Cheer Critchlow Cut from “Swamis”

Or, maybe not.

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

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

SO:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lost in the Moon

I am posting this here before I submit it for inclusion in the Quilcene Community Center Newsletter. I have a certain resentment (shouldn’t, but do) for the time I spend thinking about, writing, and re-writing material that goes out to an unknown number of readers when I could be using my limited mental bandwidth and time working on my manuscript for “Swamis.” Then again, I have an unknown number or readers for realsurfers, so…I

INSTANT REVIEW: “You man’splained that to death.” Trish

This piece was inspired by a recent and beautiful full moon.

My original choice for a title was “Into the Moon,” a possibly-not-obvious-enough allusion or reference to a more common phrase, ‘heading into the sun.’ I also considered, “Driving into the Moon,” “Lost in the Moon (even more obscure baseball outfielder allusion),” and “Strait Into the Moon.”

All this internal debate, sheer lunacy.

I had an internal chuckle over the last sentence. Internal only, fingers still on the keyboard, ready at any moment to hit the ‘backspace.’ And why? Because I care.

First, I should explain the ‘Strait’ thing: My day started before dawn, rifling around the yard, loading my really big, old guy’s surfboard and trying to ensure that I had the proper gear for both the surfing, somewhere on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and for a painting job in Port Angeles. The surf can be fickle. Waves, even when predicted to show up, even when the buoys in the open ocean show a swell, frequently fail to find their way down the Strait.  

I knew, because Trish told me, that there was a full moon. To me the whole fullness timeline is more like a Werewolf thing, a three-day (night, rather) event between waxing and waning, with, according to meteorologists and astrologers nd astronomers, one exact moment of peak fullness.

Yes, full and non-full moons have a religious aspect. Genesis 1:16- “God made two great lights: The greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night. And he made stars as well.”

It isn’t just Christians and Jews; most other religions have a reverence for stuff going on in our vast firmament. Again, because I care, I did Google searches for, yes, ‘firmament,’ ‘Pagan,’ ‘Infidel,’ ‘Religion,’ and ‘To follow something religiously.’ Let me save you some research; Pagans and infidels are folks who follow a different God or gods than the one or ones you believe in, or no god at all (note the monotheistic use of capital letters); hence, if I interpret this correctly, each of us is a pagan to someone.

And, yes, I also Google-searched “Monotheistic.”

Okay. So, going back up a few paragraphs, I was out getting ready to go work (definitely) and surf (possibly), when, through the trees, hanging over the eastern foothills of the Olympics, I saw… yeah, the moon. Moonset.

Oh! I ran into the house, got my wallet out of my work pants (shorts because it was still summer), ran back out, found the moon, even lower, opened the wallet, and said, “Moon, moon, beautiful moon; fill ‘er up, fill ‘er up, fill ‘er up. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

“Oh my,” you are quite possibly now saying, silently or out loud, “that’s pagan.”

I believe you are right.

Or it could be up for interpretation. I will interpret it to suit my, um, behavior. 

Same mountains, different view from my house. Closer.

But, once I started doing this monthly ritual (didn’t look up ‘ritual’), I just sort of have to do it; religiously (as in, faithfully, as in, one can rely on my doing this- Google). The moon through the skylight, or a different skylight, through the trees, though the clouds; even if I can’t see the moon, I have faith that it is there.

There were waves on the Strait. Sort of. I went to one spot, donned the appropriate gear for the cold water, caught a few tiny energy bundles. The tide was wrong. Not discussing the effect of the moon on the tides at this time, but, okay, tidal change is caused by the gravitational pull of the moon, as crazy as that might sound.

I drove, in my wetsuit, to another spot where the tide was just getting high enough for the waves to clear the rocks. Surf. Two hours later the tide was too high. Go to work. Take a brief van-nap. Paint.

As usual, to take advantage of already being nearby, and as kind of a weak payback for surfing, it was pre-planned that I would make some stops in Sequim: Walmart, Costco, Tootsies (take-home dinner for Trish and me- glad they were open). My friends who surf have declined to go with me because of my time spent in what one refers to as the “Sequim Vortex.”

Vortex- “Something that resembles a whirlpool.” Merriam-Webster via Google.

Surf Route 101, basically North-South, runs East-West through Sequim. This can cause full-on sun blindness. Without going into how the sun sets farther north in the summer than the winter*, and how September’s full moon aligned almost perfectly with the Autumnal Equinox, that time when day and night are of equal length**; as I was headed home, sipping on my chocolate milkshake, there was the moon; straight ahead; full, huge, hanging just above the highway in an empty, Maxfield Parrish sky; the entire visible surface gloriously reflecting our more distant sun.

It could be mentioned that the curvature of the earth acts as a magnifying lens, giving the moon (and the sun) at the horizons the appearance of being bigger. All right, I mentioned it.

I pulled out my wallet, opened it. “Oh moon, moon, beautiful moon…” Slurp, slurp… “Fill ‘er up, fill ‘er up, fill ‘er up.”

Really, what kind of pagan says, “fill ‘er up?”

As always, thank you for reading. 

Stone Henge; Sun dial or landing zone for Aliens?

*Architects, throughout the ages, have designed structures to take advantage of the north south positioning of the sun. Example: One day a year the sun perfectly aligns with the Huntington Beach Pier, setting dead center. Similarly, and closer to home; going up the hill on the Jefferson County side of the Hood Canal Bridge one afternoon, the sun was perfectly situated in the gap and right on the highway. Perfect, and perfectly blinding.

**I have held the belief that, two times a year, the Vernal and the Autumnal equinox, the earth is in a sort of perfect balance, with equal amounts of day and night everywhere. Well, I looked that up; it is ‘almost’ true, ‘approximately’ a perfect balance. There was an explanation. I didn’t dig deeper.  

“Swamis,” Changing, Constantly

I’m working on condensing, tightening, de and re-constructing my manuscript for “Swamis.” In the process, the plot has changed- just as thick, just not as dense (weak joke). As promised, I am posting some of the stuff being deleted or shortened here. Even with that, I couldn’t help but add a little to this to bring it slightly more in line with where the someday-finished book will end up.

Sketch, not anywhere near the style I want to end up with for “Swamis”

I feel compelled to add that “Swamis” is fiction. The characters Phillip and Ray are named after my two best surfing friends, but most of what happens to and with them didn’t actually happen. Most, not all.

Oh, and now I should add that Joey is not me. Yes, he knows all about me; I am still finding things about him. Yeah, and the other fictional characters I am trying to make real.

CHAPTER ELEVEN- THURSDAY, MARCH 20, 1969

There were, at Fallbrook Union High School, several large, flat-topped (for seating) concrete planters between the administration building, the Senior Area, and the majority of the school’s classrooms. On the downhill side there was a parking lot, the gymnasium/cafeteria, and two trailers that served snacks and pre-made sandwiches and ice cream at lunch and ‘nutrition.’ 

From my first days in the ninth grade, I spent most of my non-class time standing, usually with a book in my hand, in the planter closest to the action, studying, memorizing; and, increasingly, not-exactly-secretly, observing the rites and rituals, fights and romances, the cliques and the loners. Eventually this became the spot where the surf crowd hung out.  

It was lunch time. Murder was the topic. A crowd had gathered and grown. Murder. I pulled Ray up onto the planter. He continued talking about the blackened wall and the cops and the TV crews; not loud, but for Ray, who I have only witnessed being uncool once (and not that uncool) since he moved to Fallbrook in sixth grade, somewhat enthusiastically.

Wearing a tie but no coat, the Vice Principal approached the crowd. He had been my Biology teacher when I was a Freshman. Because I had asked him on one of my trips to his office, he admitted to not enjoying this job. More money. Resume’ builder, he said the job seemed more tolerable around paydays.

Ray stopped talking. Squints (nickname- big, thick glasses), who had jumped onto the planter and stood by Ray, nodded along, interrupting occasionally with something like a cheer.

“Rah, rah, gooooo… Squints,” I pretty much whispered. He pushed me into the tree before he jumped off the planter.

“Saw you on the news, Ray,” the Vice Principal said, as Ray crouched, then jumped down from the planter box.

“Busted,” someone in the crowd said.

“Where’s your running mate; Phillip?” The crowd separated. Phillip stuck out both hands, as if ready for handcuffs, then looked at Ray. Ray followed suit. Both had smiles that looked more like smirks. 

“Busted,” one of the Billys said; though it was more like, ‘Busss-ted.’

“DeFreines,” the Vice Principal said, “kindly step out of the planter box.”

Ray and Phillip walked toward the office, followed by the Vice Principal. B-2 Bomber Billy yelled, “Free-dom!”  Even before the end of lunch bell, everyone had pretty much turned away.

I was still in the planter box, running the TV scenes back through my mind, freezing the image of Ginny Cole watching Ray walk past her for a moment. Again, with Ray turning toward the TV camera, giving it that smile, as if he knew something. Then again, with Ginny looking at Phillip as he passed, then at Ray, as if she should know who he was, then at the TV camera. Freeze.

“DeFreines, you’re late.”

“Oh.” It took a second. “I, um, thought, maybe, over at the office; maybe you’d be needing… me.”

“No; we know you didn’t ditch. It’s more than that. Please, get down.”

I did a cross-step to the outside corner of the planter, a quick hang five. The Vice Principal didn’t look overly impressed. I dropped to the ground, collected my notebooks from the woodchips, restacked them. “Okay. It’s Earth Science. I’m the…”

“I know, Joe. Uh, back at the office; it’s more than truancy. We have a Detective and a Deputy in the office, and the Superintendent. What…” We were halfway past the first block of classrooms when he asked me what I knew about marijuana, and, specifically, who one would buy it from.

“Nothing about any of this is… shared with… me.”

“No.” We stood outside the door to the Earth Science class. “That goes along with what Ray said.”

“Over at the inquisition?”

The Vice Principal looked more tired than anything else. “Earth Science, science for dummies. Sounds good right now.”

“In between paydays, huh?”

“Yeah.”               

“My, um, guess is, some kid got caught with a joint or something, started squealing.”

“He didn’t give your name.”

“But someone did, um, mention me?”

“Can’t say.” The door opened. The new Earth Science teacher let me pass. I was opening the door to the little store room hang out between classrooms when the Vice Principal led one of the science for dummies students out and into the glare.

Another Cut from “Swamis”

It is my sincere belief that it is better to have too much material, too many stories, with editing and cutting, as painful as these things are, still preferable to padding. I have to cut, cut side stories, possibly even characters. Painful. And it’s not just that I think my words are precious; they are just words, keystrokes, blocks… whatever; words.

And I am going to do it, cut “Swamis” until it becomes… readable.

I do think each of the side trips I’ve taken have been worthwhile; each of the stories has been crafted, built from the strokes, worried over and thought through; each one edited down before being added to, and now subtracted from the manuscript.

This chapter is years out from 1969.

the condo wall, pretty much unbroken from Solana Beach to Del Mar

CHAPTER 12- FRIDAY, AUGUST 16, 2019

I spent about ten days in my mother’s condo, two bedrooms, ‘en suite,’ she liked to say; five days before she died, four days with Freddy and/or his wife, Marcia. Mostly Marcia.  “Freddy’s just not strong enough,” Marcia said. The unit was all on one floor, the building indistinguishable from the rest of those forming a barrier along the bluff from Del Mar to Solana Beach.

“Your father,” my mother told Freddy and me on the third day, “has been gone so long.  A lifetime ago.” 

On the tenth day, paperwork mostly handled, a realtor with a proven record in waterfront sales selected, I set the urn that the funeral home provided, silvery and plain, on the table on the deck. Outside. She had wanted some of her ashes dropped down the steep and constantly eroding cliff, always under siege by wind and water, chunks of sandstone occasionally falling onto the riprap at the base, new rocks constantly being added to protect the investments of people who just had to be by the ocean.

Even with an early morning offshore wind there was just enough of an updraft that the lightest of the ashes blew back onto her deck, some onto the neighbor’s. My mother would have been amused. I was.

Marcia arranged for a portion of the ashes to be in a place adjacent to my father’s gravesite. Freddy and I each have an urn, decorated in a way that just might suggest that they contain the remains of a woman who was born in Japan, orphaned early, pulled into a different world, and pushed into another; suddenly, dramatically, tragically.

Yet, her last years were calm, undramatic for the most part; and she slipped into her last phase with, I more imagined than believed, a certain contentment. I put the urn on a mantle over a natural gas fireplace. Behind it I have something resembling a double pane glass window, a bit thicker, with a frame on the bottom and two sides, open at the top; not square; a bit of a swoop.  The water inside has a blue-green tinge. 

Behind that, leaning against the wall, I placed a more silver than black and white photo, mounted on wood rather than framed, and enlarged, two feet wide, three feet high. The image is from a photo Virginia Cole took wading out at Swamis late on an afternoon. It is a wave, though the few visitors I’ve had haven’t immediately recognized it as such, even with the subtle patterns on the water’s surface from the energy that is coursing through it, left to right and up and down; the dark core two-thirds of the way down; a lightness three-quarters of the way up; almost transparent, almost white; the sun almost shining through.

In random moments there are waves; left to right, right to left, never breaking free.

“It’s my mother, her spirit.” When no one else is here, I say, “Yeah, Mom; I know.”     

A Little Deeper, Out of Respect

PART ONE- They die anyway.

It was a bit of a joke as I was checking out at Wal-Mart, happy to have an actual cashier. “You buy them pedialite and baby food, you get these absorbent pads to stick under them, you do what you can, and they die anyway.”

The cat hung on for years longer than we thought it would, and yet, when I came out to the mud room it had taken over for the last few months, found it dead, away from the spot it had been pretty much stuck in for the last few days, aimed for the door, I was considerably more saddened that I would have imagined.

I’ve seen this before. As a first responder with the local volunteer fire department, I came into a scene where the patient, someone I had been a member of various crews that took him to the emergency room twelve times, each time in the middle of the night, each time with him in a panic… on the thirteenth aid call he was gone, halfway out of the bed, halfway into his pants, reaching. It is an image I cannot forget. Reaching.

The reaching is far from the only mystery connected with those moments before death. After death; for all our pondering, we don’t have much more than a few clues.

If I don’t dwell on thoughts of mortality as much as I could, I am, occasionally, faced with the reality. Everything dies.

I dug a hole in one corner of a flower garden by the driveway (appropriately) used the same shovel to carry the cat to it. A bit deeper, out of respect. I put a tile over some of the dirt, added some more, put in another tile. I broke that one up. Same shovel. There is no marker over the grave. I don’t know what religion the cat practiced.

NOTE: When I read this part to Trish, saying Oreo might have been a Buddhist, she said, “Hell, no; that cat? When she was younger… she was a killer. I used to have to throw rocks at her, run the hose on her to keep her from killing birds… she was horrible.” There was a suggestion that Oreo may have been a holy roller. Nothing specific.

PART TWO- Not Our Cat

A lot of thoughts go through your mind when you’re burying a cat that was never yours. The neighbors at the head of our driveway moved away and left the cat. This was a few years ago. Dusty Dave, who claimed he couldn’t catch the cat, called it Oreo.

Not allowed in their house, Oreo would, invariably, be stationed outside their pumphouse. Let me describe Oreo. She was, obviously, black and white, but, somehow, the placement of the colors gave her the appearance of a cat that had lost one too many fights. Kind of like a broken nose thing, plus, perhaps, a few pieces missing from her ears.

It isn’t actually surprising, with a succession of renters also not caring for it, that the cat started moving our way. We have had, over the past forty years, a succession of cats that started out as feral and ended up as ours. We have one now. Oreo never adapted. Not a house cat. At first, in the winter, she was an outside/mudroom cat. I pretty much turned over my drawing room (more like a closet) and our mud room to the cat. Then, when she got more feeble, and at Trisha’s insistence, I added an outside area/cat run (quite nice) so Oreo could kind of be outside without being way-too-easy prey for the numerous predators quite willing to carry her away.

See the source image
Please go from this image to one of David Letterman feigning throwing a cigarette butt, his eyes squinched and with a ‘fuck you’ expression

PART THREE- “I had to bury a dead cat.”

That was the text I sent Aaron. He was going to help me with a project and I was running late. Taking a break halfway through the job, Aaron said, “Oh, you actually did have to bury an actual cat.” “Yeah. Actual.” “I thought it was a euphemism for taking a dump.”

“In the future, it will be.”

“Swamis” UPDATE: I have the latest version complete and out to several people I know will be honest in their feedback.

HEAT UPDATE: It is unfortunate that heat waves and actual waves do not always happen at the same time. WAVE UPDATE: I did do some surfing recently. WAVE FORECAST: Flat with occasional non-flatness.

OH, WAIT!- The last time I went surfing, one of two kooks in the parking area was kind of raving about the last time he had gotten it really good at that spot. “I have a photo.” He stuck his phone in my face. There were some waves in the background. “Hey,” I said, “That’s my van!” Somehow, though I had to tell them it wasn’t, like, all time good, just seeing my van in the photo became the highlight of my day.

Legends and the Rest of Us

Here’s what, before I actually start writing it, this piece is meant to include: A remembrance of a local surfing/boatbuilding legend; something nice about a local living legend; and something not too whiny or snarky about how many asterisks are attached to my own advanced-age surfing.

Okay, we’ll see how it turns out.

The first thing Clint Thompson, temporarily back on the Olympic Peninsula to do what he does (extremely fine carpentry on expensive boats) reported seeing (to Adam Wipeout) was, when he got a view of the lineup, me burning Tim Nolan. Not the first time, and I did, as I did the last time, apologize to Tim for shoulder-hopping, with the excuse/explanation, “I didn’t think you would have made the wave.” True, I believe, this time, probably not true of the previous infraction.

Yes, guilty with no credible explanation. Place that asterisk next to my name. *Greedy wavehog.

Michael “Miguel” Clay Winterburn is a name I have heard for many years, though, to my knowledge, I never met him. A pioneer of Northwest surfing, held in the highest esteem in the world of boat building, he passed on late last month. His obituary is online in the “Port Townsend Leader” and the “Peninsula Daily News.” I took the photo I am using and more information from the Port Townsend Marine Trades Association.

I recommend checking the testimonials out. Particularly interesting to me was the Leader article mentioning he left behind five children, numerous grandchildren, several siblings, and “Three beautiful wives.” Obviously Miguel also left behind hours of stories from the Santa Cruz surfing and shaping scene, to the boat-building/sailing days, to his life as an instructor for others. Highly regarded. Legend. True.

May be an image of 1 person, beard and outdoors

If this man is not familiar, the pose is. A moment, perhaps, of contentment, a view of the water.

I have seen surfboards Miguel made, some still in use. Rico, better hang on to that one.

Here’s a photo of Tim Nolan receiving an award for his boat designing achievements from his contemporaries. High praise, indeed. I found this while researching Miguel Winterburn.

Maybe it’s coincidental, but Tim, Miguel, and Clint are all part of a world I bump up against but have very little knowledge of. Boatbuilding. As surfers, they are not, of course, alone in this. In fact, I know several other local surfers who have a connection (“Boatyard” Mike, Lacy the sailmaker, for example) to the industry.

What we seek, as surfers, is some closer connection to the water. Since I also mentioned Adam James of HamaHama Oysters here; yeah, with his time out on the tide flats and in the water, Adam does have a chance to keep tabs on where what is happening, combo-ing checking oyster beds with a rising swell. The closest I come is painting houses on waterfront. No, haven’t painted any at a potential surf spot in a while.

Because I collect all the little bits and pieces and irritations and joys of life, then try to assemble the random parts, attempt to transform the mundane into some sort of story, and because… okay, mostly I’m full of shit. What I was thinking about on my way out to search for waves and hopefully find and ride some was this: Anticipation, I decided, is a mixture of considering just how excited it would be if the waves were glassy, uncrowded, lined-up; and the mental preparation for having to accept that the surf might be blown out, totally overcrowded, crappy, or just not there.

I figured my chances were about 60/40. Yet, there I was, speeding, only vaguely letting the truth set in that anyone who would be competing for waves was either ahead of me or already there, and there was no way anyone was going to pass me.

No, this didn’t slow me down.

Okay, I have other things on my ‘must do’ list. I’ll get into my other faults next time, or the time after that. What I had planned on writing about was ‘harshing one’s paradigm,’ a phrase I heard a few years ago, one that didn’t catch on enough to be overused. The context here is that I believed I was surfing well the last time I paddled out, felt that combination of contentment and exhaustion, actually got a few compliments.

It took a day or two for the head-swelling to go down and the asterisks to start kicking in. *I have a big-ass board (actually 10’6″), *use a paddle, *surf almost entirely on my knees. *Add in the previously mentioned wave hogging and *lack of etiquette (I actually, even with earplugs, heard a guy in the lineup tell a woman, ‘No, there’s no rotation here’), *factor in that the surf spot is not, like, super critical, that *I’m fat and *old, and you get… shit, I suck.

Fine. Okay. The thing is, and I told several people this: “I am totally aware of the asterisks next to my name, and I don’t give a fuck.”

But, of course, I do. Probably 65% don’t care, 35% care too much.

So much of surfing is so connected to the ego, our self-image. The session before last, I was at a difficult, critical spot. I caught, maybe, twenty waves, got thrashed by four or five, got pitched, got rag-dolled, got three or four decent rides, got one really good ride (in my own judgment), and freely admitted I was eighth best out of seven surfers. *With asterisks.

I still count it, as I do almost every session, as totally worth it. Enjoyable.

What we do, too often, is harsh other surfer’s paradigm. My friend (apologies for ranting on) told his girlfriend, Sierra, both of them watching two young girls having a ball in tiny, blown out waves, that that is what surfing is supposed to be. Maybe I’ll get into more apologies next time, but I would like to apologize to Concrete Pete for kind of wrecking his story of a young surfer who was so impressed by some of the older folks out there in the water going for it.

Meanwhile, surf in peace, live in peace. For those who pass on, rest in peace.

When I am not writing about surfing…

…or trying to make “Swamis” perfect-er, or -ish, I write about other stuff. This is my submission for the Quilcene Community Center newsletter for April. I wrote it in between getting really small surf among really big rocks, and riding blown out surf, and getting skunked. If I did manage to ride some quality waves, I certainly wouldn’t share that with the non-surfing folks over here on the near side of the Olympics. So, okay, let’s see:

Oh, yeah; I wrote about getting my second Covid shot, but, somehow, I didn’t set this up correctly to actually include the piece. Let me see if I can…

                                Anticipation of Inoculation and Other Things…

…things like the latest topic of conversation: Vaccinations. You get yours yet? Scheduled? Fully inoculated? Half? Pfizer, Moderna, J&J? Side effects? Jump in anywhere.

“Oh, I don’t think I will get one; you know, because of the…” “See you… (from a reasonable social distance) later.”

It just so happens I am getting my second dose this afternoon; heading back to Manresa Castle’s back lot, hoping I don’t have to fill out the form again, and fully prepared to not cry. It’s not that I’m all that worried; not like I cried when I got the first dose of Pfizer cold gold, the first needle stab. It’s more like I whined beforehand.

I can’t help but remind myself of another experience, back when I was eleven or so and started crying while only lining up for some shot or another, a tetanus booster, perhaps. This was quite embarrassing for my mom, me being the second oldest of seven children, and the oldest male- back when this gender bias, wrongly of course, seemed to make a difference.

“Fine example, Junior.” “Waaaah!” “I thought you might act more, well, grown up… Junior.”

Saying, “Wow, it didn’t even hurt” didn’t help after the fact. No way any of my siblings would even consider crying after my mature display.

To be clear, I did, two weeks ago, warn several of the many, many folks of the remote possibility of tears, if not full tantrum mode. Many of the many checkers and re-checkers and line monitors are actual volunteers, making themselves available for the processing and administration and delivery of a shot to individuals proceeding, ever so slowly, in our vehicles, single file.

When I finally got to the last temporary carport, sleeve rolled up, I told one of the several people there, “Yeah, I get cut and gouged and hurt all the time; it’s the knowing it’s going to happen; that’s what’s scary. You know, like, just do it; don’t tell me you’re about to.”

“Done.”

“Really?”

“No. Joking. Wait for it… wait… wait…”

One person on the inoculation squad, possibly because she believed I was making it up about my fear of needles and all, did point to another member who might be willing to slap me so I wouldn’t be concentrating on the long, sharp needle. He did look willing.

“Most of the crying, so far,” another shot squad member told me, “has been out of gratitude. You know, older people.”

I do. Older is my demographic. 65 to infinity. I have lived long enough to have had measles and mumps and chicken pox (no rubella, whatever that is) before they had vaccines (I might have to fact check that- maybe my family just didn’t get them). I am old enough to have had both runs of polio vaccines; the one with the needles, the one with the little cups. No problem with the cups; stand in line, take a swig, get a sticker. Or was it a sucker? Maybe.

Maybe it only seems like everyone I speak with is around my age. Saying I am over 65, as I did, above, is easier on the ego than saying I will be 70 in August; and no, I never answer the question of how old I am with the question, “How old do I look?” Not any longer.  So, how we survived the pandemic, so far, seems like a likely topic for lively discussion, much better than “did you hear about good old so and so?”

Whatever it is about good old so and so, it’s probably not great news; even if it’s “She’s 89 years old and just won a lifetime supply of (merely an example) Rice Krispies.” Oh, you heard that joke.  

Now, I do have a lot to say about getting older and the benefits of aging.

Benefits? Maybe next time.

So, closer to topic: Vaccinations. To tie life-saving vaccinations to Spring, we are all looking forward to actually being free of this pandemic. Like Spring (or each season) full victory over this pandemic won’t come all at once. Still, there are signs, reason for hope.

People who are way younger are now getting inoculated. I’m not talking about the Spring Breakers and the anti-vaccers and the scofflaws (scoff-mandates might be more accurate). Our son Sean, 38 and a front-line worker, is getting the Johnson & Johnson this afternoon. One of my surfing friends, somewhere around 43, just got one yesterday. J&J, one shot and done.

Since I ask pretty much everyone I come into nowhere-near-contact with about their status, I am surprised to hear how many folks have already been fully immunized. Without getting into the variants and mutants and strains of the virus, each one named after some spot; I am imagining the Miami Beach strain, the patient’s head throbbing to a sort of techno/disco beat.

So, a couple more hours and, barring any unforeseen consequences, I will be ready to (always responsibly) PARTY!

You can imagine tears of gratitude if you want. I’m a grownup, and I’m in anticipation mode.  

OH, SHIT, I JUST ‘CUT’ THE PIECE OUT OF MY FILES. DAMN IT, when Ken Burns does the 9 hour documentary on me, they won’t have it. WAIT, MAYBE, IF I… see you out on the trail.

Phonies from “Swamis”

So, as I keep pushing toward some sort of semi-final draft of the manuscript, I’m just going to keep posting stuff that I don’t hate, but realize I need to focus, focus, focus… what? Yeah, focus on moving the plot of “Swamis” forward, faster.

To set the scene here; Ginny has invited Jody to her eighteenth birthday party at her parents’ newly acquired property in Rancho Santa Fe. He is very anxious, and has many good reasons for being so.

The smell, sweet, pungent, somehow almost harsh, was unmistakable.   

“Last year’s crop was good,” one of the guys by the barn said, inhaling, holding it, before blowing the smoke out. “But this year’s gonna be mo’ betta’. Mo’ mo’ betta,’ Mon.”

It wasn’t a real accent, it was an affected, put-on, party accent; fake, put on Jamaican by the first converts, the first of generation of (Bob) Marley-ites.    This party accent was pushing against the Beatles-influenced fake British from when I was in junior high (1964-65), which had bumped up against the beatnik jazz-speak older kids were practicing, that competing with the fake down-home folk lingo/rhythm. 

Meanwhile, kids from and in the mid-west wanted to talk like west coast surfers.  It was considered cool to talk like you were already half-stoned or wasted, but you still had something possibly clever, or, better, semi-profound to say; or, at least, something that might be perceived as clever or profound to those more stoned or wasted.

People were ‘experimenting’ with drugs, as if they were scientists.

I can’t get too judgmental; I modified my speech patterns because of TV characters, reporters; Tommy Smothers and Walter Cronkite and… really can’t list all the influences.  As in my surfing, I copied, emulated, folded things into my own… own style, persona?  Yes, everything about me was affected, put on, not real.

This was some of what I attempted to fill my mind with as I backed the Falcon into a spot.

It wasn’t really working.

SO- Working my way to another brief visit with “THE END.” Thanks for reading.

what about that, huh?

I just wrote a whole long thing; then, frustratingly, it wouldn’t PUBLISH. So, here’s an excerpt from “Swamis,” currently and still being edited. This scene is over halfway through the manuscript and takes place in the parking lot at Swamis on a Sunday evening. Let’s see if hitting the ‘Publish” button works this time. And…

“I think that… Joey, I might be in love.  Maybe.”

“I think I might be.  Also.  In love.”

“Might be?”

“Am.  Have been.”  If I didn’t say, ‘Always will be,’ I did think it.  I did believe it.  Then I said it.  “Always will be.”

“Always?” Ginny leaned back into the open door, gave me a look that said both that she believed me and that she might not believe ‘always’ meant ‘forever.’  “You better.”

H …

If any emotion other than love, and in particular, new love, so front-loaded with anticipation, joyous anticipation; had the same all-out, pounding arterial intensity for people not in their teens; the result would have to be a significant increase of sudden strokes and heart attacks.    

This doesn’t make me a romantic.

I do not plan on having a heart attack while surfing, as others have, though this is often glorified in obituaries as ‘doing what he loved.’ If I do have one, it’ll be when I first look out and see irresistible-if-not-perfect waves coming in. Right there, in some parking lot, fumbling for my wetsuit, fumbling with a towel, fumbling, not skipping out on and over the water like a properly thrown skipping stone; just dropping. A different stone. A rock.

And the waves just continuing to roll in.

Maybe this parking lot, but not on this day. It wasn’t about the waves. I was standing, trying to slow my heart rate, trying to control my breathing. It was that portion of dusk when the shadow that is night starts to mix with the overcast, both descending; those few minutes when the inability to see very far in any direction seems to be reassuring. Comforting. Calming.

But it took a while.

A lovestruck eighteen-year-old with a brain overloaded with everything else might just discover he had followed a Jeep over to 101, watched it go north long and far enough to see the right-hand turn signal light up, blink. He might imagine he saw things too far away to be seen. With the world spinning, he might be frozen; thinking, trying to think, images and words tangled, waves crashing into each other.

Waves. Waves are born of chaos. Disorganized. Out of control. Of all the waves hitting all the beaches in all the world, only some are really rideable if rideable means more than just taking off and going straight to the beach. Surfable. Most waves are closeouts. Some, with time and distance, with the proper point of land, or reef, or direction, become rideable. Only a very few are perfect. Even Swamis was only rarely perfect. Perfect.   

My world was chaos. I blinked. I was standing in the middle of the opening to the parking lot, wondering how long I’d been frozen. I had one clear thought: I had to tell Ginny the truth.

Ginny and Joey in the Photo Lab

I’ve known for a while I might have to cut part of this chapter. Because I wrote myself into a bit of a corner by having the chapters of “SWAMIS” coincide with particular days, the chapter covering this day, with sub-chapters given letter headings, was up to “M” or so. I kind of liked the idea that both Joey and Ginny had been snobbish and/or cruel to other students they went to high school with, and this gave them a chance to do some small amount of karmic redemption.

I’ll save any other explanation for future therapy sessions, but, briefly, this is just after Virginia Cole and Joseph DeFreines, Jr. get busted making out in the photo lab. OH, and there is a setup mentioning how a Southern California Santana condition can end with a giant wave of thick fog coming off the ocean. OKAY, now you’re ready:

M…

Ginny and I were passing the Student Union. There were twenty-five or thirty colorfully dressed potential marchers, butcher paper signs protesting the war being painted, cardboard placards painted and nailed on sticks and leaned in stacks. 

Among those milling about was Alexander.

“Alexander,” I said, looking just for a second in his direction.  “He’s a guy I always thought, even though he took lunch in the chemistry lab, was, um, not that smart.”   Alexander was carrying a briefcase and sporting a goatee, a French baret, a tweed sport coat with elbow patches over a day-glow t shirt. 

Ginny stopped.  I stopped.  “He looks smart enough.  Activist.  That’s good.”

“Yeah.  I think these are the same kids who were decorating and moving chairs and tables for high school dances; and now… junior college activists.”

“What did you do?  Dances?”  A moment later.  “Oh, you just didn’t go.”

“No.  I did have to spend some lunch time in the chemistry lab, cleaning all the desks.  I was busted drawing on one in English and the word got around.  Teachers.  My biggest fear was that I fit in too well with Alexander and his friends, hiding out in the sulfur-smelling safety of the chem lab.  They seemed to think… they laughed at everything I said.  They seemed to believe I, like them, didn’t actually fit in with the ‘normals’.”

“Probably not.”  Ginny pushed hair back out of my face.  “I, um; I danced.”

“Of course.”

Alexander saw me.  Or maybe it’s that he saw me with Virginia Cole.  “Hey,” he said, “DeFreines.  One; what the fuck (he was obviously just getting used to using the word) are you (emphasis on the ‘you’), Brain DeFreines, doing at Palomar?  Two; are you still into that surfing thing?”  He did a kook surf pose, the briefcase in his lower hand.  “And, three…”

“Three; how’d I get to walk around here with such a fine looking… young woman?”

“Bingo,” he said, head nodding, eyes on Ginny.  “Al.  Name’s Al.”  He switched hands on the briefcase, offered his right hand.  “Al Weston; Palomar Peace Initiative, and, and I am passionate about peace.”

Ginny took his hand, said, “Gin, short for Virginia.”  She dropped his hand, grabbed mine, did an exact replica of Alexander’s surf pose, my hand replacing the briefcase, and said, “Surfers; they’re so… sexy.”

“Obviously, then; you must surf.”

“She does.  Obviously.  Look, Alexander; you’re… (gesturing to include the gathering protesters) really into… all this.  Activist.  Good.  Good work.”

“Cynthia,” Ginny suddenly almost shouted at one of the young women painting signs.  “Cynthia!  Come here.”  Cynthia, who looked like she was about as close to Ginny, social clique-wise, as Alexander was to me; gave a half smile and approached us.  A bit chunky, Cynthia was wearing painters’ coveralls that, probably, didn’t help, chunkiness-wise; with a few bits of paint showing and one strap undone.  Cynthia had a red bandana around her neck, another, for some reason, around one thigh, and because the collar of the paint-splattered brown t-shirt she was wearing was stretched and loose, a bit of cleavage was showing.

“You know Alexander here, Cynthia?  Al?”  Cynthia looked up at him, he at her.  “He’s, yes, from Fallbrook; but he’s so passionate about peace.”

“You are?”

“I am.”

Passionate.

“I’m, um, painting some signs.  Over there.”  Cynthia pointed to a group of tables with more young women than young men.  Al Weston made a fist, looked at Cynthia, looked at Virginia Cole, looked back at Cynthia, then back at me.  “Gotta go, Brain.  Peace.”

“Yeah.”

Alexander and Cynthia practically skipped toward their fellow activists.  “I was, uh, very mean to Cynthia,” Ginny said.  Once.  Only once.  She got even with me.  If you saw the yearbook photos of me…”

Ginny made the ugliest expression she was capable of, pushing her nose down, crossing her eyes.  Still beautiful.

“If I hadn’t gotten into surfing, I’d probably be one of them,” I said.

Ginny looked at Cynthia and Alexander, back at me.  She rubbed her own chin, then mine.  Yes, I was trying, quite diligently, to grow some whiskers.  It wasn’t really working.  Peach fuzz, even that splotchy.  “I can see that, Brain DeFreines.”

Ginny started to unbutton her sweater, looked at me when one side was off her shoulder, whispered, “Skin,” pulled it back together, buttoned two buttons, and kissed me.  Once on the cheek.  She looked at the other students, the cooler ones, the ones only watching the protesters; then back at me.  She kissed me again, on the mouth. 

I was kind of happy she wasn’t better at kissing.  Better than me, of course.  I leaned in, my hand on her arm this time.  She didn’t move away. “For practice, Ginny,” I said as the wave of fog rolled over us, turning everything gray.  I said “Ginny” again, for practice.

“Joey,” she said.

YEAH, I have a better ending for the way shorter version; for the book. “Swamis.”

AND, incidentally, I’m not sure what to call it when you wait around for the right tide, get your wetsuit on because there are some weak waves, paddle out and… nothing. I guess it’s called PRACTICE. No, that’s what I call riding really small waves. PADDLING. Yeah. Not nearly as much fun as surfing.