Bring The Heat

Once upon a time I was a cold weather guy.  I liked nothing better than to walk to work or the coffee shop, steam puffing from my nose and mouth, brisk icy wind invading my collar, the sound of crisp leaves skittering about in the street and on the sidewalk.  The kind of cold that made my unprotected nose and ears burn and then go numb, that was fine weather for me.  Fine dry weather.

Then I got married and ended up in the Willamette Valley.

I’ve mostly made my peace with the rain.  Mostly.  This is the time of year, however, when those cruise ship ads on television become inordinately alluring.  This is somewhat silly, actually, as my only prior experience with watercraft was a ferry in South Carolina (or was it North Carolina?) when we had returned to the States from Puerto Rico.  It was over 90 degrees F and I recall the water in the harbor being somewhat choppy.  These conditions are not ideal for a chubby ten-year-old with a dodgy middle ear.  I didn’t whistle carrots, thank Zod, but I had one monster of a sick headache by the time we debarked.  ANYWAY.  I watch the cruise ship ads and see the white beaches and the sunshine and begin to envy the tan caucasians cavorting on islands where the indigenous population smile widely and greet them joyfully (as silently they pine wistfully for revolution and a finely-honed machete), and my goodness doesn’t that look nice.  Ridiculous.  I priced a cruise online once because I was curious.  I had to go lie down with a cold cloth over my eyes.

The tropical paradise thing is attractive to me because when I was a kid I lived it for two and a half years.  Of course I’m remembering it via the warm and vague memories of childhood.  I’m discussing Puerto Rico here, where my family moved in 1967 (my dad was in the Air Force).  Okay, it wasn’t quite paradise; paradise doesn’t feature B-52 bombers (unless you’re Al Haig) and hurricanes, and bugs that catch and eat frogs, but for a ten-year-old kid it was dang close.  I didn’t care that we lived on an air base (Ramey AFB) in a flat-roofed house that had louvers like armor plating in the windows.  I was jazzed about the coconut tree that grew in our front yard and the rat the size of a chihuahua that lived at the top of it (well, he used it for an on-ramp at least; the rats seemed to favor power lines as a form of freeway system, and the cables to our house happened to skim the top of the tree in our yard).  A crab lived under our lawn mower.  Lizards liked to hide under pictures on the wall for my mother to discover when cleaning house.  Beaches were an hour’s drive or less in our Chevy II.  I would fall asleep at night listening to the thrum of power generators connected to C-130 transports sitting on the tarmac beyond a chain-link fence, across the field at the end of our street.

Sometimes I would be awakened in the night by the gentle thumps of beetles and beetle-parts striking my blanket after they’d passed through the open louvers and into the oscillating fan standing in front of the window.  (I wonder to myself now:  No screens.  Why?)

I rode my bike everywhere.  I didn’t appreciate a bicycle as I do now; a bike to me then was fun but disposable, something for my dad to mutter under his breath about as he picked it up from the middle of the carport so he could park the car.  When I was on the bike I was usually looking for a way to destroy it and inviting grievous harm to myself.  Diving into curbs.  Trying to jump ditches.  Riding into rose bushes.  Odd that, although my brother Bill was more athletic and physically adept than me, he’d always be the one to get something stuck in him.  My parents must have despaired of either of us living long enough to graduate, get jobs, and get the Hell out.

We had kites.  Man, that was the best.  We could actually fly kites in our front yard, could launch them and play out the line until they were mere dots in the blue.  Mine was black and shaped like a bat.  Bill’s was blue and looked a little like a manta ray.  We had to use fishing line, the kind you fight freakin’ marlins with, because the winds up high would snap anything lesser.  During a particularly busy kite-flying summer, the brass on the base banned flying kites above a certain altitude because they had begun to interfere with radar and low-flying air traffic.  I’m serious.

My school was called IMS (InterMediate School — ah, the military and it’s poetic soul) and was comprised of three buildings that were barracks once upon a time.  They were each three stories and the “hallways” were open balconies running the lengths of the structures.  One year my 5th grade class trooped out to the balcony and lined up to watch as our teacher (Mr. Genereau — hope I’m not mis-spelling his name) pointed out all the funnel clouds circling the island.  It was hurricane season, what else would we do?

When the subject of retirement comes up (briefly, and with snorts from both of us as if sharing a joke, which of course we are), the missus and I consider places like Belize and Panama and other warm-weather environs.  Puerto Rico never seems to enter into the discussion, perhaps because I’ve mentioned to her before how the natives started strafing buses with gunfire shortly before the United States Air Force decided to close the base in 1971.  That’s an argument for staying stateside:  as corrupt as the Old White Guys Club is, it’s still one of the most stable ones to be found.  Often we’re tempted to let “retirement” go hang and just go now; I for one would rather begin to enjoy the tropical lifestyle before I get to the bermuda-shorts-with-knee-socks phase.  After this long it would be interesting to see the sun in a different place in the sky.

What this means is that we need to take a trip soon, before we come to rash decisions.  A road trip in early spring is like a reset switch.  I want to visit eastern Oregon again, maybe even venture into Idaho.  I need to spend a night or two in motel rooms and eat fried food in roadside cafes and take some lungfuls of new air.

This is the sort of blog entry you write when you wake up cold.


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