Thursday, July 24th

 

I decided to resume my reading on this day, so I skipped over most of pool-type stuff in order to read The Handbook for Boys, which was disappointing, to say the least. I was disappointed in myself, really. Whenever I go to a library and pick up multiple books, I place them in an order based on how good I think they’re going to be. Then I read them in ascending order. Normally I’m pretty accurate, but I was completely off the mark this time. The Handbook for Boys, which I saved for last, ended up being the worst of the bunch, while King Dork and The Boy from the Basement ended up being truly awesome books. Hm.

 

My father had booked a catamaran – that’s a type of boat – adventure thing for this day, and so we boarded a coach bus which took us to the docks. From there, we boarded the catamaran and set sail. After about an hour, we reached our first stop: Snorkelling with fish. This ended up being extremely lame, at least for me. Because of the surgery I had undergone four months prior, my nose was still sensitive, and the mask was painful. I adjusted it, but when I put my face into the water, I immediately felt the wonderful feeling of the ocean invading my nasal passages, and I started sputtering and had to return to the catamaran.

 

But for about 0.5 seconds, I was able to see underwater clearly, and there were about a billion fish of every imaginable colour. So that was cool, I guess.

 

Thirty minutes of sailing later, we reached our second destination: Swimming with dolphins.

 

This was awesome, plain and simple. Dolphins have always been one of my favourite animals, and I’ve always wanted to have one of these experiences. It met all of my expectations. The dolphin went up to every person and let them pet him. After petting the dolphin, a young man in our group exclaimed jokingly (in Italian) "Hey! It’s a fake! It’s made out of rubber! You can’t fool me!" My family got a good laugh out of that. The dolphin then went up to a few people and kissed them. I wasn’t one of the lucky ones, unfortunately. When the dolphin went up to the Italian man, he splashed water in his face instead of kissing him, causing much laughter. We all got out pictures taken with the dolphin, and then it was time to go. 

 

We then arrived at our final destination: Food, and a nice beach. I didn’t really understand the point of sailing this far to get to a beach, when we had a perfectly nice beach back at the resort. Still, the food was welcome, as I was getting pretty hungry by this point. I had some chicken and french fries. Not exactly exotic, but it was a nice change of pace from pizza. Beside us, I heard a man and a boy (who I assumed was his son) speaking in French. Unable to control myself, I spent the next ten minutes looking for a way into their conversation. Then, right in front of the man, I saw my way in: A bowl of rice. I could ask the man to pass the rice.

 

I disputed with myself whether or not it was worth it. Rice is tied with ocean water on my list of things that I don’t want in my mouth. A few years ago I was inflicted with an unfortunate stomach virus, and I threw up nearly everything that I ate, except for toast and rice. After a week of eating rice for both lunch and dinner every day, I became completely sick of the stuff, and have never eaten rice since. Rice products are alright, but white rice is worse than poison. Even looking at rice makes me lose my appetite. If even a grain of rice touches my food, I refuse to eat it. It’s like a fear. An irrational fear, perhaps, but a very real one.

 

But I knew I’d regret it later if I didn’t try. So I said to the man in French (hoping that I had gotten the words correct) "Can I take the rice?"

 

He said sure, but gave me a confused look. He had heard me speaking English just a few moments ago. After intaking the required spoonful of rice and forcing myself to swallow, I elaborated. In my excitement, I completely screwed up the phrasing. "I am a studying of French in Toronto." I explained to him. He told me that he and his son lived together in Montreal. We chatted for about two minutes, and I tried not to look completely foolish. Then he and his son went for a walk on the beach. I silently cursed myself for making grammatical errors that I shouldn’t have. Blah.

 

We headed back to the resort then. I was pretty tired when we got back, and decided to take a short nap.

 

Fast forward to dinner, where the meal of the day was generic everything. I think I had peas and carrots, with some pasta on the side. I’m not sure if the peas were really peas though. They looked like peas, but they didn’t taste like peas. The carrots were ridiculously dry. The pasta was edible. 

 

After dinner I went to the resort’s theatre area. I should probably explain this area, because it’s a lot more important than I’ve given it credit for thus far.

 

It was pretty simple in design. There was a stage, and enough room and chairs for about 100 people to watch whatever show the resort’s staff was putting on. To the right of the stage (left, from the audience’s point of view), there were two ping pong tables. There were also two tables which allowed people to play a game which has no name that I’m aware of, which will hereafter be referred to as the “unnamed game”. The unnamed game consisted of sliding wooden pucks through small openings in a wooden barrier a few feet away. Easier said than done, as it was a game that my younger brother would beat me at time and time again. Behind the audience was the main bar which Johnny’s family and I had frequented some nights before. To the right of the audience were two pool tables, as well as the club. Remember all of that, because it will be important later on.

 

I went to the theatre area where I found Johnny with two girls. Spanish ones, though they spoke nearly fluent English. But I wasn’t interested in them (Me? Not interested in girls? Shocking!), because coming from the stage I heard a very familiar verse, sung by a very familiar voice.

 

"Hakuna Matata… What a wonderful phrase!"

 

They had me at "Hakuna". As it happened, this night’s show involved a bunch of costumed actors dancing to Disney music. I sort of ignored the girls (Me? Putting Disney above girls? Shocking!) in favour of singing along to every song. And no, I hadn’t had anything to drink yet that night.

 

After the show, we went to the bar. My uncle was there too, but he pretended not to notice me. Johnny ordered his gin & tonic, I ordered my vodka ‘shot’, and the girls ordered coffee.   

 

Somehow, I nearly managed to down the half-glass in one go this time.

 

"Christ, mate! You’re going to be singing all the way back to your room!" Johnny commented. 

 

We went to listen to the saxophone player who would always play in the reception area once the show finished. He was a skilled musician and all, but I’m pretty sure he only knew about five songs. Every night he would play the same set of songs, only switching up the order he played them in. I had heard him play on almost every previous night, and so by Thursday I was bored of him. But I politely listened because everyone else was doing the same thing.

 

The girls said that they were tired (after having coffee?) and headed back to their rooms. Johnny said that he was going to pack it in for the night as well, and so I was left alone. I walked around the resort for a short time, exploring the areas that I hadn’t yet seen. I scared the shit out of myself twice. I was walking down an out-of-the-way alley, illuminated by a single bright light. A person was under the light, just standing there. I don’t know why, but he scared the living daylights out of me, so I headed in the opposite direction. I eventually came across a wedding chapel overlooking the ocean. But at midnight, the ocean is as black as the sky, and you can’t tell one from the other. It gave me the impression that I was staring into an endless abyss. It was cool for about five seconds. Then I started getting scared for some reason and walked quickly back to my room. I watched Generation Kill on T.V. that night (or it might have been another night. Minor detail.), and approved of it. Then I slept. The room was warm enough, and eventually I was able to get to sleep, but then I woke up at about 4 o’clock, freezing. The stomach pains made it hard to get back to sleep, but eventually I did. A good thing too. The next day was an important one.

 

Friday, July 25th.

 

This was probably the most event-packed day of the week, so buckle up.

 

After doing all the usual morning stuff, I headed out to the pool. On my way there, I saw John heading towards the beach, and decided to go with him instead. We walked along the beach for a short distance (stopping once to order cokes at the beach bar) before heading into the ocean. I love walking on the beach, but I’m not really a fan of swimming in the ocean, since:

 

1. The ocean is wet.

 

2. The ocean tastes bad.

 

 3. The ocean murdered my iPod.

 

But again, what the hey. I went swimming with John. And we talked about everything and anything. It was great, because we transcended the superficial "You speak English? I speak English too!" type of friendship and spoke about things that regular friends would speak about. Musical interests, sports, hobbies, the political situations within our countries, et cetera.

 

Granted, we didn’t have too much in common, but I didn’t hold it against him. I hardly expected someone from Argentina to love hockey and Billy Talent. It was still cool though. Then he tried to teach me to body surf. The ocean had been calm for first five days of the trip, but on the sixth there was a decent amount of wave activity, possibly on account of the hurricane passing to the west(?) of us.

 

(If you ever get the chance to watch a hurricane from a range of several hundred kilometres, I highly recommend you do so. On the previous night I saw this insanely massive storm cloud to the west(?). Lightning was flashing within the cloud at a rate of several bolts per second. It’s one of those things that you’d have to see for yourself, as my description doesn’t make it sound nearly as cool as it was. My grandfather said that he’d never seen anything like it before in his life, and being 73 years old, he doesn’t say that very often).

 

Anyhow, body surfing and me didn’t mix very well. All I accomplished was getting water up my nose and down my throat. John was pretty good at it. Somehow when a wave came, he was able to ride it halfway back to shore, and I’d have to swim to get back to him. I did improve over the course of the few hours that I was with him, but not by much. 

 

At around four o’clock, John’s father called. He had to go. Apparently he had done something after I left him on Wednesday to get himself into trouble, and his dad had found out and semi-grounded him. On vacation. What kind of satanic father figure would ground his son while on vacation? But I digress. John had to go. I felt sad then, because I was leaving the resort in twenty-six hours, and I knew that this might be the last I would see of him. "The world is small," he said. "We will see each other again, my friend."

 

Touching words indeed. But the odds of me encountering "John from Argentina" ever again were slim. I knew it, and I think he knew it too. This would probably be the last time we would ever see each other. But that isn’t the type of thing that you say out loud.

 

I left and returned to the poolside, feeling a bit melancholy. I had some pizza for lunch, and then went swimming with my family for a bit. I got bored and decided to head back to the room, where I stayed for a while and watched a movie on T.V. Something about a murder and an insurance scheme. It wasn’t great. When the movie finished, I left the room and headed back to the pool for a bit. It was getting late, so my family was about to leave the pool. Having nothing else to do, I took our only room key with me and headed back. But as I passed by the theatre area again, I found John playing ping pong with his cousin, Valentino. This sort of made our touching goodbye moment a few hours earlier a little less magical, but I was thrilled nonetheless.

 

I now had a decision to make. Should I try to locate my brother and sister in order to give them the room key (and risk John leaving by the time I returned), or should I screw them over and remain with John and Valentino? In Canada, I would have gone to find my brother and sister. But not in Cuba. And though it might have been slightly mean, it ended up being a decision that would indirectly change my life.

 

I said hello again to John, and I introduced myself to Valentino. We played some ping pong. John ended up being really good. He destroyed me handily. Then we played the unnamed game, agreeing to play a series of matches until one of us won three games. John and Valentino proved to be very good at this game. Each of them won two of the first four matches. Then I won the fifth game (coming from behind to win with my final shot, much to John’s disbelief), and the sixth, sending the series to a final, sudden death match, which John won, but just barely.

 

After this, someone challenged John to a ping pong match, so me and Valentino played another match of the unnamed game. At some point in the game, I looked to my right.

 

And there he was. 

 

***

 

Within the pages of my novel, I give only a very vague description of what Cody looks like. I want Cody to look different for everyone who reads it. But I’ve always known what he really looks like.

 

But my imagination has limits. As I was writing, I found that I was only able to conjure up a mental image of a living, breathing Cody for short periods of time. As such, I needed a physical model. 

 

And where better to search for a physical model than my school? The youngest students at my school are still a year older than Cody, so I knew that I wouldn’t find a perfect model. Still, I hoped to get as close as possible. I finally picked a boy named Nico to be my Cody. He wasn’t perfect: He was a bit too tall, his eyes were blue instead of brown, and he looked a little too smug to be Cody. But he was as close as I was going to get. So, whenever I needed to picture Cody doing something active, I would imagine Nico.

 

(And think of me what you will: Nico has no clue who I am. I’ve never even spoken to him. But my locker was close to the Grade 7/8 hallway, and I was able to pick him out through observation. Stalker much? Maybe, but it was all done for a greater cause).

 

***

 

When I looked to the right, I saw Cody standing right beside me, watching me and Valentino play. I did a double take. I did a triple take. ‘No effing way’, I thought. He was Cody’s exact shape and size. He had blond hair. He had a very Cody-esque expression on his face. I had to ask the critical question:

 

"Do you speak English?"

 

He looked up at me. Brown eyes.

 

"Yes," he said. There was an accent there. It had a certain allure to it. I couldn’t peg it, though.

 

"What’s your name?" Had he replied with "Cody", I probably would have fainted, or at least lost control of my bowels for a moment.

 

"Dan," he replied brightly. I let out a small sigh of relief.

 

"Where are you from?" I asked.

 

Here my memory fails me a bit. I think that he responded "Prague" to this question the first time, but I didn’t hear him clearly. I asked him a second time, and he responded "Czech". But I might be imagining his first response. It’s a minor detail. Either way, he was from the Czech Republic.

 

"Alright Dan, when I finish playing with Valentino here, I’ll play a game with you."

 

"Okay,"

 

And that is how I met Dan. 

 

I’d just like to take a moment to clarify something. A few months ago, I made brief mention of Dan in a blog. I said that he was the Little Prince, not Cody. In reality he was a bit of both. Physically, he was Cody. No question about it. But in terms of personality, he was not.

 

Physically, Cody is my beau ideal, which Dan was also. But Cody has a flawed personality, which Dan did not have. And in that way, they are two different people. Dan was too perfect to be Cody.  

 

After losing to Valentino in the unnamed game, I played with Dan. He beat me. He didn’t gloat. At some point during the game, he flinged his puck a little harder than necessary, and it went careening off the platform and onto the floor. He laughed. That was the first time I heard him laugh. It was such a sweet sound; beautiful and pure. There is so much about Dan that I cannot do justice to with my words. Shakespeare could not do justice to this boy.

 

We placed two more games afterwards and I won both. Dan did not whine. 

 

That is more or less all the contact I had with Dan on that day. His mother picked him up and they left. I played some more ping pong with John and Valentino. Then my mother approached me, looking fairly angry. Apparently she had gone back to my room, expecting me to be there. She had knocked on the door, but there had been no answer. She had assumed that I was sleeping, so she continued to knock, to no avail. And so, like a mother, she had become worried. The theatre area was slightly off the beaten path, and so it had taken her the better part of a half hour to locate me.

 

Frankly, I’m surprised that she didn’t initiate a resort-wide manhunt. Yes, she is the sort of mother who would go that far. 

 

So, for the second time that day, I said a final farewell to my Argentinean friends. I then headed off with my mother to unlock the door to my room. It was time to begin packing for home. Packing didn’t take very long, as I had been packing my clothes back up throughout the course of the week, and I had only brought a few personal belongings. Then it was time for one final dinner.

 

We ate at a restaurant called "Romantica", which featured international cuisine. Or so the menu told us. It all looked like seafood. Regardless, I was able to stomach it. I then headed out for one final night of fun.

 

And guess who I saw in the theatre area? John and Valentino! Again! And this time they were with two girls! The girls looked a few years younger than me. I guessed that they were about 14 or 15. They turned out to be relatives of John and Valentino. Cousins or sisters, I’m not sure. We chatted a bit, and then John found a deck of cards from somewhere. He taught me a few games, the first of which was called "trece" (thirteen). The game involved making as many groups of thirteen as possible. The specific rules elude my memory, but I’m sure that I could just invent a new set if I was ever so inclined. We later played a game identical to what we here call "Stealing War", though I forget what it was called in Spanish. I also remember us playing a game called "Chancho". It took me a few tries to pronounce the name properly (I said "Chowcho" a few times), so I figured that it would be an incredibly complex game. If I had had a better knowledge of the Spanish language, I would have known that "Chancho" means "pig".

 

Thinking back, I really wish that I had introduced a North American game or two to them. I think they would have liked Crazy Eights, or Signal. Alas…

 

We then went into the club. It was surprisingly empty in there. John ordered two cokes, and we sat down at a table and chatted for a while. It all felt very natural, which I really liked. I happened to have my dad’s camera with me, and I wanted to take a picture of this little group, for memory’s sake. We left the club for outside, where the light was better, but who should we see outside the door but John’s father. John had to go. Now.

 

"Oh hell no", I thought.

 

I asked John if he could ask his dad to take a picture quickly. His dad said no. My Spanish isn’t that sharp, but I know that John continued to plead with his father for a while to no avail. Why had I not taken the picture in the club? Surely the flash on my dad’s camera would have been good enough! Alas, John and Valentino and the girls walked away, and I was left feeling sad. Now I wouldn’t even have a picture to remember my friends by. Pictures, as I have said, aren’t nearly as good as living, animate people. But they’re better than nothing.

 

In Canada, I would have gone to sleep at this point. But in Cuba? To the bar, to drown my sorrows! It was to be my last night of being legal drinking age for almost three years, and I was going to make sure to drink my fill tonight. 

 

The goal wasn’t to get drunk. I wanted to maintain control. That, as my uncle often said, was the key. I had no intention of being the idiot that everyone watches doing something very silly.

 

But the goal was to get happy. So I ordered my drinks and consumed them one by one. Then I left the bar.

 

And there I saw Johnny.

 

"Are you alright mate?" he asked.

 

I was.

 

"Fancy a wander?" he asked. 

 

I wasn’t sure how to respond to that one. First off, I had misheard him. I thought that he had said "Wanda". Even still, I didn’t know how to respond. As it happens, a wander is just a way of saying "walk". And so we walked. He told me that there were all sorts of wonderful slang phrases in his native land. "Bloomeck" being one of the others (short for "blooming heck"). I figured that it was only fair to give him a phrase of my own. And so I gave him "bleed the lizard". He had a laugh about that one. We spoke briefly about our futures. I told him that I hadn’t made up my mind in any definite manner yet, but I mentioned being a lawyer, a teacher, and an author. I also mentioned my novel. He said that he was going to be a pilot, and his dad was enrolling him in pilot’s school in the upcoming year. That made me resent my father just a little bit. He would snap if I ever told him that I wanted to be an author. But Johnny’s father was supportive. Most parents probably are. We exchanged e-mail addresses at some point before Johnny had to go. It was just as well, since I began to feel a bit dizzy at that point. I planned to head back to the room, but on my way there I saw my uncle sitting at the bar. He was having a final drink. I chatted with him a bit about nothing in particular, consciously making sure that I was speaking coherently. He then left because my aunt had been expecting him to be back at the room an hour earlier. He offered to walk back with me, but I told him that I would be staying out a little later and would walk back alone – a fateful decision. I wanted to walk around the resort at night one last time. I did, enjoying my dizziness as I did so. Then I walked back to the room, singing "Mr. Jones" by the Counting Crows all the way back. Not because I was intoxicated in the least – I sing whenever I think that no one is listening, alcohol or not, and that particular song had been in my head for the whole week.

 

On the floor in front of my room was the biggest bug that I’ve ever seen. It was the size of a bullfrog, at least. I leaped about a foot into the air when I saw it. It didn’t move.  It might have been dead. I’m not sure.

 

I put the cardkey into its slot and removed it. A red light appeared, indicating "access denied". I tried again. Red light. Shit, the key was busted. I would have to go back to the reception desk to get a new one.  

 

Here begins what I call the "Lucic Incident" (LOO-cheech). I have related it a great many times to my friends, and they all tell me that I acted like an idiot here and could have been seriously injured or worse. In my opinion, I didn’t act like an idiot. Lidier the Security Guard did. You be the judge: Was the alcohol impairing my judgment at all? Was I ever in any physical danger? Or was this guy just a huge dumbass?

 

(I couldn’t remember Lidier’s name at first on the morning after. I mistakenly referred to him as "Lucic" when first relating the story, forgetting that Lucic is actually a hockey player on the Boston Bruins. The name stuck, and he’s been known as Lucic ever since.)

 

I began walking back towards the reception area, but I didn’t get more than three steps before I was halted by a figure wearing a security uniform.

 

A brief note about the staff who worked at this resort: They all spoke English. Not well, and not very much, but they all spoke enough English to communicate. Not this clown. It took a few tries and some outrageous hand gestures for him to ask me what I was doing. "My key doesn’t work," I said, knowing that he wouldn’t understand. Eventually I got through to him. He walked over and tested the key for himself. It didn’t work. He motioned for me to follow him, and not having anywhere else to go, I did. We walked for about a minute towards a yellow building, which was the security office. Once there, he picked up a phone and said something in Spanish to the effect of "A client is locked outside his room." He waited for the response. Then:

 

"Person…" He pointed in the direction of my room. "Twenty minutes."

 

Alright,’ I thought. ‘Thanks buddy. But it’s a three minute walk to the reception, and a three minute walk back. I could walk slowly and still be back in half the time.

 

But whatever. He motioned for me to follow him again, and so I did.

 

Then he said "You. Me. Five dollars."

 

I was caught off guard by this one. Not only had he just inconvenienced me, but now he wanted to be paid for it? This was an all-inclusive resort. Everything was free. If I had gone back to the reception, I could have gotten another key for free. I didn’t know how to respond to this, so I didn’t.

 

We returned to my room for the most awkward conversation ever. Here was a man who was trying to rip me off and who could hardly speak English. What exactly was I supposed to say to him? I did my best to keep silent, while he kept saying to me: "My parents… sleep." I figured that he was telling me that his parents were dead. I can’t say that I felt any sympathy whatsoever for him. But I nodded nonetheless.

 

"You. Me. Five dollars," he said. I nodded.

 

"My parents. Sleep." he said. I nodded.

 

Eventually, a man in a golf cart arrived and unlocked my door for me.

 

"You. Me. Five dollars." The man reminded me. 

 

I told him that I didn’t have any money. About ten times. Finally he understood me and said "My parents… sleep."

 

At that moment a light flicked on in my brain. He was asking me if my parents were asleep to see if they had any money. It would have helped if he had known "your" from "my", and if he knew how to make a phrase sound like a question instead of a statement.

 

“Yeah,” I told him. “They’re asleep, and I don’t want to wake them up.”

 

"Five dollars… room?" he asked hopefully. 

 

"No, there’s no money in my room."

 

He stood there, stumped. I have never seen a human being have as stupid an expression on his face as this man had at that moment.

 

"Look," I said, wanting to be rid of him. "What’s your name?" The look on his face here indicated that he was thinking ‘Oo! Oo! Pick me! I know this one!’

 

"Securita!" he declared formally.

 

I had to stop myself from smacking my palm against my forehead. "No… Your name."

 

Again, he looked stumped. You know the expression that Patrick Star gets when someone asks him a question? That was the expression on the man’s face. I took matters into my own hands and squinted to read his nametag in the dark.

 

"Alright Lidier," I told him, in the same voice a kindergarten teacher uses when talking to her students. "Tomorrow, I will tell my dad to find you, and he will give you five dollars." We were leaving the next day, but he didn’t know that. He seemed content enough. I thanked him and then went into my room to brush my teeth.

 

It should have ended there, but while I brushed my teeth, I heard footsteps outside my room. The idiot was still pacing around out there. After about five minutes, he knocked. I didn’t want to talk to him again, but if I didn’t open the door he might have the reception send someone to open it. So I opened the door.

 

"Money… in room?"

 

‘You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,’ I thought.

 

"No," I said. "Tomorrow my dad will find you and give you five dollars."

 

Again this seemed to please him, and he walked away. I never saw him again.

 

Thus ended the Lucic incident. Out of everyone I’ve told, only one person has said that Lucic was the dumbass. That one person was my uncle. Everyone else seems to think that I was in danger of being stabbed or shot or robbed. I never really felt threatened, only creeped out. I don’t know. You guys can judge for yourselves.

 

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