Seagulls reel. They rise in a quasi-flock and at the edge of the surf and size things up. To go out, make the effort against the wind coming off the water to pick at the leavings of sea lions, pelicans and cormorants or to turn back inshore, to sandwiches, chips, pizza, McDonalds, pork rinds, Doritos, cupcakes left unattended.
Quasi-flock: seagulls are not loyal birds. Their social structure ranges from that of vaguely affiliated hillbillies to unconstrained mobs. Given the right circumstances they will peck each other senseless over a crust of bread.
Seagulls reel. Heading inland; the wind makes it senseless to do otherwise. Pudgy brown children roll in the surf like churros in powdered sugar. Fathers male bond as mothers watch hawk-like although a few barely at all. And as the bright sunshine bounces off water concealing tormented and writhing sand shifting beneath the feet of all and sundry, conditioned by inflow and outflow, by the moon, the gods and worst of all El Nino, they play.
The lifeguard watches. Red-slickered, hooded to the point of chicken-bandy-legged and gymtoned, waving a fire engine red lozenge while the myriads watch not knowing or caring what he’s worried about.
“How many you pull out today?” At Zuma Beach there are always rescues. It is treacherous to the point sensible people won’t go there. You want a rip-tide that pulls you to Anacapa you go to Zuma Beach. Swim parallel to the shore as long as you want to and nothing's going to happen but you swim into another one. From Zuma Beach you can visit the entire west coast of north America for free and without hardly trying. It doesn't ask if you want to go.
And jellyfish, though technically you’re not supposed to call them “fish." They are not fish. They are 99.999% water and the rest don’t you fucking touch me. Zuma Beach always had, has, and always will have jellyfish. The man-o-war kind in fractions and otherwise dead and tentacled lolling on the breakers hitching rides or whatever gelatinous does. Nothing helps a jellyfish sting but peeing on it, which probably doesn’t help. But it is funny.
Seagulls reel. Inland like a U-turn on the boulevard. A sunburned slacker with beach-buzz eyes loses his hot dog to a clear headed smart beak, feathers and sinew heading out to sea. It’s alright now, the buffeting no problem. This bird has acquired the fuel to get back.
“Five,” says the lifeguard. “Lots of holes out there. That’s why I love this job. Love to go into the water.”
Where would we be without lifeguards?
I know a thing or two about seagulls. It is nearly impossible to identify one kind from the other because at different developmental stages they all look the same. A gray one can be a white one on the way to becoming white and a white can be thirty different kinds of white. Herring gulls have a red spot on their lower beaks so their offspring can target the food pump.
Were I to wake up reincarnated a seagull, horrification would ensue: “holy shit what did I do to deserve this?” Because for a seagull, a broken wing, leg, an illness or serious wound is a death sentence. And the wind, the force, the engineering of a creature constantly and persistently at the mercy of such, and the undoing should anything befall it. I cannot snatch the hot dog before the other one can. I lack the strength to fly out to sea. I am going away and I cannot fix this. The others don’t notice. They just bicker and fight over the leavings, until the leavings are you.Seagulls reel. And at the end of the day settle further on down the beach. There are no people or snack foods there. Just beak tucked into wing fluffed with white feathers and sand. Night will fall. For a little while breath beneath the wing is warm