Decomposing on the sidewalk, the bottom half of a pigeon was staring back at me as I veered off the road, to avoid stepping on it, on my way to catch the Metro to Santa Monica beach. The bird’s upper half seemed to have been sliced off by a clean cauterized cut, as if with a light saber. The hollowed carcass appeared to have been part of a half-man-half-bird mythological hybrid as the severance was perfectly made. If this was only half of this creature, it meant that somewhere, out there, there was half a person schlepping their body around, leaving behind puddles of blood in its wake. Unlike you would imagine, this fragmented broken person would actually be difficult to differentiate from other people as there are troves of them, out there, in the city who are also fragmented damaged beings.
The surface of the sand was peppered by a constellation of people taking in the sun and tanning their bodies. Half-naked women would conspicuously slacken the knot of their bikini tops, usually located in the back, to allow the mansuetude of the warm sun-light and the perverted gazes and double takes of bystanders to bathe their exposed skin.
The crepuscular sky gave the water an antique vaseline glass translucence. The waves rose higher and higher along with the tide. The peaceful sound of them crashing violently into the wet sand—defaced by thousands of footsteps—created a fizziness sound as the sea foam erased the footsteps off the sand dunes as seamlessly as shaking an Etch-A-Sketch. The water was so cold that it made the sand adjacent to it just as cold. It was a little more than I could take, but with each new wave, it became half as uncomfortable as what it was before. An old man with long Gandalf-like locks of white hair would allow the waves to graze his legs and feet, turning them bright red. Each time the sandy water receded, thousands of pores began to appear in it as sand crabs gasped for air.
Standing in the sand, your feet begin to sink in it like two ladles into melted chocolate quicksand. As a willing prisoner shackled by this cool and silky restrain, you feel the sea breeze’s microscopic almost imaginary droplets caress your cheeks like hundreds of lips gently kissing you. The sands of the beach, as those of time, make us all the same. The beach is a public space where both mighty and meager, lovers and loners, old and young can simply enjoy the view of the sun as it slowly absconds itself into the ocean.
The people were not of the most attractive sort, at least not like the models TV and movies have led us to expect to see laying on the beach. There was a couple sitting together who seemed happy just to be laying on the sand, self-evident in her smile. Down by the sea, worries vanish. By the look of their appearance, it seemed like this moment on the beach was the only place in Santa Monica where they could just sit for free, where the exorbitant bourgeoisie beauty wasn’t a barrier. Her smile expressed pure joy and the gaps in her teeth seemed to be caused more by meth usage than by diastema.
The beach and the ocean allow us to find an escape from our worries, to momentarily fugue from our daily existence. You can leave your soul there and live free. In astrology, the ocean represents a fountain of spiritual exploration, but at the same time, it can also lead to escapism and fuel an addictive impulse in us. Humans have addictive personalities and take things to an extreme, such as religion, work or pleasure. Some people seek pure untouched forms. Sometimes we reach for the highest and fall hard when our dreams and aspirations don’t come to the fruition we desire. Or, sometimes we overburden ourselves with meaningless tasks we view as meaningful that end up drowning us. We trap ourselves in mazes of our own making, in spite of our best laid plans. Life is a balancing act that not only takes into consideration two horizontal counterweights, it also takes into account the vertical juxtaposition of the amount of time already spent and the unknown amount you have left. The unknown amount falls slowly, one grain of sand at a time. One day, we are looking at the sun setting and the next, the sun is setting on us.
Like the Greek god Okeanos, known as the origin of everything, everything that is negative originates within us, from the cocktail of hormones coursing through our bodies, more native to us than the very blood in our veins. We bring to the god of rivers, springs, fountains and the whole sea our oblations of compounded and amalgamated grievances and sorrows and eschew them into his body in hope that his waters drown them and take them far away from us. We fill Okeanos’s belly with our emotional garbage.
The seagulls, like the people, were of a mangier sort. They were less like the grey and white Pixar-pristine seagulls you would see in “Finding Nemo” and more like the ones you would find in the work of photographer Chris Jordan with their bellies full of bottle caps and Bic lighters we discard in our oceans. Through therianthropy, we sometimes wish to be these very animals and do as they do. We envy the simplicity of their modus operandi. However, the lives of all living things often go askew like those of birds and men.
I am reminded of aves homo sapiens or “Birdman,” my 15-year-old attempt at creating a science fiction character for chemistry class. Birdman was a microscopic half-bird-half-man creature, in my head, but on paper, the creature looked more like Led Zeppelin’s Icarus logo from their Swan Song record label. The absence of pornographic material combined with a sexually repressive Christian upbringing, inspired me to imagined that these creatures mated in mid air, mid flight. I don’t think birds even mate that way.
As all of the things that are both bad for us and addictive, we seek escapism. Another Birdman comes to mind, the one from Alcatraz. He escaped a man-made prison in the middle of the sea like we attempt to escape the man-made prisons of our minds. However, we seldom do. On rare occasions when we do, we seek calm, silent places like the beach to ease our troubled minds. We seek the warm sound of the waves falling slowly; they take the time away from us, from the sands of the hourglass that measures our lifespan. When we’re alone, time moves slow. We feel no pain. Only silence, healing.
A young mother, probably single, was shaking her little son’s socks and beating his shoes against the bench where they were seated, next to a sleepy old man. The boy seemed upset to be leaving the beach and his mother relieved. The escapist fantasy has to end sometime. This brief manifestation of maternal repression was just a taste of the many more to come in the life of this little boy from his single mother. He has to learn the important lesson that you can’t live in your fantasies forever. Time is a game played beautifully by children, but time spares no one, not even the young and innocent.
Life represents a series of unrelenting current of events. As you live your life, it appears to be anarchy and chaos and random unrelated events smashing into each other like waves on the rocky shore, causing all sorts of unpredictable situations. And later when you look back, it looks like a finely crafted novel. Some events are perceived as good and some as bad. These currents scatter that which was gathered and gather that which was scattered. Unlike birds, who can fly away in a moment’s notice, we as people have to either run away from the harsh cold current or stand our ground and claim the pain that accompanies it. Running away is easy, it’s the living that’s hard. Just as the ocean where we step is not the same, and is, so we are as we are not. But as we look forward—into the ocean, into the future—though we can’t see what’s coming, we can only guess and fear.