Lately I’ve felt like I’ve lost my touch in meeting up with local color and characters, so I was pretty happy with my day at the beach yesterday. (I changed some names just in case and I left out a bunch of the very scattered conversational threads.)
Polly, A and I packed lunch, beach chairs and books and thought we’d have a nice peaceful, productive read-in now that school’s in session and the beach is pretty empty.
We hadn’t counted on black flies, though.
Mr. Fun-in-the-Sun tried to distance himself from us as quickly as possible, since flies don’t attack him unless he’s with Polly and me. He buried his face in Programming in Objective-C 2.0 – his idea of a good beach read – and Polly and I started dancing around swatting flies.
We hung around the tide line until we met Carl. Carl was wearing a bright yellow NASCAR baseball cap and he had gold teeth and the stub of a cigar in his mouth. He was struggling with a cooler, fishing gear and a horny Jack Russell terrier named Petey.
His buddy, Irwin, pounded white PVC pipes into the sand to hold the fishing rods while Carl talked. Then Carl started rooting through the cooler and realized that he’d left the bait back in the truck. He took off for the parking lot.
While he was gone Irwin assured me that even though Carl was crazy – he never really recovered from Vietnam – he was perfectly harmless and Irwin would keep him in check in case he stepped out of line.
I nodded. I know that, like black flies, I attract every kook on the beach and that’s fine, as long as they don’t bite.
Carl came back, and kept right on talking.
“Been comin’ here for more’n forty years now. Hell, my gran’ pappy built Uncle Buddy’s restaurant in town. Come all the way down here to build that place. Built the other Buddy’s, too.
“Took us less’n 3 hours to get here now. Before they built the new road, used to take us all day. Drive from one town to the next – stop in each one for a drink before headin’ to the next town. All day, it’d take.”
Carl told me he had a Corvette, same color as his NASCAR cap. He’s not driving now – got a DWI a couple of weeks ago. His first, he said. I doubted that.
By the time we came back, a third guy was standing around the fishing poles. Carl was pointing to his watch and telling him his Corvette’s upholstery was black with blue stripes, just like the watch. The new guy was Bill.
Here’s the thing about Southern good ole boys and their dogs – at least the ones I tend to meet. Big, burly guys with thick necks and tattoos, a wad of tobacco in their cheek or a butt dangling from their lips: they all have little wuss dogs. Bill had this yappy little Chihuahua type dog, Fred, with ‘Bad to the Bone’ embossed on its leash.
I did my one public service activity of the day: I told them that if they saw the park ranger coming they needed to hide their beer or else the ranger would make them POUR IT OUT in the sand. We’d watched that happen too many times this summer.
Carl started shifting things around in the cooler, covering stuff. “Don’t care about the beers – it’s the whiskey. Paid 47 bucks for it and I’m not gonna water no beach with it.”
A was still engrossed in Objective-C 2.0 when we sat down. We’d brought a swarm of flies and he encouraged us to keep walking, head out of town with Carl and Irwin, anything — as long as we took the flies with us.
I threw a tennis ball for Polly for a while, then we walked down the beach again. When we came back, Carl, Irwin and Bill were still looking out at the waves. The fishing poles hung lifeless, not even a hint of a nibble.
“Catch your dinner yet?” I asked.
“Not unless they’re having dog.” Bill offered this and pointed to Polly, the only one of the three dogs that would provide more than a mouthful.
Carl broke out into what I assume was Vietnamese for ‘barbequed dog’, then “No way! Never again!” and he kept on chattering. I couldn’t understand a word he said, which is probably just as well.
I checked to see if A was anywhere near ready to leave and finally he was. We folded up the chairs and gathered our stuff.
I walked back over to Irwin to wish him luck with the fishing. Carl had wandered off somewhere with Bill. I told Irwin not to let Carl drive. Irwin told me not to worry.
We were almost to the road when someone bellowed “Bye Natasha!” from the beach.
I turned to see Carl waving and I yelled back “Bye y’all.”
A: “You’re being loud.”
“Of course I am. Why do you think they like me?” I sniffed. “Nobody talking to you about Objective C Programming out there.”
We kept swatting at flies until we got in the car.