Monday, December 31, 2018

Last Hours of 2018

This morning began more energetically than most. Seeing what I imagined was a slight stain on the bathroom sink mat, after my shower I gathered it up together with whatever other bathroom and clothing textiles were at hand and threw them into the laundry tub. This seemingly small act of gusto was in fact a triumph of planning because in this old condominium building the washer and dryer are communal for each floor. One is never assured to have free rein of the devices.

Breakfast was strong black coffee, sliced green apple, ham slices, American cheese, filet mignon and honeycomb.  While munching and sipping (and waiting for the wash to end) I read "The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B" (1968) by JP Donleavy.  The book contains endless images and icons with which I identify, among them the horrors of boarding school, Avenue Foch in Paris and citron pressé, large automobiles, cuff links and silk scarves, Marmite, sherry, lasciviousness generally, charming young ladies (with preposterous relatives), silly boyhood friends reminiscent of Prince Hal and Falstaff, cigars, oil paintings and silver salt cellars, mahogany dining room tables, staff and an illegitimate son (not mine, but someone I know).

After completing the laundry and folding the clothes, I was about to set off for my accustomed bicycle ride.  But I prevaricated. I hadn't the stamina for it. Besides it was New Year's Eve.  I decided that was excuse enough to indulge myself.  So instead I put on my lemon coloured swim trunks, collected my large towel and headed to the beach.  As I expected there was ample choice of chaises longues and positions.  To my further wonder - even without the wearing and normally soporific bicycle ride - I had no difficulty settling into languorous sunbathing. Clearly I had been correct in my preliminary assessment of fatigue. My tranquillized mind was instantly consumed by the balmy wind, crashing waves, crackling sand and blistering sun. In the spirit of the New Year I sought to contemplate the past. But I was submerged in the moment, the urgency of the present as time ticked towards midnight on New Year's Eve. I did however briefly acknowledge  - and accept, punctuate, recall - that my parents are now both gone, nothing haunts me by way of care or concern, there are no failings or regrets to burden me, that I actually enjoyed the practice of law, that my sister and I remain of our immediate family, that the one lie I ever told was technical only (that's probably a lie), that I will never suffer the calamity of children or grandchildren, that the past does not change and I refuse to speculate about the future, that I have no remaining ambition, that every thing (not everything) can be replaced and that this is not a bad way to regard the converging end - on a beach in the sun by the sea.

About an hour later (after having turned onto my front momentarily) I peeled myself off the thick plastic weave and ventured a walk along the shore. But dealing with the sloping shore was more work than I preferred. So I didn't go far.  Back to dozing on the chaise longue. Eventually the heat was so constraining that I commenced the first of several jaunts into the sea. The water was clear, I could easily see the sandy bottom.  The sudden splash of a large wave hit me in the face. I tasted the salt water. I dove beneath the surface, my eyes characteristically improving from the effect of the salubrious water. I swam on my back, my arms extended and collapsing together about my sides like a closing corkscrew. Then I did the crawl parallel to the shore to regain the distance I had unwittingly lost from my lounging place by the turbulence of the sea.  I plunged below the surface, relishing the salt water and messing my hair.

Several times I repeated this ceremony of swimming and lounging, warming and cooling. Office work at the beach. In the distance a minor commotion.  A number of people (what seemed the entire concentration of the immediate beach crowd) congregated at the shore curiously to examine a large fish which a fisherman had caught.  There was a struggle to free the poor flopping fish and let it go. They eventually succeeded.  Moments later the crowd had evaporated and there was no immediate sign of the fish on the shore - although two young girls standing in the shallow water stared at something moving below the surface. Would the fish escape the sand bar? Was the water deep enough?

The torpid day continued to pass, the minutes changing with my revolutions on the chaise longue. I hadn't brought my iPhone but I speculated from the level of the declining sun on the vast emerald horizon of the Gulf of Mexico that it was approaching three o'clock. Some clouds had moved in, covering the sky in wisps.  I felt a coolness.  So I donned my blue and white striped shirt (an uncommonly prudent choice of the "George" brand from Walmart) and left the beach. There was still time for a bicycle ride, a bit of purgatory for the day's utter lack of diligence.

Instead of my normal route I rode southward along Longboat Club Road past the mansions and the golf club, the yacht club and the resort, onto the pathway on the northeast side of Gulf of Mexico Drive.

Longboat Key hasn't the synthetic nature that sometimes betrays Hilton Head Island. It has nonetheless a staid manicured look without the paramountcy of environmental uniformity.

It was late afternoon on New Year's Eve.  Either everyone was preparing their evening apparel or they were already hoisting a glass with friends. I passed but one pedestrian, a middle-aged woman talking on her mobile phone, ringing my bicycle bell as I went by. The sun shone brightly and warmed my progress. Out of a gated community strode a young shirtless runner. He was thin as a beanstalk. I pressed on. The path was wide-open and beckoning. A senior lady judiciously swept the patio of her beachfront condominium, intent on maintaining her virtuous northern habits while vacationing, perhaps to lend an air of frivolity for the benefit of visitors (though mainly for herself). I passed marker 2000 but resolved to go only as far as Bayfront Park at marker 4000, about half-way along the entire barrier island. At the Park there were no families with children at the playground - though a young woman waited purposively outside the public washroom, possibly for her child. I swung around the little building, down the winding pathway past the mangroves, adjacent the sea grasses planted like sheaves of wheat, skirting Sarasota Bay where a sailing yacht slowly moved, then onto the path back towards home.

The real estate office was now closed; the elderly agent who had been there earlier, his bare feet in polished leather loafers, stuffing documents into the passenger side of his Jaguar, was gone. I rode by a walker, a man my age with a scowl on his face, he wasn't about to submit to any New Year niceties. The setting sun was becoming hidden behind the tall palm trees and shadowy condominium buildings on the Gulf shore.


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