Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Land of Enchantment
So there I was, hanging off the side of an ancient Indian cliff dwelling at New Mexico’s Bandolier National Monument, praying I wouldn’t slip and fall to a hideous death, when my cell phone started ringing.
I couldn’t believe my ears. The phone’s obnoxious trill was so unnatural, so out of place in this ancient, spiritual location. It was like playing a kazoo at midnight mass.
I hardly use the damn thing and someone’s calling me now—of all times—when I’m inches away from becoming the lead story on the 11 o’clock news? (Assuming it was a slow news day.)
“Someday I’ll laugh at this,” I muttered into the rungs of the wooden ladder that were the only thing between me and oblivion.
Normally I can’t resist a ringing phone. Even in my most misanthropic moments—and I’ve had quite a few of those—I have a Pavlovian drive to answer a telephone’s siren call. I just have to know who is on the other end of the line.
However, on this day, that phone could have rung, whistled, howled, or sung the overture to The Barber of Seville, I wasn’t going to answer it.
I was coming down from the Alcove House, which is 140 feet above the floor of Frijoles Canyon and a long way from Brooklyn, and I was re-learning the painful lesson that descending from a high place is a lot scarier than going up.
The Alcove House is only accessible by four wooden 30-foot ladders and a woman at the main office told me that “some people like that and some people don’t.” Only now did I realize to which camp I belonged.
Maybe that woman was the one calling me, all set to scream “are you having fun yet, you big city schmuck?”
I knew I should have heeded those warning signs back on earth advising people who were afraid of heights to haul their sorry asses back home (or words to that effect), but I didn’t want to give into my fears.
“It’s really cool when you reach the top,” a little girl told me during my ascent.
Hell, I scolded myself, if this child can make the climb then you have no excuses.
And she was right, the place really was cool. But children don’t worry about death and serious injury the way nervous middle-aged men do.
After looking around the place and checking out the kiva, I went back to the ladder and headed down, saying the Hail Mary and all the other prayers that had been pounded into my hapless head during my years as a prisoner of Catholic school.
Then the phone began ringing and I asked myself, what the hell am I doing here?
I was on vacation, that's what, visiting my cousin Pat, whom I had not seen in nearly 30 years (oh, God…) and her beautiful family.
I wanted to reconnect with Pat, meet new family members, and hook up with a blogging buddy in New Mexico while seeing and doing things I had never done before. And I’m proud to say that I did all of the above.
Doctor, Please, Some More of These
Of course, there was the little issue about flying, which scares me to hell and back. But thanks to the miracle of Xanax, I was able to get on an airplane and medicate myself to a point where I wasn’t afraid of being 8 miles high.
The fact there’s a drug that can calm me down on a plane amazes me. I seem to recall wandering around Chicago’s O’Hare Airport giggling like a loon while waiting to board my connecting flight to Albuquerque, but my memory’s a bit hazy.
Once I touched down, I hopped into my rented PT Cruiser and blasted on over to my cousin’s place.
This is the first time in years that I was actually visiting someone, as opposed to crashing in a soulless motel and talking back to the television, and it felt great.
I live alone, so I really enjoyed being with my cousin, her partner, Shelly, and their lovely daughters, Lucy and Emma. It was comforting to eat at a dinner table with human beings instead of the evening news. And I haven’t even mentioned the dogs.
Pat also gave me tons of ideas for sightseeing and I visited such spots as Pecos National Historical Park, Los Alamos, and Fort Union, where the wind whips around the remains of a 19th Century U.S. army base. I felt like I was on Easter Island.
And on the way back, I got caught in a full-blown, honest-to-God hail storm, complete with driving rain that forced me to pull over to the side of the road and lightning bolts straight out of a Roger Corman horror movie. What fun!
Pat also suggested the trip to Bandolier and I’m so glad she did—honestly. I survived the climb down from the Alcove House and came away with a feeling of accomplishment instead of regret.
When my heartbeat returned to normal, I checked my messages and found my aunt had been the one who called me. I called her back to explain why I had left her hanging, so to speak.
And that was one of the last times I used that phone. A few days after Bandolier, I was in the bathroom at my cousin’s house when I managed to brush my hand against the clip holding the phone to my pants, knock it loose and—kerplunk!—right into the can.
It was only submerged for a few seconds, but that was enough to send my cell phone to telecom heaven.
How that happened, I do not know, but I'm certain I could repeat that move again and again from now until the return of Halley’s Comet and never come anywhere near the toilet. Clearly, the phone's number was up.
I got a new phone the same day and tried to put the incident of out my mind, but when I watched Finding Nemo with Lucy that night, well, let’s just say that the film had a special meaning for me.
On my last full day in New Mexico, I met Pat’s brother--my cousin--Dan, and his wife, and then hooked up with my blogging pal Donna, whom I had “met” on the Internet years ago and finally got to see for real before Xanaxing my way back to New York.
On the way home, I vowed to take these little pills only on planes because if you’re not careful you can be popping a pill every time something bad happens—like dropping your cell phone in the toilet, for example.
Sometimes life is supposed to suck and if you’re not feeling it, you’re not learning anything. And you can't enjoy places like Bandolier if you're numbed out on happy pills. So I’ll save my prescription for Xanax time I fly. (Oy, that even hurts me…)
Now I'm trying to adjust being back in New York, with the noise, the buildings, and the people, people, people, everywhere you turn. Where the hell do they come from?
But to recap: gracious hosts, great friends, fabulous sites, and a new cellphone—this was one enchanting vacation.
Now, how long is the flight to Easter Island...?