A divided Newport Beach Park, Beaches and Recreation Commission voted 4-3 Tuesday night to ban and remove fire rings from city beaches. A ban advocate told the panel exposure to smoke from the 60 rings can aggravate asthma, bronchitis and lung disease, and being a seasonal sufferer of at least two of those maladies I can relate. But that's not why I wouldn't be happier if the pits were verboten.
When one of my kids was still in high school, he met some friends at one of the 33 rings near Balboa Pier for a nighttime bonfire. None of them could drive, all having been dropped off after a school function. I drew the short straw to pick up my boy.
That was no easy task because it was pitch black out and most rings had groups surrounding them. Trudging from the parking lot, across the sand and to the first ring, I stopped to get my bearings. Standing there with my legs spread to maintain my balance, I twisted from side to side in a fruitless attempt to locate my son's party.
That's when I was confronted by a fellow possessing the unmistakable whiff of the 909. (Sorry, 909Jeff, he just did). Unshaven, wobbly and through beady, bloodshot eyes, he vomited something that sounded to my ears like, “Hey, blag gerf jeeg nooner fooshen!”
Whatever he was saying, he was quite agitated.
“Uh, yeah,” I replied, “I'm looking for more son.”
Soon he was joined by what I assume was his Clampett cousin wife, and in between his “nergs” and “bloofahs,” I could now make out what he was accusing me of: peeing next to the fire ring surrounded by the intoxicated couple and their poor kids. He went on to accuse me of being a pervert who got off whipping out his wang around children.
At one point, he started to make a move at me, and I imagined joining Johnny Cash in a burning ring of fire. I think my would-be combatant suddenly realized how blitzed he was and feared I would have an advantage.
“Look, buddy, I didn't whip out anything, and I didn't pee,” I pleaded. “I just stopped here to look for my kid.”
“Oh, I bet you're looking for a kid,” chimed in his Rachel Dratch-lookalike wife. They both got louder and louder with their accusations, hoping I suppose that a peace officer of some kind would overhear them and swoop down to take me to the hoosegow. Would a cop believe my word against these two?
“We just try to come here, have a nice family day at the beach . . .” the dad nearly sobbed before his voice trailed off. His wife busily collected the chitlins, tattered blankets and the quarter-full Mountain Dew liter bottle and scooted toward a rusty old station wagon in the lot.
Left in a face-off with her hubby, and not recognizing any way this was going to end well, I then did what any proud, unjustly shamed, red-blooded American man would do: I removed my flip-flops, grabbed one in each hand and ran like hell toward the ocean and into darker darkness. It was there I practically had a head-on collision with my son, who bitched me out over how long it took me to arrive.
As we approached the lot, I could see the taillights and hear the popping muffler of the rusty wagon pulling away.
So, yeah, rip those godforsaken fire rings out, I say. There are plenty more in Huntington Beach, where you don't have to worry about any unanticipated run-ins with 909ish elements. They already live there.
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.