…on the same island.
The recent destruction in the Virgin Islands caused by hurricane Irma brought back a couple of Caribbean memories from that area.
In our early 20’s (hmm,..the mid 70’s or thereabouts), friend Bruce and I traveled to Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, two consecutive years, to visit our friend John who was a school teacher there. The first trip was an exploratory adventure. We road our new 900 cc Kawasaki’s, the largest they made at the time, from Eastern PA to my aunt’s home in Jacksonville Beach, Florida.
I had stayed with Aunt Gladys for a month several years prior when I was in early high school. She lived on the intercostal waterway, where, with her husband, they owned and operated a marina. They sold new and used boats and rented slips. The deal was, I could stay for a month as long as I helped around the marina. Fait accompli. Gladys, my mother’s oldest sister, was cool. There were no televisions in her home. Cell phones and computers didn’t exist yet. Each night after dinner we played two-handed pinnacle, bantered about anything and everything, and sipped vodka and grapefruit juice. I must have been 16 or so, but she made me a weak drink each night so that I could share the entire experience, and perhaps to give herself an edge in the game. That only added to her coolness.
My second trip to her marina in Jacksonville Beach was several years later with Bruce. Aunt Gladys was kind enough to keep our bikes while we flew to Saint Thomas for our ten-day island escapade. John was a straight-laced guy in high school, but it didn’t take him long to shed his Catholic High School image. When John met us at the island’s airport, he could have been mistaken for a hard-ass pirate, sporting a full chest-length beard and demeanor to match. He was glad to see us and took us directly to the east-end of the island where we had an unobstructed view of St Johns, a brother island to St Thomas, and where four of his friends were readying a 36-foot sloop for a 10-day trip in the waters amongh the British Virgin Islands. We didn’t spend one night on solid ground during that trip as we went from plane to boat, and afterward, from boat to plane. Each day was spent in a different part of the BVI archipelago, where we snorkeled with spearguns by day, feasting on our catch that evening on the boat.
During our first night, the anchor was thrown overboard somewhere among a group of islands, none with visible lights, just uninhabited tall dark mountains protruding out of the sea. There were four bunks below and two makeshift sleeping pads topside. John and I elected to sleep outside on the deck that evening. At some point during the shimmering moon-lit night, because the beer we had been consuming was not a small amount, I woke with a need to let some out. As I steadied myself on the edge of the swaying bow, holding one of the mast stays while mesmerized by the reflection of plankton in the dark sea, I started draining the processed beer. Just then a vigorous and steady gust blew at me, redirecting the water I was eliminating back toward the boat. At about that time I heard John belt out, “Freddie, Freddie, get down below, it’s raining.” When he didn’t see me on the cushion, but rather standing on the bow with a sheepish grin, one hand holding the stay and the other holding, well, you got the picture, he had some other, stronger words to say. Fortunately, John was an even-keel kind of guy. After his initial excitement, he simply said: “Freddie, please, while you are on the boat, don’t piss in the wind.” We had a lighthearted chuckle before he dove overboard to rinse off.
Those ten days left me awestruck by the beauty and variety of schools of fish we swam through. It was a large tarpon school, not the individual sharks, that had my heart in my mouth. From one minute to the next, swimming with a school of fish larger than I was, would have, if I hadn’t been holding it, taken my breath away.
The second-year Bruce and I flew from Philadelphia to Saint Thomas to stay with John on the island. No sailboats this trip. We wanted to know the island. John lived in the hills, in a rustic area, where the roosters were our wakeup call. I was enamored, so much so that I called my then wife and persuaded her to come down and join me. After some coaxing (I couldn’t understand why she was apprehensive about a spontaneous vacation on an exotic Caribbean island), she agreed to fly down. I excitedly took a bus to the airport to pick her up two days later. I immediately became a tad concerned by the nervous look hidden behind her smile, which only deepened as we hopped in a taxi and made our way up the curvy mountain road to John’s place. After two days it was evident she was not a happy camper. She loved the beach, but the blue-green waters and warm white sand of the Caribbean weren’t enough to compensate for the perhaps unrefined setting in the hills where we were staying. It just wasn’t her cup of tea. Rather than the planned week with me on Saint Thomas, I rebooked her return flight only two days after her arrival. She was happy to leave, and I was happy she did. It was nothing between us. She was uncomfortable in that island setting, and I couldn’t change that. In hindsight, I mistakenly tried to force her to like what I liked. For the second year in a row, although this time metaphorically, I was pissing in the wind.
This second island adventure still ended up a good trip for Bruce and I as we bounced around the isle’s more remote beaches trying to improve our inept spearfishing abilities which we never seemed to manage gripping. We were mostly too slow. When I found the occasional seemingly lazy fish, it would stare back at me with those large, glassy, fish-eyes, as I aimed my gun. Then, the split second after I fired, it would turn broadside, the spear bouncing off its body as if it was saying, “yea sure, go ahead and try to spear me you goggle-eyed spazz.” Luckily our friends were experienced fishermen. We ate seafood like kings during those trips. No pissing in that wind.
- To this day, whenever there is a choice between finding a discrete location on natural earth or water vs. a public breath-holding bathroom when a piss is calling, the outdoors always wins hands down. During long distance (pedal) biking trips, brother PI called these outdoor pit stops ‘natural breaks.’ Of course, they were. Pissing outside (not in public) is natural. When the opportunity presents itself and the air stronger than a light breeze, John’s message from all those years ago still has me checking wind direction first.
- Our marriage didn’t last long, perhaps six years through the majority of my 20’s. What we both learned the hard way was that trying to force one another into an undesired role never works. It’s like pissing in the wind, always resulting in messy, unintended consequences.