There’s always something to howl about

A Sailor Jerry Moment


The base anticipation that precedes any journey to a new destination is always more vivid for me than the denouement that accompanies the physical descent to earth.  With rare exception (perhaps Paris and maybe Vegas), the image I conjure up in my two dimensional mind beforehand always seems to fall somewhat short of the real 3-D deal.  On our first trip to Maui, for example,  my notion of grass huts  and Woody Wagons clamped with surfboards was quickly dashed the moment I spotted a Costco and a  Wal-Mart just steps from the arrival terminal. It was raining  ukuleles that day and the lone, Port Authority hula dancer was, how shall I say… Samoan? I was expecting something a bit more, I don’t know….svelte?; like the subject of one of  those Sailor Jerry tattoos I threaten to get stenciled across my chest every 120  lunar cycles or so—-pure 1950′s  South Pacific paradise-of-the-mind stuff. I think we  bought our own leis for 8 bucks each at the gift shop, rented a Taurus from Avis, and called it a day.

And it’s not just Hawaii. The same holds true for Jamaica—or as I like to call it, The Bangladesh of the Caribbean, with its human squalor, smelly ceviche,  and over-abundance of  muddy water. Even the Antiquarium in Boscoreale, Italy, beneath the shadows of a nearby looming housing project,  is sequestered by a string of barbed wire and discarded heroin needles. Not that I don’t enjoy myself abroad, mind you. I’m an enthusiastic traveler, to be sure. The foreign landscapes that ultimately unfold just never fully mesh with the spatial images dancing around in my head before touch down.

Alaska was pretty spot-on but to be honest, I wasn’t expecting  too much from that particular latitude. And while I did not get a tattoo while docked in the port of  Juneau,  I was presented with a  shiny new Rolex Datejust in our cruise ship cabin later that evening.  Since I’m clearly never retiring from anywhere,  my wife decided to give me my ceremonial timepiece a few decades early— for my 50th birthday.  Just so you know, the name MONA, is tattooed on my left bicep. (It was only erased and changed to MOM once, and then back again to MONA as quickly as possible but as I often tell whoever will listen—that’s another story for another weekend writer’s block.)  I’ve long since  admitted to God, to myself, and to at least one other expatriot on foreign soil,  that I should have re-thought that whole laser/erase/redo episode beforehand. So what if  the Rolex is stainless steel and not gold. I’m just assuming its not a fugazi.

I’ve owned 20 different vehicles and  a half dozen dwellings in my 30+  years as an adult—each one, a little disappointing in its own way;  wrong model, too small an engine, obstructed view, wrong city.  Never ‘Sailor Jerry’ perfect like those carefree models on the vintage posters—forever young and beautiful.  Never what one thinks a tattoo is going to be before the alcohol wears off, the flesh begins to rip, and the ink sets in for good.  This causes me to think of the elder men who have preceded me in this life as I  ponder their own indelible whims.

My Uncle Zip never did move back to Hawaii after World War II, or own a brand new Coupe De Ville like he said he one day would, or meet Frank Sinatra in person (Vic Damone or Buddy Greco either, for that matter).  But every speck of his being, from here to eternity, let everyone within swinging distance know that these were items on his personal bucket list.  In my uncle’s case, the dream itself seemed to suffice in lieu of the destination or even the journey.  When the old Navy dog finally did make his final pilgrimage back to the Big  Island much later in life  he would, too, find his black sand paradise covered beneath a sheet of rain and asphalt.  He died in Levittown, Pennsylvania  with a  rusting Dodge Polara in the driveway.

And as I now recall my own father, a soul whose passing is still within clear sight, I’m certain he would have preferred to  spend his final years gazing at egrets and herons through binoculars from an Adirondack chair in Cape May, New Jersey; much more so, I think, than being held hostage by the Fox News Network and ESPN via his north Philadelphia blue leather recliner while fretting  over the  pink ink of  his Wachovia accounts. Think about it—a  man can  probably die wherever he wishes with some  proper planning, enough dough, and  a little luck. He just needs a willing spouse to help  move things along.  That’s all.

Truthfully though,  I don’t give this all too much thought.  I see little use  in being disappointed in something as anti-climatic as my journey to the After Life. Obsessions, like tattoos, begin to fade after so many years in the sun. But you must admit,  those  four-color brochures that the Seventh Day Adventists leave on the front porch every summer do catch your cosmic eye—like a Sailor Jerry classic. In Paradise. ‘Forever.’  On a deep six holiday.

image by sailor jerry

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    6 Comments so far

    1. sara hoople July 18th, 2009 4:06 am

      Sheryl Crow would love this, Geno; “it’s wanting what you’ve got” as you “soak up the sun…” Well done.

    2. Doug Quance July 18th, 2009 8:48 am

      As someone who grew up in Hawaii – to return years later with a level of sadness from the unwelcome changes – I hear you.

    3. Thomas Johnson July 18th, 2009 10:09 am

      Thanks, Geno.

    4. Avi July 19th, 2009 12:56 pm

      Good post! in my neighborhood we get Lubavitcher pamphlets.

    5. Don Reedy July 19th, 2009 9:15 pm


      Wonderful once again. You paint with such a stroke as to allow me to go exactly where I want, fantasize, experience and then pop back into reality with nary a time machine, scotch or doobie required.

      Well, if it’s passion you want, then check out this video. Perhaps you’ve seen it, but unless I miss my bet, you’ll actually be able to see that these two get it already, and their passion for a lot of what moves the spirit of love and adventure just sort of pops off the screen for me.

      Let me know if you smile an awful lot (like me) when you watch this.

    6. Geno Petro July 20th, 2009 8:31 am

      Thanks Don,

      Love the vid.