Monthly Archives: June 2014

Who Stole My Shade?

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The aggressive cacophony of chainsaws cuts through the passive humidity of this oppressive summer day. I run out into my huge backyard here in a leafy, old neighborhood where the treetops of the giant live oaks meet and interlace above the shady streets. I stare in disbelief. The wall of green jungle at the end of my yard is gone. In the stark, fluorescent daylight, I can clearly see every inch of what I almost couldn’t before: a garage apartment, not particularly ugly, but a totally unacceptable substitute for what is no longer there—the illusion of the woods, a lush, verdant, enchanted coolness that flowered from time to time and protected us from the merciless sun that reserves the worst of its wrath for South Carolina.

I speak Spanish with the two men wielding the chainsaws. One is hanging onto the last remaining, and now limbless, tree trunk on the neighbor’s side of the fence. They smile and laugh and tell me that I should be happy, that the sun can now make my grass grow greener and thicker. I shield my eyes with my hand from the blinding sun and tell them that I know they had no choice in the matter, but that they robbed the shade from my back yard. Encouraged by their laughter, I boldly state that the person who hired them to wreak such devastation must be a “desalmado,” one who has no soul. They think it’s funny that a Gringa even knows such a word. We share a laugh and some good natured bantering for two minutes. I thank them for putting up with me. I wish them good luck and a good day, remind them to be careful not to fall, and not to tell their lousy boss that I called him a “desalmado,” which I know they won’t since I doubt they know any English.

I’m somewhat ashamed of myself. Really, the guy has a right to do what he wants on his own property. Who I am to tell anyone they have to maintain a jungle in their yard for MY benefit? If I don’t want to look at his house, it’s my problem, not his. I’m sure he’s a decent, nice guy. I’m sorry I called him a “desalmado.”

I skulk back to my little bungalow. I sit here writing, listening to the deafening drone of some other kind of equipment that is chopping something else down somewhere nearby, over which I also have no control. Although it’s a little too loud to qualify as white noise, it ushers me back to the first time I realized how vulnerable nature is to the whims of those with the desire and the means to commit “progress.”

My beautiful little 1950’s Topping Street in New Dorp Beach, Staten Island, was also a shady haven where giant Sycamores huddled over our narrow, pot-holed but charming road. I had a good friend named Nancy, who lived in a bigger, nicer house just three doors up from our little bungalow. We were both 5 years old and our mothers were good friends. I was sad when I found out that her family was moving out to Jersey to a “brand new house in the woods.” They came back one day and took me with them to spend the weekend with Nancy. I was overjoyed. They even had a car! Imagine that! We got there at night, and thanks to the moonlight, I could see the woods, which they said Nancy and I could play in the next day. I was so excited! I even had my own room! I woke up at sunrise, listening to the early morning birdsong, entranced by the first rosy/golden rays of timid sunshine sneaking into the room. The magic ended with a rude, metallic jolt that unleashed a non-stop torrent of cranking, revving and whining of several engines. I ran to the window and through the thin line of trees at the side edge of Nancy’s yard, I could see huge steam shovels and bulldozers driving back and forth, knocking down groaning trees and crunchy bushes and picking up dirt and rocks and tree trunks and limbs. The light in the room went from rosy to stark, and I understood the need for words I didn’t yet know, words like “intrusion,” “destruction,” “carnage,” “violation,” “unholy,” and “injustice.” I was too little to express what I was feeling, but I remember that sensation in the pit of my stomach to this very day. I felt that I was witnessing a tragic loss and that I was powerless to stop it. I remember nothing else about that weekend, but after it was over, I never heard from Nancy or her family ever again.

Now that I’ve become somewhat accustomed to the disappearance of my green wall, I’m a little surprised that I don’t feel worse than I do. My thoughts fluctuate between planting some fast growing bushes to replace the lost jungle and selling my house next week and moving somewhere else, somewhere where chainsaws don’t exist, where pretty weeds and vines are preferable to bare, eroding dirt, where shade is recognized as an asset.

But for now, I’m just going to avoid the back yard until I can figure out a viable game plan.

Meanwhile, I have to admit that the rest of the neighborhood still looks pretty good. I think it’s time for a walk.

Photo Credit: Gloria Talcove-Woodward, Sculpture on the Campus of University of California at Davis

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Filed under Humorous Perspective, My Very Short Stories

It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere

Paradise Five O'Clock

Stuck out here, in the ass-end of nowhere. A little, shacky hideaway tucked into a hidden lane simmering in a steaming South Carolina swamp. The sun broils everything not shielded by the tangled vegetation. My friends–which ones I couldn’t tell you–have driven off somewhere, abandoning me to a vicious hangover that I can’t explain. I never heard them leave. I can’t tell if the droning insects are inside or outside of my aching head.

The sheets stick to my damp skin. My feet find their way to the splintered, creaking floorboards, and are immediately coated with sand and God knows what else.

Everything hurts. I am slightly surprised to see my dusty reflection in a corroded mirror. I’m wearing someone else’s stupid T-shirt with a goofy, wall-eyed parrot saying “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere.” The only thing I recognize as being mine in this whole shack is the pair of blue panties I’m still wearing. I’ll take that as a good sign.

I teeter out to the porch and settle my throbbing body into a bony, wobbling Adirondack chair that is surprisingly comfortable. Aaahhhh! A cup of coffee would be sooo nice right now!

A big, reedy, whirring grasshopper lands on my arm. My gaze locks onto his huge, green eyes. The background droning of buggy monotony siphons the air out of my lungs, making me exhale my last shreds of consciousness, pulling my eyelids down for the ride.

My eyes spring open and the sparkling green eyes of my friend, Susanna, are the first thing I see. She is ten feet tall, laughing, and running beside me. I’m riding a very little bicycle and I’m laughing breathlessly, trying to keep up with her, as I pedal furiously, negotiating the rocky, rutted dirt road. Clutched in my right hand is the book I’ve written. I drop it! Oh, no! It bounces and then skips almost merrily down a long, steep, rock-studded hill. I steer my bike sharply to the right to chase after the run-away book. Susanna continues her gazelle-like lope without me, blowing kisses into the growing void between us.

My front wheel hits something hard. I am catapulted from the bike, and just like the book, I roll almost merrily down the hill. Gravity knows exactly where it wants me and choreographs a splendidly executed dance between the hill and me. Percussion plays itself out on every surface of my body. I can almost hear the melody suggested by the syncopation as it is transmuted into starbursts of light. The serendipitous sensations tickle me so that I laugh and laugh. The dance ends and I’m lying face up at the bottom of the hill. The grass feels cool against the back of my neck. I drink in the lemon sun and the melting glacier-blue sky, as if I’m experiencing them for the first time. It tastes so good that I laugh with utter delight. I am so happy and so profoundly relaxed. If I can manage to take one more breath, I must remember to use it up laughing just once more.

A beautiful man with crystalline green eyes kneels beside me. I see his fingertips close my eyes with a gentleness that coaxes the most peaceful sigh from somewhere deep in my soul.

“Jesus, Bubba” says the young EMS tech, climbing into the passenger seat of the ambulance. “I don’t think I can take too many more of these fatal crashes. That girl thrown from the green VW? Still smiling! Jesus! And you’re not going to believe this, but as I was wheeling her into the van while you were talking to the cops, I swear I heard her laugh!”

“Nah! Impossible! You’re just stressed out—This was a rough first week for you—You’ll get used to it. Tell you what, Green Eyes—Let’s get this rig back to the hospital. We’ll sneak out for an early lunch and we’ll have ourselves a few drinks—it’s on me.”

“Jesus, Bubba! It’s not even 10:30 in the morning! It’s a little early to start hitting the sauce—Don’t you think?”

Bubba turns on the radio, and as if on cue, the tequila-soaked voice of Jimmy Buffet sings, “But there’s booze in the blender, and soon it will render, that frozen concoction that helps me hang on.” Bubba lets the irony sink in before he drawls, “Well, It’s five o’clock somewhere.”

Photo Credit: http://www.debscountrygifts.com

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Filed under My Very Short Stories