On a somewhat cloudy but mostly sunny day at Jones Park Marina.
It is 2:35 pm on a lovely, sunny Wednesday afternoon. A nice day to sit and think outside. It seems strange that it’s already the 13th of October. 2022 has flown by, and I’m reminded that it will soon be Christmas, as there are two men, possibly Hispanic, hammering and drilling in an otherwise quiet park, the silence broken only by the intermittent shrieking of the seagulls and the rushing sound of passing cars. The men are working on setting up Christmas light trees on the outer perimeter of the Jones Park Municipal Marina in Gulfport, Mississippi.
White and black unfinished Christmas metal sculptures adorn the park’s street-edge dry grass field.
It rained yesterday, judging by the damp ground and semi-wet planks on the finger piers. The park feels empty, although many cars are in the parking lots. A tall elderly gentleman wearing a pink shirt and khaki shorts is here. He appears to be in his seventies, judging by the slight hunch on his back, the wrinkles on his face, the way he moves, and the clothes he wears. He reminded me of my father when he was that age, carefree when it came to fashion, preferring comfort over the latest trends. The man is accompanied by a short elderly lady, probably as old as the man, or maybe older, given her bent frame. She was perhaps taller in her youth. Time catches up to us all. We are born to grow old, wither, and die. Some of us do it more gracefully than others. She is smiling. She’s taking pictures with a fancy-looking camera, not a phone, as most of us have become accustomed to these days. She is wearing a long sleeve white shirt, a huge shade hat that hides her face from the sun, and curious onlookers like me. Not long after we arrive, they seem perturbed by our presence and leave hastily in a gray SUV.
I sit on a black, uncomfortable metal bench on the corner of the L-shaped pier, looking south towards the water. I look down at the boardwalk; It is made of concrete. Hmm. Not a “board” walk, just a concrete pier.
I’m sitting directly in front of a waist-high wire fence that separates the pier in two, marked on my side of the wall with the ever-ominous “NO TRESPASSING” signs I am so used to seeing in private and government properties across this country. On the other side, attached to the fence, are large orange oval boxes, which I know should contain life rings, attached to a long rope for use if someone falls in the water.
Every few feet, there is a large rectangular white plastic box, probably used as storage for life jackets for the tour boats moored on this side of the pier.
A beautiful white lighthouse is to my left, about halfway across the concrete pad. The top of the lighthouse is black and looks like a small octagonal cabin perched atop a white wooden hill. The hill has eyes on many levels. There are three six-pane windows in a row, one above the other on every side of the lighthouse, climbing upward, each one seeming to get smaller as you look up towards the top. The view up there must be excellent. I wonder if it is an operational lighthouse or just another functionless work of art that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to put up for tourists to take pictures. It is sunny, and I wish I had my sunglasses.
A tall, slender, black woman is walking under the lighthouse. She must have moved very quickly past Sheli, who is sitting on one of the legs of the lighthouse, seeking shade. With a white shirt, long black pants, white sneakers, and a black ball cap firmly planted on her head, I see an athletic, mature, and confident woman, her stride long and swift. She has white AirPods in her ears and is singing as she passes by me, never looking towards me, never looking down, confident in her stride. Her voice is a gentle, soft soprano, and I wish I could tell what she was singing. She’s gone as quickly as she came. I’m alone again, with the birds and the soft ripples in the dark water.
Ahead of me, on the large pier close to the first pavilion where Kat is sitting, is an old tour boat named “Snip Island Excursions.” Snip? Only it should be “ship.” Time has erased the top of the “h,” turning it into a small n. The sign on the head of the pier says, “Ship Island Excursions.” I wonder why no one has taken the time to paint the name over. The boat, called the Gulf Islander, looks old but not so worn; the orange life rings on board seem to be in good shape, not faded as life jackets tend to get over time, despite sitting on the top of the boat exposed to the bleaching sun.
A waste collection truck breaks the monotony of the day, its loud diesel engine disturbing the soft sound of rushing cars, its high pitch breaks squealing like hungry pigs, amidst the loud banging of the trash can hitting its roof loud enough to wake the dead. I’m sure it is disturbing Kat.
In the pier behind the “Snip Island Excursion” boat, four Coast Guard Sailors cross the dock. They are wearing their blue working uniforms, likely headed for their cars, going home after what seems like a short day to me. It is early, 2:52, to be precise. Maybe they have been out at sea for a few days, or perhaps this is a short day. It is the CG, after all. In the Navy, we wouldn’t leave our ships this early. Their cutter is barely visible from here. I see the bridge and three or four personnel walking around. Not everyone gets to go home at the same time. Maybe the others have duty.
The garbage truck is now passing behind me, green with a white cab. It smells like fish and garbage. The stench of seafood and waste combination is unpleasant, but the wind blows the stench away quickly. Waste Pro, “America’s Choice.” I have always found it somewhat strange that garbage trucks tend to have the American flag painted on the back. I note how clean the park is. Someone is making sure it stays this way. Waste disposal is an essential service; most people underappreciate what they do.
Directly in front of me, but slightly to my left, floats a small boat. The sign on the finger pier says CAPTAIN RON’S CHARTERS LLC, with a very happy, very toothy blue shark who seems to be eying me and smiling, no doubt thinking about his next meal. Why do people paint dangerous animals contrary to their nature? Sharks are killers, and they don’t smile. The small boat is named the Reef Reelief. I wonder if the misspelling of Relief was on purpose. Perhaps it is meant to indicate a fishing reel combined with relief. The “ee” is faded. This is an old boat. Immediately to the left of the Reel Reelief sits another idle charter boat, the Fish Trap. Both are small fishing boats and seem to be kept busy, as their hulls at the water line are clean from algae and marine growth, a sign of constant use or recent hull cleaning.
Now and then, a cloud moves above me to provide momentary relief from the beaming sun. I look up; cumulus, altocumulus, and altostratus clouds move swiftly with the breeze, which blows from the southeast today. It feels good. The wind is steady and robust today, probably about 10-15 knots. I can see the American flag waving proudly in the wind way down on the east side of the pier, over by where Dee is standing, no doubt capturing her observations. Dee is trying to keep her hair from her face, fighting the wind.
To my left, beneath the lighthouse, sits Sheli, looking towards the parking lot instead of the water. Two white men are close to her, talking near a black pickup truck. I can’t hear them. I’m sure she can. I walk towards her and wave at Dee in the distance. Kat, who had been sitting in the shade, sunglasses in her face, diligently writing under a leg of the pavilion closer to the Ship Island Excursion sign, has gotten up and is coming our way. Thirty minutes pass by quickly when you are watching the world go by.
Time runs out quickly, and we now must return to class. We meet back up at my side of the pier, and I point out a large fish in the water. It is a giant dead fish head floating upside down. I thought it might be a shark, but someone says it may be a catfish. We could not see shark teeth, so it probably was not that. Ka walks over to the finger pear closest to the carcass to get a better look. We joke about her falling into the water. The dead creature captures our attention for about five minutes. We depart, and the unknown fish remains a mystery to be solved by someone else.