is what you make it
levying an emotional tax …
as magical as a typical
(Excerpted from “The True Cost of Life in the NBA Bubble” NY Times 9/2/20)
Curly haired Rachel Landau blew a bright pink Bazooka bubble bigger than a basketball.
Just as she paused, wide eyed with pride, to inhale for a final gentle puff
Just as Jenna Maslow prepared to drape black thread around its circumference to gauge and catalogue this momentous achievement
Just as the bell rang
I snatched the Spaulding and broke from the handball game, hurdled the crisscross applesauce witnesses, stabbed my dirty index finger through the heart of Rachel’s accomplishment, and bounced away buoyed by the peal of the girls’ shrieks and shouts.
The hairy chinned lunch aide escorted an inconsolable Rachel Landau to the nurse.
Rachel missed math, music, and a vocabulary test, returning the next morning with her curls shorn. Mrs. Chastain kept me in at recess for three days to write I will not pop bubbles any more! one thousand times.
The girls kicked my shins inside the sliding door wardrobe for more than a week.
The oldies station plays from the blue radio on the Formica counter. Don Ho croons “Tiny Bubbles” in his rich baritone. Grandma’s shoulders dip and sway before the stove, stirring and seasoning chicken soup.
At sixteen Gram was a tap dancer in Vaudeville shows on the Lower Eastside, sipping cocktails, flirting and flouncing her dress, fleecing drunks, she confessed on more than one tipsy occasion, for taxi cab fare instead of a long subway ride home to Brooklyn.
On the Saturday night of a steamy Labor Day weekend I take out the bucket, magic wands, Joy, glycerin, and warm water to assemble the perfect potion for conjuring oversized bubbles.
My buddy and I scramble along the misty street, lean over car hoods, clamber over fences, onto stranger’s stoops, and stop traffic to keep our creations aloft.
Fanning ephemeral spectral spheres is our mantra. We vow to have t-shirts made.
Our wives sip chardonnay on the porch and cackle at our heroic antics.
Our newborn sons sleep soundly in baby seats at their feet.
At 7 months of age our first son, clad in floppy footed pajamas, is razzing, spraying and babbling Dada poetry. His tiny feet and fists flex and clench, alternating spasms of delight and frustration. I understand that this is an important human developmental milestone.
Late afternoon at the Coney Island aquarium, after the daily onslaught of school groups, there is a return to quiet and the steady hum of the hidden pumps, to the rhythmic rolling and receding of the waves on the nearby shore.
We traditionally transition through the Technicolor coral reef display, absorb the colors: the clown fish, jacks, butterflies, rays, tiers of vibrant anemones.
Then it’s an anticipatory stroll to the beluga tank.
I hoist my young son on to the ledge of the thick glass window and wave to catch the cetacean’s eye.
When Cut Tail arrives on the other side of the pane I wave again, short, staccato arcs, like a conductor.
The beluga fills its melon and unleashes a steady stream of bubbles from its blowhole. My son channels the surge of emotion by stomping his feet and laughing like a dolphin.
I gesture again.
The whale, nodding and ostensibly smiling, releases a series of bubbles from its mouth directly at the window.
Cut Tail clicks and squeals. So do we; our little trinity.
Again and again.
In early September heat or bundled against biting January winds, until the voice on the crackly loudspeaker urges us home.
I wondered back then, how long can a creature that relies on echolocation swim, blow bubbles, and still smile while living in a circular, concrete tank before suffering serious psychological damage?
This brutal winter I wield those same wands plunged into a different bucket of Joy, glycerin, and warm water: dipping, lifting, opening, releasing …
dipping, lifting, opening, releasing …
a riverside Tai chi step and roll.
The formations freeze, crystalize, and drift downstream, iridescent with promise, before they implode and melt into the current.
Jeffrey G. Moss was born and bred in Brooklyn. After 32 years urging 13/14 year olds to craft their worlds he is branching out and attempting to follow some of his own advice.