by Daniel Morris
A guy calls, “ICE COLD WATER, ICE COLD COKES.” Then quietly: “beers”. His white shirt is sweated through and he’s wearing jeans out here at the seaside, sand in his socks.
“Hey buddy, some of those.”
The drinks are in two plastic bags, the bottoms heavy with ice. It probably costs him 4 for a 6-pack. He charges 3 a beer. 6 beers, that’s 18. 14 for profit.
“Keep the change and keep ‘em coming.”
A lady sells mangoes on sticks. Want it with lemon juice, hot sauce, salt. That costs 3. One man in a sweater sells bandanas. One for 1 dollar, that’s cheap. This one, in the long sleeves and tie, he’ll take your photograph and he’s got a funny hat that you can wear. There’s necklaces and cotton candy. But people get thirsty and 3 for a beer is a good deal when you’re at the shore.
“Buddy, here, buddy,” is what people say, exposed in bathing suits, showing moles and other spots. When they pay he puts each can in a paper bag so it’s not so obvious. Don’t want the cops here, bringing their uniforms that are black and severe against the rest of the day, the bright rinse, wearing their boots to the beach when nobody does that.
A whole afternoon goes, a whole sky gone sunburned. Some people buy two or three times. Four trips to the liquor store and he returns with two 6 packs each trip. So far that’s 48 beers sold. 32 invested, 144 earned, profit by 112.
“WATER… COKES…” and then, “beers,” calls the man. He stops to rest, twice folding carefully the wet bills before putting them in his pocket. But the beach measures all of that, and he will not stop for long.
When you arrive there’s a rubber in the sand (rubbers have a home at Rockaway). But there’s also a moment getting there, when the subway car leaps across the bay and ahhh, one feels a release, a relief. The train, it becomes a sleek, low javelin, filled with air, skimming the water. And there, shacks on the shore, falling in. Ahhh…
It’s a short walk through town. Expensive cheap beach chairs, sandals, a liquor store where a grown woman tells a grown man to behave. There’s another man on a bike, bandana on his head, fuzzy mustache, talking to very young girls, “I own my own business,” he says, and there are the old and lame. Pass a hotel — the open doors lead to closed doors and you can’t see through their windows. Towels for sale, and coconut smelling suntan lotion.
But you don’t have to go far for privacy. There’s quieter places down the boardwalk — one spot where there’s a woman and a man. She’s got a body like women have. Taut or firm. Ahhh… To suck on the clean shoulder, with lips like leeches lips, on the bony extremity, the ball. Tasting the tan, feeling for the light hairs, smelling of sea perfume. To be with her on a dry July day, here where the water is and the gulls go.
She’s on her knees, talking, all of her bikini, just right there. They part, the legs, they part. To be right there, behind the… Pull that strap down around, around the…
Teenagers laugh from down the beach. Teenagers in a circle, they’re always in a circle, teenagers it seems, surrounding each other.
She turns to look. And there is only the gray sand gleaming, of rubbers and a stranger’s eyes.
“Don’t let him get away, for the police,” yells a man.
There’s a commotion on the train platform, a milling crowd. But there’s blood… Someone is holding their head as blood drips through the fingers. There’s been a fight. There is broken glass; he was hit with a bottle.
The bleeding man’s wife is watching, arms crossed, unreadable behind sunglasses. The man who hit him has a wife too; she even has a stroller with a baby in it. Husbands and wives? Babies and blood? Passing strangers absorb this scene in brief, and wonder.
But the blood has marked something, signified it — a line crossed, a thing gone too far, a point where anger has become shame. One man waits for help; the other waits for punishment. And for now, there is nothing else between them than that.
These are reasonable people.
Do you urinate in the ocean? You know, pee in the sea — a tentative release, a brief warmth, mild pleasure, while chest-deep and looking thoughtful. But what about all of them? All of those people on the weekend. The water seems warmer here, is it from all the radiating bodies, or is it from — if they do it too.
Oh and see, there it is. A boy, peeing in the surf, hands to hips. There it is. He’s… It’s an alarming stream, a great lancing sword of urine, blasting shells and pebbles from the wet packed sand. No child has ever seemed more proud.
In the wintertime when the storms come there are signs that say Don’t Swim, although they say it in a more serious way, as inland filth gets washed to the coast. But today it’s summer and there are tents and dogs and trash. There are old women with skin like crumbling foam and bosoms that are inelastic and deeply parted. People creep to the water and there are clinging lovers, fat bellies, diapers, sweating bodies, hairiness, and how can they be so close together, so ever close to touching near-naked? Touching while the ocean spits, sucks it all out and then spits.
There’s a taxi stand under the train platform, in shade that stays warm. The drivers wear sunglasses, they read newspapers and have their shirts open two or three buttons from the collar. They call out to the crowds that descend the platform steps.
“20 dollars for the beach,” they say, pointing with their toothpicks in what may or may not be the direction of the beach.
“16 here. I can do 16.”
But what about the sea air? And the streaky sky and deep brine smell, out here away from the city, where the sun is closer, so that you feel it breathing on your shoulders?
“4 each, boss. 4 each,” says one. He’s got an island accent, a baseball cap with a pink brim.
And the beach might be nice; the sand fair and the tide calm. And the people there may be young and rich seeming, on a summer break from expensive schools, how else can they possess such ease, eating food and drinking beer while the lifeguards say “Hello hello” to the girls in the two-pieces.
But back at the station another train arrives.
“20 to the beach.”
“4 each, 4 each.”
It’s a familiar game. An old contest waiting to be renewed.
Daniel Morris‘s writing has appeared at McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and The Rumpus, and his noir horror novel, The Canal — which is based on Brooklyn’s infamous Gowanus Canal — is currently available as an ebook. He also blogs reluctantly at his website: www.danielmorris.info.
Illustration by Margarita Korol.