Float Party Constable

Josh Brown could still clearly remember every hilarious, embarrassing, and cherished moment of that warm June day when he appointed himself the Santa Ana River's own float party constable. Orange County always needed such a thing. Okay, no it didn't. But it felt that way at the time! For reasons!

Stupid reasons, Josh had to admit. But hey, who could blame him? Who wouldn't get some funny ideas on a free afternoon back in the summer of 2010? Simpler times!

"Okay, nice and easy," Josh muttered to himself as he set his margarita-themed pool float into the Santa Ana River's shallow, cool waters. That mighty river could get too rough or too shallow for float parties at places, but around here, it was smooth sailing! Minus the sails. Duh. Point is, this was a hot zone for party-minded youths, mostly college students like Josh had been until recently. Whoo, fun in the sun!

That is, with a responsible float party constable to oversee things! One with a, um, booze-themed floatation device. Still counts.

"Hey, buddy," some guy with a shaggy mop of chestnut hair said as he floated by. He waved to Josh. "My friends are comin' soon. Wanna say hi?"

Josh cleared his throat and got his nightstick ready as the Santa Ana River's first official (and so far, best) constable. "Just behave yourself, kiddo. I won't have any rowdy party animals mucking up my river. These are my riverbanks."

The newcomer burst out laughing. "You for real, man?"

"Does my nightstick look like it's for real?" Josh said with his best "copper" leer. It was actually a bright yellow pool noodle with a broom handle stuck through it for much-needed rigidity. Josh tapped it on his open palm all cool-like.

The newcomer snorted with amusement. "Sure, whatever. Hey, here they come now." He turned on his orange and black float, waving. "Water's fine, guys! And toss me one!"

One what? Ohhhhhh, no. No! One of the new guy's friends, some punk with a fauxhawk and a chinstrap beard, tossed his pal a bottle of Corona Light. Josh couldn't help but admire that glass bottle's elegant, tumbling arc through the warm, dry California air.

Then it landed in its recipient's hand, the bottlecap came off with a fsssh, and chug, chug, chug!

"Ahhh!" The guy with a mop of brown hair lifted his bottle, grinning his head off at Josh. "Sorry, forgot to introduce myself. I'm Sean. I go to UCI, the School of Education. Wanna be a teacher someday!"

Josh scowled, getting his nightstick ready for action. "I don't think so, punk. No one's gonna be an educator acting like this! No booze on my river!"

Sean rolled his eyes. "What the fuck, man. Just having some fun. What's the big deal?"

"The big deal?" Josh repeated hotly, aware that Sean's friends, all chilling on their own floats, were staring at him. "Do you know what booze does to a person?! I won't have a future educator drinking himself to death, throwin' bottles in my river!"

"Uh, who's that?" a blonde girl asked, frowning.

"No idea," another of Sean's friends said casually. "Just ignore him. Here." He handed the girl a Corona Light, and fsssh, chug, chug, chug!


"That does it!" Josh barked, sitting up in his float. He wobbled and fought to stay balanced. "All of you, hand over your drinks! I'm breakin' this party up!"

"Seriously, who the hell are you?" Sean demanded. He took another scandalous sip as he cruised on the cool waters. "You got a problem?"

"Yeah, leave us alone," Mr. Fauxhawk added. "We're just havin' a little party. The fuck's wrong with you?"

"Hand 'em over! No drinking on my river!" Josh cried. He swiped his pool noodle (ahem, nightstick) at Sean's beer hand. He narrowly missed, and a startled Sean drew his hand back.

"Get outta here, man!" Sean grated. "What's it to you, huh?"

"What's it to me, kid?" Josh hissed. He and the others were technically the same age or so. "I'll tell you what it is to me! It's..." He gestured with his yellow nightstick. "Imagine a promising college student getting dared to drink straight from the keg as thirty youngsters chant and cheer him on, and okay, let's admit our student is the type to cave to peer pressure. So, drink he does! Beer never hurt anyone, right? But it ruins his night! His reputation!"

Sean rolled his eyes again, floating on and on. "That was you, right?"

"Yes! It was!" Josh declared. "And it gets worse!" Time for some embellishments to teach these delinquents a lesson. "Suppose the young man thinks he can skateboard now... off the roof! And he tries to kiss someone's girlfriend, only to eat a knuckle sandwich until the big guy from his chemistry class restrains the angry boyfriend before things get ugly. And someone even drunker than that pukes on our poor student's shirt! And then our student slips in it, breaking his wrist as he goes down!"

"Bullshit all that happened," another guy, wearing an SF 49ers hat and a plain white tee, cut in. He had a Corona Light in each hand.

"It did! All of it!" Josh cried, gesturing again. "Don't let it happen to you, citizens! Put the booze away! Enjoy the Santa Ana River with clear minds. And don't pollute! I saw you about to throw that bottle, Sean!"

"Was not," Sean said with a scowl. "Come on, guys, let's float. Forget this."

And so they did, drinking their futures away, letting the river guide them to who knows where! Josh was tethered right here, a rope holding his margarita float (he should have picked a different one) near a metal peg in the sandy dirt nearby. Ha! No whims of the Santa Ana River would carry him away from his duty! Josh may have lost this fight, but the war continued! The war for riverside justice!

Ten minutes later, another challenge to float party law came along. A challenge blasting Metallica's "Ride the Lightning" on full blast!

"WHOOOOOO!" A quartet of metalheads in black shirts drifted into Josh's watery precinct, one of them holding an old-fashioned boombox as James Hetfield's voice disrupted the peace around here. And one of them was smoking! Nooooo!

"Hold it right there, creeps," Josh said in his best judgmental voice, all business once again, his cheerful yellow nightstick ready. "Turn that noise off! Enjoy the sounds of Mother Nature!"

"Get a load of this," one of the metalheads said with a wide grin, pointing. He was a bit older than Josh, far too old for this hooligan nonsense. "Thinks he's the fucking cops." He pals guffawed.

"Turn it off! Now!" Josh admitted as the admittedly pretty killer chorus of that song kicked in. "I am the float party constable, and the Santa Ana River is my beat. No more disruptions! There are other people here too, you know."

In response, one of the metalheads, a fellow with short dark hair and pierced ears, cranked the volume from 11 to 12. Josh felt his eardrums rattling out of his head.

"Don't you know what music does to a person?" Josh cried over the racket as the floating metalheads leered at him.

"No. What?" a metalhead asked with false politeness. The nerve!

"Imagine a college student who thinks heavy metal is a personality," Josh declared. His eyes spat righteous fire. "Now imagine he gets yelled at for blasting Slayer and Megadeth late at night in his UCLA dorm. Twice! His friends mock him, and the girls shun him."

"Hey, some people just don't get us," another metalhead, one with long dark hair and black leather wrist cuffs, said with a shrug. "Sorry that happened, man."

"And it gets worse!" Josh continued. Hey, that should be his catchphrase. "Now imagine our misguided student likes a girl in his Econ 301 class and makes her a mixtape, only to get rejected upon presenting it! Then he goes to a music club on campus to share his passion, only to get the wrong room, and by the time he finds the right club room, everyone's gone, and he wastes three hours trying to impress people with his Slayer CDs! And who even cares about CDs anymore?!"

"Sucks -" one of the metalheads started.

"And that's not all!" Josh choked out, clenching a dramatic fist. "Our poor student is headbanging to Devil Driver's sick tracks while driving to a party, starts daydreaming about the lyrics, and wham!" Josh slapped his pool noodle nightstick onto the water. "Goes right off the road and grazes a tree! $2,000 repair bill! Metal cost him everything!"

The metalheads looked at each other. Then they burst out laughing and kept floating on, throwing up devil horns as the next track (also a killer track) fired up.

Josh was breathing hard as though running a marathon, gripping his nightstick until his knuckles went white. Why didn't anyone listen? The Santa Ana River was ruined! Imagine all the innocent families having their vacation ruined with Corona Light bottles in the water, drunken puking, too-loud Metallica and then -


"Toss it, bro!" Another float party hoodlum cheered, and from across the robust stream, his friend flung the football. Oops, he missed! The highly illegal ball whooshed right through the first punk's hands and landed on the riverbank.

"I got it! Hang on!" The first punk, some jerk with blond hair and a dark blue shirt and white swim trunks, paddled with his float to the bank. He scrambled onto the sandy bank and prepared to throw like a star quarterback. A third friend, a beefy fellow with shoulder-length brown hair, got ready to receive it to score big points!

"STOP!" Josh barked.

The first hoodlum lowered his arms. "What?"

Josh stiffened his back and pointed with his nightstick. "No horseplay in my precinct! What if you hit some poor old lady on the head with that thing? Hand it over!"

Once again, Josh faced only laughter. "You serious?" the second hoodlum said skeptically. "We've got every right."

"Yeah. Back off," the troublemaker on the bank said, and he finally threw the ball at the first thrower, who caught it. The three friends cheered.

"Do you know what sports can do to a person?" Josh barked.

"Get him a girlfriend?" one punk guessed brightly.

"Get him a scholarship?" another put in.

"Give him the muscles to beat up lame river cops?" the third suggested.

"It brings only ruin!" Josh declared dramatically. His eyes stung at the memories. "Imagine a promising college student who starts small, playing Frisbee with the fine young ladies and gentlemen on campus, only to eat a Frisbee to the face and get a chipped tooth!"

"For real? Shit, man," the first sporty hoodlum said.

Josh brandished his foamy nightstick. "And it gets worse! After an expensive trip to the dentist, our student decides to join the tennis club, only to miss so many balls he's laughed off the court and can't even sell his expensive racket on the Facebook marketplace for a good price! And then he runs track, only to sprain his ankle and skin his knee!"

"Whoa, that's rough -" the second sporty troublemaker started.

"And then, if you will, imagine our poor student accidentally kicking a soccer ball into the coach's face, nearly drowning trying the breaststroke in the swim club, then taking a Frisbee to the face again! Having two chipped teeth costs an awful lot!"

The three sports lovers stared. "Did all that happen?" one of them asked after a few seconds of weird silence, interrupted only by the Santa Ana River's merry burbling.

"Well... the truth is in there somewhere," Josh said, trying to pull himself together. He had a duty! "The lesson is the same! Now hand over that ball before someone makes their dentist that much richer! Or catches the ball in a way that imperils their ability to have kids someday!" Josh tried not to reflexively cross his legs in a defensive way. Never again...!

"Whew. Well, I dunno what to tell you, bud," another punk said. He gently tossed the football to his friend. "Well, we're just gonna float on. See ya."

"No! Not until you hand over the ball!" Josh barked, extending a hand.

The punk's face soured. "Fuck off. What, are you takin' out all your bad experiences on everyone who passes by? Come on."

"N... no, that's not it," Josh blurted out. "I'm just keeping these waters safe for all floaters! Float parties need someone to keep the peace!"

"You gotta make peace with yourself first," a sporty punk said as the Santa Ana River carried them past Josh's tethered margarita float. "Loser!"

They laughed.

Josh scowled darkly but didn't dare give up. Not when a family of five floated by, talking and joking too loudly, or when a quartet of young ladies drifted along the protected waters, throwing Josh dirty looks as he objected to their disruptive ways. Or when a solitary middle-aged man floated along with a fishing rod and even a fishing hat with spare lures on it! The nerve!

"No! Come back here!" Josh howled as yet another float party passed him by, tossing beer bottles into the pristine waters, sharing lewd jokes. He waved his nightstick. "Protect the peace of these waters!"

They ignored him.

"But..." Josh felt his shoulders slump as he helplessly held up his nightstick as though expecting answers from it. Oh, who the fuck was he kidding? It was a pool noodle! He bought it for a buck at the store! The only thing cheaper than his nightstick was his pride.

Josh muttered darkly to himself as he unclasped his float from its rope tether and let the Santa Ana River's currents take him to wherever it may. Maybe he was still tethered to the past, taking it out on others. Life's a river. Why not check out fresher waters up ahead and see what adventures could be had?

Five minutes into a new era of his life, Josh Brown threw out his arms and wailed in despair as his float got caught on a rock and flipped over, almost drowning him in merciless, suffocating waters. He barely crawled out of that alive, his beloved nightstick drifting further along the stream, lost forever.

Josh sighed and flopped onto his back, watching the warm California sun bathe him in light. Where was his tether when he needed it? Shit, man...