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Al Martinez

'All I want to do is sit in the shade and watch the dancers.' : Time After Time

January 02, 1986|AL MARTINEZ

I was sitting on the beach at Malibu skipping pebbles over the waves when the thought struck me that skipping pebbles is a reprehensible waste of time.

The more I thought about it, the angrier I became, because I should have been pecking at my word processor instead of idling away the hours engaged in a fool's diversion.

"Damn you," I said to myself. I scowled to think I could treat time so. I glared. I shook my fist. And then I went back to skipping pebbles.

I have dealt with time before, you see. We were competitors once, when I was a boy and time was a thunderclap.

I raced time down the corridors of the years, through the days and into the weeks, breathing the seconds like a wind in my face, my future flying a half-step in the lead.

We had a hell of a time and never got tired.

But age damps old fires and the race slows at the far turn.

Time doesn't have to sprint ahead anymore because I don't run as often as I did, and I have come to realize that time is going to win the race anyhow, no matter how hard I try.

"Time's glory," Shakespeare wrote, "is to calm contending kings."

Distance mutes the battle sounds. Time dims the images.

That is not to say, however, that I am unaware of my recent languor in time's wake. As the new year comes like sunrise in the rain, I find a quiet place and consider the unfinished business of my life.

I am not speaking here about the business of writing, although I have a manuscript to polish and a screenplay to complete and an unknown number of essays waiting to be composed. I know I'll do those.

I'm talking about the carpet-cleaning brush on the front seat of my car.

That portion of the brush that holds it to the cleaning machine is worn, necessitating replacement of the entire brush. When the machine is used, the brush flies off and spins across the floor. I volunteered to buy a replacement.

My wife shook her head. "I'll never see the brush again," she said.

It is a small task, equivalent, say, to picking up my clothes at the cleaners or stopping by Safeway for non-fat milk and cat food.

The brush is six inches in diameter and weighs a pound. All I have to do is drive to Ward's repair shop and hand them my brush. I don't even have to speak. They will sell me a new one and that will be that.

Easier said than done.

The brush has been on the front seat of my car for eight months. Sometimes I pick it up, study it with new resolve and vow that on Wednesday I will take it in for replacement.

"Got the brush yet?" I am asked.

"Wednesday," I reply.

But I'm running out of Wednesdays.

I thought about the brush as I skipped pebbles over the surf. The Pacific glowed with a silver sheen in the late afternoon. A pebble hit once, twice, three times. A personal best. Wind blew in my face.

I thought also about a hole I dug in the yard a few years ago. The hole was for a fish pond. I bought the cement, a filtering system, a pump and some tubing.

This pond, I promised myself, will someday grace the cover of Sunset Magazine. Travel agencies will include it in their brochures. Japanese tourists will take pictures of it.

Then I looked up. Time was racing by, mocking the small plans, mapping the long routes, as light as a feather, as swift as a blink.

I stood. I ran. The hole filled with dirt again. Rain hardened the cement, still in bags. I gave the pump away. I was still running in those days. Wednesday was a lifetime away.

What will 1986 hold?

Well, I may get the brush replaced for the carpet cleaner. I think I'll fix the leaks in our roof, though maybe not.

The roof has leaked since 1982. I know exactly where the drips will fall. When the rain starts, I put red and yellow plastic pans in precisely the right places.

When it was pointed out to me that plastic pans, however brightly colored, are unsightly in such a fine home, I attempted an alternative. I put the pans on the roof.

But the roof is sloped and the pans kept sliding into the dog's yard, terrorizing him. The dog thought God was giving him a sign. Don't bark after 9 at night! He gets around it by howling.

When wind whipped the pans away, the roof leaked on the carpet. I couldn't stop the leaks because the pans were in the yard.

When the rain stopped, I thought about shampooing the carpet, but I couldn't. The brush was on my car seat.

Adlai Stevenson said, "All I want to do is sit in the shade and watch the dancers." He was older then, past the years of running, and had come to understand quite well the nature of time.

I thought about that as I sat on the beach and skipped pebbles over the waves. The day was passing, the silver turning ebony.

Pretty soon I couldn't see the pebbles anymore. Was it Wednesday already?

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