Every year, in early summer, a certain fish dies in droves and is deposited on the sandy beaches of Lake Michigan. The carcasses are layered three, maybe four, deep along an undulating line where the gentle waves exhaust themselves and leave behind their morbid cargo and depart to whence they came.
Sunbathing sucks when atop a pile of fish rotting in the summer sun; you want clean beaches for the summer months, then you got to shovel away the dead. Piled black garbage bags filled with fish guts and flies and copious amounts of sand form tar-black mountains on the curb of the street. The mountains are heavy with death, rot, and earth.
And then, the beach is handed over to, in what one human described as “The two species making up the overwhelming majority, after everything smaller than your fingertip is discounted, are Larus smithsonianus and Homo sapien.
The beaches of Chicago’s North Shore are up-current from the mega-industry to the south, and the water was usually clean enough to swim in, clear enough to hunt for stones. Oh, those were good days, when I was young. The world was one long beach. It began with a parking lot, under the looming shadow of The Tower. Adjacent, were crowds of blankets, coolers and pale skin slathered in sunscreen roped in by the floating boundaries of the swimming area; the beach then became private property, more peaceful and solitary, though with a hint of menace that grew as you moved further down the beach, away from the familiar crowds and into the freedom of very rich peoples’ private, and mostly deserted, beaches.
I don’t know their condition today. I haven’t been back in a while and have no reliable source to attest to the cleanliness of the sand, or the cold, crystal purity of the water. I imagine the seagulls are still there, since they feed on trash and there cannot be a shortage of trash in the greater Chicago area.
The one problem was always people, that was always what would bring you down, and, ironically, you would bring them down as well. To some it is safer to hide than risk the shame of a shared humanity.
I learned to drink and take drugs on those beaches at night. Sometimes blind, black skies, with Bic lighters as the only illumination; other times a shining moon and an endless shimmering path reflecting on the water. These brilliant nights could make one believe there was such a simple way into the infinite mysteries of life...no, the true paths are grossly less picturesque.
Oh, praise the lord, who deposited me on the shores of the lake. Under blessings and immorality, beauty and beastliness, I lived innocently, then not so innocently, then rebelliously, then decadently, then, I would like to believe, maybe morally. I got out of this metamorphosing dance around the lake by finding a new source of aquatic wonder in a different city. I burned most of the memories on my final trip down the track, or tarmac, or where ever I made my escape, I cannot remember.