My first beach had no salt. I must have been about four when I took off my shoes and socks on the humid August afternoon. Mom, my older sister and I had taken the Blue Line el downtown to meet up with one of her work friends. We met the lady in Grant Park just over the Congress bridge where the two big Indians have no weapons. We drove in her VW Bug to the Lincoln Park Zoo and then headed to North Ave beach on the shores of Lake Michigan. The smell of rotting fish was awful.
The heat of that summer was off the charts. It was a cicada year too. The beach was abandoned. The water temp had increased nitrogen levels in the lake and some fish just floated ashore. Not just some. The beach was covered in melting perch and suckers. Flies spun buzz in the air and I combed around and found some shotgun casings. As the waves lapped ashore I could just think about the Gorillas at the zoo behind their thick plexiglass enclosure. One of the baby monkeys was hanging from a skylight looking up through the window and swinging. We left to an apartment where my sister and I colored in a book of outlines while the sun crept in through nicotine stained drapes, sighing all over me.
The Pacific. Cold and blurry. Travel bug college summer. Redwood Forest. Me and my pal, Jamie and a girl we knew took a three week vacation before our Junior year of University. The idea was strummed up in the dorms one night and we decided to make the haul from St. Paul, Minnesota to the Redwood Forest. We just had moved into our white picket fence house with our three room mates, ready to be on our own. It was three weeks until classes started and we had a chunk of change from summer jobs and my pal, Jamie had his Dads’ wheels for a month. We packed up.
Five girls our age had rented a place across the street from our white picket fence house. Though the common indiscretions of freshman idealistic naive behavior experiment had occurred past, the girls were really just our friends. One meandered over the night we were packing. Erin was tall, brunette, soft long legs, chill out. We told her the plan and she asked,
“Can I go with you guys?”
Jamie and I looked at the other and shrugged.
“Uh, sure.” We said.
Even though Erin got on our nerves sometimes, she was fun and having a girl with us immediately gave two dipshit stoners a semblance of credibility while crossing the country.
We hopped into the brand new Jeep Cherokee and set out on the road. Badlands, yellowstone, Grand Teton yanking through Idaho, Salt Lake Pity, Nevada and then...Eureka. We found it. A dirt road with giant ferns and then the trees in the sky like a story book.
We pulled off a dirt road after driving all day and night from the Tetons. The moon was still up and stuck in the nook of that part of the Rockies when we left. My airs were all put on. We were tired and the sun was rising as we drove down a narrow dirt road to our campground. The fog of morning was hanging over the deadhead daisies and I could see in a field around the bend the tips of elk antlers.
“Eh bro, pull over. The campground doesn’t open until nine.” I said.
We all lit up a smoke and try to rub away the sleep sand and cobwebs of a twisty drive through the mountains. The elk we saw were grazing around an old green ‘66 Lincoln with the suicide doors open on one side.
”Lessgo to the beach. I want to swim in the ocean.” We got back in the car and puddled our way through the giant trees and found all the water of the world. I ran in over the rocky beach.
Atlantic Three, East Coast
I met Wendy in JFK Airport, New York City. We were both on a flight to Prague. In Prague I lived in a flat right above her in the old Kolej Komenskeho and she just happened to become my best friend. Back then, before her breast reduction, Wendy was an oogle and no man would wrong his mind and not be friends with her. Blond hair, blue eyes all the jazz. She’s still an Oogle with her smaller chest and a Doctorate to boot. She showed me what the ocean really means. She showed me what life really meant.
Our fast friendship and love is a mere aberration of the typical. We know we can’t spend a life together because we want to share it with everyone else. Meanwhile, Wendy told me the secret of seaglass. I went to visit her the summer after our winter in Praha. I went to Martha’s Vineyard to stay with her and her boyfriend. It was a blast, I went clamming and learned to shuck and oyster and her boyfriend, Rob was a swell engineer guy. He went out of his way to befriend me which is more. Two years later, I stayed with Wendy at Cape Cod. They had a house in Wellfleet and we were taking care of her sister who was recovering from minor surgery. I went clamming and gathered oysters with the neighborhood kids and will filled buckets with our bounty. A good looking yellow lab named Pete accompanied us to the shore and chased tennis balls past low tide. One of the little girls came up to Wendy and handed her a piece of seaglass and Wendy knelt down and hugged her close. She was crying when she came up to me with her t-shirt filled with clams. She dumped the clams into an empty bucket with a drip of clunks. Then, she grabbed my hand and put the piece of seaglass into my palm and grabbed my wrist tight.
”Don’t eat this.” Tears trickled down her face while I clenched my fist tight.
Four. Beach Hopping in Thailand.
Empty beaches before high season are the best. Koh Lanta Yai. Warning, monsoon rains may hit before November first. It was the end of October and the Reggae Bar next door was having a Halloween party for me. I even carved a jack-o-lantern out of a coconut and put a candle in it. All the staff of the neighboring bungalow operations were readying themselves for th eonslaught of Swedish Tourists and I was the token along with a girl from Dresden who spoke English good. We drank beer and smoked spliffs and threw coconuts into the ocean. All was fine until a neighbor proprietor UK lady came by and asked to see me to the Piraat owner of the bar.
”Yer the bloke who’s been lifting all my beach glass eh?” She asked seductively.
”I only take shades of blue sister.” I said, walking tan away. She grabbed my arm.
”Stop by my place at the end of long beach near the dock tomorrow.” and she kissed me on the cheek.
On the way to her place I’d found many big smooth pieces and filled my pockets. I saw a place with seaglass in stepping stones and meandered my way up. The lamps and window frames were laced in seaglass.
”Ah, the little bugger showed up.” She smiled putting some rice and a whole fish on the table as I sat down. I empty my pockets of seaglass on the table.
”Your tab is paid as long as you can breathe.” She smiled and swept the seaglass onto her tray.
Five. The subcontinent with Dawn.
We hit Playa Del Carmen like a thunderstorm. Beach, food, booze. Two days then Tulum, back to Acumel food poisoning, Queso no fundido, good thing we have two toilets in the condo. Then Isla Mujeres.
I soaked up all the rays of sun and let the salt cake on my skin. Strength and love refurbished my empty soul and I was strong as before. The lapping waves and teal water sinking on the horizon of drunk sunk set afternoons found me comfort. I was with a woman I had prayed for and alone with wanting memory. The beach of closed eyes has a smell with it. Something of a smell akin to torn youth and mended growth, like when chain link fence is in the middle of a tree trunk.