The Beach 7: Death and Catechism

What’s it like to be old?  Tonya asks me.

I give her a dry, poisonous look but say nothing.

She puts a hand to her mouth and says, Oh, I’m sorry.  I didnt mean…

Restate your question, I say.  Something like ‘What’s it like to be sixty-eight?’

Okay, what’s it like to be sixty-eight?

Specify, I say.

Well, uh…

Maybe a good question would be about how your attitude toward death changes throughout life, I say.  At your age death is something that will happen to you someday and is pretty abstract.  When you hit forty it suddenly seems much closer, more concrete, and scarier. At sixty it affects everything.  You may not expect to die right away but you’re forty years closer than when you were at twenty.  And that means death affects your decisions and perceptions about everything.

That gives her pause and we both look down the escarpment where we’re sitting to the Dog River and at the half-dozen or so old men fishing there while she thinks of what to say next.

Were you ever married?  She finally asks.

Yes, I say.

What’s it like?  What happened?

Next question, I say.

How many times?  How long?  U have any kids?

Twice.  Many times I wondered what happened but I dont really know because it was never clear.  No kids.  Never wanted any.  Since this is turning into Twenty Questions, How about U, Tonya?

Never married, she says.  Just boyfriends.  You ever go to college?

College, yes, I say.  Why do you ask that in particular?

You know a lot of big words.  Speaking of death, do you ever wish you were dead?

No, because as long as I’m alive there’s that ahead of me and I’ll take it, even if it’s only another five minutes.

Do you ever wish you’d never been born?

Many times, I say.

She turns thoughtful again and I say, Tonya, what do you do for a living?

What do you do for a living?  She says defensively.

You first, I say.

Trust fund money, she says and her face colors.

Okay.  But why be defensive about that?

I’m not being defensive, she says, raising her voice.

You get the money from your folks in Marietta?

Yes but it’s not that they care.  It’s to keep me from asking them for money all the time.  And the checks arent generous, just enough to live a middle class life.  They know I couldnt even hold down a minimum wage job.  Your turn.  RU retired?

Yes, I say.

Since when?

Thirty years.

You have a trust fund too?

No, I say.  I do odd jobs.  You can always make money doing things nobody wants to do.

I guess I really dont want to know what kind of odd jobs?

No.  You really dont.

A vagrant zephyr redolent of trash cans winnows itself around us.  It makes me sneeze and sets the old men that are fishing to cursing. 

I’ll bet a hundred years ago this part of the river drew a lot more people to sit over there and fish, mainly because there were more people, I say.


So it begs a question, Tonya.  Down where I came from…

From Brunswick?

Yeah, I say.  Did I tell you I lived there?

When we were high the other day, she says.

I think it’s odd that when the world was seriously overpopulated a few centuries ago everybody always seemed to be outside and in each others’ faces because there wasnt much room.  Now there’s a lot fewer people and a lot more room and a lot more food but everyone seems to be in hiding.  Brunswick’s creepy because any time I went outside I could feel that I was being watched.  Several times in this planet’s modern history people have suddenly moved underground into the steel and concrete caves their ancestors built.  But there was no apparent reason for it.  No plague or war or zombies or anything.  People just went underground for a while and later a few ‘heroes’ would brave their agoraphobia and move back into the abandoned cities and the cycle would repeat.  Even the big depopulation didnt seem to affect it.  People got suddenly afraid and no one knows what of.  People are weird.

You think too much, she says.

I know it.  Further on out that way is Cascade Heights, I say as I point west.  And Destiny Road.  It was a WASP version of Eldorado.  Everybody out there was rich. Now it’s a ghost town.

Did you grow up around here?  She says.

This and a few other places.

I always wondered why they named it Destiny Road.  Seems an odd name.

Maybe somebody had a dog named Destiny.

Or a wife, she says.

Or a daughter.

What did you say your name was? She says.

I didnt say, I say.




The Beach 4

When I reach a point where I can safely move away from the sea and the dunes I slow down until i am walking and catch my breath.  I dont know how safe I am or whether that little incident will ever amount to anything.  But it’s too much at one time.  This place isnt safe anymore.  I need to get away for a while, maybe quite a while.  My breathing slows to normal as i reach a stone bridge that spans a little pewter colored  inlet.  I hear they’re really muddy on the bottom so it’s not a place to scuba dive.  I see gulls for the first time in months.  I was beginning to think they’d gone extinct too.

A sour wind stirs in the palm fronds and scrub pines and I recognize the smell of garbage.  Someone dumped a full garbage bag in the street and the sea birds are fighting over it.  It makes me uneasy because it’s not something I’ve seen for a while.  I get the impression that as deserted as this town seems there are all kinds of people in hiding.  It’s scary.  I do my share of hiding and being low profile but maybe not enough.  I guess with fewer people there are plenty of ways to hide.

When I get home it doesnt seem like it’s been disturbed.  I always put the car inside the garage because if I didnt it might end up on blocks when I got back to it.  The touch pad is a pain in this ass and my password is uninspired but it serves well enough.  I type my kung fu is good and hit enter and the sliding door opens and yawns politely.  I go inside and close and lock the door and go into the house thru the kitchen.

Everything looks okay but I’m too skittish to risk staying.  I wonder whether to eat something but am afraid to stick around.  I have a go bag in the closet and I take it and an already packed suitcase and a frame backpack and schlep them into the car.  Then I open the garage door and lock it from the outside and drive off.  I have to force myself to slow down so I dont attract attention until I am out of town.  I’m heading north but not to Savannah.  Farther north than that.

It occurs to me that I didnt even say goodbye to the house.  I know it’s eccentric to say goodbye to an inanimate object but I am nothing if not eccentric.  It happens when you live alone for as long as I have.  But that’s a bad thought that opens up a blast furnace door over a seething, writhing pit of memories that I am just able to close before I start crying.

The coastal plain of Georgia is flat as a pancake and depressing looking.  I head inland and as I am driving thru Swainsboro I see a hill.  A gorgeous little hill made all the more beautiful by the fact that i have not seen one in years.  There will be lots of them where I’m headed but they will be nothing like this one.  A cop behind me turns on his flashers and noise and I panic and slam on the brakes and pull over but it’s not me he’s after.  Looks like he’s pulled an old lady over for driving too slow but as i pass them i see he’s stopped an old man for Driving While Black.

And I am glad to see the city limits of this foul little town, hill or no hill.

The Beach 3

After I get back from Savannah I decide to take another beach walk, this time with ID in case the cops harass me again.  I am walking past the spot where the man had swum out to sea to commit suicide when I realize I’m being watched.

Maybe when i filter out the noise of the surf there’s too much left over.  But I know!  I look anxiously at the empty houses a couple of hundred feet away.  I’ve never liked those things.  For decades there have been more empty houses than homeless people even now with the population at only one billion.  I look casually around me but see nothing.

I’ve almost written it off to paranoia as I am approaching a sand dune.  That’s when somebody steps out from behind the high weeds growing sideways from the dune and stands in my path about twenty feet away.  When I look behind me I see another figure running toward me and another from the side.  This is a way of doing a mugging called canyoning.  The one in front is to distract you and is usually the weakest.  I run right at him and knock him down and stomp on his face and stomach.  That leaves the other two.

The one on the side reaches me and I throw a handful of sand in his face and lay him out.  That leaves the one who was behind me.  He stops ten feet away and I look at him.  He starts running away toward the empty houses and I do not run after him.  I am glad I have shoes on.  I break into a jog and then a slow run.  I have got to get out of here before a cop sees me.  It was self-defense but it wouldnt come out that way in court.



The Beach 2

Driving up I-95 to Savannah.  Havent been there in years, not that I expect there’s anything to see.  I got tired of the police harassment and just wanted to go somewhere.  You cant just block somebody IRL, unfortunately.

When I pass thru Darien I always get the creeps.  It’s a beautiful, picturesque little town with a pier and little sailboats tied to it.  I never had any idea why I react like this until I heard there were some awful Civil War atrocities in this town.  Something about the evil that men do and how it lives on.  Do I really believe that?  Absolutely not.  And if I seem overly emphatic it’s because of how I was really wondering what was possible that day on the beach and how I should have known better.  I’m just angry at myself.

Savannah has always been a strange town.  They’re Victorian about things nobody cares about anymore, like a couple living together that aren’t married.  They look down on Jacksonville and everything that isnt as close as Atlanta.  They look to that city because they think all of the south is shit except for Atlanta.  And they’re right.  But dont say that to a southerner.  It would be unconscionably rude.

I have old memories of a history class about when this road had bumper to bumper traffic jams.  Not anything like that now.  No cars full of dead folks.  No zombies.  No Ebola or Mobutu epidemics.  It’s just that there arent many people now.  The current world population is one billion.  It hasnt been that low since the late 19th century.  To give you some perspective, consider that the world population doubles about every forty years.  In 1970 it was four billion and the world was starting to show the strain, although the signs of that strain were laughed off back then.  In forty years it was 7.6 billion and doubled again before it started to mysteriously level off and then drop precipitously.  People just werent having kids although nobody’s sure why.  Maybe it was natural selection somehow saving our asses by lowering reproductive rates.  There were studies about low sperm counts in men and infertility in women but nobody’s sure what happened.

And the world became a better place because there were less people.  Crime rates, STD, teen pregnancy all did a nose dive.  But people are also ineffably unhappy.  Maybe it’s not our nature to be happy.  It’s always somebody else’s fault and everybody thinks that back then there was something that they are missing.  It’s like these women that read Jane Austin and watch movies about Mr. Darcy.  The 19th century was a horrible time for everybody and for women it was ten times worse.  Why glorify such an awful time?  What was so great about Victorianism anyway?  They built a ship that couldnt be sunk and Goddamn if it didnt go right out and hit an iceberg and sink.

The only worry is that it keeps dropping.  Some people think we’re going extinct but I doubt it.  I think it’s what a mathist would call an asymptote.  It will keep dropping and then stabilize until it starts increasing again.  I have no reason to care but I am curious.  And I’m hoping Savannah has a library still open.  I can never find anything I want on Google anymore; the internet isnt nearly what it used to be and things like libraries with books are making a comeback.

I guess I mightve been expecting a ghost town because I’m surprised to see so many people around the Municipal Library.  There are plenty of parking spots.  I sit in the car and think for a minute.  While I’m doing that I see a man and woman having a heated discussion.  Without warning she hits him in the face and knocks him down.  When she flounces away he gets up and walks after her.  Some cops are standing there watching but dont seem interested.  The man catches up with her and he puts a tentative hand on her shoulder.  When he does she throws her feet out from under her and lands on her ass.  Anyone watching would know these are just theatrics but she starts screaming for the cops and they come rushing over and throw the man onto the pavement and start beating him with clubs until I wonder if they will kill him.  The woman creeps away.  The cops throw him in the back of a police car and go roaring off.

Not everything about this time is better.  I wonder if things like this have always been like this.

I open the door and somebody is begging money for some antidrug charity.  She says to me, Give some money for drugs, sir?

Sorry, I say as I walk by her.  You’ll have to buy your own drugs.

Inside the big room is crowded.  An old silver-haired bitch scowls at the wall until she sees me approaching and gives me a dry, poisonous look.  And I see how this is going to go.

And why has all this been so hard?

My Favorite Science Fiction Movies

  1.   2001   (1968)
  2.   Interstellar  (2014
  3.   Omega Man   (1971)
  4.    Arrival   ( 2016)
  5.    Contact   (1997)
  6.    Jurassic Park   (1995)
  7.    The Butterfly Effect   (2004)
  8.    AI   (2001)
  9.    Solaris   (1968)  This 1968 version is the original movie with subtitles.  A remake was released with George Clooney and Natascha McElhone in 2002.  The later version is watchable but nowhere near as good as the original 1968 film.
  10.    Alien   (1979)


I found out yesterday that as of tomorrow Netflix will no longer have Roswell or The X Files.  These are two reasons i got and kept Netflix even though things i took for granted there are always disappearing, such as The Silence of the Lamb, which they had for years.  I guess they’re trying to make way for more of their own productions, which is too bad because most of them are not even watchable.

But this is about Roswell, not Netflix.  Writing my version of this story is the most formidable challenge as a writer i’ve had for a while.  I realized soon that if i didnt trim the material down i would end up with something like War and Peace.  After cutting down the material in this story i knew that more would have to go or i’d end up with something like a James Clavell novel, which is still thick enough to stop a .45 caliber ACP slug.

So i learned to cut more and still maintain the integrity of the story.  By that time i hit a major logjam and spent weeks deciding how to proceed given that at this point late in the first season everything changes and a slew of characters come in and the old ones begin to change.  What has been emerging is a moody, surrealistic story like the original Destiny Road (2009).  And i really like how i managed to redefine Max and Liz, the core of the entire story.  Max emerged as a cranky, moody alien who is so stressed he’s always close to the edge but who never falls off.  And i managed to give Liz a kind of maturity and character she never had in the TV show.

I was going to open the next chapter with a fine metaphor-“The cast iron wind is a dirge screeched by a choir of lepers draped in rags.”  I’ll save that one for some other story.  I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these as much as i have writing them.  The tv show is far richer and more complex than it appears if you just watch it.  I’ve learned to love the show even more than i did, and respect what everyone involved with it was trying to do.

Maybe it’ll come back to Netflix.  But it probably wont for a while.

Roswell 45: Isabel and Alex

Days and weeks slouch by as February staggers into March and rags of dirty snow cling to the ground in the back yard by a copse of dead trees that once sheltered the last wolves.  Alex keeps trying to date Isabel and she keeps dismissing him as politely as she can.  She likes Alex, maybe because he is superficially like Max but she does not reciprocate his feelings for her however meager or fulsome.  She wonders if he is still not speaking to Liz but that isnt something one asks.

Liz told her that she thought Alex would keep quiet but she wasnt entirely sure.  So Isabel decides to dreamwalk into his mind to answer that question.

As Isabel tries to walk into Alex’s mind she crosses some threshold into his dreams, hers and his.  Dreams and visions that sail on feathery wings borne up from currents of seething things of the night, hot erotic fantasies come to life or dreams of blood and vengeance that only the wicked vessel of the heart may contain.

With a shock she sees Alex in bed without a stitch on.  He rolls over and says, Hi, Isabel.  How’s your sex life?

How’s my sex life?  She sputters angrily.  It’s fine.  How’s yours?  Go fuck yourself.

Dont be mean to me, he says, laughing.

He touches her hand and she gets in bed with him and he slowly undresses her and they do unspeakable things until she wakes with a start, bathed in night sweat.  Is this why she keeps pushing him away?

Of course it is, she says to herself.  She wasnt seeing into his mind.  She was seeing into hers.  And she is terrified.  For herself and all of them.