Shoreline

Cover art for Shoreline blog post.

Space Walk:

The things Mark Philipson hadn’t done were beginning to add up: sitting in the booth by the window, sipping hot coffee while waiting for breakfast, reclining in the padded chair and putting the 3d glasses on as the opening credits of the movie came on screen, walking from store to store in the mall, looking for the best deals on toaster ovens or boxer shorts.

The Covid-19 pandemic had altered his lifestyle.

In the PPE (Pre-Pandemic Era), Mark tried to walk every day. He recalled his last walk clearly. It was during his space station spotting phase. When the NASA web site announced the times and locations when the station would be visible, Mark checked the sighting coordinates. If they were in the good zone and the skies were clear, he planned the walk around the information.

Mark thought about the last time he saw the station. The memory reel rolled in the projection booth in his mind, pushing image sequences out of the stereoscopic lenses of his eyes.

He left his neighborhood behind and stepped into darkness. Mark was in the mitigation area, what he called The Land that Time Forgot. Being in the natural environment made him think about a quote by Edgar Rice Burroughs: “If you write one book, it will probably be bad, if you write a hundred, the odds are in your favor.”

Words to live by.

Mark stepped off the residential sidewalk and pulled his penlight off the clip hanging from his belt loop. Released from its magnetic holder, the twin LED bulbs cut a hole in the wall of night, bathing the sidewalk ahead in moving light.

There were no street lamps in the mitigation area.

Birds squawked in the dense tree line a few feet to the right. Gators grunted in the shallow water on the other side of the wide bank to the left.

Mark stopped when he reached the halfway point between his development and the one due west and stood at the access area used by county maintenance crews. They’d launch air boats here and spray herbicide along the banks of the canals. He thought about how he did it when he was a kid: Mark stood on the sea wall, hauling in clumps of weed on a stiff rake. It was a triple-win situation. He earned some cash, supplied his mom with compost for her rose garden, and picked the craw fish out for bait.

No clouds drifted by. Mark checked his phone. He’d timed it perfectly, two minutes left until the station appeared.

This morning, the international space station would come into view at 18° above true North for twelve seconds.

Mark waited. Using the compass app on his phone, he pointed the digital needle to zero and faced the dark expanse of the Everglades.

He didn’t need to do this. Crossing the Gulf stream—from Port Everglades to Bimini—then returning on a reciprocal heading had burned the cardinal points of the compass rose into his brain.

It killed time.

Then he saw it.

Light from the rising sun hit the space station. From the vantage point on the ground, a bright globe came out of nowhere and streaked across the sky.

Then it was gone.

Above the Water:

Mark’s mind rolled over countless walks until it homed in on one and brought it to the front.

He was in the parking lot at the beach, putting money in the meter. The first thing he saw when he crossed over the wooden sand dune bridge was a woman putting brush to canvas. She worked fast, roughing in the vertical pylons of Dania Pier.

Mark headed south; with each step, the sun climbed higher and a west wind increased until high swells offshore rippled across the horizon.

Ahead, a man entered the surf, a short board under one arm and a bar in his free hand. In one motion, he dropped the board into the shallow water at his feet and stepped on. On the beach, a woman let go of an elliptical sail. The onshore breeze inflated it in an instant, pulling the rigging attached to the handlebar tight.

The board cut a wake across the waves. What happened next took a few seconds to register: the board rose out of the water, the hydrofoil skegg slicing across the surface.

Mark watched the rider maneuver over the sandbars and then run parallel to the shore. The rider was out of sight in minutes. He tried to imagine what it felt like to be holding onto a sail and standing on a board flying over the water, but couldn’t come up with anything.

Marooned:

As Mark continued walking in the soft sand moistened by the cool surf, he saw something in the distance.

It looked like a telephone pole had toppled over. That couldn’t be, Florida Power & Light didn’t erect poles on the beach.

You know, that looks like a mast, he thought. With each step closer, the cylindrical shape, the metallic texture, and heavy rigging confirmed his suspicions.

Mark stood and stared at the sailboat. He figured it was a 30 footer. Somehow, it ended up halfway up Johnson Street beach in Hollywood.

He tried to picture what might’ve happened.

After polishing off half a fifth of dark rum, the captain passed out.

While he slept, bands of thunderstorms moved in from offshore. Lightning forked across the tall clouds. Wind whipped the waves. The sailboat’s single anchor came free of the rocks and the flukes dredged a trench across the sand.

The captain, still drunk, was woken by a grinding noise. He sobered up in a second when he was tossed out of his bunk. When he went on deck and saw he was on the beach, he vomited over the side.

Mark shot some photos with his phone. Walking around the port side to get a different perspective, he saw a sticker pasted to the hull. By order of the maritime commission, the sailboat had been declared condemned and would be removed in five days.

Using one of the photos, Mark attempted to build a composite image blending the beach scene with the Normandy invasion.

For reasons he couldn’t remember, the project never got past the initial layout stages.

Walk thoughts faded. Mark was back in pandemic real time.

Viral Signs

Mask of Sign.

The Line:

Even though Mark Philipson left the house 20 minutes early he was the third person in line. He wouldn’t be getting a prize for being the first shopper in the door during Whole Foods Market’s special hours thing.

The guy at the head of the line coughed, causing a ripple effect that made the second guy step back. Mark moved until his back touched the base of a column. Not a problem, the social distance between the shoppers was still maintained.

The second guy in line turned to Mark: “I see you’re wearing a mask.”

As Mark drew a breath to answer, the word mask triggered a deep thought process spanning decades: He was fourteen years old and working a summer job in the memorial inscription department at a monument company, applying cut stencils to granite grave markers and marble crypt fronts then sandblasting the lettering and designs.

One morning the boss handed out headsets, goggles, and face masks to the inscription department. OSHA regulations. Mark was okay with it. He’d rather be in a shop than outside on the setting crew.

On the exhale, electrical impulses ricocheted across time: he was 47, working on the jet engine inner air seals resurfacing line for the aviation division of a large corporation.

During a break, the team leader called Mark into his office. The general manager was in there too. Corporate headquarters had approved the request to build a facility dedicated to removal of the material used to mask the oil intake ports on the inner air seals. Mark worked on that line, prepping parts for the detonation gun. It was also his job to clean the parts for the grinders. The chemical to be used in the process was carcinogenic and explosive. Mark would be wearing a full hazmat suit.

The memory blast faded when Mark said, “Hell, I’d drill two holes in a bucket with a keyhole saw and wear it on my head if I had to.”

He was no stranger to protective gear.

The Switch:

The second guy just finished chuckling when the first guy reared his head back and let out a massive sneeze, misting the window.

The second guy shook his head. In a loud voice he said, “Jesus … what an animal.”

Mark kept his mouth shut. Florida was a concealed carry and stand your ground state. You didn’t know what was in a pocket or a purse and you didn’t know who was itching to pull a trigger.

“It’s okay, man … he can’t hear a word I’m saying,” the second guy said.

Mark still didn’t get it. His mind was still on Def Con III as he stared at drops of mucous sliding down the glass.

“He’s deaf … I saw him signing on the phone earlier.”

“Oh.”

“Listen, I’m going to move behind you. I’ve got to get away from this guy. My wife has cancer and I came to get some stuff. I’d leave if I didn’t have to get …” The guy checked his phone then continued, “Brahmi, Ashwagandha, and Sanjeevani. I ordered the herbs online for pickup at this location. ”

“I understand.”

Now Mark was the second guy. He pressed the metal band at the bridge of the nose, pushing the mask tighter against his face.

As he stood there waiting, Mark wondered. He’d been doing a lot of wondering since the start of this thing. Wondering if dryness in the back of his mouth would become a burning sore throat or a single cough would turn into hard hacking that didn’t let up. Would it begin deep in the lungs and reverberate through his skull?

He’d read the data, trying to pay attention to verifiable sources and avoid questionable socialized media. Reports from China indicated older men—especially those with underlying health issues and smokers—had the highest death rate.

At 66, Mark was definitely older. He didn’t smoke or drink. That was in his favor.

Being a baby boomer, he’d carried Hep C in his blood for a long time. He didn’t find out about it until he was applying for insurance and his blood came back positive.

He ended up at the gastroenterologist’s office. His blood count came back with a viral load of 5,000,000 parts per milliliter.

The doctor said at this rate he’d probably need a new liver in 20 years. He had two options: do nothing and see what happens or begin a treatment plan.

Mark went with Door #2.

For six months, Mark administered injections of Interferon once a week and took one tablet of Rebetol every day.

Mark had a good run. By the end of the course his viral load had gone from 5,000,000 parts per milliliter to undetectable.

The incident was used as the call to action in Bull-hearted.

Thinking about his bout with Hep gave Mark a shot of self confidence. It was still early in the pandemic. The country hadn’t reached any grim milestones yet. Federal and local governments hadn’t issued any mandates about masks. If this guy wanted to go without a face covering and spread bacteria over everything he got near it was his right as an American.

The Sign:

Mark saw activity in the store. Employees flooded the aisles, stocking shelves and setting up displays.

It looks like they’ll be opening up soon, Mark told himself.

This was confirmed when a team member came up to the window. She held up five fingers.

The guy in front pulled out his phone and raised it. A FaceTime window came up. An older man appeared on screen. They started signing.

Mark wondered what they were talking about even though he was sure it was probably food related.

In his head, Mark played out the scene on the sidewalk.

The guy in the phone used his hands to ask, “What do you call tea with ice in it?”

The guy on the other side signed, “Iced tea.”

Phone guy: ”What do you call coffee with ice in it?”

First guy: “Iced coffee.”

Phone guy: “What do you call ink with ice in it?”

First guy: “Iced ink.”

The guy in the phone pointed, nodded, and covered his nose.

Mark saw the bit on network television while watching Billy the Kid versus Dracula on Svengoolie.

The doors opened. Mark pulled his license out of his top pocket and showed it to the team member on the inside.