Mud Season

Chapter 2



We went out to eat that night, at a place on the pier known for good seafood and its piano bar.  It wasn’t fancy, but nice enough that we couldn’t go in our bathing suits, although other people there had done just that.


Getting there was a bit of a production, and one Dana said I should get used to.  We were picked up by an SUV from the security company, and it was driven by a guy dressed much like my father.  We looked like a family with a spare uncle along for the ride. 

I didn’t realize, until we stopped at the pier and we weren’t allowed out of the car, that the security team who’d followed us had to be in place before we got the okay.  That only took a minute or two. When we left the vehicle, it was a nice night, and the pier was a busy place.   I like piers to begin with.  They always have food, usually music, people fishing, others surfing below, and lots of people selling junk to everyone else.


Dana and I dawdled at the tee shirt shops, and laughed at some of the bolder designs.  We snickered at people, too.  You could tell the regular tourists, the people who don’t get out much, because they wore things that said Cocoa Beach:  shirts, hats, visors, that kind of thing.  The real beach people might buy those things in Cocoa Beach, but never in a million years would they actually wear them there.  No.  Those were to wear other places.


Instead, a real beach person might have a nautical cap from Oyster Bay on his head, maybe a tee shirt from the Hard Rock Café in Izmir, a camera strap with ‘Morocco’ woven in it, and sandals that mention Mazatlan in the thongs.  A Cannes backpack or a Capetown fanny pack might complete the package, but most likely he’ll also have a shopping bag from somewhere around the Black Sea, just for proof of performance.


There were plenty of people of both varieties there on the pier, and I had Dana in stitches by the time we got to the restaurant.  Keep in mind that Dana had never gotten out much himself, but he’d already learned to trust his brother, at least in travel matters that didn’t involve incoming surf.


We were supposed to have a surfing lesson at three that afternoon, but at two forty-five a thunderstorm rolled in.  That brought our lesson inside, and our instructor was used to that.  His name is Denny Price, and he’s a real gem of a person.  We had boards, but no water safe to use them in, so Denny set off on an hour-long spiel that had me laughing so hard my sides hurt.  In the process, we learned the history of surfing, the types of boards and their history, and way more about the ocean and how waves are formed than I ever thought I’d need to know.  Tides, bottoms, channels, tunnels: we heard about it all, and the specific conditions for perfect surfing.  As it would happen, those perfect conditions don’t happen anywhere in Florida, but the Atlantic there has great conditions for learning the ropes.


Denny made it interesting enough that I wanted to know more.  He’s a great teacher, and I could see Dana hanging on his every word just like I was.  We didn’t get near the water during our first lesson, but we looked at different boards, touched and felt them, lifted them and felt their heft.  In the process we learned something about what the different lengths and shapes were good for.  Most boards these days are mass-produced, but there is still a cadre of people in different places, mostly in California, who carve them by hand to maximize a surfer’s performance in a specific condition.


The rain made a little quiet time with my father possible after he got back from the doctor.  Elenora and Dana left us alone while they went to the hotel’s exercise room, which they’d both taken an interest in.  Dana had tried it at first to stay in shape for skiing, and the trainer knew just what he should do, so he spent time working out several times a week.


Elenora was enjoying the lifestyle, and used the gym just to keep her trim figure, so she took a lighter, more active workout than Dana.


I sat with my father on the deck of his suite, and we talked.  The suite was more-or-less like ours, but it had one giant bedroom where Dana and I had two smaller rooms, and there were a couple of convertible sofas in the living area instead of our two-faced one.  The décor was different but the same, like you’d expect in a hotel.  Their rooms had green where we had tan, and tan where we had green.


The roof hung far out over the deck, so we were dry while we watched the rain just in front of us, and sipped our soft drinks.  Dana and Elenora had been gone ten minutes before we spoke, and it was Dad who broke the ice, saying the obvious.  “You’re pretty quiet, Paulie.  Is something wrong?”


The question surprised me, but I guess I am kind of gabby most of the time, and I’d been quiet.  “No,” I said.  “Nothing’s wrong.  It’s all getting better.”  I looked at him, “You were pretty grouchy the last time I saw you.”


He grinned, “Mea culpa, I suppose.  Maybe next time you can try being doped up on illegal things, and take your own beating with a sewer pipe.”  His grin softened into a smile. “No, that won’t happen.  All you’ve learned is where the gene that taught you how to be insufferable came from.”


I went to argue, but he held up the first finger of his good hand, wiggled it back and forth, and said, “Don’t even try.  I have tales:  many tales, and so does your mother.  There are times in your own past when we might have looked favorably on kidnappers, if they’d keep their mouths shut, and promise not to bring you back.”


“Yeah,” I said, and Dad talked right over me.


 “I know.  Yeah, but I’m a kid and you’re all grown up.  We have your ticket, Paul.  Just because we don’t press back when you push your poor little me button doesn’t mean we don’t see your finger on it.”  His smile brightened, “You have to cut me a break.  If I was grouchy at home, it’s because I hurt, and my head wasn’t all back together after my special cocktail.”  He focused on me, his smile thin, “I hurt, Paul.  I was woozy from the drugs meant to harm me, and more so from the drugs meant to heal me.  Every inch of me hurt, and I was in a bad mood because I was.  No other reason.”


I smiled.


Dad smiled back, “No harm done?  I hope not.”


I smiled more brightly, “Harm?  Who said harm?  Look at all the new adjectives I just learned!”


My father spit out his last sip of lemonade, and sputtered for a moment longer. When he recovered, he said, “You’re a pisser, kid.  Jesus: new adjectives?”


I always won these things.  I turned serious and asked, “So, how’s your love life?”


I could see my father wanting desperately to laugh, but he didn’t.  “I don’t see where that’s your concern.  How’s yours?”


I suddenly looked at him and said, “Jesus, you never even met Lisa, did you?  Oh, man.”  I looked at him seriously and said, “I really like her.  I mean really.”


I had totally forgotten that my father had never even seen Lisa, except in the hospital, and he wasn’t seeing a thing when she was there.  I had a picture, though, of me and Lisa at Jamie’s dance.  I said, “Wait one second,” and tore over to the other suite.  I’d brought it for Dad anyhow, and it was already framed.


When I handed it to him, he just looked at first, then said softly, “Look at you, huh?”  He glanced at me, and looked back at the picture.  “Lisa is a pretty girl.  She looks all full of fun, too.”


I looked at that picture.  It really came out nice, with both of us smiling like a toothpaste ad, and no redeye or anything. I sighed, “Yeah, she’s fun,” then thought how that came out.  “I mean fun to know!  You know, like fun to be with.”


Dad smiled at me and I said, “I’m doing this wrong.  I mean, Lisa is a nice girl.  We have fun together, but … Jesus, Dad.  I thought I had the dirty mind.  We hold hands, okay?  Sometimes we kiss, but that’s about it.” 


My father still had what seemed like a leer on his face, so I said, “You don’t have to worry about any little copies of me running around.  Not yet, anyhow.”


He shifted position in his chair and cleared his throat.  “Yes.  Well, I’m glad that’s the case.  You said your dance went well?”


“That’s an understatement.  It was perfect – absolutely perfect.  It was a night that I don’t think anyone there is ever going to forget.”


Dad asked, “No troublemakers?”


I shook my head.  “None.  Not even the kids you might worry about.  Everyone was wired up, too, but in a good way – a really good way.”


My father smiled, “And you had fun organizing things?”


”It was fun,” I admitted.  “It was work, too, but definitely fun in the long run.  It’s the first time I ever did something like that, and I really liked it.”


Dad smiled cheerfully.  “That’s great to hear.  I didn’t do a lot in high school, and I wish I had.  I mean, I did well in my classes, and I was on the track team right through, but I never joined in any clubs or anything.  I did in college, and I was kind of in awe of the club leaders – they had this poise that came from experience, and I was a junior before I even tried for a leadership position.  I was way behind the curve, but learned a lot just the same.”  He smiled again, “I don’t know that I could ever have led a company without that.  I’d always had schoolwork and chores for responsibility, and those things were all assigned.  I didn’t choose my homework, and I sure didn’t choose to cut the grass, but I did both.”


I always liked when my father talked about his past, because it was a rare thing


He went on, “You know, when you try for an office anywhere, a club or whatever, you’re looking for responsibilities.  I think by asking to be responsible, you’re asserting that whatever the position is, it’s something you think you can really do well: better than others.”


“I’m a pretty good fund raiser,” I said.


“So I’ve heard.”






“That money – the ransom money.  Does that just go back in the pile, or can we do something real with it?”


Dad’s eyes narrowed as he looked at me.  “Define real.”


I had to think quickly, because I had an idea that I’d not really thought through, and there was no point that I could prove.  “I’m thinking scholarships … not regular ones, but kind of for anybody who wants to learn anything.  I mean, the smartest kids get scholarships even if they’re rich.  So do the best athletes.  The other ones I see given at school are all for excellence in this subject or that, like English, or history, or drama.”


Dad smiled, like he understood just from that.  “Leaves a lot of people out, doesn’t it?”


“Yeah, it does,” I said, “And not everyone wants a degree in molecular biology or something.  People want to be truck drivers, too, and build roads, and to fix cars and computers.  I think there’s a million ways to make a living, and a ton of people out there to teach what you need to know.  Why should anybody be left out because they can’t afford to learn?”


My father’s eyebrows were up, though his gaze was still soft.  “Mercy, aren’t you the young liberal?”  The eyebrows came down, and the smile returned.  “Well, I guess that’s how things are.  What would you have me do, Paul?  There are probably fifteen million college-age kids in the U.S.  A hundred million would give each of them about seven bucks.  Will that buy an education?  Hell, will that even buy a pair of socks these days?”


“Dad,” I said.  Vermont is a little state.  There aren’t even one million people there.  Not everybody needs help, either.”  I had a sudden thought, “You know, we were all ready to give that money to crooks, and here you are!  I think to show a little gratitude on your part, you’d be happy to double it, or even triple it.”


Dad warned, “Paul …”


“Come on, admit it,” I said.


Dad gave me the funniest little smirk, “We have expenses, you know.  I don’t have a job right now.”


I laughed, “Yeah, sure.  You couldn’t spend what you have in ten thousand years, and if you dump ten percent of it, you’ll still have nine thousand years.  You telling me you’re immortal?”


Dad’s smile faded, “I used to think exactly that,” he said, as he looked at the wrist still in a cast.  “I guess I know better now.  I still don’t know about your idea.”




“Doesn’t it make Vermont a special place?”  His look became serious, “It’s a good idea, Paul.  It’s a great idea, really.  There are all kinds of education that I don’t normally think of, and I suppose they’re all valid.”  He pointed his good finger at me and said, “My problem with your idea is that it’s too narrow.”  My body language must have broadcast my intent to argue, because he said, “I know, I know.  Listen, it’s nice to clean your own house before you comment on someone else’s, and like you said, Vermont is a little state.”


“What are you saying?” I asked.


“I’m saying that you leave out possibly millions of kids who are just as eager, and just as needy as the people in your own backyard.  They don’t count?”


I swallowed.  Of course they count.  Everyone does.  “I didn’t mean that, Dad.  I … I … shouldn’t other rich guys worry about the kids in their backyards?  I haven’t thought this through, and I know I can’t ask you to take care of the whole world.”  I smiled a little, “I count on your help with ideas like this.  I mean, I’m fifteen.  I don’t know what to do all the time.”


Dad’s look was incredulous, and he laughed out loud.  “Don’t even try, Paul.  Just don’t, okay?  You know more than me, your mother, God, the school system, and the President himself.  You’ve been broadcasting that since the day you turned eight, and I know crap when I hear it.  I’ll tell you what.”


He stopped, so I asked, “What?”


“You come up with a viable plan, and we’ll talk again.  Be specific about where we can help, and where we won’t.  Come up with a dollar amount, too, at least the best you can.”  He managed to get his good hand on the edge of his chair, and he said, “Touch me, Paul.”




“Touch me … anywhere.  I want, just for a second, to know what the future feels like.”


I said, “I’m not the future,” as I leaned closer to put my hand on his.  “I’m just me, Dad: your son.”


He smiled and flipped his hand over to grasp mine.  “You’re the future, Paul.  For sure you are.”  He looked off toward the water for a moment, then right back at me.  “Your generation might be the one, Paul.  I see it in you, and I see it in your friends.  I don’t know that I can describe it, except I see a major paradigm shift.”


“Explain, please?” I prodded.


“I can try,” Dad said softly.  “I see … I think I see … more sharing than I’m used to … more togetherness and – I guess it’s what they call inclusiveness.  I see how your school treats that kid Jeffrey … Jeffrey what’s-his-name … the midget.”


“He’s a dwarf, Dad.  Dwarfism is a medical condition.  What you call midgets are just small people.  Huge difference.”


Dad said, “I’m sorry,” then he grinned.  “See?  That’s just what I mean.  You kids bother to learn differences like that, when I always thought the words meant the same thing, and never once worried that I was missing something.”


I said, “Dad, they taught us at school because Jeffrey’s there.”


“Conditional education?” Dad asked absently.




“Never mind.  Let’s talk about you.”


I don’t like talking about me, but I said, “Okay, let’s.  You start.”


Dad smiled, “I intended to start.  I’ll start with me, okay?”


I nodded.


“Paul, I never set out to make a huge fortune.  I just wanted to be able to earn a living doing what I was good at.  At the time, what I enjoyed were computers and the Internet, which were both just entering the public domain when I finished college.  I wrote articles at first: technical articles.  People called me a visionary, but I was only writing about the obvious.  Still, lay publications got my name, and asked me to write for the public, in easy language, about what I saw coming.”


“A visionary?”  I teased.  “I know you make a mean pork chop, but give me a break.”


“Shut up, Paul.”


I did.


“At the same time, I got a storefront in Cambridge and started teaching computer skills.  That was my first good move, because personal computers were pretty much new to the world then, and lots of people wanted to know what they could do, and how to use them.  I didn’t charge people a lot, but I charged a whole lot of people, and I earned the first serious income of my life.  I ended up selling my lesson plan to a bigger company, and they took my little storefront idea all over the Northeast.”


“Yay,” I said.


Dad grimaced, “Well, yeah.  Yay and nay.  I was twenty-three, and suddenly had a pocketful of money and no job.  The Internet was gaining popularity, and I started another little business to design websites for whoever wanted them: colleges, mostly, but some pioneering businesses, too, and a few individuals.”


Dad smiled at me, “I met your mother when I was doing that, Paul.  We dated for a really long time, and she finally said she’d marry me.”  He frowned, “Listen, she may have had feelings then, but I honestly don’t think she realized she was gay.  That’s a question for her, anyhow, and you learned about it when I did.”


“You don’t have to …” I said, thinking this was difficult for my father.


“It’s my story, Paulie.  Let me tell it, okay?”


I nodded, and he went on.


“Not long after, the Internet was suddenly the next-big-thing, and people were signing up all over the place.”


Dad sat back, put his feet on the table, and his good hand behind his head.  “Those were good times, Paulie.  The best.  I had some money, and I had your mother, and the ideas just kept coming to me.” 


He stopped talking and stared ahead.




He looked off into space.  “I think I had the golden touch during those years.  My mind was on fire with ideas, and a lot of them were workable.”  He turned to me, his smile kind of awkward, “I made all this money, Paul, but I can’t say I really earned it.  I mean, I did because the ideas were mine, but the money is all disproportionate.”  His look to me softened, “That’s what I’m trying to say about you: exactly what I’m trying to say.”


“Which is?” I asked when he didn’t go on.


“Oh Paul, I mean that you have the conscience in this family.  You’re the one who sees money by itself as just a pile of stuff, like flashlights without batteries.  You’re absolutely right, too, because that money has no purpose beyond being there if we don’t do something with it.”  He looked up at the rainy sky, “How about this for now?  You’re right:  Vermont is our backyard, and the saying goes that charity starts at home.” 


I watched as his gaze went skyward, into the gloomy clouds.  “I’ll make you an offer right now.  I’ll double your allowance if you shut up.”


My jaw dropped, and Dad pointed at me, laughing, “Look at you!  Look at that puss!  Haaaaaa ha ha ha ha!  I got you big time!”


I giggled myself.  Dad was right.  He had me, which was pretty rare.   I tried to recover by saying, “You’re easily amused these days, aren’t you?”


Can it, Paul!  I got you fair and square, and it’s a rare day when that happens.”  His glee was kind of catching, and when he said, “Laugh, or else!” I laughed.


I said, “Okay, truce!  What can we do here?”


Dad said gently, “I think we can do whatever we want, Paul.  It’s our money, after all, and as much yours as mine.”  He reached over and touched the back of my hand.  “I like that you see the potential good we can do with it, and I like that you see that good on a large scale, yet one that we can both understand.”


He closed his eyes and said, “How simple!   Better trained people in all the trades, all walks of life, will make a difference every day … for everybody!”  His eyes still closed, Dad chuckled, “Picture it!  Everywhere you go, everything you ask for, the people there will understand.  They’ll be able to find what you’re looking for, do what you want without question, or even tell you what your question should be.”


Dad opened his eyes and looked at me.  “I like it, Paul. I love it.”


“So, yes?”  I asked.


Dad’s eyes closed again, and he said, “You tell me, Paulie.  You tell me.  We’ll need advice, and Bernie can find that for us.  Let me tell you this, though. Look at me.”


I looked at Dad’s waiting eyes, and he said, “We can do it, kid.  You and me, with Dana and Elenora, we can make things possible for people just when they need it most.  Possible!  That’s the word.”  He sat back and closed his eyes again, “Possible,” he mumbled.  “It’s a beautiful word.”


Dad sat back up and looked at me.  “This is perfect, Paul!  It’s beautiful!.  Ha ha!  You want to weld?  Here’s where and here’s how, and it’s paid for. Heh, ditto if a bricklayer or a chef is the inner you.  The same goes for retailers, mechanics, plumbers, even Indian chiefs.”


“Dad, I think Indian chiefs are born to it.”


“Well of course they are, but they must still need some training.”


“I guess so,” I said.


“So, what about you, Paul?”


“What about me?”


“Do you really hate this money?”


“I never said that.  I just don’t like that it sits there doing nothing, when I see so much good that could come from it.  We maybe went a little overboard with Dana and Elenora, but they’re not the only family in trouble.  For that matter, Stockton can’t be the only town where the stores and fuel people cut off credit.  Dad, every time Dana talks about just eating right, he gets all tears in his eyes.  I don’t think we know how much it hurts to be hungry, and know there’s not food waiting somewhere.  I don’t think we know anything about what it’s like to be poor, but I’d rather help than find out myself.”


“You just want to correct that little problem?”  Dad asked with a bit of a smirk.


“That’s what I want to do.  Do you know how your food and fuel banks are doing up in Stockton?”


Dad looked at me like I’d just awoken a dim memory.  “I haven’t given that a thought, if you want to know.  It’s not a lot of money, but I’ll call and ask just to set my mind right.”  He smiled, not at me.  “I was told that we’re dealing with honest, hard-working people   It might be early in the summer, but we’ll see who’s paying.”


“What if it’s nobody?” I asked.


“What if?  I don’t know.  I hope that’s not what happens.”


I touched Dad’s arm so he’d look at me.  “Would nobody paying spoil it for next year?”


Dad didn’t hesitate, “Absolutely not.  Like I said, it’s not a lot of money.”


I looked at my father.  He was sitting there, still injured, but his face was peaceful.  I said, “I like your attitude.”


He sat back, looked at me, then away.  Then he laughed: loud enough that the rain stopped and the sun came out.  It was an illusion, but the timing was such that it seemed he’d laughed the clouds out of the sky.  He turned to me with a grin, and said, “Sun’s out.  How about a swim?  I’ll race you.”


“You’re on!” I said, and ran to my room, where I tore my clothes off and pulled on my already-wet bathing suit.  Then I did the stupid.  In my haste, I forgot my card:  the card that let me off the sixth floor for starters, the little card that would also open the door to my room, where I could retrieve it.  There was, of course, the stairway, and it didn’t require any card to use as an exit, so for the first time in my life, I trudged.  I actually, consciously, knew I was trudging, and that was a first, but I felt too utterly stupid to walk normally.


Fortunately, there was a ding behind me before I reached the fire door, and when I turned to look, Elenora and Dana got off the elevator.  Well, who else?


I smiled, “I was just going to the pool for a swim.  Dad already went down.  Want to come with us?”


Dana said, “Sure.”


I looked at Elenora, and she said, “I’ll come down, but I’m just a little bit sore.”  She smiled, “I’ll meet you down there.”


I followed Dana into our room, and he saw my card in its slot as soon as he went to insert his own.  Without even looking at me, he said, “You should be more careful with that.”


He was back in a minute, wearing trunks and an open shirt.  He took my card and handed it to me, and we trotted over to the elevator without another word. 


On the way down, Dana asked, “Have a good time with Dad?”


“I guess you could say that.  We had a good talk, anyhow.”


“That’s the best kind.  Anything good come up?”


“I don’t know.  We talked a lot about money.”


The elevator door opened, and we ran through the lobby and out to the pool.  Dad couldn’t actually go in the water, but he was sitting on the side with his feet in.  He saw me coming, and attempted to move when he saw my intent, but I was there first with my cannonball, and I had barely come up for air when Dana splashed in right beside me.  When Dana came up I grinned at him, but the moment he could see he backed off fast, grabbed my arm, and yanked me back.  When I looked, Dad had his cast in the air.


Dana said, “Watch out!  That thing’ll turn a walnut into dust.”


I looked at Dad, and he wasn’t angry from his drenching.  Why would he be?  The air was positively steamy after the rain, so the water must have felt good.  I looked to the far end of the pool and swam lazily in that direction for no better reason than to do it.  At about the middle of the pool, I rolled onto my back and kicked my way along, arms out to my side.  It’s hard to describe how good that water felt after almost half a year away from it.


Dana was suddenly beside me, walking, and asked, “Swim some laps?”


“I guess,” I said.  “I’m probably out of shape.”


Dana said, “Maybe we’re even then.  I’m not very good.”


“Not racing?” I asked.


“Who, me?  I just learned how.”


I swam to the end of the pool that I was headed to, and hung on the edge.  The pool was small to begin with, probably about forty feet from there to the other end.  I waited until Dana was ready beside me.  “Just swim, right?  No race?”


Dana grinned, “Get over it, okay?  I can’t really swim.  You show me how you do it.”


His expression seemed earnest, so I said, “Okay, let’s go.”


I pushed off and went underwater at first, which is where I swim best.  When I came up for air, I was halfway down the pool, and expecting Dana to be passing me in the other direction, but I had to wait a good ten seconds for him to catch up.  When he did, he swam right by, using a simple breast stroke.  I spotted him ten feet and caught up easily, and we touched the end at about the same time.  Dana surprised me when he turned around and swam away, so I did the same, and swam the length of the pool underwater.  I came up right beside Dana again, gasping in air, and by the time I noticed, he was a quarter-way back in the other direction.


I caught up with him, but with effort, and then the sucker turned to do another length.  I grabbed his foot and pulled him back, causing him to go under.  I think he lost his place, so I pulled him up.  After catching his breath, he seemed annoyed, of course.  “What’d you do that for?”


“Do what?  Huh?”  I asked, looking around like I’d been enjoying the scenery.  “I didn’t do anything.”


Dana looked suspicious, and said, “Well, something bit my leg then.  I thought it was a hand.”


I looked at him with my most sober expression.  “Probably a pool shark.  They’re bastards, especially near the edges.  Try staying in the middle.  Stay away from anything that bubbles.”


“Really?” Dana asked, a bit pale like his tan had suddenly faded.






I smiled, “Don’t be gullible, man.  I will bullshit you all the time if I think you’ll fall for it.  I am a pool shark, but it has nada to do with water.  I’ll teach you how to play later.”


Dana looked confused, so I put my hand on his shoulder.  “Dana,” I said gently.  “Put this one little thought in your mind, and never forget it, okay?”


He nodded.  “I’m not real, Dana.  Well, I’m partly real, but not all.  If I think I can mess with your head, I will.  If you think there’s a possibility that I’m messing with you, then I am.  If you tell me to stop it, I might.  Even if I do, I might start right up again.”


Dana was smiling by then, “What?  I can’t trust you?”


“I didn’t say that.  You can trust that I’ll be me, but I can’t promise what I’ll be.”


Dana’s expression turned serious, “That rhymes.  Just promise you won’t do poetry on me.”


I was too surprised!  Dana was funny sometimes, and I started laughing.  I pulled him to me until our foreheads were together, when he laughed too.


“That’s too funny.  Do poetry? You don’t like poems?”


Dana grinned, “Sure I do.  I just don’t like when they’re way over my head.  There’s never poems about things I know.  I never heard a poem about ski racing, only trees and crap.”  His expression was precious, especially when he saw me grinning.  He smiled a little, “Don’t get me wrong, I like trees just fine, but they don’t do anything!  They just sit there and grow till they fall down.  They’re only useful dead.  I don’t get it.  I don’t hear any odes to lumber yards or fireplaces.”  My look got to him, and he snickered, “Do you know the log cabin poem?”


“I shook my head, “No.”


Dana said, “That’s because there isn’t one.”  He shrugged, “I guess it doesn’t matter.  Can we go in the ocean?”


* * * * * * * *


My dinner that night was great.  I went simple, with a tossed salad and spiced Gulf shrimp with fries.  It was all good.


Dana hadn’t developed a taste for seafood, so he got chicken something-or-other, and pronounced it okay.


Elenora had orange roughy that she said was wonderful, but Dad didn’t like his langostinos much.


Dessert was good.  I got key lime pie, as did Dad and Elenora.  Dana ordered a pineapple and strawberry shortcake that made me wish I’d read the whole menu.  It was a thing to behold, and we all tried some when Dana said it was too much to finish.  It was wonderful.


When we were down to coffee, Dad looked at Dana.  “Don’t you have something to say to Paul?”


Dana’s eyes went wide and he said, “God, I forgot!  Oh, man.” 


He turned to me and said, “Guess what happens in August?”


I just looked at him, drawing a blank.


He turned his face into a sunbeam.  “We’re going skiing!  Snow skiing!”


My mouth fell open.  “In August?  Where do we find snow in August?”


Dana was excited.  Chile, man.  The Andes!  It’ll be like February is here, but humongo mountains.  We didn’t pick a place yet, to wait for you.  I’ll show you on the Internet.  Man, there is vertical!  We can go way, way up in a helicopter, to like thirteen thousand feet.  Picture it, Paulie; it’ll be like higher than the Alps, and in summer!”


I thought, “Wow,” but didn’t voice it.  I just grinned at Dana’s enthusiasm.  I swear, if NASA could drop him from outer space, skis on, over a good mountain range, he’d try it. He’d love it, and probably do a back flip just before he hit the snow.


I was excited too, in my own way.  I looked at my father, “What about the Laundromat?”


Elenora responded, “I think we can get by for a few weeks without some summer help.”


“I’m sure you can,” I said.  “You’re not coming?”


Dad said, “Paul, this is for you and Dana:  your birthday presents.”  He looked at me with what seemed a question on his face.  “You speak pretty good Spanish, don’t you?  This isn’t some backwater place, anyhow; people will speak English, and we’re sending Hector along.  He’s fluent in Spanish.”


I heard all that, and when I had it sorted out in my mind I said, “Dad, I’m not afraid to go with just Dana and me.  I just thought … I thought you’d go … because it’s skiing!”


Dad stared for a moment.  “Paul, listen.  I know you think I’m an old goat sometimes, but this old goat pays the bills, and paying the bills requires income.  The Laundromat in Stockton will be open for business soon, and when it opens it will be our main source of income.  Earned income!” 


Dad’s look softened when Elenora smiled at him. He said, “Look, boys.  The older you get, the more life asks from you.  There are milestones, and sixteen is one of them.  You’ll be more man than boy when it passes, so just look at this ski trip as a fun way to slide into manhood.”


Elenora gave Dad an adoring look, and said, “Listen to your father.  He’s a very smart man.”


* * * * * * * *


It was about nine when we got back to the hotel, and we all went to our own rooms.  Dana was going to swim for a bit, and I begged off so I could call Lisa.  I sat on the deck to call, and felt that Heaven was just beyond the rail.  Right below me, the hotel pool and the grounds were lit up and attractive.  Some of that light reached the beach and down to the water, and the water glimmered under the faint light of a crescent moon.


I watched idly when Dana jumped into the shallow end of the pool and started swimming the same leisurely laps that he’d done that afternoon.  I looked back to the ocean and saw a cruise ship in the distance, heading to sea from Port Canaveral.  As I watched and grew accustomed to the lights of night, I made out some of the buoys and beacons that aided safe sailing, and I could make out the distant glow from the Kennedy Space Center.  The sound of the surf seemed to echo off the glass behind me, and I was as relaxed as a limp rubber band.


I was still talking to Lisa when Dana came from his room to join me on the deck, and he asked, “Lisa?” in a whisper.  I nodded, and he said, “Tell her I said hi.”


“Dana says hi,” I said.


Lisa said, “Ooh!  Can I talk to him?”


I held the phone to Dana and said, “It’s for you,” then made tracks to the bathroom.  Too many unanswered beverages.


When I came back, Dana was yakking with Lisa like he had an old friend on the line, but as soon as he saw me he said, “I’ll let you go.  Here’s Paul,” and he held the phone out.


“I’m back,” I said.


Lisa said, “It sounds like you’re having fun there.  What’s it like?”


“It’s like Florida,” I said.  It’s pretty hot, and it rains at three o’clock, and there’s an ocean.  It’s way fun.  What’s it like in Brattleboro?”


Lisa giggled, “One word: mud.  If you need a verb to go with that, it would be sucks!  Of course, you’re a boy, so you’d be loving it with your four-wheel-drive, but this is quicksand, and I’m the one who has to rescue our fat cat when he sinks into the yard.  You’d think with paws like that, he could walk on water, but no.  He goes down, and I go get him, and he hates water.  I have to dry him in front of the kiln, then vacuum the mud off, and the vacuum scares him, so he still claws at me.”


I snickered, and she asked, “Want a cat?”


I said, “I’ll take Archie in a heartbeat.  Do you mean it?”


Lisa’s voice came back calm and quiet.  “You know I don’t.  That fatso cat is a pain in the rear, but he’s as much part of this family as any of us.”  Her voice quieted even more, and she said, “He’s as important as any of us.  We’re all pains when we want to be.  The Archer is no worse than me or anyone else.  He’s our giant kitty, and we’re all used to each other, so get your own cat.”


I snickered, “Lisa, when I asked for your cat, I expected a no.  Archie can open doors, and that frightens me, because I didn’t show him how.  If I ever get a kitty, I’ll be wanting to train him all by myself.”


She said, “Good luck.  You can’t train a cat; it’s the other way around.”


I chuckled, “Someone else told me that once.  So if I ever get a cat, it’s me who does the adapting?”




“That’s it?” I asked.  “You mean if I get a pussycat, the cat will rule supreme?  Now I want one just to prove you’re wrong.”


Lisa laughed gently, like the tinkling of a little bell.  “You won’t prove it wrong, Paul, and it’s not me.  It’s a simple and universal truth.  Cats rule their own domains.  All cats do: little bitty ones, big fatsos like Arch, and the lions in the jungle.  Listen to what my dad said.  He told me there all kinds of submissive people, but there’s no such thing as a submissive kitty.  It just doesn’t happen in nature.”


I laughed.  “Maybe I’ll just get a dog, or a lizard or something.”


Lisa’s voice was all sweetness.  “Go for the dog, Paul.  Even if you get a cat, get a dog, too.  The dog will lick your cat scratches and make you feel better.  If your cat isn’t a Mainer, it might not eat your dog.”


I laughed, “Nature maintains its balance?”


“All the time, it does.  Tell me how you’re really doing there.  Please?”


I was surprised by the question.  “Things are good, I think.  I just got here, and it was a pretty good day.  Are you worried?”


“I don’t worry, Paul.  I’m just concerned.  I never met your father.  I know you said he wasn’t presentable.  That was fine then, but it’s been a month now.  How is your father?”


I had to do it!  “Well, now I have to admit he’s presentable: maybe not in public, but in private he does well.  Not a heckuva lot of drool anymore, and I’m just positive that I’ll understand his words before long.” 


Lisa makes a sound when she thinks I’m full of it, like if she’s chewing on a caramel and it has her teeth stuck together.  She made that sound right then, cleared her throat, and said, “Paul Dunn!  If I give you step-by-step instructions on how to deal with the crap that comes from your mouth, will you follow them, and promise to bury it where I say?




Aaaaaaaauh!” she shrieked.  “Put Dana on. I need to speak with a human.”


I looked, and Dana wasn’t there.  “I think he went to bed.  Will I do?  I can make like a human, at least for a little while.”


Lisa laughed.  “You’re nuts, but I’m not complaining.”


We talked late into the night.  It was a Saturday, so no problem on either end.  Our conversation was shallow in the respect that a lot was going on in the larger world, but our words held some importance in our own little corner of that world.


I suppose it’s fair to say that Lisa and I were becoming serious about each other, although very little of a serious note passed between us.  Still, there was no denying the desire that we felt for each other.  We both knew that we’d be the victims of a double homicide if we acted on that desire and got found out, but it was there just the same.  That’s probably where the term ‘flame’ came from, as it’s put to a love interest.  Flaming desire: desire so hot that it ignites!




I like Lisa a whole lot, and she likes me back.  The desire on my end is real enough, but anything I say from her end is obviously conjecture on my part.


Lisa is Italian and Catholic, and I’m Irish and sort-of Catholic.  Not practicing: just Catholic.  I’m starting to wonder if I shouldn’t pay more attention.  The new Pope is running around the world telling good Catholics to get laid more, to make more babies.  It’s sad in most ways, but a beacon of opportunity to me.  Babies=Paul Dunn, like I can help! And yes, I’ll raise them Catholic.  Well, their mothers will.  Oh, Papal Pope, send me potential mothers, and I’ll impregnate them till I drop.  I have friends, too, so keep them coming!


Stupid?  Maybe it is in a different way.  Russia is paying kids to get laid.  If you think that’s neat, then think again.  Russia is losing population because it’s no fun to be there anymore, and the birth rate is such that the population can’t sustain itself.


So here we go.  Take a day off from school, screw yourselves foolish, and if you produce a child you’ll be rewarded.  You will receive remuneration just for trying.


I thought of my Moscow friend, Kiril, and pictured him   I came up with a hilarious picture, too, of Kiril humping away until he faints, working hard to repopulate his motherland. Or not.


I met Kiril because he wanted a baseball cap, so it’s not right for me to put him into positions that I dream up.  Still, if the real Pope shows up, or Vlad Putin, Kiril will be there to do what he’s asked.  He’s a real patriot, even in a Yankees hat.


When I climbed into bed that night, the bed was comfortable enough, but it was done up to survive a Vermont winter, and I got back out of it to peel back layers of covers until I had it right, which was a top sheet and a thin blanket.


Then it was comfortable, but the room was as silent as a tomb, so I got up one last time to open the door to the deck.  After that, the distant sound of the surf lulled me to sleep.


It was the sun that woke me up in the morning.  I just rolled over the first few times, and went back to sleep, but our star was busy out there, brightening my room annoyingly.  I knew that a controller for the blinds existed somewhere, but had no idea where that was.  I gave up and pulled the covers back, then sat on the side of the bed to yawn and get my bearings.  The clock read seven past seven.  It was Sunday, so things weren’t normal.  In Vermont, I’d get up early on Sunday if it was to go skiing, but I think that otherwise the laws looked on such behavior as criminal mischief.  I imagined laws of a far more serious nature in Florida, since it is a Republican state, but I was already awake.


I went to the window and looked out, confronted with a serenity that made me think it might be the dawn of time itself.  Well, it did until I looked closer in and saw parts of the hotel grounds. 


Still, the tide was full-out, and the beach glimmered in the spoon of the latest wave.  The breakers seemed far off, and pelicans skimmed just over the surface of the water, splooshing in when they spied breakfast.  Closer in, sandpipers be-bopped on the sand, daring the waters while they kept their little feet dry with their own quickness.


I suddenly knew where I wanted to be, and I pulled on my trunks, grabbed my shirt, and headed outside for a run in the sand.  In the elevator, when I went to put my card in my pocket, I realized I already had one there, so the one in my hand was Dana’s.  When the door opened to the lobby, I dutifully reinserted the card to go back up.  If it only controlled the locks, that would be one thing, but the room would be virtually without power if I kept the card with me.  I slipped quickly into the room, pushed Dana’s card into the slot, and was on my way.


I never think of myself as a runner, but I do like to run on the beach, as difficult as it is.


It was beautiful out on the sand that morning, with the rising sun glinting on the water while the pink of dawn was still evident higher in the sky.  There were some other people out, even a few other runners, and I found myself pacing someone who was about two hundred feet ahead of me.  At that distance, I couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman.  The person wore the retirement uniform of tan khaki shorts, a light blue shirt, and floppy white sun hat.


Whoever it was had an easy-looking lope that I tried to emulate, and when I did the going became smoother.  I started kicking a bit to the side each time I landed a foot, and my heel-pounding stopped immediately, and made for a seriously more comfortable run.


It wasn’t any easier, though, and I was out of breath soon enough.  I slowed to a walk, and paid little attention when someone ran past me, but when he was out front I grinned.


“You following me?” I asked Hector.


He stopped and turned, “Stop talking like a fool, Paul.  You’re following me.”  He pointed at his feet and said, “I’m here and you’re back there. I don’t have eyes in the back of my head, so you’re following me.”


“So what’s the trick, then?”


He held his hand up, and there was something like an iPod in it.  He grinned, “GPS, amigo.” Then he pulled the plug out of one ear and said, “Audio GPS!”


I actually got nervous.  “How does it know?”


Hector shook his head, “No, no.  That’s a company secret.”


I just stared.  Hector said, “This tells me what you’re thinking, too, and I would never do that with my mother!”  He really seemed angry, and said, “You have a nice day, okay?  Don’t fall into any traps.”


He turned and ran off, and I was hot on his heels crying, “Hector! Wait!”


He ran faster, and it was only when my chest felt ready to explode that he stopped and turned so abruptly that I ran right into him.  He steadied me with a big hand on each of my shoulders while I gasped for breath.  I finally managed to croak out, “You … are … fast!”


Hector’s voice was gentle.  “Ready to go back?”


I nodded.


“Want to walk?”


“For sure,” I managed, and he walked beside me after I turned around.


It took a few minutes before my breathing was normal, then Hector asked, “Want to hear yourself on GPS?”


“Yeah!” I said, excited.


He pulled off his earplugs and handed them to me, and I got silence once they were on.  Then, suddenly, there was music that sounded just like J-Lo.  I turned to the right suddenly, then to the left, and the music didn’t change at all, but Hector did.  He was bent over, hands on his knees, laughing like mad.  He lifted one hand to point at me, and he laughed harder.


God, first my father, now Hector: everyone was getting one up on me, and that’s unnatural.  I was not born gullible, but I seem to be growing into it quite nicely, and it really has to stop.


I pulled the earplugs off and handed them back without a word.  Trust me, if I had a word it would have been spoken right then, but I felt foolish enough already, and started back toward the hotel. 


Hector was beside me in an instant, his hand on my shoulder again.  “Come on, amigo.  I was just having a little fun with you.”


“I know,” I said, surprised by how small my voice sounded.


He bopped his palm gently on my shoulder and said, “Tell you what.  Don’t get up so early, and I won’t be such a wise-ass, okay?”


I snickered, “What?  This is your alert phase?”


“My grumpy phase,” he said.  “Got that?”


“Got it.”


Back at the hotel, Hector trotted off just when I heard my name being called.  Dad, Elenora and Dana were sitting under an umbrella in the outside dining area, all waving at me.


I smiled, suddenly certain that I was going to enjoy this trip.


… more