Perhaps it is time to again bring you the Penguin that you know and love. Today will not be a day when the Penguin marvels you with descriptions of African sunsets or the sweltering heat of shifting sand dunes. Nope, today the Penguin will finally sound off on the one person he really hates the most…
We all know this person too. I’m sure he or she isn’t only appearing in my life to piss me off. I am willing to bet that all of you know this person, are frustrated by this person, and would love to be able to just walk up to them and stuff your foot so far up his or her ass that his or her breath would smell like shoe polish. I’ve never actually tried to do that so I don’t know how feasible it is. I don’t think my legs are long enough, unless I meet a midget, a dwarf, or a stumpy person. I will never refer to them as vertically challenged. Political correctness is the language of the coward, and God hates a coward. But, I shall move on.
You will meet people in your life who, it seems, have done everything in the universe better than you have. Or they will know someone who has. Nothing that you see will be good enough for them either. And, believe it or not, you will also meet people who are grand tellers of tales. This doesn’t necessarily make them bad people; it just makes them annoying as fuck!
Case in point – the girl who joined our family on our trip to Wales in 1991. She was a friend of my older sister Susan and she tagged along with Susan and joined my dad, my younger sister Barbara, and I about a week into the vacation. We had never met her, so we didn’t really know what to expect. It didn’t take long to realize that we were dealing someone a little special. Maybe if I reflect on it, I can give her some benefit of the doubt because it can’t be easy joining another family, whom you’ve never met before, on holiday thousands of miles across an ocean. And we aren’t exactly your normal family either. Well, unless the normal family discusses at the dinner table during a Christmas Day feast that the scrotum is made from all the extra elbow skin that God had lying around? Hey, we’re a funny group.
We were weeks into the holiday, had traveled much of Wales, soaking up my heritage and watching my dad revel in his childhood. My sister’s friend had spent her honeymoon in the Caribbean, and thought that it would be a fair comparison to judge the beaches in Wales to the beaches in Jamaica. I don’t know about you, but (in commas for emphasis), that just seems a little far removed from the plot. Of course the beaches in Jamaica are going to be better. Here’s a heads up for you as well – the water will be warmer too. People don’t visit Wales for the miles of sandy beaches with girls in string bikinis. Although, having said that, there are some nice beaches around. Just don’t expect Caribbean nice.
It all boiled to a head one sunny afternoon at Margam Abbey. We’re walking through the grounds, the 400-year-old Abbey still standing, the typical green Welsh hills occupying the horizon. In front of the orchard, the large glass building that housed the fruit trees from years past, stood a tree unlike any I have seen. It must have been as old as the Abbey itself, its great trunk forking in several different directions as the branches rose into the sky before bending arc-like to the ground. The overall effect felt like you were standing under a waterfall of leaves, such was the force of the boughs and the overarching canopy. We stood snapping photos, in awe of this masterpiece, my dad commenting on the grandeur of it. From behind us we heard the all too familiar tone from my sister’s friend, “there is this tree in the Caribbean.”
What happened next is the stuff of legends in my house. My dad, blew a gasket. Normally calm and collected, his comeback silenced all around us. He didn’t even put his camcorder down when he blurted, “fuck the Caribbean”. My little sister and I had never heard him swear before that day – and I was a month from turning 20! And then, he walked into the orchard like nothing had happened. It was so cool. He’s the man. And dad, I know you’re reading this – I hope you are feeling better and you are in my prayers.
I have also had the privilege of knowing two of the best teller of tall tales ever. Both of these men deserve a special place in the Dr Seuss Wall of Fame. And you know the types of tales I’m talking about. One of them had a grandfather who defeated an entire battalion of soldiers with a 4-foot long stick. And the soldiers had a tripod-mounted machine gun too! This same gentleman, at 6 years old, kicked a soccer ball so hard it exploded. He was once asked to play for Portugal in football (soccer) but said no because he had to move to Canada. I think he forgot that I played against him for three years in a local league and he couldn’t run, couldn’t jump, couldn’t head a ball, and couldn’t pass. But apart from that he was an awesome player.
He was in the lunchroom one day at work, polishing off his fifth donut (and apparently having dropped 30 kilos on his new diet) telling a tale about the time his brother and he had a flat and forgot the jack. He held the car up while his brother changed the tire. Hercules had nothing on this guy. A quick glance around the room told you that while people were listening, no one believed. I had just started at the place but already knew his tendencies for bullshit and the overhyped. I was sitting with Lewis, the guy showing me around and I started to speak so just about everyone in the room could here me.
“As I was saying earlier Lewis, when our plane went down somewhere in Panama none of us expected to live.” Of course, all eyes and ears turned. “Somehow, three of us survived, me and two Swedish girls who were in Mexico for a Hawaiian Tropic bikini pageant.” Lewis is peeing himself by this point. “The pilot was killed on impact, and pretty much splattered all over the cockpit. I didn’t think I’d be able to deal with it but I managed to go through his flight bag and pick up pieces of him that I thought might be handy. You don’t know how bone will splinter until you see it.” I took a swig of Coke. “As the girls were busy making us a shelter, using clothes from the dead and parachutes, I ventured towards the coast, not too far away, and tried to catch us dinner. I had about 40-feet of twine and a safety pin that I fastened into a hook. Maria came walking down towards me when the shelter was done saying that Pernella was resting as the wound in her leg was starting to burn. I told her to burn some of the sea water and we’d try and fix her when I got back. My own arms were throbbing. I didn’t find out until 6 days later when we walked out of the jungle that I had broken one of them and dislocated my other shoulder. I felt a tug on the line and began winding the twine around my wrists as I fought what was on the other end. The twine ripped through my skin but I knew the girls were depending on me. Blinded by pain I finally managed to haul in a marlin, not a big one, but big enough to supply us with food for a few days. I carved him open with one of the bones from the pilot’s arm, his ulna I think…”
The lunchroom, of course, was in tears, laughing so hard. Every single one of them knew what I was doing and loved it. The storyteller, for his part, tried to continue with his story but his audience was lost. They were mine now. For several weeks after that fateful lunch day, I had to tell them other tales of splendour.
Sometimes, it’s a curse being imaginative and an asshole.