There Goes That Man and His Kite!
I bought myself a kite today. A red one, just a normal, diamond kite shape, with a long red tail. The Neopia Central Toy Shop had other, fancier kites, shaped like Beekadoodles and Droolik, famous villains and heroes and weird multicoloured box conglomerations, but I thought the simple, traditional red kite might stir up nostalgic thoughts of picnics and memories of childhood and whatnot.
The shopkeeper tried to direct me toward the more 'elaborate' ones.
"I've sold quite a few of those Kazeriu kites," I was at the checkout counter when the orange Lupess said this. She pointed behind me to a gigantic, almost freakishly realistic replica of a Shenkuuvian petpet pinioned to the wall, its massive wavelike tail ready to catch the wind or the unsuspecting eye of any innocent passerby. "I bet your kids would love one of those!"
No doubt about it, any kid over the age of eight or nine would be in awe of the magnificent, majestic, teal and purple beast. Any younger than that and they would run away crying, nightmares sufficiently fuelled for the next week. I told the shopkeeper yeah, my kids would definitely be all over it. If I had kids.
"Oh, so you mean..."
Of course the auburn-haired lady's first response — a reflex, I'm sure, like recoiling your hand from a hot stove — was to ask if the kite was going to be a gift. I don't know if she meant to say it or if her augmenting curiosity just bubbled out her mouth. After all, why should she care who purchases her merchandise, and for what purpose?
I gave her a cheerful nope!, sounding like a little boy, possibly on purpose, probably giving voice to her perception of me at that moment. I almost said 'Hopefully' or 'We'll see', but I really am too old to be trying to be cryptic and cool. And I ought to be too mature to enjoy trying.
The name's Ben Fitzgerald. I'm a brown Ixi, in case that's an important detail I should include. I'm forty-six, an age that could be considered the beginning of the climb to the top of the hill, or the primrose prime of life, depending on who wears it. Or at least I will be in a week, eight days to be exact. I count the days until my birthday because it makes me feel young.
I don't have kids — I wasn't just fooling with the shopkeeper. What I do have, however, is enough to keep me busy. It's a particular interest in society, a hankering to learn about people, as individuals and how they interact, how they view others and how others can influence them. I have a notebook where I will be recording my findings, and, now, I have a red kite.
Tomorrow, weather permitting, will be my first flight. My area of focus: a well-visited park in Neopia Central. I haven't flown a kite in years...
This should be fun.
28th day of Relaxing
Neopia Central in the park is Neopia Central at its finest. And a Neopia Central park in summertime is fineness incarnate. It's a flourish of green leaves amid steel city blocks, rolling grass that wipes out all memory of concrete when you walk through it in shorts and feel the blades brush against your shins. It's a light read on a park bench, a quiet afternoon under an oak tree disturbed by screaming children. It's cherry popsicles and frisbee, Hubert's Hot Dogs in a cart, lemonade and softball games, the smell of flowers and other people's lunches; and the continuous, humming, thrumming buzz of a thousand voices, a thousand people enjoying the same idyllic day in the same idyllic place, carefree conversation intermingled with birdsong.
Did I make it sound beautiful enough? I love me a Neopia Central park in the summertime.
I set my backpack down on the ground and unzipped it. I travel lightly: a cold bottle of water wrapped in a thermal ice pack to keep it cold, some money for a hot dog later, and my kite.
I attached the string — apparently they don't come already attached. Fortunately the breeze favoured me today and all I had to do for the initial take off was let go, no running or flinging my entire being into the wind required.
Once it was up there... I didn't feel like I was on the ground anymore. I don't know how to explain it (My eloquence is limited to the sensory description of parks), but, with my eyes glued to the simple piece of red fabric, watching as it lifted and plummeted and swayed in the breeze, realizing that its every movement depended on my every movement — well, mine and the wind's — I almost felt like I was... up there with it. Like I was the pilot and not just the ground control. I had this weird vision in my head involving my soul leaping out of my body, sliding up the string and into the kite. But I know I'm going to cringe reading this back later, so I think I'll refrain from, uhh, further elaboration.
I stood there for a few minutes, just holdin' on, getting the hang of things. A few Neopians nearby watched me. It's hard to miss a bright red diamond in the sky, a red fish in a blue sea, a red bird with no wings but one heckuva tail. People smiled. People pointed. But it wasn't my pretty kite that was the object of all their attention. It was me.
Neopets who walked past made comments about it being a perfect day for kite flying, or the like. One guy, a shadow Kougra around the same age as me, chuckled and asked if I was having fun. I told him the truth: Yeah, I was having a lot of fun.
An old couple, a squat royal Mynci and a lanky silver Nimmo, were the first Pets to come up and make conversation with me. I knew it was only a matter of time. When a person does something deemed unusual by the public in a public place, people naturally gravitate toward them. The 'unusual one' is a magnet, and human nature can't resist the pull.
They came strolling down the path, hand in hand, stopped under a tree, sipped their beverages which were probably iced coffee and stared at me and my kite very intently for several moments. Then the wife, the Mynci, ventured to approach the alien being, her Nimmo husband in close pursuit.
"Good for you!" were the first words they greeted me with, issuing from the Mynci's wide and self-assured mouth, "getting out on a day like today and flying a kite! More people should be like you." I could've asked what this meant, but if I had it would have been purely for the sake of saying something. I knew she thought I was strange — probably something to do with the complete and utter, glaring lack of children with me. If I'd at least been in the company of another adult I wouldn't have looked so singular (No pun intended). But it was the fact that I was by myself. It magnified my strangeness.
She seemed to like this strange, though. She seemed impressed with it. "Just thought I'd try something new," I nonchalantly replied.
"Nothing keeps us young like trying something new! As you get older, your brain starts to atrophy. Shaking up your life by trying new things can stimulate the brain, and forestall the degeneration of tissue."
...Wow. She had intended this as a compliment. I think?
"Well, hopefully this kite will save my brain from going to total mush." I'll have to remember to note this on my 'Hugest Insults that are Supposed to be Compliments' page. Couldn't she at least have waited five or fifteen years to allude to my impending senility?
The Mynci smiled complacently, as if to say, 'It just might save you yet!'
Meanwhile the Nimmo husband had been shielding his eyes from the sun with his hand and peering up at the sky, a glimmer of quiet fascination over his otherwise stoic face. "In Shenkuu they have a whole festival for this," he said at length, extending a long, skinny Nimmo arm in the direction of my kite.
"Yes, the Shenkuu Kite Festival!" chimed The Charmer. "We saw it on our honeymoon, and pretty soon we're going to be seeing it again. Let me tell you, it is simply stunning."
The couple proceeded to tell me about this Shenkuu Kite Festival; the experience on their honeymoon forty-five years ago which was unforgettable, and their joy and brimming anticipation at the prospect of their trip to Shenkuu booked for next month — just in time for this year's festival!
"Well, I hope it's every bit as incredible as you remember it."
All the while my kite swirled and danced higher into the sky. The wind was strong and true.
The Mynci's name was Anne and the Nimmo's name was Philip. Anne was the talker — she spoke in a loud voice, she apparently knew something about everything and she wasn't shy about sharing her vast expanse of knowledge. We all know people like Anne. Philip was quiet as a Miamouse. His sentences often trailed off, leaving them for his wife to finish. He seemed to be perfectly content to allow his wife to take the floor, but he got his two cents in too, occasionally, whenever Anne would let him.
I'll admit I was kind of on my guard against Anne after the, um, striking first impression she made, but overall I enjoyed talking to the elderly couple. It was easy to infer that my kite was a symbol to them, of youth and a partnership that would transcend the ages, and a lifetime of love. It was an honour to know that something I did could evoke in them such positive thoughts.
When it was time for them to head home to cook dinner, they said they hoped to see me again.
"Will you be here again, doing this?" Anne motioned to the turning plastic handle in my fists, constantly paying out string.
"Oh, yes, I'll be here every time it's windy."
Ha, I think they took it as a joke.
1st day of Swimming
It was an even busier day at the park this Saturday. It was busy on Wednesday when I was there, don't get me wrong! But on Saturday the families flock for some good ol' fashioned summer fun. Mom and Dad are off from work, kids give their babysitters and day camp councillors a break, and babysitters and day camp councillors come to the park to seek solace in a herd of friends their own age. I watched a little Kau tyke's mouth gape open today when he literally ran into his swim teacher engaged in a game of football. The teacher was the one playing football, that is. And honestly, I'd bet 100k it was the teacher who ran into him.
I made my home base in the same spot as Wednesday, dropped my backpack, unzipped, drew out the kite. The wind wasn't as strong this afternoon, thus I needed a running start. Around me, three families had set up picnics: one west of me, one east, and one, uh, northeast. Children giggled and pointed, adults turned quirked eyebrows to one another and nervously urged the kiddies to keep eating. All of them let their ice cream melt, their sausage go cold, and the ants help themselves to their meals the moment Ben Fitzgerald ran by.
Johnny, don't look!
After finishing his al fresco supper, a boy, a spotted Gelert around eight, came bounding up to me, huge smile spread up to his eyeballs like the ketchup on his face. "That looks like fun! Is it?" He looked at me almost pleadingly.
"Yes it is fun. The wind's being a jerk, though."
The boy stood back and watched the kite, craning his neck no matter where he moved under the big sky, as the red diamond trembled at the end of its string every time a stronger gust of wind came, only to take a sudden sharp drop and come plummeting to the ground when it died down just as quickly.
"Shoot!" It crash-landed right near the northeast picnic. The family made their best efforts at being inconspicuous as they all cowered to the far end of the blanket.
"Can I try flying it, sir?" asked the Gelert pup, the inexorable excitement of disrupting someone's dinner pushing him over the edge.
"Well, alright," I said with a totally feigned tone of reluctance, like he was bothering me. Why? I don't know. Trying out the grumpy old man facade, I guess. "...because you were polite and called me 'sir'."
The total excitement was manifest in his person as he gripped that plastic handle; the pleasure, the delight, the wonder and pride as the kite soared higher and higher into the marbled blue and white sky. Nature must have looked upon that little boy and favoured him.
"I'm good at this, aren't I?"
"Yes you are!" I exclaimed in honest amazement, craning my neck like he did, and with just as little success. "You're great at this!"
The child had been missed. The young sprout had snuck away from the picnic while no one was looking. But now Mama had discovered where he'd gone...
Marcus ran to his mom, beaming wide. He turned around and looked at me, and she looked too. Then the mother walked away, the child slowly, remorsefully following. The family packed up their picnic, and in a few minutes they were gone.
If I had been a kid, the mother wouldn't have said anything. If it had been twenty or fifty years earlier, or if we lived in a small town rather than a metropolis like Neopia Central, she would have come up to me, introduced herself, 'Nice to meet you Mr. Fitzgerald. My son likes your kite.' But in this day and age no one trusts anyone. Maybe with good reason.
In every concerned parent's defence, if I saw a man all by himself flying a kite, I'd be clinging to my children's hands too. Stay away, ya weirdo.
A trio of middle-aged women sauntered by, stared hard, scrunched up their noses and concluded none-too-discreetly amongst themselves that I must be 'challenged'.
I'm challenged, alright! If they had any idea what a challenge this is turning out to be...
4th day of Swimming
Day 3 (sort of?)
The sky was dark and grey when I arrived at the park this afternoon. It had been overcast when I left home, and I thought, Cool, I haven't flown it on a cloudy day yet. But a few minutes after I'd taken the kite out and set it to the wind, the clouds became ominous. The air was thick and damp, the kind of day when you feel like drying off with a towel even though you're not wet. You could smell rain, you could feel it before it started.
The winds started to whip. The few Neopians still around stopped what they were doing, fun come to an abrupt standstill, and made a speedy escape to shelter. An electric Ogrin walking his Dogelfox raced down the paved pathway just as the first raindrops started to fall, heavy-soled shoes pounding on the concrete.
No one noticed me in the tumult. When the storm starts, the primary concern of most is to get number one and family to shelter.
Though it might have been fun to fly a kite in the rain, thunder showers bring lightning.
5th day of Swimming
Day 3 (really)
Happy birthday to me,
Happy birthday to me,
Happy birthday dear Be-en!
Happy birthday to me!
When I read this back on paper it sounds way better in my head than it does when I sing it in real life.
It was a much nicer day at the park today! And no, it didn't just feel that way; not just a reflection of the joy in my heart, kinda thing. What better way to celebrate your forty-sixth birthday than by flying a big, red, happy kite? Amiright?!
I stopped at the Coffee Cave on the way and treated myself to a much-deserved chai frappe. It was kind of hard to hold onto the frappe and the kite handle at the same time, especially when a two-hand-demanding gust came along, but behold, I managed.
I found myself a different home base this time, a spot atop a little knoll — not quite a hill, or not a big hill, more like a raised piece of ground, an earthy platform. From such a vantage point (O such a vantage point!), I could see more of the park than ever before. I could see the different paths and the way they intertwined; the paved concrete and the flattened grass paths and the Neopians who used them, walking, walking Petpets, riding bicycles.
Three teenaged boys — young teenagers, maybe in their first year of high school, a green Lutari, a checkered Grarrl, and a water Kyrii — came tramping my way, and settled down beneath a tree right at the bottom of my mountain.
"Dude, look at that," I overheard one of them say. I realized the kid had no flippin' idea how loud he was being.
"What the--?" The Grarrl, who had been leaning against the tree, sat bolt upright. "Is he totally by himself?"
"Yeah man, he's alone. Lonely old grandpa?"
"He doesn't seem to mind being alone," joined the Lutari. "Chris saw him the other day. Same thing, all by himself flying a kite."
"He doesn't look like a grandpa. He looks like my dad's age." This was the Grarrl. "Do you think he's some kind of kook?"
"Dude, that's a legit kook, alright," chortled the Kyrii. "Look at the smile on his face!"
As the boys had fun at my expense, my smile grew and grew. Why? I don't really know. Maybe just the satisfaction of listening in on a conversation they had no idea I could hear. After going strong for a few minutes, the cute remarks eventually lost their novelty. My kite rose and fell, rose and fell. And every time it would fall I would bend over and pick it up, and toss it into the sky again. The whole time the kids watched me.
The Grarrl looked particularly intrigued.
"It's cool how it just stays up, eh?" the large boy muttered pensively. Almost to himself, it seemed.
"What?" choked the Kyrii. "It keeps falling every time the wind stops."
"Yeah, but it flies pretty good when the wind's blowing. I haven't flown a kite since I was a kid."
"And what are you now?"
"A man, dude."
The conversation went on. It jumped around from 'How does a kite fly, anyway?' (They wanted to know the science behind it. Wind? Pah! Layman's terms!), to the different types of kites, to 'Who invented the first kite?' The in-ter-ested checkered Grarrl was the one to initiate each of these topics.
Then, something happened. The intuitive, benevolent hand of fate intervened, and the kite took a nosedive right in front of the boys' tree.
The Grarrl timidly picked it up and handed it to me. "Here you go."
"Thanks!" I beamed. "Hey, I couldn't help but notice you've been kinda watching me for a while. How would you like to try flying?" I held the handle out to him, gave him my best reassuring smile.
I wish I had been taking pictures and sticking them in my notebook all along, because no words I could use could ever do the bewildered, sobered, appreciative look that came over that young boy's face justice.
He took the handle from me, climbed up to the top of the hill, and I gave the kite a running start, throwing it into the breeze. The Grarrl's friends soon joined us.
"Bro, it's really pulling!"
"It's like fishing, right? Geez, you're letting it get away!"
"Reel it in! You don't want to lose it."
"Dude, it's dragging me down!"
Though they addressed each other almost exclusively as 'dude', 'bro', and 'man', I learned that the Lutari and Kyrii's names were Grayson and Matt, respectively. The Grarrl introduced himself as Ryan. Ryan, King of the Clouds, we called him. He pretended to hate it. Pretended.
I don't know if they still believe flying kites is for children, or kooks, or whatever. I don't know if they ever truly believed it, or if each one just wanted the others to believe they believed it. All I can say is that running around with those kids was the highlight of my birthday. I was the first one to end the fun. If I hadn't had plans to go out with my buddies tonight, or if I'd thought they'd be more understanding of my breaking them, I'm pretty sure all of us would have stayed longer.
9th day of Swimming
In the morning everything is different. Have you ever noticed? When we get up early in the morning, it's usually because we have to be somewhere. We drag ourselves out of bed, go through the motions of our morning ritual. Then we either trudge or run out the door, groggy and resentful of the hard fact that work/school/wherever we're going demands our presence this early; otherwise we're hyped up on a caffeine buzz, jittery, filled with apprehension at the truly terrifying notion that we might be late. Have you ever thought about it?
I have. And I'm as guilty as any. As often as possible though, I try to 'observe' the morning — not necessarily slow down, as that's not always possible, but I try to take notice of the shadows, the dew on the leaves (It's really there, if you look! Not just in poetry!), the Spyder webs that'll be gone long before noon, the worms on the sidewalk, the birds in the trees, the cool in the air, the imbuing silence and calm; drink it up, take it all in.
I had to experience at least one morning at the park. Seven a.m. I rolled out a bed, pulled on a sweatshirt and jeans to protect against said morning cool, toasted a bagel to take with me and was at the park by seven-thirty. I got there way too early. There was hardly anyone around. I sat on the knoll, the one from a few days ago, and ate my bagel all alone, with no chair or even a coffee. Clearly I could've planned this better.
At around eight o' clock, though, the sleepy park began to wake up. First the Petpet walkers, then the elderly commenced the crawl of casual strollers down the paths. On the grass appeared families with preschool-aged children. It seems the morning is the domain of the very old and very young.
The sun climbed higher, the air gradually warmed, and the shadows stretched, strange to think in a few minutes' time they'd be gone almost completely. A runner came sprinting my way, along the flattened grass path next to my knoll. A woman, a Poogle in jogging attire, blonde ponytail swinging, the position of the early sun betraying streaks of grey. When she got closer I could see her fur was cloud. She looked like she could very well have fallen from the sky.
I had the kite up by this point. When she noticed it, the oddest, most disquieted look came over her face. She went pale.
"Good morning," I called out to her first. I normally let them approach me, but... well, she was obviously on her way to say something.
She watched for a moment, then she slowly started to make her way up the hill. But now that we were three feet apart, she didn't say anything. "Perfect day for a kite fly," I initiated. It's the first thing most adults say to me, so...
She smiled and nodded. She stood back and looked up. Though plotting the trajectory of her gaze, I'd say she wasn't looking at the kite.
"I'm sorry," the woman spoke at last, her voice coming out in a shaky, apologetic almost-laugh. "I was just... reminiscing, I guess. My son..." She paused. I waited. "He loves kites."
To be continued…