Mud Season

Chapter 10


We decided to eat outside at the pool area where we could keep our wetsuits on.  It was hot, so we unzipped to the waist.  We chose a table, and before we even sat down Dana came by with Gretchen in hand, Rhod on Gretchen’s other side, The Morasuttis behind them, and Rhod’s parents last.


We greeted everyone, and I introduced Denny to those he hadn’t met.  I’d forgotten that Rhod’s parents would be back, and it was nice to see them again.  Everyone was in beach clothes, and they looked more comfortable in the environment.


“You did good,” Dana said.


“You saw me?  I lost you guys before the first wave.”


A waiter approached Rhod’s father.  “How many in your party, sir?”


“Oh, no.  We’ve eaten, so it’s just the two surfers here.”  He touched my arm, “You look hungry, so go and eat.  We’re going to get towels and sit on the beach.”


I nodded and smiled, and watched them for a moment when they left.


Denny and I sat, and he said, “Nice family.”


I smiled, looking at them once again.  “Yeah, they are.”


When the waiter came and started reciting their specials, I asked, “What’s fast?”


“Oh,” he said.  “Any cold sandwich, and the fish and chips won’t take long.”


I’d avoided the fish and chips on other days, but I did see them on a table the day before and they actually looked pretty good.  They came with coleslaw, so I said, “I’ll have the fish and chips, and a Sprite.”


Denny said, “That sounds good.  Make it two, but water for me.”


The waiter wrote it down, thanked us, and said, “I’ll bring you a snack from the bar with your drinks” 


He was back in a minute with our drinks and a wooden bowl of something that looked like a mix of breakfast cereal, little pretzels, and peanuts.  They were heavily spiced, and the bowl was empty before we touched the drinks.


I grinned at Denny.  “These big waves make you hungry, huh?”


He nodded, sipping his water, “Sure do.  So does two straight hours of exercise in heavy surf.”


I asked, “Do you have any other students today?”


He shook his head saying they’d cancelled because of the high surf.


I said, “Why don’t we just surf here for a bit and forget about four o’clock?  We’ll still pay for the lesson.”


Denny smiled and said it sounded good, and our lunch came.  The fish was as good as it looked, too.  It was nice, fresh whitefish of some kind in a crispy and garlicky batter.


As we ate, I learned something about Denny’s home life.  He had a seventeen year-old daughter and a sixteen year-old son, who he said conspired to keep him broke, and to have his own reserved seat in the Principal’s office.  I could tell that he was only half serious, because I have parents of my own.  He was in a wetsuit, so didn’t have pictures with him, but said his wife was once a beauty queen and his daughter took after her.  His son, he said, looked just like him.  He thought the kid would survive anyhow, because he was a pretty good manga artist.  Both kids liked the beach but not the water, so neither was a surfer.


“I’m not a businessman either,” I said to make him feel better.  “My father thinks I’m full of shit all the time.”


Denny suppressed a smile, looked toward the pool, and said, “Your father is a brilliant guy.  He’s pretty astute, too.”


Oh boy.  Zing, zing, and twice in one day.  I was definitely losing my touch.


Once we finished our lunch, we got towels and sat on the beach with everyone to let lunch settle before going in the water.  I asked Mr. Morasutti where my father and Elenora were.


“Elenora is making some calls to her brother and sister, so I expect she’ll be awhile.  Your dad is arranging for a bigger plane for tomorrow so we can all fly together.”


That was a surprise.  “You’re coming to Vermont with us?”


‘No, no,” he said.  “You’re dropping us off in Albany so Dana and Elenora can have a little reunion at the airport with her brother and his family.  Rhod will take the train back to the city after you leave.  Rory and I both have our cars at the airport.  For you, it should just be a few more minutes on to Keene.”


I stared at Anthony, and then found my smile.  “Neat!”  I said.  “Dana’s gonna love it, and I bet Elenora will, too.”


Anthony smiled, and his wife sat up to look at me.  “Am I forgiven for my rude remark this morning?  I was only making a little joke.”


“Think nothing of it,” I said stoically.  ‘That joke seems to be in vogue these days.”


Denny set to giggling and Anthony looked away, but I knew he was laughing.  I sighed loudly and stretched out on my towel, thinking I should have brought some sunblock.  It was hot in the wetsuit and much of my chest was exposed.  It worried me, so I sat up and told Denny, “I’ll get our boards.  Be right back.”


“Hey, thanks.  There’s no need to rush.”


I said, “I don’t mind”, and walked back to the little railing by the steps to the restaurant where we’d leaned our boards.  I picked them up and started back when I heard Dana calling for me to wait.


I looked around and finally spotted him running to me.  “You going back out?” he asked a bit breathlessly.


“Yeah, in a few minutes.  You want to come?”


“For sure,” he said.  “My board’s in the room.  Where will you be?”


“Right out here with everyone else.  We’re on the beach right now.  We’ll wait.”


Dana said he’d be right back.  Then he said something to Gretchen that I didn’t hear, and sprinted into the lobby.


Gretchen came over to me smiling.  “Surfing again?  I couldn’t see you before.  Did you do well in those big waves?”


I shrugged.  “I don’t know how well I did, but it was fun.”  I indicated the area on the beach where we were all sitting and said, “Come on, we’re down here.”


She said, “My brothers …” and looked around, then spotted them in the pool.  “Let me tell them.”  She walked onto the pool deck and got their attention, pointed to the beach, and had them nodding before I caught up with her.  I waved to the boys, and walked with Gretchen to sit with our families.


Gretchen said, “Dana had fun, too.  I didn’t see him surfing either, but that man you’re with had people cheering for him.”


“Really?” I asked, thinking I’d make time to watch Denny from the beach.  He was a famous surfer, after all, and I’d only been thinking of him as our teacher all week.  I wanted to see what he could do.


We sat down with everyone, and had a cheerful conversation until Dana came, and he was ready to surf.  Denny and I zipped up, and the three of us took our boards to the water.   The tide was on the way out, and the waves were smaller than before, but not a lot smaller.  They somehow seemed tidier, though, and more friendly looking.


We paddled out, and this time managed to stay together.  The people who had been around us earlier were still to the north, so there were only a handful of other surfers where we were, and well spread out.


We reached the swells, and I stopped paddling to get my breath, and watched for a wave.  A few good ones went by me before I felt ready, and then I saw my potential ride coming in.  I paddled after it, and sure enough, it began to curl.  I got up on my board, dropped down ahead of the pipe, caught it better than any before, and suddenly I was flying along the beach.  I was almost squatting on the board, my arms out for balance and a grin on my face.  When the wave petered out, I turned back almost into it and let it wash me to the beach.


It had all happened faster than I can remember, but what a rush!  I crawled out onto the beach pooped from the effort, and sat to catch my breath.  I was in a lonely spot, but heard noise from in front of the hotel, and looked at the water.


There was Denny.  He was in a really big wave, and the pipe would fold over him, and he’d squirt out the open end still on his board.  It happened several times.  He finally turned back into the wave and flew up into the air, did a flip with board and all, and fell into the sea.  He was pushed up to the beach in the spume just seconds later wearing a grin that might scare ghosts out of a cemetery.


I ran over to him and held my hand out to help him up, and he let me for a moment, and then seemed to bounce into a standing position.  “Whew!” he said, lifting his goggles.  He looked at me and grinned, “You had a good ride, too.  What happened to Dana?”


I got nervous.  “I didn’t see.  Did he have trouble?”


Denny pushed his hair back off his forehead and rubbed his eyes.  “I don’t know.  I didn’t seem him go either.”


We started walking back to where we’d started, when a roar went up from the people on the beach.  There was a surfer just descending into the pipe as graceful as a figure skater, and when he found bottom he made some familiar moves, like he was dancing on his board.  Then I saw the yellow on his shoulders and yelled to Denny, “That’s Dana!  Look at him!  That’s the way he skis.”


Denny looked at me as if I’d damaged his ears, but Dana looked as good as he did on skis.  Every time he should have dumped, he found enough air to get him out of trouble and landed back in his wave.   I was cheering him on, and realized I was jumping up and down with excitement.


I wasn’t alone, and when Dana should have given up, he caught a jump and took the following wave another hundred feet before he parked on the beach.  Awesome!


I started running toward him, as he ran our way.  We met in a quick hug and a lot of excited talk, and headed back to our families.  “Can you do that again?” I asked.


“I can now,” he said.


“What changed for you?” Denny asked.


Dana said, “I lost my fear.”  He grinned and pointed out to the water, “It’s out there somewhere.  I don’t know, all of a sudden I wasn’t afraid of the waves anymore.  I wanted to make it more like skiing and I did.”


Denny said seriously, “That’s amazing, you know.  You just picked a wave and decided to ski it?”


Dana laughed, “Kinda, but that wasn’t the first one.  I tanked about ten times before it felt like I had it, and I played with it a few more times.”  He grinned at Denny, “Ask Paulie, I love getting air.”


“I believe you,” Denny said, and he put his arm over Dana’s shoulder.  I have your address.  I’ll mail you a video of Maverick.  That’s an extreme surfing site just up from San Fran.  Let me know if you’d dare that, and maybe someday …”


He didn’t finish his thought because our families were all approaching us, and they were all full of cheers and admiration for the three of us, but especially Dana.  Dana had quit earlier because he wasn’t comfortable in the violent sea, yet he went back and, quite simply, got over it.  He put on a good show, too, and used his skiing ability to conquer the big waves in great style.


I could tell that the praise wore thin on Dana soon enough, so I picked up our boards and said, “We’re not finished.”  I looked at Dana and Denny and said, “Come on!  The waves keep getting smaller.”


That was true, too, but smaller was kind of a euphemism for breaking farther out.


Dana took his board from me and ran down to the water, with Denny following and me in the rear.  I wanted to watch them from shore for at least one ride.


They paddled right out and I sat on my board, then thought better of it and moved about two hundred feet up the beach.  The waves were still curling over, and I guessed they’d go nearly that far before they really got into it.


There were more surfers in that area than there were when we got there, and some of them seemed to take off dangerously close to each other.  If one fell and wasn’t using a tether, that board would come popping up from the water like an unguided missile and, everyone was a target.


I watched as Denny and Dana paddled out, disappearing in the swells, then reappearing farther and farther out, until they turned toward shore to wait for the right waves.  Denny caught one right away, but another surfer dropped into it right in front of him and Denny had to turn out to avoid a collision.


Dana caught a wave shortly afterward, and had an awesome ride.  He combined his skiing skills with what he’d learned from Denny, and went past me at almost the speed of light.  His rapid adjustments looked even more like dancing on water than they did on snow.  He was in and out of the pipe twice before it rolled over him, and he got through that, still standing when the following wave took his board out from under him.


I was just amazed, and caught up with him as he walked back down the beach.


Dana had a look of determination on his face, but grinned when he saw me.  “Where were you?  I didn’t see you out there.”


I said, “I wanted to see you and Denny ride.  I lost you guys earlier.”


“Where’s Denny?” he asked.


I shrugged, and we both ran into the water and paddled out into the surf.  I didn’t see what Dana did from there, but I got several good waves in a row and wore myself out.  I joined what remained of our families on the beach.  That consisted of Rhod, Mr. Kromer and his boys, and Anthony Morassutti. 


I plopped down on a towel and Anthony wiggled a finger at me.  “It’s true that you learned this in a week?  That’s really amazing.”


“I know,” I said.  “I think so too.”  I groaned and thought out loud, “Oh, Lord, I’m gonna be sore.”


Rhod said, “The massage tent is up.  Why not treat yourself?”


For the first time in my life, a massage sounded like a good idea.  I’d had fun in the big waves, and done okay.  I’d also stressed and over-stretched every muscle I owned from my neck down.  I lifted my head and asked, “Where’s that tent?” and Rhod pointed to it.


I pulled off the wetsuit and left it on the towel, and practically stumbled over for a massage.  I smiled as I neared the massage tent, which was a gauzey-looking thing.  I had barely paid attention to it during the week, and when I did notice it there was some lady in there for her daily pampering.  It was empty when I approached, and a guy asked if I needed something.


There was a discreet little sign there suggesting different massages, and I decided on the men’s sports massage, which it said would take away tension and relieve stress and muscle pains.  I said, “One sports massage, please.”


“Do you have your room key, please?”


“No, not with me,” I said.  “It’s six-oh-two.  I’m allowed to sign.”


“Ah, you’re young Mr. Dunn, then?  No need.  Nicole is our sports masseuse.  Make yourself comfortable, and she’ll be right here.”


He walked off quickly, and began trotting.  I sat on the side of the massage bed, or whatever you call it when it’s four feet up but feels like a bed, and wondered about getting a massage from a female.


Nicole showed up right away, and she looked like a girl … a little girl.  Asian for sure, but her eyes were big and round, so I couldn’t place her exactly.  She had a nice smile.


“You’re a little sore from surfing?” she asked.


“I’m a lot sore from surfing,” I said.


“Oh, a lot sore?”  She sounded injured herself.  “Well, help is on the way.  Why don’t you put your head up at this end and lay on your back?  Would you like music?”


Music sounded good, so I said, “Okay.  You can pick it out.”


She looked through a small stack of cds and put on Rod Stewart at a low volume, and that was pretty relaxing.   Then my bed started moving, which startled me.  It turned out to be not a bed at all, but some kind of multi-position combination bed, stool, chair, and torture implement.  Well, it looked like a torture implement when my knees dropped into a sitting position, a tall post came up between my legs, and Nicole attached padded arms to it.  Next, my back was lifted into a sitting position; I put my chin on a soft saddle and my arms over the recently attached arms in front of me.


Nicole stood behind me and said, “Let me know if I miss anything that hurts.  I’m putting mineral ice on my hands, and it will feel cold at first, so don’t jump too high.  Ready?”


I mumbled that I was, and then nearly broke my neck in reaction to her freezing touch just beneath my ears.  She giggled and said, “I’m sorry, but I warned you.  It won’t feel cold a second time.”


Her hands felt good, and I relaxed.  I had a rubdown once before when Dad and I tried a gym in Boston, but this was something different altogether.  When Nicole finished my back, she adjusted the thing I was on so I was prone again, and asked me to turn over.  Then she started on my lower back, with her fingers reaching under the waistband of my bathing suit and onto my rear end. 


That was the spot, too.  It felt good, even kind of erotic, but it seemed to be where my stiffness was centered and I zoned out, maybe even dozed off.  Then she told me to turn over, and started on my legs.  I realized that she was speaking softly as she worked, and she had been all along.  It wasn’t English, nor did it seem like she was reciting something, but her voice was soothing.  She started with my feet, then my calves, but it was my knees and thighs that had done all the work.


She worked her fingers up one leg and back, then the other, and giggled when I let her know she’d come dangerously close to my special parts.  I didn’t say anything, just jumped a bit.  She just mumbled, “Oops,” and went back to it.


I fell asleep and didn’t wake up until Nicole tapped my shoulder.  “Wake up, soldier.  See if you can walk now.”


The thing I was on lowered electrically, and I sat up and found my feet.  I did feel better, but still tired.  I smiled and thanked her, then put my shirt and sandals on and headed outside.  The clouds had gone and the day was sunny with just a little haze and a lot of humidity.


I was still tired, so I went up to my room for a nap.  It was just three when I got there, and I used the phone to put in a wake-up call for four.  Then I crashed, and crashed good.  I was groggy after I took the call, and stepped out on the deck with my cell phone, wearing only my underpants.


I was zoned out, watching the now diminishing surf, and the few surfers still out in it.


I might have dozed off again, but my phone vibrated on my leg, and it was a 617 number, so I expected it to be my mother, calling from wherever she was in Boston.




“Hello.  Paul Dunn, please,” a woman’s pleasant voice stated.


“This is me.”


“Will you hold for just a moment?  Attorney Sutton is calling.”


“Sure,” I started to say, but only had the word half out when Bernie came on.


“Paul!  How is Florida?  Are you having a good time?  Is the sun out?  Are you eating fish every day?  Is the water warm?”


I laughed, “Slow down!  Huh?  What did you say?”


Bernie laughed, “Never mind.  I asked those questions to determine whether or not I’m speaking with the real Paul Dunn, and none other.  I have determined that there is no other.  You’re well?”


I laughed, and chortled out, “I’m good.  Yeah, I’m fine.”


Bernie cajoled, “Your next question is to ask how you can help me.”


“How may I help you, Mr. Sutton?”  I asked dutifully, still grinning.


Bernie snickered, “You’re quick!  Much like your mother in that department.”  He coughed a little, and then almost whispered, “Tell me how your father is doing … your own view.”


I was suddenly confused.  “You don’t talk to him?”  I asked.


Bernie said, “No, no, it’s nothing like that.  I talk to him almost every day.  I know his medical condition, and I know whatever he tells me, but I don’t have your eyes, and I don’t have your feelings.  I want to know how you, as your father’s son, see him coming along.”


“Oh,” I said.  “Let me think.  I … um, I think he’s kind of stoic about his arms and hands.  He can’t write his name with a pen, but he does okay holding up a booze glass …”


“Paul,” Bernie warned in his most threatening voice.  “No bullshit, okay?  Just tell me how the old man’s doing.”


“Do you know what a glass of Sangria weighs? Dad can hold one in his right hand, and it’s gotta be four pounds!  No bullshit, okay?  He smiles while he offers it around too.”


“As anyone with four pounds of Sangria would smile,” Bernie muttered.  “Let’s start again.  How’s your father doing?”


I thought before speaking, and said, “He’s pretty good, and that’s for real.  I can see him being really careful not to bump his arms, and it hurts when he does bump something.  He’s good about it, though.  He’s even gone in the ocean.”


Bernie said. “Good.  That’s very good, and I expected him to heal completely from his physical injuries. Does he talk about his ordeal?”


“Not really to me,” I said.  “Mom told me to let him bring it up, but he never said much.  He said something about why he was grouchy when he came home from the hospital.  I didn’t ask Elenora or Dana about it.  They were here all along, so maybe they talked it out already.”


“He seems normal?” Bernie asked.


I laughed.  “Let me tell you something.  I have Dad thinking about educating everyone in the state of Vermont with his money.  Not college stuff, but everybody else.  I think he’s pretty wired up on it.”


“Tell me more,” Bernie said, sounding interested.


“It’s not all thought out yet,” I said.  “I think there are a million and one things people can earn a living at that don’t ask for a college degree.  What we’re thinking about are scholarships for places like truck-driving schools, and all the trades out there.  All the printers, and machine operators, and … God, I don’t know.  Restaurant workers, sales people, they all have to know something.”


“Your idea?” Bernie asked, sounding somewhat disdainful.


“Kinda,” I admitted.


After a long, uncomfortable pause, Bernie said, “Paul, let me tell you something.”


I waited.


“That’s brilliant!  It’s singularly brilliant, because you have the resources to pull it off for a long, long time.  What made you think of that?”


I mumbled, “I didn’t really think of it, it just came to me when I was thinking about nothing.  I just thought about who gets the college scholarships, where they come from, and why they get them, and kinda thought of it all upside-down; like who doesn’t get them, and why, and where the money doesn’t come from if you want to run a bulldozer or fix cars.”


Bernie started wheezing with laughter, managed to squeak out, “I’ll be okay,” in the middle, and he calmed down after a long, chuckling pause.  “Paul?” he gasped.


“I’m here,” I said.


“Remember when the kidnappers had your father, and I talked to you out in the yard?”


“I remember.”


“I was right when I told you that you are your father’s son.  I had it right then, only now I know just how right.  You really think like your father.  You take a different direction maybe, but the thought process is just the same.  Frank realizes when a bit of know-how is missing, and he fills the void, earning money along the way.  You see a huge omission in the education system, and it’s fueled by a dollar void.  Your family has the means to plug that particular hole, and I don’t think you’ll impoverish yourselves doing that.”


“Really?” I asked, almost floating on Bernie’s praise.


“Listen, Paul.  I’ve said these very words to your dad time and again, but this is for you.  It’s a brilliant and beautiful idea, not like anything I’ve heard before.  Between you and your father, you can wrap it up into something real and solid, and you can present the people of Vermont with a gift like no other.  You’re planning a no-strings approach?”


“I don’t know,” I said.  “We haven’t gone that far yet.”


“Good.  Let me into this process.  I’ll work gratis.  I don’t want to complicate things, but if you’re paying the freight, I think you have the right to know at least two things.  First that the training programs are legitimate, and have hopefully been around for some time, and then you have the right to know that any money you spend goes for the stated purpose, and not into some airhead’s peace pipe.”


I grinned at his words.  “Makes sense,” I said.  “You’ll really help?”


“Count me in,” Bernie said.  “It won’t be complicated, but checks and balances are in order.  The minute a new system shows up, people will try to scam it.  It’s a given that they’ll try, but there is no good reason to let them succeed.”


I grinned, “You know how to do that?”


“Crooks aren’t that smart.  There is other news from this end that you should hear.  I’ve already been speaking with your father.”


“What’s up?’ I asked.


“This isn’t good news, Paul.  The economy is slipping, and I’m moving as much of your money as possible into cash and equivalents.  I don’t even trust precious metals right now.  We’re doing fine so far, but this country is headed for the slow track, and if the government doesn’t take some serious measures very soon there could be real trouble ahead.”


Now I haven’t studied economics, and only know that when there’s no money in my pocket there is effectively no money period, regardless of my family’s wealth.  “What kind of trouble?” I asked.  “Do you mean like …. “


Bernie cut me off.  “There could be a recession, Paul, and we may already be slipping into it.  Things aren’t hurting yet in the big picture, but there’s enough bad news out in the private sector, and it’s getting worse.  Don’t worry about yourselves, but come November or December you’ll start to see the effects.”


“What effects?”  I asked. 


“That’s hard to say, Paul.  Companies will go under, banks may fail, people will lose jobs, and the stock market will lose value.  I can’t predict accurately in this climate, but we have to be prepared for some rough times ahead.”


I blinked and asked, ‘You’re serious?  You’re always so optimistic.”


Bernie said, “It’s already happening Paul, especially in the mortgage market.  It’s a long and complicated story, but things are starting to fall apart, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.  I’ll explain it when we can sit face-to-face, okay?”


“I’d like that,” I said.  “You say we’re okay?”


“I think so … for now anyhow.  There may actually be some opportunity for you depending on how things move.  Right now we’re looking for safe-havens, but there’s risk in everything.  I’m even thinking about fine arts.”


“Really?  You know about art?”


Bernie kind of snickered.  ‘No, but we both know who does, and I’d love to get your mother’s mind off that house she’s so worried about.”


I was surprised at that.  “You’d let Mom invest all that?”


Bernie sighed audibly.  “Paul, listen.  I know your mother can be flippant about things, but she has studied art and is very knowledgeable.  She knows contemporary things, and art, especially Dutch and Italian, from the Renaissance forward.  She’ll know future values, or at least things that can’t lose value.  You’re going to lose some money.  The game right now is to minimize the losses, and hope for some collateral gains.”


“It sounds scary,” I said.


 “Scary is what it is.  Listen, I have a client due in just a minute.  You’re pretty confident that your father is doing well?”


“He seems fine to me.  Like I said, he’s still a little sore, but he acts normal … except for Elenora.”


“What?  Don’t tease an old man, Paul.  What about Elenora?”


“Dad likes her.  He wants to marry her, but he’s kinda afraid to ask.”


Bernie’s voice softened, “Oh!  Well, let’s you and me stay away from that, okay?”


“I know.”


“He really likes her?”


I started to respond and Bernie said, “Was that a dumb question or what?  Of course he likes her!”  He paused, then added, “You stay at arm’s length, Paul, understand me?  This is adult business of the highest order, and you can lose whether you approve or disapprove.  It’s not your business, period.”


“I like Elenora,” I protested.


“That’s fine.  Let her know that; just don’t go pushing either one the way you want things to work.  Be a benign witness, Paul, and nothing else.  If you must encourage, do it with a smile, not words.  Promise me.”


“Benign witness,” I said.  “I promise.”


Bernie spoke quickly, “Good boy.  Stay out of it.  I gotta go.  We’ll get together soon to talk.  You don’t have to mention this call to anyone.”


“I won’t,” I said, but Bernie had hung up.


When I hung up, I realized the breeze had stopped and I was getting sweaty, so I abandoned the view for the cooler temperature of the suite.  Of course, as soon as I opened the door into my bedroom, the difference between the outside and inside temperatures was enough to create a private breeze.


As soon as I was inside, I decided I didn’t want to be there, and changed into a bathing suit. I put my shirt back on unbuttoned, made sure I had my card-key, and rode the elevator downstairs.  I saw Elenora’s parents in the lobby talking to Hector.  Hector saw me, but gave no sign of recognition, so I kept going out to the pool.  I stopped at the towel place to see Claire.


Claire grinned when I walked up, and said, “Hi, Paul. I figured I’d get busy when the wind died.  It gets hot fast.”


“I’ll say,” I said.  “Just two towels, okay?  I’m gonna hang around the pool.”


She smiled and got me towels, asking, “Are you staying for the beach party?”


“I don’t know,” I said, interested.  “This is the first I’ve heard.  Where is it?”


“All around you,” Claire said, with a sweep of her arm.


When I looked, there were trolleys of tables and chairs, and people setting up what looked like a tiki hut on the beach side of the pool.  “Wow!  What is it, like music and dancing?”


“And more, sweetie,” Claire beamed at me. She asked, “Do you, by any chance, like oysters?”


“I love oysters.”


“Have you ever had oysters cooked over an open flame, with barbecue sauce and bits of bacon and peppers on top?”


I put my towels back on the counter, and leaned my elbows on them, cradling my chin in my hands.  “Tell me more.”


She leaned close.  “It’s a feast, Paul.”  She pointed behind me, “They’re roasting a pig over yonder, but they’ll make everything else to order.”  She tweaked my nose, which made me giggle, and said, “You are in for a real treat, mister.  There are two bands tonight.  One is soft-rock, and the other is all island music.”  Claire leaned close to me.  “This weather is perfect, too.  These parties are best in the heat of a still night, you’ll see.”


Reality bit me right then, and I thought I’d probably miss everything.  “I don’t know.  My dad probably already made plans.”


Claire looked doubtful, “Oh?  They’ve come to every other one.  Why would they go somewhere else?”


That gave me some hope.  “Really?  Nobody really talked about going anywhere, so maybe we will stay here.”


Claire smiled, “Nobody told you about the party, did they?  Don’t worry.  Once the band starts, nobody leaves, and when the grills start up, people come from all along the beach.”


I was sweating again, so I thanked Claire and went over to the pool.  Hotel crews were actively setting things up for the party by then, and it was clear to me that it was routine work for them.  They moved fast, with a crew of four setting up tables, which consisted of pulling the legs out and locking them. Others followed with tablecloths, linens, chairs, silverware, and floral centerpieces.  There was another crew setting up a cooking area while still others erected a palm-frond structure around it.


I watched the activity for a minute.  Then I found a lounge at the pool, dropped my things, and jumped in.


Perfect.  There was an older couple cooling off in one end, but I had the rest of the pool to myself. I pushed off, closed my eyes, and floated on my back.  It’s not a big pool, so I had no concern about where I was headed.


For no good reason, the song ‘Jambalaya’ started going through my mind, almost like I could hear it.  That’s a simple song that I seemed to have a recurring history with, in that somebody would be singing it no matter where I was.  I’d heard it in the South, of course, but also at Disney in Paris, in Bali at a hotel, and also in St. Petersburg, Russia in another hotel.  I even had a favorite: this guy at a festival in Tennessee who had the perfect voice and demeanor for the song.


Goodbye Joe

Me gotta go



I think that’s Cajun speak, but the song makes me smile every time, even in Balinese.


It was going around and around in my head, and I only came out of my happy reverie when I was double-splashed from two sides at once.  I expected to see Gretchen’s brothers, but it was Gretchen and Dana laughing at me.


I stood up and smiled at them.  “Thank you very much.  I just had country music in my head, and that’s not normal.”


Gretchen said, “Oh, we love your country music. You don’t?”


“I like it,” Dana said, and I didn’t know the truth there.  All we had ever agreed on was TSO, and I don’t think we’d been around much music since then.  I figured he was playing to Gretchen, so I said no more.


Instead, I asked Dana, “Did you know there’s a party out here tonight?”


He looked at me.  “It’s Saturday.  There one every other week,” then his look softened.  “Nobody told you?”


“It’s good?” I asked.


“Ho, yeah it’s good.  It’s real good.  Good everything.  You ever have grilled pineapple?”


“You’re serious?” I asked, thinking it sounded weird but wonderful.


“Yeh for sure.  Oh man, the food they put out is fantastic.  And the music!  It’s jungle drums, Paul.  It’ll stay in your head forever.  Just sittin’ out here with the ocean and the palms, the music going, and food everywhere.”  He looked me in the eye and said, “We don’t go out on beach party nights.  Everything happens here.”


“Your grandparents?”


“I don’t think they’re crazy, Paulie.  They’ll stay because the rest of us stay.  If they’re as smart as I hear, they’ll stay anyhow, because they want to.”  He smirked.


I laughed, “You have them pegged, huh?”


Dana shrugged, “I don’t know.  I think I have fifteen years of Mom in the way, but I like them so far.  I just met them.”


Just then I heard the bang of a drumstick on skin, and the thump of a bass.  I looked to where the sound had come from, and there was a band setting up on a platform sheltered by a frame, with palm fronds covering it.


That had all appeared since I jumped in the pool, and there was a crowd gathering as I looked around.  “Where do we sit?” I asked Dana.


“We have a table.  Let’s go sit, now that I think of it.  If someone steals it, Dad won’t start a war to get it back.”


We were near the side of the pool, and we pulled ourselves out of the water and sat on the edge to dry off some before going in separate directions to find our towels.


When I was as dry as I was going to get, I put my shirt on, unbuttoned, pulled my Danamat hat low to avoid the glare of the lowering sun, and slipped into my sandals.  I brought my towels back to the hut, where Claire had been replaced by a guy with a ‘Lou’ badge, and dumped them into the dirty towel bin.  I went looking for my family, and my first stop at the bar was a good move.


Dad was sitting at the bar, laughing at whatever Elenora’s mother was telling him.  Elenora and her father were at a table, having what looked to be a serious conversation.  I was distracted by a big voice calling, “Paulie!  Come.  Come here.”


When I looked, it was Gretchen’s father, sitting at a long table with his wife, and the two boys were at a small, round table beside them.  I went over smiling, and asked, “What’s up?” when I got there.


“Just sit,” Heinrich said.  “This place is more full, and we must defend our space.”  I smiled at his language, and noticed that both the long table and the round one had two signs each.  One said ‘Kromer’ and the other ‘Dunn’.


I looked at Heinrich, confused.  He pointed to the far end of the table from him, and the opposite side.  “Sit there.  Don’t let …”


He didn’t know the words, but I knew what he meant.  Don’t let anyone steal a seat.  I sat where he said, and within two minutes some guy and his lady sat down opposite me.


I said, “That seat’s taken,” and pointed to the little signs on the table. 


He picked up the sign closest to him and dropped it in the sand beside him.  “It’s taken by us.” 


The guy was forty-something, big, wearing a tank top and about four pounds of gold.  “Is that a problem?” he sneered.


I was intimidated for sure, but not frightened.  “If you’re some long-lost relative, then say so.  Is your name Dunn?  Kromer?”


The lady said, “Let’s go,” but the guy just glared at me.


“My name is Fuck You!  How’s that?  It’s first-come, first-serve here.  Everyone knows that.  We paid the fifty bucks, so stuff it.”


“Everyone?” I asked, as Hector walked up behind the guy, with four men I knew to be hotel security behind him.


The guy saw my eyes, and sensed their presence, and started to stand and turn around at the same time.  Hector grabbed his head on both sides with his hands and turned it back toward me, forcing the guy back down in his chair.  Hector hissed “Don’t look at me.  Don’t ever look at me.  Take your things and go.  Find another seat, and consider some reading lessons.  Understand?”


The guy glared his hatred at me, and Hector did something else that made him nod is head in submission.


“Go, then,” Hector said.  “I’m here every day, and I already don’t like you.  Got that?”


The guy nodded again, glumly, and Hector told him to put the sign back where he found it, and get lost.  


I watched that guy obey.  He picked the sign up, put it on the table, and he and his lady walked away in a sudden rush to be somewhere else.  When I turned to thank Hector, nobody was there.


I looked at the other end of the table, and it was clear that Heinrich and his wife hadn’t noticed a thing.  I waved meekly at them and went back to my vigil, wishing I’d come later to the party.


The band started a song on the other side of the pool, and our table was suddenly full.  Rhod had come and sat beside me, but we lost our seats.  We were a non-couple, and the couples took up the entire table, so we ended up with the little Kromer kids, Werner and Arnold.


It wasn’t a punishment, just a seating arrangement, and I didn’t mind.  When everyone was there, it was a happy enough mix.  Gretchen and Dana had the far end of the big table, which I had just so valiantly defended.


The band was really good, and started off playing acoustic things while people visited the various buffet stations.  I didn’t want to stand in long lines for food, and wasn’t exactly starving anyhow.  Werner and Arnold wanted to go for their food right away, so their parents relented and took them around.  I moved over to the seat vacated by Mrs. Kromer, which put me between my father and Anthony Morasutti, and opposite an empty seat, but diagonal to Elenora and her mother.  I smiled at Elenora, who looked great in a lime green and peach something.  It may have been dyed mosquito netting, but probably not.  It still played great with her tan, and the little bit of shiny that she allowed herself: small, golden earrings right then.


I smiled at her and asked, “Will you dance with me later?”


Elenora arched her eyebrows and smiled back, “Why wait for later?  I like what they’re playing right now.”


I did, too.  I stood, and took her hand when I rounded the table.  The hotel staff had cleared the pool area on the far side from us, right in front of the band, but we danced between the planters on our side of the water.


We got there just for the end of the song the band was playing, so we waited for the next one.  We were the first ones, but one by one, other couples joined us, including my father with Elenora’s mother, Dana and Gretchen, Rhod’s parents, and Elenora’s father, who watched us with a contented look on his face, but nobody to dance with himself.


When the next song started, Elenora almost swooned.  “Stones!  Oh, I love this song.”


I hadn’t heard it before, but I liked it just for the lyrics: 


I’m not waiting on a lady.

I’m just waiting on a friend.


I’m glad that my father came to dance, too, because the song was somewhere between slow and fast, and I waited to see what Dad did first, and I did the same.  It turned out that the song wasn’t particularly danceable, but it wasn’t very long either.  The band made up for it immediately when a fiddle started a Cajun bit.  I can do the two-step, and Elenora did it with gusto, so we had some real fun.


I was totally surprised when there was a tap on my shoulder.  I thought it would be my father, but it was Elenora’s father.  The look on his face was so hopeful that I thanked Elenora and stepped back.  I was going to watch them, but there was another tap on my shoulder.  When I turned, Mrs. Morassutti smiled and asked, “May I have this next dance?”


The next song was a slow instrumental, mostly piano and guitar, and the fiddle player was now a violinist, and he played a beautiful, sad-sounding

solo in the middle.  I was listening closely, and hardly knew I was dancing, but when it ended Mrs. Morassutti kissed my forehead and said, “You’re a wonderful dancer, Paul.  Thank you so much.”


I smiled and thanked her in turn.  I looked around and the lines were down at the food stations, so I decided I was hungry, announced that to everyone, and went back to the table to ask what was good.


Wrong crowd.  The Kromers are wonderful people, but they only seemed to find merit in the beans, pig, and sausages.  I left to forage on my own, and walked around first to see what was there.  I stopped in my tracks when I saw oysters, and the little sign said they were broiled in sour cream and topped with garlic-seasoned breading.


I didn’t even have a tray, but I picked up a plate and took six of those little darlings back to my table to eat while they were still hot. 


Dad has a good friend in Boston who often wonders aloud about the first person to eat a clam or an oyster, and what motivated him to try it, and he can go on and on.  I don’t wonder: I’m just grateful.  My wonder is reserved for all the ways oysters and clams can be prepared, and still be wonderful.


One time I was in Key West with Mom and Ally, and I had an all-oyster dinner at this place called the Turtle Kraals.  Raw oysters for starters, then barbecued ones, followed by Oysters Rockefeller.  Three dozen I ate, and I’d already had a dozen raw ones for a snack at sunset.


I don’t know who thought of broiling oysters in sour cream, with garlicky bead crumbs on top, but he’ll have my vote if he ever runs for some office.


Properly appetized, and with Dana now leading me and Gretchen, we checked out the wonders that awaited us.  I took some grilled ham with grilled pineapple, some rice, and six each of raw oysters and clams, and a handful of stone crab claws.  Dana got ham, raw-looking roast beef, and roasted potatoes, with a whole loaf of garlic bread.


When I begged, Dana gave me a few pieces of the garlic bread.  It was the real thing, with browned garlic, butter, olive oil, and grated cheese on both sides of each slice.  That surprised me, because it had always been my experience that, outside of New England and New York, garlic bread was made with margarine and garlic powder instead of real food.


Even though I was pretty full, I remembered the grilled oysters that Claire had mentioned, and left to find them, and I was glad I did.  There were two cooks making them on request.  One guy was shucking the oysters very expertly, saving the juice in a bowl, and leaving the oyster meat on the half-shell.  The other one took the raw oyster, spooned on some of the juice, a little spoonful of barbecue sause,  a good dollop of casino butter, and added some bits of raw bacon, and bits of red peppers.  He put the other half of the shell loosely on top, and put them six at a time onto a grill.  After about a minute, the fats inside the oyster shell started to bubble out, causing flames to envelop them, and the chef popped the top shells off with a spatula.  He allowed the flames to cook and scorch the oysters for another minute, and scooped them onto a plate with the spatula.


He was a busy man, because there were six or eight orders on the grill the whole time I was there waiting.  He never missed a beat, and I marveled at his dexterity.  He assembled the oysters with his left hand and tended the grill with his right, and still managed to talk to the people he was serving.


Those oysters were wonderful, too, and I considered a second helping.  They were rich, though, and I was very full.  By then, the island band had started, and Dana’s jungle drums had me going before I noticed.


Before a thought had fully formed in my mind, Claire from the towel dispensary was standing there, demanding that I dance with her.


I did.  Oh Lord, I did.


That music, which seemed louder and louder and more persistent by the second, was perfect on a hot, windless night, just like Claire promised.  Jungle drums, like Dana said.  I sweated out bullets and had the time of my life dancing, soaked through my clothes like everyone else.


The scene was made for the climate, I think.  There were no flashing blue lights like you’d see in a city.  Instead, there were tiki torches everywhere, and the few spotlights were yellow, orange and red.  It was like the surface of the sun itself.


It seemed like everyone there was dancing, too.  Claire moved off after awhile, but I was never without a partner, and never slowed down.


When that band announced their break, I got a glass of water from the bar and stayed right there, as wired as I’d ever been in my life.


When the other band came out, I ran up and asked the girl singer if they knew Jambalaya.  I say girl, but she was probably thirty.  She smiled and nodded, saying “Oh, yeah.  We’ll work it in there.”


I went back to our table feeling kind of breathless.  Everyone except Elenora’s father looked like I felt:  happy, sweaty, and very much alive.  And hot!  Oh, it was a hot night, and even at the ocean’s edge there was no breeze at all.  The tiki torches were burning straight up with nary a flicker, and I could smell the kerosene that fueled them.


No matter.  It was the heat that made the moment, and brought intensity to everything around me.  It was hot, and the torches and the lights made it even hotter.  There were people everywhere with eyes glittering in the ever-changing light.


The band started again, with all drums at first.  It sounded like too much, so I stood to see, and everyone from both bands was there with a drum of some sort, and the beat was intense: irresistible.  Dana had gone to the bathroom, so I held my hand out to Gretchen, and we slinked our butts through the crowd around the pool to dance right in front of the band, where it was the loudest.  It was just drums pounding a single, intense rhythm for another minute, and then a bass came in, followed by a piano, then a harmonica.  They pumped along for another minute, and stopped abruptly for a second.


Then it started, and I laughed with joy while I demonstrated the two-step to Gretchen, who was also laughing.


Goodbye Joe,

Me gotta go,

Me oh my oh


I laughed and danced with abandon, and they played that song with their unique rhythm for at least another five minutes.  When it finally ended, Gretchen and I applauded wildly before, with an understanding look at each other, we fell backwards into the pool to cool off.


When my ears cleared the surface, people were cheering the bands, but the show was over.   I was disappointed, but it made sense.  I happened to like the music that night, but I’d been places where I didn’t like it at all, yet they played to late hours, keeping the whole hotel and surrounding area awake even though there was no audience. 


That night, it was nine-thirty, and it’s a family hotel, so the music moved indoors to the lounge.


A few of the torches stayed lit, and there was ice cream at the bar for anyone who wanted some.  We all stayed at our table just to wire down and cool off.


It was surprising to me that everyone calmed down so quickly, and just sat about talking.  Gretchen’s young brothers were allowed some ice cream before their mother brought them up to their room.  She said she wanted to sort their things for packing, and wouldn’t be back.


Mr. Kromer followed shortly, and then Elenora’s parents said good-night.  Elenora hugged them both, and turned back toward the table with a shiny reflection in her eyes, her lip quivering noticeably, but she managed a very happy little smile.


Rhod left for the bar when his parents went in, and Dana said he was going for a walk with Gretchen.  I stood up thinking I’d take a walk myself, only in the other direction.


My father and Elenora stood when I did, and they seemed aware of what Dana and Gretchen might do.  Dad warned, “Don’t swim in the ocean.  I saw a shark out there earlier.”


Elenora smiled at Dad, and added gently, “Yes, the last thing we need is for you to get in trouble just before we leave.”


I looked away to hid my grin.  That was a nice way for Elenora to put it, and Dana took it the way it was meant.  He said softly, “Don’t worry.  We won’t.”


They headed north, so I turned south.  I hadn’t gone that way all week.  There didn’t seem to be any more large hotels in that direction, but there were a handful of motels that looked nice enough.


Hector showed up beside me before I’d gone far, of course, and warned, “Don’t go too far this way, amigo.”


“What’s wrong with this way?”  I asked.


Hector put his hand on my shoulder and said, “There’s a tough group down here.  If the word is out that you got their buddy busted, they might want to do you harm.”


I was confused.  “I didn’t get anybody busted.”


“No, he got himself in trouble, but that guy who tried to sit at your table ended up in jail tonight.”


That didn’t compute with me, and I stopped walking to look at Hector.  “Jail?  What for?  I mean, he was a creep and a dickhead, but all he did was try to steal seats.”


Hector explained, “In the lobby, he kicked over a plant and broke the vase, and then got loud and abusive.  The police were called, and they are always very close by for these parties.”


I nodded, and turned around, back toward our hotel.  I didn’t want to meet that guy’s friends, not even with Hector.


“I saw you surfing this afternoon.  You learned fast,” Hector said.


“I know,” I said happily.  “I can’t believe it.  Last night I was scared shitless by those waves.  Did you see Dana?”


“Oh yeah,” Hector said.  “He’s really some kind of athlete.”


We were back at the hotel, and I asked, “Will I see you tomorrow before we go?”


“I’ll be here until that plane is in the air.”  He put his big hand on my shoulder again and said, “I’ve called you my amigo since the first day, but now it’s really true.  You’re my friend, Paul.  I really like you.”


I looked up and smiled at him.  He was my friend too, and I decided to scheme up ways to get my father to hire him full-time.


We shook hands at the elevator, and Hector stayed until the door closed.  I gave him a little wave just before he disappeared, and rode up alone.


I went straight to my shower to clean up.  After that I glanced at the deck, which was inviting, but when I looked at my big bed there was no contest.  I pulled on a dry pair of shorts, opened the slider partway, turned the lights off, and dove into bed.


I think I died on contact, but it was a good death: the kind you remember.


It didn’t last, though. “Paul?  Paul, wake up!”


When I fell into bed, the clock said something after ten.  When I blinked my eyes open, it was one something, and the light was on in the room.  “Huh?” was my best response.


Dana sat on my bed, opposite from where I was grasping for sleep.  “This was the best night, Paul.  I never … I don’t know.  The party, all that food.  And Gretchen!  I just can’t believe this is all in my life, and it’s for real.  Guess what?”


I came to on that, a little bit.  “What?


“Me and Gretchen!”


I groaned, “What did you do?  I thought you were abstaining.”


Dana looked at me and said softly, “You idiot.  She gave me her email address, and I don’t know how to do it.  Gretchen said if I send her a mail and she writes back, that we’ll have the addresses in the computer.  Is that true?”


“You woke me up about email? “


Dana looked at me warily, but nodded.  “We need to do it before she leaves.”  His voice softened, “Help me?”


I wasn’t all that willing, really, but pushed off the covers and kind of slid out of bed until I was sitting on the side.  “Is the computer on?” I asked.


Dana nodded, so I said, “Go log in.  I have to pee.”


I was surprised with Dana’s grin, and he said, “There’s a joke about that, you know.”


I grumbled, “Yeah, piss jokes.  Real funny.”


“That’s not the joke,” Dana said, but he got up and left, so I went to the bathroom.  Twenty minutes later Dana was happily writing a note to Gretchen after both addresses were confirmed, and I went back to bed.


Dana couldn’t type, and it took him several seconds to say ‘hi’ to Gretchen.  I had a keyboarding class back in sixth grade, but I won’t claim to be a typist myself.  I know where the letters are, though, and get by with my two-finger style.  Dana would figure it out if anyone ever would.  He learned mountains, which are wild, so a tame little computer would be easy.


I was getting a little stiff again from all the exercise, but I fell asleep smiling.