THE BEACH BUM a postscript to REEF DIARY
I don’t know why I should have been gathered to write this, by the massive skies, by the proof of God in that. But I was, with countless hints and sand grains blasting my skull and nothing to stop me, and this is the result. A disaster of a time, but once one moves from surfer to bum you get that continually. Just off on the periphery, beyond even peripheral vision, until it becomes a stalking presence so clever at concealing itself and up itself that it must surely be visible to any spy satellite whom cares to observe. I still surf, of course I do. But that’s not cute anymore, at my age, not a valid option. There’s the rub. Somehow I did it successfully anyway. Bought the postcard, so to speak, brought home the vial of white sand. I was the best in the world at it. Well, the best at below 5 feet waves, or storms. It was too good a dream, too close to the sky to ignore. The conservative voices (and oh so whimpered at his fringe body corporate) can be ignored. Soon every minute is a wind of some sort, and you get used to it. Until it morphs like a dune cicada into… into … something else. Something none will be able to define.
Leave that to God.
Anyway, I was surfing the other day and saw a seal, small, probably a female, fully grown, weaving up from the basin shallows to the channel edge, threading, not waving like a wave like dolphins do or any said such. To watch it was like watching a movie in slow motion. A nature movie of course. A dart, an arrow, a radical re-entry. Water actually dripped from my head so I knew I wasn’t dreaming.
It was a highly self-motivated and agile little fellow, easily the best example of survival and adaptation I’ve ever witnessed. Having fun whilst dead serious. It stayed long enough to notice me, not a second longer.
I didn’t expect a seal. It was stormy at the Cove and I was on the lookout for dolphins. There may have been a big bull shark out there.
The actual dolphins were late this year, but luckily I was depressed of sorts and so, on the southern reef edge, you know, about to dive, when up she pops, faster than lightening ( the seal ), you know, no-one in bum land is short of money or anything. As far as I know there is no seal on a stamp as yet ( bound to be dolphins, killer whales, whalesharks, and hunchbacks ) unless it was prompted by cosmic forces outside my attention.
I’ve decided there should be, even if the seal was likely Tasmanian. From the far South for sure. And that would be interesting to know.
I wish I could write more. That was the highlight. A bull seal got up the Swan River too, but that’s not really part of any tale.
I saw a car with GREEDY written on it the other day. Then I got almost too drunk to leave the hotel.
Don’t respect me or anything. You’ll be disappointed. Actually I prefer to write science fiction, but that’s on hold. This is a blast from the past slightly overdue. Don’t ask me how that works. I don’t know. Spies and lies I suspect.
It was a long long time before the sea offered up this scarce resource. That was no flies off a bum like me. I had nowhere else, and the employment office had ignored me, possibly on instruction, since 1979. I find delight in bottletops. I didn’t need a seal. Small mercies.
But I got one. One happened. Real as my eyes.
I’ve surfed this stretch of coast more than most. Probably the most. Hardly an outline I don’t know, or a sandbar I don’t expect.
I met an Irish Mermaid. Banked in on a storm and a fat grey dolphin.
She was dead as a bone of course. Invisible to all but the bum. Real as my eyes.
I started to notice things. It was a gift I guess. Maybe she liked my dancing. It wasn’t just surfwax and waves and suncream any more. I noticed things like fish, live or dead, even blowfish. Seashells filled my paranoid LSD filtered rainbow mind like new sequins, shivering and stammering seasongs in a winter sun. I noticed a vast array of broken shells and shellfish, bits of crustaceans, wrappers from around the world, smoothed beer bottles shards and silver coke tins….
All this, bits and sparkly, well, its either what the Mermaid is going to eat, or what’s left behind. Recycling I suppose you’d call it today.
That was a few years ago, as I write this, but many years ago as I rediscover this. A memory burned within the brain walls of being something of an involuntary society experiment. Peace and pleasant within. Like Superman’s little ice castle.
Do you know what a Mermaid eats?
Believe me, the Sea is the equivalent of Eden.
It’s not hard to imagine. Periwinkles the size of icecream cones. Wentletraps the size of gargoyles. The occasional Spanish piece of eight. Seaslugs the size of Doctor Doolittle’s Snail. Worms like oars. Green weed salad, red, kelp like a giant’s dream. Sea apples the size of beachballs. I found out all this by studying clam science. Not abalone or squid of course, too tough, but in any case what a feast!
Of course, anytime a mermaid eats art is produced at the post offices and hotels. Sailor’s knots, ships fair and free like the cold South breeze, giant gianormous earshells in howling cacophonies of happy bathers, sex, millions of crabs, reefs of stars and moons high above a cornetto or a bowl of oysters. All these things appear on the walls around town.
After a mermaid eats by the awy, though I don’t know why, there rises a thirst in every seaman in a roughly nuclear bomb radius and or there abouts, though Irish Merchant Men will be tickled by the radiation no matter where they are . It is a thirst, almost a bloodthirst, for everything just about, including Rum. I discovered I enjoyed this ‘party after’, but really didn’t need it. Luckily there was lots and lots of dancing at all hours and weathers.
Mermaids, as you might, by now, tres well imagie, are full of secrets. Boy do they like secrets! If I wasn’t from Venus myself (four, no, five stars in house, though one is Torus) I’d be mighty mighty scared. I’m sure all others are. Sure of it. Terrified even. But I’m just a beach bum. Venus keeps no secrets. What of it?
The ones she shares with bums like me are these:
The sea moves much less after nightfall, because that is the time of Moons, and there is everything to dance to.
Spirits of the day ride rainbows. Live for them. Never disappoint. Sure as your sunburnt nose.
The Irish Mermaid is the original surfer chick. But no one noticed.
Venus noticed. Sent me.
(This is also a little bit why the sea moves less at night, though it is just as spacey, and good for swimming, if you have the guts.)
The best seaweed is loosed by storms, only by storms, and it’s a telepathy thing.
And this time is the time when and where Mermaids and bums like me find the best restaurants. (Fishing for urchins and bottletops and trident shells and hammerhead oysters.)
Storms do not make for good surfing. This is when things of the deep feel brave enough to bight legs.
They will never bight mine. I love storms, in or out of the water. I am not an example to follow in this.
Phew, what a mouthful. Glad we got that off our chests!!!
There are plenty of secrets we don’t know of course.
Do dolphins really herd their women, like girls at a hotel entrance?
Do seals swim back and forth from the Poles?
Do mermaids exist at two places at once?
I do not know these things, or if I do you will have to second-guess me.
Everything Oceanside gets about, or doesn’t, or so it seems. Tides.
I’ve been surfing so long I sweat wax, my feet do hot dog bottom turns without thinking, or even looking.
Storms have a colour. For that you have to look. Is all.
Just as rain has a distinct smell. In both our worlds.
I’ve seen Tun Shells and Violet Floaties and Plagues of Starfish and Swarms of Desert Flies Swarm On Rocks On The Seaweed Shore. I’ve seen seadogs and sharks and stingrays and at least two types of gull, maybe three. I’ve felt Neptune knock me off my feet on one ride and then put me right again on the next one. I’ve had Venus save me from hundreds of reef collisions, and saved her back just as many times.
I’ve smelt colour and heard rainbows. I’ve danced on shallow reefs in the rain and pirouetted on the crests of storm waves whilst currents howled divine justice beneath. Way beneath. I’ve kissed an Irish Mermaid and had an all day barney with Neptune, only ending with bloody feet and cut pride. I’ve smuggled bars of sacred peat from South America to Jamaica. I’ve carried a traveller’s pack further than the lodges go. I’ve got secrets no one should have. Whilst Venus confiscated all mine. I’ve been stung by Venus and tricked by Venus and had dreams stolen by Venus and then given back by Venus. I’ve been so low I saw skulls at the bottom of shipwrecks, and so high and frightened I grew wings and escaped the Furies. I’ve had tea with every Nerid in every harbour and weed break that was within my means to reach. I’ve seen God in the West Australian Winter Skies and felt ordinary just like everybody else.
Yet there is just one more priceless piece of gossip.
Atlantis, by the way, is down and out and to be found mid Indian Ocean, just throw a dart at the map. I’ve never been there. I think the Mermaid has.
Oracle. It will be found. But not by me.
Around July, 1996
Robert Ellery Phillips