The water understands
It wets my foot, but prettily
It chills my life, but wittily,
It is not disconcerted
It is not broken-hearted
Well used, it decketh joy,
Adorneth, doubleth joy:
Ill used, it will destroy,
In perfect time and measure
With a face of golden pleasure
– “Water” by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Sweet Child O’ Mine was playing low over the pub’s speakers as Cameron came out of the bathroom, his head a little foggier than before he’d gone in. He felt like he’d just pissed all of his body’s water into the gum-filled urinal. The sun was directly over the ocean, coming through the pub’s beachfront window with the intensity of a fiery lance cutting through infant flesh. An air conditioner whirred in the transom over the front door, but it may as well have been a politician up there for all the useless hot air it was breathing out. The heat wave ravaging southern California was only getting worse, and the ocean waves seemed to take this as a cue to disappear. There hadn’t been a swell worth talking about in over two weeks.
Cam scanned the bar. Joe was across the empty room flipping through the selections on the jukebox. Behind the counter, the tattooed bartender was talking on the pub’s phone. He gave Cam an annoyed glare and plugged his free ear with his finger as Axl Rose wailed on about a girl with eyes of the bluest skies.
Cam sat at the stool in front of his beer. His musical selections queued up, Joe returned and slumped down next to him.
“They don’t have Social D.”
“What?” Cam asked, finishing off the remainder of his Budweiser. It tasted flatter than it had five minutes ago.
“Social D. They ain’t got it. I want to hear Ring of Fire.”
“That’s Johnny Cash.”
“Yeah, but the cover song is better.”
“So you played Guns N’ Roses instead?”
Joe wiped the sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand and finished his own beer. “I like Guns and Roses. Did like ’em anyway, before Axl went all rock star. Jesus, it’s hot. You hear they’re saying we might not be able to wash our cars and water our lawns and stuff. Water shortage laws.”
“You don’t have a lawn.” Cam craned his neck to get the bartender’s attention. The man was clearly in the midst of a heated argument, judging by the way he was grimacing. “And your car is a ’78 Chevelle with a hole in the bottom you can see the road through. It doesn’t need washing, it needs a 21-gun salute.”
“Got us here, didn’t it?”
“Leaving a cloud of grime behind us. What’s with this bartender? He sees I’m empty. Another second I’m gonna hop over the bar and just pour one myself.”
“You do that. Me, I gotta sober up and get ready for work.”
“In a few.”
“Cool. Can you take me back to the apartment?”
“Yeah, about that…um…”
Joe ran his hands through his slick hair, his face suddenly aged and jaded for a man of only twenty-six. With a sigh, he looked up at Cam and said, “You know what, I will have one more beer.”
Something is going on here, thought Cam. He’d seen that look in Joe’s eyes before. It was the same one he got whenever he went off about quitting his job or rising gas prices or his monthly decision to be vegetarian (which only ever lasted as far as the nearest In N Out was located). It was a precursor to something Joe considered important, but was often more trivial than Cam cared to discuss.
While Joe searched for the right words to whatever it was he wanted to talk about, Cam seized the opportunity to wave at the bartender. “Hey, dude, can we get a drink down here?”
The bartender placed the phone against his chest, looked around the bar to see if anyone else had come in. When he saw that Cam and Joe were the only ones present, he said, “Hop over and get it yourself, I’m on a call.” He put the phone back to his ear, spoke for a second, seemed to consider something and turned back to Cam. “Don’t think you’re not paying for it. I’m watching you.”
“Whatever, dude.” Cam hopped over, grabbed two new glasses from the small refrigerator and poured himself an Amstel Light from the tap. He snapped his fingers at Joe. “What do you want?”
“Same. On second thought, that looks foamy. Get me the Heineken.”
The beer was coming out of both taps rather slowly and sudsy, which Cameron knew could be any number of problems. Normally, he would complain, but since he had carte blanche of the bar right now, he was willing to let it slide. To make matters worse, the glasses were warm, so he placed them on the bartop and went over to the ice machine near the kegs. As a bartender himself, he knew warm glasses simply meant poor management. In heat this bad there was no excuse for foamy beer and a broken glass refrigerator. Inside the ice machine all he found was a lonely baseball-sized chunk of ice. Strike three, he thought. Should he tell the bartender he needed to run the joint better? Fuck it, he thought, he wouldn’t want some patron telling him the same. He’d just deal with warm, shitty beer.
As he came back around the bar to the stools Joe said, “I need you out of the apartment, Cam.”
Blindsided, Cam sat down and shook his head. “What?” Was that what Joe wanted to talk about? He was kicking him out? How could he do that? It had only been two weeks. How did Joe expect him to get a place of his own in only two weeks?
“Look. I told you you could stay with me for a bit—”
“It’s only been two weeks.” Cam held up two fingers to illustrate how small that number was. “I’m looking.”
“You said you were looking last week.”
“Bullshit. You went surfing every day.”
“And I looked too.”
Joe shook his head. He wasn’t buying it. “Around where? Give me a complex name.”
“The Pines,” Cam said, his voice low..
“The Pines is down the street from my apartment. I pass it every day on the way to work. It’s a condo complex, so unless you suddenly got yourself a mortgage, you need to lie better.”
“Then it wasn’t the Pines. I forget the name.”
“Okay. Okay. I went surfing. They kept saying a swell was coming.”
“Ain’t no swell coming. Not today, not tomorrow. The weather is fucked up. Something about the humidity and the pressure systems and…”
On the jukebox, Axl Rose stopped singing and passed the microphone to Halen. Cameron laughed. “Now look who’s trying to bullshit. You don’t know dick about meteorology.”
“But I know about living like a slob,” Joe said, his attitude suddenly assertive, “and that’s you. I got socks all over the damn living room, your underwear is practically in the sink, you cut your own damn hair in the bathroom two days ago and it’s still all over the place. Christ, there was hair in my bed. It’s like a wookie exploded in there.”
“I’ll clean it up.”
“You take long showers, using up all the hot water. The goddamn ceiling drips on my head like it’s raining when I go in there. The landlord is gonna make me pay to get rid of all the mold and—”
“So I’ll stop showering.”
“Look, no offense, dude, but I can’t live with you anymore. You’re…you’re…this ain’t college anymore. You gotta be responsible, which you’re clearly not.”
“What am I supposed to do? I can’t sign a lease—is this the Sammy Hagar Van Halen?”
“Are you hearing what I’m saying?”
“Yeah. But please, Joe, I got nowhere else to go.”
“That’s the worst Richard Gere I ever heard, and yes, you do, you can go home.”
The word drove a spike into Cam’s gut. Home. Did he even have a home anymore? He hadn’t spoken to Rebecca in over a week, hadn’t heard his little boy’s cooing in just as long, not since that last phone call when Rebecca made it clear he wasn’t welcome anymore. “She told me never to come back.”
“Jesus, Cam, she’s still your wife. Cobalt is still your kid. You have to go back and make things right.”
“You have a kid named Cobalt?” The bartender was off the phone, leaning on the bar not far away.
“Yeah,” replied Cam, “and you have a crappy ice machine and foamy beer. What of it?”
“The machine is on the fritz, the water don’t run for some reason. I checked it this morning. I’ll check the beer in a minute. If you want to have an attitude about it, you can leave. I’m not that hard up for your seventy-five cent tips.”
“He’s sorry,” Joe said. “His wife kicked him out of his house.”
“I can see why.”
“It ain’t my house.” Cam downed the rest of the beer in one big gulp. “It belongs to Rebecca and Scott. I’m not even on the title.”
“It’s still a place to live,” Joe said. “Because you know what? I love you, but you can’t stay with me. I’m sorry.”
“You love me?”
“Not like that. Not unless you buy me dinner first.”
They both chuckled. The bartender seemed unamused by it all. He’d obviously spent too many mornings serving drunk surfers to ever crack a smile again.
The music died out and the place went silent once again. Outside, seagulls squawked as they dived for the water. There were so many gulls Cam figured something large and dead must be floating near the edge of the water. Could be a seal from the La Jolla rookery. Which might mean a shark was in the area. That was all they needed. It was bad enough the waves were dead, they didn’t need Jaws out there as well.
Finally, he put a ten on the bar and turned to Joe. “Okay, let me get my stuff. I’ll go back and try to talk to Becky. But if she don’t let me move back in, and I die in an alley somewhere—”
“People don’t die in alleys in San Diego.”
“People also don’t choose Sammy Hagar over David Lee Roth but stranger things have happened.”
“If you die in an alley you can come back as a ghost and haunt me.”
“That’s quite a consolation prize. Thanks for nothing.”
Together, Cam and Joe ambled out of the bar and grabbed their surfboards, which they’d left standing against the wall near the door. As they headed to the car, Cam could have sworn he heard the bartender say, “Cobalt?”