“Swamis,” The Opening Pages

I am still working on editing (I could say polishing, a little more writer-ish) the last twenty or so pages.  I have published other pages here, broken up with, yeah, other stuff, BUT, if you scroll down, you can read the first so many pages in order.  I picked up a ten pack of flash drives yesterday, socially distancing my way through a “Staples.”  It’s actually cheaper than printing up copies.  I plan on mailing them to some folks.

One of those is my friend since sixth grade, Ray Hicks.  Now, for some reason, as I was illegally calling people while driving, and almost everyone is probably stuck at home binge-watching, no one seemed to be answering.  This seemed like some kind of scary foreshadowing from a cheap horror movie.  Minimum traffic on the roads on a Saturday, gray clouds and a south wind as I crossed the Hood Canal Bridge toward what used to be civilization.  OH, WAIT, it’s Western Washington, gray clouds and wind are normal.

NORMAL. Where did normal go? I would have cued the music, but “This American Life” seemed to be featuring crying and sadness, and KPTZ, from Port Townsend, was airing another Corona-update.

So I did the voice-text thing, speaking slowly, spelling words out I, evidently, can’t pronounce correctly (enough).  I said I hoped he (Ray) was safe, that I heard all the parking lots near the surf are closed down there, assumed he was working from home, and that he may want me to take his name (Ray) out of “Swamis,” partially because most of what the character (Ray) does, he (still Ray) didn’t actually do.

Without ever explaining why he didn’t pick up, Ray texted back, later (and I never seem to hear the prompts for texts) that the statute of limitations had probably run out for anything his character may have done in 1969, and, yeah, parking lots are closed to reduce the numbers of beach enthusiasts, and yes, he is working from home despite there only being, maybe, three other people in the large commercial building where he would, in normal times, work.

So, okay; I’ll look for his (Ray’s) address, send him a flash drive, after I get the final pages slicked-up.   I SHOULD ADD, “Swamis” is fiction, but I do include real surfers, name-dropped (Cheer Critchlow, Margo Godfrey, more) most of the characters are composites of several people.  Ray and my other best-friend-who-also-surfed, Phillip, are based on the real people insomuch as I imagined how they would react in the fictional situations.

“Swamis” is a fake-memoir as much as anything, and I do also include an Erwin, mostly because, and maybe this is me setting up possible scenarios, I imagine people from the era trying to figure out who this person or that one is based on.  Again, statute of limitations, but Erwin is not me.

Still, I steal experiences and memories from him.  It took this many years to get the materials together to write “Swamis,” I better get back to finishing it.

Meanwhile, PLEASE STAY SAFE.  Real prayers and virtual hugs (not that I’ve ever been a big time hugger), and I think I know a place where one can sneak in to get a few waves.

SWAMIS        A novel by Erwin A. Dence, Jr.

PART ONE- MONDAY, JUNE 9, 1969

-Free! A week ahead of San Dieguito, other high schools. 3-4 ft. Swamis. All day! Not too crowded. Yea! Jumper? Sid? Weirdness. Still unloading boxes. Not too many today. Talked w/Tony abt job at San Elijo Grocery. I’m a fucking Local. Officially-

SWAMIS, ENCINITAS, CALIFORNIA

The stairway there at the time, I swear, was steeper; steep; and, hurrying down it, almost-leaping from stair to stair; I was looking at the water, the lines, the horizon; counting, then recounting the surfers already in the water; trying to beat any other surfers who missed the true dawn patrol. Swamis was again, finally, it seemed, breaking; tide dropping; swell, hopefully, increasing. It would get crowded.

I know I leapt over the last two steps, to the sand. I always did. Ritual.

PERIPHERAL VISION

Two surfers were walking from halfway up the point, along the water’s edge. I wasn’t focused on them; they were shapes, so familiar; surfer and board, nose-up or nose-down, more-or-less crosses in the grainy light, the shadows of the bluff. One was walking faster, trying to catch up. “June,” I heard, or thought I heard; then, more like a question, “Junipero?” Then, closer to the guy in front of him, and louder; “Jumper.”

“Jumper,” I thought. Jumper. Now I almost focused.

Almost. It was a moment, just a moment between a surfer reaching for and touching the other surfer’s shoulder. I’ve always believed it was Sid, reaching; Sid, a locally-known surfer; Surfboards Hawaii team rider; known to thrash his boards; known to take on crazy waves, to burn valley cowboys and out-of-town surfers, even Orange County magazine surf stars down to trade crowded beach breaks for a chance at Swamis point break magic. Sid, who had appeared, hanging ten, in a small, grainy, black and white ad in “Surfer” magazine.

I must have blinked. Sid was flat-out, on his back, parallel to that line where the sand turned hard with the receding tide. His board was floating in the shallows, Jumper’s board pressed, nose-first, to his neck; Jumper’s foot on his chest.

Jumper. Fucking Jumper. Jumper Hayes. He was back in town, back at Swamis. Back.

BACKSPACE…

If we could just ‘backspace’ time, fifteen seconds, maybe, to fully see, to comprehend what happened in those fleeting-then-gone moments we witnessed but couldn’t immediately process. Maybe ‘replay’ is more accurate. Ten seconds even.

Fifty years gone, I’m trying to replay moments, bits and fragments and images and strings; strings of time; so many strings; some tangled, some free.

Oh, I broke free of the North County surf scene years ago; lost my contacts, forgot names, confused and overlapped stories from Grandview and Pipes and Cardiff Reef. I do still remember specific rides among thousands; remember, almost precisely, the times I was injured; held down, hit the bottom, was hit by someone else’s board; or my own; but, and I’ve tried, I can’t remember Sid’s last name

But I do remember Jumper. Jumper Hayes.

In another moment, with me even with them, trying to be cool, to not look, both surfers were sitting on Jumper’s board. Peripheral vision. No, probably did turn my head. Never was cool.

Jumper looked different than I remembered. He was thinner, his hair was shorter, but, even with the patchy start of a beard, he was still recognizable; the same guy from, probably, four years earlier; 1965, back when I was just switching from surf mats to boards; back when he caught any wave he wanted any time he showed up. The Army or prison; stories about his disappearance varied; rumors among high school friends who quoted various upper classmen, scattered pieces from other people’s beachfire conversations.

“I heard he moved to Hawaii, hitting the north shore,” or, “No, Buttwipe; Australia. Or New Zealand. One of them,” Or, “San Francisco; joined a cult,” or, “Chicago.” “No fucking way.” “San Francisco, then.” “Nooooo.”  “Maybe he just ran away. Different circus.” “Fuck you, Joe.”

Someone would then go into a Jumper surf impression, with play-by-play commentary, on any nearby surfboard; Right arm back, elbow cocked, hand like a conductor’s, flowing with the up-and-down movements on the imagined wave; subtle, the left arm lower, hand out flat; punctuated with, rather than the classic cross step to the nose, the quick shuffle, the jump; then a crouch and a shift to a more parallel stance, right hand in the wave, left hand grabbing the outside rail. Twist, weight forward; the fin would pop out of the sand.

“Island pullout.”

Someone else would repeat the performance, only, left foot on the tip in a solid five, upper torso shifting to face the wave, arms spreading wide; he would pull the skeg, make the rotation, yell, “Standing island pullout”, and shuffle back on the board, casually drop to his knees, ready to paddle out.

Yes, I participated in this. Yes, I tried to develop that “Jumper” conductor-dancer flow on my skateboard, pivoting, slaloming down my block, on inland hills, miles from the ocean. I had a long enough board, eventually, to go with the cross step; more like Phil Edwards, Micki Dora.

Style.

But those were longboard moves. Time had passed; what constituted style had changed. And Jumper had been gone a while. Somewhere.

Jumper was probably my second surf hero. Maybe third. Heroes dominated lineups. Kooks and kids gave way, gave waves, watched them, always trying to stay out of the way. Now this same Jumper was, quite possibly, crying, one hand on Sid’s shoulder, one of Sid’s on his. It was Sid who looked around at me with a ‘fuck off’ look.

Peripheral. No, I’d looked back.

I looked away, kept walking. Still only a short distance away, I did what every surfer does, and always has; studied the ocean for a moment before committing; disciple before the alter.

When I looked back, from out in the water, from my lineup, the inside lineup, Sid and Jumper were halfway up the stairs. Sid was one step ahead, one above. When two guys came down, Sid, probably because he didn’t know them, or because he did, made the down-stair surfers split up and go around. Jumper moved behind Sid’s block.

A set approached. Surfers, who had been straddling their boards in the lull, dropped to prone, started paddling. At this tide, some of the waves from the outside peak were still connecting all the way through. The first one didn’t; the surfer on it lost behind a section. Two surfers went for the shoulder as I stroked past. The second wave swung wide, peaked-up on the inside. I had it to myself; another takeoff, drop, turn, cutback, back and forth to the inside inside, fitting my board into and through that last little power pocket, peeling over the palm of the finger slabs that opened to the sea. A standing island pullout into the swampy grass. Swamis.

TUESDAY, JUNE 24, 1969

-dawn patrol. Grndvw. First one out. 1-3, tide too high. Checked all spots. W/Frd moved heavy furniture. Stocked shelves. Bagged. Tony told stories about Dad. Amusing-

PEACE AND FREEDOM AND REVOLUTION

If the Noah’s Ark trailer park wasn’t still there, there on the north end of Leucadia, yet another trailer park squatted up against yet another bluff along 101, protected from the south winds; if it wasn’t still there in 1969; it had been there on those trips with my family, down the coastal route to San Diego.

I understand there’s a jetty there now. Ponto.

I also can’t clearly remember if the fields north of Grandview, the original Grandview, the fields along those bluffs, were fields of tomatoes or strawberries. I know there were no houses. There were the Leucadia greenhouses, closer to the highway, in among the eucalyptus trees. Flowers. It was what Leucadia was known for. Poinsettias in particular.

Maybe not these particular greenhouses.

Turning off 101, I drove past several. One, and this had been pointed out to me by more than one of my high school surfing buddies, belonged to the family of Jumper Hayes. On this morning, still dark, what the forecasters called ‘early morning and evening overcast,’ or ‘June gloom’ hanging on, almost misty; I saw Jumper’s old pickup, almost-flat paint a weird shade of green in the light of the yard lamp, parked next to a van with brightly colored flowers painted on it, outside one of the greenhouses. Only the tail, fin over the tailgate, showed this farm rig was a surfer’s vehicle.

I gave myself a bit of a self-congratulatory nod, a quick smack on the shifter, three-on-the-tree; double-clutched down to second, gunned it.

It had become my workday predawn move, up and down Neptune, checking out Grandview, Beacons, Stone Steps; possibly surfing whichever one had a more consistent peak. Or a peak at all. If it was bigger, big enough, I would push the fourth-hand Falcon station wagon farther, along the bluff, passing the increasingly fancy houses blocking any view of the water, to another low point between the bluffs, Moonlight beach. Rarely surfed there. I’d then go up, zig-zagging other streets when Neptune ended, cruising past even fancier homes; finally skirting the thick white walls and the gold bulbs of the Self Realization compound, the reason Swamis is named Swamis. I would pull onto the shoulder of 101, slide into the public parking area, much smaller in 1969, and there I’d be. Swami’s Point

Someone recently sent me a photo of the place, way back, no buildings, no stairs, with “No Name Point” penciled in. The little park once had an official name, Seacliff Park, I think; long since replaced. Nickname to official designation; Swamis.

Or, depending on my hours; when I got off work, I would turn onto 101 at Cardiff reef, pass the state park, try to get a glimpse of Swamis over the guardrail. If it was breaking big enough, you could see it. I would hit the parking lot and get out. Even if it wasn’t breaking, even in the dark, I’d go to the edge of the bluff and check the view.

With Boneyards as far as you could see past the point, I would check, right to left, the outside, then the inside takeoff spots, then the channel, then south, past what my high school friends and I called Swamis Beachbreak, on, to and beyond Pipes and its namesake galvanized culverts, still shiny at that time, protruding fifteen feet or so out of the sandstone bluffs.

Maybe there’d be some last lighters, still hanging in the parking lot; their stories of new and past glories punctuated with a hoot or a laugh; headlights and streetlights in a descending darkness and a dim glow from the horizon.

Swamis was where I wanted to surf. First choice. June gloom or bright offshore glare; breaking or not. What I felt, and was totally aware of feeling, was that my choice of route and destination was mine, mine alone; that I was pretty fuckin’ close to being free.

Within reason, of course.

SO FUCK-ING COOL… MAN

For a short period of time, but right about this time; well past ‘groovy,’ way past anyone remotely cool (or young) calling anyone a ‘Hippie,’ I made the adjustment, from ‘fuckin’, dropping the ‘ing,’ to Fuck-ing, emphasis on the ‘ing.’ This was after running into a guy, Gordy, a year ahead of me in high school, at a liquor store in Vista. He was sporting a full beard and long hair (longer- Fallbrook had a dress code and I’d just graduated), parted in the middle (of course), and clothing, Hippie-garb I called it, that denied his quite-upper class upbringing.

“So fuck-ing’ cool, man. We just don’t fuck-ing’ see each other, man; like, like we used to.” And he was, obviously, stoned, with an even more-stoned girl, possibly still in high school; headband, boutique-chic top hanging precariously on her breasts, nodding, giggling, eyes unable to focus or even adjust to the light from the coolers; next to him.

I was looking at the girl. Maybe I knew an older brother or sister.   She looked at me, squinting, then nodding, a finger pointed way too close to my eyes. Big smile. “My brother Larry,” she said, “he says you’re a fuck-ing’ asshole; oh and…” She lost her thought. Emphasis on the ‘ing.’

“Larry. Yeah. Well.” Larry. Yeah. Larry’s little sister.

I walked toward the counter, looked at the guy behind it; older guy, sort of leering at the girl. “Larry’s little sister,” I said. The guy nodded. Appreciatively (by which I mean creepily). “She probably going to be, like…” I looked at her (questioningly, not, I hope, creepily). “…a Junior?” she nodded. “Like, uh, next year?”

“Uh huh.”

“Class of, uh, a second…”

“Seventy-one! Yea!” She made a bit of a cheerleader pompom gesture, one hand, a jump motion without actually getting off the ground. Junior Varsity.

I looked back at the Counter Guy. He looked at Gordy. A little judgey, not that Gordy noticed.

Gordy put a hand on my shoulder. I looked at his hand. He took it away. I put two one-dollar bills, my package of Hostess donettes and a quart of chocolate milk on the counter, pointed to a pack of Marlboros (hard pack) on the back wall, turned back to Gordy and Larry’s sister. Gordy sort of gave me a specific (disappointed) look.

“I know, man… Gordie; you probably don’t fuck-ing’ smoke… cigarettes.” He and the girl both giggled.

The Counter Guy set the cigarettes on the counter, rang up the carton of milk and the donettes.

“Pack of matches, too; please.”

Counter Guy put two packs of matches on top of the Marlboros. “You’re seventeen, huh?”

I didn’t think. “Yeah, I am.”

“Well,” he said, “Got to be eighteen.”

He slid the cigarettes back toward him, a fifty-cent piece and two dimes and two pennies back to me.

“Oh,” I said, “I’m eighteen, too. I meant…”

“And you, sir?” he asked of Gordy.

“I left my license in my other pants,” I said. Counter Guy ignored me, smiled (still creepily) at Larry’s sister. She probably took it as flirting.

Gordy put one hand on the cigarettes, the other on my change. “I’m eighteen,” he said, “and I can fucking prove it.”

“Didn’t mean to be so… fucking uncool, Gordy,” I said, as we stepped outside.

“Nah; it’s cool,” Gordy said. He flipped me the cigarettes, one pack of matches, kept one pack; pulled Larry’s sister closer to him, put his hand out as two (obviously) off-duty Marines approached (obviously Marines, obviously off duty), both looking more at her than at him. “Either of you two gentlemen twenty-one?” he asked, pulling out several ten-dollar bills.

Neither of them was, but the next guy approaching, not a Marine, definitely was. He looked at the two Marines, at Gordy, at Larry’s sister. He put his hand out, said, “it’ll cost you.”

“Peace, man,” I said, walking away, waving my free hand in a peace sign. Gordy flipped me the peace sign with the hand holding the money, but quickly, and not where the Marines could see the gesture.   Not that they or the Citizen taking money from Gordy and him were looking past Larry’s sister. She gave each of them a very quick, weak smile, and, in a moment of self-awareness, pulled her top up a little higher on her breasts.

Class of ’71. Yea!

Maybe I was trying to make up for my uncoolness in challenging Gordy. Probably. Yeah. Flipping the peace sign was pretty much over. On special occasions, perhaps; displayed and shared with what we would only later refer to as ‘ironically.’

My relative freedom isn’t, perhaps, relevant to the story. Maybe it is. These were times when ‘freedom’ and ‘peace’ and ‘revolution’ were frequently used in the same sentence. For someone just out of high school, freshly moved to a house two blocks off of surf route fucking 101, someone working various shifts at a supermarket with a view of the ocean; joy and loneliness and a sense of being part of some grand mystery could all be felt in a very short span of time; and repeated, randomly.

MYSTERIES

Why, I had been asking myself, had Sid call Jumper ‘June?’ June with a hard J; not an H sound. If his real name was, say, Jesus; well, anyone would instantly know better than to say Jesus, like Jesus Christ, but, rather, Hey-Seuss, like Hey, Doctor Seuss, dropping the ‘doctor.’

Mysteries ask to be solved. Beg, perhaps. Rumors. Surfing, waves, surfing waves well; that was a mystery. Board surfing was more than just drop in and hang on.

Someone I met much later, a former member of the La Jolla/Windansea group, ten years or so older than me; old enough to have dived for abalone and lobster; old enough to have ridden a new balsa wood board, called surfing in his era ‘plowing.’

“We just sort of plowed,” he said; but when I switched to boards, in 1965, diving for and selling abalone and ‘bugs’ (lobster) for cash was already over; being a ‘true waterman’ was no longer a priority. This only added to the mystique. There was a certain reverence, respect, held by surfers of the “Everybody goes surfing, surfing U.S.A.” era for the members of that post-war generation; beatnik/hotrod/rock n’ roll/pre-Gidget/rebellious/outsider/loner surfers plowing empty waves.

That is, for those (of us) who actually gave a shit.

Tamarack was obvious; one peak in front of the bathrooms on the bluff, a bit of a channel; a parking lot at beach level. Good place to learn; sit on the shoulder; wait, watch, study; move toward the peak; a bit closer with each session. Get yelled at; get threatened; learn.

Eventually, if you wanted to improve, you would have to challenge yourself to ride bigger waves, beachbreaks with no channel, tough paddle outs. You would have to learn to hold tightly to the board’s rails, your arms loose enough to move with the violence of a breaking wave. If you wanted to surf the best waves, even at Tamarack, you would have to challenge someone for a wave.

INLANDNESS

There were rumors, when I’d only surfed Tamarack and, oddly, Doheny; tantalizing rumors of better waves, great waves, magical waves. There were secret spots, places where uncool inland freshmen kooks weren’t supposed to know about, and where they definitely weren’t supposed to show up. If your mother was dropping you off; worse. Probably. Once in the water, one is on his (or, I should say, his or her) own.

Grandview was fairly easy to find. There is a Grandview Street off 101 in Leucadia. Obvious. Still, when I showed up there with my friends, now sophomores, we got looks. Punks, Kooks; not ready for Grandview. The hardest looks were from other San Marcos, Vista, Fallbrook, Escondido surfers; other inland cowboys.

Inlandness was, and still is, in direct proportion to distance from the coast. Where I lived, Fallbrook, we called Escondido Mexican-dido. That was, of course, insensitive. Maybe; but I understand Meth-condido has replaced it. Maybe some other pun has replaced that one.

As with, probably, anywhere, you had to persist. I did. My contemporaries (from school, from the Boy Scouts, from church) and I, as some of them started (tried out) surfing, searched out new locations; across Camp Pendleton to San Onofre; occasionally Oceanside Pier. Some dropped surfing, traded it for parties fueled with liquor purchased by willing Marines (bribed with “I’ll buy if you fly,” or “Hey, just be cool, man,”), or marijuana bought from friends of friends. I had become, and remained, another surf addict; and Grandview was on my route.

By the end of my senior year, I had become accustomed to going surfing alone.

And now, here I was, almost recognized (not necessarily accepted) as a part of the lineup; slipping and sliding down the gully, more-sand-than-sandstone in the still-empty lot between houses, original Grandview, the real Grandview; and ahead of the ultimate local, back after four years or so away, Jumper Hayes.

Just ahead.

Peace and freedom and revolution. Re-vol-u-tion.

THURSDAY, MARCH 13, 1969

-Kicked out of English (again) for disrupting class. In the hall. Back in when petition by famous authors (nicer students) requested it. Phil and Ray ditched. Again. Murdr at Swamis. Chulo. On TV. Fuck-

SHERWOOD FOREST AND THE EMERALD CITY

I have to drop back for a moment. The story hinges on this. Chulo Lopez had been killed the night before, murdered. His real name wasn’t Chulo; nickname; Julio was his real first name. Chulo means attractive, good looking. Chulio was a variation his closer friends used. I wasn’t one of those; I heard them, the variations on his name, out in the water, on the beach.

I would never even call him Chulo. That would be daring, presumptuous. And it would presume he had spoken to me, by name or nickname, first. Never happened.

The murder would have been big in the newspapers, Oceanside’s “Blade-Tribune,” and “The San Diego Union,” though it never made Fallbrook’s weekly paper, “The Village News.” Reports of the incident and follow-ups on the investigation were featured on the San Diego TV news, but not for more than a week or so. North County.

I must add that I didn’t typically, in fact, almost never stayed up late enough to watch the eleven O’clock news. I had gotten a phone call, at home, collect, from Phillip. “Who?” I asked the operator before I accepted the charges. Kind of a joke. The person requested could hear the person they were calling.

Phillip and Ray had ditched after fourth period and headed west, while I had a test to take sixth period, and had packing and moving chores to attend to. Besides, I rarely ditched. Four times, total; twice to go surfing, two times goaded into it by friends. No surfing; not worth it.

“Can’t park anywhere close to Swamis right now,” Phil said, “Cops and firemen and TV crews. A fucking murder at Swamis. Last night, but… shit, man, turn on the TV; it’ll have to be on there. Fucking murder. Dude was burned up. Burned! Up!”

The TV took a moment to warm up. “You get any waves?”

Now it was Ray. “No, man; south wind. We parked up, off of 101, past the Sunset shop, and hung out in the parking lot. Quite the scene, man.”

Me- “Okay. The news is…almost… couple of minutes. Maybe you can call me when you’re… when it’s not collect.”

Ray- “Jeez, man. Thought you’d want to know. You know? You.”

Me- “Thanks. Yeah. I, uh; sure. Thanks… man. Hey, wait; do they know who… who it was?”

Ray- “Thought you… okay; it’s your dime. Um… Phil; what’d that chick say the guy’s name was?”

Philip (in background)- “Chulo? Yeah. Chulo. I know Joe’s heard of him. Chulo.”

CHULO…

Phillip (taking the phone)- “Chulo. Uh; yeah. (to Ray) Ray, you’ve seen him. Older guy. Looks like Jesus. Has kind of a limp. (to me) Not when he’s surfing. Chulo. Right?”

Me- “Je-sus!”

Phillip- “No; but looks like him. Looked.”

Ray (in background, laughing)- “Looked.”

There was a report, but no footage. Film would have to be driven thirty miles to San Diego and developed before it could go on air. “Film at eleven.” Instead, there were some still photos of the Self Realization Fellowship compound, a photo that was actually Moonlight Beach, captioned as “Swamis Point.”

“Horrific” the studio commentator said. “The San Diego County Sheriff’s Office reports Mister Lopez, a well-known local surfer, was probably dead… probably… when his body was ‘posed’ against the thick white walls of the Self Realization Fellowship compound, here, in the North County, Encinitas, doused with gasoline, and set ablaze. Set ablaze.” Ablaze.

All I could imagine was those photos of a Buddhist monk purposefully burning himself up in Vietnam in 1963. “Self- immolation” it was called. Immolation.

Horrific.

FILM AT ELEVEN

I had tried to stay awake past ten; watch some of those shows my friends watch, shows I’d never seen. I didn’t make it. My mom… she must have set an alarm… she woke me up.

The late news commentator’s face remained on the screen just a moment too long, mouthing ‘set ablaze’ with just a bit of a smile. He made a sort of sweeping motion with his hand. The screen went blank for another moment before the image of a younger, hipper man appeared, outside, in the daylight. Shaking his head just a bit, he turned, dramatically, toward the camera, swung his microphone (again, in a dramatic, roundhouse kind of move) close to his face. “It’s a frightening scene here in the North County,” he said.

The reporter stepped aside. The camera panned the crowd of surfers, non-surfers, behind the rope. No one seemed particularly frightened. Some, caught by the camera, gave expressions of shock, others looked away. One little boy alerted an even younger girl of the camera. They both waved at the camera. Smiling.

The angle slowly moved in, past the firefighters and cops, just milling about or talking in groups of two or three. There was no body. I had, probably, thought there might be; maybe covered up. No. The blackened areas on the always white white stucco-over-brick compound walls formed a sort of outline, the darkness around a candle’s flame.

The TV camera followed the burn marks up to the over-large gold bulbs atop the wall. There was a sort of symmetry, a repetition. “Set ablaze.”

Chulo’s body, his remains, had, of course, been gone long before the TV crew arrived.

Channels 4, 8, and ten; those were our choices in the Fallbrook, several L.A. stations if someone climbed on the roof and moved the antenna, or, after my father installed it, if someone rotated it between fuzziness left and fuzziness right. Since it was the lead story on each of the channels, my mom chose channel 8; the anchorman was her favorite.

The camera again panned the crowd, moving back to the on-scene reporter. He didn’t quite have his serious face set. He looked annoyed for just a second.

I recognized a couple of the onlookers. Two or three were locals Surfers. The others watching: Some were Surfers from out of town; some were Tourists, with an itinerary, beaches and Missions- San Diego, San Luis Rey, Capistrano; some were grown-up, Working People, taking a lunch break. Others were Hodads and/or part-time Hippies, interchangeable characters in proper hippie garb.

Then Phillip, followed by Ray, both smoking cigarettes, walked through the crowd. Phil looked at the camera, then dropped the cigarette, moved between some other gawkers. Ray pretty-much smiled at the camera, exhaling a puff of smoke.

——————————————————————————————————————————-

NOTE- Phillip and Ray were (I’ll get to this) busted, partially because of this incident, for serial ditching at Fallbrook High. They had so many hours of detention to serve (the usual punishment, an hour served for each hour missed) that they couldn’t do the time before graduation. They were, instead, tasked with having to pick up trash around the campus at nutrition and lunch until the end of the year. While some students threw wrappers and apple cores and lunch sacks to the ground when they saw either (or both) of them approaching with their large canvas bags and sticks with a nail on the end; they were also folk heroes of sorts, rebels; an enviable status. Peace signs and nods, a few slugs to the shoulder (precursor to the high five and/or fist bump); maybe an already-dated ‘far out’ or ‘right on;’ probably not a ‘groovy,’ even from some otherwise-clueless classmate.

——————————————————————————————————————————-

The segment ended, the on-scene guy saying something about the next day’s weather, ‘throwing it back’ to the studio.

The camera angle zoomed to the far end of the lot. A bus, a converted ‘little bus’ from somewhere, painted in shades of blue, with white clouds and some waves painted on the side, moved between the reporter and the scene. “Jesus Saves” was lettered on the side.

“Retard bus,” Freddy said.

“No, Freddy,” my mom said, “We don’t say that. And, hey, what are you doing up?”

“You’re up.”

“The bus,” I said; “it’s like it’s always there, in the parking lot; trying, I guess, to save the souls of the wicked surfers.” I gave my mom a look that I hoped meant I was not included in the ‘wicked’ group. “Oh, and there’s this woman; Portia; seems to be in charge; tall, long hair; and it, the bus, it, it goes all over. I’ve seen it in Fallbrook, even, out on Alvarado. I think maybe, Chulo… maybe he… he could have been… maybe it’s part of some kind of… I mean, they… I’ve been around… at Swamis… no one tried to talk to me. Maybe…”

I wasn’t interrupted; I just stopped talking. When I looked around, my mother and Freddy were looking at me. “About ten seconds,” Freddy said. “Pretty good.”

“More like five,” my mom said. “Pretty good.” She moved to ruffle my hair. “You need a haircut, Junior. Graduation.”

“No, Mom; graduation’s why I’m not getting it cut. None of my friends are. Freedom!”

She looked into my eyes. I smiled; this to remind her I was still her little boy. “Now Freddy,” I said, “he could use a nice butch cut or a bootcamp cut, high and tight.”

“You’re not a detective, Junior,” my mom said, picking up the plates as the news switched to a short segment with the latest network coverage from Vietnam.

“Not yet,” I said.

FRIDAY, MARCH 14, 1969

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