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Bill Birt and the San Onofre Octopi

Bill Birt and the San Onofre Octopi

Weekly (until I run out of them) Bill Birt Story
Before I posted it here I ran my story, “The Ghost of Bill Birt,” past the only friend from my Fallbrook surfing days I’m still in contact with, Ray Hicks, now living in Carlsbad, and still surfing.
“What a character,” Ray wrote, also mentioning in the e-mail the story he claims he’ll never forget; the one about Bill and the octopi at a minus tide 1967 San Onofre.*
With the rest of some subgroup of Fallbrook Sophomore surfers- Phillip Harper, Ray Hicks, probably Mark Metzger, Billy McLean, me, standing around a beach fire between sessions, standard practice in those days of short john wetsuits, Bill was down with the old beachcombers and the young kids examining the tide pools.
You should bear in mind that most of us were sixteen, Billy fourteen**, and we didn’t get all excited about sea urchins and starfish and the like. That is, we wouldn’t want someone else in our group to see us get excited about the perfect sand dollar. We were, no doubt, talking about whether we’d go out again, comparing rides; some talk, no doubt, about girls- so much more mysterious than waves.
So, here came Bill, glasses on but fogged by salty damp air, trudging up the fairly level beach- maybe more like marching- huge smile on his face, and, when he got close enough, we could see he had an octopus wrapped around one arm, another sort of cradled at stomach level.
There was a moment of…”Wait! What? Hey!”
Bill threw one of the live creatures onto into the fire. It just as well could have been a grenade. We all leapt backwards.
“Bill!”
There were, of course, other first verbal reactions, most one syllable; or an extended “Shhhhhhhhhiiiiiiiiii…..” Someone may have shrieked.
No, not me.
And if I did; well; there was an octopus in the fire!
Bill looked at each of us, each of us equally horrified, and said, quite matter-of-factly, lifting the remaining octopus, obviously still alive, to eye level, moving it in a circle for each of us to appreciate. “This one’s smaller; we’ll eat it first.”***
*Because one story leads to another story, or even another group of stories, in writing this I discovered I have to tell more ‘San Onofre Tales.’ I’m working on it.
**Billy McLean is another character from my past. His slightly-crazed personality, his knack for getting otherwise-peaceful friends into trouble, no doubt aligns with some member of at least one subgroup of your own surfing contemporaries. I’m working on a few Billy McLean stories (physically wincing at the thought).
And, of course, I have a few more on Bill Birt.
***The second octopus went back in the tide pools, all of us marching down to make sure; someone apologizing to it for the murder of its friend.
No, not me. And if I did…

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