At the Beach: Covid High Tide

                D and I have been observing our quarantined distancing fairly diligently. No more hugs or handshakes, no meals at our two local restaurants. D lives on the beach. We visit and sit on his porch once or twice a week. We live on a spit of land 40 miles from town, so being isolated is a not a state brought about by Covid-19, but now that it’s the way we and our friends live, since we are not Covid protester jerks, we are undoubtedly more alone than we were before the pandemic hit.
                I don’t think either of us is scared, but we are both in the at-risk age group. We are relatively healthy—at least when it comes to lungs and other internal organs. But it’s been many months since we have touched.
                Then one day this guy starts walking up from the beach toward the porch, picking his way through the dune scrub that’s getting denser during the pandemic, thriving like animals and clean air and water. D thinks he’s looking for a place to piss. He does not like people walking on the dunes and peeing in his “yard.” Living on the beach where he does is complicated. He owns the beach down to the high tide line, but the public beach access is two houses down from him and the width of the public beach that access leads to is not defined. Technically or legally, it’s only about fifty feet wide until it gets to the hightide line where it expands left and right towards infinity. Maybe not infinity since it’s on land; let’s say farther than the eye can see. That means beach goers spread their blankets behind his house.
                There’s no public restroom at this beach. The nearest one is three or four miles away at the State Park. In other words, it’s hard to pee legally here. Most people do it in the water. This guy looks like he needs to go; Dean walks out to ask him not to pee here in the dunes. The guy sees him and quick wittingly asks “do you have a lighter?” This seems weirder than having to pee.
                It’s hard to hear this guy. It’s windy, the surf’s rough. He’s waving, pantomiming what seems to be lighting a joint (better than a cigarette) and finally D says, “yea I have one in the house.” He turns to go get it and the man starts shuffling through the sand toward us.
                I’m getting nervous. It’s like I feel this guy is coming to hurt us. He’s all the way up to the beach stairs, only 20 feet away, when D comes back out and walks toward him. The man stops at the top of the stairs as D gets closer, and I sit on the edge of my chair. I want to say no, don’t do it, don’t touch him. Watch out. Remember all these days of quarantining, of being careful.
                It’s as if D’s an alcoholic about to take a drink. Don’t do it. It’s like this is a horror movie and I am mouthing don’t go out there, don’t open the door, don’t get any closer. I’m thinking that maybe I should walk out there in case D needs help. Then he tosses the lighter the last eight feet. The man picks it up and tries to light a joint, but in the wind, it takes a long time. Then he offers D a hit. No thanks.
                The man starts small talk. Must be nice to live here. Right on the beach, must be expensive. I have not talked to strangers very much lately either. I’m starting to feel a more conventional anxiety, like he’s casing the joint, but D stays friendly even as he backs away. Finally, after what seemed like an intolerable length of time, the man turns and goes back to the woman he left on the beach, and I start to relax.
                I’m a bit embarrassed now. What was I scared of? I don’t think it was just the proximity of another human being, but the slowness of his coming. Step by step. It seemed inexorable. D says he didn’t need a lighter; he was looking for a place to pee. I say, yea, but he did some nifty thinking with the lighter idea. I don’t tell D how scared I was.

The primary thing Rick Campbell and Bob Dylan have in common is that they both jammed with Eric Von Schmidt. Campbell went on to be poet and essayist, and Dylan won a Nobel Prize in Literature.