Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Sand and Surf in San Diego

The trip to the beach on Saturday pretty much solidifies my dislike of that dirty sliver of ecosystem where land meets water. For one, there’s a greasy sunlotioned sheen that’s cast over every surface…from the car, the pavement and the sky to the people, towels, coolers, flipflops, and umbrellas, and mixed with that is a healthy sprinkling of gritty sand—ever-loving sand that gets into everything—to give the world that cinnamon crumb doughnut texture.

It's a sticky humid pall that hangs over everything, reminding me of other uncomfortable things that I don't like: mold in the shower, sand in your bed at night and spilled food on your new pants.

Mostly, the beach is a test of the envelope of my personal space, I think. I'm uncomfortable there on many different levels. People are too close together, and not in that home-town-park-picnic vibe you get when there’s bluegrass playing in the bandshell and everyone is sharing this year’s crop of corn in that communal way, but this seems like a game of Risk. Set up your defenses, understand your weaknesses and always be wary of the Ukraine. For us, the Ukraine were the folks set up next to us, to which we nicely edged over with the erection of our enormous blue blot-out-the-sun beach umbrella. I think someone in the International Space Station was saying: “What’s that blue thing?” and the Ukraine lady (they were from somewhere but she didn’t say enough to get the origin)… she adds (as they’re moving out from under its blight): “Now zee kids vill be able to find us easily.”

Okay, the first thing you do after you’ve defined your territory with a blanket that will soon bury itself into the sand so much so that you’ll have to dig down at the end of the day and retrieve it, is to break out the shovel and pails and dig foxholes all around you... not little snake holes in the sand, but G.I. issue foxholes that any army under seige would be proud to call home.

I think it’s a law.

The group to our far right did that very thing. Adults… not recent adults mind you, but seasoned veterans of adulthood, the kind with graying sideburns, Cadillac keys in their pockets, well-defined love handles and thick carpet of back hair, were up to their expanding waists in a foxhole, digging with actual shovels, not the amateur plastic variety, but fresh-off-of-the-pegs-at-Home Depot mortuary-approved steel shovels. In a matter of moments, they could have buried Jimmy Hoffa standing up.

Here is an actual conversation I heard when some folks from our far left wandered into the territory of the Hole family on our right:

“Nice hole. Whatcha digging for?”

Without looking up: “Just digging.”

“You gonna build a castle?”
“Nope,” said another one. “Just digging a hole.”

“Just because,” added the first one. “Just because.”

I can understand digging a huge hole if you need the sand for a giant sand castle that you’ve been planning to dig… or if you’re digging a hole closer to the water, so the rising tide will fill the hole with water and you can sit back and watch some unsuspecting kid fall into it as he’s going out for a pass. Jason did that once…only it was a hole he had dug himself.

The weather was overcast, so I didn’t feel the need for sunblock (big mistake), even though Kara suggested it several times. However, overcast is much better than blazing sun in my book, but it wasn’t enough to keep my sunglasses on and it was too much to have them off; so I found myself toggling between having them on and off. Of course, I would drop them in the sand a couple of times (as I’m digging my required hole), and two days later, I’m still blowing sand out from between the frame and the lens.

I don’t like to get dirty if I don’t have to, especially when I’m away from home. I don’t mind it if I can merely strip down in the garage and tip-toe upstairs and take a shower—good as new—but if I know I’ve got 90 miles between here and that shower, I’m more likely to stay off of the ground… but it’s the beach, and with every movement I make I feel like I’m camping. I’m given a certain amount of space, certain pieces of equipment to use and a certain place to put everything. There’s no coffee table to put my drink on, so I’ve got to hold it. There’s no plates to eat off of, so I’m eating my sandwiches in my lap. The chips? Right from the bag. And cookies… tear them open, sprinkle a dose of sand on them and dig in. I feel like I’m eating to survive, like I’m lost in the wilderness. All the while, the legs of my chair are sinking into the sand irregularly, each one is taking a turn, making the chair lopsided in multiple ways.

The complete opposite of Littoralpathic Ryan is Beach Bum Natalie, a.k.a. Sandy Cheeks. Whereas I hate the sand, she loves it. It’s a giant sandbox for her, a big playground for her to roll around in. A year ago, while we were on Cape Cod, she didn’t like to even touch the sand, so she’d sit there playing in it while holding up her feet. Now? Head to toe, she was a Shake-n-Bake breaded chicken fillet for most of the day. I despise the frigid water; but she couldn’t wait to go back in, if not to rinse off the old sand, but to get her body wet for a crusted layer of new sand.

We dug holes together; we collected rocks together; and I had the honor of being the first to escort her to the Pacific Ocean. She had a blast playing in the water with Kara’s mom and her cousin Kailey (who were both out for a visit and for Gnat’s birthday party on Saturday), and her Aunt Julie and Uncle Joe. Matthy enjoyed himself as well, but he’s like me, everything can be fun if you ignore the parts that aren’t fun. He had a bottle and fell asleep, but not before kicking and laughing in the ocean for the first time in his life. Of course, I saw the whole thing behind the viewfinder of my video camera.

Ah, the memories we made.

Then again, after about 15 minutes of the sun, sand, surf, snacks, shovels, seagulls, sounds, and the smatterings of society, I was ready to go home. I had seen it, done it, and was waiting out my time until someone said they were tired. Someone finally said it, I think it was Kara, and we dug out the blanket that was as encrusted with sand as Natalie was, packed up our stuff, perhaps more than what we started with it seems, and made the arduous trek up to the parking lot on the bluff.


We went back up to Joe and Julie’s place. It overlooks both the racetrack and the ocean, so depending on your mood, you can lose your money at the track or yourself in the sunset. It was pretty entertaining to watch the race on the TV and be able to hear the announcer in stereo, and Natalie was especially thrilled to see the “big green tractors” pulling the “number train” (the starting gate of course) around the track, and she was more interested in the tractors than the horses.

Joe cooked up some great steaks, sausages and shrimp, and Julie, being the vegetarian, put together the salad, some homemade steak fries and the grilled portabella mushrooms. There was wine for all, a tasty Zinfandel from the Sonoma area (but then again, to me, all Zins are on the tasty side…I hate that word, tasty), and the featured cocktail of the night was some kind of vodka-based triple-sec lemon drink that neither had a name nor an origin. I think Julie was making it up, but it still was light and refreshing. Given our proximity to the racetrack, I think it was a lemony adaptation of a mint julep.

On the home front, I start jury duty in the morning, and I’m sure I’ll have nothing but wonderful things to say about the experience. This evening, I finished the last of my huge projects for one of my clients. For the first time since Christmas, I don’t have a multi-hundred-page project hanging over my head, and it feels odd, slightly unnerving, as if I suddenly lost purpose. Then I look on the “to do” board above my desk here, and I remember that I’ve got other clients patiently waiting for their stories too… and so, I get back to work.

I write my first newspaper column tomorrow. I’m no stranger to being a columnist, as I had a monthly thing at the magazine I was the editor for… and I have a bimonthly tech column for a coffee-house magazine that I just started last month, but I have never been a newspaper columnist. It has a romantic sound to it —striving for the scoop, the great break, the angle—like I should buy a fedora and put a press card in it.

We’ll see if they like my stuff. I may just return to you as a mild-mannered writer of articles and books and whatnot… this… instead of a mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper.

Oh, and at the beach, of course, I got sunburned.

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