Avi climbed up the yellowed sandstone rock that had once been part of the headland bluff but now sat six feet in seawater during high tide and fronted by sand during low tide. He stood completely naked because he’d always wanted to be naked on a beach in Big Sur or near Big Sur and the rock was there so he stripped off his jeans and sweatshirt and shoes and climbed until he reached the very top. From the top of the towering rock he looked toward Piedras Blancas lighthouse and the hidden winter home of the elephant seals we’d seen the day before that seemed fat and lazy but could move in unexpected ways and were actually quite fast. Every year a tourist or two learned the hard way that poking the blubberous giants could get you crushed underneath an angry ton of lunging seal.
Who knows why men feel the need to get naked before the ocean and then sometimes in it or why Avi thought he wouldn’t get wet standing high above the ocean or why he thought no one back at the Piedras Blancas Motel could see him when all we needed to do was look out our windows at the lighthouse to the left and him to the right. Maybe Avi knew and that was part of the thrill of it all but I didn’t think so because of the way he scanned the beach and the coast behind him and then crouched on top of the rock like he was surveilling the motel until he found himself safe from prying eyes. He stood again after that and looked carefully over the edge of the front of rock and swayed a little before recoiling at a wave that rushed inward but only made it halfway up the rock and since it looked like a pretty big wave Avi relaxed a lot and scanned the entire Pacific Ocean from left to right before he made the sign of the cross and began to pray. I thought there were other things I’d be doing on that rock but to each his own and I knew anyway that he was probably going to pray from the top of that rock before the entire western hemisphere of seawater, that’s just who he was, but I guess the couple in the next room didn’t know because through the old wall that had been repapered so many times small bubbles had long since become large domes of trapped air I heard: “Good Lord there’s a naked man on that rock over there!”
The voice was female and older from Milwaukee or Fond du Lac but definitely Wisconsin and was loud and very moral at the same time. Another lower more resigned voice told the woman to put down the binoculars and give the man the peace God intended when she said he was PRAY-ING in such a way that it sounded as if Avi was committing a high crime which I found hilarious because their lovemaking the night before was a high crime and had woken me up for almost seven minutes and then left me with thoughts. The woman went on to say that she thought Avi was a CATHOLIC even though he didn’t look it because he’d MADE THE SIGN OF THE CROSS and that she thought the entire display was disgusting and perverted and very inappropriate and had half a mind to report it to the management. The man repeated the word management with irony and I could almost see him sweep the shabby expanse of his motel room with his arm to prove his point. She continued undaunted: “I won’t be able to look out there without seeing him. Him! He’s ruined this vista forever.”
I looked out the window again, differently this time because I’d heard what the woman next door had to say about Avi ruining the view — vista — forever because he was naked before his God with his hands down at this sides but turned out towards the sea and he was beautiful and didn’t someone in the bible once dance naked before the Lord? He stood still against the San Simeon headlands and light-blue almost white sky and slowly lifted up his palms as if offering the earth and all its wonders to the waiting heavens. That was when a wave sliding from the rock back to the sea created a crescendo of seawater that an incoming wave rode until it crashed and cracked and spumed upward to the sky white sea-spray upwards upwards to shower the rock and the man praying on it who did not move but stood there in the glorious surprise of the world still and true, still and true. Shivering and surprised and completely himself in the world.
This communion was interrupted by a knock on the door that startled me and that I didn’t want to answer because it was probably the woman from next door that had enjoyed seven or eight minutes of lovemaking and was now angry. But the knocking was tentative and plaintive and I thought maybe Avi deserved a bit of privacy out on his rock under the sky so I turned from the window and walked to the door to peer through the peephole and saw the motel manager Robin who we met the day before standing outside the room. I opened the door and saw a car rush past her on the highway alongside the motel and a bottle of white zinfandel and two wine glasses that she extended with a bashful smile as she explained: “For tonight and watching the sunset. It’s spectacular.” As I took the glasses and the white zinfandel she leaned in and looked straight up at my face and said: “You’re a very lucky man.” I swear I saw a small slight wink before she pulled away and started walking as I said thank you for the unexpected gift on a morning of unexpected gifts with only a little bit of dampening coming from the voice next door. But that didn’t really matter as I set up the white zinfandel and glasses for later and went back to the window where I was tempted to find Avi again on the rock but decided to leave him alone and in peace with the ocean and sand and his God as I turned to the lighthouse and imagined its slumbering seals.
Piedras Blancas Motel after it had seen better days. (San Simeon, CA)