Painful Cuts to “Swamis”

This is another chunk of my manuscript for “Swamis” that I have to cut. It is backstory on one of the main characters, Portia Langworthy, and… and I love dialogue. Maybe too much. Despite going into the manuscript with the purpose of cutting-and-pasting this particular scene, I couldn’t resist making a few, just a few, changes.

Because, yes, I care. The main way I sort of justify the hours I’ve spent in thinking, writing, editing, rewriting, and now cutting portions of my novel is that I know the characters well enough, hopefully, that I may not need to include a backstory for each one. Maybe it’s enough that I know where they come from.

I will have other characters’ stories cut and moved here. My hope is that a smaller portion of literary fruitcake is about all one can be expected to… read. I do feel compelled to add that this is copyrighted material, cut or not.

We’d been in the office too long. We were all a bit more… relaxed.

Dickson closed the door when he reentered with two more cups of coffee, handed one to Jumper, said he put a little coffee in with the sugar. Wendall took the other cup, said Frederick Thompson had not been drunk or under the influence of drugs as far as the medical examiners could tell. “Just crazy.”

“Helicopter pilot, Korea, then Vietnam, early on,” Jumper said, as if this explained something.  It seemed to.  

Wendall lit up another cigarette.  “And… all of this… craziness, Langdon is claiming, and he has the ear of the politicians, is because of the Sheriff’s Office laissez-faire” (he pronounced it la-zy-fair) “policy toward pot growers and dealers in the county.”

“Miss Ransom got that part right,” Dickson said, “La-zy-fair for sure.”

Wendall leaned over the desk as far as he could. “It wasn’t your father, Jody; Gunny thought he had it under control. It’s just… grown… too fast, too many new, um, participants. We knew about Chulo; that he was collecting money from the hippie dealers. Chulo and…?”

Jumper and I both said “Portia” at the same time.

“Oh yeah,” Wendall said, “Portia. She’s actually Patricia Sue Langley. Patty Langley, runaway from, um, Many Wives, Utah; busted for petty theft…ha ha… back in ’65.  No, um, end of ’64.  She was a minor, so… So… and… oh, then she got… sexual. Oceanside. Marines, mostly; easy pickin’s.”

Dickson interjected. “Not our, as you know, jurisdiction.”

“Oh, but then Patty got herself down to Leucadia,” Wendall said, “across 101 and down from where you live now, Jody; one of those motels.”

Dickson pointed toward Jumper. “Second one past your family’s place.”

“When I was a kid,” Jumper said, “Chulo and I’d go around, pick up coke bottles at the Log Cabin Inn, other motels; turn them in for the, the deposit. Good money for a kid.”

I felt compelled to join in. I spoke quickly to make up for the obvious lack of interest by the others. “A neighbor kid, Roger; he and I went to this ball game down by Live Oak Park. Fallbrook. Roger’s brother was playing. We picked up bottles; took them to the guy at the little… the stand. The guy said they were his bottles, wouldn’t give us the deposit money.”

“You tell him who your dad was?”

“No.” I looked at Wendall, Dickson, Jumper. They were waiting. “Roger did.”

Wendall cleared his throat. Loudly. “So. Jody’s dad… Gunny… Joe; he always liked to point out how most all the motels were on the south-bound side; like that showed nobody’s coming up from San Diego looking for a place; it’s all from the north.  L.A.”

“Anyway,” Dickson said, “guess she… Patty, um, slash Portia, got tired of… servicing… Jarheads; fresh-outa-boot-camp Ji-rines; they’d probably want to go two or three times.” He did a subtle hip thrust motion, adding, “First time ought to be free. Ha! Probably wouldn’t even make it out of his skivvies.”

Wendall took over. “It was my call. Disturbance. The proprietor actually called it in; but Gunny and…” Wendall pointed over his shoulder. “Gunny and Big Imagination here show up. I’m standing outside a room with some fat business type from Covina… West Covina. So… fat. He claimed he hadn’t gotten his money’s worth.”

It was a brief pause, but Dickson took the story. “So, Joe goes, ‘money’s worth of what?’ The guy… hey; it’s your story, Wendall. Did you take a bribe on that one?”

“Well.” Wendall looked around to make sure everyone was watching. “Sort of. Gunny, he goes up to the guy, looks down at his…you know, package. The guy was in… he’d put on his business jacket. Seersucker; some sort of sales guy green. Sears or Pennys; one of those. No shirt, and, you know, tidy whities; size, um, enormous. For his butt. No big bulge; not that I would notice. Black socks, the kind you hold up with garters. Garters. This Chipper, Mortenson, shows up and the… West Covina guy is acting like we’re supposed to be… like we’re on his side. Mortenson, you remember him, huh; tough bastard, loved to pull over kids.”

“And beaners,” Dickson said, looking directly at Jumper, before giving Wendall a sweeping ‘take-it-away’ gesture.

Wendall was leaning forward, both elbows on my dad’s old desk. “So, Gunny, he’s got Mr. West Covina’s wallet in his hand and, I guess, repeats, ‘Money’s worth of what, Mr. um, Redwick?’ Red… wick.” 

We all may have chuckled. Wendall continued. 

“So, Patty’s standing there, wrapped up in a blanket. Not because it’s cold… and the motel owner, older woman who thought she’d be renting places for artists; like, you know, like Leucadia’s Newport Beach or something; she’s got an arm around Patty, and Patty’s got a bottle of Coke up against one eye, and Gunny’s just waiting for Humpty Redwick to answer. And I say, ‘Maybe he was getting some, um, advice on, um, clothing choices.’ Morty… Mortenson, this cracks him up. But Gunny’s all business; serious. I mean, Morty’s seen some shit. He’s a vet, too. Korea, at least. Army. Chosin Reservoir. Bad shit. And he’d been cruising up and down 101, ‘Slaughter Alley’ for years. He was still, those days, still on a motorcycle. So, yeah; blood… tough guy, and he’s just… laughing.”

Wendall put a cigarette in his mouth, pulled out his Sheriff’s Office Zippo from his shirt pocket, snapped the lighter open with a jerk of the wrist, hit the wheel with a snap of the finger. More theatrics. “So, now Morty sees your dad’s serious. I mean, Morty was big, but Gunny was looking… you know how he could… that look; fierce, fierce-like; and Gunny he… he opens up Redwick’s wallet, then holds every photo of the guy’s wife and kids up to his face; whole, you know, string of them; and then shows them to me. And the owner. And Patty. Gunny takes out all the cash. He asks the proprietor if the motel fee has been paid. She says, ‘Diner’s Club,’ and Gunny holds a twenty and a couple of singles up in Redwick’s face, puts that cash back in the wallet, sticks the rest out toward Patty, sticks the wallet back into Humpty’s inside coat pocket. 

“Probably two hundred bucks. She, Patty, she shakes her head. And I say, ‘Oh, the advice,’ and she, no one would take her for dumb; Patty says, ‘Maybe Mr. Redwick should switch to some, um, boxers… maybe some, uh, dark color; that might be a choice.’ She takes the money. Now Gunny’s smiling. We’re, all of us, laughing. Not Redwick. He does look a little relieved, maybe.”

Wendall stopped, inhaled, blew the smoke out kind of forcefully. We all watched the cloud get sucked into the fan, some of it actually going out the window.

“Wait. Wait. So, Morty gets a call; three car pile-up by the Carlsbad Slough. He gets on his bike, starts it up, peels out. Lights and sirens.”

Jumper filled in with, “Not your jurisdiction.”

“Right. Then, two doors down, this other guy tries slipping out of a room. Gunny’s watching Patty. She must of looked over. The motel owner, she seems, um, concerned. Gunny gives me a look. The other guy, he tries to duck back into the room. I run down… yeah; I can run… I push open the door, grab this guy. He must have thought it was all over when Morty left.”

Wendall did a sort of relaxed pose, casually inhaled, slowly blew out smoke.

“And?” Jumper and I both asked.  

“And…” Wendall looked pleased. “And there’s another, definitely underaged girl inside; not beat up, but… I mean, it was obvious. So, short story long, it all went official. Other than the money.”  

Oh, might as well give credit to Fine Art America

On the surfing front; I decided to surf some small waves without my earplugs and without booties. It wasn’t like, critical. Would have worked out fine except… you know how you’re in the water, and you just think, ‘Why can’t it just be, like, four feet and barreling?’ and it never seems to happen? And then it does. And you’re too busy getting alternately thrashed and thrilled to go in and… no, these rare events demand strict attention.

Result: Stephen Davis says he will not invite me to Hawaii; locals don’t abide with blood in the water. AND both feet are cut and gouged AND one ear is still plugged up. “Worth it?” you might ask. “Sorry, can’t hear you right now. Ow!”

Backpaddling for Beginners

Of the various sins in surfing, the numerous ways in which one can breach, bend, or break etiquette, the backpaddle is the hardest to pin down, and, possibly, the toughest one to get over. Arguments and hurt feelings and judgements passed down upon the perpetrator are the backbone of many a after-surf, parking lot discussion.

Yeah, and even I have been accused of paddling around, past, or through (depending on the crowd size) surfers politely waiting for a turn, possibly giving them a greeting (“Hey, gettin’ enough waves?” for example), only to take off on a wave that fellow participant in the sport would have paddled for, possibly caught, and definitely ripped and shredded. And then, of course, I just kind of, uh, ride that purloined (reference to Edger Allen Poe intended) power pocket.

Yeah again. After a friend of mine was called out for this infraction/sin/crime during several almost successive sessions, and explained the situation to me… well, it went like this: “So, was it, like, you see the guy, paddle past him, take the very next wave?” “Yeah, and he drops in, claims it was his wave.”

Analysis: It was the timing, more than the intent. The intent is, as always, to get more waves, better waves. If someone is clearly demonstrating an intent to go for a wave, and there’s a very high likelihood that that wave will be caught… no, don’t go. If the person was actually paddling for the wave but you’re faster… worse.

It isn’t new. My friend Ray got into a deal years ago at Pipes. Someone backpaddled him, he kept going, suddenly he felt a surfboard bumping into his legs. In that instance, the disagreement was taken to the crowd of locals who control the peak most days, most of them there most days. It was discussed, the ancient precedent of ‘closest to the peak’ priority was brought out, everyone in the pack agreed.

It’s tricky shit, indeed.

It has been determined, by a jury of your peers, that you willfully and most heinously, with intent to rip, did paddle around and, in the course of this incursion, did snake the dogshit out of Wilbur. As a penalty, you will not be allowed to decorate any portion of your face or body with our cool SPF 56 sunscreen AND, because you do not show adequate remorse for your actions, and, in fact, have attempted to defend yourself with the argument, the supposedly mitigating factor that you were merely paddling to your ‘spot,’ your takeoff zone; a little farther over and a little farther out than the shoulderhoppers; and that Wilbur has a history of, and quite possibly if not surely would have blown the wave; which, really, point for you, is true; Wilbur does suck… Despite this, you will be banished to that really scary reefbreak. May the brief joy of that ride on that particular outwardly visible manifestation of the invisible energy of unseen storms be overshadowed by the shame you should feel; and, if there is justice, you will feel. Otherwise, nice ride. Did you see the one I got?

Man, if only I had some of that cool SPF 56 sunscreen.

Photos from a movie adaptation of “Lord of the Flies.” I actually read it. It made an impression.

“Swamis” & RSRD; A Cutback Wraparound

I continue to tighten my manuscript. This is something I cut. Because, some day, in some quite obviously self-imagined and delusional future, publishing it here might be prove to be instructional; and really, truthfully, because I have severe Written Stuff Retentive Disorder (RSRD), and hate to just throw stuff I’ve written into some dark void; because I feel the need to explain where stuff came from and why I thought this stuff needed to be in “Swamis,” the novel, originally. But, without explaining why it now needs to be cut, here’s… this:

No, not quite yet. I steal stories from other people’s lives, rearrange stories from my own. My father is not the same person as Joseph DeFreines. No, but the story is stolen (or adapted) from a real life incident, one in which my father was sent home, quite bruised up, after an altercation on his Civil Service job with the then phone service on Camp Pendleton, run with civilian workers and Marine supervision. My father’s boss was always a Marine. The phone service has long been since taken over by corporate providers.

One of the Marines assigned to the crew did refuse my father’s kind request to get off of the backhoe. Somehow, in the incident, someone wrapped a chain, at speed, around my dad. He came home bruised. There was an investigation; mostly, I have to guess, on how polite my father actually was in his request. The “So, not a fair fight then?” quote is probably pretty accurate.

My father kept his job, retired from it.

The story was meant to show something about the character of Officer and then Detective DeFreines. The story of an incident between Joseph DeFreines, Junior and another Little League player was one of several anecdotes showing how Joey/Jody DeFreines, particularly when he was younger, was capable of violence. That background information would, hopefully, set up some tension going forward in the novel as the situations become more intense.

I took (or stole) the nickname Shiner from a guy I was in the local Volunteer Fire Department with. I never asked him where the name came from, never really had a run in with him… except that one time, when I borrowed his turnout gear and climbed under a car with a severe gas leak. Shiner was pissed, the gear was… well, it may or may not have been salvageable. Shiner and I do exchange nods or more when we run into each other at the Quilcene Post Office. So…

Stolen image: Other kids’ parents misbehaving

My father didn’t tell war stories from the World War II or Korea. “Long gone,” he would say. He created new stories. With the driest, wryest sort of expression he would retell ‘The Kindly Step Out of My Car’ story.

I was thirteen, had just started board surfing, and my mom promised she would take us to Tamarack, but only after we went to Freddy’s little league game. I had been removed from my team after an incident. The discussion between the coach and my father ended with my father saying, “No, I won’t let him quit; you have to say you’re kicking him off.” Decided.

My mom guilted my dad into meeting us at Freddy’s game. “It is in Vista, Joseph. You work in Vista.” He showed up, fourth inning. Some kid’s dad was three innings drunk and belligerent, screaming at players and coaches and umpires from the right field fence.  

To calm the Drunk Dad down, my dad walked him over to the parking lot. He did not invite Drunk Dad to sit inside his brand-new unmarked car, and especially not in the front seat.

“With him ready to puke and all, I did, politely, ask the gentleman to, kindly, step out of my car.”

At this point there would be a pause or a switch in tone, or an actual wink.  

My mom and some Fallbrook folks and I watched from the left field bleachers. Vista folks grouped up on the right field side. We couldn’t really hear what was said. Pantomime. Several Vista Dads headed toward the show. A Friend of the Drunk Dad, also drunk, hit my father across the back (three cracked ribs) with a bat (all were wooden in those days- hickory, mostly), and, when my father turned around and requested a fair fight, politely; smack (severely bruised left arm).

In telling this story, my dad, in his professional and quite monotone voice, would say, “At that point, the gentleman did get out of my car, but decided to tackle me from behind. So, I’m on the ground, I look up at these two, um, citizens, and I say…”

On the various occasions when my dad would break into this story, someone would finish his quote. “So, not a fair fight, then?”

Both of the Drunk Dads ended up on the ground, a foot on one (broken jaw), a bat (in my dad’s left hand) tight against the chest of the other (bruised sternum). 

My father’s next line was, “So, the judge asks me if I’m sure I said, ‘kindly’ in a polite sort of way. Since he’d already given the Drunk Dads total exoneration and the Sheriff’s Office, worried about being sued, had paid for all their medical expenses, I said, ‘Judge; when I say kindly, I don’t always say it… politely.’” 

He told the story enough times that the pauses were appropriately placed, the timing perfect.  “Politely.” 

Because I do tell stories, here is “More Tits, Bobby:”

“You shouldn’t have run,” my father said, “it made you look guilty.” Oh, we were. I was eleven (1962), my down the block neighbor, Bobby Hudson (who got away, temporarily) and I had been digging through my dad’s assortment of “National Geographic” magazines in one of the big greasy drawers in the old Post Office oak desk that became the base for the garage workbench.

“It was Bobby’s idea. He was finding the pictures, I was just…”

“Looking? Yes. Junior, I heard ‘More tits, Bobby,’ from outside.”

I didn’t consider, at the time, why my dad kept those particular issues, each one containing at least one topless ‘native,’ in that drawer.

The “Just Smile” story:

This was, again, the summer of 1965. I was almost fourteen, had started surfing, but was expected to live up to my commitment and to graduate from Little League to Pony League baseball. That didn’t happen.

“Anger is almost always because we’re mad at ourselves,” my father said. I hadn’t told the Coach and wouldn’t tell my dad why I punched out the kid from Rainbow, wouldn’t tell him what the kid called me. I knew I didn’t have to.

“The next time someone gives you… guff,” my dad said, as he exited and I was about to enter the one bathroom at our Magarian tract house, “just smile. Really. Laugh; it’s even better.”

“So, he wins?”

“He’s still on the team. Is that winning?”

“But Dad, see; I did do that. I did… smile.”

I wanted to cry; knew I couldn’t cry in front of him. He knew I’d cry if he left. He stayed. We practiced my smile at the bathroom door mirror, trying to find, so we could eliminate it, the one I gave the kid from Rainbow before I smacked him with his own glove.

“That one, Junior; that is one scary fucking smile.”

It was the first time he used any swear word at all in front of me. It was an evil, crazy smile. I tried to hold it, broke into a laugh. And my dad laughed.

“Half of that, that would be perfect. People like that; they have to know you mean business but you’re holding back.”

“Here’s my… on-the-job smile.” Confident, with a faked friendliness, his eyes moving, calculating. Anyone receiving that smile would have to know Joseph DeFreines was capable, if necessary, of violence. “Practice, Junior; and, really, don’t feel like you have to get even. If you knew that kid’s family, um, situation, you’d… save your guilt and, and your anger… for something bigger.”

Guilt?  I hadn’t felt particularly guilty for hitting the Kid from Rainbow, or for striking out of Little League.

“Oh, incidentally,” my father said, with a slightly less friendly version of the same smile, “since you’re freed up from baseball, I’ve signed you up for Devil Pups.” He did a little marching move on the way out of the hallway. “One two three four… one two… three four.”

“Nip,” the Rainbow Kid called me, again, two days later, in the cafeteria; loud enough for those in the vicinity to hear. He was smiling, others were laughing. “Jap,” he added.

I sat down next to my tormentor, squeezing another Rainbow kid over. Rainbow, for reference, is an area East of Fallbrook, out on highway 395, now Interstate 15, south of Temecula, which is now huge. I set my metal tray of food in front of me, looked at each of his friends until they looked away, looked at him, at his swollen eye. If he didn’t look as if he’d take his words back, he did look a bit worried as I moved even closer.

I know I had my new smile on my face. Practice. “Shiner,” I said, and laughed.

There was a pause. I waited. Patiently, eyes on the Kid.

“Shiner,” someone else said; then another; everyone at the table except Shiner laughing.

And then Shiner laughed. The nickname stuck. Shiner. Never surfed. Became a civilian Firefighter at Camp Pendleton.

Okay, so the “More Tits” portion: True stuff, based on my neighbor, Bobby Turner, and me going through Bobby’s father’s collection of “National Geographic;” definitely porn for eleven year olds.

I have, incidentally, figured out a way to include a condensed version of the “Kindly” story in with the STUFF currently in the manuscript.

PREVIEW: I am working on a piece on the most disputed part of surf etiquette; THE BACKPADDLE. No, I am not admitting to any guilt; merely pointing out the subtleties. Soon.

The Best Surfer in the Parking Lot

This is a photo of a Northwest parking area in 2015. If I had taken the shot a few minutes earlier, there would have been one more VW. Timing. And times. Now there would be Sprinter vans and almost-Sprinter vans, properly built-out, and trucks and… oh, my Toyota is in the photo… wow, didn’t realize I’ve had it this long.

Long enough that plastic parts have become brittle enough to just break, hinges have rusted. It’s dinged and has a certain and hard to disguise smell of mildew. The muffler may or may not be totally gone (it is… gone), the radio doesn’t work (other than an occasional whine from the back speakers), but the air conditioning (with the original coolant from 1987) does work, even better since George Takamoto replaced the fan motor (eliminating my need to slam the dashboard until it came on). Tough car, hard to kill; tough enough that, when my daughter’s car had some issues, Dru is borrowing it. Sure, with prayers and best wishes from Trish, and instructions from me to put a towel on the driver’s seat and to not try to open either of the back doors, and to not slam the back hatch, and to check the oil frequently, and more.

So, same car for me, same attitude, same desire to ride waves.

What hasn’t changed on the Strait is the opportunity to wait; wait for the tide to fill in or drop out, wait for the swell that was predicted, that was actually showing on the buoys, wait for someone to give a real explanation for why waves have not shown up, and for someone to tell you exactly when they will.

Or where. Somewhere else.

Oh, it is definitely going off somewhere else.

And when waves do show up, according to the word in the parking area; oh yeah, it’ll be on. ON! The competition to get more waves or better waves, to do more on each wave, to… if you surf, you know there is not only a struggle against currents and squalls and rocks and closeout sections and, sometimes, even getting out to the waves, but there is the challenge of dealing with other surfers; each of us intent on ripping, wailing, cruising, crushing, gliding, or otherwise riding whatever waves are available to the very limit of our ability. And maybe, maybe we will surf just a little bit better than we ever have.

Yeah, it’s the ‘maybe’ that brings us back. Recently, trying to stay on topic here, I got out of the water, commented to Darren, someone I have seen often over the years; and, yes, the guy who let me paddle in on his board when mine was caught in the rip (as was I), that several surfers had just gotten the ride of their lives, not, necessarily, because they are really good, but more because they caught a slow one and made the wave; and, because they got that one ride, they now believe they are better surfers than they actually are; and because they got that ride at this particular spot, they would, no doubt, return.

“I was just thinking the very same thing,” Darren said.

If I really think about it, all the above stuff about others is probably also true of me. And Darren. And you. Maybe it is a different spot; one wave you thought you wouldn’t make, couldn’t make, and then you did. That’s what brings us back, pushes us out of the comfort of our home or our built-out van, out into the water.

All right. Again, I have written something far different from what I anticipated, what I planned. Sorry. What I wanted to say… well, several things. I will try to be brief.

First, every surfer is a badass ripper in the parking lot. I have walked past surf spectators for whom the waves weren’t good enough (some who scoffed because they were good enough for me), come in from challenging conditions and asked why certain badass rippers weren’t in the water, asked others why they were surfing on the inside section. Rude.

Every surfer has a history; most of us have a past that includes those perfect moments, perfect rides. If I listed my own history, the question that would have to be asked is, “Why don’t you surf better now?”

I have my explanations, and, although I am rude and blunt and an admitted asshole, I probably won’t ask you for yours. Then again, if we talk long enough, I probably will.

The greater struggles are with ourselves, with our expectations and our underlying sense of ourselves and where we fit into some larger society, where we put ourselves in some pecking order, and where we think others place us; and whether we are satisfied with that position.

I wish I didn’t care about all that. I do.

Too long. Got to go. There may or may not be waves. If we run into each other somewhere, feel free to introduce yourself as the best surfer in the parking lot. “Oh,” I might say, “glad to meet you.”

Cheer Critchlow Cut from “Swamis”

Or, maybe not.

I am at a point in my tightening the plot of “Swamis” where the narrator has to have a reason to take a night class in Police Science. The scene has the introvert (with exceptions) Joey/Jody running out of the Public Speaking class (with some backtracking as to why). The inspirations are these: My old neighbor in Encinitas, Frank Andrews, who did some painting with me on weekends, told me that if he had to give a speech or take an ‘F,’ he’d choose the failing grade. This was shocking to me. I would race through any oral report. The other thing is the actual night class I did take at Palomar Junior (long since ‘Community’) College. I wrote about my experience for this site in 2013, so this is a rerun. Or a reprise.

Greetings to Cheer, seems like you’re doing well.


There probably should be some time stamp here. Along with the peak of the Baby Boomer wave, I graduated from Fallbrook Union High School in 1969. “Sixty-nine, Man!”

Before I went to Palomar Junior College, the closest I’d come to hanging with anything that could be called “the North County Surf Community” was when I was on the Fallbrook wrestling team, going against San Dieguito. That school district included Leucadia, Encinitas, Cardiff, maybe even Del Mar; and excluded Carlsbad and Oceanside- separate tribes, separate Junior College. But Fallbrook was included in the Palomar district. Sure, Escondido and Vista were also included. But, what going to Palomar meant…

…it meant a lot to me. Now I knew other surfers ‘from school.’ I could nod to them, maybe, on campus, or, better, at the top of the Swamis stairs; maybe even hang for a while, comparing notes on the surf, they drinking homemade smoothies, some talking about Jesus; me with my chocolate milk, and, having already used a few swear words to describe the crowds, unable to testify, to say I also had a deep love for our living Savior from before it was cool.

I knew who Charles ‘Cheer’ Critchlow was before he showed up in Speech 101, one of the night classes I took to allow more time for work/surf/girlfriend/church, Speech. It was his image, tucked into a little tube, that was on the sign for Hansen Surfboards, A photograph had been in “Surfer” Magazine, tucked into another tube at a surf contest in Santa Cruz.  I’d seen Cheer and Margo Godfrey casually walking out to surf the outside peak at Swamis on a big choppy afternoon when Scotty Sutton and Jeff Officer and I kept to the inside peak.

So, I tried to use the original photo that became this part of the signage at the Encinitas Hansen store (way different than a surf shop). The site where I found the photo of Cheer crouched in a tube said it couldn’t be used for commercial purposes, but editorial usage was okay. Okay, I don’t make any money on realsurfers, so… so I saved it, then couldn’t find the file. Oh, there it was, but, well, no photo, just various ways I could pay to use the photo. So, no. Another option was to use a photo I couldn’t actually be positive is Mr. Critchlow, another to use a much more recent photo of the obviously successful Charles Critchlow. It seems he is a CPA*. Interesting.

Mr. Critchlow had actually, though he was also still in high school, been a judge at a North County high school surfing contest at Moonlight Beach. Jeff and Scott and I, though we’d ripped in the warm up, were harshly eliminated in our first round heats. We were gone so quickly that several girls from my school showed up after we’d taken off.  Maybe I’d lied about even being in it.

No, Jeff’s Dad took us to 15th Street in Del Mar, near where they had a beach house- and we ripped it up again. No points.

Cheer Critchlow was one of the surfers I viewed, from the shoulder, wailing from fifty yards deeper in the pit during the first day of the swell of 1969. “They (the surfers who were successful) must have some Hawaii experience,” I said at the time.

When I gave a speech on our trip to Mazatlan in my nervous-as-shit, rapid-fire delivery, Cheer Critchlow spoke clearly and calmly, and with some humor, about his first time surfing big Sunset Beach with Mike Doyle.

“So, Mike just told me, ‘If you don’t just go, you’ll never go.’ And I went.”

When I brought in a surfboard I’d shaped and painted as a visual aid, Cheer brought in templates he’d used with and borrowed from, again, Mike Doyle.

When I gave a speech on my future plans, writer, artist; Cheer’s speech revealed school was part of his backup plan. He’d tried very hard to be a professional surfer, and it wasn’t working. Maybe someday, he said, a surfer could make a living from surfing. Very convincing, moving, successful speech.

*Interesting because the character I thought would be the closest thing to a true villain in “Swamis” is a Certified Public Accountant. No, not based on Cheer Critchlow, but, since I am just reworking the part of the story where Joey and Mr. Cole meet, and, because a CPA’s most valuable asset is a perceived or real belief that this person is trustworthy, and since I already had the fictional CPA possessing that same combination of confidence and coolness, with just enough self effacing modesty, qualities Cheer seemed to have… to seem… well…

No, David Cole doesn’t surf, but his daughter, Virginia, does.

Still, he could have given me, maybe, a few more points at Moonlight.

“Swamis,” Right Now

This is another part of my manuscript that I am completely changing. It wasn’t some obvious attempt at having Ginny and Joey ‘meet cute.’ Still, I thought it was kind of cute/authentic. I will restate that Joey is not me. I did try to sneak into advanced photography without the prerequisite. No Ginny, no Big Jackets; ran into them later when I was writing for the “Port Townsend Leader.” Like the look, can’t pull it off myself. The having to pee but can’t leave the photos developing thing is real.

Oh, I did notice that Joey mentions Bucky Davis. He is a real person. When I said something about him and my early Kook days, a friend (okay, ‘Shortboard’ Aaron) said that Bucky Davis is the perfect surfer name. Yes.

As far as the sort of magical aura of being in a red-lit darkroom: When I was working in the Sign Shop at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, I did, on my first trip to the yard’s photo lab, go into the darkroom with, rather than the burly main photo guy, a woman who was not all that attractive in regular light, but, with the added mystery of it being very close to Halloween, and with the woman in some sort of costume (cat, I think, with appropriate makeup), it was sort of, um… let me not get myself in trouble here… it gave me something to use here, thirty-plus years later.

This works. Kind of.

Everyone in the correct classroom seemed to know each other. They were standing around in small groups, some in those multi-pocketed, khaki-colored newspaper photographer vests or coats; versions, I thought, of great white hunter jackets, modified trench coats. Big Jackets. Some had more than one camera, more than one leather camera bag. The more pockets on the coat, the bigger the camera bag, the better the photographer must be. One guy was wearing a green beret (French artist, not Army Special Forces style), another had on a gangsters-in-old-movies fedora. Very noir, I thought. One guy had on the fishing version of a pork pie hat; the look completed with a couple of fishhooks. None of those obviously real photographers, I thought, could possibly take Fish-hat seriously.

Poser. Faker. Hodad. Kook. Like me; trying to blend in without having taken the prerequisite.    

I looked down at my favorite vinyl windbreaker, selected because it had pockets for holding the two rolls of exposed film I had with me, one per pocket, balanced.  An inside pocket contained a pack of cigarettes, my dad’s lighter, four ballpoint pens and a Surfboards Hawaii decal I’d picked up at the shop, free, to me, the girl at the counter said, with my purchase of two bars of wax, as if I was special. 

Most of the Photography II folks were men, grownups, though not as old as the potential realtors. I couldn’t help thinking that most were probably most interested in artistic nude photography. Artistic. Nude. Perverts. Little groups of perverts with multiple pockets on Big Jackets.

Then there was Virginia Cole; a ponytail hanging out of a hand-crocheted girly version of something between a watch cap and a French beret. She may have had on some makeup. If so, it was minimal. She was wearing a neutral-colored and oversized sweater, and Levis, 501s; boy jeans. She had that large, gray-and-stained, possibly-leather bag on the floor in front of her. She had that Ginny Cold look (I would say neutral, but it was cooler than that) on her face.

Not that I knew her.

I did know the look; the don’t-even-think-about-it expression necessary for a young woman’s survival in the surfing community. Or any community, including night class.

Trying not to so obviously looking at Virginia Cole, I leaned against the table, close to her, checking out the black and white framed photos on the wall, and more samples, unframed, spread out on this and other tables. I did glance over occasionally. Virginia Cole didn’t look around.

“Hi,” I said. No response. “It’s like a pervert convention,” I said. No response. “The Big Jackets.”  

No response. I chuckled, Virginia didn’t. “I surfed Pipes this morning… pretty good. Dawn patrol. All the high schoolers… back in class. I had some day classes. I work… yesterday.”  

I was undoubtedly talking too fast, definitely nodding like a fool. “I mean ‘worked’ yesterday. At the market. Cardiff. San Elijo Market. Lot of people call it Mrs. Tony’s.” 

Virginia cleared her throat. “Got a great deal on grapes.” Nothing. “Seedless.” I thought I saw a bit of a smile, quickly dropped. “You get any waves?” No response. “They’re seedless; on sale. Grapes. Mrs. Tony’s.”

Virginia Cole turned toward me. She had the ‘drop-dead-and-die’ look ready to go; with the possibility of her expression moving from there to the ‘may-your-dick-fall-off-just-before-you-drop-dead-and-then-die’ look; but just as she turned, as can happen in the hours after a person surfs, water, trapped in the sinuses, suddenly, uncontrollably, flowed out of Virginia’s nostrils.

It was less than ‘poured,’ more than ‘dripped.’  No, poured is more accurate.  She pushed herself away from the table and quickly brought a hand up to stop the flow.

She looked at her hand, looked at the wet streak down her sweater, the drips on the floor, looked to see if any of the Big Jackets had witnessed this. They hadn’t. Then she looked at me. I wasn’t laughing. I must have shared Virginia Cole’s expression; both of us cringing.

Virginia Cole tried to reset her serious expression and couldn’t. “Seedless, huh?”

“Okay, class;” a man’s voice from the front of the room announced, “time to pick a partner for the dark room.”

Frightening; the choosing process. Always.

I took the neckerchief I had around my neck (part of my junior college-cool outfit), handed it to Virginia. She looked at it for a second, unraveled it, wiped her nose, her eyes on me. Green, yes; translucent. She reset her polite-but-serious face, looked down as I wiped at the puddle with my bare feet.

“No shoes,” she said.

“No. No shoes. Wasn’t expecting…” I did an unnecessary sniffle.   

Virginia Cole folded the neckerchief so that the wet part was on the inside, gave me a lesser version of the cringe. I moved one of my rolls of film to the other pocket, accepted the neckerchief, stuck it in the other pocket. I raised my Yashica 35-millimeter camera, briefly considered pointing it toward Virginia Cole.

She looked at the camera, then at me. No.

“My mom,” I said, “she bought it from a Marine, he’s… was, back from Vietnam, at her work. On the base. Photo lab, matter of fact. He’s dying, maybe he has died by now… probably. They sent him back to Arkansas or some place; some, some unspecified disease. I think it might be, um, syphilis. ‘So young,’ my mom said.” I moved the camera closer to Virginia. “So, ‘Fifty bucks,’ my dad said. It was more like a question. ‘Fifty bucks?’ ‘It’s for Junior,’ my mom said. ‘Guess it’s better than that Brownie,’ he said. So, um, she actually got it for thirty-five, cash, gave me the rest… for film. So, it’s mine.”

Ridiculous scattergun blathering. Still, I must have wanted to see, again, her ‘drop dead’ expression. I did raise my camera, did look at her through the lens. Though I never took the shot, her face, just before she put her hand over my lens; that is still my top Virginia Cole image.


This was new. The darkroom. A certain foggy closeness, warm, chemical smells. Different.

Something about being with (that is, near) a woman in a dark room; the lighting so different; highlights and profiles in shades of red; a certain intimacy. I was a little too thrilled. This wasn’t a date.

With me so obviously amazed and clueless, Virginia almost shoved me toward an empty station near one of the many sinks set and spaced out on several long black counters. She took my camera, made sure it was rewound, opened the back, took out the roll of film, unfurled it, cut it into several sections, put on some heavy rubber gloves, then, using tongs, placed those sections into the tray of developer.

“How did you even get into this class, Junior?”

I put on rubber gloves. “Beginning photography was closed.” I just stood there, stood by. Eventually the first roll of film I would ever watch develop was coming to life. Images were emerging. Negative images; everything white gone black. So excited. Not that it’s necessarily connected, but I had to piss. Desperately. I couldn’t leave. “You?”

“Me? What?”  

I tried to pass on my question by sweeping my hands toward, then past her, then around the darkroom. “Photography… Two. Two, as in, with a prerequisite.”

 “Me? Oh. Took it while I was in high school. Last year. It’s… probably didn’t tell you out in Fallbrook. It’s… possible. It’s allowed. Quit dancing.” Maybe the ‘quit dancing’ was too much like an order. “Please.” She looked at my feet. “I don’t get your no shoes look.” I looked at her feet; brushed leather almost-hiking boots. Hush Puppies. I guessed with socks. “You know, there are… chemicals… in here.” Maybe I looked like I didn’t understand. “Shoes, Junior; at least some go-aheads; something… sensible.”

“Shoes. Shoes. Good. Good idea. Sensible. Yeah. I, um, had some Hush Puppies; got them because Phillip, a friend, from, um… he surfs. Pretty well. Phillip… fashionable… he had some. I kind of…”  I put my hands on my knees. “Bowlegged. Me. Sort of. I ran them over… at the heels. They were… I liked them. Mine. You?”

“Me, again. Me what?”

“You, uh, Hush Puppies; you like them?”

Virginia Cole just shook her head. She nodded toward my first roll of film, floating in the developer. I gave her a look that requested her permission. She gave me a look that said, ‘yeah, dumbass, you can pick it up.’ What she did say, pointing to the other tray at our station, was, “Now, Junior, the fixer.”

I grabbed my roll from the tray, by the edges, held it up to the red lights. There were the images, negative, 35 millimeter, white-and-black images of Swamis, of friends on the beach, two shots of waves at Oceanside Pier. I let the roll slide into the fixer and took the second roll, gloved fingers on the edges.

“How long in the fixer.”

“Long enough.” Insufficient information. “Until it’s fixed.”

“Some of the shots are from the time Phil and Ray and I were at Swamis… shorebreak; and Bucky Davis, he was a Junior at Fallbrook when we were freshmen, one of my earliest surfing heroes; he showed up packing a seven-six, and said surfboards need to get even shorter. Shorter? I had waded out, down where the rip-rap starts, got, yeah; two shots of Bucky, cheater-five on one, and look, he’s smiling, kind of a closeup, on this one.”

Virginia did look. “A little blurred, Junior. Shutter speed, maybe, but, uh, kinetic.” Pause. “Artsy. Bucky Davis; perfect surfer name. I’ve heard it.”

“Yeah.” Something positive. “I, uh, I don’t actually know his real name.”

“Well. Maybe it’s… Bucky.”

Virginia took my roll, hung it on the line with her five rolls of negatives: Flowers, spears of that dark and heavy kind of iceplant hanging onto steep bluffs, palm trees and sunsets and clouds, and various groupings of the San Dieguito surf crowd in the Swamis parking lot.

“Whoa,” I said, “it’s so… magical. Poof; images.”

“You could act like you’ve, um, seen this magic… before.”

“I will. I have been to my mom’s work, never in the darkroom.”

“Shit, Junior; here comes Broderick. Quit the dancing.”

The instructor, Mr. Broderick, middle-aged guy with extended sideburns and a combover, was approaching Ginny and me from another sink/rack setup; but stopped to inform the shortest guy among the Big Jacket crew that Broderick’s Photography and Fine Arts Studio in Escondido should not be referred to as a ‘shop.’  

“Okay. Studio then.”

Broderick, Short Big Jacket, and Short’s lab partner, Rotund Big Jacket, began whispering; sharing some rude, no doubt, remark about the model photographed by a different Big Jacket they referred to as Nikon Nelson, who, evidently, heard his name, and, along with his (Nikon’s) partner, Black Big Jacket (not because he was black- his jacket) came over to join in.

What I overheard, from various voices, was, “Coarse. Grainy. Well lit. Butterfly lighting.” “Kind of chunky.” “Hey, that’s my wife!”  “Oh, yeah; but she looks so much… sexier in my photos.”  “Gentlemen…”  Laughter.  “Asshole!”  “Hey, partner; I was joking; your wife looks just as fat in my photos.”

Virginia pulled on my arm. Swinging around, I ended up quite close to her. She whispered, “Broderick’s had to figure out; or he will, soon. You… here.” Our faces were, maybe, too close.  For her. She moved back a bit. “You’re… quit it… the dancing.” It was more like slightly off rhythm marching in place. “You have to…”  She followed my arm, my hand, down to my crotch area, for a second, half second. “Go.”

“Go? Yes. Go. It’s just…” The developing; so… exciting.”

“Go. Please. But, uh, take the gloves off.” I peeled the right glove off, left the other. “We’ll, when you get back, make some contact prints.”

“Uh huh. Great!” I avoided eye contact with Mr. Broderick, side-stepped him and two Big Jackets, two stations over, all busily looking at sheets of white photo stock that were, most likely, contact prints, the images, obviously, nudes.

“Well lit,” I said, in passing, “Grainy, but yes; subtle.” Two of the Big Jackets nodded, one more pleased than the other. The other one gave me a look, kind of blocked me from coming closer or looking more closely. “Not fat. Statuesque.” Broderick gave me a look. I gave him a nod. “Bathroom,” I said.

TONE- I can’t seem to help it. I am writing “Swamis” as neither gritty nor light; rather as how I envision our lives. We stumble through, try to maintain a balance, some sort of dignity, and a perspective; optimistic if possible. I can’t help it if sometimes shit’s just really cutesy.