[My photo: Not on the night of the party]
I was surprised that the Beacon Bar didn’t just close for night to provide the space for the private function. Only the bar itself was open to regular customers. The rest of the space was ‘reserved’ for a party…or whatever it was. And a party it surely was…except for one man.
No sign was needed to tell me that the such and such bank was opening an office in Mexico City or that Doris, in Accounts Receivable, was retiring. So, how did I know it was a large group of bankers? It was simple. They dressed like bankers. All the men were in dark suits and the women (alas, only a few) wore dark power suits. A generalization, I realize. But I have only a limited time to tell this story.
I arrived in time to secure two seats at the bar. I ordered a Chardonnay for my wife (who was still forty minutes from arriving) and a Greenpoint Pale Ale for myself. Then the rush of the crowd began. The front door opened so many times the wind blew my napkin down into the dark recesses of the floor among the purses, shopping bags and boots and umbrellas.
I looked around and the sea of black outerwear made me think I had crashed a convention of funeral directors. I kept my iPhone in front of me and checked it often…just to look like I had something to do. Finally, Mariam arrived and began telling me of her day at the office. Then we both fell quiet, trying to decide if we should order a second round before Happy Hour ended at six or go home and try to stream something on TV…it rarely works and most of the time we’re left to listen to WQXR and Mozart and Vivaldi and Beethoven. A better way to spend time as far as I’m concerned.
But we lingered.
It was when Mariam leaned down to get her handbag that I looked over her lowered shoulders and scanned the room. That was when I saw him. I stared at him for a few more seconds than necessary. I looked around the room and noticed that everyone was engaged in a conversation of some type…some in groups and more than a few couples. (Office flirting? Most likely).
I looked back at the man. He was alone, sipping a white wine. His eyes kept darting around the room, looking for a friend or anyone to talk to. No one was paying him any attention. At first I thought that he was not part of the party…but somehow, he fit in…with his black trench coat and graying mustache and conservative neck-tie.
Then, like an unexpected wave from the sea of memories, I thought of how I often found myself in similar situations. At school dances, faculty parties, childhood gatherings and adult reunions. I’ve never been very good at making small talk. I often just stood against the wall or at the end of a sofa and pretended I had something very important on my mind. The only important thing on my mind in those situations, was how lonely I felt.
I looked back at the man. Still he stood by himself. Still he kept looking around. Still he sipped his white wine. I felt an intense sorrow for the guy. Then I thought that perhaps he had just fired someone or that he was the office snitch and was distrusted and disliked by everyone else. But, I dismissed that negativity.
He was simply invisible to the others.
[My photo: not on the night of the party]
I mentioned the guy to Mariam who turned for a quick glance. She understood my thinking.
She turned to me: “Why don’t you make your way to the men’s room and stop and ask him what the party was all about?”
I made up my mind to do just that. I took a sip of my half-empty glass of Greenpoint Pale Ale and turned on my chair to begin my push through the crowds to get to the rest room and to take the opportunity to be the only person to speak to the lone man in such a crowded space. When I slid off my seat, I noticed he was gone.
My hesitation had made me miss out on making a complete stranger feel that someone noticed him. Something I wished had happened to me…all those years ago.
[Source: Google search.]
My wife and I arrived at a popular Upper West Side restaurant about fifteen minutes before our friends. Mariam remained by the door to wait. The place was crowded and noisy. We’d been here before. It was always like that.
I made straight for the bar to get a beer and wait for our friends and a table. We switched our reservations from 8:00 pm to 7:00. There was some confusion. My wife made it clear that we couldn’t and wouldn’t wait until 8:00.
I snagged a seat at the small bar and ordered some kind of imported beer on draught. I took a sip. That is when I heard the woman next to me say something.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “Were you talking to me? Is the seat taken?”
“No,” she said. “I was talking to myself”.
I had the feeling she thought I was going to hit on her. She clutched her iPhone in her right hand.
“Are you waiting for someone?”, I asked.
“Yes, he’s late.” She turned to me and looked me full in the face. I saw an attractive woman with just a bit too much red lipstick and too much hope in her eyes. I took a risk and asked:
“Waiting for a date?”
“Yes,” she said. “And he’s late. He already cancelled once before on me claiming there was a sickness in the family.”
“So, you think you’re being ‘stood-up’?” I ventured.
“How late is he?”
“He was supposed to be here at 6:45.” I looked at my watch. It was 6:48.
“Hey, it’s probably traffic. His Uber didn’t arrive. Give him a little more time.”
“Give him until 7:10 and then make a call or text him,” I said.
I sensed that this woman has been let down more than a few times on the blind date thing. She even admitted that it was true.
“I have a lot to offer,” she said. “I saw a guy for a year and a half. He didn’t want to go anywhere, movies, opera, museums…I told him I wanted to get out and experience what New York City had to offer.”
“Good move,” I said.
She looked at me again, not avoiding direct eye contact. “I’m sixty,” she said. “I have a lot of living to do.”
Our party arrived and our table was ready.
“That’s my wife over there with the white jacket. She was a former opera singer.”
“Interesting,” she said. “I’m an opera singer too.”
I got up and took my coat off the seat. It was a few minutes after 7:00 pm.
“It was nice talking to you,” I said as I made a move to our table. I felt suddenly very sorry for this woman. She wanted to have a date on this night. She wanted a companion. She most likely wanted a lover. She was sixty and she said she had a lot of living to do. I thought for an instant to ask her to join our group but realized it would be awkward for everyone. I turned to her as I left her side. She still clutched her iPhone.
“I hope he gets here. I hope you have a date tonight,” I said. She smiled.
I went to our table and settled into my chair.
“I met a most interesting woman,” I said to our friends and to Mariam. “She was an opera singer.”
I ordered a Malbec and ate a thumb-sized piece of bread.
I looked over at the bar stool. The woman was gone. I glanced around the room to see it he did indeed arrive. I didn’t find her. She most likely went home alone again that night. She would wipe off the red lipstick. She would pour herself a glass of Chardonnay and sit alone…maybe watch an old movie…maybe call a friend…maybe go to sleep..she probably had a cat or a dog. Everyone else in Manhattan seems to. But it wasn’t a pet she was looking for that night. It was a man.
She probably cried, alone and wishing for another chance to find someone to join her in life.
I can almost cry myself thinking about her hope that was dashed and her lonely night before her.
Actually, I did.
There are a million stories in the Naked City…and this is one of them.
So much of Florida is simply and without question, beautiful. The beaches come to mind. The wetlands of the Everglades are near the top of the list. The seemingly endless forests of the Ocala National Forest are a reminder of what Florida once looked like before Disney, Developers and Big Sugar got their hands on so much of the natural and unique beauty.
But, there’s a dark side as well. This witching hour come at dusk, when the shadows lengthen and the details of the roadside becomes dim and indistinct.
I drove north, through The Villages, where we visited a friend, Nancy, who grew up a few blocks from where I did in Owego, NY. I drove north, on roads that paralleled I-75. We grazed Ocala. We drove toward an RV park in Fort McCoy, near the middle of the state.
This was not Sanibel or Captiva Island. This was a strange and unfamiliar country that got slightly more menacing as we sought our campground.
The roadsides lost a familiar clarity. The houses looked a bit more run-down, some had sad Christmas lights still blinking in their yards. Every mile or two, a gate at the head of a driveway, or a house, flew the Confederate flag.
I wanted to get settled in our site. I wanted to collapse on the bed and play a few Scrabble games. I wanted to nibble on a few vegetables and a cracker or two with a slice or two of Irish Cheddar.
Instead we drove along what seemed to be an endless road. Our GPS was giving us contradictory commands. My own confidence at map-reading began to falter. Were we lost? Did we miss a turn?
What about gas? I hadn’t seen a station in what seemed like hours. When you’re in an unfamiliar landscape, time can stretch and become distorted.
We finally located our RV park. I don’t like to hear Interstate traffic when we camp…that would most definitely NOT be the case here. There was no traffic noise at all.
A security guard was supposed to meet us at the gate-house and check us in. There was no one there. We followed the directions to check ourselves in.
We were listed for Site #50. I was distracted by another RV in the exit lane. The guy seemed upset:
“They knew we had to leave early. I’m locked in!”
Indeed, there was a cable across the exit drive. I went out to help him. His RV was larger than mine. He was traveling with a blonde that I could barely see through the smoked glass of the passenger side. I helped him unhook the cable and I pulled the orange traffic cone to one side. He drove off.
Now, when I hear someone express interest in leaving “early” I think that they mean 6:30 am. But, it was 7:45 pm!
Why was this guy leaving at this hour? Where was he going? Where was he going to spend the night, which had already started?
“Is there something going on here?” I asked myself.
The security guard drove up. I told him we were heading to Site #50, but I couldn’t make out anything more than a small dirt road.
“I need some direction to #50,” I said.
“Oh, you won’t like #50,” he said. “There a ditch in the middle of it. Take #22. You’ll like it better.”
We took Site #22 and we did like it.
A few campers had fires. People laughed in the darkness. I settled in and felt hungry only for a few veggies and a piece of cheese. I made a few plays on Scrabble but found the WiFi signal weak and uneven. I gave up. Mariam wanted a bottle of cold water, so I slipped on my shoes and went to the ice cooler in the car. The moon, full only a few days ago (on Christmas Night), was Waning Gibbous. Orion was bright and directly over my head. It was a cool and pleasant night
I stood in the large mown yard and looked at the moon. In a few hours it would be December 31. I thought of my days in Florida, my sailing, my new friends and my new experiences.
I thought about my family. Brian in New York City, Erin, in Washington State. My grandson on Erin’s knee reaching for his dad, Bob. I thought of my faithful readers of this blog.
And, as lonely as I feel at this moment, here in the middle of somewhere in Central Florida, that I wanted to wish everyone a Happy New Year.
So, Happy New Year. I love y’all.
What’s it like to float upon misty air?
Way up there upon winds of turbulence,
where your wings tame them,
as a cowboy does the wild Stallion.
–Dara Reidyr from “On Flying“
Four hours ago, I was finishing my iced coffee at the Java Cafe in the Outlet Mall. Even with the AC, the plastic cup was dripping on the article in the local Fort Myers newspaper. I was totally absorbed in a breaking story about an 18-year old guy who was arrested for roughing up his girl friend because she refused to go out and buy him some “clean” urine. He was on probation and he apparently needed to pass a random drug test. The water drops from my coffee obliterated some of the story, but not the part where he pushed her head and then threw bananas and a metal comb at her. More wet newsprint. Then the story ended with his breaking down in the kitchen, crying, and grabbing a carving knife, threatened to kill himself. It seems that a friend captured the whole thing on a cell phone.
It’s good to have friends.
Now, I was in the pool at the RV Resort where we are staying. I was leaning back with my head against the rim. I was intent on getting some exercise one way or another, and since its way too hot to go bicycling, the decision to go to the pool wasn’t hard. I was doing a peddling motion with my legs and practicing the scissors kick. Nearby, at the shallow end, there were a dozen seniors doing water exercises. A woman’s voice was telling them what to do.
“Now, turn around and lift your left leg–that’s right, just like that.”
“Okay, now run in place–do the best you can.”
I looked at each person in the group trying to identify the speaker with the tiny headset microphone. I couldn’t find her. She seemed to be joking with someone in the group. I looked again and still couldn’t find her. Then I spotted a cable from an outlet. It led to a small boom-box that was placed on a pool chair. Everyone was listening to a tape. But, how could she banter with the group?
I was puzzling over this when I looked directly across the water and noticed that a man was staring at me. He had on sunglasses, so I couldn’t be sure it was me he was watching. He looked exactly like Colonel Sanders, the founder of KFC. Same hat. Same white goatee. I would have bet my last fiver that it was the Colonel himself. I didn’t place any bet– there was no one to place it with and besides I remember that Colonel Harland D. Sanders died of leukemia in 1980.
The clouds were slowly thickening. The forecast called for late afternoon showers.
I looked up. There, in the pale blue of the sky was a soaring bird. I looked at its wings. It wasn’t an eagle–it was a turkey vulture. Both are built for soaring. Both are symbols–metaphors to us. So is the Albatross.
I looked over at the seniors who were busy treading water and then back to the turkey vulture, making slow circles above my head.
You do not want to know what goes through my head at times like these.
I’ve always found the Albatross very interesting and enigmatic. I’ve never seen one in the wild but from photos, they have an outstanding appearance. But, the poor bird is cursed by being a symbol of “a burden”.
“Oh, he has to carry that Albatross around his neck–too bad for him”.
We have Samuel Taylor Coleridge to thank for that. One of my favorite poems is “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”. In case you don’t remember your 10th grade English class, a sailor shoots an arrow into the sky and kills an Albatross. This brings really bad luck to him and his crew. He is condemned to carrying the dead bird around his neck while the voyage of his ship wanders the seas.
He is the ancient mariner who stoppeth one of three…
Sometimes, I feel like I am like the pitiful sailor–condemned forever to carry the wrongs and sins of my youth around my neck. It can depress a recovered good Catholic altar boy like me.
However, there are many times in my life that I’ve felt more like the Albatross and not the archer/sailor who killed without thinking. These great birds (some with a wing span of twelve feet) are designed to soar–to ride the thermals–for unbelievable lengths of time. Some say that these birds can go weeks (or longer) without landing. They eat by swooping and catching the unfortunate fish who came too close to the surface. They don’t need much food because they don’t expend much energy. Their wings are engineered by nature to lock in place. When you watch a skein of migrating geese, they flap their way from horizon to horizon. The Albatross hardly ever uses its wings, except to stay aloft.
It has also been said that they only land to rest briefly, on a calm portion of ocean. And, more importantly, they need to alight on a solid surface to find a mate and procreate. The Albatross generally mates for life.
But, to soar above it all–only coming to the ground when necessary–seems like an amazing way to spend a life. I feel the need to wander, sometimes far from home (like Florida), but I’m held by gravity to the surface of the earth. Yes, I can take American Airlines to Puerto Rico, if I choose, but you get my point.
To soar above the aches and pains and heartbreak of life–to dream with your eyes open–of faraway lands and people who fill this world. To soar and day-dream about the minute life below me and the sky, so blue and intense, above me, is enviable. I would make an extra circle high above that red-haired woman who is crying on the empty beach. I would make two extra circles around the Eiffel Tower and hear the cries of the Parisians. I would soar above the lonely man, broken by war, meandering a boardwalk and thinking of ending his life.
But, I would make sure that I soared low enough so that the dim eyes of an old person could see me. I would soar slow enough so the children, playing in the fields, would stop and point at me.
All this I would do, If I had the wings of an Albatross. I wonder if that is what death is like–we can soar around the heads of the loved ones left behind?
All this I would do, even knowing that I would never be totally unencumbered and without the dreams that live in the living.
Are birds free from the chains of the skyway?
[Images: Google search]
One day, several decades ago, I sat down with a book by Captain Joshua Slocum. It was titled “Sailing Alone Around the World”. Capt. Slocum published the book in 1900–it was a bestseller–and it made him a Superstar of the Seas. His boat was named Spray. Nearly ten years later, Slocum disappeared aboard the Spray. He was never seen in this world again. I feel assured as I can that Joshua Slocum is sailing his way through the dark reaches of space and time, aboard his little boat, the Spray.
I finished the book in just a day or two and since then I’ve been fascinated by the sea and solo sailing. Later I read an account of a man who was attempting a solo crossing of the Atlantic. This was back in the days when such trips carried risks that made each voyage an item in the headlines of the world’s newspapers. When I got to the end of his story and thus the end of his trip, the last pages described something he did that transfixed me with amazement.
He had departed from some former whaling port in New England, Gloucester maybe. I can’t even remember the name of his boat. But, I seem to remember that after he made a final navigational fix on his position–about a day from the west coast of Ireland, he did something that I totally understood. While his wife and the press corps were waiting for him in Cork or Galway or wherever he was to dock–he took a long hard look around his world, the world that had been his home for several weeks. He saw water, he saw the sky and he saw his boat. And, he saw himself as a tiny speck in this vastness of the North Atlantic.
I would imagine he began to weep.
Yes, he loved and missed his wife. Yes, he would garnish a ton of publicity from his trip. But…
I truly believe he wept because he had become such a part of the elements of the sky and water that he couldn’t bear to lose it. He supposedly took his sail down, and delayed his arrival by one day. One more day when his whole world–his whole existence–could still be his alone.
As I write this, I cannot remember his name, any book he may have written or any record he may have set. I sometimes wonder if I had made the whole story up in my own dreams. I can’t provide any evidence this really actually happened.
I hope it did.
I’ve aways wanted to make a solo crossing of the Atlantic. Several problems stood in my way, however. The first and most important issue was the fact that I simply have no idea how to sail–anything. I put a sheet up on a canoe on the Susquehanna River once when I was a kid, but that was all the sailing I had ever done. So, I went out and bought a book on how to sail. I never finished it because I had no real access to a really large body of water not to mention a sailboat.
I lived in New York City where one can take lessons down at a sailing school near Battery Park. I never did. Now, I live about forty-five minutes from Lake Champlain. There are sailing schools in Burlington and probably Plattsburgh. I always find something else to do.
Maybe I’m afraid of facing those elements that seem to draw so many men and women to the sea. In truth, I don’t even like to swim. The water is always too cold in the Adirondack lakes. I can’t imagine the chill of the Labrador Current.
But, I’m a very restless soul. Perhaps I have a bit of Romany (Gypsy) blood in my veins? Perhaps, from my bedroom near the railroad in Owego, New York, I heard too many train whistles blowing and heard too many clickety-clacks of the steel wheels on the rail joints when I was a child.
So, I’ve learned to put my sailing solo dream on that dreaded shelf alongside all the other dreams I have grown to accept will never be fulfilled. I lost the golden ball that I was born with. I will never climb the Matterhorn, stand in the hard frozen air of Antarctica, hike the Pacific Crest Trail–or sleep with the Prom Queen. I’ll not be given the Nobel Prize for Literature. I will never speak at the 92nd St. Y in Manhattan.
Deep inside, I believe that I can rediscover that golden ball that made my childhood so full of magic. The little ball exists somewhere–maybe inside me or out there alongside the less-driven roads. I will drive the highways of Virginia and watch the Kudzu creep up the trees and engulf them. I will pass plantations in the Deep South, pass over the brown water of the Mississippi River and I will squint into the late afternoon sun in West Texas. But I know that somewhere, sometime, the Dark Irish in me will rise and I will begin to see shadowy clouds building on the horizon.
I’m channeling my wanderlust right now by pulling a small RV behind our Ford and heading to Florida for two months. Our sextant is a GPS we call “Moxie”. Our Gulf Stream will be I-95 (some of the way). I will not be returning to the cold and ice until the Springtime arrives at Rainbow Lake, New York–sometime in April.
My boat is an r-Pod. My alone-ness is replaced by my wife, Mariam, whose company is delightful and engaging.
I won’t be talking to the sea or the stars–hearing nothing but wind, waves and my own voice. Oh, I will park our r-Pod in the desert sometime in February and stare at the countless galaxies–count the shooting stars–and listen to a coyote or a song on the wind sung by the wandering ghost of a long-dead cowboy. But I won’t be alone.
I once romanticized that kind of isolation and I still seek it, to a point. But, in truth, there’s something about the vacuum of loneliness that frightens me very much.
I’m afraid of the dark–but that’s for another blog.
It’s early Autumn. The air is crisp. The broad leaves of the oaks and maples are sharp and bright in the sun. Against the darker conifers, the reds and yellows are more muted–less distinct and less joyful.
There is a lane. It seems to possess a faint voice calling for you to follow to wherever it leads. The fair-haired, blue-eyed woman beside you urges you to take a few steps into the forest. Her white hand suddenly is gripping your right forearm. Without words she is telling you to not take another step.
“We don’t know where this path leads,” she says with her eyes. You brush a red leaf from her soft hair. You look down the lane again. Something is urging you to explore–to follow the trail to its end. On your left, a woman with dark eyes and pale flesh takes your hand.
“Come,” she whispers in your ear. “We can’t keep them waiting.”
You look to your right. The fair one has a distressed look as she stares down the lane. Her hand trembles.
Turning your head, you see your car parked miles away. How can this be? You’ve only taken a few steps into the woods. A breeze picks up a few leaves and stirs them at your feet. The branches of the trees begin to weave and roll and shudder.
There is a tug at your right arm.
“Let’s go back,” the fair one says. “I don’t like this.”
“Let’s move on,” your pale lover says. “It’ll be good. I’ll see to that.”
You are unable to move. You stare into the distance and wonder where it will end and how far the walk will be. Will there be a pool of clear water? A bower of red and scarlet leaves? An old farmhouse? Does the backdoor–the screen door, bang in the wind? Is the spring rusty? Are the rooms empty?
Is there a house at all? If not, why the road? All roads lead to something in this forest.
You’re frozen with indecision. You want to go forward and you want to run back to the car.
What about your lovers? You look from left to right. There is no one there. Was anyone ever there? Are you awake? Is this a dream?
You look back at your car. It is not in sight–there is no car. Looking down, you see there is hardly a path. It’s all overgrown.
A woman’s voice calls to you. It’s a song–so very sad. You’ve heard this lament before. Nothing good can come of this, you’re thinking. Nothing good.
It’s never good when you’re alone–in the woods when the sun begins to set.