The Starbucks latte drained into a shallow puddle; content, he sidled the coffee about the bottom of the cardboard cup and rested, Saturday, in the morning, at Central Park. He had avoided the bench since the day a group of Portuguese women were strangely transform in his eyes into a gaggle of geese. He watched an elderly woman on the Great Lawn, who usually brought a Golden Retriever to the Park on weekends, and tossed a chew rope for him to recoup. The dog was every bit like the retriever of the Milk-Bone biscuit advertisement, who was incidentally, originally, “Rin Tin Tin.” Discontent with the plash, the Marsh College instructor rose unevenly, and decided to search out another latte from the street, which was the East Mid-80’s, murmuring, “New York is like a house,” and “Where is the … coffee machine?”
He would find a senior, Irish-American man, pausing a set of binoculars, and cloistering the Central Park bench, upon his return. He sat in the same spot, and dismissed the urge for idle conversation. The Irish man was searching for an owl, he said. He reflected, agreeably, “Owls are uniquely private birds.” The man’s accent sounded more German. “The owl’s ability to hear is quite advanced. They are nocturnal, which is probably the best reason why people seem to believe owls are easily-riled up, and reclusive. They’re just out at night. They sleep during the day. They don’t like to be awoken.”
The Marsh instructor nodded politely, like punctuation. “Really,” he concluded.
He had booked an afternoon flight for a brief escape to his double-wide in Florida. He would be joined by a friend, and colleague, Joe, for a dinner cruise of the Intercoastal Waterway the next day, Sunday, aboard a modest ship, The Atlantic Princess. He told the Irish man at Central Park more about his owl, recalling it, after a moment. “There was an owl who flew up behind me, – right at this spot. It was like he was going to pounce on the bench. He must have been the size of a Volkswagen.”
The man blinked, nodded knowingly, and folded his arms. “It sounds like her. Owls, and their trees. It says something about nature.”
His brief departure to the East 80’s for more latte had a provincial contest; it meant his right to the bench was suspended, if someone else arrived to claim it. The elderly man was Irish, in fact. He wore tan flannels, and a light jacket. His name was Sorbet. “It’s easy to remember for Americans. Think of sherbet.” They discussed owls, and old movies, dogs, and trees.
“I saw Old Yeller this week for the first time,” the Coney Islander, the instructor, told the Irish man, and opined,“What a terrible movie!”
Genially, Sorbet agreed. “It was not uplifting at all. It was just wrong, dreadful, to put him down. I suppose it was necessary, the dog had a disease. But why do the whole thing? Just dreadful.”
He said. “Right. Exactly.”
Sorbet brightened, “Born Free was a little better..”
“Yeah, the lion goes away, but then he comes back.”
Sorbet recalled, “Yes. And he brings all the little lions. That was better.”
The instructor surveyed the Park, and gazed precariously behind the bench. “I don’t hear your owl,” he said. “It must be morning.”
The man, Sorbet, remembered a story. “There were these overgrown trees once, on a property in Bavaria.”
“Yes, Germany,” Sorbet said, with a quick smile. “The property contained houses, and apartments, a ‘coron,’ they call it, a ‘kolonie.’”
“They don’t have subdivisions.”
“It’s similar,” Sorbet said.”The owner wanted to trim the branches of the trees in the lot where the residents usually parked their automobiles. The branches had become overgrown, and were dropping tar, and pitch, and wild nuts on the hoods of the vehicles, which didn’t please anyone. He knew there had been a spotted owl who lived in the branches, but it was years, and years ago. He hadn’t seen, or heard the owl in quite some time. He was unable to find the owl’s nest, and sure he had moved along. He ordered the tree surgeons to trim the branches.”
He continued, “The tree line looked just wonderful, and he admired the neat cut for the property, the extra room in the parking lot. But then he hears a fierce, harrowing hoot, – a terrible hoot, almost foreboding hoot, like it had been waiting for him, – somewhere within the tree line. And goodness, if it wasn’t the owl!”
“He was probably living in a tree cavity,” the instructor said. “Some owls use will abandoned nests from other birds, like hawks, but they can also live in a cavity of a tree.”
The man nodded, “Yes. The owl singled him out. It had been quietly living in the trees all of those years.”
The Coney Island instructor revved the eight cylinders of a glossy red Firebird, a rental, in the parking lot at the City Marina in Florida. He wheeled in circles, annoyed, somewhat apprehensive, on Sunday, waiting for Joe. He dialed his cell, but his calls went to automatic messages. He drove out to the entrance for the fifth time, deciding to stop counting the intervals, which had been every quarter-hour; it was an hour-fifteen. Check-in for the dinner cruise aboard The Atlantic Princess was looming; all passengers would have to board very shortly, and if it was missed, prospective mariners would left ashore without a refund.
“One more time,” the Coney Islander said, and tooled the Pontiac whichway over the river drawbridge, a beautiful, four-lane, tree-lined entryway leading a half-mile to the marina past a riverfront mall. The weather was seventish, and it bothered him they might miss it.
On Sunday morning, Joe, and the instructor had toured the flea market circuit along U.S. A-1A. Joe was diverted to tables with displays of vintage records, 45 RPM’s. He stopped near Joe at one table to look at the samples of European tiles, among the possibilities for home renovations, and designs. He studied the label for the well-known tile, – known as “azulejo,” – and he had tried to pronounce it. Joe piped in, “ah–JUUL-yo,” like “JEWEL,” or the e-cig company, JUUL. He believed Joe said it wrong, but didn’t correct him, managing to avoid the occupational hazard to be always right. An “azulejo,” a Portuguese tile, is known for the detail painted upon a surface; many painters have used them as a canvas to express their art; it wouldn’t surprise him to find a likeness of just about anything among them, from a Spanish landscapes to the popular, ancient European cave, the 30,000 year old Chauvet.
He relaxed next to Sorbet in Central Park, watching the woman, and her dog, the Golden Retriever, on the Great Lawn. The Retriever seemed to be enamored with every instant of the exercise routine, and galloped ten or twenty yards to fetch his chew rope; it grappled it into his mouth, and returned to drop it at the lady’s feet. “The exercise makes him happy,” commented Sorbet. “Beautiful dog.” Their gaze at the retriever, and his course, became, after a while, an offing lull, surreal in the moment, with a warm breeze on the Lawn; the broad, and peaceful smile of the retriever’s face, the innocence of a blissful pet; his gait was wide, great, and as perfect as an Olympian; it mesmerized them to watch the canine easily cover yards of the Lawn, one at a time.
Breaking the silence, Sorbet observed, “He runs like a horse.”
The Coney Island instructor pondered the relative merits of roast beef, and salmon, on foot, in the parking lot, fretting about the times Joe was a no-show in the past. He decided the cruise was worth it alone. There were all the signs. It usually involving a woman, in one place, or another. Joe had met a professional womens’ basketball player, Saturday night at the Deck, an oceanfront bar, and grill. There was never any message, text, warning, or explanation afterwards, one of his friend’s frustrating qualities. He was still young, and he expected people to accept it. The instructor snuffed a cigarette in a standing ash tray at the boarding plank, peered at the still lot, gave it one last, and heavy breath, and then boarded the Atlantic Princess, alone. “Alas,” he smiled. “Whatever.” He was consoled the dinner cruise was fabled for the service of roast prime rib, or salmon, and the weather was covetable for a two-hour jaunt of the Intercoastal Waterway, the arroyo which separates the mainland of Florida, and other states from barrier islands, like Miami, from Miami Beach. “Mmm,” he said, viewing of the ship’s interior.
He emerged the galley, and he put his hands on the railing of the deck to view the Intercoastal, wasting a last scowl for Joe, who was now probably a landlubber. The evenings in tropical Florida, once the sun ebbs, and the humidity wanes, leaves a dewy, twilight breeze, cooling, and drying in several directions, as if Mother Nature’s better half had returned from the heat of the day, to work in the yard. “Million dollar views,” he said, to a stranger, widening his arms. “A million-dollar breeze. This is why people come to Florida.”
The count for the Atlantic Princess tour was forty-one, which one of the mates told them to remember; it was comprised of natives, and tourists, each of whom had stepped carefully over a temporary steel plank to ship’s deck; the schooner was a two-story boat, customized with a downstairs’ restaurant, and converted for the daily jaunts of the St. John’s River. He felt frustrated, and partly amused. He said, under his breath, at the deck rail, staring at the lot, and the busy crew, “He could try to jump on board,” enjoying the idea of his Marsh College friend trying a James Bond leap from the shore, but growing content it was going to be a solo trip. He joined the other passengers in the sealed cabin, and chose a booth with a table along the walls of windows surrounding the first floor; the other tables filled quickly, as did the atmosphere of the sea, with the cascading, “tiki sound” of Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, and “What A Wonderful World.”
The steward watched the guests embark, and waited for a late arrivals, before casting the ropes. He saw a sea gull alight upon the gate rail, followed by a half-dozen more gulls. It amused him the gulls appeared to join in a collective guffaw at the schooner, and the Intercoastal tourist group. He sat alone, and greeted other tourists in the booth of the air-conditioned first-floor cabin, behind an all-you-can-drink, caffeine-free Coca-Cola, enthused to watch the loosening of the boat’s moorings, and a float of the ship, slow, and reverse, as the power of the motors elevated somewhat, and the river cruise began. It took a few minutes for the boat to right away from the slip; it seemed as if the ship was traversing backwards, and he waited mostly an hour for it to turn, which it never did; another pointed, saying, “aft,” and “fore.” The second stage of the ship was screened, and it was open to the air, with a bar. He was delighted to see the intercoastal from the waterway, as the cruise continued, noticing how it was much like a highway, or interstate; there were with navigable paths, and dutiful signage, occasionally indicating the exception, where the pavement was some twenty to forty feet below.
The Princess was not a corporate cruise ship, which might sail from the Port of Canaveral, and resembled more of a large, fishing boat, overhauled, detailed, and retrofitted for this type of voyage, a pleasure boat. He rested his arm on the back of the red, padded booth, and inspected the breakaway seating, concealing a life preservers for everyone. He examined the group, and gawked at the Intercoastal through windows enclosing the first floor. The crowd of almost fifty included a tall woman, with short, brown bangs, set into curls; waiting, in the new reality of the river, she filled the deck with shouts, and tried to be sure she could be heard above the loud muzak, and nervous chatter, in the event it may be important; another woman squeezed a man’s shoulder, and then poked another, acknowledging her presence, and swiftly made her way to a table in the middle of the cabin of the first floor cabin, to begin a group sing-a-long, eschewed by most of the others.
The dinner part of the narrated excursion arrived within minutes; roast prime rib, garlic potatoes, and grilled green beans, was served on courteous paper plates with plastic utensils, which didn’t trouble anyone; it proved to among the best available at any restaurant. The passengers warily digested the meal, eventually bringing happy jabber, and contentment to the deck, as guests freed themselves to see the water, and the rest of the ship. The captain used the intercom to mention the points of interest along the Intercoastal course. “Look!” hollered the woman with curling bangs. “Is that a shark?” A man in a Bermuda shirt, whose meaty arms belonged ostensibly to her husband, gently pulled the woman from the windows, and admonished cheerfully admonished, “Molly.” The voice of the captain intervened, and settled the issue, separate from the brief clamor, after all the eyes, and many in the group stood instantly to see. He advised mundanely, “And I see a dolphin has joined us, at ten o’clock on the starboard side.”
“It’s a dolphin, Molly,” the husband said, not completely under his breath.
Molly insisted, “It could have been a shark. They look exactly alike.”
The college instructor estimated the dolphin, compared to sharks; the dolphin’s fin was like the fin of a shark. If the captain said it was a dolphin, it was a dolphin, and it looked to be a great deal more cheerful; beneath their sharkish fins, the dolphins dove, and sparked from the water, meters away, apparently joining the voyage, racing the ship, and diving still deeper again. The captain called their attention to another attraction, on the port side, this time an island, Sea Turtle Island, which was scarcely more than a jetty, with about enough room for a sea turtle; it was otherwise a large rock, surrounded by a narrow sand beach; they passed it, and other rocks, jutting from the Intercoastal. The schooner passed beneath a number of superbridges, and river markers. He noticed wryly how, upon Marker #47, a solid post, like a telephone-pole in the river-way, a wooden pelican had been installed on the flat of the top, probably with an unseen advertisement, above the marker sign, and he grinned, remarking, “everyplace is fair game” in the mega Sunshine State. He noticed another wood pelican as the ship passed under the old bridge at Main Street, this time atop a piling near the fenders of the bridge at Marker #29, and cast another grin; shocked, and a little surprised, he saw the wood beak of the pelican just slightly move to one side, and strained to see it again, wondering if it may actually have been a live pelican. The scaffolding of the bridge in the waterway beneath it was intended to guard the pillars, and separate one ship from another; the waterway signs, like the numbered markers, were framed in bright, all-day orange, and reminded the captains, perhaps unnecessarily, of the secluded ways of the sea; one read “Idle Speed,” or, essentially float through the shallow channels, another, “No Wake.”
The Gallery Art Festival, known better as “The Gallery,” was held every year on a Sunday night in the fall. It was held in a downtown block closed to traffic in an inland former industrial town, also the county seat, during the first week of November, shortly after the County fair. Joe seldom ventured to the Fair, as a New Yorker, but always went to the Gallery, a panoply of color, and crowd. The temperature in Florida usually peaks in August, but can stay in three-figures well into November; the Gallery was scheduled to occur once it could be imagined the mercury would broach the seventies, at least by nightfall. The height of hurricane season is usually at Labor Day in the Sunshine State, and how the heat index, and the ocean temperatures were a shout from 105; the bromide was how the northerners needed heat, and the southerners, air conditioning.
The annual Gallery block party was held downtown; vendor booths spanned a dozen intersecting streets, and featured a national enclave of artists, who displayed their work for a juried show; food vendors offered Floridian festival fare, seafood, and chicken on a stick, and barbecue; corn dogs, sausage, grilled onions, ice cream; “squeeze-to-please” lemonade; Kettle Corn; there were stands for Bud Light, of course, countless craft beers, Corona, other brands; booths housed the Chamber of Commerce, and the candidates for public office in an election year; other vendors ranged from travel agents to newspaper subscription sales; there were several platforms of musicians, who either provide a glaring, and blaring rock music, and soothing, tiki mnemonics to entrance the festival-goers, even the teetotalers, with more subtle beats, the backdrop of the summer’s end fete.
It was also a Sunday, late in the day, close to five, the only day of the event, in a time between day, and night, before the nightfall, in a gray of air hinting at a drops of rain, and the flasks, and wells of the red, Budweiser tent. Thousands of people attending the Gallery included a high number of snowbirds, who had lately arrived for the winter; the festival was a free event, and they gathered in clusters on the streets in front of the food vendors, and band platforms; the latter included one of the louder bands, which had commenced a hazy trill of original compositions, a strange, but not unpleasant departure from the cover bands; the sounds were both familiar, and unfamiliar. An elderly man was seated at a table with his wife, in the parting sunlight, under an EZ-Up tent which was arranged as a mini-restaurant for patrons, with chairs provided graciously by the show’s organizers, and the vendor. The elderly couple spoke faintly to each other; they were plainly in their eighties, and enjoying the midst of the throng. They wore clogs, and, despite it, the woman, his wife, who seemed very taken by the band, wanted him to dance. The man frowned conspicuously, and said no, and was shaking his head, but, in the rhythm of the band, and a vague version of tropical reggae, relented, and took her hand. She obliged, and her grin broadened, as they rose with brand drama to begin a Jewish step dance.
The elderly pair clasped hands deliberately over their head, with a dip for each movement, and joined hands with only their finger tips; their feet pointed to a given direction, and the dance deigned to a circle, one circle, and another circle, as it pleased them; it inspired the gathering how each circle was slower, and drew them closer, and it captivated them with the implied romance of an eighty-something couple, a clench, but never a clench, every step, always bending at the knee, the couple separated, all the while; only their finger tips touched in the ring of the dance. One of the women in a nearby Gallery tent started to clap with animation, and was joined by others watching the couple, and a cluster of twenty-five formed trying to learn, and follow the steps of the elderly pair; they clapped softly to the rhythm of the dance, possibly with joy, every time the couple bowed, and rose to a step. The buoyant colors of a red-and-white balloon unveiled an inflatable Tube Man, which was bending, and waving, high in the air, and to and fro, in a fleeting sea breeze, one day, in the fall. ◊
¤ JUKE BOX ¤
Theme: “Huron ‘Beltane’ Fire Dance,” Loreena McKennitt | playlist, “Flea Markets, Nos. 51-,” a myopic vaile, (No. 62).
Above, “What a Wonderful World,” Israel “Iz” Ka’ano’i Kamakawiwo’Ole
..… from “^; or, CARET,” III of III,
The Echo By Seas; & Other Stories, by Soda Tom,
[Complete Works, No. 01]. Copyright (C) 2017-20, ff.
All Rights Reserved.
Created by Soda Tom