The latest on my the event at the PORT TOWNSEND PUBLIC LIBRARY, 6pm, Thursday, March 5: Surfer/Librarian Keith Darrock and I discussed this, and, of course, surfing, th other day. He offered me a certain dollar amount, a stipend (meaning not much) for reading something at what has always been slated as COWBOY POETRY. He asked if I wrote my piece, “Never Was a Cowboy” specifically for the event. Yes. Oh. Well, maybe they could increase the stipend (not, like, double). Oh, but I want to read something from “Swamis,” and I’ve been working as much as possible to get through a total manuscript edit/rewrite, and I’m, right now (but not the other day) up to 100 pages of what Microsoft tells me is 248. Oh. Yeah. So, the deal is, if I can read from both, I’ll take the lesser amount. Agreed. Meanwhile, I’m posting more from “Swamis” here. Now. The pages here immediately precede the previous posting. What? Yeah, if I do this a bit at a time, I could get to the beginning of the novel by… oh, let’s say, March 5, 6pm. And then, when someone comes across “Swamis,” it’ll make sense to them. Although the library event is not Erwin-centric, I will have some art pieces, maybe some Original Erwin t-shirts available there, plus, still, the chance to invest in a limited edition unexpurgated (except by me) complete manuscript for one hundred dollars.
So, more respect than hate.
RESPECT AND THE SECOND TIER
“Chulo,” someone said, his waxed-cardboard milk carton in the air. There was a sort of muffled chorus, “Chulo,” from the surfers on the guardrail. “Limpin’ Jesus,” someone else said. “Fuck you,” several surfers said. “A little respect, please,” Virginia Cole said; then added, “Dickwad.”
I wanted to say it; “Dickwad,” and would have if I had been part of this group.
I would have said that, maybe, his being burned up was some sort of reaction or reference to the burning at the stake, by people who considered themselves Christians, of numerous heretics and witches and political rivals and… yeah; there was a lot I was almost ready to say out loud.
“They’re saying it’s some sort of… cult thing.” “Maybe it’s kinda like… you know, those monks burning themselves up over in Vietnam.” “No; dork; that was… political.” “Did you see it? I mean, the… the burn marks. It was, shit, there were…” “The smell.” “barbeque.” “Ohhh; ick.” “All the cops. Highway Patrol, Sheriff’s deputies… detectives.” “Yeah.” “One of them asked me about Gingerbread Fred.” “Really?” “They can’t find him.” “No shit?” “One asked me about the Jesus Freaks.” “What?” “Yeah, about, you know, Portia.” “Really?” “No.” “Yes.”
One of the guys had looked at me when someone said, “deputies,” a single word in a sentence stopped when he elbowed the guy next to him. “Oh,” I thought, “so someone knows who I am.”
No, they all knew.
“Drugs.” That was a statement. Though it was made in the direction of the water, it was meant for the surfers on the rail, and loud enough, grownup enough for the adjacent surfers, the second tier; me; me and a couple of other surfers who knew better than to get too close to the local crew. Not that any of us formed a second-tier crew. Maybe two guys had come to Swamis together, but, no, random loners- and not in a cool-loner James Dean kind of way.
“Wally,” someone behind me (third tier if I was second tier) said, sort of in a whisper, to the guy with him. “Kneeboarder.”
“Drugs,” the older man, Wally, repeated; “One way or the other. Drugs. I’ve told you; you do illegal drugs, you have to hang out with criminals.”
Wally was a kneeboarder. Even his kneeboard, yellowed, beat up, patched-up, homemade, was old, on top of the pile on his car, parked three over from mine. One of the teenagers on the rail, part of the crew he drove around at dawn, was, I found out much later, his son. My age. Wally had walked from the direction of the new, brick bathrooms and the green, wood outhouse (still there at that time for some reason) and the stairs (at least two other stair systems since then), and had positioned himself, a bit offset, but between the bluff and the guardrail surfers. Having gotten everyone’s attention, he looked out at the water. Optimum view. As I said.
The guardrail crew reacted. “Maybe… I don’t think Chulo was even a stoner. Maybe…” “Really, man?” “Chulo? No.” “Maybe he was a narc.” “Fuck you, man. Narc? Chulo? He did time.” “Hey, A-hole; either he was a stoner and the cops… I mean…” “Oh; so, like, if Chulo was a narc…”
Wally walked past the teenagers, and stopped at the front door of my car, put his hand on my latest backyard board, seven-two, reshaped from a glass-stripped nine-six. He nodded. I nodded.
“DeFreines,” he said. “Knew your dad. Didn’t like him so much, to be honest.”
“Well.” I shrugged.
“Hassled me a few times.” We both shrugged. “Say… this board…” He was running his hand down the rail line. “…looks like you made it with an ax.”
“Pretty much. To be honest.”
Wally chuckled. “You ride it well, though.”
“I, um… thanks.”
A couple of the surfers might have looked our way. Can’t say. I was afraid to look in case they were watching.
”Chuck you, Farley; go back off in your own jackyard,” one of them said. “Geez, man; so uncool.”
“You kids,” Wally said, turning toward his crew.
He took several steps, pretty much to the front of the Falcon.
“Narcs,” I said. Not loud enough. “Narcs” I said again, louder.
Each person in the loose crowd, including Wally, looked at me before he (or she- the one girl, Ginny- remember?) looked in the direction I had nodded. They weren’t narcotics officers. I knew that. “Detectives,” I said, a little louder, hands at my mouth to (try to) focus my voice.
A big, American-made, unmarked police car; tan in color, the ‘varmint lights,’ the plain hubcaps, and a “Del Mar Fair” decal on the back bumper being the clues; had driven past, on the other side of the mostly empty, double-row spots. The taillights stayed on for a while after it was parked in the dead end of the lot. Both front doors opened. Detectives.
DEL MAR FAIR
We had one of these Del Mar Fair stickers on the Falcon. Mark, one of my friends from school, and, more so, from the Boy Scouts; a sometime-surfer, pointed out this real-or-imagined detail of unmarked police cars. “Yeah,” I’d said, “My Dad put it on the wagon; it’s sort of a, um, like, ‘don’t pull me over’ kind of, uh, code.” This prompted several other friends to acquire and display similar decals.
The decal, faded, was still there on the Falcon. The one on the unmarked car was newer. Southern California Exposition. Yeah. It was always the Del Mar Fair to locals.
Two detectives, so obviously cops, approached. Both were in their mid-forties. One was taller; tall, California Highway Patrolman-tall (they had height restrictions); the other huskier. Both had cop mustaches, no farther than the edges of their mouths; both had the apparently-standard cop brushcuts (basically combed back, but not long enough to actually go back- so, kind of straight up); one had sideburns that probably hit the limit of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Office hair code; each detective sported a colorful and wide tie to, I thought, offset their drab suits, to look hip. Hipper.
One of the detectives stopped at the passenger side of my car, the other one came around the back and stopped at the driver’s door. Each was sort of smiling; though it was more a ‘don’t you move’ smile.
Oh. I was the only surfer left.
The shorter detective opened the passenger side door, then looked at me, didn’t look inside, but, instead, looked up and around and out. The sun shone through the overcast, but only on the horizon. The south wind had calmed. “Nice view,” he said, pointing at the water. Then he looked inside the car.
“Optimum,” I said.
Wally’s car made a completely unnecessary loop around the parking lot and past me and the detectives. The two surfers on the passenger side, front and back, of the too many crammed into Wally’s old car (three in the front, four in the back, Ginny and the two smallest guys in the middle positions, Ginny in the front seat, both on the driveline hump), boards and a kneeboard piled on top; flashed the peace sign as they passed me. One of them pointed forward. I knew all the locals were laughing.
I returned the peace sign, spun my hand, dropped the pointer finger, added the left hand in a double flip-off. The double eagle. I only dropped my hands, and slowly, as I turned toward the taller detective, just walking past the opened tailgate, and threw my hands onto the roof of the car.
The tall detective smiled, waved off my over-reaction. He opened my driver’s side door, looked at three schoolbooks, identified with psychedelic lettering, decorated with surfing drawings on the grocery bag brown book covers (Buy and Save Market, Fallbrook); several notebooks; various 4 and 8 Trac tapes scattered on the seat. He looked for the player. Not installed under the dashboard.
The shorter detective pulled it from beneath the seat on the passenger side, looked at the tangle of after-market wiring. “Oh. So. Stolen. Obviously.” He ripped the wires loose from the back of the tape deck, set it and one of my notebooks on the roof, between the racks, next to my ax-shaped surfboard.
I took the notebook back, said, “Not stolen. Mine.” I tucked it under my left arm.
The taller detective opened the back door. The seats were down. There were two other boards, damp towels, trunks, paper bags, empty cigarette and donette packages, empty chocolate milk containers; mildew and sweat and that burn-barrel beach smell. He swung the door back and forth a few times, with a “whe-eew;” then left it open.
“We’re just asking a few questions,” he said. He had a very deep, smoker-and-whiskey voice. “Got a license, son?” I pulled my billfold out of my back pocket, stuck the license toward him.
They, of course, knew who I was. Even if they hadn’t recognized me (which they did), they had to recognize the Falcon. Of course. This was for show. Cop shit.
The two detectives and I looked around at the same time, moments after the one syllable ‘whoop’ of a police siren.
Three Sheriff’s vehicles and a Highway Patrol car, lights on, blocked the only entrance to the lot, the only exit to 101. Except, yes, by foot. Some of the parking lot folks had just wandered off, past the SRF gate, and up the highway. Wally’s car hadn’t quite escaped. He would be hassled.
“Oh,” the taller detective said, holding my license close to my face, then leaning down and closer; “hadn’t seen you in a while, kid. The, um, funeral; maybe.”
No. I hadn’t looked at any faces there. There had been other occasions; the bowling alley, softball games, picnics. He would have been half-drunk, at least; and never able to beat my dad at… anything.
“Wendall,” I said. “Or, as my father always said, ‘Never win Wendall.’ How’s it going?”
The other detective laughed from the other side of the car, walked around the back side. “Never winned-at-all,” he said.
I didn’t look at either of them. Couldn’t. Not if I wanted to maintain my attitude, my cool, tough attitude. More cool than tough.
Placing the notebook onto the dashboard, I pulled the pack of Marlboros from my windbreaker, pinched a cigarette out, took the ‘Carlsbad Liquor’ pack of matches out, looked at the logo, at the two detectives; opened the pack, red stains against the back of the cover. “Too wet,” I said. Detective Wendall stuck a cigarette in his mouth, lit mine with a San Diego County Sheriff’s Department-logoed zippo. “Or ‘Swindling Wendall’,” I said, with a (confident, I hoped) smile; “that was the nickname my dad preferred.”
“Swindling Wendall” the other detective said, with a laugh and a hit to his partner’s shoulder.
I pulled a Zippo, identical to Wendall’s, from the right front pocket of my pants. “We knew,” I said. “Acted like we didn’t. He acted like he didn’t know we knew.” Wendall nodded. “Quicky-Dick Dickson,” I said, putting the wet matches back into the windbreaker, checking the group standing almost casually outside Wally’s car. Casual under pressure; that was the ultimate in surfer style.
Style was and is the ultimate goal in surfing.
JUST SAY THANK YOU
I could see the back of the very-tall (of course) Highway Patrolman. Wally, five teenage boys, with Ginny Cole in the middle, were all looking at me and Wendall and Dickson; and I was thinking only about how much I looked like a fucking narc.
It was too close and too fast to focus. I doubled over, Dickson’s fist still in my stomach. The cigarette popped out of my mouth, onto his shoulder. Wendall brushed it off, Dickson’s fist now a hand on my shoulder. It wasn’t until then that I felt the pain. I stood up straight. This was necessary, this was mandatory.
My father would have demanded it.
“Just say ‘thank you,’ Jody.”
Dickson picked up the cigarette and stuck it back in my mouth.
YOU SURFING OR WHAT
An hour or so later; If the swell hadn’t arrived, the crowd had. The cop cars were gone. Vehicles belonging to weekend surfers and families filled the lot. There was a Chevy van, jacked-up in the back, on one side of my car, a VW station wagon (Variant), two boards still on top, one door open, the three surfers who had been in it at the edge of the bluff, dancing around, pointing; all hooting; occasionally, in unison.
I guessed they’d trade off on the boards. Maybe one was a body surfer. It’s not that I cared all that much; I just wondered which one would not share his board.
The San Dieguito crew hadn’t returned. Somewhere else must be better. 15th Street, maybe, in Del Mar, Seaside Reef in Solana Beach. I was digging in the backseat area of the car, pulling out trash, putting it in an old canvas-like feed bag; already two-thirds full. My damp gear was spread out on the hood, all three of my boards now tied on the rack. The very back storage area was, I thought, pretty organized. I raised the tailgate. It snapped closed. I started to crank the window closed, then took a sniff, left it open, pulled the release, let the tailgate fall open.
From an open side door, I set the seat backs into the upright position, pulled up the seat itself, removing more trash from where the back seat was supposed to rest, raking the papers and wrappers toward me using a paper bag from the fairly-recently-opened Carlsbad Jack-in-the-Box. *Fast food.
There were some things stuck between the springs of the seat, farther in than three or four papers, folded in the middle, crumpled, pushed into the spaces to help hold the heavier objects. I pulled out a small towel, the type bowlers use. “Back Gate Lanes” was printed on it, red-on-yellow (Marine Corps colors, if I have to say it).
Stretching into the car, I unwrapped the towel. Rather, I started to unwrap it. I felt it; a pistol; a revolver, and four bullets, contained in a separate rag; all wrapped in an oily rag, that in a canvas (thin, but not plastic) bag, cinched up at one end. I put my hand inside the bag, onto the grip.
Something fell out of the bag. A key. Not a house key. Locker key. I picked it up with my left hand. There was, rather than a key ring, a wire through the top of the key and attached to a piece of metal, probably one-and-a-half inches by two-and-a-half, and probably taken from (I figured this out later) a fire extinguisher holder. “For Emergency use only” was stamped into it.
I chuckled. Probably.
Someone hit my butt. I tensed, my hand going into position; hand on the grip, finger near, but not on, the trigger; thumb ready to cock the hammer. The towel fell away.
“We surfing or what?”
It was Ray’s voice, from behind me; but Phillip’s face was in the passenger side window. Phillip was looking at the pistol. He was looking shocked. He looked away too suddenly.
I let go of the pistol; closed up the bag, wrapped it back in the towel, shoved it all back between the same springs in the seat; pulled myself backward, dropped the seat into position.
Phillip was now on the driver’s side, trying to act as if he hadn’t seen the pistol. We both did. Try. “Ray; Phil; great to… yeah; we… where are you parked?”
Phillip pointed around the corner. “101, this side of the Sunset shop.”
“Is this where you’re moving to?” Ray asked. “A car in the parking lot.”
“Good location,” Phillip said.
“Optimum view,” I said.
“So,” Ray asked, “again, are we surfing or what?”
*I discovered, as soon as I had a car to go through the drive-through, that fast food is not a great pre-surf choice. Prone paddling puts a certain stress on one’s stomach, chest; belching can be unpleasant.
So, more respect than hate.
“Swamis,” copywrite 2020, Erwin A. Dence, Jr.