Monday, August 17, 2009

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”—Friedrich Nietzsche

Been walking around in a kind of dum-dum-dum-dumdy-doo-wah melancholy lately; wrapped in displacement by ill-fitting, ephemeral thoughts. Could be that I am a Leo, sun-signing on the beach of aging. Or, that life moves so fast now, and I have finally learned to move more slowly and so am left gawping in the interim before I adjust again.

When I was a kid it was television, then color TV; handwritten letters and thank you notes, and then a man walked on the moon. Fast forward to Facebook and Twitter and conspiracy theories about the moonwalk—that it was played out on a Hollywood soundstage, one small theatrical step for man, one politically milked event for mankind. And fewer heartfelt thank you notes originate now beyond the implied haste of e-mail or are left before an audience on Facebook . I don’t know anything about Twitter, beside it having a limit of 140 characters in a message, er, tweet. But handwritten notes of thanks for, say, a dinner lovingly prepared for friends, or some little gift sent—through the post—rarely occur because one has to write them, and then, gasp, mail them. What may be good for the environment and the life of trees has actually produced mountainous junk heaps of discarded computers. Though dumped in other countries, of course, far away from here. Happily there are still a few of us relics of the Snail Mail Age around, but we are disappearing.

No thank-you notes in the mail mean fewer recognizable faces employed at the post office these days. Customer lines at the Third Avenue station on the Upper East Side are longer now. Postal employees retire and are not replaced. Toni is one of those clerks still working and she sums it up: “It’s the Internet.” Toni and I have been sharing pleasantries for years, some of it kvetching and more of it the flashing of personal indicators: her son has grown up in our conversation, problems with his schoolwork when he discovered the guitar and now he’s graduating from high school. My life has changed since I lost my job and Toni always asks about our music. I wonder how long it will be before one more casual conversation with a neighborly human being is missing from my life.

We had been contemplating a Park Slope venue on Friday evening. A friend who is a drummer was playing in Brooklyn and the proximity to the Chipshop was tempting indeed. Ummm, fish and chips washed down with a cool shandy. But I hesitated, because of the dum-dum-dum-dumdy-doo-wah-ness. I was missing something and though I didn’t know what it was at the time, I was not ready to ignore what it was that I was missing. Know what I mean?

The Mister never denigrates my self-indulgent despair when it happens. He listens; the prominent brow of Aries suitably furrowed. Then he says, “Pecker up, lad.” And I do. Or rather it does, metaphorically speaking.

I wasn’t in the mood for more alienating hipster crowds that make me feel like a stranger on the planet, a tourist in my hometown. We went with the original plan: Coney Island’s Burlesque By-the-Sea. We would head for a meal in Brighton Beach first.

The young, very pregnant woman panting heavily on the B train nearly derailed our plans. Thinking I was seeing things, I tried not to stare at her until I overheard the older woman with her. “I can see she wants out!” And catching my wary eye she informed us—cool as you please—that the young woman was in labor. We exchanged smiles. I watched as an unborn baby girl did a little womb dancing for her very uncomfortable mother. The young woman’s mother proudly exclaimed that she was a grandmother six times over, “…and I’m only 45. Had enough grand daughters. Counting on my sons to bring me some boys.” The Mister and I whispered in agreement that we would not dessert her and her mother if she were to give birth in the subway car. A wild imagination had me unconsciously fingering the shawl I carry prepared for the artic temperatures of air conditioning. I would become that prairie doctor, ready to swaddle a newborn. She continued to prod her daughter to, “Breathe, breathe, we are almost there.” One male passenger looked decidedly nervous and I admit I was relieved when she told me they were headed for St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital, which was the next stop. She was impressively calm beside her volcanic daughter, chatting amiably and we wished them well as she guided her onto the station platform, telling me it was good for her daughter to walk; that if her water broke in the street she would call an ambulance.

The rest of the long ride was uneventful and we kind of basked in the feel good of the earlier moment. In Brighton we went straight to our favorite Russian café, The Ocean View under the El on Brighton Beach Avenue. Smoked fish, cold borscht crisply laden with sweet slivers of red beets and cucumber and a mound of fresh fried potatoes covered in a variety of mushrooms and sprinkled with fresh dill fortified us for our walk along the boardwalk to Coney Island. The last time we were here was in the fall with our good friends from Leicester. It was nippy and nearly deserted then and we got to huddle over shot glasses of vodka in the Café restaurant Volna.

The August heat had brought out the crowds, a dazzling array of ethnicities. Mostly families, there were also many older couples and children everywhere fighting the torpor that comes from having spent many playful hours in the sun. Lively chatter everywhere around us rose above the cry of seagulls, the music that never fails to cheer me up. Being wheelchair bound was no hindrance to a pair of young lovers gazing out to the sea.

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