Monday, February 27, 2012

C Is for Cockamamie, and for

I could never be an actress. That crying thing completely eludes me. No shedding tears for me, crocodile or otherwise. I rarely even cry when I'm genuinely sad. I experience this as a failure on my part. I've been to funerals and worried that others would think me cold and unfeeling.

My son loves my cranberry sauce. Luckily, he likes the simple version that's printed on the back of the Ocean Spray Cranberry bags. Nice and easy, a Thanksgiving staple. I'm not a bad cook, but it takes effort for me. I have friends who find cooking relaxing. For me it's stressful, trying to coordinate everything, trying to please everyone, trying to put on the perfect cooking performance. Exhausting.

I've been watching the Showtime series, The Tudors. During the first season, the "sweating sickness" engulfs England. Not the plague, but rather a contagious virus of unknown origin that fells young and old alike and wipes out a huge portion of the population. This really happened. Kind of like the Spanish flu, in our own era. Or what could happen if bird flu ever reached pandemic proportions.

Hmm, I can't seem to shed the contagion theme.

Don't get me started. I love the taste of chicken but can no longer bear to eat it, having learned about the horrors of factory farms. I used to think I could eat chickens that had a real life before their death, so-called pastured chickens. But now I'm not so sure. I'd rather watch chickens strut their stuff. Unless they became bird flu carriers, that is (see above).

I'm very fond of cocktails, not so much of cocktail parties. All that flitting around, making bright conversation about nothing to somebody I may never see again. I used to think I was good at it, until I noticed the toll it took—the fake smile, the feigned interest, the wanting to be the most beautiful girl in the room. Now I'd rather find one person I know and spend a while talking to him or her. Preferably with a martini in hand.

The way I sometimes feel at cocktail parties (see above). And also why I never go on cruises (what if I want to get off the boat?) and how I feel in a crowded elevator (praying it won't get stuck). As a child, I used to think jail wouldn't be so bad if they would let me read books and live in a private cell. Mind you, it would be a nice cell, no insects, and ice cream would be served for dessert.

I miss the days when my kids were captive in my car and I could get them to talk to me. When I picked up their friends, I loved listening to them talking together. If I kept quiet and just drove, sometimes they'd forget I was there and I'd hear what was really on their minds.

What's with that place? People seem to love it. Otherwise sane friends of mine act passionate about a store. They extol the turkey rolls, the wine, the toilet paper. I went once to see what it was all about. The staff was friendly but I was overwhelmed by all the stuff and the sheer size of the place. I like to buy my tuna one can at a time, and only pole-caught.

I've always thought I would like living there. Such a calm society compared to violent and volatile America. Canadians act nice to one another, I imagine, and are a neat and tidy people. I once knew a woman who came from Ottawa and she lovingly described skating on the Rideau Canal in winter, how she reveled in the frigid beauty of the city.

Photographs courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Noise, in Five Parts

1. The barking dogs
2. Hispanic reality show
3. Shrieks from the beach
4. Music to my ears
5. The women on the terrace

1. The barking dogs
I hear them through my eleventh-story window during the late afternoon, barking at one another in the tiny dog park overlooking Biscayne Bay. I love the sound of their high-pitched yapping.

Small dogs of various breeds play together in the park, among them Coco Chanel, a chubby pug; Henry, a be-ribboned bichon; and Bailey, a sweet-tempered rescue mutt. I long to be there myself with my apricot toy poodle, Cosmo, affectionately known as Cosmo the Wonder Dog, Cosmolian, Cosmonello, and simply The Cos. But sadly, Cosmo is no longer with me, having been put to sleep in the summer of 2010 after a long and barky life.

Most of the dog owners who frequent the park remember Cosmo and gallantly invite me to join them within their noisy sanctum, where they quaff wine and throw squeaky balls for their dogs to fetch. While on my daily walk, I often stop outside the enclosure to chat with the owners and admire their pets, but I can't bring myself to enter without a dog of my own. Still, the sound of their barking is music to my ears.

2. Hispanic reality show
The other day, I noticed a blinding white light coming from one of the mansions across the water. I hoped it wasn't a new security feature. Then I noticed a number of tiny ant-like creatures moving across the patio. I fetched my binoculars and identified a film crew setting up around the pool.

The filming has mostly occurred at night, with atmospheric purple lights coloring the patio. A party scene, I surmised, maybe for an episode of Dexter. The idea that my favorite cable show, which is set in Miami, might be on location in my own backyard, thrilled me. Or perhaps they were filming scenes for CSI Miami or some other big-budget TV drama.

During my walk yesterday, I spied one of the members of the dog-owner brigade, wine glass in hand. He seems to know everything that's going on, so I hoped he might have an idea what the filming was about. Sure enough, he did. "They're filming a reality show," he said, "for Hispanic TV."

I felt disappointed—since I don't watch Spanish-language television, I would likely never see the results of the filming. But I was also intrigued. Would the film crew move in for a year-long reality extravaganza, something along the lines of Las Amas de Casa Reales de Miami? Or would the activity across the water be short-lived?

Yesterday evening, I saw more people on the mansion's patio than during any past night of filming. Soon, the crowd began cheering, their noise rising to a crescendo for a minute or so, then falling off. Rising, then falling again and again. Funny for a while, then mildly irritating. Hopefully, last night was the show's finale and the cheering its noisy climax.

3. Shrieks from the beach
Have I mentioned that I'm sensitive to noise? If it's my noise, generated by me or by my radio or TV, that's fine. But the noise of others feels like an invasion. I realize how lucky I am, living on a beautiful island that's mostly peaceful and quiet. When noise does disrupt the serenity, I would like to be oblivious, to adopt a live-and-let-live attitude, yet that goal eludes me.

I have noise machines and white noise apps on my iPad and iPhone. I have earplugs. But I resent having to resort to white noise, which has its own jarring effects, and the earplugs hurt my ears. Besides, nothing really works, partly because I can usually still hear the noise, but also because it's not merely the noise that bothers me, but the unpredictability of it. I find the barking dogs in my condo's dog park cute, but I know that the barking only occurs for a little while at the same time each day. If suddenly dogs were barking at 2 a.m., I wouldn't find it so endearing.

On a recent Saturday evening, I heard shrieks from the little beach next to the dog park. I walked onto my terrace to get a better look. A group of women had gathered on the beach. One would speak and the others would shriek and burst into peals of laughter. It seemed a happy occasion, maybe a bridal shower or a birthday celebration. Why should I be upset? I reminded myself that the women weren't playing rap music or dancing to a loud salsa beat. I couldn't bring myself to complain to security about a bunch of women laughing and enjoying themselves. Still, they were shrieking. And they continued shrieking. I wondered if they would ever stop. They finally did, around midnight.

4. Music to my ears
I may be sensitive to the noise of others, but I love to play my own music LOUD. Years ago, in his most inspired gift, E. gave me the complete Motown CD collection. Washing dishes was never more fun than while dancing to Marvin Gaye, Mary Wells, and the Temptations, played at full volume.

Later, when my son, Alex, was a teenager, he would burn mix CDs for me as gifts. I always favored bands that used a heavy bass beat. I loved the Dandy Warhols. I would crank the music up so loud that even my kids would ask me to turn it down.

Now that I spend half the year in an apartment, I don't blast my music while I'm there. I don't want to bother my neighbors, nor do I want to give them any reason to turn their music up. Adele's hits wouldn't sound nearly as good coming through my walls from someone else's apartment as they do when I'm playing them myself.

5. The women on the terrace
As I work at my desk, I become aware of a slight disturbance, a whispery sensation. I stop typing and listen. Voices, women's voices, coming from nearby. I open the sliding glass door next to my desk, which leads to my apartment terrace. Yes, I can hear two women talking on the terrace above me. Brijean, with her lilting Irish accent, is one of them. The other woman must be a visiting friend or relative. It's late, after 11 p.m. With my door closed, I can barely hear them, but I know they're there.

I tell myself that they don't mean to disturb me. I know Brijean and like her. I turn on the noise machine that sits on the corner of my desk. Now I can't hear them at all. But I keep trying, straining to detect a laugh or a raised voice through the white noise. I turn the machine off for a second just to check whether they're still out there. Yes.

It's not the admittedly-soft sound of their voices that bothers me. It's the fact that I have no control over them. I can't make them stop the way I can turn off my loud music when I've had enough. In any case, I wouldn't want to try. I hate confrontation. I just want my own soundproof space, one that keeps unwanted noise out and my own chosen sounds in. Maybe a padded cell?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Take a Walk With Me

The air feels balmy, without much humidity but just a hint of softness. Puffy clouds scud across a mostly blue sky. I hardly notice them, though, since my eyes are riveted on the waters of Biscayne Bay.

I live on a small island on the bay. Every afternoon, I take a walk around the perimeter, starting on the marina side, which overlooks the mainland. A gentle breeze ripples the American flag that flies overhead. Water laps softly against the sides of sailboats, motor boats, yachts. But I barely notice. I'm looking for signs of sea life.

The afternoon sun shines directly on the clear, shallow water, giving me a view of everything within it. I continue walking, but slowly, scanning for movement. I see a southern stingray and wonder if it notices me. Then I come upon a school of silvery fish swimming in manic circles. Further along, a solitary barracuda hovers. Once I saw a nurse shark swimming in these waters, but not today.

As I reach the end of the marina where the land curves around and the open bay appears, the wind picks up and I take a deep breath of salty air. I feel as if I'm breathing in health. A brown pelican circles over the water, then does its bizarre plunge-dive, landing bill first, wings open. It looks like a crash landing to me, but when the bird comes up, I can see that it's got a fish in the pouch below its bill.

I pick up my pace and shift my gaze across the water. The skyline of downtown Miami comes into focus, all shining glass, and still further away, I spy the high rises at the tip of South Beach.

Now I'm on the open-water side of the island. In the distance, Key Biscayne shimmers in a blue haze. On either side of the path, coconut palms hold court, their fronds chattering softly. There's a pretty wooden bench on the grass next to the sea wall. Most days, I like to sit there for a while and contemplate the scene.

Today, though, I decide to maximize my aerobic benefit and keep going. I soon circle around to the domestic side of the island, where there's a fenced-in dog run for the small dogs permitted here. It's a charming little spot, with a couple of hillocks and small trees, plus a table and chairs for the human visitors. At this time of day, I usually see several dogs and their owners in the space—the dogs cavorting with one another, their owners mellowing out over glasses of Chardonnay. I stop briefly to say hello, then continue on to the island's tiny beach, where I often find the three Muscovy ducks currently in residence on the island.

This is invariably the highlight of my walk. I chat with the ducks and offer them water by turning on the nearby water fountain, which has a hose attached for their benefit. I'm trying to train the ducks to come when I say "water." So far, my success has been variable. They come when they're thirsty, but waggle their tails and ignore me when they're not.

Usually, I circle the island twice each afternoon. That may seem repetitive, yet it's not. The sun, the sky, the sea, the fish, the fowl, and even the dogs create an ever-changing tableau. Writing about it doesn't do it justice. I wish you were here, so you could see for yourself.