Saturday, August 7, 2010

What I Did on My Summer Vacation, The Final Installment -- I Find the MerMan

I was glad to return to Westport after 3 days and two nights in the City, which makes me extremely tired and overwhelmed. My friends who live there don’t understand what the City does to a girl like me, one who lives in the woods. The sensory overload is equivalent to a psychedelic trip for me . . . I can’t stop looking, looking at the people, the street vendors, the store fronts, the signs, the buildings, the occasional tree. This is what the inside of my head sounds like when I walk up the street in the city, “o ah those shoes, but wheee italian ice! coconut! that old man sitting under that awning that is blowing in the breeze, ahh there’s a breeze, in the city, and its so terribly hot, but the awning is gently flapping and it adorns that old man, his skin is so dark and he looks like Ibrahim Ferrer in Buena Vista Social Club, he’s smiling at me . . . oh, i would like to sit under the awning with him and speak Spanish, but I can’t speak Spanish! Oh ah there’s a taxi with its fender hanging off and its throwing sparks and it must be awful to be the woman who is riding in that taxi, where is she going? will she be in there for long? oh ah people, i don’t see this many people in a year at home, maybe ten years, oh ah sorry, excuse me, i have got to stop losing my balance, i am walking crooked . . . why? why can’t i keep straight, this coconut italian ice might be the closest thing to heaven in a paper cup ever, oh ah that building with the fire escape with someone’s t-shirts hanging on a line, all the t-shirts are blue, navy blue, some kind of uniform, his wife washed all his blue t-shirts, they are blowing in the city breeze that comes from the Hudson, is that where it comes from? or is it just the stirring of the air from the busses and ah oh, that’s a beautiful church with the shady tiny park, there’s something blowing down the sidewalk, what is that? its paper, ah oh um god, look at that lovely boy with the duffle bag over his shoulder, and his shins are bruised and he’s winding his way through all the people, their faces are serious, serious, they are going somewhere, he’s gone down the subway steps now, the boy, with laundry? in his duffle bag? Maybe he’s going to Connecticut to see his parents, oh screee it says screee the graffiti on that wall, good god look at all that garbage in that alley! oh a Walk Don’t Walk Walk Don’t Walk -- what street is this? where am I? Did I go too far? Yikes, oh um, they are playing handball! The dog is watching them, he looks so hot, he’s panting, but he’s with one of those handball players, I am sure he belongs to one of them, Summer Dresses 1/2 OFF oh they’re ugly or are they? Stop, don’t buy a dress, but maybe . . . no stop, don’t buy a dress! I’m thirsty, my tongue tastes likes coconut, my ears feel funny, I think I’m getting a blister, shit, I won’t be able to walk all day tomorrow if I get a blister, maybe if I put more weight on my right foot then the blister on my left foot will just go away . . . oh ah how does she get her hair to do that? LINGERIE XXX TOYS . . . that window! oh ah, the mannequin is hysterical! Who makes a mannequin with red hair wear something like that? DONT WALK but I should walk anyway because everyone else is walking and texting and talking on their phones or to themselves . . .

See? my brain just has to take in every bit of it, and now its two months later and I have forgotten everything I saw, except for my bicycle ride on the Hudson with Gretchen and her son . . . it was such a sunny Saturday and there were Dominicans EVERYwhere on the banks of the river, cooking and dancing and the air was a hazy mix of light bouncing off the river and the smoke of seared meat and if the air was colored with chili peppers and turmeric, I wouldn’t have been surprised in the least, and their was music coming from little stereos set up on picnic tables and it mixed with the voices of the crowds and the whir of speed boats that seemed too close to shore as they left a wake of white water and disappeared in the shadow on the GW Bridge. And it seemed like it was some fantastic holiday. But it was only Saturday. There were streamers and little Hispanic children in paper crowns because it was some Aunt or Uncle’s birthday and they were playing baseball in the grass and some of the men were wearing their club baseball shirts because they had played an early game in Inwood Park that morning, the park where Manny Ramirez cut his baseball teeth, and the women are wearing these bright dresses that are loose over their big bellies and their lovely round asses and their hair is tied neatly but a strand or two has come loose in the wind off the Hudson and they bend over to kiss a daughter. And they are all so happy to be out of their hot apartments and by the river watching the sailboats and the occasional rusty barge with the Cloisters behind them and the chalky cliffs in the distance barely visible because the green of summer is upon them. They are celebratory for no reason other than its Saturday. And I had such a hard time believing that I was there on my friend Gretchen’s neighbor’s bicycle . . . he never uses it, sure, let your friend use it! And I am zipping in and out of oncoming bicycles and watching Gretchen spin ahead of me and her son, all eight years of him, weaving his bicycle, because a boy of eight never wants to ride in a straight line, and we gasp when he almost hits two women walking, but he misses them and we shout to him, ”Stop weaving!“ but he can’t hear us over the music and the din of all those languages all around us. We pass a set of old tennis courts and they are packed with people not in tennis whites hitting balls and looking quite adept with their rackets and the dayglo tennis balls. And it struck me for just a moment that this bike ride was the bike ride to end all bike rides for me, it really was a dream that I was going to wake up from, sorry that it was over, but it was just Saturday on the bike path on the Hudson just north of the GW Bridge, that’s all, and when a man sped by me on his bicycle with a red milk crate strapped to the back occupied by a border terrier looking backwards at me, I was forced to giggle, yes, giggle, because that dog was in his element, and he took every curve and slight swing of his master’s bike as though he were in Calcutta, and perhaps that dog was reincarnated, he once had been a British soldier’s dog and he had killed mongoose and cobras.

On my last night in the city we picnicked in Inwood Park with all the families that lived nearby and Gretchen’s son was like the King of the boys in Lord of the Flies and they ran to the outer edges of the park and climbed the rock outcrops as we sat on blankets and drank wine and one of the mother’s talked on the subject of becoming a new stepmother and the other mother’s softly advised her and I remained quiet because I am not a mother and my stepmother was not an exemplary example to offer this young pale woman, so I watched an old couple eat ice cream while they sat on a bench so close to eachother that you thought they might have been sewn together. Our bucolic evening was shaken by the screaming of one of the boys though, he emerged from the deep green rock outcrops surrounded by the other children, and it was the fourteenth incident of the evening, there had been a fall from a tree earlier and a poke in the eye and the stealing of a stick and the punching of a boy in the face by a younger girl, but this was more serious, because the boy was not reporting back to us alone, he was practically being carried by the other children, and he yelled, over and over and over, like an old Jewish man not like a boy of seven, ”Oh my GOD, Oh my GOD, Oh my GOD!“ and he wouldn’t stop, he crumpled into his mother’s lap, the new stepmother in fact, and his words became muffled in the skirt of her lovely dress, but they were the same words over and over, but they were echoing in her belly, the belly he had come from, and then we saw what was causing his horrendous stress, he cupped his right hand into his left hand and the fourth finger, the right ring finger was bloodied and smashed to bits. I recognized that broken finger, because I broke the same finger only a few years ago and the sight of the boy’s broken digit sent an electric shock into my now crooked and slightly arthritic finger. I quickly looked for more wine. There was none. So I watched as the Inquisition began . . .

how did this happen?

D. smashed his finger with a rock!

On purpose?

Oh no, oh no! We were playing Archeology and we were smashing rocks like we always do and T. put his hand right under D.’s rock and BAM!

Is that true? did you see it happen too?

Yes, we were all there. D. didn’t do it on purpose, he was looking for crystals!

Oh my GOD! Oh my GOD! Oh my God!

D. its okay, we know you didn’t mean to hurt him.

When the inquisition was over, a phone call was made and we all sat there as the park was getting darker and darker and the old couple had gone home and they were replaced by four Dominicans that had been playing soccer in the little meadow earlier and now there were fireflies rising out of the dark grass and I wondered if the fireflies could hear the cries of the boy.

Minutes after the phone call was made I see an astounding figure striding into the park. He looked like Tarzan in a Hanes T-shirt and khaki cargo shorts. His thick black hair was flying behind him as though he were moving much faster than he actually was, he emanated some sort of light, like that of a satellite blinking on and off and on and off as it orbits, and he was headed straight for our little band of humbled children and distressed mothers, who were busying themselves with packing up the evenings’ picnic, neatly folding blankets and making sure that everyone went home with the tupperware that belonged to them and as Tarzan got closer I poked Gretchen’s husband in the arm and said, ”Who is THAT?“

”Oh that’s T.’s father.“ he replied

”What is up with him? Why does he look like that?“

”Oh, he was the star of Hair on Broadway last year. He just got back from doing the London production for, I dunno, six months, something like that. The New York Times called him “A Force of Nature.”

“I would say that is an understatement.”

And with that the Force of Nature scooped up the boy, who went silent in his arms, and they disappeared into the city in search of an emergency room.


So I returned to Connecticut and it seemed like the prairie compared to the City, and I shed my city clothes and put on a bathing suit and dove into the blue of my friend K.’s pool and drank wine as the sun once again put itself to bed and I wished for the sound of cicadas, but my hometown isn’t noisy with the creatures of summer nights anymore, but I didn’t care, I was glad to be floating in the water with thoughts of the Long Island Sound resting nearby.

That night I tucked myself into K.’s now grown little girls room and instead of throwing all the flowered pillows to one side, I put them all around me and I embraced them like a twelve year old girl might, a girl who was much more feminine than I was at twelve, because I had spent the last two nights sleeping in a little boy’s room in the City, a room with one window that looked out on the yellow brick building next door and a neighbor’s air conditioner upon which sat two pigeons. The boy’s room was filled with books by Roald Dahl and Matchbox cars and a fire engine and his bed was small and hard, but he had an orchid sitting in a pot in the window next to a green curtain, and that made me sleep well.

But on this first night back in Connecticut, which would be the night before my last day, the day before I would get into my truck and make the long wonderful thoughtful drive back to North Carolina, I had a dream:

I dreamed I was picnicking in Inwood Park and my friend Jarret came with his children Margo and Max, and Margo was wearing blue cat sunglasses. The actress Colleen Dewhurst, who played Annie Hall's mother, stood up and performed this odd combination of voice and breathing exercises and bad poetry. We could barely hear her. I kept walking closer to her and she would move away, and walk in determined circles, all while reciting powerfully. When she was finished, I sat with Jarret and he said, "She was awful...just words!" and I thought “just words are okay.” Then Jarret told me I should read Soljenitsin because I would discover that my voice was coming from the same place and I thought, “Really? My voice is Russian?”...I returned home to my childhood bedroom from the park and began rearranging it and then, I woke up.

On my last morning, I walked to Burying Hill Beach, while my host K. slept . . . she never emerges from her bedroom before nine or ten, unless she is lured by pancakes, but that’s another story, for another day. I had promised myself that I would make the long walk to the beach on my last day, so that I could take thoughts of the old beach, the beach my grandmother had grown up on and the beach she walked in the years before she died, home with me. Its one of the smaller beaches in town and it is pleasantly near the Greens Farms train station and accompanied by a good sized marsh that sings with red wing black birds and the whir of dragonflies. A few people were parked in their cars in the lot when I got there. They were drinking their coffee and watching the sun rise over the Sound. I imagined some would leave soon and catch the next train into the City, where they would toil all day.

I walked out to the jetty and I sat there for the longest time watching the tide come in. A red canoe was on the water to the south of me and it gently held two people who made me think of Pequot Indians transporting onions before the colonists came and built the churches and the stone walls. The tide began to gently rise over the jetty and I decided to climb down and walk up the beach. The cars had all left and I was virtually alone on the beach. I walked a straight line in that place where the water meets the sand, and let the water touch my heels. The sun was in my eyes and I regretted not having my sunglasses, so I cast my gaze downward and I found two perfect yellow beach rocks, the kind of rocks that when wet they are absolutely alive and luminescent and when dry, seem rather dull. I picked up both of the stones and decided I would take them home. I would keep one for myself, and the other would go to a friend, who would remember the quality of these rocks, who would appreciate a piece of the hometown he has been away from for so many years. As I straightened up I heard a man’s voice. I turned and looked out to the water, and the sun pierced my forehead sharply and when I was able to focus again, I saw a man waist-high in the shallows. His hair was dark and his bangs fell long and to one side, his chest was bare and brown with sun and as well defined as any Greek statue might be. I squinted and he shouted over the din of the salt water air to me, “Come in! The water is lovely!” Was he speaking to me? I turned around and scanned the beach. There was no one else. He was speaking to me. And the water was quite lovely. It was clear as a window and it was sweetly pawing at my toes. I stuttered. I didn’t know this man, yet he was inviting me to swim with him. I was in my khaki shorts and a t-shirt. and I suddenly wished I had brought my bathing suit . . . it was stupid of me to leave it back at the house . . . I wouldn’t make the same mistake again. But all this was going through my head and the man stood there in the water, mixing the waves with his hands like he was casting lines for sea monsters, and I managed to awkwardly answer him, I was embarrassed really, “Oh I am sure the water is terrific! You will have to swim for me though. Enjoy.” I think that’s what I said, something like that, and I turned and continued walking up the beach with my right foot in the water and my left foot on the damp sand, where it would sink slightly to the place where the hermit crabs burrow, and so your heel touches them and they prick you with their tiny claws. I turned my head back to see the man, my cheeks still flushed with some kind of embarrassment and wondering if I might turn to stone, and his top half had been replaced by his legs! He was doing a hand stand in the water and walking on his hands, and his knees were gently bending and flexing and the soles of his feet were reveling in the sun. And before he gently somersaulted back out and took a deep breath I headed up the stone beach wall and up the stairs that led to the changing rooms and back out toward Beachside Avenue.

That night I told K. and her daughter of my encounter with the Swimmer and they asked, “Was he cute?”

“Yeah, he was cute.”

“Why didn’t you go swimming with him?”

“I didn’t have my suit with me!”

“That’s no reason not to go swimming with him. You’re a skinny dipper from way back! You should have gone swimming with him!”

“But I didn’t know him. I didn’t know who he was. And besides, it was morning.”

“It was a beautiful morning! You should have gone swimming with him!”

And then it hit me, and I blurted it out across the dinner table to K. and her daughter, “You know what?”

“What?” They asked.

“He was a MerMan! That swimmer was a MerMan!”

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