The weather here is spectacular, and we have walked down to the beach just west of the port the past two afternoons to bask in the sunshine. Today a saddening tableau unfolded before us. In the age-old universal tradition, a boy of around 20 hurtled from behind us into the sea, daring it to be too cold for him One of his pals followed. Then a slight kid wrestled his corpulent, protesting mate into the drink after them, though the corpulent one probably outweighed his tormentor by 75 pounds. I thought immediately of Lord of the Flies. I thought too of my own junior high school days, during which I observed that only Billy Snyder, the spastic, and Walter Daniels, the Negro, had it worse than Dale Jensen, a small mountain of a boy, but a gentle, timid sort, who quickly gained a reputation for being disinclined to use his immensity to his advantage.
The three alpha boys at the beach today swam out to the end of the jetty, and then climbed atop it to launch themselves into the North Sea from an altitude of maybe 10 feet. Finding this insufficiently thrilling, they then took to leaping from atop the guardrail (which added another three and a half feet of altitude) at the jetty’s tip. All the while Piggy, as we’ll call him, played by himself, bouncing a football (that is, soccer) ball against the side of the jetty.
His estrangement reminded me of the late summer of 1962 when, after convincing my parents to let me use some of my paper route money to buy our next door neighbor’s surfboard (because to not surf was to not exist in the eyes of the maidens of Orville Wright Junior High School), NDN invited me to accompany him and two other neighborhood boys on a little surf safari down to Palos Verdes.
I was beside myself with pleasure during the long drive down there, which might have been the first time I was ever a passenger in an adult-free car. What wonderful camaraderie the four of us had. How glorious the music (the Beach Boys’ Surf Safari, appropriately enough, and Bryan Hyland’s Sealed With a Kiss) sounded! But then we finally reached our destination, and the facts that the waves were big and I a very, very tentative swimmer (having grown up afraid of the water, as of most things) kicked in. As my mother’s son, I was also given to catastrophic expectations, and was pretty sure that if I actually tried to ride a wave, my surfboard would fly into the air and come down on my head.
I spent the afternoon sitting on the beach watching my…buddies, trying to think up a credible excuse for my non-participation. It was an excruciating lonely feeling, but hardly an unfamiliar one. To a large extent that feeling was the story of my childhood.
Once having got bored with the tip of the jetty, the three fit boys today returned to the beach. Getting dressed, a couple of them playfully walloped and kicked Piggy in a way that simultaneously affirmed their fraternality and reminded Piggy of his place at the bottom of their pecking order. He, naturally, tried to act as though the kick and wallop were much more the former than the latter.
No one was fooled.