Friday, January 27, 2012

My Panama Journals...1987-1991 Chapter Two

The Intoxicating Lure of Acquiescence - early 1988

Panama City...her place of mildew, ticks and burnt cars...she embraced it with the vigor of a slug inching across sandpaper.  She stood back and studied her newly plasticized window.  Jailed behind bars, she was a prisoner with keys in her upscale apartment just off Via Argentina and the Einstein statue.  Her laundry room iron bars, although they accomplished the task of preventing an intruder heisting her drawers, they only hugged glass.  She hadn't given them an ounce of thought until she belatedly realized that the stifling humidity surrounding every inch of her existence was producing a fine layer of patchy snow white fungus across the surface of everything she owned of any worth or no worth.

Death by mildew claimed the first and only oil painting she had ever owned, all her leather shoes, and her cotton clothing.  It wasn't until that swarming cloud of termites, erupting out of those wall seams, started flying towards the center of her apartment instead of the more conveniently located open barred window that she reached her last straw, and was forced into action.  A sheet of acrylic was confiscated, jammed and sealed with tape into that opening that made her apartment one with nature, and much was drenched in insecticide until she was now a happy camper in her marble floored and wood walled apartment of poison and rot. 

Another day and she silently sat at her sewing table, a desk in the room she called her workroom...her escape room...her place where she dreamed of another lifetime; and staring with disinterested eyes at that half-stitched blouse gripped under the idle presser foot before her, she felt content to just stroke her curled up lap kitten attentively.  Molly had been a young feline of the streets before being confiscated by the landlord from his open airy laundry room and deposited in her arms.  Cat people will always take in another cat he theorized, clearly a retired Panamanian judge totally oblivious to the tighter budgets of the lower classes.

Still staring into nothing at her desk with Molly on lap, voices awakened her wandering mind and grounded her back into the present.  She listened to her husband talking with the European that was going to make their apartment a blessing in the oasis...the valuable air conditioner man.  He and husband babbled on about the discontent of the masses around election times, times that were coming up again soon.  Her European talked of the numerous car burnings and riots, crazy banging of pots and pans with spoons on the balconies and in the doorways of the unhappy rich, and how he had been terrifically unlucky in an earlier riot to be chosen out of the majority to be yanked out of his truck, as it was overturned and torched to a cinder.


As the coolness began to push the humidity into non-existence, she began to realize that this blouse was not going to see the finish line this day.  She just didn't care at the moment if she would ever wear it or not.  She hated sewing.  She was discontented...contented only in listening to the conversations of others as her mind wandered in and out of awareness of her life that day.  She thought about the barrage of little meows that filled the air for hours until husband and one of the upstairs siblings searched a fourth floor window ledge across the street to find the mysterious pleading black and white kitten.

She had loved that little ball of need that was too young to be on her own.  She taught her to take care of herself and protected her from all future harm.  Sabrina, she thought that a lovely name...Sabrina from that first day on continued to suck and knead her paws where ever she slept.  She learned to scoot the water bowl across the kitchen floor, wrapping her two front paws around it, butting it gently with her chest.  The ice cubes that were added to cool the warm water fascinated her endlessly as they bobbed up and down on their scooting journey.  A few would always be plucked out with curled paw and batted across the marble floor.

She had Sabrina five months and then she was gone.  She had taken more time off than her bosses liked, handling her affairs; so she went to work at Clayton Army Base while husband left her Sabrina at the military vet clinic to be spayed.  Sabrina was put to sleep permanently when anesthesia was given, and she had darkness in her heart for months before she could let go of that hurt.  She was dreading Molly's turn to chance the fate to be dealt out by what she considered to be substandard doctors.  She seemed to dread too much in this land of political intrigue and unrest.

Another month and she was smiling, photographing the waving crew of the Russian Trawler that was traveling the channel in front of the small craft that carried her, husband, the married contractor couple she had befriended at work and others on a sponsored trip of the Panama Canal.  She possessed every travel brochure in existence before she ever stepped out into the world on her own.  She had dreams of travel, and the loftiest one that left an impression of being attainable saw her sailing through the Panama Canal.

Magical, exotic, once in a lifetime dream...and here she was...fulfilling that wish...and she was bored beyond losing her mind.  Extremely slow progression through the Miraflores locks north of the township of Balboa, then miles and miles and miles of green and blue dragging by, she painfully sat wondering if rot was beginning to affect her mind as they waited forever to exit the second set of locks, the Pedro Miguel locks.  After her three day trip of eight torturous hours of canal creeping was mercifully at an end, the infliction of punishment on her weary body continued as they left Gatun on a bus that magnified every crack, bump and hole in that dilapidated roadway with the magnitude of a 6.0 earthquake, as it returned them all back across the isthmus to Panama City.

On that bus trip back as the sky was darkening and she was trying to brace certain parts of her body from feeling like they were being jolted beyond repair by leaning on a vibrating jack hammer, she felt tired of her life in this place that made her feel apprehensive so much of her time.  She thought it would be a good thing escaping from the transient quarters of that first military base to a very nice room at the Holiday Inn.  Instead, after four bad days of staying at a Manuel Noriega owned, Panamanian Defense Forces patrolled, and super American unfriendly hotel; bags were packed and the move from the Holiday Inn to the Marriott removed them from harm's way.

Two and one-half months later base housing procured their current overpriced apartment, and a gas stove for the stoveless kitchen.  Power outages were as plentiful as the ticks that roamed the grassed landscape, and electric was never an option.  Feeling trapped for so many months, they had begun to venture out into the safe zone of the downtown with its restaurants and expensive shopping and Panamanian stores that always carried an unadvertised price for anything United Stators bought.

She was 'safe' in her apartment again, her Panama Canal craving kicked out of her brain and jammed into that gas oven to cremate to a blackened spot of suet.  Cats fed, husband fed, she was heading for bed with no thought of what waited outside in the dark.  Clueless to the realization that the safe zone was only a figment of any one's imagination, she was slowly entering the fast lane towards a head-on collision with that reality.  Her life would be changing dramatically.

Interlude of Discontent - 1987

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Days of Whine and No Roses

            My glum lone patch of sticks and stones and broken bones
            lying in solitude on that bare frigid ground.
            Wind cutting through the void like a thousand knife blades.
            Puffed and fluffed birds huddled shyly on branch edges
            anticipating my reluctant pilgrimage.
            Seeds, water jug, and billowing unbuttoned coat;
            waggish freezing jackrat terrier underfoot;
            face all scrunched up against that harsh awakening-
            my humble grounds in fitful slumber taunting me
            to find grace in what does not easily delight.

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