Weaving a Story into “Swamis”

I have written SO MANY versions of a story about a dickhead faking an epileptic seizure in the parking lot of Fallbrook high, 1969; and I have just worked on another, each one shorter and more concise (hopefully), each one changing the narrative of the manuscript that is getting (again, hopefully) more focused… better; each version split up and connected with other characters and other action; I figured I should reveal where the idea for the fictional encounter came from.

It was a story I only heard, didn’t witness. I didn’t go out on Friday nights. Seventh Day Adventist, one of very few in my school. More real or imagined surfers than Adventists. It was a tradition among my two closest surfing friends, Phillip and Ray, and some of their/our other friends, to avoid some away football games and go to a secluded hilltop among the avocado groves and scrub, one way in and out, and drink, smoke, hang out, and then go back to the high school to await the arrival of the rooter bus. More hanging out.

The drinking part of this involved getting some over-21-aged Marine to purchase beer in exchange for all or part of the Marine’s purchases paid for by kids hanging outside one of two liquor stores in town. Not at all suspicious. Cigarette purchases were easier. 18. Select the oldest looking juvenile. “Oh, I left my ID in my other pants.” Sure.

I did actually go on one of these adventures once; don’t remember how I got out of the house, but I do know it didn’t go well. Another guy and I got to sit in the back of Ray’s El Camino while Phillip and, probably, possibly, Bill Buel, got to ride ‘bitch’ (not my word) and Phillip got to ride shotgun. Like surfing, some priorities are set by status. So, fourth or fifth in this grouping, different in the water. The front seat guys were cracking open beers before we got to the secret spot. I was uncomfortable, particularly when some out-of-school folks, associates of my friends but not of mine, hard guys (at least harder than we were) showed up. Phillip, possibly because one should act differently if drinking, started dancing around me as if we were boxing; doing the “come on, man…” deal. I gave him a straight shot that bloodied his nose and lip. I had some amount of beer. Coors. Asked how it tasted by Ray, I said it tasted better after the first few sips. “Better and mo’ better,” he said.

We did go to the school, hang around in the sloped parking lot across from the gymnasium. Not all that exciting. Phillip did get an amount of sympathy from girls from the wounds, but they also looked at me with a certain, slightly more interested look. Or I imagined they did. “One punch, huh?” Yeah.

Bill Birt was another classmate of ours. Bill had the distinction of having hair on his chest that seemed to threaten his neck in the sixth grade. If I was uncool out of the water, and I was, Bill, with a seemingly permanent bit of spittle on one side or the other of his lip, was more so. He did get into surfing. Don’t get me wrong, I liked him. He is on permanent display in my house in the background of a photo of Trish and her father on our wedding day. Nice, since he died in a car accident only a few years later. Bill was allowed to participate in the Friday night adventures if he paid for the beer and if his parent’s huge car was used for transportation.

One Bill Birt rooter bus story involved Bill taking a massive piss on the uphill side of his mom’s car, the urine river flowing under it and down the asphalt. Uncool enough to tell at school, another addition to tales of Bill always getting it a little bit wrong.

The other relative-to-“Swamis” story involved a couple of my other surf-adjacent friends, guys who always seemed to get the rest of us into more trouble than we would have otherwise. They pull into the parking lot along with my friends and parents and others waiting for the return of the possibly victorious football team. Mark (we’ll call him Mark, though I can’t guarantee that) screeches the car to a stop, falls out of the driver’s seat, starts flopping around. His crew bails out, runs over to him, don’t help him, but start calling on others to do so.

In my manuscript, I have placed Joey into that setting. I included another character, teacher Mr. Dewey (yeah, you get it). Mr. Dewey is making out with another player’s mom in a car while awaiting the return of his wife and daughter on the rooter bus. Joey, who never goes to school events, and who suffered seizure activity as a result of an accident when he was five, is not amused by the antics. Prone to violent outbursts, Joey walks over, puts a foot on the faker’s throat. Mr. Dewey runs over, grabs Joey. He tells Joey that his father’s position on the school board won’t save him this time. The prankster jumps up, semi-apologizes to Joey, then throws up on Mr. Dewey just as the rooter bus unloads. Joey, noticing the lipstick on the collar of Mr. Dewey’s shirt, says, “You got lucky, Mr. Dewey.”

“Gee, I wonder if anyone’s waiting for us back at the school?”

That’s kind of where it is now, but now, Mr. Dewey shows up at Joey’s father’s wake. It provides me with someone to comment on how a very conservative Sheriff’s detective and Marine veteran of World War II and Korea can marry a Japanese woman. Joey comments that “It’s traditional, isn’t it? Kill the men, take the women.”

Right now, where I am in the ever-more-time-condensed manuscript, Mr. Dewey purchases the mini-Ponderosa in Fallbrook. This allows Joey to move to Leucadia, advancing the story. Meanwhile, here’s an earlier version that mentions the incident:


Several Big Jackets and Julia Cole and I were in the classroom outside the photo lab. We were looking at two sheets of contact prints; three rows of 35-millimeter positive images cut from a roll and pressed and fit and exposed on eight and a half by eleven photo stock. Most of the photos were of Portia posing on the landing and stairs at Swamis. 

“I wish I’d caught it,” Julie said, spreading the photos she’d chosen to enlarge around the table.  “Portia had the most wicked kind of smile. And then, when you saw Portia… well… You looked at me first. Regular smile. Then you saw Portia.”


“And I saw both of your faces.”


“And you were both… I don’t know how to describe it. Intense. I feel like you were both so focused, so…”

“Julie; you don’t… I mean, my father would say you don’t feel; you believe, based on facts, evidence. Cops always talk about ‘gut feelings,’ but my dad…”


Julie pinched my arm pretty much as hard as she could. “You feel that?” I pulled away. She got her face as close as she could to mine, looking into my eyes.  “Or do you believe that?” I must have looked angry; I couldn’t have hidden that. She didn’t look frightened. A moment later she pursed her lips, twisted her head to allow me to kiss her.  

I was moving closer but stopped when I looked at her hands. Fists. She was ready, in case. I looked at my own hands. I opened my fists, spread my fingers as far as possible. Julie did the same.  We both smiled; we embraced; we kissed.

She whispered, “I believe you.”

In Julia Cole’s photos Portia was mostly backlit, her semi-transparent shawl held out like bird’s wings. I hadn’t seen Portia up close before that afternoon. Some people are like that; you just can’t, even if you’re close enough, get a good look at them, a real look. If I said Portia had a sort of protective aura; that would sound… off. But it was true. I had seen her moves, her gestures, always flowing, as if she was a dancer. Or had been. Or could have been.

In other photos Portia, so obviously pregnant, looked almost vulnerable. Almost.

“Grant told me you’re known to be kind of… violent.” 

“Grant? Grant fucking Murdoch?”

“Yeah, him. He says you punched out Rusty McAndrews and stuck your foot on his, Grant’s, neck, both on the same night.” When I didn’t respond, she added, “And you slammed Rusty’s brother into a drinking fountain in the sixth grade, busted out his front teeth.”  I nodded.  “And you got kicked out of Little League and then off the football because…”

“There are…explanations.”

“I’m sure. Such as…?”

“Travis McAndrews shouldn’t have said the fountain was for white kids only, my dickhead friends shouldn’t have talked me into going drinking with them and their dickhead doper friends; Rusty fucking McAndrews shouldn’t have called Mohammad Ali by his slave name, Cassius Clay; Grant shouldn’t have acted like he was having an epileptic seizure in the parking lot at Fallbrook High while we were all waiting for the return of the rooter bus; and, and Rusty McAndrews… you know the fucker?”  

Julie smiled, her teeth gritted, was about to say or ask something, possibly a question on why I took such offense at Grant Murdoch’s fake seizure, when Broderick appeared inside the lightlock door and said, “If you two could join us; we have a lesson; how to get that perfect sepia tone.”

“Oh, sepia,” Julie said as the door spun around and back again, empty. I jumped in. She pushed in beside me. “Yeah, Joey, I know the fucker,” she said as we spun into the brief blackness.

SOOO, Grant takes the place of Mark (or whoever). Broderick, the (fictional) photography teacher, is probably out, Julia (Julie to her friends and eventually Joey/Jody) Cole and Joey might not actually make out, AND the ever-shrinking timeline for “Swamis,” my novel, might not even reach to the summer of 1969. I will definitely make it to where it begins, the return of Jumper Hayes.

OHHH, and Rusty McAndrews, based on one or more of the characters I have been adjacent to, will be a critical, if diminished character. Yes, Julie knows him.

Waves, summer, good luck.

And a reminder: Everything from Swamis (and writings in realsurfers) is covered by copyright protection.


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