Minggu, 15 Januari 2012

HIPPIE BEACH BUMS by Peter Nolan Smith

The night breeze off the Pacific wreathed the coastal towns north of San Diego with a thin mist. The airy moisture clung to the flowers and fruit trees of Encinitas. The June sun seared through the overcast by late morning and the evaporation off the flowers created an intoxicating bouquet of scents unknown to the Eastern Seaboard.

Every morning after AK practiced on his friend’s piano till the sun burnt of the fog, then the two of us walked on a trodden path through acres of flower fields. The farmer was a young man with long hair. He was cool with us using the path as long as we didn’t pluck any of his hidden reefer crop.

We crossed the Pacific Coast Highway and headed to the parking lot atop the bluff. A steep trail zigzagged down the cliff to the beach. The sloping strand was shared by surfers, hippies, seagulls, and seals.

At first AK and I were thrashed by the huge waves, but a month of bodysurfing each days for hours had strengthened our arms and legs. We were tanned and my hair was bleached with blonde streaks. California was seducing us with its charm.

“What you think about staying here?” The wind wafted off the sea and I held out my arms like wings.

“We can’t crash at Dotty’s pad forever.” His friend’s bungalow had two small bedrooms.

“I know that.” I was sleeping on the porch. Encinitas got cold at night. “I was talking about California.”

“You mean not go back to Boston?” The New Yorker started a teaching job in the fall and a faithful girlfriend was waiting for him on the South Shore.

“It’s not like I have a job like you.” Recruiters from the banks and corporations had sneered at my sin laude diploma and regarded my stammer as a disability. I had only gone on the interviews to please my mother.

“But Boston is your home.” AK had left Long Island at the age of 18.

“I’ll always be from Boston no matter what.” Even last year’s Red Sox collapse hadn’t weakened my New England roots, but I wanted to see the world and said, “I like it here.”

“What’s there not to like.” AK admired our surroundings, as if he were the first white man to see this beach. “But we need to make some money

“I know.” My vacation stake was down to $200.

“That means a job.” AK stretched his body, as Dotty had taught him. She was into yoga.

“I know.” I had driven taxi back in Boston. They had to have cabs here. “If something came up, I’d stay.”

“Let’s see what happens.” He dropped his towel and assumed a racing stance with his hands on his knees. “What about another swim?”

“Sounds good.” Neither of us were ready to hit the road and we raced into the ocean for another session with the waves.

Later that afternoon AK plucked a familiar tune on the kalimba, while I was writing in my journal.

“I know that song.”

“Number 1 in America.” He rocked on his hips to ROCK THE BOAT. “C’mon, dance.”

“Not now?” I was trying to complete a poem about seeing the Rockies from the Great Plains.

“Let’s see what you wrote.” AK snatched away my journal and after reading a few lines, he said, “The key to writing is putting the seat of your trousers on the seat of the chair.”

“Who said that?”

“I think Graham Greene.” AK had a degree in English.

“I know who he is.” I had read THE POWER AND THE GLORY and OUR MAN IN HAVANA. Graham Greene was a great writer.

“My poems are nothing.” They didn’t even rhyme.

“Then keep at it.” AK played piano two hours in the morning and two at night. “Maybe one day your books will be next to his.”

“I doubt it.” Graham Greene’s name began with G and mine started with an S, but I lay on my stomach and scratched words describing the gleam of snow on faraway mountains.

High tide at the beach ran to the cliffs. AK and I climbed to the top of the bluff. A long-haired hippie in a flowered sarong was playing a flute. He came here every sunset. This time he nodded to AK.

“He any good?” I asked once we were out of earshot.

“Not bad, but he’s no Herbie Mann.”

“MEMPHIS UNDERGROUND.” I loved that swinging album with Larry Corryll on guitar, but I preferred the breathless pacing of Jeremy Stieg on HOWLING FOR JUDY.

We bought wine and vegetables for dinner and discussed jazz walking through the flower fields. I had argued for buying some meat, but Dorothy was a strict vegetarian. As her guests AK and I respected her wishes and we had eaten nothing but rice, vegetables, and beans for weeks.

My farting was terrible.

We entered her bungalow with the eastern sky turning to night. Dotty sat at the kitchen table sketching an apple by candlelight. Incense was burning next to the sink. The scent was jasmine. Its flower were collected after dark. AK looked over her shoulder.

“A still life.” Dotty was working as the breakfast waitress at an organic restaurant on the PCH and attending private art classes in La Holla. Her teacher was well-known for his seascapes and drinking. The slight brunette scheduled her classes for noon. By that time the artist had recovered from his hang-over.

“Is it any good?” All artists sought approval.

A glance at her journal confirmed that she had captured the rot on the apple with a stroke of a pencil.

“I wished that my poetry was as good as your drawing.”

“I’ve got a long way to go.” She put down her sketch book and helped us unload the groceries. “Victor’s coming this weekend.”

Her boyfriend had studied dance at the same college as AK and Dotty. He was working at a small movie studio as a choreographer. Every night Dotty lit candles in front of his photo on the wall and I swore that her lips moved, as she stared at his picture a semi-naked young man in a toga. The mousy brunette was very much in love.

“You want us to leave?” AK didn’t want to stand in the way of romance.

“No, Victor is looking forward to having a good time with all of us.” Dotty cooed with anticipation and fingered the ancient Byzantine gold chain around her neck. The brunette tried to act like she was broke, but her ethnic dresses were new and none of her shoes had holes in the soles. Her trust fund worth millions according to AK.

“I could make myself scarce.” I was freeloading on AK’s connection.

“No, he wants to meet you.” Dotty opened the bottle of red.

“Me?” Dotty had said maybe ten words to me in two weeks.

“I told him about your fight in the Haight, making love to lesbians in Big Sur, and your ex-girlfriend Jackie.” Dotty smiled with a sly shyness. “You didn’t think I was listening, did you?”

“To be truthful, no.” I had a tendency to tell long stories after a few drinks.

“I said you were a poet. He likes poetry. Maybe you can read him something of yours.”

“Sure.” I glanced at AK in panic.

“I like LUCKY’S RIDE.” It was an ode to broken hearts and country music.

“I’ll work on it a little.” I hadn’t read a poem aloud since high school and for the next three days on the beach I recited the poem until my stammer was gone.

“Listen to this.” I stood over AK. He was reading John Steinbeck’s CANNERY ROW.

“No way.” AK had heard the poem hundreds of times and clapped his hands over his ears. “I hear that fucking poem in my sleep. This isn’t an oral application to grad school. Demosthenes practiced his oration with pebbles in his mouth. Go recite your poem to the waves.”

AK turned his back to me.

“Thanks for the good advice.”

I walked down the beach for an hour and then back. The twenty lines were stuck in my head forever.

When I returned to our blanket, AK was sitting with the scrawny hippie from the bluff. Fragile sunglasses rested on his long nose, as he played guitar with a sturdy blonde banging at a tambourine. AK accompanied them on his African thumb piano.

I would have felt out of place in this musical menage a trois, if I hadn’t been staring at the blonde’s breasts. She wasn’t wearing a top. They stopped playing and AK introduced Rockford and Carol.

“Hi.” Carol wasn’t wearing a top. Her stubby nipples were erect from the wind.

“You seem interested in Carol.” Rockford looked up from his guitar.

“She reminds me of someone. I can’t think of who.” It wasn’t Jayne Mansfield, but Brigitte Bardot was close.

“I just seen a face I can’t remember the place.” Rockford segued into another Beatles song. It was the dreaded HEY JUDE.

“Watch out. He hates the Beatles.” AK warned the thin hippie.

“How can anyone hate the Beatles?” Rockford was visibly hurt by my rejection of his idols.

“It’s a long story.” And I told them about an 7th Grade girl spurning my love, because I didn’t look like any of the Beatles. “BEATLES 65 was the last record I bought.”

“She was right.” Carol lay on the sand. “You don’t look like any of the Beatles.”

“You want to go for a swim?”

Carol nodded yes and I helped the blonde to her feet. Rockford winked at me, as if to say Carol was free. I shrugged to reply that it didn’t matter and followed Carol to the edge of the sea. The shore break was a vicious maze of undertows.

“Is the water always this cold?” She dipped her toe into the spreading fan of a dying wave.

“Humboldt Current.” Geography was my best subject in grammar school and I drew its path in the sky. “Past Japan, Kamchatka, the Bering Sea down the West Coast to here. This coast knows nothing, but cold.”

“I’m from North Dakota. That’s cold.” Carol accepted the finality of the Pacific Ocean and plunged into the sea. She was a good swimmer and I swam after her to where several surfers bopped on their short boards. They greeted her by name. She had been on this beach for two years.

Twenty minutes later AK and Rockford swam out to us. The waves formed tubes of foam. The surfers cut across the face with ease. We rode them straight to the beach.

As a child on the South Shore of Boston my parents had packed the station wagon for a venture to the beach. Wollaston, Nantasket, and Horseneck beaches were nothing like Encinitas.

Exhausted after a half-hour the four of us dragged our bodies from the sea like shipwrecked sailors. Carol dried off, as AK, Rockford, and I smoked a joint of Acapulco Gold and laid back on the sand. I stared at the sky and remembered that I had forgotten about Viet-Nam, Watergate, and much more that was happening in America, for on the beach below Encinitas the world was simply sea, sun, skin, and sand.

The sunset signaled time to leave the beach.

Carol pulled on a macrame top. Her nipples were flattened under the tight net. Rockford pointed to the rising tide.

“We better go. Newcomers get caught against the cliffs all the time.” The solemnity of his voice indicated that not everyone survived the sneaky sea.

“We wouldn’t want that.” AK collected his things and we headed for the cliff path.

A minute later we were reached the bluff and surveyed the ocean with eyes of adoration.

“A fine day.” Rockford stared into the sun, as if it were his creation. “You should come to our house. We can play music and I have some serious LSD. Where better than here?”

The sky prismed red above the rim of the Pacific and Rockford pointed out a low bungalow surrounded by jasmine trees.

“Any time you want.” Rockford hooked his arm with Carol. “Later, brothers.”

AK watched the two enter the house.

“What you thinking?” I had to ask.

“That I wouldn’t mind not leaving here.” AK was in love with where we were at this moment.

“Me too.” We left the bluff with the sunset at our back. Tomorrow was six hours away from today and today was right where it was supposed to be in late June 1974.


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