Saddamapalooza, Day 2

I am sitting in the lobby of our Kuwaiti hotel.

I am a high-value target.

I am bored.

With no beer to constructively fill my time, I decide to do the next best thing:

Bring peace to the Middle East.

One person at a time.

I approach a Kuwaiti man.

“May I take my picture with you?” I ask.

“Yes,” he says.

But he has a request.

“Can I hold the Kuwaiti flag?”

I want to say no.  But I am a diplomat.  So I agree.

“That would be acceptable to both me and my nation,” I say, speaking for our nation.

We take the picture.

DSCN0099

It is one small step for Stephan, but it is a giant leap for mankind.

And it is obvious to anyone watching that the gap between East and West, Islam and Christianity, has begun to close.

Bringing my Nobel Prize that much closer to my deserving hands.

And then it is ruined.

“Can I take a picture with you too,” asks the inappropriately jovial Rick Kirkman, co-creator of  “Baby Blues”.

He is oblivious to the diplomatic moment at hand.   And the history-making event is cheapened to a degree that words alone cannot express.

“Okay,” the man replies.

Reluctantly.

They take the picture.

DSCN0101

Surely, I say to myself, this is not happening.

“Can I take a picture too?” asks Mike Peters, “Mother Goose and Grimm” creator.

It is a full-blown diplomatic catastrophe.

The Kuwaiti man forces a smile.  They take the picture.

DSCN0102

More cartoonists walk over.

“One more and I charge you money,” says the Kuwaiti man, intuitively sensing that cartoonists are above all guided by their own cheapness.

“Oh,” the group mutters collectively and shuffles off.

The Kuwaiti man lights a cigarette and leaves.

The peace train is derailed.

My Nobel Prize, gone.

Saddamapalooza: Day One

RSCN0352

When you arrive in Hawaii, a beautiful Hawaiian girl places a lei around your neck and says “Aloha.”

When you arrive in Kuwait, a security man with a gun under his shirt places you in a shuttle and says, “You are now all high value targets.”

Said to a roomful of normal people, the line inspires fear.

Said to a shuttle-full of cartoonists, the line inspired pride.

We had never been “high value” anything.

If there was any doubt that we were not in Kansas anymore, that was resolved by the high blast walls surrounding our hotel.  Most hotels I stay in are surrounded by Applebees and Barnes & Noble.

Then there’s the military ship guarding the coastal access to the hotel’s beach. And it’s not pulling any parasailers.

The entire picture is enough to make you understand why there is no “Rick Steves’ Kuwait.”

But the devastating blow was yet to come.

No porn.

That’s right.  Kuwaiti hotel rooms have no porn.  The closest any channel came was a Kuwaiti soap opera where a fully-clothed man and woman sat ten feet apart in the woman’s living room.  When the woman’s husband walked in the front door, there was dramatic music followed by a lot of close-ups:  of the woman, of her husband, of the other man.  This was the Arabic equivalent of “Girls Gone Wild.”

If that’s not enough for you, consider this:

They have no beer.

None.

No alcohol anywhere.

I don’t know what Muslims call this abstention from sex and alcohol, but I know what we call it.

A really bad party.

The whole thing is enough to make you rethink the first Gulf War.

If that’s not enough, the Kuwaitis place a four-inch-high wooden beam on the ground between your room and the bathroom.  Not sure what the design rationale there is, but I will say this — When you really have to go the bathroom in the middle of the Kuwaiti night, there is no greater joy than breaking two of your toes and doing a header into a marble wall.

Now I’m awake and hurt and angry and I have no beer and Arab people are yelling at each other on my television.

Somehow I find myself already yearning for our next travel stop:  Iraq.

You know it’s a bad vacation when you find yourself looking forward to a war zone.

Hope they have beer.

Mysteries Revealed

Just got back from Country X, which I can now tell you was Iraq. 

We spent three days traveling by Blackhawk helicopter and military planes to Mosul, Kirkuk, Tikrit and finally Baghdad.  We even spent the night  in Saddam’s palace.

I’m traveling home today from Washington DC, but I plan on posting all about the trip on this blog, complete with photos.

A Report From the Front

Got to fly in a Blackhawk helicopter over country X yesterday.

All was okay until the gunner on my left opened fire, followed by the gunner on my right.

This was unusual for me because on most of my prior commercial  flights, no one has shot .50 caliber machine guns.

The good news is I did not cry like a little girl.

I did, however, scream like a little girl, which is much different.

Jeff Keane (“Family Circus”) was also in the helicopter.   I was significantly braver than he was.

My Priorities in the Middle East

Spent all day lying in the sun at the edge of the Persian Gulf.  Was going to solve all of the Middle East’s problems, but decided to get a tan instead. 

Tomorrow I go to a new country.  I’d like to name it, but I’m not allowed to identify it until I get back home.   I’m like James Bond, but without the nice car.  Or fancy clothes.  Or hot women.  Instead, I’m with a bunch of pudgy, middle-age cartoonists.   

Stay tuned.

B & B Bliss: The Conclusion.

With wasps everywhere, we had no choice but to run inside and shut the doors.  It’s odd but pool time can really be affected by 300 wasps.

With the doors closed, the 102 degree room was now even more comfortable.

We drank warm beer and stared at the walls.

Eventually, with nothing to do and nowhere to go, we went to bed.

That’s when we heard the scratching.

Above our head was what looked like a rain gutter.  It ran just below the ceiling around the entire perimeter of the room.  Inside it were Christmas lights, which you couldn’t turn off.

And there was something else inside it.

It was alive.

By the scratching sound, I assumed it was a mouse.

No, I thought again, it sounded heavier than a mouse.

A rat, I concluded.

I was not correct.

I know that because I stood on the bed and peered inside.

And there, just below my nose was a little creature with a wide open mouth showing me two rabies-dripping fangs.

Ah yes, a bat.

Being the brave person I am, I ran.

I found the owner of the house.

He was in the kitchen looking at internet porn.  That was a nice touch.

“Excuse me,” I said, not wanting to interrupt his enjoyment.

“What is it?” he said, not wanting to have his enjoyment interrupted.

“We have a fucking bat in our room.”

Fortunately, he was equipped for such an eventuality.  He grabbed a broom.

We walked to our room.

“Where is it?” he said.

“In your little rain gutter thingie,” I said, subtly using this opportunity to knock his Martha-Stewart-on-crack design sensibility.

He stood on our bed and looked down into the rain gutter.  As an added touch of class, he left his shoes on.

You know your life is bad when a stranger standing in his shoes on your pillow in the middle of the night is the least of your problems.

I was just glad that the erection he no doubt had while staring at internet porn was gone.

Because if there’s one thing worse than a stranger standing in his shoes on your pillow in the middle of the night looking for a bat, it’s a stranger standing in his shoes on your pillow in the middle of the night looking for a bat while he’s got an erection.

He raised his broom to scoot the bat out of the gutter.  The bat made sounds.  Bad sounds.

I’m not sure what the broom plan entailed, because in my Nostradamus-like mind, I thought it would just anger the bat and make him fly around the room looking for someone to bite.

It was at that moment that Mr. Smart Guy managed to hit the bat with the broom, which angered the bat and made him fly around the room looking for someone to bite.

I screamed like a small girl and ran into the communal hallway bathroom.  Staci stayed in the room and let the bat fly around her head, like she was suddenly Steve Irwin.  Knowing what happened to Steve Irwin, I stayed in the bathroom.

Eventually, I peered my head inside the room.  Just in time to see The Man With a Plan open the door to let out the creature from Alien.  That didn’t go well.

I say it didn’t go well because when he opened the door, the bat didn’t fly out.

No indeed.

A second bat flew in.

That was bad, because before the second bat, I’d say we had a 50/50 chance of dying of rabies.  Now we had a 100% chance.  On the rabies-roulette-wheel-of-life, we had now bet the black, the red, and even those two little green spaces.

I ran back into the bathroom.

Crouched in the fetal position behind the bathroom door, I heard Staci say, “Oh, he’s tiny.  Look at him.”  Staci, suddenly Grizzly Adams mixed with Jacque Cousteau, was tossing out zoological opinions left and right.  “That must be the bat’s child,” she opined.  “They must have been separated.”

I was a little concerned for her.  Though not super concerned, because I wasn’t leaving the bathroom.

I rationalized it.  “Rabies is bad. But she did pick the place.”

Eventually, mother and child bat flew out the door.

“They’re gone, Stephan,” said Staci.

I went back inside the room.  It was here that I waited to hear the magic words from the genius fat guy standing on my bed, “I’m so sorry.  Your room is free.”

He opened his mouth.

“Better keep your doors closed,” said Einstein.

Staci went back to bed.  I sat in a chair waiting for locust.  It was the only biblical curse we had not yet seen.

In the morning, there was a knock on the door.  Locust don’t knock, so I opened it.

It was Einstein’s wife.  She had a bottle of wine.

“I heard about your adventure last night and wanted to give you this.”

I wanted to hurl the bottle through the window and jump out after it like the Chief at the end of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

“It’s fine,” said Staci, “It was just a bat,” exonerating Ms. I Almost Gave You Rabies for an $8 bottle of wine.

Now I wanted to hurl the bottle and Staci out the window.

As it was, I kept her.  A decision I sometimes question.

I did get some revenge by reviewing the place on one of those internet travel sites.  Under “cons,” I listed the heat, the wasps, the bat and the owner who liked his internet porn.

The “pros” section I kept brief.  Three short words which I thought were both fair and accurate.

“Did not die.”

My Wife’s Idea of a Vacation, or, The Horror, The Horror: Part II

We arrived at the Bed and Breakfast.  It was an old Victorian house.  It was dusty and creaky and crumbling.  A review of it on Expedia would read like this:

“Crap.”

There was no one inside.  Just a big statue of an elephant.  Not sure what that had to do with a Bed and Breakfast in the wine country, a place not renowned for its elephants, but I had bigger problems.

Like why had I paid $300 to be in the house from Psycho.

Staci looked over at me.

“What should we do?” she said.

“Steal the elephant and go home,” I said.

She noticed a bell on the dining room table.

“Ring the bell,” she said.

“No way,” I said.

“Ring the bell,” she said.

I rang the bell.

The proprietor greeted us.  Which is an elegant way of saying that a fat guy in a t-shirt got up from his recliner in the living room and said hi.

He looked surprised.  Surprised he had a guest.

I was surprised also.  Surprised he didn’t look more like Norman Bates.

“Follow me,” he said, “I’ll show you to your room.”

We walked outside.  It was 102 degrees.

We arrived at the room.  We went inside.  It was 102 degrees.

“How do we turn on the AC?” I asked.

“The what?” he said.

“Air-conditioning,” I said.

“Oh, we don’t have air-conditioning,” he said.

I think he went on to say we could open the double doors on either side of the room and get a pretty good breeze, but I’m not sure, because it was hard to hear him over all my sobbing.

All I knew at that point was that we had two six-packs of Sierra Nevada.  If I kept it all to myself and didn’t let Staci have any, I could drink all 12 bottles in quick succession and hope to pass out.

I looked for some place to chill the beer.

“Do you have a little refrigerator” I asked the man.

“Yeah,” he said, pointing over to it.  “It works pretty good.”

I opened the door of the refrigerator.  I put my hand inside.

It was 102 degrees.

His “pretty good” meant it was a good refrigerator to melt cheese over nachos.

“Maybe the cold’s not turned up,” he said.

He tried to turn a knob inside the refrigerator.

“Wait.  It is turned up.”  He closed the refrigerator door.  It wouldn’t stay closed.  He paused.

“Let me show you where the bathroom is.”

We walked down the hall.  He showed us the bathroom.  Yellow shag carpeting.  Cobwebs on the window.  A sulphuric smell.

“Do you have any questions?” he said.

“What’s your cancellation policy?” I replied.

Staci glared at me.  It’s a face I see a lot.

“He’s just kidding,” she said. “You mind showing us the pool?”

The pool was the only thing that looked decent in the brochure.  In real life, there was a bottle floating in it.  Along with a layer of leaves.

“I don’t remember the bottle from the brochure,” I said.

The fat man said nothing.  He just picked up the bottle.  He left the leaves.

In the brochure, there was a rock waterfall pouring water into the pool.  I saw that the rock formation was there, but there wasn’t any water coming out of it.

“Isn’t that a waterfall in the brochure?” I said, pointing at it.

“Yeah,” he said.  “You want it on?”

“Yeah,” I said, now realizing that I’d have to ask for each amenity one by one.

He turned it on.

That’s when I saw that this little Bed and Breakfast had 300 additional guests I didn’t know about.

All wasps.

And all even angrier than me.

Some vacations just get better and better.

Stay tuned for more joyous adventures from my romantic weekend.

My Wife’s Idea of a Vacation, or, The Horror, The Horror: Part I

Staci made me go to a Bed and Breakfast.

For those of you who think a Bed and Breakfast is a quaint little 19th century abode where you drink lemonade on the veranda, let me give you a more apt description of what it is:

Some shithead’s house.

If you want to know what the experience is like but perhaps can’t afford it, just walk across the street to your neighbor’s house, hand him $300 and sleep in one of his spare bedrooms.

If that isn’t evocative enough for you, consider this:  You share a bathroom.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my vacations filled with this thought: Did the fat guy across the hall wipe the toilet seat?

And none of this had to happen.

You see, Staci handed me the brochure for this place.  I scanned it with a skeptical eye, aware of Stephan’s Law of Hotel, Motel, and Bed and Breakfast Brochures, which is this:  Resorts are only 18% as good as the photos.

And that’s where we ran into our first problem with the Bed and Breakfast depicted in this brochure:

It looked like crap.

The Law of Hotel, Motel and Bed and Breakfast Brochures is not kind in these situations.  For it tells you the following:

You’re screwed.

We went anyways.   I can’t really explain that, except for the fact that Staci insisted on it.  I’m starting to think she’s writing a book on me, and just needs experiences to provide material.

Whenever I brought up the pitfalls, she always said the same thing:  “It will be really different.”

For those of you who think “different” is a neutral word evoking romantic adventure, let me say this:  You’re not smart.

“Different” is spouse-code for “bad.”  And “really different” translates to the type of adventure enjoyed by the men in “Deliverance.”

Which is why when we were driving up the hill to Staci’s choice of vacation destinations I began whistling the “Dueling Banjos” theme.

Staci didn’t appreciate that.  But I didn’t care.  Because on the drive up the hill, she ran afoul of yet another rule:  Stephan’s Law of $300 A Night Lodging.

Stephan’s Law of $300 A Night Lodging says this:

When you pay $300 a night to stay somewhere, you’ve earned a road.

And by “road”, I don’t mean a ten-foot wide chunk of dirt sloped to send you to your death.  Because if there’s one thing that’s sure to draw a low rating from me on Travelocity, it’s my own death.

All we needed was a little rain to turn that slope to unstable mud and you’d be reading “Classic Pearls Before Swine.”

Little did I know the road would not kill me.  No, this Bed and Breakfast would spare me that.  For it had a death in store for me that was slower and more painful.

And best of all, more creative.

Which is what you’d expect when you’re paying $300 a night.

That story to come.