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Sunday, June 3, 2012

Loons

Thursday November 24, 1983 - I drove my tenant Joe Jones, and the last of his drumsets across the Brooklyn Bridge in the mid-afternoon. We detoured by the boardwalk along Brooklyn Heights that overlooks the East River, and saw the Wall Street end of Manhattan, piled with buildings which from a distance look like so many tall boxes. The Brooklyn piers are fascinating to watch, crowded with diesel engines and railroad cars, tugboats moored alongside stacks of steel beams and lumber, an empty tanker bobbing high in the harbor exposing a giant pea-green underbelly, and bulbous prow. Across the water the ferry plowed towards Staten Island, pursued by a wake of gulls. The people with this magnificent view have all the toys of childhood at their feet, boats, trains, cars and trucks, all moving and active.

Joe's parent's live on a quiet street in an area called Park Slope. When we entered, two workmen were in the midst of stripping paint from the front door with hot air guns. They wore white cotton face masks, but we had a bit of a chat with them anyways. They both took a liking to Joe's rocker personality, and his British accent. "We'll go in and get you guys a spot of tea." They were Americans, and would have preferred coffee, but they liked him even more after that.

Inside the house we sat down and drank tea. I told Joe about Brandreth. He loves hearing about loons. Whenever I mention the word 'loon' to him he breaks out in hysterical laughter.

So I told him how they couldn't fly at any speed less than sixty miles an hour because they are actually a very ancient bird and their bones aren't hollow, and are actually very heavy to help them dive. How when the wind is calm and their bellies are full of fish they can't fly at all. How sometimes they land on ponds that are too small for them to take off from, since they have to run across the water for a long ways to build up enough speed to fly. They can be stranded for days waiting for a wind that can help them take off. But how once they are airborne they are like bullets and make a whistling sound that can be heard a long ways away.

"Loons love a moonlit night. They become loony! They call to one another and make the lakes echo with their beautiful calls."



When I told him how their hind feet are too far back for them to walk on land and all they can do is slither around on their bellies, Joe broke into uncontrollable peals of laughter. He sounded like a loon himself. I told him so, and that really cracked him up.

I also told Joe other bits of north woods lore, like how Clarence brings the snapping turtles that he catches to camp by dragging them backwards through the woods with a wire tied to their tails. It is interesting how the simple facts about wild creatures and country life can be strange and amusing to someone who has rarely ventured outside the city.

We brought the workmen their tea in plastic cups, then set off for dinner at a Lebanese restaurant around the corner. We made dinner last a long time once we heard there was going to be a belly dancer. She began dancing just as we were finishing our coffees. The dancer was sweet and red-haired. They said she was from New Jersey. I tried to imagine how such a dance evolved. A portable dance, as portable as the carpets that crossed the desert on the back of a camel, and were rolled out onto the dry earth as temperatures fell.

In this hot restaurant though, with tourists sitting in chairs, her talent seemed wasted. I imagined her beneath the moonlit sky and cold stars of a desert night. She came over to talk with us during her break, and I told her so - her reddish skin blushed sweetly. We spoke of New York and how easy it is to become closed in one's life, when the city is as vast and varied as many countries packed into one tiny continent. One may travel ahead or back in time or place, without ever leaving New York.

We wandered outside and stopped in three Lebanese shops specializing in Middle Eastern foods, putting our noses to the bins and barrels filled with dates, peppers, cumin, allspice, cumin, cloves, cardamom, anise, coffee, lentils, vast quantities of fennel, wheat, cous cous, corn, and nameless other grains of every hue and shape of kernel, all introducing in me the feeling, where have I been, why haven't I known of this all my life, a feeling of boundless fertility from our earth, where all this great produce is grown.

Then we made a stop at an Arabic bookstore where Joe bought a record and some magazines for his girlfriend Aida. Apparently he just moved into her place - it's off Broadway on Great Jones Street. We joked about the coincidence, "Great Jones".

"She's a real Arab, from one of the states on the Gulf." He confided to me that she's very rich, as if that were a problem. It sounded like he was much in love.  Joe added that her father would not be pleased if he knew they were living together.

"He'd string me up at dawn for sure." I told him about Paul Bowles. I kidded him. "Joe, you're loony. One minute after he meets you Aida's Dad will have you bound and gagged and left in the middle of the desert to die!"

We drove back to Manhattan and sat drinking tea at the Great Jones Street apartment waiting for Aida to come back so Joe could introduce me. I settled into an enormous leather upholstered chaise lounge and listened to the air hiss out. Everything Aida owned was lavishly expensive.

The phone rang. It was her father calling from the Philippines. When Joe put down the receiver he looked very upset. "Her father knows now. He's no dummy."

"Joe you'll be fine. Just tell him you love her. Every father likes hearing that."

"Mark you have no idea. He'll string me up at dawn."

It was getting late, so I left. I'd have to meet Aida another time.


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