Read, Write, Repeat.

Essays, fiction, photos and nonsensical ramblings by Joel Zlotnik

Riding the Breeze

I lie in bed listening to the wind howling like an angry ghost. My window is cracked as usual – I like to fall asleep to the sounds of the nearby surf – and the breeze sends a chill through the room. The vertical blinds clack against each other reminding me of an out-of-rhythm tap dancer. I burrow into my pillow, shuffle my feet to secure them in the sheet and pull the blanket tight around my shoulders creating a bubble of a body heat.

If it were Monday, I might consider calling in sick and staying in my little cocoon. At the very least, I would be very late for work. Thankfully it’s Saturday morning and all I’m facing are trips to the grocery store, dry cleaner, drug store … all things I can just as easily do on Sunday. Except for the dry cleaner. He’s closed Sundays. But I perform a mental inventory of my closet and I’m pretty sure I have at least one clean shirt and pair of slacks from which I can squeeze out one more wear. So I m

ake the decision to stay inside and I silently lie to myself and agree that I’ll get out of the house twenty minutes early on Monday and stop at the drycleaners before work.

I fight the need to pee and fall back asleep.

I’m not sure how long I’m out before the clacking blinds, which sound like they’ve found a dancing partner, wake me again. The urge to pee returns. This time mind over bladder fails. I burst my heat-sealed bubble, grab my robe and head for the bathroom. My cat says good morning and struts figure-eights between my chilly legs as pee sends ripples through the toilet.

Coffee is next. My first view of the day reveals shades of gray, the darker ocean meeting the dark sky at the line of the horizon. The only thing breaking it up are the wind-driven white caps – white horses as the British call them – as they bob in the distance.

I toss yesterday’s coffee filter and its contents into the trash, empty the half-cup or so that’s left in the pot into the sink and then wash it, which I obviously didn’t have time to do rushing out Friday morning.

I unfurl the foil bag of Peet’s Coffee and the richness hits my nose, starting to wake me. Fresh filter, four scoops, pour the water, fire her up. As the machine gurgles to life, I get a better look at the day. Dark and stormy comes to mind and I smile wondering if anyone could ever get away with that description in print.

It’s nearly 11 a.m. and the wooden pier, sticking like a finger into the ocean, is deserted. Were it not for the dark and stormy weather (wonder if I can get away with it twice?) the pier would be a Saturday morning hive, buzzing with joggers and strollers and those waddling off their bottomless mimosa brunches from the overpriced restaurant at its base. Of course, from my window they look like toy soldiers and I have no way of hearing them bitch about how expensive brunch was, but I know.

The view does remind me of a battlefield, a colorless one. Today’s warriors, nature vs. nature.

The waves are unrelenting, slamming into the wooden pier pilings like battering rams, sending explosions of liquid shrapnel into the air. The surf pounds the shore, jabs and body blows to a cowering boxer who covers his head for dear life and prays for the sound of a bell that never comes. There is no ebb, only flow and yet somehow as hard as the sand tries to hang on it gets pulled deeper and deeper into the ocean, a baby ripped from its mother’s arms.

The coffee maker wheezes and hisses its grand finale. I pour myself a steaming cup and swirl in some fat-free French vanilla
Coffee Mate, watching the brew go from black to milk chocolate.

I’m startled by a palm frond plummeting from the sky past my window and I hear it smack to the ground. This must be a little like actual war. One minute you’re enjoying your morning coffee in your tent and the next minute a whistling from above sends you running for a foxhole screaming INCOMING as loud as you possibly can.

I crack the kitchen window a blast of cold air shoots through the room sending yesterday’s newspaper flying off the counter and onto the floor.

The lifeguard tower on the middle of the pier is flying the American flag and right below it is a red flag, signifying dangerous surfing conditions. It might as well be a white surrender flag. The wind is blowing so hard the flags don’t appear to be moving at all, frozen in their misery.

It’s painful to watch the palm trees. The towering skinny ones look like frail old men with wild hair trying to walk upwind in a hurricane. Their spines bent so far backward surely they’ll snap rendering them paralyzed at any second. The shorter, thicker trees with wider crowns stand strong, their fronds though shake like a cheerleader’s pom-poms. And because the palm fronds litter the ground like a war-torn city, the cheerleaders are too weak to keep their grasp firm.

And then there are the birds. A pelican flock screams past my window, a cannon shot from the bow. They are defiant and strong. And I’ll be damned if they don’t look like they are having the time of their life. I can’t see their faces, but I imagine they’re smiling; cartoonish smiles, the way a six-year-old would finger-paint a smile on a bright yellow sun.

A band of seagulls soar into the wind from the opposite direction of the pelicans riding the bullet train. Their wings are still, floating without effort like a hot-air balloon on a sunset ride.

The birds pay no attention to the tall old men about to snap in two and they could care less about the sand being kidnapped by the sea.

One of the seagulls hovering in the breeze tilts a wing, turns its head and is whipped through the air. I imagine it’s the same feeling I get when reaching that first peak of a roller coaster before screaming in delight as my breath is taken away by the drop. I can hear that gull yelling WOOOOHOOOOO! Another one, probably his pesky little brother follows. Seagull see, seagull do. A third follows suit.

Back before I was tall enough to ride a roller coaster, I lived in Chicago. I don’t remember much of the first two years I spent in elementary school year. But one thing forever imprinted in mind are those dark and snowy mornings when I would sit in the kitchen, a pesky little brother, listening to the radio as they read the list of schools that would be closed for the day. The Super Lotto drawing for the young and geographically challenged. The anticipation mounted as the announcer read the list. I’m pretty sure there was a lot of bouncing around. Please, please, please, please, please be on there. And then bam, Lincoln High, Rutledge Hall, Todd Hall.


Today is a snow day for the birds. I don’t ever remember my dad staying home for a snow day. Probably a big part of the reason he moved us all to San Diego. I guess that kind of makes him one of those pier pilings.

The waves don’t stop but I turn my attention from the water to the sky where the aerial ballet of wings continues. I drink my coffee and smile as another flock sails by slowly, like Charlie and Grandpa Joe in Willy Wonka’s Fizzy Lifting room … defiant, triumphant, happily riding the breeze.

Joel Zlotnik • October 20, 2014

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