I got five copies of the original drawing, just so I could, maybe, take a few risks on the colors. This is the first attempt. MEANWHILE, I keep working on the story.
…the first one, ever; goes to William Finnegan for “Barbarian Days.”
I’m sure he would be stoked. Okay, maybe mildly amused. Maybe just cool about the whole thing. I just heard the last of the hourly NPR newscast the other day, announcing the winner of some award. Didn’t hear what award, but something literary. I was excited. I called up Port Townsend librarian (and surfer) Keith Darrock, who had saved the book for me when they got it in. I may have been the second one to check it out. My friend Archie Endo also mentioned the book was out. Real life surf writer/editor Drew Kampion endorsed Finnegan as a writer, quite impressed he had written a two issue (unheard of in its rarity) “New Yorker” piece on Doc Renneker, legendary surfer. “Yeah, he’s legit.”
So, I read it. Not straight through; but as straight through as I could manage.
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s the Booker Prize. Don’t they have something like that?”
No, I found out; it’s the Pulitzer! Whoa. Now, that’s something.
It might be that part of the reason I loved the book so much more than some other books on surfing I’ve read, or started to read, or scimmed and abandoned, is that Mr. Finnegan is a real writer; a really good writer. And…he’s been there; surfing and other war zones; and he can maintain a coolness that most of us cannot; he can put into words what we can feel, not explain, and yet recognize as authentic. Passion and critical situations are sometimes best described from just a bit of distance; with the right amount of objectivity. “Yeah, that’s it. He got it right.”
The explanation for why the book had a bigger impact on me than it seems to have had on Keith is, perhaps, that Finnegan and I are contemporaries. I looked it up, he’s actually a year younger than I am; started surfing at a similar time. He is able to describe the beginnings of what his reviewers always seem to call “a lifelong passion;” trying to learn, to improve, to fit into whatever tribe one finds himself among.
While he was exploring now-well known spots around the world, I was surfing now-way-more-crowded spots in a less crowded Southern California. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to hear how that went for him.
I actually was impressed enough to hold off of returning the book after I’d read it, asking Keith what would happen if I went over the deadline. And (this is actually unusual) I watched a video of Mr. Finnegan doing a reading at some event in New York City, with non-surfers making up most of the audience.
And he was cool; not talking down, now rolling his eyes, not even, noticeably smirking as he looked back to the page he was reading.
I have to admit I take some (probably improper) solace in knowing that, possibly to make up for his wanderings during his youth, he’s still working. Of course, when he’s not, he might be snagging a few tubes at Tavarua, staying at the now-known island, with a real bed and untainted water. So, a minor honor, indeed, but the first ever “Real-ly” is for you, Mr. William Finnegan, Jr.
“Not professionally, not really. Not like you.”
“No,” he said, “what I am is under-fucking-employed.”
It was the wrong day; the swell at the wrong angle, size, and period; the wind and tide not optimal, the forecast slightly north of dismal; and it was rain just-warmer than snow. And it was dark. But, we both were available. We could go. We were going. He threw off the straps, loaded his (probably too short) short board on top of my (probably too big) board, threw the wet straps back at me. That I flinched amused him. I smiled as if I was also amused. And we were off.
“What I need,” he said, along the stretch that seems the most like freeway, more vehicles coming down the onramps, headed for work, “is a sponsor. All the great artists had…” His words faded off as he had to help me pour some coffee from my work thermos into my cup. “I envy those assholes who can just… write. Like it’s easy. Oh, they… I’ve seen these types; going to workshops, hanging out; so, so…But…” He removed the plastic lid and poured some coffee into his cup from some espresso stand he hit last night, “Maybe all real artists were, are, just as desperate as… how’s your work going?”
Maybe I mumbled. Maybe it mattered. Probably not. My work isn’t creative; at least he doesn’t think so. He interrupted whatever it was I tried to say.
“My work;” he said, tipping his coffee toward me like a toast, “it’s like… I mean I don’t have children… you do; it’s like my babies. I send something off and I worry, ‘is it allright? Did I say too much? Too descriptive? Not enough… enough…’ You get it, right?”
“And it all… whether it goes somewhere, dies, all depends on some intern who probably doesn’t know shit, or give a shit, or even know something decent from some sort of, um, pedestrian, trite, tripe. Crap.” I just nodded. “You send any of your stuff off?”
“Not in a while. I send some to you.”
“Well. You know…” he exhaled as if he was already exasperated.”If you don’t… geez; is it all so precious?”
No. Not precious. “I’d say ‘high end mediocre.’ High end.”
“Well; dumb it down, dork. Readers want simple.”
“Yeah; but simple’s so, so hard.”
“Tell me about it. No, don’t; might be too complex and, you know, internal and shit.”
We disagreed on which route would get us through the traffic lights and school zones. I was driving. We went by my route, got stuck behind a bus for a block before I made a cut to a back road.
“It was breaking yesterday,” I said as we turned onto the coast road.
“Who said so?”
“It’s just, some people exaggerate. If I trust their word… different story.”
Though we couldn’t see the break from the muddy-rutted logging road, we had already seen there were signs of swell. “Might as well make the hike with the board,” he said as I threw the straps toward him. “Of course, easier to walk with my appropriately-sized board than…” He just pointed. I just smiled, tried to make my board seem lighter than it is, grabbed my backpack, locked the doors. We could hear the rhythm of distant waves while still walking on fairly level ground, a narrow path between trees, ferns and bushes, everything wet, and no fresh tracks.
“You know that story you emailed me?” It had been a while since I’d sent him anything. He was way too slow to reply; and never with anything close to praise. He paused as we negotiated a downed tree in the path, “The one about the, you know… all surfing stories are pretty much alike… huh?” He followed me down the bank, my board sliding as much as being carried. “I don’t want to get hit when you lose your big-ass board. In the water, either.”
I looked around, up. “Which story?”
“I’ll tell you later. Hey, is that a… whooo… wave?”
I won’t bore you with the session report. You might not trust my word. We didn’t talk about writing on the way home; nothing about precious words, nothing about other people deciding whether your words have value, nothing about how all surfing stories are, pretty much, alike.
“‘The music,’ he said, he always said, always said, ‘is in the words. Pause. The words, one, the words, one, two, the words. Pause. The music, one, is in, one two, the, one, two, three, words.’ He was right.”
“No. No. I’ll, uh, admit… he had the genius thing you and I didn’t… poor us; had to earn shit; but he was always… I’ll pause here, not to sound, um, musical or anything, always… susceptible. It’s why he got screwed up originally, why he became a Jesus Freak, it’s why he got back into drugs again. Enlightened. Geez. Like, because he could drop too much acid and still seem, uh, lucid, lucid to his drugged-out and, on drugs or not, dumb-ass friends. Geez. Assholes. White trash… He thought; on the drugs thing… God, man; I don’t know what he fuckin’ thought. He thought it was easy. He thought it was all good fun. He thought wrong.”
“You’re right. Susceptible. I always thought; always believed, maybe, he… he was… was he, maybe, ni-eve? Or maybe we were because we believed in the whole ‘work hard and you’ll succeed’ bullshit.”
“Oh. Oh; yeah; yes. Definitely. Us not him. Sure. Sure, but, man; we’re still alive, still struggling. Moreover… is ‘moreover’ the right word here?
“Moreover, what he was was, mostly, he was…susceptible.”
“Susceptible? (there’s a long pause here, during which my youngest brother and I look at each other, look at several surfboards leaned up against a wall in my garage) Yeah, sure. Susceptible.”
My brother, our brother; no, he wasn’t a musician, wasn’t a poet’, maybe; probably wasn’t more than a guy who wanted to form some kind of life that included surfing whenever it was good. I don’t have to argue with our other brother about this; he’s right. Sidney took the easy way out. Well, what he thought was easy. It worked for him; for a while. I still have the board Sid gave me; classic Surfboards Hawaii pintail; no longer the clean white with the fine pin stripe at the overlap, the dings from a couple of sessions at that reef break that really wasn’t a surf spot (but was never crowded) still not patched. Still, since I have this outlet, such as it is, before I go over the story (and it’s a story I’ve told, I’ve written, I’ve re-written); let me publish something my brother did write. Maybe it is poetry. Maybe it’s just words and pauses, that, if read out loud, as poetry should be read; and, say, try this- slur over the words, because, and my brother also believed this, even the actual words aren’t as important as the music- maybe it is music.
A car door will not stop a bullet;
A door and a femur will,
There is pain; the numbness, alleged, promised, that is a lie;
With every car that passes I feel, or hear;
No longer able to discern a difference;
The sound of a wave;
That first sound.
Oh, that’s it, that’s right;
The same bullet that only pierced the front windshield,
My car charging the roadblock, my head down,
Hoping the motor might stop a bullet or two;
That bullet (or those bullets) took out the back window;
Collapsed: diamond chunks not blown out crumbled.
And now, headed for the sea; whoosh;
I hear the sea, whoosh; I hear the sea.
That was fiction. He’d left the back hatch open on his van, imagined the rest. He knew he was running. Or, more correctly, he felt like he’d been running, though he was really just hiding a darker reality behind his visible life with whatever screen** and story*** and as much sheen he could afford. For a while, it was all pretty damn shiny; surf trips, friends with names we might read in a magazine or hear on TV, vehicles that were so impractical, surfboards one should hang on a wall ridden and given as gifts. Secret gifts too good to give back. Or up.
*Changed, by Sid, from Sid, short for Sidney. Yeah; of course. **I’m thinking the facade of a house just west of 101. ***Fictions about background, actual income sources, actual investments, actual relatives; just about everything.
Oh, and I must now say this is fiction. Just a story. Don’t go looking for real life equivalents, for ‘based-on’s, though, yes, the ‘whoosh’ from Sidney’s piece (he only thought he was being chased, only imagined being shot); I did use that in a piece already posted, on the sounds of a rainy Seattle. I stole it; sure; but really, I remembered it, and I believed it to be true. Truth.
SUSCEPTIBLE- Part One- The Devil and the Fear of Darkness
I couldn’t save Sidney. Roger couldn’t save him. By the time Roger called me about the desert airplane drop and the intercept of the small plane, and the attempted bust and the shootout and the escape, Sidney not among the bodies at the… he called it a ‘showdown,’ two guys in a four wheel drive at the junction on miles of dirt roads and the only highway back, two bodies and bags of recovered drugs when the showdown was over; when he realized the escaped member of the party, the guy the other guys tried to kill when they thought he had ratted them out; when he just knew that guy had to be Sidney, possibly wounded, but not at the scene…
“Hi, Laurie; Roger. How’s everything? You barbequing?”
“No. I know you think that’s what we suburbanites…”
“Is my brother around?”
But it was something.
“Don’t fuck with me, Roger. What is it?” The pause here is probably twenty seconds. That’s a long telephone pause. Still pausing, waiting. “It’s Sidney. Sidney, isn’t it?”
“Yeah. So… yeah. Is Mikey around or not? I don’t have time to…”
Years earlier, Sidney turned to Jesus when he decided his life had sunk low enough; about the time, he later told me, when he gave up sniffing glue, not so much because he could hear (or feel) his own brain cells popping, but because his partner-in-sniffing, both sharing the tube and the paper bags, had popped enough that Sidney could no longer understand him. “He was gone.” I should say ‘turned back to Jesus,’ since we all had enough of a religious upbringing to share the beJesus out of us, to convince us that we were probably, most likely, doomed. Because I like to wrap things up in some terse phrase, I began to claim that “we learned guilt and hypocrisy at an early age.” Because I was the oldest, I had to hide or deny (hypocrisy) my intense fear of the dark; because Sidney possibly learned more of the verses of the Bible, or paid more attention, he developed a fear of the actual Devil. Because Roger was much younger, and because our father died while he was younger, and because our mother met up with several (two, really) future step-fathers who couldn’t care less about religion (I was old enough they had little influence on me or my fears), Roger developed only a fear of failure. Intense, actually.
It was cool, in those days, to announce your love of the risen savior, the redeemer, the Lord; but the religion was mixed in with so many other notions that…I shouldn’t discuss religion, really; I had become free (by circumstance more than will) of the trappings and the niceties and the hypocrisy. The Jesus Freaks offered a simple message; as Jesus had; it just became more complicated when groups were formed, organization was needed.
Somewhere in this complexity, Sidney moved up, and, when other simple believers lost their enthusiasm and fell off, he moved on to other groups; cynics, paranoids, studious zealots who could find scripture to back up their own fears. And Sidney could study deeper, explain the subtleties in a seemingly-clear way. Groups became smaller; Sidney moved higher. And funds were needed. Money. The Devil Incarnate; in various incarnations; but real.
Now, it might be easy for you to compare what I just wrote about my brother did in impressing other druggies by merely being able to somewhat communicate. Fine, but, I, the brother with the fear of the dark, still think him a genius; and still feel the loose-but-real restraints of the morals I was taught, the things I believed; goodness and evil and redemption; I held to my fear of the dark; almost savored it. And, after all, my father told both of us how, back in the war, he had seen The Devil. In the Dark.
NOW that I’ve written it, gotten it out, I’m over it. I hold no ill will toward Raja, and hope we can hang out in the future. He does seem to have the same appreciation for the thrills, absurdities, posturing, and generally high-schoolish behavior involved in surfing anywhere. I’m calling us even. Hopefully Raja will also. PEACE, and I don’t mean that sarcastically.
This is Raja, his given name. I asked. He was born and raised and still lives in Edmonds, a city on the Seattle side of Puget Sound. I’ve seen Raja numerous times over the past several years while surfing on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. His beard keeps growing; hipsterrific. A few months ago, in an act Raja still claims was not malicious, he found my paddle, which had been ripped from my hands while negotiating the last sixty yards of an inside tube. Now, as I have previously written, I would have bailed on the wave had it not been for the just-mentioned tube. And, hey, the paddle floats, right?
Oh, those are my fingers. Just can’t seem to get them out of the shots. Now, you can make your own decisions on whether Raja is a hero for causing an (allegedly) intimidating and (by definition) notorious wave hog to have a few moments of, well, humiliation; or a punk-ass bitch who has never actually said he was in any way sorry for the non-malicious act. The ‘punk-ass bitch’ is not malicious, Raja (and friends of Raja), and was recommended as the appropriate description by someone who had heard [my version] of the story, and preferred punk-ass bitch over [my choice] hipster dick. Yes, I know you, Raja, and all hipsters, deny your hipster-ness, and, if ‘hipster’ is in any way a pejorative term, this is also not malicious in intent.
There’s intent and there’s actual consequences. Um, yeah; sure.
I’ll get back to this. I’m working on the complete story. I am over it. I think Raja is counting on the wave of prestige for showing up, kind of, a 64 (no, I was only 63 at the time) guy without having to do it on actual waves.
Check back another time.
Using the photograph used as an illustration in Chapter 3 of “Inside Break,” the novelization, I did a larger drawing, had it reduced and several copies made at the local (Port Townsend Printery) print shop. I then added color to two of the drawings. The top one is the one Trish preferred. I’d like to say I preferred the lower one, but, never totally satisfied, I went back to the original and colored it in. Now I have to wait until I can get back to PT to get it reduced to a size I can use. You have to know I’d love to add some color to the graphics.
I would really appreciate it if you could read some or all of the novel. I’m really trying (honest) to keep the writing tight and on point, but, there are just so many angles, so many other surf stories. Oh, yeah; that’s why I started this site; because real surfers have real stories in common, and each of us has a few that are just ours.
Does this drawing make me look gay? I only ask because, going back to do some work on it, adding the black lines (and I should add that the color, in person, is more intense and the lines that form the border are actually even on all four sides), I asked my wife, Trish, as I usually do, what she thought. “Pretty,” she said. Then she chuckled. “Is it meant to be… um… a gay wave?” “What? No. I just wanted to add some rainbows on a wave and… oh; now I see it.” This started a conversation that made me ask her if the rainbow lei, the faded one that’s been hanging, along with a Saint Christopher medal and a long-worn-out scenty thing, for about a hundred thousand miles, on the mirror in the old work/surf van, which had originally been her mini-van (way cleaner, didn’t smell like paint OR wetsuits)… um, is that a… I mean I always just thought it was, you know, Hawaiian… it’s not… I mean, would someone think that…I mean, it’s not, like, a rainbow coalition-y thing?”
Yesterday, in my new surf/not-work wagon, I was looking for surf on the Straits of Juan de Fuca. There’s been a serious lack of properly-aligned swell for most of February, and, though I’d almost decided to trek the extra hour or so to the coast, it looked like the waves might just cooperate at the second secret spot I checked. So I hung around, thinking how the coast has been the place to go all this winter; offshore winds, reasonably sized waves… no, I’d go out here and catch a few, maybe my timing would seem, once the long peelers started hitting the reef, brilliant.
Didn’t happen. The same east wind that was blowing against the open palms of the broken lines approaching the shores beyond the farthest headland I could see, out where the sun had already broken through the squalls; that same wind was reeling around the little point, ripping scars into the weak energy pockets I was trying to harness. I don’t give up easily. ‘Exercise,’ ‘practice,’ ‘just had to get wet,’ take your choice. ‘Desperate’ is another motivational catch phrase.
And the wind got stronger, soon howling across the swells as they moved past me, sideways, tops blowing off. Once I got my fill of practice and exercise, once I had gotten wet and was no longer as desperate, using my car as a buffer, and just as I was about to lean over to grab my hoodie from the front seat… woosh! Whoa! Head dip! My big ass board flew over me, landed eight feet away.
The duck and tuck was the best surf move I’d made all day. And I did get home in time to check the buoys and the camera at La Push (not a secret spot). Swell up, direction better, and that same east wind that would bring better weather today was grooming the outside peaks. Brilliant.
“Maybe my mistake,” I told Trish about the time I realized the contest at Snapper Rocks had been on line for hours, and Kelly Slater had already lost in round one, “was I went too early.” “Oh,” she said, in sort of a mock-caring tone, “and now it’s almost dark.” By the time we had the discussion about the gayness, real or imagined, of my drawing, the women’s surfing had started. Full screen. Full color.
Trish looked at a replay of a woman in a bright orange bikini bottom bottom-turning into a decent walled-up section. She looked at me. “It’s Hawaiian,” she said. “What? Oh. Uh huh; I thought so.”
Hey, take a few minutes, when you get a chance, and check out ‘Inside Break,’ the novelization, a couple of place down from here. Thanks.
NOTE: I started realsurfers.net to have some ownership on the two words, real surfers, and to tell the story alluded to in the introduction (below). Maybe I didn’t realize I had so many other stories to tell; maybe I didn’t realize I still have a surfing life. So, I plan on serializing the novel that fictionalizes the real story and wraps other stories around it. It will, unfortunately, be in reverse order, but, after a few chapters, interspersed with other pieces, I’ll consolidate. When it’s all done; I’ll probably change the name to “Real Surfers,” what I always wanted to be. I did a drawing, but I didn’t think it fit the mood, didn’t want to wait until I have the time to do one I actually like, so… here we go… thanks for coming along.
Love and Wars and Surfing and Some Amount of Magic
Surfing is part of the soundtrack; whoosh, wait, wait, wait, whoosh. Always has been. Well, maybe not surf itself; but it is the tides and winds, moving in waves, and the waves themselves, maybe even time itself, another wave, spinning ever outward, all providing the heartbeat of the planet. Whoosh…wait…wait…wait…whoosh.
“So, Dad; it has to be fiction?”
“Because… you know our memories are…”
“Corrupted? Flawed? Inaccurate?”
“Hmmm. Ha. Yeah.”
“Maybe your original story could be enough. Jeez; I’ve heard it for years; headed for San Onofre; you and Phillip Harper and Ray Hicks and…”
“Dru; I’ve asked Ray. He doesn’t remember this trip. Others; yes. I think it was always Bill Buel. See? I edited him out; stuck Ray in, because Ray was… because I never liked…I mean, Bill wasn’t my friend; Ray and Phil were.”
“And you were riding with Bucky Davis, your surf hero…”
“For a while. That’s part of it. If I broke down my… shit; it’s really just another surfer coming-of-age story, but, at such an, an almost unique angle. If …and, if I could break down my surf history, to, like, chapters; it’d be illustrated with the times I went surfing with Bucky Davis. Like five or six times over five or six years. Grandview, New Break, Swami’s, the last time… your mother was there… at the beach by the state park… South Carlsbad. and part of this, this bigger story, is how my image of Bucky and…”
“Matured. And there’s the love story; Bucky and Phillip’s sister. Trish.”
“Yeah; and, again, I don’t really know. We never know about other people’s lives… or loves, and I’m such a fucking romantic, I wanted that to…”
“To work out. But that’s all… it’s the hidden story, Dad; the, um, interplay between what you thought, that so many things were magic, magical; and what was real. The, I guess, surface story, is of you guys going from Fallbrook, across Camp… Camp?”
“Camp Pendleton, 1967; the Vietnam War in full swing, and the Marines, really, were all just a couple of years older than Phil and Ray… I’m sticking with Ray, and I; and Bucky was… he was right at draft age. And the war; everyone thought, was going to go on forever.”
“Well, it didn’t. New ones. But, you know, some other stuff happened on that trip.”
“Yeah. Yeah, it did; but, this far removed, this far gone, it seems… stopped by a Highway Patrolman and hassled before we even got to the back gate, running out of gas, pushing the VW up a couple of hills, coasting down, pushing it into the little PX outpost in another tent camp as marines marched by, us all cool surfers and they ready to go to… see? It seems like fiction, even to me; like I’ve seen it before.”
“But you did. And… see, even I know the story. And you did surf at San Onofre.”
“The surfing was almost incidental; I don’t really remember it, specifically. Another session. Just like with Ray, huh?”
“But the story; it ends up at Tamarack. Tamarack, right? After Bucky tore up his Dependent ID card, and couldn’t ever go back on the base; and you’re riding shotgun… for once. Right? And Phillip and… and we’ll say Ray; they’re asleep in the back, and Dylan comes on the radio.
“It was ‘Rainy Day Women #12 and 35.’ Rare on ’67 am radio.”
“Right. And, pretty soon you’re singing along, beating on the dashboard. And pretty soon, maybe because this was the perfect song for the perfect scene; you could see and hear the waves, just about to get glassy…”
“The afternoon glassoff.”
“The soundtrack and the… the soundtrack. And now; I love this part; Bucky, so, to you, ultra cool; Bucky’s beating on the dashboard, also, and you’re both trying to sing along.
‘Everybody must get stoned.’”
“Ev-ry-bo-dy mussssst get stoned!”
“Can you still see it?”
“There is magic in there somewhere.”
“Thanks. But, Dru; you know; now; because I… because real life doesn’t live up, maybe, because I’m going to steal other things I’ve seen, from other people’s lives, move things around; and, and, mostly, maybe, because I haven’t, um, lived up… it’ll be fiction.”
“Dad? Has your life contained enough… magic?”
Woosh, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait… woosh.