We were gawking because that's all you can do when life's incoherent stupidity jacklights you. There we were, recent college graduates with degrees in esoteric technical specialties standing like two-year olds with our mouths open. Rivulets of spittle began to trickle down Ford's chin.

He said, "That is one stupid dog."

The springer ran into the breakers, hurtled the largest of them, and then paddled out to the pink ball Ford had thrown. Then he dove like a big furry duck so only his tail and hind legs showed at the surface. It seemed his snout had become lodged in the sand, because he wasn't coming up.

I thought Ford was going to jump in after him. He'd knocked off a sneaker by the time a larger wave crashed into the vertical dog ass and sent him tumbling onto shore.

The ball was in his mouth and he wagged his whole body spraying salt and foam and dog drool all over. Then he gave Ford the ball.

Ford looked at the pink rubber ball for a minute as if wondering what to do with it. Then he tossed it again, and the spectacle repeated like a bad dream.

Rather than indulge myself in the Animal Channel antics I asked Ford what was up with Anita. I should have known better. I should have asked him if he'd gotten the injectors blown on the Audi.

He rubbed his eyes once as if he was starting to cry then said, "She wants to break up."

"Well, duh," I said.

"Duh--shithead," he said. "You don't know--"

"I know what I know. You're frigging home base. She's out with George and Ralph and fricking Etai Shimmell, and you sit at home jerking off, waiting for her to come back. What's wrong with you?"

"We've known each other since fifth grade."

"Oh that makes sense. You're automatically the fuck puppy to any woman you've known since you were a kid?"

"I'm not her fucking fuck puppy," he said. The dog had come back, sprayed the world with foam and slobber, and dropped the ball at Ford's bare foot. Ford picked up the ball and chucked it into the surf without looking. Then he started walking up the beach. The dog followed the ball. I followed Ford.

I said, "Look, I'm sorry, dude. I just hate to see--" and I had to stop myself because when I got a good look at his face I could see he was crying.

As I hadn't seen any of my male friends cry since John Olsen fell backward off the swings at Roosevelt Park, the words got stopped up in my throat.

What the hell do you say to a grown man crying over a woman? If life were a Humphrey Bogart movie, I'd grab him by the shoulders and slap him across the face so hard he'd need chiropractic attention. Instead I just walked beside him, speechless as the dog came back and followed us.

Ford stopped suddenly, chucked the dog's ball, and said, "She's marrying Etai Shimmell. Can you believe it? After what--fifteen years together she comes over to my place and spends the entire night telling me how great he is. I thought she was coming to stay with me. I had wine. I made dinner. I bought those new Egyptian cotton sheets, the ones from Nordstroms' white sale. She doesn't want to sleep with me anymore. She says we're not that kind of friend anymore. We're just talking friends, not sex friends. Fucking Etai Shimmell. What's he got that I don't got?"

Even though it wasn't a good time for facts I did what all scientists do and spewed them anyway. While any normal person would reject my input, I knew they'd hit Ford right in the logic where it hurt.

I said, "Well, his dad's partners at that huge law firm and Etai's next in line. So by the time he's thirty he'll have an apartment on Central Park South, a Ferrari, Anita, and two or three little Shimmells being pushed around Central Park by a nanny named Guimette, and you'll still be living in the apartment over the pizzaria eating extra spicy mussels on Friday."

"And you'll still be in opulent Seminary Arms over by the Wheatena factory," he said, trying to be snide. But Ford didn't have a bone in his body mean enough to hurt anyone, which is why he was so pitiful.

The dog had come back again, done its spraying thing, and dropped the ball. Ford continued walking, and the dog kept picking up the ball and dropping it further down the beach. Ford ignored it. He looked at me as if he was trying to melt me with his glare. I'd never seen him so mad. I told him I was sorry. It bounced off.

"That's not what I meant. I mean how can he love her as much as I do?"

"Love her? Christ--Ford," and here I went with more facts, "where have you been? He knows her as much as you do, and they've been seeing each other seriously for the past three years, in case you've been spending too much time with the powerpuff girls and not paying attention to real life."

"I know that. There are no secrets between me and Anita. She told me everything," he said.

"Everything? You think so?" I said, because I knew there was no way a woman playing two guys off against each other was going to let on that's what she was doing unless the relationship was special.

The dog had gotten tired of waiting for Ford to chuck the ball so it trundled down the beach a little to a group of kids. One of them threw the ball and the dog retrieved it. The kids were scheming. I could see it. When the dog brought back the ball, the kids went running down the beach toward the pier with the dog in tow.

I wondered if Ford saw his dog chasing the kids. I was going to say something about it but when I looked at him I could see he was crying again.

I wanted to slap him, but I figured he'd only cry more. I wanted to say something snotty, like, "This is why Anita won't marry you--because you're a fricking whiner," but I didn't.

Instead I said, "Does Etai know about you and Anita?"

His face brightened a little. He rubbed his nose against his arm like a kid.

"I dunno," is what he said.

"What I mean is: does Etai know Anita was coming and sleeping with you two or three times a week the whole time they were going out? Does he know that whenever she got pissed at him she came over, brought movies and popcorn, and fucked your brains out? Does he know she has her own dresser and mirror at your place with drawers full of her clothes?"

The little wheels started turning in Ford's head and I could tell the seeds of a plan of Byzantine proportion were sprouting. First there'd be e-mail. Then some of the digital pictures Ford had shown me would appear in Etai's mailbox. And finally, the dildo collection Anita stashed at Ford's place would appear in Etai's office, each with a pink ribbon, an expired library card, and a note from Ford suggesting Anita need renew or pay a fine.

It would be terrible and immoral, but a man who's lost his one and only love and lives above the place that makes the best mussels fra diavolo on the shore was above the appraisal of normal people.

I muttered, "Why do friends do these things to each other?" remembering that Etai, Ford, Anita, and I had been best friends in high school. I remembered Mr. Shimmell taking us out on the family boat. And the one summer the four of us went up to the Shimmell's cabin in the Catskills and spent the week swimming and going to dance parties at the clubhouse.

But it was getting different. We were getting older. The games were getting serious.

"I bet he doesn't," is what Ford was saying when he saw the kids leading the dog to the end of the pier. Ford started running when the biggest kid hurled the ball off the end of the pier and the dog lept after it. He was off kilter for the first few strides, but eventually he ran right out of his remaining sneaker and dove into the waves as the dog's rear paws disappeared under the swells.

There'd be some time while my maniac friend swam after his brain-damaged pooch. I took out my cell phone and hit the speed dial. Anita's number.

She told me she was really marrying Etai, and that Etai was going to ask Ford and me to be in the wedding party. She knew Ford was broken up about it. How did I feel? It wasn't going to affect our friendship, was it?

"Poor guy," I said as Ford's heels disappeared beneath the blue green water. "So what are you up to tonight? I got some of that Opus One cabernet and new Egyptian cotton sheets. I put something special in your underwear drawer--"

I don't remember throwing it nor can I quote what she said that made me want never to talk on the phone again, but I do remember watching it as it sailed in a high ballistic arc over the cresting waves knowing nobody is special forever.

The cell phone made a small splash as it hit the water. Sooner or later I would go after it.

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