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Monthly Archives: August 2011

So I’m doing something new. Thought it would be fun to mix things up. The title pretty much explains it. Stock photo. Story to follow.

-MC JLight

The wind tossed her hair into scatters. She tucked it behind her ears and looked, but he still hadn’t turned away from the ocean. Like this, the two sat on separate beach towels for a moment.

Squint wrinkles in the corner of his eye flexed into a W. Through the small space between his face and his sunglasses, she could see his stock-still eyelashes in profile.

Doesn’t that hurt your eyes? she finally asked. They get dried out when you don’t blink.

I don’t really think about it. Why is it always the little things with you? he said.

I’m a noticer, that’s all.

He shook his head.

She slid off her wedding band, put it in her jeans pocket for safe keeping, and felt the beach. The wind blew some sand onto his blue towel; he looked down and brushed it away.

The sand’s just right for it, she said and smiled. And it doesn’t have to be a sand castle. It could be a sculpture, she smiled. Kind of like the kids used to make. Remember the time Brendan made that baseball field in the sand? It had dugouts and players. It had everything.

That was a long time ago, he said. And it looked like a triangle with dots.

The tide was out. Small breakers, like white party hats, played peekaboo out in the deeps. It wasn’t altogether impossible to ignore the early winter temperatures and allow the other four senses to say, Summer, in unison.

She pushed up her sweater sleeves, exposing a few small sunspots, and took one of the granola bars from her pocket. While she chewed, she held the wrapper above her head, let it flutter for a moment, and released it. It rose and dove in the breeze then skittered along the sand. The further it got, the more it looked like someone walking away from them.

So we’re littering now? he said and jumped up, chasing the wrapper down. He nabbed it and fell sideways into the sand.

She giggled. It’s only one wrapper. Trash can be quite pretty sometimes, she said.

Dammit, I got sand in my pants, he said while walking back. And one wrapper is one too many.

You should take your shoes off; it’s easier to walk that way, she replied and waited. He sat back down, again focusing his attention straight out, past the beach and the water and the horizon. All I’m saying, she continued, is that we can make anything. Remember those amazing sand sculptures we saw at my parents’ that time?

No, he said.

She played with the frayed edges of her pant legs.

It was Thanksgiving and we watched my dad’s old sixteen millimeter movies. There was one of me and Mom down at Santa Monica beach surrounded by all these beautiful sand sculptures. Sea turtles, mermaids, cars. Poking up all around us. The film color had faded to orange, like it was sunset all the time.

He smiled but didn’t face her. She stopped fidgeting and waited. I don’t remember that, he said.

She pulled herself up and grabbed each of the shovels she’d brought: the red, the green, the yellow, the blue. She fanned them out in the sand together, all pointing the same direction, toward the hope of a buried treasure X.

The point is we could make something cool for us to remember. She looked down, watching the sand sting her feet. I mean we could make a dog or a pirate ship… Or a stethoscope, for you.

He grabbed a granola bar and fought with the wrapper. His knuckles cracked.

Get it? That’s doctor humor.

Yeah, he replied.

Or something funny, she said and drew an outline in the sand with her heel. He gave up on the granola bar. She asked, What about a big, open book?

We’re not professional sand sculptures, he said. Ours would look like a square. Or just a mound in the sand.

That’s okay, she said.

No one would like that.

We have to leave something behind.

It’ll get washed away.

But that’s what you do at the beach. You leave something behind, something in the sand. And even if it washes away, you know it was there. She paused. I brought the camera.

She stopped and looked at him and the wind stung her eyes.

Couldn’t we try? she asked, the sound coming slowly like her last bit of voice.

He tousled the edges of his grey-tipped hair. Sure, he sighed. Why don’t… Why don’t we leave the shovels right where they are? That’ll be our contribution. It’s like a work of art, one of those abstract sculptures you enjoy so much.

She wiped the sting from her eyes and said, Okay, but we have to get pictures. She pulled out the camera. First, we’ll get one of the shovels alone, then we can take some of us. Okay?

Yeah, he said. She smiled and he smiled. Their smiles looked the same. Then we can go, he added.

She cradled the camera in her hand, guiding the focus ring. She tried kneeling and standing, moved near to far, angled high and low. Coaxing the shutter speed and f-stop just so. Waiting for the sun to clear a cloud. And eventually, everything overlapped and the shot was the best it would ever be. With her eye pressed against the camera she whispered, Okay, let me get this picture.

Then she depressed the button, and the camera went click. By that time he was halfway to the car.


In sixth grade, I was Tom Cruise. Five days a week, weather permitting, I was Tom Cruise. Between 8 am and 8:15 am, or as long as it took me to walk to school, I was Tom Cruise.

I wasn’t trying to be a fighter pilot; this wasn’t about a boyhood aspiration. My Tom Cruise moments weren’t even about pretending to engage a flurry of befuddled MIGs, and I didn’t imagine myself in the kind of dogfight where the ground and sky zap into a single blur. No. It was simply about being and feeling cool, Tom Cruise Cool. My experience on those walks to school was a sixth-grade, approximated version of the feeling that followed the heinous dogfight, came after the aircraft carrier landing, after the cockpit high five. It was a taste of the coolness that was a fortunate symptom of being a fighter pilot. As far as I was concerned, this version of me radiated an aura identical to the one Maverick projected as he rode his crotch rocket into the fiery Jerry Bruckheimer sunset, knowing all the while that he was a complete badass.

Careful, Charlie. You might get burned by the cool. (He even looks like me.)

I didn’t even walk to school; I floated an inch above the ground accompanied by my own bass-heavy theme music.

This was my sixth grade cool.

Mom and Dad bought me the jacket for Christmas. It was a classic bomber jacket from Burlington Coat Factory made with fake leather, adorned with fake military patches, and finished off with a fake fur collar. But it was the sweetest thing I’d ever worn. It still might be. I mean, I slid my arms into those sleeves and my biceps grew, my mind a flutter with memories of hard battles, carbon-stained teeth, and the women who helped me clean them. I’m pretty sure that jacket accelerated puberty. It was wearable testosterone.

There were also the accoutrements of my Tom Cruise Cool. Hair gel—I used enough to choke an Iceman. Combed it down into a nice clean part, the comb leaving evenly spaced rows in my hair like striations on the barrel of a gun. You’ve got to wear jeans with a bomber jacket, which I did, or a sweet pair of camo green cargo shorts, just in case a tactical situation arose. Never knew when I might need a bunch of pockets. Finally, since naval aviators didn’t eat breakfast, neither did I. I was much cooler with an empty stomach.

L.A. Looks: The gold standard in aviator hair products.

You’d think that glasses would have been a necessary piece, a nice mirrored pair of aviators. But I was smarter than that. After all, how would my flock of female admirers see into my hardened, yet benevolent soul if they looked into my face and only saw their own reflection? Thanks, but I’ll leave the glasses at home. In doing this, I even out-badassed Maverick.

During a walk that spanned a single Strasburg block, I was the guy.

Authentic cool.

Sixth grade was when coolness started to take shape, when I knew the feeling and could name it and understood what it meant for me—confidence, rightness with the world. In many ways, cool is and has always been comfort. I was a twitchy goober in sixth grade, but those walks to school allowed me the comfort of being less goobery for about fifteen minutes.

The feeling of cool is an important one, so are its cousins: phat, groovy, funky, happening, fly, chic. And we all have our own bomber jacket, our own artifacts that catalyze the emergence of cool or uncover the personal phatness residing always somewhere inside. Those artifacts, if only for a little while, help us to brush aside airport lines, bills, empty gas tanks, debt crises, poor cell reception, and chirpy Starbucks baristas, with a feeling of… cool. For some, maybe it’s the sound of a basketball that triggers the memory of the time in high school they scored at the buzzer the feeling of which generates a moment of crowd-cheering cool. Someone else might feel their cool creep in as a hip-hop drumbeat reaches their ear. Even the still-goobery thirty-something me feels a tickle of cool at the memory of that jacket.

What awakens your cool?

-MC J Light

P.S. The quirk of my cool is this: it’s often tied to movie character types that I imagine as very cool. I have never been these characters, but I have felt their particular brand of cool.

The Guy Who Knows the Band – This is the guy who has the pull to get backstage. He may not have the musical aptitude to be in the band, but he’s the guy all the band members with they were. He is, in a sense, the wind beneath the band’s wings. His traits include; street smarts, shrewd business sense, and music industry pull.

The Cowpoke – This guy shares drinking water with his horse. Happy on the open plains with nothing more than a harmonica and the soreness from riding all day. His traits include: really good at chewing toothpicks, believes the saloon girls deserve more respect than they get, tough but only when provoked, happily eats beans and cornbread.

The Kung Fu Master – Similar temperament to that of The Cowpoke, quiet, compelled toward the way of peace, speaks in nature-centric metaphors. Traits: Good posture, baggy clothes, wiry, makes would-be aggressors look stupid without laying a hand on them.

The Guy Who Girls Find Undeniably Cute but Won’t Approach Because They Think He’s Out of Their League Even Though He’s Actually Pretty Down to Earth – No explanation necessary.

Others: The Sports Star, The Werewolf Sports Star, The Comedian, The Rap Star, The High-Powered Lawyer, and The Mountain Man.