The Pacific Ocean is four blocks from my house. I can see it right now, looking out my office window in the upstairs of my house. It’s blue, and, true to the Spanish version of its name – which is also its actual name – it is calm.
For claustrophobics like myself, Los Angeles’ open “Fourth Wall” on its western boundary is an easeful relief, an elbow-rooming exhale, in contrast to the suffocating confinement of the urban East. I can relax at the ocean. I have a ready escape route.
The ocean is also a reassuring “Force of Nature.” (I like to think of myself as a “Force of Nature” as well, but in a smaller package. So I identify.) The ocean has been around and has seen it all. On many past occasions, when inner turmoil threatened to overwhelm me, I would take myself to the ocean, and be soothed by its comforting eternality. My problems are transitory, it reminds me without saying a word. The ocean is forever.
Surprisingly, I do not get down to the ocean that often. As I said, we live four blocks away. However, as the great writer Bruce Jay Friedman once wrote, comparing a condo he occupied on Malibu beach, for some reason if you’re not living directly on the beach, you might as well be living in Nebraska.
It’s really close. But you don’t go. It feels like it’s too hard. There’s a hill, there’s lights, there’s traffic. But it may be because it’s too easy. The ocean’s not going anywhere. What’s the rush?
I do go sometimes. Yom Kippur, when I’m fasting, after a “long-enough” visit to the synagogue, I buy a magazine or a newspaper, I head for the beach, find a free bench facing the water, and I set myself down, to rest and relax. And not go home, where they’re cooking the “fast-breaking” dinner, and the insinuating aromas threaten my resistance not to eat.
Sometime, I ask the ocean if it thinks I’ve been inscribed in the “Book of Life” for another year, and the ocean – who knows – remains Mum. Reminding me in its silence that the matter is out of my control. Though I could have stayed in synagogue a little longer.
I also, on occasion, go down to the concreted beachside path to walk. I never wear headphones. I like to hear what’s going on. Also, when I’m crossing the bike path, lacking great peripheral vision, I need the aural evidence of approaching peddlers to keep this perambulating gentleman from being bicycled into the pavement.
Last Saturday, tiring of treadmilling to nowhere, as is my habit as I listen to “Books- On-Tape, the most recent one being a biography of Calvin Coolidge, I decided to face the challenge of the four-block obstacle and I headed for the ocean.
And I’m walking along, singing a song. That’s not just a rhyming sentence. In lieu of an i-Pod, I sing to myself. I am my own personal playlist. And I am delighted with every selection.
The ocean on my right as I head south towards Venice pier. Suddenly from behind, but relatively closely behind, I hear a male voice speaking with military insistence, shouting,
“WALKER! ON THE RIGHT!”
This is followed by a series of repetitions echoing with diminishing volume backwards into the distance.
“WALKER! ON THE RIGHT!” “Walker! On the right!” “Walker! On the right!” “Walker! On the right!”
“Walker on the right.” What, I wondered could that mean? It sounded like some kind of a warning. But what? Was there a person with a walker that needed to be avoided? Was it “Walker: Texas Ranger” and this was an unexpected ”Celebrity spotting”? What exactly was going on? And who was barking out those orders?
Then, as I turn my head, I see a squadron of maybe thirty runners (who I subsequently learn are preparing for the “L.A. Marathon” eight months away) passing me on my left, their leader alerting them, as he would do later concerning water on the ground and a big dog on an extended leash. In this case, the impediment he was alerting them to
I was the walker on the right.
To be honest, I did not enjoy being “Walker! On the right!” I felt somehow diminished, a total stranger having taken the measure of my disciplined efforts to remain in shape and found them pathetically insufficient.
Walker on the right.
Runners on the left.
“Hey! I’d walked all the way down here, Pal!”
Only to hear
“Dawdler! On the right!”
“Decrepit person! On the right!”
“Person who thinks they’re exercising but come on who are we kidding? On the right!”
This never happens when I’m on the treadmill. On the treadmill, I feel vindicated. I am getting my work in. I am exercising my heart.
I am doing the same thing out here. How dare they insult me with their
“Walker! On the Right!”
I turn to the ocean to back me up.
The ocean silently goes in… and it goes out.
Making me realize that I may be over-reacting.