Palm Reading

Palm Beach is not a place that invites comparison. It is not a place that makes you think of other places.

It might be a place that other places makes you think of, but no place comes to mind.

The basic components are the same as any beach; sun, surf and sand, but here, even those few elements mess with your expectations.

The sun is sharp, the way it is at high altitudes where the air is thin. But of course the air here is heavy with water and the essence of plants. Like a character in a movie it seems to be more itself than it is in reality.

The sand is not so much pulverized stone as it is finely crushed coral and shell; ground down so fine that it fools your toes. It takes me four days to realize this and only after having built multiple sand castles with my three little guys and digging countless holes looking for sand crabs for them. I don’t find any but on the fourth day a fellow walks by with a five gallon bucket half full of them. Like in their hurry to avoid me they all jumped into his pail. It feels a little personal.

I have also been digging up dozens of Burrowing Crab holes that have not once yielded a crab. On our last day, I run into Mr. Sand Crab again. It is he who actually tells me the holes I’ve been digging up are Burrowing Crabs and he says he sees them all the time. He’s starting to get on my nerves. I’m also beginning to think this beach is deliberately toying with me.

And then there’s the water. I give up on the water. Twenty years working on the water; high water, low water, slack water, up and down twice a day but this tide is a mystery to me. Each day the ocean seems to choose a tide it likes and it stays at that level all day. I’ve never seen anything like it.

We are three families on vacation with five children among us; guests of old and dear friends. The kind of friends that cannot be made after a certain age. I don’t know if it’s the shared battles of youth or the constraints of adulthood but the depth of feeling, of trust, is not possible after a certain age. Once you know who you are it isn’t possible to know other people in the same way.

On our last morning, looking out on the Atlantic, there was a low water calm and no breeze to speak of. I went about gathering mask and snorkel and boogie board and set out upon the quiet sea to discover… whatever.

As I wade into the surf my feet press down on the mortal remains of countless sea animals deposited over tens of millions of years. I walk out about ten yards, lie on the boogie board face down and paddle. The bottom gives way to nothing but rippling sand for a long while.

The optical properties of mask and water make it appear that I am in just a few feet of water but putting feet down to test for depth I am unable to find the bottom. I let go of the boogie board and plunge headlong into this other atmosphere. The bottom is a foot or a yard or a mile away. However near or far, it is beyond my reach. I return to the boogie board and resume my effort. I paddle for what seems like quite a while but time, like distance, is difficult to gauge on the water where no reference points exist.

All of a sudden I see a silver fish and then many and within a few minutes I am floating over thousands of them. Big and small but all appearing to be the same. Herring I’m told; slowly swimming and as calm as the rippling sand. I look down on them the way aliens must look down on us, with detached amusement.

My mask, pink and perfectly fitted to a ten year old girl, is slowly taking on water. I lift my head to clear the water and have a look around. Calm sea. No indication of what lies beneath the surface, beneath my dangling feet. Hidden yet totally exposed. Head down and there they are completely out in the open. Head up, gone. Down, up, down, up. These two worlds spanned by my body and by my attention. My head in the clouds the earth far below my feet and me suspended like a hopelessly undereducated astronaut.

Tomorrow I will be back in New York at work and I will open the paper and find a picture of a twelve year old boy smiling next to the carcass of a 551 pound Bull Shark caught at Palm Beach. It will be declared a state record besting the previous carcass by more than 30 pounds. But that is tomorrow.

Today I am far out in the water off the beach. It seems probable that one of the boats that I can see from my low position in the water is the one carrying the boy to his inevitable destiny. He doesn’t know that he is heading toward the shark. The shark doesn’t know that he is heading toward the boy. And I certainly don’t know that I am likely swimming between them.

Each of us has a date with death. This boy will be the agent, the proud agent of this sharks demise. It makes me think how odd it is that we picture the grim reaper as a tall, cloaked and hooded figure, quiet as the grave. It is not so. Each of us is the agent of death for each of the other. Sometimes it is in one great struggle. A struggle that may be going on even as I am afloat in the warm waters, face down, immersed as I am in this cradle, swimming with the fishes. But more often I think that we are each, incremental slayers of each other. It is no one great battle but a thousand skirmishes that does us in. As the father of three boys I say this with a lot of confidence; the devil isn’t in the details, he’s in the other room fighting with his brothers.

Returning to the house, the villa, involves a transition from the beach through green gardens that surround it. Gardens that include a private nature trail. A description of its lushness seems pointless. I’m not that articulate. Take my word for it, it’s lush. Really, really, lush. The owner, father of our hostess, is a self described “frustrated architect.” He is also an accomplished amateur landscape architect and collector of exotic plants. The house, private apartments arranged around a sliced coral courtyard and fountain is all white columns and tuscan terra cotta roof tiles. The rest is greenery.

It’s on the beach but nestled in among the palms and aloes and whatever else you call these shady cool bushy broad leafed things and in this it is unusual. You might say that its most prominent feature is that it’s concealed.

I’ve been up and down this beach and every house, great or grand, palatial or simply extravagant, is fully exposed. Some beyond great incongruous lawns, others right on the beach but all with a pornographic full frontal quality; “Hi. my name’s Lance. What’s yours?”

But this house, this restrained house wrapped in its protective gardens appeals to the blend in, assimilate, stay below the radar jew in me that has I’m sure, to some extent, made me uncomfortable with aggressively promoting myself. On the other hand I haven’t had my village burned recently so survival-wise it seems like the way to go.

That of course is not a problem that the owner of this place suffers from. Yet the place definitely says something about the man. He has carefully and shrewdly guided his legacy, the family business. He has made it into a giant, privately held corporation that you very likely never heard of.

In this house we are not so much guests as we are a group mingling around food and drink, pool and beach, reading, music, talk and quiet.

There is no timeline and no schedule. Nothing seems imminent. We are each moved as movement dictates. We are somewhat amoebic in our integrations and disintegrations.

We are all, in our middle age, bonded in our common sense of leisure. There is no other agenda and nobody has anything to prove. We are each ourselves within our capacity to be ourselves. We are all comfortable with quiet. The lack of entertainment affords unlimited opportunities to notice the minute details of pleasure; small scenes, textural contrasts, atmosphere.

The young are, as ever, immune to pleasure confusing it as they do with excitement. But I have no old man’s lament about youth being wasted on the young. For although I was young once, and wasted, now I see it as each according to his ability.

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7 Responses to Palm Reading

  1. sonja lange says:

    I have to set aside time to read you. I can’t squeeze it in between laundry and the dishes. I want to really take in the words and then mull them over – like drinking a good whiskey. Sometimes I print it out and take it with me, for the carpool line, when I can just sit and think.
    It is things like the part about the friends – when I am like, “That is exactly right.” Those friends that know you – not just the part you let them see, but all the other parts and they are still your friends.
    And the humorous but also truth telling part about being “incremental slayers of each other” – and the boys… I have three boys and it never ends, but then it does and then they play and it is good. The girl is all drama all the time and I think even with the never getting to have nice things part of raising boys – they are easier…

    • arthurmednick says:

      Hi Sonja,
      I can’t think of a greater encouragement than that you’ve put time aside for this work. Thank you.
      _A-

  2. sweetney says:

    This is perfect. I’m writing you up today. I need to share you more. 🙂

    • arthurmednick says:

      Hey Tracy,
      You make it look easy over there at Sweetney. It must be great to be a genius.. Thanks again.
      _A-

  3. Lynne Dove says:

    Sweetney has sent me your way. Bless her.

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