John Amsterdam May Still Hate Me (Chapter 5)

-Spring, 1970- Grandview-

With no time to actually surf, I was just checking Grandview out late morning. This was just a little detour between my early (academic-rather than art-related) classes at Palomar Junior College in San Marcos and my job at Buddy’s Sign Service in Oceanside. Seeing Bucky Davis on the beach, I made my way down.

I was, by now, accustomed to surfing without a crew. Phillip Harper and Ray Hicks were going to some JC somewhere farther north. My other friends were also scattered by jobs, or real colleges, or, for some, military service. And I had a busy schedule.

Though I had the reputation, well earned, during high school, that I’d go surfing with anyone willing to drive, or go with me, Ray and Phillip had long been my closest friends and best surfing partners. I wasn’t reaching out to others. No time.

There was work, and school, and church on Saturdays, and a girlfriend. Steady girlfriend. I had become pretty much a regular at the Oceanside’s south jetty, hitting it seven-thirtyish to eight forty-five (give or take, depending on wave quality) most work day mornings. Still, being known, knowing some others in the lineup; these weren’t friends; we didn’t talk.

Still, I was grateful Buddy, Florida Prison-trained sign painter, of Buddy’s Sign Service, didn’t even think about working before nine. If I just couldn’t talk myself into getting out of the water I could make it up by staying later.

If the waves south of Oceanside Pier, the ocean one block and some railroad tracks away, were just too glassy, too irresistible, and there wasn’t a lot for an apprentice sign painter slash shop nub to do;  Buddy could usually be convinced to let me go.

“So, you can come in on Sunday to make up for it. Right?”

Because Buddy tried to maintain a persona that included some amount of ex-con toughness, and, with his real name being Lacy, he had earned it; the answer to making up for time lost to waves and school and church and a girlfriend was always, “Sure.”

Other mornings I’d hit whatever piece of sandbar seemed best in the neighborhood. Sometimes, with some inkling of a larger swell, I’d take off earlier from home, starting as far south as Swamis, racing up 101, hoping to hit a few favorable stoplights once I got to Oceanside.

WHEN THE NOW-LEGENDARY SWELL OF DECEMBER, 1969 smashed against the shores, closing out almost everywhere else, I managed to surf Swamis every day of the five day event by skipping school and not telling/lying-to Buddy.

On the first and biggest day; totally undergunned, offshore winds spraying would-be shoulder-hoppers back, most waves would have someone on them, from sixty yards up the reef, locked-in and wailing. The entire bluff was filled each day with onlookers, a few less as the swell dropped enough for Swamis to offer more manageable peaks and walls later in the week.

I had nobody to share the story with other than my girlfriend, my Trish, Trish Scott. A year behind me, she was still in high school and working Friday nights and Saturdays at the Post Exchange on Camp Pendleton. I still told her how, on the second day of the swell, I got thrashed by a section at the inside peak, figured that was enough, swam in, couldn’t find my board, saw the entire cheering section atop the bluff pointing and yelling “It’s in the rip!” So I jumped back in, swam out, and, by the time I reached the board, I was almost in the lineup. So, I looked for an empty shoulder on an inside wave…

“No, no; I’m listening. Go on.”

Trish was more interested in how I’d sometimes see her old friend from when she lived in Oceanside, Barbie Barron, while surfing at the Oceanside South Jetty. “We were in the Oceanside Girls’ Surfing Club,” Trish would say, always adding that she had started board surfing before I had.

“Yeah, but I surf now.”

I WANTED TO TALK TO BUCKY. I knew his relationship with his Trish, Phillip’s sister had ended; she had moved on. Their romance was one my circle of friends seemed to have discussed enough that we created our own fairytale/groupthink/consensus version of their reality. But, I hadn’t heard any of this from Bucky. Or from his Trish.

Bucky had shown up once when Phillip and Ray and I were surfing Swamis Beachbreak, our Summer/small wave default spot. I was filming my friends with my Super 8 camera, trying to convince them to film me. He dropped his cool a bit, got all competitive, told us the problem with boards was they weren’t yet short enough. We had some fun.

I also knew Bucky’s brother had been killed, murdered in some stupid/tragic event. The sort of whispered and incomplete version I heard included some implication that his brother had stepped into some confrontation in defense of the intended target, Bucky.

It may have also been that I wanted to talk surfing.

My conversation with Bucky, him in trunks, me in my school/work outfit, looking sideways at the waves, was low key; what we were up to, how much life was slowing down our surfing, where we were in the draft, Bucky was, somehow, out. I was, with my birth date having received a ‘36’ in the first lottery, and the war predicted to go on forever, and those whose deferments ran out definitely going to Vietnam, considering dropping my student deferment and taking a chance on the next lottery.

“No, I’m really just a nub. Buddy won’t even let me wash out his sign brushes.”  I was waiting for a moment to tell him how sorry I was that…

John Amsterdam. Without either of us acknowledging the other, the previously unnoticed John came up from behind Bucky, put his arm over his friend’s shoulder, did, finally, acknowledge me with a dirty look. Actually, it was more like the same harshly judgmental expression.

“Hey, Bucky; let’s go on down the beach, get our heads on.”

And they did. I wasn’t invited. I watched them go around the curve of the bluff. Bucky looked back once, gave me a slight nod.  It was all right. I watched the surfers for a few more moments, checked my watch. I had sign boards to paint, and maybe, when it glasses off…

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