Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Ten Things To Do When Your Husband Runs Off To Central America

As one half of a married whole, I understand that sometimes the best thing you can do for your relationship is, once in a while, apply the separate but equal model to vacation time. Vail skiing, Pebble Beach golfing, or even those missionary trips to Las Vegas I’ve heard about like Operation Dollar Bill (All proceeds go to help those nice girls get through school.) are appealing choices. Why then, does my husband Graham approach me every couple of years holding the globe and pointing to Central America? Nicaragua! Honduras! Guatemala! I snatch the world from him and point to the same cozy coastline I always point to, “How about Belize?” I give it my best shot, “You can lie on the beach. You can play cricket! Wouldn’t you love to say, ‘That’s a bit of a sticky wicket’ and finally understand what it means? Belize used to belong to the Queen you know. Nice, safe, touristy Belize, that’s where you should go, yes?” No. This year it’s Guatemala.

Since the temptation of decadence didn't work I try scare tactics. “Aren’t you afraid of the band…the band…bando…help me out here.”

“Band On the Run? Band of Brothers? A band of angels coming after me, coming for to carry me home?”

“ NO, the Bandoleros!! Like in Treasure of the Sierra Madre. You remember, the ones who didn’t need no stinkin’ badges. Why? Because they had big stinkin’ guns!”

Graham explains again how movies are not real life. What? He says Central America is the best place for Spanish language immersion trips and that these days it’s perfectly safe if you “travel smart.” I travel smart, but I’m not sure what that has to do with fighting off a gang of highwaymen. What am I supposed to do, distract them with the sequins on my extra dinner dress and hit them over the head with my trusty mini-iron? If he thinks he can ply me with this backward logic he’s clearly forgotten to whom he is married. I soldier on and make my case.

“You don’t need to leave the country to be immersed. This is America! We’ll drive twenty minutes into St. Paul. I’ll drop you off in front of El Burrito Mercado on Cesar Chavez Street and Sha-Zam! You are immersed in not only the Spanish language but an excellent dining experience. Best of all, you don’t need no stinkin’ passport!”

He pinches out that argument countering that no matter how bona fide our Hispanic neighborhood is, it’s just not total immersion when you know you’re within spitting distance of Garrison Keillor. He has a point. 

This insistence on fully integrating himself with the culture is highly suspicious. It’s time he knows exactly who he’s dealing with, so I crank it up a notch. “¿Cuál es tu plan secreto?” I demand suddenly. My dexterity with Google Translate threatens his calm exterior. I strike while he still looks confused or maybe amused, can’t tell. “Are you trying to jump on the margin of a coup? Are you planning to put on a Che Beret and run around the jungle yelling "¡Viva la Revolución!'? Because if you are, allow me to remind you that you’re a pacifist, borderline liberal from Bloomfield Hills. I don’t think you’re their guy, Honey.”
Reader, by now you may have the idea that I’m no fan of adventure travel, but you’re wrong. Who ran around snapping pictures during a lightning storm in the Badlands while everyone else cowered in the car? Who dove off the cliff in Jamaica even though I knew there was no way I would stay one with my bikini? Who smuggled all that wine and vodka through customs on the way home from Russia with nothing more than a little midwestern small talk as a diversion? Who led the trek through the Mexican jungle from Verana to Yelapa until we were nearly stampeded by wild pigs in an abandoned graveyard? To be honest, the pigs looked pretty docile lounging among the headstones, but we were this close! All we had to do was breath heavy and we’d have gotten trichinosis. Now that’s adventure. The “who” in all these questions is me, that’s who. The difference was we were together on those trips, and I was employing the Golden Rule of marriage: If I go down, I’m taking you with me. For that I expect a little in the way of reciprocity. Graham should only risk his life when he can put mine in peril as well. That is the secret to a happy marriage: equal mortal danger at all times.

With my arguments exhausted and Graham’s questionable travel clothing packed, I asked for one concession, that he at least texts me every night so I know he’s safe. Within that text he must include a code word that we will agree on ahead of time so I know it’s him messaging me and not his captors. I ask if he thinks I should have a code word too in case someone makes off with the dogs and me while he’s away. “Anyone who abducts you and the dogs is going to drop all three of you off at our front door within ten minutes,” he assures me gently. I swoon a little, “That’s the sweetest thing you’ve ever said to me.”

And so Reader, he left with little more than a backpack and wanderlust. I waved from the porch while the theme to Out of Africa played in my head (a good all around soundtrack for most dramatic hellos and goodbyes). The following is a list I jotted down throughout the week for handy reference. Feel free to use it according to your own circumstances as advice, guidance, or cautionary tale.

1. Turn on CNN in the morning to make sure Graham is NOT on CNN.

2. Immediately switch to The Weather Channel to make sure Guatemala is still there.

3. Put the State Department Emergency Assistance to American Citizens Abroad number into my phone. Call it with a mild yet plausible threat to Graham just to see how quickly they snap to action

4. Reminder: The State Department takes prank phone calls VERY SERIOUSLY. (Try to figure out how to get off the no fly list.)

5. Prepare a briefcase full of cash in case a ransom drop situation presents itself. BE SMART: Put the white Monopoly money on top.

6. Consider the arsenal of weapons in the house and wonder if maybe I shouldn’t have put one of the handguns in Graham’s backpack. If only it wasn’t lime green and it shot more than water.

7. Remember to turn off the security system every morning so the next door neighbors will stop turning their sprinklers on me and yelling, "You want something to really be afraid of???!!!" when I take the dogs out and set the alarm off. (Text Graham in Guatemala to get the code. Remember to use the special secret texting code word we agreed on. Call Graham first to find out what the code word was.)

8. Do NOT attempt to fix kitchen appliances myself. Do NOT attempt to pay the plumber with cans and bottles so Graham won’t find out how much worse I made it. Do NOT get cranky with the plumber, who showed up on a Sunday, when he tells me Minnesota has no deposit law and he wouldn’t take them even if it did. Jeez, guy can’t take a joke.

9. Try to remain calm when Graham sends me excited text about being close enough to the hell mouth of an active volcano to roast marshmallows. I text back, “You don’t like marshmallows so GET THE HELL AWAY FROM THE VOLCANO.” Wonder if I would have seemed less hysterical if I’d added a smiley face icon.

10. Remember, that even though it’s possible I let my imagination run around the bend at times, even though I might have a tendency to make up stories in my head and believe them, and even though I have the plots of a few too many movies on instant recall, I am proud of Graham for taking these trips. I admire the way he goes into the world with zeal and enthusiasm for everything that is different and unfamiliar. But next year, we are totally going Belize together, and we won’t need no stinkin’ code words.


  1. When your first book comes out I am getting a first-edition, signed copy. I promise not to put it on ebay...well, ONLY if the kids decide to go out of state.

  2. Still love reading your incredible writing, Ali. And now I feel better about the way I feel when Lee travels without me. Apparently we are ALL neurotic and make up lots of stories. Ahh, I'm not alone.

  3. What's the code word? Is it a secret? I WANNA KNOW THE CODE WORD.

    You had me at mini-iron.

  4. Thank the LORD, Radishes is back! I was really detoxing BAD...

  5. Fear of life is what controls our US society. So sad. Venture across the world, and you will never find such fear. Lots more risk & danger, but much less fear.

    One life...see the the world.

    Touche again, Ms. Radish

  6. Thank you for all the kind comments! And for the record, my "fear of life" has its tongue planted firmly in its cheek.

  7. Oh so funny.... You have found the words to describe every wife's or mother's fear of their loved ones going off on an adventure. Although we don't really want to deny them the experience, we really hope that their passport is denied or their flight is canceled. Or they get H1N1!!! haha No not really. But seriously, you are a funny girl and you put it all so well. And isn't it so true that the danger doesn't frighten us so much as long as we are there in the midst of it also! Great story. P.S. He should have bagged one of those marshmallows and sold it on Ebay! Good job, Al.

  8. Are the Badlands photos posted anywhere? Those sound amazing (the one time I drove through the Badlands, the skies were clear, and it was incredible enough without the extra flashes).