My Own Private Umbrella

Vallarta Day 6

Got up around my Vallarta-usual 8:30 and head over to Coco’s for breakfast to find they are closed on Wednesdays. I’ve grown accustomed to spoiling myself in the mornings at Coco’s with her Vallarta omelette and have a mini hissyfit before heading down the block to Choco Banana to get Marcello’s inferior dish. He’s a great guy, but he just can’t compete on a quality level with Coco.

Sitting at Choco Banana, Aaron, the new owner at the Acqua gym walks by. He introduces himself. We met on the beach a day or so ago, but I haven’t made the connection to Acqua until now. I ask him if he lives in the neighborhood, but he’s just here working on a construction project. Turns out he’s an architect. (I’ve now met two architects in Vallarta in 4 days!) He wants to make sure I’m happy with the gym. I tell him it’s great – I like a smaller gym and David remembered me after I visited over New Years for a few days. He also likes David, saying he loves to work with him and citing his humility. The humility word sets off an alarm in my head and think Aaron must have some level of spirituality in his life – others don’t tend to notice that quality.

Dee’s is up next. I answer some emails and do my blogging. It seems that each additional day I’m here, I get more and more questions about my iPad. They’re not available here yet, so people are either curious about what it is, or they’re gringos wondering about getting one or opting for a more traditional netbook or small laptop. While the iPad is a nice toy, in retrospect, I think I would have been happier with a traditional netbook – and much happier with a MacBook Air, but that would have been much more money.

Pepé, the ass and pec implant “masseuse” is arguing with somebody across the street, yelling curses back and forth in Spanish as they both walk in separate directions. Perhaps a massage went bad?

Jamie and I had discussed going to Golds Gym today, but sadly I’m out of gym shorts and need to have some laundry done. After finishing up at Dee’s I check out the laundry shop down the block and see that they’ve expanded since I remember them from my New Year’s trip 7 months ago. At that time I remember them operating with only one washer and dryer and it appears now they’ve got three of each!

I feel as if I’m writing about the same neighborhood over and over again and I should be exploring the city, but I’m so content here next to the beach in the old town. I’ve heard Yelapa, a beach south of here, accessed only by boat, is fabulous. The botanical gardens a short bus ride south of here is also supposed to be very nice, and especially lush during the rainy season. I might make a trip out there with some of the AA folks. In the meantime, this small little area is my home.

I pack up my dirty laundry back at home and head back to the launderer. They perform the full service wash, dry and fold for very cheap. I’ll get the bill today, but I don’t anticipate it’ll be much more than if I were using coin-operated machines back in the States.

After three weeks in Guatemala and now Puerto Vallarta, both in their rainy season, I decide it’s time to buy an umbrella. I’d been making due with a raincoat, but the downpours we’ve been experiencing in Vallarta have penetrated my raincoat and make getting anywhere after around 6:00 or 7:00 nearly impossible. Art from the AA meetings recommended checking at Freddy’s Farmacia on Olas Atlus, so I stop in there and find a small travel-sized one for $160 pesos.

Continuing down Olas Atlus, I stop into a beachwear shop and find some shorts I wouldn’t be embarrassed wearing and seem suitable for the gym. They’re marked at $395 pesos, working to roughly $30, which I think is expensive. The man assures me the shorts are made of the highest quality materials and will complement my shape nicely. I can tell they’re the same clothes on the rack at Walmart, look at him and say “$395 is too much.”

“$350.” he offers, sighing, as if I’m stealing his children’s Christmas presents out from under the tree.

“Fine” and I head to Acqua.

I don’t know why I didn’t think of doing this with Jamie and Gold’s, but my gym habits here are hard to break!

It’s getting a bit cloudy after the gym, and it’d surely be a waste of effort to attempt any beach time today, so I decide just to walk up and down the Malceon a bit before heading home.

I’m still showering without hot water, even though Alicia, the front-desk lady, assures me the maintenance man has double-checked all of the plumbing. In some respects its a bit refreshing, considering the weather outside is much like the inside of a steam room.

After a shower and a siesta, I head out for the Alano club, where I’m to share my story at tonight’s 6:30 meeting. En route I pass a man selling time-shares and booking tours who appears a bit drunk. These guys will often say anything to grab your attention and start a conversation. He turns around from taking a swig of something and says to me, pointing, barely able to hold his finger up in my direction and says, “Bon Dom. You look jus like Bon Dom.”

I realize he’s referring to Jean Claude Van Damme, and though I have been hitting the gym, this man is clearly not seeing straight. I’m flattered by the compliment and continue my walk up Basila Badio.

Art, Bob, Bill, the three local gay old-timers are at the Alano club. Brooke, also visiting from Minneapolis, is in attendance. There are some other local regulars I recognize, including Rodrigo – a guy who just celebrated 90 days after coming back from another relapse.

After the initial AA Preamble and How It Works readings, Bob, the evening’s trusted servant introduces me and I’m invited to the front of the room to speak. I’m delighted that this evening the room seems a bit cooler than the norm – an intolerable humidity level with a couple of unbalanced fans knocking back and forth hanging from the ceiling and producing no noticeable benefit.

I introduce myself and let them know that I’ve been sober for 6 years. I talk about being gay, but not to set me apart, but rather convey a question I’ve always had about feeling different. Most of the AA stories I’ve heard begin with people growing up and always feeling different than others. That’s also the case with my story, but I never knew if it was as a result of being gay, or being an alcoholic. I used to assume it was because I was gay, but the more stories I hear, the more I think I should attribute it to the alcoholic part.

I talk about my childhood experience and how fear ruled my life. Fear of being found out (gay), fear of being left out or behind, fear of not being liked, fear of not achieving, fear of failure, fear of consequences, fear of people, fear of speaking in front of groups, fear of being judged, and on and on and on.

I explain that when I first began drinking in college at 18, alcohol released me from those feelings of fear. I wasn’t afraid of anything while I was drinking. I felt comfortable in my own skin. It gave me something I’d never felt before – freedom to be myself, or what I thought was myself. Over time the alcohol became something I depended on to feel good. I wasn’t having fun unless I was drinking. Work and drinking became my life, and work was only a part of the mix to support my drinking. I had become a different person and he wasn’t pretty.

I talk about what happened, how I trashed my boss’ office as a part of a dare to pull a prank on him. How I realized what I had done, came to some hard decisions about myself, and went into treatment – which did a couple of things for me. It gave me a dose of reality, helped me identify within a community and most importantly, introduced me to AA and the 12 steps, which is where my recovery began to take shape and transform my life.

I continue with talk about what my life is like today, operating two sober houses and being given opportunities left and right to be of service to the newcomer. I tell them how gratitude plays a large part in my life today and how the many blessings that I’ve been given don’t go unnoticed.

There is a 10 minute break after my story and the remainder of the meeting people give me feedback and tell me how they identify with what I talked about. Everyone is very appreciative and kind. Its a nice experience overall. While I had some initial nervousness, it quickly subsided and my babbling took on a mind of its own.

After the meeting, Art, Bob, Brooke and myself head to The Swedes for dinner. It’s over in my neighborhood, a block from Dee’s and just up the block from Coco’s Kitchen. A gay couple from Sweden started the restaurant after one of them lost their job in the recession a year ago. The restaurant is beautiful, perched atop a hill with a fantastic view down Olas Altus in one direction, and the neighborhood and ocean in another.

Richard, one of the couple, chats us up for a bit. His accent is classic Scandinavian and I’ve got to believe that this is the root of the Minnesotan accent.

Tommy, another guy in attendance at the meeting, joins is a few minutes later. Four of us order the Swedish Meatballs, while Tommy opts for a burger. I find it somewhat comical that I’m getting Swedish Meatballs in Mexico – a dish that’s hard to find in Minnesota, let alone south of the border. All of our dishes are wonderful, and the meatballs are quite good – right up there with my Finish grandmother’s variety!

The Swedes' Swdish Meatballs in Puerto Vallarta
The Swedes' Swedish Meatballs in Puerto Vallarta

Tommy tells us about his travel plans. He’s finished his first year in medical school at USC Irvine and will be spending a month just north of the Guatemalan border, in the south of Mexico, working on a public health project. He is unsure if he’s traveling to Mexico City or not, after spending time in Mazetlan and here in Vallarta. It seems the girl he went to Mazetlan to spend time with neglected to tell him she had a boyfriend, necessitating his rapid departure from there. The Mexico City stop is also in question, as the girl he’s to see there is also taken.

I realize that girl problems affect Southern California AAers just as much as they do Minnesotans.

Art and Bob tell stories of their past in DC. In a somewhat comical fashion, they compete for the floor. They’re both big talkers – telling long stories, and what I would consider “Hostage takers”. If one is wrapping up a story, the other is ready to pounce on the open spot in the conversation to tell their own story. I’ve only known them for five days and I’ve already started to hear some of the stories over again – I’ve got to believe they have more than 5 days worth.

Andrew, the Dark Room guy in San Marcos, and also a hostage taker, used to joke that he only had 25 things to talk about. He would cycle through them, and once he finished with the 25th topic, he’d return to number 1. Part of the joke was that people were so transient in San Marcos, so most people never heard the same story twice, but those who befriended Andrew and spent any considerable time there were susceptible to hearing the same stories more than once.

After a chocolate cake dessert and a cafe, I head home. The rain pouring by this time, I am grateful I’ve finally purchased an umbrella.

2 thoughts on “My Own Private Umbrella

  1. Great story. I liked the highlights of your sobering up experience. You were a brave guy to make that change in your life at 24. Most 24 year olds I know are pretty immature.

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