Monday, June 11, 2012
The Lyngbakr, or, I should have known when she ordered the shark’s fin soup and chicken feet
The Lyngbakr, or,
I should have known when she ordered the shark’s fin soup and chicken feet
I looked out the window and below me was France. There were towns and villages and roads meandering from one direction to another. It looked lush and inviting from 29,000 feet. I wished I were down there sitting in a café enjoying some wine with bread and cheese. Oh, and butter. I remember how delicious the butter was when I was in France!
For the past six days I had been in Barcelona and I was flying back to America. I had been fairly stressed, which is odd, having been on vacation for 3 weeks. Before Barcelona, I had crossed the Atlantic on a cruise ship. We left from New Orleans with stops in Miami and then the Azores. It was a wonderful trip taken with a group of friends. We had all been through a lot, maybe not so much on the ship, but in Barcelona.
I found myself loving Spain. It was my first visit and it was hard deciding if I liked Spain more than other European cities I’ve been to. The architecture was exciting. The food was fresh and creative. The people were vibrant and easy going. We had good weather for the most part and getting around was a breeze. I was choked up when viewing the steps upon which Columbus climbed to inform Queen Isabella that he had just returned from what would turn out to be America. Such history!
Flying over France, I was of two minds as I relived my vacation. I had truly seen both sides of the coin on this trip; the good and the bad. Sure, I had my camera and travel wallet stolen. Gone were all my photos from the cruise, from New Orleans, from Ponta Delgada in the Azores and from 2 glorious days sightseeing in Barcelona. That’s what I really cared about. Not the travel wallet with 2 credit cards and about $100 in cash. Not the feeling of being violated for having someone’s hand inside my front pocket without my knowledge…or enjoyment. Many of the photos can be reproduced from those taken by friends, but many- my artistic shots, shots of myself and shots I took when alone- cannot.
The thing is, this is not the worst part of my trip. When people ask me about it, it wasn’t all of that behind my answer, “I had a great time. I had a horrible time.” No. The real reason behind it was that the woman I shared a room with on the cruise and an apartment with in Barcelona turned out to be a Lyngbakr. I had been calling her the Kraken, but Lyngbakr seems more appropriate.
You see, Lyngbakr is a mythical sea monster known to bait seafarers by posing as a lovely island, and when a crew landed on its back, it sank into the sea, drowning them. This is a more appropriate illustration of my point; as I had been lured into a lovely relationship, even sexual, and then once safely at sea, the woman I had boarded the ship with in New Orleans turned into a monster, and sunk us into the darkness.
I had originally met Beth at a camp out with a large group of friends about six months prior. I hadn’t really gotten to know her. I can’t stand cigarettes and she smoked, so there was never really an impetus to go over and talk to her. She still walked with a cane after an illness left her paralyzed for a brief period of time. The extent of it was just a hello and a smile now and then.
Several months later, when I realized that Christmas fell on a Sunday, I decided to see if I couldn’t round up some people to join me for dim sum, a traditional Chinese Sunday brunch. Beth was the first person to respond. Even though we hardly knew one another, I was excited to see her enthusiasm. She even tried her hardest to round up others, as well.
As it turned out, it was just the two of us. There was a place she recommended right across the street from her apartment. The arrangements were all in place. My only problem was that I didn’t really remember what she looked like and I feared walking in and not recognizing my brunch guest. When I arrived at the restaurant, it was packed with people, and every single one of them was Asian, so it would have been easy to pick her out. At least I knew it would be a good place for dim sum, even if it was Christmas morning.
Fortunately, she recognized me and approached as I was in line to leave a name. She was an attractive woman, taller than I and now off of the cane that had supported her when I met her. She still walked slowly and methodically, which is sort of the manner in which she spoke, making sure to pronounce each syllable of a word; sometimes over-pronouncing them. She wore a sun dress with flat sandals and her black hair was straight with a hint of body to it. She was also all smiles.
We were seated and began to place our order on the menu sheet we had been given. I marked a few items I was interested in and turned it over to her. She marked a few things, asked a few questions, and then paused. She looked up at me and asked if I’d ever had shark’s fin soup.
I immediately protested, “Of course not! Do you know how they treat those sharks? They cut off the fin and toss them back into the water to die a horrible and painful death. I’ll have nothing to do with shark’s fin soup!” My inside voice most likely continued, “And neither will you!”
After another pause, I was asked if I had ever had chicken feet. Now, I’m sure they don’t cut off the feet of chicken and toss them into a pen to die a horrible footless death. But I have an issue with eating animal’s feet. I don’t eat pig’s feet. I don’t eat chicken feet. This, I made clear to her as well, but maybe not as strongly as my issue with shark’s fin. After all, someone might as well eat the feet; it just won’t be me!
She made two marks on the menu order form and then explained that she likes to try new things. She was ordering both the soup and the feet. I was invited to try them as well. I assured her that as much as I love a new thing, I’d not be trying either one.
She didn’t like the soup and asked that it be taken off the bill. She thought the chicken feet was disgusting. Nice waste of animal appendages, I thought to myself, but I didn’t gloat.
The rest of the meal was wonderful and with time to kill before attending a party we had both been invited to, we went to her place and talked for hours. Our conversation meandered through our separate medical issues and our lives and experiences. There was never an awkward silence or an acrimonious word. I had a wonderful time and made a new friend.
Several weeks later, I saw a great deal on the 13 night cruise to Spain and posted it on line. She replied almost immediately. I had a hard time believing she was serious and after detailing all the expenses, I wrote her to say that if she said yes and I put down a deposit, there was no backing out. Even though it was her first cruise, she assured me that I need not worry.
I booked the cruise and we started making plans. We got together a few more times at her house and usually had lunch or dinner together. I was really enjoying our friendship and the things we had in common. We’d spend hours on line chatting to one another- joking and flirting. It was looking like we were really going to enjoy ourselves on this trip!
Soon, she had invited others to come along. Kit, a mutual friend of ours who I’d known for years and lived about an hour away and Will, a guy she knew from Burning Man, in his 60s who lived in Boston. I had mentioned the cruise to another guy I had just met in December, Jerry, so he was on board with our plans. The sixth member was a guy we met on line from a cruise community web site. He was our age, fun and seemed to have a lot in common. He’d be on the cruise as their stage manager, but wanted to spend a few days in Barcelona with us. His name was Nathan and he lived in Vegas with his partner of 19 years.
For the 6 weeks or so leading up to the trip, we all got together on line for chats and planning sessions. We needed a hotel in New Orleans as we were arriving 2 days early to attend a festival. I led the way with our plans in the Azores. Several people were utilizing my buddy passes to fly to and fro. And then there was the apartment in Barcelona for the six of us. There was a lot to plan out for six people!
Jerry invited those of us living in the bay area to his place for planning parties, which included dinner and a hot tub soak. We were all getting along famously and the anticipation of the trip was almost more than I could bear.
Jerry, Beth and I flew together from San Francisco to New Orleans on Friday. Kit flew in Thursday to visit his daughter, who attends college there and would meet us at the festival. Will would fly in on Saturday and meet us at the hotel. Nathan arrived Saturday early enough to meet us at the festival. Each of us was so excited, it was better than Christmas!
When we arrived in New Orleans is when Beth started to complain. It wasn’t major, but the airport was undergoing construction and there were no signs to indicate where to pick up checked luggage. We had to go outside, and then back in. Next, to pick up the van for the hotel, we had to go back out and to the other side of the terminal. It was late and she had taken a Xanax and may have been in a bit of pain as well, so I paid little attention to the complaining and tried to be accommodating. I’ve been in that situation numerous times…well, without the Xanax.
With the festival going on downtown the next day, I was eager to get out of the hotel and explore. I set an alarm to wake us up, and after a breakfast of beignets, which she didn’t care for, and meeting Nathan at the airport, we were on a bus headed to the French Quarter Festival. We turned up Bourbon Street, which was cordoned off and full of people having fun and drinking. Beth needed a restroom break and Jerry needed a beer. At the first bar we came to, they went in to take care of their needs. I told them I’d wait outside for them. After all, this was Bourbon Street and I wanted to soak it in.
It was a wonderful day; clear with a few billowy clouds and warm but not hot. The people in the street were all having a great time. I stood in the shade and waiting. After 15 minutes, a bit flustered, I wandered inside. What I found was an empty bar with lame music and my two friends sitting there with a beer each. I asked if they understood that they could walk around in the streets with their beer. They did. They had no interest in the goings on outside.
I was near crazy. Who goes to New Orleans, on Bourbon Street, no less, and sits at a bar? Apparently only those two, as everyone else was in the street. You can sit in a bar at home! I told them I’d meet them later. We had already contacted Kit and told him we’d meet at the Napoleon House, so off I went, not wanting to keep him waiting.
By dinner time we were all together, except for Will, who was arriving later that night and would miss out on our downtown experience. Nathan brought along a guy he would be working with on the ship and Kit was with his daughter. The seven of us went to dinner at a popular place and our adventure together was off.
Then the bill arrived. At first, it got passed around and we all looked it over and contributed our portions. When it got to Beth, she pulled out a piece of paper and her calculator. She began to query everyone on what they had ordered and began dissecting the bill with the skills of some sort of hybrid mad surgeon/engineer. It was the most thorough going over of a bill in history.
Nathan gave me a look that I completely understood; as did his friend. We were eager to get back out to the festival and blow this joint already. We rose and advised the group that we’d meet up later; we all had our phones, after all. Beth looked cross at me and probed whether I had left enough money. My reply? “Well, dear, I’ve put in $5 more than what I owe with tax and tip. If you discover that I owe more, then you know where to find me. But I’m done sitting here and I need to get out there.” Nathan and his friend were all smiles as I led the way out the door.
We did meet up later but Kit and his daughter soon made their exit. After a spectacular fireworks display and a long walk, we found ourselves in yet another restaurant. Seems we were eating our way across this fine city! It was a nice little Italian place, too. We had a grand time. The bill arrives and this time, there is a loud exclamation complete with expletives about the price of Beth’s hurricane. Heads turned in our direction. I wanted to crawl under the table and hide. I might have met Nathan under there had he followed his impulse to do the same. We explained to her that a hurricane is a large drink full of alcohol and being served in a nice restaurant during a festival. She slowly accepted this and began to calm down. We left a huge tip to apologize for making a scene. At least the bill didn’t get dissected again!
My past cruise experiences have taught me to arrive at the cruise terminal early. I’d rather wait an hour in the lounge before we can board than wait an hour standing in line. We arrived around 11AM and got our bags checked in. Beth and Jerry needed some things from a grocery store and upon hearing of one in walking distance, they were off. Will was now with us, and had a mission of beignets and coffee from Café du Monde, so he was off as well. I got checked in within 15 minutes and found Nathan and a few people I had gotten to know on line waiting in the lounge and had a great time getting to know new friends.
An hour passed quickly and I received a text from Jerry and Beth- Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum? They had decided to go back into the city and explore a voodoo museum and have lunch. I reminded them that we had to be on board by three. The people around me were a bit concerned. Jerry can be like a child and Beth had never been on a cruise. But I knew if they missed the boat, they could meet us in Miami and would have two days to get there. The funny thing is, we wound up leaving the pier an hour early. We did leave a few people behind, but Dee and Dum were not among them, and it was close.
We got to Miami and Jerry’s parent’s, who lived a few hours away, had come to town to meet him. They offered for Beth and I to come along and they could take us to South Beach. We met them outside and they had also brought Jerry’s brother. Beth and I felt so bad about Jerry’s mom having to sit up front between the two seats on top of the emergency break that we nearly backed out. She assured us it was fine, and not a long journey, and that we should definitely get in the car.
We headed out and Jerry’s dad needed navigational assistance. Beth got her phone out and started giving directions that I knew was a longer route than necessary. I got mine out as well and waited for it to boot up.
We were already on the causeway headed to South Beach. Our ship was to our right and I was so engrossed in trying to get a photo of her that I failed to realize that Beth had just instructed Jerry’s dad to turn around, which he promptly did. We were about a mile from our destination, but we were now headed back to downtown! This new route would take another thirty minutes. It was after we were well into our new route of taking the islands to South Beach that she realized her phone was giving walking instructions instead of driving. It was a scenic route, however, and nice to see the grand homes on the islands.
With construction projects under way, there were a few police visible. Each time we passed one, Beth made mention of the “pigs”. After hearing this for the hundredth time, I asked that she not call them such. I had friends and family who were in law enforcement and I found it a little demeaning. She protested and asked when she had ever called them pigs. Well, since she asked, I informed her; this morning as we came into the port of Miami, there was a police boat and she called that a pig. When we were at Jerry’s house both times for our planning parties, she mentioned pigs. And the two hundred times this morning on our short, but detoured time in the car, she called them pigs. In fact, I’ve never heard any other name come out of her mouth than pig, when referring to the police. She apologized. I noticed Jerry’s mom smiling at me with approval.
We were dropped off in South Beach and Jerry’s family went to find a parking spot for the car. It would be an hour before we’d see them again. We began walking to the south along the pathway of the beach. I heard mention of thirst and the first bar we came to, which happened to be the Ritz-Carlton Spa, we stopped. I was beginning to see a pattern here, and to regret my selection of travel companions. I got a text from Nathan, who was doing his own thing, asking how things were going. I informed him of what was going on. We both agreed that when we reached Barcelona, he and I would have to leave these 2 behind in a bar. I have a strong desire to see and explore. Sitting at a bar is for after having done so for long enough that my body needs a rest. We were just starting out!
As we finally left the bar to meet up with Jerry’s family, I was shocked that there was no comment about the pricey drinks at the Ritz. They had 2 each, after all. But loosened up with libations, she let Jerry walk ahead of us and she confronted me about something. I slowed down and leaned in to listen. She asked that in the future I not call her out in front of other people. Not knowing what she was talking about, I asked for clarification. She was referring to my asking her not call cops pigs. I was floored! You mean I can’t ask not to do something that bothers me until we are in private? I don’t think so, and I told her as much.
I had asked nicely. I even said please and thank you. I didn’t bark it out. I didn’t call attention to it. I stated it calmly to her in a volume of voice that was intended only for her. That the others heard it because they found it more interesting than to carry on with their conversation is not my fault. Then I warned her, I would do my best not to call attention to her shortcomings around others, but if I felt uncomfortable about anything she was saying, I would have to say something about it without delay.
Perhaps this is when the beast was born. Lyngbakr: the monster who lures the unsuspecting and then carries them under the sea. It didn’t seem to bother her that I stood my ground. We carried on that day, having a delightful time with laughs and talks and stories and smiles.
The next day at sea, and for the rest of our time on the ship, Beth was a different woman. Oh, there were times when the woman I had gotten to know the previous 3 months was with us. As a VIP on board the Spirit, I was invited to a small cocktail party hosted by the captain. I invited her, of course, and we even dressed up for the occasion. There were elegant canapés with caviar and shrimp and cream cheese on toast and the booze was flowing. The top officers were there in their ornamental dark uniforms with gold trim. She really appreciated having gone with me and said so numerous times. We even had sex that night. But for the most part on the voyage, she had become Lyngbakr and was dragging me into the deep.
She slept all day. There was one day where she was only awake for 5 hours. Another night, I came in to go to bed around 2AM and she got up and went out. From what I could tell, she spent much of her time outside the room smoking in the lounge one deck up. I know that our room stunk to high heaven of cigarette smoke emanating from her clothing. And she had promised that she was going to quit for the cruise.
When she did come to dinner with our group of new friends from the on line community, she complained about the food; not as bad as the scene she made in the Italian place, but close. She’d take a bite of a dish and push it back with a face of a child and exclaim, “Well, this is awful!”, as if to wish for the whole table to understand that she was displeased.
At one point, one of our new friends leaned over to me and asked what was wrong with her. I explained that I had only known her for a few months and I guess she is one of those who need to complain about things to feel alive. It got to the point where others in our group began to complain to me about her as well. I was even asked if she had a drinking problem. And then I learned from a friend that she had gone of her meds right after Miami.
“Off her meds? What meds?” One thing I didn’t know was that she was bi-polar and decided to stop taking her medicine to help regulate the condition. Why she would chose such a time is beyond me. It certainly explained the sudden turn of behavior in my friend.
All I knew was that I was going crazy. I couldn’t go to the room and not find her in bed. I enjoy having my room attended to in the morning. I was receiving daily treats from various ships’ officers as a perk of being on the VIP list. There were days I didn’t get my treat, because she was in bed with the ‘do not disrupt’ sign on the door. One day, I found that my plate of chocolates was gone; my fancy delicate chocolates with the ship’s logo emblazoned across the top. She ate them; this after complaining to me several times at how her roommate back home was eating her food from the fridge! She told me she even wanted to dupe her by somehow contaminating a dish and leaving it for her roommate to eat.
The last I could bear from her shipboard behavior came a few nights before reaching Barcelona. I was in the disco with friends, enjoying libations and dancing. While taking a break and sitting with a guy I knew, I saw two uniformed security officers enter the club. I’d seen them do this on rounds before, but I immediately knew these were not rounds. They were looking for someone. My heart sank. I knew it was me they sought. Sure enough, they approached and asked if I was Mr. Penguin, rooming with Miss Lyngbakr. Yes, I was that poor soul.
They had just escorted Beth to our room after finding her too intoxicated to make it back on her own. She was discovered in a bar, where others informed the officers that she had only ordered one drink. I explained that she was on medication for a health issue and maybe she had taken too many; or secretly, maybe she was drinking from the supply of vodka in our room! But perhaps more importantly- both!
I was asked to go with them to check on her and make sure she didn’t need medical assistance. Jerry came along as well. I opened our door and was greeted with Beth’s bare ass, stuck between the bed and the wall. I grabbed the towel animal our steward had made and covered her up. With Jerry and the security lady, the 3 of us managed to get her back in bed. Apparently, she had attempted to use the restroom. She got her pants down, but fell and got stuck and passed out. Needless to say, she no longer needed to use the restroom.
At this point, I was over it. I was this close to asking for a new room. The new low was the following morning explaining to our room steward that after Miss Lyngbakr awoke, he’d need to replenish all of our linens and bed coverings. He sure got a nice tip from me on the last day for that!
The hell of the cruise was over. I had loved the cruise and now had so many new friends. I assumed that she hated the cruise and that was the reason for spending it in our room sleeping and watching movies. I never had the chance to ask, because I had eventually given up on trying and we saw so little of one another. She even stopped joining us for dinner. Simply, she had just given up. Hopefully that would all change now that we were on land.
We were finally in Barcelona and were eager to experience this wondrous city none of us had been to. Of course, Beth had again over-indulged the previous night and before leaving the cabin, she relieved her stomach of its contents quite unexpectedly.
We got to the neighborhood in which our apartment was located. I called to have someone meet us with the key and while we waited, Beth needed someone to escort her to a nearby restroom; quickly. Only this time it wasn’t her stomach.
When we got to the apartment, we settled in for a bit. Nathan and Kit rushed me, exclaiming they wanted to share the room I had chosen and that Will and Jerry could share the room with Lyngbakr. I didn’t care; I had spent enough time in a small room with her and my reward was the one large bed in a room that didn’t include her. Another reward was that my room had a drawing of a Picasso penguin. It was fate!
At my urging, we selected a time at which to finish up settling in so that we could go out and explore the city a little. After all, I hadn’t come all this way to sit in a small Spanish apartment. They agreed, and after catching up their statuses on line, we were ready to head out. As we did so, Beth lay down on her bed and got under the covers, making it apparent that she would not be joining us. For this reason, not much was said about it by anyone. After all, she had spent much of the morning in the restroom, so we weren’t exactly surprised.
What did surprise me was that much like on the ship, she continued to stay in bed for most of her stay in Barcelona. She only went out in the evenings and usually that was to go to a bar. She never went sightseeing. She didn’t go on any tours. She never left our neighborhood. There was one day she never spoke to any of us but Will; and we later found out from him that she was being a Lyngbakr to him as well. One morning, she and Jerry were getting into it, as they often did. Will, who had the misfortune of sharing the room with them, turned over in his bed and asked that they turn out the light. She reprimanded him by commenting that she should simply die then, since she wouldn’t be able to see what medicine she needed to take. Oh, I guess she went back on them? Most likely not; she had many to take.
At night, we would announce sightseeing plans for the following day and invite anyone to join. She never said a word. We weren’t going to make her have a good time in Barcelona. We’d come a long way and wanted to get out without having to wake her and wait for her to ready herself. She knew the plans and if she wanted to join us, she could have done so.
The drama was much more than passive-aggressive. One morning she informed us that the night before she was attacked and nearly raped. We felt awful for her, until reading on line that her story didn’t match what she told us in the apartment. As proof, she showed us bruises on her arms. They appeared to be the same ones she got from getting her back into bed when she entrapped herself that night on the ship.
The following night, she tells us she heard a woman screaming. Fearing she was about to be raped, Beth goes downstairs to assist and was again, attacked, but she kicked the shit out of him. Later, in a post she made on line, she stated that one of the six of us had nearly been mugged on our first night. I went around to everyone to find out who this was and what happened, since I hadn’t heard about it. No one was nearly mugged. We doubted anything she said at this point.
Nathan, Kit and I traveled really well together- and even Will, but he usually had his own agenda. We spent a good deal of time exploring the city and dining out. We all liked to see as much as possible and had similar travel habits. However, it got to where, upon heading back to the apartment in the evening, we’d wonder to each other what had befallen ‘Drama Central’ that day. More arguments with Jerry? Another attack? It was scary.
I felt bad for her. But I had reached out to her more than once and she always closed down. She had trained me on the ship that I could try, and maybe she’d come around to near normal for a few hours. But then she would return to the dark side, close down and sleep all day. I was on vacation, not a bi-polar summer camp, after all.
While dancing early one morning in a disco with Nathan is when I had my pocket picked. I lost most of the next day dealing with that issue. As horrible as that was, it was nothing compared to being drug under a black ocean by Lyngbakr.
When we returned home, she commented on how bad a place Barcelona was. She shared her stories of rapes and muggings and of being abandoned in the apartment while we all went out and had fun. I couldn’t stand it. I posted back to her so that others could understand; she didn’t know Barcelona because she never saw it, so it was an unfair review. She wasn’t abandoned; she chose not to go out with us, even if we secretly hoped she wouldn’t. There were other people to hang out with besides Nathan, Kit and me, who she came to call the Three Musketeers. But most importantly, she needed help. There is no doubt that she had a bad time. She needed to be back on her meds and she could obviously use some good therapy. I knew she wouldn’t listen to me, so I hoped others could see through the veil and offer her that which she needed.
After we had all returned to America, Beth defriended us on line, telling others that I was spreading lies. Most everyone saw through this and many have lent me their support. It’s all drama under the bridge at this point. She is out of my life and I am out of hers. I survived the Lyngbakr. Barely; she nearly ruined what was close to being a perfect vacation. I would have gladly sacrificed the contents of my pocket if only that would have made the rest go away. I missed the woman I came to know in the month before we set sail.
She and I had a great few months together, and even a few good times on our cruise across the Atlantic. For me, it was a great trip; and it was a horrible trip. I’d do it all over again- with someone other than a Lyngbakr.