Dan Rattiner's Stories

Slowing Down South: Clearing My Head in Virgin Gorda

I have fled the Hamptons and am in the Caribbean for 10 days. There’s little to do here on the island of Virgin Gorda. We have books to read, meals to eat, lagoons to swim and snorkel in, beds to sleep in. We awaken to the sound of roosters crowing from the backyards of the small homes in the nearby village of Spanish Town. A soft breeze flutters the palm trees. Occasionally, a tropical rainstorm whooshes through. It lasts 10 minutes, sending a downpour of water onto the property, after which the flowers and leaves sparkle in the sunshine for a while. It’s amazing how one’s mind is cleared of the effluvia and worry of things back home while enjoying all of this.

My wife brought an iPad with her, which she stowed for the first few days. I brought my laptop so I can write my usual bag of articles for the newspaper even while away. I spend an hour a day doing that. I like it. And then I’ll turn on the WiFi and ship the story silently back home.

On the seventh day my wife discovered she could get podcasts and streaming content from WNYC, the New York City public radio station. Here she was, that morning, sitting at the table out on the deck under the trees, listening to a political correspondent talk about an upcoming election in a small voting district in Florida, where the Republicans and Democrats are spending tens of millions of dollars to win a seat that is up for grabs in the House of Representatives.

“It really doesn’t matter, because there is no way the Republicans are going to lose control of the House in this election anyway, but the important thing is how the politicians consider that the outcome of this vote is a good marker for the future when it comes to how is perceived by the general public.”

And I thought, yes, maybe we should make a small donation and then call some rich friends we know and try to do something about this. Sound the alarm. Try to win that seat for the Democrats. We can’t let the Republicans wrest more seats away. The House could get completely out of hand.

And then I thought, Why the hell am I thinking this? Why the hell do I want to worry about every little thing that gets put in front of me? As for my wife, after this, she took out her cell phone—which she had stowed away and not used (because we are on vacation) except to once a day call the kids—and proceeded to call the company that is servicing the broken dishwasher (which they tried and failed to fix three weeks ago), for which now, she was told, they had sent a bill for a second visit, leaving it on the counter, even though this second visit did not result in the fixing of the dishwasher either.

They had been sent the wrong part, they told her. And they didn’t know that until they tried to put it in. So we have to pay again for a second service call.

Damn these dishwasher repair people.

Last evening, just before sunset, we ate dinner at a restaurant that overlooked the ocean, but off to the side next door we also enjoyed watching a game of volleyball being played on a dirt field by several local families. There were dogs running around, children as young as eight playing on both teams, lots of cheering and clapping and whooping it up, strong young men and women at the net, several grandmothers—one of whom got high-fived after a great save—and, as near as I could see, more people on one team than on the other. The dust flew as people dove for the ball.

My conclusion about all this is as follows.

There are a variety of things that happen in the world.

There are facts. There is the important stuff. What is happening in the Ukraine, what is happening in the South China Sea, where a plane may have gone down. These are important to worry about.

There is recreation. Running, swimming, playing tennis, doing triathlons.

There are important things we have to decide and experts who can give us information to help us make those decisions.

There is family. Prizes won by children. Birthdays. Mothers and fathers. Grandparents and crazy uncles. Giving help to those in trouble.

There are sorrows. Sickness, accidents, death.

There is entertainment—comedians, singers, dancers, Broadway shows to see, radio plays, books and other amusements.

There is nature to enjoy—beautiful forests and beaches, birds and fishes, cliffs and sunsets and full moons.

There is just plain fun—telling jokes, playing tricks on people, watching the Super Bowl, dancing, jumping rope, being crazy.

There is love. Hot crazy love. Long beautiful love that is shared for a lifetime.

And there is prayer, and hope and worship.

And then there are these damned idiots of no particular consequence who tell you that you should now worry about an inconsequential election that has yet to take place, in a tiny district far away, and what might happen if one side or the other wins or loses.

And then there are these goddamned dishwasher repairmen. And people who over and over again send out the wrong part.

Many years ago, one February, my wife and I spent six weeks in Asia, enjoying the fascinating cultures of Japan and China. We came back home into a blizzard. A friend picked us up at JFK around midnight and drove us to the large oceanfront house at an isolated section of Sagaponack beach we had rented that winter. Our friend helped us carry in luggage, then drove off. And then, after he left, we discovered the electricity was out.

In spite of this, we decided to stay. There was a way we could get through the night. We had a master bedroom with a heavy wooden door, a stone fireplace, and lots and lots of wood. I could build a fire and I did. Cozy and warm, we climbed into bed and fell asleep. But, in the middle of the night, I found myself too excited to sleep further.

Alongside the bed was a big tote box filled with the mail that had accumulated while we were away. With nothing better to do there in the bedroom, I carried this box over to the floor alongside a club chair and began to go through it. I found myself sorting the mail into two distinct piles. One pile was for the real mail, the letters and bills and checks being sent me that would have to be dealt with in the next few days. I read one letter from a man in Manhattan who wanted to buy Dan’s Papers. There was another letter from a man I had met in Hong Kong, offering to sell me the
English-language weekly newspaper he ran there. Wow. I could change my life. Well, I’ll think about this later.

The other pile, the same size, was all the junk mail that had been delivered—the catalogues and brochures and requests and advertising pieces, all of which were intended to get me to part with funds for things I heretofore had not considered. It was amazing. There was the important stuff. And there was the stupid stuff.

When I finished sorting the mail, I looked over and saw that the fire was going down again, and so I scooped up the junk mail from the floor, walked it across the bedroom to the fireplace and threw it in.

Then I walked back to the chair I had been sitting in and looked down again at the other pile of mail. It was the stupid stuff, the junk mail, still there.

Dan on Vacation in Virgin Gorda
Dan on Vacation in Virgin Gorda, Photo: Dan Rattiner


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