Negative Thinking Leads to…

..negative images.

IT ISN’T that I can’t think negatively; it’s my pre-set and my fall-back position. Maybe it’s defensive; questioning everything, sometimes regretting the times I didn’t; responding to almost any statement with, “What do you mean by that?”

HEY, that sounds kind of confessional. ACTUALLY, I’m just trying to provide a little introduction to some (potential) t-shirt designs I’ve been working on.

THE IDEA is to do white on colored t-shirts, but, in order to do that, I had to do the illustrations as negatives, all the black to be white. AND, sure, vice-versa. SO:

SO, Wait. Here are the negative images. NOW, imagine white ink on a colored t-shirt.

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I have to admit I was pretty jazzed (saying jazzed rather than stoked, just to vary my vocabulary) when the guy at Office Depot in Sequim was able to do a negative image. I called up TYLER MEEKS at the DISCO BAY OUTDOOR EXCHANGE.  I did some variations on logo designs for Tyler, and had stopped by to show the originals. AND to see what progress was being made on the t-shirts. AND, yeah, just about ready to go.

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SO, now I’m thinking; if I can actually get a negative image at the printers, MAYBE I can do the original drawing as a positive image and just get… WAIT, that’s too much thinking, too much imagining. I can’t even imagine the logo (above) as a negative image without risking serious damage to my… um… brain.

BUT, I will let you know when you can get an ORIGINAL ERWIN t-shirt. WHAT I CAN’T TELL YOU is when and where some surf might appear; not that I’m not thinking about it. Constantly. Right now.

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“Swamis” Cover in Color

Image (92)Image (91)I got five copies of the original drawing, just so I could, maybe, take a few risks on the colors. This is the first attempt. MEANWHILE, I keep working on the story.

Excerpt from “Swamis”

EVERY time I find time to work on this novel (and it is fiction, mostly), I seem to start out at the beginning, edit, change; so much so that, when I’m out of time, I haven’t really advanced the story. SO, this is a chapter a little way into it; setting up some sort of romance I haven’t totally figured out yet. YET. I will.

WHAT is surprising is how much my partially-planned story changes as I get farther into the plot.  AND what I do, after I write something new, is think about how this can be better said, better written, better told.

AND I enjoy this part of writing also.  More to come.

FEBRUARY 1969-

Ginny Cole was like the magazine photos; like my best rides; I could bring her image into my mind at will; images from the few times I’d been on the beach or in the water with her. Not with her, around her. It’s not like she knew me; another teenage surfer, awkward out of the water, not skilled enough to be noticed in the water.

Ginny wasn’t the only girl surfer in the North County; there were others; but she was good. I had seen Barbie Barron, Margo Godfrey… Barbie in the water and in the parking lot at Oceanside’s shorter jetty; Margo with Cheer Critchlow at Swamis on a day that was uncrowded, big and nearly blownout; both just casually walking out, chatting; paddling for the outside peak. My two friends and I shoulder-hopped, choosing only the smaller waves on the inside.

Coolness, casualness, some sort of self-confidence, some sense of comfort in one’s own skin.

Things I lacked, things I appreciated.

The days were just getting long enough to make it from Fallbrook to the beach before dark. My 9’6” Surfboards Hawaii pintail, last of my (youthful) longboards, was on one side of the rack on Dave’s VW Super Bug, his pre-graduation gift. I think he his newer-but-stock Hansen was on the other side. Dave had picked me up as I raced from my last class. Dave floored-it across the Bonsall bridge, chose going through Vista rather than toward Oceanside. “Faster,” he said.

“Faster, then,” I said.

We were just coming down the ramp at Beacons when Ginny and another girl (no, didn’t know her name) were coming up; side by side; laughing.  The stainless steel turnbuckle closure on Ginny’s shortjohn wetsuit was disconnected, unsnapped.

There was skin showing. Freckles on her shoulder. I was 17. Ginny was perfect, and she might just look at me as we passed. I gave Dave a hip check, my only basketball move, pushing him toward the railing.

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“Virgin-e-ya,” a voice from behind her said; “Virgin-eee-yaaa.”

If I said everything stopped, it would be an exaggeration. But it did. I stopped.

And Virginia Cole did look at me. She blinked. She and the other girl lowered their heads, their smiles gone. They passed Dave and I single file, Ginny in front.

There were three guys, in street clothes, at the bottom of the ramp, kind of congratulating each other. They weren’t surfers.  The guy who had made the remark was in the lead, crushing and tossing his empty beer can into the brush as they headed up. Dave shook his head, tried to step in front of me. He wasn’t fast enough, convincing enough. At the halfway point of the path, at the curve, I blocked them with my board, held sideways at my chest.

“What?” It was the lead guy; maybe a bit flushed; his smile changing to a sneer. Maybe not quite a sneer; just one of those ready-for-confrontation looks.

“Nothing, A-hole; just thought you might want to rest a second.”

“Fuck you.” The front guy, and I probably should give a more complete description of him and his high school-aged buddies, both adding their backup “fuck you;” but I won’t. He was just another high school jerk.

“You were a little disrespectful. Don’t you think; Jerk?”

Jerk’s crew and Dave looked up at the top of the bluff. Evidently Ginny and her friend were looking down.

“Ginny… Ginny Coldddd. She’s a stuck-up fuckin’…”

I’m trying to go through the words a teenage jerk would give for a girl in 1969. It would have been stronger than bitch, but certainly not cunt; that would be nuclear. Twat was almost nuclear. Not so much a west coast slang. It didn’t matter. I dropped the board. Jerk and his friends looked at it.

Hitting someone in the face is nuclear. The shoulder, maybe; was acceptable. “Harder!” “That all you’ve got?” Push, push back, a few glancing blows and a tie up; this was suburban teenage fighting. And, as Jerk pulled his right arm back, I hit him with a straight shot that bloodied his nose and lip.

It wasn’t full speed. I had held back.

The other two guys were, obviously, trying to decide between fight and flight. Everything stopped. Again. I looked at my hand. Jerk put his left hand to his face, looked at the blood. The other two guys looked at the blood on his face and hand, stepped away from their friend.

“Devil Dogs,” Dave said to the friends, his biggest smile on his (slightly-pimpled, had to add this) face; “Joe’s a fuckin’ Devil Dog.”

I picked up my board. There were several drops of blood on it.  I wasn’t sure if I was thrilled or sorry. Not enough of either.

“It’s just… um… you were rude.” Jerk looked like he might apologize; or, worse, cry.  “Hey,” I said, taking Dave’s towel off his board, handing it to Jerk. “My dad made me go. It’s really… it’s Devil Pups. Marines. Didn’t want to go.” I stood aside, opening the ramp. “We’re going to go surfing now.” I took the towel back, handed it to Dave. He took it with a shrug. “Just, um; you’re okay, huh?”

Jerk nodded. We walked on.

“Hope he doesn’t cry,” Dave said. “Your dad… I mean; if you ever even…” As we reached the sand, the sun way too close to the horizon, Dave ran next to me, looked closely at my face.

I wasn’t crying, quite, but I was not thrilled. I wasn’t sorry. I’m pretty sure I smiled, maybe even laughed. “Devil Dogs!” I ran for the water, didn’t look back at the bluff until I was knee-deep. The sun bounced back at me off windows, car windows, house windows. Silhouettes. Maybe one of them was Ginny, I thought. Maybe I was wrong.

Dave caught a wave before I did.

Just plain wrong

There is no way anyone can say the whole process of placing a whining, crying, screaming, privileged, pampered prick in a previously-honored lifetime position; as he’s  lied-for by power-mongering, power-hungry, gutless, soulless politicians; with, apparently, the support of hateful, spiteful mobs of folks willing to sacrifice any sense of any version of basic human morality is right.

 

Or just.

False witness does include going along with the false witness of others.

Like gang rape. Not your idea, maybe, but, if you’re not first in line, maybe…

Sickened and disheartened.

Courage was shown; but not by those who had already made their decision, who had the votes, knew the outcome. “Give us Barabbas.”

Yeah, and like Dr. Ford; we can’t help but see the smug expressions, can’t help but hear the uproarious laughter in the background.

Sickened and disheartened.

Oh, you side with Brett-boy? Fine; check out your own conscience; you might be either a bully-boy who forgives himself, a girl who thought it was all okay, or, really, I don’t know who you are.

Illustration for “Swamis”

If I get up early enough, I do some work on the novel; but I rarely get up early enough to get very far past the pages I’ve already written. Editing, changing; maybe adding another page.

And then, while working, I think about where it’s all going, think of new plot twists, new names for characters. I actually love this part; it’s like thinking about past surfing sessions, checking the forecast for the future.

It’s interesting how a pretty mediocre session, over time, over time without waves, gets a higher rating in the memory loop. Rides were tighter, turns were hit harder, waves were longer, a little bigger.  One difference here is, I can go back and edit, change, hopefully improve the drawings and the writing.

Past sessions. Yeah, those just get better with age

Here’s my illustration, the first, actually, for “Swamis.”

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Subject to change, of course

Out On Surf Route 101…

…there are many sites to see (I feel as if I should do some rhyming here),

On the south side of Mount Walker, there’s this place owned by a Hippieeee;

Name’s Hippie Bob or Hippie Mike, I just can’t quite recall (or retell) it;

But have to wonder about the panel wagon, and what tragedy befell it.

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Adam Wipeout James told me I had to check out the board the next time I headed south. The wagon has been parked there, in this little clustered patch in the midst of the Olympic National Forest, for years. The board is a newer addition.

Hydrosexual Stephen Davis was riding with me when we pulled over. “I think that board was made by John Edwards,” Steve said. “You know John Edwards?”

“Yeah; up in Port Townsend. Of course. I once saw John, and I think it might be Jonathan Edwards,” I said, “try to surf in a gale on the windward side of the Quimper Peninsula (I wouldn’t have identified the location in this way to Steve, it’s for the reader’s benefit).  Ridiculous, I thought, and unsuccessful- more so when (the same) Adam Wipeout convinced me, or we convinced each other, to try a similar feat- also unsuccessful; though, while Adam caught at least one wave, I went over the falls sideways onto the rocks adjacent to (I may have said ‘next to’) the boat ramp. First big ding in my first SUP.”

“Uh huh. Um;” looking around, “what do they do here?”

“I don’t know. Never knew.”

“We could find out all this, for sure. Just go to the door.”

Not immediately able to tell which door was the proper entrance, and a bit intimidated (or just polite, or, maybe, in a hurry), the mystery will remain.

The fictionalized versions might be better, anyway.

So… we loaded up and headed down, along Hood Canal, past forest and towns; with the water sparkling in the September sun; down on Surf Route one OH one.

If There’s NO SURF…

…maybe there’s work.

That’s what I tell myself. It’s no longer High Season for exterior painting in the Great Northwest, but it’s definitely Crazy Season; everyone trying to get their project painted before the rainy season (November is the rainiest month around here) hits.

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Still, I’m as anxious as anyone for some serious swell activity. Thanks for the photo, Stephen, probably double-overhead, Hawaiian (bigger by NW standards) and, hey, this isn’t an ad for Noah Harrison, but, speaking of voting…VOTE!

Vote when you can, because you can.

Original Erwin Illustrations

A few samples:

SWAMIS- In Progress

SWAMIS

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On June 8, 1969, President Richard M. Nixon said 25,000 troops would be out of Vietnam by August.

SECOND WEEK OF JUNE, 1969

Almost leaping from stair to stair, I was looking at the water, the fuzzy horizon, the lines; counting, then recounting the surfers already in the water; trying to beat any other surfers who missed the true dawn patrol. Swamis was, finally, it seemed, breaking; tide dropping; swell, hopefully, increasing. It would get crowded.

Two surfers were walking from halfway up the point, along the water’s edge. I wasn’t focused on them; they were shapes, so familiar; surfer and board, nose-up or nose-down, more-or-less crosses in the grainy light, the shadows of the bluff. One was walking faster, trying to catch up. “June,” I heard, or thought I heard; then, more like a question, “Junipero?” Then, closer to the guy in front of him; “Jumper.”

“Jumper,” I thought. Jumper. Now I almost focused.

Almost. It was a moment, still just a moment, between a surfer reaching for, and touching the other man’s shoulder- it was Sid, reaching; Sid, a locally-known surfer; Surfboards Hawaii team rider; known to thrash his boards; known to take on crazy waves, to burn valley cowboys and out-of-town surfers, even Orange County magazine surf stars down to trade crowded beach breaks for a chance at Swamis point break magic- Sid, featured in a small, grainy, black and white ad in “Surfer” magazine.

I must have blinked. Sid was flat-out, on his back, parallel to that line where the sand turned hard with the receding tide. His board was floating in the shallows, Jumper’s board pressed, nose-first, to his neck; Jumper’s foot on his chest.

Jumper. Fucking Jumper. He was back in town, back at Swamis.

If we could just ‘backspace’ time ten seconds, not all the time, but for those moments we witnessed but couldn’t immediately process. Maybe ‘replay’ is more accurate. Ten seconds.

Fifty years gone, I’m trying to replay moments, bits and fragments and images and strings; strings of time; so many strings; some tangled, some free.

Oh, I broke free of the North County scene years ago; lost my contacts, forgot names, confused and overlapped stories from Grandview and Pipes and Cardiff Reef. I do still remember specific rides among thousands; remember, almost precisely, the times I was injured; held down, hit the bottom, was hit by someone else’s board; but, and I’ve tried, I can’t remember Sid’s last name.

But I remember Jumper.

In another moment, with me even with them, trying to be cool, to not look, both surfers were sitting on Jumper’s board. Peripheral vision. No, I probably did turn my head. Never was cool.

Jumper’s hair was shorter than mine, but, even with the patchy start of a beard; he was recognizable, the same guy from, probably, four years earlier, back when I was just switching from surf mats to boards; back when he caught any wave he wanted any time he showed up.  The Army or prison; stories about his disappearance varied; rumors among high school friends who quoted various upper classmen, scattered pieces from other people’s beachfire conversations.

“I heard he moved to Hawaii,” or, “No, Buttwipe; Australia. Or New Zealand.” Or, “Chicago.” “No fucking way.”  “San Francisco, then.” “Nooooo.”

Then someone would go into a Jumper surf impression, with play-by-play commentary, on any nearby surfboard; Right arm back, elbow cocked, hand like a conductor’s, flowing with the up-and-down movements on the imagined wave; subtle, the left arm lower, hand out flat; punctuated with, rather than the classic cross step to the nose, the quick shuffle, the jump; then a crouch and a shift to a more parallel stance, right hand in the wave, left hand grabbing the outside rail. Twist, weight forward; the fin would pop out of the sand.

“Island pullout.”

Someone else would repeat the performance, only, left foot on the tip in a solid five, upper torso shifting to face the wave, arms spreading wide; he would pull the skeg, make the rotation, yell, “Standing island pullout”, and shuffle back on the board, casually drop to his knees, ready to paddle out.

Yes, I participated in this. Yes, I tried to develop that “Jumper” conductor-dancer flow on my skateboard, pivoting, slaloming down my block, on inland hills, miles from the ocean. I had a long enough board, eventually, to go with the cross step; more like Phil Edwards, Micky Dora.

Style.

Jumper was probably my second surf hero. Maybe third. Heroes dominated lineups, kooks and kids gave way, gave waves, watched them.  Now Jumper was, quite possibly, crying, one hand on Sid’s shoulder, one of Sid’s on his. It was Sid who looked around at me with a ‘fuck off’ look.

Peripheral. No, I’d looked back.

I looked away, kept walking.  Still only a short distance away, I did what every surfer does, and always has; studied the ocean for a moment before committing; disciple before the alter.

When I looked back, from out in the water, from my lineup, the inside lineup, Sid and Jumper were half way up the stairs. Sid was one step ahead, one above. When two guys came down, Sid, probably because he didn’t know them, or because he did, made the down-stair surfers split up and go around.  Jumper moved behind Sid’s block.

A set approached. Surfers, who had been straddling their boards in the lull, dropped to prone, started paddling. At this tide, some of the waves from the outside peak were still connecting all the way through. The first one didn’t; the surfer on it lost behind a section. Two surfers went for the shoulder as I stroked past. The second wave swung wide, peaked-up on the inside. I had it to myself; another takeoff, drop, turn, cutback, back and forth to the inside inside, fitting my board into and through that last little power pocket, peeling over the palm of the finger slabs that opened to the sea. A little standing island pullout into the swampy grass. Swamis.

 

THIRD WEEK OF JUNE, 1969

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If the Noah’s Ark trailer park wasn’t still there, there on the north end of Leucadia, yet another trailer park squatted up against yet another bluff along 101, protected from the south winds; if it wasn’t still there in 1969; it had been there on those trips with my family, down the coastal route to San Diego.

I understand there’s a jetty there now; Ponto.

I also can’t clearly remember if the fields north of Grandview, the original Grandview, the fields along those bluffs were fields of tomatoes or strawberries. I know there were no houses. There were the Leucadia greenhouses. Flowers. It was what Leucadia was known for. Poinsettias.

Maybe not these particular greenhouses.

Turning off 101, I drove past several. One, and this had been pointed out to me by several of my high school surfing buddies, belonged to the family of Jumper Hayes. On this morning, still dark, what the forecasters called ‘early morning and evening overcast,’ or ‘June gloom’ hanging on, almost misty; I saw Jumper’s old pickup, almost-flat paint a weird shade of green in the light of the yard lamp, parked outside one of the greenhouses. Only the tail, fin over the tailgate, showed this farm rig was a surfer’s vehicle.

I gave myself a bit of a self-congratulatory nod, a quick smack on the shifter, three-on-the-tree; double-clutched down to second, gunned it.

It had become my workday predawn move, up and down Neptune, checking out Grandview, Beacons, Stone Steps; possibly surfing whichever one had a more consistent peak. Or a peak at all.  If it was bigger, big enough, I would push the fourth-hand Chevy four door farther, along the bluff, the increasingly-fancy houses blocking any view of the water, past Moonlight, down and around the Self Realization compound, to Swamis.

Or, depending on my hours; if it was still light when I got off work, I would turn onto 101 at Cardiff reef, pass the state park, try to get a glimpse of Swamis over the guardrail. If it was breaking big enough, you could see it. I would hit the parking lot and get out. Even if it was dark, I’d check the view from Boneyards, past what my high school friends and I called Swamis Beachbreak, onto and beyond Pipes.

And then back. And repeat. Maybe there’d be some last-lighters, still hanging in the parking lot; their stories of new and past glories punctuated with a hoot or a laugh; headlights and streetlights in a descending darkness and a dim glow from the horizon.

Swamis was where I wanted to surf. June gloom or bright offshore glare; breaking or not. What I felt, and was totally aware of feeling, was that my choice of route and destination was mine, mine alone; that I was pretty fuckin’ close to being free.

Within reason, of course.

NOTE: For a short period of time, but right about this time; well past ‘groovy,’ way past anyone remotely cool (or young) calling anyone a ‘Hippie,’ I made the adjustment, from ‘fuckin’, dropping the ‘ing,’ to Fuck-ing, emphasis on the ‘ing.’ This was after running into a guy, Gordie, from my high school at a liquor store in Vista. He now, suddenly, sporting long hair (longer- Fallbrook had a dress code and we’d just graduated), parted in the middle (of course), and clothing that denied his quite-upper class upbringing. “We just don’t fuck-ing see each other, man; like, like we used to.” And he was, obviously, stoned, an even more-stoned girl, possibly still in high school, headband, boutique-chic top, nodding, eyes unable to focus, next to him. Gordie put a hand on my shoulder. I looked at his hand, put my package of Hostess donettes and quart of milk on the counter, pointed to a pack of Marlboros, turned back to Gordie. He sort of gave me a look when I scooped up the cigarettes. “I know man, Gordie; you probably don’t fuck-ing smoke… cigarettes.” He and the girl both giggled. So uncool. “Peace, man.”

Yeah, flipping the peace sign was probably pretty much over, also.

My relative freedom isn’t, perhaps, relevant to the story. Maybe it is; these were times when ‘freedom’ and ‘peace’ and ‘revolution’ were frequently used in the same sentence. For someone just out of high school, working various shifts at a supermarket with a view of the ocean; joy and loneliness and a sense of being part of some magical mystery could all be felt in a very short span of time; and repeated, randomly. Mysteries.

Why, I had been asking myself, did Sid call Jumper ‘June,’ with a hard J; not a H sound. If his real name was Jesus; well, anyone would instantly know it’s not Jesus, like Jesus Christ, but Hey-Seuss, like Hey, Doctor Seuss, dropping the ‘doctor.’

Mysteries ask to be solved. Beg, perhaps. Rumors. Surfing, waves, surfing waves was a mystery. Board surfing was more than just drop and hang on. Tamarack was obvious; one peak in front of the bathrooms on the bluff, a bit of a channel; a parking lot at beach level. Good place to learn; sit on the shoulder; wait, watch, study; move toward the peak; a bit closer with each session. Get yelled at; get threatened; learn.

Eventually, you would have to challenge someone for a wave.

But there were always rumors of better waves, great waves, magical and secret spots, places uncool  freshmen kooks weren’t supposed to know about, weren’t supposed to show up at.

Grandview was fairly easy to find. There was a Grandview Street off 101 in Leucadia. Still, when I showed up there with my friends, now sophomores, we got looks. Punks, Kooks; not ready for Grandview.  The hardest looks were from other San Marcos, Vista, Fallbrook, Escondido surfers; other inland cowboys.

ANOTHER NOTE (SORRY): Inlandness was in direct proportion to distance from the coast. Where I lived we called Escondido Mexican-dido. That was, of course, insensitive; maybe; but I understand Meth-condido has replaced it.

As with, probably, anywhere, in order to fit in, you had to persist. I did. As my contemporaries and I searched out new locations; San Onofre, occasionally Oceanside; as some dropped surfing, traded it for parties fueled with liquor purchased by Marines, marijuana bought from friends of friends, I had become another surf addict; and Grandview was still on my route.

By the end of my senior year, I had become accustomed to going surfing alone.

And now, here I was, almost a local, slipping and sliding down the more-sand-than-sandstone between houses, original Grandview, the real Grandview; and ahead of the ultimate local, back after four years or so, Jumper Hayes.

Just ahead.

Peace and freedom and revolution.

MAY OF 1969-

I have to drop back for a moment. The story hinges on this. Chulo Lopez had been killed, murdered. His real name wasn’t Chulo; nickname; I can’t remember his real first name. It was in the paper, even on the San Diego TV news.  “Horrific” the reporter said.  “The Sheriff’s Office said he was probably dead… probably… when his body was ‘posed’ against the thick white walls of the Self Realization Fellowship compound, doused with gasoline, and set ablaze. Set ablaze.”

The reporter stepped aside. The blackened areas on the white white walls formed a sort of outline, similar to that around a candle. The TV camera followed the burn marks up to the gold bulbs atop the wall. There was a sort of symmetry, a repetition.  “Set ablaze.”

The walls were back to white when I next went to Swamis, against my parents’ warnings, two days later. It was a Saturday. Weekend. A predicted swell hadn’t materialized, a south wind was blowing. Maybe it would clean up, even get bigger. So, wait. Surfers I knew well enough to give or return a half-nod, four of five guys, one girl, were sitting on the guard rail; a small carton of orange juice or chocolate milk in their hands; maybe a cold piece of pizza; one or another of them glancing back toward the compound.

I lit up a cigarette, noticed none of them were smoking, squeezed the cherry out, pulled the donette package out of my windbreaker pocket. Frosted, never chocolate.

It seems wrong to me, now, it’s obviously wrong; but, somehow, when I was a teenager, it seemed all the surfers were somewhere around my age. Some younger kooks, some older surfers. Not many; or maybe I just didn’t focus on them; maybe the ones who were well known; names spread through a parking lot or lineup: L.J. Richards, Mike Doyle, Rusty Miller; surfers you would definitely keep track of; just to see if they were all that good. Better. Were they better?

How much better?

But these were days of evolution in surfing; shorter boards, more radical moves, backyard soul shapers, V bottoms and downrail speed machines; and the new heroes were younger; more like my age; s-turns and tube stalls and 180 cutbacks.

“Chulo,” someone said. In my memory there was a sort of muffled chorus, “Chulo,” from the surfers on the guardrail. “They’re saying it’s some sort of cult thing. Maybe it’s related to… you know, those monks burning themselves up over in Vietnam.”

May of 1966, in protest of corrupt Vietnamese Regime…

It was an older man, Wally; who threw pots for a living; sold them wholesale up in L.A. He had walked from the direction of the outhouse (still there at that time) and the stairs (probably two other systems since then), stood between the bluff and the guardrail surfers. There were a couple of us in the parking lot. Second tier.

“Jesus freaks,” someone said, actually more like a question…

 

Dirty John Ain’t Quite Gone

The official greeting from Dirty John, if you pass him in traffic along the rag-tag stretch of Surf Route 101 that goes through Quilcene, Washington is the double eagle flip-off.

This also might be the greeting (if you’re lucky enough to be his friend) at the Post Office, at the Fire Hall, or pretty much anywhere else in town. The proper response is to return the favor.

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Not that I mind.

If we talked about surfing (and I seem to include it in most conversations), John always recounted his childhood on Coronado Island, Admiral’s Row.

“I had a big, long board, and my thing was to go out on the biggest days, and just take off.” “You mean, like, um, go straight?” “Yeah.” “Sometimes I’d paddle across the bay to Ralph’s.” “Across San Diego Bay?” “Yeah, why?” “Because it’s crazy.” “Oh. Maybe.”

The ‘maybe’ was accompanied by a bit of a smile.

I’ve known John for over 37 years. We were new guys in the Quilcene Fire Department in 1981 (Trish filled me in on this). John’s a tough guy, as tough as they come; but, send him on an aid call where a child is hurt (Trish, John, and I were Emergency Medical Technicians for years), and John’s empathetic side would be revealed. And he loved cats. Our kids called him John McKitty.

John got to Quilcene because there was a halfway house here at the time. He freely admits he, son of a career Naval officer, abused drugs.

That was years ago. John traded hard drugs for working hard, drinking copious amounts of Pepsi; he held on to smoking cigarettes, added chewing tobacco.

When he got COPD, emphysema, he quit smoking. He refuses to be on oxygen.

It would embarrass John if I… shit, even knowing about this piece would embarrass John. If I listed the times he helped us out, cutting down dangerous trees in our yard with fellow curmudgeon George Hansberry, towing my truck when the wheel fell off… more; it would definitely embarrass him; might just anger him.

Tough.

I saw John the other day in the local bank. There was a line, and he was waiting in a chair. “How’s it going?” John’s voice was a whisper. I tried to whisper. “Not so good.”

He told me about the cancer. “Lung cancer?” “Pancreatic.” “Oh.” We all know the prognosis. Not good. “When did you get the, um…” “Two weeks ago.”

“I just inherited a… money,” he said. “Oh.”

There was a pause. “Spend it,” I said. “I am,” he answered. He nodded toward a new Suburu outside. “I bought that for Melinda,” he said. “Good. Uh, hey, sorry, man.” “It is what it is.”

When I was done with my transaction, John was standing at the counter, next teller over, saying something about having chemo the day before. “Um, uh, yeah; but you feel better, huh?” “Yeah. Better.” “Um, what was your last name, again?”

“You probably think his first name is ‘Dirty,'” I said. “it’s actually not.”

“I couldn’t do this is it wasn’t in a public space,” I said, giving John a sideways shoulder hug. “He’d hit me.”

He didn’t, but he did give me a semi-hidden version of the official greeting.