by Ande Finley
The palms on Ocean Avenue poke the sky, swishing their clatter against fat clouds, against pale stucco, bleached out by salty neglect, against the edge of this sleepy beach town that no longer remembers itself. Joggers pass us, serious bikers and skaters with kneepads and nose rings, early morning power walkers, nannies from the barrio walking the dogs. Crossing the highway, looking out to the surf, we spiral around the bend and there's that man again wrapped in a faded plaid sleeping bag between cement pylons, staking out his claim. The beach is forlorn, there's a sign warning us not to swim, but we let the waves soak us anyway, hungry to feel the salty slap on our pale winter skin and dig our feet in the undertow. With my back to the ocean, I feel giddy looking at the sentinel palms lined up on the skyline like broomsticks reversed by some incantation and planted here on a whim, the irresistible skinny trunks that go on forever, the sprouting caps from a fantasy created by children or clowns, or maybe a god laughing the whole time. We leave the beach and hike up the steep wooden steps covered in eucalyptus droppings from the grove that lines the hill, sturdy caps offering their pungent gift to any quick, careless foot. All the streets are littered with this beautiful debris, serrated golden chunks of palm bark, huge broom-shaped leaves and I can't resist the urge to play with these giant toys, to take in the smell, the exotic feel of distant places, knowing, sadly, this tree trash is as common here as pine cones where I come from. Past the tattooed skateboarders, the stately Japanese couple, women in Gucci sweats, panhandlers burned to a leathery brown and the sun is heating up now, our bones are starting to hum, it feels like summer but we've got a month till spring and tomorrow we go back to the rain. That final night, I tilt deep into the star-driven night, along the impossible length of three palms, where the full moon rides the desert sky and angels dance with a city's dreams in those leafy crowns.