Yesterday I bought a new pair of shoes. They are those silly-looking molded plastic things called Crocs that are made in China and sold far and wide. For some, I suppose the idea of wearing them is to be in vogue, but to me they just don’t look that voguish. They have an odd, non-sleek look about them and simply look cheap and clumsy. You can tell they have been popped out of a mold. But this is my second pair, and the first pair is all I have worn now for several months. They just feel so good on these ornery feet of mine that can never seem to get comfortable, no matter how well I might treat them. This second pair of Crocs, I could tell right away, as soon as I put them on, were even more comfortable than my first pair. They have some lining inside of them that makes the fit to my foot ever softer.

I went into the sporting goods store, however, not for the sole purpose of buying shoes. I knew I might look at Crocs while in there because that’s where I bought my first pair. Sure enough, the ones I’d wanted before had been marked down 60%. At full price I was not willing to buy them the first time around because I’d never worn Crocs and was not convinced that my fussy feet would like them. Now I know how pleasant they are for me to walk in.

Before looking at the Crocs, I went to the bug repellent department because I thought I might find some potent repellent that would keep flies off of me when I go sit on the beach. I found a can of spray that hunters use on themselves that supposedly wards off ticks, chiggers, and maybe even flying pterodactyls, if such remains a possibility.

I put on my new shoes in the parking lot, gosh they’re comfortable, and headed to my favorite sitting beach armed with the can of spray. I like this beach because it is a long stretch of sand. Most of the rim of the Monterey Bay is actually one long stretch of sand, so perhaps the whole thing could technically be called one beach, but I think of beaches in terms of automobile parking spots. My sitting beach has easy parking, and except during the summer frenzy I can usually drive close to where I want to be.

When I get a new book that these curious eyes are anxious to rip into, I find the beach to be a marvelous place to go. I will not be interrupted, except for–and this is a big except–except for the flies. As soon as I am kerplunked in the sand on my folding chair they come quite quickly to greet me. Thousands of them, with all different levels and assortments of size and appetite. The tiniest ones love to bite me, while the darker and fatter ones seem adverse to the idea.

I have been sitting on this stretch of beach for many years. When my daughters were young I would bring them here to go swimming, body surfing, and seashell collecting; activities, by the way, in which they continue to readily engage themselves. Only within the last two or three years do I recall these flies being a problem. Before, perhaps a few, but not this incessant swarm of pests. Maybe the earth is out of balance, or something. I don’t know. We also see more fog than we once did. The ancient Chinese said flies turn into stars at night, and since I can’t see the stars through the fog, maybe that’s what has been going on.

The other day I came down to this beach to practice strumming techniques on my ukulele. I had read somewhere that flies do not like hydrogen peroxide and that if you spray yourself down with the stuff, that they will leave you alone. I would like to report that this is completely false information. Either that, or there is the slim possibility that these flies have read the same article as me and have educated themselves sufficiently enough that they have no concerns about the peroxide. When strumming, the movement of my arms and wrists helps a little in shooing them away. I find the making of the music, simple and rudimentary as it may be, is a mindful diversion from the unrelenting sensation of tiny legs pacing over my skin.

I decided after this last strumming session to get more serious about tackling the fly problem. It’s early in the beach-going season, and from here on out, as more kelp washes up and piles on shore, the breeding grounds for these pesky little buggers will increment profoundly. And so it was that yesterday I purchased my first can of rugged, outdoorsman style, high quality fly spray. And I have really good news here to report. The stuff works amazingly well. I sat down as usual in my collapsible chair, pulled out my Kindle to open to page one of The “Poet’s Guide to Life: The Wisdom of Rilke”, and waited for the first gosh darned little beast to approach me. Sure enough, before I even pour the first sentence of the Rilke book into my consciousness, one of the nastier, biting types landed on my leg.

Quickly, so readily, I sprayed down both legs, from my toes to the line where my shorts covered my thighs. A sort of shiny, glossy coating immediately stuck to my skin. I looked a little like an oddly-shaped glazed donut. I don’t know what the can has in it. The label says it’s 40% DEET. I suppose that’s some horrible chemical that I would not want to spray up my nostril or onto a slice of bread, but for my purposes the stuff is a godsend. Rilke, I would learn in another hour of reading, said that wishes are merely memories that come to us from the future. My wishes for sunny days without the annoyance of flies has come to be true.

A couple sat down close by me yesterday, maybe forty or fifty yards away. By this time I was all sprayed up and happy as a clam with my new discovery. Racing through my reading, glancing up on occasion to watch the waves smash onshore with this brilliant contrast of color between an aquamarine green and the deeper Prussian blue out beyond the surf line. I hardly even see a fly. The word has gotten out on the beach, I suppose, to just stop messing around with me. I wish I knew the language of flies so that I might listen in on their aggravation, which was probably about equivalent to that which they have caused me. At any rate, I am so pleased with my freedom to enjoy this day, this sun, this book.

I looked over at the couple that have opted to sit close by me, and within the moment of their arrival the guy–dressed in shorts,T-shirt and sandals–is engaged in this impossible battle of trying to swat his way to comfort. The woman beside him is dressed head to toe in long clothing that covers arms and legs, so I can see that she is not swatting and waving, but, like me, is enjoying reading. It’s mean of me, I suppose, to sort of giggle inside. I’m not giggling because I enjoy watching someone else suffer from the flies, but because I have empathy with what the guy is experiencing, a camaraderie with him that he cannot detect. He is trying to look reserved and unbothered by the flies. He’s probably driven here from some inland location on his day off to enjoy the sun, but I can detect the agitation growing within.

Then a heavy fog rolls on top of us with such sudden haste, and buried within the fog is a cool breeze. The sun is gone and within another moment I see the couple fold up their beach chairs and head for their car. I intended to stay two or three hours today, and had made my plans not only to deal with the flies, but with fog and wind, so that I might dig deeper into the world of Rilke. I have a heavy, lined and zippered hoodie sweat shirt that I put on without hardly missing a beat in my reading, while the fog first thickens and hides the visible universe, then backs off and allows the sun to pierce the veil.

The tiniest victories can be so satisfying to me. I feel like I have taken back my beach, regained lost ground, discovered some freedom in a sea of hopeless irritation. The beach, for me, is sort of like work space. It’s where I go so often to gain clarity and inspiration, or just to find a bit of solitude for thinking, when everywhere else I go I encounter disruption. I should open a concession stand, maybe paint it red, white, and blue–the colors of patriotism and freedom–and sell bug spray to the suffering masses.

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