About ten years ago, before depression and relative immobilization struck my father, I was asked to go down to Florida and drive him back to Montreal.
Some minor medical issue had come up; his girlfriend, Shirley, had an airplane ticket so she couldn’t drive him. It was during “March Break”; I agreed.
My father loved his condo, situated near or at Sunrise, Florida, about a half-hour drive from the Ft. Lauderdale beach, and after breakfast he would lounge on a deckchair on his screened-in patio deck, smoke a cigarette, and proclaim how wonderful life was and, in particular, how fantastic his condo was.
When my father liked something, he really, really liked it, and would let you know in a very insistent manner. A psychiatrist I would meet later, when Dad’s lithium had to be stopped due to worries about kidney damage, said that he was manic-depressive, although I rarely saw Dad in the dumps. He could be a bit obsessive, however; for example, how many times did he see the film Chicago? At least a dozen times, and he never stopped losing his enthusiasm in telling you how great a film it was.
Two other things grabbed his attention. When he ate out at restaurants, he always insisted that his coke come without ice, and that he got extra onions when he ordered salad. None of this was done is some softly spoken manner but, again, in an insistent way, making a big drama out of it.
Between my mother and her flamboyant self, often the center of attention at parties with her joke-telling, and my father with his very public obsessions, it’s a wonder that I never made a career out of acting. But, err, there’s plenty of drama in my day-to-day life. Just ask my wife.
We spent a few days at his condo before heading north to Montreal. There we’d be, on a particularly busy stretch of Ft. Lauderdale beach, my father with earplugs in his ears as he listened to Talk Radio, and me, as I watched students frolic in the water or play volleyball. Where we decided to put down our towels was right in front of one of the liveliest hotels in the area, and in the swimming pool or on the balconies, students called out to each other, got over hangovers, drank beer or slept. There was a tangible feeling of ribaldry in the air; these students were intent on having the time of their lives! And I drank it all in, absorbing some of the insanity into my being.
I love being on the beach. Even on the most crowded commercial beaches I never have had problems finding a quiet spot for myself. I love the feeling of the sun on my skin (I recently bought a sun lamp to help mimic this effect but it doesn’t quite cut it); I find the sun’s rays quite healing.
I love the ocean as well, as long as I don’t go out too far. One trip to Mexico, I ambitiously swam into quite deep waters. It isn’t so benign out there; right below me I could sense the predatory nature of the Ocean and it was quite frightening. Not to mention for my girlfriend who was quite rightly out of her mind as she watched me getting smaller and smaller on the horizon.
I remember one trip to Cuba where, not far from the shoreline, I discovered a huge swathe of swimming-quality Ocean, about 11 feet deep, a nice light blue colour, the temperature perfect. The ocean, as found in such gentle situations, deeply heals and, as it washes over you, also washes away deep hurts.
The Florida beach near Ft. Lauderdale is a bit different. There is a surf which comes right up to the beach and there are swells and it’s harder to swim. But walk through it and you can feel refreshed all the same.
My father and I stuck out among the frolicking students but nevertheless I was at peace…
The drive northward was uneventful. I got an earful from Dad because he hated Nora Jones whose CD I had just bought and wanted to play. “You like that crap?” he spit out, grimacing. Err, I did, but there was no convincing Dad that Don’t Know Why was a good song; his mind was set.
We liked to stop at a restaurant chain, whose name I’ve forgotten, where you can rent audiobooks and return them to another restaurant of the same chain at some other point further along the highway.
The waitresses were friendly; they’d greet you with, “Hi darling, how are you today?”
When you were paying your bill you’d overhear them talking to each other: “So, see you at Bible class on Sunday?”
After passing around New York City, my father and I found ourselves on a strip of highway so harrowing I’ll never forget it: thousands upon thousands of cars all driving north and at frighteningly high speeds with hardly any distance allowed between cars. To my left was a guardrail; all the lanes seemed narrow.
I recently saw on the NBC Evening News a piece about a multi-car pileup near Minneapolis which reminded me of this highway in New York State. Hey guys, slow down, give each other some space, you won’t regret it!
In fact, this highway disaster, where over 80 cars smashed into each other (luckily only one person needed hospitalization), reminded me of my trip from Florida to Montreal and that dreadful stretch of highway as people rushed to work that March day.
Steve Silverman, 1922-2013