END OF PART ONE
July 15, 2014
Fort Lauderdale, FL
Wish them all well on their long journeys out to sea.
July 8, 2014
A very little boy once thought the summer sun was bright because it was smiling and that’s why everything grew green and lush during the peak season. “Knee-high by the Fourth of July” was the ‘country’ expectation in the Midwest when looking at “that them” corn plants.
The Summer Solstice and July 4th, 2014 are now past. Over the last couple months as the Earth shifted on its axis I watched the sun of another year race to the north in the western sky and reach its zenith; we’ve now passed the highest point and things will start sliding back down again.
On the concrete causeway between the City of Miami and the City of Miami Beach I dug down into my bike pedals at 20+ human miles per hour.
Too fast for the lowering red-and-white striped barricades I shot across the drawbridge as the warning buzzer blared and inside the little control house a black female stared outward at me from her watchtower, her face inscrutable. The afternoon sun struck the glass at an angle making the window dark almost charcoal-smoked and her face a half-seen painting behind it.
The metal grate bridge vibrated, grinding open at its middle as it rose and split apart like James Cameron’s Titanic and my belly imagined for a moment miscalculating and getting caught in its gap, pulled off my bike and thrown into the tropical bay waters below.
But I was already threading through the red-and-white barricade arms on the other sides, faces of lined-up cars in front staring, immobilized.
I brushed them all off – the bridge, the barricades, the watchtower, waiting traffic – like sweat off my shoulders.
I dug into the pedals again and scissored across the water. I ride the Venetian Causeway – lot less traffic than 395!
Nighttimes when I’m coming home Miami Beach and its lighted buildings can seem like a floating apparition on that strip of land between the bay and the ocean.
Sometimes I blink. The last of the city’s lights are flickering out. Some of the buildings are already falling over, the water up a couple stories, the place abandoned. Wait – it’s just the bay’s shimmering reflection and the quiet of night.
Don’t just workout at the gym hit the parks and especially the fit bars at the beach! Yeah you can do standard fit work like dips and pullups and chin ups but how about muscle ups and flagpoles and flips and 360s and upside-down ninja abs and handstand pushups??
I’m still learning a lot. Hey I’m a vegan athlete who can do a lot of things but this isn’t just upper body strength it’s like climbing a coconut tree – technique!
Fine women with curves get on the pole and become almost contortionist snakes in beauty and perfect form and the dudes can’t help but stop and stare.
Some of the women obviously work at strip clubs; other women come to the workout beach just to put us in our place and show what an athlete can be. Pole fitness ain’t no joke!
This Dominican Buddhist dude with a huge beard and skinny body climbs like a monkey up a coconut tree and drops down 2 dozen coconuts. Don’t walk beneath you’ll crack ya muthafuckin head. Tourists and pics and upturned faces. Friends help him gather the cocos. He has a machete and straws. He will sell most of them.
The sea on the other side of the dunes changes its mind and moods throughout the day.
That’s one thing you’ve always got to be prepared for.
Tattoos, shorts on the dudes, sports bras on the females, brown, black and light bodies, a thick white pit bull with a bucket mouth and slobbering pink tongue the size of a lion’s who joyfully runs with 30 pound harnessed weights dragging behind. The dog is as muscled as any human and apparently very happy. He’s always got a smiling face.
South Beach for black locals slides like a handshake between two people who know each other – even if they’ve just met. The rest is like Cuban haircuts on an upside-down bucket in the alley. And the tourist zone, well that’s an opaque outer layer that sheds like a skin repeatedly.
I leave the gym bars and my knobby mountain bike tires that make the pavement hum go quiet in the sand and pillow forward till I hit the packed sand road – it’s great for jogging. Beneath bike tires it grinds dry butter.
The sun blazes. Never think this plainsman at the edge of the sea where Africa is just over that way doesn’t love the heat.
The sun is God reaching down through your flesh to grip your bones your bloodstream your guts and turn you inside out and you might be split open with fullness and love. I can smell saltwater, coconut oil, clean sweat, skin – like warmth after sex.
The shallower layers of the ocean have heated up now and it is rainy season.
There’s a point where the storm clouds surging in from the west take over the bright sun and blue Florida sky and suddenly all of us are cast in shade. We feel small and thrilled.
Afternoon tropical thunderstorms are Great Plains in the sky. They come in big like alien spaceships condensing black clouds then thunder cracking overhead, and lightning somewhere else, always somewhere else. Until one day that pointed somewhere else might be right here. I wouldn’t mind.
Curious we look out to sea and they – the fishes or whoever is out there at that moment – are still in bright sunlight.
Back at the bars, a 5-foot boa constrictor who is curious about everything sticks her black forked tongue out, testing the air, snake eyes shining.
The Cuban dude Hivo is her pet and a YouTube star athlete. While he works out on the bars she’ll hang like a jungle, body coiled around one bar.
I got close. Her flat diamond-shaped head and neck surged down and around my chest at the same time I realized I’d never held a snake before.
I was surprised how strong she was. Not a sound. She was like living Earth surging over my body, moving, molding, pressing into and over my flesh and muscles, and the contact inside her grip was a hard heated hug or lying face down on the ground with your arms spread wide and full body contact with what is bigger and even more alive.
She took over me. She held her head in the air off my chest looking at something else, not even thinking about me.
Time flies. It’s hard to grasp that it’s been almost 10 years since the catastrophic Indian Ocean tsunami, in which over a quarter million people perished. That was a sunny day inundation.
As the reeling aftermath subsided, I remember reading about a young local man who had survived. Speaking to a newspaper reporter, he said something to this effect:
My whole life has been the sea. I knew it like the closest friend. Now I can’t even relate to it.
The tsunami was a freak act of nature.
Sometimes I get so angry I could split in half and break apart when I think about the forced loss of time and forced act of climate danger we’ll all have to suffer. Here in Miami Beach we’re already experiencing the occasional sunny day flood – on Alton Road the sea bubbling from the back bay through the sewers. The sea is coming.
In the hot ocean shallows maybe at 5 feet deep I spoke to a dude holding up a clump of that gold sponge-like seaweed. He was staring into it.
“You can eat that,” I said jokingly, ribbing this thug-looking dude for his nerdiness. He said he was looking for seahorses or anything else that might be in its tangles.
Turns out he likes to go snorkeling down by the rocks or the Key Biscayne bridge. He works as a janitor now because as a convicted felon he has a hard time getting a job even though the burglary he served 3 years for was at 16 years old some 20 years ago.
“I was a kid,” he said. “I didn’t have a dad or nothing and that was all I knew. I did my time. Everybody deserves a second chance.”
Out of the blue he said he was bipolar and they’ve put him on meds. Says he is trying to finalize a career by going to school to become a mental health counselor since he feels he knows about ups and downs.
I said life is rough but man it’s like the waves it comes up and it goes down. I would never consider taking drugs for that shit. It’s just life.
In many cases men can learn to manage their feelings.
I said I used to have intensely self-destructive anger, depression and self-hatred.
He said they’re even trying to put him on Xanax but he doesn’t like the way that weighs him down. He said he’d like to eventually get off the drugs.
I said I use fitness and helping others as a main lifeline to walk through the war zone world and all the chaos and shit bombarding us every day. For better or worse I keep it moving forward – “I got this”. By staying healthy I count on the surety that when the water comes in, the tide will go back out again too.
Even the tsunami, which took so many lives, went back out. In May it was reported that the melting West Antarctic ice sheet had broken its point of no return and sea level rise of at least 4 feet was guaranteed, and likely 14 feet. This does not even include anything else, like Greenland ice sheets, or permafrost melt, or thermal expansion, which will be combined and added.
At sea level I can feel all of us caught in this tension of our times like a band stretched slow-motion to its breaking point. God I can’t believe we’ve allowed the big polluters to do this and happily paid them to do so. Lately the news has even written about “near-term extinction acceptance,” where some are preparing people for the abandonment of hope and self-extinction.
I am healthy, vital and alive. My body works well, my mind and heart are strong, I manage feelings and expectations, and through health and service to others I’ve always believed we could “go back – and fix things, to repair the things that have been broken” as Laurie Anderson sings so hauntingly in The Dream Before.
I still believe in what we can do – even as I know that where I stand at this very moment will drown unquestionably.
May 29, 2014
When you lay on top someone
and feel nothing
how does nothing make you feel
uncensored that’s what I promised myself when I first launched this blogstory artist freedom
One night is not my character man I went more than 2 years without hitting anything
I was angry at a previous is my excuse but truth is fed up momentary gratification too
Afterward, a friend visiting MIA said “so after 2 years you randomly hook up then just go back to being celibate right”
yeah – shrug.
* * *
Dark and yellow we beat each other up pretty good wrestle match with baseball bats dude said hey “it’s just foreplay” – diff people view diff things.
During I didn’t even have to wait till after to feel nothing but the physical grip at that moment better than nothing.
It was hot I had the windows open nighttime cleaning my wood floors with a bucket of hot water, Pine Sol, a mop, bare feet and drawers no A/C just the ceiling fans when he called. Quick fresh shower.
You know I’m a minimalist just a firm mattress on the floor with fitted gray and blue sheets.
In February I made sure the apartment I rented in these old two-story blocks was on the 2nd floor because you know the storms and floods will only increase.
And hurricane season’s about to start.
I’m a track star I can sprint or go long distances I’m healthy I find a lot of people have problems sometimes I feel like Benjamin Button
When we were ready to finish he needed lube his hand I never do I only had regular lotion Desert Essence Organic Coconut $8.99 at Whole Foods that is the shyt
But it apparently got friction hot
To wash the lotion off he stepped into the white tiled shower stall across the weird-sized small window I have a fluffy white kitchen towel strung as a curtain on a metal unwound white clothes hanger because otherwise I shower nekkid with the Cuban woman in her kitchen across the alley and the large green Bolivian parakeets on the wires who scream at each other like the Puerto Rican woman in Flamingo Park does at her black boyfriend Courtney
The shower revived us – and we still had to go
Drying off wet – couldn’t tell the diff between shower wet and new Miami sweat. Slick
You know I had two years backed up and I was been ready just holding my breath like you should never do in scuba – I told him get the extra virgin coconut oil from the kitchen liquefied in the air temp; that helped him. He said he hit himself every single day.
I’ve lately been thinking about people who glut themselves with things daily – surfeit; anything means nothing and everything is dulled.
It’s like people become old men and women in their prime with no edge or hunger just hey it is what it is I’m sure glad I don’t live like that.
Finally we played ball I knocked it out the park he dribbled I told you I’m a track star
Mixing metaphors I laid down on top him and again had that nothing I’ve tried to avoid he passed out a lil shook-snore rubbered out his lips 2 black beards I closed my eyes
Anger before because the previous something – second time in the last year I opened up and allowed myself something – waited till I was in enough to tell me about the 5 felony gun charges. Then shut down under the stress of the pending trial. And I’d specifically said, “Don’t push your way in.”
Trial is in a couple weeks. We haven’t spoken in over three. Get right or get left. Ava DuVernay’s “Middle of Nowhere” is one of the top ten best films in the last 20. Even before a lockup, you can be at that bus stop in the middle of the desert. I want to say fuck that.
Miami 2:30 a.m. I woke one-night up and we showered again. My Oceanic dive mask and snorkel tube stared back at me hanging from the shower rod, waiting for me to really dive.
I didn’t walk him to his car out there parked somewhere on the street. Dressed with his baseball cap back on he stopped at the door.
Alright I said.
Alright he said.
May 15, 2014
Screw robot intelligence. I’m going back to mapping my own directions. Once again, I needed Siri to get me to a Broward County location and she got me lost.
I told her she was wrong.
She actually replied, “You’re entitled to your opinion, jarid.”
These robots sure are getting some nerve.
I asked an Apple Genius if artificial intelligence could take over in 50 to 100 years, becoming superior and indifferent to human life and needs, and he said “What – with all the bugs we gotta deal with everyday?”
Interesting but it’s possible they could eventually become an exponentially self-improving “alien” civilization on Earth, once they reach a certain point.
Anyhow, I’m excited about SCUBA. On Monday, my instructor G opened up the Delray Beach pool and I passed Chapters One and Two on the first knowledge test for my PADI /Open Water Dive Certification course.
At first, the technical equipment seemed intimidating. My mind shuts down when confronted with math stuff. (I even had to have my son Kaiden show me how to use the toaster oven.)
But once I placed my hands on the equipment, and understood how each piece relates to the body, the ocean, and its designed function, I began to get it.
I can see the equipment now – the BCD (buoyancy control device), SPG (submersible pressure gauge), regulator, alternate air source, weight system, compressed air cylinder, dive computer, compass, low pressure inflator hose, and the valves, clips, o-rings, buckles, yoke system, and more – rather than just a blaring mess of hoses, gauges, knobs, and things that look like an airplane cockpit or medical operating room or calculus class.
After the written test, we defogged our masks, put fins and snorkels on and got into the very, very clean pool – I’m always glad to see nice park facilities in low income neighborhoods,
I really want people to have nice things and outdoor opportunities.
I demonstrated my ability to swim, dive below, and clear the tube with a breath blast at the surface.
We turned the corner into the deep end – 12 feet. Underwater I saw G react. We had to get out of the pool.
Over the weekend somebody had climbed over the high fence and taken a shit into the deep end. Hung themselves ass out over the edge and crapped.
Wet and cursing on the concrete, G tried to scoop it off the bottom with a long pool net but it began breaking apart into a nasty brown cloud.
Maintenance came and started sewer vacuuming. Later they would shock the pool heavily and leave it closed for a few days.
Surrounding old homes have been renovated and turned into drug rehab houses. We talked about how in social services and non-profit work a lot of grounded patience is required, and yes sometimes some people are beyond help.
But you know me; I rarely give up on people, even those who’ve given up on themselves. Grow life from nothing. At the same time, I’m about tough love.
They’re installing security cameras at the pool. Robot eyes vs. transgressors.
I dried off in the warm South Florida sun as we finished our study.
Winds from the east blew hard the palm fronds; ocean waves were surely rough. Purple flag day. The May concrete expanded into my barefoot soles.
G is cool. He even gave me a nice pair of full foot long fins, saving me nearly $100. You never know when somebody’s going to pay blessings forward your way.
We talked about swimming with the ‘street life’ out in the ocean. With the bigger aggressive stuff it really is like moving through gangs. Respect and confidently going about your business.
He told me of a recent incident with a bull shark circling him and two friends up in Palm Beach County with his pectoral fins back, which means ‘business’.
Apparently locals know the shark – they call him “Bubba”. Somehow that made G’s story softer to me, as if when I meet Bubba it’ll be easier. Right.
Bulls and hammerheads are considered the most aggressive.
There are lots of variables, challenges, and dangerous situations ahead. I’m down.
The smell of the human shit stuck in the mesh net over the trash can particled out into the wind like a zoo. Buzzing with flies.
Random: What’s up with genius octopuses! Watch this aquarium octopus get mad when a lid is screwed down onto his jar. From inside he unscrews it and throws it off.
And this large octopus who, caught on a fishing boat, escapes his whole body out through a tiny sideways-facing hole:
Alien intelligence? The world blows my mind.
I look pretty sharp in the Mares dive jacket don’t you think? #sportstyle
May 8, 2014
“No go ahead sit!” she said in that way old Jamaican ladies often sound, like they yelling at somebody. I was stepping away to give her this little access spot on the back bayfront. Somebody’s ma, somebody’s grannie for sure. She shoved the black milk crate down onto the ground. I didn’t know if it was an offer or an order. She was probably 70 pounds and I weigh 180.
Paper trash, cups, beer bottles, the fallen pavement sinkhole and broken up slabs of concrete breakwall facing Biscayne Bay, chain link fencing, and to the side a small metal gate preventing people from getting onto a dock. Only one boat still using that dock.
I sat on the concrete breakwall, legs dangling. In the water, a yellow algae-covered boom stretched 30 feet around the mouth of an outflow pipe to catch shit people might dump in the streets. It all starts there.
Sticking the spool of fishing line onto a metal spike, she grabbed a shrimp from the live bait bucket. Her fingers, those sticks of wood, bent perfectly like animation puppets in film. The shrimp – his long fairy arms and antennae waved. She impaled his unprotected belly with the silver hook and followed the curve. He froze, arms and antennae splayed. You could see the hook pushing up through his gut in the plated, semi-translucent flesh.
Wearing an elegant ivory v-necked sweater with black slacks, a watch, a silver necklace and earrings as if going to play golf with Bill Clinton, she wound up and cast the baited handline.
“Fucker,” she said in that Britishized Jamaican voice beneath her baseball cap. Sounded like “foker”. Her cap had a Roswell alien face on it. Without a tangle she brought the line in one hand over the other, re-baited and tossed out again.
I simply rocked a gray Target tank top and satin black and red basketball shorts.
Occasional wafts of sewer methane mixed with the fertile bay’s smell of salt water and coconut oil baking in my skin. Downtown Miami in the distance you’ve been here before and the silky almost-hot afternoon sun – heat in the South relative, only the end of April. It felt good.
She brought the line in, hook empty again.
“I can see I’m feeding the fish today!” she said, or yelled. “These shrimp I keep by my air conditioner! Maybe I should just stayed in my apartment with them but you know I come here to fish at tree o’clock, or sometimes in the morning!”
A big swirl opened in the bay and something large caught our side vision. “Oh there!” she said.
A mermaid’s broad flat tail, brownish-yellow, slipped back beneath the waves. I jumped up – it was a manatee. First time for me. Over the decades boat propellers had sliced them to near extinction.
“A maaahther and a babie,” she said. “Yep.”
I stared, hoping for another sight. It’s always a little startling to see something big in the water. On the other side of the gated dock, a big brown back rose at the surface. “There,” I said. I didn’t see the little one.
“Yep, sure is!” she said, handlining in her shrimpless hook again.
Supposedly manatees are what actually started the sailor legend of mermaids long ago. Big ol homely pretty sea cows.
Long trips across the ocean away from women must’ve really been something.
I had a thought: how come there never were any black mermaids? I pictured a Jill Scott-looking mermaid.
Or how about some old azz mermaids? Or a Mom mermaid?
“What you fishing for?” I asked.
“Snapper. I fish for them mangrove snapper. But not the small ones. The police take you to jail with a bunch of those.”
She looked south, motioning her head at the busy causeway about a mile away that connected the island with the mainland, where somebody driving a Lamborghini at 100 mph had recently crumpled it under the back of a Tahoe and they had to put a blanket over the passenger’s side because the body was too mixed into the car and they couldn’t get it out. The driver and the lady in the Tahoe made it.
“I wouldn’t mind go up there. Drop my line straight into the water and catch a lot of fish. I would go there if my son were here.”
I stared into the water below my feet, seeing tiny little fish. “I’m looking for one snapper down here,” I said.
“You not gon find one. Another one. Umm parrot.”
“Parrot?” I said. At that moment a fat football of a purple and lime-green parrotfish with a little beak mouth looped up to the surface and slid back down along the boom.
“There one is,” I said.
“Parrot not biting!” she said, whipping the baited hook and lead weight out again. The line threaded through her left hand, shooting out like a strand of spider web. “Yeah I try to catch them but they only eat the moss on dat ting,” she said.
The fishing line straightened. She handlined in a flapping little mangrove snapper maybe 6 inches long. She pulled out the hook and tossed him back in the water like Mariah Carey flips her hair. Glimpse of the shining fish – open mouth. Body silver-red; trace of yellow. Whitish pink forked tail. I worried – I’d read that if you touch a fish’s body with dry bare hands you can damage their protective coating and days later they’ll get an infection and die.
“The Cubans and the Jews fight over everything!” she said, looking out over the bay, as if yelling at a cat in her kitchen. I stiffened. Don’t start on some racial shyt.
“When I come here 26 years ago, there were tree or four black police. Now it’s pure black police! Everybody tink all blacks are the same, too. Jamaican and Caribbean is different from Africa or America.”
“Like Asians, huh. People can’t tell between Chinese or Japanese or Vietnamese or Korean. It’s a big difference.”
She nodded her head. “Yah. Dey all the same. Except for wicked Red China. Oh and da Philippines. They Magay over there.”
I searched my memory for what Magay was – some thing or place Filipino.
“Over there, yah, a lot of boy go with boy. Ma gay than anywhere. Crazy. And when the white bring Africa over to here we all end up mixing.”
“Well you know everybody mixed now. All around the world.”
She looked again at the causeway. “I wouldn’t mind go there at night if my son were here.”
“Sometimes I ride my bike across there.”
“They don’t want you to fish up there! And a lot of homeless. They kick them from under the bridge or the beach and they go up there” She paused. “I wouldn’t mind going fish on there if my son were here. I’d drop my line between the bridge.”
“Catch lots of big fish.”
“Yah lots of fish.”
I said nothing else. I had heard her. I didn’t want to even know her name yet. I would see her again.
“Miami Beach is not for the poorer class.,” she said.
“Ya just come in, get drunk, and kill one another. That’s what dey doing.”
“I seen this one woman, she walks down the street and screams her head off at everybody.”
“Yah. One white one? Uh huh.” She nodded her head.
She pulled up her empty hook again. “What the fuck you doing that must be two dozen shrimp! When I get off work, I could just stayed in my fucking apartment and get someting to eat and relax by the air conditioner! When the water go north, it bad. It better to go south. More fish.”
I decided she was talking about the tides.
She said she needed to change the water for her shrimps. “One die dey all die.”
I took her extra bucket, leaned over and hauled up a fresh load of salty bay water, still cool with the season.
I thought about those mangrove snappers out there at the bottom of the bay smart enough to mouth off the impaled live shrimp from the sides of her hook. And what were the stuck shrimp thinking?
“I used to be able to catch shrimp but now they not here. You buy them.”
I thought about them in the bucket of water… very alive, like suspended backward-darting insects. What made them all die when they saw one die?
She began packing up her cart.
“Kingston,” I said randomly. “Now I hear that’s crazy.”
“Kingston! I’m from Jamaica and I don’t go to ‘Kingston.’ Everybody kill each other over there. The cops too. In Jamaica they don’t ask questions. This one cop we called him Idi Amin that’s about as ugly as you can get he was that ugly.”
We started walking out. At the corner I put my hand on her upper back. Her small body was dark brown wood.
Alright I’ma get something to drink. Nice meeting you.
“Ok Baby”, she said looking straight ahead. I be back out here tomorrow.
I knew I wouldn’t. I simply wanted to remain random and untethered. I’d see her again.
“What the fuck you doing in the middle of the street you stupid!” she yelled. I looked back. Some dude was crossing busy West Ave. in traffic. She was glaring at him.
Back in the 90’s, out on the collapsed High Plains grass sea of western Kansas, north of the meat-dismembering town of Scott City, I’d fugitived up in a small State Park, a pup tent my home. At night I had become awed there were fireflies, tons of them, that far into the dry American West. In the unusual rich vegetation by the spring-fed creek, little glow sticks twisting up then winking out. I hadn’t spoken with anybody in a few weeks.
For hundreds of miles around, the land writhed with emptiness and devastation except in stricken imaginations. A region where history was still bloody on the ground, right at your feet.
Western Kansas was the first time I’d gotten that the Sun was not overhead but out there, just blasting away at all these millions of miles, incidentally smacking Earth in that outward force. And even in the face of that, our delicate little atmosphere could make us cold as well as hot.
That summer was ending. I walked in the sun-balmed afternoon, favorable prairie winds temporarily freeing me from the death stink of cattle feedlots and slaughterhouses 15 miles away. In moments I could believe in warmth and vitality. A scrim of clouds slid across the sun like 1930s curtains above a sink.
A woman a black woman an American black woman was standing near the earthen-dammed lake with a fishing pole casting her line. I noticed her head turn a little to the side, and again, not looking directly, the way mine was probably too, the way a person wants to look, say something, but just for whatever reason doesn’t.
I walked up. She reeled in and her hook snagged on a long tree root partially submerged in the water. I stepped out onto it and freed her little chartreuse plastic worm with the curl tail and a hook inside its plastic belly.
The lowering sun was across the plains sea and bigger than you probably know. We were the only two humans around. The air was dry and clean. Neither asked what the other was doing out there, though I surmised that she, for some Godforsaken reason, lived nearby. North, East, South, West, the nearest big cities were Bismarck (660 miles), Kansas City (380 miles), Amarillo (255 miles), and Denver (285 miles). Green cottonwood leaves on the tree branches above rippled like water, and soon would turn bright yellow then fall.
Back then, I was pretty grim and silent during those years. Those years. We talked; I’ve forgotten a lot about what. Her son was gone out of the house, or maybe she didn’t have one.
April 25, 2014
I was probably a ¼ mile away from the cop, and out in the sea, but the cop car driving the back of the beach with his flashing lights and spotlight kept making me jerk and tighten like he was on me. I told myself three times he couldn’t see me.
Because of the low tide I had to swim farther out. After-midnight run and swim. No wind, low tide, and very calm water.
From shore, with the waves just barely rolling in, the flat night sea looked like milky jade. But out in it, clear as glass. Even in the dark moon. No moon at all. Just a spare splash of stars – and red Mars – in the black sky overhead, the others washed out by the upward sprawl of city glow.
I did a double-take. Tiny bright stars in the water were lighting up yellow-green and tumbling off my arm strokes before they winked out.
I hadn’t seen bioluminescence in a few years, and never in Florida. Only in that hidden lagoon where you have to night kayak through the mangroves on the east side of Puerto Rico, and also on the west shore of Jamaica.
Tiny microorganisms that light up with the friction of something passing through, an arm or leg or whole body passing through water. Person or fish. Not a large burst of them here, just a silent handful of falling stars. I swirled my arms. I cupped my hand like Jodie Foster did with those sparkling grains of desert sand at the end of that extraordinary film Contact.
Over the last week I’ve been getting through the shocking acceptance that I attach to abuse. How can that be! I have this self-image of what we call “gym-thug” lol. I’m not talking about physical (though it’s true a long time ago I sometimes did find myself getting involved with possessive mf’s who might want to pull a knife or fists when they got mad). (Only thing about me is I’ll fight back.)
A man and woman were standing on shore silhouetted against the low lights of South Beach’s Ocean Drive behind the dunes.
“Aint it cold out there?” the dude asked as I walked out in my black long-cut boxer briefs with the red waistband. Don’t hate – I’m a fool for premium Chanpion athletic fit gear.
“Naah it feels great.”
“Does the beach close at night? Is there a time?’ the woman asked. You could tell by the sync of their voices that they loved each other.
“Naah, not really. You saw the cop, but they’re mainly interested in making sure no homeless people sleep or set up camp overnight.”
“You were far out,” the dude said. “I was like, ‘there’s somebody out there!’ Aren’t you a little scared to go out there?”
I tried to imagine from their eyes, from shore, noticing this head out there in the plain of water in the dark. Then seeing this light-skinned black-something dude with abs emerging out of the sea like a Creature From the Black Lagoon.
“Push through fear,” I said, smiling, sheeting some of the water off the side of my head with my hand.
“Push through fear,” he repeated.
“We’re from Louisville,” she said.
“Kentucky,” I said. “That’s one of those places you hear about but most people never go, huh. Except for – isn’t that the place they have that horse derby?” I realized they probably hear the same damn thing from every person they meet. “Where the women wear them big hats?”
For a moment I tried to visualize what it would be like to live there, south of the Ohio River, and what I knew of the black communities there. I think there is a lot of interchange between Louisville and Cincinnati.
I thought of Beloved, and that story of the land, of journey through wilderness not yet fallen, and bare feet. The American story is particularly the story of people on the land.
“Yes. We’re here on vacation,” she said. “It’s our first time here.”
They asked questions. We talked like family. I told them about some of the regular-life, non-tourist places like Flamingo Park, where people play basketball and hang out.
I told them about the bioluminescence I’d just seen. I leaned my head back and pointed up at the flung stars. The only way I could explain. Again I had that open country feeling of hugeness all around me. I’m such a plainsman.
They told me they had seen some “really big seals. Right off the beach!”
I didn’t understand. Turns out they were manatees. Big ass sea cows. Endangered. Not many left.
She pulled out a little camera to show me. The screen was so bright. The electronic image of water too. I’ve never seen a manatee. In the pic there were three large blobs in the bright blue midday water. I kept trying to finger-expand the image, not registering that it was a camera and not a phone. Just like sometimes I’ll keep pushing my hands under a public bathroom faucet with handles and getting mad it won’t turn on.
I wished them a great vacation. People work hard and deserve quality time in a nice place with those they love. I felt proud like a local.
I know I’m behind on the dive study, but I’m getting better.
Thursday, 3 April 2014
If you should die yet somehow stay alive, can you thrive, or would you drift through your allotted remaining years?
So I just had my first meeting with G, my upcoming scuba instructor. He’s a master diver who’s dived a couple thousand times. He’s gone as deep as 225 feet and wants to go below 400.
That’s some serious shit. Even below 33 feet – one “atmosphere” – dangerous things can happen to your body.
I got live with the stories he told me about going into the “underworld”. He spoke about diving reefs, wrecks and at night. He told me the two biggest fish he ever saw were a giant ocean sunfish off the murky coast of Virginia, which “basically looked like a 2,000 pound hand with two thumbs.” The other was a goliath grouper lit with brownish-gold skin that can grow to 800 pounds.
I replied: Goliaths can suck you in if they open their mouths, right, like Jonah and the whale??
He said “Naah they’re really just like cows man, grazing underwater [on crustaceans]. Once I saw 7 of them during their migration, now that was cool.”
I laughed to myself, divers getting all excited about things like that. Tough Southern Black Slang warmed my earbones – guess I’ve been a lil Texan homesick here not knowing many people yet in this international place – and it was funny to be talking about fish. Several times he used the word “animals” instead of “fish”.
I’m so attracted to scuba because most divers simply want to see the animals below. Seeing their awesome power, beauty and mystery in that alien world is more than enough. For many divers, there’s no desire to harm, kill and take.
I asked him about sharks.
He said, “First off, most sharks you’ll see will be between 6 to 8 feet. They not paying you no mind. The main ones not to fuck with are bull sharks and hammerheads.
Sharks are like dogs. You just don’t do things to excite them. Don’t swim with open wounds or make sounds that might get them riled up. If one comes up to you just push him away.”
Umm okaay… I thought.
“You ever been around a rottweiller?” he asked.
I said “Yeah when I lived in Denver there was this big rott on the other side of the alley’s wooden fence and every time I rode or walked past he’d hurl himself into the fence and his huge head and jaws would be straining to slam over and rip my throat out as big wads of spit flew out his mouth and slapped me in the face before he fell back to the dusty ground.”
“Well not like that,” G said, laughing. “But look at it like this. We have dominion over all the animals in the world. Every last one of – ”
I stiffened, bracing for a Biblical lesson. At some point in my lifetime, I became an accidental animist. Nobody taught me this. Wasn’t even conscious of it for years and certainly didn’t know it had a name.
But honestly, I don’t see myself as “over” other animals, or really even the organic carrots, golden apples, kale and jalapenos I obliterate in my Nutribullet each morning.
Life is, and I’m just a part of life. Under God. And I try to live through a private set of moral objectives and thoughtful decisions.
But as I listened, I saw G was talking about something more. We have become lord over every single other being on this planet – they’re all impacted. We choose; they lose.
When I was a child I cracked my head open. Maybe I died. Or was supposed to. Even needed a blood transfusion. Ever since then I’ve been a little “different”. Many years later I got a concussion on top that. If I don’t manage for quiet time, sometimes my head has the urge to have a “passout”. During these passouts – and also when I am asleep – I often have intense ‘dreams’. I call it going into the Shadow World. It’s really like a whole other world.
Jazzed by the conversation, I made plans with G to try out gear and get the study book, my first formal steps toward becoming a certified scuba diver.
Later that night, passing out face down onto my mattress I bobbed in the dim northern Atlantic off Virginia’s coast. The water was like thin tea under cloudy gray skies. About a quarter mile out, a dead amusement park rose from the temporarily flat surface. I treaded, watching and looking. Belts and cables hung from the broken rides and the high trestle of the rollercoaster. The coast had flooded. Far more than Hurricane Sandy. And the water was staying. It would not be going back out.
A big shark came bulleting below and I scrambled backward trying not to splash, heart racing as I flailed, losing my cool. Swallowed water instead of air. The shark circled and headed back this way. I reached a broken concrete wall, part of some building detritus, and pulled onto it, clothes pouring water, bare feet crunching in the rough top.
Plastic bags, thick green ropes from industrial fishing boats, snarled monofilament fishing line and other snagged trash hung in my face from the overhang. Behind, inside whatever infrastructure I stood on, was a tunnel. I could hear water dripping. I looked for the shark through the dull waters.
Across the bottom a cow-sized brownish-yellow fish swam slowly, big-azz tail sweeping from side to side.
I thought I saw a red blinking light at the top of the rollercoaster out to sea, like those used to alert planes at night. The metal skeletons of the amusement park stuck out of the new ocean. And there had been no red warning light. At least not one that people could see.
Saturday, 29 March 2014
How many people you know googled “hope for ocean acidification” last night at 12:31 a.m.?
Been having dude problems and also been feeling tons of pressure from all the probs in the world like I can’t breathe, so couldn’t sleep.
Alone in my apartment with the light post by the bed still on I decided to check email on my phone. Any distraction welcome.
Saw a message from Theresa, one of our long-time GPRC Youth Mothers from Dallas. She’d recently taken her daughter and son to Galveston, where they volunteered for NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – a bunch of cool folks for scientists btw!)
Theresa wrote that one of the things they did was an experiment showing how acidic waters degrade calcium in shells.
Of course climate change’s equally evil twin is ocean acidification – the oceans are absorbing so much carbon pollution from the atmosphere that it is changing the chemistry of life. The first to go are the corals and the shellfish. The current rate of acidification may be unprecedented in Earth’s history. Here are “20 Facts about Ocean Acidification”.
I walked into the tiny bathroom of the old beach apartment, quietly flipped the toilet lid closed and sat down. In this old school Cuban apartment I lucked out with two bathrooms but in this one you can’t really sit straight without wedging yourself in with your knees pressing into the super smooth white-tiled wall in front of you. If you lean forward you can rest your forehead against the tile wall or press the top of your head into it.
Thinking… Yesterday, my upcoming scuba instructor told me how even since 2006 he’s seen a change in the coral reefs… He’s seeing dead patches… Also increasing storms are smothering or wiping out coral reefs. He says Hurricane Sandy affected the coast all the way down here to South Florida.
It’s expected that all coral reefs will be extinct by 2100.
I love the night quiet. You can hear an ocean of silence, and all the little things going on in the alley. But especially all the silence.
I closed my eyes and pressed the top of my head hard into the super smooth tiles and the crevice of grout.
I opened my eyes and just needed some release from the pressure. There has to be something. Opening Safari on my iPhone I randomly googled “hope for acidification”. Just so overwhelmed all the time. I will squeeze out any drop of good news I can find. I’m an occasional Google randomer – just to see if there is something going on, or new, I do not know. Sometimes, anything just to focus my overheated mind on something else.
Check this out: one coral reef off Palau is thriving in waters that happen to be naturally as acidic as all the oceans are expected to be in 2100.
Waters much less acidic are killing off the corals. But for some great mystery, this one is surviving.
If you get a chance, give 9 minutes and listen to this public radio piece. Listen to the sounds of the water and the people speaking.
Scientists are studying this beautiful vibrant hopeful exciting Palauan reef to try to figure out what is its super secret.
And while all our other coral reefs may die off within 80 some years, it’s possible this one mysterious glorious survivor may, as the narrator says, keep us company into the 22nd century. It may – just may – no promises BUT just might – even offer us a mystery clue to help others.
I’ll take any hope yo.