Sunday, March 20, 2011

Old Lobster Season post

This is a post from my old blog. I hope you enjoy.

(Abuelo's Boat, the Maryluti)

Back in the late eighties and early nineties (up to August 24, 1992 and Hurricane Andrew), my family travelled down to Florida Keys regularly. With RVs and boats hitched to our vans and trucks, we descended upon a little RV park just south of Marathon called Sunshine Key. Our largest contingent included five or six RVs, at least four boats, and a small army of cousins. We slotted our trailers in amongst the others and dropped the boats in the marina. Three to ten days at a time, my family coasted the waterways fishing, snorkeling, tanning, laughing and lobstering.

(Us kids playing beside an open flame,
that's good parenting.)

Sunshine Key was a second home. Should the sound of tires slowly cruising over gravel reach my ears, I am immediately taken back to that place. The playground, ice cream window, and marina all have permanent etchings in my memory. The smell of fish and mosquito spray blanketed the camp grounds, and the echoing sound of laughter careened off every nearby trailer. For a ten year old boy, it was paradise. Days consisted of boat rides, beachcombing, and bumming about. The evenings were filled with barbeque, Manhunt, and card games. Too much fun to tell the full tales of. However, one of our regular escapades, come the last week of July and late in the first week of August, was lobstering.

While most people enjoy eating good lobster, and I count myself among those people now, back then the best part of lobster was the catch. I truly enjoyed snorkeling, but trolling for lobster by towing behind on a rope with your mask in the water was incredible. Occasionally, we’d drop lobster traps and buoy-markers, but mostly we trolled, scanning the ocean floor for Coral and other larger rock formations the crustaceans used as hideouts.

(trolling for lobster)

Should I spot lobster, I’d release from the line and swim back to the spot. My father would angle the boat around and he or my uncle would join me in the water. I usually carried the Tickle Stick, which doubled as a lightsaber or dueling sword on dry ground, and Dad or my uncle would carry the lobster net. We’d swim down to the crusty critter and once the net was positioned behind, I’d give the little guy a tap on the forehead. Instinct had the animal flash back into the net. Then we’d haul it up to the surface for a measurement.

(Dad, Anna, & Uncle Danny
with a lobster.)

I can’t remember any single moment lobstering, just a general fondness. However, there are plenty of moments I do remember, not the least of which was my mother becoming the second person in the History of the Universe to Walk on Water.

My family and I were on our boat, not far off the Seven Mile Bridge, doing some snorkeling. My father was at the helm with my youngest brother Nicky, who couldn’t have been much more than four years old at this point, in his lap. Chris (my other brother), Mom and I were all in the crystal clear water just having a good time. After a while, Chris and I returned to the boat. It was at this point when the four year old Nicky leaned over the edge of the boat, pointed into the clear water, and screamed: “Big fishy!”

Treading water not twenty feet from the boat’s aft ladder, my mother’s head bobbed up, face swallowed in an oversized mask. Chris reiterated Nicky’s claim with one clarification: “Shark!”

(Mom in a mask and me behind)

To this day some twenty years later, I have never seen a human being move so quickly. My mother closed the twenty foot gap to the aft ladder in the blink of an eye, leaving a cartoonish trail in her wake. My father peered over the edge and identified the fish as a Nurse Shark, a bottom feeder my mother had nothing to fear from, but she was already wrapped tightly in a towel, sitting on the in-board engine cover and checking to see if all of her toes were still attached.

I doubt it was on that ride home, but on many of the cruisings we took in and around Marathon and Big Pine Key, dolphins raced our little in-board Renken craft, and a massive Ray coursed beneath us, its wingspan visible off both the stern and starboard sides of the boat. We had great times down in the Keys, like when my cousin Anna decided to throw her fishing pole in the ocean rather than deal with the eel that was slithering up the line out of the water.

Hurricane Andrew stopped our vacations down in the Keys, but it’s these salt-soaked memories I cherish and hope to provide to my own children one day. My wife and I recently took a trip to Marathon for our fifth wedding anniversary and on a day-trip down to Key West, I pointed out old Sunshine Key. It’s not named that anymore, but it is for me. For now, Lobster season goes on without us, but who knows, maybe in the future, my family will once again descend upon the Keys and make new memories and snag a few more tasty lobster tails.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

They're Calling Again

These days, I don't answer the phone all that much. It's one of the benefits to moving back into your parents' house. About six months ago, my wife and I decided to move into my parents' house and rent out our apartment in an effort to save enough to get into a house of our own. The original plan, when we bought our condo, was to put the equity earned in the sale of that place into a down payment for a larger house down the road. Seemed like a good idea, until the bottom dropped out of the housing market.

The issue of buying and renting and the market in general can get complicated with terms like foreclosure, short-sale, and upside down morgage. Luckily for me, my father-in-law is a very good real estate agent and he kept us up to speed on any and all issues concerning our efforts to land our "starter" house. He presented us with both sides of the issues, the proverbial pros and cons, and gave us all the data we would need to make as educated a decision as possible. After months of consideration, we elected to move out of our family's first home, and try to procure as much as we could by renting the property.

I've always been blessed, and thank God every day for my family. They've always supported me in all my efforts, from playing sports growing up, struggling through college, and aspiring to be a writer, to raising my own family. After settling back into my parents' home, and finally getting our place rented (despite the tryannical efforts of the ironfisted Association From Hell), we've drafted a new plan. Our hope is to land our starter house at some point early in 2012, and be all settled in just in time for the Mayan Doomsday.

As I said when I started the post, I don't answer the phone much anymore. Before we moved from our place, the flood of phone calls from Bill Collectors, Telemarketers, and Campaign Advertisers was such that the mere sound of the phone ringing was a shrill, damnable sound that roused nothing but ire and resentment. See, those collectors weren't after us. They were after any number of other people, and the callers (when it was actually a human being on the otherside of the line) had a hard time believing their prey did not live at our number.

For months we explained to the Collectors that the people they were looking for did not live with us, and if they could please be so kind as to remove our number from their list. That would work for about a day. Then, sure enough, the phone would ring in search of the same small group of people who all seemed to have shared our phone number at one point in time. After our repeatedly futile attempts bore no fruit, we elected to cancel our home phone service. Best decision we could've made.

Below, you'll find a poem I drafted while in the midst of the Biblical rain of Collectors' calls. The poem was written in an effort to mimic the style of Billy Collins, though it obviously doesn't get anywhere near his mastery of imagery and language. I hope you enjoy.

They’re Calling Again
The phone rings.
They’re calling again.
            Telemarketers and Automated Bill Collectors.
Looking for Ernesto Vargas or Maria Hernandez, or some other defaulted borrower who isn’t
I’d love to tell them they had the wrong number,
But that’s not a push-button option.

They’re calling again.
For Ernesto.
I rip the base from the wall because,
            As I answered the phone hoping to berate some lonely operator,
            My coffee cooled too much.
Not an undrinkable cool,
            But now I can’t just sip and enjoy
            While I consider 20 Across and 13 Down.

They’re calling again.
They’ve misplaced Mr. Vargas
And he’s charged a 30-foot inflatable Iceberg for his pool.
My calm wrecks against iceberg.
Reason and Rationality race for the lifeboats.
The band plays on.
            A song by Rage Against the Machine.
I need to tell them they have the wrong number,
But apparently,
If I stay on the line,
I’m acknowledging that I’m now Mr. Vargas, or Mrs. Hernandez,
And the interest on my soul is past due.

They’re calling again.
This is torture, Hades, 2.0.
No longer is Sisyphus pushing his bolder up the hill.
            Now, he pushes Timeshares in Orlando, but no one’s buying.
Even Tantalus can get a sip,
            But with his headset on, he takes his water with whiskey
            Because the sales quota will never be met.
The Furies screech from cubicles,
            Twirling phone cords and gnashing bubblegum
            Through nicotine-stained teeth.

They’re calling again.
Maybe I am Ernesto, or Maria,
I’ll cancel my service.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Chapter One preview?

So, I'm sitting, sipping on a Noble Pils, and getting ready to try and hammer out the final chapter of the novel I've been working on for the better part of ten years. It's had several incarnations, but, should I finish the draft here this evening, it will mark the first time I truly have a novel-length draft. The genesis for this story can be drawn back to Sister Emy's Geometry class, sophomore year in high school. I would doodle, and I created a character that eventually became the center of a story. More on the origins of the novel when it's finished.
Below, you'll find a rough version of what will likely be Chapter One. If you've got your reading pants on, I'd love some early feedback. The general premise of the novel is this: all mythologies of the world are true, and gods, goddesses, monsters, etc. still exist. The story is a coming-of-age hero adventure, where the main character, Adam, finds himself at the whim of the gods and needs to save one in order to save the world.
Feel free to bash. Let me know what you think.

Chapter One
Miami, Florida
Early Evening, less than three days to Spring

     The light rain patted Adam’s face. He stared off toward the night’s horizon and knew the hard stuff approached. He closed his eyes as the drops slid over the stubble on his cheeks.
Complete darkness surrounded him. Adam struggled against a cold force that wrenched him. He could feel someone’s—or something’s—presence trying to kill him, or swallow him, or end him…somehow. It was unlike anything he had ever struggled against before.
     He saw flashes of light—of faces. A woman, or a girl, he wasn’t sure. One moment she was lying silently on a stone slab, the next instant she was screaming for his hand. She would be completely still, then suddenly writhe in pain. He saw bursts of a man swinging a sword wildly at him. Adam dodged, but was forced against a cold wall and pinned away from the woman.
     Just before the attacker’s blade plunged through Adam’s chest, his sight blinked to an old man. The man looked so ancient that he would seemingly crumple dead with the next breath. With an impossibly white beard, the man’s deep-blue eyes stared into Adam’s. He whispered indistinctly. The old man blinked and was replaced by the woman, dead-still again on the stone slab.
Her face slowly turned to Adam. Her eyes opened—pale, lifeless. Her lips parted, but no sound emerged. She stared at him, then, she screamed. Every muscle in her once lifeless body tensed. Adam’s entire being shook.
     “Wake me up!”
The cry careened off the walls and through Adam’s consciousness. He wasn’t sure if it was the woman’s cry or his own.
     Then Adam Anderson opened his eyes.
He felt the cool moist breeze rolling off the ocean and he took a deep, salty breath. The drizzle didn’t bother him, but he draped his black apron over his shoulders to cover his neck and gray t-shirt. He replayed the dream again in his mind. It had kept him from a good night’s sleep for three consecutive nights. Adam thought about it continually, and he took a short break from work just to see if the ocean breeze and the light rain could clear his mind.
It was a quiet night on the beach, but he knew it was the calm before the storm, literally and figuratively. It would only be days before the South Florida area would be inundated with Spring Breakers out to binge-drink their way into oblivion. He smirked at the thought, and reminded himself he was among the Spring Breakers not five years earlier—before he dropped out of college to work two jobs.
As he leaned on the sidewall of a particularly popular Art-Deco restaurant, he watched the sparse crowd, some armed with umbrellas to protect their hair, others with umbrellas to protect their drinks, move through the crosswalk. Rain rarely kept crowds from South Beach. People sat at the outdoor tables of the other restaurant on the corner, one with overly ornate Terrazzo decor, and they too people-watched, all while sipping their expensive specialty drinks and picking at plates of sushi.
     Adam normally spent his thirty minute break strolling down three blocks to the waterfront street. He would stand on the corner, occasionally bum a cigarette from a passing pedestrian, and just watch, letting the mindless crowd and soft ocean breeze ease his mind. It was all mundanely similar. This night was no different, even with the recurring nightmare plaguing his sleep.
     At that moment, he noticed a man staring at him from across the street. The man seemed worn-down, his shoulders slumped in his wrinkled shirt. Adam watched him limp; noticing dark stains on his jeans around the ankles.
     “You wouldn’t happen to have a smoke, would you?” the man said in an accent Adam could not place. The man’s stare focused on Adam’s eyes, predominantly gray with hints of blue.
     “Sorry.” Adam shrugged away the stare. People usually ogled at his gray eyes. The man continued along the sidewalk, asking a few other people for a cigarette. He repeatedly glanced over to Adam.
Adam had taken this sort of break for as long as he had worked at the Vineyard, a quiet micro-brewery that served wine and beer. He loved the bar because it was tucked away and saw very little tourist traffic, and even fewer teenagers sporting passably fake ids. This job was his escape, helping him survive the daily grind as an office drone in an insurance agency. The dark ambiance and quiet music separated it from the likes of a “Cheers”, but the loyal clientele still settled on their barstools every night as if their lives depended on it. Dispensing their liquid therapy was his.
     Adam glanced at his watch and began his short walk back to work. He needed to get back before his friend Elden began emptying the pilsner taps into his own and any other frosted mug available. He hoped Elden hadn’t broken out his violin. That would be the end of the evening. The owner, Dion, a cranky old islander who claimed he wouldn’t drink a Budweiser if given the choice between that and goat urine, always claimed a certain weariness when he had to schedule Adam and Elden to close the bar.
     Walking back to the bar, Adam felt the distinct sensation of eyes following him. He glanced back, but caught no one staring. His thoughts wandered from the pedestrians around him to his dream, to his other job and finally to his father. No doubt the fifty-nine year old Abe Anderson would be sprawled on their couch at home, an efficiency they rented behind the house of an elderly Cuban couple, swallowing whiskey and watching TV for Spring Training baseball news to be delivered. The thought of baseball made Adam’s once torn right rotator cuff twinge. He forced a smile and stepped between a pair of cigarette smoking bar-goers, then pushed open the heavy wooden door to the Vineyard.
     As he strolled through the small bar, Adam’s gray eyes wandered among the booths, each softly lit by wall-ensconced lamps. There were three couples he didn’t recognize and a handful of the regulars. Elden, his back to the bar, was talking to a young woman seated alone in the far booth. Elden’s violin case sat on the far end of the bar.
     “He’s been chatting that girl up for ten minutes now,” said Sil, another accent Adam couldn’t identify though he’d heard it almost every evening the last four years. One of the nightly bunch, Sil was a burly old man, who Adam was fairly certain had several drinks before coming to the Vineyard. He carried his guitar with him, and, once he was a few drinks in, claimed that he could play any instrument placed before him. He and Elden had serenaded people on several occasions. They were both very good musicians.
Adam rounded through the small storage room behind the bar area, grabbed a stray wipe rag, and made his way over to the drunk old man.
     “Poor koritsi,” Sil said, still looking at the girl and shaking his head. “Will Dion come in tonight?”
     “I doubt it,” Adam said, wiping the condensation that had collected on the Walnut wood bar near Sil’s mug. Adam heard an early Dave Matthews Band live compellation playing in the background and thought it was a good choice for the evening. It was Elden’s favorite band. Boyd Tinsley, the violinist of the group, wore dreadlocks, and he was Elden’s inspiration both musically and fashionably. Elden had always loved how the locks flailed about with his chin pressed to the instrument mid-solo.
“Elden’s trying to tap that,” said Paul, another of the regulars, in his heavy, Northeastern twang. He was a middle-aged man from a town in New Hampshire, sporting his very much worn-in Red Sox cap. “Tells me he hasn’t gotten laid in weeks.” Paul’s eyes didn’t flinch from the screen situated in the upper corner of the bar. It was tuned to ESPN, and Paul eagerly awaited news on his beloved Sox.
     “Keep your voice down, Paul.” Adam smiled in spite of himself. “You’ll embarrass her. Mess up his chances.”
     “It’s not going well,” Paul said, “he’s already mentioned he’s a violinist twice, and he’s on the verge of grabbing the damn thing and playing.”
     “It’ll break his heart when I play it better,” Sil said, smiling from ear to ear.
     “He’s just as good as you,” Adam said, turning his back to the pair. Sil huffed some retort and Paul still waited for the highlights.
Adam looked over to the young woman by Elden. She absently spun her glass along its base as Elden rambled on, his short dreadlocks flopping about his head. She occasionally glanced up at him, but would quickly shift her eyes to her drink, or the decorations on the wall, or the pair playing darts near the door, or anything else. Adam knew Elden was striking out.
He couldn’t fault him for trying though. The young woman was beautiful. The lamp showed her smooth, tan skin in a soft light, and the muted blonde highlights in her copper hair seemed to gently radiate. Even with the soft light, Adam could tell she wasn’t wearing much make-up, and she didn’t need any. There was subtle black lining her brown eyes, and faint cherry on her full lips. The eyes, though, were sad. After working at the bar almost every night for four years, Adam knew when someone had been stood up and was stubbornly sitting. Obstinately hoping their date would show.
     She pretended to laugh at something Elden said and looked down. He wound and unwound a wipe rag around his finger and glanced back at Adam. He gave him a nod with his chin, and Adam threw up his eyebrows in return. On the next wind, the rag struck the young woman’s drink.
     “Oh my God,” Elden yelled, as the glass tipped and emptied along the table and the woman’s simple black top. He reached to wipe her shirt, but she batted his hand away. “Shit—sorry—I’ll get some towels.” Elden backed up a step and shifted his thick-rimmed glasses back on his nose.
     Paul blurted out an uncontrolled laugh that sounded more like a grunt, and Sil shook his head. Adam reached under the bar and placed a roll of paper towels on the bar top for Elden, then pulled back as he neared.
     “I got this one,” Adam said, moving toward the end of the bar. Adam walked around through the storage room and passed his deflated friend. “It’s a good thing you’re black. She can’t see you blushing.”
Elden removed his apron, tossed it on the chair near the storage room’s backdoor, and plucked a clean one from the hook beside the stainless-steel refrigerator.
     As Adam stopped beside the young woman, she was wiping the drops of her beer from her shirt.
     “Sorry about my friend there,” Adam said as he pulled a few sheets from the roll and handed them to her. “My name’s Adam.”
     “Samara,” the woman said, looking at Adam a moment. “Wow. Nice eyes. Are those,” she paused, “contacts?”
     He smirked, shaking his head. “Nope.” He began wiping the dark Oriental Rosewood and noticed her cheeks seemed to flush. “I get that question a lot.”
     “Elden, smooth as always my boy,” Sil said, smacking the embarrassed young man as he poured a glass for Samara.
     Adam stood and tossed the rag over the bar. “Elden’s getting a refill. Can I get you anything else?”
     “Oh don’t worry—” Samara started.
Elden looked at her with a pained grimace as he topped-off the new glass.
“Well,” she said, sitting back down and looking into Adam’s eyes, “I guess I can have one more and see if he shows up.”
     “Your date?” Adam said extending his hand to the pint of Raspberry Ale put on the bar. Elden quickly retreated to a whispered dialogue with a mirthful Sil.
     “Not really a date.” Samara took the glass and sipped the beer. “Thanks.” She shrugged. “New boss, I guess.”
     “Hey, I meet my boss here all the time.”
Samara smiled, glancing down at the drink, then up at the wall. She looked at a small painting of a samurai warrior in battle with a dragon, then to the blue and white flag of Greece hanging just above the register. “My boss chose this place.” She shrugged. “Interesting decorations.”
     “Asian and Mediterranean. My boss is a weird guy.”
     Paul yelped from his stool as the highlights of the Red Sox spring training game showed on the television. They had won, and Paul hopped from his chair to high-five Sil a few seats away. Samara smiled.
     “Paulie, buddy, you do realize it’s just Spring Training,” Adam said, glancing from the excited man to Samara and back.
     “But it’s the Yanks, Adam. The Evil Empire.” Paul settled back onto his stool, then turned to face Adam behind him. “Hey, weren’t you drafted by the Sox?”
     “No, Paul. The Kansas City Royals.”
     “Good thing you didn’t play then,” Paul said, returning his attention to his drink, and the highlights. “KC and Pittsburgh are where prospect go to die.”
“You played baseball?” Samara said, sipping her drink.
     “Yeah, in high school.” Adam forced a smile as he watched the screen for a moment. He was drafted by the Royals as a senior, then tore his rotator cuff that summer, and decided his baseball career was over. The injury came just before he was to sign his contract, so he didn’t even get any money. The league office had said he could reenter the draft the coming year, but he never did. His father had been crushed.
     “He was sick,” Elden said, practically hopping from behind Sil and the bar. “He once hit a homerun five hundred plus feet. Center fielder didn’t even move.”
“You played, too?” Samara asked.
Elden slumped. “No.” He sighed. “I, uh, just kept the stats.” He straightened some and smiled. “This black body wasn’t blessed with a single athletic bone.” He waggled his fingers. “These fingers though, Magic. If I start playing my violin, you’ll cry.” He shrugged. “But in sports, Adam was always the strongest and the fastest.”
Samara looked up at Adam, clearly taking in his athletic build, defined muscles. “Why’d you stop?”
“I got hurt,” Adam said, dismissively wiping away the final stray drops of spilled beer from the table.
     “I’m sorry to hear that.”
     “Shit happens. It wasn’t a big deal for me, but my dad was pretty bummed out. It was sort of the only thing we had connecting the two of us.”
     Samara forced a smile and took a long drink from the glass. “Hey,” she said, this time smiling more genuinely, “at least you had that.”
     Adam could’ve slapped himself. He hated bringing up his father, nothing good ever came from mention their relationship. He wasn’t sure why he brought it up at all.
     Samara took another long drink from the glass and put it down on the table. Adam backed up a step. The silence was deafening. She stood after a moment.
“Well, my boss isn’t showing.” She pressed her lips and smiled with half her face. “What do I owe you?”
“Oh, um…” Adam glanced back at Elden, who was doing his best to hide behind Sil. “You know what? Don’t worry about it. Elden’s got it for spilling your drink.”
“I’m serious,” Adam interrupted her protest. “Don’t worry about it. Just come back another night.”
Samara grabbed her small bag from the booth and nodded. “I think I’ll do that.”
Adam watched Samara exit, the heavy door slowly swinging closed behind her, and hoped she would come back.
“You’re about as smooth as this idiot,” Sil said, looking at Adam while jabbing his thumb at Elden and again shaking his head as if he were some master pick-up artist. “Talking about your dad. And baseball. With that little lady? With the two of you as examples of the human race, it’s amazing the species is propagated at all.”
Adam was back behind the bar by the time Sil had finished his rant. “This coming from the fat, single, old man who goes from bar to bar with a guitar and drinks until he’s cross-eyed.”
“I don’t need this abuse.” Sil smiled, then tossed enough money on the bar top to cover his tab twice over. “I’ll get cross-eyed elsewhere. Godspeed everyone.”
Adam smiled as Sil left the Vineyard. He would be back tomorrow night, as would Paul and the half dozen other regulars lounging about the bar. Adam watched for a moment as Elden washed some of the pint glasses and mugs, continuing the description of Adam’s mammoth homerun and other athletic exploits to a mildly interested Paul.
He leaned back on the small register counter beside the wall of wine glasses, crossed his arms over his chest, and wished this was his only job. He hated the insurance company. Mindless filing and account managing. At that moment he wished he would’ve rehabbed the injury and played baseball—maybe his relationship with his father would’ve been better. The old man had always been around, unlike his mother. He had no memory of her, and his father had kept no pictures. Maybe it was better that way, he thought, never knowing what she looked like, what she smelled like. But he always wondered.
Adam reached for a frosted mug from a small fridge under the bar. He placed it under the Raspberry Ale nozzle. Slowly, he pulled back the tap and heard the hissing gas escaping as the glass filled. It would all be the same tomorrow.
Southwest Cairo, Egypt
Early Morning, Two days to Spring

     Thoth stared at the insolent copper jug before him and wondered how in the world a god—god of wisdom no less—could be bested by a simple, audacious carafe. His seemingly night long quest to replicate a well-made batch of Berber, an Egyptian blend of dark-roasted beans and the citrus overtones of coriander, was an abject failure. In its stead was an entirely too bitter brew and an exorbitant level of frustration, the likes of which he had not experienced in near a millennia. There was no doubt in his mind that if Seshat, his wife—his very capable culinary counterpart—was home, she would be rolling about in lampooning laughter. The god sighed, staring down at the jug he held.
     “Well, I was the god of writing before wisdom,” he said to the image of a laughing Seshat in his mind. Although he loved having his wife around, he was not too upset she missed this episode, as she had left that afternoon to visit an old friend down the Nile, in Luxor.
     Thoth loved a good brew of coffee, but he could never quite duplicate the savory flavor Seshat could coax out of any grind. The coffee was fresh, of that he was certain as Seshat had arrived that morning complaining about the obnoxious, though ultimately harmless, remarks and stares from a pack of men socializing at the cafĂ©. He had boiled the water in the jug, added the grinds, waited the proper interval, then poured the steaming liquid into a sand-polished wooden goblet. He didn’t know what had gone wrong. He refused, however, to turn to the modern coffee “press” Seshat had bought for him on one of her city excursions.
While working in his vast library, Thoth almost required at least one cup of coffee—especially at this pre-dawn hour. Had she been home though, Seshat would have insisted on Thoth going to bed hours ago, as his work, in this age, was no longer a pressing matter.
     Defeated but doggedly determined to have a cup of coffee, Thoth moved toward his library with the copper jug and a clean porcelain mug in hand. The hand-carved chalice displayed an etching of a bull and hieroglyphs which read Memphis. As he strolled through the bottom level of his Cairo home, Thoth recalled the wondrous zest and flavor of his first cup of coffee.
The near intoxicating aroma of spices and seasoning filled the air of the small, cluttered shop—the world’s first coffee shop, Kiva Han. It had been at some point between 1471 and 1475—the exact time eluding him—when he and Seshat had found themselves deep in the Ottoman Empire, and stopped off for refreshment at a quaint shop on the corner of a busy market street in Constantinople. Hide bags full of beans imported from Ethiopia and a few other places cluttered the space. It was the tangy sweet smell of the brew that drew him in, and it was the acidity, body, and balance of the drink that had hooked him completely.
His taste-buds now were nearly erupting as he remembered the essence of that the first sip and swirling it about cautiously on his tongue. He remembered it all, the smooth wooden bowl from which he sipped, the soft sand and gravel ground beneath his worn sandals, even Seshat’s loose, black abaya robe, white veil and headscarf, decorated with a crescent, a seven-pointed star, and a pair of purple plumes. Thoth would forever thank the Turks for this drink, and decided that the first thing he would do when he returned to his library would be to find the account of the sheepherder who had discovered coffee.
As Thoth climbed the winding stone staircase to the second floor of his home—the entire floor acting as his and Seshat’s library—he smiled. Hopefully, re-reading the account would convince his taste-buds that the brew he was presently drinking was as good as that first one had been.
A rare rainfall kept him from sleeping hours before; it never rained this late in March. However, something else tugged at his core. Something wrong. At first he thought it was the lack of caffeine in his system, but now as he had already consumed several bastardized cups of coffee, he was certain it was something else. Something in the air.
He reached the top of the stairs, entered the door-less space and glanced at the wall above Seshat’s desk to the wooden hieroglyphic carving that read: “She Who Is Foremost in the House of Books”. As his eyes moved along the room, he felt an odd, cold breeze whipping through. The purple satin curtains rustled softly. He placed the copper jug and mug on his dried Beech wood desk, beside Arabic-translated scrolls from the Book of the Dead and the Book of Gates, and a copy of the goddess Isis’ Book for Breathings, written for Osiris in stunning calligraphy.
Thoth approached the window. He stopped at one of the many stained, Beech pine bookcases, stepped up on a stool with its three legs carved to look like the legs of an ibis bird, and pulled a small, golden blade down from the top-shelf. He cautiously moved to the curtains, and pulled the satin cloth away from the window.
No one was there.
He looked out into the dark expanse of sand outside and saw nothing but sheets of rain cascading down, assaulting the dunes. He and Seshat lived on the outskirts of Cairo, nothing between their home and the Sahara. The god’s muscles relaxed. He still gazed out to the astounding sight of a late-March storm in Egypt.
Just as he moved to close the window, Thoth saw movement on a sand dune at the edge of his property. Two dark figures walked slowly, one seemingly dragging the other.
Thoth considered pursuing them, to see what they had done—what they had taken, but just as he leaned to move after them the leading figure stopped and turned back. Thoth stared intently…waiting. Then they were gone.
Vanished into the rain-soaked air.
Thoth drew in a breath and considered how many beings on this world could disappear. After a moment, he closed the window and secured the brass latch.
“What did they take?” he said as he moved through his library. He had the placement of every book, scroll, and loose parchment imprinted in his mind. He would immediately know what was missing. As he paced the aisles and scanned the titles, he mentally listed the deities who could disappear in a blink. Most deities of Roads and Travelers had such a capability, as did some of the Air and Sky, though the bodies of Air deities flaked then were blown with the wind, much like a handful of sand being blown from a palm. That was not the effect the two thieves had used.
As he turned toward another case, the god’s eyes stopped on a space between a leather-bound copy of the hieroglyphic Pyramid Texts and an ancient Phoenician book of sacred spells. The Safe-Passage Guide was missing.
His mind raced, forming a relevant and appropriate hypothesis. After a moment, Thoth settled on a god whom he had seen disappear before his very eyes.
Hermes. Herald of the Olympians. Versatile Greek god of commerce, and patron of travelers, traders, and thieves.
“But why,” Thoth wondered aloud, “would Hermes steal the Safe-Passage Guide?”
Miami, Florida the Vineyard Bar
Late Evening, less than three days to Spring.

     The Vineyard was empty save for Adam and Elden, who busily separated the tip money they had earned for the evening. As Adam continued to rack the clean wine glasses, he thought of the young woman, Samara, and hoped she would come back some time soon.
At that point, the door opened again.
The man who entered looked haggard, although vaguely familiar. He wore a wrinkled black shirt and dark jeans with reddish stains around the ankles. The man had a lithe, athletic build but was smaller than Adam by a few inches, maybe 5’9”. While he didn’t have any gray in his ruffled black hair, the man’s age seemed to peek through the wrinkles in the skin around his blue eyes.
     Adam slid the stem of a seven-ounce wine flute along the brass rack and turned to face the man. “Just in time for one last drink.”
     The man looked from Adam to Elden, then to the end booth along the wall. Adam wondered for a moment if this was the man Samara was to meet.
     “Yes,” the man said in an accent Adam found similar to Sil’s. The man looked at the Greek flag draped above the register. “It’s been sometime since I’ve had a good Greek wine.”
     Adam wiped his hands with the bottom of his apron as he looked into the man’s eyes. He considered the stock, then moved to one of the small fridges under the bar. He drew out a bottle of red wine, glanced at the label, pulled the cork free, then moved back to the man. As he approached, he plucked an all-purpose ten ounce glass from the brass rack.
     He placed the glass before the man as Elden continued counting the tips. Adam poured toward the center of the glass, filling it about two-thirds of the way. He stopped, twisting the bottle slightly to control any wayward drops.
     The man accepted the glass with a smile. He looked at it, tipping the glass somewhat and inspecting the edge of the wine. It left a reddish-brown film. He swirled the glass, allowing the wine to spin about, moved it up to his nose and took a quick sniff. After a moment, the man took a second, longer smell. The man raised the glass the remaining space to his lips and took a small sip. He sloshed the liquid about in his mouth, pulling in a quick breath before swallowing. He nodded.
     Idys,” he said to Adam, who frowned. “Delightful.” He paused a moment and took another sip. “Dry. Nice balance.” The man nodded a few more times and stood from the stool. He fished into his pocket then dropped a ten dollar bill on the bar. “I haven’t had a wine this nice since Dionysus’ last…” He smiled, then moved to the last booth in the bar.
     The bar clean up continued as the man silently enjoyed his wine. Occasionally, Adam would catch the man staring at him. The man would thinly smile, take another sip and look away. After separating their tips into envelopes, Elden restocked the bottled beer cooler, and moved Adam’s tips to the shelf under their stereo’s iPod dock in the storage room.
     The man approached the bar, his glass empty. “Well, Adam,” he said, “thank you for the drink.”
     Adam looked at the man. He didn’t remember giving the man his name.
     “You have nice genes,” the man said.
     Elden smirked, and Adam shook his head. “Listen, sir,” Adam said, glancing down, then to the man’s eyes, “this may be South Beach, but—”
     “No, no,” the man said, holding up his palm, “you misunderstand me. I see a lot of your mother in you.”
Stunned, Adam’s jaw dropped. Elden looked over, his face betrayed an equal astonishment. Adam roughly wiped his mouth and chin with his palm. He felt something welling inside him, bursting to come out. Rage.
“Get the fuck out of here.”
The man took a step back. Adam stared at him, flexed his hands under the bar, and felt a twinge in his shoulder. The man looked from Adam to the door, as if expecting someone to come bursting through.
“Perhaps now isn’t the best time,” the man said, slowly moving toward the door. Adam stared at him the entire way, his heart pounding against his ribcage. The man looked back, showed a troubled smile, then left the bar.
     “What the hell was that?” Elden said, hanging his apron on the hook just inside the storage room.
     “No idea,” Adam said. His heart still pounded, but slowed. He rarely got that riled that fast. He glanced to the door, then began rinsing the drip catchers and drink-rail mats. He wondered if the strange man had really known his mother…and there was something that told Adam he may have.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

An Ever-Evolving Answer to the Question of Who I Am

I've been absent here from the blogosphere for about two weeks, and that is a major failure on my part. As I said on my first entry to this blog, A Rebranding, I need to sit my ass in the chair, and while I have been sitting quite a bit over the last two weeks, I haven't been writing. I did spend sometime drafting a novel whose first draft is nearing completion, but I set a goal for this blog of two entries per week (usually Wednesdays and Saturdays) and I haven't consistently achieved that goal. The guilt over not writing has led to to think about who I am and why, if I want somethig so much, do I fail to work on it.

Answering the question "Who am I?" might be a complicated endevaor for anyone, especially considering that answer is ever-evolving, morphing as events happen to change the circumstances surrounding the question. For most of my life, and even now as I write this, I have a firm grasp as to what that answer is for me. Now, I am a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a friend, and a teacher. I'm working (perhaps lazily so) to add "writer" to that answer, but that is the answer. While the answer comes to me easily now, there were moments in my life that wasn't neecessarily so.

Me (bottom left) on the 1st place
Milwaukee Brewers, 1989
  Growing up in the sheltered environment of a small Catholic elementary school, I knew who I was. I was a son, a brother and a friend. A growing boy who enjoyed cartoons (Transformers, GI Joe, and He-Man most prominently) and found a surpirse joy in writing. I remember the school's old secretary, Mrs. Perez, once gave me a small journal in which to develop my little stories. Writing gave way to drawing, reading (my love began with C.S. Lewis' The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe) and eventually sports. My short athletic career began with soccer (no way I was running that much) and baseball (I couldn't hit to save my life), but it wasn't until basketball that I found a sport where I was successful. And while I don't really play anymore, basketball remains an integral part of my teaching life with coaching. Sports is intricately woven into the nest of my life. It's something that I enjoy, although I suffer the teams on a regular basis. (See the current state of the Heat for an idea.)

But what absolutely altered the shade of my feathers was when I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes the summer before 8th grade. It changed me and my family, thrusting adjusts on everyone in the house. Entering high school, I found myself struggling to lift from my parent's nest because of diabetes. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed high school, and I thrived there, so much so that I returned to my high school to teach and coach. Diabetes merely changed the circumstances of my life. It forced an evolution to the answer of who I was. And while adjusting to this evolution took some time, I managed fairly well.

It wasn't until college that I really lost sight of my answer. I wasn't ready for college. The egg-shell of elementary school, and the soft nest of my small high school didn't prepare me for the wide-open blue sky of college. I fell from that tree of education and slammed beak-first on the ground. After a year or two, I managed to shake the dirt off, but not the stains of my mistakes. I managed to lift off the ground and found myself gliding through on the wind of writing. I rediscovered a joy in creative writing and it was through that wind that I found a direction.

I reaquired a sense of my answer and landed on teaching. Originally (and, truth be told, still), the plan was to bide my time teaching while I worked on my writing craft. But since becoming a teacher, I have become a husband, and a father (twice over). I remained a son, a brother, and a friend, but the answer to the question continued to evolve.

Dwelling on this idea led me to a poem by Langston Hughes. Dreams, by Hughes, reigns as my favorite poem of all-time, and has held that crown for some time. I don't want to be that "broken-winged bird" he discusses. I can't let my dream die, so I'll continue flying toward that next evolution of my answer. Hopefully, the winds of inspiration and faith will get me there soon.

Below you'll find a poem I crafted almost ten years ago. It's modeled after another of Hughes' poems, The Negro Speaks of Rivers. Poetry Modeling is a technique where a writer uses the structure and style of a published poem to craft their own poem, altering the words, images, and themes to something of their own, while assembling the pieces as the original poet did.

In his poem "The Negro Speaks of Rivers", a seventeen-year old Langston Hughes gave a voice to his people. He develops an identity for black people through an association with rivers throughout histroy. These rivers provided nutrients necessary for the survival and growth of the black people, while developing and evoling their culture, understanding, and soul. His use of simple diction, unaffected by dialect, really affords the poem a clear voice that resonates through history, much like the names of those rivers did.

My effort with this model stems from the idea of identity. Writing at the age of 22, I crafted this poem, A Young Man Speaks of Health, to stand as a voice for who I was, at the time. I've evolved since then, and like Hughes says in his poem, "my soul has grown deep."


I have known health, its pure and perfect feeling, even during a life of sickness.

My soul has grown deep in health.

I have run in the field, when doctors said be weary.
I have felt the prick of a needle, just so I could eat.
I have looked upon others, gorging, while sweetness was my enemy.
And I have strived for balance when it was a struggle
To achieve it so I could run with no worry.

I have known health, its pure and perfect feeling.

My soul has grown deep in health,
even when others said it would never be pure and perfect.