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Monthly Archives: July 2006

Outta Gas

I am at a gas station today. It is a Sunday. After picking up a fence panel in the morning late July heat and spending the last bits of morning and most of the afternoon at Wickham Park, I stopped for a soda.

I had not intended on staying as long as I had. The festivities were due to start at 12:30. At nearly two pm nothing had started. The autocrat was waiting for people to arrive. Each event held, the time seems to be later and later. People learn to show up later, stay home longer, spend less time in the heat, out of doors. The more they do, the later events start, the later they start, the later people show. The training is simple, effective and penalizes those who show up on time. The worst thing about being punctual is there is never anyone to appreciate it.

So later than I had anticipated, I readied to leave the park. Beth had show up, just coming from work, and I knew Evanne would have a ride home, would not be stranded. That’s all I needed and off I went.

I drove a mile or two to US1 and, at the corner, found a Kangaroo convenience store. Convenience stores seem to have some of the rather strangest names one could imagine for a business. Stop N Go, Circle K, Cash N Dash, whose name simply begs it to be robbed. Kangaroo.

In and Out, that’s another one and that’s what I was, exiting with a bottle of soda and getting into my truck, a short-bed with an eight foot by six foot privacy fence panel laying on and over the bed, held at top and bottom by bungee cords, tight but appearing precarious. Inside, crossing my seat-belt over me as he crossed the parking lot. Passing my truck so closely, tracing the front perimeter in such a way I knew he was headed for my driver-side window. As I position the pad pinching both the lap and shoulder belt together so we short-folk don’t choke on the upper belt, he taps on my window. I roll it down. A bit.

Tattoos over most of his torso and no shirt. Shorts. Several teeth are visibly missing. He’ll want money.

“Hey Brother, Me and my brother are just down here from Kentucky. Man, we came down with some girls…”

At one point, I knew no-one from Kentucky. Lisa moved there and I visited, discovering people actually live there. Lexington is actually on of the most literate cities in the nation, according to the Connecticut State University study done each year. This year, it is twenty-seventh nationally. Just forty-five minutes south, in Berea, over one hundred and fifty years ago, abolitionists set up a college for Appalachian students of any color and anyone in the county can attend free. The Dalai Lama spoke at Berea College in 1994.

The land is beautiful in a way which is beyond description, the east being a land of high natural bridges and mountains which appear as though a child-god created the mountains of mudpies and left the land between. It is a place I have hunted moonshine, hiked to mountain-top potters and saw moonbows in Cumberland Falls.

Kentucky has beer cheese. Beer-cheese grows as you eat it. It is the only food I have ever experienced where there may be more of it when the meal is done than before it starts. It is simple, beer mixed with cheese. Sometimes Cheese Whiz. Eat fast. They also have hotbrowns. A hotbrown is both a cause of and a reason to chance a heart attack. Kentucky is not known for slim residents.

Lisa took me to a small restaurant on a small river with a cable ferry – a raft that holds a car and is pulled by a motor and a cable from a tower on either shore – to enjoy these. Once is enough.

Kentucky is full of Ale-8. It is bottled in Winchester. I have visited the bottling plant and was given a tour. It is much more interesting than one might think. It really is quite an experience. Soda tastes different fresh. You an see the formula being made, tested, refined but don’t ask what’s in it.

Kentucky is also full of bluegrass music and arts fairs beyond par. It is also full of dry counties where alcohol cannot be bought. Three-fourths of the counties are dry in a state with one of the highest rates of alcoholism.

Now, Lisa is trying to come home. Friends down the street moved from Kentucky because they feel people should be sincere. Their grown daughter just moved from there as well with not a positive thing to say. I know others who have left Kentucky. Apparently so did this person about to ask me for money.

“and now were stuck, bro. What we need is some, hey, you need some fence work? Man, I can do fence…”

I moved this fence panel onto the truck this morning. I picked it up from a freecycler. It took four of us because I had help. I could have done this on my own but accepting help is a blessing, allowing others to help is a blessing. Forget the fact it was full of nails and I was a bit concerned it would be pushed, dropped, nudged or otherwise worried toward me and the nail between my legs, groin height, pointed toward me, would make an unpleasant contact. Evanne was on one end and hers was the one set of hands that did not worry me. She wants Lee to be happy and would make sure I was kept intact.

The other two ladies had no such motivation.

Once home, I moved it from the truck into place.

“work if you need some.” I declined. “We’re stuck and got no money for gas. We came down here with these two girls and, bro, you know how women are, they”

I cut him off, “No, I don’t know how women are to you. I don’t know how you are to them. I know how they are to me. I know my wife more than twenty-five years. She is smart and honorable. The other women I know are kind, compassionate and honorable. If I meet one who isn’t, why would I hang around her? Why would you?”

He stares at me, “Twenty-five years? You aren’t old enough.” In fact, I am.

“A good woman keeps me young. Good friends keep me young. Not following strange women across the country keeps my stress down.”

His jaw opens a bit, “Can I have two dollars?”

I tell him “No thank you.” He processes what seems to be an answer wrong in every way. I have declined him and thanked him. He walks away. Across his back is a tattoo. Scrolled across one shoulder-blade to the next is the word “DEATH” in dark, unfriendly letters.

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Posted by on July 31, 2006 in Culture, Social

 

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My Friend and the Eternal War

Joseph is a soldier. He joined the war before he was old enough and, with faked papers, became a sniper. If you ask Joseph, he has been a soldier as long as he can remember, in his past lives, in his present life even though he is a father, is no longer in the military, cooks, cleans, is a massage therapist. Joseph is still at war.

War follows Joseph. He is randomly shot at, challenged, fought. He is six-four. Impressive. Imposing. Intimidating. Still, things happen to Joseph. Violent things. Hateful and hurtful.

Joseph feels this is normal. Others shake their heads, look with disbelief. To who else do such things happen on such a regular basis? In Melbourne, Florida? Fort White and Gainesville, Florida?

I suggest we get what we expect. Become magnates for what we carry, create our worlds within.

Joseph eschews help, picks up a washing machine by himself, hurts his back, bemoans his misfortune.

I want to fix this but can’t. Joseph is capable of so much compassion, care, kindness. He is the most moral of people, trustworthy. In constant battle.

It is a Saturday night. We have met at Craig’s house to sing, talk, drink coffee, enjoy each other’s company. Evanne, Jack, Beth, myself. We will create sweetness in an evening with our company, our voices. A fat songbook, a dulcimer. It is an evening of pleasantness planned after a difficult week and I know, now, Joseph is coming and the evening will change.

He will talk of war. He will talk over the singing, needing to be heard. There will be bodies, bombs, special forces, politics, shrapnel, combat. I will sing “Peace” by Tom Paxton and he will shout over it about soldiers having body parts cut off, hung in show.

Coffee is served. No-one makes coffee like Craig. He has Kahlúa and Baileys Irish Cream and I ask him if he would not mind preparing my coffee. If I make it, it will not taste the same. He does, smiling, unsatisfied until it is perfect. I appreciate Craig. More and more, as a matter of fact.

We sing, Evanne and I. Joseph comes with his family, long-time friends; beloved, respected, treasured but not always an easy friendship. “Lemmon Tree” is sung in two part harmony and it is sweet, melodic. My voice blends with Evanne’s well and creates one of my favorite sounds. She tells me she cannot sing but her voice in song is a sound of water falling from a height, of children playing at a distance, the sounds of a night-forrest. In harmony it is the sound of peace, the tones sing of friendship, they capture comfort, give it back for all to hold. Suddenly we cannot hear ourselves and Nicaragua is recreated in Craig’s living room. Or it is El Salvador? I use to know this.

I pick up my dulcimer and play “The Water is Wide.” The lap dulcimer is not a loud instrument. I am straining to hear it over a story of conflict, a history of a secret violence. Evanne is singing “Savage Daughter” and I am attempting to learn it on my dulcimer as she sings, but I cannot here the notes over the grenades.

Jeannette, Evanne, Craig and I are singing a shaker hymn, then “How can I keep from Singing”, we try a showtune and always over the notes is a cacophony of gunfire, wounded, the taking of bullets. Hymns of peace in combat with combat.

I think I should be more compassionate, but this is a constancy. At some point, compassion must include oneself and I have heard this as an ongoing saga of bluster and fear. He may be re-deployed. He may have to serve again. I keep my own counsel and say nothing. I only sing louder.

I then do that which I perhaps should not. My birthday is soon. Soon. Joseph is, of course, invited. I could not think of not having him there. I tell him, over his voice, interrupting, next Saturday, there is no talk of politics. I agree with everything he says and still, no talk of politics. My muscles are tight, my stomach hurts. I wish to celebrate my birthday with the living, the breathing. I wish for the dead to be at peace just for a few hours. I pick up my dulcimer and slip it into its bag.

I know we deal with violence. In order to handle violence, we must have a place of peace to hold fast. We can hold it in ourselves. If we can keep peace in ourselves, we bring it into our homes. If we can all bring it into our homes, each home, we have brought it into our neighbourhoods. If we have done that…

And so I should have been able to have handled it, let is flow in and through but it is a practice. It is not perfect. I am not and I spoke up for the first time in a decade. More than a decade.

Last year at my birthday, we were eating cake to stories of street violence, martial arts demonstrations, paramedic episodes. Space around Joseph became wide. In a small apartment, a large man took up more and more space, a wider swath. Is he always like this, I am asked. Yes, he is. He tells me he would take a bullet for me. I have no doubt. I would for him. No question. What I can’t do is take another night of death stories.

It is not that war did this to him. After all, he chose to go before he was of age. This is inside Joseph.

His answer? He will not show up. He will not come to my birthday. He chooses his dead over the celebration of my life. I am more sorry than hurt.

The stories continue. People leave. Joseph wonders if he chased them away. Apologises to Craig.

It is three am. I cannot sleep. I walk into the backyard and hang bamboo shades. I wonder if I should have held my tongue. When is kindness not kind? And what is kindness when it comes to Joseph?

 
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Posted by on July 31, 2006 in Culture, Social

 

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The Play’s the Thing

About three months ago I was asked to write a play. I have never written a play. I had no intention of saying yes.

“I’ve never written a play.”

“Oh, you can do it. I’m sure. You’re a writer.”

“I don’t know how.”

“I’ll send you some web pages.”

“I don’t have time to read them.”

“You have three weeks.”

“To read the sites?

“To get us the play. I need the cast list by auditions in a week. The finished play can take three.”

“I have finals to write and year-end grades.”

“Then I’d better get you the books this week.”

“Did you hear what I said? I don’t think you did. I’m sure of it.”

“There are three of them. I’ll being them Tuesday.”

Talking with Evanne can be like this. Often is. My defenses don’t seem to have much of an effect.

Which is how I found myself with a set of books, stories to adapt and writing a play.

I brought my laptop to work. My lesson plans adapted. My students became test-readers and part of an actual, live language arts project. They proofread, corrected, commented. It was done. I have never written so quickly, so fully engrossed in a project.

I took several stories of the Arabian Nights and adapted them to fit into a version of the Scheherazade story. To do so I needed to create segues as well, narration, ways in and out of the stories told by the queen looking to save her head with the stories that came out of them.

I wanted them funny. I wanted them beautiful and simple. I wanted some nearly silent and others a delight of language and a joy of sight. I wanted elegance and comedy, sweetness and wisdom. I thought I got it.

But how would I know for sure?

They loved it. Some of my stage direction had to be adapted for a children’s theater. Ages four to seventeen. That young, eh?

Some of my stage direction “was too beautiful to cut so we had to make it into dialogue. It reminds me of Tennessee Williams” This is one of the best compliments I have ever received.

An old woman once called me a mensch. As compliments go, it’s hard to get better than that.

And the Theater was much large than I had anticipated. That is I thought it was one of the small summer productions. No, it was in the main theater of The Henegar Center. Another surprise.

I stayed away from casting and rehearsal. I didn’t want to interfere. Once written, what right did I have to tell them what to do? I don’t know their theater, their audience, their business. Two months had passed.

Then I was asked to be a stage manager. Me? You’d make a good one, I was told. Something else I had never done. But why not? It was a summer of firsts. My first CD, my first movie (a short, student film) my first DVD, my first stint running, MCing an open-mic poetry. Why not be a stage manager?

I arrive the day before the play opens. “Scheherazade and the Tales of the Arabian Nights.” I am stage manager, dresser, prop-meister for stage left. I am seeing what I have done come to fruition, come alive in front of me, under the lights, on the stage. This is a shamanic dream during waking.

The children slowly come to realize I wrote much of their play. I have not said anything. They have question after question. How did I think of that? It came from my head. How does that happen? I don’t know.

This is so funny, the oldest actor, seventeen, tells me. The little kids love it but there is so much here my I think is funny too. Where did you learn to do that?

Underdog, I answer. And Fractured Fairy Tales. Rocky and Bullwinkle. Mel Brooks.

Opening day. The theater is sold out. Five hundred seats. I arrive at 8:15. House opens at 9:30. Places at 9:55. Costumes on, last minute glitches, costume malfunctions, pins, props, positions everyone.

The music starts and the lights dim. I can hear the audience laughing, sighing. It works. Kids want to be the hero of one of my segments, a donkey named Chaki. They laugh. People lean forward when the Nightingale sings and dies, rises again and is free, react in surprise when Amira rejects her suitors, discovers her garden again has bloomed in her new desert home. They applaud and applaud.

I had said no. I would not write this. I’m glad I was not listened to. Sometimes it is for the best.

The last show, a full balcony, no where to stand. The end comes and costumes are put away, carried to storage. Props are carried upstairs, downstairs. There is a pervasive sadness about the cast, crew. I feel it over me.

The cast party starts.

I hear there is talk about me. A certificate of thanks of some sort. I look outside the theater doors to the banquet-room across the hall and it is crowded. I walk out, walk toward the crowd.

There is a line for food. It is the first thing I see and I know better. There will be nothing there I can eat, nothing that will be good for me. Day one of the play, between performances, thee was pizza supplied for the cast and crew and I left for food elsewhere, brought it back because I was afraid if I didn’t, people would think I was anti-social instead of just asocial. I sat alone, not wanting to impose myself on anyone. Evanne sees me alone, set apart, and comes over to sit with me. I think she understands but feel I have, by sitting alone, put her in a position where she did not want me to be unhappy. While I was happy for Evanne’s company, I did not want to think her compassion for me took her away from talking with others, visiting, enjoying her lunch.

The next days I brought lunch, took a walk, ate alone and did not impose.

Now, the cast party and what to do. I walk away from the food as I see people with plates of cookies, brownies, worse. I walk to the other end of the room.

I can sit by myself or find someone I know and cling, or feel I am, and then go home and wonder if I had behaved improperly, was a pain. Did they really want to talk. Were they being merely polite. It doesn’t seem worth it. Either way, I feel uncomfortable, unsure, free-floating and anxious. People are tugging at me, congratulating me, asking me things. In the theater I knew what to do; it was clear. When I was writing, I knew what to do; writing is simple – it makes sense to me. Here, I have no idea, I’m uncertain. There is very little potential here for comfort and I’ll wonder later; wonder what people thought, what they are thinking. I don’t know why. This is something I don’t understand.

So I am kind to myself and leave, walk back to the theater, open the doors and enter. It is dark. My eyes adjust and there is nothing left on stage but a bare set and a rug. Perhaps I am not the last one out, but just in case I walk to stage right and take from behind the curtain an tall old lamp with a naked bulb and a long cord. I walk it to center stage, front, and turn it on

The ghost light.

The stage should never be dark. This I understand.

 
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Posted by on July 23, 2006 in Culture, Education, Food, Social

 

Day of the Manatees

US1 through southern and central Brevard County is an easy drive of sparse architecture and brilliant liquid beauty along the Indian River. The Indian River is wide and shallow, averaging three feet deep and often navigable by foot from the quarter mile to eight miles between bank to bank. Not a river at all, really, but a rod-straight saltwater sound, it is barely separated from the Atlantic by more than a spit of land.

Along the river are salt-marshes, inlets and coves and it was past one of those many coves I drove Saturday morning on my way from Palm Bay, five miles north, to pick up Evanne. That day we were making a kiln of coiled newspaper at my home, breaking into a bag of terracotta clay with about a dozen people to make runes, Tellstones, whatnots small in size. People were due at noon.

As I drove, the shoulder, commonly narrow enough only for an emergency stop, widened into a grass-filled clearing level with the lapping river. Only about forty feet deep and perhaps one hundred feet long, normally empty and affording a view of the wide river and the narrow division of land which broke the ocean and created the sound, today it was bordered, as the trees cleared, by an upright half-sheet of plywood asking, in large caution-orange paint, that we take home one of the many pit-bull puppies available. Behind it were parked what were certainly to be too many cars to be explained by free puppies. Against the shore were clumps of people – adults, children – with cameras, binoculars, pointing fingers off the bank at a space some thirty feet distant.

At fifty miles per hour I can’t see much. Cars, people, cameras and a boiling of water where they point. In the river’s tumult were dark shapes, significant in size, one breaking the surface of the water. While I cannot see what they are, by the time the tableau has taken its place behind me, as the car curves past the Honda dealership, I have figured out what they were; manatees.

I have been here a year. I have not seen a manatee though I hear about them and their friendly nature, their bad breath, the texture of their skin.

I speed up. I am but five minutes from Evanne’s and reach for my phone to call her, to ask her to be ready so, in the truck, we can go back, park, walk to the bank and, I hope, see my first manatees. The phone rings.

“Are we on for today? I figured we were because you said we were, but Jack said I should check.”

I was due to pick her up at eleven that morning. It was ten ‘till.

“I’m four minutes away. Can you be ready? I’ll explain when I get there but I don’t want to talk while I’m driving.”

I drive too fast. She is ready and gets into the truck.

“I think I passed a group of manatees right off the road. I think. I want to stop and see. We have about an hour. If people have to wait a bit for us, for this, they’ll have to wait.”

“Really? I’d love to see them.”

People rush so much. Everything, it seems, is on a time frame. For picking up Evanne on time, by a clock, at a time designated by us and marked by specific numbers on a clock, watch, cell-phone, I chance not seeing the manatees. I drove by them. I think briefly of passing them by again; people are due at my house. I drive back quickly. Too quickly. Time again. This time I stop, pulling over the double-yellow line into the clearing and between two cars.

There is a whirlpool deep with dark silhouettes of bodies long and broad. I can see this through the windshield and open the glove-box to take out the binoculars, the monocular and we get out.

Approaching the water, I hand the binoculars to Evanne. “I asked for a discount on the binoculars, since I can use only one lens, but they just laughed. I don’t see why I should pay for something I can’t use. You turn this to focus.” She takes them out of the case, I twist the wheel between the lenses as she holds them. I take the monocular out of its case and stuff the vinyl into my back pocket. I put it to my right eye and point it out to the roil in the river.

We are two among a constantly renewing eight or ten people watching the spectacle in the water. Three manatees, it appears, one female and two male: mating season. We watch, one then the other, the one again. Breaching, tails slapping the surface, mist blowing from nostrils, grey backs above the water. At once it appears there is a jostling, it appears one has attacked another. We watch. We listen.

Perhaps the female has told one of the males she has had enough. Perhaps has had all she wants. Or one male has challenged, is ready to fight, been rebuked by the female. Then all is calm and they are taking turns again.

The sound skips over the water and mixes with, spurs on the chatter around us .

“It’s a manatee orgy.”

“Manatee gangbang.”

“She’s tired of them and wants a ciggy.”

Snickering, laughing. Rude comments.

I think to myself, talk to myself, I wonder at the anthropomorphizing. Why put them into a human frame? Have we done such a good job of it? After all, they’re the ones making love in the water, having sex in the river, taking turns, out in the open, no worries, no cares, procreating, playing (perhaps), not thinking of tomorrow, not yesterday, just now, in action and moment, life lived as present-tense verbs.

What’s our problem? We want to live, be healthy, or, at least, be comfortable while we live long. We want to live and live and live. Quantity over quality and tomorrow over the moment. We want to have things, more things, one more thing, then something else, another. More and more. We want shelter because we will be more comfortable, live longer if we are out of the cold, out of the heat, out of the sun. Longer, more, tomorrow, worry, next year, better place. Then, we look at the manatees in the river and give them our thoughts, our desires and our reactions when it is we who wish to feel like them, give up the home, live in the water, have sex on the shore, think of nothing and have only now. But for the fear, we would. But for fear of the end, we would. And so, we pretend they are like us as imagining we are them simply begs dissonance, wonder, confusion.

It is quarter ‘till twelve. Evanne reminds me we have people who will be waiting for us. I respond by going to my truck and getting my polarized sunshields – big enough to fit over my glasses. With these, I can cut out the reflection of the water, see through the surface. They are one more thing. I bring them back and hand them to Evanne. We pass them back and forth. Finally, binoculars, monocular are put away. I’m reminded it’s time to go and, back to the truck, we do just that.

We drive way from the water, out to US1, and, as we recross the double-yellow I can still see the swirling of the water in my mirror.

The afternoon comes, the company does as well. Stones are made, a kiln is built. I make a dinner of salmon and steak, both on the grill for hours now, lowly, slowly and vegetables cooked fast in a large, flame-surrounded wok.

Over dinner, Craig tells us about the park nearby, Goode Park, and the manatees. He lays on the dock, the one that floats. His hands lay in the water, waving gently and the manatees come to him and to have their bellies rubbed. Bellies rubbed? I have never heard of that. Manatees again.

I am to do a workshop that evening: a singing workshop. Old Aramaic chants. It is at Goode Park. I picked it because it was close by; six blocks away and I plan to walk there. Goode Park is on Turkey Creek, which connects to the Indian River.

Walk there we do. It is seven in the evening and the workshop starts at seven-thirty. It starts when I get there but I would not start late. I will start on time, by a clock, at a time designated by us and marked by specific numbers on a clock, watch, cell-phone, and, if there are any, I chance not seeing the manatees.

I walk with Evanne and Valerie to the dock and, as we step, it moves beneath us. I see nothing but lay down on my belly, as do the ladies. I put my hands in the water and wave them in and out just under the surface. In and out. Nearly instantly, surprisingly, a nose, four inches across, breaks the surface, closed nostrils open, hot air expelled and it smells of old vegetables., eyes are wide, focused on my face. Eyes like mahogany shooters surrounded by grey flesh. A short-nose elephant in the water.

I reach over and pat the head. It is smooth, warm, comfortable. Round, firm, comforting. Another comes up, sleekly, quietly, graceful in way I have seldom seen and I am thinking how something so impossibly shaped, so ungainly on land could be the utter animation of grace and flow and while I am thinking this another sneaks up, unseen, unheard. So large and so quiet.

I pat it with both hands, rubbing either side of its head. As I do, it snuffles at my palms, left then right, opens its mouth, licks my fingers and moves forward placing its head once more between my hands.

It turns over, deftly, silently as I rub and my hands are on it’s belly: soft, muscular, warm and I rub it as long as it will have until it moves back and my hands are on it’s chest, its flippers are thick, nails large and tough and I can’t help but feel them and I hold its hand. Hand, so much like my hand, five nails, fingers joined by skin and cartilage but five fingers, five nails. A moment passes and the hand I’m holding places, easily moves, mine back onto its chest, making its desire well and clear; it wants its chest and neck rubbed.

It is raised from the water, belly and a portion of its side above the surface, visible. On the grey skin, in the flesh, are four yellow scars, at regular distances, at the same angle, nearly and inch wide and each about a foot long. I would see this again and again as the manatees would come up, each in turn, scars and scars.

And so, our bellies to the ground, theirs to the air, we rubbed them, as long as they would have, into the warm night.

 
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Posted by on July 15, 2006 in Culture, Nature, Social

 

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Then and Now in Cocoa, Florida

I had been led to expect a storyteller, in the grand cracker tradition of tall-tales about the land of scrub and swamp. What I got wasn’t a storyteller, but a reminiscer. What I got, was Speedy.

Speedy has a bullet in his leg he got when he was five and his brother, on crutches, shooting mullet to fish for shark, shot a concrete dock instead and a bullet bounced and lodged near his femur. It’s still there. He was five and, for Speedy, that was a long time ago.

Long ago, when the bluebills were so think on the Indian River the ripples of the water were waves of a feathered carpet, so long ago, mullet jumping was not remarked upon by amazed youth and needlefish swarmed. So long ago, the pelicans needed only dip a bill and not dive into the muddy dredged depths. So long ago the Banana River could not be seen through the yellow hands of fruit. All there is now is the water, the name and the memory of Speedy.

Hurricanes did not come but the September Storms did. And why not? It was Florida and to be expected. Mosquito Beaters were hung by doors and used to beat away the buzzers before opening and used to beat away the mosquitoes that got in and plenty always did and a palm placed against a screen would create a living handprint of bloodthirst. And why not? It was Florida and to be expected.

Was it hot? Sure it was but we didn’t know any better, Speedy tells us. All that could be done was to breathe it in and breathe it out and Speedy never noticed. It was Florida and who knew any different?

And the WPA came in and brought jobs, and bridges and dredges. Pineapple plantations came and went along with Zora Neale Hurston and Stetson Kennedy and Jim Crow and The Folkways Project, Folklife Project, Florida Music Project, American Memories Project and Florida Writers Project and public works projects and change upon change.

And then came the war, WWII, and the subs sunk off the coast, torpedoes, blackouts, shipwrecks and who knew the war came so near?

Speedy tells us what you grow up with is what you think is right until someone shows you different. “Maybe cat isn’t spelled c-a-t but who knew” is what Speedy tells us about the civil rights movement and says desegregation was not a big deal and went pretty smoothly but then, says Speedy, he was one side – what it from the other he didn’t know. “Might have been rougher,” he ads, looking at the only black lady in the room.

He was a reminiscer.

 
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Posted by on July 12, 2006 in Culture, History, Travel

 

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A Day at the Beach

I headed out of the house at 9:30 to pick up my friend for a day at the beach. I am light and burn. Evanne is transparent and will, if given the opportunity and circumstances, frizz away faster than a vampire in special-effects sunlight. So, of course, we headed to the beach where no suit’s needed.

I picked her up about ten. Evanne is not her real name, of course. I changed it to protect her identity. Her real name is Evan. Her father had expected a boy, it seemed, or had the name picked out already and why let a little thing like the gender of a child change an already well laid plan?

My son had a name before he was born. Benjamin. When he arrived, I caught him. I looked at him, handed him to my wife as my daughter, age five, readied to cut the cord. He lifted himself up on my wife’s chest and looked her straight in the eye. She then voiced what I had thought: This is not Benjamin.

We named him Alek. Four years later he was playing with a friend neither I nor my wife could see. We asked him, “Who are you playing with?”

“Benjamin.”

“Who is Benjamin?” We knew the answer. We didn’t expect the answer.

“My brother. We switched,” he stated with a broad, wry smile.

Well laid plans.

Evanne wanted to go to this beach for a while now but had no-one who wanted to go with her. For me this was an easy decision. A day with Evanne is not exactly a kick in the head. For those of you with no sense of sarcasm, remember sarcasm is the statement, as foil (a sharp contrast to point out clear differences), of the opposite of what is well understood as truth. So, I restate: a day with Evanne is definitely an event to look forward to. And looking forward to this I had been; listening, talking, walking with my friend.

Her husband is delighted. He doesn’t want her to go alone, has not been there, has no intention of going there. And, happily, he trusts me. I’m safe. At least, that’s how my wife explains it.

I’m good with that. Being safe has gotten me into some rather interesting situations.

“Help me try this on.” “Does too much of me show in this?” “Is this too see-through?” “How does this thong fit?” Can you help me put this chain-mail bikini on?” “Would you watch my nubile young daughter for me?”

All which, of course, have nothing to do with this. But it was great or making the guys I worked with, went to school with, shake their heads in disbelief.

We were headed to the nude beach.

I love being safe.

“Whoowhoo!! Nude Beach!” That’s Evanne. That’s quite a bit of sound from my four-ten friend.

She is nervous. Has brought clothes just in case. Has looked forward to this and brought clothes just in case. It is deeply ingrained, this feeling that taking clothes off is wrong. I know. I feel it each and every time I go there. I tell her not to worry but, if she wants to leave at any point, just to let me know.

On the way we talk of writing and she asks if I’ll be writing about this. Of course.

In truth, no. I will write in a cursory fashion. I’ll write of the generality, the universality. Most of what we say will never make it here. I won’t let it. It is no value to those who read it but it is priceless to me. And why should my friend think everything we say and do will be for the world? I’m too selfish for that.

Do you want me to change your name?

I would. If she wanted I’d change her name. She tells me no. No need to change her name but, if I want, I can give her a nickname instead. She’d love to see what kind of nickname I’d come up with for her.

I tell her it would take me longer to come up with a good nickname than it would to write the entire piece. Nicknaming is not a direction my brain goes in. I can’t think of a better name for her.

For some people, their names are just wrong. I take a moment to think of their names. Hesitate before calling them. Wondering if I have the name right. Not so with Evanne.

So we headed to the end of Playalinda Beach, the end of road at Canaveral National Seashore. Past lot 13. Perhaps they thought having a lot 13 would scare folk away. It was the busiest of the lots, had the most people. Of course they were happy: No wet suits.

We parked. Took the bags, the two folding cloth chairs, the water and lemonade and walked from the lot to the dune-crossover. Above our heads, the American flag and, directly under it, waving from the same pole, a yellow flag with a bright orange sun sporting dark sunglasses. The sun protected from itself.

She had been covered with Coppertone sunscreen before we left. It was the kind that has the large pink bottle and the small blue bottles that attaches to it. I must assume one solution is the girl sunscreen and the blue is the boy sunscreen. I imagine they are mixed together like epoxy, bind and make an impenetrable shield of reflection. I imagined looking at her and being fried, instantly, by the exponentially magnified ultraviolet.

I told her mine was SPF 2,316.

“Really?’

“No.” What can I say? To nearly anyone else I’d have let that go. To Evanne I tell the truth. “But it is waterproof and I won’t slide off the seat.”

I waited until we were out on the beach and made sure she had any extra she needed. I worried about missing some spots. I always worry and always do. They become evident later.

The sun has heated the sand. We’ve gotten there by eleven to avoid the most direct heat of the day. Neither on of us needs that much sun. Yet, the sand is still too hot to for me as we walk toward the surf.

We move to where the sand has been wet and the temperature is lower. The chairs are set out as we remove shoes. Two towels out of the bag. Shirts. Hesitation. Hesitation. Pants. Sunscreen. I miss some spots. I know it.

I am now comfortable. I am amazed. Not long ago, heavier, paunchier, I’d have worried. Who was looking, how did I look? There was some vanity involved, self-consciousness, and if I admit it, which I shall not, self-loathing as well. But now, lighter, thinner, I know no-one is looking, no-one cares. I am comfortable with myself. Comfortable in this chair. Not perfect, but comfortable and I delight in knowing it was my hard work and persistence which is paying off, now, in my comfort and joy, out in the sun, today, with my friend.

I know Evanne does not care. We would have come out anyway, enjoyed the day, the company, conversation. I admit it’s all me and I am out and delighted with myself. A new experience for me. I could get use to this.

We work on fleshing out my RPG character. I’m not quite geeky enough. Not yet. I need to play a Role Playing Game. That will help.

We talk of a video game that I remember as Catman Domine. That’s not the name. It involves funky Japanese music and a sticky ball that picks up cats and batteries so the King’s only begotten son can bring light back to the world. A Japanese electro-analogue of Kabalistic Christianity.

I have never played a video game. Not since Centipede. I don’t think this is the one to start with.

The sun is hot. The dunes behind us real, seagrassed, tall. Before us the waves are high, wide, long.

We talk of Russian history, the Tsars, movements to freedom stopped by well-meaning anarchists unknowlingly putting an end to that for which they fought, assassinated with constitutions in their pockets, on their way to dissolving themselves.

It’s time for a walk. We head North on the waterline. The tide is headed in and the chairs disappear in the distance behind us. People are walking. Adults, children, teens. Some by themselves. Some as groups, couples. Some comfortable with each other, some stand at distances, apart, unsure. Mixed couples. Female couples. Male couples. Laughing, holding hands, trading glances between themselves and the incoming waves. Families, lovers, friends.

“Look at that. It’s so sweet. Everyone gets along. No worries about clothing or gender or who’s who. What if it were like that everywhere?”

“Well, then we’d actually take care of things that mattered, like who had no place to live, who had no medical care, instead of who’s living with who and who says they’re married. Imagine that.”

We turn around. How long has it been? As we walk, we move toward the water. The waves are aggressive, they push and pull as the large-grained sand buries our feet, pulls out with each receding wave, grates our ankles. The water is colder than we expect. There is gasping, squealing.

Once back at the chairs we sit. Not in them but far out in front of them, in the place where the waves reach out to the shore. We sit ourselves down upon the sand, legs out, feet meeting the water, inviting, letting the water wash over us, behind up, taking the sand from beneath us. More squealing. The waves hit hard. The tide comes in. We let it move over us, over time.

We stand, move into the water to wash off the sand.

I have been careful to make sure I notice if Evanne starts to turn red, burn, become flush. I know there is no real need to take care of her, but that doesn’t stop me. We all take care of each other. I see some pink in her face, looking rosy. It’s time to go.

Moving toward the chairs, I pick up her shirt, hand it to her.

Sand off the feet, clothes on, chairs away.

We are approached by a fellow who says hello. Asks where we’re from. Have we been here before?

How far up does this section go?

Miles.

We walk to the truck as it begins to rain.

Later that day, I read he headlines. NY and Georgia both dealt with same sex marriage, anything that passed as marriage, anything that gave the semblance of marriage and some, even, making domestic partner insurance illegal; Georgia’s Supreme Court overturning a lower court ruling that said that state’s 2004 voter-passed ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional and the New York Court of Appeals upholding a state law banning same-sex marriages. The court ruled it was up to the legislature to decide, not us. They ducked.

While we walked in the sun at Playalinda.

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2006 in Culture, Social, Travel

 

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Circle Game

I was told, recently, I was too old. It is the first time I had been told this and, I must admit, I did not like it.

I am in the best shape I have ever been, am healthy and, it seems, according to one source, too old. One of my favorite lines in music comes from “Poems, Prayers and Promises” by John Denver.

Still I have to smile
It turns me on to think of growing old
For though my life’s been good to me
There’s still so much to do

On a ride today to South Florida. Ft. Lauderdale. My son opted to go along. I did not ask but he offered and I was glad for the company.

I grabbed a disk of music titled Sing-a-longs I had made a few months ago. We were on our way.

Against the bright sun I put on a pair of Solar Shields, wraparound polarized lenses since, in the car, out of direct sun, Transition lenses do not live up to their name and become all noun and no verb.

Alek will soon be fifteen. In one month. His sister will be twenty-one soon thereafter. I was there when they were born. It was yesterday. This has all been said before and it is what parents go through. This is nothing new.

The disk played. “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac. I sing to nearly everything. I did not make it through as a lump formed in my throat, pressing against my voice, down and down. It was the live version and Stevie Nicks dedicated it to her father. I was glad for my sunglasses as my eyes began, slightly, to moisten.

Can I handle the seasons of my life?
I don’t know…..I don’t know

Well I’ve been afraid of changin’because I’ve built my life around
you
But time makes you bolder, even children get older
And I’m getting older too….

Next came “Circle Game” by Joni Mitchell.

And the Circles, they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return, we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and round in a circle game.

I was a gonner. The lump threatened to take over possession of the entire upper half of my body and my dark glasses now hid tears.

So the years spin by and now the boy is twenty
Though his dreams have lost some grandeur coming true
There’ll be new dreams maybe better dreams and plenty
Before the last revolving year is through.

We were on our way to visit my father. He has been spending time with his parents. His mother does not remember him and his father needs some relief. Four generations and the Great-grandmother is the child again. The Great-grandfather consoled by his son, the son’s mind moved from his worries by his son and my son keeping me company so, after all is said and the doors are closed and we are on the North road again, he can tell me it’s ok.

As we return, Katell Keinig sings:

Lay me down in a wooded field
Plant a bush above my head
Lay me, lay me down
Don’t go writing on my grave
I’ll have it said it all before the end
Lay me, lay me down.

And when we’re all dead
They won’t philosophize
Or feel regret
They’ll remember us when we said
We had one hell of a life.

The song ends and I turn the radio off. We talk and do our best to leave nothing unsaid. There is no time like now.

 
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Posted by on July 6, 2006 in Culture, Family

 

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