Back Ashore

Back at the harbor, the Danish couple have another moment of unsynchronized matrimony getting off the ship.

There is an obvious protocol for disembarking. Each person who crosses the threshold to solid ground turns to see if the next person needs any assistance. I’m standing behind Mrs. Danish, who expects her husband to wait for her to go first.

But he brushes past her. Ignores the old fellow who preceded him and bounds some distance away on the wharf, where he begins to fire up a cigarette he has already retrieved from the packet.

The older gent who had expected to be relieved of his post simply tilts his head slightly to one side. He holds his position faithfully and awaits Mrs. Danish. When her face turns toward him, he smiles. Once across, she thanks the old gent and takes his place in the human protocol. Then her lad jumps across, unassisted and like his father scampers along the wharf.

Then it is me. I do not need her help, but I willingly accept it. She takes my hand firmly and uses her other hand to guide my elbow. Enchanted in a passing pas-a-deux at six below with a fur-bound Dane.

We trade smiles. I turn to help the next passenger get back on solid earth. And so forth, our race proceeds, trying to pick up the slack caused by others.

I end up in a van with Mrs. Danish and her son. The husband waits on the wharf for the last van to savor his smoking. In cramped quarters, she smiles at me awkwardly. We have wound up knee-to-knee, sitting across from each other. It is impossible not to look at each other.

“I got hypnotized to quit cigarettes,” I offer, trying to be helpful, but I don’t think she fully gets my drift.

I force myself to look out the window as we launch off on another hair-raising drive through town. We are dropped off at the outfitter’s office and go our separate ways.

The Financial Crisis Was My Fault

There has been a lot of gnashing of teeth and rending of garments over the past week or so as the nation assesses the worldwide crisis that trashed financial markets 10 years ago. Over the past decade, many slide rules have been worn to nubs trying to prove who was to blame.

So many candidates. Banking regulators who didn’t stop profit-focused lenders from selling grotesquely risky home loans to deluded households that want bigger pieces of the American dream than they could rationally afford, which were then bought up by greedy Wall Street tycoons who slathered them in snake oil and sold them to easily duped investors. One thing all agree on is that this was absolutely not the fault of the U.S. Congress, which is never to blame for anything that goes wrong.

I realize now it was my fault. On July 14, 2008, I appeared on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal program to discuss a forthcoming Federal Reserve Board regulation on mortgage brokers.

Several callers were more interested in the rapid boil in financial markets that in less than two months would poach Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. I should have used the opportunity to implore all those regulators, lenders, mortgage borrowers, Wall Street hucksters and innocent investors to come to their senses and stop the madness. But I didn’t.

My bad, America.

Windshield Photography on the Viking Trail

A Hertz Chevy Cruze, sunroof window cracked open, tuned with fresh air pulled through the top of the cabin windows. A cool vacuum over my skull, running its fingers through what’s been long gone. The late afternoon light drawing color and shadow from a soaring, roaring park road on the western edge of Newfoundland.

Madness takes over from the phone. One Step Beyond, it urges.

Okay, I say. Lifting off at the crest.