The alarm sounded especially alarming at 5:30am, after I had fought the pillow till 'round midnight the night before due to the excitement of the trip and the foreknowledge that an early wake-up was called for. It's better than caffeine for keeping one awake - just plan on having to get up early the next day. Caught up with some semi-sleep on the plane and spent some time reading Heather King, musing and perusing her writerly goodness.
I see a lady reading "Vogue", her hair dyed blonde, and I can't help feeling don't let me be part of the jet-set, the shallow rich, the type who go on winter vacations to warm climes...Doh! I console myself that I'm only going for four days. Rationalization r us.
We started off with a wonderful breakfast buffet at Jerry's Restaurant, which was convenient for shopping too. You come to the islands hungry and in need of groceries and at Jerry's you kill two birds with one stone, though don't let the fine-feathered parrots that perch outside the place hear you use that phrase.
There's nothing like the exhilarating opening moments of a vacation, even when the air is chilled to the temperature of a fine merlot. I hit the beach for a bracing 25-min run (bracing by Florida standards but not by Ohio's). Afterward enjoyed a fine cigar (the male equivalent of aromatherapy) at the pool while Matthew swam. He then had to make the dash in just a swimsuit to the condo, and Dad and I helpfully tried to block him.
We strategically planned our tennis game for 4pm (the rental closes at 4:30 till Monday morning), and told them it was too cold - might we keep the rackets through Sunday? Yes came the agreeable answer, and so this year we could and did play tennis on Sunday after church.
We ate at Sanibel cafe or what used to be, and we still referred to as, Portofinos. Happy hour drinks were surprisingly inexpensive; I had a Bass pale ale for $1.50 which is usually only a downpayment. I splurged with a steak dinner.
The priest at Mass, who'd been a Benedictine monk for a couple decades, gave a stem-winder of a sermon defending the pro-life cause. It's the first time in my life I'd heard a sermon get a bout of applause afterward. An odd experience. Jeannie said it was an example of preaching to the choir, and given the applause there's something to that. But then if Catholics were really enthusiastically pro-life, things would look different in the public and private spheres.
I also thought it odd that he prefaced the homily with a discursion about a play he was in, something about a spelling bee. It was one of those audience participation dramas and he told us he'd been volunteered. But more on that later....
Later I snug'd up to the coast and watched couples, framed by sea oats, walk by. The scene: acres of ocean the color of light sapphire, a gentle wind, and the air redolent of brine. The zigzag of the sand path. The sun gleaming down, the succor of cigar and no where I had to be. I felt a taste of Teachout-ian beach bumming, there on the sands, sockless and shoeless while in deep Ohio the mercury shrinks like the testicles of members of the polar bear club. I read the dulcet prose in "Hitch 22", a blend of fiction ("there is no God") and non-fiction (America as land of the free), of shimmering prose-poetry and craft-like prose-prose. Chapter sentences start off rich with place names: "Nodding Hill has always been my particular London." Hitchens' prose is pleasantly Buckleyesque: he'll use "rebarbative" at the drop of a hat. His vocabulary, to invoke Whtman, contains multitudes.
Just past 4 and the sun's still warm, like a campfire. I hole up 10-20 yards from an older couple sitting together at sea's edge; they looked like a Corona commercial for the elder set. But then: To the sun deck, Batman! As the wind picks up and as the 4 o'clock hour ages, I retire with a Maduro brown ale to the famous deck, lounging in the heat spot where the sun shone through the nearby trees. Listening to the best of Porter Wagoner on iPod, I thought it'd be neat were I were drinking the beer called porter.
I also read a bit of the notes from a conference that featured the inimitable Heather King. The gotcha line, the one that hits the sore spot: "I'll be a bag lady if that's what it takes, and it seems like you never have to if you're willing to."
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Sunday night was "my choice" as to restaurant, although my first three choices were, in fact, vetoed by Jean which tends to suggest the phrase "your choice" had gotten redefined. We ended up, by hook or by crook, at "The Hungry Heron" which boasts a menu longer than most modern novels. Over 280 choices as I recall. The food and atmosphere were functional if mediocre, but then it tends to prove the rule that you can't expect fine dining at a restaurant with "Hungry" in the title.
My earliest reviews of large bodies of water consisted of criteria different than mine. Back then it was simple: height of waves and presence of shells, with the former far more important than the latter. Now it's simply sun, heat and water that takes the eye on a horizon ride. Beautiful little fishes are nice, but it's not determinative for which beaches we frequent. The Great Lakes, I think, have improved given the new criteria, and beer and books are particularly fulsome additions to beach life.
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These are the times that try Dad's soul: we arrive at a breakfast place, get seated inside (where it's warm) and then Jean asks to be seated outside (where it's cool) and then she asks that they fire up the heater for us. High maintenance are us.
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One can easily acclimate to "cool" January in Florida - a simple sweatshirt addition is a painless concession to, say, a 60 degree day with a decent wind. Not being at 10% body fat anymore also helps. Time has suited me, thus far, to any potential global cooling.
The weather is mostly overcast today; the shining moments came during tennis in the pre-noon hour. The games between my sister and me were long enough, or maybe we were old enough, such that two games were enough. We played a few more with Matthew.
Then a bike ride to Periwinkle park, where we saw colorful parrots, ducks and lemurs. Along the way I admired the smooth-bore palms that svelte up to flower in tufts of light green fronds. It's the Trappist neatness of the almost barkless tree that appeals.
The water is ice-cold but it's fun to watch the birds wing an inch from the sea surface. A fine and sprightly variety of sea birds add to the festive line where sea meets sand, an eclectic welcoming party for incoming waves. A sleepy fishing boat hangs off the shore, which lends color to the atmospherics. It's a small ecstasy to be escaping 5-10 degree weather at home.
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Our last night on the island, Monday, we decided to go to a play at the local theatre, a musical production titled "The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee". I knew ahead of time that four people would be drawn from the audience, so I was busy jockeying for a worse seat, so as to not get chosen. But funny thing is, they'd already asked some folks as they were entering the building, and unbeknowst to Mom & Dad and I, nephew Matthew was asked. He said yes, and shortly after the play began he was called up to the stage to our shock and delight. It was definitely the highlight of the play and arguably the trip, seeing Matthew up there. And here I'd felt sorry for him since I was under the illusion that he was called without his foreknowledge.
After being asked to spell "cow" he delivered his lines perfectly: "Could you provide a definition?" and "Can you use it in a sentence?" And yes, he spelled it correctly.
At intermission, a lady came over to ask me how old my "son" was. I said nine years old because, in fact, he was nine years old three years ago and I find the nieces and nephews have ages that constantly fluctuate such that it's hard for me to keep track. I didn't think it necessary to disabuse the lady of the fact that I was an uncle, especially given Matthew's impressive star turn. Mom immediately said "he's twelve" which was embarrassing to say the least.
The play itself ran the gamut from excruciating to occasionally almost pleasant. I wondered how a musical about spelling bees could be funny or interesting, and I'm still wondering. Perhaps I'm humor-challenged, but I don't find the familiar tropes like the flagrant gay guy entertaining, and I certainly hope I can get the erection song out of my head. (Yes, there's actually a song about erections in a play about a spelling bee.) There were many rave reviews of it (the play, not the erection song) on the 'net, which made me wonder in amazement at the diversity of human opinion.
These are the times that try Dad's soul, take two: just getting there was a problem. Having already purchased tickets we were pushing the envelope as far as having time to get dinner beforehand. The hour was tick-tocking away while we rejected eating places due to either a menu not to our liking, a menu not to our wallet's liking, or insufficient time given the wait to get seated. In the end we made it to something like the "Corner Cafe", which featured large colorful paintings that could be bid on, beginning at princely sums.
Sitting by the sea, I'm astonished again by modern technology. An obscure sea song comes to mind, "No Tie-ups" by the Irish band Wolfstone, and after a bit of iPod searching I conjure that very song up while watching the waves.
Later on the sun deck - smaller than I recall it - there's a bronzed middle-aged man who makes Speaker Boehner look wan as a vampire. Not far away there's a teen, pale as Victoria, reading the Bible while her lounge mate attempts to direct/orchestrate the sun away from approaching clouds.
The clouds eventually win and send the deck denizens scurrying away. I sip a beer as the waning moments of the vacation appear before me. The cooling wind, the faint smell of chlorine from the pool below, the hint of rain in the air, the '70s aquamarine-painted shutters of the next-door condos, the high above-it-all perch, all of these conspire to remind me of some elusive childhood longing, some archaic thirst for bravery. Or maybe for another beer, which I have at the condo just before enjoying a farewell dinner at Jerry's with Mom and Dad, since Jeannie and Matthew had taken an earlier flight home. And so endeth my last breath of summer in winter...