“To travel is to take a journey into yourself.”
— Danny Kaye
Two rather monumental experiences happened to me recently. I suppose for most people having a protracted situation where your life is in danger of ceasing would be the more profound experience but honestly, for me it was the lesser of the two by a narrow margin. I grew up with the specter of death hanging over me, never expecting to live past 18 or necessarily to it, so when I say that having the first real vacation of my adult life at over 50 was a more profound experience, i mean it.
The standard of living in America today is actually lower than many European countries where they have economies that are at least as free as ours, free medical care, a minimum of 1 month paid vacation per year, and lower unemployment, yet we ethnocentrically view ourselves as having the greatest economy and best system.
While both the Republicans and Democrats are busy whittling away at both our constitutional rights and our paychecks, the average American is disgusted with both parties, even if they claim one, and know full well that the politicians are just out to line their own pockets, but when it comes right down to it, the politicians and what they are doing will never be as important to us as our own friends and family and our ability to make a living.
Recently, I had a close brush with death. Let me assure you that anytime you can’t breathe for more than a couple of minutes, it really resets your priorities, vastly more than not eating for several days. As I grew up with asthma, I had this experience often growing up and so I’m not nearly as motivated by material possessions as most people. This was a little different, however. Despite having a severe allergy to crab, I have never really had a problem from it in the past. The one time I swallowed crab, I immediately projectile vomited and then was fine. Having recently gone to a restaurant that fries crab in the same fryer they fry everything else, I ordered beignets. The three hyper-intelligent people with me and the cute and seemingly rather bright waitress all forgot that beignets are fried. Not only am I reasonably intelligent, but I am a cook, and therefore have no excuse for the fact that not only did I not notice or think of this, but looked at the crispy fried exterior with concern over the oil content without making the connection.
As I was finishing the first beignet, one of the lovely ladies with me looked up and said, “Hey, that’s fried,” or something to that effect. Now, let me make this clear, we are talking a large oil fryer, that is at least hot enough to use for deep frying, and therefore at the very least is going to denature the majority of the associated protein somewhat and the amount of actual protein from this dilute source is at least theoretically microscopic, so I could not be certain I would have a reaction at all.
In less than a minute, I started feeling the effects of the allergic reaction. I took six 1000 mg bromelain tablets. Bromelain is the enzyme in pineapple that digests protein, and I tend to carry it all the time to deal with some of my less severe allergies. I went to the restroom and immediately washed my hands and rinsed my mouth and as I looked in the mirror before leaving the bathroom, I could see that my face was turning red and I had already become puffy. My face was tingling by the time I sat back down at the table.
At this point people questioned why I do not carry an epi pen. Well, first off as I’ve mentioned before I’ve never had a problem with crab before. Also, while I am allergic to bees and wasps, I generally just pour ammonia on it within two minutes, neutralizing both the sting and the allergic reaction. Unlike my cousin, who carries an epi pen, it would take at least two stings and several minutes to kill me. That may not seem like much to you, but it is a world of difference.
Now I can guarantee you that you do not think about what you’re thinking and feeling in a situation like this until later. At the time, much of my concern was taken up by the fact that my face and tongue were swelling, and as the restaurant was not well lit I was hoping that the change in the color of my face was not too noticeable. As my speech began to become more impaired, I ordered some white rice both to slow down the digestive process and to provide some calories for later when not eating was really going to hit me. I also ordered a shot of some kind of alcohol to increase stomach acid production. I did drink it but no, I don’t really know what it was. At this point my big concern was trying to keep my friends who were with me from getting too upset. I was very concerned about the two women I was with as well as the teenage boy who I was afraid might be scarred for life by watching me die. I must admit that I did not even think about the feelings of the poor waitress.
As I mentioned before I have faced death growing up on a daily basis. When you’re down to the wire, those things you really wanted to do with your life become not so important.
Unfortunately, despite the lighting in the restaurant, and the attempts to cover it, it was obvious to everyone that my face was turning purple and frankly it’s impossible to speak clearly as your tongue swells up.
The addition of an antihistamine got the situation thoroughly in check. My other experience though was roughly in the opposite direction. So I went on vacation. It wasn’t a vacation where I stayed home and packed or unpacked in relation to a move or cleaned house, or tried to catch up on my writing, or any of those sorts of things. The honest truth is that I haven’t been on any kind of vacation in many years. Now let me be clear about this, I was taken on vacation by a good friend who won a Bahamas trip. Sure I’ve done a number of things for them in the past but they didn’t have to take me, they could have taken someone else and I would have thought nothing of it, instead, for one of the few times in my life, I was treated as if I were appreciated. That in and of itself was more disorienting by far than the less unusual experience of having my tongue swell while I tried to remember where the closest hospital was.
I have not been truly relaxed in so long, that I had forgotten what it was like. While not breathing makes you realize the necessity and value of air, food, water, and shelter over pretty much everything else, going on a vacation to the Bahamas gave me a slightly different insight.
Now, the Bahamas are a commonwealth, which is a type of democracy, which still at least talks about ideals. They have virtually no unemployment, no welfare, a free market system, no ludicrous sense of entitlement, and much cheaper medical treatment. Their insurance covers not only their own medical system, but will also pay for medical care in America, but then they are only 60 miles away, so what do you expect. Oh wait, I believe my medical insurance won’t pay for treatment in the Bahamas.
I could go on at some length about their depressed economic situation because of having been hit by two hurricanes, or a number of other subjects, but that’s really not what we’re here for. So, you hit the beach in the Bahamas and the warm soft damp wind rolls over you like a blanket and you realize it’s an unusual form of parasite as it feeds on your stress, draining it all away. Even the stupid drunk American tourists who would be trailer trash if it weren’t for having friends who like the same football team as them who helped them get good high paying jobs can’t bother you. Yes, some of the tourists are nice, and some are even reasonably bright, but it is very easy to see why Americans have such a bad reputation overseas. Unfortunately, due to years of America being run by short-sighted individuals whose only ideal is greed, the inevitable result that our money is not better than anyone else’s anymore has come home to roost. If things were being run properly, the rest of the world would be better off, and middle class Americans would be living like aristocrats of the 1920s, the rich would of course continue to make that look like poverty. Sorry about the rant, and now back to our regularly scheduled program.
After eating out well and not concerning myself with the price, and shopping at stores with slightly better prices due to a lack of taxes, having a few drinks and actually relaxing on the beach, and going on a tour that included the houses of the island rich, I found myself with a newfound appreciation of creature comforts. One of the biggest limitations to making money in modern America that I have encountered is that I possess an unfortunate lack of moral flexibility. When you add to that the fact that I am handicapped and have never received any kind of assistance, from governments, churches, or honestly anywhere else, and that my “friends” have mostly been highly devoted to the idea of seeing how much they can rip me off for, the cards have been stacked against me somewhat. Honestly, I have never been that interested or concerned with money other than an abstract feeling that it would be nice to have some, especially that it would help me to help others, but now I have acquired an appreciation for creature comforts, especially if I am going to achieve old age before death.
Of course, it was right after this realization on the day we got back that I ate the beignet. Perspective is a fascinating thing. For the first time in my life, I do not view wanting comfort for myself and a little money as being in any way contradictory to appreciating the importance of basic survival and caring about others.
Copyright © 2013 Julian Thomas Reid III