daily preciousness

Monday, October 16, 2000

pre-birthday in Destin

Past bright dunes of talcum-white sand,

Emerald waters lap playfully against

The knobby knees of six-year-old girls,

Brown and blonde from weeks of sun.

I am typing these words as I sit on the back balcony, looking over the Destin bay harbor. The long narrow bridge is on the darkened horizon to the North of me. Pensacola City lights sparkle and glow over the horizon, backlighting the bridge. I see the running lights of fishing boats and "Dolphin View" pleasure cruisers in the water under the bridge. To my right, "Brown-eyed Girl" blares from TJ’s, a grass hut shack of a nightclub. The sounds of laughing and screaming bubble up over the music. I can see the silhouettes of dolphin schools in the reflecting lights. (I saw a glimpse of one yesterday in the daylight. But I haven’t gotten up-close and personal this time as I did in Grande Isle.)

As I listen to the music, I wonder what’s up with the "sha-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-ti-da" part of that song. I have to admit it’s my favorite part. (And the only part I can ever remember outside of a Karaoke setup.)

Tim’s parent’s condo is a swank affair. Since I’m the first guest to arrive, I nab the guest bedroom, all to myself. It’s where his Nanny (his grandmother) usually stays, so it’s appropriately cozy.

The place was owned by one of the guys from the country music group, Alabama. The musician sold the place to Tim’s Dad with all the furnishings included. He even left them a few pictures of his kids. (Tim’s family fed-exed the guy the pics along with a guitar they found in the closet.)

The second guest to arrive is an affable and straight-talking lesbianese girl named Rhonda. She’s just back from a whirlwind vacation to Las Vegas with her Mom and a friend, so she tells us all about her travels. It all reminds me of how horrible the city must be for Kyle, my ex-boyfriend who is living there. (He really should’ve gone into a well-paying, stable job, like being a showgirl, instead of chasing those silly dreams of being an academic librarian!)

Soon, I find myself finishing off cosmopolitan cocktails, a frosty beverage that is the traditional first drink upon arriving to the vacation house. We follow these up with a new concoction that’s named after me (virtually).

It is in honor of my visit to the place. It’s pink, frothy and sweet. Like me. The J-blend is a drink that Tim, Rhonda and I created together. It was a group effort. It consists of milk, vanilla ice cream and crème de noyaux (almond liqueur).

Tim and I have to laugh at teasers for the local TV news that pop up during the season premier of "Will & Grace". The news anchor manages to deliver his lines with a straight face: "A local boy is bitten by a rabid bat this afternoon. Health authorities have issued a statement about the incident. Details at eleven." The visuals, choppy and frenetic, are gruesome: a young boy, bandaged up from the gruesome attack, a shot of him riding his bicycle through the (apparently) rabid bat-infested back yard, macro images of bats being held with their wings outstretched, struggling against white-gloved hands of biologists.

I find myself sitting in a hot tub with Cory and Rhonda under a full moon. There are no rabid bats – at least none that I can see. The moon has a slightly orange tint. A few stars join in the celestial show. We talk for a while. Still, there are no bats to speak of.

"Look!" Rhonda shouts. She gives me a little start. I steel myself against the possibility of rabid attack-bats. Thankfully, she points to the two towers of the condo building above us. They frame the sky like a spaceship, Rhonda explains. "I feel like I’m stormin’ through space in the Millenium Falcon!" I laugh out loud and sip some J-blend. It’s comfortingly cool while the hot tub is warm. When it gets too hot, we dive into the nearby pool. It’s just 10 degrees cooler, but it’s a pleasant contrast.

Sleep overtakes me as soon as my head hits the pillow that first night. I doze until 10 the next morning.

Caleb, Tim’s sweetheart, gets lost on the way to the condo the next day, calling Tim four or five times for directions, updates and reassurance. Tim is graciously patient. The cosmopolitans have that effect on him – and me, too.

Two by two, more guests arrive. I finally meet Caleb sober. He’s funny and sweet. And I find that we’re a lot alike. We’re Mac aficionados, both lovers of good electronica, and most importantly, both fanatics about the Pet Shop Boys.

I find that I have a profound and urgent desire to be Caleb from our very first conversation. It’s not that I envy him. I merely covet the point where he is in life. He is very close to achieving a lot of the goals that I have not yet reached.

He’s taken the reigns in his life and is fast on the way to acquiring the total package. (The total package is my little term for a happy, loving relationship with a guy who truly loves you, professional success, the social camaraderie achieved by creation of a tightly knit group of "chosen family" and finally, the ownership of basic necessities required for creature comfort. Getting the total package is next on my life "to do list.")

I marvel at Caleb’s car MD player. As a fan of mini-discs myself, I am amazed to see this in his car. (I didn’t notice it the morning I drove it around New Orleans.) We’re listening to Madonna’s new album. The music is elegantly electronic. Very Erasure-sounding.

Sara, Caleb and I go bargain hunting at the Outlet mall. I buy a Gap shirt for $4 and brag about it all day. ("See this? Can you say, ‘Fo’ dolla’? It be only Fo’ dolla!" Everyone nods uncomfortably, not knowing how to react. "Fo’ dolla’! I try again. Nothing.)

Next on the get-list is a V-neck sweater to keep warm on the balcony that night. I also grab a Shinto-inspired black arch that is an indoor fountain. I think it will be perfect for my room, once I do a little cleaning.

After shopping, we quickly dress and get ready for a late afternoon appearance at the Ft. Walton Museum of Art. It’s a quaint old gallery housed in an old jail.

Here, in this gallery, I locate a lost art.

Some of the rooms still have black iron gates. There’s also a large bell hanging over the stairs, surely a reminder of the building’s former incarnation. About a half-dozen New Orleans area artists have been asked to a juried competition of their work. It’s mostly younger, not-yet established artists. Amelia, the girl who swathed me with glitter paint before we even laid eyes on one another, is the featured artist.

She’s decked out in trendy emerald green, creating an Ozma of Oz look. She mingles and nibbles on pumpkin bread, orange punch and other Halloween-theme snacks. I join in.

I happen to talk with an artist with a Japanese name. She turns out to be not first or second generation J-American, as I expect, but actually Japanese. She’s from Yokohama and is shocked to hear me spouting Kansai dialect at her. Her works are interesting and thought provoking. One shows two huge bees, working at the honeycomb. In front of the painting, on the floor, are a dozen gray globs. The gray globs are like Number 2 pencil marks on standardized tests, she tells me, and the work is speaking out against standardized testing, which overlooks our individuality and creates a hive mentality towards perceived intelligence. I love it.

Amelia’s work is also thought provoking. She says she’s inspired by nature and the environment. Most of her works are very subjective in nature and have much in common with landscape studies. My favorite is a field of pumpkin orange with bright crimson, vertical strokes that look like blood seedlings or blood weeds. It’s elegant and strangely relaxing.

The Gallery director gives a little speech while I’m eating my fifth slice of pumpkin bread. She thanks everyone for attending and announces the winners. After the third and second place artists were announced, we stopped holding our collective breath. Amelia wins first place. We’re all pretty shocked. She grabs the blue ribbon a little nervously. It’s obvious that she didn’t come here to be the center of attention. Tim and I take requisite pictures and our entire group hoops and hollers. Amelia is appropriately embarrassed and says so.

We discuss the situational ethics of the moment. "If I would have lost, we would have all commiserated, saying ‘Art is so subjective, who cares what that judge thinks?’ But since I won, we all agree that ‘she really knows her stuff!" I nod, appreciating her detached logic. She’s a sharp cookie. Speaking of which, I bite into a jack-o-lantern cookie.

We assemble in front of the canvas depicting the field of flame-orange and blood weeds. It’s a group shot. Amelia holds the blue ribbon and grins. I’m surprised when she asks me to join in. She barely knows me. I am thoroughly charmed. It’s great to feel so sweetly included. I had the vague impression, before this moment, of the warm conviviality of these folks, but the highly inclusive moment of the group photo brought it all home: This group has a real knack for that congenial shit. I’m glad to see it’s not just a lost art.

Caleb, Sara and I leave early. We pick up Bjork’s "Selma songs." It quickly becomes the soundtrack of the weekend. Caleb pops it in, clicks on "repeat that motha," and we enter into a quirky, lush, introspective soundspace.

Before supper, Amelia and I head down to the beach for a walk along the surf. My hands are sticky from handling a cake icing squeeze container as Sara wrote "Congrats, Amelia!" on her celebratory cake. I show Amelia the mating dance of the snow egret. (I forget how it came up, but she needed to experience it, so we practiced it in front of a crane that was standing nearby. He was stoical, while we did our little dance. He didn’t even blink. I can just imagine him thinking, "stupid tourists!")

Apparently, our little romp on the sand with Mr. Crane doesn’t go by unnoticed by the crew on the balcony. "What were you two doing out there?" we are quizzed when we get in. "And why are your bathing trunks inside-out?" (Amelia and I, both being artists of sorts, shroud ourselves in the mystery of the moment, refusing to comment on my state of mis-dress.)

Tim pops open a bottle of dry champagne and we toast Amelia’s blue ribbon. The bubbly is poured into Waterford crystal, Tim’s parent’s. We’re warned of its ridiculous value and behave accordingly, grasping the flutes gingerly and with the utmost care. In a clumsy moment, I brush the table as I am positioning for a picture. That shot nearly cost me a thousand dollars’ worth of broken crystal! The table quakes precariously, every vessel rocking down to its base. Everyone gasps. We all imagine the worst: each one tipping over and shattering against the tabletop. Luckily, it’s a false alarm. Not a drop is spilled and the day is saved. The table is sturdier than we thought.

We eat cake as a dessert to Tim’s creamy crawfish tail pasta. It’s great.

Evening number two is topped off with a visit to the hot tub. The crowd displaces a lot of water and the temperature is lower than the previous night. The air outside is cooler, too. Someone has the bright idea to take off his clothes. It must have been Caleb. (He’s a wild one after the bubbly and the third and fourth refills of cocktails.)

So everything comes off. I realize I haven’t been around naked womenfolk in ages. The breasts float on the water, plump and melon-like. The orbs of power glisten in the argon lights. I can’t help it – my eyes are drawn to them and I’m a little hypnotized by them. I hope nobody notices my boob-induced trance. I retreat into myself, as I reflect on my odd hetero-centric curiosity to these ripe, nubile body parts. ("Is this normal? Have I ever been normal before? Why should I care?")

There is splashing and giggling, gossip and joking. I wake up from my fag-caught-in-headlights trance when Caleb suggests that we go for a little skinny dipping. We cheer in agreement. But we’re shy, so we all put our clothes back on, so that we can take them off once in the water. It’s a playful romp down the sandy dunes toward the water. We shout and giggle and everyone runs by the police car, not 30 feet away, backlit by the streetlight. The officer inside isn’t moving – asleep, perhaps. But I notice him. "Guys, maybe this isn’t such a bright idea," I whisper loudly. "I really think we ought to re-think this!" I bark out loud. "Guys, let’s really, really not do this!" I finally shout, gesturing toward the cop. Finally, everyone notices the problem. We could all get a hefty fine for public nudity. None of us can afford it, really. So we laugh and joke all the way back to the hot tub. Not more than 45 seconds have elapsed. To Caleb, who sat this one out, we looked like a Benny Hill sketch – a memorable moment.

Before long, the suits are off again. (I plead peer pressure!) Caleb is feeling flirtatious. He’s brasher than before, and basically demands that I grope him. I look at Tim, who acquiesces: "Just grab it, so he’ll get us some frosty beverages."

So, I do. And he laughs. I am putty in his hands, while he’s rock-hard in mine. He goes upstairs, gets a trayful of drinks, brings them back down, and they’re horrible. They are disgusting concoctions that no one can stomach. I felt him up – and for what?

One by one, the hot tub thins out and I’m left with Caleb. He’s still lit up and I tell him about how close he is to the total package. But, he’s too drunk to really discuss it. Perhaps that’s best. No one needs to know how close they are to reaching someone else’s dreams.

That kind of comparison isn’t a normal part of our emotional algebra. You can’t just carry the one (some one else’s goal) into the next place (your own life). It doesn’t work like that. It’s a meaningless mixture of apples and oranges. And oranges are not the only fruit.

I ask Caleb to join me upstairs once I start shivering from the cold air. He declines. I plead with him. He refuses, so I go on up. Ten minutes later, I’m finishing off a package of french fries that Tim has generously procured. (He’s a fast food fiend.) We realize that Caleb is still downstairs. Tim brings him up, telling us that he found him passed out in the hot tub. "My God! He could have drowned himself," I think. Feeling guilty, I fall asleep a little uneasily.

The next day is more relaxing and slow-paced than the previous one. We play on my computer and all the Mac lovers there ooh and aah over my little iBook. (He’s a popular little fellow.)

I learn the verb "queef," which is apparently the sound of air being released from the vagina. At first, I think they’re joking and that it’s not a real word. But innocent passers-by back up their claim. So I accept it. Caleb suggests a male counterpart: cumpf, the sound made by the male anus upon the retraction of a partner’s penis. "Charming!" I think to myself.

***

Four crimson horseshoes,

Floating in formation,

Nearly interlocking,

Form the closest thing to a backbone

That he’ll ever know,

that stinging sack of jelly.

I swim with a thousand minnows

Who fear the pelican gliding above

More than the person floating below

Their saltwater ceiling.

They tickle me as

They nibble at the air bubbles

trapped by my skin.

***

The weekend ends all too quickly. Sunday brunch is a big chocolate birthday cake with my name on it. I’m humbled and charmed at the same time.

Before long, I say goodbye to everyone as they leave. It’s a little awkward. I barely know them, but they’ve been very amicable, so I might have gushed a little.

Sunday night, I do some writing in my room while Tim watches some drama on TV. I sleep really well. Monday morning, we go to Seaside, Florida. It’s a planned community with a really trendy atmosphere. It’s where "The Truman Show" was filmed. Honestly, it resembles a movie set, because it is just so attractive – it’s almost disney-fied in its sense of design.

We eat at a little café. Two sandwiches on paper plates adds up to nearly $30. I’m a little disturbed by the price. But it’s so trendy I can nearly stomach it.

Before I knew it, I was back home. The birthday weekend extravaganza went by in a flash. But I savored every moment of it. Writing about it allowed me to relive some of the happier moments. I owe a lot of happy memories to Tim and Caleb. I hope I can return the favor when my friend Emily comes to town soon. (I bet she’ll get along with Amelia really well.)

Thanks so much to the tugboat captain’s fine crew. Thanks for the pre-birthday fun. You made the last days of year 27 worthwhile and very memorable!

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