Hodads in Wonderland

Phillip Hurst

“OB,” read the sign at The Tilted Stick, “WHERE THE DEBRIS MEETS THE SEA.”

             The Stick was a dingy pool hall catty-corner from my new apartment, the sort of place where, come last call, drunk and lonely men fought like woebegone dogs, howling and bleeding in the spilt beer; while “OB” stood for Ocean Beach, the SoCal surfing community where I’d washed up at age twenty-seven, lost and alone and without the requisite surfboard.

             I’d been living in the Pacific Northwest prior to the move, and in the Midwest prior to that. There was a diploma in a cardboard tube in the trunk of my Honda which said I’d graduated from a law school accredited by the state of Illinois. Spooked by my looming future, I’d packed up the Honda and driven a few thousand miles west, thereby becoming not a barrister in the Land of Lincoln but a bartender in Portland, Oregon.

             All of it, the jettisoned career, the years of higher education, seemed utterly pointless—not a misstep or failure, but simply banal. And while the craft beer in Portland marked a definite improvement over the Bud Light in Illinois, I wasn’t particularly fond of the rain. So one day in late 2006, I packed up the Honda yet again, doped my cat with tranquilizers, and boogied south down I-5.

             A few days later, I followed an exit toward the Pacific, where the road petered-out near the San Diego River estuary amidst rotting kelp, empty beer cans, and a plethora of burrito shacks. I leased the first apartment I saw, filled it with a couple hundred bucks worth of Craigslist furniture (after delousing the upholstery), and bought a pair of sky-blue board shorts from the surf shop across the street.

             In many ways, OB seemed the prototypical beach community. The restaurants served fish tacos and oysters on the half-shell, and the low-slung bungalows and moldy sea-scoured apartment buildings were populated almost exclusively by young singles. Radio hits from Sublime and the Red Hot Chili Peppers blared from the open-air bars, Chargers flags hung from the streetside balconies, and there was absolutely nowhere to park. But unlike the rest of San Diego’s coastal haunts, OB had managed to retain a sense of its past.

             In the early twentieth century, the beach was home to a vast amusement park called Wonderland. In fact, my apartment sat at the very intersection which in 1913 had constituted the park’s entrance—and a spectacular entrance it was, framed by towering minarets and lit by thousands of Tungsten lights. Visitors to Wonderland were greeted by a skating rink and dancing pavilion, Japanese tea gardens, a carousel and waterslide, as well as the Blue Streak Racer, the largest rollercoaster on the Pacific seaboard. The park also contained a menagerie of exotic animals, including bears, lions, wolves, monkeys, and one presumably lonely hyena.

             The community I would come to know still felt part this carnival history. Feral parrots squawked in the palms just beyond my bedroom window, and festive but shady characters tromped up and down the stairs at all hours of the day and night, as my neighbors were well-known purveyors of weed and coke. Longhaired dudes shot down the street on their longboards, leash-towed by slobbery pit bulls, and there was a homeless woman with a voice like Tommy Lee Jones who crashed on my porch whenever it rained, only to leave behind a tidy pile of cigarette butts, a neat line of empty airplane-sized vodka shooters, and a single plucked tulip.

             I didn’t really mind the grunginess, though. Yes, the police helicopter (the “ghetto bird”) had a tendency to hover over my apartment building at three A.M., searchlight swinging from alleyway to alleyway; and, sure, there were dirty needles in the sand, but come sunset that same sand glowed with a heartbreaking palette of oranges and pinks and blues. In such lights and at such moments, beach and buildings seemed imbued with a doomed romanticism, as if about to slip off the edge of the continent and sink beneath the silvery waves, like a new Atlantis.

             The locals, too, had retained something of Wonderland’s aura. Everyone was on wheels—skateboards, rollerblades, banana-seat beach cruisers—an entire community of castoffs and layabouts zooming past my front porch, drunk on the golden sunshine and stoned on a beachy serenity. The older and raspier OBecians, refugees from the ’60s by and large, had a ghostly vibe, like they might’ve always been there rolling joints and squinting into the mist, while the younger ones ran the gamut from the merely eccentric to the downright bizarre.

             There were assorted street performers with their card tricks and handstands and llamas, and Steinbeckian homeless dudes jollily brown-sacking their liquor while strumming and drumming for change. Come the weekend, puffed-up jarheads from Camp Pendleton would roll through, looking to pound drinks and pound heads and get—if not laid—at least tattooed.

             Speaking of, a neighbor of mine could’ve rightly been confused with Bradbury’s Illustrated Man, as every inch of his flesh, from the crown of his shaven scalp down to his little white toes were covered in scrolling reds and greens and gray. The first time I endeavored to say hello to this individual, he paused on the sidewalk and blinked at me long and slow, revealing a pair of eerily realistic eyeballs inked on the backs of his lids. “I require nothing . . .” he said, in a robotic monotone, and so I took him at his word.

             Then there was Bagman Jehovah, a local keyboardist who sang lugubrious gospel dirges along the tourist thoroughfare. An ancient black man, tall and skinny and bent, he dressed in layers of flowing cloaks and skirts despite the never-ending summer. His gospels somehow captured the essence of sea and indigo sky, the laidback joie de vivre of my neighbors, the surfers who’d discovered a new religion at morning tide and the bevies of bikini-clad young women—all so fit and tan, so sexily Californian—doing pretty things with water and sunshine. Listening to Bagman testify while perched on a barstool overlooking the Pacific, a guy could almost believe in that god he so elegantly praised.

             Indeed, despite my being surely the most uncool character in all of Ocean Beach—my Irish skin freckled instead of tanned, my haircuts cost twelve bucks, and my wardrobe might’ve been best described as “Midwest-dork”—I found myself totally fascinated. OB seemed to exist outside the normal constraints of place and time, and thus many a day was lost at the rail of one bar or another, watching the froth and flotsam roll in while draining longnecks and allowing the hours to slide off my skin like a film of sweat. Only a decade later did I understand I wasn’t merely savoring a mid-twenties cocktail of vitamin D, booze, and lack of responsibility. Instead, for the first time I’d found a place where I might actually fit in, although this wasn’t necessarily apparent at first glance.

             Consider a day shortly after I’d moved to Ocean Beach. It wasn’t quite noon yet, but I’d posted up on the streetside patio of a bar called the Sunshine Company. I was delving into my second pint when I noticed a line forming outside a restaurant half a block down. The sign painted on the curbside wall read “Hodad’s” and featured a toucan-nosed little fellow astraddle the topside bun of a giant hamburger with humanoid arms and legs. This hamburgerman had just caught a wave on a bright red surfboard.

             I turned to the guy at the next table over, who was nursing a pint of his own. “Those burgers must be pretty good for the line to wrap around the block like that.”

             At first, he ignored me. His face was sunburned, the ridge of his nose peeling in white flakes like fish scales. He wore the standard OB uniform of reflective shades and a flat-billed cap, shin-length Dickies, and a black t-shirt. “Hodad’s is dank, bro,” he finally said.

             I squeezed a wedge of lime into my beer. “What is a hodad, anyway?”

             Then, after a dismissive smirk at the pale legs sticking out of my newly-purchased board shorts, he turned his weathered face once more to the Pacific swelling and breaking down at the blue and gull-hung end of Newport Avenue. “A hodad,” he explained, “is somebody who lives in a surfing community but doesn’t surf.”

A poseur, in other words. A wannabe. Or in my case, maybe just a misfit.

             Regardless, I had little interest in riding the waves. My left knee was wrecked from a youthful and lopsided love affair with basketball, and the water in Southern California is cold and rough. No, the pull I felt in Ocean Beach owed not so much to the tide, but to the sort of people the place attracted, as if the West Coast were a drain siphoning off refugees from mainstream America. An enclave. A home for oddballs and outcasts and exiles.

             Even a self-proclaimed exile needs a job, though, and I couldn’t seem to land one in OB. A week or two later, however, I scored an interview in Hillcrest, another San Diego neighborhood that might also be described as populated with outsiders—although on the day of my interview, I didn’t know Hillcrest from any other place.

             I sat talking with Casa de Agave’s owners, Jim and Juan Antonio, at a tiled azul table on the recessed patio. Hanging plants and tasteful brass lanterns cordoned off a bustling University Avenue. A young waiter with a golden tan and a skin-tight polo served us iced tea with lemon. Jim thanked the waiter, who then batted his handsome lashes and drifted away.

             Jim and Juan Antonio were partners, they said—business partners—and La Cantina, the renovated bar, opened in a week. They needed a bartender who knew tequila and felt comfortable serving upscale clientele.

             “Your résumé stood out,” Jim said, “because we saw you have a Juris Doctorate.”

             “Past life,” I said.

             “I was in law enforcement before becoming a restaurateur,” Jim said. “I’ve always admired the work of prosecuting attorneys.”

             Then I happened to glance down the block, where a dozen rainbow flags fluttered proudly outside a bar called Urban Mo’s. This bar overflowed with men in colorful tank-tops. One of these men, I was fairly certain, wore a cheetah costume. Another was a pink elephant with a conspicuously placed trunk. All seemed to be having a really good time. Music thumped and drinks flowed.

             Ah, I thought, I see.

             “So, please tell me, Phillip,” Juan Antonio said, speaking with the overly precise diction of one who conducts business in a foreign language, “why is it that you do not practice law?”

             Although I really shouldn’t have been caught off-guard by the question, I was. So I faced my prospective employers and mumbled something vague about writing a novel.

             “How interesting,” Jim said. “A lawyer and a writer.”

             Then he made a point of explaining that at least half of Casa de Agave’s clientele were gay and lesbian . . . with the silence to follow meant to assess whether I was comfortable with that—whether, that is, I wasn’t some sort of peripatetic bigot who’d wandered his way to San Diego only to ignorantly apply for work in the heart of the gay district.

             I can’t recall exactly how I answered Jim’s question, but whatever I said must’ve assuaged his concerns, because the next day he called to offer me the job. And so there I found myself, doubly the hodad: a guy living in a surf community who did not surf, and a bartender working in a gay community who was not gay.

Originally, Wonderland was envisioned as family-friendly (the dance floor allowed neither “turkey-trotting” nor “bunny-hugging”), but the OB I discovered fell a tad short of such moral sanitation. The Haight-Ashbury of San Diego, it’d traded lions and rollercoasters for tattoo parlors and head shops. In fact, instead of Wonderland, modern OB often seemed more like Neverland—except the Lost Boys were all in their mid-thirties and Tinker Bell sprinkled not pixie, but angel dust.

             This is not to say I was anything less than enchanted.

             California is named after an imaginary island in a long-lost Spanish romance, and OB felt similarly make-believe. Street kids wandered through the farmer’s market amidst the aromas of kettle corn and frying food, peacock feathers poking from their matted hair and books about LSD and the American Dream quivering in their unwashed hands, while adventuresome foreigners dangled from the steps of the local youth hostel, their dreadlocks as frayed as the rope circling the pilings down along the pier. People not so unlike myself, really, in search of whatever vestige of Wonderland’s uniqueness had survived the commodification of drug culture and skyrocketing rents, like the last sweet drops from a steamed agave.

             Growing up in rural Illinois, amidst conservative Christians and familial expectations and that practical and soul-molding geometry of corn and bean fields, I’d not even realized a place like OB could exist.

             And then there was Casa de Agave.

             A pair of regulars, Arturo and Bentley, showed up my very first night working the renovated cantina. Arturo was a lawyer, which provided us a common ground for commiseration (“You dodged a bullet, dude,” he’d often say). Rumor had it he’d begun frequenting the restaurant while dating the coquettish waiter who’d served iced tea during my interview. Even though that relationship hadn’t lasted, Arturo loved Casa de Agave unreservedly, and always treated the staff with great respect and deference, as if secretly afraid of being rejected.

             As for Bentley, he held a PhD in physics and was vice-president of a local software firm. He only drank red wine (despite being in a tequila bar), and drove a Porsche in spite of the fact that he and his siblings (Mercedes and Aston) were all named after luxury cars by their hardworking Chinese immigrant father.

             These two men sat opposite each other, Arturo slurping a dirty martini as Bentley nursed a glass of cabernet that he’d swirled, nosed, and subsequently declared middling at best.

             “I detect notes of wet stone,” I said, recalling a wine training I’d once attended, “and ripe custard.”

             “Do you now?” Bentley said. “Because I detect Safeway.”

             Although our wine list was a work-in-progress, Casa de Agave was busy owing to Hillcrest’s reputation as a foodie neighborhood and a glowing write-up in the Union-Tribune. Thirsty people streamed in faster than the hostess could seat them and the bar was swamped in drink tickets: Coronas, Dos Equis, caipirinhas, mojitos, pomegranate margaritas, sangrias, and chilled shots of Don Julio Blanco. I mixed more drinks over a single weekend than in a month at the bar I’d been working back in Portland.

             “Why did you move to California?” Bentley asked.

             I glanced up, my hands mechanically dancing: glass, scoop, ice, liquor, mixer, garnish, ticket, glass, scoop, ice, liquor . . . “Got sick of the rain.”

             “You live here in the gayborhood?”

             When I told him I lived in Ocean Beach, he wrinkled his nose and explained how San Diego’s beach communities—Pacific Beach, Mission Beach, and Ocean Beach—were known by their initials: PB, MB, and OB. “Partly Bums,” he said, “Mostly Bums, and Only Bums.”

             “OB is growing on me,” I said.

             “Like a genital wart?”

             “Oh, come on. It’s not that bad.”

             “Fine, I suppose Hillcrest and OB can get along. So you must be a surfer?”

             I recalled that conversation from the Sunshine Company. “Nope, never even tried it.”

             Then Bentley asked if I lived alone. After rimming two glasses with lime and salt, I necked tequila and triple sec between the fingers of each hand and upturned all four bottles at once. A dash of homemade sour and a harried server stabbed the ticket and disappeared with the fresh drinks. Finally, I told Bentley I had a roommate.

             He sipped his wine. “Roommate, or partner?” ;

             When I confessed that my roommate was actually a potbellied little tomcat, Bentley sucked his purple teeth and leaned over the bar. “Tell me,” he said, “are you in the family?”

             “The family?”

             “Don’t play dumb. You know what I mean.”

             I confessed then that I was not actually in the family, but assured him I was still a pretty good bartender, to which he replied that he’d seen better but would tip anyway. In the meantime, Arturo’s cocktail was empty yet again. His eyes were glassy, tie loose, suit wrinkled. “Good cocktails,” he said, “are they only thing that make this godawful planet bearable.”

             I mixed him another (very dirty, very watery) and placed it on a fresh napkin.

             “How can you drink those?” Bentley asked from across the bar.

             Arturo swayed on his stool. “Are you speaking to me?”

             “Dirty martinis?” Bentley pursed his lips. “Do you actually enjoy the taste of seawater?”

             “Dude,” Arturo said to me, “Jim and Juan Antonio tell me you’re a writer.”

             Bentley huffed and said he wanted to read it, whatever it was.

             Arturo drained his glass in a two gulps. “I just finished Laughter in the Dark,” he said. “It’s so real, so true. Nabokov understands, dude. He knows that life is a slog, that love always goes unrequited, and that we’re all fucked. He knows the bombs are gonna fall—”

             “I’ve always enjoyed Neil Gaiman,” Bentley said, pronouncing the author’s name with salty lewdness. “He’s a fantasy author, you know. The type who imagines the wildest things . . .”

             I faced Arturo. “I haven’t read much Nabokov, but—”

             “And Truman Capote—” Bentley swirled his wine, widened his purple grin. “—I heard he wrote while naked on a hotel bed with his tush in the air.”

             “Dude!” Arturo said, halfway up from his stool. He seemed to expect me to bounce Bentley from La Cantina, but I was too busy to mediate. Hunkered over the well, my knee howling, I washed down a few Advil with a botched margarita. Hours later, bone-tired and feet numb as stones, I jammed a lime down the neck of an icy Pacifico and settled the night’s receipts only to see that Bentley had tipped $20 on his $16 tab, while Arturo tipped $40 on $30.

I met Shane and Kelly at a Newport Avenue dive called Pacific Shores—a bar wherein I once witnessed a vodka-soaked exotic dancer with an arm like Nolan Ryan chuck a rocks glass at the face of a bartender who’d cut her off.

             The three of us had gotten to talking about whatever twentysomething strangers talk about at one A.M. in such places, and it was eventually determined a nightcap was in order. I suspect now this was more Kelly’s idea than Shane’s, but he was the type who just went with the flow. Sprawled on my ratty couches with a bottle of Hornitos on the coffee table, they told me how they’d come to live in OB.

             Shane had grown up in the Oklahoma Bible Belt where his father made a lot of money in natural gas. Then his father had a heart attack. His mother remarried a week or two after Shane graduated from high school. And so Shane found himself with a healthy trust fund, but with no real family and nowhere to go.

             “I wasted a decade drunk in Houston,” he said. He explained that college hadn’t worked out, neither had his various jobs, and his mother seemingly forgot all about him. With nothing much left to lose, he hit the road. After stops in New Orleans and Atlanta, Shane met a girl.

             “We got tats together,” he said, and then rolled up his pant leg to reveal Puff the Magic Dragon on his plump calf.

             Shane’s girlfriend was into the music scene, though, and so they’d eventually moved out to L.A., where Shane had quickly fallen into a depression and his girlfriend just as quickly fell for a fellow musician.

             “What a bitch,” Kelly said.

             I liked her curly brown hair, the mischievous way it bounced in her eyes.

             “Don’t say that, Kel,” Shane said. “She just got lonesome, you know? And if she hadn’t dumped my ass I never would’ve found OB.”

             Then Kelly told her story. Like me, she’d grown up in the Midwest, having graduated from the University of Wisconsin as a literature major. “At some point I realized I’d spent four years and thirty grand getting a degree in reading books,” she said. “I couldn’t see myself as a teacher, and no other job paid half as much as I made waiting tables in the same shitty bars where I’d hung out back in college.”

             From the corner of my eye, I noticed Shane inspecting the shadowy crevice between my Craigslist couches.

             “Eventually I got sick of my parents ragging on me for not using my degree. And of seeing that look on my friends’ faces—like they were embarrassed for me because I couldn’t hack a nine-to-five, like I was some sort of pariah.”

             Pariah? It was the exact right word. I was just about to fess up to my own deleterious love of books, when Shane pulled out the water bong I kept hidden between the couches. Without a word, he loaded it from his own sack. After offering it around (Kelly and I both declined), he charred the bowl and let the curling white smoke fill the green glass.

             Then he exhaled a tremendous plume, coughed, and said, “I’ll never leave OB, man. There’s nothing else out there. You ask me, the rest of country may as well not even exist.”

             While I couldn’t say I’d never leave Ocean Beach, I admitted that I’d found an unexpected peace, that all my life I’d felt like there was a part of me that was shameful and had to remain hidden. Somehow, OB took the edge off that feeling. Or maybe the community was just strange enough to distract me from myself?

             “I wanted to be a writer,” I said, and consciously avoided Kelly’s eyes, “but that hadn’t seemed possible in the small-town where I grew up. Let alone in the law school I drank my way through.”

             “Wait, you went to freaking law school?” Kelly said, and I remembered my interview with Jim and Juan Antonio, how they’d had more or less the same reaction.

             While I probably couldn’t ever fully escape the guy I’d tried to be—or pretended to be, or assumed I had to be, or was afraid of not being—maybe I could at least live in such a way that my past forays into conventionality would surprise the people I met. I explained how I’d felt like an imposter in my own skin, like I was living somebody else’s life, and how in the end it all got so disheartening and stressful that I just sort of went crazy and took off.

             Kelly touched my knee. “I know exactly what you mean—”

             “Man,” Shane said, still holding the leaking bong, “you got lucky by landing here. OB is a whole other country. A sovereign fuckin’ nation of beautiful weirdos way out here on the sunburned bottom lip of America.”

             With that, I poured us all another round of Hornitos.

             Later that night, Kelly snug in my bed with her warm thigh draped over my own and those lovely curls resting on our shared pillow, I heard the TV click on out in the living room. Then the rumble of Shane’s mellow laughter.

One slow night at Casa de Agave, Bentley took it upon himself to help me pass the time by explaining the tenets of Taoism and Confucianism in extraordinary detail. He must’ve spoken for two solid hours, highlighting philosophical and theological distinctions as I quartered limes, providing historical context while I mixed martinis, and explaining how these belief systems have influenced Eastern and Western thought as I rang in taco platters and restocked beer. Even now, after a decade of higher education, it remains the single most impressive monologue I’ve ever heard. After paying for his wine, Bentley rose from his stool, took a bow, and said, “Thanks for listening, friend.”

             Not to be outdone, Arturo began to bring me a succession of his favorite books to read, so that we might better wax philosophical about the meaninglessness of life. Nabokov and T. S. Eliot. Dostoevsky and García Márquez. Poppy Z. Brite and Cormac McCarthy. If it was dark or melancholy, Arturo adored it. As these book discussion unfolded, I came to understand that his disgust with the ignobility of human nature found relief in literature, although he continued to assure me the bombs really were about to fall at any moment.

             On busy nights, these men sat across the small horseshoe bar from each other and I’d feel their eyes on me, watching me pour, watching me sweat, but more so I felt the weight of our ongoing conversations. As the months passed, they told me about their lives, the details slipping out bit by bit, hour by hour, drink by drink.

             As a penniless student, Bentley had lived in a camper trailer up the coast in La Jolla, eating rice and beans and studying molecular physics by flashlight. “It was the happiest period of my life, before or since,” he said. “I learned everything I’ll ever need to know about myself in that little camper.”

             Around the same age, Arturo’s best friend stabbed him. They were at a beer party, cars parked in an arroyo, country music wailing in the sultry Texas night. No matter how intoxicated he became, no matter how morose, Arturo never would say exactly what led to the violence. One evening, brooding over his fifth or sixth cocktail, he said out of nowhere, “He stabbed me, dude. But he was my friend. He really was.” Then he pulled out a baggie of painkillers and washed down a handful. When he went to the restroom, I hid the baggie behind the cash register, a gesture for which he thanked me the following night.

             Bentley once shot a stellar round at Torrey Pines. He strutted in afterward and I bought him a congratulatory glass of merlot. Beaming, he said that even when free our wine still tasted like piss—but that he’d tip anyway, considering I was now an honorary member of the family.

             Arturo eventually convinced me to let him read my novel, a four-hundred page mess I’d written back in law school. He finished it in two days and had the heart to lie.

             Bentley bought a copy of Gaiman’s American Gods and slid it across the bar, like a tip.

             Arturo’s father chose not to visit him during the days and nights he lay in that Texas hospital with a near-fatal knife-wound in his back. He related this to me factually, dryly, maybe six months after we’d met, and with far less emotion in his voice than when he spoke of fiction.

Wonderland thrived for just two years, largely due to an unforeseen competitor—the California-Panama Exposition, which was located nearer the growing downtown—and the park soon fell into disuse and disrepair. The Tungsten lights darkened and the dancing pavilion went silent and still. The Blue Streak Racer was disassembled and shipped up to Santa Monica, and the girders eventually crumbled into the Pacific. Finally, the exotic animals were leased to the Exposition, with the entire menagerie being later sold to the newly-opened San Diego Zoo.

             As it turned out, I lived in Wonderland and worked at Casa de Agave for just two years as well. I ended up rekindling a romance with an ex-girlfriend—an ex from law school, no less—and we found ourselves with an opportunity to live and work in the Teton Range of Wyoming. But the effect of place, particularly on our younger selves, is inestimable, and I’ll never forget those years in Ocean Beach. Perhaps I’d understood this intuitively back when I lit out for the West Coast, sensing in that sunset landscape a chance to discover, or maybe just accept, the person I apparently was.

             Identity and geography are strange bedfellows, though. I’d felt like a hodad everywhere I’d ever been: as a boy, I lived in farming community but did not farm; in college, I lived in a fraternity house full of business majors but I felt no real fraternity and refused to study business, while in law school I was the distracted and melancholy student who spent his nights and weekends clandestinely writing fiction. In the end, however, I rallied my courage and said to hell with all of that, only to wash up in OB. While I never did learn to surf, I nonetheless felt at home with the other misfits out there on the continent’s lonely rim, at that place where there’s nowhere left to run and the exiles and castaways can just be.

             Of course, there’s a certain vanity in claiming outsider status. As if you were too pure or too sensitive for the social reality everyone else has to put up with. I won’t write off my feelings quite so glibly, though. Because naïve as they were, those feelings drove me away from home and across a continent, for better or worse. While I understand now that one doesn’t have to live in any certain place to be a writer, it seemed to my younger self that what our culture had to offer was lacking in some crucial way. I couldn’t have said how exactly—maybe I still can’t, not ultimately—but having spent that time in Wonderland, I know I’m not alone.

             So here’s to all the hodads out there. The outcasts and pariahs, the homeless who pick flowers and the dreamers and stoners and tenderhearted attorneys. The bibliophilic waitresses paying off student loans and the philosophy-loving, wine-quaffing physicists. Whenever I think of such people, I’m reminded of the day I moved into that ramshackle beach apartment. Before I’d even unpacked my laptop and books, I walked across the street and had an inaugural pint at The Tilted Stick.

             “OB,” read the sign, “WHERE THE DEBRIS MEETS THE SEA.”

             But such people are not debris. Not at all. And if they should flee certain places and gather in others, know that they’re really just trying to survive—to put the necessary distance, both earthly and psychic, between themselves and whomever else this life demands they be.

Phillip Hurst’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Missouri Review, River Teeth: A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative, Reed Magazine, Cimarron Review, and The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review, among other publications. His book of nonfiction, The Land of Ale and Gloom: Discovering the Pacific Northwest, is forthcoming from Unsolicited Press, and a novel, Regent’s of Paris, is forthcoming from Regal House Publishing. “Hodads in Wonderland” is excerpted from his forthcoming essay collection, Whiskey Boys: And Other Meditations from the Abyss at the End of Youth, winner of the 2021 Monadnock Essay Collection Prize through Bauhan Publishing.

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