Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Winning and Losing and the Cliche of Our Greatest Strength

It was fun this morning. Typically, unexplainably fun. But I'll try to explain. The image above is yours truly in a moment of enough generated speed to actually turn the big pink soft battleship off the top of a rogue righty. As is my inimitable style (nevertheless copied by kooky beginners and eight year old groms the world over) I spy a set on the outside and opt for the safety sliding over the top, trying to beat out the lip. Which I did, until I lost the grip on my board and that second waves drove it far to the inside. You can imagine the self-flagellation on the swim in. Luckily one moment among many, each more goofball than the next. But if the object is fun, and having fun has within its parameters whinging around an unwieldy pink softball bat of a surfboard in punchy Long Island surf, I came out a winner this morning.

Photo cred: Domick Volini

Paipopolis 2015

Sunday October 4 at Rockaway Beach @ 97th. "Bring your paipos, surfmats, handplanes and whatever else you care to share." Facebook event page...

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Horizon of Green, Blue, Red

I sit and rehearse my line: "Té con hielo como ella," and I nod my head or point my finger (I leave it to the moment of inspiration to decide) to the woman seated directly in front of me who has just ordered an iced tea. Meanwhile the British couple to my left, sitting in mirrored aisle seats furiously discuss what she will order him over the drink cart, her head popping up, a blonde cherubic whackamole, his weighty sullenness annoyed by the exertion. He wants her to order him an Estrella, pronouncing it with no hint of an ultimate "yuh." The flight attendant is typical of the Spaniard women I've seen in the last 24 hours. Something about the eyes and chin and front teeth perfectly formed by the gentle erosion of life long lisping.

I am a slave to Spanish beauty. In no city have I been do I find myself so full of astonishment as Barcelona. The woman washing the street late at night. Do they know they've hired such a gorgeous woman to schlep around a hose dressed in bulky overalls at midnight? Our waitress at dinner. Does she know she looks like a movie star? I follow three women for a couple blocks each, just staring, trying to sort out if they are real.

There are many places for a middle aged white man to feel the full shame of his splotched and flaking pinkness, sloppily thrust forward in a mottled and piecemeal hair suit. For me, most of these places come amidst tropicality and the seal-like grace of sleek almondine bodies. In Barcelona I feel a different lack of measurement: a lack of suaveness, more cultural than physical deficit.

These thoughts tilt my head down for a moment, averting the possibility that the stewardess would read my esteem. While I gather them close, and practice my delivery, I am caught by anticipation, the cart slipping down two rows beyond me, leaving me thirsty and bereft of the script I need to set it right.

I have been in Europe for a week, filming soccer in Amsterdam and visiting friends in Barcelona and London. One can wear a New York badge in Europe that offers entre to conversations one might be sniffed out of hailing from a more quaint U.S. address. There is a respect for New York that perhaps goes beyond its due. Reading this essay in T Magazine by Edmund White I think about how shallow my own generation's aspiration surely is. Laughing at this mess, I shake my head at the realization that my brain plays multiple perverse roles in an ongoing internal tragicomedy.

Granted, when we showed up on the scene we had no idea what the scene was. We only knew we were in New York, on a grimy and dangerous street with an exposed brick wall in our apartment. We only knew we had to pay our month to month rent and find the jobs and plug into the system we'd come here for. And that, maybe, is the downfall. The system was here. We didn't make it, pave it, define it. We stumbled into it and sunk our teeth right in when we knew it was ripe. And it was ripe at the time, full of the necessarily fading but still eerily incandescent lights of those who'd come before.

I will always be grateful for the chance to rub elbows and look into the eyes of these apparitional inspirations. They are leaving by nature and nurture, heading off to the grave or away from it, depending on your point of view.

And we are left behind to scratch our heads and ask "what do I do next?" At least I can still wear my badge.


Wednesday, September 23, 2015



Was it 2001? 2002? When did we hatch our plan to make a movie about your life? We were pretty excited. We probably came up with the idea, or you probably planted the seed in my head, sitting at the back table at Beige. And when did I flake out? 2003? I didn't have the tools or the know-how. I have them today. And I wish we could make that film together. Respect.

The Life of Punk Queen Edwige Belmore and the Death of the Old Downtown

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Sand Did Spit

Don't ever let me catch you letting me tell you I surfed Sand Spit when I lived in Santa Barbara. I didn't. I didn't feel like it was my place and that place rarely breaks. At least it rarely broke when I lived there. At least that is my official line. I did surf right off the pier some amazing, improbable number of times thanks to some crazy magical sandbar instilling flooding. The above clip is rad, but there are a couple boogiegoard rides prematurely edited out I would not have minded watching to fruition. Tiny pit central.

"Can Surfing Reprogram the Veteran’s Brain?"

I've been wondering a lot about this lately. Having felt the utter emotional confusion that sets in when I'm not in the water for extended periods of time, and having my resilience at moments like those eroded by what I assume is the body's natural flagging due to age, I've been wondering just how medically beneficial, truly scientifically physically gaugeable surfing might be for mental. I read about the autistic kids who get sorted by going surfing and of course I have my own experience of brain-wave massaging and post-surf bliss that seems to make my life better. It struck me the other day in a conversation with a friend that that "wavelength massage" might sort out any number of traumas.

Click le pic.


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Tyranny of Self-Flushing Toilets

The stretch of sand below the piedmont that is Torrance swings north along the Esplenade to Redondo Beach. Just over the southern hill is PV Cove with its fearsome crew of Bay Boys who guard their wave-filled fiefdom with aggression. Or so they say. I've never tried to surf it. That hill, the Palos Verdes one, dripping jewels of houses over-looking the Southern Los Angeles sea, is equally ostracizing in its pomposity. By contrast the Torrance beach feels meek in understated apology and further up the industrial looking Redondo looks undeservedly rough and tumble.

I like to say that Ian taught me how to surf. I tell that to people. To his friend whom he introduces me the night before our our paddle out, and to my colleagues when I needlessly tell them the backstory of the old buddy I'm going to visit. I don't know why I like to say it. Ian overhears that explanation to his friend and grimaces, truthfully explaining that he did not teach me how to surf. It's truthful because it's true. I'd already been struggling with a board for a few years before becoming regular surf mates with Ian in the early 90s. I could already paddle out, catch a wave and head down the line. I could already get pummeled and kook out. I was already making more time for surfing that I was for my class load. And I truthfully corrected Ian in return. Because Ian taught me how to surf. He taught me to relax and to look relaxed and to try and match his laconic precision. It would set the tone for what I subsequently and still find pleasing in style. As I think about it, I'm not sure anyone else would take such inspiration from Ian on a surfboard. I'm not sure if my esteem is purely a hangover from some youthful drink of the different, or whether his surfing has some objective pedigree of cool. But I am still inspired by his surfing now, which is funny given the parameters he's placed on it.

I'm staying at a Hyatt in Long Beach for a couple days working on an advertising project about soccer players. I hadn't even thought about getting in touch with Ian before halfway through my plane ride, the realization of his possible proximity dawning on me only when I check a map to see where the video shoot would be. Right there, on the other side of those forbidding Palos Verdes bluffs sits Torrance. And if there is one thing about Ian, it's that he's from Torrance.

There is this absurd moment of confusion that overcomes me when traveling through suburbia. I've heard other people mention the same thing: "What do people do here?" It's this standard question that comes from somewhere deep in the psyche that still hasn't wrapped a brain around the idea of paper money, of service economy, of packaged foods and 24 hour telephone support. It's like a lizard brain if it were a Belle Epoque bailiff lizard dressed up in a cravat and bowler or an industrial boom Scouse lizard with a soot covered face trudging home from some factory. It's that lizard brain captured in the American Gothic painting. What people do here is beyond that part of me. Go to work? What work?

The answer comes a day later when I am interviewing one of the soccer players who shows up for the project I'm working on. A skinny good looking Latino kid with a big scripty tattoo running down his right forearm, he's got a dozen incredible moves on the ball he can pull off in humbling succession. As a way to loosen him up for the interview I asked him what he had for breakfast (nothing) and then if he had a eaten anything that morning (a snack at nine consisting of a Monster energy drink.) "Not even a cup of coffee when you get up?" "Coffee makes me go to sleep." He had been up since before dawn in a warehouse on an assembly line, checking to make sure the contents of a box were correct before pushing it down the rollers. Five days a week then five to six nights filled with a kind of soccer that has taken over unused tennis courts that dot the south coast.

Whom one chooses as a hero is not a choice at all. The little hagiographers between our ears are slaves to predestination like all the others bits of us and Ian loves to surf sofftops. Which makes perfect sense. He still takes out one of his multiple longboards that litter his chicken infested backyard if the waves are perfect. "Do you still ride shortboards?" I glance at a beautifully dusty little blue fish poking out from under his daughter's massive trampoline. "Oh no, if it's big I'll take out the Costco softtop. You can catch everything on those." God, it makes so much sense.

I'm tickled and frustrated by other's meaning of the word "flat." The night before our morning surf, I drop by Ian's house just as he's finishing up burger night with some friends. Last to go or left behind is his old friend Craig, a former surfboard, and more recently, paddleboard shaper turned full-time house renovator. Solely his own house. We talk about the chances for waves in the morning. Craig makes the "pfffttt" noise and shakes his head. "You guys out to SUP over the to the cove!"

Ian tells me he rarely stands up anymore when he surfs. Thanks to some seriously dodgy knees, he is content to ride waves in on his belly or to body surf. The waves are indeed minuscule looking. We pull up along the Esplenade at about 7 AM, a little group of high schoolers already in the water down the beach attending their first class of the day. "Did you have surf class when you were in high school?" "Ha, no."

The water is bizarrely warm. Even Ian thinks so. He keeps mentioning how warm it is all the way to the sand, not getting colder the deeper our legs dangle as we are accustomed to. And it's crystal clear in that crystal clear way that's a touch unnerving. At one point a very large dark object glides fairly close by at a blurry pace. We are both relieved to see a mammoth seal pop its head up twenty yards south. The waves are maybe belly high, more like upper mid thigh, and just shapely enough where we are surfing out in front of the volleyball poles to gift us a bagfull of super fun little rides. Fun enough that I feel compelled to hoot a little as I catch some. Ian surfs mostly on his belly, but deigns to stand up on a couple choice lefts on his favored goofyfoot. "I've gotten more incredible barrels surfing on my belly than I ever did standing up." I have to believe him. I try a couple on my belly, but my knees work ok enough and I am still caught with a childlike exuberance to squat down and drag my hand across a tiny face, speeding down the short line pretending I'm a Shaun Tomson Gulliver happening upon a Lilliputian Backdoor.

I say out loud more than once (and a few more times internally) that I could "do this all day." Ian just nods. His surfing is just like his conversation: matter of fact, eschewing hyperbole to the point that one might think the neighborhood in his brain that would produce even the most slightly exaggerated statements was firebombed when he was a kid.

Craig mentioned he might join us for a paddle but doesn't show. I ask Ian if Craig would think this is too flat to surf. "No, he'd be having fun." I ask Ian how this little stretch works everyday, if he he can stroll down the hill and get this sort of thing in the morning whenever he wants. "This is about as flat as it gets."

After two days of shooting young Latino style masters, I find myself at LAX with a case of slight back spasms and a stuffy nose. Pet peeves are around every corner in airports. People moving too slow. People hurrying too fast. The absolute crap food and the uncomfortable chairs. The fact that they no longer display the Economist in that easy-to-find spot next to the cash register at Hudson News. I actually enjoy taking my shoes off at the security gate. But what really gets me is the automatic flushing toilets. You think you've set yourself up just right, covering every bit of plastic porcelain, saving your precious skin from indignity, and as soon as it's all just perfect "gwashhshshs fllfffshshshshshshs!" all your best laid plans sucked down the hole.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

And... You're Welcome

(And thanks!)

The Only Thing To Do On Vacation Is Hobble (or) Notes On A Montauk Family Surf Excursion Vol. 3

For years I didn't drink coffee. Like alcohol, cigarettes and truly good cheese, much of my abstinence stemmed from the youthfully undeveloped tastes my brain wasn't able to place (A). But soon, as I grew older and came to embrace all these elemental vices coffee remained a nemesis (B).

I used to crow about my non-addictive personality. I've survived relatively hard drug use with uncommon ease, quit cigarettes multiple times cold turkey and never had a girlfriend longer than three months pre nuptials. I used to think I had a special constitution that just couldn't be beat that way.

I now know that to be a false understanding of the situation (C).

In fact, it feels like my abstaining ways and my subsequent aggrandizing about them are really just a papier mâché mask I wear over my addiction to feeling like I'm unaddictable; a permanent crutch of untouchability I bumble around on in a vain attempt to fool myself into thinking I'm free (D).

Lately I've been thinking about brain waves (E) and this idea that all these waves can get twisted in their own patterning, pinging about in our skull, creating cross currents, smashing up against each other, canceling each other out, drifting from this to that and becoming unpredictably dominant at the most useless times.

I've been thinking about how it feels after one gets out of the water and how this bliss sorta sets in (F).

I imagine that all these brain waves, muddled and myopic, fighting unknowingly for supremacy and function, might just get massaged in some meaningful way by the longer form, ultimately deeper, more environmental waves that fuel our time on the board. Like the ocean is this big kneading bread roller, evening out the patterns of our brain.

And I wonder if the roots to my aversion to coffee, basically the desire to feel free from the control of some outside stimulant, hasn't affected my relationship with surfing. Am I so afraid of being controlled by someone, something outside me that I'd risk losing it completely?

Maybe I should allow a new era of vulnerability (G).


 (Watching kids at Sunday School sneak cups from the metal silos from the tables in the foyer, never being able to stomach the taste no matter how much milk and sugar I poured in.) or (Trolling at the Venetto's coffee shop between Thompson's Drug and the QFC, never quite truly believing seeing the point of the mocha beyond the nitrous oxide canisters used for the whipped cream.) or (Hanging out at late night Denny's smoking cigarettes and letting my mouth get so dry the bland coffee seemed a ridiculous choice over the massive glasses of OJ.)

(Working the overnight shift at Hot Spots on State Street, self-righteous in my ability to stay awake without the use of the crack everyone else was chugging.)

(I've been married for 18 years. There's gotta be some kind of addiction going on there. And I've worked at the same sort of job for the last 15 years more or less. There's some autopulverizing acquiescence happening there for sure.)

(And I'm sure I hope others.)

(Gamma: associated with the formation of ideas, language and memory processing, and various types of learning) and (Beta: generally the mental state most people are in during the day and most of their waking lives) and (Alpha: when you close your eyes your brain automatically starts producing more alpha waves) and (Theta: light sleep or extreme relaxation) and (Delta: when your dominant brainwave is delta, your body is healing itself and "resetting" its internal clocks.)

F (Return traffic notwithstanding.)

G (Nine years ago on the heels of my first son's birth I bought an espresso machine.) 

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Only Thing To Do On Vacation Is Eat (or) Notes On A Montauk Family Surf Excursion Vol. 2

It is, I assume, perhaps project, a rather ordinary thing for someone to cringe when overhearing themselves described as, or being floridly introduced as, a "surfer." I guess I assume this because the guttural contraction I feel, the suddenly tightening sphincter reassessment my body undergoes, is of such an involuntary nature I can't imagine anyone not finding this sort of thing terribly cringe-worthy and blatantly uncomfortable.

It has something to do with my own eternal, internal wannabe status, begotten of a Seattle-bred youth, reading surf magazines voraciously but getting into the actual act inadmissibly late in the game. My wife would, perhaps correctly, point out that this is just another instance of a self-imposed and entirely specious "outsider" insecurity I insist on maintaining on many fronts. But the fact is, I can't stomach being described as a surfer as I actually get into the water so inconsistently. Skiers, a group to whom I feel I have a far more substantial creation-myth claim to fraternity, have always had what I've found an annoying way of talking up how many "days" they've gotten in a seasonal year. The aggrandizement has always grossed me out. But the fact is, that sort of thing apparently still courses through my veins. I can't help but default to that claptrap when assessing my own identity.

Reading William Finnegan's Barbarian Days, or rather hearing him speak about writing Barbarian Days, or rather hearing him muse about how difficult he found the idea of writing the surf-centered memoir called Barbarian Days, opened my eyes to a different angle on this assumptive universal heebiejeebie. Finnegan has lived the life of the "real surfer" in the most elemental senses. His ruddered stoke has been so unfailing, his commitment so enduring, he is one of those types that you'd naturally introduce as a "surfer" without a single blanche. He of the Californian and Hawaiian wave-drenched childhood; the months spent surfing Kirra on the Gold Coast and the Maui's Honolua Bay; the camping out on untouched and pre-commercial Tavarua; the mastery of the critical Jardim Do Mar. And yet he has gone through his life never letting on, even purposefully obscuring the fact. In effect, it seems to be entirely readable that his anus twitters just the same as mine upon salutational definition of the dreaded taxonomy. Given, from a completely different set of insecurities.

I'm not quite sure how that makes me feel so much better about my presumptions, or why I insist on feeling good about having the presumption, but it does and I do.

Besides, if I were a surfer, would I be sporting this dad bod?


Friday, September 4, 2015

The Only Thing To Do On Vacation Is Complain (or) Notes On A Montauk Family Surf Excursion Vol. 1

A day after receiving a cortado that had a touch too much milk in it (with more or less the consistency of a semi-dry cappuccino) I return to the cafe and order a cortado "with just a touch less milk than usual." The barista behind the register rolls her eyes dramatically. (I didn't know baristas did that anymore.) (A real throwback to the days of video store clerks and the I.T. department.) I wait. (I wait for the dry cortado.) A bearded barista (baristo?) calls my name. As I approach he fixes me with a pitying if baleful grimace and instructs, "Next time you want a cortado with less milk, ask for a macchiato." The last time I was in this coffee shop it sported a clean white pine IKEA feel. The renamed cafe in its place has a rustico, reclaimed wood Restoration Hardware feel. Recently I gave up drinking coffee. I try to drink tea now. (The cortado/macchiato/dry-cappuccino was destined for wifey.)

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Today's Other Thoughts

The Montauk Bureau

I haven't summered to Montauk in a few years. The last time I was even here was an "off-season" jaunt out to see the film about Stephanie Gilmore a couple years ago. In the "on-season" interim, apparently a much ballyhoo'd disaster has struck the eastern tip of Long Island in the form of city slickers bringing a decidedly bridge&tunnel feel to a once sleepy fishing village. And I've stayed away, content to hold my nose in the most dramatic posture I can contort myself into in an attempt to pretend like I really don't want to be bumbling about the rocks off Dirt Lot. But life has a way of pushing the proverbial crème brûlée right back into your self-satisfied face, this time taking the novel approach of employing an acute bout of surfshackbuildingfailureitis. And so I find myself here again, lapping up the luxury and grinning sheepishly. I surfed this morning in foggy, mush blahs sou'easterly blotto, off the aforementioned parking lot, on the shittily massive pink softtop, doing my very best to take a blunt scalpel to my dignity hari-kari style. And it was working! Until I realized how much fun I was having despite the pain. There's only so much you can do.

Emily Anderson of The Usual has been cavorting around with her pal Yasha, making good magazine and finding time to make other Montauk-soaked things as well. In her words:

About the series: Everyone has a story to tell. Equipped with an iPhone for shooting in one hand and a lobster roll in another, we set out to uncover them all for The Usual Conversations, a new ongoing video series. An extension of our print editions, we started “Conversations” in our own backyard, Montauk, speaking to the individuals that make this “drinking village with a fishing problem” so special.

About Jimmy: Meet Jimmy “Is My Board Done Yet” Goldberg—the best, and only, surfboard ding repairman in Montauk. Given our stellar surfing skills, we’re at Jimmy's more often than we're actually in the water. It was no surprise then that in the hours we spent watching our boards get bandaged back to health he became our default therapist. Here, we dig into Jimmy's life experiences - ship scuttling, commercial vs. sport fishing, boozing, and his passion for surfing.