She offered him such soft persuasion, on the night before the fourth of July,
Began as such a festive occasion, she held him close, he never asked her why.
He went off like a roman candle, so sure the light lit up half of the night,
But love was something they could never handle, no, love’s one thing they couldn’t get quite right.
Misunderstanding, misunderstood, he thought that they could make it happen,
Now he sees it ain’t no good.
Misunderstanding, he got it wrong,
She took the words that he had written, wrote herself another song.
She said it’s just a misunderstanding, said she’d never meant to lead him along,
She hoped he’d have a really soft landing, she wrote down all the words to his last song.
All in all she treated him quite kindly, she said there are some things she should explain,
He had gone off way way way too blindly, and love that’s blind can only bring one pain.
Some things, she said, are best left unspoken, some things he said he never should have said,
Some spells, once cast, should never be broken, some love’s not in your heart, it’s in your head.
But she’d already heard his confession, she is the only woman he thinks of,
Some times, love is really obsession, well, sometimes what we think is love is love.
He walked into the teeth of the morning, where firecrackers popped and fuses burned,
He had been knocked down without a warning, he couldn’t put in words what he had learned.
All he knew is he had never known her, and everything he thought he knew was wrong,
Didn’t know from there where he could go to, Couldn’t find the words for his new song.
Misunderstanding, misunderstood, he thought that they could make it happen,
Now he sees it ain’t no good.
Misunderstanding, she got it wrong,
She took the words that he had written,
But now he has another song.
“Soft Persuasion” is from the collection, “Love Songs for Cynics,” copywrite Erwin A. Dence, Jr.
Happy Independence Day to one and all and all the individuals, all the ones and twos, families biological and otherwise. Note: my favorite line from this song, not just because I wrote it, is “Some spells, once cast, should never be broken.”
I do live on Surf Route 101. Vehicles do pass, north and south, depending on the swell direction. If my work takes me east, across the Hood Canal Bridge, I have frequently passed hopeful surfers headed for some dream of waves out on the Peninsula in the morning, then passed the same rigs in the evening or night. Did they score? Did I make enough money to not be jealous? Probably not. How do I feel when I’m headed home from surfing, knowing wind is on a dropping swell and I see other hopefuls headed out? Answer- Not as pleased as you might think. Maybe the waves got… better.
It is not a secret that I will occasionally break into song while painting. My friend Stephen R. Davis just sent me a link to “Groovin'” by the Young Rascals, originally released in 1967. “Groovin’, on a Sunday afternoon, wheelin’, couldn’t get away too soon…” Perhaps Steve just wanted to refresh my memory on the actual lyrics… for next time. I was 16 when the song came out, and I started to tell a story about how, because whatever car my dad had supplied me with, some beater he got on a mechanic’s lien, was broken, and because my mom, for some reason, couldn’t or wouldn’t take her seven kids to the beach, I walked and/or rode my skateboard, four or five miles, in the inland mid-summer heat, teenage angst fully in control, to Fallbrook Union High School. Kids played on the fields, typically, and skateboarding hadn’t yet been banned on the perfectly groomed sidewalks. Still, it was too hot to play baseball, there were no cute girls hanging out, and… This is probably the point the story got interrupted by some work-related problem, but, the conclusion is, some of the cooler kids in my class pulled up and, there I was, shortly thereafter, sitting in the back seat, all the windows down, cruising the well-cruised route, A&W, Foster’s Freeze, loop around down by the Little League field, all the while nodding along to the music. “This was,” I tried to tell Steve, a time in my life when, for an hour or so, I actually felt… somewhat… cool. Somewhere in there, the radio playlist got to “Groovin’.”
As always, I would like to cover a couple of topics. I will get back to the board.
We’re a few days past the summer solstice. The sun is rising and setting on horizons almost shockingly north of where the sun was six months ago. I have observed this time lapse movement for so long it seems as if I have always oriented my life according to where the sun sets. West. That is where the ocean is; that is where the waves are. West.
West is the direction the teenage me looked, out on the lawn, imagining magical waves beyond the rounded, north to south rows of drought and fire burned hills, past the smog drifting down from the Orange County/L.A. vortex. At maximum north, the sun set over San Onofre, maximum south, Oceanside. Perhaps I more imagined than saw the bounce-back effect a brilliant sunset on the water had on the high clouds. No, it was real, reflection on a horizonal plane. Horizontal.
For the last forty-plus years, living somewhere around fifty/sixty feet above sea level on gravel and rounded rocks and clay left behind in an ancient fjord by one of any number of ice ages, my view to the west is of an almost mountain-high ridge. If I said it looks like an almost perfect thousand-foot-high peak, probably a better right than a left, well… forgive me. It is yet another wave in the north/south coastal range. Ranges, the Olympics being the highest and broadest.
In the winter, the sun sets to my left, almost to the gap that reveals two other higher, craggier ridges. Today it will hit just to my right of the highest point.
OOOPS. TECHNICAL SCREWUP! I just lost a whole lot of good writing. I tried to save it. Didn’t work. LATER.
Meanwhile, since I lost this part, let me explain the board. JOEL, almost app-millionaire, now a real estate mogul in the making, wanted a surfboard to burn as a sacrifice to any surf gods (not arguing for or against the existence of said small g gods here), with a request for something better than the flatter-than-the-usual-flatness around these parts. Adam has a lot of boards. BUT, partially considering how environmentally unfriendly burning something as toxically chemical as a foam-and-glass board, Adam,, on INTERNATIONAL SURFING DAY (all in, he claims, four hours), crafted the board (below) out of a cedar slab, glued on the fins and… AND, YEAH, it’s way too cool a board to be burning up to appease some minor leaguers (when I appeal/pray/beg/hope for rideable waves and uncrowded glassy conditions and a good parking place, in that order, I’m appealing to the big G crew- yeah, a bit bold), SOOOO, now Joel wants to ride the BURNER. So, now Adam, after discussing what to coat/cover the raw wood with, wants to change the name of the board to the simpler “BURN,” as in ‘Joel might just burn people on the board.’
SECOND MNEANWHILE- Adam has yet to get Emmett and Calvin addicted to surfing. They’re all out on the coast this weekend, so, of course, Adam is working on it.
I’ve told the story enough times now that I kind of know where the laugh lines are. And there’s been almost enough time since my incident that I can see the humor in it myself. Almost.
No, there is something rather amusing about a surfer with an ego as large as mine is, with years of experience in the ocean getting himself in trouble in the water. There is, also, perhaps, some sort of karmic re-balancing in the story if I was able to tell it in full.
What prevents this ‘whole truth and nothing but’ is protecting the not-really-secret but kind-of-secret, and definitely fickle-by-nature, definitely rarely breaking spot where the not-quite-drowning event took place. This not-blowing-up-the-spots is sort of my attempt to get along with surfers who put in the miles and the disappointments and the skunkings to occasionally find a decent wave.
Actually, it doesn’t matter where the story happened so much as what happened. I was caught inside numerous times by relentless waves and a raging tidal current. Both legs of my wetsuit filled with water to the knees, my leash got tangled up and weighted down with kelp, I, somehow, got pushed out of the impact zone. Unable to make any real progress paddling, I thought I could just drop down and walk up to the beach. Nope, too deep. It was probably after the third drop down that some camper on the beach called 911.
Yeah, amusing. I wasn’t drowning. I wasn’t panicked. I was kind of pissed off.
More like embarrassed. More so when a surfer, Kim, in street clothes but contemplating going out, ran over just as I pushed my board up onto the beach, then crawled my big ass self up behind it. I had to struggle to get my leash detached and the water out of my wetsuit, the last of the legs clamped securely around my ankles. Kim carried my big ass board up to my car while I lumbered my way behind her. Thanks, Kim, helping out the old guy.
Old guys. Shit. There were several examples of the karmic reset in this morality tale. When I was suiting up, with several surfers in the water, a car pulled up next to mine. I didn’t see a board inside but thought the driver was a sometime surfer I had recently seen at another fickle, not-breaking-at-the-time spot. “Hey,” I said, “there’s kind of an age limit on surfing… huh?”
It wasn’t that guy. It was, in fact, a woman. Similar hair, that’s my excuse. “I just came here to watch,” she said. “Oh. Well. Um, if there’s a… bubble, age-wise, I’m probably just over it… myself.” “Uh huh.”
Still, I did wonder why she thought there might be waves and riders at this spot at this time. And then I had someone help me zip up my wetsuit, and I went out.
My fairly new wetsuit: Back zip. Last one was front zip; didn’t need help. I have added some length to the pull string on the zipper. My age: 71 in August. So, I’m not only old, I’m… well, my friend, Stephe n Davis, describes me as a Clydesdale, work horse… large. Big shoulders, short legs. My triple-x suit is tight in the top, with legs meant for someone, like, 6’4″. I’m not.
This isn’t a problem if I don’t spend much time under water. It actually has been a problem before. A few months back, different secret(ish) spot, got some great rides and some wipeouts, had the water in the legs issue, not as bad, but my new, glow-in-the-dark leash, somehow, got all tangled up around my legs. Again, there was an extreme rip along the inshore that wasn’t at all helpful. That time, pushing my board up onto the beach, Adam Wipeout was walking back from a long ride.
A minor irony here; the board I’ve been riding for a few years was purchased from Adam. On payments. On another occasion, a different spot, I had a little trouble, after surfing pretty well, getting out of the shorebreak and up the steep beach. Old guys are not always nimble. My/Adam’s board was loose, hitting rocks, while I was getting pummeled. Lesson: Don’t take the first wave of the set if you plan on getting out of the water. Adam, also out at that spot on that day, of course, did a seven-point (out of ten) dismount, ran up the beach, came over, pulled his/my board up to safety. Yes, it is paid for… now.
I have surfed again, in that wetsuit. This time I rolled the legs up about five inches. A sort of cuff. Fits tight against the booties. Uneventful. I would really rather concentrate on the surfing.
Oh, the 911 call? Yes. I was on the phone with Trish, explaining the situation, when Steve got out of the water to see if I was all right. Police turned up. Two cops. “Heard there was someone in trouble in the water.” I raised my hand. “So, you’re all right?” “Evidently.” “Oh, hey, Steve; how’s it going?”
They were through with me. It isn’t like they were going to jump in and save me.
I will get into some other karmic/positioning/priority/burning issues another time. Meanwhile, another tip: If you’re surfing over rough rocks, booties help.
If you’re out here on the Olympic Peninsula, might as well check out some art on display by local surfers and artists, Stephen R. Davis and Reggie Smart. Steve has three acrylic paintings at Port Townsend’s ELEVATED ICE CREAM as part of a larger show. His works will be there during the month of June. Reggie has multiple, numbered, limited-edition prints available for your perusal and purchase at the BLACK POT COFFEE SHOP just off Surf Route 101 at the River Road exit in Sequim (you know, the one you’d take for Costco, Walmart, all that stuff). The coffee shop is connected to a pot shop, if that helps.
So, you can hang out, get a sugar or non-sugar high, and check out, possibly purchase some of the work done by surfer/artists who actually rip.
I do have some of Reggie’s work… on my phone. Reggie did paint the surfboard/sign over the Black Pot Coffee Shop.
In keeping with my ongoing difficulty in dealing with modern technology (like transferring stuff from my phone to my computer, which did work, previously), I was able to scan the illustration, below, but was unable to scan a color drawing I recently completed. Maybe if I just…
In my attempt to cut and whittle and refine my manuscript, “Swamis,” into something, one, readable, and two, sellable (could have said marketable), I am eliminating this portion. Changes: Virginia (Ginny) Cole is now Julia (Julia), Erwin as a character (put in because some readers might believe Joey (aka Jody) is me, is gone. Out. I should (will) add that Trish did go to junior high in Oceanside with Barbi Barron and was a temporary member of Barbi’s unofficial Oceanside girls’ surf club before Trisha’s dad got transferred to the East Coast. I did see Barbi frequently at the Oceanside jetties and the pier when I was working at Buddy’s Sign Shop in (let’s call it) O’side. I did have a night class, public speaking, with Cheer Critchlow, Palomar Junior (now Community) College. He did, and I reminded him of this, at a high school contest at Moonlight Beach in 1968, in which he was a judge, eliminate real people Scott Sutton and Jeff Officer and me in our first (and only) heats. I never met Margo, did hear and read about her.
With those notes, the story is sort of (kind of) true (if fiction is sliced from real life).
CHAPTER 14- WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 1969
For reference, this was a week and a day before my father’s death, four weeks before Chulo’s.
Ginny Cole was, to my seventeen-year-old self, perfect. There is no way my memory, in the fifty-plus years since, could have further enhanced that image, that belief. Perfect.
Some of the girls I had gone all through school with were great, and I could easily supply a list of those I’d had crushes on, but, yes, I’d gone all through school with most of them. There were, always, new girls; daughters of Marines stationed at Camp Pendleton, temporary duty, three years and gone. They came from or went to Twenty-nine Palms, Camp LeJeune, Barstow; occasionally one would come from Hawaii, Philadelphia, even overseas.
Fallbrook is on the east side of the triangle that is Camp Pendleton- Fallbrook, Oceanside, San Clemente. From kindergarten on there were sons and daughters of Civil Service workers, pharmacists and ranchers and irrigation contractors and teachers and real estate agents and builders. There were those whose fathers lived, during the week, in apartments in the vast smoggy sinfulness of Los Angeles.
If we were isolated, purposefully, there were always newcomers with stories of different places. Exotic, mysterious, sophisticated, up to date.
Ginny Cole was, in my mind, miles away from dusty Fallbrook. Mysterious, exotic, distant; and she surfed. Ginny would know what it means that someone surfed, and she would know the allure, more fiction, even fantasy, than reality, of surfing itself. There’s what surfing is, and what surfing suggests, what being a surfer says about a person- the aura around the reality. Perfect.
Ginny Cole was like the best photos from surfing magazines, like memories of my best rides. I could bring her image into my mind at will, or without willing it; images from the few times I’d been on the beach or in a parking area or in the water with her. Not with her; around her, near her. It wasn’t like she knew me; another teenage surfer, awkward out of the water, not yet skilled enough to be noticed in the water; but working on it; hoping to be a surfer who, when I took off on a wave, people would watch.
Teenager fantasy, of course, in the same way, playing pickup football, my friends would self-narrate: “Roger Staubach drops back… and the crowd goes wild!” There were always witnesses in my mind when I would skateboard; carving bottom turns and cutbacks, pulling up and into the curl, crouching, hands out, locked in, eighteen miles, straight, from the nearest saltwater.
It was more than that Ginny was a girl in the lineup. She could surf, ride a wave with graceful, dancer-like moves, always close to the power. She would always be noticed.
I cannot honestly swear that it wasn’t that I wanted a surfer girl girlfriend the way a girl might want a football quarterback, a lead guitarist in a garage band; the way a guy might want a cheerleader or that girl who’s always just so nice. And so pretty.
Ginny wasn’t phony nice or made up pretty. She was just-out-of-the-water pretty; she was real; she was perfect. I saw it. I assumed everyone did.
If I did see Ginny as perfect, I did think winning her over would be difficult, challenging. There would be other suitors. I knew I was ridiculous, naïve; definitely, but I was competitive. I didn’t know her, couldn’t see more than my romanticized image of her. I did hope that if she shared that obsession with and addiction to surfing, she might understand me.
Still, also, and always, I knew I was ridiculous.
Virginia Cole wasn’t the only girl surfer in the North County; there were a few others: Barbie Barron, Margo Godfrey. I frequently saw Barbie in the water and in the parking lot at Oceanside’s shorter jetty, or over by the pier. Southside.
I once saw Margo with Cheer Critchlow at Swamis on a still-winter afternoon; uncrowded, big and blownout. Pretty scary. Yet they were just casually walking out, chatting, wading out on the fingers of rock, pushing through to the outside peak. Scott and Jeff and Erwin and I, our portable crowd; four inland cowboys, shoulder-hopped, choosing only the smaller waves on the inside, watching any time either Cheer or Margo would take off.
Coolness, casualness, some sort of self-confidence, some sense of comfort in one’s own skin. Things I lacked, things I appreciated, qualities I believed Virginia Cole had. Yes, I do realize how this makes me sound; exactly like a seventeen-year-old on the cusp, the very cusp of… everything.
MORE NOTES: I am also tightening the timeline for the story. I have to. One thing all the over-writing has given me, besides so many back-stories for characters I have to eliminate or cut back on, is the knowledge that there is at least one main and worthwhile story in “Swamis.” I will keep cutting back and hacking and going down the line until… yeah, until.
ALSO: I have changed some other names, partially because I have written words the real people didn’t say, put them in situations that are totally and completely fictional. My best surfing friends Ray and Phillip- sorry, you’re now Gary and Roger (names from childhood neighbors), Wally Blodgett, who drove kids around for dawn patrol, is now Petey (kept the Blodgett part). Sid (whose name I borrowed from a real surfer who was in a Surfboards Hawaii ad in mid-sixties, can’t remember his last name) is, so far, still Sid. I will let you know who else changed as the manuscript changes.
ALSO: Pretty shitty spring for waves on the Strait AND pretty shitty weather for painting houses. YES, it would seem that would give me more time for writing and drawing. So, maybe it’s not THAT shitty.
Good luck to all the real people and real surfers. Remember, this stuff is copywrite protected.
…as we tend to do, turning the channel to avoid any unpleasantness from Ukraine or Uvalde, we look for, yes, pleasantness, peace, quiet beauty. The previous piece, available with a simple scroll-down, was a lightened-up alternative to a harsher, much harsher one. Yes, it is in my files. Ready.
But now, here is the latest work from my friend, Stephen R. Davis.
There is a certain distance from Steve’s paintings at which abstraction becomes rendering.
I am considering the places in our minds in which we look at the crazy, fucked up world at the proper distance. Considering. I’ll get back to you on that. Meanwhile… peace.
I’m pretty sure these kids got up and kept playing.
I was born in a narrow sliver of time between a war ending, another conflict escalating, and a constantly reinforced fear that the Commies and other bad guys were out to get us. 1950s. America.
A simpler time? Sure. I was a child.
When I was a kid, most of us boys, and sometimes, girls, played Cops and Robbers and Cowboys and Indians all the time. Neighbors had bomb shelters installed. Civil defense drills were held at school to prepare us for nuclear bombs from afar. Duck and Cover. I lived close enough that I was taught to walk home to die. Kids who rode busses were to stay at school. Even survival didn’t seen pleasant. I lived close enough to a military base that our house would be flattened in the initial blast. Mutually assured destruction doesn’t mean much to those at ground zero. Our parents were children of the Great Depression. My father and most of the fathers of my contemporaries were uniformed veterans of World War II and/or Korea. My mother worked in D.C. in the department charged with gas rationing. Other mothers worked and learned to drive and had already learned the self-sufficiency forced upon each generation of wives and mothers. We played Army in the fields and groves and driveways with actual American and German uniforms, all oversized, loaned to us by Bobby’s father. Bob, Senior had mementos, knives and such, disarmed grenades; and he taught his son a variety of racial slurs as if there was a test. “What sound does shit make when it hits the fan?” Yes, I remember the answer; I’ve just never used it in real life.
Ah, the fifties; romanticized as some perfect, “Ozzie and Harriet,” “Norman Rockwell” time. I did love playing the games. “I shot you.” “No, I ducked.” “You can’t duck a bullet.” “Who says?”
And here we are. I moved twelve hundred miles north since my childhood, and yet, I have never lived far enough from some ground zero to not be someone who would be vaporized. Yet, the bomb shelters are probably now extra storage or wine cellars, people have disguised the racial identifiers, the former fields are houses. Children may or may not be allowed to play in the street. Video screens get larger, games more realistic. Schools no longer run nuclear bomb drills. Active Shooter drills have taken their place.
Duck and cover remains the same.
Getting home from Junior High after a drill (this would be in the sixties, actually), I asked my father what we’d do if ‘they’ (always a ‘they’) dropped a bomb on Camp Pendleton. “Junior, we would die.”
Okay. If I felt some solace in accepting some horrible fate, it wasn’t like I was optimistic. I just sort of thought the odds were in my favor.
We have replaced optimism with a sad acceptance. Really fucking sad.
Steve has been using some of his time working on his paintings. This particular one is of the children of a friend of his whose name I probably could recall from a list of names I’ve heard, like, “You know, the guy who lives in LA now,” or “You know, the guy who lives in Chicago but wants to move to… (somewhere- don’t remember where),” or “You know, met him in Baja, back when my money (or something) got stolen, but then we got it back (or didn’t),” or “You know, Stig, lives in Honolulu; you’re thinking of Makena, used to live here, now he’s on the Big Island, wants me to move back there.”
Oh, yeah, Stig. Never met him. Talked to him on the phone once. Background.
“WHO DO YOU KNOW?” is one of my favorite games. It’s really, “Who do we know in common?” Steve and I do have a number of friends and acquaintances and semi-enemies in common, as well as some people who, for example, like Steve, don’t like me. Well. Steve claims some people don’t like him, but I have never met those individuals. Many of those we know in common are from working- carpenters and contractors and such; others are from the surf community.
Because Steve has also worked in the food industry and elsewhere, and because I pretty much only paint, his pool of contacts is larger. Because I pretty much surf only on the Strait, where the pool of surfers; locals, regulars, occasionals, is fairly small (not discounting surf tourists- never do), and Steve has been known to travel, his contact group is… larger.
I have met Cap (Brian, I believe, is his given name). I’ve met Damon (can’t remember his nickname). I’ve sort of met a surprising number of people, in a surprising number of places, who seem to know Steve and seem to number him among their friends. Most recently, one of two cops who came down to a beach because some tourist had reported some old dude on a paddleboard struggling to get to shore. It’s not like they were lifeguards. More like body recovery was my guess. Rope. Grappling hook.
“That was me.” “You’re allright then?” “Sort of. I’m embarrassed and…” “Oh, Steve.” This was one, not both of the cops. “Wow! Haven’t seen you in a while, man; how’s it going?”
Steve, for those who want an update, just underwent his second round of chemo. “Not that bad,” he reported. He recovered from Covid. “Not that bad,” he reported. His eyes, after a violent reaction to a prescribed medicine threatened to melt his corneas, seem to be better. “Way better,” he says.
NOW, the portrait of Steve’s friends’ (assuming he is also friends with the mother) kids is one of many paintings my friend has been working of for a while. The impetus for getting it finished is that Steve’s brother, Paul, is going to Colorado (yes, though he was born in Seattle, I always tell people, “You know, Steve’s from Col-o-rad-o” in my best valley guy voice), and along with two-thirds of their father’s ashes (another brother, John, has the rest), Paul is taking the painting.
My first thought on surfers getting into trouble in the water is “Probably shouldn’t have gone out.” What I’m trying not to think about is that age might have been a factor. Of course, age is A factor. There are several other contributing factors. I am able to see some humor in the situation, and I will write about this another time; but thanks to Kim for running down to the water when I was crawling ashore like a beached sea lion, pushing my board ahead of me. She didn’t need to carry my board up to the car, but, again, thanks.
Time, or rather, how one spends it, or wastes it, seems to be a zero-sum game, time being the currency. It’s pretty frustrating that painting season is finally here. Yes, the surf prospects for the Juan de Fuca are not the best. So, I could focus on work. I should. Still, I am trying to cut back the manuscript for “Swamis” to a reasonable length, and, in spare moments, I do long to forget that I have to get a bill in the mail at the local post office in forty-five minutes, have to finish this job and write proposals for that job, have to go look at several more jobs. Errrrrrr.
The guts of this outtake will be included in my latest (third complete) re-write.
CHAPTER FIVE- TUESDAY, MARCH 4, 1969
There were way too many people at our house, too many vehicles parked on our gravel driveway and our mostly brown, mostly Bermuda grass lawn. I was hanging at the big window, looking West. Our best view. Freddy was outside, running between cars with Detective Lawrence Wendall’s son, twelve years old or so. One or the other would jump up and shoot a finger pistol and the other would duck. Both were laughing.
I first saw the yellow Karmann Ghia convertible, its top up, as it approached up the hill from Via de la Valle and stopped at our driveway. Yellow toward red, but muted by earth tones, rather than toward the green. The Sheriff’s deputy who was assigned parking lot duty as a sort of courtesy, leaned in. The car pulled ahead, made a five-point turn at the spot where the foundation for a separate garage had been poured, two-by-sixes and plywood stacked, and parked facing out. Getaway position.
A woman got out, removed her sunglasses, and set them on the dashboard. She was still wearing regular, prescription glasses. She saw me in the window, reached back into the car, took out a black coat and put it on over her sleeveless black dress, that matching her black hose. She had a string of pearls and a string of hippie beads around her neck. She nodded and pulled out a pair of black shoes – “flats,” a woman would say. She put the sunglasses back on and closed the door.
She walked around to the passenger side of the car, took out a 35-millimeter camera with a fairly long lens, aimed it at me in the big window, and took a photo. I didn’t move. She put the camera back on the seat, pulled one of several notepads from the dashboard and through the open window, and walked toward the house – all the while keeping her eyes on the window I was standing in front of, on me.
I had seen her at the burial ceremony, one of only two people there who those that categorize such things, would call black. She had been hanging back with those attendees who were not provided chairs. Front row to the grave.
“Goddamn reporter,” a whisper from behind me had said.
“Negro ‘Free Press’ Hippie slut.” A male voice I didn’t recognize said.
“You meant to say ‘black,’ and she’s not a hippie.”
“Could still be a slut though, huh?”
A voice from the row of chairs behind me, one I did recognize, said, “Brazen, though. Asked me if someone forced Gunny off the road or he was just driving too…” He was shushed when my mother was being led back to her chair. “…too fast.”
It may have been one of the few times I looked around at the mourners – the wake attendees. Not that I focused on who the asshole with the slut comment was.
“There’s no shortage of assholes and ignorance, and ignorant assholes,” my father would have said. “You have to tolerate the assholes… you should ignore the ignorant.”
He said it enough times that I would fill in the “If you can,” and we’d both laugh as if that was possible.
“How is it, Detective Dickson…” I heard the reporter ask one of the two detectives almost leaning on the sideboard between the family room and the kitchen “…that an obviously very experienced driver, in broad daylight, would turn almost ninety degrees from a straight section of highway?”
No answer. “Where was he headed?” No answer. “I checked with your dispatch, and…” She stopped. There would be no answer.
Dickson poured a drink from one of several bottles on the sideboard into one of several glasses lined up there. With his hand wrapped around the bottle, he pointed one finger toward the reporter. An invitation. She shook her head and he took a slug from the bottle. He pulled a paper napkin from a holder on the nearby table, set it on the sideboard, set the drink on the napkin, and turned away.
The reporter turned toward the man next to Dickson.
“How is it, Detective Sergeant Wendall, that hitting a patch of scrub brush and construction… equipment, that that would be enough to kill… someone?”
Wendall, older and taller than Dickson, lit up a cigarette, providing him with an excuse to go through the crowded kitchen and out the back door.
She turned back to Dickson.
“So, why is it the Sheriff’s Department is so reluctant to provide more information? Perhaps an autopsy report?”
“How did you get in here?” Dickson asked. “Miss…?”
“Lee Ransom, North County Free Press. I told the guard I’m a friend of Joe Junior’s. Guess he believed me.”
Dickson, then Lee Ransom, looked over at me. I waved. At her, not at him.
No, I didn’t know her. She was super hip and quite attractive. Her complexion was unblemished. Her hair was almost straight. Her features more European than African. She was black in the same way I was Japanese. But that was me categorizing. I could only justify this because I was categorized. Graded on some degree of whiteness on some sort of color chart.
Yes, I did the same. I graded white people on my ‘white trash’ scale; a Judgment based, admittedly, on how they reacted to me. And, because I’m not a total racist, which category I place a person into is subject to reassignment, if warranted. Humor, particularly satire, was a plus. ‘Tolerant’ condescension was a negative.
Ignore the ignorant, tolerate the tolerant… If you can.
Lee Ransom was obviously pushy enough to get into the wake, to move into our kitchen, a room overfilled with women any categorizer would identify as white. Off white, various shades. She didn’t stay long.
Dickson set the bottle down on a bare patch of the sideboard and pointed to the drink Lee Ransom had declined before. Lee Ransom downed it in one shot and handed Dickson the empty glass. Then she turned and walked towards me, her notebook under her arm. She moved the sunglasses up and into her curly but not kinky (another biased description), black-with-reddish highlights hair, like a headband.
She still had the regular glasses on.
“Lee Ransom,” she said.
“Lee Ransom,” I repeated, “I’ve read your, um, stuff. Thought maybe you’d be…”
“Yes. White, for sure.”
“Well,” she said, “I try to write white.”
High marks for the comment.
Lee Ransom and I stifled laughs. We both looked toward the kitchen where too many women were dealing with too many side dishes. There was laughter. Laughter. There were some quick laughs from the little groups in the living room. Shoulder slaps, stories about my father I had heard too many times.
“Tough but fair.”
“Always figured it out,” that followed by the clinking of glass and a “Gonna miss the bastard.”
Lee Ransom bumped against me and whispered, “I was hoping, actually, to speak to your… mother.”
I shook my head.
Lee Ransom would not be among the women who, one or two at a time, would take a turn entering my parent’s room and closing the door behind them. Two and a half minutes was the average time for condolences, reassurances, and tears, before coming back out and getting a drink or filling a plate at a borrowed table. Joining a conversation already in progress.
Lee Ransom followed me outside. Freddy shot me with his finger pistol and ducked between two cars. When he popped up again, Lee Ransom shot him with two finger guns. He looked at me before he fell back against the next car over.
Lee Ransom and I passed the garage foundation and headed towards the shed; a structure that was complete but unstained and unpainted, plywood with fir battens. I stepped around it, out of sight of the picture windows, and took a pack of Marlboros from the inside pocket of my black suit coat. Handed down from my father, it was, finally, only slightly too big for me.
“My mother called this a barn. She’s since dropped it back down to a stable.”
Lee Ransom lit up a cigarette of her own with a quite feminine lighter, then lit mine.
“Other witnesses have said someone was passing an old bus… the “Jesus Saves” bus… you familiar with it?” I was. I nodded. “So, maybe he, your father, maybe he was… maybe it was… heroic.”
“In a way…”
“My father always said,” I told her, “that the scariest thing he had to deal with, professionally, is, say, a wife beater. Someone in a domestic dispute. They don’t care if they live or die. For a while.” When she looked as if this information was off topic, I asked if she had spoken with the people from the ‘Jesus Saves’ bus.
“The woman, Portia, says she was asleep. The man… Julio, Julio Lopez, said there was a line behind the bus. It wasn’t running right and one car passed them. Surfboard on the top. Then another one, a gray car, possibly a foreign car, tried to pass. Someone… your father, in an unmarked car… It was coming… fast. No siren, but lights. Lopez saw that the car couldn’t make it back in, so he hit the brakes and tried to pull over to the right. But there wasn’t enough time. Your dad tried to pull into that construction site. Gravel. Foreman there told me it was like trying to drive on marbles, and your dad was going… fast. I don’t know why I’m telling you this.”
I gave her an expression I hoped said that I wanted to know more.
“Anyway, the bus, it did go into the ditch on their side. Had to get towed out… later.”
Smoke from our cigarettes combined and was blowing around the shed and toward the house. I lifted the plywood covering a windowless opening and propped it open with the stick on the sill.
“That’s my mom’s horse, Tallulah, in the corral. My mom calls it a paddock. Fancy. Then, she also calls horse shit ‘road apples.’ Or droppings. Also.”
This amused Lee Ransom. That pleased me. We both blew smoke into the empty stall.
“Look, Joseph… I have spoken with your dad. Before. I hung out at the station in Vista, probably way too much. I was always asking him about why the…”
There were pauses. Inhale, speak, blow out smoke; but the reporter talked very quickly.
“No one ever seems to get arrested for the, um… the marijuana in the orchards. The backyard industry. The cash crop. I mean, shit, it’s out there. I can figure out where to buy it, who to… who to buy it from. So, maybe someone should… have the guts to answer me just why the… swear word… my parents taught me not to fucking swear… why these dicks can’t arrest… someone.”
I wasn’t responding.
Lee blinked and reset her calmer expression. “I do some, some meditation.”
“Probably helps, huh?”
“Not so much. I mean, meditation… do any of us really want to know our innermost thoughts?”
Apparently realizing she was talking too quickly again, she took a breath, blew it out fully, and said, “Cleansing breath.” Then she took a drag on her cigarette, held it for a bit, and blew it out slowly. “I worry I might have a dark side.”
She waited for me to laugh. I did, and then she did. We were both laughing.
“Anyway, your dad… he called you Jody.” Short pause. “Oh, you’re not, not, um, fond of it? I get it. He explained it – Marine Corps cadence.”
“Yeah. Jody. The name has… implications. To a Marine, anyway.”
“Yeah. So, um, Joseph? Could you tell me about… that day? What happened, maybe, before?”
“Well… the tow truck driver said, about the scene, that there were lots of cars: Cop cars, an ambulance… He said he saw a Japanese woman down there, down where your dad’s car ended up. How did, uh, how did your mother happen to… get there? I mean, then?”
“That’s it?” I nodded. “Inexplicable as in unexplainable, or as in, you won’t explain it?”
“It could be… both.”
That was unnecessarily rude.
“They took a statement, me, my little brother. Detectives from the Highway Patrol; they had to do the investigating because… law. Sheriff’s Office brought in a new guy to handle it on their end. Langdon. You should know this.” Lee Ransom backed away a bit. “Oh, you do know.”
“Case closed… even though no one has located the driver of the…”
“The gray car. No. Not yet.”
I blew out the smoke from a last long drag on my cigarette, exhaled, watched the smoke until it was gone. I rolled and squeezed the filter until the paper came off. I rolled the filter until it was fluff and dropped that into the stall.
“Field dressing, I think they call it? Or maybe it’s field stripping?”
Lee did the same stripping with what remained of her cigarette and tossed that in the stall.
“Droppings,” I said. “Do you want a quote… from me?”
“I kind of fed you one. ‘Heroic, in a way.’ Okay with you?”
She seemed pleased for a moment.
“Here’s something else – Julio. It’s Chulo. All the surfers call him Chulo. His close friends, from when they were kids, they call him Chulio.”
“No, I’m not one of them. He’s older, he’s a local; and I’m an inland cowboy.”
“It’s, um, a term of, another term of derision.”
Both Lee Ransom and I looked around when Freddy and Wendall’s younger son started having words. Lawrence Wendall, Jr. had joined the game and it was, evidently, the Wendalls against Freddy.
“The way it goes,” I said, looking over enough to cause the older Wendall to back away. “I was never a cowboy in ‘Cowboy and Indians.’”
“My neighborhood… always had one kid trying to be the cowboy. He liked me. I got to be kind of an Annie Oakley,” Lee said, going into a sort of proud, Annie Oakley stance, “Once.”
“I can see it,” I said. “Lee… Annie, Lee Anne Ransom. Pen name. Maybe.”
“Oh,” she said, “If I… yeah, readers would know I’m at least not a white… man.”
We both smiled.
When Lee Ransom and I looked around, Larry Jr. had Freddy pinned against the hood of a car.
We (Lee Ransom, the three kids, and I) shifted our gaze to the front door. A woman pushed out the screen door, stepped two steps down from the deck and onto a concrete pad, a casserole dish in her hands.
“Wendall’s wife,” I said. “Theresa. Separated… I heard.”
Theresa Wendall’s high heels didn’t make the transition from concrete to the Bermuda grass. She started to fall forward. Her hands were moving forward, the casserole dish was moving forward. She dropped to one, then both knees. She had to let go. The dish skittered across the weak version of a suburban lawn.
Lee Ransom moved quickly, dropping to one knee. “Corning Ware,” she said, retrieving the glass lid, placing it back into position. “My mom has one just like it.”
Detective Wendall was, very quickly, out the door and standing beside his wife as several other wake attendees gathered on the porch. Theresa was almost crawling to the dish.
“It’s not my fault,” Theresa Wendall kept saying; “not my fault.”
Wendall crouched next to his wife; one hand on her shoulder. He looked at Lee Ransom. Not unkindly, maybe appreciatively. Lee stood up, backed toward me.
“It’s not broken, mom,” Larry Jr. said, he and Freddy and the younger Wendall kid scooping what looked like lasagna from the grass with their hands, seriously considering putting it back in the Corning Ware dish.
“You can leave it,” I said. “We have some chickens. They’d…” I shouldn’t have looked at Mrs. Wendall. She wanted to scream as well as cry but had to smile. “They’d love it. I had some myself. Good.”
Wendall looked at the reporter and me as he helped Theresa to her feet. His expression was less appreciative, more like embarrassed. I stuck both hands out, palms down, fingers spread, in what I hoped was a ‘not a thing’ gesture. It might have more resembled the ‘safe’ gesture from a baseball umpire.
Lee Ransom was looking at the detective, shaking her head. I took the combination of the movement and the expression to mean, ‘this is off the record.’ She then looked at me with an expression I took as ‘is this a story?’
“No, Terry, it’s not your fault,” Wendall said as Theresa removed her high heels. She handed them to her ex-husband and put one hand on their son as he presented the covered dish. Theresa then let the last of these tears fall, let out a quick laugh, and turned toward the people now gathered at the door. “My special lasagna… with Bermuda grass.”
I did notice at the time, and will note here, my mother was not among the people gathered just outside and at the door. This was a story, but a side story.
Wendall escorted his estranged wife and their two boys to where Mrs. Wendall’s station wagon was parked. They got inside but Wendall didn’t. Freddy went to the window of the back seat. Neither of the Wendall boys looked at him.
Freddy turned, looked at me, laughed, shot both Lee Ransom and me with his finger guns, both hands this time. We both reacted properly to being fake wounded. Or fake killed. Freddy laughed, put his hands in his pocket holsters, and went back to the front porch.
“In Cops and Robbers, Lee Annie Oakley Ransom, I always played Cop.”
Heading down the driveway, Mrs. Wendall waved at Lee Ransom and me, then at the Deputy who had been directing traffic as she passed him. Off duty. He joined Wendall, who had just finished another cigarette, just tossing the butt into the patchy Bermuda grass. Both cops looked at the cigarette, both looked at me. Both headed back toward the back door of my father’s house.
“Where I grew up,” Lee Ransom said, “when I got just a little older, we played Cops and Robbers with real cops.”
I didn’t ask, but she added, “Kid who liked me… want to know?” I did. “He’s fine; up in Sacramento working for some state representative.”
“Sure.” The reporter shook her head, dropped her sunglasses back over her regular glasses. “Yeah. Sure.”