Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Secret Psychic Life of Sammy Nichols... Chapter 3

Hey ya'll... I did some further editing of the first two chapters, which I will share soon because they have very important character references that will play out later in the story. Here is chapter 3, giving us more of Sammy's background, building the story.

School was another story completely. Even though the big check from the union hadn’t come, the other workers had pitched in money each year from a bowling league to keep Sammy in a private school. Education was important to Mr. Nichols and his friends at work made sure Sam would be able to keep attending St. Bonaventure Prep School like his father intended. He was in the 7th grade and had only a year and a half before he would be attending high school. Sam had a love/hate relationship with school like most kids. He loved learning about Science and was a whiz in Math, but going to school at St. Bonnie’s put him in an awkward social situation and it was very hard for him to make friends. Most of the kids at St. Bonaventure had parents who drove expensive cars, had important jobs, and took them on holiday to remote parts of the world that Sammy was certain he’d never see. The brown pants and white shirts that the boys were required to wear to school as uniforms didn’t keep them from making fun of his poverty. When gym class came around everyday after lunch, they would see him in the locker room in the same pair of old basketball shoes and a pair of blue shorts that were always falling off of his waistline and sing, “Smelly Sammy Nichols, smells like rotten pickles!” Then they would laugh out loud and throw jabs at him when walking by to get to the gymnasium. It was like a broken record at this point. The other kids were always comparing clothes and talking about how much this polo cost, or where their latest shoes came from. It was a constant pageant of who could wear the most expensive items to gym class. Even though he had seen it and dealt with the ridicule his whole life, deep down he dreaded going to gym and would often fake illness or injury to sit on the sidelines so he wouldn’t have to hear it from the other kids. It didn’t bother him to sit out of gym class, because he was always targeted or left behind in every game they would play. Kids could be so cruel in the 7th grade, especially when you were the kid who didn’t belong.

Sammy had one friend in school, the clock. He would play games with time whenever he couldn’t pay attention to the history lesson or concentrate enough to finish his English compositions. He could add and subtract, multiply and divide seconds, minutes, hours and days in a flash. He would play games with himself and figure out how much time exactly it was going to be until the kick off of the next Super Bowl, or until the day he would graduate the 8th grade. He knew all of his family members birthdays to the exact time of birth and would think about how much time exactly was between his twin sisters and Grandma Nichols, or his mom and Uncle Charlie on his dad’s side of the family. It was a constant game in his mind, and his notebooks were full of complex number equations and brilliant pictures of clocks. He carried his father’s wristwatch in his pocket at all times and kept it wound to the proper time always. Time was the one thing Sammy could count on in life and he always knew exactly how much time there was until the 3 o’clock bell rang.

“Samuel Benjamin Nichols…. Samuel Benjamin Nichols! Samuel…. Benjamin…. Nichols!!! Do you hear me?” Mr. Lanski, the history teacher said with increasing volume until he broke Sammy’s spell. “Two hours, six minutes, thirty four seconds sir… thirty three… thirty two.” Sammy replied, giving the 3 o’clock countdown as the tall, dark haired teacher approached his desk in the corner of the room. He lifted Sam’s notebook and slowly turned through the pages of scribbles, numbers and clock drawings. “I see we are concerning ourselves with the important facts of HISTORY Mr. Nichols,” he said sternly, emphasizing the word history loudly as the rest of the class chuckled. Sam squirmed in his seat a bit as the boney fingers of Mr. Lanski’s hands closed the notebook with a “Bang!”. “Tell me Mr. Nichols…about the importance of the Spanish American War, which we have been discussing for the past thirty minutes in this lovely classroom.” He spoke directly at him as he peered his dark, cold eyes through the tiny spectacles that rested on the end of his long nose. “Tell me, in your words…what it did to Spanish Imperialism? I can wait while you collect your precious thoughts young lad.” Sam felt his adam’s apple swell up, and he swallowed deeply as every one in the room stared at him. Most of the kids were making faces and jeering quietly at him behind the teacher’s back. He started, “ Well… um… the Spanish um… Imperialism was affected by the war… because…. Um… well… they didn’t like the Americans?... and …” “Stop right there! Now, seeing as you are so good at wasting my time and precious breath, I will waste some of yours. Please come see me at 3pm where we will catch up on your notes for two hours, After School!”

“Oh No! Not detention…no, no, no, no.” Sammy thought as he raced down the hallway to get back to Mr. Lanski’s room to serve his punishment. Detention would get him home two hours late from school and he was already grounded tonight from coming home late the previous night. This was going to cost him big time. He grabbed the door frame to stop himself as he turned the corner to the room. He had been running quickly and was trying to quietly catch his breath before facing the impending doom. His teacher hadn’t even looked up from the evening paper when he came in, and continued to read silently for thirty seconds more while Sammy stood just inside the door. “Have a seat my boy,” he said without lifting his eyes from the paper. Sammy squeezed into a desk in the front of the room. “Now, take out your history book and open to chapter 19. Tell me what it says?” “Spanish American War.” Sam eeked out quietly. “Oh good, you are paying attention to History now, very good indeed.” Mr. Lanski said very sarcastically. “I would like you to start at the top of the chapter and copy, by hand, the whole chapter into your notebook.”
Sam gasped.
“By the end you will have a firm grasp of the importance of the war…AND, Mr. Nichols, you will know the importance of paying attention in my class! Now, hurry on, I’d like to get home at a reasonable hour.”

Sam’s hands cramped continually and he went through half a box of pencils in those two hours as he wrote, word for word, what was in the text book. The teacher continued reading the paper and drinking coffee without once looking up or checking on his work. It was a terrible silence in the whole school, only broken by feverish movement of pencil lead on paper and the occasional shuffling of newspaper. There was also the terrible sound of Mr. Lanski slurping his black beverage through his thin lips and the ticking clock felt like a time bomb between Sam’s ears. By the time he finished, his whole right arm was shaking and the notes were hardly legible. It was 5pm exactly. “Finished sir,” he said, looking up dizzily from the notes on the desk.

“Chop. Chop. Well done. Have a good night,” was the only thing the tall teacher said. He didn’t look at the book or the work Sammy had raced so diligently to complete. He didn’t ask any questions about the war. He just picked up his paper and briefcase and led Sammy out of the back doors of the school without a word. He then locked the school door, got in his car, and sped off into the night. Sam, having missed the bus, walked home through South Buffalo in the dark, desolate night. It was 7pm by the time he had gotten home. His mother had already received a call from Mr. Lanski during the day warning her that Sammy would be staying after for detention. When he walked in the door, she pointed him directly to his room and said, “ Three more days ought to teach you to pay attention to your teachers.” Sammy collapsed in his bed and fell asleep with his clothes on.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Secret Life of Sammy Nichols Chapter 2.

Sammy woke up quite often in the night. It was as if something was shaking him deep inside. His room was always ice-cold because of the drafty windows, however he would wake up in a hot sweat with a fire burning in his gut. A doctor might think it was hunger or nutrition related, but he sensed it was something else. He thought maybe it was his father coming to haunt him because he had refused to go to the calling hours and funeral. He just didn’t want to see his dad lifeless in a coffin. It was bad enough that he had been taken away so young and strong. Sammy never got out of bed during these nights no matter how scared or lonely he felt. His father had insisted he become a man at a very young age. “No Nichols living in my house is ever going to be a sissy!” he would say whenever Sammy complained about something being too hard or scary. It wasn’t the Nichols way to be afraid.

People loved and admired his dad for that reason. He was strong and handsome, and one of the few fathers in the neighborhood who didn’t spend his afternoons in the local taverns. In fact, some people said Mr. Nichols never drank a drop of alcohol in his life. He was a simple, hard working, family man who had a lot of integrity and pride. The lines at the funeral home were so long that the family decided to move the funeral from the neighborhood church to Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna for fear that there wasn’t enough room for all of the people. Sammy stayed home that whole week while mother was running about taking care of arrangements and affairs. He must have answered the door a hundred times a day for neighborhood people dropping off food, flowers and gifts for the family. His father was one of the most loved men in the community. How he regretted the way he had acted that week on nights like these. He pictured his father standing over him with that look in his eyes, letting him know that he was messing up. The icy air bit at his nose.

He thought about the summer that his best friend Eddie had drowned in the lake. It was all over the news and the event had shocked Sammy and the neighborhood very badly. He and Eddie had spent almost every day together that summer. He spent that afternoon in a corner of his room staring at the wall hoping none of it was real. His father had let him grieve for one day, but took him the very next day to the exact spot of the tragedy and made him swim. Sammy recalled how badly he shook and cried on the ride to the lake and how his father had firmly insisted he get in the water. He swore he would drown that same day and begged his dad not to make him do it. The tears were flowing hysterically. Before he could say much more, his father picked him up and tossed him into the lake. “Relax Samuel! Relax! Now swim. Swim boy. You see, you are alive and well! Eddie wouldn’t want you to be afraid, would he?” His father was right, and the swim cured his fear of drowning instantly.

Mr. Nichols was a great ice hockey player in high school and continued to play in leagues as an adult. Had he gone to college, some say he would have been destined for the pros. He hadn’t gone to college. Instead he had married his high school sweetheart Maryanne Baker the summer after their senior year at South Park High and started his apprenticeship as a mason. Sam was born a year later. Sam’s mom was one of the most beautiful girls in Buffalo at the time and his father used to say, “There was no way I was letting that one get away… right babe!” He loved her with all his heart and she loved him just as much. Sammy remembered how they would greet each other at the door in the evening. Mom would drop whatever she was doing and run to the door to open it for dad so he wouldn’t have to put his tool box down on the porch. Then she would wipe the grime and sweat from his face and kiss him all over, like a puppy that was left home alone all day. Mom had aged ten years in these past two since he was gone, but she was still one of the most beautiful women in town. She swore she would never love again, even though every single man in the city over the age of 30 had proposed to her at least once since dad passed. Her left hand carried the wedding bands to this day, and Sammy was pretty sure she wouldn’t love again, though he often hoped that she would.

His thoughts drifted here and there and eventually he fell back into deep sleep, but the alarm came quickly in the morning and he popped out of bed to head off to school.

The first chapter of my new book!...

Hey everyone. I've decided to write a children/young adult series. This is the first chapter that I wrote today.. it will hit very close to home for many of you. It is going to be the Valley's version of Harry Potter... ha ha. A poor kid from the city who enters a magical world. Tell me what you think so far.

The Secret Life of Sammy Nichols
By Jeremy Wells

The wind blew through Sammy’s tattered clothes like a train on the old Lackawanna Line. It was gray, dark and stormy with swirling flakes of snow all around. Hunger ached in his belly as he trudged through the deep white powder toward his little house on St. Stephens Place. The street was small, maybe 20 houses or so, and his house was the third last on the right. He had heard his mother say it that way for years when describing it to friends or family members who were in town to visit. That was the way people described where they lived here on St. Stephens. He could barely see past the Humphrey’s house, which was fourth from the corner, when he turned onto the street. “Another Buffalo winter night…” he thought to himself. The thought was gray and cold like the thick lake effect snow falling from the sky all around him.

Everything seemed to stand still except the big oak tree that swayed to and fro in front of Mrs. Mendola’s house. That tree was the one thing you could always see when you were on the street. It didn’t matter what the weather was doing, you always knew where the Mendola house was because of that mighty oak that stood in between the sidewalk and the road at the end of the street. Heck, you could practically see it anywhere in neighborhood on a clear day! Tonight it looked like a big black monster waving it’s arms about in the stormy weather. Mrs. Mendola’s house was the second to last on the street, next door to his.

The street was deserted and Sammy was happy to see the faint light glowing from the front of his old clapboard house. That old antique lamp perched in the front window was handed down from great grandma Nichols and had stayed in the front window of every house that it was ever in. It was always on too, like a lighthouse on the cold shores of Lake Erie. Some of the kids in the neighborhood would make fun of Sammy about it and sing the old song of the Edmund Fitzgerald while marching around like sailors on the deck of a ship. He sometimes wished they had gone down to a watery grave with the doomed craft. In his mind, they certainly deserved as much.

“Where have you been Samuel Nichols!” mother cried as he dropped his snow covered book bag on the floor in the kitchen. “Is there any food left mom?”, he asked nonchalantly. He had been playing floor hockey at the community center after school and he was starving. “Samuel, I have been sick worrying about you. You know the rules…” “Come home when the streetlights are on… I know Mom…” he interrupted. She came over and wiped all of the ice and snow from his face and started undressing his winter clothes. “I couldn’t see the streetlights with all the snow flying and the boys wanted to finish the game. Sorry I’m so late.” “Well, you can stay home tomorrow after school and think about it for a night!”

He knew that was coming. He could almost predict down to the second the exact time he was going hear his punishment. He usually could predict the amount of time that his infraction would cost him as well. Coming home more than five minutes after the streetlights would cost a kid a day in the house. More than fifteen minutes would get you two days, and more than that could cost you the week. The week would usually get shortened to five days tops if you did your chores and didn’t mouth off too much. This was never a problem for Sammy, because he mostly kept to himself and his siblings were too young to get him in any kind of trouble.

“Look at you, all bruised up! What kind of hockey are they playing down there these days! You know I can’t afford to take you to the doctor again! I’m going to have to talk to George about these crazy hockey games that are happening down there!” mother said as she peeled his last, wet sweater from his body. He didn’t dare tell her that the bruises were from Jimmy Babcock. Jimmy and his friends would sometimes wait outside the community center and bully him around. It was more than sometimes. Almost everyday something would happen with that gang. They preyed on smaller kids like Sammy and most times he was fast enough to lose them on the street, but today they had tripped him from behind the dumpster when he was walking and started hitting him immediately. He was used to it by now, and just curled up in a ball, protecting his face and head while the rest of his body took the punishing blows. A car had pulled up with its high beams on and honked the horn, scaring away the boys and saving him from any real damage.

“Food Mom… I’m really hungry.” Sammy said sitting at the old wooden table in the kitchen. Mom grabbed a bowl from the dish drainer in the sink and filled it with cold macaroni and cheese from the big pot on the stove. It was the third day in a row that they had eaten “mac n cheese” for dinner, but tonight he didn’t bother to say anything. It was filling his stomach and stopping the hunger pangs and that was good enough for him. He and his little sisters hadn’t had more than one good meal a week since their father died in an accident at work a few years back, and mother was always talking about what they were going to do when the big check finally came. It used to excite him in the beginning, but he had heard the stories of moving out of the city, better schools, safer streets, fresh meat and vegetables for dinner almost every night since his father was buried. The check hadn’t come. Maybe it would never come, so he didn’t get his hopes up about it much anymore. He knew he was a Valley kid that would probably end up working at the mills or hopefully someday getting a union job in a trade like his dad.

His teachers had told his mother what a brilliant mind he had for mathematics and science, but they had also told her what a waste he would become always daydreaming and falling asleep in class. Mom had started a college fund for him in an old pickle jar on the refrigerator, but there was never more than twenty dollars in there at a time, and most times she would end up having to use it for riding the bus or buying groceries. She would always look at Sammy with sad eyes each time she pulled the jar down and say, “You know Sammy, when we get that check I’m gonna put $50,000 in that jar so you can go to college wherever you like. You can be a Harvard man if that’s what you want! Your father would love to see his big boy on that stage in a cap and gown!... your father… your…” At this point she would collapse in a chair and start crying. The poverty was getting to her and she missed dad so much. Sam missed his dad too, but he didn’t cry about it. He just went to his room like always and got into his bed. He would look at the peeling plaster on the ceiling and imagine far away worlds where wild things would happen. He loved space, and would often look at the poster of the Milky Way on his wall for hours, imagining what kinds of planets and living things resided in the distant realms of the universe. He fell asleep with the light on and slipped away for another chilly night of dreams.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Alien sighting in Puerto Rico.

In my commitment to being a total freak of nature and trouble maker in life, I have crossed over to the other side. The lighter side of the universe, that is. The unknown has heard my beckoning call and answered in resplendent beauty. It's a positively awesome X Files type experience and I have my flesh and blood, no nonsense grandmother's eye witness to back it up. Believe folks! BELIEVE!

Start the creepy background music pleeeeeeeaaaasssssseeeee!

Stardate: Wednesday January 20, 2010, approximately 2pm.

Gram and I met Carlos and his wife Erica in Coamo at the Burger King across from the Post Office. That is exactly where I told them to meet me in my broken Spanish, and they completed the task without fail. I learned this navigational trick many years back. Get to town center. Find well known fast food restaurant. Call and say, "Estamos aqui a (insert fast food chain)" and you will be picked up as soon as you can swallow your last drop of milkshake. We exchanged courtesies and stopped at the grocery store for some last minute supplies for the evening's meal. I chatted with Carlos in the parking lot and caught up on the family business that I missed over the past year. Things were going well, but Carlos is preparing to move to Buffalo in February and then move his wife and children over during summer. Unlike me, this bastard loves the cold weather in Buffalo. Besides that, he feels his children will have better educational opportunities and he and his wife will be able to find better employment since they haven't been able to work much in the past year.

We started our afternoon at the tiny country house with a tour of the backyard courtesy of Erica. She showed us the various mango, banana, avocado and coffee plants growing all over the property. Then we sat and chatted about the children and the possible move. She had a little reservation because of the cold, but agreed that the opportunities would be better for them there. She also said she would miss the house and quiet environment that they enjoyed here on the island. Quiet indeed, they were parked on a very steep road that lead down a valley that was very beautiful and sparsely populated. I could see why she didn't want to leave. Besides, tranquility and beauty is the perfect setting for visitors from space. You never see aliens landing in old industrial centers in the movies; it is always the quiet country road with lots of open land where our universal brethren do their dirty work!

Carlos called us into the kitchen for a fantastic home cooked meal. He is one of my personal favorite cooks and he always makes a point to have us for a dinner when we are here. My mouth salivated over the delicious fair which included his personal style of rice and beans made with pumpkin flesh, potatoes and sauce, chuletas (seasoned pork chops), tostones, and fresh avocado from the property. Silence endured in the kitchen while the four of us delighted in the gastronomic treasures. I told him that I couldn't wait to have him cook in my kitchen! He makes miracle meals with no space and tiny appliances, he will go crazy when he sees my big modern kitchen with all the latest in cooking technology!

After the meal, the children arrived at home and they scooped my full attention up for at least an hour of basketball, simon says, and photo play with my camera. As the evening fell, Carlos and Erica began to be-spell upon us stories of the unknown that they have witnessed over the past year while living in the valley. I had heard the UFO story before where the whole family had been over and were watching for 20 minutes while the craft hovered over the valley. Many photos were taken with both digital and regular film cameras, but none turned out. Everyone could describe the shape, colors, and even the windows on the craft individually. Carlos even joked that one of the aliens was flipping him off through the window. I kept saying, "Where are the aliens Carlos?" with a snide sense of sarcasm. He kept saying, "Maybe later at night when you aren't here. They usually come later and it isn't every night."

Darkness comes quickly in the tropics due to the angle of the Earth to the Sun and when the latter sets, it only takes 15 minutes or so to experience the lack of light. I kept joking, but was beginning to feel an air of excitement amongst my companions. By this time Gladys and Rosie had shown up with a few others for dinner and a chat. All of them had been present for the UFO experience at least once.

I made my way out to the road to get a good view of the valley and the night sky. Carlos joined. He was pointing to the spots in the sky that they last saw something unusual when out of nowhere there was a large flash of light in the opposite direction. "Look!!!" he yelled to the rest of the gang. About 15 seconds later it did it again but in a different spot in the sky. It repeated this brilliant light explosion maybe 4 more times then disappeared completely. Gone. Done. Nada. I'm no astronomer, but I have a slight fascination with the heavens and have spent many a night under a blanket of stars. I've seen all manner of planes, satellites, shooting stars, pulsars, comets and the like and I have never seen anything like this. Everyone else agreed that it was nothing they had ever seen.

Suddenly Carlos burst out, "LOOOOOKKKK!!!!! Over there!!!" Almost in a full court panic, we all shifted to see the brilliant disc on the horizon. It was stationary and spinning very quickly with a brilliant yellow light like none I've ever seen before. Carlos got his binoculars so we could take a closer look. Again, this was unlike anything I have ever seen, but it was different from the flashing light we had seen a few minutes before. I couldn't make out windows or anything that resembled the classic UFO appearance, but it was most certainly something very powerful and spinning very quickly. It was mostly in the same spot in the sky, but would occasionally move very erratically. Then, it shot up into space and disappeared. Amazing. I was breathless. If this is the work of military or something human, we are in for a technological treat.

I hope that you are all prepared for the amazing, the unknown, and the surreal forces of the universe!

Have a great night.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

An old email I found today...

Hey folks! Here is an email I wrote last year whilst traveling in the Sandwich Isles! For those of you not historically inclined, that was one of the first anglo names given to the islands of Aloha, Hawaii. I had a fantastic experience there and I have found the paper journal from that trip that I will incorporate into the blog when I'm feeling lazy... kind of like tonight! Here is the email that I wrote to my former employer and co workers! Hope you enjoy! J.

"Hey CPG!

I'm a few weeks into this crazy trip and so much has happened already! I have been invited to the Honolulu Yacht Club for a luncheon and fallen into the Ala Wai ( Hawaii's most polluted and shark infested waters) while trying to kayak on a traditional outrigger kayak in the same day! I have seen plenty of whales, both in the water and on the beach (myself included). I have hiked one of the most treacherous sea cliff trails in the world... barefoot after my sandals broke in the mud! Yes, very dangerous and passersby believed I was doing it because I was native! Especially dangerous since I kept falling and I was only a foot away from my demise! All's well that ends well though! I have slaughtered a wild pig... supposed to go hunting tonight actually! I have eaten said pig once cooked in a giant Wok outside! I have slept in remote parts of islands in a tent that I was barely able to stretch out in...and have shared stories and beers with the hippies and homeless who live in the parks! I have witnessed some of the best sunsets to date, some of the freakiest tropical weather, and some of the biggest waves... no I have not gone surfing yet! It's shark season and I don't feel inclined to be mistaken for a seal... consider the blubber people.. ha ha. I should be deep sea fishing this Saturday if the weather holds out with some local friends which will provide close up opportunities with the humpback whales. They are everywhere! I have eaten fresh island fruits and avocados picked right from the trees, and quite a few local and ethnic foods as well! Brad... yes, Brad is here and documenting the whole adventure with his 1000x per second photo taking skills. He goes nowhere without it! Kind of annoying at times, but it has saved me from even bothering to bring my camera! It usually goes like this.... Jeremy does semi-crazy/ sometimes stupid activity.... Brad sits in safety photographing and calling Jeremy stupid... ha ha. Anyway, we are having a blast. My mom should be dropping goodies tomorrow that I shipped for you guys! I will be back to work Feb. 5th for two weeks, then I'm heading to PR for two weeks and will be back to work for good that first week of March! Kim has been keeping me up to date on everything.. and Jason too! Thanks so much guys! Miss you all and see you in a week and a half!!! Aloha, Jeremy"

Sunday, January 17, 2010

I almost died...

Rain forest. Rain. Lot's of rain. My grandmother had brought fantastic weather with her, and the weather for the past few weeks in general has been amazing. Now it was pissing and flooding like crazy for almost three days straight. We needed a break. We headed west and south after I asked Gram to make a last minute decision at the split in the highway and the rain seemed to get worse as we traversed the central mountain passes. Cars were pulled over everywhere, drivers unable to face the incessant pounding of the torrential down pour and limited views.

We pressed on to Coamo, where some dear old friends of mine live. By chance, Mami (grandma Ortiz Reyes) and Gladys were home when we stopped. Gladys was hesitant to answer the door because she didn't recognize me with my shaved head. Once she realized it was me, she quickly grabbed me for a warm embrace and lead us inside to see Mami. We were seated at the kitchen table and served the best coffee on the planet! This is no exaggeration. Everyone who has ever had Mami's coffee will tell you it is the best ever... so rich and smooth and milky sweet. I never tell her how much milk or sugar because it is just right every time. They were pleased with my increased knowledge of Spanish and happy that they could converse with me a bit. They reminded me of my first lesson right in the back yard with Carlos, Jose, Esteban and the rest of the guys teaching my friends and I all the curse words we could handle.

It felt great to see them and they loved having my grandmother over for coffee as well. At the insistence of Mami, we will be returning sometime this week for a full meal and party with the family. I can't wait!

We stopped at the Banos de Coamo, which are very famous here on the island and known as the "fountain of youth" that Ponce De Leon was mistakenly searching for in Florida. Had he known they were here all along, he might still be around to tell us what the past 4 1/2 centuries were like! All kidding aside, the baths are a natural sulfur hot spring most likely coming from a deep well volcano. They are delightfully temped between 105 and 115 degrees and I don't care if it is a wives tale or not, I always feel better when I get out. Gram dipped her injured heel in the water and we joked about it being younger than the other as a result.

Ponce was our next destination. We skipped the city plaza on account of me getting lost and drove down to the port area of "La Guancha" instead. This port is one of the busiest in the Caribbean according to an ex girlfriend who works in the shipping industry. There is a fairly large small boat marina with a great board walk and pier where you can hand feed pelicans, seagulls and huge Tarpon fish swimming in the shallows. We snapped some pictures and took in the sights.

We ended up in La Parguera for the night and Gram was adventurous enough to go for a boat trip to the bio luminescent bay even though she swore up and down that she always gets sick on boats! It was a perfect night, with some overcast keeping things very dark. The bio bay lit up for us quite nicely and she made the whole trip without a single problem. We stayed right in town at a beautiful hotel called La Villa Parguera. I put my bad Spanish and excellent flirting skills to work and got us $20 off and free breakfast in the morning by batting eyelashes with the cute girl working the counter.

I must admit that my grandmother's sleep schedule is quite different than mine. She gets up no later that 5am every day and sometimes she is up at 2 or 3 in the morning waiting for the sun to rise. By the time I get up at 7 or 8, she has already had a shower and coffee. I sometimes wonder who the old one is here.... ha ha.

We got packed up and blitzed around the south west corner of the island. Gram loved the heat and was able to do a little hiking with me. On our way up to the Cabo Rojo lighthouse I caught a pretty big hermit crab and let him crawl around in my hands for some photo ops. It was a perfect day for sight seeing on the big craggy cliffs of Cabo Rojo. The ocean seemed to stretch out for eternity in every direction and we were having some great conversation about our crazy family! It was such a treat to drive with her through the panoramic views of the west coast talking and stopping to take pictures. Gram even got her first taste of real wild coconut at one of the roadside stands in Playa Jobos.

We ended up at the El Torre Guest House in Jobos and the proprietor instantly recognized me from my previous stay with Sam and Alwin a few weeks back. This was almost my final resting place on this earth. After packing in, the rain began pouring down outside so we decided to just hang in the room for a while and relax before getting some dinner. I sat in the lounge chair in the corner and proceeded to plug in my laptop. I sat down and put said laptop into my lap. As my fingers slid over the keys I felt a strange buzzing sensation. I thought it was the hard drive booting up and continued to work on the computer without paying much heed. Then I started feeling funny and realized that my laptop was conducting electricity into my body. I immediately grabbed the back of the laptop to set it down and was treated to the shock of a lifetime. ZZZZZAAAAAPPPP!!!!! Holy Shit! My grandmother looked at me and said, "What's happened to you? I saw you sitting there and I could tell something wasn't right." Macbook Pro Aluminum almost had its first victim! It was an hour or so before I felt even partly normal and I could feel a tingling in my hands for the next few hours. I am now officially "Electro Man!!!" I believe it was due to faulty wiring in the guest house, but I'm still not sure. I'm still here, Thank God, and ready to rock n roll!

When we left the guest house this morning, we stopped in Isabela so Gram could attend church. I didn't have any attire that was church worthy so I opted to stay outside and read while she participated in the Mass. I could hear the beautiful music and the whole church singing as the sun slowly rose from behind the massive structure. It was a heavenly experience from outside, and she confirmed that inside the church was alive and well with the spirit of God. She kept saying, "I had no idea what they were saying, but I felt so good and the people were singing all around so beautifully! I wish our congregation would sing like that."

It has been a wonderful experience having my grandmother with me. I am learning a lot about her and her travels all around the planet. Who do you think I got this wanderlust from in the first place..... If you have a grandparent that is alive and well, give them a kiss tonight and sit down and listen to some of their stories! Sometimes you will find that they are more adventurous than you will ever be.

Much love and Peace. Jeremy

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Glowing water, Farewell Friends, Hello Grandma..

My week with my friends was awesome and utterly exhausting at the same time. We packed a lot of action into a week and got very little rest because of it! We laughed a bunch, fought a little, drank a little more, and enjoyed the general idiosyncrasies of each member of our group. I got a lesson in patience and observance of emotion, they got a lesson in relaxation and spontaneity. We were seven over sized human beings packed into a rental van ( that got a flat on the hottest possible day ) chugging along the dangerous curves of Caribbean highways! It was fantastic! I miss them already and they only left this morning.

A few days ago we took the cargo ferry to Vieques, a 20 by 7 mile long island just off the east coast of Puerto Rico. We pitched about in big seas for at least 45 minutes of the hour or so journey. Ten minutes into the $2 boat ride the captain kicked everyone off of the top deck and made us all descend to the overly air conditioned depths of the bulky craft. It was a gray, nasty hellion of a sea storm and you would have thought we were in the middle of a big dark ocean instead of a 7 mile channel that on a normal day looks like you could easily swim across. We made it of course, and I being the salty dog that I am, couldn't help but stand up and watch the tempest through the small bulkhead window on the side of the ship.

The Vieques scenery was awesome as always, except for one thing.... GRINGOS!!!! Gringos were everywhere, like cockroaches infesting everything! Esperanza, the sea side village that only a few years ago had but a few guest house/bar/restaurant establishments and a breakfast shack, was now a burgeoning Gringopolis of boutiques, sports bars that offered Wii challenges, and more hemp jewelry than you could find at a Phish concert! Ok, maybe I'm over exaggerating a bit, but the place has been found and it won't be long before it is St. Thomas or Kauai... over run by fucking yoga instructors and Reike healers and all too many white people who either have way too much money or way too little, but all share the same bad white attitude. You know who you are whiteys!!! I'm one of them too. Damn!

That being said, most travelers will find Vieques to be exactly what they want out of an island. It is quaint, friendly, beautiful, has great beaches and snorkeling, and is very relaxing. You cannot help but love it and want to move there, but please don't whitey... haven't we done enough! Ha ha. The island's best attraction is done at night and is a staggering testament to our planet's amazing and unfathomable beauty. Mosquito Bay, or known in the gringo world as "Bio Bay", is host to a natural phenomenon that is rumored here to be the best on Earth of its kind. The shallow, mangrove fringed bay is home to a millions per gallon niche of bio luminescent microorganisms called dinoflagellates, whose only defense mechanism is to emit a Sapphire blue bio luminescence when disturbed. They look like stars in the water twinkling and glittering in the dark night sky.

As a matter of fact, I often say it is like swimming in stars. When you look up, and see the vastness of space above you while swimming in the glistening water, you feel absolutely magical. No other way to describe it. If you haven't gone, go. We were treated to perhaps the best night possible. We had no moon in the visible sky and the constellations had come to play. Plus our tour guides were well equipped with laser pointers that seemed to touch the stars in space as they showed us our astrological deities. I got to see my sign, Leo lounging in the sky in all his Lion mightiness for the first time in my life and a host of others that I haven't ever been able to identify at home due to the light pollution. Everyone agreed that it was one of the best experiences in our lives.

My friends have returned home safely, and my grandmother has checked in for a 10 day visit. I am getting some work done around here and for myself as well. I am sitting up in the jungle, as always, listening to the Coqui frogs whistle into the night. I hope you are warm, well, and enjoying wherever it is you may be!



Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A beautiful time with beautiful people

"Rich, where are my sleeping pills?" Sherri said to her husband half way dreading the fact that he may not have them and half way loving the prospect of downing the little slumber aids as soon as possible. Jay had already captured a bug from the wall for her in the first 15 minutes of arrival. We had calmed her enough to get her to shower, but only if Rich would go with her. Jay and Rich began a wager outside about how many days Sherri and her sister Racheal would last before they checked into the nearest Holiday Inn. Jay and Rich were already falling in love with the place the nature lovers that they are. After a walk a licious afternoon in Old San Juan, this was our retreat to sleep for the night and my first experience with my old neighborhood buds!

We made it through the night with little interruption except that I began to be a snack stand for mosquitoes while I played with my ipod, which is my habit when I can't fall asleep or read. Duh.. it was the brightest light in the house! I finally dimmed it down and returned to slumbering on my little lumpy bed.

The next day was action packed.... I mean, so much so that I felt like a tourist on a caffeine induced one day holiday! We woke up at 8am and headed to the rain forest. The hike down to La Mina falls was a short .7 miles, but the girls said it felt like 5. They were hardly complaining when we swam under the beautiful tropical waterfall. Jay snapped about 30 pictures of us frolicking in the cold, fresh, cascading waters and despite the complaining on the way back up to the car, everyone agreed that it was an awesome experience.

From cold rain forest water we ventured on to warm, salty waves at Luquillo. Everyone enjoyed the hot sun, good vibes, vendor food and scenery. The scenery was great on and off the beach as tourist season has begun heating up here in Puerto Rico. It was a ten fold increase in oily bodies roasting under the sun and the boys especially were happy to see the skimpy bathing suits barely covering the assets of the opposite sex. We body surfed and played Frisbee while enjoying a 3 or 4 hour stint at the beautiful beach.

Just before sunset we headed back to the house for a shower and some rest and then it was back into San Juan for a night on the town! Of course we had the place rocking, especially since our group has quite a few party animals in it! We hit some of the usual spots and a few new ones and laughed our drunken selves into the night. I got to say goodbye to Sam and Alwin, who are continuing their journey in Cuba and we got to hang with Lisa and Sarah who are always good company! On top of that, I made friends with an older couple who invited me to a barbeque next week... awesome stuff! We crawled back to the house around 2:30am and were changing to go to bed when we heard a faint, "Helloooo? Are you thereeee?". It was Lucy coming to see that we were ok and needing to get into the casita to grab some presents she had hidden for the children for the following Three Kings Holiday. Her faint, cute voice prompted Rich to adopt an alter ego named Lucy who talks like a porcelain doll and makes the funniest shit up at the funniest times. He has had us crying in laughter ever since!

We got up yesterday and hustled down to Captain Frank for a day at sea. We now had Rachel Wheeler with us, who was picked up at 5am at the airport. How Jay, Racheal, and Erin woke up to drive after only 2 hours of sleep is beyond me, but they did it and we were on our way to a crazy day with the legendary Captain "Paco" Frank! Not only did we enjoy great snorkeling and diving around the wreck at Cayo Santiago, we also did something I thought I would never see. Frank pulled off a political move that could have won a Nobel Prize. We were able to get 10 feet from the island, which is completely off limits, and feed the Rhesus monkeys some fresh bananas and carrots, which is completely illegal. Captain Frank handed Rich a can of Coke and told him to walk to the truck parked on the beach and give it to the guard. As Rich walked, we walked in the opposite direction through the water to a shoreline where 20 or so of the primates were hanging out. Boy were they happy to see what we had! They clambered around on various trees and posts to get a better look and to be able to leap for the food that we flung their way! All parties involved were much satisfied and the ride back to the dock was spectacular! Frank was in true form, handing us all instruments and blasting the salsa while dancing, and navigating through very choppy seas!

Our next move was to traverse the island to a little town called Sabana Grande, where the Irizarry family would be meeting one another for the first time! We made the drive that night and got to meet Aunt Niecca first. She was the sweetest, most hospitable woman around. We were treated to fresh drinks, food, and excellent Coquito made with moonshine! She then helped us to get to the house we were staying at for the night, which was owned by a relative who wasn't on the island at the time. It was a great house, but there weren't enough beds for everyone so it was decided that the girls would get the beds and we three boys would sleep out in the living room, Rich on the couch, Jay on a mattress on the floor, and myself in a cot that was probably 30 years old! We had a blast in the living room watching infomercials and interpreting our own goofy voices to the characters and ended up falling asleep with the TV on.

A sharp rooster call at 6am woke the house up and get every one's blood rushing! We eventually got ourselves together and headed to Thomasa's house for a beautiful day and some amazing Puerto Rican cooking! Family meeting family for the first time was a beautiful experience! Racheal did most of the talking, as she is the only one out of her group that speaks spanish and I was there to help with what she didn't know. They filed in, sat down and started talking story and trading lifetimes of information in small talk. Before we left this beautiful mountainside home, we were treated to her uncle's CD of Jibaro music. He's a famous singer on the island and actually once sang with Ramito, who is one of my favorite jibaritos! It was awesome talking to him and he even invited me back to his house where I got to see a wall full of plaques, records, and pictures of his success as a musician. He even gave me two Cd's and signed them, one for the Irizarry family and one for me! We made promises to keep in touch and I told him I would send him some of my music when I made it back to Buffalo. It has been a blessing having my friends here and I am so happy that they enjoyed meeting their family! They are wonderful people!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Simple living.... and Yes on Youtube!

I have been alone for the past two days. I spent one day mostly in my house cleaning, reading, relaxing and just unwinding from the craziness in San Juan. I slept in the afternoon which really screwed me up because I ended up staying up half the night watching concert videos of Yes on Youtube. I'm known to do such things at home, but it was a totally different experience up here.

I hunkered down with a few rum punches, some oreo cookies, and put my headphones into my laptop so I wouldn't scare the children, or the rest of the mountain for that matter! I operate from a fairly weak satellite signal up here, so much of the time was spent waiting for the videos to load. However, when they were up and ready.... I was cranking, air drumming, and singing along in my best Jon Anderson falsetto! It was a total "Me" night for sure!

I woke up to the sound of the gate clanking open this morning on the small road next to my house. I was in desperate need of water and real food. It seems that oreos and rum aren't exactly the best thing for one's blood sugar and I was parched. I went into the kitchen and quickly realized I had used the last of my drinking water last night to make iced tea for my cocktails. I was also out of anything worth eating. Shit! I opened the valve on the sink already knowing what I would see, but hoping for a miracle none the same. Too brown to drink.

Time? What time is it? Ah... 10 am. I'm a little late waking up. I walked over to Lucy's house after a brief rinse with mouthwash and used my puppy dog eyes to score a half gallon of drinking water. That was all she could spare since she would not be grocery shopping until tomorrow. Tomorrow is my grocery shopping day as well, and the day when a bunch of my neighborhood friends are flying in for a week's holiday. Tomorrow water will not be an issue because I will have transportation! Joy is me! I was practically shaking to get some water in my system when Lucy said, "cafe?". Sure! What the hell! Let's do it. It's liquid at least.

I certainly did not share the circumstances of my predicament with my dear Lucy, and I was kind enough not to open the jug of water and just start sucking it down... though I wanted to... badly. I gulped down the rich black coffee and got ready to head back to my house. "Let me make you some eggs Jeremy", were the next magic set of words. "You don't have to Lucy.... really!" "No, no, sit. I make you eggs and toast." Sit I did while she cooked a perfect set of over medium poultry embryos! I shoved them greedily between my toast and almost had a food orgasm as the warm yolk busted in my mouth during the first bite. I didn't even notice that a good portion of it had squirted onto my favorite b.lo shirt. A slight hangover cured the good old fashioned American way... eggs, toast and coffee. Oh yeah.... you can guess what the next activity was going to be this morning.

Then it was off to work. The house below needed to be prepped for my guests and Isaiha was the best man for the job. He doesn't speak any english, and his spanish is so mumbled that the rest of the kids can barely understand him. He and I were in communication meltdown land. Not to worry, the boy knew what I needed with a few simple words in spanish and lots of hand gestures to show him what we were doing next. It got to a point where he was reading my mind, making beds and cleaning so well I thought he must have worked for a hotel.

Once we got the water pipe fixed and water flowing for the house, I made a discovery.... hot water! Hot freaking water for the shower in the little hut! Joy is me again! Oh how these simple discoveries were making my day pass so wonderfully! I was dreaming of testing it out tonight as I filled my mop bucket for another round of cleaning. We finished up and I headed back to the house to shower and relax...which is what I'm doing now. Dinner is in an hour at the main house! Lucy felt bad that I did all that work and didn't have a good meal so she invited me for dinner at five, which is the religious hour of dinner here at the house. I better get going before the kids get all the food... ha ha. Hope you are well and enjoying the simplicity of life!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Year in Old San Juan

10... 9... 8...7....6...5..4...3...2... Feliz ANO NUEVO!!!! And so it went... out with the old of 2009 and into the new of 2010. Oddly enough, I didn't feel the usual sense of commitment to change and setting new big goals, perhaps because I was just appreciative of my situation. I felt more like an extra on the set of an incredible movie, watching the scene unfolding in front of my eyes. There I was, underdressed in trunks, a t shirt, and crocs, surrounded by beautiful faces of folks from all over the world who were dressed to the nines and dancing like mad. The weather was overcast, maybe 75 degrees or so, and I was staring up into the night sky at the incredible fireworks display that was ringing in the new year. Live music raged into the night as the beautiful bodies slithered this way and that in a pulse that was beyond comprehension. Plaza Colon was partying like nobody's business, but I was quietly observing, not in a partying mood at all. I was there to watch it go down, but for some reason that was good enough for me. I was happy, quiet, and lost in my own thoughts.

"What the fuck dude! You are the life of the party usually... what's gotten into you?" Sam said, noticing my transparent state as he tried to feed me a bottle that was being passed around in the dancing crowd. I didn't answer. I didn't drink. I just shrugged my shoulders and kept looking around in a daze. Somehow I had let my mind get lost in the reverie of all of the events that had led me here in the first place. I thought about all of the workings of the universe over the past four or five years, pulling me into this very moment. I thought of how I met Sam and Alwin in Buffalo 6 months ago, how I met Lucy and the children over four years ago, how I quit my job this year and started my own business, and how I had ended up in San Juan this very evening by meeting Lisa and Sarah a bit over a week ago. I thought of my family and friends and how much I missed them. I thought of my many successes and failures, the women I had loved, the hearts I had broken, the ones I had mended, the good and evil I had done throughout my life. Flashing randomly through chunks of my life, I let my mind run wild down memory lane and I thought, "this is what it must feel like to trip on acid or something". I never have, but I was completely lost in my thoughts despite all the chaos around me. It was a pretty intense feeling, but I let it roll and pass through my brain.

"Some people have it all figured out" I thought. " ...and if they don't, life figures it out for them. The wedding, the babies come, the career, the education, the house, the retirement, the plot in the cemetery. Usually some bad shit happens in between, the illness, the car accident, the company closes, death of a loved one, friends betray, divorce...etc. Life goes like that for most of the people I know, and for most of the people on the earth I suppose. Why the hell am I here? In the middle of the beautiful island, in the middle of winter, enjoying almost every moment, even the minute challenges.... why am I so fortunate? Yes I have problems, like anyone else. Yes I work hard. Yes I think positive. Yes I force myself to change and grow. Is this it? Is this the secret to life.... how about shut the hell up and THANK GOD for blessing you with all of these wonderful gifts and talents. Thank God you are right here, right now!" I gripped my own arm to break the spell, smiled at the passing crowd, grabbed the arms of my two friends and shuffled down the cobblestone streets of the old city. This is going to be one hell of a good year....