Thursday, April 27, 2006


We have recently had a few such days but from the bayside this one is striking for its complete, still, grayness. Gray sky, gray water, gray air all rendered more drab by the presence of two long, slender, wind-surfing boards pointed sharply at both ends, left leaning up against the dark skeletal dock near the water. They exert a fiercely discordant effect largely because those are the only colors out there except gray--they are bright red-orange, with purple accents—shades of Mauna Loa!

Looking in the other direction great merchant ships and oil tankers float at anchor on a calm, murky ocean, waiting to dock and discharge cargo. They invoke memories, worn and faded images of these same ships berthed and waiting to be boarded. It was important somehow to go aboard off one’s watch and get a special place out on the bow. Once the vessel leaves the breakwater and the harbor mouth in its wake, this vantage-point becomes an elevator plunging from 40 feet to six feet and back, above the sea spray; there were dolphins, and in some parts flying fish on either side--escorts out into that wide expanse of billowing sea air and an unknown future. “When ever I feel myself growing grim about the mouth; when ever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul;…--then, I account it high time to get to sea.”—so go the familiar lines of Melville.

Merchant ships are noted in Proverbs 31:10 and14; “A wife of noble character who can find?...She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.” In war-time of course, it was aviation gasoline and munitions, but the simile is appropriate; not that I could reliably manage a rowboat these days, but the lure is powerful and compelling. Especially on a gray day like this one I can just begin to note a touch of grimness around my mouth, a surge of November deep within, and feel mildly resentful at being caught up in a land-locked state of mind and body.

Saturday, April 22, 2006


The place around here is changing again. A word of caution: it is easy to confuse time and place. Yesterday morning a few canoes put out on the bay, some chronic beach people were back looking paler since the brief cold spell, and this morning bright spots of color from several beach umbrellas enliven the scene. I emerge to bask lizard-like on a stony wall while bathers frolic or relax in the sand, kids and roller-skaters race in the street, the sun warm and bright. There is a definite change in the air; “balmy” can in some contexts mean “crazy” and may indeed suit some of us intending to have summer fun so early in the year.

The day wears on and some compelling force I do not quite understand brings my attention to the changing light and shade; the effect is to shadow more darkly the backs of everything and highlight the details of each object in clear and bold relief. “Look away from the sun in the afternoon” is the painter’s axiom, “to see true color in nature”. Shadows have become more prominent and people moving in and out of them seem oblivious to the stage-craft, the drama, and the marked visual changes they are bringing about. The shadows are not oblivious however, and continue to inch longer and splash more widely along pavements and sandy stretches, mysteriously moving out from behind trees and figures into the open spaces. Things are changing; a different place and time—like last year and the year before, and the one to come, but different still than all the others. Time and life have already moved ahead perceptively--and lights will go on in all our houses later this day.

“Those hazy, lazy, crazy days of summer” are almost upon us—and also foreshadow their oncoming death. In these our times of quick changes, information glut, E-mail, cell- phone messages, and ubiquitous TV—shifting sands beneath us, one writer noted that it is important to always try to say something eternal. Surely nothing said here so far approaches that standard; specious times and tides are perhaps the most perishable of all.

Time, and place, and person—these you would be asked to identify to prove your sanity out here so early, but it is already proven that time and place are hopelessly blurred; the person, you, are the only eternal thing so far. Our Lord Jesus promised He would be with you forever, and will send the Holy Spirit to guide you, and that is perhaps what eternity is really all about. But then, maybe summer will prove to be eternal too.

Monday, April 17, 2006


I must truly confess that I sorely miss the near-sacred tradition of gorging myself on candy purloined from the Easter baskets of unsuspecting small children—usually ones own children, of course. Sweets obtained any other way on this day are never quite as soul-satisfying or as free from the ordinary guilt associated with gluttony. I take some bitter comfort from an obvious loss of stealth and dexterity in this maneuver over time, and in the fact that my children are old enough now to not only protect their trove from me, but are fully capable of stealing their own—from their own, so to speak.

I admit that in times past they have occasionally gotten wise to me, so over the years I have traded rather heavily on the passage from Luke that asks, “Which of you fathers, when his son asks for an egg, would give him a scorpion?”. This has left me with some assurance that I will be nipped by no scorpions in the course of secret retrievals—or even from behind innocent faces of mock-generosity.

These days it is a different time and place, and little kids here at the beach are different too, somehow. I won’t say they are stingy exactly, but they prove to be remarkably wary and amazingly quick in their protective actions. That being the case, and it being Easter Sunday, our dear Lord risen and all, I have fallen back on more honest means of procuring those eggs--but they never taste quite as good.

Friday, April 07, 2006


Saturday and Sunday mornings here at the beach are, compared to other days, marked by frenetic and blustering bursts of activity. Runners and joggers, skaters and bicycle riders, and yes, brisk walkers, come hurrying out as if, on these brief days, time is of the essence. Even with the recent cold, wet weather they are out there early--at times and under conditions which, from my protective kitchen window, I sleepily judge to be fit for neither man nor beast. They stream out from workaday confines in their “sweats” and Adidas and onto the breezy, sandy, surf-ringed pathways in order to gain or keep healthy bodies in proper shape; they have only the better part of two days in which to do it.

At these times I try to take some meager comfort in the familiar lines from Ecclesiastes 9:11,
“The race is not to the swift
or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise
or wealth to the brilliant
or favor to the learned;”
The very next line is even more conclusive, “but time and chance happen to them all.” Time, in this sense, I take to mean occasions, events and unexpected happenings, including the process of aging over time—and what I don’t have a whole lot of. In spite of my indolent refusal to join in those energetic activities I still have a fragmentary hope not to let time and chance catch me napping, as it were. After retiring from gainful employment I have jealously guarded my time as my own, especially these week-end kick-back days, and strive to keep them aside, mostly for loafing, which I think I do with a fair amount of grace and panache.

On the other days, of which there are usually five, except for holidays, days with appointments, or I-don’t-feel-much-like-it days, I realize one should manage to move around quite a bit more, since the body may be falling, just a tinge, into disrepair. You might also note food, wealth and favor are not particularly reserved for the wise, brilliant or learned and hence probably not for me either. By the same token, the swift and the strong may or may not win the race or the battle, nor probably should I--all of which leads me resolve from my window-sill to maintain at least a moderate and sedate level of exercise. The fervent hope is that like Paul, my efforts will be construed as the good fight, finishing the race and keeping the faith—I also pray for a quick cure for laziness.

Monday, April 03, 2006


Every year about this time we are notified that some studio will be filming in our neighborhood; for unknown reasons most of the birds seem to leave the area for 3 or 4 days of shooting, though no one has as yet credited them with obviously astute cinematic sensibilities. The huge trucks and vans come rolling in, lining the streets and sandy off-road way-sides; they are carrying a virtual small city of props, lights, reflectors, dressing rooms, hoists and camera dollies of every description. I happen to know this because a lot of it is unloaded across the street from my dwelling--but I do not venture outside anymore in its midst. I know there will be appetizing food spread over long tables for the film people and on a couple of occasions in the past I was offered something at breakfast or lunch—knowing full well, however, that someone might also try to press me into a leading role of some sort. I do not know why this always happens—I have heard some muttering about a “great profile”, but while I may be available for advice from time-to-time, (my expertise goes back to the 40s), acting is far too wearying a job.

A year ago they were doing a thing called “She Spies”, probably a take-off on the old “Charley’s Angels” series. They used my entrance-way for many of the scenes and most of the action took place outside my kitchen window; I was in most of the shots though undetected by the busy crew. They did one scene with as many as six retakes and that just goes to show why it is such hard work; a gun had been dropped on my porch, purposefully of course, and the female lead, who appeared to have been originally cast for a production of the Ziegfield Follies of 1938, was supposed to rush up to retrieve the weapon and foil the baddies. Unfortunately, directorship not being what it used to be, they could not get her to reflect the right degree of aggression and militancy; she had to run a short distance beside a fast-moving camera rigged to roll on wheels, and I sensed immediately that her stiletto heels must make it difficult for her to dash out of hiding and appear menacing at the same time. After each take a stunt man would follow her steps with rather vicious gusto, throw himself on an imaginary gun and coming up in a crouch, finger firing as he came in order to illustrate for her the proper level of urgency; she gamely crouched with him, but still seemed to approach my porch as if inspecting an invisible array of weapons for just the right color combination. Any director worth his salt would have whispered that her boy friend was flirting with one of the pretty extras, or that a big once a year sale on Rodeo Drive was about to end, just to get the scene over with. By the way, that gun was picked up and put back after each of those takes by a man who, by law, was hired only for that specialized task; then, and only then, the cameras would roll again.

This year the series is called “Criminal Minds” and it is obvious to me they have already missed a big advantage. It is rather prosaic to expect criminals to have criminal minds, what else would they use to plan those things they do? The real interest arouser would be to change the title to “Criminal Bodies”. Imagine all that rapaciousness and mayhem committed without a single thought—as much of it may in fact be. They evidently plan to go ahead without my input as it is the fourth day and the last of the huge, bulging, air-conditioned vans is huffing its way down the road. Birds are flying back again, some with feathers ruffled, making plaintive noises of disapproval. Quiet descends on our street like an answer to silent prayer; some people hereabouts are breathing sighs of relief.

Saturday, April 01, 2006


When first introduced to this beach-side community I was advised to avoid formality and wear anything I wanted to wear. In that pursuit I may have stumbled on a principle of life that should be recognized as inviolate and omnipresent for us all. It came to me when I realized that some of my clothes were wearing out. There had been a closet full of them when I retired and I continued to wear them, cleaning and laundering shirts, trousers, coats and jackets, some of which began to get pretty raveled and frayed. The important thing to note, however, is that the things that remained in the best condition were the ones I liked the least.

The principle applied to clothing would go something like this: Over time we will tend to dress ourselves more frequently in the things of which we are most fond, and will eventually be left with only those items in our closet we do not particularly care for—or more or less hate.

The principle applies to any number of things; another example is with foodstuffs. When I fill the pantry and larder by shopping for groceries, I find by the end of the following week I am subsisting on cans and boxes of things that are probably only palatable to chemists and for which I have no memory of buying. You see, the point is unavoidable: we wear or eat ourselves into a relatively miserable existence.

How about our furniture? Those comfortable and comforting but now worn, shabby sprung sofas and chairs may still, but not for long, stand beside pieces that are uninviting, stiffly formal and impossible to relax with or around or upon. What about those dishes and tableware gradually reduced to heirlooms which must not be scratched or broken under pain of death, or crockery that not only doesn’t match but were visually intolerable with oatmeal and good old stew in them over the years? I do not want to belabor the obvious, which I am now doing, but think if you dare of the various body-parts, muscles and sensory areas, that will eventually be the first to go.

This inevitable descent into a relative purgatory must be avoided at all costs. Its operational center is pure vanity and pleasure-seeking of course, but is that all bad? In Ecclesiastes 8:15, the writer finds life’s pleasures not only acceptable but commendable. “So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat, drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun.” Living as I do under the beach sun, you may think I have written myself into a corner here, but I will show the case to be otherwise. To continue on the path of wisdom only requires that you either replace everything you own with things you like, credit card at the ready, or at least bring in only a few disliked activities or possessions at odd intervals and in the smallest increments possible. Even these you can whittle down as you advance in years. This, at least, is my advice and my plan, thank you.