Originally Published in Rolling Stone Magazine - Summer 1986
THIS IS A STORY ABOUT THE BEACH.
I, Phillip, a small boy of twelve, lay exhausted, not knowing if I was
sleeping or if I was daydreaming that I was sleeping. Gently I rocked back
in forth in my hammock, a hammock woven out of the eyelashes of 1000 deer.
There was always a gentle breeze at the top of the 300-foot stainless-steel
trees where my hammock was located. All the trees were stainless-steel in
the Shiny National Forest. Some of the trees had been sawed down and cut
into 60-foot lengths, then sold as flagpoles to people who lived in reality,
many, many years away. I had never worked so hard in my life as in these
past few hours. My clothes proved that I had labored, stained with
confusion, compliments and criticism, all things that are not machine
I was living on Water Island. A small island, sizewise. The island had no
shore. All islands are above sea level, but this was ridiculous. The entire
land mass was 200 feet above the ocean. All sand. Not one human had ever
been near the water. And why the hell should they? You don't see fish trying
to get on the roofs of buildings.
The year was a very long time ago. The island was ruled by a king. King
Sammy. King Sammy lived in the Great Formica Castle, located at the bottom
of Sand Valley. The king experienced temporary insanity every day. The
Formica grew wild. There was much Formica left over after the castle was
completed. The extra Formica would be sold to people who lived in reality,
many, many years away. Nobody ever imagined that parts of King Sammy's
castle would end up in kitchens.
The king was the king because he controlled gravity. That was the only
reason he was king. Which was good enough when you think about it. If he
didn't like you for any reason, he would snap his fingers and you would
float higher and higher until he snapped them again and you would stay at
that height forever or until he brought you back down again, maybe.
People were living at different heights all over the place. The people the
king hated the most were very high up in the sky, sitting on stainless-steel
chairs. The people who who lived in reality, many, many years away, would
look into the sky and invent the word "star." They would also invent the
word "shooting star," which was actually a person on a chair that the king
was moving to another position.
The reason I lived in a hammock at 300 feet was I was a waiter at the
castle, and one night, entranced by the beauty of the king's niece, I
accidentally served soup on flat dishes. I smiled at the young girl, the
king snapped his fingers, and I went up through a skylight and have been
living at 300 feet ever since. I overtook Styrofoam Canyon.
To please King Sammy and again live on the ground was indeed my goal. I was
notified of my chance to do this one day at about an hour before the
beginning of time. A bird flew to my hammock delivering a small letter. An
invitation to possible fate. It was from the king himself. It said, "Dear
Phillip: As you know, this year I will be celebrating my birthday on August
11th. If you can arrange a unique festival I will again allow you to live on
the ground or at least at eye level and maybe date my niece, Princess
Sammintine. I know your great-great-grandfather invented socializing. That is
why I'm giving you this chance. If not, I'm sure you will be reaching
further heights. Sincerely, King Sammy."
Actually my great-great-grandfather was really a hermit and invented
socializing just as a joke.
So here was my chance to redeem myself and live on the ground again. I
decided I would go to sleep and dream about what to do. Often I would wave
goodbye when I went to sleep. As a small boy I would sometimes sleep with my
eyes open so all my dreams would take place in my room. It was raining.
There was a great rainbow. Rainbows over Water Island were made of a light
I was standing on a cliff looking out into the great ocean. The ocean was
called Land Ocean. Just then a herd of deer ran by. None of them had
The water was beautiful. The king loved water. Hmmm hmm. The king was very
fond of water, to the point where he installed a pool that surrounded the
entire castle. Other kings would later copy this idea.
King Sammy could not swim. People who were great swimmers were despised by
the king and forced to live on twelve-foot chairs. My dream then switched to
housekeeping, which startled me awake.
Yes, yes, the king loved water. If only Water Island had a shore.
I began to work. I got rid of the sand the only way I knew how, I vacuumed
it. Night and day I vacuumed until the sand on Water Island got lower and
lower, closer to the ocean. Inadvertently, I was inventing the beach.
It was the night of August 10th. I needed much help. So I hired hundreds of
small children to help remove the sand. I gave them little plastic buckets
and little plastic shovels. The children removed tons of sand. They worked
very hard, although they thought they were playing.
Soon the land was level with the water. An unusually beautiful sight to see
for the first time: the shore, the beach. I walked up and down this peaceful
area trying to avoid the broken glass.
I wrote a letter to King Sammy. "Dear King Sammy: Meet me where I'm going to
be. Sincerely, Phillip."
I then prepared the festival. I brought loads of food and ale packed in
boxes that were built in the Styrofoam Canyon. I brought small, horizontal
fireplaces that stood on little legs. I hired a group of minstrels who could
only play music too loud.
Fate lessons of the past and present were now in session. Tradition was
about to begin. King Sammy arrived at the beach with fifteen court jesters,
his wife, Edna, Princess Sammintine, and several other men and women who were
walking around at different heights. Some of them he really didn't like and
made them arrive in their underwear. People in reality would do this
willingly, many, many years away.
The minstrels began to play. The king danced with the waves. I danced with
the shadow of the king, and the idea of Princess Sammintine kissed the back
of my memory of the events that took place.
We drank until we almost drowned on land.
A seventy-two-year-old childhood friend of the king cut the plastic rainbows
into circles and filled them with air to create colorful bouncing balls. As
the king snapped his fingers to the music, people were flying up and down
all over the beach. The children with plastic buckets were now heavily into
the construction of little castles made of sand, so the king would feel at
The more the king drank, the more he liked the people, and the more he liked
the people, the lower they were to the ground.
Soon people were actually lying down on little cotton flags all over the
I invited a few of the great swimmers on twelve-foot chairs. The king
ordered them to stay in their chairs unless someone was drowning. They wore
bright orange shorts.
I had a waterproof pen. The ocean was very calm. The king wanted bigger
waves. So I drew huge waves on the ocean. The ships didn't understand.
As the madness continued, I made my way over to Princess Sammintine. I asked
her if she wanted a massage. She said, "Yes, but not physically." I said,
"How do you like the beach?" She said, "Well, it's kind of sandy." I
apologized for the beach's being sandy. Then I said, "Will you marry me?"
She said, "No, you're boring, and besides I've seen fatter legs on a bird."
I smiled at Princess Sammintine and accidentally served clam chowder on flat
dishes. The king snapped his fingers, and I went up 300 feet onto my hammock
in the sky.
I lay there swinging in the breeze, knowing that a situation like that
would never take place again.