The elevator isn’t working; we have a first floor room with a view of the pool.
I’ll get to practice my awful French with the Haitian staff, me and Google Translate. J’ai encore sommeil. J’ai besoin d’une serviette propre. Voici les poubelles. Vous êtes très gentil.
Akram has a lot of studying and test taking to do, and though I am going to help him a lot, I am also going to have a lot of time to lounge by the pool. So I can have a little bit of a rest because I am going to have a lot to do when we get back to New York.
The Hampton Inn has no gym but we got a pass to the gym next door. Talk about tony. Gym in Boca Raton a little bigger than the Blink on Avenue A. Even the lizards crawling up the walls outside look way more affluent than the cockroaches in New York. Je suis arrivé.
Nice breakfast at the Hampton Inn in Boca Raton; well worth the price of admission. Yogurts, fruit, juices, oatmeal, cereals, muffins, and this morning there are cheese omelets, bacon, fried potatoes, and a biscuit with sausage gravy to go with it.
As we are eating, I notice a heavy set man smoking a cigarette right beyond the entrance. I see him through the glass doors, puff and a cloud of smoke, puff and cloud of smoke, then he turns, throws the cigarette without crushing it, and comes in blowing out the last bit of smoke inside with the rest of us.
He is not a pretty sight; a pasty gray kind of white. As he lumbers by, I look at his eyes, glazed over, not quite there, the look of death honestly upon them. What propels him through the dining room seems not to be so much his will, as the daily routine, on thoughtless automatic pilot—Of course this is all my judgement.
As he gets a coffee, a woman getting coffee next to him says, “Oh this heat wave is something, isn’t it? Climate change.”
“Climate change,” he says: “It’s just Mother Nature doing her thing. Senator Kerry and the liberals, what do they know? Nothing.”
He has a really heavy, southern accent and draws the words out as long as a Pennsylvania Dutchman would. With nothing more to add, he takes his coffee and I watch him, broad back and little head disappearing down the hall.
I’m sure he is going to vote for Trump, but I doubt he’s going to last that long. Unfortunately, for the rest of us, that won’t be soon enough.
As one gets older, one needs to accommodate. For example, we have rented a car in Boca Raton. Akram is driving so I get in the front seat passenger side, and when I first started getting in, I kept knocking my head because I would go in sideways like I used to do, kind of standing, bending at the knee, and maybe car doors have gotten smaller, and it’s true I don’t get into cars very much living in New York, so I lack practice, but it had been making me feel older (well not older but more helpless) every time I bumped my head.
So I’ve learned to open the door and sit back into the seat like I’m sitting back into a chair, then I lift my knees and spin around in never ever hitting my head, then I close the door and say, “Let’s go!” Hopefully wisdom is doing it a different way with the same result.
There is no laundry facility as the Hampton Inn. So I washed some clothes in the sink and put them on bushes behind a sandwich shop (closed Sunday) drying in the sun as lizards scurried around me and I love every one. I tell you, if there are no lizards in heaven, I’m not going in.
It took the clothes some time to dry; the air is hot and damp like in Wuhan, China where nothing is ever completely dry, a summer of perpetual sweating. But anyway that is done. Now I’m writing by the pool which is too small to swim in (though people do), but nice to sit by and write.
The gym next to the inn has two pools, one inside and one out. The inside one is Olympic size with lanes roped off and nobody in it. In New York there would be a circle lane in every one with people going too fast or too slow and me frustrated in this traffic because I like to breaststroke and crawl all by myself meditating in my lane. That’s the way to live.
In Boca Raton, the whole pool looked to be mine and I asked a swarthy handsome attendant passing by, “Can I swim? There’s no lifeguard.”
He said I could swim and I said, “Oh that’s right, this is Florida. There are no regulations.”
“We do have some regulations,” he said with a smile.
I like to flirt. Ridiculous as it may seem to some, I think it keeps me young. Anyway, I try.
Akram is working in our Boca Raton hotel room so in the late afternoon early evening I come down by the pool to sit and read as the sun goes down and the chameleons retreat into the shade. I’ve been rereading novels. Since the age of eighteen, I have probably read Pride and Prejudice four times, and since the last read, five. Like reading a good poem reading a good novel is always like reading it for the first time. It’s always new. Now, I’m rereading Huckleberry Finn. I’ve reread Tom Sawyer probably five times and I’ve read Pudd’nhead Wilson probably three, but this is only my second time with Huckleberry Finn.
As I’m reading and it’s getting dark, a man comes down for a swim. I’m reading so I’m not really paying much attention when he sits for a second before he goes in. Neither of us talk. But when he comes out of the pool, he says, “Are you visiting?”
Without going into details I tell him that I am.
He’s from Pensacola, was born in Florida, but he’s up here in Boca Raton for an operation which is going to happen in two days.
It sounds kind of serious and I say, “I wish you good luck on that.”
He points up into the sky with his index finger and says, “He’ll take care of it.”
He wants to know what I do. I teach ESL, and though I am retired, I will begin to teach a class at LaGuardia College in the evenings as soon as I get back. But I don’t mention any of that. And I leave poetry completely out of it.
He installs solar paneling.
“That’s great.” I say. I mention that I was involved in a community garden in New York and they have installed solar paneling. It wasn’t cheap. They had a fundraiser for it.”
He nods his head as if he understands, and says, “It’s expensive, but a savings, not short term, but long-term, a real savings.”
“Well,” I add, “with all the infrastructure legislation that Biden got passed, they’ll be a lot of renewable energy happening.”
“It’s all a racket. I’m in solar energy for the economics. Climate change. I don’t believe that. Biden,” he says, “can’t even close the border with all the fentanyl coming in.”
“Fentanyl comes in through the airports and through El Paso. The Chinese and the Mexicans make it and the Americans take it. It has nothing to do with the border. It has to do with the American soul. Immigrants are coming over the border fleeing dictators and climate change.” I have to smile because he doesn’t believe in climate change, but now we’re getting deep. “Something’s happening,” I say.
“Something is happening,” he has to agree.
I continue: “This summer there are tropical sharks off the Long Island shore, and the water in Massachusetts is getting too warm so all the lobsters are moving north; you won’t even catch a lobster in Massachusetts anymore. Where I grew up in the South Mountain in Pennsylvania when I was a kid when you walked through the mountains, every stone and rotting log you turned over had salamanders under it. You can walk through that mountain now, and turn over every rock for a mile and you’re not gonna see one salamander.”
He bends over and looks at the tiles. I’m not sure if it’s just darkness on his back or if that is hair on his back, but his back is very dark. I don’t like that we’re arguing or really not arguing, but once I start. “Did you hear what happened in Libya?” I ask.
“There was a storm off the Mediterranean that caused flooding. Two dams broke and ten thousand people are missing.”
Perhaps I’ve overwhelmed him. “I’m going to go in,” he says.
“Good luck on your operation.”
He points up through the palm trees with an index finger at that big wide sky there above his head, “He’ll take care of it,” he says.
“Good luck and good night,” I tell him.
After a thunderstorm, some hostly trees in Boca Raton. September 16.
This morning Akram’s final began at 7:30. He got up, had a yogurt, an apple, and a coffee, and left.
I am full of silly dread. The day before, I washed some clothes and hung them outside on the bushes. In the early evening, it began to rain, and the sound of the soft pitter patter reminded me that the wash was still on the bushes so I ran to gather it.
Most of my clothes are black, the socks, t-shirts and underwear. When I brought it in, I put it on the broad windowsill where it would be better to see and sort in the fading rainy light.
When I reached into the pile, a chameleon ran out. More of a vanishing than an appearing, it disappeared before I could really see it. It was very small, but largely occupied my thoughts. I looked up at the window curtains where it must be hiding and searched, but of course it was hidden and would stay hidden, the poor baby, all alone.The unfortunate incident seemed to be a bad omen, bad luck for the chameleon, and for me, a shadowy sorrow that made me worry about the exam to come.
To battle the stress, after Akram left, I went to the gym to do the elliptical and workout. Then, I went into the sauna for the last time. I liked this gym and was sad to say goodbye.
In the sauna, a man stood talking to everyone sitting there sweating in their towels. He was standing half way in the door, as if he were preparing to leave, to go out, but yet still stood blocking my passage so I had to walk around him to get to the corner of the upper tier where I leaned back against the hot wood getting ready to sweat and listening—it was inescapable—to him.
“My parents came from Russia in the 1970s to escape the Communists,” he was saying. “And what do we have in America now? We have Communists. Republicans and Communists. That’s what the Democrats are, Communists.”
I wanted to say, “Hey, I’m a Democrat,” but I didn’t.
“I’m all for cleaning my room,” he continued. “I don’t expect you to clean my room, you don’t expect me to clean your room. I clean my room. You clean your room. Because we in Boca Raton know that if everybody cleaned their rooms, things would run smoothly and it would be a better world.”
“No man is an island,” I wanted to tell him, in fact I wanted to argue with this misinformed MAGA patriot, but Akram was taking his test, and I did not want to throw any bad vibes out there and spoil it. I was simply a sweating man in the corner who was quiet.
Later, by the pool reading Huckleberry Finn, waiting for Akram to return, and hear the news, whatever it was, I watched chameleons coming and going, scurrying across the tiles, running into the shadows below the bushes, so many of them, dozens, what would the loss of one of them be?
I looked over at my hotel window and imagined the little thing hiding in a curtain, praying, hoping, wishing it free. Reading a good book does relieve stress; I was lucky to be reading Huckleberry Finn.
Akram did well. Now we are going. Good bye, Boca Raton. Goodbye, little chameleon, hiding in the curtains. May you and we all get home safe and sound.
…Akram at the West Palm Beach Airport