“What I do is turn on my bath, run to the ocean, jump in the water, run back home, and the level is perfect by the time I’m back. Works great.” She’s next to me and barefoot in a bikini at the crosswalk waiting for it to change. She said all that because I’d said to her: “You must live close” since here’s this girl in a bathing suit with no shoes standing next to me as I hold my book in my hand. When I get a telegram from the cosmos, I read it, because it usually says something like this: “If you do one thing with your day, please let that one thing be talking to that woman.” I’m about to tell her how cool it’d be if she calculated the traffic light intervals into the timing of this ritual because if you scheme it out perfectly (if you could), you should be able to run right from your door to the crosswalk just as it’s turning green so you don’t have to get stuck waiting next to guys like me. But the light goes green and she’s gone. Running. A dog whirls its head into her way but she rushes by it, pulling her suit out of her butt. That’s two pains in the ass who’ve tried to impede her harmless little project this morning: that dog, and me saying “You must live close.” She could’ve just said: “Yup” and then I would’nt’ve written this paragraph.
The basketball courts I usually sit near in Venice Beach are under construction so I go sit by the handball courts. I used to come here all the time when I lived here. I remember playing racquetball once in Rochester and losing to two older guys. Now I’m the age they were then and even though this isn’t racquetball it’s pretty similar and I know I’d lose if I played now. This dark kid says: “Wanna play?” I don’t think about it and say: “Yup.” I put my book down on the steps and hope no one steals it.
“When you serve the ball you gotta stand in this smaller box, the ball has to hit the back wall first, and then hit anywhere in the bigger box behind you. If it goes short or long of that bigger box, that’s no good. And you can only score when you serve.” (That girl’s getting into her bath…right…now. That’s what I think while he talks.) I say: “Got it.” We start hitting the ball around without keeping score. I miss it most times, hit it really good other times. I use my right hand more than I want to because I’m not right-handed. Sometimes he says: “Nice ball.” That’s right. A young kid I met on the beach said: “Nice ball” to me yesterday. A bunch of his friends show up and they start playing. The kid says: “Here” and throws me an extra blue ball he’s got. “Three’s open.” He’s basically just said: “Go over there and don’t bother me.”
“Wanna play?” Down near Court Three I get asked again to play, this time by a sixty-year-old Mexican guy named Gregory. Gregory kicks my ass, fifteen-two, fifteen–zero. It reminds me of Father’s Day when my dad beat me at cornhole (the beanbag toss game) three damn times right in front of the house I grew up in. And here, when I’m losing, and I have zero, and it’s my turn to say the score out loud, I say it louder and louder because I can’t be in denial about it. I say it loud because I want everyone around me to know that I know what’s happening. I’m getting my ass bought, wrapped up and handed to me by a sixty-year-old man in Venice Beach.
(I remember how bikini girl wasn’t carrying any keys. So her place is unlocked and probably empty when she runs to the ocean. Maybe that’s the real reason she runs: To get back not before the tub overflows, but before someone just walks in.)
I look back at the steps to see if my book’s still there. It is. “Oh, good,” I say to Gregory. “My book’s still there. I was afraid someone might steal it.”
Gregory says: “No one was going to steal that book, bro.”