O! How Time Hath Ravaged My Beautiful Etc.

Buceadores del ejército de los Estados Unidos, Isla Grande, República de Panamá, el día de Navidad, 1985. I’m the beautiful one.


July 19, 2010

Buceadores del ejército de los Estados Unidos, Isla Grande, República de Panamá, el día de Navidad, 1985. I’m the beautiful one.

(Now) chaplain Captain Floro, subject of an interview here at the blog, is second from left. Judging by our pose, ZZ Top was popular on MTV. Courtesy of Mark Wilson, friend, diver, surfer, father, and (now) hyperbaric chamber operator.

Facebook photos are only one of several resurfacings of the past in recent days. As I said a couple of posts ago, an old friend contacted me unexpectedly, which led me to a dear former roommate. Mark, another former roommate, posted this and other photos I didn’t know he had.

Then, going through dampish boxes in the basement, I found reports I wrote at age 13 for my Boy Scout hiking merit badge: Seventy miles in two weeks in the steam and heat of the land between the rivers, including one 20-mile death slog. I wrote the reports by hand on a large notepad I can no longer explain (“Mach II, for all your aviation insurance needs”), each with the name of the hike, date, time, destination, route, distance, purpose, permissions needed, items to be carried, sources of water, a slogan (“Quitters never win; winners never quit”), hand-drawn map of the route, and “story” of the march. (“Finally 13th Street ran out. We made a left, and a block later [the scoutmaster] showed us the ‘hanging tree,’ on which a man was hung because of a riot.”) This was probably the first writing I did on the topic of my novel.

Stranger still: As I was working in the library last summer on my nonfiction book—a brief history of the town where my novel is set—I met an elderly woman from there who was very sweet until she discovered what I was up to. She told me then tartly, “None of that should be dredged up.” And attached to the front of my merit badge reports is a handwritten note from her father, a local historian and scout leader who was old enough to have driven boy scouts in his flivver up to see the Galloping Ghost play ball at Illinois. He awarded my writing first place that year and wrote, “This is the best I have had in all my hikes since 1965.”

How to account for these synchronicities? Maybe it’s an effect of my disturbing our lives’ detritus and repairing, painting and wallpapering our old house. My cussing alone could generate a magnetosphere capable of disorienting animals and bending time. In fact, a confused field mouse has been cavorting in our cabinets, chewing labels off the olive oil and balsamic bottles, and dropping excreta like blackened wild rice. This sometimes happens in fall and spring, when the cold and wet bring them inside, but never summer. Clearly we can’t live with a mouse in our kitchen, so I had to do something I don’t like to do—move the family into a tent in the backyard until the mouse decides to leave.

I know, Dr. Trinkle, you’re a man of science, and so am I. There are rational explanations for all this weirdness: I blog, so an old roommate reads of how another old roommate contacted me, and he posts his pictures. There are only 10,000 residents in that town where I was doing my research, so the odds were not bad I’d meet someone related to someone. And the mouse loves Saigon cinnamon and curry powder. See?

But top this: Earlier this month I was lying on the couch with our cat Plop on my chest, reading Werner Herzog’s published journal, Conquest of the Useless: Reflections from the Making of Fitzcarraldo, just out in paper. It’s a strange, haunting book by a strange, driven filmmaker with a psychotic star and impossible self-imposed shooting conditions, and I’d gotten to the part where Herzog is reflecting on the myths of seduction and nightmares surrounding the real pink dolphins of the Amazon basin, where he was filming.

As I was reading that entry I heard a soft little bump-scrape several times in a row. In a house with two young boys, two young cats, and two aging dogs, odd repetitive noises can only mean trouble. I peered around the living room. At first I saw only our other cat, Bitey, but she wasn’t eating Legos like usual; she was looking up. I lay still and watched. A three-foot long mylar balloon in the shape and color of a pink dolphin sank slowly down the wall. I was about to throttle up into a full-bore Klaus Kinski fit when I remembered Wolfie had asked me to buy the balloon, for no reason other than he liked it, for Mrs. Churm for Mother’s Day. It had floated up to the ceiling after the celebration and been concealed for six weeks behind a segmented arch ten feet overhead.

You have to admit that’s a little weird. How many times do you hear of cats named Plop and Bitey?


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