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San Diego fat boy and bikini girl face Mission Beach sun

Geography, like your body, is destiny

Sunlight offers no favors to fat boys

I was given a role in a San Diego Junior Theater production of, Lord help us, a musical version of Little Women, a role identified in the script and program as “Fat Boy.”

Of nationally and somewhat internationally we native Southern Californians are known for our intellectual vagueness (often mistaken for vacuity), our ambiguousness — both moral and sexual — and for our spiritual tendency toward the mythic and the occult, we can blame it only on the pervasive sunlight in which we were raised, it is not a gentle light. Its magnesium-flare-thwarted-by-smog quality has little patience with nuance; it bleaches all colors; robs shadows of mystery. It is harsh and unkind to the human form. Even at its mildest it could never be confused for the winter light of the Italian Venice, which, according to America’s Poet Laureate Joseph Brodsky, "runs like a hot-footed schoolboy running his stick along the iron gate of a park or garden — along arcades, colonnades, red-brick chimneys, saints, and lions. ‘Depict! Depict!’ it cries to you...."

Two girls stretched out to the left compare the shades of tan on their stomachs.

No. Southern Californian sunlight is never, ever like that. It is not playful. Its unequivocality, if it urges us, its natives, to anything, urges us physically to exhibitionism or simply to hide. So it follows naturally that individuals raised in such unrelieved starkness should develop, by way of defense or by way of for-each-and-every-action-there-is-an-opposite-type response, singularly arcane interior lives.

I did. And anyone unconvinced that geography is destiny need only look at the daily headlines. For decades we’ve fed each other the “Family of Man" pap, said that place and environment didn’t matter, and now men with guns and nasty dispositions are tearing that lie down. I, on the other hand, always knew that geography mattered. The Talmud knew it, too. It said that there was something in the very soil of a place that leached into the human soul and formed regional character. But let me first go back to that Southern Californian sunlight, by way of flimsy autobiography, to a time, the summer, when it—that light — particularly abounds.

Take your clothes off. Stand before a mirror. Judge unflinchingly what you see. Is it pretty? By any standard? What if golden, well-formed people who despised you were called, in this case, to act as your aesthetic judge? What would they say? Don’t want to even imagine it? Good. Part of the ritualistic aspect of being Southern Californian is, both undeniably and famously, summertime patronage of the beach. We are not, after all, Europeans, for whom seaside nudity is mundane. But at the beach, Southern Californian or not, we undress. And once again, that famous unambiguous sunlight offers no favors. If you have an ugly body, there is no way to hide it, make it less obscene. And every Southern California child is dragged, like it or not, in the summer, to the beach.

I am looking at an ad for Perrier water, of all things, in the June 1992 issue of Esquire (“The Magazine for Men"). Its text reads, “On a turnout along the Coast Highway just north of Laguna Beach there’s a place where the talk is usually about water." Half of this full-page ad is occupied by a full-color, bled-to-the-edge-of-the-page photograph of a young man parked against the counter of a fast-food stand. He is, by any standard — or by most conventional standards — beautiful. He is tanned, with long blond hair, and his muscled stomach and arms may or may not have benefited from his photographer’s airbrush. Touched-up, untouched, he is the icon that persists. He is the product, the final flower, of that sun.

Let me digress (I’ve already told you I would). I was a very fat and homely child. In fact, my matured body, by genetic intent, would be at home behind a blacksmith’s anvil or behind a rural Rumanian horse-plow. My thin and wiry brown ethno-hair tends toward tight ringlets when unmolested and turns into frizzy red clouds when exposed too long to the sun. My eyes are extremely light-sensitive, and my optometrist has for years begged me to submit to the magic of the polarized lens. The emotional tenor of my Southern California adolescence is most accurately characterized by the fact — there’s no use hiding this now — that at the exquisitely sensitive age of 13, I was given a role in a San Diego Junior Theater production of, Lord help us, a musical version of Little Women, a role identified in the script and program as “Fat Boy.” The full display of Fat Boy’s dramatic range was limited to a single scene, a dance number, in which his invitations were repeatedly snubbed by attractive girls in hoop skirts. While they whirled around with their handsome beaux singing, “Polka, polka, polka, polka! Dance a friendly polka! Dance a friendly pol-ka and your cares will melt a-way!”, stage directions required Fat Boy to sit deep upstage center, isolated on a bench, with his chin in his hands.

I went to school with many, many boys who looked exactly like the fellow in the Perrier ad.

The sheer physicality of Southern California life has never been fully explored, in my opinion, and now probably never will be. Life here is changing. There are now far too many immigrants who are too busy or who are too darkly colored to give a hoot about bronzed skin or thick, long, blonde hair. But not so long ago, it did matter. Especially, I suspect, during the ’60s and 70s, when I was growing up. The sexual license of that period that unmoored fucking from moral, and therefore from emotional, grounds created a kind of free-market sensual sensibility that trickled down to the young and very young. Everyone had, or was supposed to have had, a sexual life of sorts, and the downside of such deregulation is that in order to prosper, one had to have something of value to offer the market at large. Summertime was, of course, high season when one’s goods were on display.

This all brings us to the beach. It is summer, I am 15. I have somehow charmed a petite blonde from Point Loma High. (She is now a petite blonde with a degree in chemical engineering from MIT who lives in Sonoma with a high-paying job.) She has, on this particular July day, suggested a trip to La Jolla Shores. And I have done my best to keep from going. During our short courtship, I have tried to limit our encounters to places — her living room, the downtown library — where I could win on my wits alone. But she is adamant; we go to the beach.

She sheds her clothes to reveal a two-piece number she found at a discount clothing store called, if I remember correctly, Pick-A-Dilly. It is a rather angular bikini with blue-and-white flowers. I am standing in T-shirt and pants (my bathing suit underneath). She unfurls her towel, lies back on her elbows, eyes closed, face turned toward the sun. There are peers all around us. As I unzip my pants I notice, off to one side, a trio of young men my age. They are blond, strong, and handsome. I feel the cool fold of my gut as it sags against the waist of my pants. Soon I am barechested in the sea air, so pale, so very pale, on my towel next to the young girl: Fat Boy Alone in the Sun.

This story — you know already how it ends, teenagers are notoriously transparent — is not a sad one. It is about learning lessons of the world. She saw the gorgeous young men, and though she tried, she could not keep her eyes off them. And we stayed, and I stayed, determined not to leave her, until the late afternoon. The next day I was horribly blistered, red, shed skin for weeks. She did not call me again.

Geography, like your body, is destiny. I learned that as a Southern Californian long ago. Your way in the world is determined by a few random and abstract things, such as the sunlight you were raised in, the ethereal quality of your reaction, when young at a certain latitude, to the unforgiving summer sun.

— Abe Opincar

Teen Angel

The apartment on 43rd Street is spectacularly hot. Even in the morning, when the sun hasn’t cleared the eastern edge of the building’s roof, the west-facing window in the bedroom is untouchable, the air in front of it thick four feet from the wall. That is in late July, August, September. Before that, in June and early July, the mornings are overcast and cooler, but minds are cast forward to the beach and how the weather will be there later that day. That is the real weather, the weather to dress for.

By 7 a.m., up and granola-fed. Washed, combed, shaved, and moisturized. Smelling of fruit and wet hair, scrape on bikini bottoms over fresh-shaven legs, root through drawers for clean shorts and unwrinkled shirts. Perhaps a Hawaiian shirt or a Mexican blouse and a cotton skirt. Perhaps a cotton sun dress. Clothes must be removed from the closet to be tried on: the dimness inside the closet spoils the image. The effect of each must be studied, critiqued by sister, compared with sister’s outfit to avoid duplication. The effect must be sexy but not sluttish. The effect must be cool. We must look like we belong. We must look like we belong not just at the beach but at the stretch of beach between the Pacific Breeze condominium tower at Diamond Street on the north and Reed Street on the south in Pacific Beach.

Stash thongs, rolled towels, suntan lotion, lip gloss, hairbrush, hair combs, books, copies of Vogue or Mademoiselle or Glamour into woven jute bag or nylon backpack, sling to shoulder. Find bus money. Feed cat. Find house key. Leave.

Oftentimes, at 8 a.m. in East San Diego, the sky is white and thick. The sidewalk between 43rd at Wightman and 43rd at University smells of piss and Jack In The Box wrappers and Olde English 800 cans in the gutter. The bus route must be decided upon. Take the #7 east on University, transfer at 54th Street, get off at College and Montezuma, and then catch the 80. Or, too anxious to stop and wait after just a block of walking, continue up 43rd to El Cajon Boulevard and catch the 115 to SDSU and pick up the 80.

University Avenue is narrower, greyer than El Cajon Boulevard. University Avenue is more populated. The sidewalks are narrower. People are more likely to talk to you when they are passing only two feet behind you rather than four or five. So, walk past the greasy spoon, the Food Basket, the Science of Mind Church, the vacuum cleaner repair shop, the Lloyds Colonial House furniture display room to El Cajon Boulevard.

People used to taking the bus along a certain route tend to assume a proprietary attitude towards the spot where they habitually wait for the bus. “Our” bus bench is in front of the giant plaster horse painted with brown and white patches. This faces the street from behind a pseudo-split-wood fence at the Pearson Ford dealership. If someone is sitting on the bench, lean against the split-wood fence, catch sun in a straight shiny line on extended legs. If no one sits on the bench, claim it with a backpack. Do not sit on it. The dew has made the dirt come loose.

Who might be at the beach that day? What did someone who had been at the beach the day before say to someone else who had been at the beach that day? Who is supposedly having a party that night, who supposedly knows the person having the party, and who probably going to the party has a car with an empty seat in it?

The #80 bus leaves San Diego State, barrels down Montezuma and down Fairmount, out of ESD. The route twists between the shopping centers in Mission Valley, stopping for tourists in fresh tennis shoes and Zoo shirts, for old ladies with rattling metal carts. The ride is long. The fast cruise out West Mission Bay Drive is a temporary relief. The turn right at Belmont Park, onto Mission Boulevard, precedes the longest stretch, the grinding up to speed and jerked-to stops for stop signs, cars pulling out of parallel parking spaces, the bus stops every block. The street names crawling past in the same order committed themselves to memory in sequence. Ventura, Island, Isthmus, Jamaica. Santa Barbara, Jersey, Kennebeck, Kingston. San Luis Obispo, Lido, Liverpool, Manhattan, El Carmel, Monterey, Nahant, Nantasket, San Juan, Niantic, Ormond, Ostend, Portsmouth, Pismo. Queenstown, Redondo, Rockaway, San Jose, Salem, Sunset, Tangiers, Toulon, Vanitie, San Rafael, Venice, Verona, Whiting, Windemere, Yarmouth, York, Zanzibar. Those were the little courts and places, a globe’s worth of summer holidays, turn-of-the-century resorts, bathing machines and knee-length woolen bathing suits.

Exit (banging shins against other kids’ boogie boards or lawn chairs on the way out) on Mission Boulevard at Felspar. Check into the pinball place for anyone you know. Cross the street and continue down the block. Pause, on the boardwalk, to flip hair, remove shoes, repack bag. Scan the sand for familiar faces. A scan of the waves. “It’s shitty today.”

“Yeah.”

Down the boardwalk, past Crystal Pier, perch on the wall and remove sandals, pivot (wrinkling cotton under bottom) legs onto the sand side and hop down. Continue south.

There are the others. Three girls have arranged towels and striped canvas backrests perfectly angled to the mid-morning sun. One stands, shifting weight from one sand-caked foot to scratch at a calf, on the boardwalk, talking to the guy in blue trunks on the rusted-out Schwinn. Another runs up the sand from the water, shaking saltwater from ropes of hair and thwacking wet bikini bottom back into position.

The next five hours, grill in the sun until the sweat sends you running for the water. Swim awhile. Read, during the timed intervals when you lie on your stomach and put the reading aside for the intervals when you lie on your back. Walk along the boardwalk in tandem, towards Hamel’s, the liquor store, someone’s house. Swim again. Collapse on the towel. Eyes closed. Two girls stretched out to the left compare the shades of tan on their stomachs. On the other side of the wall a group is talking about a party that night. The sound of ocean in your head as you roll it from side to side. Nothing but this.

By midsummer the hair bleached by saltwater takes on the consistency of straw. This makes it easy to slick back from the temples, flick with a wide-toothed comb into tubes above each ear. The skin of the nose has burned, peeled, and burned again, the feet are tough and cracked. The rest of you is one long stretch of tanned skin.

At night, the skin gives off heat inside T-shirt, between thighs under skirt. Think about the feeling. Think about the nighttime parties, locations never exactly known. Following the music, the slow cruise down the street. The street jammed with rusted old Volvos with surf racks, the trucks, the 20-year-old Buicks and Pontiacs — double-parked, driven half onto curbs, up onto lawns. Park around the comer or down the block, windows rolled down for the ocean noise, for the efficient expulsion of purple sinsemilla smoke, Acapulco gold smoke. The extra rear-view mirror, kept hidden under driver’s seat, is whipped out for the chopping up and laying out of lines of cocaine. Plastic cups are pulled from the glove compartment, wedged between thighs for the pouring in of milk, Kahlua, and tequila. Perhaps there is beer instead: Heineken, St. Pauli Girl, Dos Equis.

Walking down the street, sandals slapping on sidewalk, clothes cool and rippling against sunburned legs, there is the scent of jasmine. Bougainvillea hangs over fences. A hibiscus flower is plucked from a bush on the comer and tucked into your hair.

— Mary Lang

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Bob McPhail wrote about illnesses, finally dies of them

With Reader from 1987 to 2018

Sunlight offers no favors to fat boys

I was given a role in a San Diego Junior Theater production of, Lord help us, a musical version of Little Women, a role identified in the script and program as “Fat Boy.”

Of nationally and somewhat internationally we native Southern Californians are known for our intellectual vagueness (often mistaken for vacuity), our ambiguousness — both moral and sexual — and for our spiritual tendency toward the mythic and the occult, we can blame it only on the pervasive sunlight in which we were raised, it is not a gentle light. Its magnesium-flare-thwarted-by-smog quality has little patience with nuance; it bleaches all colors; robs shadows of mystery. It is harsh and unkind to the human form. Even at its mildest it could never be confused for the winter light of the Italian Venice, which, according to America’s Poet Laureate Joseph Brodsky, "runs like a hot-footed schoolboy running his stick along the iron gate of a park or garden — along arcades, colonnades, red-brick chimneys, saints, and lions. ‘Depict! Depict!’ it cries to you...."

Two girls stretched out to the left compare the shades of tan on their stomachs.

No. Southern Californian sunlight is never, ever like that. It is not playful. Its unequivocality, if it urges us, its natives, to anything, urges us physically to exhibitionism or simply to hide. So it follows naturally that individuals raised in such unrelieved starkness should develop, by way of defense or by way of for-each-and-every-action-there-is-an-opposite-type response, singularly arcane interior lives.

I did. And anyone unconvinced that geography is destiny need only look at the daily headlines. For decades we’ve fed each other the “Family of Man" pap, said that place and environment didn’t matter, and now men with guns and nasty dispositions are tearing that lie down. I, on the other hand, always knew that geography mattered. The Talmud knew it, too. It said that there was something in the very soil of a place that leached into the human soul and formed regional character. But let me first go back to that Southern Californian sunlight, by way of flimsy autobiography, to a time, the summer, when it—that light — particularly abounds.

Take your clothes off. Stand before a mirror. Judge unflinchingly what you see. Is it pretty? By any standard? What if golden, well-formed people who despised you were called, in this case, to act as your aesthetic judge? What would they say? Don’t want to even imagine it? Good. Part of the ritualistic aspect of being Southern Californian is, both undeniably and famously, summertime patronage of the beach. We are not, after all, Europeans, for whom seaside nudity is mundane. But at the beach, Southern Californian or not, we undress. And once again, that famous unambiguous sunlight offers no favors. If you have an ugly body, there is no way to hide it, make it less obscene. And every Southern California child is dragged, like it or not, in the summer, to the beach.

I am looking at an ad for Perrier water, of all things, in the June 1992 issue of Esquire (“The Magazine for Men"). Its text reads, “On a turnout along the Coast Highway just north of Laguna Beach there’s a place where the talk is usually about water." Half of this full-page ad is occupied by a full-color, bled-to-the-edge-of-the-page photograph of a young man parked against the counter of a fast-food stand. He is, by any standard — or by most conventional standards — beautiful. He is tanned, with long blond hair, and his muscled stomach and arms may or may not have benefited from his photographer’s airbrush. Touched-up, untouched, he is the icon that persists. He is the product, the final flower, of that sun.

Let me digress (I’ve already told you I would). I was a very fat and homely child. In fact, my matured body, by genetic intent, would be at home behind a blacksmith’s anvil or behind a rural Rumanian horse-plow. My thin and wiry brown ethno-hair tends toward tight ringlets when unmolested and turns into frizzy red clouds when exposed too long to the sun. My eyes are extremely light-sensitive, and my optometrist has for years begged me to submit to the magic of the polarized lens. The emotional tenor of my Southern California adolescence is most accurately characterized by the fact — there’s no use hiding this now — that at the exquisitely sensitive age of 13, I was given a role in a San Diego Junior Theater production of, Lord help us, a musical version of Little Women, a role identified in the script and program as “Fat Boy.” The full display of Fat Boy’s dramatic range was limited to a single scene, a dance number, in which his invitations were repeatedly snubbed by attractive girls in hoop skirts. While they whirled around with their handsome beaux singing, “Polka, polka, polka, polka! Dance a friendly polka! Dance a friendly pol-ka and your cares will melt a-way!”, stage directions required Fat Boy to sit deep upstage center, isolated on a bench, with his chin in his hands.

I went to school with many, many boys who looked exactly like the fellow in the Perrier ad.

The sheer physicality of Southern California life has never been fully explored, in my opinion, and now probably never will be. Life here is changing. There are now far too many immigrants who are too busy or who are too darkly colored to give a hoot about bronzed skin or thick, long, blonde hair. But not so long ago, it did matter. Especially, I suspect, during the ’60s and 70s, when I was growing up. The sexual license of that period that unmoored fucking from moral, and therefore from emotional, grounds created a kind of free-market sensual sensibility that trickled down to the young and very young. Everyone had, or was supposed to have had, a sexual life of sorts, and the downside of such deregulation is that in order to prosper, one had to have something of value to offer the market at large. Summertime was, of course, high season when one’s goods were on display.

This all brings us to the beach. It is summer, I am 15. I have somehow charmed a petite blonde from Point Loma High. (She is now a petite blonde with a degree in chemical engineering from MIT who lives in Sonoma with a high-paying job.) She has, on this particular July day, suggested a trip to La Jolla Shores. And I have done my best to keep from going. During our short courtship, I have tried to limit our encounters to places — her living room, the downtown library — where I could win on my wits alone. But she is adamant; we go to the beach.

She sheds her clothes to reveal a two-piece number she found at a discount clothing store called, if I remember correctly, Pick-A-Dilly. It is a rather angular bikini with blue-and-white flowers. I am standing in T-shirt and pants (my bathing suit underneath). She unfurls her towel, lies back on her elbows, eyes closed, face turned toward the sun. There are peers all around us. As I unzip my pants I notice, off to one side, a trio of young men my age. They are blond, strong, and handsome. I feel the cool fold of my gut as it sags against the waist of my pants. Soon I am barechested in the sea air, so pale, so very pale, on my towel next to the young girl: Fat Boy Alone in the Sun.

This story — you know already how it ends, teenagers are notoriously transparent — is not a sad one. It is about learning lessons of the world. She saw the gorgeous young men, and though she tried, she could not keep her eyes off them. And we stayed, and I stayed, determined not to leave her, until the late afternoon. The next day I was horribly blistered, red, shed skin for weeks. She did not call me again.

Geography, like your body, is destiny. I learned that as a Southern Californian long ago. Your way in the world is determined by a few random and abstract things, such as the sunlight you were raised in, the ethereal quality of your reaction, when young at a certain latitude, to the unforgiving summer sun.

— Abe Opincar

Teen Angel

The apartment on 43rd Street is spectacularly hot. Even in the morning, when the sun hasn’t cleared the eastern edge of the building’s roof, the west-facing window in the bedroom is untouchable, the air in front of it thick four feet from the wall. That is in late July, August, September. Before that, in June and early July, the mornings are overcast and cooler, but minds are cast forward to the beach and how the weather will be there later that day. That is the real weather, the weather to dress for.

By 7 a.m., up and granola-fed. Washed, combed, shaved, and moisturized. Smelling of fruit and wet hair, scrape on bikini bottoms over fresh-shaven legs, root through drawers for clean shorts and unwrinkled shirts. Perhaps a Hawaiian shirt or a Mexican blouse and a cotton skirt. Perhaps a cotton sun dress. Clothes must be removed from the closet to be tried on: the dimness inside the closet spoils the image. The effect of each must be studied, critiqued by sister, compared with sister’s outfit to avoid duplication. The effect must be sexy but not sluttish. The effect must be cool. We must look like we belong. We must look like we belong not just at the beach but at the stretch of beach between the Pacific Breeze condominium tower at Diamond Street on the north and Reed Street on the south in Pacific Beach.

Stash thongs, rolled towels, suntan lotion, lip gloss, hairbrush, hair combs, books, copies of Vogue or Mademoiselle or Glamour into woven jute bag or nylon backpack, sling to shoulder. Find bus money. Feed cat. Find house key. Leave.

Oftentimes, at 8 a.m. in East San Diego, the sky is white and thick. The sidewalk between 43rd at Wightman and 43rd at University smells of piss and Jack In The Box wrappers and Olde English 800 cans in the gutter. The bus route must be decided upon. Take the #7 east on University, transfer at 54th Street, get off at College and Montezuma, and then catch the 80. Or, too anxious to stop and wait after just a block of walking, continue up 43rd to El Cajon Boulevard and catch the 115 to SDSU and pick up the 80.

University Avenue is narrower, greyer than El Cajon Boulevard. University Avenue is more populated. The sidewalks are narrower. People are more likely to talk to you when they are passing only two feet behind you rather than four or five. So, walk past the greasy spoon, the Food Basket, the Science of Mind Church, the vacuum cleaner repair shop, the Lloyds Colonial House furniture display room to El Cajon Boulevard.

People used to taking the bus along a certain route tend to assume a proprietary attitude towards the spot where they habitually wait for the bus. “Our” bus bench is in front of the giant plaster horse painted with brown and white patches. This faces the street from behind a pseudo-split-wood fence at the Pearson Ford dealership. If someone is sitting on the bench, lean against the split-wood fence, catch sun in a straight shiny line on extended legs. If no one sits on the bench, claim it with a backpack. Do not sit on it. The dew has made the dirt come loose.

Who might be at the beach that day? What did someone who had been at the beach the day before say to someone else who had been at the beach that day? Who is supposedly having a party that night, who supposedly knows the person having the party, and who probably going to the party has a car with an empty seat in it?

The #80 bus leaves San Diego State, barrels down Montezuma and down Fairmount, out of ESD. The route twists between the shopping centers in Mission Valley, stopping for tourists in fresh tennis shoes and Zoo shirts, for old ladies with rattling metal carts. The ride is long. The fast cruise out West Mission Bay Drive is a temporary relief. The turn right at Belmont Park, onto Mission Boulevard, precedes the longest stretch, the grinding up to speed and jerked-to stops for stop signs, cars pulling out of parallel parking spaces, the bus stops every block. The street names crawling past in the same order committed themselves to memory in sequence. Ventura, Island, Isthmus, Jamaica. Santa Barbara, Jersey, Kennebeck, Kingston. San Luis Obispo, Lido, Liverpool, Manhattan, El Carmel, Monterey, Nahant, Nantasket, San Juan, Niantic, Ormond, Ostend, Portsmouth, Pismo. Queenstown, Redondo, Rockaway, San Jose, Salem, Sunset, Tangiers, Toulon, Vanitie, San Rafael, Venice, Verona, Whiting, Windemere, Yarmouth, York, Zanzibar. Those were the little courts and places, a globe’s worth of summer holidays, turn-of-the-century resorts, bathing machines and knee-length woolen bathing suits.

Exit (banging shins against other kids’ boogie boards or lawn chairs on the way out) on Mission Boulevard at Felspar. Check into the pinball place for anyone you know. Cross the street and continue down the block. Pause, on the boardwalk, to flip hair, remove shoes, repack bag. Scan the sand for familiar faces. A scan of the waves. “It’s shitty today.”

“Yeah.”

Down the boardwalk, past Crystal Pier, perch on the wall and remove sandals, pivot (wrinkling cotton under bottom) legs onto the sand side and hop down. Continue south.

There are the others. Three girls have arranged towels and striped canvas backrests perfectly angled to the mid-morning sun. One stands, shifting weight from one sand-caked foot to scratch at a calf, on the boardwalk, talking to the guy in blue trunks on the rusted-out Schwinn. Another runs up the sand from the water, shaking saltwater from ropes of hair and thwacking wet bikini bottom back into position.

The next five hours, grill in the sun until the sweat sends you running for the water. Swim awhile. Read, during the timed intervals when you lie on your stomach and put the reading aside for the intervals when you lie on your back. Walk along the boardwalk in tandem, towards Hamel’s, the liquor store, someone’s house. Swim again. Collapse on the towel. Eyes closed. Two girls stretched out to the left compare the shades of tan on their stomachs. On the other side of the wall a group is talking about a party that night. The sound of ocean in your head as you roll it from side to side. Nothing but this.

By midsummer the hair bleached by saltwater takes on the consistency of straw. This makes it easy to slick back from the temples, flick with a wide-toothed comb into tubes above each ear. The skin of the nose has burned, peeled, and burned again, the feet are tough and cracked. The rest of you is one long stretch of tanned skin.

At night, the skin gives off heat inside T-shirt, between thighs under skirt. Think about the feeling. Think about the nighttime parties, locations never exactly known. Following the music, the slow cruise down the street. The street jammed with rusted old Volvos with surf racks, the trucks, the 20-year-old Buicks and Pontiacs — double-parked, driven half onto curbs, up onto lawns. Park around the comer or down the block, windows rolled down for the ocean noise, for the efficient expulsion of purple sinsemilla smoke, Acapulco gold smoke. The extra rear-view mirror, kept hidden under driver’s seat, is whipped out for the chopping up and laying out of lines of cocaine. Plastic cups are pulled from the glove compartment, wedged between thighs for the pouring in of milk, Kahlua, and tequila. Perhaps there is beer instead: Heineken, St. Pauli Girl, Dos Equis.

Walking down the street, sandals slapping on sidewalk, clothes cool and rippling against sunburned legs, there is the scent of jasmine. Bougainvillea hangs over fences. A hibiscus flower is plucked from a bush on the comer and tucked into your hair.

— Mary Lang

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