This is a photo of a Northwest parking area in 2015. If I had taken the shot a few minutes earlier, there would have been one more VW. Timing. And times. Now there would be Sprinter vans and almost-Sprinter vans, properly built-out, and trucks and… oh, my Toyota is in the photo… wow, didn’t realize I’ve had it this long.
Long enough that plastic parts have become brittle enough to just break, hinges have rusted. It’s dinged and has a certain and hard to disguise smell of mildew. The muffler may or may not be totally gone (it is… gone), the radio doesn’t work (other than an occasional whine from the back speakers), but the air conditioning (with the original coolant from 1987) does work, even better since George Takamoto replaced the fan motor (eliminating my need to slam the dashboard until it came on). Tough car, hard to kill; tough enough that, when my daughter’s car had some issues, Dru is borrowing it. Sure, with prayers and best wishes from Trish, and instructions from me to put a towel on the driver’s seat and to not try to open either of the back doors, and to not slam the back hatch, and to check the oil frequently, and more.
So, same car for me, same attitude, same desire to ride waves.
What hasn’t changed on the Strait is the opportunity to wait; wait for the tide to fill in or drop out, wait for the swell that was predicted, that was actually showing on the buoys, wait for someone to give a real explanation for why waves have not shown up, and for someone to tell you exactly when they will.
Or where. Somewhere else.
Oh, it is definitely going off somewhere else.
And when waves do show up, according to the word in the parking area; oh yeah, it’ll be on. ON! The competition to get more waves or better waves, to do more on each wave, to… if you surf, you know there is not only a struggle against currents and squalls and rocks and closeout sections and, sometimes, even getting out to the waves, but there is the challenge of dealing with other surfers; each of us intent on ripping, wailing, cruising, crushing, gliding, or otherwise riding whatever waves are available to the very limit of our ability. And maybe, maybe we will surf just a little bit better than we ever have.
Yeah, it’s the ‘maybe’ that brings us back. Recently, trying to stay on topic here, I got out of the water, commented to Darren, someone I have seen often over the years; and, yes, the guy who let me paddle in on his board when mine was caught in the rip (as was I), that several surfers had just gotten the ride of their lives, not, necessarily, because they are really good, but more because they caught a slow one and made the wave; and, because they got that one ride, they now believe they are better surfers than they actually are; and because they got that ride at this particular spot, they would, no doubt, return.
“I was just thinking the very same thing,” Darren said.
If I really think about it, all the above stuff about others is probably also true of me. And Darren. And you. Maybe it is a different spot; one wave you thought you wouldn’t make, couldn’t make, and then you did. That’s what brings us back, pushes us out of the comfort of our home or our built-out van, out into the water.
All right. Again, I have written something far different from what I anticipated, what I planned. Sorry. What I wanted to say… well, several things. I will try to be brief.
First, every surfer is a badass ripper in the parking lot. I have walked past surf spectators for whom the waves weren’t good enough (some who scoffed because they were good enough for me), come in from challenging conditions and asked why certain badass rippers weren’t in the water, asked others why they were surfing on the inside section. Rude.
Every surfer has a history; most of us have a past that includes those perfect moments, perfect rides. If I listed my own history, the question that would have to be asked is, “Why don’t you surf better now?”
I have my explanations, and, although I am rude and blunt and an admitted asshole, I probably won’t ask you for yours. Then again, if we talk long enough, I probably will.
The greater struggles are with ourselves, with our expectations and our underlying sense of ourselves and where we fit into some larger society, where we put ourselves in some pecking order, and where we think others place us; and whether we are satisfied with that position.
I wish I didn’t care about all that. I do.
Too long. Got to go. There may or may not be waves. If we run into each other somewhere, feel free to introduce yourself as the best surfer in the parking lot. “Oh,” I might say, “glad to meet you.”
I am at a point in my tightening the plot of “Swamis” where the narrator has to have a reason to take a night class in Police Science. The scene has the introvert (with exceptions) Joey/Jody running out of the Public Speaking class (with some backtracking as to why). The inspirations are these: My old neighbor in Encinitas, Frank Andrews, who did some painting with me on weekends, told me that if he had to give a speech or take an ‘F,’ he’d choose the failing grade. This was shocking to me. I would race through any oral report. The other thing is the actual night class I did take at Palomar Junior (long since ‘Community’) College. I wrote about my experience for this site in 2013, so this is a rerun. Or a reprise.
Greetings to Cheer, seems like you’re doing well.
There probably should be some time stamp here. Along with the peak of the Baby Boomer wave, I graduated from Fallbrook Union High School in 1969. “Sixty-nine, Man!”
Before I went to Palomar Junior College, the closest I’d come to hanging with anything that could be called “the North County Surf Community” was when I was on the Fallbrook wrestling team, going against San Dieguito. That school district included Leucadia, Encinitas, Cardiff, maybe even Del Mar; and excluded Carlsbad and Oceanside- separate tribes, separate Junior College. But Fallbrook was included in the Palomar district. Sure, Escondido and Vista were also included. But, what going to Palomar meant…
…it meant a lot to me. Now I knew other surfers ‘from school.’ I could nod to them, maybe, on campus, or, better, at the top of the Swamis stairs; maybe even hang for a while, comparing notes on the surf, they drinking homemade smoothies, some talking about Jesus; me with my chocolate milk, and, having already used a few swear words to describe the crowds, unable to testify, to say I also had a deep love for our living Savior from before it was cool.
I knew who Charles ‘Cheer’ Critchlow was before he showed up in Speech 101, one of the night classes I took to allow more time for work/surf/girlfriend/church, Speech. It was his image, tucked into a little tube, that was on the sign for Hansen Surfboards, A photograph had been in “Surfer” Magazine, tucked into another tube at a surf contest in Santa Cruz. I’d seen Cheer and Margo Godfrey casually walking out to surf the outside peak at Swamis on a big choppy afternoon when Scotty Sutton and Jeff Officer and I kept to the inside peak.
Mr. Critchlow had actually, though he was also still in high school, been a judge at a North County high school surfing contest at Moonlight Beach. Jeff and Scott and I, though we’d ripped in the warm up, were harshly eliminated in our first round heats. We were gone so quickly that several girls from my school showed up after we’d taken off. Maybe I’d lied about even being in it.
No, Jeff’s Dad took us to 15th Street in Del Mar, near where they had a beach house- and we ripped it up again. No points.
Cheer Critchlow was one of the surfers I viewed, from the shoulder, wailing from fifty yards deeper in the pit during the first day of the swell of 1969. “They (the surfers who were successful) must have some Hawaii experience,” I said at the time.
When I gave a speech on our trip to Mazatlan in my nervous-as-shit, rapid-fire delivery, Cheer Critchlow spoke clearly and calmly, and with some humor, about his first time surfing big Sunset Beach with Mike Doyle.
“So, Mike just told me, ‘If you don’t just go, you’ll never go.’ And I went.”
When I brought in a surfboard I’d shaped and painted as a visual aid, Cheer brought in templates he’d used with and borrowed from, again, Mike Doyle.
When I gave a speech on my future plans, writer, artist; Cheer’s speech revealed school was part of his backup plan. He’d tried very hard to be a professional surfer, and it wasn’t working. Maybe someday, he said, a surfer could make a living from surfing. Very convincing, moving, successful speech.
*Interesting because the character I thought would be the closest thing to a true villain in “Swamis” is a Certified Public Accountant. No, not based on Cheer Critchlow, but, since I am just reworking the part of the story where Joey and Mr. Cole meet, and, because a CPA’s most valuable asset is a perceived or real belief that this person is trustworthy, and since I already had the fictional CPA possessing that same combination of confidence and coolness, with just enough self effacing modesty, qualities Cheer seemed to have… to seem… well…
No, David Cole doesn’t surf, but his daughter, Virginia, does.
Still, he could have given me, maybe, a few more points at Moonlight.
This is another part of my manuscript that I am completely changing. It wasn’t some obvious attempt at having Ginny and Joey ‘meet cute.’ Still, I thought it was kind of cute/authentic. I will restate that Joey is not me. I did try to sneak into advanced photography without the prerequisite. No Ginny, no Big Jackets; ran into them later when I was writing for the “Port Townsend Leader.” Like the look, can’t pull it off myself. The having to pee but can’t leave the photos developing thing is real.
Oh, I did notice that Joey mentions Bucky Davis. He is a real person. When I said something about him and my early Kook days, a friend (okay, ‘Shortboard’ Aaron) said that Bucky Davis is the perfect surfer name. Yes.
As far as the sort of magical aura of being in a red-lit darkroom: When I was working in the Sign Shop at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, I did, on my first trip to the yard’s photo lab, go into the darkroom with, rather than the burly main photo guy, a woman who was not all that attractive in regular light, but, with the added mystery of it being very close to Halloween, and with the woman in some sort of costume (cat, I think, with appropriate makeup), it was sort of, um… let me not get myself in trouble here… it gave me something to use here, thirty-plus years later.
Everyone in the correct classroom seemed to know each other. They were standing around in small groups, some in those multi-pocketed, khaki-colored newspaper photographer vests or coats; versions, I thought, of great white hunter jackets, modified trench coats. Big Jackets. Some had more than one camera, more than one leather camera bag. The more pockets on the coat, the bigger the camera bag, the better the photographer must be. One guy was wearing a green beret (French artist, not Army Special Forces style), another had on a gangsters-in-old-movies fedora. Very noir, I thought. One guy had on the fishing version of a pork pie hat; the look completed with a couple of fishhooks. None of those obviously real photographers, I thought, could possibly take Fish-hat seriously.
Poser. Faker. Hodad. Kook. Like me; trying to blend in without having taken the prerequisite.
I looked down at my favorite vinyl windbreaker, selected because it had pockets for holding the two rolls of exposed film I had with me, one per pocket, balanced. An inside pocket contained a pack of cigarettes, my dad’s lighter, four ballpoint pens and a Surfboards Hawaii decal I’d picked up at the shop, free, to me, the girl at the counter said, with my purchase of two bars of wax, as if I was special.
Most of the Photography II folks were men, grownups, though not as old as the potential realtors. I couldn’t help thinking that most were probably most interested in artistic nude photography. Artistic. Nude. Perverts. Little groups of perverts with multiple pockets on Big Jackets.
Then there was Virginia Cole; a ponytail hanging out of a hand-crocheted girly version of something between a watch cap and a French beret. She may have had on some makeup. If so, it was minimal. She was wearing a neutral-colored and oversized sweater, and Levis, 501s; boy jeans. She had that large, gray-and-stained, possibly-leather bag on the floor in front of her. She had that Ginny Cold look (I would say neutral, but it was cooler than that) on her face.
Not that I knew her.
I did know the look; the don’t-even-think-about-it expression necessary for a young woman’s survival in the surfing community. Or any community, including night class.
Trying not to so obviously looking at Virginia Cole, I leaned against the table, close to her, checking out the black and white framed photos on the wall, and more samples, unframed, spread out on this and other tables. I did glance over occasionally. Virginia Cole didn’t look around.
“Hi,” I said. No response. “It’s like a pervert convention,” I said. No response. “The Big Jackets.”
No response. I chuckled, Virginia didn’t. “I surfed Pipes this morning… pretty good. Dawn patrol. All the high schoolers… back in class. I had some day classes. I work… yesterday.”
I was undoubtedly talking too fast, definitely nodding like a fool. “I mean ‘worked’ yesterday. At the market. Cardiff. San Elijo Market. Lot of people call it Mrs. Tony’s.”
Virginia cleared her throat. “Got a great deal on grapes.” Nothing. “Seedless.” I thought I saw a bit of a smile, quickly dropped. “You get any waves?” No response. “They’re seedless; on sale. Grapes. Mrs. Tony’s.”
Virginia Cole turned toward me. She had the ‘drop-dead-and-die’ look ready to go; with the possibility of her expression moving from there to the ‘may-your-dick-fall-off-just-before-you-drop-dead-and-then-die’ look; but just as she turned, as can happen in the hours after a person surfs, water, trapped in the sinuses, suddenly, uncontrollably, flowed out of Virginia’s nostrils.
It was less than ‘poured,’ more than ‘dripped.’ No, poured is more accurate. She pushed herself away from the table and quickly brought a hand up to stop the flow.
She looked at her hand, looked at the wet streak down her sweater, the drips on the floor, looked to see if any of the Big Jackets had witnessed this. They hadn’t. Then she looked at me. I wasn’t laughing. I must have shared Virginia Cole’s expression; both of us cringing.
Virginia Cole tried to reset her serious expression and couldn’t. “Seedless, huh?”
“Okay, class;” a man’s voice from the front of the room announced, “time to pick a partner for the dark room.”
Frightening; the choosing process. Always.
I took the neckerchief I had around my neck (part of my junior college-cool outfit), handed it to Virginia. She looked at it for a second, unraveled it, wiped her nose, her eyes on me. Green, yes; translucent. She reset her polite-but-serious face, looked down as I wiped at the puddle with my bare feet.
“No shoes,” she said.
“No. No shoes. Wasn’t expecting…” I did an unnecessary sniffle.
Virginia Cole folded the neckerchief so that the wet part was on the inside, gave me a lesser version of the cringe. I moved one of my rolls of film to the other pocket, accepted the neckerchief, stuck it in the other pocket. I raised my Yashica 35-millimeter camera, briefly considered pointing it toward Virginia Cole.
She looked at the camera, then at me. No.
“My mom,” I said, “she bought it from a Marine, he’s… was, back from Vietnam, at her work. On the base. Photo lab, matter of fact. He’s dying, maybe he has died by now… probably. They sent him back to Arkansas or some place; some, some unspecified disease. I think it might be, um, syphilis. ‘So young,’ my mom said.” I moved the camera closer to Virginia. “So, ‘Fifty bucks,’ my dad said. It was more like a question. ‘Fifty bucks?’ ‘It’s for Junior,’ my mom said. ‘Guess it’s better than that Brownie,’ he said. So, um, she actually got it for thirty-five, cash, gave me the rest… for film. So, it’s mine.”
Ridiculous scattergun blathering. Still, I must have wanted to see, again, her ‘drop dead’ expression. I did raise my camera, did look at her through the lens. Though I never took the shot, her face, just before she put her hand over my lens; that is still my top Virginia Cole image.
This was new. The darkroom. A certain foggy closeness, warm, chemical smells. Different.
Something about being with (that is, near) a woman in a dark room; the lighting so different; highlights and profiles in shades of red; a certain intimacy. I was a little too thrilled. This wasn’t a date.
With me so obviously amazed and clueless, Virginia almost shoved me toward an empty station near one of the many sinks set and spaced out on several long black counters. She took my camera, made sure it was rewound, opened the back, took out the roll of film, unfurled it, cut it into several sections, put on some heavy rubber gloves, then, using tongs, placed those sections into the tray of developer.
“How did you even get into this class, Junior?”
I put on rubber gloves. “Beginning photography was closed.” I just stood there, stood by. Eventually the first roll of film I would ever watch develop was coming to life. Images were emerging. Negative images; everything white gone black. So excited. Not that it’s necessarily connected, but I had to piss. Desperately. I couldn’t leave. “You?”
I tried to pass on my question by sweeping my hands toward, then past her, then around the darkroom. “Photography… Two. Two, as in, with a prerequisite.”
“Me? Oh. Took it while I was in high school. Last year. It’s… probably didn’t tell you out in Fallbrook. It’s… possible. It’s allowed. Quit dancing.” Maybe the ‘quit dancing’ was too much like an order. “Please.” She looked at my feet. “I don’t get your no shoes look.” I looked at her feet; brushed leather almost-hiking boots. Hush Puppies. I guessed with socks. “You know, there are… chemicals… in here.” Maybe I looked like I didn’t understand. “Shoes, Junior; at least some go-aheads; something… sensible.”
“Shoes. Shoes. Good. Good idea. Sensible. Yeah. I, um, had some Hush Puppies; got them because Phillip, a friend, from, um… he surfs. Pretty well. Phillip… fashionable… he had some. I kind of…” I put my hands on my knees. “Bowlegged. Me. Sort of. I ran them over… at the heels. They were… I liked them. Mine. You?”
“Me, again. Me what?”
“You, uh, Hush Puppies; you like them?”
Virginia Cole just shook her head. She nodded toward my first roll of film, floating in the developer. I gave her a look that requested her permission. She gave me a look that said, ‘yeah, dumbass, you can pick it up.’ What she did say, pointing to the other tray at our station, was, “Now, Junior, the fixer.”
I grabbed my roll from the tray, by the edges, held it up to the red lights. There were the images, negative, 35 millimeter, white-and-black images of Swamis, of friends on the beach, two shots of waves at Oceanside Pier. I let the roll slide into the fixer and took the second roll, gloved fingers on the edges.
“Some of the shots are from the time Phil and Ray and I were at Swamis… shorebreak; and Bucky Davis, he was a Junior at Fallbrook when we were freshmen, one of my earliest surfing heroes; he showed up packing a seven-six, and said surfboards need to get even shorter. Shorter? I had waded out, down where the rip-rap starts, got, yeah; two shots of Bucky, cheater-five on one, and look, he’s smiling, kind of a closeup, on this one.”
Virginia did look. “A little blurred, Junior. Shutter speed, maybe, but, uh, kinetic.” Pause. “Artsy. Bucky Davis; perfect surfer name. I’ve heard it.”
“Yeah.” Something positive. “I, uh, I don’t actually know his real name.”
“Well. Maybe it’s… Bucky.”
Virginia took my roll, hung it on the line with her five rolls of negatives: Flowers, spears of that dark and heavy kind of iceplant hanging onto steep bluffs, palm trees and sunsets and clouds, and various groupings of the San Dieguito surf crowd in the Swamis parking lot.
“Whoa,” I said, “it’s so… magical. Poof; images.”
“You could act like you’ve, um, seen this magic… before.”
“I will. I have been to my mom’s work, never in the darkroom.”
“Shit, Junior; here comes Broderick. Quit the dancing.”
The instructor, Mr. Broderick, middle-aged guy with extended sideburns and a combover, was approaching Ginny and me from another sink/rack setup; but stopped to inform the shortest guy among the Big Jacket crew that Broderick’s Photography and Fine Arts Studio in Escondido should not be referred to as a ‘shop.’
“Okay. Studio then.”
Broderick, Short Big Jacket, and Short’s lab partner, Rotund Big Jacket, began whispering; sharing some rude, no doubt, remark about the model photographed by a different Big Jacket they referred to as Nikon Nelson, who, evidently, heard his name, and, along with his (Nikon’s) partner, Black Big Jacket (not because he was black- his jacket) came over to join in.
What I overheard, from various voices, was, “Coarse. Grainy. Well lit. Butterfly lighting.” “Kind of chunky.” “Hey, that’s my wife!” “Oh, yeah; but she looks so much… sexier in my photos.” “Gentlemen…” Laughter. “Asshole!” “Hey, partner; I was joking; your wife looks just as fat in my photos.”
Virginia pulled on my arm. Swinging around, I ended up quite close to her. She whispered, “Broderick’s had to figure out; or he will, soon. You… here.” Our faces were, maybe, too close. For her. She moved back a bit. “You’re… quit it… the dancing.” It was more like slightly off rhythm marching in place. “You have to…” She followed my arm, my hand, down to my crotch area, for a second, half second. “Go.”
“Go? Yes. Go. It’s just…” The developing; so… exciting.”
“Go. Please. But, uh, take the gloves off.” I peeled the right glove off, left the other. “We’ll, when you get back, make some contact prints.”
“Uh huh. Great!” I avoided eye contact with Mr. Broderick, side-stepped him and two Big Jackets, two stations over, all busily looking at sheets of white photo stock that were, most likely, contact prints, the images, obviously, nudes.
“Well lit,” I said, in passing, “Grainy, but yes; subtle.” Two of the Big Jackets nodded, one more pleased than the other. The other one gave me a look, kind of blocked me from coming closer or looking more closely. “Not fat. Statuesque.” Broderick gave me a look. I gave him a nod. “Bathroom,” I said.
TONE- I can’t seem to help it. I am writing “Swamis” as neither gritty nor light; rather as how I envision our lives. We stumble through, try to maintain a balance, some sort of dignity, and a perspective; optimistic if possible. I can’t help it if sometimes shit’s just really cutesy.
I am posting this here before I submit it for inclusion in the Quilcene Community Center Newsletter. I have a certain resentment (shouldn’t, but do) for the time I spend thinking about, writing, and re-writing material that goes out to an unknown number of readers when I could be using my limited mental bandwidth and time working on my manuscript for “Swamis.” Then again, I have an unknown number or readers for realsurfers, so…I
INSTANT REVIEW: “You man’splained that to death.” Trish
This piece was inspired by a recent and beautiful full moon.
My original choice for a title was “Into the Moon,” a possibly-not-obvious-enough allusion or reference to a more common phrase, ‘heading into the sun.’ I also considered, “Driving into the Moon,” “Lost in the Moon (even more obscure baseball outfielder allusion),” and “Strait Into the Moon.”
All this internal debate, sheer lunacy.
I had an internal chuckle over the last sentence. Internal only, fingers still on the keyboard, ready at any moment to hit the ‘backspace.’ And why? Because I care.
First, I should explain the ‘Strait’ thing: My day started before dawn, rifling around the yard, loading my really big, old guy’s surfboard and trying to ensure that I had the proper gear for both the surfing, somewhere on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and for a painting job in Port Angeles. The surf can be fickle. Waves, even when predicted to show up, even when the buoys in the open ocean show a swell, frequently fail to find their way down the Strait.
I knew, because Trish told me, that there was a full moon. To me the whole fullness timeline is more like a Werewolf thing, a three-day (night, rather) event between waxing and waning, with, according to meteorologists and astrologers nd astronomers, one exact moment of peak fullness.
Yes, full and non-full moons have a religious aspect. Genesis 1:16- “God made two great lights: The greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night. And he made stars as well.”
It isn’t just Christians and Jews; most other religions have a reverence for stuff going on in our vast firmament. Again, because I care, I did Google searches for, yes, ‘firmament,’ ‘Pagan,’ ‘Infidel,’ ‘Religion,’ and ‘To follow something religiously.’ Let me save you some research; Pagans and infidels are folks who follow a different God or gods than the one or ones you believe in, or no god at all (note the monotheistic use of capital letters); hence, if I interpret this correctly, each of us is a pagan to someone.
And, yes, I also Google-searched “Monotheistic.”
Okay. So, going back up a few paragraphs, I was out getting ready to go work (definitely) and surf (possibly), when, through the trees, hanging over the eastern foothills of the Olympics, I saw… yeah, the moon. Moonset.
Oh! I ran into the house, got my wallet out of my work pants (shorts because it was still summer), ran back out, found the moon, even lower, opened the wallet, and said, “Moon, moon, beautiful moon; fill ‘er up, fill ‘er up, fill ‘er up. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
“Oh my,” you are quite possibly now saying, silently or out loud, “that’s pagan.”
I believe you are right.
Or it could be up for interpretation. I will interpret it to suit my, um, behavior.
But, once I started doing this monthly ritual (didn’t look up ‘ritual’), I just sort of have to do it; religiously (as in, faithfully, as in, one can rely on my doing this- Google). The moon through the skylight, or a different skylight, through the trees, though the clouds; even if I can’t see the moon, I have faith that it is there.
There were waves on the Strait. Sort of. I went to one spot, donned the appropriate gear for the cold water, caught a few tiny energy bundles. The tide was wrong. Not discussing the effect of the moon on the tides at this time, but, okay, tidal change is caused by the gravitational pull of the moon, as crazy as that might sound.
I drove, in my wetsuit, to another spot where the tide was just getting high enough for the waves to clear the rocks. Surf. Two hours later the tide was too high. Go to work. Take a brief van-nap. Paint.
As usual, to take advantage of already being nearby, and as kind of a weak payback for surfing, it was pre-planned that I would make some stops in Sequim: Walmart, Costco, Tootsies (take-home dinner for Trish and me- glad they were open). My friends who surf have declined to go with me because of my time spent in what one refers to as the “Sequim Vortex.”
Vortex- “Something that resembles a whirlpool.” Merriam-Webster via Google.
Surf Route 101, basically North-South, runs East-West through Sequim. This can cause full-on sun blindness. Without going into how the sun sets farther north in the summer than the winter*, and how September’s full moon aligned almost perfectly with the Autumnal Equinox, that time when day and night are of equal length**; as I was headed home, sipping on my chocolate milkshake, there was the moon; straight ahead; full, huge, hanging just above the highway in an empty, Maxfield Parrish sky; the entire visible surface gloriously reflecting our more distant sun.
It could be mentioned that the curvature of the earth acts as a magnifying lens, giving the moon (and the sun) at the horizons the appearance of being bigger. All right, I mentioned it.
I pulled out my wallet, opened it. “Oh moon, moon, beautiful moon…” Slurp, slurp… “Fill ‘er up, fill ‘er up, fill ‘er up.”
Really, what kind of pagan says, “fill ‘er up?”
As always, thank you for reading.
*Architects, throughout the ages, have designed structures to take advantage of the north south positioning of the sun. Example: One day a year the sun perfectly aligns with the Huntington Beach Pier, setting dead center. Similarly, and closer to home; going up the hill on the Jefferson County side of the Hood Canal Bridge one afternoon, the sun was perfectly situated in the gap and right on the highway. Perfect, and perfectly blinding.
**I have held the belief that, two times a year, the Vernal and the Autumnal equinox, the earth is in a sort of perfect balance, with equal amounts of day and night everywhere. Well, I looked that up; it is ‘almost’ true, ‘approximately’ a perfect balance. There was an explanation. I didn’t dig deeper.
In my latest condensation/edit/rewrite of my manuscript for “Swamis,” I have already eliminated the back story for Harold ‘Buddy’ Rollins, and, in fact, moved it to a more fitting place in the narrative. The character, Buddy, is based on two different people, Lacy ‘Buddy’ Rollins and Denny Levine.
The first one, Buddy, was a white guy who learned sign lettering in a Florida prison. I was his apprentice from 1969, just after I graduated high school, to 1971. I worked, at first, out of a shack of a building in South Oceanside. Buddy was about 36, his wife, Sandy, 21. They, at first, lived in a shed behind the shop, then a trailer in the lot. When Buddy took over the restoration of the old “Blade Tribune” building, 1st and Tremont, he and his wife moved into an apartment above it.
Oceanside at this time, so close to Camp Pendleton, was chaotic and exciting and dangerous. I was working one block from the Greyhound Bus Station, two blocks and railroad tracks from the water, two blocks north from there of the pier. Perfect location.
The area for the shop was huge, with high ceilings, a hole in the middle where the presses had been. A self-glorified nub, I had the freedom to work on my own projects while I went to Junior College. Somehow work overwhelmed study and, because of the other tasks Buddy took on, other skills I progressed in but in no way mastered, I was able to get a job as a journeyman painter in San Diego at barely twenty years old. Though I often say Buddy’s not firing me when he should have ruined my life; thank you, Buddy.
Denny LeVigne (not sure how to spell it correctly) was another wise-cracking white guy, the owner of and the ‘pro’ at Key City Lanes, the bowling alley in Port Townsend. Trish and I took our kids up there to learn how, and we played in some mixed leagues for a few years. Trish bowled on various teams in women’s leagues for years. She played a bit longer after the alley closed and Denny became a car salesman. Fitting. He died of a heart attack.
The last I heard of Buddy was a trip Trish and I took to Las Vegas. They called his name over a casino loudspeaker. Trish and I pretty much fled. Like Denny, a constant smoker, I can’t believe Buddy is still alive. If so, he’d be about 89.
So, no. But, if so, thanks again, Buddy.
So, here’s the excerpt:
… Back Gate Bowling
I was carrying my mom’s bowling bag. She had her purse over one shoulder and was holding her shoes. We were early. There were several groups of three or four women spread out in the open area between the lanes and a wall that had openings to the restaurant and the cocktail lounge, with bathrooms labeled ‘strike’ and ‘spare’ between them.
The counter was centered in this open space, a place where wannabes could rent bowling balls, available in a wide variety of weights and hole patterns. Most of the balls had been left behind or traded in for new ones, fancy-patterned, custom ordered. And there were shoes, multi-colored oxfords with various amounts of the slider material remaining on the souls of each pair, size-coded with large numbers inside and outside the heels.
Buddy was there on this morning, cigarette in his mouth, turning briefly away each time he sprayed another shot of aerosol fog into a shoe, some of it coming back at him.
I probably should mention here that Buddy was black. His hair, which had been slicked-down and back, ‘conked,’ when I first took group lessons with him, was now longer, looser, styled in a sort of subtle afro; his beatnik-like goatee replaced by long sideburns. He didn’t have a mustache; but did have facial hair just below his bottom lip.
Because I had looked at him a bit too long, “Soul patch” was the first thing he said. “It’s okay, Little Joe; I also play drums;” as if being a musician was a prerequisite. I never heard Buddy play, but, since I do play harmonica, I do sport a mustache and a soul patch. It’s okay.
“Buddy Rollins, professional bowler” was stitched on Buddy’s two-tone, traditional bowling shirt. He was wearing not-quite-white double-knit pants and non-bowling versions of the quite flashy custom bowling shoes he would wear on the lanes.
“If you aren’t on the lanes, you don’t wear bowling shoes. Fucks ‘em up.” That’s a quote most of his adolescent class snickered at. Naughty.
I should also add, Buddy was frightfully skinny.
“Moriko,” Buddy yelled, my mother still at least twenty feet away. “About time y’all showed up.”
I held out the key and the piece of metal with ‘in case of emergency, break glass’ stamped into it, ready to mentally record his reaction.
Buddy didn’t seem surprised. “You bring me back my gun, Little Joe?”
Buddy seemed to be mentally recording my reaction; as did my mother, I could tell, as she approached the counter.
“Atsushi, do you have Buddy’s gun?”
“No,” I said, as if this was a joke, “no gun today.”
“No problem; gettin’ by wit’out it.” Buddy took two pairs of shoes from two girls, ten or eleven years old. Younger than the shoes. “Y’all have some good games?”
“She did,” one of the girls said. “I… I don’t know. Last time, I did so well. One-seventy.”
“That’s the thing about bowling. Frustratin’; but not like golfin’. No. But, guaranteed, next time you’ll do really good.” He turned to the girl who had bowled better. “Watch out, girl; next time….”
Neither girl looked that inspired. They turned away. I put the key and the piece of metal on the counter. “Your gun, huh?”
My mother looked at the key and the ‘in case of emergency’ tag, set her bag down, pointed toward the ‘spare’ bathroom and walked toward it.
“Never was actually mine.” He looked at me as if it was my joke. “What gun you speakin’ of, Little Joe?”
Buddy found me in the middle of a line of lockers. 14A, top row.
“Give me the key. Please.” I handed him the key. “I have to keep these things rented out. Dollar here, dollar there. This way.”
Buddy guided me toward his office. We passed my mom, standing with a group of women. Two were white, one might have been Filipina, and one was Japanese. They all knew each other. This was the team my mother had been a part of; her team; and now, would be again. Maybe. They were all looking at me. Yes, I had grown.
When we got to the back end of the building and down a hallway past where they kept the cardboard and the dumpsters, Buddy said, “Hope your momma doesn’t get my wife all up on takin’ back her own Japanese heritage.”
“Since my dad… died. She keeps calling Freddy and me by our Japanese middle names.”
“I hear you, At-su-shi.” Buddy unlocked the office door with a key from the ring he kept on his belt. Yes, white belt, double knit pants. I can’t say if he was ahead of those trends or behind.
“Some folks do seem to think my Christian name is Buddy. I did know a guy once whose given first name was Junior; Junior Zephiren.”
Somewhere on the walk, Buddy had eliminated the half-step out of his gait, dropped the easily discernible rhythm from his speech.
“Here we are, Atsushi,” he said in what I believed was a lower register, flat. “My hideout from all the… jive, the shit people expect from me.”
He unlocked the door and gave me a gentle push into his office. Extremely neat. Cabinets all around. Dark cherry, including the file cabinets. No bowling trophies on display, no pinup calendar on the wall. There were books on the open shelves and three on his desk.
I looked. Buddy noticed. He picked up the book on top. “It’s ‘Soul on Ice.’ Eldridge Cleaver. It’s, uh, you should read it.”
“Maybe I will, Harold.”
I pointed to the wall. “On your business license. Next to your… San Diego State… yeah, Bachelors of… art. Harold O. Rollins. O?”
“Oh. So it is.”
Buddy/Harold opened an upper corner cabinet and pulled out a metal file box out and set it down on the back counter. It was, for reference, slightly smaller than an average counter model microwave. He didn’t open it, but he did motion me over.
“Books,” he’d said. “Multiple. Now, I never really cared about what was in them. Are you sure you want to know?”
Buddy was obviously enjoying the anticipation on my face. As I reached for the double latches on the front of the box, he put his hand on the lid. “Now, about the gun…”
“I’m not asking… Harold.”
“That’s good. You know, I did live in Fallbrook for a while. It was football season… wife and I’d go to games, ride the rooter bus. Back of the bus, of course.” He kept his hand on the lid. “Ha! It was the same night I saw you in the parking lot. Didn’t seem like your… scene. Heard about it. Big to-do, huh?”
“Oh, yeah; that night.”
“The gun,” Harold ‘Buddy’ Rollins said, “your father took it from me. I wasn’t supposed to have it. Felony record. Nothing too serious. Florida.” He left the ‘Florida’ out there, as if it was an explanation. “There’d been an incident, a few nights before. Here. Cocktail lounge. Two fuckers; they were already drunk; one of ‘em pulled a gun on my wife. She was tending bar. She pulled out the pistol, said… she’s still got the accent, you know; not like… your mom. She says, ‘It a slow night. You want to die for…’ she dumps the money on the counter, left hand, starts moving it around. It wasn’t too much. She still has the pistol in her right hand. The guys scoot out. She chases after them, yells ‘Thirty-seven dollars, assholes’ as they’re bookin’ it.”
Buddy looked for my reaction. I was properly impressed.
“Tough woman, huh?” I was still nodding. “So, I’m running over from a game… I was hustling this dude from… somewhere; we, Emiko and me, we get to the front door. They’re riding away on motorcycles, and Emiko, she’s running outside, waving the pistol. I would have followed her, but…”
“But you were… you were wearing your bowling shoes.”
“Exactly. Anyway, Oceanside cops could not have cared less. A joke to them. They start asking me all kinds of questions about the gun. Not mine. They don’t care. Separate story. So, you know that tavern; roadhouse, really… this side of Bonsall. We’d passed it… on the bus. Motorcycles outside. So, I drop Emiko off at home, and, well, I go out there, go on in to check it all out. I seen the dudes; but other guys were… I wasn’t too well received by all these white hillbilly bikers. I pulled the pistol as I’m backing out the door and… shot off a round. In the air. Up.”
“I’m pushing it. I wasn’t even to the bridge when your daddy, he was in a station wagon, must have had a radio: he flashes his headlights, does a big u-turn, pulls me over. I recognized the car.”
“Guess so. Your daddy… you know, nobody fucked with him.”
“Him and I’d became friends, kinda; mostly on account of bowling and us both having Japanese wives. And we’re both vets. I was just a truck driver, mostly; but, after the war, over in Japan… it was, um, different. It was… you have to know, Little Joe, it was better… better than here. And here’s way better than… Florida.”
Florida again. “The gun, Mr. Rollins?”
“The gun? Yeah. Don’t want it back.”
I opened the top of the metal box. There were stenographer’s pads, six inches by nine inches, spiral bound. “1968” was written on the top one. I removed them, set them aside. The next layer was eight-and-a-half by twelve-inch legal pads. I couldn’t quite get a finger under the middle of the top one.
Buddy handed me a gold letter opener, a mermaid on the handle. “Careful with that, now, Little Joe; Emiko and me got it in Copenhagen.”
I wedged out the top three notebooks, with more below them, stacked them on the counter.
“Your daddy comes up to my window, says, ‘Buddy, there’s been an incident. Some fool waving a gun, firing off a couple of shots at some bikers. Wouldn’t be you, would it?’ He didn’t wait for me to answer. He opens the door, says, ‘Highway Patrol and two on-duty Deputies are headed this way. If you would kindly step out.’ I could hear sirens. I could hear motorcycles. I had one hand on the door handle. I was waiting a bit, and… wham; he grabs my head, yanks me out the door… and boom; I’m on the ground. He steps on me; reaches in, grabs the pistol, sticks it in my face.”
“This is all in shorthand,” I had the top steno pad opened to the middle. June.
“Yeah, I know.”
“Yeah. Your mom and Emiko. They took some night classes. Gregg shorthand. That’s where they met. It was before the bowling. The, um… the uh… your dad’s notebooks are underneath.”
I pulled the remaining legal-sized notebooks out, dumped what was left in the box onto the desk. Small, chest-pocket-sized notebooks, three-and-three-quarters by six-inches, bound, three or four together, with rubber bands. Each banded group was a year. I didn’t count how many years there were. Not then.
Buddy’s story had become background.
“So, the sirens are coming, and my own gun’s in my face, and your dad just kinda picks me up, pushes me up against my car, says, ‘Guns don’t know, or care, if they’re being handled by heroes or cowards. Mostly cowards.’ I’m about to shit myself, and he asks if he can keep my pistol for me. ‘Safe keeping,’ he says.”
“’One round,’ I say, ‘in the air.’ He says, ‘of course.’”
The office door opened and my mother and Buddy’s wife, stepped into the room. Both looked at the notebooks scattered on the desk. My mom signaled Emiko to close the door.
1968. The rubber band was off. I was starting at the last pocket notebook, scribblings in my father’s own shorthand.
“Atsushi.” No response. I was reading. “Junior.” Reading. “Joseph.”
My mother set her bowling bag down on the desk, on top of the larger-sized notebooks. “How long do you think Adam and Eve were in the garden of Eden before…?” I was vaguely aware she had opened the bag.
I looked up. She was holding Buddy’s gun, as far back on the butt as she could manage, making weak circles in the air, toward and around the opened box.
“We’ve been out of Eden a while, Mom.”
“I had some hope that you wouldn’t… but you do; you want to know.”
“I need to know.”
Moriko DeFreines offered the pistol to Buddy. She was shaking her head. Buddy/Harold shook his. She let the bullets clatter into the empty box, set the pistol inside, restacked the steno and legal pads, looked at me, said, “I’ll keep these.”
Emiko Rollins took two new bowling towels from a shelf, removed the pistol (also by the barrel) and the bullets, placed the towel in the bottom of the box, replaced the gun, added the bullets, covered them with the second towel, pressing it into the contours. My mother added some of the rubber-banded notebooks. They both looked at me. Buddy looked at the two women, then, also, at me. I looked at the box, at the notebooks, then at my mother.
“What do you think you need to know, Atsushi?”
“Everything. Something. More.”
LONG, HUH? There is actually a bit more. Bikers show up at the scene before a Sheriff’s Deputy arrives. Joey’s father stands up to them and sends them off. Several of the bikers are pulled over by Mortenson, a California Highway Patrolman whose role in “Swamis” will be diminished before I get through. Mortenson is based on a well-known and feared local Patrolman in the Fallbrook area when I was a teenager, and another local Washington State Patrol officer in the Jefferson County area when I first moved up here. I have stories about both of those… officers. LATER.
“That’s what I would be listening to if I had a choice.” That is what I have been known to say if, say, someone drives past with a loud music playing, particularly if it’s music I don’t particularly, like, dig. See? By the same logic, I should apologize to anyone who is forced to hear my overloud voice, say, on the beach while I’m in the water. Or, of course, vice-versa.
One strain of the increasingly strained argument for not getting a vaccination against Covid 19 and its variants, is that, no matter our status, vaccination-wise, we’re all just passing the virus back and forth. Anyone of us can give any other one of us the dreaded, feared, under-and-overestimated illness.
I don’t really, truly, one hundred percent know all the truly true shit. I am vaccinated, and I was kind of thinking- actually I have been saying to my unvaccinated friends that I can kill them, but they can’t kill me. But, but, but, but, again, I do know that I have to wear the dreaded, hated mask if I am sharing air space with… anyone.
I used to smoke. Let me rephrase. I have reborn lungs. I am a former smoker. Among the stupider things I’ve done. Not wearing adequate ear protection, yeah, that’s another one. Being a painter, not wearing a mask when spraying- yeah, it is a longer list than I would care to go into.
But, I’ve been lucky. Still going. It’s kind of a similar argument with the Covid precautions. I just heard someone say (yes, it was on NPR) that, if you’re sharing air with another, you should be… considerate; as in, consider what could happen to that person, or yourself… hey, I have to get off the computer. Our grandson, Nate, is about to graduate from Navy boot camp. We can watch the ceremony via livestream.
Our son, his father, who could have watched live and in person, also gets to livestream. Whoops, didn’t get vaccinated.
Anyway, not really preaching; more like complaining.
But, if I am preaching; please, for the consideration of other surfers, please do not camp overnight in places that are actually private property, access to occasional waves at the discretion of the owners. As far as sharing waves…
It’s not that I don’t believe a mellow surf session is not something worthy of, um, consideration, it is just that my image of surfing has a tough time slipping seamlessly into even the idea (or is concept a better word choice?) that waves are gentle bundles of energy one can just float on, flow across, arms out, graceful, dancing from one subtle pose to another. And if one is sharing a wave? Beautiful.
And yet, despite my belief that every wave is critical, as capable of drowning as crowning another Prince or Princess, I have, occasionally, experienced… mellowness.
I think the last time was 1966, Tamarack. Somehow, and how is lost in the years, I was there, after school, sharing the water on a glassy (it’s the glassiness I remember almost most) afternoon, the tide and the wave size pushing each wave into a single takeoff/ride zone; with fifteen or so floaters and bobbers and riders and, yeah, me, barely-fifteen-years-old, kind of hoping there would be a wave I could catch. And ride. Alone.
And I stayed out until the sun, hanging in the dirty orange sky…
Yeah. Shit; I don’t actually remember if I got a wave; I was just happy to be there. I was happier the next day when a substitute teacher at Fallbrook High went on, in the most lyrical language, about how beautiful the sunset was at Tamarack the previous evening, with surfers floating and bobbing and… “I was out there. Tamarack. In the water.”
“Oh,” she said, sizing me up, “great.”
Great. Mellow. I cannot, with certainty, tell you if I got more than one ride. Oh, at least one.
So, there I was, recently, after spraying out a house and a shed, my work van squeezed into a spot on the water side of the pullout (and only because I talked a guy into moving his big-ass truck), looking at foggy/glassy high tide conditions, thirteen floaters and bobbers and rippers in the water, crowded, because of the wave size and the conditions, into another narrow takeoff/ride area.
I waited. I counted. 14. 13. 16. One of the guys two rigs over said, “I see you’re counting. What’s the number you’re looking for?” “Two, maybe; three.” “That’ll never happen.” “Oh, okay.”
Just for clarification, not me in the above photo. I gave up easily after searching “modern hipster camper rigs.” The ones the dude in this photo might want is… ewww, so fancy. VW camper vans and Subaru station wagons… make way. But, yeah; I do kind of, occasionally, consider how my big-ass painter van, if I ever could retire, maybe one of my friends who actually builds out vans, Reggie or Aaron, could… Yeah, I’m dreaming. A cooler and a seat that reclines; that will get me by.
APREZ-SURF- So, it was dark, foggy, still thirteen in the water, and I’m sitting on this log, peeling out of my booties. This kid I saw in the water is changing-out, using his not-the-fanciest version of the stripping-out robe thing behind the camper parked next to me (one of at least two, maybe three people who arrived in this rig). I asked him how his session went. “Fun. It’s always fun. Isn’t it.”
I cannot say if I saw the kid catch many waves. “Yeah, it is,” I said. Mellow.
TOMORROW, TRESTLES- I was kind of hoping the WSL finals would go today so I could watch some of it while waiting for, and watching the SEAHAWKS. No. When it does go, Stephanie or Conner will have to surf five heats to win it all; Carissa and Gabriel only have to win one. I’m not sure why I root for a seven-time world champion and a (as far as I can determine) rich kid from Oprah’s neighborhood. If Kelly was rated number five, I would root for him.
To be clear, I have nothing against any of the contenders. I have watched enough of the WSL to feel as if I know something about them. I would be pretty thrilled Sally Fitzgibbons, so often runner up, actually won. There are a lot of scenarios. I will definitely hang around to watch the first two heats and check it out during my work day.
Here is my latest piece originally written for the Quilcene Community Center Newsletter, offered here to get a few more eyes on it:
It is still SUMMER, technically, the season when lines of tourists seem to roll up and down Highway 101, passing through Quilcene on the way to somewhere else, mountains or beaches. They come through in bunches, more than five vehicles, typically, and despite the signs and pullouts provided along the Hood Canal, all are stuck behind someone towing a boat or trailer, or both.
Yes, some drivers are slowed by the seemingly random and constant road construction, some do stop (for directions or hand-dipped ice cream), some (hopefully out-of-staters, locals should know better) are stopped, pulled over. This (make note) is usually by the Village Store, caught up in the seemingly random but constant speed trap, usually by the Washington State Patrol, though the ‘Staters’ seem to be spelled by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Deputies.
So, if it helps balance the books and they don’t get me, great.
FOOTBALL- There are, for some folks, two seasons- Football and Non-football. No, that’s a bit simplistic. There’s the Pre, the Season itself, and the Post; and, for a true Seahawks fan, if our team isn’t in the Superbowl, we go back to following all the intriguing stuff that occurs off season. There’s the Draft, the trades, the Combine, the Training Camp, the Drama (like, maybe Richard Sherman could come back… oh, no, Richard, no!), the Rumors about how happy (or not) Russell Wilson is. Basically, a true fan is up on everything that happens between the last game, in which, without doubt, bad calls and bad luck led to our team’s elimination, and the current season.
Yeah, so, just so you might think I’m more of a fan than I am, ask me about Luke Willson’s career-ending illness; ask me who is going to be cut from the running backs. Yeah, and I’ll ask Trish and get back to you.
As always, we have the chance to buy more team merchandise. Maybe we’ll get a bigger flag. Anyway, we’ve got a break before the first real game, and, if it’s cold enough, I go outside, sit in my Seahawks beach/lawn chair, enjoy the game right; on the radio, with Steve Raible; only running inside for a replay of some great play. Yes readers, it is true, all the network commentators and analysts (especially Joe Buck) are either against us or think Seattle is closer to Alaska than we know it to be.
I might even break out, to go along with our Beast Mode and Doug Baldwin Funkos, my D.K. Metcalf t shirt, my Seahawks socks, my “You mad, Bro” hat.
Yeah, I mean, Yea; real fans would get the allusion.
OTHER PROFESSIONAL SPORTS- There’s, um, uh, baseball… Mariners; just, I heard on the radio, within strike out distance of a playoff berth. I think I heard that right. There’s basketball (Women’s) and soccer (Men’s and Women’s) and… oh, yeah; the Kraken. I’m not sure if they’ve actually played yet, but merchandise is available; hard to resist with such a colorful name. I’m waiting for the door mat with “Wipe your feet so you don’t track in.” Oh, they’re working on it. Toilet paper, the slogan writes itself. It’s not like I’m not a fan. If a Seattle team makes the playoffs, yeah, I’ll watch… the news coverage.
OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES- We have hunting and fishing and clam digging and crab caging… yeah, all those things, most of which require permits and fancy equipment, some knowledge of rules and regulations and how to actually do these things, and some desire to actually spend more money on food than one would by just going to the market.
We have lots of water from fresh to salt, from cold to very cold. Not everyone realizes this temperature reality, which explains why, when people learn that I surf, I am frequently asked, “What, there are waves?” Not in Quil Bay. Second question, “Do you wear a wetsuit?”
Yes, we also have mountains for hiking up and getting lost in or rescued from. I have done some hiking. Have done. Once it was to help rescue a woman with a purse who made it halfway up the trail to Mount Walker viewpoint. “What, there’s a trail?” Yes. Arnie Finley, taller than I am, was on the downhill end of the stretcher. I do have a fear that if I went hiking now… No, I wouldn’t put that burden on anyone, and yes, the woman did weigh a bit more than I do now. Plus, the purse.
PAINTING- September is the busiest month for exterior painting. People, including painters, get worried about rain and cold, as if time is running out. October is crazier; I’ll worry about that later. No, already worried.
HEATING/AIR CONDITIONING- We are at that time of the year when, at our house, the portable heater and the cooling unit with the tube that goes to the window are both set up in the living room. Even if we get another heat dome, the shorter days pretty much assure us that the nights will be cooler and the air conditioner will be put away.
RAINY SEASON- It’s coming; pretty sure. Luckily, I have my Seahawks raincoat. It’s reversible, goes with my assortment of green and blue caps.
COVID- You do, perhaps, remember that lovely, brief, idyllic period when people who were fully vaccinated could mingle, mask free, with those who decided, for any number of perfectly valid and occasionally changing reasons (according to them, freedom of choice being chief among them) to not get injected. Yeah, well, now we’re all back to wearing the masks (not arguing mandated versus required). I do tell my vaccine-refuser friends that, one, I can, according to the data, infect them, with the result to them being somewhere between no symptoms and death; but the odds of them killing me are, statistically, low. Oh, and two; they are taking away some of my freedom because we’re a long way away from the herd immunity that they must be counting on.
I hate wearing a mask as much as anyone does, but, in public spaces, I do wear it. You’re welcome.
OF ALL THE SEASONS, the one we’re all looking forward to the ending of is COVID. Stay safe, slow down through town. See you around.
The main complaint I’ve gotten in the feedback from my most recent manuscript is the side-stories, the deviations and detours from the direct route. I-5 is the fastest route from where I live to San Diego. If you’re in a hurry, take it. I have, and, metaphorically, I am trying to do the same with “Swamis;” focused, tight, direct.
It won’t happen. Because I am past this point in my latest rewrite, I will post it here. I have always envisioned my friend Stephen Davis as Gingerbread Fred (maybe it’s vice-versa). Steve and I have, particularly on long drives to and from surf trips, gotten a bit… verbal. Scream therapy I call it. If you know Steve, sure, picture him. He says he doesn’t mind.
We’ll scream it out soon.
Oh, I mention the Holders in this chapter. That’s going away. I haven’t really done the research to know if Carson Holder, about my age (70- echhh), who I met years ago at Grandview, is related to Dempsey Holder, legendary surfer from the late 1950s, or not. It’s a minor thing in the story, and it’s being cut, but, yeah, I do wonder.
Because I definitely over-explain, including this and other little true life references, is in part, part of my trying to make anyone willing to push through the turns and twists to possibly, actually believe this fiction is… believable, maybe even part of a view worth slowing down for. This doesn’t mean I disagree with the criticism. It is accurate.
I just realized my friends Day and Phillip are in this chapter. It is true they were busted for ditching school and did have to do cleanup for team remainder of our senior year.
Although some of this won’t survive, it is still copyright protected.
Thanks to real life role models for fictional characters.
CHAPTER 12- FRIDAY, MARCH 21, 1969
It wasn’t even dusk yet. I could have been surfing. Instead, I was at home. I had pulled the cord to the phone in our living room as far as it would reach, pulled the cord from the phone to its limit, and leaned against the picture window with a view to the coastal foothills to the west.
This paragraph is in present tense; it works better.
“I get it, Phillip, you can’t go.” I listen. “Okay. Hanging out at the base stables, yeah; probably more important.” Listen. “No, I think she does… like you. You have to… passing glances aren’t enough. You must… talk to her.” I nod, tap on the window. “No, man, before dawn; beat the crowd. Weekends. Shit.” Move toward the coffee table. “Yeah; it is so…” Set the base of the phone down, whisper, “Fucked up. Chulo. Yeah… so weird he was there… when my dad…” Inhale. Chuckle. “No, you’re right; he wouldn’t have intervened with the school board. Not for you and Ray… or for me… whatever people say.” Listen. “Really. Superintendent; not just the Vice Principal? Multiple truancy. Ditchers. So, what’s your punishment?” Turn on the TV. “Really? That’s it; pick up trash around the campus?” Laugh. “Every day? Nutrition and lunch?” I sit on the couch. “Well; no; I knew there weren’t enough detention hours before graduation. Still…” Laugh. “Good luck with the horsie girls then. Bye.”
My mother had not allowed me to go to the coast after school on the days immediately after Chulo’s murder. Just after arriving home, with Freddy, she was questioning my going on Saturday. “Too soon,” she said. “I don’t trust… the station wagon. It needs a tuneup. And… Larry says the investigation is ongoing and the scene is all a mess.”
“Larry says?” Larry. Wendall. She clamped her mouth shut. “I do have to go to work. Saturday? Tony’s? I can take the Volvo.”
The Volvo had been picked out, with my father’s help, from vehicles the Sheriff’s Office had impounded for various reasons, and, for various other reasons, these vehicles had not reclaimed. While my father would say, “it’s Swedish,” he meant ‘exotic,’ my mother routinely followed “Swedish” with “Safe, and practical.” What she meant was that it was hers. Freddy and I were not allowed to eat in it, and it was definitely not a car she would, or I could take to the beach. The Falcon had been the family station wagon, mostly, before the Volvo, before my father was allocated a full-time county rig, before I got a license. It had become the school and back vehicle, the beach vehicle, the mildew smell probably permanent.
“Just be careful. No one’s been arrested… yet.”
If my mother had been able to read my mind, as I often believed (not just mine), she would have known my look was a question as to whether this was inside information- Larry. I held the look a while. “It was on the radio,” she said.
The sound came from the TV before the black and white image cleared. A commercial. We would get a color set when they got it perfected, my father had said, not because my snotty and spoiled friends had one. Ours was the kind where the TV screen was only one part of the TV/record player/AM FM radio console. Furniture, nonetheless. Swedish modern. Blonde. Exotic? Practical.
I considered sitting in my spot on the sectional my mom had covered with some sort of almost-burlap fabric that was pretty much impervious to spills and such. I looked over at my father’s chair, overlarge, overstuffed, a rough sort of brocaded material in a purple-ish red, worn armrests. I hadn’t sat in it since his death. Actually, I had never sat in it.
My mother looked at me, turned her eyes toward the recliner without turning her head.
“We sent a crew back up to North County, following up after Tuesday night’s… murder.” I sat down. It was comfortable; it had the perfect view of the screen. Optimal.
“Gingerbread Fred,” I said, louder than the news anchor, jumping up, moving closer to the screen.
It was daytime in the footage and the camera seemed to select him, Gingerbread Fred, from the small group over by the bluff. No shoes, no shirt under a well-worn v-necked sweater that I knew to be tan on the greenish side. He had on an almost-matching and equally worn, hand-crocheted watchcap on his head, his almost-matching blondish-red hair exploding from underneath it. The camera seemed to move in, then up to his face, a lot of gray in his beard.
I hadn’t noticed Freddy behind me, takeout from the Fallbrook A&W, my dinner, in his hands.
“Fred,” the man on the TV said, microphone too close to his face. “Fred Thompson, Ma’am. Folks ‘round here call me…”
“Fred,” Freddy said, moving around the chair, and very close to blocking my view, “like me.”
Our mom smiled, ruffled Freddy’s hair. “No, Freddy; you will get a haircut.”
“Nothing like you, Freddy,” I said. “Gingerbread Fred’s supposed to have surfed Tijuana Sloughs and Killer Dana, and some mysto breaks outside of Windansea. Simmon’s Reef.” Not looking away from the TV, I added, “It was verified, I’m told, by one of the Holders.”
“Oh,” my mother and brother both said.
“The kid, lives… around the corner; he’s a Holder. Not sure if he’s related. Dempsey, Dempsey Holder… pioneer, legend.”
“Holders,” my mom said. “You should ask him… the kid.”
“I just saw the flame, man; it was so, um, uh, intense. You know?” Gingerbread Fred’s hands seemed outsized, moving around the same way they did when he talked surf. “Bright. You know? I thought I’d heard something, over by the…” All his fingers, both hands, were pointing. “The… compound. There was just a sliver of moon. I was coming up, just at the top of the stairs when I seen it. The flames.” Fred clapped his hands in front of him, way too close to the reporter. “Flash!”
She and the camera angle jerked back.
It was a woman reporter this time; young, thin, with a sort of post-beehive but sprayed-stiff hairdo. When she didn’t move the microphone closer, Fred moved closer to it. He was looking at her, then directly into the camera. “And a car was pulling away. No lights. It didn’t squeal out, but… it was loud.” Fred moved his right hand to mimic a car taking off fast.
Gingerbread Fred mimicked the sound. A rumble turned into “Errrrrrrcuuuuuuuuhhhhhhhhhh!” He stopped, put a hand on the reporter’s hand, on the microphone. The camera jerked again, from her frightened expression to Fred’s face, his eyes equally as wide. “Just, um… that might have been… before… before the, the… fire. Yeah. No. After. That’s why I looked over; it was the fire. And then, there was… screaming. The… all at once. In the air. Scream. Ffffwwwwwwweeeeeewwwww! And… it seemed like someone else, like… I thought I saw… on fire. Fire. Fire in the air.” He paused. Rather, he just stopped speaking, but kept looking straight into the camera.
The camera panned smoothly back to the reporter. Fred released his hand from hers. When he stepped back into view again, he was crying. “It was, it was a long ways away. I couldn’t…” He stopped again. His hands dropped down, out from his sides; then moved forward, palms out, then up, into a gesture, I thought, of surrender. “I ran, but, you see, I don’t run. Used to.” The camera moved in too close to Fred’s creased face. “It was like, um, the second coming; maybe; But then… then I could smell the… the fire. Chulo. Good surfer. One time, down at Windansea…”
Gingerbread Fred was gone, gone into his memories. The camera switched, abruptly, to the reporter. She seemed more frightened than moved by Fred’s meltdown. Irritated. “Well,” she said, “we will continue to follow…”
She continued. She looked, I thought, angry, pissed at herself for losing her composure. TV. It shows every emotion. I stopped listening. Gingerbread Fred, looking even more confused, walked past, in the background, and over to an older man in a heavier-than-necessary coat. That man allowed Fred to come close enough to embrace him.
“Wally,” I said, pointing at the screen.
I jumped up and moved closer to the screen. I was pretty sure I had seen Ginny Cole, a camera at her face, standing with but behind Wally; but the pan of the crowd passed too quickly.
“Ginny,” I said. “Ginny Cole,” I whispered. Ginny. There was no rewind.
I had my own rewind. Words. Images. Blink. Remember.
I was standing. I was frozen.
“And now, the weather,” a voice on the TV said.
“It’s all right, son; you can sit in your father’s chair… if you wish.”
“No; it’s fine, Mom.”
“Well, sit somewhere; your food’s getting cold.” I sat in the middle of the larger section of the sectional. “Oh, and… I, we… have an offer on the place. Where would you like to live?”
I briefly tried to picture everyone who had been at the wake; then, in my mind, I was cruising Neptune Avenue, looking at houses. Waterfront, on the bluff. Out of reach.
“Nine seconds,” Freddy said, sitting in our father’s recliner, motioning me away from his view of the screen. “I took a few of your fries because, you know… nine seconds.”
I’m working on condensing, tightening, de and re-constructing my manuscript for “Swamis.” In the process, the plot has changed- just as thick, just not as dense (weak joke). As promised, I am posting some of the stuff being deleted or shortened here. Even with that, I couldn’t help but add a little to this to bring it slightly more in line with where the someday-finished book will end up.
I feel compelled to add that “Swamis” is fiction. The characters Phillip and Ray are named after my two best surfing friends, but most of what happens to and with them didn’t actually happen. Most, not all.
Oh, and now I should add that Joey is not me. Yes, he knows all about me; I am still finding things about him. Yeah, and the other fictional characters I am trying to make real.
CHAPTER ELEVEN- THURSDAY, MARCH 20, 1969
There were, at Fallbrook Union High School, several large, flat-topped (for seating) concrete planters between the administration building, the Senior Area, and the majority of the school’s classrooms. On the downhill side there was a parking lot, the gymnasium/cafeteria, and two trailers that served snacks and pre-made sandwiches and ice cream at lunch and ‘nutrition.’
From my first days in the ninth grade, I spent most of my non-class time standing, usually with a book in my hand, in the planter closest to the action, studying, memorizing; and, increasingly, not-exactly-secretly, observing the rites and rituals, fights and romances, the cliques and the loners. Eventually this became the spot where the surf crowd hung out.
It was lunch time. Murder was the topic. A crowd had gathered and grown. Murder. I pulled Ray up onto the planter. He continued talking about the blackened wall and the cops and the TV crews; not loud, but for Ray, who I have only witnessed being uncool once (and not that uncool) since he moved to Fallbrook in sixth grade, somewhat enthusiastically.
Wearing a tie but no coat, the Vice Principal approached the crowd. He had been my Biology teacher when I was a Freshman. Because I had asked him on one of my trips to his office, he admitted to not enjoying this job. More money. Resume’ builder, he said the job seemed more tolerable around paydays.
Ray stopped talking. Squints (nickname- big, thick glasses), who had jumped onto the planter and stood by Ray, nodded along, interrupting occasionally with something like a cheer.
“Rah, rah, gooooo… Squints,” I pretty much whispered. He pushed me into the tree before he jumped off the planter.
“Saw you on the news, Ray,” the Vice Principal said, as Ray crouched, then jumped down from the planter box.
“Busted,” someone in the crowd said.
“Where’s your running mate; Phillip?” The crowd separated. Phillip stuck out both hands, as if ready for handcuffs, then looked at Ray. Ray followed suit. Both had smiles that looked more like smirks.
“Busted,” one of the Billys said; though it was more like, ‘Busss-ted.’
“DeFreines,” the Vice Principal said, “kindly step out of the planter box.”
Ray and Phillip walked toward the office, followed by the Vice Principal. B-2 Bomber Billy yelled, “Free-dom!” Even before the end of lunch bell, everyone had pretty much turned away.
I was still in the planter box, running the TV scenes back through my mind, freezing the image of Ginny Cole watching Ray walk past her for a moment. Again, with Ray turning toward the TV camera, giving it that smile, as if he knew something. Then again, with Ginny looking at Phillip as he passed, then at Ray, as if she should know who he was, then at the TV camera. Freeze.
“DeFreines, you’re late.”
“Oh.” It took a second. “I, um, thought, maybe, over at the office; maybe you’d be needing… me.”
“No; we know you didn’t ditch. It’s more than that. Please, get down.”
I did a cross-step to the outside corner of the planter, a quick hang five. The Vice Principal didn’t look overly impressed. I dropped to the ground, collected my notebooks from the woodchips, restacked them. “Okay. It’s Earth Science. I’m the…”
“I know, Joe. Uh, back at the office; it’s more than truancy. We have a Detective and a Deputy in the office, and the Superintendent. What…” We were halfway past the first block of classrooms when he asked me what I knew about marijuana, and, specifically, who one would buy it from.
“Nothing about any of this is… shared with… me.”
“No.” We stood outside the door to the Earth Science class. “That goes along with what Ray said.”
“Over at the inquisition?”
The Vice Principal looked more tired than anything else. “Earth Science, science for dummies. Sounds good right now.”
“In between paydays, huh?”
“My, um, guess is, some kid got caught with a joint or something, started squealing.”
“He didn’t give your name.”
“But someone did, um, mention me?”
“Can’t say.” The door opened. The new Earth Science teacher let me pass. I was opening the door to the little store room hang out between classrooms when the Vice Principal led one of the science for dummies students out and into the glare.