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Who's The Fatty
Jake and I were in the 9th inning of a lovely afternoon. A relaxed July evening that mixed full sunshine, the ocean, and people in good spirits. An affirming feeling washed over me; maybe I can do this after all. Life. This must be why people enjoy having kids. Well executed summer evenings make me want to be alive for a bit longer. There is something about the hot summer sun that can burn off any lurking depression.
No perfect summer scene happens in a vacuum. You can’t really get out of Hull without the full experience.
I stuck our wetsuits and a well loved soft-top surfboard in the bed of the truck in case there was any hint of swell. I had secret ambitions of catching a couple waves and introducing Jake to the magic of gliding across water. We pulled into one of the crowded car parks at Nantasket Beach. We paid our 15 bucks and watched people death march armloads of plastic gear back to their vehicles at the end of a summer beach day. For whatever reason, I always feel a tingle of satisfaction going in the opposite direction of a crowd.
I started peeking over the dashboard for a quick surf check. The tide was pushing its way in and I saw little knee high waves turned crumbly by a breeze out of the north east. These little bumps looked suitable for what I had in mind. We got out and started pulling on our wetsuits. I covered Jake's nose and cheeks with a zinc stick until he looked like a mime.
We waded out into the water. Jake was nervous. I put myself on high alert, running through some ideas of the best way to support him.
“Come on man, you can do this.”
“This is no big deal. You got this”
“Don’t be a baby. Toughen up.”
I hate all of these options. I went with:
“It’s ok to be nervous, bud. We aren’t in a rush. We can take our time.”
Then I shut up and waited. Resisted the urge to yank on his arm or nudge him out there. It’s gotta happen naturally and it needs to be his idea. After he settled a bit and got used to the sensation of water leaking into his wetsuit and warming up his body, he got on the board and I guided him out through the whitewater with my hand on the tail of the board. It took a few tries to get dialed in but soon I was slipping him into long belly rides all the way to the sand. He was psyched. After I’d push him into a wave, I’d watch closely in case of a wipeout. From behind, I noticed the pinkish soles of his feet and his small cute wetsuit butt. After one long smooth ride that finished on the beach, Jake turned to find me.
“Dad, am I a good surfer?”
You’re a great surfer, babe.
“I’m gunna stay on the beach and look for rocks,” he tells me.
Sounds good. I’m going to go catch a couple then. OK?
I wheeled around and quickly paddled out through the whitewater. I caught a small clean wave, sprung to my feet and enjoyed a short ride. I was really hoping Jake was watching, but of course he didn’t care at all. I caught a few more and met Jake back on the beach.
We trudged back to the car feeling the post ocean buzz, but now I had to follow through on the promise I made to get him excited about coming here. We peeled off our wetsuits and stepped into dry clothes. We marched down the boardwalk, following the lights and sounds of the beach arcade. On short walks like this, I let my arm swing close to Jake, trying to make my hand look inviting. I don’t ask for it, but I am hoping he will slip his paw in there while we walk. I know there will come a time, maybe even soon, that he will no longer want to hold Dad’s hand.
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We enter the arcade and Jake takes the lead. If my zone was the beach break, this one is squarely his. It’s crowded with kids and loud as fuck with bells and gongs and the sounds of machine guns cutting down zombies. I haven’t been here in decades; there’s a concession stand and a bar in the next room that look like recent additions. I load up a swipecard with ten bucks for Jake and find my way to a cold red and white can of budweiser. You ever read the copy on a can of budweiser? It’s my favorite copy on any product.
"THIS IS THE FAMOUS BUDWEISER BEER. WE KNOW OF NO BRAND PRODUCED BY ANY OTHER BREWER WHICH COSTS SO MUCH TO BREW AND AGE. OUR EXCLUSIVE BEECHWOOD AGING PRODUCES A TASTE, A SMOOTHNESS AND A DRINKABILITY YOU WILL FIND IN NO OTHER BEER AT ANY PRICE".
I come back and see Jake settled into a game alongside another kid. I close my eyes and savor the sharp taste of cold domestic beer. It never gets better than the first sip. Despite the noise and crowd, it feels good to be here with Jake. After about twelve minutes, he finds me. He “needs” an orange gatorade and more money on his card. We get him a drink and reload his card. He gets rid of another ten bucks in record time, so we head for the door. I’m carrying a yellow rubber ball with spikes that he won playing the mechanical claw game.
On the walk back towards the truck, I’m eyeing the beach. Jake was tired and a bit distracted so he fell back about 20 yards. I slowed down to meet his pace. On the cement boardwalk, we pass every kind of humanity. People who look like they might be homeless, people muttering to themselves that don’t appear to be on the phone, and cute college kids on summer break running with ear buds in.
My eyes are drawn to the beach again. The tide has filled in a bit more while we were gone and the wind laid itself flat. The ocean turned glassy and the small waves were peeling beautifully down the sandbar.
“Dad. Can we go surfing again?”
“Oh. My Man. Of course we can. Let’s go.”
I almost drop dead from joy and pride. I’ve been desperately hoping that either of my sons would find a morsel of delight in some shared activity with their old dad. I daydream of surf trips with my kids.
We pulled on our damp wetsuits for session number two and headed back out for a couple more waves. This second session is fun but much shorter. We’re both getting tired, hungry and a little cranky.
We return to the parking lot for a cold drink, a towel, and to begin the wrestling match with our wetsuits. A black F-150 pulls in next to us while we are sitting on our tailgate. I spy a “Police Lives Matter” and a “Lets Go Brandon” sticker on the rear windshield. Out of the cab emerge a pair of buddies that are quintessential south shore Massholes. One guy in a tank top. The other in his freshest Red Sox World Champions t-shirt. Both in long khaki shorts, one with cargo pockets, one without. One guy has on white new balance sneakers that are hard to get laid in and the other is in a pair of weathered Sperry Topsiders that are decades old. Both have on shitty black wraparound sunglasses that are popular with military veterans. Both guys have shaped facial hair that they are proud of. Both are bald but only one has embraced it with a bic razor.
The two guys rest their forearms on the gunwale of the pickup bed to continue their chat from the drive over. The guy in the dress red sox t-shirt executes a perfect ten, fat guy pants hike. Here’s what it looks like: It starts with hooking the thumbs inside the waistband where the belly dumps over in front. Both thumbs stay inside the band while they take a lap in opposite directions until they meet up in the back where your ass used to be. You get a solid grip in the back and in one quick yank, you get everything back in its spot.
Jake, wrapped in a towel, climbs into our backseat and is sipping on a cold drink that I packed for the road [Dad shit].
We’ll head for home soon, but I’m captivated by these two creatures. We have millions of them in Braintree, Weymouth, and Quincy, but I’m still fascinated when I see them in the wild.
I tune into their conversation as I stow the surfboard and wetsuits in back. Both guys seem to be focused on the parking lot across the street that serves a bar called The Parrot. Used to be called the Red Parrot. A beach bar that I’ve been blackout drunk in wearing flip flops and a wet bathing suit. They’ve done extensive remodeling over the past two seasons. Beautiful mural on the outside wall, hurricane rated glass railings on the balcony that won’t obscure the beach view, and new modern furniture with brightly colored seat cushions. I haven’t been inside since 2008, so I don’t know if the menu’s also been remodeled or if the lion’s share of their revenue still comes from bud light bottles and mudslides .
A beat up white Chevy Tahoe that has at least 220 thousand miles on it whips into the Parrot’s parking lot. Its brakes screech and it groans on its springs. Three women who look to be in their early 50s spill out of the car and check their hair and makeup using the reflection off the car windows. They adjust shorts that have ridden up on the drive from Abington and straighten and smooth cute summer shirts from Kohl’s. They look beaten down by hard living. Upper arms that are bigger and softer than they’d like them to be. Giant, heavy chests resting atop barrel like mid sections. These are tough broads. They might have a faded dolphin tattoo on their ankle that they got on a cruise to Cozumel in ‘87. Two of them pass a lit cigarette back and forth. They are doing their best.
“Oh, shit,” I mutter to no one. It dawns on me that these chicks are meeting up with the fellas from the pickup next to us. Red Sox guy does a quick chin lift gesture to his buddy to confirm that these are the babes that he told him about. I tune in again.
“There they ah, Danny,” Chuck says.
Danny tilts his head down and takes a look over the top of his bad sunglasses. His eyes travel up and down their bodies a few times, not in a kind way.
Chuck continues, “the one that was drivin’ is Donna, the one in the white shorts is Michelle and —”
Before he can ID the third woman who hopped out of the backseat, Danny cuts him off with a much too loud voice. The kind of voice that immediately gives away how dumb somebody is.
“WHO’S THE FATTY?” Danny blurts out.
Chuck starts over with more context. “Well, the drivah, is my friends sister in law, Donna, and —”
“Ya, I heard that paht, Chuckie, BUT WHO’S. THE. FATTY??
My jaw hangs open. I almost forgot that I was in Hull for a moment. No perfect summer scene happens in a vacuum.
I get ready to back out of our spot. I don’t know what else these guys said, but I did hear, “who’s the fatty?” at least one more time.
Jake is none the wiser about the interaction. He’s resting his head on the car door, already asking if he can watch YouTube when we get home. I make the turn onto George Washington Blvd and head for home.
On my death bed, when I scroll through the memories that have colored my life, I want to be able to recall the first time that I took Jake surfing. It’s part of the motivation to spend ten hours writing and editing something like this. I’ll never be able to have this core memory without picturing Danny and Chuckie and hearing Danny’s loud voice.