I rather like to think of time as identical to the Ocean, and our life as a journey across that infinite Ocean. So today I visited Palm Beach, Florida 33480, where I lived 15-16 years ago. My son Charlie was born at St. Mary’s Hospital in West Palm Beach, on August 23, 1992, the night that Hurricane Andrew as blowing and Elena and I lived at 223 Atlantic “on the island.” Charlie was baptized at the Church of Bethesda by the Sea on the Feast of the Epiphany, 1993. I worked at 301 Clematis at the Federal Courthouse in West Palm Beach, for the Honorable Kenneth L. Ryskamp, a U.S. District Judge who really was honorable, unlike 95% of the judges I’ve ever met since (state or Federal).
Today I walked by the beach a block and a half from the apartment where we used to live, the same beach where my son took his own first steps in sand, and first played in sand before he could walk, and I walked by the swimming pool where Elena and I used to take him for nighttime swims with German waterwings or “Schwimmflugel.”
Today, May 11, 2008, was the 28th anniversary of my graduation at McAlister Auditorium from the College of Arts & Sciences at Tulane University in New Orleans, on which day I got up on the stage and sang the Star Spangled Banner, and got lots of compliments…it was a nice day (May 11, 1980). How much water I’ve crossed since then. Today was also Mother’s Day, and 223 Atlantic Avenue was where Elena and I and Charlie celebrated Elena’s first day as Mother’s Day. What an amazing and a happy day that was, Mother’s day 1993….what oceans of heartache and harship and sorry lay ahead, until today, when my 15 year old son Charlie called me as I was touring around the island, as I was literally tripping down memory lane…literally washing my feet in the oceans and sands of time… Elena wasn’t here today. She and Charlie were in Austin eating at the Macaroni Grill at the Arboretum with Aunt Alex and Nathan—I hope they had a good time, but I wouldn’t know. I wonder if they thought about the sands and salt waters that wash away everything, eventually…
On May 11, 1980, I was in New Orleans with my mother Alice and grandmother Helen. They were staying at the Hotel Monteleone, a nice old hotel in the French Quarter, which was their customary stopping place in New Orleans after the old St. Charles Hotel where another Maya Sylvanus Griswold Morley used to stay was torn down. We were all (my mother and grandmother and I) very happy together back then, happy with the occasion of graduation anyhow, even though my grandfather had just died. Helen had a beautiful necklace. It was the last major event of our lives we shared together outside of Dallas. My grandfather had just died February 18, 1980—just a little bit too soon, before the explosion in computer websites and technology which would have served to make people like him immortal, famous, their careers well-documented and remembered.
Just under half way in our Ocean voyage between 1980 and 2008, back then in 1992-1993, when Elena and I lived in Palm Beach 33480, I thought I had a certain fairly glorious future in front of me in the law, and that nothing would ever stand in the way of it happening. Well, how little did I know that my education, far from being over, was only just beginning. I have had a very interesting life in the law, to be sure, but it has not been very glorious in any conventional sense, au tout contraire—most of my fellow students would probably consider me a disgrace and a pariah—but I feel that way about some of them, such as, for example, Gene Scalia….so I guess it’s a wash….
As we cross the Ocean of time, we gather seashells to remember and mark our way, like the breadcrumbs and pebbles in Hansel & Grettel. I gathered a couple of dozen seashells today, as I always used to do along that little stretch at the corner of the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and the Atlantic Ocean.
So much has changed almost everywhere in the United States since 1992, but really, almost nothing in Palm Beach proper really has, except apparently that Bradley’s is no longer Bradley’s but something else. My favorite restaurant Testa’s is still there, as is Charley’s Crab on A1A south of Worth Avenue. I suppose the rich old neighborhoods are under a lot more pressure to preserve memories and less pressure to change than other places—Harvard Square in Cambridge 02138 is another example—although an exception to this rule, Highland Park in Dallas 75205 has quite simply changed too radically to be recognized anymore.
Fifteen years ago, all the seeds of the present debacle in America had most definitely been planted, but the weeds had not grown quite as rampant. I was SO unbelievably innocent then, and even though we had all watched very comfortably as Waco (Mr. Carmel) burned in April, at the Judge’s Chambers, I don’t think any of us really realized that this event was the harbinger of a spiral of despair in American history that was going to culminate on 9/11/01, and the weeks, months, and years thereafter.
Securitized mortgages first came into my consciousness at about that stage of my life, when I worked briefly for Cadwalader, Wickersham, & Taft (then home office 100 Maiden Lane, in New York City), and Cadwalader was, in essence, the pioneer-cabin birthplace of these science fiction-type “investment vehicles” which, alone, have done so much to destroy any vestiges of an honest economy and monetary system.
Palm Beach is right by the ocean, so it’s insulated from the stifling humidity that’s characteristic of almost every other place in Florida. Palm Beach houses don’t have to be torn down every few years, so one doesn’t go into traumatic culture shock by visiting there, even after 14 ½ years. Our old apartment building looks the same, even looking in the front door through the lobby, as it did in my son’s first year of life. The beach sands and clear ocean water look and feel the same. Everywhere else there’s been a whirlwind of money-motivated change. Money-motivated stability and lack of change is almost refreshing by comparison.
Seashells that we collect, the sole artifacts of time and the ocean, are likewise unchanging and immutable, and these gifts of the sea are also unchanging in their value, and in their cost, rather like human souls. Everything created by humans is changing, but some things, things of unusual status like at least the outward aspect (and probably the internal structure and content) of houses, churches, restaurants and small apartment buildings in Palm Beach, the old buildings of Harvard Square and Harvard Yard, like the Holy Bible, change very slowly.