Monday, February 16, 2009

Another Coffee Shop Blog

I spend a lot of time there, ok! Think of it as a bit like Seinfeld, only without the friends, or the booth. My Coffee Shop is actually a lot classier, with leather armchairs, low lights and a staff tee shirt, so stylish, that I’m seriously considering asking if I can buy one. It also has lots of interesting customers: artsy types; fashionistas; über-cool Argentinean surfers; musicians; emo-kids and some assorted oddballs.

There’s a super-chic, magnificently accessorized Italian Señora: I recently bought a strip of brightly coloured Mayan fabric, which I use a belt, specifically because I saw her do the same and it looked so good. She wears lots of jewellery and looks bohemian and eclectic. If I did the same I would look like a kid who’d broken unto mummy’s jewellery box and was going to get in so much trouble later.

There’s Paul: American, early 60’s, writing a novel (aren’t we all), who told me his wife left him because she wanted to move to Mexico. He said fine, she asked why he was agreeing so easily, he said it was to make her happy, she said this was not a good enough reason. So shortly after they moved here she left him and returned to the States, abandoning their 32-year marriage. I suspect there might be a little more to this story! He recently had a Birthday Party and ostentatiously invited the three, beautiful, 20-something waitresses, I don’t know if any of them went.

Yesterday, there was a new character: once upon a time Playa del Carmen was a cool, hippy hangout and there are still a few relics from that age wandering around in their Grateful Dead t-shirts and Willie Nelson style hair braids, looking vaguely bewildered by the city that has grown up around them. This guy looked like one of that tribe: long grey hair, frosted blue eyes, very much like David Carradine, with a ponytail. He sat across the room for me and started talking to someone on Skype. I wasn’t intending to listen until something he said caught my attention:

"So I dreamt that these two guys were dead, then yesterday I walked down and there’s the ambulance – turns out one of them is dead and the other's in a coma! I have to be careful what I think about cos I’m making it happen!"

I am a sceptic, so of course, I assumed he was a nutcase. He was, after all, old enough to one of the acid pioneers and they are known for their fluid perception of reality. But suppose it was true? Suppose I was in the presence of a dangerous and bizarre psychic phenomena. Any day now Americas Most Haunted (or do I mean Most Wanted?) will descend upon us with Geiger-counters, clipboards and a near hysterical anchorwoman. He was speaking in nervous, hushed tones so I missed the next part of the conversation, but then I heard,

"Well now I am emailing positive images out all around the globe...," emailing? Emailing? Is he using a modern term for sending out vibes? Or does he actually email photos of happy faces and great achievements out into the ether? Surely he’d be better off making a YouTube video or joining Twitter – perhaps I should suggest that?

"I’ve been spending a lot of time focusing on these pictures and thinking about good things, so no one else gets hurt"

How sad, he believes he has this extraordinary power and he’s hiding away, hunched over his computer studying ‘positive images’, terrified of the damage he might do. I missed the rest of the conversation. But shortly after he hung up, a burly Texan, in a faded ‘One-Star Rodeo’ tee shirt bellowed across the room,
"Was that Callie? Did ya tell her about the dude you killed?"

Mr Carradine nodded, anguish etched into his features, and the tears welled up in his eyes.

Question: I had a really fat customer the other day. I mean really, really fat. It was interesting for me, logistically, because fat is buoyant. It’s actually very hard to sink that much fat. The obese need a lot of weight, but carrying it can be a problem as they are generally not strong, very unfit, awkwardly shaped and difficult to handle. Getting a weight belt done up for example: do you politely ask them to lift their rolls so you can assess where their waist might be? Suppose their belly is too large for them to lift single-handed?

Some of my readers are fellow divers, so they might be interested in this situation. I was not planning to be nasty about the guy; he seemed nice enough (although you have to wonder about the self respect and intelligence of someone who chooses to be in that condition – and yes, I do believe it is a choice). But what are the ethics of blogging about this? Is it cruel? Is it bitchy? Is it a breach of confidence? Unprofessional? Can I make jokes?

To tell the truth, the blog has been written... but should I post it?

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Let slip the dogs of war

The house behind my place has dogs. Lots of dogs. Lots of small, yappy, squeally, really, really annoying dogs. Last week, they got a new dog. It’s yappy, it’s whiney and it doesn’t stop barking. Ever.

Actually, that’s not completely accurate. It usually has some quiet periods between 3am and 5am, but apart from that, it doesn’t stop, ever. It’s starts fairly promptly at 5am, from that point it only pauses for breath. The other dogs join in for the chorus, about every 20 minutes or so.

I have not yet seen the new dog. The other dogs come out and hurl themselves at the gate when anyone walks past; like crazed, rabid, miniature monsters, they crowd at the gate post, thrusting their tiny jaws through the gaps and snarling fiercely. They biggest of them could probably do some damage to my knee... but I reckon all of them are small enough to drop kick.

But the new dog is kept around the back of the house, in the yard... which backs onto my back window. I went up to the roof earlier to see if I could see the little bastard; but I couldn’t. I think he might have sensed my venomous presence though – as he became even more frenzied than usual.

My question is: do you think I could kill it?!

I’m thinking raw meat, generously dusted in rat poison and thrown over the back wall. You’re shocked, I can tell. But seriously, for the last week, it has not stopped barking! I wake up every morning to it’s yelping, and fall into a tempestuous sleep to sound of it’s snivelling yaps.

Ok, so there’s the Karma thing. I very rarely kill spiders these days – preferring to flick them out the door if I can. In fact, I almost blush to confess it, but I even rescued a woodlouse from drowning in my bathroom sink last week. So I’m really not a naturally murderous person. But I think, although I’m not entirely sure, that I could kill this dog.

There’s retribution to consider: If the people who own it, (the boorish slobs who can’t even be bothered to train their own household pets to behave in a socially acceptable way – they don’t live on a farm! This is an urban area, it’s all residential around here, there must be many people suffering from lack of sleep this week) if these people are unhappy about the death of their horrible dog, then they might also be angry with it’s killer. One assumes these are not people I want to be on the wrong side of. Also, I am one of those old-fashioned Brits, who apologises if someone bumps into me, (presumably I am apologising for using the pavement – I don’t really understand it myself, but it’s an ingrained habit), so I don’t deal with confrontations very well.

Of course I could try and appeal to their good nature and ask them to deal with the dog now – to stop it from barking all the damn time. But lets be honest – if they cared they would be dealing with it already! Here’s the thing: not once in the last week have I heard anyone say ‘shush’. Not once. There’s also the language problem to consider. Of course I could sit down with my dictionary and work out how to say, “Excuse me, but your dog is driving me crazy! Please can you stop it from barking; I have to work and need my sleep; but more importantly I am about to embark on the full Yogic Path (stay tuned for that blog post!) for which I will need a calm and balanced demeanour and it’s hard to have that when I wake up every morning feeling persecuted and indignant. Please, help me!” Yes indeed, I could say all that. And they would reply?

Who knows what they would reply! Because they would reply in rapid, incomprehensible Spanish, the same way everyone replies. And I would stand there, feeling bewildered and ever so slightly foolish. Then I would sigh, and nod my head politely, and walk away... and the barking would continue... unchecked and unabated. And then, if I kill the dog, they’ll know it was me!

As I wrote the last paragraph, someone in a nearby flat has started playing some very loud, very angry Wagnerian Opera. That’s definitely a symptom of a murderous intent! Maybe they will kill the dog? Maybe even tonight! But if they don’t... can I?

Monday, February 02, 2009

Cruel or Kind?

Sally didn’t want to go in the water. She’d been nervous in the swimming pool during her lesson, but had (I thought) overcome her fears and by the time we finished she seemed fairly relaxed. On the boat she talked non-stop and I wondered if she was going to crack. When I gave the dive briefing, she seemed brittle, but she was still making jokes right up until she realised it was her turn to go in.

"I just don’t want to go in backwards!" she said, pleadingly.
"Backwards is the easiest way. You’re just going to lean back and gently drop into the water. Your jacket is inflated, your going to float! You head will only be under for a few seconds."
"Can’t I just swing my legs over and..." she tailed off as she thought about it. "Don’t push me!" she squealed.
"I’m not going to push you Sally, I’m holding onto you, because I don’t want you to slip over. Whatever you decide to do, I think it’s important that you sit down now"
"Don’t push me!" she squealed at the Boat Captain.
"Fabian is holding onto your tank to make sure you don’t slip over" with perfect timing, at that moment she slipped. Somehow, we caught her. The tanks are heavy and fins are not exactly the best ‘deck shoes’. Usually customers move from the bench to the side of the boat in one movement while the Boat Captain holds the tank, to keep them stable. Sally – plump, middle-aged, petulant, unfit, not-very-strong Sally, was standing in fins, on a rocking boat, with a 20kg tank and refusing to sit on the side, in case one of us pushed her in.

After some intensive reassurance she finally agreed to perch. She still wouldn’t sit properly, on the edge. If she had... can I be honest? Yeah, of course I would have pushed her in. She would have thanked me for it later, they always do! But Sally continued to perch. Poor Fabian was still taking the weight of her tank, standing at a very awkward side-on angle, which clearly wasn’t comfortable for him. It was time for a change of tact.

"Sally, of course you can do this. Now take a deep breath, be strong and lean backwards. Remember how cool you were in the pool?" (she wasn’t) "Remember how much fun you had?" (well, kind of) "Well, it’s going to be exactly the same, only better, in the ocean. Now move back to the edge and go in."
"But can’t I just swing my legs over?"
"I raised one eyebrow "I shouldn’t think so," the side of the boat is thigh high, "can you?"
"Oh! I...."
"Sally! Look at me! You can do this. Now come on..."
"But I don’t think... I don’t know..."

This went on for another minute or so. And yes! I was patient! I alternately reassured and persuaded – but neither was working.

"Right," I said. "No problem, you don’t have to go if you don’t want to. Sit down over here and let me help you take the gear off. You can wait on the boat. Don’t worry. Diving isn’t for everyone."
"But I don’t want to be the only one who doesn’t go!" she whimpered.

Oh, I see. She wants me to make her do it. Everyone else was in the water waiting. The other Instructor with me pointedly looked at his watch. The more time she wastes on the boat, the shorter the dive is for everyone, since we still have to be back at the Marina at the same time.

Last week I had Karen. Karen also didn’t want to go in the water, but she was persuaded to sit on the side of the boat whilst she thought about it... and then went in quite unexpectedly! Did she over-balance or was she pushed? It’s hard to say! But she said it was easy once she was in. Then, however, she didn’t want to go under. I told her she would be fine and then I took her arm and gently pulled her down with me. She was physically shaking and signaled repeatedly that she wanted to go up. I said 'No'. We got down and after a minute or so she started looking quite cheerful. After five minutes she gave me two 'OK' signals (both hands), which is what I tell them to do if they’re having a good time. After fifteen minutes she gave me a big, overhead 'OK' signal. We use this to signal boats (from a distance) but I tell my customers to use this signal to let me know when they’re having a really, really super-fantastic time! Which, obviously, Karen was! After the dive she hugged me and thanked me for 'the most amazing experience' she’d ever had.

But today it was Sally. She wouldn’t take off her gear, she obviously still wanted to go, but she still wouldn’t sit on the side of the boat.

"You have to decide Sally. If you want to come diving, you have to go in now. Or, if you don’t want to, you don’t have to, you can wait here. But you have to decide"
"But I..."
"What would you like to do?"

She went in. I joined her. Everyone else was impatient to get going. The other Instructor started going down, taking the first three with him. I was left with three: Sally, her ineffectual husband and another guy.

"Right Sally. I’m with you. Are you ready? Put your breather in your mouth and get ready to deflate your jacket. You’re going to be fine, we’re going to take it nice and slowly..."
"Don’t leave me!" she squeaked.
"I’m going to be right next to you the whole way. Now put your breather in and keep it in please"

I gave the signal and took Sally’s hand; the other divers deflated. Sally did not. I reached over and deflated her jacket. She fought hard to stay on the surface, struggling to keep her head up and I could see she’d taken the breather out. I signaled to the Ineffectual Husband and the completely unsympathetic and slightly irritated man who was annoyed at having been stuck with these two, to stay on the line and don’t move. I put my head back up.

"I can’t do this, I can’t do it!"
"Of course you can. You’re perfectly safe, I’m going to be with you the whole way."
"But... but..."
"Sally, do you want to go diving?" there was a pause.
"Then you need to put your head under the water"

She put her head under the water, but was still kicking to stay up. I gently started to bring her down, but it was no good – she launched herself out of water, squealing "No! No! No!" and started swimming frantically towards the boat. I signaled to Fabian to put the ladder down and he helped her back in.

After the dive I went to speak to her. I told her not to worry or feel bad, that lots of people get nervous; that she should try again sometime.
"But I wanted to go diving today!" she whined, and she glared at me, petulant, full of self-pity... and slightly accusing.

[ps] Welcome to two new readers! Thanks for stopping by!

[pps] I am referring, of course, to my newish "My Readers" space, located just to your right. They have all stood up and been counted (eight, I counted) – will you?! ;-)