I worked like a dog for that company for eight years and what happened?
They fired me.
Bright side? Nice severance package. So screw it. Instead of diving right back into the overcrowded pool of job hunters, I decided to take it easy for a while. I deserved it; I'd barely taken a day off for the last eight years, so I was going to take that package and use it to fund a long, lazy summer vacation to make up for all the spring breaks I never got and all the summers I'd worked through while growing up in Ithaca, New York.
Don't get me wrong, I loved Ithaca. I was born there, it was beautiful, and I didn't think I could leave permanently. I had spent too many summers swimming in Cayuga Lake, too many winters sledding with friends. I had my problems here and there, but mostly I had only good memories. I just needed a change.
When I was growing up, we vacationed in North Carolina, where my mom's parents lived. That was where I first surfed; yes, people can surf on the East Coast. They surprised me by moving to North Carolina after my dad retired. I liked North Carolina well enough, but Ithaca was home and I'd been my job for a few years. My parents thought about selling our house, but when my apartment building decided to go condo and I couldn't afford it, they offered to rent it to me.
My situation was pretty much ideal. I had a great house at a low rent, a girlfriend, a decent job and friends to hang with in my free time. The first crack in all of that was losing my job. Soon after that, my girlfriend, Penny, and I started arguing a lot. I noticed a passive-aggressive streak in her I hadn't before. It started to drive me crazy.
I needed to go somewhere else for a while, just for a change.
I wasn't sure what to do until one day I got call from Manny, whom I'd known since high school. He'd gone out to California right after we graduated from Ithaca College and said he wasn't coming back east of the Mississippi even if his dad died. So far he'd stuck to his vow, but so far his dad was the picture of health.
Manny had done well out there. He had a decent job working for a cable company, a girlfriend, and a spare room which he offered to let me use. I figured why not? I'd always wanted to visit California. Even Penny said the time apart would do us good. With the package from my company, I could take a vacation at my own pace, the whole summer and more. And who didn't want to surf off the California coast?
I flew out and spent the first few days settling in. Manny knew a guy who knew a guy and got me a good deal on a used car so I could get around on my own. I was a little homesick at first and in every comparison I made with Ithaca, California fell short. I figured I just needed a little more time to get used to things and decided to give California a chance.
At the end of my second week in the Golden State, Manny came in from work.
"Hey, man. How's the grind?" I laughed at his scowl.
"Shut up, Diz, you fucking freeloader." The words were mock-angry and Manny grinned at me.
"Not my fault if you're a slave to the Man."
"You got a lot of balls, saying stuff like that when you're staying in my house."
"At least I've got balls. Don't you worry about all those electrical lines shriveling yours up?"
"At least mine won't shrivel up from lack of use."
My turn to scowl—Manny had me there. He'd been going with a girl named Helena for the last few months. I was surprised to find she was a fair bit younger than Manny, but she was cool and we got along. She even offered to set me up with a friend of hers. I surprised no one more than myself when I said maybe another time, but it was the honest answer.
For the first time since I'd started working during high school, I had no obligations to anyone else. Well, I had some obligations to Manny, but that was cool. That was a matter of courtesy and friendship. No one wanted anything from me right now, not my parents, not a boss, not a girlfriend, and I loved it.
Manny went to his room and got changed. It was warm, so he threw on shorts and a t-shirt, which wasn't too different from what he'd worn to work—khakis and a cleaner t-shirt. But I knew how good it felt to make that switch from work to home, especially on Friday. Manny came back and grabbed a beer from the fridge.
"So, you want to hit the beach this weekend?" he asked.
"You bet. I can't believe I've been here all this time and I've only seen the beach, like, twice." That had been a letdown, but even without a boss or a girlfriend, there was stuff that needed my attention, like getting the car, buying groceries and other necessities. The weather hadn't been cooperative, either. Every time I'd been ready to hit the beach, there was rain. Not just showers that you could wait out; these were serious downpours that resulted in some flash flooding. Hell of a way to start a California summer.
This weekend had a better forecast of mostly sunny and warm, and I intended to make the most of it.
"A bunch of people are going to get together tomorrow," Manny said. "It's kind of a big pre-summer, pre-tourist-season party. We'll be in this place called King's Bay. It's perfect—gorgeous but never gets crowded."
"Don't let that get around." I took two beers out of the fridge and handed one to Manny. "If you've got a place like that, keep it to yourself. You probably shouldn't even have told me, but I promise to keep the secret."
Manny laughed. "Good man. Hey, maybe you'll even get laid. Wouldn't want those balls of yours to wither away."
"You are a jealous, jealous man, Manny. I have all this time and nothing to do with it, and you have to get up and haul your ass into an office every day."
"Vacations don't last, Diz. You'll have to haul your ass with the rest of us sooner or later." He grinned before taking a swig from his bottle.
I didn't have to do that yet, I reminded myself. Even after buying the car, I had enough money to go a few months without looking for a job—like I said, it was a nice severance package.
The truth was, I didn't really want to go back to an office. I mean, who does? We all go, and most of us don't mind, and we get along with some coworkers and tolerate the others. I bet a lot of people, including myself, all harbor dreams of going somewhere else, doing something totally different. Something that would have our parents rolling our eyes at how ridiculous we are, like chucking everything and moving across the country to California.
I wanted something different, something new and exciting. Don't we all?
We arrived at King's Bay on Saturday morning somewhere between nine and ten. It was the kind of day and place where keeping track of time just made no sense. Why limit your enjoyment, even by noting the time?
King's Bay was incredible. I'm no poet, but this place almost made me wish I was. The water was a cool dark blue out to the horizon. There were mountains to the north and the sun had risen behind them so that it hung bright and yellow in the sky. The sand was soft and white and warm and I could imagine rolling around in it with any number of the women who had shown up. I refused to let the reality of sand in awkward places intrude on my fantasy.
This was going to be a perfect day, I could feel it. Different, new and exciting.
Everyone brought something—food, soda, beer, wine, and some other more interesting things. Manny and I, both culinarily-challenged, brought rolls, chips and stuff to drink. Helena met us there and brought containers of fresh fruit. Introductions were made, to friends and friends of friends. I couldn't keep track of them all, but it didn't matter.
There were lots of women, and all beautiful. It must have been a law in California, at least on the beaches. I wasn't sure one-piece suits were allowed, either. Every woman I saw was in some sort of two-piece, usually a bikini. I did not complain.
Once everyone had some fuel in their system, all attention went to the water. Some people wanted to swim, but most of us wanted to do what everyone wants to do when they come to a California beach: surf.
My second purchase in California after the car had been a surfboard. I hadn't surfed in a long time and I knew I'd never be a pro, but I was going to take all this nice empty time and fill it up with riding waves.
I grabbed my board, strapped the leash around my ankle and headed out. The water was cold but felt great, and I didn't even care. I just wanted to get out to where those waves were.
I swam out a ways, lying on my board and letting the sounds and smells of the ocean wash over me. It had been ages—years—since I'd been to a beach, let alone had time to surf. I loved it.
After swimming out a while, I sat up and took a deep breath. The sky was clear and the water looked like it wanted to have some fun. I grinned, watching and waiting for a wave. Someone laughed and I turned to see who was out with me. A gorgeous woman with long dark hair sat on a board a few yards away. She looked over at me and when our eyes met I had a flash of vertigo, or thought I did.
"What's so funny?" I called over.
"Nothing. Just basking in the bliss of the perfect day." She closed her eyes and tilted her head back as though she was drinking in the sun.
.... There is more of this story ...