Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Nearly Fatal Haircut

Yesterday we got together with members of my wife’s huge, extended family. My wife’s mother was one of five sisters. Two of the five sisters remain in Panama, two live in Florida, and the eldest, who lived in Panama, passed away several years ago. Each sister was obligated by Jewish tradition to name their eldest daughter after their mother. Thus, there are 5 cousins, all with the same name, and my wife is one of them.

We visited the home of one of the other women with my wife's name, where a huge group consisting of her mother (Blanca, my wife‘s aunt), her sister, her children, and her children’s children showed up for a massive luncheon, conducted in nonstop Spanglish. I thought my daughter’s head would explode.

After lunch, we went out to a local mall where Panamanians go to shop. My wife bought my daughter 15 pairs of underwear at about 50 cents apiece, constantly lamenting that she had to spend $7.50 for one pair in Florida. Shoes were 5 bucks a pair. Tank tops were a dollar. It was crazy, and my wife and daughter went into a shopping trance.

I went out to the mall area and sat on a bench, watching the tide of humanity pass. Panama is home to many diverse ethnic groups. Native Indians, Spanish, Africans, East Indians, Jewish, and Chinese, who were imported as labor to dig the Panama Canal. They’ve been interbreeding for generations, and have produced some incredibly beautiful offspring. But of course, this kind of unregulated genetic breeding experimentation has also resulted in some unfortunate accidents, and they were all there at the mall.

The next day, we went to the home of Corina (the other Panamanian aunt), where we were joined by hordes of family members from that branch of the tree, including another cousin with my wife's name, all conversing in a kind of furious intensity. You have to be careful what you say, because if you promise to call someone the next day, they will order food and you will be expected to accept an invitation to come over if you place the call. Forget to call, and commit an unforgivable insult.

While we were there, two of my wife’s cousins began talking about the deaths of family members. One had lost her husband, the other lost her father, all within the past couple of years. They recounted the events in detail. The first woman said her husband had died on Father’s day, in his sleep. I was thinking that there are worse ways to go. The other woman described how her father had died laughing, in the middle of a joke. Once again, it seemed that there must be worse ways to go.

While at Corina’s, I leaned over to pick up our camera and felt something in my lower back go “SPROING,” followed by intense pain. I tried to cover it up during the visit, but by the time we got back to the hotel, I was in agony. This has happened before, and the usual solution is muscle relaxers and a couple of days of doing nothing. But we’re on vacation, and that wasn’t going to be an option. My wife gave me two muscle relaxers and a tablet of Oxycodone that she keeps around for just such emergencies, but they barely touched the problem.

That evening, we went out to a shopping area. I limped painfully along, trying to keep up, but I was in agony. Eventually we came to a beauty salon. My wife and daughter both claimed to “need” manicures, so we went in. Gay men bustled around, attending to the clientele. While my wife and daughter were getting their nails done, my wife suggested that I might consider a haircut. So I asked for “una corta de pelo” and the woman at the desk sent me over to a chair, where a stunningly beautiful Panamanian woman was waiting. She was one of those lucky breeding products: tall, beautiful, flawless café au lait skin, long, silky black hair, and the kind of body that makes an otherwise healthy man stop breathing. As she cut my hair, she pressed against me briefly, and I think my heart stopped. I suspect there are worse ways to go. At least the mortician wouldn’t have to cut my hair.

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