I am writing this on my tablet. Dru loaned me a computer so Trish can keep the one we share while she is spending time at Dru’s house. The borrowed laptop is a Mac rather than Mic (read Mike). Mostly the mac is for continuing “Swamis.” I haven’t yet connected it to the internet. So, hunting and pecking on my tablet. Mic and Mac and now, Tab.
IS writing a novel set in my youth a way to relive what has been lost in the fifty-plus years since? Yes. And no.
NO, much of the time covered was great. Far from all. It’s over. That wave is gone. I’m having new setbacks and adventures, dramas and traumas and the occasional great ride.
YES, I get to remember the obvious people and events. In remembering, things I have not put in the easily accessed files are brought back. This is… enjoyable, even as I realize an ever higher percentage of what I write will be cut (but probably saved, elsewhere).
AND, I get to shape characters from the amazing real people I have come into contact with. Even those characters originally based on friends have become… different. This is, again, part of the fun. Each character becomes more complex, the added fictions making him or her more… realistic. Hopefully this is also true for the reader.
THE STORY I believed I knew has demanded to be something else. More and, somehow, less. I am tightening the timeline. YET, when I finish whatever counts as a writing session, I cannot help but consider where and how it could be different, hopefully better.
We can’t change the past. We can’t go back and edit out the awkward falls and crappy conditions, can’t add a few more awesome rides to past surf sessions.
The emergency part is that, because of various reasons, I’m stuck in Seattle overnight. The most recent of the various reasons is that, while going to retrieve Trisha’s car from an underground garage (and I was pretty darn unsure as to which underground garage it was- Trish, who wasn’t in the car when I parked it, did remember- The Lindeman), I discovered, after trying to go down a road/ramp at something like a 35% angle, with signs that read, “No pedestrians on ramp,” I got to huge steel doors, the kind they have, no doubt, for the garages at Fort Knox. “No attendant after hours.” The hours are 6am to 8pm. It was, like, 9-something pm, and I not only got to trudge back up the ramp, but, in order to get back to the room Trish is staying in at the Inn at Virginia Mason, I got to trudge a block over and a block up a similarly steep (or steeper) one block incline, a trek I had made no more than an hour before.
I’ll get back to that in a minute. First, allow me to complain about the heat. When I was checking Trish and our daughter in, yesterday, a woman was in the lobby complaining about it being over one hundred degrees in her room in the over one hundred-year-old, un-air-conditioned building. Yes, Seattle was going for a record number of days over ninety degrees, but, like, how bad can it be?
That was yesterday. Dru was scheduled for surgery some time the next day (today). Trish and I took off at butt-dark-thirty, picked up Dru in Port Gamble, made it to the Bainbridge ferry. Short wait, good position on the boat, no one’s car alarm went off. Dru used an app to find the hospital from the ferry, to find the place where she could get her mandatory Covid test, and the Inn. Dru called to see if she and her mom could get in early. Yes. We packed the gear in the already-quite-warm room, and I took off, ready to do the “Drive around” rather than use the ferries. Forty-five minutes or so of getting lost in parts of Seattle cut off by constantly expanding freeways, I ended up perilously close to the ferries, but still chose to hit I-5. Trisha’s car has great air conditioning.
Today, I again got up early, made it to the (I think) same ferry. I was supposed to find a place to park the car for the day. A close, outside lot was full except for several spots for charging up Teslas, and one spot for handicapped. Trish calls these ‘paralyzed parking’ spots and is probably qualified to have one. But she doesn’t, and I moved on. Down. Underground.
Now, the surgery. I am quite uncomfortable discussing the cancer surgery our forty-two-year-old daughter has (now) undergone, but I will say it was radical, I will also add that Dru’s Oncologist told her that, because of her early concern and investigation, and the early detection of cancer cells, “You just saved your own life.”
This doesn’t mean that the recovery phase is going to be pleasant or easy. While I put off thinking too much about any of this in order to avoid just totally freaking out, I am also putting off considering what is involved in the next phases. Fortunately, Dru’s two main employers have been very supportive, as have many of her many friends. And, as Dru says, “I am so grateful I live in a blue state.” I’m not sure how much the help from the state is, but it is nice there is some support for people who have situations that keep them from working.
I do know several others who have also been stricken with cancer. The fear of how to survive financially is right up there with the fear of the fucking disease (yeah, you thought I might keep it clean- I didn’t try too hard).
Anyway, the heat. While Trish and I were hanging out at the Inn, Dru in the hands and the schedule of the teams (the oncology surgeon’s and the plastic surgeon’s), I was taking advantage of the (slower than ours at home) WiFi. Checking out the YouTube, I saw surfers from Hawaii down in Mexico, and complaining about the heat. I had to wonder how hot it has to be for it to be too hot for them. Meanwhile, Seattle is too hot for me. I went out on the mean city streets to get Trish and I some food. I might not have been the only guy sweating through his shirt but… no, I might have been.
And it was the only shirt I brought.
Because the procedure and the recovery room stuff took a while, visiting hours were over by the time I made a valiant (I think) attempt to see Dru. I went to the place adjacent to the Inn. No way. I called Trish. I went down the really steep hill. I came back up. I went here, there, rode the elevator to limited floors with locked doors. I asked several people (anyone wearing scrubs, really) “Oh, you have to go to the emergency room.” Where’s that? “Just uphill from the Inn.” Oh. So, sweated through my shirt for the second time in a day. I got in, saw Dru, left, got my stuff from the sauna/room, went outside, down the super steep hill, around the corner, found the garage. Then, see above.
THIS IS WHERE everything I had written disappeared. Gone. Forever. YES, I did throw a massive fit. Yes, I wrote about it. THIS POST is now, because I am afraid not to post it, going to be on top of the semi-replacement column. PLEASE, if only to check on continuity, check out the next post down. Never mind, it’s, like, three down. Whoa, so prolific.
ANYWAY, Dru is hooking me up with a laptop. It’s a Mac, so… hoping for the best after a short tutorial. We’ll see. Pretty happy to be able to publish this. Now, just…
With the inclusion of inarguably life-changing events, we determine what we remember, over time, of the rare but truly horrific and the rare but truly blissful events.
Recalling a specific moment once makes it easier to remember, more clearly, the next time.
Memory banks and memory files, images and sounds and feelings, still shots and little videos; something that happens in the present snaps the synapses and, whoa, yeah… that one time…
I quite surprisingly and suddenly realized that the official start of Autumn is only days away, one of two moments, and I may be wrong about this, when the earth is in true balance and there are equal amounts of day and night. From that point, the next defining point is the dropping of Daylight Savings Time, somewhere around Halloween, the semi-unofficial end, for the most part, of the exterior painting season in the Great Northwest.
Yet, somewhere in here is the start of the surf season, such as it is, with the hope of North Pacific storms and waves over knee high. Hope is different than expectation. Around the Strait, even hope is tempered by experience; skunkings when forecasts call for waves, defiant winds when the forecasts call for calm.
In the Summer of 1968, the summer season defined as the interval between school sessions, Ray Hicks and Bill Buel and Phillip Harper and I were cruising in one of their cars, returning inland from a day of cruising Surf Route 101, anywhere from San Onofre to, most likely, Cardiff, in search of a beach with some possibility of girls hanging out, and with rideable waves, and with the hope that the lineup was not too crowded. We did, no doubt, surf, most likely at Grandview or Swamis beachbreak.
Whichever vehicle we were in (again, not mine) featured the latest in in-car entertainment, an 8 trac tape player. Because we were middle class suburban teens, we related to the non-bubblegum-pop tunes of Cream, the Beatles (less and less), and the Doors. Most shared, most sung along to. Yes, if we were a year younger, Led Zeppelin’s orgasmic rock might have taken over. We weren’t. We listened to the Doors. We could relate.
It wasn’t just the AM-radio/garage-band-at-the-VFW-hall stuff. Deep cuts. “Wait until the war is over, and we’re both a little older; the unknown soldier.” The war wasn’t over. It would still be there when we were older… old enough.
It was almost dark, we were parked somewhere, facing west, perhaps, more likely facing some thicket of sage like brush off Mission, the route from one or our homes to another- extending the length of the surf trip/adventure. Smoking. Click. Another tune. “Summer’s almost gone, summer’s almost gone; Where will we be… when the summer’s gone.” There was an instrumental fill at this point, the perfect four beat place in which, from my spot in the back seat, I added, “We’ll be in school.”
It wasn’t well received. ‘Fuck you’ and ‘oh, man,’ and ‘get out’ didn’t make for a unified chorus.
Yet, summer had gone on long enough that the days of not surfing, of hanging out or playing some pickup game at the high school, of listening to other groups, other songs, had gone on long enough. School was… we’d be seniors, there were girls, guaranteed. There was a certain level of anticipation.
Time seems to move faster as we get older. I have noticed. I have decided it is because, the longer we are alive, rotating and spinning, the shorter the comparative time is of any particular season. So, summer is, relatively, short. That’s my theory.
Incidentally, the reason I know it wasn’t my car is this: My vehicles never seemed to have a functioning radio. Fifty-four years later, my current surf rig’s radio started shorting out a few years ago; irritating; and then it quit completely. I do have my harmonica, and, since I usually go surfing alone, I don’t mind my singing and playing. Other than my own tunes, I will do a few of Dylan’s. I have a killer version of “All Along the Watchtower.” The Doors? No, not really.
The subject next time, perhaps, could be: “Froth.”
I’m getting some stick-on lettering made saying, “realsurfers FROTH!” So far, Keith is signed on to get one. Steve and Adam, the only others I’ve offered them to, didn’t seem enthusiastic enough; I will not beg them. So… as with everything, forever, we’ll see.
Dru is probably going to have radiation treatments, but, hopefully, not Chemo. Trish is doing most of the hanging out with our daughter over in Port Gamble, making sure Dru doesn’t lift heavy stuff. I’ve done like one night a week, but I, um… well, I do plan on going over tomorrow for the Seahawks game, partially so Trish can get her hands back on this computer, probably do some lifting.
Stephen R. Davis is staying in Bellevue and going for procedures in Seattle. He is getting a full ‘workup’ (not fun in itself) ahead of two doses of Super Chemo. I will get a proper copy of Steve’s painting of a fantasy surf spot this week and will post it here with info on how you can purchase a limited-edition copy. Evidently Steve has already promised the original to some lucky person.
Here’s a photo from March of 2004. My son, Sean, daughter Drucilla, and I were down south for a sort of family reunion/celebration of my father’s 80th birthday, arranged and staged by my sister, Suellen, and centered in Oceanside. I used the occasion to go on a sort of show-and-tell trip that included staying as close to the coast as possible, with, no doubt, stories of every spot. The south jetty, where I most often surfed before work at Buddy’s Sign Service, the building in which I worked, the pier, the auto repair shop where my dad worked two nights a week and Sundays for years, Tamarack, Grandview, Beacons, Swamis.
My plan was to write about two things here: Dru’s cancer and my novel, “Swamis.” Plans change. ALWAYS.
ME FIRST. Dru is recovering from surgery, like, a week ago. Trish has been taking care of her, staying at her place, twenty-two minutes away (if no one crashes on or near the Hood Canal Bridge, or some sailboat or nuclear submarine has to go through it) from our house. In order for Trish to do some other stuff, and to give her a break, I got to take over for a day, like, yesterday. Trish left a list of chores that I almost totally ignored. NOW, I have been telling/warning our daughter that I would not help her if she didn’t read the latest chapter I wrote, my third complete rewrite (counting the outline that turned into a sort of treatment) of my novel, “Swamis.” Dru, of course, though I had sent it to her, had not yet read it.
AND YET I came over, watched a horror movie, tried to sleep on her futon, did not make her a delicious breakfast as her mother had been doing, but did, while Dru was scrambling some eggs for simple breakfast burritos, start reading the chapter to her. There were interruptions, including a rare call from George Takamoto. I had to take the call, and somehow, managed to sit on my plate of burritos. Wouldn’t have been bad if it hadn’t been for the toothpicks. SO DRU started reading the chapter to me.
IT WAS GREAT. A couple of awkward parts. Fixable. Here’s the sort of unexpected thing: “Dad, it’s a short story.” No. “Yes. I can stand on its own. Short story.” Yeah, that’s what I was afraid of.
Over a hundred pages into the manuscript, sixty thousand plus words, CHAPTER FOURTEEN has enough of the story to ALMOST stand alone. Not completely, but, as each version of “Swamis” focuses more on the main story line, the plot, if I now go back, if Chapter Fourteen becomes Chapter Five, say, with three more after that, all leading to a non-conclusion… well, that would be a novel I wouldn’t have to beg or threaten someone to read. OR THAT IS THE HOPE.
THE OTHER THING that was on the agenda for yesterday was a zoom call with Dru’s surgeon. Bearing in mind that I am quite uncomfortable talking about this, Dru had decided to go with radical surgery with some hope if not expectation that Chemo and/or Radiation might not be necessary. THIS, almost of course, is not how it is going. Though other testing and discussion and shit has to happen, the Doctor said the two (rightfully) scary options might be in her future. THE ANTICIPATION of surgery- frightening; but she’s past that and recovering. WHAT WE KNOW about others who have undergone these procedures caused me to ambush the doctor when she asked Dru if she had any other questions. “Yeah, I do. I thought we got rid of the cancer. It’s not in her lymph nodes, so?” The doctor referred to the size of the tumor and how much it had grown since first discovered. “But the tumor’s gone. Past tense.” Not so easy. There are ‘maybes’ and ‘we don’t know yets.’ The doctor explained those and tried to lessen any anxiety. “Thank you.”
SO, Yeah. So, “fuck!” So, sure; it can’t just be over. No. Few things are easy. Nothing is EVER simple.
WE ALL GO THROUGH our lives among and between waves of hopeful anticipation and troughs of fearful anticipation. Few events are as blissfully, floatingly good or as full-stop, unbearably bad as the renderings, mosaics, perhaps, our imaginations create from the collected bits of shattered dreams, and the pieces of scattered moments of magic and peace and joy and BLISS.
What we really do, all we really can do is KEEP GOING.
I have to say that Dru seems to be more optimistic about enduring further treatment than I am. Trish, as always, will be supportive. Disappointment. Regroup. Keep going.
MEANWHILE, my good friend Stephen Davis, having made it through six rounds of Chemo, with his cancer knocked-back, is currently getting ready to take another step; a massive dose of chemicals that will do so much damage that, once through it, he will have to retake all his childhood inoculations. And that might not be the end of it. He will be unable to work or, probably, surf, for six months or so. SCARY!
OKAY, I’ll get a photo of the completed version on here. Soon.
Trisha’s and my daughter, Drucilla, arrived in Seattle on TUESDAY, the record tying 15th day of above-90-degree days in one season. So, fun. Dru was going to Virginia Mason for a surgery I have been actively avoiding thinking about and I am uncomfortable writing about. I will say the cancer surgery is radical. It is also somewhat unusual for a 42-year-old.
ON WEDNESDAY, Dru had the surgery- hours of it, with two teams, one working on the radical part of it, the second on the reconstructive aspects. THE GOOD NEWS IS it went well. What we have to look forward to in the recovery process is, yes, something I’m trying, again, not to think about. Trish has tried to tell me the details, I have tried not to really comprehend them; I just know it’s messy and embarrassing and totally necessary.
NOT thinking too hard is… okay, say the long-range surf forecast calls for significant swell five days out. Excited? Probably, but three days out the picture will be clearer, and the awesome most likely will become… less so.
I have tried really hard to not imagine the negative scenarios possible with any type of surgical procedure. MY ZEAL to not freak the fuck out, to not know more than I need to know, has not helped me in the past several days.
I will need several posts to cover all the stupid, mostly avoidable missteps I have made in trips to and from the Big, Hot, Steep-hilled, Dangerous, Emerald City. It isn’t over. It’s THURSDAY and I’m currently in Quilcene, Trish, with a hamstring injury, is in an un-air-conditioned room adjacent to the hospital, and we are awaiting news as to when Dru is going to be released. Then I get to zip back over. Most likely this will be tomorrow, FRIDAY, never a good day in the summer to try to get a ferry ride west.
I do have some mostly misadventures to write about and, in fact, did write a really lengthy piece late last night, here, like I am doing now, on the actual WordPress setup. That was, and this might be, a mistake. A message suddenly popped onto the screen informing me that there had been an error and… gone. I should have and should now, first write on the Microsoft Word, then transfer. Should.
Dru, according to her Oncologist, by not ignoring signs and symptoms, by not hoping for the best, by detecting a problem early and getting an early diagnosis… well, here’s the quote: “You just saved your own life.”
That’s the GOOD PART. I will be back with the fun/stupid/avoidably dumb parts. Later.
This is my September submission for the Quilcene Community Center Newsletter. I am posting it here first. Yes, I really want to talk about my eventually radical fat boy/caveman kneeboard and how, lineup-wise, my policy will be, “Okay, then, sit next to me.” Yeah, next time, this will be explained.
Sometimes the heat is and can only be described as ‘excessive’ or ‘oppressive.’ You step out of your house or your car, cooled, somewhat, what we call, ‘conditioned,’ and your body cannot hold back a ‘whew,’ blowing out a breath that is, at whatever body temperature your brain and your clothing try to maintain, still cooler than it is outside.
“Sum-mer-time… and the livin’ is… easy…” Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heywood, from “Porgy and Bess.” Just to give credit. Don’t listen to the Janis Joplin version on a hot day. Just a warning.
Oh, wait, I’m writing this for September, and I’m writing it six hours or so after the latest heat advisory (or red alert, depending on location and distance from large bodies of water) ended and the more acceptable drizzle started. Drizzle, yea!
I’m pretty sure you weren’t one of those who complained (or, maybe, speculated), when it was cool and rainy into June, and even July, that we would never get a Summer.
No, we haven’t had the severe smokiness or anything the meteorologists would label a ‘heat dome,’ but we have had days, many of them, in a row, where, say, a painter could leave drop cloths out overnight without fear that this act might be construed by whatever entities control the weather, as a challenge.
So, yes, even if it stays kind of cool and rainy until the end of October, Halloween, the unofficial start to the cooling season, we have had a summer.
HERE ARE a few things people say about the weather:
“Hot enough fer ya?” Yes. Fifty-five suits me fine, if I’m working outside, sixty-five if I’m, like, hanging out. No, I rarely hang out.
“Great day for painting, huh?” What are you doing?
“It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.” So, when are you going back to Arizona?
“Surfer, huh? Do you wear a wetsuit? Is the water cold?” Yes. Yes. Yes, it’s salty, too. Thought I’d throw that one in. Yes, seventy-five degrees is great… on the beach.
“It always cools down at night.” Thankfully.
“With the days getting shorter, even if it gets hot, it’s not for that long.” This one goes with, “We rarely get more than three days in a row of hot weather.” Response- Thankfully, and Until we do.
“I don’t know how people face it when they wake up and it’s going to be a hundred and eight degrees; and there’s nothing but that kind of heat in the forecast… for weeks on end.” I don’t know, either.
“You know, a lot of times, it’s cooler here on the Olympic Peninsula than anywhere in the continental United States.” It’s cooler in Port Townsend.
“You just have to get acclimated.” I do. I don’t want to.
“It’s okay to sweat.” Yes, in the gym, and with a few exceptions, pretty much not anywhere else. Side note- no one wants to see almost anyone else shirtless. Make your own exceptions.
“When it is really hot it is difficult to sleep.” Churches seem to have the perfect temperature for that.
“Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” Yeah, well, I researched that, and though the quote is often attributed to Mark Twain, it may have come from Charles Dudley Warner, a neighbor and fellow writer; not that you should care. But I do disagree. We have…
AIR CONDITIONING- Magically, though the radio and the rear window wiper and numerous other things don’t work, the air conditioner on my 1985 Toyota Camry does, though it seems to work less effectively on longer trips. At some point, there just doesn’t seem to be enough… oxygen. On my work van, no, and the vent and fan are inadequate.
We have one of those window air conditioners in the living room, a different deal in the back bedroom. Somewhat relieved that the (extended) winter heating season is over, I will soon find out what the cost of comparative coolness is.
Though I try to follow the shade as I am painting, I am occasionally required to finish up a job in the sun. I finished up a job recently on the hottest day of the year (to that point), at the hottest part of the day (5:30 mid-summer). After almost stripping off my shirt, I spent the next day, recovering, five feet from the air conditioner, mostly watching a surfing contest in Tahiti on the big screen TV. It was probably hot and humid there. Why would I care? Where I was, it was 69 degrees, somewhere around 50 percent humidity.
Oh, one last thing: “Do you know how you can tell tourists are from the Northwest, anywhere in the world?” Yes. We’d be the ones in the shade.
SURFERS AND COOLNESS- I’ve spent my life trying to figure this all out. What I have noticed is that ultra-coolness on the beach does not always transfer intact to proficiency in the water. Still, I do try to up my beach game. See you out on Surf Route 101.
It’s not like I haven’t camped. I have. Actually, I’ve done a lot. It’s just that I would rather not. This time of year, the Strait is even flatter than usual. So, the coast is an option. It is an option many are taking. Maybe too many. It does make sense, the camping thing. If someone is going from for example, from Seattle to, say, somewhere in the vicinity of, I don’t know, Neah Bay, taking the time and paying the fuel costs, and, most likely, the monthly tab on some fancy-bad-ass and tricked-out rig, might as well stay a while.
THE DARROCK RULE- Paraphrased, Keith would say, “You should surf for at least as long a time as it took you to get there.” So, last time I went, with a side-stop, it took me an hour and twenty-three minutes to get to a spot that was, you know, breaking. Though the waves pretty much quit after an hour and twelve minutes, I persisted. Of course, if you’re five minutes away… surf, like, longer.
I do have a big-boy van. Work van. Yes, I am aware that I could take out all the painting stuff and… camp. I do think about it. In the summer, a person could surf late, eight hours later, back in the water. In the winter, well, the nights are just too long, and I have stuff to do at home.
TO EXPLAIN the caption (above)- I just wrote about the ‘Hey, man,’ thought I might write about some other common word usage AND mention a few of my concerns about camping. Let me admit, first, that I never take off for even a pre-dawn surf venture without going, like, you know, number two. Number one, rarely a problem. I have become pretty creative, partially because clients rarely invite painters inside to use the bathroom, and, even if they do…
I do have a couple of camping and surf trip horror stories to back up my number two… PTSSD. Mexico, Baja and mainland, church camp… I could tell these tales if we were, like, sitting around a fire and you actually aren’t good at playing guitar and you don’t want to hear any more of my harmonica and/or singing.
OKAY, I am posting this way down here, past where you have, no doubt, given up. I’m not trying to blow up a spot. Take Westport, for example. Go. So, and I don’t understand why my friends don’t think this is genius, I have a little slogan. “Invest some time in Hobuck; Keep the change.” Variation- “Spend some time in Hobuck; Keep the change.” Not that this alone keeps me from going, but the campground has really nice showers, just a less than thrilling ratio between users and facilities.
Good luck. See you on the road.
WAIT! I am claiming Copyright on the slogans, and pretty much everything I write. “Lesser Genius.” Yeah, that, too!
As I was completing my day, loading up my work rig, I did some chatting with the owner of the house across the street, a guy whose house I painted a couple of years ago. I can’t remember his first name, but his last name is White. Somewhere in the usual tangle of conversational starts and non-finishes and peripheral stories, electric bikes and Teslas and Sprinter vans, the general theme being coolness and those of us who seek it, Mr. White said, “Well, you always have the ‘hey, man’ thing going for you.”
Yeah, I was a bit confused by the statement as well.
What Mr. White and I decided, jointly, is that even pissed-off people can only go so far in calling out those who they (the possibly rightly pissed-off person) consider, rightly or wrongly, somewhat cool.
It isn’t that I am or have ever been that… cool. Trish told me, years ago, when we were first dating (specifically, we were in my thrashed Morris Minor and approaching a guy from my high school class who was hanging out downtown with some other guys and leaning on the really cool car he had actually done some work on, and I gave him the nod), that I’m always trying to be that. Cool. “Give it up. You might never be cool.”
Whether he or any of the other guys returned the nod should be irrelevant. It isn’t. It’s totally relevant. It is relevant because I have not given up trying. If he (just remembered his name- Gary Press) did do the nod-back, great; if not; well, I probably had some excuse.
I have, in my own mind, pulled myself up a few notches on the coolness scale. I’m still surfing, getting out there, a little over a week away from my seventy-first birthday. It’s more like coolness by attrition.
A couple of things about the nod, the nod-back, and the ‘hey, man:’
ONE- When our older son, James, was in high school, a classmate, Troy, would come over to our house. This wasn’t all that easy. We live out of town. Troy would show up by looking through a window or just plain walking in. Troy had some situational, some physical, and some mental… disadvantages. Troy would explain his surprise visit with, “Hey, mon, got the game?” James probably did. He and Dru and Sean were, it seemed to me, pretty nice to Troy. Several times his stepfather would bring him over. If I was around, I got to hang out with that guy. Once the stepfather spent most of our conversation time staring at the profile of the hill across the way, talking about aliens and big foot.
TWO- Surfers are, and have always been, reluctant to embrace new surfers on their (not arguing this part) territory. “Who’s that?” This may be particularly true with spots as fickle as those on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. I only recently, when a dude paddled out at a spot I claim as a ‘regular’ if not, strictly speaking, a ‘local’ (not that there are many true locals that far out), and said he’d never been to that spot before. “Well,” I said, “You don’t have to come back.” Even though the waves had dropped off to the usual none-to-one foot, he probably will. Persistence. Make a note of it.
So, a friend of mine was walking back from checking a spot and ran into two or three other seekers, seeking. “They gave me the nod,” my friend told me. “What did you do?” “I refused to give them the nod.” Add your own level of irony to another story from the same friend, different spot, more difficult access. “There was only one guy out. He wasn’t friendly. I said (paraphrasing here), like, ‘hey, man…’”
Persistence. Next time, I would guess, full nod exchange.
THREE- “You ever go to Doc’s restaurant,” I asked the guy whose house I had painted. “Not often,” he said, “But I was there when Richard Sherman did the tip… in the endzone.” Okay. “So, a couple of years ago, I was painting the place. Remodel. Reggie got the gig. So, this electrician starts talking. Mentions Hawaii. So, naturally, I ask him if he is a surfer. ‘Of course,’ he answered. ‘It’s Hawaii.’ So, according to Reggie, I stew about this for a while, then I go up to the guy and say, ‘Hey, man; just because you lived in Hawaii, that doesn’t automatically make you a surfer.’”
“How did he react?”
“He was kind of all right with it. So, what do you say when someone does get… angry?
I am indecisive on whether or not to take a chance and go surfing today. I have responsibilities, obligations and commitments, deadlines. Then again, whatever swell there might be drops off to nothing after today. It is already doing so.
Four years ago, on the first anniversary of my sister Melissa’s death, metastatic breast cancer, I was surfing. Some chop had developed on the water and the swell was, it appeared, dropping. I may have been the last one to get out. I was hanging on the beach with Mikel, nicknamed Squintz, and Bruce, the unofficial mayor of Hobuck. I had missed my sister’s funeral as I had missed our father’s eight months earlier. I hate funerals. I have been to as few as I could get away with not attending since the first one I attended, my mother’s, fifty-two years ago.
I did write about my paddling back out in a sort of memorial to Melissa. Writing may be shouting into the void, or not; it is how I process, possibly how I cope; even if it is difficult to partially process or cope with even the lesser mysteries of life, and knowing it is impossible begin to fathom that which no one has yet fully explained.
Death is the one guarantee in life. Death. We ignore death, we postpone thinking about death. It seems almost sinful to dwell on death. It is, certainly, counterproductive.
But people die. Some we know, some we’ve heard of. We cannot help but compare where that person was in life compared to where we are. But we don’t… dwell. We move on.
I didn’t remember that it was an anniversary. Trish reminded me. That it was five years surprised me. Thirteen years since Trisha’s father died, fifteen since her mother’s passing. She put the deaths of my parents in the timeline. Six, in December, for my father. Fifty-two, as I said, for my mother.
Surprising. Not shocking; yet I remember, easily, and vividly, the circumstances of each event.
The memories get blended into the mix, the redundancy and rhythm of the daily traumas and dramas, the routine of waking, and being awake, and trying to accomplish… something; oh, and dreaming.
Waves, I believed, during that mid-day, mid-summer, solitary session, came to me; I got into the rhythm of the sets; I believed that honored my sister. Though all this could be easily explained away, I still believe this. My sister was an artist. I have called on Melissa’s spirit to assist me, at times, when I am attempting to transform something in my mind to paper. No, I never produce anything as moving as the work she fretted and worried over and kept at until everyone but her believed the work to be perfect. No, I don’t blame her spirit.
Of course not. That would be ridiculous.
If I do think about death, there is a story I go back to:
Trish and I, twenty-six and twenty-seven, had lived in among farmland in Quilcene for a cold winter, during which the bridge connecting where we lived and where I worked sank. Workdays were thirteen and a half hours long for eight hours pay. It was spring. It was a Saturday. The sound of gunshots woke us up. We looked out the window. There were several trucks in the field at Irving Johnson’s farm across the road. I went outside, walked down the road, watched from behind the barbed wire fence.
The victim of the gunshots was being hoisted up on a chain, one of the crewmembers slicing into the carcass. The rest of Mr. Johnson’s herd, seven or eight head, was a ways off, chomping on the spring-wet grass. Each of the steers would look up, toward the truck, then at other members of the herd, then, perhaps hoping the killing/butchering crew wouldn’t notice him, resume the chomping. The butchering of the first steer well in hand, two of the crew members headed toward the herd. One had a rifle. The herd moved. Slowly, not a stampede. Jockeying for position. That wouldn’t help. The farmer and the lead butcher had already selected which steers would die.
Mr. Johnson, supervising from the butcher’s truck, saw me. He waved. I waved. He put his hands out to his sides, slightly cocked up at the elbows. It wasn’t a celebratory gesture. It meant, “This is what we do.” I turned and walked toward our gate before the next shot was fired.
I hope this doesn’t make me sound… I don’t really know- Maudlin? Fatalistic? It is just a story, a memory, but it has already made me think of other memories.
No, really, I have other things to think about. There may be some waves. I’ll check.
It’s another outtake from my manuscript for “Swamis,” re-edited, because I just can’t help it, and posted here because I just can’t leave it in some bound-to-get-lost file. I like the story. It is based, mostly, on two incidents: My running into a classmate on the night of the homecoming game, five years or so out of high school, and my being declined for purchasing cigarettes when I was seventeen. Gordy was with another classmate, a girl who was my chemistry lab partner, and with whom I had gone on one date, just before I met Trish. Gordy had gone full-on hippie, did put the emphasis on the ‘ing’ part of the word ‘fuck-ing.’ All a bit anachronistic.
SO FUCK-ING COOL… MAN
Gordy claimed to be a surfer, though I never saw him actually in the water. On the beach a few times, talking surfing as if he had just been in, somewhere else, somewhere better, or just about to get in. Later, if it got better. He was two years ahead of me in high school and regaled the other non-surfing jocks at school. Gordy was not one of the older students Gary and I bugged and begged for rides to the beach. Once, maybe.
I was in a liquor store in Vista. Gordy was sporting a full-if-sparse beard and long hair (Fallbrook High had a dress code), parted in the middle (of course), and clothing, Hippie-garb I called it, that denied his quite-upper class upbringing.
“Still fuck-ing’ surfing, Jody?”
I took the usual few seconds to replay his sentence. He had separated the syllables, put the emphasis on the second one. “Ing!’”
“So fuck-ing’ cool, man. We just don’t fuck-ing’ see each other, man; like, like we used to.”
Gordy was, obviously, stoned. He had his left arm over the shoulder of an even more-stoned girl, younger, possibly still in high school. She was wearing a headband, her boutique-chic top hanging precariously on her breasts. She was nodding, giggling, her eyes unable to focus or even adjust to the light from the coolers we were standing next to.
The girl looked at me, squinting, then nodding, a finger pointed way too close to my eyes. Big smile. “My brother Larry,” she said, “he says you’re a fuck-ing’ stuck-up asshole; oh and…” She lost her thought.
Emphasis on the ‘ing.’
“Larry,” the girl said. “Larry Walker.”
“Oh. Larry Walker? Yeah.”
“Yeah. Larry. You did punch him out, Jordy.” Gordy didn’t wait for my response. “Freshman football. Practice. I was J.V., just before I went varsity.”
I replayed the incident in my mind. Larry was the ball carrier. I had tackled him. Open field. He and I were both on the ground. The play was over. He gave me an elbow shot to the groin. Someone pulled him up. He pulled his helmet up and back, smiling at me with his plastic mouth guard smile. “Gettin’ tackled by a beaner’s bad enough. Some fuckin’ half-Jap…”
Straight shot. No broken teeth. Mouth guard.
“Yeah.” Gordy and Larry’s little sister had walked away. I walked toward the counter. The guy behind it looked at me for a second, continued leering at the girl as she and Gordy came up behind me. “Larry’s little sister,” I said. The Counter Guy nodded. Appreciatively (by which I mean creepily).
“She’s probably going to be, like…” I turned, looked at her (questioningly, not, I hope, creepily). “…a Junior?”
Larry’s sister nodded, her nod a bit uncontrolled. “Uh huh.”
“Class of, uh, a second…”
“Seventy-one! Yea!” She made a bit of a cheerleader pompom gesture, one hand, a jump motion without actually getting off the ground. Junior Varsity.
I looked back at the Counter Guy. He looked at Gordy. A little judgey, not that Gordy noticed.
Gordy took his left hand off Larry’s sister’s shoulder and put it on mine. I looked at his hand. He took it away. I put two one-dollar bills, my package of Hostess donettes and a quart of chocolate milk on the counter, pointed to a pack of Marlboros (hard pack) on the back wall, turned back to Gordy and Larry’s sister. Gordy sort gave me a specific look. Disappointment.
“I know, man… Gordie; you probably don’t fuck-ing’ smoke… cigarettes.” He and the girl both giggled.
The Counter Guy set the cigarettes on the counter, rang up the carton of milk and the donettes.
“Pack of matches, too; please.”
Counter Guy put two packs of matches on top of the Marlboros. “You’re seventeen, huh?”
I didn’t think. “Yeah, I am.”
“Well,” he said, “You got to be eighteen.”
Gordy laughed. The girl laughed a moment later.
The Counter Guy slid the cigarettes away from me, slid a fifty-cent piece and two dimes and two pennies back to me.
“Oh,” I said. “I’m eighteen, too. I meant…”
Counter Guy looked past me, to Gordy. “And you, sir?”
“I left my license in my other pants,” I said. Counter Guy ignored me, smiled (still creepily) at Larry’s sister. I looked at her. She seemed to take the leering as flirting. Gordy handed his date a bag of potato chips and returned a six pack to the cooler.
Gordy returned, surprisingly quickly. He put one hand on the cigarettes, the other on my change. “I’m eighteen,” he said, “and I can fucking’ prove it.”
“Twenty-six cents more then, for the chips.”
“Didn’t mean to be so… fucking’ uncool, Gordy,” I said, as he and I stepped outside, Larry’s sister a few steps behind us.
“Nah; it’s cool,” Gordy said. He flipped me the cigarettes, one pack of matches, making sure I realized he was keeping the other one. He pulled Larry’s sister closer to him, slung his left hand over her shoulder and perilously close to her breasts, extended his right hand as two (obviously) off-duty Marines approached (obviously Marines, obviously off duty), both looking more at her than at him. “Either of you two gentlemen twenty-one?” he asked, pulling out several ten-dollar bills.
Neither of them was, but the next guy approaching, not a Marine, definitely was. The citizen looked at the two Marines, at Gordy, at Larry’s sister. He put his hand out, said, “it’ll cost you.”
“Peace, man,” I said, walking away, waving my free hand in a peace sign. Gordy, his hands off Larry’s sister, left hand holding his wallet, flipped me the peace sign with his right hand, but quickly, and not where the Marines could see the gesture. Not that they or the Citizen taking money from Gordy were looking past Larry’s sister. She gave each of them a very quick, weak smile, and, in a moment of self-awareness, pulled her top up a little higher on her breasts.
Flipping the peace sign was, for anyone under thirty or so, pretty much over by this time, the winter of 1969. On special occasions, perhaps; the act was shared with friends as a sort of code, an action we would only later” refer to or try to explain as having been done “ironically.”
IF YOU’RE STILL WITH ME, thanks. I should add that the football punch part is actually derived from an incident in which classmate Bill Birt, in practice, sophomore year, pulled off a teammate’s helmet and slugged him in the face. Kicked off the J.V. team, the coach, allegedly, said, “Now, Bill, if you only played that way in a game…” The result of blending in all the real stuff is fiction.
All original writing contained in realsurfers.net and anything taken from manuscripts for “Swamis” is protected under copywrite and is the property of Erwin A. Dence, Jr.
GOOD LUCK SURFING. And I don’t mean that sarcastically or ironically.