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No Ma’am, I am not Gus Grissom

2:31 am: My head is on the pillow, all is still. Blessed exhaustion and quiet but for the hum of the fan. The house is quiet and, finally, so am I.

2:28 am: Stargate is on…again. The same episodes as earlier today. Yesterday. I’m halfway through the show and I’ve had enough. I’m going to try again. Off to bed.

1:13 am: At this hour I should be sleeping in my bed but every time I close my eyes my room spins instead.

I’m hungry. I have waited two hours since last I ate and can barely believe I’m still wanting food. But I go to the refrigerator and find a container of brown rice, fill it with chicken broth and put it, along with a baked chicken leg, in the microwave. I put it on low so the circuits will not blow as the air conditioner is on in the conservatory and, in our Lisa Douglas fusebox, the air conditioner and the microwave equal more than ten.

I feel funny eating so late. I’ll regret this. I know, but I must assume physical stress causes hunger. Extreme physical stress seems to have caused extreme hunger. I want protein and protein and more protein. I tell myself tomorrow I’ll be careful, eat better, eat lightly but for now, I want meat and bulk. I want something that will hold me down.

12:10 am: I don’t know why I am waiting to go to sleep. Normally I’d be up late on a Friday night, but with my stomach upset, with my head hurting from side to side, perhaps I should have been in bed sooner. I’m stuffed, fatigued, in pain, still hungry (how can that be?) and every time I close my eyes I see a screen, black on either side and my head swims. Enough. I’m going to bed.

9:39 pm: Home. I’m headed to the fridge. I want more meat. I can barely believe it but I do. Chicken. White meat. Diet Pepsi I brought back with me. On to the couch. Lee is watching Stargate, as I would expect and I can’t really think of anything I’d like more right now than to lie on the couch, a near mirror opposite of Lee, and watch bad sci-fi with her. I’m queasy. My head hurts. My shoulders hurt. My neck hurts. Everything just plain hurts. Sore muscles. Physical stress? Emotional stress? Fatigue? But it feels great to be lying here, picking at the chicken, watching my sweetie watch Stargate.

9:18 pm: Our plans did not quite work out. Jack is quiet, watching TV. I could spread myself on the couch, splay myself on the carpet. I could but I will not. I feel welcome but tonight I feel a bit extra. Since I do not normally feel this way at their home, I figure something is up and, perhaps, feeling uneasy, queasy and unsteady I figure it is the right choice to go home. I say my good-byes and take my leave, driving home in the extra-sub-urban darkness. I later found Jack’s grandfather had taken ill.

7:43 pm: I arrive at Evanne’s, Jack’s and Beth’s home. Jack is not home. How is my day? I tell the truth as I have been asked but do not wish to sound whiney. I leave out a bit but tell how I feel. My stomach has calmed a bit. It still is not right, but it is no longer playing twist and shout and I am grateful for the improvement. Jack comes in some minutes later, seems tired. This is understandable. He sits on the couch, is asked by Evanne if he wants to play Changeling, he states he is not quite in the mood, is tired. This is why I had come here tonight. No that I ned a reason to visit with these fine people, but, tonight, I’d rather be sitting at home, quiet, watching television, still. So very still.

7:13 pm: I am leaving for Evanne’s. It is Jackanalia, Jack’s birthday week and I have been asked to come over and play Changeling as a surprise for him. I said I would go and on any other day I’d have no doubt about going, but I feel so terribly unwell, I do not know how I will drive there, sit there, play there. But this is his birthday and what he wants so off I go. On the way I stop for a bottle of diet coke. They are on well water and I am not use to drinking water that tastes of sulpher.

6:42 pm: Thumping wakes me. Not my heart but a larger drum from outside. My son’s bass drum. He must be practicing with friends. It is ok as I need to wake up anyway. I rise, dizzily. I am supposed to be at Evanne’s at 7:30. I am going to be late.

Lee says she saved some dinner for me. Dinner? Yes, I could eat more. A small piece of flank steak, about four ounces, the size I would normally eat. An ear of corn from the co-op. It is a rarity Lee cooks and this is wonderful. The corn is barely done. It is wonderful anyway. The steak is barely warmed and it is wonderful especially. It is covered with garlic salt which means Lee had this on her plate. Especially incredibly wonderful.

4:12 pm: I arrive home. Woozy. Nauseas but the aching in my head is beginning to subside in some remote locations. As I make my way to the door I hear the high commands of Invader Zim so I know my son is home, on the couch, and, as I enter, approach, I ask him to please, oh God please in all that is holy and right and proper in the world, if you have any compassion and decency and humanity, turn it down. It sounds like this. “Volume, please,” except that it is muffled and slurred. He looks at me and asks if I’m ok, that I don’t look ok. I answer “Bus, seventy kids. F-14 simulator. Headache. Nauseas and… Hungry?”

Yes, I am hungry and no-one is more surprised than I am. I want protein. I want something dead that use to get around on its own and decide its own fate. I want meat. I eat the contents of a can of salmon. I eat some turkey. Beef jerky. I see a piece of chicken from the other night and it is gone. If it walked , flew or swam, I want to eat it. This isn’t right. I think of the volume of food, of the calories, the effect. I wonder if physical stress does this, if this isn’t the right thing to do, give in to this as need and not gluttony. I am still nauseas but no more so and still hungry and not less so.

My wife arrives home, looks at me and puts me to bed.

3:50 pm: The bus pulls up in front of Stone Middle School. I get off last as I am in the back, walk wavering, slowly across the parking-lot to my truck. People wave, say goodbye, ignored. School isn’t out for ten minutes. Teachers cannot leave until 4:15. I should get the CD from Susan. I looked forward to that all day. I don’t care. I can’t. Not about that. Not about the time. I drive slowly home. No radio, windows open in the ninety degree day.

2:38 pm: The bus is loading and I am asked to get on first and do what I did this morning; sit at the back and not let the kids do the same. I do so, nearly lying down. It is noisy as the kids load. I am out of discipline. Maria takes care of what needs taking care of while sitting next to me. We talk a bit on the way from NASA to South Melbourne as the kids get louder and louder.

Sean is poking girls, complaining they are talking about him afterwards. A kid next to him keeps shouting how he is a crazy white nigger. Crazy and white, I have no doubt. Stephanie keeps trying to sit upside-down. She is wearing a skirt and this seems to be just a bad idea all around.

Sara sits in front of me. She seems protective. She has come to me in the past wanting help with poetry, writing, wants to see my books.

It is a huge bus. It waves and sways around curves, on entrance and exit ramps, corners. As it rolls down Palm Bay Road, it rocks and I feel once more and I will lose anything in my stomach. Everything.

Maria is still talking, Sean is still poking, I fight sleep. Chaparones are not supposed to sleep. My eyes close and I am woken at the school.

2:30 pm: We exit The Astronaut Hall of Fame and Space Camp and head to the bus. The heat feels wonderful. I have never been so happy to be so hot. It is delightful, comfortable, embracing and life-giving. I want to vomit. I want my head off but at least I am warm.

I am walking, not too steady, to the bus. Beside me a mother of one of the students. She looks at me, asks if I want Tylenol. I say bless you and accept two Extra Strength Tylenol. Who needs water? We mill at the bus waiting for the signal to board.

2:24 pm: Last stop. The conference room. I am shivering. It is the same sixty-two degrees in there it has been throughout the rest of the complex. There are rows of chairs facing the front table. On it, shuttle tiles, torches, vices. I walk to the back of the room and sit on the blue carpeted floor thinking it more stable than the chairs. Under me the floor twists and heaves. I ride it.

The students are told of all the wonderful jobs available in space and science. What they can do for NASA. How they will be the next astronauts. What amazing opportunities they have living as close to the world’s spaceport and how, with education, they can take advantage of those opportunities.

Tiles are heated on the front, glow red and furious bright. Students tough the back of the two inch thick blocks. They are amazed it is cool to the touch. The front becomes cool enough to touch within seconds of removing the flame. The students line up to touch. One calls me and I go, holding on to whatever is available as I wait in line.

When the line is done, we file outside. Outside.

2:04 pm: The door swings open and light, bright and painful, enters. I turn away and my head swims. My body seems to move the opposite way as my head feels as though it is continuing to turn. The old man walks to the opening, looks at me and says, “You need to sit a bit. The next person can wait.” He is right. I do. But soon, not more than a minute, I get up, grab the doorway, pull myself out. Walking into the bright light, toward the glass door, steadying myself. I do not want the students to see me ill. I’m not sure I have a choice.

Mr. Science Teacher looks at me closely, “O Man, you don’t look so good. Are you ok? If I had any idea it’d do that to ya.” He would have what? Stopped me? I should have stopped myself. I lean on the railing. Ms. Ramirez is heard in the distance and she tells us it is time to round up the kids and head to the conference room.

1:57 pm: I have waited an hour. Perhaps a bit more. The glass door opens and I am ushered in and to one of the small booths. Inside, it is no more larger than the space needed for a small chair and the person sitting in it. The chair faces front and toward a small screen. Next to the screen, one on either side, are two handles facing up. I sit within and fasten the seabelt. Below is a floor and an up-slanted foot rest joining the floor to front wall. It is made of dimpled metal and my feet rest comfortably there. A moment or two passes, I look ahead and see a sign above the screen: Keep eyes open at all times. I look ahead and below the screen and next to it, a large red button. “In case of distress or ailment, press this button and the simulator will slowly come to a halt.” Next to this was the same list of ailments I read outside. I have none of these? Why should I not ride? The door closes and it is a solid darkness.

The screen lights up and voices are heard. I had not noticed the speakers. It is a radio-voice from a virtual f-14 pilot and I hear we are about to take off and, jerking, not smoothly, I move. I spin, I know, but spinning this did not feel like. I reach forward and grab the handles and they do not give, do not move.

I feel consumed by the screen as the voice tells the tower he is ready for liftoff and the ground, which does not look remotely real in the monitor, falls away as the sky becomes wider and takes more of the screen. I feel as though my stomach has left me, choosing to attempt a stay on the round whilst I rise into the air. Unfortunately, my stomach did not make it out and I am more than astoundingly aware of it.

I do not listen carefully to the voice. For a moment I tried to loosen my grip on the handles. I could but felt them move toward me and decided I might not be able to get them back on and so left them, tightening my grip. It says something about a mountain and it comes into view, about not being able to avoid it and it comes closer and then lurches down and to the side. I am stamping the floor against the four G’s, plastered against the wall , beating it with my shoulder, elbow, voice as I discover I am making noises quite unbecoming, quite undignified.

This continues. The fake sky spirals as the ground circles coming closer and I can feel my head spin, hear myself whimper, still beating the right wall, the floor, the surface behind my head.

Six minutes, I think of hitting the red button but do not, cannot, will not. Six minutes long and I decide I will stand it, must stand it but will pay or this and the sky opens wide again as the ground fully falls away and I hit the back wall with my head again and again and again.

I have no idea what the voice says. I do not remember a thing of what happens on the screen and do not pay attention with my mind but my body accepts every fiction and reacts despite my knowledge of slow rotation and slight temporary tilt. I do not know what happens but I am panicked and ill and sorry and sore and want out, an end, stillness and quiet and light and all I have is noise and twisting and nausea and brightness in the solid claustrophobic dark and then I see the ground come close and level and coming fast and then slowing and then the screen image is still and something is different though I am not sure but I believe we have stopped.

12:43 pm: These kids keep cutting in line, but they are my kids, kids I’m in charge of and, of course, it is they who should ride so I let them in. They are not sneaky; some even ask. The sign says the ride is six minutes long and it takes two people at a time. I count the people in front of me. Eighteen. Nine times six and I can see I might not get my chance. I wait patiently and talk with my partner in chaperonedom, the science teacher, he of the mid-thirties and sixth career, ninth professional job, ex-cop and E.P.A. inspector. We move forward the distance of two middle-schoolers at a time. Our speed: twelve middle-schoolers and hour.

12:40 pm: I have spent a half hour or more in the museum. It is not that large and I have been here before. It is a static exhibit and nothing has changed. What is different is the time I have and it seems there is plenty. I walk toward the one exhibit I know, in my heart, in my gut, I should be walking away from. I tell myself it is jus because most of my young charges are there, in line, waiting patiently, well behaved and calm. It is a glass enclosed room about fifteen by fifteen. Within is a whirler of industrial proportions with a computer in the center, a pivot above that allowing for spinning and at either end a small fully opaque chamber big enough or a person in a chair. The chambers are on servos that allow them to rock out and in as they spin around the center as dictated by the program. The device spins slowly. It is the F-14 Simulator.

The sign says it produces four Gs. How much can that be other than four times the pull of Earth’s gravity. It’s spinning so slowly. It is nearly mesmerising. It looks calming. People go in and six minutes later they come out and no-one looks worn or upset or any worse than upon entering. People say it was fun, enjoyable, cool, neat, and I’ve nothing to do and find myself in line.

12:30 pm: Lunch is over. The students are given time to investigate the museum on their own terms and I, with my twelve kiddies and my teacher-partner enter the dim from the bright through corridors and doors and find ourselves in a hall of spacesuits, faces in monitors, touch-screens and hands-on science. Two small halls of exhibits. I read what there is to read. Make a spaceman balance in the center of a small tank of water, play a virtual game, learn of the Apollo One mission, read about Gus Grissom and how he was scapegoated by NASA, then died, burned alive inside the Apollo 1 capsule, along with two others as a result of a failsafe device to prevent the very mistake he was supposed to have made in his earlier flight. In short, they made he door so it would not open from the inside. Later his ‘mistake’ was found to be a design flaw which had nothing to do with him.

Grissom was an engineer who, even after that event in the mercury capsule, went on to create designs that were used and are still used in spaceflight. He is the reason NASA stopped naming individual capsules and named only overall missions and gave flights numbers. He called his 1961 capsule Liberty Bell Seven not because of his love for liberty but because he said the design would cause it to sink like a giant iron bell. NASA took a dim view.

His Mercury space suit is on display in the hall while a battle rages over who gets to own it. His family wants it to tour the country. The Smithsonian and NASA want it to stay just where it is where it can be seen only by those who can afford the pretty pennies. Forty years and Grissom is still making waves.

You go Gus!

12:00 pm: Lunch. Out of various coolers come lunches, all packed in their clear bags. Each with a name. The children sit on the bleachers in the room we have been in all morning. I don’t see the need for the coolers. Sixty-two degrees.

These kiddies are eating monstrous things. One has brought nothing but a bag of Cheetoes and another a bag of Fritos. These both had to be, of course, in large plastic bags. A bag in a bag. Cokes, Gatorade and cookies. A few have sandwiches and fruit.

I have my bag. I eat my apple, my carrot. I drink my bottle of water and then have my Cliff Bar. I walk my empty bag with it’s empty bottle, empty wrapper, apple core and carrot end to one of the two fifty-five gallon trash barrels which are the only reason, both I and the children have been told, a student may move from the bleacher and the shame of their terrible lunches is even greater as the barrels fill further and higher with huge quantities of food untouched now become trash.

11:30 am: The children have been lined up in front of a harness attached to a chain attached to four rows of three long springs each – twelve springs: three in line attached to three in line attached to…- and then a series of chains, pullies and then a winch attached to a track which runs forty feet and all this a four foot wide, six inch thick mat running under the track. Me and my twelve and Mr. Science Teacher. Our guide, Diane, shows us this will allow us to feel one-sixth gravity. She puts on the harness, much like the kind stuntmen use to fly, much like a wire-harness. She puts it on and tells us all the girls will have no trouble with this but warns the boys may find this more than slightly uncomfortable, and, as she says this she pulls a strap tight and we all see exactly what she is talking about.

She demonstrates the methods astronauts use to move in lower than Earth gravity as she sidles, hops and skips. She shows us how to pick up and object and bend in low gravity.

A boy goes first and confirms the discomfort, then a girl, then I lose track until the tallest of our group goes and there is little room left near the winch as the gears pull the chains and there is little left between the springs and the winch by the time it is high enough, taut enough for him. It dawn on me: this does not work. Most of the kids have their feet barely on the ground, touching it with their toes as they hang there. Even under low gravity, they would actually be in full contact with the surface. With a computer, they could enter the weight of the child, the compensate with the pullies for an accurate one sixth of the weight. But she just ups the child into the air until their toes dangle dragging the mat. For a half hour they flip and flop and hip and hop and bounce. The girls giggle. The boys seem to wince.

11:00 am: We sit in the bleachers in front an eight foot diameter gyroscope with a seat. We are given a lecture about the Multi Axis Trainer. We are told why it exists. How NASA was afraid a capsule could spin and twist in different axis and the astronaut within would need to withstand it and bring it under control. Thus, a Multi Axis Trainer.

The sign says if I have a heart condition, back problems, vertigo, pregnancy and some other such difficulties I should not ride. This is a ride? And I was not aware pregnancy was a ‘difficulty’ but who am I to argue with NASA?

The first child is strapped in, shoulder straps, leg straps, feet on the foot plate which is a new addition and the reason for such is without it the feet tend to fly around a bit. I’m glad Diane mentioned that. I’d hate to see the kid’s feet flying around.

We are told the way the device spins the center of gravity remains the center of the body so the abdominal area does not actually move very much. We’re told because the movement does not stay stable, because it does not continuously move in the same direction, the ears do not cause the rider to become dizzy as they would simply spinning. It appears true as the lever is pulled, the seat sways back and forward a bit, Diane walks out of the small cage surrounding the MAT, closes the gate, walks to the side and turns a throttle. The outside ring turns, the seat begins to move, the center ring begins to move as well, the seat begins to flip this way then that and spins, the inner ring turns in response to the other two and the seat moves no way more than one revolution. Hair, long and unbound, flies here and there, red flames blown by a fickle wind, the child screams. The child is smiling.

She comes off and appears no worse than when she got in. A thirty second ride. One minutes with strap-in and strap-out. The next goes, then the next all through the twelve of us and then, “Come on Mr. Teacher. Do you want to give it a try?’

I walk up, empty my pockets and a student, one I initially did not trust, takes my digital camera and tells me he’ll get my picture. All my belongings are on the bleacher but Diane is right there and I worry a bit anyway.

I enter the cage, am strapped in, I ask about epilepsy, am told it is not a problem, I ask about any number of things and am told I have only thirty second and if I want to try it now is the time and I say go ahead. Diane pulls the lever and the seat sways back, feeling like a swing that has gone too high, come back down and I say, quickly, “That’s good.”

“So you are ready?”

“No, I mean that’s good. That’s enough. It was fun. No ride. Out please.” And I realize I am about to become very much a spectacle and I also realize I don’t care and as I think this, I am being unstrapped.

I pick up my things, all still there after less than half a minute, my camera is handed back. There was no time for a picture.

10:00 am: I have six of the kids. Mr. Science Teacher has six and he is to be in another section of the Shuttle simulator. The kids have tags around their necks and have been given flight designation which tell them what their jobs are. Before coming here they have been given materials to read which helped them understand what those designations mean and what they entail.

We enter a hatch to a small room with a bank of screens. Behind us are ladders attached to the opposite walls which lead to hatches in the ceiling. Each leads the same place: the flight command center above us. Four of the kids go up there. I look up the ladder and decide to stay down here in the science center.

The other six students are in mission control in another room in this hanger.

Our guide shows the kids how to do the experiment when the script calls for it, to take the blood pressures of the flight crew, change the carbon dioxide filtration unit. The entire simulation experience is scripted and the kids each have a script to follow. Each has a microphone and an earpiece and can communicate with the others through these devices even though the space is small enough they could hear each other at a hush. I suppose, in space, no-one can hear you whisper.

I watched them follow the script right through the landing, as seen through a screen. They were proud of themselves, doing the experiment, changing the canisters, guiding the shuttle in.

While I watched them talk, crawl through hatches, ascend and descend, I had nothing to do but stand there in the six by six my eight space. I looked at the controls. I looked at the intercom. I looked at the thermostat and saw it was at sixty-two degrees. In the small box of a room, all metal and moving air, it was sixty-two. No wonder I was chilled, stiff. We were told to wear long pants but I would have worn long sleeves as well.

Later they got to see that the simulation was programmed to work smoothly but to record, as well, what the results of their flight would have been. The alternate results showed a rather large mess on the runway.

9:30 am: We pull up to The Astronaut Hall of Fame and Space Camp. As we exit the bus, we are escorted into a large hangerish room off of which all the other smaller rooms are connected, in which is the shuttle simulator, the multi-axis trainer, moon walker, space walker and other devices are.

Each child is asked his or her designation and are given a name tag and with that designation on it. Mission Control, flight crew manager one, flight crew junior, science crew, other designation I am not close enough to hear.

We are divided up and I am given my group of six and my companion, MR. Science Teacher, who has six as well. We are walked to the Shuttle Simulator and are met by our guide, Diane.

8:30 am: Our bus pulls out of Stone Middle School. I have not been in a bus this large. It rocks and sways. As we pull out the driver tells the students not to scream. Particulary the girls. Then he tells the boys not to give them anything to scream about. I sit in the back with Maria and watch them, many still tired, squirm and talk, sleep and poke.

Each turn we come to feels as though we are about to fall over. I figure this must be stable or Space Camp would not be transporting kids again and again and again. Still, it certainly does not feel that way.

Maria is talking. Curriculum, skin cancer, reading, skin cancer. She shows me her leg where the lymph glands were removed this last Summer. That’s what she did on her Summer vacation. Maria gets sick more now, it seems.

Maria is a native of Brevard County but looks like she would come from Upper Michigan or Wisconsin. It looks like the sun is not her friend. In the end, it wasn’t.
As we pull in, Maria is still talking. I have no idea about what.

8:15 am: The Science Department Chair meets me and thanks me for taking this on in such short notice but that there is no time for talking and, taking my hand, pulls me from Susan and toward the bus. I was asked only yesterday. I’m not een clear on where we are going. It’s called BLAST which stands for Brevard Something And Science Something.

None of these kids are my students, she knows. Mine are with a substitute. But the chapparones all failed to show and to go on a field trip one must be fingerprinted now, thanks to the Patriot Act. The schools board will not pay for the fingerprinting and few people want to pay the sixty dollar fee.

So here I am. I put my lunch, packed as directed, in a clear bag, in the large red cooler marked TEACHERS and mill. Ms. Pebbles runs up. She has been recruited just this morning to attend.

The bus driver is old. Rather incredibly old. Or at least he looks that way. The bus is huge and looks new and shiny white and is not a school bus but belongs to Space Camp. For some reason, they use their own buses and the cost is included in the camp or, in this case, the field trip. As we are a science school, each child gets to go. I am told this is through a grant of some kind and some other schools are involved.

Some students who are suspended had to be brought back to attend this and will be out again after the trip. Why, I ask. It has something to do with the grant and the superintendent himself said it had to be that way. Chalmers, I think his name it.

“Mr. Tritt, would you board first?”

Sure. I get in and see the back is a long bench seat from one side to the next. Prime real estate for kids to fight over, fall under, do things in behind the other seats where they cannot be seen. I walk all the way back and stand in the center directly in front of the bench. As kids come in they ask if they can sit there. Each on asks and I point to their seat. I don’t want to sit in that one, I’m told, and I point anyway. Most sit. A few I have removed until they comply. Not sitting with friends? Well then, board with them next time. Saving a seat? Nope, not this time.

Maria enters and walks to the back and I am now not alone.

There are about seventy students. The door closes and the bus starts.

8:11 am: I arrive as school, sign in and make my way toward the bus. On the way there, Susan finds me and hands me a yellow padded envelope and tells me it’s a present. In it is the first Big White Undies CD. I have been looking for this. Back in Gainesville, I use to see them play all over. I MCed a fundraiser or two with them, saw them play with Phish. I never had to pay but also never had the money to buy a CD.

I am overwhelmed as I look at it and Susan tells me she like the other one so much when she found this one she got two so I could have it.

Last week, I gave her Matter by Big White Undies to borrow. I never do that, let people borrow CDs or books, but I did for her. She loved it, telling me what I knew already, that there was not one bad cut on it, that it was formidable, concerted and tight. The songs were thoughtful and literary while the music was light and joyous. That is is an amazing recording.

Do I have something to listen to it with? No Susan, I don’t have a portable CD player and, if I did, I’d not be toting it with me on the field trip. She tells me she’ll hold it for me and I can get it from her when I get back this afternoon.

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Posted by on September 22, 2006 in Culture, Education, History, Social, Travel

 

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Playing at Playalinda: Mindful Self-indulgence at the Beach.

Playing at Playalinda: Mindful Self-indulgence at the Beach

We planned another day at the beach, Evanne and I. The last day at Playalinda was enjoyed so much that another day was planned on the way back from the first. It certainly lived up to its name: beautiful beach. Evanne pulled out her planner: a notebook with self-drawn calendar inside. Evanne’s keeping of a calendar has been the best thing for my social life. That is what I told her in the car. I misspoke. Social, yes, but artistic more-so, as every time we are together feels like an artistic expedition. It is not that I use Evanne’s scheduler. I need no calendar on paper and keep it, instead, in my head. But others do not and it has always been a difficulty. They must check their calendars, look at their schedules, get back to me later. Evanne knows now with the flip of a page. So, yes, I misspoke. With Evanne’s do-it-yourself dayplanner, we can work in tandem. With a date picked, Beth was called to make sure it was a day she could make it, or arrange to, and it was done. Thus, our day was set.

A trip for five was in our thoughts. We had just heard about a shipwreck and wanted to investigate; knowing Evanne’s husband Jack would be as interested as we. I looked forward to the mile or so walk up the most unspoiled seashore in Florida to the derelict, supposedly on the shore. My wife, Lee, may or may not go for the walk but was definitely up for an afternoon of laying out on the sand, wading in the water, enjoying her Atlantic Ocean. A trip for five and, as today, not a single bathing suit would be packed.

And for two weeks this was looked forward to. We would leave at ten to keep Beth out of the afternoon sun.

During the next two weeks, times changed; later, earlier, who can go, who might be working and but week was left.

We spent the week painting my son’s room. This had been planned for over the last two months and the time was here. By ‘we’ I mean Evanne and Alek from a design by Alek. I was tapemeister. I can be trusted with masking tape. Paint is another story.

Black squares, red squares, black and white checkerboard walls, graffiti ceiling, a black wall full of Mindless Self Indulgence. That is to say, the wall is covered from top left to bottom right with lyrics written in silver Sharpie. It was amazing, the process of taping, painting and moving a room from stark to startling in three days. What was more amazing was to watch the process of Evanne writing on the wall, word by word, letter by letter. Just as startling, no six inch square section of the lyric wall does not contain a curse-word, an expletive, a derisive term. I measured.

Pictures were taken, digital, emailed to his friends. They think it is cool and can hardly believe his parents, us, allowed the room painted in such a way. My son thinks it would be more cool if we thought it was less so. He’ll have to deal with that. My wife thinks it’s cool. I think it’s cool too but I don’t get the lyrics. I understand the parodic nature of the band. I get it as anti-pop. But I also don’t see the artistry, why anyone would want to look at it day after day after day. The world from which that music would come is not the world I’d want to live in.

I too have started writing on my walls. In silver Sharpie. Our back room, that which use to be a shed, is painted in dark swirls blue as new denim, dense as cirrus clouds. It is the conservatory of our manor home and it contains two drum-sets, a dulcimer, a base guitar, an amp, four full floor to ceiling bookcases, an old sofabed, a fifty-year-old Castro Convertible table. It is ten by nine and slowly, the walls become home to a hypergraphic storm of poetry and prose.

It was two weeks ago I had said, in an off comment, if I lived alone, I’d write on my walls. I said this again, later, to Evanne, Evanne said this to my wife. Surprised, Lee thought this was splendid. Why not?

Soon, we’ll start on our bedroom: denim, patched walls. Rivets and seams. Lee has already picked up a denim comforter. On the walls will be the signs for the directions. Painted around the room, emerging from the fictionalized aging of the denim, within the discoloration over time, a part of the creases from wear, the Eight Auspicious Symbols of Tibetan Buddhism. What do we constantly face? What do we take in through the eyes, in what do we immerse ourselves? What do we make ourselves and what do we become?

Lee is talking about a wall of hieroglyphs.

She is also saying she can’t go to the beach. She has taken patients for that day originally scheduled for a day she had to drive to South Florida. We are four.

Friday comes, Jack is called to work. Ultimately, this is a good thing for him. Construction, remodeling, building and rebuilding is decreased here. This is recent. It is hurricane season. So now we are three and it is time to leave. Driving together, in Beth’s car, we are lost, end up on US1, much like old Florida, roadside attractions, rustic shops, antique malls, flea markets. Scrub and river. Forty-five minutes and we find our way. We drive to the last lot as Beth, a biologist by training, cannot believe there is so much unspoiled, conserved land. We must come back to hike. We must return to the sanctuary. We will, but on to the beach.

As usual, the parking lot for the clothing optional section, the last section, is the most crowded. It is next to one of the many small domed observatories dotting this coast, used to track launches. A white two story bubble with a mohawk crest, surrounded by a fence. We see them everywhere here.

We look to use the restrooms before unloading the car: three chairs, a small plantable umbrella, and a cloth bag stuffed with two horseblankets, some towels, extra clothing and our water. The bathrooms are composed of a room the size of two port-a-potties with a slanted toilet embedded into the stainless steel wall. Next to it is a lever coming out from the floor, extending upward about three feet and slightly off ninety degrees; long enough to reach my waist. The ladies bathroom, and I have this on authority only, contains a spider large enough to require a personal name, wide enough to play frisbee with. As a result, I guard the men’s room door while it was occupied Evanne. It has two locks. I guard it anyway. There are few honours left men these days.

We have taken sneakers with us and small bags to hold our clothes. We grab those and the umbrella, take out the blankets, put back the chairs. Off we go, walking past the observatory, giving it a wide berth. NASA is close by, fences everywhere, guardposts. Our boys in the government, here to help. A wide berth.

The beach is crowded, especially considering the distance one must travel to get to this beach, to the end of this beach, to the last lot at the end of this beach. We walk toward the water and the cooler sand, north, out of the crowd and, at a place Beth and Evanne decide is a great spot for a blanket, settle. Down the blankets are lain, out comes the umbrella, Evanne opens it and I grab the handle quickly as she is jerked suddenly northward. I take the umbrella to make exactly the same error in case anyone did not see it the first time. Shall we open it into the wind, she suggests. Absolutely. Into the ground, no hammer, rocks gathered, sand piled around the base and, when all is done, we have earned an oblong patch of shadow large enough to keep the one o’clock sun off a toy dog.

And, by the time I have the sand piled around the umbrella pole, the clothes are off and the ladies sit, looking out to the ocean. How easily one can get use to a new way. No trepidation. I’ve nothing to do but join them.

I pull the sunscreen from my bag and make sure it is available, visible. I am reminded we should watch each other to make sure no-one burns. I don’t forget the spots I missed last time. You are parental just when you need to be, I am told. A compliment. Appreciated.

Into the water. It feels cold to start and warms slowly. I know the temperature of the water has not changed but only how I feel it, perceive it. We become accustomed to a thing. Our perceptions change. Our senses adjust. Plain becomes beautiful, cool becomes warm and the change has been us, not the thing itself. But, in the end, who can tell. With no external witness, it is the location of two points in an otherwise empty space. Which one has moved and in what relation to the other cannot be told. Reality is plastic.

Beth walks out. At an inch shy of six feet, thin and long, the waves wash around her, take no notice. Evanne and I get knocked over again and again, washed in, washed out. We are buffeted and I turn to the side, grab Evanne’s hand to keep her from falling back as she is hit by another wave. Beth stands tall in the distance; we are getting buried on the sand. Still, the hot air, warm water, cooling breeze, open to the world, even with feet covered, sand over my ankles, I am in bliss and, then I am on my backside and washed over by a wave.

So we walk. We think of getting our sneakers, putting them in our bags with some clothes so, if the shipwreck is found, we can climb, clamber, explore. Instead, we opt to leave them behind taking only one small bag and a camera, choosing the freedom to walk unfettered, unburdened. And walk we do. A mile, two, three. No shipwreck. Then, darkness at the surf’s edge. Rolling rippled darkness visible through the sand. Tar? Stone? Stone is unlikely here on this central Florida shore. I reach down and feel for the texture. It is not stone but gives gently, dense and spongy. A fingernail comes up with softness under it. Softness and moistness like soil, compost. This is wood; sea-soaked, decomposing wood. We have found our shipwreck and there is nothing here to explore. We walk it and it is visible over a hundred feet long, look out and it is wide by at least forty, disappearing into the waves. We walk on.

And walk. We pass all people, everything. There is nothing in sight made by a human. Nothing to hear but waves, birds and our own laughter. We are alone on the beach from which we are separated by nothing. Evanne says something I do not remember but it results in a hug, my arm around her waist for a moment as we walk.

And walk – the three of us, all light, bright, reflective. Ohio, Nebraska and Massachusetts have given three bodies to the South and we look it. We are white and pink, not tan, beige, bronze. And we are walking together in the July sun.

The sandpipers are running up to the receding surf, away from the incoming waves. Along the shoreline as it moves in and out. Evanne does the same, yelling she is a sandpiper, a sandpiper, a sandpiper, running up to the foam as it leaves, away from the surf as it arrives, in and out, up and down following the shore. It is a perfect imitation as she jogs and bobs with them, her little body in perfect mimic of the tiny birds.

They are redubbed Evannebirds.

It may be too much for Beth, the heat or the distance or the incline of the shore and we turn back, passing a couple kissing by the surf. In the distance, the observatory, small like a newly popped mushroom. The closer we get the more people we pass, then chairs, towels and, at last, our blankets, umbrella and Beth heads to the water to cool. Then back, wet, to the blanket to lie, looking up at the sky, blue and clear.

As she rests quietly, Evanne and I talk. Who is offended? Why should so few beaches be open to this? We are comfortable without wet cloth, we are not cold. Not covered in dry cloth, we are not hot. I frame it as a health issue. Evanne frames it as a freedom issue. Why not at least half the beaches? If there are people who are really offended, why not set aside a beach for them. At the end of the road. The last lot. Past the last lot. But those who wish the least constraints are nearly always put upon to travel the furthest. It is the way, it seems, and seems to have always been so.

And now it is time to return to constraints. The clouds are coming in: dark and rumbling in the not-so distance. I do not mind getting wet, walking in the rain, but I would like to put away the umbrella and blankets before they are sodden. Once this is done, we make a mistake by looking at a watch hanging on a bag. It is past four o’clock. We have taken our time, took no notice of tomorrow, no thought of yesterday. Just now, now and the sound of the waves. In the moment. Mindless.

We do, indeed, go.

Clothes are put on with great reticence. We have eaten saltines, apples, oat-bars. Real food is called for. Where to go is asked by Beth, who is driving today, as we pack. They know I am careful but I do not try to put my diet on them. They know I will not keep them from going where they want but know I should eat as well and want to know where we can go. Anywhere with vegetables is what I tell her as we drive the long road out of Canaveral. Down US1 or to 95? Truly, I do not know. We choose 95, driving through Titusville and find a sub place. This will do and we park as Lee calls. Dinner? But the girls are hungry and we are forty minutes away from Lee.

Vietnamese is what she wants. I’d love it myself. Beth and Evanne have not had and, Beth, considerate as she always is, suggests putting dinner off a bit and joining Lee. I am glad of this. Since Lee still has an errand or two, the timing works. Beth drives and Evanne holds my phone out between them as they sing her a song, one they created about a “pokey woman” and dedicated to their favorite physician; my Lee. She laughs and laughs over the cell.

We meet at the Vietnamese restaurant. One of us is short and the meal is covered. It’s no big thing. It is no thing at all.

 
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Posted by on August 1, 2006 in Culture, Nature, philosophy, Social

 

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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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