied, we broke up an uneven backyard pathway with a sledgehammer, thus birthing our third child, little Gravel Heap, before I started to add in the stacks of railroad ties that had formerly lined our enormous vegetable garden.

Because Groom had hernia surgery 6 weeks ago, he has been unable to help with any of the manual labor around the yard this summer, which is par for the course because he's an enormous lady's blouse even when he's fit. His "unusual weakness" and "need to recover" relegated me to the role of Participant in the Scottish Highlands' Strongman Competition, wherein I would heft up a railroad tie on end and then, plugging my body underneath it, heave the thing end-over-end whilst grunting to all onlookers, "Away an bile yer heid, ye baw bags! I mae be an Auldjin, and am'fair peched, but I'm crakin' here!" Somewheres around when I was threatening the gathered gawkers with a fierce "cuddy lug," we also added in the two black plastic compost bins, which were meant to replace the original red eyesore...but when the two bins didn't handle half of Red's innards, we ended up keeping all three, which has me extremely dischuffed.

Once all of the ties had added to the fray of ghetto garbage piles, I was ready to up my game and start digging kabluminous holes across the yard, uniformly seven inches deep (don't ask me to name the tool I'm using for that measurement; I'm a demure lass)...

into which we shall eventually place new paving stones, thus creating a fine new walkway...

...that I will eventually crawl across exhaustedly, using only my gnarled remaining limbs and, perhaps, My Favorite New Tool.

This tool. My Favorite Tool. The Mattock.

Oh, yes, it will help me crawl up the walk when I am whupped. For that, I love it.

Even better, Wikipedia reports of The Mattock: "The shaft is often heavier than the head, sometimes possessing twice the mass and density of a baseball bat."


At night, I dream of The Mattock. It cuts; it slices; it dices; it eases my lot. For The Mattock, I would sacrifice from my Tool Holster the swizzle stick--a puny, flaccid lad, in comparison.

I mean, really. Look at that thing. It rather makes you fan your hands about your face, dunnit it?

And, yes, that's my big man leg in that photo. Get snotty about it, and I'll clench your wee walnut head bewteen my calves and make pesto out of your brain. That cracking sound you hear just before blacking out? That's the sound of the Jocelyn working on the chain gang.

Hoo. Hah.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

"Two Weeks South of the Border: Part The End"

The adventure continues and concludes in this installment, which ranges from ruins to Kaluha (words which also sum up my current existence). See how travel broadened this broad?

After a few days in Belize, my sister, some other Peace Corps volunteers, Cute John, and I rented a "taxi" to take us to Tikal, Guatemala to see some Mayan ruins. Alwyn, our driver, didn't want more than five people in his car, for the roads are nearly non-existent, and, as Carol Brady would have, he feared for his station wagon. Pointing out that Cute John was spun from nothing more than clouds, fairy wings, and cotton candy, we unwisely coerced Alwyn to allow a sixth in the car.

Tikal was 65 km (let's call that 39 miles, roughly) from our starting point that day. It was a four-hour drive. To amuse ourselves, we ran through our repertoires of "theme songs from every tv show aired since 1970." Only Cagney & Lacey stumped the crowd. As I've asked myself nearly every day since my adolescence, Where's Tyne Daly when you need her?

My favorite moment of this journey was when the station wagon got stuck in a rut in from of 10 Guatemalan lads--lazing on the edge of a village well--just as we all reached the high point of the All in the Family theme song "Those Were the Days," doing our best Edith Bunker impersonations. Jaws around the well dropped, and we set back Central American/North American relations hundreds of years, putting a particular strain on the coffee trade (you no longer have to ask yourselves, "Why can I only get an inferior cup of Sumatran java these days?" After hearing our singing, Guatemalans were thrown into a decades-long bean harvesting paralysis.)

Tikal itself is amazing. We hiked all over the ruins, ending with Temple IV, a building that loomed several hundred feet into the sky, reachable only by maneuvering a series of sideways ladders and grasping at tree roots. I nearly wept at the top for fear of the descent.

Fortunately, right then a group of senior citizens came huffing and puffing around the corner. I eyed them quizzically and asked, "Do you, by chance, know an alternate route down?" They did. All it involved was shuffleboard, ice sculptures, and me sitting on my tush and sliding down the hill).

Dusty and sweaty, we had lunch, bargained at the market, and began the drive home.

Oh. Did I forget to mention that this was the first weekend this particular border crossing between Guatemala and Belize had been open in some time? There'd been a ban because groups of banditos had been attacking tourist vehicles and "molesting" (in all fashion) gringos?

This concern was firmly tucked into the back of our collective head as we started the drive home at dusk. On the worst possible stretch of sheltered road, Alwyn, our driver, slammed on the brakes and yelled, "I smell gas!" Without another word, he hopped out of the car, dove beneath it, jumped out, ran to a nearby shack, and came back with a pan and a bar of soap. What an odd time for a sponge bath, Alwyn.

It turned out we had two dime-sized holes in the gas tack, holes that had been worn through when the tank came into repeated contact with the road as it worked through the ruts that day. Our supply of gas was in rapid leak all over the road. Keeping his head, and smelling of an Irish Spring, Alwyn went to work ripping apart the bar of soap and shoving it into the holes.

Villagers from miles around gathered quietly, silently, in a removed circle around us, watching, sharpening their knives, eyeing our flesh and firing up their barbeques. Cute John prepared to sacrifice his life in defense of the five gringas in his company from the line of men that slowly started snaking its way towards us. He, in other words, plotted the straightest line between himself and the camouflage of the jungle, knowing he could outrun us all.

In truth, we merely felt intimidated, and Alwyn saved the gas and the day. And I had a reflective moment of realizing my imagination was alive and turning cartwheels. We got home safely, gratefully.

The next Monday, Kirsten, Cute John, and I got back on another bus to return north to Corozal. During that bus ride, I finished reading GONE WITH THE WIND for the 32nd time. They all die, by the way. On the way back to Corozal, we spent an afternoon in the smoky, polluted capital, Belize City, where, as we tromped around, I missed squashing a dead rat that lay near a burning garbage heap. Good times.

For the rest of that week, once we got back to Kirsten's house in Corozal, we visited my sister's schools, where she was a teacher trainer. Cute John missed out on one day's school visit, as he was vomiting blood all day, the kind of vomiting that tests the limits of one's attractiveness.

The kids in the schools were a scream; the teachers were barely adequate. At the first school we went to, the teacher wasn't in the classroom with her nine 3 and 4-year-olds. She was making herself some popcorn in a nearby building. As far as school supplies went, the only toys or creative materials any classroom enjoyed had been sent down by my sister's friends and family. But what you can't do with a little paper and tape...

At the end of the week, we accompanied one of Kirsten's schools on a field trip to a resort called Don Quixote's. A few of the kids, after much coaxing, would get into the water of the swimming pool there, on the top step of the shallow end. None would go into the nearby sea. Culturally, there is a fear of being wet, as it leads to sure death, apparently. My sister had already learned that, on the days it was raining, she didn't even need to get up and visit her schools, as no one would be there.

Towards the end of the trip, Cute John went to Antigua, Guatemala, where the sight of his smile and the smell of his minty breath stopped traffic. My sister and I went to Chetumal, Mexico, where I got a cheap hammock and a wheelbarrow-sized bottle of Kaluha. From there, I took a bus alone back to Cancun and found the myriad "hey, baby" come-ons helped me decide to spend some quality time in my hotel room. In Belize, groups of men hanging out on the corner are known as the Leaky Tire Brigade because of the zzzekkksy "SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS" noise they make when a female walks by. By the end, I was able to advise my sister that, upon her return to the States, her biggest adjustment wouldn't be to the vast amounts of produce available in the shiny grocery stores but rather to not being noticed and commented upon with every step in public.

Ultimately, on my last night there, as sweated and scratched at bug bites, I had an epiphany. my biggest point of pride from the whole trip was this: due to a sorry bit of mis-packing back in the States, I had done it all without deodorant.