Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Zephyr Teachout For Governor

I am a political junkie.  I was a child during the Vietnam/Watergate era and my political consciousness formed while the country was steeped in dissent and scandal. My entire large family voted Republican. I, on the other hand, wanted nothing to do with Richard Nixon or the Republicans. At seven years old I was pulling hard for George McGovern because, to my seven-year old mind, war was bad and he would get us out of the war.

Sadly, most American voters did not feel the way I did and McGovern was crushed by a Nixon landslide. It was a couple of years later that the corruption and lies of the Nixon Administration brought down his Presidency and led to his resignation in disgrace.

Those early events formed the heart of my political identity. Mixed in with a real reluctance to commit American troops to uncertain causes with unclear objectives is a deep distrust of political power and those who misuse it.

The governor of New York does not have much say in issues of war and peace, but the governor of New York does have a lot of influence on the ethical climate of the state. By this measure, Andrew Cuomo has been a failure and has not earned a second term. Cuomo ran as someone who would clean up the mess that is Albany. After the arrests of several state legislators and the refusal of the New York State Senate or Assembly to do much about ethics reform, Cuomo launched a Moreland Commission to investigate corruption, charging the commissioners to “follow the trail wherever it took them.”



Turns out, he was not really serious about that last part. Whenever the commission’s investigation took them anywhere near Governor Cuomo or people who were strong supporters (i.e. big donors) Cuomo’s chief of staff sent word that the commission should back off.  There is a long and damning article about Cuomo and the Moreland Commission here. After several months of hard work and frustrating walls thrown in their way, it became clear that the Moreland Commission was not  given the room it needed to do what Cuomo had promised the people of New York it would do.

And then, to reward the Assembly and Senate for working through a tricky budget negotiation in a way the Governor approved of, Cuomo simply pulled the plug on the Moreland Commission. He thanked them for their good work and sent them home, their “good work” mostly incomplete.

That one action told me all I need to know about Andrew Cuomo. He is not serious about reforming the ethical cesspit of state politics and he never was. The Moreland Commission was just another tool of power to get the legislature to do what he wanted. It was a threat he wielded and then took away. It seemed no one in the state was willing to take on the entrenched corruption that taints both sides of the aisle in Albany.

Into the void of ethical leadership stepped Zephyr Teachout. She is a Fordham Law Professor and she is running against Andrew Cuomo for the Democratic nomination for Governor of New York. She is an expert in corruption and has made a career fighting for the underdog. On Tuesday, September 9 she will have my vote against Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic primary. I am not voting for Zephyr Teachout as a gesture. I believe she can win. Party primaries have notoriously low turnout. A challenger with a passionate base of support can beat an uninspiring incumbent.



And that describes the situation in New York today: an uninspiring incumbent (who seems to be calculating the best path to take to steer himself to the Presidency) is facing off against an optimistic and inspiring newcomer whose followers are growing more and more excited about her chances of unseating a disappointing Andrew Cuomo.


If you live in New York and are a registered Democrat, please join me on Tuesday, September 9 and vote for real reform of New York’s culture of corruption. Vote for Zephyr Teachout for Governor.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

My Father is Making Me Sing Duran Duran

My father died two weeks ago while cutting the grass.  It came as a surprise and I am still a bit off balance. His absence hits every once in a while with no obvious cause, leaving me a little short of breath as I go about my day.

I am no fan of Duran Duran, but I have been singing a song of theirs in my head for the past week at my job and in the car and while shopping at Wegmans. The song is called Ordinary World. It was not one of my dad's favorites. In fact, I would be shocked if my father had any idea who Duran Duran was. His taste ran to Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, and Roy Orbison. But the chorus of Ordinary World has always struck me with far more of a wallop than a cheesy early 90s pop song should.

At root, it is about going through something shattering and then realizing that the rest of the world has simply gone on without you. You have been broken and the world has paid no notice.  Everyone else has just gone on with their ordinary lives. And, in fact, you will need to go on with your ordinary life, as well.

A friend sent a message last week talking about how hard the death of her father struck her a year ago. She said that it has continued to reverberate in many surprising ways over the year. Her note drove home to me how utterly common and, at the same time, how utterly devastating the death of a parent is. Most everyone goes through it, and most everyone finds their way back to the ordinary world after a while.

And then we see them a few months later and they look the same as they always did. What we can't see is the scar and the pain and the something missing that will never be filled again.

My father was a good man. I knew him for 48 years and I cannot think of one time where I thought, "That was not an honest/thoughtful/caring thing to do or say, Dad." Not ONE time.  In many ways, he was the man I strive to be. Below is a draft of the eulogy my brother Mike delivered at the funeral last weekend. My father was a good man and I will miss him every day.


"This funeral mass brings together everything and everyone Jerry Dawson loved. His family and friends are here, his brother knights are here, many people he helped in a hundred small ways are here, and it is taking place in Saint Mary Magdalen Church--a church where several of us Dawson kids were baptized, received our first holy communion, and acted as altar servers, where both Jerry and Irene served on the Board, and where Jerry married Irene more than 50 years ago.


The Church meant so much to dad that it is not hard to think of a life for him different than the one he had. In fact, it is pretty easy to imagine him entering the seminary as a young man and becoming a priest. He truly did love the Church and Jesus’s message of eternal life, and he loved the idea of living to serve others.

But that future did not happen for dad. Instead, he met Irene Michaels at a Young Catholic Adults dance and, if he did have any thoughts of a calling to the priesthood, those went out the window after one dance with Irene. He was smitten. She was pretty smitten, too. When he asked Irene’s parents about marrying their daughter, they had one condition: that he first get a job that could support a family.

The young Irene held him to the same standard—in fact, she wrote up a contract for Jerry to sign that held him to attaining a certain level of income in their first years of marriage. Dad had just started working for John Hancock and mom is not saying what the conditions of the contract were, but luckily for all of us, he reached her goal.

Sales was perfect for dad. He loved to talk to people—as many of you can attest---and selling insurance gave him the chance to have long conversations with new people just about every day.

Some people get into sales because they see it as a way to get rich.  That was not my father.  Dad sold insurance because it helped support his quickly growing family and because he truly believed in the value of what he was selling. He believed it made people’s lives better.

And in the end, that was always his main goal—he wanted to make people’s lives better. He did so by selling insurance. But he also did so by becoming active in the union representing his fellow salesmen and women. When he earned a promotion and became a manager in Long Island and then back in Delaware, he took many new salespeople under his wing and mentored them with patience and love and conveyed to them some of his faith in the good work they did and in the products they sold.

Dad often worked ten or twelve hours a day. Yet somehow he managed to make it to just about every baseball, football, basketball, volleyball, and softball game we played through many years of Catholic League games for Jerry, Chris, me, Rich, Teresa, and John.

All six of the Dawson kids could probably tell a story about the time our father embarrassed us a bit with his very vocal support. (But we were also glad he was there.)

When we started having kids of our own, he did the same for the grandkids. He loved his grandchildren and was as proud as a man could be of each and every one of them. Dad truly meant it when he said one time that he was rich in the things that mattered most—he had the love of a good woman, he had a pack of kids who were off in the world living lives he was proud of, and he had nine grandkids who were everything he hoped they would be.

At 55 dad decided that the changes in the insurance business were not changes he could live with, so he took early retirement. It was then that his life took a different focus. He became active with the Knights of Columbus and this group gave him an outlet for his many ideas on how to help spread the Catholic faith to which he was so dedicated. He eventually held many statewide offices with the Knights—including State Deputy.

Mom can certainly attest to the importance of the Knights to dad and to how meaningful they have made the last many years of his life.

It is impossible to sum up a person and a life in a few words. If we were to try to do that for Dad, it might be something like: he loved to sing (even though he often didn’t really know the words), he loved to dance, he loved to revel in his kids and grandkids, he loved to be helpful, and, mostly, he loved mom.

Basketball coach John Wooden once said, "the best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother." Our dad took this advice to heart.

This week mom has said a few times that it is as if someone came and just erased dad away.

It does feel that way.

But if you look around this church today you will see that dad touched many people in his 73 years. No one can erase away the conversations, the bad jokes, the help, and the love he has shared with all of us. We will miss you, Dad."

Sunday, June 22, 2014

18 Years of Books

I met my wife in January of 1995 when she walked into CafĂ© Jones, the coffee shop where I was the late-shift barista. It was well below freezing that night in Billings, Montana and the shop had been empty for an hour or two. I was getting ready to close up early when I heard the door open and looked up to see two women come in, cacooned in layers of cotton and wool. My reaction was NOT love at first sight. In fact it was much more of a feeling of annoyance. Instead of getting to shut down early and go home, now I was going to have to stay for a while and dirty up the espresso machine I had just made sparkle.  Even worse was the possibility these two women might want food, which would cause even more mess in the now-spotless food prep area.

But then, as the two women removed hats and gloves and coats and claimed a table for themselves, something about one of them caught my eye.

Less than 4 months later, we were talking about getting married.

Today marks 18 years since we said our vows and drove away from the church in Grandma Nita’s mint green Ford. This post is a simple “Happy Anniversary” to the love of my life, Erica.

It is impossible to sum up 18 years of marriage, so I am not going to even try. Instead, I want to write about one thing that we have done since before we were even married. It is something we have done alone together in bed, in a car and on trains and planes and boats, on mountainsides in Montana and in quiet parks in Connecticut. We have even used a computer to do it a few times while one of us was traveling. It gives us both great pleasure.



Of course, I am talking about our tradition of reading out loud to each other. Ever since the spring of 1995, Erica and I have always had an out-loud book going. We generally alternate who chooses the book and we also switch off who reads and who listens. I have a very clear memory of Erica reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams in the back seat of her parents’ car as her father drove to Miles City, Montana—heading for my first exposure to the craziness that is Easter with Erica’s enormous extended family. As the main characters headed inevitably for a sex scene, Erica blushed a bit to be reading those words within earshot of her parents and we put the book aside.

In the years since, we have read some truly great books this way.  A few that stand out are Oscar and Lucinda, Possession, The Fool’s Progress, The Shipping News, The English Patient, Winter’s Tale, and the entire Harry Potter series. Occasionally, we will start a book that is unfinishable. A few in this category were Accordian Crimes and Freedom. To be a good out-loud book, a book must be good, (of course), but simply being good is no guarantee that a book will make for an enjoyable listening experience. Writers like Philip Roth have sentences that are too long and it is easy to lose the thread if his words are not on the page in front of you.

The best out-loud books have a strong story with characters who are easily differentiated. Extended meditations on anything, especially those with many parenthetical asides and tangents, make it hard to listen. A pet peeve of mine that has developed over the years is when an author will give a character a line of dialogue and then, AFTER the line is spoken, add a descriptor like “he said in a whisper.” When I am reading the book out loud it would be helpful to know the line is delivered in a whisper BEFORE I read it at full volume.

As it has become easier to watch excellent tv shows on demand on the Internet, our out-loud book tradition has taken a hit, but we are both committed to getting it back to its rightful place in our marriage. There is something intimate about reading a shared book to another person—most of us already know that from being kids and having a story read by a parent or older sibling. Anyone with kids knows how special it can be to curl up on the couch with a child and a book and create a world for a little while.

Our out-loud books helped Erica and me create a bubble around ourselves while we were on our honeymoon, camping all around Portugal and reading a non-fiction book about Christopher Columbus and the Age of Explorers. It has been true ever since. When she was pregnant with Isabel and we were preparing a bedroom for our new-baby-to-be, we were reading the first Harry Potter books out loud. Erica painted some Winnie-the-Pooh characters on the walls of Isabel’s room and as she did, I sat on the futon and read all about the Boy Who Survived and He Who Shall Not Be Named.

On long drives out West and in heavy traffic back East, the hours are so much more enjoyable with Erica reading a good book out loud. I remember hearing one of Carl Hiaasen’s very funny novels while driving from the Florida Keys up to airport in Miami for an early morning flight. It is a way to share something at the end of a busy day, a way to have something to say to each other even if we are not feeling especially connected, and a way to be close. Sometimes it is a way for us both turn our minds off and forget about something stressful so that we can fall asleep.

I can’t say exactly how many books we have made it through in this way, but it must be well over 100 by now—probably far more. I don’t normally give marriage advice. Every marriage is its own thing and to presume to know anything about what two other people should do in their marriage is crazy. (I have a hard enough time knowing what I should be doing in my own).  But I will give this one piece of advice and you are free to take it or leave it: pick a book and read it out loud with your partner before this summer is over.  Just give it a try and see if you like it. I think you might.


I joked with Erica last night that our 18 years of marriage have given me 15 or 16 of the best years of my life. Truly, each of the 18 has been a gift. Erica, you make my life interesting and challenging and exciting and I cannot wait to see where we go from here.  Our out-loud book is just one of the many things that makes life with you so good. Happy Anniversary, habibi.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Graduation Day

My daughter is graduating from the 8th grade today. She is not nervous or excited or sad. Other than the dress, it seems like any other school day—it would be impossible to tell something big was going on if I didn’t already know it.  I often hear other parents talk about how fast it all goes and how they wish their children would stay young and small a little longer.

I don’t feel that way about Isabel.

Don’t get me wrong; I have a giant pile of great memories of Isabel at every age so far. Recently, Erica and I started transferring all of our old videotapes of Isabel as a baby and a toddler onto DVDs.  Watching all that old footage reminded me of just how much fun it was to have a new human in the house every day.  When we try to get Isabel to sit with us and watch, she has no interest.

It is not that I want to be done with those days because those days were especially hard or painful or bad in any way. They were not.

It’s more that of all the humans in the world, Isabel is my favorite and I want to see who she is going to be and what she is going to do and where she is going to go. I find her mind interesting and I like hearing how she thinks about things.

At 14, she is now fully her own person. There are bits and pieces of Isabel that I can trace directly back to me or Erica, but so much of her is uniquely her that I just have to shake my head sometimes and ask, “where did that come from?”


And the answer, as far as I can tell, is that came from Isabel. She is a great blend of darkly twisted and touchingly empathetic. In fact, she is the kind of person I wish I’d had as a friend in the 8th grade. And rather than wishing her young for a few more weeks or months or years, I find I can hardly wait for her to come home from college or a trip to Spain or some adventure I can’t even predict and sit with me and tell me all about it over a latte.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Floating



  I woke up in a puddle of drool, only that’s not what it felt like.  It was a hot evening in late July and I had fallen asleep with my face mashed against the vinyl seat of our Country Squire station wagon, mouth wide open.  Drifting for a moment in that space between awake and asleep, it felt like my face and the seat were melting and mixing into a thin paste that would harden as it cooled and leave me stuck to the seat forever.
            It wasn’t the drool alone that pulled me fully awake; it was also the sound.  The driveway at the beach house was topped with a mixture of crushed clamshells and gravel and the sound of our tires on that driveway came up through the rubber and steel of the car and into my toes, my stomach, my teeth, my ears. 
********
            The drive from our house in Wilmington took about two hours, even though it was only 70 miles away.  In spite of my excitement about a week at the beach house, I didn’t usually stay awake for the whole trip.  Inevitably, we would make the drive on a summer Friday evening with beach-bound traffic clogging the roads. My parents’ voices would blend with the murmuring voices on the radio and the hum of the engine into a potent spell that could lull me asleep in minutes if I wasn’t careful.
            I wanted to stay awake so I could see the Dover Air Force Base.  The route to the beach house took us right past the main gates. If we were lucky and our timing was right, I could roll down my window, stick my head all the way out, and stare up at the huge transport planes floating just above the highway as they slowed for a landing.  They looked unreal hanging there in the sky as their shadows chased our car south.  It wasn’t until years later, when the Marine barracks was blown up in Lebanon that I learned Dover Air Force Base is used as a morgue by the military.  When I found out it added new weight to those long-gone transports floating above our car.
            Once we passed the base I felt okay about going to sleep.  I would climb into the back-back and lie down next to my brother Jerry or spread out on the middle seat by myself.  Sleep came quickly with that spell in the car.
********
            When we arrived that first evening, Uncle Vince and my cousin Donna were out in the water with their long-handled crab nets.  There were ten lines set, each with a raw chicken neck tied on as bait.  They were walking slowly through the stomach-deep water going from line to line, checking for crabs.  Just offshore, in a few inches of water, sat a wooden bushel basket with quarter-inch gaps between the slats.  Jerry and I kicked off our shoes and walked out to the basket to see how many crabs were inside.  The water soothed my stub-toed suburban summer feet.
            There were about forty crabs in the basket, all of them blueclaws.  The one on top was a mudder.  It was much bigger than the other crabs in the basket and much more lively.  It had used its size and strength to continuously fight its way to the top of the heap all day, even as new crabs joined the crowd.  When we came near to look in it raised its claws menacingly and brandished them the entire time we stood there.
            The slanting sun threw a warm light on the dark blue coloring the sides of the raised claws.  The crabs’ shells were a shade of green that just matched the color of the water—a rich, deep green somewhere between olives and pines.
            I looked up from the basket and out to my uncle, who was standing next to one of the broomsticks we used to anchor the crab lines.  One end of the broomstick was pushed into the sand at the bottom of the bay and the other end poked out of the waves to mark the location of the line.  The stick had thirty or forty feet of heavy cotton twine tied on near the end above the water line.  Tied to the other end of the string, sitting on the rippled sandy bottom, was a chicken neck.  The row of broomsticks protruding from the water made a dotted line parallel to the shore about fifty feet out in the Bay.
            My uncle had the string in his right hand, letting it run over his flattened palm and fingers as he stalked out toward the bait.  The crab net was in his left hand, its long handle sticking out from his armpit and pointing back at us on the beach, gathered around the basket.
            The small waves were rocking the basket of crabs rhythmically against my shins as I watched him inch his way out.  He walked so slowly with his legs under the surface that the only way I knew he was walking at all was the increasing distance between him and the broomstick.  From where I was standing I could see the muscles of his back and shoulders tense a little.  It looked like his legless torso was slowly drifting out into the bay.
            He stopped.  The only movement was his right arm pulling the string to raise the chicken neck an inch or two off the bottom.  Then even his arm stopped and he stood perfectly still, washed in the glow of the low-angled orange sunlight.  He stood there with the chicken neck underwater dangling just above the sand.  It felt like a movie to me—the entire screen filled silently with Uncle Vince and his net and a sense of something about to happen.
            The scene exploded as he stabbed the net down and through the water, in one seamless motion catching the chicken neck and the crab that had been tearing at it.  He dropped the bait back to the bottom and walked to where I was standing to add this crab to the day’s catch.  He held his net still for just a second and then flipped it so the crab would fall in with the others in the basket.  I watched it fall, legs grasping at the air, and as it fell a thought came to me, fully formed: I will catch a crab this week.
********
            Just before sunset my grandmother came down to the water’s edge and asked me to bring her the basket.  She must have been about fifty then, but she was an old woman to me.  Its weight felt good in my arms as the warm water ran out the bottom and down my legs.  I placed the basket in the sand at her feet and then kneeled down next to her in the sun-heated sand.  She called out to Uncle Vince to give it up for the night and start bringing in the lines.  She had her big white enamel pot, flecked with black, balanced on a wooden cutting board.  Jutting out from the pot were her tongs and the heavy blade she used to chop the crabs.
            There were about forty crabs in the basket and she was done with them in less than ten minutes.  She would grab one with her tongs where the shell comes to a point, lift it out of the basket, and hold it pinned to the cutting board.  Then she would line up the blade with the center of the shell and bring it down hard and sharp through the crab and into the board.  She would pick up her half and put it in the pot and I would do the same with mine.  I always thought it was magic, and a little sad, when the half I picked up was still moving its legs or stretching out its claw.
            She saved the mudder for last, and even though it was nearly dead and had frothy bubbles spilling out of its mouth, it was still impressive.  She held it up to catch the last of the fading light on its white underside.
            “That sure is a big one,” she said.
            “Yeah.  It sure is,” I said, wondering how many years was old for a crab.  “I wonder how old he is?”
            “Not as old as me…and you should say ‘was.’”
            “What?”
            “Was.  I wonder how old he WAS.”
            And with that she brought her cleaver down hard and fast and through the crab.  As she did, some salty water flew up and landed on my lip.  I licked it away.  I picked up my half of the mudder and looked at it again in the dying light as its lifeless legs dangled.  The underside glowed orange with the sky and the blue on his claw looked like it would come off on my fingers if I rubbed it.
            “I’m going to catch one bigger,” I said, more to myself than to my grandmother.
            “Someday,” she said, just as quietly.
********
            Jerry and I slept in a queen-size bed in a room on the bay side of the house.  We usually had just a sheet over us as we slept with the windows open.  That night I had the left side of the bed, closest to the window, and I fell asleep with the sound of the waves washing into my head through the screen.
            I had a dream that night.  In the dream I am in the Philadelphia Phillies’ dugout at Veterans’ Stadium.  I am sitting on the bench in a Phillies uniform with my baseball glove in my lap and an old brown baseball in my hand.  I raise the ball to my nose and inhale, filling my head with the smell of cut grass and leather.  I look up from the ball and the manager is signaling to me to hustle out and play right field.
            As I trot out to my place in the outfield I spot my family in the stands, but none of them seem to notice that I am in the game.  When I am in position I wave my glove to the pitcher to let him know I am ready.
            As the first pitch is thrown I know that it will be hit to me.  Even before the batter swings I am sprinting back toward the fence.  I hear the crack of the bat as I feel the Astroturf under my feet change to the red dirt of the warning track.  I begin my leap.  I find myself flying up, floating six feet off the ground, waiting for the ball to come to me.  My shoulders are even with the top of the fence as I look up to find the ball glowing white against the black of the night sky.  It is arcing down to me as I raise my glove.  The ball falls silently, weightlessly, into my leather mitt.  I float there for a second, ball in my glove, six feet off the ground, before I start falling back to earth.  As I fall I raise the ball to my nose once more and smell the grass and dew and dirt and leather.
            When I land my uniform and the stadium and the ball are all gone.  My feet splash down in the waters of the Indian River Bay behind my grandfather’s beach house.  I have a net in my right hand and I start out toward a crab line twenty feet away.  There is a soft breeze brushing past my face and carrying with it a sweet sea smell.  I have no shirt on, just shorts and some old Keds on my feet.
            I get to the stick marking a crab line and grab the string in my left hand and follow it out.  It takes a long time to get to the end and as I’m walking I hear nothing but the sound of the waves lapping against my thighs.  Suddenly, the line goes tight in my hand and it feels like the chicken is being yanked away from me.  I scoop the net down into the water and come up with the bait the same way Uncle Vince did, but I keep my eyes shut.
            As the net comes out of the water it feels heavy—heavier than just one scrawny chicken neck would feel.  I keep my eyes closed a second longer and in that second I see my sneakers on the rippled, sandy bottom.  The sunlight is making them glow as if from inside and the laces are dancing around my ankles in the currents.
            I open my eyes and there is a huge crab in the net.  I turn to go back and dump my crab in the basket, but the basket and the shore are a mile away.
********
            I wake up from the dream and it is still dark outside.  A warm wind is coming in through the screen and it brings with it the sound of the waves chasing each other up the beach.  Jerry is asleep next to me, his breathing matching the rhythm of the waves.  I have to go to the bathroom.
            I climb out of bed as quietly as I can and stand at the window for a second. The wind feels good on my face and chest.  It smells like the breeze from my dream and it brings my dream back to me—the smell of the ball, the flying leap, the heaviness of the net, and the certainty.  I stand there at the window and sink back into the smell and the sound, picturing myself out in the water with the net in my right hand and the line in my left.  I already know what it feels like to catch a crab—I just need to do it.
            I walk to the bathroom.  There is a florescent tube over the mirror and its light makes me look yellow as I walk by.  I don’t want to be yellow, so I reach back and switch off the light.
            As I stand in the dark, peeing and listening to the sound it makes, I can feel a few grains of sand between the soles of my feet and the cool, flat tiles.  I look down at my feet and they are black against the grey of the floor.  I stand staring down at them for a long while, not really thinking about anything, almost falling asleep.  I snap out of it when a chill shakes my body.
            I pull up my underwear and shuffle down the hallway toward my room.  But instead of going to bed, I go to the kitchen.  The window in the kitchen is closed and all I hear is the hum of the refrigerator in the dark.  I walk straight to the back door and unlock it.  There is no real plan in my head; I just want to be outside.  I pull the wooden door open and again feel the breeze like a living thing caress me.  I unlock the screen door and step out onto the peeling rust red paint of the top step, sure that I am the only person awake in the world.
            As I walk across the lawn in my bare feet and underwear the longer blades of grass tickle my ankles.  I stand on the bulkhead for a second, smelling the creosote used to waterproof the wood.  Pegasus is high overhead and as I look at him a shooting star blazes through his belly and off into nothingness.  I stare at the sky, stars filling my eyes, the sound of the waves filling my ears.  I step down to the sand and it is still warm from the day’s sunshine.  I stop where the sand and water meet, wind-driven waves rubbing against my ankles and calves like a cat.  I look to the horizon and find my constellation—Scorpio—and I am intensely aware of each star in it.  Something about the night has made the stars stand out from the black background.  It is as if they are hurtling through space right at me.
            I stagger a bit with the surging water pushing and pulling at my legs and the stars singing in my head.  I feel like I am what joins them together.  This night, I am all that joins them together.  I imagine that if I weren’t here the stars would drift away.
            I stay that way for a long time, letting the stars etch themselves into my mind.
            The breeze blows a little stronger, sending ripples of tiredness through my head and a chill over my skin.  I go back inside quietly and go to bed.
********
            The next morning I woke up with Jerry and we went down to the water to watch Uncle Vince set up the lines.  While he was out in the bay I lifted a frozen chicken neck from its yellow Styrofoam tray and tied it to the end of a line.  Jerry watched closely but didn’t say anything.  I picked up the stick and walked down the incline of the beach to the row of cinder blocks that marked the end of the property.
            I walked out into the water and drove the broken end of the broomstick into the bottom, twisting as I did.  The sound of the sand grating against the stick came up to me, magnified by the wood.
            As I pulled the chicken neck through the water toward me it left a trail of oily rainbows that burst silently to the surface.  I grabbed the string about a foot from the end and let the chicken dangle, dripping in the air.  I looked to make sure it was tied on securely.  Satisfied, I threw it out as far as the string would let it fly.  Before it even splashed in the water I turned and headed back to the beach.
            “What do you think you’re doing?” Jerry asked.
            “I’m gonna catch a crab, dummy,” I answered.
            “You’re not allowed.”
            “Try to stop me,” I said, picking up a crab net.
            Uncle Vince was sorting through the chicken necks, trying to find the meatiest ones.  But I could tell he had one eye cast my way as I walked out into the water, net in hand.
            When I thought the chicken had sat on the bottom long enough for a crab to find it I took the string in my left hand where it was tied to the stick.  I slowly started walking next to the line, letting it run out over my open hand.  I stopped to see if I could tell by the feel of the line if there was a crab nibbling at the chicken on the other end.
            I couldn’t.
            As I stood motionless in the water, trying to see down through the green to the chicken on the bottom three feet below, a seagull wheeled out of the low morning sun and its shadow glided silently over my skin.  I had the feeling it had come to watch me.  I turned my head to follow its flight and saw Jerry and Uncle Vince on the shore, staring out at me.
            I pivoted back to the business at hand and gently pulled the chicken up off the bottom just an inch.  When I did, there was a tug on the line that was unmistakable.  There was a crab claiming the chicken as his own, trying to pull it out to deeper water.  I let the bait sink back and then stood perfectly still.  A wind snuck by and covered my skin with goose bumps.  I forced myself to count to ten and then gave the line another little tug.  Again, the line jerked tight.  It was still there.
            As I waited I replayed the scene in my head of Uncle Vince scooping up the bait with his net yesterday.  Then I held my breath and stabbed my net down into the water where I hoped the chicken, and my crab, were.  As I raised the net up out of the bay to look inside I knew before it even broke the surface that I had caught my first crab.  I felt its unmistakable weight in my arms.  As I lifted the aluminum and mesh net out of the green, I looked in and there it was.  Big and beautiful and mine.
            It wasn’t a mudder, but it was definitely a keeper.  I let the bait sink back down and turned to put my crab in the basket.  Jerry came over to look and Uncle Vince took a peek before I dumped it in—the first crab of the day.
            “That’s a nice one,” he said.  “Why don’t you show your brother how to do that?”
********
            We drove home on a Sunday night.  I was spent, so I climbed into the back-back and leaned a pillow up against the inside of the tailgate.  I lay flat on my back, looking up through the glass and into the darkness.  Jerry was sprawled across the middle seat, asleep.  My parents’ voices floated back to me from the front seat, but not their actual words.   The sounds and vibrations of the engine and the wheels came up through the car and into my body.  But my thoughts were somewhere else.  We were on a dark road that ran along the Delaware River and the sky was thick with stars.
            They were shining for me again, and again I felt connected to them—like they needed me to keep them in place.  I felt somehow bigger than I had just a week earlier—like there was more of me.  My dream and my crab and my night in the water and the stars somehow stretched me out.  I stared up out of that window for as long as I could keep my eyes open, not wanting to blink, not wanting the stars to spin away and be gone.  I didn’t want anything to chase away the feeling I had of flying in the stars.  And I drifted off to sleep as I floated up to meet them.