our beach house before the front deck pexels

A sad ending in Ocean beach

By Diomedes | Robert O'Reilly | 19 Apr 2022


 

 

 

San Diego and Phil.

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Phil, my good friend since the dorms, 1972

 

It was right after this party that a group of more criminal and derelict so-called friends began to frequent our living room. The first was a blond in her late twenties. She was pretty but had been prettier, with the first wrinkles starting to show on her well-tanned face. She had a trim, athletic build and would sit at the same table almost every afternoon at our bar nursing her pitcher of beer, which she made last twice as long by continually adding ice from another pitcher, which in the heat of the afternoon made good sense. She often wore tight jeans and had the strange but sexy habit of straddling the bench she sat on (like a picnic table) and moving her butt back and forth along it in a slow, even motion, as if she had an itch, about a foot in each direction, interesting to watch.

She was lively and talkative and pleasant. She went to the beach every morning and didn’t seem to need to work. We developed an acquaintance and she started visiting us in the evenings, always enlivening our small company. The problem wasn’t her but her boyfriend, who began accompanying her to our house. He was a large, blond ruffian, loud and boastful, a heavy beer drinker, wearing only shorts and sandals (all he owned) reminding me of a Viking. If the beers were available (and they most often were) he would drink until he passed out on the couch, then slouch against whoever was next to him and begin to snore. We’d still be up and talking, but neither his girlfriend shaking him nor any of us were able to wake him. I don’t know why she loved him. I never saw them leave together. So that’s where he stayed, embarrassingly, till we called it quits and turned out the lights, his girlfriend wandering off alone. He would wake up in the middle of the night and disappear in the dark. I think he slept on the beach. His only money came from her or schemes, definitely criminal.

One day he asked to use our stove and a pan. Without thinking I said ‘sure’. When I walked past him a half hour later I noticed he was cooking butter and egg whites, oregano and some finely ground up pot leaves from our blender and cooling it in the fridge. He was making fake hash to sell to the ignorant Navy recruits who flocked to our beach, looking for drugs and adventure on their first time off. But he’d done this so many times he was marked by the local police. Unfortunately for me, his frequent visits to my house also marked it out to the police.

But I can’t point the finger at just one. Besides him we let in a whole crew of petty criminals and drug addicts. Harry O. at this point left our driveway, saying the place was getting too wild. That, coming from him, should have been a clear warning signal that our judgment and our home was going astray. I had other distractions. A sandy-haired, tall and skinny mother of two, our neighbor, would drop by and spend an inordinate amount of time in our bathroom, where she would shoot up, leaving needles and blood stains on the sink.

But before this she asked me one afternoon to accompany her to a Walmart for some shopping. She’d kissed me on the beach the night before and I easily agreed. We drove there in my car and she half-filled a shopping cart with clothes, sundries, bathroom items, a hundred dollars worth of cheap things and proceeded to the check-out where she produced a credit card and some I.D. The cashier, a young girl, bags her  stuff, but right before handing over the receipt says there’s a problem with the card and that she has to see the manager. She leaves us at the counter. My nervous companion says she’s feeling sick, asks me for my car keys and rushes out of the store. I stand there like Laurel of Laurel and Hardy, wondering what’s going on, mouth agape. The cashier returns and says everything’s fine, asking me where my friend is.

I nonchalantly reply that she had to use the bathroom. I take the four large bags, the returned I.D. and, when I see the car gone, sit at a bus stop across the street till I catch one home. She’s sitting in my living room and has told everyone in a panic that I’ve been arrested. The credit card and I.D. were stolen. I walked into the room, tired with carrying all the bags, dropped them on the floor and berated her for ditching me and stealing my car. The rest of the company just laughed at the scene. They couldn’t care less that I escaped but now that I was back, asked me to join them in drinking, and blind to their callousness I did. I even let her come over several more times, but that was the end of any possible relationship. Junkies often nip any chance of life improvement in the bud.

I remember why the cashier acted the way she did. Many people involved in criminal activity get caught because they go into panic mode at the mere sight of a cop, who may be pulling them over only to mention a broken taillight. In this case the young cashier noticed that her paper booklet of stolen credit card numbers wasn’t the current week’s version, so she went to the manager’s office to get it. Our number wasn’t on it and everything was fine. But if I’d bolted out along with her, we would have been chased, caught and with the I.D. checked more carefully, arrested. Always keep a poker face and never show your cards until the last minute. The ignorance of your adversary will astound you. This I found true on more than one occasion.

What I don’t know is why I allowed myself to fall in with such wretched company. I can only guess it was pure ignorance of the darker sides human character at that stage of my youth (25) or the novelty of these situations, or a bit of both.

It was about this time that my job ended. Summer was upon us, the beach in its full glory and I had enough hours worked to apply for unemployment insurance. My boss, Larry K. filled out and signed the form and we parted with warm handshake. I filed it and anticipated a summer of undiluted fun. But it was in the two-week waiting period before the first check arrived that everything melted down.

Kim was the first victim. There were so many strangers coming into our house (friends of friends) that I lost it one night and screamed aloud for everyone to leave, immediately. Kim was the only one to comply right away and the only one I didn’t want to force out. He grabbed his few belongings and spent the night at one of his girlfriend’s nearby. The others grudgingly followed him out the door. But unlike him, came back the next day.

It just so happened that my college friend Phil lost his job the same week mine ended. He had a drinking problem far enough along to affect his work. He came over to my place in his convertible Fiat, depressed and wanting to talk about it. He then drags me to some dark bar where we do shots and some lines of coke he had with him, dumping the powder straight on the bar. We’re the only ones there, but the bartender at the far end notices right as Phil’s snorting his second line and kicks us out in a rage. It’s still morning.

On the way back to my place he picks up several bottles of booze, (he’d just cashed his last paycheck) and announces his intention to go on a three-day bender in my living room. Feeling it’s a little too early in the day to start, I convince him to change into some shorts, (he’d even packed a bag of clothes before coming over, so complete were his plans) and go for a swim. Right then a shady friend pops in and asks if we have any beers. We don’t, an issue that Phil decides must be speedily redressed. He hands over his car keys and a twenty-dollar bill to said ‘friend’ to go get some. We walk to the beach with towels and flip-flops as our courier is still revving the car in the driveway. We’ve left the front door unlocked for his return. We have our swim but when we get home the car is still gone and along with that Phil’s bag of clothes, his pants, Hawaiian shirt, wallet, money and I.D. The wallet contained his cashed paycheck, including his lay-off pay, over four hundred dollars.

Phil looked ready to explode. So to prevent this I told him my friend will be back, any minute, with a simple explanation. We still had the two bottles of whisky on the counter, and so, to console ourselves, we did the logical thing and started drinking. The hours slip by. The car doesn’t return. But other friends drop by and commiserate with Phil’s sad story, his lost job, all his possessions stolen, his Fiat too, doubly sad and pathetic as they see him sitting there on the couch in his only remaining possession, his shorts, glass in hand, almost weeping. This touches heartstrings and a few go out and return with more booze, beers and a few joints.

At one point later that evening Phil stands up, still half naked and expounds to the six or seven of us sitting around him, in the finest strain of drunken, Irish eloquence: “In the last forty-eight hours I’ve lost my job, my car, my clothes, my keys, my wallet, all my money, and a bag of pot. What worse could happen to me now?” At this point he falls forward and bloodies his forehead on the edge of my coffee table. We sit him down and try to console him with more drink. Never challenge the Gods, especially when drunk.

The next morning our courier does return with the car, Phil’s clothes, wallet and keys, (though he’s wearing the Hawaiian shirt), and miraculously enough, most of Phil’s money. He said he had some business to settle, thanked him for the use of the car and explained that he put all of Phil’s possessions in the trunk because the door was open and he thought someone might step in and steal them, knowing my guests. I was amazed that I didn’t think of such a logical explanation the day before and even thanked him in front of Phil for such foresight, as it probably would have occurred and his money permanently lost.

Phil was so relieved he decided to start celebrating again, right then and there, slapping the car thief on the back and insisting he join us, but also demanding his shirt back. It was his favorite. It was a Sunday and thus a party day. Many people dropped in and we had a merry time. By dusk a sizable party started up just across the street and all my guests headed over there, the loud music and some women in that yard an irresistible draw. But Phil was tired, rolled out his sleeping bag on my couch and laid down, setting beside him a gallon jug of cheap Gallo wine someone had brought over, which he intended to drink before sleep. I sat with him but kept urging him to come to the party, the music beckoning our ears, and check it out at least for a few minutes. I could see plenty of girls in bathing suits from my doorstep, dancing. But he obstinately refused to go. He was in a grim mood and started talking about suicide. I was just as drunk, but aware that he was being histrionic, as I’d seen him in this state before, always at the end of a long bout of drinking. I humored him and began a dramatic speech on the various ways he might do it, using historical examples and then the benefits and drawbacks of each method, as I sat on a chair near him, dissecting the matter, like a Stoic.

While I was talking away he was smoking a cigarette, set it down to take another chug of wine and a minute later we both noticed his sleeping bag was on fire. He lay there apathetic, saying he wasn’t moving. This is the way he was going to die, he declared, by fire. I told him that was the worst way to go. He started laughing, with the smoke now filling up my living room. I grabbed the wine bottle and poured it over him and the sleeping bag. It put out the fire but he got up in a huff, went into my bathroom and started puking, amidst the blood and used needles junkies had left there. Then he gathered his stuff, (except the smoldering sleeping bag), and left, angry and drunk, speeding off to his apartment far across town, and truly mad at me.

I wouldn’t see him for another five years.

 

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Diomedes
Diomedes

B.A. in Latin and Greek from U.C. Berkley. Writer, Blogger and retired Electrician.


Robert O'Reilly
Robert O'Reilly

I am educated in the Western Classical Tradition, B.A. from U.C. Berkeley in Latin and Greek, English major, one year at U. of Toronto, studied under Alain Renoir and Northrop Frye, read most classics full time for many years after university in French, English, Latin and Greek to the modern day. I am interested in the near future of technology, what changes it imposes upon our heritage and character as humans. Short stories and Essays are my medium.

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