April 14, 2013

Where was I ?


Too long at the fair? No, just asymmetrically supine in my hammock at fair River Park (not the lakeside
beach this time), between a pair of sprawling sea grape trees. When at rest, my body instinctively seeks
the tensioned serenity of the number four position, one leg bent, sole against knee, or tucked behind
it, the "Hanged Man" in Tarot. I was thinking, having set aside the magazine I was reading, of the pair
of eggs over easy I’d made for breakfast. What’s nicer than this? I’d wondered as fresh ground pepper
drifted down and speckled both eggs and the yolk-yellow plate. Isn’t it the little things in life that make
us happy, and stake claims in our memories? Some obscure and tender detail, too personal and
idiosyncratic to convey, or a quirky moment of lame humor that only the two of you could appreciate,
and that you always recall with a surging smile...

A peripheral disturbance caught my attention. A pair of young families, a busty lass and her poetic
friend or sister, a Don-Draper-in-weekend-togs and his jocky brother or in-law, plus a smattering of
mixed-race kids, had occupied the two abutted picnic tables next to my hammock while I was drifting
and dreaming. A grandfather or old uncle had set up, without my having noticed, a pair of folding
chairs by the river not five feet away and was presently speculating, in a deferentially hushed voice to
two boys, about something one of them had found, and held up for inspection in cupped hands, among
the mossy rocks.

It would have been easy to see this as an intrusion. I was practically surrounded, and the normal
boundaries of territorial propriety were crossed and occupied. But I took it instead as an act, if not of
hospitality exactly, of having been comfortably absorbed, totemically decorative hammock and what
my friend Mary once called my “aura of peace”, into their midst.

And there I remained, benevolently neglected, like a pennant at a picnic, a patron saint, or a pet. The
extended family was a tranquil bunch, imbued with the quiet civility of nice people. I went back to my
magazine. Sporadic laughter or some random picnic sound rose above the absorbent pastoral air that
readily muffled everything else. Laughter of assent. A laughter-broken phrase. The rise and fall of
anonymous burble, barely heard despite its proximity, and a pleasant assortment of gestures and
tableaux. Don Draper’s double stood shaking charcoal briquettes into the grill. Busty mom, in teal
green shorts, a black tank, and yellow hat, lotioned a patient but wincing girl. Children were allowed to
wander over, within a sensitive parental orbit, to test my interest (often given), but never my tolerance. 
At one point a little boy with curly chestnut hair and a cherubic face came over with a grilled and
deliciously glopped-up hot dog in a bun on a paper plate. I thanked him, and rummaged in my
backpack for one of the seashells I keep there for luck, or for just such an occasion, while he looked on,
holding the edge of the hammock, looking like he wanted very much to climb in. I handed him the shell
which he ran back, held out like a prize, to his mother, the one who looked like Joyce Carol Oates. She
smiled back. Uncle twinkled. They were now gathered at, and around, the tables strewn with food and
their mostly disposable accessories. After eating the frank, I drifted off. When I awoke, just shy of an
hour later according to my cell phone, the clan had decamped. A chill had crept off the river, from
which I was now sheltered by a blanket I had never seen before. I packed it away with my hammock,
its partner for the foreseeable future. As I backed the truck away from the clearing a pair of egrets
fluttered in for a late afternoon prance and peck along the river’s edge.

A blanket is a primary object. As is a sauté pan, a bicycle, a leather bag, a musical instrument if you
play one, a souvenir. We each have our set. The best of them enter our lives without effort, and never
leave our side until death, or some other loss, do us part. I had a beloved comforter once, decorated
with fancifully imagined galaxies, whizzing planets, stars, and stately enigmatic moons, in a royal blue
empyrean, that covered my bed on Staten Island. How delicious it was to snuggle in, under that night
sky, a universe tamed, on a cold night in New York. It was stolen at a public laundromat, while still
tumbling no doubt, in the dryer’s hot dark firmament: I had timed my return from the cafĂ© with time to
spare, or so I'd thought. Discovering it gone evoked, first, disbelief. Then outrage. And finally a
grudging appreciation: I’d have been tempted to steal it too. It was too enchanting to be safe. I had
planned on taking it with me on the train the following week, a comfort on the long, recliner-bound
coach class passage to Ann Arbor. A few days later I was walking up Broadway in the financial
district, from the ferry terminal, at rush hour. The streets were jammed. I looked down and there on the
sidewalk, apparently invisible to the madding crowd, was a one hundred-dollar bill. I picked it up,
shrouded in my invisibility cloak. Only one bland old man, who gave me a wry smile as he passed,
seemed to have noticed. I used the money to book a roomette on the train, and to order a sumptuous
breakfast in the diner car the next morning, eggs over easy, ham, home fries, buttered rye toast, and
coffee, as the train unhurriedly scanned Lake Erie, somewhere in Pennsylvania.




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