Saturday, July 31, 2010

Half Way There . . . An Ode to Fifty for Anne on Her Fiftieth Birthday

When we were kids
we could buy ten pieces of Bazooka bubble gum for fifty cents
we could unwrap the waxy paper
and read the comics about Bazooka Joe
and put that enormous piece of pink hard gum
in our mouths
and suck on it to soften it
and then chew it and chew it
and blow these great
fuschia bubbles
that popped
and stuck to our lips
and our chins
and Bazooka Joe was miniature and in color
and we wondered why he wore an eye patch
was it a pencil that disfigured him?
or was it therapeutic? ordered by the doctor
to remedy a lazy eye?
or did Joe just have a pirate fetish?
none of his friends ever acknowledged the eye patch
and of course, why would they?
they had afflictions of their own.
But this conundrum about joe was fleeting
and we discarded him as the gum lost flavor
But we had nine pieces left!
so you see, life was good

Fifty cents doesn’t get us the paper these days
it doesn’t get us across the Tappanzee Bridge
or through the Baltimore Tunnel
Fifty cents, half a dollar was so big when we were so small
But now its akin to a penny which barely got us a gum ball
back then . . . you put in the penny, turned the crank and
out came the gum ball and a prize, a pink poodle charm
to hang on a string around your tan neck for a day or two
til you got tired of it.

Fifty was huge to us then.
It was bigger than our fifth grade class
It was older than our mothers and older than our fathers
We dashed fifty yards and crumpled at the end
gasping for air and holding our bony knees
hoping the gym teacher didn’t ask us to do it again.

When we were teenagers
Paul Simon told us there were
Fifty Ways to Leave our lovers
But we were so young that leaving seemed easier
than stepping out the back jack
or dropping off the key Lee

And when we weren’t leaving our imaginary lovers
we were struggling to memorize the periodic table
because an F in chemistry was unacceptable back then
...50 is the atomic number of tin . . . and so on and so on

We attended our grandparents fiftieth wedding anniversary
and snuck out the back of the dance hall to smoke cigarettes
and share a stolen bottle of beer with our cousins
while our families marveled at how long a marriage had lasted

Fifty Fifty . . . are those the odds?
are we half way gone?
or half way there?
the glass of milk is different to each one of us,
drink it, taste it, feel the cold of it
and fill it up again!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Jack Kerouac says:

Center of Interest Begin not from preconceived idea of what to say about image but from jewel center of interest in subject of image at moment of writing, and write outwards swimming in sea of language to peripheral release and exhaustion -- Do not afterthink except for poetic or P.S. reasons. Never afterthink to "improve" or defray impressions, as the best writing is always the most painful personal wrung-out tossed from cradle warm protective mind -- tap from yourself the song of yourself, blow! -- now! -- your way is your only way --"good" -- or "bad" -- always honest. ("ludicrous") spontaneous, 'confessional' interesting, because not 'crafted.' Craft is craft.

from You're A Genius All The Time - Belief and Technique for Modern Prose

Saturday, July 24, 2010

My Alter Ego

I have an alter ego. I discovered her a couple of decades ago. There are times that I envy her and well, there are other times that I am so relieved that I am not her. She’s the girl I would have been had my parents not divorced when I was three years old. She’s the girl who grew up in Southern Pines, N.C. with her narcissistic photojournalist father and her lovely funny horse training mother. Her name is Wee Gee, like Ouija board . . . it was Wee Gin when she was small because she was named for her godmother Virginia, and so Wee Gee was little Virginia. But as she grew up, fox hunting from the time she was five, running on the sandy moonlit fire lanes in the midst of the long leaf pine forests, swimming in briny ponds with snapping turtles, her name morphed and evolved and besides, the twenty or so kids she went to school with, cause it was a really small town back then, shortened the name and started calling her Wee G. And she liked this change, cause she wasn’t wee anymore. She was getting kinda tall and lanky and her hair was the color of fresh cut straw that they laid out neatly in the young horse’s stalls every morning and her shoulders were always deep red brown from the sun.

Her best friend from the time she was first able to walk was a girl named Patty, the daughter of another horsewoman and a wealthy man. Patty had a pool table in the basement of her house and by the time Wee G. and Patty were eleven or so, they would smoke cigarettes, play pool and drink Patty’s father’s bourbon til they got so drunk they took off all their clothes and pretended to be strippers dancing on the green velvet of the pool table in the smokey light of some old Tiffany lamp. Once, Patty’s mother came home and found them, Wee G. and Patty, passed out drunk on the pool table in their underwear. She woke them up, made them coffee, told them to go outside and swim in the pool til they sobered up. She didn’t tell Wee G.’s mother, she felt that she was to blame somehow and she had locks put on the liquor cabinets in the bar room that was all glass and looked out on the horse pastures.

Wee G.’s first boy was an older boy. She was fourteen and he was sixteen. She met him swimming at the pond that lay in a grotto of long leaf pines near her godmother Virginia’s home. The pond had a floating dock and there was a marsh on one end where the bull frogs mingled with snapping turtles and every once in a while a heron lurked on the edge of the pond and this made the little fishes and the guppies terribly nervous. So Wee G. was floating around the pond on a hot July afternoon -- in fact, she was sound asleep in an inner tube and she was alone cause Patty was in Europe with her parents who thought that Patty needed some expanding of her mind, some culture, but all she would come back with was a new taste for Hashish and Turkish cigarettes. So Wee G. is sound asleep in the inner tube and this boy comes swimming up to her and puts his tan fingers on her burned shoulders and he says, “Hey girl, don’t you know there are snapping turtles in this pond?” and Wee G. wakes up and looks at this boy and she smiles and says, “Those turtles don’t ever bother me. But don’t you know they’ll bite off your thing?”

They spent the afternoon swimming and she found out he lived in town. That his father worked in the Savings Bank. He didn’t know a thing about horses and she told him she would teach him how to ride, that her mother had plenty of horses in the barn that he could ride. But he said he wasn’t so sure about riding horses, but he could take her for a ride in his jeep. And so they got out of the water just when the sun was starting to go down and they got in his jeep with nothing but their bathing suits on and he drove her all the way to the edge of the Reservation, that’s what they called Fort Bragg down there, and they smoked cigarettes and he even had a little pot, so they got high and they made out, while some jets flew overhead and then a B-52 glided over them and dropped all these paratroopers and they came down to the wire grass and the young long leaf pine forests like a spawn of white butterflies and they surrounded the jeep. Wee G. and her boy were captured. There were bombs going off in the distance on the bombing range and the paratroopers told them they needed to go home, that they were in a restricted area. But they didn’t let Wee G. and the boy go until they searched the jeep and confiscated the rest of his pot, a half a bottle of bourbon, and her pack of Camels.

Wee G. spent two years running around with that boy. Wee G. would ride horses half the day for her mother, muck stalls early in the morning, fit school in somehow, and then she’d crawl out her bedroom window, the window that faced the shed row barn, cause they ran a horse business don’t you know, and so the house was actually attached to the barn, so Wee G. slept with the horses’ billowy voices in her ears most nights, but lotsa nights, she crawled out her window and ran barefooted down the warm sand drive, every once in a while sticking her self with a sandspur, that she would have to stop and pull out and then keep running out to the road where the boy would be waiting with the jeep's engine running and the headlights off. Sometimes they would go pick up Patty, who had a soldier boyfriend now, and he could get them hashish anytime they wanted it. And they would go way out into the pine forests and smoke hash and every once in a while they would even do some toot, Patty loved toot, and Wee G. liked it, but not as much as the burn of bourbon going down with the taste of hash still on her tongue.

Wee G. was lost and at the same time she wasn’t lost. Her mother was resigned to Wee G.’s wild side cause she had problems of her own, mostly having to do with Wee G.’s father who ran around on her . . . he was up in New York taking pictures most of the time and it was all she could do to keep the barn full of good horses. And she didn’t worry too much about Wee G. cause the kid would get up every morning and ride three or four horses, she even schooled two young horses and sold them at a profit for her mother at the age of fifteen, so it was clear that was what Wee G. was good at, and if she had a wild streak in her, well, maybe it wouldn’t lead to anything too bad, maybe.

Wee. G. quit school the year before she was supposed to graduate. Her mother was furious and her father was so distant and high on pills that he didn’t really notice, all he noticed was how pretty Wee G. had gotten and that she had taken up with a steeplechase jockey who was winning all the major races up and down the east coast, so that made him damn proud. See, Wee G.’s father had been a steeplechase jockey and his father before him, so if Wee G. was going to follow the family tradition and marry herself a steeplechase jockey that was just fine with him. She still ran off with the banker’s son in the jeep every once in a while, but that was just for old time sakes, and Patty was living in a trailer on the edge of town now and she was addicted to toot and Wee G. felt like she oughtta watch out for Patty every once in a while. So she’d get the banker boy to come pick them up and they’d go drink in the Blind Beagle and Wee G. would tell Patty, “Just tonight, girl, just tonight, don’t do any toot, just drink til sunup with me and my boy, okay?” And Patty would stay clean for the night and in the morning Wee G. would feel like she’d done something for Patty, even if it was just temporary.

But then the steeplechase jockey would call and tell her to get in her truck and get up to Fairfax for a meet, or Middleburg, or Camden, and then he finally came and picked her up and they spent the whole month in Saratoga. They galloped horses in the mornings, he rode jump races in the afternoons, and they drank and danced every night until it was almost time to get up and gallop horses again. She told him she had a nice horse at home, one that her mother had given over to her completely -- a four year old that was a mighty good jumper and wouldn’t he like to race the colt in a point-to-point coming up in Delaware soon? If the horse did well, maybe they could take the horse further.

But they never got that far, the jockey brought her home from Saratoga and next month she reads in the Chronicle of the Horse that he’s married now. And there he is in the winner’s circle at a race meet in Pennsylvania with this girl who’s taller than he is and is from a family whose name is real big in steeplechasing, a money family.

This is where Wee G. falls. She moves out of her parents’ house and into the trailer with Patty for a while, but Patty’s toot habit is so bad that Wee G. moves into a rooming house downtown. She still works for her mother, mucking stalls, riding horses, but she’s out at the Blind Beagle every night and sometimes she sees the Savings Banker’s boy, but he’s going to Carolina up in Chapel Hill now, he’s going to work in his own Savings Bank some day, and he'll marry a nice girl who doesn't traipse around in the pine woods at night in her bare feet smoking hash.

Wee G. drifts and drinks and smokes and falls off horses which at some point breaks her jaw and almost all of her ribs. She won’t live with any man, she just holes up in that rooming house, and heals up, and rides more horses, and works in this barn and that barn. Every once in a while she makes a killing on one good horse sold and then she blows it on toot for Patty and bourbon at the Blind Beagle. And all the while her godmother, who owns half of Southern Pines, tells her that someday she’s going to leave her a small fortune, but Wee G. doesn’t believe that. She’s stuck, but in a way, she leads this zen master’s life, cause she’s up at five every morning riding her motorcycle to whatever barn she’s currently working and she’s minding the horses, despite the hangovers and the smoke in her soul.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Just So You Know . . .

This is how I make guacamole: I put a generous handful of whole cumin seeds into a dry frying pan and turn the heat on to medium high. While the cumin seeds are roasting, I scoop out three or four ripe avocados into a bowl (don't mash them right away!), add the juice of one lime or the juice of half a lemon, and a teaspoon of course sea salt. When the cumin seeds are slightly brown, I dump them on top of the other ingredients in the bowl, appreciate the sizzle, and then I mash it all together with a potato masher . . . don't use a food processor, or you'll overwork it, you'll kill its spirit. Now, where are the chips?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Part Four: What I did on My Summer Vacation . . . The Wolves


So I get to the Hall of Indigenous Peoples Done Wrong By Manifest Destiny or whatever you call it and there they all are leading perfectly quiet lives, hardly impacting their environment whatsoever, you know killing some buffalo, smoking tobacco, growing corn, telling stories of their fathers, occasionally magically morphing into bears or eagles or wolverines or stream trout and they are so quiet and at-one with their world that I immediately feel all this White Girl guilt. So I look for the dugout canoe, the one that Jarret wants me to find, and I wonder, if I find it, do I take a photo of it and text it to him? Or does he just want to know if its still here? But all I find is the dugout canoe and there are no Indians in it. Its hanging in the brightly lit hallway just outside one of the myriad of entrances to the Hall of Exterminated Native Peoples and its empty of its Indians. So I text Jarret, I tell him this: I found the dugout canoe, but the Indians are no longer in the boat. I think they are hunting moose in the Hall of Mammals, which is where I am headed now. If I see the Indians, I will ask them to get back to their canoe directly and wait there for you and Max.

I left the Hall of The Red Man and I veered down this hallway that seemed to be on the edge of Amphibians and Primates and I followed three boys. They were headed for the Hall of Mammals, I was sure of it, there was just something in their lanky 14 year old strides that told me they were on the trail of bear and prong horn and arctic fox. There was something else about the boys, they were from Connecticut, it was the way their shoulders were square and the way their hair fell over their ears -- it was the cut of their jeans . . . moneyed but not moneyed, I knew these boys from way back, and I knew they would get me to the Halls of Furry Animals Possessing Mammary Glands. But before they led me there, they made me laugh. The museum was hot, very hot, obviously the old air conditioning systems for the building are no longer able to keep up with the city heat, and so distributed throughout the halls were large stand-up propeller fans. As I followed the boys, one of them stopped and like a girl on a game show, he stood next to the fan and stretched his arms in presentation mode and declared to the other two boys, as though he were a tour guide, "This is a fan, a very large fan. It blows at 50 miles per hour. It is nearly extinct, but not quite, and it can be found throughout North America." The boys burst out laughing and so did I. The fan as museum piece, good one, boy. The boys turned and saw me. They had no idea I had hitched my wagon to their trail to the Hall of Mammals, and they didn’t expect some old girl to be laughing along with them, but they realized it was funny, and we all laughed and turned and left the nearly extinct fan to forge on.

FINALLY, as I expected the boys came to the entrance to the Hall of Mammals . . . I stopped following them, I let them veer off in search of Elk and I sat on a bench, and observed the Grizzly Bears. A woman came and sat next to me and her little dog jumped up on the bench and sat between us. Yes, she had a dog, he was all of twenty-five pounds and he wore a vest, a smart little black and red job proclaiming his status, Service Dog. He looked to be a cross between a corgi and a chihuahua, something in his eyes reeked of chihuahua. He sat quietly and observed the bears with me. The woman was out of breath. I stared at her, rudely, for a moment, trying to figure out what her ailment was. Why did she need a Service Dog? Was it Anxiety Disorder? If that was the case, I thought, I can make a case for taking my dog with me to all public places if she can. And then her son arrived and I realized that he was the afflicted one and he sat on the floor in front the bears, and I could hear him breathing from where I sat, yes, he was afflicted. With what? I don’t know. But he was afflicted all the same and I was sure that this dog gave him, or at least his mother, great peace of mind. I wanted to pat the dog, but I knew that was wrong. You never give pats to Service Dogs, it might distract them from their good work, not that this dog was particularly busy at the moment, but for all I knew he was sending psychic messages to his Boy Master, so I refrained and honored the Grizzly with my gaze and thought about my own very current affliction: my ever so carefully packed messenger bag was now far too heavy with my mother’s book on Mongolia. Its camels and oxen and lovely high colored Mongolian peoples were weighing me down and I was going to have to trek the rest of the city and the day with them. I stood up and watched the Hall of Mammals begin to overflow with what seemed like thousands of school children, all wearing name tags, some wearing uniforms, and none, absolutely none attended by Teacher Types.

I slung the offending bag over my shoulder and closed my ears to the noise -- I felt more pity for the Mammals, they couldn’t leave, I at least had a choice. It occurred to me that perhaps the Museum Shoppe could ship my mother’s book, yes, yes, I would inquire after this one task, my hunt for the wolves was almost over. I rounded a corner and found the Ivory Snow Mountain Goats -- their white goat hair astonishingly immune to yellowing over the years, they told me to keep walking, to pass the desert fox and turn left at the Wolverines and down a narrow dark corridor I would find night and my wolves. And the goats were right, I made a wide left giving the Wolverine plenty of room, they are so cantankerous and smell funny, and I told them, I wasn’t looking for them and they seemed to say, oh, of course not, you’re looking for those Timber Wolves, all the girls come back to see those Wolves.

When I found them, they were just as I had left them twenty-five years ago, that was the occasion I took my husband to see them. It was his first trip to the City, he was all of 22 and we flew up from North Carolina and it was winter and it was close to New Year’s and the wind about froze his Southern Soul, but I got him to the Museum and he was charmed.

The hallway was barely passable with all the school kids. I pressed against the wall facing the wolves and let the kids crush by. I watched them watch the wolves. Some of the kids were truly afraid . . . maybe it was the darkness, maybe the wolves pursuit of prey just hit a a primeval nerve with the kids, just like it did for me all those years ago. And then the narrow arctic nocturnal hall cleared of all the kids, and I had a minute with the wolves, a minute to tell them how much I had missed them and how glad I was that they were still around, still chasing that rabbit. And when I was finishing up my prayer to the wolves, a small family came down the hall . . . mother, father, daughter and son. The son, who was probably thirteen or so, was in the lead and he held his father’s hand, he was practically dragging his father, ”Dad, dad, you have to see this one, this is my favorite one!“ And they stopped in front of the wolves and me. I stood back as the family gathered in front of the bluish moonlit wolves. And the boy piped up again, ”Isn’t that the most fantastic thing you’ve ever seen?“ And the father nodded, he didn’t say a word, he just nodded. And mother nodded and the daughter nodded. They were silenced by the wolves.

I had done it, I had seen the wolves and now it was time to find the Museum Shoppe. I was in the thick of the Field Trip press now and my head was banging with hunger and the little hairs on the inside of my ears had laid down and given up, like I had been at a heavy metal concert all morning, I was half deaf from the school kid cacophony. I needed to get to the shop and unload that book. Funny, there are plenty of signs to get you to the Museum Shoppe. And when I got there, of course, I walk in and turn to see another book, better than the book I had already bought my mother in the small exhibit shop and I think, ”okay, buy her this one too, and ship it!“ So I go to the counter and the nice Museum Shoppe Girl comes and I ask her, ”Can you ship my gifts?“

”Oh yes.“

”Great. I have this book I bought upstairs at the Silk Road Exhibit shop and I want to add this book.“

”Oh dear.“ she says and starts looking around.

”Oh dear, what?“

”Well, I can’t ship something you bought in another shop. You will have to go back to that store to ship that book. But I can ship the one you haven’t bought yet.“

”Oh no, don’t send me back in there. Please. . . “ and with that the floodgates opened and about two hundred kids from P.S. 593 ran into the store. They were all hopped up on dinosaur eggs and wolverine fangs, I think they were brandishing the tusks of Wooly Mammoths. They pushed, they shoved, they pressed me against the counter, they shouted questions to the Shoppe Girl, How Much is this? Do you have those shiny pencils? Last year I got the shiny pencils! Do you have gummy dinosaurs? The Shoppe Girl rolled her eyes and looked at me and then looked to a room upstairs, a woman wearing a beautiful turquoise blue silk scarf looked down and mouthed something, something like, I’ll be right there.

”Can’t you do something like a return on the book I bought upstairs and then re-sell it to me and then ship it?“ I begged.

”Oh, oh, I don’t know. I think you would have to return it to the other shop. My manager is coming downstairs to help us.“ The kids were everywhere. We heard a crash.

”Wow, how do you stand this?“ I asked her.

”They’re animals, really, they’re animals.“ and with that her manager arrived looking completely unfrazzled despite having swum through the sea of animals, and having picked up whatever crashed to the floor earlier. She looked at the Shoppe Girl and then looked at me. She asked what seemed to be the problem, and just as I was about the answer her, a boy kicked me in the ankle. I turned, he looked up at me and he was holding what seemed to be a rubber chicken, but it wasn’t a chicken, it was a crocodile. He said, ”Excuse me M'am.“ and I told him, ”No problem kiddo.“ and then I explained to the manager that I wanted to ship the book and pleaded with her to not send me back into the bowels of the Museum to find the Silk Road again. She agreed that would be a bad idea, she said, ”You know this is the worst time of year here, with all the Field Trips. Okay, let’s see what we can do.“ And next thing you know we were in a flurry of receipts, return this, sign this, re-purchase that, sign that, fill out this credit form, fill out this shipping form...all while the Shoppe Girl is trying to keep the kids at bay, they are all around me, sticking out their fists with one dollar bills trying to buy gummy pterodactyls and pencils with miniature rock collections contained inside of them (I always loved those). And I gave her the Chinese horse too, I told her to ship the horse, so we had to return him and repurchase him and my credit card was swiping this way and that way, money out, money in, and I didn’t care if she overcharged me at that point, I just wanted to ship the books and the little horse to my mother and get out of there.

And then, I was carried, right out of the museum, as though I were in a mosh pit, and I landed outside in the sun on the sidewalk facing Central Park. The kids were on a different current entirely, the one that took them to the Big Yellow Buses. And me? I found myself standing in front of another street vendor ordering yet another Coca-Cola and a cheeseburger. My legs were buckling from hunger. The pretty Asian girl behind the counter of the food stand smiled and asked me if I wanted ketchup? Yes!

dreams--thursday morning, July 22

dream one: i dreamed we were driving along an enormous lake bed in Brazil. The lake was dark azure, perhaps it was a salt lake, it seemed to swallow the light. The wind was blowing furiously. There was a long low glass restaurant, it was something Frank Lloyd Wright would have built, its roof was constructed like a wing, and the lake reflected in the windows. We stopped and looked in the restaurant. It was empty. We took out a map and the wind tried to blow it away, but we held it down on the hood of our lilliputian car. At first, we couldn’t find the lake on the map, we thought we were lost . . . had we left Brazil? We had only a map of Brazil, if we were in Uruguay, we were lost. But then we found the lake on the map, and the road, even a marker for the deserted restaurant. According to the map, there was a series of small towns only a few miles away. We looked toward the south and we could see the glow of lights rising over the high desert hills that surrounded the lake. We were so glad, and hungry. The wind died down and we drove on.

dream two: i rented an apartment in NYC. It was two large rooms with large windows at one end that looked out on a dirty yellow brick landscape. The apartment was not empty. There was all sorts of junk left from previous tenants. Weirdly, or maybe not so weirdly, considering recent events, there were photos of race horses which may or may not have been taken by my father. The front door was almost impossible to figure out. It had so many locks on it. And I kept going to the door and checking it to make certain I had locked all the locks. I sat in the apartment and listened to a couple fighting next door . . . the woman was crying and hollering in Spanish. I regretted renting the apartment, but then I told myself, it will be better in time and with that thought, it was months down the calendar, and I was making breakfast for myself in the apartment. All of the old junk was gone and I had decorated the apartment, it was my home now. I cracked an egg into a small frying pan and looked out the windows, the yellow brick landscape was flooded with sun and the noises of the city made me happy.

Monday, July 19, 2010

What I Did on My Summer Vacation . . . Or How I found the MerMan, Part Three

video

The 8:22 into the city from Greens Farms was crowded -- it made me glad I caught the train in Greens Farms and not in Westport, one stop away, and I probably wouldn't have gotten a seat. It was so crowded that I wasn’t able to get my usual: a window seat. Instead, I was on the aisle next to the middle of the car, near the doors, in that four-seater section that is primo when you're with a friend, because its two seats facing two seats and you can put your feet up. But when alone, it exposes you to being knee-to-knee with strangers.

I’m partial to window seats because no matter how hard I try to read on the train, I can’t. I am certain that I would have eventually become a reader on the train if I had stayed in Connecticut and become a daily commuter, but because of my amateur status, I just stare out the window. I try to read, I do, I bring the New York Times with me and I open it and I might get two paragraphs into a story in the Arts section and then, whoosh, I’m looking out the window or at the people standing on the platform in Stamford or watching the sailboats off Darien or marveling at the way the train travels in tandem with the speeding cars on I95 -- how we then veer away from the highway and we are speeding through some overgrown passageway and then row houses and the speed of the train distorts my sense of how fast we are going or not going . . . my eyes follow power lines that multiply and join and split off and then another train travels next to us for some time and I see a sleeping passenger through the window, his head is leaning against the glass and his mouth is open, and I wonder why he is so tired, and then I think the trains are so close together that its just a moment before metal touches metal, but we slow down and the other train must be an express and I lose sight of the man who was sleeping. See? I can’t read on the train. And I used to be very inclined to motion sickness and the only thing that kept me from succumbing to my sensitive inner gyroscope was to look out the window -- this worked for me in cars, planes, and trains. But these days, I just like to sit by the window and watch the movie of moving go by.

I even look out the window when the train enters those dark tunnels south of the last stop, 125th street, before Grand Central. The sun is gone and sometimes all you see is the reflection of your face in the window, but if you press through the glass, you can see the caramel lights of the city’s underground world wink by and in their glow, you might see something as exciting as construction workers soldering a nearby track and sparks cascade all around them like a waterfall and you hear the squeal of the train and you feel it lean and turn and lean and turn.

But as far as I can tell, reading on the train seems to be passé now. I was one of only two people in my train car that had the Times opened and everyone else was plugged into their iPods and they were furiously texting on their phones. There was a constant beating of fingertips on tiny keyboards like the buzzing of bees in a hive or the footfalls of ants in the forest. Beat beat beat, pause, ah reply, beat beat beat, yes, yes, meet you at 10:30 in front of the Starbucks on 57th street, beat beat beat, pause, smile, pause, beat beat beat, your boss is an idiot beat beat beat, pause, wait, oh you are gone now beat beat beat is that what you're wearing? beat beat beat . . . And it goes on like that until the train halts in the loins of Grand Central and deposits all of us like coins on to the hot platform.

And now for a small digression . . .The City . . . I just realized that some of you don’t know that when I say The City, I am referring to New York City . . . my friend T.S. Dogfish explains how us Connecticut folk talk, “back in those days when we'd take the Big Yellow Bus out of Westport, Connecticut into The City for field trips. For us, in Westport, The City meant New York City. There was no other city on the face of the earth - just large conglomerations of dirty architecture where humans congregated in rancid mobs. There was ONLY NYC, and that's where we went on our field trips to see Kulture.” I recently told a friend I went to Connecticut for vacation and also spent a coupla days in The City and she squinted and shifted her weight, and replied “Oh, which city?” and I had to think for a moment and then it dawned on me that she’s southern, and I somewhat impatiently replied, “New York City . . . Theee City.” and I thought dammit under my breath, dammit, what’s the matter with people that they don’t know what The City is? Okay, now that we have that squared away, I can go on . . .

Some time ago I told you all that I would go on a small pilgrimage this summer and I kept my promise. I pushed through the throngs at Grand Central and hiked up the stairs to gaze at that beautiful starry ceiling that echoes and sings to every soul that enters that building and then I was out the doors and into a cab on my way to the Museum of Natural History to find the wolves. I hadn’t seen them for at least 20 twenty years and I wasn’t even sure if they were still there. The cab pulled over on the park side of the street to let me out . . . the park, Central Park! I paid the man and got out and did what any good kid from Westport does when she gets to the Museum of Natural History for the first time in twenty odd years. She stands in line with a bunch of Russian Tourists to get a hot pretzel and a Coca-Cola. I sat on a bench just outside the walls of the park, and across from the main entrance of the museum which is under renovation so it was masked in scaffolding and canvas tarps that blew gently in the summer city breeze, which is different from the breeze you feel in the country, it doesn't seem to be generated by nature, its more a swirling of air born of subway vents and the breath of concrete. The only thing that made the museum entrance recognizable was the huge bronze of Teddy Roosevelt on his horse -- he was shouting orders, something about the Russians, what were all those Russians doing milling about with pretzels and Coca-Colas and small leather fanny packs? I agreed with Teddy. There were far too many Russians around for comfort. As I ate my pretzel, sucking on the salt and the warm dough, and washing it all down with Coke, the elixir of the Gods as far as I’m concerned, a man on one end of a leash walked up the side walk with an Irish Terrier on the other end of the leash. My father's father had Irish Terriers, but I had only seen the dogs in photos. I had never seen one in color and in person. I became an immediate idiot for this dog as he approached. The dog’s gaze met mine and he veered toward me on his long strong legs, the way most all dogs do when I engage them, its a thing I have, a thing with dogs. ANYway, he was taller than any other terrier of that class, Airdale Terriers, Fox Terriers, and such, and his elderly gentleman began to redirect him, but I stopped him, “That’s an Irish Terrier, isn’t it?” And the man let the dog veer back to me and I saw the dog was much more worldly than me and his dark eyes registered only this, “Yes, I am a terrific dog, but I don’t associate with blonds.” His coat was Rita Hayworth red . . . I am not kidding you . . . any ginger would beg this dog for his colorist’s number. The gentleman only replied, “Yes” to my declaration of the terrier’s Gaelic origins and I was allowed one pat between the dogs wiry ears and off they went, parting the Russian Tourists as they made their way along the West Side.

The pretzel was eaten, the Russian Tourists had dispersed in answer to Teddy’s call to arms, and it was time for me to find the wolves. Here’s a travel tip for you: if its early June and you’re in NYC, avoid major museums, such as the Museum of Natural History on weekdays. Why? Well, its the end of the school year and the schools have run out of ideas and tests and ideas, so the last couple of weeks for the city kids (and kids in Connecticut for that matter) is filled with things like Sports Days and Field Trips! They put name tags on all of them, put them on the bus and ship them to the city where they are turned loose in large institutions like the Museum of Natural History. Why didn’t I know this? Well, I’m not a parent in the Tri-State area and well, I’m just a tourist in my homeland now. So when I first got into the museum and stood in the very well organized line to pay my admission, because I was also going to explore the Silk Road exhibit for my mother, who is bananas for Ghengis Khan and anything born of Mongolia, I can’t go see this show, please go see it for me and send me books with pictures of camels and Mongolian ponies for my paintings, she said, so I happily agreed to see the show for her, because one: I want her to continue to paint as many paintings of camels and Ghengis Khan as she can, and two: it fell totally in line with my quest to revisit the wolves.

All was seemingly a normal Friday at the museum in the summer -- just me and more Russian Tourists than the State Department should allow to gather in one place despite the Cold War being over. But things began to change once I was hiking the Silk Road. There I was in the dark somewhere between Xi’An and Samarkand with huge camels wearing their woven packs containing silk, furs, dried fruits, medicinal herbs, teas, perfumes, and pottery, and the halls began to fill up with school children.

It was a slow inundation, charming at first, ah yes, I remember being that young in the museum. I smiled at the small crews of kids as the darted here and then there, little did I know that this was only the beginning of the maddening crowd. When I got to the end of the Silk Road, I did as my mother asked, I went into the exhibit store and bought her a full color book to help her with her paintings. I wanted to buy a silk scarf for myself, but my messenger bag was full, it was packed perfectly for the three days and two nights I would be staying in the city . . . a feat that my friend K. back in Westport was astounded by, “THAT is all you are taking for a weekend in the city?!” Yes, THAT was all I was taking, “BUT BUT, what about shoes?” They're on my feet. “Only ONE pair of SHOES?!” Yes, only one pair of shoes. So I couldn’t buy the beautiful silk scarf, and I would later regret it, and I was going to have to carry that book for my mother for the rest of the day until I got to my friend G’s apartment. But I did buy a little golden Chinese horse for myself. He was delicate and small and classic, you know him, he is the color of tumeric with a jade saddle and his head and neck are curled back toward his belly and his tail. I have always wanted that particular horse and here he was and he was lilliputian and so I could make the sacrifice and carry him too. I left the exhibit shop and went into the hallway, and little did I know I was on the Titanic and she was sinking -- she was taking on more school children than she could carry and keep afloat!

I had forgotten how big the Museum of Natural History was and the maps in the hallways seemed to leave out some important information for me . . . now it might be that I wasn’t wearing my glasses, but there was not the usual You Are Here flag on the maps by the stairwells, so I gained really no knowledge from the maps as to how to get to the Hall of Mammals. I just knew that I needed to get to the Hall of Mammals to find my wolves. Next thing you know I was in the Hall of, well, Forests? yes Forests. And I had never traveled those halls. I found them astoundingly boring. I know, that’s awful. But it seemed to me a waste of diorama space --big dioramas with flora, but no fauna whatsoever. So I hurried through this hall, and I noticed that the kids were really starting to flood the place and next thing you know, before I get out of the Hall of Forests, or whathave you, maybe the Hall of Trees? ANYway, an alarm goes off, one of those really loud suckers, and its over somewhere behind the redwoods and the giant secoyas and this crowd of teenagers, maybe 8 or 9 of them come tearing out of the intense blackness of the forest and they are screaming and laughing and holding their stomachs and they are coming from where the alarm is coming from and I realize that they set the damn thing off and they are hysterical with their triumph. They almost run me down and one of them makes eye contact with me for just the briefest moment and I get the feeling that she thinks I might be someone of authority, well, I am an adult after all, but then, she must see something in my crooked smile and how I am weighted down by my messenger bag and I’m not dressed like a teacher, so she let’s go of me with her gaze and they disappear into a deciduous forest covered in snow and I am left wondering, how do I get out of these woods?

But I leave the woods and take a turn and to my delight I am in the Ocean. I am in the greatest museum exhibit hall of all time -- I am standing at the bottom of the sea in the middle of Manhattan and I am leaning over a balcony that is fathoms high and before me is a great blue whale suspended from the heavens and he is even more magical and more magnificent than the first time I saw him when I was nine or ten. That whale, oh that whale. And the hall was a drowning pool for school children -- never has the bottom of the sea been so noisy. But I had to push on, I descended the stairwell and stood beneath the whale. I wanted to lie on the floor and feel the utter terror that krill must feel before they are swallowed up and then it occurred to me, perhaps krill never feel fear at being devoured by a great blue whale, hell, they probably have no idea they have been eaten, until, well, they hit his belly and they are crustaceans, correct . . . crustaceans don’t feel a whole heck of a lot, I know, I know, I am going to get email from the Buddhists for that, but really . . . really? I did feel some terror though, and it came from being surrounded by all those kids.

For me, the thing about the Hall of the Sea, is not so much the fish I have seen in the sea -- they were interesting to me as a kid, cause I had never snorkeled or turtled, but the thing now is those deep sea creatures. The ones that live in pressure conditions that would make our skulls cave in and our lungs explode . . . those animals are BITCHIN’! They are straight from the paintings of Hieronymous Bosch, with their bulging eyes and armored bodies, right down to those dealies that protrude from their foreheads -- absolutely unearthyy and yet, they are closer to the center of the earth than we will ever ever ever be!

But I had wolves to find . . . and so I surfaced, with a bad case of the bends, and pushed further into the museum to find the Hall of Mammals by way of the Hall of the Peoples of the Americas, you know, the Indians, in which I had to satisfy one small quest for my friend Jarret who had called me on the phone while I was admiring live silk worms in the Silk Road exhibit -- its not often that you find a living animal in the Museum of Natural History, so when you do, its important to spend some time with it! So the conversation went something like this . . . "Hello?"

"Hey, its Jarret"

"Jarret, I'm in the city."

"Oh well, I was going to see if you wanted to meet at the Starbucks in Westport again today."

"I'm in the Museum of Natural History. I'm traveling the Silk Road for my mother. The camels are exquisite."

"Will you do me a favor?"

"Yes."

"Go to the Hall of Indians or whatever that hall is called."

"Yes, that hall with the totem poles."

"Yeah, you know. Look for the big dugout canoe with all the Northwestern Indians in it. Its the one J.D. Salinger talks about in Catcher in the Rye. Do you remember that part? When Holden is in the museum?"

"Yes, I do remember that."

"Well last time I was there with Max, I couldn't find that canoe with the Indians. See if you can find it."

"Kay."

"And then you need to go to Bleeker Street for Italian Ice. There's this place there that sells hazelnut Italian ice and its the best Italian Ice I have ever had. You have to try it."

"But, I'm going uptown with G. to her neighborhood, Inwood. I will have to do Bleeker Street for you another time."

"Oh well. Let me know if you find the Indians in the canoe."

So you see there I was in the Museum of Natural History looking for all these things . . . going to The City is like that. People like to give you assignments when you go to The City.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Sense Memory -- brought on by Coconut Oil

We used to go to the Health Food Store . . . nowadays, we have Whole Foods and independent organic markets like my own local Weaver Street Market and we take it for granted that we can buy healthier, non-corporate foods so easily. But back then, back in the 80s, that decade of free love and big bad hair and some not so bad music (think Talking Heads, Blondie, and The Clash), we had to go to the Health Food Store in Westport to procure something that made worshiping the sun that much more effective -- pure unfiltered coconut oil. Now you can schmear yourself with Tropic This and South of The Equator That containing essence of coconut oil, but if you truly want to fry yourself like a trout in a cast iron pan on the beach, you need to buy a mason jar of Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil. I remember sitting on Compo Beach in my bikini with the girl who taught me this ancient tanning secret -- a girl named Karen D. -- she was an artist, the grand-daughter of a man who illustrated for the Saturday Evening Post. She was buxom and zaftig and her cheek bones were high and her hair was dirty blond and her eyes were green and magical. She was earthy, maybe unearthly, and she knew the secret of unadulterated coconut oil. We were not the cool girls. We were not the popular girls. We were not cheerleaders or daughters of CEOs. We were born of townies! We were quiet and shy and awkward and slightly depressed but we were lovelier than we even knew, probably. We took that jar of coconut oil that practically smoked with its clarity in the hot summer sun on the shores of Compo and we soaked our shoulders and our bellies and thighs and shins and the smalls of our young backs in that stuff and then we forgot to set the timer and we fell asleep in the sun and when we woke to the coming evening, filled with the possibility of fake i.d.'s and strange boys brushing their rough faces against our soft necks, we were the color of something akin to the skin of a Brazil Nut. There was no burn, no redness, just a deep beautiful tawny hue. Our Yankee New England grandmothers were appalled with us when we returned home and murmured something about girls wearing hats and pale skin being considered more blue-blood, but we hurried down the hallways of our childhood homes and admired how white the whites of our eyes appeared and how green the green of our eyes appeared and we pulled back our long hair and marched out into the evening tinged with coconut and solar blessings.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

And Finally This . . . on Memoirs from Wikipedia:

In the eighteenth century, "scandalous memoirs", allegedly factual but largely invented, were written (mostly anonymously) by prostitutes or libertines: these were widely read in France for their vulgar details and gossip. In another vein, the rhetor Libanius framed his life memoir as one of his orations, not the public kind, but the literary kind that would be read aloud in the privacy of one's study. This kind of memoir refers to the idea in ancient Greece and Rome, that memoirs were like "memos," pieces of unfinished and unpublished writing which a writer might use as a memory aid to make a more finished document later on.

More on the Memoir . . .

The English novelist Anthony Powell said, "Memoirs can never be wholly true, since they cannot include every conceivable circumstance of what happened."

On Memoirs . . .

"Gore Vidal, in his own memoir Palimpsest, gave a personal definition: 'A memoir is how one remembers one's own life, while an autobiography is history, requiring research, dates, facts double-checked.' Its is more about what can be gleaned from a section of one's life than about the outcome of the life as a whole."

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Steamers . . . with Butter!

What I Did on My Summer Vacation . . . Or How I found the MerMan, Part Two

I had a dream a few days after I returned from my trip home -- I dreamed I was on Compo Beach with my friend K. and we were fishing. In fact, there were all sorts of people fishing. We were wading in the shallows of the Sound and there was a net that went the length of the shoreline, from the jetty that meets Compo Road all the way to the cannons (if you know Compo Beach, you know the cannons). The net was probably twenty feet off shore and we were not to fish beyond the net, we were only to take what was inside that net, but oh, the bountifulness of things we could choose from! There were crabs larger than my hands, and red snapper, and squid, and lobsters. There were ink blue mussels and oysters and clams of all sizes. K. and I filled our basket with a wonderful variety and then as though we were kids again, we walked back to her parents’ house that was not far from Compo and began to make the most beautiful meal of our catch.

The dream wasn’t complicated in its meaning at all -- it told me two things, one being that after two days back in North Carolina I was already starved for the seafood that I was spoiled with on my visit home and the other being that the tragedy of the Gulf had been heavy on my heart.

K. and I did spend a few hours sitting on Compo Beach during my visit. I had not sat on that beach for close to twenty years. It was and still is the town beach that is most popular and you can go there any day of the year and be taken with its views and its stretches of sand. The marina on the backside of the beach is filled with lovely sailboats and if you sit on the beach near the mouth of the marina, you can be lullabied to sleep in the sun by the ringing of sails, lines and pulleys as they gently touch their masts in the breeze off the Sound. The south-eastern stretch of beach is the land of cookouts -- there are ramparts of picnic tables and concrete fire pits. Go there on any summer night and you will find families or groups of friends and neighbors staking their claim to a table and a grill and as the sun sets and the stars blink on, the red coals glow and children play and the food keeps coming . . . hamburgers and steaks and corn from Wakeman’s farmstand. And then there are the clam bakes. There must be hundreds of us who grew up in Westport and who are now spread far and wide who hold the same memory of a night spent at a cookout on Compo. Of sitting on a beach blanket unaware of the amount of sand in your shoes, stuffing yourself silly on your second or third hamburger and gazing out at Cockenoe Island and wondering what the island was like at night time--were there night animals out there? And then the chill of the evening would come, and you would wrap yourself in a towel or a sweater and stand by the red glow of the grill taking in the little bit of heat it had to give and you yawned and yawned until someone scooped you up and poured you into the back of the car to go home and sleep and dream those summer dreams that kids dream, you know, the ones that always have a soundtrack of cicadas.

K. and I sat in beach chairs and we watched mommies with their little kids and a big group of teenage girls setting up their spot for the day, just like all the girls before them. They had their music and their blanket and their towels and their coolers and their cameras . . . we were like that once. The morning was brilliant and we could see all the way to Long Island -- there just wasn’t any haze. We talked about our lives, the kinds of things that two 45 year old lifelong friends talk about -- a couple of old blond philosophers us. And as we talked the sunburn set in. We lamented the gushing of oil into the Gulf and looked out on our old beach--the salt water that taught us to swim and gave us gifts that perhaps we are not even aware of to this day, and we winced at the thought of something so permanent and awful happening to it.

It was unthinkable on such a beautiful morning and then our attention was quickly redirected to a little girl, a tiny thing, standing at the edge of the water throwing pebbles. She was barely knee high and her blonde curls sent K. and I into a fit. This little girl was the image of K.’s youngest daughter who is in her early twenties now . . . it was little B. all over again. Cycles and cycles and cycles -- two blond philosophers on the beach, with so much to say and then nothing at all to say because that’s what the beach, especially a beach that is so full of personal history, can do to you. K.’s daughters arrived, "Auntie Shannon!" they hollered and we all giggled about nothing and then ate lunch from the snack bar, which is gourmet now, nothing like the grease pit it was when I was a teenager. Then at some point, a point when it was too late, we realized that we were sunburned beyond our wildest dreams of sunburn . . . two old professional sun worshipers had been HAD by the sun. It was time to fold up our chairs, go home and drown ourselves in aloe vera.

That evening we took our burned selves to Tarantino -- a little Italian restaurant that sits across from the Westport train station. It is without a doubt my most favorite place to eat in the world, yes, the whole world. K. and I ordered Risotto al Pescatore. Its not a thick cheesey risotto, no its something of heaven, and for two blond philosophers who have been burned beyond belief by something so silly as sun in Connecticut, it is just what the doctor ordered. Can a bowl of risotto in fish broth strewn with clams, sea scallops, whole violet tinged calamaris, and amber steamed mussels restore you? Completely . . . and if you add a glass or two of prosecco, then you are, well, invincible again. We sat in the window seat and the sun was just dropping somewhere beyond I95, and it was casting shadows on the train station and the last of the commuters coming from the city. Our waiter, a man who charmed me by filleting a fish table-side for me the previous year (who doesn’t want for their very own a man who can perfectly filet a fish and smile at you all at the same time?), well ANYway, he gazed out the window with us at the men carrying their messenger bags overstuffed with laptops and work that would probably keep them up half the night. Their ties were loosed and their sleeves were rolled up. Their suit jackets were thrown over one shoulder. The heat of the city was still on their brows and they walked as though every weight of the world was on their back. “Look at them, those men,” said our waiter, the head man of Tarantino, the master fileter of fish, who must be close to 60, maybe 70, “I see them leave here with the rise of the sun in the morning and then they return late, late, every night, on the last train some of them. They are miserable. What a miserable life. And what for? They never see their families. And then? Then they are dead.” and with that astonishing statement he refilled our glasses with prosecco.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

What I Did on My Summer Vacation . . . Or How I found the MerMan, Part One

Does two years in a row make a tradition? I’m gonna say yes. I went home last year after eight years gone . . . that’s eight years that I didn’t cross the Mason Dixon line and I considered never crossing it again, all because of my experience as an executor. If someone asks you to be their exectuor -- flat out refuse, don’t do it, no matter how much money they offer you (in my case it was practically no money at all), no matter how much you love that person, no matter if they tell you they have a good lawyer to assist you. Just walk away, and don’t look back. Because families, no matter how small or seemingly smart will fight over the bones and this will leave you, the executor, completely ravaged and disillusioned, so much so, that you will resolve to do things such as never cross the Mason Dixon line again to visit your hometown.

But eight years was long enough apparently, and friends called and offered me all sorts of tempting invitations involving beaches and pools and restaurants that served steamers with butter and I didn’t hesitate. I might have had one or two panic attacks on my way across Delaware bridge and under the Baltimore tunnel, but I pushed through and had one of the most amazing visits home I had ever had.

SO, why not do it again this year? I only had one panic attack, somewhere outside Dinwiddie, VA on I85 where the road is just one long corridor of white pine and scrub oak and beyond that are huge hay fields and its the last green stretch before you hit Petersburg and the tobacco laden air of Richmond and you are committed to the drive north--you’ve jettisoned home and now you’re all alone on the highway. So I stopped breathing properly for about thirty minutes and when this happens I just hope a deer doesn’t jump out in the road or some trucker doesn’t cut me off. But then I hit the 8 am crush of commuters in Richmond and voila, my lungs took over again and the Rolling Stones told me to shake my hips and get my ass to D.C. before lunch hour.

This year I only hit one traffic jam -- an hour long stop and go roll at the head of the Jersey Turnpike. And why? Because some old man decided to pull a robin’s egg blue double-wide that must have been 35 years old, stuffed with old clothes, with an equally ancient pickup truck that resembled the one my neighbors grow tomato plants in the back of, in fact, maybe it was my neighbor, but yes, this double-wide had old clothes coming out of every window and rust hole and the side door had swung open when the thing jackknifed and it revealed clothes packed into that trailer so tight that I marveled at how someone could have packed them in there without mechanical assistance -- it was like a rolling Goodwill dumpster. And then there was the poor woman who had been unfortunate enough to try to pass this Mess on Wheels right at the moment that he decided to light another Pall Mall and open another can of Old Milwaukee and he jack knifed her up against that lovely concrete median wall, her and her seemingly brand new pearlescent Porche SUV. So there she stood in her heels with her well maintained face melting into the hot pavement with a Jersey State Trooper and this old Man-Mess and I thought, God, has she got a story to tell the family tonight! And I could feel all the people in the cars around me saying, “THIS is why we’ve been going 3 mph for the last hour? Jeeezus!” And we all exchanged glances, cause you become friends with the people you’ve been stuck in traffic with for that long -- you read eachother’s bumper stickers and stick your tongue out at their kids who make faces at you and you wonder what the dog in the back is called and you think, god, he’s driven all the way from Oklahoma? Really? This morning?

But that’s the highway and then you put Dave Matthews on, real loud, and you fly across the Tappanzee Bridge and before you know it, your taking Exit 42 off the Merritt Parkway and you roll down the windows and a soft rain is falling and its cocktail hour in Westport and the temperature is a delightful 65 degrees and the air smells of salt water and this unidentifiable musky smell that you are going to smell all week and its so evocative of your childhood that it practically causes you to have a seizure, and you find yourself stopping and sticking your nose in various bushes while walking trying to find the source of the smell, but you can’t and you realize that passersby are eyeing you and you don’t care, cause you don’t live here anymore.

I've Said It Before . . .

and I am going to say it again:

"People are fucked up in their own beautiful way."

Monday, July 5, 2010

The MerMan of Burying Hill Beach

    There have been reports lately of a male swimmer appearing in the shallows of Burying Hill Beach during the early morning hours. He invites female passersby to swim with him. He shouts, “C’mon in! The water is lovely!” Many of the women are sullen and lonely wives who live in large, almost empty homes near the beach. Their husbands are too busy working to walk the beach with them. To some of the wives, the swimmer is dark, swarthy and strong shouldered. To others he is lithe and blonde, almost a boy of their youth. He appears in different forms and because of his changing description, the authorities have not been able to find him.
    When Theresa Ancona was arrested by the Greens Farms police for indecent exposure two years ago, she claimed that she undressed to go swimming and hung her clothes on a barnacle laden jetty nearby. She had every intention of dressing once again behind the shadows of the pilings before walking back home. But the tide went out and took her clothes with it. She further claimed she was drawn into the water by a middle-aged swimmer, an attractive man who called to her. The man that locals are now calling the MerMan of Burying Hill Beach. Theresa said the man disappeared before the authorities arrived, “He seemed to dissolve with the tide like a hermit crab burrowing into the wet sand.”
    Mrs. Ancona is not the first local housewife left stranded lately without clothing or logical explanation on the little stretch of beach that affords grand views of the Long Island Sound. The beach is much less frequented by out of town New Yorkers and much more frequented by those who live only a stroll or bicycle ride away. It sports no gourmet snack bar and some say it is haunted by the ghosts of town’s founding families; the Jennings and the Burrs. It is not a place to be seen, it is a place to commune with the salt waters. A place where one notices the inlet rushing out to the Sound and the trill of the red wing black birds back in the marshes. Grebes frequently fish in the inlet and their quick and spattering flight across the dark green waters is the only cacophony that disturbs the silence there. The distant ascending horn of the train pulling into the Greens Farms station is the only reminder that time is passing. But now the MerMan has changed everything.
    It was early June when India Shelby encountered the MerMan. There were no sightings of him for several months and many thought he moved on to different waters. The last report of him came from newly divorced Ruth Taylor. She was walking the beach on a cold February morning with her Irish Setter Helen when the swimmer appeared as only a head and neck in the water. The setter dove into the frigid waves and the swimmer began playing with the dog. Ruth called to Helen and then to the swimmer, “Aren’t you freezing?” He made no reply and instead somersaulted continuing the game with Helen the Setter, who was beside herself to have a playmate.  Ruth found herself transfixed by the antics of her dog and the swimmer. She laughed out loud for the first time since her divorce had been finalized. But Ruth's delight was quickly interrupted when the swimmer dove and his strong torso was replaced on the water’s surface by an emerald flipper—it slapped the water and a salty rain cascaded and arched to drench Ruth. The great green fin was gone and Helen the Setter ran up on the beach to shake herself dry, further soaking Ruth and leaving her shivering in the winter wind. Ruth looked at Helen and Helen the Setter beamed. The swimmer was gone.

    Ruth returned home to a hot bath and put bourbon in her coffee. She debated with herself. Was she insane? Perhaps the stress of her divorce had driven her mad. But then she recalled reading something in the paper last summer about her neighbor Theresa Ancona. She poured more bourbon in her coffee and picked up the phone, “Theresa? Theresa Ancona? Is that you?”
    “Yes, who is this?”
    “Theresa, I’m Ruth Taylor. We met at the yacht club some time ago, must have been two years ago, before my divorce. We promised to play tennis and never did. I live on Beachside Avenue, well, not for long, the house is on the market, but who knows when it will sell. You, you live on Sasco Hill don’t you?”
    “Yes, uh. Wait, Ruth, yes I remember you. I’m sorry about your . . . ”
    “Oh the divorce? Its nothing really, nothing. He met a girl on the train.”
    “Well, I’d love to play tennis with you, but its winter.”
    “Theresa! Oh dear, that’s not what I’m calling about. I’m calling about the swimmer. The man in the water on Burying Hill.”
    “Oh! I am going to hang up now. You understand, I can’t . . .”
    “Please! Please don’t hang up! I think I saw him this morning.”
    “You’re making fun of me. You must be. No one admits to seeing him. The other girls who were arrested . . . you know there are three of them. Three of them! They’ve all changed their stories now. They all say there was no swimmer, no man at all. They just went skinny dipping and got caught and they are so sorry. But I was stupid. I continued to tell the police that a man, a middle-aged man, but not built like any of the men we know around here, you know, he was well, you know, quite fit, and he invited me to go swimming and I just didn’t think it would do any harm . . . no harm at all, but I was so wrong, so so wrong.”
    “Theresa! I saw him this morning. My setter swam with him. He had a tail! A flipper I suppose. It was the color of seaweed! In fact, I thought it was seaweed, but he slapped the water and it went everywhere. I was soaked through my sweater and blue jeans, I was shivering with the cold and excitement and then he was gone. But he played with my dog. They swam together!”
    “Did you see his eyes?”
    “Yes! They were silver.”   
    “Oh Ruth. You have no idea what it means to me that you saw him. Will you tell the police? Will you?”
    “I don’t know Theresa.”
    “I beg of you Ruth. It won’t clear my name completely, but if people in town hear that someone else saw him, saw that he wasn’t a man at all, but a MerMan, then I might be able to go out in public again. My husband won’t speak to me anymore you know. He’s said five words to me since last September. And my sons just stare at me. They tell their friends I’m an alcoholic.”
    “Oh Theresa dear, but will they believe me?”
    “They just have to believe you.”
    Ruth reported her encounter with the swimmer to the Greens Farms police. But they just stared at her blankly when she asked them to make a record of her sighting. They told her no crime was committed. There was nothing wrong with a man swimming in February, except that he might catch cold, and if she and her dog were unharmed, then nothing really happened, “But he had a tail.” And to this they rolled their eyes and told her to go home before they asked her how much she’d been drinking that morning. Ruth turned on her heels and left the little police station. She felt she had let Theresa Ancona down. She thought about calling the newspaper, but then thought again. She decided to forget the whole thing.
    And yet Ruth’s report to the police took hold. The cops didn’t write it down, didn’t put her words in a file cabinet, and they didn’t discuss her story. They dismissed her story among themselves, but each one of them heard her and they furtively began to believe there was something to the stories about the MerMan. Were the women in town so lonely that they were hallucinating? The cops saw the husbands park their BMWs and their Porches and their Saabs in neat shiny rows at the train station every morning and off the men would ride into the city, where they sat in offices all day, trading stocks and buying futures, loosening their ties and glancing at their secretaries' lovely bottoms in skirts, but not for too long, only long enough so the sight of a pretty ass was like a brief cool breeze across one’s brow on a hot summer’s day, and as quickly as the breeze came, it dissipated and the heat of their work took over again. The men would return late from the city, sometimes on the 8:35 or the 9:42, drag themselves to their shiny cars and home to a dark house, where dinner was done, the children were out for a movie, and a wife who was wilted with wine. So the cops thought, why not? Why wouldn’t the women start conjuring up a MerMan? But none of them would admit their suspicions to their fellow officers, they just steeped quietly to themselves.
    India Shelby never read about Theresa Ancona in the newspaper and never heard the lightly scattered rumors crossing the lips of ladies who lunched. India was practically a tourist. This was her town years before. She was a little girl in this town. She became a woman in this town. She learned how to swim when she was tiny in the waters of the Sound. The bottoms of her feet had walked across the barnacled reach a thousand times to get to the soft coffee-colored sand where she played with seaweed and hermit crabs and swam to the distant buoys while the tide came in. She loved this water and the thought that it lead to Long Island, to the tip of Manhattan and out to the Atlantic. And even though she no longer lived with this water, she could summon it up in her head anytime she wanted . . . sleepless in bed in her southern home miles and miles from the sea she dove deep into the water of night and cast a spell upon her own memory. The green waters chilled the small of her back, the salt air filled her lungs, and in the moment before she drifted off to sleep again, her mind’s eye met the midday sun flashing off the beach stones making them glow in the shallows.
    India’s family was all gone from this town. Her great-grandfather once owned part of Burying Hill, but all that was gone, even the house he raised her grandmother in was gone. “The money went out with the tide,” her grandmother used to say. But India returned every year to touch the water again, to sit on the jetty and look out towards the smoke stacks on Long Island. To conjure up her past.
    India walked to Burying Hill on her last morning in town. She saved it for last like a sweet piece of cake. She was staying with a childhood friend who slept late every day. India woke at 5:30 am to the song of the one bird in the neighborhood. She was astonished by the quiet that had overtaken her town since she was little. All the perfect gardens and lawns maintained by neatly dressed crews of Mexicans were devoid of life. The chemicals that made every yard verdant had silenced the hissing of summer. There were practically no more birds—only a stray blue jay, a small gang of starlings perhaps, and then night would fall and India would wait for the crickets and the buzz of cicadas so deafening to her as a child, but nothing, nothing would come, just two or three singular flashes of fireflies and then the far off train’s low horn mourning the loss of its men at the station.
    Yet when she reached Burying Hill after walking strong for three miles from the front porch of her friend’s home, she found the nature she had been missing. Red wing blackbirds trilled and stood guard on the cat tails in the marsh and doves' voices like soft church bells rang. Dragon flies zipped low over the inlet catching light and then hovered militarily. The water was rushing in. The tide was coming in! It was early enough that the guard house was closed and only one or two cars parked at the head of the beach. People sat at the wheel with their cups of coffee staring out at the morning on the water. India took off her shoes and stepped onto the sand, she headed straight for the jetty and sat down. She closed her eyes and listened to the tide moving. She thought briefly about her husband, she wondered what he was doing, maybe he was still asleep. She wanted to miss him, but she didn’t at the moment. Twenty years gone and what came of it was a sort of numbness. India opened her eyes and saw the jetty steadily succumbing to the tide, so she decided to walk the shoreline with the morning sun, white as lightening in her eyes.
    There was no one on the beach and she noticed the cars were gone now. She was thrilled with her solitariness. She looked down at the shallows. The salty water moved across the worn stones and  India was pleased by the clearness of the Sound. It hadn’t always been that clear. She bent to pick up a yellow beach stone, the kind that are gold when wet, but dull and without any life at all when dry. As soon as she put her hand on the stone she heard a man’s voice. She looked up and out to the water and there, only a few feet away, where no one existed just a moment before, were the head and shoulders of a man. The sun beat from behind him, so his face was dark except for his eyes, which were silver like minnows. He rose an arm out of the water and called to her, “C’mon in! The water is lovely!”
    She stood up straight and ran her thumb over the wet stone she just picked up. She was embarrassed, because she was startled by the man’s request. How odd to have a stranger ask her to swim with him. It was so odd that it seemed as though she must be some sort of prude to think that it was out of the ordinary. She turned her head, as though there might be someone else standing on the beach behind her, a person that the swimmer knew. There must be someone else here that he is calling to, she thought. But there was no one. Only India stood on the beach. She gulped and ventured a word to him, “Oh it is lovely. And clear! I wish I had thought to wear my swimsuit! So . . . so oh well, what a shame. But thank you just the same!” She felt as though she had said too much, and then he called to her again. “I won’t look. Undress behind the jetty and sneak into the water. Really, I won’t look. You must come in. The water is so perfect. You don’t want to miss it. Seldom is it this lovely.”
    And India believed him. She believed the water was prettier than she had ever seen it, and it was silly of her to have left her swimsuit back at the house. But she wouldn’t dare swim naked with a stranger. No, regrets of missing the water were nothing compared to the regret she might feel about treading water with this man. But then, as though he heard her thoughts, he called to her again, “He won’t mind. He’d understand you know. We’re all getting old, the things you wouldn’t do years ago seem to make more sense, because the tide is going out.”

    “But the tide just came in.” She replied to the swimmer, knowing what he really meant. Her intention was to be dignified, not coy. Dignified women didn’t just crouch behind a jetty to strip and swim with a man they’d never met before. Or did they?
    India stopped thinking and just stared at the swimmer. He was treading water slightly closer to the jetty now. He called something else out to her. She couldn’t understand his words and she wanted to ask him what he said, but she didn’t. She walked to the jetty and looked at him once again, “You won’t look?”
    “I won’t look. I am a man of my word.”
    India stepped over the jetty, crouched down onto the broken muscle and oyster shells and peeled off her clothes. She arranged them in a pile and momentarily hoped the gulls wouldn’t carry them off. Then she peered over the jetty at the swimmer, “Okay, I’m coming in. Turn around, close your eyes now. You know—don’t look.” The swimmer dutifully turned his back to her as India took four steps across the barnacled slippery rocks. She felt the seaweed about her ankles as she lowered herself in the water. Two more steps and she was in that place where the sand is soft and if you dig your toes in just slightly you can feel the hermit crabs protest and pinch at you. She was in up to her neck now and the sun was glinting off the surface of the quiet water. The swimmer turned to face her and all she could see of him were his silver eyes and his terrifically strong neck that grew out of straight muscled shoulders. His collar bones protruded and were so square that he seemed to be like the mast of a sail boat. And then she looked at his face and he smiled and the sunlight went everywhere.    
    “What’s your name?” he asked her and she thought it was funny to be telling him her name at this point.
    “India . . . and your name?”
    “Smith.”
    “That’s your first name?” she looked away from him and out to the Sound where two people were paddling a red canoe toward the inlet.
    “Yes, is that odder than India?”
    “No, I guess not.”
    “Let’s go further out, you like to swim don’t you?” He was swimming backwards now and smiling at her. It was a terribly nice smile, it was slightly crooked and his jaw seemed to grind slightly to the right.
    “Yes, I love to swim. Let’s go to the buoys.”
    And so they began to swim. He was slightly ahead of her and she noticed that he swam quietly, his effort was economical, whereas she was having to work harder than him. She felt awkward and almost weak,  the tide’s still coming in, she thought.
    When they reached the buoys, they hung on to one and now they were very close to each other and India felt completely happy to be with Smith. She didn’t mind when he brushed his hand against her arm. It was a feeling that she had not felt for years. He was taking her somewhere, she didn’t know where, but she liked the feeling of being taken. “Do you want to dive?” he asked her.
    “I don’t know. What is there to see out here without a snorkel and mask?”
    “Oh! there’s so much! C’mon. Dive with me.”
    “But . . .”
    “I already looked.”
    “You didn’t!”
    “I did and so did you. I saw you. So its okay. We can dive together. It will be fun!”
    “But I didn’t look. I didn’t . . . ” At least she hadn’t thought she had . . . all she had see was his back and then the greenness of the water, the flashing emerald green.
    “Dive India, c’mon just dive.” and with those words Smith dove and India felt his hand tug on her ankle and she dove too and opened her eyes to find that she could see below the Sound perfectly well and there were fishes and a sunken wooden boat and rocks and Smith doing somersaults. She dove deeper and couldn’t take her eyes off of Smith. He was half man, half fish! He swam toward her and she found that she was no longer breathing and that it didn’t matter, she didn’t need to breathe. Smith hovered in front of her. She reached out and ran her hand down his chest, down his belly and then stopped just where his skin became scale—bright bluish green scale, like he was encased in jewels. She wanted to breathe, but Smith shook his head. He was reading her mind again. Smith took her hand and she went with him, they swam among the fishes for miles. At one point they surfaced and were surrounded by sailboats in a race . India could hear the spinnakers whipping in the wind and the voices of the sailors shouting orders to one another. “Can they see us Smith?”
    “I don’t think so. I watch them all the time. They never seem to notice me.”
    “I should probably go back now Smith, its getting late.”
    “But we haven’t . . . ”
    “Haven’t what?”
    “Oh nothing, you would think I was ridiculous for asking.”
    “How could I think you were ridiculous? I’ve spent all morning swimming with a MerMan, nothing is going to shock me now, or ever again for that matter.”
    “Of all the women who swam with me, you are the only one who ever came this far. All the others got to the buoys and said, that’s it Buster, I gotta split. But you, you dove with me. So I wanted to take you somewhere special to thank you.”
    “Where?”
    “The island.”
    “What island?”
    “Cockenoe Island, of course.”
    “I’ve never been!” India had always wanted to take a boat to Cockenoe, the island off Saugatuck, the island some people swam to, the island that seemed unreachable, but she never got the chance.
    “I know. So I can take you there today and we can have a picnic.”
    “A picnic? Smith, can you really have a picnic with me? I mean, can you even get out of the water?”
    “I’m full of surprises India.”
    “Yes, you are just one surprise after another Smith.”
    India followed Smith to Cockenoe and the sun stood still for them. Smith walked out of the water as a man and disappeared into a grove of trees. He told her to wait for him. She treaded water and watched an oil tanker slip across the distant horizon. Smith returned to the shore and called her out. “Are you hungry?” And she was, she was starving and there was Smith, in a t-shirt and shorts and holding a dress for her. He had a picnic basket too.
    “Smith?”
    “You doubted me didn’t you?”
    “I doubt no man with a tail.”
    “But I’m the only man you’ve met with a tail, right?”
    “Oh yes, the only one.”
    “So what was your question?”
    “Can I stay here a while?”
    “On Cockenoe?”
    “No . . . can I . . . ”
    “have a tail?”
    “Yes!”
    “No, I can’t give you a tail. I’m afraid I have to toss you back on land right about at sunset.”
    “Well, crap, cause I was kinda getting used to all this.”
    “Sorry.” Smith poured more wine in India’s cup.
    “Pass the fried chicken.”
    The following winter was long and grey and inhabited by one snow storm after another. India read of the storms, which made her glad she lived in the South and she passed the days content to wait until the milder days of summer to travel north again. Some nights though, she lay awake with the moonlight sifting through the window to light up her pillow and she could feel the MerMan curled up next to her. She thought of returning to the beach and hoped he’d  be waiting there for her. But she knew he wouldn’t be. He told her so when he tossed her back on land the previous summer.
    And meanwhile the MerMan had been strangely quiet. The Greens Farms police waited for another hysterical woman to show up on Burying Hill. Summer droned on without incident and fall came with the usual fanfare of color in the maple trees and it seemed as though the MerMan had never existed at all. But then Mrs. Pansy Chatham disappeared and the town was in an uproar again.
    Pansy Chatham was 89 years old. She grew up on Sasco Hill and her family spent summer days on Burying Hill Beach. Just like India, Pansy learned to swim in the Sound. Her husband was dead now and so was her sister Adelle. Pansy drove to Burying Hill every morning at 10 am. This was after she would go to the Greens Farms post office to pick up her mail from Box 82, the box she had held for sixty years, and before she would visit the Spic and Span market in nearby Southport, where she would buy one of their delicious frozen entrees for dinner, and then cross the street to say hello to Jerry at the pharmacy to buy a bottle of Johnny Walker Red if she were out of the stuff at home, which was often the case. While on the beach,  she would sit in her car for some time to watch the sun on the water and then she always got out to walk to the end of the beach and back again, carefully, with her cane. She felt visited by the spirits of Adelle and her father when she walked on Burying Hill. She found herself talking out loud to them at times and she didn’t care what other passersby might think.
    But on the morning she disappeared she wasn’t talking to Adelle or her father and there was snow on the beach, which Pansy thought was quite beautiful, especially where the snow met the salt water, the way the snow dropped into the green water and became part of the Sound. She was stood close to the jetty and tapped her cane on an oyster shell that a gull left on top of the snow and mused about the gulls. She wondered if the cold was really bothering them. And that’s when the swimmer appeared. Pansy was startled to see his bare shoulders, his dark square head, and his handsome smile in the water, ”Where the hell did you come from? You must be freezing.”   
    “C’mon in! The water is warmer than the air and just lovely!”
    “While I used to swim the Sound as early as March first and as late as November third when I was your age, I don’t think I’ll chance it today.”
    “I remember!”
    “Remember what?” Pansy pulled her cane back from the jetty and pushed it into the snow and sand.
    “I remember swimming with you.”
    “How could you? I’m old enough to be your grandmother.”
    “I’m older than you think.”
    “Listen, I’m not long for this world young man, but I haven’t completely lost my mind. You really should get out of that water and into a warm coat!”
    “I used to swim with you and Adelle.”
    This made Pansy stop and look at the swimmer. She took in a long cold breath and let it out again, and the steam seemed to freeze in front of her face. She heard the train pulling into the Greens Farms station, its the 10:25 she thought. “You knew Adelle?”
    “I swam with you both. Here and off Sasco Beach. You took me sailing with you too.”
    “I did no such thing. I only took one man sailing and that was my husband.”
    “Pansy.”
    “How do you know my name?”
    “Because you took me sailing with you.”
    “I told you I . . .”
    “Think Pansy, it was the twenty fifth of September, 1932 . . .”
    “Who are you?”
    “Smith!”
    “Smith? I don’t know any Smith . . . no, no I don’t.” Pansy shook her head and watched the swimmer somersault. She saw his tail emerge from the water and then disappear to be replaced by Smith’s head and shoulders once again. The sun began to move across the sky the way it does in the summer and the snow was retreating and retreating back to the sea wall. A gull was hovering over Pansy and Smith and then it dropped an oyster shell and by the time it hit the jetty and broke open, there were leaves on the trees along the coast and there was the faintest and sweetest smell of honeysuckle in the air. Pansy felt nauseous and deliriously happy all at the same time.
    “Pansy, c’mon in! The water is warmer and clearer than its been in the longest time.” Smith was swimming backward now and waving one tan arm to Pansy.
    Pansy looked down at herself and she was twenty-three once more. Her hands were taut, and her vision was such that she could see all the way to Long Island. She stepped in the shallows and the water was indeed warm, “Smith! Now I remember you! The one Adelle liked so much, the one with the tail!”

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Gorilla

i passed a gorilla
on the side of old route 1
somewhere between cheraw
(the birthplace of dizzy gillespie – says so in the hardees)
and mcbee

he had fiery red eyes
and horrible white teeth
and he was frozen there
with his fists clenched at his sides
his black breast heaved with angry air
he was surrounded by less intense characters
dog-sized elephants, sitting hippos, frogs the size of lawn mowers
a blaze orange horse of normal proportions
despite his preposterous hue
and a winsome giraffe that seemed to summon black birds
to her delicate head to perch

i did not stop to observe the gorilla
instead i pressed on the gas pedal with a bit more urgency
for fear that i might be tempted to load him up in the back of my truck
and bring him home to my garden
where he would frighten my dogs
and make the neighbors talk about me.

Walking in the Potato Patch

walking in the potato patch with jack dog
the fennel and the cut grass and the wildflowers are high
the bees hum in the sun
feral cat with beautiful eyes sits in an opening in the brush
the sun makes him a little god
jack dog can smell him, but he can’t see him
we continue through the pink bermudiana
and past the old horses that live in a tin shack
they look down at us through their scrubby fence
their pricked ears and old bright eyes,
jack dog spies them and then turns out into the rows of potatoes

dragon flies sweep the field and the little flowers
reach hard for the hot atlantic sun
we round the last corner and head for the house
tomorrow will be the same.