The year was 1974.
The season was the endless summer of Southern California.AK and I were products of the Baby Boom. We were on a long vacation. We didn’t have to be adults until the fall.
We carefully picked our descent down the cliff. A careless stumble was dangerous from this height. Several minutes later we set foot in the sand. Ours were the first of the day. There wasn’t a car or house in sight.“What you think about staying here?” The warm 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. AK had been there a month and I had crashed on the porch for three weeks.“I know that.” Encinitas got cold at night. “I was talking about California.”“You mean not go back to Boston?” The New Yorker had a teaching job starting in September and a faithful girlfriend waiting on the South Shore.“It’s not like I have a job like you.” Recruiters from the banks and corporations had sneered at my stammer as a disability. I had only gone on the interviews to please my mother. My future was an unknown commodity.“But Boston is your home.” AK had left Long Island at the age of 18. The pianist had lived away for five years. His home could be anywhere.“I’ll always be from Boston no matter what.” The collapse of last year’s Red Sox hadn’t weakened my New England roots, but the cold, snow, and ice were hard to take in the winter. “But I like it here.”“What’s there not to like.” AK admired our surroundings and then stated the obvious, “If we stay, we need to make some money“I know.” My vacation stake was down to $200. Boston was 3000 miles to the East.“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.Our long hair was bleached by the sea. Our skin was bronzed by the flay of the sun. The hours of bodysurfing the vicious waves of the shorebreak tuned our bodies into a geometric equation of muscles and bones. The surfers gave us nicknames.
My friend rode all the way to the beach, while I preferred to loll over the crest into the trough like a log.
AK was Flotsam and I was Jetsom.
Each surge was born from a menage a quatre between wind, earth, sun, and water. The waves of my native Atlantic were too small to feel this wedding of the four elements. Everything about the Pacific was big. The swells originated thousands of miles from shore. The current ran from the Arctic south to Antarctica from to the south. We were one with nature and the planet.
Later that afternoon AK plucked a familiar tune on the kalimba, while I wrote in my journal. He was getting good.“I know that song.” I had danced to it last week at a gay bar in San Diego.“Number 1 in America.” He rocked on his hips to ROCK THE BOAT. “C’mon, dance.”“Not now?” I tried to complete a poem about my first sighting of the Rockies from the Great Plains. The view had been from a bar in Sterling, Colorado. It was called the Inferno Lounge. I wrote ‘fields of wheat fly across the earth with the wind’.“Let’s see that.” AK snatched away my journal and after reading a few lines, said, “The key to writing is putting the seat of your trousers on the seat of the chair.”“Didn’t Graham Greene say that?” I loved his books POWER AND THE GLORY and OUR MAN IN HAVANA.“He might have said it, but the quote comes from Mary Heaton Vorse. She was an American journalist and labor activist who predates Greene by a few decades,” AK said with convinced authority. He had a degree in English.“I stand corrected, but what does that have to do with my writing.”“Just that you have to keep writing. Every day. As much as you can. Sandy Koufax didn’t become a great pitcher by accident. He worked at it.”“So my poems are nothing.” They didn’t even rhyme.“No, but they need work. Same as my piano playing.” AK worked on the keyboards two hours in the morning and two at night. “Work, work, work and maybe one day your books will be next to Graham Greene.”“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. The white crests of the waves mimicked the Rockies. The time disappeared into the ocean and the high tide ran into the cliffs.“Let’s go.” AK grabbed his towel and we scrambled to the dirt trail with water surging over our ankles. The surfers crowded the path ahead of us. Getting caught on the beach was playing with death.Atop the bluff we regained our breath. A long-haired hippie in a flowered sarong sat cross-legged playing a flute. He was a regular at sunset.His tune wandered through tempo and his body rocked with the movement of his fingers. Pursing his lips with purpose he blew a shrieking high note. I winced, as if my ears had drunk bitter lemon.He opened his eyes. They were shiny as glass. He nodded to AK.“Didn’t realize I had an audience.” His accent was from the cornfields. “How was that last note?”“It wasn’t a C 3rd Octave. More like an A.” AK had attended Berkley School of Music for two years after graduating from his college.“Some people think the highest note is a D.” The hippie looked like John Lennon without the tinted glasses. He spoked with a disjointed voice, as if her body and mind were more than one. “Are you a musician?”“I play piano.” AK was modest about his talents. He had only started on piano three years ago.“And your friend?” He studied my face. The pupils behind the glasses were huge.“I play the kazoo.” I had tried the bass in 1965. My fingers had been ripped to shreds.“Fran Zappa used the buzz of the mirliton on HUNGRY FREAKS and Jimi Hendrix played a paper-covered comb to get the busted amp effect in CROSSTOWN TRAFFIC.”“I love FREAK OUT.” The Mothers of Invention was the first and only record that I stole from a store.“Cool.” The hippie nodded with the bliss of musical communion. He turned his head to the setting sun. It disappeared into the ocean within a minute. The flute player rose from the ground with the grace of a trapeze artist. “I’ll see you around.”“Later.” Good-byes were short on the bluff.“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.“He plays like a hippie. No sense of anything.” AK tended to regard music with the seriousness of a late convert.“He was high on LSD.”“How could you tell?”“The eyes.” The black pools were wide-open for light. “And the way he spoke.”“It seemed like a good trip.” AK was into pot. Hash was hard drugs to him.“It’s all about your surroundings.” I had dropped acid more than twenty times. The bad outnumbered the good.“Would you do it here?” he asked entering the local grocery store.“MY mind is open to anything.”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. AK looked over her shoulder.“A still life.” Dotty worked as the breakfast waitress at an organic restaurant on the PCH and attended 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 her teacher 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 had been hired as a choreographer working at a small movie studio in Hiollywood. 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. According to AK her trust fund worth millions.“I could make myself scarce.” I offered, since 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 three 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 rewrite 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 disciplined by the countless repetitions.“Listen to this.” I stood over AK. He was reading John Steinbeck’s CANNERY ROW.“No way.” AK 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 tell 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. His skin was tight over his bones. The torn denim shorts were several size too big for his waist. Fragile sunglasses rested on his long nose, as he strummed an acoustic guitar. A golden blonde girl was keeping tune on a tambourine.Leather bracelets adorned her slender wrists and glass beads glistened around her neck. A tan macrame top covered her breasts, although her hardened nipples protruded against the loosely woven material. A matching skirt was hauled high on her thighs. Her head nodded to the guitar’s bassline and AK accompanied the two on his kalimba.My friend looked up and said hi.They stopped playing and AK introduced Rockford and Carol. The blonde was more comfortable with her nakedness than me. She made no attempt to cover herself.“You seem interested in Carol.” Rockford wrapped his guitar with a towel.“She reminds me of someone.” As soon as I said those words, I placed Carol’s face. “Were you at Woodstock?”“I was 14 in 1969.” Her smile was bemused by the thought of being at the Aquarian gathering in Upstate New York. “Living with my parents in Texas.”“You don’t have an accent.” I had a copy of LIFE magazine’s special edition on Woodstock. Carol looked like the blonde girl on the first full-page photo, but she was too young to be her.“I was an Army brat. We moved around.” She arranged the bracelets and shook out her hair. “Were you at Woodstock?”“No, I worked that weekend.” Washing dishes instead of dropping acid. I was 17.“Doesn’t matter where you were as long as you have the feeling.” Rockford aimlessly strummed on his guitar before singing, “I just seen a face I can’t remember the place.”After a few bars Rockford segued into another Beatles song.It was the dreaded HEY JUDE. The 1968 hit was over seven minutes long with Paul McCartney singing eighteen ‘Hey Jude’. To my sixteen year-old ears I thought that the Cute Beatles had repeated the two words a million times.“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.” It dated back to before HEY JUDE.“We have time. The tide is still out.” Rockford glanced at the ocean, as if its substance had shifted from water to gold.“I’ll tell the short version. I had a girlfriend in 7th Grade. I sang her Ginny rejected me, because I didn’t look like any of the Beatles. BEATLES 65 was the last record I bought. I’ve boycotted them since.”“You didn’t buy MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR?” Rockford was shocked by my apostasy. The Beatles were gods to many.“No, they weren’t rock and roll anymore.” The control of the band had been taken over by the studio engineer and Paul McCartney’s drive to be the Elvis of the 60s.“Weren’t rock?” The hippie played BACK IN THE USSR. “That’s not rock.”“Okay, I’m wrong about that song.” I was rarely right to Beatles fans.“And what about this one?” Rockford changed the chords for BABY I’M A RICH MAN.“John is not Paul.” Lennon would have never written YOUR MOTHER SHOULD KNOW.“Deep.” Rockford zoned into a buzzing haze and turned to AK. “Your friend is deep.”“Some times deep as the ocean and other times shallow as an evaporation stain on a desert highway.” AK was getting a contact high from the tripster.“That girl was right.” Carol kneeled on the sand and studied my face. Her eyes were an intense blue. She smelled of musk. We were the only two people on the beach. “You don’t look like any of the Beatles.”“And that was a good thing.” I was more into the Stones. HIS SATANICAL MAJESTY’S REQUEST was my favorite theme LP. Still Ginny’s kisses had been sweet. “I just wanted to be me.”“Me is never a bad thing as long as you are me.” Her statement verged into the simpleminded mysticism. She smiled with a question mark. Her pupils were expanded to the rims of her retina. Rockford and she were tripping on LSD.“Who do you think this ‘me’ looks like?” I was asking Carol to be my mirror. LSD gave visions. Some visions were true.“A drifter. Someone without anywhere to go. Don’t look so hurt. Everyone on this beach, everyone in California is a drifter. Rockford and me. We’re drifting with the weather. Some drifters are good, some are bad.” She wasn’t trying to hurt my feelings. This was her view of the world for right now.“And some are in-between.” I had seen the good and the bad hitchhiking down the coast from San Francisco.“Not some. Only those not willing to decided whether they like good better than bad.” She reached up for my hand. “Let’s go for a swim?”I pulled the blonde to her feet. She stripped off her top and skirt and ran toward the sea.Rockford winked at me, as if to say Carol was on her own.I shrugged to reply that her freedom was her own business and followed the naked blonde to the edge of the sea.The shore break was a vicious maze of undertows.“Why 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.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.”“Cold from the cold.” Carol 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.“You have a lot of friends.” I treaded water in the swells, as we drifted south from the surfers.“I’ve been living on this beach for the last two years. You want to hear my story. It won’t take long.” Carol paddled on her back. Her breasts, belly, and thighs were islands of flesh in the sun. “I left home at 18 heading for Haight-Ashbury. It was a tough place. Speed freaks and junkies ripping off the flower people.”“I went through there last month. It’s not a nice place. Some people tried to rob me.” I stroked to keep close to her. The current was running strong. I wanted to stay near the beach. “I was lucky to get away from them.”“Those people are a bummer. I fell into a bad crowd and did some drugs I shouldn’t have done.” She wasn’t filling in the blanks. “It could have been worst, but two years ago I ran into Rockford. He sort of rescued me from that scene. We traveled up and down the coast staying at communes. The people were always groovy.”“How long you been here?” I checked the beach. We were getting out too far and I indicated that we were caught in a riptide.“Since May.” Carol swam to the side rather than fighting the offshore stream. “You know he never touched me once.”“Not once?” The crest of the wave lifted us ten feet in the air. The break was shifting with the tide. The surfers scrapped the water to get into the set.“Never, but that didn’t stop him from talking about it.” She looked at the beach. AK and Rockford were not at the blanket.“Men talk about it a lot.” I suspected that ‘it’ was sex. “At least when women aren’t around.”“Rockford is all talk. I really liked him too.” Carol neared me and brushed against my body. Her nipples were hard against my chest. “Do you think I’m pretty?”“Yes.” The next swell was even higher. If the water wasn’t so cold, my erection would have been straining against my denim shorts.Rows of waves cordoroyed the sea.Our conversation was cut short by AK and Rockford joining us in the surf.“Looks like a big set building up.” Rockford eyed funnels of foam circling to the left. The surfers crouched inside the tubes and skated over the tops of the waves with ease. We rode them straight to the beach. One caught me in a washing machine and slammed my body into the sand.Carol pulled me out of the water.“Are you okay?”“Fine.” Stars flashed across my eyes. I shook my head to clear away the cosmos.As a child on the South Shore of Boston my parents had packed the station wagon for a venture to the beach. The waves at Nantasket and Horseneck beaches were ripples in comparison to the growlers at Encinitas.“I’m ready when you are.”I dove into the next wave and raced Carol to the break. She beat me by a body length. Pelicans floated on the rise of wind. A seal popped its head from the water. Its eyes were coal black. Palm trees rimming the bluffs hid most of the cliff top houses. The sky was shear blue.This was the land of beach bums. We were hippies. The surfers were family. Carol and I dove under a breaking wave and surfaced a foot from each other.“I’d like to trip with you some time.” She held my hand.“Me too.” I hadn’t dropped LSD in a year.“You turn on?”“Last time I was in the White Mountains with three friends. We sat in the Saco River. it was ice-cold, but we heard it talking, then some kid comes out of the forest and asked if we knew the way home. My friend thought he was Jesus and we freaked a little until his sister grabbed him by the ear and told him not to talk with strangers. It was a good trip.” I knew that the young boy wasn’t Jesus. Even on acid I was still a non-believer.“It’s good at opening your mind.” Carol nodded her head to the incoming wave. It was a monster. I caught it right and my body stuck out of the face like a log for a good fifty feet before I was buried by a few hundred tons of ocean.Exhausted after a half-hour in the heavy surf the four of us dragged our bodies from the sea like shipwrecked sailors.“Can you get my back?” Carol handed me a towel.“He probably could get your front, if you asked him nice.” Rockford resumed his meditative pose with his feet tucked into his ankles.“My front I can do myself.” Carol took back the towel. 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 for the last hours I had forgotten about Viet-Nam, Watergate, and much more that was happening in America, for below the bluffs the world was simply sea, sun, skin, and sand.At sunset Carol pulled on a macrame top and skirt. She shook the wet out of her head. The color was a streaked blonde.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 had reached top of 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.”“Clear Light.” Carol rolled her eyes, as if she was experiencing a flashback.“I’m in.” The sky prismed red to blue above the Pacific. “Where better than here.”“You might have a point.” AK wasn’t into heavy drugs.“Any time you want.” Rockford hooked his arm with Carol and pointed out a low bungalow surrounded by jasmine trees. “That’s our place. Give us a day or two to recover, then we’ll talk, brothers.”
“Peace.”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. We were back in the world of cars, but tomorrow the beach was ours again and tomorrow was six hours away from today and today was right where it was supposed to be in late June 1974.California.