Cowboy

I tossed aside my New Yorker, straightened up, wiped the dandruff from my shoulder, and eased myself out of my luxury sedan, feeling obligated to talk to the man in the ten gallon hat. I closed and beeped the car, only to return for my alibi, the magazine.

A white van — shorter in length, but no less menacing than the ones normally full of bound, reluctant children — had been his foothold when I drove past, but now he had crept, unnoticed, to the beach.

I walked towards, waiting to fall into his line of sight. Hidden by the brim of his hat and the focus of his interest — the repetitive strumming of his guitar — I eventually stopped, a few feet past, and just stared at him until he looked up. We were the only two on the beach — and it seemed reasonable–no, to be expected–that we would have a conversation.

“Beautiful day. Hello. Oh yeah, very nice,” we both said.

Fully dressed in cowboy gear, Michael, a tan forty-something, wore light blue jeans tucked into shin-high brown leather boots, a flannel shirt and a ten gallon hat. Just a few weeks before, I had heard a story on NPR about efforts to salvage the songs cowboys use to sing to their herds. I wondered: where were the bovine snorlaxes that this man should be wooing to sleep?

Michael glanced down at his feet, and up the length of the beach. “You know this sand was brought in from the Bahamas?” he said.

“No,” I answered, smiling eagerly through the semi-opaque lenses of my brown sunglasses.

“Yeah, that’s what an officer — well, Miami-Dade, or Sheriff’s — some kind of official told me. And it’s sterilized too,” he continued, looking at me excitedly. “Bacteria free.”

“Really?” I asked, not so much a question but an expression of my surprise. I had never heard of bacteria free sand — never knew it was an issue, really.

Behind us, on the Rickenbacker Causeway, which connects Key Biscayne to I-95, high performance German automobiles mounted the bridge to the island and were flanked, perhaps, by the small Japanese cars of their children’s nannies.

Michael, alone on the beach, was out here playing guitar to no one, enjoying the day. “This is what I live for, days like this,” he said. Eventually, our mutual admiration turned apocalyptic, as we wondered at the eerily uneventful hurricane season of the past year.

“Something’s brewing,” Michael said. “Something that could wipe all of this out,” he gestured, swinging his arm 180 degrees, but missing me, thankfully.

Michael talked of six hundred foot waves, Indonesian disasters, and tsunamis making cross-atlantic journeys. He was a fan of the History Channel and other, he stammered, “educational programs,” I helped.

I was skeptical of his claim: a single, African born wave swimming across the pond to destroy sunny Florida? Michael was sure, though: “Oh yeah,” he said, breathy and self-assured.

Eventually, Michael got a call from his daughter–“Sorry Josh, I have to take this,”– and soon after left in his gleaming white van, the front windows rolled down, revealing that guy from the end of the Big Lebowski who wants some of that good Sarsaparilla, and the sounds of a classic rock station.

Now alone, I sat on the rock where Michael had once perched and read from my prop, got up, walked around, looked at the sea, read some more and wandered back to my car, stalling to look down at the magazine and up again at a car that had parked next to mine.

“Cold, cold,” I said to my hands, and went to go tutor the SAT.

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