At fourteen, I was angry– about “plastic people living manufactured lives,” I wrote in one of my comp books. And the smartest, most edgy way for me to express this anger, I thought, was to set aside my angry music and develop a serious Beach Boys fixation. I’d lie in bed and listen to their triple disc 36 Greatest Hits collection after school each day. And on MySpace, I’d post things about surfing, cars, and California girls (even though I lived in Washington), because wow, all that preppy stuff coming from someone like me would really confound people, I thought.
Before my Beach Boys phase, on the days when it was my mom’s turn to drive the carpool to the bus stop, I would sit in the passenger seat and exclusively play songs from my iPod with choruses like Hey, you’re crazy, bitch/ But you fuck so good I’m on top of it. Because one time I played a Red Hot Chili Peppers song that was, I guess, too mellow and I saw Nick Rayl wrinkle his nose in the backseat. When we got out of the car he said “dude, are you like… not into hard rock anymore?”
As the school year progressed, I began to challenge Nick (or, that’s how I’d framed it in my head): I’d steal his backpack at lunch and hide it places so he wouldn’t be able to turn in his Geometry homework, and late one night, I snuck out into the woods and set fire to a pair of camouflage shorts he’d left at my house, back when I still invited him to sleepovers. In the carpool, I now played the Beach Boys, nonstop, and I’d smile back at him. Sometimes I’d think about saying something smug, like “what’s the matter, Nick, isn’t this fun, fun, fun,” but I don’t think I ever did.
When I posted cellphone pictures of the burning shorts on MySpace, some of my friends began to grow concerned. “Wait, so what’s your deal with Nick?” they’d ask, and I wasn’t very good at explaining it. What I really wanted was for everyone to ask me about my growing Beach Boys infatuation, because, I thought, the story behind that was super compelling– I’d tell them: okay, so Brian Wilson wrote all these songs about surfing, but he never actually learned how to surf. And isn’t that crazy, his music’s all about having fun, but he was faking it the entire time– he was actually super anxious and troubled, and when he wasn’t arranging harmonies or whatever, he was lying in bed, brooding. I thought that was amazing.
“He’s like the patron saint of pretending to be someone you’re not, or something,” I remember saying to Dr. Gilman, my therapist.
He raised his eyebrow and said: “Well, that’s quite the way of putting it… And do you feel that way sometimes?”
“Like you’re pretending?”
“Umm, yeah. Well not like Brian Wilson levels, I guess, but…”
Dr. Gilman unfolded and refolded his legs. I looked away because his khakis were too tight and each time he adjusted his position, the outline of his crotch seemed to become more clearly defined.
“…Yeah,” I said. “I dunno.”
The summer after my Freshman year of college, I went to Manzanita, a town on the Oregon coast, with some of my high school friends and– I hadn’t expected this– Madison, my high school girlfriend. Madison and I had broken up the summer before, but since she lost her camp counselor job for being caught with alcohol, I’d been seeing a lot of her, and she became a late addition to the coast trip.
We took my car. I didn’t have an iPod cord, so when I found 36 Greatest Hits by the Beach Boys in my glove compartment, we listened to that for most of the drive down. And this got me talking, as I often do (and usually with even less prompting), about my awful adolescence, back in the days before I was Levelheaded and Emotionally Stable and Good.
“Yeah, I dunno,” I said to Madison in the passenger seat. “It’s like the soundtrack of me being a shitty person in a lot of ways, but I still really like these songs.”
“No, they’re good,” she said. “Just, I feel like three discs is a lot of Beach Boys for one sitting.”
“Mm, well this is the disc with all the surfing songs. This is the best disc right here. You’ve got ‘Surfin’ USA,’ ‘Surfin’ Safari,’ uh, ‘Catch a Wave…’”
“Yeah. Yeah, this is the ‘favorites disc.’ And it’s kinda funny, I used to be really into the fact that none of the Beach Boys surfed? Or, I guess Dennis Wilson surfed, but he was pretty useless. But yeah, that was like, my favorite thing– Brian Wilson never actually went surfing, and he was able to write all these songs about it… But, I dunno, now it’s kinda like, fuck that. You couldn’t have at least tried to surf after singing about it all these years?”
“I don’t know, I feel like they’re good songs and that’s all I care about, really,” said Madison.
“Oh, yeah, no they’re super good. And a big part of me, I feel like.”
And then we were quiet until I (for the second or third time since we’d started driving) said something about how the Northwest coast is probably one of the most underrated parts of the country.
When I started my car the next afternoon, the Beach Boys CD began to play and I immediately turned it off, so I could continue to apologize for– and mine for reassuring hints about– the night before.
“Okay,” said Madison, in the passenger seat.
“Okay,” I said. “Well I dunno, I guess– do you remember everything I said? Like, it’s weird because I feel like I can remember a hundred percent of the stuff that you said, but only like… sixty percent of what I said, and I don’t know if that’s–”
“Well yeah, you said a lot more stuff than I did.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I was going to say. It’s just one of those– now I’m embarrassed for all the stuff I might have said, you know? And if we could talk it out– like, it doesn’t have to be right now, clearly– but if we could talk it out at some point today… Just to make sure everything’s–”
“Yeah. Not right now, though.”
“Cool. Yeah, but is later fine, do you think?”
“Sure. Just, can we please stop talking about it for a while?”
I drove Madison to the internet café in Manzanita, where she was planning on spending a few hours working, since she hadn’t asked for time off from her new job.
“You don’t have to stay,” she said. “If you wanna go back to the beach with everyone. I’ll just text when I’m ready to get picked up.”
“Oh, no, it’s okay,” I said. “I don’t mind hanging out here with you for a while.”
The internet café was in the back room of a shop. Only a few of the lightbulbs worked and the walls were covered with nineties-era photos of the owner’s family (I presume), and some posters of cartoon woodland creatures giving outdoor safety tips.
I sat in an office chair behind Madison and she walked me through her new job: after she came home from camp early, a friend of her mom’s hired her for a special kind of online marketing. Madison operated about fifty fake Facebook accounts. She’d send friend requests to strangers– usually middle aged people because they were less likely to be Facebook savvy– and then she’d post status updates that in some way, name-dropped the products she’d been assigned to promote. Not all of her statuses could be ads, though; people would start to get suspicious. So a lot of time, she’d just post things like “life is good” or “have a fun, safe weekend.”
“That’s so boring, though,” I said. “…Have you ever like, thought up any cool backstories for these profiles?”
“Nope,” she said.
After Madison had been typing for about an hour, a woman with sunglasses and a tall can wrapped in a paper towel walked into the internet café. She said:
“Oops, is this like a private party or something?”
We told her no, and she said: “Right on, right on. So I just have some phone calls to make. Like, personal stuff, but… Have you guys been out surfing today?”
“Um,” I said.
“‘Cause I’ll tell you, I have this friend– this guy Ray? He owns a rental shop down on the beach, and he closes in like mm… forty minutes? But if you hurry on down there right now, and if you tell him I sent you, he will hook you up. I swear. It’s just the two of you, right?”
“Thank you. We don’t surf, though,” said Madison.
The woman smiled and picked up the wall phone. “Ray, my man,” she said, and she started by requesting a discounted rate for a “cool couple” she’d just befriended. Then, she changed the subject– to the surfing conditions, to her daughter, to her legal troubles, to her dead spouse, and finally, her tumors.
“What the fuck,” I whispered to Madison after a few minutes of this.
She typed into her search bar: shes not talking to anyone she never dialed any numbers
Then, she backspaced and returned to her work. Heading out to the coast to catch some sick waves this weekend! said Edmund Valdez, one of her fake profiles.
“It’s tough, Ray, it’s really tough sometimes,” said the woman on the phone. “But I want you to know this– I want you to know that I really appreciate you. So freaking much. ‘Cause you have always been there for me, man, you’ve never faltered, not ever. And honestly? It gets me through the day sometimes knowing I’ve got friends like you in my corner… No, you’re in my top five, Ray. Any day. You’re– the top five people I can call up whenever? Past four AM? No problem. The top five people I can count on to…”
It sounded like she was starting to cry, but with the sunglasses, I couldn’t tell for sure.
I spent the rest of the time in the internet café trying to plan out what I was going to say to Madison in our talk later. And I thought about it from a lot of different angles, but I don’t think I got very far.
My name is Lucas and I’m from the Pacific Northwest. Right now, I’m studying History at Reed College. I really, really wish I could time travel, and I think that’s why I write.