Saturday, January 05, 2008

No Touch Monkey! (Ayun Halliday)

Here's a little background on Ayun Halliday. She writes the Mother Superior column for Bust magazine and is also the creator of The East Village Inky (a zine started soon after the birth of her first child, India, aka "Inky"). You can read her bio for a full plate of information on her, but I'll say two important things here: she was a theater major at Northwestern and her husband wrote Urinetown! The Musical, which she refers to in one of her books as "the golden egg."

The Mother Superior column is where I first read Halliday, and it's a welcome respite from the Huggies commercial--style parenting familiar to many of us through commercials on HGTV, TLC, and the Oxygen network. I love her writing about her kids, so when I was loading up on books to read for my Christmas vacation [now forever known as The Incoming Plane(s) That Would Never Land], I got two of her books from the library. No Touch Monkey! And Other Travel Lessons Learned Too Late details her adventures traveling overseas, usually on a very small budget.

It starts with stories of the Eurorail variety, sleeping in train stations, hanging out with boyfriends who eventually get replaced with different ones. And those are good, but I felt a definite shift about halfway through the book, when she tells a story about traveling to Paris with her mom. This and the stories that follow, which involve her husband Greg, are even better than the ones in the beginning.

In Sumatra, she dislocates her knee, which fills with fluid, and can't walk. With no Western-style hospital or doctor available, she eventually gets in touch with an Islamic holy man:

Without warning, he pounced, pinning my thigh to the mattress as he wrenched my shin like someone throwing the lever on a seldom-used electric chair. The dislocated knee snapped back into alignment with the resounding crack of a gunshot. The audience at the window burst into spontaneous applause while I gasped, trying to regain my composure following an exquisite blast of torture that was almost over before it had began. . . As far as I was concerned, the bone setter could have declared himself the great and powerful Oz right there, but as I suspected, he was not a man to milk it. Instead he gestured that I should take a few steps. Having played the titular role in the Indianapolis Junior Civic Theatre's production of Heidi, I could appreciate the drama inherent in the moment. Weak and wary of falling, I rose to my feet and staggered unassisted to Greg, just like Clara, the lame rich girl to whom Heidi's infection can-do spirit gives the courage to eighty-six that wheelchair.

It's a good, quick read, making my high school camping trip on a Mexican beach with my friend's overly religious family, the trip where one camper got stung by a poisonous scorpion, look like a cake walk.

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