We walked closer to the water than the beach, because it was just easier. The sand was firmer, and we had a long way to walk. So sometimes we’d get lucky and feel the Pacific rush under and over our feet, allowing our toes to sink just a little into the sand every few minutes as the water came in and then rushed out again.
As we walked, we carried our gear, passing groups of people along the way. And they looked. Some did a double take. One woman grabbed her oblivious kid by the shoulders, turned the child, and pointed. Another group of adults, in bikinis and muscle shirts, talked within their circle as the music coming from their speaker muted their voices for anyone beyond the perimeter of their towels.
And then, after discussing, the dude in the muscle shirt decided to just ask.
“Hey. Did you catch that?”
We were carrying fish, a couple perch. Minutes before, Ron had emerged from the water in a quieter area of the beach in a full wetsuit, his speargun in one hand, his fish, on this special hook, in the other.
We told the muscle-shirt guy that, yeah, Ron had caught those fish that were dangling by their mouths from a hook that looked like a giant paperclip. They might have even still been twitching a little, I can’t remember.
That’s what the guy asked next. Ron just answered with a smile, and an obvious vagueness, motioning to the gigantic body of ocean water behind us.
The beaches had only been open for a week or so by the time we waded in that weekend. Parking was a ruthless scavenger hunt that benefitted from luck, timing and some skillful stalking. The beach area closest to any facilities was busier than I’d ever seen in all the years I’d visited this spot, and we ventured the furthest from other people as we possibly could.
People had packed themselves in to work their base tans, listen to music, eat sandy snacks and soak in some vitamin D.
But I think in all that, maybe in the isolation of quarantine, people became utterly disconnected. Or maybe they’re always disconnected?
“Hey, are those real?”
This, from a bohemian chick as we walked further inland, crossing a bridge that would take us away from the beach. But we were still barefoot, still had sand under our feet, still able to hear the waves coming in every few minutes —which is to say, we were still at the beach…which meets the ocean, where fish live.
And she thought to ask us if the fish we were carrying were real. As if people carry fake perch on a hook —like that’s a thing. I mean, is that a thing? Like, an Instagram thing? I don’t know.
It can’t be.
We told her that the fish, which were living their best ocean life a few minutes before finding themselves dangling by their mouths, were indeed real. And let her know Ron caught them.
“That’s so dope.”
There was so much more to that three-word sentence, too. The way she slid the word “so” out of her mouth and then very nearly abbreviated “dope.” Also, that she used that expression to congratulate Ron on something that is a completely primal activity — something people have been doing for eons.
Fish come from the ocean, like, originally. Not the grocery store. Okay, or a lake or a stream or whatever. That’s where they live, not on a pastel piece of styrofoam wrapped in cellophane.
In between calling everything “so dope” for the rest of the evening, we couldn’t help but marvel at the astonishment people felt by seeing a man walk out of the ocean carrying fish.
It wasn’t like he walked out of a parking lot, still wet, with fish on a hook, or an office building or stepped out of a sports car or something. And it wasn’t like he was carrying a horse from the sea, or 20-pound diamonds or, like, a troll or something.
He went in the ocean, where fish live, and brought some out. And while I was super proud of him, and impressed by him for shooting them with a spear, I wasn’t in shock.
In fairness, we were near L.A., where you just never know what’s real.