Life in Crystal Beach
Episode 3: A Tale Of Eternity


Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not one to turn down an invitation to a party.  There are several things that make a party fun.  First of all, there’s usually good food.  I mean, not all parties have good food but most of them do.  Sometimes you go to a party and all they have to eat is like chips and dip. Or veggie plates that nobody eats. Those are lame parties. You know right off when you see the food table what kind of party it’ll be. We had a lot of parties in college but they weren’t like real adult parties.  By adult parties I don’t mean that there was a lot of adult, X-rated stuff going on.  If I meant it that way then college parties would be a lot like adult parties.  In fact, that was the main reason for parties in college.  Get drunk, do a little weed and do some sex.  The type of adult parties I’m talking about are the kind that have good food, good booze and friendly people.  I know it doesn’t sound like these adult parties are as much fun as college parties but a person has to grow up eventually, you know? Even I outgrew the orgy thing.  So, adult parties usually have good food and good booze.  Of course, there’s always some doofus who’ll bring a bottle of cheap wine but even that’s okay. Once you’ve had a few glasses of the good stuff it all tastes the same anyway.  The wine of choice when I was younger was Annie Greensprings and Boone’s Farm.  Boy, have I had reflux from that shit! But, beggars can’t be choosers so I never complained. Any booze that someone else pays for is good booze. But the best part of adult parties is the conversation and the people-watching.  You think you know someone?  Watch them at a party!  Booze is a great revealer.  A person might come to a party all put together but let them have a couple of strong margaritas or a few glasses of wine and watch them come unwound! The truth becomes apparent. The graceful become clumsy; the articulate, unintelligible and the discreet spill their guts about everything and everybody as if they’re writing a book.  A lot of reputations bite the dust at parties.

I used to get carried away at parties myself, but I’m a lot more careful these days.  You have to be if you have things in your life that you don’t want everyone to know about.  Loose lips sink ships, you know? Mixing booze and secrets is a deadly cocktail.  Weed is different, though. You just mellow out on weed.  You don’t get diarrhea of the mouth.  And if someone around you does start talking shit, it doesn’t matter because you really don’t give a damn.  And you won’t remember anyway.  And, of course, there’s good ‘ol Facebook and a dozen or so other social media sites where everything you do or say will eventually wind up being broadcast.  Don’t believe me? Just ask any politician. Freedom of speech has become freedom to post. I’m telling you, secrets are getting harder and harder to keep. Social media, now that’s a trend that puzzles me.  When was the last time someone walked up to you and told you what they had for lunch? It just doesn’t seem to me to be the kind of information that I give a damn about.  But on social media, they don’t just tell you about it, they show you a goddamn picture of it! I just don’t get it.

One evening, Carol Franks came into the Tiki where I was working.  When I handed her a drink, she handed me an invitation to a party.  It wasn’t anything lame like a birthday or anniversary party, it was a “beginning of summer” party.  Those are cool because people get to wear their bathing suits for the first time in the new year.  It’s really hilarious because everyone is so white! I mean, not from a racial perspective, you understand, even though there’s plenty of that in Crystal Beach, I mean from getting no sun all winter.  A lot of men and women in Crystal Beach have skin that looks more like leather than skin by the end of the summer.  Maybe that’s why they call it getting tanned. To me, skin that’s too brown is not attractive.  I mean, I love a good soft tan but the deep, kind of burned-to-a-crisp look is a real turnoff.  If I want to be with someone that brown I’ll hang out with a Mexican. Speaking of skin, people from South America have beautifully-colored skin.  I had an algebra teacher in high school who was one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen.  She was young, too, from Argentina. Her skin was a warm brown color like the color of light chocolate. I was so mesmerized that I didn’t learn shit all year. Of course, I also flunked English class and the teacher was butt-ugly!  Anyway, the algebra doll got fired, though, for having sex with a football player. I guess you could say he scored. Anyway, “beginning of summer” parties are fun.

Carol was probably in her mid-forties.  That’s young for Crystal Beach. Most of the residents around here are retirees.  There are very few people under thirty and there are hardly any teenagers.  That’s because there isn’t a high school in Crystal Beach.  If you’re high school age you have to ride a bus like forever to get to a town where they have a high school. Galveston is only about fifteen miles away from Crystal Beach but you have to ride a ferry across the ship channel and that takes awhile.  I can probably swim faster than the goddamn ferry goes. It’s a pain in the ass so there aren’t hardly any teenagers in town.

Carol invited me to the party because we’re neighbors and friends.  We’re both scotch drinkers so we have something in common except that she drinks the good stuff. The party wasn’t actually at Carol’s.  It was at a friend of hers, Bess Alters, house.  Carol had volunteered to hand out invitations. I decided to go to the party for the food, the booze and the people-watching. The invitation stated that the party began at 6:00 in the evening.  I arrived sociably late.  That means about fifteen-minutes or more after the party has started.  If you arrive early or on time it means that you’re really eager to go to a party, probably because you don’t get invited to many. If you arrive later, it means that you can take it or leave it but you decided to take it and your host should be glad that you did. There were probably 20 people there when I arrived.  The house was an average-looking beach house.  It had three small bedrooms and two small bathrooms.  Most of the houses in Crystal Beach are small and they have virtually no closets.  That’s because most of the houses are built as weekend rentals.  You see, Crystal Beach is a big tourist destination during the summer so rental houses are a good investment.  However, since the guests are only there for a weekend there’s no real reason to waste space on closets.  People who plan to live at the beach build their houses with bigger closets.  Bess had very small closets so it was probably designed as a rental property. However, unlike most beach houses that are decorated with beachy-type stuff, this one was decorated in a style that I would call early tin shed.  I call it that because there was metal everywhere.  There was corrugated tin on one wall, the tables were made of some kind of metal and metal fish hung around the room. The gathering room didn’t have a ceiling. The rafters were exposed, giving the room a sort of barn look. A large metal squeaking fan that needed a dose of WD40 hung from a rafter and provided a constant breeze for the crowded room. I think if it had been my house instead of hanging artwork I would have hung the decorator! Other than the décor, it was a nice house.

I made my way through the crowd meeting people and shaking hands.  I’m not an overly friendly guy.  I mean, I’m not rude or anything, but I’m more of an introvert than an extravert. To make up for my shyness I tend to overact when I meet people.  You know, speak louder than necessary, shake hands with a firm grip, that sort of thing. When I went to parties as a younger guy, I’d usually sit in the corner and hope no one approached me.  I’d just sit there and get drunk all by myself and then quietly leave.  Most of the time no one even knew that I was there.  I’d run into people who were at the party the day after and they would start telling me about this cool party they went to and I would tell them that I was there. They were always surprised that they didn’t see me.  Actually, I was such a nobody that they probably thought I was part of the furniture.  Sounds lame, I know, but that’s the way it was. It’s hell to be young and shy.

As I passed by the second bedroom, I peeked in and noticed that something had captured the attention of a small crowd. So I went in to see what was so interesting.  It turned out that Bess had a pet snake.  It was not an unusually large reptile like an anaconda or python, but it was a rather long skinny orangish-yellow snake.  I think she called it a rat snake or a corn snake or something like that.  I’m not a big snake lover. You know, I can take ‘em or leave ‘em but I’d rather leave ‘em.  In other words, I’m not going out of my way to befriend one. Bess was holding the snake in her hands so everyone could see it.  She called it her pet.  She said that she fed it live mice.  I figured that had to be an entertaining thing to watch. “Hey, let’s all go in and feed this poor defenseless little mouse to this nasty snake!” It’s different in nature, you know? Creatures might eat other creatures but at least the victim has a chance to escape.  In this case, where’s the poor fucking mouse going to go?  It’s trapped in a glass case just waiting to be eaten alive by this ugly reptile.  And snakes don’t just run over and kill their prey--quick and painlessly.  They slither up slowly and stare at their victim for a few seconds giving the victim a chance to think, “Holy shit! I’m about to be eaten! What the fuck!” Then they bite ‘em and squeeze the life out of ‘em. Shitty way to go. I guess when you think about it, there’s really not a good way to go, but that really seems like the shits. I just don’t think it’s a very good thing to sit around and watch.  Yeah, I know it’s life and all but it doesn’t say much about compassion.  Of course, we probably do the same thing with cows and pigs.  So, I guess we’re sort of like the damn snake. Kind of depressing when you think about it.

Now I know there are a lot of different kinds of pets and people have all kinds of reasons for having one.  Dogs are friendly, cats are cuddly (when they want to be), and other furry creatures are fun to hold and play with.  But a snake just doesn’t seem to be on the best-pets list.  I mean, they don’t cuddle, they don’t lick you, you can’t pet one, or if you do they feel all rough and scaly. They keep sticking out their tongue like they’re getting ready to bite your ass. I mean, you stick your tongue out at someone when you don’t like them. I just think they’d be shitty pets!  Anyway, Bess must have liked this one.  She named it Eternity.  She explained that she named it that because in ancient times a snake eating its own tail formed a circle, without a beginning or an end, so they were the symbol of eternity.  Why would a snake try to eat its own damn tail anyway?  Seems like a shitty symbol to me.  But I guess when you think about it, a snake is about the only creature that can get its tail in its mouth if it wants to. I think you’d have to be pretty hungry to want to eat your own tail.

So Eternity was the attraction that had everyone’s attention. Even people who were usually afraid of snakes were touching the reptile.  It seems that there’s a sort of mystery around the things that we’re afraid of.  It’s like we’re afraid of something but we don’t want to be afraid of it and maybe we wouldn’t be afraid if we knew more about it but we don’t really want to know more about it because we’re afraid of it! So we just go on being afraid of it.  I had a friend once who was deathly afraid of spiders. He’d seen some horror movie where spiders take over the world.  You know, they were crawling on the ceilings and sneaking up on people when they went to bed.  That kind of scary shit that makes you look under the covers before you go to sleep.  Anyway, he decided that if he made himself hold one he’d realize that they were harmless and he’d no longer be afraid of them. So we went to an exotic pet store and they let him hold this big fuckin’ ugly tarantula. He held it in his hand for about a second before it bit the crap out of him! That really helped.  Now he wets his pants when he sees any insect with more than four legs.

So people were holding Eternity and touching it and talking to it like it was human or something.  We’re all guilty of talking to our pets, at least everyone I know who has one talks to it.  Even big burly macho men talk to their dogs as if they’re human.  But we don’t just talk to them like we’d talk to another person.  We either use baby talk or we say things over and over again like they don’t hear us the first time. “Does the puppy need to shit? Huh? Need to shit?” Or “how about a dog treat? want a doggy treat?” Do we really think these creatures understand what we’re saying and if they do are they all hard of hearing?  If they could talk back they would probably be saying, “I got it the first time so just shut the fuck up and give me the goddamn treat!” Bess probably asked the snake, “Does snakey want a little mousy for dinner?”  But I’ll bet she never asked the mouse, “Does mousy want to be eaten by the big ugly snake?”
“Hell no! Let the damn thing eat its tail!”
We had been eating and drinking for almost an hour.  One of the guests was evidently trying to win the award for the most alcohol consumed, although there wasn’t a contest. There are always one or two who take advantage of free alcohol at parties. I used to be one of those until I learned party etiquette. Now instead of having a lot of drinks I just drink the liquor straight. Same effect without all the work.  

The over-inebriated guest had found a seat between two older men who didn’t mind that he had Eternity wrapped around his shoulders. By now everyone had grown accustomed to the presence of the reptile and those who didn’t care for it just kept their distance. Everyone was sort of involved in their own conversation when someone happened to notice that Eternity had disappeared.  It had either crawled off or been accidentally eaten by the drunk who might have mistaken it for an hors d’oeuvre. Suddenly, everyone was frantically trying to find Eternity. Couch cushions were overturned, guests were on their hands and knees looking under furniture, and cabinet doors were opened in case Eternity had taken refuge under the pots and pans. Actually, it sort of looked like we’d invented a new party game.  Everyone was participating hoping to be the one who would find the treasure. I thought it could have been called something like, Looking for Eternity.

The thing about corn snakes that our host forgot to tell us is that they are pretty accomplished climbers.  Since no one had this information, our search was confined to the floor and lower areas around the room.  Meanwhile, as we discovered a few minutes later, Eternity had found its way to a tall artificial ficus tree that was in the corner of the room. Climbing to the top, it made its way to one of the rafters in the ceiling, a good, safe place to escape from the crowd and the drunk that was wearing it like a shawl.

After about thirty-minutes of playing the game, there were still no winners.  Eternity was nowhere to be found. Our host decided to go on with the party and hoped that the snake would slither into the open after everyone had left and the room was quiet. Conversations resumed and everyone returned to whatever they were doing before the missing snake fiasco. Mr. Overly-intoxicated stumbled into an overstuffed chair and continued his struggle to sustain consciousness. Things were back to normal, for a minute. For some reason, Eternity decided that the rafter it was resting on wasn’t that comfortable so it attempted to adjust its position. However, somehow it lost its footing or balance or whatever the hell it is that a snake loses when it can’t hold onto something. It became airborne, falling like spit from a camel onto the unsuspecting partiers below.  And where did it land? As you might have guessed, it landed right in Mr. Overly-intoxicated’s lap! Consciousness returned with a jolt! Now I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a very large inebriated individual attempt to move quickly out of an overstuffed chair, but if you haven’t let me assure you that it’s funnier than hell! It was like time slowed down and everything was moving in slow motion. His head wobbled, his knees shook, his arms flailed and his body quivered like Jello. With one spasmodic jerk, Mr. Intoxicated threw his arms into the air, sprang from his chair and rolled across the floor hitting the wall with such a force that it shook the whole fucking house. I thought I’d laugh ‘til I shit! Unfortunately for Eternity, when the drunk threw his arms into the air, once again, the snake became airborne.  This time it was traveling in the other direction.  As it ascended, it was painfully obvious that it was on a deadly trajectory. In an instant it was sliced and diced by the metal fan.  Snake parts and other gross substances painted the walls and smashed into horrified partiers! The room was filled with screams as people ducked and covered their faces hoping to avoid being slimed. It was a scene right out of a Groucho Marx movie! The party ended with a new game called, Get This Shit Off Me! We all participated.

In spite of the unfortunate death of Bess's pet snake, it was certainly a party to be remembered. It met the criteria for a successful adult party: good food, good booze and good people-watching.  Only this one had an added philosophical benefit.  I actually lived to see the end of Eternity!