I’m just sitting here in the garage, sipping my tea from an old lawn chair. It’s the first day I’ve had the garage door open since last fall, and it feels good to let the place breathe. But the space is crammed with paddle boards, surfboards, golf clubs, bicycles, a Good Will pile, and boxes. Lots of boxes. I strain my neck to the left and can barely make out the mound of mulch in the driveway, past a 6 foot stack of Office Depot boxes, marked on the ends with the year and the contents. What will it look like in ten years?
I should be shoveling the mulch. It gives me great pleasure to have it all; warm and scented like a pine forest at my door step. But I think, beyond that, I like the simple nature of mulch, like I’m living on a farm. Though shoveling the stuff does hurt my back, like so many things hurt my back. What a pain to grow old. Not that I’m a bad looking old guy. I know my hair is dyed a little dark, and my lips have that failed-botox look, but once a woman told me that in the right light, when wearing my green tropical shirt (she said it hinted at the hazel in my eyes) that I’m down right dashing. But that may have been at Uncle Toby’s funeral in 1988.
Now I’ll tell you what frustrates me. The old board, which really isn’t old, just sitting here gathering dust. More to the point, gathering inertia to stay right here. There’s these little black marks on the rails. And I put them there. Not on purpose. The carbon fiber paddle leaves traces when I make the wrong stroke, and I’ve made plenty. And I gotta clean the suckers before it will sell, and so far, nothing has touched them. I’ve tried all the household cleansers, and paint thinner. I saw a post on YouTube that Oops Solvent does the trick, so I ordered it from Amazon. You should know that the staff at O’Reilly Auto Parts and Ace Hardware looked at me like I was pulling a prank when I asked if they had Oops. A floor manager at Target didn’t even blink. She sent me to aisle three which was stocked with hooks in brass, chrome, and stainless steel. No Oops, just hooks.
I put the old board for sale on Craig’s list, and figure, for the right person, it’s a deal. I would have bought it myself, last August, when I was shopping for a stand up paddle board, but I paid full boat. Well, actually, I got it marked down $300. But let’s not argue about who’s getting the best deal.
I rode the new board yesterday, after paddling the mile from New Brighton to Privates. The board paddles fine and surfs small waves like a dream. I’m standing here with my paddle hovering above the water, while green ghosts of stringy kelp slide under my board. But it’s not the kelp that’s moving. It’s me. I’m a sail and if I do nothing, the wind is sailing me to Monterey. I paddle back and forth keeping one eye on the waves, and another on the homes above the cliff to see just how far I’ve drifted from the take-off spot. I’m always paddling slightly toward shore, treating the wind as a vector.
I feel good with my strength, standing tall, having it all. You know, the ocean, the waves, the otters. A cormorant surfaces right in front of my board and scampers off while a harbor seal peeks out from 20 yards to my port side.
But today, right in front of me, life is in boxes. I set down the tea and browse the first box of family albums. I’m wearing polar fleece from head to foot and battling the urges of winter to slink back and stall. Here’s the kid’s early years. The kids had the most colorful clothes. Reds and yellows and blues. Full tilt primary. Here’s a photo of the board I got Justin on his tenth birthday. And one of us patching the first ding. I had more hair. It was still brown. It wasn’t that long ago.
My nose is running so I snuff it back. My wife would ask if I’d like a tissue. “Would I like a tissue?” I say to myself. If I wanted a tissue I’d get one. Why doesn’t she just say, Jesus, Frank, blow your fucking nose, but that would be a different wife. One that I’d never have married. To honor the wife that I did marry I pull a fresh box of Kleenex off the shelf, next to a 12 year old box of software that no longer works on any of my computers.
Everything above eye level and down on the ground, or anywhere else that doesn’t see the light of constant gaze is knitted in spider webs. I think I stoop a little from spending too much time in the garage, having to watch my feet and my head at the same time. If I just watch my feet, so I don’t trip on the boxes of used water filters that I don’t know what to do with, I’ll hit my head on a hanging bike, or a misplaced ski pole. But if I look up, I end up tripping on board bags, clothes baskets, or buckets of paint.
I’ve made this mess but I’m going to blame it on the kids. I mean, lots of the boxes are theirs after all. Not theirs, per se, but the stuff in the boxes is memory stuff so when I’m toes up, down deep, bugs crawling in and out the snout and all, they’ll have something to remember me by. I wonder if they’ll even look at the stuff?
While waiting for the next set, jagged jaws of disjointed teeth surround most of the wetsuit covering my right leg. The first bite sounds like tearing a wet burlap sack. My kids play in the sand, as the tide advances. Where’s the lifeguard? A bar of surf wax floats by the shark’s dark eye, as the beast pauses. The bite, a backhoe in moist earth, opens my thigh exposing strands of lean red meat. It doesn’t hurt, at first.
Laughing over my head won’t stop, as two gulls chase a third who has a big piece of burnt toast. The shark starts to let go, then swishes its tail as the second bite tears more of the muscle, separating the suit like a big laughing mouth.
My daughter is about to run the race I’d promised to attend. My wife waves me in, puts both hands on her waist, frozen solid with disgust. I slug the shark on the snout and am surprised that it opens its mouth and slides into the ocean, as if it had never been there. The kids line up for the race. I wave to the shore. Except for the pain that starts in the center of my earth, churning my magma, and leaking a thick slick of blood, I feel just fine.
A sailboat comes within 30 yards where three co-eds wave and tack back toward the shore. I try to cry out, but the south wind tosses the words into the surf. The shark rises and bites the nose of my board. It leans back, smiling mismatched teeth, chock-full of foam and fiberglass like it had just eaten pizza.
A siren screams in my ear as the light starts to fade. Two tan men in a red Chris-Craft tell me to hold still. One of them fires a pistol at the shark, but misses. The shark slips out of sight as the second man pulls me into the boat.
A V of pelicans glides by in silent formation, hunting for prey, while I pray I don’t bleed out.
The weed was cut with something. Too strong for surfing. I know. I’ve tried. I’d see the wave coming and be all in tune with nature only to take off and slide off the nose like I’d never stepped foot on a board. So I took a walk along West Cliff, near her house. I’d set her free and now she was sleeping with another guy. She said it was different, the sex. “How different,” I’d asked. The corners of her mouth had wrinkled into a tiny smile, and I saw his hands on her breasts.
The ocean was the deep blue color of a basket she’d gotten me in Guatemala, when? Two years ago? No, maybe three. I’ve kept my coins in the basket, but now it’s full of stems and seeds. The coins are scattered here and there, mostly nickels and dimes. Santa Cruz: so many drugs. It’s like coming home to a refrigerator full of nothing but ice cream.
Clouds were stapled to the sky. They were outlined in a dark blue/grey almost cartoonish. The surf was small and made a crushing sound on the low tide pebbles below. It was a wide space, stretching from the lighthouse across the bay to the tidy town of Pacific Grove.
The sound came from Pleasure Point, where we had been so happy. It grew louder until the blades slowed to a long cadence thwomp.…..thwomp…..…..thwomp. I couldn’t see the helicopter, but its sound blotted out the sky. I tripped over a crack in the side walk and reached for the handrail, rusted red and scalloped. A tall tan girl swooped by on a long skateboard, wearing a yellow tank top. Brown hair crept from her helmet. White tails of ear buds fell to her waist. She was singing a Joni Mitchell tune. She swerved to avoid the concrete crack and bumped me into the railing. As I turned to watch the back of her, the railing scraped off a callous on my right hand leaving a puddle of blood on the rusting barrier.
A flock of Caspian terns held overhead. They screeched and dove. I couldn’t follow them all and started to stumble. People watched me. A couple on a park bench wearing shorts and wife beaters followed my movement. Her left breast fell out the side. She smiled at me, then laughed, tucked it back in and returned to him.
An older couple walked by and asked if I needed help. He was set in a wide brimmed panama and chewed gum inside thick lips. The lids of his ears were flaking sunburned skin. She’d tied a purple scarf around her hair, letting silver bangs hang just over the eyes. She wore too much mascara. A crescent scar beside her lip did not fit her narrow face. I thought she was going to scold me.
“Are you ok?” she’d asked.
“Of course,” I’d said.
“You should have that hand attended,” he’d said.
I’d driven through Oregon last fall when they were burning the fields. From a distance the smoke had been everywhere, tall flames licked at the sky. Up close, I’d known the fire was there, the crackling mess of it, but the smoke had hid it all.
My hand twitched as blood dripped onto the grass. Dark splotches dotted my black sneakers. The helicopter must have turned away. The sky was back but I was losing blood. The parking lot restroom was out of towels so I ran water over the wound until it stopped bleeding. It hurt at first, but settled down. I patted it dry on my jeans before the blood resumed.
I drove home, settled into my room, and locked the door. I lit a joint I’d found in the car, under the passenger floor mat, where I’d hid the keys. In three minutes smoke hung around my head, still and quiet. In three minutes more, I’d lost sight of the room.
Tom Adams is a writer, videographer, photographer, who lives on the coast just south of San Francisco with his wife, Donna, and a view of the ocean. His work has appeared in the Pacifica Tribune, and can be followed at his blog, SUP Days are better than others at www.supdays.net. Tom studies writing with Writers Studio San Francisco www.writerstudio.com, and spent several years with the Ripe Fruit School of Creative Writing www.ripefruitwriting.com.