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Simple Pleasures

Aug 22, 2023

So it ends, this oven of a day, hot even in the mountains, in a cove at a large lake, the shore lined with cottonwoods. There is a dirt parking area – filled on a Monday, testament to the heat – at the side of an old abandoned highway. A short stroll down the cracked asphalt leads to the water's edge.

The road disappears into the lake. Until the marinas were built, it served as a temporary boat ramp when the reservoir was first filled. Now, the road is blockaded with large boulders and only human-powered craft are allowed: kayaks, SUPs, canoes, air mattresses, inflatable alligators, inner tubes. And swimmers.

With errands dispatched by early evening, there was time for either a bike ride or a good swim. Given the dearth of local swimming holes, and the shortness of the season in which it's warm enough to swim, and the fact that it was still stinking hot, heat rising in waves, the choice was easy.

The day's work started in town, tending to some perennial flower beds. In anticipation of the sun's onslaught, all the accouterments of the season were along: cooler with ice and lots of cold water, long-sleeved lightweight cotton shirt, wide-brimmed straw hat, sunscreen gooped on with a spatula, bandana for the neck.

Bandanas became regular wardrobe features in the carpentering days many years ago, when mortality was first accepted as a certainty, with the aim of delaying having to have any cancerous chunks of flesh carved off. The colorful bits of cloth were a source of great amusement to fellow nail-bangers, a sometimes-not-short-on-opinion gaggle.

“Hey Joe, sure is a pretty bandana ya got there. What are you, anyway, gay cowboy or what?” These guys were hilarious. “Nice jeans ya got there, hoss. And, um, ya sure do have a pretty mouth.” They laughed so hard, they didn't stop guffawing on the inhale, resulting in a sort of snorting laugh. Pig-snort laughing.

Thus was born devotion to the Gay Cowboy Anti-Melanoma Device. Many colors are kept handy, laundered and folded, ready to go. You take one off at the end of the day, dirt-streaked, crusty, traced with the salty white lines of dried sweat, and you know two things: You've earned your day's bread, and you're not putting that disgusting thing back on until it's been washed.

Not much truck was given the heckling of fellow workers, anyway, an alarming percentage of whom, should the Queen of England care to offer them Veuve Clicquot in Waterford crystal, would bellyache that it wasn't Bud in a long-neck bottle. Loud, opinionated, know-it-all, stubborn, myopic. Dime a dozen.

Another good thing about bandanas: During the height of the most recent pandemic, you could pull one up over your face and hang it on your nose like Jesse James, walk into a bank, ask for money, receive it, and walk right on out into the sunshine and no one would call the cops. Happy days.

And now, still in the beginning of a new century, bandanas are breaking free of old, traditional, paisley prints. It's not just red bandanas anymore, and ones with cowboy scenes – lassoing broncs, 10-gallon hats, Lazy “S” branding irons, enamel coffee pots on mesquite campfires. There are pink ones, cornflower-blue ones, black ones – avoided, for obvious reasons, in mid-summer – and the day is keenly anticipated when kerchiefs with all sorts of sayings that lean a lot more to the hippy side of things than the redneck are available, as they already are on socks. A recent sampling:

“I'm not bossy … I'm the boss!”

“This meeting is BULLSH*T.”

“Super F*cking Awesome!!!”

“This grandma has seen some sh*t.”

And my personal favorite, featuring an adorable pigtailed girl hugging her little shiny-eyed filly around the neck, with the caption: “I hate everyone too.”

Until this day comes, we wait patiently and sweatily, draped in the old standbys.

During the course of the work day, the shady sides of the job site were engaged with relish, but, tasks completed there, a move out into the full brunt of the sun could not be avoided. When the heat of the afternoon was at its fiercest and became uncomfortable, memories of last winter were forced into the brain, of snowdrifts piled against the front door, of digging a tunnel-like path out to the driveway time and again, shoveling snow and more snow, backs sore from shoveling snow, scraping windshields of ice, driving in white-out blizzards on slippery roads, and realize that maybe things aren't so bad. Quit whining and drink some water – the best drinks are long, cold draughts straight from the garden hose – and pour some over the head. At least we're not down in the lowlands, where it's absolutely sizzling.

And which is exactly where I head, mid-afternoon, for an overdue supply run, for bedding plants, grass and wildflower seed, mulch and fertilizer. Love that turkey poop.

A dozen green chili tamales from Esmerelda's Ranchito, procured just as they were closing for the day, round out the cargo. To the lake then, for a leisurely half-hour swim along the shore, elementary-back-stroking to look at the sky, breast-stroking and then side-stroking, an old favorite daydreamy way to move through the water with minimal effort, learned many years ago at Lake Waushakem.

First, though, upon arrival at the lake, at a sun-dappled spot along the rimrock of the shore, a cool breeze off the water washes over the skin, giving a preview of what is to come. Wading waist deep into the lake, turning to face the sun, to feel the heat, then, without thinking, diving and slicing into a cool liquid world, a crystalline explosion of pleasure at first mildly shocking, then soothing, a weightless place that brings relief, redemption and life.

Sean can be reached at: [email protected].

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