Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Soles of My Shoes

Watch the first ten minutes of "St. Vincent."  Don't watch any more than that.  Wonderful opening to a schlock movie.  But the first ten minutes. . . .

Vignette.  For many many years, I would leave town when I got too stressed or sad or depressed, would just get in the car and head south to the little hotel where I had stayed with my family in the early days of living in the Sunshine State.  It was a mom and pop place on a beautiful pure white sandy beach with a diving reef within easy swimming distance from the shore.  As a young boy, I watched a man pull seahorses from the water around us.  I saw barracudas follow us, so my father said, as we walked in the early evening sun.  It remained for me a place of dreams and promised adventures.  It was close, only a couple hours away from my own home town, and it was cheap.  I'd stayed there often enough that the owners and staff always remembered me and gave me a special rate.  And often, as has been too much the practice in my life, I went alone. 

One spring I was there doing what I always did.  In the early morning, I would rise with coffee and a book, then I would take a run and a long walk on the beach to the inlet a couple miles away.  When the sun got hot, I would take a drive to Palm Beach and explore Worth Avenue or The Breakers or any of a dozen other places.  At sunset, I would go to dinner on the water and eat fresh fish.  Back at the hotel, I would take a rum drink out to listen to the sound of the waves and watch the lights of the ships passing in the dark. 

Oh. . . and I thought a lot.  It was my pleasure and my curse. 

This particular trip, though, I had stayed longer than usual, and one night, bored and lonely, I decided to go out.  There was no nightlife anywhere around the hotel, at least not the kind I was thinking of, but forty minutes or so to the north was one of those boom towns where everyone is making money in the money houses.  Of course there was a club, a disco sort of place that was big in the '80s.  It was not the sort of spot that I ever went to back home, but what the hell, I thought, nobody here knows me.  I will just go and stand around and watch the show.  None of my friends will ever need to know. 

In forty minutes, I was standing in a long line of people dressed for a night out at the club.  People were out to drink and hook up.  It was the kind of place where young brokers and bankers take a girl to the car for some blow and a little oral, returning to his buddies afterwards feeling heroic and quite triumphant.  Everyone seemed to me to have that hardened, expectant look. 

I, of course, stood out like a sore thumb, but I was used to it and probably reveled in it, too.  Where they were cocky, I was contemplative.  They talked.  I listened.  They drove big powerboats.  Mine was sail.  Their cars were new and sharp and often leased.  O.K.  I have to admit, I had bought a new white CJ7, but our intentions were different, I think.  My hair was always tousled from driving in the open air without a top.  The thing was messy. 

I had been standing in line for a few minutes when one of the doorman/bouncers began walking toward me.  Jesus, I thought, here it comes.  It was always the same.  I knew something was going to be wrong. 

"Hey, I am not going to be able to let you into the club.  You can't wear tennis shoes in here."

"Oh, really?"

"Yea, man, sorry.  Do you have any others in the car?"

"No.  But technically, these aren't tennis shoes."

"What do you mean?"  He looked puzzled. 

What I had on were a pair of canvas boat shoes.  I told him so. 

"Let me see the bottoms," he said.  I turned my foot up so he could see the tread.  "Alright," he said, "you can go on in." 

I couldn't believe it.  What stood between my getting into the club and getting back into my car was the part of my shoe that you couldn't see.  By this point in my life, though, I had come to accept many of life's absurdities, especially as they confronted me.  I had courted them, I guessed, through acute recognition if nothing else.  I had already developed a strange awareness that served me. . . dare I say "well"? 

What happened that night after I went into the club is a story for another time.  You will think I am making it up when I tell you, though, and you might be able to write it before I get the chance to.  I'll give you some of the ingredients the way the publishers of the Harlequin Romance series do to potential authors.  There was liquor.  There was a shoving match.  There was a girl.  Yes, yes, she was rich.  She was from Palm Beach.  She was going "my way."  You can write it, I know.  But not the ending.  You will never be able to write the ending. 

Sometimes it goes that way now, too, though in truth, my life is more like the first ten minutes of "St. Vincent" than I would like to admit.

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