As part of our post-surgical life Mariam likes to take a walk down our narrow street, Cuarto Lane. “It’s all part of resetting your muscle tone and strengthening the lower back,” Mariam tells me. “Okay, but I can only go to the house with two flag poles,” I said before our first such walk. I was able to lengthen the walk a few houses more, to the stop sign. The first half of our stroll was great but the return to our house at #319 put us directly facing the setting sun. Even with the best cheap drugstore sunglasses the glare was playing havoc with my vision. I began to see small pink Flamingos standing motionless in the tiny front yards. I felt like I was in a John Waters movie. It was at this point that I recalled the fact that we have two plastic Flamingos (pink) in our own yard. Even so the sun proved to be a challenge so I lowered my eyes and focused on a point about three feet in front of me. I was busy studying the crack in the pavement that seemed to run on for half the length of the street. I looked ahead. I looked behind me. I had this sudden feeling that this was like living on the San Andreas Fault. Were there plate boundaries in this part of Florida? Were earthquakes just another fact of life in The Sunshine State along with hurricanes and alligators? We just became friendly with the woman across the lane and I really didn’t want to increase the distance between her front door and ours.
It was a walk like all the others when I first noticed them. Imprints in the cement made by a paperclip. On subsequent walks I intensified my search for these marks. I knelt down for a closer look. I asked Mariam: “What do you think of these impressions?”. Mariam just stared at me. There, imbedded like a dinosaur footprint in Montana shale, was the tell-tale shape of a paperclip. The one shown in the lead-in photo above is that of a “Large” size clip, but I was seeing the mark of a “regular” size clip. I don’t have any of those average clips to show you so I chose a “Large” one instead. This is the only time I’ll ask you to use your imagination.
It began as just another couple of marks on an otherwise smooth cement surface. Then I saw more. I lost count when I reached sixteen paperclip marks. I made a comment about the shoddy efforts that were used when the cement was poured. I became very anxious and fearful of the quality of the workmanship. I made up my mind to investigate this odious affair…to dig deep into the history of Cuarto Lane and uncover those responsible for the now overwhelming number of paperclip impressions. I asked at the Main Office if I could have a look at the blueprints used during the laying of the cement.
I was deeply absorbed in going through the files when I noticed a small crowd gathering in the Common Space near the pool. The crowd grew steadily as I furiously made notes. The crowd grew larger. There were angry murmurs from some of the oldest people in the crowd. The crowd continued to grow. I began to panic. Maybe there was something I wasn’t supposed to see? Perhaps a secret buried deep in the files. An overdue bill. A compromising photo? Then, just as I thought things were going to turn ugly, a man appeared with a heavy keyring. He unlocked the door and the crowd surged into the dancehall. It was only the Bingo crowd. As the group rushed inside I watched as an 87 year old woman with blue hair jab the key holder (a convicted felon on parole) in the sternum and said:
“You’d better open on time next week or I’ll have you singing like a counter-tenor, sonny boy,” she said in a voice heavy with venom.
Back at our house I looked over the notes I had taken. It seems that three “engineers” were working the cement pouring that day…so many years ago. Here’s what I took away from my researching:
Directing the operation was Dr. Elroy Cistern, Road Construction Engineer on loan from the University of South Florida. He was on a retainer from the Siesta Bay people. (His per diem alone would choke a horse). I studied the margins of the blueprint. He had made copious notes with a dull pencil. After reading his self-memos I had to dismiss him from the list of suspects. He had the names of two local strippers and their phone numbers, a note about not forgetting a package of clothespins from Publix, a few scratchings about how hot it was in August in Florida and some notes-to-self about the odds in the third race at Pimlico. The guy was clearly a genius…certainly not one who litters wet cement with paperclips.
Then there was Rachel Rowbottom, Cement Truck Driver. I found a small diary she had left behind. Some of the entries got very personal. Apparently she moon-lighted at a Nail Salon. I didn’t see her as one who cares very much about paperclips.
The guilty person, according to conclusions I had made was one Michael Messerschmitt, Cement Smoother Technician. It seems he was going through a rough divorce and was carrying at least half a ream of paperwork from his ex-wife’s lawyer. Now nobody loves paperclips more than a lawyer. And she was taking the poor sod to the cleaners. Reading between the lines, I realized that the golf cart was the main bone of contention. Eyewitnesses to the cement pouring mentioned (to their children and grandchildren) seeing the “smootherer” kept dropping a paperclip into the wet mixture as he went through the list of the lawyer’s demands.
So, I can now rest easy at night. The small impressions, well I’ve learned to keep my eyes looking forward as I walk. Keep focusing on the horizon. Even in the intense sunlight.