Red Christmas

On Christmas day, from the boardwalk in PB, I saw set up on the beach a one-man camp punctuated by an American flag that snapped in the wind. Sitting beneath a tattered umbrella was a man clad in a Santa cap. Dozens of pigeons and seagulls surrounded him as he fed them bread.

“Merry Christmas,” I said. “May I photograph you?”

“Sure, come on over,” said the 59-year-old who introduced himself as Paul Gardner. “Everybody knows me as Red,” he added, then lifted his cap to display a thick mane of red hair.

When I asked Gardner what he was doing out there on the beach, he said, “I’ve been comin’ out here every day for the past five years...see, I wear my Chargers colors.” He pointed at his blue-and-gold Seau T-shirt. “And my military colors,” he said, pointing toward the American flag. “I’m a Vietnam veteran...Navy, 1972...second-class machinist’s mate on the USS Dubuque...we all have to stand up for who we are.”

Music blared from a large boom box on the sand beside him. When I asked what his favorite music was, he said, “The ’50s, ’60s, ’80s, ’90s”. “You skipped the ’70s...why?” I watched the smile leave his face. “Oh, I was on a ship in the ’70s...lonely...the music reminds me.” Then, after a silent moment, Gardner tossed more bread to the birds and said, “Wanna play horseshoes?”

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