Notes on the Forty Year Anniversary of My Being Set Adrift Ignominiously upon an Ocean of Doubt

Photo by Jose Padua
Heather and I had no idea that our trip with the kids to Ocean City this weekend would coincide with The Dew Tour. We, of course, had no idea what The Dew Tour was. At first I thought it was spelled D-O as in the “Do Tour,” with the “Do” carrying some sort of message of affirmation and empowerment. But no, it was The Dew Tour, as in it’s sponsored at least in part by The Dew—Mountain Dew.

Yeah, when I was a kid I’d drink it from time to time. Maybe when I was a little older, too, in college, when I found out it was yet another way to get a dose of caffeine into me when needed. The last few times I’d had a Mountain Dew, though, I found it to be one of the most noxious concoctions imaginable.

Luckily, up where we were, we didn’t seem to cross paths with anything associated with the Dew Tour. We were probably too far uptown, which was fine with us. Because if the Dew Tour was strictly a downtown thing here in Ocean City, then we were strict Ocean City Uptowners. At least for this trip.

It was on our way uptown and out of Ocean City to a book release party in Rehoboth today when I realized that this summer marks the fortieth anniversary of the first time I ever saw the ocean. That was in 1974 when I went with a group of friends from high school to stay at a house on Olive Avenue in Rehoboth. Before then, I’d only gone as far as the Chesapeake Bay for a trip to the beach. We were, growing up, strictly city people, and the Atlantic coast of North America was just a little too far to travel for something as frivolous at a day on the beach.

This summer also marks the fortieth anniversary of my summer spent at the University of Georgia in Athens for a program funded by the National Science Foundation. It was the summer I mixed a lot of chemicals in the lab at the pharmacy school there, and managed not to blow anything up—though the older research scientists there seemed to blow things up pretty regularly. Which, I gathered, was one way to tell that what they were doing was serious research. As for me, my professor/advisor told me the compounds I was creating in the lab would be used in cancer research. Whether they would be used to actually fight the disease, or to help give the researchers who were fighting the disease a fresh new high, I never found out. Which, I think, also marks the beginning of my not knowing whether the work I do is curing people or simply getting them high.

On this trip to the shore, Julien added a fourth element to his set of precepts for an enjoyable vacation. On the last trip, it was just three: “Mommy stay, no school, no tiger.” This meant that a good vacation required these basic elements: Heather not having to leave to go into the office in town, no school, and no sign of the tiger from the Jungle Book. This trip, though, Julien added a fourth precept—“No mini-golf.” Julien tried mini-golf on our last trip, and, apparently, this is clearly not among the things in this world he considers pleasant.

Then tonight, towards the end of dinner in Rehoboth (when Heather had taken Julien to look at the aquarium display at the restaurant), Maggie asked me for advice on what she should do in the case that we’re all out somewhere and both Heather and I had had too much to drink and couldn’t drive.

“Well,” I told Maggie, “all you need to do is call a cab to take us all home.”

“But what will the cab driver do with Julien’s stroller?” she asked.

“That’s no problem,” I said. “The cab driver will know how to fold the stroller and put it in the trunk of the taxi.”

Heather and I had been drinking at dinner tonight. But all we had between us was one glass of wine, which Heather drank the most of while I just had a few sips. Nevertheless, I imagine it was enough to start Maggie worrying about what she might have to do in case of that dreaded emergency of both mom and dad being too trashed to drive everyone home.

“Of course,” I reassured Maggie, “That’s not going to happen. Neither mommy nor I ever even come close to getting drunk anymore.”

Maggie seemed comforted by this. Then she had to admit that she just imagined that, at the end of the cab ride, she’d have to say to either me or Heather, “OK, now give the nice taxi driver his money.” What she didn’t admit, I think, was that she enjoyed the idea of speaking to her parents that way. As if she were the one in charge.

After dinner, we went to one the arcades on the boardwalk. By the end of the night, Maggie had a receipt worth about fifteen hundred points from the games she’d played. She looked at the display case filled with the different prizes she could choose from, and then she looked some more. Heather, Julien, and I were getting tired, but Maggie still couldn’t decide on anything she wanted. Finally, Maggie saw a family with little kids standing by the counter, and gave them her receipt. They thanked Maggie, who then walked back to us, happy that this one dilemma had been resolved. Then we all headed back to Ocean City.

In this photograph taken earlier today at the beach in Ocean City, Heather, Maggie, and Julien seem to be the only ones looking up to the airplane carrying the banner for Geico insurance. Are they (and I) the only ones who find the sight of an airplane flying along the shore for the purpose of advertising a little bit disconcerting? And maybe even slightly horrible. I know, there are worse things down in the ignominious depths of human nature and its perverse insistence that nothing exists unless it exists in abundance, but still—sometimes all I want to look at, and think about, is the sky. And it doesn’t even have to be blue for me to love and adore it.

-Jose Padua

Photo by Jose Padua

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