Two Roads Diverge

Essay

 

In my drinking days, I had a habit of slipping away from the party or the bar without saying goodbye. I’d simply wander home to bed. I’ve no idea why I did it. Perhaps because I always feel awkward extracting myself from social situations. With my inhibitions pacified by too much alcohol, it was easier just to walk away. 

I have this ruthless inner critic that often screams at me that I am a failure. That tells me I am coming up with  ideas or projects, that I start but don’t finish. There is a meek, yet persistent, part that thinks I am forever disappointing people. Both of these are not true of course. Still, these parts are there, and have succeeded in the past in getting what they want. They’ve kept me from doing things and not allowed me to stop doing other things.

I write these deep confessions to you in the early morning hours of the last day of April as the rain falls heavy on the bright green grass and the birds splash in the puddles and preen themselves in the still bare branches, because I don’t want to simply walk away. I do not want to continue to ignore what I know to be true.

I came to the conclusion last night that it was time to take a different path with my writing. To stop publishing on the blog.  It seems fitting to stop here, in the middle of the change of seasons, a change that promotes growth. 

I still have hundreds of essay ideas and poems in the queue, which I plan to develop and write. Perhaps these will find their way onto the blog someday. It all depends on where this new adventure leads me. I am excited to see what is to come. 

I want to thank you, dear reader, for your support. Even if we have never communicated, I feel blessed that other people, beyond my immediate family and friends, have read my work. I hope that my writing has brought a smile to your face, made you see the world in a different light, or helped you in some way. 

Hold Fast. Slow Yourself Down. Unshackle the Joy. 

Floridays II

Essay

PART 1 

One day Tarik went off to class and never returned. It was then that we learned from Kyle that Tarik had a fondness for cocaine. A few days later his parents came for a scheduled visit, and as they walked around the parking lot, David and I watched them from our balcony and discussed how to tell them that their son seemed to have disappeared and that he apparently had a cocaine habit. His parents were both from Egypt and took the news stoically. We must have been in contact with them over the next, couple of weeks but Tarik never returned. 

Then the collection calls began. At first the calls were unthreatening. The man on the other end simply wanted to speak to Tarik. When Tarik never called him back, the calls quickly escalated.  I began keeping my “tire buddy” on the counter near the front door. The tire buddy was a short club with a steel ring on the end. It was for loosening the lug nuts on your car tire. But after the drug dealer threatened to kick down our door and break our knee caps, I decided keeping it in the apartment was of better use. At one point I told the dealer that we had no idea where Tarik was and that we did not have his money or his drugs and that we did not even know he was into drugs, but we would be sure to have him call if he ever came back. The calls seemed to stop after that. Then the messages from the 900 numbers began. Apparently, Tarik had run up a bill with them as well. One day, sick of the calls, I answered the phone and told the man the same thing I’d told the drug dealer. The man exploded. 

“God Damn camel jockeys! Those fucking sand niggers always do this.”

Then he slammed down the phone. He never did call again. 

David moved out and Tarik was gone and a kid my age moved in. It was quickly apparent that he was rather anti-social and had some anger issues. He listened to punk rock so loud it would rattle the pictures off the wall. 

It’s great to live in a gated community but the gates don’t do much when the problems are inside the fence. 

Rob was the next to move in. He was a football fanatic who would commandeer the TV from morning until night on Sundays, watching every game broadcast. Despite my not understanding how anyone could watch football for so long, he and I got along the best, and Thanksgiving of that year I gave him a ride to New Orleans to visit his brother on my way to visiting my brother in Texas. 

We met his brother in a Walmart parking lot, and I ran in to use the bathroom. I walked through the doors, and as I remember it the place went silent, all conversation stopped, the cashiers stopped mid-swipe, and everyone looked at me. I was the only white person in the place. For a pasty white kid from podunk Vermont it was as much of a shock to me as it was to the hundreds of people in the store. I scurried off to the bathroom thinking, This is how someone of color must feel when they come to Vermont. 

Rob’s brother took us to a chicken shack where I had the best Po’boy sandwich I’ve ever tasted and was again the minority. While we were standing in line someone called out to me. “Hey cracker where you from?” 

Next we headed to Bourbon Street for the “best hurricanes” in New Orleans. We got them at what can only be described as an alcoholic slushy bar. Despite it being November, there was still a lot of partying going on. As we walked along Bourbon Street with our brightly colored drinks we passed two college-age looking girls who seemed to smile at me. 

“They were cute,” I said.

“They were hookers,” Rob said. 

I decided that if this was New Orleans in November, I certainly did not want to come for Mardi Gras, something that had been on my list, being a Buffett fan and all. 

Rob’s childhood friend Tush was also in town visiting, and he’d won so much money at the casino the night before that he now had VIP status. He wanted all of us to go and see him in action. We went back to the apartment so he could change. He put on a suit and even had a cane with a flask in the handle. With his mullet and his wild suit he looked more like a stylized movie pimp than anything else. I am not sure how they got me onto the casino boat as it was for 21 and older, but given that I’d  had an alcoholic slushy on Bourbon Street, checking ID did not seem to be a priority. Tush worked the room and it was not long until he was rolling dice and winning as well as yelling out 

“Who do you love?”

“New York!” the table would yell back. 

I was practically falling asleep sipping cokes and watching Tush when the pit boss came up to me and made a comment that made it clear he knew full well I was not twenty-one but he’d let it slide, since Tush was a VIP and I had not actually gambled. When you have to scrounge money for four dollar pizzas you tend not to play games of chance that you know nothing about. 

The next morning, bleary eyed, I drove to Texas where I had my brother teach me how to play poker. 

All of these crazy incidents were juxtaposed to the fact that I had no real friends and spent much of my time alone. I don’t mind being alone, and I learned a lot about myself and who the true me was although I would not allow that person to come out for many years. Between classes I would sit in the same chair in front of the floor to ceiling windows of the college library reading back issues of Outside and Bicycle magazines and watching all of the people walk by on their way to and from class. 

By the end of my third semester, I’d had enough with the Sunshine State, and when I went to my last final exam, my car was packed with all my possessions. As soon as I finished my exam, I pointed the car west to Texas and then a week later northeast where I chased a thunder storm across the length of Tennessee singing along to Jimmy Buffett. I was going back to the place I had been so desperate to leave, but at the moment going back did not seem all that bad. 

Floridays

Essay

I moved to Florida in the fall of 1996 to go to college. For a kid who had every inch of his room plastered with ski pictures and whose ultimate dream up until May of that year had been to move out west to become be a ski bum and work for a mountain rescue group, this was a complete one-eighty.

Really I was moving because of a girl, but I needed a valid reason to go if I wanted my parents financial help on this escapade. So, I picked graphic design out of the course catalog for Santa Fe Community College. I’d never taken an art class in my life, but one of the requirements for graphic design was photography and I loved photography. The other classes seemed neat too. 

I’d met the girl that summer at a fancy camp we had both worked at. When camp ended, she went back to Florida and I went to work for an insurance company in Harrisburg. Everything about my current situation was wretched, so with Jimmy Buffett’s lyrics mixed with memories of visiting my maternal grandmother in St. Augustine, and young love in my heart, I packed up my car and pointed it south. 

I found an apartment in a new gated community called Melrose. It had two pools and a workout room. The gates made my mom feel better. I liked the pools. It was a unique set up, in that you rented your own room complete with full bath and deadbolt on the bedroom door and shared the common area with two or three other people. I knew enough about myself then to know I liked it quiet and did not want to be with a ruckus bunch of roommates. I was placed with a 30- something divorce´ from New York.

Gainesville is smack in the middle of the state and the stadium at the University of Florida is called the swamp for a reason. For various reasons the girl and I did not last but Florida was not Vermont which I had left the previous summer swearing never to return, so I continued on. 

For a while it was just David and I in the apartment. Then Tarik moved in. He had previously been a used car salesmen in South Carolina but had moved down to make a new start and to go back to school. He was probably in his late twenties, and he and I got along well; we certainly had more in common than David and I. Next to move in was David’s brother Kyle, who was going to school at the University of Florida but spent more time working at Sears than going to class. 

He and his girlfriend loved the party and club scene and though I joined them at a rave one Halloween where I watched a guy in a wheelchair roll and spin to the beat on a roof top dance floor, we did not hang out all that much. Kyle did bring with him a very large salt water fish tank to which I added a sea horse. It is the closest I have ever come to living near the ocean. 

Shortly after Tarik moved in his ex-girlfriend, a stripper from South Carolina, came down to get a boob job. She brought along their golden retriever who liked to drink beer.

The day after his girlfriend had her implants Tarik called me into his room. There his lady friend sat smiling in all her new boob glory. 

“What do you think?” He asked.

I stood there mouth agape.

“Um, nice,” I said and quickly left the room.

Our upstairs neighbors were just as much of an eclectic mix as our apartment was. This is what you get when you don’t really get to choose your roommates. There were sisters named Jo and Eleanor. Despite Eleanor’s mother-hen tendencies, I got along well with them. There was also a quiet girl named Katie who revealed her true nature one day when the song Little Red Rodeo came on. 

“I hate this song and Rodeos [a type of SUV] because I only see black people driving them.”

I was shocked that someone who seemed so nice and sweet and with whom I got along with so well could spew such illogical hatred. 

Maggie, the fourth one,  was of Cuban decent and had a white-hot hatred for Castro that I had never seen in someone before or since. She also spoke her mind and had no qualms about telling me how selfish I was for “leaving” the child I had fathered in Vermont. I was used to people passing judgment on me, and I decided it was best just not to engage her on this subject. 

In need of some kind of income, I scoured the want ads in the local paper. First I got a job at the Cracker Barrel as a host, but when I arrived for my first shift the manager put me in the dish room. I lasted a day. Next I found a job helping the woman who sold roses to the intoxicated college students at the bars in Gainesville. The job was at this woman’s house and it turned out she wanted glorified house help more than anything. Another kid was also there to help out and had it worse than me. The woman had him washing her clothes, including, he told me in hushed tones, her underwear. I lasted a day at that job too.

Bunk Beds Etc. occupied a store front at the far end of The Oaks Mall which was conveniently just down the road from my apartment. The beds that we sold looked like castles, ships, tree forts, pretty much anything you could think of. They were more indoor play houses with a place for a mattress. We also sold rocking chairs and futons. I was the only in store employee and I would generally pass my time reading my book or people watching. A bunk bed store does not get a lot of traffic. At times a seemingly lonely old man would come in and sit in one of the rockers and talk my ear off. I knew far too much back then to listen to his rambling stories. I bet they were good. 

For some extra money, I would deliver and set up the beds for customers or take things to the “factory” which was located in Ocala. The “factory” was in an abandoned single-story house set among tall trees at the end of a long meandering driveway. The house was dark and the shag carpeting was caked with sawdust and wood chips. The bathroom, where I often put the materials I was delivering, had an exceeding large pink sunken tub. The man running the crew looked more like mob muscle than a carpenter and I wondered, not for the first time, what strange world I had fallen into. 

Next week it gets even stranger. 

Songs I know by Heart

Essay

I discovered Jimmy Buffett when I was in my early teens. Our neighbors had a music collection that went far beyond that of my parents’ Jazz and classical music. Buffett’s Songs You Know by Heart was tucked in among the likes of Queen, The Beatles, Edie Brickell and Lou Reed. Pure curiosity drove me to put on this nondescript album, and I’ve been a Parrot Head ever since. As with many songs, it is the words that drew me in. I have friends who only hear the beat of a song, but for me, it is always about the words.

It was on a trip to Florida with my brother when one of his friends, also a Buffett fan, gave me the cassette of Songs You Know by Heart. I kept it hidden in the console of my car when others were in it. I didn’t need any more proof of how uncool I was. But when I was alone, I’d blast it and sing along as I drove the winding roads of Vermont.

I picked up my second album, Fruitcakes, after I fled Vermont to work at a fancy summer camp in Pennsylvania. It is this album that has the song “Quietly Making Noise” on it. When I decided to change the name of my blog from Smart Men Marry Doctors to Quietly Making Noise, I did it as a nod to my Parrot Head ways but also to my dad who loved the idea of quietly making noise so much that he had the words scrolling across his computer as a screen saver. 

Though Fruitcakes is my favorite album I don’t have a favorite song. I simply love too many of them and can sing along to almost all of the ones recorded from the 1970s to 2002. Recently Jimmy came out with an album called Songs You Don’t Know by Heart. I knew them all, and they are some of my favorites.

After the stint at the summer camp, where I met a girl from Florida, I worked for a time at an insurance agency in Harrisburg, PA. The death of my friend that previous spring had thrown my world into turmoil, and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but I quickly learned that insurance was not it. I had spent time in St. Augustine as a kid visiting my maternal grandmother and between that and the visions Buffett had put into my head I pointed my car south in the fall of 1996–I was chasing dreams that would soon crash into reality and evaporate. I moved to Gainesville, which is a swamp; the coast is hours away. The relationship fell apart after the first semester and I spent the next semester learning how sheltered I had been in my small town in Vermont. Through it all Buffett was my “guide.” I joined the fan club, added to my album collection and looked forward to finding the Coconut Telegraph, the Buffett fan booklet, in my mailbox each month. Why I never packed up and moved to the coast I don’t know. The lines Mother mother ocean I heard you call. Wanted to sail upon your waters since I was three feet tall. have always pulled at my soul. Unfortunately, I get such horrible motion sickness that despite the fact that I would sell everything to go live on a boat in the islands, it is just not something I could do. There was also the fact that I still had not accomplished my long-held dream of moving west to ski, which was about the only direction I had in those days. I was a lost and scared soul then and for many years to come. 

As my Florida experience became more erratic, all I wanted to do was get home to my friends who understood me. My paternal grandmother would write and ask me when I was going to return to the United States. After three semesters, I beat feet north taking my parrot head dreams and attitude with me. 

I spent the next three years at Colby-Sawyer College in New Hampshire where the rum drinking part of the Parrot Head attitude became my leading operating procedure. The college had a radio station and on Sunday mornings I would load every one of my Buffett CDs into my messenger bag and drag my hung-over self across campus to do a two-hour radio show I called Setting Sail.

Now as the snow continues to pile up outside my office window I often have “Margaritaville Radio” on. It is the sun tan for my frostbite as I sing along to the songs, remembering my younger days when, well warmed by rum on frigid winter nights, I would mount the dive bar karaoke stage and get the bar to sing along to “Margaritaville.” Those days of rum drinking and bar hopping and dreaming of being a ski bum are far behind me. Now I dream of warm weather and beach living. I remember the adventures we’ve taken as a family to tropical shores and dream about the ones yet to come.