Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Acid Logic

Note: I wrote this to read on stage at the Short Attention Span Storytelling Hour - a monthly event organized by the Writers of Central Florida or Thereabouts.

I’ve done drugs.

Not just once or twice. Lots of times. And lots of different ones.

Years ago, I tried various things – never any injectables, of course - but mostly found myself smoking pot. And we’re not talking about the Bill Clinton method of smoking pot. Oh no. I inhaled. Sometimes with great enthusiasm. Like a drowning man who’s suddenly bobbed to the surface.

The problem with pot was, for me, at least, it wasn’t a very social drug. I spent many thousands of hours high and listening to records. You know… vinyl LP’s. Sometimes with friends, but frequently by myself.

Did I benefit from it? I’d have to say yes. I currently work for a creative audio company writing and producing radio commercials and jingles. Before that, I worked in various roles in the radio and music businesses, and as a manager and consultant for rock bands. A substantial knowledge of rock, and an intuitive understanding of music structure – through years of exposure - certainly helped.

I eventually settled on alcohol as my drug of choice. As much as I was drawn to being in a marijuana-induced fog and listening to Pink Floyd, I was overtaken by other urges... like… the desire for female companionship. And alcohol was definitely better-suited to my social aspirations.

But there was a brief period of time - about a year - when I experimented with LSD. And, I think my life is better as a result.

Lysergic acid diethylamide – commonly called LSD – is a powerful hallucinogen. We called it acid. And taking acid was called “tripping.” Because it certainly was a journey.

Let me read part of an official description of its effects…

“Users experience radiant colors, objects and surfaces appearing to ripple or ‘breathe’, an altered sense of time, crawling geometric patterns overlaying walls and other objects, morphing objects, a sense that one's thoughts are spiraling into themselves, and loss of a sense of identity or ego.”

I have another way to describe it: temporary insanity.

There were times you weren’t sure you would ever come down. And other times you were simply incapable of thinking in linear fashion. There were just too many distractions. Some of them in the outside world. Some of them in your head.

I should also mention that, when we were tripping, we didn’t especially enjoy being around people who weren’t - unless we knew them well. We called them “real’ people – as in, “Oh man, we can’t go over there, there’s real people” - which just goes to show how disconnected from reality we could become.

But acid definitely produced moments of magic, no matter how unlikely they seemed.

Back when I was at the University of Florida, a friend and I drove to Orlando to see a concert at what was then the Tangerine Bowl. Incidentally, it was one of the better shows I’ve ever seen – Eric Burden and the Animals, the Fixx, and the Police. My friend was in a fraternity, and somehow we ended up with a car-full of sorority girls. I don’t recall how many.

The show was in October, just before Halloween. This is how I know… Because, when we got home, late at night, I saw that my friend, Chuck, was trying out his costume – a long, black robe, emblazoned with silver crescent moons and white stars… a tall, pointy, black hat… and a curved, gold shepherd’s staff. As we pulled up, he was standing… perfectly still… in the middle of this cone-shaped, yellow haze from the streetlight shining down in front of our house.

Bear in mind, this was back in the days before cell phones, and it was very late – probably three in the morning. And he would’ve had no idea when we’d be arriving. But… there he was.

I wondered what the heck was going on, and I began to suspect … that he was tripping.

As the cackling sorority girls started spilling out of the car, Chuck confirmed my suspicion when he came over to me and said, “Brian, I’m trippin’. Get these fucken’ people away from me.”

This episode demonstrates what I call “acid logic.” – because there’s no other suitable way to describe it. It’s something that makes no sense at all, normally, but, when you’re tripping, seems perfectly logical. Chuck had decided it would be a good idea to dress up - in a wizard suit - and stand - by himself - under a streetlight - in the middle of the night – just to see what it felt like.

Later, we figured out he’d probably spent two or three hours… just… standing there…

I enjoy it every time I picture that image. It’s a magic memory that will never leave me.

On another occasion, there was a roomful of us tripping at a friend’s house, and we were listening to an album by the progressive rock band “Yes” called “Close to the Edge.” A FANTASTIC album. Back in those days, in addition to the tone arm that held the needle as it moved across the record, many turntables had a pick-up arm that would shut it off when the album side finished playing. But if you didn’t put the pick-up arm in place, the album would repeat… pretty much… forever.

Now… if you’re not familiar with “Close to the Edge,” the title song takes up the entire first side. Somehow, someone put the album on, and we LOVED it! It’s great music for the acid-infused brain. But… whoever it was… forgot to push the pick-up arm into place. And, eventually, we realized we’d been listening to the same thing… for a LONG time.

Under normal circumstances, it’s hard enough to get five people in one room to agree on what music they want to hear. But… drop a little LSD into the mix, and it’s virtually impossible.

Each time Close to the Edge… got… close to the end, we’d begin a discussion about what album should be next. We all agreed we wanted to hear something that was just as good – which is difficult, because classic Yes is phenomenal.

We’d throw out some ideas… then lose our train of thought. The album would end. And then start over. Twenty-five minutes later…. Same thing.

I remember having several solid options. Thick as a Brick by Jethro Tull… Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles… The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys by Traffic… All of them good choices, but, because we were tripping, we were simply unable to make such an important decision.

The album would end. And then start over. Twenty-five minutes later…. Same thing.

I’m not sure how many times in a row we listened to it, but, finally, I offered a solution. I said, “Let’s listen to something shitty so we won’t mind not hearing it again.“

That, ladies and gentlemen, is acid logic.

Let’s listen to something shitty so we won’t mind not hearing it again.

I have no idea if we ever chose another record. We spent half an hour laughing hysterically, and then quite some time after that trying to decide if what I had said was somehow profound… or just idiotic.

It made perfect sense to me at the time…

Those silly, but magical moments took on this significance in your memory – simply because they were so different – and so affected by the influence of this crazy chemical.

With acid, your mind worked in interesting ways. You could contemplate things… great and small… with equal fervor. Your mind could soar into beautiful places where you could visualize world peace, and be comforted by the harmony evident in all things natural.

Or, you could spend hours captivated by the texture of the carpet.

This pattern of going from the mundane to the monumental, and back, was particularly true for me, the one time I…. and this is a bit embarrassing… but… this was true the one time I had a bowel movement while I was tripping.

At first, I was horrified by the idea that my body could manufacture something so foul and frightening. My whole mood shifted to something that was completely contrary to the way I’d been feeling just before I wandered into the john. But, slowly, I began to see it as a process of creation. Proper. Pure. Almost… divine. I was amazed that my body had taken this… matter, and transformed it into this… other matter. And, knowing something about the laws of physics, I realized that this matter would exist forever, in one form or another. Possibly in some remote corner of the universe. And that it might grow and expand. I thought it MUST have cosmic significance.

But nobody seemed impressed when I went running out to tell them I was pretty sure I had just crapped a new galaxy.

Such is acid logic.

So, you might ask, how did I benefit from this madness? How is my life is better as a result?

First of all, although I have never and would never recommend LSD to anyone… we had a blast.

But, at this point, I should share another brief portion of an official description of its effects… Cuz this is fascinating…

“The drug sometimes leads to disintegration or restructuring of the user's historical personality, and creates a mental state that some users report allows them to have more choice regarding the nature of their own personality.”

That’s wild, right?

There’s a period of time after you trip – a day or two – when you’re trying to piece together who you were before. And there is this opportunity – if you embrace it - to at least think about becoming more like the person you want to be, rather than the person you are.

It’s possible that therein lies the reason some people have bad experiences with the drug, because, during that period of self-analysis, they discover that they are - in fact - assholes.

But I believe I learned to be open to new ways of thinking. To realize, that, in many cases, there is no absolute right or wrong. There just… IS.

 I learned that it’s important to maintain some perspective. When you can contemplate things – great and small – you realize that, while our existence is important to us, and, possibly, a few people around us, we really are just a tiny speck on a pebble spinning through the heavens. So we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously.

I learned to try to enjoy the moment – every moment - as difficult as that sometimes seems. Because we really, truly never know for sure if it will be our last.

I learned that I have strengths. And I became willing to admit I have weakness.

I learned that I can be profound. And idiotic. Sometimes… simultaneously.

And, I thought a lot about love. True love. How lucky we are to have it within us to give. And to experience it, when given to us by others. Because it’s… amazing.

I had a breakthrough when I stopped trying to understand it. Because, what IS love, if not acid logic? Sometimes it makes no sense at all… But it’s magic when it happens.

Irrational Fears

As I am discussing with a friend the inevitable beach excursion that will occur at some point this weekend, the subject of sharks arises. Some people are so afraid of sharks that they won't even venture into the ocean. Others go in, but are too apprehensive and fearful to really enjoy themselves.

I think about sharks when I am in the ocean - which is often. I am in no way inclined to be reckless or oblivious, but, ultimately, the dread of shark attacks is one of those irrational fears that we need to put aside to really enjoy our time in the water.

I thought of this not long ago when, while on one of my many long strolls down the beach, I was stopped by a New Jersey man who looked truly miserable. He had deep red streaks on his shoulders, outlining what would have been the edge of the wifebeater he had apparently worn the day before - evidence that he was not a dilligent sunscreener - and he was engaged in some serious hand-wringing. Why he chose me, of all people, I have no idea. But I was the lucky one.

He looked around as if he wanted to be sure others could not hear. I was suddenly afraid I was about to be burdened with some great secret he had resisted sharing for years - the nuclear launch codes for an isolated missile silo in North Dakota where he had been stationed in the 70's - or some such thing.

But, after finally ascertaining that no passers-by were in range, he tipped his head to indicate the surf rolling toward us as the subject of his concern, and asked, "Are there... are there sharks in there?"

Now, for those of you who don't know me, I am not one who takes great pleasure in making people feel stupid, at least not without provocation, but it was all I could do to keep from laughing in his face.

My reply was as logical and serious as I could make it, given the circumstances.  "Umm... it's the ocean.  There are sharks everywhere."

His reaction told me that my answer was probably the one he had expected, but not the one he had hoped for, as if I were a doctor giving him test results that confirmed a tragic preliminary diagnosis.

Sensing blood, I moved in for the kill.

"Every time you go in the ocean, there is at least one but probably several sharks that know you are there.  They have a truly remarkable sense of smell, and can detect movement hundreds of yards away."

He looked at me and then at the ocean. Then he looked at me and back at the ocean again. And I seriously thought I was going to have to find him some tissues. Here was a man who was sizzling hot and uncomfortably sunburned, and who wanted nothing more than reassurance that he could swim without being maimed, and it was just his luck that he decided to ask me.

At this point, I realized I had passed beyond the world of sadistic playfulness and into the realm of downright cruelty. What I said was, of course, true, but I decided to add some calming details to the discussion.

"Think how many times people have been in the ocean and sharks were there. Some of those people may have known there were sharks around, but probably most of them didn't. Either way, nothing at all happens almost all the time."

I could tell he was trying to digest this logic, but those irrational fears gnawed at him like a school of starving sharks.

Finally, I said, "Look at it this way, statistically-speaking, your drive to the beach was far more dangerous than swimming in the ocean. And you probably weren't too worried in your car."

To this, he nodded in acknowledgment.

Looking for one last morsel of rationality, he asked, "Do you swim here?"

I have to admit, there is some small, twisted, diabolical part of me that wanted to say, "No. Are you kidding? This place is loaded with sharks."

But I looked at the strips of his otherwise pale skin that were now crimson, and saw the perspiration gathering on his forehead and pouring down his face. If ever there was a man badly in need of a refreshing dip in the ocean, this was him.

With a sincere smile on my face, and with the most pleasant, Mister Rogers tone of voice I could manage, I replied, "All the time."

We chatted a bit longer, and, despite his irrational fears, he turned out to be quite pleasant and interesting. Finally, I walked on. And he waded into the waves. As far as I know, he emerged a short while later, considerably cooler, and with all his limbs intact.

When the topic of shark attacks came up this morning, I decided to check it out. I found one source, on a website called vagabondish.com, in which the writer decided to compare what he called "rather bizarre ways to die" in an attempt to confirm that the idea of any given person becoming shark food was really not something with which we should be overly concerned. While the shark attack numbers are global, he found some figures for the United States in 2003 that showed the following:

Cause of Death                                           Total #       
Shark Attack                                                4  (57 total attacks)
Contact with Hot Tap Water                         26
Lightning                                                     47
Contact with hornets, wasps, bees               66

Assuming this information is correct, a human is much more likely to die from contact with hot tap water or an encounter with a stinging insect than from a shark attack. And I found some other figures from 2003 that told me my New Jersey man was better off taking a swim than suffering in the heat. As it turned out, 273 people died that year from excessive exposure to the sun or high temperatures. Also, I was right when I told him his trip to the beach was much more perilous - 44,757 people died in car accidents in 2003.

Of course, none of those other causes of death have rows of ridiculously sharp teeth or a reputation as a relentless predator that can chew you up and then swim away with a belch and a smile. Ok, I don't really know if sharks can belch. Or smile. But you know what I mean.

When you Google shark images, you have to go pages and pages before you find anything besides pictures of gigantic, menacing sharks terrorizing every creature that comes within reach. But sharks are really just amazing, efficient survivors who are probably in need of a good public relations firm.

According to the fossil record, sharks have been around for about 420 million years, which means they pre-date the dinosaurs. And, needless to say, they are still around long after dinosaurs went... well... the way of the dinosaur. Despite what we think, they are not gluttonous carnivores. They eat only about 5% of their body weight every 40 to 80 hours. According to the website sharks.org, if humans ate like sharks, you would only have one meal every two or three days.

The New Jersey man was probably right in one regard, shark attacks are more likely to happen in Florida than in any other place on the globe. For the sake of consistency, let's look at 2003.  According to the International Shark Attack File maintained by the Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida, there were 57 shark attacks worldwide (only four of them fatal), but 30 of them were in Florida.

While this might seem alarming, there is an obvious relationship between the location and the number of human encounters with sharks. Here is where I would like to point out the difference between those in academia and people like me. The official, scientific explanation is a "high rate of aquatic recreational utilization." Whereas I would call it "a lot of freakin' people in the water." Sharks and humans are in the same place at the same time in Florida more than just about anywhere else.

I would like to note that, during my internet research, I frequently ran across numbers of shark attacks listed as "unprovoked." Although I saw no statistics on "provoked" shark attacks, there is certainly the implication that at least some of the victims deserved it. But I'll leave that story for another time.

For now, as I return to the conversation with my friend about our plans for the weekend, I think we may scrap the idea of going to the beach. I'd love to catch some waves, but, after reading this, I am afraid to drive.


After a long evening of exploring downtown D.C. on foot, I stopped to get a cold beer at an old place called Harry’s. I stood at the bar next to a girl who introduced herself as Cheryl, and who seemed a little too loud and a tad too intoxicated. I thought it might be time for the bartender to cut her off or for her friends to take her home.

Then I began hearing fragments of their conversation, and, when I appeared interested, she turned to me. There were a few moments of the usual small talk, and then the bartender placed a fresh cocktail in front of her, courtesy of one of her companions. She was unsteady on her feet, and, as she pulled the drink toward her, a bit splashed on the bar.

Looking at me, she grinned, lifted her glass in a familiar gesture and chirped, "It’s my twenty-fifth birthday!"

Now it all made sense. Chuckling, I tapped my glass against hers and, feigning concern, said, "I hope you make it to twenty-six."

She sipped and put the glass down in front of her. I could tell, at that moment, a thought had entered her mind, one that was familiar but nonetheless unpleasant. I watched as the expression on her face changed, and a haze descended over her eyes, giving the impression that she was looking at something far away, but seeing nothing.

Without facing me, she leaned and whispered, "My mom died on my birthday."

I don't think her hard-drinking friends had any idea. I guess she just wanted to tell… someone. I was the lucky one. I wondered how long ago it had been, and thought how awful that must be. Before I could say anything, her eyes brightened again. The silence hadn’t been long enough to be awkward.

"Aren’t you going to wish me happy birthday?" Loud, drunk Cheryl had returned just as suddenly as she had departed.

"Happy birthday," I said as I smiled and nodded at her, and took a big swig from my mug.

One of her friends grabbed her and pulled her away down the bar. Someone had bought a round of shots.

Left alone, I drank a silent toast. Birthdays are sometimes bittersweet, Cheryl. Yours will always be so.


Orlando - The Manhole Capitol of the World

I live in Orlando, Florida. It's an okay place. I mean, it's not Paris, but then again, it's not Ft. Stockton, Texas either. It's pretty centrally located. But Florida is a big state, so that doesn't necessarily mean it's convenient. Key West is 425 miles south. And if you want to meander up to the Panhandle, Pensacola is 451 miles to the north, and then west. Key West is cool in a funky sort of way. And Pensacola sounds like something you could mix with rum. So I guess that's good.

Many of the tourists who visit Florida come to, or at least through, Orlando. It's a busy place. Ongoing efforts in certain parts of the city have made it somewhat more visually appealing, but I recently noticed something that is now driving me nuts, and makes me believe the city should consider changing its official motto from "The City Beautiful" to "The Manhole Capitol of the World."

I took a picture at the intersection of Orange Ave and Washington Street in downtown Orlando. Although they are not all clearly visible in the photo, from where I was standing on the corner, there were eleven manhole covers visible. That only counts the regular man-sized manholes, not the smaller utility covers, water meter covers and whatever-the-hell-other covers that are all over the place in the Manhole Capitol of the World.

Manholes - and their covers - in principle and theory, are not objectionable. And, since civil engineering and urban planning are not my forte, I can only assume that many of them are truly and genuinely necessary to accomodate the energy, transportation, communication and sewage needs of a big city. But this is the part that really gets me; despite the achievements of modern technology and the ingenuity of the American worker, not one of the manhole covers is flush with the surface of the road.

Twice every weekday, on the way to and from work, I drive down the Federal highways numbered 17 and 92 - running concurrently - through Maitland and Winter Park, and into downtown Orlando. This portion of the road is not covered with asphalt. It is one of those old-school concrete roads with expansion joints (i.e. planned cracks) every fifteen feet or so. That, in itself, is bad enough. But, when you add in all the troughs, dips, splits, faults and crevices that occur through normal wear and tear, and combine those with the hundreds of manhole covers you encounter all along the route, driving down this stretch of road is about as comfortable as riding in a landing barge heading into Omaha Beach. Minus the bullets and artillery, of course. At least in most areas.

I'm willing to admit that the bulk of the manhole covers are only minor inconveniences, but some of them are bona fide hazards. It wouldn't surprise me to find out some day that those in charge of Orlando's roadways and their associated manhole covers spent years collecting generous bribes from the makers of automotive tires and shock absorbers.

If there is any benefit in having so many manhole covers, it's that it sometimes helps me forget about the thousands of ill-timed traffic lights that must be navigated if you hope to get anywhere in the Manhole Capitol of the World.

But I don't want to sound too bitter. It could be worse. I could live in Ft. Stockton.

The Form Letter

Recently, I was working with members of a professional organization to which I belong. As part of the "membership" committee, I was helping to compose a form letter to use as a way of "personally" contacting brand new members who have just paid their dues.

Even the friendliest of form letters can still sound like a form letter, so, if I am the sender, I like to spruce it up to fit my personality. While we were fiddling around with the proper wording, I concocted this:

Dear ____________

Thank you for joining the (city name here) chapter of the (organization name here). My name is B____________ W____________, and I have included my personal contact information in case you have any questions about the organization. Bear in mind that I often leave my phone uncharged and I rarely check my e-mail. So, you're pretty much on your own, but I thought I should at least pretend to extend this courtesy to you.

Now that we have your money, we're kind of hoping that we won't see you again until this time next year. Even then, if you'd prefer to just mail in a check, that would be great.

If you actually plan to get involved with the club and its events, congratulations! There's a good chance that you'll never see me at any of these functions because I mostly prefer to hide in the back and drink beer. I don't even emerge to get napkins when I'm sloppy with the appetizers. Good God, man, that's what sleeves are for.

At some point in this century, we'll have a brand new website that will tell you everything you need to know about the (city name here) chapter. In the meantime, I recommend BabesAtTheBeach.com. I mean, seriously, would you rather see information on our next guest speaker or would you rather see thongs?

If you'd like to become a member of one of our committees, let me know which one interests you, and I'll turf you off to the chairperson of that committee. That makes it even more likely that you will leave me alone at future events, and let me enjoy my beer and gobble appetizers in peace.

If you do happen to enter our next function during the few minutes that I am near the door, please say hello quickly and then be on your merry way. If I'm at the front of the room, it's only because I haven't yet located the bar. If you expect to exchange anything more than the briefest pleasantries, you'd better be buying.


B____________ W____________

What do you think?

Stupidly Drunk

Note: I read this on stage at the Storytelling Practice Session at Sleeping Moon Cafe - an event presented in conjunction with Diverse Word Spoken Word Community and Storytellers of Central Florida.

During a visit to Gainesville in early December, I was standing behind the end of the bar at the Beer Pit. My friend Ryan owns it, and his buddies often stand behind the end of the bar. It's a short bar, and, by waiting at the end of it, we can see what's going on in the rest of the place, help out in whatever meager way we are able, when necessary, and still chat with Ryan while also staying out of everybody's way. It works well.

It was a busy Friday night, and people were coming up one after the other to order. A guy worked his way through the bodies to the bar. He was relatively young, mid-twenties probably, wearing a light brown jacket and a camouflage baseball hat. Ryan raised his eyebrows and pointed - the signal that he was ready for the guy to place his order.

The new patron tried to speak, but managed only to make some noises that weren't readily recognizable as English. I grinned at Ryan, and we prepared to have some fun at this guy's expense. That's what we normally do with people who are stupidly drunk; we make them feel stupider. And this guy was almost too drunk to speak.

After a few attempts in the midst of the chaos of the crowd, he was able to tell me that he wanted a Coors Light. I relayed this to Ryan, and I could tell that Ryan was contemplating whether he should even serve this guy. In that brief pause, it became obvious that the guy wanted to tell me something else.

I turned to face him directly. He leaned toward me, gathered himself as well as he could, and said, "I just found out I'm being deployed to Afghanistan on December 23."

For a second, maybe two, he looked at me. Right at me. What I saw in his eyes has stayed with me ever since.

It was clearly fear. Not fear of bodily harm. As far as I could tell, he was no more or less courageous or cowardly than the next guy. But he was smart enough to know that, no matter what happened over there, his life would never be the same. Whatever he had, he was about to lose. And he was terrified.

Especially in your twenties, things happen quickly. Circumstances change. People change. Relationships change. Babies learn to talk. Relatives get sick. Job openings are filled. Girlfriends or boyfriends get lonely.

Beginning on Christmas Eve, life as he currently knew it was over.

When we, as a nation, make the decision to put men and women in harm's way, we should be sure to do everything necessary to help them succeed with the least possible risk. But we should also be sure that what we are asking them to do is so absolutely vital that the risk is worth the reward. Because, even if they return, we have taken from them a portion of their lives that they can never get back.

For those who are injured, physically or psychologically, the story is even worse. And then there are those who don't come back at all...

I thought of all this in the second or two that Ryan spent trying to decide if this guy should have another beer. I turned to Ryan and said, "He just told me he's going to Afghanistan on December 23."

Ryan grabbed a cup, went to the tap, came back, and handed the guy his beer. No charge. The guy took a sip, looked at both of us, turned and squirmed away. Ryan didn't say anything, but I could tell he was thinking the same thing I was; if I were going to Afghanistan in two weeks, I would be stupidly drunk too.

On the Dunes and Ocean Blue

I like the beach. Not in an ordinary, casual way. I really like the beach. And the strange thing about it is I can't really explain why, or at least there is no explanation that holds true all the time. Hundreds of books, poems and songs have addressed the subject. Part of the reason it's indefinable is because it not only means different things to different people, it also means different things to the same people at different times.

For me, sometimes it means solitude.  If you can find it. But it can also mean sharing the time and space with people enjoying the sun, surfers challenging the waves, fisherman casting and reeling, and kids building sand castles. And that's not even mentioning the animal life, both in the water and on the beach.

If you sit long enough, terns will strut near you searching for food, tiny crabs come out of their holes and battle over territory, and, occasionally, a buzzard will roost nearby in the hope that your prolonged stillness is an indication of your imminent demise.

I recently had a staring contest with a seagull. He stood for quite some time about half way between me and the rest of his flock. I don't know if he was suspicious, curious, or just on routine sentry duty. I finally took his picture. Couldn't tell if he smiled. Eventually he wandered off. I'm probably more interesting than the average human, but not interesting enough to hold his attention for too long.

People just seem happier and healthier when they're near the ocean, or in it. Life seems to slow down. Attitudes seem to improve. It's something many people notice, but can't seem to explain. If you've often felt different when you're near the ocean, it's not your imagination or wishful thinking. There is actually some science behind it. The breaking waves produce negative ions that are good for you in many ways. One source I found explains it this way:
The force or energy of the falling or splashing water causes splitting of neutral particles of air, freeing electrons which attach to other molecules causing a negative charge.
Negative ions enhance our mood, stimulate our senses, improve appetite and sexual drive, provide relief from hay fever, sinusitis and bronchial asthma, allergies, migraines, even post-operative pain and burns.
And you thought it was just the babes in bikinis...

Negative ions also stimulate our brain, our immune system, and the ability of our red blood cells to absorb oxygen. If laughter is the best medicine, the ocean is clearly a close second.

For me, there are musical associations with the ocean. The combination of music and negative ions can be very powerful. Probably the band most obviously associated (at least in their early days) with the beach was the Beach Boys. I think reggae has an ocean association - or at least an "island" association, which is almost the same thing. You wouldn't normally think of jazz-pop or aging new wave rock as styles of music that make you yearn for the sea, but I have a couple of songs in those genres that I often like to hear when the beach is my destination.

One of them is actually quite melancholy. It's a break-up song, and the writer naturally connects the scene with the unfortunate circumstance, and yet he is drawn back again and again. It's from the 1983 album "Kamakiriad" by Donald Fagen who was part of the Steely Dan duo, and a master of the jazz-pop genre. It's called "On the Dunes."


My favorite lines:

As you spoke, you must have known
It was a kind of homicide
I stood and watched my happiness
Drift outwards with the tide
On the dunes
On the dunes

You can never go wrong with this song. It's called "Ocean Blue," from the 1998 album "Elemental" by the Fixx, a band that was part of the English new wave invasion in the 80's. Cy Curnin is one of my favorite singers - a great voice, powerful and soothing at the same time, very much like the ocean itself. This song has a simple but infectious bass line, and a relaxing melody. The message is exactly what you think it might be; the awesomeness of the ocean.

My favorite lines:

Mother of creation, temple of the womb
Take me in your waters darling, I am coming home
Ocean blue, senses and soul renew
Ocean blue, forgive all the wrong I do

 So, are you ready to hit the beach yet?

Stress Meets Sand

Every now and then, I treat myself to a getway in an area that has become my new favorite destination. My life may not seem all that stressful at the moment, but, as with everyone, I have issues that weigh on me heavily, and I have found Cape Canaveral and Port Canaveral to be a perfect periodic release. The beach is a place I always enjoy. The combination of sun, sand and waves warms me, and usually wears me out! If there is no good body-surfing, I'll walk for miles.

Normally, my beach trips from the east side of Orlando aim straight for Canaveral National Seashore. But, this past weekend, the main beach in the southern part of Canaveral - Playalinda Beach - was closed because of the upcoming shuttle mission from the Kenneday Space Center at Cape Canaveral.  For safety and security reasons, the part of the park that is adjacent to the launch pad closes when the shuttle is readied, and re-opens the day after a launch.

It had been many years since I'd been to Cocoa Beach, so I thought I would give it a try, but what I found is what I feared I would find. The beach road is bordered by convenience stores lined with gas pumps, tacky shops from which I would never buy anything, and restaurants that serve bland, fried seafood.  The beach itself is basically a carnival in the sand...

It didn't take long for me to decide to hit the highway, and head for the northern end of Canaveral National Seashore - the part called Apollo Beach - by way of New Smyrna Beach. It meant a forty minute drive, but I can't stand a beach like Cocoa Beach. Even though I like the southern end of Canaveral much better, the difference when I arrived at the north end was immediately obvious...

I caught a handful of good waves, and walked a few miles, and, by then, it was time to go to Port Canaveral and meet a friend.

Jesus Loves Me

On the sand at Cocoa Beach, I had noticed a tent full of people passing out religious literature of some sort. They were mixed in with the people passing out samples of energy drinks, headache powder and a variety of other things. It's nice to know that people care...

During the drive back from Apollo Beach, I was relieved to see that Jesus not only loves me, but his disciples are leaving me messages in the most unlikely places, like this one painted on an old tire in the middle of nowhere...

Grills and The Cove

The drive from Apollo Beach back to Port Canaveral takes almost an hour. It would be quicker except you have to negotiate the portion of US 1 that runs through Titusville to Cocoa. On this stretch of highway, the traffic signals are so remarkably well synchronized that a person traveling at or near the speed limit will hit every red light. I wish I were kidding.

Eventually, you arrive at Cocoa, turn left on the 528 causeway, go over the bridge to Port Canaveral, and turn left into the Cove and Grills Seafood Deck and Tiki Bar.

Grills is fabulous. It is essentially a restaurant with a huge tiki bar built on top of a marina. The food is good. The service is excellent. The ambience is terrific. And the sources of stimulation are varied and abundant.

The tiki bar area is sheltered by several tall palms.  There is a large wood deck in the back, right on the waterway, that provides a perfect viewing platform as enormous cruise ships and other commercial vessels come and go. The ocean breeze is constant and cool. And, even though it is in the center of a working area, as you enjoy the view you tend to overlook the piers, cranes, derricks, storage tanks and pumping stations. It's not exactly Cracker P's on Lubbers Quarters Cay in the Abacos (then again, what is?) but it delivers the same effect. There is always an interesting story somewhere nearby.

On the west side is a long utility table with eight stations where the charter boat hands and their customers clean the day's catch. You can't help your curiosity when the boats tie up and unload. Who caught what? How big? How many?

It is a feast for the sea gulls and pelicans, and for the eyes of the tourists and first-time visitors, although maybe not for the squeamish.

The cleaning tables are just a short stroll down the boardwalk past the row of outdoor dining tables behind Grills.

On the other side, to the east, are the Port Canaveral boat ramps which provide their own unique entertainment.

Boat Ramp Follies

When properly executed, the process of loading a boat on to its trailer and towing it away seems to be a simple one. But, wind, weather, currents and tides, and other factors come into play. And, while I hesitate to pass judgment on the matter, let's just say that it's quite possible some of the fishermen and pleasure boaters may have consumed a few adult beverages while out on the high seas all day.

The plastic cups that Grills uses to serve drinks out on their tiki deck have an unusual graphic on the flip side.  At first, I didn't understand it, but, after a few times standing on the observation deck watching the sometimes comical escapades of late afternoon boaters on the ramp, it all made sense.

Grills patrons have been known to stand on the deck above the boat ramp and heckle boat-owners engaged in Boat Ramp Follies, and the name apparently stuck.

Now, the Grills drinking cups proudly invite one and all to the Boat Ramp Follies.

I knew I would learn to enjoy it when, on one occasion, as a flustered boat-owner finally trailered his boat and climbed in to put his truck into gear, an amused spectator yelled out, "Hey, you might want to untie your boat from the dock first!"

On a number of occasions since then, I've seen the peanut gallery on the deck applaud sarcastically when someone finally gets it right after multiple failed attempts. It's all in good fun, of course.

So, this is where I go to wind down. It is a great place to relax in the sun or the shade, in the breeze or behind shelter, out on the deck or beneath the thatched roof of the tiki bar.

You should try it. Anyone want to go?


Last August, I went to the beach when a hurricane was lurking over the Florida Keys. This may seem silly. It certainly wasn't a beautiful day by most people's standards. but the forecast made it clear that the storm - Hurricane Isaac - would cross over into the Gulf of Mexico.

It was a big storm, as you can see from this image of it (below) as it made landfall, so the effects were felt for hundreds of miles. But we weren't likely to get too much rain or devastating wind, and the beach can be inspirational, even in lousy weather.

So I went.

Days like that offer great opportunites to think, and to appreciate. I stopped at the Titusville causeway, and saw dozens of pigeons huddling under the leeward side of the bridge. I guess that's what they do during hurricanes. I wish I had taken a picture.

I also saw an older man who was by himself, sitting in his car watching people fishing by the boat ramp, even in the damp wind. On the trunk of his car was a breast cancer awareness sticker - one of the ribbon things that have become so popular. His license tag was a Florida specialty plate that showed his support for hospice care. It dawned on me that those two things were probably related. And that, together, they explained why he was alone.

I made it to the far end of the beach, and, of course,  no one was in sight. There was an old shirt tied to a stick that had been jabbed into the sand, some sort of primitive wind gage. It was a bit spooky to be alone in a storm, in an area where there is almost no evidence of humanity. It was also spooky to see how high the ocean was.

The strip of land that separates the sea from Mosquito Lagoon is narrow here, in some areas less than a hundred yards - not far past the green peak of the dune on the left in the last two photographs (below). In years past, there was much more sand here; the ocean's edge was sometimes a hundred yards from the dune. If the ocean ever gets over the dune, it's downhill from there to the river. Once that happens (and I'm sure it will, at some point), the landscape and seascape here will be altered dramatically.

For fear of being cut off by the sea, I didn't continue past this point. Technically, a back country permit is required to go past the sign, although I've never seen that rule enforced.

Days like that are different from the usual beach day. It's normally such a happy place for me, so it  was a bit unnerving to see it so gloomy and disturbed. Each time I visit, as I watch the sand slipping away with the tide, and the sea creeping inexorably to its reunion with Mosquito Lagoon, I can't help but think in cliches because they are so true. Things change. Nothing is certain.

Eventually, I went back over the causeway, grabbed a beer at Crackerjack's, walked the fishing pier in a slight drizzle and watched the birds take shelter from the wind.

A few hard-core regulars were there, probably because they had nothing better to do. There were a few people fishing, too, probably because they had to catch dinner. Or go hungry.

There is something about the ocean, even when it's raining, and the wind is gusting, and the sun is obscured by clouds. It's so easy to just sit and enjoy.

Late in the day at Crackerjack's, a woman approached me, and introduced herself as Maggie. She had noticed me one day a few weeks before, she said. Rather than sit at the tiki bar with the others, I had walked down to the dock, and relaxed on one of the benches by the boat slips.

She had been curious about me ever since.

She remembered that I just sat with my feet up and watched the sunset. She said she'd never seen anyone else do that. I told her she must be hanging around the wrong people. I did it all the time.

Even during storms.

Once again, it was hard not to think in cliches. I'm sure I told her that the sunsets were often amazing there. That it was nice to get away from the meaningless chatter at the bar. That dolphins often frolicked there in the late afternoon. That anhingas stood on the end of the dock drying their wings. That even the smallest things could make you smile, if you stopped to pay attention.

She left after a while. She had ridden there with friends, and it was time for them to go. But I'm sure I'll see her again. The whole afternoon reminded me of the one thing I always think to myself every time I watch the sun set on the water. Every day is a gift.