August 11, 2014
Until the tour stopped near the girl's locker room. Pushing open the girl's locker room door and stepping inside felt as if I had crossed a cosmic threshold and been sent back to 1974. No drugs needed. Only when looking into mirror, which I swear was the same mirror from the 1970s, all battered and foamy, was I reminded that I was not 16 anymore. Darn. The place smelled the same too, a combination of worn tennis shoes, sweaty gym socks and old flooring.
That green tiled room pictured above was the girl's showers. That room scared me more than Math class, or Vice Principal Butler. It looks exactly the same, as if it had been preserved in time for us to visit, a shrine of sorts to the gym locker Gods. Or demons. Girls were required to take showers after gym. The only way you could get out of taking a shower, or so I thought, was if you had your menstrual period and then you would say M to one of the nasty gym teachers. (I won't name names, as they are probably dead now, but I can still see their scowling and pinched faces.) The gym teacher would write M in some official-looking book. I'd say M quietly, fearing I'd be challenged, but I always got away with not getting naked. May I say I think the female gym teachers of the 1970s would have been way nicer if they could have let their rainbow flags fly. No judgement. Just saying.
This is what our gym uniform looked like. It had snaps and our name stenciled on the fabric. I always felt so ugly in my gym uniform, but then who would feel attractive in a navy blue romper? No wonder women my age like to wear cute yoga pants and fun tight t-shirts to exercise. Remembering these ugly outfits makes one want to wear something pink and tight or at least without an elastic waist. No wonder I dreaded gym, and not just because I was crummy at field hockey and gymnastics.
July 16, 2014
Just for one day I would be one of those girls who smoke cigarettes in the bathroom. I want to know what it felt like to be puffing away in a stall, knowing any minute a teacher might bust me. Oh the thrill.
One time my friend Debbie Kraft and I went into the bathroom to practice are pom pom routines and some of those tough girls were in there smoking. We scurried away, a cloud of smoke trailing behind us. The girls wore black and sneered at us. I think one might have even kicked the door behind me. Shudder. These weren't the type of girls who would appreciate watching us dancing around, kicking our legs and smiling. Actually I can't blame them as we were a bit too rah rah at times. Those bad girls wore dark eyeliner and teased their hair. I'd like to get rid of my pig tails with the bows that matched my blue and white pom pom uniform, and be one of those tough girls just for one day. I want to be a girl who wore hickeys on their necks planted there by the kind of boy who I yearned to ask me out on a date.
The more I started thinking about it all, I realized I did all that stuff, but after I graduated from high school. It was if I was trying to make up for lost time.
I picked up smoking, then had to struggle to quit, had a boyfriend with motorcycle, had to dump him because he was mean, worked as a waitress in bars and played the jute box music plenty of times. I even danced to jute box music now and then. I brought myself a 1977 Camaro which I beat to the ground and went plenty fast myself with a a few speeding tickets to prove my recklessness. I moved to Colorado and became a hippie with plenty of pot to smoke.
I never did kiss a boy by a locker. No regrets, yet there is one thing I would like to do on the high school tour.
Sit in the high school library. Okay I'm not THAT old. This isn't my high school library. I confess. I don't even know what my high school library looked like. I have not one memory of ever being in there. In high school, I was too busy waving my pom poms in the air, gossiping with my girlfriends and dreading math class. This I regret most of all, especially because I'm sure it would have helped me in later years in college when I realized I didn't know how to study or write research papers worth a darn. Oh my poor high school teachers.
After high school, there were many times when the library was my best friend. When I was broke and lonely, I could always find books and thanks to them I felt joy, companionship and knowledge. When I was happy, I loved the library just as much. I still do today.
Maybe on the high school tour I'll get to sit in the James B. Conant library awhile and pretend I'm 16 again. I'll even open a book. Then I might see if someone, preferably a man under 80 year's old, will kiss me by a locker, holding books I took out at the library. But no hickeys.
June 19, 2014
In my hotel room at night, I had been reading about Panama's history which included General Manuel Noriega who did enough bad stuff to earn him residences in several prisons including one in America. Right now he's in a Panama prison which, by golly gosh, just happened to be near Gamoba, the place where our bus was taking us and where our boat would depart. At one point during our drive through dense jungle, I saw an ugly looking building with a high fence and barb wire. I wondered if that could be where Noriega called home now. Then I thought about where the nearest bathroom might be located. Priorities.
I turned to Sandy and said, "Let's find a bathroom." Being middle-aged herself, she agreed. The tour guide said, "When you hear a loud explosion, that will mean return to the bus." He spoke English, not Spanish, and we understood him as we both speak English fairly well. Plus, we can both hear.
Gamboa looked deserted because it is. American personnel departed when we gave ownership of the canal to Panama. Now it is just mostly industrial-looking and empty grey buildings circa 1940s. Not a bathroom possibility in sight. We had just left the bus when a battered white car stopped, and out came a man balancing a stack of books. Being a writer, of course I was interested in what he was selling. "This is the book I wrote," said the man. "I'm the preacher, and the book is all about the nearby prison." Here's what the book's cover looked like.
The man who wrote the book is named Bill Wilbur. He's the man with the monkey on his shoulder.
Bill motioned toward a white building about a block away. "That's my church. Doors open. You can go there." I should have just bought his book then and there in thanks for his generosity, but I needed to go.
Sandy and I went to the church which was plain and sweet and had, and this the most important part of the story, a very clean bathroom.
Feeling much better, and thinking we had plenty of time, we snooped around the church a bit, and I noticed a small stack of Bill's book about Panama prisons. I said to Sandy, "I'm gonna buy one of his books. I'm going to see if he'll take five dollars." (I know I'm cheap.) I took five dollars from my pocket, stuck the book in my purse, and grabbed one of his books. As we walked back toward the buses, both still parked and idling, I noticed Bill's white car there behind our bus. I thought, good, I'll see if he'll take five dollars for his book. Important point here...neither of us had heard any explosion.
We took a small detour to look at a swimming pool that was full of stagnant water. On the side of the defunct pool it said in big black lettering: NO NECKING. As we were laughing at this, we heard a noise.
Not an explosion, or the honking of a horn, but the buses moving away from us. It had been less than 15 minutes since we had the left the bus. I swear.
With a yelp I said, "They're leaving." With Sandy behind me we ran toward the buses which made a left turn through a fenced area. The buses were at least a half mile ahead of us. Shouting for them to stop, Sandy and I ran as fast as we could. I was cursing the tour guide while my heart and feet raced. We had no idea where the docking area was,or how far the buses still needed to take us. It could have been a few more blocks or a few more miles. We just knew we needed to run.
We saw ahead the buses passed through a gate. We raced to catch them, and I reached the gate first, with Sandy close behind me. A guard stood at the gate with a gun. The little house on the right had a turnstile. I waved that five dollar bill I meant to give to the preacher in my hand shouting, "Wait. Wait for us. Let us in." The guard did look somewhat surprised to see a middle aged woman, hair mussed, face red and panicked, shaking money at him, shouting for entrance into the Panama canal.
Thankfully he didn't shoot me. He let both Sandy and myself into the guarded area. The buses were parked a few blocks away and people were heading toward the boat docked nearby. Sandy and I were sweating and angry when we found our tour guide. He shrugged and said, "I told the bus driver to honk for you." Honk! We expected an explosion. Besides, there was no honk, either. Oh well, said the tour guide. All the people on the buses had seen what happened and there were more than a few smiles our direction. Grrrrr......The good thing was the boat had a very nice bathroom, though not as clean as the church bathroom.
I left Bill's book at the hotel's business center in Panama City and who knows maybe an agent will come through town and read it and want to help him market his book. Hoping this makes me feel less guilty. That way he won't have tourists like me use his bathroom and then not even pay for his book. Did I mention it was a very clean bathroom?
May 24, 2014
It takes hours to travel through the canal, years to complete a life. Both rides go way too fast. Poof. It is over before you know it. The important thing is to enjoy the ride even if it gets hot, or slow, or crowded, or has yucky food, because there are also moments of beauty, laughter and awe. A trip down the Panama Canal is a once in a lifetime experience, just as each of us are a once in a lifetime experience. We are like snowflakes, but good luck finding any snowflakes in Panama, land of rain, jungles and mosquitoes.
Next time you meet a, shall we say, complicated person, you might say "He or she sure enriched my experience of life." This might work better than saying I wish I could sink him or her to the bottom of the sea. Or at least try this. I'm not sure it works. Next time I meet a grumpy old man, I'll try it out.
Besides, the boats decorated the landscape. We admired the size and width of the cargo ship, the sleekness of a sail boat. Challenges and experiences come and go in life, but without them wouldn't it all be so much less colorful? I know there are some experiences we wish hadn't had, but oh well, another ship will be coming soon and you might enjoy that one better.
There are times when we love where we are in life. We are content. Closed doors make us feel secure. Other times, we feel trapped. We just want to be set free. Whatever your perception, one thing is certain, life changes, and it's time to move on.
The doors swing open and we enter new worlds. We leave old experiences behind and face new challenges.
Eventually you make it to the other side. The passage way is complete and now it's open seas. Did you enjoy the ride?
In Panama City there is a park which has these giant and imposing plaques written in Spanish that tell of the building of the canal. Most of us don't have giant plaques that detail the stories of our lives, but that doesn't make your story any less important or special.
Finally, I just have to put one more photo from Panama City. I visited old churches, shiny new buildings, a jungle park in the middle of the city, but this really grabbed my attention.
A phone booth in a public park. Now how often do you see that? Life is just full of surprises.