Islands in the Stream

Islands in the Stream

By Richard Boughton

My wife tends to get restless at weekends. It’s a spill-over from the restlessness that besets her on weekdays, a rising of energy that is usually expended at work but now suddenly finds itself with nowhere to go, like water at a boil or un-slurped foam on a newly poured beer. She tends to spill all over the house.

She has no idea of how to relax. She considers relaxation a waste of time. This can make for difficult days in our marriage, for I just happen to be an expert at relaxing. It’s something that comes to me quite naturally, without effort. You might say that I’m a sort of idiot-savant where relaxing is concerned. I cannot explain how it is done, and I certainly can’t teach it. It’s just there.

Some people, inexplicably talented, can sit down at the piano and play Liszt and Rachmaninoff (and yet remain unable to tie their own shoelaces). Some people can glance at a jar of toothpicks and tell you how many are within. Some people memorize dictionaries. In the same way, I find in myself a certain genius for doing nothing, and loving it. I am the Rain Man of relaxation.

But she must move – either that or reach a critical state of elemental imbalance, which in turn can be hazardous to anyone within 50 feet or so.

I remember reading a book once. It was part of the course material for a class at church. How to understand your mate and succeed in marriage. This was sometime during my second marriage. According to the book, men are naturally inclined toward “fixing” a problem whereas women mean only to “state” the problem – to get it out in the open, to air their feelings, to express frustrations and grievances. They’re not necessarily looking for a fix. Certainly not from their husbands.

Given, therefore, the true dynamics involved, an understanding man may learn a few key phrases. “What the hell do you want me to do about it?” is not one of them. Rather we should say (and softly so, with a meeting of eyes): I understand what you’re saying,” or “What I hear you saying to me is this…” (at which point you should tack on the words she just finished saying (which necessitates, of course, remembering the same).

“We never go anywhere,” my wife says. “All you want to do is drink coffee and read books and … drink coffee.”

To me, this sounds like a full enough life. But I understand what she’s getting at, so I ask her where she wants to go.

“Anywhere,” she answers.

“I hear what you’re saying,” I answer (with feeling), but can you narrow it down just a bit? Anywhere is kind of … big.”

“How about Singapore?” she says. “How about New York City?”

In the end we decide upon the Mangrove Forest, just up the Bypass near Sarangan. Poverty is a bitch. You’ve got to cut corners. Sharp ones at that.

Just before the entry to the Mangrove Forest my wife noticed a mountain of garbage off to the left, and shoved my shoulder so that I could swerve and see it, too. “Mountain” is really too small a word. It was magnificent, like nothing I had seen before. This mountain, this pre-eminence, looms majestically over the forest itself and, as we discovered, contributes liberally to the streams that wind through the park.

Upon arrival to the park proper, we found that visitors must pay to walk the mangrove path. Moreover, we found that bules must pay three times the price for Indonesians. This seemed less than fair – and yet miraculous in its own way, in that it, like the mountain of garbage, was ridiculous, and therefore something fresh and new where the expectations of an American are concerned.

Imagine if we in America tried to charge three times the white price for brown people, for instance. Is it not astonishing? What country is this in which I now live? What planet?

After negotiating with the woman in the guard booth, wherein I was careful to express a keen understanding and appreciation of what she was saying – repeating her words back for full effect – it was concluded that I should either pay the bule price or sit outside the park entrance while my wife and her camera went in.

And so it was. I cannot say that she was delighted by the sights, but the walk did serve to expend some energy, and later on at home she laid down for a nap.

As for myself, I talked to a woman in the warung across the road; I drank a strawberry Fanta; I smoked cigarettes; and wandered in lazy circles. Lastly I stood on the small bridge that spans the river oozing into the mangrove forest. As I stood there, gazing down at the sluggish waters, I saw all manner of things admitted, where I myself had been disallowed – paper cups and wrappers, plastic ware, Styrofoam, dresser drawers, diapers, someone’s shirt and bra, bike tires – all the world in one stream, a perfectly miserable sort of microcosm. I could not help but be amazed. How much more might I have seen, I wondered, had I swallowed my parsimony and paid the fee?

Singapore and the Big Apple may have wonders a-many; but there’s nothing, I think, to equal Bali’s own brand.

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