Gunpowder & Sky
I am sore in ways I never knew possible.
I arrived Providence, RI, Saturday morning at 10:30. My buddy Seamus, Communications Director for Boston’s Big Dig, met me at the train station. Pausing only for coffee, he pointed his Accord northward beneath bright blue skies and billowing white clouds. We detoured through Boston where Seasmus gave me a brief tour of his $14B project. We arrived at The Lake at 12:03. Rob had already commenced drinking.
I have been coming to The Lake since I was twenty-years-old. My first pass through this northern Massachusetts oasis was in college. I was on tour with Smokey Junglefrog, en route to Keane, NH. Paul insisted we stop in at his grandmother’s for soup. It was homemade.
In the intervening twelve years, the house has changed hands twice: from Nana Perreault, to Mare and Norm Perreault, to Paul’s older Brother Rob Perreault. In Rob and his wife Claudine’s hands, this rustic little house on a hill above the lake has become a modern, light-drenched home away from home. Over the years, I have ice skated here, BBQd here, trained for the marathon, mourned lost loves, rehearsed, reuned, rehabbed, and rebuilt. You may recall as well, Dear Reader, that I performed here in March. The door is always open, and the soup is always warm. And for that I’m grateful.
Yesterday proved no exception. Seamus and I dove into the water as quickly as possible. I swam out as far as I could, observing that the lake would make for an ideal homespun triathlon. I swam out as far as I could to where the warmer shallows gave way to colder depths. I swam out as far as I could until Rob waved me back, concerned about the oncoming boats.
The three of us a spent a few minutes steadying the dock, it’s pylons shifted in the sand. I donned my goggles and swam underwater while the other two lifted the dock off it’s pylons so I could reset the base. It was guy work, rewarded with a cold Sam Adams. Or three.
Guests began arriving: Dan & Mary, Fish & Patty, Steve & Claire, and all sorts of little kids. I’m not sure when the tipping point was for my friends going gray, or becoming parents, but I am fast in the minority.
One would expect that the graying and parenting of my peers might temper our behavior. And at first blush it seemed that it might. But once The Patriot came out, all bets were off.
The Faithful Reader will recall the Patriot from previous episodes of The Daily Journal. The Patriot is a two-seated, red, white, and blue floatation device intended to be towed at maximum speed behind a boat until its occupants a) jump or b) fall from it. Riding in The Patriot is, in a word, fucking hilarious. The most modest, mature, and well-mannered thirtysomething is reduced to a hooting, hollering twelve year old on The Patriot. And isn’t that what holiday is all about?
It was the Great American Fourth of July Celebration, sans the country music or American flags (though there was bunting). I spent 75% of my time floating in the water, staring up at the clouds. The sweaty din of New York City slipped away pretty quickly. MTV News faded away. And pretty soon, it was clear that I was relaxed.
Now, about that soreness.
After two plates of pickle-packed burgers, cole slaw, potato salad, and corn on the cob, I hopped back on the boat. Fish was at the helm. Behind us, Johhny “Poops” Poulin and Paul taunted us to fell them from their innertube. “C’mon Marsha Brady,” Johnny mocked, “Is that all you’ve got?” As golden hour descended on the lake, the play became more spirited. Fish zigged and zagged, shooting the two out over the wake and into the chop sending them reeling into the water time and time again. When Paul’s forearms grew weary from holding on, I dove in to take his a place. A few laps around the lake at dusk, struggling to stay upright through the waves, my head bouncing like a mad bobber, my arms burning from my death grip on the innertube, and I too grew exhausted. Johnny and I resolved for one last pass by the dock, our trunks at our knees, as a final solute to our fellow revelers. I emerged from the inky water wearing nothing but ski gloves, and a smile.
The party rolled on into night, Fish and I performing a few songs on guitar and djembe, our friends singing along. Neighbors began firing off store bought fireworks. Laughter and cheers erupted around The Lake. We took a midnight cruise where, just a few boat lengths from the dock, a shooting star streamed through the sky. We were blessed.
Fish picked me up Sunday morning. We headed further north still to surf the rocky New Hampshire coast. Advil did little to remedy the ache of newfound muscles in my neck, back, and legs.
Somewhere north of Rye, NH, Fish resolved that we should take a more low key approach to our day. There was no swell to speak of, so we paddled up river on our surfboards dragging a blue cooler behind. My skintight, lung-collapsing wetsuit was too small, and what with The Patriot and innertube abuse of the day prior (not to mention the Sam Adams I’d substituted for blood), I had little energy in me. We rested on a sandbar just upstream, and ate a gas station sandwich amidst the tiny crabs and Great Blue Herons. Afterwards, we napped on our boards, floating just centimeters above the cool, still water. We paddled back into the turning tide, and slid out towards sea to the puzzlement of bystanders. “Waiting for waves?” they asked? “Just chillin’,” I answered.
Back home with Fish’s wife Patty and 15-month-old twins Jack and Jordan, I grilled the young couple on marriage, parenthood, and the subtle and not-so changes in our lives. I have known Fish since I was nineteen-years-old. We’ve played a bunch of shows together, drank a lot of Mad Dog and tequila together, and spent hours upon hours road tripping from show to show. I have seen him keep drumming when the guitarist collapsed into his kit. I have seen him patiently sit by as the rest of Smokey Junglefrog argued some silly, now-forgotten issue. I have seen him in the studio, in the snow, and sunshine, and beneath the Big Shoe Cloud, pointing, laughing, ribbing, and rocking. He has mellowed, to be sure. There is a stillness in him now as he watches his babies that is moving beyond words. There is a spirit in him that is indefatigable.
Sitting on the couch in his suburban home, Patty, Jack and Jordan long since retired, we watched as David Lee Roth performed ‘California Girls’ with the Boston Pops. “What happened to him?” we wondered. He was aged, wrinkled, clad in a vest and dress shirt instead of his signature red tights. But there was no suppressing him: below it all he wore silver sequined shoes. We watched the F-15s fly over Boston, the symphony churn out it patriotic tunes, and the fireworks exploding over the Charles. Throughout the celebration, and the patriotism that is woven so deeply into its fabric, one song rang in my ears. “One, two, three, what are we fighting for?”
What are we fighting for? I often say that it is capitalism, not democracy, that we’re spreading so forcefully throughout the globe. I often say that we’re fighting for a radically diversified cereal aisle with fifteen different kinds of corn flakes, not freedom or self-determination. And I believe it to be true.
But sitting on the dock just now, the sun slowly creeping over the trees, The Lake still before me, I choose to hope for more. As the morning doves wake with their, “Who? Who? Who?” I hope that in time, every citizen of this tiny spec of blue, green and brown floating in the vastness of space, can find just one moment in their lifetime as tranquil, as peaceful, as the one I’m in now.