Sep 16, 2006

ROATAN, Honduras –  The doctor knows best. "Put sunscreen on that pale skin," he barks on the snorkel boat.

"I did, I did," I protest.

"Have some of mine. It's 30-proof."

I wave my own bottle of SPF 30. He persists. Finally, I slather on a third coat, just to stop the nagging.

C'mon, man, I've been in Roatan a week now. If I'm still this pale, don't you reckon I've mastered sunscreen?

But my calves resemble boiled ham, so I look like an idiot – and am treated accordingly.

Having shielded me from skin cancer, the doc decides to sort out the rest of my life. The 75-year-old just emerged from the jungle, where he runs a twice yearly clinic on a former banana plantation. The plastic surgeon leads a 12-strong team of volunteers, sewing up hare lips and machete-fight scars. Then they retreat to Anthony's Key Resort, snorkel, dive, drink beer and boom Alabaman jokes over happy hour in the pool.

He grills me about the writing life. I'm bored, so I respond, rather than ducking the interrogation, as usual.

I confess how much I travel. Sixty-to-seventy percent of this year. Too much. Needs to halve.

“What are you running from?” he asks. Very revealing question, this.

“Well, it's more 'running to',” I explain. “Home is good. But I just can't see a train or plane without wondering, 'where does that one go? Can I get on it?'.

"With no anchor, why not float?”

He's unconvinced.

And maybe I am too.


  1. Anonymous12:51 AM

    You never seemed happily anchored... Sure that's the key, so to speak?

  2. Gotta love those probing anonymous questions, complete with bad puns.

    New rule: no ID, no answer on the personal stuff.

    Sorry, kids. I just can't stand conversing with the void.

  3. Anonymous12:59 AM

    No offense meant. Really.


    But I'm just not a public-poster...

  4. Did the good doctor knew he was uttering a cliche? How many times have people said to me: "What are you running from?"

    Hey, no one ever though of saying that one before! But now that you've pointed it out, I am going to change my life and sit still. Thank goodness I encountered you. Now my life is whole.

    Some people say that when someone utters a cliche to you, you're supposed to say "Why do you ask?"

    When people spout off platitudes that could have been written in a Hallmark card, it doesn't make me feel compelled to take their question real seriously. I suppose you could say back "Why do you go to work every day? It's my job, moron."

    But you're much too polite to call anyone a moron. Perhaps in response you should psychoanalyze their problems based on the superficial two minutes you've known them. It is exactly what they've just done to you, after all.

  5. Anonymous, under "Choose an identity," you can click on "Other" and give yourself a name. It doesn't have to be your real name, but it will at least show that you're the same person posting every time, and give you some credibility.

  6. Marie, your comment reminded me of the comic novel "Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About,” whose main character is Pel. Every time someone comments about his unusual name, he replies: "Oh, is it? I never really thought about it."

    A response only narrowly topped by my childhood friend Holly. Strangers would peer at her, then announce: "You have one blue eye and one brown!"

    "Ohhhh, nooooooo," she'd wail, clapping a hand over one. "It happened again. I wish they'd stop changing like that."

    OK, it was funnier before colored contact lenses...

    Anyway, the doc's query – for all its instant-diagnosis pop-psychology glibness – did resonate. I'm NOT comfortable at home. I stampede in, do a few loads of laundry, clean the cat box and suffer romantic pratfalls. Then I boomerang back onto the road.

    A balance would be nice. Maybe I'll manage one in autumn…