Thoughts from a fog-shrouded point of view

Thoughts from a fog-shrouded point of view

In the predawn hours of my birthday, the ocean was just a rumor.

I could hear its waves crashing. I could taste its salt spray, feel its gravitational pull, but I could see nothing.

In meteorological parlance, an invective marine layer had set in.

To me, looking on from my balcony perch, the Atlantic was trapped in a foggy Baggie, something that reminded me of Peter Graves’ hair in the old “Mission: Impossible” series.

Man, I loved that show.

“This recording will self-destruct in 15 seconds.”

I still maintain that if President Nixon had heeded the advice offered in that Saturday night program, his Watergate problems would have disappeared — poof! — like those vaporized tapes. But then he had to go all “national security” this and “presidential confidentiality” that and, well, you know the rest of that song.

It’s one thing to want to hang onto old souvenirs; it’s quite another to sew the seeds of your own doom by not having an Oval Office bonfire, one that would incinerate all traces of your mendacity.

But Tricky Dick wasn’t wired that way. His deep-seated paranoia was so extreme, so venal, so incapacitating that, to him, keeping the tapes in his personal possession made perfect sense.

One can almost hear him as he wandered around the West Wing, ice cubes clinking in his White House tumbler, a rat trapped in a maze, trying to justify why in the world he had kept those tapes.

“It’s those ?!!&-ing Kennedys,” he might have mused. “They always thought they were better than me. This’ll show ’em.”

I’ve always appreciated Hunter Thompson’s reaction to the news that Nixon was feeling “depressed” after his resignation.

“How much more of this cheap-jack (stuff) can we be expected to take from this stupid, little gunsel? Who (cares) if he’s lonely? If there were any such thing as true justice in this world, his rancid carcass would be somewhere down around Easter Island right now, in the belly of a hammerhead shark.”

I would give anything to be able to write a paragraph like that.

Then again, maybe I still can.

But not this week, not after a long birthday weekend, one that saw me ODing on family, friends and fun, after which I found myself staring out at a sea that simply wasn’t there.

It was unnerving, to say the least, but beyond that, it was crazy.

Only 10 hours before, from that very same deck chair, I had marveled at the sight of a full moon — the shade of a never-used basketball or the contents of an unopened bottle of Orange Crush — rise slowly from the horizon, displaying its beauty as shyly as a novice burlesque dancer, just peeking over the waves, modestly.

In a mere matter of minutes, however, the moon was making its move skyward, casting a carpet-of-diamonds reflection on the waves, a sly grin on its face, thanks to a convenient cloud.

“Would you look at that,” I said to my wife, who had joined me on my birthday balcony there in Wrightsville Beach. “It’s like God is sending me a gift.”

“I hope it comes with crab cakes,” she said. “I’m hungry.”

My wife was long asleep, dreaming of seafood entrees and various savory chowders, when I went back out to the balcony and observed the world from within a cotton ball, so dense was the fog.

It was my intention to be awake and alert at 3:09 a.m. since it was at that precise moment in winter 1955 that I had been born.

How, you might wonder, could I know such a thing, and the answer is pretty simple. In a scrapbook/album/memory keeper with the words “Our Little Baby” printed in flowing silver script on its ivory cover, a simple scrap of paper had been taped in place.

Printed beneath, in Mom’s handwriting, are the following words: “This was on my bed at hospital,” and a series of numbers follow: 5-13, 20 ½, 3:09. They indicate my weight, length and the time I entered the world.

In the pages that follow, lists of visitors and gifts follow, the latter almost embarrassing in its lavish detail: crib, bunny and layette from my aunt, money from my grandparents, a personalized silver cup from my uncle, a lamp, a silver spoon, booties, bibs, creepers, a baptismal suit, the Dr. Spock book, a stroller, a bassinet, two silver dollars, a playpen, rattles, bottles, and polka dot diapers.

Curious as to my first words? Mom cited and dated them: “Mama” (Nov. 30), “Dada” (Dec. 6) and “pretty” (Jan. 17). Other assorted sundries include first steps (Feb. 27), off the bottle (Feb. 22) and first haircut (June 13, 1956). There are dozens of similar entries.

I bring this up to show not only how lucky I was, but also my sister and brother, who have “Baby Books” of their own, each as carefully curated as the one I’ve treasured all these years.

Allow me one more. First question: “Is that daddy?” I love that.

Sitting there in the fog early that Sunday morning, I tried to imagine where I’d be in a year’s time, what changes lay ahead, the missteps and blunders and errors in judgment I’d surely make.

Because that’s all part of the birthday experience, isn’t it?

No matter how many people you hear from, despite all the good wishes and kind thoughts, regardless of how fine it all makes you feel, there’s that subtle undercurrent of doubt and dread, something akin to looking down from the top of the Empire State Building or cresting a gradual hill on a thrill ride at Cedar Point.

It’s vertiginous, and you feel your stomach drop even as fear rises.

I studied a famous photograph the other day, the one that’s titled “Lunch Atop a Skyscraper.” Taken Sept. 20, 1932, it shows 11 guys seated on a girder some 840 feet above Manhattan, casually dangling their feet as they eat their sandwiches. It is a remarkable image, one that always creates in me a duality: on the one hand, I’d never do something like that … on the other, though, I’d like to try.

There’s a Jackson Browne line from “Your Bright Baby Blues” I’ve always liked:

“I thought I was flying like a bird, so high above my sorrow,

but when I looked down, I was standing on my knees.”

He was onto something, I think, something pure and honest and wise. Your vision may be painting one picture, but there’s another one out there, hidden, obscured, just waiting to be glimpsed.

I hope to sit on many oceanfront balconies in the year to come, waiting for the impenetrable fog to burn off so I can revel in the beauty of a world that is almost too lovely, too pretty for words.

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