Last time: Nina, furious at Strad missing the party she’d thrown for him and his concocted ‘supernatural’ excuse, tells him she doesn’t want to see him again until he starts living a more normal, responsible life.
The boy sat up straight as the car pulled over to the side of the highway. He stood, and leaned his head over the front seat. “Dad, what are we stopping for? Is something wrong with the car?” His father smiled.
“Nope, we’re there.” he said. “Last one out is a rotten egg!”
The boy shrugged. This sure didn’t look like the beach. He watched the cars whizzing by and road-junk tumbling around in the wake of their tail wind. The air reeked of exhaust fumes. He got out of the car, and sighed. He had really thought that this time they were going to make it to the ocean.
“Why so down?” smiled his mom. “We’ve got a great day ahead of us. I even packed your favorite—jelly and potato chip sandwiches.”
The boy stood numb as his parents spread out a blanket on the median strip, kicking away a hubcap.
“Every time! Every time this happens!” he thought angrily. “We start out for the beach, and end up on this crazy high-way.” He started to cry. His parents, who had begun a game of badminton, put down their rackets and came over to the tearful boy.
“Wanna play?” asked his dad. “I bet I’ll beat you 1-2-3.” He knew his son loved a challenge and that it could snap him out of almost any bad mood. But the boy refused.
“I don’t wanna play, I don’t wanna eat. I just want to go to the beach. ”
His parents gave each other ‘that look’ and shook their heads. “And where do you think you are?” asked his mom, tensely. “We just drove almost two hours to take you to this beautiful beach. Any other kid would be thrilled, and all you can do is mope and pout?” His parents seemed so sure. Maybe he really was just being a spoilsport, maybe he should…No, he thought. Not this time! He wasn’t going to fall for it. He wouldn’t go along.
The boy pulled himself up as tall as he could. “But Mom, Dad,” he said, pointing, “Can’t you see that this isn’t a beach? A beach has water, and birds, and sand. This is just an old high-way, not even a rest area…” His dad was turning redder and redder as the boy spoke.
“Listen,” his dad said through clenched teeth. “That’s quite enough of this little game of yours. Wherever we take you, it’s the same old song. ‘I wanna go to the beach…I wanna go to the beach.’ Your mother and I took a whole day off in the middle of a busy week, to bring you to the best beach on the whole coast, and you just start up again right away! Look around. Look at all the people. Do you really think they would be sitting around in bathing suits, if this wasn’t a beach?!”
The boy couldn’t deny it. Since they’d parked their car, a bunch of other cars had also pulled up. Kids were running around in swimsuits. A dog was chasing a flying disk. The boy smelled roasting hot-dogs amidst the exhaust fumes of the passing traffic. He looked back at his parents, whose eyes were almost pleading with him. One thing was clear—they sure thought they were at the beach, and so did all the others. The boy sighed, and once again, like every time, decided to keep quiet.
“Okay Dad,” he said. “I see what you mean. Are there any sandwiches left?” The tension broke, and his parents seemed so relieved.
The boy ate halfheartedly and even threw a football around for a while with the kid from the next blanket. But then, a little while later, as the boy walked over to the car to get his mom a magazine, he smelled something strange. He thought maybe it was some kind of fruit, or a lady’s perfume. It was a smell he knew, but from where?
Then the boy closed his eyes, and swooned. The Ocean!! It had been so long, but now it was like he was right there! Everything felt so blue, and warm, and wavy, and clear. He opened his eyes, and there was an old woman standing in front of him. “Grandma?”
She smiled, then cried, then smiled again. “Come, we’re going home.” Home? He wanted to go to the beach! The woman read his thoughts and laughed, “We are going to the ocean; we’re going home!” They started walking and the boy felt happier than he’d ever felt before. Then a hand grabbed his shoulder from behind and tugged him hard.
“You know the rules! No running off by yourself!” His dad said, pointing to his mom who was shading herself under a traffic light. “Come, your mother and I are ready to leave, but if you behave in the car, we can come back next week.”
“But Dad,” the boy squirmed out of his father’s grip and turned around. For sure Grandma would tell him, she’d explain everything, how they all really…but she disappeared.
Strad woke up in that no-man’s-land where dreams fade out and reality fades in, which for most people lasts only a few seconds but for him, could take up to half a morning. Why was he on Nina’s living room couch? His stomach clenched as he recalled their fight and he rushed to check her room, hoping it had also been a dream, but no. Nina was gone, the bed was perfectly made and his accumulated belongings had been stuffed neatly into his knapsack and placed by the doorpost like an unwelcome guest. She even raged neatly, thought Strad.
He made himself a cup of coffee and lit a clove stick. He felt the very walls of the usually cozy apartment glaring at him. Was this how divorced guys felt?
Strad sneezed. He must have caught a cold sleeping without a blanket. He dug into his jeans’ pocket for his handkerchief and a small square of paper came out with it and fell onto the floor. He bent down and picked it up, a pure reflex, and recognized it as the folded-over business card the strange cook had given him the night before. He’d been in such a rush to get out of there he hadn’t bothered to look at it. Strad unfolded the card and swooned.
‘Ocean…? Dream…?’ Though Strad did tend to view life as more of a patchwork of synchronicity than a boring scheme of cause and effect, this shook him up. But what did it mean?
(to be continued…)
 Society, even our families can present us with a version of reality that’s not really true. Those sensitive enough (like Strad) to reject it are disdained and seen as delusional, when really the delusional are those who blindly live the lie.
 Torah is compared to water (let the thirsty come and drink; knowledge of G-d will fill the land like the sea fills the seabed).
 Grandma – his link to his true roots and identity.
 Strad’s true identity is tugging at his subconscious, as it does for all Jews, who deep down know who they really are and what they are really meant to do.