written in JUNE 2010
i was wearing my sandals on the beach that had been closed shortly before we arrived, and i knew that the majority of the “sand” that was slithering between my toes was not sand at all. it was probably filled with tiny shards of glass, too small to be felt when wedged in the rough skin of the bottoms of my feet, pieces of plastic, driftwood, and bits of aluminum from worn down cans of beer. we were walking along the dark edge of lake erie, close to midnight, with the lights of cleveland blinking along the water miles away.
we climbed over the jagged rocks that led out to the pier, jutting out into the black waters of the lake, where in the distance my eyes could make out tiny lights along the horizon, fishing boats perhaps. although the sound of the waves, in the dark, seemed like we were on the brink of a great ocean—the litter dotting the sand, the brown, smudgy sand, and the strange sensation that this place, this beach and water, was just plain old small, dank and dirty, washed away the notion of saltwater.
i remember the first time i was astounded by lake erie’s size—as a ten year old, i couldn’t see past the horizon, and i remember thinking “it’s as big as the ocean!”
as we sat on the rocks, we saw flashlights on the beach approaching us. “cops,” he said, but neither of us moved, our muscles did not tense. instead we casually waited for them to approach us.
“park’s closed guys,” came the lights, shining over our bodies and faces.
“alright,” i shouted back. we picked up our phones and keys and lighter and pack of cigs and shuffled down the rocks to the sand, where we met the four police men shining their flashlights here and there over the sand, creating little pockets of light on the dirty scene. as though they were in a subterranean cave, exploring a dank and untouchable world, filled with litter cavities and about to collapse onto itself.
“you guys have any marijuana or alcohol?” they asked us; no, we said. they shined their lights on us again, on my blue dress that fluttered in the breeze, at his glasses and t-shirt, probably mistaking us for innocent teenage lovers trying to enjoy a romantic night at the “beach” amidst the wind and waves, when in fact we were just chain-smoking college friends who hadn’t seen in each other in a while.
“ah, too bad. we already picked up a six-pack today,” one of them joked.
“how you guys doing tonight?” the other one said, and we began walking back together toward the steps that led to the parking lot from the beach.
“pretty well, beautiful night, isn’t it?” i said. i’d grown accustomed to waiting on friendly, farmer-hip midwestern folk at lucky’s cafe, where i could greet a table and say, “How’re y’all doing today? Y’all been to Lucky’s before?” with a good ol’ bandana-wearing ohio grin and sunburnt cheeks. (note: the new hipster who lives in tremont, these days is a mix of an urban farmer, who still wears plaid and glasses, but tops it off with a farmer’s sun hat and rides his/her bike dragging a wheelbarrow of gardening tools behind him. it is hip to have an “urban garden” here. in fact, it is one of the many ways that young clevelanders are transforming abandoned, foreclosed lots— into community gardens.)
and so i was surprised, but not so surprised, that the cops were eager for friendly chit chat.
one of the cops shined their lights on a white plastic bag lodged in the ground, caught up in some plants where the woods began. “man, i can deal with white trash … but seriously people, clean up your crap!”
“no wonder they call cleveland the dirtiest city!” another said.
“yeah i mean come on, people. i don’t blame ‘em. the mistake on the lake…jeez.”
we began walking up the stairs, we began talking of lebron, the usual clevelander’s talk. the steps were far apart so to climb them required some leaping skills, and we all began huffing and puffing by the time we reached the top. “you know people give us a lot of shit but i have to say, we’re a tough little town!”
we made it to the parking lot, and then they took off and told us to have a good night after asking us if we had any doughnuts.