I have been staying in my father’s Naples apartment for a mere twenty-four hours and, when I walked in from my trip to the grocers, I felt as if I was walking through a war zone. The coffee maker looked like it had exploded coffee stains and grounds onto the kitchen counter, clothes were tossed on the floor and thrown over chairs. Piles of towels and dirty dishes. On the bed, in the sink. Even my nail polish remover was open and sitting in the middle the bathroom floor, with the cap next to it.
What was my nail polish remover doing in the middle of the bathroom floor? Why have I made such a mess and why am I such a slob? Neither of my parents was like this. Pondering this enigma in great depth, I could think of only one answer, which is this: being a slob saves time. Plain and simple.
When I drop whatever I'm doing/holding/wearing/using, and then quickly move on to the next thing, there are immediate time-saving benefits. Flowing from one task to another, without being interrupted by time-wasteful cleanup, I feel as if I'm getting hoards of projects completed with dazzling finesse. I know, I know. Someone's going to tell me that in the long-run, this is not so, that I am a short-term kind of gal, unable to visualize and plan for the future and incapable of seeing the big picture. Oh, well. Maybe that's true. That's okay for the time being, especially since it's late and I'm getting tired. My pj's are in a wad at the end of the bed, right where I can find them. The rest of it I can clean up tomorrow.
The beach―white sand dotted with tan bodies in bright colors. The man in green trunks and sunglasses walks closer, looking up toward my window, his hand casting a shadow over his face. Does he see me sitting here, I wonder, writing about him? People are meandering in small groups and pairs. Lots of hand-holding this morning, human chains of affection moving down the wet, packed sand, waves tickling toes, teasing. The beach stretches white and fine―sweet, like sugar, salty, like tears. The water-colors flow from a bright, translucent aqua to a deep turquoise blue, divided by foamy lines and white caps. When I go home, I'll miss this exquisite panorama spread before me, like a buffet delight; but mostly, I'll miss my sister. I hope she finds my camera.
I snapped awake and sat up in bed, flinging the covers off.
Where am I? Am I safe? I asked myself. Oh. I’m in Naples. Where are my glasses? What time is it? Where is my cell phone?
Outside, the voices arguing in Spanish got louder and louder. At one point, they sounded no more than ten feet from my open window that looked out onto the nearby beach.
Are they walking down the beach? Are they riding in a beach vehicle or a boat offshore?
I was afraid to draw back the curtain and peer out the window. My cell phone flickered through the dark, and I didn’t want to attract any attention.
On this beach trip, for the first time in twenty-three years, I had slept with my windows thrown wide open to the waves and the Gulf air. I assumed I would never be able to do that, and doing it felt terrific. And then, this.
I knew damned well this was some weird anomaly. Some haphazard group of men passing by at 5 in the morning, going home from the night shift or on their way to work, arguing among themselves, with no thought of me. They shouted over each other, and I knew that people who mean harm are quiet and sneaky. Silent. Plus, I knew how loudly the stiff Florida grass outside my window crunched beneath a person’s weight. No one had stepped onto the grass, so they were on the other side of our hedge, on the beach.
I knew all those things. The problem was that once, and all it takes is once, I woke up in the middle of the night to see a man standing at the foot of my bed, a man whose only purpose was to harm me. Once something like that happens, a line is crossed. Or is broken. The illusion of safety that holds us together snaps and, in healing, remains fragile, even twenty-three years later.
I’m sure it’s nothing, I told myself.
Those words fell, hollow and empty, so I tried again.
My bedroom door is locked. And the other door, separating me from the living room, is locked, and both the outside doors are locked, and I have a cell phone that can dial 911.
Not one word mattered. It also didn’t matter that years ago, I slept with a loaded gun under my pillow, my response to the man’s promise that he would return to hurt my children, if I called the police. It didn’t matter that I took a year of martial arts and learned how to completely incapacitate a 6’4” man weighing over 210 pounds. It didn’t matter that I slept with two 200-pound, male mastiffs scattered around my bed, making a live obstacle course that would give anyone pause.
Quite simply, I have lost the capacity to talk myself out of a good night’s fright. I can’t shake it off the way other people can.
Oh, it’s nothing. I wish I could return to that, I do. However, the nothing already happened, so its repeat remains forever possible. Rats!
All I can do is clutch my cell phone, sleep with my glasses on, and doze until the morning light. It happened at night, so once the sun comes up, I feel perfectly safe.
What an event, this complicated process of surviving a dark, spooky night. Is it any wonder I love my afternoon naps?
Since I’m working on my manuscript today, I won’t spend time writing about the lizard that jumped out of the toaster the first morning I was here. I had pulled the cover off and pulled the toaster out of the corner to plop my bread in, and screamed after a short-tailed, dark-brown monster flew into my face. So today, when I open drawers and cabinet doors, and root around in the backs of shelves, and pull the cover off the 50-year old toaster , I move tentatively, with both feet aimed toward the living room, ready to make a run for it at the slightest provocation. No, I’m not going to write about that. Instead, I will include a tidbit from my manuscript.
I never understood why Pearl was supposed to be poor and pitiful. She arrived one Christmas in a box with a see-through plastic window on the lid, and she wore a perfectly fine polka-dotted, navy blue dress with a zigzag hemline and a red kerchief tied over her sandy-brown hair. Packed with her was a fancy, pink dress over a stiff petticoat, white Mary-Janes and ankle socks edged in lace, which I ignored.
Her fancy clothes stayed in the box, which found its way to a top shelf in my closet and eventually vanished. I never saw the dress and accessories as beautiful, rich clothes compared to poor, pitiful rags, never saw the need to transform her out of herself. I saw dress-up, party clothes compared to play clothes. I knew she was more comfortable in her play clothes, so these she wore to tea. In fact, these she wore every day for everything.
The weather has been beautiful, and the Bahama Club filled with people, including my cousins and others I have known most of my life, and whose parents knew my parents, and so on, down the line. Their bustle and laughter has made my self-imposed writing isolation difficult, with the beach patio right outside my window. My last Naples excursion was marked by dark clouds, cold temperatures and very few people around, which was inspiring, if not downright broody. I sat here at my writing station overlooking the Gulf, typing away while daredevils on surfboards with para-sails, flew back and forth over waves and whitecaps up and down the foamy, gray horizon. It was amazing. Southwestern Floridians―in particular the young, athletic ones―really know how to make the best of a good, hard cold front.
My cousins left yesterday afternoon and the Bahama Club empties out today. Judging by the white hurricane shutters barricading porches and windows that are usually thrown wide open, I’m guessing the exodus occurred before I woke up. Aha! Loneliness and a gray day? Perfect. Please excuse me. With my last deadline a week away, I have some writing to do.
I saw, I arrived, I set up a writing station on the dining room table, and I didn’t leave it for five days. My MFA Writing Packet No. 2 was due whether I was on vacation or not. After attaching all 25 pages to an email, I pressed the SEND button, printed out the hard copy, took it to Fed Ex and snail-mailed it, just like I was supposed to. I zoomed back to dad's apartment, threw on a bathing suit and dashed out to the Gulf-side patio in time to be driven back inside by the late afternoon cool, which felt like fog even though it wasn’t.
The following day, which was supposed to be my last day of vacation, a cold front moved in. Next thing I knew, I was calling my father.
“Dad, would it be alright if I stayed an extra day?” I asked.
If the cold front moved out quickly, I’d get a whole day in the Florida sun with no deadlines hanging over my head.
“Why just one day?" he asked. "Stay for the weekend. Come home Sunday or Monday.”
I always mind my father, so I stayed. Today is my day to go home.
Of course, last night was the time change. I may be the only person alive who always forgets it, but this year I tricked myself into remembering by programming my cell phone, which knows important things like this without being told, to wake me up in plenty of time to do all the last minute things I forgot to do last night. Which it did and which I did. I left the apartment at 8:45 sharp, on time, and drove to the Ft. Myers airport to catch my flight back to Pittsburgh.
I must say, ten days in Florida is a gift from heaven above, even if half of those days were spent with my nose stuck to a computer screen. Back home, my mastiffs are waiting for me, the Pittsburgh freeze finally broke, at least for the moment, and I am returning to a hockey team that squeezed itself into a Stanley Cup playoff berth, which makes my upcoming tickets all the sweeter. So if I ever complain again about anything, anything at all, pay no attention to me whatsoever. For the time being, life is grand.
When I was sixteen, I was passionately insane about all I knew to be true, and I knew everything about everything. Why is it, that with over forty years of experience added to the mix, I now feel as if I know nothing? I am shrinking.
In the last two years, I have gone from almost 5'2" to 5'1/2". I used to be long-waisted with short, sturdy legs. Now sometimes I can barely catch my breath and my legs look decidedly longer, which isn't all bad.
At sixteen, my confidence in myself, in others, in the goodness of the universe was unshakable. I defended life to the max. Now I know that happy endings are elusive, injustice occurs regularly, and pain and suffering are running rampant in the world. My universal hope and optimism have shrunk down to my responsibility, not life's. It'll all work out fine is not the answer. What can I do to help? is the question. I shifted focus, which provides an ongoing challenge as I pursue my path hampered by my imperfections, peculiarities and shortsightedness, the same as everybody else, which causes us to bump into one another all the time. None of us follows a straight path through our lives. It would be nice, but none of us does. We are more like newly poured champagne bubbles bouncing around inside a glass, all heading for the same place to bust loose, but we're sort of a jumbled mess getting there.
I suppose this explains why I've grown smaller. How can I not be small if I'm comparing myself to a bubble, for God's sakes? Even so, there is that busting loose thing to look forward to, but I'm not so sure about that either. Oh, well.
When I arrived last night, it was dark, so I waited until this morning for my obligatory first snapshot out my grandmother's window. It's ridiculous how many photos of this scene I have on my laptop, but in my defense, it's different every time. Sometimes the sky is blue. Sometimes it's an early morning gray and peach spreading like slashes toward the water, sometimes it's an afternoon swirly steel with a storm moving toward me from the Gulf, or even better, rolling to a slow boil across the skyline in the distance, while it stays safely sunny over the apartment, which mostly happens in the summer, not this time of year.
It's 9 am and the beach is starting to wake up with people walking in long sleeves and jackets, so I know the air is crisp. I also know how the wind blowing in from the Gulf pushes against the skin, raising a sea of goose flesh that is more tickly than cold, but after shaking off the ice and snow of late winter back home, it feels good to brave the brief morning briskness that will evaporate in the sun. Everyone is ready for spring. The most determined of us wind up on a beach somewhere, like the one outside my window, demanding proof that there is warmth and kindness in the natural order of things. And there is. It's just that sometimes you have to go out looking for it.
Have a great weekend!
Things To Do Today
1. Go to a cookout.
2. Eat too much food.
3. Watch fireworks in a huge crowd on the beach.
4. Eat more food that is now filled with sand.
5. Sing patriotic songs.
6. Ooohh and aaahh endlessly, loudly and passionately.
7. Get soppy weepy.
8. Dodge electric sparklers in the hands of children racing through the crowd, avoiding their parents, who are in hot pursuit.
Have a happy Fourth of July and a fun, safe weekend.
Vacation. Usually I detach―reflect, ponder, meditate―and I emerge with intricate lists of changes, resolutions, switched priorities. But this vacation has been spent writing, rewriting, reading, icing and resting a back injury, meeting deadlines and making electronic submissions, and staying in touch with crises large and small back home and trying to absorb them. A betrayal here, a shock there, a death, a terminal illness much too close, hospice. It’s been life as usual, with its gains and losses, going a little heavy on the losses, but at least I've had the added benefit of a shoreline and pelicans and sandpipers and palm trees and waves and blue and bathing suits and dolphins and warmth and sand filled with shells and juicy, fresh fruit in the bottom drawer of the fridge that must be savored standing in the middle of the kitchen because I can't wait to walk all the way into the dining nook to take the first bite. As usual in mid-March, Naples is hopping with vacationers and tourists. I bump into them everywhere, red faced with their white straps etched into scarlet shoulders, hair tousled, new shades that hide their eyes, so I can't see where they're looking. On second thought, maybe it has been a real vacation. Just a different sort. Kind of uncomfortable and strange, but at least partly sunny. I think I might be glad to be heading home today. Naples vacation ending to a Pittsburgh spring beginning.
Good weekend to you.
The sun hasn’t come up yet and our stretch of glassy, gray Gulf needs its warmth to explode into opalescent blues and greens; but for now, it looks as inviting as the cold steel of a revolver. When the sun does decide to peek over the horizon, it will paint the tops of the palm trees coral and orange before it hits the water and warms it. The sky is a wash of charcoals, pinks and blues with a few wispy gray clouds trying to break off and quietly float away. They had better hurry before the pastels overtake them and swallow them whole. A man in a yellow shirt, tan shorts, white gym shoes and eggshell golf hat is sauntering down the beach, his eyes glued to the sand in front of his feet, missing the glorious display of seashore-morning unfolding around him. An old woman, arms swinging, and an old man, feet shuffling, are moving up the beach, with her leading the way. Once they are closer to my window, I can see that he cannot keep up, but she cannot wait. I resist the urge to run out and join them. “Go on at your own pace,” I would say to her, shooing her away. “I’ll walk with him.” While she exercises her newfound freedom and hurries down the beach, taking deep, cleansing breaths and looking out for dolphins lazing by and swiping at the schools of small fish they slice through, he and I could peck through the sand for coquinas, who present themselves in infinite patterns in infinite color combinations. I like the plaid ones best.
Every time I come to Naples, on waking to my first beach morning, I raise the blinds, position my favorite chair in just the right spot, make sure I have a paper towel on the ledge, a makeshift coaster for my morning coffee, and take the same picture. I must have at least two dozen of these saved on my computer, going back to when I first started using digital, 2002. It’s my favorite view of the Gulf and it doesn't matter that the shot is taken through a thick, salty, hurricane-proof glass window that sometimes is decorated with lizards or snails, and always has shade slats reflected in it somewhere. Some things never change and that isn’t always bad.
Today is my fourth morning here and it’s a cloudy one, which I love. The sky is the ultimate drama queen, with the grays hovering inside purples, pinks and blues in streaks and balls, which threaten to stew and broil above the water-line, and all of it sweeps across the sky before disappearing beyond my window, exiting stage right. I can tell the temperature by watching the people who walk by, sometimes alone, sometimes in groups. Today there are no sleeveless shirts. Mostly long sleeves and jackets (except for the joggers, who wear practically nothing, for reasons that are inherently obvious); so I know, without having to open the sliding kitchen door or going outside, that the temperature is in the low-to-mid-60’s and feels cooler because of the coastal breezes that play up and down the shoreline.
The sun is not scheduled to appear today, so it will be a good writing day, a good reading day, a good movie day. Whatever, I say. It’s still a change from the cold and ice of Pittsburgh, and a reprieve from my daily routine, an opportunity to stand at a distance and come up with a new perspective or insight. Hasn't happened yet, so I think I'm ready for my second cup of coffee.
What quality of work can I crank out, when the control key on my laptop thinks it's depressed? Not the kind of depressed you can fix with a paxil or a zoloft, but the kind of depressed that requires a good computer technician and probably a new keyboard. When I tried to correct this problem myself, I ended up dropping and losing one of the tiny plastic pieces that fits into another tiny plastic piece, both of which are meant to be snapped together and held into position by itty, bitty metal hooks, hidden underneath the black key that has CTRL printed on it in white letters, which is also missing at the moment, and which I probably should never have flipped off in the first place. Not the kind of flipping off that involves the middle finger, which probably would have worked out better, but the kind of flipping off that actually flicked the piece away, into the air, and then down, somewhere into the plush fibers of the carpet. So, what's been happening for the last couple of days, with the exception of brief moments such as these, is that when I type an "n", my computer opens a new page. When I type an "f", the search box appears. When I type an "a", all the text is selected. When I type an "o", it asks me what file I wish to open. The fact that I have typed this far without something weird happening is a miracle, and I've got to publish this blog quickly, without proper editing, or clever formatting or a funny picture, before my keyboard changes its mind about cooperating, and booby traps me again.
So, Happy New Year from Louise Yeiser at Sneak Peeks, and may you live through 2008 without these sorts of control issues that could make you want to flip off your computer and consume large quantities of anti-depressants.
fishing, er beaching. At any rate, I'm gone. Off to Naples today. Florida, not Italy. I'm leaving my sweet puppies behind with a reliable house-sitter and helpful son―but how, oh, how, can I leave them for a whole week? By keeping myself busy with Christmas thank you notes and pieces to write for end-of-the-year deadlines. Sun to soak up, trashy novels to read, and shopping sprees to indulge in. Best friend Caroline to spend hours with, laughing at absolutely nothing. Once, when we were alone in her house at night, the energy between us (or something) had stuff falling off her shelves, until finally an entire bathroom shelf simply crashed down from the wall, spilling itself and its contents into her tub with a wallop that sent me flying from my seat on the living room couch. I watched her walk past a sliding glass door, when a bicycle on her back porch fell over, creating a domino effect that took out several giant candle-holder stands, with crashes and bangs, and I finally hit my freak-out limit and couldn't get out of there fast enough. This year, I'll make sure her daughter or someone is around, when we visit together at night in her house. Or maybe I'll just drag her off to a nearby beach sports bar to watch football and ice hockey, avoiding her house altogether. Regardless, after a week in Naples, I will return to Pittsburgh, refreshed and ready for a new year. Hopefully. In the meantime, I'm simply gone.
I just reviewed my New Year’s resolutions from last year (please click here before reading further), and was surprised to learn that the only one I remembered and spent any time on, was the one about imperfection; although I somehow managed to avoid jets that blew out their engines in mid-flight for the rest of the year, and I did indeed start taking yoga classes. 2006 was packed with opportunities for imperfection, and here are two of the main points I picked up along the way.
1. When you strive for perfection, you are stuck with only one standard: the perfect ideal.
2. When you strive for imperfection, you are liberated into an enormous realm of possibility, such as It’ll Have To Do For Now, Not Great, So-so, Marginally Acceptable, Acceptable, Adequate, Good Enough, Good, Great, Terrific, Excellent, Almost Perfect, and Wow! And there are endless levels of acceptability within these categories. Freedom, sweet freedom.
Hear ye! Hear ye! In 2007, I resolve to spend more time and attention seeking and cultivating healthy relationships―relationships that are mutually supportive. As a writer, student, volunteer, and service worker, I sometimes feel that I am merely bouncing back and forth from computer to due date to appointment to activity to meeting, and I would like to spend more time entertaining, cooking, relating to folks one-on-one, and going out to dinner. And I wouldn’t mind breakfasts, coffees, brunches, lunches and dances either. Dates would be nice, but they're going to have to involve new patterns with a new type of man. When I figure out what that means, I'll let you know.
At this point, I find it necessary to write about the telephone, an important accessory to the above resolution. I harbor a natural animosity towards it, since it tends to interrupt me when I’m busy doing something else; but I must recognize its usefulness in allowing me to actually converse with my fellows; and so, I promise that in the new year, I will curb my hostility towards it when it rings and/or chirps, and will spend more time picking it up to speak to whomever is on the other end. However, I still reserve the right to hang up rudely on telemarketers.
With that said,
Best wishes in 2007 from Louise Yeiser of Sneak Peeks
fishing, er beaching? At any rate, I'm gone. While there, I've been under deadline for a literary contest and have rewritten a piece on which I have already spent a year. And it could still use some more work; however, I've simply run out of time. After I deliver it to the post office for its pre-Dec. 31 postmark, I will be driving to Sarasota to visit my sister. Will be back, new and improved. Refreshed and ready for a new year. Hopefully. In the meantime, I'm simply gone.
“Write!” demanded my inner voice. Today it was playing the role of tormentor. “It’s 8:00 in the morning and the day’s half gone!” I groaned and turned over in bed. “Either get up and write, or get out to the beach and enjoy the day before it gets too hot!” it yelled, waving its arms and stomping its feet.
“Stop it,” I said, rubbing my eyes. “I’ll never listen to you if you’re going to be so damned nasty. And loud.”
“Well, I'm here whether you listen or not,” it said.
I groaned again and threw off the covers.
A half hour later, I was sitting slightly on the beach and slightly in the Gulf, with small waves teasing my toes and covering my calves, writing in my notebook, while a holiday fishing expedition was being carried on around me. Two men practically stepped over me as their sea-minnows swam nearby on hooks at the ends of nylon lines. Their children swished through the water further down the beach, toting nets and buckets.
“Good morning,” I said to the men.
“Good morning,” they said back.
“Well, exccuuuuse me for being in your way,” my tormentor scowled at their backs. Then it turned on me. “You are nothing but a people-pleaser, letting them step over you like that! They could have hurt you!”
But I had turned my attention to other things, noticing movement bustling around me. A bright blue motor boat whirred by, towing a child in an orange life-vest, slumped over a pair of kelly green skis that slapped through the boat’s wake. A bald man and a woman in a yellow bathing cap swam and bobbed in the warm water on the other side of the rocks to my left. They were talking so softly that I couldn't discern their words, with their faces close together, glancing up from time to time to gaze out into the distance. Looking the other way, I saw that the fishermen were gone, having taken their buckets, nets, and children with them.
I guess I really did want to enjoy the Gulf after all. I just wanted to do it by myself, alone with my writing and the local color happening around me, without interference from that wicked voice.
May your Fourth be filled with personal victories!
A ship sails and I stand watching
till she fades on the horizon,
and someone at my side
says, “She is gone”.
Gone where? Gone from my sight,
that is all; she is just as
large as when I saw her. . .
the diminished size and total
loss of sight is in me, not in her,
and just at the moment
when someone at my side
says “she is gone”, there are others
who are watching her coming,
and other voices take up the glad shout,
“there she comes!” . . . and that is dying.
by Bishop Charles Henry Brent
“Welcome to Naples,” I thought to myself, as I carefully stepped around the dried, upturned carcasses of several 2” long cockroaches. On the desk, I found a note that read, “Your residence was serviced today by Bugs-R-Us. Tech: Alex.”
"No kidding. Really?” I thought, heading for the utility closet for a broom and a dustpan. More dead cockroaches. The jarring crunch beneath my foot told me that I had missed one, or scored a direct hit, depending on your point of view. I found the sound rather comforting, since it emphasized the unmistakable, undeniable fact that they were indeed dead. I like them much better that way. They’re so much easier to manage.
It was deep twilight, and I had arrived at my dad’s Naples apartment, to find it filled with motionless reminders that life is life, whether I’m on vacation or not. After I removed the bodies, scattering them into the salty wind over the stiff grass outside the front door, I wandered back inside and headed toward the kitchen to see if I needed any groceries for the morning, hoping that I could spend the rest of the evening in. It was at that moment that I saw them. Droppings. Dark brown, with one pointed end. Larger than roach droppings, larger than mouse droppings. I moved closer to examine the evidence. There were no mice in Southwest Florida. A rat? Oh, God. A rat? With a paper towel, I knocked the debris to the floor and cleaned the counter with 409 before I checked inside the fridge. There was plenty of coffee and creamer, but I didn't want to set up the coffemaker the way I usually did before bed, preferring to retreat from the kitchen altogether. I didn’t want to get trapped with an unknown entity inside the narrow space, hemmed in by appliances and yellow, wooden cabinets. As long as it was nighttime, any clandestine lurker could claim the entire room as its rightful domain with no argument from me. None whatsoever.
I unpacked both my suitcases and organized my week’s worth of this and that, even though I was nervous about opening doors and drawers, throwing the room’s lamp light into dark, quiet corners. I wasn’t sure what would fly out at me, or sit like a lump, blinking, startled, before scrambling frantically away. “They’re dead,” I reminded myself, as I hung my belt on the hook inside the bedroom closet. “They’re all dead.” But I was thinking about the larger droppings, which made their tidy trail across the kitchen counter, before falling off the edge onto the floor and vanishing into the wall. “Does bug spray kill rats too?” I wondered, folding my favorite Danskin cotton shorts and tucking them into the second bureau drawer. God, I hoped so.
I slept with the lights on, and was thrilled to wake up to daylight pouring into the apartment. “The apartment is mine,” I gloated, leaping happily out of bed, going straight for the kitchen, to pour water into the coffee carafe. “Let the coffee brewing begin!” A quick inspection produced no more telltale tracks, droppings, bodies, or attempts by the universe to convince me that this was a vacation gone terribly awry.
So here I am. On vacation. A 4th of July week-long escape to an empty, still, very hot Naples, Florida. Whatever happens, happens. Whatever I find, I find. I intend to enjoy my vacation, roaches, rats, and all.
1. I have been too busy to add anything new to my blog for a while now. I didn’t even submit 5 pieces of writing to 5 different places, like I promised myself I would do in my 2006 New Year’s resolutions (see no. 3 here). I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions, and this is exactly why.
2. Perhaps you are wondering what I’m doing here in Naples on vacation, that has my time so completely booked. Well, I have been busy walking, cruising the beach for shells, following dolphins trying to catch the perfect photo, sunbathing, shopping the 5th Avenue Shops, attending a fundraiser at the Palm Beach house of The Trumpster, finding just the right shoes at my favorite Marshall’s on 41 at Mooring Line Drive, going out to dinner with my son, Nicholas, visiting with Caroline and her son, Nicholas, collecting stories for A Good Look at Mastiffs, and going to morning yoga classes at the Naples Beach Club.
3. Today is my last day and I can hardly wait to get out to the beach, followed by my hardly being able to wait to get home. Apparently, my bedroom has been painted a soft peach color, my favorite pictures and paintings have been hung on walls, and the living room, the only formal room in the house, has been installed with carpet, furnishings, and wall hangings, all of which sat in storage over the last year. Mostly, I can hardly wait to see Winston, my mastiff shaman, who knows my moods enough to either encourage them or coax me into new spaces.
4. I only have 3 more hours of this glorious day left, before I must get busy to pack and leave, so I must hop to it.
5. Happy day, happy week, and happy early spring from sunny Naples, FL!
I have always loved this closet. You never know what you're going to find in there, lots of this's and that's which tell four generations of stories. A fold-up playpen shoved to the side, a pair of size 2 jeans that doesn't belong to anyone, my grandmother's terry cloth robe from at least 30 years ago that we just can't throw away, sandy gym shoes, faded loafers with the toes curled up, soft, worn, cotton blankets, and a hodgepodge of sun hats, baskets, and totes. But a formal gown? That's a new one on me.
I'm off to Palm Beach for a gala whoopdee do, not exactly one of my normal, everyday activities. I think I lost a couple of pounds because my dress seems to fit more loosely than it did in Pittsburgh. This is scary because in order for it to stay up, it has to be nice and tight. I can just imagine myself, trying to look elegent while at the same time tugging at my bodice and fidgeting with the neckline or bustline or whatever line that top line is. After my "spa" pedicure yesterday, I smeared the inside of my shiny, satiny heels with mineral oil to soften the straps, in the hopes that by doing so, I have made them more comfortable without ruining them (the jury's still out on this one). And I will be armed with a beaded bag that is large enough for a camera and my reading glasses, which naturally I cannot wear on the top of my head, like I usually do. The glasses, not the camera. Anyway, I feel very smug about all my well-thought-out prep work. Sometimes I really can think of everything. Or else I haven't discovered what I forgot. Oops. Maybe I'm not feeling so smug after all.
Day 1 was spent feeling completely wasted. For some reason, I woke up yesterday morning, and spent the entire day wanting nothing more than to soak in the bathtub. For the entire day! What was that all about? What in the world have I been doing that made me feel so tired and sore? My legs, arms, and hands ached all day. I blame it on middle age, which I’m beginning to think is a total bummer.
I have put all my writing effort this morning into my other webpage, A Good Look at Mastiffs. Stories are coming in that aren’t up yet. Unbelievable stories. Like the one about the mastiff who pushed his owner out of the way of a falling branch. Like another, who, when his owner was being attacked by a man in broad daylight, broke the door of his house to run outside, knock the man down, and attempt to pin him, leaving him unharmed until the police arrived. And another where the owner had a spell of vertigo in her bed, so her mastiff dragged her all the way across the floor to the phone, so she could dial 911. The stories go on and on. And they’re incredible! I can’t get them on my blog fast enough. I have become quite the pest, bugging my story providers with emails asking for AKC registered names, parents, dates of life, and pictures. So much information, so little time.
The beach is beckoning me, as it always does, and since I feel like my old (that is the operative word, isn’t it?) self again, I can hardly wait to get out there.
That’s where I’ll be if anybody wants me.
"Why do you want to do that?"
“Not you, Weasie. Hadley.”
“Where are you located and how do I find you?”
“Nicholas, come back here!”
"We’re on Gulfshore Blvd. North, near the Naples Beach Club.”
“Not you, Caroline. Nicholas.”
“Oh, that’s just my mom. So. How you doing?”
Caroline was on the phone with me, trying to negotiate dinner plans, Nicholas was on his cell phone ordering pick-up pizza and flirting with the young lady on the other end, whom he later told us was very cute, Hadley, Caroline’s daughter, was standing next to Caroline, asking for a ride to somewhere that had nothing to do with any of us, and Jeffrey was in the living room, holding his sides, rocking back and forth, and laughing. Oddly enough, this is how we are when we get together every year on spring break; we can barely figure out what anybody’s talking about.
An hour later, the five of us were sitting on chairs and sprawled on the floor around the living room coffee table, munching on pepperoni pizzas with extra cheese.
"With all the smoking breaks you guys need to take, I don’t know why you don’t just squeeze the juice out of cigarettes and shoot up like proper addicts.”
“Mom, where do you get these ideas?”
"Yeah. Tourniquets, tapping the vein....”
“Why stop there? They could suck on grasshoppers.”
"How did you get from shooting up tobacco juice to sucking on grasshoppers?”
“When I was in Ecuador last summer, I ate live ants.”
“Well, grasshoppers spit juice.”
"I have new boots that are Juicy.”
“Maybe they’ll go for the big-time: llama juice.”
“Actually, they tasted like lemon drops.”
"Who said anything about llamas?”
“When I was in Ecuador last summer, my hosts bred llamas.”
“No, really. Juicy Couture.”
“Oh. I thought you were talking about the ‘Fresh Produce’ line.”
“Mom, you’re a juicy fruit, for sure.”
“You want to breed with a llama? God, what a pervert.”
Once the pizzas were gone, we lit into the ice cream stashed away in the freezer, hidden behind bags of frozen peas and Brothers gourmet ground coffee.
“You’ve heard of cow-tipping. Well, Nicholas does mastiff tipping.”
"I tip 20% unless the service is mediocre, and then they only get 15.”
“Oh, good Lord.”
“Usually, all I have to do is barely touch Max and Sophie, and down they go.”
“If it’s really rotten, they only get 10.”
“Winston refuses to go down. It's like, he gets the game.”
“Did you know that when you tip cows, they die?
“I have to pick each one of his paws off the ground and flip him over. And he weighs over 150 pounds.”
“Have you ever stiffed someone?”
“Yeah, but once the cows hit the ground, they die of heart attacks.”
“Honey, Winston is getting kind of old. You shouldn’t play that game with him anymore.”
“They don’t really die, do they? How mean!”
“No, Jeffrey, Winston is fine.”
“Well, they were going to die anyway."
"When I was in Ecuador last summer, I bought a shrunken head.”
"Well, so are you, but that doesn't mean it's okay to kill you."
“Oh, my God. A real one? Where was the rest of it? Or him. Her?”
“Well, they were going to die anyway.”
And so it goes. All I can say this―it’s great being around people who truly understand me.
Naples has a therapeutic effect on me. How could it not, with the Gulf right outside my window?
In past visits, I have done some of my best writing from this very window where I sit now, watching the sky change colors and brighten, with the boys sleeping behind a closed door in the next room (quiet for a blessed change), coffee in hand flavored with my favorite hazelnut creamer, and feeling peaceful, with Christmas behind me, and walks on the beach, visits with Caroline, and warm weather in front of me.
Hopefully, I can tap back into that good-writing place. I feel like I haven't done any real writing since a week or so before Christmas. I am anxious to get back into the groove where the written word consumes me, fascinates me, carries me, and inspires me. Christmas, which I now think of as "The Season of Stuff", seems to have snuffed out my passionate love affair with writing. I miss it terribly.
It is difficult for me to sit here and continue, with the sound of the waves rattling the glass in the window from where I watch, and breaking in foamy bubbles of white along the beach. The pelicans are out in formation as usual, looking awkward as they flap and dart their way across the sky. There are bulky pink and gray clouds moving out over the Gulf, but pastel to bright blues spreading themselves thin behind me. I know the air is warm and sweet. I feel torn. Do I write or go? Write or go?
I think I'll go.
"My grandmother on my shoulder is upset. She doesn't want me to write these things. She believes the course of wisdom in a woman's life is to keep silent about all the truth she knows. It is dangerous, she has learned, to parade intimate knowledge. The clever woman smiles and keeps mum. My problem is that books don't get written that way. Especially not books containing the truth.
So we come back, inevitably, to the problem of women writing the truth. We must write the truth in order to validate our own feelings. Dictators burn books because they know that books help people claim their feelings and that people who claim their feelings are harder to crush."
We stopped packing yesterday long enough to take this shot. I am so grateful for the friendship of this wonderful young man.
My little camera captured one of those last happy minutes before the leaving, the separating, the driving away from an interval of time that we spent filling with new memories. I was sick during most of this trip and we had fun anyway. Our family usually finds a way around stuff like that. And good for us!
I was glad that Ginny had come over for one last goodbye visit before I was to begin my long trek back to Pittsburgh. When she knocked on the door, I was in the process of cleaning the apartment, packing my things and bugging Jeffrey (my son) to do the same; but he merely smiled sweetly at me, and continued reading his book. I was more than happy to take a break and talk with a friend.
Ginny and I made ourselves comfortable in the living room. She sat cross legged in the wraparound chair, wearing blue jeans, a yellow sleeveless, button-down shirt, a solid gold chain around her neck, no make up and dusty-looking docksiders. Deeply tanned and relaxed after a morning of horseback riding, she was the picture of good health and joie de vie.
After our obligatory 20 minutes of talking about the men in our lives―who had called, who hadn’t, what it meant, how we should feel about it and what we were going to do or not do about it―I told her that she had been a main character in one of my blogs.
“I made up this little story about an imaginary scene that never took place, about an imaginary conversation that we never had, and put it on my blog the other day.” I waited to see her reaction.
“Really?” she said, eyebrows raised, leaning forward in her chair just a bit, tucking her hair behind her ear with one hand.
“Yes, and you know, in it, you were really quite insensitive to the fact that I had been feeling dizzy last week.”
The smile vanished from her mouth, replaced by a look of surprise.
I continued, “Yes, and everyone on the internet who reads my blogs knows that you were insensitive and that you made fun of me when I tried to talk to you.”
Not only did she not laugh, but she looked horrified.
“Weasie, I never meant to be insensitive; you’re one of my closest friends.”
She had uncrossed her legs, put both feet squarely on the ground and was learning forward, elbows on her knees, staring at me, wide eyed.
“Ginny, I was just kidding! The conversation was made up! The whole thing was imaginary. I’m teasing you!”
She began to look doubtful.
“Seriously. You were never, ever insensitive to me. I made up a story. I made up a conversation between friends. Yours was the name I pulled out of the air. You’ve always been terrific!”
She began to look relieved and started to relax back into her chair.
“I do that a lot, Ginny. I’m often inspired by a real person and once I have the idea, I just go with it, make things up. Almost all the stuff I write is fictionalized to one degree or another. In your case, I did the whole blog from my mind. Do you remember having bagels and muffins with me the other day at the street café on 13 Ave South at 3rd Street?”
She looked at me blankly. “No.”
“That’s because we didn’t. I made the whole thing up. I went over there to pick up a muffin for Jeffrey one morning and voila! Out popped a blog.”
She laughed and melted back into her chair. “It sounds to me like your blogs are about absolutely nothing.”
“And to think that Jerry Seinfeld and I have nothing in common!” We laughed.
We paused for a minute before either of us spoke again. Ginny stretched out her long legs, placed both feet on the floor, reached her arms over her head, yawned, then settled back into the chair, crossing one leg over the other at the knee.
“You could have made me a more sympathetic friend, you know. Next time you need a character like that, why don’t you use somebody else?”
“What? Like Cruella or The Wicked Witch of the West? Those are so obvious! And I like the name Ginny. ”
“Well, then make Ginny the character who’s the heroine―the one who’s understanding, loving, courageous and kind. The sort of person everyone wishes they were, but really aren’t.”
“Like the person my dogs think I am?”
She clasped both hands behind her head, elbows outstretched, and said, “Exactly.”
“Done and done,” I said, nodding my acquiescence.
“Come to think of it,” she paused, eying me with one eyebrow slightly raised. “Just use somebody else’s name. I don't want your imagination defining who I am. God. How scary is that?” Her voice was firm and unwavering.
“Ginny. Have I ever told you about my old friend, Sylvia?”
Thick clouds crawl by at a snail’s pace, as people saunter past the gulf’s slow-rolling surf, which breaks on the shore, in messy layers of foamy white. Above my upturned face, someone has watercolored random patches of blue, perhaps just to tease me; but mostly, the sky is a hard, tightly-balled gray, interspersed with shadow.
People on the beach are sporting jackets, hats, sweatshirts and long pants, the normal fare for winter months, but not so for spring. I imagine their pants legs flapping and stinging, once they have become heavily laden with sand and salt, elements so willingly provided by the sea.
The joggers wear less protection, as if in unspoken agreement that their movements will warm them from the inside out. Once the furnace is blazing, it provides heat for hours: isn’t that how it goes?
And me. I just sit here and watch, waiting for the sun to come out.
“What’s wrong?” Ginny leaned forward, doing her best to look concerned. We were enjoying an array of bagels, muffins, coffee and tea, with condiments, which were strewn about on the small café table between us.
“I’m not sure. I feel headachy and dizzy.” I was a little embarrassed to admit this. It was an invitation for smart-aleck comments, and Ginny didn’t miss a beat.
“Oh, God. You really are a dizzy blonde. I knew it!” Oh, for Christ’s sake. How predictable was she anyway?
I looked down, put two sugar packets in my mug and began to stir my tea. “Very funny, Ginny. Laugh, if you will, but yesterday when I was blow-drying my hair, I almost fell backwards into the shower.” I set the spoon down on the table.
“That would have been the talk of the town.”
“Seriously, it’s very disorienting. The doctor told me on Monday that I have labyrinthitis.” I was beginning to feel defensive. I took a bite of my muffin, letting its sweetness swirl in my mouth. It was just what I needed at the moment.
“I’m sorry you’re not feeling well and glad your son is here to keep an eye on you. Is there anything I can do?”
“Thank you for finally showing a little compassion. No, thanks. Your sympathy will do just fine for the time being.” I took a sip of my hot tea, looking for a non-obvious way to change the subject.
I switched my thoughts to a piece I was writing about time and decided to do a little research on the subject.
“Speaking of the time being, what would you do with an unscheduled 15 minutes?”
I watched Ginny chew her bagel and adjust her glasses on her nose.
“What are you talking about? When do you ever have a segment of time that is unscheduled? Even on vacation. This segment is for relaxing, this segment is for shopping, this segment is for dinner. What do you mean by unscheduled?”
She leaned back in her chair and pulled her sweater closer around her body, to guard against the winter-like chill that had gripped Southwest Florida for the last two days.
“Oh, semantics, semantics. Honest to God, Ginny. Lighten up. You know I mean 15 minutes with no scheduled commitments. It’s such an odd length of time. Not long enough to accomplish anything and not short enough to ignore.”
We spent a few minutes in silence, concentrating on breakfast. The hot beverages and warm sunshine helped fend off the chill of the blustery morning.
“I don’t think there’s any such thing in our busy 21st century lives as an unscheduled period of time, I don’t care how long or short it is.” Ginny said at last, looking straight at me, her fingers wrapped loosely around her mug of coffee.
“Well, there most certainly is, because here it is. We’re doing it right now, in this very moment.” I leaned back, basking in the illusive feeling of being right.
“This moment isn’t unscheduled. You had a coffee and breakfast date with me, remember?” The feeling passed and I watched her take a sip of coffee.
I had no reply, so I sat stewing for a moment. Ginny watched a woman walking her dog down the sidewalk on the other side of the street.
Her gaze returned to my face. “Anyway, if you are living in the moment, then it isn’t 15 minutes anymore.” I watched a smile play at the corners of her mouth.
“Well, my watch says....” I glanced down at the tiny dial. “Oh, shoot! I’m late. Gotta go.”
I jumped up, took a last sip of tea, grabbed my purse and half-eaten muffin in a napkin and put some money on the table. I ignored the dizziness that caused the table to tilt ever so slightly. “See you later?”
She laughed. “Well, I guess that answers your question.”
“I’m not sure how, but oh, well. Thanks a helluva lot for everything!" I laughed, shook my head and turned.
And with that, I was gone.