Tuesday, August 2, 2011

My Life: Mad Jack's Sunday Morning Service

I am a great fan of T.S. Elliot (Thomas Stearns for anyone who is idly curious) and my favorite poems feature Elliot's character Apeneck Sweeney, truly a man's man. I still occasionally read Mr. Elliot’s Sunday Morning Service. It cheers me up and helps me along my way. If you are serious about reading it I recommend a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary, patience and time to think about the poem and what Elliot might have been driving at. Never mind what the critics say he meant – likely he didn't, and all critics are envious of Elliot anyway, mainly due to his vocabulary and complete disregard for anything someone who couldn't write thought about what he, Elliot, had written.

When I lived in Jacksonville my Saturday night was set aside for bacchanalias, and I was accompanied on my soirée dansante by two women I met in a Chinese laundry while I was in search of a unicycle. We'd finish the evening when the last club closed down, then we'd have breakfast and go swimming to cool off, as the nights can be quite warm in Jax. I'd sleep for a while and then get up an hour before dawn and drive to the beach where I'd watch the sun rise, and if you've never seen the sun rise over the ocean on a clear morning, it is truly worth seeing. I'd walk the beach a little, then I'd head down to the Sea Turtle Inn, a hotel on Jax beach. You see, the Sea Turtle had an outdoor veranda where you could enjoy your breakfast in the shade and be kept cool by a steady breeze from the ceiling fans. I could usually steal a Sunday paper from the stack carefully positioned for hotel guests as I made my way to the veranda, and the hotel had a breakfast bar that was in the process of being set up. I didn't mind; I'd get coffee and wait for Wilbur to get his omelet station assembled, and for Rob-Oh to get the side dishes laid out. They were good men, and Wilbur made the best omelets in Jacksonville. Marie would wait on me. She was a good waitress and good company. Marie's husband was retired military and they had lived in the Bahamas while he was in the service. They raised miniature pinschers, and Marie liked to search through the advertisements of my paper looking for dog food coupons and other deals.

Breakfast and my paper would occupy my time and energies until around 9:00 AM, when the Church people would arrive. Mr. and Mrs. Church and the 2.5 little Churches would invade en masse. The kids would arrive scrubbed within an inch of their young lives, and the little girls would all have their hair curled into fifty pound springs, light colored frilly dresses and patent leather mary jane shoes. The cute little boys would wear ill-fitting suits with white shirts containing enough starch to let the shirt double as aluminum siding and a tie that had been surreptitiously loosened all through Church service and was now resting askew under their collar. All the kids had been rousted out early and fed candy and caffeine all through service, then forced to sit still under penalty of extreme death. Serves them right, the nasty little animals.

The Church families were always surprised to see each other. “Oh, we didn't know you were going to be here!” and “Oh, you'll have to come and sit with us!” What's the surprise? They just left the same Church, they know the other family usually comes here, so what's the deal? By the time the second family decides to sit outside, I collect my things and head for the men's room where I change into my swim suit and swap my beach towel for my Levis, shirt and shoes. Sometimes the men's room is closed to keep the bums out and I have to get it opened. Other times the janitor is pretending to clean it – I threw him out on one occasion. I use sun screen with an SPF of 2500 and plenty of it, and I'm still careful of the Florida sun. I've seen some nasty burns and being in the shade does not always help.

Some days I would rent two beach chairs and an umbrella from the hotel, and other days I'd just set up my own chair on the beach. Either way I'd settle back with a nice book and some water and alternate reading with people watching. Young girls would walk along the water's edge, eying the life guards and trying not to be self-conscious about the new bikini they hadn't had the courage to wear until today. Usually the bottom didn't quite fit correctly, so they'd reach back and pull it down over the buns every dozen strides or so, and spend a lot of time looking behind them as if they were expecting to see someone who never quite materialized. Others would try talking to the life guards, but when it was discovered that the life guards were serious about having some quick, recreational sex, they'd back off and keep walking down the beach. Older girls would either wear bikinis that fit or the girls knew the bikini didn't fit and was fine with that. Occasionally the life guard would radio the police about a bathing beauty exposing too much skin for the Florida law. Bastards.

I'd take a swim every hour or so and reapply the sun screen. Around 1:00 PM I'd start getting too warm and so would ambulate up to the hotel cabana and have a beer at the Tiki bar. The bartender was a good guy and there were sometimes women around the pool who could be induced to come over and socialize. I was generally mildly interested, but the bartender was a real hound and needed a wing man. After one or two beers, I'd head out and drive back to Jax, stopping at my favorite marina along the way, Harbor Lights. The live aboards would be up and have accomplished whatever they were going to do for the day and so would congregate at the Tiki bar outside. These people were interesting to talk to. One man I met was gearing up for a trip to China, and another had been sailing most of his adult life. He'd been around the world several times and didn't mind talking about it. I have a drink and some food and stay a couple hours, then finally head home and take a nap.

These days my Saturday night ends earlier, about 11:00 or so. I don't get up as early in the morning, I don't see the sun rise. I sometimes go to adult Sunday School with Mom, and I almost always go to Church with her. Mom likes that, and making Mom happy is important to me. That said, I wonder if I'm better off with my current routine. I kind of think I'm not.

Along the garden-wall the bees
With hairy bellies pass between
The staminate and pistilate,
Blest office of the epicene.

Sweeney shifts from ham to ham
Stirring the water in his bath.
The masters of the subtle schools
Are controversial, polymath.

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