Thursday, September 24, 2009

If I sang out of tune

The Beatles never made it to their thirties. Individually, of course, they all went their separate ways of instant karma, traveling willburies, pizza hut commercials, and one legged wives. But for a group that claimed that they were bigger than Jesus, they didn’t last as long. The Beatles are frozen at the age of mirth much like the wax replicants of themselves in Madame Tussauds’ museum.

Granted your twenties is a pretty good time to be stuck in (especially if you are selling out Shea Stadium), but what it gains in earnest it loses in complexity. Only someone who has never had a mortgage thinks that all you need is love. Perhaps this is why several serious attempts to extend the art of the Beatles (the twin disastrous movies of “St. Peppers Loney Hearts Club Band” and “Across the Universe” come to mind), fail in the way that a 200 page dissertation on Shakespeare’s comedies could: sometimes they miss the joke.

The arc of the Beatles are kids learning to play. They are octopus gardeners, submarine captains, and occasionally walruses - which while certainly makes them one of the most aquatic referenced bands, also makes them whimiscal. It is that great unfiltered joy that comes across in Beatles Rockband, a new game in which members can play plastic insrtuments by drumming or strumming as colored notes come from the top of the screen. The game has flickers of animation of the characters, haircut montages if you will. It gives only a hint that you might be in Liverpool or Japan before the song starts and the lights tumble suggesting the kick drum or a bass rift. It is more amuse buche than even an appetizer , but the quick taste is more than enough to give the sense of thousands of adoring fans.

I had a couple of college buddies and the girl whom I am currently smitten by (something in the way she moves strikes me like no other), come over last night and we did our best to go through the catalogue. We wrote paperbacks, traveled the USSR, and played homage to the taxman. The professional musician among us made it to hard guitar, while my sloppy drumming froze us out more than once. It was a good excuse to get the group together. My college roommate came and I hadn’t seen him (before last month) since we graduated.

Between the sessions we talked politics and careers. We discussed about teaching children about art, and then how the US government banned war photography. Both notions of the roll of art in society were far more important than our little plucking, but we returned ever so often to try another song with another laugh.

In the end I think it was good for a few forty somethings (and one thirty something) to pretend to be in their twenties. We briefly escaped the world of job interviews, planning meetings, and prostate checks. On most days minor issues rains down on our lives (the dreadful times of insomnia, commuting, or back pain). But on one septembers evening we traded those hobgoblins of existence for a few great songs and some colored lights pouring down from the sky like they were diamonds. I got by with a little help.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Burning Man

Watch the video

If you travel to the northern hemisphere in early September you will find the mating season of spotted eagle rays in the waters Maui. The high cartilage fish glide in packs off of Black Rock and seem to glance sideways with bulging eyes as they flap beneath unsuspecting tourists. Far away in the dessert of Nevada a humans performed their own mating ritual called Burning Man which had perhaps less spots but more spinning, glo sticks, and hallucinogens. And while the chemicals of Nevada are mostly synthetic, the drugs of the deep blue waters of Maui are the hormones of adrenaline and testosterone.

It takes this kind of blend to venture across the channel from Lanai to Maui, for the first weekend in September is also the Maui Channel Swim, a nine mile race braved by either big shoulder soloists or six person relays. Our team from Tamarama, the Mai Tides, was intimidated by the crowd at the orientation meeting the night before. Someone whispered about a person sharing our table "wasn't she in the Olympics?" Somebody else was impressed with the speedos of some men showering after having just come in from the ocean, and in the end it looked like the entire group could have been underwear models if they weren't swimming thousands of meters a day.

We woke early on race day and met our catamaran and crew in front of the Ka'anapali Beach Hotel where the race finishes. The winds kept increasing as we voyaged across to the start on Lanai and soon the breeze was knocking off the top of the waves leaving patches of white foam to bob up and down in the ever larger swells. It was going to be a long day.

Our boat was a little slow in crossing the conditions but our lead swimmer was quite thrilled to hitch a ride in with one of the jet ski patrol men. Safety men are appreciated everywhere even if their uniform is a life preserve instead of a fire suit. The rest waited on the ship as we watched her join hands with the entire starting line participants as a small prayer was given to the sea the way the Greeks gave offerings to Poseidon. The horn then blasted and the race began.

Each of us on the boat looked anxiously to see if we could spot her among the flotilla of watercraft. Every team has its own vessel and there didn't seem to be any ships left in Maui to charter even if someone would want to go out on such a blistering day. Swimmer by swimmer past the catamaran until at last we found ourselves in the place that we would spend the day: towards the back.

It is true that some of our stronger swimmers made progress against a blue roofed boat and also a pair of Canadian solo swimmers, but these gains would be difficult to maintain.

There is a Kafkaesque property of distance swimming in which all of the splashing and pulling seems to lead nowhere. Late in the race one of our best swimmers was grinding his fastest against the current in his ten minute relay leg only to make scant progress towards an anchored boat. Our captain muttered that he had to put the catamaran in reverse to pace with him. The day was spent trying to find the right gear.

Sometime after the first leg of our rotation (a thirty minute session as opposed to the ten minute ones that would follow), a person came up with a notion that if we weren't going to establish physical supremacy against the ocean we could at least go for a more artistic approach. The phrase "third leg naked" was gossiped around the boat. Could you do something like that during the race? Would we turn off the video camera? Does water make things look bigger or smaller? How would we flap on the ladder after we were done? These questions ricocheted around as we rocked ever so slowly towards Maui.

When the third leg arrived, the bravest of us shed everything in perhaps the hope that sea nymphs would make him faster. None arrived, but as the third bare swimmer was cheered by the boat a water safety jet skier came over to examine the noise only to laugh before disappearing back to the more areodymanic swimmers.

It was in the end an artistic statement, though in retrospect it would have made a bit more sense if we had applied sunscreen before wandering in. Common sense and planning weren't our strong suits and a few of us suffered from too little zinc, water, or dramamine. The race took on the shape of a cousin's wedding which while quite wonderful at first need a desperate sense of ending by its seventh hour. We were drained.

Eventually we made it to the red buoy we needed to keep on our right shoulder before hitting the beach. Three of us swam in and rushed up the finish line. The others helped packed up the boat first forgetting the large blue Tamarama flag and then later the victory party tickets.

Our own victory was smaller than the lengthly banquet speeches (though the winning team gave us a thanks since the second place swimmer had initially thought our catamaran was his). Our prize was having spent a great day in best of waters with the kindest of company as sun drenched and satisfied as the spotted eagle rays whose waters we borrowed.