Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Dawning 40

June 8, 2011

Have you ever noticed how when you set an alarm clock, when you normally don’t set an alarm clock, that you don’t sleep as well? I know for myself it’s because I’m afraid I’ll oversleep or that I didn’t really turn the alarm on. So is the case for the morning in question. Staying in a vacation rental with an alarm clock that I not only didn’t want to set, but had never set before had me waking multiple times during the night – 1:30 am, 3 am. That alarm went off at 4:15 am and I grudgingly dragged myself out of bed with a small headache and a parched mouth. I can say I was thankful to end the dream I was having: convincing my mother, portrayed in the dream by Margo Martindale, I had never paid for sex. I don’t know what that was about. Nor do I know why my “mother” would say, “I don’t want to hear this, especially on the morning of your 45th birthday.” After that “45th birthday” comment I had to wake up and wake up fast. My dream mother aged me by 5 years.

It was the morning of my 40th birthday and Neal and I had chosen that morning to watch the sunrise. It was the dawning of a new decade for me; why not watch the dawning of a new day?

I am regular. If you think I mean a regular guy you are mistaken. I am definitely walking to the beat of my own drummer. In speaking of regularities I’m referring to my bowels. I never thought after 6 hours of sleep or at 4:30 in the morning I would be ready to go to the bathroom. Wrong! The sun was supposed to rise at 5:09 am. We were parked and waiting for it to happen by 4:50 am. As the sky started pinking, we got out of the Jeep. Mistake. My body started to come alive just as all the insects and rabbits and birds were coming alive to start the new day. I found myself in pain; so intense at times that I wanted to double over. I realize I don’t know what labor pains are like, but I wondered if I shouldn’t try the breathing exercises women use to get through contractions. Funny that it was the 40th anniversary of my birth that I was in such pain. Hope that wasn’t payback for what I put my mom through.

We had to drive back to our cottage earlier than we had anticipated. I must admit that sitting was better, but not by much. I was on edge. I was trying to hold it all together, and in, as best I could. When we got home I ran up the stairs and promptly shut the bathroom door and turned on the fan. Relief!! The headache was now the only annoying, persistent glitch in my way-too-early morning. I took two Excedrin and promptly went back to bed.

Three hours later I emerged from the cocoon of my bed ready to face the morning and my birthday. I was in a surprisingly good mood. Forty had not hit me nearly as hard as I thought it would. Hell, 39 hit me harder. I came downstairs proclaiming that it was my birthday and that I was 40. I am Michael hear me Rohrer. I can kick and stretch and I can kick.

Neal brought out a blue Tiffany and Co. bag that had my chin drop to the floor. He laughed. I laughed. He said the contents were not from Tiffany. There was a bottle inside with the word Wisdom and its recipe etched on it (contains knowledge, understanding, patience, intuition, and a dash of skepticism). It is a companion to the bottle he gave me for Christmas with the word Dream and its instructions etched on it (drink deeply and believe). There was also a necklace in the bag with a beautiful blue glass pendant that Neal bought for me the week before in Germany. My last name is German. Seems fitting that I have a gift from Germany, right?

I always feel that my birthday is not complete until I speak to my mom. She called me shortly after I opened my gifts from Neal. I spoke to her about the morning so far and about what Neal and I had done the previous day. Hearing “happy birthday” and “I love you” from my mom on my birthday makes me so happy. The smile creates a warm feeling of being loved that floods my body and soul.

Now to Aquinnah. Formerly known as Gay Head (insert comments here), Aquinnah is known for its brightly colored Gay Head Cliffs. Also there is the Gay Head lighthouse. As we drove up-island, a nautical term for west, it seemed to take forever to get to our destination. It wasn’t that it was so far from where we were staying; the speed limit was slower and the terrain was hillier. Speaking of said hills, they were beautiful and green. The homes hidden within dotted the landscape like white lights on a Christmas tree. From the heights that we reached as we drove we had awesome views of the water full of boats.

I don’t know if it is because of the hilly terrain, but there were many rugged, undeveloped areas with breathtaking views. By far, this drive had given us the best of those so far.

Upon arrival, we went to the observation deck that afforded us not only a view of the Atlantic, but also a fantastic view of those clay cliffs and the lighthouse. Again, I stood and breathed the air as I focused my camera on everything around me.

We then walked the trail that led to the beach. It was all down hill and quite a distance. The beach was lovely, albeit different than State Beach or South Beach. For one thing it was rockier. For another, it had a nude section. We entered the beach, removed our shoes and socks and started walking in the direction of the lighthouse. We wanted to see the cliffs from the beach vantage point where we had just seen them from above at the observation deck. As we walked I happened to look to my right. I guess I was going to say “hello” or give some kind of acknowledgement to the sunbathers we were passing. That’s when I saw it – nakedness. Full frontal, just enjoying the day. A man and a woman. We had crossed the invisible line onto “Jungle Beach”, one of the few remaining nude beaches in our country. We continued to walk. Neal hadn’t even noticed. I noticed every single nude body on that beach (truth: there were less than 10). Each one belonged to an older person. Not my cup of tea. Then the nude-beach-gods smiled down on me and presented me vision of a guy that was just my type. The sad part was he was lying on his stomach. The happy part was he was cute and so was his butt.

We had put our sneakers on sans socks at one point due to the large rocks we had to walk on. Walking back I got doused with a small wave that I didn’t seem to be able to outrun. Eventually, the shoes came off again as we were walking on sand. We carried our shoes with us as we walked back up the trail that would take us to our car. This was a painful situation. Not only were there small rocks on that trail, more than half of it was covered with wood chips; tiny, sharp, poking-into-my-feet wood chips. We just breathed through it. By the time we reach the clearing where we had soft grass, our feet were achy and dry enough to dust off the remaining sand and replace our socks and shoes. There was gladness all around.

We were then off to Menemsha, a small fishing village located in the town of Chilmark. It wasn’t very far from Aquinnah. We drove to the parking lot there in the harbor, parked and got out of the Jeep. We walked out onto the jetty. I noticed how clear the water was. It was such a beautiful shade of blue. It amazes me always when I can see to the bottom. We took in the view and snapped more photos. We then watched as a school of fish made dinner out of a school of minnows near the rocks of the jetty. They were crazy. It wasn’t exactly a feeding frenzy, but they disturbed the water plenty.

We couldn’t make up our minds about dinner. Of course, I wanted to go to dinner and celebrate myself. I guess because it was my birthday, I sort of got to make the decision. I mean how often does a person turn 40? Well, in my case that could be speculative. I mean there was a time in my life when I said that I was going to age one year for every five after I turned 25. By my calculations that means I just turned 28. That means I get one more chance to turn 40. Of course that means in real life I’d be 100. I’m not sure I could pass for 40 at 100, but hell I guess I could try. There’s a sucker born every minute. Moisturizer please.

I consulted my guidebook and we finally decided on Atria for dinner. At 4:45 pm I called and got a reservation for 7 pm. Atria (pronounced Ah-tre-ah) is a fine-dining restaurant set in an 18th-century sea captain’s house located on Upper Main Street in Edgartown. The name refers to the brightest of three stars that form the Southern Triangle constellation. I’m southern and I must say that word made me move this restaurant choice to front of the line. Not that the food was southern. It was merely a word that connected me to my roots.

Our table was situated on the closed in front porch; beautiful windows overlooking a lush green yard peppered with white Adirondack chairs. We were seated in front of a window with a Dogwood tree in full bloom just on the other side of the glass. It was lovely. It reminded me of my granddaddy Dunn. He loves Dogwood trees.

I started with a glass of Prosecco and Neal a Maker’s on the rocks. Shortly our starter arrived – Island Lobster Mac n’ Cheese made with mascarpone, cheddar, goat cheese, crispy arugula and cherry tomatoes. I was anticipating something too rich of which to eat a lot. It was rich, but I’ve had richer. It was actually amazing and the portion was perfect to share and get a couple of large spoonfuls each.

For my entrée I enjoyed my first swordfish. It was grilled, prepared with watercress & preserved lemon plus dill whipped potatoes, crispy capers, shaved red onion and lemon beurre blanc. It was amazing. The swordfish was a steak. It was tender and light without tasting too fishy. In fact, it didn’t taste like fish at all. This was no Mississippi catfish. It was such a good chance of a choice. You can’t be on an island in the Atlantic and not indulge yourself in seafood.

As we mulled over what to have for dessert we took our wine out to the lawn to sit in the aforementioned Adirondack chairs. I noticed a swing hanging from a branch of the large tree in the front yard. I couldn’t resist its call. I couldn’t swing too high, as I would hit the privacy bushes that were behind me, but I did throw my head back and enjoy it briefly, keeping in mind that I had just eaten and could easily vomit.

Neal was a target when it came to Mosquitoville, so we didn’t stay outside very long. We headed back to our table, wine in hand, and ordered two molten chocolate cakes with vanilla bean ice cream on top. Hey it was my birthday. The plate had the usual decorative markings of chocolate, but it also had chocolate covered coffee beans and an 8” stick of rolled chocolate placed diagonally from plate to ice cream. It was not only pleasing to the palate it was pleasing to the eye. Of course that’s what one should expect from fine dining.

Our wine for the evening was a Chardonnay. I’m not really a white wine drinker. I like my reds. Last summer I discovered rosé. My segue between winter and summer is now rosé. However, our waitress, Melissa, suggested Unfiltered Chardonnay from Newton Vineyard. I decided since I was trying swordfish for the first time that I should be adventurous with my wine as well. I’m so glad I was. I wish I knew how to use my nose more effectively when smelling wines. I can often taste the berries I'm supposed to taste, but I wish I could smell them before I taste them. Melissa had already described the wine to us as buttery. I agreed upon first taste, as it was a preconceived notion. Not preconceived was the fact that it was the best Chardonnay I’d ever consumed. The website for Newton Vineyard describes the wine thus: this profound and powerful Chardonnay exhibits a rich, complex intensity that can only be found in unfiltered wines. The grapes are predominantly grown in the Carneros region where bay breezes and morning fog combine to create the cooler climate ideal for growing Chardonnay rich with concentrated flavors. That sounds like a lot of who hah to me, but the truth is it was amazing and Melissa was right, it was perfectly suited for our meal and our dessert. Thanks girl. Look me up when you get to Astoria.

As we sat at the table finishing our wine and waiting for our check we began to talk of Sondheim. Specifically, “Not A Day Goes By” from Merrily We Roll Along. I also mentioned “Good Thing Going” and “Our Time” from the same show as well as “Move On” from Sunday in the Park with George. I purchased both of those original cast albums the summer after graduating from college in 1994 with money I had received from said graduation. To this day songs from both of those shows remind me of Neal and Matt and our connection, started in college, and strengthened over time.

On the way home it seemed a no-brainer that I should play “A Weekend in the Country” from Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. Neal agreed with my choice. The song had not ended when we reached our cottage so we sat in the Jeep until its completion. Proper endings are necessary when something is that perfect.

“Isn’t it bliss.”