Op-ed on Egg Nog

Here we are December 31st. While you are pretending to work for half a day at your job, I figured maybe you could sneak a read of this. I wrote it back in 2016 and almost have it edited. A quick note about my comedy schedule: I’m performing at the Backline in Omaha Jan 4, 2020, a Saturday. AND I’M SUPER STOKED TO BE RUNNING ANOTHER NORTH STAR COMEDY HOUR in Minneapolis, 1 p.m., JANUARY 26TH at the EAgles Club #34. This show will feature the uber talented dynamic duo Ethan Iverson (renowned piano player and jazz artist who’s mug has been on Rolling Stone Magazine) and kick ass author and NYC women’s boxing champ Sarah Deming.  More info and ticket link soon at MaryMackcomedy.com ALRIGHT ALREADY HERE’S MY EGG NOG BIT:

Guns, Drugs, and Egg Nog

The following is a sad, wintertime-related observation about the United States of America based on what I experienced while living in—what some people claim is the greatest city of the U.S.—New York City. If it’s so great and such a 24/7 town, then why is there no eggnog on the shelves January 2nd? At least in Wisconsin, where I grew up, they stock up on nog at the gas stations and big box stores in addition to the grocery stores’ supply. Often, one can find nog through Valentine’s Day to celebrate appropriately with her sweetheart.

I need eggnog more available to me, like as soon as an autumn leaf drops and then throughout the ensuing winter and then well past spring. Sadly, in a free country where you can have organic food on your doorstep within 2 hours, this is not an option. Unrestricted and guaranteed egg nog access is not a 1st world option. *1

So there I sat a few years back in a New York sublet on January 10th eggnog-less. Outside, the temperature was averaging 15-25 degrees, the same as inside my apartment. The heat in the Brooklyn sublet, which I had been renting for 7 days already, had been shut off after just 2 days of my habitation and still had not been turned back on due to a carbon monoxide leak and impending death within the building. But it was mainly the eggnog shortage bothering me.

Egg nog is pleasantly addictive. I read you can hallucinate from too much nutmeg, but it’s not the nutmeg alone which is habit forming. It’s the mystical and holistic combination of eggs, dairy, sugar, and spice altogether—the veritable “healing crystal” of drinks. I clinically need eggnog in order to relax…and maybe to be normal, to sleep better, to cope, pay my bills, all that. According to a recent survey of up to 8 people, which I put out on social media, I’m not the only one. And yet, the supply of nog in this country does not meet the demand.

Some people who work at Trader Joe’s (a busy, cheaper than Whole Goods, pretend health store that has spread from California to many larger towns across the United States) will try to make you feel ashamed of yourself for asking where they keep their egg nog on the 10th day of January. Or maybe they’re just sick of answering that question, because there IS so much demand for it, and they’ve probably been asked 80 times that day already.

“Um,” they say to me condescendingly, “That’s a seasonal drink, ma’am.”

“Yeah, I know. It’s winter. This is the season,” I say. The honesty of my Minnesotan-tinged, Wisconsin accent intimidates and confuses New York’s Trader Joe elves.

Apparently, the corporations have decided there is an Eggnog Season, and it only lasts 2 to 3 weeks. Three weeks of availability is laughable in any 1st world market, but especially the Big Apple. When I decided to stay in fabled New York City for the winter, I leapt in with eggs in my eyes, believing there would be pyramids of nog cartons stacked in shiny windows at all the reputable markets and children would stare, tugging on their mothers’ coats: “Please, mama.” It would be just like the bee bee gun want in The Christmas Story. 

Reality disappointed me. Instead of eggnog glorification, what NYC gave me was a shortage of and almost disparaging attitude toward nog, a carbon monoxide leak, and 3 men named Junior all trying to fix a defunct furnace in my apartment everyday for 22 days until the landlord—also named Junior—bribed a young gas company employee to turn it back on. There were no eggnog window displays, just a limited window of availability and even then, not enough to go around.

Not only are the corporate eggnog calendar-limiters hurting me, but they are hurting themselves. They could be making so much more money. I appeal to their greed and do not fear—nay! welcome—the possibility of Big Eggnog. Do drug dealers shoot themselves in the foot by claiming there is a specific 2 weeks of the year when heroine is available? A Heroine Season, if you will? No! Drug dealers make heroine available ALL GODDAMN YEAR, and that is why heroine is so popular and selling so well. Drug dealers recognize the demand, and supply supply supply. Am I saying it’s easier to be addicted to heroine than eggnog? In some ways, yes, I am. It’s easier to get heroine than eggnog. (However, beware that both have serious health repercussions and you can get really sick if you try to make either on your own.)

I am not satisfied by just complaining about this issue. This is a call-to-action. Grocers, gas stations, restaurants, phony health co-ops, please do the right and smart thing and start honoring the entirety of winter and maybe a little of spring and fall, since there’s still snow on the ground then in the upper midwest markets—the eggnog hot spots—by demanding a longer eggnog window from your suppliers. (Chance of snow means Eggnog Season for any reasonable person.)

In final plea, I pose to the reader, if the U.S. senate can refuse to pass a revised Violence Against Women Act because it takes gun rights away from domestic abusers, then, at least we could agree on decreasing the restrictions placed on nog availability. If only eggnog were as accessible as guns and drugs in the United States, this would truly be a great country. (Also, this should have been the first—thesis—sentence, but I’m in a hurry.)

*1 –  You could make it yourself, but I’m just focusing on prepackaged egg nog in this “piece.”

Published in: on December 31, 2019 at 5:56 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , ,

Magic Castle of the North POSTPONED!

THIS IS POSTPONED!!  Didn’t have enough time to plan, but nice he tried!!

Well, hello! This is not an essay, but a little blurb about something interesting I was asked to do this Thurs Aug. 9 in Plymouth, MN.  So…If you don’t live in the Twin Cities area, you might not want to read any further.

Have you ever heard of that haunted attraction west of the Cities called ScreamTown? It’s one of the biggest and best in the U.S. for those type things. I cannot go, because I cannot even watch The Voice on T.V.  I get too nervous. But the owner Matt Dunn is also a magician and he has a beautiful property for his home in Plymouth. There’s swans, a dock, gardens and this pretty rad treehouse with leather chairs like a cigar lounge up in the tree. What I like best are the oddity bits he collects off the internet to display in his house. It’s like the really weird stuff I gawk at on Antiques Roadshow (my favorite show!).

Well, Matt, being a magician is a big admirer of the famous Magic Castle in Hollywood. It has a pretty strict dress code which I breached last spring, and L.A. had to call the fashion police on me.  But what’s super awesome about the Magic Castle is how eccentric it is…and how good the talent is you see there: Handsome Jack and Derick Hughes being my two favorites.

At any rate, I’m excited to say that Matt has created his own magic castle with the same intimate type atmosphere (18 seats!) and he is going to sneak attack grand open it this Thurday Aug 9, 2018! But if everybody is busy, he’ll have to reschedule, I told him. It’s called Dunn’s Comedy and Magic Theater, and Tim Harmston my hubby and I have been asked to be the first performers! (With Stand Up Comedy, not magic. Matt will probably handle that.) This ticket is more than our normal price, but he includes drinks and apps and you get to climb in the treehouse and tour the gardens or try to negotiate with a swan. If you want in here’s the website for tickets below. Please note, he’s really doing it like a real magic castle and requiring people to dress for the occasion and no one is admitted after the show starts. But all that info is on the website! Good luck to Dunn’s Comedy and Magic Theater!   Thanks for reading.


20180608_124920_wt6fbvMatts Swans

Published in: on August 7, 2018 at 10:20 pm  Comments (1)  

2018 MN Fringe Show Coming in August: “BurnOut County”

Tim and Mary in BurnOut County

The Minnesota Fringe Festival happens Aug 2-12, 2018.  Prices are lower, btw! Our show takes place at the Minnsky Theater in Nordeast Mpls on Central Ave. It’s stories, songs, sketch, essays, anything. More info soon on the Fringe site. Here are our show times below.  Please see http://www.fringefestival.org for tickets!

BurnOut County PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE       (Venue:  Minnsky Theater)
August 4  1:00 p.m.

August 5  2:30 p.m.

August 6  7:00 p.m.

August 10  7:00 p.m.

August 12 8:302018FestivaBanner_DarkOnWhite_JPEG

Published in: on June 21, 2018 at 3:02 am  Leave a Comment  

Excerpts from Puberty Part 1

My parents were shy people, so they paid the neighbors to tell me about puberty.  Over E&J Brandy and lemon water and the chirping of frogs out in the back screen porch of our half-finished, homemade, modest house, the German cabin neighbors Fritz and Lou Weigscheider told me about body odor and that’s it.  I was ten years old.  All that came from that talk was that I started to bike to the bait shop more, so I could buy deodorant and not just ice cream and worms like usual.

Deodorant was one of the products featured in the bait shop’s convenience section.  All the convenience products there, like instant mac and cheese, magazines, and deodorant were expired—probably purchased in clearance from a bargain bin store or a nicer bait shop somewhere up in Duluth or Superior.

Voyager Bait Shop and Superette, which was the closest purchasing point for anything, was four miles away, an 8-mile bike ride round trip. No other businesses were along the route.  I’d usually pass deer instead of cars.  I’d also pass by a mysterious house up on a hill just after the Green Lake Public Access that was some sort of monks’ retreat, but I never saw any monks and luckily so: They would have scared me.  I knew monks had something to do with religion and I always wondered where they went to church, because there were no churches around.  At least, I had never been to one.  I thought Jesus lived on a star—a conclusion I came to after paging through an illustrated children’s bible I found in the basement and from the yearly television broadcast of A Charlie Brown Christmas.

It was just past this monks’ retreat where I’d decide if I should pull over at the Sand Lake boat landing to swim now or swim on my way back in order to cool down.  If I swam on the outbound leg of the trip, my cut-off corduroys would still be dripping wet when I entered the bait shop, so I usually waited.


Half of my bike route was gravel or sand, making the trek extremely labor intensive.  Had I made the movie 8 Mile before Marshall Mathers snagged that title, people would know my story instead of Eminem’s— a story of a little girl panting on a light blue, hand me down, banana seat bicycle her dad taught her to ride by holding a sweet-smelling, hand-rolled cigarette in one hand and using the other hand to push his girl quickly across the forever grass-seeded yard yelling, “Pedal” as she balanced.  The little girl only fell once before she nailed it, and now, a couple years later, similar to Eminem, she was covering some pretty rough terrain perpetually biking for deodorant.  My need for deodorant increased ten-fold because the physical exertion of the journey made me sweat such a healthy amount.  Add to that my discovery that it took twice as much of the expired Arid Extra Dry (a truly redundant name and waste of ink) to equal the protection of fresh deodorant, so with all the biking and the diluted product quality, I was buying deodorant all the time.

Fritz Weigscheider was a war hero. Even after WWII, he continued heroic service, installing the first phone lines and radio towers in Peru during which he had survived a plane crash in the Amazon forest.  He and his troupe faced starvation and malaria, climbing through vegetation, insects, and poisonous snakes for six weeks until they came to a village where someone could rescue them.  And this is the man whom my mother was audacious enough to delegate with the job of giving me The Talk.  The only thing my mother did herself to prepare me for puberty was to perm my hair on a very frequent basis between the ages of ten and fifteen.  One Saturday every month, with the help of my sister and no formal beauty parlor training between the two of them, she would give me a novice perm in the kitchen.

My mother, Jan, went to garage sales and bought other peoples’ left over and expired Olgilvie home permanent kits and hoarded the perm solution bottles in the dark musty basement like she was aging cheese or wine.  I’d spot her grasping the stairway hand rail and using exaggerated caution to make her way down to the basement with a flashlight, and I’d know it was perm day. “Oh no. It’s happening,” I thought, followed by my mother’s voice yelling up to my sister from the basement:  “Kari!  Get the rods!”  (It sounds like “rads” when they say it.)

My sister often yelled back, “Wull, what about the baby blue ones, Ma?”

Any other rod but the baby blue rods.  They were the skinniest rods and the tightest curl a person could execute.  Mom and Kari made me sit in a an old, yellow high chair with cracked vinyl upholstery held together with duct tape, and they’d wind the tiny roads rods ever so tightly into my tweenage hair.  They succeeded in and enjoyed rolling the rods so so tightly because they hated men, and they would take all their man hate out on my innocent head of hair.  Each chunk of hair had to be wrapped with a nearly translucent small piece of tissue paper—a wrapping paper, to use the correct jargon.  Mom, who had to constantly reposition her line of vision through her trifocal lenses, struggled to separate the thin, rectangular wrapping papers from the rest of the stack.  This task made the same sound as when I tried to separate and turn the pages of the bible I had found.  The musty papers clinging together made the perming process take even longer, but when my beauty team got the papers apart and tucked in around a wad of hair, they could then wind that chunk of hair around a narrow, cylindrical rod—tightly, so the tiny teeth of the rod could still grab your scalp even through the paper and the hair.  They repeated this about one hundred more times, really focusing on making a tight, neat cylinder, like they were rolling a hundred difficult marijuana joints they were too repressed to smoke themselves.  The tension of the rods in my hair made my head and brain ache.


Then my mother would inaccurately slosh me up with the garage sale perm solution stored in unmarked bottles.  Unlike deodorant, perm solution gets stronger when it’s expired.  It has a synthetic odor that makes your eyes water and reminds me of the smell inside the plastics factory my other sister Katie worked at—that odor if it were mixed with Buck Must or whatever that deer piss stuff is the hunters use to attract male deer.  After a perm, by the way, you can’t wash your hair for three or four days so it’ll take.  The victim walks around smelling like fresh plastic and old piss for at least that long—unless you got a fancier perm at a salon that didn’t stink so bad.  The yard sale perm solutions were aged and potent.

Once every month, this perm solution would run down onto the gentle, gentle skin of my twelve-year-old face.  I would cry from all the acid, and also from emotions.   But Mom and Kari said, “No it’s just the acid.  You’re ok. “

When the curls came out hours later, Jan used her gunked-up curling iron to make corrections. “Well, at least we got some body now, so we can do something with it.”

“It” meaning the tight perm in my hair that truthfully had excessive body already before the curling iron.  After the curling iron, she’d plug in a dangerous electrical brush and make my hair even bigger.  Finally, she’d spray it.

She’d spray it, not just with regular Aqua Net hair spray, but antique Aqua Net she got from her German mother, probably a watered down type of genocide spray the Nazi’s used.  It worked.  I had the bouffant of a 1950’s chain-smoking divorcé.

And that’s how I went to 8th grade.

Published in: on January 20, 2017 at 6:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

Non-insulated, Non-aerated, Two-Tone Bucket… or else just “Minnows: An Essay”

Non-insulated, Non-aerated, Two-tone Bucket

When you’re a little girl from a financially strapped family and you live in Northern Wisconsin, that means you also “summer” in Northern Wisconsin. Of course, we never used the word “summer” as an action. That’s a verb only rich people or New England poets put to use.

Our summer, fall, winter, and spring home was three hours south of Canada, if you’d drive the Minnesotan North Shore route of Lake Superior. Three hours if you drove it and your dad didn’t get too pissed off to “turn the Goddamn van around so everyone can fend for their Goddamn selves with their own Goddamn tents out in the Goddamn yard ‘cause no one knows a Goddamn thing about camping,” which is what happened most times. In the mid Eighties, and even now, access to computers, cable, shopping malls, fast food, and pop culture was very limited in our region, and most people still prefer it that way. The area is heavily wooded, and few cars go by. God’s Country people called it, which was confusing because they also referred to Burnett County as Burnout County. Maybe it was just a nice place to give up.

With not much to distract us from our own inventions, my younger brother and I became pretty scrappy thinkers and doers, continuously coming up with entrepreneurial endeavors such as a lemonade stand for the cabin-goers, and bake sales marketed solely to our parents, all failing due to lack of interest. We were referred to only in duet form: “Miki and Mikey,” the scrawny, wonder duo always in the dirt or in the lake, equal amounts of feuding or getting along, when Mikey was willing to put up with my bossiness. Often, we were mistaken for twins, but that was because my brother was tall for his age, and neither of us spoke much to show that I was slightly older and knew a few more words than he did. Both of us had hair on the red spectrum, and skin that was either George Hamilton tanned like mine, or sun-burnt and extremely freckled like Mikey’s, giving us a supernatural, grubby, orange aura when we stood together, which we always did. People came into our yard sometimes to fill the propane tank or install a dishwasher that my

parents had saved up for five years to get, and we would stare at them eerily, frightening everyone with our Children of the Corn nature. We were more effective than the dogs.

One hot day in August, when Mikey was five and I had just turned seven, the noon sun heated the trees and we smelled warm pine needles, nuanced with fading skunk stench, the dogs and front of the house having been sprayed by one a couple weeks earlier. When there was no wind like this day, the skunk essence around your isolated house builds up walls, not a fence, but walls around your property, and the smell develops a weight to it. Visually, it would resemble a lowball of thick Scotch, and when you add a tiny bit of water to it, you can see the oils and tannins of the Scotch lighten and try to escape the glass, but failing, eventually sink to the bottom of the cup, enhancing the flavor, opening it up even more.* The August sun sinks the skunk smell right down onto your person, and it is heavy. We could have left, walked down to the lake, but we had committed ourselves to a new business venture of selling minnows by the dozen. Therefore, we stayed put, and listened past the fighting squirrels and chickadees and hollow, pileated woodpecker knockings for what could be our first sale.

What we were listening for, more specifically, were cars. Our house was secluded, far back into the woods, off a dirt road, so we never actually saw cars. We heard them, and we became experts at gaging what type of car it might be. We easily knew the sounds of the school bus, and the mail lady’s Buick Regal, and our mom’s Chevy Vega with missing muffler, and we knew how different cars sounded when driving on gravel, an additional clue they were getting closer. Today, we wanted to hear any vehicle that did not belong to someone we knew. If we were going to succeed in the minnow business, we couldn’t rely just on relatives and friends to support us. We needed strangers to show up, and strangers to give us money for our minnows. So we listened.

Normally, the sound of a strange vehicle’s wheels hitting our gravel road was not welcome. We were forest people, and didn’t speak to others well, with our painful bashfulness. Somebody was coming? What if they came up our driveway and needed something? What if they were wearing a tie? People who wore ties were not to be trusted.

My parents were kind, independent, and forward-thinking people, but they still didn’t trust a tie. A tie might be selling something or trying to assess your property that you had no plans of selling, so you didn’t need the value to go up anymore. The few times that a tie- wearer did come to the house while Mikey and I were there alone, we let the dogs keep barking and hid inside until they drove away. But today, a stranger’s car, even a tie- wearer’s, was the sound we hoped for, because by late August, any shy school kid’s boredom and subsequent entrepreneurial creativity would trump bashfulness.

We were alone again this day. There may have been an adult napping inside, or maybe one a quarter mile away down at the lake working on the pontoon, but nobody was outside in our immediate vicinity. Nobody worried about us. We were the youngest of six kids and the worry had all been used up on the other four. Our much older brothers and sisters were already out living on their own, in jail, or, as was the case with our high school age brother, Mark, out working a summer job filling holes for the roads department, which is similar to being in jail, but you have to bring your own sandwich.

So we waited. We drew patterns in the dirt with sticks out in front of our house where my folks had cleared enough trees when building their home to suggest a yard. We drank various powder-mix drinks like Tang and Nestea that we could hurry up and prepare inside and get back outside before we might miss anything. Patience and boredom. Repeat. We were sunburnt from two days of standing outside, hoping. And then, a very distant rumble at least a couple miles off. Concentrate, and listen. We heard it slow down and turn onto Norman’s Landing Road, instead of continuing on and away from us around the lake. This meant it was a mile and a half away, and would be passing by the road to our house, so there was hope. The sound slowly crescendoed.

It wasn’t the mail lady’s Buick or my mom’s Vega. This was a deep, masculine rumble, but not a propane truck or logging truck professional rumble. This was an exhaust-system- failing, manual-shift rumble like our oldest and drunkest brother’s truck, but it wasn’t his either. It slowed down to an idling noise just about where our road started, a half mile away, where there were a small group of mailboxes full of shot gun holes, ours included.

This vehicle was sitting there, thinking, beyond our vision. Anticipation. Most likely, it would continue onward upon the quarter mile patch of tar just past the mailboxes, before hitting a different patch of gravel, that was not our gravel, but that it would have to drive over because most of the roads were patchworks of asphalt and dirt and gravel, polka dotted with early falling leaves and roadkill. Still, we listened like hyper chihuahuas in the calm before a barking fit.

Finally came the noise we had waited to hear since catching our first minnow batch days ago. The rumble turned onto our gravel road! We could have peed our pants waiting to see if it would also turn up our driveway. Keep listening. We would know, because a softer sound would issue from its wheels. The first couple yards of our driveway were thick sand, like beach sand. I’d sometimes go down there to bury my feet when the sun had warmed it up. The driveway then turned into hard packed, pebbled dirt. These were the surfaces over which the rumble was driving. Don’t pee. The truck would have to go up the hill of our driveway, and round a small bend before we could actually see it. We took this time to look professional by panicking and grabbing a chair to set next to us in the sun. Real businesses had chairs.

Coming up our dirt driveway, presenting itself in front of our house, where Mikey and I stood, next to the chair and the hot, hot minnow bucket, was a rusted-out pick up. I’m not sure what brand of truck. The pieces of it came from a variety of other trucks, like a metal quilt. A grubby, middle-aged, bearded man hopped out, into a cloud of dust, confused.

“I saw a sign for minnows.”

Here was a real stranger who read “MINOWS” and its adjacent arrow scrawled in permanent marker on a piece of scrap plywood we had hauled on our wagon a half mile down to the end of the gravel road and leaned up against our rusty mailbox, well out of sight from where we stood to do business, separated from us by groves of oak and rows of Norway pine. Advertising and location. We nailed it. The sign did its job. This kind man–in fact, all mankind–did need minnows, and we could provide them.

“Is this the right place for minnows?” He glanced at our bucket in the sun.

My brother and I nodded, our mouths falling open, but no sound coming out. We nodded more, and holding the yellow, frayed, moldy rope we had used to toss it in the murky water, we held up the minnow bucket to show the stranger we had made a big catch. The bucket swung a little–the plastic, non-insulated bucket with a bright orange bottom and white top with smaller circular lid and annoying little tab you had to push inward to get it to open. The bucket, that if my dad would have known we were using to catch minnows down in the swamp, would have invoked from him a short, passionate speech about how “nobody Goddamn asks to use his Goddamn things, and they all get broken, Goddamnit.” We didn’t think of this in our new adventure with the full sun beating down on us and our minnows in their non-insulated, non-aerated, two-tone bucket.

“What kind you selling?”

“Fatheads,” my brother and I said in unison. Creepy, orange twins again, Mikey becoming the redder one. He blushed easily. Plus, his sunburn was getting worse, adding brightness to his skin, but bleaching his hair to a pale orange that matched his eyebrows.

“Fatheads, huh?”

More nodding. Mikey and I assumed these were the fathead species of minnow, because they were swelled up around the head and behind it.** The dirty-fingered man opened up the warm bucket lid like a professional, and a rotten, tar pit smell wafted out, the minnows bloated with heat and death and stink. They were not necessarily fatheads, but just resembled them in their dying process, no longer useful as bait.

“Oh, huh. How much?” “A dollar a dozen.”

“I’ll take a dozen then.”

Mikey and I looked at each other, unsteadily. Our first sale. The first dollar we made that our dad didn’t give us. We would be okay in the world. We could do business. We would survive life, and at least we could dream of prospering, but survival was first. We stared at the man, unsure of the next step, but the nice stranger knew how it went. He had been us once.

“You got a scoop or something?”

He asked as he opened his own empty styrofoam bucket. Then we stared at him, and then we stared at each other, and then we stared at the little fish bodies floating in our two-tone bucket, and finally, we used our hands to cup and scoop out a dozen useless minnows into his container. He grabbed the garden hose and sprayed some water into his new purchase. Mikey and I watched proudly as one minnow came back to life, swimming the circumference of the styrofoam, confused and feisty.


* “…lowball glass, or rocks glass is a short tumbler used for serving an alcoholic beverage, such as whisky, with ice cubes…” -Wikipedia

** “Fathead minnows are characterized by deep, compressed bodies, typically five to eight centimeters in length, and a short head that is dorsally flattened with a blunt snout, round lateral eyes, and terminal, upturned mouth.” They belong to the Pimephales genus of the cyprinid family. -Encyclopedia of Life (www.eol.org)

Published in: on September 15, 2016 at 6:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

Rejection Somewhere in Africa…

Hi guys, I still have to edit this and punch it up, but at least I have most of the story down.  I promised I’d post this Monday, regardless of condition, and I did.  The only thing is I can’t seem to format it for cell phone, unless your cell phone is the same size as a computer:( Thanks for reading!

Rejection in West Africa…or…Nobody Loves me

By Mary Mack

Part I:  What and Why

I never truly wanted to go to Africa in the first place.  I only went there for a boy.  Joey and I had already been long distance dating for a year or more anyway, so it really didn’t seem like a deal breaker when he decided to join the Peace Corps and move to Africa.  In fact, I encouraged him to do it.  God, does this sound stupid now.

“You’ve got to do it, or you’ll regret it,” I said. (Insert your own quiet crying here.)

Joey and I traveled and camped in so many off the beaten path places together, I knew he would do great in Ghana living in modest shelters and meeting the African people and teaching their children.  He did well.  He learned the language; he organized soccer teams; he ate with the hand your supposed to eat with; all that.  On his time off, he even organized and took part in a bike ride across Africa through hostile territories to raise awareness and prevent Guinea worms from hatching in the bowels of humans and starving the human from the inside.  A Guinea worm can be ingested as larvae when drinking from unclean water sources in parts of Africa.  The CDC describes the worms as being about 3 feet long when they decide to slowly exit the body from a burning blister on the surface of the skin, but they can grow much longer.  Joey had stories of Guinea Worms around 15 feet long that had grown in people for years.  The only way to get rid of them—and this is stated on cdc.gov—is to encourage them to come out.  You encourage them to come out on their own by putting some fresh water on the blister, and by letting the worm wrap itself around a stick or pencil as they exit the body.  Exiting the body can take days or weeks depending on how long the worm is, and how encouraged he is feeling.

Joey showed the locals how to filter their water.  He slept as a guest in the mud huts of the people, some of whom had had guinea worms and survived the bacterial infection that can happen as they exit the wound.

That’s something you’d never get the opportunity to do in America!  I was proud of him, and was thankful he raised my own awareness of Guinea worms, even back here in the U.S. where most people will never get one.  I had never heard of them, in fact, and now as I tried to figure out how to get to Africa for a visit, I had nightmares of contracting a twenty-foot guinea worm most nights, though I was never known for worrying at the time.  Even now fourteen years after my trip to Africa, I wonder if there’s a long worm that’s been cohabitating with me, causing me to make bad choices, sleep poorly, and sometimes hoard up chewed food in my cheeks forgetting to swallow.  I do all these things way more than someone without a worm should.




In 2002, despite the Guinea worm nightmares, I was, in general, a care-free, politically clueless, medication-free, and sound-sleeping young woman.  I had just gotten my first full-time band and music teaching gig out of college near Nashville, Tennessee, where all my music major buddies from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh had moved.  I moved down to see what was so good about it.  Nashville used to be a great place.  Joey, also a friend from UW-Oshkosh though we wouldn’t start dating till after school, would come to visit me in Nashville often.

He left for Africa mid-summer 2001 to teach science in a remote village sometimes using a remote language called Twi, a language he asked me several times to teach myself, but I didn’t do it.  I had three jobs, two on top of my teaching gig.  His village was in the northern part of Ghana, but I do not remember the name of it.  I didn’t do any of the work I was supposed to.  I do know his village was smaller than the Northern Wisconsin town I grew up in, and my town only had a population of 500.

When I would go to the post offices around Nashville to mail him a letter or one of very few packages I would send while he was away, every southern postal worker I’d encounter assumed I was mailing packages to my beau in the military, especially since it was after the 9/11 U.S. soldier deployments.

“Bless you both.  Tell him thank you so much for his service,” they’d say in a buttery, proper Tennessee accent that makes you feel like you are supporting a worthy and necessary cause even if you aren’t.  The Tennessee patriotism makes you feel like you matter.  I didn’t want to ruin their romantic assumptions by telling them he was probably exactly opposite of what their yellow-ribbon beliefs caused them to imagine.  Honestly, it was really dangerous to organize a bike ride through remote Africa, especially through Guinea worm infested mud puddles should some accidentally splash up into your mouth, but they wouldn’t understand.  Not with that accent they wouldn’t.

Between the postal workers believing I was dating the bravest of men, and Joey’s mom sending me copies of the photos Joey had sent her to develop, accompanied by greeting cards with messages like “only two years left,” I figured I had better go visit Joey before there was no more space left on my credit cards.   That would be soon, and then I wouldn’t be able to travel anymore.  I was already in debt from college loans, and from drinking.  I had put more than two years of steady drinking on a few credit cards, and was at least $20,000 in the hole just for that.  There was some eating, but it was mostly drinking.  I was a musician, and a teacher after all.

It was I that had to do the flying.  We were both poor, but Joey was getting paid in Ghanaian currency: Cedi.  So he was really poor.  One dollar Ghanaian was only ten cents, if that, in the United States at the time.  Ghanaian teachers did not get paid well to start with, and Joey got paid even less, because it was considered a stipend to his volunteer program.  I never even considered I could have tried to buy him a flight home, instead of going there myself, but I had more time off than he did to do the actual flying, so this is how it had to be.  I owed it to him.  Joey had always been so kind to me, and I had only made one mix tape for him so far using the CD collection he allowed me to keep at my apartment to my great enjoyment.  He must be really lonely in Africa, I lamented.  If I had to put more debt on a credit card, then that’s what I had to do.  It was my patriotic duty.

PART II:  Priceline and Smuggling

I thought bidding on Priceline.com was the only way, I’d get to visit Joey, because the standard cost of a ticket over the phone with the one or two airlines that flew to Ghana, was $2000, $1500 more expensive than any car I’d ever owned.  Priceline was a newish thing back then.  So was the internet for that matter.  Priceline was the only thing I really made use of online, because it’s how Joey and I would visit each other in our respective cities even before he changed continents.  You could bid on flights at ridiculously low prices and get accepted for those flights most times.  It’s way tougher to put in a low, winning bid now in 2016.  Priceline’s business model was similar to the cheap salsa at Trader Joe’s.  You’d buy the cheap salsa once, and then you gradually experiment with more and more expensive groceries each trip.

At my teaching job, I spent most of my prep period, the daily hour you are supposed to use to  prepare lessons for your sweet, sweet students because you are so Goddamn into teaching—using the school’s big, beige, boxy computer looking up places you could go on Priceline.  I didn’t own my own computer, or have the internet yet.  I couldn’t afford it.

The internet wasn’t exactly instantaneous, so it took some patience and commitment to do this.  Looking up flights myself made me feel liberated.  Before internet was invented, I’d have to call back home to Wanda and her daughter Tammy, the travel agency ladies at Sun, Travel, & Tan, who had a desk and a tanning booth in the back of Wayne’s IGA, our town’s only grocery store back home.

I typed in a bid for $400, and it froze up the computer.  I turned the computer off and on, and entered $450 in the bid box and provided my initials below, claiming responsibility for the bid.  I pushed “enter,” and the computer shut off by itself.  I turned the computer on and off and on several more times after more attempts at slightly higher bids.  My bids were jamming up the school’s phone and internet lines.  I called Priceline.  It turned out Africa wasn’t a Priceline destination yet in 2002, but I was still able to type in ACCRA, GHANA in the airport space for some reason.  I guess they were looking ahead to when Accra, Ghana might be a hot spring break destination, even though no airlines were currently on board with that idea, and neither was Ghana.  I decided I could at least try to get to Europe.  Europe was so close to Africa, people were probably zooming in and out of the jungle at affordable prices all the time.  Maybe there was even a bus you could take.  On a whim, I entered in a 300 dollar bid for a roundtrip flight to Amsterdam, and I accidentally got it.

“I guess I’m going to Africa, I thought,” even though I still didn’t have a real method to get there, and suddenly remembered I hadn’t discussed it with Joey ever.  Things were always left pretty vague when he left, but my matchmaker roommate, Jennie, started training as a frame maker and was constantly matting and framing images of Joey and me, and hanging them around our apartment, her crowning achievement being a hot pink, heart shaped matte around a blown up, awkward snap shot of Joey and me.  Jennie did not have a boyfriend of her own at the time. She even convinced me to buy a used, pit-stained wedding dress from one of the garage sales in our Nashville neighborhood, because it was only $20.  We had been day drinking, so when I tried the cream-colored dress on over my clothes in the yard of the garage sale and it only drooped in a few spots, I thought, “Yeah, it’s stupid not to buy this. I can grow into it.”  With all this behavioral reinforcement— in my mind—I would end up marrying Joey, although Joey was unaware of the photo’s and the wedding dress.  I’m really creeped out thinking about it myself, years later.

At any rate, I now had in my possession a United Airlines flight to Amsterdam.  I just needed the next leg of the trip going south.  Amsterdam was a KLM hub, and KLM was the airline that Joey had used to get over to the peace corps in the first place.  I called KLM’s partner, Northwest Airlines to book the flight from Amsterdam to Ghana, and I ended up paying about $1400 dollars round trip, not too much of a savings if you figured in the chance that one of the flights from two different airlines on two separate, non-refundable, roundtrip tickets could be late, causing me to miss the next flight on a different airline, voiding my ticket.

I wrote Joey a letter and attempted a phone call to let him know I would be coming.  I had a calling card I could use to leave a message at a phone that sometimes worked at his school, if there were anyone there to answer it.  It was a community phone, and very unreliable.  This would be the first time I’d try calling.  I gave it a shot once a day for a few days, and finally a boy answered.  I was fortunate the kid knew pretty good English, so I described Joey to him.  He called him Mr. Joey, because Joey turned out to be one of his teachers.  I asked if he could tell Mr. Joey to call me, because I would be visiting. Nothing came out very clear, and the connection was very staticky.  I didn’t expect Joey to ever get the message.  I’d have to rely on the letter, even though all mail was read and sometimes lost once it got to Ghana’s post offices.  I still wasn’t worried.

The next day, I got a phone call with Joey on the other end.  The student had given him the wrong name, but he figured it was either me or his parents.  “You’re visiting?”   He sounded extremely surprised.

“Yeah, I just did it,” I continued.  “You wrote you had a little school vacation coming,”  and then I heard my words a few seconds after I said them, echoing back through the land line telephone on this inter-continental phone call.  He had that echo on his end, too.  It was extremely annoying and confusing, and difficult to communicate.  Letters were better.  Plus the African phone was really for emergencies.  My visit to Africa wasn’t an emergency.  It would be more like a party.  I gave him my dates, and we would settle everything by letter.  Before he hung up, he remembered to add, “Oh and make sure to study the tribal language on those sheets I sent you, and pack really modest clothing so your ankles don’t show.”

“Isn’t it like 110 degrees with 100% humidity,”  I asked.

“Yeah, but they already don’t trust us because we’re white, so you have to try to fit in.”

A few weeks later, close to when I would be departing, I received a letter from Joey, imploring me to bring certain items, including more mix tapes since I promised I’d make them and hadn’t.  The second thing he asked for was to see if I could have anyone donate about a dozen athletic shorts for the school’s new soccer team.  The students had to play in hot weather in their only pairs of starched school uniform pants.  The third thing he asked me to bring across the ocean and through customs were fireworks.  It would be okay to leave out some of the shorts if that was the only way I could fit the fireworks.  He wrote about how he had tried to describe what fireworks were to his Ghanaian students, but they just couldn’t imagine it.  There was  no T.V. and no internet to show examples.

Joey hadn’t been in the country for 9/11, and wasn’t aware of the new rules for flying, although I don’t remember a time prior to 9/11 when they ever encouraged bringing fireworks aboard the plane.  Obviously, this would be a checked luggage situation, and I’d have to plan a trip up to Nervous Charlie’s, a real fireworks superstore north of Nashville. (It’s also a gas station.)  There, I’d use my professional knowledge as someone who’d previously worked at fireworks stands in Wisconsin, to invest in the best pyrotechnics my credit card would allow, with which I would fly post 9/11 even though security had recently confiscated a plastic butter knife from my bag.  If you hadn’t flown immediately after 9/11, you should know the TSA wasn’t formed the next day, so some airports made their own rules guesstimating government advisories.  Some were so strict, not only did they take away plastic knives, but the airport vendors switched to sporks, so no one could kill you with what would take at least 3,000 consecutive stabs from a sturdy, plastic fork.  Despite this, I remembered how much I loved fireworks as a kid, and thought, “Okay, if I do one good thing in my life, if I just fight for one good thing, it will be for these hungry African children to witness a real American (made in China or Mexico) fireworks display.  That sounds like something I’m willing to fight for.”


PART III:  Blast Off

The school year had just ended on May 31st.  My flight was scheduled for June 7th.  I worked on final grades, attempting to enter them into a brand new online report card program, which crashed the giant computer almost as many times as my laughably low Priceline bids had.  I didn’t care.  I was just biding my time until five business days after the school-year ended, when the lost and found would become fair game to scavengers like me.

Exactly five days after school ended, at 3:30 p.m., the official end of a school business day, I gleaned at least twelve pairs of baggy, junior high, gangster style basketball shorts from the lost and found, plenty for a start up kids’ soccer team in Africa.  I even took all the Gap t-shirts with the headmaster’s permission.  Mr. Hovenden, the headmaster at the school I worked for, had been in the very first Peace Corps started by President Kennedy in 1960, so although he didn’t appreciate my messy desk or my tardiness, he did approve of the Peace Corps and of friendship with other countries and of my donating these clothes to underprivileged children.  Once, I had tried to make conversation with him in his office, and asked about a gorgeous hand-carved wooden stool next to his desk.

“That’s from my time in Kenya,” Mr. Hovenden replied, and he went somewhere with half his brain.

“Oh, Kenya’s in West Africa, right?”  I had no idea.  I hadn’t looked at a map of Africa, since I was in sixth grade, for Africa flashcards week in Mr. Helland’s class.

“No,” I summoned Mr. Hovenden back from a magic memory by guessing the exact wrong side of the continent for Kenya’s location.  He could not form words, and stared at me.  I backed casually out of his office.


Just because I didn’t know where West Africa was, didn’t mean I hadn’t been enjoying the West African rhythms CD from the music room’s World Mix collection.  I had dreams of becoming an ethnomusicologist someday when I was done teaching, so I    was aware of the rich musical traditions of West Africa.  Therefore, on the sixth day after the school-year ended, still on a donation high from the athletic shorts harvest, I grabbed a bunch of formerly student-owned, abandoned, plastic, and high pitched recorders and their manuals from my classroom’s official “abandoned recorders pile.”   These student model, almost in-pitch, transverse flutes could only add to the rich musical heritage of Ghana.  Not to mention, it would save a young person months of having to carve their own flute from one of the time-honored, African hard wood trees.  These recorders were plastic and basically maintenance free:  Someone could even toot on one right in the ocean or in a heavy tropical storm!  Sure, they sounded like shit, but I was bringing the quality and convenience of American life to the starving African children!

Into my giant, trail backpack, I packed a large and disrespectful number of molded-plastic instruments, which Joey hadn’t even asked for.  (He would be so surprised!) Then, I used the lost and found athletic wear shorts and T’s to wrap and pack the only fireworks I could afford to buy at Nervous Charlie’s, a disappointing, fireworks display even by first-timer, African standards.  I stuffed in some gluten-free instant oatmeal packets, and some lightweight clothes for myself including a swimsuit in addition to one more mix tape, some bug spray, sun screen, contact solution, fake Oakley knock-offs, and extra rubber-bands and wax for my adult braces.  Like I said before, my visit to Africa was going to be a real party.  I packed all these things and had no room for anything else, especially not any suitcase-hogging, modest Amish-style clothing.  The 7th of June came and at 4 a.m., my sweet roommate Jennie brought me to the Nashville airport.  I bought a king size bag of M&M’s to tie me over on my long and confusing, twenty-plus hours of assorted flights into Africa.

In his letter, Joey said he would meet me at the gate at the airport.  That means something different than at the major U.S. airports.  What he meant, and what I learned deplaning, was that he would meet me at the actual gate of an actual chain link fence that surrounded Accra’s airport.  All the people funneled out through that gate, but you could get out faster if you gave someone posing as an official escort some money.  You basically were skipping customs with a bribe, but I didn’t know that at the time.  I thought I was tipping a nice airport employee.  I didn’t have any luggage for customs anyway, because the airline lost it.  They told me to come back tomorrow.

“Just tell someone at the gate, you need your luggage.”  That was how security worked there, but that would be tomorrow.   My escort took me to the gate, and I milled around just outside it, until Joey appeared,  a couple moments later.  He looked exhausted and sweaty.  It was a difficult trip to get to the airport four hours south of his village by random cars and buses on mud roads with so many ruts in them, that sometimes travel could only creep and vehicles would get stuck and clog up the road, making it a 10 hour trip.  Many times, because of the huge, dried mud ruts, long long detours had to be taken.  Joey was lucky.  He set out that morning and arrived by the night.  (I hope people are realizing this was before anyone had a cell phone, and there was no land line in this situation to use.  We just had the plans we made in a letter, and it worked weeks later.  People were so much more reliable before cell phones.)

We only greeted each other we a small hug, as we were both exhausted, and also confused by airport operations.  The plan was to get a cheap hotel close to the airport, so I could make as many walking trips back to the airport as necessary to check for my luggage.  In Africa, a cheap hotel was different than a cheap hotel in the states, but no big deal for an adventurer like me—no big deal until after we got into the hotel room and I watched Joey remove one of his shoes to smash a giant, half-man, half-cockroach looking insect that was crawling on the wall.

“I think those are the one that bite,” he said.

We both crawled onto the only bed in the room.  No bug could keep me awake.  “It’s too bad I can only be here a week what with how expensive it was and how long it took to get here,” I uttered.

Joey, who had been unusually quiet, replied, “I think we should just be friends.”

I didn’t explode, because I didn’t believe him.  How would anyone ever have the nerve to break up with someone who just flew to Africa to see him?  I decided to let him sleep on that decision.

“We still get to go see stuff, though, right?”   If he was serious, I could not let the time and money allotted for this trip to go to waste, and there was no way, I could have survived alone in Africa then.  I hadn’t studied any of the sheets.  I didn’t have any maps, or money, and I was allergic to wheat, the thing from which most everything there was made.

“I guess.  I mean if you still want to,” he said, in the limpest tone of voice he’d ever used.

Christ.  What a party this turned out to be.  Now I had to pretend I went to Africa, just because I wanted to go to Africa.  To reiterate, I never wanted to go to Africa.

I dug in my purse, ate a few peanut m&m’s left over from the Nashville airport, and went to sleep.


Part IV:  Morning and luggage come.

When morning came, there was not much for me to do to get ready for the day, besides just stand up.  I didn’t have any of my belongings with me yet, to primp for my ex-boyfriend who laid on the bed beside me.  Trying to be positive, I told myself Joey and I were just friends in college in Wisconsin, and so we could just be friends and still get along here in West Africa.  What a load of shit, more like a constant I.V. drip of shit, I had to feed myself in order to make it through this trip. It’s not like I could have afforded a new ticket back home that day.  I had to stick it out.  I hadn’t slept well enough to be able to ask why he wanted to break up with me, and I kind of thought that maybe if I didn’t say anything, maybe he’d just forget he broke up with me.  Even if it were true, he could not be so cruel as to make me fend for myself in a foreign country I didn’t understand with no real communication outlets for eight days.  Neither of us said anything about it, and we set out on foot for the airport.

“You think they’re going to search my bag, especially since it seems kind of suspicious coming in all on it’s own now,” I asked Joey.

“Yeah, they search all the bags and they sometimes keep stuff for themselves.  You don’t have fruit do you?  That’s illegal.”

“Maybe like a couple bananas, but mostly it’s just all those kids’ clothes for your soccer team, and the fireworks, is all.”

“You actually brought that stuff?  Even the fireworks?”

“You asked me to.”

“Fuck.  I heard you’re not supposed to pack fireworks now.  I hope they don’t arrest you or take you for questioning.  They make up their own rules.  We could not claim it and go.”

“All my other stuff I need is in there,” I said.  You can’t go to Africa without sunscreen, right?  I was extremely nervous, but I was always good at getting out of bad situations before this.  I have innocent and confused-looking eyes.

After several stomach-acid-inducing trips back to the airport to check for my bag, I spotted it on a shelf behind men who were rifling through many other bags.  This must be customs, I thought.  I sighed, considering I might not be coming out of here.  I was broken up with anyway.   If they held me indefinitely at airport jail, at least I wouldn’t have to pretend I was having fun the whole time.

I stepped into the short rifling-through-the-luggage line.  My palms were already sweaty, because it was so hot outside, but now the perspiration turned cold when I thought about the armed man finding the fireworks and my banana.  I pointed at my big green bag on the shelf, and the guard laid it out on the table.  He unzipped it and fluffed it up a little.  To my good luck, my guard was more of a social butterfly than a guard.  He noticed all the shorts in my huge hiking pack, and didn’t look any farther, except to question what was in the Quaker instant oatmeal pouches I had brought.  I told him it was food for me, since I had allergies.  He explained they had excellent food in Africa and made recommendations of what to try while I was there.  He then asked me why I looked so fat in my passport and why was I now skinnier.  I pointed to and explained my adult braces, and that it was hard to snack because food got stuck in there.  He looked very closely in my mouth.

“Why you have deese,” he asked assertively.

“Oh, God.  This is it.  This is how it happens,”  I panicked.  I was so close.  I made it through the bag search, but now I’d be thrown in African jail for having braces, which means you live the rest of your life in African jail, and you never get your braces off.  They can do whatever they want in Africa.  Everything is corrupt.  I learned that almost immediately.  Every mistake you make in Africa always ends with you living in Africa the rest of your life, definitely contracting at least one Guinea worm.

I didn’t know how to explain cosmetic orthodontics to the simply clad, armed guard.  How was I to explain that my teeth needed to be prettier to a person so culturally removed from myself?  And so I just told him the doctor made me wear them.  It was required.  The guard made a clicking sound with his tongue and shook his head, feeling sorry for me that I had a medical condition so bad that electrical looking, metal gadgets had to be surgically implanted into my teeth.  He had never seen a medical situation this bad, and he lived in Africa.

Joey met me outside the fence again, surprised it hadn’t taken that long and that they didn’t find the fireworks.  We were about to start a new, slightly less happy adventure in Africa, as friends.  He paid a man with a fake taxi license and a car that sometimes works to take us to our initial tourist destination on Joey’s list of things we’d have time to do.

Part V:  Party Time

The first super fun thing we did together in Africa to make use of our time off and maybe at least enjoy our friendship was to travel to the beautiful West African Atlantic Coast and visit one of the remaining Slave Trade Castles, renowned for it’s extreme cruelty throughout the centuries, just a hop, skip, and a jump from the Accra, Ghana airport.  I held back vomit as we looked into dungeons where men and women had once suffered, packed in body to body in suffocating temperatures.  I was going to be sick envisioning the torture in this huge, stone structure, and couldn’t believe it was now a tourism site you could visit and even combine into a travel package alongside a canopy zip line tour of the jungle in order to save a little money.  If you don’t feel truly broken up with yet after you’ve been dumped, ask your ex to take you on a post break up, celebration of friendship date to a historical site of one of the most horrific examples of man’s inhumanity to man.  That’s really when you’ll start to think, “Hey maybe we aren’t getting back together.”

I still had seven days left here, so in my head I would repeat the words, “Just try to enjoy Africa,” over and over.

“At least I can help the African children.  I’m good with children.”  I had those music recorders to give out still, and the soccer kids would appreciate the lost and found shorts.  Maybe Joey will give me some credit when school starts up again and he sets off the fireworks display I brought.  I’d be a magic, fireworks fairy.  That was good at least.

After the slave castle, we would ride a real African bus with chickens on top to drop the goods I had brought off at Joey’s room in his village.  The bus would be crowded.  There were even seats that flip out into the aisles, so as not to waste the precious aisle space. We bought and drank plastic bags of water, hard boiled eggs, and Fan-yogo drinks from the baskets on ladies heads level to the bus windows when they stood just outside the bus.  We traveled like the real people who lived there, not like fancy tourists.  He was making Cedi and I was on credit.  Credit didn’t work anywhere.   So we relied on little bits of cash.

I was happy to see a lot of small children boarding the bus with their robed mothers.  These kids would love me just like American kids did.  Once the bus filled up and we departed, the children peeked back curiously at me and Joey, the only white people on the bus.  Since I hadn’t gotten any sun over the winter, my skin was extra white, with more of it showing than should be.  I was wearing a muscle shirt, modest by American standards.  It was miserably hot.

When I waved at some of the children, and didn’t get that response back from them, I figured I had to be happier.  I smiled a big happy smile several times, and the different children I smiled at all had the same response:  immediate and loud bawling accompanied by stronger clinging to their mothers.  The mothers faced the front of the bus with the petrified children clinging to their necks, forced to gaze back on me everytime they opened their eyes through the sobbing.  I’m familiar with this natural childhood position of fear, because it’s how I went through a haunted house once when I was five clinging to my dad.   When the mothers glanced back to see what was the matter, they only saw a confused and strangely pale, young boy-woman. (I had short hair.)  They’d give me dirty looks and utter the B word.  The B word is bruni.  It’s like the N word for white people.  I didn’t mind the B word, because in Ghana, white people did bad, bad things.  Really, white people did bad things everywhere.  There’s tons of people who should be calling the whites bruni’s.

Some of these screaming children had never seen a bruni before (I can say it, because I’m white.), but they had especially never seen a bruni who had the teeth of a metal, devil monster.  I didn’t realize it was my adult braces scaring them, so I kept smiling even more aggressively.  I needed to be extra friendly to win them over, and I really needed these children to like me, because they were all I looked forward to after I got dumped following a twenty-hour plane trip, but Africa seemed to rally against me.

If only I had had unnoticeable Invisalign braces, everything would have been fine, but I had the large, protruding, metallic, silver ones with red stretchy, saliva-dripping, rubber bands holding the jaws of their possessor together.  Getting the cheaper, metal orthodontia was one of the only sensible financial choices I had made in the last few years, but a decision that proved to be disastrous for African children relations.  The children grabbed impossibly tighter to their mothers’ necks as my red, rubber braces bands stretched and glistened with the spit of satan, whenever I talked or smiled in attempt to make things less scary for them.   Finally, one child gestured to her teeth as tears streamed down her face, and I realized it was my braces that were setting off all the kids.  I was so sad, and I felt like a criminal.  We still had four hours left on this bus ride—the poor kids, and the poor, sad criminal.


Everything else was tough too.  Nothing ran on time.  Sometimes there were no cars or buses to catch.  Lizards crawled around us when we slept.  Simple things you took for granted at home were not available.  There were no napkins.  You’d wipe your hand with any other type of paper if there was any, but there often was no paper around.  Sometimes you could find a plastic bag, or just let your hand be dirty and crust up.  Very rarely there would be a cloth to wipe with.  There was no toilet paper besides what you remembered to bring yourself, and not too much for water.  At that time, people purchased shady drinking water in plastic bags rather than bottles, and you sucked on a hole you’d stab in the plastic bag to get the water into your mouth.  You don’t think about these things in the U.S. and you don’t realize how good it feels to wipe your hands after finger feeding yourself.  I still only let myself  buy a couple rolls of paper towels every year, because I became extremely aware of our waste after that trip.  I try to use cloth or reusable everything since then.

I did convince Joey to go to a hotel on a cliff overlooking the ocean with an amazing beach.  I never could have afforded a hotel like this in the States.  I swam in the warm ocean water with huge, but gentle waves while the sun went down.  The ocean there was all sand bottom and massaged my feet.  The air tasted like salt, just like people say.  No one else swam down there. There must have been sharks, but I hadn’t thought about it till now.  I had the beach, and what felt like the entire ocean to myself and enjoyed it.   A curious group of teenage school girls approached me out of nowhere, and asked me questions about the United States.  They were too polite to mention the medical condition in my mouth.  I gave them a little bottle of perfume I had in my bag, and they loved it.  They sprayed it on each other, giggling up and down the beach.  Then I had a wonderful meal of fried fish and salad with Joey for dinner on the hotel’s porch.  The salad turned out to be rinsed in dirty water, but it was so good I didn’t even think about the new worm that could be growing inside of me.  The waiter gave us his address, and asked if we could write him from America.

“Just try to enjoy Africa,” I kept saying, and sometimes it worked.

Part VI:  One Last Bit of Rejection and some Revenge

I wanted to be able to redeem myself for buying this trip when I reported back to my friends and co workers.   If I could just go hear some of the music or experience an actual African drumming ritual, I thought people would think, “Oh, you’re not dumb for going to see a boy who just ended up breaking up with you, because you had many other professional and career-related reasons to go to Africa!”  Not to mention, I really wanted to go hear some live music just because I love live music.  I knew Joey loved music and that he would cave in.  I pleaded to go see and hear some real African music and drumming—not drum circle, Prospect Park, Brooklyn crap, but real traditional, tribal drums, like an ethnomusicologist would study.  Joey knew of a little inn known for it’s small outdoor stage and live music.  I was redeeming myself already.

We found another car posing as a taxi which took us into very remote country.  The roads were awful and we spent more Cedi than we really could afford.  While asking directions of people on the side of the road in the Twi language, Joey also mentioned the drums and inquired if there were somewhere we could learn about drums.  The answers given were confusing.  No one is drumming right now, was what seemed to be the answer, but Joey’s Twi was not perfect.

After the taxi let us out, we still had to walk quite far down a jungle road, but miraculously found the inn Joey had heard of.  Though we were the only people staying there, a full-time bartender was present out at what seemed like a Jamaica-style wooden deck with bar and stage.  Trees and vines grew in and around the outdoor bar.  A traditional hand-made drum sat atop a service table behind the bar.

“Is that your drum,” we asked the bartender.

He nodded.

“Are you going to play in a band later,” we asked.

He shook his head no. The young man grabbed his drum, held it, and caressed it, but did not percuss it.  He spoke English in bits, and explained to us there would be no music for another few weeks.  We had arrived during the month of silence.  He was not allowed to play his drum.

“Oh my God.  Here we go with the rejection again,” I thought.  Not just for me, but for this poor young man.  I could tell he was really happy when he played his drum.  Drumming and music were his life’s joy.  He looked antsy.  Had I been there three weeks or so from that moment, I’d have witnessed the happiest person in the world as he’d strike his drum for the first time in a month. This really was a doomed trip.  Of all the months I could have picked to visit Ghana, a place bubbling with music normally, I picked the Goddam month of silence?  I thought about it, and realized there had been no music anywhere else either.  It had been extremely quiet.

The Ga people, one of the ethnic groups in Ghana were enforcing a mandatory month of rest from drumming and loud music.  The Twi people and other ethnic groups of Ghana also were respecting the month-long Ga tradition of silent prayer called Homowo.  If they did not respect it, they would be attacked, so they kind of just said “Hey, let’s respect it.  Silence is good sometimes, right?”   And so, I did not get to hear any traditional music, played on beautiful, hand-crafted, traditional drums.  My boyfriend was still broken up with me, the children still hated me, and I would have no professional growth as a musician, gaining coveted, hands-on insight into the Ghanaian drumming rituals.  Africa, as a whole, rejected me.


After a long trip at 4 a.m. to the Accra airport the last day, I checked in to get my boarding pass.  I was told the plane had already left.  Then someone said it hadn’t.  Then someone said it had.  I burst into tears.  I had no one here, and no money.  The plane wasn’t supposed to take off for another two hours, but I forgot Africa can do whatever it wants to you.

“It does end up with me living here forever, doesn’t it, “ I thought, and cried more.  The lady gate agent didn’t know what to do with me.  She wasn’t used to someone who assumed things should go as planned.  A man ran back down towards me and the gate agent again—the gate agent was not even anywhere close to where the plane was, by the way—and yelled at her to have me run with him.  He could have yelled at me directly to run with him, but apparently telling people to run was the gate agent’s job.

The plane was still there.  They needed to leave early, though, so they could fly to Liberia and stop for fuel.  The airport in Accra had run out.

I heard from Joey in a few letters after my visit.  I had given his roommate and co-teacher Boat, a recorder and lesson book. It seemed Boat really took to the recorder and would play it into the wee hours of the night, keeping Joey awake sometimes.  Boy, did that ever make me smile.  What sweet passive aggressive revenge it was to encourage your ex’s roommate to play one of the most annoying instruments of all time.  I recommend it to everyone who gets broken up with.

Eventually, I moved out of Nashville back up north toward home and landed in Minneapolis to live in my brother’s basement and start paying off some of my debt, including the trip to Africa.  When Joey came back from the Peace Corps, he first went to his parents’ in Wisconsin.  On a weekend trip over to Minnesota to visit his brother who also lived there, Joey stopped by and got his CD collection back from me.  That was really the end of things—that and the slave castle, but the CD’s sealed the deal.  I don’t know how you end a relationship now.  How do you take mp3’s back?  There aren’t even any land line phones left to truly hang up on some one.

The memory of the warm ocean and the happy teenage girls with innocent dreams of the U.S. hangs with me the most from that trip.  They say humans don’t remember pain, so maybe that’s why my brain’s held onto that evening more than the rest of the visit, like an old and foggy, good dream.  There was one other positive thing that I hold on to.  One of the only other things that didn’t reject my presence in Africa was the beer.  I remember the beer so well.  It was pennies to buy, and tasted amazing.  Star beer was a big and delicious brand, and it did not contain parasites like the water.  Drinking beer on a muggy, 100 plus degree day, in a country with no air conditioning, is a spiritual event.  Drinking beer anywhere else will never live up to your expectations.*

On the whole, if you are doing any traveling, though, I still would not recommend Africa.  I never wanted to go there in the first place.

By Mary Mack, 5/9/16 , http://www.marymackcomedy.com

*According to this chart on www.ratebeer.com Star beer is the lowest rated Ghanaian beer, so I must have just been hot. 

Screen Shot 2016-05-09 at 12.11.32 AM.png


Published in: on May 9, 2016 at 5:24 am  Comments (1)  

Gimme 3 days!

What a fun show “rejectified” was!  I’m fleshing out and tightening (opposites?) my story of rejection in Africa.  I’ll have it up here by Monday with some stock footage of children crying.  Thanks for not giving up on me!

Hope to see you soon…oh hey, I’ll be at Creek in the Cave in Long Island City,  Friday May 6 (Seis de Mayo) and May 7, both nights, for my own show called The Obstruction.  I just started telling people about it today, so if you come, maybe bring some cards and we’ll play, in case you’re the only one there.  I’ll be there May 13 and 14 too at 7pm for free.

Ok, I’ll get writing,




Published in: on May 6, 2016 at 4:21 am  Leave a Comment  

Type A Diagnosis Follows Packer Loss

The Packer’s loss to the Seattle Seahawks in this week’s Sunday game has suppressed my husband Tim’s immune system so much that he had to go to the doctor, and when he came home, he informed me, “The doctor said I have type A.”

I thought, “Maybe does ‘hepatitis’ come after type A?”  Type A what?

“It’s a bug,” he said.

He has a Type A bug and it’s cause by the Packers, I guess and it’s highly contagious, so now he’s sleeping in the basement office with his head under the desk, and refuses to turn on any lights.  But when I go to bring him food or liquids, I see the bulge of his headphones beneath his #12 stocking cap, the light glow of his computer from the back, and then green and gold hues emitted from the front of his screen, reflecting onto his Vince Lombardi-style glasses.  I’m worried.  I know these are the Packer highlights he’s been purchasing online. He’s gone “hair of the dog” on me.

Tim already had a small cold at the time of kick off Sunday, so he didn’t feel like traveling back to home base in Minneapolis or going to a bar in Menomonie, Wisconsin where he landed at his mother’s house after his stand up comedy performance in the area the night before.  His mom–her name is Adrianne–decided Tim should relax, and she and Tim would view the game together in her TV room, which is cozily decorated with floral paintings that match the proper couches and antique end tables, requiring two to three layers of coasters before you can set down your tea.  This room boasts a 17″ television, the only one in the house.  For nice!

Nicer yet, sweet Adrianne thought she should try to make this play off game special for Tim.  After all, she is a very thoughtful, polite, and conversational church secretary, not just a mom, but a real funster.  Because she takes great interest in supporting her son’s interests, she went ahead and invited her friends Rachel and Betty over–to make the game even more fun.  Rachel and Betty, also in their 70’s, know nothing about football, but were gracious enough to ask Tim lots of questions about it during this amazingly heated game that went into overtime!  They even provided commentary that had nothing to do with football, in case Tim might get bored watching this particular game that decided who would go to Super Bowl XLIX.  Well, it was definitely TOO MUCH FUN for Tim.  Feeling his energies depleted after the rap session and chatter party, with no beer available to replenish his electrolytes, Tim had to rest up an extra day at his child hood home, and hide under his Green Bay Packer comforter with his feet hanging out the bottom, because it’s a child’s comforter from when he was a smaller Packer fan–a child fanatic.  He had to hide under there to rebuild his strength, but this loss was so excruciating and the company was so wild that his Pride had been zapped beyond repair, and so the next day, he looked into the Favorite Team Loses clause on his insurance policy, went in to see the professional, and came back to our house in Minneapolis with an air mask on, and a severe diagnosis of Type A, and headed straight to the basement claiming people shouldn’t be around him.  Then he sent me a text message up to the first floor of our house, where I was working and per his requests, I wound up going to the drugstore to pick him up some sinus spray, and some Gatorade.  He’s so out of it, and it’s so dark down there, he might be squirting the Gatorade (It’s a sports bottle.) up his nose and the nasal spray into his mouth, but it’s nothing next fall and some interim highlights can’t mend.

Published in: on January 21, 2015 at 8:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

DEC 19th…Mpls, Cedar Cultural Center. i’m having a nervous breakdown.

We need a couple more dogs (smallish) or an animal that looks like a dog, so we have a real doggie sweater contest, a real one.  At my North Star Variety Hour and Meat Raffle, AKA Mary Mack’s Holiday Meat Raffle Show and Doggie Sweater Contest.   Tix are at Electric Fetus cheaper in person in advance or $12 at the Cedar Door, or somewhere around there at http://www.thecedar.org.  Enter your dog by writing me at this address:  marymackcomedy@yahoo.com  !

THE BLOG PART OF THIS POST:  Everybody says you’ll be less stressed out if you are organized.  This is not true at all.  I have been getting organized this last couple weeks, and it is the most stressed out I have ever been.  I am eating my Melatonin gummy drops all day to stay calm.  Also, don’t do that.  Don’t get organized and don’t eat natural sleep remedies throughout the day.  Except for the Brahm’s brand.  That brand is okay to eat every so many hours, especially on a plane.   




Santa Monica Fundraiser tonight and more shows between the Mississip and CA

Tonight! Sat., Sept 21- SANTA MONICA, CA –  YWCA  Kids Benefit  w/ my buddies Carlos Kotkin, Paul Morrisey, and special friend!  http://www.ywcapreschool.org/events/  

PARKING: The event is at the YWCA

2019 14th St  Santa Monica, CA 90405

Just south of Pico on 14th

Free valet parking…tix are $20 and $ goes to not rich kids.  Tickets may be purchased in advance online at the YWCA site or by phone during business hours: (310) 452-3881

Monday, Sept 23-LOS ANGELES, CA- “Hot Tub” Kurt and Kristin’s show @ The Virgil bar on Santa Monica Blvd-8pm $10?

Friday, Sept 27- HOLMEN,   WI- Public House Concert w/ husbo Tim Harmston!  fun night–donation based–   FACEBOOK David Schipper  our Bluff view concerts for reservations: https://www.facebook.com/events/212046275627663/    

Saturday, Sept 28- MEDFORD, WI-Broadway Theater, 7pm and 9pm if good demand.  Call the owner Dave’s cell at  757-472-9049.    https://www.facebook.com/events/203059603202201/  

Saturday, Oct 5–  MN,ALBERTVILLE PARISH- doing a guest spot for Husbo Tim Harmston …I will post his info at www.facebook.com/marymackcomedy1   it’s a fan page i guess.

Wed. Oct 23Will somebody help me book a show in IOWA CITY, IA ?  This is on the way to St. Louis.  please watch www.twitter.com/marymackcomedy in case this happens.

Thurs. Oct 24, ST LOUIS, MO– Too Hip Comedy Showcase that’s the name.  Located at 3359 South Jefferson Avenue, Saint Louis, Missouri.    9pm     Tix at door for $10 OR GET EM EVEN CHEAPER AT http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/427572     Here’s the fb invite and map and stuff:  https://www.facebook.com/events/545849338807916/   In the future, will we be communicating only in links?  I’m so scared.

Fri and Sat. Oct 25-26, TOPEKA, KS-I DON’T KNOW THE VENUE YET, but mark off some time on your busy calendar to come out!!  CoStarring with Tim Harmston  I hope my dentist friend Ted comes.

Tues-Sat. Nov 26-30, MPLS, MN-Tim Harmston is headlining at Acme Comedy Club and I got the owners permission to open for him and directly harrass him during his comedy set.  I called it already he isn’t allowed to open for me in the Spring.  TIX FOR TIM’S SHOW AT 612 338 6393…700 block of N 1st street.  Green Awning just b4 the Star Trib distribution building.  there’s a nice parking lot across the street that’s cheaper than all the other downtown parking lots…Are those condo buildings down there or is it a really rich cult.  what’s happening mpls?  why is beer $6.  it’s cheaper to buy wine now.

MON-WED OCT 28-30: PUEBLO? TAOS?  ABQ?  WATCH FOR RANDOM APPEARANCES by me and my hus-bot Tim Harmston!   If u “like” me or twitter friend me at www.twitter.com/marymackcomedy  i will post all randomness!!!!!!!!!!!

Also if you are in Los Angeles–PLEASE WATCH FOR SHOWS THERE!!  Excited to see you all again:)

Published in: on September 21, 2013 at 7:32 pm  Leave a Comment