For most of last week, I was visiting a very sick friend and his wife in Los Angeles. I think it’s right to keep them in the background of these reports, though I cannot overstate how generous they have been to me in the 30+ years of our friendship, and how that has continued on this visit. But, because they live in a condo on the beach in Marina del Rey, let’s start with the beach, because that was where I started each morning of my stay there.
You need to know this: when I was born, my parents lived in one of the great beach counties of the world, Cape May County, New Jersey. I have been a beach boy since then. In the Air Force, a lot of my enlistment was spent at Eglin AFB, Florida, just north of Fort Walton Beach. Our duty day was from 3:00 A.M. to 8:00 A.M., 7 days a week, and after it was over our little 6-man squadron rode the military bus to the beach, there to remain until sunset. The beach there was like the world’s largest sugar bowl in color and texture, though the Gulf water was usually placid. In advance of a storm or even a hurricane, a few Hawaiian guys and myself would venture out and body-surf in the rambunctious breakers while the sun bathers stood at water’s edge and shook their heads. Then there was the nearly 4 year time in Redondo Beach, California, one block from the beach, plus 2 years on Wake Island, a place where no part of the island is more than 600 yards from the Pacific Ocean. The last 35 years in Kansas City has sometimes seemed like a cruel nightmare that never ends, and never permits me to live the life my inner self agrees with.
The first thing I noticed on this LA beach was that I was just about the only person without shoes on. And that was consistent with the next observation; most everyone else had an agenda, or a specific goal in mind being there. They were intent on making forward progress at some prearranged pace and nothing would dissuade them. In retrospect, there was only one other solitary person who seemed as aimless as me. I should have proposed to her on the spot. There were a few families, mostly speaking Latin-inflected languages, and they were also aimless, and I thought of them as my comrades in some way, and always paused to watch them play by the water. Maybe they didn’t know that I was playing, too. Mine are the inner games of an old person who still loves to splash and taste the saltiness, but there’s more to the game now. Those lucky kids are forming the self that will never forget and never disavow the feelings and sounds they are unknowingly absorbing now. They will be a part of who they are forever, just as they are with me.
The runners in the $200 shoes and the $100 earbuds and music systems are only coincidentally at the beach, at the edge of the world’s greatest ocean. They could be at a track or on the street or on a treadmill. Running 7 miles faster than the last time is the only meaningful experience worth noting. Gloria (the wife of my stricken friend, and a very dear friend in her own right) and I had a brief talk about this before my first morning’s walk. Her therapist thinks it would be useful for her to do things just for the experience of doing them, and nothing else. He called them, “being in the moment.” Of course, that is exactly what I wanted from a walk on the beach, but Gloria is something of a worrier. Walking along the beach would just be a wet place to fret. She could do that in the shower, and get clean as a bonus. I realized at that moment, and continue to realize in the days since, that my life’s strengths or weaknesses, and I’m not sure which, are described by my willingness to enjoy the moment as it presents itself and ask for little more from it. As I sit alone, eat alone, drink alone nearly every night, maybe that one aspect of my character has hidden antisocial, or at least antiromantic, aspects that send women running in the opposite direction. It would be a crushing realization to discover that one of the things that most truly make you who you are and brings calm and balance in your life also sends women shrieking and guffawing toward some lummox with a 6-pack of Bud Light and a KC Chiefs cap.
More from the beach later in the week.