Roland looked at Paul who was entertaining two older women at the party. “So he asked me if I’ve been down to the beach lately,” Paul said, “I’ve been doing a little beach combing. Gotta be combing something.” Paul paused for dramatic effect, then rubbed his bald head, rolled his eyes, and let out a belly laugh. His entourage cackled out loud over their strawberry margaritas.
Paul and Roland had been down to the beach that day. Roland thought it had been cold and dreary, empty of people. Paul thought it was brisk, and took a walk searching for driftwood and shells. They were both on the lookout for a whale breach or spout. The lone white whale had been seen not far offshore. Roland scanned the horizon. Was that a whale spout way in the distance? Where had Paul gone?
“Hey Roland, you ready for another?” Paul called out to Roland, who awoke from his reverie and nodded. Paul responded with a thumbs-up and gestured that he was going toward the bar. The two women followed him. The general attire at the party was a mishmash of fashions, depending on which decade people settled on their signature look. The guests were mostly retirees except for the occasional younger artist from the seaside residency. “It’s Abbi and Tom!” Everybody turned their head when the familiar couple entered. The consensus was one of genuine affection and slight surprise. Surprise and joy that they were still alive. That everyone there was still alive. That they were survivors, snowbirds.
Paul had recently introduced Roland to this scene. The parties were held each weekend in Blue Mountain for the resident snowbirds, the newly arrived snowbirds, and the snowbirds passing through. Roland was one of the newly arrived, from Georgia. He had made it to mid-level management after 40 years in the auto parts business working for a popular national chain. Paul managed stores in a five-county region. By the time he reached 65 he was ready to leave it all behind. Six months later his wife Kay fell ill. Six months later she had passed on. Roland floundered for a summer and fall until Paul convinced him there was a life to live after 65 and it could be fun. So here he was in the Florida Panhandle, watching Paul in his element.
The TV was on turned to the 10 o’clock news. There was the story about the rare white whale spotted off the western Florida coast. He had seen the story before, in the morning, but leaned closer to hear it again. After the report, there was the predictable banter between the weatherman and anchor about Captain Ahab.
“That white whale there, it’s a right whale,” Paul said as he returned, handing a light beer to Roland. “Oh Paul, you’re so smart,” said Marge, one of the women on Paul’s arm. “Well, you know what they say … nothing grows on a busy street.” He rolled his eyes and rubbed his bald head, chuckling again. Roland had heard most of the bald jokes by now, and Paul’s head shined from so much rubbing. “Roland, I’d like you to meet Gena and Marge.” Gena was dressed in a red pants suit with white go-go boots. She had one of those smiles that showed mostly her gums. She curtsied when Roland said hello. Marge was aged, thinner and bronzed. She had the look of a fortune teller dressed in multi colored robes. “Pleased to me‘cha,” Gena said, smokily holding out an overly lotioned hand. Her smile was audible even over Henry Mancini.
Roland studied Paul. Some people peaked in high school. Some peak in their twenties. Paul seems to have found his time and place now as an older man — his moment in life where he shined, taking his whole life to grow and struggle, finally arriving in full flower in the sun before eventually giving in, shriveling and dying. Roland tried to remember if he ever had a time to shine like that. He couldn’t. Not yet.