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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Ham, Caviar, and The Cure for Despair

"O, God, my rock..."

The sign stopped me in my tracks, taking my breath away in surprise.

"Our last day of operation will be June 18th." So read that cardboard obituary for my favorite deli on the face of the planet. Yes, America's Grim Reaper of an economy had stopped by for a visit in Greenwich, NJ, and was taking my favorite source of sustenance back to the great beyond.

Walking into the deli was like stepping into a mausoleum; the air of death and despondency was palpable. The walls, which once held hundreds of pictures of happy people, were stripped bare, sending their cold, unfeeling aura throughout my being. My mind began to grieve, and wonder: "Where will I get my sandwich after those long, fatiguing bike rides? Where will I be able to get coffee on those cold winter mornings spent searching for eagles? What will I lean on?"

A glimmer of life peaked through the bleak atmosphere as the owner stepped up to the counter.

"That's a real bummer about your deli closing," was the mournful commentary my mind spat out in despair.

"You've gotta do what you've gotta do." Despite the casual air of defeat in her voice, her eyes asked a desperate question. "What is there to lean on?" they silently inquired.

I took my Ham and Cheese and bicycled out to a favorite spot along the bayshore. This particular place is a location that has heard my joys and my sorrows; a local landscape that has absorbed my joyful shouts and my mournful cries. A place I could depend on. Or could I...?

To the uninitiated, this precious place of mine is just a dirt road cutting through marshland. But a careful scrutiny of the wind that blows, the dust that flies, and the grass that waves will tell you all you need to know about the area's past.

This locale was known as Caviar, and was a huge area for the exportation of, you guessed it, Caviar. The eggs of the Atlantic Sturgeon were shipped all over the world, and a good percentage of that supply came from this very spot.

Caviar was a hot spot for industry, and closing your eyes, you can imagine the hustle and bustle of a booming town. Listen to wagons roll past on their way to fortunes; hear the fishermen groan and curse as the ply their wares; sense the immense amounts of money exchanging hands.

But open your eyes, and witness a change. Gone are the industrious fishermen; gone are the sturgeon; gone is the windfall of money. Instead of a prosperous community, you'll find a marsh that stretches for miles, and a bay that seems to have no end...

"I remember when you could walk to Delaware on the backs of sturgeons," intoned a voice from behind me, interrupting my thoughts about the instability of life. Turning, I found an old sea-dog, with all of his expected apparel. He sported the classic overalls over a tan shirt; his eyes were deep and windburned; his pipe hung from his mouth, blending in with his bleach-blonde beard.

"Look, I'm sorry, I came up here to be alone." I tried to be as firm as I could, but my desire for solitude obviously bypassed his salty ears, as he came and stood alongside of me.

"Quite a few self-made millionaires came out of here," he said, not to anyone in particular. "I bet they thought those sturgeon would be choking up this bay forever."

"But we know better, right?" My feeble attempt at conversation, but my friend didn't seem to care.

"I would even wager that they thought this town would be here forever. In their mind's eye, they could see their deep pockets stretching for eternity. They probably thought that this industry would be the rock to lean on."

After giving this soliloquy, he sat, and contemplated for several minutes, before adding:

"But I knew..." he caught himself, "know better. Ain't nothing worse than depending on the wrong thing. That'll make you sick, every time."

We again shared a moment of silence. It was a deafening silence, too, as all the things I had leaned on came roaring to the forefront of my mind. Girlfriends, best friends, educational plans, you name it, I had probably put my trust in it at some point. Only after a short period of false security did I find out those things were false foundations; they were not and are not to be leaned on. Just like the industry that boomed and faded on the very spot my comrade and I found ourselves...

"Make you sick, every time," my friend mused, seemingly to the wind. "But, I know there's more to this world than what meets the eye; I know where to build my foundation. And it ain't in no stinkin' money," he put this forth with a violence I don't think I've ever witnessed; then, as if to alleviate my fear, he began to chuckle. His chuckle soon evolved into a laugh, and then morphed into paroxysms of hysterical laughter.

This tidal wave of jocularity lasted for about two minutes, and then died down as quickly as it had come. "Nope," he said "you can't see my foundation, but it's the truest one ever."

I was struggling to catch his drift; perhaps he sensed this, as he got up and began to walk away.

"Will the bay ever know sturgeon populations it did two-hundred years ago?," I asked out of abundant curiosity.

"Not likely," was the response; a response given with his back facing me.

"Will my favorite deli ever open again?"

"If it does, it'll be run by a bunch of Sturgeon," he quipped, beginning to laugh again.

"Then what is there to lean on?," came the question that sprung forth out my sheer despair.

He turned and glanced at me, and in his stoic eyes I found the only acceptable answer to such a vital question...


The Rock that stands throughout Eternity.

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