Gap Year



Back in high school, we used to meet up down by the pier at the end of First Street almost every Friday and Saturday night. One night, a kid jumped off and tried to swim to the island. Another night someone lit a garbage can on fire. But mostly we’d just drink beer, play loud music and jump in and out of other people’s cars. My best friend Dave had an old Ford pickup with a good stereo, so we mostly hung out on his tailgate.


Now, almost everybody’s gone. They went off to college and I stayed behind to work in my dad’s printing press after mom got sick. I said I’d stay back a year, see how things go and then head off to college. But that was three years ago.


Almost every afternoon, I drive down to the pier for lunch, just to get out of the shop and clear my head. At first it was weird to hang out there in the daytime. Mostly it’s just people eating lunch in their cars, a couple of guys fishing and moms walking strollers. All the kids are still in school. Every once in awhile, a ship goes by.


Across the water from where I park, you can still see the sign that says, “We Love Ryan” where a kid died out by one of those tiny islands years ago. That’s why they don’t have the boat races anymore.


There’s a guy who feeds mostly pigeons and a lady who feeds mostly seagulls. It’s like the birds know which one to go to. He parks over by the public bathroom, where the pigeons roost. And she usually stakes out a spot about halfway down the parking lot on the south side along the water. As soon as she breaks out the bread, it’s a shrieking swarm of wings and beaks as hundreds of seagulls appear out of nowhere. Most of the people walking by on the path seem annoyed. You can see it in their faces. But I happen to love it.


A few months ago, a guy yelled at her, “You know it’s against the law to feed the birds!” He was parked in a vintage red VW bug yelling out the window at her, like the seagulls were about to crap all over his fancy car. Then he backed out in a hurry and drove off.


I was sitting nearby on a bench and I felt like I had to say something. So I said, “Show me where it says it’s against the law.” It was a dumb thing to say, but we’ve been friends ever since. At least I like to think so. We don’t talk much. I don’t even know if she speaks English. I think she’s from China. But she always brings an extra brown paper bag of bread for me. I usually tell her about my mom and how she’s doing and what’s going on at the shop. And she just smiles and nods.


One day, she didn’t show up. The next day either or the day after that. About a week after she stopped coming, I went down and asked the Pigeon Man. Birds were cooing and shuffling up and down the hood of his truck, bird crap blending into his white truck like a new coat of paint. Tucking a paper-bag can of beer into his jacket pocket, he acted like he’d never heard of her.


“You know the lady who feeds the seagulls over there?” I said, pointing across the parking lot.


He just shook his head and offered up his Planters can. “Want some peanuts? I usually save them for the birds, but they’re good eating, too.”


I took a handful and walked over to where the Seagull Lady used to hang out, and I tossed them on the ground and waited.