After an enjoyable airplane ride, Sydney and I arrived in a taxi at the budget seaside hotel. As Sydney walked to the front desk to check us in, I moved along the sea spray-worn lobby carpet, viewing the heads of walruses and sea otters on the walls. I was disturbed to view a small figure in a brown suit at the far end of the lobby, blowing smoke rings into the air. He resembled a sinister mad scientist. “Hello dear,” his lips seemed to silently word as I edged along the frayed carpeting, past the rack of tour pamphlets, towards him. “I am Dr. Okra, and this is my assistant Otto,” indicated the brown-clad figure, pointing a claw towards the tall man beside him.
Otto was not a stereotypical ‘hunchback assistant to the mad scientist.’ He was 6’4” tall, and tucked tightly into an immaculate tuxedo. “Hello, my name is Otto,” he instantly intoned. “I enjoy cantaloupe in abundance, and long walks on the beach. My turn-offs include insincere people and mind games.” I took a moment to stare at the otter heads on the lobby wall, and then turned back towards Otto, only to find that he was gone. I looked out the window at the sea line, seeing Otto walking in measured steps, carrying a paper plate filled with cantaloupe cubes, as the waves crashed, centimeters from his wingtips.
Sydney returned from the front desk, clutching our room key. I pointed out Otto’s silhouette on the beach, his silhouette pacing out of sight as he ate the last of the cantaloupe cubes. “Bon Appetit!” we cheered. Dr. Okra then declared to us in a sneering tone, “We shall meet again,” and disappeared into the haze of cigarette smoke, his form dissolving on the carpet into a pile of ashes, which were quickly removed by the hotel janitor, using an odd custodial device, and sweeping his broom in unhealthy patterns.
We took an early stroll on the beach with a metal detector, looking for coins in the sand, and we saw Otto. He was walking along, feeling the saltwater soak up between his toes, under his rolled-up tuxedo pants. He confided to us that he considered the beach to be his metaphysical sandbox, yielding no obligations other than surfing the next wave. He also pointed out helpfully that Sydney had a distracting food smudge on her Bermuda shorts, recommending a nearby dry cleaner.
It was an enjoyable afternoon along the boardwalk, buying T-shirts and knick-knacks for the family back home. We had dinner at a charming little restaurant, and afterwards Sydney walked to the dry cleaner to get her Bermuda shorts freed from dirt, as I waited near our rental car, staring at a man at the end of the parking lot, in a dark suit and hat, smoking a cigarette. It was Dr. Okra. As his smoke rings wafted into the air, they resembled scorpions and Gila monsters. I felt an odd affinity to the scorpions in the smoke rings, dancing in a strange rhythm as they floated into the air. Sydney returned from the dry cleaner and was entranced by Gila monster smoke.
A wild root grew from the desert floor, spreading strange vibrations. We had been transported, on all physical and metaphysical levels, to the sagebrush of the Mojave Desert, by the odd visions in the smoke rings. Under the harsh desert plants we spread our existential wings into a new universe, vibrating under the signals of the desert moon, looking for scorpions and Gila monsters.
When we fell asleep and stopped looking, the scorpions and Gila monsters slowly appeared, signaling the beginning of our spirit quest!
Well, day 2 was quite eventful, so we decided to just relax on the beach during day 3, and finish our vacation shopping. After dinner at the same charming little restaurant as last night, we wandered towards the abandoned arcade, which stood like a shell against the ocean’s waves. We felt an odd pull towards the merry-go-round, where we turned to glimpse Sydney’s spirit animal, a Gila monster, riding atop one of the horses, the merry-go-round spinning, lights gleaming, amidst strange faint carnival music, though the area was deserted. Sydney and I looked up at the Ferris wheel, and saw Dr. Okra in one of the wheel’s cars, spinning revolution after revolution over the dark sand below. “HA-HA-HA!… <cough> <cough> HA!” he cackled insanely.
We turned away from the Ferris wheel, and suddenly Dr. Okra was 10 feet away from us, holding a small air-holed box of scorpions. “I told you we would meet again,” he sneered menacingly. “I have someone I’d like to introduce to you,” he said, while looking at the box of scorpions and trying to pry it open with his claw. “Damn, Otto has the key, where is he?” Dr. Okra looked around furiously, finally seeing Otto walking along the beach, near the waves, holding a paper plate loaded down with honeydew melon cubes. Otto ate the cubes one at a time with a plastic fork, thinking, “I appreciate that Dr. Okra gave me these honeydew melon cubes, but I do not enjoy his insincerity and mind games.” At that point, Otto began to consider a career change, perhaps moving up the ladder at the dry cleaners, where he worked part-time.
On our last day of vacation, we checked out of the hotel and drove to the airport, Sydney removed a dry cleaning ticket from her pocket, saying “We must stop and pick up the Bermuda shorts.” We pulled up at the dry cleaners. Inside, as the clothes were rotated out, Otto was hanging from the rotator rack in his tuxedo, a yellow receipt stapled to his lapel. We recognized him, and were shocked to see that he had been dry-cleaned to death. The cashier snarled, “Well, perhaps he should not have crossed Dr. Okra by considering an alternative career…after all that Dr. Okra had done for him, with the melon cubes and whatnot.” The dry cleaning clothes rack continued to spin, transporting Otto back out of view. Sydney gave the cashier the ticket, and paid for the smudge-less Bermuda shorts.
As we walked back to the rental car, I got out my digital camera and took a couple photos of Sydney, who was standing in front of the dry cleaners, holding her receipt in the air. We may not have completed our spirit quest, but we enjoyed the scenery, and as always on our vacations, it’s all about the people we meet.
Eric Suhem lives in California and enjoys the qualities of his vegetable juicer. He can be found in the orange hallway (www.orangehallway.com).