I’m seriously close to completing the full-body go-over of the manuscript for “Swamis,” trying to keep the whole thing under or close to 120,000 words, which is, yeah, a lot of words. This, and surviving the omni-demic have been my main focus of late. But, I have been discussing an overhaul of realsurfers.net with Keith Darrock; as in, adding at least one more page so readers (and I) can more easily access earlier content.
Yeah, it’d be great. I would put “Swamis” (copyright 2020) on a page. I have been posting portions occasionally, with the thought that one could, pushing through the other stuff, read it from the beginning toward the, probably, a point only about a sixth of the way through. That is, after I post one more section. This begins at about page 11. So, soon, but as with so many things, and I’m thinking about the end of this crisis and a return to a less fearful normal, not yet. “Swamis”
“Not yet,” I said.
FRIDAY, MARCH 14, 1969-
-Wish I’d ditched. Tests. More tests. Phil & Ray discussed murder. Don’t know shit. Busted for ditching. Gingerbread Fred on TV-
SCENES IN THE FALLBROOK UNION HIGH SCHOOLYARD
Phillip and Ray lead the discussion about the murder and the excitement. There was a bigger than usual crowd at the big concrete planter boxes, designed with seating all around, trees and bark inside them, that had been the unofficial surfers’ break and lunch time hang out since we were freshmen. The break was called ‘nutrition,’ between second and third periods, and there were two trailers set up where nutritious snacks like orange-sickles and twinkies could be purchased.
Mostly Ray was talking, with Phillip adding key points, and Erwin looking out for any nearby teachers. Mark and three of the Billys were there. I was in my usual spot, standing in the planter, observing, listening. Some of the local toughs and the cooler non-surfers were, unusually, part of this day’s group; listening; more friends of friends of Ray and Phil.
Two of the rich kids came over from the Senior Area. Mike, who had been my best friend up until third grade, jumped up next to me on the planter. “Missed the excitement, huh?”
In our freshman year, the big concrete planter was the pre-school, break, and lunchtime hangout for Erwin and Phillip and me. With the administrative building behind it, the gymnasium/cafeteria downhill, most of the classrooms to the west, and a bit of shade provided by the trees, it was a good place for observing while still laying low, avoiding… avoiding the other students; the older students in particular; but also any awkward interactions with girls and rich kids and new kids from Pauma Valley (East, toward Palomar Mountain) and Camp Pendleton (West) and Bonsall (Southwest) and Rainbow and Temecula.
Temecula. In my senior year, 1969, there were four or five kids from there; three were siblings; two Hanks sisters, one brother. These days, if people don’t know where Fallbrook is, they have heard of Temecula. Big city. “Yeah, sure, Temecula; out on The 15.”
Putting “The” in front of the name of highways came later, along with traffic helicopters and rush hour destination forecasts. Later.
I-15 was Highway 395 then, and Temecula was, often, twisted into Tim-me’-cu’-la; not for any good reason except, perhaps, it was more inland, farther East than Fallbrook, Fallbrook that self-identified (with signage) as “The Friendly Village;” but was nicknamed, in a self-deprecating way, Frog-butt.
Again, the planter was a good place to observe the daily run of mostly manufactured dramas, crushes and romances and slights and breakups, from. High ground. The planter offered a good view of the slatted, backless wooden benches where the sociable girls, this clique and that one, sat (one or two sitting, two or three standing), in groupings established through some mysterious sort of class/status jockeying, some girls able to move from one group to another; some not.
The planter was adjacent to the Senior Area, a sort of skewed rectangle of grass and concrete with covered picnic tables. This chunk of real estate was off limits and jealously guarded, mostly by guys in red Warriors letterman jackets, against intruders; though anyone who made any effort to appear cool (particularly when talking with underclass girls) would feel obligated to say the exclusivity of the senior area was no big deal.
Girls. Yeah, the planter was a good place to observe girls, some I’d known since kindergarten. Changing. So quickly. Heartbeat by heartbeat. Girls. So mysterious.
It’s not that I didn’t try to understand how a (comparatively) poor girl with a great personality could be in with three rich girls, at least one of whom was totally bitchy (I mean ‘slightly difficult, quite mean, and unreasonably demanding,’ but I would have meant and said bitchy back then). I figured it was because they knew each other before we figured out whose parents had more money than whose (ours).
Phillip was new, from Orange County, Tustin; but he had done some surfing, his older sister going out with a guy who was definitely in with the four or five older, real surfers. Phil and I shared a couple of classes. I’d known Erwin since kindergarten. He was a Seventh Day Adventist, which was, he explained, “Kind of like Christians following Jewish traditions.” “Oh, so that’s why you’re not supposed to surf on Saturdays?” “It’s the Sabbath. Holy. Sundown Friday until sundown Saturday.” “Too bad.” “Well; we have gone to, um, Doheny; somewhere we wouldn’t run into anyone from, you know, here.” “Oh?” “Yeah; hypocrisy and guilt. If surfing isn’t, you know, actually sinful…” “Oh, but you know it is.” “Sure is.”
Erwin was one of the only Adventists at our school, and he, separately, started board surfing right after junior high; about the same time I did; when his sister, Suellen, beguiled by “Gidget” movies and an episode of “Dr. Kildare,” probably (no doubt, actually); got herself a used surfboard and let her brother borrow it.
Sinful, yes; addictive, undoubtedly. I saw Erwin sitting on his sister’s board, toward the channel of the lineup, on a Sunday. Tamarack.
I challenged him to move closer. Closer to the peak, closer to the crowd. He challenged me. We did; and sat, anxiously, outside (farther from the shore) of where the waves were breaking, watching other surfers, from the back, take all the waves. When a set wave showed up, we were (accidently) in position. We both; head down, paddled for it; he prone, me on my knees. I pearled, straight down, my board popping back dangerously close to other surfers scrambling out. Erwin rode the wave. Probably quite ungracefully; but, if only between him and I, he had bragging rights.
More bragging rights, but only between Erwin and me. Being ignored for a mediocre ride was far better than being noticed, called-out as a kook, told by three surfers, only one of them older than I was, to go practice knee-paddling in the nearby Carlsbad Slough.
I never did. I persisted. I got better. I had significant surf bumps by the time I started riding boards that took knee-paddling out of the equation.
Sometimes I, or Phillip and I, would go (on a Sunday) with Erwin’s mom and his many siblings; sometimes Phillip (on a Saturday) or both of them (on a Sunday, after school, or on a holiday) would go with Freddy and me and my mom. Always to Tamarack. Lower parking lot. Freddy never surfed a board. Surf mat; the real kind, hard, nipple-ripping canvas. Sometimes Freddy and I would get dropped-off, try to fit into the crowd, ease close to someone else’s fire when our mom’s shopping took longer than the time we could manage to stay in the water.
Every six months or so, for pretty much as long as I can remember, my mom would take me down 101, through the magical beach towns, eucalyptus trees bending over 101, occasional glimpses of waves, and down the long swoop into La Jolla. La Jolla, home of Windansea and, my father used to say, “of Doctor Salk (of the polio vaccine), and Dr. Seuss (not really a doctor).”
When I was younger, my mom would say, on the way down and in the waiting room; “Junior, don’t tell the doctor we have you in regular public school.” “I’m getting better,” I would say. Later it became, “Don’t tell the doctor we let you surf;” then, “Don’t let him know we let you drive.”
“You’re getting better,” she would say. “I know,” I would answer.
The last time my mother and I went together, just before my sixteenth birthday (driving on my learner’s permit), the doctor said, “You just might grow out of this. I’m optimistic.”
On the way home, my mom said we should stop at the Hansen shop. “How about Surfboards Hawaii? Cooler. Ray and Phillip both have them. It’s, they’re… cooler.” “Of course. Okay.” For the first time, I picked out my own board, used, from the back room. “You’d better try it out,” she said. She waited around, talking to someone else’s mother in the parking lot while I surfed perfect mid-day Swamis.
It was magical.
I was getting better.
Ray and some of the other guys our age started surfing the summer after our freshman year, so Phillip and Erwin and I were better than they were, we were ahead of them. Many of our contemporaries at least tried it. Anyone newer to surfing than you were was a kook and/or gremmie. Surfing had its own dress code and, more importantly, a fairly strict behavioral standard. It was fine to get all jazzed up among other surfers, going to or from the beach, but not cool to kook out among non-surfers.
Even in the proper surf gear, Phillip and Ray, both blondes, looked more like what TV and movies said surfers should look like (unless you were foolish enough to believe Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon were anything even close to real-real surfers knew the extras, the background guys, Miki Dora especially, and Mickey Munoz, were the real surfers). Erwin and I, dark haired; even dressed in the requisite surf garb of the time, weren’t immediately recognized as surfers, weren’t immediately given whatever prestige we thought surfers received.
Or we were, and the prestige wasn’t what we thought it might be.
By the time we were seniors, most of the other Fallbrook surfers our age had dropped off; surfing was less important than whatever they were doing; though they still looked like surfers and always asked when I’d gone last; always said we’d have to go, together, some time.
Some time. We still rarely hung out in the Senior Area. The planters.
We all seemed to have cars; hand-me-downs from parents or older siblings off somewhere new. We could go surfing alone. Phillip and Ray had girlfriends, on and off. Even Erwin had a girlfriend, Trish; not an Adventist. Separate lives. Separate adventures. Romances. Drama. Sometimes we’d still surf together; usually not.
The stories of those adventures connected us. Loosely, probably.
I studied, I surfed. But, at nutrition and at lunch, pretending not to notice the swirl of so many stories around me, this concrete planter box was my social scene.
Because the topic of the murder was so unusual, a larger than usual crowd had gathered. All the surfers in the school, even lower-class (as in freshmen, sophomores) members, were listening. I pulled Ray up onto the planter. He kept talking, not loud, but for Ray, who I’ve only witnessed being uncool once (and not that uncool) since he came to Fallbrook in sixth grade, somewhat enthusiastically.
Possibly because of the large crowd, the Vice Principal, formerly a Biology teacher (I forget his name), who wanted, evidently, more money (because he obviously didn’t enjoy this job), wearing a tie but no coat, approached. Ray stopped talking. Mike jumped off the planter.
“Saw you on the news, Ray,” the Vice Principal said, as Ray crouched, then jumped down from the planter box.
“Busted,” someone in the crowd said.
“Where’s your running mate; Phillip?” The crowd kind of separated. Phillip stuck out both his hands, as if ready for handcuffs, then looked at Ray. Ray followed suit. Both had smiles that looked more like smirks.
“Busted,” one of the Billys, Bigger Billy, I think, said; though it was more like, ‘Busss-ted.’
“DeFreines,” the Vice Principal said, “kindly get out of the planter box.”
Ray and Phillip walked toward the office, followed by the Vice Principal. B-2 Bomber Billy yelled, “Free-dom!” Everyone pretty much turned away. The bell rang.
BEACH SCENES AND JESUS FREAKS
While many North County surf spots were accessed by parking in a neighborhood, or, single file, along 101, those with parking areas that featured an actual view of the surf; Tamarack, Beacons, Cardiff, even Moonlight Beach; had their own parking lot scenes. These are different than beach scenes, or what happens in the water. Mostly it was surfers standing on the bluff, or leaning on cars, or standing by fires, assessing the surf or chatting about who was out. Those who had surfed would always relive their best rides. San Onofre was much better known for its tradition of beach activities; bonfires and fish frys and luaus, straw hats and ukuleles.
Swamis had the best parking area scene. Amphitheater view, limited parking.
There always seemed to be, even when the surf wasn’t breaking, people hanging around. There were ‘the Hippie Movement is dead, man’ Hippies, The Hodads, and the ‘yeah, I used to surf; back in the old days’ Liars, and the Real Surfers. The Legitimate Old Timers were always ready to talk on and on about some past swell. Kooks bragged and boasted, way too excited about rides and waves from some yesterday, and even more excited about waves in some future.
Occasionally you could see someone from the Self Realization Fellowship, someone who willingly travelled to this retreat. Founded by Paramahansa Yogananda in 1920, the Encinitas facility at what was then called “No Name Point” was opened in the 1940s in the still very rural North County. By the sixties, the thick white walls were surrounded on three sides by driveways and 101 and this parking lot, and the pilgrims and followers didn’t look too much different than folks at a Billy Graham TV crusade; maybe a little more contemplative, quieter; following one of the robed, East Indian (usually) ‘Swamis’ on a tour around the outside perimeter, sideways-glances at the rest of us.
The unenlightened. Not quite infidels, though everyone is an infidel to someone.
There was one guy who seemed to be in charge of tending the strip of plants immediately adjacent to the stucco walls. He had long, black, frizzy (not quite curly) hair, and a pretty impressive beard. He had, I noticed, on a humid afternoon, a San Diego Padres t-shirt under his (unbuttoned in the heat) work shirt.
And there were the Jesus Freaks. Chulo wasn’t really one of them. He was a serious disciple; or totally seemed to be. He wasn’t tall, probably five foot six or so. Though he fit in, fashion wise, with other surfers when I first saw him at the beach, 1966, Swamis, before he had the limp, by the end of 1968 he frequently wore robes, not always white, sandals, and had long black hair and a matching beard. He usually, even in the water, before even I gave up wearing ‘Hippy beads,’ had a heavy looking wooden cross around his neck, suspended by what looked like pretty common rope. Twine, maybe. Hemp.
There were three times, total, in my life that Chulo spoke to me. He didn’t ask me if I knew Jesus. He said, following my eyes to a set of waves on the horizon, and then to the clouds ascending from there (I was on Christmas break), “This is why we must praise Jesus… his many gifts.” I answered with a weak, “Uh huh,” followed with a stronger, “Yeah. Yes.”
He may have only said something to me the second time because I was in his path, between where the ‘Hayes Flowers’ van was parked (next to the ‘Jesus Saves’ bus) and the new bathroom building. He set his board down, fin up, near the bluff. I was just standing there, planning on saying something about the waves or the crowd or the weather. “Jesus loves you,” he said. I couldn’t bring myself to give some kind of smartass response.
“I hope so,” I said. I’m still not sure why. Chulo stepped close enough to make me uncomfortable, studied my eyes a second or two, long enough. Too long. He smiled.
“I think I know you.” I was more uncomfortable. “I know this: Jesus does know, and… He loves… you.”
Chulo seemed pleased with my discomfort. He touched my shoulder and walked on. His limp made him seem like someone who had carried some sort of cross, real or metaphoric. I stepped forward, toward the bluff, out of his path when he returned. He was wearing classic Birdwell trunks, formerly red, now almost pink. “Still looking?”
“Get in the water, man.” He had dropped his soft, controlled disciple voice, reverting to surfer-speak, loud enough to be heard over breaking waves (that’s always been my excuse). “So crowded, who’d notice one more?”
UP WITH PEOPLE
No, the ones I called Jesus Freaks were scrubbed clean, “Up With People”* scrubbed, Hippie-backlash clean-cut, “Good News for Modern Man,” **New Testament Christians; most too young to have done the onerous deeds they seemed to be seeking salvation from; always asking, “Do you know Jesus?” “Yes,” I would always say. “Oh. Oh… (waiting for me to recant) great.” “Yeah. He is my personal redeemer and my salvation; my guide and my Lord.” At this point I would look up, extend and raise my hands, close my eyes.
*Founded 1968. **First published in 1966.
Sometimes they would leave. “Oh. Can we pray together?” One of them (they usually travelled in twos) would eventually ask this. I would act like I was thinking about it; then ask, “Isn’t religion a personal relationship between one and one’s God; or one’s non-god?” Then, “Is there a group rate to heaven?” Then, “Do we choose, or are we chosen? And, if we’re not chosen…?” Then, “If we are all sinners, are we not all also hypocrites? Jesus had harsh words for hypocrites, right? Has. Present tense. Risen savior.” Then, if necessary, “Wouldn’t you agree that evangelizing, trying to convert someone when you have no way of knowing if that person has a closer relationship to a greater power than your own; might your act diminish or discount the role of the Holy Ghost?”
DEEP CUTS AND POPOUTS
Most would-be evangelists were out freaked before I actually quoted scripture. This was good; I really only knew the easy verses, the hits; no deep cuts. I did know a few that suited me. “Peace, you say; but what about Luke twelve, forty-nine?” Oh, they might have known Matthew 10:34, but this was more obscure, meaning, to the right person, that I had studied.
Always a competition. “Yeah, in which Jesus says, ‘I have come to ignite a fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled.’ What about that?”
I never did use this verse, it was one of many never studied at Tuesday night Bible study, never quoted in church services by any of the various preachers; my dad, one of the Deacons, up on the stage, scanning the crowd, making sure his wife and two sons were properly attentive; but I was ready.
We no longer go to that church. We live in Leucadia now. Far enough away.
Still, the Jesus Freaks were somewhat cooler than the old folks I had gone to church with; nodding and nodding off, dropping an inappropriately placed ‘amen’; and cooler than the Jehovah’s Witnesses, always ready to act like they gave hand you a pamphlet selling something you were having too much fun to be interested in. I did once, back in Fallbrook, sell one of the three boards leaning against the porch, to one of two (or both, maybe) Mormons (or Jehovah’s Witnesses, maybe) who had made their way up our driveway. Their ties were quickly pulled off, shirts untucked; they were through evangelizing (and/or witnessing) for the day.
“Got any rope?”
They were so stoked to be tying-down a dinged-up and badly patched board (by me- huge de-lam on the deck) to the top of an old Pontiac; a cheap, factory-cranked-out popout board (as opposed to a custom, or even a stock model from a shop with a name- Dewey Weber, Southcoast, Greg Noll) my dad got cheap from the impound room at Camp Pendleton. Trestles; one would be a fool to take a good board there. If you lost it, three jarheads might wait for it, dancing in and out of the shoreline, hoping to not get their boots wet.
I will try to tighten up my writing. Sorry; memories overlap like the loose photos that didn’t make the album.
I have to admit I loved the parking lot scenes; and admit that it was hard for a seventeen-year-old to compete with some epic swell story from some era one wasn’t part of. I certainly couldn’t; not stories with outsized characters and adventures. I always listened; the tales were always like myth, like magic, as if the coast was backed-up by Sherwood Forest and the Emerald City. Legends.
Since I went into some amount of depth on the beach scene at Swamis, I should mention the scene in the water, the lineup. Maybe I have said enough. When I first switched to board surfing, paddling head down and blind to what an approaching wave was doing, I, no doubt, ruined rides for surfers already on those waves. Sorry. Lectures and threats followed. Peer pressure. There was a lineup, I learned, more shown than told, and a priority system.
The priority rule seemed to be that the best surfer got the waves of his choice. Surfers who knew each other, locals, usually, seemed to gather around the takeoff zone, and surfers who dared to challenge the lineup were not appreciated.
“Who’s that guy?”
This, with recent enthusiasts touting some sort of more equitable process, hasn’t really changed. Three in the water; take turns. Fine. Thirty; doesn’t work.
Somewhere in my third year of surfing, fifteen years old or so; so, 1967, I saw three or four guys who had come down from Orange County, maybe even L.A., dominating the main peak at Swamis. They were good; spinners, skeg-first takeoffs, hooting each other on. I was, along with five or six other surfers out, scrapping for the few waves they missed, paddling for the waves that went wide. An older guy, maybe thirty, took exception with their wave-hogging, said he’d been surfing Swamis since the mid-fifties.
It wasn’t so much an angry statement as a ‘you should give me a break (or a wave)’ statement.
“Well,” one of the interlopers said, laughing, backed-up by his laughing buddies, “You should have learned to surf it better.”
Better; I always wanted to surf better. And I was; I was getting better.
GINGERBREAD FRED ON THE TELEVISION
My mother had not allowed me to go to the coast after school (though there was enough daylight to surf) on the day after Chulo’s murder. “Too soon,” she had said. “I need the Falcon.” She didn’t. “Groceries.” She had her own car; not one we were allowed to eat in, and definitely not one I could take to the beach. “We need to pack.”
By dark, packing boxes, taped and labeled, were stacked in groups around the living room. My mother and Freddy and I were on the sectional, in front of the TV. It was black and white. We’d get a color TV when they got it perfected, my father had said, not because my snotty friends have one. Ours was one of the kind where the TV screen was only one part of the TV/record player/radio console. Console. Is that right? Furniture, furniture nonetheless. Swedish modern. Our ‘midnight snack’ plates (apple slices and crackers) were on the coffee table, set on over-large coasters.
My father’s chair, overlarge, overstuffed, a rough sort of brocaded pattern in a purple-ish red, worn armrests, mostly covered with a couple of overlapping blankets, was (I feel I should add this) empty.
“Maybe they won’t show it,” my mother said; “they don’t seem to care much about North County.”
“We sent a crew back up to North County, following up after Wednesday night’s… murder.”
“Gingerbread Fred,” I said, louder than the news anchor, jumping up, moving closer to the screen. It was daytime in the footage and the camera seemed to select him from the small group over by the bluff. No shoes, no shirt under a well-worn reddish-tan v-necked sweater, almost-matching an equally worn, hand-crocheted watchcap on his head, almost-matching hair exploding from underneath it. The camera seemed to move in, then up to his face, a lot of gray in his once-red beard.
“Fred,” Freddy said, “like me.”
Our mom smiled, ruffled Freddy’s hair. “No, Freddy; you will get a haircut.”
“Nothing like you, Freddy,” I said. “Gingerbread Fred claims to have surfed Tijuana Sloughs and Killer Dana, and some mysto breaks outside of Windansea,” Not looking away from the TV, I added, “It was verified, I’m told, by one of the Holders.”
“Okay” my mother and brother both said, not aware that Holders were Encinitas surf pioneers, legends.
“I just saw the flame, man; it was so, um, uh, intense. You know?” Gingerbread Fred’s hands seemed outsized, moving around the same way they did when he talked surf. “Bright. You know? I thought I’d heard something, over by the (all his fingers, both hands, pointing) compound. I like to, you know, man, like, walk on the beach. There was just a sliver of moon. I was coming up, just at the top of the stairs when I seen it. The flames.”
Fred clapped his hands in front of him, way too close to the reporter. She jerked back. “Poof!”
It was a different reporter this time. Young, thin, with a sort of post-beehive but sprayed-stiff hairdo. When she didn’t move the microphone closer, Fred moved closer to it. He was looking at her. “A car was pulling away. No lights. It didn’t squeal out.” He moved his right hand to mimic a car taking off fast.
He turned toward the camera and mimicked the sound. A rumble. “Errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrcuuuuuuuuhhhhhhhhhh! Just, um… that might have been… before… before the, the… fire. Yeah. No. After. That’s why I looked over; it was the fire. And then, there was… Screaming. The… all at once. In the air. Ffffwwwwwwweeeeeewwwww! And… it seemed like someone else, like… I thought I saw… on fire. Fire. Fire in the air.” He paused. Rather, he just stopped speaking.
The camera panned back to the reporter. Fred put a hand on her microphone hand, stepped back into the view, visibly crying. “It was, it was a long ways away. I couldn’t…” He stopped again. His hands dropped down, out from his sides; then moved forward, palms out, then up, into a gesture, I thought, of surrender. “I ran, but… I don’t run. Used to. Thought maybe, you know, I might, could help.” The camera moved in too close to Fred’s creased face. “It was like, um, the second coming; maybe; But then… then I could smell the… the fire. Chulo. Good surfer. One time, down at Windansea…”
Gingerbread Fred was gone, gone into the memory. The camera switched, abruptly, to the reporter. She seemed more frightened than affected by Fred’s meltdown. “Well,” she said, “we will continue to follow…”
She continued. She looked, maybe, angry, that she’d lost her composure. TV. It shows every emotion. I stopped listening. Gingerbread Fred, looking even more confused, walked past, in the background. Wally. It looked like Wally, the person who allowed Fred to come close enough to embrace him, offer him support.
“Wally,” I said.
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…”
Thanks for reading. We’re all in this together, we’re told. At a distance. One can reach out, call or text some friends; see how they’re doing.