The Beach 10: High Plains

There’s no obvious point where the Great Plains end and the High Plains begin; you just look round and suddenly notice things have changed.  It’s like being in a small vessel in a sheltered harbor.  You get used to the choppy little waves and suddenly you’re aware that the small waves have given way to deep ocean swells and that you’re out of sight of land.

The land has gone from flat to hills and the deep green of the Great Plains is gone, replaced by a patchwork of short, poor green shoots  punctuated by rags of sand.  There is more oil drilling equipment and the soil has gone poor enough that it’s used for grazing more than anything else.  Raw umber hills in the distance stand in the deep folds of their own shadow.  Farming this land is only for the dedicated and the mad, because it’s not worth much.  A world as wild and empty as the Great Plains but lacking charm because it’s so scruffy and scraggly.  Tonya is utterly spellbound by the sights, which is good.  She’s sweet but she talks too much and asks too many uncomfortable questions.

When we cross the line into Colorado she says, Weed is legal in this state.  Can we stop and get some?

The closest pot shop is in Denver and we’re hours away.

How do you know?

Googled it.  There are maps that show where you can buy weed.

Is Denver the only place?

It’s the nearest to us.  There are some in Boulder and Greeley where the universities are but they’re a long way from Denver.


Wanting to get her away from the subject of weed i say, See the horizon in front of us?  That little bank of clouds?  It’s not clouds.

Not clouds?  What else could it be?

Mount Evans.  The snow on the peak hasnt melted yet.  That’s what you see.  Looks like clouds.

But it’s summer.

Early summer.  I think it’s about 15,000 feet up and it’s still cold up there.

But how can you see it from this far away when you cant see the mountain underneath it?

I dunno, i say irritably.  Dry air.  The albedo maybe.

No science lecture today?  She says.

No.  Last night you got the last one for about a year.

You think i’m stupid, dont you?

No.  And i’d never want to punish you for being curious about things like that.  But if you think you’re stupid i could get a t-shirt that says ‘I’m with stupid.’  Tell the world.

You’re such a dick sometimes, she says.

I try.

Well, dont!  She snaps at me.

When you get past Denver, which is mainly flat, on I-70 you suddenly start climbing at a 45 degree angle, maybe steeper.  IDK why i mention that now…oh, yeah.  The way my first wife reacted to it was so funny.  I’ll tell you about that later.  If i tell you now i’ll start laughing so hard i might wreck the car.

Why tell me about it?

Why?  Because you wanted to hear all about the bitch yesterday.  You got me talking so dont expect me to just shut up about her.

Fair enough then, she says.  Tell me about your sex life.  With her.

You want me to tell you the details of my sex life with a woman i havent seen for thirty years who probably ate herself to death long ago?

No.  Just about after she got so big and fat.  How did you two do it?  Looks like it’d be difficult.  Or impossible.

Piss off, Tonya!

I guess that means you two didnt do anything for years and years…how long were you two together?

Ten and a half years.

Then nothing for the last five?  Or seven?

Nothing for the last…fifteen months.  It was impossible.

I’ll bet.

See, i had this job that i wanted to stay at but she left and demanded that i come with her.  But i couldnt just leave.

Back where?

Back to Atlanta.  Where momma was.

That’s pathetic.

I agree but what was i gonna do?  I wrapped things up where i was and went back but i had to give notice and do some other things so i wound up staying for a while.  The day before she left to go back i stayed home and fucked her all day. She left the next morning.  About a month later i took a week off work and went to Atlanta to look for a job.  During that time i tried to fuck her and i couldnt.  You see…well, she had gained enough weight while she was gone that i couldnt get inside her.  There was just too much fat and as you know i am not big enough to push myself past that big a mass of flesh.

She was too fat to fuck?

What happened was that without me around she could sit in front of the TV and binge eat non-stop.  She wouldnt do that if i was around.  At least she had enough pride to care whether i saw her doing that.  But she ate so much and got so fat that i just couldnt…i stop and shake my head and wonder if i feel more hurt or angry.  

Did you go out on her?

NO!  WTF do you think i am?


I ought to throw you out of the car, i say.

If you didnt go out on her then what did you do?

I improvised, i say.

A year and a half sounds like a lot of improvisation.

RU happy now that you have humiliated me?

Why did she want to go back to mama so bad?  Was it…

Hannah had a long history of this same behavior.  It went back years before she met me.  There was some guy she liked she met in school that she was going to Jacksonville to live with.  She went.  I dont think it lasted a month.  She just kept trying to run that same game with me years later.

Did she try to leave you?

She started going that way but i refused to let her.

What do you mean you refused to let her?

She was a quitter, i say.  The first time things got a little rough she would quit.  I’m not like that.  I just refused to let her do that to me.

You must have really impressed her, Tonya says.  Hannah’s mother, i mean.

Her mother said right before i left Hannah for good that no matter what happened she would always love me just like she loved her own sons.  I never pretended to be a saint but i guess i looked like one in contrast to Hannah.

How was that?

Hannah was two-faced, i say bitterly.  She would go over to see her mother and stepfather and talk about me behind my back.

Bad things?

Bad things.  And i never, ever said one bad thing about Hannah to her mother or to anyone else.  I’d like to think i have more class than that.

How do you know Hannah was bad-mouthing you to her mother?

Well, Hannah told me her mother defended me.  Mom told her that she was being too hard on me and she ought to worry more about being a better wife and she didnt want to hear anything else about me when i wasnt there.  I guess Mom just got tired of hearing it.  It was the contrast of a gossiping back-stabber with a husband that wouldnt do the same.

Personal silence and rhythmic mechanical noise.  I want to cry and i dearly wish i had never hooked up with this nosy little bitch.  Mount Evans looks closer but if i didnt know better i’d swear it was just a bank of clouds in the hard, bright sky.

Tonya sighs heavily.  Then she says, How did you…how did you ever hook up with this…with someone like that?  Where did you meet her…

That’s enough, i say sharply.  Enough.  After i’ve recovered from this…this telling of the past i’ll say more about it if you want.  Not now.

Tell me how you met her?


Tell me what your sex life with her was like before she got so big?

Yes, if you will STFU right now, i promise.  I dont want to hear your voice for a while.  I mean it.  And i’m pulling over right now and you are going to drive the rest of the way to Denver.



The Beach 9

Standing under a dark sky in western Kansas.  An angry crescent has set and stars pepper the sable firmament.  The Great Plains wind ruffles our clothes and sets the prairie grass to gnashing and murmuring.  Orion has risen like an electric kite.

Tonya points at it and says, How far away is that?

Your mind cant comprehend distances that vast.

Try me.

The stars there in Orion’s belt are about four hundred light years away.

How far is that?

Well…the nearest star is about four light years away.  A light year is about six trillion miles.  Or six times ten to the twelfth if you think of it that way.

Stop showing off!

I’m not!  Light in a vacuum travels at 300,000 kilometers a second.  Or a hundred eight-six thousand miles a second.  Seven times around the equator and then some.  The light from those stars has been travelling four hundred years to reach us.

I cant imagine how far that is.

Your mind can only conceive it by scale.  Imagine the sun the size of a basketball in the middle of five points in downtown Atlanta.  The Earth is the size of a marble orbiting about a hundred feet away.  Pluto is the size of a grain of sand orbiting a mile away.  Now Proxima Centauri, the nearest star, is in Seattle, 3,000 miles away.  By the time we get to Denver tomorrow we’ll have only gone half that far.  I thought that since you’ve been travelling mile after mile after empty mile this would give you a grasp of the distances involved.

It does, she says slowly.  This country is huge but on that scale, i cant imagine.

Look at the stars in the belt again.  If you see a picture of the nebula in a book it will be spectacular.  But the only way to appreciate it is to look at it thru a small telescope.  When i was ten years old they got me a six inch Newtonian reflector.  It took me weeks to put it together since nobody around me knew how to assemble one.  When i finally had it ready i took it outside and pointed it at that nebula.  I’ll never forget the sight.  It glows green like Kryptonite and has the consistency of a piece of very stretched out cotton.  Wispy like that.  The pictures of it in books do not do it justice.  They cant.

You did that when you were just ten?


I wish i’d known you then.

You werent even born.  Not for nearly another sixty years.

Sometimes i forget how old you are.

try to forget how old i am.

You can be a bore when you’re self conscious about that.  Stop worrying about it.

Easy for you to say.

I dont even know your name, she says.

No?  Havent you looked at my driver’s license enough times?

I only looked at it once!  And i cant even remember your name.

My name is Seth.  Seth Joiner.  Happy now?

No, she says.  It’s chilly.  Let’s go back inside.

The Beach 5

Heading north on I-75 toward Macon.  The steep, rugged hills and the preponderance of heavy forest with its riot of green makes you think you’re in the north woods and the red clay soil makes the ground look like it’s bleeding.  My destination is not Macon; too many mean rednecks and rusty memories of the Allmans.there.  Not Atlanta either.  Just a satellite little city I’ll call X City.  It’s like Atlanta used to be.

Off the interstate at the Destiny Road exit.  But why name it that?  Maybe somebody had a dog named Destiny.  Or a wife with a face like a dog.  Down Avon Street to Lee street.  There are a lot of people here for this day and age.  Lee Street goes downtown where things always get interesting but not always pleasant.  I park the car in a secure lot, leaving my luggage in the car.  Then I start walking.

This neighborhood used to be a WASP El Dorado where the rich and privileged lived.  But I am appalled at how the place has deteriorated and become a  high crime and street drug and infected needles place that isnt safe to walk around in even in daylight.  Homeless people and pimps and pushers and I should go back to the garage and drive someplace else.  But I cant quite make myself do it.

I stop and wait for a bus.  There are street people here and a girl who is not so skuzzy that  belongs somewhere else.  I wonder if her parents kicked her out or her boyfriend kicked her out and she doesnt know how to live on the street.  I decide to talk to her.

Hi, I say.

Hi yourself, she says.  What do you want?

The pleasure of your company.

I’m not a prostitute, she says.

I didnt think so.  Where you from?

I used to live with my folks in Marietta but that place is…Shaking her head.

It isnt safe here, I say.

Yeah, I noticed.

Look, i’m lonely and just want some company, that’s all.  I’ll pay you to spend the afternoon with me.  That’s all.  We can do whatever you want.  Do you have a place to live or…

I have a hole in the wall apartment but it’s home to me.  Just me.  What did you say your name was?

I didnt, I say.

After a pause she says, Okay.  I’m Tonya.

Pleased to meet you.

How old RU anyway? She says.

Old enough to be your grandfather.  Does that bother you?

You’re not serious, she says.  You’re in your thirties or early forties and I have no problem with that.

I’m sixty-eight years old, I say.  Word.

Show me an ID, she says.

I hand her my driver’s license and she looks at it, then at me and at the license again before she hands it back to me.

It must be you have great genes, she says.

I must have something.  Will you spend the afternoon with me?  Your bus is coming.

To hell with the bus, she says, yawning and stretching.  I dont feel like going anywhere. Can we just go to my place?

Sounds good to me, 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.