This happened in the late 1990's, at KD's house. He had come home a day early from his vacation and needed to vent. When I got there, this mind-bending excuse of a movie was on as he ordered a Domino's pizza. We weren't seated long as the enthusiasm to share his negative experiences faded and were replaced by heavy-duty yawning.
KD had reminded me that he had flown back from Venezuela a day early (the day before), due to circumstances beyond his control. During his explanation, he repeatedly told me that he was on zero sleep. So I was neither shocked nor insulted that the poor boy nodded off on me.
I decided to let him sleep because the pizza would be there in about twenty minutes.
To ease the problem of being alone with a movie that was such an assault on my sensitivities, I closed my eyes.
|JACKIE CHAN (1954-PRESENT) IS A HONG KONG-BORN ACTOR. ALTHOUGH HIS FILMS ARE NOT MY CUP OF "TEA," HIS ACROBATIC STYLE OF MARITAL ARTS AND COMIC TIMING HAVE MADE HIM WORTHY OF A STAR ON HOLLYWOOD'S, "WALK OF FAME."|
My predicament didn't change when I opened my eyes, (it felt like an eternity but only ninety seconds had passed). That's when I thought about abandoning my buddy...but I couldn't do that. So out of frustration the idea of smashing the table came to mind.
Luckily, Domino's came a little early. Through terribly blood-shot eyes, KD had renewed vigor as he told me about his mini-vacation to South America. The plan was to go down with his wife (G), meet her family, stay for four days of sightseeing and come home alone while she stayed a month.
While he was chomping away, I picked friggin' anchovies off my dinner as KD started the story about their day-trip into the Venezuelan frontier. I was imagining KD slashing a machete through the jungle, defending G from a tiger, swimming in an Eden-like lagoon with a waterfall in the background and the two of them making love on a mountaintop. Instead KD said, "That road trip was the start of a rough couple of days...AND...it might be the beginning of the end of our marriage."
I was thinking that a poisonous snake bit G while blazing that trail to Utopia. I said, "What happened?" He said, "Ever have an AK-47 pointed at your head?" I said, "No." He said, "How about five of them?"
KD described G's country as an "emerging" third world nation. That was his way of protecting her culture while also declaring the conditions there, as backward. He said, "Nonsense like pollution and regular power outages (in normal weather), can be overlooked but the lack of freedom especially due to a suffocating military presence, is intimidating. Even outside the Caracas, there are checkpoints at the border of each province. It felt like stepping back to the Stone Age. Just picture an 'armed' tollbooth every time you went into a different state."
They drove two hours for a supposed fun-in-the sun outing. But the drive was dominated by petty bickering centering around G's newly found home-sickness. In the middle of nowhere, a short distance from their lakeside picnic destination, they turned onto a smaller roadway. Soon, the "happy" couple approached the only checkpoint that they would encounter. G stated to KD , "Just hand over our credentials without speaking. Don't even look directly at the sentinel". Due to their arguing, KD defied G's suggestion. He greeted the border guard with a big smile and said in pigeon-Spanish, "How you guys doing today?"
In an instant, the grim-faced sentry pointed his weapon at KD's temple. KD told me, "Way before four other officers surrounded the car, I really thought I was going to crap my pants!" At gun point they were forced into the only building in the wilderness.
KD said, "An hour later, we were released. But in that time, we were separated. I had no idea where they took G. But with two AK-47's aimed at me, I couldn't protect her from the ugliness I was imagining. All I could do was pray. My prayers were answered when a sergeant led her down the hall with two rifles at her back."
G huffed, "Our fine is a hundred..." The sergeant roared in perfect English, "That's one hundred American dollars...in cash...EACH!" KD told me, "We were a few dollars short even after G emptied her purse including all her Venezuelan currency. They demanded her wedding but she didn't want to give it up. I wanted to step in and protect the symbol of our love but I was picturing the movie, "MIDNIGHT EXPRESS." I didn't want to wind up in a foreign jail. I had to negotiate fast. Luckily, the greedy prick settled for my scuba diver watch."
|"MIDNIGHT EXPRESS" (1978) WAS A FACT-BASED DRAMA ABOUT DRUG SMUGGLER BILLY HAYES' HARROWING EXPERIENCE IN A TURKISH PRISON.|
Back at the car, KD and G realized that it had been ransacked. The nicely packed lunch was missing as well as her designer sunglasses and a small sack of local coins. Without a fuss or consulting his better half, KD made the K-Turn of valor and the penniless pair returned to the city.
During their mostly quiet return to civilization G said, "I have some deep thinking to do. I want to stay in Caracas till August, (an additional five months). KD said to me, "She had just defended the sanctity of our marriage and now she's prolonging our separation? What was she expecting me to do, go postal and kick all those border guard asses?"
I didn't know what to say. He paused waiting for my answer until he broke the silence, "It's disturbing to know that there are people out there like that." I said, "Yeah, but like you said, those weasels are trying to survive in a backward country..." He interrupted, "Not them, I was talking about my wife."
KD was angry with G. He paid an exorbitant surcharge to switch his flight back to New Jersey for that afternoon. He got no sleep and was physically and mentally exhausted when the plane landed at Newark Airport.
To save money on parking, KD left his jeep in the Bronx, at his seventy-six year old cousin's house, (the only full-blooded Hispanic in the world named Neil). KD was expecting the Latino side of his family to give him a big reception when they delivered his vehicle. Instead, when he entered the terminal, he found nobody. KD was afraid that his sudden change of plans was garbled in the translation. Until he spotted an elderly stranger with thick glasses, holding small cardboard sign with his last name scribbled on it.
The old man, reeking of cheap liquor introduced himself as Tulio. In broken English, he informed KD that Primo Neil had died...and that the funeral was the next day. "My unexpected ride back to the Bronx in Tulio's beat-up '69 Chevy Caprice was scarier than having automatic weapons aimed at my head. That viejo (old-timer) had no depth perception. It was getting worse and worse. By the time we were on the Major Deegan Expressway, half the car riding the shoulder. He was so close to hitting the cement retaining wall as he kicked up dust, drove over broken glass, plowed through trash, hit potholes and never slowed down. I made a comment about his driving but he just laughed and started blithering in Spanish. The genius wasn't even watching the road when he whipped out a pint of cheap rum, took a couple of swigs and offered me some."
|THE ONLY LETTERING KD MADE-OUT FROM THE OFF-BRAND BOTTLE WAS THE WORD, "RUM."|
I said to KD, "That sucks." He said, "Yeah, it sucks big time. With guys like that out there, we risk our life every time we leave our house."
"The next morning there was a lot of commotion in the house, I hardly slept. I told my family how tired I was...and tried to cut-out after the funeral. But everyone was so sad, I didn't have the heart to say I wasn't staying for the big dinner. They made sure I was stuffed on pork, rice and flan."
|FLAN IS A TYPICALLY ROUND DESSERT CONTAINING A SWEET OR SAVORY CUSTARD FILLING. IT'S ORIGIN DATES BACK TO ANCIENT ROME BUT TODAY IS MOST POPULAR WITH HISPANICS.|
KD said, "I didn't make it back into Jersey until after one in the morning. I was okay to drive even though I had a lot of beer. So to avoid falling asleep at the wheel, I pulled into the Vince Lombardi rest stop" (on the New Jersey Turnpike, milepost 116E, near Ridgefield).
|THE TURNPIKE HAS TWELVE REST STOPS. THEY ALL HAVE BEEN NAMED AFTER PROMINENT INDIVIDUALS WHO HAVE LIVED OR WORKED IN NEW JERSEY, LIKE THOMAS EDISON, CLARA BARTON, ALEXANDER HAMILTON AND LOMBARDI.|
KD said, "On my way out after buying a super-sized coffee, I decided to play it safe for the long drive and went to pee. At the urinal, I placed my giant coffee on the flat surface above the flushing mechanism. While doing my business, my big dinner decided it was time to evacuate."
He stopped in mid-thought and said, "You know what happened next, right?" I shrugged. He continued, "Well unbeknownst to me, the Vince Lombardi service area was famous, or should I say infamous, for what was later described to me as, a meeting place for non-homosexual, male-to-male sex." I said, "Heh?" He said, "Apparently, straight men who aren't satisfied with the sexual end of their marriage but couldn't afford hookers or the paper trail that might cause a scandal, have liaisons in department store men's rooms or other public places...like a rest stop. It's an I do you, you do me and we go home to our normal lives situation."
I said, "So what does that have to do with you?" KD said, "So I go to take a dump. I'm sitting for a few seconds and someone knocks on the door. I say, 'Taken.' The guy whispered, "I'll meet you out front." I said to KD, "This is bizarre." KD shrugged, "I don't know what's going on. So I call out, you have me confused with someone else." 'The guy said in a loud whisper, 'Shush!' Then more quietly, 'Then why did you put your coffee in the spot?' So I called out, Just get the fuck out of here!"
KD didn't appreciate my smirk and said, "My ass tightened up like a drum. I didn't wait. I got up, grasped my car keys in my fist and was ready to go full-on Jackie Chan if anyone got in my way." I said, "Jeez." He said, "I told you it's disturbing to think who's out there."
On the way home, KD passed other rest stops. He fought the need to use the bathroom, his sleep deprivation and raced onto the Garden State Parkway and finally two hours later, onto the Atlantic City Expressway. At a little after 3:30AM, KD thought he had clear sailing as approached the lonely, unmanned tollbooth near his neighborhood. He tossed the exact change into the toll machine. But didn't hear the familiar jiggling clickity clang of the coins getting processed. The green light to proceed remained red, so he needed Plan-B.
KD thought about driving through but was afraid his shitty day would worsen if his action was misinterpreted by an unseen policeman. He shut the car radio, listened closely and tossed in an extra quarter. He heard the tiniest clink. KD got out of his car and looked in the coin hopper. There was a ton of change sitting on top of a plastic bag that a dry cleaner would cover his finished work in. To unclog the hole, KD picked out the bag and allowed the coins to flood the hopper. Suddenly, a guy (holding something shiny, like a knife) exploded out of the woods and ranted, 'That's my money MF'er!'"
|WHAT A CASH COW! THIS SIMPLE TOLLBOOTH SCAM CLOGS THE MONEY HOLE. WHEN NOBODY IS AROUND, YOU COLLECT YOUR ILL-GOTTEN GAINS.|
KD jumped in his car. He was so tired and backed-up that under other circumstances he would have gone home. But he didn't like having some deranged asshole coming after him with a knife. So without a cell-phone, he had to find an all-night convenience store to call 911. KD told his story to the operator and finished with, "It's disturbing to know that there are people out there like that."
Safe at home, KD did his business and settled into bed at 4:00AM. I said, "That's unbelievable, we should have gone out for drinks." He said, "Wait, there's more." KD described how he tossed and turned for a while until he fell asleep. He added, "Then, forty minutes later I'm startled awake! Outside my bedroom window, there's a wild argument going on." I said, "That moron Timmy?" He said, "Yeah."
His Neanderthal next door neighbor used to work with us. He never got fired for gross incompetence, sleeping, farting or belching on the job or abusing the attendance system. He was fired for threatening a customer over a parking spot in the garage. KD said, "This was a road rage situation and this poor unfortunate bastard followed Timmy home. The goon lures this sucker to the back of his car. Timmy pops the trunk and beats this naive idiot senseless with a hockey stick. Blood is all over the place as the victim scrambles back to his car. Timmy was yelling profanity long after that schmuck turned off our street. I know I should have called the cops, but I collapsed back in bed."
"At six, I was awakened by Timmy yelling again. Except it was police and the victim, he was screaming at. Timmy was handcuffed and put in the back of the police cruiser. By that time it was light outside, I could fall back asleep. I might've dozed off a couple of times this afternoon but basically, I'm on no sleep."
I said, "You're right. It's disturbing enough to know that there are people like that out there...and far worse to live next door to one." KD groaned, "No, it's far worse to share a bed with one."