Bill Birt’s Stolen Racks

There is the story of BILL BIRT’S STOLEN RACKS, stolen, partially, because his parents’ big ass car with the big ass trunk containing the big ass cardboard box (for Billy’s little friends’ wet gear), with big blue block letters spelling out *“Kotex,” was parked in the gravel parking lot, not visible from the beach or water, set aside for those who didn’t have military, military dependent, or San Onofre Surfing Club status, and how I was selected to ride back to Fallbrook with him, and, for once, I got to ride shotgun; and, because there was really only AM radio in cars, even fancy big ass ones, in those days, we got to listen to a station that kept playing hit **popular songs of the day in a tight rotation, and, of course, I’d sing along. And we had to drive around, down Highway 101 (there also wasn’t an I-5, at least on in the ‘slaughter alley’ section between San Clemente and Oceanside) because we would be borrowing the racks off a vehicle at Phillip Harper’s family’s house, south of town. “Closer that way,” Bill said; We all agreed.

The most particularly galling (to Bill) song contained lyrics including ***“Skip-a-rope, skip-a-rope… Daddy hates your mama, mama hates your dad; last night you should have heard the fight they had… skip-a-rope……”

So, it was about half an hour or so, down to Oceanside, another twenty-five minutes, Bill driving faster than his parents would like, on to Phillip’s house, a brief explanation to Phillip’s brother ****Clintswell about why we were there, gathered some drinks and snacks, and then we retraced our route, radio going the whole time.  So, probably seven or eight opportunities to sing along, window down, Bill not participating at all.Image

Yes, Bill Birt did complain, bitterly, to the other surfers, guarding our boards, when we returned to San Onofre. “That’s what you get for having a radio, Bill,” one of the two other surfers, either Phillip or Ray Hicks said. “He’d sing anyway,” the other one said. “Maybe not that song.” They all nodded, I nodded, Bill opened the big ass trunk, pulled out the replacement racks.

No radio on the way back. It didn’t matter. I was asleep in the big ass back seat.

*The Kotex box wasn’t as big as illustrated, the license plates would have been black. **”Skip-a-Rope” was a hit in 1967 for Henson Cargill. I know; I totally had to look it up. ***People nowadays don’t really believe that we had to (got to) listen to the Beatles and Frank Sinatra on the same station. Yeah, I know some Sinatra lyrics. ****Since I met Maxwell (or Clint) right about the time his mother changed his name to the other, after his father, a fighter pilot, killed in Korea, who may never have seen his second son, I called him Clintswell, and now can’t remember his proper name. I’ll guess Maxwell, since I also called him Smaxwell. He’ll show up again in other non-San Onofre tales



San Onofre is surfing history.

Early surfers parked on the beach, camped out there, built a few palapas, rode the rollers. It seems, to those of us reading the occasional story about this history in “The Surfer’s Journal,” checking the photos, a friendly sort of place frequented by people who saw themselves as rebellious and wild, but, by today’s standards, quaintly so.

Located (I know you know this) near the northwest point of the massive Camp Pendleton…wait. I should explain, just to be clear, that Camp Pendleton is roughly a triangle, with Oceanside at the lower point, San Clemente north, and, twenty miles inland (as the seagull flies) Fallbrook. That’s where I was raised, and, from my house, I always sort of believed, if I stood on the fence on the front edge of the property, and looked west, somewhere just over those coastal hills, that late afternoon glow was a reflection off the unseen water at San Onofre.

At some point the San Onofre Surfing Club made a deal with the Marine Corps allowing club members access past the guard shack, down a winding little road along a river (well, creek) bottom, and then past the railroad trestles (yeah, those Trestles), then near the Officers’ Club, the buildings a last remnant of a time when the entire area was part of a Spanish Land Grant. Nice location, in some trees in a usually sedate (wave-wise) cove right between Church and San Onofre.

Beach access was also granted to Marines, and dependents. In Fallbrook, most of my friends’ dads, or moms, or both, worked on the base or were Marines. Kids of Marines came and went, on some three year cycle. My family was in Fallbrook because, once there, my mom didn’t want to move the increasingly large family elsewhere. Though my father remains a Marine (of the Corps, to the core), he went to work splicing telephone cables all over the base for the rest of his career.

Children of Civil Service workers didn’t have (or weren’t supposed to have) beach parking privileges, and any other surfers granted access on the base had to park in a lot* separated by those whispy trees particular to windy parts of California. I think, of all the times I went to San Onofre, mostly between 1966 and 1969, whoever I was with got to park on the beach.

*On one of the only times I went with someone who didn’t have beach parking privileges, Bill Birt, whose father sold insurance in Fallbrook, Bill’s surf racks were stolen. That story, when this all gets organized, will follow this entry.

Phillip Harper, Ray Hicks, Phillip’s Sister, Bucky Davis, My Sister, My Mom, Bob Dylan, and The Endless Summer

“First of all,” I said, standing in the kitchen of Phillip Harper’s parent’s house, two bars of paraffin wax melting in a soup can on the stove, Phillip’s board floating between two chairs and across the dining room table, “the theater was in no way ‘underground.’ Disappointing.”

Phillip and Ray Hicks seem to be properly impressed I, more country kid than either of them, had gone into the city for some other reason than to ride the escalators at Sears with my many brothers and sisters while my parents shopped.

It was at about this moment that Phillip’s sister, Trish (not my Trish- hadn’t met her yet), came in from the pantry (no one ever seemed to use the formal front door). She appeared noticeably disappointed that her brother and at least one of his geeky friends were there. Trish was followed in by her boyfriend, Bucky Davis. He was, perhaps, a bit less disappointed; a nod for Phillip, smaller one for Ray, even smaller one for me (standard cool reaction to over-amped groms). Bucky took a moment to check out the wax on the stove.

“You have to be careful,” he said, both hands simulating an explosion. “A candle might be a better idea.” A single hand tipping an imaginary candle illustrated the point.

“Erwin went to see ‘The Endless Summer’ in San Diego,” Phillip said. “At an underground theater,” Ray added.

“The thing is,” I said, trying to be informative, “kind of disappointing; it wasn’t at all underground. Just a regular…”

Phillip and Ray appeared less impressed than the first time they heard this.

“On University Avenue?” Trish asked. I shrugged. I hadn’t driven. “I saw it at State.” She paused, possibly to see if she had to add ‘San Diego State.’

No, I knew she had been spending some time down there, preparing to attend ‘State’ in the fall of 1967. Bucky would not be attending.  He was planning on going to Palomar Junior College; he’d have to go somewhere to stay out of the draft.

“When I saw it,” she continued, “Bruce Brown narrated it… himself. He was behind this curtain and…” She stopped because Bucky seemed a bit surprised, I thought, though I’m sure I was mostly trying to hide being impressed. And out-cooled. Again. Always by her.

Bruce Brown… in person.


After all, it had been impossible to be really, even passably cool, at the above-ground theater, hanging with my older sister, Suellen, AND my mother.

Still, hoping to in some way compete, I said, “Yeah, well; they had these previews for a movie with Bob Dylan, and…”

“’Don’t Look Back’,” Trish said.

“Huh?” Phillip and Bucky and Ray asked, pretty much at the same time.

“Uh huh,” I said; “and Bob Dylan’s, like… he’s holding up these…”

“Cue cards,” Trish said.

“I guess. Yeah. And my mom starts laughing.”

“Laughing?” Phillip and Trish and Bucky and Ray all asked.

“Yeah, laughing; and… I mean, not even Suellen’s laughing. No one’s laughing.”

“Because it’s Dylan,” Trish said, serious and indignant.

“Yeah, Bob Dylan; but, pretty soon, someone else starts laughing. And then more people are laughing; and then everyone’s laughing. And Bob Dy… Dylan, he just keeps dropping the cards. And…”

By this time, in the kitchen, I was also laughing. Phillip started to laugh. Ray, studying Bucky’s face, joined in the laughter. Then Bucky looked over at his girlfriend, maybe thought for a moment about how he didn’t see “The Endless Summer” at ‘State,’ with Bruce Brown personally narrating, and he laughed.

And then the wax exploded.

Forward, Downward, Sideways-Down

NOTE: I reposted this in order to add a new illustration. The latest addition to realsurfers is the story and illustration on an encounter with James Arness at San Onofre in 1967.  Maybe I’ll repost that in order to get it to the top of the site.

I once bragged, and even believed
I could remember every wave I’d ridden up to that point.
Now they (the memories) are waves, waves of waves, and lulls,
and if I remember one or more from a particular time;
the first one, the one I rode in on, the one on which I couldn’t help but laugh,
hoot, arch my back as I ride, in equal parts,
across, forward and sideways-down.
Moments, waves of moments.


Ah, but I also believe there’s song, music and words,
slightly out of the rhythm,
instant, too fast, out of control, sideways-down.
Waves of sound and a bit of broken verse.
At volume loud enough to recall.

Marshall Dillon and ‘Fish’ Share a San Onofre Fire

 I WILL ALWAYS BELIEVE that James Arness seemed a little upset that I didn’t recognize him at the very moment that, looking way up, thinking about what deep wrinkles this man had, I did recognize him as Marshall Dillon, Mr. Gunsmoke.

Maybe it was because my expression changed from one of appreciation to one he recognized, one he came to San Onofre to get away from; the vapid fan-stare of image-induced bedazzlement.

“You can have the fire, kid,” he said, ducking to step into his 1967 model of a recreational vehicle; “hopefully your friends will be back soon.”

That’s the short version.

Yes, it’s another San Onofre story. But, first, I’d like to reiterate that I don’t believe my stories are better than yours. In fact, I think anyone who started surfing in his or her teens, begging someone for a ride to the beach; moving up to going with friends rather than parents, finding friends scatter after high school, finding new friends, surfing among strangers, all the while trying to figure out how to move from flailing to succeeding against and with waves, how to be a grownup. Sure, we all have stories.

These are just mine. You can’t help but compare them with yours.


On this occasion I was riding with Mark Metzger and Billy McLean, younger brother to Don McLean, who is our age but didn’t stick with surfing for very long.  And Mark was trying to give me a new nickname. With a name like Erwin Dence, Jr., commonly called “Junior” at my house, it doesn’t take much. Erwinkle, Erweenie, Dense.

Oddly, none of my friends really had nicknames, not in the Windansea-gotta-have-one-to-be-cool sense.  We did call Ray Hicks ‘H-I-X’ for a while (another Mark Metzger idea), mostly because it bothered him, and Phillip Harper ‘Felipe,’ after noted big wave surfer Felipe Pomar, but, again, not for very long. Last names, as we were referred to by various high school coaches, that was about it.

There was older surfer Bucky Davis; I can’t be sure I ever heard his actual given name.

Still, Mark was determined that, since I seemed to stay in the water longer than anyone else, I should be renamed “Fish.” “No; don’t really like it.” “Fish doesn’t like his nickname, Billy. Too bad. Fish.”

I’m not sure I was actually asked if I wanted to get out of the water before my driver and shotgun rider took off onto Camp Pendleton proper, “The Base” in local offbase jargon. Billy and Don’s father was a civilian firefighter, a necessary workforce as brush fires have always been a sort of yearly event in the fall/Santana wind season.

Somewhere Fish got cold, hypothermic-short-john-wetsuit-in-winter-cold, and got out of the water. No friends, no car, no towel, no clothes.

I headed toward a small fire near the RV parked on the hard-packed dirt road.

Sharing of the beach fire was common. My sister Suellen was the firestarter/tender often in our Tamarack days, cold kids gathering there, talking surf and swearing occasionally, just learning to string several phrases together. Somewhat embarrassing to me, it was something Suellen seemed deaf to. Kids.

This fire seemed to be tended by a really big, really tall man. Not a talker, really; but I rattled off my situation. “Uh huh,” he said, moving things into his RV. And then he was gone, and I crouched down, shifting my focus between the fire, the waves, and the road.

Of course I acted as if I’d never been cold when Mark and Billy returned.

“Marshall f___ing Dillon of f____ing ‘Gunsmoke?’ Really, Fish?”

“Yeah; honest.”

About this time, my companions would have lit up, offered me a smoke. This was a common practice among any grouping of my surf friends; an offer I always declined until… okay, different story, though somewhat San Onofre-related; my first cigarette was, um, experienced in the backseat of a car headed up old 101 from an overnight stay on someone’s uncle’s boat in Oceanside Harbor (I think it was Dana Adler’s). Since I already had a splitting headache from the fumes (I had actually thought I would die in my sleep), a said, “Hell, yes.” “Really?”

Still, I couldn’t help but think my being offered a cigarette was yet another example of how sinners want to share in the sin. Thanks, buddies.

But, back at the beach on this trip, Mark couldn’t help but tell me how “You missed a great breakfast. Fish.” “And you missed Marshall f___ing Dillon, Metzger. Got a f____ing smoke?”

Oh, yeah; wild and sinful. “And don’t call me Fish; f___er.”

By this time I was warm enough to consider going back out.


Seahawks Hangover

There’s no surf in the forecast, but I’m planning on some sort of surf trip. It’s as cold as it gets on the Olympic Peninsula, and I’m about to get past the previous football season. Just, not yet. Not quite yet.

The big game’s over; we won. Still, we can’t get enough. We watch highlights, stay up to watch Russell Wilson on Letterman, munching on the leftovers of chips and dips, wondering if we still have a few buffalo wings, think about the possibility of going to Seattle for the victory parade.

[update; didn’t go, but over 750 thousand other screaming fans did, and I listened to a lot of it on the radio while working, watched taped highlights last night]

We are so unfamiliar with this feeling, evidently the thrill of victory.  

I may have made too much of a deal out of how Trish might be the worst person to watch a Seahawks game with. Sure, she does actually run into the bedroom when any other team gets even close to getting a score, does yell “Nooooooo!” or “How can they be so stupid?” or “Oh, that’s it; it’s over,” sometimes several times during a game, even if our team is only a few points behind. Yes, she does have a tendency to blame herself, or me, or some official, or some twisted part of the greater Fates when things look bleak.

And, yes, she does get loud and proud when our team pulls ahead (and any opponent is never far enough ahead to positively avoid a comeback). “I’m passionate,” she’ll explain; “What’s wrong with you?”

Well; I do have a fear of publicly sobbing; and I do buy into every sport-related story, ready to tear up at previews.

Trish and I (and all real fans) did endure incalculable stress over the protracted break between the nailbiter with the 49ers and the Superbowl, constantly checking with the NFL Network, ESPN, any national (understanding local bias) news outlet that had any sports commentator who would give the underdog Seahawks a chance against the perfect Peyton and, oh yeah, his team of Manning support staff.

I did try to go surfing Sunday morning, to get away from the stress; listening to NPR instead of KIRO, their pre-game coverage having started the previous Wednesday. By the time I got halfway back, I just had to listen to people who would actually predict a Seahawks victory. 27-24 seemed to be the average score.

And, close to game time, already working on heartburn and creating future problems related to downing five or eight deviled eggs and almost tasting five or seven buffalo wings, I was positioned in front of the flat screen. And, because my father-in-law was a lifetime sports fan, we positioned his ashes on a TV table with a view, and, his daughter having already promised to try to maintain her sense of coolness (after all, we were not favored to win, so, why worry?), we prepared to watch the game. Calmly, coolly.

Then the game started.

The image of the first snapped ball whizzing past, the startled expression on Peyton Manning’s face, this will long be freeze-framed in our memories. WOW!

By the time the Seahawks, Denver still scoreless, seemed to recover yet another fumble… NO! That’s Too Much!

No, it wasn’t too much. Though some would say it was a boring, one-sided blowout, Trish and I would say, agreeing with some suddenly-Seahawks fans in the National media, “It was great!”

No tears, and may the hangover last until at least the next pre-season.

And Trish is still my favorite person to watch anything with.




Lawrence Bachus-                                                                                                   

Balled-up, compressed, I feel my feet touch the familiar, algae and eel grass-covered rock ledges. Just freed from the turbulence, the swirling, the rolling; I push up, burst through the already-thinning layer of foam, half my body sprung into the air.  I’m laughing, even before I take a breath.  My trusty nine-nine noserider is floating, dirty wax-side-up, only a few feet away.  Walking toward it, I think, for a second, how the water is alive; velvety, silky-warm, like the last south swells of August, but without that deteriorating dead seaweed, day-old-gumbo-on-the-stove-feel.

Still, when I exhale, blow out, it’s a half-liquid half-cough, with a sort of bad-sinuses kind of taste.  It’s like when I used to smoke.  And then- I breathe in, out- it’s gone.  I crawl onto my board.

Mid-afternoon, it’s almost a maximum low tide. Only a few clouds, spread and distant, are visible; clouds that will help form the night-and-morning-overcast typical of the local coast in summer.  The waves here have always been faster, hollower at low tide.  Only about one in three, in these conditions, connect from the outside break to… to here, close to what would be, in bigger surf, the channel on the far side of the inside break.

The flow toward high tide will match the flow toward sunset, and will give more push to an increasing swell.  At least that’s surfer-theory.  The waves are my idea of perfect, three feet on the shoulder, five at the peak.  It doesn’t seem crowded, though, and as I paddle over each swell, I can see clumps of surfers, bobbing, waiting for a set wave.

It’s obviously that lull, the onshores slacking, but the water not yet glassy.  The surface is rippled, or, maybe, dappled, dappled like the Depression glass Janet collects, with tiny little concaves, translucent mini-waves; but here, this surface is moving.  I watch the waves peeling toward me from my right. The surge of energy that is a wave moves through the indentations, lifting, evening them .Another line, a mound, rises, leans forward until the light breaks through the smooth thin top, like crystal, millions of shades on near-white, curling, spilling forward.

Oh, god; listen to me.  Concentrate, Lawrence. 

All the little surf kids, all the high school surf jocks, are still in school.  The after-work crewmembers are looking at their watches, anxious to fit in a few waves between deadlines, and due dates, and scheduled meetings; oh, and families.  But me- I’m sort of stupidly/blissfully paddling out toward my favorite old lineup spot.

I look toward the beach.  “Jan! Janet! Jan-net!” Of course she can’t hear me.  She’s walking away, almost to the stairs.  She sets something down- blue, glass, reflective- on the second step, picks up a towel she’d left there, wraps it around her waist.  She’s wearing a sweater.  Odd.  She turns toward the water for a second.  I sit, turn the board toward shore.  I wave, wave with both hands.  She turns back toward the stairs.  Glare.  She couldn’t see me for the glare.

I’d forgotten how the ocean, when the waves are worth mentioning, sounds.  It’s not that roar-lull-roar, counting the seconds between, like the clock with the surfing picture Jan gave me, the one in my inner office.  It’s a steady sound; more like the sound of tires, not-fully-inflated, on gravel. At least that’s the sound I sort of mentally recorded the last time I was up on the bluff, looking over at this place, my favorite-of-all-time spot.  That was…trying to remember… a while ago.  The wind, and there wasn’t much, coming up the cliff… I had had to squint, my eyes had watered-up so. 

It’s not really an inner office.  It’s just a, you know, office.

There is a ‘crack’ sort of sound, occasionally, when the first wave of a set breaks.  Breaks. I never realized how much imagery there is in that word.  The wave breaks, shatters as the energy slams into, submits to the rock ledges… breaks.  I’m paddling again, along the edges, the shoulders of the waves, effortlessly- left, right, pull, balanced on the board, already at the inside peak.  It’s usually almost as big as the outside break, and, when the outside waves section off, close out, it’s a good place to… shoulder hop.

I was always a shoulder-hopper.

Someone is knee-paddling behind, then beside, then next to me; faster, easier, though I seem to be doing fine.  I had watched him on his last ride.  When two surfers took off in front of him, he…it was pretty amazing, actually.  He turned off the bottom, went almost straight up, floated, side-slipped, right on past the two clueless kooks with their butts out and their arms posed like frozen crossbars. “Surfin’!”

I had looked right at him as he rode toward me.  My chest off the deck, both hands on the rails, ready to turn turtle if…  I probably looked a little too jazzed to be cool.  Well, his expression suggested I had gotten a little too… exuberant.  He turned way too close to me, sprayed me with the rooster-tail (once a clever metaphor, now standard surf jargon), and laughed as he rode on.

Now he’s looking over at me as both of us paddle.  It’s like when someone in another lane, in heavy freeway traffic, going the same speed, looks a split second too long, maybe gives an empathetic shrug; then looks back, resets a serious, late-for-something face.  He’s on a long board, too; not so unusual for an old guy like me, but he is… probably about eighteen, nineteen; looks, and I thought this even the first time I saw him, exactly like Peter… Peter Holden, my old friend from high school. Actually, acquaintance is more like it; he was in the hot surfer crowd.

Peter had,,, of the people I knew; Peter was the first to…die. Dead. This kid…

“Didn’t you see me?” I ask the Kid, instantly realizing why I never became cool.  He just nods, paddles quickly beyond me, toward the outside break. He stops paddling, throws both legs out, sits down on the back half of his board, looks at me, spins the front of his board to the left.  Using the backward thrust and the bounce-back, on his stomach now, the Kid glides toward the smaller group of surfers in the lineup for the inside break.

Balanced on his knees again, but not moving, he watches me as I approach.

The inside break.  Still, at this tide, the palm tree, not much taller, roots dug into the cliff, and the telephone pole at the far end of the parking lot are lined-up; and so am I.

Janet Gilmore Bachus-

            I have to stop here.  A second.  Got to… catch… my breath.  I used to be able to, to climb the whole way, even… run it.  That was the old stairs; same formation, though; four steps, landing; twenty-four, this landing.  There used to be a sign carved into a railing board, here, that said, “Old farts stop here.” The old stairs.  From here…breathe… from here you can look straight out at the surf.  Lawrence was always, once I recognized his surfing style, easy to spot, even in a crowd. His legs were spread and bent, like springs.  He called it a ‘fight or flight’ stance, like he was ready for whatever the wave did. I thought he was like a matador; ready. Then, sometimes, he’d just be standing, stretched out, one hand in the wave.

 Kind of cocky I thought. Way cooler than he was out of the water. 

It’s twenty-six more, slight landing; thirty more to the very top.  The top.

Okay.  I’m going.  It seems like, when we lived here, I used to always recognize someone in the parking lot.  Even on crappy days, with storm surf or no surf at all, one or more of those people like… breathe… lift your leg… people like Lawrence.  Always here, people who just can’t keep from looking at the ocean, can’t help imagining being out there.  Someone like that was always there, just watching, mind surfing. 

            Didn’t think it’d be this tough.  Not just the stairs, the whole ordeal.  Oh. Susan.  “Susan, you came down.  I…I did it, but, here, take this.  It’s not… empty; not quite. Susan. Susan; I couldn’t.” I look up the remaining stairs.  “Where’s your brother?”

            “Waiting, in the car,” my daughter says. 

            Sure.  Of course.  “Give me a… minute.  I’m…ah… breathing.”  I laugh. Susan doesn’t.   “A minute.”

            “Sam wants to go,” she says. “He says we can go wherever you want to eat.”

            “Sure.” Susan follows my hand, looks out into the water.  “Your father used to stay out… hours,” I say; “never seemed to get cold.”

            “Uh huh,” Susan says.

Lawrence- “I used to be a local,” I say to the guy sitting closest to me in the lineup, the guy in the wetsuit with the blown-out knee.  Torn Wetsuit Guy, he’s sitting near Goatee Guy and, um, Sunburn Guy. He doesn’t respond.  Hell, these guys have to know each other, and they’re not even talking among themselves. It’s that ghetto/gang mentality, like human contact in the water will…The Kid… I’ll call him Peter; might as well; Peter emits a fake cough, obviously intended to sound like a fake cough, then chuckles, nods at me when I look over. 

            “Local, huh? Sure. That would have been… when?” Before I can answer, Peter says, “I did see you.” He pauses for a little longer than would seem appropriate. “On that last ride.  Wasn’t sure you saw me.”

            The three Guys, each aware of an outside set at the same time, quickly drop to their bellies and paddle out and to the right.  Peter stays put.  He’s gauging the first wave.  He turns, watches Sunburn Guy, too far out, too far over, arms flailing, miss catching it. Peter spins his board, ready to take off, looks over at me, throws both hands out and toward me.  “It’s yours,” the gesture says.

“Mine? Shit!” I’m paddling furiously, almost afraid to look back.  The shadow, the lift.  Paddle, fool!

There’s a moment, at the top of a wave, when a simple leaning forward, maybe putting some weight on the hand you’ll push up with, makes the difference between taking-off, missing the wave, or going over-the-falls.  Your board starts dropping, the wave dropping out below you.  The current phrase is ‘throwing yourself over the edge,’ or ‘the ledge,’  or, more simply, ‘committing.’ 

It’s really just a simple shift in balance at the right moment.  This over-examining, expanding on one moment, is a little, um, ‘precious.’  That’s what my old boss would have said.  “Precious.”

I’ll ponder this tendency to give too much weight to trivial events later.  I’m not thinking now. Joyfully so; relying on muscle memory… something.  I take off, but late.  The drop is too steep, too quick. I belly-board, leaning into the wave, side-slipping, probably yelling because… because I’m on it; in it, riding, full tilt, leaning in, pulling in, twenty-nine colors of clear, blue-green crystal spinning over my head; speed and sound and color.  I may be screaming.  “Surfin’!”

 Definitely screaming.  I don’t stand up until I clear the first section, and then, clumsy, labored, slow, I rise, catch my balance, careful, careful, well back of the middle of the board.  Trying, cautiously, to set up for a pitching section, crouching, I catch a rail and, again, I’m tumbled, inside the wave and under the water, tucked into a fetal position, hands over my head in a move both instinctive and practiced.

Sunburn Guy is on the next wave, pumping his short board furiously, making three moves when one smooth one would be enough.  He doesn’t see me, standing in thigh-deep water, my board resting on the green, exposed reef farther in.

“Hey!” I dive to the right at the last second.

On the next wave, Torn Wetsuit Guy, too far over, falls, top-to-bottom, on the takeoff.  Peter spins and takes off from the shoulder, fades left, bank-turns off the advancing lip, stalls at the bottom, sets up, walks to the nose as his board climbs the wall.  I don’t know how a wave can be so green at its core, so transparent at the curl, so Laguna-Beach-school-of-art.  Yet, Peter is a shadow in the glow, casual, barely moving, his back foot changing the pressure slightly, subtly.  It’s glide to side-slip, step back, a turn off the bottom, all still well forward of the middle of the board, head-dipping into that last little closeout section.  His board pops out.  I grab it.

Peter stands, spins water out of his hair, blinks water out of his eyes. “Late 60’s?”

“What?  Yeah.  Sorry.  I’m just surprised you’re…”

“Talking to you?”

“Yeah.  Great ride.  Sorry.  I mean, um, like, good ride.  I moved away in the seventies… work; but I came back in…”

“Ninety, ninety-one; a few times after that.  Visiting, I’d guess.”

“Yeah. Wait. What?”

He’s paddling away. I turn, sink the tail, pull forward. When Peter slides to his knees, I follow suit, surprised at how easy it is, painless; how my legs and arms move…together. 

I’m almost yelling, “Yeah.  Ninety-five was the last time, but I did do some surfing in… we took a vacation to… Hawaii; I went to, you know, some tourist beaches.  Rented board.”

I almost run into him when he moves from a kneeling to a sitting position.

“It’s funny,” I’m thinking, or saying, not sure, “when someone reminds you of someone, you automatically…” I drop to a prone position, my hands deeper in the water. Yes, I am speaking. “You automatically think that person will respond like the…”

“Always wanted to surf Hawaii,” he says, “Went through there once.”  

Janet- We haven’t cleared the parking lot and I’m already looking back. “Look, Sam,” I say, “there used to be a restaurant your Dad and I’d go to.  It’s close.  I… I know we, we have to get back before…”

            “Your flight,” Sam says.

            “Plenty of time, Mom.”  That’s Susan, with me in the back seat. She’s holding a little too tightly to my arm.  And I’ m holding too-tightly to hers.

            “Maybe we’ll just go to the 7-Eleven over by the freeway,” my son says, “Isn’t that what Dad used to treat you to?”

            “Shutup, Sam.”

            “Sometimes we’d go to the A&W.  They had car-hops.  Car-hops; they were… nevermind. Long time ago.”

Lawrence- Torn Wetsuit Guy has gone in.  Goatee Guy is looking for a last wave.  The clouds have advanced, filled-in, closed ranks.  Kids on shortboards, toys, really, and people off-work, and folks who think of surfing as not much more than a workout are scattered from the outside break to- turning to look- as far down the beachbreaks, as far down the bluffs, golden, glowing, as I can see.  More people are, finally, going in than are coming out.   The sky at the horizon is… it’s colorless.  The color hits in the final half hour before and the first half hour after sunset.  The deepest parts, the cores of the advancing waves, are already black, the upper reaches almost purple.  A painting of this would look unreal.  Not like, “unreal, man!”  Unreal as in not real, not true to our memories.

In between rides, and I am doing better by the wave, Peter had… we talked. His voice was… who can remember a voice?  “The water,” he just asked, “Does it feel cold to you?”

            “No, it feels warm.”  I look down.  “Seems pretty clear.”          

“The red tide, though; it’s coming in.  On the tide.  It’s… See, to you, it’s like a dream.  You don’t feel the Santa Ana’s about to kick in.  You know the tide’s rising, but you don’t feel the upwelling.  It’ll cloud the water… it’s plankton, and… stuff.  After dark, the soup, the breaking waves, even, they’ll glow.”

            “That’s bio… bioluminescence.  It’s science.”

            “Ewww, science.”

            “Yeah.  Um.  I’m, uh, sorry; you seem so familiar.  I mean, sorry; I’ve been staring, probably. It’s rude, but… you remind me… a friend in high school who… oh, he was a good surfer. I was… I was trying to be.”

            Peter looks outside, scans the horizon.  The others are sitting on their boards, waiting in the almost glassy water.  He looks back, moves his feet, his board rotating until he’s close, facing me.  “We weren’t really friends, though; were we, Lawrence?” There’s a pause. He’s waiting and I’m… I’m not processing. What? Think. What? He waits until I close my mouth, and smiles.  “Lunchbox.  Your nickname. Lawrence ‘Lunchbox’, um, a second… Bachus.” He laughs. “Oh, I get it. Lunchbachus.”

            I’m not laughing.

Janet- Susan is looking inside the decanter.  It’s glass, brilliant blue- dark, on the purple side- her father’s favorite color.  “It’s depression glass,” I say.  “Your father’s favorite color.” I add, “Mine, too.”

            “Mom,” Susan says, then hands the decanter, but keeping a hold on the stopper, to her brother.  We’re at a traffic light.  He looks inside, shakes his head, gives out one of those “Sheesh” sounding things, hits the accelerator.

            “You know,” he says, “Decanters are for wine… usually.”

            “It was a joke between your father and me; the…”

            “So, this all was what he wanted. And you…” Sam’s slows his words, “…came back here… to…”

            “I couldn’t.  I told you, I couldn’t.”   I couldn’t.  “Not everything. Not all of it. Why do you even care?”

Lawrence- “You’re not the…first to see me,” Peter says, scanning the other surfers now jockeying for position near us. “Them. They’re…” He makes sure I’m looking at him, as if some expression of his might clear my confusion. “They’re, like, on a different… zone; a, um, different… time; yeah; time is different for them.”

“But,” I say, four or five surfers in my peripheral vision, “you said others have…”

“Yeah. Well; the others would stay awhile. They’ve… all gone…on, somewhere.         

“You’re a… ghost?”

Peter seems a little disappointed. He looks away. I’m thinking; trying to think.  “Boo!”

            I can barely respond.  Things are clicking. No, not yet.

“Maybe,” Peter says, “Maybe I am a ghost.  I can’t think about it too much.”

            “But you,” I say, “You were…Peter… I remember that you, you joined the Marines because you were older, going to get drafted.  What do you remember?”

            “Running,” He looks around, then back. “Running; not away from something.  Charging.  Screaming.  I was out of ammo but I kept pulling the trigger.  Running.  I told you, Lawrence, I… I can’t remember more.  Or won’t.  Those who do…”

            There’s a wave. Empty. I take it, get a short ride. I’m straining to remember how I got here as I paddle back out to where Peter is sitting, looking toward the cliff.

“Maybe this is, for me, heaven,” he says.  “I don’t know.  My mother… she knows where I am .I see her sometimes, on the cliff, on the stairs. She’s alive, if you…  She’ll only go so far down.  And I, I never go too far up.  The parking lot.  The edge, near the cliff. That’s it; nowhere I can’t see from the water.”

            “You say, ‘others,’ like you,” I say, more a question. “And other people have seen you?”         

“See that old guy over there on the yellow board?”       

“The guy with the scar?  Yeah.  Is he…like you?  Is he a…?”

            “Ghost? No.” Peter can’t seem to help laughing.  “But he is an asshole.   Brian Hanson.  He was a grade behind you.  Cheated on his wife.  Nancy. ‘Nice Nancy.’  He used to meet up with some chick here.  He…” 

            “Brian Hanson,” I say, loud enough to carry. Louder, “Brian Hanson.”

            Brian Hanson, of course, doesn’t respond.  Asshole that he is, he wouldn’t even if he did hear his name called out.

            “Lawrence,” Peter says, looking sideways at another approaching wave, Brian Hanson and two others stroking hard to catch it, “What do you remember?”

JANET-   Susan got into the front seat with her brother when I got out. I hurried to the guardrail at the edge of the bluff.  I’m just frozen here, looking out.  There never was the brilliant sunset that I’d promised them; just a line at the horizon, white almost, burnt orange, maybe, at the ends.  The water is silver, though, shimmering, moving.  A few surfers are still out, bobbing in the, um, shimmer.   

“Lawrence,” I say to the shimmer, “Sam says I have to… closure, he says, your request, he says; and, oh; and I…” I can’t help but laugh. “You’d laugh, Lawrence; your silly wife left your favorite decanter in Sam’s car.”    

I look around. My children are arguing. Sam, Sam won’t even turn off the engine.

“Your son,” I say to the thin line of clouds at the horizon.

Lawrence- I have too many questions.  Yeah, I remember some things.  I try to remember my own pain.  Can’t.  I look at my left hand, move my arm.  Peter swirls his hand in the water, lifts it, lets water drip out of it. 

“What about after dark?” I ask.  Where do you, I mean… what about dark?”

            “I can see fine.  Can’t you?”  I can.  He looks up at the cliff.  High tide has passed by now.  The swell is just strong enough to allow the waves to continue to break.  We’re lined up closer to the rocks, closer to the beach.  I can see the palm tree, but not the telephone pole; silhouettes against the unseen street lights in the parking lot. 

“You married Janet, Janet Gilmore… Janet from another planet.  Right?”

            “Um, yeah.  Janet.  Peter.  Coach Walters used to love to call your name.  ‘Holden, Peter.  Holden Peter.’  Remember?”  As he did then, Peter doesn’t respond.  At all.  Or maybe a slight head shake; disappointment.  I follow his eyes, where they’re looking; up.  There she is, leaning over the guard rail that didn’t used to be there. Ja JaJnet, Janet from another planet.  She’s looking right at us.  I turn back, look for a wave.  I need a wave.  Yes.  I take off, ride it until I hit the beach.  I drag my board up to the high sand.

            Peter takes off on the next wave, rides it straight in, leaves his board in the water.  He says something, words louder as I run toward the stairs.  “I have questions, Lawrence.  If you don’t…  Do you know what happened to…”  His voice is lost in the general noise; the grating and grinding and a wave breaking outside, a jet high overhead, a seagull, cars pulling out of the parking lot, people in their houses.  My feet on the stairs are silent, though.  I take two at a time.

Janet- “I did what you wanted, Lawrence.”  Again, I feel like laughing.  Not because I’m silly. I’m rarely silly.  I never did quite do what he wanted.  Not all of what he wanted.  Ever.  “I had to hold on to some… keep part of you… with me.  Lawrence?

Lawrence-I know.”  I’m so close to her, but I can’t… feel her hand.  She shudders, but not from the touch.  

She’s real.  She’s here. Beyond her, outside Sam’s car, Susan is saying something, trying to grab Sam.  He runs toward his mother, pouring something out of my favorite wine decanter into his hand.  Some of it leaks out, onto the pavement.  He throws the rest.  Straight at me.  Janet turns.  Too late.  The decanter hits her arm. I try to catch it; reflex. It drops, shatters.  Janet looks at the blue, broken glass, at Sam.  Susan, even with her brother now, is looking at me, her mouth open as if about to shriek.

Jeez; I’m about to shriek. 

Janet follows our son’s eyes, turns around. Sam is looking at me, saying, “What? What?”

Janet- The lighter ashes are…caught in the air, hanging, suspended, forming… W  What? I gasp, inhale; cough. I see Lawrence, only younger. Only, just for a briefest moment. “Lawrence,’ I say to the now-empty space. I hear a cracking sound.  In the water.  There’s this glow… a breaking wave, with a… a… someone is on it; has to be.  All I can see is the trail, the broken wave.  “It’s glowing.”  I say this to Sam and Susan, each staring at the other. “Lawrence,” I say this to the glow.

Lawrence- “Bioluminescence. It’s science,” I say. “I’m here.”  The red tide has come in.  The Santa Ana’s are moving the trees seaward, the clouds back.  My son scoops up the last of the broken glass, puts it in the cardboard serving tray from the place that replaced the A&W his mother and I used to go to.  The bottom of the decanter, like a rough-edged ashtray- that shouldn’t be funny- is intact.  Sam looks at his mother, his eyes filled with tears.  I wasn’t a good father.  I know that’s what he thinks- always gone, always working.  Like him, now.   He runs for the stairs and down. 

Time passes at just exactly the same speed as always.

            I touch Janet’s cheek, at that little bit of gray ash between her lips and nose. The tear continues down her face. I stand beside my wife and daughter.  Somewhere in this time I tell my wife how much I hope, hope I hadn’t… disappointed her. “All I ever wanted…” I start to say more, but… don’t.   I watch her, circle around her, wonder if she feels me there.

Sam returns, winded, with sand from my favorite beach in the bottom of the broken decanter.  He puts that into the cardboard tray with the broken glass and the tiniest bit of ashes his sister had regathered.  “Not ashes,” Sam says. “Just sand.”  Susan holds the tray, a memento, her other hand on her mother.  

More time passes; slower, maybe. The street lights hold back a darker dark. Stars, muted by the thickness of an empty coastal sky, start to shine like…like… usual.

They have to go. Susan lives elsewhere. We…Janet doesn’t live here anymore.

“The ocean was always the other woman,” Janet says to our children at Sam’s car, the engine still running. They get in.

They all look right at me, afraid to take one step farther from the railing, as Sam takes one last turn around a parking lot empty except for the one or two folks who always seem to be around here.

After they leave, after they’re gone, I look over the cliff, over the ledge, and, feeling how the coolness of the slight updraft meets the offshore breeze, I let go.