Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Last orders at First Landing

Looking at them on the beach at First Landing made me feel old; overtanned bodies, their muscles barely contained beneath the lightly tattooed skin, military haircuts and sleek beer filled coolers from the back of their boats. Beach volleyball and shouts. And a self consciousness that runs through youth.
The girls had none of those 40-something inhibitions about them, flaunting it in skimpy bikinis and cackling across the sharp sand.
Their conversations cracked across the languid afternoon of a hot May weekend.
"Yeah. I told her she could go and f... herself."
I found myself thinking youth does not necessarily buy sophistication, my thoughts falling and rising on each twitch of her cigarette.
Calypso music twanged out from another boat and a couple locked into a dance that was closer to a gyration. Pleasure on a pleasure boat on a sultry afternoon with all the time in the world ahead of them.
Still eventually time like the tide waits for no man. By the evening the small boats would be gone and the wilderness would again close over the beach and take it back into its thorny embrace.
In half a century the revellers would have limbs as contorted and twisted as the tree roots that knotted their way across the beach. In some dark place they would perhaps recall a Calypso day on the beach, but probably not.
And knowing I would be long gone, I skipped away from the beach, up a winding path that offered tantalizing glimpses of a less sullied shore, the sand blanched white in the late afternoon sunshine, the beach full of lonely tree remnants fashioned by the ebb and flow of the river.
The path climbed and the trees cloaked themselves in Spanish moss until the path ahead resembled a shimmering cathedral as austere in it own way as Salisbury with its fine white arches and soaring spire.
The clatter of the beach was far behind. Ahead lay the silent uncertainty of the trees and the marshy deeps of the state park.
I had been here before by the high and magnificent beaches overhung by moss, but then I was on my 12th mile and the state park took on the daunting dimensions of an unexplored rain forest. Fatigue blurs the mind and plays tricks with distances. The low hum of bugs turns into the crescendo of a demonic orchestra and the return journey becomes a route march of uncertain length.
In a clearing pierced with shards of evening light I came on a lonely bench. I wondered, not for the first time, about the name on the plaque. What he looked like and what he did with his life.
But lives had come and gone and people had sat on that bench, and spoke in close, low tones, never to reunite and never to return.
By the time I got back to the parking lot the young people were growling and muttering and packing up their oversized SUVs. The last cigarette was stubbed out on the gravel and the boats were heading away down the river.
By the end of the day only the wilderness endured.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Sound of Silence


My new favorite song is The Sound of Silence by Simon & Garfunkel.
I haven't seen The Graduate, for which the song is a soundtrack for eons, but when I do it always fills me with a feeling of immense possibility in a world bound up with restraints. Do people really burst into churches and save the girl at the altar, fight off irate family members with a large cross and escape on public transport?
Well maybe not the last part in this area. The plot would rapidly unravel as they waited two hours at the bus stop.
When The Graduate was released in December 1967, I was only slightly older than my son is now.
I assume my parents also came to appreciate the sound of silence.
After three hours of screaming which a large bottle of formula, a diaper change and a pacifier (I apologize for the use of two American terms) failed to quell this morning, I found myself looking in vain for a bus to throw myself under.
The warm glow of a happy day in Richmond on Friday free from Jackson's squeals was beginning to subside, but I kept the feeling within to calm me.
Then in desperation I resorted to the vacuum cleaner and started on the stairs detail that I have postponed for a couple of weeks, telling my wife I couldn't find the attachment.
That was indeed true, although I am not a good looker as evidenced by my regular appearances in unmatching socks.
Strangely enough the nearby hum of the vacuum cleaner did somthing no amount of bottles could achive. When I returned to the bedroom a small miracle had taken place and Jackson's eyes were closed.
Hopefully for long enough to complete this blog.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Sex, lies and Duro Sheds


Duro Sheds aren't very sexy unless you are unfortunate enough to wake up one morning and discover you are the Unibomber, but they've already caught me in a lie today.
And it has been a long day that started at 5 a.m. and involved heading to Langley Air Force base to see Air Force One land and take-off with the added bonus of three minutes of the side of Barack Obama's head.
By 2 p.m. I was tired and seriously decaffeinated. I meandered to Chesapeake Square Mall to get belated Mother's Day cards to find out the only card shop I know in Chesapeake had vanished.
I asked a few dissolute shopkeepers about its whereabouts but encountered only blank looks. It was as if it had never existed which was diconcerting as I still have memories of the saccharine sweet smiles of the elderly ladies who worked there.
It seems traditional shops are already vanishing from malls to be replaced by odd places that tempt children in with bouncy castles and lunar golf. Already the Internet seems to be devouring the traditional shopping experience.
On the fringes of the parking lots surrounding this vast mall I was curious to see a row of Duro sheds.
They looked so lonely out on the asphalt wastelands of a beautiful blue day that I was prompted to stop my car and take photographs. The isolation of the Duro Sheds matched my mood. I wondered how people who seized life or fell in love could ever have anything to do with Duro Sheds.
They made me think fancifully of somewhere else with more meaning, of Southwold with its pretty painted beach huts that sell for a pretty penny, where families hang out in the summer and take their picnics out of Laura Ashley baskets.
In contrast the Duro Sheds were a sad pastiche of those huts so beloved of artists; rough hewn and industrial on the far fringes of the parking lot that felt like the dark side of Pluto.
I took a couple of pictures before I noticed one of the Duro Sheds contained a Duro Man who was showing an interest in my interest.
I quickly moved towards my car but he followed me.
"Are you in the market for a shed?" he asked as my hand fumbled with the keys near the car door.
This threw me at first. I always think of a literal market when someone uses that expression. I thought of the Medieval market in the center of Norwich, a place of huddled huts, pungent smells and archaic sights.
Not wanting to explain that I had no idea why I was photographing Duro Sheds, I had thought they could look artistic but the pictures had ended up as interesting as a day out in Lowe's, I concoted a tall story about my wife showing an interest in Duro Sheds, down the line.
Driving away I felt sorry for the Duro Man out there in the airlessness of a shed on a hot day although he didn't seem to be the kind of guy whose artistic sensibilities would take a battering.
But still as I looked at the sky over the concrete facades of the box stores, the cars jerking in and out of the gas pumps outside Sam's Club and heard the dull rumble of the Interstate I couldn't help but feel life was lurching away and I should do all within my power to spend it in a beach hut rather than a Duro Shed.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Misty in Chincoteague




I have been meaning to blog about Chincoteague Island ever since we returned from a weekend away, but have been seized by inertia and a lack of enthusiasm.
That's not to say Chincoteague is not interesting but, to be fair, neither is it Venice. It's not even Sienna.
When you have lived for a while near the coast of North Carolina, barrier islands cease to be a novelty. Even wild horses, the signature attraction of Chincoteague, are less of a novelty when your beat has been Corolla and the northern beaches of Currituck County, roamed by the descendants of Spanish mustangs.
Of course we went through the motions and ensured Zara was clutching her copy of Misty of Chincoteague as the low green marshes that usher in the approach to the town, appeared out of nowhere.
I promised to read her the novel, but like most of the best laid plans, got sidetracked by one of those large bottles of Pinot Grigot that cost less than $10 at Food Lion and taste better on the third glass than the first.
I still have no clue who Misty was and little indication to find out. I assume she's dead as there's a kitchy little statue in the town. Our hotel displayed a bill board for the movie that dates from 1961, an era when movies were feelgood affairs in which avulcular grown ups patted kids on the back, a drama comprised getting lost in the wilderness and nobody would ever dream a producer would one day make a movie like Seven where a detective finds his wife's head in a box in the final scene.
Still Chincoteague is in something of a time warp. I'd like to bet it boasts few paid up members of the Bloods and the hotel manager had a blue rinse from yesteryear along with an archaic attitude that her purpose in life was to sort out our dinner plans.
We didn't mind too much. Being lazy is part and parcel of being on holiday.
Unfortunately, I also have a competing urge to follow each dotted line that denotes a walking trail on the map to its logical and waterless end. I planned to hike all the way to Maryland, a state that I'm told is owned by the Catholic Church and requires one to whip out the rosary beads to gain admittance.
The requirement was moot. In the end I never walked further than reception to get towels for the swimming pool, although the water was too cold to venture into in May.
On Sunday we drove to the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Our first question to the staff at the visitor center was clearly a new one on them.
"Where can we see the wild horses?"
Resorting to auto pilot mode they pulled out maps and gave a spiel on the best time to see the horses in the wild. But they advised us against using the trails because the mosquitoes were "bad."
I resisted the tempration to quip: "So when are the mosquitos good then?"
Apparently recent rainfall had boosted their numbers and dimensions and they were almost as big as the horses.
Still we drove around, paranoid about opening the car window, until we came to a paddock where some wild horses were wandering around aimlessly.
Frankly seeing wild horses in captivity in the wild is no more interesting than seeing horses on a farm, but at least I was able to convince Zara that one of them was Misty, which was another advantage of not reading the book.
After that we made a half-hearted attempt to lie on the beach, but the clouds came racing over right on cue. I visted the lighthouse that again in 2009 received the "America's Lighthouse Most Deserving of Paint award."
Then it was off on the real business of the day; eating.
The ice cream parlour was something of a disaster. Zara's double chocolate affair, heavily spooned over a tiny cone like a mushroom cloud, began to melt about 4 seconds after delivery and I was paralysed in convulsions of laughter as it ran down her arms onto the table and all over her new outfit.
My wife didn't see the funny side. I went away rather glad that Jackson is still a baby and thus ineligible for lopsided ice cream cones.
Other than that the only highlight on the trip back down Virginia's Eastern Shore was passing a grim, festering trailer park, implausibly named Dreamland, that houses Hispanic workers at a hulking chicken slaughtering plant nearby.
Weekends in Chincoteague may not be the building blocks of the American Dream, but suddenly we felt like Misty's half sister Lucky of Chincoteague.