There were five women in an untidy oval, all seated in beach chairs. Or rather, arranged on top of the flat part of beach chairs where your legs normally stretch out, surrounded by random towels and magazines, all leaning in towards an ill-defined center point for an indeterminate discussion that bounced around shopping, kids, shoes, Saturday night dinner. All were tanned, well turned out in glittery bikinis, all toes neatly painted, sandals with pom-poms (no flip flops here), lots of gold. Also lots of squeals, and most sentences punctuated with gratuitous “like”s used as unfortunate connectives.
My guess was in their early thirties, not late but they had kids. Hard to tell. Designer sunglasses. Gym toned. Conversation told me in their forties but, well, they just looked too damned good to be that old. And then, there were those squeals….
Well to do. Edge of rich. Truly rich would be at their own pools, or one of those exclusive Boca beach clubs, not here at a hotel beach club which was apparently open to locals who could pay what was likely a hefty but not prohibitive tariff. Large tote bags, draw strings on top. Expensive. But no logos. They are tuned in, they know that logos are all so yesterday. But expensive no doubt; yes sir.
Out of the sacs came, randomly, now a cell phone, then a tube of coconut smelling something, bottle of vitamin water, pulled from the deep recesses, sometimes pulling along with it some unintended detritus of loose papers, a lipstick, tissues, an eyeglass case, a tumble of keys—ah yes, Mercedes symbol on the key chain fob.
My chair was close, unintentionally close, a logistic mistake by the hotel beach boy, who might have thought I would enjoy the view, or perhaps just did not much care where he plunked down some transient hotel guest. And yes, the view was – nice. Covey of blonde shiny hair, punctuated by one dark-complexioned (and perhaps even a touch plump-y, is that possible?) woman with slick black close-cropped hair. Several hair bands coordinated with the bikini fabrics.
The perhaps plump-y woman was closest to my chair, I had to look directly at her when I put down my New Yorker. Not enough spin classes perhaps? I perused her up and down one time for good measure; no wedding band.
I was planning to move, the tide had receded, I could drag my chair down the gentle slope a couple of yards, dim the cacophony, replace it with sloshing wave sounds. Just about mustered enough energy to sit up against the pressure of the sun on my chest when a snippet of conversation stopped me. A discussion about New York. No, New Jersey. Some of the women were from New Jersey at some point. Not all. Three now were local, members of the beach club it seemed. The others—visitors from the North. Plainview I heard. I know Plainville, I think, somewhere vaguely West of the Holland Tunnel, a commute to Manhattan, maybe Newark?
No deep New York-Jersey accents. How come? Schooled out of them? Replaced for some by what now passed for an East Coast of Florida accent, scrubbed of origin yet not Southern either. The pervasive connective “like” notwithstanding, a well-spoken if squeal-ish group by objective standards.
Although objectivity was for my part, on reflection, like hard to come by….
Other women of similar ilk stopped by for cheek-pecks, reminders about tennis, reservations at some restaurant; meet my friend Rachel down from New Jersey, meet my friend Sarah from Temple, meet my friend someone from somewhere, you know Miriam don’t you Antonia? Antonia, the darker woman is Antonia, perhaps Italian not Hispanic? Why am I trapped into listening to this?
“Hi there, how are you girls doin’?” A male voice, not a very original greeting but delivered full of gusto, the promise of being interested in the answer. I turned my head slightly to discover a stocky guy of medium height in a T-shirt and blue shorts standing in the narrow space between my boat shoes half-buried in the sand and the edge of the women’s oval. My view of his backside was superior, sitting on top of tan hairy legs too thin for the rest of him. Trying to look upwards against the sun, was that a small bald spot—bad angle, maybe just sun glare.
“Ya remember me, yes? Lou. Louis Rothman. The party at the boat-yard, the one with the band. Just a few weeks ago. Sorry, don’t remember your name….”
“I’m Cindy,” replied one of the Boca natives. “I do remember you, you were with Maya Whatshername, right?”
A slight pause. “Yeah, she was my date. You a good friend of Maya, are ya?” Some obvious trepidation.
“”Not really, we just have kids in some things together. Why?”
“Oh, yeah,” said with some bare sense of relief, “cause she just blew me off after that party….”
“So you’re single!” Could not tell whose voice, what with the triumphant minor rise in volume accompanying this seemingly vital deduction.
“Divorced actually.” I think, can you be divorced not “actually,” perhaps merely theoretically? Why do I dislike this guy I don’t even know?
“But it’s okay,” he offers, “we’re still friends! Hey mind if I sit down for a minute, it’s kinda hard to talk down on you girls, you know?” He is seated on the edge of Antonia’s chair before the chorus of “sure”s has ended, Antonia’s feet curling quickly away and under her in self-defense. Lou is still talking, unawares, talking about something I miss but which the group seems to find absorbing.
“Yeah, I get the kids every other weekend. Bought a big condo over on 83rd. That new building?”
The local women grunt recognition, and Cindy asks if the building is nice; yes with a concierge, he admitting that he needed all the help he could get. General laughter. I could believe he needed more help than a concierge could possible deliver….
“So, hey, all you girls married or what?” Asked with a simple open smile. Wow, do I dislike this guy. Let me count the ways. My father, born almost a century ago and a stickler for refined speech, told me that “hey” was for horses not people. My mother, born with her own Victorian sense of good taste, told me that you did not ask that kind of question. My wife, born into a more modern time, told me that there were women and girls, and the cross-over point was somewhere in the late teens and that in our upper middle class suburb calling grown people “girls” was something of a major political correctness faux pas. Why is this guy holding court with these, okay you got me to admit it, really hot women when he’s talking shit like that?
No one says, coldly, ”how do you come off asking that?”
What I hear is an energetic bunch of yesses, a modest pause, then Antonia softly mentioning a recent divorce while slipping her ringless left hand unconsciously under the edge of a beach towel on her chair.
This good news moved Lou onto a more solid placement of his rump on Antonia’s chair, just a minor wiggle forward which this time is not met with a reciprocal contraction of any female body parts. Followed by more talk about restaurants, don’t these people have kitchens, plans for tonight, how long are you down here for, I begin to drift way, I am thinking of the sound of the waves again, looking for my resolve to sit up.
“Hey, how about a drink? You girls want a drink?”
A bunch of quick no’s, gotta drive, kid to be picked up, too early, too hot, drinking on the beach gives me a headache.
No worries for Lou, he is off talking schools, and the New Jersey geography, he is asking inappropriate questions about spouses, he finds out he went to the same college as one of the absent husbands, and (Lucky Lou) the same school as Antonia’s brother! What year, what’s his first name, what frat house, do you know if he knew my buddy Jake, actually Joel but everyone called him Jake on account of whatever. Names and years offered, Lou it turns out is 42. Cindy mentions she is 45. Against my intentions my head rolls right for another look. Pretty damn good for 45. I reassess the group. Pretty well cared -for crew.
“You girls sure you don’t want a drink?”
In Boston if I called these people girls they would offer some sardonic remark, at a minimum. At least, a chilling of the atmosphere. It is comforting to me to think, it feeds into my superior self-image to think, that in Boston, if I were Lou addressing this group, there would be a chilling of the atmosphere and surely no tequila shots.
But Lou is cruising, he’s set at 80 and he is on cruise control, his hands are off the wheel, his chariot is humming down the road he wants to be on. “Tequila shots!! Let me buy you girls tequila shots. Just one, whaddaya say?”
Lou has hold of the group in some vaguely male way. Across the few feet of sand separating us, I can feel, palpably feel, the charge in the air. He is young, single turns out he is a sports agent (“oh do you know that guy, you know who, he’s the Giant’s big running back, they play y’know like just a few miles from my house in Jersey…”), his testosterone is sweating out of his pores, it is wafting into the oval and being breathed, imbued by osmosis, he is infecting the herd.
“Sure— okay just one but then I gotta go – giggle giggle” all floating in the air while a seemingly triumphant Lou is off his rump with remarkable alacrity, hard to believe how quickly he is up and harder to believe how fast he is back carrying a small try of shot glasses. He must have tipped the bartender at the beach bar shack a twenty to jump the line and get back here so fast.
Klink, klink, skol, a toast to the beach, another toast to Antonia we wish her good look, bottoms up, the beach waitress stops by to pick up the empties and another round gets ordered, then some more, who cares if my kid gets picked up and I’m sauced, half in the tank at three in the afternoon, I’ll get the nanny to pick him up, hey can your nanny pick mine up, general laughter. I am thinking, I cannot believe it but I am jealous, I am embarrassed to be jealous but yes I am, jealous that this chunky, balding, divorced shitty-employed clueless inappropriate jerk has got five beautiful girls, dammit women, totally enthralled. Enthralled with talk about nothing. Dumbo, listen up, what about the problem of global warming, why don’t you discuss the situation in Syria why dontcha?
“Say, Antonia, I don’t know if you have plans for tonight….” Carefully timed tactical pause, this guy is good, I will give him that. Next thing I hear is that Antonia of course is excused from dinner at the Crab Shack tonight, we have a group but it’s all couples, we’ll catch up tomorrow. Next thing I know everyone is on their feet gathering their miscellany, everyone is air kissing and waving good-bye, I see Lou and Antonia already at the stairs leading back to the hotel, hands linked, she is hooting “I’ll call you later,” Cindy says she will leave the key in the same spot, Lou promises in a booming baritone “I’ll take good care of her, don’t you worry,” and I glimpse Cindy and Rachel, the last to leave, stuffing stuff into their beach bags.
“Nice guy, can’t believe he’s still available,” says Cindy. “Yeah, but it hasn’t been all that long,” says Rachel. “Shit, I’m late,” says Cindy. “And do you care,” asks Rachel. Mutual mirth, fading up the beach and then they too are gone.
I hear the gurgle of the waves.
I am calming down from my embarrassment about my angry thoughts when I sense a shadow over me. Looking up, I see Celine, our beach area’s waitress, the young and blonde and blue-eyed and open-faced and small-nosed and lovely Celine.
“Excuse, me, sir, but — I am not sure, were you with the group that just left?”
“No. Not at all,” I snap, too adamantly, straightening Celine up as she tries to figure out what she did to offend.
“Sorry, you startled me,” I tell her. “Why do you ask, is there anything wrong?”
“Well, I have this open bar tab for three rounds of tequila shots….