Life in the tsunami zone

It’s early winter on the Oregon coast and Depoe Bay is a roiling sea as gray whales bound about in the distance, mostly behind behemoth waves driven by an oncoming winter storm.

Along the seawall people are everywhere in their jackets and other warming gear, with cameras or binoculars, hypnotized as the waves pound away. The stormy sea sends great white splashes into the air that generate applause.

It’s as if Depoe Bay were a vast stage without actors – or very shy performers, if you count the gray whales off in the distance – and the churning of the water is part of an amazingly on-schedule performance (considering this is the holiday Whale Watch Week rush).

During the week, many of the same people had been shopping during the busiest day of the holiday season. That night, maybe as they luxuriated in a local hotel room with waves from big winds pounding out-side their big picture windows, the watched anniversary shows on last year’s tsunami disaster in the Indian ocean. Now they are enthralled with waves powered by a storm way out by Hawaii heading this way, coming fast as 30 to 40 mph wind gusts whip away, and the power of the water is the attraction.

The whales? They are hidden behind, zooming in and out of a white-washed curtain out there ... riding high ... riding low ... .

Mark Spaulding, who has come from Vancouver, Wash., to see this, instead points his fancy camcorder down into the Depoe Bay spouting horn. Others stand closely nearby, hoping to catch a bit of the spray. There is no logic to the way the waves break, no apparent system, no pattern, no order, no way to predict which wave will be the one to send the water shooting through the spout and into the air. Finally, we have a hit. Spray goes into the air, onto the sidewalk, onto vehicles parked along the seawall.

He exclaims. “I got one!” That is, his camera did, his highly sensitive lens doused by the salty sea of the Pacific.

Meanwhile, in the “Whale Watching Spoken Here” interpretive center, a woman is toting two restless grandchildren onto the second deck of the building perched on the southern end of the seawall. The picture windows for the room in-the-round are steamy from the day’s crowds. One of the boys climbs onto a for-pay viewmaster. “I want a quarter!” the boy shouts. But the grandmother says, “Why, there’s nothing to see out there. If there was anything to see, we could do it.” Then, she says, “Did your mother ever tell you about the time we saw a whale go right under the boat in Mexico?”

Actually, the whales are going right under her nose again.

At precisely that same time, one deck below in the interpretive center, there is, in fact, something to see out there. A whole room of people lean into the window with their binoculars as Morris Grover, lead interpretive ranger for the Oregon State Park service’s whale watch center, keeps people in the room posted. “There’s one going by the buoy,” he shouts. With swells of 20 feet or more, it has been a hard day to see whales, he said. On this day, he only sees six or seven. The next day, with calmer seas with only 12-foot swells, he will see 20 whales. But on this day the payoffs are few and far between as the giant curtain of waves steals the show.
“Well, there’s one of the 1,800 whales out there,” he says to the crowd.
Leaning toward the sea is a natural tendency. When you go to the beach on a sunny day in say, Florida or Southern California, we are all children at heart: We want to go in.

But this kind of sea is different. We are drawn to the sea, but in cases such as these, with it crashing and roiling and churning, to try to get close is unwise.
There are signs all over. Such as the sign at the Rocky Creek outlook off of Highway 101, just south of Depoe Bay, which states: “Warning. Area beyond this point subject to high dangerous waves. Even though ocean appears calm large waves may sweep over rocks at any time. Do not go beyond this sign.”

So, just as people are poking their cameras into the Depoe Bay spouting horns a few miles away, people who can (probably) read have crossed the line. Rocky Creek is peculiar in this way. Its access to a very close look at the sea is easier, due to the erosion of where a fence should be. Three men are past the warning sign. The sea doesn’t appear to be calm. Indeed, high dangerous waves are apparent. Just beneath their noses. High dangerous waves are almost at eye level for anyone daring enough to scramble down just a few feet of rain-slick black rock. The tide is coming in. They are getting a face full.

Such is also the case at Cape Perpetua, just south of Yachats. There is a huge spouting horn at a place called the Devil’s Churn. This should be a clue. Well-built stairs in the trail lead down to where the spouting horn sends white-water blasts into the air.

A young couple goes down and disappears around the bend to where the very front edge of the horn should be.

The tide is coming in.

Next time they are seen, at the top of the Cape Perpetua trail, they are soaking wet. They get into their car, head north up Highway 101, to zoom up and down, maybe happy, maybe shivering, in and out of a series of coastal areas with blue signs indicating tsunami danger zones.


The Further Adventures of Absolutely Nobody

Nobody fell into the job really, the unfamiliar world of grout, just as a way to get out of the house. Nobody would be a fine hire, the woman at the dog park said. She'd gotten to know him a little. Not enough. But a little. Yes, Nobody was a fine hire, she said. Maybe she felt sorry for him. A guy named Nobody. Like, Jesus, what luck, having a name like that your whole life. Nobody. Mr. Nobody. Some parents. First day on the job site he seemed a little timid about all of the activity. As well as the getting ordered around. Nobody, a shapeless being at the point, had been unconfronted by order for some time. A couple of years, maybe longer. Was there ever any ... order? But in actuality it washed over him, shaping him, into a kind of zenlike trance. Robotic. Compliant. Orderly. As if he were teaching himself to be OCD if only because, well, the tools terrified him and straddling the line seemed like the safest thing at the time. But it didn't take him long before the peepholes started to appear. The portholes to freedom, I suppose. First, the smoking breaks. Then, little walks to get a sense of the neighborhood. But when he came back, and he always did, he was refreshed, yes, but also a little angrier.
The site had unquieted him. Hell, even getting to the site unquieted him. And then there was a the problem with the water, the buckets, the waste. Custom finishings require a remarkable amount of conspicuous consumption. Even before you actually get to live around the house. The process was incredibly, well, conspicuous, thought Nobody. Somebody, thought Nobody (though not him) should write a strongly worded letter to the local newspaper about the waste. About the fat cats. About the place. The site. The purposelessness of the fact that all this effort was going to an eight-year-girl who already had a whole 'nother house to live in next door ... except the room hadn't been painted pink, as ordered. The rest was well, too many trips to Disneyland for the girl. Hardly her fault. Parents, rich as hell, spoiling her, no doubt, Nobody groused, as he mixed the grout.
The mix was a secret formula, he supposed, sent up from the gristy mill of hell. Nobody marvelled at how often the language for the cauldrens of hell, in fact, applied in this particular case, this job, this site. How often he went (Biblical on the language meter.)Although recently things had become more, shall we say, egalitarian. If only because it had only recently been discovered that Egyptian craftsmen for the pyramids were paid, respected members of the community. Most weren't slaves at all. They were skilled. Scientific. Architecturally seasoned sorts. Professionals. And this was no rush job. Ancient Egyptian economy, as it reigned over the desert for a few thousand years or so, was sustainable, diverse, generous, robust. Even in the desert. Hardly the stick-figured slaves you saw propped up at the minituarized displays of the history museum. They were consumers. Bricks in the wall. Threads in the fabric. You know. Those little brown tiny toy soldier-sized replicas of how this or that ruin might have looked in their heyday ... they represented people who had choices ... Nobody mused on this as he applied the grout to the wall and went "Karate Kid" on filling in the gaps on the opulent glass tiles ... musing to himself even more, then his co-worker, a dim, Mr. MaGoo-type, who perhaps had inhaled too many vapors from that so-called cauldren hell stuff, too ... mumbling orders like some mechanized clone whose DNA pattern got glitzy, downright out of focus late in life ... but the site had a life of its own, and a gaudy one at that, especially when it came to mixing the graphical styles, mixing Byzantine-age faux stone with four-by-four inch jewel glass tile that anybody with any taste could see was post-modern ...
"Personally, I wouldn't mix Greco-Roman with this after-rebar, Frank Lloyd Wright-type stuff, but that's just me," Nobody said. "Look at this glass. The perfect squares made to look like New York City skyscrapers, little cube farms, the whole fucking matrix. But this other stuff, the pieces are old world, Constaninop ... no, the Byzantines. They could build walls like nobody's business."
With that, Nobody went on with his business. Week One of Mr. Groutmeister man. Waxing on. Waxing off. Musing on the music on the radio. Sighing quietly to himself, considering the irony of the fact that he went to high school right here, that is, just right down the street, living in amazingingly vacant innocence among the super rich fucks of Paradise Valley, Arizona. He used to be one of those people, those spoiled kids with Disneyland lives, in a home just like this ... but now, but now? ... Now doing custom home scut work, doing nothing but scraping dried mix off a wall in a giant new bathroom extention for an entire week, a sort of pre-jeweled prison basement cell, like some strange and almost invisible ghost, doning on the past, as well as the spectre and energy of the site, with it's miniature toy soldier worker servants busily moving around in teams, painting, covering up walls with expensive fake brick stuff to make it look all so Southwestern, fortified, made to live forever, until they bulldoze the whole property again, to make it look like some other type of architectural flavor of the week, or better yet, Aztec ... or, no, Mayan jungle temple deco. Yeppers. Real Indiana Jones stuff. Both showbiz and still, yet, the perfect projection of power for the mercenary, feudal new century to come ... and so on ...
"We could dial this whole bathroom fixture situation up to the Mayan calendar, if you like," Nobody told the bathroom wall, still enjoying the mid-morning growl of his coffee rush. "I could be president of the United States, too ... as long (a little woman's voice now) as it doesn't cost money ... eek, eeek, eeeeek ..."
Nobody moved around his work space like a short-armed robot with each "eek," tottering in a smal circle like a penguin, his arms closed tight to his body, his hands grabbing tips of air in his snapper, zen worker bee position ...
His partner, MaGoomeister, just groaned. It had been a slow starting day, due to complications due to the way one shower head lined up with the tile, considerations well beyond Nobody's talents or interest. Magoo was also still stinging, perhaps, from Nobody's lecture on the 1970s era classic rock on a dusty clock radio used to create white noise, a pulse and energy at the site. When you criticize someone's music it's like pissing on the soul, after all, especially when the words are flying over the target's head. A target, in fact, that was perfectly happy to remain stuck in the dope smoking days of his youth, listening to old Foreigner, Queen and Led Zep hits. A lecture on the development of "Heyooo RRRR," as it sounded to him (to the deliverer of the sermon, it was AOR, as in Album Oriented Rock), had abruptly missed it's mark, since old MaGoo was perfectly happy to still hear Manfred Man Earth Man singing about "douches" in the night in that Springsteen cover of "Blinded By the Light."
"So that's what passes for art these days, still?" mutered Nobody to himself. "Bet the Boss sold his soul to the devil to make it a hit, right there and then. Douches. Indeed! And I still have to listen to this crap!"
Nobody thought he was going to lose his mind. He'd gone into the endeavor with a refreshed attitude, yes, but he was just too much of a damn smart as to stare at the wall all day, like some kind of punished Promethean ... Okay, Okay ... cautionary tale ... no eternal chaining to the rocks here, Zeus didn't do this, he did. It was Nobody's idea, after all, to work with Magoo. He'd volunteered for this miniaturized stick figure construction man business ...