Overheard: Ocean Beach, San Francisco, CA

"Aw, fuck!"

I had a day off from the Obama re-election campaign, and I was out for some fun. I had gone to Ocean Beach in San Francisco and, after surveying the options, I spread my beach towel behind and a little to the left of two figures sprawled on side-by-side beach chairs under a garishly colored umbrella, toes in the sand. Both were reading newspapers. Between them sat a styrofoam ice chest, lid open, bottles of beer sticking jauntily up at every angle. I never saw their faces, just the tops of the backs of their heads. The one on the left had gray-blond hair, thinning a little on the top; the other was completely bald, partly by nature and partly by shaving. I guessed they were in their 50s or 60s, from the glimpses of their hands and their very pale legs that I got. They looked like they'd be quiet and wouldn't interfere with my enjoyment of the novel I'd brought along. Then the man on my right upset his bottle of beer head-first into the sand and dropped a very loud F-bomb.

"Don't you go using language like that under MY umbrella, young man!" The man on my left pointed a slender, well-manicured finger at his companion.

"What ... English?"

"That's right. You're in California now; speak Spanish like everyone else!"

They laughed together, as if at an old private joke of some sort, one that must have been funnier than the superficial gag sounded. The bald man on the right reached into the ice chest and pulled out another bottle of Corona.

"Mass ta-KILL-ya, seen or it a, pour FA-vour!" he said.

That had to be the worst pronunciation of Spanish I'd ever heard. Worse than Loz Angelees. Worse than La Joll-a (like Jolly instead of HOY-a). Worse than El Pol-lo (should be POY-o) Loco. Worse even than shortening San Francisco into the ugly, congealed-sounding Frisco. But the voices were British, so I guess I had to let it slide.

"Oh god, he's gone all Welsh on me again." His voice changed into something that sounded incredibly cartoony. "We 'avent got any to-KEEEEL-yer, we were looky to get tha bee-ya onto tha beech!"

"Please, Richie," said the man on the right, "just calm down and enjoy the scenery."

"Try and stop me! Look at all these cracking birds! Phwoooar! All those bristols flapping about the place!"

I wondered what any of this had to do with the seagulls and other feathered critters circling the beach. If he wanted cracking birds, I thought, he should have gone into the forest to look for woodpeckers. I also wondered how the daughter of the Alaskan governor entered into this -- the one who had a baby when she was 17. I didn't see even one person who looked like Bristol Palin, let alone "all those Bristols." Or was Bristol another kind of bird?

"Richie, stop playing with your knob in public. You'll get us deported!"

I wondered what kind of knob he was playing with – door knob? Gear shift knob? Bedknob? – and why playing with it was so offensive.

"Can't help it, it's just the sun and the sand and the surf and the sex! Oooo-er, more sex than you can shake a stick at here!"

The man on the right tipped up his bottle and drained it all in one gulp. The bottle was tossed into a nearby recycling bin, and he opened another in the same motion.

"Eddie," the man on the left said hesitantly.

"What is it?"

"Are you sure you want to do this?"


"Well, why?"

"I just think it's time. I met someone I want to spend my life with, and I'm not getting any younger."

"Well, neither am I!" Richie, the man on the left, seemed half ready to cry. "But, I just thought ... it would be different somehow."

"You mean you thought you'd be the bride."

Whoa. This just got a hell of a lot more interesting than the so-called classic novel I'd brought with me.

"Well ... no, I never imagined they'd like a couple of chaps marry each other ... not officially." Richie's voice trailed off, and he seemed to swipe at his eyes with his left hand. "Or that we'd be here when it happened."

"And I never thought you'd propose to me the same day I proposed to your cousin – in FRONT of your cousin!"

"She thought I was joking."

"She thought you were ready to be institutionalized!"

"Don't be silly, she works in one of those places. I think she knows the difference between someone making an honest mistake and someone who's clinically insane –"

"Like you," Eddie finished.

"The knowledge isn't passed on by injection, or blood draw –" I wanted to scrub my brain free of that image – "so don't pretend you know anything about it, Edward Hitler."

"Oh, shut your fat gob, you tit! Even if I were gay I wouldn't pick you for a partner. Yakkety bloody yak! Day in and day out! Slime in this ear! Slime in that ear!"

"Good thing I was aware you are a complete bastard, or I might be hurt by that. I feel sorry for my cousin, but she's a grown woman, she'll have to find out what you're really like for herself."

Eddie emptied another bottle and smashed it over Richie's head.

"No, Eddie, don't! Remember, we're in America!"

"So what? All the police are probably down in the Tenderloin chasing gang members."

That was true enough. They were silent, and I tried to go back to my book.

"Eddie, you know ... I can't change the way I am. I love women, but ... well, it doesn't stop there, does it? We've been together so long ... platonically. We're intimate in every other way, but ... it's just not enough for me anymore. I tried to change; it just gets worse."

"I accept that, Richie. Believe it or not. But ... well, I can't change the way I am. Men just don't do it for me. Men, Richie, not just you. It's nothing personal. You need to accept that."

"Please, Eddie, just once. Just to see what it's like."


I reached for my cell phone and prepared to dial 911. It seemed about to get very ugly. Then Eddie spoke again, much more calmly.

"Look, Richie, you've got a whole world full of beautiful women and blokes who ... well, like it up the arse – more than most people have to choose from -- so why lock yourself up and pine away for a bastard like me?"

"You make a lot of sense, Eddie."

"Thank you."

"That frightens me."

They both laughed.

"Hand us a beer, Eddie, would you?"

"Certainly, Richie."

A shadow fell across my book: another member of the campaign team. I sat up and started talking to him. He urged me to join him and some of his friends a ways away. I had a good afternoon – but when I looked back down the beach to where I'd begun the day, the two Englishmen were gone.