Scott Alexander

message in a bottle

message in a bottle

Scott Alexander May 12, 2010

This post originally appeared on my previous site,

End of the Island no. 700

I’ve had a strange couple of weeks. Very strange. Although, for my life, they are pretty par for the course; I attract strange.

Some of you (maybe most of you) know that I’m sitting alone on a deserted island. Well, mostly deserted: a few locals live here in this little beach hamlet filled with row after row of vacant houses. Vacant until tourist season starts. There’s an ice cream shop or two on the island. An arcade. A pier. Shops that sell surfboards, beach towels, bikinis, bumper stickers.

The stores stay closed for the most part. There’s a bar that’s open every night, though, and an older fellow in a golf cap keeps himself positioned outside on its patio, a beer in front of him, his tan pug sitting in the chair to his right. I see him there as I drive by on my scooter to get cigarettes, coffee, milk.

I’ve really just begun to have time to myself. To begin this process of what it is exactly that I’m doing here. My cellular service is spotty, to put it mildly. The internet seeps into this house and onto the wooden porch as slowly as the tide flowing into and out of the canal at the bottom of the stairs.

Sitting outside, I can see nearly thirty houses across the canal. At night, the lights come on at three of them. My life, my connection to humanity is mostly virtual. Seagulls and ravens and various other birds keep me company, flying up and over the houses that surround me. Perching on the docks lining the canal. On rooftops. Talking to one another. Never to me.

This is actually one of the items on my short list of sanity checks while I remain isolated: that the birds don’t talk to me.

The most meaningful human experience I’ve had lately occurred two days ago with a very confused young woman behind the counter at the only gas station/grocery store on the island:

“Are you at number 1,” she asks, looking at my scooter through the window behind her. There are only two pumps. Mine is the only vehicle.
“Yeah. How much is the gas per gallon?”
“Let me get three dollars then and a pack of Marlboro Lights.”
After some fuddling with the register she asks, “Can you reset the pump?”

I walk back outside, pump the gas, come back inside to pay, and a standoff ensues between the girl and the register. My hands rest uncomfortably on the counter as I watch her suffer a mental beatdown from the uncooperative machine.

She pushes this button. Nothing. She pushes that button. Nothing. She pulls receipts from the machine. With each failure to make the cash register work, she recoils slightly further into herself. Three dollars and sixty-two of my cents later, she’s telling me not to worry about it and have a good day. Her shoulders wilt in defeat as she looks away. In my mind, I play out the conversation she will have with the manager as she closes out for the day.

I begin to wonder if I should feel guilty. And then I think about the notion and concept of guilt. Ten minutes later and I’ve reasoned out a new theory on the subject as I sit on the dock, smoking a nearly free cigarette, staring at the seagull across the canal.

“What are you looking at?”

I’ve somehow gotten off-topic. I had stories to relate that I’m certain were more engaging than the goings-on with the girl, the gas station, and the register. But this is what I typed, so this is what you get.

I’d like to make a final note for now, though:
As I was scrawling out the last of this communique, I stepped outside to smoke a cigarette. Facing the canal, watching the water, I heard a sudden whip of wind against the metal rain gutter behind me. The air cut across the back of my neck as one of the ravens swooped down over my left shoulder and circled to the right over the canal below. He landed on the railing of the next dock over.

My first thought was, “Really? This is the game we’re playing now?”

I may need to make my sanity checklist a little less rigid. It may only be a matter of days before I’m wearing a skirt made of palms, covered in face paint, and trying to quell the uprising that is certain to take place with the birds. Hopefully not. Hopefully, it’ll be more like a happy cartoon where all of the animals sing happy songs.

This was a good idea. I’m sure of it.

Leave a Reply