Last Duck March of 2011

I spent New Year’s Eve alone in downtown Memphis watching five ducks parade down a red carpet. Before you feel sorry for me, let me reassure you I had other options. I could have gone with the guys and watched Vandy take on Cincinnati in the Liberty Bowl.

Me and football? Nah. I don’t like football.

I didn’t want to ruin the game for them. Plus, I like alone time. I like thinking my own thoughts, and Memphis possesses just the right ambience for writing.

I had no transportation, a little money, and a notebook. I was set. I found a safe spot at the foot of W.C. Handy’s statue in the park and let my stream of consciousness form words on the page. I would have made William Faulkner mighty proud.

I made the trip to Memphis to rediscover myself. Amidst my recent tragedy, I misplaced my goals, my dreams, my desires. But in Memphis they began to trinkle back, one by one as I listened to music drift in and out of one doorway then another.

The blues has a way of cutting to the core and making people move. You have to do something when you hear the blues. You just can’t be. You have to be something. I searched for what I was.

The first word that came to mind was crazy. My friends warned me not to go alone. They said I’d end up getting mugged or worse.

Nonsense. But a quick scan of a vendor’s wares reminded me how naïve I can be. For five bucks I could buy  a rhinestone Glock belt buckle. If I were in the wrong place at the wrong time, say just a couple streets over behind the Fed Ex, I could buy the farm.

I wasn’t afraid, but I wasn’t stupid either. I set my radar on high alert.

The wind picked up and rustled my pages. It was too chilly to stay outside much longer. I figured I might as well do a little shopping (loosely translated looking), so I headed to the Peabody Hotel to check out the boutiques, terribly expensive but free to browse.

Somehow I found myself in the lobby, awaiting the grand event of the day—The Last Duck March of 2011.

I had heard of the Peabody Ducks, but I never took time to watch them. As the story goes, after sipping a little too much Jack Daniels, General Manager Frank Schutt let loose three live decoys in the hotel fountain. The guests fell in love with the ducks. A former Ringling Bros. animal trainer took the official position of Duckmaster and trained the ducks to walk the red carpet from their pent house abode to the marble fountain and back each day. Thus, a tradition was born.

I am a writer who searches for metaphor, another level of meaning, both in literature and in life. For some reason, The Last Duck March of 2011 stuck with me. It had to mean “something” more than just a one-time event. Where’s the serendipity in that?

So I did a little research to unearth any symbolism associated with ducks. Because ducks can run, swim, or fly to elude their enemies, they are considered resourceful. Celtic legends also depict ducks as symbols of simplicity, honesty, and sensitivity. J.D. Salinger’s Catch in the Rye relies on ducks to convey a message of the motion of life.

But what about me?

Why did I spend an hour at the Peabody Hotel, notebook in hand, waiting, waiting, waiting to watch five ducks waddle down a red carpet to an elevator door?

Oh, it was a grand to-do, mind you. I snagged optimum seating, a red chair in front of the entourage. Children and adults lined the red carpet. Everyone toyed with their cameras, checking the flashes, waiting for the special moment.

The truth is I really didn’t care about the ducks. It was something to do. I watched. They waddled. I left.

It was getting late, so I made my way to Starbucks to finish my writing with the help of a grande three-pump, nonfat, half-caf, no whip mocha. Not that I’m picky or anything.

As I waited for my drink, I cast my eyes on a small table for two. But before I could sit down, some guy staked it out by setting his backpack in one of the chairs. I took a bar seat by the window. It was just as well. I could watch the carriages roll by. I looked over my shoulder. It figured the guy would be a writer. He gripped a pen and scribbled words in his notebook.

Inspired, I took out my notebook and wrote my own words in a frenzy, page after page. Then three street kids walked in. If I had to guess they lived behind the Fed Ex Forum, which is directly across from Starbucks. If I traveled a few streets over in that direction, I bet I could find a real Glock, not like the one with Rhinestone bling on the vendor’s table.

The funny thing was I knew these kids.

These were the kids I had written about in my first manuscript and the incomplete sequel. I watched them out of the corner of my eye. Unbelievable. The characters I created were so real to me I recognized them when I saw them on the street.

That’s when it hit me, and I almost said it aloud. “I have got to get my ducks in a row.”

My metaphor.

The year 2011 was very difficult for me, but 2012 doesn’t have to be, despite what people have predicted. I can choose to make the best of my situation, and if 2012 does turn bad, at least I will have spent my days living instead of hiding.

So if I have one resolution for 2012, it’s to get my “ducks in a row.”

I will polish my manuscript and send it to the agents and editors who have requested it. I will finish my sequel and plan out my other two story ideas that await being written. I will work on my lyrics and take a chance on a few dreams.

I have to get my ducks in a row.

What’s your metaphor for 2012?