Don’t Cry For Me, Puerto Rico: My Final Postcard


If you want to use Google Earth to find me, just enter 18.44 N and 66.01 W.  That’s me, sitting at the beach bar waiting for an order of nachos.

I’ve licked my last stamp and stuck it to the corner of this postcard.  I won’t be writing to you anymore–from this place.  This is my last day.

So, I’ve spent seven days at Condado Beach.  I admit that I’ve done nothing that several million other tourists, before and after me, haven’t already done.  I didn’t find an undiscovered gem.  I didn’t walk a virgin path.  In fact, I’ve done less than most people who come here given our limited budget.  I’ll be washing the sand off my feet soon and in the morning we’ll take a taxi to the airport.

I only purchased one tee-shirt and eight postcards.  That’s really good for me.  Oh, I almost forgot, there is a new refrigerator magnet in our luggage.

I’ll be honest.  I really don’t want to go home just yet.  I found this island fascinating, fun and full of potential as the salve I need right now.

I’ve shared what I’ve done, but what about the places unseen and people I never talked to?  Those are left for the next time.

I can only think of those brief moments, scenes, people and impressions that I chanced to experience in this too brief a time:

A pretty teenage girl stood in a small park.  I asked if I could photograph her.  She was wary.  In five seconds, her family appeared.  I talked fast.  I snapped quick.  I walked on.


Inside a church, there was a small wedding.  maybe nine people witnessed besides the videographer and the priest–and me.  The bride wore scarlet.

The cobblestone streets of the Old City were said to come here as ballast in the ships that sailed centuries ago.  The ballast for the return trip to Europe?  Gold.


The buildings of Old San Juan were pink and mint green and yellow and pastel hues I couldn’t name.


There were homeless men on the streets, each one had a dog or two to assuage their loneliness.

I passed a small baseball park where Roberto Clemente played his first professional games.  There was a man on the beach with the entire (?) 23rd Psalm tattooed on his stomach.  There was room for all the text.

There was a young woman on the same beach in a slight bikini.  Her perfect shape and beautiful dark skin would have stopped a bus-load of Baptist ministers.

The graffiti on the walls reminded me of New York City in the 1970’s.  The tree frogs along Ashford Avenue sounded too perfect to be real–but they were.


My last thoughts?  They are like the last thoughts of these islanders.  My final memory is of a place where memories live, tears fall and dead rest.

Out on a large wind-swept lawn, with a historical site and light house, is a cemetery.  The San Juan Cemetery sits inside a 16-foot stone wall (the wall that protected the Old City for centuries).  The plots gleam white in the sun.  White and bright enough to bring tears to your eyes.  Beyond the thick wall, the sea waves crash against the rocks.  You look at the white cemetery, the white breaking waves and your eyes moves to the horizon.  There the sea makes a perfect line as it meets the sky.  Surely, the spirits of those who rest here must sit on their stones and admire the view of the moon-lit ocean.  As I stand on the high ground above, on the lawn where kite fliers run and laugh, I’m sure the spirits are down there in the daylight and watching the sea..watching the horizon..looking for the Final Boat that will take them away to whatever heaven they believe in.


I’m thinking these things but I’m finding my words are inadequate in describing this wondrous place.

I don’t think anyone down in the cemetery, watching their kites or watching the sea needs my tears.

They don’t have to cry for me, either.


Postcard From The Bottom Of The Green Lagoon

I have only one thing to do and that’s to be the wave that I am and then sink back into the ocean.

Sink back into the ocean.

Sink back into the ocean.

–Fiona Apple. Theme from “The Affair”



I know where my body is at the moment. I’m sitting on the sandy floor of a lagoon.  It’s quiet down here.  The only sound is the rush of air through my regulator when I inhale and the burble and gurgle of the bubbles that rise past my face mask with each exhalation.

Without question, this is where my body is.  But, my mind is in a different place, not unlike this–and it’s 33 years ago.  I say a prayer to Poseidon that what happened to me then, won’t happen today.  I say another, stronger prayer, more of a plea, to Neptune for I do not want to be green again.

It was 1982 and I was teaching in Connecticut.  I found out about Scuba classes being offered at the Norwalk YMCA and being in the youthful frame of mind of wanting to try everything, I signed up for the course.  It was to be a step, a tiny step, in being a Renaissance Man.  I desired to know a little something about a lot of things.

I passed the written test.  The next step was to pass an “open water” check.  That was a real dive in real-world water, in my case, Long Island Sound.

To make a very long and distasteful story short, I failed this part.  I never completed my certification.  The irony is that my mistake (and I made a capital one) was failing to remember the first thing one must do when you tumble backward from the boat.  I got the principle, I just didn’t act fast enough.  To equalize the pressure, I had to pinch my nose and swallow as soon as I felt pressure on my ears.  I waited a micro-second too long.

Too late. The damage was done.

I was fine while I probed about in the murky water of the Sound.  It was when my instructor and I surfaced and sat on a rock pile that had a small light on it.  With alarming casualness, he said that I was bleeding from my nose…and my ears.  I had ruptured capillaries in my middle ear.  Blood was flowing into the little chambers of my ear.  We inflated our vests and swam back to the boat.  Once aboard, I began a descent into a hell I had never known.  There was hardly any pain.  It was the spinning of the world around me.  It was the nausea.  It was the peculiar shade of green that made me blend in with certain species of algae.  And, it was the vomiting, the spectacular vomiting that followed that made my day.  The term “projectile” doesn’t quite tell the whole story.  Let’s just say that the already polluted Long Island Sound was diluting the remains of the last seven meals I had eaten.

No, on this day, in a green lagoon outside San Juan, that misadventure was not going to be repeated.  I took care to pinch and swallow often.  It worked.  No blood.  No problems.

This time, however, I chose a relatively new version of scuba diving.  Instead of wearing a tank on my back, my source of air was on a small raft 15′ above me.  My instructor was in full scuba gear.  What I was doing was snubaing.  I had a regulator and mask (fins, of course) but I was tethered to the raft.  In this way, I could stay submerged for an hour or more.

So, here I sit in the sand.  Watching the fish and listening to my exhaled bubbles.  My instructor was just ahead of me, lost in a cloud of stirred up sand.  I didn’t care.  I wanted to be alone for a few minutes.  I think he knew that.

I thought about my immediate environment.  I was here where it all began for life on the sea.  But, I had skipped several hundred million years ahead of the fish that surrounded me.  I was not a mass of proteins and amino acids in the Pre-Cambrian sea.  But I was back where I came long ago.

It was a nice homecoming.

My instructor finds me and we swim off to find what sea life awaits us.  A small fish with yellow stripes approaches me, then another.  Soon, I’m nearly invisible, wrapped in a cyclone of fish bold enough to stare me in the eye through my face mask.

Eye contact between different species can be very interesting.

Terrance, the instructor, hands me a spider-like sea star.  It crawls over my hand and then drops off to scurry along the bottom.  There’s a flounder.  Or maybe it’s just shifting sand?  No, I see a flat fish with two eyes on the same side of the body (how that happens is another story).

There’s a damsel fish.  Here’s a sea urchin.  Down on the reef is an anemone.

After an hour, I begin to feel chilled so I signal to Terrance that maybe it is time to go up.  He agrees.

But, I really don’t want to leave this new world yet.  This environment of color, subtle movement and shifting sands.

I knew we really weren’t meant to be invading this place.  It belongs to other living beings, but they tolerate us and somehow, I feel welcomed.  In their tiny nerve centers, they know we’re all connected, somehow.  I know it and I’m sure that, on some level, all the life down here knows it.

Once upon a time, we were all one massive unit of life.  But, one bundle of DNA went to the dry land and the other stayed behind.

So, we left the sea and took to the rocks and soil and made our homes.  Some of us are in flight much of the time.  Some cling to a tree trunk or grow beneath a rotting log.  Some slither into dark holes and have forked tongues.  Some plow our fields and others sleep on our laps at nap time.

And, some of us build condos on the beaches and dump junk into springs.  The four-inch fish that looked me in the eye thirty minutes ago, is somehow feeling the effects of something done off the coast of Maine or in the Sea of Cortez.

We have done an excellent job of destroying our nursery..our birthing room.

We live, love and die.  We’re so important.

And, the life around me swims, mates and looks for food.  I look one last time into the eyes of a small fish.  It has done nothing to harm my world.  Yet, five minutes after I remove my gear and pay my fees, I’ll do something to denigrate life in the water behind me.

It may be as simple as stepping on an ant.

We surface.

I want to sink back into the ocean.




Postcard From Condado Beach


There are times in life when a person has a particular need.  Nothing else is enough.  Only that one singular need.  If I were lost, ten miles from Badwater, in the center of Death Valley, that need would be water.

For me, in the bleak months of Winter ’15, that need is simply warmth.

Warmth.  It sounds so simple when you say it, but in the North Country, it is an elusive dream to pursue. Halfway to the garage, with a bag of recycles in one hand and the kitchen garbage in the other, I can shout it into the icy forest.


I’ve left messages but I don’t get a call-back.

Until now.  I’m sitting on the sand of Condado Beach on the edges of San Juan, Puerto Rico…and I’m finally warm.  Here is a little of my story…of how I got to find warmth.

A mere four days ago, we walked from Penn Station in New York City to our hotel on 28th Street and 7th Avenue.  We were pulling our rolling suitcases and carrying our backpacks through a heavy snowfall of thick, wet, clingy flakes.  It was too short a distance to take a taxi.  But the snow clogged the tiny wheels of our luggage and stuck to our coats.  We arrived at our hotel looking like Robert Falcon Scott on his return from the South Pole (that would be before he froze to death on his homeward journey).

I struggled with our suitcases.  Now I struggle with dragging a chaise lounge to the best possible position to see the water and feel the sun.

I close my eyes and feel the infrared radiation from a fire that is 93,000,000 miles away.  I hear the surf. Opening my eyes, I’m confronted with three colors.  The blue of the sky, the green of the sea and the light brown of the sand.  Then I become aware of more hues.  The breakers are white.  The few clouds are white.

My sense of hearing begins to pick up more sounds than the waves.  Faint music plays in the distance.  People are chatting.  A man peddling flavored ice cones is ringing a bell.  But, mostly it’s quiet except for the surf.  Colors of different kinds catch my eye.  I see the bikinis of the 22-year-old girls.  The suits are tiny, like little swatches of fabric.  They are bright like a road pavers safety vest.  They hurt my eyes even through my UV protective sunglasses.

My left shoulder feels like an overdone slice of bacon.  Is my SPF #30 strong enough?

Twenty feet away is a young woman in a thong.  Is there a thong?  Maybe not.  Maybe I’m getting too much sun.

I feel the need to run and jump into the water.  I get a few feet out and a wave hits my legs and it’s surprisingly chilly.  Then, after a few more waves, the chill is gone.  It’s actually warm so I wade out even further.  A large swell is coming at me but I deftly rise with it and then it’s breaking on the beach.  Not so lucky the next time.  The waves begins to break as it nears me.  I take a breath and dive into the wall of water.  The salt water injects itself into my half-opened mouth and my nose.  Hopefully, it’s killed any lingering virus in my nasal passages that may have incubated for months while I sat in front a fire back home.

It tumbles me in all directions.  I’m upside-down.  I’m backwards.  I’m roiling with the swirling power of the wave.  I come up for air in time to see another monster bearing down on me.  I’m twisted and turned again.  I have no control.  I check my designer earplugs from Walgreens.  I can’t hear anything but a roar.  Then I find air.  I gulp some and it happens again.  I’m overturned and flipped.  I think I hear someone singing:

“Here am I, your special island.  Come to me.  Come to me.  Bali Ha’i.”

I think I feel a mermaid brush against me.  Am I on the rocks of the Island of Sirenum Scopuli?  Is this a siren song?  Will I be able to resist?  Then I realize, it’s not a mermaid, but a boogie board tethered to a 9-year-old.

After several exhausting minutes, I’m back at the chaise lounge.  I notice that all the men my age have barrel-like torsos with white chest hairs.  They look like Hemingway (Ernest, not Mariel).  Me?  I look like an albino bank clerk from Lapland.  But, soon I will be a bronzed god.  I’ve already gone native.  I put on a small earth-tone necklace (a choker, really) but I take it off when I sleep.  I have a thing about getting my necklace caught around the bed post.

And, lastly, why the pigeons?  Where are the sea gulls?  Do they migrate?

Where’s the albatross?  When my necklace gets broken by the crashing surf,  I’ll need something to wear around my neck.







Going Down The River On A Winter Day


Aboard the Amtrak, Train #238.  Bound for Penn Station, NYC

I can’t sleep in this cramped seat.  It’s 4A, the window with a view of the Hudson River.  But there is no view.  It’s white enough for sunglasses.  I see West Point across the water, barely.  I snap a photo with my iPad mini.  It comes out blurry.  I’m already nauseous from the constant rocking of the coach.  Now, looking at the photo, I’m dizzy again.

We eat an expensive tuna salad wrap purchased in Albany.  Our plastic water bottle crinkles loudly when I pin it behind the tight elastic cord on the back of seat 5A.  The women in 5A is on her cell phone revealing  personal medical information.  I know what hospital her niece is a patient.

My wife is reading on her kindle app. Why isn’t she motion sick?

We’re below Croton-Harmon. The view is worse. Only the power lines glide past. Beyond, the Hudson is frozen to the far shore. A tug boat plows through the icy brine. Another to Penn Station.

I’m having trouble hitting the correct keys with the swaying and jerking of the train.

The sliding bathroom door just slammed shut. A toilet seat slams up or down, I can’t tell.

“Yonkers is the next stop”

Everything I see from the window is snow-covered. Everything I’ve seen for months has been snow-covered. I think I’m in a scene from “Dr. Zhivago”.

My soul has hope, however. It is not as bleak as the passing landscape. On Tuesday (I’m writing this on Sunday afternoon), we will be on a plane to Puerto Rico for a week. Not on a southbound train moving through yet another winter storm.

The river is breaking up into ice floes. We’re ten minutes from our destination. The snow is falling at a slant.

I can see nothing visibly alive outside.

Nothing visibly alive.

All the life along the frozen Hudson is there, but dormant until the warmth of spring..

A little like me.