Thursday, July 14, 2005

The Beach

I planned on writing about my visit to the shore the past couple of days with M and my sister and children at her in-laws’ house on the Strand in Manhattan Beach. The boys stayed home because of summer school and a burning desire to spend afternoons with their friends. I wanted to write about how I sat at the edge of the water in my low-down, red chair, burying my feet in the warm sand, watching the kids play in the gentle surf, and listening to the to-and-fro harmony of the waves. At one point, M came up to me, wet and sandy, shivering a little, and asked, “Do the waves stop when I go inside the house to sleep, Mama?” Her question made me think of the famous query, “If a tree falls in the forest, and there is nobody around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

I didn’t play around with my response, “The waves never stop, not ever.” The concept of infinity is beyond her youth now, but not beyond mine. The children screamed into the coming waves that were so much bigger than they, waves that thankfully broke into harmless, foamy, ankle-deep water at their feet. The children looked to be a vision of defiant humanity, insistant on surviving the unstoppable tide of time.

But I’m not going to talk about all that. Not quite.

While I focused my camera on the children, my sister told me her best friend was coming to dinner, a young, unmarried woman who works the corporate arena. Jt’s great – she’s funny, observant, and can hold her liquor better than anyone I know. That evening, after dinner, after A and I put the kids go to bed near nine, the three of us drank wine at the dining table, looking out across the now-dark ocean, catching up on the goings-on in Jt’s life.

As we worked on our third serving of Merlot, Jt's cell phone beeped. She checked it, saying she thought she knew who it was, and listened to her voice mail. She showed us the blinking red light on her phone, the one that announced a message waiting at her office phone. My sister, A, and I nodded appreciatively at her possession of the latest communications technology. After a moment of more listening, she chuckled, and indulged our curiousity, telling us about the vendor who called, that she called at a quarter-to-eight, that the vendor is most likely nervous because Jt invited the vendor’s boss to a meeting without giving the vendor a timely head’s up.

“She’s probably upset at me.”

I asked her, “What meeting is this?”

“A client meeting.”

My sister asked, “And she’s upset…because…?”

“Her boss will be at the meeting.”

I asked, “And that’s bad because…?”

“Because she might not want to be seen in action by her bosses, she might get nervous, she might think I’m ambushing her. You know, it’s a client meeting.”

“I used to have client meetings,” I noted, a touch of wistfulness in my voice.

“I used to have vendors,” my sister said, “Man, could I manage those vendors!”

Jt refocused the conversation, “Notice she called at a quarter-to-eight.”

“Quarter-to-eight,” A said, looking mortified, adding, “Criminy.”

I couldn’t keep up the ruse. “And a quarter-to-eight is bad…because…?”

“Because she’s clearly working at that time and she’s making a point that I’m not in the office working, too!”

We belly-laughed along with Jt as if we were intimately familiar, currently familiar, A and I chiming in at the same time, “the bitch!”

The talk turned to e-mail, computers, comparing today to the days of when we typed papers in college using a typewriter, single drafts, only able to correct typos by backspacing and retyping over the errors with corrective White-Out paper. Jt told us business correspondence is changing, that casual communication is the order of the day. Problem is that sometimes the notes get too casual. Recently, she had to chastise an employee about his not capitalizing the pronoun “I” in status e-mail sent to clients.

“How did you find he was doing that?” my sister inquired.

“I saw copies of his e-mail.”

“Clients sent them to you?” I asked.

“No, he cc’d me.”

“Oh…cc’d you…”

I talked about letters I used to write to clients, how formal my voice remained throughout all levels of correspondence.

“But the law is different, traditional, no matter the format, phone calls, e-mail, snail mail.”

The house got quiet, the voices of the children long muted, the night fully rolled in. Jt tapped her foot against the leg of the table, her foot in expensive leather heels. She played with the stem of the glass and I sipped my wine.

I wondered if I’d locked the door downstairs, imagining some child molester coming in and stealing away one of the girls or all three of the kids without our knowing because we’re so entrenched in listening to Jt’s adventures in corporatism. A revealed what was on her mind by saying, “I took my baby to the doctor and he says not to worry yet that she’s not crawling even though she’s eleven months.”

The conversation had turned again.

When midnight came, Jt got her things together and we said our goodbyes, planning a dinner soon, out on the town. As soon as she left, my sister and I fell into a couple of chairs, laughing and laughing because we couldn’t believe just how far we’d come from the single life, from the cubicles in the glass-walled world of Century City, El Sugundo, West Covina.

“A quarter-to-eight?” she choked out, hardly able to finish the thought.

“A quarter-to-eight…my god, what’s this world coming to?”

At one o’clock in the morning, I’m in the kids’ room fixing M because she’s rolled off her sleeping bag into her cousin Aa’s sleeping bag. Near three, Aa woke up, calling for her mom over a nightmare, but I go in because my sister was upstairs sleeping with the baby and she needed all the sleep she could get. Near five, Aa was in my room because M rolled into her sleeping bag again and I drag myself to fix them up again. Near six, my sister was up. I heard the footsteps and baby Iz crying a storm. I slipped back into sleep until seven-thirty when M and her cousins fully woke, running out of their room to the tube to watch Sponge Bob in the living room and play a game of meowing cats. Meowing...loud enough to break glass.

A quarter-to-eight the time read when M came to my room asking if I could get them all some yummy, “Coco-pups.”

“Sure,” I said, “you got it.”

There’s no question that time is as relentless as those waves that never stop.


narrator said...

I read this having escaped work, sitting a coffee shop, looking out on the tiny Main Street of where I am, and thinking how much I have come to hate American Corporate Culture, how unhappy I am with the "Protestant Work Ethic" and the American sense that wealth is proof of life success.

I want to go back to Catholic culture. To a sense of balance. To cities like Dublin and Barcelona and Rome where people would laugh in the faces of the corporate clones who'd be working in a daytime office at 8 at night trying to impress someone.

After years of careful observation I've realized that working Americans have the lowest quality of life of anyone in the developed world. Oh, they have the biggest houses, the most cars, the most toys, but God, what they have given up in pursuit of useless shit.

Time does roll on, just like the tide. And the time wasted in pursuit of what is meaningless, is irretrievable.

Brenda said...

No-one writes about daily life like you do, Adriana. Daily life is a marvelous unfolding of time in your writing. Full of coy surprises and familial love, and always against the larger backdrop of the forces of nature, the spinning of the universe itself that we find ourselves living in. xo

Fromage de Merde said...

Before I was a mom and my kids were just glitters in someone else’s eyes I’d be up all night waiting for those damn venders to show up while faxing bit to a fro and… Hey wait a minute I never had any venders, or a fax machine or even a fro! Sorry, wrong past life recall experience!

Ah, never mind, I shut up and go away now!

Adriana Bliss said...

Narrator, exactly right. Your conclusion was much what I had realized when I dumped my law office so I could stay at home with the kids, especially so I could take care of my just-born-at-the-time daughter. I saw early on the difference in "quality of life" as between my husband's teacher life and the partners at the firm (or what I had to be in order to make my solo practice profitable). What was the point of living with paperwork (never ending) and phone calls piling up whenever you step away from that desk? Where was the joy or the obligation-free moment of watching the proverbial butterflies dance? Or the first time your child stands up on her own. Cliche maybe...but really, there's so much to see.

Thank you Brenda for such a wonderful compliment!'re too much!

newspell said...

i'm so glad that i came back to this post. i needed this... a reminder that i had made the right decision. that my life will be better.

your writing always brings a tear. sometimes happy, sometimes sad, but never without emotion.

Jim said...

Hi Adriana,

I found you from my blogmap. How refreshing it was to find a local blogger who wasn't all about Conservatism and Jesus.

A quarter to eight is meant for drinking wine with friends ... :)

Adriana Bliss said...

Thank you, Rick, so much. As a note, corporate life is truly a bad road for anyone with creative slant. Such folks just wilt - so much better for you that you've gotten out. Now the trick is to find some bit of work that will keep the family afloat and safe.

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