stories >> 1998 - 03 - 01
I went out last night with predictable results. The line of the night
was at the wavering point, right before the second pitcher of beer, when
Carl hunched up his shoulders and told me, "Come on, leetle boy, and get
drunk with Uncle Carl!" But I don't want to talk about that. I want to
talk about today... a perfect paradise day deep in the heart of Texas.
And I think I've got some heavy reading to do later tonight, so I want
to capture this while I can.
was perfect, the sky was perfect, and the air was moving slowly through
my apartment. I could smell all of those faint sappy spring smells that
Texas puts out, and there's that invisible hum in the air. I laid in bed
for an hour, with the blanket pulled up to my chin, and my eyes closed,
and that big stupid grin across my face, just feeling how great the day
was. I finally got up, showered, blew off Carl's attempt to go out to
breakfast and start drinking in earnest again, and just sat outside in
paradise has been on the mind of lots of folks lately. I'm thinking about
my current favorite pop song, "The Way" by Fastball. I only vaguely remember the chorus:
And anyone can see the road
That they walk on is paved with gold
And it's always summer
And they'll never get cold
They'll never get hungry
They'll never get old and gray
and it just reverberates so well. One of those random Greek words you
pick up in philosophy is telos, which doesn't exactly mean "paradise"
but more like "accomplishing goal." The end of the line. The reason for
doing something. We'll never get old , we'll never get old and gray.
to go the Springs. Barton Springs, that is.
So I went
down to Rooster Andrews and bought myself a fancy pair of goggles ( Tyr
Racetech, for both "training and racing." Cool.). Then I set off down
MoPac to the Springs, and just smiled at every car I passed as that perfect
air whipped through the Leper and set the head liner a'ripplin. Driving
by the Springs, there were cars and cars and cars, and I realized that
I wasn't the only one who was thinking about Zilker and Barton Springs
today. So I tooled over to work, got out my towel and brand new goggles,
talked to Rachel while I pumped up the bike tires and set off around Town
Lake with the eventual telos of sweet, sweet Barton Springs.
left instead of my usual right around Town Lake so that I could torment
my lazy quads with that quick pump up that tiny steep hill just before
South First Street. Unfortunately, someone jumped out in front of me right
before I got to the hill, so I didn't downshift and was pumping and swearing
with all my might to get up that damn hill. Everybody was kind of looking
at me since I have the habit of talking to myself when I'm struggling
through something. "Come on, baby! Come on, bitch! GGRRAAAAAUUUUNNNNHHH!"
It seemed like hours, but it only took maybe ten seconds to smack up the
hill, and then I was cruising through the easy parts of the loop.
a trail I had never seen before and negotiated a few tree roots, and I
came out on the east side of the Springs. I locked up, walked down, and
was happy to realize that it was still early enough in the year that you
get to swim for free. I chatted up the life guard for a little while,
asking her how long 100 meters was in the ill marked pool, and then I
stripped down and put on my fancy new goggles. Then I jumped on in.
I don't know, fifty times or so I've swum at Barton Springs, I'd think
that I'd be somewhat used to the water temperature by now. But every time
I jump in, that 68 degrees is a brutal shock, and I have to splash frantically
for several seconds to stave off shock. Everything... er... shrinks in
68 degree water. After a few minutes, though, it's all okay, and I talk
to some guy who's swimming around while I keep doing karate kicks under
water to get blood back into my toes. I brag about how cool my eight dollar
goggles are ("They're for both training AND racing, you know") and then
I set off to do some laps.
I always forget how hard swimming is. It's not like being eight years
old playing "Sharks and Minnows" in the deep end of the pool. I fancied
myself quite a swimmer as a little tyke, but those, um, 18 years of non
swimming sure do catch up. I puff through 80 meters of forward crawl,
and then do the last 20 in a miserable breast stroke. My pride is sorely
stung, so I fake my way through another fifty meters before I decide that
maybe I'll just swim back and forth along the short length of the pool.
I do that a few times, and I start getting more interested at looking
at the cool water plants along the bottom of the pool. The new goggles
are perfect, not a drop of water in my eyes, but I realize that I'm back
at the "Sharks and Minnows" level of swimming now so I go ahead and get
Ahh, this is the real point of swimming. The
real telos. You've got apres ski, how about apres swim. Probably because
I'm so bad at it, nothing makes me tired like the water, and getting out and
loosening up feels oh so good. I swap the goggles for those ridiculous bug eye
shades I wear, spread out the towel, and just watch everything for a while and
let that March sun pound down on me. I think to myself, "Screw melanoma. I'm
Lord of my Domain!"
true. On a day like this, I really feel invincible. I'll never get old
and gray. I'm splayed out in the sun, and I hear a steady stream of kids
and kid chatter behind me. I hear one of them talking about me,and I feel
a quick twinge of self consciousness. Then I laugh a little, and think
about how as a younger man going to the pool was quite an ordeal. How
we would walk around the pool so stiff, trying to flex our abs just so,
trying to hold our arms out so that our lats looked bigger, scowling at
everyone trying to be tough. "What a difference," I think, looking down
at eight years of beer hanging around my belly and not really worrying
that much about it. I hear another kid insistently asking his mom if she
"sees the alligator down there" and I close my eyes and smile and let
my mind wander around.
back to my first philosophy class in college... was it really 8 1/2 years
ago? ... and I think of my first prof, Janet Sepasi. On a day just like
this, I had ridden my bike down from UT on what had seemed to be a marathon
ride, and I laid in the sun and read a book of poems by Sappho that she
had let me borrow. I remember eating a pear, and reading about the textual
difficulties of translating ancient Greek (it's all in upper case, with
no spaces or punctuation), and I remember just one line of Sappho even
now from a fragment called "Love"
Good old Sappho knew what she was talking about. I wonder what Janet's
doing these days? She had gotten married to some other grad student, and
I never knew what happened to her afterwards. Funny how as I get older
I wonder about these things, seeing in my mind a bright thread of someone
else's life that wound around mine for awhile and then wandered off to
think back to a day at Trilogy... it was the summer before I left them,
when things had gotten really bad. Carl and I had gone out for lunch.
As we drove back into the parking garage, we looked down on Lake Austin
and saw the boats and how beautiful it all was and I told him, "You know,
I really don't want to go back to work." And of course Carl thought a
moment and said, "You know, I wouldn't mind playing hookey today." So
off we went, and eventually we ended up at the Springs, me with a pair
of shorts I had just bought on sale at Mervyn's, Carl with a can of Fosters'
in each fist, and we swam in the cold water and lay in the warm sun. Off
to the left of us a pair of gorgeous lesbians were kissing each other,
and I lay back and looked up through the live oaks at the softly shimmering
sky and thought, "This is where I am truly happy." That was the day when
the seed to leave Trilogy really took root.
my eyes a little bit now and see the same sky but different trees; it
will be a few weeks before the live oaks have their leaves back. But everywhere
there are the subtle signs of lionized March branching into Spring, and
I lazily dream about a pair of eyes as blue as the sky above me.
up a little more and watch the swimmers a little to try to get ideas of
how I can improve my own technique. I see someone wearing a wet suit,
and some lines from Xanadu, yet another paradise, come into my head. I
laugh as the "damsel with a dulcimer" interpolates into "A woman in a
wetsuit in a vision I once saw." The sun's getting a little lower, and
the kid behind me still wants to know where the alligator is, and I figure
it's time to move on.
I put on
my ancient ratty sneakers, drop my new kingly goggles into my pocket,
and head up out of the Springs.
the rest of the way around Town Lake, unable to resist a few quick races
to beat some slow people on bicycles (I get like that sometimes), and
I come out back at GE. I put the bike away and ride the Leper home. I'm
tired all over, and getting to be starving. I put some water on to make
pasta, rummage out a tangelo, and open a bottle of wine. I'm getting cold,
out of the sun, so I wrap a shirt around me and stare out the windows.
The wine's one of my last bottles of 1994 Gravelstone Chardonnay, and
it's as gold and thick as the sunlight streaming in through the windows.
And it tastes so good going down, I think of one last vision of paradise,
this one from Son Volt:
to an all night station
While driving through Louisiana
It sounds like 1963
But tonight, it sounds just like Heaven.