Humans who are contrary

By David Grima | Apr 12, 2014

Sunday morning as I was conducting my ablutions from a bucket of half-melted ice water on top of the west tower, I put an old record of songs by Roy Orbison on the Victrola. It was too breezy to light the candle which might have taken the chill off the water, and at first I thought the breeze was having the effect of speeding up the turntable too. Orbison was known for a particularly high vocal range, and as I listened to the tunes I realized his extreme notes were not wind-induced but were quite natural. It sounded at certain peak moments as though he had inhaled helium in order to reach the top notes, but in the end I accepted that it was all natural. What a voice!

* * * * *

The previous Tuesday, April 1, ended as a dark and dank evening up here on the concrete towers at the foot of Mechanic Street. As sometimes happens, I found that reading my book (a biography of Samuel Beckett, if you care to know) was not creating a condition of even modest cheer within me, so I slipped down the knotted rope that serves me as a staircase and wandered around the silent South End in search of entertainment. I saw that I was not alone. Even that late, there were two cars parked in the darkness on the mud patch beside the footpath near Sandy Beach. I wondered what had driven these solitary people to this quiet spot to sit and watch the blackened harbor. Perhaps it is not too much of a mystery, and certainly it is not uncommon. At all times of day there are cars parked there, the occupants staring at their windshields or the water beyond, no doubt asking themselves deep and probing questions about the human condition. I can only imagine that at this late hour the questions must be deeper, and the answers that are driven in on the ocean wind are perhaps less satisfactory.

I followed the neon light along the boardwalk and found myself drawn into a pleasant little establishment where there were two games of pool under way. On a table were several elaborate cases designed to carry pool sticks, very ornate things almost like expensive gun cases, or like the leather that sometimes adorns motorcycles. After a while a young man approached and said hello. He was under the impression I was a friend of his family named Bill. I said I was not Bill nor had I ever been, yet the odd thing was that he did not seem satisfied with my answer. He asked if I was sure I was not Bill, and all I could do was say more definitely that I am not Bill. Eventually he said a friendly goodbye and let me be, and I began to feel sorry that I was not Bill. It would have pleased him.

* * * * *

Monday, April 7, and the public thermometer across from the courthouse claimed it was 62 degrees at 12:40 p.m. I am not sure if this is always an accurate device but it was certainly warm and sunny, and I was cheered to see the first temperature readout in the 60s this year. Within the hour I also saw bees, and a blackbird carrying nesting material in its beak. Robins have been around for a couple of weeks, now. Pardon me as I try to wring some precious drops of optimism from the rain-soaked pages of the Book of Nature.

* * * * *

Concerning the tale of the concrete towers, Paul and Eileen of Crescent Street rather took the wind out of my sails when they mentioned that the story has in fact already been told in a few pages in a book about Mechanic Street that is printed, I believe, under the name of Richardson. The devoted couple stopped by my tower during a heavy downpour the other Sunday to invite me to dinner and to read the book, and they stood there in the corner of my tower that is devoted to kitchen-like activities dripping like a pair of drowned rats, and beaming with invitational delight. Alas, I was too struck by the fact that I had missed an obvious source of information, and I made up some transparent story about why I could not accept their kind invitation. This is classic behavior on my part, but in general I think they are decent enough to overlook some of my more irritating qualities. I am really rather fond of them, which is perhaps why I stay away from them more than I should. I expect some of you will understand this description of human contrariness perfectly, and some of you who live less complicated lives probably will not. Nevertheless I am postponing my tower-story-thing until I have recovered my composure. (One reader wrote to me about the physical effort of driving a grain truck, in which it was necessary to use two levers to shift gears. I expect to print that detail in full, and I only beg the reader’s patience. Another reader wrote about geese that did not leave for the winter, and I think I can find a place for that, too.)

* * * * *

Speaking of humans who are contrary, I had the rare chance this week to glance at some public comments posted online beneath the latest Curious-Gazette story about the ongoing devastation of Very Old County Road. In an extreme (if temporary) right-wing moment I was overcome by the distinct impression that our forefathers gave their blood and lives to secure for us our right to speak our mind, and yet all we do with that blood-bought right is to... oooooooh, wait a cotton-pickin’ minute... I can feel my more rational self coming back into focus. Must have a drink of special water and settle down for a few moments...

David Grima is a former editor with Courier Publications. He can be reached or just as easily ignored at

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