subtle crushes and overt idiocy on the beach. photo taken by anna d.
by judge russell
July 19 2020
The long line of single filestreetlights that followed the perimeter of the beach shut off around 11. I had a quick thought that this must happen every night. I was devouring a whole bag of jamón flavored Ruffles chips and 1.5L bottle of tinto de verano on the shore with a bit of shame next to O. Shame because I brought these to share, and he wasn't interested at all. He probably ate healthily. O had an air of cool about him. Conversation felt thoughtful -- he listened to me spiel for as long as I needed, and would reply in his deep, soft, city-affected voice. He had dark eyes that held mine carefully at times, but right now they were focused on the dark waves coming in from the black horizon.
"Did you see that one?" he exclaimed, "That was huge!"
I hadn't, because in that moment I realized while his body was turned perpendicular to the shore, mine was looking straight at him. I adjusted myself to watch the water.
"Nah, I didn't. I gotta catch the next one," I replied, sticking my hand once again into the bag of chips.
"But I've got to say, to me these are pretty small-- I wonder what they're like on the Atlantic coast."
"Oh, but this is way cooler than anything you can see on Lake Michigan."
"I guess so-- that's crazy you're from Chicago."
"Well, to me it is."
I took a swig from the comically large bottle. The overwhelming amount of salt in the chips and the sugar in the wine exacerbated some sort of cut on my tongue, and every bite and sip came with an aspect of pain. But the munchies made me eat, and the salt made me drink. And that's the the story of ingesting one thousand calories at Playa Malvarrosa late one February night.
That might have been the last time I saw O. We passed the night sitting in the sand, talking about our girlfriends back home, shitty jobs we had, and Dwarf Fortress and Jason Rohrer games. We were friends from class, but he dropped Spanish when his engineering courses picked up, and his absence left the class without motivation. I was happy to be there though, on the beach, next to him. Getting to his apartment had been a long journey and I needed some respite. He lived just a few blocks from the sea, in Cabanyal, which was about 40 minutes walking from my flat. At that time I was losing my long battle against Yoigo and they had taken away my phone service since I'd forgot to pay the bill. Without a Wi-fi hotspot I couldn't reach him, so I asked him for his apartment number so I could ring the bell.
Walking there, the city was rather calm. I had no classes on Fridays, so I treated Thursdays as if they were Fridays, and was always shocked when the real world wasn't as carefree as I was. The only people out were teen lovers making out in empty squares, and old couples picking up their dogs' shit. At one point I stopped to take a photo of a beautiful old apartment building, illuminated by the orange glow of a streetlight, and saw a denizen of the neighborhood watch me from his balcony. He didn't say anything, but I could hear "fucking tourist!" loud and clear.
When I showed up at O's building I looked at the buttons by the door. There were 8 unlabeled buttons, as well as a telephone-style keypad. I hit 6, for apartment 6, on the keypad and nothing happened. I then tried pound 6 and star 6. Then I looked at the unlabeled buttons, arranged in a single column. I hit 6th from the top, then 6th from the bottom, and then both. Again. Nothing.
I hopped over to the other side of the narrow street and peered up. A few rooms had their lights on, and I imagined which one could be his. Would he have colored string lights? Or would his kitchen be bathed in that white overhead lighting? I decided I did not know him well enough to make that judgement.
"If only this street was wider," I thought. "Then I could walk far away enough so that he could see me."
I paced around the neighborhood, fruitlessly searching for a Wi-fi network without a password. I resolved to ask someone in my proficient but unconfident Spanish for help. I passed an Arabic grocery store and went inside. From the doorway I asked,
"Do you have a Wi-fi network?".
The man inside replied, "No but you can use the hotspot on my phone."
He swiped open his phone and went to the settings.
"Oh, I don't know the password for it."
I've worked IT jobs, but I was a bit too unfamiliar with Android OSes to go messing with a stranger's phone. I told him,
"Oh don't worry, that's too complicated, thank you."
To which he responded,
"What do you need to do?"
"My friend lives in that building over there," I point through the alley I took to arrive here, "and his doorbell is broken, I have to message him."
The storeowner kindly replied, "Well call him with my phone, then."
I take his phone in my hands to dial the number.
"Do you have Whatsapp? My friend still has a US number," I said with a nervous laugh.
"Yes, yes," he said, motioning to the icon, "You are from the US?"
"Yes, I live in Massachusetts, but I am in Valencia for school."
"My brother lives in Michigan."
"Oh I've never been,. but my friend studies there."
I added Oscar's number as a contact in Whatsapp and hit call. A sharp, robotic woman's voice comes from the other end.
"This call cannot be made -- "
"What!?" interrupted the man.
"Oh, I'm sorry, I think I typed the number wrong. ... " My hands started to sweat.
"You made a call to the US with my phone!? What are you crazy!?"
"No, no, no," I stammer, "The call didn't go through."
"Let's see about that."
He texted his provider and an automated text shot back.
"0 euros in my account balance! Look!" He waved the phone in my face. I couldn't read the words.
"... I'm sorry," I said meekly.
"I'm sorry? Get out of my store! Fucking crazy kid! Get out!"
and I booked it.
So I was happy to be with O. I felt a kind of romantic attraction to him then, but I never brought it up. It didn't seem smart. He was a straight-shot kind of guy-- dating his highschool sweetheart, studying engineering, lord knows he'd never eat a whole bag of jamón flavored chips in one sitting. His phone sat in my contacts undisturbed, marred by the memory, until the day all us Americans up and left when they started closing borders.