Days go by

One month ago today I was wheeled out of the Georgia Aquarium by two very nice people.

One was a woman named Halle. And although she didn’t do any of the actual “wheeling” she was sympathetic about the symptoms that landed me in the wheelchair. She was also very consumed with the fact that I had only seen two out of the dozen or so exhibitions before my visit was cut short. She was so horrified, in fact, that she insisted on offering me an entrance voucher that I could use for a future visit.

Between winces, I let her know that I had no plans to return. Ever. And she nodded her head and smiled even though I was being unreasonable.

The other was a man named Met – as in I “met” you today, the day your back spasmed so intensely that it numbed your leg and rendered you  paraplegic. I was flat on my back when Met arrived at the scene of my demise. I watched him as he opened and set the locks on the portable wheelchair he brought with him and in doing so, I became hyper-aware of his slim figure. The difference between him and that chair was at most 100 pounds, quite possibly the same difference between us.

When he helped me into the chair it was as graceful as accommodating the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man into a baby seat, but he didn’t once complain or, worse, call back up. And it would’ve been less embarrassing if he would’ve taken a running start to push me, instead of having to incline his body so steeply that he could’ve been a back-up dancer for the Smooth Criminal video, but nonetheless he got me rolling.

He was soft spoken and reassuring. He even tried to make small talk about CSI: Miami when he discovered where I was from. And when I reduced his favorite TV show to an hour-long waste of time, he found it in his heart to forgive my rudeness.

I meant to send them thank you cards. I even meant to send a letter to the Georgia Aquarium commending them on their quick response to my collapse while attempting to crawl through the tube inside the penguin exhibit (because looking at them through the wall-to-wall glass was simply not good enough). I never got to writing those letters. Not because I changed my mind on their merit. And it wasn’t due to a lack of time, as I was confined to a bed for 48 hours after the incident. It was because of the calendar date it happened. It’s the time of year I always want to move on from as soon as possible.

One month ago today was Christmas Day.

To the world I roll my eyes at their Secret Santa’s and scoff at their candy canes, but at home I listen to holiday music ad nauseam and watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” because I secretly love that stupid holiday. And right as the big day nears, I skip town on my yearly Christmas vacation. From London to New Orleans to Montreal to this year’s southern militia tour, these adventures bring me joy, not only because I love to travel, but also because I am not home to remember that my father is missing.

Well, he’s not missing exactly. I know where his remains are. They’ve been interred in Woodlawn Cemetery for a decade now. He passed a few days before Christmas ten years ago, which is exactly the amount of time I’ve been running from his memory.

Only this Christmas, the son of a bitch found me in Atlanta. Haunting me with this terrible back spasm – the same kind that would attack him and leave him paralyzed for days. The same kind of pain that would force him to find comfort in all sorts of mentholated ointments and pain pills – the same scents and brands that were now spread throughout my hotel room.

In a moment of weakness, while my loving partner was on her third run to the local Walgreens, I spoke to him.

“Sorry I made fun of your Craftmatic Adjustable Bed,” I said loudly and across the room where I imagined his ghost would be sitting. “I get it now. Back pain is the worst.”

I didn’t get a response. The television didn’t turn on. The lights didn’t flicker. The toilet didn’t flush. Although, I think if any of those things would’ve happened, I would’ve busted out of that room screaming despite the back pain.

The only special thing that did happened was that I finally allowed myself to miss him. And, in a very strange way, I was able to spend Christmas with him one more time.

Ease on down the road

This year we decided to embark on a road trip for our yearly “Escape from Christmastraz,” a tradition that began a decade ago where we free ourselves from the obligations of family dinners and stressful gift exchanges by simply not being in town.

I don’t do very many things right. But I can say with certainty and pride that I’m a pretty amazing driver. Sure, my passengers tend to disagree, but I know what I’m doing when I use the emergency lane as my VIP line. So, when we decided to drive I was thrilled.

We set our eyes on “the South,” specifically Georgia and South Carolina. Only technically they are “the North,” because we are driving from Florida. But nonetheless we created an itinerary called Christmas in the South.

And somehow this struck a chord with our friends and family.

Be careful, they said. And yes, they always say be careful, but this time it was genuine. It was also forceful. “I mean it,” they said. “Be careful.”

Listen, if I was going to Russia wearing nothing but a gay flag to specifically protest the Olympics, I’d understand. But Charleston? The place voted the nicest city in America for 500 years straight? I think I’ll be just fine – as long as I remember to mind my manners. Bread plate goes on the left, right?

I mean, we come from a place where cops arrest you for working at a grocery store, alligators are traded for beer and if your attacker doesn’t have a weapon, they’ll just chew your face.

A place even more south than the south.

By the time we return, there will be more ridiculous Florida stories in the news. But better still, the pine trees will have been disposed, the food will be eaten and Christmas will be nothing but a bad dream.

I, on the other hand, will return rested, plump and, yes, with credit card debt – but at least the money was not wasted on guilt gifts for family members that I rarely see.

Instead it’s spent on suites with California King beds and horse drawn carriage rides and cheesy tours. It’s spent on fancy dinners and drinks at local pubs. It’s spent on unexpected items like an emergency sweatshirt or winter boots.

And it’s what my grandmother asks me to do every Christmas. Go out and have fun she says. Spend your money on yourself and forget about us, she adds.

She really doesn’t say that.

But I’ve convinced myself she, and everyone else in my blood line, does.

So, this morning I will call them and tell them about the wonders of Savannah. Tomorrow, if I’m inclined, I’ll phone from Charleston. And after that I’ll wish them Merry Christmas from Atlanta.

And they’ll be happy. Because I’ll be safe. And mainly because I never talk to them 3 days in a row.

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Overpacked

When traveling, I try to remember important information about the places I visit. I do this to offer my vast knowledge of American cities to my friends and family. However, after a friend called me up to ask for my advice on a certain vacation spot, I’ve discovered that the information I have amassed over the years is absolutely no good to anyone.

Seriously. Useless.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a sampling for your amusement:

Denver, CO: Traveling to Denver? Great! There’s a mall on 16th Street called…the 16th Street Mall. And the airport has the highest quality public bathroom toilet paper that has ever touched my vagina. Forget about cabs, just rent a really big car. Oh, and everyone is homeless.

Seattle, WA: No one is homeless in Seattle, they look like that on purpose. Make sure you pack plenty of graphic t-shirts, because this place is haven to the excessively cool. Every store has an amazing soundtrack. From the Jimmy Johns to the CB2 to the Starbucks, everywhere you go, your favorite songs mysteriously blare throughout the establishment. Except in Pike Place.

Atlanta, GA: Everything, and I mean everything, is legal in Atlanta. Las Vegas, NV has more restrictions than the capital of the Dirty South.

Washington, D.C.: Visiting the nation’s capital? I hope you’re a gay man, because there’s nothing for straight people to do in this town. Sure, they may go to a museum or two, but really what else is there? This maybe shocking to some lesbians, so let me address them: Ladies, straight people go to museums too.

Boston, MA: Everywhere you go, you end up at the same place. It’s like being inside an M.C. Escher drawing, while on some amazing ‘shrooms. Their “T” is the Cadillac of public transportation, but you haven’t lived until you’ve been a passenger in a cab that drives on the sidewalk. Cabbies will do this for five bucks extra. Oh, and don’t stand next to the statue of John Harvard.

San Francisco, CA: Everyone is too nice. Don’t trust the natives. They are up to something. But, if you haven’t been, you should go, seriously, it’s beautiful. Just don’t talk to people. They are aliens.

Houston, TX: Houston smells in a way that can cause you to contract cancer through your nose. It’s like getting shot-gunned by 30 chain smokers inside an elevator at the Excalibur in Vegas. Yet, the Margarita’s are amazing. Ah-ma-zing.

Maui, HI: Ah. Hawaii. It’s like walking around in a postcard. From the trees, to the weather to the birds, everything is perfect. And it gets really old after a while. “Is that another rainbow? Fuckin’ hell!” It is worth it to endure this torture only to have the world’s best humus at Athens Greek Restaurant in Lahaina.

Jupiter, FL: It’s a beach town very, very far from South Beach. It is also very, very far from New Jersey. Making it the perfect place to hide former witnesses from the Gambino crime family trials. There is one fine dining Italian restaurant where dinner for two costs about $200. A price I gladly paid to be seated by Donatella Versace’s stunt double.

New York, NY: No one famous lives here. Also, no one from New York has ever moved to San Francisco. If it smells like crap, you’re close to where you’re supposed to be. Stay away from the Pig & Whistle. And, most importantly, you will never get tickets from Tickets for the show you want to see.

See what I mean?