THE LOCAL STRANGER
The first day Jake noticed Dex Metlock was a blistering hot Fourth of July afternoon. A white heat evoked shimmering mirages along the restless coast. A humid mist floated above the shore. The tide began rising. Festive sunbathers were forced to move their belongings as the dark waters pushed them closer to the sand dunes.
A dense shoreline crowd made for tight quarters under the sun. The sky was not a deep azure, but a light china blue caused from still air, and intense heat. From the shore, it looked as if the shrimp boats off the coast, dragging their nets, were only huge toys dangling near the horizon.
Dex Metlock was wearing a red bandana around his head. He wore cut off, faded and frayed blue jeans. His beard looked near three weeks old. His down home tattoos were visible, but indistinct from a distance. Dex’s skin looked like tanned leather.
He was drinking from a nearly empty bottle of Jim Beam. Dex brought attention to the floating ant at the bottom of the bottle. The festivity gripped his mind. He carried on as if he were a member of some obscure jubilee.
“Red liquor! Fever fire!”
Dex was singing loud and out of tune with a pony-tailed kid playing an acoustic guitar. Dex was sitting on a beer cooler. Several of his teeth were missing. He looked like a deranged pirate, or a drunken carpenter.
Cosmic waves of activity electrified the festive Fourth of July shore. The scene was a panoramic montage of an all-American holiday.
After several hours of reckless drinking, Dex passed out, face down in the sand. The rising tide, splashed an incoming wave on his leg, and would have carried him out to sea, had he not come to his senses.
According to stories told by locals, Dex was an insane drunk. He was a native of the seaside community, yet no one knew the facts of his life for the last fifteen years. For the past two summers, Dex returned to his hometown shores. Dex slept in the sand dunes. He rested in the public shower house during adverse weather conditions.
All sorts of exaggerated stories surfaced and circulated in local cliques. Often when describing Dex to someone, listeners were often heard remarking, “Oh, yeah, the bum, I know who you’re talking about…” with dim recollections of someone they never met.
One story claimed Dex escaped from a mental institution. Another story went as far as to say he killed his girlfriend while other rumors claimed he was a rapist, a circus freak, bank robber and a Satanist.
Many locals were sure Dex was a crazy local nuisance. Most of the recreational crowds were not excited about a homeless derelict living several hundred feet from where their daughters and wives lie asleep in the sun with scant bikinis on. Many of the wealthiest community members bathed in the sun and water further up the beach near private land owned by a country club.
Wealthy locals hold no affinity for homegrown prophets or homeless artists; such people are too concerned with ignoring the work and assassinating the individual’s character. None of the locals could fathom Dex originating an un-patented game that could entertain thousands. The vulgar mob doesn’t look at anything too close, until it’s too late.
On this Fourth of July afternoon, Jake would only notice a surface reaction and common contempt Dex conjured among various cliques and individuals. Ironic time would present future dimensions of closer exposure towards these unknown faces in seasons unborn.
The next week, Jake left town for an employment opportunity. For almost a year, he forgot about Dex Metlock.
April blue skies shined a seasonal color as sights and scents bloomed while winter was forgotten. Jake was lounging in the sand dunes with two girlfriends. He was watching Lindsay, a beautiful brunette apply pure olive oil to her long legs to intensify the tanning process. Her black two piece bikini amplified her already tan body. Anna, the honey blonde, was asleep in her leopard skin bikini, on a fold out plastic beach chair. She breathed deep breaths of calmness.
The breeze was still cool. The sand dunes blocked the chilly ocean breeze. The sun was pleasant if one could hide from the wind. A new scent of the season evoked memories of something forgotten in the past.
“Jake, have you made our reservations at Dixie’s Bait Shack for Friday?”
“Not yet Lindsay.”
“Seems to me you shouldn’t have to make reservations considering all the time you’ve worked there.”
“I’ll tell Tony this afternoon.”
Jake noticed a fellow walking towards them from the shell paved beach entrance. Jake tried to duck down and stay obscured by the camphorweeds and sea oats, but it appeared the man already spotted them.
It only took Jake a moment to remember this approaching stranger was the local homeless fellow, Dex Metlow. Jake was aware of the man’s reputation and was prepared for any obnoxious scene. Jake reserved his judgement. What a lure, he thought, a cooler full of beer and two beautiful girls.
Jake turned his gaze away from the stranger towards the horizon. He took another drink of beer. The ocean breeze was brisk. Nearby, someone was applying coconut oil and the scent wafted back towards the dunes. Gray and white seagulls squawked and gathered in troupes on the calm shoreline.
It was Tuesday. Most people were at work. Summer crowds were not yet in force. This was Jake’s favorite time of year. He looked back towards the entrance, and a more vivid image was before him, than his last memory of the local stranger, the previous Fourth of July, with his face down in the sand.
“Girls, I believe we have a visitor.”
Dex approached with a chicanerous look in his eyes. He walked barefoot across the sand. His tan faded the primitive dragon tattoo covered his left shoulder and arm. A spider web spawned across his chest. Dex’s matted brown hair was cut short around his neck and ears, but long enough to reach his eyebrows. Dex’s physique was slender and taut, giving no indication of his homeless condition, aside from his unwashed jean shorts.
“Excuse me. My name is Dex. It’s really Dexter, but please call me Dex. Sorry to intrude, but may I be so bold as to ask if y’all could spare an old boy a beer?” The girls distracted Dex.
“Sure man.” Jake pulled a Coors can out of the cooler, knocked off the ice, and handed it to Dex, who grinned an incisor-voided smile. He wore a full beard.
“I appreciate it very much. By the way, what are your names?”
“This is Lindsay, and this is Anna.” A slight bow from Dex.
“Ladies. And what is your name kind sir?”
“Jake.” They shook hands.
“It is a pleasure to meet such beautiful, enlightened young people. I will not forget the beverage gesture. I’ll be on my way. Thank you very much.”
Dex bowed again and walked a few hundred feet down the beach and sat down in a rusted beach chair he was carrying. Jake sensed no harm from Dex’s demeanor.
Jake didn’t consider the local’s doubt concerning this homeless man.
Jake was scheduled to work at the restaurant this evening. Most of his days were spent on the beach or fishing with friends before he was off to work at night, shucking oysters and tapping kegs of beer. The year before, Jake was arrested for public drunkenness and eluding a police officer, tarnishing his name within local elites and friends’ families. Jake was labeled a troublemaker. Local hypocrisy taught him never judge anyone by mere appearance. Jake was friendlier towards Dex than many of the people he knew.
Jake watched Dex get out of his chair to assist a pregnant woman in setting up her umbrella while her other child distracted her. The mother was so grateful for help she noticed nothing out of the ordinary about Dex.
That spring and summer, a familiar crowd gathered day after day at Sumner’s Point. The Point, as locals called it, was located very close to the Mossy Oaks Hotel, a historic four star resort.
Dex was at the beach every day. He appeared from behind the sand dunes in the morning, grimacing in the damaging glare of the sun.
Dex always spoke to Jake and his crowd of friends, especially Lindsay and Anna. Dex never came on to any of the girls. He did not bother Jake, but he asked for beer on some days. Other days, Jake would give him a couple beers to stimulate conversation. He always made a brief appearance to speak to Jake.
It was a quiet Wednesday. It was a breezy day in May with not a cloud in the sky. It was the day Jake learned of the game. After the first beer of the day was opened Dex tossed a golf ball to Jake.
“Jakey, walk eleven paces away from where I am standing, and dig a golf ball size hole in the sand.”
Dex demonstrated by digging his hole first. Three inches deep. Dex built up a ramp of sand behind the hole.
The object was to stand behind one’s own hole as a boundary, and attempt to roll the golf ball into the opponent’s hole.
Making the shot depended on the day’s sandbank.
The coastline was eroding, and the beach break was different daily according to the tide. With no predictions of the break, a player could only become accustomed to sand level throughout the progression of the game. The first player to score three times won.
Under nostalgic patterns of sky, the game seemed familiar, facile, to Jake, but growing up on these shores, he never saw anyone playing the game before. Jake inquired about the nature of “beach golf”, as he rolled preliminary warm up shots, and Dex replied:
“As far as I know, I originated it, but I’m sure somewhere else, someone will say they invented it, after they see it played…”
“I’ve never seen anyone playing the game and I’ve lived here all my twenty years.”
“Neither have I in all my thirty five years. My idea would be to patent flags and distances concerning playoffs and degrees of difficulty. Perhaps even introducing a club. Hell, I’d be able to afford one of these beach houses if I could pawn the idea.”
Beer after beer, hour after hour, day after day, Dex and Jake played beach golf, oblivious to all that was going on around them. They didn’t play on weekends because too many people never seen such a sport, and they all wanted to play the game themselves, only bothering the players and disrupting the flow of the game. After some months, the shoreline regulars were accustomed to the game and no longer asked questions or watched.
In hours spent wiling away time with the game, Jake inquired about Dex’s youth. The only time they saw one another was at the beach. The foundation of the friendship was built upon beach golf.
Dex admitted his life faded since his youth. He was a carpenter by trade. He mentioned a hopeful childhood and an institution visit, but he did not elaborate on the nature or duration of his stay.
Jake learned from various people, and he always wanted to ask Dex about being a heavily recruited high school halfback. He wondered what kept Dex from following through on his talents. What went wrong? What brought him to this point?
“I hear tell you were a mean halfback in high school.”
“Yeah, but I liked defense better. When I tackled people, I didn’t want em’ to get up. Faded glory.”
Overall, they did not discuss details of their personal lives. They concentrated on matters at hand.
There was no regard for any other period of time than the present moment. Such was the nature of the friendship. Money had no bearing on the friendship. Neither man had anything to hide. They only wanted to concentrate on the game.
However, the drunker Dex became, the less the game interested him. While drunk, Dex moved through the shoreline crowd, talking, asking for beer or cigarettes. Only when he would become a blind, sloppy drunk, would Dex ever ask for food. On occasion, folks brought Dex something to eat from the beach concession stands such as a hamburger or hot dog; every blue moon, he was given money.
Since he slept in the sand dunes, or the public shower house, the local police were aware of Dex’s circumstances. He acted as if he shared a secret with the police. He leaned into the patrol car when conversing with officers who patrolled the beach parking lot daily.
Dex was an articulate conversationalist. His intelligence was obvious, but no one understood why he was in the homeless circumstance. The police did not consider Dex a threat.
In his intense drunkenness Dex would become disruptive. He became more animated and less shy about approaching complete strangers on the beach for food or alcohol; such confrontations and occurrences confirmed to locals Dex remained a menace.
Often, while drunk, Dex struck up conversations with a total stranger only to argue with an intense belligerence concerning an unrelated issue to the conversation. If
drinking all day, and someone refused to give him any food, he was liable to shout vicious obscenities,
“Stingy motherfuckers. You’re all a bunch of fucking hypocrites! The wrath is gonna fall on you all without warning!”
Dex possessed a proclivity for confrontation while intoxicated; there were times his words would invite a serious physical beating unless someone would drag him off or subdue him. On various occasions the police were called.
By early June, Dex still avoided any confrontations for the past couple of months. His freeloading, insane drunken reputation followed him no matter what state of mind or action he was in. Dex acted insane because he understood it was not difficult to convince the mockers of anything other than their inspired misunderstandings and distorted facts they operated upon concerning him. Dex had no time to explain circumstances that brought him down this road, knowing that not only these people could never endure what he had, but they did not care.
Quiet mornings on the beach distill clarity to the senses. A serenity fills the bones. Time’s complexity overwhelms seaside revelers on the shore. If the sky and ocean fail to tranquilize or wash away all problems within the mind, they boil life down to a few essential elements.
By late June, one had to run across the hot, soft sand towards the water. The feet would burn. One would also have to avoid sandspurs stabbing the feet with unexpected pain when walking or running down the beach or upon a path from the dunes.
On this humid Friday, Jake noticed Dex already dug the holes. He was practicing at ten o’clock in the morning. Grilled barbecue could be smelled from the pit back towards the concession stand.
“Let’s hit it Jakey. You mind if I grab a beer?”
“Be my guest.”
A festive vibration gathered towards a weekend party. A fanfare of motley seasiders: surfers, business men, sunbathers, house wives, sports freaks, bicyclers, runners, or anyone quitting work to get to the beach early.
“Beautiful day for our festivities Jakey.”
“Let’s get it on.”
“You’ve been on a winning streak this week. I may have come up with this game, but I’ll be damned if you ain’t a better player.”
“I’m gonna keep it goin’ today.”
They began to play the game. Four guys came down from the parking lot to the beach carrying coolers, footballs and horseshoes; with intense scrutiny they watched Jake and Dex play beach golf.
“I hope those rednecks stay out of our way.”
“Just do your thing.”
“I will if they quit gawking like idiots.”
“I gotta tell you Jakey, you’re straight on the mark. I wish I could stick around and see what you’re gonna come up with. I’m sure it’ll be undeniable.” Dex laughed.
“What the hell are you rambling about? Are you trying to get rid of me? Do you know the score is two to zero?”
“I ain’t gonna be around much longer.”
“Tired of takin’ ass whippins at beach golf?”
“I mean, next summer I won’t be here.”
“You’ll be around. And spare me the flattery, cause I’m one up on you.” Jake took another swallow of beer. He squinted in the sun as the rising tide flooded the game.
One afternoon during an intermission in one of the games, Dex’s friend, Shelly, made an appearance at the beach. Shelly was a tall, skinny, peroxide blonde, who chained smoked Marlboro reds.
Shelly brought Dex various condiments like a toothbrush, toothpaste, matchboxes, old shirts, shorts, sandals, hats, combs, and old towels. Dex never clarified his relationship with Shelly, yet it appeared they knew one another for years. Jake never asked questions.
Usually when Dex was given gifts, he was sober, unsuspecting, and very grateful. When sober Dex never made anyone feel as if they had to give him anything. A few people looked out for Dex, but there were many imperious to his charm.
It was weeks since Dex last talked with Shelly. Jake walked away from the golf holes towards a camp where his friends sat. He needed a break from the orbit of Dex’s beach golf. Dex already drank four of his beers today. Jake smiled at a striking girl in a light blue two piece bikini applying baby oil to her thin ankles sitting close by.
The local public beach on the Fourth of July takes on a circus-like atmosphere. The beach becomes an over population of natives, tourists, children, dogs, fishermen, bikers, mothers, fathers, rednecks, surfers, boiled peanut eaters, punks, barbecue junkies, smokers, drunks, police, Sunday fools, stoners, and everyone and their brother who can make it to the beach on Independence Day.
Exactly one year to the day upon first seeing him on the Fourth of July, Dex Metlow was the drunkest man Jake ever seen on the beach.
No mist hung over the breezeless ocean. Dex began drinking around nine in the morning; he started drinking vodka and Gatorade with two big women sitting on crazy faded quilts they gave him. He ate some of their potato salad. He talked romance with them in the bright morning light. Later in the holiday festiveness, Dex began drinking and giving away his Busch beer, from a twelve pack he managed to buy.
Dex reminded Jake of a stand up comic when he was tipsy; after a few drinks his mood lightened and he shined his humor. He had an actor’s sense of presence. His increase in drinking would unveil a lonely darkness hidden within depths of his frustrated sorrow.
Dex was blind drunk by noon. His levels of inhibition decreased. His shame faded in crowds. He believed himself to be less visible when drunk.
Dex began playing frisbee with some local friends, carrying on with drunken animation, and while chasing a free floating disc, he crashed into a picnic table littered with middle-aged tourists. After scattering food, drinks, and lunch supplies, Dex grabbed some chicken and several pieces of bread from the hot sand. Dex stumbled back to the camp with two biscuits and a chicken breast using the frisbee as if it were a plate. He lost himself in the festiveness like the party was in his own back yard. A stones throw from where he was standing, Dex’s belongings were stashed under some Prickly-pear Cactus near the sand dunes.
Radios blared along the shoreline-assorted songs sharing local stations, promoting an identical frequency echo along the parking lot. A string of ongoing currencies
flowed as one walked down the beach. A light breeze soothed, allowing one to forget, only for a moment, how hot it becomes on the Fourth of July. Obscure scents of coconut oil, iodine, beer, sweat, marijuana, and grilled food preserved a time span——evoking memories through a scent.
Just after two o’clock in the afternoon, returning from a blue smoke ritual in the salt cedar and marsh elder forest with Sara, Jake noticed Dex stood alone near the water, going through his tae kwon do motions. His isolation indicated his level of sobriety. Two weeks earlier, Dex lost two teeth in a fight, and received a dangerous beating initiated by him speaking with the wrong woman. Jake sat down with his friends. He opened a beer. What a holiday. He loved long weekends.
“There goes Dex,” said one of Jake’s friends uttered in a voice of resigned acceptance.
Jake felt festive and curious; he walked down towards the water to see what the sudden commotion was about. A small crowd gathered. Jake looked towards the life guard stand, and in full view of everyone, Dex began running up and down the shoreline, screaming, pointing at the sky, as if he were following something in the air. Dex acted as if he were loading a bazooka or mortar, with a target in sight, Dex fired at an invisible vessel in the sky. He made the sound effect of two explosions, and watched the invisible vessel fall from the abyss, into the ocean.
Dex let out a war cry, raising his arms in victory, and then walked back, through an astonished crowd, to his rusted beach chair in the sand dunes, where he lay down and passed out, as if nothing happened.
Jake witnessed people with their mouths open in astonishment, unsure of what they’d just seen, other shook their heads, some laughed, antagonized, pointed, jested, “You idiot, get a fucking job. Go sleep in the garbage...” No one understood the intended humor of Dex’s performance.
Jake could not take his bloodshot eyes from the floating red, white, and blue Budweiser hat floating in the foam of the rising tide near Dex. After the performance, Jake walked to the edge of the dunes where Dex was resting and tried to talk to him, but Dex was blind and incoherent. He recognized Jake and slurred in a whiskey laced voice:
“Great day for a ‘merican Jakey…” and then Dex began to snore. Today was a typical stunt Dex performed to keep people guessing as well as contributing to the public’s notions of his mental instability.
The locals began to feel even stronger about Dex being a dangerous nuisance to the community. They could not predict his actions, and being unsure of his intentions, they were compelled to label him insane.
Dex’s homelessness did not help in settling the uneasy minds of these locals. They looked down upon him. To them life was a matter of money and social standing, and Dex was at the bottom of their inspiration list. There was no action to revise their opinions. It was too late. These locals watched them out of the corner of their eyes for signs of insanity to verify and justify their idle gossip of him.
The vulgar mob fell blind to Dex’s maddening evenings under the stars, praying to God to allow him to find a way out of such forsaken circumstances. The local vultures never weighed the odds, tragedy or tribulation, stacked against the man; underneath Dex’s mask of random insanity, and reckless drunkenness, was a lonely, intelligent guy down on his luck and conditions of life; but he was not crazy or stupid.
As August weeks rolled on, Dex was more subdued at the beach. His appearances were not as predictable. When Dex did appear at the beach, he began wading out in the ocean.
With his feet, Dex unearthed sand dollars embedded a few feet in the thick, underwater sand. In the evenings, Dex would bleach the sand dollars he found that day, and allowed them to dry on newspapers he laid out under the stars near his night time fire in the dunes.
After drying the sand dollars, Dex painted a light sheer gloss on them. Once dry, Dex painted zen-like symbols and cryptic characters to sell to yankee tourists for three dollars apiece. Openhearted locals bought sand-dollars from Dex for one dollar. His sand-dollar trade made the locals more tolerant towards him.
The summer burned away. Coastal communities learn from seasonal wisdom of the past. Complex time conjures old riddles formed from crafty and foolish plans laid long ago bringing forth the fruit of those designs.
September reminded the coastal community it was hurricane season. Summer passed. Jake found fewer friends who would accompany him to the beach to play golf, drink, talk, swim, or waste time. Jake knew these days were fading fast.
Warnings of a tropical storm were in the news. In just a day or so, the storm was to be on Sumner’s Point. Huge cotton-ball shaped clouds floated just off the shore. The clouds were not pure white, but black and ominous, like smoke from an oil fire. The storm was approaching.
Jake knew the season was over. He began to feel foolish at the beach during this time of year. A season had passed. He wanted to see Dex one last time for the year.
Jake sat alone on the shore. The few people who were at the beach were beginning to leave. The storm served as a reminder for the dangerous chance hurricane season delivers. As he opened a newspaper, he heard someone call his name.
“Jakey! I knew you’d be here!” Dex strolled down the beach with a brown paper bag under each arm.
“Damn son, where you been?”
“Seasons are changing Jakey. You can’t fight change. Something here I want you to see. But drink a beer first.”
Dex opened up one of the paper bags and handed Jake a beer. Dex opened the other paper bag, and spread almost twenty painted sand dollars out on a beach towel.
“Did these with water colors.” Dex pointed to a few light colored painted sand dollars. Esoteric signs. Obscure symbols. Jake inspected a black and red painted sand dollar.
“Looking at the Chinese Kite,” said Dex, “that’s one of my favorites. You can keep that one. But take all you want. Even though I know you ain’t the sand dollar type.”
“That’s fine. I’ll just keep this one. Sell the rest.”
“I haven’t made much money, only enough to buy supplies, keep a bottle in the dunes, and buy a hot dog here and there. But these others aren’t watercolors. I should’ve painted these earlier in the season.”
The beach was empty. The kids were back in school. September breezes warded off sunbathers. No radio could be heard. The distant blanket of storm clouds creeped closer from the horizon to the shoreline.
“You wanna play one?”
“I forgot a ball. I’m gonna go to the pier and see if I can sell any of these, even though the season is dead. We’ll play tomorrow.”
The following day, the threatening storm had not passed. The beach was desolate. Even gulls were unseen. Winds from the south were gaining strength. Jake felt he
was becoming shiftless and pestilent abiding by the same routine. He decided no matter if Dex showed or not, this would be his last day at the beach until next spring.
Jake remembered Dex saying he was unsure concerning his winter trek. Dex hated the cold. He claimed he spent all of his winters in Florida.
There was a strange sky hovering over the beach. It seemed everything was under a dome of lead. Jake understood things would never be the same after today, as if this era in his life would be forever disconnected from his self and immediate circumstances; surrounding, friendships, and employment would all metamorphosize into some faded memory.
As Jake drove into the parking lot, he noticed Dex speaking with three men. Dex was speaking with animated fervor to the men. The three men were all tattooed and drinking. They did not seem to appreciate what Dex was telling them.
Jake parked away from the shower house in the corner of the empty public parking lot. He did not take off his shoes, shirt, or hat. He carried a towel as he walked down
the familiar shelled path towards the beach. The wind was constant. The tide was rising as if some unforeseen force pushed the waters higher on the shore. A sea mist floated above the waters. Jake knew he was doing all of this for the last time. He knew there would never again be such a laid back summer.
Jake looked over his shoulder, back up the path, and he noticed Dex following him, walking towards the beach with his head down. Dex was carrying a brand new lawn chair. He was wearing a red Hawaiian shirt, a golf hat, sunglasses, and a pair of tan shorts. He carried a brown paper bag under his left arm. Jake knew it was a strange time of year for new seaside paraphernalia. Despite the cosmetic change, Dex appeared melancholy. Sober even.
Once they got down to the shore, they noticed the battalions of storm clouds that filled the sky and marched towards them. Dex pulled the golf ball out of his side pocket on the new khaki shorts.
“Looks like we don’t have much time to declare a champion,” said Dex, “only one warm up shot apiece.”
“Looks like the last game of the year.”
“The last one forever Jake.”
Jake offered no remark concerning the gravity of Dex’s utterance. They began digging the golf holes.
“Let’s play the seven foot overtime deck…”
Jake attempted to make the game interesting once it was obvious Dex was tired and distracted in setting up camp. Dex stopped digging and sat down in the sand. He reached for his beer. He looked at the sky.
“A lot more goes on than the poor human eye sees. Y’know all this is an illusion, right?”
“There are arguments for that.”
“This test called life is a strange thing. There is more to it than what our senses tell us. We can hear and touch, taste, smell and see everything, but there is something else watching and allowing coincidences and ironies to occur; and it’s called God. So, all these worries and concerns people have, about what people think of them, or who dies with the most money, or who is more famous. To me, the truest of the true are the ones who suffer and strive for others...not the rich. Life is worth more than fitting a profile of a wealthy television image.”
Dex drained the last of his beer. He did not stand. He pulled out two more cans of Budweiser from the paper bag. He put the bag back under the brand new lawn chair still smelling of fresh plastic, and handed a beer to Jake, who began to have second thoughts about Dex’s sobriety.
The dark pillows of clouds seemed to blot out all sounds. A calm before the storm. Dex looked toward the sky as if some explanation for his dilemmas were somewhere within the dark density of the clouds. There were no signs of summer in the sky.
“I was fired in Tampa because I watched a little girl’s dog get run over by a car; and by going down to console her and help out, they accused me of leaving the job site without permission. So they fired me.
“I’ve always been the odd man out. Never had rich parents. I had no inheritance to live off of like a lot of these idiots; to them it has nothing to do with earning money, or the desolation of misfortune. Many wealthy people believe poor people are stupid. I’ve always carried around this faith that being poor, especially if you try not to be, is okay. For me, it’s the opposite of an inborn fear. The rich never understand the difference money makes. They claim it brings on more problems; but the problems are not as serious as the ones that come from having no money. Those with lifelong wealth will never understand the concept. Your either blessed or cursed to know this, I can’t decide, but I don’t complain, and yet, I’d like to see some of these candy asses walk a mile in my moccasins.
They think I am something other than human. They should take a closer look at me. I have blinking eyes. I bleed. Cry. Moan. Scream. Gnash my teeth. Shit. Piss. I feel lonely. Sad. Blissful. I have memories. Lost loves. Only God knows the story. He is the only judge.
“Money doesn’t fool me. These people are no better than me only because they have deep bank accounts, but you can’t explain this to them; they’ll hate you; snuff you out if they had a chance. Those motherfuckers don’t care Jakey. Listen to me, you’re young, and open hearted, but things are gonna get harder. Money brings a better life. But it does not make the life. I know I’m not wrong. But what a terrible price to pay for being right. Yet, in spite of this insight Jakey, I’ve managed to piss everything away. Pissed away all my talent and all my leverage.
“Now here I am on this dreary beach, drinking this shit, losing my mind. I have nothing. It’s a terrible view I’m looking from. The only thing I have to look forward to is you coming down and playing beach golf with me Jakey. You’ve got soul Jake. I’ve always said that. You know I invented that fucking game…”
“You should patent the game.”
“Patent the game? You know how much money that takes? It’s not easy to patent something, especially when you sleep on the beach and keep all of your belongings in a plastic trash bag. There is too much leg work for a homeless man to patent anything. It’s twisted justice. Things don’t seem to be getting any better.”
The low, black clouds looked evil and dangerous. Dex watched an ant wandering to a small hole in the sand while a regiment of others, marching in a single file line, with an unrelated intention and destination, scaled the vast desert beyond, towards homeward dominions. Dex handed Jake another beer.
“It’s a cold, heartless world. I know it may sound selfish, but you’ve got to live for yourself amid everyday bullshit tribulations. There won’t be anything left of you, if you don’t. I’m not saying, do not love thy neighbor—love them, but don’t try and save their soul. You can’t do that. The only power you have is to save your own soul, and if you do that in accordance with God, you won’t be just living for yourself. It’s easy to be a hypocrite and pass judgement on others. Some of these rich idiots don’t know
how hard it’s gonna get for them. Bank accounts of the damned. They judge and hate so easily. I’m not talking about working people, they are too busy surviving; paying the bills. But no matter how much pain and sorrow your faith may cause you, you can’t betray instinct, even if it kills you. If you do, you’ll run the risk of being one of these hypocrites, who are all so vain, believing their opinions make them talented and worth gold. Those vultures are just wasting away operating on illusion, believing their opinions will last forever. It’s an evil world. Shit man, even when you have faith, they’ll crucify you.”
Dex let out a long sigh. He rubbed his eyes as if to see the oncoming storm clearer. Distant thunder rumbled in the heavens.
“I think of the Bible a lot Jake. I’ve had one of those small green Gideon’s since high school. I often think of the passage that begins: ‘Oh God save me, may those who seek my life be put to shame and confusion; may all those who desire my ruin be turned back in disgrace.’”
Dex poured the last of his beer into his mouth without opening his eyes. He let out a low belch.
“I suppose I’m being punished for drinking too much despite realizing its foolishness.”
They began the game. Tremendous explosions of thunder reverberated across the sky. Distant lightning spliced the horizon. Conversation was unnecessary. Past days of shared folly on familiar shores enlightened some vague telepathy. Another flash of lightning lit up the dark noon and disappeared as if a celestial bulb exploded. No ships could be seen on the horizon. A biblical mist covered the sea. Visibility was low. A sense of time was untraceable. These two friends, like ghosts, alone on the beach amid a dream, ignored the storm. Neither of the players wanted to walk away from this small era of friendship period, which they both understood would end today.
Thunder exploded like an asphalt building were cracking open, sending a heavenly shudder through the blood as if an echoing wisdom reminded change could not be ignored.
“This storm looks serious,” said Dex scratching his head.
“It may be the blackest sky I’ve ever seen.”
The approaching rain sounded like a cosmic drone, or some demented applause falling over the ocean. Another splice of lightning lit up the dark noon not far down the beach.
“We’re like unwanted guests Jakey…”
“It’s a sign…”
They gathered their belongings and started for the Sumner Pointe beach entrance. The rain was on them.
“Hell fire boy, the bottom is gonna drop out,” yelled Dex as he managed to throw away his beer cans while running by a county garbage barrel.
They were running. Millions of godsent water bullets pounded the beach and ocean without regard for any human concern. Skeletons of rain remained in the untrodden sand.
Dex ran for the shower house. Jake ran for his car.
“Take cover Jakey!” Dex was laughing. They were running on separate paths——exploding orbits. Dex was jumping over box wood hedges towards the concrete shower house.
Once he was in his car, the windows steaming, him soaked, Jake realized he never got the chance to wish Dex good luck of good bye in affirmation of their friendship.
Jake always believed he would see Dex again so he didn’t see a point in driving back to the public concession area.
After the last day they played golf, the rain did not stop for ten days. Local concerns surrounded the unpredictable weather, hurricane fears, allowing residents to forget out-of-season concerns.
The winter did not descend until mid-November. Jake inquired through various sources on Dex’s whereabouts. Vague tales claimed he murdered someone. Someone murdered him. Other stories told of Dex selling out, becoming employed, taking prescribed medication and getting fat. However, no matter the degree of truth in the tales, Dex was not seen upon his hometown shores again. In time, he faded from the collective community’s memory.
Years later, Jake returned to the coast for a funeral. Broke, and emotionally exhausted, he wanted to sit alone at “The Pointe”, and remember better days.
He sat at his favorite inlet on a wooden bench. The bench was not there when he was growing up. Small changes transformed to the place over the years. An opulent banquet hall was added to the Mossy Oaks Hotel. A receding shoreline faded into condominiums and tourist shops.
There was enough change about the place to make him long for what it used to look like.
Jake noticed near the shallow, low tide, two middle aged men were playing beach golf in the identical area he and Dex played years before. Jake felt as if he were playing out moments of innermost horrors of his life. The ironies of his past and present overwhelmed him on his hometown shores as these two imposters carried out with their charade.
An unusually cool breeze mocked the June heat. Jake could not shake the serendipity of attending a funeral, and just at the moment of solitude, he discovered this maddening irony.
Jake watched the men toss the golf ball with motions of young girls unfamiliar with techniques or fundamentals of the game, or any sport.
A heavy set man, wearing an Australian lifeguard hat, gold bracelets, and a Rolex watch, conducted himself with the utmost confidence. The other player, a gray haired man, with thin, pale alcoholic legs was lobbing the golf ball in a feeble manner. The holes were too close together.
The men looked to be in their fifties. They were drinking what looked to be orange juice in small bar glasses. Jake noticed they were either living in, or renting the large three-story beach house a few hundred feet away.
They had no sense of the game. They could never handle Dex Metlock’s marathon playoff sessions. Jake felt a nauseous feeling in his stomach. It was a haunting and cruel day. He watched the gimpy, rich alcoholics pretending to play beach golf for some time. He heard them compliment one another on their skills. Jake heard the hatless man inform a curious beach walker, with an arrogant countenance, who inquired on the nature of the game,
“We’re considering putting a patent on this game, and take it on the road and see how far we can run with it. It’s all about how things appear anyway…”
Jake wanted to run down to the beach, and grab the man by the throat and inform him, he would not patent anything, that he was there from the beginning with the originator, long before these charlatans discovered their act. He wanted to tell them they weren’t even playing the game right. He would tell them it has nothing to do with the way things appear.
Jake felt a burning in his stomach. He was having difficulty breathing. It seemed a perverse joke was being played on him by some invisible jester. A fateful torment. He stood up from the initial carved wooden bench, and walked away from the beach, towards the parking lot. A smell of gardenias overwhelmed him, and saddened him more at their sweetness. He had no resources to prove Dex originated the game. A disorienting sorrow wracked his bones.
Without noticing, Jake stumbled through a row of azaleas and holly trees, scratching his arms, and walked down the Mossy Oak’s colorful mosaic sidewalk leading towards the new banquet hall.
A young, dark haired waiter, smoking a cigarette, in his maroon hotel uniform, stopped Jake under a low awning, and without hostility, but a firm grip on his shoulder, and said:
“Sir, you are not a guest here. I’m afraid you’ll have to return to the beach.”
Jake could not bring himself to say anything to the waiter. He walked towards the exit of these expensive hotel grounds, and Jake shuddered at his future. He walked with his head down. When he looked up, he noticed Anna Reynolds, an old girlfriend, who was now married with two children walking towards him. They caught the other’s eye. She was alone with her girls. He could tell by the look in her eye, she knew about the funeral. She’d spent many days upon these very same shores with him.
“Oh my…Jake is that you?” They embraced as old memories flooded his mind.
“You’re beautiful as ever.”
“Jake, I’m so sorry about your father. He was great. My mom told me the news.”
“Are these your girls?”
“This Ashley and this is Audrey. Say hello to Mr. Jake. He’s an old friend of Mama’s.”
“They’ll be beautiful as you. You married? Obviously.”
“Yeah. About eight years.”
“Well, I’ll let you go,” said Jake, as Ashley, the oldest daughter picked a gardenia and gave it to Jake.
“Well, how nice.”
“Let me put it in your lapel,” said Anna.
“Feels like the old days.” He said looked into her dark blue eyes knowing time destroyed everything between them.
“Those old feelings never go away, do they? Sorry about your Dad. And don’t be a local stranger when you come home.”
As he walked to the car, the fresh gardenia scent reminded him of death. The past was dead...