The Cape

     Seals. A lot of seals, watching me watch them. That’s what I remember of Cape Cod National Seashore: miles and miles of lonely beach, watched over by seals in the fall, after the people go home.
     This place would be a nightmare today had JFK not insisted upon making it a National Seashore. Doing so was one of his great achievements in office. The only one I can recall, actually, and I remember those days.
     Far down the foggy beach a few minutes before sunrise a woman walks a dog. Far in the other direction someone walks alone: the only signs of life, aside from me and my dogs and the seals, and the ocean, doing what the ocean does.
     The seals’ doglike whiskered faces float above the waves, interested but not concerned about what we land animals are doing. There are 20, 30 of them, all gazing at us from 20 yards offshore. The dogs have no interest in them.
     I wade into the surf, a step at a time, to get as close to the seals as possible. Why? Beats me. To get a closer look at their faces.
     All at once every seal ducks and disappears. They resurface farther out, line up again, watching me, and let the waves wash them closer. This happens every day for a week. The same seals? Beats me. It’s a good memory, though. I wouldn’t mind if it’s the last one I have before I check out.
     Actually, I have two more memories of Cape Cod, from 40 years ago.
     I was playing lead alto in a show band. It was summer and the beaches were clogged with tourists. Not pleasant at all. We didn’t get much beach time anyway, practicing in the day, playing shows at night. There were some good players in that band. We were all around 21, 23. Bernie, the conductor, was twice as old as us.
     One afternoon Bernie went off on us, hollering about how unprofessional it was to get high before we played. I don’t know what set him off. Yickety yickety yack, he hollered. At intermission that night the second alto and I stepped out to get high and saw Bernie leaning against the back wall of the theater, taking a long pull from a half pint of vodka. He sighed – we could feel him sigh from far away – and he tucked the bottle back into the inside pocket of his tux.
     It was the summer of “Jaws.” The whole country was nuts for the movie, millions holding their breath, waiting to see who the sharks would eat next, off Cape Cod.
     At one scene in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” Pseudolus introduces a song by saying, “Listen!” A muted trombone says, “Doo-wah,” and the song begins.
     The trombone has about 60 bars rest before that part. Well, one night Pseudolus said, “Listen!” and Bernie gave Lou the trombonist his cue. But Lou was immersed in a paperback copy of “Jaws,” reading it by the little light on his music stand.
     “Lou!” Bernie hissed. “Psst! Lou!” All the actors were frozen on stage.
     Everyone in the audience saw what was happening.
     “Lou, goddamnit!” Bernie said.
     The second trombone elbowed Lou in the shoulder.
     And Lou, without looking up, elbowed him back.
     Then Lou looked up. “Gblah!” Lou said. He dropped “Jaws,” whipped his trombone to his lips and played, “Doo-wah!” …
     I doubt if I’ve thought of that four times in 40 years, but I can see it now: the little pool of light on the pages of “Jaws” as Bernie growls, “Lou, goddamnit!” the entire band trying not to laugh.
     Not much else to do on this empty beach in autumn but remember things from long ago … watch the ocean glow as the sun comes up … watch the seals.

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