“Dad, come in with us.” My son London hovered over me, dripping water on A Separate Peace, a book I hadn’t read for 30 years. We had driven over 1,000 miles to get to the Pacific Ocean, and I wanted my own separate peace just for a little while—soak up the sun, read about boys falling out of trees and watch the surfers catch the knee-high waves rolling in.
“In a second, buddy,” I said.
The sun was strong, and I thought I should probably reapply sunscreen, but getting up would take effort and effort was something I’d been applying far too intensely before we’d left New Mexico in a cluster of packing, cleaning and getting the hell out of Dodge. Now, I just wanted to blend in with the “no shoes, no shirt, no problem” vibe of the Encinitas locals and chillax.
Like a kitchen timer, London returned in 10 minutes holding two boogie boards as though he were selling them. My teenage daughter Poppy bobbed in the water, happy to surrender her board if it removed her dad from his first relaxed state in weeks.
The water was a brisk 70 degrees, but once I submerged fully, it felt almost transformative. The summer back home had been hot, dry and smoky, and unwittingly I had fallen into a coma that only a body of water could sort out.
“Give me that board,” I said to London and sprinted out to grab the next wave. Feeling like a kid again, I whooped and hollered, racing Poppy and London in categories ranging from fastest wave to longest ride, worst wipeout to best collision.
Toward the end of our session, a gang of surfers walked down to the water. I guess they’d been watching us as they waxed their boards because, on their way in, one of them said to Poppy, “How are you related to that guy?”
At that moment, I was yelling about victory with my arms in the air—with, I quickly realized, a full-body sunburn and a hair helmet (the product of salt water and humidity) that looked exactly like Gene Simmons’. Poppy couldn’t wait to tell her mother and revel in my embarrassment.
The next day, we decided to enjoy a walk. I told myself to lie low, let my wife Lala make all the decisions and try not to draw attention to myself. Our stroll took us south along the coast, where we marveled at a colorful variety of plants and flowers that would wither and die in the high desert of New Mexico.
Every 10 minutes or so, we’d walk up a dead end to gaze at the ocean view. I spotted a line of surfers coming off the beach, so I followed their path back to a spot where many cars were parked. I passed a man with a thick mustache and sunglasses drinking in his car, the radio playing softly inside. A cooler rode shotgun.
“I think the beach entry is over here,” I called back to Lala and the kids, but as I got closer, all I found were forbidding fences and signs asking people not to climb on the fragile bluffs. Retreating, I made the “turn around” sign by spinning my finger in the air, and the guy in the car called out.
“Where’s the beach?” he asked me.
“I’m not sure. Maybe over there.” I nodded toward a gap between two tall condos.
“Over there?” Laughing, he crossed his arms over his chest and pointed in two opposite directions.
“Even the drunks are mocking me?” I asked no one in particular as I walked away. “That guy probably sleeps in his car.”
“Yeah,” my wife Lala said, laughing along with her two stooges, “but he’s got you pegged.”
Robert Wilder’s most recent book is Tales from the Teachers’ Lounge. Daddy Needs a Drink appears the first Wednesday of each month in the Santa Fe Reporter.