The vaguely menacing charm of vintage postcards.
When on vacation, I am a social snob. It breaks down this way: If you are a resident of where I’m vacationing or its surrounding area, I’ll love to talk with you. Whether banal chit-chat, deep, psychological explorations, or wildly unfounded and ignorant political positioning, I love hob-knobbing with a local of Anytown, Planet Earth.
However, if you are a tourist like me, every second I spend in your presence is like chalk being scrapped down my gutted and exposed spine. Ever seen the movie Somewhere in Time? There’s a moment where the hero discovers a reminder of where he comes from, and it shatters the paradise he’s discovered. That’s what another tourist’s face is to me: a shinny penny sucking me into a loveless present where the only escape is death.
“What do I do for a living? Apparently, I suffer fools gladly. And you?”
Make no mistake: I am not proud of this. It doesn’t come from a sense of elitism, rather, a jealous and desperate need for freedom from the burden of self-identification. I am often exhausted being me, and vacationing offers a rare moment where I get to be a different fellow. If I’m constantly having to re-establish myself to others as “a writer from Los Angeles,” etcetera, it won’t matter that I’m fiendishly clever and dashingly handsome – I’ll still be sick of my effing face.
The boyfriend doesn’t have this problem. Though technically an introvert, according to the Keirsey Temperament Scale, he can navigate most any social situation with aplomb. A master at multi-tasking, he’s capable of satisfying endless rounds of small talk by using them as an opportunity to gather useful information and think about what he needs to do at the office the next day. I, on the other hand, am locked into whatever conversation I’m having, heart and soul – so if it’s small talk, I start to suffer from claustrophobia.
What does any of this have to do with Hawaii? Everything, when you find yourself having breakfast with a group of strangers all gathered together for the sole purpose of receiving a hotel sales pitch. The boyfriend and I, moonlighting as travel writers, were being treated to a hotel’s new “wellness” package, including the “wellness” breakfast, followed by the guided “wellness” meditation, a tour of the “wellness” spas, and the recently renovated rooms, presumably equipped with “wellness” complimentary soap, “wellness” corporate art, and “wellness” lack of useful electrical sockets.
Breakfast was served buffet style in a penthouse suite. Most of us attending were from urban, coastal cities, where concepts of health food have reached such specific and complicated levels of craft, the standard “healthy” restaurant menu in, say, West Hollywood, requires enough study and practice so as to rival any rabbi’s comprehension of the Talmud. Put another way: We know our sh*t. So when the “wellness” dishes they presented us consisted of a variety of Yoplait, Sysco-brand granola, soy sausage, croissants, tapioca pudding, and mixed fruit salad, the scoffing was abundant.
“There’s more calories and fat represented here than in a McDonald’s sundae!” exclaimed the woman from San Francisco.
“Processed soy? Are they kidding me?” complained New York City.
“I guess this food is healthy, if your usual breakfast is Lucky Charms, bacon, and a Big Gulp,” whispered the boyfriend. I ate nothing, only drank my coffee – mostly because my appetite had been destroyed by the words “Big Gulp.”
Please enjoy a frosty Big *barfing over the front of myself*
After a stiff and mandatory greeting from our hosts, feeding commenced and small talk began. As usual, people related to each other by way of what they do for a living.
Now, I’ve been writing professionally for years, but I almost never tell people this because it leads to questions about past and current projects – most of which involve TV and film – that then evoke questions about celebrity culture and… well, it’s a heap-big drag. For the last eight years, all I’ve told people is that I work at a record store, which was true, and inevitably they would ignore me the rest of the night, having concluded I can do nothing for them, which was my goal. I could then spend the rest of the evening being alienated, enjoying complimentary cocktails, and bluffing iPhone Scrabble as an important text-meeting.
(Interesting side-note: The only times my revealing employment at Amoeba Music Hollywood actually garnered me more attention and positive responses was if the person I was talking to was a celebrity, in which case I suddenly became a folk-hero for the night. I’m unclear as to why this is, but it’s been 100% consistent. Famous people love Amoeba Music.)
I no longer work the sales floor of Amoeba (though I still spend about the same amount of time there, shopping) and can no longer hide behind that job. You may wonder why I don’t just lie to people and go on pretending I work retail, or even better, tell people I’m assistant shift manager at Burger King, or a garbage man, or that I’m Bobby Brown – you know, something that’ll really scare them away.
This, for me, is not an option, because lying almost always makes me have a panic attack. For real. I’m kind of like Alex in A Clockwork Orange, where the very thought of doing something "bad" causes a gut-wrenching anxiety. (That, and, I like to wear mascara on one eye and bludgeon women to death with psychedelic clown statues. Don’t judge.)
So I sat there, not eating, dreading my turn at small-talk. My salvation came in the form of a travel writer from Santa Fe, New Mexico, who’s introduction astonishingly gave way to an epic story of adopting and raising a diagnosed borderline personality disorder son who ended up impregnating a woman her age before landing in jail for a long list of petty crimes. It was amazing. The whole table sat there, transfixed, as she went on. Everyone was asking questions.
“What a relief,” I thought to myself. “I’m gonna seem totally boring after this!”
Only the woman from Washington, D.C. seemed unimpressed. During this saga of personal tragedy and hardship, tempered with hard-earned wisdom, Washington, D.C. found a way to “relate” to the story by paralleling it with a problem she had…raising her dog.
Why do people do this? I don’t have any children, but I know damn well there’s nothing about kittens, hamsters or parakeets that rivals the charge of care-taking a child. If you upset your dog by accidentally locking him outside overnight, give him a snack, hug him and wait thirty seconds – his trauma is gone forever. But one, four-hour day in Kindergarten can cause a psychological wound that will last a human child a lifetime of woe.
“I had to watch cancer eat away at my child’s life.”
“Oh, I know just how you feel. My cat is eleven years old and his hip hurts…”
Next on the agenda was the “wellness” meditation. For this we were herded into a huge, octagonal room, where we were introduced to Brianna, our instructor, who invited us to “grab a mat and sit on the floor” in a tone akin to Jesus Christ asking us to let Him into our hearts.
A recovering New-Ager, I was immediately skeptical – especially after the poorly conceived breakfast – that anything the hotel devised was going to "nourish" any bit of my soul, but I figured half an hour on a mat being told how to breath was no big deal – certainly nothing a breakfast Mai Tai couldn’t undo.
So the meditation began: a predictable assortment of arm-movements, deep breaths, visualization of fictional body parts “opening wide” – all stuff I’m well-versed in and are ultimately relaxing, regardless of whether you believe in a greater, esoteric aspect. But this was all shattered when a young woman, not yet seen by or introduced to our group, started taking photographs of us. Like, a lot. And loudly. Our hosts from the hotel watched from the side-lines; the photographer was clearly on staff. No one seemed to mind very much, but I was outraged.
“How dare they manipulate us into a vulnerable place, then without permission, exploit us for whatever brochures will advertise this stinky ‘wellness’ scheme?!” I thought, and showed my displeasure by defiantly not relaxing, not experiencing deeper peace, and not releasing the stress in my shoulders.
I was the Rosa Parks of the wellness meditation.
The boyfriend, of course, only barely noticed the photographer, and thought the meditation was “nice,” but that’s because he’s A SLAVE OF BABYLON!
It was the end of our time in the family-friendly resort, and I was eager to hit the road for more remote surroundings. Somewhere where we couldn’t get happy-hour Jäger shots (which is never appropriate in Hawaii, I don’t care if you do serve it with a plumeria).
“Let’s get the aloha outta here,” I said to the boyfriend, and we did…
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