This story begins with a sunset. It begins with colors in the sky: yellow, orange, pink, blue and green, purple; neon. It begins with me, reclining on a shelf of rock on the western edge of Preque Isle, thinking.
An hour before that I was on the other side of the island with my eyes closed, listening with joy to a Latin Grammy nominated flutist performing jazzy, free-form renditions of Somewhere Over the Rainbow and Isn’t She Lovely. He was joined by a trombone, a trumpet, a piano, another flute, two maraca-shaking local music teachers, and a couple of sopranos who sang the poetry of Walt Whitman in a rhythmic, echo-and-repeat pattern. It was infinitely glorious. The sounds reverberated from a wooden bandshell out into trees stippled with golden hour light. Birds and deer were everywhere.
I could still hear echos of that performance while I watched the sun slowly fall. Needless to say, my zen cup was full.
To my left, a man with a cigar apologized for the smoke. He and his lady were sitting in camping chairs with drinks and a small, portable radio.
“No problem,” I said, and I meant it. Smoke doesn’t bother me. It really was no problem.
What was a problem, however, was a man on his phone behind us, talking loudly about profoundly trivial matters - a squirrel, a light filter, how to use a memory stick. I experienced a cascade of conflicting emotions: confusion, annoyance, anger, clarity, humor. And, eventually, shock and sadness. Even as the most perfect sun disappeared behind the most perfect landscape, he still didn’t stop yapping.
He was the prototypical Shakespearian fool, hilarious and tragic at the same time. My heart breaks for people like this, ones who can’t be with their own thoughts.
“Has this been going on for a while?” I asked the cigar-man and his lady. They shot me knowing smiles. Oh yeah, they said. Non-stop. How crazy, we agreed, to waste a sunset on the phone, talking about topics of such profound triviality. Not to mention the blatant disregard for other humans nearby.
And that was pretty much all it took to break the ice with this lovely couple. A conversation bloomed like a Georgia O’Keefe painting. E, cigar man, and his partner, M, told me they were in town for the weekend, from downstate, outside of Detroit, although E has roots in Cincinnati. M offered me a drink. A spiked seltzer. Foolishly, I declined. Last night was the party night, I thought. And: Man, I’m a magnet for free alcohol.
E and M don’t use social media. So, immediatley, we were all in love. I got them and they got me, and it happened quickly and easily. Twenty minutes later, I said farewell, we traded names and pleasantries, and then I was back in the woods, walking across the island again, to where Sputnik was waiting for me.
I emerged into a clearing, with grass trimmed so close it almost looked and felt like moss. By that time, the light was starting to fade. I could barely make out the words on a sign that said to give the deer plenty of space. That prompted me to glance around for deer and, sure enough, I was about fifteen feet away from the cutest little doe I’ve ever seen. “Bambi,” I said out loud. Nature turns me into a silly little toddler.
Back when I lived in New Hampshire, I made a rule for myself: When I see a deer, or several, I have to stop what I’m doing and just observe it, until it moves on. Walking away from a deer sighting feels like bad prioritization. After all, what could be more important than looking at deer? Everything can wait. And should it turn into a ten-minute meditation, so be it.
Usually, deer will run along when they see a human. But not always. And here on Presque Isle, the little Bambi wasn’t about to go anywhere, so I crouched and eventually sat. It was a full-on Harry Potter Patronus moment. Time passed slowly. My eyes adjusted. Magic was everywhere.
I’m meditated hard on that spiked seltzer, on alcohol, on addiction, on friendship and strangers. Eventually I had a bolt of clarity: I should have said yes to that spiked seltzer. I really need to start saying yes to everything from now on.
Eventually, mercifully, the deer began to walk into the woods, freeing me to head back to Sputnik. I was looking for a place to fill my five-gallon water jug when a Subaru pulled up next to me. It was E and M. Referring to Sputnik, M said, “We saw that thing and knew that must be you.” I laugh. We all laugh. Then she says, “Listen, we’re not stalking you, but can we take you out to dinner? Whatever you want. Our treat.”
Easy, I think: “Yes.”
First, of course, I gave them a tour of Sputnik, and then I jumped in the back of the Subaru and we were off.
It feeds my ego to discover that my ideas rub off on people. Apparently, not long after the sunset, E an M wondered whether or not they’d be able to find dinner without Yelp or GPS. I knew exactly where we were, down to a T, but I let E struggle with the navigation because M dropped a bomb: She teaches reading to dyslexic children, and is dyslexic herself.
Information overload. I know a lot about dyslexia and reading because of Maryanne Wolf, the spirit animal of Readup, the inspiration for so much of what I do. She is the neuroscientist-Godmother of deep reading and the reading brain, as well as a mother to a dyslexic child. I thought about bringing her up, but instead, we discussed M’s childhood struggles with reading. “I need a beer,” I said.
Food was unavailable to us; everything was closed. So we went to a bar. Soon after grabbing a table, M said the magic words: “Have you ever heard of Maryanne Wolf?” I spit up a bit in my rush to reply, “Reader, Come Home! Proust and the Squid! Yes! Yes! Yes! She is my inspiration!”
Apparently M had just done an online seminar with Wolf, and is a Wolf-a-holic just like me.
At first, I wondered: How is this possible? Then I realized: Of course this is happening.
The night continued in similar fashion, revelation upon revelation, coincidences galore. There is so much more to say about where we went, what we did, and what we talked about, but to try to reiterate it would be to rob it of all of its essence. It’s in-the-moment stuff, the best kind of life-filler there is, when the past and future disappear. But I will tell you this, because I think it’s interesting and relevant: I got rip-roaring stoned. M had the marijuana situation on lock-down and I vaped myself to oblivion.
After bouncing around town, we drove to what they gleefully referred to as “B Dubs” - Buffalo Wild Wings, an Applebee’s-like chain that has trivia going every night. M told me about a friend who became addicted to the trivia. It was later determined that he was also addicted to gambling, and using the trivia as a cover.
I kept my vegetarianism in the closet and ordered a Blue Moon that ended up being a foot tall and a basket of boneless wings with two types of sauce: hot and garlic. It was impossible for me to tell the difference between hot and garlic, and I shared as much with M and E. I was shocked at how huge the “small” was, despite knowing that this would happen. I was too high to eat, and ended up having to get my wings boxed up to go. During one high reverie I looked around the joint and said, “Wow. This is the most Midwest shit ever,” and they laughed. They agreed. It really was the most Midwest shit ever. I utterly loved it.
In the wee hours of the morning, they dropped me off at Sputnik and I ended up staying awake for several more hours, knowing that I’d write about this, but that it would be terribly hard for M to read. That broke my heart. I realized that part of Readup’s destiny is to serve the one in five people with symptoms of dyslexia. I took furious notes, pages upon pages, to try to capture some small part of everything that happened. But it was hopeless. I wrote, Life itself can’t be captured in words. I also wrote, All the world’s a stage. All the world’s a book.
In the middle of the night, I went for walk. I watched and listened to the sight and sound of industry, the booms and beeps and scrapes of cranes and shipping containers and carts on rails, operating around the clock. Before passing out, I ate fifteen cold boneless wings without the slightest hesitation.