I’m not what you’d call a ‘beach person’ – one of those people who, after a stressful week, will jump up and say, “Fuck it, guys; let’s go to the beach! It’s going to be awesome! We can play volleyball and get tan and pick up beautiful women!” It’s not that I actively dislike the beach or anything; I just don’t think of myself as a beach person because the beach isn’t my go-to vision of a perfect day.*
*For the record, I do consider myself a ‘Steakhouse in downtown Chicago’ person, as well as a ‘Breaking into the Jack Daniel’s Distillery with a straw’ person.
The beach is sort of a hassle for me, riddled with activities I’m pretty unenthusiastic about taking part in. My left toenail is ten different kinds of fucked up, so wearing sandals turns me into sort of a walking freakshow, frightening children and small dogs. My hair doesn’t do well in the water, so swimming is right out. I didn’t like volleyball in high school and my opinion of it is unlikely to change when sand is added to the equation. I’ve already got a tan. And as far as picking up beautiful women is concerned, I’ve proven inept at that in any number of surroundings – being at the beach, where I will inevitably be wearing fewer clothes than usual, can only hurt my chances.
But given my circumstances, the beach is the closest interesting thing to me that doesn’t require driving or spending money, so recently I’ve been making more and more trips out to Venice Beach, an easy 20-minute bike ride away from my apartment.
Venice Beach is the very definition of a shitshow. Everything weird or grimy or moist or stoned that you’ve never wanted to see is on full, proud display along the Venice Boardwalk: Bucket drummers, shit peddlers, enormously fat women with monstrous breasts pushed up high for all to enjoy, an army homeless people splaying in all manner of positions… There’s a couple Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museums along the boardwalk, but I don’t see how they can get people to pay $5 to be grossed out when the circumstances outside the museum are so much worse.
There’s a patch of beach a little further south – halfway between Venice Boulevard and Washington Boulevard, for those of you who know the area – that I like to frequent. There aren’t any freaks (by which I mean there’s the bare minimum of freaks, which for Los Angeles is roughly 14), the beach is less crowded, and there’s a nice grassy bluff full of palm trees where I can sit, wearing my sneakers, and read Dune without feeling like too much of a nerd – because hey! I’m at Venice Beach! Wearing Ray-Bans!
This is my beach activity – reading. You’ve got to understand, though, that I grew up vacationing in the San Juan Islands in Washington, where the beaches were rocky and the water was freezing. All you could do on those beaches was read – provided it wasn’t raining at the time.
Likewise, I was raised in Oregon, where the ocean is similarly cold and our coastline fraught with riptides and sneaker waves that frequently pulled out to sea anybody foolish enough to go swimming. Most Oregonians grew up with the knowledge that the ocean was our frigid, conniving enemy – one we would’ve nuked the bejeezus out of long ago were it not for our love of Dungeness crab. To be honest, half the reason I like to sit and read at the beach is so I can keep an eye on the ocean, just in case it tries to start some shit.
The other half is that while Venice Beach is often terrifying, it’s definitely never boring. That’s the Venice Beach guarantee: Every time you go, you’re going to see something truly fascinating, whether you want to or not. For example, take this encounter from yesterday:
I was sitting on the bluff, reading my book, when a buff, shirtless young man, glistening with sweat, jogged up and crouched beside me.
“’Allo!” He said, his smile bright and his Eastern European accent thick.
Oh, Lord. I thought. Three weeks in California and I’m being openly propositioned by homosexuals. And here I’d thought my terrible fashion sense would protect me from this sort of thing.
“Hi.” I said, returning a smile that conveyed a sense of I am happy to talk to you so long as you understand that I’m not interested in doing Maximum Cuddles.
“Do you know where is gaiem?” He asked, his eyes alight.
“Uh…” I must call my gay friends immediately and find out if “gaiem” is slang for something. “What?”
“A gaiem, you know. On beach?”
“I’m… I’m really sorry, sir, but I don’t know what a gaiem is.”
Just then, his friend – similarly buff, shirtless, and moist – ran up.
Oh God, I’m drawing a crowd. Where does it end? Yeah, you just had to leave the house today, didn’t you, Truman?
“Is gaiem!” The new arrival said with an equally big and welcoming smile. “You know gaiem?”
“I don’t know gaiem. I’m really sorry. I wish I knew gaiem, I mean, you guys make it sound so great…”
The new arrival started pumping his arms in and out and breathing heavily. “Gaiem, you know?” Soon, both of them were doing it.
Now, at first, seeing two buff shirtless men standing in front of me, pumping their arms and huffing and puffing, I was prepared to lie back and think of Portland. Then, I recognized what they were doing as miming bench pressing.
“Oh!” I said. “You’re looking for the gym!”
Their eyes lit up and they nodded. “Yes! Gaiem! On beach!”
I pointed north, towards Santa Monica. “Muscle Beach. It’s like half a mile up that way. Never been there myself, but I hear they’ve got one hell of a gaiem.”
The guys clasped their hands in front of them, grinned a bit more as a sign of their appreciation, and then jogged off together, cracking up at the ignorant, possibly retarded guy to whom they’d just spent a minute explaining what a gaiem was.
This part of Die Hard gains new meaning at Venice Beach.
Truman Capps is pretty sure they were a couple of wild and crazy guys.