The Condition My Condition Is In

For whatever reason, I don’t get a lot of comments on this blog. People read it, but they don’t feel the need to express their opinions afterwards. Maybe they’d like to tell me what they really think, but they’re being polite. Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of comments made here and via email in response to my last post, in which I admitted to feeling the negative effects of my isolated lifestyle. Those words of thoughtful advice and encouragement reminded me that loneliness is a common ailment in our increasingly isolated and isolating societies. It became apparent there was a lot of empathy to my plight, a lot of “yeah, I’ve been there.”

The number of comments spoke of how many of us have felt this emotion, but while wandering around Facebook the day after publishing that blog, I stumbled across an article from Slate magazine called Loneliness is Deadly. The Universe tapping me directly on the shoulder? The melodramatic title did its attention-getting job. As I read it, I couldn’t help but notice that much of what the author described as the consequences of loneliness I knew, at least intuitively, to be true. I realized that for months, except for to a couple of close friends, I had avoided communicating how I felt because of the stigma associated with admitting we are lonely. The notion that we are capital “L” Losers if we admit to being lonely is sad, potentially disastrous, and just so much BS. If we avoid talking about it, we’ll never realize that there are a whole bunch of us walking around here not realizing that there are bunch of us out there feeling the same way. Comfort in numbers, my lonely friends!

A few days later I opened my email to be struck by the timeliness of Nathan Bransford’s latest post “Writing and Loneliness.” Then, just to make sure I really got the message, a week later the Daily Good newsletter I receive each day drove home the bottom line, the same message all those comments to my blog were sending: While we may be lonely, “We Have Never Been Alone.” Hannah Brencher distilled my feelings and pointed out an oft forgotten reality:

Loneliness is quite capable of swallowing us whole. And Loneliness will think to do a lot of things, but it will never think to spit us back up until we look around and realize that we have never been Alone.

Alone and Loneliness. They are two different things. One is thick, and the other is a myth. We have never been alone, not a day in our lives. What kind of devil hissed this lie in our ears? Yes, we have felt tender. Yes, we have felt defeated. But no, we have never been alone so much as we have refused to let the others in.

And so I began to examine where I might be keeping people out, whether I was the one who was isolating myself or had circumstances conspired to put me here in Isolationville?

I’d already taken matters into my own hands to actively remedy my situation.

Solution Number One was seeking and applying for jobs that will either give me the financial wherewithal to get out of Dodge more often, or necessitate leaving Dodge altogether.

Solution Number Two was to once again temporarily get out of Dodge. There’s nothing like a two week surf vacation away from your regular surfing life to give you a new lease on life!

The little town where I found myself was itself remote, but it turned out that I was not the only one looking to for a little surf-related R&R. New friendships were made and old ones renewed. And that saying about a change being as good as a rest? Well, it’s a cliché for good reason.

A few days into my surf vacation, I realized I’d never actually taken a surf vacation. By that I mean, I’ve never taken a trip for the express purpose of surfing. Yes, I’ve surfed away from home, but rarely, and I’ve always had another reason for taking the trip. Surfing hasn’t been the primary focus. I’ve even flown all the way to Fiji and Hawaii and not so much as paddled.

I spent two weeks at this very special surf spot and, unlike when I am at home, had no trouble at all getting up well before sunrise to hit the water before the crowds. I was the first one out every morning with only one exception (and yes, the size of the surf probably had something to do with the fact that no one was really chomping at the bit to get out there). I was pleasantly surprised on the first morning to see my favorite winter constellations – Orion and Sirius – shining overhead as I loaded the truck with essentials (lots of drinking water and my buddy Friday). The water’s coolness washed away any lingering drowsiness as I dragged my feet through the shallows (to avoid getting stung by stingrays who might be lurking on the sandy bottom). Sirius blinked in the gradually brightening sky as I paddled out into the bay where two to three footers peeled right to left from the rocky point. I placed myself a few feet inside of where I knew the larger waves would break, hoping to be the recipient of one of the set waves that typically appear just before the sun breaks the horizon. It was pure joy catching that first wave each morning before anyone else was out. The sight of me erect and sailing across the face of a wave was usually enough to get the campers moving though and soon I’d be joined by two, then three or four others.

Friday, traveler extraordinaire.

Friday, tucked in next to the 6’8″ Roger Beal, which sadly didn’t get wet this trip.

Near the end of the first week, more campers appeared along the bluff overlooking the break in response to swell reports that promised better waves, waves that had yet to materialize. By the time the sun had risen there’d be six, sometimes eight of us in the water, chasing knee-high waves. The waves’ size made for a mellow crowd. We shared the little peelers and chatted between inconsistent two-wave sets. The vibe was sweet and it felt good to be part of something so positive. Even the boys from Orange County, used to surfing among the aggro crowd at Trestles, encouraged me to drop in on them, yelling, “Party wave!” more than a little often. My faith in So Cal surfers was renewed along with my conviction that being connected to the larger Human Race is our natural state, our salvation.

Beautiful, but about as close to flat as it gets.

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And speaking of small waves, here’s a beautiful piece about riding the small stuff, Small Waves by Thorpe Moeckel.

Poon Poon’s Shame

A litter of eight puppies was born in Cabo Pulmo. One looked like Bravo, Ricardo’s brindle pit-bull, another like Charlie the rottweiler, one looked like Kiri, Juanito’s old golden retriever cross and so on. A clear example of the infidelity of dogs and that “littermate” does not translate to full brother or sister.Poon Poon was the handsome, sandy colored puppy apparently fathered by a beige pit bull owned by Señor Jesus Castro. El Pelon (Baldy), as Jesus was known, lived with his blue-eyed wife Clotilde and their two children in what was the original ranch at the heart of Cabo Pulmo. He kept horses, chickens, cows and peacocks. And there were dogs for security and cats to keep the mice and rats at bay. El Pelon was a locally renowned horseman, a caballero or cowboy in the literal sense of the word. It is not without irony in the case of Pelon that caballero also means “gentleman.”

Pelon adopted Poon Poon and presumably gave him his odd name, a common practice in this part of Mexico. Shortly thereafter, Poon Poon’s presumed father disappeared from the ranch and, when I asked one of the ranch hands where he was, they explained that Pelonprobably took him out to the dump and killed him. Pelon had done this before.

Out with the old, in with the new.

Like I said, while he may have been a horseman, a gentleman he was not.

Poon Poon grew into a big strapping, muscular dog. Despite his macho appearance, he was everyone’s friend and spent more time on the beach with tourists than he did at the ranch. He was a people dog and wanted to be where the action and attention was. Gradually he became the constant companion of one of the more gregarious dive instructors, Roger. As far as I could tell it was generally understood that Roger had formally adopted him.

Maturity and musculature, a sign of testosterone coursing in the veins, meant that Poon Poon became a fighter. Each time one of the village’s many female dogs came into heat, great dog fights were inevitable. Formidable adversaries in these fights were Bravo the pit bull and Charlie the Rottweiler. Even Kiri the old golden retriever would get his licks in where he could, but more often than not he came out on the losing side. Poon Poon typically returned from each battle with minor wounds, a scratch here, a puncture hole there, but one day I walked into the dive shop and was horrified to see him with large holes ripped into his neck.

“Wow Roger, those are serious wounds!”

“Ya, I know, but what can I do? He likes to fight.”

There was a spay and neuter clinic coming up and I was already taking two dogs to have them fixed. I figured it was worth a try.

“If he keeps up like this he’s going to get killed. That wound could have been fatal. You know he’s fighting over bitches don’t you? He’ll stop if you have him neutered. Why don’t you let me take him to the free clinic this week?”

The last line was said hopefully, but with the knowledge that most Mexican men abhor the idea of neutering a male dog. They see it as a direct reflection on their masculinity and as something unnatural, even sacrilegious.

To my surprise, Roger agreed. “Okay, do it. I don’t want him to fight any more.”

A couple of days later, Poon Poon, his brother Lobo, and a little black bitch named Nookie were loaded into the back of my truck and were off to Los Barriles and the free clinic.

The operation went off without a hitch and Poon Poon returned to Roger that evening showing little indication of the life-altering operation, his usual happy, energetic self despite the transformation his testicular sack had undergone, which now hung flaccid between his legs, empty as a poor man’s wallet. Roger’s eyes betrayed the regret and shame he felt for his dog. I asked him to keep the dog quiet and at home for the next 48 hours.

The next morning, as my tea steeped, there was a knock at the door. “Who could that be at this hour of the morning?” I thought.

At the door stood Clotilde, Pelon’s now widow. She looked perturbed, angry perhaps.

I began, “Buenos dias, Señora Clotilde,” but the words were barely out of my mouth before she cut in, “Can you please tell me who had my dog fixed?!”

Confusion. Shock. Misunderstanding because of my limited Spanish? No, I heard right.

“Your dog? Which dog?”

“Poon Poon.”

A very bright light illuminated above my head, a blindingly bright torch.

“Oooooh…Poon Poon?…uh, yes, um… I did…uh, Roger gave me permission.”

At the mention of Roger’s name, her eyebrows shot skywards and she replied “That is what I thought!” She spun on her heel and strode away. For a second I thought, “Is that it? Aren’t you going to yell at me?” But then I realized she was reserving her wrath for Roger. I tried to intervene.

“No wait! Clotilde. Why are you angry?”

She turned to listen, her blue eyes cold as steel. I continued, “Didn’t you see the wounds on his neck? He was going to get killed. Now he won’t fight with the other dogs.”

Lifting her head high, she glared down her nose and revealed my ignorance, “No! Now he will be lazy and wander. And he will not protect the property. He is ruined!”

I tried to explain that he would stay closer to home now and be a better watch dog, but she had made up her mind. She shook her head, turned, and headed off, a woman on a mission.

“Oh God! Roger! She’ll be on the war path for him and out for his manhood!” I gulped down my tea and ran to the dive shop to warn Roger.

His downcast face told me I was too late. We shrugged it off, recognizing there was no going back, comforted by the knowledge that Poon Poon was better off.

A little later that same day, as I bicycled past the ranch, a curious sight caught my attention; Six Mexican caballeros dressed in jeans, cotton shirts and cowboy boots, some in white cowboy hats, stood in a loose circle, with hands cupping chins thoughtfully, attention directed at something on the ground. They wore serious expressions – disappointment, pity, maybe shame. Some heads shook disapprovingly. Then as I rounded the corner, the focus of their attention came into view. It was Poon Poon. There he lay, on his back, in the middle of their circle, tail wagging contentedly, begging for a belly rub, innocently exhibiting to all present what was evidently considered his shame.

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