DIVING IN THE DARK


scuba4

Moonlight glistening on the quiet water
as I slide noiselessly into its
dark protective environs.

Our headlamps look like
a busy nighttime L.A. freeway.
Everybody going somewhere.

A slender tether keeps me from
drifting off into the Pacific Ocean.
No reef, just open sea another 3,000 ft. down.

Familiar anemones and unpretentious sea cucumbers
have deserted me here with
glittering blue fins whispering quickly past.

A moving galactic sprawl with
Jellies waving their arms to attract the
pelagic horde throbbing like my beating heart.

Do they mind that we have invaded their space?
We don’t belong in this world.
How do you avoid feeling that you are bait on a line?

In this dark and secret place
the largest animal migration on the planet, yet
freeway traffic continues unaware.

I am hauled up like a fish.

14096398-sky-waterline-and-underwater-background

The boat is alive with quiet reverence.
And Pink Floyd playing “The Dark Side of the Moon”.

THE FRAGRANCE OF MEMORY


Long Beach, California in my childhood was a beach town, an oil town, and a sailor town. The memory of odors is very rich.

We lived a few blocks from the beach, within easy walking distance for a child, and the smell of the ocean is like perfume to me. The Pike was an esplanade with rollercoaster, merry-go-round, and all sorts of shops, etc. which led onto the beach, and the smells of hamburgers, cotton candy and salt water taffy beckoned a hungry kid with a dime in her pocket. It was the time of the Great Depression, and if you couldn’t scrape up a dime, you took a tuna sandwich made with lots of pickle relish in your pocket.

Oil had been discovered on Signal Hill and aside from the oil derricks decorating the top of the hill, it gave off an unmistakeable scent.

The Port of Long Beach has always been an important one, and home to the Navy, and the place from which my father departed and returned frequently. On the occasions when we dined aboard my father’s ship on a Sunday afternoon, I was allowed to steer the shore boat.

In our small neighborhood the ice man delivered, and the man who tarred the many cracks in the street came with his smelly hot oil, which if you waited till it hardened, you might steal a piece to chew on. The Red train ran straight up the middle of American Ave. where we lived, and took you to Los Angeles, where my Great-Aunt picked us up. In their great wisdom, someone tore it out some years ago. I always thought it had a distinctive and exciting odor. Maybe it was the smell of anticipation.

There were always fresh fragrant oranges, ripe figs off the tree, and a penny candy store which smelled divine. A nickel bought a lot of candy, and there was a dentist right there who gave out sample tubes of Ipana toothpaste, which if you never smelled it, consider yourself lucky.

Each morning after my mother tortured my straight hair into Shirley Temple curls with a curling iron heated on the gas stove, and with the smell of hot hair still in my nostrils, I ate breakfast alone and went off to school. My only friend in the neighborhood was Gail Hollandsteiner, whose father was a banker, and who I thought must have been rich because her mother slept late every day, thus allowing Gail to trick the maid into thinking she had actually eaten her breakfast. I tried it at home, but my mother got up early, so it didn’t work.

Larraine Day was an early movie star who lived next door to Gail, and we always hoped she could get us jobs in the movies. That didn’t work either.

The Long Beach of today has nearly half a million people in its confines, the neighborhood I grew up in is mostly industrial now, and the Pike has been replaced by the Queen Mary as a tourist attraction. Whoever coined the phrase “You can’t go back” was right.

A BIRD IN A CAGE


Many years ago, before I discovered a classier way to earn some extra Christmas money, I painted signs and Santa Clauses on store windows.  It was seasonal of course, and on the first of December, your hands froze on the glass windows, but lots of people stopped and passed the time of day with me, and you’ll have to admit, it was easy and fun.

One morning a woman stood watching me and then said she was writing a children’s book and wondered if I was interested in illustrating it.  Wow! would I!

The story was about a little Eskimo boy named Nootka of the North.  (Not too original,but it could always be changed.)

Her parents had been missionaries in Barrow, Alaska, and she brought old photo albums of their life to our house that evening.  It looked like the main excitement of their village was being tossed high into the air off a sealskin blanket, or perhaps a share in a little seal meat if the hunters got lucky.

I returned the albums to her a few days later after making a few drawings I thought she might like.  She lived  on a boat in the Redwood City marina, which was just across the bridge.  When I found her small boat, nearly hidden among larger and more posh ones, she called out to “come aboard”!

As soon as I stepped into the small cabin, a loud voice shouted “Fuck you!  Go home!”  There in the middle of the cabin sat a very large cage containing the largest and ugliest parrot I had ever seen.  She told me she had bought him from a bartender in Anchorage, Alaska, and since she lived alone, he was her “watch bird”.  It made a lot of sense, but I asked her if she would kindly cover him with a blanket while I was there, since he so obviously did not like me.

I made another couple of visits to her when the book got going, and we were both filled with hope that she could sell it to a publisher.

Time went by, and it became apparent that the book was going nowhere, so I thanked her very much for the opportunity.  The only payment I got was a few glasses of cheap wine, and the chance to be abused by a very loathsome  parrot.  But hey, it’s a great memory!