I finished my gentle Australian crawl running parallel to the shoreline – sharks be damned, I tried to tell myself, chasing away the fear while also escalating my heart rate – and rode the surf into the beach.
When I stood up on the sandbar, beginning my 100-yard trek back toward shore, I looked admiringly at my tan.
“Man, Flap, you really got brown out there,” said Kenny Stabler, my old friend, Oakland Raiders’ No. 12, with whom I usually share a breakfast or at least a Waffle House or oyster bar, whenever I’m down on the Redneck Riviera.
I looked at my torso – not a wonderful thing to do these days, as my weight’s down but ever since my brains were liberated in the July 4th car wreck I haven’t really felt like trying the heavy workouts or even the medium workouts that are necessary to keep the body of an almost 60-year-old man (my wife’s favorite description of me … whatever happened “you’re pretty darned good for an old man?”)
Serious about the brain scrambling, by the way. Still missing words here and there and have headaches. “Face it, old man, you are concussed,” says my doctor, every time he calls me to see if I remember my name. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I even remember who my doctor is, good thing since he’s the guy who has to do the prostate exam, which I wouldn’t trust to a stranger, because of possibly vile and perhaps Republican intentions .
Anyway, that’s another story of this long and glorious summer of my discontent, dismay and discovery.
As I noted above, while “Snake” Stabler did his Tai Chi bit on the little spit of sand, I looked at how brown I’d turned. And it was my first real day down at the Redneck Riviera, my favorite relaxing spot in the world next to Ciudad Juarez, where I sometimes go with the Big O – he likes the donkey shows --when he’s ashamed of his wife’s crass and materialistic behavior. The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain, I’d gladly tell her.
She probably reminds the Big O of his age as well, but I get a feeling he’s well, not really whipped… perhaps a bit frightened or at least humbled or tormented. Yep, the Big O, my friend – I was with Magic, Joachim, the late Wilt the Stilt, Derek Rose and the rest of the guys for that hoops and shrimp fest at the White House the other day – just can’t tell Michelle anything.
“I wanted to tell her that she shouldn’t go to Spain on vacation while you and the rest of the country are suffering and wallowing in this deep mayonnaise,” The Big O said, as he dipped his shrimp and his tie in Miracle Whip.
He often confuses malaise for mayonnaise, but that’s OK. Little W, his predecessor (and poker-playing, A&W float-sharing buddy), once referred to a portion of Iraq as “Turdistan.”
I never corrected him, even though I have many friends from that region, because every time I tried to talk to Little W, Shotgun Dick would shoot at one of his friends. Obviously that never meant me, but I do hate for old Republicans to be blasted in the face with buckshot. Some deserve it, but I leave that to the killers hired by Oliver North and the late Soupy Sales.
Speaking of countries in torment – other than our own – how about the floods in Pakistan? It makes me cry.
Every time I see the news reports of the floods in Pakistan, the people having to leave their huts, livestock and Vizio flat-screens and climb aboard relief boats, it reminds me of how lucky I am.
Yes, I lost half my house in the flood and no one, not government, not insurance, not even my pal, The Big O, came to my assistance, even though he ate half the cookies my Aunt Rita sent from Buffalo to help us survive.
Oh yeah, FEMA did finally come up with a few hundred dollars. You ever try to pay for gutting and then rebuilding a half of your house for less than a grand?
And we’re still not done. Just done-for and, well, exhausted.
Part of that tiredness comes from the July 4 wreck, when a nice woman with other things on her mind, ran a red light and hit the family minivan while she was traveling 45 mph. If I’d been in my Saab, I’d be dead. It would have made a dandy coffin.
As it was, the van became trash. My brain temporarily battered, and probably not for the first time. And the insurance check covered about a quarter of what it took to replace it with a suitable, safe family vehicle. Repeat after me: insurance companies and oil barons and evil, gun-wielding terrorists coached by Shotgun Dick – even from his hospital room – run the world.
All of which is to say, my summer has not been good. And while I entered it with a sense of optimism that my professional life was going to take a big turn for the better and I was finally going to be able to enjoy things on the Yummy List and in Marie Claire magazine, I am leaving it with a sense of dazed confusion.
Brian Wilson, I believe I noted earlier, told me “you just weren’t made for these times either, Flap.” That was during one of our many sandbox conversations. I was seeking solace from the disaster, the ruins of my life, furniture and drywall, carpeting and treasured old newspapers piled in the driveway. Brian would visit – often hitching a ride with Petty -- because he couldn’t figure out where he was and where else in Nashville he could go to play in the sand. Tom told him I had dumped a pile on the driveway after using it in sandbags. That wasn’t true. But Brian would sit there where he thought the sand should be and stare, blankly, into the wooded hillside and philosophize: “Those East Coast girls are hip,” he’d say, before napping.
Speaking of which, I have pretty bad headaches since that wreck. Paul McCartney made fun of me by singing “Scrambled Brains” to the tune of “Yesterday” and pointing at me while we rode unicycles around town the day after his concert here. I told you about Paul and me, man. You know that we’re as close as can be man. Turns out he’s a really nice guy. He told me he wants me to join his band. Or was it he wants me to hold his hand? Drive his van? Beep-beep, ba-beep-beep yeah. Can’t keep much straight these days.
Which reminds me, did any of you ever see Faces play when Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood were doing their best music? First time I caught them it was during an Iowa blizzard in a National Guard Armory in Des Moines. Hitchhiked with Smokin’ Joe from Ames. Ended up sleeping in the back of the station wagon belonging to the girls who picked us up because the snow got too high to navigate.
Speaking of high, there was a big, black guy working with Faces whose only apparent job was to keep uncorking wine bottles and rolling joints for the star and his guitarist. Every picture tells a story, don’t it?
Long time since I saw that show. I was reminded that the other day when the kid from the Iowa State alumni office called to ask for money. He began by asking if I’ve had a good summer. I laughed and said something rude about what he could do to the Iowa State Cyclone mascot this autumn.
Sometimes I’m just waiting for a friend, and that’s why I was at the Rose Garden for the shrimp party that went on for two full days and ended up with half of the NBA’s University of Kentucky Wildcats franchise sick from ingesting too much oil.
The wife was in Spain with Sasha. Malia was at camp. Mom-in-law was rolling craps and gulping down Sloe Gin in Tunica. The big house and the Rose Garden was ours. It was beer and shrimp and basketball. I don’t drink these days, and the Big O only drinks an occasional beer to settle racial disputes. But have you ever seen Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson get in beer drinking contests? Last I saw it was the second day of the party and Bill Russell, who came along as the token black, was stretched out beneath some of Eleanor Roosevelt’s favorite bushes. He was staring at the stars and hoping that no one was pointing a rifle at him from on top of the Executive Office Building, which is, as you know the place where the government snipers are positioned.
It’s a presidential mandate that began back when Truman was president. Whenever black people are anywhere near the White House, snipers with the best weaponry possible are dispatched by the president to hold high positions surrounding the White House. Of course that wasn’t often back in those days, so the guys usually stayed over at the Capitol Grille, drinking casks of Amontillado and eating 36-ounce porterhouses.
The problem came, though, when the Big O decided not to revoke the policy of dispatching the kill-hungry veterans of Desert Storm – for they never did kill anyone there – to the surrounding roofs when black people are within eyeshot and earshot of the White House.
Now I love this president. Not his policies, but he’s a good fella and enjoys Baskin-Robbins with me some days. He didn’t really think his policy through.
“Man, you realize you are black,” I tell him, pointing to the ever-present snipers. Big O doesn’t listen, or it doesn’t click. All he wants to do is sit behind the bushes with me and Tom Petty and try to talk over the police sirens and machinegun fire in the sultry D.C. air.
Which brings me back to my surf and Nerf football tossing with Kenny Stabler last week.
Snake was right about the tan. I’d never tanned so fast. Then I looked down. There was a little swelling down on my inner leg where a jelly fish had stung me a little too close to my tentacles ….
So I reached down to examine the injury, and when rubbed against the spot where I’d been stung, my leg turned white. I looked at the three secondary fingers of my right hand (you know which one is the primary finger, of course) and noticed they were covered with brown grime.
That’s when I realized it. I was not tanned. I had taken a bath in black gold, Texas tea…..
I called the Big O to tell him about it, but he just laughed, “I finally realized why those snipers are always around,” he said.
“Did you change the policy and send them home?” I asked, as Kenny Stabler leaned close to the phone so he could hear.
“Nah, I sent them some of this shrimp,” laughed the Big O. “I’m sure not going to eat it. I don’t know how it got oil on it.”