Thursday, July 21, 2005

My Wife Was Surprised at the, Uh, *Duration*

My sister and her husband visited us for a week, and it seemed like a week -- no more, no less. We were glad to see them come and glad to see them go. Better than that it does not get, my friend, unless you are besotted with family, a condition out of which comes clan war and vendetta.

We are the working model. Countries should get along so well.

Events took place. Things transpired. I got a parking ticket for not turning in my wheels on what the San Francisco police claimed was a three percent incline. Oh it wasn't. But every other car on that mildest of declivities had its wheels turned in. It should be reflexive, should it not? I deserved the ticket and am glad to be a lesson to the young people.

We had some nice meals, we saw some sights, we drank some wine.

Oh oh we saw a couple having sex on the beach. Now there's a story on which my sister and her husband will eat out -- Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Denny's, perhaps a Sizzler on surf 'n turf night -- up and down the state of Tennessee. We drove up the coast to Mendocino last Sunday, and the coast was foggy so we were not able to provide the vistas of sun-dappled sea we had been promising. Just below Mendocino enough of the fog had burned off to give a tolerable view, so I turned off onto one of the minor overlooks. The sands were far far below. My sister, my brother-in-law and my wife, all three possessing a refined and noble attitude toward nature, fastened their attention on the high sky and the tumbling sea. But I leaned over the edge just for that little frisson of risk and saw two white dots back near where the sand joined the bluff, two small white dots juxtaposed as if ....

Nay, Madam, not seems but is.

Got the binoculars and confirmed, as a coast watcher or birder might do. And there they were, cooperating away. Now there is a lesson in this. There is always a lesson in nature, and this was certainly natural, encompassed in those 360 degrees of which human life is comprised. The lesson is that what interests me most now and interested me most at the time is/was that my reaction to the thing engaged me more than the thing itself. I've seen pornos -- not many; no need to talk of addiction and prepare to intervene. I've seen enough soft core "adult" movies on the rowdier cable channels. There were no lessons to be learned from what was transpiring on the beach. Lesson was in how we reacted. First, laughter since a multitude of things is veiled by laughter. Then, slight embarrassment because curiosity quickly shades into voyeurism, and voyeurism is essentially solitary and forlorn. Then, speculation. We wanted context. We were not content to take the thing at face value as a spontaneous overflow of emotion (I'm channeling Wordsworth here) to be recollected someday in tranquility. (Like in Titanic. You remember the way the basic plot was framed.)

I mean, there was a stately quality to this performance, a choreographed quality. Were these folk exhibitionists? Was it, in fact, a porno shoot? Was there a camera person lurking near the cliff face out of sight? Speculating and intellectualizing, we watched for a while longer. Put up the sign: anthropologists at work.

And then my wife said with utter seriousness -- I know her irony; this was not it -- she said I think that man has a physical problem. And I said what? And she said he has been going on for such a very long time, which can't be natural can it?

At which point I herded everyone into the car saying if we lingered any longer we would get to the bed and breakfast too late for the five o'clock wine and cheese.

Speed, it seemed, was suddenly of the essence.

Addendum: That reminds me. Here's part of a poem by Henry Reed, of WW2 vintage, dealing with a similar experience. It's one of five related poems dealing, it would seem, with his military training.

Reed, Henry. "Judging Distances." New Statesman and Nation 25, no. 628 (6 March 1943): 155.


Not only how far away, but the way that you say it
Is very important. Perhaps you may never get
The knack of judging a distance, but at least you know
How to report on a landscape: the central sector,
The right of the arc and that, which we had last Tuesday,

And at least you know
That maps are of time, not place, so far as the army
Happens to be concerned—the reason being,
Is one which need not delay us.
Again, you know
There are three kinds of tree, three only, the fir and the poplar,
And those which have bushy tops to; and lastly

That things only seem to be things.
A barn is not called a barn, to put it more plainly,
Or a field in the distance, where sheep may be safely grazing.
You must never be over-sure.
You must say, when reporting:
At five o'clock in the central sector is a dozen
Of what appear to be animals; whatever you do,

Don't call the bleeders sheep.
I am sure that's quite clear; and suppose, for the sake of example,
The one at the end, asleep, endeavors to tell us
What he sees over there to the west, and how far away,
After first having come to attention.
There to the west,
Of the fields of summer the sun and the shadows bestow

Vestments of purple and gold.
The white dwellings are like a mirage in the heat,
And under the swaying elms a man and a woman
Lie gently together.
Which is, perhaps, only to say
That there is a row of houses to the left of the arc,
And that under some poplars a pair of what appear to be humans

Appear to be loving.
Well that, for an answer, is what we rightly call
Moderately satisfactory only, the reason being,
Is that two things have been omitted, and those are very important.
The human beings, now: in what direction are they,
And how far away, would you say?
And do not forget

There may be dead ground in between.
There may be dead ground in between; and I may not have got
The knack of judging a distance; I will only venture
A guess that perhaps between me and the apparent lovers,
(Who, incidentally, appear by now to have finished,)
At seven o'clock from the houses, is roughly a distance

Of about one year and a half.

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