During my time on “one happy island”—that’s what Aruba’s license plates proclaim—I had the good fortune to meet Vivi, an attractive 30-something who happens to be the director of the Archaeological Museum of Aruba. We meet for drinks at an ostentatious, upper crust, golf course bar. We are in the company of Vivi’s husband, Facundo Franken; their friend Herman who works at some obscure position for the Department of Justice, one that I still can’t understand even after his repeated explanations; and, of course, my sidekick and world-renowned avian biologist, Englishman-recently-turned-American, Adrian Del Nevo.
Adrian and I both despise the game of golf so the green links surrounding the bar do nothing for us. But the rum drinks are good as is the conversation. We talk about Zambia—Vivi and Facundo travel there in a few months. We ponder further Herman’s confusing job, something to do with mediation for citizens who want to sue the government. And Adrian and I hear about old Aruba—these kids all grew up on the island in the 1980s just at the start of the tourism boom, and they tell all. Then Vivi asks us, “Are you doing anything tomorrow night? We are having a private premiere of an art exhibit at the museum. It will be mostly Arubans there, and, of course, the artists. Interested?” We both immediately nod ‘yes’.
The next day Adrian and I paddle through 30-knot winds and white-capped waves on our return back to shore from the San Nicolas Bay Islands after a day with the terns. On the drive home, we round the curve of the Koolbaaibergstraat only to again see the closed sign in front of the Aruba Model Train Museum. Yes, all is right with the world. Then, it is a speedy trip back to the hotel for a quick shower to take off the salt. I don my Hawaiian shirt adorned with flamboyant parrots and bamboo buttons. After all, an art opening is a special event. In a half hour, we are off to the Archaeological Museum of Aruba.
What happens next is one of those events that I would rather suppress deep in the dark crevices of my cerebrum. But perhaps writing is therapy and I can purge the guilt of a rather unfortunate incident. As we enter the main hall, nothing seems out of order. There is a fresh buzz of conversation in the air. People mill about in small groups, chatting with the four or five artists who have pieces in the show. The attire of most is a step above the normal haute couture found in Aruba. I fondle one of my bamboo buttons for reassurance.
Then Vivi comes rushing up to us, “Oh, I’m so glad you made it. The show features artists’ impressions of Aruba’s landscape. There are drinks downstairs afterwards. See you then.” She rushes off in an instant.
Adrian and I split from each other to view the art solo. After all, we’ve been together all day in the presence of thousands of sea birds. It is time for some private contemplation. I check out a traditional sea/land painting being discussed by two older Arubans in Papiamentu. I try to eavesdrop, but my limited skills with the language remain just that—limited. I have no clue to what they are saying. I drift over to an abstract painting of the sea. It has shells mysteriously floating in space. I really like this one. I then cross the hall to see more art on the opposite side. On the way, I pass by a sculpture on a pedestal positioned in the middle of the room, but it doesn’t really catch my eye. I simply pass by, and then it happens. I hear a Crunch! The sound seems far away, but it is still strangely loud. I turn after a few steps to see broken bits of Styrofoam lying at the foot of the pedestal. I feel detached from what is happening, like an out of body experience. Then I realize that all eyes are on me and it is still as a church. That’s a bad feeling, especially if you’re an atheist.
The unnerving quiet reminds me of when my buddy, Pate, and I entered a bar in Muscogee, Oklahoma in the Summer of ’69. We were the only ones in the place with long hair and an IQ over 70. As we walked in the run-down honky tonk, the jukebox just suddenly stopped after playing a predictable “tears-in-yer-beer” country song, and all eyes went on us. It was deadly silent.
But that’s another story from another galaxy. At this particular moment I’m dealing with a major faux pas, a serious social blunder, a colossal misstep so to speak. Hell, this could erupt into a full-blown international incident if I’m not careful. I put 2+2 together and realize it was I, actually my flip-flopped foot, that took off a corner of the foamed centerpiece sculpture. This is not good. The young artist, who appears to be Japanese Aruban, stares with her mouth wide open in disbelief. Her friend, in an attempt to make the horrible moment vanish, quickly bends down and gathers all the broken pieces of foam in her hands. I simply stand there like a dolt, really not comprehending this surreal scene.
I walk over to Adrian to get his support. Pairs of daggered eyes track me as I walk across the ever-lengthening span of the hall.
“Adrian, you won’t believe what just happened,” I mumble, still somewhat in shock. Perhaps, denial is a better word.
The world-renowned avian biologist does not utter a word to me. Rather, he looks back at the staring crowd of angry artists and patrons and simply points two fingers in my direction. Yes, I am the guilty one.
“Et tu, Brute?” I whisper in my best Shakespearean resonance. Perhaps Adrian took offense to all the jokes I made the other day about the British getting their collective colonial asses kicked during the Revolutionary War. After all, it was the Fourth of July when I made those comments. Apparently, he didn’t find them humorous. Talk about a sore loser.
Time of this moment passes excruciatingly slow, but it does pass. The chitchat returns, albeit somewhat less enthusiastic than earlier. New exhibit gawkers begin to drift in, unaware of the demolition incident. I finally get my head together enough and walk over to apologize to the artist. She is actually quite gracious, but the conversation is short. There is actually not a whole lot to say.
The crowd eventually begins to migrate to the patio below for refreshments. Adrian asks me if I want to join him for an adult beverage. “I think I’ll pass. You have a dinner date later. I’m just going to head back to the hotel.”
As I leave the museum alone, a security guard bids me good-bye at the door. Apparently, the sculpture destruction story hasn’t hit street level yet. I head down an alley to my car where two small children are playing. They wave to me while their mom just smiles. I drive home along the seaside watching the day’s sun drip into the water with an explosion of color. I smile, too. It is difficult to stay bummed out for long on Aruba. After all, this is one happy island.