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Monday, April 15, 2013

Rain, masks and reality

Sept 15, 1980

The radio weatherman reported rain today, static rising over his glum voice and news station jingle as if to confirm the arrival of some late season thunder storm. Outside, along the river, the clouds hang heavy and sad over the chunks of broken concrete that line either bank. White-bellied gulls overhead, flitting from tree top to tree top with the same hungry complaint, eyeing me and my thin jogging wear as if I'm crazy.
Don't you know it's going to rain, boy?
They ask with their hard round eyes, turning their heads to see me better among the tumble of weeds and reeds and fast food wrappers.
The summer was so dry that I ache for rain, needing to see and hear it pound the earth the way it did when I was a kid, leaving flowing torrents down the gutters from the street. The worst rain came in July and it passed without fury, splattering the arid payment without wetting it, leaving that rusty metal scent behind. That smell is in the air now, hot earth and cool rain meeting in a clash of wills. A flash rips across the sky, blue or white among the gray body of clouds. The whole sky seems to shiver from it, ripped by the sound of distant thunder: a rolling kind of sound that has no beginning or end or direction. I cock my head and lean against the swaying trunk of a sumac, feeling the wind pressed against its other side, feeling and hearing the rustle of its dying, brown leaves. Only September and the leaves have turned straight from green to brown without haunting middle colors that had attracted me as a kid.
Rain comes in whisks of wind, striking the concrete face of the Outwater Lane bridge, ripping across its top like a thousand drumming fingers. They pass and another curtain of wet follows. Then another. Like an invasion from the Clifton side of the river where the red front of the old mill is already deep in mist, as if that side had made a deal to receive this wet gift first, yellowed reed heads pressed down to the earth, flattened by the attack-- that vanishes as quickly as it comes.
Suddenly, the sky grows lighter, and the rain turns to a drizzle that moistens but does not cool my upturned face. In Europe, people complain of floods and news reports waver between the fate of their rising rivers and the American hostages in Iran.
A man yells down from the top of the bridge, his face blurred in the still-misty air. I cannot make out what he is saying or who he is talking to. Maybe he talks to himself the way Leo does at the library. The smell of the muddy river bottom is the same, stinking of sewers and chemicals dumped into the flow from upstream. The thin green central line suggests more pollutants than water, shimmering with the reflection of trucks that rumble across the bridge. Even the drivers seemed disgusted, rolling up their windows against the smell despite the heat, sad-faced men with wrinkled brows that look all the same, the way the business men on the New York City buses look the same, as if life has created singular molds for certain kinds of people: truck drivers, businessmen, store keepers and others.
I seem to be caught between molds, unable to make up my mind which face I should wear for the rest of my life, living with a student's face for the moment with other faces like layers of paint beneath this current mask, a hippie face, a factory worker face, a wandering deadbeat dad face and a child's face beneath them all. It makes me wonder just how many layers I must strip away before I find raw wood.
The gulls laugh at me as they circle in the air between me and the bridge, my small wooden dock rotting even as I sit, stained black and red from months of fermenting mulberries. They have long since given up their sweet stink to that of the river's. Gulls, mulberries and a river stripped down to its muddy roots. All those things utterly real with me, a cartoon figure among them.

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