The one agreeable ship on the horizon is a cargo freighter, its leaden silhouette gaining color as the sun dials upward. The bulwark is a rusty red, the upper parts gray. Because it’s the safest boat one mile out, there are a number of sail-ships surrounding it, small flecks of triangular light—near fifty—rounding its bulk and flashing white. It’s a beautiful day, and despite a surf advisory, both low and high tide still remain within reason. Cayde mounts the surf, immune to the cold, and gets his shoulders wet, eventually his hair
I count: there are three amphibious landing vessels, two destroyers, and a single cruiser also marking the horizon. They’re in a particular tetris. Some are aft-forward, others remain parallel to the shore.
You forget, sometimes, this is a military town; rather you forget that it’s actively military.
The coastal architecture is usually a line of staid ships, anchored and matte gray: an unmoving buttress, typically. The ships almost count as a line of vacant tenement buildings. In other cities there are the gantry cranes and freight containers all robotically alive, factual even, in the heft and physics of industry.
The San Diego Embarcadero, meanwhile, features a series of moored carriers and cruisers. In between are museums to the fact of retired carriers and motionless battleships–empty conning towers and stopped radar dishes.
There are so many antennae on point. The pelicans, contrarily, float a lazy line, catching the draughts. They else circle upwards on the thermals.
Cayde is excited that we’re going to the beach, more so a beach where there is an actual shipwreck. A shipwreck!
The El Nino has stripped the Coronado Shores of sand, and with the vernal equinox having just passed, the white and daytime moon pulls the water back like a neatly- peeled bed sheet. The tides are recessive and revealing.
The remains of a gambling boat appear, the barge a now shipwrecked thing buried in the sand, trefoil in shape, all patina and barnacle. Red algae furs the hull. When standing on the bow, Cayde points a hundred feet west out into the water, and there’s the prow’s figurehead barely cresting the waves, tangled in sea grass and an eddying foam.
This was a Prohibition boat, liquor and loose petticoats. You used to dodge the law by leaving land and taking your vices toward the horizon. There were no handcuffs, no anchors.
We’re on the beach with friends. We stash a bottle of Grigio and a bomber of IPA beneath the stroller and shield the bounty with a towel. Alcohol on the beach is still illegal here. Sand clings to the bottles’ hips, making Braille of the perspiration. On the horizon and swiftly travelling north, an aircraft carrier passes the Point.
I say to myself: this is all an exercise.
The sailboats stay out of the way, still circling the freighter moth-like. Small ships circle big ships, a curious reaffirmation of molecules and how things are held together.
We’ve set up a canvas teepee for Finn as sunshade, and Jenn’s whimsically decorated it with seagrass, dried to a leathery crepe; also ropes of kelp. Seashells and ocean-polished rock comprise a walkway, and the ‘front yard’ is littered with plastic toys. Finn putters on the beach, thankfully no longer eating the sand as he did when he was two, when his mouth would be ringed in dirt that was both dark and sparkly at once. Putter-putt-putt.
His teepee is a curious homage to this particular beach. We’re south of the Hotel Del Coronado, made a National Historic Landmark the year I was born. When John Spreckels owned the hotel a century ago, a tent city sprung up along the shoreline, a series of either thatched or striped affairs furnished with beds and rocking chairs, washstands, linen and lamps. There was a provisional theater; a reputable steakhouse serving twenty-five cent rib-eyes; a menagerie of ostriches, monkeys, and seals. A diving horse performed four times a day.
Daily registers featured Pacific Steamship timetables as well as railway schedules.
At 12:45, after two hours of serving vague menace, the destroyers break position and travel in opposite directions. The amphibious vessels stay stubbornly in place. The cruiser is gone and I’ve never seen a carrier, in all its enormity, round the Point so quickly as to become disappeared. This is broad daylight and the sun is apparently a vaporizing thing.
Cayde and his friend Bear are exclaiming the shipwreck, constantly boomeranging its way, from towel to tide, with their feet making running slapping sounds in the slurried sand.
It’s boys being two-parts excited and one-part piratical, looking to conquer either which way.
They grandstand on the stern, Bear with his skinny white arms flexed and Cayde yawping and jumping into the surrounding puddles with resolutely flat feet. It’s as if they sank this boat themselves, their collective and boyish enthusiasm a victory flag.
(The gambling-boat is, meanwhile, a century-gone thing, a relic greenly bronzed and stuck in mud. An old man resting in a sandy mausoleum).
Jenn is new-bodied, and she holds down her dress against the wind. She’s long-fingered like her Grandma—she actually wears her Grandma’s wedding rings seeing as they fit her better than the ones I granted her—and wears big sunglasses and a floppy hat. She shares a name with her friend: they’re Jenn and Jen. The lot of us weild red cups with varying amounts of spirit. Behind us are seven buildings, the buildings named after the shores they replace. They’re ‘Coronado Shores’, white buildings that beg a Miami comparison. They’re too tall and wouldn’t have been built were the Coastal Commission had been instated three years sooner.
I try and figure out why the buildings are angled as they are, silly dominoes that can maybe end in collapse given the right seismic push; I had my first kiss here, late in adolescence and late in the sand; earlier, Orville Redenbacher was lifted out of the whirlpool where he had expired and where he was found at 7 a.m., cold in the hot tub.
Coronado has its history: Frank L. Baum and Charles Lindbergh and Marilyn Monroe, Marilyn and her bare midriff in ‘Some Like it Hot.’ My first kiss here was nice, the later kisses nicer.
Finn runs out to the surf, then back. We make a game of not touching the water. He stomps the foam, runs a fast reverse. He laughs the same as when he was a few months old, the water touching his toes, him inhaling his laughter.
Cayde and Bear mount the shipwreck, and I run Finn back and forth. Jenn is pretty, her torso an upside-down fleur-de-lys.
I’m reading Hemingway, this story where Nick avoids sleep by writing somnambulistic narratives; it’s supposed to be wartime and Hemingway writes it like it’s all about stopped rifles, but really it’s about realizing you can’t always sleep, and how you make up things when you can’t sleep. Hemingway wrote this as a late-stage alcoholic, no sleep being a side effect of excess. Fitzgerald wrote something similar, so did Cheever. They were all swimmers. They all wrote about water. They all wrote about drowning.
(At one point, Hemingway emptied his lungs of air, deep into his liquor, and slipped off the back of his ship, Pilar; he remembered he had three sons, and, resurfaced, gasping)
Cayde makes his way to the prow, atop a ship. And the ships both go away and stay on the horizon. All these vessels at once.
The amphibious boats sit heavy, their bellies un-deployed, and the sailboats remain light and away, white flags upon white flags.
Cayde jumps up and down on the stern. You can’t tell it’s a stern.
“Take a picture!”
I do, the ship maybe buried and pointed north.