Category Archives: Observations

Various observations about family, nature, life and whatnot.

A Morning at the Sponge Docks, Desolate

My eyes wanted to see it. Needed to see it.

The safer-at-home order has its ups and downs. However because I long to spend more time in my home and away from noise and crowds, it has not been a real stretch for me. That said, being confined to a space for many weeks, no matter how comfy, lends itself to the brain desiring a slightly altering experience, even if just a few miles from home. And exercising cautiously outdoors is good for the soul.

Sponge docks boat and sky

The sponge docks are a little mini-European getaway. Founded by John Cocoris and his hired Greek sponge divers and their families in the late 1880’s, this little corner of west Florida is the sponge capital of the world. Sponges of all kinds, plucked from the gulf waters, specialty shops, Greek restaurants, and a rescue aquarium are some of what the five senses experience. I spent countless, beautiful moments with friends and family here over the past two decades. It remains one of my favorite local places, as well as in the world.

Sponge docks sponge diver

I made my trek by bicycle on a morning I knew there’d be few people out. The spring air void of humidity and the blue skies with an occasional wispy, puff cloud an extra enticement for the journey. There were a few times during off-season when the docks were quiet and fairly empty. But I had to see them now, had to experience this usually bustling town breathing in its silence.

And I had to take a lot of photographs.

Sponge docks empty parking lot

Sponge docks empty street

Sponge docks shop door

Sponge docks empty carousel

Sponge docks bakery case

The only open bakery, which is usually teeming with people.

Sponge docks lady at counter

Besides me, this lady was the sole patron.

Sponge docks window display

Sponge docks bakery case outside

Sponge docks empty restaurant

Sponge docks cigar

Sponge docks mannequin with mask

 

Sponge docks mermaid and turtle

Sponge docks bicycle

I trekked back home with two Tsoureki  loaves. Buy one, get one free.

 

 

 

 

 

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Things That Don’t Exist Anymore, Things I Miss, and New Things

Last night I decided to watch a movie from the 90’s that I wasn’t sure I’d seen before. Since I worked at a movie theatre for much of that decade it was a safe bet I had, although the memory was as fuzzy as my comfy house slippers that have become normal footwear during this new Stay-at-Home order.

Chasing Amy is about a guy who falls for a lesbian, and I was curious to see if the story arc involved the lesbian actually falling for the guy, Ben Affleck in this case, a decently attractive man with an annoying over-the-top best friend (sorry Jason Lee, love you more as Earl). I didn’t finish the movie, because I ended up spontaneously video chatting with my real lesbian friend and her wife. Weird things have been happening all around.

So probably because of the weirdness of the world right now, the nostalgia of seeing the trends from the 90’s, the absence of being with my students, and connecting with dear friends virtually after days of not seeing anyone besides by beautiful moody teenage son, I got a little emotional and started a list. Some items are in more than one. There’s an abundance to add but here’s the short version.

Things that don’t exist anymore (some are because of Covid-19 and some are from the passing of decades):
pay phones
people smoking in movies
beepers
calling everyone “bitch”
cars shaped like boxes
rednecks infiltrating the north end of the causeway
life without devices
brown lipstick with lip liner
the park with its rickety swing set and painted, cement tunnels
all the stores at Hickory Hollow mall
Happi China
my nail salon
all the animals I loved and cared for and lost
badminton with Gracie
lunch with Rhiley
Clearwater Beach in 2004
the artificial Christmas tree passed down from my parents that was too big for my condo
Disney World, circa 2008
the quaintish/industrial/cool nightlife of downtown Nashville

Things I miss (some are because of Covid-19 and some are because of circumstance and the passing of time):
life without devices (in certain situations like mealtimes, trying to have a physical conversation, and while sitting on the front porch)
the park with its rickety swing set and painted, cement tunnels
every house, basement, condo I’ve lived in
all the animals I loved and cared for and lost
all the loved ones I cared for and lost
all the fall and winter candle scents
all the stores at Hickory Hollow mall (and to a lesser extent but still appreciated Countryside mall)
Happi China
my nail salon
badminton with Gracie
lunch with Rhiley
Clearwater Beach in 2004
plastic key baby toys
the artificial Christmas tree passed down from my parents that was too big for my condo
every moment of my son’s growing up years (except those 3-year-old meltdowns)
Disney World before 2015 (it became too crowded, now there’s no one at all)
the quaintish/industrial/cool nightlife of downtown Nashville

New Things (mostly because of Covid-19):
teddy bears in windows
positive messages in chalk on driveways
Sundays without sirens
unidentified tiny white spiders crawling across my living room tile
empty parking lots and beaches
more families taking walks and playing with their kids

Oh and here’s another list
Things I’m Cherishing Right Now:
my pet lizard’s company
the solace of helpful and kind neighbors
the connection with loved ones via phone, Zoom, social media
my availability to help my son with his schoolwork (although I’m not sure if I’m much help, maybe just emotional support)
food in the fridge, toilet paper in the bathroom
heavenly spring weather
coffee in the morning while listening to birdsong
the goodness and sanity and health of friends and family

Stay safe ya’ll. Stay home. And hug each other (from a distance).

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The Time We Have

Some of us find ourselves with more time on our hands lately. Some of us are deemed an “essential employee”. Whatever your situation, and I hope everyone safe, healthy, and financially stable throughout this strange journey we’re all moving through, there is TIME– to capture, seize, harness. Our state is on a “Safer-at-Home” order. My neighbor says he’s “going out of his mind” yet in that same breath he said he wiped the grey dust off his guitar and clumsily yet earnestly strummed the strings, something he hadn’t done in years. Our community pool is closed due to the current situation. Last Thursday I strolled around the neighborhood for a much-needed leg stretch after work (I’m considered an essential employee and have been sitting in front of a computer every day for hours, not something I’m used to as a Montessori teacher). A mom and her young daughter had filled two blue paddling pools, placed them in their driveway, and were giggling and playfully splashing each other.

Although we have implemented distance learning at our school and conduct regular Zoom meetings, some of my students have taken up knitting. Some have baked sweet, chocolaty treats. Some have FaceTimed for 6 hours while watching the same Netflix series.

I have seen even more families taking walks together than usual. My brother said it is the same where he lives, 700 miles away from me. I’ve smelled the waft of charred food on grills more nights than not. I’ve heard an unusual abundance of birds singing in the tops of the oak and Norfolk pines. Gone are the shrieks of sirens every hour, the blasting hum of airplanes overhead, the smell of air thick with the pollution of car exhaust and industry.

Even though I’m still working, I’ve had a few more moments to enjoy the sound of birdsong, make brownies from scratch, read my current fiction of choice, water my neighbor’s garden, connect with friends I’ve haven’t talked to in months. At first I was consumed by the news and social media but I’m making a concerted effort to put the phone down for chunks at a time (there are some funny memes out there, though).

This week is my son’s 16th birthday. There will not be a car in the driveway with a bow on it (that wasn’t happening anyway). We will not have our usual hibachi feast with friends and family. But we will celebrate in the quiet and simple fashion we’re all becoming familiar with.

I’m just embracing the good that can come from a dire situation. And there is good here. And there is time.

(But I haven’t been to Walmart to buy toilet paper).

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Lingering There

Dwelling in the past, for any length of time, is a deep, dark hole. Merely happily reminiscing or learning from past mistakes isn’t a bad idea. But lingering there, well no good really comes of it. In fact, it’s sure to drive you mad. Lead you to the pits of despair.

Children grow up quickly, grandparents pass away, even certain friendships die. Marriages dissolve. Relationships blunder. Businesses bankrupt. Sea levels rise. Fat grows in places it never did before.

But sometimes for the need to have a purging bawl fest we linger there. We beat ourselves up. It was my fault that this or that happened. I’m never good enough, etc. etc. Bubble snot happens. Eyes are puffy in the morning. There’s a balled-up tissue next to the bed, soaked in tears.

With the new day feel a bit better.

Birds outside are singing.

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Scenes from a Burger King

The kid is on a hamburger kick recently. My teenager wants to try all the decent restaurant and fast food hamburgers to see which one is the tastiest. Already Glory Days, a nearby sports-themed bar and grille, is winning with its bacon and egg layers among the juicy char-grilled patty of meat. He has never been a big fast food kid, so I have to coach him on some burgers he might like to try, some I liked as a kid before I turned all pollo-pescetarian.

I told him of Burger King last week, and how they actually put their burgers on a real flame searing grill. “Notice the smoke wafting from the roof? That’s a real flame-grilled burger!” He tries one and is craving another the next day.

Now we never go into these fast food restaurants, only through the drive-thru. Today on a day trip with his grandparents, we stop inside one, by his incessant request for a Burger King burger. There happened to be one on the outskirts of the town we were visiting. And by outskirts I mean there were people in the parking lot who I think had just escaped jail.

We walk inside and immediately I begin to think of a prison cafeteria, or a high school cafeteria, as they basically look the same. The lighting is bright and glaring and the furniture is nailed to the floor. There’s a couple sitting side by side munching joylessly in unison, staring straight ahead into nowhere. Of course there’s a long line to order and there is nothing fast going on at all here. I notice a strange looking man with blonde, curly hair that could have been a wig on a mannequin in the early 80’s. He’s fumbling with his paper cup and receipt and mumbling to himself.

After we order (finally!) we grab our paper cups to fill them at the soda trough. I’m scanning the dining area to see where we could sit without brushing shoulders with someone who might stab us with a plastic knife. I notice 80’s hair, sitting by himself. In fact he is the only person on the whole left side of the dining room. I avert his stare and we glide over to the more bustling side with the lesser of the people who could possibly drag me into their white van.

As soon as we sit down I notice that my teenager looks as if he’s about to have a panic attack and I tell him Hey you wanted a BK burger! He doesn’t like going anywhere remotely sketchy, not even to the grocery store with me. My dad gets up to go get our tray of food-like items and immediately 80’s mannequin hair walks over to our table.

“I was cleared of those charges,” he says defensively.

He repeats himself.

Again, repeats. “I’m telling you I was cleared of those charges!”

My son and I stare at each other in non-disbelief. My mom stammers through, “Uh we don’t know what you’re talking about?”

80’s mannequin hair continues. “I don’t know why everyone keeps talking about it!”

He walks off in a huff.

I look at the man sitting a couple booths over, who I’m certain is a serial killer, mouthing the word Oh-K and rolling his eyes after witnessing this altercation/creepy conversation.

My dad comes back with the tray of our food-like items and misses the whole thing. I grab the pepper shaker and immediately recoil as it’s coated in a stickiness I don’t even want to ponder. The four of us eat our meals in our little bubble, snickering about how weird it all is. They love their burgers and I’m kind of enjoying my salad, if only I had a plastic knife to cut the choke-able-sized chunks of chicken or defend myself in an all-out BK clientele skirmish.

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Let’s Start a Revolution: Smartphone Moderation

Gathering from the various articles I’ve read lately expanding on the subject as well as erupting conversations, I believe there’s a collective consciousness occurring. Electronic devices, highlighting the smartphone, are becoming addictive. Really they already are, just science and psychology are in the midst of theories, predictions, data, discoveries.

I think the straw that broke the camel’s back for me was a recent stint with some friends who were so enthralled in their devices I might as well have been talking to a wall. These were adults and children alike and it made me so upset I hurled my own phone across the room in protest. Thankfully it did not break (gasp!)

I’ve since spoken to these friends and they agree their phones are a problem in their daily lives, especially regarding intimate relationships. It’s as if there’s another person there, sucking the life out of the, well, life that is right in front of them.

When I see babies in strollers zombie-fied in front of a screen I feel a pang for all humanity. The addiction is already starting before they can even feed themselves. What the hell are we doing?? When my son was a baby I only had a flip phone and he played with plastic toy keys. It wasn’t that long ago! Now I see him, gaming, watching YouTube, staring at his his phone screen which is twice the size of mine. I don’t mind him playing online with friends (who I’ve met in real life so far) as the laughter is infectious and I know in those moments he’s having a great time. I don’t mind him texting his friends (as long as it’s during appropriate hours) or watching YouTube videos about innovative homemade musical instruments or people making fools of themselves at Costco. But when the weekend is half over and he hasn’t moved from the couch I have a problem.

Yesterday I implored him to walk with me to our beautiful neighborhood park to play Frisbee. The kid complains incessantly about our stifling Florida heat and it’s finally cold outside so here’s your chance to get some of that! He obliged, as he had no choice, and of course ended up having a great time. “Wow, it feels really good outside,” he said as he spun the sturdy red disc towards me. I realize it is me who will have to be the one to set limits, put the brakes on all this device use. Too much is too much. And I don’t discount myself in this, either.

There have been moments when I felt I was spending too much time burying my face in the screen. This is why I don’t partake in Twitter or Instagram and am phasing out Facebook, too. Minutes can turn to hours scrolling looking at other people’s lives. It’s not that you don’t care about them, but we have our own lives to live, right here, right now. My dad is off Facebook completely. My phone addicted friend has also logged out of her account. If you can scroll occasionally and it doesn’t inflict undue depression then go for it. But many people cannot limit the stuff themselves so they are better off walking away entirely.

I’m not saying all devices and apps are evil. But when I’m walking through a restaurant and 80% of the people at the tables are on their phones instead of talking to the person in front of them THERE IS A PROBLEM. My family has implemented a “No Phones at the Table” rule and it has been quite refreshing. I will gently (or angrily, depending on mood) suggest this to friends as well. This can also go beyond the dinner table. Moms, watch your kids on the swing. Sons, put down your phone when your mom is visiting. Girlfriends, take a break from social media when your partner is sitting right beside you. We could all stand to take a moment to look around once in awhile. Even engage in awkward silence. Those nonverbal cues and instances of being present mean more than we possibly realize.

So what do you say? Want to start a revolution? It doesn’t have to be prodigious. Starting small, one step, one day at a time can pave the way to why all this device madness came about in the first place– to connect with each other.

mobile_phones_swimming-374261

For the love of humanity, please let’s not make this our future.
Photo courtesy of The Sunday Express

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Dull Faces

In a moment of subtle voyeurism as the band riffed another joyously happy song I scanned the room. People eating, sipping beer from sturdy glasses, engaging in conversation, a couple of older ladies dancing, some tapping their feet to the live music, some staring at sports on one of the obnoxiously looming screens above. Then my eyes rested on a table of three young men in their early twenties.

They looked no more alive than if they were a body in a coffin or a robot waiting to serve its master. One was staring at his phone as we tend to do these days even while a real live body or bodies are sitting in front of us. God they looked bored as hell.

Perhaps their night didn’t go as expected. Perhaps the band was playing the kind of music they loathed. They were obviously dressed to go out. Built better than any guy I ever knew in my twenties. Hair perfectly styled so as not to look too pretty nor too unkempt. Were they there to meet girls or grab a bite with buds? Whatever the case it seemed they were the most miserable table in the room. Even more so than the woman in the corner who hadn’t looked at her date all night, sipping dully at her white wine.

These young men, these guys of a generation that came after mine, and even my own teenage son, live in a world I really do not envy. The more I watched them the more I felt a bit of sorrow for them and their peers. I don’t mean to sound old when I say this (as I have before described myself as a 12-year-old girl trapped in a 44-year-old woman’s body). I just mean they have access to and so much at their fingertips that instead of looking at the world in amazement a look of dullness has washed over their faces. Not much seems to WOW them. Not everyone is like this, I realize, but it’s kind of just a general ma-laze I see wafting through.

I try to imagine what it must be like to grow up in this culture, where you are constantly in contact with everyone and your personal life can be broadcast like a giant movie marquee on the front page of everyone’s daily newspaper. I mean the same thing is going on with us in our 40s. But we had our time of having to wait in excited agony for our favorite song to play on the radio. To stand by the phone booth until our friend called us back after we paged them. To marvel at things in nature which can’t be accessed immediately by Google images. The list goes on. By waiting and not knowing there was a sense of mystery, of wonder. As much as it might have been frustrating at times I can’t imagine my youth without all this archaic simplicity.

Do others feel it too? Or have I become like every other older generation who thinks things were better in “the good old days.” I worry about the amount of time my son spends looking at various screens. On Sunday nights I pry him away from his nest on the couch and take him across the street to our community pool. We always end up diving and flipping and laughing and snorting like kids ought to do.

The young men soon got up and left just as I thought they would. On to better things I imagined. And after their table cleared and cleaned another group of people settled in. Me and my coworker table-danced to the music as one-by-one our large party left for the night. “Die-hards” I said to her, describing our having closed it down. We are teachers. And we don’t get out that much.

I checked my phone for messages once I got to my car. I’m glad I didn’t take it out at the table, looking on dully.

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