Detective Joe Avery Hits the Beach
For some, every day is a perfect day to go to the shore, even when it’s not.
I myself am not much of a sun worshipper: I burn easily. And I’m always profiling the masses for the person who once stole my wallet from a beach bag less than three feet from my resting head.
But I’m a nice guy. And my ex-wife, Janice Avery, not currently in a relationship, had requested my company. Something about being alone in a crowd, half-naked, prone, eyes closed, made her feel vulnerable. Or friendless.
I sat nearby in a collapsible chair reading the obituaries. I’d grown up in a rough neighborhood and, as if in cosmic validation of my getting out, every month without fail there was at least one name I recognized.
Not far away from us, the boardwalk offered games, rides, food, a wax museum, even a mini-freak show. The music, screams and screeching laughter were white noise, until they weren’t. When the screams drowned out the laughter. And the sun was blotted out by a huge shadow.
Only in my town: a Golem, an animated clay man, seven feet tall, a dark-red snowman with trunklike limbs, was lumbering toward the water’s edge. He didn’t notice the people scrambling out of his way, just the draw of the waves. I briefly considered ignoring him, but my ex-wife pleaded with my better angels: “Honey, do your thing.”
I joined the mountain of a man as he stood just at the line in the sand where the waves petered out. He stared longingly at the blue-green water.
“Living dangerously, aren’t you?” I asked.
“How do you mean?”
“You’ll dissolve into a sloppy milkshake in the surf. It isn’t worth it.”
“The kids scream such happy screams. I hear them for hours. I just want to experience it. One time.”
“One and done, my friend. It’s not a good idea. If you like living.”
“You ever do something you shouldn’t?”
“All the time. But it’s not usually a one-way ticket: ashes to ashes, earth to earth.”
“What if it’s truly amazing? Like, the best feeling in the world? Wouldn’t that be worth it?”
“Sounds like you’re dead set on self-destruction.”
“Then talk me out of it.”
“I don’t think I can.”
“You that Detective Joe Avery I’ve been hearing about?”
“The hat give me away? I didn’t know I was a household name.”
“In some circles.”
“Look, maybe there’s an alternative. Slow-dancing under a lawn sprinkler. An industrial Slip ‘N Slide in the backyard. Some place private where we can dry you off after and, hopefully, put you back together. Redefine your chiseled features.”
“I don’t know. I respect what you’re doing, but…”
“I’ve got a pretty good reputation, helping folklore creatures. You wouldn’t want to adversely affect my batting average.”
“I’m not a client; you came to me.”
“Actually, my ex-wife sent me, but I get your point.”
He barely turned his head to talk with me. “You ever go in there?”
“When I was a kid and knew how to have fun. Now that I’m an adult, I tend to spend my time more profitably.”
“I’m hot. Is the water refreshing?”
“Usually, it’s quite cold. The other humans call it ‘invigorating.’ Eventually, our teeth chatter and the skin under our nails turns purple. That’s the body’s way of telling us it’s time to get out.”
“That won’t happen to me.”
“Look, I appreciate your efforts.”
“But you’re gonna make me look bad just the same.”
“I’m not proud of it, but yes.”
“I don’t smoke.”
“Good for you. You’ll probably outlive me, unless you do something foolish.”
“I appreciate your concern, Detective.”
“Maybe I just don’t want to see something rare and wonderful go to waste.”
“Then close your eyes. Because today I’m bodysurfing!”
“Delusions of grandeur. You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!”
“What’s the worst that can happen?” asked the Golem. He took a few tentative steps forward. “I can already feel the dampness going through me!” There was excitement in his voice. I gave up, gave in.
“You want to go as fast as you can to get as far as you can. You don’t want to melt into a mound on the sand without making it over your head. That’s when the real thrill hits you, when you first get under the water.”
“Here I go!” The Golem sighed. He took a long, deep breath. And then, he ran as much as a Golem can run, which is not at all.
“At the last minute, throw yourself onto your stomach and dive. It’s all about the big splash.”
I don’t think he heard me. The Golem pushed hard, like a fish swimming upstream. Like a log floating upstream – into a woodchipper. “Look at me!” he screeched. “It’s amazing! How do I swim?”
The water was lapping at his waist. He turned and waved. His fingers, which he’d been dragging through the surf, showed signs of wear. His arms were slightly tapered. But he continued.
He kept walking until the water was over his head.
My ex-wife stood beside me. “He’s pretty solid-looking. Maybe he’ll surprise you and walk back out, to brag. Tell you what you’ve been missing all the years.”
“I rather doubt it,” I said.
“You tried,” offered Janice.
“Exotics! Sometimes you can’t reason with them.” I didn’t mean it.
“It was worth it to him.”
“He sure thought so,” I said. “Now, I’ve got two reasons not to like coming to the beach.”
“Sorry,” she said.
“They’re so different from us,” I tried convincing myself.
“And not so different. Hopes, dreams, aspirations, frustrations. The difference is they have you to advocate for them.” Gentle words from a woman whose heart I’d once broken.
“Leaves me more determined to make a difference the next time.”
“Attaboy! You want to stop for pizza on the way to taking me home?”
“You always know what to say,” I said.