May 17, 2010

The Under Toad

From 'The World According To Garp' (and cribbed from Currently This):

"Duncan began talking about Walt and the undertow- a famous family story. For as far back as Duncan could remember, the Garps had gone every summer to Dog's Head Harbor, New Hampshire, where the miles of beach in front of Jenny Fields' estate were ravaged by a fearful undertow. When Walt was old enough to venture near the water, Duncan said to him- as Helen and Garp had, for years, said to Duncan- "Watch out for the undertow." Walt retreated, respectfully. And for three summers, Walt was warned about the undertow. Duncan recalled all the phrases.

"The undertow is bad today."
"The undertow is strong today."
"The undertow is wicked today." Wicked was a big word in New Hampshire- not just for the undertow.

And for years, Walt watched out for it. From the first, when he asked what it could do to you, he had only been told that it could pull you out to sea. It could suck you under and drown and you and drag you away.

It was Walt's fourth summer at Dog's Head Harbor, Duncan remembered, when Garp and Helen and Duncan had observed Walt watching the sea. He stood ankle deep in the foam from the surf and peered into the waves, without taking a step, for the longest time. The family went down to the water's edge to have a word with him.

"What are you doing, Walt?" Helen asked?
"What are you looking for, Dummy?" Duncan asked him.
"I'm trying to see the Under Toad, " Walt said.
"The what?" said Garp?
"The Under Toad," Walt said. "I'm trying to see it. How big is it?"

And Garp and Helen and Duncan held their breath; they realized that all these years, Walt had been dreading a giant toad, lurking offshore, waiting to suck him under and drag him out to sea. The terrible Under Toad.

Garp tried to imagine it with him. Would it ever surface? Did it ever float? Or was it always down under, slimy and bloated and ever watchful for ankles its coated tongue could snare? The vile Under Toad.

Between Helen and Garp, the Under Toad became their code word for anxiety. Long after the monster was clarified for Walt ("Undertow, dummy, not Under Toad!" Duncan had howled), Garp and Helen evoked the beast as a way of referring to their own sense of danger. When the traffic was heavy, when the road was icy- when depression had moved in overnight- they said to each other "The Under Toad is strong today."

"Remember," Duncan asked on the plane, "how Walt asked if it was green or brown?"
Both Garp and Helen laughed. But it was neither green nor brown, Garp thought. It was me. It was Helen. It was the color of bad weather. It was the size of an automobile.


I'm conscious of the Under Toad at the moment.

Last week, I got news that a friend, teacher trainee, and one of my regular students down at the yoga studio got hit by a car on her bicycle. Not one of these little brushes or scrapes (which can be bad enough, given the relative size and speed of the vehicle compared to a biker) but a full on collision that involved the neck, concussion, pelvis, ribs, ankle. Pretty scary. She seems to be doing OK, and will recover although I suspect it will be long and difficult.

On Friday, my former partner Zippy called. A mutual friend P was in the hospital - had been for almost two weeks with what appeared to be a stroke. Lots of drama there - Zippy upset that he had not checked up on P (who had not been returning calls), Zippy upset that the way P compartmentalized his life meant that family and friends were not in contact. But two weeks later, P is still barely conscious, in hospital, and they are not exactly sure what is going on. A week or so of testing and observation led up to a brain biopsy last week; results still unknown. Zippy's been over to visit P every day since; and he (Zippy) is pretty shaken up by it all - he and P have been very close.

In the background, some issues at the studio that do not directly affect me but results in my being pulled in to the teacher training (long weekends) - I love and am honored to be part of the training, but it will mean a long and tiring three days, last month and again next weekend.

Meanwhile, my home has descended into a level of mess and clutter heretofore unseen; musical instruments, yoga mats, clothes, shoes, newspapers, mail, you name it. I'm not exactly a neat freak but it's past the point of simply feeling comfortable and lived in. Just a bit too busy to spend the time keeping up around here, and in this place of frenetic activity, things like healthy eating, keeping my living space ordered, etc. go out the window. I've made a list and am starting to pick away at it; my kitchen table is cleared and I bought myself some flowers this weekend to draw myself back into the world of beauty and order.

I have a relatively clear schedule today and will be sneaking in some household chores in between my work projects. Might even sneak over to weight watchers and try to kick start that.

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