Sunday, July 20, 2008

"It" - The Ninety Second Good-Bye

Have you ever waited a long time for something bad to happen? The bad thing is not desired, yet relief occurs when the event has passed. Such was the infamous "90 Second Good-Bye".
When I first learned of "It" in all its horrific-ness, I cried every time my brain would bring it to remembrance. Throughout the "graduation season", there was a guaranteed cry-fest whenever I mentioned "It" to fellow moms (and dads) of seniors.
Life-altering events always arrive amidst a countdown. Reception Day (R-Day) at West Point was both life-altering and now upon us. The Eve had been spent triple-checking Clayton's duffel bag and eating steak.
Everyone in our hotel was delivering a son or daughter to West Point. There was an uncanny seriousness in the air. However, I was amused that night to view several future New Cadets, mine included, circling the hotel parking lot, cellphones pressed to their ears. Last calls to friends before dropping off civilization's radar for the 7 weeks of Cadet Basis Training (Beast Barracks) soon to come.
The morning "of It" came quickly and early. Soon we were in front of Ike Hall joining the "Long Anxious Line", enduring two hours of chatty stories about any body's West Point experience - complete with embellishments and urban legends. Clayton somberly inched his duffel bag forward, arms folded across his chest "Clayton-style", offering few words.
Groups of 40 soon-to-be New Cadets and their entourages of family were invited chunk-by-chunk into the auditorium for "It", accompanied by a short briefing.
"It" had been peeking its ugly head around the corner for months. I couldn't believe "It" was upon me.
Who can remember what the upfront person said or who-the-heck they were? "It" was coming: I bit the side of my cheek and tried to focus on not being a mom soon to give away her firstborn son.
The "It" lady appeared too soon at the microphone, "You now have 90 seconds to say 'good-bye' ".
Hugs, pats, kisses, tears, admonishments whispered in secret filled the room. In 30 seconds my Clayton, holding his carefully-checked bag, was in line for the transition from civilian to military, separated only by an auditorium door. Twelve hundred ninety two stepped forward that R-Day from comfort, affirmation, hometown hero-status into a new world. On the door's other side, superiors were immediately in their faces barking orders and initiating the longest day of their young lives.
"It" was over.
The door was shut on the past 19 years. The unexpectedness of life...who could have predicted that "It" would end the chapter.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to West Point

So, we were navigating through the NYC asphalt jungle, having splintered into small groups for maximum exploration. China Town, Little India, SoHo, the Village. Re-grouping at our Washington Square rally point caused lunch to rise rapidly to the mission's top priority.
Clayton and I opted for Peanut Butter and Co.*, the other 3 claimed pizza consumed in an out-of-the-way courtyard. Re-charged and ready to continue the urban safari of t-shirts, coffee mugs, quirky hats, and all-things New York; we pressed forward ignoring blistered feet, chaffed thighs, and June heat.
Somewhere in the midst of gritty urbana, taxi exhaust, and big city, we stumbled upon a Greenwich Village sidewalk oasis of culture.
Crumbled cardboard: NY Times Published Poet has Poetry for Sale.
The finer print: A Poem can be Commissioned for $5.00.
"Are you the poet?"
"It is I," he responded, straightening his posture to face his public with uncommon dignity for a man normally mistaken for a toothless vagrant.
His speech was surprisingly eloquent. His expression through poetry moving. I marveled at this discovery of culture amidst the concrete. People continued to pass hurriedly along the sidewalk highway, only briefly noting his humanity. Time suspended for me, and my spirit was opened to a beauty no other passersby could sense.
Often closing his eyes in thoughtful contemplation, words chosen slowly, the poet crafted the poem...for $5.00....
Again the sidewalk highway swept us toward our next espresso; time began once more.
While adding cream and sugar, I wondered if the NY Times Published Poet had ever sold a poem before...or since.

*Peanut Butter and Co. (240 Sullivan St., at W.3rd St., Greenwich Village). Clayton recommends the Peanut Butter & Banana Shake along with the P.B. Sampler of 8 different varieties. I suggest the Grilled P.B. & Banana with Bacon (Elvis Special).