A Return to the Sea

Posted May 23, 2020 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

It started to drizzle just as I drove up this morning to the entrance of Lighthouse Point at 9:23. One of the guards at the two guard houses gave me a thumbs-up, when I drove past and headed for my usual spot in the parking lot to the west.

Mine was the only car there.

This was the first day of the first two-day weekend re-opening of Lighthouse Point since the coronavirus turned the world upside down. The park would be open today and tomorrow from 7 am to 8 pm. Then it would be closed for the rest of the week, until next weekend, when the schedule would be repeated. That is the routine set for the rest of the summer.

It seems to be an odd way to open and close the park during the slow transition back to normal. If you want to cut down on crowds, open the park on weekdays and close it on weekends. More people are free to come to the park on weekends, which is what the authorities want to limit. People who still have jobs to go to during the rest of the week could always come to the park after work. They wouldn’t be eating there, anyway. The picnic tables have been removed to discourage cookouts.

That would allow the park to be safely opened for five days each week instead of just two. I’m prejudiced, of course.  The more sea, the better.

The drizzle this morning was light but still wet. I sat in the car happy to be there and smiling at the irony — if it was irony — at my long-awaited return to the sea being ushered in by rain — even light rain.

But I got out of the car anyway, with my jacket zipped up, my ‘Veterans’ cap secure, my camera bag over my shoulder, and my new WNET toxic umbrella in my hand. And then, of course, I headed for the black cherry tree — the tree that is my North Star, when it comes to the sea.

It was wonderful to be there, drizzle be damned. The grass was deeply green and freshly cut. The birds, who had taken over the park in the absence of humans, were talking and singing loudly, as if they were in charge now. The tide had made its turn and was slowly heading back into shore and would be high in three hours. The sky was gray, the water calm, visibility was good.  Two oyster boats were working the waters in the harbor, one close to the land when I arrived. It then headed for deeper waters.

A young family of two adults and one small child walked along the path overseeing the shore. We waved to each other. During my first hour there, they would be three of only seven people I would come across, two of whom were park workers.

I also came across a young man in a tee-shirt fishing off the rocks bordering the water. He didn’t see me, as I took his photograph with my long-distance lens.

I continued along the path towards the carousel, which is locked away during the winter months and I imagine will remain locked during this summer. The drizzle had stopped. I spotted a woman running along the boardwalk adjacent to the beach.

I turned back to my preferred section of the park and headed for the black cherry tree again. By this time, the sky had lightened and the rain had completely stopped. So I detoured back to my car and got my Pico metal folding ‘armchair’ and brought it back to the black cherry tree and unfolded it and sat there under the sprouting limbs the way I always do.

And life was suddenly normal again and I was breathing calmly. I was where I should be at that time and in that place. The sea was my companion. The tide was headed in my direction. The oyster boats were working the depths. The birds were on the grass and in the trees. The air was still. I was looking towards the horizon. Time was moving slowly.

And then gradually, slow moment by slow moment, an hour and a half passed by as if it were wearing slippers.

Of Cabbages And Kings

Posted May 17, 2020 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

I went over to Robert’s place late this morning and spent an hour with him and his young, but big dog, Sonny. Robert and I sat six feet apart on the terrace in front of his house. We both wore masks.

Sonny, the sweet one-year-old yellow Lab, spent a good amount of time straddling me in my chair and gently rough-housing my hands and staring into my eyes. I had brought over one of the toys he enjoys when he used to visit me in my apartment.

Those visiting days seem so long ago. Nowadays, no one visits me inside my apartment. When I do meet people, it’s always outside and always behind masks and seldom for longer than 10 minutes.

It was good to get out of my apartment this morning for a reason other than buying tomatoes and broccoli. It’s funny how wearing a mask that covers the nose and mouth has become a natural part of daily living. I think many of us will be wearing masks well into the months ahead.

Halloween will seem redundant, when it arrives in October.

I’m good at living alone. But after awhile, I miss talking to someone who can talk back.
It’s like the Sidney Greenstreet character in “The Maltese Falcon,” who tells Humphrey Bogart’s ‘Sam Spade,” that “I’m a man who likes talking to a man who likes to talk.“

What made this morning’s visit with Robert especially enjoyable is that it happened face to face, masks notwithstanding.

So much of what we do nowadays, we do abstractly or by phone or computer or on Zoom or Amazon or curbside or have delivered as take-out. It’s all so remote.

To just sit and talk, face to face, in person, in three dimensions, with someone who talks back right in front of you, in person, in three dimensions, is one of those small pleasures that suddenly doesn’t feel quite so small anymore.

Nothing fancy. No tap-dancing. Nothing showy. Just sit and talk back and forth about life and what you think and how you feel and what you saw and what you’d like to see happen and what you’re sorry didn’t happen.

And to look someone in the eyes and feel what it’s like to break through the isolation that comes with confinement and diminished expectations and abstract routines.

If nothing else, maybe this Covid-19 pandemic will help us learn how to talk again and how to make it matter. And how not to take such a simple pleasure for granted, but to take pleasure in talking of many things — for instance, of cabbages and kings.

Letter to McMillan

Posted May 12, 2020 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

Dear Michael,

If Trump gets his way, and the post office disappears, that will be the end of our decades’ long correspondence. I figure it to be @63 years’ long. I was in the Army 1955-58. I think you were discharged in 1957. Shortly after that, we began putting scraps of paper into envelopes and sending them to each other. Sixty-three years’ worth.

That’s a lot of ‘worth.’

I hate what this country has become. It’s not all Trump’s fault, but he symbolizes all that’s wrong with it — all that’s dead and dumb about it. He is like the final executioner. After he’s done, we will be a floating corpse. He will deliver the final bullet, the final axe, the final poison pill, the final meltdown. He is as radioactive as Chernobyl. All the wild dogs will die. Only the bacteria and the moss will inherit the earth. Much of North America will be as dry and barren as coyote bones. The rest will lie underwater like Atlantis.

The downfall all started with TV and then credit cards and then fast cars and THE YOUTH MARKET. And finally the INTERNET and Facebook and Twitter !

Up until then, the radio worked just fine and the telephone stayed at home where it belonged and people paid with cash or a check and LP records fit very neatly on turntables and movies were about grown-ups, which is where we kids learned how to be adults. And the pace of life was the same as our walk to the mailbox, and people enjoyed living in cities and traveled out into the country for picnics.

What in hell was wrong with that?

Who declared Ferris Wheels boring? Who said that sandlot baseball was a waste of time? Who said that getting a morning and an afternoon newspaper was a bad thing? Who said that BREAKING NEWS was truer than Coney Island?

Who insisted that fast was always better than slow?

If the post office is allowed to go under, then our soul will be unmoored and the spirit that gave life to our world will float away into darkness, and the robots will come in to take final charge.

And what used to taste like wine will taste like ashes.



It May Be Too Late To Be Saved

Posted May 10, 2020 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

Yesterday, for about 15 minutes, hail fell from a sky that was partially blue and partially white clouds. No dark, rainy clouds. No gray, threatening clouds. Nothing to suggest that a storm was brewing. No meteorological threats at all.

And yet, out of this blue, partly-white clouded sky came sheets of hail.

The force was so strong that when the hail hit the ground, it bounced. It was like popcorn popping in a saucepan. And then the hail just lay there, like rough-cut diamonds.

Popcorn and diamonds from the sky !

And then it was over, as quickly and strangely as it had begun. The hail stopped falling and the hail on the ground melted. Eventually, a bit of sun appeared. It was as if nothing had happened. If you’d been taking a shower at the time, you would have missed it.

My friend Jim who lives in Killingworth, a 40-minute drive from New Haven, said that nothing like that happened where he lives. And there was nothing about it in this morning’s newspaper. I don’t watch local news on television; so I don’t know if the screen-people mentioned it.

Of course, it was a natural event. Some temperature inversion or some wayward rain drops got frozen and fell to the ground. It’s rare, but it happens. I saw it happen yesterday.

But here’s the thing: suppose it hadn’t been a natural event. Suppose the hail had fallen out of a clear blue sky. And not just hail but chunks of ice. And not just for 15 minutes, but for all day and the next day and the day after that?

And suppose that on some other day, it wasn’t hail or rain or chunks of ice that fell, but frogs? Suppose it had been frogs that fell out of the sky?

Those of you who are as passionate about films as I am know what I’m talking about. I’m referring to the excellent and disturbing 1977 Australian film, “The Last Wave,” directed by Peter Weir and starring Richard Chamberlain and a group of Aborigine actors, led by David Gulpilil.

As soon as I saw the hail falling out of a non-threatening sky yesterday, I thought of that film. Filmed in Australia, the movie deals with a profound, metaphysical crisis between the everyday life of the white people who took over the land from the Aborigine people, and the dark, aboriginal forces, going back 50,000 years, that are poised to bring destructive chaos upon the Earth.

The early signs of this impending and convulsive chaos involves rainstorms suddenly taking place out of crystal blue skies. One minute, children are playing outside in the summer sun and the next minute, torrents of rain are driving the children inside. And no clouds in sight !

Later on, it’s frogs that rain upon the earth.

Chamberlain plays a successful business lawyer brought in against his will to defend a group of Aborigines charged with murder. He undergoes a shattering discovery about his own metaphysical past. The film ends inconclusively, with doom very much on the horizon.

It’s a very intelligent drama made with insight and finesse. I strongly encourage you to find it. It’s part of the Criterion Collection; so perhaps you can stream it from that website.

I watched a VHS version of the film again this morning on an old 19-inch RCA television set my friend Robert gave me years ago. I recorded the film from television in September 1995, before DVDs were the coin of the realm. It’s the third time I’ve watched it over the decades.

This morning I finally went on Amazon.com and bought the Criterion DVD version. The film is very visual and moody and often literally underground and well worth having in a fine edition.

The film can also serve as a metaphysical warning for our own times, 43 years after its release. It can be seen, not just about the mythic clash between Aborigines and the white race, but about the mythic and physical disconnect between the human abuse of Nature and Nature’s retaliatory defense of itself.

The Australia in the film is on the brink of physical and metaphysical destruction from water. We, in our current world, are reeling under the insidious poison injected into us by microscopic viral coronas.

In both cases, we humans are paying a heavy price for our careless and corrupt disregard of forces larger than we are. In neither case, is our survival guaranteed or perhaps even warranted.

The End of an Old War

Posted May 8, 2020 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

The last time I drove to Lighthouse Point was March 29. It was closed because of COVID-19. I just drove there again today, nearly six weeks later. It’s still closed.

Two long, slender metal arms are slung across the road leading in, with a sign that says ‘Closed.’

Lighthouse Point is a city park — owned and managed by the City of New Haven. It’s not a state park. Many state parks are open. This city park is closed. I guess the mayor doesn’t trust us as much as the governor does. The mayor thinks we’re too immature to be able to stay eight feet away from each other and wear masks, as we walk along the seacoast.

Six cars were parked alongside the entrance in the only parking space available. They took up all the room. If there had been space, I would have parked there, too, and then walked into the park. But I got there too late. So I drove away.

I stopped at the main post office on Brewery Street on the way home to buy some stamps. I still send letters and checks through the mail. I bought 32 large Tyrannosaurus ‘Forever’ stamps. I feel we are living in prehistoric times, and I wanted my stamps to reflect that.

Prehistoric times forever !

Today is the 75th anniversary of the end of World War Two in Europe — VE Day. I was seven years old in May 1945 — just a month away from turning eight. I have no memory of that great occasion.

I was living with my mother and grandparents and two uncles at the time. We lived in the suburbs that were so isolated as to seem like the countryside. My grandparents’ house was at the bottom of a dead-end hill, and thick woods surrounded us on three sides. To the north, at the top of the hill, was the only other house you could see and that was too far away to see clearly.

When you looked south, it was just open fields of grass as far as you could see. To the west were woods you had to go through to reach the mailbox. To the east was a big grassy hill, with houses on the other side that you couldn’t see from our yard.

I loved it there. I had no friends, but that was ok because my family was so interesting and unusual. I enjoyed their company just by hanging around, and they made it clear that they loved me a lot.

I listened to the radio much of the time and must have heard the news that the war was over in Europe. But I have no memory of it. Nothing. You’d think that at seven years of age, I would have figured out that something big and important had happened. But I recall nothing about the war, except that three of my uncles were in the Army and wore their uniforms when they came home.

There was no television, of course. It hadn’t been invented yet, nor an Internet nor laptops or mobile phones. We just had the radio and newspapers and newsreels in movie houses, which were enough.

I often wish it were still that way. I don’t need to know most of what I’m told today on all the different information ‘platforms.’ I feel weighed down by useless facts. I’m told more than I can remember and practically nothing that I can use.

Breaking News, Breaking News, Breaking News wears me out. I don’t need to know all that stuff, all that shouting. And I don’t remember it, anyway, nor whether or not it was ever important.

All that Breaking News hasn’t improved our democracy any or made our world more understandable and honest and worthwhile.

I do find it odd, though, that I don’t remember anything about the end of the European war. My grandfather was from Germany and my grandmother from Croatia when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Maybe their feelings about the war and the end of it were more complicated than I could understand.

They always spoke German when they said things they didn’t want me to understand.

A Party With Dogs

Posted May 4, 2020 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

Writer Amy Hempel wrote this in her short story, “The Center”:

You see, in the beginning, in the Garden of Eden, man and animals
had perfect accord between them. But when man discovered sin, a
chasm opened up that divided man, on one side, from all the animals,
on the other side. The chasm widened, our mother said, until at the last
possible moment, it was only the dog that leaped across the abyss
to spend eternity with man.

Anyone who has ever owned a dog — or has intimately known a dog — knows that such an account is likely to be true.

Dogs are the spiritual companions of mankind, unlike any other animal. They are the angels of our mean existence. They reflect our better selves. They rescue us from the solitude we feel in the empty vacuum of time and space. They touch us in the deepest corners of our hearts.

I have not lived with a dog — have not ’owned’ a dog — since my high school years many decades ago. Fritz was my closest pal back then, until things grew complicated. First, the Army intruded and after that, college. But Fritz remained faithful to our love and we spent many an evening together, lying side by side on the kitchen floor of our family home, my arm on him, his paw on me.

But then it fell to me to betray that love by taking Fritz to the vet to be killed, while he still had life in him. It is the worst thing I have ever done in my life, and I have never forgiven myself. I did it at my parents’ insistence, and I had no other way to save him, as he was going blind. But I have replayed that moment over and over in my mind and have never found peace with it. I will carry that Judas moment to my grave.

But since then, I have come to know many wonderful dogs and to grow very close to some of them . . . from their puppy hood to their maturing and finally to their declining years.

Yesterday, I got to go to a birthday party for a one-year-old dog, named Sonny. He is a lively, fun-loving but also serious young yellow Lab and the companion of my friend Robert.

Sonny’s best dog-friend is named Rio, a brown, one-year-old herding sort of dog. Robert arranged a small party for Sonny and Rio to get together on the lawn next to Yale’s Forestry School. Robert made two meat pies as birthday ‘cakes.’ Four humans were in attendance: Robert, Rio’s owners, and me.

A grand time was had by all. Sonny and Rio ran around with each other, taking turns grabbing a chew toy. And when it came time to eat, they devoured their meat cakes like ravenous birthday boys. There was no ice cream at the end, but they didn‘t seem to mind.

The humans all wore face masks and stayed 8 to 10 feet apart from each other. It is the new social etiquette. But we petted the dogs often and with great enthusiasm.

We carefully washed our hands before leaving for the party and again as soon as we returned home.

It was just what my morale needed. I am good at living alone. In fact, I prefer it. But after awhile during this pandemic surge, even I was feeling discouraged by the isolation, the fear of infection, the haunting specter of death at every step and touch. I needed a little breakout from my emotional prison.

And so it was a relief to be out in the world with good and smart people. But it was even better to be with dogs.

There was an untainted innocence in the presence of Sonny and Rio, a beatific playfulness that was so on the side of life that I felt happy just to be within gravitational range of its glow.

Once again, dogs rescued me from another human dilemma, another deadly proposition, another possibly fatal stumble into death and darkness.

And so I found myself grateful yet again that a long time ago, when things were falling apart, a dog chose to leap across the abyss to help us cope with eternity.

The Virus Is Not Just An Interlude

Posted April 29, 2020 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

In seven weeks, I’ll turn 83. That’s an old age — even for today, when many people live into their eighties and a good number into their nineties.

But being 83 is a lot different from being 53 or 63 or 73. Once you’re in your eighties, you’re more than likely into your last decade.

My mom lived to be 95, but that’s no guarantee for me. She died of colon cancer. But she didn’t have coronary heart disease, which is what I have. My heart is good in and of itself. It’s the arteries that feed it blood that have a problem: for some reason, they cough up a blockage every once in a while. I have four stents in my coronary arteries, one of which is there to support one of the other three. I take a blood thinner every day to make sure none of the blood bunches up. I hope to get off that blood thinner sometime this summer.

I mention this because I’ve just heard an interview that has shaken me and my expectations. The interview was broadcast on National Public Radio’s ‘Fresh Air’ program. The guest was a New York Times reporter, Donald G. McNeil, Jr. He’s been on Rachel Maddow’s television show a lot lately. For more than twenty years, he’s been covering all the major worldwide diseases, including the current Covid-19.

What he said about Covid-19 and the U.S. reaction to it and the likelihood of our emerging from it anytime soon makes my turning 84 after I turn 83 seem like a long shot. It won’t be easy. It won’t be easy for you, either, no matter what age you are now.

When that interview becomes available tomorrow, you must go to the NPR website, click on ‘Fresh Air‘ and scroll down to McNeil’s appearance.

Most of us are sitting home right now, staying more or less isolated, except for food shopping and getting medicine and walking the dog. We figure that if we can get through this period, then in a couple of months, things will loosen up and we can begin to live the way we used to.

This is just a short, dramatic interlude, we feel, that will be over by August or September and then we can go back to our old lives.

That’s not likely to happen, according to McNeil. He sees much of what we’re doing now remaining largely in place for another two years — until a vaccine becomes available for the general public. And even then, not everyone will have access to the vaccine right away.

The way we used to do ordinary things will be different from now on. How we live, how we maintain our separate distances, how we structure our work lives and our social lives and our play lives will be different from the way it used to be. Not just in the short term, but in the long run.

The idea that this is just a temporary interlude — a brief interruption to be followed by business-as-usual — will turn out to be untrue. Our lives have fundamentally changed for the foreseeable future.

The way we used to live before Covid-19 will become a dream. We will remember the freedom we had, the careless health we enjoyed, the easy-come and easy-go of our daily lives, the sense of spontaneity, the embraces, the kisses we freely exchanged — all that will be more measured.

McNeil’s daughter is about to give birth. He figures it will be at least two years before he’ll be able to hold his grandchild. You could hear his voice sink when he said that.

No one knows what his or her last days will be like. But I never imaged that I would go out this way — with the world in the grip of a disease we haven’t figured out yet.

We all die individually, sooner or later. Even in a pandemic, each death is a solitary loss and each birthday a grateful reprieve.

But under the current conditions of mask-wearing and home-secluding, we seem to be dancing with death more publicly than usual and defining our prospects more conditionally than we figured we ever would.

That may be the most painful part: remembering how easily, almost lazily, we lived our lives just a short time ago.

I feel sorry for myself, of course — going out imprisoned in fear and isolation.

Yet, the people I really feel sorry for are the children. They never asked to be born into a world like this. But once here, they thought that life would be fun, and for a minute it was.

And then things suddenly changed . . . for the worst. And the children never understood how, but mostly they never understood why.