Chapter 5: Ouzo Anyone?

Corfu Travel Blog

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At 6:30, I woke to Igor’s big fuckin’ foot kicking me to get up.  We were in Corfu, an Island between Italy and Athens.  The other passengers were fresh and ready to go.  We were the living dead!  Unable to think, our group was corralled along with the others by a cool, convincing and unexpected social coordinator of a local “resort” armed with several, fellow, high-energy employees and a few vans.  “We’ll take care of everything,” and away we went.  They unloaded us into a cafeteria for a quick introduction, explanation and orientation.  I never did see the Australian Bird leave, but Mark explained her desire to get to Thailand (or somewhere like that) and her most unorthodox openness to him last night on the boat.  Dan and I will always think of the John, Simon and Mark whenever we hear the word, “Shaggin’” and more specifically the phrase, “Shaggin’ Birds!”  I was too hung over to think about it, wish her well or laugh.  At the end of the pep rally, the mostly British, Irish, Australian staff came around with buckets of Ouzo, a black liquorish tasting booze, in buckets and ladles filling our shot glasses?  One shot and my buzz started to come back.  I tasted that nasty wine in my mouth.  Two shots and my stomach turned.  The third shot I tried to skip, forced into it by the head director and I puked all over myself.  While cleaning up in the bathroom, he came in and tried to comfort me by explaining, “Drinking isn’t for everybody!”  I replied, “Can we get a bed?  I’ll look for you tonight.  Trust me, we’ll have a drink.”  We found our room, stared at the fantastic view, agreed that weed would be great, but not needed in paradise and fell asleep until that night.
    After getting my first real sleep in 48 hours, I felt better.  I had a headache and felt a little sluggish, but we were in Greece and this was our first night at the “Pink Palace.”  The place looked more like camp than a resort, but the possibilities were there.  We stayed in little cottages, there was a small pool and hot tub, a trail down to the ocean and lodge / cafeteria / bar.  This was the destination of the night for the masses to meet.  The five of us arrived in a very shy, somber mood.  John was still a little shaken up and we were all in sort of a cautious mood surrounding him.  We grabbed the pool table and barely choked down some beer.  It didn’t feel like it was going to be an easy night.  I was definitely feeling the worst, but when I looked up from the pool table to see my crew sitting in silence, watching, with blank looks on their faces on our first, real night together in Greece; I knew I had to sacrifice a little bit of my money and a lot of my headache for the sake of the group.  Without anybody noticing, I went to the bar and ordered ten shots of tequila and five beers.  With a tray full of drinks I approached the group, “To hell with that stinkin’ Ouzo!  I have had enough of that cheap shit!  We’ll see enough of that in the days to come.  Let’s toast our friendship with real deal!”  They all knew what it was and were scared, but we did it quick and in honor of the group.  Boom!  Everything changed in minutes.  Our dizzy heads were straight, our smiles were back on our faces and the snap was back in our steps!  We were back to our old tricks:  talking to everyone, laughing at everything.  After taking a winning shot on the pool table, feeling like Tom Cruise (even though my boy, Danny really does look like him) in The Color of Money, I turned around and there she was, the beautiful Canadian Girl from the boat.  “You want to take me up on that beer?” as I handed her a bottle from our continuous tray.  I never even got her name, but she was with us.  After a few more games, I caught the sympathetic camp counselor out of the corner of my eye.  I went up to him without saying a word; he sat down at a table and gave me the go-ahead.  I went up to the, now very familiar, bartender and ordered another tray:  four different shots for him and the same for me.  He was surprised but a drinker and ready for the challenge.  The booze was cheap and I was buying in bulk!  He started as an opponent, but became a friend.  We would earn each other’s respect. Those four went down quick; he snapped his fingers and another four for each of us came quicker.  His gracious hospitality (and not one Ouzo) was eliminated and the glasses turned upside down. Even though he had mocked me that morning, I liked the guy sitting at that table with me.  We were all business (in our party) and it was a trait that bonded us. College had built up a great tolerance for alcohol in me and this night was one of my best showings.  I ordered another eight shots.  I can’t remember his name, but he was a young, British version of Ricardo Monteban, “Welcome to Fantasy Island!” and he was getting a better look at my true drinking abilities.  I don’t blame him.  He definitely started with a skewed version of my drinking reality compliments of the Brindisi-Mini-Cruise Ship from Hell.  My friends were concerned, his coworkers were as well, we hadn’t left our seats for over an hour; he ordered another eight.  That was pretty much the last thing I remember.  I do have very brief visions of wildly swinging my Canadian Princess around the dance floor, completely out of control with her laughing the entire time.  I also have flashed of running back to our little cottage with all of us jumping on each other’s back’s trying to get a ride up the steep hill that led the way.  Then, nothing!  
    Slowly I opened my eyes and barely lifted my body off of the bed.  Though I have lived the unfortunate life to experience much too many blackouts, this was one of the worst.  I had a head full of hard alcohol, new friends to celebrate and something to prove on Fantasy Island.  After standing up I didn’t feel that bad, but was a little worried because I was in full clothing, boots and all!  I walked over to the bathroom to brush my teeth and wash my face when I noticed a huge whole in my shirt under my left arm.  Removing the shirt I was shocked to see a horrible gash in my side.  It was bad, but I felt no pain.  “Danny, what the hell happened last night?”  He woke up almost expecting the interrogation, “Rinna, you were so ripped last night!”  No surprise.  He came in the bathroom and saw my wound, “Holy shit!”  Danny “Green Jeans” and I have been baby-sitting each other through high school and college (he mostly looking after me) and it was nice that I didn’t have to guess how this fairly severe injury happened, “I was standing there holding you with one arm when someone called my name, I turned around and you did a “Lipton Iced Tea back splash” through a glass table!  We were in shock and you were laying there laughing!”  
We walked up to the loft where the three Brits were rustling about.  “Jeff, man, you’re one crazy bloak.”  We laughed and shook our heads about the last night’s activities.  Simon had met a girl, who was sucked in by the commune vibe and currently working for the Pink Palace.  He talked some serious trash about her within the group, and she didn’t fit into a solid position amongst us, but he was really a softy, a lover.  She really liked him, so it was hard for him to not keep her around.  Through their laughter, Dan explained that Mark was telling him a situation that he ran into last night.  Mark had a young lady down near the beach for a little “R &R,” when in his passion and desire he used his hand in a way that reminded him of carrying a six-pack, the sexual maneuver now affectionately named.  Our passion for the ladies was the one thing that translated fluently between us.  Of course, Mark was the only one bold enough to talk about it.       
John, the most sober and least hung over because of his injury, usually spoke for the three, “We’re supposed to get to Israel as soon as possible to get jobs, but we talked about it and want to stick it out with you and Danny for a while?”  Danny and I were very proud.  Smiling, I tossed my fishing cap that I was wearing to John, “We’re brothers.  We should stay together.”  Laughing, Mark started them in song, “It’s a long, long road …with many a winding turn …that brings us to you …he ain’t heavy … he’s my brother!”  Turns out the English lads were on a much different (more international) way of traveling.  They had sold their cars, put their stuff in storage, broke up with their girls and were going to go as long as they could or needed.  It was hard to find jobs back in and around London and they could collect their dole (unemployment) while traveling, so why not work their way around the world.  They were in it for the long run so everything meant a little more risk.  Anything to mark the occasion would be used.  Their theme song was Glen Campbell’s “Long Road.”  They sang it with feeling!  Even through their thick accents, Dan and I loved it!  We needed a name and Danny recommended, “The Six Pack!”  It was agreed upon immediately.  There were only five of us, but we were now the “Six Pack.”
    That afternoon, down at the hot tub, we relaxed and learned more about each other.  We were genuinely interested and inseparable.  Others around the pool would occasionally give me a look or gasp at the beer I was drinking, which seemed strange; but they obviously saw something last night that I didn’t!  I was young and happy, and a little stupid because of both.  John’s ear wasn’t looking good and my side was itching, but speaking for the both of us, in a foreign country, the first thing you do when faced with an injury is pray for a natural recovery.  Canada, the nickname I have affectionately given to the very cute face, leggy, longhaired blonde; was nowhere to be found and almost certainly had jumped to another island.  We walked down to the ocean, inhaled and exhaled deeply for the first time since stepping into Greece and stared out into the big blue sea.  It didn’t take long before the “six-pack” was out battling once again, this time in those cold waves dancing and fighting, yelling at the sea and the sky, thanking the heavens for being alive and together in that beautiful place.  He heard me.  
Like many times before, in an instance my heart rate kicked into overdrive and I lost my breath.  I was scared and I was far away from everything I knew, all that I loved.  I hoped I could make it stop quickly.  I walked back to the beach and sat down next to the girls.  It’s impossible to explain what was happening, but they knew something was wrong.  Like every other time, my life flashed in front of my eyes.  I thought of good times that I was grateful for.  I thought of all those that I love and whether or not they knew how much I loved them.  I thought of the things I had accomplished and much more about the things I hadn’t.  I vowed to make them happen if I could get a second chance!  I didn’t want to die so far away from home.  I looked out into the sea and wondered if this was going to be the last place that I would see.  It wasn’t.  In a flash, my heart clicked back to normal and I was still there, breathing and smiling.  Like the other times, that it clicked back to normal, I promised to take that gift and not waste it.  Maybe it was meant to happen in the beginning of the trip, so that I would soak it up even that much more?  The boys had come out of the water to sit next to me.  We sat there for a long time, staring out into the water.  I wasn’t alone, like I thought.  I was with some of the best friends I had in the world:  one very old friend and three new ones.  Closing my eyes, intense tingles shot throughout my body with excitement.  I had made it through, again.  I laughed to myself, maybe shedding a tear looking at the group, “Let’s go check out this island.”       

Tangent #5:  A Special Place in My Heart
I have had a heart condition since I was 12 years old.  I was on the tennis court running to the net for a volley and something clicked and my heart rate instantaneously doubled, literally.  My whole body pulsated at that very rapid rate, stuck in high gear or hooked to a car battery.  I thought I was going to die at any second.  That thick muscle in the middle of my chest was pumping violently, but I was now standing still.  It didn’t stop.  It didn’t even slow down.  I yelled for the instructor.  When he came over and saw the heavy, rapid pounding through my shirt I saw the look of horror on his face and I grew more scared.  Even at that young age, I realized quickly that this was the one organ I couldn’t afford to lose.  I prayed to God to get me through it as I had now gathered a crowd around me and I could see them praying too.  I waited for the worst.  I wondered if I would feel the heart burst or if I would just black out and it would be over.  I thought of my love ones.  After an eternity of time (actually about four or five minutes), in an instant, my heart rate clicked back to normal.  Just like that, snap; from two hundred beats a minute to seventy.  I couldn’t believe what was happening to me.  I thanked God that I got through it and prayed it never to happen again. It would; almost exactly once a year, every year for the rest of my life.  After the second, equally terrifying experience I saw the cardiologist.  Not being able to initiate / recreate / duplicate the situation / symptoms (and trust me; I didn’t want to), the doctor was only able to make an very educated guess:  rare, atrial tachycardia triggered by unknown; but short enough and inconsistent enough not to worry about it.  He told me people get it a lot more frequently, for a lot longer episodes (I couldn’t imagine), so without surgery or a 24 monitor; I should, basically, live with it.  It would become the biggest challenge in my life.  It has shaped who I am and the life I want to live.  It reminds me every time, that I want to live.           

    The afternoon we walked into town and rented motorcycles.  When the Greek, Older men asked if we had motorcycle licenses, you could have pointed to the expiration on your I.D. and explained that was a motorcycle endorsement.  Wide-open riding on motorcycles with new friends is a great way to see the Greek islands!  We’d roll in formation stretching the long coasts, up and down the steep hills and praying your wheels stick to the slick, hot blacktop.  A motorcycle accident would be too cliché to endure, so we kept the lines pretty straight.  We were really chill compared to some of these crazy Greek nut cases!  On a tricked-out, off-road bike, some dude passed us at about eighty in a wheelie and continued to ride it around a corner with oncoming traffic?  That guy seemed to be everywhere like it was his job to impress tourists?  Job well done; impressed!  We stopped at some little town in the hills for dinner.  The lamb and chicken and salads and olives and French fries and beer:  it was so wonderful to be in the Mediterranean early on that warm evening and early on into that exciting summertime.  That hot, Mediterranean sun pounds down you a lot like Florida heat.  It makes you crave beer and salt.  You never quite get your legs back after the boat ride.  A few times a day you would always slightly lose your balance.  The salt helped.  I suppose the beer didn’t?  
    Both John’s ear and my side had gotten infected.  We asked around and found a doctor in the town closest to the Pink Palace.  He was a nice older gentleman who worked with his wife / receptionist / nurse.  Like many, older Greek men that we would meet, he was upset.  He was upset with the Boat Doctor that stitched up John and upset with me that I didn’t come to the Doctor right after my accident to prevent scarring.  I explained to him that I was “technically” asleep during and after the accident.  He wasn’t impressed.  Like most that we met, underneath that tough exterior he was very kind and helped us a lot.  His advice helped cool our uneasiness from being so far from home.  His anti-biotic cured our infections from the hot tub, the Pink-Palace cesspool.  I accepted the scar almost immediately; almost happy it would be with me forever.  It would remind me of that time in Europe.  The trip was already that special to us, better than we could have imagined.  We took the next two days off, laid low and healed.  From an “almost sober on anti-biotic” view, the Palace was a trap that sucked people in like a shitty, Spring Break town.  We couldn’t wait to get off that island!

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Corfu
photo by: TaxMonkey