Monday, March 14, 2011

From the Depths of Hell

When Alma and I returned to our car yesterday after finishing the walk, we noticed a strange smell. At first we thought some of the items we had collected on the beach might have brought that putrid, briny smell with them. However, it turned out to be something far more nasty: black tar. As it happens, the same tar source that created the La Brea Tar Pits (one block away from the Los Angeles County Museum of Arts), where dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures became fossilized after getting trapped in the goo, vents tar just off the coast of Venice Beach and Marina del Rey directly into the Pacific Ocean. We had seen the tar last summer (before I began the blog) but had not seen any for the past few months. The tar seems to show up unanounced without any warning.

This tar is very thick and dark as pitch. If you pay attention while walking on the sand, you will occasionally see what at first appearance look like wet, black rocks. The tricky part is that sometimes they are little black rocks. Other times, though, they are globules of black tar that have washed up onto the beach. What made yesterday all the more annoying, though, is that we picked up tar without noticing that we had stepped on it or in it. Alma thinks it may have been embedded within the detritus along the high and low water marks. And because we are frequently trolling those lines of detritus for material for her art, we may have stepped in tar that was hidden in kelp or on other pieces of garbage.

The stench that accompanies this tar summons vistas of Hell. If you have ever been around a street that has just had asphalt laid in the summer, you have smelled its equivalent. This stuff is not romantic in the slightest and would sour folks on the beach if they picked it up. It gloms onto your shoes and, if you are not careful, gets tracked onto carpeted car floorboards and even home carpets.

As for getting rid of it, thank God for girl power. Turns out that nail polish remover will remove it with a lot of patient scrubbing. Alma took a flat butter knife that we no longer use and pulled long slabs of it away from the soles of her tennis shoes. The shoes I was wearing are on their last legs anyway and destined for the trash bin of history in a few more weeks. So I just put them out on our balcony where they could air out and will be conscientious about not wearing them on our carpet.

In my previous post, I wrote that we had seen few signs as of Friday of the earthquake or tsunami here in Southern California. But with the re-appearance of this tar, I wonder whether the tar vents here were belching out their infernal goo in tandem with the seismic activity off the Japanese coast.

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