Showing posts with label Around the World in 80 Tastes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Around the World in 80 Tastes. Show all posts

Floating On A Mardi Gras Parade

I rode on a float in a Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans. Lots of my firsts happened in New Orleans. I took a streetcar to school, met my lifelong best friend, joined the Marine Corps.

I ate my first oyster in the Big Easy. I was thirteen. My family moved there from Texas -- where the most exotic slimy thing I’d ever swallowed was okra.

The waiter carried the tray of oysters as if they were valuable, easing it down onto our table. Things on ice appear more precious. I picked up an oyster. It smelled like the stinky parts of the Galveston beach. The shell was thick and jagged. Everything about it looked like something not to eat. I stared down at the gelatinous mass quivering in pearlescent liquid.

I thought, “New Orleans is home now; better get used to it.” With a toss I’d seen in movies, the cold lump slid down my throat. Once those flavors get in you, you’re addicted.

This Marine Won't March Into Mississippi (Hate Doesn't Taste Like Chicken)

I just turned down a farm-to-table tour of Mississippi. As a food writer, they invited me to tour their farm--to-table movement. They are very proud of where they stand and offered to fly me in to witness their production.

One of the most important moments in my book, The Pink Marine, involves Mississippi. Marines’ primary mission is to defend our country. The U.S. government didn’t care about my sexuality. It wasn’t part of their job or my job. They equipped me with the necessary training and tools to be an effective Marine. As I was issued an M-16, I recalled the time when I was fifteen and visiting a farm near Jackson, Mississippi. I hunted for the first time. I held my first rifle, shot and killed a squirrel. And then our host cooked it and served it for our dinner. * Mississippi, you’re always full of surprises.

The Disney Princess Life: Not That Great

So You Wanna Be a Princess?

On paper, being a Princess looks appealing. Almost fairytale-ish. But turn the page, lift the crown, look closer and you might stay in school.

First, you get one dress. ONE fucking yellow dress with a sash. And you have to wear that one dress in every scene until the very end, when you get married.  You imagine princesses with one of those closets like a dry cleaner where millions of different outfits go flying by like the sushi conveyor belt at Harvey Nichols in London. Nope. One dress. And it’s tattered cause it’s made by birds. Birds are shit seamstresses.

You know you’re motherless, right? Your mother died, most likely giving birth to you. And she was lovely. So lovely that your kindly father never remarries, drinks too much and whittles. ABC should launch CSI Disney and get to the bottom of this entire Queens dying bullshit. Of course this means that one day Princess, you too will be Queen and therefore die. So don’t get pregnant – you’ll never make it out alive.

Not to worry – your Prince is gay. Gay gay gay. Just look at him, riding in on his prancing horse, fresh from a spray tan, a teeth whitening, and probable barn romp involving other princes. When boys are that pretty, they like other boys who look just like them. It’s tragic men’s canoodling can’t produce kids -- a gay couple would have the most beautiful babies.

Everybody hates you. Go ahead, dance at the ball – twirl around all night. But know that everyone watching wants you dead. They don’t want to be you -- they just want you dead. Dukes and duchesses and court-folk are really mean. Don’t drink the punch, don’t eat cake, don’t touch anything pointy and never ever repeat one word three times – you’re constantly a wand wave away from poof.

Like your castle? Good, cause that’s the only place you get to go. There’s no other world for you. You think you’re going online to book a getaway in Prague? Like you’re getting on a public plane. You’ll crash through a glass wall, bursting your bubble forever. The world outside it not pretty. It’s not sunshiny, or sparkly and some troll drove out all the unicorns eons ago.

Why am I so pissed? Because I fell for the myth too and my dwarf posse left me for movie work. Now I’m single, childless, and live in a cave hiding out from some witch. FOREVER.

Moral of the story: If it’s too good to be true, it is.

The End

Overseas Adventure Travel: Israel

No one told me that the Dead Sea sparkles. And I almost didn't see it.

Wanderlust struck me, so I spun the globe and threw a dart at a dream destination. Istanbul was rioting and Prague was flooded, so I headed to a more peaceful place, Israel.

As I planned the trip from home in the U.S., I let news and friends persuade me to limit my sight-seeing to Jerusalem only, under the theoretical belief that with Muslim, Christian and Jewish holy places under one tiny sky, I'd be safe. I cancelled excursions to Petra in Jordan, Bethlehem, Masada and the Dead Sea.

Happy Birthday: Everyone Old is New Again

It's my birthday.

How old am I? great-grandmother won her husband in a jumping contest. It was about 1870, she was 15, maybe not ready to wed; but the civil war had wiped out most of the eligible men in her Missouri town. So competition was stiff. She however, had to be flexible and literally rise to the occasion. And rise above every other hopeful.

I’m lucky that I knew her; but she didn't talk much. She was exhausted. I mean, come on — she won her husband in a jumping contest.

I Tell The Tale of New Orleans At Mardi Gras

Hit New Orleans any time and you're greeted with delicious, deeply developed flavors found no where else.

Treat the city like a bowl of spicy gumbo. Tear off a chunk of French bread. Dredge it along the bottom of the bowl. Soak up every bit.

Experience New Orleans at Mardi Gras and you'll feast on the world's wildest street party. Around every corner you'll find a gasp. Some naughty, some nice.

You're likely end up with a tattoo on your soul.

 As they say in the Big Easy -- Let the good times roll.

I Meet The New and Improved Big Apple

When I lived in NYC in the late 1980's, the city was a wild and filthy witch holding a crack-laced Big Apple in her hand. The governor had recently cut the budget by setting crazies free from pricey hospitals to roam the streets of Manhattan like zombies. Studio 54 was closed but the citizens were still coked up so we danced into the inferior Palladium and out of Save the Robots at the shock of dawn like zombies.

I’d walk up five flights of stairs to visit a friend but think about it first. How much rent do you pay? was the casual equivalent of your dad's back home opener What road did you take?  Illegal sublets were either whispered or boasted about. We drank Rolling Rock on top of tables covering bathtubs that sat plumb in the middle of the kitchen.

Montreal: Water Water Everywhere And Not a Safe Drop to Drink!

I love flying Air Canada because when they land in Montreal the pilots swoop down like returning geese. As we soar past the St. Lawrence River, my stomach skips a beat from the quick descent.

When I landed last night, I noticed the runway was wet. It had either rained or the town was finally melting.

I was welcomed in two languages, a kiss on both cheeks and a warning not to drink the city water. Don’t brush your teeth; don’t cook with it, don’t even look at it  – unless you boil it first.

Go Back to Mexico

Mexico’s drug killings have crept out of the cartel hangouts and spilled over into society, including tourism, just like gooey cheese melts over enchiladas -- it isn’t supposed to flow over and touch the rice and beans but it does. Warnings to stay out of Mexico are as effective as the waiter’s advice as he places the steaming plate in front of me, Very hot, senor.  I can’t not touch it.

Mexican Food in Cancun

Timing is often mistaken for conspiracy theory. We slowed the flow of Mexican immigration into America about the same time as their drug wars escalated. Our economy faltered and the concept of staycations was invented. Travel agents pulled their hair out as we pulled out of our destination weddings.

I stayed out of Mexico for years; but I missed her. It’s weird having the same next-door neighbor for my entire life yet not being able to just drop by and bring them a pie.

I bit the bullet, hoping it was only proverbial, and flew to Cancun for a week to fetch a winter tan. My friends worried and advised me to stay in my resort to avoid murder, bring antibiotics and take parasite prevention drops before every meal to avoid tourista. (A few whispered that if I saw certain medications to pick some up for them, as the prescriptions were cost prohibitive in the U.S.) I googled the shit out of foods to avoid and was prepared to forego salad and live off of tomato-free guacamole and chips. I packed a case of protein bars and braced myself.

A Mexican getaway has always included certain elements of danger: one can get sick from the food, be ripped off by merchants, and harassed by fake police. Part of the fun of living in Los Angeles was Mexico’s proximity; it was fun to pop down to Rosarito Beach outside of Tijuana and eat one dollar lobsters, drink buckets of good local beer, and ride raggedy wild horses along the beach, splashing into the surf.

When I arrived in Cancun, no Tarantino-directed gunfight erupted as I de-planed, nor did a mariachi band greet me in baggage claim. I was met by a Bubba Gump Shrimp franchise in the terminal.

I cruised to my hotel along the ocean, and was stunned by the color of the water. I’m sure a jealous Mother Earth took one look at this unbelievably blue sea and got busy creating turquoise. When the Mayans vanished, the only things they would miss were great chocolate, human sacrifices and this sparkling ocean.

Cancun Ocean

I lunched at the Cancun Ritz-Carlton in a lavish, private tent, wedged between an opulent swimming pool and the freakishly azure sea. As I ate grilled grouper caught moments before, I reached over and scooped up a bit of mango and papaya salsa with each bite, confident that the only thing that might make me ill was the bill.  This was not border-town Mexico.  The tanned, glamorous European diners at Harry’s almost stole my attention from my delicious Kobe beef sliders. Almost.

The machine gun-bearing guard startled me as I entered one of the many splashy malls, using the door between Cartier and Louis Vuitton. I was already caught off-guard because they had a Cartier and Louis Vuitton. The Mexico I had last visited sold poorly constructed papier mache marionettes and sequined sombreros, which are still around; but it’s good to know if I have an itch for Zegna, it can be scratched by authentic Zegna, or a classic Hecho in Mexico wooden backscratcher.

Shopping in Cancun

For less than a dollar you can hop on a city bus and ride anywhere you need to go along the one street in the town. The drivers wildly careen the huge, bio-fueled buses at unsafe speeds, yet are the sweetest men -- smiling, giving change and directions, and stopping to pick passengers up at unmarked stops.

Isla Mujeres, Mexico

I may be crazy but I'm not stupid. I ate at resorts or restaurants with current online recommendations. I didn’t get drunk at a disco and weave my way home with thousands of pesos protruding from my fat American pockets. I drank bottled water. I used sunscreen. I wasn’t kidnapped and I still have both kidneys.

Walking along any beach is mesmerizing. In Cancun, you stare out to sea, into a new lover’s crystal clear blue eyes and fall in love. Her soft white sand slides over your feet with each step, like smooth, slippery, soothing Hermes socks. Which they probably sell at the local mall.

Beach in Cancun, Mexico

Cancun has the second most important and dive-worthy reef in the world. Drive a couple of hours, tic one of the Seven Wonders of the World off your bucket list and get a glimpse into the secretive Mayan civilizations of Tulum and Chichen Itza. Have delicious ceviche.

Ritz-Carlton Gingerbread Tulum

This is not the vacation bargain I used to love about border towns; this Mexico has taken steroids (available at local farmacias) and is pumped up to impress tourists from all over the world. They still have a good thing going and are glad to share it with those willing to take a chance. NAFTA is a kinky three-way agreement after all.

U.S. hotels could take ecology lessons from those in Cancun. The resort at our hotel had a giant Christmas tree made entirely of used plastic water bottles.

Open your eyes and your mind will follow. Fun in the sun and all that you loved about Mexico in the past will reveal itself to you again in new, amazing wonders.

Go back to Mexico. She’ll have you at hola.

Cancun Sombrero Shopping

New Orleans: A Tale of Two Titties

Seeing the debauchery of New Orleans at Mardi Gras reminds me that this is an event sanctioned by the Catholic church. Self-depraved Mardi Gras behavior kicks off self-depriving Lent.

Eat, drink and show your tits, Mary, absolution is at hand.

Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Biblically epic Katrina washed away a multitude of the Crescent City’s sin; but you can’t kill spirit. As the flood waters subsided, a gorgeously stunning, masked New Orleans beauty emerged from the depths of despair, dripping in Mississippi mud, reeking of etouffe, and dressed head-to-toe in elaborate purple, green and gold Phoenix feathers.

Mardi Gras.

For the two weeks leading up to Mardi Gras Day, different parades -- named after mythological characters like Endymion or Zeus -- roll through the streets of New Orleans. Giant colorful floats pulled by old groaning, gas-spewing tractors carry masked members of the Krewes that make up each organization’s parade. The float’s riders throw out strings of plastic beads and trinkets to the screaming throngs. Fantastic local school’s marching bands sashay down the street, dramatically swinging their trumpets in jazzy, high-stepping unison. They sparkle with glittery costumes. The city’s brightness flashes from their gleaming smiles.

Being invited to be in one of these Krewes is coveted in New Orleansian society. Membership in these elite social clubs is often passed down from generation to generation, like a trust fund, or close-set eyes.

I’ve been coming to Mardi Gras since I was knee high to a drag queen. I love to join the unwashed, drunk masses in the streets, encouraging men and women to show me something.

No matter what you promised your mother or your dignity, you’ll find yourself jumping up and down, screaming and begging for beads. If you have breasts of any sort, flashing them gets you more beads. And your picture taken. These images, and actual viruses, go viral at Mardi Gras. Take a shot, get a shot.

If you think the Krewe members are wasting money casting plastic pearls before swine as they ride through the streets, think again. They throw hope and joy. Watch an old lady with a home perm flirt with a rider, hoping that he still finds her desirable enough to toss beads her way. He does. She catches them and clutches them to her chest. She looks down at her prize, and I hear her shy smile whisper a fist-pumping, I still got it.

During Mardi Gras, this is the city that never sweeps. It's hot, wet mess. And crowded. Don’t let the thought of throngs intimidate you; the party is confined to a relatively small area of this legendary city, and you can easily duck off to a side street to pee in an alley or just sit and predict people’s number of steps before passing out.

I love the entire city. The architecture has great bones literally represented by black, precisely repetitive yet whimsical cast iron railings. New Orleans’ ethereal soul floats out of every kitchen. Her flesh reaches out and grabs you like a crazy old voodoo witch, sits you down at her table and feeds you till you are pacified with flavors you need not understand. The mighty Mississippi might not flow as the commercial life-blood Twain romanticized, but it’s still there, cuddling the bruised town with a healing caress, There there, child, momma’s here….. 

Come six o’clock on Mardi Gras day, firemen will unleash their frustration and hose down the streets and wash the city clean of its sins. If a reveler is baptized in their swath of fury, that cold force of water can blast away everything but the glorious memories.

Hit a Mardi Gras. In verse 13.3, Luke warns I tell you, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Not so in the Big Easy-- they have a better motto: laissez les bons temps rouler. Hell or high water.

Mardi Gras: The 1% is Having a Ball!

Everyone in the world is invited to the annual party called Mardi Gras. New Orleans’ Bourbon Street is the world’s fresh-shucked oyster.

You don’t walk down Bourbon Street at Mardi Gras, you ooze with the teeming mass of revelers as toothpaste moves in a tube. Go with the flow. Last night, I squeezed myself out and away from the packed, mass of inhumanity on Bourbon Street. I slipped away into my room at the very comfortable swanky hotel in the French Quarter, where I slipped into something less comfortable. I attended the Krewe of Bacchus’ black-tie ball.

dressed for Mardi Gras Bacchus Ball 2013

My best friend has long ridden in the Bacchus parade, one of the most prestigious. Think of a Krewes’ status like Gucci vs. Gap.  I ain’t hauling my cookies -- and possibly tossing them -- across the country for no Gap.

Imagine Cinderella’s fancy ball with guests seated at elaborately set tables, politely waiting as liveried waiters whip fancy silver domes off lavish entrees. That sounds really lovely, but that’s not a Mardi Gras Ball.

The roughly five thousand guests stream down the long walkway outside the Convention Center. Women arrive dripping in ice. Yes, diamonds -- but also actual ice. You can have the venue provide catering but guests are responsible for drinks. Nothing beats the sight of a formally dressed woman, dragging a huge cooler, cussing a blue streak if she catches it on her gown’s hem.

Think: Honey Boo Boo Goes to the Prom.

guests drag coolers into Bacchus Mardi Gras Ball

As the floats roll into the Convention Center we move closer to their path, away from our tables where we eat red-beans-and-rice from paper bowls. Use caution not to slip on the slick, hard, dropped, broken necklaces. The floor is wet in here too, though it’s not as gross as random street goo, because here we have the cache about slime caused by top shelf booze spillage and tuxedo-clad men holding coiffured, invited hair.

High-stepping marching bands jazz up the crowd.

Bacchasaurus float at Mardi Gras Bacchus Ball 2013

We've screamed on the streets, begging strangers to throw us beads. We want these beads –they're valuable and visible proof that we're both bead-worthy and capable of actually catching them as they fly through the air. Pass a woman whose cleavage is now shamefully and freshly hidden with several ropes of beads, I know what you did for those beads.

So here safely inside the gates of privilege, when my friend’s float rolls by, I scream his name as loudly as I can. The roar of it’s pulling tractor and the other bead-seekers overpowers my yell. My tux jacket is tight from dinners at Commander's Palace and beignets at Cafe du Monde so it’s hard to raise my arms and frantically wave like I'm stuck on a mountainside, trying to flag down a passing helicopter. The eye holes on his mask have gone askew during his ride so his eyes are blocked a bit. He’s been drinking since noon so when he hears me and then sees me, it's like he's woken from a coma. He grabs huge packages of unopened beads and trinkets and unloads them. I struggle to catch them all. I walk away, not embarrassed by my riches.

floats arrive Mardi Gras Bacchus Ball 2013

The riders, some drunker than Cooter’s goat, come down off their floats, remove their masks and join us dancing on the massive dance floor. My friend slings his arm over my shoulder for support. As we walk I ask him concernedly if he’s limping. "Probably," he replies. He's throw beads for hours but always reserves a bit of energy for the climatic ball.

Foreigner takes the stage. We all turn into teenage girls, screaming and sending a collective Instagram flying into netspace, setting a non-Beiber record for exclamation marks. They do sound amazing. Foreigner is one of the few bands whose entire set consists of hits. Their new singer belts them all out and it Feels Like the First Time for these swaying swells, most of who have Double Vision.

Bacchus Mardi Gras Ball 2013

Somethings in life become less important once it's over. In a sensible homage to Cinderella dropping her slipper, the women all swap out their high-heel for flat shoes. Ball goes are now disregarded like stepsisters, the bottom hem drags also he filthy ground.

We load up our caught beads into the same plastic bags they were shipped from China in. We slowly head out into the night. Our coach has turned back into mice, and we shuffle back to our hotel.
Stuff happened tonight -- terrific music played, catered food was served, I got dressed up – it was really special to be included in the private affair.

Blaine Kern Mardi Gras Float decoration

As we neared the French Quarter, the throngs of commoners were sill there, stuffed into the streets like white rice in a bag, wiggling en masse as if a snake were trapped inside. The bearded fairy godmothers were still waving their wand up and down Bourbon Street.

We passed them by, amazed that they were still going strong. Even if I paused to let them have a good, long look at our impressively swanky gang, no one cares that we were obviously somewhere better, or at least requiring a ticket and a tux.

I have a ball at Mardi Gras. I'm lucky to go. As for the other 99% -- turns out, we are all at the same party.

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Disneyworld

Rumors float about that Walt Disney had his super-imaginational head frozen. It now floats just like the rumor, in a tank somewhere, to be thawed and re-attached to another body when future technology makes that possible. Truth is, his mind and giant brain are alive and functioning at Disney resorts all over the world. Disney, whether in life, movies and death, has a dark side. Art imitates life.

A trip to a Disney theme park has a side as black as Ursula's tentacles. You know how difficult it can be spending time with your family? Imagine spending time with thousands of families. It gets real real --real fast.

To help cope, Disney now sells beer and wine at Animal Kingdom. Guests wander around the parks, already exhausted from their year of working hard to save enough money to bring the whole family to experience the damn magic. After a few hours of experiencing the magic of lines snaking around entire countries, I saw a man -- let's call him Nate -- release the leash tethered to his life's responsibilities (in this case his child) and belly up to the bar. After a few brews, newly single Nate weaved his way to the back of the park and soon found himself on the Safari Ride.

Mesmerized, I followed.

You know, everything looks safe from the inside of the open-air bus driven by an inbred teen with a penchant for theatrics. Our driver must have moved away from dull Dayton, where no one got him, and to the bright lights of Orlando. He's the kind of kid that leaves home "David", and returns as "Dayvyd".

What could go wrong with a wilderness area (almost roped off) filled with wild animals plucked from their native Africa and placed inside a Florida swamp?

Our ginger-haired driver had a spiel that included: Limits on the use of flash photography, the staying-in-the-bus rule, and his love of tap.

The bus ambled into the back country of "Africa". Warthogs rooted up artificial landscapes. The driver pointed out a visible back leg of a black rhino and hoped that he didn't attempt to charge the bus and kill us as he had the last tour. We barely made it over a rickety bridge and passed a stork resting in the back of a submerged hippo. Before we could see how that wild situation resolved, we rounded another corner. So much to see.

Disney movies are notorious for complicated back stories. In fact, most princesses never even get to have a mother.

Foreshadowing is an important and dramatic tool in all storytelling. Our driver built up the gorillas in our midst, painting them as ferocious and eager to snag one of us off the bus, tear our limbs apart and eat us like an unroasted chicken. I feared our driver would prod the poor, peaceful Silverbacks with the hope that we might see a powerful chest thumping or hear a mighty roar. But our beautiful friend just let us pass, looking away and wondering what was on cable later. And if his mother back in Africa missed him.

The driver dramatically paused the bus at the pit of dangerous Nile crocodile. He informed us that these sleeping beauties mean more than expensive shoes; they mean business. He warned that they could snap a human in half in a second and not be full -- or all that sad.

Suddenly, our peaceful passenger Nate went rogue. He hopped out of the bus and into the crocodile pit. Wow -- we all wanted to do it at these parks but no one really does it!

He pounced off one back, onto another. He skipped from croc to croc like that one chubby groupie being passed around by all of the Rolling Stones on their 1978 world tour.

Our driver was trained for these emergencies but had never had a Code ____ before. He knew all of Cassie's lines in A Chorus Line but he was suddenly stricken with actual work-performance anxiety. His walkie-talkie shook right out of his pale left hand, dropped into the pit and was immediately swallowed.

Meanwhile, I watched Nate dart up and out of danger, safely.

Our safari, like life, continued. We passed the elephants where I saw Nate cuddling a pachyderm. Who could blame him? That's the Disney we all want -- the animators make them look so cute. The elephant became angry; however, and threw caution -- and Nate to the wind with one swoop of his trunk.

Our driver would have seen Nate fly by, too, but he was busy trying to act like he had not just lost a passenger. He did this in the best way he knew -- giving a jazz hands performance. Which we all know makes driving a bus full of tourists both difficult and low-priority. Fosse danced, not drove.

Nate was flung so hard and far that he landed in the bleachers of the Lion King show. Not missing a beat, he marveled at the quality of the Broadway-worthy live singers. He realized that just fifty years ago the little red-headed bus driver would be on this same stage singing these parts in black face, but now, thanks to civil rights, affirmative action and American Idol, his mediocre white ass was forced to drive a bus and the all-black cast was free to sing about celebrating the circle of life in their Native Africa.

Nate had no idea that the entire park was searching for him. He suffered a mild sprain in the elephant toss and was now happy to sit and see a show.  He reached over and snatched the corn dog from a child enjoying the "Disney Daze". Nate snacked, content to tap his other foot to the beat of the drums. Soon, he was gonna need more wine.

The cast of the show worked themselves up into a frenzy of a finale. Characters and sweat flew off the stage in perfect rhythm. Just as the Blue Bird/Lady character began her final flying twirl up and away from the safety of the stage, her wire snapped. She flew smack into a hanging light, which knocked her unconscious and she fell to the ground.

The audience, accustomed to dark Disney movie plot twists of burning deer, dead mothers, murderous witches and thieving dwarfs, broke out into mild applause.

The actress formerly known as flying, now lay lifeless on the floor. Nate, bored, stepped over her crumpled yet lithe body as he left the theater. The rest of the cast kept dancing and singing, as they were trained to do. The gymnast monkeys worked carrying her offstage into their act. Another actress was waiting in the wings (wearing wings) and soon was soaring high above the crowd. Maximum risk at minimum wage.

Suddenly, the crepuscule hour hit. The sun was sinking. Nate stumbled out of the park and onto the monorail, unaware that he was now presumed to have been eaten by the one lion.

He headed for the Magic Kingdom.

Officials needed a scape goat and although in a Disney movie that's usually an actual goat, our driver was an easier target and non-PETA protected. He was fired and moved back to Dayton, with plans to move to NYC in the Fall.

Nate had left the hotel that morning in a red t-shirt that his wife hated but he loved. Unwittingly, he kept moving and eventually slipped into the Magic Kingdom without a ticket, caught in the shuffle of a family wearing matching red t-shirts, emblazoned with the motto, If You Don't Like Your Family, You Wont Like Ours. They had no idea the shirts they had customized on would be prophetic.

Nate fell onto the cold, clean pavement of Main Street and encountered the masses. Now sober, he was able to get a good look around. Apparently, carbs were "in" and stronger than ever.  He looked up, shielding his weary eyes from the magnificent, bright lights of Cinderella's Castle and had a revelation: This shit just got real.

At that moment, his own family happed by. His wife, unaware that he had abandoned them on the bus, had gravitated over to the Magic Kingdom like little puffy immigrants. She saw that their child's leash was not fastened to Nate's wrist. She clipped it back on.

"Come on, we got an electrical light parade to witness," she chided.

Nate dutifully followed.

Walt built it, and they will always come.

Something's Fishy

Sometimes I show up at Whole Foods with the meal I'm to cook that night not yet planned. I walk the aisles and wander around until I get inspired. Like Michelangelo cruising a brothel. When he finally sees his "David" he grabs a chunk of marble and starts chipping away at the boy's innocence.

I too, will create a masterpiece dinner; I just need to find my muse.

It's great to have choices, but the fish case at Whole Foods confuses me. Farm-raised sounds very all-American, as if the fish are lovingly tended to by a salty old farmer with a kindly wife. Then there's wild-caught, which is wildly expensive but evokes a fantasy of an actual fisherman struggling to land the fish. The high price might be to offset his hazardous duty wage.

Kauai: More Than a Fantasy Island

Into every life a little rain must fall. On Kauai, a lot of rain falls -- over 460 inches a year.

Kauai's an island so fantastic that as my plane approaches, I peer out the window searching for a fun-sized man in a white suit pointing up at the sky announcing my arrival.

This last island in the Hawaiian chain offers everything you could want and more. Picture the best massage ever, and add a "happy ending". As you lie there, spent, completely satisfied, you slowly open your eyes and come back to reality. The swarthy masseur (let's call him Bob) is actually the mate of your dreams and he is on one knee, holding a massive engagement ring in one hand and a Guarantee of a Lifetime of Happiness in the other. Somehow he's grown a third hand that does the dishes and takes out the garbage, always and forever.

You had me at aloha, Kauai.

Kauai Beach

More a drunk politician than a tiny island, Kauai offers everything. Why do you think we bought it? On or about 200AD, a Tahitian man, lost in a canoe, made a wrong turn near Bora Bora. He refused  to ask for directions. He defiantly rowed for 2000 miles, eventually hitting Kauai. His wife hit him with divorce papers as she disembarked.

I recommend touring Kauai like I devour my favorite dessert, Floating Island. I take my time eating around the edges, eventually venturing in and devouring the entire dish. 

My inspiration to experience the stunning and magnificent famed Na Pali coast was the Marine Corps emblem -- an eagle, globe and anchor. It represents our presence in the air, on land and at sea.

Na Pali Coast Kauai, Hawaii

First, I took a catamaran on a slow cruise along its impossibly steep cliffs. I gave thanks to the dancing dolphins for their cocky escort that protected the boat from being capsized by huge whales. The cliffs of the Na Pali coast glow a freakish green; their foliage so dense that they seem wrapped in velvet.

Unless you're a paralyzed Deborah Kerr in An Affair to Remember, get up and hike it. Navigate your way up and down rocky paths. The earth is a brilliant red, angry that it's constantly trampled. That dirt vows to get the last laugh by staining your shoes, socks and mind.

In a defiant protest to get star billing, the sunset, vowing stubbornly to occur each and every night, lights your path so you can step on the dirt and show it who's boss. Note to self: wear hiking shoes, not the loose fitting slip-ons that fell apart on the hike.

I went to Viet Nam as a tourist, not to hunt gooks for the Marines. But to get that Apocalypse Now rush, I took a helicopter ride. Our pilot had a License to Thrill. He swooped up, down, and in between the cliffs of the Na Pali Coast. One moment we''re safely hovering inside a green valley, concerned that a waterfall spouting from a cliff was caused by a leak -- (I didn't have cell service so I couldn't call for help or report the problem to God). And then our pilot suddenly and dramatically pulled out, like a condom-less Catholic on a Friday night praying he wouldn't have another nino. He rose the chopper up to scare the poi out of me with a stunning reveal of the vast Waimea Canyon and coastline.

When we landed, I had the strangest urge for a Hanoi hooker, and a cigarette.And I don't even smoke.

They filmed Jurassic Park on Kauai. My guide Grant is from Oregon, but adapted to island life completely. Without discussion he climbed up a tree and started shaking it madly until it spit out fruit. I don't think it was even a fruit tree; however, it acquiesced. Soon we were eating guava, risking consuming unwashed tropical fruit for this native experience. He hikes the challenging coast barefoot and once lost all of his toenails doing so. I have a problem with that. He runs around almost naked, even into stores and restaurants. I do not have a problem with that.

Grant wanted to show us the gates used in the film Jurassic Park which are still in place. He not only has washboard abs and a treasure trail that should be in a museum -- but also a terrible sense of time and distance. He casually pointed up a road

"It's up there," he said.

Turns out, that's Grant-speak for we will drive for an hour up many miles, and barely make it as this Jeep rocks back and forth over boulders the size of fat fire dancers. But he played fun music, and shot us a reassuring grin as we bumped up the steep -- NOT A ROAD.

Grant pulled out pink and yellow plastic rafts for our party blow up. In the Marines, we used similar rafts to sleep on during filed maneuvers but they were green and we called them "rubber bitches"

The spot on which we stood on Kauai was once an irrigation ditch built in the 1930's that passed through a mountain, ending up in a secluded pool underneath giant falls. We were to float through the tunnel on the rafts once we blew them up.

Don't smoke. It causes health problems, it costs money, and you can't help me blow up cheap rafts. I don't smoke; therefore I blew up three rafts. By raft two I was seeing stars.

blowing up a raft on Kauai

Also please don't go into an irrigation tunnel if you can't swim. One in our party couldn't; but on the rough drive up here we'd apparently lost our transmission and inhibitions.

As I stepped into the icy, rapidly rushing river, it was hard to control my raft and hop on it. And I'm amazingly strong. We had one shot -- because the current of the water was so fast we got instantly carried away into the dark, aluminum tunnel (it's about four feet high). Grant led us off, my non-swimming friend followed, and I made up the rear.

The tunnel was pitch black. The water was shockingly freezing. Had Helen Keller chosen this moment for her Miracle, it would have gone unnoticed as she frantically and desperately spelled w-a-t-e-r into the air and not a hand -- for absolutely no one.

I heard the screams of my non-swimming friend. I caught up with her in a second (which I be seemed an hour to her), grabbed her and discovered that her raft was deflating. I dragged her onto my raft and continued down the curving tunnel. In a cleverly cruel metaphor for life, we had no say on our wild path. My raft started losing air, too, and my knees were hitting the rocky bottom. All I could think about was the rest of my trip, me only wearing shorts and looking like Nancy Kerrigan all bruised and beaten.

Somehow I kept my friend on the raft, calming her down with stories of my gilded childhood. Basically that meant I yelled at her to shut the hell up and hang on, that it would all be over soon -- the same record my own sweet mother played as I was raised. Maybe this was like birth; we get forced through a watery dark passage to life's unknown fate. 

I saw light. We were spat out of the canal -- born into a pool about fifty feet across. I released my friend. We could all easily stand in the five-feet deep, calm water. I'd adjusted to the nut-tightening freezing cold water; but even my beloved acting coach Kate McGregor-Stewart herself couldn't have prepared me for the scene I was in.

On my right, a waterfall crashed noisily into the pool. I searched up the cliff, my eyes unable to spot the source hundreds of feet above. I swam ahead to the pool's far end, to find the river of water rushing away to my left, down the mountain to its certain death into the Pacific Ocean.

We all floated there in silence. I knew I wasn't the first guy that our slutty tour guide Grant brought here; but I didn't care. It still felt special. It was worth the danger. Plus the cold water stopped the bleeding on my banged-up knees.

After loitering for an hour, we began the hour long hike back to the car. The trail was rocky and we had no shoes. I was just in my package puffer tiny bathing suit. A gentle rain began to fall. As I hiked up and over the mountain, again I was reminded of my time in the Marines.

We used to go on forced marches in cheap boots, carrying seventy-pound backpacks. That difficult training with abject conditions made this barefoot naked hike along a jagged path seem a cakewalk, and in a way, possible. It was one of the most wonderful walks of my life. I glanced back to look at my Bob, so glad he was with me so we could tell our golden retriever about this experience one day.

See Kauai. See all of Kauai. Get blown away by the breakfast pizza at Living Foods Market in Poipu and teach a wild chicken to fetch crust. Sure, he knew how to fetch crust before you came here, but even that spastic, scrawny chicken will make you believe it's your Hawaii.

I will tell you a few more island stories soon.  Here is my review of the St. Regis Princeville that ran on Huffington Post. There's even more to that story.... stay tuned, stay tanned, and mahalo.

Snacks on a Plane

I recently flew from Chicago and our pilot boarded with a McDonald’s bag. I prayed that it was his idea of cute luggage; but I suspected that he'd be a Quarter Pounder heavier by the time we reached our cruising altitude.

What saddens me about this? Merely a nugget’s throw from the food court in the same terminal awaits Top Chef winner Rick Bayless’ Tortas Frontera Café. They offering up sumptuous southwest meals, made to order, packed to go.

Better choices for travel food are available.

Here’s the rub on travel grub:

1. Bring it on! Carry your own food on the plane, no matter where you're sitting -- the cockpit, first class, coach, steerage.

If the airline can lose your luggage, why trust them to provide your food? Look, both pilots aren’t even allowed to eat the same meal from the airline in case they get poisoned.

I once gave my Gordon Ramsay Plane Food in Heathrow meal away hoping that the British Air First Class meal would be better. It wasn't.

2. Put your money where your mouth is! Cost out any McMeal. Add the burger, fries, coke and apple pie -- it's over $10.

I prefer Rick Bayless' beer-braised short ribs, pickled jalapenos, chihuahua cheese, black beans, arugula and cilantro crema sandwich, which cost me only $11.50. You might as well ask a kid if they want candy or an ass kicking.

Some airports have some pretty good takeaway food. Google the airport you are departing from you and you might discover some tasty surprises. Pink’s Hot Dogs is at LAX. One Dallas Fort Worth terminal has a Popeye’s Chicken. In a Grand Bazaar kind of way, so does the Istanbul airport. But you have to buy the chicken and your white slaves before security. Learned that the hard way.

The Fort Lauderdale airport may not have a first class lounge or potable water, but it just opened a fun place to eat or grab-n-go, the Food Network Kitchen. Miami has a Counter build-a-burger concept; however, their loose and careless packaging fails the criteria outlined in the next tip.

3. All's well that travels well! If you bring something from home, make sure you don’t care if you ever see the Tupperware again, 'cause you won’t. And know that it must pass through the X-ray machine at the airport.

If your meal's from an airport restaurant, make sure that they pack it neat and tight. Don’t just pick up the bag and walk off all cocky, swinging the bag to the beat of your music. If you do, by the time you board and open your jostled lunch, it'll look like boobs that have been pawed by an oaf at a strip club.  If it's totally trashed, your only option is to order from the flight attendant’s Cart of Shame. Enjoy your tube of hummus and trail mix.

4. Some like it hot! Your meal has to taste good at all temperatures -- hot, warm or cold. It might be an hour or so before you eat it, unless you treat your meal like the Prom Queen and devour her before the first dance. The other students enjoy the whole night, while you two just stare at each other, thinking, Is that all there is?

5. Be prepared! I like to bring a few things on board. I always have a Cliff protein bar, chocolate and gummy worms if Bob didn't see me pack. My carry-on channels Mary Poppins’ carpetbag, producing treat after treat after treat. Gum and mints are for travelers with fear of commitment. Pack an orange, a brownie, a slice of your mom’s coffee cake. Raid your own fridge, steal stuff from your chils’s lunch boxes. Kid's food is great travel food.

Always bring a bottle of water, or gin. Don't wait until the cart saunters down the aisle. When you're offered a drink, pick fruit juice. And always ask for Fresca -- they never have it but it makes the flight attendant pause, reminisce about more innocent times and maybe give you a free sympathy honey bun. (This happened.) The flight attendants will usually microwave your food if you ask them. They do it for babies' bottles, why not paninis? Don’t ask them while they're on a break or sexing the pilot.

 6. The missing link! Make sure you have everything you need before you leave the airport terminal café. Check to see if your entrée is cut in two, or otherwise easily eatable. Do you need a knife, or a fork? I grab a spoon no matter what; amazing how useful they can be -- even a flimsy plastic spoon comes in handy as a shoehorn since our feet can swell in flight. Take packets of mayo, mustard, ketchup and plenty of napkins. Grab a hug from the counter girl at Nathan’s if you need one -- travel's hard.

7. Keep to yourself! Your seat is your entire dining room and it's tiny. Food needs to be eaten with the dexterity of Daniel Day Lewis in My Left Foot. You have about fifteen inches to reach down and retrieve your bag, extract your meal, open the box and eat.

You want your space, so does thy neighbor. Keep your meal and your hands inside your own "ride" at all times. And if you drink gallons of water, book an aisle seat. 

8. What's that smell? Someone will pass gas on your flight -- don’t let it be your food. The fruit, durian, is banned on flights in Asia because it emits a foul, overpowering gaseous odor. Not what you want while hurtling through space.

Be considerate. If you're going to mutter to yourself mid-meal, This is gonna burn twice, then that might not be your kindest food choice.

A chilidog with chopped onions is perfection in a bun; but not in a confined space where it becomes an ugly kid -- still perfect, but only to the parents.

9. Share the wealth! If you have extra food, feel free to offer it to your seatmate or the crew. But don’t be creepy. You know your Quiche Florentine is delicious, but you look like a possessed hillbilly with spinach between your teeth as you offer it.

I once flew a dozen tiny, perfect pumpkin pies to Florida from LA. Just as the ticket agent was about to charge me for excess baggage, I placed a pie in the palm of my hand and asked if she had taken a pie break lately. She took the pie yet didn’t charge me for that extra steamer trunk.

I’m not encouraging you to run around accepting pie from people, but consider the source and have a little faith in humanity.

10. Remember the A La Mode! Dessert is the fifth most important meal of the day. Stuff a brownie in your purse, grab some oatmeal cookies from the Admirals Club, cop a feel from a sweet-looking sleeping passenger. Pack a Twinkie.
11. Hide the evidence! Eat everything before you land. You can’t bring food into other countries. Hell, until gay rights, you couldn’t even enter California with fruit. Canadian Customs is concerned with foreigners bringing in meat. And a sense of humour.

I once landed in Vancouver and the customs officer asked me if I had any meat. Who carries meat?, I thought. They asked harder. I caved like an Indonesian smuggling pigeons in his pants and admitted to them that I had some gummy bears. But there’s no real bear in ‘em, I remarked. Not a sound for miles besides the hippie behind me, whose sphincter snapped shut, regretting where he'd stashed the hash.

So please bring food on board every flight. I don’t care if you're going to your fantasy dinner party when you land and want to be hungry when you dine with Jesus, Michelangelo, all the John F. Kennedy's, and Cher.  Even on your ascent to heaven, pack a banana -- if anything you might use it to bribe St. Peter.

Eating a meal can pass some of the flight time. It can also be a distraction. You will have a crying child on your flight; babies don't know how to pop their ears and flying is painful. Enjoy that a new hopeful life is in the world: that baby will grow up, work, and pay into Social Security, giving you a solid retirement.

Fly Rick Bayless Instead!
When you land, stand up, stretch, and brush the crumbs off of your pants. As for the debris all around you -- the water bottles, the wrappers, the boxes and cartons that you were too embarrassed to hand to the flight attendant as she passed -- just walk away. Hold your head up, confident that you survived the flight, full of energy and good food.  

Travel has transitioned. Gone are the days of gentility when well-heeled men sat in business class clinking glasses of scotch. Now look down -- almost everyone travels in flip-flops. Very few people have feet that are camera-ready. Germs and filth have an all-access pass to your feet, heretofore only found backstage at a George Michael concert.

We now participate more in our travel experience. We book our own travel, we carry our own bags on board, pay for seats, in fact, one flight in India last year performed a rare reverse hijack and refused to take off until the passengers pitched in for gas.  So it follows suit that we must bring suitable food on board.

Travel on. And let's be grateful out there -- you just magically appeared in another place.

A Sheep in Wolf's Clothing

I love meeting new people. I don't like flying and used to sit by the window so I could look out and possibly alert the pilot should I notice something unusual outside, like another plane or a witch on a bike. Then I heard that doctors recommend sitting on the aisle so you get up and walk during the flight and avoid deep vein thrombosis. I've now given up aiding the pilot.

What good am I seated by a window if we start to crash? In an aisle I can get out before those slow women and children.

In times of turbulence, I take five Deepak Chopra guided breaths and write a quick goodbye love note to Bob on my iPhone which I hope he finds among the rubble after the unlikely event of an emergency.

I heard all airplanes are equipped with emergency supplies for the flight attendants to use. They have Epipens to jab in your neck if you have a peanut allergy, a pair of dark glasses to put on any passenger who dies mid-flight and an emergency Valium if passengers freak out at 35,000 feet about the dead guy in seat 22C. Since I usually have dark glasses on, to avoid being mistaken for dead, I periodically move my head and manage a smile.

Looks can be so deceiving. Last month I was flying to Chicago. It was a short flight and being an extremely practical guy, I sat happily in an exit row. I was excited because I was auditioning a new traveling costume.  I always fly in a jacket, not only to look different from the flip-flop crowd, but also to save room in my luggage. And I'm ready to hit the town when I land. This new "uniform" is a white Faconnable warm up suit. It has red and blue stripes going up the legs and around the collar, and my navy Zegna blazer popped over it made up the ensemble. Comfy? Yes. All white practical for flights? Who cares.

I settled in, putting up my personal Do Not Disturb sign, which is me putting on headphones and stuffing my laptop in the seat back pocket. Life may be about the journey, not the destination, but on a flight, it is my journey and I need to write or color.

I saw a big, muscled young man lumber down the aisle. He sat opposite me in the opposing aisle seat. He then uttered one of most feared phrases when flying to the man next to him, "I hope you don't mind a chatty flight companion."

His fellow passenger was actually thrilled to have this new best friend, and proceeded to tell him about his beekeeping hobby. Even though I wore noise cancelling headphones, I can now tell you about his beekeeping hobby and how his old hippy girlfriend and her one shrunken ovary.

Glad not be involved in any way, I hunkered down to my laptop and only raised my head when I realized that the young man was on about his ninth vodka.

I started sneaking pics on vodka 5
Eddy Murphy chalked his bravery in Beverly Hills Cop up to "lack of pussy makes you brave." I need not remind anyone that nine vodkas makes you potentially brave and an asshole. I wasn't even comfortable sneaking silent photos, much less risking making eye contact with this non-sleeping giant. Maybe white wasn't the smartest choice as a traveling costume; I didn't want to sully it with hard-to-remove blood from the pummeling I feared.

I stayed to myself, this was not my moment to be bullied. I even tapped the keys of my laptop in a non-threatening cadence, hoping the Disney-esque theme would pacify and not get him angry. It was only a 2.5 hour flight, so one would think the flight attendants would cut him off; however, he just flagged down a new stewardess like Rush Limbaugh hopped from doc to doc shopping for pain med prescriptions and wives.

The flight neared Chicago and I put away my electronic devices and stowed away my tray table along with my feelings. I could feel him looking at me every few minutes, but I kept very very still, like I was on a nature walk and encountered a bear. I hoped vodka had dulled his sense of smell.

He leaned over, I flinched a little.

"Can I ask you something?" he asked anyway.

Here it comes, I thought. I'm going to get the shit beat out of me and it's my own damn fault. 

"Sure," I said, as if I had a choice.

"I have been afraid to talk to you this entire flight, and I hope you don't mind me saying this, but you are the most fascinating person on this flight. Your clothes, your hair..." he said.

 I raised my hand to stop him, secretly relieved he wasn't beating me up.

"Wow, so kind, man. You surprised me. But you should never be afraid to speak to anyone," I advised, channeling both Jesus and Maude. 

He looked at me through his sloshy eyes and I took advantage of him like a gay hawk lurking outside of straight strip clubs, preying on wasted guys hopped up from fruitless lap dances.  I looked around the plane and leaned closer to him across the aisle.

"I the second most fascinating guy on this flight. After you.

His whole face turned into a huge smile.

"I think I might love you man!" easily slipped out of his Absolute-lubed mouth.

We walked off the plane together. He was home. He told me he was going to call in sick to work the next day. I concurred with his decision, and granted him his one wish, this picture:

I miss him. He's exactly my type: drunk and hunky.

I have got to open my eyes and travel smarter through life.

Which Came First: The Tourist or the Egg?!

I've sailed on cruise ships to see different areas of the world. Slowly. Although the ships stop in different ports, the shops near the piers offer similar wares.

Like seagulls flocking near the shore, the merchants hover and swoop in on tourists. Some passengers are really just glad to be off the ship for a bit. Stepping on stable ground is reminiscent of those first steps after removing your roller skates.

Cruising on a Princess ship to the Panama Canal, my excitement was fueled by the ship’s lavish buffets as well as regional lore. I admired the determination of those canal workers that tried again and again to complete it despite horrible diseases and government resistance by Colombia. Finally, the U.S. bought Panama a humongous can of repellent, called Revolution. Colombia succumbed to the heat, and our giant moneymaking geographical gash was completed.

The cruise's brochure said that the native Panamanian women still go topless and would greet our ship in such fashion. Of course I giggled. As our ship approached Panama, I leaned over the ship’s railing to catch a glimpse of native boobies, anxious to make my childhood National Geographic voyeuristic mammary memories pendulously swing to life.

Ships often hire locals to dress in native garb and greet the ship for photo ops which the guests will have the chance to purchase later. Some of the illusion is lost when you see a man in a fabulous feathered headdress with a bedazzled goat’s skull around his neck texting his order to Chipotle on his iPhone.

Docking in Panama City, there wasn’t a local topless woman in sight. Even in NYC, women have the right to go topless. One freely has the chance to see a bike messenger careening down Madison Avenue, nipples to the wind.

Instead, I was swarmed by t-shirt stalls and the ubiquitous Panama Hat shops. And diamond merchants for some reason. I thought perhaps this was a terrific chance to buy some blood diamonds at prices unencumbered by conscience or tariff. Nope. But high-end watch shops were everywhere. I remembered a friend who bought a watch duty free while on a cruise and then simply tossed the box. He wore it on his wrist through US Customs like he had owned it before the trip. He might have sweated a little, but he avoided paying that $40 duty.

That doesn’t seem worth it. I’ll sneak something back illegally in my pants if it is something I really need, like pigeons or a live person. If caught and thrown in prison, which crime do you think keeps me from being someone’s bitch -- smuggling in a Bulova or a Bolivian?

I cruised the coast of Viet Nam on Silversea. Their ports also had watches, though replicas, plus plenty of really yellow gold and trays of tiny diamonds; but I was distracted by a horribly disfigured child. I looked away as I handed the child a wad of Vietnamese dong and slunk off into my waiting car, feeling imperiously removed yet lowly and responsible as an American that caused the war, and thus the scars on his face.

Someone kindly reminded me that the war occurred even before this child parents were born. If the lust for tourist dollars caused someone to harm this child, I'm helpless. At the border of Tijuana, tiny children are hawking boxes of Chiclets gum to the American drivers waiting to cross through customs, sitting in their cars trying to look like they are not carrying boxes into San Diego of cheap medications bought at Mexican pharmacies.

Sailing the Caribbean on Celebrity was beautiful. At one port, I got off the shop to sit in a weird saddle and ride a frisky horse in the surf along clean, white beaches. I ignored the tour operator’s plea to slow my horse down, thinking, "Why now?"

But I still had to pass through the port stores offering me great prices on David Yurman jewelry and diamonds that I didn’t want or need.

Part of the fun on a ship is to wake up and look outside your window to see if you have landed in Wonkaland, or Oz if the seas were rough. The huge ship slowly and carefully approaches the ports from the sea. It's hard to park any boat, much less a huge vessel burdened with countless demands from fat passengers.

The slow approach is a buildup for the passengers, like a creation unfolding before their eyes. From the high vantage point of the upper decks, the passengers get excited to get off the ship and start shopping. Most don’t even know why they want to shop so badly. But the constant non-subliminal messages sponsored by the ship’s Shopping Guide must get to them and once we are cleared by customs the passengers flee like rats from a non-sinking ship.

Sailing in Alaska this summer on Silversea I witnessed spectacular scenery, and not just at the Lumberjack Show. I cruised a similar Alaskan path on Crystal Cruises exactly ten years prior. I was hopeful that there weren’t many negative environmental changes since I'd found it so marvelous.

The wildlife has increased. The eagles are almost pests. The whales, whose numbers used to be so few that they were counted and measured by environmentalists like misers in the disco days estimating their cocaine supply for the night, are gaining in numbers. I watched several grey whales frolic, practically within arms reach, sending a rush of terror and hope through my body.

Seeing sea otters swimming freely evoked passion and warmth, not the guilt I had last month watching the confined otters in the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

And if you ever get to take a helicopter to a glacier and get off to drive a team of dogs pulling a sled, do it.

But back on the dock, the diamond and watch shops have taken root on the pristine Alaskan shores. Sure, look a block down and you will see local homes and businesses; but you only have a brief time in the ports.

Still, I notice that everything in the port towns is supported by tourism. I stopped in what was billed as the only truly native-owned shop in Juneau. The clerk told me he'd been open for eight years, but the nouveau foreign-owned trinket and jewelry stores changed hands often. He slung his summation around like a cocktail in Joan Crawford’s uber-scrubbed hand at one of Jack Warner’s parties, bemoaning the loss of her career to upstarts like Tuesday Weld and Madonna.

I thought of the evolution of port towns in Alaska, and who-bothered-who first, which is analogous to any other destination -- just switch the language and the weather around a bit.

The junky trinket shops selling Palin shot glasses erupted on the scene and bothered the diamond and watch stores. Those stores had upset the original cruise entertainment venues, like salmon fishing and seal clubbing.

Before cruising became possible, Alaska had an oil rush. A huge pipeline was laid across its entire length like a giant black puka shell necklace. That brash pipeline pissed off the gold miners, who'd sensationally bothered the fur trade.

Furs wouldn’t have been so necessary if people had stayed on their own continent instead of creeping over the now-gone Bering Strait land bridge like bothersome ants and inhabited frozen North America.

Before people, the animals evolved from the sea or air. I can imagine the anger the tree felt when the first eagle violated its virgin branches by building a nest in it.

Why, Mother earth herself must have cried out in agony when the first seedling burst through her surface. Live birth is painful.

The Creator sat in the heavens, looking down helplessly as his simple, perfect little ball of earth began its journey into chaos. Holding his wine a little tighter, he put his head in his dominant hand and sobbed, “Lord, what have you wrought?”

Poor guy had no one to answer him.

getting some tail in Alasaa
I'll happily take a slow boat to China.....

Must Need Free Stuff

Hundreds of tiny bottles line my bathroom cupboard shelves. It looks like I have a heavy chemical dependency combined with OCD because the small bottles are organized by type, size and brand.  This cabinet appears to support a very organized addict, with each individual dose measured out.  They're ready-to-grab for a quick fix. 

I might have an addiction to free, hotel-provided cosmetics.

Some of the bottles are dusty. Okay, most of the bottles are dusty. Some of the dust is older than some of the other dust because while I might bring home countless bottles of free grooming products -- I'm not about to dust them. I’m not crazy.

A closer look at the bottles finds that the various categories are disproportionately represented. The number of shampoos to conditioners is way off. The body lotion to body gel ratio is a joke. The generic brands get pushed to the back in favor of pricey, flashy designer products like commoners being shoved aside to make way for a royal procession.

Perhaps when I was younger, the first and logical thing to do when checking into a hotel was to have athletic sex. Something about a rented room makes me want to christen it with some heathen act, just to set the tone. I might be the reason you travel with a blacklight wand.

During my hotel stay, I use tiny soap that's so frustratingly difficult to unwrap with wet hands. Like an old joke, the tiny bar slips, and I use extra care in bending over to retrieve it. I don’t want to bonk my head and be found drowned in this strange hotel by some stranger in a strange city.

I slide the other unused toiletries into my Dopp kit with a nonchalant need that I don't understand.

I take the conditioner, body lotion, shampoo and the sewing kit. Why the sewing kit? I have no freaking idea. Perhaps it's a cry for help. I never touch the shower cap; using a shower cap is totally not committing to getting clean. Get your hair wet, you’re not a spurned Janet Leigh seeking solace from a hot, steamy shower. You’re a goddamn man with short hair.

The next day, the hotel housekeeper replaces all of the amenities. I curse her and bless her and slide the babies into my bag.

I've stayed in hotels for a month at a time and amassed a collection of complementary toiletries so large that by the end of my trip I've pondered leaving a bulky sweater behind in order to make space in my luggage.

No matter what the products, I always conjure up a justification plan for dragging them all home – like making adorable and courteous guest baskets for visiting house guests, or contacting that charity in NYC that takes hardly used hotel soaps, squishes them into larger bars and ships them overseas to cleanse the unwashed masses.

If you’ve never read it, the story by Shelley Berman of his battle with the hotel maid over leaving little bars of soap in his room is truly hysterical. I feel his pain.

When I pack to go home at the end of a trip, I remove all of the tiny bottles from my Dopp kit where they have been hidden like Anne Frank’s family. What have I done?! I only wanted to maybe keep two special memento bottles, little cute tokens of my trip, and once they are all together it looks out of control. I want to place the rest of the booty back on the counter for the maid and walk away.
But if I do, she'll know I was hoarding them, which of course she already knows because she supplied them. I really should turn her in for causing the cost of lodging to skyrocket with her lavish replenishing of amenities.

For the record, I've never grabbed/stolen amenities from an unattended housekeeper's cart that I pass in the hall; but I have totally paused and looked in the cart. Is that premeditation" God, I hope the Supreme Court stays super busy and doesn't take up amenities theft as a crime.

My relationship with the hotel maid as a concept has not been honest. They knock on the door about ten in the morning. I can't answer the door. I'm busy watching cartoons and fashioning the complimentary robe into pants. Through the door, I tell them that I'll leave in five minutes, when in actuality I have no concept of time. I also clean up the room every day before they come.  And I rumple up the other side of the bed and squish all the pillows so they don't think I slept alone.

One trip to the Bellagio in Las Vegas, the housekeeper-as-Santa pulled items off her sleigh/cart that I had never seen or heard of in a hotel. She was a freak. The first night she placed the cutest bottle of shaving gel innocently next to the shampoo.

It was a message to me privately that said, "I get you, and can help you."

The next night I found a little bottle of mouthwash cuddled up to the shampoo. I gasped a little and lost my balance, barely catching myself on the counter. The next evening she brought a little water to the well when she left me a rare, never-before-seen tiny pump bottle of Bellagio hair spray. I got so worked up and poor Bob had no idea why my passion was so incredibly high that night. With this level of entertainment in Vegas, I didn't miss Siegfried and Roy so much.

I can score two amenity highs per day at ritzy hotels and cruise ships because they replace the used or missing bottles at turndown service.

On a recent Silversea cruise to Alaska, I was presented several lines of toiletries from which to choose. The toiletries are high-end Rodeo Drive brands, like Bulgari and Ferragamo -- in non-Lilliputian bottles. Lord have mercy, they put the “Amen” in amenities. Oh, here’s the kicker -- they're presented on a silver tray by a butler. I may look tough; but even I faint at fancy. As he leaves I size up the silver tray they were carried in on and wonder if it will fit in my carry on.

By the end of the trip I have amassed so many bottles that I have no room to pack any smoked salmon or a baby seal like a normal person.

Before you think I radiate crazy like a microwave oven with a cracked door, please know that I do occasionally use the stuff I gather. Sometimes, when packing for a trip, I grab one expendable bottle of shampoo and toss it in my toiletry bag just in case I end up staying in a yurt that doesn't provide amenities.

But if I do stay in a yurt I'll choose one that provides amenities. The Tibetan housekeeping team will place the toiletries in a hand woven basket. Of course I'll stuff the basket in my carry on and avert all eyes as I check out.

The Kidney Stone: I've Got A Great Face For Radio

I recently recorded a story for NPR's Public Storyteller after the host, Caren Neile, emailed and asked me if I had a story about South Florida. I wasn't sure what South Florida included, but I told her that a friend challenged me to eat something from every country at Orlando's Epcot Center, which I did, landing in the hospital. She jumped at the chance to hear of my misfortune - most people are twisted.

She came to the polo field and hopped in my car to record the story. Oh, it's high tech, folks! I had never told one of the stories I have written, only read them word for word. I showed up with pages of notes and salient points highlighted because I have no concept of time and she gave me a seven minute limit. Last time I was alone with a girl in a small space was for "Seven Minutes in Heaven" which, to a young gay boy, is a nightmare of a game consisting of shaking and prayer. That it's played in a closet is shockingly appropriate.

Before we started my story, I welcomed her into my car like a good host welcoming her into my home. I offered her a seat, (the passenger one) and a drink (some of my bottled Coke). She accepted the seat but politely declined the used soda. For entertainment, I asked her if she would like to stay and watch me play polo after the recording session, but she declined, explaining that her husband's mother had passed away the night before and she had to leave immediately after this and sit shiva.

I know a ripe opening for comedy -- and a good shiva is it!

She snatched my notes away and told me to just tell it. At first I started telling it to the windshield, and the empty polo field beyond, then my head turned and I just told her, like we weren't in my Highlander, but at my home, at a dinner party, with no mirrors covered and no dead mother-in-law. Soon I was gesturing wildly and taking full advantage of a live audience, instead of readers I can't gauge. I don't know if you readers are even wearing pants.

Mid-way through the story, about when I was at the point where I was being rushed to the hospital from Epcot in an ambulance, screaming louder than the siren, she covered her mouth to stifle a laugh or a yelp, and wiped a tear from her eye. I figured either she found my story funny, was sad about the shiva, or allergic to horses.

I finished just seconds over the seven minute limit, and in one take. She might have just really wanted to get out of my car.

I listened online to the live broadcast and was pleased that she and the commentator had a brief discussion, and thankful that the discussion was about my story.

It was interesting to tell a story I had written. I will never again take the luxury of typing and editing for granted. Why, even to type that last sentence I backspaced more than a Republican congressman caught with a choir boy.

Click here to listen.

Now, for my original writer's cut, much longer, and funnier - click here where I am free to type thousands of words and maybe not wear pants...