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The Middle Ages: High tide for friendships, even as life’s eddies bedevil us

We are sitting around the beach, a bunch of us, when the subject of the Apocalypse comes up, right out of the blue, like a porpoise out of a wave.

Since there’s a droll lightness to the moment, the general consensus is that the Apocalypse would be fine for a few days, that people would rally and rely on one another, just as we have here at the beach, before supplies start running perilously low – paper towels, fresh limes – at which point life would begin to resemble one of those dire HBO productions where the world is run by itchy oligarchs.

“My emergency kit is a shotgun and a bag of gold,” one dad says.

I make a mental note of this. Seriously.

Another dad explains that he and his wife have devoted entire shelves to earthquake supplies, including a bottle of Johnny Walker Red, presumably to pour on snake bites and down your gullet when the kids won’t quit whining about missing their Nickelodeon shows.

When the women join us, the subject turns to weddings and how couples often use them to twist a knife into loved ones they’re mad at or to make a statement against forced childhood values.

Turns out one woman’s sister got married way up in the Sierra, about as far from her parents’ stuffy church as she could reasonably find.

“It was almost Pantheist,” my buddy Andy remembers of the outdoor ceremony.

“I got so sunburned,” his wife recalls.

Ah, the beach. Part saloon, part confessional.

I don’t have any fake Hollywood friends. What I have are genuine, flawed, fabulous, hopeful, whimsical, funny, confused, loopy, devoted friends. Real nut jobs, some of them.

They make me a little crazy but in equal amounts keep me a little sane.

For we all reside in a suburb where all the plumbing systems are collapsing – and a lot of the relationships, too, though in fairness the marriages deal with a lot more muck.

So we self-medicate with sand and summer sun, forming semicircles of gripes and insights, sitting like kings in beach chairs that cost about a buck. For a while, the waves seem to rinse away a few of our greater worries. Wind and breaking waves supposedly create negative ions and positive vibes, my buddy Steve explains.

In fact, there seems to be a certain tug of war at play. It’s almost orchestral. We arrive at the water’s edge, and as the tide sneaks in, the ocean seems to reach for us, to lean in, purse its lips, tilt its head a little. Then, suddenly, the tide recedes, pulling away. So much like life. So much like every first date I ever had back in college.

“Sometimes I think we worry just to worry,” one of the moms is saying, a sentiment as certain as the sea.

The topics are serious, the topics are whimsical. One dad admits there are times when he absentmindedly starts looking for his phone while he’s actually on his phone. I confess to the same thing. “Hey, where did I put my phone?” I’ll think to myself while patting down my pockets.

I also, occasionally, lose the nose on my very own face.

Our conversation soon turns to kids – always kids – and we mull the possibility that any of our children will ever take care of us in our old age. No one seems to think so, and there is a long, pregnant pause as we ponder this.

We are a country now, it seems, not of steel mills or cars or computer chips, but of kids, kids and more kids; they are our gross national product, the new bags of gold in a world desperate for success.

You cannot value children too much, though we are always teetering on the edge of just that – obsessing over their happiness and test scores, gifting them with trophies no matter what, building them up and up and up.

Like baby porpoises, they are right now frolicking out there on the waves, not yet realizing the future will soon weigh heavily on their backs.

And when it does, when the bills pile up and the plumbing systems collapse and life seems to be a jerk parade of frustrations and disappointment, I hope they’ll find their way down to the ocean to recover a little with another national resource we don’t acknowledge enough: wry and funny pals.

Novelist John Updike summed it up best: “The crazy thought came to me that people wouldn’t mind which it was so much, heaven or hell, as long as their friends went with them.”