Sunday, January 29, 2006

Why Ancient Peoples Believed in Spirits, Part two

We are trading stories over at A2K, here's mine from this morning:

This happened a dozen years ago.

It's a hot Sunday afternoon. I'm putting the aluminium storm windows back up after painting the house. I have a shirt pocket full of screws and a stack of windows. I get a window, climb the ladder, wiggle the frame into place, then reach in my pocket to get a few screws and one by one twist them into the holes in the frame and the corresponding holes in the wood. (Did I mention that I labeled the storm windows when I took them down? So that #8 bd is the eighth one from the left end of the bedroom, natch. Big house, lots of windows)

Things are going swimmingly. I am down to my last storm window. I check to see if I have enough screws in my pocket to secure it. There are two dozen screws per frame, five across the top, five on the bottom, and seven down each side. I count. "Yes, "I say out loud, "I have exactly twenty four." My Irish mother would have been horrified. Things are always listening to such human pronouncements and lay in wait to take advantage.

I secure the top and the left side, I press the right side in tightly and taking one screw out of my pocket at a time, continue to work my way down the frame to the bottom. Relieved that I am about to finish, I take the last five screws out of my pocket and hold them in my left hand. The right side edge suddenly pops out a little and, when I reach over to press it in, I open my left hand a little and the screws drop. I hear them bounce off the ladder steps and then nothing. I look down from the ladder and it's a miracle. They have not fallen into the Irises. I see them, glittering in the sunlight, right there on the sidewalk like a throw of jacks. "Whew," I say, " that was close." I climb down from the ladder.

They are gone.

They are not glittering on the sidewalk like a throw of jacks, they are not there. They are gone. I look for them carefully. They are gone. I climb back up the ladder to try and spot them where I saw them only moments before, they are gone. I get down on my hands and knees and go over the three slabs of sidewalk inch by inch. I paw through the edges of the Irises, I look on the steps of the ladder, I search my pocket just in case, I look on the narrow window sill edge.


Shucks. I go to the garage and look for replacements in the six mason jars of screws, everything is too long or too fat. It's been a long day. I started putting up the windows at seven-thirty, thinking I might be done by three and now it's coming onto to five. Ohmigod, the hardware store closes at five on Sundays!!! I jump into the car and dash through the streets arriving just as the fellow flips the open/closed sign to CLOSED. He smiles, but gives me the 'cut across the throat sign' meaning tough luck. I sit in the car for a minute, "Okay, you got me." I say out loud. "That was a good one."

I put the car in gear and head back to the house. I pull into the drive, walk around to where the ladder is waiting and there on the sidewalk, of course, looking like a throw of jacks, are the five shiny screws.

I finish the work. I put the ladder away. I tell no one.

Monday, January 23, 2006

What happens when you don't listen while you are listening.

I ran from the store over to the subway stop at Sixteenth and Eighth listening to the regular combination of Paul Simon and the Gypsy Kings. (Wouldn't that be a great album idea? I should write to them and to Mr. Simon.) As usual an A train was just pulling out of the station as I banged my way through the turnstile and down the stairs. No matter. I had two or three David Sedaris stories to listen to from his book "Me Talk Pretty Someday" and then I was going to start Paul Auster's book "Brooklyn Follies". I was really enjoying Sedaris, his shy sounding, continually depressed, wry sense of the world and his difficulties with learning French were easy listening in the best sense of the words. I took off my backpack and unzipped my jacket, the platform was warmer then I thought it would be with the rain drizzling down outside. The Public Address system blared something, you can never tell what they are saying exactly, this one sounded like the basic "There is an Uptown A train at West 4th Street, one station away" but it seldom matters. A trains will arrive sooner or later, the fact that they announce one will be coming soon does not mean that one will actually arrive soon, it just means that they have announced that one will.

I switched my player to the FM receiver, sometimes WNYC is powerful enough that you can get it at the 23rd Street station, I thought I could catch a little of All Things Considered, but apparently I haven't pledged enough dollars for that to happen. I switched back to the books section and put on David whining about the French vs the US health care system and the treatment of his teeth. Several local trains roared into the station and I had to keep stopping the playback in order not to miss anything. I missed two really filthy poems about dogs and had to rewind to hear them again.

You don't really rewind anything on a MP3, you just push the button and watch how many minutes or seconds you are going back. There are no moving parts, there is just sound. The PA boomed again this time announcing that the Uptown A was about to enter the Fourteenth Street Station which is where I was, I was just at the Northern most end of it. I shut off the player and waited. By now the platform had filled with people, people with their own players, people with books, with newspapers, with magazines, with official looking paperwork which must be either something related to a job or school. I don't know why anybody would read a newspaper in the late afternoon. Usually everything that was reported in the morning paper has changed by six in the evening.

The train finally wheezed into the station filled to capacity so, of course, everyone on the platform became convinced that there would be a seat for them. The group at my door waited for a half a beat for anyone to exit the car and then began to press it's way onto the car. I was pressed between a very fat black man and a washed out blond holding a novel. The man somehow squeezed his way past the pole and into one of the seats by the far door. I followed and got a place to stand in the car's doorway. The doors dinged and closed and we were on our way home.

Remembering that I had forgotten to write down the mile to the station, I got out my Palm and dutifully wrote R/St 13:oo 1.1 m, which means Running on the Streets, the time elasped and the distance. I started a game of Scrabble against the Palm playing as Xx. I play on the expert level with no do overs allowed. If the Scrabble gods don't recognize a word you lose your turn. Today it turned down Claves which I thought was a word, but apparently is not. The train's PA came on at 34th Street reminding us to watch our belongings and if we see a suspicious package on a train or a platform to tell a police officer or MTA official. No one seems to listen to any of these messages anymore, for the first couple of months they gave me and everyone else the creeps.

The doors opened at 42nd Street and a ton of people got on, they into the middle of the car pressing the washed out blond against the pole she was hanging onto and making her hold the novel she was reading above her head for a moment or two like she was trying to keep it from getting wet. She looked very unhappy with her companion riders.

I started listening to the Auster book at Fifty-Ninth Street. Auster is such a bastard. He sucks you into a story in the first fifteen words which is, I guess, what you are supposed to do, but he does it almost too well. Here was this guy talking about going to Brooklyn to die and having a shouting match with his daughter about what kind of life he had had with her mother and it's still page one.

I'm sure they made an announcement, I just wasn't listening. I know they said something because the blond made a really sour face on her already sour face and got off with another woman at 168th Street and then just stood there on the platform as the doors closed. I started listening to Auster read his book again and at 175th Street I swung out of the doorway I was in and stood on the platform to let some of the people off. It seemed like a lot of people were getting off. A lot. There was more then the usual New York grimness on their faces and I should have notice that, but I wasn't listening, I was listening.

I got back on. The PA was saying something. I looked at the crowd on the platform. I know someday they will announce that "the terrorists holding this train have agreed to let all the passengers off the train" and I will still be sitting there as the train heads on to oblivion. I can't understand most of the announcements, so I don't listen to any of them. If someone does find a bag on a train and reports its, I will the one on the train when the bomb squad arrives.

Which is how I got to 207th Street without stopping at my stop at 181st. It's no big deal. I could actually run from 207th to home if I wanted to, but you do feel a little hijacked when the train rushes past four or five stations without stopping.

Finally, it can go no farther. It stops at the last stop. The brakes are bled with a big whoosh sound and then the new conductor gets on, makes an unintelligible annoucnment on the PA and they head back down.

I know someday when I am not listening it will be much worse than an extra fifteen minutes train ride but as long as Paul Auster keeps me entertained, I won't care.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Why Ancient Peoples Believed in Spirits

Okay, I know this happens to everyone. I'll describe what happened on last Friday morning and everyone will say, "That happens to everyone." and it happens to me a lot, but this particular experience was more intense than usual. What happened was I lost my glasses and then I found them, but there's more and the reader is saying "There'd better be."

It was Friday morning, I had gotten up early, paid some bills on the computer, checked my email, put in a comment or two on A2K and then ate a little breakfast. My plan was to send out the laundry and then head downtown to the New York Historical Society to see the exhibit Slavery in New York. I just finished reading, well, listening to on my MP3, Jill LaPore's book New York Burning : Liberty, Slavery, and Conspiracy in Eighteenth-Century Manhattan and I wanted to see what other insights the exhibit might reveal. I got all the clothes together, called for the pick-up, went into the bathroom to shave, picked out a shirt to wear, checked for a reply on A2K, got my shoes on and brought my jacket into the living room to be ready to make a quick getaway as soon as the laundry guy arrived. I have found in the past if I don't get out of the apartment immediately other things keep intervening until suddenly it's mid-afternoon and time for a nap.

Okay, so about 9:30 the guy comes, only it's one of the ladies from the shop, I help her put the huge bag into the shopping cart she has wisely brought and off she goes. Separate, no bleach, no Downy, it'll be ready by four in the afternoon. I put on my jacket, go get my keys, my phone and my Palm off of my desk and look for my glasses. No glasses. "That's odd." I thought, " I thought they were here." So, off I go to the bedroom. Are they on the bureau? Nope. Oh, that's right, they must be in the bathroom from when you shaved. Open the bathroom door and checkout the sinktop. No glasses. Huh. Go look in the kitchen. No. Go look in the bathroom again and check out the bed to see if I left them there when I put on my shirt. No. Maybe I never had them on today so they are still on the bedside table. No, they are not.

Now I am getting too hot with the jacket on so I take it off and put on the back on the loveseat. I go look on the desk again. Not there. I move some papers and pick up an empty soda can. I check A2K and see a reply, I sit down and type a short response. Okay, now time to find the glasses. I toss the empty can into the trash and I go back to the bedroom, they are still not on the bureau, still not on the bedside table. Wait a minute, I watched some TV weather early this morning so I must have had them on then. The Today show had this really cool girl singer on, KT Tunstall a kind of one girl band, she used an echo machine to make a backup signature and then used her guitarbody to make a drumnoise and stomped on a mic-ed tambourine on the floor with her left foot. Very appealing, folkie and poppy music with a nice edge. You could tell that she had done a lot of street singing. Maybe I left the glasses on the hassock. No. Maybe I left the glasses on the hassock and when one of the cats knocked some of the magazines down, the glasses fell with them. On hands and knees, look under the loveseats, look under the hassock. Pick up the magazines.

Now this is where it gets weird. Your mind begins to think very odd things. Maybe they got thrown into the laundry?. Maybe I should call the laundry and ask them to look. Maybe they are under the bed- no- maybe they fell behind the bedside table, no, because remember you had them on when you were watching tv. Are you sure they are not on the desk? Look again. Pick up and move everything around. Wait, don't move everything, you might cover them up by mistake. Think when was the last time you saw them? At the desk. Right. But they are not there so they have to be in the bedroom. Go there. Look under the bed again only this time use the CSI Technique of using a mini-flashlight to focus your attention. Look under spouse's side of the bed too. Carefully remove covers one by one off your side of the bed in case your dropped them when you put on the shirt. That was wrong before and it's wrong this time too.

Where the heck are they? Now just a little panic starts to set in, I can't really work or walk around without them. I could make do for a few days but distance viewing would give me a headache in no time. I've got to find them. Start over. Do you have them on? Duh, no. Okay.... Hassock, no, desk, no, under desk, no, in wastebasket, no, on file cabinet, no, by the microwave, no, by the toaster, no, IN THE REFRIGERATOR, no and you are being silly. Yeah, so where are they, smartass voice guy? They are here, I reassure the semi-panicked I, and I go back into the bathroom, are they in the tub? Are they down in that little space between the sink and the tub. No.

An hour has gone by and then an hour and a half. I have taken my shoes off. I have given up. They are not here. They are not with the laundry, they would have called when they found them as the sorted the stuff. They have disappeared. I lay on the bed and try to relax, they will show up I say, they have to, I really need them. I go into the living room and shut off the tv. I decide to check to see if there is a reply to my reply. I go to the desk.

And there they are. Right where I left them.
I was shocked. I was startled and put a little off kilter, I felt like someone had tricked me, my world actually spun, my head wooshed. There they were, right where I thought I had left them in the first place. Was I nuts?

Now, I know I looked right at the spot not once but several times and they were not there or they were hidden from my sight or the hoo-doos had them or something. Yet, here they are now. Innocent, without any way of telling me where they were all the time I was looking for them. Were they looking for me too? Do I owe some saint an offering? Should I hug a tree or pet a stone in the forest? Would the shamans have a better explanation than "You idiot, they were there all the time."

I put my shoes on. I got my jacket. I locked the door and walked to the subway all the time thinking that in LaPore's book there were mentions of spells and curses and chants.

How Diet Coke makes me feel about myself.

I got the usual email from the Harris Poll folks. They wanted to know about me and soft drinks. So I filled out their survey about what I drank and how much and when - Drank coffee between breakfast and lunch, drank a canned Diet Coke between lunch and dinner- pages of places to put checkmarks and numbers. They had the longest list of drinks, things I had completely forgotten about - Fanta- and products that I've never heard of - Coca Cola C2 something that a website called Carbwire tells us is a lower calorie, better tasting Coke.

Plowing through the pages of asking where I had seen or heard of any ads for any of the thirty soft drinks listed along with more pages for bottled water and bottled tea and bottled juice and bottled juicelike tealike liquids, I became aware of one thing: I am not very observant of ads. They wanted to know if I could recall any ads in the last thirty days. I could think of two- I know that must be a disappointing total to the Madison Ave purveyors of such things-- a radio ad for Mountain Dew wherein the listener is advised to drink it instead of coffee. It's very funny. And that ad where they pour the Coke over the ice cream and has the tagline "You had a good run, Rootbeer. " I love the bubbles. Btw here is a site about Mountain Dew for those obsessed with it. Odd.

Speaking of odd which is what this is about: they wanted to know How Diet Coke make me feel about myself. Hmmm. Do people have this kind of relationship with a can of cold carbonated sugar water? I looked at the choices which were like:" Much better, better, no change, slightly negative, highly negative" and thought "Are there people out there walking over to the bodega to get a Coke who then feel bad about themselves? I put in a lot of "No Change"s as my choice.

It's different with Martinis. Last night we went to dinner and when we got there early we ordered drinks. I never order from a bar's special drink list but I decided to try a Bleu Martini which was supposed to have Vodka, Vermouth, Olive Juice and a bleu cheese stuffed olives. Why I ordered it, I do not know. It arrived a muddy colored mess of swampwater in a glass. Was this really somebody's idea of special? I slugged it down and unlike my relationship with Diet Coke I felt better about myself AND worse at the same time. My mouth had the cheesy aftertaste of the cheese filled olive and there was no relief from the breadbasket because the spread they served was cheese as well. Luckily our dinner companions arrived and ordered Vodka Gimlets and Gin Martinis, I said, 'Me too'. A martini should be as clear as the glass it's in. Somebody write that down. Oh, and somebody tell the makers of soft drinks that they don't make us feel better about ourselves, that's the job of our therapists.

A final note: Does it freak anyone else out that there are websites for each and every product on the face of the earth? Who goes to the Fanta (Fantana Island!?!) website to get "Early access to the New Fanta Ad!"? This is necessary to who's life? There's a game to play and slinky Fantana Girls to ogle while you consider the benefits of drinking Orange Fanta.

Oh and I should put in here somewhere that the Blue Side Grill 's food is fabulous and delicious and I forgive them for the muddy martini.

There I feel better about myself again.

Friday, January 20, 2006

I learn a lesson in humility or something.

The 'or something' is what I was trying to describe to some friends the other night. I am susceptible to the throes of euphoria. They tell me I am nuts, that whatever money I've spent on counseling has been wasted, that such talk is ridiculous and beneath me and several other things that were not as nice. My point was that when I am really happy, full of joy, euphoric, I get a little blind to reality. I don't see things as clear as I ought to and that disaster sometimes follows.

I use the example of my losing my keys on Marathon Sunday. I was at the top of the world so happy, so happy that I really didn't double check my bag's zipper. And there was that other time, my friend's eyes glaze over, but I think I am on to something but that's not what this is about, it's about the ticket.

The Ticket is for parking on a pedestrian ramp, the kind of slanted cut made in a sidewalk, usually at a corner, so that wheelchairs and persons with walkers can negotiate through the neighborhood. The fine is $165.oo US. I should blow up the particular line, but take my word for it, it's the biggest fine on the piece of paper. I could have parked next to a fire hydrant and paid less ($115) or been caught standing in Commercial Metered Parking Spot, whatever that is, and paid way less.($95)

My liberal side says "Good, you parked in a place meant to aid the handicapped for crying out loud, you should pay." while my conservative side says.... wait, I don't have a conservative side. What kills me. What ticks me off. What bugs me, is that I had not one but two chances to avoid paying. One was to listen to the passing stranger. Yeah. I blew that off (pompous ass).

The second, and now to my mind more important, chance was when I went down in the morning to take the shot of the car, chortling all the way. It was about seven thirty am. There was NO ticket on the car, and, HERE IS THE DENSE PART, I looked right at the yellow paint on the slant in the sidewalk and, because I was blinded by the throes of euphoria [are we back to that already??] I didn't move the car. I could have. I could have taken it around the block a couple of times and re-parked it. but Nooooooo.

So I beat myself up for about an hour over this. I had planned to go down to mid-town and buy some new running tights and a jacket. I've been freezing on the morning runs. Now I was in hock to the city for One hundred and Sixty five smackers which ironically enough was just about what I was going to spend on the gear. I started the car and put the defroster on Depths of Hell and scraped the ice and snow off on the windshield all while whining and berating myself and trying to think of some interesting way of getting out of paying.

"Your honor, the placement of the said pedestrian rank is in such manner... ."

I thought for a minute about covering the ramp with snow, and claiming there was no way for me to see it. "As this photo will show, your grace, the amount concealing the said pedestrian ramp was of such sufficiency as to prevent me from... ."

But as I walked out of the Hertz garage and headed for the subway, it hit me. These things happen. Not very profound, but true. These things happen and pay you do and then you move on. SO, I am going to take my lunch for the next two months instead of chowing down at the local eatery (Depression hits local business, sales way off for two months!!!) and I went to the sports stuff store and bought the tights and jacket.

I had a really good week at the gym, and with the new clothes the morning run there was a pleasure, a joy, but not euphoric.

Monday, January 16, 2006

I was wrong.

More tonight, but first I have to go look up 'pompous ass'.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Some small lies

We came in from Long Island late last night from a lovely evening spent with some cousins from my wife's side of the family. The night was rainfilled from the start and throughout an excellent sit-down dinner we listened to the gusts of wind rattling the window panes. Gingered Potato Soup followed by a rich Coq au Vin, surrounded by a pretty good wine and several fingers of Johnny Walker, led everyone to the best dinner ingredient - good talk. The four of us are certified providers of such and putting this group in one room insures fast trading of ideas and funny stories. We solved the current political conundrums, of course, and laid out the framework for a workable healthcare system all while looking through the artwork and family pictures of my wife's earliest years.

We played tug-of-war with the family dog and applauded our host's miracle catch of a vase diving towards shardsville after being pushed off the top of the bookcase by the smaller of the two cats. Dessert was a creamy chocolate cheesecake which was not only illegal and out of bounds for my diet, but I am sure if one checked would be found listed amongst the FBI's most wanted. I know I wanted, and had, more.

But this story is about coming into the city late at night. It was still raining and the winds, if anything, had picked up, blowing the car across the lane unless I paid strict attention. We had the rental car company's Never Lost GPS programmed to take us home and it did so without a hitch, zooming us through that confusing set of exits that, unaided,usually sends us South towards towards JFK instead of Northeast to the Throg's Neck Bridge and Washington Heights.

Coming into the city after midnight when most sensible people are settled into bed means trying to find the mythic, and sometimes hard fought over, prize-- the close-to-your-building parking spot. It hardly ever exists except in your mind's eye. You can circumnavigate a three block area for an hour some nights and never see a glowing taillight or a little plume of telltale exhaust. You do this because all New Yorkers are driven by the need to find, not love, but free parking. An hour, even late at night when you at the edge of exhaustion, is nothing if you can avoid the ignominious defeat of having to put the car into a parking garage for money. When and if you do find a place to park the story finds a place too, in your living-in-the-city archives of triumphs, as if you actually did something of merit. Discovering a genetic connection with allows humans to dispose of body fat merely by wishing it to go away would be on a equal footing with finding a large parking spot on the first go-round on a rainy night.

Which is what happened last night. Okay, so I am still working out the wishing fat away thing, but the parking spot- a bigger miracle than the catch of the falling vase- happened within fifty yards of the steps of our building. Maybe forty-five, I'll have to measure. I had just dropped off the spouse and had girded myself for the grueling hunt when I saw an odd thing. Down the street there was a gap in the number of the car rooftops that I could see. A gap is something you never see right away, but there is was. Right where the cross street butts into our street in a tee, there was a huge parking spot. I did a perfect Y turn, nosing into the space first, reversing my direction and then in one smooth horizontal arabesque backed into the space. I was in. I shut off the engine, killed the lights, got out and pressed the little button to lock the car.

It was then I noticed the headlights of the car stopped at the end of the crossstreet. It had been there for the few moments as I was swinging the car in, I was sure the occupants were hoping I was on my way out rather than on my way in. (I was in. Such joy.) The passenger sidedoor opened and out stepped a well-dressed young woman.

"Hey, I thought we should tell you that's not a real parking spot. You could get a ticket there."
I said "Oh?"
"Yeah, I've gotten a ticket there myself, so I thought we should tell you."

Did I mention the mythic and sometimes hard fought battles to find free parking? She sounded so sincere. Wasn't it nice that a New Yorker would take the time and trouble to help out, help out in the middle of a dark, rainy night, help out for no other reason or gain on their part, because, of course, they couldn't use the space either. What a nice thing to do for a stranger in their city!! Did I mention it was a rental car with out of state plates? Well, I did my best to sound just as sincere when I replied:

"It's okay. I'm only going to be here a couple of minutes."

I wonder how long they waited.

Friday, January 13, 2006

I don't wear a wristwatch. Who does?

I was shaving this morning when another reason I don't wear a watch struck me. I am surrounded by clocks. Aren't you? The clock I saw in the bathroom mirror is set eleven minutes ahead, it indicates the time it will be when, if you left now, you'd get to the A train platform.

The clock at my bedside differs from the one by my wife's bedside by a minute or two, hers is seven minutes fast, mine is eight. The clock on the microwave, directly across from the clock on the stove, is two minutes faster than the stove clock which is five minutes fast. The clock on the desk is three minutes fast. The clock on the computer is slow by ten minutes or so and has never been within five minutes of being accurate.
I forgot to wind Pop's clock on the bookcase last night so it is silent and been so for several hours. It keeps good time but I set it ahead a minute or two to prevent the chimes from drowning out the opening lines of the programs we watch.

Which brings me to the televisions which, with the advent of cable, have become the chronometers of our lives. Whenever we need to know immediately, exactly and precisely what time it is --- How many minutes till the car service comes ?--- We are meeting them at 7:30, how much time have we got?----They cut off delivery at eleven, what time is it?---- we look to the television cable box clocks for to be in real time.

God love'em, they automatically change at Daylight Savings Time while I have to endure a long session of beeps and clicks to get every other clock in the house in sync with the universe, or at least with the Eastern Seaboard of the USA.

Something else just occurred to me. How come it is that I am fooled every single day by all the clocks that are telling me I have less time then I really do? Really. Almost daily, after rising, looking at my bedside clock to start my day, I go shave and see the bathroom-subway time indicator, yelp, then zoom into the kitchen, glancing at the microwave while I grind the coffee and zap a bagel. Almost without exception, when I walk into the living room to punch up the Weather Channel, I am relieved to see how early I am.
Just how thick am I?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


I'm coping. I am. So far this week I have only bitten off the heads of three people, one of whom really deserved it.
I finished Blink and a compilation of Essays by David Foster Wallace. (He's funny without knowing it.) I tried to get through the Dalai Lama's book, but failed, too many cumulus clouds to watch drift from horizon to horizon.
It's been warm in the city, mid-fifties most days, with the threats of rain disappearing having the same impact as terrorist warnings, a drizzle here and there, then clear skies and clarity of mind.
I've been hitting the gym and running and trotting and slogging and trying not to eat the scones at Starbucks. Somehow, with all the beach miles, I packed on an additional six pounds during the trip, four of them are gone now, but it was shocking to see the big upswing in the Weight Commander graph. (Weight Commander is written especially for numbers and chart freaks like me. Lots of whoopie do rising and falling slopers and trend lines, also a place I can put references like 1/9 W/STs 18:00 <1.1m There is also 1/8 T/FB/R 26:45 4.8 2.o. Treadmill on Fat Burn and Random at a average speed of of 4.8mph for two miles taking --god this is fascinating stuff-- 26 minutes of prime gym time.
My favorite is R/CP (Running in Central Park.)
Watching the sunrise here it seems to me to be some other sun, a different one than that that swims dreamily up through the Gulf coast fog, boggieboarding it's way to our campsite, lighting up our bookpages and draining the tensions in our lives away.

There we are.

If you are coming out bring some Diet Cokes and see if there are any of those Christmas cookies left.

I am coping. I am.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The length of the line

this is an audio post - click to play

Jan 1, 6:32AM Anna Maria Island
The dawn is pitch black drenched in a gray fog so thick that the shore is not visible from the porchdeck. At the water's edge only the faintest pale embers of house lights can be seen through the mist. It is low tide, the newly dry sand is flat and wide as a highway. Dry is an arbitrary, changing, elastic term. There are places that shine in the darkness, a thin layer of moisture hovers there, more like damp air than damp earth. In other stretches the sand shifts under your sneaks, you slide slightly like a skier finding an edge. The beach smells muddy with a hint of sulfur and things dead.

I can barely see ahead of me. My glasses fog and refog so I take them off and carry them in my right hand. I move away from the shore to where the sand is rippled, edged with great shell fields. I alternate between bumping along through the ripples and crunching through the shells. I don't like crunching shells, I always think about the combers.

They are out here daily, scanning the shore with the same seriousness as the actors on CSI-NY and then there are the kids looking for just the right souvenirs to take home by the jar full. I have a lot more respect for those conch shells I've seen for sale in the beach chair and towel shops. Those shells have a perfect quality about them, no chips or holes or cracks, and they are large, bigger than an open hand or even two open hands. On the beach you only see the little ones with their thin tails broken off, or the ones with crushed ends, internal spirals exposed, the ruins of themselves revealed.

This is the first day of the New Year and I seem to be the first human to arrive on this beach this morning, I run for over thirty minutes before seeing two figures stooped near the shore looking for good shells in the gloom. The fog is extra heavy duty, the kind Hollywood puts in movies like The Usual Suspects. As usual I have too many clothes on and I have soaked through my tee-shirt. When I reach the end of the western beach where a seawall blocks the way I turn to go back and am immediately smacked in the face by a cold southern wind. I am fumbling with my jacket zipper when I see a seabird laying alone on the dunes. It is alert and makes a cry as I come nearer. There is something wrong with it's legs, it cannot stand, but I cannot see for certain what the problem is.

"Probably fishing line." a voice says.

I must have jumped six feet.

"Sorry. Didn't mean to startle you." It is a man, old, but fit looking with the kind of face you would expect to see on a racing yacht. There is a woman with him, dressed in a bluish warm-up suit and a floppy hat. "We'll call the people from the sanctuary, but it's New Year's, who knows if anyone's there."

"Leave it be."the woman said knowing what the man had in mind to do,"It will peck your eyes out as you try to help it out."

Not wanting to get in the middle of a discussion, domestic or otherwise, I nodded a Happy New Year to them both and trotted off towards the day, the last day of our vacation. Not really a day, our flight out was at eleven fifteen. There was packing to do. We had arrived a week and a half ago, the ruins of ourselves revealed. Several spectacular sunsets later, with scattered naps on the beach, deeply semi-sweet audiobooks and luscious, sauce-glazed meals with our dearest friends, we are revived.

Now I had just three miles to go to get back to the condo, then thirty miles to the airport, then the non-stop back to the icy winds of New York.

I've been back for a couple of days now and my mind is still tied to that fishing line.