Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Grains of Sand

I spent Saturday afternoon participating in a book fair.

The event was held on the main street of lovely little Englewood, Florida, just across Lemon Bay from our home here on the key. When it's warm in the sun and cool in the shade, when the palms gently rustle from a Gulf breeze, when both man and beast are quiet and friendly, you know life is good. And so it was Saturday.

More than selling books, I really enjoyed talking with those who ambled up to my table.

"Dieter" had an accent and so I soon learned that he was from Switzerland. For some time he read quietly from my most recent book, Hellstorm. When he finally paused and asked a question, I returned the favor.

"Did you know that the Americans bombed Switzerland in World War II?" I ventured.

"Yes, I did know that," the tall, handsome man replied. "In fact, they bombed my house. I was five-years-old at the time"

I was stunned . . . stunned not so much by the fact that Dieter now seemed like some character walking right from the pages of my book, but because I was not aware that the bombing extended much beyond Basel and Zurich . But obviously it had.

"They said they were sorry," he continued. "They said it was a mistake and that they would repay us for the loss. But. . . ."

Though they indeed may have been “sorry,” I doubt seriously if it was a mistake. Quiet, historically neutral Switzerland. And before Switzerland, there was Iceland, Norway, Morocco, and so on. Not only was truth the first casualty of the so-called "Good War," but--at least in the case of the Americans--so too was neutrality.

Later, a sassy little woman, pugnacious and talkative--and maybe a little crazy--sauntered up to the table. I judged that her carbon dating was fifty-something. When she asked, I guessed her genetic jumble to be "maybe Irish and, ah, maybe a little French?"

"Scottish and French," she corrected me. "And I bet you can't guess what else?"

Ha! Yes, I could guess. In fact, after a thousand similar encounters I immediately knew what the “what else” was. But I decided to humor her.

"German?" I asked.




"Albanian albino?"

"No! It's Cherokee. I'm a quarter Cherokee."

Over the years I have learned that nearly 99% of all pale-faced Americans—some paler even than an Albanian albino--claim to be “a quarter Cherokee." Thus, I have come to the conclusion that 1) either 99% of Americans are liars who are looking for anything to hang their hats on, or 2) that the Cherokees were indeed a lust-driven tribe of over-sexed maniacs that must have occupied every cabin woodpile in 19th-Century America.

Later still, a machine pulled up and stopped at my table. Inside this contraption lay a man totally prone and wearing a planters' hat. Brian Davids was in a serious car crash a score of years ago and has remained a cripple ever since. When he first tried a wheel chair the pain of sitting was just too great. Brian then padded a skateboard and tried pushing himself around on that. Unfortunately, not only was the board slow and dangerous, but it was exhausting and when Davids ventured out in public he was stared at and treated like a freak. “I felt worse than some animal,” said the husband and father of two.

And so, Brian went to work. Since there was no device on the market to suit his needs, he decided to build his own. A scooter was found, one of those that Wal-Mart provides to its customers who cannot—or will not—walk when shopping. The seat was removed and replaced with an aluminum slab that Brian could lay on. A sound system was installed, fore and aft warning lights were added, curtains for privacy, a metal dog-noggin club, and a surf board was bolted down on top to keep the rays and rain off the driver’s coconut. With this vehicle Brian suddenly had his mobility back.

Before this encounter, I had seen Brian a couple of times over on Manasota Key, which is a long causeway, a high draw bridge and several miles from his home. But today was my first chance to talk with him and see his freedom machine close up. Honestly, when one first gets a glimpse of this unusual device, one is not quite sure what to think. With its curtains down it looks like a midget Hippie ice cream wagon and when the music is blasting, it even sounds like one. Brian has been asked so many times over the past years “what is it?” that now he just says “It’s an ‘Igma.' That’s shorthand for 'It gets me around.'”

And so it went, all day, one person after another, each grain of sand adding something to the pile. The sun, the palms, the sand—Saturday was a very good day.


Candy from the Past