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There I was one day last month, hanging out quietly in a rocking chair on my front porch, enjoying a breeze. As a kid, I spent many days with my grandparents hanging out in their rocking chairs on their front porch enjoying such a breeze as it sifted through mosquito screens stretched across the porch columns, which remains mandatory equipment in the lower latitudes of PoV Country. I spent so many days there that I still know their daily routine by heart: Wake early, butter-and-crackers breakfast, drip coffee, front porch rocking chair, lunch, nap, drip coffee, front porch rocking chair, supper, front porch rocking chair, sleep early. That was their life—in their white, bayouside bungalow, in their older years, watching boats on the bayou and cars on LA 1 go to-and-fro in front of them, with no obligations other than refreshing the coffee grounds in the drip pot. And on each visit with them, I simply could not understand how, with so many things to do in life, they could spend so many hours sitting quietly in their rocking chairs on their front porch doing seemingly nothing. It seemed so lonely and brainless, and it confounded me so deeply, that I swore I would never let myself spend such hours of nothingness when I was old enough to have my own rocking chair.
Yet there I was one day last month, hanging out quietly in the situation I swore to never find myself in. But, curiously, the swear was not forsaken, for, as I soon discovered, sitting quietly never happens. You are never alone and brainless on a rocking chair on a front porch. You are never the only animal outside in a breeze. My confounding quietude was never quite quiet, due to multiple unexpected visits—like that of a carpenter bee. The husky little yellow and black fly buzzily hovered in typical geometric fashion, switching alignment between latitudes and longitudes every few seconds, trying to re-locate its nest in the neighbor’s rotting wood, using the sun and a porch column and my face as points for triangulation. After about 10 seconds of reconnaissance, it buzzed away at hypersonic speed, as if to say, “Darn it, rocking-chair man! You moved your head and now I need to start all over again!” I don’t know if it forgave me, but it returned soon after to begin its desperate search all over again, just like it said it would.
So there we were, bee and I, hanging out quietly in my sworn-away front porch situation, when we heard a crow cawing as it soared away from its nest in a tall tree in the nearby woods. The stark blackness of the bird against the sunset startled us as much as its loud voice, cawing as if to say, “Ha! Ha! Ha! I just laid four eggs, and if you think you can’t find quiet now just wait about three weeks from now for my nestling shower!” As the crow flew to a new perch in a nearby tree, the bee buzzed away again, as if to say “Darn it,” only to return and start over.
So there we were, bee and crow and I, hanging out quietly in the formerly lonely and brainless situation, when a sizeable lizard emerged from behind one of the front-porch bannisters. It was one of those green anoles that hang around the yard usually nearby the house to catch a few bugs leaving their brick-and-mortar sanctuary from the day’s hot sun. The lizard turned its head slowly to view me with its left eye and then its right eye, forming in its brain a binocular image of me the old-fashioned way (i.e., before primates). After a moment of neural processing, it began hopping up and down like a lowrider Cadillac, reacting to the realization of me by extending that retractable hyoid bone in the slack skin of its lower jaw, as if to say, “Dude, this is my territory,” as well as evoke its best Bill Bixby Hulk-warning, “Don’t make me change colors. You won’t like me when I change colors.” Little did it know that in the human world we tend to avoid dramatizing the loose skin beneath our chins. Neither did it care that it had disrupted the carpenter bee’s desperate reconnaissance. And neither did it notice that it foolishly made itself known to the parental crow who was contemplating hunting techniques to feed its impending nestlings in a few of weeks. Neither did any of them care that I had leftover Reese’s Easter candy in each of their uninvited and noisy shapes and was prepared to chew them in effigy.
As it turns out, it’s quite a challenge to hang out quietly in a rocking chair on a front porch and simply enjoy a breeze. Sometimes it’s a cacophony of songbirds singing a libretto autocorrected by an iPhone from three simultaneous operas all in minor keys. Or sometimes it’s packs of fenced-in canines in distant yards, trying to get a bark in edgewise like radio callers into Sports Talk with Bobby Hebert and Mike Detillier. Yet, now in my own rocking chair, I persisted with just hanging out, just like my grandparents did all those years ago—something I swore I would never do. Then again, they probably warned me against that—as if to say that I shouldn’t swear at all. But it was in French, and it was hard to tell.