On or Off the Water

We sit together in front of a warm fireplace. The mesmerizing flames cast romantic shadows on the wall behind us. We’re seated on a soft comfortable loveseat. My arm wraps around your shoulder. Each of us holds a glass of wine, the cool glass contrasting sharply with the heat of the fire. We turn our heads toward one another. Ever so slowly, we lean in until our faces are only inches apart. Suddenly, in unison, we both say, “It’s just after six in the morning. It’s too early to be drinking wine.”

Wait, that’s not the way it’s supposed to go. But, see, that’s the way my mind works sometimes. Fantasy competes with reality in awkward intersections. My writing behaves like that. It’s as if I imagine myself as a war correspondent in the Revolutionary War. I sit in my dark cabin at night, the only light a single lantern, writing my stories with a typewriter that would not be invented for one hundred years, using paper I bought at Office Depot.

Back to the fireplace, though. Time becomes a crutch, doesn’t it? Natural law does not preclude sleeping in the daytime and carousing at night. We have the capacity to alter our routines in defiance of clocks. If we want to have breakfast at 1 a.m., go for a run at 2 a.m., and head into the office at 3 a.m., we can do it. But we rarely do. We’re creatures of habit and we tend to obey unwritten rules. And written rules that do not necessarily have the force of law behind them.

The people in front of the fireplace are married. But not to each other. Their respective spouses are: a) she is salmon fishing in Alaska and b) he is attending a religious revival in Tennessee. Their respective children, Gertrude and Euripides, are in other states, being fingerprinted after being charged, respectively, with counterfeiting and felony plagiarism.

Torrid affairs are not illegal in most places, as far as I know. Nor is drinking wine at unseemly hours. But we behave as if they were. Because we treat cultural norms as if they were morally binding. It depends on the culture, doesn’t it?  When we break cultural norms, I think our responses to stepping outside of boundaries cause us to have conflicting emotions. On one hand, we’re frightened and somewhat ashamed. On the other, bursts of adrenalin lend an air of delightful excitement to our infringement. I write this as if I know what I’m writing about. While I don’t, I think it makes sense, doesn’t it? I mean, if we’re really honest with ourselves. But do we have the courage to be honest with ourselves? I sometimes wonder. I often wonder.


Yesterday, I drove in to Hot Springs to return to JC Penney two shirts I had picked up the day before. I had ordered them online, taking advantage of steep discounts (more than 50%). I had them sent to the store to save the cost of shipping, which would have been substantial. I returned them because their colors and patterns did not match the photos online. And they were too small. Or I am too big. Or both. I don’t think I’ve bought new button-down casual shirts since long before we moved to Hot Springs Village. Facebook regularly shows me photos from ten or twelve or more years ago; I’m modestly surprised to see that I am wearing the same shirts these days I was wearing then. At any rate, I do not have new shirts anymore. I hate to try on clothes, mostly because they very rarely fit. Back in the old days, I could order online and return by mail, without cost, if they did not fit or otherwise did not suit me. Today, there are limitation and sometimes there are expenses.

I need to have my clothes tailor-made to fit my body; short arms, longish torso, and very short legs. I think that may describe a malformed ape. Pants are especially hard to find. A short inseam made shorter by my preference for wearing them just above my hips, well below my waist, makes it damn near impossible to find a good fit. That’s just one of many reasons I wish fashion would take a sharp turn, focusing exclusively on comfort. I think I’d prefer to wear very loose-fitting Indian kurta tunics. And rather than the traditional trousers that go with them, I’d rather wear skin-hugging long-inseam bicycling shorts. The only reason for wearing the shorts would be to protect the public from going blind when I am seated; otherwise, I’d be happy with plain old loose-fitting white cotton briefs.

I posted something in October 2015 saying something similar to what I’ve just written, but I said I’d prefer shorter than average kurtas. No longer. My taste has changed a bit, I suppose. But even then I was fiercely in favor of comfortable clothes and not a slave to fashion.

If ever I have the skills, courage, and sufficient privacy, I will make kurtas to my liking. I will wear them in public and around the house, with our without visitors. Occasionally, I will shed all my clothes, going au naturale throughout the house, wondering why it took so long to assert my right to nude comfort.


While puttering around in the kitchen this morning, I “wrote” lyrics to a song—on the fly—singing as I wiped up spilled coffee and otherwise tidied up. I frequently make up song lyrics early in the morning. I rarely write them down. It’s exceedingly rare that I remember them an hour later. This morning was no different. But I do remember a few themes from this morning. Dogs tearing into my house through a screen door. Their teeth sinking into me. Maybe something like:

“I felt such vivid terror,
as I watched them breaking in,
and I screamed so very loudly,
as their teeth sank into my skin.

I fought them off with sharpened knives
and a bottle full of gin.
But those beasts were quite determined,
much to my chagrin.”

Not what I “wrote,” but something along those lines. Most of my poetry is free verse. Most of my song lyrics rhyme. Most of my poetry has some semblance of meaning. Most of my song lyrics are rhyming nonsense. I do not know whether any of that has any meaning, but there it is. It’s all just for fun, anyway. Especially the song lyrics. They’re usually not so gritty and disturbing. One of these days I’m going to record myself while I’m making my verbal compositions. My recordings no doubt could be used in proceedings about whether I should be institutionalized; maybe I better not record myself.


Two nights ago I had dinner with a couple I first met in Dallas sometime around 2005 in connection with my business. When they sold their successful business and retired, they bought a townhouse in Hot Springs Village to serve as a weekend getaway. Like so many others, once they spent some time here, they soon decided to make this their retirement home. They sold their house in Dallas and their townhouse in the Village and bought a lake house here. They have a boat house with an electric lift and they own a very nice pontoon boat, kayaks, tubes, and various other water craft and “toys.” From what I can tell, they lead an absolutely idyllic life.

They took me out on their pontoon boat before sunset.  There were just the three of us and their Australian shepherd mix. The objective of our water cruise event was to count buoys; they want their shoreline neighbors to pitch in to have the buoys lighted. Despite the fact that the temperature was around 53 degrees, our time on the water was delightful. Even when the boat was ripping along the water at full speed, the cold air in my face was invigorating. Fortunately, I brought a heavy coat along, knowing in advance of their plans to take to the water.

Over dinner, we talked about food and mutual acquaintances and COVID-19 and a dozen other subjects. We touched on politics and religion just slightly; we’re on opposite ends of the spectrum on those topics, but the few times they arose, I felt like we would have been truly civil to one another had we delved into them. That’s how it should be.


Financial paperwork is piling up. Documents requiring my signature, some requiring witness by a notary, stare at me accusingly as if I were looking into a mirror. What can I do today? I ask it feebly, hoping the fact that it’s Sunday will offer me a reprieve. No, that doesn’t work. The paperwork seems to reshuffle itself, making the sheets no requiring a notary more visible and obvious. I cover the documents with credit card receipts I have yet to record on my spreadsheet. I am documenting my expenses the way my wife did; the receipts will not be discarded or shredded until there is no possibility I will need them for either tax purposes or evidence in disputes about charges, etc. I think the carcasses of two forests litter my house in the form of receipts, books, and other paperwork.


What difference would it make if I were to finish my cup of coffee, get in my car, and drive away from this house, never to return? A brief period of chaos and questions would follow, but the breadth and depth of the chaos would be relatively minor. The questions might remain for a few months or even a few years, but eventually they would dissolve into time. My disappearance would be like most others. It would be unexpected—and unimportant except to a microscopic sampling of the human race. But to that tiny sample, it would reverberate like a bass drum in a network of caves. In terms of impact, I equate it with the upset caused when an anthill is disturbed. Chaos erupts, with ants scurrying about in seemingly random movement at high speed. But the chaos quickly calms, leaving little evidence of the intense disorder that followed the upset. Not to worry. I will return if I can.


Facebook reminded me, just now, of something I wrote five years ago today. In light of my post yesterday, it seems incredibly coincidental. There’s that synchronicity again.

Fifty years from now, nobody will remember your name, nor will anyone care that you lived or died. Don’t fret; you’re not alone in that brutal reality. Billions and billions have gone before you. You’ll be unique if you’re more than a footnote to history five years hence. We pay too much time wondering about our legacies. We should ignore that line of thought entirely and, instead, behave as if we were uninhibited seventeen year old kids. Maybe THAT will leave a memory worthy of the concept of remembrance.


Somehow, the artifice of time has gotten away from me. It’s just after 7 and I need to begin to acknowledge daylight.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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