Monday, February 25, 2013

A Long Way Home

The Long Way Home

Broken Glass On Memory Lane
Man, sometimes it just about kills me to ride my bicycle around this little beach resort that I once called home. They keep tearing down funky old buildings where we were known to drink and raise hell and act like pirates. There were fine old dilapidated turn-of-the-century houses, big places that had at one time been the homes of railroad officials and sea captains and rum runners; but they are all gone now; mostly, or converted into art shops or boutique saloons where the beer is priced high to keep out riff-raff like me. Jimmy Buffet music is everywhere. There are new hotels, painfully contrived to fit in with the original architecture, but why? They tore down all the original architecture. What they are trying to do is match the spirit, the ghost of the place they have just destroyed. It is a pattern started by Disney and it has become the sad blueprint for this my home.

Old Fart Syndrome
Maybe I sound bitter. I hope so. I just spent a drizzly Sunday morning pedaling around early (too early, I think), riding under these gray skies and looking at this restless gray late-winter ocean. Maybe I should try again later when the sun comes out. The sun will shine later and things might look better.

This is Old Fart Syndrome. Wanting everything to stay like it was in the good old days. I've lived here long enough, almost, to be an old-timer around here. But I have only been in this town for twenty-five years. I remember when I first came here, after being run out of Cocoa Beach during my first divorce. I fell in with a group of real locals, guys who had been born here. They would reminisce about when this was an undiscovered little surf town loaded with beach shacks on dirt roads, saloons with concrete floors where dogs were welcome and the policy was no shirt, no shoes, no problem. Acting from some inexplicable impulse, I park my bicycle in front of one familiar place that hasn't changed, much...

Shaky Ground
It's a pottery shop. I walk inside. No Jimmy Buffet music in here. Just cool jazz and world music. The good stuff. It takes a second for my eyes to adjust from the outside light. But there he is: back in the corner, glazing pots, same as always. It is his power spot. He has always been standing there, it seems. It is something I can count on..

“Hey, did you see what's going on over on Esther Street?” I ask. He looks over his half glasses in my direction. He never knows whether or not he is happy to see me.

“What's going on over on Esther?”

“They tore down the shack and there's a new house going up.”

“Our house?”

“I just went by there and the Sugar Shack is gone, man! They've already poured a new slab and everything. What the hell is happening to this town? There's a Hampton Inn on Flagler Avenue up where the Ghost House used to be. The Bamboo Saloon is a goddam wine tasting place or some kind of cigar emporium or something. Do you know they charge six dollars for a beer in there? Busch draft in those red plastic cups used to be a quarter each there at happy hour, and you could keep the cup!”

“They tore down the Sugar Shack?”

“Cromwell! Wake up! They're fucking Disneyfying our town! We've got to do something!”

“Calm down. I am doing something. I'm selling this place.” He dips a pot into the glaze bucket, twisting his wrist in that certain way that puts a wave of color across a bowl or a cup in a distinct pattern that is all his own. I was the contractor that built this shop when we first met those twenty-five years ago. A quarter of a century. Is that a long time? Seems like just a few days ago.

“You're selling the pottery shop?” I feel as though someone just stuck a pin in me and let all the air out. This was...I start for the little refrigerator to grab a beer. But no, that has changed, too. Cromwell quit drinking three years ago and joined that cult that spends more time talking about not drinking than we used to spend guzzling beer together. Almost.

“I had the building appraised and the business and the shop are worth enough that I'll never have to work again. I'll just set up a wheel and a kiln at the house and do the art shows.”

“You're selling the shop?”

“Time goes by, brother. When I sold the Shack and the spec house I made a pretty good chunk. If I sell this place I'm good. No more daily gig. Just making pots and traveling the circuit.” He picks up a fruit bowl and dips it into the glaze bucket. I hear a long, sweet trumpet note on the stereo. Miles. It's Miles. Kind of Blue. This cool old hippie potter and I were partners in that Sugar Shack/spec house deal. After my second divorce I sold my half to Cromwell. I sold it for chump change but the divorce had left me a little lost and forlorn and the open road was calling. Cromwell, on the other hand, held on and when the real estate bubble was bubbling, sold the property at a huge profit. A pretty good chunk, as he calls it.

“Both of us were supposed to sell out when we turned fifty and buy that boat and sail the islands. Then you got all sober on me. Fuck, man, I'm fifty-seven and you're...holy crap! You'll turn sixty this year!”

“Time goes by, brother.”

“I need a beer.”

He looks at me again over those half glasses. When he strikes that pose, he no longer is a cool old hippie potter. When he looks over those glasses like that he is a high school principle, or a judge, maybe, about to hand out a stern lecture. Sober. Sober as a judge...

“You need to slow down and start thinking about what you're gonna do when you can't swing that hammer anymore. You don't have a single cent put back, do you?”

See what I mean? The big brother I never had. But all the same...

“Why would I need to put anything back? You stole enough for both of us. We were gonna cruise the islands and my retirement plan was to die young and in bed, with a couple floosies at my side to see me off. Remember?”

“Things change, Blix.”

“Yeah, Crom, I know all about change. People change, too,” I said. I was having about enough of this predictable trip down memory lane. Things never go quite right when I step into this place, which is why I only go in about once a year, these days. I used to come in here every day. “Listen, man", I hear myself saying,  "things just worked out the way they worked out. No hard feelings.”  Yeah, right.

“Ok, Blix.”

“See ya later, bro,” I say, trying to keep a cheerful note in my voice. I was faking it. I wasn't cheerful at all.


Man. Going outside, I grab hold of my trusty bicycle. I stand there for a moment. I'm not exactly catching my breath, but I might as well be. Across the street is the little apartment I lived in when I first moved to this town one scattering of memories ago. One scattering of memories, a scattered family, one aging pirate who remembers forty as a time of youth...

My old apartment is on the second floor of a funky weather-beaten frame house fifty yards from the beach. It is an artist's studio or gift shop or something now. Cromwell used to throw pebbles at my window to let me know it was time to put down my pen and go out and drink some beers. Nobody had cell phones yet. Who needed cell phones? I knew what it meant when a couple little pebbles hit the window next to my writing table. It meant evening was upon us and the fun was about to begin.

Nothing Lasts Forever
I climb into the saddle and hit a few hard strokes to catch up with traffic. I cruise past unfamiliar storefronts. The cars parked along the street are all the same; they all look alike, whatever these new cars are. They all look like toys, or some kind of mutant seed pods. Cross over? I think these are called cross-overs; these cars. What the hell, man. Is it time to cross over? Time to cross the bar? That's a laugh. I can still swing a hammer just fine. All I need is a new old beach town. It won't be in Florida though. Even Key West is Disneyfied now and no longer worth the effort. I don't know if I am a dinosaur or a lost pirate or what...I need to kick Jimmy Buffet's ass.

The day started drizzly and it seems to be darkening. Evening is a long way off.  At least I hope so.  I can smell the rain coming and it is still early and I am seven miles from the Whispering Pines Trailer Park and a long way from home. Baja? Maybe. I'm broke but I know where I can get some beer. Maybe some rum, too. I ain't dead yet.

It is a long way home but I'll get there just fine. Rain? Hah! I'm a cyclist.

Whispering Pines Trailer Park and Riff-Raff Refuge

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Reading Rocket

Functional Art
It's a little cold this morning (about fifty degrees Fahrenheit) so I will wait awhile before heading out the door to wherever my bicycle will take me today. Last night I was drinking a beer and just idly spinning the front wheel of the bike where she hangs on the wall, a black bicycle against a white background. When you are poor you learn to make things do double duty and so my old Schwinn serves not just as transportation during the day but also as wall art when at home. As crazy as it seems that I should be so enraptured of this elderly machine there is nothing to be done about it.

I love my bicycle.

Sipping a beer and spinning the front wheel in the semi-darkness that is my single-wide trailer (in the second-crappiest-trailer park in town) a little before midnight, I was startled to see a kind of strobe effect as the thirty-six stainless steel spokes flashed there before me; I switched on another light and slowed the spin for a better look and was dismayed to see that yes, there was a jerky motion in the spinning wheel, not a trick of light but more likely some contamination of the wheel itself, something in the hub.

“This wheel is not that old! It has maybe...uh, wait...a thousand miles?” I never lubed the hub in a thousand miles and now it is showing. This is a kinda-cheap Dimension product, a single wall Alex rim with a Formula hub. Taking the wheel off the bike I go to the bench, grab a couple wrenches and open up the hub. There was not enough axle grease in there to even hold the bearings in place. Unhappy experience has taught me to be ready for the rapid mass exodus of bearings suddenly freed from their little prison. These wayward rascals fell harmlessly to the clean towel I had spread on the bench in anticipation of their escape.

Off Kilter-ness
My maintenance stories used to be a lot funnier as I attempted to work on my bicycle without a proper stand or the right tools, usually more than a little inebriated and absolutely unburdened by any excess of knowledge or skill. Alas, those heady days are more or less behind me now. I have acquired the gear, mostly, to get the job done right; and while my skill and knowledge remain far from a heavy burden, I seem to be able to perform the simplest bicycle maintenance chores without an excess of cussing, bloodshed or damage to the machine.

Midnight repair is not a part of my usual schedule. In fact, these days midnight anything is pretty much a stranger to my experience. But of late my routine is knocked off-kilter by this most recent bout of joblessness and idle time. As I always do when I have extra time on my hands, I have been doing a lot of reading. Good reading, too: whenever I am fortunate enough to have a stack of good stuff on hand I just read. A lot.

Sometimes I Ride, Sometimes I Read
Too much, in fact. When I get on one of these reading jags I am incorrigible. I read two or three books in a twenty-four hour period, just blasting through like an addict who has stumbled across somebody else's stash and has to use it all before they come looking for it. I read while eating and I read on the porch and I read in bed and sometimes I read all night and that's how my rythms and schedule get thrown off; that is how I find myself awake at midnight, drinking beer, contemplating a just-finished book, thinking about life in general and absent-mindedly spinning the front wheel of my bicycle at midnight. I like it and why not?

New Friends and Old
This month I have been roaring through the good stuff and finding writers I never heard of, young guys with wit and charm and frightening skills that blow me away; such as essayists David Foster Wallace (Consider the Lobster) and John Jeremiah Sullivan (Pulphead). Also sketches of America and beyond by the likes of people with long-familiar names like McMurtry (Roads) and Vonnegut (While Mortals Sleep) and Vidal (Clouds and Eclipses); David Byrne, too, of all people: the Bicycle Diaries wasn't half bad.

Bicycle Boys
I read Grant Petersen's Just Ride and Eben “Bike Snob” Weiss's first book. (His second has yet to appear at the local library). Both were good, in fact, Just Ride was better than good, in a simple instructional-manual kind of way. David Byrne's book had even less to do with bicycles than the Trailer Park Cyclist, but like here, bikes are in there, if you look hard enough.

Big Guns
Also: I finally got around to reading Cross Creek by Marjory Kinnan Rawlings. It was a knockout and I am glad I waited, it is a delight to read stuff you already knew about but thought you wouldn't like. I first found Hemingway in just such a fashion; which is funny. (I re-read The Sun Also Rises and forgot how good he was at twenty six. The scene when a drunk Bill Gorton first arrives in Paris is just...well, I can't write like that. Obviously.

No reading jag is complete without some Faulkner (Absolom, Absolom!), Oakley Hall (Apache), Tom Pynchon (The Crying of Lot 49); John D. MacDonald (Cinnamon Skin); I am sure that you know about the Travis McGee series...but how about Tim Dorsey? His Serge Storm character, a kind of bizarro Travis McGee, is mandatory midnight maintenance reading for any Floridian worthy of the name. I just read Dorsey's latest, The Riptide Ultraglide. Eben Weiss, I think, could crank out madcap stories like Tim Dorsey does, should the Snob ever shed his snark skin and spread his wings. Do snarks have wings? Probably not in the cocoon stage, but later...

Adventure and History and Peanuts
There were more. A book about a lady who throws away her “normal” life to row a little boat across a big ocean (Rowing the Atlantic, Roz Savage); I read some stuff about life and art by Charles Schulz (My Life With Charlie Brown), and...well, there were a lot more. A lot more books. I read a lot of Florida history.  I read books about prehistoric indians and not so prehistoric Indians, there are stories of the "Weird Florida" variety and of course tales of sunken treasure and mysterious fountains and on and on...but the books I mentioned above I would recommend to anyone.

Midnight Bike Repair
I got that glitchy wheel off the bike, I pulled it apart, cleaned things up a little and packed everything back together with some nice clean lithium grease. It was well after midnight when I finished and cleaned everything up, everything that I was able to clean up. There is a lot of clean-up needed, I think; it will take time though and more than a little money that I don't have, yet. Not yet. But for now the library is free and full of books. The library is free and it is a perfect little three mile bicycle ride from my front porch.

I have time to read and ride my bicycle and that is what I am doing. There is clean-up and fix-it to do, but not yet. Soon.

Whispering Pines Trailer Park and Reading Room