PASSAGE TO AFRICA
Chapter 1, Two weeks before
This is the second time I've started this Travel Blog... 2 ½ weeks before I leave. You'll read what happened in a bit. But this is about boding and portending... and the trip is soon, and the boding and portending has already started.
I write this while on hold for Continental Airlines. Only 24 minutes of wait time... they promise! I called them to change my reservation from Casablanca to Dakar. Later, you'll read why I want to stay less in Senegal and more in Morocco. The original plan gave me 22 hours in Portugal. When I checked into the website today, they changed the schedule so now I only have 12 hours there. I called them, using the automated system.
The electronic voice understood and found my reservation-- all automatically. I'm shocked it worked. Then the voice said “we'll switch you to an agent now.”
SORRY, TECHNICAL ERRO... SORRY, TECHNICAL ERRO... SORRY, TECHNICAL ERRO... SORRY, TECHNICAL ERRO... SORRY, TECHNICAL ERRO... SORRY, TECHNICAL ERRO... SORRY, TECHNICAL ERRO... SORRY, TECHNICAL ERRO... SORRY, TECHNICAL ERRO...
I hang up and call again. This time I say AGENT from the beginning, and that's where I am now. Waiting. It's been about 10 minutes... so far. OK, here's the story.
In October, I had a cough. An awful cough. It was right when my friend Vera was visiting from New Zealand. I could hardly function. I couldn't wake up without stuffing a cough drop-- preferably a FISHERMAN'S FRIEND... into my mouth, I'm not very much fun because of the cough. I get one every two years or so. It lasts 6 weeks... usually. This one was just about disappearing after two and a half months... Then it came back. With a vengeance.
I awoke coughing every night. I couldn't sleep more than an hour and a half, then my body wracked with the cough... sending me to the bathroom. It must be hard on the neighbors.
I can't hold down food. The things I love most in life, food, booze, spice, all in the toilet after a few minutes. Eat and puke. I think about canceling the trip. I feel like I'm gonna die. It takes a lot to bring me to the doctor, but I'm there in a day.
“It's not your lungs, Mykel,” says Dr,. Cohen. “It's your stomach. I'll write you a prescription for heavy duty Prilosec. It'll reduce your stomach acid. Stop acid reflux. But you'll need some x-rays. I want to see if there's something wrong.”
“But I can't hold down booze, or spicy food, Doc. It's killing me!” I say.
The doctor reaches his right arm in back of his head and then tugs at his left ear. “If it hurts when you do this,” he says, pulling smartly on the ear, “then don't do it.”
The x-ray process is horrible. Forty five minutes after the scheduled starting time the nurse calls me in. “Sorry to be late,” she says, “but the last patient... er... made a mess. It took some time to clean up.”
I put on a hospital gown, and pad into the x-ray room. The nurse, an Irish-looking woman, slips on a lead jacket. The doctor, with a German accent thick enough to cut with a scalpal, slips into a similar jacket.
“Drink Zis slowly,” says the doctor handing me some white liquid. It tastes like mint chalk. I stand in front of a screen. The x-ray machine is a heavy white contraption. It takes both doctor and nurse to move it. It does not look modern or sleek.
Hold it. Turn a bit to the left. Breathe. Hold it. Turn to the right. Stop. Hold it. Okay, stand right there.
After each command, the nurse takes out a large piece of X-ray film and inserts another.
BZZZZ, RRRRRR. The screen slowly tilts back and changes from screen to a table. It's like a Frankenstein movie. I tilt with it, and am soon horizontal. The doctor moves to the heavy machine. He places it over my stomach and lowers it... and lowers it some more... it pushes hard against me.
“I understant chew might feel some discomfort,” says the doctor. “But don't vorry, zat's normal.”
It's nice to know what's normal. Later that night, my shit is iridescent white. Marilyn says I should have turned off the lights and photographed the glow. It does not occur to me to do so at the time.
I'm so weak... the coughing... the puking... the lack of food... I can't even put on my boots... the only shoes I have... except for sneakers... It's too much effort. So I put on sneakers and keep 'em on... for days. I can't be bothered to pack my pockets. It's too much effort to take my camera, my cellphone, I can barely carry my wallet around.
My cellphone, where is it anyway? My stupid cellphone... it calls... it texts... and that's it. No games, no touch screen, no apps. Just a phone. And where is it? It's Saturday when I ask myself this question. I remember taking it out in class. I put it on the table to check the time. The room clock was an hour slow.
At school, I always need to get to the bathroom. In the middle of class. The staff complains... they can hear my up-chucks... from the mensroom all the way into the schoolroom... the gagging... the coughing... “Please don't die, Mykel,” they say every day. I wonder if they mean it.
Now my cellphone is missing. I tear my apartment apart. Move the couch, stir up thirty year old dust bunnies. Wow, there's that label gun... lost since 1998. And look at that, Cannibal Holocaust the Japanese version, unedited. But NO PHONE. Ok, I left it at work. It's Sunday, so no one will be in until tomorrow. I'll call and leave a message. It's gotta be in the room with the the slow clock.
The dust from the search is now deeply embedded in my lungs. Hold on while I throw up...
Back. It's Monday, I check my phone messages (I'm the only person in New York who still has a REAL phone, with a wire... goes right into the wall... makes a BEEEEEEEE sound when I pick up the receiver... has a 212 number... You've probably never seen one.) There is a message from work on the land phone voicemail. No, there's no cellphone in the school, says Reo. They checked everywhere and no phone... sorry Mykel.
Fuck! It's PRESIDENT'S DAY, but this is an emergency. Lost phone. Someone could have found it and be speaking to the president of Mongolia right now! They've got to have emergency service, right?
I call T-mobile. Please enter your cellphone number.
I understand, you want to speak to an agent, but first I'll need some information. Please enter or say your cellphone number... or say 'I don't have one.'
I DON'T HAVE ONE.
All right, tell me what you're calling about. You can say get new service, buy a phone, or change your phone service.
Sorry I'm having so much trouble understanding you. Please, tell me what you're calling about. You can say get new service, buy a phone, or change your phone service.
Sorry, I didn't get that. Good-bye. And the phone hangs up.
I can feel the inside of my skull boil. I'll die of a stroke before I leave The States. I call back.
This time I enter my cellphone number when asked.
The number you entered was 9...1....7....4....3...7....9....9...7...2 If this is correct, press ONE. If this is not correct press TWO.
I press one.
Thank you. Now for security reasons, please enter the last four digits of your social security number.
I enter them.
You entered 7.... 2 …. 8....2. If this is correct, press ONE. If this is not correct press TWO.
I can feel the top of my head ready to explode. I press ONE... very hard.
Thank you. Now tell me what you're calling about. You can say anything from How many minutes did I use? to What's my rate plan? Now, why are you calling?
I'm sorry, I didn't get that. What's the reason you're calling? You can say anything from How many minutes did I use? to What's my rate plan?
I LOST MY FUCKING PHONE!
Sorry, I didn't get that. Good-bye. And the phone hangs up
POW! I slam the receiver down on the phone. Plastic shards spray into the air. The phone falls off the desk onto the floor, hitting the OFF button on a power strip, turning out the lights. I guess my neighbor is not home, because no police arrive.
An AleveTM and a vomitous coughing jag later... I call T-Mobile again. I figure they'll probably respond to me more quickly if I want to buy something. So I push all the buttons to indicated NEW CUSTOMER requesting NEW PHONE SERVICE. I figure right.
A cheerful male Southern-African-American voice answers. Not that I have anything against our Indian brothers and sisters. Neither turban NOR feather. But I do enjoy an American accent every once-in-while.
T-Mobile, how can I help you?
I LOST MY CELLPHONE.
Oh, that's terrible. You need to call customer service and let them know so they can stop calls on your phone.
CAN YOU CONNECT ME WITH THEM?
They're closed today. It's Presidents Day.
CUSTOMER SERVICE IS CLOSED????
Sure, they're all at the beach. Wouldn't you like a day off to go to the beach once-in-awhile? I'm sitting here in Miami. It's a beautiful day. I wish I could go to the beach.
YOU MEAN I CAN'T REPORT MY PHONE LOST UNTIL CUSTOMER SERVICE COMES BACK FROM THE BEACH?
I can hear him nod into to phone. I will make a note of it on your record, though. That way, if there's any problem you can show you reported it.
THANK YOU. NOW HOW DO I GO ABOUT GETTING ANOTHER PHONE?
I could send you a free phone.
THAT WOULD BE NICE
But you'd have to sign another contract and change your rate plan. How much are you paying now?
I'VE HAD THIS PLAN FOR SOME TIME. I PAY THIRTY DOLLARS A MONTH FOR 60 MINUTES TALKING, PLUS 500 WEEKEND MINUTES PLUS 400 TEXT MESSAGES.
Hoooey! We don't even have that plan anymore. You must've been grand-fathered in. You a grandfather?
Just joking there. But a free phone with the cheapest contract would be twice what you're paying. I recommend a phone similar to the one you got. Forty nine dollars and it'll be there in two days.
I take him up on the offer. He tells me he'll put the charges on my next bill... charged automatically to American Express every month. I think him. This time it's me who hangs up first.
After I hang up, I decide to walk off the horrible frustration of phone hell. My anger has given me enough energy to actually put on my boots. I slip my right foot into the right boot. In the left boot is my cellphone.