Saturday, July 29, 2017

Notes On a Surf Staycation

I’ll be live-blogging my 2017 Summer pseudo-surfcation. Stay tuned for the boring and involuntary. Or voluntarily boring. I’m not sure when gainful employment will cut into this dance, or whether it will at all. The guts of my family, of my life, are on another coast as I shack, literally, with my dog on Long Island, hoping to, as they say, “get things done.” Over the next series of days things may get terribly maudlin. Stay tuned to this channel.

Day One

You can be almost 100% sure that if you invite me over for a barbecue, at some point I will excuse myself for a few moments, head to your bathroom and rummage through your medicine cabinet looking for q-tips. I have been disallowed from having them at home and I'm always on the lookout for an opportunistic fix.

Knowing the question is coming and being prepared to answer the question are two different things. “Everything being equal” seems to be the qualific catch phrase in a phone conversation with my habitually estranged brother.

The first insecurity one is confronted with when alone for the first night on a surf staycation falls along imposter syndrome lines: I've been longing to be alone for so long, is it possible I've been treating myself to some tasty delusion?

The second is a terror of anxiety: to exactly which depths have my surfing abilities sunk?

Day Two

The magic of Long Island: Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s reading of Percival Everett’s “The Appropriation of Cultures,” inexplicably sharing a number on the radio dial with the local folk music station playing its morning Irish jig programming. A see-saw slugfest in two and five second chunks the whole way to Gilgo.

I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to go back to “real” surfing. A dodgie knee, a trick ankle and a deep aversion to feeling like a failure ensures I may just not. Granted, there are plenty of ways being a soft-top junkie makes one look plenty stupid. But it’s a stupid I can stomach. Lentini says someone out there is making “hand crafted” foamies that actually have rails and can turn and do the things a normal surfboard can do. They cost five hundred bucks or something. Unless they are making them out of biodegradable, recycled material, count me out. This giant hunk of floating petroleum’s only plus side is the fact that it doesn’t provide any of the normal technical amenities while making it easier for me to be lazy. Start messing with that without any improvement where it really counts and I call bullshit.

The waves are waist high and super fun. The first extended surf I’ve had since the last time I had an extended surf. Which was a while go. I spend the morning with friends in the water and the rest of the day cutting up brush and cutting down dead trees and burning shit in a big midday bonfire.

A few nights ago at a party full of children I witnessed my elder son learn one of life’s important early lessons: if, while playing Hide & Seek, you hide too well for too long, no one cares.

Day Three (or) Day Four

I think it must be Day Four.

Yesterday I have a second fun day at Gilgo Beach. With friends. I take the opportunity to flail a bit on a wave while Mike paddles by and he yells, “Trying to roll up the windows?”

I wander around my house like a zombie, the excitement which begot the productivity of Day Two having faded, leaving me what I imagine the lingering effects of shell-shock to feel like. At the added risk of minimizing something serious further, I wonder if there isn’t a PTSD analog that comes along with fatherhood. Or parenthood, motherhood or spousehood for that matter. It creeps up on you. Then it’s there, overwhelming; exhausting; haunting. It causes mildly sleepless nights. The sort of which you don’t realize the effects until its too late. Irritable, irrational, emotionally jumpy. When you are alone, if you are alone for long enough, it turns you into walking putty for a couple days. Or maybe more. I’ll let you know if I’m still like this tomorrow.

Judy Carmichael on the Jazz Inspired radio show to Dick Hyman:
“You actually make it a party!”
“Well, that’s the intention. We actually serve real potato chips and real soft drinks.”
This reminds me of a Jonathan Richman song.

This morning I wake up in a bed in someone else's house and we take my friend’s daughter to horse camp. I find a deer tick crawling on my leg. I go to Home Depot twice. Two different Home Depots. Later, I scrape paint off my house.

Just before dinner I go to Smith Point and body surf and wash my body in the warm salt water.

I slow cook bolognese sauce over the open fire. Two different neighbor’s cats press their nose to the screen door while I eat inside reading a Geoff Dyer book I’ve purchased twice because I’d forgotten I’d already picked it up once. You’re welcome Geoff. Jamie introduced me to Geoff over plastic cups of pink wine in the English countryside. It’s a funny thing to read the book of someone with whom you’ve had a conversation. Especially the way Geoff Dyer writes. I can hear his slim voice and I see his slim face while I read. The memory of him places itself in his story. I wonder if you’re the type of person who meets authors all the time whether this affects your reading experience. Perhaps that’s a dumb question.

This is definitely Day Four.

On the topic of cultural appropriation, Billy Bragg has a pretty good lick at the topic recently on Terry Gross' Fresh Air.

Day Five

For breakfast I eat yogurt and nectarines. For lunch I eat leftover pasta. My dog stares at me.

During lunch I read a book and the author references D.H. Lawrence. I think about what it means to be well-read in the age of 21st Century post-modernism. Of New York Times bestseller lists. Of Wikipedia. I still mostly read, when I get the chance to read, White men who often reference, in their own work, passages from the Great Canon of Other White Men, Mostly Dead. I wonder at this. I wonder that I regard myself as sufficiently well-read yet I am often sent scurrying to Google to slyly refresh my well-readedness. This, perhaps, is what it means now to be well-read: simply a willingness to read at all.

I scrape flaking paint off the house. I get bit by mosquitoes. I listen to podcast episodes of Fresh Air and Hidden Brain.

There is no surf to surf.

I go to Smith Point beach to clean off grime I've accumulated from working around the house. There is a large Indian family at the beach when I get there. They are handsome and happy and I catch them watching me body whomp.

Day Six

I pick up a day laborer at the 7-11 on Horseback Road. There are four 7-11s on Horseback Road. Or as far as I’ve driven on Horseback Road. Presumably, Horseback Road goes all the way to what’s known as the North Shore. Presumably, Horseback Road is named that because once upon a time there were a number of stables along that route. The day laborer I pick up is named Juan, presumably because he is originally from El Salvador. Not everyone from El Salvador is called Juan the same as not every route that had, at some point, some horses on it are called Horseback Road. So there you go. Juan turns out to be a reticent conversationalist, but puts up with my faltering Spanish generously.

I have some realizations today about needing to find ways to appreciate certain things in my life more. Classic being-alone realizations, I suppose.

There is no surf today. But, with the one-morning exception of a friend's outdoor shower, and the one-evening exception of a rubber tube extended from my kitchen sink, I have washed my body exclusively in salt water this week and do so again tonight. This reminds me that exclusivity is only fun for the exceptions.

Day Seven

You only get two opportunities to die prematurely. The first, when you are actually premature, a designation that has admittedly mushified over time, being gradually redefined over the past 60 or so years, and still in flux as of this writing, but safely, I think, defined by being a dependent child, or some young and precocious prodigy of an expectant sort for a limited amount of time past that. I think I can safely say, in my early 40s and with no world-altering talent of my own waiting to bare fruit, I am mature enough to simply die. Except! I happen to be lucky enough to fall into that other available category of premature death: I have premature things in my care. Having premature children, that is to say in this instance children who still rely on my existence, more and less, for theirs, I am a premature death waiting to happen by proxy.

Ever since I was a kid I have preferred unsalted potato chips. Tim's Cascade being the first, and for a long time only, version I could find. Utz has unsalted potato chips now. Yesterday, when I make Juan the Salvadoran Day Laborer lunch, he goes for the bag of unsalted chips. "Oh! Those are unsalted! Here these Ruffle ones have salt," I say to him. He gives me a funny look, slowly withdraws his hand from the potato chips altogether.

Today I drive home from my house near the beach (not the beach itself, mind you), unpack my bags from the car and eat the rest of the leftover unsalted potato chips. I walk the dog and get on my bike, heading to the bank to deposit a check. On my way there I imagine my premature death, a car on bicycle accident, unsalted potato chips spread across the street.

I find myself alone in a house in Brooklyn looking at movie times. The only movies that look good are French. A memoirumentary about French cinema that starts at 8:30 and is three hours long and a film about a gay French man who goes on a cross country Grindr spree that starts at 6:40. The alternatives are Dunkirk, with Mark Rylance and that Irish actor with the crazy eyes that starts at 7:30 and an Idris Elba/Matthew McConnughy vehicle about a spooky cowboy that begins at 8:00. The best of the lot looks to be that French Grindr film. But I'm not sure I can hack it.

It ends up being more of an open road chase film. One lover closing in on another from Paris to Cannes. The director was there answering questions after the credits, mentioning that his producers were telling him to film the actors more, not endless shots through the windshield. He said he could control the actors, he could not control the nature around him. So he shot that point of view to the point of exhaustion. Probably why he felt committed to make sure as much of it got in the film as possible.

Day Eight

I wake late, the previous night's midnight run to the Chinese take-out leaving bags under my eyes and a doughy quality to my movement.

As I take the dog for a walk I mentally line up the things in my life, systematically attempting to define why I enjoy them; why I appreciate them. People, things, situations. For each one the outcome is the same. I enjoy the things in my life because they give me something real to feel now, and I enjoy the things in my life because they are fat with hope for feeling in the future.

In the afternoon my family will return and it won't just be me and the dog anymore. I will once again be carrying a raucous, bulging bag of emotions everywhere I go. Time frames will be reinstated. Expectations will be reintroduced. In preparation I spend the day cleaning house.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Swell Season & the T.J. Breuer

Does your surf scene have a Ty Breuer? You're lucky if it does. Perhaps I won't go so far as to say unlucky if it doesn't. If a question with the term "surf scene" applies to you, you're already lucky. 

There is a follow up podcast recently spit out with Ben and Ty talking less structurally about stuff. You can find that here. Rumor has it Ty is gonna take a few swipes at the mic while Ben is on vacation this August. Stay tuned for that.

Monday, July 17, 2017

This Week In Not Surfing

1. It was a clean, windless summer dusk at Santa Claus Lane, the only near-town spot that would break consistently in the summer. We'd gotten used to heading down there to spin out in the dumping beach break and every now and then we'd get lucky with real waves. My first real foray into a personal style happened here. I'd drop into a wave, bottom turn, drifting up the face as quickly as possible. Once back at the top I'd stand straight up right in the curl with a little dramatic pause, necessitating a second, last minute sweeping drop where I'd try to climb back up the face before it closed. Imagine this all pretty fast; Santa Claus Lane isn't a point. After one particular evening session, the waves a touch bigger than usual, maybe a little overhead even, that first customary peak-pause often meant I'd be thrown, Gabe gave me that novel and still pride swelling compliment over a plate of tacos at Super Rica that he liked my surfing because it had a style all its own.

2. Years later I would be filming street footballers in Amsterdam for a big sportswear brand. On the last night of the shoot the client took us all out for drinks in a little Irish bar set besides a typically idyllic canal and I drank beers and whiskeys for a while, quiet and exhausted. The place was crowded and the vibe was friendly and a big black Englishman wearing a loose fitting white suit sat next to me at the bar. Maybe ten or fifteen years my senior, everyone seemed to know him and he had that kind of garrulous chin that makes grins even grinnier. "Oi, you look like another retired sportsman. What'd you do? What was your game?" He was talking to me, referring to himself in camaraderie and expecting way too much. I suspected he really was some sort of sporting great and I was stuck there, a few sheets to, and looking for an exit before I'd start lying.

3. Last Sunday I needed to drop off some errant sun glasses to a friend at a restaurant and walked in on a small party containing Bill Murray. I've had glancing dealings with Bill Murray in the past and he remembered my wife right away because she's the sort that charms the pants off off-kilter smart people. We sat down for a minute, returned the wayward specs to our friend in the gang and made to go. But Bill Murray just doesn't want to let people go. Tales of his eccentric, yet wholly, almost supernaturally, human kindness are pretty legend. He's a playful goofball guy who fully understands the cultural import that derives from the character that is, naturally, Bill Murray. But we have to go. And Bill Murray is sorta doing his damnedest to keep us there. Asking us questions, talking up mixology, explaining his favorite cars. But my three year old is getting antsy. And we have to go to the grocery store. And I gotta get my house ready for a barbecue that night. I let this last one slip. Bill Murray, ever watchful for his moment to pounce, says "Hey! You want some hotdogs? They make great Chicago style hot dogs here!" I don't hesitate, because who doesn't want some extra hot dogs for a barbecue? "How many?" Bill Murray asks. "Six!" I respond. Bill Murray marches into the kitchen and asks for six Chicago style hot dogs to be made up right away. And I realize he means for me to eat them, right then and there. That's Bill Murray.

4. There is always a moment at the beginning of Beat It when I think it's gonna be Roxanne.

5. I think it's safe to say that at the heart of the human experience is the hope for acceptance, inclusion, appreciation. Generally, people want to feel as if they're part of something bigger than themselves. But the opposite doesn't necessarily hold true. Our greatest fear, at least the one we trumpet, is rarely loneliness. It's usually things like sharks, line cutters and incontinence.

6. The latest entry into the EBNY Urban Dictionary : Diatribinous

7. A sign of the apocalypse or simply proving a tired adage wrong? After a lifetime of actively disliking cherries I am suddenly interested.

8. It feels like there is a regular mistake made conflating giving something due context with making an apology for it. Why can't we delve reasonably into hypothetical motivation, be it for an action warranted or unwarranted, without losing our ability to be upset about the thing? There is a growing disease out there which causes a refusal of empathic conversation about justifications for fear of making bad guys look less bad. The bad guys are bad whether you make them look that way or not.

9. And at my house we have a few rules. One of them is: before you switch off the T.V., set the channel to the tennis channel.

10. There is a moment, also mid-summer, when peaches make sense as the de facto meat in nearly any dish.

11. Yesterday I introduced my three year old's three year old body to body surfing. This morning his brain asked to do it again.

12. Try your hardest but don't let that stop you from succeeding.