The Beginning of the not-so-existential The End came when my friend The Mantis sent me an SMS text message last Thursday.
At the time, I had been trying to catch a little R&R after a particularly demanding Fourth of July press deadline; enjoying not only the oddly-charming narcissism of my favorite sports columnist (I was reading “Tripple Overtime”), but also the ocular assistance of a brand new pair of polarized double-monocles from the Electric Visual collection — a pair of top-shelf shades being the usual prescription on summer-morning stumbles into Atlantic Shoals, like 10-or-so minutes before the store’s actual allotted opening time, and complaining to Erin of deep-seated impulsivity/inattention to detail; utter absent-mindedness; particularly skilled seagulls; petty theft with direct blood relatives being, at the very least, persons of interest; rogue waves; and/or/especially: Davy Jones’ Locker claiming yet another inanimate victim in previous possession of a certain sports columnist whose narcissism some people (mostly just including himself) often find oddly charming.
The SMS text message had read, simply: “Hollywood Jack is back.”
It is important to mention at this point in the story that I have never been stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) before in my entire adult life. It also important to mention that irony, sometimes, turns out to be pretty ironic — like Alanis-Morissette-Top 40-ironic.
Who The Mantis is is totally irrelevant, both for the story and generally just in everyday real life.
So but anyway, thanks to The Mantis, and his instantaneous online photo-posting application available for iPhone, Android, Boost Mobile, whatever, etc., I have taken it on grapevine-faith that Hollywood Jack is somewhere in the 136th Street vicinity, beach-wise.
When I do finally find Hollywood J, after a short pedal a bakers-dozen-or-so streets south, he is indeed at Mantis suggested location.
As name suggests, Hollywood J — a.k.a. Simple J., a.k.a. The Real Dr. J., a.k.a. The Real J.Z., a.k.a. Ladies Love Cool Jack — lives in California. For reference, one time, Gary Busey gave Hollywood Jack the metaphorical finger after he (Hollywood J.) waved to him (Busey) on PCH (Pacific Coastal Highway). This is, undoubtedly, a true story.
So, but anyway, I find Simple J., and he says to me, he says: “I find your weekly column-writing obnoxiously narcissistic and for the most part unreadable, but would you like to go stand-up paddleboarding anyways?” and I’m like, “Yeah, sure.”
So then we Go.
What stand-up paddleboarding is is it’s kind of like bodyboarding, only not at all, and you have to stand up and balance yourself without falling in front of large fixated crowds, etc., and the other thing is is that there’s not really many public areas to Launch in the Northern Ocean City, Md., region, geographically speaking, so you’ve kind of got to find a low-key launch point, and act like a potential Navy Seal recruit at Hell Week tryouts — like, one that all the others Navy Seals know secretly and obviously that This guy isn’t going to make it — ducking suspicious Old Lady glares and weaving Chutes & Ladders shrub patterns while trying not to drop your board weighing in at about a border collie in one hand and paddle measuring up to, let’s say, Shaquille O’Neal, in the other, while also looking for possible launch spots, until you find one to the liking of Hollywood J., who right now reminds you somewhat of an anxiety-riddled border collie, spot-selecting-wise.
So when L.L. Cool Jack does finally find a spot, he hops right on his board, almost effortlessly, and coasts a good half-football-field down the way without any kind of instruction or luck-wishing or etc., etc., while I, on the other hand, have somehow lost my paddle before getting in the water.
It’s pretty much on me to figure this all out is what becomes clear.
It is important to mention at this point in the story that the bay is pretty indescribably gross, water-wise, and I want to fall in like I want to watch an Adam Sandler straight-to-Netflix-original all the way through.
I’m almost certain that at some point before leaving me in his metaphorical dust, Simple J. had said something along the lines of “It’s just like Boogie boarding man! Only not at all!”
On the board I'm doing a lot of justice to those newborn animals you see taking their first steps on National Geographic but I’m actually not so bad, if you want to know the truth. A little shaky at first, maybe. Trouble alternating paddle strokes to maintain course, sure. Still terrified of contracting flesh-eating disease from the canal, you bet. But it isn’t long until I’m also a half-football-field, then full field, then unclassifiable amount of fields down the way, and even starting to catch up to The Real Dr. J., who currently is complaining of ignored No Wake Zone signs.
When I finally do catch up, we’re coming up to the Route 54 bridge and invisible Transpeninsular Line and the absolute madhouse that is the Harpoon Hannah’s Tiki Bar and outdoor seating area during Happy Hour.
The sun is beginning to set. A faint wind is becoming noticeable. There’s another ignored No Wake Zone sign. This time, the offender is a large pontoon wielding what I could swear in a quick anxious glance to be a Confederate pirate flag.
“I’d sure hate to eat metaphorical dust in front of Four H’s right now,” the non-Illuminati-associated J.Z. says to me, presumably about Harpoon Hannah’s Happy Hour.
The thought of all those minimally distracted eyes as the pontoon’s wake nears both fills me with a Nameless Dread and gives me a wicked case of the Howling Fantods at the same time; the kind you typically get from when you’re at a four-way stop and just realized that you haven’t been paying attention and subsequently have no idea whose turn it is to go; or when you’re walking into the bathroom at the movie theater and don’t realize that your shoelace is untied and click tapping across the bathroom’s tile until, like halfway to the sink; or when you’re at a restaurant and it’s been a while since you’ve ordered and you’re starting to wonder if maybe the waiter forgot to fire the entrées or no, and what the ensuing conversation would entail should you inquire; or when the self-checkout line at Harris Teeter is woefully undefined in terms of where actually it starts, and there’s like four people also waiting in this sort of abstract uncertain circle, all sizing each other up and making secret judgements etc., and everyone looks equally as anxious to get out from all the price checks and weekly specials and fluorescent lighting, and you’re not sure if they’re going to try to jump in front of you, and they clearly have in their possession 12 Items or More; and/or/especially, when you’re wobbling pretty bad in front of a packed fixated house at Harpoon Hannah’s and the excess wake from a pontoon full of Dixie-whistling pirates is fast approaching during your first ever stand-up paddleboarding session.
The first wave of wake is the most sizable and, presumably, the strongest, but somehow goes past with relative ease. The second goes almost as smoothly. It’s not until the fourth wave’s wake when I start to wobble.
Then, it happened. Faster than you can say “Harpoon Hannah’s Happy Hour,” it happened.
One second I’m adjusting a brand new pair of polarized shades from the Electric Visual Collection; the next, all I can see is kale-smoothie-I-would-never-drink-colored water and Mountain Dew bubbles as they (the sunglasses) float away out of reach, in this kind of tragic way; and I stay down there for a while, wondering if going back up is worth it or no, with the Fantods really start to Howl now and both oxygen and comparable everyday situations running out.
I never did look back at the Four-H deck after a Personal Best Breathe Hold, but Hollywood J. swears that everyone was laughing except for him.
He (Hollywood J.) also said that the pirates had tried to knock him over as well but that, like Gary Busey’s acting, his balance is unprecedented, even when stacked up to the most agile of nine-lived lynx. Why do you think everyone calls him “J-Cat” anyways? is what he says.
When we finally get back and do the whole Mark Wahlberg “Lone Survivor” dock thing again, the sun is almost gone. Then, after he (J-Cat) gets his board up and out of the water almost as quickly as he had during the launch, he asks me if maybe I want to go stand-up paddleboarding again tomorrow or?
I don’t have to much think about it, honestly.
After struggling to get the now-dripping-wet border collie and Shaq-sized paddle out of the water, and feeling around on the top of my head for a moment, thinking that maybe by way of some “Finding Nemo” miracle that the glasses are resting there… found, I says to him, I says: “Maybe if I’m ever in Hollywood, Jack. Right now, I’ve gotta come up with a story about a particularly skilled seagull and go see Erin at Atlantic Shoals.”