CAUTION! DO NOT TURN YOUR BACK ON THE OCEAN!
You see the signs up and down the Mendocino Coast, wherever land, people and sea interface; often, the signs are accompanied by grisly descriptions of hapless tourists who failed to heed the awesome power of our entirely misnamed ocean and were carried off by rogue waves. You don't have to tell me twice. The ocean is scary enough. I mean, all that water. You could drown. Plus you have tsunamis, sharks, waterspouts, kraken, red tide, stingaroos, ghost ships and unicorn whales. All manner of reasons to stay on your toes when interacting with the Big Salty.
I know there are probably a few old-school traditionalists out there who feel that sacrificing a few Nebraskans to Neptune is a small price to pay for keeping our shipping and coastline safe, but all in all I think the signs are a good idea. And, I can think of at least one other warning that might usefully be posted: Caution! Do not fall asleep on the beach at low tide! I know, I know. You might as well put up signs at the edge of cliffs that say Stop Walking Before The Ground Ends, or one outside the Mendocino County Public Defender's office that says, Warning: Utilizing These Advocates May (Will) Be Hazardous to Your Freedom. It goes without saying. But in my defense I would like to say that a) I'm an idiot, and b) I wouldn't know a tide table from an end table. I'm not sure I even know what tides are except that the moon, gravity and one or more of the gods associated with these phenomena are responsible for them, and c) I was really tired.
I didn't wake up when the first tentative wavelets lapped gently at my tootsies. I didn't wake up when the seawater crawled up my shorts and doused my underpinnings. I did awaken when a large wave crashed over my entire length and deposited a sizable kelp grove on my face, and by awaken I mean went from comatose to a shrieking, spinning, thrashing dervish in exactly 0.0 seconds. Disoriented? Listen, disorientation is my default state much of the time. What I was was completely unhinged. I was wet and cold and blind and when I got the greenery off my face I was facing west and saw nothing but the limitless briny, leading me to conclude that I had become lost at sea. After a good 10 or 15 seconds of thrashing around, it became apparent that there was solid ground beneath my butt, and I turn around to see the rocky bluffs of Glass Beach behind me. Relief flooded through me, followed by a little self-aware scolding: nice job, dumb-ass. It's the middle of the night, you're soaking wet, and no idea how you got here. Let's climb up to dry land and see if we can see what's what.
The day began like any other, with me out on the hunt for some of the chemistry that held body and soul in true. My search led me to the home of my friend, Reverend Jim Mooneyham, who was enjoying the morning sunshine on his front porch with a cup of coffee and his evil familiar, Shorty. Shorty was a cow dog with the soul of a deeply disturbed Tasmanian Devil. I like to think that I am a friend to all beasts, but I have to draw the line at Shorty. Once I tried to win her favor by bringing her a bag of dog treats. She sat politely in front of me as I tossed her the morsels and when they were gone she, without warning and completely dispassionately, walked over and bit me on the hand, hard. From then on I allowed her to establish an inviolate perimeter and she and I agreed to disagree on our respective rights to inhabit the earth.
"Good morning," Jim said. "Grrr," growled Shorty.
"Backatcha," I said with a sidelong glance at the furry little demon. "Who's got the good stuff today?"
"Do you know Carmen?"
"We haven't met, but I do know of her. She's in the cat rental business, right?"
Now, by cat rental I do not mean she could provide you with temporary use of a Maine coon for a fee. I mean she was one of Fort Bragg's few working girls and by working girl I do not mean barista. I mean she practiced the world's oldest profession, and by that I do not mean to imply that she was running for office. Fine. She was a prostitute with a sideline in amateur pharmaceuticals.
"Bingo. Word is she's holding some real fire."
"Well, in keeping with the combustion theme I happen to have a Benjamin burning a hole in my pocket so what say you call her and we engage in a little scorched earth recreation?"
Jim made a call and we passed the time waiting with the few hands of cribbage, Shorty glaring at me all the while from her fixed post abutting his right leg. I can't be sure but I think she growled every time I pegged on him during play.
Carman showed up in about an hour, a blowsy, zaftig, bruised-looking specimen in a garish geometric print dress. She had a certain daffy charm and the three of us spent a pleasant hour or so chatting and getting high. We traded phone numbers and she invited me to call her directly should the need arise. Excellent. You can never have too many connections.
Jim and I spent the bulk of the day tweaking around his pad, after which I went out on a mission and a period of time elapsed. A "mission," in tweakpeak, is any operation of dubious legality ranging in shadiness from sketchy to felonious, usually devoted to the acquisition and redistribution of salable goods, and generally causitive of some citizens uttering the phrase "God damn tweakers." And I say "period of time" because the usual temporal divisions people use to order their lives are meaningless to the nachtvolk. When I am on one I can tell you the year within one, usually, and if it's night or day. If I'm outdoors.
So yes, some time went by and by, and by and by I got call from new friend Carmen. She wanted to know if I wanted to go to the beach with her. This was odd; Carmen did not strike me as a beach person and our relationship thus far consisted of one business transaction and a discussion of shared acquaintances. Nevertheless, I agreed and we made plans to meet at Glass Beach an hour later.
When I showed up she was waiting at the side of her car in a floral minidress displaying acres of cleavage, red stiletto heels, and a multicolored tam. "Hi," she chirped. "Ready?"
"Always," I said. "Ready for what?"
"Glass Beach, dummy. Beach glass!" she said, spreading her arms wide. "We're hunting for beach glass. I found some red here about two months ago and I need some more. I'm going to make earrings. Orange is good too, and certain blues, and yellow. White and brown, if it's nice pick it up. Actually, just pick everything up and I'll sort it out later."
Oooo-kay. It had become clear, I had been enlisted as labor in another mania project. Eh, what the hell?, I thought. Not like I was doing anything important.
Carmen took my arm as she tottered a little unsteadily down the path to the beach, babbling happily about past glass finds. Families and couples returning from the beach gave us a wide berth taking in her false eyelashes and pale, bruised gams with nervous smiles.
When we arrived at the shore Carmen designated a spot to pile our finds and sent me off in one direction while she went the other. I got into the spirit of the thing for a while, searching out dabs of color among the sand and pebbles at the water's edge and in the tidal pools. But as the day wore on and the light dimmed it became harder and harder to tell beach glass from rocks and so I deemed it quitting time. I was in a little covelet with a tiny little slightly sloped patch of sand so I thought I would stretch out and meditate on the sound of the surf for a while. Next thing I knew, I was the confused and sopping individual described above.
I climbed up to high ground and started walking back to the road, cursing all the while. "Goddamn all small-town beach glass hookers," I grumbled. "Stupid ocean, can't decide where it ends." I looked up at the sky but all I could be sure of was that it was night. Luckily it was a rare clear night with plenty of moonlight and I picked my way carefully down the path to the parking lot where I saw… Carmen! She was standing at the back of her car with her head in the trunk. "Hey there," I said.
She gave a little startled squeal and came from behind a car. "Ohmigod, ohmigod, there you are! I thought you ditched me! Come look at all the stuff I got!"
I looked inside the trunk and saw in boxes, in old coffee cups, in potato chip bags and loose on the trunk floor, rocks. There may have been some beach glass in there but it was clearly mostly just rocks. I'd say there were about 200 pounds of beach in her trunk.
"Jesus, did you get all this tonight?" I asked.
"No, this is from a few trips. I haven't unloaded for a while. Do you want to help me unload?"
In for a penny, I thought. "Sure. Let's go."
The inside of the car was more of the same. The back seat held several sprawling shoeboxes full of rocks, the ashtray and console were similarly full and I dared not open the glovebox. The floor under my feet was covered in rocks. The dashboard was covered in rocks. The seat I sat on was covered in rocks. We were driving in a mobile quarry.
As Carmen piloted the Flintstonemobile toward the now rising sun, she looked over at me. "Hey, you're all wet," she said.
"Yeah, I went for a little swim," I said.
"Really? That's kind of weird," she said.
"It's been a weird night." I heaved a mighty sigh.
We headed south and drove to the self storage place by Boice Lane. She backed up to her unit and unlocked and rolled up the door. Inside was what I'd estimate as 15 cubic yards of Glass Beach. Several tons anyway. There was no furniture, no clothing, no household items or valuables whatsoever — indeed, nothing but rocks. In boxes, and bags, in coffee cans, loose on the floor, heaped in piles. I began transferring the contents of the trunk inside. "Quite a collection you got here," I said.
"Thanks. I've really got to get to work categorizing it. I've got some work ahead of me, but it's a-a-a-ll going to be worth it," she said cheerfully.
Wow, I thought. What a great attitude. And how fortunate that I wound up in Fort Bragg where as often as not I'm the normal one. I used to worry sometimes about my own idiosyncratic behavior and off-kilter leanings, but I realize now it's all a matter of perspective. In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is the only one with a driver's license.
Carmen dropped me off at home a little while later, thanking me effusively and giving me a kiss on the cheek. I gave her a hug and she pressed something into my hand. It was a brilliant blue piece of beach glass. "Thanks," I said. "Give me a buzz sometime, we'll go raid the coastline again."
She squealed happily and rattled off down the road and I went inside to suffuse my system with a toxic brew of highly corrosive, unstable, flammable chemicals and sort my collection of old batteries according to size and relative deadness. Bada-bing!