CAPE SAN BLAS—It’s a chilly morning. The beach is unpopulated at this early hour. It’s just a big sandy patch with lots of seagulls and stray crabs that run sideways. And, of course, me.
I’m walking because this is what I do when I can’t find something to write about. I walk. It works like a charm. Usually, after enough walking, reflection, and literary contemplation, I end up pulling a hamstring. Then I write about it.
But not today. Because about five minutes into my walk I notice Them. They are walking directly behind me, holding hands, leaning on each other. If I didn’t know any better I’d swear they were a four-legged love monster.
I turn back to look at the young sweethearts. They are right on my tail. There’s a huge beach out here, yet they’re practically following me.
Don’t get me wrong, love is wonderful stuff. I’m a big fan. But is there anything more irritating than a young person punchdrunk with love? I submit no.
It’s a wonder that my friends didn’t tie me up and lock me in a closet after I first met my wife.
I can’t get these young lovers off my bumper. When I stop, they stop. When I walk, they walk. And even their conversation, which I can hear clearly, is getting on my nerves.
“I love shells.”
“Yeah, they’re great.”
“Where do seashells come from?”
“I think from little ocean trees.”
“So, they’re, like, plants or something?”
“Yeah, like underwater shell trees.”
Sound of kissing.
“I love underwater shell trees, Justin.”
You have to worry about America.
I decide to start walking the other direction and leave Bogey and Bacall to their philosophy discussion. To be fair, they seem like very good kids, but I am trying to cure writer’s block this morning. I need privacy.
So I turn. I walk past them. In a few minutes, I am by myself again. Ah, freedom at last.
But it is short lived. Because after only moments I hear footsteps behind me, crunching on shells. I glance backward to see Them again. She is shoulder-bumping him while they walk about 20 feet behind me. They’re having another deep conversation.
“You like butter?”
“Oh, I love butter.”
“Salted or the other kind?”
“What about black pepper?”
“Love black pepper.”
“How about pepper AND butter together?”
Give me strength.
This is getting ridiculous. I don’t want to sound grumpy, but this is a beach large enough for a few hundred thousand. Why are these people riding my Blessed Assurance so closely?
So I turn one more time and start walking the OTHER direction. I’m thinking maybe they’ll take a hint. I’ve changed directions twice now.
And anyone familiar with the laws governing American situational comedies knows what happens next. The couple, almost as if on cue, lazily turns and begins walking MY DIRECTION.
I give up.
So here we are. All three of us. Me walking; them trailing behind. They are giggling, carrying on, occasionally kissing, and making important observations about the world.
I make a last-ditch effort to rid myself of my new companions by speeding up. If I can’t lose them this way then we might as well buy a house together and split the utilities. Pretty soon I am power walking like an old lady at the mall.
Finally, I stop walking and face the water to catch my breath. I am winded and sweating. The view here is arresting. I stare outward, looking at the end of the world.
The horizon seems to curve a little. It’s a view that takes up your entire vision. The kind of panorama that makes you wonder how anyone could think this Earth is an evil place.
Then I see a blue heron swooping from the sky, gliding along the water. The bird is not even 10 feet from me. I love blue herons. For me this is almost a sacred moment because I thin—
“LOOK!” the girl says. “IT’S A BIG BIRD!”
Annnnd they’re back.
The young couple is standing maybe 15 feet away. We are staring into the same horizon. I am no longer happy.
“JUSTIN! IT’S A BIRD!” she shouts.
I fake smile at her. She smiles back. She must be in her twenties, but she’s watching this blue heron with a face that seems almost childlike.
Her male counterpart says, “That’s not just any bird, that’s a great white herring.”
“A herring? Are you sure?”
“Totally sure. It’s a white herring.”
So the three of us are looking at what is, according to Justin’s zoological expertise, a flying white pickled fish. I’m wondering whether they’re going to invite me over for Thanksgiving this year since they won’t leave me alone.
I look at them and almost speak, but I think better of it. Because what would I say? I don’t want to be rude.
The bird flies out of sight, and I’m ready to go home and forget that this morning ever happened. I give them an unspoken “goodbye” gesture. They return the favor, and I start strolling away.
But before I leave, I overhear the girl call out to me: “Excuse me, sir?”
I turn and put on a happy face. “Me?”
She says, “Would you mind taking our picture? We’ve been wanting to ask you, but… Well, we didn’t want to bother you.”
“Yeah,” says the guy. “We just got married last night.”
Well. I take back what I said earlier. The only thing more aggravating than a young person in love is a middle-aged fool.