FRESH YARN presents:

Relax, Mon!
By Rob Bloom

I'm sitting on a beach in Barbados. I'd give you my precise whereabouts, but I really have no idea where Barbados is. All I know is that, about a year and a half ago, my wife and I entered a contest from one of the several gazillion wedding-planning magazines that had swallowed our apartment. And we won.

By 'winning', I mean I mailed in a postcard with our name, address, phone number, hobbies, credit history, food allergies, turn-ons, and favorite Xanadu song -- officially guaranteeing a lifetime supply of junk catalogs, time share offers and free address labels with cheesy illustrations of teddy bears.

So we won (probably because we were the only ones who entered) a free trip to Barbados! The good news was delivered very enthusiastically by a very enthusiastic woman named Jane who spoke in very short, very enthusiastic sentences.

Jane: Mr. Bloom!
Me: Yes.
Jane: This is Jane! From the Barbados Tourism Authority! You've won a trip for two! To Barbados!
Me: Where's Barbados?

I welcomed the news of our big win. Months of agonizing over monumental wedding decisions like invitation font size, program ribbon color, and the weight of the ring pillow had turned my brain into a plate of canapés, which as any civilized wedding planner will tell you, is absolutely dreadful. Combine that with a damn depressing bank account, sparring in-laws and rumors of layoffs at my job, and the result was a steady diet of Advil and Tums. Bottom line was I needed to relax.

We received our itinerary a few days before we left and it was clear that Jane tried to cut costs wherever possible. Not that I blame her. Her company was, after all, giving away a free trip to a tropical island to a schlub who didn't even know where that island was. So to save pennies Jane booked us on not one, not two, but three flights on Air Jamaica, the only airline I know that offers its passengers complimentary (and unlimited!) beer, rum and wine.

Ah yes, Air Jamaica, where every question and/or concern is addressed with two simple words: Relax, Mon!

Your flight is delayed and you're worried about missing your connection? RELAX, MON!
The vomit bag you've been provided isn't large enough? RELAX, MON!
The pilot had a bit too much rum punch and is sitting on all fours with his head sticking out the cockpit window? RELAX, MON!

Six hours or four months in "Nausea Time" later, we landed at the Barbados airport, a building that fails to see the usefulness in silly things like doors and walls. And after waiting two hours for our bags ("Sean, the bag unloader, is at lunch. Relax, Mon!"), we left the airport and stepped onto Barbados soil.

First impressions? Hot. Really hot. Even the mosquitoes were sweating. Hotter than it was five seconds ago. And what's with that smell?!?

We enlisted the services of a taxi driver named Barnes to take us to our hotel. Barnes had lived on the island his entire life and was quite the source of helpful insider information.

Me: Can you recommend any restaurants?
Barnes: Oh yes! Many good restaurants, Mon.
Me: Which ones?
Barnes: All of them, Mon. You be welcome at them all.
Me: OK. Any places we should avoid?
Barnes: Any of them will welcome you. They all good, Mon.

My wife and I agreed that Zagats could use a guy like Barnes. We arrived at our hotel room, which had a gorgeous view of the beach. Unfortunately that was the painting hanging over the bed. Our actual view was of an abandoned fort that had been occupied by British soldiers in the 1800s. It was now being used by several nice young ladies in tight mini-skirts and tighter blouses who were in the field of… um… let's just say "personal fulfillment".

Finally we hit the beach, where I curled up with a guidebook to learn more about the island. Keeping one eye on a crab that was trying to mate with our Dasani bottle, I read about Machineel (pronounced: "extremely dangerous") trees. For those of you who don't know, Machineel trees are found all over the island and apparently contain a funky poison. Seriously. When exposed to this oozing goo, people break out in gigantic, pus-filled boils. Again, I'm being serious…I don't joke about boils. Goo, yes; but never boils. Anyway, you're safe as long as you don't go near these trees. By "near," I mean at least 5,000 feet. Oh and whatever you do (and this is important) do not UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES read any articles about Machineel trees. Oops -- too late. Sorry. Should itching or flaking occur, immediately soak yourself in a large tub of oatmeal.

After our beach time, we decided to partake in one of the many fine restaurants Barnes told us about. Without a car, we relied on public transportation, which in this case were Matatus, which is Swahili for "taxi vans" or layman for "vehicles o' death." Matatus can fit eight people comfortably so obviously the drivers squeeze in a minimum of 40. If you're the type of person who enjoys a stranger's underarm sweat slowly dripping on you while your ear drums explode from the very, very, very, very loud reggae music that's blasting throughout the van, then this has your name written all over it -- literally. Just underneath the spray paint graffiti reference on where to find a good time.

After dinner, we explored the Barbados nightlife where I learned two things about the locals:

1. These people love to karaoke.
2. These people love to karaoke.

Now maybe it's just me, but there's something about hearing a drunken rendition of "Build me ahp, buttahcup, bay-bee. Don't break me heart, Mon!" that makes me smile.

The next day featured an authentic island safari where our tour guide promised a full six hours of "roughing it." And was he ever right! We stopped a measly ten times for bathroom breaks, the beer they served on our "booze breaks" was only partly cold and there were only two choices for lunch: grilled chicken or freshly caught fish. Honestly.

We did, however, see some breathtaking views, as well as some really interesting sights. But because of a bad microphone, our guide's accent, and the miscellaneous noise that comes from driving 85 mph in an open Land Rover, I couldn't understand our guide as he described the sights. A typical passage sounded like this:

"And over here, you see the world famous SCHMIELSCHMATZELMON. Look over here, Mon, you'll see something very special! This is a BIDDITYGOOGLINESSITNESS. You can recognize it from the giant MUMBLYDUMBLYGURGLE on its SOMETHINGOROTHERMON. Whatever you do, stay far away. It be poisonous, Mon!"

That night, my wife and I wandered into a cozy bistro where we ate a delicious meal of undercooked and overpriced meat before going to the pub next door to sing along with a local named Jerry as he belted out "Sweet Caroline, Mon." After dinner, we crammed into another Matatu where I sweated off five pounds and had a lovely conversation with a 300 lb. Rastafarian woman who pressed me against the van door. Unable to understand her over the very, very, very, very loud reggae music, I politely smiled and nodded a lot. I think we're now engaged to be married. Back at the hotel, my wife and I fell asleep listening to the sweet sounds of crickets chirping. And a karaoke version of "Ice Ice Bay-bee" from the hotel bar.

That brings me to today. We spent the morning sitting on the beach, avoiding poisonous trees and European men in waaaaaaay too small bathing suits. After inhaling a plate of fried calamari, we returned to our wooden lounge chairs to soak up more of the Caribbean sun. Now it might be the heat, or maybe it's just the effects of undercooked calamari, but I'm starting to feel a little strange. A weird sensation is creeping over me. Oh good, the crab is quietly humping our Dasani bottle so it must be something else. Hmmm...tightness in chest? Check. Strained breathing? Check. Racing heartbeat? Check. Oh, no. Not that. It can't be. IT'S STRESS!!!! Somehow it found me, all the way out here in… well, wherever Barbados is.

Stressful thoughts are filling my brain: fighting rush hour traffic; meeting deadlines; the leader of the free world trying to produce a coherent sentence. Stop the madness...I CAN'T TAKE IT ANYMORE!!!

(Breathe in and out)
(In and out)
(In and out)
(Ignore the crab)
(In and out)

Wait a minute, I am still on vacation here. That other stuff can wait. For now, I'll relax, Mon.

Now hand me that microphone. It's karaoke time.


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