Boggle and beach

Yesterday I drove thirty miles south along the beach road to see Bobby. A designer, he lives in what was a model house a few blocks off the beach that he picked up some years ago for less than market value, even for back then, before the boom drove prices through the hole in the ozone layer. The house is all poured concrete and glass, cosseted in raphis and bougainvilleas - shadowed, polished, darkly bright. Bobby was telling me about the ten-year-old son of a client who had accompanied his mother to a meeting there. The boy had remarked that the house has a certain “transparency” which it does. We laughed at the boy’s sagacity. “Transparency!” Bobby repeated incredulously, having noticed my amusement.

He made a pitcher of bloody Marys. We listened to some new iTunes. After a while we threw a backpack together and went to the beach.

We found a depression in a bank off the dunes at the south end of the beach and put down towels. A couple of boats were anchored lazily offshore. We lay down in the soft, deadening sand, and once down, it took only minutes for the far blue horizon to empty us, for the surf’s relentless rush to exfoliate thought and purpose. We played Boggle, keeping time, but not score.

A young family strolled by, close to the water, scanning the wet sand solemnly for shells. The boy, in half-scale, replicated his father’s shoulders exactly and drolly. With the posture and grace of a dancer, the woman would squat on lovely haunches to examine an oyster shell or periwinkle. She wore, knotted at the waist, a filmy flowered skirt, a scarf, lifted and ruffled by an inquisitive ocean breeze… I thought of Richard Selzer’s observation in Mortal Lessons: “I love the solid heft of men as much as I adore the heated capaciousness of women.” I looked at Bobby and thought briefly of Jane. Of the summer at the lake, evading Jane’s drunken old aunt Cynthia, hiding like children in closets, the felonious kisses in the dark and the streaks of sunlight across the tangled sheets in the cottage. I had never hidden from Bobby my sporadic lady-lust, but I rarely recounted anything, usually begging off when asked. He sometimes had fun with it, making flirty suggestions when the opportunity, a waitress or a pretty driver, crossed our path.

It was too windy to write, so we announced the words as we found them, hidden in plain sight, in Boggle’s ivory rows and columns.

“Lore”, said Bobby… “Role. Gore.”

“Sloe,” I said, tracing out the homonym with my finger. Bobby thought for a minute.

“Fanta!” he announced.

“Since when are the brand names of soft drinks allowed?” I wanted to know.

“This is the beach,” he said. “Soft drinks only.” I had to smile at that. Dumb - but his.

“Ok then, NAFTA,” I said.

“Oh, please! That’s an acronym. It’s not even a word.”

“You shave your rules, I’ll shave mine,” I said.

He stared at me. The vaguely ribald suggestion hung bobbing in the air like a cartoon. Bobby cracked up. I did too. Then we were guffawing and rolling, and I was pawing his belly, reflexively, reaching to press and behold the spasm and source of all mirth. Glancing down the beach, I noticed that the boy had seen us. He stared, turned away, then turned back again, with a look that was remotely conspiratorial…

We had fish at Angelo’s, sandwiches that the menu was now listing, in the wake of the recent grouper scandals, as “grouper-like”, actually tilapia we were told. Back at the house we watched, seditiously, The Apprentice, and drank red wine. I had a morning meeting, so I didn’t stay. As I dressed, Bobby said that he had signed up for a dance class. “I want a dancer’s body – like yours,” he said. I was touched, but told him that he already looked like Greg Louganis, and how do you improve on gold? He rolled out of bed and squeezed me so hard that I thought of the old Groucho Marx line: “If I held you any closer, I’d be in back of you.” I drove back north on the highway, the mercury vapor lights streaming by and sparse, distant red tail lights drawing me home.

At night I dreamed I was in an office supply store buying blank DVDs, beautifully packaged in a modern technological dispenser. The store was jammed. All the sales people, male and female, were gorgeous and friendly. I realized I was in the middle of an Apprentice episode. The guy at the check out, laughing and mugging, was hustling me like I was making his day. “This is a great product,” he said, admiring my purchase. “Isn’t it great,” I said. “And I really like Heidi Klum’s new line of office products.” He smiled in agreement. “That’s the beauty of the free trade agreement.” I realized that he was Bobby. Then we were in bed, holding on to each other, awash in a tide of tenderness and tears, of muscle and mortality. “Life is temporary for a reason,” Bobby said.