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The Vineyard Boomerang

When I was six or seven, maybe eight, my mother had a boyfriend named Jim (this Jim was actually the second of two my mother dated in a row). Jim was a brilliant finish carpenter and a talented jazz saxophonist, but what impressed me about him was that he had cool toys.

Jim was the person who first introduced me to the hacky-sack; in fact I was a much better hacky-sacker when I was eight than I was a few years later when the little footbags became the coolest thing to happen to potheads since hash.

In addition to the hacky-sack, Jim was fond of setting off bottle rockets in our front yard–what eight year old wouldn’t love that?!

But the coolest toy Jim had was boomerangs, and he had lots of them. He had a whole box, collected himself and by friends over the course of several years and at least two continents. There were small, fast ones, some with curved ends and some without. There were medium-sized, traditional-looking ones, and there were larger, slower ones. There were yellow ones, black ones, brown ones, neon yellow and orange ones–as an eight year old, I was impressed just by the colors of them.

Various BoomerangsMore Boomerangs

The biggest of all was an Australian “throwing stick,” which Jim told me would not return when thrown.

Throwing Sticks (non-returning boomerangs)

Its angle was far wider than those of the smaller boomerangs, and it was made of heavy, dense wood. It was twice the length of the average boomerang in Jim’s collection. Both the boomerang and the throwing stick were used for hunting, Jim told me –the returning boomerang would be thrown first, to distract the hunter’s prey, then the throwing stick would be thrown to kill the animal. The boomerang, if thrown right, would return to the hunter, and he would go get his kill. I was fascinated by the boomerang, and australia, and everything that came along with them (kangaroos? wallabies? wombats? of course!)

Sometimes on Saturdays, Jim would take me to the high school football field (when there wasn’t a game) to throw the boomerangs. He had specific ones that only he could throw–I think those were most likely the expensive and rare ones. He showed me how to hold the boomerang–perpendicular to the ground, not parallel as we’re led to believe by the movies– and how to throw it hard enough that it would keep going up and circle around, and not plummet awkwardly to the ground. I wasn’t very good at boomeranging, but I enjoyed the hell out of it.

Jim and I remained friends after he split up with my mother. At one point, Jim decided that he wanted to make boomerangs. He studied weights, angles, shapes– and he cut them and shaped them out of plywood after hours in the woodworking shop where he worked. A time or two, I went and sat in the shop with him while he made them–I think I helped by sanding the routed edges of a few blanks he’d cut.

When he’d finished the boomerangs, he gave one to me; I think it was one I helped to make. It was a light honey color, varnished so it shined. In the middle of the top side, right where the bend was, he’d taken a heating element and burned the wood to form a big black tick and a poison ivy sprig.

TickPoison Ivy

“It’s the Martha’s Vineyard boomerang,” he said.

The Vineyard boomerang went with me wherever I went. It moved from house to house whenever I moved, all the way across the country and back several times. Ultimately, it ended up (in storage) right back where it started — in the laundry room of my mother’s house, which was my room when I was nine and Jim gave me the boomerang.

Tonight, my roommate told me that he’d recently had a very weird dream, involving a giant tattoo on his chest of a tick and poison ivy. I laughed. “Have I ever told you about the Vineyard boomerang?” I said.

Apparently I hadn’t. Now I have.

Full Circle

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In Sombra I Trust (PR Blog)

The other night, I tried barracuda for the first time, at a beachside stand made of branches and tarps with a palm tree for each corner and coolers on the sand instead of fridges.

The barracuda wasn’t on the menu; it was something the owner, Sombra (Spanish for shadow), had cooked up earlier for himself and his friends. We ate it with our fingers, straight out of the frying pan. The fish, which was only hours out of the ocean, was like swordfish but tastier, cooked with sweet onions and local vegetables. Sombra is a magician with food, so the barracuda was perfectly cooked: juicy and tender and bursting with tangy sweet flavor.

The makeshift restaurant has a name, Mar y Tierra (Sea and Earth), but few use or even know it. Most often it’s referred to as “Sombra’s place,” or “the new place,” and for the most part the only people referring to it at all are Viequenses who know Sombra. The tourists are not adventurous enough to find him on their own, and the word hasn’t spread yet, as Mar y Tierra has only been open for about a month.

Each meal eaten with Sombra is a unique experience, and I’m not just talking about the food. Mar y Tierra is not just a place to eat; it’s a place to hang out, to talk, to listen to the ocean, to meet new friends.

Sometimes there are lights and a portable CD boom box hooked up to a car battery. Other times the stand sits nearly invisible in darkness, and you can only find it if you know where it is. There is nearly always music, usually coming from a car stereo, and there are always two or three of Sombra’s friends hanging out—talking, laughing, telling stories of their wild exploits. At any time, someone may hand you a joint, a rum drink, or a Medalla (the Puerto Rican equivalent of Bud Light—it goes down like water and comes in 10 oz. cans).

Sombra’s setup is impossibly simple: a great big gas grill, a couple of burners, and three big coolers (one is full of Medalla). He shows up when he wants to, cooks what he wants to, charges what he wants to, and goes home when he wants to. The menu is tiny, only four or five items, and changes every day. The food is all incredibly fresh and local, and you get twice the food for half the price that you’d be charged in any of the gringo-owned restaurants on the Malecon (seaside promenade). A whole lobster with whatever the day’s two sides are is only fifteen dollars, and it damn sure hasn’t seen the inside of a tank.

In the past two weeks I have eaten at Mar y Tierra five times, and have become friends with Sombra and the four or five locals and rastas who are usually hanging out. I’ve had lamb, barracuda, kingfish, a vegetarian dish made of mostly root vegetables, and the best chicken I’ve tasted in years. After the second time, I didn’t bother asking what was on the menu. Instead, I’d walk up to Sombra and say in Spanish, “I’m hungry… no shellfish (allergy),” and trust Sombra to give me something magnificent.

Tonight’s chicken was incredible, and although I was almost painfully full, I was disappointed when it was gone. The chicken was marinated and smothered in a thick, sweet and salty sauce—reminiscent of teriyaki, but so much better. It was served with a creative salad of spinach, cherry tomatoes, blackberries, goat cheese, strawberries and an unfamiliar but amazing dressing, and a heaping serving of savory root vegetables. When I told Sombra that it was ridiculously good, he laughed. “I never taste my food,” he said with a thick Puerto Rican/rasta accent, “I know it gonna be good.”

For half an hour after I’d finished eating, I sat in one of the camp chairs around the stand, digging my toes in the soft sand, listening to reggae music from a car stereo and staring at the cloud-covered half moon above Esperanza.

As I got up to leave, I thought to myself, This is going to be one of the things I’ll miss the most.

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Notes From The Chateau Relaxo – 1 (PR Blog)

Top 10 Reasons I Will Not Want To Leave Vieques:

1. The scenery is beautiful, both human and nature.
2. The coldest it’s gotten since I arrived was about seventy degrees.
3. When it rains, it only rains for five or ten minutes, and then the sun’s out again.
4. “Downtown” Esperanza consists of a smattering of bars and food stands, a couple of touristy junk booths, a museum, a dive shop and a gift shop, with a beach running the length of it.
5. If you need to get anywhere, all you need to do is stand on the side of the road and someone will offer you a ride within ten minutes.
6. Every other person I meet is from Martha’s Vineyard.
7. There is no open container law, and you can take your drink from bar to bar, or buy a beer in a store and walk down the road drinking it—you can even drink in cars.
8. Medalla—the Puerto Rican Budweiser. A dollar in the store, two in the bar.
9. Wild horses are everywhere.
10. There’s no snow, ever. And I don’t have to go to work, ever.

Top 10 Reasons I Will Be Delighted To Go Home:

1. This morning, I found a stream of water flowing into my room, and it was coming from the bathroom (thankfully it was water from the toilet tank and not the bowl).
2. Chickens. Fowl of both genders, bellowing and screaming outside my window every morning. The roosters start at midnight and may not ever stop, and the hens when they’re laying sound like a bunch of teenage girls getting stabbed.
3. Blaring advertising vehicles—there are at least three. One advertises a club and I don’t know what the other two are stumping, but they drive around in circles on the island at all hours, blaring music and advertisements from giant speakers mounted on top of the vehicles. They’re possibly the most obnoxious thing I’ve ever encountered.
4. Coffee here comes in teeny tiny cups and isn’t very good.
5. The water in our shower is cold—when we have water pressure enough for a shower.
6. I haven’t been cat called so frequently since I lived in Salinas.
7. The other day Netty found a furry spider with a three inch wingspan in her room and let it go outside. I’d have killed it instantly. I keep waiting for its cousin to turn up in my room.
8. There are termites behind the toilet in our bathroom.
9. Netty has mysterious bites on her ankles, possibly from bed bugs. I know my bed at home doesn’t have bugs. And I have a hot shower at home…. Did I mention how bad our shower sucks?
10. Every other person I meet is from Martha’s Vineyard.

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We Are The Knights Who Say… Dude.

I’ve become quite accustomed to five o’clock in the morning. In fact, I don’t believe I’ve been to bed before four in a full week. I’d like to say that this is due to a string of truly epic parties—but that would be a lie. Only the first of those seven nights, my last night in Puerto Rico, even comes close to qualifying. One other was due to a tangential conversation with a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time, but sadly, the rest can be attributed entirely to LOST and Guitar Hero.

Yesterday, my roommate and I left my house for a total of twenty minutes, to get “supplies” (read: cigarettes, food and shampoo). The other fifteen hours and forty minutes we were awake, we sat in the living room in our pajamas, watching LOST. The highlight of my day was when the checkout girl at the liquor store told me I could have the plastic disco-ball Absolut bottle I spotted on a table (sparkly!). The lowlight was that at the end of the night, I was almost out of weed.

It’s official. I’m becoming Seth Rogen.