Saturday, June 11, 2005

Small Town Boys - Chapter 6

A Day at the Beach – 1992

The first really warm Sunday came at the end of March. Donny had never been to the beach. Eric was up in Pasadena for the day at his dad’s birthday party, and Rob was working. He found a pair of cut-offs and a BGSU shirt and checked the city street map on the easiest way to get to Venice Beach.

He wedged his truck into a tight spot a couple of blocks from the beach between a beat-up Volvo and a dusty Cadillac. The streets were narrow and the houses were slightly ramshackle, some painted in vivid colors. There were little shops and stores selling tourist and beach stuff, and he could smell barbecue smoke from a nearby restaurant. He crossed the wide street and sidewalk to the sand. Rollerbladers and joggers went by. It was hazy and the breeze coming off the ocean was cool and smelled of dead fish. The sand was gray and looked slightly sooty. His sneakers sank into it, so he kicked them off and carried them.

There weren’t a lot of people on the beach. It was still early and most of the activity seemed to be back on the street. A couple of hundred yards to the south some people had a volleyball game going over a swaybacked net, and here and there some families had set up camp with little kids running around with pails and shovels. One of the lifeguard stations – just like the ones he’d seen on Baywatch – was down past the volleyball players. The flag fluttered listlessly. He dropped his towel, shoes, and knapsack on the sand, sat down, and lit a cigarette.

So this is California, he thought. So far he hadn’t been incredibly impressed. He wasn’t sure what to expect when he arrived, but for all that he could see, it wasn’t that much different than being back home – just a lot bigger, with more traffic, and the weather was nicer. He liked the people he’d met so far, but most of them were from someplace else, or their parents were. Now and then he had to remind himself that he was living in Los Angeles – when stories came on the news about the city or TV shows did exterior shots, he felt a bit of a shock when he recognized the locales. He had even seen some movie stars. He and Eric had stood behind Martin Sheen in a supermarket. He’d sat next to Mariette Hartley in the waiting room of the Sears Tire and Battery shop when he was getting a flat fixed. Mark Harmon had cut him off in traffic on Los Feliz Boulevard when he was going to drop off some parts at a place up near Griffith Park. It was interesting at first, but then he realized that they were just people with jobs in the main industry here. They drove regular cars with regular license plates and shopped at Ralph’s, too, and after those first few encounters, Donny forgot about them.

The sun came out from a cloud, and Donny pulled off his shirt. He’d joined the little gym downstairs from the office, and though he hadn’t lifted weights since high school, he’d gotten back some of the strength and tone he’d lost over the winter. He smeared on some Coppertone and leaned back on his elbows. He decided that this was nice – back in Ohio it would still be freezing and gray, and he didn’t miss that. So it wasn’t exactly the golden sands the Beach Boys sang about; it was still pretty good. I could get to like this, he thought. After a while he got up and strolled down to the edge of the water and watched the waves roll in. Some kid was out on a surfboard, but the waves weren’t very high, so all he could do was wait for the occasional bigger wave to come along and paddle along with it. He went back to his towel, lay down, pulled his Detroit Tigers cap over his face, and dozed off.

He woke up slowly and sat up. The beach was more crowded, and the sun was getting hotter. He put on more sunscreen, feeling his skin tingling slightly. He was hungry, too. There was a hot dog cart back by the street. He bought two hot dogs, a bag of chips, and a Coke and ate them slowly, watching the people go by. Some of the men were pretty good looking, he decided as he watched a couple of body-builders stroll by. It reminded him vaguely of the fact that this was a place where it was no shame to be gay – in fact, some of the tourist guides made a point of that, highlighting some of the gay sections of the beaches. He didn’t know where they were. This didn’t appear to be one of them – there were too many families and male-female couples on this stretch. Nevertheless, he looked around and noticed quite a few well-built men running, playing, sleeping, and swimming. Not bad, Donny thought. I could get to like this, too. He shook out his towel, and thought about hiking up the beach just to see what was up that way. He lit a cigarette.

“Excuse me, could I bum one of those?” said someone. Donny turned around to see a guy sitting about twenty feet away from him in a folding beach chair. He was wearing sunglasses, a Dodgers cap, and a blue Speedo. He plucked off his headphones and Donny could hear muted jazz from them.

“Sure,” Donny replied, shaking the Camels pack. He gave him a quick appraising glance: thirty or so, blond hair sticking out from under the cap, body in good shape, with wide shoulders, nice pecs, and veined arms. He wasn’t like some of the body builders that had gone by, but well built enough that wearing a Speedo wasn’t a crime.

“Thanks,” he said. Donny handed him his lighter.

“No problem.” Donny finished collecting his things.

“Heading out?”

“Oh, just thought I’d take a walk up the beach… see what’s up there.”

“If you want, you can leave your stuff. I’ll keep an eye on it.”

Donny shrugged. “Okay. Thanks.”

“No problem.” He put the headphones back on and closed his eyes.

Donny walked up the beach along the edge of the water, every so often splashing through the waves. It looked pretty much the same all the way, just different crowds here and there, different music blaring from the radios and shops. Far off in the distance he could see the Santa Monica pier. He tossed an errant Frisbee back to the teens that had launched it in his direction, and headed back.

The guy was still there, his headphones off, drinking Gatorade. “How was the walk?”

“Good. Nice beach.”

“You really want to see nice, you should head up to Malibu. That’s really a great beach. But it’s hard to find a parking place, and they charge you for everything. I like it here.”

“Yeah, it’s nice,” Donny said again. He looked at it his watch.

“Gotta be someplace?”

“No, just checking.”

“Have a seat.” He held out his hand. “I’m Mike.”

Donny shook it. “Donny.”

“Out here for a visit?”

“No, I live here.”

“Yeah, where?”

“Culver City.”

“Oh. I noticed the Bowling Green shirt. I thought maybe you were a tourist.”

“Well, I’m from Ohio, but I live here now.”

“No kidding. How long?”

“Couple of months.”

“How do you like it?”

“Pretty good.”

“What do you do?”

“Work for a computer company.”

“Oh, cool. So you’re not in the business.”

“The business?”

“Show business. Movies, TV…”

Donny laughed. “Oh, no, not me. No, I’m just … I’m just a guy who didn’t like the cold and came out here to visit my relatives and the next thing you know, here I am.” Donny lit a cigarette and offered Mike one. He sat in the sand and absently made little piles as they talked. He found out that Mike was from Maple City, Michigan, he had gone to Michigan State for a couple of years, met some people doing summer stock theatre, and decided to see if he could make it out in Los Angeles. It had been rough for the first year or so, but he kept auditioning and meeting people, showing up at casting calls, got his SAG card, and finally got an agent to take him on. He’d done some TV shows and a movie of the week, made some commercials, and was now getting regular casting calls. Donny listened attentively. He also noticed that Mike was sending him subtle signals that he was coming on to him: he touched Donny’s shoulder once or twice to make a point, and he rested one hand on the bulge in his Speedo. Donny didn’t mind – in fact, he felt flattered, and did nothing to discourage him. So after an hour or so, when Mike suggested that they go get a beer, Donny agreed. He brushed off the sand and followed Mike back to the street.

“I’m parked down there,” Mike said.

“Me too.”

“Why don’t you just follow me?”


Mike’s house was about three miles away on a quiet street. It was a nicely trimmed ranch style, not a lot bigger from the street than the house Donny lived in, but the grounds were spotless, and the high privacy fence around back meant it had a pool. Donny parked in front while Mike pulled his BMW into the garage, and followed him in through the kitchen door. Mike went to the refrigerator and handed Donny a Rolling Rock. They went out to the sunroom. It was decorated in Southwest style, with O’Keeffe prints on the wall and clay pottery on the tables. They sat on the couch, drank their beers, and picked up from where they’d left off at Venice Beach.

Chapter Guide



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