Out of office

If we’ve ever worked together, you know three things about me:

1. I drink coffee. Lots and lots.

2. I keep random, but interesting, sometimes slightly offensive, tchotchkes in my office (i.e. the donkey that dispenses cigarettes from its butt).

3. I write the best out-of-office messages ever to come across your computer screen.

I really don’t remember when I started doing these things. They just became natural habits in my unnatural habitats. Well, technically the coffee started when I was young. But, the tchotchke thing started as soon as I got my first permanent desk. From there it evolved from trinkets on my desk to hanging a disco ball over it. Although with the new job and several office locations, the decorations are currently in flux. And, the out-of-office message was born out of a joke and perfected in my last job – as I was always out of the office.

I wish I had actual samples to share, but they included lines like, “Don’t be sad because I’m out of the office. I’m not.” and if I was on vacation, I’d quote Madonna’s Holiday. They were subtle and funny and my colleagues really enjoyed them. At least that’s what they told me.

As this week marks my first vacation since starting my current job, I decided to write a toned-down version of my out-of-office message, you know, to test the humor waters in academia. This is exactly what I wrote:

Thank you for your message. I’m currently out of the office on holiday. I will return recharged (and with an amazing tan) on July 2. If your matter requires immediate attention, please email XXXXX XXXXX at XXX@SSS.RRR. Otherwise, I look forward to returning your email upon my return.

Kind Regards,

Mari de Armas

Super subtle, right? I even put the funny line in parenthesis so they wouldn’t mistake it for fact and send me position papers on how the brain reacts to skin damage or the political disposition of the sun.

The plan was to have this message automatically reply to an incoming email from within the organization. Only I flubbed the rule and sent the above message as a reply – to every single email in my inbox.

I suggest you go back two spaces and re-read the last sentence. Go ahead. I’ll be right here when you’re done.

That’s right. Everyone I had ever exchanged emails with got my stupid out-of-office message because it attached itself to every single correspondence we’d ever had. Some people received 30 emails. Others more than 300. In the latter category was my boss.

I suggest you go back two spaces and re-read the last clause.

The time between setting the rule to making it stop took about 23 minutes. During this time I was on the phone with a friend and colleague, who expertly walked me through this situation like a poison control operator.

“Mari, what did you do?”

“I don’t know, I don’t know, I put the thing, and oh my God, I think I’m going to throw up my lower intestine.”

“Okay. Get a bucket, then sit down by your computer and delete whatever you did.”

I laughed. I cried. And this morning, I apologized.

Most importantly, I swore never, ever write another out-of-office message again. Not even a serious one.

Mama, I’m coming home

I make it a habit to holiday during the Holidays.

That’s right.

I don’t shop for gifts, I don’t attend dinners, and I don’t dance with creepy uncles. I don’t have to. I’m away. Giving myself the wonderful Christmas/Hanukkah present of a vacation.

This year is no different. The Librarian has chosen New Orleans as our destination and I gladly obliged. But, something very strange happened during my vacation planning process. I discovered that New Orleans and my mother have very many things in common. Too many things, actually. If New Orleans was a person, they could be long-lost twins. And, if my mother was a city, she’d be…well, she’d be Niu Orrrlions (that’s the way she’d make everyone pronounce it).

So, in many ways, I feel like this vacation will be for naught, as it will be like I never left. Here are all the reasons why:

RELIGION Catholic Catholic
  • Drinking
  • Dancing
  • Listening to Music
  • Crying
  • Tragedy
  • Unnecessary Nakedness
  • Drinking
  • Dancing
  • Listening to Music
  • Crying
  • Tragedy
  • Unnecessary Nakedness
FRENCH-I-NESS Spent a Week in Paris Former French Colony
  • 60% Cuban
  • 33% African
  • 3% Asian
  • 1% Unknown


  • 60% African American
  • 33% White
  • 3% Asian
  • 1% Unknown
DISPOSITION Loud and unstable. Loud and unstable.
LANGUAGE In Spanish, deletes the post-vocalic “r” (vamos pa’ ya). In English, deletes the post-vocalic “r” (ova da rainbow).
FAVORITE MEAL Café Con Leche and Pastelitos Café Au Lait and Beignets
BEADS Owns them in all sizes, shapes and colors. Gives them away in all sizes, shapes and colors.
WHEN FRUSTRATED Prays to Saints. Prays for the Saints.
BOURBON Gets rowdy. A rowdy street.
ECONOMY Has a lot of money, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at her. Has a lot of money, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at her.
TRUMPET Husband’s instrument. Louis Armstrong’s instrument.
HURRICANES Make her nervous. Make her nervous.

Oy vacation

I earn a living from going on vacation with strangers. I have some sort of talent for it. I can take an already cool trip and make it ten times more fun with the right mix of alcohol, humor and debauchery. But, when it becomes my turn for some R and R, it never, ever goes as planned.

It starts with the day before we leave. The pre-vacation day is always chaotic, which, I suppose, is a big contributor to the tone of the holiday. The chaos is self-made, of course, probably due to the fact that I try to cram 40 hours of work, 16 hours of house chores, two hours of packing and 30 minutes of making sure all the appliances are disconnected into the 90 seconds before my departure.

But, to be frank, if I were to have a vacation with no injuries, missed flights and/or tears, I’d want my money back. A vacation without mishaps would feel strange. And, besides, they are great for my post-vacation stories upon my return to mundane life. The following are the top three reasons why the aforementioned torture is perfectly okay.

Jupiter lock out

A weekend trip to Jupiter Beach constituted a two-hour drive. The perfect quick getaway for our chaotic work lives. We got a ridiculously cheap rate at the best resort on the beach – only because it was slightly under construction. This was obviously before the time of Trip Advisor. After checking in, we were escorted to our “top” suite on the second floor. Floors three through six were kind of not inhabitable at the moment. I think they were laying down new carpets or something. I tipped the bell hop and locked the door behind him. I even used the safety latch on the top – for safety.

Our well-appointed room, was really cute and our direct view of the ocean forgave the banging coming from the ceiling. The first thing we did was to venture out to our balcony. A large area with two lounge chairs and a table was the perfect area to sit around and take in the ocean breeze. As I closed the sliding glass door behind us, I heard a click. A very familiar sound. One that I’m used to hearing when I’m on the other side of the lock.

We stared at each other for a good five seconds in silence. I smiled nervously. So did she. I bravely tried opening the door, but it was no use. We were locked out. She tried it. I tried it. And the door wouldn’t budge. She came up with a brilliant idea, which was to flag down a guest on the pool deck and ask them to get hotel personnel for us, in the hopes that they could come up with a master-key and get us out. It was at that point that I decided to share that I had locked us in. For safety. It was a little while later when she suggested I jump on to the canopy directly under us that I started to panic. So, I did what any other locked out person would do: beat the shit out of the sliding glass door. In the middle of my rampage, I heard that familiar click. We were finally able to get back inside. Only, the entire time we were out there, the hotel’s valet was trying to get a hold of us to ask if we had AAA because they locked my keys inside the car.

China rain

One of the first vacations we took together was a road trip to Orlando. Being non-conformists and totally broke at the time (although we rented a convertible for the drive up), we decided not to go to the theme parks that were owned by major motion picture studios or beverage conglomerates. Instead, we would patronize the off-the-beaten-path-parks that were independently owned. I thought it was impossible, but my partner found one in Splendid China.

It was mid-August. It was so hot that the bugs gladly stuck to the hood of our car to cool off. The bugs also stuck to our hair and teeth, forcing us to put up the top for the entire drive. We arrived at the park to discover we had it all to ourselves. Oh, and another couple with an adopted Asian child. I remember them because I thought it was good of them to take their kid to learn about their origin in Orlando. Super China, or whatever it was called, had exact replicas of all the major sites in China, including The Great Wall (not to scale, of course). It was picturesque and quiet. Very quiet. So quiet, there were no vendors, no restaurants, the vending machines were empty and water was only available in the bathrooms, particularly the toilets and sinks.

I wasn’t sure if this was their ode to communism, but it was nearing 100 degrees and water squirting out of a Buddha fountain was starting to look like heaven. Until, like every August afternoon in Florida, a torrential downpour erupted from the crackle of a single flash of lighting. I stood with my mouth open toward the sky until the loud boom of thunder scared the daylights out of us. Before we could find shelter, we were up to our knees in water. Under a tin roof, I lit a soggy cigarette and remembered how I had brought down the convertible top when I got off the Turnpike, but I couldn’t recall if I had closed it before leaving the car safely in the first parking spot of Fabulous China.

For both legal and insurance reasons, I won’t disclose if in fact the top was closed. However, if you’re interested in learning how to get the stench of humidity out of a car, send me a note privately.

Roatan bites

For nearly ten years, all I’ve heard is how her dream pet is a monkey. To combat this ridiculous obsession I always set reminders to watch Animal Planet documentaries on exotic pets smothering their owners. Moreover, I try to always include visits to the zoo or to animal parks where she can see monkeys in the hopes to appease this obsession. On a vacation stop in Roatan, Belize, I acquiesced to go on a tour that included direct interaction with the primates.

The build up was intense. We were given guidelines and forbidden to wear certain items of clothing, we were given a talk on what not to do, what signs to look out for to avoid an attack and how to handle an emergency situation. She looked so scared, I almost thought we weren’t going to go through with it. But, there we were, five feet from the entrance of the monkey encounter and she was inching forward.

Once inside, a baby monkey immediately took to her. She held it and it snuggled up to her long enough for me and everyone else in the group to take pictures. As with all baby animals, it was adorable. I finally understood what she loved about monkeys. They are just so darn cute. It made me want to hold it too. Hell, I was already there, and when was I ever going to hold a baby monkey? Certainly not in the States.

I extended my hands to grab the little sucker from her and the son of a bitch bit my finger. Hard. Luckily, I was used to playing the biting game, so I knew not to pull away, but to push forward. When it finally let go my finger, I wound up to deck it, but I caught her stare – her very maternal stare and I remembered that punching a baby monkey was not one of the recommended courses of action in case of an attack. I then remembered that I was in a foreign country and had just been bitten by a semi-wild, possibly tick-infested, disease-ridden monkey and checked my finger for blood.

Luckily, I only had crooked teeth marks on my finger. But, I still spent the rest of the trip self-medicating and disinfecting. swearing that I had a fever brought on by rabies.

By the way, despite my near death attack, she still made me take a picture with the perpetrator.

Killer monkey
Notice how I'm holding my finger.