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Inward Bound
By Eric Friedman

The beach wasn't pretty, but it had sand, which I promptly stuck my feet in. Then the loneliness set in. It was a different kind of loneliness than I'd ever experienced before, and frankly, I thought I'd experienced all the kinds. I have words for loneliness like Eskimos do for snow. But this was more of the "you brought this upon yourself, you big dumbass" kind of loneliness -- which is cool because it incorporates not just sadness, but also second-guessing, and self-flagellation. It's the neurotic trifecta.

Unable to stand the stench of my own thoughts, I scanned the beach for a companion. All I found was a long bamboo rod. Not exactly what I was looking for, but you play the cards you're dealt. I christened the bamboo rod as my walking stick, and decided to use it and keep it by my side until the trip was over. I liked walking with a stick. It even cheered me up a little. I walked back to my campsite, stick in hand, past all the not alone people with their footballs, and beers, and grilled meat, and I was like (CONFIDENT) "yeah, that's right. I'm camping alone. And I'm walking with a stick." Then I saw a guy and his hot girlfriend put up their tent and start making out, and I was like, (SAD) "Yeah, I'm camping alone. And I'm walking with a stick." I threw my stick in the woods.

2 O'Clock. So many more hours to kill… Is it too early to open the Chianti? Probably. Instead, I took another walk, this time along a little nature trail. The walk was action packed.. I spent a half hour staring at a lizard that had camouflaged itself on some bark. I climbed a tree, and sat up there for a while. I threw some rocks…

Then I went back to my campsite and opened the Chianti. It was 3:30.

I sat and I drank, and I can honestly say that for the first time in a while, I was 100 percent in the moment.

Here's the problem: the moment sorta sucked.

I know what you're thinking -- "Wah! Poor Eric. He had to spend an entire day outside with just a book, 10 gigs of music, and a giant bag of food. I feel soooo bad for him." And while I appreciate your mock sympathy, I also don't feel like I wholly deserve it. Yeah, I was being lame, but at least I was out there. At least I was trying to fix a hole in my life. Lots of people are too scared to admit their life even has holes. And sure, some other day, when my head wasn't cloudy, and I wasn't so wrapped up in self-reflexive hole-fixing, I could have sat at that campsite with my tunes, and my stick, and my scone, and been the happiest motherfucker on the planet. But not that day. I had tasted the moment, and I didn't much care for it. Now all I wanted was another moment to cleanse my palate.

And then I got one. A guy and a girl -- Mike and Kat -- college kids -- walked past my campsite, and said hello. They started off, and then Mike turned and called in my direction, "Hey, what are you doing later tonight?" "Uhhh….You're looking at it." "Well, if you want to hang out, stop by campsite 74."

Campsite 74, eh? Alright. Now we're talking… I imagined that Mike and Kat were camping with a big group of college kids, and they'd take me in, and we'd drink some beers, a dude would play a little Allman Brothers on his guitar, maybe there'd be a hot girl who would find me adorable -- "you came camping by yourself? That is sooo cute! Let's go back to your tent and get naked." Yes, this trip was finally shaping up after all. "So," I asked them, "Who you guys up here with?" "Just the two of us." (BUMMED) "Oh…cool. You know "Whipping Post?"

But the three of us did end up having dinner together -- at my place, not theirs -- Campsite 95, yo! We cooked, and ate, and chilled and chatted. Mike told me about the semester he spent in Chile. Kat and I discussed The Great Gatsby. Bowls were lit and passed. After dinner, Mike pulled out this really cool, twangy musical instrument I'd never seen before called a "Jew's Harp." I don't think the name is meant to be anti-semitic, although I did hear that Jew's Harps were portrayed very unfavorably in The Passion of the Christ. And that Mel Gibson's dad denies they even exist. Either way, the music was awesome.

I don't remember exactly what time Mike and Kat said good night. The hours had flown by, and the sky which had been bright and blue when we first met was now filled with a bajillion stars and a giant full moon. I climbed into my tent and fell asleep smiling.

The next morning I woke up early, packed my gear, enjoyed my scone, and headed back towards L.A. and the many errands awaiting me. But on the way back, I decided to pull off the PCH into Point Magu State Park, where I took an incredible five-mile hike through lush foliage and tinkling waterfalls. At the top of a hill, I came across a huge open field, where surrounded by mountains on three sides and the ocean on the other, I laid down, closed my eyes, and had the peaceful, beautiful moment that had been eluding me for so long.

And then I thought, "Wow, my mom put a dress on my brother." That is fucked up!

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