Alive and Well

The sand dabs scuttle vigorously in the tide pool the child has dug. The next wave will assure their safety, but the reckless child thrashes and kicks the wet sand, screaming as he feels the thousand tiny pricks of their feet against his own. “Mommy, Mommy,” he shouts as a flabby thirty-something swoops him up quickly. A rather novel moment on an otherwise lazy Monterey Bay day.

Salinas River beach, up the coast from Monterey City proper, is a horse’s beach. It’s chock full of manure from the almost daily public rides offered. Though luckily the manure sticks to the soft sand path, clear of the lengthy forgotten weathered wooden plank road for beach users. As it goes in Monterey Bay, the waves are overbearing and annoying like an angry uncle. Such a fuss they make over the small purchase of sand we call a beach. But the air is pure on most days. And on the right afternoons in the right lights, the dolphins play hide and seek with sea lions and put on quite a spectacle for beach-front restaurants.

A few sand dab carcasses float pathetically in the puddle left by the bullish child. No use in fretting, though. There are always casualties when brutality and carelessness go hand in hand. This, in a child, is forgivable. Still apropos, considering Elkhorn Slough does virtually the same thing with its habitat clashing brutally with the ocean. I never cared much for the really organic smell of it all. But I have always been impressed by its persistence.

The slow caravan of horses and novices tread oafishly behind my head as I lay in the one clean area of sand I can enjoy. It’s warm here despite the slight chill in the air from the unpredictable wind choices Poseiden is playing with. Around me are a thousand messes of kelp and debris. The storms have not been complimentary to the landscape. Still, I am taken back to my forgotten youth. I would have used that piece as a whip. That cluster would have been a nice hair piece. And that busted open bulb would have been a suitable cup.

My wife tells me to get up and join them, and my brief moment of selfish observation comes crumbling down. I might have been a surfer, I think. I could have done it. Not here though. Maybe Asilomar; I should take it up. But my gut wrenches and barrels around.

“Throw me a beer!”

“Get up and come participate in your family, please.” She knows I hate it when she talks to me like that.

Billy runs up to my face and splatters me with water he carried up in a kelp bulb from the ocean. Billy—who names their kid Billy? Oh yeah, that’s right: I did. And Billy is like me, like I was, alive and well.

I update my Facebook with the poor, almost dial-up speed of the Internet out here. I chase down my son, and smack his mama on the bottom gently. “Sometimes I wish I was a writer,” I say.

“Why aren’t you?”

“I don’t know. I can’t stand the sound of my own stupid face sometimes. Seeing my words on paper might cause an emetic attack.”

“What is emetic?”

“It’s like a shark, but the size of sand dab.” I knew she had already trailed off and was more concerned with the kids.

This keto diet is killing me. A nice turkey avocado, in the sun, on the beach, on rye? “Fogettabout it.” No rye, no sourdough, no Pavel’s in Pacific Grove? No Acme mochas in Seaside? I mean, come on, God’s gracious panorama can only fill so much.

“Forgettabout it? I heard you,” she said.

“Don’t try to act like you’re interested in my inner monologue.”

“Inner monologue? Ooooh, big words, Austin Powers.” She shines me on with an arrogant eye. She gets me. God, I love her. I would pick up the whole beach by the gonads and toss it over for her. I would dig a thousand holes in the sand just to make her laugh.

I realize that I have no original thoughts. In fact, I’m just some sort of hodgepodge of mixed phrases and ideas I have encountered in the past, but now my brain attaches itself to a few of them and then strolls proudly around, arrogant with my newfound intelligence. Unique ideas are the only real intelligence. Or maybe they’re not. Maybe that’s just persistence of thought. Continuing the story your own way. Well, either way, I’m having fun. There is nothing new under the sun, at least not at Salinas River beach. But at least I can pretend that these things are new for me, because my son has not yet seen them. Because, to my daughter, this great big water that holds no immediate danger is amazing to her.

Victoria and Billy immediately set off to work digging in the sand, carrying buckets of water. They look like they know what they are doing. They look so determined and so enthralled.

I wish I could feel the same about the work I do.

“So what’s your deal? Why are you all checked out?” she asks me.

“I ain’t.”

“Then quit moping around and go play with your kids. You have to work in a couple hours and you always complain you don’t have enough time.”

“There isn’t enough time. There never is,” I say.

“Oh, grow up please, and go play with your kids.” She immediately laughs at the irony of her statement.

I jog off, looking back to say, “You know I’m just playing, right? You don’t think I’m weird, do you?”

“Of course I do, but that’s why I married you. No one likes completely normal people.”

The sun begins a slow descent down behind the stairs at the end of the flat earth, and ocean waves glisten like champagne glasses filled with the pink hue of heavenly mist. Sea lion pups show up in the tide and pepper the surface with spray from their water acrobatics. And the kelp flies swarm in a dry pageant, shuffling us off home. The beach is theirs now for the rest of the evening and night, until the sun returns from its orbit around the earth.