The pay phone was just off to the side of the souvenir shop where you could now get freshly-brewed coffee and espresso drinks. The boardwalk was quiet because it was a weekday and it was unusually cold. He was still wearing his shorts because he hadn’t had the energy to dig his jeans out of the clothes in the duffle bag in the trunk of his old 2005 Pontiac Grand Am. He did have on his sweater and he had a pocketful of change from the tray of his car.
If it were a nicer day, he would have surfed before calling his sister, even though it was winter. But it was too damned cold and he needed to get his life sorted out. That was his thought at the time — Let me get all my shit out of my car and into my sister’s place and then I’ll surf some of my frustration out. (He also hoped to raid her fridge.)
He didn’t know how he was going to explain himself to his sister. Something, something, I dropped out of college. Something, something, I need a place to crash. Hopefully, it would be that easy. Hopefully, she was too busy to guilt trip him.
He was surprised the pay phone even worked. He pulled out his cell phone, the one without service to check his sister’s phone number one last time.
There was the sticker for a local rock band on the side of the payphone — Grilled SharkRays. He dialed his sister’s number and then stared at the logo for the band. As the phone rang, he realized just how old the sticker was. He’d been a freshman in high school when that band had played at the local music festival. He picked at the sticker with his fingernails.
“Hey sis, it’s me.”
It took her a second to realize who he was.
“Jake? What? Why’re you calling me? Why aren’t you calling from your cell phone?”
“I didn’t pay my bill for this month.”
“Well, that was dumb.”
He couldn’t be sure, but she sounded more judgmental than usual.
He briefly thought about telling her that he was running out of money, that he only had about ten more dollars in his pocket and had already run up his credit card. But then he held back. He couldn’t take more of her bitchy judgment at the moment.
“I need a place to stay. I was hoping to crash at your place. “
There was silence on the phone. After a few seconds of silence, he wondered if he had run out money for the phone call.
He tried saying something else. “I left university and need a place to stay.”
He looked at the Grilled SharkRays sticker and wondered if he could peel the thing off whole. He’d love to put it on the inside of the driver’s side door.
Now there was more silence. He fished around in his pocket for some more change. Then he heard something.
“Now’s not the best time. I’m in Ormond.” Maybe they’d just been cut off for a moment.
“That’s okay. I can get the spare key and let myself in.”
He thought he heard something. Was it crying? Was it the sound of crying from big older sister. The strong one of the family?
When she spoke next, though, she sounded tough (a fake toughness?). “It’s just a really, really shitty time right now.”
Her lecture started off something like this. “You know, Jake, ever since mom and dad passed in that fucking accident, I’ve tried to be like a parent to you. I’ve tried to…” He tuned her out like he normally did. It was the judgmental “something-something” of her lectures that bored him the same way his college lectures had bored him. More adults talking at him. Still, the fact that she was giving a lecture made him feel better.
He couldn’t put his finger on it exactly, but it seemed like something in the world was dying. He fingered the cracked plastic on the pay phone as she talked. And it was only later that he realized her lecture might have been half-hearted.
Later, he saw the foreclosure sign on his sister’s apartment and was in disbelief. Wait, wasn’t she rich? She’d bragged endlessly about her six figures the year before. Wasn’t she doing well in real estate? Only later did he find out that it was only one of six apartments his sister owned, all under foreclosure. It was 2008, and many people were waking up to new realities, not excluding Jake.
Jake was a college dropout with ten dollars in his pocket, a surfboard on the roof of his car, a pile of clothes that needed to be washed, a wetsuit on top of those clothes, and nowhere to sleep for the night.
The wider realities of this new world of 2008 would have to wait until he’d found a place to crash.