Saturday, February 19, 2005

Waimea Break

by Ken Wheaton

I'm sitting on a wet rock somewhere near Waimea Bay, pouring beer on my feet. For some reason, it makes perfect sense to me. And when it's empty, I'll probably stumble up the broken steps, sneak into the house and bash the bottle over my little brother's head.

He'd been calling me Francis all night. "Hey, Francis, tell 'em about the time you got the DUI." "Hey, Francis, what about the time you wet yourself on the playground." "Francis, what about the time you thought that tranny was a real woman."

Payback, I guess, for all those years of my friends and me smacking him around. And, really, it's harmless, something he does when we're both drunk and he just wants to get my goat.

"Hey, get me another beer Francis."

"It's Frankie ... you ... uhhh. Shut up, jerk." Same thing every time. A name like Jarvis just doesn't lend itself to that kind of game now that we're well beyond an age where "retardus" makes for a snappy comeback.

So, yeah, my goat's been gotten.

Of course this has little to do with the Francis bit and more to do with the rest of the weekend. Mr. Hotshot Navy Pilot and his Beautiful Nurse Girlfriend decided to get married at the last minute and expected family to attend. Most of the time, I can't seem to make a relationship work past three months and these two have been together for six weeks and they're putting all their chips on the table, their initials on the bath towels. Jarvis and Janice? I mean, c'mon. And they expect us to fly out to paradise to watch them cement their bonds with suck-face all weekend?

Still, I like to think of myself as a good brother. So, like a good brother, I unhitched myself from my office desk and left a cold, rainy New York October for Oahu. My mom, who did her best to guilt me into coming, flew out from Louisiana. Worse, so did my dad. Worse still, they've been divorced for 30 years, so upon hearing my dad was coming, my step-dad felt a pressing need to round out the merry band. As if shuffling alongside my old man—slower than Droopy Dog on Valium—through the Dole plantation wasn't bad enough on it's own. But having him stage-whisper to the step-dad, "Hey, John you think they have enough Japanese people in this place?" then having John answer back, pretending that they're just two good old-fashioned American best buds, "No shit, huh? Tell you what, Henry, might be a good time to Pearl Harbor their asses since they're all over here." Well, that's just pineapple icing on the cake.

And to top it all off, Jarvis and Janice decided the best way to celebrate their nuptials, instead of going on a honeymoon like normal people, would be to sequester us all in a big house on the North Shore, where we can watch the happy couple be happy, watch my dad try to convince himself that he is, watch my mom and step-dad pretend they're okay with my dad being there, watch Janice's side of the party try to make sense out of our side. As if.

No surprise that the alcohol is flowing smoothly.

So at the moment, I've got numerous pains in my ass, the rock I'm sitting on among the least of them. And don't think that's not pissing me off, either. All those people in the movies? Sitting on rocks as the ocean crashes around them? Big blissed out smiles on their faces? Bullshit, I say. The salty spray I find annoying. The waves are simply taunting me, making my feet itch and hurt, reminding me that despite a couple of successful attempts at surfing on Long Island, I was in no way ready for the North Shore—that rock shelf in particular. And sand? Forget it. Sure, beaches would be paradise—if you could suction all the sand off of them.

I should have brought a hemorrhoid cushion. But since I've been out here for five beers, my butt is numbing up some. And clouds have started to skid in across the sky. Some people might complain about the clouds, but nothing frightens a New Yorker more than being faced with too many stars at once. It almost doesn't concern me that the tide's coming in and my rock's now surrounded by water. I'll have to wash the beer off my feet anyway. I'll probably get attacked by a shark when I make my way back. No. Too glorious and gruesome. I'll step on a rusty hook and die of lock jaw, forced to go to my pathetic death, silent in the dying of the light.

I hear giggling on the stairs behind me and look over my shoulder. It's the happy couple, going for a happy walk on happy beach on happy island.

"Hey, Francis," Jarvis shouts. "What the hell you doing out on that rock?"

"Getting drunk in peace," I answer.

He pauses a bit. "Well, don't fall in, Frankie," he finally says. Frankie. Hmph. Now he's being sensitive? I know what he thinks. He thinks I'm out here moping about Sadie. As if.

I'll say this much about Hawaii, it's 100% Sadie free. No Sadie sightings. No Sadie voice. No Sadie scent. No Sadie sitting at my favorite bar—MY BAR—as if she owns the place. No blinding rage. No blinding tears. No blinding encounters with the green-eyed monster of true envy.

To be honest, this low-level jealousy I'm feeling toward Jarvis is probably the healthiest emotion I've felt in weeks. And it's an all-around jealousy at that.

I was the one who wanted to be a Navy pilot when I was a kid. And who's the Navy pilot? Jarvis.

But, yes, I admit that I smoked and drank myself so damn stupid in high school my ASVAB scores would have qualified me for nothing more than bed-pan changer-second class in a third-world torture chamber.

After the pilot thing went down in flames, I wanted to be a marine biologist and live in a tropical paradise. And who's living in Hawaii? Jarvis.

Literally, my first thought on seeing the view from the airport was "This is ridiculous." Fly into New York and you're confronted with noise, honking cabs, parking garages, foreign-speaking cab drivers, smog and a view of absolutely squat. Fly into Hawaii and just beyond the parking garage are mountains and tropical forests? What the hell is that about?

But, again, smoke and drink your way out of science and into liberal arts, there's only a few cities big and stupid enough to pay you a decent wage.

"Well, look at it this way Frankie," my mom once said. "Your brother's risking his life in that contraption just to pay his way through college. And you? They don't even have muggings in New York anymore. At least you're safe."

Yeah, that made me feel better. I want to impress people, I have to lie and tell them I live in Bushwick or Bed-Stuy. Even there, the hipsters are spreading like some hairy, white disease.

And then, one day, my office building was destroyed while I lay in bed "sick" because I'd stayed up late drinking through the Giants-Viking games.

And who ends up being one of the first called up to exact the righteous revenge called for after that particular horror? Go on. Guess.

So, shit. Jarvis deserves it. Jarvis deserves Janice and Jarvis deserves Hawaii.

Hell, I think what I'm most jealous of at times is that he got to do something while all I did was switch to an office slightly higher uptown. Biggest hardship I've faced since then, aside from a panic attack or two on the subway, is having to listen to the usual suspects slip right back into the old patterns.

Sadie turned out to be one of those.

Nine great months that had to be too good to be true. I was, for once, telling myself I deserved it. Oh, I deserved it all right. Found that out when September rolled around again. We were walking, hand in hand, by a makeshift memorial in Union Square. Candles flickered beneath the photos of firemen and office workers, folks who'd quite literally been returned to the dust from which they came. And out of her mouth comes: "God, I wish they'd just get over it."

"Excuse me?" I pulled my hand back and hoped, if only for a moment, she was talking about the protestors. But no.

"Blu-blu-blu. All this crying. It happened two years ago. Get on with life. Not like we were innocent anyway."

I tried to tell myself that Sadie moved to New York after it happened. She was younger, not too long out of grad school, her head full of the crap they taught the rest of us. She hadn't lost six of her close friends while sleeping off a hangover in Brooklyn. Maybe I was just being an old crank, I told myself.

But, obviously she'd decided the grace period had ended. She could be her true self, whatever that was.

I was having none of it. And she was having none of me having none of it. Next thing I know, I come back early from work one night and catch her making out on the couch with a guy wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt.

And that's about where my brain, thank God, shuts down. I'm in Hawaii. I'm on a rock. The biggest worry I have right now is getting pinched on the ass by a crab. I'm on beer number six. I've got two more in my pockets. God bless America and God bless cargo pants. The empties, I've been putting in a bag sharing the rock with me. I'm half expecting to fly into a rage at some point and do my bit to contribute to someone else's beach glass collection. But so far, I've been a model of environmentalism.

I stare out at the horizon and I can just make out the chalk lines of waves breaking. I was out there today, getting beaten senseless by nature while my coworkers sat at their desks, twenty-five floors up in a slate-gray sky half a world away, banging on their keyboards like monkeys trying to get a morsel out of an uncooperative fruit.

The clouds open up a bit, showing a few stars and a bit of the moon. Somewhere to my left, Jarvis and his bride are making out in the sand. Behind me, my dad, mom, step-dad and Janice's people are playing dominoes and drinking. They're slapping the dominoes down hard enough for me to hear the clacks over the surf. I'm getting a little drowsy.

"Hey, hot stuff!"

"Holy sh" is about all I get out before I slip off the rock and under the water. It's only waist deep, but it's such a shock that I lose my beer before coming up for air.

"Oh, my god! You okay?" she says, offering me one hand, while she covers her mouth with the other, laughing herself silly. In my panic, I move past her hand and go right for my rock, succeeding only in sending the empties splashing into the water.

"Son of a bitch." I start flailing about, trying to grab the bottles.

She grabs my arm. "It's okay. Chalk it up to beach glass."

Standing up straight and catching my breath, I realize just how drunk I am. I'm drunk and she's standing there smirking at me, Janice's best friend, the maid of honor, Bernie, my supposed automatic hookup. We've said about fifty words to one another since we've been here. I didn't even bother trying.

A shout rings out from the beach house. "Well God Damn! Look at the size of that thing." Followed by laughter. "What IS it?" Screams. "Looks like a roach gone wrong." More laughter and screams. "It's a centipede. Kill it." Furniture being shoved aside. "Somebody get my gun. We gonna eat good tonight."

There's part of the problem. Even my sharpest game with the ladies can't cut through that sort of cheese. But that's only a small part. Bernie no doubt has equally embarrassing family somewhere back home. For all I know, she's grown past considering such behavior humiliating and here I am, at 35, acting like a red-eared 15-year-old because my folks had the gall to get drunk and enjoy themselves.

All that aside, I've just never had luck with Louisiana girls. They just don't seem to get me.

"Uh, hello? Frank? You okay?"

Real slick. I'd zoned out. And zoned out while staring directly at her breasts, held high in skimpy bikini top and glistening under the stars. Thank God her ass is under water at the moment. I don't think I could handle it all at once. I might be self-absorbed, but I'm not dead.

I regain what little composure is left to me. "Yeah. Sorry. I'm a little drunk, I guess." I look at her eyes. Maybe it's paranoia, but she seems to be studying me. "And you scared the hell out of me, too."

She smiles. "Well, if staring at my tits makes you feel better."

"I, uh. Well."

"It's okay. I paid good money for them," she says and clambers up onto the rock, her gym shorts clinging. My head spins a little and I don't know if she's joking or not.

A little voice in my head, my midnight in New York voice, says "Well, it was too dark to see the color of your eyes." What comes out of my mouth is, "No I wasn't."

"Whatever. Climb aboard." She pats the rock next to her.

As I climb up, I start to notice the pain in my back. "Jesus, I must have scraped half the skin off my back when I fell off the rock."

"Sorry, sport," she says. "But with that sunburn you had, it was just going to peel off anyway."

I sit down, out of breath. The sky is completely open now, the stars practically within touching distance.

"All these stars," I say. "I feel like I'm being watched."

"I don't know about the stars, but your mom is probably spying on us right now."

I can feel my ears going red again. "Well, maid of honor, best man, all of that noise. I think we're contractually obligated."

"Yeah, well, I'm not a trained psychiatrist, but," she says.

"Yeah you are," I say. It's about the only thing I've learned about her all weekend.

"Oh, that's right. I am. But from where I'm sitting, it looks like someone who shall remain nameless has some serious gal issues."

Well, there goes all that I guess. At least it removes the pressure to perform. "That obvious, huh?"

"Only a broken-hearted narcissist would think getting drunk on a rock as the tide came up made any kind of sense." She falls silent for a bit, looks over at me and picks a bit of rock off of my back. "Then again, I could be projecting."

"You, too?" That hadn't even occurred to me.

"Hadn't occurred to you, had it? You're the extra-special kind of narcissist. So self-absorbed, you can't even imagine someone else being self-absorbed, much less broken-hearted."

"Well, hell. Guess I should have paid more attention."

"That's okay," she says. "Only reason I noticed you was because you were on my rock."

We both lift our feet out of the water and consider them for a moment.

"Hey, Francis, I hope you two have protection," Jarvis shouts from the beach.

"Awwww, look at them. They're so cute together," Janice adds.

They both find this immensely funny and walk off hand-in-hand, laughing the whole way.

"God, look at them," I say.

"I know. Disgusting."

I sneak a peak at her out of the corner of my eye.

"If there's one consolation, the locals probably hate them," she adds.

"Well, at least they're happy," I hear myself saying.

"For now," she says. "For now."

We both look out at the water in silence for a bit.

"So are those beers in your pocket are you just happy to see me?" she asks.

The voice in my head, the New York voice, says "A little of both" and when she laughs and says "Simmer down, pal" I realize I said it out loud.

"Well, now they're warm. And they'll probably explode when you open them."

"Well, half a warm flat beer is better than none," she says.

So I open them and, sure enough, we end up wearing half the beer. Of course, we drink it anyway. It's not half bad.

"So you were sitting on this rock all alone. What were you thinking about, Francis?" she asks, leaning into me with her shoulder.

"You mean other than myself?"

"Yeah," she says. "If that's possible."

From the beach house, we hear Janice scream, then a life-time's worth of laughter. I don't have to be in there to know that either John or Henry has just thrown the centipede at her.

"As a matter of fact, I was just sitting here thinking what a beautiful place Hawaii is," I say.

"Uh huh," she says.

"What?" I ask.

"Oh, nothing," she says and puts her head on my shoulder. I can feel her hair sticking into the scratches on my back, but who am I to complain?