It’s too hot today

Pen poised over paper, prepared to compose
I struggle to write my thoughts on Fall
On this Virginia afternoon, in this record-breaking heat.

I can recall those cool Septembers when Frost
divided the seasons distinctly
On the rocky coast of Maine, between tourist and winter.

Harvest blood moons rose low in the sky.
The rolling fogs were tinted vivid
With the oranges, reds of dawn, in a mantle of  splendor.

Perhaps it is only Memory’s polish:
I think back upon bus stops and play
As crisp and stimulating, instead of just bitter cold.

Earl and Gloria

As Earl churns his way towards the Eastern Seaboard, states from South Carolina to Maine are on high alert, watching for signs of impeding stormy doom. The local newscasters have compared the preparations to those of twenty-five years ago, when Hurricane Gloria roared through.

In September of 1985, I was in the middle of a whirlwind of my own making. Gainfully employed, I was still making financially unsound decisions, racking up huge credit card debts at the ripe age of 19. Granted, I lived in a cheap, run-down apartment and I drove an old car, so my expenses were otherwise low. I also had a sugar daddy, of sorts.

I was involved with a man that I barely knew, but who made a great deal of money as a fisherman. AJ would be out at sea for seven to ten days, and then swoop in, unannounced, to my shabby place and take me out shopping, dancing, drinking, and lots of sex’ing. It wasn’t the healthiest of relationships, and a lot of bad stuff happened in later months between me and AJ, but in September we were still pretty new to each other, and tolerant of the faults.

As Gloria approached, the boats of the harbor moored up, rather than ride the storm out at sea. AJ invited me to ride along on the Grey Lady as she was moved from the offload facility to the protection of the dry dock. It was the first, and only, time I was on one of those huge fishing vessels (think The Deadliest Catch) and I loved every minute of it. AJ got one of the other crew members to loan me their oilskins, those yellow coats and pants, so I would even look the part.

Once AJ’s job on the boat was finished, a bunch of us piled into a car and drove out to Two Lights State Park in Cape Elizabeth. The storm had started to build up by this time; the winds were whipping the waves into a froth, and the sound of water crashing onto rock was deafening. The wind was so strong, we may as well have been paper dolls.

Laughing, we grabbed the corners of our oilskins, one in each hand, and held them out like bat wings. We leaned forward, into the wind, eyes closed, oblivious to the sting of the salty spray. We jumped… and then we flew.

I can’t help but smile now, as interviewed tourists complain of ruined vacation plans and governors declare states of emergency. Hurricanes are dangerous, to be sure. Gloria wreaked havoc when she came through; Earl certainly has potential. But every whirlwind, no matter how dangerous, will also have its thrills. Storms with bright centers, and dangerous wraparounds. I learned that with Gloria. I eventually learned that with AJ, too.

Amusement of Fear

On Route One, in Saco Maine, just before you reach the border with Old Orchard Beach, there is a theme park. The last time I was there, Funtown had exploded from the small-time collection of carnival rides and amusements I grew up with to a multitude of attractions including New England’s largest wooden roller coaster, its own internal water park, a drop tower, and a full size go-cart course.

Of course, they still have my favorite ride, my first ever grown-up ride: The Astrosphere.


It is a hot summer evening in July, 1976 and I am ten years old. This is my family’s first trip to Funtown! I have in my hand the requisite four 25cent tickets for the ride that everyone has been talking about, and I am finally going make myself get on it. I turn the corner past the giant swings and there it is: the great white dome.

There is a long line that snakes around the monstrosity. Everyone is fidgeting, some smoking cigarettes, others sort of swaying to the occasional rumbling sounds that we can hear over the loud motor that blew hotter than the night air on us. One of the teenagers in front of me gestures at me to his friends, and then, laughing, offers me one of his Winstons. I turn him down. His friends laugh even harder, and the whole line moves closer to the huge black doors that hiss each time a group of people were allowed into the inner chamber.

After what seemed like hours, it is finally my turn, although I am stuck with the jerk teenagers. I try to get in front of them, but they push me even further to the back. We are all crowded into a dimly lit white corridor. I am glad I am short; everyone else has to lean over because the ceiling is slanted. I realize the room is shaped almost like an octagon. That is kind of neat. The music starts up again, so loud next to me that I can not hear anyone else talking. I hope this is not the whole ride, because it would be sort of a letdown.

The music finishes, and the other end of the tunnel we are in opens onto a huge, nearly pitch black room. A man with a small flashlight takes small groups of people off into the darkness. I decide to wait until last.

“The exit is over there,” he motions, jerking his thumb. I shake my head no and he pulls me into the room. Ahead of me I can barely make out a yellow monster dripping with green phosphor. The man turns off his flashlight and straps me into a single seat. “You hang on, and close you eyes if you get scared.” He leaves me there, in the dark.

The my chair begins to move below me, first up, and then forward, around and around. I recognize the ride; it is a Scrambler. What a gip! I got sick on one of these last month at Old Orchard. They are not scary, even riding one in pitch da-

There is some strange talking… I can not quite make it out. I listen more closely.

The music and the images start simultaneously.

DAH-DAH-DU-DAH DAH-DAH-DU-DAH

Skulls look down on me. Centipedes slither across the inside of the dome. I want to look away but I can’t. Worms. Mice. Skeletons. I try to block it out with my hands and I slide all the way out to the end of the Scrambler seat. I am terrified. I can’t get out of the ride. The music is too loud. The pictures are scary. There are flashing lasers and strobe lights. The ride is too fast and all I want to do is …

Someone else is screaming.

The ride ends and I didn’t scream once. I didn’t close my eyes either.

I am looking for my dad. I know he will give me four more tickets if I ask him pretty please.


This ride no longer terrifies the adult me. I ride it every time I visit this amusement park. But now I let myself scream, just a little, to honor the little girl who was so scared the first time she rode it, but bravely didn’t make a sound.

I invite you to listen to Fire On High by the Electric Light Orchestra in this YouTube video. Turn the base up, while you are at it, and imagine you are ten years old, hearing this for the first time, alone, with scary monsters racing over your head…

The Good Life

She was tired. She leaned back and smoked, her memories sparking like the small flames flickering around her. She basked in the glow of these treasured moments, settled into her bed, and waited for her death.

~~~

“Lee, have you looked for any storm damage? That was some wicked wind last night.”
A young man with jet black hair looked up from his breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast. “No, I haven’t been out yet,” he replied. “As soon as I finish eating, I will go see to the morning chores.” He added a little more ketchup to his plate, and stirred it into his eggs.

“Girls,” his wife called, “Come down and eat.” THUMP THUMP THUMP “And pick up your feet on those stairs!”

“Daddy, did you see the willow tree?” Lynn came running in. “It broked last night! I can see it from my window! A big branch almost hit the chicken coop!”

Lee sighed. “I guess we will have to go out and clean that up as soon as you girls have had something to eat.”

Amid the choruses of “but we don’t want to work” and “we want to watch Saturday cartoons,” the young man stood, put his dishes in the sink, and went out to check on the animals.

~~~

Liz screamed, “SNAKE!”
Michelle and Lynn just laughed. “Daddy, look! Liz is afraid of a little snake. Tell her it isn’t scary.”

Lee tried not to smile. His daughters each had their own personalities, their own attitudes towards the world. “Liz, it is ok to be afraid, but there are no poisonous snakes in Maine.”

“What are we gonna do with it, Daddy? Can we keep it as a pet?” Michelle asked.

“No, honey.” Lee walked over to the pile of brush and broke off a long, thick branch. “Can you still see it?”

“I can, Daddy,” Lynn said.

“Here, Liz,” he said, as he handed her the piece of wood. “You hold this far out in front of you.” Lee walked over and picked up the short green garter snake. “You want to know who will love this? The chickens.” He draped the snake over the end of the stick in Liz’s hands while she danced in fear. He helped her carry it over to the chicken coop.

The sisters screamed with laughter when Liz threw stick and snake up, and over, the wire mesh protecting the fowl birds from the foxes that occasionally came in from the nearby woods. The willow branch got caught in the screen, but the snake was not so lucky.

After a couple of hard yanks, Liz was able to pull the heavy branch back down, leaving some of its smaller twigs and bark behind. She carried it proudly. The three sisters took off for the field again, hoping to find another treat for the chickens.

~~~

“DADDY! Gracie escaped!”
Lee looked out the window to see the pig slowly picking its way across the crust of ice. “Damn storm,” he muttered, ignoring the glare from his wife. “Come on!”

Everyone grabbed their coats and boots. The sunshine was brilliant, the sky was a perfect clear blue without clouds, and the thick coating of ice on everything was beautifully painful to look at. At the pig sty, snow from the night before had drifted up against one edge of the enclosure. When it had changed over to ice, the slope had been gentle enough that Gracie, the family breeding pig, just walked out.

Lee and his wife were too heavy to walk on top of the crust. With each step, they punched through and were mired in the fifteen inches of powder underneath. Their daughters easily slid around on top, much like the pig. Lee handed each of his girls a large stick. Working together, they coerced the 300 pound Gracie back to her pen. Once she had climbed back down the slope and she was safe, Lee broke her escape route with a few well-placed hard stomps. The girls put their sticks in the snow, adding to the fence.

“Whew! Good thing you spotted her, Michelle.”

“Good thing we still had these sticks, Daddy.”

~~~

“Girls. Girls! What are you looking at?” Lee stood up from the row of potatoes he was hoeing and stretched.

“It’s a turtle, Daddy. It’s a BIG turtle. Come see!” Lynne’s voice was filled with awe.

Lee set his hoe down, and walked over to the lettuce. “Step back!” he barked at them. The three girls jumped back about three feet.

“What is it?”

“Michelle, go and get me the thickest branch you can find.” Lee never took his eyes off the large turtle, clearly afraid of the slow-moving beast. The shell was more than eighteen inches across, and its head was fully extended. Michelle came back with a piece of wood.

“Hey! That is my snake-stick!” Liz’s indignant voice called out.

“Enough. It is perfect.” Lee reached behind him and Michelle put the thick stick in his hand.

“What kind of turtle is it, Lee?” His wife had made her way over, the corners of her apron pulled up to cradle the peas she had picked.

“It is a snapping turtle. I don’t know what it is doing here, but..” Lee took the thickest part of the branch and put it down by the turtle’s mouth.

SNAP!

“…I am going to put it down in the marsh and let it go,” he finished, lifting the stick in two hands, with the turtle firmly held in the middle by its mouth.

The family formed a parade, marching the snapping turtle from the garden, across the green hayfield, down through the wild roses and cattails to the waters of marsh. Lee carefully put the large turtle on the ground. It released the stick as soon as it could feel the mud beneath its feet and slipped into the cool waters.

“Look, girls. Look what the turtle did to this branch.” Lee stepped back up onto the field and held out the wood for his daughters to see. Along with the old scars from the tree fall, the chicken coop, and the pig escape, new deep ridges had been cut into the branch where the snapping turtle had held on. The little girls thought about how close they had come to losing a finger… and wondered if the turtle would ever be back.

Lee hung the branch in the barn. He was sentimental.

~~~

“Tory, step back. You are too close to the fire.”
“But, Grampy. I wanted to put this one on.” The little girl handed the old man a worn and scarred piece of wood. “I found it by the garage when Daddy was digging the foundation.”

Lee fingered the faded scratches, ridges, and gouges on the last bit of branch. “Sure, Tory. Toss it up there. Carefully, I do not want you to get burned. Say, did I ever tell you the story about your mother, your aunts, and Gracie the pig?”

The little girl gently tossed the last bits of the broken branch to the very top of the bonfire, where it quickly burst into flame, and finally died.