Columns » Penny Post by Andrei Codrescu

Dying Choices on Vacation


I'm not a fan of beaches. Lying there slathered with grease is my idea of hell. It's nice floating in the sea for a minute or so until a big wave slams you against a rock. Then it hurts for a month. So I was just being nice when I lay down in Martinique on a chaise lounge under a tall palm tree. I closed my eyes and thought bright blue thoughts. There were blue plastic bags around the bananas hanging from banana trees on all the banana plantations we passed on the way here. The sea was blue. A long blue cockroach was gliding past a boulder rising from the blue sea. Then another. Then the whole sky filled with blue roaches. These fliers like to glide around Anse-Cafard and land on a beach featuring 15 8-foot figures of tragedy, the Slave Memorial at Diamant. That made me open my eyes in terror. As I looked up I saw a cluster of large coconuts nestled tightly under the mop of the swaying palm tree. They looked like World War II mines you see bobbing in the movies. One of them had my name written on it. But I was at the beach, was I not? I lay there for another 10 minutes, waiting to hear the snapping of the cord and the whoosh of the diving coco growing louder as it neared my chest.

If I died killed by a coconut, I would be a figure of ridicule forever. Nobody could report my death with a straight face. People would crack up. At best, they'd invent a coconut drink in my honor and laugh themselves silly making toasts. No, it was too horrible. I bounced up and ran back the flowering path to the room and slammed the door behind me. I noticed that there was a sign I hadn't seen on the back of the door. Roughly translated from the French, it said: "Do not lie under coconut trees or you can be damaged." Yeah. Really damaged. Like coffinwise damaged. I made a careful note of the sign, pulled on my combat shorts (out of which poked my white legs that, according to Laura, repelled the sun), and took a stroll down the main street of the village, stopping strangers and asking them in bad French if they had ever known personally anyone who had been killed by a falling coco. After a long pause and a look at my white legs, the people stared sort of past me and said, "No, no. Not here, not in Martinique." I obtained the same answer in the souvenir shop and at the cafe. No one was willing to admit it, but I had the feeling that half the families of those I asked had been destroyed by coconuts. But this is a proud island, hurting for tourists. Truth is to be avoided at all cost.

Flying out of Martinique afforded me a more heroic method of dying. The little plane flying to St. Martin (half French-half Dutch) flew right into tropical storm Dean. I hadn't heard anything about it on the ground. Of the three viewable TV channels, only one is locally produced, and it's for tourists so it shows only things like fishermen getting medals for catching the biggest tuna. No weather. The other two are: "Euronews," with all the happenings on the Spanish Gold Coast, and the other is "Eurosports," with stock car racing all the time. So here we were, clueless, tossed like a leaf in an incredible lightning storm. The cockpit was silent and we clutched one another. Now and then there was a break in the soup and we could see the water roiling below, all white caps and huge waves. Well, if this is how I went, it beat coconuts any day in my book. Gone down in storm Dean vs. beaned by coconut. No contest.

After 1,000 gut-wrenching swings, the pilot landed us shakily on St. Croix through the only hole of blue left in the Caribbean. "Eighteen years," he said, "I saw nothing like this." Comforting words. Next time, let's go to New York, OK, honey? Death by taxi is something in-between coco and Dean.

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