Saturday, January 18, 2014

Reflections In 56 Degrees

Winter is the season of contrasts in my life. In winter the days are relatively short, with daylight lasting from six am to six in the evening, a little later as we move away from the equinox, and the sense of a closed, rigid season of the year is heightened by the chill temperature of our latest cold front. Winter is the season in theNorthern Hemisphere where life slows, ices up and pauses in the otherwise frenetic pace of spring rebirth and summer fun and autumnal gentle adieux to life. Winter is hibernation.
Waking at four in the morning to the jangle of two alarms is bad enough. To awaken after a few hours of troubled sleep, faced with a day at work is bad enough, but to slip out from under the warm heavy covers to step into dank chill darkness to me is hellish. Hell is an ice field, not a pit of burning tar, and hellfire is a snowstorm, at least for me. I hate being cold and before you laugh 56 degrees, 13 centigrade, is cold. Even mocking northerners who have experienced a windy cold front in the damp chill of a Key West winter express surprise at the actual chill factor of what appears to be a relatively benign temperature. I snuck a ride to work in my absent wife's new car. The roof stayed closed for the 27 mile commute through the dark. The heater was on high. I felt a twinge of guilt at not riding but I still carry traces of my lingering cold so caution was advised. I told myself. I did not miss my motorcycle, if I am honest.
My wife went sweating on a hike in the tropical rainforest of El Yunque to celebrate sixty years of life. I wandered round the communication center swaddled in a furry jacket drinking green tea. It's a hell of a way to start the day, walking the dog, making your own lunch, feeding the dog, remembering to pack all the bits and bobs and trying not to forget the components of a twelve hour day at work...I got it done, I forgot the thermos of tea and trailed out of the house ten minutes late. I got to work on time with no speeding ticket to my credit. Recklessness is not my style, but urgency infused the start of my day and I felt slightly resentful of the unseen scrum of needs at my back pushing me faster than I wanted to move.
The day turned to sun, primary colors outside, lots of paperwork inside. I hate paperwork and like a cat that prefers the company of humans with cat phobias, paperwork seeks me out at work and I felt like I spent most of the day writing reports, filling in forms and reviewing documents and the slice of Friday devoted to the radio and the 911 phones was a tiny crumb of my day. I enjoy dispatching, the problem solving of who to send to deal with each crisis major or minor as it appears on the computer screen. Writing a report measuring the positive and negatives of my colleague's performance is about as exciting as trying to describe how a daisy appears to be growing. It's there, it's where it should be, I'm fine with it. Who am I to judge? As imperfect as I am...
We had a good day, three of us old timers worked as a perfect team in an imperfect world made worse by tragedy not evil. We had several crises, a death not suspicious, yet a crushing sadness for a family, a multiple car accident blocking the main road downtown, an argument, a theft, illness and accident, acts of stupidity, acts of unkindness and we three jugglers in the room kept the balls in the air and didn't miss a beat, and the problems came and went and there and then we had no time to reflect. Belen tried to keep a dying patient alive helping the spouse do CPR over the phone as Nelly and I rushed professionals to the scene by radio and yet it all failed even as Belen kept reading her lines, telling the caller how to do chest compressions and breaths to keep the blood flowing as the lights and sirens rushed across town. I sent the cops and there was nothing more to do but wait. We talked after it was finished, and Belen wondered what more she could have done but Nelly and I who have faced the inner demon of doubt before and often knew there was nothing. It had been perfect, and yet it failed. We talked of stories of accidental impromptu childbirth over the phone to change the mood, and did not succeed. Life is tenuous some days and the drive home in the traffic of chaos among impatient people who did not die that day, gains value by the knowledge gained of how sudden it can be, to find oneself turning the corner, from the routine of the daily chores to the termination of it all. Too often I think death is suggested to us by the popular culture as a heroic statement, a conclusion of purpose. In reality death is sometimes what happens as an interruption to a numbing routine. The moment infused my day with a chill inside to match the chill outside.
Cheyenne was full of joy, ready for her evening walk so out we went, under the mackerel sky, but the wind had abated so even though once again it was 56 degrees it was warmer.
For me it was a matter of keeping an eye on my hound as she rooted around while I tried to figure what the hell I would do about dinner. Chinese? I thought about that as we strolled past the back of China Garden on Big Pine Key. Pizza? A TV dinner from the supermarket? All such stereotypical choices. I went home and had left over pasta, cheese and crackers, and a glass of wine. Very innovative We sat on the porch Cheyenne and I to watch the moon rise over the mangroves. A dog is a good companion, if not very talkative. She tired of my company, got up and walked to the distant end of the porch. Apparently I am too intense even for my dog. The boredom of life versus the permanence of death seemed not to grip her as it did me.
There was that strange mackerel sky so I played with my camera as Cheyenne snuffled around my feet in the Key Deer Plaza parking lot. I don't feel like I've had much time to stand around and take pictures lately. It's ironic because winter is the season of playtime for the visitors, lots of events and happenings, performances, readings and concerts and plays. For everybody not working. It's the time of year when days are short, energies are frosted and low, and crowds are everywhere. The more they organize the harder it is to see anything! The Key West Paradox. The more they invite people to happenings, the less you get to experience.
Its a salutary reminder when your wife is away, how much there is to be done by one alone. Laundry done, trash out dog fed, menu decided...etc... Exhausting. And yet still Life, precious humdrum daily life.
Cheyenne knows how to deal with exhaustion. The best company when one is alone, and life seems cold and short. Fifty six degrees puts things in perspective.