Blowing Up Swamis or Any Other of ‘My Spots’

Another lovely day at Swamis. Oh, and there are waves, also? What?

LATE ADDITION: I was working on a door on a second story deck when someone started yelling at me from the street. I ignored it for a moment, then turned, stood up. It was Shortboard Aaron, stopped on the street. So, of course, I yelled back. Shortly after he drove on, the client ran out and asked if I was all right. “Yes.” I told Stephen Davis about it a bit later. “O,” he said, “A drive by shouting.”


Adam “Wipeout” was heading to Legoland. Carlsbad, California. He was pretty frothed-up at the surf forecast for Southern California and San Diego’s North County when he called me a few days before he and his family were to board the big airliner. “It looks… si-iiii-ckkkkkk!” is pretty much an exact quote. Yeah, Adam is frequently frothing when discussing surfing. Yeah, so am I.

“Where do you think I should go?” Um. “Have you heard of Grandview?” Yeah, that was my spot. “I thought Swamis was your spot.” It was. They were all my spots.

I felt compelled to give Adam a list: TAMARACK was my spot, where I started board surfing; then GRANDVIEW because that’s where, when I was a freshman at Fallbrook High, the older surfers went; then OCEANSIDE (pier, harbor jetties, any peak that was working) because I worked in Oceanside; then PACIFIC BEACH (and the adjacent beaches- Mission Beach, Tourmaline, Windansea, Sunset Cliffs) because I lived in PB; then LA JOLLA SHORES (and adjacent beaches) because I lived in University City, just across I-5; then any spots in the ENCINITAS area because I lived in Encinitas (albeit east of I-5); but TRESTLES because I worked just up the hill from, and with a killer view of LOWERS for ten months, and was able (not actually authorized) to park on the beach; then OCEAN BEACH because we moved to Mission Hills, just up from Old Town San Diego and OB was the closest beach, and it was a pain in the ass to go anywhere farther.

I must add that I did a lot of surfing at SAN ONOFRE when I was in High School. Never after. The go-to spot, with my inland surfer friends, was probably the beach breaks between Swamis and Pipes, not capitalized because I don’t want to blow up the spot. I did surf, on return trips to San Diego, some Swamis, most notably two times on New Year’s day, dawn patrol, not too crowded, some Sunset Cliffs while working for the Navy on the other side of Point Loma, and a few sessions at Pipes and Grandview, with my old friend Ray Hicks. Oh, and one session at La Jolla Shores with my nephew, Trisha’s brother’s son, Dylan Scott.

All of that is past tense. Long past. For the last forty-plus years I’ve been way west of I-5, trekking to a variety of spots, most of them kind of known, all of them extremely fickle, and none of them spots I would like to see become more crowded.

There are some places I have surfed that I will almost certainly never visit again. Lupe’s Left Loopers in Mazatlan, a super rare inside-the-harbor spot down by where my father once lived (with Adam Wipeout on that one). I still might cruise down to Short Sands or Seaside, stay at my brother’s (once my father’s), piss off a few regulars.

Swamis? I would love to. SO, when Adam got down to San Diego and the waves were uncrowded and chopped up by the old south wind, and he asked me where he might surf…

Is Seaweed Actually Magical? And…

…and another “SWAMIS” cutback. FIRST, here on the Olympic Peninsula, buoys, designed to help ships not sink or crash, somewhat helpful for surfers trying to determine if some portion of some swell might find its way into the Strait, have been ripped from their anchors, set adrift, lost, found, or, we don’t really know, put out of service. Putin? One theory. None of the downed or drowned bouys have been put back into service.

SO, surfers in, say, Seattle, have been relying on surf forecast sites before making a decision as to whether to invest the increasing amount of gas money, wait in line at ferries, face traffic slowdowns if ‘driving around.’ NOW, it must be mentioned that there are always waves of some sort or shape or size on the actual PACIFIC COAST. Almost always. AND the most characteristic condition on the Strait is flat. Flat with east wind, flat with north wind, flat with south wind, flat and somehow blown out with west wind.

STILL, surfers get desperate. So, trying my best to glean something positive from whatever sources I could, I went up Surf Route 101, looking. I wasn’t alone. More to not get skunked than to satisfy my surf lust, I ventured into calf-high curlers, my fin popping across rocks. PERHAPS BECAUSE I had paddled out, three more adventurers joined me. PERHAPS BECAUSE they had believed some forecast site, I passed many surf rigs on my way back down Surf Route 101. NOT ONLY THAT, but a friend of mine texted me, asking if I had scored bombs. AFTER ALL, Magic Seaweed was saying…

NOW, maybe it got awesome. Somewhere, for some brief period. MAYBE. YES, I did look at various forecasts. Not looking good for the Strait. Depressing. I must now upgrade my most recent session to “Pretty good. Didn’t break a fin.” Again, there are always waves on the actual ocean.

The rocks at Swamis, someone dropping in on someone. Taken from some hotel brochure.

MEANWHILE, I am trying to find some time to continue cutting my manuscript for “Swamis” down to a reasonable and, hopefully, saleable length. Tightening it up. I am up to the days after Chulo is beaten and set alight next to the wall of the SRF compound. This is a (copyrighted) version from the second completed draft. I might mention that, if you have any experience surfing on the west coast, you know (a snippet of a quote from Miki Dora about Malibu) “The south wind blows no good.”


Three full days after Chulo’s murder, the burn-scarred section of the wall was back to white, visibly white even in the minimal pre-dawn light. I wasn’t sure if I had actually slept. I got out of bed at four, got to Swamis early enough to park the Falcon in the choicest location; front row, ten spots from the stairs; the optimal view of the lineup.

The Falcon was the same car in which my dad had taught my mom to drive, the station wagon, three-speed manual transmission. This was the car she used to drive her two boys to swimming lessons, and church, and to my appointments with a string of different doctors; and to the beach; surf mats and Styrofoam surfies and whining Freddy, maybe an annoying friend of his. The factory installed (optional upgrade) roof racks were now pretty much rusted in place.

The difference was the Falcon was now my car. A surfer’s surf wagon. Hawaiian print curtains hung on wires, a “Surfer Magazine” decal on the back driver’s side window, a persistent smell of mildew. Beach smell. With my boards now shorter, I usually kept them inside, non-hodad-like, but, for several of the reasons a hodad would do it, I kept the nine-six pintail on the roof for a while longer. “Just in case the waves are really small,” might have been one excuse.   

A predicted swell, this gleaned from other surfers and pressure charts in the Marine Weather section of the newspaper, hadn’t materialized, and a south wind was blowing. Cars with surfboards were passing each other up and down 101. Surfers were hanging out in parking lots and on bluffs and beaches, talking surf, watching the few surfers out at any spot bobbing in the side chop. Maybe it would clean up, maybe it would actually get bigger. And better.

I would wait. Waiting is as important a part of surfing as trying to be the first one out or paddling out before the best conditions hit.  Just before. My shift at my weekend-only, for-now, job didn’t start until ten-thirty; about the time the onshores typically get going. Different with a south wind. Sometimes it would clean up as some weak front moved inland or simply fizzled. Sometimes.

If I went out at nine, I could get a good forty-five minutes of surfing; maybe ten waves or more. I had my notebook, college-ruled; I had the four and eight track tape player under the passenger’s side of the seat; a collection of bargain tapes purchased at the Fallbrook Buy and Save; and I could do what I always did, study. My father’s billy clubs sized flashlight, four new d batteries, provided the lighting.

Read, recite, memorize, reread. That was my system. Less important details fall off with each attempt to memorize. The facts and details best remembered, by my logic, would most likely be the ones on the tests. Any quirky anecdotes, something that amused me; yes, I remembered those, too.  I had another system for multiple choice tests and standardized tests. Two of the four choices were obviously incorrect, fifty-fifty chance on the others. Best guest. The system worked surprisingly well, well enough that California’s supposed Ivy League university accepted me.

My father hadn’t understood why I couldn’t go there.

I was a faker, kid with a system; it never would have worked; not in that bigger pond, every student top of some class somewhere. 

No studying on this morning. I had to sneak over to the crime scene, the wall that surrounds the Self-Realization Fellowship compound. There was (and is) a wrought-iron gate in the higher, arched (former) entrance, around the corner, facing 101. As with the other breakpoints in the wall, that section is topped with the huge gold sculptures, each one representing a blooming flower. Lotus blossom. They could as easily represent a flame, not dissimilar to the one on the statue of liberty, not dissimilar to the burn marks on the wall my friends had described.  

The SRF compound is a place where people, on their own, go seeking enlightenment, a realization of the true self.  Seekers, seeking.

At about seven-fifteen I did walk over. Had to. I expected more. I expected some instant and obvious explanation.  There was a man by the wall, wheel-barrowing soil from a pile near the highway to the wall, raking it in. I had seen him before. Dark skinned. East Indian, I presumed. He was dressed in a long-sleeved shirt, white, with faded blue workman’s pants, rubber boots, and heavy leather gloves. Most of his face (and I knew he had a beard) was covered in what appeared to be an overlarge (plain cloth) bandana, a standard bandana (red) around his nose and mouth, and a tropical straw hat (quite different from the cowboy style Mexican farmers and landscape workers preferred). He dropped the new soil around newly planted but full-sized plants.

There was no evidence that something horrific had occurred. The new paint blended perfectly.  The plants looked… it all looked exactly the same as it always had; as it did even in the late 1950s, before I surfed, when my father took us there just so my mother could see the gardens.

If I blinked, I thought, it might be like taking a picture. I might remember details. I might remember better. Image. Catalog. File.


“Swamis,” Portia Backstory

My novel, “Swamis,” would be complete and possibly readable by now if I wasn’t so (I have to say) involved in the backstory for each of the main characters (and, I guess, if there weren’t so damn many of them). I wouldn’t have been so involved in the details if it wasn’t so important to me to know and show how distinctive each character is. And realistic, authentic.

It hasn’t aided my task that character development and the crashing of characters against each other is so much fun for me. Writer fun, not like reader fun.

A reader wants FOCUS. I am trying. My third page one rewrite has narrowed the timeline, tightened the storyline, dropped out a few characters.

Here is an exchange that won’t be in the novel. I have already eliminated this scene at the San Diego Sheriff’s Office Vista Substation:

We’d been in the office too long. We were all a bit more… relaxed.

Dickson closed the door with a kick of the knee when he reentered the office with two more cups of coffee. He handed one to Jumper, said he put a little coffee in with the sugar. Wendall took the other cup, said Frederick Thompson had not been drunk or under the influence of drugs as far as the medical examiners could tell. “Just crazy.”

“Helicopter pilot,” Jumper said, as if this explained something.  It seemed to. Maybe not enough. “He flew evac in Korea, got out, surfed, went back in for Vietnam. Gunships. Different thing. Fucked him up.” Jumper paused. “So, yeah; crazy.” 

Wendall lit up another cigarette.  “And… all of this… craziness, Langdon is claiming, and he has the ear of the politicians, is because of the Sheriff’s Office laissez-faire” (he pronounced it la-zy-fair) “policy toward pot growers and dealers in our county.”

“Miss Ransom and the ‘Free Press’ assholes got that part right,” Dickson said. “La-zy-fair for sure.”

Wendall leaned over the desk as far as he could. “It wasn’t your father, Jody; Gunny thought he had it under control. It’s just… grown… too fast, too many new, um, participants. We knew about Chulo; that he was collecting money from the hippie dealers. Chulo and…?”

Jumper and I both said “Portia” at the same time.

Oceanside 1974. The proximity to Camp Pendleton
and a steady stream of vulnerable Marines had made the downtown a pretty tough place in the Vietnam era. I worked at Buddy’s Sign Service in this area June, 1969 to September, 1971. Yeah, too much exposition.

“Oh yeah,” Wendall said, “Portia. She’s actually Patricia Sue Langley. Patty Langley, runaway from, um, Many Wives, Utah; busted for petty theft…ha ha… back in ’65.  No, um, end of ’64.  She was a minor, so… So… and… oh, then she got… sexual. Oceanside. Marines, mostly; easy pickin’s.”

Dickson interjected. “Not our, as you know, jurisdiction.”

“Oh, but then Patty got herself down to Leucadia…” Wendall said, “across 101 and down from where you live now, Jody; one of those motels.”

Dickson pointed toward Jumper. “Second one past your place.”

“When I was a kid,” Jumper said, “Chulo and I’d go around, pick up coke bottles at the Log Cabin Inn, other motels; turn them in for the, the deposit. Good money for a kid.”

I felt compelled to join in. I spoke quickly to make up for the obvious lack of interest by the others. “A neighbor kid, Roger; he and I went to this ball game down by Live Oak Park. Fallbrook. Roger’s brother was playing. We picked up bottles; took them to the guy at the little… the stand. The guy said they were his bottles, wouldn’t give us the deposit money.”

“You tell him who your dad was?”

“No.” I looked at Wendall, Dickson, Jumper. They were waiting. “Roger did.”

Wendall cleared his throat. Loudly. “So. Jody’s dad… Gunny… Joe; he always liked to point out how most all the motels were on the south-bound side; like that showed nobody’s coming up from San Diego looking for a place; it’s all from the north.  L.A.”

“Anyway,” Dickson said, “guess she… Patty, um, slash Portia, got tired of… servicing… Jarheads; fresh-outa-boot-camp Ji-rines; they’d probably want to go two or three times.” He did a subtle hip thrust motion, adding, “First time ought to be free. Ha! Probably wouldn’t even make it out of his skivvies.”

Wendall took over. “It was my call. Disturbance. The proprietor actually called it in; but Gunny and…” Wendall pointed over his shoulder. “Gunny and Big Imagination here show up. I’m standing outside a room with some fat business type from Covina… West Covina. So… fat. He claimed he hadn’t gotten his money’s worth.”

It was a brief pause, but Dickson took the story. “So, Joe goes, ‘money’s worth of what?’ The guy… hey; it’s your story, Wendall. Did you take a bribe on that one?”

“Well.” Wendall looked around to make sure everyone was watching. “Sort of. Gunny, he goes up to the guy, looks down at his…you know, package. The guy was in… he’d put on his business jacket. Seersucker; some sort of sales guy green. Sears or Pennys; one of those. No shirt, and, you know, tidy whities; size, um, enormous. For his butt. No big bulge; not that I would notice. Black socks, the kind you hold up with garters. Garters. This Chipper, Mortenson, shows up and the… West Covina guy is acting like we’re supposed to be… like we’re on his side. Mortenson, you remember him, huh; tough bastard, loved to pull over kids.”

“And beaners,” Dickson said, looking directly at Jumper before giving Wendall a sweeping ‘take-it-away’ gesture.

Wendall was leaning forward, both elbows on my dad’s old desk. “So, Gunny, he’s got Mr. West Covina’s wallet in his hand and, I guess, repeats, ‘Money’s worth of what, Mr. um, Redwick?’ Red… wick.” 

We all may have chuckled. Wendall continued. 

“So, Patty’s standing there, wrapped up in a blanket. Not because it’s cold… and the motel owner, older woman who thought she’d be renting places for artists; like, you know, like Leucadia’s Newport Beach or something; she’s got an arm around Patty, and Patty’s got a bottle of orange soda up against one eye, and Gunny’s just waiting for Humpty Redwick to answer. And I say, ‘Maybe he was getting some, um, advice on, um, clothing choices.’ Morty… Mortenson, this cracks him up. But Gunny’s all business; serious. I mean, Morty’s seen some shit. He’s a vet, too. Korea, at least. Army. Chosin Reservoir. Bad shit. And he’d been cruising up and down 101, ‘Slaughter Alley’ for years. He was still, those days, still on a motorcycle. So, yeah; blood… tough guy, and he’s just… laughing.”

Wendall put a cigarette in his mouth, pulled out his Sheriff’s Office Zippo from his shirt pocket, snapped the lighter open with a jerk of the wrist, hit the wheel with a snap of the finger. More theatrics. “So, now Morty sees your dad’s serious. I mean, Morty was big, but Gunny was looking… you know how he could… that look; fierce, fierce-like; and Gunny he… he opens up Redwick’s wallet, then holds every photo of the guy’s wife and kids up to his face; whole, you know, string of them; and then shows them to me. And the owner. And Patty. Gunny takes out all the cash. He asks the proprietor if the motel fee has been paid. She says, ‘Diner’s Club,’ and Gunny holds a twenty and a couple of singles up in Redwick’s face, puts that cash back in the wallet, sticks the rest out toward Patty, sticks the wallet back into Humpty’s inside coat pocket. 

“Gunny’s still holding, probably, two hundred bucks. She, Patty, she shakes her head. And I say, ‘Oh, the advice,’ and she, no one would take her for dumb; Patty says, ‘Maybe Mr. Redwick should switch to some, um, boxers… maybe some, uh, dark color; that might be a choice.’ She takes the money. Now Gunny’s smiling. We’re, all of us, laughing. Not Redwick. He does look a little relieved, maybe.”

Wendall stopped, inhaled, blew the smoke out kind of forcefully. We all watched the cloud get sucked into the fan, some of it actually going out the window.

“Wait. Wait. So, Morty gets a call; three car pile-up by the Carlsbad Slough. He gets on his bike, starts it up, peels out. Lights and sirens.”

Jumper filled in with, “Not your jurisdiction.”

“Right. Then, two doors down, this other guy tries slipping out of a room. Gunny’s watching Patty. She must of looked over. The motel owner, she seems, um, concerned. Gunny gives me a look. The other guy, he tries to duck back into the room. I run down… yeah; I can run… I push open the door, grab this guy. He must have thought it was all over when Morty left.”

Wendall did a sort of relaxed pose, casually inhaled, slowly blew out smoke.

“And?” Jumper and I both asked.  

“And…” Wendall looked pleased. “And there’s another, definitely underaged girl inside; not beat up, but… I mean, it was obvious. So, short story long, it all went official. Other than the money.”  

Any excerpts from “Swamis” are protected under copyright laws, Erwin A. Dence, Junior, author.

Attempting to FOCUS

Wait. Is he sticking his tongue out? Is that a Saint Christopher medal? What kind of material is that top, or is it a wetsuit, made of? Is he just jumping up, or is he grabbing the rail for no apparent reason? GoPro shot courtesy of, I think, Cap, second-handed to me by Stephen R. Davis.


Trish and I, a little later today, are meeting up with our daughter, Dru, and heading down Surf Route 101 to see Dru’s younger brother, and Trisha’s and my youngest child, Sean.


Sean has an older brother/oldest child, James, over on the borderland between Washington and, yes, Idaho. James lives in the red state, works in the red, East of the Mountains part of Wa, and, yes, a bit of the blueness may have faded in the years since James headed that direction, signed up for classes at the U of I because of the Lionel Hampton School of Music, continued his practice of having his own band, continued improving on guitar playing, got into a popular Moscow-based cover tune band, the Kingpins, as lead guitar player (he can crank out any riff you’ve ever heard), dropped out of school, continued spelling his name Jaymz, got married to a woman with a young son, had a son, got divorced, got remarried. His stepson had the first of several (3 now) kids, his son had a kid and joined the Navy, pretty much in that order.

Brief history, without the histrionics.

So, back to Sean, down in Olympia. But first, yes, since our youngest child is turning forty, I must be something other than young. I am not writing about that today. Maybe a little.

MORE EXPOSITION- Also optional (suggesting all other reading is mandatory)

Sean attended the Evergreen State College, graduated, got a master’s degree in Public Administration. Any day now we expect him to use the degree and his experience in working jobs in which an advanced degree is not required and get something better, white collar, perhaps. Sean does have the capacity to retain and pass on incredible amounts of knowledge on subjects he has a passion for: Movies, action figures. Action movies. So far, this passion hasn’t turned into a clear career path. We have hope.

All Sean needs is focus.

FOCUS and “SWAMIS” What I really wanted to talk about-

After writing two complete versions of my novel, I decided an outline might be a tool to cut down on the extraneous and peripheral stuff. Plot, not backstory. Not exposition. No fancy descriptions, just basic setting, dialogue, action.  Because of the time I have invested, I have to rationalize. I know my characters. Helpful.

The PLOT, the STORYLINE(S) have always been the same. Everything else is in support of the story.

DIALOGUE is very important to me- getting the rhythm and the use of language right. I used an ‘if it is important, I will remember it’ technique, trying not to constantly check with the second unexpurgated manuscript.

I wanted to use STORIES told by various characters to establish the character of several of the… characters. FOR EXAMPLE: JODY/JOEY is meant to be someone with a history of violence, of striking out when he felt threatened. I wrote several stories to back that up. JUMPER was severely wounded in Vietnam and almost certainly has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I wrote a whole lot on that, probably won’t use any of it. JOSEPH DEFREINES was a decorated war veteran. I didn’t write much about that, but because my father also served in World War II and Korea, I know something about how Joey’s father would suppress his own trauma.

What I attempted to do is cut out some of the stories, shift some of the stories around, have them told, in a shorter form, or merely alluded to, by other characters. STILL, I love some of the stories.

THE ACTUAL MANUSCRIPT- I told myself it would be so easy converting the outline into a novel. NO, none of this is actually easy. I do, however, love it all. I have to rationalize the time I spend writing and thinking about what little changes I just need to make; I tell myself that all writing helps one become a better writer. SURFER ANALOGY- Wave count; it’s all about the wave count.

The outline ended up being 14 ‘Episodes,’ If that sounds like it’s more screenplay than outline… yeah.

Adding the descriptions of the settings has not been as quick and easy as I had imagined. I have made more changes and will, undoubtedly, continue to do so. Tighter. That is the goal.

I currently have the Forward, the first big chapter and a good start on chapter two at a state I’m pretty happy with. I printed the nineteen pages up. THE PLAN IS, when I have Drucilla, who loves to listen to podcasts and books on tape, as a captive audience in the car with Trish driving (after my last crash, Trish will no longer allow me to drive if she is in the vehicle- I’m fine with it), I will read the manuscript to her.    

FOCUS- I was talking to a client the other day about painting the trim on her Port Townsend Victorian house, and, as I do, I was off on numerous tangents. “We have to focus on the painting here,” she said. “Oh. Okay.” I said I wasn’t insulted, then said, “Yeah, I am kind of insulted. It’s okay.” I walked toward my van. “You know, the main character in the novel I mentioned… He gets so involved in all the stuff that is going on that… I think, for a detective, that kind of perceptiveness might not be a bad thing.” She nodded. “I have every confidence,” she said, “based on your reputation, that you have the ability to focus totally on what you’re painting.”

“Well,” I said, climbing into my big boy van, “I do.”

I wanted to add “When I have to.” I wanted to add a lot more. No time, had to get to working. Focusing on the task at hand.

DRUCILLA BACKSTORY- Optional but possibly interesting-

Dru went to Loyola University in Chicago, graduated, got a good job with an advertising firm, didn’t complete her master’s degree (Trish hopes she still might), worked for “The Onion,” moved back to the northwest a couple of year ago. She lives in Port Gamble, works in a shop there and does off site work for another advertising outfit in Chicago, works for the Olympic Music Festival. Dru actually did some recording of ‘concerts in the barn,’ the barn being in Quilcene, when she was in high school. Dru’s best friend from high school, Molly, lives in one of those old houses just down the street from her.

I really want my only daughter to help edit and package and sell “Swamis.” The threat is, if she doesn’t, and someone else does, and some money is eventually made, she would have to wait until Trish and I die to reap the real benefits. Trish plans on living to one hundred, I’m not planning on going anytime soon and… and… We’ll see how it goes today with the forced listening.  

Happy days to you.

Errant Angels

Errant was the word I thought I heard the woman say. Errant Angels. It was intriguing and amusing, equally. Clever. I had to know why she used the word. Errant.

I had misheard. I was painting a small house (it would qualify as a cottage) in Port Townsend that had previously belonged to Keith Darrock and his wife. Keith, a pivotal member of the local PT surf crew, had substantially remodeled the cottage a few years ago before selling it to the current owner, Michelle.

Michelle wanted her cottage painted. It needed it. A year or two older than me, Michelle told me about her days at Height-Asbury, in 1967 or so, before the San Francisco Hippie scene was discovered and publicized and sanitized and splattered on weekly magazines.

“Have you heard about the ‘Diggers?’” I had, but I got that wrong, also. No, Michelle said, they weren’t fools who worked so others could hang out, take existential trips, find themselves; in exchange for food and lodging, the Diggers found odd jobs; sweeping, cleaning, pulling weeds; work for a teenage runaway like Michelle from Modesto.   

What Michelle had said, what I had misheard, was that; having found herself, a few years later, in the mid- 1970s, in Port Townsend; before it was discovered by yet another wave of speculators, by pensioned retirees and trust babies and refugees from the supposed ‘casual California lifestyle;’ with a child and without a regular job, she started a little service company that did, yes, odd jobs. “Errand Angels.”

I like Errant Angels better.

It creates a different image, probably based on the only other time I recall hearing the word. Errant. Errant Knights, out looking for adventures. Don Quixote. Sure. I can imagine it: On their own Angels performing little miracles here and there, perhaps looking up, wondering if the Boss would approve.

This is a work by my late sister, Melissa. While she claimed I, her oldest brother, was part of the reason she chose to pursue the lofty goal of actually creating art, Melissa, my youngest sister became my inspiration the first time I watched her sit down, sketch Trisha’s Uncle Fred with a number 2 pencil, and capture him… perfectly. Melissa Joanna Maria Marlena Dence (nickname given Melissa Jo by our mother, who never met Melissa’s husband, Jerome Lynch) started out drawing horses, I started out drawing waves and surfers. Always striving for perfection, brutally and unnecessarily hard on herself (generous with my work, apologetically honest) I never really understood Melissa’s leaning toward images such as this one. Dark. Frightening. She was way braver than I am. I do think of her when I’m trying to be… better.

Angels, ghosts, images; I have pretty much completed a way-too-detailed ‘outline’ of “Swamis.” I cut the shit out of the second unexpurgated version, purposefully not even trying to write the flowery setting/descriptive stuff. I was striving to make every move clear. I did include all the dialogue that I feel is needed. Love the dialogue. So, it’s probably dry, definitely cut, possibly not cut quite cruelly enough.

Illustration copyright Melissa Lynch. Erwin Dence asserts all rights and protections under copyright laws for original content on (I was informed I should add this).

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.


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.


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?”


“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


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.