Dog Day

59 Degrees
Linger in the frozen food section for a few heavenly moments. Take a deep breath of chilled air and then leave to find potato chips, a liter of water and the strongest sunblock you can buy. The sun never shines in the warehouse you work in and your skin is as pale as ice cream. It surprises you that you thought of picking up suntan lotion. You wonder when it was that you finally grew up.

65 degrees
In the checkout line, study the 30 SPF sunblock you picked up and wonder if it will be enough. The hippie clerk smiles and nods his head once crisply in your direction by way of greeting. To him, at least, you seem to be all right.

He weighs the grapes and then scans the sunblock, the water, potato chips, and sunflower seeds. You take a few steps back and pull two more bottles of water out of the cooler at the head of the aisle.

“You’re going to need these today,” the clerk mutters, taking them from you.

“Yeah. I’m going to the beach.”

Don’t be insulted when he raises his eyebrows a bit. Do stifle a grin when you see that he would give anything in the world to be you right now. This hasn’t happened to you too often in your life. Savor it.

When he takes the new twenty-dollar bill from you, studies it and gives you a grudging look of respect, try not to take too much pride in that. It’s your last one until Monday. He doesn’t need to know this.

77 Degrees
Charlie D. is waiting for you—and everyone else—outside the store. He’s leaning against the newspaper vending machine. His brown hair is flat and disheveled, it looks like he hasn’t shaved all week. His brown eyes are baleful and just by looking at him you know he’s out here looking for something he’ll never find, that the world has taught him lessons he’ll never recover from.

You met him the day you moved into the neighborhood and knew him your whole life five minutes after that. He flashes a broad smile when he sees you. People always seem to like you, even the ones you barely know.

“What’s it all about, Robby?” he says.

Look off into the distance, like maybe the answer is out there somewhere, and then look back at him and smile. Reach into your pocket and give him a dollar before he has to ask you and you both feel stupid. Watch him smile when he takes it, like he’s thinking, Now how did you go and read my mind? Watch him casually tuck it away, like the exchange never happened.

“You know what I’m going to do with that dollar?” he asks. “I’m going to take that dollar and buy a two-liter bottle of Coke, and I’m going to sit down in the basement and drink cold Coca-Cola all afternoon long. Mixed with whiskey, of course.”

Nod your head. You’ve heard worse ideas. Currently, you’re signed up to spend the night drinking on some rooftop with a few guys you know a little bit from work.

Tell him it sounds like a plan and make a move to leave. In the back of your mind, start to wonder how you will keep the grapes you bought cold without a cooler. When he sees that you’re leaving already and he gives you a hurt look, tell him you’re only trying to beat the heat.

“Can’t blame you for that,” he says. “How about you, Rob? Working today?”

“Nah. I’m heading to the beach.”

“The beach? No offense, man, but you don’t seem like the beach type to me. Not at all.”

Watch him study your pale skin uncertainly. Shrug. Glance down at your sandals, notice how the whiteness of your feet sticks out against the thin brown leather bands.

Say simply, “I gotta run, Charlie. I’ll catch up with you next time.”

Give him a smile and head back towards your apartment. The clock is ticking.

84 Degrees
They said on the radio the high would be 96 degrees today. That’s not factoring in the humidity. You find a parking spot a block away from the beach, in front of what you would call a mansion. It has distinctly Spanish architecture and floor-to-ceiling windows that allow you to see the beauty of the interior design. Stand there for a few moments, leaning on the roof of your beat-up Taurus, transfixed.

Then slam the door and hope no one has it towed. Tall oak trees throw a canopy of shade over you. A lawn mower drones peacefully somewhere over on the next block. Your towel is tucked under your arm, the grocery bag in your left hand. It swishes against your body with each step. The beach is crowded with people already, the water looks violently blue. Far off in the distance, towering above the small circular lake, the metallic skyscrapers downtown shimmer in the haze, seem to sway.

You feel a little like a space alien going out in public like this, dressed in swim trunks. Everyone else looks like they were born on a beach. You don’t like crowds or the thought of being half-undressed in front of strangers. You realize it will take a lot of courage just to remove your shirt.

The sun is high and bright. You find a spot to spread out your towel twenty yards from the water. You’re glad you decided to come. A tanned female lifeguard in a red bikini sits in a tower chair and watches the water for trouble. She has sunglasses on and her sandy blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail. You’ve been at the beach ten seconds, and it’s already been well worth the trip.

The beach is a moving, living thing; people splashing around in shallow water, shifting their bodies languidly on the sand. There are children everywhere, running, screaming. Don’t panic. Take a deep breath. Sit down on your towel and pull an old newspaper out of the grocery bag. Carefully wrap the bag loosely in the newspaper and then use the bag to weigh down the edges of the paper so it doesn’t drift away.

As discreetly as possible, pull off your T-shirt. Try not to be horrified by your farmer’s tan. Remove the 30 SPF sunblock from the bag and squeeze some out on your hands. Don’t be alarmed when you spread it on your arms and shoulders and it doesn’t blend in, no matter how hard you rub. Act natural, like this was exactly what you thought would happen.

Look around casually, make sure that no one is watching you. Then continue to vigorously rub your skin until finally it begins to absorb the lotion. Do the best job you can applying it evenly, knowing you’re missing large patches of your back and shoulder blades. When you realize you’re going to be burned and burned badly in those places, try to put it out of your mind. This is all new to you. You’re going to make mistakes. Stretch a little bit. Glance around, see if anyone else is here by themselves.

Do not gawk at the cleavage of the two young women lounging in your line of view. You’re a pervert, sure, but not the sick kind. Lie back on your blanket. Pull your sunglasses on. Listen to the children screaming and having fun. Feel the sun on your body. Imagine how good the water will feel when you finally get up and push yourself into it.

Pages: 1 2 3 4