When my best friend Marina and I saw Muppet Treasure Island, it was almost like fate. Muppets who sang songs joined with Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale of treachery on the high seas. My love of everything Muppets had led me to my newest obsession: treasure hunting.
The idea that hidden gold or gems could be found if you followed your wits and an ancient map enticed my already over-active imagination. But, I knew it was all pretend. All in books and movies. I was certain by the late 1990’s that there was no ancient pirate treasure buried in California. This did not keep me from imagining.
If treasure was lurking anywhere, the place I called my “foresty beach” was definitely it.
The foresty beach was not your typical, sunny, postcard beach. My beach was freezing. No girls in neon bikinis played volleyball there. It was almost always empty. The water was gray; also freezing.
Marina was always my first mate on these adventures. Or I was hers. To reach the foresty beach, we had to pass several tests of endurance. First, the Trail of Knives: a pathway under a thicket of eucalyptus trees. The fallen eucalyptus nuts were sharp booby traps on the ground. Marina and I would have to bunch our feet, wincing with every painful step. Shoes were not an option. Shoes were cheating.
Next, we would have to ford the Raging River of Doom: a creek that overflowed in the rainy months. The brown water would roll in humps downhill to the icy sea. Even when it was calm, we knew never to stay in this water. The river contained diseases from the cows and summer stagnation. You could always spot a tourist at the foresty beach: they would let their children play in the Raging River of Doom.
Those who were lucky and passed these tests would find a perfect, foresty beach. The rocky forest above we called The Point jutted into the depths of the sea. The Point was filled to the ashy, low-hanging clouds with brushy pines. Before you could get to The Point, you’d have to be brave enough to dare cross the creeping rock formation—identical to the head of a slumbering snake—ready at any moment to awaken and gobble up the tourists’ children.
My foresty beach was my very own treasure island. And for one day, I did find treasure. For one day, I became a millionaire.
That day, I was schlepping multiple towels, a backpack, and canvas grocery bags like a Sherpa in the Andes. My feet had barely recovered from the Trail of Knives, only to be scalded by the white-hot sand. I veered off the path of the others to near the water, where the sand was dark, and cool, and threaded with dried kelp.
Popped off its long stems, the seaweed pieces looked like old-fashioned feather ink pens. It was there that something caught my eye. It sparkled. It shimmered. It was out of place at the foresty beach. Not of nature, but of man.
I walked toward it and bent down. The towels slumped and fell over my head like a veil. The shimmering thing was round and metallic.
What is it? A silver doubloon? Treasure buried by mermaids? Half of a golden amulet that will transport me to another dimension?
It was a yogurt lid. A tin yogurt lid.
Well, that’s the biggest let down, ever.
As an avid environmentalist, I kept the lid. I would throw it in a trashcan; and keep it from being a seagull’s lunch.
I lumbered up the beach double-time to catch up with my group. But, before I rejoined them, I examined the lid more closely. Little stamped Yoplait’s covered the golden aluminum. On the underside, it was white with black, block lettering.
1 MILLION DOLLARS
My heart stopped dead. My body stopped dead. I could not even feel the scorching sand on my feet anymore. My memory flashed to a few weeks earlier, when I was looking down the forbidden aisles of the grocery store; the ones in the middle, with the sugary snacks and artificial cheese-flavored chips.
I remembered seeing an advertisement for a contest smattered across the refrigerator section. On the reverse of Yoplait yogurt lids there were prizes. “One lucky winner will win one million dollars,” it had said.
And with time standing still, that day, on my foresty beach, that one lucky winner was me. Well, not me, but whatever poor-fated soul had not only littered on the beach, but hadn’t even realized they’d thrown away a million dollars. But now, in absentia, it was me.
I was at the age I hated most: halfway. I had stopped being young enough to be coddled and fawned over. My mother had stopped hovering. I was now allowed to be alone in the house for a few hours and trusted not to burn it down. Conversely, I was just old enough to have something valuable to say, but I wasn’t really considered my own entity. No adult listened to me – really listened – in the way I yearned for. I felt boiling frustration as adults half-paid attention to my notions and opinions with placating smiles and dismissive pats on the head.
That day, to the adults, I was just a little girl, holding a piece of garbage, proclaiming excitedly that I won a million dollars. Because of this, no one believed me. I tried to show them the lid. They glanced down, nodded in a patronizing way, and went back the talking about the government, or whatever adults discussed.
Instead of arguing with them, I froze. I was flummoxed.
Is suddenly becoming a millionaire not as big a deal as I thought? Am I crazy?
I concluded I was not crazy. But impressing upon them that I wasn’t crazy, would only make me seem crazy/crazier. I decided that instead of trying to show them, I’d prove it to them. I had plenty of time to do so. In secret, I decided, I would buy Marina’s parents and my mom houses right next store to each other. I would connect them with a giant tubing system like in Chuck E. Cheese or hamsters’ cages. I would wrap a giant red bow around the houses and they would see. They would all see me.
“OF COURSE you found 1 million dollars, Annamarie, how silly of us for not taking you, seriously!” they’d say.
Then, we’d toast champagne while we all wore diamond bracelets over elbow-length gloves; something that just sounded like what millionaires did all the time.
I had time to prove I was actually a millionaire. When I got home, I’d have to contact Yoplait immediately. They might not believe me, but I had proof. Of course, there would be a long process of endless administration. I’d probably be taxed. Then there would be legal issues about proof of purchase and signing over a large check to a minor. I had a lot of work ahead of me. But until then, I had a day at the foresty beach and a delicious, million-dollar secret.
I came to realize my secret was almost as good as all the adults believing me would have been. I would never have to work for a living! I would make dreams come true for people I loved! I would…well, that was just it. I’d do and be whatever and whoever I wanted.
I corrected my attitude and behavior. I focused, instead, on acting casual. But, I was also pretty smug. The casual, smug millionaire.
In the thirty-degree water we’d shout, “Hot Chocolate!” and dive into the crest of the wave. Every good explorer of the foresty beach knows the best way to adjust to cold is to get your head and shoulders wet. After that, we ran down the shore, playing chicken with the moody riptide. We explored the Secret Cave that was accessible for half and hour each day.
That day, my foresty beach activities were enhanced with more millionaire dreams. Maybe I’d buy the beach, and own every wriggling sand crab, and the rickety pier plank. Maybe I’d buy Hearst Castle, which was across the highway from the foresty beach. I could ride a zebra to grammar school!
I tucked my treasure away safely in my bag. I felt like Long John Silver. Except not a bad guy. And not going to get my comeuppance in the end. And without a lobster Muppet named Polly as my trusty sidekick.
Later, the cold winds froze my wet scalp, and I had to put on a sweatshirt over my bathing suit. We pretended we were marooned on a deserted island. We built a fire and the smoke stung my eyes. We threw in dried seaweed for kindling and sang along as Marina’s dad played the guitar. This was the most magical day I’d ever had. I got to be a pirate, and a mermaid, and a treasure hunter. It was so enthralling, I almost forgot about the future that was waiting for me.
The beach became tinted orange as the sun drowned behind the ocean’s horizon. It was time to go home. Gathering up the towels, we vanquished the fire with fistfuls of wet sand. We were ready to trek back to the car, across the Raging Water of Doom and Trail of Knives. I checked my bag so I could hold my treasure as we walked. I planned that maybe, on the way home, I would let Marina in on my plan. Maybe I’d be benevolent, and let her pick the color of the hamster tubes.
Yes, I thought, I’m such a great millionaire already. So charitable.
I went to unfold my t-shirt, only to discover, it was already unfolded. It was covered in sand, and wet, and rumpled. I dumped out the contents of my bag. I turned everything inside out. Twice. I took off my sweatshirt. I shook out the towels and combed all over the sand. I looked everywhere. In the coolers, and the bags of trash we’d collected from the day. Under the driftwood pieces. On the shore. I searched and searched and searched.
Everyone asked what I was looking for. I didn’t tell them. I couldn’t tell them. I just became more and more distressed. It was getting dark.
I knew my million dollars had slipped away from me. Salty tears met the salt from the sea on my sandy face. If I told them what had happened, no one would take me seriously ever again. I stayed silent. I wiped my tears on my wet towel. I crossed the River of Doom. I bunched up my feet to cross the Trail of Knives, and went home.
My million-dollar yogurt lid was gone forever. I was not Jim Hawkins or Long John Silver. I was a Muppet.
A Muppet who found buried treasure. Who felt the victory of all my dreams coming true.
A Muppet who, despite a tragic conclusion, had one, perfect day at the foresty beach.