Awash in the glow of the mid-morning sun, a perfect autumn day is underway in Ocean Beach. A knee-high little girl points and stumbles and shrieks with glee while chasing seagulls on the sand. Only a few months have passed since the waddling toddler took her very first steps. She and the feet beneath her have not yet grown accustomed to the nuances of biped ambulation. Nevertheless, with wide eyes and unbridled joy she relentlessly stalks the fluttering flock of nervous birds. At no point do the limitations of her burgeoning gait ever detract from the insatiable sense of wonder which motivates her pursuit. After every trip and fall she picks herself up, meticulously wipes the sand from her brow, and flashes a reassuring smile at Mom and Dad before resuming the chase. Purity. Innocence. Wonder. Unlimited potential. The brighter side of Being epitomized in the pursuit of seagulls on the sand.
The young family nearly has the beach to themselves this morning. The autumn winds return OB to those who appreciate her most, as the summertime crowds wash away after Labor Day. On the seawall, which had crawled with curious onlookers all summer long, there currently roosts just a few local kooks. Among them is one particularly pensive and hopelessly disheveled man. He is dirty and alone with no direction home. His few worldly possessions are stuffed into the huge hiker’s pack leaning on the seawall next to where he sits. He is adrift in Ocean Beach, drawn by the warmth and comfort of this quirky, laid back village by the sea. He and others like him constitute the diaspora of the disenchanted, roaming the coast from Dog Beach to Sunset Cliffs, comfortably rejecting the norm.
So it goes. Only yards apart, yet unaware of each other’s presence, years of time and circumstance now separate Jenny and Sickboy. Both slinger and sot have moved beyond the dim lights and warm buzz of the bar. Jenny now has her shop and her husband and her precocious little girl. Sickboy has his backpack and a mountain of debt and the outward signs of desolation. If Sickboy could escape the inside of his head for just a moment, from his perch upon the seawall he might catch a glimpse of Jenny walking on the beach. Jenny’s beauty, strength and determination, which had kept Sickboy bolted to his barstool years ago, now shine brighter than ever. What a boost it would be to see that shine today! Look up Sickboy! Look up! But he is lost too deep inside his head, where only memories and racing thoughts fill his field of vision. He will not see Jenny on the beach today. Like a hot meal and a good night’s sleep, Jenny is now a memory.
In his weary, gnarled hands Sickboy holds a copy of the morning paper which he scooped up while dumpster diving in the alley behind South Beach. Times are tough, and the news is grim. A noxious fog of ego and greed seeps through our culture laying waste to the American dream. Jobs are lost. Homes are destroyed. Desolate parents are abandoning their offspring. There is a story of a murder-suicide in L.A. involving a recently unemployed couple and their five children. The tragedy is beyond belief. A trillion dollars of federal relief will never fix this. The problem runs too deep.
Sickboy himself had felt the creeping of the noxious fog. It had chased him into the bars and finally onto the streets. Immersed in the soupy haze of materialistic pursuit, he had carried on with the idea that prosperity determines success. And so, as he came to accept his lack of prosperity, he began to crumble under the weight of his perceived lack of success. The burden of failure and extreme self-doubt affected every aspect of his life, especially his relationships. Am I dependable? Who can I trust? What good do I do? While Sickboy truly cared and at times could even show it, his neurosis would never allow him to be cared for in return. After all, who could love a failure? Jim Beam. That’s who!
All of Sickboy’s troubles can be traced back to a lack of purpose. An odd blend of logical and artistic tendencies swirl together in his mind. At one moment he can be engrossed in analysis and find great satisfaction in presenting his results, only to be frustrated an hour later by the utter meaninglessness of the work. Is he a poet or an accountant? The dichotomy is unrelenting. Ultimately, it can be said that Sickboy has a mind for business but no tolerance for the culture of business in the modern world. In the workplace good people struggle while snakes succeed. Young, pliable minds are snatched up by corporations and sent away to business school to be conditioned for title chasing, salary hunting, and platitude dispensation. Something has been lost in the maelstrom of buzzwords and ego and spin that passes for business in our times. And now we are facing the consequences. The economy crumbles, and good folks are losing hope. The problems are beyond systemic. They are existential. People are lost.
Sickboy now subsides on the streets of Ocean Beach, where once he had laughed and loved and shared good times with friends, until a chronic case of sensitivity finally forced him to the streets. He had been unable to quiet the noise that polluted his pursuit of love and understanding. His passion was forever tempered by qualifiers. I love you but I have no money. I love you but I have no career. I love you but I have no plan. I love you but I’m not sure that I am reliable. And so love was lost but a lesson learned.
Times are tough. Making sense of it all is even tougher. A man has to find his way, and as Sickboy’s story attests, with too much thought there will be struggle. But underneath the scraggly, salt-and-pepper beard, behind the weary eyes and sunbaked face, there is goodness to be found in the man on the street, and there are lessons to be learned from the path that led him here.