Sunday, July 6, 2014

Pay Phone Call

I guess there is now a generation of people who hardly know what a pay phone is, let alone what a phone booth is. But I remember a time where I lived with no phone at all.

I'm not sure we had a phone in Seattle. I didn't have a phone in New York, but there was a phone in the sublet. There must have been a phone in Santa Fe. I know we had a phone in L.A. and certainly my wife and I had a phone in Montana.

But I'm thinking of the Florida panhandle--Grayton Beach, Seaside, Seagrove Beach--of south Walton County. I'm not sure, when Brock, Matt and I lived in that stilt house in "New Grayton", that we had a phone, but perhaps we did. I do know that when I returned to that area I did not.

What I'm specifically thinking of is when I came back maybe the third time to south Walton County and I lived with Brad for a spell, a place east of Seagrove but west of Panama City, and found a job painting houses close to Destin--some place called Topsail, if I remember right. This was all after the fiasco with Teresa, with the Iowa Writers Workshop and being in Seattle. If I remember right . . .

What I do remember right is stopping now and then at a lonely pay phone near the beach to call my parents.To reassure them that I was okay, working, that I was still alive. It was a pay phone near a quiet road under ragged live oak trees. It was not a phone booth. I'm not sure why it was located there, as it was not connected to a store or gas station or such. I'd usually call at night, once a week or two weeks--maybe on my way home from work or coming back from the little store in Seagrove Beach--and the phone had a single light above it and the road would be carless, the landscape desolate in its way. Quiet. Dark. Wind blowing in off the Gulf. The smell of the Gulf and trees and decaying plants and, well, just the sounds and smells peculiar to that region, to the proximity of that heat and saltwater and plant material, the southern sandy loaminess . . . And here I was, not exactly immune to loneliness, making  a brief call to Des Moines, talking to my mother, my father, standing in the cone of light cast over the phone, feeling the aloneness, the alienness of where I was compared to where I had come from, that sense of both failure and survival, of renewal and end-of-youth ennui. I guess. Or, it was just a sad little phone call to my folks at night from a pay phone near the beach.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Old Mornings, With Eggs

I'm thinking mainly of Vancouver, Washington here, but it would also be a little of Sioux Falls, SD and Johnson City/Jonesborough TN and, I suppose, Urbandale/Des Moines IA. I'm thinking mainly of my mother, in the morning, cooking eggs. I'm thinking early, me lying in my bed, trying to stay asleep while the dread builds within me knowing I have to get up and go off to school. (I hated school for most of my life--unfortunate but true.)

We were a family of seven--five kids--in a not very large house. I could hear my mother rise most of the time, hear my father, smell coffee, then smell the eggs. Sometimes bacon or sausage--but almost always eggs. My mother in the little kitchen frying on the little stove those little eggs over-easy for my father, eggs with butter, salt, pepper, turned and cooked at a high temp so that the edges burned brown to black. And if she cooked we kids eggs later it would be in that same pan and the eggs would get progressively darker, crisper on the edges depending in what order your serving fell. And peppery.

My mother was not the best of cooks. I miss my mother's cooking.

My father had a loud voice. My mother and father had a sometimes contentious relationship. Not a volatile one by any means, but there were arguments, a daily yelling of instructions if not true insults. So I would hear that each morning. And I could hear my father drink his coffee as he sat at the table with my mother at the stove frying his eggs. Slurrrp. Ahhh. Slurrp. Ahh. Slurrp. Ahh. Like that. Repetitious and constant and familiar as anything in the morning.

That was mainly weekday mornings. Maybe weekends were not that much different, though we'd be more likely to eat all together at times on weekends. Or, we kids would eat our bowls of sugar-cereal and line up in front of the TV to watch cartoons. Cartoons cartoons cartoons: Saturday mornings. More sugar than eggs.

Then there were the days when we were going on vacation. Vacation meant a long car trip somewhere. My father was a firm believer in an early start and that meant getting up well before dawn, having my mother cook eggs for everyone before dressing and packing and getting in the car--all seven of us--and rambling off in the just-before-dawn light to whatever destination we were destined for: The Black Hills or Red Oak, IA; Yellowstone or Crater Lake; Myrtle Beach or the Smokey Mountains; Arlington, SD or Leech Lake, MN. But being up so early with the clear purpose of hitting the road was kind of exciting. Eating eggs at four or five in the morning was also special--a full stomach for a full day's drive. My father would also buy a loaf of ham sandwiches to eat along the way--a time-saving and economical lunch, I suppose. Thin ham on thin white bread with butter. That was it.

Those mornings. These mornings. You can't stop morning's arrival. What's past is gone, what's coming will be gone as well. And it's best not to think about it for too long. Eat some eggs. Slurp your coffee. Get out of the house and soon it will be afternoon.