Hand In The Tide
The old manâ€™s lean muscles ache from pulling stone after stone from the break. Most are too heavy for him to carry so he rolls them instead. A shallow wave crashes around him, waters made coarse by dark grit and salt splash between his legs, tugging him off balance. The ocean washes back out to curl the lip of the next set. Another wave slaps against pink thighs, sinking his feet into shifting black sands.
Ford flips hefty boulders end over end toward a natural depression in the beachâ€™s shoulder. Stones clack noisily as he stacks them along a curved wall built to protect a pool of water from the vastness of the Pacific Ocean.
The tides will lay siege on his project, scattering the ruins before heâ€™s able to man his battlement next, but he will return to rebuild again. Every weekend Ford toils tirelessly here, constructing this walled pool for the kids who might not be able to resist the oceanâ€™s pull. The wall never survives the week but, on a beach with a surf break known for taking men and not returning them, the kiddy pool seems like a sound idea to Ford.
A bushy haired teen everyone calls Tater approaches dressed in pinstriped business slacks cut off at the knees. Tater is on the beach daily yet manages to maintain the complexion of peppered coconut meat. Heâ€™s fond of saying that he doesnâ€™t tan, just breaks out in freckles.
Ford gives the slacks a nod, â€œNice suit. Headed to a meeting?â€ Ford prefers wearing only the sheen of oil while sunbathing. He doesnâ€™t consider himself a nudist, it just so happens to be a nude beach. A retired engineer and full-time dreamer, he enjoys the clumsy philosophizing with stoners, fellow retirees, and drunk locals on his weekends, it lets him stroke his intellectual beard. “You know, the cut-off toga was the real reason they made Socrates drink hemlock.â€
Tater is still in greet mode, â€œHey Ford, working on your wall again man?â€ He places his military style satchel on a rock to fidget with the safety pins holding the strap on. The strap is a repurposed brown dress tie, the fat stubby style common in the eighties.
Ford takes a seat on a large stone intended for the base of the wall before replying, â€œWell, Iâ€™d let the Menehune build it for me but you damn hippies keep eating all the food I leave to bribe them with.â€
The Hawaiian Islands are home to a diminutive race of mythical handymen called the Menehune. Supposedly they love to work on rock walls if asked nicely. Pulled pork sandwiches are one way to ask nicely.
“You don’t want Menehune building that shit.Â They put up my tarp for me and it catches water every time it rains.”Â It rains practically every day on this slope of the volcano.
Tater is stoked. Heâ€™s been hopping up and down the beach telling people about his new place and now itâ€™s Fordâ€™s turn. â€œHopefully I’m through with tarps though.Â You know the thrift store that lady opened on the end of the boardwalk to sell off her dead husbandâ€™s stuff? Well, that store has a huge closet upstairs and she said I can rent that shit cheap. All I gotta do is watch it at night ‘cos sheâ€™s sick of getting her shit broken into.â€
â€œWouldnâ€™t it be obvious who robbed her when she sees them wearing her dead husbandâ€™s bowling shirt the next day?â€
â€œThatâ€™s funny, I should totally ask her that shit.â€ Tater is momentarily distracted by bikinis skipping playfully across the beach. He asks, with only a hint of his earnest curiosity, â€œYou headed to church bank today?â€
Ford correctly assumes heâ€™s referring to the food bank at the Catholic church on the edge of town. The same one that recently cut down a hundred and fifty year old banyan tree so their statue of Jesus could have a better view of the gas station across the street. They hand out food every Friday. Tater is obviously fishing for a ride beachside so he doesnâ€™t have to hitchhike into town.
â€œAlready did.â€ Ford puts minimum effort into his lie. Of course he doesnâ€™t go to the food bank, but he tries not to let any of the local kids know how much money heâ€™s really worth. Most accept him as just another leathery beach bum.
â€œWell, I better thumb to the church soon. Iâ€™m heading for the protest in Hilo afterwards. Going to take over the park downtown and shit. The one with the koi fish, right? Might be tight, you should check it.â€
â€œStill protesting the price of bagel sandwiches at the natch?â€
â€œNaw. Greedy banks and shit. The entire greedy ass global institution, really. You hear about Greece? Itâ€™s going down in Greece. We should be setting shit on fire too, seriously.â€
Ford thinks someone, preferably a therapist, should ask this kid what his fascination with the word shit really is, anyone but himself. This isolated stretch has earned the nickname â€œhepatitis beachâ€ due to the unfortunate bathroom situation. If you follow along the bottom of the cliffs you canâ€™t miss it, a swamp of human waste and toilet paper. Make sure to pack a baggy of dehydrated lime if you plan to visit.
Tater isnâ€™t finished rallying, â€œHeads should be rolling, right? That guy who hacked the phones of them movie stars, heâ€™s looking at like a century in prison. Meanwhile, CEOs who bankrupted the entire world get to keep on cruising. Bullshit, you know?â€ He breaks from the cause to mention, â€œPlus someone told me theyâ€™ll have dinner.â€
The sinewy old timer knows better than to struggle against immovable masses, preferring to work sizable boulders end over end. â€œEven the boss and the boss of the boss have karma to account for.â€ Fordâ€™s ethical take has been re-edited from a pragmatistâ€™s encyclopedia down to a fortune cookie. Hawaii had a lot to do with that. The yoga instructor he let take over his life had more and for the first time he can honestly remember he finds himself telling people he’s in love.
Tater respectfully disagrees, “I don’t know about that.Â What if I am that karma and I don’t show up? These assholes swipe pension funds from people who’ve worked hard for it all their lives.”Â Ford has never known Tater to hold a job.
The sun is brilliant. The sky is a cool blue with depths more tempting than the ocean. Fordâ€™s tropical outlook helps him keep his head clear, to remain optimistic. â€œWe should learn forgiveness and compassion, and when those greedy corporations finally have to pay for what theyâ€™ve done to the earth, as a whole, we can balance the energy instead of swinging the pendulum the other way for another millennium.â€
Tater’s done his share of research and is fueled by discontent, â€œWaiting around a millennium at a time for karma to make things right adds up to thousands of years of oppression. Doesnâ€™t seem like much of a solution.â€
â€œItâ€™s easy to smash a guitar if you donâ€™t like the song someoneâ€™s playing. Learning to play an instrument so you can sing your own takes time.â€Â Ford stands to stretch, hands on hips, gleaming back at the sun.
â€œI already know how to play guitar. Everybody in Hawaii does.â€
Ford dips into the cool foam of a wave washing out, digging another large stone free as the suction of the tide sinks him. Tater scrambles over to help haul it to the rock wall.
Tater smiles at his contribution to the piles. Then shakes his head, politely disapproving, â€œYou know– If we were all as patient as you, nothing would ever happen.â€Â After a sip of water he continues, â€œHave you ever wondered why this wall you work on every weekend gets wiped out? When that heart made from pieces of coral over there never gets washed away?â€
The old man laughs like crashing waves, he says thoughtfully, â€œI donâ€™t rebuild it because I think itâ€™ll be here forever. The tide is stubborn but it canâ€™t wash away the joy it brings me.â€
The kid fidgets with the dress tie strap again before sliding it and the satchel back onto his pale shoulder. â€œThe ocean is stubborn, right about that. Almost as stubborn as Hank over there.â€ Tater points but Ford is familiar with the grump, choosing instead to admire the perfect line the horizon makes.
â€œAnyhow, Hankâ€™s the one that tears down you wall, not the ocean. He does it as soon as you leave.â€
Ford feels like the wind just got knocked out of him. â€œYou canâ€™t be serious– Are you serious?â€ Tater is. Ford asks, â€œDo you know why?â€
Tater shrugs, â€œSays itâ€™s dangerous and dumb to let young kids think itâ€™s safe to play on a beach with such violent surf.â€
â€œThatâ€¦ That asshole.â€ Fordâ€™s lips are chapped and salty, mouth dry. He wipes his oily brow, unintentionally grinding coarse black sand into his wrinkles. â€œAll Iâ€™m trying to do is build a wall so children wonâ€™t get dragged out by the undertow. Is it better to do nothing? Just let kids risk the actual ocean?â€
â€œI donâ€™t think itâ€™s better to do nothing.â€
They both look over at Hank, the drunk lurching near locals pummeling tribal drums.
Ford is wiry but hardly weak. Years of wrestling huge rocks from the pounding surf has made him sturdy, muscle chiseled from smooth stone. Ford digs deep tracks, charging with naked purpose towards confrontation. The tide pushes into dangerous peaks behind him.
How many times have fronds or nests of aging coconuts come crashing down? And every time they smack some sweet girl practicing poi or child napping in the shadeâ€¦ Whose misplaced karma is that? Meanwhile this asshole Hank does shit like tearing down the kiddy pool, yet somehow passes under those same damn coconut trees unscathed every stinking day.
Ford imagines his fists landing like a hail of coconuts, smashing Hankâ€™s face. An entire volcanic island of rage surges through him.
Hank is a gnarled bastard with skin like a petrified tree, who can be found most days haggling high school dropouts for swigs from their forty ouncers. Ford throws a stiff jab at his throat. But his fist stops short of striking. He snaps his fingers twice a mere inch from Hankâ€™s chin. Then points at the cigarette dangling from Hankâ€™s dumbfounded expression, demanding sharply, â€œGimme one.â€
Hank knows exactly what this is about, suddenly aware that he might have picked the wrong old timer to fuck with. Nervously he fumbles a crumpled pack of tobacco from his pocket, offering helpfully, â€œIâ€™ll roll you one.â€
It should only take a few seconds, Hanks been rolling his own all his life. But he can feel Fordâ€™s glare boring holes through the flimsy rolling paper, the tobacco is brittle and most of it falls out the end before he gets it licked. For some reason the glue wonâ€™t stick but Ford doesnâ€™t give a damn.
Snatching the crudely rolled cigarette, he lights it, inhaling deeply. A dizzy rush tingles his senses. Ford leans in close, nearly nose to nose, blowing smoke in Hankâ€™s face to say, â€œItâ€™s been thirty years since Iâ€™ve had one of these fucking things.â€
Puffing his cigarette, Ford heads back to the makeshift pile of stones protecting a kiddy pool near the ocean. He finishes the smoke and gets back to work, splashing out into the water naked. With waves crashing around him, he hauls smooth stones in from the break to finish his wall.
Hand In The Tide