Saturday, May 28, 2011

Not Lost in Translation, Part II

As I stared at the wild scene in the pool, I began to think about bad, bad things. Things I wanted to do to this rude Frenchman (I’m calling him Claude) to inform him in a rather direct way that I wasn’t fully appreciating his approach to living with other people, especially while on vacation. If we can’t play nice on vacation, a supposed form of relaxing and unwinding, how do we act when we’re home? I don’t want to even think about it. Is everyone in France rude to each other? How does that work? Do the rudest people in the country run things, within some kind of rudeness caste system? If your father is rude, does that make you a legacy? Is boorishness passed on from generation to generation?
Sometimes it is inconvenient when other people want to share the planet and Claude was one of those individuals. As I studied him, I saw him piss off 2-3 other vacationers within 30 minutes. He obviously didn’t believe in other peoples’ personal space (in the U.S. we want at least three feet minimum, but in Japan, for instance, it’s more like a few centimeters) and when you combine cheap wine, Greek cigarettes and a lack of dental care, Claude’s death breath was offending everyone and everything—including flies and passing seagulls.
So, as I was brainstorming, and I instantly thought of Caddyshack, one of my favorite comedies ever produced, a farce about golf at a big country club and all of the juvenile activities surrounding it. It stars Bill Murray, Ted Knight, Chevy Chase and Rodney Dangerfield. In the film, there are several memorable scenes, including the now legendary one involving a candy bar being thrown into a swimming pool, which was based on a real-life incident at Brian Doyle-Murray's high school. (He is Bill Murray’s brother and a great actor/writer in his own right.)
So, after a few Coronas and a shot of the cheapest tequila Mexico will produce, I started contemplating my next move. Was I mad enough to do it? Would it work or simply be a waste of time? Well, who cares—I enjoy the challenge of pulling a prank and when it works it’s an adrenaline rush. The fun is in the planning. So, I decided, let’s do it—what the heck?
So, I recalled that one of my vacation companions was a chronic snacker. I had been to Hawaii, Acapulco and other destinations over the years with this guy, and every time before departure, he would go to Costco and bring a big gym bag filled with snacks on vacation—nuts, pretzels, chips, candy and importantly—candy bars. So, I went to our room and delved into his stash. Luckily, there were a selection of candy bars there, all my favorites, including Snickers, Milky Way and Almond Joy. The latter wouldn’t be very good to sculpt into a believable floating turd, because Almond Joy’s come in two little sections and I wanted something large so that my French friend would notice it. Snickers were my first choice, because the peanuts inside offer an added level of reality. But Milky Way’s are good too, because they contain that stuff in the middle, what do they call it? Nougat? So, I went with both.
I took one Snickers and one Milky Way and because it was warm in our hotel room, they were equally pliable. I morphed them together with the skill of a seasoned sculptor, and when I was done, voila! It looked like a large, bumpy turd and it was so believable, I was simultaneously pleased and disgusted.
So, I nestled the pseudo-poo in a large hotel towel and walked it over to pool side, just several feet from my snarky French victim. I dropped it into the pool and waited for the screams, but after 15 minutes nothing. I hopped into the shallow end and looked around under the water to find my piece of art, but then I realized there was one major flaw in that great scene in Caddyshack. Candy bars don’t float. Damn! I thought. All this work to pull off a master stunt, and now suddenly physics gets in the way.
But, I never give up. I will push a prank until it succeeds or fails, but once I’m committed, I will always follow it through to the end. So, I dove down and without anyone seeing me, I retrieved the fake deuce and nudged it right next to Claude. He was drunk and completely oblivious, still busy insulting people, chain smoking and berating the help.
Now, with my poop properly positioned, I moved to the other end of the pool waiting for any response. Still nothing, then I heard Claude scream like a little girl. Sounding like a very shocked and irritated mademoiselle.
“Hasch!” He yelled and no one moved.
“Merde!” he shrieked more frantically now. Still no one in the crowded pool bar even looked up.
“Salope!” Still no response.
Wow, I thought, Claude just came up with three words for human waste, all within milliseconds. Could he possibly be related to Roget, the inventor of the Thesaurus?
Suddenly Claude bellowed out the money word. “S--t! Sh--t! Sh--t!” And that got some instant attention.
It’s the universal word that means the same thing in any country in the world. Within moments, people were fleeing the pool bar and retreating to dry ground as quickly as humanly possible. Some of these folks hadn’t moved this fast in many years, I believe. Right away, people were pointing and kids started crying. It reminded me of another movie called Piranha, where families stampede each other trying to get away from the killer fish. This was not a killer fish, just a carefully molded combination of candy bars, but it caused a huge scene at the pool and as a result, vacationers wouldn’t jump into that same pool until the next day.
Claude spent the rest of his vacation in the ocean, still chain smoking and insulting the beach waiters, but at least he was no longer bothering folks in the pool. I spent the next three days lounging in the pool, having a good time drinking free cheap booze and interacting with people from friendlier countries.
The incident was the main topic around the hotel right up until the day we left. I never took credit for it, but walked away satisfied knowing that it was mission achieved. Did it knock Claude down a notch? Will he act nicer in the future? Probably not. It’s not going to happen overnight, and it may not happen ever. But, at least on that particular day, two candy bars and one crazy prank-obsessed idiot reenacting scenes from his favorite films taught one boorish Frenchman a lesson—kind of.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Not Lost in Translation, Part I

Most of the time I feel like I’m living in one of my favorite movies. I watch 5-6 films every week, so I’ve seen maybe 10,000 movies in my life. The first one I saw was Pinocchio 50 years ago and last night I watched a documentary called I Like Killing Flies (it’s a must-see, rent it today.) So, I’ve seen a lot of movies and quote from many of my favorites all the time.
Sometimes it gets annoying, I’m sure. My wife will ask me something and I’ll say “Ya talking to me?”
The other day I walked by a construction site and yelled out at the building crew, “If you build it, they will come.” From their expressions, I got the feeling they weren’t Kevin Costner fans.
“Frankly, dear I don’t give a damn.” I told the cranky old lady down the street when she complained that my music was too loud.
“I coulda been a contender.” I told the M.C, after I finished last in a recent standup comedy competition.
Sometimes I combine them. My wife asked me how much we had in the checking account and I told her, “Love means never having to say show me the money.”
I’ll perplex a waiter with a strange order once in a while “I’ll take the liver with a box of chocolates, a dry martini, shaken, not stirred and a nice Chianti.”
Most of the time I’m big with the meaningless movie quotes, but every once in awhile a situation arises and allows me to reenact one of my more favorite film scenes.
This is a story of one of those moments.
First scene Fade In: I am on vacation in Cancun with a couple of friends. It’s 2003. These are the final years of me being single in my mid-40’s, because I am going to meet my wife within the next few months, although I obviously don’t know it yet.
It’s Mexico in August, so it’s mega-hot and full of tourists from all over the world. It’s the land of bar crawls, timeshare salesmen, people wearing thongs who shouldn’t, parasailing and shot girls pushing cheap tequila.
At our hotel, it looks like International Day at the House of Pancakes, with Americans being the definite minority. Pretty soon, we find ourselves partying with Brazilians, Peruvians, Australians, French, Spanish, even a few Ferengi and a random Bajoran. Since no one can speak the same language, people are communicating via hand gestures and buying each other rounds. Since it’s one of those all-inclusive resorts, the booze is free, but the gesture of acquiring alcohol for each other is universally well-received.
After a few days, we discover that the best spot is at one of the hotel’s in-pool bars. Drinking and standing in water is obviously a great attraction for people from all over the planet. These pool bars feature cement stools and each bar accommodates 8-10 damp revelers. As the day progresses, lime wedges, plastic cups and those little cocktail umbrellas start floating around the pool and accumulating in their filters, while bikini tops start falling off. No one is leaving to miss the fun, which means pretty much everyone must be urinating in the pool, but guess what—nobody cares!
After a few days imbibing in the various pool bars scattered all over the resort’s grounds, I begin to see particular trends in people’s behavior, depending on what part of the globe they hail from. As a rule, Africans are happy and laugh loudly at pretty much anything you say. Brazilians love life and it’s contagious. The Spaniards as a rule are very self-absorbed and somewhat aloof, but if you get them away from the pack, they’re very nice. Germans make you feel tolerated and the French fit nicely into their highly publicized stereotype—yes they’re rude, rude and more rude!
I had heard these things about the French before, but I chose not to believe them. It must just be one of those instances where a few bad apples give the whole country an unfair reputation for snarkiness. But in this situation, while on vacation many miles away from home, I can say--yes, indeed—it’s true. The French are snobby and their normal expression is one of disdain. Frowns and eye-rolling are their number one forms of exercise, when they’re not chain smoking or insulting people.
Well, back to the story. One afternoon I’m sucking down beers at the pool bar and this French guy (let’s call him Claude) is chatting up two pale cougars from Tennessee. The bar is packed and Claude is leaning all over me and keeps kicking me under the water. He turns back to me for a moment to ignore me. He has a scraggly beard that smells like stale cigarette smoke and there is a ripe scent surrounding him.
At one point, I go for a swim and then circle back to the bar. At this point, Claude has spread out and has basically claimed my seat.
“Uh, excuse me?” I inquire. “Hello?” I say to Claude’s back. “Hey! I was sitting there!”
Claude slowly turns around. “Wot iz it, you want?”
“I was sitting there.”
“Oh no, you left, you know?”
“Well, I’m back now.” I’m forcing a weak smile.
“I’m saving thiz spot for my friend, you know? You got up, you lose, you know?”
No, I don’t know and at this point, I’m really pissed. So, I just move my way back onto the stool.
Claude gives me a look and mutters something about me being just another pushy American. Get over it, I’m thinking.
So, he turns his back to me again and starts talking to the women from Tennessee. He’s chain smoking and sucking down free all-inclusive mixed drinks faster than the overworked bartender can pour them.
“Hey, bartender-faster, faster,” Claude barks. “I did not come here to wait for my booze!”
What a tool, I’m thinking. I’ve had enough of this clown at this point and I’m getting out of here. Why let this boorish individual taint my vacation for a millisecond?
But, before I can get up, Claude leans back and burns my arm with his cigarette.
At first, I can’t feel it, but then all of a sudden I start smelling singed hair. My arm is throbbing now.
“Hey, buddy, pal, friend, hello?” Claude is hoping I go away.
(Why do we address people in a familiar way when we’re actually upset with them? I should have said, “Hey asshole, douche bag, moron, hello?”)
“Wot izz it now?” Claude turns around with his signature eye-rolling frown.
“You burned me? Look!” Now there’s a huge welt on my upper arm.
“You made my cigarette all wet.” Claude says. “You ruined my cigarette!”
“What the…” Now, I even more shocked.
“Theze are very expensive Greek cigarettes,” Claude says. “But hopefully for you, I have more.” Evil smile.
I was speechless, which is rare.
Claude turns back to the two ladies and now my arm is really hurting.
So, I retreat, go back to the room and put some aloe and a band aid on the burn. I take a nap and then return to the pool. Unfortunately, Claude is still there, really drunk now and talking loudly to some Germans. I opt not to get in the pool, but in the interim I start watching Claude. He’s still yelling at the bartender, a poor local who is probably making $30 a day and now he’s spreading himself out all over the bar, bumping into people with his constant cigarette and not even saying “Ezcuss me.”
So, now I’m fuming and my mind is working. I’m trying not to let this guy get to me, but now he has. I want him to learn a lesson about basic manners, American-style.
Suddenly, I flash on a scene from one of my favorite Bill Murray movies.
(Stay tuned for Part #2)