Tuesday didn’t work out. In high school I would have considered her an Untouchable, one of those girls who remains off limits to guys like me. But this wasn’t high school it was college, so I took a shot and I learned that Untouchables remain eternally untouchable.
That I was visiting the same emotional duress upon Margaret, Tuesday’s roommate, was not lost upon me. She was funny, smart, and talented, and she liked me. The only thing preventing Margaret and me from riding off into the sunset together was my lack of attraction for her. Also, in romantic comedies the couple never rides off into the sunset in a 1977 Ford LTD station wagon.
Of all of the things that disrupt my cinematic suspension of disbelief, car choice is probably the most blatant. How does Kevin Costner’s character in Bull Durham — a minor league baseball player — afford a Shelby Mustang, for example? The cool guy is always driving a Super Sport, Corvette, GTO, something. I guess it’s really a minor point. That we’re supposed to buy Renee Zellwegger as hot is probably a bigger crime.
Anyway, I was ashamed of my shallowness so I stopped hanging out in Tuesday’s and Margaret’s dorm room, which at the time was the center of my non-school existence. Instead, I drove over to Tybee Island in the afternoons.
I haven’t visited Savannah in 25 years, but as I understand things Tybee Island is now a playground for the rich and famous — the kind of place where John Mellencamp dribbles off Bobby Brooks and Miley Cyrus practices her side boob flashing. But in 1986 Tybee was nothing more than Savannah’s beach, a collection of houses and cheap motels separated by grassy dunes. The only attraction was a water slide — one water slide — and I don’t remember ever seeing it open.
Shopping for food and gas on Tybee was limited to a single convenience store located on the way onto the island. I always stopped for Oreos and orange juice before heading out to the beach. Once there I’d sit on the hot sand and write in my black book, or I’d walk along the water and look for horseshoe crabs. There are worse ways to hide from women.
Routine and ritual comfort me. I don’t know how Oreos and orange juice became a thing, but I doubt it was the taste. We’re not talking about chocolate and peanut butter here. More than likely the first time I stopped at that store they were out of milk so I grabbed orange juice and that was that. Oreos and orange juice: this must be Tybee Island.
A waitress called me on routine and ritual yesterday morning. “What are you going to have?” she asked.
“I’ll have the–“
I looked at her like she just burped the alphabet. “Why would I order a breakfast quesadilla?”
“Oh, because you always order something different.”
There I sat, in my same booth with my same beverages (two, always two), stopped in the middle of ordering the same thing in the same way that I had hundreds of times before. “Fine, I’ll have the breakfast quesadilla.”
“Really? You aren’t kidding?”
“Bring me the quesadilla.”
It wasn’t horrible, and planes did not fall out of the sky.
Oreos and orange juice. I pulled into the convenience store one afternoon and walked straight to the Oreos, two aisles from the door. I wasn’t alone. A shopper stood in the snack aisle, blocking my cookies. He appeared to be in his late twenties, with one of those deep tans that only beach locals develop.
The guy was ripped, too, a fact not hard to surmise given his attire. Beach Joe wore nothing but a pair of sunglasses and his skivvies. Tighty-whiteys. Fruits of the Loom. BVDs. Sure, it was the mid-80s and Madonna Wannabies wore their underwear on the outside, but there was no corresponding trend for guys. Nobody walked around in just a pair of Jockeys.
But the Hanes weren’t even the most startling thing about Beach Joe’s random appearance in the snack aisle. What really sold the whole scene was that the dude’s poor little cotton briefs struggled to restrain his giant hog. The thing was like some sort of over-sized novelty penis, guaranteed to break the ice at parties. It look like he’d just robbed a Hickory Farms. This guy’s cock was so massive that two loose M&M’s rose from the shelf and started orbiting it.
All I wanted was my goddamned cookies, but there was no way that I was going to kneel down and reach in front of that swinging tube sock full of oranges.. The idea of asking that three-legged mutant to move wasn’t much more appealing, but I couldn’t think of another option.
And then it hit me: I couldn’t talk to the tanned, ripped guy who was smuggling a baguette. Obviously he was in the middle of the “in public in my underwear” dream, and if I woke him I would disappear. Not just me, but all of Tybee Island would vanish, maybe Savannah. The entire world’s very existence depended upon me tiptoeing out of this scenario as quietly as possible.
Down at the beach, Oreo and juice-less, I pulled up a dune and scribbled in my black book. My writing wasn’t getting any better, but it had become necessary to me. That trail of black ink sprawling across the page felt right, as if my life had purpose. Routine and ritual.
“Hey, you go to SCAD.” I looked up and found the source of the Boston accent.
“Yeah. How did you know?”
“I’ve seen you around.” She was cute: short brown hair, gray tank top, army-green shorts. Boyish, but cute. She pointed her camera at me.
“Please don’t do that,” I said. “I don’t like cameras.”
“Why? You look great, like a professor.”
Her name was Kelly, and she was a photography major. We spent the rest of the afternoon together, and then I drove her back to Savannah. When we passed the convenience store she said, “Oh my God, did you see that?”
“There was a guy standing there in nothing but his underwear, pumping gas.”
“Keep your voice down,” I said. “The fate of the world depends on you.”