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The Dashing Life and Exuberant Times of Brian Harrison....And Other Rare Anecdotes

Monday, October 30, 2006

Part 2 of the Ballad of Arlene: A Spanish Romance

Disclaimer: The content in the 2nd half of this story is of a slightly risqué nature, especially to lip-celibates. I give it the rating of NC-12. All the immaturity you may find in the main character, I feel the need to apologize for, but goodness…if there wasn’t this immaturity then there’d be no story. Now allow me to pick up where I left off on a date in McDonald’s in Nicaragua with a girl I couldn’t even speak to.

The golden arches of the foreign lands shine like beckoning lights for our marvelous, gluttonous empire. The fanny-packing Americans gorging on fries assembled among themselves. I sat with Arlene. We had a 3rd party to our table; it was Fabian, a Nicaraguan friend of Arlene’s. He knew some considerable amount of English. The conversation was the slowest process. It consisted of basic small talk in slow motion. I would say, “What are you studying?” Then Fabian would repeat the question in Spanish, and she’d say something very long and with what seemed a whole lot of content. And then he’d turn to me and spill out a short phrase, “Hotel Management.” Next she’d say something which took 3 entire paragraphs to say, and Fabian would again revolve his head back to me and say, “What are your hobbies?” On and on it went. We barely made any headway at all. She sat exactly across from me. In the course of what seemed to be systematic intimacy between screens, our eyes would meet and perhaps a little more than words were communicated and the hints of some deeper truth were spoken. -But a truth altogether very vague. Perhaps, she could’ve been the most interesting person I had ever met. But you’d be surprised at how personalities are muffled by difficulties in communication. Languages are a thick fog that blocks whole nations from understanding other nations.

I sat there unable to penetrate that wall of differences. There is something in all admirations that are left unsaid, unworded, and untold. Entire impressions lay at the tail end of the tongue as it whips out its small talk….But this impression hides from the words that are being spoken. Every now and then it gleams in the eye, but in a split-second it’s flushed out again. No where was this more apparent then with Arlene. So much trouble…all because the mayor of Babel decided to build a tower…the idiot!

All the events of the date led up to an uncertain mist of confusion. I took this girl out, we chatted (or something like it), and there was a definite attraction on both sides. –But now what? I couldn’t even speak to her. So the VBS of the week resumed its circus-like task…Arlene returned to her duties as Bible teacher, I returned to my prestigious role as the Good Samaritan’s Donkey. I never thought that acting the ass could get the attention of a lady; as experience has taught me, acting the ass is one of the surest, if not the most fun of ways.

But I was nervous. Why or for what reason, I can’t say. With me, the pursuit of the female is tinged with shyness. My life is led through doing the most asinine feats in the face of the public; but let one single face out of that face…be pure, lovely, and eye-binding, and I cower in insecurity. So when seeing Arlene during the latter part of the week, my eyes would lower. My head would turn the other direction; my feet would stray from the slightest possibility of crossing her path. I felt wholly ridiculous about everything. And I am sure I was confusing the heck out of her.
I had a friend or a compadre with me on my travels. His name was Gantt. We would cut up, cause mischief, and have all types of good times. As the week ensued and it was well-known of my tete-tete with Arlene, he had this very annoying habit of making fun of the slightest imperfection in her looks. Arlene had this front tooth that was slanted somewhat sideways at a strange angle. Well, Gantt had a hay day making fun of this, anytime her name was brought up. It pushed me to anger and I threatened to fight him if he didn’t stop and the funny thing on looking back was that I actually meant it. That’s the only time that I recall ever threatening one of my own good friends, and hopefully the last. Not to mention it was on a mission trip. But we were all young and immature in those days. Even though, I’ve always been that immature type of passionate that still gets me into trouble these days.

The end of the week was approaching. I had just settled myself with the contentment of not saying anything more...to Arlene…what could I say? Whatever it was…I had to have an interpreter at hand. The awkwardness was overwhelming. On the crowded days our eyes might meet but there was always that mystery or entire frustration of what the other was thinking. And for a short while the female shadow that haunted me from the past was gone. But all in all..nothing practical could be instigated with this barrier of languages. I’m sure it mattered little to Arlene if I never said anything more. Besides, I’m just this stupid gringo with the impulsiveness and the hare-brained idea to draw her face, write her a letter, and take her to McDonald’s and with disconnected grunts and noises try to communicate our values and lives. Shame is what I felt. And shame is what I always sense while in the intimidating presence of beautiful women. And the only antidote is more and more distance. I was to fly out the next morning. The Thursday night’s are always emotionally driven. Hugs, adioses, and photograph-posing were all abounding. And then from the corner of this cement-church came Fabian looking for me telling me that Arlene had a departure gift that she wanted to give me.

Arlene, myself, and our trusty interpreter were alone…well, sort of, kind of. We stood in the vacant room adjoined to the chapel and the muddy courtyard area where all the kids roamed freely after the evening services with their coloring sheets and glass Coca-Cola bottles. There were no doors in this room. Doors, in Nicaragua, are a commodity. They use quilts instead. But they was no quilt either.

Arlene smiles and rambles something off in Espanol. Fabian intercepts the words and tosses them to me. I catch them, without fumbling, they are, “I am really going to miss you and I have some gifts for you to remember me by.”

I look at Fabian and then into her fiery-brown eyes. “Tell her the same, that I’m gonna miss her too, and I wish we could’ve gotten to know each other better.” This is passed through Senor language filter.

She hands me a mug shot of herself and little plastic letter that spell out her name and unleashes that familiar, yet incomprehensible language again. Fabian does his job in his usual strained English, “She says she wants to give you these so you remember her.”

I reply, “Muchas Gracias, I don’t need these to remember her by, but I am very happy to receive them.” We exchange our contact information. She was to be my far-off pen pal. Up to this point everything reminded me of perhaps what the first white settlers may have gone about trading beads with the Indians. -That is until she again spoke.

Without any change in his interpreting tone, Fabian, casually shot off her speech, “She says she wants you to kiss her now.”

My eyes widen, stuttering, “Wha- What? Here?! Right Now?!” I look around me; I think I recall a few kids passing by my elbow right when her wish was translated to me. The children pass out of the room; solitude encapsulates the scene. Arlene stands demurely like a goddess of love awaiting her sacrament. Fabian darts his head both ways and pronounces the answer to my whelping questions, “Yes, you better do it now.” Then he looks away as though not to ruin the moment for us.

A pause, that’s all that was needed to collect my thoughts and evoke my truest self to the forefront of this promiscuous and licentious situation. My willpower had to grasp the full emblem of what this deed would do and what I had to do …I was on a mission trip for crying out loud. I mean what false self and bald-faced lie would be representing if I didn’t acquiesce the requests of a fellow sister and make known the bonds of affection with the seal of a holy kiss? I was tempted very mightily to refrain…but this temptation didn’t last long. I mustered up the discerning powers of my conscience and puckered up and went in; my dutiful pilgrimage to this uncharted, unknown land with its soft crags and its hot, blushing shore.

I’ve never kissed a warmer kiss…a lava kiss. –And how can I be to blame if my pilgrimage turned more into a crusade? When I was the violated Arab? The only thing to do is just bear her violent mouth-lashings with dignity and maybe return a tooth for a tooth, or tongue for a tongue, or however that saying goes. I never knew the barrier of the English and Spanish languages could be hurdled over by the language of the French. For in that kiss all things left unstated were stated.

I broke away thinking that was appropriate and, of course, for air. –But she stood there looking at me with those gorgeous eyes stabbing into my light-headed gaze and yet I couldn’t leave her looking at me in such a way…I looked around, nobody except for Fabian, and then I looked into those dark almonds as they called me again. I followed and made a passionate revisit.

When I looked up a second time there was one of the American chaperones standing in the furthermost doorway with a grin on his face, giving me the thumbs up. I grinned back and said my final goodbyes.

3 weeks later, in the states, I start receiving mail from Nicaragua. This proved to be a whole another difficulty. Luckily I found this Mexican lady at church to translate all her letters for me. And the words that I received…I bet made her very curious. As the letter revealed, Arlene was a very amorous person. She told me things that you usually only tell people that you are married to. No, no…it was not perverse. It was just dearly romantic and gushing with sentimentality, (But I refuse to make her private letters public).
I would try writing her letters more toned down from her passionate talk. You know, I would write more about other things than about her. As common sense should reveal…there was little chance of us being together. Miles is not such a problem. But language is. I thought to befriend her and she was the best friend I had that couldn’t speak English. And I was getting to be certain that my point was coming across.

A year goes by and I found myself in Nicaragua again. So I look her up. This time resolute on not kissing her under any circumstances but just to be her friend. We hang out still trying desperately to communicate. All the Americans opt on going to McDonald’s again. So we tag along. After the meal, she’s to go back to her Tierra Prometida (Promised Land) and this is to be the last that I see her….a taxi is waiting on her. She leans over and kisses me on the cheek and then walks across the McDonald’s parking lot into the taxi and it drives back to the Promised Land from whence she came. I take the final note she gave me; it was coated in perfume and I immediately find someone to translate it. All I remember was the overall theme of the letter. It said, “ I will always love you.” I fell back on my hotel bed in an agitated swoon. “Why??? Is it only because I’m American” I was pretty cynical about her special liking for me.

How can I be blamed for this? I didn’t plan for this. My luck is that she is really my one and only soulmate for this life but it was never realized because of the language barrier. And do not think that I do not every now then have the crazy idea to rush down there to marry her. To live the blessed, simple life in a tin-roof hovel and count how many different ways we can make love in a hammock. We would have tons and tons of dark-brown eyed children with bright blonde-hair and they would all be barefooted, but so happy and sublime…playing, laughing, and skipping in the dirty roads of the Promised Land.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Ballad of Arlene: A Spanish Romance

I was in love and I won't bother telling anybody much more about it. Our mouths remain mute while our hearts creak and shatter. It was a whimpering adoration, a long haul of an unattainable desire, a steady fire of vigilant longing snuffed out by stupid luck and stupid timing. My heart ached and I thinned considerably form my appetite being gone. I was 19...a beautiful age with the most beautiful of feelings piercing my chest. -Both beauties seeming to be crushed under the weight of reality. Those were the mixed-up days of bright eyes with their painful shadows. But like I said, I will not say much more of her shadow.

A mission trip loomed ahead. It was to be my first trip out of the country. I went from the shards of one broken dream to the invitation of another. -The dream of travel. It is a recess, a quick leap away from compressing life to the great wide unknown, that comprises what we feel in the act of traveling. We have carried our sorrows, rolled in the mud, inhaled the dust, and crept through the shadows, and when that time comes for our heavy heels to take to the skies to a whole new shore...we may perhaps leave behind our pains, and even the broken pieces of ourselves.

Who can remember the first time they have left one's own country? There is a vivid mysticism laying on the contours of this foreign realm where the airplane is darting. Nicaragua...not much of a noteable country, but somewhere other than home. The plane sits in the runway and with a start and a boost it thrusts up into the air. The first take off, tossing one back into the seat, the engine hums and roars, and maybe a jolt and a pounding heartbeat, and all is sky. These experiences diluted my sadness and I, for the first time, saw the clouds below me while the dominant sun cast its light upon the white landscape of marshmellowy clouds. And let this be an allegory worth noting: All was showered in sunlight...all lands, all clouds, all sea, all air, all horizons...but we can only see that when off the ground and above the clouds that enshrouds our lives in narrow fog. The plane soared about these sun-drenched palaces of hope and light and then dipped into darkness. The night had fallen and we approached Nicaragua. I remember viewing the jungles far below absolved into blackness, absolved into the fabulous unknown of this unknown land.

In the morning the streets were roaring with honking horns, yelling mestizos, and every now and then, the cawing of an exotic bird. This trip was strictly VBS. Our group was composed of the deliberate few who were going to teach children Bible stories and play and make them laugh as well. If there is any healing in traveling then there is almost its uplifting match in interacting with children. The team I went with was a devoted crew and had whole biblical costumes and puppets brought from the far away land of Bible Belt America. -And there among the concrete-slabbed buildings and mudsliding streets, the children all on the edge of their pews, we performed our theatrical parables to the wide-eyed splendor of this Central American childhood. We were a smash, a hit. In the hovel-filled neighborhoods of Managua rumors spread about these pale actors who dazzled the humidity from the air, all dressed in funny robes and beards and such. The little ninos would run from all four corners of their known earth and assemble, crowding up every patch of pavement to see this traveling circus of fat and blue-eyed gringos telling their tales in these slapdash skits. There was a whole cast of bright characters mesmerizing the kids' eyes into gleeful attention. The deaf old man, the lame man dragged in on bedsheets. I played a pretty convincing blind man running into walls and such until the stage center Jesus gave me sight. All types of characters which we would exaggerate to get the kids' rollicking in laughter. And laugh they would. We would pack all these children in that one-room, cement chapel and have them howling with laughter. And nothing, nothing clears the brooding mind more than the laughter of children. So when it was my time up on stage, I would make full use of the situation. I hate to boast...but there was not a character who was as popular and as well loved as my own debut as the Good Samaritan's Donkey. I'd hee and haw and kick my legs up in the air then the entire kindergarten audience would erupt in blessed laughter.
The place was Tierra Prometida, a suburb of Managua. In English that means the Promised Land. And instead of giants there were children playing in the streets. Some clothed in garments, others clothed in dirt. But all fun and playful as though drunk from milk and honey of a simple life, or perhaps not drunk from the spoilings that our American kids know too well.

And then my eyes found her. She was standing in the shadows. Part of the light from the sun streamed in through the window illuminating her delicate features. She was short, not much taller than the children and she was dark like the jungles at night. Her eyes shone forth like the moonlight breaking through the trees. And her face had the angular edifice of high cheek bones; a purely Native American construction. It was a face from another time and place when the Indian maids walked down to the river to fetch jugfuls of water from the springs of the earth. But more than any of these impressions, none of them struck the heart so vividly but by her interaction with the children. -That a girl has stirring eyes....that is all and well. -That a girl has sweet lips...again that is well. But that a girl can play with children...this is the characteristic that will sell my soul everytime. She was their Bible teacher at this church. In one sense, she seemed to be an older sister. In another, she seemed to be a mother. I couldn't place what age she actually was, somewhere dangling between the gates of Eden and the doors of Paradise. Through subtle inquiries, I found out her name was Arlene Hernandez and her age was 18. She was unmarried and a good, fine, godly woman.

In Nicaragua, I never got over the way the simplest things entertain the child population. I would take out my notebook and draw all types of cartoons for these kids. They'd crowd around me wondering what creature I'd spin off with my pencil or crayon. Then, I got to the point where I'd sketch out the children's faces. And they'd fight over who was going to be drawn next, and they'd run off with their paper to their mothers showing them the likenesses.

One night while entertaining some kids with my drawings, I hit upon an idea. It was Arlene's face that I wanted to draw. And I knew that it was less from an artistic urge and more from the plain, bare fact that I wanted an excuse to stare intently into those magnetic eyes.
So through hand motions, the only real way I know how to speak other languages, I got her to pose. While I sketched out her features. Her eyes burned like lit lamps leading her artist into the dark, solemn mysteries of her soul, of her people, of their life.

She had one of those faces that spoke its spilling auras of light and love and things wholly divine. The shadows interplayed with the savage sun of that Nicaraguan sky and shot shafts of uncontainnable radiance onto her Native American features. Her eyes were 2 marvelous almonds carving out the minimalist appreciations from out the bottom of men's chest. They were sultry, hypnotic eyes...the kind upon looking into, you curse your eyelids over when they take a short break to blink. In the north, we have sapphire gemstones and we glance into emeralds, but in Central America, unrivaled brown is the sacred hue of their orbs. These eyes of these southern daughters of the Mayans and the Aztecs could shake an empire. The Conquistadors all in route to salvage their bloody gold should have returned in their galleons, back to Spain, declaring that they've grasped the full bounty of those jungles, for they have gazed into these 2 fiery-brown doubloons for eyes and in them they've caught glimpses of the Fountain of Youth puddled in two brown pools of penetrating heat.

The drawing was complete and what a poor drawing it was. (I'm more of a cartoonist than a real artist). But it inspired me further out of the graphite realm and into the world of ink. Til this day, I don't know why I wrote it. Maybe I was trying to express something deep within. Maybe it involved breaking free from the horrid crush that I was tormenting through. Or maybe...I just saw something beautiful and I wished to respond. Shall I be hanged for this? It was not a poem, really, just a simple little paragraph. I can't remember what all it said. It was not a declaration of love, only an acknowledgement of beauty and there is a vast difference. What I do remember is the allegory I used. I told her that there was something about her features that reminded me of a framed portrait. A work of art that should hang on a wall and all people should stand and admire with their eyes and hearts, but that beautiful object shall remain on that wall and if the humble viewer wished to be in the picture also than it would only make the picture ugly. Yes, I know, strange. (And apparently this was not going to be the last time I've done such an absurd thing).

Foolish inspiration, why do I live my life by this impulse?...Why not like everyone else and live with practical sense? -But no, I must court a muse, and who or what this is, I am still trying to figure out. Well, I gave her the paragraph and for her Spanish eyes, it had to be translated. She couldn't speak one word in English and I could speak only a few words in Spanish, so this made for one interesting set up. She got one of the bilingual preachers to translate the entire piece for her. Within minutes there was a huge shockwave that hit our entire group as well as her whole church, and those churches, leagues and leagues away. It was joked about from both the Americans and the natives.

Then Wednesday came. Wednesday was the very special day in the middle of our sojourn to this distant land....that, sadly, the majority of the Americans were looking forward to. For it was the day that we were all to go eat at McDonald's. I'm just about ashamed to write that. But it's the truth. All of us fat Americans were hauled across the city of Managua to the only McDonald's, perhaps, in the entire country. And there we would charge the poor McDonald's workers like starving cows ordering which combo meal we wanted. Before we went, one of the Americans, advised me to ask Arlene to go to McDonald's with me as sort of a date. So I announce to you, now, that one of the most memorable dates that I've ever been on was at McDonald's.....with a girl I couldn't even speak to....and accompanied by our very own interpreter....along the side of 20 Big Mac-craving Americans.

I leave that to sink in. I'll continue the story of this date and all that follows, later. For the mean time....stay tuned....my romantic adventure in Nicaragua is only getting cranked up. To Be Continued....

Thursday, October 12, 2006

From the Seat of a Bicycle

I've never been one of those people who insist wholly on an automobile. They are crazed, wreckless, stubborn animals that can only run their gas-gurgling, dollar-demanding course in between fierce, strigent lines. Lines that are absolutely nonnegotiable or perhaps only negotiable with the imbalanced recompense of a heavy fine or a rearranged vehicle or a squashed cat or dog or some other worse fatality. Silly lines.....and silly cars....and silly society that insists wholeheartedly on cars that depends heart and soul on lines.

I've never been one of those people who insist wholly on the soles of ones shoes. They are heavy, cumbersome little devils that require constant patience if you want to go anywhere very far. They just ain't fun...after the 10,004th step...and no mountian climber will argue with me there. (Oh sure that mountain is fine and lovely, but take away that gorgeous mountain pass and trade it for a dull neighborhood or a smoggy industrial parkway...and Sir Edmund Hillary would not forbear another step). So I take to a bicycle like a tri-talented duck takes to the water. He has flown and he has waddled...and now he floats, drifts, almost glides on the silver surface as he paddles.....a satisfied balance of ease and effort.

However, this does not mean that I necessarily insist on a bicycle either. I am presently almost forced to. My car lies down below in the garage coughing and wheezing, stretched out moaning and groaning, on it's death bed. Poor thing, I've had the thought once or twice to take it on one last mad dash over the mountains nearer the sun, to put the awful beast out of its misery. But the times we've shared, and the horizons we've chased....it just doesn't seem right. It's sputtering agony would become my agony. And this I just cannot endure.

My life passes by under two thin wheels. I ride to work and I ride to school. Uphill and Downhill. Both into the wind and accompanied by it. My legs synchronized in circular motion upon the pedals. My fingers gripped around the bar in front ready at the quickest reflex to wrap around the breaks. My eyes steady and my lips tasting the breeze as I flit by. Surely, the automobile is over-rated....unless you have somewhere important to be.

About a year ago at Harding University, for a short while, I was obsessed with the bicycle. My present day was swamped with all types of middling work. Papers on this and exams on that. When really, whenever I got right down to it...I just wanted to comfort my high tuition spending and MLA documentation-scarred life, by riding on a bicycle all day long. It was it's own form of therapy and a chance to catch a feel or a whiff of the things that really matter in this life....sunshine and wind. Take your college degree, take your money, take your petty facebook friends, take your jerseyed social clubs, take those expensive rings, but give me wind and sunlight....these are the underrated rations of the soul.

Now, I didn't have a bike myself. I would rush over to Carrie Davis' apartment at all hours of the day and night. Bang on her door. "I'm borrowing your bike...is that okay?" Or something to that effect. And then like a breeze that is just beginning to break out of the clouds and into the broad blanket of warmth and golden light, I'd swoop across fields, sidewalks, asphalt, trails, and white swing consultations, breaking up the prefixed order of things in their respective diagrams of studious groups, winter-preparing squirrels, courting couples, the scheme of success, the attainment of popularity, the delineation of a quiant life, the call of a predestinating and distant God, in a gust they'd be all scattered and thrown as the kicked-up tailspin of my cloudburst thought-life trailing, in a defeated whirl, the vivacious triumph of my newly found freedom.

The heart is more circular than it is square. It's imposed again and again as being square. It was never so. The heart is always round and given to rhythms. It rolls in motion; not turns in direct angles. The invention of the wheel is accredited as mankind's greatest invention. For once man thought to make something more like the feel of his own heart. And ever since...he has twirled across existence. The bicycle is a mechanical somersault. It's attributed to childhood and to innocence. And its mode and method of moving is circular. The heart should always rest at ease on a bicycle.

Unless you happen to be in the city. I came to Birmingham...and was dependent upon a bicycle for the majority of my transportation. A city, making gridlike all pathways, can be a nuisance when between handlebars. There is ever the barrier of buildings, the necessity of walking lights, and the stress of traffic....the bicycle looses its idealism pumping up sidewalks where construction disturbs the peace and my pedaling space. Nevertheless, I have found a nice patch of paradise in the midst of the city, actually my path to work, where a bicycle venture matches those prototypical and rustic days of Searcy, that are now fast fading to a nice piece of fuzzy nostalagia (somehow I forget the stressful times about them). I go to this hidden recess often, but I'm afraid it would take the form of another long post to indulge my pen. Maybe next time. For the time present...I have to pedal out of this downtown campus back to my residence. There still may yet be some streaks of sunlight to glimpse and definitely a breeze to feel.