The warning had come down when they were already in the water. Jess and her friends were usually always in the water, even this late in the summer. Plus, it’s not as though Los Angeles had gotten any kind of telltale signal that the season was meant to be changing, getting cooler. Instead, it felt obliged to do the exact opposite, the sun beating down its heatwaves across the entire state. It was, to be frank, the worst possible time for a sewage leak (not that there’s ever really a “good” time). The only thing that could have been more detrimental, of course, was an oil spill. But perhaps Incompetence was feeling “generous” and opted for the more “au naturel” faux pas of a raw sewage leak. Specifically, ten thousand gallons of it. At least, that’s what they said on the news. They were probably “underestimating” to assuage greater fear.
Appropriately, the brunt of it was unleashed into what’s called RAT beach. That stands for Right After Torrance/Redondo, for those unversed in L.A. beach abbreviations. In other words, the very location Jess, Brit and Langdon would frequent whenever they saw fit, usually cutting school if necessary to achieve their beach goals. That Torrance is one of those quiet, “well-to-do” coastal communities bordered by the even more well-to-do Palos Verdes Estates was what attracted them to it. The latter was where the sewage leak came from, fittingly enough. For the rich caste is always dumping their shit onto the “little people.” Jess, Brit and Langdon weren’t as “little” in the eyes of the wealthy as others (except maybe Brit, who was half-Black), but, as alluded to, they weren’t actually from the area (not close enough to it, anyway, to be deemed part of this particular class). Instead, they liked to dip down into it from North Redondo. All three cursed to be residents of that milieu. And, of course, being young always made you irrelevant in the eyes of adults who had apparently “inherited the Earth” and never saw fit to pass it down to anyone else. One would think irrelevancy might have its perks in terms of being essentially invisible to one’s “elders,” but that wasn’t the case, least of all when they were trying to clamp down on you just for expressing even the slightest trace of having a good time.
That was precisely what the trio was doing, just as a Baywatch Rescue Boat was scudding toward them. And yes, Jess was aware that there was no one else on the planet but an L.A. County resident who could take a Baywatch boat seriously without automatically picturing Pam Anderson running down the sandy beaches. What’s more, it was hard to take anyone seriously when they looked as though they were crafted out of marble and ready to be inserted into a Marvel movie (ergo… crafted out of Marvel?). That was exactly what this lifeguard, Jake (the name he was eager to give them—almost suspiciously eager), looked like. Inspiration for Michelangelo if ever there was one. Jess doubted that he would be working for Baywatch much longer; it was only a matter of time before he was cast in something. Meanwhile, she only wanted to remain cast away from the “real world” back on the shore. Where nothing but a reminder of the fake, plastic dome she inhabited would be waiting. Out in the water, even if it was filled with human waste, at least it was real. And yes, Jake was quick to open with the fact that they were delighting in shit. Like pigs, basically.
Offering them each a hand to get on his boat, Jake proceeded to also inform them that the county supervisor had even closed beaches as far up as Playa Del Rey, Venice and Santa Monica to keep people from subjecting themselves to unsafe bacteria levels. Jess looked telepathically at Brit. Both of them seemed to be saying, “Just waking up automatically subjects you to an unsafe bacteria level.” Langdon, sitting on the side of the boat across from them, wasn’t much paying attention to anything, other than the boner he was trying to will away by not looking directly at Jake’s body. Of all the people who could have come to rescue them—oh god, why couldn’t it have been a Pam Anderson type? Then Langdon wouldn’t be having this very painful issue.
Some part of him knew that Jess and Brit were already aware of his ever-burgeoning sexual orientation, though Jess seemed the most clueless of the two. Especially when she tried to express “subtle” means of affection beyond the standard-issue friendship kind, like letting her hand linger on his for just a few seconds longer than would be deemed “normal.” The same went for the eye contact she so often made with him. Yes, he knew that his life would be so much easier if he could just like her back. At the same time, he resented her heterosexuality, and even her whiteness, for that matter (regardless of Langdon being white himself; it meant nothing to him if he wasn’t straight). He felt Brit instinctively understood he was “other” because she herself was made out to be by this fucked-up world.
Jess had been the glue that held the trio together for so long since childhood. They might have drifted apart a million times were it not for her. Brit had certainly tried to by breaking out with her own friend group—one that wasn’t so, well, white. But maybe she had spent too much time with Jess and Langdon anyway, because, according to Brit, she wasn’t “Black enough” for the Black kids anymore. Their mockery of her half-whiteness being merciless. Funny thing was, her white mother had died in childbirth, which added to the sting of being insulted over this particular part of herself. All of these thoughts that swirled in Langdon’s mind were interrupted when the boat crashed headfirst into a rock that Jake had evidently been too blind to see. Maybe if he hadn’t been ogling the fuck out of Jess’ tits, which, admittedly, were pretty impressive, he would’ve been more focused. Needless to say, because this particular rescue boat was one of those rinky-dink rubber ones, it quickly deflated, leaving the quartet awash in the sewage water Jake was meant to be saving them from.
Brit couldn’t help but laugh to herself as she splashed water in Jess’ face. She screamed back, “Hey, stop that shit!”
Brit giggled. “Interesting choice of words—I can’t!”
Jess glared at her. Jake was generally nonplussed, still somewhat entranced by Jess’ body. The very thing that served as yet another reason why she hated living in this fake, plastic world. It wanted to commission her to be part of it. Part of selling the plasticity. Even if her tits were real, everyone would assume they weren’t. That they were all part of molding yourself to what Hollywood “expected.”
Langdon was the only one who, ironically, appeared to be thinking straight. Because that brush with death certainly made his erection deflate with as much rapidity as the boat. And with the blood flow back in his brain where he needed it, he suggested they all swim “like fuck” to the shore, which wasn’t all that much farther away. What choice did they have? What choice do any of us have, usually? None.
Following his lead, Brit, Jess and Jake employed their best attempts at freestyling their way to being among toxic air as opposed to toxic water (in this day and age, you have to choose between one of the two, even if the latter is more likely to give you the dreaded polio). By the time they reached the sands of the beach, roughly ten minutes later, there was no denying that they all felt quite icky. As though “something” had undeniably seeped in. Through their pores and into their very veins.
Over the course of the next week, it would come to light that the original amount thought to have spilled within Malaga Creek and the beaches surrounding it was twice as much. All because some asshole in Palos Verdes Estates had hired a “private plumber” (weren’t all plumbers public?) to come and “clear the roots” from a lateral pipe. Those “roots” then ended up gathering in such a way as to cause a dam-like buildup ready to explode out of the sewer covering. Which is precisely what it did. So if rich people thought their shit didn’t stink, the truth is, it stunk all the more because everyone eventually had to bear sensory witness to it after they tried to conceal it, resulting only in a deluge. A literal river of shit.
It took slightly less time than the news reports’ reveal of the true gallon amount for the effects of mucking about in human waste to become very obvious to the violently ill members of the “rescue boat party.” Jake had to call out sick from work, holed up in his bathroom vomiting. Just a garden-variety touch of gastroenteritis. Langdon wasn’t as fortunate, for the water had entered a few of his open wounds, causing vibrio illness. Jess was stuck with a bit of diarrhea, which could have been attributable to any number of the waterborne pathogens they were subjected to. Shit begets shit, after all.
Brit was the last one to experience any symptoms, realizing she had contracted Hepatitis A, as her jaundiced skin eventually indicated. Better that than polio, she consoled herself. Mostly alone, in the darkness of her bedroom. Because, rather than these horrors bringing the trio of friends closer together, it seemed to drive a wedge permanently between them, with no one bringing up going to RAT beach again. Even after the county supervisor declared it was “safe” (in the immortal words of Cher Horowitz, “As if”).
Jess, in the meantime, had grown rather fond of Jake, who got well before her and decided to pop by her house and do some of his own “private plumbing.” Ever since then, they were inseparable. Jake had even talked her into going on some pretty successful auditions, one of which landed her a national commercial (involving bouncing up and down while chewing gum). Whenever Langdon or Brit saw it inserted into the ads of some show they were streaming, in their own separate domiciles, they muted it and clicked over to a new tab. It was, for some reason, untenable to see Jess. As though they blamed her somehow for what happened. Not even just their illness, but forever tainting the water by leading them to it that day, of all days.
In effect, by swimming in human waste together, they had somehow managed to cause a larger human waste… of their friendship.