The Prince of Ovals and The Deep Blue Sea


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Behind all things is the ocean.

— Seneca (epigram for Rachel Carson’s The Sea Around Us)

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You must have plenty of sea-room to tell the Truth in.

— Herman Melville

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I almost drowned when I was 2 or 3 years old—at least, that’s how I frame the memory of falling into a swimming pool. I remember nothing of the events proceeding the fall – surely I was running along the edge, maybe laughing, maybe entranced with the water. Or I got jostled. Pushed. Anyway, what I remember is falling slowly down, like a snowflake, into this magical blue-green atmosphere which was airless yet substantial, All sorts of lights flickered and shimmered on the cement walls of the pool, somehow snaky (how could I have known of snakes then?), livid semaphores of the transition I was in toward death. I looked up so see bubbles floating upward in lazy gobbets, and then an insubstantial, wavering brightness just beyond, and the shadowy, indistinct shape of many figures gathered looking down. It was a strangely happy feeling, infinitely content, for I was in my original element: the womb, the sea. Breathing seemed unimportant; there was no struggle, only wide-eyed, falling wonder.

I couldn’t have been down there for more than a few moments, yet the singular vision of sinking slowly down that pool-sized abyss—big enough, for a 3-year-old—is indelibly etched in my memory, a memory which is like a sea chapel I have returned to innumerable times to savor, even worship, the empyrean aquaean of that element.

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Then this: a hook came down which was attached to a long pole, grabbing me round the waist and hauling me back up to the surface. I was rescued. And I think when I broke the surface to see everything with topside eyes again. It was as if I had been awakened from a dream.

I began to cry.

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Tim Richmond won the second Pepsi Firecracker 400 on July 4, 1986, almost a quarter-century ago this weekend.

How old were you that day? Richmond was 31. I was 29, just about done with my first drinking career, getting to the careening, wall-slamming, closing-down-the-bottle-club blackout times, down towards the bottom of whiskey pool which has no real bottom except for The bottom—not a cell or nut ward or detox bed, but the gripless abysm of a grave which has the same headstone, the same dreary inscription—What An Asshole. Unhappy drinkers will understand. …

It was not the second running of the summer Daytona race, just the second year under its first corporate sponsorship; it actually began as an open-wheel race in April 1959. But there were so many crashes in that race that it evolved into a 250-mile stock-car race on July 4 later the same year and was nicknamed the Firecracker 250. In 1963 the race was lengthened to 400 miles – thus becoming the Firecracker 400. In 1985 Pepsi became the race’s official sponsor and remained so until 2008 when Coke Zero took over.

The ’86 event was a rather inglorious race, frequently rained upon – even though the Florida summer races usually began at 10 or 11 a.m. to avoid the rain, sometime it comes early and stays. There were cautions up the yingyang. Dale Earnhardt, Richmand’s chief rival that year, had led the race for 69 laps before blowing an engine and going into the wall of turn one. Smoke from the crash giving momentarily blinded Buddy Baker, allowing Richmond to slip past in his Folger’s No. 25 Hendrick Chevrolet and lead the final 8 laps. The top five was rounded out by Sterling Martin, Bobby Hillin Jr., Darrell Waltrip and Kyle Petty.

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It took Richmond 3 hours and nearly two minutes to win the race, earning him the slowest race time ever of 131.916 mph. Cale Yarborough had won the pole at a speed so dizzying and dangerously fast – 203.519 mph – that it was one of the reasons that NASCAR decided to fit its Winston Cup cars with restrictor plates at superspeedway tracks.

The purse for Richmond’s win was $58,655—-a good chunk less than the what Dave Blaney collected at last year’s Coke Zero 400 for finishing dead last ($85,938).

The pot of gold to be won these days is vastly larger—even for the losers – but as in every other walk of life, such enrichment somehow impoverishes the endeavor.  In 2009, when the country’s economy contracted at an astonishing rate, when unemployment soared and earnings bottomed out, the average compensation for a Fortune 500 company was $9.25 million. A lot of those CEO’s are being paid top dollar for driving their companies into ruin. Drivers today are paid a helluva lot more today than when Tim Richmond and Dale Earnhardt were going at it, but the racin’ pales in comparison.

Richmond was on a roll in 1986. Winning the Pepsi 400 at Daytona was just part of the march, but it was an essential one, his third of the season (he’d also won at Richmond and Pocono.) Taking Daytona’s crown was like taking ownership of the fierce summer sun which burned up and over it every day. That year, on that day, Richmond became the quintessential summer’s day at a Florida beach, halcyon, brilliant, lapping up every sensual vibe to come at the body from sun and beach and women in string binkinis and all that merry cerulean surf curling like glass and softly crashing, mewling in the ear like a woman as she comes beneath her summer lover, as she spreads her widest to receive his torrential seed: A surface so pure and seductive that all the latent tragedy is impossible to see down there under the sea’s surface, amid pieces of bone and fuselage from the exploded Challenger still shuffling about.

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Tim Richmond’s victory at the 1986 Firecracker 400 is the ghost I would like to haunt the preparations for this year’s summer event, an event and season hauled up from the abyss of time with my former self tangled in the net. The zenith of his short career was at the nadir of my long careen looking for love in hazy, booze-watered places. Tim Richomond is dead and that former self of mine is dead too: Florida is a different place now and NASCAR is a darker thing, troubled with hubris and beset by a failing economy which somehow is best imaged as a spreading oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico. No one knows how far things will fall down the dark well of the present.

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Saturday, June 12

Now that in these parts we’re into the big heat music of Florida’s summer, those cool deep slaking waters of my first immersional memory, of nearly drowning in that swimming pool at age 3, beckons like the sighing wet breath of a hungry lover in my ear. Just because I don’t drink doesn’t mean that I couldn’t use a little free-floating oblivion. But real watery elements are hard to find these days; I can’t swim the way I used to (bum shoulder), and the beach is always just too far away for a Saturday afternoon, the only real downtime I now have every week.

So instead I took my morning walk to the lake and back—alone, since my wife had already gotten busy on sewing projects. I headed through the same quiet neighborhoods we’ve walked for fifteen years down to Lake Dora, one of the chain of lakes that thread through several local towns, ancient flooded sinkholes where a Hand refused to put the stone cover back over the well and waters gushed from deep springs and rains collected and collected.

Lake Dora like a miles-wide piece of permeable glass, reflecting back a cloudless golden morning sky, ruffling gently in the wake of the boats which launch from the park’s jetty. Ducks and turkey vultures in the tall grasses down by the water, snowy egrets, a blue heron on the dock drying its wings in the sun while a lone fisherman waches a line disappear into the abyss.

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Though I’ve passed that shore a thousand times in all the walks I’ve been on with my wife over the years, I’ve boated on Lake Dora just once, about a year and a half ago, when our out-of-town neighbors took us out on rented pontoon boat and we crossed choppy open waters (it was November), the four of us lazying in late-year sunshine, all so calm, happy even. We boated across Lake Dora to where it bottlenecked and then opened again, passing so many lakeside homes we could never afford all with docks and a tethered boat rocking gently, passing the city’s downtown park and getting to the far side where we entered a canal and boated softly into Old Florida, a place thick with cypresses and overhanging southern oaks, where we saw eagles high up in the trees and ospreys and hawks, where we encountered a trailer park that must have been half a century old. Passed under 441 out into Lake Eustis, a bigger, windier, choppier lake, not much fun so we turned around and slowly made our way back.

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Boating is gliding on a surface whose depths, whose underside character is as obscure as what is enclosed in a magician’s fist: silver dollar or golden egg, bluejay feather or rat’s skull? Not for us to know.

Neither did that glassine surface reveal a hint of the future. Not a clue down there that our Robert would be dead in three months from esophageal cancer; that local housing market would collapse so badly that our house would lose half of its value; that whatever value all of that real estate might regain is now sorely threatened by the oil-poisoned waters drifting toward the western shores of the state, O God hopefully not to round the state and ink their way up the Eastern seaboard.

The same could be said for the past. What we care to remember is like boating across the a lake at first light — all smiles and speed – while what we dare not remember is chained and hung with cinderblocks, resident of an abyssal suburb where everyone has tossed their sins, guns and knives, garbage, the wreckage of a naval training bomber, stove-in guitars which we could never play worth a damn, two pleasure boats which crashed head-on on mutually drunken voyages, and the bones of all those missing children and pretty girls and fishermen known now as cold cases, even the bones of a stowaway who fell miles from the landing gear of a jet making its way to Orlando International Airport, skull still teeming with visions of the good life in the golden country.

Not for us to see, not for us to know, not, at least, this morning as I walked down to the shores of Lake Dora and back, my face serene in the beauty of a summer’s morning in Florida, my thoughts teeming under the surface with anxieties about money, with lists of chores to do, wondering what I might write about next and how, fretting about the massive spill of oil in the Gulf and fantasizing of the trip to St. Petersburg this coming Friday where we’ll stay, for one night at least, in a swank bayside hotel, and I can treat my wife to the nines, feed her, let her shop, let her drowse in ultimate comfort, all a part of her 51st birthday. None of that visible to you as I pass, smiling faintly hello, walking by in the opposite direction, gone from your sight perhaps forever as soon as I walk past.

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Many years later after that childhood experience of ecstatic near-drowning, I found myself again feeling saved by the depths. I was 14 years old and getting baptized in the Atlantic Ocean off Melbourne Beach. After my mother and father separated and we moved to Florida in 1972, the advent of my puberty was perhaps typical, all of that flooding sexuality mixed or tempered or dammed or damned by the pentacostal Christianity my mother, in her great grief, latched onto like a succubus and demanded that all of us kids somehow experience. Saturday nights  my older brother drove the family station wagon around town, picking up other nerdy young teens like us to drive over to a house in the woods near Lakeland where we spent the night singing and praying and casting out devils, mostly horny ones. I was scared of lots of things back then – so much catastrophic change for our family – yet I was terrified of Eternity, or rather, the sure damnation of the abyss. (I came across one of those lurid comic-book tracts showing a party boy getting killed in a car wreck and finding himself pitchforked into hell by a drooling, hairy demon who looked like the guitar player from Black  Sabbath, a band I then loved.) Yikes … So it was on to Salvation for me, and the summation of that was our group’s way-early-morning travel over to Melbourne Beach, me wedged between two good Christian girls whose bikini-bound breasts kept jostling my arms on either side of me as we drove the long dark tunnel of night to the beach.

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Surely I got to that surf in the nick of time, just as I used to make it to happy hour just before dying of sobriety; the sun was up over the ocean horizon, a fat red nipple squeezing summer heat and light over all, and the water was sloshy-warm, with medium-sized rollers coming in sets from the distance. The minister who prayed over me was stained to the chest by the occasional breaking wave, though we were standing in waters which came up to our waists; he held a hand over my forehead as he prayed and urged me to repeat the matrimonial words of salvation, inviting the Lord to come into my life and save me from eternal damnation. Those words fresh from my lips, he then leaned me slowly back and down into the waters. I was under for only a few seconds, but the exact experience of lingering eternally in an underwater chapel came over me once again, as it had all those years ago in the swimming pool. Then a wave passed over me; I could feel the heave of it lifting and rolling over me; yet at that same moment  something passed through me, too, cleansing and blessing and filling me with the ocean’s purest element. If it was the Holy Spirit, it was a wet one, and to this day I can’t tell if I was saved right then of sin or from Christianity, for the ocean’s blessing became my truest sacrement, something older and more primal than anything of human account, old as the sea itself which formed billions of years ago.

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In Alwyn and Brinsley Rees’ Celtic Heritage we are told that

The moment he is baptised Dylan (twin of Lleu or Lug) makes for the sea and receives the sea’s nature, swimming well as any fish, and because of this he is called Dylan Eil Ton, “Sea Son of Wave.” No wave ever broke beneath him.

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On my father’s old Irish family coat of arms, on its crest a naked man rides a dolphin; there are also three drinking cups on its face, and the motto, Non providentia sed Victoria – “Not by providence, but victory!” Ballsy old Celtic bluster, for sure; apparently the family is a bardic one, with poets and harpers dating back to the 2d century BC (one of us was said to have cooled the heels of the hero CuChulainn, keeping him from heading out to battle some entire nation). When poetry failed in Ireland (it lost most of its patronage by the 15th century), a lot of us became lawyers. Lawyers and fiddlers, rhymers too: those for whom the mother tongue is a watery, deceitful, delightful and entertaining thing. Back in my pentacostal teenaged years, I spoke tongues with the best of ‘em, loving the feel of that oily inchoate babble slosh out of my mouth without a clue what I was saying, sure I was speaking in the language of angels or fishes or both. My baptism rebirthed me to heaven, but it proved a salty, wild element, a heaven behind and below and inside more than ahead and above and outside. At least, when I strided dazed back to the shore after my baptism to the applause of my fellow Christians, that hug from budding-breasted Mindy began at once to fill my third cup, the one marked More, which only the seven seas has depth and breadth sufficient to fill.

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My father on the grounds of his “megalithic park” in the Poconos last January when I last visited him.

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Father’s Day is (or was, by the time I get this post up) June 20. I expect my wife will give me a card from the cats with a gift card to Barnes and Noble or a local salon that gives a great sports massage. I still haven’t figured out what to send my father, who is now 83 and doesn’t need anything. But I’ve got to get something pulled together today. Probably a card which photo-montages his wonderful woodlands park with a picture of the celestial homeland he so yearns for – the Hubble Telescope peers far beyond the the mere surface of that summer night’s sky as I can see it (of late an early quarter moon hung with a planet nearby—Venus? Mars? Jupiter? Saturn? The persona is important, though I don’t know who it is). Maybe I’ll print out a few of these posts, too. Not that he gives a shit about racin’, but he does love a good weave. It’ll be the next of many gifts” of my writing over the years. He swears he has to get a steel-reinforced bookcase to hold all the ring-bindered collections of poems and essays I’ve sent his way. But they do belong to him, in a way; almost all of my thinking, and thus my writing, was fathered by conversations I’ve had with him over the years, drinking scotch in the early years (starting when I was 16) and then become long walks together on his woodlands property in Eastern Pennsylvania. We think along many of the same deep-cortical veins, or like to think we do. Digging down. Exploring and exhuming things from the dark. Looking for the shadowy Presences which attend the bright things we know, reminding us, with dark deep whispers, that the way we think it is is not the way it is at all. Like all of that oil on the surface of the Gulf: A mere whisper of the horror spread deep below, like a few hairs of a woman barely visible underneath the surface of the water, dead or melusinal, the big-titted blue-eyed red-haired Apparition who lures into our depths …

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The thought of Tim Richmond walking in the stands of Daytona International Speedway seems shadowed—ghosted surely–by something other, deeper perhaps, subsurficial for sure, from a region I identify as my father’s cold sea.

Think of The Ghost in Hamlet, that drama Shakespeare kept working and re-working for most of his career as a playwright in Renaissance England. You know the tale – Hamlet, a young university intellectual, comes home to  Denmark after his father dies suddenly. His mother Gertrude has remarried his father’s uncle rather too quickly to Hamlet’s taste. Hamlet is told of a Ghost who walks the castle’s ramparts in the witchiest hours of latest night, and goes up there to see for himself. There Hamlet  encounters the Ghost of his own father, who whispers that he did not die naturally but was poisoned by his brother so the brother could claim his crown and wife. Revenge is what the father wants, and fidelity to that fading ghost sets up the conceits of Hamlet which ink the unfolding tragedy with blood.

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Hamlet’s Ghost.

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OK, old history, but consider this: in Shakespeare’s play, the name of Hamlet’s father was changed from Horwendil of the original tale to Hamlet. Son and father share the same name, though they couldn’t be more different, as Harold Bloom pointed out in Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human (1998). One is a pagan warlord of Icelandic saga, the other is a Renaissance man trying to think his way out of the old ways. Prehistory and future are represented by the two men. To have them both share the same name creates the Doppler not just of drama without but also of a divided consciousness – and Hamlet will prove to be one of the most ambivalent leads in drama:

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep:
No more: and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ‘tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die: to sleep:
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause … (III.i)

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Et cetera. OK, lots of sons carry their father’s names, and bear the awkward ambivalence of their inheritance, unsure where they begin and their father leaves off. My brother is William Harvey the Third, the third successive generation first-born to take that name. But it’s odd in literature – an odd, unnecessary redundancy. Horwendil becomes Hamlet for a purpose. But what?

This: Shakespeare wrote an earlier version of Hamlet in the early 1590’s and shelved it. That version is now lost. Then this: Shakespeare’s only son was named Hamnet and the boy died around 8 or 9 years old in the late 1590’s. And this: Shakespeare, himself an actor, played The Ghost in the first stagings of the later drama.

And finally this: Some critics argue that the Ghost of the earlier Hamlet was much the more hoary old-school, and the son written written around the figure of Christopher Marlowe, Shakespeare’s principal rival at the time, a rhetorical genius who could think his way out of most any trap.  Marlowe was supposedly, in his off-hours, a government spy, reporting on matters seditious and heretical, but it seems he was just trying to covering his own seditious, heretical ass (read his plays “Tamburlaine” and “Doctor  Faustus” and you’ll see his wide literary thumb aimed at the nose of God)—he was also perditiously gay—well, his benefit to the Crown obviously was outrun by the presence of his person in the world and onstage.

Marlowe was dead when Shakespeare took up the play again in the early years of the first decade of 1600 (stabbed in above the eye in a barroom brawl, incited, some believe, by thugs dispensed by the government.) Shakespeare’s own son Hament, born around the staging of the first play, was also dead by then. With neither rival nor son to create or pass on a legacy, Shakespeare interiorized the outer drama into the mind of his protagonist, a son adrift, with the Ghost of his dead father demanding that he clear the stage in the Jacobean fashion, strewing bodies with all the malice of  a Marlowe, including that of fair Ophelia, the love interest, dead of madness and suicide after being spurned by the now revenge-addled Hamlet who murders her father Polonious.

My humid Ghost bears the presence of so many fathers, not the least my own. As Shakespeare’s first Hamlet play was the ghost of the latter one, my own history is the ghost of the present, selves which meet here on the page, bearing mystery of a life, the history of things great and small, so many tributaries of cupidity, venality and license eddying together to arise from the grave I laid ‘em in and coming in through the opened windows of this morning like a lover’s moist breath on my neck, whispering “Remember,” which is the only way you can truly bid a ghost Adieu …

This post was built upon the bones of a ghost; the original posted last year this time, but in January I accidentally deleted my first Ovalscreams WordPress blog.  What is it when you raise another edifice over the ruins of its father? Must you dig deeper to raise a taller one?

In modern translation, the voice which whispers “Remember” sounds more like “Who’s yer daddy?” Who fathered this work? My personal father William, raiser of megalithic stone, or Willy Shakespeare, bard of verbal depths so great that no one yet has managed to sing deeper? Bill of deeds, or bilious words thereof?

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Which father tasks me here today? Or are they asking the same question of me, one whose answer must dig down to raise up?

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Who’s yer daddy? What are you the son of? What do you instill in your kids? And if you don’t have children – what will you leave for the world? And who will remember our Ghost, much less recognize it? Is the spreading miasma of the Gulf spill the most identifiable endowment of my generation upon the next, the product of outright laissez-faire greed?

Or is the ghastly inheritance we bequeath something deeper, deeper even than that split vent at the bottom of the Gulf, pairing back together two things it is unthinkable and mad (though some say holy) to repair: I mean, who gave the next generation the outrageous fortune of the right to know what they can only believe? FOX News? Rupert Murdoch? How can political fortunes these days be dictated by ranks who know God wants them to vote in fools and grifters? How did conjecture become certainty? Why are media outlets fonts of garbage which are embraced (and sell) because they do not so much challenge a person to the truth as affirm what people already think they know? Who performed this nasty bit of mental buggary on the blank-minded generation who will one day forfeit on paying my social security benefits?

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Whose yer bad daddy? Rupert Murdoch, the man who fouled journalism in the name of Big Money, or Tony Hayward, CEO of the corporation which beggared the Gulf of Mexico?

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Who else but Powers which know that an army of believers can be rubed out of their last cent of credit? Who else but angry helmet heads and bouffant big-cleavaged anchors shouting, “The way we say it is is EXACTLY the way God meant it all along!”

Don’t get me started. Let me edge back down from the precipice of rant reproach and re-approach my Theme, for as with Hamlet Junior, so with racin’ fans it’s an equally dire question. Who’s your daddy: Fireball Roberts or Joe Weatherley?  Richard Petty or David Pearson? Dale Earnhardt or Tim Richmond? Our present tastes and distates on the sport are shaped by these legacies.

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Tim Richmond and Dale Earnhardt.

The choices are important, for they speak to the divisions between us as well as within us. Tim Richmond and Dale Earnhardt couldn’t more different from each other, the former a true Southern NASCAR driver, a quiet, family man who brought his son Dale Jr. to many races; the other driver was a transplant from open wheel racing, a flamboyant playboy who loved celebrity and partying and women. Yet they raced each other with ferocity, almost to the exclusion of the rest of the field, and cared deeply about each other. “Hollywood” Tim Richmond died early, from off-track excesses (from AIDS, in 1987); Dale “The Intimidator” Earnhardt died 13 years later, on the last lap of the Daytona 500, killed instantly when his No. 3 crashed into the wall of Turn 4 as his son Dale Jr. raced on by.

Richmond would have been far more comfortable, I think, with NASCAR’s monied present than old-school Dale Senior; he would play Hamlet Jr. if such a staging of the play were possible in the Great Oval rather than the Globe Theater. He could easily be a Tony Stewart, played with treble balls and panache, savoring as much the wildness of winning as partying in the celebrity stratosphere of this day. Dale Senior would be the ghost of Hamlet Senior, NASCAR’s Christianized king, a Southern boy who brought his son to the track and marrying, for the second time, a Winston Cup girl.

A difference between their age and ours: the two could be friends. Now, a difference of opinion is close to a call of arms.

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For our sons, who will Hamlet Senior be? Jimmie Johnson or Tony Stewart? And who represents Hamlet Junior – Denny Hamlin or Kyle Busch?

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Three-time Coke Zero winner Tony Stewart will face off again against Kyle Busch—winner of the ’08 race–on July 3.

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I didn’t father any actual children that I know of – there were three abortions by different girlfriends, and I had many, liaisons of unrubbered sex back in the 1980s, pre-AIDs.  I acted as father to a stepdaughter in my first marriage when she was between eight and eighteen years old, but we haven’t talked in years now, she’s in her 30’s has two kids of her own, mostly abandoned to drug-addled pursuits while she blames the world for her ills. Surely I abandoned her as I remarried, allowing her to go her way; yet as Prospero would say of the native monster Caliban in The Tempest, that thing of darkness I call my own …

Plenty ghosts in the garden this over-warm morning—the Bard, Tim Richmond and Dale Earnhardt, my brother, my aborted children, my abortive fatherhood of a stepchild—all of them pacing the garden path in the humid swash of late night swelter. Far different rampart than freezing Dunsinane in Denmark 500 years ago, but weirdly partaking of the same interface, the same trysting-ground between the ages, between opposite separated by a Gulf, between my ages, between my surface history and deeper, deepest mysteries.

Who’s yer daddy? And how will you honor and obey him? With pen or with sword at the ready, to slit the throat of every usurper, to edge past him on Turn Four and race to the checkered flag?

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I experienced that womblike infinite once again, at age 19, sleeping in the arms of a woman I  had fallen in love  with after our first sexual consummation.  Though it was still cold in the early Spring of Spokane, Washington, I dreamed our bed was floating on crystal-blue sea-waters and the sun was shining, shining, shining over us, my rebirth into love something whose purest metaphor was a summer day at – or on – the ocean. And when I woke, there she still was, sleeping softly, naked, curved, beautiful – mine. (Or so I thought so. She left me a week later.) I kissed her awake and we screwed again, the springs of that goofy mattress on my  bed making an infernal racket as I worked my way as deeply into her welcoming womb  as I could go and then experienced what the Japanese called “the moment of the clouds and rain” – a lush pause followed by gentle ecstatic streams into the body of a woman who was looking me in the eyes, smiling, smiling, smiling … Thus we drifted back off to sleep for a few more hours, holding hands as we descended again down that blue blue pool.

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Saturday, June 12

Today’s forecast promises rain, maybe, hopefully, though all now is just blowsy furnace. Our Siamese Violet is stretched  out on the top of the couch next to me, indolent, drifting in the raptures of sleep.  I had my visit there too, earlier this afternoon, napping naked on our bed upstairs in the heat, the hand of the afternoon pressing me down into a sleep I couldn’t rouse from, not for the life of me …

At least for an hour. Our calico cat Belle slept with me, faithful as a dog, matching me snooze for snooze. The heat chased me up and downstairs eventually – too fucking hot – to brew up some Cuban coffee and spend a few hours reading stuff on the Web with design programs on TV (wife’s working on sewing project in the other room; I wasn’t paying attention). Just flipped over to Speed to see Aric Almirola doing victory burnouts at MIS after beating Todd Bodine and Kyle Busch.

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Aric Almirola celebrates his second Camping World Series win on June 12 in Michigan, He will drive the No. 48 for Jimmie Johnson if Johnson’s wife Chandra gives birth before the next race.

It’s supposed to be cooler on the eastern beaches where an easterly breeze is helping out. I can only image what it’s like on the west coast with that flat Gulf stirring up storms which can only be called monstrous for lack of a worser adjective —  horrendous, infernal, awful, awesome … I remember driving back from Longboat Key about 10 years ago after my wife and I had visited her parents at their summer condo. The entire western sky was taken up with a malevolent wall of storm and the lightning was coming at us faster than a pack of Sprint-cuppers coming round turn 4 at Daytona at 200 mph.

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I’ve always preferred the Atlantic beaches to those on the Gulf side. Earlier in the day, the Gulf off Longboat Key was like an enormous cobalt plate, still and flat beneath the infernal sun, the sands – recently trucked in from somewhere – whiter than a Hollywood wannabe’s teeth. An arch, almost archetypal stillness. On the other side of the state along its eastern beaches, the sea has more motion and curvature; the waves are wilder (nothing like Maui or off the California coast, but enough to show some character), which means the song of the ocean is throatier. Not quite like the pack rounding turn 4 and heading down the frontstretch of Daytona with twenty thousand-horsepower motors at full song, but still of a register I can sing along with.

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The shores along Florida’s 1200 miles of beaches are different because the depths offshore waters vary greatly. Visible Florida sits on an platform which extends far to the west and a little ways off to the east. Beyond that platform the seabed plunges dramatically. You can walk a long ways off Longboat Key into the Gulf, maybe a mile or so, and still be in chest-high water. On the other side of the state with the platform falling off quickly, depth is much closer in. Waves are larger and have more affect on the formation of the barrier islands, those malleable stretches of beach which we have foolishly built so expensively upon.

Of course, standing on the beach you see only small and larger waves, depending on the depths offshore, the breath of the wind and the hammering of hurricanes which soon will begin their seasonal conga-line. The Atlantic side is more turbid – especially at Melbourne Beach, where the largest wave-action in the state can be found – while things are gentler, more lappy on the Gulf side. I prefer the drama, tympani and tubas over piccolos and triangles, but the differences may not seem to special to anyone who’s experienced really big surf, or worse, had the misfortune of sailing Cape Horn or crossing paths with a rogue wave.

Cape Horn—the rounding of the sea around the bottom of South America—is the most difficult sea-lane of all. A fantastic book which resides in that location is Franciso Coloane’s Cape Horn and Other Stories From the Far End of the World (transl. David Peterman).  This from his story “Cape Horn”:

The western coastline of Tierra del Fuego breaks apart into numerous islands, between which wind mysterious channels that disappear thereat the end of the world in “The Devil’s Tomb.”

Sailors from all latitudes assure you that there, one mile from that tragic promontory that backs up the constant duel of the world’s two largest oceans, at Cape  Horn, the devil is sounding with two-ton chains, which he drags, grinding the shackles in the depths of the sea on horrible stormy nights, when the water and dark shadows seem to rise and fall from the sky to those abysses.

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Until a few years ago, the only ones to venture into those regions were the most audacious hunters of sea otters and seals, people of distinct races, tough men whose hearts were nothing more than another clenched fist.

Some of those men have remained stuck on those islands all their lives. Others, strangers, intimidated by the whip of hunger that seems to drive them from east to west, arrive from time to time to those inhospitable lands, where very quickly the wind and the snow cut them to the soul, leaving them only wounds as hard as icicles.

Awful – and awesome – such coasts and waters. At its wildest, the ocean is unfathomably cruel, roaring at magnitudes greater than any supertanker’s girth. No placid Lake Dora on another’s summer morning; there are times when the sea is all-Father, like the sea god Manannan, who rides his grey wave-horse to every known and unknowable shore of thee seven oceans.

Surely rogue waves are epiphanies of him, those weird monsters spawned by strong winds and the convergence of fast currents. Experienced by many an ocean-traveling vessel over the centuries but never proved, rogue waves are mythic – like Bigfoot, a permanent part of wilderness mystique. In 1861, the Eagle Island lighthouse was swarmed by water that broke the glass of the 85-foot tower. In  September 1995, the RMS Queen Elizabeth 2 was in the North Atlantic caught in Hurricane Luis and encountered a 95-foot-high wave. The captain of the ship said “it came out of the darkness” and “looked like the White Cliffs of Dover.” Newspaper reports at the time described the cruise liner as attempting to “surf” the near-vertical wave in order not to sunk. And in 2004, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory ocean-floor pressure sensors detected a freak wave caused by Hurricane Ivan in the Gulf of Mexico. The wave was around 91 feet high from peak to trough, and around 660 ft long.

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Back to the serene Gulf of Mexico as we view it from Florida in the middle of summer: It’s a postcard from heaven which you send back to your buddies still freezing in Philadelphian hell. Go ahead, stroll out into the Gulf. It’s like walking into a womb.

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But the Gulf, like any great body of water, is as changeful as a hormonal girlfriend’s mood. Pair such a stroll in halcyon waters on a hot clear blue summer day with all in perfect stillness in every direction with a hurricane-lashed, 95-foot-high wave, or a 20-foot storm surge devouring the labial lips of New Orleans. Same ocean, different day. Who’s yer mama? Who’s yer daddy? The sea is the prime source of such addlement, and Floridians are nothing if not a folk weirded by the high and low elements they live amidst.

Look: it’s 4:45 a.m. this morning and 81 degrees, the garden outside drenched in humid heat. Where is all the water? The oceans on either side of the state send our storms in, but the past few days they’ve been bewitched by high pressure systems, by deep fissures spewing oil into the Gulf, by the meandering porpoises of this writer’s purpose, strung by heat and history’s hidden face of mystery. With such waters lapping at nine tenths of your borders – Florida looks like a droopy penis hanging down post-fuck amid its plunder – you’d be half-mad too. Like a sailor adrift in a mastless sailboat on the Gulf Stream, carried further and further out and away, crossing no one on long hot ocean days, nothing to drink but sea-waters too laced with salt to drink, no rains falling, sharks massing round the boat’s prow, taking chunks of hull out in their wild ancient incessant Hunger …

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1986 was Richmond’s best year of racing in NASCAR, racking up 7 wins, 8 poles, 10 top 5s, and and 17 top 10s. He earned half of his $2-million-plus income over his 8-year career in that season alone. At the year-end banquet he was named co-owner, with his favorite racing competitor Dale Earnhardt, of NASCAR’s Driver of the Year award.

There couldn’t be two different drivers on the circuit. Earnhardt was a true Southern stock car racer in Wrangler jeans, denim shirt and cowboy hat. Richmond came from a wealthy family in Ohio and was pure jetsetter flash in his Armani suits, silk shirts, and Rolex watch.

They were also the flat-out coolest racers on the track. They both loved thumbing their noses at the NASCAR authorities, who definitely preferred their drivers neither stirring or shaken. At the Firecracker 400 in Daytona, Richmond gave a TV interview while lying on his back on the pit wall; had an argument with NASCAR officials over the legality of the carburetors on his Monte Carlo SS; had a disagreement with other officials over NASCAR’s demand that he have a medical exam; and had another fight about posing for photos in sponsors’ hats.

And for all of Richmond’s off-track loves – “Hollywood,” he was nicknamed, for his mixing it up with celebrities and Tinsel-town lifestyle—Tim Richmond loved racing  more than anything, especially Dale Earnhardt, The Man In Black. Those two were hands-down the most earnest and hellbent  racers of their age.

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“He’d rather race Earnhardt as eat,” says Harry Hyde, Richmond’s veteran crew in 1987-87.

“He just enjoyed the hell out of racing Earnhardt. He’d pull up under Earnhardt and just sit there, lap after lap, they’re side by side. He’d come on the radio and say,

“That’s all it’ll do. I can’t go any faster.”

“And I’d say, “Well, are you in a bind sitting there?”

“He says, “No.”

“I says, `How long can you stay there?’

“He says, “All day.”

Women loved Tim Richmond. He’d stage pre-race shows just for them: Unzipping his driver’s suit to his crotch puffing out his bare chest, then, in due course, pulling his fireproof vest over his head and zipping back up. “He was like doing a strip tease,” said Folgers team manager Johnson says. “It was downright lewd, and people would just go crazy.”

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Ed Clark, Atlanta Motor Speedway exectutive VP an general manager, said of Richmomd, “The WRFX rock-n-roll crowd loved him. Girls loved him. Cool guys loved him. I don’t know if the blue-collar guy that worked at Cannon Mills, if that guy ever fell in love with him, but that guy’s girlfriend did.”

Johnson remembers the first time he met Richmond – about 10 a.m. in November 1985 at Richmond’s Bahia Mar boat slip in Fort Lauderdale. “He was sitting on top of the spacemost beautiful Chris-Craft houseboat with this little old tiny bathing suit, with imported beer and a whole big plate of crab legs beside him,” Johnson says.

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Richmond was late for his first major Folgers appearance, an 8 a.m. tour of a New Orleans coffee plant. The night before, he was spotted entertaining two women at the hotel bar. The next morning, country singer T.F. Sheppard was at the plant on time. So was Hyde. No Richmond. Wax sent someone to his hotel, and a housekeeper found him sound asleep. He finally arrived at the plant without apology, peered out from under his dark sunglasses and said, “Well, if that Folgers coffee can wake me up, it can wake anyone up!”

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With Father’s Day as a specific league of this post—some of it was written before and after the day—today I’m waxing poetic in Dad’s honor, both my personal father who is now 83, and the line of fathers which shadow him and descend a deep deep pool, all the way back down that genetic line to the fella on the fish.

The Gundestrup Cauldron, a ritual silver vessel dug up from a Danish bog in 1891 and thought to have been pillaged from Ireland in first century BC, has many mythological scenes carved on its joining plates, none  of which have been fully interpreted. One plate where a man rides a salmon – is that my deep daddy?

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One of the panels from the 1st century BC Gundestrup Cauldron, pillaged from Ireland by Vikings and buried in a Danish peat bog for a millennia or so. Note the guy riding what looks to be a carp in the upper right.

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I’m sending my father a selection of these Ovalscreams writings – he’s not a NASCAR fan by any stretch but he loves a good weave, and these Ovalscreams posts are nothing if not meanders to and from a truth, with some racin’ thrown in for respectability.

The screamin’ Oval is a form of pool, you know, a maelstrom with Not By Providence But Victory as its vortex (even though we know Wynona is ever at play at the track, spicing things up, making things heady or hardon-y, perhaps doubly so, allowing no Victor his checkered flag without a milk-squirt and womb-drip of her Providence).

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And there’s no place closer to the ocean and her blue washes than the summer Daytona race. It didn’t rain last year at the race I attended; instead it was hot and blue-skied, so brilliant by day that the Porsche-Grand Am race which preceded the 400 almost got lost in the dazzle. The half-naked spectators who littered the stands to catch the earlier race were like beachgoers, lazily soaking up the sound of the racin’s surf-mill, squeezing in that much more noise and neck-craning as the cars went round and round and round, coming out of Turn Four like something about to be born, roaring down the frontstretch in full throttle and volume and then gone, racing the backstretch like a pack of hounds. It lulls you almost to sleep, that big sound, that speed, that outrageous indulgence of getting as legally naked as you can so that the full Monty of summer at Daytona can fill you, as if sea water was in the oppressively hot atmosphere, an ocean below bearing down from above.

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The night race which eventually came, the main event, was more of a gritty enactment of the inevitable, like the fucking which comes after the day at the beach, when the beach did all of the main action on you, sucking on your soul’s ruddy hardon for wet blue all day with each drawing and curving and curling and crashing and beach sprawling-and-receding wave, wave after wave after wave all morning and afternoon as you lay there stunned by the brightness and sound of it all, staying as long as possible out in that element before the burning became too obvious, til thoughts of food and traffic and getting some pussy turned your thoughts inland.

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I left halfway through last year’s Coke Zero 400 with Harvick, that restrictor-plate-race master, in the lead; I’d gotten my fill and wanted just to go home and nestle next to my wife in bed as she slept, whispering I’m home in her ear though she knows that anyway, always. The real gift came earlier in the day, when not much was really happening, when all of the sea day could flow through.

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Wednesday morning, June 17

Yesterday the temperature in nearby Leesburg topped out at 96 degrees before it clouded over and rained – in nearby Leesburg and down in Orlando at least. We didn’t get a drop here, though clouds and thunder massed all around. Mid-80s already at 5 a.m. today and the mercury is forecast to soar close to the 100-degree mark. It’s a fierce, numbing, crazy kind of heat, making everything look at once wilted and hammered flat.

Last night Obama was on TV making his speech on the government’s response to the Gulf oil spill catastrophe, on the heels newly-released estimate of the spill at 35,000 to 60,000 barrels (1.47 million to 2.52 million gallons) of oil a day.

(The current containment system used by BP is believed to be capturing 18,000 barrels a day. With the revised estimate, BP promised a new plan that will put enough vessels on site by the end of June to handle 53,000 barrels a day, and the company said it will ramp that up to 80,000 barrels by the middle of July. “Ninety percent containment” was how the President put it, a figure that would be assuring had it come from some source other than the one that so undercalculated the spill from the start. Initially, BP calculated the spill around 1,000 barrels a day.)

Obama’s speech was only 12 minutes long, and to many it was far too sketchy in promising concrete action. He used many military metaphors in describing the spill’s assault on Gulf shores and the fight Americans should muster against the threat. The government will take on Big Business. It should use this catastrophe as an opportunity to begin real work on weaning ourselves from dependence upon fossil fuels. Et cetera.

Reaction by most was tepid to discouraged. We all, it seems, were expecting more. But whattayagonna do about 40 to 115 million gallons of oil already in the Gulf? Some catastrophes are beyond our ability to fix in the present. (See 2008 financial system collapse and the Great Recession.) Democrats who were hoping for election-year traction didn’t get much. Gulf region residents got more talk and promises. Republicans heard what they did not want to hear – that old energy regulation bill their corporate interests are paying them to fight.

Presidents are seen by many -– childishly – as father figures. Many don’t like Obama as their Daddy. (See Tea Party angry white males.) Especially one who’s out to spank the guilty sons of the nation, the greedy ones, the takers, the corporate grifters who place shareholder profit ahead of commonweal. So the bad daddy’s move their strings, and placards start waving about leave my guns and religion alone. As if Big Government wanted to take their defective toys from them. Some other day, perhaps; but Daddy has more important tasks at hand.

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Views of our President — and his politics — vary.

Is there a hatred of Daddy in this culture, an anger at a father figure who’s been disappearing for several hundred years? (Old Man Time and God included.) TV sitcoms almost always portray Father as a buffoon, inept, laughable in his attempts to do much of anything except make not enough money. Hatred of Daddy might go as deep as hatred of black men, by whites and by each other. The deep masculine as rotten, predatorial and violent, beating children and raping the young, wielding his testosterone like a Louisville Slugger.

So is “who’s yer daddy?” a question which reminds us of our damnation as males, as if the thing of darkness hanging between our legs dooms us to drill badly into Mother Earth, taking what is not ours, glutting ourselves on things for which our appetites can never fully slake upon?

Your guess.

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I experienced that sea of wonders again a year or so later, after several long hard seasons of missing my lost love, drinking and drugging at a rate which surely pickled me for good. It was Spring again and I was emerging from a winter’s madness which had almost driven me to suicide. I survived. I was ready to rock I had been wooing a barmaid  at a local rock n roll club, and when she and her boyfriend broke up she invited me to an after-hours party. I was already drunk but she gave me a couple of cross-tops (speed) to keep me going and we drove out to the Spokane Valley to some anonymous house in an anonymous suburb – the sorts of places you visit when you’re lost in the big night music.

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We held hands on a couch drinking beer together while someone passed around mushrooms; I was pretty zombied out by then but in moments I was stirringly awake as the edges of the room began  to melt and waltz in swimming colors. Journey on the stereo and sunlight coming through an eastern window as the woman and I lay on the floor, watching the carpet dance in stereo, something carnivalesque and comical and  permanently inured from pain: swimming down the leagues of that old womblike swimming pool. Pretty pretty, I thought, that woman angling into me (finally, just quit of her boyfriend, tumbling, in a similar disordered person’s infantile way, into the next pool of a different man’s embrace), our mutual drunk-and-drugged state equivalent to an oceanic erasure of boundaries, a surrenering of our island consciousness to the sweet immersion of the drowning mutual sea, a mutual oblivion we called, for a short while, love, though within weeks she was back with her boyfriend and I was playing rock guitar with a band called Slick Richard in the big night music of my fall.

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The oil spill has a tenor of awfulness which reminds me of 2004, when four hurricanes hit Florida, three of them passing over this town. Charlie, the first, was bad enough to slake anyone’s curiosity about what big bad weather can do. It was predicted first to hit Tampa and folks evacuated inland to our area; it was re-forecast to come over our town, and folks evacuated into Orlando; it shifted once again to the east and all the evacuees headed back to Tampa. Charlie tore into the southeastern Bay town of Punta Gorda – way south of Tampa – on the afternoon of Friday the Thirteenth.

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It then proceeded to ravage north-east at a fast clip – about 30 mph – a tightly-packed welter of tornadoes and 100-mph winds which knocking over old oaks, destroying roofs, and knocking out power on a line which included Kissimmee, Orlando, Winter Park, Deltona, Deland, and Daytona Beach.

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My wife and I watched the event in enthralled horror on TV all the way to 10:30 that night when we lost power, the storm this huge angry red welter on the radar which took about an hour and a half to move over each town (fast, fast storm). My mother, who lived directly in the path of the storm in southern Orlando, settled into her tub with her poodle Ginger and sang hymns and fell asleep as the storm gripped her house and shook it like a sinner in the hand of an angry God, the huge oaks around her house toppling like mastodons. My in-laws in Oviedo climbed in a closet to wait things out, terrified that their house would blow apart in such awful wind, startled by the sound of things hitting the roof which had blown across the lake their house faces. (The next morning they found a toilet—probably lifted from a ripped-apart trailer several miles away—sitting on their roof.)

We were without power for only a day, but any day in Florida with a/c is something which makes you understand why no one lived in Florida in the summer unless you were too poor to afford to go anywhere else. For us, there was cleaning up to do, tons of limbs fallen in the back yard, the garden terribly flattened, the whine of generators the only sound in town; but everything powered back up in late in the day and we could turn on the TV to see what was going directly under the path of the storm. Jaw-dropping awe and awfulness. I drove down to my mother’s house on Sunday morning – by then most of the streets had been cleared—with a couple of bags of ice in tow (none were to be found in Orlando) and clippers and trash bags and such to help clean up her lawn. Her neighborhood was hellish, so many trees fallen, the day soaringly hot and humid, buzzsaws whining everywhere. I helped as I could for the afternoon, urging my mother to come stays with us but she was adamant about staying until power was restored, which turned out to be two weeks in coming. A guy came by and promised to cut up her fallen oaks, did work for a day, got paid, promised to be back the next day and never showed up again. Blue tarps distributed by FEMA went upon rooftops around Central Florida; when you flew into Orlando in late 2004 all of those lakes were matched by hundreds of thousands of blue roofs.

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That was Charlie. A month later in mid-September came Francis, this time in from the Atlantic coast south of Melbourne and acting like a more traditional hurricane, slowly churning over the state at 5 mph. If you were in the path of Francis, you felt her tumult for 12 to 15 hours. Moving slowly, Francis lost more of her punch over land – the winds gusted to 70 mph when it churned south of our town and then turned north, causing the winds to come at us from one direction and then another. My mother stayed us this time, bright and perky though I know she was spooked. We were without power again for a day, though most everyone in Francis’ direct path were without juice for about that long, her punch less enough to keep most power lines intact. Still, the harrowing of a hurricane’s passing is one thing when you live on the coast (Satellite Beach got ripped by Francis), and bad enough inland; the sky swirls from one horizon to the other in a rotation which lifts you up and carries you off with it, in your imagination, Dorothy in her house-chariot galloping off to Oz and more awful ports.

Two weeks later came Francis, same storm as Jeanne in every way, striking the same part of Florida from the Atlantic, hitting everyone who’d been in the paths of Charlie and Francis with the same weary menace. The approach and hit of a storm, with all that suspense and drama and harrowing is one thing; its the weeks without juice and cleanup which is another, the devastation to a local economy, the hassle of everything.

We were glad Ivan bit into a part of Florida not our own, way up in the Panhandle and over into the Alabama coast Ivan was actually going to hit New Orleans but veered in the last hour toward the east and wasted Destin, Florida before rampaging up into Georgia. Ivan was the father of Katrina – same storm, actually, hitting a year later just directly east of New Orleans.

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A stretch of development before and after Hurricane Ivan in Orange Beach, Alabama. Ivan was Katrina, a year earlier and a ways to the east.

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2004 was our year of dangerous storms; we thought the would become a permanent fixture of life in Florida, a product of climate change or something. Actually, they were part of an offshore high-pressure pattern  which siphoned every approaching storm system coming across the Atlantic to the south, directly into the state or further south into the Gulf where they hit those warmer waters and empurpled like a lover man about to explode in his lover girl. We thought after 2004 that Florida would become Hurricane Central, a state whose summers would be marked by subsequent thrash-and-batters: but we haven’t had a hit since. 2004 was a fluke, though I’ve heard that predictions for this year’s storm season are following conditions similar to 2004.

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And no one wants a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico this year, not with all that oil lurking about on its surface and in its depths. The mother of all storms – another Ivan or Katrina – could wreak a motherfucker of an oil-disaster event, the winds slicking beaches black, storm surge carrying inland all that muck and the 10 to 20 inches of rain which falls in a hurricane’s path soaked in oil, too.

Not this year, we pray. Please. But no one controls the reins of Mother Nature, no matter how much we like to think so. Houses built on barrier islands which are no more than ever-shifting dunes are doomed, eventually,  to fall pray to tides and wind; a big enough storm – a Category 5 storm, with its 200 mph winds – would annihilate Miami or Tampa or Jacksonville. And with our luck this year, why not?

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August 1982: In the summer of my 25th year I met a woman at my local rock ‘n’ roll bar one night and the night and day which followed never ended for six weeks or so. Her name was Kay and she had wild curly blonde hair and big breasts and a smile which took me in like a crashing wave. I bought her a couple drinks and we shouted incoherent things at each other while a band named Romeo belted out swamp boogie blues, stuff to make electric molasses out of everything beneath your navel. We ended up going to an after-hours party where we drank for most of the night, tipping champagne glasses at each other as we skinny-dipped in a cobalt-blue, womb-warm pool. I followed her to one of her friend’s apartments and we headed up to a spare bedroom. It was way too soon for this but we were reckless and aroused beyond sense. She smiled at me as she unbuttoned her tropic print blouse and those wonderful full breasts spilled out; leaned into me for a kiss and pulled my hands into the gap in her blouse where I held and squeezed those marvelous maternals.

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And on it went from there; we must have fucked a half dozen times and exchanged oral favors thrice over the course of that morning and afternoon, the room heating with our sweat and the brilliant Florida sun. The sun was falling toward the western horizon when I finally broke free – I had to go to work the next day – kissing her at the door of that house was like being torn from a womb I could not exist apart from.

Two nights later I picked her up from her folks place (where she was living) and we drove around town, her hand in my jeans, breath in my ear. Pulled over into a dark enough parking lot and she climbed up on top of me in the driver’s seat, enough of our clothes parted to gain entry. My old Datsun rockin’ the night away until a security guard tapped on the window and broke our spell, only for the briefest interval. Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” on the radio, night traffic like rivers of other folks’ desire, Kay whispering “I want to have your baby” in my ear as we finally pulled up to her folks’ house.

It was like that, for the briefest of whiles: that is what falling in love is like, which the psychotherapists and evolutionary biologists say is how homo sapiens puts itself in the best mood for procreation and furthering the bloodline. A boundary-less fall into pool which is an ocean which is a womb which is a sub- or unconscious thrall with a Beloved which links present loves with archetypal depths, keeping me on track for fatherhood and family life.

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It sure looked like we were headed that way, but cracks began to appear within weeks. Much as she said she wanted my baby, Kay was terrified of pregnancy – a former boyfriend had forced her to have four abortions – she said No. 5 wasn’t going to be left lifeless on the beach of our union. Any thing that kept us apart – jobs, other responsibilities, sleep – were things I loathed. My jones for her was addling; I wasn’t proper apart from her, all I could do was think of her, of getting back into that pool of wonders once again.

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One weekend we drove over to Cocoa Beach and took a motel room on A-1A, the two-lane highway which runs intermittently along Florida’s eastern barrier islands. We spent most of the night fucking – four or five flaccid and drooling Fourex condems were on the floor next to the bed – then slept a few hours.

Then we got up to take a walk on the beach. The sun was just coming up and the surf was small and warm, little waves curling and crashing, sandpipers running up the beach on fast spindly legs. We passed a few others who were out walking, but we were mostly alone: the beach, the ocean was ours. I watched Kay walk down to the surf’s edge in a loose-fitting bikini (after her last abortion it had taken a while to lose the weight), her ass moving languid like the pulse of waves.

She paused as she wet her feet, looking out at the sea; then turned to look at me. The rising sun over her left shoulder lit her curly blonde hair on fire, her eyes were of an exact hue of the morning sea, her smile was dreamy and relaxed all sex and her curves were infinite … Or so was the moment of her apotheosis, in which she stepped off the wave like Aphrodite to grant me a single boon – that vision –

Then turned and walked away. Weeks later she broke up with me, crying that all I wanted was sex, that I didn’t understand her, that I had broken her heart. My last view of her was of walking from my car into her parents’ house, that magnificent ass in retreat like an ebbing wave, that curly hair catching a bit of the waxing moon and starlight, just enough for me to sense the magnitude of what I was then losing. That sweet ass I loved so to hold when she was riding away on top of me disappearing through a door and then gone. Forever.

It was time to grieve. Then it was time to play my guitar with the amp cranked past 10. Then it was time to drink. What’s the line from Roxy Music’s “The Thrill of it All” – “And I will drink my fill/ Till the thrill is you.” Doublebass pounding away, the band like a breath inside the god. A wind.

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The view from our balcony at the Vinoy Renaissance Hotel in St. Petersburg, FL.

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Saturday, June 19

This morning I sit and write from the 5th-floor balcony of the Vinoy Renaissance Hotel right on Tampa Bay in St. Petersburg, first light augmenting a huge cloud system to the east, above the high-rise condos which line the bay – storms coming in already off the Gulf? Soft breezes, pastel blue sky above, the waters of the marina in front of me cerulean, gently rocking sailboats and pleasure-boats in womblike rhythms. Pelicans and petrels soaring about, already at work, a few joggers and dog-walkers out enjoying the relative cool before this summer day gets underway and temps soar in to the 90s.

We’re here for my wife’s 51st birthday, one night in a swank hotel (all we can afford), one hundred-dollar dinner (and that without any booze), a big night’s rest in a king-sized bed with enormous feather pillows, a manicure for her later this a.m. maybe some shopping downtown, before we drive my old Matrix (cleaned, new transmission and tires and brakes at 100,000 miles but no hubcaps, and the passenger side door handle broken off) back into the Florida interior to our home which we can still afford but seem to work ever-harder for less and less of any security that we’ll be able to keep it.

A day and a night away from all that, pretending wee have money, that we’re not unlike the sleeping residents of that 50-foot yacht in the marina, the biggest boat of all, long and blue and angular the way a person looks leaning into the wind, hair flying back. My wife deserves this, and I sure hopes she enjoys all of it. The leisure. The pleasure. The luxury. Her way. Life’s not fair, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get the chance to love it anyway, and live it like we’re happy residents in it, no matter what befalls us. Sure is nice to rock in the lap of luxury for a night and a day, even if it’s only once a year.

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That’s my wife walking into the Vinoy Reanaissance Hotel soon before we headed out for the day.

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Such settled versions of oceanic immersion into a Beloved (my wife and I have now been married 14 years) may seem like the moment of waking when a dream of limitless love fades into your pillow, the face of that beloved phantasm drifting down into the water with a finger held to her lips. Why go for this dry, inland, ever-working, aging marriage when the really exciting wild stuff is out there waiting for me, the way I’m hard-wired to believe that out there is a bottle which is finally full enough to supply my insatiable need for More.

Well, I grew up. Decided that living in a reality was far more sufficient and sustaining that chasing a fantasy. I let the ocean go, so to speak.

The ocean is no door. I once thought
it was, travelling north to south
as through the welcome of a woman
I once dreamed of standing on a wave.
But her literal perfections all washed away.
Daytona Beach is hammered flat by cars
and the brunt of addict frenzies; upon
such drear sand, women in bikinis
flicker and sear in ghostly flame.
Further south, Melbourne Beach is
always troubled and thundrous,
bellowing at the cut in God’s balls
and Venus smiling into foam.
No beach ever kissed my flesh with flesh.
Between dune and sea there’s a promise,
but not to us. Ask the rotting crabs
and manowars. Drive a while down
those empty beaches. Witness the gale-
lashed hand bittern scrub. For me, I’ve
always far better naked in my own damn tub.

(“Forget The Ocean,” 1998)

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Yet though I no longer haunt beachside dives in search of Venus on the half-shell in a D-cup bikini, I’m still haunted – as it is plainly evident here – by the watery thrall of it all. My love of poetry – love of its watery syntax and blue vowels – has its source in that drowning pool. Something about writing short lines across and down the page feels like diving:

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APOLUTROSIS (The Third Baptism)

Beyond the baptism in water
There is one in fire: Yet after that
This third, dowsing back into
The wildest mystery of all,

Where You and I cry One. Only
Then will we see the Master smile
And find welcome in the dance
Which sings a rounding God,

No more bruited slaves
To death’s too-harbored life
Where free minds chain themselves
To shores bereft of surf or salt,

Endlessly sighing at moons. No more
Shards of light, no more hearts
In withering black boats.
Nothing more to baptize here,

Just wild blue plunge between God’s knees,
Become the wet part of His singing seas. (2004)

Words can ferry the inside sense of that drowning pool, liquid signifiers of an eternally circulating tide between I and a Thou who is (a) The Beloved or (b) God or (c) You, Dear Reader. What connects me most to the insides of this world, this life, is a watery conduit of the mother tongue.

At least here it does. In a few minutes I will break from my writing and start my working day; shit and shower and gobble down some cereal then go up and get in bed with my wife to kiss her softly on the cheek as I have for all of these years and slowly stroke the heels of her feet with the lightest touch of my fingers. It’s what makes her feel most liquid.

And we won’t say a word.

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Rumors are starting to circulate about how awful things might get, even without the double-dog-dare-ya effects of a hurricane. It was reported that FEMA is getting in a plan to evacuate Tampa Bay in the event of a controlled burn of surface oil in the Gulf of Mexico, or if wind or other conditions bring toxic fumes through Tampa Bay.

An report by Russia’s Ministry of Natural Resources warned of the impending disaster resulting from the British Petroleum (BP) oil and gas leak in the Gulf of Mexico, calling it the worst environmental catastrophe in all of human history, the European Union Times reported.  Russian scientists believe BP is pumping millions of gallons of Corexit 9500, a chemical dispersal agent, under the Gulf of Mexico waters to hide the full extent of the leak, now estimated to be over 2.9 million gallons a day. Experts say Corexit 9500 is a solvent four times more toxic than oil.

The agent, those scientists believe, when mixed with the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, its molecules will be able to “phase transition.” This transition involves the change of the liquid into a gaseous state, which can be absorbed by clouds. The gas will then be released as “toxic rain” leading to “unimaginable environmental catastrophe” destroying all life forms from the “bottom of the evolutionary chart to the top,” the report said.

Yes, well, dubious source. Scientists say oil can’t evaporate, though it can cling to stuff that does. But terrors aside, the actual pall and its effects does get worse. The Gulf tourist season is tanking; images of oil-drenched pelicans and workers in environmental hazard suits doesn’t do much to arouse the itch for walking on shores where all that is eventually headed. Florida Governor Charlie Crist – a well-tanned dude who is running as an independent for the U.S. Senate – has a lot riding on proper response. He’s spending lavishly on a P.R. campaign (paid for, in part, by some of the $50 million Florida has received already from BP) to convince tourists in this country and abroad that Florida’s beaches are still pristine. What isn’t in that message is how much the state is also preparing for the worst. Beaches are actually easy to clean; its the state’s marshes, estuaries and wetlands that will be the real challenge, where the real environmental impact will be made.

Florida’s Daddy has a tanned, capable visage, but his promises can only go so far. What can’t been seen but we know is there – all of that oil down at the bottom of the Gulf, immensely more than all of the surface evidence – is what grips and tear at the Gulf Coast psyche. Nietzche wrote, “Stare at the abyss long enough, and the abyss stares back at you.”

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The Associated Press reported on June 13,

The Florida Department of Environment Protection said one of the oil slicks from the BP well is as close as 3 miles south of Pensacola Pass, an inlet next a stretch of Gulf Islands National Seashore and the tourist hotels of Pensacola Beach.

A larger slick was 9 miles south of the pass Sunday. The DEP said it is at least 2 miles wide and extends 40 miles south. Winds are continuing to blow the oil toward the shore, increasing the chances of tar balls and weathered crude washing up on beaches during the next week, the DEP said.

“There’s a fear in the pit of the stomach and it won’t go away and its invading the life, the soul, of everybody in Pensacola,” said Donna Self of Anniston, Ala., who was visiting Pensacola Beach with friends Sunday. “You can just feel the tension just building every day, getting stronger and stronger. And I don’t even live here, and I feel it because I love the beach so much.”

On the same day, a 5,000-pound, 550 gallon tank thought to be from the Deepwater Horizon rig washed on Pensacola Beach. It was still leaking oil when authorities quickly removed it from the beach and took it to New Orleans  for investigation. The next day, a second tank washed up on Walton Beach. Afterwards, Transocean admitted that both tanks came from the Deepwater Horizon rig.

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On June 14, a second storage tank thought to be from the exploded Deepwater Horizon rig washed up on Walton Beach, FL.

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Here and elsewhere, the menace in summer’s fertile heat spreads. Lighting struck the roof of Amway Center on June 13 (where the Orlando Magic recently lost their bid for basketball’s Big One to the Boston Celtics), causing some charring but no injuries. A woman in Sumpter County wasn’t so lucky; a passing storm knocked a tree onto her mobile house and killed her. 20 bodies have been retrieved from an Arkansas campground along the Caddo and Little Missouri rivers, which rose 20 feet in an hour during thunderstorms late June 11. Flash floods also hit this week in Oklahoma City, leaving several parts of the city underwater; there were flash floods also in southern Virigina and France, where 1l people were killed. And in Monroe, Ohio (just outside Cincinnatti), a lightning bolt destroyed a six-story-high statue of Jesus also known as “Touchdown Jesus.”

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Touchdown Jesus, before and after getting hit by a lightning bolt.

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Surely, the storm god Daddy is angry. Irked, at least, enough to hammer the land with troubles. But what can we do? Get on our collective knees and pray for the forgiveness of our sins to the torched Touchdown Jesus? Board a virgin cheerleader from Mobile on a mastless bark and sail her out into the teeth of the Gulf, there to be proferred to the testicular genius of summer storm?

On June 16 (Wednesday), we finally got some good rains here in town. It was hot that day – near 98 degrees in downtown Orlando where I worked – but rain arrived there around 3:30 p.m., pronounced with bolts which tore the sky apart and rattled windows with thunder. Then the rain – sheets of it, sideways and down, flooding the downtown streets within minutes. I drove home as that storm lumbered on, weirdly (but as summer storms work in this region) into an area ringed by massing cloud and absolutely dry; then as I headed into my little town the next storm began to lumber through. Lightning bolts in fast profusion above and about my car, cracks which seemed almost overhead, and then the unzipping of the holy jeans to water the land but good with rain – three inches on my rain gauge in the garden. At the gym I watched radar of the afternoon’s events on a local TV station, broadcast on one of the eight large-screen monitors which face the cardio machines: a dozen storms fomenting and fermenting out of nowhere all at once, blotches of green growing yellow to orange to red menace so fast and huge it reminded me somehow of how testes, when they’re ready, swell so suddenly and then lurch. That moment was what the state of Florida looked like in the thrall of the summer’s late-afternoon heaven on the hottest days of all: a threshold reached and spilled over in the the jissoming ecstasy of lightning bolts and cracking thunder and rain and rain and rain.

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In the psychoanalytic literature (which I became interested in and had the time to delve into when I stopped chasing Venus and turned my attention toward the depths She may reside more truly in), the experience of watery baptism is given varied treatment. Sandor Ferenczi, a disciple of Freud’s, developed a sort of bio-psychological explanation which asserted that the experience of falling-in-love is a compulsive recapitualation of the old, old, old, old desire of returning to the sea which gave birth to all creatures who live on dry land:

The idea occurred to me that just as sexual intercourse might, in a hallucinatory, symbolic and real manner, somehow signify regression, at least in its mode of expression, to the period of an prior to birth, so birth and antecedent existence in the amniotic fluid might themselves be an organic memory symbol of the great geological catastrophe and of the struggle to adapt to it, a struggle which our phylogenic ancestors had to survive in order to become adapted to a land and air existence. Sexual intercourse thus contains a suggestion of mnemic traces of this catastrophe which overtook both the individual and the species. (Thalassa: A Theory of Genitality, transl. Henry Alden Bunker, pp. 101-2)

Elsewhere, Ferenczi likens the penis in the vagina to a fish in the sea: the motion and the ocean are the same. The fascination and thrall of the watery element which has gripped me since I was a child has a conduit traveling some 500 million years down my brainstem.

Carl Jung in Symbols of Transformation understood the metaphor of oceanic immersion as one of regression too, a psychic submersion from reality which could prove pathological if one wasn’t willing to come up for air and get back to the business of life onshore:

When the libido leaves the bright upper world, whether from choice, or from inertia, or from fate, it sinks back into its own depths, into ((its original source)) and returns to the point of cleavage, the navel, where it first entered the body. This point of cleavage is called the mother, because from her the current of life reached us.

Whenever some great work is to be accomplished before which a man recoils, doubtful of his strength, his libido streams back to the fountainhead – and that is the dangerous moment when the issue hangs between annihilation and new life. For if the libido gets stuck in the wonderland of this inner world, then for the upperworld ((the)) man is nothing but a shadow, he is already moribund or at least seriously ill.

Well, my father would certainly characterize me that way in my mid-20s, doing nothing but playing rock n roll and drinking and chasing pussy: When was adulthood going to begin in me? Certainly something changed when I gave up the drink at 30: I began to grow up, and the compulsion for things outside of me which were only symbolic of thirst transformed into the discovery of an ocean deep inside me which I was free to dive and swim and sail, at least with pen to paper. Jung again:

But if the libido manages to tear itself loose and force its way up again, something like a miracle happens: the journey to the underworld was a plunge into the fountain of youth, and the libido, apparently dead, wakes to renewed fruitfulness. (transl. RFC Hull, par 448-9)

And oddly, libido – which I always figured was horniness to mate with the next woman, as many as I could get my hands on – had its own transformation, out from the centrally genital to a passion for world, the garden outside and the beaches I walk in dream, the breadth of a thought and the depths of a post.

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But I get ahead of myself. My compulsive water-voyage continued inside a bottle’s womb, usually on my own, though just once more, for the same short while, I experienced the depths of what it means to fall in love in a torrent of raining sex. A strange career, unlike Tim Richmond’s in any way though I suspect he was in his own a countryman and patriot of the same sort of abandonment I sought – me at the bar, Tim Richmond behind the wheel, the both of us riding the big night music, one of us alive today to tell about it.

Let us stare down the divining pool of memory, and see what of our stories are found there:

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Tim Richmond was having his best year in 1986, but in it were cast the seeds of his worst. It was my best year, too, in the worst sort of way; and because of that I may have b been doing the best work for my future. (But I may be wrong. Discernment of spirits is a Christian gift, and Hamlet’s Ghost is a pagan entity, his message coming more in the manner of the Witches of Macbeth, arriving on day both foul and fair. Well, Tim Richmond counts as a pagan, he raced in a NASCAR day when Ohio might have been the steppes of Asia.) Religion’s apparatus can’t  go far enough. Neither can literature’s, after Shakespeare, though we try …)

Compared to today, life in ’86 was better and worse. The inflation rate was under two percent and unemployment  was running at 7.2 percent—better than our day, but not by much. The Dow Jones closed the year at 1895. (If things get a hell of a lot worse in the economy, we may end up in that direction.). A new house cost an average $89,430 dollars, a new car $9,255. (Our gap closs.) A Tandy 600 portable computer cost $1,599, about the cost of a Mac Book today—gazillions more computing for about the same cost.

Hot on the radio: Power Station and INXS, Genesis, The Bangles, Bruce Springsteen and the Pet Shop Boys. Hot on TV: “Magnum: P.I.”, “Hill Street Blues,” “Dynasty,” “Cheers,” “Remington Steele” and “The Cosby Show.” Hot on my mind: booze and pussy, or rather, a potion for perfect love.

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Robert Palmer sings “Addicted to Love” in a Power Station video (gams stand in for the band).

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On January 26, The Chicago Bears defeated the New England Patriots 46-10 in Super Bowl XX.. I grew up in Chicago with the Cubs, the baseball franchise on the north side of town, and was not accustomed to watching any Chicago team win. So for a Chicago team to become champion, that was a form of affirmation I took so personally. I got real drunk at a party hosted by friend; by halftime, when it was obvious that the Bears were headed for a rout, I was already blotto. I left before the start of the second half and drove up to my favorite rock n roll club. I was in a blackout when the bar closed, packed two girls and some bum into my car and drove them back to my tiny garage apartment. I took the thin one with the big hooters into my bed (actually just a mattress on the floor) and left the fat one and the bum to party on the floor of my cold kitchen.

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The Chicago Bears devoured the New England Patriots in the 1986 Super Bowl.

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Two days later I was at work in the office supply stockroom at The Orlando Sentinel and headed up on the roof of the production center to watch the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger. It was a cold, clear day and I had a terrible hangover; the light was almost shattering. Pressmen and packagers, secretaries and reporters all watched the launch – that bright, bright candle at the bottom of the rocket some 50 miles away in Titusville, the rising arc of smoke from liftoff. But then suddenly it got all confused, the fantails lacing up into some odd sort of bow that stopped in mid-air. Reporters beat it back to the newsroom where three televisions were relaying live footage of the Challenger’s explosion and disintegration 73 seconds after launch.

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A few weeks later, Tim Richmond finished 20th in the Daytona 500.  His teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, Geoff Bodine, took the victory.

In late January, a crew member refused to place an ill-fitting hatch cover on an oil tank of the oil barge Apex Houston docked at the Shell Oil Company refinery in Martinez, California. On January 28, the unmanned Apex Houston (under tow by the tugboat Inca) left the refinery with a cargo of San Joaquin Valley Crude oil and passed through the Golden Gate, bound for Long Beach, California. The barge encountered rough weather on 29 January off Monterey Bay; on February 1, near Long Beach, the Inca crew boarded the Apex Houston to reattach a parted tow wire and discovered the hatch cover lying loose on the deck. Oil coated the deck and floated in the water around the barge. At least 616 barrels of oil (25,800 gallons) had been lost The same day, staff biologists of Point Reyes Bird Observatory and state and federal agencies began receiving reports of dead and dying oiled birds and globules of oil on beaches in central California. Tally for the spill on the bird population alone: 3,364 live oiled birds, 5,880 dead oiled birds on beaches, and 1,333 dead oiled birds lost at sea.

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A worker cleans an oil-drenched bird salvaged from the sea after the Apex Houston spill of 1986.

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I slept with some 30 women the first three months of 1986, drinking almost seven nights a week. I’d work, go to the gym, come home and cook a steak and steam up some broccoli, drink three Budweisers, shower, put on my going-threadbare rock n roll threads, pull one of the $20’s meant for rent from my dresser drawer, drive up into Winter Park, make the round of a few bars, come back and grab another $20 from my dresser and head back out, usually to my rock n roll club but other times to another watering hole in Orlando’s vast supply (more numerous than its numerous lakes, and twice as deep), and drink into the shallows of unconciousness where most of ready girls were in reach. Who knows where they came from, why they ended up with me (I liked to think I had Rod Stewartean looks, but I was too tall and gangly and could never quite rooster my hair as well as he), why they let me follow them home, why they gave themselves up to me, what we actually did (usually I was in a blackout), how I managed to slip out on a zip-up and a fleeing promise, why I left them behind, why I never found anyone I could stay with, what was wrong with my thirst for sex, why I was so afraid of the deep end of that pool, where the true intimacy and love was.

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The season unscrolled slowly for Richmond. It took a while for Richmond to gel with Hendrick Motorsports, his new team, and his new crew chief Harry Hyde. He finished 22d at the Miller High Life 500 in Richmond and 16th in the Goodwrench 500 in Rockingham. But he managed top-10 finishes in the next 3 races in Atlanta, Bristol and Darlington and won the pole at Bristol.

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In March, Out of Africa won the Oscar for Best Picture, but I remember these films from 1986 –Aliens, Blue Velvet, 9-1/2 Weeks, To Live and Die in LA.

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Noir menace runs high in “To Live and Die in LA” but the blood (sometimes acid-laced) runs thicker in “Aliens,” both movie hits from 1986.

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One night I dreamed that my father is a vampire in an ancient house that was heated way too much against the bitter winter cold outside. He’s civil and urbane and endlessly deadly and he’s chosen me to prey upon. Sitting by the fire with him (our faces glowing in that light, even more so for the eternal darkness just behind us) he tell me he’d prefer to dine on animals but something propels him on. He cuts my neck and eyes the blood running from the wound with something like delight or famished hunger. I take a knife and slash and slash and slash at him He goes away but lives, reappearing all wounded and thrice vicious. I pierce his heart this time and he goes away forever.

In April, United States Navy divers found the largely intact but heavily-damaged crew compartment of the Space Shuttle Challenger, with the bodies of all 7 astronauts are still inside. For years afterward, chunks of fuselade would wash ashore at Playalinda Beach next to the Kennedy Space center, sad bits of wreckage that had been drifting offshore with the flotsom that shattered space flight.  I was haunted by those finds, dreaming of watching a booster surface in the glittery surf of first love, a phallic gift from Poseidon, laden with all of my failures to rocket my way to love.

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Challenger wreckage washes up on the beach, a sad reminder that the technology of human nature is a poor match for the high and lower realms of Mother Nature.

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Later that month, an estimated 50,000 barrels of crude oil spilled from a leaky storage tank into the Carribbean coast of Panama, a spill greater than any other reported at the time near coral reefs and mangroves in the tropical Americas. By September 1986, the oil had contaminated coral reefs, algal flats, seagrass beds, mangrove forests, small estuaries, and sand beaches. An area of mangroves  equivalent to 12 football fields was completely destroyed.

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One morning that spring I woke with a woman a waitress at one of my bars, who whispers into my ear, thinking I’m still asleep,  “I don’t even like you. You’re just a good fuck.”

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In April I signed on with my last band – Innocent Thieves – comprised of guys from several B-list bands playing in the area. I was brought on for my tall rock-star looks and big-guitar sound. We rehearsed from some three months, partying after practice with more vengeance than we applied to our songs.

The world was cruel back then as it is now. Libya was the terrorist baddie back then In April, a Berlin discotheque frequented by US soldiers, was bombed, killing 3 and injuring 230. In retaliation, Operation El Dorado Canyon was launched, with US planes bombing the Libyan capital of Tripoli, killing at least 1.

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American F111 pilots en route to Tripoli in Operation El Dorado Canyon, bombing targets in the Libyan capital in retaliation for a terrorist attack in Berlin.

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Nature was cruel, too. On April 14, Hailstones weighing 2.2 lb fell on the Gopalganj district of Bangladesh, killing 92. On April 29 the Bangladeshi double decked ferry Shamia capsized in the Meghna River, southern Barisal, Bangladesh, drowinng at least 600.

In a sci-fi book published in 1986 titled “Pandora’s Genes” by Kathryn Lance, a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is addressed in a future time with genetically altered bacteria, leading to the apocalyptic destruction of all modern technology. (“Apocalyptic,” hmmm.)

Blackout drunks were becoming common for me, often for up to four nights in a row. I woke at noon one Saturday without a clue where I’d been or how I’d gotten home when I remembered I was supposed to have picked up my sister at 8 to drive over to Vero Beach and visit my dad, who was visiting with friends there . We got there mid-afternoon, and my dad and I walked the beach on a turgid, grey day. He said to me, it’s over, kid, give up on these idiot adolescent pursuits and get started with a life. I nod, looking out on the grey sea, and agree. Back in town I swear off booze for about a week, work out hard every day, practice the old songs with my Hamer Phantom and old tube Gretsch amp, feeling that old feral edge return. Excited, I head out drinking, closing down my rock n roll club and following a heavy-breasted blonde back to her trailer in Gotha. Stripping her naked, the last thing to come off is a scarf she wears around her neck, revealing an angry, 8-inch scar. Seems a boyfriend she had dumped had smashed his way through the window of her living room and tried to slit her throat with a Bowie knife. She had died twice on operating table, lost almost 8 pints of blood. She survived, to live on dancing in topless clubs and getting picked up by rock n roll boys like me. I call in sick that day, fuck her a bunch more time and then drive back to my apartment in the warming sun of Florida, drinking beer and reading Anthony Burgess, feeling the tide of a sick form of grace haul me out once again.

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Richmond’s great run began with a second-place finish at the World 600 in Charlotte over the Memorial Day weekend. Late in the race it seemed Bill Elliott had taken control, but smart pit strategy on crew chief Harry Hyde kept Richmond out on the track when Elliott had to pit for a splash of gas. Dale Earnhardt’s crew had made a similar call and took the victory.  Richmond finished second two seconds off the pace. But he had established himself as a contender.

At the next race at Riverside, Richmond led much of that event, and was poised to take his first win when Terry Labonte crashed with two laps to go. With the race ending under caution, both Richmond and second place Darrell Waltrip knew it would be a close finish. The two put one on of the best duels to the finish in NASCAR history, running side by side and rubbing fenders all the way. Richmond got caught behind slower traffic allowing Waltrip to open an advantage, but he came charging back, finishing inches short as the yellow and white flags flew simultaneously

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Our band played its only gig in late June, on the bill with six punk bands in an event called Rock Against Racism. We played a terrible set, the monitors on the fritz, our singer’s guitar going horribly out of tune. Not that anyone really noticed – most of the attendees were fans of the punk bands. No mosh-pitting to the power pop-rock-confections we played. After I set I retired to the bar in back and drank. The next band was called Damage and with their first song, skinheads began bruising against each other in the pit. It was all just their kind of fun until someone careened out of the pit into some jock’s  girlfiend who screamed. And then it was on.  A fight broke out, then another,  then the whole place was a blizzard of flying fists, chairs  and squealing girls. The cops showed up soon enough and the whole place emptied out. I snuck my guitar and amp out to my car and split, leaving the band to tear down the PA.

It was at Pocono that Richmond began his winning streak. The day was dark and stormy and the red flag had to be thrown for a severe thunderstorm at the midpoint of the race. When the racing resumed, Richmond worked his way to the the front, roaring around the damp track.  He dueled Dale Earnhardt all the way to the finish, the two of them avoiding a heavy wreck with four laps to go. That day it was Richmond who crossed the finish line first. He was on his way.

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A French ad warning of the dangers of the new scourge of AIDs. Talk about drilling where you shouldn’t …

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At the opening speech of the International Conference in Paris, held from June 23rd to 25th, Dr H Mahler, the Director of the World Health Organization, announced that as many as 10 million people worldwide could already be infected with AIDs. Back then we knew it mostly as a gay disease, and a distant one – New York and San Francisco and Miami were epicenters. Nobody I knew back then took much notice of it. It would be some years before the casual sex world I lived in became alert to the use of condoms.

Nobody knew that Tim Richmond would die of AIDs just two years later.

My band Innocent Thieves went into the studio once to record four songs. The drummer never showed up so most of the day was spent programming a drum machine to handle his parts. I still have a tape that has the final take of one of the songs, “Lonely Town,” on it is my best guitar work, riffs and runs and fills and a solo that hit all the heartstrings.

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Richmond’s next win was at the Firecracker 400 in July. He finished second at the next race, at Talladega, followed by a win at the road race course in Watkins Glen, where he was a heavy favorite. He finished second the next race at Michigan, then sixth at Bristol, then he finished second, then first at successive races at Darlington and Richmond. The heat was now on.

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One night in July I was told the band was breaking up, with several of the players going to work full time for their day gig working out at Disney with a 50’s band called The Shifters. I wasn’t really heartbroken, because I knew I did my part to drink the Thieves out of existence. I saw my former bandmates only once more, at a party for a vocal coach who had once told me he couldn’t take any more of my money because there was no hope of me becoming a decent vocalist, I saw my former bandmates. We didn’t say anything, and when I left the thirst was on me. I drank toward the bottom of every bottle and babe I could never quite get enough of or find, my heart in furious disarray, my mind repeating my father’s words–it’s over, son, it’s over. Bidding my revenant life adieu.

In 1986, “Mr. Charlie,” the first transportable, submersible Gulf drilling rig, was retired. Mr. Charlie drilled hundreds of offshore wells from 1954 to 1986 off the coast of Morgan City in the Gulf of Mexico. The museum is now being used to train emergency and clean-up workers for the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

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Mr. Charlie.

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Sunday, June 19

The contrasts of a day in Florida nudged up against the summer solstice were like, well, day and night for us as we spent most of day yesterday in St. Petersburg—eating a 50-dollar breakfast in the Marchand restaurant at the Vinoy looking out on the pool where, by 8 a.m., many folks had already assembled in their various states of undress, two dozen elderly women’s heads bobbing up and down in the pool while an instructor led them through a water aerobics class. “This is why people move to Florida,” said my wife, who hates living here: pristine tropic sunshine and pool water surrounded by pink stucco an a glittery bay with palm trees rocking in a breeze. I (who love living in Florida) agreed.

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In the complementary copy of the St. Pete Times – still a real newspaper, packed with sections and stories where our local Orlando Sentinel has whittled down into couple dozen ad-filled broadsheets – there was a story (“Our sea, shore and psyche” by Times staff reporter Richard Martin) about the psychological stresses and disorders of people who make their living along and out on the Gulf. Much has been made of the financial and ecological impact on residents, but now attention is focusing on the long-term emotional impact. “History show that living through large-scale disasters can lead to dangerously high stress, anxiety and depression, along with increases in substance abuse and domestic violence.”

Martin quotes several Orange Beach, Ala. residents:

Matt Shipp feels the stress all over. As the new owner of a restaurant along the oil-stained Alabama  coast, he doesn’t know if his business will survive the summer. At home, his 10-year-old daughter, Kamila, worries her family – who came to Orange beach from Mobile eight months ago – will have to move again.

“We uprooted our lives, changed schools, which is stressful enough,” says Shipp, 42, who opened Shipp’s Harbor Grill in October. “Now we’re questioning whether we’re going to survive.”

Shipp is far from alone.

“The psychological impace is tremendous. I see it bearing down on people every single day,” said Joey Ward, another restaurant owner and a lifelong resident of the Alabama coast.

There was nothing but blue skies and clear waters here in St. Petersburg yesterday—at least to the east, over Tampa Bay. But to the west, out in the Gulf, storm clouds had already massed.

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From our hotel balcony, I could see storms moving into St. Petersburg from the Gulf.

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We could hear other couples having breakfast talking about the spill, too, wondering, as we had, what this area would be like with all that awfulness come into Tampa Bay and the Vinoy Marina just outside. The oppression, even in Paradise, is palpable; yet for we who can, turn away to dailiness and dallying which ignores the great suffering of others in order to maintain personal equilibrium. We forget to survive; I mean, with all that oil out there still spewing away, with effects which seem unstoppable, whaddyagonnado?

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We go shopping. At least, we did, it being my wife’s birthday celebration and all (thus she got to do things her way). We hit five or six shops around downtown St. Pete, she perusing for lamps and lace, me looking for books, the only thing that’s in those stuff-heaps (though I hardly need anything more to read). A storm hitting the area and raining hard and then lumbered inland. It was bright and hot and sunny as we drove out of town on I-4 headed east, eventually homeward, classical music on a tape (no more classical stations in the are), the afternoon patchwork of distant storm to the east brought into full relief by late angle of light. First we stopped in Plant City to hit a few more stores (there was a car show going on downtown, so I was able dally elsewhere), then stopped in Clermont for a light dinner at Olive Garden. Soon after we left from there, with about a half an hour more to go, we caught up finally with the storm which had hit St. Pete and moved inland, by then a towering, menacing thing, rain falling in buckets, huge puddles encroaching the road, thunder over our car thumping and growling. It seems that the storm then followed us; we’d get out of rain and into somewhat clearing skies when it would then darken and start raining. We rode the edge of that slow-moving storm like we were surfing on the lip of it, praying just to get home …

Which we finally did, climbing out of the car in rain that was just beginning to fall like the dickens in our town, sheets, walls, fusillades, fountains of rain slickening and how as we ran from car to house. How could anyone get so wet in so short a sprint? Inside we were greeted by our cats in varying degrees of hungry indifference, them not so sure about us, having left them overnight … My wife had taken a PM sinus pill for her headache (it has worsened all day, while my migraine was mostly gone by breakfast) and fell asleep quickly on the couch while we caught the beginning of “Blades of Glory” and, after she slept, the ten millionth re-run of “The Road Warrior.” The storm never abated; the rain slacked off but didn’t start and the lightning was incredible, not for frequency as much as intensity, brilliant flashes in darkness which had a five second  pause before dropping its rolling town-sized boulders across the sky. Wicked, hard lightning which was still flashing and booming when I went to bed. It was still  raining, too, a quite steady sursurration which lulled me slowly to sleep as our two-days’ trip faded from my mind.

Lightning still in the distance at 5 a.m. as I fed Mamacita our black stray cat. Distant reminders of awe and awfulness while I sit on the porch of our comfortable house and rain-heavy garden, grateful to be home, to have it for this moment yet again, even though the future is so clouded with sea-beclouded oil.

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One Saturday morning in July 1986 — I climbed into the back of a car of girl I’d picked up at a bar and spent the night with and accompanied she and her girlfriend to Daytona Beach. I was still drunk and working on breakfast beer from a 12-pack that was in a cooler next to me on the back seat. Up front the girls passed a joint back and forth and jabbered on about stuff, who knows what, I was headed back into the foothills of another blackout. Cold beer, Florida’s midlands unscrolling in near-faceless monotony, saw palmettos and palms and an infinity of beat-up trailers baking in the naked morning sun. I probably drank half the stash of Busch beers before we got to the beach, Peter Gabriel’s “Sledghammer” and Bruce Hornsby’s “The Way It Is” and “Higher Love” by Steve Winwood.

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Then we were at Daytona, driving on the beach. Then I was out in the water up to my neck, wondering where Love was these days, my recently sucked and fucked and spent penis numb in waters which in my dreams still roused. Then we were on the boardwalk getting fried oysters and beer; I started throwing my food at the girls and we got thrown out of the joint. The girls, disgusted, left me sitting at a picnic table along the esplanade and told me to stay there, which I did, sleeping for who knows how long. Then they were collecting me for the drive home. I cried in the back seat, embarrassing the girls even more, babbling names which had no meaning any more – Becky, Sue, Dana, Denise … They dropped me off at my garage apartment and left my life for good, a blue 80s vingage Toyota Corolla fading down Holt Avenue in Winter Park. I gave ‘em the finger and lurched back into my hole, plugging in my Hamer Phantom guitar and pelting messy riffs nowhere for a half an hour. Then went to bed and slept the rest of the day and night away.

And woke on Sunday with sunlight shredding the tattered shades of my hovel of an apartment, the day whispering get up, asshole, for no reasons I could account for. Showered off the sweat and cracked open a beer and began to practice my guitar in a more sober state, working on the riffs I still thought, poor fool, would call Her back, woo her so that she would invite me back into that womb I had forever lost. Addicted to love, indeed, or better, as Bryan Ferry would croon, slave to love, to the boundless watery erasures which I though love could permanently endow a soul, if only I could meet the right woman, one not so prone to waking up and walking out before I even knew she was gone … Chased that feeling for years afterward, night after month after year on the some old barstool  or another, scanning a bar’s crowd for a pretty face while as Roxy Music’s urgent anthem “The Thrill of It All” juiced my jones for More, for a bed and a babe and a bottle oblivion, decanting o-so-rarely, like the undersea castle of Arionhod, the embrace of the sweet blue abyss. Was I looking for love, or simply that hallows of its blue cathedral, its womb?

In my Daytona Beach blackout in 1986, I couldn’t have even mouthed the words. But I did, for a while, stand out in the rocking ocean with water up to my chin, silently heaved to and fro by passing waves; and knew all I cared to, as if the whole point of that fruitless enterprise was to reenact the conditions of my birth, conditions which would not give birth to me until I had surrendered all of those conditions. Bottle included. Babe and bed too.

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In September, while he was racing his best season ever in NASCAR, it became clear that something was wrong with Tim Richmond. He was ill with something that hadn’t a name yet, but it was sapping his strength at an alarming rate. The fangs had set into him some time before – some nameless woman or man infected with AIDS – and back then there was little knowledge of the disease. And no hope.

Richmond’s fiancé Lagena Lookabill Green says Richmond infected her Sept. 10 of that year in a New York hotel. She believes that Richmond knew he had the virus when they made love after his marriage proposal. “”I grieved his death,” she said, “even though he knowingly planted his seed of death inside me.”

Though ill, Richmond raced on, and had it not been for a series of mechanical problems he would probably have won the Winston Cup in 1986. That would go to Dale Earnhardt.

That was as close as Tim Richmond got to the crown. AIDS had him now, and it wouldn’t be long before NASCAR’s most troublesome winner would be a ghost at the track.

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Sunday, June 19

Sonoma, California—the current neck of the USA where NASCAR next unfolds its whirling drama – is far from the Gulf of Mexico, perhaps far enough out of sight and mind as to be invisible. Father’s Day plays prominently today’s road race at Infineon Raceway. So many drivers got an early start with father who lived out their racing dreams vicariously through their sons.

Mark Martin says his father Julian – who died in a plane crash in August 1998 — was the largest influence on his life.

“Obviously I miss my dad enormously,” Martin said. “He was a big part of my racing and he was my biggest fan and quite a character — so I really, really miss him and it makes my heart warm when I see Ned Jarrett at the race track when Dale [Jarrett] is there or I see Buzzie Reutimann at the race track on the weekend — or I see Tony Stewart’s dad or Tom Logano [Cup driver Joey Logano’s father].

“I think that’s really, really cool and I try to remind them — because I know that they don’t realize how special that is, because it’s happening. But I realize how special it is. And I wish I had more days like that, myself. It’s something that’s really special.” (soure: nascar.com)

Special emphasis this season is also going toward sons who have become fathers – most recently Jamie McMurray, who announced that his wife Cristy is expecting their first child in December. Jeff Gordon is a famous dad (with his darling little girl Ellie), Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth are recent dads, and Jimmie Johnson and wife Chandra are expecting their first child any day now.

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Sam Hornish with daughter Addison; Jeff Burton with son Harrison.

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Fatherhood, ‘tis said, changes a racer, not so much better for the racing (do Dads ease up on the gas pedal, remembering their chages at home?), but for the paternity,  young bucks now with a responsibility of passing on what their dads gave them. I’d venture that most racers have a uniquely close relationship with their fathers, were pulled away from hearth and Mom to work in the garage at a very early age. As such, these men are like family businessmen, faithfully carrying out the father’s errand.

I’ve written here before about the ambivalence of one son – Dale Earnhardt Jr. – whose influence from his father was more tenuous and difficult. Left behind when Dale Sr. remarried, Dale Jr. felt the only way he could get his father’s attention – and respect – was to enter racing himself. As a now-middling Sprint Cup driver, his father’s legacy is very weighty.

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Sibling rivalry also gets into play, with one or another driver trying to earn the respect of Daddy. Think Kyle and Kurt Bush, Dale and Kerry Earnhardt, Terry and Bobby Labonte, Jimmie Johnson and his younger brother Jared, now coming up the Nationwide ranks. These brothers have been struggling against each other on great oval – often where one brother has clearly dominated – both caught in a dynamic created by a father. Both fighting to earn the better half of a father’s respect. Both falling short no matter what.

That’s the deal, you know. Sons must all eventually step in for their fathers, for better or worse. “Who’s yer daddy?” is eventually replaced by “What am I going to do with this?”

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Oh fuck it all, he sighs, driving his sleek black
car through the night. It’s cool inside. Nothing intrudes.
Instruments on the dash glow a phosphored green,
ghosting his hands. The radio plays old rock anthems.
Is love still the drug? He’s not sure anymore.
Miles of road thread back into the corrupt interior.
Home is behind, a throttle of malls and
the ceaseless traffic of breaking things, empty
beds and fern bars and blackened bottle clubs.
He flees for the ocean like some latter-day Jonah,
hoping for rebirth in the cerulean surf of pink morning.
He arrives at a beachside town. Streetlights approach
and fan over the windshield. He rolls down a window:
ocean night crowds in with warm, briny gusts.
The street deadends at a bar called The Castaway,
yards away from a surf-wrought shore. The bar is decorated
with fishing nets and sweetly curved fake conch shells.
He finds an empty stool next to a battered bar.
The barmaid takes a shine to him and buys him shots
of tequila. The gold fangs pierce, glow. He talks
openly with her as he does when drink and sex coil
his heart late at night.  Nice haul, he thinks. Of course,
any mermaid will do. The hours dissolve past closing time.
He finds himself laying on a table close to the surf.
Muscular breezes work the naked beach.
A zipper of silver paves black water to the moon.
He tries to recall the barmaid, feels the bruise
on his cheek. Gulls slide overhead like beggar angels.
Is this night the belly of the whale? Even in his stupor,
he’s sure. The poor beast lurches and rolls,
swims shitfaced, utterly nauseated with him. What did
he expect?  He’s the worm at the bottom of every
empty bottle. Same guts, different night.  The ocean sings to
him in wind and surf like a birthday song, rising
out of nothing’s breakers. He feels he should join in,
too, sing back brokenly and tearful, but he’s just too drunk.
No matter, because the sea isn’t singing for him
anyway, not for the locked door of the bar behind him
or for the gull that’s crapped on his chin; not for the hard
and breezy, unforgiving night; not for the entire world’s
empty shore. But will our hero ever learn?  Not tonight.
He’s falling off, lulled by the boneless summa of choired waves.
It’s all getting back to basics now, his lids fluttering down
like a bikini top thrown in the wind, the moony seascape
an ebbing seepage, narrowing to a single slitting coal.
Fade to black as our hero swims down the welcoming hole.

— “Jonah Closes the Castaway Bar,” 1988

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In September 1986, crew chief Harry Hyde first noticed something was wrong with Tim Richmond. Richmond had won  the Southern 500 at Darlington but “he looked awful bad, and he was taking antibiotics.I t looked to me like he had the flu or a cold.”

“After Darlington …. I thought he was all right. But by Rockingham and the last two races, I could tell he was … down. It was in his face and eyes.” At NASCAR’s December awards banquet, where Richmond was named co-Driver of the Year with Dale Earnhardt, Humpy Wheeler thought he looked awful. “I could tell it was something worse than stress; he said he was exhausted,” he said. “He was extremely disturbed about what he looked like.” Within a week, Richmond was in the Cleveland Clinic, diagnosed with AIDS.

This was news for heterosexual America. (The previous November, the supermodel Gia had died of the disease, the first woman known to have died of AIDs in the U.S.)  Evelyn Richmond, Tim’s mother, called to explain her son’s illness to team owner Rick Hendrick. He had never heard of AIDs. . “I didn’t know what she was telling me,” Hendrick said.”It was like my first time …. I was confused. I didn’t know what it actually meant – what the prognosis was. The more you found out – the more you just … it hurt and it killed you.” Richmond spend Christmas and New Years in the hospital, dwindling from 171 to 148 pounds. The rumor was that he was using drugs.

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Gia, the supermodel who was the first woman in America known to have died of AIDs, at her last photo shoot.

Rumors swelled further when Richmond missed the 1987 Daytona 500 with what was reported to be double pneumonia. Some said it was cocaine addiction. Others said AIDS. Drivers were divided in their opinion Kyle Petty didn’t believe them any more than he believed Richmond had pneumonia. He thought it was cancer. Richard Petty, stock-car racing’s King, felt then and now it was drugs. “There’s a question in my mind about drugs – that at the time he was driving that race car, he was pumped up,” Richard Petty says. “Whether he was or he wasn’t, I’m always questioning that. I always will.”

For his flashy sins, Tim Richmond paid dearly, not only with his own life but also in how NASCAR has made an outcast of this one helluva driver. Hollywood loved him – “Days of Thunder” was created in Tim Richmond’s image, with Tom Cruise playing Cole “Richmond” Trickle and Robert Duvall as crew chief Harry (Hyde) Hogg.

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Tom Cruise and  Robert Duvall played fictional versions of Tim Richmond and Harry Hyde.

In the mythical annals, Cruise/Richmond wins all, though in the corporate annals Richmond is down there with Jeremy Mayfield, a drug-usin’ glory-seeking rube who was also probably a secret communist, too visually wild for the corn-pone home-spun values NASCAR thinks its fans still embrace.

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After the much-maligned debris caution at the end of the Michigan race, discussion out in the blogsphere was rife over NASCAR’s interference in the racin’ to get good (payin’) results from an increasingly distracted and thinning fan base. Monte Dutton wrote,

There’s really no way around it. I don’t like the tricks, but if it weren’t for the tricks, more of these races would fail the test of fans with short attention spans who go ballistic if every race doesn’t end with a side-by-side finish. If that happened, some fans would be upset that three cars didn’t cross the finish line upside down. If that happened, they’d be ticked off all three cars weren’t on fire.

Let me declare for the record. I wish more races failed that test. It would make us remember the great ones more fondly. I remember when I could recall something that happened before the final 15 laps for more than a week. (Advancing age may have something to do with that.)

NASCAR already tries too hard to please everybody. If it didn’t promise steak and baked potato every week, its fans might learn to appreciate a good fried bologna, lettuce and tomato sandwich every now and again.

“A Fried Bologna Sandwich of a Race”

Someone else pointed out that if NASCAR was truly a sport, bogus debris cautions and other manipulations would be an outrage; but if NASCAR is an entertainment, any amount of skullduggery to make things exciting is legit—how that sort of game is playing.

The point was underscored while my wife and I were hitting those antique malls in St. Pete on June 19. Bored but dutiful (we were doing all this for my wife’s birthday), I lolled through room after room of Stuff when I came across some early ‘70’s pro wrestling fan magazines on the bottom shelf of a bookcase. Hey, cool …

When I was dorking around the shores of crashing adolescence, I loved watching pro wrestling on what passed for cable TV back then (the network channels and a few other things and this one channel where a camera simply panned back and forth over a clock, a barometer and a thermometer). My family was living in Florida then – it during my parents’ separation – and I spent many a summer afternoon lazying in our screened pool (more of those silver-blue glitters, ramped up by hormones that were starting to run their hooves in me) and then watching wrestling: Jack Briscoe, Terry and Dory Funk, Haystacks Calhoun, Bob Roop, Dusty Rhodes, the Great Mephisto – heroes and villains strutting and leaping and pounding the bouncy canvas of the ring, hurling off the ropes, forearm-smacking and –twisting, pulling off those match-ending big moves – piledriver, sleeper hold, figure four leglock (Briscoe’s patented move): It was all horseshit but I loved it, loved the big muscles and pumped-up drama which was too big to be true.

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Florida heavyweight wrestling champ Jack Briscoe, the Jimmie Johnson of rasslin’ in the early 1970s.

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Leafing through those wafery pags, my reverie was like sinking in a pool of memory – a free-floating, unzipped, polymorphose perverse oblivion which made me forget the endless sadness of so much shipwrecked stuff, flotsom and jetsam of lives movin’ on or closing down.

Those wrestling magazines took me away, and brought me here. NASCAR really is a lot like pro wresting, a small thing made huge by theatrics — rules you can tweak to pack things up and create mayhem.

My favorite wrestler – Jack Briscoe – died last February of complications from heart surgery. He was 61. I remember some legendary matches between him and Dory Funk, Jr. Two guys so equally matched, one winning one match, the other winning the next, Florida versus Texas like Dale Earnhardt racin’ Tim Richmond for the win.

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I’m watching the Toyota/Save Mart 350 road race at Infineon right now – 13 laps to go and it looks like Marcos Ambrose is going to get the checkered flag – then there’s a caution and a re-start and Ambrose splutters and comes to a halt. Whoops. Now Jimmie Johnson’s back in the lead, and he stays in the lead, and California’s golden boy has finally won himself a road race. Yay Jimmie. He’s sort of my Jack Briscoe, the nice guy whose been hampered and hammered by those guys wearing the masks of Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick, their cars evilly pumped with illicit mojo, hiding brass knucks or razors in their trunks. Seeing Jimmie in Victory Row was like watching a bloodied and  limping and profusely sweating Jack Brisco round the ring holding high the gold championship belt he’d just defended against that vile “Dirty” Dick Murdoch.

In another way, the rule called on Ambrose by NASCAR officials – that by “falling under a reasonable speed” during a caution due to a fuel strategy move of turning off his engine (and then failing, for a moment, to fire his engine), he was penalized by being placed back in 8th place, behind Kasey Kahne – comes out of a pro wrestling playbook. Monte Dutton wrote about it on June 21 in “Nice guys finish  … sixth”: (http://nascar.rbma.com/on-track/drivers/29052-nice-guys-finish–sixth)

NASCAR, of course, determines what speed is “reasonable” and what isn’t. Three years ago, Greg Biffle won a race in Kansas when his Ford fell just as far back, drifted partly into the tri-oval grass and, despite the fact that his crew had to push him to victory lane, allegedly didn’t run out of gas, even though that’s exactly what it looked like, and a sheepish Biffle sounded like he’d been briefed by NASCAR before the winner’s press conference. Dale Earnhardt Jr. passed the pace car, supposedly a no-no, en route to victory in 2008 in Michigan. The gods of NASCAR smiled on those subjects from the Mt. Olympus known as “the tower.”

There’s no definition of “reasonable speed” on the track under caution. There’s a precise definition on pit road, but asked what a reasonable speed is, a NASCAR official would say, if he were frank, “what we damn well say it is.”

They damn well decided Ambrose was unreasonable.

Being a fine fellow doesn’t hold much sway with NASCAR. Making NASCAR a bunch of money probably works a little better.

Would NASCAR had called the same rule on Jimmie Johnson, had he suffered the same misfire so close to the race’s end? Last night I watched Larry McReynolds on Speed defend NASCAR’s decision on Ambrose, saying a point had to be made on guys who were abusing fuel strategy moves; that after Biffle and Earnhardt’s gaffes – which they allowed – enough was enough with Ambrose. His implication was that any driver pulling those moves were going to get penalized by NASCAR as they tried to keep order on the track.

But once again, they went after the low-marquee figure to make their point.

The image I got from the whole drama, to use a rasslin’ point of view, was that Ambrose was the babyface and NASCAR the heel, rubbing out the Aussie’s chances so that favorite local son Johnson could get a win. And the mark is us – fans who desperately cling to the belief that all this is real sport and not mere entertainment.

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There are other elements of Sunday’s racin’ which made me think of rasslin’. A profusion of camera angles reduced the miasma of slow-paced twists and turns around a snaky track into singular nexes of conflict. Announcers pondered what drivers and crew chiefs were thinking, like the chorus of a Greek drama, making drama where there  was only cars going round a track. They also indulged every depth of speculation on the dustups, relishing, like a corn dog slathered in mayonnaise, Martin Truex’s comments after Jeff Gordon spun him out. Truex was pissed but civil, an also-ran good guy tangling with the also-ran former champ; Gordon too was boringly the gentleman; surely these guys need schooling from the marquee stars of wrestling in off-track braggadocio and swagger. For the fans – 90,000 was the official estimate, but the cameras studiously avoided looking that way (they few times we got a peek, the stands sure looked empty), there’s beer and bands and big-screen hoopla and track bunnies and all the rest of the prepubescent ooh-lah-lah which turns racin’ into an event and a spectacle in which most of what’s fun happens away from the track anyway. What the track provides is noise and celebrity, sugars which jack the spirit with a jones for more, for life write larger than life, especially when one’s own life shrinking into a empty pool, ebbing out into a ruined Gulf.

Just like rasslin.

Racin’ & rasslin’, like rockin’ and rollin’, like cherry red and midnight blue, like rock candy – hot, sweet and sticky – like two pees in a pud: a tag-team match for the rubes where so much is staged to give the appearance of sport, a sport which would be dull indeed without the masks and fake blood, and debris cautions and autocratic commands coming down from the tower from The Guys in Charge. I don’t think they go so a far as to decide on the winner ahead of time, but they do everything they can to tilt the field in the direction of their favorites, the ones who ring the cash registers the loudest.

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Monday, June 20

Word came out yesterday that BP CEO Tony Hayward had taken the day off to see his 52-foot yacht compete in a race off the coast of England. Folks in Gulf were not amused. The Chicago Sun-Times reporters Raphael Satter and Holbrook Mohr report:

While Tony Hayward’s pricey boat whipped around the Isle of Wight on a good day for sailing — breezy and about 68 degrees — anger simmered on the steamy Gulf Coast, where crude has been washing in from the still-gushing spill.

Man, that ain’t right. None of us can even go out fishing, and he’s at the yacht races,” said Bobby Pitre, 33, who runs a tattoo shop in Larose, La. “I wish we could get a day off from the oil, too.”

BP representatives rushed to defend Hayward, who has drawn withering criticism as the public face of his company’s halting efforts to stop the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

BP spokesman Robert Wine said it was the first break Hayward has taken since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded April 20, killing 11 workers and setting off the undersea gusher.

“He’s spending a few hours with his family at a weekend,” Wine said Saturday. “I’m sure that everyone would understand that.”

Not Mike Strohmeyer, who owns the Lighthouse Lodge in Venice, on Louisiana’s southern tip, who said Hayward was “just numb.”

“I don’t think he has any feelings,” he said. “If I was in his position, I think I’d be in a more responsible place. I think he should be with someone out trying to plug the leak.”

And not Raymond Canevari, 59, of Pensacola, Fla., an artist who said he was insulted by Hayward’s attendance at the race.

“I think everyone has the right to do what they want in their free time, but he doesn’t have the right to have free time at all,” said Canevari. “Not until this crisis is resolved.”)

Now BP is firing temporary workers it shipped in from across the Southeast to hire locals, a PR move which only shows how slo-mo big BP is in responding correctly if at all to a crisis, having got away with so much for so long, given free rein by the government to drill, baby, drill with impunity. Well, the bigger the front, the bigger the back. Eventually you knew that BP’s CEO was going to take  a day off in his accustomed, stratospheric style, leaving the muck in the Gulf far behind. And you knew it was going to keep on shadowboxing on bum legs an opponent which is its own hubris, the monster some oil company was eventually going to unleash upon its world, showing what a used-up concept a multinational corporation is.

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Back on Grand Island, Louisiana, considered ground zero for oil spill catastrophe, the mood continues to fall into a wintry grief just as the summer sun reaches its zenith. Normally a pretty 7-mile stretch of barrier beach of the Louisiana coast, residents now look out on its oil-stained beaches and marshes with the realization that this horror isn’t going away, not for years.

Michel Cooper of the New York Times picks up the mood his June 11 article, “A Tourist Mecca Fears a Long-Term Oil Spill”:

“It’s shifted from a beautiful tropical paradise with people running around in bathing suits with rods and reels, having fun, to feeling more like a coastal town near a military base,” lamented Linda Magri, a real estate broker who rents summer homes and camps on the island. “We’ve got National Guard trucks running up and down.”

Like many islanders, Patrick Shay can hardly bear to look at the beach in its current condition. He has transformed his family’s front yard into a memorial for all the rites of summer that have been lost to the oil spill.

Mr. Shay planted 101 white crosses on his lawn, making it look like a national cemetery, and each cross is labeled for a loss: Brown Pelican. The Beach. Fishing. Riding My Golf Cart. Playing Board Games.

“This is our new way of life,” said Mr. Shay, 43, who has a seafood business near New Orleans and comes to his beach cottage here often with his wife and son.

As of today (June 22), some shifting of mood has occurred as BP’s claims of oil recovery – about 25,000 barrels a day now – provide some assurance that progress towards stoppering the leak is finally underway. However, newly-released documents provided by BP to the federal officials last May show BP estimated 4.2 million gallons (or 100,000 barrels) of oil a day could gush from a damaged well in the Gulf of Mexico if all equipment restricting the flow was removed and company models were wrong. Democratic Massachusetts Congressman Ed Markey released the documents showing BP said in a worst-case scenario the leak could gush between 2.3 million gallons and 4.2 million gallons of oil per day. The current worst-case estimate of what’s leaking is 2.5 million gallons (59,000 barrels) a day.

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How things looked down under on June 23.

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So our hopes remain paper ones, and our fears fester on the Gulf.

All media eyes remained focused on the sugar-white sands of Gulf shores where men and women in hazard suits troop about amid families trying to get in a little beach time before it’s too late. But let’s also remember that this BP spill is itself a rather broad and sporty tip of an iceberg of oil company negligence around the world. The Gulf spill is currently estimated around 1.6 to 3 million barrels; the Nigerian government estimated recently that over 7,000 spills by foreign oil companies occurred in Nigeria between 1970 and 2000. They further estimate that over 300 oil spills occur per year within Nigeria. In total, experts estimate that over 13 million barrels of oil have spilled into the Niger Delta. The worst atrocities being committed by oil companies are happening out of view; indeed, if there’s any silver lining to the current events in the Gulf, they finally bring to view the horrible cost of our as-yet-unstoppered jones for fuel.

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About 13 million barrels of oil have spilled into the Niger Delta over the past 30 years from some 300 oil company spills.

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Not that there haven’t been voices crying out against these environment-killers, but in the way of the times where we seek to know only what we already believe, contrarian voices have fallen on deaf ears. It is amazing that so much scientific evidence exists for the torrid pace of global warming due primarily to the use of fossil fuels, and yet the stubborn resistance to the implications of this – that the time is now to wean ourselves off the elements which are killing the environment the fastest – is almost militant. Amazingly, “Drill baby, drill!” is a basso continuo at Tea Party events. Fox News resolutely avoids coverage of the Gulf and its helmet-headed pundits attack  the Obama Administration relentlessly on matters of defense and taxes, even while sitting in spilled oil to the knees. And the cars keep streaming out of garages at sunup as if every oil well in the world had been punctured, flooding the our world with grumbling exhaust-farting vehicles. Current estimates are that the world uses about 93 million barrels of oil a day (the U.S. consumes about a quarter of that). The Deepwater Horizon spill couldn’t feed more than a thimble of oil to our overall thirst.

So the paradox of tar-balled white beaches and massive dead zones out of sight at the bottom of the sea, alligator tears for the environment and a shark’s relentless thrill at the scent of oil’s spoor, an opium rich with dreams of speed and endless careening on some coastal road which borders infinity and annihilation.

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Wednesday, June 23

The thick humid pall which is Florida in its summer rainy season has settledover this early morning. It rained twice yesterday, dumping over an inch of rain on the garden; two days ago we got over three inches in a malefic, lighting-knockered storms that seemed to rip the roof off the sky. We’re in a season like early sexual love, where all the enraptured pair can do is fuck; every day the sun lifts heavily from the Atlantic so brilliant and fierce that it hauls up moisture from sea and land in massive accumulations of yesterday’s rain, ushering in the next storms, the next appassionatas of rain and wind and jissomy-bright lightning and those ecstatic knee-quivering deep bassos of thunder, ripples of glory so deep and loud the very ocean bottoms seem to hosannah the event.

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Such heat and stormy ferment does bring out a craziness in the soul, a mania for wildness and excess which gets dangerously close to the edge. Sometimes that edginess is ours. Lady Gaga was partying bigtime at a Yankees-Mets game on June 18—she’s an avowed lifelong Yankees fan—after the Yankees lost to the Mets, Our Lady of Gaga-ness finessed her way into the Yankees clubhouse wearing a bikini bottom and a pinstriped jersey that was unbuttoned to reveal her bra, drinking whiskey with the boys. You go, girl. A masked serial rapist is working co-ed apartments around the University of Central Florida, and detectives continue to comb the bottom of Lake Bennett in eastern Orlando, searching for the bones of Tracy Ocasio, who disappeared in May 2009. And the Orlando Sentinel reported on June 22 that  a woman named Summer Campbell was wearing a white bikini and pink flip flops when she was pulled over for erratic driving. A blood-alcohol test had her at .331—amazingly, nearly fatally drunk.

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The Lady goes Gaga at Yankees Stadium; divers keep searching for Tracy Ocasio’s bones at the bottom of Lake Bennett.

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And sometimes it’s the world’s. A tropical disturbance is working its way towards the Gulf, shaping and falling apart and re-shaping. If it gets up to tropical storm strength, the storm will be named Alex – the season’s first of what of forecasters are saying will be a busy hurricane season. And yesterday an 11 1/2-foot alligator attacked an environmental consultant snorkeling in a canal at the Silver Springs attraction in Ocala on Tuesday, biting his neck before he escaped and was taken to a hospital.

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“Crazy From The Heat” – Remember that 1985 David Lee Roth solo EP, with its camp version of “California Girls”? On the cover the boy with the reptilian brain and sea-sized libido stands in cobalt waters under a polaraized-blue sky, up the balls in rock and roll and pussy. My kinda guy back then, though my access to his oceanic statosphere was erratic and faulty and too drunk to matter. Not talkin’ bout love but its surficial glitter, the way the sun glitters on the surface of warm seas. You can go mad chasing those glitters; they never end up anywhere, not having a substance in themselves but rather reflecting a passion which is not ours but the world’s.

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When I finally sobered up back in the 80’s, I started reading my way out and down depths which I had decided were only imaginal and metaphorical (forget the glitters and gleams, they’re only the assonance of seem). Out and down revealed an inner depth, an eternal internal which is as old as the sea itself, if you travel far down the brainstem, the genetic code; at least, our mothers’ uteral washes have the same composition of salt in its wetness, as does our blood.

The book in which I came to love the sea was Rachel Carson’s 1951 The Sea Around Us. Carson had already written about the part of the sea we know best – The Edge of the Sea is a naturalist’s account of events along the shores of the Eastern seaboard – but this book dove down into the great bodies of water themselves, accounting for their birth, how the moon may have come from a basin in the Pacific ocean, the strength of its waves and tides (an how they are affected by wind and sun and the rotation of the earth), the life teeming at very downward altitude, the geography of its shelves and abysms, how islands are born, the affect of oceans on the Earth’s weather. It is a fantastical, poetical, enthralling account, opening up to me a heaven below unlike anything we’ve dreamed of up in the skies.

A few pearls from that teeming, swimmingly delightful work:

In the days when the earth was young, the coming in of the tide must have been a stupendous event. If the moon was … formed by the tearing away of a part of the outer crust of the earth, it must have remained for a time very close to its parent. It present position is the consequence of being pushed farther and farther away from the earth for some 2 billion years. When it was half its present distance from the earth, its power over the ocean tides was eight times as great as now, and the tidal range may even then have been several hundred feet on certain shores. But when the earth was only a few million years old, assuming that the deep ocean basins were then formed, the sweep of the tides must have been beyond all comprehension. Twice each day, the fury of the incoming waves would inundate the margins of the continents. The range of the surf must have been enormously extended by the reach of the tides, so that the waves would batter the crests of the high cliffs and sweep inland to erode the continents.

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Since no animal can make its own food, the creatures of the deeper waters live a strange, almost parasitic existence of utter dependence on the upper layers. These hungry creatures prey fiercely and relentlessly upon each other, yet the whole community is ultimately dependent upon the slow rain of descending food from above.

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Almost every coast of the world is visited periodically by violent surf, but there are some that have never known the sea in its milder moods. “There is not in the world a coast more terrible than this!” exclaimed Lord Bryce of Tierra del Fuego, where the breakers roar in upon the coast with a voice that, according to the report, can be heard 20 miles inland on a still night. “the sight of such a coast,” Darwin had written in his diary, “is enough to make a landsman dream for a week about death, peril, and shipwreck.”

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There is, then, no water that is wholly of the Pacific, or wholly of the Atlantic, or of the Indian or the Antarctic. The surf that we may find exhilarating at Virginia Beach or at La Jolla today may have lapped at the base of antarctic icebergs or sparkled in the Mediterranean sun, years ago, before it moved through dark and unseen waterways to the place we find it now. It is by the deep, hidden currents that the oceans are made one.

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Between the sunlit surface waters of the open sea and the hidden hills and valley of the ocean floor lies the least known region of these. These deep, dark waters, with all their mysteries and their unsolved problems, cover a very considerable part of the ocean.

The whole world ocean extends over about three fourths of the surface of the globe. If we subtract the shallow areas of the continental shelves and the scattered banks and shoals, where at least the pale ghost of sunlight moves over the underlying bottom, there still remains about half the earth that is covered by miles-deep, lightless water that has been dark since the world began.

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When they went ashore the animals that took up a land life carried with them a part of the sea in their bodies, a heritage which they passed on to their children and which even today links each land animal with its origin in the ancient sea. Fish, amphibian, and reptile, warm-blooded bird and mammal — each of us carries in our veins a salty stream in which the elements sodium, potassium and calcium are combined in almost the same proportions as in salt water. This is our inheritance from the day, untold millions of years of ago, when a remote ancestor, having progressed from the one-celled to the many-celled stage, first developed a circulatory system in which the fluid was merely the water of the sea. In the same way, our lime-hardened skeletons are a heritage from the calcium-rich ocean of Cambrian time. Even the protoplasm that streams within each cell of our bodies has the chemical structure impressed upon all living matter when the first simple creatures were brought forth in the ancient sea. And as life itself began in the sea, so each of us begins his individual life in a miniature ocean within his mother’s womb, and the stages of his embyronic development repeats the steps by which his race evolved, from gill-breathing inhabitants of a water world to creatures able to live on land.

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Far in the interior of the Florida Everglades I have wondered at the feeling of the sea that came over me — wondered until I realized that here were the same flatness, the same immense spaces, the same dominance of the sky and its moving, changing clouds; wondered until I remembered that the hard rocky floor on which I stood, its flatness interrupted by up-thrust masses of jagged coral rock, had only recently been constructed by the  architects of the coral reefs under a warm sea. Now the rock is thinly covered with grass and water; but everywhere is the feeling that the land has formed only the thinnest veneer over the underlying platform of the sea, that at any moment the process might be reversed and the sea reclaim its own.

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After reading (and re-reading, several times) The Sea Around Us, my sense of the divine changed poles; I began to look down into the depths for my deities, deeper not higher powers, in that realm which is so identical with our personal unconscious and is the siren call of human sexuality, always an attempt to re-create the conditions of that unleashed, watery, free-floating, fertile sphere of blue from which we were born, personally as humans but also as fish emerging from the sea 500 million years ago.

I had found the source of those watery ecstasies from over the years. And I was free to explore it and write my way across and down it every morning from my dry chair fifty miles inland from the nearest coast.

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Carson’s big BIG book, however, was Silent Spring. Published in 1962, the book brought nationwide attention to conservation and environmental problems wrought by synthetic pesticides, especially DDT. And while it brought specific focus upon the devastating effects of these chemicals, the book in a wider sense questions the entire paradigm of scientific progress which gripped post-war American culture. It is a condemnation of an intelligent species doing unspeakably dumb things to its own habitat. It also condemned the chemical industry for spreading misinformation and for government gullibility in its blind acceptances claims of “better living through chemistry.”

“There is still very limited awareness of the nature of the threat,” she writes.

This is an era of specialists, each of whom sees his own problem and is unaware of or intolerant of the larger frame into which it fits. It is also an era dominated by industry, in which the right to make a dollar at whatever cost is seldom challenged. When the public protests, confronted with some obvious evidence of damaging results of pesticide applications, it is fed little tranquilizing pills of half truth. We urgently need an end to these false assurances, to the sugar coating of unpalatable facts. It is the public that is being asked to assume the risks that the insect controllers calculate. The public must decide whether it wishes to continue on the present road, and it can do so only when in full possession of the facts. In the words of Jean Rostand, “The obligation to endure gives us the right to know.”

“The right to know” is what pissed off the violators so. Silent Spring received a strong and vitriolic reaction from power who expected the American public to endure what they profited from. American Cyanamid biochemist Robert White-Stevens and former Cyanamid chemist Thomas Jukes were among the most aggressive critics, especially of Carson’s analysis of DDT. According to White-Stevens, “If man were to follow the teachings of Miss Carson, we would return to the Dark Ages, and the insects and diseases and vermin would once again inherit the earth.”

Does this not sound like the specious arguments of those currently opposed to stiffer regulation on oil exploration and drilling after these disasters? One saw goes that its unfair to regulate an entire industry based on the disaster inflicted by just one of its operations (Exxon Valdez, Deepwater Horizon). “One bad apple doesn’t spoil the whole bunch!” they sing. But the countervailing wisdom is expressed by the song which says, “It only takes a spark / to get a fire going.” If Kasey Kahne had cleared the catchfence in the Pocono race a few weeks back – and he got close – and killed two dozen fans, don’t you think NASCAR, that litigious and litigation-scared-shitless entity of Big Racin’, wouldn’t have shut down The Show until every catchfence was ratcheted up another ten feet?

Some of the attacks on Carson were much more personal, questioning her scientific credentials (because her training was in marine biology rather than biochemistry).   White-Stevens labeled her “a fanatic defender of the cult of the balance of nature” – what some now call “tree-huggers”, while former Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson—in a letter to Dwight D. Eisenhower—reportedly concluded that because she was unmarried despite being physically attractive, she was “probably a Communist.” (Shades of Glenn Beck and the other helmethead bloviators on Fox News!)

Carson is said to have written the book in response to a letter from a friend who commented on the disappearance of so many birds from her back yard – birds killed off by DDT. Decades later proof of this was provide to me by a neighbor who grew up in this town and returned to vacation in the renovated house of his father (who died a couple of years ago.) A gastrointerologist, he’s an avid cyclist and kayaker. One afternoon we were talking and he mentioned that he sees far more wildlife in the area – gators, eagles, hawks, bears – than he recalls from his childhood in this town in the 1950s, which I found surprising. “Why do you think that is?” I asked him. “DDT,” he said simply.

Despite the aggressive attacks by the industry and vested interests, Carson’s argument took hold, and the terran world is much better off for the outlawing of those contaminants. Somehow, her single book has held up to decades of assault by all the powers that be, holding for what Al Gore would later call “an inconvenient truth” when trying to bring to the country’s attention the ill affects of hydrocarbons – effluents of an oil-addicted nation – on the phenomenom of gobal warming (also viciously attacked by interests, even though the science, like Carson’s, is solid).

It does show how one person CAN make a difference.

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For better, yes. Though the opposite can also be true. Take Former Republican representative and speaker of the George Bush-er House Tom DeLay — remember The Hammer? — started his political life as an exterminator pissed off with government regulation of the crap he wanted to fill his spray cans with … The grand legacy of the George W. era (a Presidency rubber-stamped by a Republican Congress) on the environment is one of dismantling decades of regulation by placing cronies, incompetents and imbeciles at the head of  varied environmental agencies.  The Materials Management Office—charged, among other things, with regulating  Gulf oil interests—was one of the worst. After the  Deepwater Horizon explosion it was revealed that MMO employees were deeply in the pockets of Big Oil. In two separate regional offices were plied with industry-financed trips and gifts and involved in the use of drugs and sex with oil industry employees. On June 18, Interior secretary Ken Salazar announced that the agency will be re-named the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement and that regulation, enforcement and royalty collection functions would be separated. Yet its tragic beyond belief that such dramatic corrections come at such a cost.

Hey Tom, thanks for the maladies …

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One person CAN make a difference.

Anyhow, The Sea Around Us is a magnificent portrait of all we can’t see out there but should know is there. Or was, if we don’t get aggressive regulation of water-borne industries. And Silent Spring is the manifesto by which we who now must endure oil slicks on white beaches amid a tide of dying sealife has the right to know just how much Big Oil doesn’t.

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Thursday, June 24

A heat-lolling hour (5 a.m.), sprinklers out there overwatering someone’s lawn (we’re only allowed to water twice a week, and today isn’t on any schedule) and the air is loud with the thick chirr of crickets. A full moon drags Saturn to the west – difficult pairing, that wild woman of the Pacific who still rules the tides tied to the king of morbid, senex and old-goaty-sexed reflection – while other  far, fat guys – Jupiter and Neptune and the vaguely callipygian Uranus – hover in the southeast. Not great augurs of the times. The containment cap on the spill in the Gulf was knocked loose by a robot sub (so says BP) and for some hours we were back to that video feed of a shit-colored geyser shooting straight up from the sea’s floor. A new cap has been fitted (so says BP), but it was a jarring reminder how tenuous things are at Ground Zero of our current malaise.

And yesterday, the day after BP’s American Chief Operating Officer declared that damage to Pensacola’s beaches would be limited to tar balls, parts of Pensacola’s bridal-white sands turned black with massive patches of emulsified oil.

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West of the Pensacola Beach Gulf Fishing Pier , the beaches along the 1000 block of Fort Pickens Road were covered with oil on June 23.

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Gov. Charlie Crist knelt on Pensacola Beach Wednesday morning to see the oil for himself. “That is disgusting,” he said as he prodded the thick brown goo coating sections of shoreline. “Something like that in such a beautiful place is unbelievable. We’ve seen tar balls, but never this kind of stuff.”

Crist said more offshore skimming vessels have been called in and even more will be needed in the coming weeks and months. “Nobody wanted this to come onshore,” he said. “We have to hunker down and get ready to fight it. I think we’re going to be living with this for quite some time, unfortunately.”

In nearby Fort Pickens, a bottlenose dolphin was found in distress in shallow water just off an oil-mottled shore by 41-year-old Christy Travis. “It was heartbreaking. Everyone was crying,” said Travis, 41, who was visiting with her family from Arkansas when they discovered the dolphin and joined with others in attempt to save it. “We had oil all over us,” she said.

The dolphin died while en route to Gulf World Marine Park, a rescue facility in Panama City.

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Coast Guard volunteers hold an injured dolphin in the shallow waters off Fort Pickens on June 23. The dolphin was found close to heavy oil and died en route to a rescue facility.

In Louisiana,a 55-year-old boat captain recently hired by BP as a vessel of opportunity out of Gulf Shores was found in his boat of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He was reportedly despondent over the loss of his former livelihood as a deep-sea-sport fishing charter.

Meanwhile, a tropical wave in the Carribean sea continues to strengthen and is forecast to have a 30 percent chance of developing into a tropical storm, the season’s first. Heavy rainfall is predicted for Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Cuba. From there, it’s anyone’s guess; some models have the storm continuing on an easterly path to Central America, others, alas, have it setting its sights on Louisiana or Texas.

So begins hurricane season, with a ill-fortuned couple juicing up the western sky with sexual and psychic malice (fraught with old memories, distant crimes). All is still at Daytona International Speedway at this hour, but the hibernation is soon coming to an end. The great speed oval is like a pool filled with moonlight, filled with emptiness, calling to me and all of NASCAR with a plea for brilliant sunlight and thunderstorms and fans and that crazy-loud roar of the pack.

Soon, my pretty. Soon.

Oh, and this: BP estimates the reservoir of oil gushing into the Gulf at 50 million barrels, or about 2 billion gallons. So only about five percent of the reservoir has spewed out. Plenty more where that came from …

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Tim Richmond’s return to racing in spring 1987 triggered a media frenzy. He set track-record speeds at Darlington. At Rockingham, Richmond tried to run 500 miles, but couldn’t last more than 127. Hyde covered again, telling reporters, “Tim wanted to go on longer, but I pulled him in.” Richmond was too weak to run Charlotte’s Coca-Cola 600 in May, so he flew to Indianapolis for the Indy 500 instead.

Linda Vaughn, racing’s most famous beauty queen, got a call at her Indianapolis apartment shortly after midnight. He’d been partying and had to see her. “He fell into my arms, and his eyes rolled back, and he said, ‘What can I do? What can I do to make it up to you?'” says Vaughn, a longtime friend of hers. “That’s when he told me what was wrong.”

“And I said, ‘Go back and kick ass and take names, because you are a racer.’” … He had a deep, dark lonely side. He was like a little lost boy sometimes. He always used to sing, ‘I Want You to Want Me, I Want You to Love Me.’ He used to drive me crazy with that song.”

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Linda Vaughan.

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Richmond was changing on the outside as well. In 1986 Richmond “wore threads that make Don Johnson look like a bag lady,” observed Godwin Kelly in the Daytona Beach News-Journal. “Now he wears baggy slacks and T-shirts. Last year he would fly to a hairstylist in Miami to have his locks sculpted and frosted; this year Richmond’s hair grows as it grows, cowlicks and all. Although he lost some 25 pounds during the illness, he’s gained more than that back, and doesn’t seem to mind the impending potbelly. ‘Before I got sick, I cared too much about what people thought of me,’ he says. ‘Now my goal is to enjoy Tim Richmond as Tim Richmond.”

Richmond missed the Daytona 500, suffering from double pneumonia, but he did manage to win two races in 1987 – Pocono and Riverside. His last race was at Michigan in August, finishing 29th. He resigned from Hendrick Motorsports that September. He would attempt a comeback in 1988, but he was banned from competition NASCAR after testing postive for a banned substance. Richmond sued NASCAR, was re-tested and summarily re-instated, but couldn’t find a car owner to sign him. He was last seen in public in February 1988. His decline into the disease was now slide into the abyss.

(In 1990, The  New York Times  reported that NASCAR had falsified Richmond’s drug  results to  keep him from racing.)

Shortly before he died on August 13, 1989, Richmond talked with Hendrick about making his AIDS diagnosis public — a question he struggled with to the end. “He always said maybe I should take a positive step and try to warn people,” Hendrick said, “but the country really wasn’t ready for it. We all prayed there would be a cure. We chased everything we could find. And if he did come forward, it might have been even worse for him.” His last months were filled with pain. “He suffered,” Hendrick says. “He hurt. He was ill. If he had a good day, he could see people. If he had a bad day, he couldn’t see people. I don’t think they had the wherewithal to keep you as comfortable as they do today, and he was really sick at times. I would go see him, and I would wait until it was a

good time to go see him. If he wasn’t having a good day, then I’d talk to his mom.”

Richmond died as dawn broke over West Palm Beach on Aug. 13, 1989. Each January since, Jimmy Johnson turns his new desk calendar to that date and copies the words, so he won’t forget: “Tim died, 5:12 a.m.” Richmond was buried at Ashland County Memorial Park in Ohio following a private ceremony for the family. Charlotte Motor Speedway held a memorial service for him the next week. About 200 people attended. Fearing the obvious stigma, many of his past lovers refused to appear.

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Later, Evelyn and Al Richmond asked their son’s doctor to announce the cause of death. “I had the thing sold to CBS,” Needham says, “But his mother said she just wasn’t ready to do that.” Now, it’s too late. “Hell, look at all the thousands of people who’ve got AIDS now. I couldn’t sell it now. … Then, it was brand new. Today it isn’t.”

Richmond’s parents now live in their son’s Lake Norman home. His golf clubs are in the front closet, and nine pair of boots, a few hats and favorite jackets still in his bedroom closet. Many personal things have been passed on to friends. Dodson, his Blue Max crew chief, has Richmond’s custom-made tuxedo. Harold Elliott, his old engine builder, has one of his cowboy hats.

Rick Hendrick saved Richmond’s road-race car, along with the uniforms and few helmets and trophies Richmond’s parents don’t have. He hopes to build a museum someday where he can display them. “There are just so many people who want to know more,” he said. So Hendrick and friends like veteran crew chief Harry Hyde hold on to what they have left of Richmond. Hyde, now 69, stores a roomful of mementos in his trailer – videotapes of each race, cases of Folgers coffee and stacks of photographs of Richmond in Victory Lane. “He wasn’t going to be like you wanted,” Hyde says. “He wasn’t going to be like mama wanted. He wasn’t going to be like Harry Hyde wanted. Or Folgers. Or Rick Hendrick. “Now if you can blame a guy for that ….”

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Monday, June 28Summer’s thick weave at 4:13 a.m. IS like a lover’s breath in your ear as you plunge away in the back seat of your car, night without, pink slick within, mosquitoes biting your ass, humid and warm and tiding with late moonlight and incessant crickets. Alex has regained tropical storm status after mucking through the Yucan Peninsula, churning now in the Gulf on a track which should take it south of the oil spill, though an easterly shift has not been ruled out yet. Besides, Alex is just the first storm of what promises to be an active hurricane season which normally doesn’t crank up for another month or so.

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Jimmie Johnson won at Loudon on Jun 27.

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Jimmie Johnson pulled off his  second win (and third top-5) in a row with his rally against Kurt Busch in the closing laps of the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 in New Hampshire, returning the favor to the Blue Duece who had bumped-and-passed him earlier.

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The trailers are now making their way south to Daytona in preparation for this weekend’s Nationwide and Sprint Cup races, driving on through the night where freeway traffic is a glyphic mystery—business? passionate errands? travel for funerals? drunken drives home? accidents in the  making? Nothing is communicated at this hour but the greeting of wheels by unscrolling yellow lane dividing stripes, all-night conservative talk radio or country songs which would make your beer cry.

In the Gulf of Mexico, it’s business as usual. The National and Oceanic Administration now concludes that – duh – the existence of deepwater oil plumes in the gulf are coming from BP well. (BP execs had initially denied there were underwater plumes. After government scientists confirmed the plumes, BP refused to hand over data that would have clarified whether the underwater oil was in fact from the spill.)  It was also reported that last March, a BP presentation stated that deepwater drilling was one of the company’s “key sources of growth.”

Yes, well. On the other side of the drama, drilling opponents formed a human chain called numbering in the thousands along the shores of Siesta Key to Crescent Beach south of St. Petersburg, calling for a quick response to the spreading oil disaster in the Gulf and clean energy policy in the future. The “Hands Across the Sand” demonstration yesterday was simultaneously linked to some 600 demonstrations in 500 U.S. cities and in 33 countries around the world.

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Also on Sunday, hundreds of globs of brown oil began washing ashore on Mississippi tourist beaches at Ocean Springs and fishing hot spots. It’s the first time the oil has beached in Mississippi. Mississippi state officials says they are waiting for BP contractors to start cleaning up before beginning coordinated work. “We cannot clean up or catch the oil until BP gets here. They have all of our people,” said Earl Etheridge, spokesman for the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. Later, a reporter visited seven oil-affected beaches and saw only one clean-up crew at work. All is in darkness now, the full moon lolling over black waters which bear the ghostliest sheen of oil, even at this hour.

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And in Daytona, the Ghosts are sitting together high up in Depalma Tower facing Turn 4, Dale and Tim talking eternal shop in voices which are somehow blent with long-silenced engines and distant surf from the beach two miles to the east and moonlight and cheering from fans who have also died in the years since Tim Richmond won the 1986 Pepsi 400, ghosts in racin’ apparel who are down walking on the track, around and around and around for the night’s eternity, leagues down from this waking world, back in the watery wombtomb of a pool which is always glittering and gleaming at the bottom, alive with the flickers of the living up top who will wake in hours to begin this dingdong summer day, heading off to jobs in offices and warehouses and construction sites, or spend another day of unemployment sitting out back drinking beer and watching the day rise and fall, or tending kids and keeping house and paying bills and worrying if there will ever be enough money, or languishing another day in county jail or sleeping in a coma after a horrific late-night car wreck, or walking the beach watching the tide come darkly in, stained with an oil which we’ll never clean from our beaches, not the way it keeps gushing up and out. Tim and Dale missing all that as they rehash every race they fought it out for the checkered flags, trading paint, bumping and grinding, souls’ fingertips outstretched to touch that infinite line of ends and beginnings first as the fireworks explode overhead.

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PROLOGUE

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Wednesday, June 30

The Coke Zero 400 falls on the eve of July 4th, our nation’s day of remembrance for declaring independence from the King of England and the redcoat army which exercised too much authorities in the original 13 colonies which formed our early United States. Two hundred thirty four years seems like a long time ago, but its barely a fart on a hot afternoon compared to the 500 billion years’ independence we’ve had as air-breathers free of the sea. And though few of us suffer nostalgia for the old rule of George—we still wave our flags with rebellious joy—the salt in our mothers’ wombs and coursing in our own blood has a tidal hymnnody to it and makes us yearn, for better and worse, for immersions actual and symbolic, whether its body’s surfing or procreating or diving into a cool pool on a hot day or lapsing at day’s end from the dock of wakefulness, sinking down the abyss of sweet sleep. The ocean has us in its thrall, sometimes sweet (do you know what it is to nap on a beach chair by the tide’s edge, rocked into the deepest doze by the pulse of tides which end at your feet?), frequently dark (the compulsion to return to its womb is behind every addict’s starvation and thirst and hardon for oblivion).

Homesickness for England may be slight-—hell, we come from everywhere and nowhere-but solastalgia for the sea is a darker form of nostalgia, it’s a mental darkening in response to the killing of our seas. Global warming is changing water chemistry and temperature, creating massive “dead zones” where there is no oxygen – or life – and destroying in decades ocean ecosystems which have thrived for a billion years or more. There is a giant floating debris field, composed mostly of bits and pieces of plastic, in the northwest Pacific Ocean, about a thousand miles off the coast of California. All that plastic is getting into the guts of sea-life, and it’s ending up in our food. Melt enough of the polar icecaps and a lot of coastlines will be immersed; imagine a drowned Florida, which is never more than a few feet above sea level anyway. And now the apocalypse of Deepwater Horizon, which former President Bill Clinton calls a “geological monster.” )

You can’t help go a little mad with all this grand disorder playing out. Everything gains an oppressed, harsh edge to it. It’s too hot and the storms which could bring some relief are fraught with ocean water which shines. TV ads for the Coke Zero 400 have been running on every channel – I wonder what sort of turnout there will be from this stunned and fearful state. Some will always shout, “Fuck It!” and come and let ‘er rip while the cars go round in a near-cataclysmic roar (do you think that NASCAR’s announcement of larger restrictor plates for this Daytona race has anything to do with tickling the balls of fans who might come to the track if there was more drama in store?). But others – many others – will consider the crowd and the storms and the heat and the cost and watch the race at home on TV.

I’ve debated for weeks on going and finally, as time runs out, have found myself amid other plans: a barbecue with my wife’s parents and then over to their condo here in town to watch the fireworks. It’s probably the last Daytona race I could or would have gone to (NASCAR This Week, the website I edit and support and market, will probably shut down at the end of this season, declared a financial flop). And now I won’t. It’s a declaration of independence of a sort, stepping away from that screaming oval pool: I go on a dryer, quieter creature, no longer so desperately in need of engines at full song, with all that ocean just behind and beyond. It’s in me here, the racin’ I mean: the ocean, too. My adolescence as a planetary citizen ends with me staying home, practicing a love in which, as Rilke wrote, I try to “greet and border and protect” an Other: The sea, I mean. Or mean to. I weaned myself off my parents’ support decades ago, and now I care for them, try to be there for their transition back to water. Dolphins and whales are said to be land creatures who returned to the ocean some 50 million years ago; I’m a little late in my return, but if I don’t get to work soon, there won’t be one to immerse in, to be baptized in, to swim freely in, to fall into the depths of and find the rebirth Tim Richmond experienced at about this hour on August 13, 1989—25 years ago to the day that Hurricane Charlie raced its screamin’ oval through Florida’s heartland, and event which seems tame compared to the blackening gulf rounded by the southlands of our Northern Hemisphere.

Independence from the sea is one thing and ocean matricide is another. No man is an island, and humanity is not a thing who can live apart from his environs, no matter how much the pride of our technology tries to tell us. What is it when we drive about our tropic state or sit at desks watching rain fall outside or sit and write on mornings now so humid that the night gasps like a well-fucked lover, or we stand on shores watching the dark tide come in, knowing that at unfathomable depths and darkness the real race is on?

Blow the fucker up, as Bill Clinton has suggested. Let the Navy pile explosives all around the grave of Deepwater Horizon and let ‘em rip as the fireworks explode in the night sky this weekend. Seal the deal on the end of deepwater drilling with rocks and debris and pack it tight. Put an end to our race for oil so that the planet can live. Let’s become lovers once again, remembering the cool clean embrace of the deep blue sea.

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Web resources

Blog of Glenn Albrecht, who coined the terms solastalgia and soliphila and is exploring mental disorders which result from ecological destruction

Sea Around Us Project

Pro Publica – best online journalism and rich in coverage of the BP spill

The Oil Drum – A forum on energy and our future

Leilani Munter’s website – an ARCA driver who’s exploring the possibilities of “green ” racin’

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One response to “The Prince of Ovals and The Deep Blue Sea

  1. I happened to be doing some work-related researching in Google today and stumbled on this web site. I have to admit that I’ve gotten a lttle bit sidetracked going through and browsing a number of your posts… I ought to probably be working. Wonderful stuff here and I’ll be back again in the future to check out more. Appreciate it!

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