A week before our trip to Mexico, my wife became inspired by a co-worker’s recommendation to visit some Mayan ruins. “But I don’t want to just stand there and look at them,” she said. “I want to walk up the steps to the temple!”
Having walked up and down stairs my whole life, I didn’t quite see the attraction. I could even, from my own recliner, imagine what it might’ve been like on top of a temple a thousand years ago. There I am, strapped to a rock slab while a short, painted man in full plumage dances around me and then swiftly relieves me of my head. Having no want of mine since he’s been getting complaints from the Mrs. about having too many human heads at home already and now the neighbors are starting to gossip and why can’t he just get paid in goat’s milk and venison like Mr. Chicxulub does, he tosses it down the stairs to the crowd below, which, to show its appreciation, starts “the wave.”
Once in Mexico, we spoke to the resort concierge who mentioned Coba, one of the sites that still allowed walking on the structures. But I jumped on the fact that it was three hours away and began to moan about spending “our entire vacation trapped in a van.” In light of that, the concierge suggested Tulum, which was closer although somewhat restricted. At about this time, a woman I’ll call Margaret and her husband joined our conversation and said they were planning the same trip and asked if we might want to go together, split the cost of hiring a driver, and so on. We agreed, and the next day we were off to Tulum.
On the way we chatted pleasantly, comparing family trees and asking the driver questions like “why do the Policia carry fully automatic weapons?” and “is that drug war thing really so bad?” or “what is the most popular drug down here?”
On the way back, Margaret asked my wife “so, what do you do?” She gave a succinct yet detailed description of her entire career, while I looked out the windows hoping the subject would change.
The question bothers me. I wish I had the guts to tell people I was a haberdasher or a monk, some fantasy life I could don for a few hours and then discard. But I am burdened with a reality that includes having no prepared remarks about what I do, despite the fact that what I do is write, a deliberate and creative employment of words.
When it was my turn, I rambled on and on, or as I’ve heard it put, “talked the balls off a rhinoceros.” And in my bout of verbal diarrhea, I mentioned that one of my biggest challenges is finishing a piece – the how does a writer know when he’s done problem that I’ve written about before. And that, as a result of this, I abandon some pieces in favor of something new.
“You have adult attention deficit disorder,” she interjected. “And did you know that it’s really a respiratory problem?”
Having already used most of the words in the English language, I could find no others suited for a response.
“I’ve noticed you have a little trouble breathing” she said.
“The cold that I have, perhaps?” I suggested, reaching for yet another tissue in my backpack. But she shook her head. A cold. Please.
“You have a chronic lung irritation, and didn’t you say you’re a ‘light sleeper?'” It was true I shared this, in addition to admitting my fear of snorkeling and how I believed “Hola” can mean hello, goodbye, or thank you depending upon your inflection. She continued, “so, your brain resets during the day. That’s why you have trouble focusing.”
Now my silence was intentional, and it gave her ample time to explain her experience in holistic medicine and why I wouldn’t read about any of this in the relevant research literature.
Margaret is a lovely person with whom I could even be friends. A person just right for a company of travelers to the epicenter of the coming apocalypse. Which brings to mind some advice I remember – don’t listen to anything someone says before the word “but.”
But, my dear, I don’t buy it.
I am a skeptic, maybe sometimes to a fault. I am dubious about someone’s ability to diagnose the condition of, let alone the causes for, something as complex as the attention of a human mind merely from a rambling response to a common question. I must admit that she had blown herself up as a credible source even prior to this free behavioral consultation.
Earlier, while eating lunch, I mentioned something about wearing sunscreen and trying to avoid further run-ins with skin cancer.
“You need to eat green algae and seaweed. Skin cancer is not only preventable but reversible. I had a friend that had this rat (maybe she said it was a guinea pig) and it had a big tumor. It wasn’t doing well and couldn’t even walk. So I took it in and started feeding it fresh greens and vegetables. And it lived another 18 months. It’s all reversible!”
So here I was, sitting at a little shack of a restaurant on the beach, drinking a local brew and eating fresh grilled fish that likely came from the clear blue-green water before me. But more incredible than all of this was that I was eating lunch with the modern-day Jonas Salk.
Back in the van on the return trip, I managed to keep my cool and not turn into Asshole Man, a lesser-known superhero and close cousin to Childish Man, whose superpower is mocking and annoying his enemies until they shut up or go away. And I managed to ask her, before my brain reset and its attention squirreled away somewhere, what I could do to fix myself.
“Oh, that’s easy,” she said. “Eat turmeric.”