If you haven’t checked out realsurfers in a while, I’m posting pages from the manuscript in a reverse order. There are some non-“Swamis” posts between this and the next parts, the plan being, that, when I get back to the beginning, one can read them in order, with, again, the interruptions. Much like real life, spurts and moments and interruptions. I have been continuing to re-re-re-edit the manuscript and have recently been moving chunks around in order to make it less confusing. This doesn’t mean that the fictitious writer of the fake memoir, Joseph Itsushi (Jody) DeFreines, Junior, doesn’t take a probably-annoying number of narrative side trips, despite my attempts to control him. OKAY, we just jump in about here and…
I moved closer to the screen. I was pretty sure I saw Ginny Cole in with a couple of the San Dieguito High School crowd, surfers, but the pan of the crowd passed too quickly. No rewind.
“Ginny,” I said. “Ginny Cole,” I whispered. Ginny.
No, I had my own rewind. Words. Images. Blink. Remember.
“And now, the weather…”
SATURDAY, MARCH 15, 1969- THE OPTIMUM VIEW
-Pre-dawn Swamis. South wind. Great parking spot. Checked out murder scene. All cleaned up. Carlsbad Liquor matches. Clue? Wally’s crew there. Ginny Cole. Rousted by Dickson and Wendall. Found pistol. Surfed 1-2 ft Swamis beachbreak w/Ray & Phil. Fallbrook house sold. Profit. Escrow.
The damaged section of the wall at the Self Realization Fellowship was back to white when I next went to Swamis, against my mother’s warnings, two days after Chulo’s murder. It was a Saturday. Weekend. Barely light. I got there early enough to park the dust bowl tan 1964 Falcon station wagon in the choicest spot; a little toward the stairs, but front row, and offering the optimum view of the lineup. It was the same car my Mom had used to drive us to swimming lessons and church and Doctor visits, and to the beach; surf mats and Styrofoam surfies and whining Freddy, maybe an annoying friend of his; the factory installed (optional upgrade) roof racks now pretty much rusted in place.
A predicted swell (this gleaned from other surfers and pressure charts in the Marine Weather section of the newspaper) hadn’t materialized and a south wind was blowing. Cars with surfboards were passing each other up and down 101. Surfers were hanging out in parking lots and on bluffs and beaches, talking surf, watching the few surfers bobbing in the side chop. Maybe it would clean up, maybe it would actually get bigger.
So, I would wait. Waiting is as important a part of surfing as trying to be in the water before the best conditions hit. My shift, at my new, weekend-only (at that time) didn’t start until ten-thirty; about the time the onshores typically get going. Different with south wind. Perfect. Maybe. I could wait. I had my notebook, college-ruled; I had the probably stolen (not by me) four and eight track tape player under the passenger’s side of the seat; and I could do some studying.
Read, recite, memorize. Study.
I really wanted to sneak over to the crime scene, the thick, high, stucco-finished walls, gold flower bulbs perched above them. There was (and is) a wrought-iron gate in the higher, arched entrance, also topped with the flower (though it could as easily be a flame, not dissimilar to the top of the statue of liberty). This is not the actual entrance to the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) compound, a place where people go seeking enlightenment, a realization of the true self.
THE OUTSIDE THE WALL GUY
I did walk over. Had to. I expected more. I expected some explanation. There was a man by the wall, wheel-barrowing soil from a pile near the highway to the wall. I had seen him before. I have already mentioned him. Dark skinned. East Indian I presumed. I also presumed him to be the outside-the-wall SRF gardener. He was dressed in a long-sleeved shirt, white, with faded blue workman’s pants, rubber boots, and heavy leather gloves. Most of his face (and I knew he had a beard) was covered in what appeared to be an overlarge (plain cloth) bandana, a standard bandana (they came in red and blue- still do) around his nose and mouth, and a tropical straw hat (quite different from the cowboy style Mexican farmers and landscape workers preferred). He dropped the new soil around newly transplanted, but full-sized plants.
There was no explanation, no evidence that something horrific had occurred. The new paint blended perfectly. The plants looked… it all looked the same as it always had; as it did even in the late 1950s. Exactly the same. Perfect.
If I blinked, I thought, it might be like taking a picture. I might remember details. I might remember better.
“What do you see?” This is what my father would always ask me. I would know it was coming; any time he was around, anywhere. It’s the first thing I remember him saying to me. I always tried to be ready, tried to see everything, determine what it meant. I was never ready; never saw enough.
But, and maybe it’s a good thing, my father would point out the things I had missed; clues; someone’s expressions that were evasive, someone’s words that were lies, patterns and random things that weren’t random, things that meant something.
“Okay,” I would say, “I see it now.”
“Do you? Great; now analyze.”
“There’s what you see, and there’s what it means.”
There were cigarette butts, quite a few of them, forming a half circle, a perimeter, cleaner areas where the structures that held the police tape had been set. No one had bothered to clean up outside the police line. I positioned myself dead center, optimum view, pulled the pack (box, not soft pack) from my windbreaker’s pocket, pack of matches inside, lit up a Marlboro.
“Power of suggestion,” I said to myself, throwing the now-empty pack of matches down with the line of butts. “Peer pressure.”
There was an opened pack of matches on the ground. Half the matches were gone, removed left to right. “Left-handed,” I thought. I picked the pack up, tried one of the matches. Nope, too soggy. Rather hip lettering on the cover, red on black, read, “Carlsbad Liquor.”
Yes, I did think it might be a clue; one missed clue. Important. I knew the place. Carlsbad Liquor. Coming north to south, it was just before you would see the ocean. It was there before the 7-11, good place to get snacks. My friends said there were dirty magazines in a back room. One of the Billys (Bigger Billy), supposedly, snuck in; got run out, but not before he saw some, as he described, “sexy, almost disgusting stuff. Close ups.” Closeups? “Adults only,” he said with some sort of indiscernible accent. Hey, it was a liquor store. Adults only.
I put the pack inside the Marlboro box, that in the windbreaker’s inside chest pocket.
The groundskeeper dropped the wheelbarrow in the center of the already-cleaned, formerly roped-off area, threw a wood-handled, metal lawn rake onto the strip of lawn (maintained, I assumed, by the State of California), took out a stiff-bristled push broom, and started sweeping the asphalt along-but outside the crime scene.
He was close enough that I felt I had to say something. “How’s it going?”
He nodded before he spoke, looked at me, looked at the other cars in the lot, the surfers gathered at the edge of the bluff. He didn’t pull down his bandana. “Nasty business, this,” he said.
I probably made that sort of ‘smells bad’ expression, one that he, it seemed, returned. “I was informed that it would be permitted. Clean up. ‘Okey dokey,’ one of the detectives told me.” He pointed a gloved hand, vaguely, toward the compound. “Today.”
I probably stared. It was a bad habit I was, mostly, unaware of. His eyes were darkest brown, bloodshot, and there was something about his eyebrows. I was thinking; thinking about his accent; Indian, of course, but his English, not American-learned; British. Of course.
“I didn’t do the initial… work.” He pointed toward the wall. “Professionals. Contractors (emphasis on the ‘ors’ syllable).” He pulled the bandana down, awkwardly, because of the gloves, looked at me, said, “Sunburn. Even I… one must wear the hat.” He had a bit of trouble pulling the bandana back over his nose. “Sun.”
“You, um, work… (my hands mimicking the sweep of the walls) here? Swamis?”
“Voluntary, one would say; work, yes; compensated; not really; not in… dollars.” I nodded. He went back to sweeping. I stepped back, out of his way. He stopped, looked up. “You’re a surfer. Yes?”
I nodded. “Yeah. I mean, yes. Um, so, um… voluntary; like… like, um, like penance?”
He laughed. “Perhaps. No, they teach… we are taught that hard work is good. We strive to…” He leaned the broom against his body, made a gesture like an expanding circle. “Perfection. Realization.”
“Well; the grounds are… perfect. I’ve been inside. Every rock, the paths, the garden up on the very point… the, I guess, meditation garden. Good place to see… surf.”
“And, yes; meditation, surf vantage point; so many benefits of having a committed volunteer labor force.”
“So, um, are you, like, the only one who does this?” I made a gesture I thought indicated working on the outside of the compound. “I, um… (short, embarrassed laugh) thought you were… your hair and beard… I’ve seen you before. I thought you were, um, older.”
He laughed. “With all the people nowadays sporting longer hair, people doing what they want to…” He stopped. “Surfing. Swimming. People.” He paused again. “I do feel, sometimes… older.”
We both stood there a few moments longer. I had questions. He started sweeping. I nodded toward the bluff, he nodded in the same direction. I did a little bow, felt stupid instantly, but he returned it.
SINNERS LOVE COMPANY
When I approached the bluff, surfers I recognized as locals, all about my age, three guys and one girl, Ginny Cole (you always knew the names of the few girl surfers), were sitting on the guard rail, two other guys standing on the parking lot side of it, directly in front of my car, and, in fact, leaning against it.
Sure. Optimum view. This was their spot; the land equivalent of the apex of the peak in the water; they wouldn’t give it away to some tourist; they were less willing to give it to me.
Ginny and one of the guys, who had been watching me, evidently, turned back around after I gave a bit of a gesture that I meant to say, “Yeah, I looked at the crime scene; so what?”
Maybe I looked too long at Ginny Cole. Evidently. At least the guys on either side of her seemed to think I had. I had. Of course. I was forced, by the rules governing adolescent encounter, to give each of them (the guys) the “yes, I looked” look.
Then, as required, I looked away.
Ginny pulled her coat and an over-sized gray bag (I would say purse, but surfer girls were way too cool for that) off the hood of my car. Not in an apologetic way. Two of the guys continued to lean the just-past-comfortable distance between the railing and my car.
Fine. I probably would have been sitting on the hood if they weren’t there. Casually. Observing. Analyzing. If I were someone else, if I was observing someone else, I’d say posing. Posing. Posturing.
Each surfer had a small carton of orange juice or a quart of chocolate milk in his hand, maybe a cold piece of pizza. One might have had a large coffee from the 7-11 down toward Cardiff. One very well could have had a mason jar of juice, carrot always an ingredient, some color from sick green to sick orange; always willing to share. Not with me. Maybe once. Later. Months later. Only once because I turned the offer down. Green.
None of these surfers were smoking. These weren’t my high school friends, so anxious to learn how to smoke; starting out with, Parliaments, maybe, cigarettes for beginners, moving on to Marlboros or Winstons, arguing about which was better; urging me to be cool, to not be a pussy. Tobacco evangelists.
Sinners love company, I had thought, and I put off starting the very same habit my father had only participated in in secret, or at work, never around his children.
Still, we knew. Camel non-filters. My mother kept his last half pack in a dresser drawer with his badge and empty holster. Nothing else. Occasionally she would open the drawer. Leather and tobacco.
I squeezed the cherry out, tossed the butt through the opened driver’s side window and onto the floorboards, grabbed my fairly-full quart of chocolate milk and my half-gone package of donettes off the seat, went into a practiced lean, a slouch, against the backseat door, driver’s side.
Frosted, never chocolate.
DOWNRAIL SPEED MACHINES
It seems wrong to me, now; it’s obviously wrong; but, somehow, when I was a teenager, it seemed all surfers were somewhere around my age. Some younger kooks, some older surfers. Not many of those; or maybe I just didn’t focus on them; only the ones who were well known, who had been in “Surfer” magazine. If someone like that showed up, his name would spread quickly through a parking lot or lineup: L.J. Richards or Rusty Miller at Pipes, Mike Doyle at Stone Steps, Skip Frye at a contest at Tamarack; surfers you would, definitely, watch, keep track of, give way to in the lineup; just to see if they were all that good. Better. They were better.
How much better?
But these were days of evolution in surfing; shorter boards, more radical moves, backyard soul shapers, V bottoms and downrail speed machines; and the new heroes were younger; more like my age; s-turns and tube stalls and 180 cutbacks.
The first 180 cutback I ever saw, with an off-the-foam-to-bottom-turn, was at Swamis, from that landing two-thirds the way up the stairs; the one with the metal screen, ‘Old guys stop here’ carved into one of the rails. The stance, so solid, the moves, so controlled, so fluid, one to another, seamlessly, were performed by Billy Hamilton, on a longboard; smooth and stylish. He was older, maybe even ten years older. Still, older.
Chulo Lopez was, or, rather, had been in this group. Older. Aggressive, stylish, and dominating, back-foot heavy; always pivoting off his good (right) leg. Surfers who dominate a lineup, who get their choice of waves, are respected and hated, sometimes almost equally. If they take a wave you thought you should have been on… your opinion would swing more toward hate.
Chulo had once, on a glassy evening at Pipes, given me the signal to go on the first wave of a set. Two other surfers in position to go didn’t go. Wouldn’t. Chulo looked them off. No need to yell. Then he looked back at me, said the second of the two things he ever said to me. “Go!” I had to go. I did.
So, more respect than hate.