My Mexican Mementos: An Abandonment of Trinketry

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The mother of all baubles: it took three men to install this 500 lb Buddha head in an area that is now almost completely obscured by shrubbery.

Long ago I largely abandoned trinketry; both in small forms of personal adornment and as referential vacation memorials.  One day, one year, quite a while back I realized that the coarsely hewn onyx chess set in the basement behind my late father’s ashes and old paint brushes would not be finding its way to my vision of some future stately game room, where I’d plan to retire with friends after dinner for light conversation and gamesmanship. No, this naturally beautiful and uniquely patterned collection of Yucatanian gemstones had sat around upstairs, ignored and gathering dust for years, until some sudden and indifferent relegation to the family crypt.

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These little naïve and funny faces are always a hit at parties.

Proudly acquired during my conquest of Cancun in the early 1990s, I had brought these rare rocks all the way home in American Airlines’ steerage: While Armstrong’s were on prominent display at the Smithsonian, I thought mine would enthrall guests in the living room, conspicuously arranged next to the rabbit-shaped lamp my wife got on sale at Bloomingdales. Nevertheless, my Mexican memento did not appear to fully underpin the windswept and interesting features of my character as I had planned. Nor did my Japanese sumi bamboo brushes, my matching his-and-her German beer steins, or my assorted collection of African wild olivewood bowls.

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Old, wise, and craggy: This weathered kisser has held the same expression since the last century.

And it was not that long ago, that my family and I would literally mail stuff home in boxes from extended global forays. Cambodian candles and copper and comedic Chinese robes destined straight for the basement, only to be opened when the Salvation Army came calling for clothing and haberdashery donations (alas, no computer monitors). It is indeed yet another first world curse: Delivery to temptation by our very own Delilah and Bathsheba.

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Who can resist some full-size copper canines scattered around the back garden?

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Masculine masking: Gods of on-line shopping.

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In the Eyes of the Law

Until quite recently, the general public had forgotten all about Nathanael Greene’s uniquely noteworthy contributions to American society.  They no longer knew he was a close and trusted adviser to our nation’s first president and founding father, George Washington.  Nor did they know that Nathanael was a brilliant soldier who was instrumental in turning back the bloody British in several key battles throughout our southern states.  Over the past two and a half centuries, the triumphs and successes of Nathanael were sadly, but customarily, consigned to oblivion by multitudes.  That is, until last week, when the calamitous crime of trespassing was allegedly committed, according to authorities.

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Some capering criminal apparently climbed the thirteen-foot, two-ton statue of Nat straddling a steed, and, to comical effect, stuck on a pair of joke eyes.  While we proles laughed our heads off, the establishment collectively clucked and tutted at the visceral desecration of a national icon.

Being from Glasgow in Scotland, my initial thought was bewilderment. Here was an unfamiliar man who had died before our modern age, yet was memorialized with a full-sized bronze bronco on a giant granite plinth.  Such was the fate of generals back then: to receive some commanding, hoof-encoded horsey hallmark, prominently set in the middle of town.  Yet today, most of us don’t know who they are or why they’re there.

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Everyone in Glasgow knows the Duke of Wellington’s statue, and in fact, will often walk by to take a look. This is due, principally, to the incessant ongoing placement of a traffic cone atop the grand Duke’s dome.

Anonymity is not an issue for the Duke of Wellington, who famously defeated Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo in 1815, and went on to serve as Britain’s prime minister, twice. Nathanael Greene would be fortunate to have the Duke’s widespread recognition: He has been trying helplessly to make eye contact for centuries.

Russian Rubdown

Ever so subtly, while restrained under two hundred and fifty pounds of perspiring pressure, I slowly craned my neck to the right.  Trapped and pinned face-down I could barely see the circular white wall-clock with my peripheral vision.  “Shit” I whispered through clenched teeth, but it was more like “SSSSSShit,” such as you might find in a Kavanesque calendar.  The clock read ten past six, the same as last time, which must have been less than a minute earlier.  My big clammy captor was non-communicative and unrelenting as he applied increasing pressure at key points on my ensnared vertebrae. Starting at my trembling tailbone, he systematically and piercingly thumbed all the way up my squirming spinal cord to the back of my skull.  “Not my head,” I said in a perfunctory disapproving tone. “That is your spine,” he retorted, pushing even harder on my occipital with some seemingly oversized blunt finger.  “Okay, but not here,” as I motioned to my cranium with a waving right hand, thinking how absurd it was to be debating anatomy with my tormentor.  For the record, the definition of my head includes those areas with hair, just above the neck.

This one, for sure, was going to be tagged as a bad massage.  When I booked it at my little boutique hotel in downtown Kiev I had imagined a relaxing, rejuvenating, pre-dinner Swedish style rub, probably from some Ukrainian lovely.  But instead I got Jaws, who was evidently taking a break from the Bond franchise.  “Hey,” I said, using more antsy direct language, “do my legs, not my back.”  “Yes, I will do your legs when I’m finished with your back,” said the hulking henchman, and so it went for the rest of this particular eternity.  The clock, which was apparently close to the gravitational field of a Ukrainian black hole, had now advanced by two excruciating minutes, with another forty-eight to go.

My theory on the difference between a good massage and a bad one is that it is galactic in scale, where awful experiences are seared on graffitied walls in your hippocampus.  I remember each and every one of them: the lousy ones, that is.  The distinction is consequential: It’s not the same as some unsavory meal that you didn’t finish or a tedious movie where you leave mid-way or fall asleep.  You don’t limp home from The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle or get an incessant irritating rash from insipid Shrimp Scampi Linguine. For me, a good massage is the pre-Cobain definition of Nirvana: every muscle and tendon meticulously soothed while you lie there like a beached whale; and you forget all about the clock.

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Obliviously hopeful innocent souls in Seoul, Korea, moments before meeting the Elbow Sisters.  While my daughter and I just love a great massage, my lovely wife doesn’t care for them and my best friend Jay tells me he just had the one from a girlfriend back in the 1970s.