New parents try to go on vacation - what could go wrong? Pt. 1
A fictional story not at all based on real life. Part one of two.
Note from the author
What follows is a story of a man - Hank - and his wife Helen, their baby son, and their dog Milt.
It is a story of conflict, family, and - in Hank’s opinion, though Helen would disagree - a wrongful accusation of somebody being a sex offender.
This story is most definitely NOT based on my life or the recent family vacation we took to Malibu. Not at all.
Also, this is PART ONE - I will be releasing PART TWO soon. Stay tuned.
The Three Arguments
We are at the beach on what has been billed a relaxing day. The tent has been put up to protect the baby and the dog and also Helen from the sun. Me? I lay in the heat.
I want to burn, to atone.
Also I tan well. I look about fifty percent more attractive with a nice tan on my face. This has been corroborated by many, refuted by none.
The waves crash onto the shore and I remember what a friend said recently at her father's funeral - our lives are but mere waves, rising out of the ocean, enjoying a brief time and having a laugh or two, and then returning back into the water from whence they came.
Such a short amount of time, the rise and fall of a single wave. And so much to do. I’m anxious just thinking about it.
But we are at the beach and we are relaxing, so I try to relax, which, it turns out, is much harder work than actually working.
There's a saying in Daoism, which is pronounced with a T or a D depending on how cool you are: "do nothing and everything gets done," which sure is a great way to live. If anyone asks you to explain or prove how that makes sense, you simply don't, as per the precept. A foolproof plan, if only one could believe it.
We are trying to relax and I am watching the waves that represent our brief stay on this earth rise and crash. Live and die.
The First Argument
Let’s back up. The day began as all family days do - with a plan. Where shall we go and when, what shall we bring and why. Upon which beach shall we lay the day away?
After a brief hello and how are you with the AirBnB hosts who own the backhouse with the view of the Pacific Ocean from the window that we are lucky enough to pay a cool $850 USD to inhabit for two days, we settle on the dog friendly Leo Carrillo State Beach.
A few notes from that exchange with the AirBnB hosts:
They seem nice. We don't ever get their names, or if we did I don't remember them.
It is difficult to ascertain how actually rich they are. They send mixed signals. They say they cannot afford to shop at most of the shops here in Malibu anymore. But also they own this property and are probably very wealthy. But they most likely think themselves poor in relation to their neighbors. This is the trap of wealth, probably, that no matter how much you have, you end up finding someone who has a little more, which of course makes you unhappy.
They like our dog, Milt, who plays with their puppy, no name given. The woman in the couple wonders if raising their puppy is harder than us raising our child. We laugh, though of course its an idiotic thing to say. Puppies are little animals that pee and poo and that's that. Babies are existential threats to everything you have ever known, a life changing explosion the likes of the Big Bang or when The Big Bang Theory was first released on CBS Television on Sept 24, 2007.
This last bit is important. Not about the hit TV show that ran for a total of 12 seasons, 279 episodes and changed the fate of America as we know it.
No, the part about the beach - that will prove important soon. Not yet, but soon.
We're on the road now, driving, when The First Argument takes place. Much like Passover has Four Questions, every fight between a married couple can be understood as consisting of Three Arguments.
In this case, the First Argument was simple: where to park.
A tradition as old as time, the debate of where we should leave our vehicle while we do whatever it is we came to do has puzzled couples through eternity. It's a perfect setup - you've got a clear power dynamic - one drives and one passenges - fought across a minefield of each person’s desperate need for control and tolerance of risk.
Parking Fights are of course a subset of Driving Fights, that most fertile soil for marital strife, where the arguments themselves are of little importance but, much like the way the first World War started even though no one wanted it to, there is precedent and there is ego and not a single country (person) is willing to back down.
Helen does often get upset at my driving. She calls it 'bad' driving, which is wrong.
The driving is not 'bad', it is simply 'risky'. I like to have fun when I’m driving. Sue me.
You know how they teach defensive driving in that strange cottage industry known as Driver's Ed courses? Well, I am more of an offensive driver. Not that I am going to try to hit anyone, nothing like that. But I drive with confidence. I know how bad this all sounds, but its not. I'm a good driver, seriously.
In Helen's defense, numerous other people have also said my driving is 'bad'. You know what else was criticized? The Wizard of Oz. The now classic film was called "a stinkeroo" by the New Yorker.
I too, in time, will have my comeuppance. I will become a cult classic of a driver, talked about by stoned teenagers in basements across the world.
My irritation with Helen’s driving is, though, about parking. Specifically, I get upset that Helen doesn't want to parallel park in spots that are clearly big enough to be parallel parked in.
Today’s argument, however, would not be fought on either of these fronts. Today’s argument was something new.
You see, reader, the beach we had chosen had a parking lot, but as we pulled in, we saw it was being blocked by a tall man in a red shirt holding a walkie talkie.
In Los Angeles, someone with a walkie talkie can only mean one thing: something is being filmed. In fact, if I was a criminal I would stage a film shoot so people would think that we were just doing film shoot stuff (note to editor: this may be the plot of Argo. If so, please remove this section).
Our suspicion is confirmed when we see in his hand a folded piece of paper with a schedule printed on it in the exact format as all schedules for film sets are printed - a four column spreadsheet with a list of the day's plans on it - what to shoot, where, and where the closest ambulance is in case shit goes sour.
Helen and I work in the film industry. It is in fact this very industry that we were trying to get away from when taking this vacation. But alas, when it comes to Los Angeles, you can never truly escape. Anywhere you look is a shoot, or a meeting, or the diner where they shot that scene from that one movie (Swingers, its somehow always Swingers).
The lines between fiction and reality blur here - everything is a set, a moment for a film, a narrative for a short story that one writes not even a few days after an event takes place.
We open our window and I ask "y'all shooting something here?" in the most casual, 'I belong here' voice I can. That's another byproduct of life in LA, at least for me (an actor and writer - you probably haven't heard of me so I won't go into more detail), is that you want everyone to think you belong. Because who knows - maybe Steven Spielberg is directing whatever is on this beach, and maybe he will hear the deep, dulcet tones of your voice coming through the walkie talkie and say "Hey, hey now wait a second. Who is that? That voice. I need that voice in my movie." And the next minute you're starring in a Spielberg flick, his next muse, and all is forever changed. Gone are the worries of parking and money and arguments because we'll be rich, rich and famous and we can buy a boat but not too big of a boat and - no. Stop it Hank. Focus up.
So there I am acting very cool and with it but for some strange reason, the tall dude says "yea, sorry we're shooting today, but you can still use the beach, you just need to park up on the PCH and walk down."
I say thank you and wait, just a second longer, to see if he follows with "Hey, hold on a second. I know this is crazy but um, our director, Steven - Steven Spielberg - he'd like to talk to you for a minute."
But that does not happen so we get back on the PCH and look for a spot to park.
Lauren (change this back to whatever the name of the woman is in the story - this is important so people know this is not about you and Lauren) was nervous about parking on Route 1 because she had seen a No Parking sign.
I try to reason with her - "but babe, look at all these other cars here on the street."
There were many cars and they were all on the street.
“What's the worst that could happen?,” I ask.
And she looks me dead in my eyes and says "my car gets towed."
I mean, she isn't wrong but also that is never going to happen. What are they gonna do, round up the Tow Boys and tow every single car that's parked here on the PCH? No. Never. Worst case we will get a ticket. I am about to say that I will pay for the ticket when I remember that when it comes to money, there is no me anymore, just us. I could pay, technically speaking, but it would be with our money, so we would pay, and there's not much power in a statement like that.
Alas. We are at a stalemate and the day has not even begun. "What can we do?", I say. "The parking law applies everywhere. Should we drive home to LA , park at our house and walk back to the beach? To be safe?"
She does not laugh. It was a cruel joke, as was her not laughing at it.
The ways we hurt one another are infinite, each of us vulnerable little flowers made entirely of kryptonite. Maybe this is why we love superheroes - they are our opposite - free from pain in all ways except maybe one. We humans on the other hand, we are superheroes inverted - full of pain in all ways except for one.
So what is that 'one'? Our anti-kryptonite? Love? Though I would hope so, I am not so sure.
I offer a solution: Let's go and bring all our shit down to the beach. Once we have unloaded the caravan of suntan lotions, tents, hats - all coverings from the sun which, ironically, is also the very reason we came to the beach - along with the many lil bags of lil snackies to prevent the temper tantrums that occur when the baby or I don't eat food; once all of that is safely on the beach, then I will march back to the car and see what's going on with the parking.
I feel manly when I say this. A patriarchal fire burns deep within me - I shall make sure the family is safe on the beach and then return to the horse to ensure its safety.
How funny would it be, I think as I walk back up from the beach and to the PCH, if horses had parking spots. "Hey, you there - you can’t park your horse there. Read the sign - horses can’t park in that spot on Wednesdays," I’d say, and then walk toward the horse and give it a good lil kick in the butt.
But I’m not laughing because, I realize, I am upset that I have to go up and check on the car in the first place.
What is this life of rules I have locked myself into? Where is the adventure, the risk? Will our entire vacation, nay our entire lives, be a continuation of this: anxiously fearing the world, never doing anything that might upset anyone?
As I walk up the stairs, my mind spirals. I wish the stairs were spiral stairs - that would make for a good image (note to editor: is it okay to make up spiral stairs here?).
Finally, after about twenty minutes of walking and brooding and obsessing over how I am going to lose forty minutes of fun because of this stupid walk, I reach the road and I see the sign.
Helen was right.
No, wait. Right below “No Parking” it says “from the hours of 10pm-5am”. We are fine. Just as I thought.
If I could bottle and sell the feeling of vindication, I’d be rich.
I walk back down to the beach and tell Helen, a subtext of "I told you so" so loud it might as well be text.
She says, "Well, now we can have fun and not be stressed."
To which I nod and agree, stressed out that all we do is make sure we are not stressed.
The rest of that first day is great, as far as I can remember. We enjoy life and laugh and watch our bundle of a baby experience sand for the first time. His lives every moment as if he’s on a strong dose of LSD, and we bask in the second hand joy. He is not yet ready for the ocean though, it scares him. For the first time he truly clings to me when I try to put him down, holding onto me for dear life.
If only things ended there. If only there were not two more arguments waiting for us.
The Second Argument
We wake up the next day with a view of the Pacific Ocean through our floor to ceiling window. If my family could see me now.
They will actually see me now, because I send them photos nearly every day of the baby.
We float through a morning of views and diapers and our dog Milt barking anytime we hug or high five - he mistakes the physical contact as aggression.
What does Milt know that we don't?
Standing outside watching our baby crawl through the grass, we see the AirBnB hosts, the people we’ve spoken to for a sum total of five minutes yet whose advice I trust more than my own family’s.
We tell them about the beach we went to yesterday - the dog beach, and they tell us that you can really go to any beach with a dog right now because it is March and no one is really tracking it. It's the off season. In June and July they clamp down, sure, but right now? Now is a free for all. Bring your dogs and go nuts.
We say thank you and head back into the house where The Second Argument shall begin.
I say the most sane thing based on the intel we’ve just collected: let's go to that super close beach.
To minimize travel and maximize fun. Efficient chaos.
Yesterday was great but involved a whole lot of moving about, to and fro, before any actual beach time could be enjoyed. Reminding Helen as if she wasn't there, I say "We had to park on the PCH like cavemen and walk all our shit down to the beach. We had to use stairs. STAIRS. I'm sorry Helen but that? That was the U word."
I say it jokingly but also seriously. The U word is what my dad calls "unacceptable," a term he only uses when talking to customer service reps from whom he would like a refund.
Helen disagrees and says, "but what if we can't have Milt there?"
To which I say "But they just told us we could bring dogs no problem."
"We already know everything about the other beach - where to park, where to go," she replies, basically making my point for me.
"Right so let's try this new one, if it sucks we'll go to the beach without parking," respond.
"It has parking normally, that was just yesterday with the film shoot and - " she explains, pleading with me to understand.
And I do, but I do not.
I say yes but I feel no.
I am being, in the eyes of the modern world, passive aggressive.
I've never really understood that term - passive aggressive. Purely as a phrase, I have been fascinated by it - so complex, paradoxical, succinct. But what was it, exactly? Perhaps like God, it is something you can only experience.
Here it was, passive aggressiveness on full display within my marriage for what I can only imagine was the thousandth time, at least.
Not once now but twice I had been rebuked, a caged animal within the 'freedom' of my own marriage. I was livid, but what could I do, what can any of us do, really - and so I said "ok fine, let's go to the beach from yesterday."
To which she replied "are you sure?"
And I said "well we don't really have a choice do we?"
To which she said nothing.
Historians who study Helen and I's marriage will note that it was this moment, this exact moment, that would determine everything that followed.
We drove and picked up a big ol' burrito at a place called Lily’s. It was the size of a newborn baby, wrapped tight in its tinfoil swaddle.
Walking out, I pass a number of other bougie Malibu shops full of bougie Malibu people. There is an air about them - a chosen people of the waves, they think to themselves. Perhaps in 2000 years they will talk of the Malibu tribe as the people who lived here, rich and spoiled and difficult to be around but nonetheless a people unto themselves. Maybe the tribes we are in today are not those we can name but only those that can be named about us at some distant point down the road when we are long gone, captured and destroyed by colonizers a new. The circle of life, a snake eating its own tail, regrowing itself just fast enough to feast upon itself once more.
The burrito is great.
I wonder what tribe Helen and I are a part of, what wrongs we are committing without even knowing about them.
We arrive at the beach. The parking gate is locked again, this time with nobody from a film set to tell us why.
I look at Helen - "see?"
And she says "oh shut up who cares? Let's park and walk down."
Who cares? I care. Your husband, Helen. Me. The man you vowed to have AND to hold.
We park on the PCH and walk down to the beach. Twenty minutes of fun, wasted.
I lay in the hot sun without sunscreen, a lo fi masochistic pain that helps me forget the much bigger pain of marrying an unbending rule follower.
Or maybe I just hate being told what to do?
My mom always told me what to do growing up, much more so than the average mom, so maybe there's some transference at play? Even from the vantage point of today, having had some time to reflect, I cannot tell you. And I sure as shit couldn't have told you in the moment.
In the moment there is only the anger. The seething, spinning myopia of catastrophic narratives that each say life will always be this way - "I'm getting older. Life is over. Fun is over. I am nothing more now than a vessel to care for and protect the babies (1 human, 1 dog). From now until death, this is all there is."
My mind races through these thoughts so fast it only catches snippets - just enough to springboard toward the next - a cacophony of worst fears building upon each other, working together - collaborating! - until they've formed an entire self sufficient community of panic, anger and isolation within my mind.
And all throughout, I bake in the sun like a Baked Lays chip.
Helen can always tell when something is wrong and so she asks, “you ok?”
To which I lie and say “yes.”
She smiles, knowing I am lying.
My son is nearby playing with the sand. He lifts little handfuls up to his forehead and releases, watching the grains of sand fall to the ground. He is clumsy, and yet his motions are beautiful. Because he is a baby and thus not confined to the rules of the manmade world. He does what his heart desires, nothing more, nothing less.
I long for his life, just as I am sure he longs for mine. There should be a movie about this - a classic trading places switcheroo flick where a dad and his baby son switch places. I make a mental note to call my friends in Hollywood and see what they think.
Helen has some more of the burrito and reads her Kindle. She's deep into a book she loves and can't get out, much like I am deep into my feelings and, too, can't get out.
This, my dear friends, is the calm before the storm. All seems well, ideal even. Life is good - what could possibly go wrong?
This is the end of Part One of The Three Arguments. Part Two will be released shortly.
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I showed Helen this story, to get her take. She enjoyed it very much, but ever since reading it she has said that I am being passive aggressive at least ten times. Not good.