Monday, January 30, 2012

Pensacola Beach 'Pier' Pressure

The "new and improved" Pensacola Beach Pier, nearly eight years post-Ivan

Pensacola Beach "Pier" Pressure

I see him out there, this early in the morning, holding his own against the wind. The parking lot is mostly bare. A few lifeguard vehicles and police cars are still parked at either end. The drunks who littered it last night with empty bottles and epithets, at home will sleep ’til noon. They’ve lost it, their time here. Season’s over too soon. Vacations are cut short; construction project’s on hold. Island’s full of sorrow. The workers and the tourists have left. Old man will be gone tomorrow.
My shoes come off to trudge through sand collecting in drifts and heaps. I want to see him from the beach, from a distance. Then I’ll pay a dollar to walk out and greet him and say goodbye for keeps. A Category 4 will hit the shore in 24. Hours are all that we have left together, this old man and me.
I take my time, though, as I slow to savor moments. They’ll be on my tongue every time I face a salty breeze to cast my line into the sea. His form will appear in my mind as it does now. Broad-shouldered and weather-beaten, tall as ever above the waves, he will look down on surfers and sunbathers, silent to them but full of stories for me.
Now I walk up the ramp, shoes in hand, to find the bait shop empty and my path barred by a padlocked gate. Of course, the workers are gone. Buddy, I’m too late. Who but a fool would be out here, the wind gusting 70 miles an hour and more, heaving signs up the road, leaving hinges without a door? No matter. I’ll wait for him to come to me.
He does, too. Here’s another story for you. Write it down while it’s fresh in your mind, brand-spankin’ new. Don’t let it rot in there, stinkin’ like a fish outta water will after a day or two. I’m tellin’ you, man, don’t worry if it don’t sell. It’s more important to let ‘em know. All the ones who come here, they can’t tell. They don’t see me like you do. Those blinders must come off. Their vision ain’t so clear.
I laugh, and then I cough. The sand blowing ‘round makes each breath seem dear. You mean to tell me I’m some kinda messenger? What do I tell them, don’t you dare build anymore? You know they won’t listen. The sounds of bulldozer and concrete mixer are music to their ears. It's all money in the bank. And it’ll fund their later years. You know, when they finally go—to nursing homes? “Assisted living,” they call it now. Never heard of it? Well, you won’t be going there. You’ll be safe from all that sh—
It. The wind, carrying my words away, has brought the waves up higher; tide is coming in. I drop my shoes to raise my hands. Might as well bear it with a grin. My way is blocked to meet him there, but he'll come close to me. She'll bring him here, piece by piece (board by board)--his old lady, the angry sea. It's hell. She’s done so here and there in other years before. I take it that she’s mad at us, I yell. Then I cup my ear to hear him talk, and close to him I bend.
He trembles in the wind and winks once more as I hear him say: It’s the way we build, the message that we send. Come one, come all! Don’t visit for the day. We’ve built this place for your convenience. We insist that you must stay!

The beach, the real one, you see, is nearly, quite clearly, reaching

The Very End

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Wave Maker

The Wave Maker

“Come here and tell my friends what you did to me!” The girl with the frizzy hair plants her feet squarely in the middle of the sidewalk and crosses her arms. She has no intention of moving aside to let Mari pass…

Mari had been anticipating and dreading this confrontation all day long. Even Miss Spencer in 3rd hour Social Studies had noticed her unusual lack of interest in the lesson.

“Can anyone tell me which President brought this country through the Great Depression and into the midst of World War II? Yes? No? Did anyone read their assignment for today? Oh, Mari, not even you?”

Mari felt her throat constrict as she tried to answer but couldn’t. She could feel Frizzy Hair’s eyes boring into her and heard several muffled giggles coming from the back of the classroom. It wasn’t that the girl with the frizzy hair had a lot of friends. But the ones she did have were the kind who already had a reputation, even in seventh grade.

Mari’s friend Jodie called this particular gang the Roller Derby Queens. They pushed their way to the front of the lunch line when the lunch monitor wasn’t looking. In science lab, the class right before lunch, they grabbed the newest microscopes or hogged the box of slides until five minutes before the bell rang. Mr. Newton was always busy grading papers or talking to another teacher just outside the door. If you were one of the Outsiders (not a Derby Queen), you had to beg Mr. Newton for a few extra minutes after class to finish up the day’s assignment. Of course, that meant less time for lunch, which also meant less time for Mr. Newton’s lunch hour. He frowned at Mari a lot that year even though her grade was one of the highest in class, and she was one of the few students who didn’t cheat on their tests.

Now Mari felt like it was O.K. Corral time, and she was without backup from Doc Holliday. Jodie’s grandmother had died, and her family had to leave town before the end of school. Mari wasn’t even sure what the fuss was about. Frizzy Hair had been caught red-handed last week with some of Mari’s mom’s jewelry. Mari’s mom had come home from the salon on Friday afternoon to find the two girls watching something on TV. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary until a couple of hours later when Mari’s family was getting dressed for her cousin’s high school graduation ceremony. Frizzy had already gone home by then, and Mari heard a yell coming from her mom and dad’s room.

“Mari! Where’s the pearl necklace your grandma gave me? My diamond pin? My ruby earrings? Mari! Were you and your friend playing dress-up? Where are they?”

Mari had no idea what her mother was talking about. She replayed the events of the afternoon in her mind: Frizzy Hair asked if she could walk home with Mari and copy Mari’s notes from English class on Wednesday. Frizzy had come in late to school that morning and missed most of the first hour. She knew that Mari was the top student in English, and there was a major test coming up on Monday, the last one of the year. Frizzy was almost failing the class and couldn’t afford to flunk this test. She told Mari that her dad would beat the crap out of her if she had to make up the class in summer school. He was planning to send Frizzy to summer camp so he and his new girlfriend could travel to Europe.

Mari was a little dazed that Frizzy would actually speak to her let alone ask a favor. But she was also a little wary of this sudden change in Frizzy’s behavior. After all, Mari was an Outsider. She had only lived in this town for the past year. Her dad was not rich, her mom stayed at home, and they only had one family car. Their house was small, and she had to share a bedroom with her little sister. Frizzy’s house was in one of those fancy subdivisions just outside the city limits, and Frizzy’s dad drove a Porsche. Frizzy didn’t have any brothers or sisters, and her mom lived in California. Frizzy’s dad’s girlfriend had fake boobs. Mari did feel a little sorry for Frizzy. She couldn’t imagine not having her mom around or her dad acting like a teenager.

But where is the missing jewelry? Mari had only left Frizzy alone for about 15 minutes while she took a shower. Her mom had told her that morning that she needed to start getting ready before anyone else got home. It always took her longer than anyone else in the family to get ready for something. She liked to take her time in the bathroom in front of the mirror. Maybe she had left Frizzy alone for half an hour. She couldn’t remember.

Mari’s mom had dialed Frizzy’s home phone number before Mari could stop her. How could she accuse Frizzy of something like stealing? She heard her mom speaking to someone. Yes, they would be right over to speak with Frizzy’s father. Mari heard her mom say she hoped it was all just a misunderstanding. That Frizzy had only intended to “borrow” the jewelry. You know how kids are. What with all the stuff on TV these days, it’s no wonder they have trouble telling the difference between reality and make-believe.

Then they were standing at Frizzy’s front door, waiting for a chance to speak while Frizzy’s dad towered over them. The senator got red in the face and almost spilled his drink. He was talking fast and waving his arms around. No respect from kids these days. He works hard to put food on the table and a roof over that girl’s head. Yes, here’s your jewelry. Mona found it in her book bag. You haven’t called the police? Oh, good. At least we see eye to eye on that. No, he wouldn’t be too harsh on the girl, though there would be consequences…

Now it’s time for the consequences. Mari hopes it won’t hurt too much. She closes her eyes and waits for Frizzy and her friends to begin the beating. At least this school year is over. Maybe next one will be better. She falls to the ground and curls up in a ball. They’re taunting her, telling her to get up and fight. She won’t so they start kicking. It’ll all be over soon, she tells herself as she loses consciousness…

                                                    * * * * * * * * * * *

Two men walk side-by-side on the beach. Last night’s storm and the morning tide have deposited heaps of seaweed and broken shells on the sand. They poke through the debris with their walking sticks and stoop down a few times to pick up something that’s still intact.

“It’s a shame about that kid Mari. My wife just retired from the school district and told me the whole story.”

“Yeah, I heard they might pull the plug on her. She’s been in a coma for almost a year now. Dad’s insurance won’t pay anymore. What’s wrong with kids these days? Time was a little fistfight solved any differences, and you made up the next day.”

“I know what you mean. Even me and my old lady get into it now and then, but we’re right as rain the next day. It all blows over if you don’t make waves.”

“Yeah, that dad whose kid started the fight is up for reelection. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mari’s family ends up with a big fat check in the mail. Heck, who wouldn’t keep quiet if someone offered you a few million? Especially since the kid is in such bad shape, and there’s no chance she’ll ever wake up.”

“Shame, though. I heard she was a bright kid. Her cousin was valedictorian. Whole family is hard-working. Maybe with all that money they’re probably going to get they can take it easy. Buy a condo on the beach. Lots of ‘em are up for sale, real cheap too. Did I tell you my niece is a realtor? She told me about a steal on a foreclosure the other day. I just might add it to my holdings. Not that I need it or anything. But it’s hard to pass up a good deal. Always has been for me, and now we’re set. Life is good. No worries!”

The two men walk as far as the last house on the beach and turn around where the high-rise hotels and condominiums begin to dominate the shoreline.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Snow, Baby

Winter in Wentzville, 1990-91

It's been a while since I've thought about this story or the young couple who first tended the soil for it to begin establishing roots in my imagination while I was still in high school. I wrote its original version almost a year ago and submitted it to some contest I don't remember the name of, but that's not what makes it important to me. It didn't win, by the way. The young couple it depicts is actually a composite sketch of several young--sometimes older--couples I've had the pleasure of meeting whenever my life has collided with the church, and I'm not talking about the building. They all became stakeholders in my investment as a wife and mother because they all shared a common passion. It was evident in the way they interacted with my family and in the way they lived: day-to-day, simply, with integrity. Whatever it is, this passion, it has managed to stick, even when we, as a family, feel like we're coming unglued. I wonder if anyone really understands what that word, "passion," means anymore. If you've ever witnessed a passion play or looked up the meaning of the word in Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary, there's a good chance you will figure out where this story is headed.

Snow, Baby
            She sprinkles the cookies with colored sugar, covering the icing with stained-glass windows. It won’t be long now. I’ve got to get this on before the icing sets all the way or it won’t stick. She hears giggling in the dining room and smiles. They’ve only been here two months, and already five more children have joined the youth group. The new kids’ parents have even started attending services.
            “Hey, in there! Are you done yet?” She hears Bert’s tone edging toward frantic. With teenagers he’s great, but seven kids under the age of twelve? What will he do if they ever have a big family of their own? Better not go there now. She wipes a tear away with the back of her hand. Her period is late. She should say something, but three miscarriages in five years of marriage justify the silence. If he brings it up, then fine.
            “I’m almost done. Give me five minutes and then a drum roll if you please.” The kids have been playing in the fresh-fallen snow, eight inches overnight on top of eighteen inches already on the ground. Now they’re making snow cones with Bert. She shakes her head at the puddles of mittens, coats, and slush snaking through the kitchen to the dining room door. Snow? Did she agree to that and this latest move to North Dakota?
She met Bert at bible college in Pensacola. He was a senior, and she had just begun her second semester. They bumped into each other on the indoor ice rink and fell down together, tangling arms, legs, and skates. She told her roommates later that evening it was Love at First Slide. He must have apologized fifty times in five minutes and then bought her some hot chocolate. Yikes! She sees the milk on the stove starting to boil and dashes over to turn down the heat. Her foot starts to slide just as Bert enters the room behind her.
“Whoa, there, girl!” Bert bridges the few feet between them in a split second with a home-run fervor, cushioning her fall to the linoleum. “Got to you just in time again, I see.” She reaches around and throws her arms around his neck, sobbing into his shirt collar. “Shhh! You’re okay. What’s the matter, baby?” She looks up to see the kids standing around them.
“Nothing. I, uh, I don’t know. I’m all right. Let’s get that cocoa done and have some cookies. Right, kids?”

Later tonight, I’ll tell him. As she stands up, she feels a twinge. No! She puts on a smile. “Shoo, all of you. I’m fine. I’ll bring the cookies in as soon as I get this hot chocolate made. Your parents will be here to pick you up before you know it.” She steadies herself against the stove and starts to hum. "My hope is built on nothing less..." Yes, that’s it. Calm down. Everything’s going to be just fine. This one’s going to stick like North Dakota snow on a Northwest Florida transplant.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Downtown (Pensacola) Inspiration

Downtowns in most American cities have had their share of ups and downs, especially downs, in the past half century or so. Pensacola's is no exception. Attempts to revitalize it and bring new life with a Maritime Park have helped lure some new business, but there is some unfinished business along Pensacola's bayfront area that many people would rather forget about or ignore (read about the progress being made here). Having lunch there one day with my husband shortly after we had moved back to Northwest Florida from Southern Illinois, I became curious about how things were moving along and noted something unpleasant that clued me in to the current state of that unfinished business. The wind was blowing briskly from the north that day in late winter, but it was sunny, the wind was blocked by the building, most of it anyway, and we decided to have lunch outside on the patio overlooking the water. The food and service were excellent, but there was something else about the experience not so redolent of excellence (no fault of the restaurant) that inspired me to write this story in early March 2009 to share with other members attending a Panhandle Writers' Group meeting. The joke in the story fell flat because I had left out some key information about the source of the inspiration, and no one else present at the meeting had ever been to the restaurant or at least had not eaten outside on the patio. It was embarrassing to have to explain the premise for the story because no one got it, but at least I've learned to not leave so many gaps in a story. I hope you enjoy it but please keep in mind that it's a tongue-in-cheek piece of fiction and don't let it keep you away from downtown Pensacola. Remember that progress is afoot there, and steps are being taken to ensure that this kind of thing never really happens...

Catching my breath proved to be a monumental mistake. Twenty feet stood between me and freedom. Twenty feet, I tell you, to my car! Why did I run out of breath when faced with this formidable enemy, the one I had heard whispered was, on certain days, capable of bringing even Rambo types to their knees? I was a Marine and had survived intense combat situations, but my sense of smell was so keen it compromised every ounce of strength and endurance I could muster.
“Sir, wait, you forgot your sunglasses! Here they are. Please!”
I wouldn’t wait, but I had to clench my teeth and hiss something appropriate in staccato fashion.
“Take them! They’re yours. I’ve got another pair in the car. Don’t worry. Really!”
So I took that breath as the words escaped and I did not. Escape. Now I’m even more captive, lying in a bed that moves up and down, covered with a white sheet from head to toe. I see a figure through the sheet, someone adjusting the height of the bed by way of some sort of foot pedal. I hear a motor whine beneath me, lying supine on the table that moves.
“Whatcha suppose put this poor slob out of commission?” There is laughter. “Too many martinis on an empty stomach?”
I can see the figure move his hand to my midsection and hear him thump my firm abs. I’m really proud of them, you know. Work out at least three times a week and run five miles a day, every day. Never let up since basic training, and that was 25 years ago.
I realize there are two people in the room with me, and the one being spoken to moves in so close that I can smell greasy French fries through the sheet. It reminds me that I am really hungry but not able to convey that feeling to anyone right now. My muscles will not obey me. I can’t move even my little toe. Greasy-French-fry-breath-person lifts the sheet away from my face and stares. He moves his head a little, and the light behind his head blinds me for a moment.
“Good Lord! Would you look at the expression on this guy? I’ve never seen anything like it before! At least not since ‘Nam! Nostrils flared, teeth bared, look of fear in those eyes. Are you taking notes? Why isn’t this mike fixed yet so I can dictate? I’m gonna have nightmares over this one!”
I am being poked and prodded with something; that much I can feel. A radio nearby plays a familiar song, something from the 60s. What is it? My mind races to remember. I hear:
“Just listen to the rhythm of a gentle bossa novaaa,
You’ll be dancing with ‘em too
Before the night is over…
Happy againnn…”
French-fry guy is humming along, breathing that food odor in my face, doing something to my midsection now. I feel a warm sensation as if something is being poured over me.
“Whoa, this guy isn’t…. Wait a minute. Ohhh…my…God!”
“He ain’t….” I hear the other dude muttering as he moves in to watch French-fry guy lose his cool and drop whatever tool he has been using on me to the floor. I hear it clink on what sounds like tile, maybe linoleum. No…definitely tile. And I think the tool is metallic from the sound of it.
“What happened? Where’s the sign-in sheet with T-O-D? And who signed him in anyway? That’s what I’d like to know. What fool would not check….”
Now things begin to swim before my eyes. The light overhead becomes two, then four, then six….They move in time with the music.
“The lights are much brighter therrre….
You can forget all your troubles,
Forget all your caaares—
So go—
 Where all the lights are bright!
Waiting for you tonight!
You’re gonna be alright now….”
Petula Clark! I know now! Wait! What is that….
As the light fades to black, I remember everything. The smell from across the street in downtown Pensacola that teased its way through the door each time someone entered or left the building. That smell would soon be gone or at least transported farther north when the county’s new sewage treatment plant finally came on line. Progress came too late for me. My enemy--the olfactory lobes in my brain working overtime--the only thing that could ever deck this proud Marine, had knocked me out as I left the Crab Trap. It overpowered my other senses, twisted my features, brought me down, and transported me to this place. This is the place where the guys in white coats take things apart. Usually, though, they wait until you are—DEAD!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

So It Begins

So it begins. Welcome to another blog by Walk2Write. Good grief! I must be cracked to start another one. Let's hope so. Maybe even a little scrambled. This one will be different, not the same kind of stuff and not in the same tone. I may just leave the other one and hang out here for a while. We will find out soon enough. One thing is for sure. There won't be anything garden-related here, unless it makes its way into whatever story I'm working on. This blog is my place to take off from the ordinary, the everyday, the mundane. The stories may take shape here, but this is not their final resting place.