Monday, May 28, 2018

This Week In Not Surfing

It is the afternoon of Memorial Day, Monday the 28th of May, 2018. I am in my backyard, sitting across from my eleven year old son who is furiously writing a letter to his grandmother, rushing through it, trying to get it done as fast as he can with the requisite attention to penmanship that might keep him from a second draft. I’m not sure what he thinks he’ll do when he’s done. He’s used up his video game quota for the weekend. I'm thinking of all the grandfathers in my family who fought on behalf of whatever they thought was this country, the very first being sent to the brig for snoozing at his post by Colonel George Washington. The mirror that is the past may be dusty, but isn't so warped I suppose.

My friends send me a direct message over Instagram. They’ve just emerged from a knee high paddle out in Long Beach. I have been riding my bicycle all afternoon looking for this eleven year old in front of me who had promised he’d be back “in a couple hours” and disappeared for well over a few, apparently having made his way to watching some drunken middle aged jocks play softball at the park via a video game arcade while eating a turkey sandwich. True story, I guess. At some point I am sent to find him, making three full circuits of Northwest Brooklyn on my bicycle, stopping to speak to five different friends bumped into along the way. An all points bulletin then arranged and useless as he makes it home, unobserved and unscathed even before I do.

I do not surf.

The underground stage at Berlin is packed with the post-middleaged. This is just a few days ago. I am here to see a friend of a friend play the last night of a residency. It can be slightly amazing, then galling, to think of whom one can say is a friend of a friend in New York City. It is a tiny town filled with incredible people, especially the ones of a slightly more generous vintage, who’ve been around and been around a bit longer than you. I am lucky enough to be of a generation twice removed, but not three. Three is a bit too far gone, see. Twice still offers opportunity. Thus the gall. I simply don’t deserve it. The friend, sure I’ll call him friend, he gave me a big friendly hug before the show, plays a whole set dedicated to Lou Reed. Halfway through, the band leads a singalong of “All The Young Dudes.” I belt out the chorus with all my elders, only knowing the first few words, but making the requisite noises necessary to a filling the space with the appropriate gusto. I just don't quite recall it's boogaloo dudes.

I sit across the table from one of my business partners. Also a few days ago. The day after the singalong. We are discussing somethingerother. For no apparent reason, none that I can discern now, a few days later, I launch into a full blown memory of a good time in my life. No wait it’s not true. Now that I think about it, there is a great reason. The kids in the office want a hanging papasan chair in a corner near the kitchen and we, the older executive set, think that not for the first time they’re on to something. This initiates a sudden dragging the mental lake and I am transported back, back to the time when I was around the child the age of my sons, my family living on Hood Canal, in salt-water fronted idyll. I would meander down the shore at low tide looking for a stolen moment in some distant neighbor’s hanging papasan chair. Everyone seems to have one but us, and their sliding doors are always unlocked. I can just sneak in and swing, drifting slowly around, looking at the placid water. This would all be unremarkable save the realization that a cornerstone memory of unadulterated childhood happiness has heretofore survived unremarked. It is an odd thing to stumble upon them thus.

I do surf earlier in the week. A couple days before the singalong. Little fun waves that leave my left knee feeling like jello.

There are a few things in my life I feel I could have been alternatively good at, besides the me that's good at the things at which I've become good. For a while in high school I wrestled, like my father before me. I was good at it instantly and I remain so. I also have this nagging suspicion I could have been a wonderful modern dancer. I also believe that had I spent just a few more years living alongside the right handed point breaks of Central Coast California, I could have been a really fine surfer.

Things to not think about. That's all.

Monday, May 14, 2018

This Week In Not Surfing

I land in Los Angeles and head straight inland to Korea Town. For the next four days I will not see the ocean. I will not even call my local surfy friends as I usually do, looking for a little paddle out friendship. One of my co-workers will offer me one of her boyfriend’s boards for a morning quickie in Venice Beach but I will not have the time. I will instead settle for dawn shuffles up the street to the Korean baths to spend the otherwise surfable hours sweating and naked amongst geriatric Korean men, feeling conspicuously hairy.

Poolside, at the hotel, I will see children playing with their parents. In particular one elderly toddler laying atop his mother, playing at her face gently with his little pudgy hands, squeezing her cheek and thumbing her bottom lip. This will remind me of those pesky lion cubs pawing at their regal father before he swats them away in National Geographic films. I will miss my children at this point. 

I will think about the ways to place an apple box. Among them Los Angeles, dead flat, Chicago, on the side, and New York, on end. People from Chicago might try to convince me otherwise.

Amid the stucco and the peeling paint and the derelict signage and the barbed wires around the mechanic shops and the stubborn flora and the dirty feet of homeless men and the gas stations and the curious placement of phenomenal restaurants there will be gems of streetside art, architecture and history, peaking out, snuggled happily between the repetition of stop lights, hidden with self-conscious regard among the parking spots.

I will finish my job and on the fifth day I will head south to visit my in-laws, including my 97 year old grandmother-in-law with whom I will stay up late one night, drinking gin and trading stories.

I will meet a friend at the big mall in La Jolla where he is buying a blue suit reminiscent of Cary Grant’s in “North By Northwest.” I will recall Cary Grant's penchant for wearing light blue socks. My brother was fond of pointing out that he ascended and descended staircases as if they were an escalator, a conversational anchor I would dishonesty adopt as my own observation. The blue sock thing is all mine though.

We will surf Sunset Cliffs where the wind pressing against the north coast is cut by orientation and kelp beds and where the big shelf of reef will be a tactile pleasure while ambling out.

Bird Shit Rock. I’ll notice my friend has gotten very adept at surfing, having put in the time in real pursuit of the craft since the last time we surfed together. He is a biologist and a sailor and a free diver, having at some point collected bugs off the local floor and having been nabbed for it in a classic mix-up. He will tell me stories about recently dismembering rabbits on a bow-hunting trip. Not tall, and handsomely barrel chested, he is conspicuously attentive in giving driving directions from the passenger seat, a tic that would be an eye-rolling offense if proffered by any less a traffic tactician.

Miraculously, we will surf an in-between boil all to ourselves, my softtop lacking both wax and leash and my winter atrophy having reached a personal zenith of epidemic proportion, my legs a gentle mush of fleeting ingrown hairs and stubbornly swollen joints. But I will manage a few rides and even a full two footed, pin-legged body leaning turn on my last wave, a miracle itself.

Wrapping our wetsuits in towels, I will tell my friend about being included in a coffee table book about New York surfers. He will erupt in a snorting laugh, “How’d you pull that off?”
“I dunno, I guess they needed someone in there who doesn’t surf.”
“Yeah, that makes sense. That’s your brand. It works. Mine are my pecs.”
“Stay on brand.”
“Gotta stay on brand.”

At dinner the chiropractor will confide in me that Kelly’s wave pool can crank a few feet more and look like a different wave. A proper, critical wave. But they’re still working out the kinks so it’s not on offer yet. It would all seem pretty boring to me, except the idea that one could surf in the middle of flat desert, miles from the ocean, a startling mental displacement almost too rich to pass up; a cognitive dissonant holiday scoring barrels nestled between meth labs and Indian casinos.

I will jump on a big trampoline on the ridge above Cardiff, facing the dusty hills in the east that haven’t been colonized by identically ugly houses. I will scare the bejesus out of my nephew by playacting an overly aggressive silverback. By the time I drive away he will be sad to see me go.

I will get bumped to first class on the flight back to New York and instantly regret ordering the quiche instead of the oatmeal as soon as I receive it. The sausage will have cheese unappealingly baked into the middle.

My particular synesthesia, the one of mentally contorting any common instance of sudden, off-beat repetitive clanging sounds (a car back-firing, metal utensils landing on a hard floor, the banging of a distant hammer) into an internal, opening drum gambit of D'yer Mak'er, will occur on three separate occasions over the seven days of travel.