Short-Winded Elations

Written By: John Weissberg

Short-Winded Elations By: Jon Weissberg I could hear the faint swishing of the propellers gliding safely past as I helplessly plummeted through the hazy June clouds. A combination of wind and panic created a reservoir of tears within my broken goggles making it almost impossible to see what was ahead. This blindness was anything but liberating. It rapidly spawned a level of apprehension, causing even the most confident eighteen-year old to question the future and to consider the senselessness of past assertions. What was I thinking when I went on that youthful and uncontaminated diatribe about wanting to jump out of a plane before leaving Long Island for my freshman year of college? I should have known better than to tempt my parents. They have always been a duo that eagerly accepts, or at least considers every chance to stay relentlessly busy. And like most parents, they secretly enjoy the possibility of calling their kids bluff. But despite my fear of heights, I could not allow myself to turn down this chance. From the clips that struggled to load on our dial-up connection, to the stories passed down through the school cafeteria, I was promised that this was going to be a poetic experience. I wanted to float over and admire the place that meant more to me than just delicious bagels and summer fires on the beach. I wanted to experience the indescribable. To marvel at the docks that inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald, to absorb the brilliant colors that incited Jackson Pollack to unconventionally drip his paint, to comprehend the heartbreak that Mick Jagger felt when Hannah left him with nothing but a memory. And of course I wanted to find my own green light before it began to recede, the crevice beneath the West Hampton home where I kissed a girl for the first time. — Not once did anyone mention the voracious winds that would be pushing against my cheeks like the hands of one hundred savage Grandmas reaching down from the heavens to get one last squeeze. As the terrifying freefall continued, I closed my eyes and was thrust back to a childhood memory. For a nondescript day in an ordinary backyard, I could vividly recall how the swirling wind caused the leaves of the Red Maple tree to rustle in unison as the roses my Mother planted in honor of her Mother remained perfectly still, as if they were thanking the Red Maple for its service. I stood clenching a yellow and gold basketball that I had won at the annual town fair, watching squirrels stagger back and forth on the telephone wire. As the sun rested atop the tree, I became abruptly aware of my ability to terminate another’s existence. For a ten year old that was preoccupied with sports and The Simpsons, it was already an overly existential year as Magic Johnson’s announcement forced me to confront the basic concept of mortality. Agitated by the ease at which I could control ones fate while being oddly confused by my refusal to throw the ball, I began to think about what I had learned at school earlier that day. What purpose would I have served during the Paleolithic Era if I lacked the courage to hunt? Despite how my teacher trivialized the cultural depth of the time period, was there a chance that they were actually a progressive society that challenged gender norms? That evening I found inspiration in a song by Billy Joel called The Downeaster “Alexa.” It’s about a proud fisherman from Long Island who is struggling to provide for his family due to conditions that he could not prevent. But I interpreted it as the story of a man afraid to reel in fish due to a moral dilemma. Bad luck seemed like an easy excuse. Deep down I commended him for being so compassionate, but was mortified to discover that by the end of the song his lack of courage had caused him to sell his home and accept despair. I didn’t want to end up like him! I didn’t want to move away from Long Island and I definitely didn’t want to disappoint my Father. So, I woke the next morning and begged my Dad to take me fishing off the North Fork as that seemed like the logical first step towards figuring out if I was ever going to be a quintessential man, or if I was pre-destined to be nothing more than a strange gatherer. Contrary to his reputation as a person inclined to do anything, my Father tried to passively persuade me to abandon the idea of deep-sea fishing. He suggested that I invite a friend and that we take a trip to Splish Splash. In spite of my love for the Versailles of water parks, I vehemently expressed my interest in trying out a new hobby. Upon discovering that my unbreakable Mother could not join us as she gets violently seasick, he quickly changed his mind and set a date for father and son to test their sword fishing luck. By the time we reached the boat, the sun had yet to rise and my Father’s coffee breath was as putrid as ever. We rented one pole, purchased some bait and sat were the large burly man instructed us to. To clarify, there were many large burly men on this boat, most had already consumed an adult beverage, or six. As the ship took off, we sat in silence, staring out at the magnificent Long Island Sound. As politely as one can, I slurped what was left of my orange juice and my Father sipped the remnants of his morning coffee, which had to be bitterly cold by now. Without noticing its presence, my Father wiped away a tear that was running down my face. Upon seeing this interaction, our kind burly neighbor offered my Father a beer, which to my nasal delight, he accepted. The man must have thought that I was upset but my Father knew that it was just the wind, once again misrepresenting my emotions. As the boat came to a halt, the volume drastically increased. Bait was being hooked. Lines were being tossed. And before my Father and I could unknot our wire, the burly man beside us had reeled in a spectacular fish. We stared in awe as the agreeable fish dangled with grace. It was evidently in no mood to fight. It even appeared content with its fate. This triumphant catch motivated me to return to divert my attention back to untangling our line. I was ready to be courageous. To make my Father proud. I took a deep breath, placed the worm within the hook, awkwardly lifted the rod and just as we were about to cast off, the man beside us let out a jubilant roar and reeled in his second catch of the day. We placed the rod back in the hole so we could properly appreciate our neighbors dominating performance. I began to believe that maybe luck had something to do with success. That was until the elated man, who had now gathered a crowd around him, embarrassingly revealed that he had only caught a large heap of ordinary seaweed. In order to not get in trouble with the alpha-males, my Father and I returned to our seats. We never touched our pole for the rest of the day. Instead we silently agreed that fishing just wasn’t for us, and happily chose to absorb the beautiful and endless blue that surrounded the two equally strange but overly content gatherers. _ _ Just as I had conceded to the intolerable fall, like the graceful fish dangling on the line, my parachute ballooned opened, causing the violent wind to cease and for my cheeks to retreat back to their normal position. Pleasantly swaying back and forth, I lifted my goggles and hastily abandoned the detailed items from my youthful diatribe. Instead I hummed the song “Memory Motel” and thought about what kind of bagel I wanted to devour for lunch. Upon reaching the landing area, I noticed a grey speck beside my parents who were embarrassingly thrusting their arms in the air, as if I had forgotten what they looked like. I’ll never know for certain, but I hope to believe that the grey speck was a small squirrel, rushing cheerfully to enjoy all that Long Island has to offer.