Sunday, September 16, 2007

A Gondolier in China, How It All Begins

Our story begins when my good friend, Andrea, calls me in early July to chat about her plans to travel to Macau, China. She’ll be training a group of gondoliers who are opening four rides in the second-largest building in the world, the brand spankin' new, Venetian Macau.
Having previously spent 2004-2005 gondoliering in Vegas (and hating it, as rowing around non-stop in circles singing "Santa Lucia" incessantly and answering stupid tourist questions all with an Italian accent, did not prove to be fun for me.) Although after re-reading that sentence, I've decided to think twice about that notion and sign up for more punishment, this time in China.
Prior to my drastic dash from hell in Vegas to living it up with my sister in D.C., Andrea had told me she was planning to sign up for the China trip, so I knew it was coming. As usual, when I find out there's someone else in the world doing something more interesting than me, I get a spastic twinge in my gut, and jealously wish I was the one going. Especially when said adventure includes foreign countries and getting paid well. I express this sentiment, as I'm coming off a loathsome career with Enterprise rent-a-car and wishing I had remained a gondolier, if only to move to China.
Months pass, and I start putting my new life together, by enrolling in the Aveda Institute, a cosmetology school, in order to launch a new career as a make-up artist. I begin my short-term career as a shift supervisor at Starbucks in order to receive part-time medical benefits, as I am a recent victim of knee surgery.
It's a particularly uneventful day at Starbucks, and my shift is dragging. I’m on break, sitting in my favorite window nook, watching with amusement as colorful passer-bys dodge puddles and raindrops. My mobile rings. I consult the screen, see that it's Andrea, and decide not to answer. She's a talker, and I only have five minutes left of my break.
I do decide to check her message, and my heart begins pounding with excitement.
Andrea: " I just had an idea, and I can't believe I didn't think of it before! You should call and ask if you can come to China, since we need people desperately, and Helen's not running the program. Gwen's running the program, and she likes you, so I think you should just call and ask."
Helen is my ex-boss, also known as the spawn of satan, and her and I had a scuffle about me quitting two years ago because I only gave her two weeks notice, as opposed to a month.
The rest of my shift passes in a daze as the grain of hope is embedded in my brain, and shoots upward at sunflower pace, growing and invading the very core of my being. I know without a shadow of a doubt, that if given this opportunity, I would sit, roll over, shake, and play dead. Tell me to jump and I will. Now the concern is, what if I’m getting excited for nothing?
I call Andrea immediately, and wait anxiously as she e-mails me all the contact info for Best Agency. I shoot them an email right away and find that this idea has gripped me so feverishly, that I’m unable to sleep, as I keep re-checking my e-mail to see if they’ve responded. Finally, Karah e-mail me to call her.
I dance a silent jig in a circle around myself and get on the horn. Karah states that Gwen doesn't necessarily remember me, and I might need to re-audition. My heart sinks, as the reason I don't have a career in the performing arts is due to my acute hatred for auditioning. I suppose it could be compared to a corporate individual who possesses a fear of interviewing. Except that I've been blessed with outstanding interview skills, and have never failed to get any position I've applied for. Why then, this fear of auditioning? Because I think it's a huge pain in the ass. A lot of time and energy gets invested in something that more than likely won't pay out.
In the past, my need to perform was great enough that I was able to overcome this debilitating condition and I actually beat the pavement looking for jobs, like any starving artist. And I found some. These days, however, I just can't be asked. Other ambitions have taken hold of my heart, and provide me with a easy excuse to throw in the towel, and never bother auditioning again. But now, here I am, dearly wanting to go to China, and hearing that I may have to audition, either by submitting a recording or singing over the phone. I announce to my sister-
Me: "I'm not re-auditioning, I just won't go if that’s the case."
Cara: "Don't they need people desperately? I think they'll let you go no matter what."
Cara gets a gleam in her eye as I tell her about the opportunity, as she's clearly relishing the idea of an end to me mooching free room and board off of her. Feeling discouraged and defeated, I respond to Karah’s inquiry.
Me: "I’ve already been trained, and I worked on the water two years ago. I passed the audition then, and I'm single, ready and willing to go to China at the drop of a hat. Do you need me to sing on the phone right now?"
Karah: "Oh no, I couldn't judge that! Don't worry, I talked to Gwen and she wants you to definitely come for the 1st phase."
Me: "Er, I have to be in a wedding in Alaska from Aug. 22nd-27th, so I was thinking phase 2? Since it starts on Sept. 2nd?
Karah: "No, no, no, she needs you for phase 1. We'll fly you from anywhere. How about if we fly you out from Alaska on the 27th? Why don't you email me all your flight info, and we'll work something out?"
Me: "YAY! I'm going to China, I'm going to China, I'm going to China!"
I run downstairs to inform my roommates with a whoop and a scream. Then I immediately call Andrea and relay the good news. I’m seeing her in less than a week, anyway, at her house in the Hamptons, but I’m too excited to hold this in.

I have a funny feeling in my gut, though, and I can't help but wonder if I really have a job. How did I manage to dodge the re-auditioning bullet? And could I sign a contract or something so I have proof that I'm really going? After e-mailing back and forth for about a week with Karah, she expertly dodges the contract issue.
Karah: "No, no, a contract comes much later, let's just take it one thing at a time."
Deciding to believe her, now the only thing weighing on my soul is the Mike Gillespie issue. Mike has played a feature character in my life, as well as other blog entries. I had talked him into moving to D.C. and getting a job with me, rather than living in his parent's house in po-dunk Pennsylvania. I'm used to persuading Mike against his will to do such activities as: Shit in the woods, go on a Polish pilgrimage involving kneeling on concrete, travel through Romania with no money and end up bribing the conductor to get through Yugoslavia, etc. Mike is my adventure buddy and my best friend. Now that I've dragged him to D.C., I can't bear to leave him behind a mere week after he's moved out. What to do? I've got to convince him to come.
Mike, of course, is reticent at first. He claims he's not a singer. I claim they don't care, they're so desperate for gondoliers willing to re-locate to China. He counters with the idea that his parents will hate it. I parry with the observation that he's not doing anything with his life anyway, besides waiting for the navy to call, and contemplating working at Starbucks with me. In the end, I wear down his resistance, and he has a memorable phone audition with Ron, in which he sings in German and then follows up by sight-reading "Santa Lucia" that he had picked up at the library the same day.

The best part was the head shots. Mike was unwilling to pony up the cash to have a set done professionally, against my better judgement. Having been in the industry so long, I know the repercussions of having an inexperienced, ghetto headshot. But determined to help him in his quest, we research techniques for doing your own on-line. We come across an interesting theory about taking pictures of yourself in the bathroom mirror in the pitch black. Adorning him in my sister's tight, v-neck work-out shirt. (And what a sight, my 6'3" friend looked sporting that.) Against his grumbles, I spiked his hair up with water, turned out the lights, and stood on the toilet, taking hundreds of pictures of Mike, which we then converted into black and white on i-photo.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Frostbitten Eyelids in Finland

Poor Lace, all she wants to do is go to Greece, but I won't let her, because it's my one chance to hit the nordic countries while I'm in Europe. Mind you, it's Christmas break, but what of it? We're both burly girls from Alaska, we can handle the cold!

We compromise and begin our trip in Germany and Spain (her choices, as I'll be traveling to both more extensively this summer). We only have two weeks together to see all of greater Europe. Since it's my week to choose, I drag her on a whirlwind sojourn to the north. A few days in Amsterdam, a day in Oslo, a day in Stockholm, followed by a day in Helsinki, and then a ferry ride back to Germany.

The affliction leaves it's first impressions upon arrival in Stockholm. Perhaps the trudge through the waist-deep snow, shivering and wet in our thin pajamas, after leaving the train in the dead of night, and trying desperately to locate our cozy boat hostel is what does me in. When I awaken in the morning, I notice my eyelids are raw, red, and bloated. They're sore to the touch, but I shrug and move on with my day of sight-seeing.

The situation goes from bad to worse when we reach Helsinki in time for my 21st birthday, Jan. 6, 2003. I know my birthday shares an international holiday, the 12th day of Christmas, otherwise known as the epiphany. But since I'm from America, a place where we most certainly do not celebrate this holiday, it's never affected me before. It's a holiday reserved for countries such as Mexico, and apparently, Finland.

Lace and I valiantly wrap scarves around ourselves and trudge through the frigid, biting wind. The cold, dry air is whipping and stinging our faces with each step. We desperately visit each site in Helsinki, but everything is closed. The best we can do is photograph the picturesque architecture of the round Russian-style churches from the outside, while I hum the theme song of "Tetris" under my breath.

The icy weather causes my swollen eyelids to crack in minute spots, and my lids are rapidly filling with pus and blood, as infection settles in. Soon I can barely see out of the slits in my face, formerly known as eyes. Some birthday.

Before long, Lace and I throw in the towel and journey by train to the ferry station, content to eat a birthday dinner of stolen hostel rolls and nutella on the floor of the station. On our way, we make the accquaintance of Casanova, a suave American buck of 24 years, who is in Finland to surprise his ex-girlfriend with an engagement ring he created for her. He purchased the rock, and took a jewelry class in order to make and engrave the band himself. His ex has no idea he's coming.

I'm impressed by this, as I find it both gutsy and romantic, so I decide we can be friends. Until he makes the following comment-

Cas: "Excuse me, but I can't help but notice your eyelids are extremely swollen."

I attempt to roll my eyes at him, but instead, end up clutching at my face and wincing, as any sudden eyeball movements send knives of pain coursing through my veins.

Cas: "Do you mind if I take a look?" His warm hands steady my face at eye level, and he gazes at me shrewdly, his mouth a mere inch from mine. I briefly consider kissing him, and inquiring if I can keep the engagement ring for myself, but then I realize that I resemble the blind witch from Bakersfield, and reconsider. I make a feeble attempt at a joke.

Me: "My friends call me Squinty Mcgee."

Cas: "You've frost-bitten your eyelids." He states this matter-of-factly. "My ex said the exact same thing happened to her." The moment is lost as he drops my face and resumes a neutral pose, continually gazing at my eyelids in abject horror while chatting cooly with Lace out of the side of his mouth about whether Scotland is it's own country or part of the UK.

My mind is racing, as I envision a future involving my eyelids changing from red to blue, and at last black, then inevitably shriveling and falling off. I'm holding them in a glass jar, fragile as butterfly wings, and trying to convince a first-year medical intern to please attempt to re-attach them for me. Growing up in Alaska, I'm well aware of the nine stages of death from frostbite (or is that hypothermia?) While the rest of the nation was studying normal topics, such as nutrition and sex ed during ninth grade health, us Alaskans were burdened with quizzes on frostbite, hypothermia, and boating accidents.

The panicked images are interrupted by a horn signaling our chance to board the ferry and ride back to civilization (and certain death). I take a moment to rearrange my features into what I hope consists of a calm expression, and hasten to grab my belongings, and board.

Once Casanova finds out it's my 21st birthday, he insists we head to the bar and drink up. I protest that I'm going to sleep so I can build up my immune system and fight off the impending infection.

Cas: "Then I'll bring the booze to you," he announces and slips off to the bar leaving me behind to mope in my room on my birthday. To my surprise, he reappears moments later with a bucket of ice and several mini-bottles of alcohol. We indulge, but I'm nowhere near in the mood to get drunk, as my eyes are positively burning. He regards me thoughtfully.

Cas: "We really need to fix you, don't we?" (What a problem solver! Swoon.) He grabs my chin and swivels my head this way and that, checking out my horrific malady from all angles. Deftly he reaches up and plucks a single eyelash from each eye. I yelp with pain.

Me: "What did you do that for?" Again, I attempt to glare, but am thwarted by the tears streaming from my eyes. He looks at me expectedly, as if he really thinks brutal-eyelash-pulling will result in a miracle cure.

Cas: "Not good enough," he murmurs, and gazes at Lace.

Cas: "I need ice, a pillowcase, and a rope." He barks, and Lace scurries about like a scrub nurse, collecting the necessary goods. I watch in fascination as he fashions an eye mask out of the pillowcase, fills it with ice and ties it around my head with the rope.

Cas: "Now, sleep on your face tonight, and you'll feel better. I'll come check on you in the morning." He pats me on the head, and I oblige, like a good patient, by blindly groping my way to the bedside.

I attempt to sleep facedown. Easier said than done, and I spend one of the most uncomfortable nights of my life in this manner. When I can stand it no longer, and the fiery sun is starting to peak out from behind our scuffed, rounded window, I stumble to the bathroom to check on my progress.

I stifle a scream of disgust when I look at the inside of the pillowcase and it's a pile of blood and pus. All of that oozed out of my eyelids? Disgust gives way to morbid fascination and then delight, as I regard myself in the mirror and realize that my eyelids have shrunk down to their normal size, in the matter of just a night! This is the best birthday present yet! I want to hug my frostbite savior and I dance a little jig in the bathroom to show my appreciation. Smiling broadly upon a new day, I bustle about getting prepared for breakfast. Then I make the unfortunate discovery that I have nowhere to dispose of my biohazardous waste. I check for a wastebin in the bathroom. Nothing. A wastebin in the bedroom? Nothing. A trash barrel in the hall? Still nothing.

I glance nervously at Lace's gently snoring face, not sure how she'll handle the disgust of said bloodied pillowcase. What would Jesus do? I decide he would wash the pillowcase out in the bathroom sink, and leave it there, completely visible. It seems kinder than a surprise attack, like a pillowcase lurking in the shower, or tucked into a corner of the bed. I turn on the tap, but am too disgusted to commence with the chore of scrubbing out my infectious bodily fluids. Instead I try to hide the worst of it, by wadding it up tightly into a ball, washing my hands thoroughly, and whistling dixie as I skip up to the cafeteria to indulge in breakfast.

I glance at my watch, 9:01. Lace set her alarm for 9:00, and if I'm fast enough, I can make it to the room to warn her of the monstrousity residing in the bathroom sink. I take the stairs in two and am rounding the corner of the hallway leading back to our cabin. As if on cue, at 9:05, I hear a blood-curdling scream being issued from cabin 268.
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