Pete, a veteran with nightmares of night problem patrols, spoke of the snow of his time in country, how the snow melted in the winter firefights, how it sucked up red light like a county fair snowball. For guys like Pete, Tin Can Beach provided paradisiacal possibilities after bouncing around in troop carriers in the war zone off the Sea of Japan. The beach was a haven where you could talk about your predicament without being asked a bunch of silly questions, without wondering what the daze of the days was all about, tin cans strewn across the beach a way of counting and recounting. And Tom spoke of his Engineers unit. They mainly put up and took down their pontoon bridge, and he was a fording expert. Jack operated a compressor truck. Air tools. He made compressed air, engine tank on the back of a deuce and a half frame. Attached to air hoses, the construction platoons worked jack hammers, saws, drills, picks, shovels, drivers. Built road culverts, shelters, cleared paths through the wilderness. Moved villages. Pete, Tom, and Jack lived in a makeshift shack near the back of Tin Can Beach. I asked could they keep an eye on my scooter while I went in the water for a fresh soapless wash. Tom said not to take a shit straight out, but move north or south down or up the beach a good hundred yards or more. They’d been having problems with swimming into hobo poop in the water when they went in for their morning dip. Later in the day, a meeting was held to discuss the problem. Someone suggested they put up a sign down near the water line: No Shitting in the Water. Discussion followed as to the best way to word it. Pete said it sort of sounded like there was no shit in the water, worded that way. Don’t shit in the water, followed, an improvement, but still they didn’t feel they were there yet. Don’t sounded too informal. Do Not Shit in the Water. Was there a more polite term for what they were talking about? Do Not Poop in the Water. What water? Wouldn’t ocean be more specific? Do Not Poop in the Ocean. Tom suggested Not be underlined, for emphasis. And By Order of the Mayor of Tin Can Beach should be added, for officialdom. Approved plan in mind, we set about constructing the sign, and when it was finished, we walked in a group down to the water to erect the sign on the berm up from the high tide water line, on perpendicular line to the shack up on the beach. Everyone stood back to admire and critique the sign and saw that it was good and headed back up the beach to sit out in front of the shack to drink beers out of cans. In the morning, we awoke to the smell of Jack’s coffee in an open gallon can boiling over the fire pit, and watched a hobo walking along the berm, in a predawn mist, and stopping and reading the new sign, drop his pants down around his ankles and squat, facing the ocean, his back to us. We’ll never know the winning tale, Tom said. The next night, the tide came in higher than expected, and the sign washed out with the tide. I found it washed up surf mangled about a hundred yards down the beach.
“Hobo Poop on Tin Can Beach” is episode 47 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.