We were driving across country back to Denver and lost Odie’s leash. He needed to go for a walk and was young then and would run off. I pulled over at a Love’s Truck Stop in the middle of nowhere Kansas thinking they might sell leashes. They didn’t. I asked at the register, and they confirmed what I already knew. There was a trucker behind me in line, who said, “Hey, man, I’ve got you.” I followed him outside and waited a few yards from his big rig. He looked around inside and produced a leash. There was no dog. He held the leash and pulled up the sleeve of his shirt and showed me a tattoo. It was faded, like he’d gotten it when he was young. It looked like an eagle. He said something I couldn’t make out, like a mantra, a saying for a group he must have once been a part of, then he slapped his arm and handed me the leash. I thanked him and he smacked me on the shoulder. It was a good blow, but I was younger and stronger then, too, and didn’t waver much, but the force behind it was clearly meant to express something. What? I can’t say. He stared me down and climbed in his big rig, started it, and drove away. I walked through the Love’s, got Odie, and took him for a walk on the outskirts of the truck stop. There was nothing but a thousand trucks passing on the highway, endless sky and Kansas out there.
On Oak island
There was a haze that fell upon the beach in the late afternoon in mid-June if the water was rough and the tide was coming in. The haze was residual froth off the waves, and it was humid, and the haze was, really, just more water. That was Oak Island in the summer. Hot and wet and southern. Like every woman I’ve truly loved. People sit by the beach, not because it’s peaceful, but because people like to sit close to that which has the power to destroy them. This is why people walk up as close as they can to lava and climb mountains. Drive vans into the middle of Kansas and wait for tornados. People don’t sit and watch things that can’t kill them. Unless they’re very dumb. Which many people are. So maybe many do. There’s a magic to knowing something as simple as how beautiful it is to walk where the waves crash against your ankles on the Carolina coast. Death close. Full moon. Clouds flying in front of it. To walk out on the Ocean Crest Pier and see the curve of the Earth. The deafening silence of the wind. To know you could scream and not be heard. To scream into the wind is to speak directly to the Earth. Maybe one day, if lucky, everyone will discover this blanket truth. Blanket like how thick the air becomes as the humidity and the ocean become one. There is no humidity like the humidity on the Carolina coast. Well, perhaps there is, but that would be in other places that are similar but different and have their own things that I know nothing about. What I do know is you can’t feel pain out there. Out past the breakers. Not late at night. Not if you sprint into the water and swim. Find the place behind the breakers where calmness lives. Then you’ve found something bigger than yourself. I’ve found it in many places. Outside Lisbon, the southern coast of France, Tamarindo, the gulf coast of Florida. But never have I found anything purer than the 12:30 at night walk down the beach on Oak Island. More drinks in than I care to count. Maybe walking with my brother when we were kids, booze stolen, or hand in hand with one of so many lovers, once so close that I can hardly believe they’re as far away now as they’ve become.
My dad had a friend from the post office, a fellow letter carrier, named Steve. He would go out on the boat with us when I was a kid. My dad loved nothing more than his 15’ ski boat and the 85 HP Yamaha he’d gotten a deal on. That motor gave him endless problems and more than a few times I thought we’d be stranded in the middle of the lake because of it, but somehow, he always found a way to get it working again. Steve was quiet and amiable. A genuinely nice guy. He’d watch me and my brother when we tubed and let my dad know when we fell off. Help us in the boat. He drank Bud Lights with my dad and never said much. To this day I have no idea if he had a wife or a family. One thing I did realize, even as a child, is that he didn’t have, to me, what I’d seen in other adults, which was, I guess, what is called maturity or being an adult. He had childlike eyes, but not like he was curious about everything he might see, more like he’d been continuously floating away from childhood for so long that his eyes gave away how scared he was to be where he’d arrived. It must have been four or five summers Steve went out on the boat with us. Maybe twenty times all told. I got older and time moved on and nobody went out on the boat anymore. It’s still rotting in my dad’s driveway. I doubt it would even run. I was probably late 20s when I heard. My dad had retired early, an option given because the post office was broke. I felt like he was having trouble adjusting. He was a man who thrived under a routine. Steve had retired about the same time. I hadn’t seen Steve in years. He never came over to see my dad. My dad had no idea what he was doing. One afternoon, as plain as any other, Steve went back to the post office where he and my dad worked, walked into the break room, and shot himself in the head. My dad was stoic when I asked why he thought Steve might have done it, “well, you know, if I didn’t have you kids and your mother, I’m not sure what I might be capable of either,” he said, taking a long swallow of his Bud Light.
San Ramon, Costa Rica is a modest city, forty-five minutes from San Jose, family oriented and structured, like most Costa Rican towns, around two large churches on opposite ends of the city’s rectangular grid. The town rests in a valley surrounded by mountains and rainforest but is in and of itself dirty and plain. The restaurants, bars and businesses are unspectacular. The young people want out, though family ties are strong, and it is a good place to raise a family. The many stray dogs that run free in the city move amongst the people with strange normality. I like to think they have fascinating stories. One evening, while out for a stroll I passed a half-dozen people walking single file in the opposite direction. Amongst them was a terrier mix with a gray beard that lent him the appearance of an old man. He reminded me of a haggard street bum, world weary, head down, fully capable; the victim of a few bad breaks off in a foggy past. I wondered where he was going and then he was gone. It was the rainy season and the sky opened. I raised my umbrella and continued walking.
When darkness falls in Jaco, Costa Rica, the women of the night pour into the streets and all semblance of traditional courtship rituals follow the sun’s lead and vanish.
Scott was a wiry, white guy in his mid-forties who used to be an Army cook. He got into it with everybody at the New Orleans Country Club.
One night the line was in the weeds and Scott started talking shit.
“Am I the only son of a bitch around here who does any work?”
“You’re the only son of a bitch,” another cook named Big T said.
“Don’t test me T, you know I’ve got PTSD,” Scott said. “I’ll go off.”
“Well go off then, Lil Daddy,” Big T said, trying to keep up with entrees cooking in eight pans.
Scott began his cooking career in the Army during Desert Storm. He loved to reminisce about riding in armed convoys, heating turtle soup in the back on a gas-powered hotplate. He claimed a truck he was in was hit by a land mine once, but he saved the turtle soup.
Scott averaged 65 to 80 hours a week. Sick uncle, wife on disability. He took numerous smoke breaks and told anyone around about his arsenal. His favorite home invasion defense weapon was a modified shotgun. He decided it was his favorite while living in New Orleans East after Katrina, waiting up nights alone in a dark living room surrounded by candles listening to Procol Harum and praying silently someone might intrude.
He also had a modified sniper rifle.
“I can sit in my living room, set the sights, watch the Family Feud, lean over and pull the trigger without looking, and hit a target 750 yards away,” he’d say, smoking half a Marlboro light down to the filter in one drag.
If Scott wasn’t smoking, he could be found stalking the kitchen with a pot on fire saying things like, “I’ve got twenty hours of overtime so far this week, I get here an hour earlier, and they let god damn Lester go home an hour before me. That’s why I’m pissed off.”
Lester is Scott’s rival. What pisses Scott off most is that Lester has won employee of the month twice and Scott has never won.
Scott and Lester started at the same time. The career trajectories of both plateaued the day they signed on. Lester is a hulking black man who drags his feet and doesn’t swing his arms when he walks. He used to be a body builder. His movements give the impression of an indifferent man ice-skating. The look on his face is always menacing. A wry smile often follows antagonizing remarks to Scott that result in charged arguments which Scott takes seriously, and Lester participates in for his own amusement.
In only his third month of employment, a prep cook won Employee of The Month. Someone mentioned to him Scott had never won and the next day he stopped Scott in the upstairs kitchen.
“I hear you’ve been here nine years and never won employee of the month?” the prep cook said. “That must be some kind of record.”
“Yeah?” Scott said, “Well, go fuck yourself.”
Scott spent the next hour trying to figure out who’d told the prep cook, as if it wasn’t obvious.
I wandered around the kitchen avoiding Scott because I couldn’t stop laughing. I found Lester in the kettle room hiding behind a wall, listening to Scott ranting, cackling like a bastard and we hid there together.
On Saturday morning, I woke before the others. The sun burnt orange lines onto the treetops and mist rose from the jungle. I wandered down to the road and caught a ride with an ex-pat in a golf cart.
Down in Montezuma, I spotted a sign for a day trip to the remote island of Tortuga. I paid and sprinted to the beach. The boat was pushing off. I waded in and a crew member yanked me aboard.
We reached the island and snorkeled of its coast. Afterwards, we explored the island at our leisure.
I leaned against a piece of driftwood and lit a joint.
The rhythms of a drum-heavy Costa Rican band entwined with the island´s movements. A tropical bird flew by; a jet-black iguana side-slid across the beach. Two French girls began an impromptu photo shoot on the jagged rocks to my left. I watched a while then gazed across the bay where waves crashed against the wall of another solid green island and sprayed white foam along its dark edge before returning to the sea.
Wilson Koewing is a writer from South Carolina. His short story collection “Jaded” is forthcoming. He currently resides in Asheville, NC.