The Balcony Principle
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Like most modern humans, I believe in the Balcony Principle: that is, that all our work, all our struggles, and all our commutes will each year culminate in a summertime balcony moment.
Not on just any balcony, of course, but a balcony like in one of those glossy ads and overlooking something large and beautiful: a lake or a beach.
A balcony is, in principle, a simple thing. But of course, as any artist or engineer will tell you, nothing is more complicated than simplicity. Not only is the balcony itself typically supported by a major hotel chain, massive freeway system, airport, and credit cards, but little of your vacation is usually spent, you know, right at the rail. What with time blown renting cars and shopping for sunglasses, you're lucky to score a full hour contemplating a view.
If you look carefully at the glossy ads, you can see that for a true and nearly religious Balcony Moment to occur, a striped towel should be tossed casually across the back of an Adirondack chair. In the foreground, a tall cold glass, graced with a slice of orange, should sweat beads of condensation and partly reflect the lake or beach across its surface. In a second chair, one should glimpse the outstretched legs of a handsome person...or at least a summer novel, opened down to show its spine.
Me, I've added a few additional rules, carefully observed by the orthodox:
1. The chair must be high enough to see over the rail.
2. The eye must fall on nothing not beautiful: no street signs, no power lines, dumpsters, half-tarred rooftops, or Wendy's. A hundred people may be scurrying around to maintain the background systems which support the balcony—hotel employees, groundskeepers, parking attendants—but like the crew of a movie, they should not be visible.
3. All sound must be distant and indistinct: laughter far out on the sand, or children calling across a lake. You must not, for example, overhear conversations from the next balcony over.
Rule number four is the most crucial. If the Summer Balcony Principle is to operate, everything else in your life must be taken care of: bills paid, paper suspended, kids happy, car lubed, investors satisfied, spouse smiling. You must, however briefly, have nothing to do and no one to please.
This week, the Urban Man fights his way to a small lake near Tahoe. I spend seven hours on the 5 freeway. I stare at the ugly back ends of trucks, stop at ugly gas stations, feed my kids junk food. But lo, at last I find myself at a private cabin, lovingly maintained—an architectural gem on shining waters.
After carrying in a week's worth of food, after pointing the kids toward a canoe, and after completing a thorough check of email, I at last head to the balcony, which yes, offers nothing but beauty: Lake. Pine trees. Light.
Okay, for awhile, I do struggle with envy for the people who own the cabin. It is, after all, an extension of their successful city life, a projection of their wealth and smarts. I wonder if a little piece of their souls is maybe, always out on this balcony.
But then I casually toss a striped towel across my Adirondack chair. I pour a tall drink and grace it with a slice of orange. My lovely wife still putters inside, but yes, I open a summer novel and place it on the other chair. And sure enough, the Urban Man achieves a full three minutes of balcony satisfaction, a sense not just of peace but completion...
Before the mosquitoes begin to land. Before a construction site across the lake goes into high gear. Before my cell phone rings.
Trust me, it's all right, it's okay. The Balcony Principle of modern life states that no matter how short the actual balcony moment, it makes everything else worthwhile.
Have a great summer.
Copyright © 2009 Marc Porter Zasada. All Rights Reserved.
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