Jody’s Father’s Smith-Corona Portable

CLUES are the key in writing “Swamis,” the novel. It really seems that, as I continue with the process, the story is telling itself to me. It is a mystery novel, after all, but, though I know where I want it to go; I’m constantly surprised by clues that suddenly appear.

That is, though I’m trying to break the story into little pieces, keep it off a simply-linear path, dole out the clues, flesh out the characters, keep the plot plausible; I am attacked by some new thought.

Let me admit now that I haven’t decided who killed Chulo Lopez, Gingerbread Fred, and Jody’s father.

Here are a couple of ways it could go: Jesus Freaks, Pot Growers, Pot Traffickers, Sheriff’s Officers.  I’m about 13,000 words into the story, and I just looked up the average length of a novel- 60 to 90,000. I don’t want to pad the story*.

*This is amusing to me because I keep getting sidetracked; I’m writing about people who are my age, from a certain era; I’m including real people, and (variations on real) experiences, and personal knowledge from that era, 1969; all to make the story real.

Real-er.

Although the characters are all fictional, composites, they are becoming more real to me; from sketch to renderings; and I’m increasingly aware I can’t totally control them.

SO, I’m excited to see where they go.

THE LATEST clue/plot device/whatever that came to me is the typewriter. At first it was a typewriter that Jody is using to type up a paper for Jumper; but then I remembered a typewriter, belonging to my parents (Mom mostly) I was allowed to use. A portable Smith-Corona in a case.

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NOW I’m imagining Jody, typewriter on the hood of his old station wagon, parked at Swamis… oh, and I’d better look up 60s era Falcon station wagons; see how the tailgate worked, if the windows were electric or had a crank; don’t want to misrepresent.

Real, realer, realistic.

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Not Really Stolen Photo…

…this photo, which I did download/copy/steal from Oceanna’s Facebook page, I think (it might have been Stephen R. Davis’s page), was also sent to my phone. It’s a great sunset, with Steve looking all conquering hero-like, striding from the waves somewhere near Cabo.

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Um-kay.

 

 

All Respect on Veteran’s Day

NOTE: The day after I wrote and posted this piece, I received a comment from GP Cox. He has a site focused on paratroopers in the Pacific Theater in World War II. I did go to his site, pacificparatroopers.wordpress, and checked it out. What is somewhat, at least, ironic is that my father intended to enlist in the Army Air Corps, but, because he was only seventeen, he was not allowed. The family story is: He walked on down the hall.  There is a link to the paratroopers site with the comment. Check it out; and thank you to GP Cox.

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Because it is Veteran’s Day I want to extend my respect and gratitude to those who are serving or have served our country in the military…

…particularly in times of war; and, it seems, it’s always a time of war.

War is a failure of diplomacy, of compromise, of any promise of advancing civilization beyond our ancient-but-constantly-renewed tribalism. War is a consequence of the fear-hatred-action model. Either we’re on the side of coveting and going after that which we can not merely bargain for; or we’re defending against those forces.

The history of human beings is a history of war. War defines us.

This is what I was taught; yet this thought that war is wrong comes directly up against the war movies, the Cowboy-and-Indian sagas; swarming and falling; heroes prevailing or sacrificing all for some noble cause.

This “Noble Cause” idea is always there; it has never been defeated.

My childhood friends and I played Army, played Cowboys-and-Indians. Occasionally play would turn to a fight. Not necessarily noble.

I’m working on a novel, “Swamis,” that takes place in 1969, the year I turned 18, required to sign up for the draft.  I had just graduated from high school in a town anchoring one point of the triangle of Camp Pendleton. My parents both worked there. Most of Camp Pendleton was in the Fallbrook school district.

Though my father went into the U.S. Marine Corps before Pearl Harbor, and was at Guadalcanal and other horrific battles; contracted malaria, was wounded numerous times between World War II and his time in Korea (which coincided with my birth and, while he was there, the birth of my next sister down); my mother served in Washington D.C. in the office where decisions on rationing were made.

When I was in my teens, while my father was a civilian cable splicer for the (separate) phone service on Camp Pendleton, my mother worked in the base photo lab alongside some of those who took now-iconic photos from previous and ongoing wars.

One of her coworkers was our neighbor, father of children whose ages lined up with the kids in our family. You couldn’t meet him and not see that he had been damaged by what he had been through, what he had seen, what he had photographed.

The Vietnam War and all its associated drama were covered almost live; campus protests and jungle patrols. And there were stories wherever one went. Parents of friends were over there, in the military. Older brothers of friends were there, sons of people from my church were there; at least one of whom died there.

Coming of age is, of course, always difficult. At almost eighteen (an age in which my father was at Guadalcanal) I had to sign up for the draft; but I was working in a sign shop, going surfing pretty much every morning, and deciding between a church-run college and the local community college. Either way I’d be registering as 2-S, a student deferment.  Though there was a lot of talk among my peers of which branch to sign up for, Coast Guard Reserve getting the nod in the surfing community; there was also the often-repeated rumor that this war was going to go on for years, and, once the student deferment no longer applied, it was Vietnam for sure.

This is where the novel comes in: The narrator, who is not me (though I am a resource), has to make a similar decision on the draft. On December 1, 1969, the first (supposedly fairer than the existing system) lottery draft was held. Every male born before 1951 was eligible. I was born in 1951; the next year would be the critical one for me.

I thought I could remember the exact numbers of my birth date for the first and second lottery drafts. 36 for the first year; 174 for the second. I looked it up. I had remembered correctly.

Somewhere between the first and second drawings I made (possibly- certainly seemed so at the time) the biggest gamble of my life; changed my status to 1-A.

They never called me, I never called them.

It’s way more complicated than that, of course. My church had training for those who could serve as medics. Some heroes of the Seventh Day Adventist Church had done so. It would be easiest, if drafted, to just go in the Army. Two years. “Cannon fodder,” was the word on it. My father told me that if I went in as an officer, he wouldn’t care which branch I went into, but if I went in enlisted, it had better be the Marine Corps.

But here’s what happened: A little over two years in a sign shop got me qualified, barely, to get a job as a journeyman painter with the Department of the Navy in San Diego at 20 years old; 1971. I went to work with veterans of World War II, Korea, and with returning vets (slightly older than I was) in the apprenticeship program.

All of these folks were affected, if not damaged by what they had seen, what they had participated in. Although veterans are not fond of talking to non-vets, they will talk among themselves, and most of the people I worked with were veterans.

I worked with a guy who (and his peers never guessed it) piloted a landing craft on D-Day, was issued a 45 and orders to kill anyone who wouldn’t disembark; I worked with a man who was on several ships that were sunk, who fought against Rommel’s forces in North Africa.

When I transferred to the shipyard in Bremerton in 1979, I worked with a guy who was on Navy river patrol boats in Vietnam. He was very quiet, didn’t want to talk to anyone about it. “Yeah, like the movie; only real.” Another Vietnam veteran, who, when I would see him talking to his real peers, seemed unable to get past his experiences. He died (and I can’t help think his Vietnam time contributed to this) in his mid-thirties. Another painter, who sported an ever-longer beard and hair, was willing to tell me how, on an off-station project in Spain, an American guard said something about his hair, and, if he was a Marine… “I am a ___-______ Marine,” he answered.

Grandpa

There are no ex-Marines. My father was a Marine when he died. “Very bad things happen,” he said, when the subject of Post Traumatic Stress disorder came up, “you just have to keep on going.”

I don’t know war. I have seen what war does to people. To ask someone to go to war is to ask them to go against what most of us are taught, to possibly die or possibly kill another human being for some noble cause. If the cause isn’t actually noble…

War is the tragedy of man.

To those who serve, who have served; all respect. I do mean all respect.

 

Excerpt from “Swamis”

EVERY time I find time to work on this novel (and it is fiction, mostly), I seem to start out at the beginning, edit, change; so much so that, when I’m out of time, I haven’t really advanced the story. SO, this is a chapter a little way into it; setting up some sort of romance I haven’t totally figured out yet. YET. I will.

WHAT is surprising is how much my partially-planned story changes as I get farther into the plot.  AND what I do, after I write something new, is think about how this can be better said, better written, better told.

AND I enjoy this part of writing also.  More to come.

FEBRUARY 1969-

Ginny Cole was like the magazine photos; like my best rides; I could bring her image into my mind at will; images from the few times I’d been on the beach or in the water with her. Not with her, around her. It’s not like she knew me; another teenage surfer, awkward out of the water, not skilled enough to be noticed in the water.

Ginny wasn’t the only girl surfer in the North County; there were others; but she was good. I had seen Barbie Barron, Margo Godfrey… Barbie in the water and in the parking lot at Oceanside’s shorter jetty; Margo with Cheer Critchlow at Swamis on a day that was uncrowded, big and nearly blownout; both just casually walking out, chatting; paddling for the outside peak. My two friends and I shoulder-hopped, choosing only the smaller waves on the inside.

Coolness, casualness, some sort of self-confidence, some sense of comfort in one’s own skin.

Things I lacked, things I appreciated.

The days were just getting long enough to make it from Fallbrook to the beach before dark. My 9’6” Surfboards Hawaii pintail, last of my (youthful) longboards, was on one side of the rack on Dave’s VW Super Bug, his pre-graduation gift. I think he his newer-but-stock Hansen was on the other side. Dave had picked me up as I raced from my last class. Dave floored-it across the Bonsall bridge, chose going through Vista rather than toward Oceanside. “Faster,” he said.

“Faster, then,” I said.

We were just coming down the ramp at Beacons when Ginny and another girl (no, didn’t know her name) were coming up; side by side; laughing.  The stainless steel turnbuckle closure on Ginny’s shortjohn wetsuit was disconnected, unsnapped.

There was skin showing. Freckles on her shoulder. I was 17. Ginny was perfect, and she might just look at me as we passed. I gave Dave a hip check, my only basketball move, pushing him toward the railing.

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“Virgin-e-ya,” a voice from behind her said; “Virgin-eee-yaaa.”

If I said everything stopped, it would be an exaggeration. But it did. I stopped.

And Virginia Cole did look at me. She blinked. She and the other girl lowered their heads, their smiles gone. They passed Dave and I single file, Ginny in front.

There were three guys, in street clothes, at the bottom of the ramp, kind of congratulating each other. They weren’t surfers.  The guy who had made the remark was in the lead, crushing and tossing his empty beer can into the brush as they headed up. Dave shook his head, tried to step in front of me. He wasn’t fast enough, convincing enough. At the halfway point of the path, at the curve, I blocked them with my board, held sideways at my chest.

“What?” It was the lead guy; maybe a bit flushed; his smile changing to a sneer. Maybe not quite a sneer; just one of those ready-for-confrontation looks.

“Nothing, A-hole; just thought you might want to rest a second.”

“Fuck you.” The front guy, and I probably should give a more complete description of him and his high school-aged buddies, both adding their backup “fuck you;” but I won’t. He was just another high school jerk.

“You were a little disrespectful. Don’t you think; Jerk?”

Jerk’s crew and Dave looked up at the top of the bluff. Evidently Ginny and her friend were looking down.

“Ginny… Ginny Coldddd. She’s a stuck-up fuckin’…”

I’m trying to go through the words a teenage jerk would give for a girl in 1969. It would have been stronger than bitch, but certainly not cunt; that would be nuclear. Twat was almost nuclear. Not so much a west coast slang. It didn’t matter. I dropped the board. Jerk and his friends looked at it.

Hitting someone in the face is nuclear. The shoulder, maybe; was acceptable. “Harder!” “That all you’ve got?” Push, push back, a few glancing blows and a tie up; this was suburban teenage fighting. And, as Jerk pulled his right arm back, I hit him with a straight shot that bloodied his nose and lip.

It wasn’t full speed. I had held back.

The other two guys were, obviously, trying to decide between fight and flight. Everything stopped. Again. I looked at my hand. Jerk put his left hand to his face, looked at the blood. The other two guys looked at the blood on his face and hand, stepped away from their friend.

“Devil Dogs,” Dave said to the friends, his biggest smile on his (slightly-pimpled, had to add this) face; “Joe’s a fuckin’ Devil Dog.”

I picked up my board. There were several drops of blood on it.  I wasn’t sure if I was thrilled or sorry. Not enough of either.

“It’s just… um… you were rude.” Jerk looked like he might apologize; or, worse, cry.  “Hey,” I said, taking Dave’s towel off his board, handing it to Jerk. “My dad made me go. It’s really… it’s Devil Pups. Marines. Didn’t want to go.” I stood aside, opening the ramp. “We’re going to go surfing now.” I took the towel back, handed it to Dave. He took it with a shrug. “Just, um; you’re okay, huh?”

Jerk nodded. We walked on.

“Hope he doesn’t cry,” Dave said. “Your dad… I mean; if you ever even…” As we reached the sand, the sun way too close to the horizon, Dave ran next to me, looked closely at my face.

I wasn’t crying, quite, but I was not thrilled. I wasn’t sorry. I’m pretty sure I smiled, maybe even laughed. “Devil Dogs!” I ran for the water, didn’t look back at the bluff until I was knee-deep. The sun bounced back at me off windows, car windows, house windows. Silhouettes. Maybe one of them was Ginny, I thought. Maybe I was wrong.

Dave caught a wave before I did.

SWAMIS- In Progress

SWAMIS

nixon

On June 8, 1969, President Richard M. Nixon said 25,000 troops would be out of Vietnam by August.

SECOND WEEK OF JUNE, 1969

Almost leaping from stair to stair, I was looking at the water, the fuzzy horizon, the lines; counting, then recounting the surfers already in the water; trying to beat any other surfers who missed the true dawn patrol. Swamis was, finally, it seemed, breaking; tide dropping; swell, hopefully, increasing. It would get crowded.

Two surfers were walking from halfway up the point, along the water’s edge. I wasn’t focused on them; they were shapes, so familiar; surfer and board, nose-up or nose-down, more-or-less crosses in the grainy light, the shadows of the bluff. One was walking faster, trying to catch up. “June,” I heard, or thought I heard; then, more like a question, “Junipero?” Then, closer to the guy in front of him; “Jumper.”

“Jumper,” I thought. Jumper. Now I almost focused.

Almost. It was a moment, still just a moment, between a surfer reaching for, and touching the other man’s shoulder- it was Sid, reaching; Sid, a locally-known surfer; Surfboards Hawaii team rider; known to thrash his boards; known to take on crazy waves, to burn valley cowboys and out-of-town surfers, even Orange County magazine surf stars down to trade crowded beach breaks for a chance at Swamis point break magic- Sid, featured in a small, grainy, black and white ad in “Surfer” magazine.

I must have blinked. Sid was flat-out, on his back, parallel to that line where the sand turned hard with the receding tide. His board was floating in the shallows, Jumper’s board pressed, nose-first, to his neck; Jumper’s foot on his chest.

Jumper. Fucking Jumper. He was back in town, back at Swamis.

If we could just ‘backspace’ time ten seconds, not all the time, but for those moments we witnessed but couldn’t immediately process. Maybe ‘replay’ is more accurate. Ten seconds.

Fifty years gone, I’m trying to replay moments, bits and fragments and images and strings; strings of time; so many strings; some tangled, some free.

Oh, I broke free of the North County scene years ago; lost my contacts, forgot names, confused and overlapped stories from Grandview and Pipes and Cardiff Reef. I do still remember specific rides among thousands; remember, almost precisely, the times I was injured; held down, hit the bottom, was hit by someone else’s board; but, and I’ve tried, I can’t remember Sid’s last name.

But I remember Jumper.

In another moment, with me even with them, trying to be cool, to not look, both surfers were sitting on Jumper’s board. Peripheral vision. No, I probably did turn my head. Never was cool.

Jumper’s hair was shorter than mine, but, even with the patchy start of a beard; he was recognizable, the same guy from, probably, four years earlier, back when I was just switching from surf mats to boards; back when he caught any wave he wanted any time he showed up.  The Army or prison; stories about his disappearance varied; rumors among high school friends who quoted various upper classmen, scattered pieces from other people’s beachfire conversations.

“I heard he moved to Hawaii,” or, “No, Buttwipe; Australia. Or New Zealand.” Or, “Chicago.” “No fucking way.”  “San Francisco, then.” “Nooooo.”

Then someone would go into a Jumper surf impression, with play-by-play commentary, on any nearby surfboard; Right arm back, elbow cocked, hand like a conductor’s, flowing with the up-and-down movements on the imagined wave; subtle, the left arm lower, hand out flat; punctuated with, rather than the classic cross step to the nose, the quick shuffle, the jump; then a crouch and a shift to a more parallel stance, right hand in the wave, left hand grabbing the outside rail. Twist, weight forward; the fin would pop out of the sand.

“Island pullout.”

Someone else would repeat the performance, only, left foot on the tip in a solid five, upper torso shifting to face the wave, arms spreading wide; he would pull the skeg, make the rotation, yell, “Standing island pullout”, and shuffle back on the board, casually drop to his knees, ready to paddle out.

Yes, I participated in this. Yes, I tried to develop that “Jumper” conductor-dancer flow on my skateboard, pivoting, slaloming down my block, on inland hills, miles from the ocean. I had a long enough board, eventually, to go with the cross step; more like Phil Edwards, Micky Dora.

Style.

Jumper was probably my second surf hero. Maybe third. Heroes dominated lineups, kooks and kids gave way, gave waves, watched them.  Now Jumper was, quite possibly, crying, one hand on Sid’s shoulder, one of Sid’s on his. It was Sid who looked around at me with a ‘fuck off’ look.

Peripheral. No, I’d looked back.

I looked away, kept walking.  Still only a short distance away, I did what every surfer does, and always has; studied the ocean for a moment before committing; disciple before the alter.

When I looked back, from out in the water, from my lineup, the inside lineup, Sid and Jumper were half way up the stairs. Sid was one step ahead, one above. When two guys came down, Sid, probably because he didn’t know them, or because he did, made the down-stair surfers split up and go around.  Jumper moved behind Sid’s block.

A set approached. Surfers, who had been straddling their boards in the lull, dropped to prone, started paddling. At this tide, some of the waves from the outside peak were still connecting all the way through. The first one didn’t; the surfer on it lost behind a section. Two surfers went for the shoulder as I stroked past. The second wave swung wide, peaked-up on the inside. I had it to myself; another takeoff, drop, turn, cutback, back and forth to the inside inside, fitting my board into and through that last little power pocket, peeling over the palm of the finger slabs that opened to the sea. A little standing island pullout into the swampy grass. Swamis.

 

THIRD WEEK OF JUNE, 1969

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If the Noah’s Ark trailer park wasn’t still there, there on the north end of Leucadia, yet another trailer park squatted up against yet another bluff along 101, protected from the south winds; if it wasn’t still there in 1969; it had been there on those trips with my family, down the coastal route to San Diego.

I understand there’s a jetty there now; Ponto.

I also can’t clearly remember if the fields north of Grandview, the original Grandview, the fields along those bluffs were fields of tomatoes or strawberries. I know there were no houses. There were the Leucadia greenhouses. Flowers. It was what Leucadia was known for. Poinsettias.

Maybe not these particular greenhouses.

Turning off 101, I drove past several. One, and this had been pointed out to me by several of my high school surfing buddies, belonged to the family of Jumper Hayes. On this morning, still dark, what the forecasters called ‘early morning and evening overcast,’ or ‘June gloom’ hanging on, almost misty; I saw Jumper’s old pickup, almost-flat paint a weird shade of green in the light of the yard lamp, parked outside one of the greenhouses. Only the tail, fin over the tailgate, showed this farm rig was a surfer’s vehicle.

I gave myself a bit of a self-congratulatory nod, a quick smack on the shifter, three-on-the-tree; double-clutched down to second, gunned it.

It had become my workday predawn move, up and down Neptune, checking out Grandview, Beacons, Stone Steps; possibly surfing whichever one had a more consistent peak. Or a peak at all.  If it was bigger, big enough, I would push the fourth-hand Chevy four door farther, along the bluff, the increasingly-fancy houses blocking any view of the water, past Moonlight, down and around the Self Realization compound, to Swamis.

Or, depending on my hours; if it was still light when I got off work, I would turn onto 101 at Cardiff reef, pass the state park, try to get a glimpse of Swamis over the guardrail. If it was breaking big enough, you could see it. I would hit the parking lot and get out. Even if it was dark, I’d check the view from Boneyards, past what my high school friends and I called Swamis Beachbreak, onto and beyond Pipes.

And then back. And repeat. Maybe there’d be some last-lighters, still hanging in the parking lot; their stories of new and past glories punctuated with a hoot or a laugh; headlights and streetlights in a descending darkness and a dim glow from the horizon.

Swamis was where I wanted to surf. June gloom or bright offshore glare; breaking or not. What I felt, and was totally aware of feeling, was that my choice of route and destination was mine, mine alone; that I was pretty fuckin’ close to being free.

Within reason, of course.

NOTE: For a short period of time, but right about this time; well past ‘groovy,’ way past anyone remotely cool (or young) calling anyone a ‘Hippie,’ I made the adjustment, from ‘fuckin’, dropping the ‘ing,’ to Fuck-ing, emphasis on the ‘ing.’ This was after running into a guy, Gordie, from my high school at a liquor store in Vista. He now, suddenly, sporting long hair (longer- Fallbrook had a dress code and we’d just graduated), parted in the middle (of course), and clothing that denied his quite-upper class upbringing. “We just don’t fuck-ing see each other, man; like, like we used to.” And he was, obviously, stoned, an even more-stoned girl, possibly still in high school, headband, boutique-chic top, nodding, eyes unable to focus, next to him. Gordie put a hand on my shoulder. I looked at his hand, put my package of Hostess donettes and quart of milk on the counter, pointed to a pack of Marlboros, turned back to Gordie. He sort of gave me a look when I scooped up the cigarettes. “I know man, Gordie; you probably don’t fuck-ing smoke… cigarettes.” He and the girl both giggled. So uncool. “Peace, man.”

Yeah, flipping the peace sign was probably pretty much over, also.

My relative freedom isn’t, perhaps, relevant to the story. Maybe it is; these were times when ‘freedom’ and ‘peace’ and ‘revolution’ were frequently used in the same sentence. For someone just out of high school, working various shifts at a supermarket with a view of the ocean; joy and loneliness and a sense of being part of some magical mystery could all be felt in a very short span of time; and repeated, randomly. Mysteries.

Why, I had been asking myself, did Sid call Jumper ‘June,’ with a hard J; not a H sound. If his real name was Jesus; well, anyone would instantly know it’s not Jesus, like Jesus Christ, but Hey-Seuss, like Hey, Doctor Seuss, dropping the ‘doctor.’

Mysteries ask to be solved. Beg, perhaps. Rumors. Surfing, waves, surfing waves was a mystery. Board surfing was more than just drop and hang on. Tamarack was obvious; one peak in front of the bathrooms on the bluff, a bit of a channel; a parking lot at beach level. Good place to learn; sit on the shoulder; wait, watch, study; move toward the peak; a bit closer with each session. Get yelled at; get threatened; learn.

Eventually, you would have to challenge someone for a wave.

But there were always rumors of better waves, great waves, magical and secret spots, places uncool  freshmen kooks weren’t supposed to know about, weren’t supposed to show up at.

Grandview was fairly easy to find. There was a Grandview Street off 101 in Leucadia. Still, when I showed up there with my friends, now sophomores, we got looks. Punks, Kooks; not ready for Grandview.  The hardest looks were from other San Marcos, Vista, Fallbrook, Escondido surfers; other inland cowboys.

ANOTHER NOTE (SORRY): Inlandness was in direct proportion to distance from the coast. Where I lived we called Escondido Mexican-dido. That was, of course, insensitive; maybe; but I understand Meth-condido has replaced it.

As with, probably, anywhere, in order to fit in, you had to persist. I did. As my contemporaries and I searched out new locations; San Onofre, occasionally Oceanside; as some dropped surfing, traded it for parties fueled with liquor purchased by Marines, marijuana bought from friends of friends, I had become another surf addict; and Grandview was still on my route.

By the end of my senior year, I had become accustomed to going surfing alone.

And now, here I was, almost a local, slipping and sliding down the more-sand-than-sandstone between houses, original Grandview, the real Grandview; and ahead of the ultimate local, back after four years or so, Jumper Hayes.

Just ahead.

Peace and freedom and revolution.

MAY OF 1969-

I have to drop back for a moment. The story hinges on this. Chulo Lopez had been killed, murdered. His real name wasn’t Chulo; nickname; I can’t remember his real first name. It was in the paper, even on the San Diego TV news.  “Horrific” the reporter said.  “The Sheriff’s Office said he was probably dead… probably… when his body was ‘posed’ against the thick white walls of the Self Realization Fellowship compound, doused with gasoline, and set ablaze. Set ablaze.”

The reporter stepped aside. The blackened areas on the white white walls formed a sort of outline, similar to that around a candle. The TV camera followed the burn marks up to the gold bulbs atop the wall. There was a sort of symmetry, a repetition.  “Set ablaze.”

The walls were back to white when I next went to Swamis, against my parents’ warnings, two days later. It was a Saturday. Weekend. A predicted swell hadn’t materialized, a south wind was blowing. Maybe it would clean up, even get bigger. So, wait. Surfers I knew well enough to give or return a half-nod, four of five guys, one girl, were sitting on the guard rail; a small carton of orange juice or chocolate milk in their hands; maybe a cold piece of pizza; one or another of them glancing back toward the compound.

I lit up a cigarette, noticed none of them were smoking, squeezed the cherry out, pulled the donette package out of my windbreaker pocket. Frosted, never chocolate.

It seems wrong to me, now, it’s obviously wrong; but, somehow, when I was a teenager, it seemed all the surfers were somewhere around my age. Some younger kooks, some older surfers. Not many; or maybe I just didn’t focus on them; maybe the ones who were well known; names spread through a parking lot or lineup: L.J. Richards, Mike Doyle, Rusty Miller; surfers you would definitely keep track of; just to see if they were all that good. Better. Were they better?

How much better?

But these were days of evolution in surfing; shorter boards, more radical moves, backyard soul shapers, V bottoms and downrail speed machines; and the new heroes were younger; more like my age; s-turns and tube stalls and 180 cutbacks.

“Chulo,” someone said. In my memory there was a sort of muffled chorus, “Chulo,” from the surfers on the guardrail. “They’re saying it’s some sort of cult thing. Maybe it’s related to… you know, those monks burning themselves up over in Vietnam.”

May of 1966, in protest of corrupt Vietnamese Regime…

It was an older man, Wally; who threw pots for a living; sold them wholesale up in L.A. He had walked from the direction of the outhouse (still there at that time) and the stairs (probably two other systems since then), stood between the bluff and the guardrail surfers. There were a couple of us in the parking lot. Second tier.

“Jesus freaks,” someone said, actually more like a question…

 

Dirty John Ain’t Quite Gone

The official greeting from Dirty John, if you pass him in traffic along the rag-tag stretch of Surf Route 101 that goes through Quilcene, Washington is the double eagle flip-off.

This also might be the greeting (if you’re lucky enough to be his friend) at the Post Office, at the Fire Hall, or pretty much anywhere else in town. The proper response is to return the favor.

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Not that I mind.

If we talked about surfing (and I seem to include it in most conversations), John always recounted his childhood on Coronado Island, Admiral’s Row.

“I had a big, long board, and my thing was to go out on the biggest days, and just take off.” “You mean, like, um, go straight?” “Yeah.” “Sometimes I’d paddle across the bay to Ralph’s.” “Across San Diego Bay?” “Yeah, why?” “Because it’s crazy.” “Oh. Maybe.”

The ‘maybe’ was accompanied by a bit of a smile.

I’ve known John for over 37 years. We were new guys in the Quilcene Fire Department in 1981 (Trish filled me in on this). John’s a tough guy, as tough as they come; but, send him on an aid call where a child is hurt (Trish, John, and I were Emergency Medical Technicians for years), and John’s empathetic side would be revealed. And he loved cats. Our kids called him John McKitty.

John got to Quilcene because there was a halfway house here at the time. He freely admits he, son of a career Naval officer, abused drugs.

That was years ago. John traded hard drugs for working hard, drinking copious amounts of Pepsi; he held on to smoking cigarettes, added chewing tobacco.

When he got COPD, emphysema, he quit smoking. He refuses to be on oxygen.

It would embarrass John if I… shit, even knowing about this piece would embarrass John. If I listed the times he helped us out, cutting down dangerous trees in our yard with fellow curmudgeon George Hansberry, towing my truck when the wheel fell off… more; it would definitely embarrass him; might just anger him.

Tough.

I saw John the other day in the local bank. There was a line, and he was waiting in a chair. “How’s it going?” John’s voice was a whisper. I tried to whisper. “Not so good.”

He told me about the cancer. “Lung cancer?” “Pancreatic.” “Oh.” We all know the prognosis. Not good. “When did you get the, um…” “Two weeks ago.”

“I just inherited a… money,” he said. “Oh.”

There was a pause. “Spend it,” I said. “I am,” he answered. He nodded toward a new Suburu outside. “I bought that for Melinda,” he said. “Good. Uh, hey, sorry, man.” “It is what it is.”

When I was done with my transaction, John was standing at the counter, next teller over, saying something about having chemo the day before. “Um, uh, yeah; but you feel better, huh?” “Yeah. Better.” “Um, what was your last name, again?”

“You probably think his first name is ‘Dirty,'” I said. “it’s actually not.”

“I couldn’t do this is it wasn’t in a public space,” I said, giving John a sideways shoulder hug. “He’d hit me.”

He didn’t, but he did give me a semi-hidden version of the official greeting.

 

 

Surviving the 50th Anniversary of My 17th Birthday… and More

Swimming in to retrieve my board, so close to banging, again, against the sealife-encrusted rocks, I couldn’t help but think my fears of surfing this spot were being realized.

Not only did I lose my board on my first wave; but it was on my birthday.

Okay, really can’t say too much about the particular spot. It’s kind of a secret spot, accessible by winding roads, trails, a steep cliff, rocks; and then there’s the water; cold, bull kelp heads floating with the rising and falling of the inshore.

I did take a couple of photos of the spot. A friend, who was way out on the Olympic Peninsula, camping; and had agreed to meet me there, but, and this is not atypical; by the time I got close enough to take the photos, he was already dropping into wave after wave.

Okay, so, if I had fastened my leash before I paddled out (didn’t, because of the kelp), or had fastened it securely once I got out (they’re made to easily remove, rather awkward to put on underwater), or if I’d made the drop (the face dropped under me, I freefell) I wouldn’t have been swimming.

I’ll probably sneak the photo onto the site some time in the future.

Yeah, I did make some waves, and did wipe out a couple more times; but, with crazy indicator waves even farther out, with lines coming out of deep water; suddenly steep, scary steep; getting pitched, getting hit by the lip, getting a few quick barrels; hooting way too loud on my rides, or when watching my friend freefalling, blasting through sections… the session was, as memorable, magic ones often are, intense.

It was all pretty much over in an hour and a half or so. I had managed to save some energy for the paddle and climb and walk… and it was great. Thanks for sharing; it was my favorite birthday present.  Here’s my return present: I won’t say more about the spot. As surfer Tim Nolan, who will always be older than me, says, “If you tell people too much about surf spots, you take away their joy in discovering them.”

So, this session goes in the mental file with the time I got perfect peelers at a rare (tide/swell direction/magic factors) sand bar at Noluck, the time Crescent actually had lined-up rights (45 minutes and gone- shared with my friend Archie), a list of other outings including three hours at a Sunset Cliffs peak with Steven Penn, 1972, and… hey, go through your own list.

In surfing, I’ve long believed, we sort of pay for the gifts we receive. The thrashings, the wipeouts, the relentless impact zones, the cold (let’s throw in the crowds), the skunkings; and then… again, think about the gifts surfing has given you.

Just to calm down, and since it was my birthday and I had no strict schedule, I stopped off at a well know break on the Strait. No one was out. It was small. It was so easy.

Meanwhile, here’s the latest logo design for the DISCO BAY OUTDOOR EXCHANGE:

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How I Managed to Invest *$3OO on a $35 surf rack

EMERGENCY UPDATE- I have to add this because sometimes what’s in my head isn’t on the page. SO, if my car had gutters, like the old days, I could use Aloha racks, again, like the old days. AND, if the car had those front-to-back rails on the roof, the racks I purchased from Amazon (I’m a first time buyer- Trish isn’t) would have worked.

Well, I vowed to make them work.

*The $300 is just an estimate based on the money I didn’t make working, so… asterisk.  I just wanted something to replace the soft racks I’ve been using for long enough to be on the second set. The springs on the buckle/tighteners wear out, you can back up and catch the loose straps under a tire and… rip. Yeah, both at once.

And there’s the bonus feature of rain running down from the board, down the straps, and drip, drip, drip, directly on the seat.

Or the person seated in the seat.

Actually I got the second set from my friend, Archie Endo. Thanks, Archie. And, then, because I’m cruising down the road in a 1985 Toyota Camry wagon with the straps about, max, four feet apart. Fine if you’re packing a six foot board, but, with a ten-sixer, it’s wise (and this seems even wiser when you’re facing log trucks and semis on two lane roads) to add a third tie-down.

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OH, if you just can’t help but notice the bent antenna; um, yeah; bent that with the big-ass board. Radio didn’t work anyway. It did, then it didn’t want to change channels, then; and this is most likely related to when mice got into the dash board… eerkkk.

SURE, once in a while there’s an odd whine from the back speakers, once in a while some Christian channel comes out of nowhere.

Not really, kind of a variation on my belief that, if nothing else comes in on radios that otherwise work, on the way, say, in the seemingly endless boonies, heading down toward Seaside; you can always get preaching or country western.

Your choice. Now, all I have to do is cover up the bolt ends that are on the ceiling. Not a problem unless, say, a deer or cow is in the road and I hit it and/or the ditch, and then hit the overhead.  I only mention it because, well, this has happened. Different rig. Years ago, no actual bolts coming through the ceiling panels.

THEN AGAIN, that car had rain gutters.

Meanwhile, there continues to be flaaaaaaaat conditions on the Strait of Juan de Fuca; but, when a swell heads this way; I’ll be styling.

Straps. Now I’m thinking about straps.

AND, if you notice the paint cans in the driveway. Sorry; it’s painting season.

Not Keeping Up with Stephen R. Davis

My friend, ‘Hydrosexual’ Stephen Davis recently went from the Big Island to the Windy City.  He’s doing some work with his friend, Cosmo; who, after visiting Hawaii, decided he wants to move there.

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BUT FIRST,  Steve stopped off in Port Townsend. We were supposed to meet up, but I was working and he has a lot of friends. Weirdly (not really for Stephen or me), he found me getting a drawing reproduced at The Printery.  He was cruising around with Lisa, a surfer he met in Baja, who actually lives and teaches school in North San Diego County (near where I was raised), and reminds me of what Courtney Conlogue might be like at fifty-something.

Outerknown Fiji Women's Pro

So, Lisa started giving me the kind of “are you a real surfer” kind of grilling I tend to practice.  Actually, she started with, “So, you surf?” “Kind of.” “Oh,” Stephen said, “Erwin has great wave knowledge.” “Uh huh.” Then back to me, “Do you know Blackie, Bonzo, Little Snickie…?” “Um; I left there almost forty years ago. Do you ever surf Pipes?” “Sometimes. You know, old guys surf Tourmaline.” “Yeah; I used to live up the bluff, in P.B. Like, in 1971.” “Oh. Yeah.” “Do you know Joe Roper?” “Joe Roper? Of course. He’s the only one I’ll let work on my Skip Frye.”

Sensing I was holding my own, maybe with a B-, I told a story about stealing a design from Morey/Pope that Skip was working on at Gordon and Smith (the waterskate, though I couldn’t think of that under the pressure), having it built/pirated at the PB Surf Shop, and, first time trying it; there’s Skip on the beach. Yeah; Skip Frye.

MEANWHILE, Stephen and Cosmo have spent some Chicago time at museums and other highbrow locations.

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BUT, and I know this is going on a bit, I want to get to Stephen’s story. Steve is my Wal-Mart call; someone to talk to when I’m following Trish around. On one call, he told me he wants to submit a story of how he had a new take on all the posturing and posing and preening associated with surfing. “Preening?” “Yeah, P R E E N I N G.” “I know how to spell it, Steve; I just love that you’re using it.”

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“Old Man Winter,” original charcoal by Stephen R. Davis.

No, sorry; lost it (temporarily). I’ll post this, then post the version with Steve’s story. Mostly I’m worried about losing what I’ve put together so far.

I may be a real surfer; but I’m definitely not a real computer dude.

OKAY, I can’t seem to get it here. I’ll just retype it. Here’s Stephen’s latest story:

I was bailing the Big Island and my shoulder was feeling good.  There was a new, pumping South Swell, so I decided to catch a few waves.

I had surfed quite a bit in the last few weeks. The swell had been relentless.

I explored a bit. I checked out some spots off the beaten path I had been wondering about, but, not knowing the swell angle and the direction, nor the relative position of most of the lava rock points and reefs, my regional knowledge was still a work in progress. Old standby spots seemed to be the ones firing, and they had been firing. Local rippers with shoulders the size of coconuts were casually, nonchalantly packing and petting low tide bombs where the reef seemed too close to the surface for any personal comfort level.

Hilo-side and Puna folks were migrating to Kona side also, because of the unprecedented lava activity, borrowing old, yellow, dinged-up longboards and railgrabbing gnarly, late drops and pulling it, coming out of massive amounts of exploding white water, while I watched from the inside corner on my old 6’8″ Al Merrick, “Big Willy,” waiting patiently.

Echoing in my mind was Cap, constantly telling me, “You need a bigger board,” as only a charter boat Captain can. Hmmmmmm…. in his mind the 10′ popout Infinity he ‘gave’ me to fix for him (?), with the GoPro mount right where I would want to stand on the nose, combined with the thruster set-up (??) would get me more waves, and serve as what Cap refers to as ‘crowd control.’ I seriously don’t want to think about what was in the old wax on that thing. Though I am grateful for the gesture, it just definitely was not my preferred solution to this crowd situation. I’m sure it would have been fine, but it just is not my style.

I came to the Big Island to ride waves on a short board with no wetsuit, and I was fine up until the head-on collision when my right shoulder was injured. After rehabbing it for months, along with the whiplash in my neck, I really wanted to be back on “Big Willy.” I had pulled her out of the wreckage, cleaned the broken glass out of the wax, fixed the dings, put a new deck patch on her (ERWIN- Wait, Willy’s female?), and even bought a brand new leash for her. Ya, she is old and yellow, but she is my shortboard. I bought her when my Mom passed away, when I realized just how fleeting life is.

The swell was pumping and I wanted to carve going fast.

After being caught inside on two huge sets of empty lineup with ‘victory at sea’ conditions, I positioned again, on the corner, to wait for the wide-swingers. I went for one no one could get, and, rather quickly, ejected, hanging and slowly descending into oblivion, perfectly, with the lip I wasn’t in, and I knew it.

Oh, well. Went for another one, more resolute, after another waiting period. Couldn’t get to my feet. Hmmmm. Now I wanted it bad. Waited for another one. Same thing. These were extremely stretched-out, hollow lefts hitting a shallow reef, but the waves were familiar to me. I knew I could do better.

Finally, I popped to my feet on a nice roll-in, managed a big backside roundhouse-to-foam-bounce, then hit the lip and landed it as the wave finished it’s destiny on the reef. OK, now I could go in. I caught a good one.

The next day I went to check a fun, family spot. It was a weekend morning, glassy and closing-out at the small takeoff spot. There was one makeable bomb per set, and about 20 or more, no doubt, preening ‘locals’ that I had no interest in competing in the lineup with. I am old, and I have fought the dragon that is my ego, and have no interest in proving my worth to anyone. Nor do I have any urge to be judged or evaluated by strangers. Mind you, I am happy to have been evaluated by my long time counselor whose awareness and ‘judgement’ of me I trust.

What to do? As I sat on the beach, I noticed the Keki on the inside, catching little pockets, and laughing all the way in and back out to their inside takeoff spot. This surf spot is notoriously family friendly where folks come to find Aloha and be together. People bring friends who don’t surf there to learn, and there is an illuminating Vibration of Love that can be felt if one tries.

I decided to go out on my forest green 7’6″ funboard, and to stay inside with the Ohana. I was next to two little girls, walking their longboards on inside nugs, and a father teaching his young son to surf. I had so much fun, and felt so much joy in the warmth of the sun, the laughter, and the little pockets and walls-a-plenty. I was trimming along, with the clear, beautiful water, the reef, and the sea life. I caught a dozen incredible waves, and remembered what it felt like to truly play amongst friends.

Asa result of my parenting, I have an ability to learn from children, and this was no different. I relearned what it means to play, and to share, again, and how nice it feels to celebrate, and to be celebrated for catching and riding a wave that offers that vibration back as a child. I learned the value of a smile.

Aloha.