Wednesday, September 07, 2011
[This re-post is actually a combination of two posts from 2008. I wrote about something, in a nostalgic sort of way, then I actually went and did something about it a week or so later. Since it is now pouring rain in the Boston area, and wiping out some folk's planned recreational activities, I figured I'd give them an idea about something else to do.]
I’m sitting in the house on Saturday afternoon. I hear thunder. Looking out the window, I see that it’s started to rain – hard. I immediately become pissed off. I’m supposed to play softball tomorrow morning; a doubleheader that will decide whether we get into the playoffs or not. If it continues raining, the games will not be played.
As I continue to look out the window at the rain, I remember that there was a time in my life when rain was not always seen as a reason to frown. When I was a little kid of six or seven, I would see it begin to rain and, instead of thinking about the things I could no longer do – play baseball or whatever – I’d run to my bedroom, strip down, and put on a bathing suit. So would lots of other kids in the neighborhood. And then we’d dash out onto the street, cheering and waving our arms and running after each other in bare feet, splashing in the puddles and enjoying hell out of it all.
If I did that now, of course, someone would call the police. They’d think I was a crazy man running around in his underwear, having a fit of some sort. They’d ask the authorities to come before I could hurt myself.
But, why? Why can’t we keep that joy of life as we grow older? Why are we taught to repress happiness? And why do we see other people enjoying themselves and sometimes have the first thought that they’ve flipped out?
I know part of it can be concern for a fellow human’s safety – whether the "crazy" guy himself or those who might come into contact with him - and that’s reasonable, I suppose. But I think most of it is envy. Subconsciously, we think, "What gives him the right to enjoy himself so much? I’m not enjoying myself. Fuck him! I’m calling the cops!"
I’m sorely tempted to throw on my swim trunks and see what would happen if I went out and started rolling around on my lawn like a big old dog. I’m not going to, of course. I’m too sane. It sucks.
Another joy of being a kid was coming in from the rain. Yeah, sure, it still feels good to get out of it as an adult, but it’s not the same feeling. Now it’s just relief. When you were a kid, it was moving from one joy to another (if you had taken the opportunity to don that bathing suit in the first place.) If you got soaked as a kid, you came in and stripped down, then you toweled off. Well, maybe you do the same now, but the experience is totally different. A kid mostly isn’t as worried about how others might judge his appearance. If a man strips down and dries off, he might spend a goodly portion of the process giving different parts of his body a critical appraisal. I’m assuming it’s the same for the female of the species. For the most part, a boy (or a girl) just gets dry.
And when you were a kid, you felt the textures of things more. The towel itself was a sensory experience. You weren’t just accomplishing a necessary task. You felt the dryness, the friction, the warmth. Maybe you enjoyed the smell of the clean laundry, too. And as you dressed - whether in pajamas or actual clothing - your entire being felt cleansed. You could take a 60-minute shower as an adult and not even come close to that feeling.
So many things we dull ourselves to as the years pass.
Some of our pleasure is lost because of competency. Perhaps you can recall what it was like to read a book when you were in the second or third grade. You’re an excellent reader now. If you weren’t, you wouldn’t be able to make it through some of my painful constructions. And, believe me, I thank you for making the effort to become so good at the task. But, when you weren’t quite as good, didn’t you get lost in a story more readily? Didn’t there usually come a time when you became wholly unaware of your physical surroundings? I rarely lose myself in reading now. Now it has to be something truly amazing to transport me. Back then, it could be a page with only eight or nine words on it, and then my mind would do the rest.
If you’re a musician, you may feel similarly concerning music. Before I knew how to play any instruments, music was much more mysterious and wonderful. Don’t get me wrong. Playing has its own magnificent bits of pleasure. Just listening, though, and having no idea how the magic was created, was oftentimes better.
Running. The only time I run now is when I have to, whether it’s to reach first base or something more mundane - to catch a train, for example. When I was a kid, I’d run just because I could. I wasn’t trying to get in shape. I wasn’t going anywhere. I wasn’t trying to impress someone or reach a goal. I did it only because it felt good to go faster.
Eating. A slice of watermelon on a summer day was an all-involving sensual experience. I tasted the sweetness, I felt the coolness, I inhaled the subtle perfumes released when it was sliced, I marveled at the juicy redness of it, I even enjoyed the light crunching noise as my teeth drove through the fruit’s flesh. Even spitting out the seeds was something to have fun with, seeing how far you could propel them as you did so. Now, I buy seedless watermelon, eat it with a spoon so as not to get my hands sticky, and if juice runs down my chin, I immediately grab a napkin and wipe.
In the time I’ve taken to type out this horrendously melancholy whining, the rain has stopped. I now feel as though I’ve missed an opportunity. I’m alive, of course. If I weren’t, I wouldn’t be writing this crap. But I’ve missed an opportunity to live. Being alive and living are two different things altogether.
The next time it rains, I probably won’t get into a bathing suit and go running out the front door, alarming my neighbors and making extra work for the local cops. But I think I will at least go for a walk around the block, allowing myself to get soaked to the skin. Maybe I’ll even run a little bit, if the mood strikes me. And then I’ll come home, strip down, and towel off, all the while ignoring any physical imperfections and just reveling in the feel of the toweling. After I get dressed again – in flannel pajamas, I think – I’ll lie on the floor and read an old comic book. When I finish it, I’ll have a slice of ice-cold watermelon. I’ll let the juices go where they want. And if I feel the need to wash up afterwards, I’ll go for ANOTHER walk in the rain.
That’s what I say now, anyway. That’s because it’s stopped raining.
[Then, a week or so later...]
So, there I was on Friday night, sitting on my bed, smoking and reading. I forget what I was reading, but I want it to be known that what I was smoking was perfectly legal. When you read what follows, you might wonder.
It was raining. There had been severe thunderstorm warnings for a few counties in Massachusetts, but ours wasn’t among them. Still, it was coming down at a decent rate.
MY WIFE came into the bedroom. She said, "Why don’t you put on your bathing suit and go run around outside? I’d do it, if I could find my bathing suit."
I rather doubted that last statement, but I had doubted her when she said she’d run naked in the snow in New Hampshire, too - and she did that - so I said nothing. This wasn’t about her, anyway. She was teasing me, I think. Or maybe she was really trying to get me to do something that I had recently said would be fun. She had read my piece about being a kid and playing outside in the rain.
With a smile, she asked, "Do you think you can even find your bathing suit?" She then turned and went back into the living room.
Little did she know that my bathing suit was in plain sight. It was right there on top of my bureau. I had looked for it shortly after receiving such a good response to the "playing in the rain" piece, and I had found it in a drawer with some old softball uniforms. So, I stripped down, put on my baggies, came out of the bedroom, and said:
"See you in a little while!"
I smiled and waved goodbye. She half-smiled, half had a look of "Oh, God! He’s actually going to do it!"
I turned and went through the kitchen, then out the back door which leads to the common area shared by ourselves and the upstairs tenants. One of the things that made this lark less likely to be embarrassing was the fact that they were both away on vacation. And it was night, also, so I knew the likelihood of my being seen by anyone was remote.
I opened the back door and stepped out into the yard. I was truly hoping to get sopping wet, like some big old shaggy dog, but it wasn’t raining as hard as it had been when I was sitting in my room. I sort of stood there on the porch, getting slightly damp, wondering what to do next.
What I did next was to go down into the actual yard and walk around on the grass. It was too dark to see the ground, so I spent much of my time thinking about how hideous it would be if my bare feet came down on a squishy slug. I walked over to the flagstone patio. There was a puddle there. I stepped into it and kicked the water a bit. I started laughing. I hadn’t felt what it was like to kick at a puddle with my bare feet in more than 40 years. It felt nice.
I looked around at the houses on all sides of our yard. There didn’t appear to be anyone in the windows looking down at the extremely white old geezer in his light blue swim trunks.
Despite having splashed the puddle, I still wasn’t very wet overall. So, I decided to find a way to get wetter. There are a number of big trees overhanging our yard. I walked over underneath one, reached up, and grabbed as much of the biggest branch as I was able. I then shook it, hard. For my efforts, I was rewarded with a pretty good shower.
(Thinking back on it, what with it being dark and all, I’m probably lucky I didn’t end up having a nest full of something fall on me. I mean, who knows what might have been there? I could have ended up with a squirrel on top of my head. He might have thought he hit the jackpot, falling out of bed only to land smack on top of the biggest nut in the world. Can skunks climb trees? Who knows what’s up there?)
Anyway, NOW I was wet! I shook another branch and got wetter still, with my luck continuing concerning not getting wildlife on my head. I looked up through the branches at the dark sky.
** CRACK! **
A bolt of lightning lit up the night. I ducked instinctively - like that would do any good. I’m a lot of things, but I’m not fast enough to see lightning and duck out of the way of it. I then realized where I was. I was underneath a big tree, in the middle of a thunderstorm, and I was firmly grasping a big branch of that tree.
Not wishing to replicate Ben Franklin’s experiments with me playing the part of the kite, I let go of the tree limb. I was immediately rewarded with another soaking, except this time I wasn’t expecting it, so it shocked me. Better that shock than the other kind! I skittered back towards the porch as thunder rumbled.
Now I was wondering just where the safest place was to be. The obvious answer was "Inside, you idiot!", but, not being one for the obvious, I stood on the porch, leaning on the IRON RAILING.
I let go of the railing, wondering if just standing on a porch with an iron railing was really any safer. Now, I was not only wet, I was paranoid. I decided to let discretion be the better part of valor. I went inside.
Of course, there was no need to tell MY WIFE about the lightning. So, I said:
"I came in because I saw a flash of lightning and it scared the shit out of me."
She just shook her head from side-to-side. Then she looked me over, and said, "You’re not very wet."
This was true. Despite shaking the tree branches, I really hadn’t gotten as sopping as I had hoped. My bathing suit was almost completely dry.
She asked, "Why isn’t your bathing suit wet?"
I replied, "I don’t know. Maybe too much of me hangs over it."
I had placed a towel near the kitchen door, to dry myself with upon re-entry. Part of what I wrote about previously had included a paean to the lovely feel of toweling off after a drenching. However, I was only just slightly moist from the chest down, so I gave my head a good rub with the towel, but not much else needed it.
After the cursory drying, we both went into the living room to watch some of the Olympics on TV. There was a lot of swimming going on, so I felt right in the spirit of things, sitting there in my bathing suit.
After a while, MY WIFE (sensibly dressed in a nightgown, and enjoying a large glass of wine) looked bemused. She said, "I think I’m going to go to bed. Will you be going out in the rain again?"
"Well, if you do, tell me. That way, if lightning strikes you, I’ll know enough to sweep up the pile of ashes in the yard."
"Thanks. I wouldn’t want to leave behind a mess."
She trundled off to bed. I continued to watch people butterflying and stroking breasts.
A few minutes later, I could hear the rain. That is, it became loud enough to hear over the telecast. This meant it was coming down in buckets. I decided that, since I still had the swim trunks on, I’d go outside again. This time, I’d just stand in the yard, not grabbing onto trees, railings, or anything else that might tempt God to smite me on the spot.
I went out the back door, and down into the yard. I stood in the wet grass – still no slugs, I’m happy to say – and the rain sloshed down all over me. It felt damn good. I pictured myself as being in a Three Stooges comedy, taking a shower in the rain, so I pretended to lather up, rubbing my wet head vigorously. I kind of wished there were another stooge with me, to enjoy this more fully, but MY WIFE was probably sleeping already and there still weren’t any neighbors in the windows. Oh, well. It was still fun. The lightning flashed again, but I had already decided that if God wanted to off me, there was precious little I could do about it, so why worry? I kicked at the big puddle on the flagstones as the thunder made its noise.
I felt like a kid again. It was terrific.
The rain was letting up once more, so I made my way back to the door. I went inside wet as a flounder and happy as a clam. I grabbed the towel and rubbed vigorously, enjoying the texture. A woman from Zimbabwe was celebrating having won a race in the Olympic pool. She was very happy. That made two of us.
Next time it rains, I’m going to help MY WIFE look for her bathing suit. If she wishes, she can take her glass of wine with her, but why should I leave the woman I love high and dry?
Soon, with more better stuff.
[puddle photo courtesy Xetera.]