#879: The Beachcomber

January 22nd, 2018

The ice lining the waterside edge of the beach was a perfect replica of meringue.

Hawk winds peeling off the lake had spent the winter whipping water foam into a rich lather. The until-recent deep freeze had set the flocking. Sand, muck, gunk and grime had given the edges a light browning. The beach, frankly, looked delicious.

But here the metaphor becomes too clumsy to continue. Beyond the pie-top, there was nothing. The rich white fog had erased all but a few feet of lake. It looked like the edge of the universe. It looked like God’s animation budget ran out.

As “the meringue pie at the edge of the universe” is about as mixed metaphor as you can get, attention now turns to the land, to the hazy sand muck between ice and bike path where a man slowly, resolutely scanned each inch with a metal detector.

He was a fat guy, I won’t soft-pedal that. He had a chubby circle-face and a body like a former high school linebacker’s 40th birthday. His puffed hip-length jacket wasn’t doing any favors, nor were his flat-brimmed Cubs cap or the bulky headphones plugged into the detector.

His slim, short wife followed him, when she wasn’t helping their 3-year-old take little hops off the rivulets among the frozen sand.

I did try to talk to him later, and that went kerplunk. Bad questions from me; polite but pointedly short responses from him. He wanted to continue his walk with family and I botched the broach. Attention now turns to the walk.

As the little kiddo laughed, hopped and occasionally scream bloody murder in that way only a mildly inconvenienced toddler knows how, the father took small, deliberate steps along the meringue-crusted beach. He waved his wand as he moved. A slow sweep of the machine, as back-and-forth and constant as the lapping of lake on ice.

He held the detector in his right hand and dragged a short spade in his left.

A jogger went by. A woman walked a large, gray pile of fluff that could have been a dog. A young couple trod the bike path hand in hand to take advantage of the brief January spike into the 40s. His little one screamed or explored. His wife chatted with him or held the kid’s hand for little hops off sand. And the man blessed each inch with his machine.

The eventual beeping could be heard across the beach. With no change of expression, he jabbed the spade into the sand and popped out a heap. He waved his detector over the hole. It beeped again and he tossed the spadeful.

He popped out more sand, waved his machine once more. Beep. He did it a third time and the beeping stopped. He poured his spadeful on the frozen ground and waved his wand over that pile. Beep. He kicked the pile to spread it. He crouched over it and flicked through the sand until he found whatever little flake or fragment of metal aroused his machine and his hopes.

It was nothing. He flicked it away. The waves lapped on meringue and rich, white fog seeped just a hair more off invisible waters. The fat man continued his beautiful hunt, a futile tour along the water’s edge with wife and hopping child, looking for nothing but finding everything worth having.

Another waterside hunt

A drum circle on the beach since 1966

Until this story, I didn’t realize it was spelled meringue, not merengue. I had to fix this pie allegory on the backread.

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You are currently reading #879: The Beachcomber by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

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