Love and Wars and Surf and Magic
CHAPTER ONE- Too Many Overlapping Stories
MISSION HILLS, SAN DIEGO
A beeping sound, audible through the radio news, started when the passenger side door opened.
“All good surf trips start in the dark.”
“Yeah, yeah, Dad; so you say. We’re a little late for zero-dark-thirty, though. Sorry.” My daughter, her hair wet, pushed her laptop, a straw bag with clothes spilling out, and a quite worn brown leather purse toward the space between the front seats. It wouldn’t fit.
I turned the key to the right. Beep. Beep. I pulled the key out. The radio and the beeping stopped. I nodded over my shoulder toward the back seat. “Liz, Lizzie, ‘Lizabeth… what are we calling you nowadays?”
“I think, today, only; Elizabeth. Formal. Grownup.” As Elizabeth moved the laptop and bag, I looked over my back seat supplies. Cardboard box, briefcase, camera, white plastic bag, towel. “What did you forget, Papa?” She was already backing out of the passenger door. “Today only; then it’s back to Dad, Daddy, Father, Owl, Alvin, Mr. Hubbard.”
“Sunglasses, watch…they’re at your uncle’s, um, desk, in the foyer; and one more cup of coffee; maybe?”
I handed her my mug, the ‘Inside Break Publishing’ and the surfing graphic, cobalt blue on white, almost rubbed off. “Thirty-nine seconds on the microwave.”
She left the door open. When I reinserted the key, the beeping and the radio resumed. “Six-forty-six,” the radio voice said. It was lighter outside here than it would be at home, farther east, farther south. That not-quite-clean pre-dawn San Diego light. I looked at the cell phone on the dashboard, pulled the key out. The beeping stopped.
It was a Wednesday, March 17, 2004; almost exactly a year after the start of the actual war; the actual, as-promised, shock-and-awe war in Iraq started. Again. Bagdad revisited; and this time, it was personal.
Jeez, I’m sorry; couldn’t help but add a little commentary. This is where I’ve chosen to start the story. Stories, too many overlapping stories. Forward and backward. I’ll apologize now, upfront.
I chose this day because it was so… because I think of this day constantly. It was memorable. Yes, it was Saint Patrick’s Day, and it was about a week before my dad’s eightieth birthday; and the day we, we being his extended, very much extended, family, would celebrate that. That would be later.
[OPTIONAL [bracketed] TEXT- the idea for this came from the readings for Catholic mass. If you read more quickly than an official reader, you might as well read these slightly-tangential parts. Or, if you see the brackets, skip on by.]
[My day had started in the dark. I was in the sort of office slash foyer at Jack’s house, lights off, at his computer, checking out the surf reports. Unlike the rules at my house, my brother-in-law keeps his on; just turns off the screen. I wasn’t seeing what I’d hoped for, small enough for a guy who hadn’t surfed in a while; too long a while. It was smaller than that, even; some sort of lull between swells; la nina and el nino; “none to one and glassy,” as I used to say.
“Hey, man;” Jack whispered, slipping up behind me without turning the lights on, setting a cup of coffee, in one of his ‘Presidio Investors’ mugs, next to me. “Too early for me,” he said when I looked at his other hand. “You send the email?”
“Well; maybe they’ll figure out you’re not just… completely selling out.”
“Oh, I’m selling out, Jack. Maybe they’ll see I’m, maybe, not desperate…” I had to laugh. Jack smiled. “Not that desperate.”
“Whoever’s desperate loses.” It was his line; and he was only a split second behind me in delivering it. “It’s your…” he paused. “Look; I can do some negotiating… I mean; I do do it for a living. ‘Don’t show them the gun,’ I say…” He wasn’t pausing, he, former college history teacher, was waiting.
I knew the line. Through years of negotiating, success (and failures, and balloon payments and bad investments), success overall, Jack had earned his air of easy sophistication; still, white high-end-resort-robe aside, he was, to someone who knew him since he returned from Vietnam, sort of cheesy at the core. I don’t mean that in a negative way.
“Just show them the bulge.” His line. Cheesy. We both laughed; something short of a giggle; teeth showing; just a temporary lapse in self-consciousness.
Jack’s sister says the Marines hadn’t changed him much, but a tour in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive as a Second Lieutenant had; and I’ve seen him, and others, when some random event or song or shadow causes those black curtain memories to fall. Still, with all his credentials, his polish and sophistication, he’s just cheesy enough to be real.]
Lizzie went to the door of her uncle’s house, didn’t have to knock on the door. An inside light came on. Both of her cousins, then ten and twelve, in mis-matched pajamas, attacked and opened the door. And now one’s out of college, the other…
No, I’m focused. Focusing. Just getting going. And, and I had to call home.
“Hello. Hello? You up? Thought you might be. Hoped.” Pause. “Almost; we’re leaving.” I waved at Didier (family name- his mother’s family) and Holden (allusion/homage- cool name), both racing around their cousin on the front porch; Deeds striking a few surfing poses, Holden copying his older brother, throwing in a TV wrestling pose.
Not dropping the phone, I shot Didier a shaka, returned, Holden a devil sign, ‘hook ‘em horns,’ whatever it is. Holden struck another wrestling pose.
“Yeah, pretty exciting. For me, anyway. No, no eating in the car. No. I know. We’ll probably have to skip checking out O.B. and Sunset Cliffs, head straight for Pacific Beach.”
There was a longer pause. I let Kate go on a bit about her flight and how she’d get to Sea-Tac, and when she’d have to leave, and the security hassle; and how she’d call her brother later, and he could pick her up if I was surfing or still in Oceanside.
“Yeah, Jack always says, already said, getting to the airport is so easy; drop on down.” Big pause. “If I could… just… keep the imprint. Inside Break. Just for new stuff. I mean, some sort of… no, not control… input.” Another pause; with me fully aware we’d had this conversation, we’d made this decision. “No, no; sure; I know it’s all up to…settled, yeah, settled. It’s the great American dream. Sell out… retire…start another…project.” I knew enough to pause. “Yeah; tomorrow. Done.”
Our daughter was getting back into the car. The door to the house closed, the light went out. I handed the phone to Elizabeth. “It’s your mom. She wants to talk to you.”
“Hi, Kate. Mother. Okay; Mom. Morning.” Elizabeth gave me the ‘why’d you give me the phone?’ look. “Dad just did the phone hand-off.” I restarted my sister-in-law’s loaner car; quite a nice Mercedes station wagon, surf racks and a hint of that smoke/sand/mildew beachy smell. Didier was more into surfing than Holden, though both had, by this time, been to surf camp. Surf Camp. Later, Didier was, well, more into surfing, Scripps Pier his spot, mostly. But, right now, he’s…
I waved off the offer of the phone, and, almost to the second turn, slaloming past ever-bigger houses, towards the Presidio, I hooked my seatbelt.
“No, yeah; I wasn’t forgetting, mom; but Jakes is still in LA,” Elizabeth said, into my phone. She looked at me. “Jack in the Box.” I pulled into the open space at the switchback at the park entrance, not really sure which route I would have taken, back when Kate and I lived in Mission Hills, to get to where I was going; through the park or down through Old Town. “They don’t have them in Chicago. And…Daddy…” This was an aside to me. “Mom says you can’t go to El Indio(s) until she gets here. Promise?” I nodded, pulled around and headed back uphill. Jack in the Box
“No, no, Mom; we’re both super excited. Big day. Cowabunga!”
BEN’S HOUSE- A FEW MILES SOUTH OF FALLBROOK, CALIFORNIA
In the grainy pre-dawn light, the chubby kid; I’m going to say ‘husky;’ slid the nine-four stock model Hobie across the lawn, the nose slightly over the iceplant-covered (the old style, dark green spikes) berm, and jumped on.
“Real surfers,” he said, in the general direction of his two (thinner) friends, “real surfers go foot over foot.” It was that radio commentator’s voice any sixteen year old would use to announce his own play in a pickup game of football, the voice he used to describe his skateboarding down the neighbor’s driveway on Debby Street, slaloming toward, but rarely onto, Fallbrook Street. Too steep, too much traffic; his brother had scraped up his chin, arms, and knees in a ‘should-have-rolled’ wipeout still uphill of the Magarian tract because, he was told, still crying, jeans ripped and knees and elbows bloodied, “You have to know how to roll.”
“Mickey Dora threads the Malibu crowd…” He paused, creating his own ‘going wild’ crowd noise. The Mickey Dora stand-in’s right arm moved up, out, down, rhythmically; he slid his back foot forward, rotated slightly to more closely face the imaginary wave. His right hand was hit and moved backward by the imaginary lip.
“He… casually… slides his foot forward… Cheater five!”
The board slid forward on the iceplant and down. He, not-so-casually, and not foot-over-foot, back-pedalled, regained his balance, awkwardly, arms way-extended. He stomped the fin back down; but not until after the board had bumped into Ben’s board, it resting on Sam’s, with a ‘thwack,’ the sound a bit hollower, maybe, than wood on wood, and different than a board hitting, say, a jetty.
“Al-vin!” Ben yelled, he and Sam heading toward him from the front porch where they had been, coolly, watching me behave so non-coolly.
Yeah, it was me. I wanted you to get an image before you found out. Husky, not chubby.
My nickname before the glasses, ‘Alvin’ was always shot at me, by parents, teachers, friends, upper class assholes, with the same voice used in the Chipmunks cartoons.
“Watch it, Kooks! Valley cowboys!” I was above them, grabbing a rail, fighting through a curling section. “Head-dip!”
“Dip shit you mean.” That was Sam.
Ben checked for damage on his newer, but still purchased used, Hansen eight-ten, looked at Sam, who shrugged, then back at me. I looked at Ben, at Sam, at the rail of Ben’s board. I shrugged, since, obviously, a shrug was the proper gesture.
“You’re lucky, Owl,” Ben said. Owl was my post-glasses nickname. I hated it, originally, maybe less than ‘Alvin!’ or Al, as in ‘Sam, Ben, and, oh, yeah; Al.” But, there was, several years after the nickname became widespread, a surfer, who wore glasses, had his photo in “Surfer,” also nicknamed ‘Owl,’ Owl Chapman; so, it became okay, depending on who used it.
[Of course. A girl in class thinking I must be a bit smarter; fine. If she said, “So, you surf?” This was even better. Owl was my surf name. In a time, just past “Gidget,” when ‘Greaser’ meant, as far as I knew, someone who loved and worked on cars, and ‘Ho-dad’ meant poser, and ‘Kook’ meant some phase I thought I’d quickly advanced out of, ‘Surfer’ meant some semi-private club, individuals who… shit, they were like Knights, people who seriously challenged the ocean. Being a surfer meant so much more than the actual act; it was a tribe, and those who were the best at it, these were my first heroes. I wanted to be one of them, one of those surfers; not Sitting Bull but Crazy Horse.]
Sam merely glanced at his board, an even-newer Surfboards Hawaii nine-six with an inordinate numbers of patches and unfixed dings.
[In the back room of the shop (for years now the La Paloma Theater), the owner, John Price, had told us, the board had been used (he didn’t say owned) by an actual member of his surf team, Sidney something, as I don’t quite recall, and was “perfect for Swamis, or…” He looked over Sam and his three overly-impressed buddies. This particular grouping included Billy Butts, way taller than the three of us, who rode (tried to ride) a ten-six board from Orange County his parents had bought new. New. Billy (you know we always called him Butts; Big Billy Butts) had driven us this day, after school. Having him there had the added benefit of, by comparison, allowing me to be a bit cooler. “…Tamarack.”
Tamarack. I had switched from mat to board surfing there, June of 1965, soon joined by Ben, he and I riding to the beach and back in the very back of the surf-decorated (by my sister, including curtains and a ‘Surfer’ magazine ‘Murphy’ decal) 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air family nine passenger station wagon. We had most of a year’s head start before other freshmen at Fallbrook Union High School started surfing. By this time, on our second (still used) boards, we’d moved on to Grandview and Swamis.
Sam bought the board with the dings and patches only after twenty bucks was knocked off, and a bar of ‘special’ wax for each of us was added.
Butts, showing his lack of coolness, pointed to the Oahu-shaped Surfboards Hawaii decals in the front display case as Sam paid. “Those are for our team riders,” Mr. Price pointed out. Showing my own lack of coolness, I sewed a similar shape onto one leg of my trunks. A year or so later, two other members of the group who had tried surfing but, as with many of our contemporaries, didn’t stick with it, showed their lack of coolness and morality by stealing several of these stickers. “What can you do with them?” I asked. “People will know.”]
We all sort of froze as the unmistakable sound of a Volkswagen engine was heard, coming up the steep driveway, the weak headlights dropping down in the heavy morning air, hitting briefly but directly on Ben, holding his board in front of him, Sam, turning his board on edge, and me, stepping, foot-over-foot this time, toward the nose.
“Coop!” I yelled, waving wildly.
“Don’t call him ‘Coop,’ Alvin,” Ben said, throwing his board on the grass and grabbing my extended arm. “Cooper. I had to kiss his, and my sister’s, ass…asses, to get him to take us.”
“Cooper, Benny. Yeah, fine; Cooper.”
It was a Monday, a week before Easter vacation, March of 1967. We had picked this day (my idea, really, fiercely fought for) because, one, it was a week before the waves would be more crowded with surfers who would not wear wetsuits, and merely wouldn’t surf in the colder months, not to mention new surfers and those gremmies whose parents took time off to coincide with holidays, and were thusly available to cart the little a-holes to whatever beach the punks thought the coolest; and, two, because, if it’s a Monday, those real surfers who had surfed on the weekend might be at school, at jobs or, maybe, just temporarily, surfed-out.
[Easter, or before, when the water temperature got back up to 58 degrees, was the official start of ‘wear a wetsuit and look like a pussy’ season. Wetsuits were not really accepted as proper gear until the water dropped to the magic 58 degree mark; usually just before Christmas.]
By Wednesday, that urge to surf would be back.
I had; and this angered (at least irritated) my two friends, actually supplied the school, on Friday, a note to cover my absence. Still, for Sam and Ben, it was so cooler to hitchhike than ride the bus or get a ride from a parent, so much cooler to ditch. Yeah, well… coolness.
[I’d skewer any writer who submitted something with this much exposition, this many tangent lines. He or she would argue that “real life isn’t linear.” I’d agree; then add, “Do readers want real life?” “Shading, setting, background; some reality to make fiction seem… possible.” “Yeah, great; but just a bit simpler.”
Yeah, great, but…coolness; I have to discuss it. Samuel and Benjamin were so cool that, when they did get caught for ditching school, in our senior year; there weren’t enough detention hours left in the session; so, as a penalty, they had to pick up trash on campus during the morning break (called ‘nutrition’) and at lunch. This didn’t lessen, and, perhaps, enhanced their coolness quotient; poking wrappers and papers near cute girls on benches, girls who appreciate a bad boy who’s not that kind of bad, not a ‘hard guy’ thug. I did ditch several times (including this time), always to go surfing. No, there was once to go to these girls’ house in Temecula, this other guy’s (not even a surfer) idea. We sat around and listened to records. Not much fun for all the trouble it got me into (with my Mom, she didn’t rat me out- that time) And there was another time, with Ben and Sam; I just didn’t really enjoy hanging out on base, hoping my dad didn’t drive by. I still haven’t mastered the art of non-surf-related hanging out.]
The 1962 VW bus pulled toward the garage, did three back-forward-back maneuvers, pulled up close to the two surfers on the gravel, each with his board standing beside him.
My board lurched forward, nose into the gravel. I dismounted, clumsily, at speed, tried to regain my balance as I stumbled toward the bus; crashed (soft crash) against it, yelled, “Shotgun!” As I opened the door, I yelled out, a bit too loudly, “Coop!”
FIFTEENTH STREET, DEL MAR
“You used to be able to park out there,” I said, pointing to an area beyond the fence. “For free. This one time, a couple of days before I was going to represent Fallbrook High in this surfing contest; don’t know how we got to 15th Street; my parents sat in the car and watched while I surfed. It was evening, glassy, and I was almost the only one out.”
My daughter was on her cell phone, in the car, a wire connecting it to the cigarette lighter, the car running just in case it had to be for the re-charging to work, and I was leaning, camera balanced on the roof, shooting a few (non-digital, still) photos of a pretty crowded lineup on a pretty small day.
I won’t go into how everything around the surfing spots had changed in the twenty-five years since I’d taken that job in Seattle. I did explain this in detail to my daughter as I took the wrong turn onto I-5, missed the turnoff for Ocean Beach, forgot which route I should have taken around Mission Bay, discovered the Jack in the Box is still there in Pacific Beach, though the restaurant at the head of Crystal Pier, which I thought was cool but never went to, was totally gone; probably has been for years.
Describing the old surf shop on the PB side, and how I would skateboard or bike down there to surf, I totally forgot the back alley routes I’d take to get back toward Tourmaline Canyon, her mother’s and my second apartment located up the hill and caddy-cornered from the steep access.
“La Jolla Bella,” I said, pointing as we passed; “I’m sure they’re condos now.”
Elizabeth had been on her cell phone for most of the trip; politely looking at the highlights, nodding and smiling.
We had barely stopped the car at Tourmaline, me glancing past the old surfers clumsily donning wetsuits, a couple of teenagers running from the water to get to school, the waves pretty much closing out in front, a couple of more lined-up ones toward PB Point, maybe a hint of a peak out there.
“The point always looked like it should have waves, it just… in the, um, couple of years your mom and I lived in PB… well, there was the one evening. It was… after work. I just kept moving closer as the waves got bigger. By dark, I was at the point and the surf was well overhead. I’d walked down, and it was too dark to… I climbed the cliff, went through someone’s yard, and…”
My daughter was nodding, politely; but had tears in her eyes, then a smile.
“No, Jakes,” she said; “if you can’t make it. No, no… that’s more important. If Tony says…” She turned to me as I pulled onto the wrong back street, not the one Kate and I would ride our bikes on, in the general direction of Windansea. “Jakes has another radio interview; Orange County.”
Now I nodded, politely, smiled. “Fuckin’ Tony. Promoting.”
“Yeah, Dad’s thrilled. No, more exposure. It’s good.”
We drove on, around soft corners and past plush estates worth unmentionable sums, and did, eventually, find Windansea. I double-parked, reeling off the story of my not being able to catch more than four waves in an hour; me, wave-hog, twenty years old; held back by the pack of locals controlling the single peak. Ah, but, when the surf got big… I described how it was all a takeoff and drop, bottom turn, cutback, kind of bob around while trying to maintain enough speed to make the suddenly-jumping-up inside section.
“I lost my board three times on the inside section in one day. Once, someone kindly stuck it on top of one of those big rocks.”
“He has a driver, Dad; town car; wherever he wants to go.”
“Big budget, Elizabeth. I offered him a rental, but he’d have to… I don’t know, can a person rent a car in LA and drop it off in San Diego? I don’t even know.”
Elizabeth’s cell phone rang again as we coasted down the last big curve towards La Jolla Shores. Jakes was caught in traffic in one of those indistinguishable Orange County cities.
“No, Dad, he can’t see the Matterhorn. He says Tony says…”
“Oh, so Tony’s, like, actually with him.” I leaned toward the phone. “Hey, Jakes.” Elizabeth pointed her phone toward me. “Fuck Tony.” She hadn’t pulled the phone away quickly enough.
“Yeah, he did say, ‘fuck Tony,’ Jakes.” Elizabeth looked toward me, almost laughing, mouthed ‘fuck Tony,’ added, “so, yeah, maybe Tony can… maybe you can give us the number, maybe we can pick it up from here. Another NPR station… I hope.”
After a bit of listening as I found a street I could make a left hand turn onto, Elizabeth said, “Tony says he really, really, genuinely appreciates your going on TV yesterday.”
Without waiting for my response, Elizabeth said, “Fuck Tony.”
I fumbled with the radio. “What’s the…number. Where do I find this station?”
SOMEWHERE SOUTH OF FALLBROOK
Oh, yeah; I was riding shotgun, but I was shotgun to the non-talking, not-responding-to-my-talking Cooper, and Sam and Ben seemed to be having more fun in the back, not bouncing (too much), but thoroughly checking out the latest “Surfer” magazine, so happily discovered on the homemade bed.
“It’s Billy Hamilton at the Santa Ana rivermouth,” Ben said, describing (reading, actually, Ben didn’t know Billy Hamilton from Billy Butts) the cover I’d had half a second to check out. “Bitchin cutback. Squared-off nose on his board. Yeah!”
Cooper reached under a sweater and towel, properly damp, between us on the bench seat, pulled out an older “Surfer,” kind of shook it towards me. I grabbed it.
“Shit!” Cooper said, glancing in his side mirror. “Waltersheid. Don’t look!”
“Cooper, there’s a Highway Patrolman behind us,” Sam said, peeking through the back window’s curtains.
“I said ‘don’t look,’ cheesedick. Damn.”
“He said ‘don’t look, cheesedick,’ cheesedick,” Benjamin said.
“Shit!” Cooper said again as the bubble light on the patrol car came on.
“Shit!” I said, “Why’d you look, cheesedicks?”
The bus slowed down, pulled off near a wooded area that frequently smelled of road-killed skunk. There was, in fact, one dead in the southbound lane, not all squished, but definitely dead. It had almost made it to the center line. Almost. Several southbound cars avoided the carcass. Cooper rolled the driver’s side window down. We waited.
“Skunk,” I said.
“No shit,” Sam said.
NOTE: Alright, I have to apologize for dropping back on this story a bit. My plan was to keep the storyline from 2004 and this one from 1967 in about the same time, dawn to dusk. There are other storylines coming. Okay, hang on.
BACK AT BEN’S HOUSE, we loaded the boards on the Aloha racks, mine on top of Cooper’s, the other two on the driver’s side, for balance. Anxious about losing my shotgun position, I ran back to the porch to pick up my old Boy Scout backpack, grabbed it, spun back.
“Oh,” she and I both said, mine a moment after hers, probably a bit higher. I was more startled, suddenly so close, face to face.
“Oh,” I said again. Ben’s sister had come to the laundry room door from the actual, but almost never used, front door; the formal entrance.
“Catherine,” I said as her left hand touched my shoulder. Only partially because her eyes seemed to be saying, ‘stop looking into my eyes,’ I looked at her hand.
“Oh. Al-vin,” she said, using that hand to move me aside, her eyes on Cooper, approaching. Yeah, I looked into her eyes again.
I probably shouldn’t mention that sleeping on a sort of Japanese couch thing almost outside her bedroom door had contributed significantly to a rise in my going-surfing-early anxiety level. Closed door, but still, I wasn’t yet sixteen, and she was, I thought, perfect, the perfect surfer’s girlfriend.
While so many of her contemporaries had teased and stiff hairdos, Catherine’s was blond and straight. She was thin and not ashamed of it, and, not trying to get too detailed here, she had that kind of aloof self-assurance that, among silly and worried and unsure high school girls, was just so alluring. She wasn’t mean, exactly, but didn’t seem compelled to be phony-nice; and, if she did feel one was worth speaking to at all; well… she had said, “Oh. Al-vin.” In my immediate memory, the period after ‘oh’ was replaced with a comma.
On the porch, a mere tip of Cooper’s head informed me I wasn’t needed there. I hadn’t had to say, “We’re going surfing; San Onofre;” but, of course, I did, backing away as Catherine took Cooper’s hand, both of them moving into the area away from the porch light.
The light did seem to be reflected in her eyes. Again, I shouldn’t have noticed.
A few moments later, I was back at the bus, holding onto the open passenger door. Sam approached the open side door from the garage, threw his cardboard box of gear onto the bed, then put the “Surfer” magazine on top of his neatly rolled, not folded, towel.
Sam followed my gaze over to the house. They were kissing.
“Friendly,” Sam said. Cooper’s hand moved a bit, inside Catherine’s light robe, around her back. “Very friendly.” Sam looked at me. “Are you holding your breath?”
Cooper pulled his girlfriend closer. I looked away.
“Whoa,” Sam whispered, grabbing my arm, trying to push me back around.
“Politeness, Sam,” I said, trying to match his whisper.
[It’s the sort of consideration for the possible embarrassment of others that, through the years, has meant I almost saw, or saw too briefly for it to really imprint on my brain, quite a few images. Example: Oceanside Pier, 1964 or so, some woman out in the surf with two Marines almost lost her top going through a wave. I looked away. Polite. The woman and the Marines just laughed.]
“Ben,” Sam said as our friend stepped out the side door. A wicker basket in his hands, he was four steps off the porch when he noticed we weren’t really watching him. Not seeing Cooper with us, he seemed to sense what might be happening, and shook his head. Sam and I would have looked away if Ben’s mother hadn’t suddenly appeared behind him; if Catherine hadn’t suddenly separated from Cooper, casually straightening her robe; if Mrs. Collins hadn’t abruptly looked to her right; if Cooper hadn’t taken the ‘Buy and Save’ bag from her with a smooth, “Mrs. Collins;” if Mrs. Collins hadn’t said, “Riley” as he took it, and then looked, a bit fiercely, toward her daughter, not quite waving at her brother and his surf buddies, the wave held long enough for her man to turn around.
Not that Cooper waved back. I’m sure he smiled.
No, I didn’t look away this time. If I had, I wouldn’t know the look I so wanted to see from my own perfect surfer’s girlfriend, only meant for me. Oh, and I waved, too. I did say I was five months short of sixteen, right?
BACK ON THE ROAD…I fumbled into my backpack as the California Highway Patrolman (they were all over 6’2” in those days) leaned into the driver’s side window.
“Should’a told the kids to not be peeking out the curtains,” Officer Waltersheid, Fallbrook’s main local Highway Patrolman, the one whose name was heard around the campus, including in driver’s education class, said. “You got a license, son?”
Cooper, his license already out, leaned toward me as the officer leaned in to check the two eager faces pushed forward from the back. And mine, leaning almost over Cooper as I pushed a note toward the feared Waltersheid.
“I have a note,” I said.
“Didn’t ask,” he said, glancing at it anyway. “Field trip? Oh. Good; I might’a thought you were all just skipping… truant; going (he did a bit of a shoulder twist) surfing.”
“It covers them, too,” I said, looking for reactions on the faces of my friends. As did Waltersheid. Sam and Ben tried to hide their surprise. No, I hadn’t told them that I’d typed in their names after my mom signed it; reluctantly, with a promise I wasn’t behind on my school work, and a question as to why I’d even need such a note. “Truant Officers,” I’d explained. “Just in case.”
“Just in case then.”
Quickly Samuel and Benjamin were smiling, nice guy smiles.
“Your mom work at Hooley’s?” The patrolman looked from their faces to the paper, back at me, this time for a half second too long.
I looked at him a full second too long, trying to determine if he was about to say something I’d have to hate him for.
“Used to. She got a job on base. Photo lab. She and my dad can ride in…”
“Nice woman. Got that weird religion, though. You?”
Pause, think; “I go; yeah.”
He handed the paper back with a smile. “You driving yet?”
“Couple of times. Just got my learners’… Sam and Ben are…”
“I thought you said you have a driver’s license, Mr. Riley F. Cooper.”
Riley F. Cooper just splayed his hand out toward the card on Waltersheid’s clipboard.
“This is ‘bout to expire, son. Eighteen, almost. You better be gettin’ a new one. Oh…” He stepped back toward the highway, made a sweeping motion toward the back of the bus. “You can’t be driving around with the wheelwells all cut up like this. Illegal. Probably. I know you want to be all cool and shit, big tires and such; and I could measure… but…” and now he came closer, smiled at all of us. Each one of us, other than Cooper, returned the expression. Or maybe he did smile, but…a pause is needed here…ironically.
“I can see you’re all anxious to get to your surfing.” Now Waltersheid, having backed away a few steps, adjusting his gunbelt in his own version of wild west lawman, added, “or maybe… it’s too early for even teachers to be going to school. Better head on out.”
He made his right hand into a pistol, two fingers forward, pointed it at each of us younger surfers, individually, shot and recoil, said, “Don’t be driving foolishly, kids. Oh, and… and don’t be peeking out the curtains. Makes you look…” He dramatically pulled his sunglasses out of a top pocket, put them on, and, using an even deeper voice, finally added, “…suspicious.”
[Waltersheid was walking away. Ben and Sam were still leaning toward the front seat, each of us waiting to witness Cooper’s anger, hear his comments. It was taking too long. He seemed too calm.
“Your son’s queer!” Ben said after Waltersheid’s car drove past us. The car almost made a complete u-ey, had to back up a bit before slamming it in reverse, then scratched out, directly and purposefully over the skunk, on toward Bonsall.
A sort of automatic “Ewwww!” came from each of us, Cooper rolling the window up. Quickly.
Ben looked at Sam, beside him, then at me, then Cooper. Cooper didn’t seem to approve of the ‘queer’ comment. “Well, he is.” Ben said.
“For you, maybe;” Sam said, moving back toward the bed, flipping the bird with both hands in the general direction of the long gone patrol car. “Fuck you Waltersheid!”
“Yeah, fuck you, Waltersheid!” I had meant it to sound bold, practiced.
Cooper looked at me, almost smiled. “Fuck him,” Cooper whispered, restarting the bus.
“Yeah,” I said. Everyone looked at me. “Yeah, fuck (more emphasis on the ‘fuck’) you, Waltersheid.”
“You tell him, Owl,” Cooper said, making a point of swerving into the southbound lane and running over the skunk carcass.
As we approached the first houses of Fallbrook, Sam pulled a package of cigarettes from his rolled towel (Tracytons, I think), and a silver lighter with the Marine Corp logo on it, in color. He handed Ben one, lit his and Ben’s.
At the first hint of smoke, Cooper pulled the bus over, looked in the rear view mirror. “You want to walk?” He looked at me as if wondering why I hadn’t been offered a cigarette. “Real surfers don’t fucking smoke,” he said, cigarettes extinguished, pulling out again.
Probably smiling, looking deep into my “Surfer” magazine, I didn’t even bother to repeat the phrase. Not outloud, anyway. Later, however, when I did smoke cigarettes, I would remember it.]
NOTE: Pretty happy with the last bracketed part, I feel compelled to add that somewhere in here someone mentioned I hadn’t had to provide the note; could’ve said we were going after school. Never mind; I’ll put it in with the section on actually crossing Camp Pendleton and eliminate it here. So, PREVIEW>