A traveler learns about the intricacies of sea air.
"The sea air has always been a mystery." the man said, dragging immense puffs of smoke off of his equally large Havana cigar. "You see my friend, nothing is quite like the sea air. For city folk, it's an odd thing to come to the coast, because they realize only moments after they have arrived in their tightly packed little cars and RV's that they are not merely breathing this fresh air, but gulping down as if there survival depended upon it ."
"It's almost if our bodies automatically know the value of this fresh air, quite before the mind, or perhaps even the soul does."
We had for the past hour watched this man in the lounge at a sea coast inn that itself was very much like the others, with nothing quite as unusual about it as its name, the Inn of Nowhere.
As we struggled through the French doors with white lace curtains, I was fascinated to see a large, white, lifesaver, clearly an antiquity from days past that dominated the wallspace above the small tables. Someone had even pinned-up some plastic imitation fishing net and a large plastic anchor to complete the nautical theme.
It was a typical sailing Inn. It even had a man in a navy blue collared short sleeve shirt, accessorized by small black skipper's cap, two gold dolphins embroidered on the front, forever frozen in mid-leap above the gold-crested waves near the bill. It was a hat that the skipper from the Gilligan's Island T.V. show would've worn.
Anyhow, we had just come to this little town, my wife Audrey and I, named Coast City, or Beach City, or something City. This wasn't our actual destination really. We were just passing through here on our way northeast up to McMinville and then on to Portland for a family gathering, before we were caught up in conversation by this sly grinning man and his lectures of sea air.
Of course we were surprised when he joined us at our table without so much as a spoken invitation. He wore a thick black coat, the kind of coat that made of wool or some such material that was much too heavy for the warm August weather that day. The temperature at the coast was clearly cooler than Medford, where we came from, but it was not nearly cool enough to demand this kind of wardrobe.
"Yes the body knows the value of good sea air." he continued. "It's as if your body has left the real world of a desert and entered into the life-giving seas, which is of course exactly what it's done." As he spoke I could detect a faint Irish lilt to his voice. I was considering asking him if he'd ever been to Ireland, or Scotland, or Boston when he further shocked me.
His dirt laden fingers probed my plate of fries, as if searching for just the right one, before dabbing it into the A-1 I had pooled near the edge of the cheap plate. "You know the taste of air, right?" he asked, munching down my fry.
I nodded, actually quite unsure of how to describe the taste, or lack of, in air. Something that struck me quite strange, considering I was no more than two-hundred sand-covered feet away from the ocean.
"Acidic, actually." he said, clearly reading the confusion that colored my face. "Kind of like a cheap vinegar, wouldn't you say?"
I gazed quickly to my wife for assistance, but by the look set on her face, she was as perplexed by this encounter as was I. I was about to argue the finer points concerning the taste of sea air, when he thanked me for offering a beer.
That I never offered a beer gave me a reason to question my own sanity and the sanity of the old codger next to me. Rather than look the fool, I decided to drop the matter entirely. A beer seemed just the thing I needed.
"Two beers, please." I asked the man with the embroidered black hat.
"Any type in particular?" he asked, sliding two wine goblets from the hanging shelf above the shiny oaken bar, freshly wiped down for the umpteenth time this morning.
"I'm not sure." I replied, and turned towards our table to ask the man which he would prefer, but he was nowhere to be seen. My puzzled wife sat quite alone, with nothing more than a look of pure scrutiny. "Where did the man go?" I asked her, after pacing the short distance to the table on the squeaking hardwood floor.
"Who?" she asked.
"The m-." I started to say, but knew that something was very wrong. Even the bartender that dressed like the Skipper, who I knew had overheard my question to my wife gave me that funny look.
"What man?" my wife asked.
I searched around the bar once more with my blue eyes, until they fell on the white lifesaver on the wall, and the large anchor, with the imitation fishing net pinned here and there. My attention though was grabbed by something else now. Something I had not seen the first time, and I would swear to this day, was not there when we first entered the bar.
On the wall, below the lifesaver, was a thin placard made of gold, attached to a warm, rosewood backing. Inside of the placard was a picture frame in matching rosewood of an old man, smoking one of those ghastly Havana cigars.
I tried to think of anything I could say to my wife that could preserve what little dignity of mine remained when I caught a whiff of a ghastly cigar. The thick smoking stench of the cigar was pervading and could not be ignored. A cigar that was certainly left by someone in the ashtray of our table.
Or as I thought to myself later, not someone... but something. Something who craved just one last 'gulp' of sea air.