The December morning broke warm and sunny. Just like, it seemed, every other fucking December morning and every November morning so far and let’s not forget all the mornings yet to come from January through April.
That is after all, the main reason I’m here. I think.
Specifically, “here” is Las Terrenas, a small, delightful, mostly touristy town on the north-east Atlantic coast of the Dominican Republic. More specifically, “here” is the expansive beach at Playa Ballenas, across the cobblestone street from the two-bedroom condo I bought last spring after three years of renting down here.
As I turn away from the turquoise waters, I can almost make out Casa del Mar through the thick palms that tend to obscure just about everything in this green jungle-y place.
It’s quiet now, just the way I like it.
Specifically, “now” is after a pretty tumultuous year that started going sideways for me beginning in Canada last summer and featuring near-fatal disasters in San Francisco, Toronto, Boston, and points in between. The whole shemozzle finally petered out a few weeks before I boarded a flight south at the end of October, just ahead of that magical time when the snowy shit hits the fan up north.
The plane from Toronto does this low, lazy 180-degree arc over the island before it lands. So it’s coming from the south over Samana Bay and Samana Peninsula. You can see the checkerboard rice paddies laid out, some flooded and planted, some not, before you meet the hills running down the spine of the peninsula. By that time, you’re so close to the ground, that the hills and valleys are distinct, shadows and light playing off the humped landscape. You can plainly see individual palms and narrow trails leading to remote houses. Looking down from that height always reminds me of those elaborate model train set lay-outs or a museum diorama.
And then that blast of hot air greets you when the plane door opens. An instant thrill, like the sound you get when you open a new can of tennis balls. Or a beer.
And I know that over the next six months no socks will be worn. I fucking hate socks. I also know that by February, even the act of putting on insubstantial flip-flops will be a pain in the ass.
While staring at the ocean, I had contemplated my plans for the day. I might play a bit of tennis. Or not. I might go grocery shopping. Or not. I might take another stab at my second novel. Or not.
Now that I was here alone and my November and early December guests were gone, I looked forward to about five months of just enjoying the place and the people I knew here. Doing the math, I’d spent only four full months in my condo—a month and a bit this fall and just over two months after I bought the joint ten months ago. I knew that I ought to do a little decorating beyond the two large and very colourful Haitian paintings hanging in my living room. So that was the extent of my long-range thinking.
Short-term, I needed a plan for the day ahead of me. I finally settled on one. Nothing. I had determined to do nothing. And I had all day to do it.
I had even managed to convince myself that I deserved this full slate of non-activity after the murder, mayhem, and international unpleasantness of the past seven months.
But the fact was, I called bullshit on this self-justification. I knew there’s a better explanation: I’m bone lazy. Pure and simple. I’m talking about being lazy about actually doing things. Thinking about things is a very different matter.
To be clear: I’m not claiming Stephen Hawking- or Noam Chomsky-type thinking, more along the lines of a steady Homer Simpson interior monologue. Despite its suspect content, my wee brain never shuts the fuck up.
Even when I’m watching yet another glorious sunrise or sunset—which is about a daily thing down here—I’m rarely thoughtless. A second or two maybe, when the self-chatting stops and I nail that single moment. I figure that’s all we’re ever left with anyway: moments, like ol’ Al Tennyson said: “that flash along the chords and go.”
I was “peopled” out. I get that way. Steve Golding, my journalist pal from Toronto, had shown up on my tropical doorstep in early November and stayed for almost three weeks, finishing his book on my shenanigans of last summer. A couple of days of solitude after he left and then Alexandra arrived.
Alex had gone back to Boston a few days ago. Our re-kindled relationship had, over the week she’d spent here, “caught like a wildfire out of control until there nothing left to burn and nothing left to prove” as Mr. Seger has it.
Not too shabby for a couple of early sixty-somethings, I thought with a smile, and the only good thing that I got out of the last half year or so—besides the whack of money Steve gave me from the book rights, money I’d already spent. Oh, and bringing down a global computer hacking enterprise; that was satisfying. But other than that.
I had no idea what would happen next with Alex and me. See, we had this game we tacitly played—pretty juvenile I admit—the chief rule of which is that we were not to speak of love or commitment or any of the long-term notions that occupy normal couples. Take for example, her trip down here a couple of weeks ago. It was ostensibly to get first-hand knowledge about the sustainability of rice farms in the north-east DR in her role as an analyst for a Boston-based ethical investment advisor. Oh, and while she was down here maybe she could squeeze in a visit with an old Canadian friend who lived part-time in Las Terrenas.
For the record, we did spend close to half a day touring some rice paddies an hour or so away. To keep things distanced, I thought she should have paid me for my half-assed translation services. But it turned out her Spanish was way better than mine.
And she fit right in. As I knew she would. Starting with Alejandro, the world’s best bartender™.
The only way to describe his expression as he watched us approach his poolside domain was profound surprise and joy. With just a dash of Latin lechery.
“Senor Yake! Bienvenido!” he said, without looking at me.
“Hola, amigo,” I said. “This es Alexandra.”
Alejandro pretty much ignored me while he performed a courtly bow to Alex and kissed her hand. Fucking Latins.
“A drink perhaps por la bonita?” he suggested.
He was all smiles as he went through an elaborate and dramatic routine of preparing her bloody Mary picante, then mixed up MY usual Tanqueray and tonic as something of an afterthought.
We spent most of the week hanging around the pool and the beach but we did take a walking then stumbling tour of the town where she met—and charmed—pretty well everyone in my gang of drunken expats.
But what we never did was talk about or even allude to next steps for us.
After she left, I determined that I would not try to lure her to the DR on a more permanent basis and she wasn’t begging me to move to New England.
So there it was.
I was pretty sure that whatever was going to happen next between us would feature no drama. I hate drama almost as much as I fucking hate socks. I was confident Alex felt likewise. Maybe because I was nuzzling up to sixty-one years on the planet, I just didn’t get it. Where alleged love is involved, drama is exhausting and, normally, stupid. Can anyone explain the whys and wherefores of stalking old girl or boy friends? Statistically, is that a highly successful way of patching things up? Can anyone explain people who injure or kill themselves or somebody else because another human being doesn’t want to be with them? Beats the shit out of me.
I gave myself hell for even thinking about these things as I crossed the road and nearly got hit by a motoconcho, one of the small 120 cc motorcycles that buzz the narrow streets looking to pick up fares who either don’t mind or actually looked forward to having the unholy crap scared out of them.
“Snap out of it!” I said aloud but without the effect of Cher smacking Nicholas Cage in Moonstruck.
I had other things to do. Like nothing. Which I did. All day. And very ably, may I add.
I, of course, had no inkling that this day of pure indolence was going to be one of the last such respites for the rest of the fucking winter.