We had all just graduated college — at least I had, Dave had a couple more credits to go but said screw it, he’d get it another time — and Chris was pretty much self-educated on heady books and foreign films, delivering seeds for a nursery, and had his own van, on loan from his employer.
I found us a rental off Division Street above a Texaco on the bayside. We had a poster of a girl punk band called L7 in the kitchen, with a woman in dominatrix garb and her skin made to look phantom green, forcing someone’s head between her legs, with the caption Pretend We’re Dead, which seemed apt for the kitchen.
Chris worked for a catering company and Dave played organ at funerals and weddings, and sat there solemn as he did. I delivered pizzas and worked at a candy shop setting the par for saltwater taffy and got caught taking a balloon off the nitrous tank in the back, and then things were never the same after that.
Mark was trying to make his hair dread but he was a white guy, had taken on that stoner drawl that comes from hanging around jam band people too long, your senses slacken and you sound dumb whether you want to or not. We’d driven to Ohio to see the Grateful Dead with Bruce Hornsby on keyboards and the Violent Femmes the opening act, and it’s the first time I got pee-shy, trying to relieve myself against a chain link fence with a number of others lined along the hillside and a row of cops 50 feet on the other side just standing there arms crossed, laughing and pointing at everyone tripping their balls off.
Mark said you just had to keep walking barefoot to lose the nerve sensation in your feet, so you could stand the hot boardwalk and the sand. We all worked every day, to make money. You could go three weeks before you had a day off, but we met up late night and often until morning, and then slept a few hours because nothing started early at Ocean City, Maryland.
I got done with the nightshift delivering pizzas around 3, and we’d all get in our cars and grab some blankets and beers and drive down to the beach as the sun was coming up, and bodysurf, eat chips, talk. I had that neediness for a girlfriend that’s the worst kind of repellant and it worked, nothing would land on me. All three of us were probably too old at 21 to fit in.
There was a girl who worked the front register at the pizza shop, who had that all-American pretty girl blond look, and I was surprised and confused to learn there was more going on, that first morning we sat there on the beach and shared a blanket, and I played a tape of a 4AD band and she seemed to really listen and respond to it. It was better nothing landed on me, my heart and blood were poison.
Mike worked for a hotel and the owner had a collection of exotic animals he used for some devious purpose, no one knew what, maybe importing them and selling them to the circus, and we would sometimes go down into the bowels of the hotel under the kitchen where the guy kept the animals, and do drugs in the dark with the animals calling out from their cages.
Living at the beach, you get tired of the beach. You lose track of the days but can tell it’s the weekend when it gets crowded. As August wore on and it was time for me to go I left earlier than I had to because I couldn’t stand it anymore. I blew off my last shift at the pizza shop but had to go in to collect my check before I left town, and the manager, who was my favorite guy there, said I thought you were different than the rest but I guess I was wrong, you’re just like everybody else.