I am in my front yard mowing the grass.

“You need to stop that.”

I snap my head up and am faced by a merman

Beached lazily on the sidewalk

Like some happy whale.

“Excuse me?” I jostle.

He slaps his thick gold fin on the cement

Leaving a soggy puddled slash that sparkles

Sizzling in the summer sun.

“Can’t you hear them?” his eyebrows furrow angrily

The thick scent of salt slithers into my nose

His white beard tumbling over his bronzed chest

Looks like sun snagging on a cliff.

“Hear who?”

He rolls his eyes.

“The blades of grass

They’re singing.”


Whale loves mermaids!
.
The Rockaway

An Assortment of Mermaid Musings....


He mistakes her for a glint on the water, a blue shimmer as reflected from the sky to the slick surface of the Mississippi. It is a twinkle of light, a piece of dazzling river-refuse, a flying fish, a blinding spark that makes his eyes pucker in the corners and his hand clutching a can of beer to shoot to his forehead, sheltering his gaze from the sun as he peers out to the churning water.  Boats are making their slow progress down the river, a large casino cruiser has just taken off from shore with a jazz band swaying on its deck, the faint outline of the saxophone, bass, drums, trumpet bobbing in the slow rhythm of the off beat swing.  He thinks that such a complex arrangement of swaying brass has scrambled the sun in bizarre ways;  he can picture the way it hits up against the dented insides of the tuba only to be battered flat against the cymbal thrashed against the spit valve of the trombone.  How, after all of that jostling, can sunlight still look like sunlight?

That is it, of course! Such an unusual slant of light must have been caused by the music flurrying the sun.

He is content enough with this explanation to bring his 40 oz can of beer back to his lips and pull it down his throat in long satisfied drags.  His head is buzzing up, his vision blurring and wavering, the world softened at the edges.  It is an enjoyable feeling, an in-between feeling, like those childhood dreams he mistook for memory, as if the world was actually something that came together with as much ease as it came apart.

Oh, but there again! The play of something bright and above on something shadowed and below. Slower this time, so the light beginning to take shape, so that something, whatever the thing is, becomes a form, something luminous.  Squinting, his lashes cut the world at its edges, drawing focus to that one image in the center.  And then he sees- HER. For it must be a she by the great length of hair spreading on the water like liquid gold.  His beer drops from his hand when he identifies the recognizable figure of WOMAN in the very gray heart of the water.  Dangerous, of course! She must be drowning!  He knows about the whirlpools and undertows that rustle silently just beneath the river’s surface, trembling and grabbing all that they can in quick and easy strokes.  Almost by reflex, images of helpless females bubble before his eyes-- maidens, princesses, Helen’s pale hands clutching the balcony of Troy, Penelope at her loom, and all the men necessary to save them-- knights, Achilles, and-- as the ripple of Odysseus’ furrowed muscle gripping the helm gently fades away, HIMSELF.  HE is necessary in this chain of preservation, of rescuing the things that shine coyly and dive into pools of love like swift swans. He rises and is dripping with a noble feeling, his hands curled at the tips, he chest puffed, his forehead and neck flushed.  Step by step, he is nearing the banks of the river, he is keeping his eyes fixed on that pulsing glow of woman easing along the surface of the water so graceful and smoothly that he begins to feel dizzy with this image of deranged female, of beauty brinking on death. 

    On the banks he finds a row boat-- dented, cracked, green with algae-- but it will do, it must do, there is no time to wait, no time to consider the risk of his own life for hers.  Into the water he charges, the thick gray waves licking his legs, saturating his shoes, the shimmering silt of the bottom greedily sucking him down.  He hurls himself in the boat and paddles frantically, watching the woman drifting towards the casino boat, drawing dangerously close to the churning propellers. He is gaining distance, his muscles lean and strong, each rise and fall and arch and curve of his body so perfect and rightly proportioned that he feels almost superhuman, he feels beyond manly.  His body works, bringing him closer and closer, and he begins stretching his voice out to her, as far as he can, the words Do not worry I am here! I have you! Over and over and over.  He’s gaining on her, and just as he is close enough to touch her, to grab her long flowing arm he realizes with astonishment, completely dazzled, that she has a fin. Dark turquoise, blue, gold, silver, almost any color he can imagine there, in the undulating water.

He must save her! The only thought that possesses his brain, his body.  Come to me now!  I must-- you must-- now, with me!  His eyes are so round, the whites jutting out like perfect moons, and the mermaid-- that’s what she must be-- calmly making her way closer and closer to the massive turbines of the casino ship.  Where are you going! Come here-- no, you must. But there is no hesitation in her movements, they are precise and graceful and lovely in the rich afternoon sun, circling with rhythmic certainty like the propellers themselves.  No you cannot, you will die! You must stay, you must! You are the most beautiful! I will do anything, please! I will do anything!  And suddenly she jolts to a stop, an arm’s length away from the churning propellers of the boat, she quickly snaps her glittering face to meet his, then to the propellers, back to meet him again.  She gazes into him for a moment, parts her red lips ever so slightly as if to speak or cry or maybe just to breath a little deeper, and then, with a sweep of her body that is quick and exact, she hurls herself into the whirling turbines of the ship until she is just a swirling of green and turquoise and red and gold and sun and water and glittering sand that takes him, like a dream, into the heart of the Mississippi. 


And what else is there to do?


All CONTENT AND IMAGES © LAUREN MCCABE 2009 


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Eight months of travel.

But... How?


That’s the most common question I get from homebodies and fellow travelers alike. How are you taking eight months off of work to travel?  How can you afford such a long trip?   How are you going to avoid the bombs in Indonesia (there are bombs in Indonesia, right?) How? How? HOW??!!


People love these questions, and I always hope they stem from a curiosity and desire to also take an extended trip.  It requires a little creativity and a lot of lifestyle shifting to take off and just go, and I even find myself asking fellow travelers on the road how they are managing their long term journeys. It’s always the two week vacationers who are the toughest inquistors, voices tinged with a bit of jealously, no doubt.


But there’s no need for jealousy, especially now, when travel is more accessible than ever, and the traditional work day is changing. Job security is down, contract based work is up, and backpacking circuits stretch the world over, ready to cater to budget travelers.  Make it happen.


It is safe to travel Asia, and much of the world, I dare say.  The media does a fabulous job of concentrating all the globe’s atrocities in one fear-stricken newspaper, and while still there are too many to count, most of the billions of people out there are just trying to get by, day by day.  In that remote village in Java, no one has guns, and no one wants guns.  They’re too busy surviving.   I have felt much safer in 99% percent of my travels than I have anywhere in the United States, guaranteed.


It took me two years of job juggling  to be in a semi-suitable position to flutter off for eight months.  You’re never in the exact right place for a long term trip, how could you be?  It requires a leap of faith to go off into the unknown and leave apartments subletted and possessions in storage.  But with a little bit of gumption, and a lot of determination, anyone can do it.  Here’s my How Story:








Why?


Asia.  The blue-green coral fringed isles of the south pacific, waves rolling in perfect lines to shore, aromatic curries simmering in open air markets, ancient ruins erupting from town centers.


How could I not go?


I wanted a long trip, at least six months.  It’s the only way to get a feel for a place, to understand it even remotely.  Once the local cuisine becomes your official daily diet, the dialect automatic in your responses, your body acclimated to the extreme heat of the tropics, then your start to live, even if just a little, the culture.


How?


The big question:  “How, being a broke 23 year old, did you come to fly off to Asia for eight months?”


Asia is far from the USA, and the plane ticket expensive, starting at $1500 and soaring into the nether regions of $4000 during high season.   Once you are there, things are cheap, you can live off of $600 a month, no problem.  But to have to pay the equivalent of four months of travel for one measly ticket, it seems silly, a waste.


I stumbled upon the website for Conde Nast Traveler, a magazine put out by the same publishers of Vogue, The New Yorker, and Harper’s Bazaar.  They were hosting a contest with a grand prize trip for two for a five night stay in a double pool villa, with a $300 per day allowance for food and a round trip ticket to Thailand thrown in for good measure.


To Thailand!


That’s what interested me the most, a free ticket to Asia. 


So I applied, a simple process of submitting a photo of one of your great travel moments with a 100 word caption elucidating the experience. 


I began writing the captions when I was riding the Staten Island ferry in the evening on my way to tutor the SAT.  While the sun was setting and the ship gliding through the gray winter waters, I imagined myself on a ferry somewhere entirely different: Indonesia, India, the Philippines, the warm pacific air ruffling my hair.  And so I scribbled away, losing myself on that half-hour boat ride to an entirely different continent.


I submitted my entry in October, and forgot about the whole thing.  I had work to do, and waiting around wasn’t going to solve anything.


And then on a rainy day in February in New Orleans, where I had temporarily relocated in search of a new job, I got the email from Conde Nast with the subject line “You Won!”  I stared at the screen skeptically, almost mistaking the email for spam.  But then I opened it, and low and behold, it turned out that the editors, after long deliberation, had decided that I was the grand prize winner of Conde Nast’s 2008 Win the Cover Thailand Contest.


I could hardly believe it!  This was a dream come true, a serious stepping stone to my ultimate goal.


So I began trying to figure out what dates I could take the trip, and if Conde Nast would be agreeable to allow me to book my return plain ticket eight months after the start date. After six months of back and forth emailing, calling, and cajoling of Conde Nast’s rather surly but charming (in that native New York way) travel agent , I had it all taken care of:  A March 2009 departure with a November 2009 return. 


And so I spent almost a full year working my butt off.  First a sixth month gig doing PR work for a New York media company, when that ended, I was back to New Orleans where I tutored the SAT, taught enrichment classes in public schools, and waitressed for another six months, saving every penny I could.  There were no starbucks outings or beer hangouts.  Just lots and lots of yoga.   And finally I had enough money to make it for eight months at least, maybe more, depending.


And After?


Teach English in Indonesia?  Move to Oregon?  Try to be a writer full time and for real (while working some mysterious other job?).  I’m not sure, but I know I want to make travel a part of my life, accessible when I want it.  Whatever that takes, I’m willing to do. 

After wining one travel contest, I became curious and started to enter others.  The next one was a short essay on a life changing travel moment, for a grand prize trip for two to Costa Rica.  Again, this involved writing an essay about a travel moment, something that I couldn’t pass up, I love to write! 


And then low and behold I won!  So during my transition from New York to New Orleans in September 2008 I made a trip to Costa Rica with my dear friend Cala Bloomberg. Click HERE to see my winning essay.  Here are some pics:

When I slam on the brakes swerving the car onto the shoulder of the road, I haven't encountered a single living creature in the five days I've been driving along the Tasmanian coast. Tasmania, the island off the tip of Australia, is a wilderness state: brittle burnt fields smack up against pristine turquoise ocean, and pervading all, emptiness. But as I step out of the car and approach a field filled with sheep, one of the creatures lifts a cautious head to peer at me, and then, suddenly, they all do. Hundreds of wide moist eyes hover before me as if expecting my arrival. The next instant they turn away, moving into the shadows as quickly as they had come. Yet, in a terrain of solitude so complete that every living thing scuttles away from every other living thing, I have briefly encountered an intense moment of connection.

Tassie, mate.

Sheep that probably thought I was going to give them food. Hello Sheepies.

The 100 word caption I wrote while languishing on the Staten Island Ferry on my way to tutor high schoolers the SAT.

The follow up shot: a bunch of sheep butts after I provided no food.

Jobs I’ve held in the past two years:


1.) Radio DJ

2.) Surf Instructor

3.) SAT Tutor

4.) Public Relations Consultant

5.) Public School Enrichment Teacher

6.) Writer

7.) Waitress

A steaming active volcano in La Fortuna, Costa Rica.

Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica.