“Swamis,” Changing, Constantly

I’m working on condensing, tightening, de and re-constructing my manuscript for “Swamis.” In the process, the plot has changed- just as thick, just not as dense (weak joke). As promised, I am posting some of the stuff being deleted or shortened here. Even with that, I couldn’t help but add a little to this to bring it slightly more in line with where the someday-finished book will end up.

Sketch, not anywhere near the style I want to end up with for “Swamis”

I feel compelled to add that “Swamis” is fiction. The characters Phillip and Ray are named after my two best surfing friends, but most of what happens to and with them didn’t actually happen. Most, not all.

Oh, and now I should add that Joey is not me. Yes, he knows all about me; I am still finding things about him. Yeah, and the other fictional characters I am trying to make real.


There were, at Fallbrook Union High School, several large, flat-topped (for seating) concrete planters between the administration building, the Senior Area, and the majority of the school’s classrooms. On the downhill side there was a parking lot, the gymnasium/cafeteria, and two trailers that served snacks and pre-made sandwiches and ice cream at lunch and ‘nutrition.’ 

From my first days in the ninth grade, I spent most of my non-class time standing, usually with a book in my hand, in the planter closest to the action, studying, memorizing; and, increasingly, not-exactly-secretly, observing the rites and rituals, fights and romances, the cliques and the loners. Eventually this became the spot where the surf crowd hung out.  

It was lunch time. Murder was the topic. A crowd had gathered and grown. Murder. I pulled Ray up onto the planter. He continued talking about the blackened wall and the cops and the TV crews; not loud, but for Ray, who I have only witnessed being uncool once (and not that uncool) since he moved to Fallbrook in sixth grade, somewhat enthusiastically.

Wearing a tie but no coat, the Vice Principal approached the crowd. He had been my Biology teacher when I was a Freshman. Because I had asked him on one of my trips to his office, he admitted to not enjoying this job. More money. Resume’ builder, he said the job seemed more tolerable around paydays.

Ray stopped talking. Squints (nickname- big, thick glasses), who had jumped onto the planter and stood by Ray, nodded along, interrupting occasionally with something like a cheer.

“Rah, rah, gooooo… Squints,” I pretty much whispered. He pushed me into the tree before he 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 separated. Phillip stuck out both 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 said; though it was more like, ‘Busss-ted.’

“DeFreines,” the Vice Principal said, “kindly step out of the planter box.”

Ray and Phillip walked toward the office, followed by the Vice Principal. B-2 Bomber Billy yelled, “Free-dom!”  Even before the end of lunch bell, everyone had pretty much turned away.

I was still in the planter box, running the TV scenes back through my mind, freezing the image of Ginny Cole watching Ray walk past her for a moment. Again, with Ray turning toward the TV camera, giving it that smile, as if he knew something. Then again, with Ginny looking at Phillip as he passed, then at Ray, as if she should know who he was, then at the TV camera. Freeze.

“DeFreines, you’re late.”

“Oh.” It took a second. “I, um, thought, maybe, over at the office; maybe you’d be needing… me.”

“No; we know you didn’t ditch. It’s more than that. Please, get down.”

I did a cross-step to the outside corner of the planter, a quick hang five. The Vice Principal didn’t look overly impressed. I dropped to the ground, collected my notebooks from the woodchips, restacked them. “Okay. It’s Earth Science. I’m the…”

“I know, Joe. Uh, back at the office; it’s more than truancy. We have a Detective and a Deputy in the office, and the Superintendent. What…” We were halfway past the first block of classrooms when he asked me what I knew about marijuana, and, specifically, who one would buy it from.

“Nothing about any of this is… shared with… me.”

“No.” We stood outside the door to the Earth Science class. “That goes along with what Ray said.”

“Over at the inquisition?”

The Vice Principal looked more tired than anything else. “Earth Science, science for dummies. Sounds good right now.”

“In between paydays, huh?”


“My, um, guess is, some kid got caught with a joint or something, started squealing.”

“He didn’t give your name.”

“But someone did, um, mention me?”

“Can’t say.” The door opened. The new Earth Science teacher let me pass. I was opening the door to the little store room hang out between classrooms when the Vice Principal led one of the science for dummies students out and into the glare.

“It’s Your Birthday”

A few years ago (not sure how many) Big Dave and I were the farthest surfers out. Not unusual. An outside set was approaching. “Oh,” I might have said, “I would love to get that one.” “Well,” Dave said, “It’s your birthday.” It wasn’t, but I appreciate the act. And, perhaps, the second wave was better. Doesn’t matter; it’s gone. Over.

A while back, Big Dave and I out again, I was at that ‘one more last wave’ stage of my session when I suddenly remembered this was, most likely, my birthday session; but, whoa; there was a wave I just had to go on. Staying as high as I could on the wave, somewhere, while sideslipping, I just couldn’t help but say, “Happy birthday to me!” Not that loud by human standards, but loud enough that, when I paddled out for one more one more last wave, a woman in the water said, “That was a pretty good birthday present.” It was.

I’m pretty used to watching other surfers from the water, not so much from the beach. On this occasion, hanging too long on the shore, possibly considering a second paddle out, I did watch Big Dave take out from farther out and farther over than anyone else, hang mid-to-high on the wall, and, when a section broke ahead of him, he plowed through it and back onto the face.

A guy who has been surfing a few years, sitting on the tailgate of his truck and to one side of me commented, “Oh, it’s not like he hasn’t ridden that same wave twelve hundred times.”

Oh, that explains it.

Same wave?

OKAY, since I’ve gotten off topic, I’ll shelve (actually, just not post) the piece I’ve spent too much time working on today. I have been thinking about the social scene in parking lots. OKAY, I don’t really want to get into that. It’s my birthday, I have shit to do.

Big Dave, a few years back, discussing beach politics

Sometimes a Burn is…

…accidental? Not a sign of disrespect? A mistake?

I have been thinking about burning, getting burned; it’s just, if I want to get my work done ahead of rain and while there is some chance of… something; I have to get going. To work.

Burns. First degree, second degree, third degree, go. Oh, and what about a party wave? No, not necessarily a believer; unless it’s just for fun and between consenting, uh, consenters; and, even then…

I had a couple of reasonable explanations for selecting this photo; let’s go with facial expressions. Captions: Him- “I’m gonna nail this bottom turn, then foot-over-foot to the nose, and then… damn; should’a hooked up my GoPro.” Her- “Hope I don’t have to run over this dickwad.”

Meanwhile, while I’m trying to hype myself up enough to face another day of brushing oil-based stain on sun-baked shingles; I am also reminding myself that, when in the water, one should just be calm, patient, and be sure to adhere to the established rules of etiquette and decorum and… yeah, all that.

The Bug Hit the Windshield


Five-thirty am, on the dot, the bug hit the windshield. I hit the washer/wipers. The last of the wash just smeared the bug carcass in a big semi-opaque, whitish green arch. Driver’s side. My side. I was committed to my journey; there was no way I would stop. I was pretty sure I had the last of the last bottle of all season window solution in the back of the van.

So, later.

Much later. There was no real moisture in the air. There was no real question, the dead bug rainbow would stay. Was it light enough to surf? Yes, already light enough, and it got increasingly lighter as I approached the Strait; curvy roads, hills and trees so well known to me. It was kind of a joke when I told one of my surfing friends that I just put the cruise control on 60 and… cruise. It was also kind of true.

It is also true that where I attempt to surf is one of the more fickle areas I’ve ever heard of. There are, no doubt, places where rideable waves hit even less frequently; my guess is people just don’t talk much about those spots. Secret, secreter, top secret.

Bug splatter on the windshield, minor. 65 on the speedometer on some straightaway, checking each road mile sign, looking for flutter in flags and old Trump banners and trees, following an empty log truck; wailing.

You learn through experience that waves are not the norm.

The windows are small for any particular pulse of swell, and you have to know something about where the tide suits the possible-but-never-guaranteed swell, how winds miles away can just mess it all up, how local winds can blow out whatever waves make the move down the throat of the Strait. It’s a guess on khow many people in Seattle and Tacoma and Great Falls and Dubuque are looking at the same forecasts and thinking… “Yeah, I think there just might be some of them there waves;” all these things are taken into consideration on the drive out.

And then I arrived at my destination… secret, secreter, top secret.

SORT OF. There were some issues; not new ones; involving my frothing/manic/wave-crazed activities in the water. I was reminded, quite heatedly, of rules of surfing etiquette I had (true in this case; did I really think he’d let me have the wave? kind of) broken. Asked for a second opinion of the third person in the lineup at the moment, the response was, “You have to follow the rules.”

“Yeah,” I thought but didn’t say (and now I am) he didn’t have to call me a Kook.” He also told me I need to calm down. I probably did… have to.


A little later on in the same session, after I apologized, after I asked each of the two other original surfers which wave he wanted, which one he was going for; it got more crowded- not super crowded, just more. I turned to go for a wave. A woman told me I had surfed the last set wave and she was going for this one. I think that is somewhere in the rule book, so, okay.

Okay, here is something, frothing/manic/childish, doesn’t-like-to-share Kook that I am, that I have learned in the years since 1965, when I started board surfing. So, um… fifty-six years (though I am perfectly willing to deduct ten or so when I was just too busy working to go); what every surfer does before entering the water is size up the waves, decide whether his or her skill level matches the conditions.  

OBVIOUS. Then, in the water, and particularly when it gets more crowded, a surfer sizes up the competition. Aggressiveness and ability are the key components. When I started out, I would never challenge the top surfers for a wave, whether I was in position for it, had waited outside longer than anyone else; these were not factors.

Don’t tell me (or yourself) you don’t do this sizing up. You do.

MOSTLY I tried not to fuck up someone else’s ride, tried to improve, tried to surf better. Eventually, I had to challenge dominant surfers for a wave.

Or maybe I didn’t have to. If you have a private beach with decent waves, good for you. Eventually, if you want to surf Windansea or Rincon or Westport or Seaside or Bali or anywhere with a crowd… you will have to be more… assertive. I alternated between scrapping for inside waves and trying for a position at the peak at numerous breaks. I continue to do so.

MINOR POINT- Surfers frequently have unkind things to say about surfers who wait outside for the bombs; such as: “How come that dude gets all the set waves.”  

Friends and Friends of Friends

BACK to the day in question. The woman who told me she had priority, since I was in her vicinity during a a lull, I pointed out which of the other surfers in the water would, on a wave, go straight or not pull into the wave fully enough to make it (exception: Successfully making a slow wave makes slow surfers believe they rip). She asked me how I knew. “I’ve been watching.”

NOW, I didn’t mention the loss of priority rule (at least in WSL contests). When a surfer paddles for a wave and misses it, he or she loses priority. Yet, otherwise rule abiding folks sometimes ignore this one, go for the next wave, even though you didn’t go for the first one based on their perceived priority status.

In this very same session, a woman who I never saw even attempt a reasonable bottom turn, who never made a wave, totally burned a friend (for the purposes of this piece, we’re all friends) by dropping in on a wave he was well into and charging. Then she went for another one, same rider coming down the line. “Hey, you gonna burn the guy twice?” “Oh. I didn’t look.” Then, according to another friend, the surfer mean-mugged me every time I rode past her. Yes, I did call her off once. Politely, but I do have a loud voice.

And then I burned (as in took off a bit down the line from) Dr. Death, another surfer who paddled like a demon and stood up like Matthew McConaughey in whatever surf-kinda movie he was in, just a little too late to even attempt a bottom turn. Twice. I know it was twice because he told me so. By name.

It’s worse when they know your name. Like, “Erwin, that makes two times you burned me…” “Oh, it won’t happen again.” 

ON THIS SAME DAY, other spots are, possibly, breaking; other little skirmishes and mis-steps and such activities are going on among the surf enthusiasts. Friends and friends of friends told and will tell stories. Dr. Death told Reggie about how Erwin burned him. “Well, Reggie; if he’s a friend and all, and if you have his phone number, send him one of the photos you took of me getting ragdolled in the shorebreak and face-planted in the seaweed.”

Okay, if Reggie sends one to me, I might just put it on realsurfers.

So, pretty much surfed out, I stopped off at Walmart, Costco, Costco gas station, Home Depot, and QFC. I picked up some window washing fluid at Walmart, threw the two ounces that wouldn’t fit into the container, did a little scrubbing. The bug is gone.

SOMEWHERE in there I texted back and forth with my friend, Stephen, in Hawaii. I confessed my sins, admitted that, as an obvious sociopath, I keep committing the same ones. Steve said he’s a frother also. I texted, “If loving waves is wrong, I don’t want to be right.”

The truth is, when I stop frothing, I will stop surfing.  

Never too Early to Start Worrying

               This is another piece for the Quilcene Community Center Newsletter, modified a bit for realsurfers. Oh, and let me complain, first thing, about how I’ve been too busy to chase surf or do anything serious on my manuscript for “SWAMIS.” No time today, either.

“Where did I… what did I… how did I miss the clue? Where’s my other shoe? Who… what… where… why… huh?”

Have trouble sleeping? Sure, maybe it’s just too hot, maybe there’s too much on your mind. Worries. Here’s what I do on those rare occasions when even contemplating something like counting backwards from one hundred does not put me under, out, somewhere on the trolley to dreamtown: It’s like a mantra, like meditation for the shallow thinker. I merely repeat, silently (usually), “Nothing, nothing, nothing…”

“No, this elevator does not go to Dreamtown, Sleepytown, or, in case you’re a surfing/skateboarding aficionado, Dogtown… ZzzzzzBoy.”

The next thing I know I’m at some exotic location (this is merely a recent example), say, an elevator with glass walls, descending; me and a few well-dressed folks, strangers, sophisticates, each one with a large wine glass in his or her hand, each one obviously enjoying the bouquet, each one skilled in the twirl. Each socialite, in turn, turns to me. A woman asks, “Merlot?” as if it’s a joke I wouldn’t get; a man hisses, “Zin-fan-del.” I hear myself answer. “Chase,” I say, feigning a Katherine Hepburn accent, “And Sandborn. Never actually developed a taste for wine, but I must say,” twirling the crystal stemware as I continue, noting that all the others, each one looking at me, stops twirling their glasses. “I do love me a fancy wine glass.”

“Okay. Don’t know how that Kook got in; but, as I was saying… ‘Tesla, Tesla, Tesla.'”

The other revelers look away. There’s a ‘ding’ and the elevator doors open.

I wake up. Briefly. “Nothing, nothing, nothing…”

There are, perhaps, some twilight moments between the last ‘nothing’ and when I, inevitably, go back to dreaming of surfing (usually of trying to get to somewhere to surf) or painting. It’s what I do and what I have done for fifty-two years. Seems logical.

I didn’t really want to write about dreams, but because I’m always influenced by recent events, I can’t help but think how happy I am that I am not one of the people I saw yesterday, butchers; out in the sun behind the cleanest, shiniest, best equipped portable slaughterhouse I’ve ever seen. Butchers. Two of them, with three recently killed hogs on the gravel waiting to be hung up and skinned and disemboweled and…

No, I didn’t really look; I just kept painting the barn. I did notice they weren’t talking to each other. No music was playing. This was serious. When they left, all that remained was some blood on the gravel. Not that much. Still, I wondered about what haunts their dreams.

“So, then, we watched a movie. Yeah, I wanted an action thriller; but, no, a Hallmark movie… maybe she was right, and it’s what I needed.”

Nothing, nothing, nothing.

As far as waking up goes, it’s a different sort of program in getting myself motivated to roll out of bed when I had awakened forty-two minutes earlier than I planned (it varies- something under an hour on average). This isn’t from me worrying. More likely it’s some sort of urinary clock. Still, it’s an irritating interruption, particularly if there is no way I could get a nap during the day.

This lack of a solid sleeptime is way less irksome on those pre-dawns, based on swell forecasts and some level of hope for the best, in which I have awakened, checked the buoy readings, decided there might be actual waves somewhere on the Strait, and that I’d better get going to beat those other seekers who have the same dream.

Yeah, but work; painting with the sweating and climbing and all… a tougher sell.

However, there’s a tried-and-true procedure. All I have to do is start worrying. Yeah, it’s summer and there’s more work, but what about winter? What about the drought? What about the snowpack? It’s clearly gone. Oh. What about the virus and the failing infrastructure and the perpetual logjam in Congress? What if someone sees me without a mask and thinks I’m one of those free-riders who never got vaccinated? What about bills and… durn; where did I leave my keys? The checkbook? The bill for… money; what about… money?”

It isn’t that the mantra for getting motivated always switches to “Money, money, money,” but, what is true of worrying is that, when something is taken off my personal worry list, I merely move something else into the spot.

Conclusion: The things that keep you up also get you up.

Please don’t misinterpret this. I’m worried you will.

OKAY, the parts I changed were in the dream thing. The slaughtering of the pigs was at a farm where I was helping the preparation of the barn for a wedding to be held there. Two surfers/farmers, Cass and Niles, and some other young farmer wannabes, including Natalie, to whom Niles is to be married, right about now. live on the property. There’s at least one good story in this; maybe two if I include how I got all manic and verbally assaulted Cass’es father, ‘Rip’ Curl (easy to figure out why). Farmers, right now, are too busy to surf. Must be frustrating. You’ll have to wait for those stories. Don’t worry, I’ll get to them.

Another Cut from “Swamis”

It is my sincere belief that it is better to have too much material, too many stories, with editing and cutting, as painful as these things are, still preferable to padding. I have to cut, cut side stories, possibly even characters. Painful. And it’s not just that I think my words are precious; they are just words, keystrokes, blocks… whatever; words.

And I am going to do it, cut “Swamis” until it becomes… readable.

I do think each of the side trips I’ve taken have been worthwhile; each of the stories has been crafted, built from the strokes, worried over and thought through; each one edited down before being added to, and now subtracted from the manuscript.

This chapter is years out from 1969.

the condo wall, pretty much unbroken from Solana Beach to Del Mar


I spent about ten days in my mother’s condo, two bedrooms, ‘en suite,’ she liked to say; five days before she died, four days with Freddy and/or his wife, Marcia. Mostly Marcia.  “Freddy’s just not strong enough,” Marcia said. The unit was all on one floor, the building indistinguishable from the rest of those forming a barrier along the bluff from Del Mar to Solana Beach.

“Your father,” my mother told Freddy and me on the third day, “has been gone so long.  A lifetime ago.” 

On the tenth day, paperwork mostly handled, a realtor with a proven record in waterfront sales selected, I set the urn that the funeral home provided, silvery and plain, on the table on the deck. Outside. She had wanted some of her ashes dropped down the steep and constantly eroding cliff, always under siege by wind and water, chunks of sandstone occasionally falling onto the riprap at the base, new rocks constantly being added to protect the investments of people who just had to be by the ocean.

Even with an early morning offshore wind there was just enough of an updraft that the lightest of the ashes blew back onto her deck, some onto the neighbor’s. My mother would have been amused. I was.

Marcia arranged for a portion of the ashes to be in a place adjacent to my father’s gravesite. Freddy and I each have an urn, decorated in a way that just might suggest that they contain the remains of a woman who was born in Japan, orphaned early, pulled into a different world, and pushed into another; suddenly, dramatically, tragically.

Yet, her last years were calm, undramatic for the most part; and she slipped into her last phase with, I more imagined than believed, a certain contentment. I put the urn on a mantle over a natural gas fireplace. Behind it I have something resembling a double pane glass window, a bit thicker, with a frame on the bottom and two sides, open at the top; not square; a bit of a swoop.  The water inside has a blue-green tinge. 

Behind that, leaning against the wall, I placed a more silver than black and white photo, mounted on wood rather than framed, and enlarged, two feet wide, three feet high. The image is from a photo Virginia Cole took wading out at Swamis late on an afternoon. It is a wave, though the few visitors I’ve had haven’t immediately recognized it as such, even with the subtle patterns on the water’s surface from the energy that is coursing through it, left to right and up and down; the dark core two-thirds of the way down; a lightness three-quarters of the way up; almost transparent, almost white; the sun almost shining through.

In random moments there are waves; left to right, right to left, never breaking free.

“It’s my mother, her spirit.” When no one else is here, I say, “Yeah, Mom; I know.”