As the calendar creeps through March I try to prepare myself for the inevitable onset of Cabin Fever.
Here in Ohio, the snowdrops poke out of the ground, and the willow branches take on their amber hue. But that’s about it for tried and true harbingers of spring.
Back home in Tennessee, daffodils are already up and running. Of course, they’re not called daffodils there. We Southerners prefer to call them “buttercups.” Never mind there is a waxy little yellow wildflower properly called buttercups. We are set in our ways about lots of things and referring to daffodils as buttercups is one about which we are devout.
Considering my long sojourn here in the “Nawth,” it seems I would be more accepting of its weather patterns. But it has never been so. March should take seriously the vernal equinox instead of continuing to languish in the winter doldrums. I can remember the first winter I spent in Upstate New York. It just kept on snowing. The “survivors,” as the natives liked to call themselves, had already warned me about the snow starting in November or earlier and continuing for an indefinite time. I was then prepared for a thick blanket of snow from Thanksgiving through February, but March and part of April came and went and it was still snowing.
I very nearly lost my mind. Some say I did lose it. Some say it’s still lost. It’s just that it seems somehow immoral that winter clings on so long. I have to admit it makes me a little crazy. Not as crazy as my family thinks I’m crazy, but enough to make me occasionally wonder why I do what I do. I mean, sometimes I surprise myself.
During one especially worrisome episode of Cabin Fever a while back, I decided to build a solarium on the back of the house and move the kitchen into it; I ordered books on glass painting, commodity trading, polymer clay, and Zen; I made a commitment to learn “Pancho & Lefty” on the guitar, mainly because I only recently discovered its composer, Townes Van Zandt; I bought a 12-piece setting of gold-plated silverware in a faux mahogany box; and I toured the craggy hills of Central Ohio looking for a place to build a log cabin.
I resolved to exercise and train for the U.S. Open Senior Tennis championship. Martina was thereby served notice. It is I who would be kissing the trophy while she must be contented to hold the runner-up’s silver platter.
My daughter wanted to know if I had bought a book on “How to Perform Your Own Tummy Tuck with Hedge Clippers and Super Glue.” Well, perhaps an instrument less cumbersome than hedge clippers but. . .
It was during one of the Cabin Fever episodes that I went to Nashville to visit Best Friend Robert. We went out to see our buddies, Don and Jimmy, in the country. The boys raise those cute little Shih Tzu dogs. I had decided I wanted a dog. Mind you, I don’t even like dogs, but I had to have one.
As we watched the puppies romp and play in Jimmy’s and Don’s living room, I once again surprised myself when I withdrew my checkbook and wrote a check for $500. I bought two! I named them Shotzi and Maxi.
Daughter and family were shocked, but not nearly as much as I was. When this mood strikes me, it’s as though I step out of my body and fly around near the ceiling watching myself do the most outrageous things. As soon as I had the puppies in the house, there I was up there again watching in wonder.
“What the. . .she’s really done it this time,” I said to me. I always refer to myself in the third person when in shock mode, and sometimes I pretend I don’t know me at all.
The cute little dogs got right to work making me even crazier. They chewed, ripped, and tore up everything they could reach. They pooped on every floor in every room. They barked at me by dawn’s early light every morning. They wanted to go out, though God knows why; they always waited to come back in the house to do their business.
The crazy woman had made a big mistake.
The day I came home and found they had unraveled a two-inch strip of my brand new Berber carpet pushed me over the edge. As I stood looking at the ruined carpet I realized I liked the carpet more than I liked the little dogs. When I found in the bedroom my Italian leather boots in shreds, that did it. I gave the cute little dogs away.
John’s friend, Larry, said after the first forsythia blooms, there would be only three more snows. He had seen its yellow blossoms that very day. At this point, March 29, there have been two snows since Larry spied a blooming forsythia. Neither snow amounted to much. The first was about an inch and the second barely covered the hopeful green grass.
I will leave my snow boots at the bottom of the steps just inside the front door, where they have been since Thanksgiving.
After the next (third) snow, I will take the boots upstairs and put them in the back of the closet. Should there be another (No. 4) snow, I will go upstairs to retrieve the boots. I will put them on and wear them to Larry’s house. When I see Larry, I will take off one of the boots and use it to beat him severely about the head and shoulders until he begs for mercy.
Should Larry think I am kidding, I can direct him to several erstwhile friends who can attest to my sincerity when speaking about the duress under which I place people who play fast and loose with snow prognostications.
One must be careful about weather predictions. Don’t go looking up at the sky and saying it looks like it may be clearing. Don’t, under any circumstances, put away the snow shovel. Don’t even think winter has done its worst.
Oh, yes, there is one other thing. If you see my neighbor, Richard, bring out his golf clubs, rush to the IGA and buy every loaf of bread and bottle of milk you can find. Run home and batten down the hatches. Believe me when I tell you: we’re in for a real nor’easter!
As it is for most people, the time comes when one has to make a living all by one’s self. Mine came when I was first a grass widow. That’s a very old-fashioned term meaning a divorcee. I did so for the most part “working for the man,” as it was called back in the day. When First Husband took off to build his love nest in another tree, my only skill was typing. Given a typing test as part of the application, I almost always secured the job by typing so fast my fingers were a blur. My average speed was 100 words per minute, no errors. Needless to say the job for which I was applying was mine for the asking. The problem was the job never paid a living wage and First Husband only paid child support when it suited him to do so. It never occurred to me he would not pay the amount we agreed upon: $150/month).
When my lawyer suggested I set the agreement up so that the child support would be paid to me through the court, I refused. First Husband adored his sweet little girls, and he was gainfully employed, as was his new wife. I did not wish to insult him by forcing him to pay support through the courts. Ha! What an idiot I was. The ink wasn’t dry on the divorce decree before he just couldn’t make it this month, and he would get caught up next month, and on and on. The answer was obvious: I had to get married again. And thereby hangs a tale for another telling.
The most money I made was working in my own business: court reporting. It was also the most fun I had while making a living at the time. John and I had married, and we moved back to his hometown, Watertown, New York. I had become interested in court reporting after typing transcripts for the Grand Jury reporter in Nashville. After researching court reporting I found, to my surprise, there was no license needed. There was no skill required except an ability to quickly take down every word uttered and then transcribe the testimony neatly and efficiently. Most reporters who worked in actual trial cases used a transcription machine, which took at least three years to learn in a special school. There was only one requirement to become a court reporter: one had to be a Notary Public. The testimony was not acceptable unless the witness had been sworn in by a genuine Notary Public. The testimony had to be signed and stamped by the N.P., before it was legal. That’s all it took to become a court reporter. Easy Peasy.
Among my possessions was a tape recorder operated by a foot pedal or a button on top of the machine. I also had two high-quality microphones on stands that my electronic genius buddy hooked up to my fancy recorder. To be on the safe side I had a plain-Jane tape recorder to use as a back-up. I could also write faster than the speed of light using my own bastardized version of shorthand. I applied for a Notary Public stamp, which soon arrived in the mail, and I was in business.
No one had ever seen all this paraphernalia spread out in a courtroom. I therefore opted to make myself available only for private depositions. It had never been seen in those proceedings either, but I felt it would be easier to pull off among less legal surroundings. I did trial runs casting friends and family as attorneys and defendants and plaintiffs. My only stumbling block was reading back testimony, as was often required. Most of the time, I could do it from my short hand, but sometimes if it were long, I had to run the tape back and hope I guessed correctly where it was. Most of the time I hit it with no problem.
There were still a couple things I absolutely had to have to be able to pull it off. I had used them before, and found them to be reliable and in good working order, but I had never called on them to see me through anything as bodacious as this. I don’t know how to put it delicately, so I will only tell you it takes a pair of them, if you get my meaning.
I had done some legal typing for a court reporter in Watertown, New York. She mentioned to me she had so much actual trial work she was swamped. I had typed some testimony for the grand jury stenographer in Nashville. I told her I felt confident I could handle some easy court reporting. I didn’t tell her how I planned to go about it, but I don’t think it would have mattered. She was eager to unload it.
In a few days, she called me and asked if I could go down to the jail and take testimony on a parole violation hearing. Sure. No Problem. I would be glad to help her out.
On the appointed day, I found my way to the jail and told the policeman on duty I was there to take testimony for a parole hearing. I was a half hour early, but I was hoping I would have time to scope out the landscape and set up my equipment well ahead of schedule. The cop led me down a hallway and unlocked a door for me. I went in and he locked the door behind me. There was a long table at one end of the room. At the other end was a closed metal door with a barred window in the top. On the other side of the door there were sounds the like of which I had never heard. I’m no babe in the woods, mind you, but I heard some phrases the definition of which was and still is a mystery to me.
I set up my equipment and before long a man came in. On his hip was a holster and a large pistol.
“Damn, I forgot,” he said, as he smiled at me. “Take this for me,” he said to the cop who had let him in, as he drew the gun and handed it to him. “I’m not supposed to be armed for the hearings,” he said to me, apologetically. He introduced himself to me and asked where the usual court reporter was. I told him I was standing in for her. I said she was not feeling well. I didn’t see any reason to tell him she was eager to unload this particular job, because her actual court work paid more money, and she didn’t want to give any more of it up in order to run down to the jail to preside over parole hearings.
He insisted I call him by his first name, which was fine with me. We talked a bit, and he asked about all the microphones. I told him about my system, and asked about where everyone was to be seated. I wanted to place my microphones to best pick up the various voices. He gave me the information I sought, and said he had never seen a system such as mine, but it looked okay to him.
So far so good.
In a few minutes, another man came into the room. He was very tall, quite distinguished, and impeccably dressed. Tom, the parole officer, introduced me and told Mr. Tolino, who turned out to be a representative of the New York State Board of Parole in Albany about my recording system. It was okay with Mr. Tolino as well. Great!
“Well, let’s get started,” said Mr. Tolino. “Let’s have the first parolee.” Tom went to the door through which all the noise had been heard and yelled a name. In a few minutes, a young man came in accompanied by an older guy whom I knew to be a Watertown attorney.
I swore in Tom, the parolee, and the attorney. It seemed the young man had violated his parolee by fighting in a bar after drinking copious amounts of vodka. Tom told the story, and the attorney asked for leniency, given the fact that it was the youngster’s first parole violation. Mr. Tolino asked the parolee if the story Tom told was true, and the young man said yes, but he didn’t start the fight, and this other guy pissed him off, and…”
Mr. Tolino interrupted him. “I asked you if what your parole officer said is true.”
“Yes, sir, but…” he started.
“Thank you,” said Mr. Tolino. I will present the evidence in the form of this young lady’s transcript (with a nod toward me – making him my hero forever and ever) to the parole board, and you will receive their decision by mail. Next, please.”
The scene was repeated almost word-for-word with the next parolee, who had been involved in a drunken brawl, but he didn’t start it, and so on.
This time when Mr. Tolino said, “Next, please,” Tom told him that was it. There were no more parole violators.
“Do you mean I drove all the way up here from Albany for only two cases,” asked Mr. Tolino, incredulously.
“Well, yes,” said Tom. I thought there would be more by now, but if I had delayed these two hearings, those guys could have walked. The deadline for their hearings was this week.”
Mr. Tolino packed up his belongings and left, with the long trek back to Albany ahead of him. Tom explained to me that when a parolee is arrested for violating the terms of his parole, his hearing before a rep from the board has to take place within six weeks. If it happen in that time period, the parolee must be released. As I came to know Tom better in the four years I took testimony for the Board of Parole, I found he preferred to have his parolees in jail or better yet, prison. They were a lot less trouble to him. If he caught one of his guys so much as spitting on the sidewalk, out came the cuff links, and Tom fetched the nearest cop to accompany the miscreant to jail.
I had one or two interesting cases, but they were mostly arrested for drunk and disorderly, neither one of which was the guy’s fault, of course. I remember on one occasion after we had heard four or five of the same tired old stories, Mr. Tolino said, “I swear if one of them walked in here and said, ‘Yes, I did it myself with no help or instigation from anybody. It was all my fault,’ I’d let him go right then and there.” But no one ever said anything even close to it. It was never their fault.
Ant that’s how I became the official stenographer for the New York State Board of Parole. John always got such a kick when my check came in the mail. He loved it when one of the neighbors was nearby. He’d take the envelope plainly marked with our address and the Parole Board’s return address out of the mailbox and say, “Oh, oh, Millie has another letter from her parole board. I hope they’re not going to send her back to jail.”
There were big yuks all around. Everybody in town knew what I was doing, but they laughed anyway. It was a very small town.
I suppose if you’ve stuck with me this long, I should give you a story. The story I shall tell you has another part, which I’ll leave for another time, or maybe it will just be in the book.
After I had worked for the Parole Board for about a year, Tom called and asked if I might be available for a certain date. I was, and as I wrote it down on my calendar, he said, “This one is not your garden variety parole violation. The guy is nuts, and has violated his parole three times before. He’s violent, and, as you know, we’re not allowed to have a guard or a weapon in the hearing room.” I noticed an evil chuckle in Tom’s voice. “You’re likely to have an experience you won’t forget.”
“All right, Tom, if you’re trying to scare me, it’s not working,” I told him, with a chuckle of my own.”
“Fine,” he answered. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” and he rang off.
On the appointed day, I arrived at the jail, just as Tom was disarming himself. As I spoke to the cop on duty at the dispatcher’s desk, I saw Tom take out his gun and put it in a locker.
“You sure you won’t need that this time?” asked the dispatcher with a laugh. Tom turned to respond and saw me.
“Hey, don’t scare Millie like that,” he said, still chuckling. “Let her draw her own conclusions.” I hadn’t the slightest notion what they were talking about.
The dispatcher took me to the hearing room as usual and unlocked the door. I thanked him and entered the room. There, much to my surprise, was a state trooper with the biggest German Shepherd dog I ever saw. Now, I don’t like everybody to know this, but I’m scared of big dogs. It goes back to my childhood and is explained fully elsewhere in the book. Mr. Tolino was also already there and we were soon joined by an unarmed Tom and yet another policeman.
Tom explained to the hearing officer that the parolee we were to hear today was Greg Compland. He went on to say the guy was a wild man. The prison psychiatrist diagnosed him as a paranoid schizophrenic. He was violent and spent long hours misreading the law books in the prison library. Always serving as his own attorney, he had violated his parole numerous times and after each violation hearing he sued most everyone present. Compland had already told Tom if things didn’t go well for him, he was going to sue everyone this time, including the dog.
I didn’t know what to expect, but when he was finally led in I realized the dog was a mere pussycat next to this guy. He was huge. Not fat huge but tall, powerful huge. His eyes were wild, and he was gritting his teeth. In the past, the parole violators simply entered the room from the cellblock door and sat down at the table. Compland, however, was handcuffed and escorted by a guard. The guard uncuffed him and Compland sat down at the conference table. Because the rules stated that no guard could remain in the hearing room, this one went back into the cellblock. Tom walked back to the door with him and I heard him whisper, “Stay close.”
“Before we get started,” Compland said suddenly, “I want a copy of this transcript.” He glared at me.
“Well, I don’t know,” I mumbled. “The parole board pays for one transcript.”
His fist crashed down on the table. “And they’ll pay for mine, too,” he yelled at me. The hearing officer held up a calming hand. “We’ll pay for your copy, Mr. Compland, and it will be delivered to you at the jail.” And then turning to me, “Bill us for two transcripts, Mrs. Entrekin, and deliver Mr. Compland’s copy to him at the jail.”
“Yes, sir,” I said, thinking to myself if Compland waited for the transcript to be delivered personally to his cell, he’d better learn a little patience. I’d take it as far as the dispatcher, but that was it.
Mr. Tolino, the hearing officer told Compland he was entitled to an attorney, and if he could not afford. . .
“I’m my own attorney,” Compland thundered.
“Fine,” said Mr. Tolino. How do you plead?
“Not guilty,” the furious Mr. Compland answered.
“Proceed,” said Mr. Tolino.
“I call to the stand this K-9 officer here and his dog,” said Compland.
“We really can’t put the dog on the stand, Mr. Compland,” said the hearing officer.
“It’s necessary for my defense,” said Compland, glaring at all of us around the table.
“Very well,” was the answer, “but I’m sure you know I can’t swear it in.”
Tom muffled a giggle and I kept my eyes glued to my notebook, writing frantically as I did so. As soon as the K-9 officer was sworn in, Compland suddenly stood up and leapt at him. The dog sprang into action and threw a flying wedge between his master and Compland.
It took awhile to settle things down again. The dog responded immediately to an order from Norton (the K-9 officer) to cease and desist. The rest of us were considerably more ruffled.
“I rest my case,” said Compland, smugly. And then to Tom, “your witness.”
“Uh, what just happened here?” asked Tom to no one in particular.
“The dog is trained to defend me if I am threatened,” said Norton in an official-sounding voice. “It requires no voice command from me. All K-9 dogs are schooled in this manner.”
“Aha!” shouted Compland. “See, he admits it. That’s what he did that night!”
“What did he do that night”? asked Mr. Tolino. “I don’t think I understand.”
“Well, take a look at this, and then you’ll understand,” said Compland, taking from his lap a scuffed and beat-up leather jacket he had brought into the room with him. One sleeve was ripped at the elbow. And then to me, “This is Defendant’s Exhibit A.”
I dutifully took a sticker from my notebook, marked it “Exhibit A,” and handed it to Mr. Tolino. The court reporter is supposed to personally mark the exhibits, but I was reluctant to get close enough to Compland to stick anything on his precious jacket.
“That (expletive deleted) dog tore my new jacket,” continued the wild man, “because he thought I was going to attack this guy.” He indicated Norton.
“If I could explain, sir,” said Tom. “Mr Compland caused a disturbance outside a bar in Watertown. The bartender called the police. Two officers tried to subdue Mr. Compland. They called for backup and two more officers arrived on the scene. They were unable to reason with the parolee. The K-9 officer was on routine patrol. He saw the disturbance and stopped. The other policemen had succeeded in wrestling Mr. Compland to the ground.
“When he saw the dog and the K-9 officer, he freed himself from the officers’ grasp and went for Officer Norton. The dog intervened.”
“Do you have other witnesses?” Mr. Tolino asked Tom.
“Yes, sir,” said Tom. “Shall I bring them in?”
“Yes, one at a time, pl. . .”
“Oh, sure, you’re going to gang up on me with all these lies,” said Compland, jumping from his seat at the table. “Maybe you don’t know it, but I’m a paranoid schizophrenic, and there’s no telling what I’ll do!” He clenched one fist and grabbed Tom by his shirt front with the other hand. The dog pricked up his ears, but since it wasn’t Norton who was being menaced, he didn’t seem to care.
“Sit down, Mr. Compland,” ordered the hearing officer. In the meantime Tom reached for his gun and then remembered he took it off before he entered the hearing room. Compland continued to rant and rave and bounce off the walls.
I was frozen with fright. Suddenly, I heard myself asking quietly, “Is all this on the record?” Mr. Tolino looked at me with what I can only describe as a desperate expression.
“No, I don’t think so,” he whispered. I turned the machine off and put my hands in my lap.
“Oh, no, you don’t,” screamed Compland. “I want every single word of this in the transcript.” He was suddenly all over me, fumbling with the recorder trying to find the on/off switch. All reason having left me by this time, I tried to protect the recorder. It did, after all, cost me an arm and a leg. And now it seemed there was a clear and present danger I would lose an arm and/or a leg and the machine.
I leaned forward and covered it with my body. Compland continued to fight me. By now, everyone in the room was shouting and pulling at Compland. He was so strong he had no trouble fending them off. I was stiff as a board. If he managed to get the machine away from me, he would have to pick me up bodily and then pry it loose. I’ve never been so scared.
Over the melee, I heard Mr. Tolino shout, “The dog!” I guess Officer Norton gave the dog a command, but I didn’t hear it. The next thing I knew, Compland was on the floor and the dog was on top of him. Tom ran to the cellblock door and yelled for the guards. A dozen or so of them came and carried Compland, kicking and screaming, back into the jail.
It was over. We all sat and stared at each other for a long time. Mr. Tolino asked me if I was hurt and did I want to see the doctor. I told him I was ok. He then said to me, “Let’s go back on the record.” I turned on the machine and the hearing officer said a few well-chosen words about Mr. Compland indeed being guilty of violating his parole by his actions in the hearing room, and he would be sent back to prison forthwith. I was shaking so badly, one of the guards helped me gather up my equipment, and he carried it to my car. I assured him I was recovered enough to drive myself home, although I didn’t believe a word of it.
About a year later, Tom called and asked if I were available to serve as stenographer for a parole violation.
“Sure,” I said and began to write “parole hearing” in my daybook. “It’s an old friend of yours,” said Tom, with a wicked laugh. “His name is Greg Compland.”
“Oh, no, what must I be thinking,” I said, erasing the words from my book, “Here’s an entry I overlooked. I have a deposition that day. Rats!”
“Too bad,” said Tom. “I guess we’ll have to get somebody else.”
“Looks that way,” I said. “Sorry.”
By the way, Greg Compland is not this guy’s real name, and you can quote me. The next time I was at the jail taking testimony, Tom told me that I had missed a high ol’ time in the hearing room. Compland was even more violent and threatening. After that hearing, which also included the same K-9 unit, Compland sued the hearing officer, Tom, the county jail, the New York Board of Parole, and, best of all, Norton as the K-9 Officer and–wait for it–the DOG!
When I worked at the newspapers, my favorite journalistic thing to do was research, It still is. I think some of my best work is the result of plowing through reams of old magazines and microfilm to scribble notes, which later were compiled by way of midnight torture into a WORD document that was then rewritten at least a dozen times. I was never satisfied with it, but as I heard in an episode of Mr. Selfridge, “Nothing sharpens a journalist’s pencil or her wit like a deadline.” There were many occasions when an editor ripped my story from the printer and sent it to be pasted up, as I begged her to let me give it one last look. Ah, the bad ol’ days. I don’t miss them. The Internet is God’s gift to a features writer. I wrote the following little story at least 25 years ago. It did require research, but not hours and hours of wrenching hard work. In fact, if I remember correctly, I enjoyed doing it. I know I loved writing it. Hope you like it as well.
The banks and the post office won’t close for it, and most of us will have to trudge into work just like any other day, but never mind; this week gives us one of our favorite holidays. We’ll wear a bit o’ green on March 17 and celebrate, because we’re all Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.
How we celebrate is strictly a personal matter, and will most likely have nothing to do with the patron saint of Ireland. The kindly and simple bishop who brought Christianity to that country would probably be amazed at our raucous remembrance of him on his day.
On the other hand, maybe he wouldn’t mind all our hoopla so much, for if ever there lived a saint to have his day shrouded in a jumble of myths, all firmly rooted in thin air, St. Patrick was the one.
For example, remember those snakes that he was supposed to have chased from the Irish countryside into the sea? Sorry. It just didn’t happen. Zoologists determined a long time ago there were no snakes in Ireland at the time St. Pat trod the shamrocks.
In fact, it may come as a surprise to learn that he wasn’t even Irish.
Patrick was actually British, or more accurately Roman, since Great Britain was part of the Roman Empire when he was born in 389 AD to Christian parents. When he was 16 years old, he was kidnapped by pirates and taken to Ireland, then a wild pagan country, where he was sold into slavery. He escaped after six years and vowed never to return to Ireland.
But the future saint shouldn’t have been so sure. In a dream, an angel came to him and handed him a bundle of letters marked “from the Irish.” This most unlikely legend is probably true, for it is sketchily documented in “Confessions,” one of his two writings still surviving.
The letters begged him to come back to Ireland and to bring Christianity with him. Patrick decided to answer the call. His life constantly in danger, he traveled over the island preaching, and transformed the heathen land into a Roman Catholic country.
The most prevalent legend about St. Patrick’s ministry may or may not be true, but it makes a charming story. One day he was preaching to a great crowd assembled in a field. His listeners were having difficulty understanding the Trinity. In a flash of inspiration, Patrick bent over and plucked a trefoil shamrock.
“Do you not see,” he asked the people, “how in this wildflower three leaves are united on one stalk, and will you not then believe that there are indeed three persons and yet one God?” Bingo! The assembly made the connection and the shamrock became the symbol of the Trinity as well as the national emblem of Ireland.
St. Patrick lived to the ripe old age of 72, a rare feat in those days. His death occurred suddenly on a day in early spring when the shamrocks had just barely greened the hillsides. Shocked, the people of Ireland went into a long period of mourning. When it was over, no one could remember whether the good man died on March 8 or March 9. Perplexed, they added the two numbers together and came up with March 17, probably another myth. When St. Patrick was canonized, the made-up day of his death became his feast day.
So, celebrate however you choose. If you’re thinking a night on the town might set your Irish eyes to smiling, many local watering holes turn into Irish pubs for a day. One of them might just be your cup of tea or, more likely, your stein of green beer.
If a boisterous night out doesn’t appeal to you, rent a video of “The Quiet Man,” stir up a rich Irish coffee, wrap yourself in a green afghan, and be an Irish couch potato for the evening.
St. Patrick stood up for his beliefs, and he won’t mind if you sit down for yours.
At the very tip of the Yucatan peninsula is a beautiful hotel built along the lines of a Mayan structure. Its architecture is an homage to the people who lived in the area a thousand years ago. It is Dreams Cancun, and because of its location at the “end” of Mexico in the southwestern direction, it is surrounded by the turquoise Caribbean Sea. The sun has bleached the sand to a white powder. Everything is perfect on many levels. Honeymooners and retirees love it. But families, even those with small children, seem to have as much fun as anyone.
I was invited along with travel writers from around the world to attend the launch of Dreams Cancun’s “Delphinus” program. It was a chance to swim with the dolphins, and I happily accepted the invitation.
The month was June, and no doubt about it, Cancun is hot, hot, hot in the summertime. By the time I was shown to my room it was after lunchtime, and I had spent the last six hours either in one of three airports or waiting on the curb for the hotel van to pick me up. I was dripping with sweat. It was too much to civilize it by calling it perspiration. I realized I was also hungry. I was impressed with the Mayan-sculpted hotel, and had I not been so uncomfortable I would have dropped my belongings in my room and set out to explore the premises and find a restaurant. I was, however, reluctant to venture back out into the heat. My room was wonderfully icy, and the decision had to be made between cool and hungry or hot and well-fed.
The dilemma was solved by a soft knock on my door. It was a lady with a big bowl of fruit and a bottle of ice-cold champagne, along with a welcome note from the hotel management. I thanked her as she uncorked the champagne and set up table service for me. It was, in that instant, “comfort food.”
I wandered out to the balcony overlooking the dolphin pool to enjoy the champagne. The dolphins were at play, jumping in and out of the water as the trainers put them through their paces. The incessant heat washed over me again, and I realized I could see the dolphins almost as clearly from the comfort on the cool side of the glass doors to my room. The fruit was ripe and juicy and perfect as I washed it down with the champagne.
That evening, the writers gathered in a rooftop party room for introductions and more food. Martinis were the elixir of choice along with trays of hors d’oeuvres passed around by white-coated servers. I’m not a fan of martinis, but the server suggested I might like the chocolate version of a vodka martini. He seemed most unhappy to leave me as the only person in the room without a drink in her hand, so I accepted the mud-colored martini.
As I took a sip I noticed a Hershey’s kiss in the bottom of the glass. When no one was looking, I inched my way to the far edge of the crowd and turned my back. I quickly scooped the kiss out with one finger. It was the work of no more than two seconds to melt the kiss in my mouth, lick my finger and pour most of the drink into a potted palm. It’s a trick I learned years ago. One must be careful to keep some of the liquid in the glass when transferring the drink to a potted plant, thereby forestalling the waiter from offering another drink. It is sometimes difficult to retain one’s dignity during the maneuver; therefore, it must not be attempted without a high degree of confidence that comes with years of practice.
When all the writers were sufficiently inebriated, we were ushered into a delightful restaurant, where we enjoyed a steak dinner. I’m also not a steak fan, but I did not want to push my luck. I opted to eat whatever was set before me. We had a great and good time as we got to know one another. My dinner companion was a writer from Sports Illustrated. Trying to strike up a sports-oriented conversation, I told him I was devoted to world-class tennis, and I asked him his opinion of Andy Murray. He treated me to a blank stare and told me he didn’t know the name. After searching my memory bank for a topic in another sport, and coming up with nothing, I decided I would leave the conversation choice up to him. He didn’t seem the least bit undone by his failure at dinner table chit-chat, and I decided I shouldn’t let it bother me either. We spent the rest of the meal chewing our steaks.
After a sumptuous dessert (also chocolate-laced) we were off to the hotel’s nightclub to watch a dazzling performance by a Cuban band. Cuban music is very popular in all of Mexico. With the colored lights and salsa music, it was a fine way to top off the evening.
But the biggest thrill of all came the next morning. After a fantastic breakfast in a tent specially set up for the occasion, we heard some welcoming words and were instructed as to when it would be our time to swim with the dolphins.
Later, in a special room, we were divided into groups and given life jackets. We were shown a movie about dolphins, and an instructor told us what was considered proper visitor etiquette when we entered the dolphins’ domain.
He told us that under no circumstances were we to hold onto the dolphins’ dorsal fins. We were to stroke them as much as we liked, because they enjoyed it. He asked if any of us were pregnant or any of us were in a bad mood. No one owned up to either condition. He spoke of the dolphins’ acute sensitivity. They could tell if anyone was pregnant, mean-spirited or worse, both. The animals avoided anyone in either condition. He told us a story about the hotel’s employees being pressed into service as guests when the dolphins first came to the hotel. No one admitted to being pregnant. When they entered the pool, the dolphins avoided one girl, and she was very disappointed. That evening, she took a pregnancy test and surprise, surprise, she was indeed pregnant. The dolphins knew it before she did.
As soon as we entered the Dolphinus pool, two very friendly dolphins greeted us. We had been told they loved to be stroked. The dolphins weaved around the seven of us as we ran our hands over their sleek backs. We enjoyed it as much as they seemed to like it.
The instructor told us to line up at one end of the pool and to shout a word (which I no longer remember). The dolphins were nowhere to be seen. As we yelled the word, the dolphins shot from the water behind us and soared over our heads to dive into the water once again. All I can say is it was thrilling.
We were in the water for about an hour as the trainer put both the dolphins and their visitors through exercises designed to delight all of us. The animals danced for us, waved to us, kissed us, and gave us a ride across the water as they pushed the bottoms of our feet with their snouts. It was an experience I will never forget, and one I highly recommend. There is a special children’s program that is a never-to-be-forgotten experience for kids 3 to 12 years old.
The hotel grounds and various buildings are beautiful, and it is all-inclusive. Eat, drink, play all you want for one price. My press trip included two nights at Dreams Cancun and two at Dreams Tulum if I wished. I could have spent four nights at Dreams Cancun. Because I am interested in the Maya culture and its history, I spent two nights at Dreams Tulum. It is a brand new property, and it is so beautiful. The hotel van took me down the road to Tulum and the next day, I went to the ruins left behind by the Maya.
It was this trip that gave me my fascination with Things Mayan. I have now read and studied the Maya with great interest. Many of their descendants live within a few miles of the temple ruins. The people who lived there in the early so long ago were sophisticated beyond their historic times. Their calendar is said to be more accurate than the Gregorian calendar. They were expert astronomers. The guide showed us the tiny holes in temple walls where on particular nights, the moon sends a single beam through the opening to illuminate a religious icon on the opposite wall.
I’ve been to Tulum several times. The last time I was there was in 2011. Previous to that time the temple ruins were closed at dark. They are now open until 11 p.m., and lit by colored lights. A guide is provided with each group.
It is quite a sight. As I said to my readers when I was a travel writer, of all the wonderful places I have been, Mexico is the best. And best of the best is the Yucatan, where the presence of the ancient Maya is still felt, and seems as real as their descendants who cherish their culture and willingly share it with interested visitors.