Christmas Day at the Beach, 2015

It was 83° in South Florida Friday, one of the hottest Christmases on record. I went to the beach with my chair and my umbrella and my two good friends, Seneca and Plato. It was crowded out there. Not too bad at first, but not like what I’m used to. Of course I wasn’t sitting in my normal semi-secluded spot. I was on the south side of the Pompano Beach Pier near the volleyball nets, and close to the public parking lot.

I plunked my chair down in the sand, affixed my dad’s Isle Casino umbrella to the top of it, sat down and gazed out at the sea. Gorgeous. Emerald-green in the shallows, riptides swirling, the foamy breakers rolling into shore, one after the other, soft, meditative… A seagull swims in the air above, dives, twirling through the crystalline blue. Another one appears and goes into a similar acrobatic, both of them soaring in sync, as though to music only they could hear.

I suppose I’d been regarding this vision for about five minutes when it was suddenly corrupted by a square-headed guy, with a short neck, a squarish torso, and short, bandy legs, mincing to and fro on his cellphone. He was talking to someone that needed to know he was at this enchanting beach, even though the surroundings of the place were devastatingly boring to him, otherwise he wouldn’t have called. And what were they talking about? Football scores? Line-dancing? Money? Booze? Wet burritos? Full-body condoms? The Hungarian campaign of 1527-28?

He finally scuttled off and was replaced by an attractive couple in their 20s, armed with a selfie stick, probably a Christmas present. They stood just a little to the left, facing me so that ocean was behind them. They then put their arms around each other, held the stick out, smiled and snapped a photo. Then they drew the stick in with a lightning quick velocity to see how they’d been captured. They did this about five times and I couldn’t help but think I’d just witnessed what would later that day appear of Facebook, as a means to inspire both envy and awe. “Look at our blissful existence, friends, Romans, and countrymen! So beautiful are we to the outward eye, we must, on the inside, be more beautiful still!”

It never ceases to amaze me how deceitful pictures people post from their daily lives on the internet can be. We see them and often forget the hidden subtext. We almost forget they are human beings, susceptible to the same things that plague us all: frustration, sadness, rage, despair, headaches, heartburn, bad breath, ingrown toenails, indigestion, diarrhea, nausea, slow-decay, death, and so forth and so on.

It was starting to get hot under my umbrella, so went into the ocean and floated on my back for a while. It wasn’t easy. I was getting assaulted by an endless succession of waves, and the riptides, according to the sign the put up, were life threatening. Another problem was all the people out there. The crowd seemed to have doubled since I got there, and everywhere I looked, I saw some idiot splashing through the water, a clump of seaweed on his head, spewing out mouthfuls of brine.

“You ask me to say what you should consider it particularly important to avoid. My answer is this: a mass crowd.” ~ Seneca

Soon I got out, went back under my umbrella, and escaped into my books for the rest of the afternoon.

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Notes from Work

I have come to the realization lately that I haven’t been writing nearly as much as I am capable of. Sure, I work on my novel every day, but when I go through a lull in that,  I put it aside and do something else, even though there’s still gas in my tank for words. This is why I’ve been blogging more often the past few weeks. I hope I can keep it up. Pretty sure I can. I like it better than Facebooking, for one reason (among the many) because the posts over there are here today, gone tomorrow. Here they stay fresh and are easily accessible years later. And as for doing a diary, which I’ve been at occasionally, it’s only really interesting to myself. And I like to share, even if it’s only with one or two people.

“There is no enjoying the possession of anything valuable unless one has someone to share it with.” ~ Seneca

I am at work now, at the shop where my next novel is based. I used to own this place. Now it’s my brother’s and it’s totally changed from the way I had it. He cleaned it up, remodeled, swept out all the reprobates and derelicts with his Hercules broom, etc. etc. Even the customers are different, most of them anyway. Some are the same. The latest to come in was a house painter with long gray hair pulled back in a ponytail and a dyed pitch-black mustache (the vanity! the vanity!). I rented a pressure cleaner to him two weeks ago and came back today to rent it again.

“Hello, Mr. Mushrush,” I said as he entered the store.

He was flattered I remembered his name. But how could you forget a name like Mushrush? He lit up the room with his barracuda smile…

I have learned more about human nature from my seventeen years in the tool rental business than from anywhere else. That it was always my money that was on the line was of course the greatest factor, but also dealing with mostly blue collar people of the middle and lower classes every day. I could’ve never had such a great course in humanity if I’d worked in an office, or a school, or a place like that. No, my job required a deep level of street-psychology. My customers were always lying to me, trying to get an edge, stealing…  And my employees were often even worse. Add to that the fact that the business was barely even making it the first ten years, and there you go.

But Mushrush setting the room ablaze with his barracuda smile reminded me of some of the other great con-artists who have come into the store over the years. Some would try to win me over with their unique personal charm, a gracious smile, small talk, flattery, so forth. But I could usually tell right away there were hidden motives involved. As I said, it was my money on the line, my welfare, my mental health, and eventually I could sense things before I even thought them. Sometimes I didn’t need to do either. Sometimes it was obvious. A customer would come in and want to rent something with no credit card, no cash deposit, not even enough for the rental. They’d want to pay on return…

“Come on man, you know me. I’m good for it. I wouldn’t screw you over.”
“I’ve heard that before from people I’ve known a lot better than you, and they did screw me over.”
“Yeah, but that’s them. I wouldn’t do it. I’m not like that. I’ll pay you when I get paid for the job.”
“Sorry, I need payment upfront, plus a $100 deposit.”
“$100? Are you kidding?”
“Nope.”
“Wow…”
“Store policy,” I’d say. “The machine’s worth $900. Usually I get a $200 deposit. I’m only doing it for $100 because I half-know you.”

Customer scratches head. “S’cuse me for a moment,” he says. He goes to corner, extracts phone from pocket, calls girlfriend, or wife, or someone else who doesn’t trust him. The answer is no. She won’t loan him $100. She knows better now, knows the con, the fix, the tendency, and hangs up. Customer then hides disappointment, pretends conversation went very well, slips phone into pocket and says, “I’ll be right back.” He then exits store and, with an invisible Greek chorus trailing after him, gets into pickup truck and drives off into the sunset, never to return.

“Men are false. Therefore, the best assurance against being hurt by someone must be founded in his inability and not his unwillingness to hurt you.” ~ Guicciardini

Of course I wasn’t always so strict. Most of what I learned I learned by getting screwed.

Pompano Beach Pier

Another rainy afternoon in South Florida. It’s been either cloudy or rainy almost every day since I’ve been back. Not the weather I’m used to in the winter here. But I managed to get to the beach anyway today. When I lived here, especially the last several years, I hardly ever went to the beach. Now that I don’t have it, I can’t get enough of it. Mostly because I like the in utero experience of floating underwater in that giant salt bath. The lakes of Berlin just don’t compare. I also like reading in my beach chair or just zoning out, watching the fishermen on the pier, or the geniuses of the place, the seagulls, divebombing the waves…

Today, because it was cloudy, it was pretty deserted out there. It was just me, a few French Canadians, and two aging surfers bobbing and fighting the tide, failing to catch any waves. These guys knew they were bad. And they were wearing wet suits too. 80° water and they were in wet suits. Idiots! My guess is they were hedge fund managers from New Jersey, pining thirty years too late to be surfers. The ocean eventually barfed them up on shore, so fed up it was with their misguided shenanigans.

“Various things delight various men; all things are not
for all ages.”—Gall., Eleg., i. 104

010

Back in Florida. Again.

I have been in South Florida now for less than two weeks and already I have met three guys who didn’t know how old they were. I had to help them figure it out. One of the guys I’ve known for years. His name is T—. And I think the reason I asked him his age was because I couldn’t believe how much he’d aged since the last time I’d seen him. It had been about five years, but he looked twenty years older, his hair gone gray, his front tooth missing, sagging belly. You would’ve never known he was once well-built and unusually handsome for his age. Turned out he was arrested for attempted murder two years ago after stabbing his roommate with a butcher knife at their house in the 1000 block of South A Street in Lake Worth. He apparently stabbed him in the rib cage and on the left shoulder, shouting, “I’m going to kill you!” But his roommate somehow pinned him to the floor and kicked the knife away, and that was that. The charges didn’t stick. I’m sure there were drugs involved. But when I knew T—, he wasn’t doing drugs, at least as far as I knew. He was a wannabe pirate. He used to do festivals and parties dressed up like Captain Jack Sparrow, and even had a pirate ship. True, it was very small wooden ship, probably only about fifteen or twenty feet, and it didn’t float, but it was elaborately carved, stained a dark reddish color, with masts and rigging, and round little port windows and everything.

It was a flop.

Then he got involved in some pyramid scheme on the internet, and then he invested in an alligator farm in the Everglades, and then he was a motivational speaker who’d dress up in a Captain America costume at corporate luncheons, and then he was selling cases of MonoVie from the trunk of his Silverado, and then he got into penny stocks.

Everything flopped.

There was a law somewhere stating it had to.

T— was born in 1961, he knew that. From there we determined he was 54, ten years older than me. He was 52 when he stabbed his roommate with a butcher knife in the rib cage and left shoulder, shouting, “I’m going to kill you!” I found out about it in an article in the Palm Beach Post, but I didn’t say anything and he didn’t bring it up. I was mostly thinking about how much he’d aged which made me think of me more than anything. I was invincible in my twenties and thirties. I could walk through fire, balance on a highwire between skyscrapers, swallow jars of rat poison and whisky, etc. The problem was I didn’t know it. And now, in my forties, I feel age for the very first time. I feel it in my bones. It’s not just my bad back. It’s other phantom pains here and there. It’s death creeping up on me, acquainting itself to me very gradually. And now that I am back on my home turf, it has been acquainting itself to me also in the music I have to hear everyday. Music is Art, it’s not supposed to be prison gruel. I don’t think the owners of this station know that — I am at work as I write this and can’t change it.

Can you imagine if a bunch of bean-fed philistines determined what you had to eat or watch or read everyday? Can you imagine having the same fat hillbilly pornos or Dan Brown passages shoved in front of you day in, day out, with no variation and no end in sight. That’s what it feels like when I’m at work, or in a car, or at a bar getting my ears impaled by the Eagles, and Billy Joel, and Boston, and Kansas, and Journey, and the Steve Miller Band. I’ve been hearing this crap for decades, and the sad part is most people still love it. For them, it’s High Art. For them, it’s the flash of lightening behind the clouds, and every time they hear a so-called Classic they’ve heard already 1,472,980 times,

It feels like the first time,

feels like the very first time…

It must.

But for me, it makes me want to grab a butcher’s knife, go down to the headquarters of this lousy station and start stabbing people in the shoulders and rib cages.

“I’m going to kill you!”

Buried Books

When I moved to Berlin in 2011, I sold or gave away just about everything I’d accumulated in my life up until then except my books. About five or six of them I brought with me to Berlin, and the rest were packed up in boxes and have been collecting dust in my brother’s shop for four years. The past week I’ve been going through the boxes, taking out the ones I want to read again, either here or in Berlin. Strangely, there’s not one novel in the bunch. They are almost all books of poetry or philosophy. The poetry books are Rimbaud, Collected Poems, which I haven’t looked at in sixteen years but would like to see with new eyes; Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, which for some stupid reason I never finished; Li Po, Tu Fu, Villon, T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland, and Georg Trakl, because it’s dual-language and haunting, and beautiful, despite the iffy translation. The philosophy books I dug out are Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil (still looking for Thus Spoke Zarathustra), Plutarch, Seneca, Guicciardini, La Rochefoucauld, and of course old reliable Schopenhauer. These books were once more important to me than food, so much did they teach me in the way of dealing with the four flushers, sadists, good-for-nothings, pantywaists,and hallelujah peddlers that always seemed to attach themselves to me.

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The other day I was paging through Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and
Representation, Part II, and came across this gem, which was like a 20,000 lumen light sent down through the ages. No one would say this today… At least not so eloquently.

“Temples and churches, pagodas and mosques, in all countries and ages, in their splendour and spaciousness, testify to man’s need for metaphysics, a need strong and ineradicable, which follows close on the physical. The man of a satirical frame of mind could of course add that this need for metaphysics is a modest fellow content with meagre fare. Sometimes it lets itself be satisfied with clumsy fables and absurd fairy-tales. If only they are imprinted early enough, they are for man adequate explanations of his existence and supports for his morality. Consider the Koran, for example; this wretched book was sufficient to start a world-religion, to satisfy the metaphysical need for countless millions for twelve hundred years, to become the basis of their morality and of a remarkable contempt for death, and also to inspire them to bloody wars and the most extensive conquests. In this book we find the saddest and poorest form of theism. Much may be lost in translation, but I have not been able to discover in it one single idea of value. Such things show that the capacity for metaphysics does not go hand in hand with the need for it.”

Berlin to Miami (Window Seat)

After I boarded the plane, I found my seat, stuffed my backpack in the overhead, and sat down at the window. I then opened the book I’d brought along, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera, and waited to see who’d be sitting next to me. A moment later, a short, bald Spaniard with purple-framed glasses was standing in the aisle way putting his stuff in the overhead. I looked up at him, he looked down at me. I said Hello. He did not return my Hello. He pointed to the pillow on the seat and asked if it was mine. I said no. He then picked up the pillow, eased into the seat and put the pillow on his lap. I then claimed the real estate that was the armrest between us, resting my forearm over three quarters of it. A few minutes later as we were taking off, I leaned forward a little, looked out the window down on Berlin:  cold, grey, the scraggy leafless trees of winter and the brown streets and the old factory buildings getting smaller in our ascent. We were still climbing when I caught a glimpse of my co-traveler also looking out the window.

No good.

I leaned back, pulled the shade down very slowly to the bottom and started reading. He then pulled out a thick red Bible, read a few sentences, and gave up. A few hours later I had to go to the bathroom. I did not say excuse me. I just pointed and started getting up. I did it like that twice, pointing and making my move, ready to elbow him in the ribs or the gut if need be. Then toward the end of the flight, when we were given forms to fill out for U.S. Customs, I flourished my pen and began checking off the boxes, scribbling away. I knew he didn’t have a pen on him. I did not offer him mine and he did not ask for it. We had an unspoken agreement that began the moment he deflected my Hello and jabbed his finger at the pillow. It was this: niceties and mutual-dependence were a sign of weakness. He got out of his seat and opened the overhead and fumbled around in his carry-on bag for a while, finally finding a pen. Then he sat back down, filled out the form, and not long later, after he’d opened his Bible and absorbed another sentence or two, only to give up and tuck the monstrosity in the pouch of the seat in front of him, we went into our descent.

Miami!

Sunshine, ocean, beaches, palm trees.

Everything grew bigger as I looked down upon it, but then I noticed he too was trying to catch a glimpse and it was still no good. We had our pact and I couldn’t go back on it. I pulled the shade very slowly down to the bottom.

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