Stranded In Paradise

Cook Islands 2b

Most folks are like me — terminally ordinary.  There isn’t much more than what the world sees, and the back story is usually just about the same.  However, give any group of these “average” people a crisis, and the interesting ones will emerge from the herd like characters in an Agatha Christie novel.  Some years ago, I was privileged to observe a planeload of tourists when disaster (inconvenience?) struck.  These people are real.  I’ve left out the boring bits and glossed over the sordid parts (this is, after all, a family-friendly blog) but for the most part, this is how I remember them.

It was a trip to the South Seas.  The cunning plan was to find a shady spot, eat like Dumas, drink like Hemingway, unleash my inner Robert Louis Stevenson and write an adventure story.  Meanwhile, my beautiful and humourous companion would soak up some sun, snorkel and take award-winning photographs of everything exotic.  Good plan, great execution — and three days in, we were entirely on schedule.  I was sitting in the sun-warm morning, having my after- breakfast rum and umbrella concoction when …

“What do you think we should do?”
It was a voice from a face I kinda recognized from the airplane.
“About what?”  I asked, pulling the umbrella out of the glass.
“Canada 3000 has gone broke.  We’re stuck here.  We can’t get home.”
There was silence, so I took a drink.  More silence.  I’d missed something important.
“Well, we have to do something,” she said and walked off, hard stomps in the sand.

Over the next ten days, because we were trapped and I was a permanent fixture at a cabana close to the bar, I got to observe everybody up close and personal.  I discovered my little slice of paradise was an unsinkable lifeboat with a list of personalities worthy of Hitchcock.

There was the fat woman and her husband who showed up to The Stranded Tourist Meeting in skin-tight pink and yellow wet suits.  They looked like two gigantic Easter eggs.  Later, over frustration cocktails, they explained that they knew the scuba gear looked hideous, but, and I almost quote, “We like pink, so screw ‘em!”  It turned out their 9-to-5 job was doing English voiceover work for foreign porno films.

There was the oilman father, full of golf and Steinlager beer, his wife, mother of none and their two children, 20-something adolescents who had travelled the world on their parents’ dime.  We hung with the kids cuz they were fun.  She was beautiful, and as far as I remember, that was her career.  He was a delivery driver who lived in her spare bedroom.  One night, they danced in the moonlight surf as if they were silhouettes in a Thai shadow play.  It was weird!

There was a man and his wife who made the airline representative cry at The Stranded Tourist Meeting and were subsequently shunned by the tribe.  One night, they confessed to us that they were married — but not to each other — and were supposed to be in Dallas at a teachers’ conference.  No wonder they were stressed about getting home on time!

There were the three amigas, office worker women who had saved up all year for a two-week bikini experience – and they had a lot of bikinis.  They were broke enough to borrow money but not at all worried about it. (“We travel like this all the time.  People are always really nice to us.”)  They hitched a flight to Auckland with a German tour group and, I suppose, got home from there.

And there were the newlyweds, who discovered they shouldn’t have when the groom, in a fury of they’re-not-going-to-get-away-with-this spent his days fighting with the airline, the hotel, Visa, the Canadian government, New Zealand and a local guy named Henry – and his nights recounting the battles to anyone who would listen.  Meanwhile, Mrs. Groom wandered the resort in pretty clothes and a bottomless Singapore Sling.  After a week, she disappeared, and the rumour was she’d dumped the prince and caught a flight to Tahiti.

A week later, we followed her and from there, flew to Los Angeles — then home.  I never did write the adventure story, but for 10 years I’ve been toying with a murder mystery — except I just can’t get the characters right.

Cook Islands 1`

The World Keeps Turning


It’s been about a month since Covid-19 fell on our world like a pack of wolves on a flock of sheep.  Fortunately, humans are an adaptable species and we are beginning to adjust to the new “normal.”  Here are just a few examples of what THE NEW NORMAL looks like.

A tiger at the Bronx zoo tested positive for Covid-19.  Wow, I didn’t see that one coming!  But I’ve got a few rhetorical questions.  Why, in a time of medical shortage and emergency, would anyone take the time and trouble to test a tiger?  Who thought it was necessary?  Did they test all the animals, starting with aardvarks, or just the tigers?  If they only tested tigers, isn’t that species profiling?  Shouldn’t all the cat people be going Twitter-Nutsy right now?  And finally, what’s the big deal?  It’s been my experience that maintaining a safe social distance from a full grown tiger is pretty much common sense.

The mayor of Baltimore called on the street gangs of his city to quit shooting each other because the medical facilities were needed to combat the virus.  The gangs, taking their social responsibility seriously, stepped up and called a truce for the duration.  I guess everybody’s got to do their part in these troubled times.

The BBC reported that, in response to a worldwide pandemic that has ripped apart the lives of billions of people on 6 continents, bankrupted millions and killed close to 100,000 – so far — the city of Shenzhen is taking action.  They are about to become the first city in China to ban the eating of dogs and cats.  The ban isn’t happening right now, but will take effect on May 1st because – uh — restaurants and grocery stores still have them in stock?  A lot of people have already booked the barbeque?  Who knows?  Actually there’s no logical reason for a 30 day delay in this legislation (it’s not like anybody in China gets a vote!) but, you’ve been warned: if you want to have Rover over for dinner, in Shenzhen, you better do it soon.  And the Chinese authorities are not fooling around either.  Apparently, there will be some pretty steep fines for Kung Pao Kitten.  So, after May one, anybody with a craving for pet food is going to have to get their ass outside the city limits – end of story.

Several countries have decided not to participate in the Covid-19 pandemic.  Most of these are remote Pacific Island nations like Nauru, Tuvalu and Vanuatu– which makes sense, because they’re all self-isolated by thousands of kilometres of water.  Then, there are other countries like Yemen where the leading causes of death are gunshot wounds and suicide bombers, so a persistent cough is not going to get anybody a lot of hospital time.  But the two places that beggar my imagination are Turkmenistan and North Korea.  They both have boldly declared that they simply do not have any cases of Covid-19.  None!  Okay, Turkmenistan I can kinda understand: I had to Google it just to find out where it was — so I doubt it, but maybe. . . .   However … North Korea?  It shares a land border with China, the biggest bogyman hiding under the pandemic bed; their economies are intimately connected, and thousands of people go back and forth across the border every day.  What are the chances?  Unless, of course, the Glorious Leader, Kim Jong whatever-his-name-is stood on the Yalu River, drove a spear into the Earth and shouted, (in his best Gandalf voice) “Go back to the shadows. You shall not pass!” and the virus turned around and went home.  Given all the other batshit-crazy stuff coming out of that country, sounds legit!

Time Is On Our Side

sand of time

There’s a guy in Norway who wants to do away with time.  We all know, strictly speaking, that’s impossible, so my guess is he actually wants to get rid of clocks.  (The article was poorly written.)  While this is an admirable sunshine-and-lollipops endeavour, it has its roots in a far stupider idea.

Ever since Lucy (Australopithecus) and her sisters decided to go for a walk in Ethiopia, 3 million years ago, there have always been people who want to abandon the march of civilization.  Their contention is that humans are inherently pastoral, and we’re not meant to be regulated by the time-counting machines we’ve created.  In other words, we’d be a lot happier if we just ate when we’re hungry, slept when we’re tired, had sex when we’re horny and enjoyed a few more sunsets.  This idea gets a lot pf play on college campuses and during after-dinner conversations (with the second bottle of wine) but it ignores one essential fact – 3 million years of history.  Oops!

There is actually no evidence to suggest humans were ever a come-day/go-day, God’ll bring Sunday type of species.  The only reason some sophomores jump to this conclusion is our closest biological cousins, chimpanzees, behave that way– and the assumption is, back in the evolutionary day, we did too.  Wrong!  The truth is, all – ALL – the archaeological evidence points to the undeniable fact that humans have always been workaholics.  We didn’t become the dominant species on this planet by hunting, eating and then lying around digesting for the rest of the afternoon.  (I’m looking at you, bonobos!)  No, we used the bonus time between full and famished to work our asses off.  Why?  Because, unlike all the other animals Noah put on the boat, from aardvarks to zebras, we realized that the sun was going to come up again tomorrow.  And our long evolutionary crawl from the savannahs of Africa to the Mars Rover is a litany of labouring for that future.

Everything human beings do, from building the Pyramids to buying more than one potato, is based on our unflappable faith in time.  It’s one of the amazing imaginary concepts (like religion, ownership and fair play) that’s hardwired into our DNA.  But more than that, time is also one of our essential tools, like language and mathematics.  That’s why we’ve always tried to measure it so accurately.  We use time to regulate, manipulate and evaluate our existence; without it, nothing we see around us would exist.

Personally, I believe the quaint notion that humans could live quite happily without clocks comes from the benevolent society we’ve created that allows us massive amounts of leisure time.  We have time to think, and sometimes the things we think are wrong-headed.  Seriously, suggesting that we should turn our backs on hours and minutes because our primeval ancestors didn’t have alarm clocks is as preposterous as saying we shouldn’t have elevators because humans are not supposed to live and work in the skies above Mother Earth.

Anyway, that’s just my opinion — but stay tuned cuz I’m already planning another one in 4 days, 96 hours or 3,960 minutes, depending on how you want to measure it.