Christmas in the Bahamas, 1972
There's a picture of my visit to the Empire State Building with a Scottish man. There's a painted backdrop behind him and, next to him, a hole, because long ago I cut myself out of the picture. Maybe I didn't like the expression on my face, or maybe I just didn't want to be in the picture with him.
A year or so earlier, maybe the winter of 1972 when I was about to turn nineteen, my mother wheedled me into a Christmas excursion with her to the Bahamas. We didn't get along, so it was risky, but I suppose I was enticed by the prospect of good weather.
During the day I lounged on the beach, wearing my first two piece bathing suit, squinting in the sun, reading War and Peace on a chaise longue.
The Bahamas, to the teenager I was: colorful poor people packed into crowded shantie towns near stark rows of concrete high-rise hotels. Our hotel: sterile corporate ambience, coldly polite Bahamians in uniforms bowing down to us in our lounge chairs, asking if we wanted drinks there on the sand.
Even though I wasn't Jewish yet, back then, I already found Christmas carols extremely depressing, even played on steel drums.
|One day I watched men, surrounded by excited children, pull a teapot out of the water. It contained an octopus: evidently there are not enough octopus-habitable dwellings on the ocean floor so an empty teapot is irresistible.|
As the teapot was pulled in, the octopus suddenly surged up over the top and began rolling rapidly down the beach. Despite exceptional speed over blisteringly hot sand, it was caught. It surely became dinner.
My mother's favorite activity was flirting with airline pilots in the bar. She always wanted me to go along and this embarrassed me mightily. Besides, I was a teetotaller.
However, one night I myself got picked up. The guy's name was Brian; he was a thirty-something accountant from Glasgow who had moved to Nassau. His accent was extremely sexy. I was favorably inclined towards any means to get away from that bar and my mother.
I vaguely remember: Brian's impersonal, barely-furnished bachelor apartment; our excursions through the non-resort parts of the island where I saw tin-roofed shacks and women carrying water.
The highlight of this dalliance: the New Year's Eve Junkanoo parade. I thought of it later when I saw, in the movie Black Orpheus, the same pounding drums and rattles and shakers, everybody dancing and capering in outlandish irridescent costumes, black black people in bright bright colors, the sound louder and louder.
We stayed, pressed into this crowd, much later than I ever stayed up. I was mesmerized by people packed hip-to-hip dancing the merengue to luxuriously addictive music. I spent the night with Brian.
When we said goodbye, I certainly didn't expect to see him again. He had warned me about his wild bachelor ways. I was happy to call this my first "fling" and be done with it.
Then, back in college for second semester, I was horrified to receive call after call from the Bahamas. I finally allowed him to come visit and was mortified to realize how strange it was to have a Scottish accountant in my dorm.
Brian proposed, only semi-facetiously, but I never saw him again, though five years later he somehow tracked me down in Massachusetts where I was living with other derailed college graduates. Over the phone he said he loved me and asked if I loved him. It was the last time I heard his voice.