Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Verna and Steve Gone Wild

I pulled this out of the vault. This is a selective travelogue of Verna’s and my final vacation together as a couple, to Mexico, July 25-August 1, 2008. No names have been changed or details altered, though I should have done both. You will soon understand why.

Verna and I spent a week in Cabo San Lucas, at the tip of the Baja Peninsula, for our first vacation without kids in 11 years. We were last in Mexico for our honeymoon in 1991. We stayed then in Mazatlan at the time-share condo of Verna’s brother, Jim, and his wife, Liz. We transferred their week this time to stay in Cabo.

We spent seven glorious, sun-drenched days lounging by the pool, walking miles and miles around the marina, drinking tequila, giggling in the surf of the Sea of Cortez, dining out for each meal, and consuming more tequila.

After two years spent battling breast cancer before settling into the sometimes tiring and mundane trappings of full-time motherhood, the vacation served as a coming out party for Verna, who reveled—for a few days—in her body, mind, and spirit.

While Verna sat in the lobby of our resort, Sol Mar Beach Club, Saturday evening, writing a postcard to a friend, I joined four women in line for dinner, a Mexican fiesta all-you-can-eat buffet. We shared vital biographical information and I learned they were sisters from Lake Charles, LA, who’d left their children and husbands behind for five days of sibling bonding, freedom, and revelry. They invited us to sit with them at dinner.

As the dinner progressed and the floorshow at the fiesta droned on, they asked us to join them for the evening. They were headed to Cabo Wabo’s, a famed bar owned by rocker Sammy Hagar, in the heart of Cabo’s downtown.

“No, that’s OK. I don’t think we’re up for a late night,” said Verna.

I looked over at her, then whispered, “C’mon, let’s live it up.”

Verna somewhat reluctantly agreed. We hopped in a taxi and arrived at Cabo Wabo’s around 8:30. We climbed the wooden stairs to the main area, a huge room filled with circular tables and high bar chairs and standard booths. We were told the house band went on at 10:30. So we ordered a round of beers.

Three or four rounds later, the sisters, Michelle, Melissa, Colleen, and Denise, suggested we go next to the Giggling Marlin, where they’d been the night before, to see the exciting floor show.

A small group of waiters and waitresses led by the owner of the bar, a white blond male in his 20s or early 30s with awesome dance moves, started the show off with a cleverly choreographed boogie number. Then the owner and MC invited any and all women in the audience to come up for a game of musical chairs.

Melissa yanked Verna out of her seat and the two of them stood with at least twenty women against two rows of chairs lined back to back. The owner/MC asked men in the audience to bet on the woman they thought would win. The $20 bets would go towards the $150 winner’s share. Verna looked over at me several times and mouthed that I was not to wager on her.

No one else did either.

Though Verna is somewhat timid, she is also very competitive. She elbowed and pushed a few women out of the way to remain one of the final eight contestants.

“Now,” announced the MC, “we are going to play Simon Says or Johnny Daddy says. If I say ‘Johnny Daddy says’ then you need to do it as fast as possible to stay in the competition. So, Johnny Daddy says get me a bra.”

Verna was seated at the end of the row, only a few yards away from us. She raced over to us and said what we already knew: “I need a bra.” Colleen, who is 49 like me, somehow pulled hers out of her black tank top in just a few harrowing seconds. Then she crossed her arms over her chest as Verna bolted back to her chair.

After the women returned the bras to their owners, the MC said, “Johnny Daddy says get a man’s t-shirt.” I started taking mine off before Verna had even returned to the table.

I must interject that I was completely sober, which may have been a mistake on my part in terms of what I had to do next. I’d had a few sips of Verna’s beers at Cabo Wabo’s and one shot of tequila at dinner, nearly six hours earlier.

“I want all the men to come up and get their t-shirts. But stay with the women,” said Johnny.

There I was, half-naked, 160 bony and vegetarian pounds, facing Verna, who was holding my orange Buzz Kill t-shirt (from the website www.NothingButNets.net).

“Before you get your t-shirts,” explained Johnny, “you must lap dance your partner.”


At least it was my wife. So I straddled Verna as she grabbed my hips and did my best and sober Chip and Dale’s routine. We laughed, I turned beet red, Verna egged me on, and we milked our brief moments in front of a friendly and raucous bar crowd as I thrust my pelvis and booty in her face.

Then Johnny brought up the six or seven men who’d bet on the women and had them sit at tables in front of them. Verna still had no sponsor and still didn’t want one.

Johnny paired the final six women into three groups. Verna was in the first duo with a woman who had on a loose-fitting gray tank top, her breast spilling out the sides.

Each woman had to dance and then the judges chose one of the pair. Verna went second and danced up a sultry, sexy storm. The crowd, led by a certain skinny-framed American, hooted and hollered. When she finished, her face flushed and sweaty, Johnny proudly clasped her hand above his head and said, “Girlfriend, you’ve got game. You can really move.”

Verna was clearly the oldest of the competitors, most of whom were in their 20s. Her “partner” had muddled her way through her dance, out of sync, slightly reminiscent of Elaine on Seinfeld. But the “judges” voted for only one contestant. In an extremely close vote, Verna was booted off the tequila soaked island, but not before Johnny ordered a round of tequila for the sisters, Verna, and me because she was such an excellent dancer. She was the only one he acknowledged so fervently.

“I lost out because I don’t have any breasts,” Verna said matter-of-factly when she returned to the table.

“You were by far the better dancer. You were awesome,” I said. “I think the judges were going for the slutty look as well. You just aren’t slutty.”

Verna’s face sparkled when she spoke to us about dancing and losing, but I could see she was disappointed.

However, when she saw what the three remaining women had to do with their male bettors, or jockeys if you will, she felt a bit better about losing. Each couple had 30 seconds to get into as many sex positions as possible. The last couple, with a guy who had a serious paunch, gyrated and hefted themselves into 11 positions before an adoring crowd and snared the $150, which probably made up for the mild public humiliation.

Before another bar wide conga line in which everyone gulped a shot of tequila, I paid $10 to be hoisted upside down by my ankles. My reward? Three shots of juice and tequila. I downed one and shared the other two with the sisters.

We left the bar at 12:40. Verna was way too pumped up to share a taxi ride with the sisters back to our resort, so we walked 20 minutes back to our room and slept until not quite 8 am.

We took our partying and penchant for zany contests to the sand and surf of Medano Beach on Thursday, the day before we had to depart Cabo. We walked 2.5 miles from our hotel under partly cloudy skies and parked ourselves on the sand chairs outside Billigan’s, located literally on the beach.

Billigan’s holds a series of contests throughout the day. Since they offer beer buckets, six bottles for $10, inebriation allows many beachgoers to ignore inhibitions and run wild and wacky.

Again, I was sober all day. I entered the day’s first competition, a Karaoke contest without words to sing by. We had to sing along with Los Lobos doing La Bamba. The first entrant, a woman from Mexico City, knew all the words in her native tongue Spanish. I figured she had it won hands down.

The second contestant never actually sang. She just mouthed the words. The guy before me, another American, sang OK but he was rather boring. I certainly didn’t know all the words but I figured, even though it was only 11:30 in the morning, I could shake and sizzle like Elvis on Ed Sullivan.

The winner was chosen by audience response. I was still convinced the senora from Mexico City would be the victor. I even clapped the loudest for her. But we’d made friends with a couple from Texas and there were several Americans clustered around them, so when my name was called, the crowd erupted. And I was the winner. The woman from Mexico City, her national pride wounded, audibly complained that the MC had cheated.

A waiter came over and delivered my prize, four frozen margaritas, two of which we shared with the couple form Texas.

Seventeen years earlier, on our honeymoon in Mazatlan, Verna won a dance contest on a party boat. After my victory in the singing contest had inadvertently stoked her competitive fires, she was determined not to leave the beach without another contest victory.

The next contest pitted a group of tourists against four waiters and waitresses in a margarita chugging match. Verna volunteered to be one of the four tourists and helped her team to victory.

I am sure we ate some food at that point, maybe even lunch, anything to soak up some of the alcohol. Even though the day began in the mid-90s, it was suddenly cooler and overcast with a few drops of rain. Cooler meant upper 70s. It was still quite pleasant.

The third challenge, for which Verna volunteered yet again, was a time trial. Each contestant had to dash to a table and swallow a shot of tequila, then run to spot near the beach and chug an entire bottle of beer. Then each person had to do ten revolutions around a stake in the sand before racing back to their seats.

The first two competitors, young women not older than 20, did pretty well, one was timed in 1:24 seconds, the other in 1:18. Verna was next and she breezed back to the stage in 66 seconds and was the new leader. The final entrant, a young man in his 20s, flew across the sand, even with one of the waiters, Jesus, who favored the oldest contestant, trying to obstruct him, in 65 seconds.

Just as he was declared the winner, Verna said, “I just want you to know you only beat me, someone who is old enough to be your mother, by one second.”

He looked as if he’d been kicked hard in the stomach. Moments later, the staff at Billigan’s brought in one last tourist, I think a professional drinker, and he ran the course in 57 seconds.

The off-duty waiter, Jesus, a finely chiseled Mexican with a nipple ring, who attempted unsuccessfully to champion Verna’s cause by grabbing her 22-year old rival, had also been making time with another American female, kissing her, grabbing her butt, and bumping and grinding his way to future ecstasy in full view of everyone for most of the afternoon.

Verna started talking with the two young women who’d been in the race with her and found out that the mother of one was also a breast cancer survivor. So the three of them bonded quickly and both girls hugged Verna repeatedly and couldn’t stop expressing their admiration for her. They were also friendly with Jesus.

At one point, he came over and noticed us looking at his chest, which had been shaven because he was an avid swimmer. He asked Verna, who’d been eyeing his nipple ring with curiosity, “Would you like to touch it?”

I jokingly made a move toward him and then Verna said, proudly, “I’ll touch yours if you touch mine.”

So he reached out to grab her and as he did Verna said, “I don’t have any!”

His hand stopped in mid-air, a baffled look on his face. Verna paused slightly enough to cause him a twinge of embarrassment before she explained why she had no nipples.

It turned out that Jesus often donated money to groups fighting breast cancer. Before he got up and returned to groping his buxom American, he hugged Verna several times and told her how much she inspired him.

As I recount the episode now, I am brimming with pride and tears for my wife, a truly amazing person. Verna told me on our jaunt back to the hotel that she was finally fed up with the in-your-face displays of T & A on the beaches, snorkeling cruises, and bars of Cabo. Her defiant gesture was for women everywhere who have felt the oppression of having to conform to a certain and usually impossible body image.

I thought Verna’s dare was priceless, but I also felt it was personally significant. Even though Verna still loathes looking at herself in the mirror each night, her gesture was really a very public affirmation that on some level she accepts who she is. It was a coming out party as Verna realized on some level that she’d conquered all the pain and emotional hardship she’d endured. That she could be bold and brazen about her body in public was, in my view, an unbelievable moment.

But in the immediate wake of her friendship with the two young women and her amusing confrontation with Jesus, Verna was unhappy that she hadn’t one any contests outright.

“I am not leaving this beach,” she stated, “until I win something.”

The fourth and final contest of the afternoon before the evening festivities, when Billigan’s runs another series of alcohol-fueled challenges, was, thankfully, alcohol-free. For all the drinking I didn’t do that afternoon, if there was ever a contest that needed copious amounts of any and all alcohol, the last one we entered was it.

The MC called for at least three couples. Verna and I plopped into a chair onstage, she in my lap. No one else got within 50 feet of us. The MC said he needed at least four more people to continue. Jesus dragged another woman over and I canvassed two people who thought they were going to enjoy a quiet snack of chips and guacamole.

“For this contest,” the MC explained, “each couple must run into the water, remove their bathing suits bottoms, switch them and then run ashore.”

Thank God Verna doesn’t wear a bikini. We were out of our seats faster than anyone, but Verna tumbled in the sand and I, right behind her, flew hands first over my wife. We lost a few seconds but quickly switched bathing suit bottoms and raced back to our seats. I was now wearing Verna’s swim shorts with a Velcro strip right down the middle. It barely covered my midsection. She had on my baggy Red Sox trunks.

Jesus, wearing a loose-fitting fuchsia bikini, and his partner arrived at their seats seconds before me, with Verna trailing just a bit behind me. The third couple was not even out of the water by the time the four of were back on the stage.

The MC announced that there’d be a dance-off between the top two couples, with the audience deciding the winner. Each guy had to booty lap-dance his companion. Again, Verna and I were at a distinct advantage because we were a real couple, so we didn’t have to hesitate—in theory—about thrusting our pelvises, twisting our torsos, or contorting any other body parts at or near each other.

I couldn’t stop laughing and neither could Verna. While she easily grasped my oversized (for her) bathing suit in her hands, I was doing a poor imitation of Elvis, fuzziness sticking out from the top of her water shorts.

The audience vote was close but the MC declared us the victors after two or three tense rounds of applause from both sober and inebriated beachgoers. Verna was ecstatic that she’d finally won a contest.

“Seventeen years ago on our honeymoon in Mexico, I’d won a dance contest,” she recalled to anyone within earshot who was still paying attention to the utter frivolity. “And now I’ve done it again.”

OK, so her competition back in 1991 had been a nine-year-old on a party cruise, and I aided her victory on the beach this time. But who was going to quibble? I certainly wasn’t going to prolong our competitive day. Yes, honey, was all I needed to muster; you are the champion.

And Verna was the champion for beating back cancer and reaching deep within herself and rising above her self-loathing; storming the beach and the pool and proclaiming to a select few newfound friends that she just wanted to have a little fun, enjoy herself and her body, and reclaim some of the joyful abandon she deserves.

Verna and I did go a little wild. But there was deeper message there, and it was basically something we shared privately on the sun-splashed tip of the Baja Peninsula that became our life-affirming nirvana for a week of bliss.

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