Review: When Life Was Like A Cucumber
Author: Greg Wyss
Publisher: Page Publishing Inc.
The story unfolds when, in 1971, Jeffrey Hesse, a recent graduate from Northeastern University, moves with his wife Jane to a one-bedroom small wood-farm house a few miles south of Oneonta, New York at the western edge of the Catskills. Luckily, Jeffrey and Jane find some low-paying jobs, enabling them to survive with the bare necessities.
Regrettably, the farmhouse burns down, and the couple loses everything except their car, the clothes on their backs, and Jeffrey’s record albums. Their two dogs also perish in the fire.
Both knew at this point in their lives that their marriage was over, which was no surprise, as it was gradually coming apart before the fire.
Jane leaves Jeffrey, and he moves to Oneonta, where he finds a place to live in exchange for helping with whatever needs to be done around the property. This doesn’t last long, and a restless Jeffrey understands that he is becoming disillusioned with life and has no ambition to join the establishment or make use of his college degree. He is also not interested in the explosive political environment under the Nixon administration and the anti-Vietnam protests.
Jeffrey drifts from one work gig to another. He even writes for a magazine called Seeds, where he meets some wild “dudes,” and to say there is plenty of partying, drugs and erotic sex would be an understatement.
One summer, Jeffrey runs into a sexy nineteen-year-old Isadora Duncan, whom he falls madly in love. He realizes, however, that Isadora was only interested in having a summer fling with him. Ultimately, she hooks up with another lover.
At this turning point in his life and perhaps influenced by Isadora’s dream in her own need to travel the world, Jeffrey is determined to travel the globe, meet interesting people and nourish his soul with wild and exotic experiences. It would be truly a rollicking voyage! There was only one minor problem. He did not have a plan, and he is broke. Jeffrey, however, was born with creative survival instincts. And he sure would not let money stand in the way of exploring the world.
The beginning of Jeffrey’s gallivanting escapades begins on the Gulf Coast of Florida, where he finds low-paying jobs on construction sites. He had traveled to the Sunshine State with his friend Ozzie, and they find accommodations at Jeffrey’s parents’ motel, which his folks purchased a few years ago upon retirement. Arriving at the motel, Jeffrey and Ozzie meet Jeffrey’s brother Bernie. Bernie's parents left him in charge of the place while they were visiting the east coast of Florida. After several weeks lying on the beaches of Florida enjoying a carefree, decadent lifestyle with no responsibilities, Jeffrey realizes that Florida is not for him.
It was time to break away from his native USA and follow others to Europe, where dropping out was “cool” and ideologically correct. He did not need much money, and he could depend on like-minded people he meets along the way for camaraderie, friendship, and social interaction. Life takes on a whole additional dimension, and Jeffrey’s world turns upside down, testing his limits as he travels through some Greek Islands, the Swiss Alps, Amsterdam, Italy, and wherever his legs would lead him. It turns out to be quite a sensual, soulful, and introspective self-discovery journey through these spontaneous travels.
In this part memoir, part travelogue and part erotica novel, Wyss crafts his story with an abundance of titillating graphic detail. I can't believe that When Life Was Like A Cucumber is a work of fiction. It felt like I was listening in envy to my best friend over a glass of wine as he vividly narrates his exotic escapades living a carefree existence abroad during the early 1970s. Incidentally, as I never heard the expression “life is like a cucumber,” I was curious to find out what it meant. Apparently, it is derived from a vulgar Egyptian Arabic proverb. When I asked my wife, who was born in Egypt and speaks Arabic, had she ever heard the expression, she was at a loss. Perhaps vulgarity was not part of her household.
After I Googled the expression, it informed me that its literal translation from Arabic is: “The world is like a cucumber. One day in your hand, and one day in your ass!” In Greek it has been translated as “one person eats it and is refreshed, and another person eats it and struggles.” Wyss sums up his ambitious novel with: “The Greeks were right. Life was like a cucumber.”
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