summer ppl

Monday, June 12
Traverse City, Michigan

“—Oh, that noise is a frog,” babbled Jack, my nephew. He interrupted the middle of a previous thought to point this out—something about Grandpa, a small plastic bucket, and the fish they caught earlier that day. The mystery stands.

He continued spouting off unfinished thoughts and random nature facts as he showed me around the cottage, leading me to a canoe kicked up on the shore. I stopped for a moment to admire the lake and breathe in the air. Pine trees and moss. It smelled exactly the same as it always had. Fresh.

My tour guide had abandoned me by the time I turned around. I could hear him chattering away somewhere off in the distance.

His attention span is genetic.

—↟↟↟↟↟—

My sister struggled to place her infant daughter, Isabella, into a papoose as I looked on. A papoose. Because we’re up north so we do things as the Ojibwa would.

“Is this how it’s supposed to go?” she asked, skeptically.
“You think I’m the right person to ask?”
“Do you think she’s comfortable?”

Her body looked like a starfish and her she was at risk of being suffocated by my sister’s chest.

“She’s fine – she likes it,” I said. “Let’s go.”

—↟↟↟↟↟—

“A fucking McMansion monstrosity,” I said, pointing out a giant house wedged between the road and Spider Lake. It was for sale.

“Overpriced,” Sara replied. Eight hundred thousand dollars, so she was right.

We continued walking down Lake George Trail – a dirt road running along a thickly forested ridge with Spider Lake on one side, Lake George on the other.

“I’m into this one, though,” I said about a charming and tiny A-frame that couldn’t have been more than fifteen feet wide. “The garden’s a little overgrown, but I like that.” The owner stomped up from the side of the house as I was finishing my thought, muttering something.

An admonishment to Fudgies, probably.

“She’s so quiet,” I said, referring to Isabella.

“She’s like this most of the time, totally chill,” Sara said. “When she does scream you know it and so do the neighbors, but she’s usually like this.”

“Well, we’ve already irritated the locals anyway, so live your life girl!”

We walked around the lake and caught up on life and wedding planning, a topic I have been avoiding, despite venue selection being one reason we were up there.

—↟↟↟↟↟—

An extraverted Lhasa Apso ran up to us on the street, followed by two middle-aged women. “You guys from here?” I asked after greeting the dog because I am a man with his fucking priorities straight.

“North Carolina,” one of them said.
The other scoffed. “Only for a year.”
“Still getting used to saying that—we’re originally from here. Where are you guys staying?”

“Miller cottage,” my sister responded.

“Oh, how nice. Enjoy.”

Was there a twinge of cynicism in her response? The New York version of my psyche immediately sought out her motives. She was a bit sarcastic earlier. Did she really mean that—“enjoy?” Maybe she has some sort of beef with the Millers? God, I hope so.

Or, perhaps, she was just being nice.

We’ve been in Michigan less than twenty-four hours…

—↟↟↟↟↟—

The back of the cottage faced west, out over the lake. Dusk was about to meet nightfall and a storm was due anytime now. The rest of the family was holed up inside. I sat by myself on the deck where it was still and sticky—summer in Northern Michigan.

The wind picked up and started whipping through the trees. The lake, which had been a mirror earlier, started to get those little ripples where gusts of wind dance on the surface. Lightning flashed in the distance followed by the gentle rumbling of thunder, which always seemed to take longer to reach us than it should. It was still pretty far off in the distance.

It’s one of my favorite things in the world—watching thunderstorms roll in. Especially in Michigan where the rain seems to hold off until Mother Nature has given you a show. In New York you get it all at once and then it’s over.

Here, it takes a little more time.

My mom and sister started a game of Rummikub just inside the screen door, and I could hear the clinking of the plastic tiles and the low tones of their conversation. I stayed outside as the storm got closer. The rumbles of thunder were getting bolder, and better in tune with the lightning. Not crashing or dramatic, but those long and strong rumbles that slowly gather intensity and that you feel deep in your bones.

The rain eventually blew in on a huge gust of wind, and I made my way inside after letting a few drops fall on me. My sister dodged off to feed Isabella, so I took her place at the table. Diane was happily organizing her game tiles. She’s never more pleased than when her entire brood is under one roof.

Maybe we should have been European.

—↟↟↟↟↟—

Our bedroom was tucked in the corner of the house and had two twin beds that we pushed together, haphazardly. I couldn’t figure out how to turn on the old transistor radio so we laid in bed and listened to the rain.

I tried throwing my arm over J but ended up sinking into the crevice where the two beds were pushed together. The pillows were too small and kept falling behind the bed. I was happy anyway.

The window was cracked and the vocal bullfrog my nephew pointed out earlier was busy croaking sweet nothings to his admirers across the lake.

I pushed J.

“My love, you really need to quit farting.”

 

cabbage shed regular

Monday, June 12, 2017
Elberta, Michigan

Between Elberta and Frankfort is a short land bridge—Betsie Lake on one side, the marshlands of the Betsie River State Game Refuge on the other.

“Whoa, hey! Stop the car,” said J. He noticed a turtle trying to cross the road behind us. I looked in the rearview mirror. She was giant—one of those craggy old gals who, were she a person, would be a chain smoking local with her own barstool at the Cabbage Shed.

By the time I turned around, he was already outside the car. I yelled after him everything I knew about turtles. “Sometimes they bite! My love, be careful! I think they might have diseases! And make sure you take her in the same direction she’s going!”

He picked her up by the sides like a pro. “Has he wrangled turtles before?” I wondered about my Brazilian fiancé. “In the Amazon, probably.” Her head thrashed around as she tried to bite him. I chided myself for not recording this. Instagram gold. Was this appropriate for a ‘Story,’ I wondered, still not sure what that even really is. But I digress, this is not a story about my social media ineptitude.

Eventually the two of them arrived safely on the other side of the street. A passing convoy of tourists honked and waved, grateful for our service to the natural world.

—↟↟↟↟↟—

I could smell him before he got in the car.

“Don’t touch anything!” I screamed. “You know they have diseases right?” Now much more confident in my assertion.
“Really?”
“Yes,” I said. “Salmonella.”
“What?!”

He probably thought I accumulated this knowledge from growing up on a lake and catching turtles. The truth, however, is that I know this because my family—a bunch of vulgar nurses—named a stuffed turtle of mine ‘Sal’ when I was three years old. Sal was short for Salmonella.

He had a monocle and a dapper red scarf.

debra

June 29, 2017
Manhattan, New York

I like riding the elevator with Debra.

She pushes the Close Door button at every floor before people have the chance to enter.

Sometimes they’re quick and she’ll make eye contact as the doors close between them; sometimes she’ll shake her head at them, as if to say, “No, baby, you’ll catch the next one.”

orange radio

May 2, 2017
Old Mission Peninsula, Traverse City, Michigan

The first CD I ever owned was The Presidents of the United States of America by The Presidents of the United States of America. I got it as a present in my Easter basket. My second CD was Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too by the New Radicals. It’s possible that name won’t ring a bell. They were the band who white-rapped about fashion shoots with Beck and Hanson, Courtney Love, and Marilyn Manson.

I used to listen to that album, non-stop, on my tan and silver portable Philips Magnavox CD player. I thought Gregg Alexander was cool because he was from Michigan and wore a bucket hat. I bought my own bucket hat and tried to emulate him, unsuccessfully, because I was awkward and twelve years old. I stopped at spelling my own name with two G’s, though. I might’ve had no idea how ridiculous I looked in a bucket hat, but somehow I knew, even then, that spelling Greg with two G’s was fucking absurd.

None of that is the point, though.

There’s a song on the album, “Someday We’ll Know.” Until tonight I always thought it was a cover. I think because Mandy Moore and a few others covered it years later. But nope — it was written by Gregg Alexander.

That’s not the point, either.

The point is that this song, by means of the odd and complex wiring of our human brains, evokes the same memory every time.

I’m thirteen years old and in the backseat of my grandparent’s green minivan in Traverse City, Michigan. I’m listening to “Someday We’ll Know” and the few other songs I like on that album, over and over again.

My Grandpa Don is driving at his standard leisurely pace. Normally my Grandma Pat would scold him for going so slow, but we were on vacation. She relaxes in the front seat. Her head sometimes wobbles, ever so slightly, from side to side. I wonder if it’s her shy soul wanting to dance, or if she has some sort of ailment. I catch her doing it even after the radio goes static.

The road winds up the Old Mission Peninsula. Curves give way to views of East or West Bay. We pass cherry orchards and steep, sandy banks spilling into the road. By the time we get to the lighthouse at the tip of the peninsula it feels like we’re at the end of the world.

The lighthouse is there because the water is deceivingly shallow for quite a long way. Rocks pop up above the surface for a mile out. There’s a jetty with pockets of vegetation.

It’s mystical but not in a way that’s confusing. It’s accessible and comfortable. That is, of course, my modern day analysis of the setting.

Thirteen year old Greg is sitting in the sand listening to the New Radicals while his sister and grandparents collect rocks along the beach. His angsty teenage soul finds a moment of contentment in this perfect place. He’s thankful for his CD player and Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois. Otherwise he’d be listening to static on the small portable radio that’s shaped like a Tropicana orange. The antenna is disguised as a red and white straw.

We don’t stay long.

the third chair

My favorite barber is Natasha, third chair from the door.

It’s not the owner, although I like him, too. He’s outgoing and a little bawdy. He cuts a mean head of hair and always insists on a handshake. One time he told me I shouldn’t get a fade and then gave me one of the best haircuts I’ve had in my life. So yeah, I like him fine.

It’s not Tatiana, either. Pretty and demure. We exchange a few words at the beginning of our transaction and then she’s silent throughout. I close my eyes and sink back in my chair a bit. Her haircuts are never spectacular, but they are the most relaxing by far.

Neither is it the jolly part-timer from Kazakhstan, fourth chair from the door. I think he might be my second favorite. He’s outgoing, like the owner, but a bit more understated. Our chats are simultaneously deep and breezy. He always slips something into the conversation that results in me tipping way more than I should. Whether this is deliberate or not makes no difference to me.

Then there’s the fifth chair, which always seems to be a rotating and unfamiliar face. I secretly hope the lottery by which the queue of waiting, shaggy men are assigned bypasses me when the fifth chair opens up. I’d rather wait.

Nope. My favorite barber is Natasha.

I don’t know why she’s my favorite, really. Perhaps because she is the most eccentric. She monitors my posture like an English governess, and pokes me when I begin to slouch. “Mhmm,” she’ll say, after I straighten up. It’d be easy to interpret this as aggressive—her accent is Eastern European—but it’s more of a pleasant acknowledgement.

She cuts hair the same way a dog chases bubbles in a light breeze, spotting wayward strands here and there, snipping them as they become evident to her. I’ve never had a barber cut hair this way; I was skeptical the first time I ended up in the third chair.

She checks in with me, sporadically. I’ll squint towards the mirror because I am blind. She giggles and hands me my glasses. “Looks good,” I’ll say.

It’s possible that I like her the best because she always remembers my eyebrows. I’m no Frida Kahlo but they tend towards unruly after a while. There’s always one hair that grows way longer than the others. She finds it and mows it down. The others fall into line.

“Mhmm,” she’ll say, monitoring her work, before she walks away to get a hot towel.

reel

“Does it usually rock back and forth like that?” asked Rosy.

“Ah, don’t worry too much ‘bout it,” said Otto. “Gets that way when the wind picks up. But that’s alright. Fish like the wind.”

Rosy laughed. His tension eased. “What do you mean they like the wind?”

“Shit, I don’t know. I catch a lot more of ‘em, though.”

The wind blew them over towards the point, where a couple of fallen pines jutted out into the lake.

“Try right over there,” Otto instructed, motioning beside one of the waterlogged trunks.

Rosy cast his line, but he couldn’t get the timing right. His bait plunked into the water a few feet from the boat. He gathered the line and tossed it a second time, landing closer.

A mosquito buzzed in his ear. Another one feasted on his leg.

Rosy Richardson settled into his seat and waited.

plans, changed

I ran out of Head & Shoulders a few days ago. I have a few other types of shampoo that I use, but I’m a flaky guy. I need my pyrithione zinc.

So my plan was to pop over to Target after I got home from work to get some, and then come home and snuggle with my dog. This plan also appealed to me because work was busy and I knew I’d be buzzing on a high frequency after I got out. A relaxing evening sounded nice.

When I exited the subway in Brooklyn, I heard cheers from a crowd of people. There was a small white furball who desperately needed to use the bathroom so I marched home, hearing rumblings from passersby that it was a rally of some of Brooklyn’s bodgea owners, many of whom are Muslim immigrants and have to face a terrifying new political landscape.

Terror.

And so my plans changed. I could still head to Target after, but this was something I felt strongly about. So after taking Flora on a quick jaunt outside, I headed over to the rally and ran into Annie Sidou. She had plucked a piece of cardboard from somewhere or other, and was writing *Power to the People* on it with a gigantic permanent marker she keeps on her person. Because, of course she does. These are the times in which we live. We listened to Linda Sarsour speak and cheered and supported our neighbors.

And then we went to the diner, where we discussed politics, religion, creativity, media consumption, engagement, intelligence, life, motivations, desires, and on and on. Pepsi and milkshakes and french fries.

After dinner another friend, who I haven’t caught up with in a while, texted me a picture of an American Eagle wearing a sombrero. “Thought of you. Here’s to staying hopeful 🇺🇸”

This stuff exhausts me. The political climate is exhausting. Having to go to spontaneous protests is exhausting. Worrying about your community and hoping they’re okay is exhausting. Worrying about your own situation and whether or not your own family is okay is exhausting. I am so tired all the time.

However, tonight, I am emotionally fulfilled and hopeful.

And now I’m home, writing this while snuggled up with my pup. Because that was always part of the plan. 🐶

Happy.
But with an itchy head.