Day 9: Already?

Turn around and go back down.
At the top, you must turn around and go back down.

Yesterday I was finished with the play. I’d gotten to a point of hating it that felt complete. I sent it to a friend, thus making it her problem, and prepared myself for a new something.

First, I finished watching the Bergen DVD someone lent me. Then I took a scrap of paper with some notes scribbled on it from an old project, and ceremoniously carried it to the huge bonfire pile behind the house. Next, I changed clothes several times, looking for the right thing to wear for a walk to Lake Michigan. What IS the right thing? Packed a notebook because I planned to find a place to start writing the new something.

I walked to the lake, a mile or two away, trying to think of the new something, and then thinking about why there should or shouldn’t be a new something. All along the way were huge houses of the rich, surrounded by lots of space and long driveways and immense lawns. The only sounds were made by landscapers and their leaf blowers, and barking dogs.

When I got to the road leading down to the lake, I was met by a sign. “No pedestrians allowed on road.” Temporary fencing surrounded the park and walking path that led to the bluff about the water. I stepped around it and walked to the edge. I sent Georgia a text message, “having existential crisis. You busy?”

I stepped over another, flattened fence to walk down a long flight of concrete steps to the beach. When I got to the bottom there was another sign. “Entrance at top is CLOSED. Stairs may be used for exercise, but at the top you must turn around and go back down.”

The water was almost turquoise, joyous-looking, drinking in sunshine. Huge boulders, smoother than the ones on Chicago beaches, formed a neat, rounded cove. Everything was ready and waiting for another twenty degrees.

I walked along the beach and then found another way back up to the bluff, a long set of wooden ramps that were also closed, according to the sign. When I got to the top, the fence wasn’t broken, but I climbed over it and made my way out of the park.

Georgia called back and reported on people from her workday. The 22-year-old co-worker who’s done it all, including lucid dreaming. “I’m an expert at that,” she sniffed when Georgia mentioned that her young son had just gotten a book on it. Another co-worker who dispensed her usual portion of unhelpful tips. A customer who came in as she always does, playing Words with Friends on her phone and commenting on each move as if Georgia knows her friends. Another customer with a consistently bad smell who came for his lunch. She advised me to try my hand at a mystery.

I got to the library, sat at a table, took out my notebook which is bound with an old book cover, The Beginning Writer’s Handbook, and prepared to try my hand at a mystery. However, I had forgotten to pack a pen, so I read the latest issue of Fra Noi instead.

On the way home, I stopped at Walgreens and purchased a Signo 207 – in blue instead of black, for a treat, then popped into the Jewel, where I purchased toothpaste and candy. At dinner (vegan moussaka, greek salad, turkey roasted with carrots and celery), people were beginning to feel like people instead of residents.

After dinner I sat in the living room with my new pen and my old notebook. I started thinking there might be a different way through the play, and started writing some new scenes.

Figure in a small craft, drifting

I hope to God this is a metaphor.
I hope to God this is a metaphor.

I took a canoe out after breakfast, anticipating a peaceful meander across the quiet lake. Maybe drift over to BooHoo, a dune that rises from the small lake and spills over on the other side into Lake Michigan. I wore my suit, in case I felt like a swim. I packed a bottle of water. I went down to the shore and surveyed my craft of choice, a charmingly dented metal canoe. I pulled it into the water, got in, and began.

From the outset, it was more work than I’d thought. The further out I got, the more work it became. The canoe was stubborn. It wouldn’t go in the direction I wanted. I had to paddle hard and fast on the right side only, just to avoid hitting a fishing boat. I got a little closer than seemed polite but avoided looking over. My original thought of getting to BooHoo, over to the left, was a joke.

I’d forgotten a hat so I tied my shirt around my head. I tried a couple of stints of letting the pretty water take me where it might, but it quite definitely kept taking me into the shore. So I kept paddling, hard, on the right side only.

Finally I made it to opposite shore. I pulled the canoe to a shallow spot against the grasses, then had a quick wade in the water. I didn’t go all the way in because I didn’t want my sunscreen to wash off. I was beginning to realize what a job it might be to get back. The wind that had pushed me so rudely away from BooHoo had also pretty much pushed me to this side of the lake.

I aimed the canoe where I wanted to go, climbed in the back, and started paddling. I paddled and paddled, on one side and then the other, and the canoe blithely turned 180 degrees back toward the grasses. “Come on,” I said out loud.

The canoe began making a screeching sound, like the bottom was scraping over rocks, when by now we were afloat on clear water. “Just come on.” I tried thrusting my paddle down to the sandy lake floor, to push myself in a mighty burst of direction, but the paddle never hit bottom. So I kept paddling.

I was alone on that side of the lake, no one to hear the screeching that was louder the harder I paddled, and we started making progress, skimming instead of circling. I realized I should have tried harder to tip the canoe over before I’d even started, to empty out the water that was now sloshing around my feet and probably making the boat heavier, but it had been too heavy.

When the canoe suddenly did another 180-degree turn I said “No way” and climbed forward onto the middle rail. This new position gave me better leverage, or at least felt like it did. I shoved the lifesaver seat cushion under my butt to make the rail more comfy. “Why isn’t there a seat here?”

From this position I paddled hard but mostly directly all the way back. I felt like I’d learned something about when to paddle deep and fast and when to just skim the surface. I made peace with the fact at any moment the canoe could forget this new understanding we’d forged and ram me right toward the wrong shore and a line of moored boats and a great deal of embarrassment. I kept paddling.

About halfway back, I saw a kayaker paddling approaching, his kayak forming the other half of a V I did not want to make. First I tried to out-paddle him, to get so far ahead there’d be no danger of meeting up. Then I realized again that I had no control over speed. Maintaining direction was my full-time job. As he got closer, I thought of various friendly things to say, two paddlers out on the water. “Now I know why everyone uses the kayaks ha ha!” or “Heh heh now I know why all the kayaks were taken!” though they weren’t. But that might sound more complimentary.

The kayaker was burly, silent, paddling steadily and seriously. I drifted a little and let, “let” him pass me before any of my words might be necessary. If he had paddled to the middle of nowhere, likely he wasn’t looking for conversation either.

After he passed, I paddled on toward Duncan’s boathouse, and when I got close enough, to Duncan’s floating dock, and then past it to the bit of beach beside the pier, where I pulled the canoe up as far as the resting kayaks, hung my seat cushion on the cabinet door, went up to my room, and had a nap.

The shape of things to become

Not pictured: iPhone picture.

This morning I put my iPhone in the dresser drawer. I’m going to try to do without it for a day, and if that works, two days. It feels ridiculous to be in a place where I don’t need to be connected, and yet I can’t stop checking weather and email and Facebook and rock tumbler reviews. I did want to call Liz today. Maybe I can take it out just once, to use only as a phone, if I put it back right after.

It will never stop, the sand shifting from year to year, sometimes a wider beach or a narrower one, sometimes the shipwreck visible and sometimes not. It will never stop, but we will. We’ll get too old to climb Baldy, then too old to get to the big beach, then finally too old to come at all. Or perhaps before any of that, some of us will just tire of the place and its preciousness or its sameness or whatever we choose to accuse it of, while it goes on just the same, black squirrels scurrying through pine forests, dune grass looking at the water, stones polishing themselves in the waves.

Tips for types

sand and sky
Has the sky always been made of sand?

I keep making this mistake that people are what they are right at this moment. That the old man with bags of cans always was and will be an old man with bags of cans. That because Ginny is what’s called a snowbird, which I’d never ever even heard of ‘til someone explained them in Vegas, that’s all she ever was and is – easy life, multiple homes, limited interests. But as usual, I know nothing about people. I learned today that when Ginny goes for a walk along the beach she brings a grocery bag so she can pick up any bits of stray trash. I bring a bag so I can gather stones for my new backsplash. Someone seeing me would call me a grabber, a nature stealer, someone who can’t see beauty without needing to own it. Or at least, that’s what I accused Bobby of, right in this spot, years ago.

Like Bobby, I want to take this place with me, make it part of what I call home. Unlike Bobby, I go for small stones whereas he went for boulders. Looking back, I bet he was just sad. Frustrated. Seeing other performers getting better recognition, better venues, better reviews. He wanted his piece. And he was stuck with someone who wasn’t helping him fight for it. Someone who didn’t live and breath clown theater, which probably sounds inane to most people, but that’s exactly why he needed someone who lived it and breathed it. And instead, I was mostly waiting for him to get past it.

For whatever reason, we considered ourselves stuck with each other and did whatever we needed to do to give ourselves some choices. I chose books. He chose boulders. Temporary manifestations of the need to control time and place. Now etched into memory as the unsupportive girlfriend and the clown who wanted a boulder.

There’s almost no garbage on the beach, just an occasional piece of package wrapper or inexplicable purple ribbon. Ginny’s forgotten a bag, so she’s carrying them in one slim, manicured hand. With the other, she picks up possible backsplash stones and hands them to me for inspection. I don’t ask if she thinks I’m weird or selfish for taking them. She doesn’t seem like the judgmental type. But then again, I know nothing about people.

Me and David Hasslehoff

Objects in mind are farther than they appear.

I can handle hard work. I can handle tough choices. But when it’s hassle-y, when it comes to fitting two bikes in the car, taking them out and putting them in again in a slightly different way, I want to rip my scalp off. I resent the time it takes to even complain about it.

And the locks. The U-locks with the cables attached, and the keys, and Dave suggesting that I get both the front and rear wheels into the cable, which I know, I know, but the cable doesn’t stretch. On a folding bike, the smallness of the wheels makes their rims too far apart so just forget it, no one would steal a bike here anyway, would they?

“No. No one would steal a bike here, but if just one person did, it would suck to lose a new bike, and it would really suck to learn that someone would steal a bike here.” So by the time we unlock the bikes from the porch and get them and our helmets and our various possible biking clothes (none of which I learn later are good for biking) and grocery bags and other tools into the car after breakfast, I am fuming. We’re only heading into town to get apples and cocktail fixings, but the Betsie trail goes right through town and we might feel like riding, so why not bring the bikes? It sounds so carefree but the reality is, you take one of my bike lock keys and I’ll take one of yours but I don’t have a little key ring, should we add that to the grocery list, and do we need a patch kit or should we buy extra inner tubes somewhere, and what do we need to replace inner tubes, are there special tools we should buy, and what if our air pump doesn’t work?

“I don’t know why I hate this so much,” I say when we are finally after a million years on the road to town.

Instead of pointing out that he did all of the “this,” from unlocking the bikes on the porch to loading them and everything else in the car, Dave says something much more provoking. “Because you’re just like your mom.”

That is an unacceptable reason. My mom would never put her bike in the car and take it to town. My mom would never submit to wearing a helmet or buying an expensive and complicated lock. “I’m not going through all that,” she’d say. “If God wants me to crack my head, so be it.” I remember her going on bike rides with my dad and Auntie Marie and Uncle Vince and Norma and Bill. Was biking safer then? They didn’t go on bike paths. They rode down busy streets, a leisurely parade of six, into north Oak Park and River Forest.

I’m just like my mom is not acceptable, though it might be true. I don’t want to commit to an activity that might be too involved, might take too much time and effort, might keep me from the beach, which is how I define vacation here. Going into town is a guilty consumer pleasure that keeps me from the real magic of this place, which is the stunning miles of beach and bluff and blue, blue water.

Maybe commitment was what Mom hated too. Maybe it’s why she wouldn’t go to Europe when Dad asked or join a bowling league or take an exercise class. Okay. I commit to the ride.

We park near the library and take out our bikes and get all situated and pack the basket, which was purchased for my bike but which Dave loads onto his without a complaint (I don’t want the extra weight). It ends up being a full day, riding this sweet trail that goes past the tiny town of Elberta and past occasional houses and even past the lake sometimes, and over long wooden bridges over marshes and rivers, shaded by trees most of the way. I think it’s about four or five miles.

When we get to the next town, Beulah, we buy padded shorts and inner tubes. An old man with two big bags of cans sits at the railroad station, which has been converted to a very nice set of rest rooms and an area for picnic tables. He says what a nice day it is and we agree. The guy at the bike shop gives us a full demonstration of how to replace an inner tube and it’s suddenly very interesting. We wander through town a little and get ice cream cones, and I feel sorry for Dave that they didn’t have any padded shorts for him. When we stop at the railway station to fill up our water bottles, the old man is gone. We pass him later, limping along the road near the bike path, without his bags.

The ride back is even better than the ride out. When we get to Frankfort, Dave checks the trail map and learns it was almost 10 miles each way, not five. I am so glad I didn’t know this beforehand, because although I want to work on this commitment thing there’s no way I would have committed to a 19-mile bike ride when I could have been at the beach, which I ended up not missing at all.

The comforts of not being home

rubber ducky
Have arrived safely. No idea what that means.

Today on our way up the lake coast, we ran into Frank and Fern at Ray’s drive in. They were sitting at a picnic table outside. They said we’d just missed Ruby and Roy, who’d already gone on. As we sat and ate our perch sandwiches (best in town), they said most years they run into Ogilvy and Olivia here. We usually leave Chicago so late we just hope to make Brigadoon by dinnertime, but it’s worth it, leaving early to make Ray’s by lunch. Later we learned that the O’s pulled into Ray’s about ten minutes after we left.

Seeing Frank and Fern made me feel like I’d stepped into Brigadoon early, and I felt a rush of comfort. Out of the chaos of infinite places, infinite choices, infinite points in time and people on earth, a few people we know converge spontaneously at the same place for lunch. Maybe not so spontaneous, since we’re all headed for the same place another three hours up the road, but still.

It’s also comforting not having anyone here, or expecting anyone. I don’t have to make sure Brigadoon is a good experience for someone else. Last night the soup was lukewarm and I thought, if Buck and Xeena were here I’d be mortified, but since it was just us, I sipped my soup as fast as I could, to get the last of its delicious warmth. Dave thought the Bleu cheese dressing tasted like Ranch but I thought it was the same, garlicky and superb.

After dinner I sat on the inn steps with Alice Fay and talked awhile, about families and how you keep learning that you know nothing about the stuff you thought you’d gotten so wise about. The wind was up though not crazy, and even the little lake was moving. Blue is still here. Thirteen years old and he came creaking his way around from the kitchen, where he’d just gotten a piece of flank steak from our drinks guy. He came over and got petted and praised by all of us for still being alive, then he went and sniffed around in some ground cover and laid down.

We headed back to our cottages. As we unpacked, Dave found the rubber ducky from our bathroom at home, tucked in the pocket of one of his shirts. A goodbye gift from Jakob, who’s staying at the house while we’re gone. I took a picture and emailed it to him. No wireless here, but my phone works. A few years ago, you couldn’t get cell reception in Brigadoon, but now I’m on 3G most of the time. I must be changing, because I find that comforting, too.



Whilst the Royal Wedding Unfolded

Trina, Wendy and I are headed to Trina’s mom’s for the weekend. Trina calls her and she gives the answers they rehearsed.

Trina: “Oh man, I can’t believe finals.”

Trina’s mom: “Hera sees all.”

Trina: “Yeah, and I have to store my stuff ’til Fall.”

Trina’s mom: “Wisdom of Zeus, blind love will fall.”

Trina: “Okay, see you soon.”

We set out, three of us, each in relationships with people not there. We are walking along the lake to Lake Forest. It’s a foot path where Lake Shore Drive should be, and it’s rubberized. It feels so good under our feet that we begin to jog. It’s slightly downhill at this point, which is lovely. We run faster and faster, then Trina sees the alligator. “Shh!” she says, and “Slowly!”

But Wendy is too far ahead. She’s passed it. Trina calls, “You’ve got to get back up here. You’ve got to get around it and get back here.”

Wendy feels paralyzed. “Is it bad?”

“It’s the biggest one I’ve seen,” answers Trina. “It’s not the little ones people keep in their purse. It has no sense of humor.”

The gator snaps its jaws. I realize it could live anywhere, could follow us all the way up that rising road, but it’s not as likely past a certain point. God, I’m tired. We were having such a good time, talking about our relationships, and this happens. I can see the gator’s face under the rocks.

Wendy inches her way back. She skirts the edge of the road, where she could easily fall into the lake, but anything to stay away from this humorless alligator. She is terrified, but Trina pulls her back with sheer lung power, coaching her though every step, telling her to step quietly, move quickly, not look down. I can’t believe gators live here all the time and people still walk this road.

Trina is going to have her mom come pick us up. Trembling, Wendy makes it into our arms. We hug briefly, and with shaking knees walk back toward the school. The gator does not follow.