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I ran away from New Jersey to Carlsbad

A bachelor at 60

Noteworthy mention in the 1983 Reader Writing Contest

After thirty years of my taking out the garbage and performing other husbandly chores, the sovereign State of New Jersey decreed that our “till death do us part” marriage was now dissolved. The first day of bachelorhood for a man pushing sixty was absolutely miserable. The company’s personnel manager telephoned, telling me not to bother to come to work anymore, because of my excessive absences. It did no good to argue with him about my excellent attendance record for the twenty years that I had worked there. The company was not at all sympathetic to my personal marital problems. He said that I was fired — period. Even the weatherman made it miserable for me that day. All day long he pissed on me while I walked the streets moaning and groaning. By nightfall it changed to icy rain, forcing me to go back to my studio apartment.

When I awoke the next morning, a mountain of snow stood on top of my gold Pontiac. I gulped down a cup of instant coffee, cursing the weatherman for forcing upon me the chore of the day. Goldy, as I affectionately called my ’78 buggy, had to be freed or she would freeze her block off. After shoveling for more than two hours, the path of freedom for Goldy was now possible. However, the guys at city hall had other plans that affected poor Goldy. They sent a two-ton bully from the sanitation department, who came by dropping his load of white shit all around Goldy. No way was I going to spend another two hours digging her out. Goldy knew that. I looked at Miss ’78 and saw the icy tears dripping down her face Something had to be done to warm her chassis. I fed her all the alcohol she could drink and I covered her body with a blanket. Satisfied that Goldy would be all right, I went back to my pad and did the same for myself. The rest of the day was spent sleeping while watching the boob tube.

In my dream, the left side of the brain was conferring with the right side:

Lefty: Why don’t you tell the boss where to go?

Righty: What do you mean?

Lefty: You know. What we’ve been telling him for years.

Righty: I don’t remember. You’re the memory expert. You tell me.

Lefty: Let’s tell him to go to San Diego to get away from this cold weather.

Righty: You tell him.

Lefty: No, you tell him. He likes you better than me. I told him to stay married, but he listened to you.

Righty: No, he didn’t. He listened to her. She told him to get the hell out of the house. So he did.

Lefty: Okay, let’s not quibble as if we’re married to each other. Just tell him that America’s Finest City is waiting for him and . . .

The rattling of my brains was too much for me. I couldn’t sleep anymore. I turned on the lights and my sleepy eyes noticed it was 4:10 a.m. At that instant the light bulb in my cranium lit up, too. An idea was formed. My vocal chords muttered an astonishing sentence. ”Get out of New Jersey. Go west, old man, go west.”

Lefty and Righty calmed down, and I was able to fall asleep peacefully.

The zero-degree weather really did a job on Goldy. The next morning when I turned the key to try and start her, she couldn’t even groan one sound. The doctor from the auto club couldn’t revive her. I had no choice but to get her a new battery. How could I get to the auto parts store? Hiking in the snow was not my idea of fun. I decided to call Edith.

Edie was a good friend, whom I had met at a singles dance. We both liked each other from dance number-one on. We shared the same common denominator about our feelings of being separated from our spouses after many years of marriage.

“Edie, I’m glad you teachers get a day off when it snows so heavily. Could you please drive me to a Sears store? Goldy is sick and needs a new battery under her hood. ”

“What color do you think she’d like?” she wisecracked.

I liked her for her smarts and her good looks. “Well, girls usually wear pink underneath,” I answered, trying to be funny. “But Goldy is no ordinary girl. We’ll have to find her something special, like a Christian Dior battery.”

Edie didn’t crack a smile. At least I couldn’t tell on the telephone. However, she came to pick me up.

On the way to the shopping center, I broke the news to her. “Honey, I’ve decided to go to San Diego.”

She said nothing.

“Well, what do you think?”

“Why San Diego? Know anybody there?”

“No, not a soul. I read in the New York Times that it is America’s Finest City. Besides, they never have zero weather out there. ”

“When are you leaving?”

“As soon as Goldy is ready. My divorce is now final. I’ve been fired from the job. My kids are away in school. So there’s nothing that says that I need to freeze here. California here I come.”

“I wish you lots of luck, Al. I’ll miss you. You’ve been good to me.”

“I’ll miss you too, Edie. You’ve been good for me. I always enjoyed your company very much. ”

There was silence.

“Maybe you’d like to come along, honey?”

“No, you know that I can’t do that. My four kids live here. I’ll miss my grandson too much. My mother and father are getting older, and I wouldn’t want to be 3000 miles away from them. ”

“I didn’t ask you to marry me. All I wanted was a back-seat driver.”

“Thanks, but no thanks. I still have my teaching job to consider. I have no vacation till February. ”

Saying good-bye is never easy. Perhaps if I had met Edie after being single a few years, I might have asked her to marry me. But it was too soon after our divorces for both of us to remarry. Besides, I wanted to change my lifestyle completely. No more nine-to-five jobs for me. I would become a writer, something I always wanted to do. San Diego would be the ideal place to make that change.

As soon as Goldy wore her new outfit and had a make-up job done, she looked happy as a princess. She kicked over very easily and purred like a kitten. Soon we were happily cruising on Route 80, heading for the golden west. I couldn’t help but laugh when just as we crossed the Jersey border, Goldy passed wind through her exhaust pipe making backfiring noises, as if she were expressing her opinion of the state she was leaving.

Several days later we arrived at Pacific Beach. The seventy-two-degree weather in mid-December was most satisfying. I parked my buggy and walked on the beach to watch the handsome California surfers dancing on the waves. A couple of hours later I returned to Goldy to find that she had been mugged. Her new battery was stolen. Poor Goldy, she never recovered from the shock. Everything went wrong with her.

Her motor stopped motoring, her steering mechanism stopped steering, her pistons stopped working, too. She just couldn’t function properly anymore. It was no consolation for me to receive twenty-five dollars from a junk undertaker, who laid her to rest in a potter’s field steel graveyard.

Anyway, life had to go on, Goldy or no Goldy. There is always someone else in this world with whom you can start another relationship. The following day I met my Japanese girlfriend. She was living on a lot owned by a Toyota dealer. It was love at first sight for me. Her chassis was a perfect 10 figure. Her headlights were more outstanding that Dolly Parton’s, especially when they lit up at night. Her rear end was the type all guys loved to stare at, both heterosexual and homosexual. When I drove Toya home, she responded beautifully to every command that I gave her. Best of all, Toya consumed only half the food and drink that Goldy was used to. So I took her everywhere that I went.

Soon I had a hippie hairdo, an Abe Lincoln beard, and my wardrobe consisted of a pair of shorts and an old pair of tom sneakers. Tempus fugitus very, very rapidly, and it was time for me to start a career as a writer and to make some money. The first writing I did was to Edie? I sent her a letter telling her about the fantastic sights in San Diego, Balboa Park, the zoo, Sea World, et cetera. Most of all I described how beautiful the sunsets are here, and the fantastic comfortable weather. About Goldy, I only told half the truth, because I didn’t want her to know that there are muggings here too. Goldy died of old age, was what I wrote in my coroner’s report. Of course I mentioned Toya, a fantastic replacement.

It took longer than I expected to receive an answer from Edie. At first I thought that perhaps she was involved in a new relationship, or whatever. However, one day Uncle Sam delivered a letter postmarked from Livingston, N.J. Anxiously I read it. She said that she really missed me and that there was practically no humor in her daily life since I had left. She wrote a typical wisecracking letter, drawing pictures of smiling faces on the borders. I sat down to answer her immediately.

Her birthday was coming up in February, so I decided to invite her to America’s Finest City, as my present to her, all expenses paid. I sent her the following Chinese menu invitation:

Choose One From Column A & One From Column B

A

  1. Thanks, but no thanks. My mother warned me about guys like you.
  2. San Diego? Where is that? In Tijuana?
  3. Can I bring mom and dad? And my four kids? And grandson?
  4. Yes, but only if you have two bedrooms. Or if you sleep on the couch.
  5. Yes. I accept your invitation to come to San Diego.

B

  1. Yes, but only if you shave, have a haircut, and behave.
  2. No, I’m afraid of nudists, hang gliders, and earthquakes.
  3. No, I need to know you better. Call me in ten years.
  4. Yes, I am buying a one-way ticket.
  5. Thanks, but no thanks. I think you’re crazy, or something.

Edie’s answer pleased me. From column A she chose number five, and from column B she picked number one. She added that she would bring her own surprise fortune cookies, and Lefty and Righty kept fantasizing what that would be.

It was mid-February when Edie arrived at Lindbergh Field. Only one unpleasant happening occurred during her ten-day vacation: it rained nine out of the ten days. It wasn’t ordinary rain, but buckets and buckets came down continually. However, I wouldn’t let the weatherman spoil her vacation. We went to the museums, concerts, restaurants, theater, et cetera. Between raindrops we managed to visit Chester, the bear at the zoo. The most enjoyable evening Edie had was when Dr. Micheal Dean hypnotized me and made me sing like Al Jolson. Poor Mr. Jolson; he must have turned over in his grave hearing me sing. I’ll bet he was crying for his mammy.

The vacation was over for Edie much too quickly. Back to her teaching job in cold New Jersey she went. The fortune cookie prediction she intended to present to me did not happen. She didn’t want to marry and live in rainy San Diego. Back to beach bumming and to my beard I went.

Several weeks went by, and I missed Edie more and more. Ma Bell may be a nice lady for getting us together every night but she charges a lot of money for her services. I told Edie that we could save the money on telephone bills and apply it instead to a second visit to

America’s Finest City. She accepted gladly, saying that this time she would bring her raincoat, umbrella, and boots.

By now I had an apartment on the ocean front in Carlsbad. Edie was to arrive on June 29, when school would be in recess, and she’d stay till Labor Day. Unbeknownst to her were two important facts. Number one, I had to vacate the apartment by July 1 for the summer rental. Secondly, I was planning a wedding, California style. It would be held on the beach on June 30 at sunset. Also it would be open to the public a la pot-luck fashion. A friend of mine agreed to handle the details, like notifying the newspapers, TV stations, et cetera. We hoped that a landlord would come forth and offer us an apartment by July 1.

On June 29 Edie arrived as scheduled, and while Toya was transporting us to North County, I told my fiancée of my plans.

“My wedding on the beach? Pot luck for the public? TV cameras? You’ve got to be kidding,” she questioned me suspiciously.

My head shook negatively. “You’re crazy,” she screamed. “No, I’m crazy for agreeing to come back to San Diego. No wedding for me on the beach or anywhere else. Turn this frickin’ car around. I’m going home.”

It was the first time that I had ever heard a cuss word from my well-mannered friend. Even Toya got excited at being cursed. Her adrenalin shot up to seventy miles per hour, and I had to step heavily on her foot to slow her down to the legal limit.

“Take it easy, honey, nothing is happening. It was all a joke,” I lied.

“You mean that?”

“Sure, I mean that. Scout’s honor. Whoever heard of a beach wedding? Even Californians don’t do that. It was just an idea I had for a story that I’m writing and…”

“Okay, I’m sorry that I lost my temper,” she apologized. “For a minute I thought that you were serious. You know, I really thought that you were crazy enough to pull a stunt like that.”

Lefty and Righty sighed heavily, and I managed a weak smile. While Edie was in the shower and changing her clothes, I called as many friends as I could, whispering to them to forget the wedding. We had no potluck wedding on the thirtieth, and Larry Himmel missed out on a newsworthy story. Instead the entire day was spent trying to find another apartment. By 6:00 p.m. that evening we still had no luck.

“Let’s have a pizza at Chicago Brothers,” I suggested. “Maybe our luck will change.”

Sure enough, on the way to the restaurant we noticed a “for rent” sign on Jefferson Street. We contacted the owner, who agreed to let us move in at nine in the morning. We hadn’t even seen the apartment, but we liked the location, which overlooked the Buena Vista lagoon. It was a beautiful condominium complex, and our apartment was especially nice. We had the nicest neighbors possible, the Pelicans and the Cranes, as well as ducks and birds. Pete and Polly Pelican were very nosy (no pun intended). They always came to watch us dine on the patio. Mr. and Mrs. Charlie Crane were a little more courteous. They visited our dining area only once in a while. The ducks and the birds were like our children. They were around all the time. Needless to say, Edie and I enjoyed watching them freeloading our food.

The condominium complex had an outdoor pool and a Jacuzzi. It was Edie’s first introduction to the hot tub, and she enjoyed it immensely. When I had had enough heat on my body, I got out of the Jacuzzi, dried myself, and put on a robe. Turning my back to Edie, I took off my wet bathing trunks and hung them on the fence to dry. Edie was embarrassed; angrily she whispered to me, “Don’t do that. What would the neighbors say?”

“There’s nobody around. Besides, this is California. Nobody cares what you do here,” I said trying to calm her.

She jumped out of the tub, took the trunks off the fence, and handed them to me. She told me in no uncertain terms that what I did was improper and disrespectful. While walking the path back to the apartment, she insisted that I hide the trunks inside the towel and look as inconspicuous as possible.

A couple of weeks later we were in the Jacuzzi again. This time Edie got out of the hot water first. Without turning her back toward me, she took off her bathing suit and started drying her body au naturel. I was shocked and yelled, “Edie, don’t do that. What will the neighbors say?”

I jumped out of the Jacuzzi and handed her my robe. She threw it back to me, using the small towel to cover her body. She then walked back to the apartment, swinging the bathing suit and singing a burlesque tune a la Gypsy Rose Lee.

“Edie, please,” I begged.

“You’re embarrassing me in front of the neighbors.”

“Don’t be silly, honey,” she wisecracked, “this is California. Here we all do our own thing.’’

She won that argument, and we both enjoyed a belly laugh over the incident. To me this meant that Edie was becoming a California citizen.

Labor Day always arrives sooner than you expect. Edie had to go back to teaching or stay here with the beachcomber. It was a difficult decision for her to make. There were too many strings attached to the East Coast for her to untie. Well, Shakespeare put it best when he wrote, “Parting is such sweet sorrow.” We hugged and kissed at the airport, knowing that we would not see each other again. On the way home Toy a cried, too. All the neighbors including the Pelicans,

Cranes, ducks, and birds were despondent that day.

Two weeks went by, and I had grown a beard again. One night at 3:00 a.m. the phone rang. It was Edie. “I miss San Diego,” she cried. ‘ ‘Can I come back? ’’

At first I thought that Lefty and Righty were playing tricks on me again. But I heard her voice again. ‘‘Are you awake? Do you hear me? ‘‘Huh?”

“Honey, I want to come back. I want to marry you.”

I jumped up and asked, ‘‘You mean that?”

“Yes, I want to live in San Diego with the Pelicans and Cranes and ducks and birds and ...”

‘‘Are you sure?”

‘'Sure I’m sure, you beachcomber, you.”

‘‘Okay, we’ll have a beach wedding,” I kidded.

‘‘No, no, I’m not that crazy,” she answered. ‘‘We’ll have a church wedding, so that our children can attend.”

Edith got her way. We eventually had a church wedding in New Jersey. Both our families attended. Then we spent our honeymoon in Palm Springs, and we settled in North County.

A few weeks after our marriage, Edie’s parents came for a two-week visit. They loved it here and hated to go home. So they stayed and live with us. Also Edie’s unmarried daughter and son visited and stayed. So did her daughter’s girlfriend. I call the house we live in ‘‘Hotel New Jersey, West.”

Although Edie is past child-bearing age, I kidded her on our wedding night, saying that I wanted a baby girl. She kept her promise on exactly nine months after our wedding day.

She brought home a beautiful baby golden retriever, which I nicknamed Goldy. Needless to say, Toya and Goldy took a liking to each other.

We all love to go to the beach and watch the beautiful, heavenly sunsets. Oh yes, I almost forgot to tell you that we do have a Jacuzzi in our back yard. Guess who likes to use it, au naturel, and doesn’t care what the neighbors will say.

NOTEWORTHY

Andrew Kleske

Living in San Diego is never having to say, ‘‘I’m bored.” Living in New York is never having to say, “I’m happy.” The only real joy of growing up in New York is moving away and bragging about how smart you were to do it.

When the bus first pulls into San Diego, the first thing an ex-New Yorker notices is a strange, glowing orb in the sky like a giant gold balloon. It’s called the sun, and San Diegans claim it comes up every morning. There’s something much like it in New York, but it’s hidden by clouds of smoke and dirt. It is kind of like God in that everyone says it’s up there, you never see it, and you have to accept its existence on faith.

The sun’s only purpose in New York is as a signal for the massage parlors and all-night discos to turn off their neon lights. In San Diego the sun warms the city, tans the people, and gives the flowers some reason to grow. New York flowers look like they should be smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer.

Another interesting thing to be seen in San Diego is something called a tree. I don’t mean forests like there are about fifty miles from New York City, but the kind that stand alone and line the streets with a million shades of green.

In New York only rich people have trees, and they keep them inside so they won’t get mugged.

Not only are there trees in San Diego, but there are little round pieces of food growing on them. It’s called fruit and it’s the stuff they make jelly, juice, and duck a’ l’orange out of. You can pick it right off the tree and eat it. If you pulled anything out of a tree in New York and stuffed it in your mouth, you would either be arrested or have to have your stomach pumped.

In the summer San Diego has a spectacular coastline and sparkling beaches where children play and lovers meet. New York does too, and it’s called Miami. But lately even New Yorkers don’t want to go there. San Diegans can visit nearby lakes, coves, bays and water slides (the New York version is the fire hydrant).

San Diego has tourists that are kind enough to come in the summer and on major holidays. They don’t really bother anyone and they take their garbage home with them. New York tourists come in droves, year round and in business suits. If they can afford a New York hotel, they’re on an expense account. People really on vacation in New York like to pass through New York City, see the Statue of Liberty from the back of the station wagon, and keep on going.

San Diego tourists spread their money around at all the unique shops and malls. New York tourists are too busy finding a place to park or have had all their money lifted off them and don’t know it yet.

San Diego has museums, but wait, don’t skip over them as you would in New York. Paintings by Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir, and Goya are right out where you can see the brushwork, not encased behind glass and surrounded by a velvet-rope barrier. Unique artifacts and sculptures are right out where you can touch them — but don’t, it’s impolite. The security guards are friendly, whereas in New York they look like cops that got fired for something they would “rather not talk about.”

If you want to run out in San Diego and pick up a newspaper, you can without fear of hurting yourself trying to carry the thing home. The news is all in there, but it is not surrounded by nine, pages of movie ads, eleven pages of restaurant ads, and thirteen pages, give or take a few pages, of death notices. There are not the endless store ads, fashion ads, car ads, and classified ads. Myth has it that San Diego newspapers are less detailed when in fact they are just a lot less heavy.

One of the most interesting facets of San Diego is that when you’re standing in one place, it doesn’t look like every place else in the city. San Diego has a downtown, New York has nothing but. San Diego’s buildings have intricate patterns, modern designs and old Spanish motifs. New York’s buildings do too: it’s called droppings and graffiti.

San Diego’s streets are lined with ivy-covered walls, green hedges and white picket fences. New York streets are lined with bottles, trash cans, and thousands of rusty, weather-beaten cars.

New York and San Diego both have numerous attractions, especially zoos and parks, but don’t be caught in any of New York’s after dark.

San Diego has some really classy neighborhoods, but you can walk through one without a passport and ten charge cards. San Diego has some less affluent areas but the police cars and taxi cabs still bother to drive through. Don’t bother looking for a ghetto in San Diego because the New York definition doesn’t exist.

From any place in San Diego, you can drive down to Tijuana and back in the time it takes to get in and out of New Jersey. Some comparison. The scenic drive to Julian and the mountains or Agua Caliente and the desert is an hour long, or about the time it takes to shovel a car out from under two feet of snow.

San Diego has snow, but don’t let it be confused with New York snow, which starts to come down white and then turns into black and gray lumps at the side of the street in a matter of minutes. San Diego snow is cute and white and confined to certain parts of the mountains and a few theme parks. A San Diego winter is much like a New York summer, but without the occasional blistering heat and cloudbursts.

San Diego has fresh air. You can tell it’s different because you can’t see it, it doesn’t gag you, and you can’t trip over it.

San Diegans talk to each other, not because they are crazy, but because they are friendly. If someone approaches you in San Diego, your first instinctive move isn’t to go for your can of Mace. If someone talks to you in New York, you’re about to be mugged, saved, or conned. There are a few beggars in San Diego, but they usually have legitimate needs and don’t own limousines and beach-front cottages.

Driving in San Diego should be done carefully to avoid running into people who are not in a hurry to foreclose on a mortgage or beat the rush-hour traffic. Rush hour in New York is a double contradiction in terms. You can’t rush, and it never takes less than an hour. Getting home from a Padre or Charger game may take a few minutes, but you might never get home from a Yankee game.

The San Diego airport is spacious, with plenty of parking. You can fly in at noon and be by the pool at the Hotel del Coronado in twenty minutes. You don’t have to land in some other state and take a bus into town to avoid JFK.

Communities around San Diego have names like Point Loma, La Mesa, and Coronado. New York has Queens, the Bronx and . . .Yonkers.

San Diego has a river that trickles through. It’s not very big, but it’s clear and it sparkles and you can’t walk across the top of it without getting your feet wet. New York City ’s rivers look like something you would find clogging up your drain.

San Diego has hummingbirds and mourning doves, seagulls and pelicans. New York has pigeons and pigeons, more pigeons, and some scrawny little black bird that nobody bothered to name. The only other birds in New York have been stuffed by cooks or taxidermists.

Solitude in San Diego is a motorcycle ride in the mountains, a drive through the desert or a stroll in autumn through Cuyamaca or Flinn Springs County Park. Solitude in New York is stuffing cotton in your ears and locking the bathroom door.

Fine dining in San Diego is an elegant meal by an ocean-view window, a delicate wine on a breezy terrace. I don’t even know what fine dining is in New York because it is far too expensive.

Fast-food restaurants are not to be feared as in New York. You don’t have to worry as much about quality or what your friends will say if they see you in one. New Yorkers won’t admit they have eaten in, much less worked at, a hamburger joint.

San Diego factories are clean and quiet and set off where people won’t see them. You could spend your whole life in San Diego without seeing one if you didn’t want to.

New York factories are hidden too, but by smoke and soot. As far as you can tell, people could be living right next door to them.

San Diego has the trolley, New York has the subway.

San Diego has Balboa, Presidio, and Mission Bay parks; New York has Central Park, if you dare wander into it.

San Diego has Mt. Soledad and Helix, New York has chilly, roof-top observation decks.

San Diego has gardens. New York has flower boxes.

San Diego has quaint walkways, New York has dark alleys.

San Diego has tennis and golf. New York has stickball and craps.

I may exaggerate some of New York’s negative aspects, and I’m not saying San Diego is perfect. There is a lot to be done and a lot to be left undone, to avoid any more similarities between San Diego and “big cities’’ like New York. But it seems strange that one can find so many differences between the largest city in the U.S. and the seventh largest.

Clean air, green parks, gorgeous coastline, unspoiled canyons, and safe neighborhoods are things many San Diegans take for granted.

Each night as the sun begins to set and a bright orange glow illuminates the west, and a cool breeze carries the scent of eucalyptus and gardenias through my back yard, I’m reminded of the fumes and the noise and the crowds and the hassles and the cold of a place I almost called home.

I’ve fed a toucan peanuts at the zoo, I’ve petted a whale at Sea World, I swam with a seal in La Jolla, I’ve fed Julian apples to a lazy field horse. I’ve soaked in hot mineral springs in Anza Borrego and I’ve climbed the rocks at Sunset Cliffs. I know many San Diegans have grown used to such things, but I also know I’ll never tire of snorkeling the caves, camping the mountains, hiking the trails, combing the beaches, and cruising the streets. I’m glad I got here before everyone else did.

The last time I was subjected to real New York types was on the beach near Crystal Pier. It was a particularly quiet day. My girlfriend and I were the only people except for a few guys down by the lifeguard station, when I heard them. The piercing voices of New York children, the rattling and banging of beach toys, beach chairs, overstuffed coolers, picnic baskets, and a giant umbrella. Their pasty-white bodies appeared at the top of the stairs, the parents arguing about where to sit, and the children just screaming incoherently. Although there was plenty of room on the beach, they set up camp right by us. New Yorkers don’t like to appear to be alone.

The children kept screaming while the mother covered them and herself with handfuls of suntan lotion. The father climbed under the umbrella and began to rummage through the cooler, munching just a few bites off everything he could get his hands on. It was the hard salami and the unmistakable New York nasal intonation that tipped me off as to where they’d come from.

The mother began to complain about the heat and that it was too early to be eating and that the father had been gaining enough weight lately as it was. The father continued eating and the children continued screaming while rolling around on the ground, completely covering themselves with sand.

Ten minutes passed and nothing changed, except a few drops of mustard and mayonnaise had found their way to the front of the father’s Genesee beer T-shirt. The children were still screaming, but you couldn’t tell the happy screams from the angry screams. The mother had begun complaining about how small the umbrella was and that she had told the father to get the big one.

After fifteen minutes, the children still screaming, the mother still complaining, the father finished eating and began to stare at my girlfriend. He stood up and removed his T-shirt and stripped down to his size thirty-nine swimsuit wrapped around a size forty-two body. He centered his beer belly over the front of his trunks, flexed his flabby arms, smiled thoughtfully at my girlfriend, and bounded down the beach toward the water.

Before he could make it, the two children (they may have both been girls but you can hardly tell with New York kids) grabbed the father and tackled him in ankle-deep water. They proceeded to smear their oil-sanded bodies all over the guy and drive his head into the moist sand, while the mother roared with laughter and turned on a tape recording of Bob Newhart’s greatest anecdotes.

It was. about that time that we moved to the other side of the pier.

At the end of the day, we happened to walk back to the spot where the New Yorkers were vacationing. Soda cans, newspapers, food wrappers, and some chicken bones marked the spot.

That evening I called my parents in New York and told them not to expect me back for Christmas, or at any other time for that matter. I’m staying in San Diego, but don’t tell anyone back there why.

Other writing contest winners: Winner | Honorable Mention | Noteworthy

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