Arizona has been left in its dust. The last few days a flurry of fun filled days highlights including the ubiquitous Oktoberfest - the only one in the world to my knowledge that takes place in the middle of desert lands in an unforgiving 40 degree heat - and the Hawaian pool party thrown by the crew.
Cory arrives after work to announce the theme. I scrunch up my forehead looking at my colourful but Hawaiian free wardrobe then he throws me his palm tree shirt with the retro bikini clad ladies posing on it (given to him by one of the local stage hands in Michigan) I pop on some leggings and heels no less, scoop up our sleeping boy and head downstairs. Next the pool is Nicole's room in which she has made space for the Sam-man to rest whilst we mingle with the crowd. As we reach the pool we are garlanded. Cory is fitted with a coconut bra. Ukelele player croons out tropical ditties and chicken is on the grill. At the other end Austin's travel-bar is lit up and pumping out cocktails faster than you can say zombie on the rocks. I stop drinking after one seeing as by the end of it my heels suddenly feel very high. And wobbly.
When we take it in turns to check on the boy we intermittently find a slightly delirious chap who insists I return to the party and asks me why I have Dad's girlie shirt on and the plastic flowers. On my final visit in I find him sitting up singing and he launches into a middle of the night stream of consciousness at which point I scoop him up and bring him out to the party. It takes a minute or two before he lands into our reality but when he does he is the life and soul, right up until mum is thrown in the pool, fully clothed at which point he looks down from the edge, a mix of worry and excitement until he sees me smiling reassuringly back at him. Then it is a matter of minutes before he decides he will go in also, urged on by those of the party still bobbing about in the water. The crew gather around him and help him onto a huge inflatable turtle and takes it in turns to glide him across the pool to each other. Dad is dripping dry nursing a caiprinha at the waters edge. Mum is beginning to flag under the weight of dad's drenched shirt. We eventually make it back to bed around three after a hefty midnight snack for the boy who is convinced it's his breakfast.
If someone had told me that come the weekend I would be clinking steins at Oktoberfest in the midst of the surrounding desert lands of Tempe I would have accused them of delusional behaviour. Come three o’clock that Saturday afternoon however, boy and I were doing the polka (well one of us was, the other was doing an impression of a jumping bean) to the umpahs and yodels of The Sauerkrauts - German musicians squeezed into authentic lederhosen crooning mountain serenades, show stopping cow bell solo to boot. About us German looking descendants nodding their heads to the beat sipping their gallons of once cold beer. Even the rubber ducks at the carnival were suitably attired. Almost totally reduced to a puddle of sweat I lead boy to the splash park of Tempe Beach Park (minus beach on account of a leak and subsequent empty lake) where, demented with delight, he slid, splashed and cavorted in the water. Mum held out, like most of the grown ups, demurely side stepping the water, till I could bear the 106 heat no longer. Calling boy to watch our bag I put my fully clothed self under a suspended bucket and gasped with relief as it spat its contents down on me – and the gaggle of screechy five year old friends about me. Once drenched, my brain rebooted.
As the park cleared around what I presumed to be Arizona siesta time (only mad dogs and Englishmen stay out in this afternoon sun) I notice a couple of brothers brandishing huge plastic water versions of fire arms. The father, a Mexican fella with a pencil moustache and the kind of brooding gaze perfect for Westerns, approaches Sammy and offers him one to play with. Coaching session ensues, teacher and student fierce with concentration, the latter dwarfed by the sheer enormity of his chosen weapon. Water war breaks loose, up until Sam gets it straight in the face and bursts into tragic tears. I almost resist a live-by-the-sword-die-by-the-sword speech. When Dad joins us after his matinee we inhale Bratwurst, all the way from almost German Wisconsin and then polka once again. Sun dips down into the horizon and we notice the malevolent green grey clouds looming towards the festivities taking our cue to leave. Hopping into the first rickshaw at the exit a heavy-set African American chap has the tough task of cycling us home. I keep him talking on account of his velveteen accent and learn he is the sixth child of thirteen, born and raised in South Carolina, currently an ASU football scholarship student. He explains his strengths are his size and, surprising speed. Knowing he is of an athletic mind lightens my guilt for asking him to go on an almost 2 mile ride to the hotel under the ever darkening skies, wind shaking the gangly palms, flashes of lightning illuminating the heavy clouds. I catch sight of an African American busker dressed in a cowboy’s Sunday best, letting rip with almost country tunes on an electric guitar amongst several salubrious characters drifting about the sidewalks with that faraway look of folks who have spent too much time in the desert. Much like the man who sold me his homemade incense at the farmers market the other evening.
Desert living at its end, I write from our Fort Lauderdale home. When we first arrive at the bungalow our landlords greet us and show us about. The words lizards and racoons are bandied about. I perk up waiting for alligator and snake but thankfully in vain. Our new pad is a glorious two bedroomed home complete with a big kitchen, cosy living room, two bathrooms and all the amenities of real life living. The tiled floors, the shutters, the coconut trees swaying in the warm breeze set the scene for our tropical stay. On our first evening we drop our bags and despite a four hour flight, we are high on our usual first night excitement and head to Las Olas boulevard to soak up the street buzz about the open air restaurants and cafes. Moments later we are inhaling wood fired pizzas and sipping chianti. Homemade gelato finishes it off. Nothing about the street suggests anything but a Mediterranean summer's eve. Mafioso type (sssshhhhh) on the table next to us makes conversation, heavy new york accent, hard of hearing I supposed on account of his booming voice and the way he craned forward with a forehead of strain every time I spoke. He and his columbian wife, glittery in baby blue rhinestones tell us we are have our handfuls having a scorio boy. I would never have assumed the man to be interested in astrology. Just goes to show, you never can tell.
When the boys leave for the loo I notice a local leaving the establishment, high five-ing the brazilian waitress on his way, ironed jeans and thinning but highly coiffured red hair swept back. I find myself inadvertently edging forward on my seat as he negotiates the steps somewhat shaky on his feet. Then he totters on down to his enormous rolls royce and with a few manoeuvres safely makes it onto the road. The rest of the parked cars are of a similar style. The streets surrounding this main drag are lined with the kind of homes to match. And yachts. Hundreds and hundreds of them, each bigger and sleeker than the next. Prize for most foreboding goes to the oversized black number moored beneath a huge block of upscale condominiums. Something Batman would sail made entirely from black fibreglass and darkened windows. As we drive our heads tennis match from each side of the street three of us competing in volume with our ooos and aaahhhs. After dinner we did a brisk supermarket sweep on account of our bodies believing it was late afternoon and eventually we slipped into sleep.
Not for too long for the following morning mum had found a gymnastics class around the bend in Holiday Park. Sam, his usual easy going self was barely awake but at the mention of gym sprang into action like a limber chimpanzee. Miss Kelly and Miss Katy put the gaggle of three year olds through their paces. Sam tumbling down and around with gusto. After refuelling at home boys take off to the park and leave ma to reach her column deadline and catch up with her ma on skype. When they return they both have the woods about them, boy's face smeared with muddy fun, tales of pretending to be monsters with a gang of boys spilling forth at the rate of a caffeine junky on his tenth cup of the morning.
They wash up and we spruce up n' out for dinner at the 15th street fisheries, somewhat of an institution around here for, well, fish specialities. Opting for the "full dining" experience upstairs we take a window seat and sit back while the waitress presents an oversize framed menu which she perches on a tray stand for us to peruse. Rattling off the specials of the day, she relays colourful details of what "chef" does with one such thing or another and it all sounds fishy and delicious. Tastes fishy and delicious too. Amongst the delights were a rock shrimp chowder, crab cake, red snapper and mahi mahi. Boy sucks in taglitelle with shrimp and mum sips an apple martini.
The sea laps beside us and after some homemade vanilla ice cream with ganache and peanut brittle we catch the sunsetting rays dance on the water. Our faces pinkish purple with the closing light we make a dash for the beach. When we get there the waves are rolling in, the wind is whipping up the sand but our family soldier onto the shore and dip our feet, screaming of course, into the ocean. Warm as bath water. Hopping from foot to foot we cling onto each other lest the undertow carry us out for good. Beside us another family are doing much the same thing. As darkness creeps in we watch our silhouetted boy swing up and around the playground towards the street. A few other families similarly squinting in the twilight keeping their eyes on their climbing off springs. When even squinting is useless we take our cue to head back home. Eyes open for lizards and fallen mangoes when we arrive.
Following morning dad leaves for press engagements and boy and I hit the park just in time for several school groups coming out of the children's theatre on the other side. They swarm the playground, though I have little trouble keeping my eye on the boy on account of his incessant and incredibly loud singing and train impressions. Certainly does nothing by halves. When dad finally rejoins us I am mid natter with local mums who tell me glibly about Alligator alley, aka interstate 595, as well as a few nearby coves, perfect for children to splash about it. They tell me about the unusual weather they are having, revelling as they are at actually being able to breathe and be outside without looking like they had just stepped out of a washing machine. Usually this time of year is plagued with the tropical muggy heat for which this part of the world is famed. I try to gracefully receive the compliments on my accent, which my friends keep reminding me is being tarnished every day. I ask them whether I ought to do the day cruise to the Bahamas $80 round trip, food included? They nod energetically in the affirmative.
After lunch mum has the bright idea of heading to the beach for an hour or so of watery frolics. The first clue I missed was the fact that the turquoise water's edge was utterly void of human life. The second clue was the speed of the waves. When we finally reached the beach it took but a breath before the force of those winds was fully realised. Sand whizzed across needling any exposed flesh. Sam steps out of his flip flops but they are almost thrown away on the wind. In between the screams, this time of terror not delight, we coax ourselves towards the shore but the erratic waves criss crossing our feet are more rabid than inviting. We can't hear ourselves think over the boy's passionate protestations. Or the wind. Or the beautiful, wild seas, and so beat a swift retreat, stopping only to pick up a piece of dried out sea sponge which Sam nurses all the way back home announcing it will be a gift from him to our landlords.
Back at bungalow HQ I throw myself into unpacking and the boys kick a ball about. Tea is brewed and spirits are restored. When dad hits the hay for his regulation siesta (first night tonight!) I turn around to find boy draped in every chunky ethnic necklace I own (and I own quite a few). I watch him climb onto an armchair, lean back and shut his eyes. He holds out his palm towards me, and, still with eyes shut asks me to guess what type of coin he is holding. My cackle bubbles out. He joins in. Any attempt for me to gently point out that him shutting his eyes and holding the coin out for me to clearly see undercuts the aim of his invented game somewhat, falls on deaf ears. And I am glad. And overcome with a wave of love for this little chap sat, bejewelled, cross legged, smirking with closed but smiling eyes, looking like a cross between a psychedelic chief and colourful buddha. Later he asks me if chiefs take their jewels off to sleep. I tell him I am not so offay with the intimate nightly rituals of such men but for the sakes of our hut he might think it wise to do so.
Now its just me and the overhead fan whirring into the night. My producer will be home in an hour or so, cracking the whip. Tells me as he leaves for work tonight that a venue is almost secured for the Mariela extravaganza once we reach upstate new york and I'd bloody well have a show fit to fill it in three weeks time. That clammy palm feeling all over again. We worked late into the night yesterday throwing around ideas and then both went to sleep happy in the knowledge of having made a good start. Whichever way you look at it however, 15 extra minutes of show that includes a short film and two new characters is no short order. Then there is the task of inviting friends and family to come and laugh (hopefully!) at me in the hopes that my material does not offend to infinity. I suppose if you decide to live the vaudevillian dream you really ought to put in the work too no? It's not all cocktails and shutters and quick escapades on the beach in real life is it?
Or is it?