Beach Community

Beach Community
Gabriel Ostler

Playa Zipolite has no direct translation in English. When
people find that out, it almost immediately drops off in value
for them. I’ve met a couple people who press on,
out of politeness or a real linguistic curiosity, and
those are some decent discussions—that’s when I put
the dripping mug aside and square my shoulders,
because you can be doing one thing and talking to someone,
or not facing the person but still talking to someone,
but if you combine those two it’s a surefire sign
they’re not really talking with you in that moment;
to, at, for, against, alongside—maybe,
but not with. Any conversation you ever had with your father
while he was changing the oil
or trimming the hedges;
it’s not as important as you think.

That’s why I face the ones who care,
and as we talk I think about the acres of crispy
Tommy Bahama Haviana
gringos, I guess, though I am one myself, which is made
perfectly clear the second these excitable fawns
cross the threshold and find, once their weatherless eyes
have adjusted to the cool interior,
behind the bar, behind the beard, behind the halfhearted tan,
an American? Yes, guilty,
sentenced to life outside of Yakima, Washington,
just the same as you, running a fast break to freedom,
except I never headed back to the other side of the court.
Movement is costly. some bodies never do. some pinball and rack up
high scores and broken wrists all over this colorful game board,
some get one good flick and stay put.
I am gathering; I am scoring points that melt away the next time
someone puts in a quarter and passes me by.
I am rambling now, but you have to understand,
these interactions where I can breathe are rare.

“Barkeep!” actually, I’m the owner, but that’s no matter—
if and when that topic comes up, they’ll have known it
all along—a white man does not cross borders as a subject,
he is undoubtedly propelled by the force of destiny! If you see a drop of blanco
in this shimmering pool of viscous mud, you naturally think
this is some lynchpin, the straw that stirs my everloving drink,
my good man. Synonyms, all I’m listing. if Fitzgerald
ran ‘old sport’ into the ground, then
there should be an arraignment for Greg from Billings but with
a cousin’s daughter—Marcy, was it?—getting some
degree at UW, and his eighty different ways to signal
amigo, amidst a wet wet sea of folks who don’t look like him.
His wife is deferential. I’m complicit. We make quite the group,
but I never, ever give up my front to this man.

In the ritualistic carving of crescent-shaped shards from one’s
own person that is known as human interaction,
different people will get different pieces,
simple error ensures each fleshy snowflake
has a distinctive tint. This young man,
who is here for the nudism because he believes
the body is still sacred, gets the edgy
Zapotec interpretation—“beach of the dead”—a phrase
that would launch a torrent of schlocky skulls silkscreened
on chests when the florid burns made them finally
cover up. Because of the undertow? he asks, making
the natural assumption that is both eminently possible
and necessarily self-absorbed. Yes, it’s known that water
can kill you, but better people have used
this body as a funeral parlor
instead of taking up space in the ground
where new things could grow. The Zapotecs;
as you throw caution to the wind, the breeze floating
around your privates could be laced with the whispers of a hundred thousand
immortal gasps in the smack of a corpse on a whitecap;
a chill rippling down is right.

I have seen lesions and marks. On my right tricep here is a well-to-do keloid
imprinted by a rogue’s knife
and emblazoned by successive years of noncaring
in the sun. My cheeks bear divots,
my vision continues to spot out those carrying proud rashes and other streaks
of irritation, proudly sported and daring the heat
to flare the outbreak hotter. Naturists are, by definition,
a secure people, and what you cover up for public service or for
self-preservation remains visible and strident for them. Bumps, hills—
that’s how I tie the package for this career disoriented woman—
“bumpy place.” the Nahuatl speak. “place of continuous bumps and hills.” There’s
plenty to scale in these surrounding regions,
and I suppose mountains and such as well if that’s your game, fresh
glass of white wine with a lax wink. she laughs
and I almost feel warm.

yip yip,
another dialect I would not equate
but still try to respect. Tinkerbell would like a piece of pescado
as she has been dutifully enduring the hardly gentle pets of a softly crying
patron. I did not train her as a comfort dog, or at all;
I found a parking lot in Lodi on my way out of my native land
and woke up sticky-stuck dry mouthed to the blaring of a catcher’s van that needed
my spot. They led them out the back hatch like Shawshank or something
it was remarkable to watch, until I saw her shuffling down
with her Norwich eyebrows half-cocked like
I’d let a bad opinion go in mixed company. She was going to have
my back, but we’d talk about this later,
and so we did, I filled her in on the whole plan once the paperwork
was filed, I tell people she’s my manager and they laugh,
but I don’t tell these people jokes. I tell them truths
and let their expectations plug up the flooding gaps.

You came to me expecting English, and that’s what I gave. I came
to México expecting peace and found solitude. I don’t think that’s
anything I couldn’t have achieved with a well-written letter of resignation
and a couple of tersely worded personal interactions,
back wherever born makes home. But I talked about movement;
I have come to rest in this groove, where the sand deadens
your momentum and takes miniscule bites of the flesh
that already comes in moons and rivers and pockmarks
and sores and scrapes, and grains somehow come to take the most effort
to get out of your genitals, so I’m told,
like nature knows what you designate as showpieces. Tinkerbell
has paws like leather, like snowshoes,
like burdened waitresses’ pancake feet squished under years of steam-covered
trays and misused expectations. And I am largely a torso,
waist up to those that need something to drink,
neck up to the colonizers that need allegiance,
eyes up to every being that totters in with exactly the same amount of information
and garb as when they were born. I am a sign,
a body, a place in my own language, one also
without translation; sin nombre, sin padre, sin todo,
carrying my designation in my shoulders and accepting
each transaction.

Gabriel John Ostler is a writer, bowler, and crab cake enthusiast from the small suburb of Orinda, California. He received a degree in English from the University of Notre Dame after being cut from the swim team and deciding that he might as well finish it all out. Ostler’s work has appeared in the Bill Berkson tribute issue of Cruel Garters, and was recognized by Notre Dame with the Richard T. Sullivan Award for Fiction Writing. Tweet @orindasfinest to tell him about your crossfit journey.