If you wonder what she is taking a picture of… it is this:
To catch the train home from work, Wilbur Jamison had to walk through an underpass beneath a busy thoroughfare to reach the platform. A train pulled in as he started down the stairs into the urine scented concrete tunnel – he knew he would just miss this one and have to wait for the next. A handful of young men vaulted the fence – baggy pants and all – and dashed through the honking cars to make the train. Wilbur wouldn’t… couldn’t vault and dash – he would have to wait.
There were two metal seats at the place where the train doors would open in a half hour. Wilbur plopped down on one to catch his breath after struggling up the steep concrete stairs from the underpass tunnel.
The other seat had a hamburger on it. Wilbur looked around to see if it belonged to anybody – there was no one on his side of the platform (the train had left only seconds before, after all). He was alone except for some man in a P-Diddy T-shirt and the most ridiculous pair of embroidered and bejeweled denim shorts he had ever seen. The man was screaming into a cell phone on the other side – across the tracks – waiting for a northbound.
The hamburger on the seat next to Wilbur sat in the exact center of a round foam plate. It had one generous, neat, semi-circular bite taken out of it. Wilbur figured it had been abandoned when a train pulled up – eating is not allowed on public transport. It appeared to be a plain hamburger. Nothing, no lettuce, tomato, pickles – not even a stain of ketchup or mustard – was visible in the exposed edge of the missing crescent. Wilbur thought that there could, however, be a thin careful application of unknown condiments in the center, hidden by the bun.
Wilbur considered getting up and throwing the food into the trash container a few feet farther down the platform. He thought of himself as being socially reliable and liked to think about doing small acts of responsibility and kindness unacknowledged by the rest of the world.
He thought about this, but before he could gather the momentum to get up and move another commuter, a large man accompanied by a young girl, pushed the plate and the hamburger off the metal seat, swatted the air a few times and then sat down with a grunt. Wilbur was surprised; he had not seen the man and girl walk up.
Wilbur frowned. The man had not properly disposed of the hamburger and plate – it was now wedged under the frame of the large advertising sign behind the little seat. He didn’t like this lack of concern on the part of his fellow commuter, but he didn’t say anything. He pulled a dog-eared paperback out of a jacket pocket and began to read until his train came and he boarded.
Two train stops down the line, a woman climbed on board and sat down on the bench next to Wilbur. She was wearing thin, ill-fitting black slacks and some sort of ratty brown striped Rayon uniform/smock. She had a black plastic visor with the white initials “WH” painted on it. Her large yellow plastic badge said “WAFFLE HOUSE – MARLENE.”
She had been smoking on the platform when Wilbur had spotted her out of the train window. She had leaned over and snuffed the cigarette out on a light pole and now that she was seated on the train had pulled out a weathered pack of Camels from somewhere and was carefully replacing the half cigarette back in the pack.
She had to concentrate to get the Camel into the package while the train was accelerating away from the platform and starting to sway. She scrunched up her face paying attention to her task and that brought out a tight maze of small wrinkles framed by her thin short blonde hair and the black plastic eyeshade. Wilbur felt he could read this labyrinth – thought he could see the echoes of decade after decade of struggle – of desire and disappointment – of unwilling denial that mirrored his own.
Wilbur had never spoken to a stranger on the train before, but after five minutes the pressure became too great. He became deathly afraid that she would get off at the next stop and he would never see her again.
“Uhh, Hi Marlene… I’m Wilbur,” was the best he could muster.
“Oh, How did you know my name? Do I know you?” She looked confused.
“No,” he said, gesturing to her badge.
“Of course,” she said with a little chuckle, “I forgot. Pleased to meet you.”
So they chatted until Wilbur’s stop. She was getting off the night shift, he was starting the day. They shook hands as Wilbur stood to leave.
It wasn’t hard for Wilbur to find the Waffle House close to Marlene’s train stop. It was even easier to learn her schedule and to time his commute so he was on the train waiting for her. He started getting to the station extra early, letting a train or even two go past, waiting for the proper time. He would make sure the seat next to him was open, no matter how crowded the car was.
Marlene began looking forward to seeing Wilbur waiting on the car. Every now and then she would be late getting out of work or the schedules would slide and Wilbur would catch the wrong train and they would miss each other. Wilbur would go through the day in a dark funk and Marlene would have a hard time sleeping that day, though she had worked third shift for most of her life, whenever that happened.
They traded favorite paperbacks, Marlene started bringing Wilbur lunches from the Waffle House, and finally Wilbur summoned enough courage to ask her out to a movie. He had a car, a nice one, really, though it had a lot of miles on it. He only took the train to work to save on parking.
Marlene slept while Wilbur worked so their schedules worked out pretty well together. They would go to a couple of movies on the weekends and try for a nice dinner on Wednesdays.
Wilbur decided to ask Marlene to his house for dinner after a movie one weekend. His only son lived in Japan and had stopped even writing to him years before and nobody other than himself had set foot in his house in the decade since his wife had passed away. He asked a neighbor for a recommendation and hired a woman to come in to clean the place. He kept a simple, neat house, that fit in with all the others in the suburb, but not one that was spotless. He had never learned how to do that.
He drove to Marlene’s second floor studio apartment to pick her up. She appeared at the door carrying a small overnight bag. Wilbur was so nervous and excited during the movie that he never could remember what they saw.
Later that night, not long after he had brought her to his house, Marlene silently removed her clothes.
“Well, here it is,” she said with a combination of regret, excitement, and acceptance.
Wilbur gasped. She looked as if a bite had been taken off the top part of her body – a pink arc from one shoulder across the tops of her breasts on up to the other shoulder. Another arc cut across her legs – from one hip down to mid-thigh and then curving back up to the other hip. Everything else between these two arcs, her entire torso, was completely covered in complex colorful, dense, intertwined tattoos.
“Oh my God!” It escaped his lips before he could get control of his amazement.
“I’m sorry – I should have said something… I should have.”
“No, no, Don’t apologize. I think they… it’s… you’re the most beautiful thing I’ve seen… in a long, long time.”
“I’m sure you’re wondering where, why… well… it was like….”
“No! Stop! Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. I don’t ever want to know. Don’t ever tell me.”
Marlene shrugged. She seemed more than a little relieved.
“Fine with me,” she said.
Eventually, Marlene quit her job at the Waffle House and gave up her apartment, moving in with Wilbur. The neighbors barely noticed. It took her a while to get used to a usual schedule, sleeping at night, after having worked third shift for so long, but she was glad to work at it.
Wilbur had saved up a lot of vacation over the years and they began to travel. They started out with weekend driving trips close to home and gradually worked up to international voyages. They particularly liked traveling by cruise ship – Marlene enjoyed the shore excursions and Wilbur preferred the luxury on the boat.
Wilbur liked to lie next to Marlene and trace the intertwined designs across her skin, to try and separate each one out. He would make up little silly stories about each one and Marlene would laugh at his imagination. A few times she wanted to tell him the real story about her tattoos but Wilbur would not let her say anything. They were a mystery and he wanted to keep it that way. They were his mysteries and he liked the thought of having something so wonderful and strange belonging to him alone.
Marlene was almost as alone as Wilbur, but not quite. She had a beloved old aunt that lived in Toledo, Ohio. Marlene received word that her aunt had fallen sick and she went up there to tend to her. She was gone for two months and Wilbur missed her terribly, but they talked on the phone every night, and that made it better.
Finally, Marlene’s aunt regained her strength and she flew back home. Wilbur met her at the airport and they drove home. Wilbur carried her luggage into the house.
“I’ve got something to show you,” Wilbur said.
“Oh, you didn’t have to.”
“I’ll give you the present I bought for you later, but this is different, it’s something I did while you were gone.”
“Something you did?” Marlene was confused, and a little nervous.
Wilbur turned his back on Marlene and pulled his shirt off over his head. There, angling across his back, was a large, complex red dragon. Marlene knew ink like that could not be done in one visit, knew that Wilbur must have been waiting for her to be gone for an extensive time to get this dragon done. She also knew how much it must have hurt.
It was an expert job; the colors were bright and the detailing crisp. The dragon was a Japanese design, she had seen it before. The dragon was long and scaled, with several pairs of legs, and it was curved around, almost tying itself in knots. It seemed to pulse and seethe across Wilbur’s back. She moved in to look closer and snapped on a bright lamp to see better. The dragon was holding something – something clamped firmly in its foremost claws.
“The dragon is holding something,” she said.
“It sure is.”
She looked even closer. “Is that a hamburger? A hamburger with a bite out of it?”
“It sure is,” Wilbur said.
When we first visited Balmorhea, it was like the start of this video – we were crossing the blasted desert looking at the red tornados of dust devils. Suddenly, there was a dive shop, and then the incredible pool of San Solomon Springs.
I wrote in July of 2000:
We drove the Interstate to Pecos and then turned south towards the distant blue wiggly line of the Davis Mountains. Watching the mountains grow, we drove through the most isolated and blasted looking territory yet. Nick and Lee were delighted by the enormous dust devils that the sun spawned across the desiccated fields. Looking like brick-red tornadoes these wandered across the flatlands. We drove through one and it was powerful enough to worry me about the trailer pulling behind, but it only gave the van a good shove and didn’t cause any real problems.
It was an easy drive and by mid-afternoon we arrived at Balmorhea. The park there is an oasis in the desert edged up against the foothills of the Davis Mountains. The rain that falls in the highlands percolates down and emerges from an artesian spring, cold and clear. Back in the thirties, the government took the wild spring and built a gigantic Y-shaped concrete swimming pool. The parks boasts the swimming pool, a nice little hotel, a recently constructed desert wetlands – the San Solomon springs Cienega (labor supplied by the Texas Department of Corrections) that provides habitat for two endangered species of tiny fish( the Comanche Springs Pupfish and the Pecos Gambusa), and a loop of nice little campsites each with its own quaint little fake-adobe shelter.
I had one of the most frightening experiences of my life the next day at that pool in Balmorhea.
From my journal, July 3, 2000:
We came back down to Balmorhea in the late afternoon and decided to go swimming. We talked to Lee about his fear of the fish in the pool and, as I suspected, it was mostly that he was tired and hungry yesterday. Some rest and some food and he was ready to hit the water.
He didn’t really do any swimming. What he preferred to do was to put on his goggles and stretch across his inflatable inner tube and let me swim and pull the tube around the big pool. He’d take a deep breath and stick his head into the water and look at the bottom. The pool is very large and there was a lot to look at. He would have requests like, “Swim me over to that end,” or “let’s go out to the deep part,” and I’d oblige. He’d plunge his face and come up with a report of what he saw: a school of fish, or some rocks, or a turtle, or a place where some kids had inscribed their names into the algae growing on the bottom.
After the crowded holiday that day before, only a handful of swimmers and some scuba divers were there. As I pulled Lee around Nick dove off the high board and swam until it was his turn. Lee wrapped in a towel and walked back to the campsite. Nicholas put on his goggles and I started swimming him around on his tube. We went into the deep end to try and spot the place where the copious flow of water erupted in a bed of white bubbling sand.
We came up against the stairs on the far side. I was getting tired and cold, the spring water is very chilly, it was late, I’d been swimming a long time and it was taking its toll. I asked Nick if we should walk back, around the pool or swim across. We did have his inner tube – I felt confident we could make it across one more time. We decided to swim. It was a mistake.
Nick looped his goggles around one shoulder and took hold of one side of the tube while I grabbed the other and we started to swim. Not too far from the side, but at the deepest part, maybe thirty feet deep, Nick called out, “Oh, oh, there go my goggles.” In retrospect I should have let them sink; but I took a big gulp of air and took off underwater, diving as deep and as quickly as I could. Maybe twenty feet down I saw a sinking orange blur, frog-kicked over to the goggles and grabbed them. Then I swam back up to the surface.
When you start reaching well into your forties, like I am, there is a fundamental change in the relationship between you and your body. What has been a good friend over the years, a partner, something you are… well, attached to – suddenly turns traitor. Abilities you have taken for granted for decades disappear. No one tells you about this. As a youth I could swim underwater with the ease and comfort of walking across a field. I took this for granted, the ability to hold my breath, come up for air and refresh myself. I discovered tired, and cold, and old, and fat… this is no longer true.
When I came up and handed Nicholas his goggles and put one hand on the inner tube and started kicking and swimming I realized that I was not going to be able to catch my breath. It came on with awful speed. No matter how hard I tried, my breathing became more and more labored, shallower, moving my arms and legs in the cold spring water was becoming extremely difficult.
It was horrifying.
With amazing clarity of thought, I knew I was not going to drown. I did have that inner tube for a float, even though I was rapidly becoming so weak I could barely hold on to it. There were some scuba divers in the pool that had finished diving and were sitting on the steps talking over the day’s sights and I knew I could call to them and they would haul me out of the pool. I came within a hair’s breadth of doing that.
The main fear I had was I thought I might be having a heart attack. I had never felt like this before. There was no pain, but I simply could not breathe, I could not get enough oxygen into my body to keep my arms and legs moving.
I don’t know what Nicholas thought, holding on to the other side of the inner tube, my son’s face only a few inches from mine. I must have scared him a little because I know I was flopping more than I should, trying to hook my arm into the tube and was unable to get it done. I didn’t want to frighten him unnecessarily so I kept my rising fears to myself.
Slowly, we continued to move across the wide pool, and finally I was able to reach down with a toe and touch the bottom. That didn’t help as much as you’d think because I was too weak to stand in the water and the energy used to hop and get my face above water made my breathing more impossible. Finally, the floor became shallower and shallower and before I knew it I was on the steps.
I released the tube and the brisk wind blew it away. “Could somebody get that please,” I asked, and a scuba diver caught it with a couple strong sure strokes and brought it back to me.
I didn’t have to sit beside the pool for very long before I felt fine. The fear and panic quickly drained away and left me with a slight elation even though I was still a little tired. I told Nicholas to take his towel and walk back to the popup at the campsite, I’d catch up in a minute.
Looking back on it now, I realize what I was feeling, in addition to simple exhaustion, was hypothermia. The spring water was cold and I had been in it for hours. There had been no pain, but I had felt a thin sliver away from death.
Walking slowly back to the camp, enjoying the last purple glow of the set sun, following the channels that the water followed as it coursed out of the pool, roaring down the irrigation ditches on out of the park, I felt fine. But the memory of those minutes of fear, the feeling of helplessness and drowning, are still with me. I had never felt like that before and I don’t look forward to feeling like that again.
- Turn off all technology for 60 minutes a day
- Don’t check your email first thing in the morning.
- Start your day with exercise.
- Be obedient to the sabbath!
- Learn to say no.
- Plan your week ahead.
- Don’t answer your phone every time it rings.
- Get up early.
- Go to bed early.
- Eat a big healthy breakfast.
- Clean out your closets. Get rid of things you never wear or don’t use anymore.
- Stop watching TV.
- Make sure you plan a decent holiday break once a year.
- Learn to protect your time.
- Do your banking online.
- Use Evernote.
- Supporting Trait
- Fatal Flaw
I may be a loser and an idiot, but at least I’m not like this:
Isn’t that the point of a maize maze? Aren’t you supposed to get lost? I went to one once, with two kids, and it was a little disconcerting – but I was also aware that at any time I could walk through the corn if I had to.
OK, I hate Martha Stewart as much as you do… actually I hate her more, because I actually have a reason to be pissed at her. If you ask me nice, some day I’ll tell you about it.
In the meantime, she may be a nasty little piece of work, but she does know how to:
- Single Task
- Exercise Your Brain
- Pulse and Pause
- Drop Certainty Anchors
One of Lee’s friends told us about a pet that I had never heard about. Micro-Pigs.
Seems like a good idea, I suppose…. Isn’t that where Bacon Bits come from?
I have been playing around with my camera. I want to try a technique – actually a set of techniques – to paint with light. These are not finished attempts, just preliminary studies to see what the possibilities are.
When I was a little kid I used to read Popular Science and Popular Mechanics like they were the word from God. There was an article where you would set a camera down in the dark, open the shutter, and swing a light over the top of it, making a pattern. It’s a lot easier now, with a digital camera, because you can see what comes out right away – instead of having to develop the film. You can play around.
A couple of test shots with a small flashlight hanging from a ceiling fan.
Working on adding a little color
Next, I want to go outside at night and experiment with “painting” on objects. I actually tried that, but my neighborhood has too much ambient light – plus all the dogs go nuts. I need to think about this a bit more.
A new version of Video Games by Lana Del Rey