Wednesday, January 17, 2018

This Week In Not Surfing

1. “We must get back to civil discourse.” I’ve heard this a lot lately. Of course when exactly was civil discourse? When it was solely between a few fellas of a certain socio-economic cultural background? So everything is called into question. That game we always play is only poisoned now. “What other time period would you live in if you could?” In this the assumption that you’d be traveling back in time only to be at top of the heap. The dream to somehow teleport myself to the Hawaiian Islands or to Southern California during the late Forties and Fifties rests on the qualification that I’m a white guy with a straw hat, a guitar and a surfboard. I’m not pining to be a farm worker unless it’s all part of the adventure of rummaging up a couple more bucks for gas. I’m not hoping to find myself a Kauwa under heel of some Ali’i. I want to be the Ali’i. Or at least his buddy. So it’s all up for grabs. All the desire in the world to go backward will only get you there.

2. There’s a similarity with all this fetishizing of surfing culture. A whole lot of fetishizing. Arbitrary hierarchy. Desperate oneupmanship. Macho brinksmanship. There’s a quota system here.

3. When I was twenty or so, the owner of the coffee shop where I was working invited me on a surf trip down to Mexico for a long weekend. His nephew was with us and he didn’t surf. After a few sessions at San Miguel he announced he liked my surfing the best. Everyone’s eyebrows raised a little. The next day my longboard finbox cracked leaving me with no choice but to ride the fat little thruster I brought along as backup for the rest of the trip. He didn’t make that same pronouncement twice.

4. A number of years ago I was surfing alone around this side of the Montauk Lighthouse on the other side of a hurricane swell on the purple 70’s Sunset Surfboard pintail single fin without a leash. Big, fat lefts rolling through breaking far enough off the rocks at first. I wasn’t in the best surf shape and I’ve never been able to surf that board going backside and a few sets in I had lost my board, swimming around in the mush as the peak was getting closer and closer to the bunker. Suddenly outta nowhere the famous hairdressing surfer paddles straight in my direction, obviously thinking this was gonna be a life-saving situation, me kooking about and all. As he approached, recognition washed over his face, “oh, it’s you. Ok.” He turned around and paddled off again.

5. Jamie let me sleep on his couch, make him scrambled eggs and even loaned me his favorite hybrid twin fin to surf down the locked gate at Pt. Dume. I had a ball on that board until I rode it up onto the rocks by accident.

6. Mid 90's and a couple guys had a zodiac we’d put in at Gaviota and boat up to The Ranch. Just after I sold my performance thruster longboard to Jon it lay on the bottom of the pile strapped down. We didn’t count on the metal brackets underneath the heap. By the time we pulled up to pristine Rights & Lefts, Jon’s new board had been performing as a fragile shock absorber, leaving him with two massive canyons just inside the rail.

7. On Saturday morning I lay in bed, awake, wondering how long I can go without speaking. My three year old comes in and starts asking me questions. He always asks questions. Smart. I just shake my head and put my finger to my lips. I wander downstairs to make eggs. My eleven year old asks me a question as I descend the stairs. He’s always asking questions. Smart. I just shake my head and smile, giving him a kiss. My wife looks up, smells my vibe and just shakes her head. It’s 9:30 before I say a word.

8. And they said it was going to be an unseasonably warm winter. It’s been frigid. On Sunday I forgo the surf. It’s a good size and clean looking on Instagram but Antonio doesn’t call back and I’ll be damned if I’m going to suffer alone. Besides, it’s Erin’s birthday and Chris has planned a mid-morning trip to the bowling alley to celebrate. And while I protest to hate bowling, there’s something unseasonably warm about it. And I end up enjoying the bowling just fine.

9. The next day we allow ourselves the elongated luxury of a thorough spot check. “Should we paddle out here?” “I dunno, maybe we should check Lido.” “Yeah.” This goes on for far more checks than there are actual spots. Core temperature preservation through lazy procrastination. During the meandering drive, Antonio posits that should he ever write an autobiography the title would be It Was A Younger Man’s Game.

10. Tuesday morning we agree to put on our wetsuits at home. This somehow does wonders for courage. The waves are small, clean and crisp. Better than Monday thanks to a drop in wind. I wear my big, pink softtop and only get flushed a couple times. But my still-wet-from-the-day-before wetsuit manages to take a toll even after being really wet for only an hour. I don’t know how it does that. The new wetness isn’t cold at all. It’s that old wetness. Legacy wetness chills to the bone.

11. And then there’s the itchy butt. The worst itchy butt I ever had was on one of those rides back from The Ranch. On the ride back to Brooklyn I opine that the old New York art scene was a bloody gash while the new New York art scene is just sweaty pores. Antonio gets it.


Wednesday, January 3, 2018

This Week In Not Surfing


1. On the plane to California I watch Atomic Blonde three times over other passenger's shoulders. I watch Beatriz at Dinner then The Hero on my own itsy-bitsy screen. All three films make me wonder what it means to live every day as if it is your last, to appreciate every moment the way they say you ought to, our popular religion in which everyone is chatecised but where no one receives communion. 

2. At one point I let myself believe that when we die we don’t really die but our positive vibe soul pixie dirt carries on to join other soul pixie dirt of a certain cosmic simpatico, forming a kind of enthusiastic pixie clod, packing in with other pixie mounds to coalesce into some sort of terrestrial rebirth. The better you do, the more ethical positivity you can achieve in this life, the way cooler your subsequent reformation will be in the next. Not you, so to speak, but the remnants of you partying along with other way cool, thoughtful remnants making the universe a better place.

3. When we get to Grannie & Papa’s house I find my old Patagonia wetsuit hanging where I left it in the closet, a relief as I once left my favorite black belt (my only black belt) in this same closet only to find it irrevocably borrowed upon my return. 

4. Nina had warned me the waves would die just past Christmas. I figured she was speaking in a California surf vernacular, “flat” on the West Coast having an entirely different meaning to “flat” on the East Coast. But she’s wrong in a different way. It’s flat even before Christmas. 

5. I now reckon every successive evolution in our belief is just a bridge to the next. Bridges upon bridges next to bridges as far as the eye can see, spanning a chasm between the places birth & death. People get stuck in the middle, so taken with the view they’re sure they’ve reached terra firma. Or they've just decided to stay suspended in place. Which is understandable. Sensible even.

6. On the flight to California there are three different films on three different seat back screens simultaneously featuring men in cowboy hats. Out of 43 possible Halloweens I can only remember dressing up as a ghost (the Charlie Brown kind), a lion (with a plastic mask, the kind with a rubber band), a pirate (like Johnny Depp) and a cowboy (lots of times.) (Most times.)

7. At the end of The Hero there is a poignant scene (spoiler alert) where one character (a beautiful woman) reads an Edna St.Vincent Millay poem to another character (a cowboy actor.) My three year old interrupts this ultimate, meaningful scene four times, twice kicking the headphone jack out of the port. When I do finally finish the scene, I cry. Because I’m watching a movie on an airplane. And she's reading a poem to a cowboy.

8. California has never been my home. I lived here a while, a tourist the whole of it.

9. Fatherhood is a bit like tourism. I suppose I don’t have to explain that. 

10. Being married is like being a tourist. But that probably needs explaining. 

11. There is no tourism to surfing. Just suffering. 

12. On my mobile phone I have a link to a webpage titled 10 Cultural Values of the Lakota, or something like that. Most of them have something to do with being quiet. My relationship with that sort of quiet has been a spotty one my whole life.

13. I pull out one of the softtops from beneath the house and paddle from Grannie & Papa’s to Tamarack and surf for an hour off the north jetty in something knee highish. One of the regulars hoots me into waves, talking loudly and telling everyone to paddle harder, then laughing ecstatically. I paddle back to the house not long after he shows up. 

14. We drive to LA in my wife’s late grandfather’s Lincoln Towncar. I walk into a hip restaurant and all the waiters are wearing mustaches. I am also wearing a mustache. I told my wife last year I think I may never not have a mustache again. The upper lip protection somehow translates into lazy confidence. 

15. Graham’s dad shaved off his mustache one summer during high school, becoming so much nicer, more jolly, more jovial. Seemingly overnight. An almost instant loss of authority.

16. In Venice Beach I dip into the water just after sunrise, watching a 3 foot tiger-striped ray glide past my feet as I shuffle out. There are a handful of novice surfers hanging around the pier going straight on nothing shorey. I think for the first time that I understand the draw of owning a cat.  

17. I observe the strikingly Gallic features of my handsomely hangdog friends at their new music venue/bar/restaurant on the other side of Echo Park. The place feels triumphant, victorious and hollow in a youthful way. The product of grit and can-do. It’s beside a dry river bed under the shadow of brown scrubby mountains. I imagine those mountains have sage brush rolling atop them.

18. At the hip restaurant I sit across from three twenty-somethings with three matching meshback caps: Marmot Mountain, Patagonia, REI. They sport thin hair on their lip and cheeks. The baristo has his own attenuated twenty-something mustache and a full sleeve tattoo of some swirly waves. His dusty lip fuzz is feathery and perched. I regard it with vicarious satisfaction, proud of its precarious confidence. The manager walks by. His mustache is very blond. Too-blond mustaches don’t always capture the feeling. I indulge in using my thumb to press the cauliflower rice onto my fork. Like a cowboy.

19. I paddle from Granny & Papa’s almost all the way to the Oceanside pier before I find a little sandbar in front of a seawall just past the Teutonic housing development. The paddle is windless and I glide smoothly over the clear water that feels like I’m looking through a green beer bottle. Surfing isn’t suffering when there is no wind and the water feels like an empty beer bottle. That comes later, on the flight home.

20. I celebrate New Years with a woman who looks out over the sea every morning when she wakes up and every night before she goes to bed. And has done so for around sixty years. I also celebrate with the guy who almost got run over during that surfing motorcycle stunt at Cloudbreak. 

21.  When I get home my son’s godmother is there, dog and house sitting. I’ve left my family in California to return to work. My son’s Godmother makes dinner of polenta and pan friend meat with sage on it. During the meal she tells me about parking her car in a very dodgie neighborhood in Queens but not at all feeling threatened as everyone she passed was too busy looking down at their phones. She convinces me to catch the late night screening of the famous Irish method actor’s final film. Getting to the theater a little early, I drift to a bookstore and read the titles off some of the books heaped on the little islands. “Men Explain Things to Me” by Rebecca Solsnit. “How To Ruin Everything” by George Watsky. “Why Buddhism is True” by Robert Wright. Each title like a small dagger in the heart. 

22. Walking back to the cinema I get a text from my sister-in-law with pictures of my elder son surfing under the moonlight, being goaded into waves by his uncle, the same uncle who pushed the reigning Adaptive Surf champion in the AS-5 category (surfers who ride in a non-standing position and need assistance to paddle into waves) to victory in last month’s title event. When the champ touched down in his native Australia they blew massive firehoses over his plane and put him on the front page of the newspaper. They do this for surf champs in Australia. 

23. My son doesn’t get water cannons for surfing by moonlight. But I do when I hear he’s been quoted exclaiming, “this is the best night of my life!”