Author Archives: Freddie Spaghetti

About Freddie Spaghetti

Random grainy thoughts from somewhere in the world's peanut gallery.

Non sequitur

Lately, I’ve been finding myself uttering this expression a couple of times per day.  It must be where I’m living that has me periodically announcing this to myself.

It shouldn’t matter, being stared at.  But young or old, a preponderance of locals still break their necks to get a good look at the weirdo in their midsts.  After a few years, I thought I’d be over it by now.  But I recognize it must be an internal flaw (surely one of many).

The fallacy of a non-sequitur. The inference drummed up from the premise just doesn’t follow.

Why should a stare matter anyway?  It shouldn’t.  That is the non sequitur.  It only matters in my head.  In the reality of life, the logic the internal voice tries to make of all the rubbernecks matters not.

For example, the internal role-playing may discuss what impressions others will have if I, literally, skip through the park.  The voice tries to sneak in something like, “this will be uncomfortable,..they will be gawking.  Maybe I should not workout here.”

The what-will-the-neighbors-think is a learned notion that must be clinging in the imagination like excess residue that won’t wash away.  Yea, sure, we can’t just run amok among ourselves without mutually accepted behaviors.  Yet at the same time, altering reasonable actions because an internal voice is making deductions about what others “may” think is a bit of nonsense.

Hence, I’ve been trying to preempt the prattle with the command of “non sequitur” whenever the voice begins the what-others-may-think soliloquy.

If my ego is giving me a particularly hard time,  repeating non sequitur aloud (mostly) assuages its insistence.

Hmm, perhaps I’ll need to make wider use of this latin-based phrase.

10% Happier,…a review

An Audible book review — 10% Happier, by Dan Harris

Stories have a way of capturing us.  Given that the author is in the story-making business, he creatively loops several facets of meditation, vis-a-vis a series of real-life tales, into a mainstream mindset.  Overall, I found 10% Happier entertaining and well worth the listen.

Admittedly, I didn’t know who the author was when I came across this book.  Being part of a major news network contributed a degree of credibility to the narrative, especially since he had the ability, and apparently, the desire, to interview a broad cross-section of leaders on the ‘spiritual’ side of the self-help business.  He, therefore, brings an objective, albeit at times somewhat inelastic, perspective to the concept of meditation.

It was slightly off-putting, for example, that he needed to dis Eckhart Tolle right out of the gate, even though Tolle’s book, A New Earth, which he admittedly read three times before he started his journey, opened the door into a life-changing, philosophical shift in his thinking.  His curious derision for Tolle seemed to be affected not only by concepts he evidently couldn’t grasp but also by his wardrobe.  Thankfully, Harris somewhat redeemed himself in the epilogue, reluctantly giving Tolle (some) credit.

At times, it seemed like he was writing the book for his colleagues at ABC, perhaps to explain spats of conduct as well as elucidate the logic for his path into the quasi-spiritual world.  Still, the book was highly engaging, with humorous bouts of self-deprecation and a partial inside view of the high-stress world of network news.

Apart from his highly skeptical nature — if there is no proof, and it’s not mainstream, then it borders fringe or beyond unless someone he respects provides scientific and logical evidence — Harris comes across relatively open, honest, with hefty doses of witty tongue-in-cheek, which adds to his likability.

For anyone wanting to increase their English vocabulary, I’d recommend the written book.  Because I listened to the narrated version, I was (slightly) better able to understand, if only in context, the abundance of unfamiliar flowery words and phrases peppered throughout.  Reading such a bounty of unusual words would have stopped me in my tracks more often than I would have liked (but that may be a good thing).

What I particularly liked about the book, besides the evocative anecdotes, is his method of spreading the value of meditation, which, because of his unique media role and presentation style, takes some of the mysteriousness out of an opaque topic.  I’ve been on the cusp of starting this lifestyle practice for too long.  After listening to the book, I’m a convert.  Meditation, as it’s evidently been scientifically proven, is an exercise with only constructive upside benefits.

Even though I was slightly annoyed about the Tolle dissing, (it was useful mindfulness practice anyhow), I found myself wanting more when it ended.  Hence, I’ve already pre-ordered his new guidelines coming out in Dec 2017.  I’m at least 10% more motivated.

P.S.
Suggestion: Harris closed the book with a self-developed list of ten useful “precepts.”  I’d recommend changing #1 from “don’t be a jerk” to “be kind.”  It’s easier to be something than not being something.  Besides, jerk is relative, and kindness precludes jerkness.

The Break of Dawn

If I were a true punster, the title would be The Crack of Dawn.

The first year of college right out of high school was a jumble of experiments.  At 18, the school was far enough away from home that commuting was impractical; therefore I arranged a government loan to cover dormitory accommodation as well as tuition.  The guy who’s room I shared upon arrival must have drawn the short straw because he didn’t seem so thrilled to have landed a green, freshman roommate.  With his waist-length hair, he sported a “been there/done that” attitude.  But he quickly warmed up to my irresistible charm (haha) when he carefully showed me how to use his sophisticated reel-to-reel tape stereo system, top of the line for its day.  The speakers were almost as tall as I, making his impressive recording compositions from bands like The Who mind-blowingly absorbing after we would share a bowl of hashish.

Bunking with him lasted only a month or so before a spot opened up on the fraternity floor where a couple of my friends were staying, so I soon became an unofficial frat member.  It wasn’t a jock frat, rather a mix of background and color.  If there were any athletes in the fraternity, it ended up being two of my friends and me.

Shortly after arriving on campus, I noticed a poster at the gymnasium’s entrance inviting students to join the swim team.  No experience necessary read the sign.  “Hmm, I might be up for that,” I thought.  I had never participated in an official school sport, and the idea of no experience was an attraction.  After all, how hard could swimming be, I thought, having swum in the ocean almost every summer growing up.

But it was grueling, with daily practices of endless laps of freestyle, breast, back, and fly strokes.  I didn’t know until after I joined that a friend, the only other guy who selected this college from my high school, Bob, had also joined the team.  We then became friends with another Bob, who we called Dunk, an abbreviation of his last name.  Bob had participated in organized swimming before, and Dunk was a superb competitive platform diver.  We still call each other friends to this day.  Together the three of us, along with Billy Beirster, from Brooklyn, NY, were the newbies on the swim team.  We were a tad on the unrestrained side, whereas the balance of the team was,..umm, more mature.

As in any sport, the games, or meets in this case, made the practice worthwhile.

As an example, Billy would regularly, actually upon request, demonstrate his nostril inhaling prowess by snorting jello at lunch in the school cafeteria.  In those days a cup of jello cubes was a staple dessert selection.  Beirster would carefully and steadily balance a cube, which was at least six times larger than his nostril opening, with one finger below his nose, while he closed his other nostril, as focused snorters do.  Then, with everything still, except for the wobbly jello cube precariously balanced on his fingertip, it would suddenly disappear up his nasal cavity with one quick, short snort.

A lucky set of events allowed me to letter in swimming that first season.  To be given a “letter,” an embroidered patch, intended to be sewn on the back of a varsity jacket, required a certain number of points acquired by placing 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in the official events.  We competed with various state colleges and universities around Pennsylvania.

Billy Beirster had no problem snorting them.

One of the “away” meets was with a team not known to have particularly fast swimmers. Therefore our coach allowed some of us a chance to accumulate points by resting the regular starters.  I ended up placing first in the 50-meter freestyle event that evening, which, if I remember correctly, gave me a healthy chunk of points towards the letter that year.  A couple of my teammates were smoking pot before that meet, which may be the reason I had a further edge.  I had learned my lesson with drugs and swimming earlier in the month by popping a tab of LSD just before a swim practice (not one of my most intelligent experiments).  During the endurance laps, the psychedelic effects kicked in big time.  The water started feeling thick like the jello Billy snorted.  Every time I took a breath, hallucinations of large, colored clouds with dragon details appeared against the folded up bleachers.  The lane markers on the walls at each end of the pool would spin clockwise, then counterclockwise, and gyrate to appear further distant the closer I became until I finally banged into the wall.  One of the senior swimmers approached me while I was still in the water, looked into my eyes and said, “Freddie, you don’t look so good, I’m going to recommend to the coach that you go back to the dorm and rest.”  “Thanks,” I gratefully replied, “I’m feeling a little out of it today.”

Receiving a letter like this required points.

But I’m rambling.  This is about Dawn.  Or rather Valerie.  She could have been a poster flower child.  After all, the Vietnam war was still in full swing and the hippie movement hadn’t yet faded. The second draft selection was processed during that first college-year and luckily I received a high number, meaning I wasn’t compelled to enlist and fight in a war that made no sense.   Anyway, I was semi-intoxicated by Valerie’s presence.  For whatever reason, she liked hanging around Bob, Dunk, and I.   Not long after I met her though, she changed her name to Dawn.  She was tall, slender, pretty, long blond hair, light and smooth olive skin, a down-to-earth sultry voice, intelligent, and au naturel.  If she wanted to change her name to Dawn, who was I in my half-stoned mind to opine.  I fell for her all the same.  My puzzle was that she didn’t fall for me.  I dreamt about her and was confident she would be the perfect girlfriend.

It was a popularly unpopular war, Vietnam.

Toward the end of that first school year, I was therefore thrilled that she wanted to accompany Bob, Dunk, and I to our hometown for a long weekend.  “Maybe she’ll become enraptured with me away from school,” I naively pondered.  But then she met my brother D.  It must have been his long curly locks during the time he was living out a short rebel streak that attracted her to him.  Bro D was renting a room from friends of mine in town.   When I met them one morning, I walked into his room and there they were, in bed together.  He just looked up at me and smiled.  I could only smile back, even though there was a sudden gnarly turbulence in my gut.  He was doing what any red-blooded guy would do if given a chance, so I could only admire him for that.  He happened to conquer what I couldn’t.  He didn’t know I liked her.  I never told him because admitting so would have acknowledged a made-up fantasy.  Anyway, better him than someone else, I remember thinking.

Shortly after that, something clicked.  How could I take anyone serious who had changed her name from Valerie to Dawn?  Her closest friend changed her name to Born.  The bohemian outlook started seeming a little too hippy dippy.  Just that quick she was erased from my desire board.

I quit full-time college midway through the 3rd semester (2nd year) as I couldn’t figure out why I was going into debt studying for a degree I didn’t much care about.  I’d go on to attend five universities over the next 10 years (another experiment I wouldn’t recommend) before figuring it out and receiving a diploma, or two.  But what brother D didn’t realize, nor did I, is that toward the end of that first year, he helped me over a short phase with the Break of Dawn.

Band Camp Pussy

There’s no harm going way back,…right?

It was a feeling I tried to prevent from creeping in.  Band camp pussy.  While successful most of the time, that pesky voice would appear from seemingly nowhere, hover for a while, performing a muted overture.  I pretended it wasn’t there, ignoring its minor phrase.  The thought though didn’t miss a beat and patiently waited for an encore.

Before high school, I relished team sports where ever I could find them, rec leagues mostly, since the parochial school I attended had no sports.  I wasn’t a tough kid, yet I wasn’t a wuss.  For example, on the football team, I was a halfback on offense, except that I never ran the ball.  That was the job for the other halfback, the fastest guy on the team.  Whenever we ran sweeps, my job was to run in front of him and block.  Because he was so fast, I would dive, arms outstretched, splaying the defensive backs who would fall over me, allowing my teammate a clear path to the goal line.  To congratulate me, the coach would raise my arm after the games to show off my dirt and grass-stained ensemble.  So hey, I knew I wasn’t a wimp.  OK, so this was only a 6-man (haha, kid) midget football league.

Around that time, dear ole dad brought home a couple of instruments — a trombone and a baritone.  He had played both in the Marine band.  Brother D picked up the baritone and I opted for the shiny gold trombone and started lessons soon thereafter.  I loved the ability of sliding, this time into and off of notes.  For the next several years I blew plenty of horn.  By the time I reached high school, I had several years of horn blowing under my belt.  While my friends joined the football team, I played in the band.

I’m not tooting my horn, but in the school orchestra, to the consternation of some upperclassmen, out of seven trombones, as a freshman, I shared 1st trombone chair.  Concert performance pieces dictated our practice.  However, besides the occasional parade march, the physical side of playing was the orchestra’s double-duty of performing at football games.

Every summer, therefore, involved a couple of weeks of band camp.  We had to learn and practice marching formations in a medley of sequences, usually with an eight-count every five yards or 90-degree turn.  And we didn’t just walk.  We high-stepped it, with knees to waist level.  We had to look and sound snappy.

Knees to waist level was the deal.

The seasonal football games were a major school-spirit event.  The band provided minor, periphery entertainment.  Truthfully, I didn’t care for organized football.  I much preferred informal ‘pick-up’ games, found in the many parks around where we lived.  These unofficial games were raucous, energetic, and fun.  School football seemed more tense and brutal.  Sure the theme was strategy, excitement, and heroes, but in a way, we were glamorizing the brutishness.

Essentially I felt relegated to cheerleading as a band member.  The weekly hoopla wasn’t striking the right cord.

Fortunately, I eventually composed a good excuse for quitting the orchestra, and trombone.  Not only was the subliminal band camp pussy message evidently still in tune with a few neurons, but my front teeth were chipped and needed caps, so applying pressure to the horn’s mouthpiece was not to the required scale.  But the conductor opened a spot for me to play the cymbals that year.  I agreed, as marching staccato with the percussion section was invigorating, and crashing cymbals with gusto during The Star Spangled Banner in front of a home crowd yielded whole notes of internal jazz.  But the exhilaration was soon out of pitch.  I think I made it 3/4 through the season before I handed in my spats.  That nagging thought finally won.  Was I indeed a band camp pussy?

A simple but beautifully sounding Conn slide trombone.

I found the Conn slide trombone in its original case buried in storage about 15 years ago and had it refurbished with the delusion of picking it up again.  But blowing horn after such a long break stayed an illusion.  I was flatter than the tires on my carbon road bike.

As a side note, so this message is not left off key, the truth is, band camp was cool.  The physicality, choreography, rhythm, cadence, and the coordination while playing music and witnessing the whole emerge greater than the sum of the parts, produced ample measures of stimulation and gratification.  I’m guessing the pussy part snuck in as a postlude.

Pissing in the wind,…twice

…on the same island.

The recent destruction in the Virgin Islands caused by hurricane Irma brought back a couple of Caribbean memories from that area.

In our early 20’s (hmm,..the mid 70’s or thereabouts), friend Bruce and I traveled to Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, two consecutive years, to visit our friend John who was a school teacher there.  The first trip was an exploratory adventure.  We road our new 900 cc Kawasaki’s, the largest they made at the time, from Eastern PA to my aunt’s home in Jacksonville Beach, Florida.

I had stayed with Aunt Gladys for a month several years prior when I was in early high school.  She lived on the intercostal waterway, where, with her husband, they owned and operated a marina.  They sold new and used boats and rented slips.  The deal was, I could stay for a month as long as I helped around the marina.  Fait accompli.  Gladys, my mother’s oldest sister, was cool.  There were no televisions in her home.  Cell phones and computers didn’t exist yet.  Each night after dinner we played two-handed pinnacle, bantered about anything and everything, and sipped vodka and grapefruit juice.  I must have been 16 or so, but she made me a weak drink each night so that I could share the entire experience, and perhaps to give herself an edge in the game.  That only added to her coolness.

My second trip to her marina in Jacksonville Beach was several years later with Bruce.  Aunt Gladys was kind enough to keep our bikes while we flew to Saint Thomas for our ten-day island escapade.  John was a straight-laced guy in high school, but it didn’t take him long to shed his Catholic High School image.  When John met us at the island’s airport, he could have been mistaken for a hard-ass pirate, sporting a full chest-length beard and demeanor to match.  He was glad to see us and took us directly to the east-end of the island where we had an unobstructed view of St Johns, a brother island to St Thomas, and where four of his friends were readying a 36-foot sloop for a 10-day trip in the waters amongh the British Virgin Islands.  We didn’t spend one night on solid ground during that trip as we went from plane to boat, and afterward, from boat to plane.  Each day was spent in a different part of the BVI archipelago, where we snorkeled with spearguns by day, feasting on our catch that evening on the boat.

This wasn’t our boat, but it could have been — the image reflecting our experience accurately.

During our first night, the anchor was thrown overboard somewhere among a group of islands, none with visible lights, just uninhabited tall dark mountains protruding out of the sea.  There were four bunks below and two makeshift sleeping pads topside.  John and I elected to sleep outside on the deck that evening.  At some point during the shimmering moon-lit night, because the beer we had been consuming was not a small amount, I woke with a need to let some out.  As I steadied myself on the edge of the swaying bow, holding one of the mast stays while mesmerized by the reflection of plankton in the dark sea, I started draining the processed beer.  Just then a vigorous and steady gust blew at me, redirecting the water I was eliminating back toward the boat.  At about that time I heard John belt out, “Freddie, Freddie, get down below, it’s raining.”  When he didn’t see me on the cushion, but rather standing on the bow with a sheepish grin, one hand holding the stay and the other holding, well, you got the picture, he had some other, stronger words to say.  Fortunately, John was an even-keel kind of guy.  After his initial excitement, he simply said: “Freddie, please, while you are on the boat, don’t piss in the wind.”  We had a lighthearted chuckle before he dove overboard to rinse off.

All that was needed was a snorkel, fins, and speargun, and lots of deep blue.

Those ten days left me awestruck by the beauty and variety of schools of fish we swam through.  It was a large tarpon school, not the individual sharks, that had my heart in my mouth.  From one minute to the next, swimming with a school of fish larger than I was, would have, if I hadn’t been holding it, taken my breath away.

The second-year Bruce and I flew from Philadelphia to Saint Thomas to stay with John on the island.  No sailboats this trip.  We wanted to know the island.  John lived in the hills, in a rustic area, where the roosters were our wakeup call.  I was enamored, so much so that I called my then wife and persuaded her to come down and join me.  After some coaxing (I couldn’t understand why she was apprehensive about a spontaneous vacation on an exotic Caribbean island), she agreed to fly down.  I excitedly took a bus to the airport to pick her up two days later.  I immediately became a tad concerned by the nervous look hidden behind her smile, which only deepened as we hopped in a taxi and made our way up the curvy mountain road to John’s place.  After two days it was evident she was not a happy camper.  She loved the beach, but the blue-green waters and warm white sand of the Caribbean weren’t enough to compensate for the perhaps unrefined setting in the hills where we were staying.  It just wasn’t her cup of tea.  Rather than the planned week with me on Saint Thomas, I rebooked her return flight only two days after her arrival.  She was happy to leave, and I was happy she did.  It was nothing between us.  She was uncomfortable in that island setting, and I couldn’t change that.  In hindsight, I mistakenly tried to force her to like what I liked.  For the second year in a row, although this time metaphorically, I was pissing in the wind.

A view of Magens Bay, Saint Thomas on the way up to John’s place.

This second island adventure still ended up a good trip for Bruce and I as we bounced around the isle’s more remote beaches trying to improve our inept spearfishing abilities which we never seemed to manage gripping.  We were mostly too slow.  When I found the occasional seemingly lazy fish, it would stare back at me with those large, glassy, fish-eyes, as I aimed my gun. Then,  the split second after I fired, it would turn broadside, the spear bouncing off its body as if it was saying, “yea sure, go ahead and try to spear me you goggle-eyed spazz.”  Luckily our friends were experienced fishermen.  We ate seafood like kings during those trips.  No pissing in that wind.

Epilogue

  1. To this day, whenever there is a choice between finding a discrete location on natural earth or water vs. a public breath-holding bathroom when a piss is calling, the outdoors always wins hands down.  During long distance (pedal) biking trips, brother PI called these outdoor pit stops ‘natural breaks.’  Of course, they were.  Pissing outside (not in public) is natural.  When the opportunity presents itself and the air stronger than a light breeze, John’s message from all those years ago still has me checking wind direction first.
  2. Our marriage didn’t last long, perhaps six years through the majority of my 20’s.  What we both learned the hard way was that trying to force one another into an undesired role never works.  It’s like pissing in the wind, always resulting in messy, unintended consequences.

The melting point of nickel

Neither of us had given it much thought before that evening.  We were sitting on either side of a campfire that had been burning for several hours.  The warmth felt good.  Even though it was summer, the midnight air was quite cool in the Teton Mountain Valley near Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where the elevation is about 7,000 feet above sea level.

Brother P was living in Florida at the time.  He had a vacation (if that is what it’s called) from the air-force, so we decided to take a motorcycle camping trip across the country.  I was living in eastern Pennsylvania, so we decided to meet somewhere in the middle, then head west.  Even though we were both not new to motorcycles, it was our first long-distance camping trip on two wheels (we had taken a camping trip together around the circumference of Iceland in a rental car when he was stationed there.  Another story for another time).

We ended up in Jackson Hole taking only secondary roads — no highways and no schedule were the rules — as we camped in out-of-the-way places.  The Jackson Hole camp was the only one where we stayed in an “official” camp site.  Still, it was sufficiently rustic, with each camping space having its own campfire area.  And fortunately, there was an abundance of dead wood scattered about and not many other campers.

Outside of Jackson Hole, part of the Teton mountain range from the 7,000 ft high valley floor.

As we soaked in the fire’s warmth under a crisp, clear, star-filled night, our conversations traversed many topics, mostly philosophical.  Then P pulled out a nickel coin and said, “I wonder if this will melt in those hot coals.”  I didn’t think so, I said, but as the coals were red hot, brother P was betting on yes, at least to some degree.  He pitched it in the coals.

A little while later, our conversation drifted to one where P admitted having a strong itch to get back to Florida.  In fact, he was feeling a deep pull.  I told P that if the draw was that tenacious and if he wanted to go back, then he should follow his inclination.  We were big boys, each one on a different side of 21-years old, but both independent.  I would continue the trip as planned, I told him, and there are no strings, so no problem splitting off on your own.  There was relief on his face.  As we retired to our respective tents, he said he would sleep on the decision, and that if he were gone in the morning, I would know what he had decided.

I heard nothing before waking up to an almost empty campsite.  He must have walked his motorcycle some distance away so he wouldn’t wake me, I thought.  Hmm, I remember thinking, he reached his melting point, deciding to cut his trip short and beeline back to Florida.

The coals can reach over 2,000° Fahrenheit

It was a strange feeling having spent more than a week with a brother and traveling companion only to have him unexpectedly vanish overnight.  We had at least 10 days before our trip was over.  But still, there was peace as well as excitement on that chilly summer morning as I lit my Sterno stove kit, made coffee, while I packed my tent and sleeping bag on the bike.

Before leaving camp, I sifted through the dead fire’s ash and recovered the nickel.  It was blackened, but not melted.  As we later learned, the melting point of nickel is 2,650 degrees F (1,455° C), higher than steel, but slightly less than iron.  Coals from wood burning fires reach only as high as 2,012 degrees F (1,100° C).  Not that much of a difference, but far enough.

I road west that morning, across the Tetons and into Idaho, then circled south through Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, and into Arkansas where I popped in to visit my dad’s sister MJ who lived outside Little Rock, before meandering northeast through Tennessee and home towards eastern PA.  I felt lucky because each night I stumbled upon off-the-beaten, peaceful and beautiful makeshift camping spots.  Every so often I pulled out the blackened nickel and pondered melting points in general.

It didn’t look so clean after sitting in the coals all night.

Because it was well before cell phones and text messaging existed, I didn’t learn until much later that P, on his 2,500-mile voyage home, came down with a bug not long after leaving our camp and was laid up in a hotel room for 48 hours recuperating.

A year or so later, I presented P with the burnt nickel that he had thrown in the fire, in a transparent sealed polycarbonate cube, as a remembrance of our trip.  His face was less than enthused which surprised me.  The nickel, from my perspective, represented exceptional camaraderie during an extraordinary trip between two brothers.  His reaction showed me how views differ.  Perhaps his under-enthusiasm of receiving the nickel wasn’t that it hadn’t melted, but that it reminded him of something else that had.

Of course, I don’t know if I’m right.  Perceptions are unreal, made-up concepts.  They are kind of like guessing at the melting point of nickel when you have no clue.

Everything though has a melting point.  But not everything can resist the warm, hypnotic embers of a wood campfire far from home.

It was just another cloudy day

The sun hadn’t made an appearance from dawn to dusk, well covered by a fast moving cloud mass at both medium and high elevation.  Nevertheless, the sky was beautifully overcast, with a broad spectrum of gray hues defining a sort of polyrhythmic flow above.

Finishing our first year in college, a friend from high school, nicknamed E, and I, decided to head to Florida for Spring break.  Not that we knew much about spring breaks, we were just going to visit our friend Jimmy.  Neither of us had cars road-worthy enough of the thousand-mile trip, so we decided to hitchhike to South Carolina, where we hooked up with a friend K, who was attending college there and also had a school break.  And a car.

In high school, there was a gaggle of guys, and for some reason, we called ourselves (and still do) “great men.”  I think the origin started when any one of us did something daring or noteworthy (stupid?), he would be called “a great man” (even if we were still teens).  The term stuck.  Anyhow, this trip was a mini-reunion for four great men.

E and I hitched to the Carolinas, catching rides with all types of characters.  We were invited in the back of converted hippy vans to smoke pot and were even picked up by the Grand Marshall of the KKK as he was passing through Virginia going to his home in North Carolina.  Yes, that KKK.  He treated us to lunch at a roadside diner. The manner of his talk raised the eyebrows of two guys from north of the Mason Dixon who didn’t share his culture nor his beliefs.

After meeting K at his University, catching up on nourishment in the school’s almost vacant cafeteria, we headed south for another 12 hours, freed from the need to stick our thumbs out for a ride, arriving at Jimmy’s at dawn.

A few ‘great men’ gathering for lunch about 5 years ago.

To me, Jimmy was truly a great man.  He defined cool.  He was also good looking, with a sophisticated suave, yet down-to-earth demeanor, and at the same time charming, funny, engaging, and a downright damn nice guy.  He set us up with accommodations in the dorm of his quasi-military flight school, where he was studying to pilot planes.  After inviting us to breakfast we all went to the beach, which was directly in front of where we were staying.

I was exhausted, not having slept much during the past 36-hour trip, so I crashed on the beach, not able to participate in the catch-up banter that first day.  There is nothing like sleeping surf side.  Having spent time on the New Jersey and Maryland seashore growing up, dozing in the sand by the water was nothing new.  What I didn’t realize this time was that Florida is different, i.e., closer to the sun by an ever-so-slight a fraction that it matters.  So I took off my shirt and fell fast asleep on that somewhat windy overcast day, the image of the beguiling sky firmly imbedded in my memory before my eyelids took over.  I hadn’t planned to sleep the entire day, but I did, which proved to be a huge mistake because apparently, as I learned later that evening, the Florida sun can burn right through clouds.  I woke up as red as an overripe tomato and in pain that seemed to grow by the minute.  That night I could not sleep, not because I slept on the beach, but because my skin hurt so much.  Every movement hurt, even picking up a glass of water made me grimace.

Somewhere near how I felt after a cloudy day in the Florida sun.

I was down to my last five bucks, regretting to spend half of that on a can of solarcaine, a sunburn relief spray (prices were that different then).  I don’t remember if it helped much, but I’m sure the placebo effect did.  The sun’s torturous impact lasted at least two-full days.  Just as the pain was subsiding, our visit was over.

Jimmy died not many years later while piloting a commuter flight in New Jersey. He was barely 25.  In retrospect, at the time it was nice to have had those several days with him just hanging out, away from our homes.

I had been sunburnt before, but never like that day.  The experience was enough to gain a healthy respect for cloudy days in tropical climates.  That particular cloudy day also reminds me of a young guy and great man, who, having a much shorter than normal existence, still unknowingly left a positive influence.

Just waking up on the Jersey beach, in those teen years, yet un molested by the sun.

Do you have a cloudy day?  😮😀