Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Stronger Than the Forces of Nature: Vera Anne Orlock, Or, The Faerie Queen

November 14, 2018. A Eulogy for My Other Mother on the Day of Her Memorial...

Many little winds blew me to Vera the year we met in 2005, but it was Vera’s own force that drew me in.  Or, rather, opened the door.

I was in the midst of my Master’s research and suffering debilitating headaches.  Any physical activity could trigger one, and yet as an avid runner, physical activity had been my meditation.  I was physically and mentally desperate, and by the third mention of this strange process called “rolfing”, I decided to make a call.

There were two individuals listed in town, but it was Vera who returned my call.  I couldn’t afford the treatment on my stipend, but the kind woman on the line anticipated that the moment she heard I was a graduate student and offered to work out a trade with me.  She had a garden, a breath-takingly beautiful garden that needed some revision, and I was an able-bodied person in my late twenties.  

Something transformative began for me in that office space overlooking the garden, listening to the trill of birdsong…For the first time in my life, an elder and wiser woman fixed her gaze on my person and saw me.  Exactly as I was—not as she wanted me to be or thought me to be or was frustrated that I wasn’t.  My body (and my mind) were an instrument out of tune, and Vera, like a master luthier, coaxed them into harmony again. 

Hers were healing hands.  Listening hands.  Hands that heard the harsh tones of muscle and sinew and followed their lead.  Teaching hands.

As Vera worked on me, and as I worked by her side in her magical garden, we shared many long conversations.  Weeding, pruning, transplanting, cultivating…all labors spent in endless discussion.  Every day, I came away with a head full of the depth of Vera’s talent and experience—and a carload of clippings to cultivate in my own garden. 

When Vera told me about her lymphoma, I felt helpless anger but also complete confidence in her magic.  Vera could make anything that was good grow.  Her roots were stronger than any cancer.  But still, when I studied meditation, I imagined her body renewed.  I stayed up nights catching the nocturnal leaf-cutters eating Nearly Wild, the rosebush she gave me, because I somehow believed that curing the rose of its pests might cure Vera of hers. 

We were plying our trowels in the garden the day I told her my new boyfriend and I planned to start a family.  I already knew the story of Vera and Jack’s meeting and of her previous marriage, but that day, she explained to me why she’d never had children: Part chance, part intension, part missed opportunity.  By the time she’d found the right partner, it was too late. 

As I listened, I felt a wave of deep sadness and guilty gratitude.  I knew in that moment, that Vera would have been an incredible mother: empathic and nurturing, strong and resilient, artistic and wise.  I knew it because she had become a mother to me.  She had changed me, had noticed all the best seeds of my being and brought them into the sun.  My yard flourished with the daughters of her greenery, and I had flourished, too.  She had raised me up.

Through illness and continuous set-backs, Vera lost neither grace nor wisdom.  I never saw her angry about how damned unfair it was. Not once.  She just kept growing and learning.  When my first son was born, Vera had recently undergone chemo treatments, still she and Jack came to bring us food and cuddle the new one.  Her gentle hands heard my baby’s cry, and with that subtle magic, calmed him.  I brought him to Vera’s house often, spreading a blanket over the carpet, and talking with her as she played with and worked on him.  She could enchant any child.  Both of my children loved the garden, going for walks, and visiting a friend’s farm with Aunt Vera and Uncle Jack.

Remembering that Vera is absent from the world is the most painful sensation I’ve ever known—Like a hole in the fabric of the universe, slowly sinking every illusion of justice or meaning.  There is no meaning in Vera’s absence, but as I find myself back in her garden, tending her flower beds, pruning errant aguga, pulling pesky clover, I reflect that there is meaning in the way I fill her absence: With beauty—the light of morning as it peeks behind the fish pond; With song—the water tinkling over the rocks, like the fluttering of her harp strings; With silence—an invitation to listen and to learn.

The last time I spoke to Vera was just before her surgery; I told her that I loved her, but I don’t think I ever really made her understand what she gave to me.  I’m sure those around me knew.  I told everyone I met that she put my body back together.  I told my friends that she taught me to nurture a garden.  I told my yoga students that she showed me how to move.  When I speak of her, I speak of her as my friend and mentor—as my other mother.  Looking back over the past thirteen years, I see Vera’s touch on almost every good turn my life has taken—even in meeting my husband, whose friendship I discovered when I confided that she had cancer.  He’d had a close friend suffer with lymphoma, too. 

I regret not filling Vera’s ears with just how important she was to me.  I hope she knew it.  I hope she could see that I—and everyone whose life Vera touched—are proof that her roots are stronger than any cancer.  Vera’s roots reach deep within us all.  She lives in the white and yellow of spring leaves; the pink, red, and indigo of summer flowers; the warm umber and orange of fall; in the evergreen of winter.  Stronger than forces of nature or human to uproot. 

In deepest love and gratitude, Vera, I honor you.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Screw Hand-Eye Coordination, Start Gaming for the Politics

Video Games.  They’ve been a polarizing pastime since the early 80’s.  Either they made you a basement-dwelling nerd or, more recently, a probable sociopath.  But gaming – and I don’t just mean the so-called “casual gaming” of the Farmville and Bejewled variety – has entered the mainstream, and it’s not going away.  Far from it.  Video games have overtaken all other popular pastimes in this country.  According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project survey, taken between November 2007 and February 2008, 97% of people, ages twelve to seventeen, play video games.  And it’s not just “kids;” the same study found that “over half of American adults play video games,” as well.  Today, those same young teens from the Pew study are in their early to mid-twenties, boosting that “half of American adults” to 97%.

Enter, the controversy. 

Gamer or no gamer, if you follow the Internet media buzz – particularly the buzz surrounding feminism, women, “cyber mobs,” and/or misogyny – you’ve heard the name Anita Sarkeesian.  Her entrance into gaming culture exploded with nuclear force when, not long after some of the few female designers in gaming had come under fire from a fringe group calling itself GamerGate, she proposed a start-up fund for a critical series on women in gaming.  In a flash, the GamerGate mob turned their focus from female designers (getting too much “undeserved” positive critical attention) and pounced on Sarkeesian. 

The good news?  Sarkeesian’s start-up fund was an enormous success, in part because of the extreme harassment she received from the GamerGate mob.  Her website, Feminist Frequency, is a beautifully presented source for cogent, well-researched critique on popular media.  The series that started it all, Tropes vs Women in Video Games, has several installments, including “Damsel in Distress,” “Women As Background Decoration,” and “Ms. Male Character.”  All are a must-watch for gamers and non-gamers alike.

The bad news?  Sarkeesian’s critique on gaming misogyny and marginalization of women spurred a backlash resulting in rape, death, and terrorist threats (against Utah State University where she was scheduled to speak), among a myriad other troll-worthy attacks.  To learn more about her experience, check out her TED Talk, “Online Harassment & Cyber Mobs” – a talk met with, not surprisingly, a host of misogynist threats so severe, TED shut down the comments section within twenty-four hours.

So, what was Sarkeesian saying that got this cyber mob of gamers so up in arms?  Well, according to an overview of the comments, YouTube videos, and other negative responses to Sarkeesian and her work (which are, to say the least, difficult to stomach), she is attempting to censor video games, whitewashing gaming content with her feminist agenda.  In their eyes, she wants games to appeal to an audience that doesn’t play the games - or doesn't even exist.  Some female gamers have also attacked Sarkeesian, claiming that they love all games just as they are and do not feel Sarkeesian and her feminism represents the perspective of true female gamers. 

Here’s the problem with these objections: none of them address Sarkeesian’s argument about the portrayal of women in gaming.   Her argument is ironclad, so they attack her instead. 

I’ve never been a “gamer.”  In fact, I always declared my loathing for video games.  But, it could’ve been different, and thanks to Sarkeesian, I now know why.  You see, I first encountered video games growing up in the 80’s.  Games were simple enough back then, right?  Nothing like the violent, sexually-charged, smash-em-ups we hear about today.  Yet, even then, games were designed by and for males.  Game protagonists were exclusively male.  Female characters were helpless, passive, or non-existent in Mario Bros., Zelda, Megaman, and the list goes on. 

Sometimes, the misogyny was undeniable.  In one of the original Atari games, Custer’s Revenge, the main character is rewarded for his success with a naked squaw, whom he rapes while she is tied to a pole.  The graphics are horribly pixelated, but there’s no mistaking the main character’s erect penis.  Gamers are supposed to find this humorous.

Fast-forward to 2015, and games have come a long way.  More female characters have made their game debuts, but as Sarkeesian points out, we still see few who make for satisfying, independent play, if you’re a woman.  In 1986, one of the first games to make their badass, alien-annihilating main character a woman, Metroid, did so only by subterfuge.  Samus Aron’s name is no indication of gender, and throughout the game, players only see a heavily armored and helmeted, somewhat humanoid warrior figure.  Only if the player defeats the game will they discover the truth: when the credits role, their character strips off the manly body armor to reveal… a Barbie-doll in a bathing suit.  Surprise!  You’ve been fighting aliens with a stripper in disguise!  I doubt any thirteen-year-old hetero male was disappointed.  But, I was. 

I was not impressed to see the badass Samus Aron stripped down to her underwear, as if that’s what made her a female.  And the sad fact is, games haven’t stopped doing this.
But, they’re starting to change their game.  Although tried gender tropes, stereotypes, and other offenses to female capability abound, even in those games (such as Diablo) that offer equally powerful female options, the landscape of gaming grows more welcoming to women every year.  The question is: Is that because women already comprise 48% of gamers – up from 40% in 2010 -- or is that what's drawn women back?  With that kind of growth, women may already share 50% of the gaming audience today.
That’s how it started for me.  Knowing my established dislike of games, my partner (then my boyfriend) introduced me to the LEGO series of games.  I loved LEGOs as a kid, and I loved Stars Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter – all of which LEGO parodies and recreates in their amusing story lines.  As a result, female characters are not only fully dressed, they are powerful, playable characters.  From there, my partner scoped out other great games that feature female options for game play and depict them accordingly.  He wanted to share something he enjoyed with me, and he wanted me to enjoy it, too.  Now, when I play a video game, I don't feel like I’ve accidentally stumbled into a Playboy magazine; I feel like I belong.
The more women, and men who care about and want to share a game with women, play video games, the more we’ll see these expanded options for women in games.  Despite what GamerGaters claim, people like Sarkeesian are not trying to censor games – they’re not demanding a halt to prostitutes or even violence against women in gaming.  What people like Sarkeesian, and people like me, want to see are more options.  We want to find more than one game on the Gamestop shelf that doesn’t violently rape and murder women in order to motivate male heroes.  We want more than one game in which the female characters are playable, strong, and dressed in sensible costumes.  We want to not see breasts every time we turn on a game.
The old song that women don’t play video games has been put to rest, but it made a lot of sense in its time.  Many women didn’t play video games…because video games sucked for women.  Video games used women. They abused women. 
But, gaming companies aren’t stupid.  The more we play, the more big developers like Rockstar Games (the makers of Grant Theft Auto, which doesn’t have playable women because apparently stealing cars and being a criminal is strictly “masculine”) will realize there’s a much bigger market in expanding their views on women and what women enjoy.

Because women like to virtually blow shit up, too, sometimes.    

Monday, April 22, 2013

Meditation on Birds in Airports

Number one, top ten feature to love about the Miami airport? Bird shit.  That's right, bird shit. Fresh and wet. In the seats.  I did not sit in this little chair mine, so I can view it with amused philosophy.  I've decided that the presence of bird shit on the seats in Miami-Dade international airport is an encouragement to all travelers.  It is proof that there are still some creatures on earth that the TSA can neither bully, nor frisk.  Creatures that sore above the sad masses, dropping warm opinions on what's going forward below.
      I like to think of them as rebellious rather than suffering, trapped things lost in the world of industrialized travel.  They refuse to obey borders.  Entering where no birds are allowed.  They ignore toilets.  Pooping on chairs like shit happens all the time - just flies through the air like feathers, foul odors, or dust.  Their tweets cannot be confined to 140 characters, and as I listen to their chatter, I feel better about carting my belongings from gate to gate, feel better about the inevitable hours that I will spend sardined into a comfortless flotation device, desperately awaiting touch-down.
     Maybe that's why I prefer window seats to aisle seats.  Despite the likelihood that at least once during flight, I will crawl over grumpy strangers on my way to the toilet, I still fight for the window every time.  I want to feel like I'm really flying.  Like I could drop a warm opinion or two upon all I see.  From up here, the window seat, I can see so much waste amid the beauty.  The jet stream toward Miami showed the drained Everglades beyond the brimming cookie-cutter ponds of suburbia.  I imagined myself as a hurricane, wiping all the grime from the face of the planet - sort of like a massive anti-poop.
     And then, we're too high to see the earth below.  Fluffy plains of cloud stretch to the horizon, the blue sky above.  Some pleasant flight attendant offers to sell me a meal on this five hour flight to Las Vegas, and I'm back in the present moment once again, thinking: what exactly DOES my ticket buy me?  A great view, I suppose, from point A to point B, and only bird droppings in between.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Saying Goodbye: Memories of Louie

I was probably ten years old or more before I knew that Uncle Louie was not really my uncle.  When I first learned of it, the knowledge saddened me – did this change the way he would behave towards us, or the way I should behave towards him?  Was I still allowed to call him “uncle”?
            But mom, or dad, or whoever it was, explained that “no”, it didn’t change a thing.  The great thing about growing up, after all, is that you get to expand your family.  You get to decide who should be invited out of it, and more importantly, who should be invited in.  Mine had become a family into which new and special people came, and no one ever left.  And if family had anything to do with appearance, then to my young perception, Louie Chreiki fit right in: after all, he had fine, dark hair and a mustache.  That practically made him my father.  It didn’t hurt that every other uncle I had also sported dark hair and a mustache.  It all made sense.
            Uncle Louie, it seemed, had always been.  Every day as far back as I can remember, Dad would speak his name into the phone in that exasperated tone that implied Louie had done something unaccountably foolish: “Ahh, Louie!” he would spout into the phone, or “…and, then, that Louie…!” he would exclaim later to Uncle John, and his mustache would quiver.  Louie never complained.  On our birthdays, he sent my brother and me cards with crisp bills inside, and when we met he would exclaim at our size.  Andy and I understood that Louie had been among the first to hold us as babies.
            It was Louie who taught me how to play pool.  A singularly unprepossessing man with stooped shoulders and a kind, honest eye, he was the last person you would expect to wipe out a pool table – but when Louie came to visit the year we got the full sized table, I learned what it meant to be “a pool shark”. 
Before Louie, we kids did more damage to the felt on our table than we did to the slate board on which we chalked the score.  We challenged Louie to play because he seemed too nice and quiet to beat anyone.  He had absolutely no bluster.  As we watched him slowly and methodically make his way around the table, however, plunking away the solids as if they had strings attached to them, our perception of “Lou-Dog” changed.  It became clear that some magic was at work, and that Louie possessed this magic.
But, with a simple smile, he offered to teach it to us.  And he did.  To this day, I can put away a bank shot, calculate backspin and topspin, and at the least, NOT disgrace myself with a cue stick…all because of Louie.
When Gramma died, and dad and I went to the house in Port Huron to help get things sorted, Louie was there.  He was always there.  My last memory of him was in Gramma’s backyard, ankle deep in snow.  We were trying to prize the old plow from what appeared to be frozen earth for Uncle John.  But the plow wouldn’t budge.  Dad had a propane torch out, hoping to heat the railroad spikes holding the plow in place enough to loosen it from the flowerbed.  Naturally, dad and I were bickering about the best way to free the plow, while Louie stood close at hand to help either, or both of us, with whatever course of action we determined upon.  He excused Dad’s bluster to me, excused mine to Dad – in short, did everything he could to keep everyone happy and accomplish the task into the bargain. 
I remember looking at him in wonder.  To myself, I thought: Don’t you ever get upset?  Can’t anyone’s stupid words or flustered actions unsettle that calm, easy outlook? Don’t you ever see bad in anybody?  But, all I said was, “Louie, you are an amazing man.  You see good in everyone, and nothing makes you mad.  My dad is lucky to have you.”  It was true.
We were all lucky to have Louie.  He would have done everything in his power for a friend in need, and anyone who knew him was his friend.  Liked him.  How could they not?  He was the sort of person whose very rudeness was innocent and totally free from malice.  He never spoke a cruel word – I can say that with certainty, as little as I knew him, because cruelty couldn’t penetrate a heart like his.  Or, if it did, it never made its way out again.
Louie Chreiki, Uncle Louie, thank you.  Thank you for being.  Thank you for sharing that being with my family and me.  You taught me more than playing pool.  You taught me more than I realized – about patience, about friendship, about how to listen.  
I will miss you, Louie, but – however hard it is to let you go from my family – you went as you chose, when you chose.  I’ll take that as a comfort of sorts, and remember you fondly.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Beach Cred.: It Don't Grow On Sea Grapes

Being back home for the holidays means returning to the most familiar places of my life.  One of those places is the beach.   I don’t mean the glamorous, white sand beaches of vacation posters.   I mean the worm rock reef beaches of Hutchinson Island and Stuart, FL – the Sailfish capital of the world.
        When I was growing up, Stuart was the opposite of glamorous and although its beaches still teemed with surfers and sunbathers alike, what made you cool around our dunes was how long you’d managed to wear your Reef’s before they disintegrated (which, with Reefs, means you never removed them for five years), or – better yet – whether or not you could walk across the sizzling, razor-sharp pavement of McArthur Blvd without any shoes at all.
        Gleaming with tanning lotion and sporting a designer suit only signified that you were probably a tourist or a snowbird…or a reject from the classier West Palm Beach.   Besides, it’s hard to keep your couture beneath the continual whizzzz of a reel, or the plash of fresh bait in a barnacle-clad bucket.
        Accidents were not uncommon, and from the time we were infants, we’d been schooled to avoid hot tar balls (courtesy of some leaking Atlantic freighter) or man o’war, and to give fishermen a wide birth both in and out of the water.  Having Beach Cred. meant that you knew the difference between a jellyfish sting and sea lice.  And, it meant that you were willing to pee on your friend – or to be peed upon in turn – should they become the victim of a nasty sting.   Beach Cred meant that you had once sliced open your foot on a reef and went swimming anyway.   Beach Cred meant you were fully aware that the blood trail might attract a shark.  It also meant that you already knew approximately how many sharks were out there minding their own business on a given day.  It meant that you were cool with that.
        For me, growing up on the coast meant that you could recognize these accidents when you saw them…and fix them.   The necessity of self-sufficiency around coastal areas strikes me as so obvious that I tend to not-so-privately sneer at anyone who looks scared, confused, and/or sunburned in said environments. 
        That’s why, while walking on Jacksonville beach with three friends a couple of years ago, it did not occur to me that any of them could ever fit this description.  One of them had been raised on the Gulf in Tampa, the other had spent most of her life there as well, and the last (though an Italian from Bologna – not a coastal city) was intelligent, and therefore must have common sense.   But within seconds of spotting the interesting scene ahead of us that day, I found out just how unusual my idea of Beach Cred really is.

We’d come to Jacksonville for a couple of days to run the Gate River 15K that spring.  My friends Tara and Stephanie were both running, as was I, and Eleo, an Italian visiting scholar, had decided to come along and enjoy the sight of 15,000 Americans running 9.3 miles and then gulping free cups of beer at the end.  The day was windy but warm and we had decided to take a walk along the beach to pass the time.   Tara had lived and attended college in Jacksonville, so we were enjoying a tour of the best spots in a city that stretches from beyond the St Johns River to the coast.

        So we walked, the four of us side-by-side – probably anticipating a chill morning for the run next day – when some way ahead I spotted a fisherman.
        Side note: Though most Floridians have done it at least once in their lives, including me, I’ve always looked with frustration on beach fishing.  It’s fine when you’re alone on the shore, but unless you’re willing to drag your carcass out of bed before dawn, that’s not very likely on a public beach.  The problem with this is, you’re slinging a sharp metal (often dead and pungent) object around your head as hard as you can, and then jerking it through the water on an invisible line.  Your hope is to pierce the lip of a wriggling fish which mistakes your object for something tasty, but at a public beach you are just as likely to catch a careless child or passerby.  Lips, cheeks, ears, hands, and – if you’re lucky – clothing and headgear are all conveniently easy to puncture with a steel barb.
        On the up side, gross as it may seem, at least when you catch a human they understand that further movement increases their suffering and they quickly move towards the thoughtless fisherman and hope he has a pair of pliers.  But there are other unsuspecting beach creatures that do not react to being accidentally hooked in so rational a manner: seagulls.
        Seagulls are even more likely to be accidentally hooked than people. They love a populated beach.  It means easy pickings: French fries, potato chips, and discarded sand fleas or other bait. In all honesty, nobody with any sense actually likes seagulls, and certainly avoids feeding them if they can.  Feeding a seagull will instantly earn you the ravenous adoration of every seagull on the beach.  Five French fries later, and you have a flock hovering directly overhead, swooping low, and inevitably pooping on your face.  This has happened countless times, and has been the start of many beach side fights between locals and tourists with ignorant children.
        Seagulls especially love fisherman because fisherman leave behind dead fish and other smelly delicacies.   And, since fishing hooks are baited with these tidbits, seagulls often dive for them as they go soaring through the air towards the water.   Funny, right?  Stupid seagull.   Pooping on our faces, demanding our lunch scraps.  Wish you hadn’t been so greedy now, huh?
        Actually, not very funny to see in real life.  Not very satisfying for lovers of irony, either, since seagulls understand neither irony, nor cause and effect.  All that poor bird knows is that it had been trying to eat something delicious, and now – inexplicably – every movement is an exercise in panic and pain.

So, these many innocent victims of fishing hooks always flash through my mind when a beach fisherman flings his line into the sea.  And, on this day, there were certainly plenty of people passing by the fisherman I spotted on Jacksonville Beach.  There were seagulls gliding about him, too.   Naturally, as I listened to the conversation of my friends, my eyes fixed upon his figure.  He was still at some distance, obscured by other walkers; I couldn’t see him all that clearly, but as I watched it became evident that he had just caught something.  Oddly enough, his face wasn’t focused on the ocean before him.  He was looking up.

        I followed his line of sight.  The other seagulls had fled, but one seagull seemed to find the fisherman particularly attractive.   So much so that despite all the bird’s desperate, feathery efforts to fly up, down, or away from the man and his pole, it remained suspended in midair.   The white wings beat at the wind as if trying to climb right up it; instead, the bird flipped, flailed, and fell – only to propel itself off the sand and climb again.  All the while, the fisherman clung to his pole, as helpless as the bird.

I don’t remember what Tara, Stephanie, and Eleo had been talking about.  I must have been talking about it, too, whatever it was.   What I do remember is dropping my shoes to the sand and sprinting toward the fisherman and the seagull.  Person after person walked by the man and the bird, their heads turned towards the battling pair, first in curiosity and then in consternation, but person after person just kept on walking.  They either didn’t know what to do, or were afraid to do it.   I knew that without help, that man couldn’t free the bird before it exhausted itself, or maybe set the hook even deeper.  So off I went to fix it.

        By the time I reached him, the bird had begun to beat itself against the ground, unable to understand why, when it tried for the sky, something kept jerking it right back to the earth.
        “Where is it hooked?” I asked.
        “I can’t tell!” he answered.  The man looked to be in his fifties, neither old nor young. He wore a t-shirt, jeans, and a ball cap.
        The gull was hysterical.  I tried to steady the line and draw closer, but I could imagine the outcome once I reached the bird.  That poor thing would peck the hell out of my hands – if it could – and possibly hurt itself even more.  I was also not thrilled at the prospect of getting pecked.
        “Do you have a jacket? A shirt?”  It occurred to me that if cloaked with something lightweight, the bird could be handled, and then hooded.  It would calm down enough that we could sort out how it was entangled.  As I spoke, another middle-aged man approached us and offered to help.

This sort of situation seems to call up some inner instinct in me, I call it “The Bossy Gene”.  It goes something like this: Shit goes down.  Maybe it is a car stuck in a ditch, maybe it is a leaky faucet, maybe it is a house in need of painting.  People around me do not immediately suggest a solution/plan for dealing with said shit.   Then, unable to stop myself, I start telling them what to do.  So, when neither the fisherman, nor the new fellow presented what I judged to be intelligent plans, my Bossy Gene kicked in and I began ordering them around.

        “Take off your flannel,” I commanded the new fellow, “and throw it over the seagull! Grab him gently!!”   I said this in a polite, but ‘I KNOW What I’m Talking About, Fool’ sort of tone, and – poor chap – the new fellow peeled off his shirt and did what I told him to do.   Meanwhile, I was holding onto the fishing line, steadily following to the bird as the new fellow brought it back, cradled and struggling, in his hands.
        The bird was jerking around madly, and though I could now see that the line was definitely wound around its wing, I couldn’t tell if it were hooked.   So, I gave more instructions.
        “Your hat!  Your hat!   We need to hood the bird.  Cover its eyes so it can’t see.  It’ll calm down and then I can get this sorted out.”   The hat came off and slipped over the bird’s head.  It stopped struggling.
        I took a deep breath.  I didn’t want to see that line going down the bird’s gullet.   I really didn’t want to imagine what that meant.   But, I followed the line until it buried itself in the wing feathers and carefully began to disentangle, untwist, and untie the wing, until suddenly… the bird was free.
        “It was just caught in the line! Just tangled in the wing! It’s okay. Not hooked!”

The line fell to the sand, and the new fellow released the seagull.  Silently, I hoped the bird had not pooped in his shirt.  But, had it been me, I’d have shat every French fry I ever ate in that shirt.  As I watched the gull hit the wind like a drunken missile, I felt compelled to say something.

        “Thanks so much for your help! Might want to check your shirt, though; birds always poop when they’re scared. Sorry.”  Had I just thanked a stranger for helping another stranger with his problem?   Yes, I had. Had I just apologized for the seagull’s shit?  Yes, I had.  That’s when the fisherman, who had been clinging helplessly to his pole the entire time, thanked us both.
        And then, just like that, the three of us parted: The fisherman to check his lines, the new fellow to rejoin his group, and me to find my friends.  Like the bird, we hit the wind, befuddled but determined to get away.

I scanned the beach for Tara, Stephanie, and Eleo.   Expecting to find them crowded somewhere nearby, I was surprised to glimpse them thirty feet up the beach.   Tara and Eleo were watching my approach, waving, cheering, and holding out my shoes.   Stephanie had her back turned, and didn’t look around until she heard me approaching.

        “What the heck you all doing over here?  Didn’t you see what happened?”  They hadn’t seen.  At least, they hadn’t seen how the bird had been caught.  I was baffled.   I began to wonder… Aloud, I asked, “Why didn’t you come help?”   The answer to this question taught me something about Beach Cred: It doesn’t grow on sea grapes, after all.

Here, in a hot bean, is my otherwise fearless friends’ excuse for not approaching within thirty feet of the shit going down: Stephanie had honestly – and to the credit of her creature-loving heart – been stricken at the thought of a bird on a hook.   The idea of a helpless animal suffering with a barb in its flesh, or worse, its gut, made her incapable of doing anything to assist its plight.   (This is incomprehensible to me – which definitely means that I am insensitive.  But, it also makes me much more handy in a crisis involving hurt and helpless creatures.)

        Tara, a highly efficient person in a crisis regardless of the amount of sun, sand, or gore, is a nurturer by nature.   When she saw Steph’s state of horror over the seagull, she immediately decided that her need was greater than the seagull’s.  She also noted the Bossy Gene in full effect and decided I could McGuyver that shit on my own.
        Eleo is Italian.

So, as we walked back up the beach, and I regaled them with a blow-by-blow of the adventure – assuring Steph that no blood had been shed – I had to ask myself….why HAD I run over to that fisherman and the seagull?  It wasn’t any of my business.   It wasn’t any of my fault.  It wasn’t even a particularly desirable or endangered creature on the end of that line.   Did I just want to be able to say, moments, days, years later that I had saved a seagull from a fisherman’s line?
        But, I’d like to think it was more than that.  I’d like to think it was my Stuart Beach blood – that sixth sense for an accident on the beach in need of fixing.   And, the knowledge that, since no one else seemed ready to, I had better fix it.
        I think, looking back, I wouldn't trade that for an even tan and a designer bikini any day.