A Couple Chapters from “Swamis”

 

“It’s just… um… you were rude.” Jerk looked like he might apologize; or, worse, cry.

I’m trying to move forward with the novel, but my time for working on it is limited, and every time I start, I seem to start at the beginning; and when I’m working on my other projects, like making actual money at my actual work (house painting), I seem to get caught up in how the plot is going to go.

I run so many scenarios through my mind; so many choices; and when I go with one, I have to go back to earlier pages; clues, building blocks. The result of changing and editing is, if I publish what I have written, I can’t really ask readers to go back and reread.

SO, I’m hoping this portion is pretty much complete; AND I’m starting it with something from the immediately-previous chapter. So….

 

“Hey,” I said, taking Dave’s towel off his board, handing it to Jerk. “My dad made me go. It’s really… it’s Devil Pups. Marines. Didn’t want to go.” I stood aside, opening the ramp. “We’re going to go surfing now.” I took the towel back, handed it to Dave. He took it with a shrug. “Just, um; you’re okay, huh?”

Jerk nodded. We walked on.

“Hope he doesn’t cry,” Dave said. “Your dad would’ve… I mean; if you ever even started to… to tear up; he’d of…” As we reached the sand, the sun way too close to the horizon, Dave ran next to me, looked closely at my face.

I wasn’t crying, quite, but I was not thrilled. I wasn’t sorry. I’m pretty sure I smiled, maybe even laughed. “Devil Dogs!” I ran for the water, didn’t look back at the bluff until I was knee-deep. The sun bounced back at me off windows, car windows, house windows. Silhouettes. Maybe one of them was Ginny, I thought. Maybe I was wrong.

Dave caught a wave before I did.

MONDAY, JULY 21- MAN ON THE MOON

This was the day after man first walked on the moon. I had surfed. Somewhere; maybe Stone Steps; trying to find a little peak in the peak of Summer; summer and all that meant in a Southern California beach town recently isolated by the completion of I-5.

There was talk, at that time, of the North County beach towns (Leucadia, Encinitas, Cardiff-by-the-Sea, Del Mar) suffering when 101 was no longer the main coastal north-south route. Whether they did or didn’t depends on your interpretation of ‘suffering.’

In the still images and video (and, actually, film) clips that are stored in my memory, there was (though I may have imagined it there) a TV in the front of the classroom, black and white only, set on an AV cart, tuned to the non-stop coverage of the moon landing.

A Woman entered, looked at the fifteen or so grownups and almost-grownups scattered around the classroom, each with a stack of papers on individual desks that were exactly like the ones at Fallbrook High, and probably Vista, San Marcos, Escondido, Orange Glen, San Dieguito (those same beach towns); the districts that fed into the Palomar Junior College District. She looked at one of the papers in her left hand, erased “Biology 101” from the chalk board.

“Now,” she said, “now;” speaking louder when no one looked up after the first ‘now.’ “You people are right at the line; the cut off. Your choices… (louder) are limited. You may not get all the classes you wanted.”

Creative Writing; yes. And I wanted English 101. Yes, I had tested high enough to skip the remedial, non-credit English; I wanted… Art; yes, definitely. Basic Drawing. Two classes still open. 8am. Of course; too early for real artists. Monday, Wednesday. Okay. Being under eighteen (the cutoff might have been twenty-one at that time), I was required to take a Physical Education class. Fall Sports was closed. Badmitton. Really? Closed. Shit. Weight Training. Still open. No. Fuck. Okay.

Okay. A-okay.

I was pretty pleased, partly because I was there; here; signing up for ‘high school with ashtrays,’ junior college; college nonetheless. I was still writing, erasing, writing when Jumper Hayes entered the room, gave the Admissions Woman a big smile, which she seemed to appreciate. He surveyed the room, pointed toward the empty seat next to me (at the back of the room) with his rolled-up papers, and sat next to me. He scooted (noisily) his desk unit closer; like he wanted to cheat off me.

“Bagboy,” he whispered.

I scooted my desk away. Jumper followed.

The Admissions Woman looked around at the noise, but, again, only returned what I had to believe was another reassuring smile from Jumper. I feel compelled to mention that the Admissions Woman was probably about twenty-something, something under 25, and was, despite her pulled-back hair and Summery-patterned dress (no sleeves, no hose, tanned legs- I noticed, and no shoes) trying to seem a bit more professional, even stern, than she was able to quite pull off. She was rather like a substitute teacher trying to maintain in a room of recent high school graduates, professional students, draft dodgers, returning veterans.

“No shoes,” I thought, looking down at my huarache sandals. With socks. Socks. That wouldn’t happen again. No dress code here.

“Bagboy,” Jumper said; “I thought you were going to some big time University. Word is, what I heard is… you’re a brain.”

“No.”

“No? Okay. Maybe not. It’s not like it, brains, show. I mean… (looking at me a bit closer) I don’t see it.”

“I was… upstate… inland; not my idea; but…” I’m sure I smiled, despite myself. “Brain? Who would…?”

“One of those Avocado-lovin’, guacamole dip…dipshits; Bucky Davis, maybe; John Amsterdam; why would I remember? I’m not a brain…I’m not like you.”

Admissions Woman, taking a handful of papers from an older man; probably forty, at the door; looked at them, scratched Philosophy II and Beginning Photography from the chalkboard.

“Shit.”

“Philosophy II?”

“No, beginning photography.”

“Oh. Sure. And, incidentally, Amsterdam still hates you. Brand new Dewey Weber performer.” He shook his head, moved his hands to illustrate a board crashing on another board. “Got to hang on to your board, Bagger.” He paused. “You prefer Bagboy… or Bagger? Bagger sounds a little more…” He nodded, nearly winked. “Or Jody?”

“That… Amsterdam’s board; wasn’t me. Different Fallbrook punk, man. Jody, that was my dad’s joke.”

“Yeah. Sure. And Tony, at the market; he’s in on it.” He was nodding; I nodded.

“They were both in the Corps. Not that they knew each other then; Tony was only in Korea; but…”

“As was I. In the Corps. Not Korea. Or is it ‘As I was?’” Jumper saluted; quickly, crisply; properly. He looked over at my papers. “Different wars, man. You takin’ any English classes, um, neighbor?” When I looked back, he went back to nodding. “Wrong side of 101. Too bad. You probably have to go five blocks to get across, but… guess you’re a Leucadian now.  As far as I know, you and I; maybe… (he moved his hands back and forth in a balancing motion) Carson Holder; we’re probably the closest things to Grandview locals.” I blinked “So, well…”

When I determined nothing was following ‘well,’ I said, “beats living in Frog-butt; huh?”

Jumper laughed, looked at the woman from admissions, gave her another, bigger smile, kept it when he looked back at me. “So, guess you don’t have the horse anymore.” He let that hang for the moment it took for me to look around. “Any longer? No longer have the horse?”

He didn’t drop the smile. I’d love to think I didn’t seem surprised. Or rattled. Or angry. “No, we… the horse…” I restacked my papers, whispered, “Fuck you, Jumper;” scooted my desk away, again, a bit more noisily than I might have preferred. Jumper was still smiling.

“Oh. Sure; and the horse I rode in on.”

……………………………………………………EASY A
Jumper stood up, his desk unit like a skirt, walked closer to me. He slid his preliminary class schedule in front of me, pointed to Criminal Justice; pointed to the same title on my schedule. “I am going on Uncle Sam, though; G.I. Bill. Semper Fi, (whispered) motherfucker. Full ride, man.”

“It’s California… Man; free education. And, besides; I’m not interested in…”

“Easy A, Jody; and… (back to a whisper) Marine Corps; cops; it’s a family tradition. Isn’t it?”

I crumpled up the first and second versions of my schedule in my right hand, stuck my middle finger out and a little too close to Jumper’s face. Surprised at how instant my anger had been, how it was staying at that level, and how Jumper’s reaction continued to be a smile (“Insolence,” my father would have said); I pulled my hand back almost immediately, flattened-out what had been a fist, and slapped my hand on the papers to the desktop.

“If my father… I’m… everyone knows who my father was. If I…” I looked at my form. “I’m done, June, Juni, Junipero… Mr. Hayes. Fifteen units. Full load. Done.” I stood up, picked up and straightened the other pages. “I’m not fucking interested in being a…” I lowered my voice, looked around the room. No one was looking up from their papers. “…a fucking cop.”

“Marine Corps, then. Huh?”

“You know…” he just refused to drop that smile. “…You know, there’s really nowhere else to go after the ‘fuck you’ exchange.”

“I never said it.” “Okay. Bye.” “Did you hear about Gingerbread Fred?”

“What?”

“Dead. Gingerbread Fred is dead.” “No. I hadn’t…” “I’d have thought you would’ve… broken neck… Swamis… fell down the top part of the stairs. Supposedly. When we’re taking Criminal Science…” Now we were both standing. Jumper pointed his papers toward the front of the room. “Funny how it’s all, like, science, huh?”

The Woman erased Psychology 101 from the board just before I got to her. I looked at my form, I looked at Jumper Hayes. He still had the same smile, mouthing, “Easy A;” stepped in front of me, very close to the Admissions Woman. “We’re both taking Criminal Justice, Miss… (looking at her name tag) Julianna Goldsworthy (stretching out each syllable).” He stepped back, went into a sort of superhero pose. “Do I look like a cop, Julianna?”

Julianna seemed too, maybe, bedazzled to respond with more than a nod. And a smile; a smile she dropped when she turned toward me. “Family tradition,” I said, “Easy A.”

Jumper looked at me, looked at Julianna, at the TV, back at Julianna; “Big deal, huh; man on the moon and all?”

Julianna looked back at Jumper. Her smile, half as big as it had been, returned; but the nod seemed twice as enthusiastic.  She almost giggled. “Soooo cool. The moon! Historically (lowering her voice) fucking cool.”

“Uh huh,” Jumper said, sharing her little ‘oops’ expression. He stuck a fist out, shook it, said, “To the moon, Alice.” We three, and a couple of others listening-in, of course, got the allusion.

Jumper looked at me, me maintain a serious expression, turned back to Julianna Goldsworthy, motioned her a bit closer. “I want to find out who killed Chulo Lopez and Gingerbread Fred. Mr. Joseph DeFreine, Junior, here… DeFreine is a fancy to say ‘French’; you can call him Jody… probably; he wants to find out who really killed his father.”

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 16- NIGHT CLASSES

It wasn’t actually dark, just that empty, colorless sky, sunset shades fading. I was walking quickly, then running, on the sidewalks, past the blocks of classrooms, most unlit; a camera strap around one wrist, piece of paper in the other hand. “Should have scoped this out,” I said, probably out loud.

There were mostly older men in the first classroom with lights on and a door open. White-haired and conservatively dressed. “Photography Two?” “No, kid; real estate.” Laughs, two guys pointing to the next building over.

Everyone in the correct classroom seemed to know each other; standing around in small groups, some in those multi-pocketed news photographer coats; versions, I thought, of great white hunter jackets.  I looked down at my favorite vinyl windbreaker, now-faded red with a thick white stripe, selected because it had big pockets, pockets being an important part, evidently, of being or looking like a photographer.

Most of the Photography II folks were men; not as old as the potential realtors; but, I couldn’t help thinking, probably mostly interested in artistic nude photography. Artistic. Nude.

Then there was Ginny Cole; hair pulled back, a pretty-neutral-colored and oversized sweater and Levis, that large, gray-and-stained, possibly-canvas bag on the desk in front of her, waiting for some one to start the class; that Ginny Cold look on her face.

Not that I knew her.

I did know the look; the don’t-even-think-about-it expression probably necessary for a girl’s survival in the surfing community. Or any community.

Still, I sat in the desk next to her. She didn’t look around.

“It’s like a pervert convention,” I said. No response.

“The trenchcoats.” Pause. No response. I chuckled, scanning the room again. Virginia didn’t. “I surfed Pipes this morning… pretty good; came here from work (all the while I’m probably nodding like a fool). At the market. Cardiff. Got a great deal on grapes.” Nothing. “Seedless.” I thought I saw a bit of a smile, quickly dropped. “You get any waves?” No response. “They’re seedless; on sale.”

Virginia Cole turned, possibly just to make me stop talking. This time she had the ‘drop-dead-and-die’ look ready to go; possibly even moving to the ‘may-your-dick-fall-off-before-you-drop-dead-and-then-die’ look; but, just as she turned, as can happen in the hours after a person surfs, a stream of water, trapped in the sinuses, poured out of Ginny’s nostrils. She quickly brought a hand up to stop it.

She looked at her hand, looked at the puddle on the desk, looked at me. I don’t know if I was smiling. Sure, had to have been.

Her expression was almost a smile. “Seedless, huh?” It was a smile.

“Okay, class;” a voice from the front of the room announced, “time to pick a partner for the dark room.”

I took the neckerchief I had around my neck (part of my junior college-cool outfit), handed it to Ginny. She looked at it for a second, unraveled it, wiped her nose, her eyes on me. Green, yes; translucent. Then she reset her polite-but-serious face, dropped the neckerchief onto the puddle.

I raised the Yashica 35-millimeter camera, briefly considered pointing it toward Ginny.

“My mom, she bought from a Vietnam veteran at her work; he’s dying, maybe he’s died by now, of some, some unspecified disease. I think it might be syphilis. ‘So young,’ my mom said. ‘Fifty bucks,’ my dad said; more like a question. ‘Fifty bucks?’ ‘It’s for Junior,’ she said. ‘Guess it’s better than that Brownie,’ he said. So, it’s mine.”

I knew I was blathering; ridiculous. I almost wanted to see, again, her ‘drop dead’ expression. Though I never took the shot, that’s still my top Ginny Cole image.

………………………………………………….IN A DIFFERENT LIGHT

Something about a woman in a dark room; the lighting so different; highlights and profiles, a certain intimacy. Maybe I was a little too thrilled. This wasn’t a date.

I was worthless. When it was obvious I didn’t know my way around a darkroom, she took my camera, made sure it was rewound, opened the back, took out the roll of film, unfurled it, placed it into the tray of developer. “How did you even get into this class?”

“Beginning photography was full.” I just stood by. Soon, the first roll of film I would ever (watch/assist) develop was in the fixer. I had to piss. Desperately. I couldn’t leave. “You?”

“Me? What?” She didn’t understand what I tried to pass on to her with a shaking of the hands. “Me. Took it while I was in high school. It’s… possible. It’s allowed. Quit dancing.”

She looked at my feet. “No shoes?” I looked at her feet. Tan, brushed leather almost-hiking boots. Hush Puppies. “Shoes. Shoes. Good. I had some Hush Puppies; got them because Phillip, he had some. I kind of…” I put my hands on my knees. “Bowlegged. Sort of. I ran them over at the heels. They were… I liked them. You?”

She just shook her head. She nodded toward my roll of film. I gave her a look that requested her permission. She gave me a look that said, ‘yeah, dumbass, you can pick it up.’

I grabbed my roll from the tray, by the edges, held it up to the reddish lights; negatives, 35 millimeter white and black images of waves, of people, strangers, in the parking lot at Swamis; of Erwin and Phillip and Ray, my closest high school surfing friends, from the last time we all surfed together; Swamis beachbreak.

Ginny took the roll from me, hung it on the line with her five rolls of negatives; flowers, and that dark and heavy kind of iceplant, and palm trees and sunsets and clouds, and various groupings of the San Dieguito surf crowd in the Swamis parking lot.

The professor approached. “He’s had to figure out… he will… you don’t belong,” she said. “You can leave for a minute. Just… just stop dancing. Please.” I couldn’t. “Go; Junior; we’ll make some contact prints.”

“Uh huh,” like I knew what that meant. I avoided eye contact with the professor, side-stepped him and one of the big jacket guys.

“Virginia,” the professor said; “how many rolls this time?”

I looked back. Ginny was resetting her polite face as the professor approached her, but, for a second, maybe…maybe she seemed to be looking past him, actually seeing me, almost smiling; but then, there’s something about darkroom lighting… a different light.

…………………………………………………………….ARTSY

When I returned, slipping through the ante-room and the blinds of heavy plastic, into the chemical smell and red-tinged darkness, past the professor and other students, Ginny Cole was examining the drying negatives; her five rolls, my one.

“Are you taking this class just to save money on developing?”

“No. Uh, maybe; partially. It’s more like… yes.” She had four rolls hanging and one fully-developed roll on the counter, on a towel, dobbing the top side with the other half of the same towel. That’s the one I tried to look at. She pulled it up and away. Thirty-five-millimeter negative images.

I backed-off, threw my hands up in a ‘no contest’ gesture. “Secret stuff?”

“It’s just… it’s not that… it’s not secret. They’re nice enough to let me… should have developed these last semester. Not… not secret.”

“Okay. Not secret. Private. Sure. Private.”

The ‘private’ thing was too much to put between two people in a darkroom who really didn’t know each other. I looked around the room. Two Big Jackets and the professor were looking at what I caught as nudes. Sure. Private. One of the Jackets pulled out a magnifying glass. Another Jacket slapped him on the back.

I looked back at Ginny. “Artistic,” I said. She looked at the men, back at me, shook her head. “Pervert convention.”

“Yeah. Artsy.” Ginny picked up and held the roll, by the edges, backlit. There was a shot of someone blocking the path at Beacons with a board. It was me. Oh.

“Oh,” I said.

“Telephoto lens,” she said. “You should get one.”

“Uh huh,” I said, checking the other shots, one a closeup of the Jerk looking up, blood (white on the acetate) on his nose and mouth.

“It’s not like you’re my hero or anything.”

“No,” I said. “Telephoto. Have to get one.” She handed my neckerchief back to me. I looked at it, looked at her. “Perfect,” I thought. “I’m not a narc,” I said.

 

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