Beachglass, frogmen, and the passing of time


It’s either the phone vibrating along the top of the bedside table or the dog trash talking at me, or both. I am now fully awake.

Fuck it, I can tell sleep is over for the foreseeable future. I sit up.

“What?” Spoken to dog.

“What is it?”

Dog, appearing to suddenly doubt he even knows me much less is dependent on me to subsidize his existence, breezes out the door I have left open (so they won’t need to wake me), heads to far side of backyard, rolls on back.

I feel underneath pillow for hair tie, pull hair back out of the way. Stare absently at the gaggle of young knock-kneed deer milling about on the other side of the fence line. Yawn, note that it’s now raining. Look back down at pillow, where the cat stretches and also yawns – much more luxuriantly than I – then settles himself back down into instant deep sleep, monopolizing pillow. I wonder briefly, why do I have pets again?

I realize at once I must call my friend Marie in Chicago, that it’s a Marie conversation I’ve been needing. I get coffee started, put left over pad thai into microwave and dial the phone, thinking she is probably busy and won’t answer. Happily am wrong, as I hear her unmistakable voice breeze onto the line, “Hellooo.”

“Hey you, it’s me.” We haven’t seen each other in at least four years but speak and/or email every six weeks or so, picking up conversations like they were only minutes old.

“Who is this?” Coolly, with an edge.

What? Suddenly awkward, like a door has been shut in my face, “Marie?”

“No.” Pause. “This is her daughter.”

“Damn.” I haven’t seen the kid in a long time. “Oh sorry,” picturing the child I remember.

“Can I help you?” Except for the tone, she sounds exactly like her mother, down to that slight Wisconsin thing along the edge of the voice, like Athenae has.

“Nora, you sound just like your mom.”


Jesus, this is a teenage girl I’m talking to. I wince. “Guess you probably don’t want to hear that, huh?”

Almost imperceptible sardonic chuckle on the line. “Yeah, not really.”

I leave a message for a call back, go check the pad thai, punch in 30 more seconds.

“What are you doing?” I hear the ex-Mrs. Tex ask sweetly behind me. It’s the parrot.

“Making breakfast,” I answer. He makes one of his R2D2 noises then barks companionably as the dog walks into the kitchen, shaking rain and wet dog smell all over the floor as he lays down three inches behind my heels.

The bluetooth earpiece that I forgot to remove vibrates and I automatically step over the dog to reach the phone. It’s The Best Friend. She’s been at a conference in DC for a week. We spoke briefly the night she got back and I remember we discussed getting together for a drink today, which is of course, now impossible. I apologize for not remembering and we move on.

I eat rubbery pad thai and sip coffee and she tells me about the inspiring breakout session on midwifery that segues into running into someone from the Austin wayback machine at the Hopper exhibit at the National Gallery. That reminds me to ask if she remembers any standup comedians we might have been acquainted with during that somewhat admittedly fuzzy span. Inconclusive data for that query returns inconclusive results and based on the Hopper tangent, we jump forward to our NYC decade and that Montauk vacation (the second of three) with the middle-of-the-night jigsaw puzzles at the lazy motel run by the beautiful sun-drenched hippie couple, and their two beautiful tow-headed boys.

“Dylan and Marley!” we chuckle simultaneously, remembering a foggy meandering afternoon, her boy and those two shaggy blondes running like puppies ahead, as she and I and the ex-Mrs. Tex poked along picking up beachglass for some planned-for Christmas earring project that never moved beyond the first couple of prototypes.

“Moving right along.” I say quietly, and we start to wrap up with the inevitable detour into the week’s politics, and share some Schadenfreude over this.

Which brings the final segue, sometime during the Giuliani era, she and I tucking into a joint as we escaped the wind in one of the steep little pocket parks above the East River, realizing we were suddenly in the middle of some vast piece of police theater accompanying the day’s visit by President Clinton to the UN, just down the way from where we were ensconced. Cops, secret service vehicles, vans all squealed back and forth above our our hiding spot. It dawned on us they were going shut down the entire length of the FDR up above, but our paranoia quickly gave way to the realization that we, along with the other bystanders and dogwalkers, were of entirely no consequence to the goings-on.

We sat for a long time in wonder at the spectacle of manliness that was now spreading as far as we could see. The boys brought out all their toys in one big vast Scarry-esque spectacle. Now came the helicopters puttering up and down along the river, next the police boats racing past us. We suddenly could not stop laughing at the excess of it all.

If it seems odd now, post- 9/11, that we would find this so funny, it was just that they were all enjoying themselves so much, it was so testosterone-laced, as was of course, the whole damn era, and well, we were just a tad altered, as noted. As was, of course, the whole damn era…

Then, just when we thought it couldn’t get any more surreal, a high-speed boat with a Coast Guard insignia plowed to a spectacular halt in the middle of the river in front of us. We waited expectantly, and were rewarded with the sight of a group of four or five burly men in wetsuits exiting the cabin.

The frogmen finished suiting up with their tanks and masks, then flippers, and then one by one, stepped off the side of boat into the choppy dark water.

The phone call ended, I check the clock and start to get ready to go back to work. As I leave the house, I remember it will be the middle of the night when I come back so I unlock the door to turn on the porch light. That reminds me of that box on the shelf of the front hall closet that I keep forgetting to take to the post office and mail. Making sure I have time, I pull it down.

Getting back into the car, I take a look in the rearview. I realize it’s time for a haircut — it’s hard to see the beachglass earrings.

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