Morale is High (Food is Low)

Sorting through my pack for a water bottle, I feel a puddle of sticky liquid at the bottom. I lean closer and inhale. It stinks and my lips feel numb and blue.

I go into damage control, slower than usual after repeated tugs from a whiskey bottle. Luckily, a pair of boxers and bag of bagels are soaking up most of the gas. After pulling everything out of my backpack, I toss the bagels into the fire and watch a fiery plume spike into the night sky.

The flame wilts a bit and I retreat back to the tent. It’s dark and my brother breathes deep in his sleeping bag. I shift to get comfortable but a looming paranoia has loosened my brain cells. They fire off a laundry list of potential disasters… Rattlesnakes! Ticks! Bad water! Food shortage! A field of poison oak. Death by combustion.

Laying there I think I sense a sudden heat-spike. Maybe it’s just lighter. The clouds have moved to reveal the moon. But in my heightened state of awareness I can hear the pop of old redwoods and sand nearing its melting point. I will the tide to swell – to surge – to put out the fire.

The next morning I wake to a moral hangover. The clouds have us socked in and the waves are grey and lifeless. My brother and I start to make breakfast, but I swear it tastes like gasoline. He seems to not notice.

We pack our things. My sleeping bag goes first. Then, the rain fly, a can of beans and a roll of toilet paper. I clip the fuel bottle into a carabiner and attach it to the side of my pack.

**

We walk with everything on our back and already we’re making progress. I skip from rock to rock, trying to avoid stepping in tide pools. The act of placing one foot in front of the other gives rhythm to the day. We’re moving which means we’re closer to something.

I pull away from the group, to conduct a check-in of sorts, wondering why through all of this I haven’t once wished to be anywhere else. The muscles in my legs are warm and my pack fits nicely against my back.

The rest of the group catches up and I silently join the ranks. Nothing is said about my retreat and we begin to walk again, eager to get to our next destination before the tide covers our tracks.

One Fast Move or I’m Gone

“Duncan?” said a voice in the doorway.

I turned to see a young, Asian man wearing a black leather jacket. His hair was spiked like a mountaintop and his leather boots were worn and dusty. He moved into my room and introduced himself as, “the guy moving in.”

I welcomed him. Surprised he was here so early. My lease wasn’t up until the next day. But he set his motorcycle helmet on a dusty dresser and began surveying the room.

**

There was a leaning tower of clothes, a stack of valuables (my passport, a knife wrapped in a stuff sack and a collection of birthday cards) and a pile of uncategorized stuff – dusty soccer cleats, an expired ID and an orange t-shirt with a rip through the chest.

The move was a chance to embrace minimalism. To enter a headspace where possessions were just material things, like empty beer bottles. But by grouping everything into piles, I’d magnified the emotional impact. I was no longer just throwing away a pennant flag but the entire 2004 Red Sox World Series.

“What’s the plan for the dings on the wall?” said the new guy, running a fingernail over one of the divots.

There were a network of scratches, mostly from tacks and nails jammed into the wall to support a string of prayer flags stretched across the room. I told him to take it up with the landlord. The larger dents in the wall weren’t mine though. I’d inherited them. The new guy snapped a few photos, muttering something about, “due diligence.”

He moved towards the window and eyed a reddish stain. I’d tried scrubbing it off but the wine must have set into the wood. Years ago, I’d kicked over a bottle of red while eating dinner with my girlfriend. I didn’t own any furniture at the time so we sat on the floor, legs crossed like Indian chiefs.

I offered some of the remaining furniture to the new guy. I’d found most of it on the sidewalk. But he shook his head and clasped his hands behind his back. He had blueprints for a new layout and as soon as I left, he was going to cover the walls with a fresh coat of grey paint.

The new guy motioned towards the leftover dresser and offered to help move it out to the street. So we took out the drawers and lifted, using the edges to maneuver through the front door, dropping the dresser by the trash.

“It’ll be gone in minutes,” I said. “Nothing lasts long in this neighborhood.”

It was true. Earlier I’d left thirty pound dumbbells by the curb to load into the car. Five minutes later they disappeared.

“How is the neighborhood around here?” the new guy asked, glancing at the apartments across the street.

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I told him it was ok and thought about the night someone threw a vodka bottle through our front window. The house had also survived two shootings – drive by’s that chopped up our front door with pockmarks. And most mornings the ground shimmered with broken glass from car windows getting beat to a pulp.

“Well, I have a scooter so I should be fine,” said the new guy. He must have seen me eyeing a shattered window.

The sun was getting low and I sensed that I only had a few more minutes, maybe seconds left. Cars sped up the hill, drivers squinting as they accelerated. Turk Street framed the setting sun, cradling it like a pearl.

I turned and jogged back inside to grab as much as I could from the three piles on the floor. I stuffed the Red Sox pennant and prayer flags into an empty guitar case. Out in the hall I could hear the new guy breathing steadily. He leaned on a squeaky floorboard and repeated something about a safety hazard. I heard the click of his camera.

He shook my hand as I walked out of the front door for the last time. A car pulled into the driveway next door. I leaned down to see if it was my pot smoking neighbor. He liked to sit out there rolling doobies. We usually exchanged head nods. My way of letting him know I wasn’t an asshole. Then, one day he rolled down his window as I climbed on my bike, and shouted something through a smoky haze.

“Hey cowboy! You riding off into the sunset?”

Something for Me

***

***

As is often the case, the obvious choice was clear. It was safe. Reliable. Less likely we’d botch a Saturday.

Ocean Beach has a direct line to the Pacific. Highly exposed to South Swells, it picks up the smallest traces of energy. And with its impressive sandbars (two), it amplifies that oceanic power, sometimes opening up passageways for surfers to slip through to some other-worldly place.

OB was the call. It had to be.

At least that’s what the app said. Like most things these days, Surfline’s forecasting tools use data to predict the future. An equation is created, fine-tuned, greased and oiled, until a desired success rate is achieved. The hypothesis matches the outcome. A science teacher shakes with satisfaction.

Screw romantic waxing, adventure ain’t the same! Increased accessibility means more people. More people mean more crowds. And more crowds mean statistically there’s a higher chance of surfing next to an asshole.

So, we went against reason and drove to China Beach, a small sliver of sand East of the Golden Gate Bridge, known more for the elderly Eastern European swimmers that inhabit its frigid waters, than for its surf.

Quietly we slipped into neoprene suits and paddled a hundred feet down the coast. Just out of sight, past black swatches of seaweed, recoiling, swirling, Medusa-like, long and monstrous, was a tiny wave.

It’s a weird wave – the takeoff spot fingertips from the point. You paddle towards barnacles and seaweed, harnessing the tidal energy just before it breaks, swerving left to avoid boils in the water.

At first I was afraid. It didn’t make sense. I was used to the one-dimensional approach of Ocean Beach. I pictured rocks raking out the bottom of my surfboard. But after a few lefts, I began to ease into the routine, moving closer and closer to the point, where the wave first started to break.

Not once did I think about Ocean Beach, which was probably firing amid hoots and hollers from a jacked-up lineup. I’d discovered something far more interesting. Something that was tangibly my own.

Motion in the South

Motion in the South from The Aftermath Music on Vimeo.

‘As little kids we used to catch him staring. Unblinking and wide eyed, he’d watch couples argue at our favorite Chinese restaurant. We ridiculed him for staring, telling him it was weird and unnerving, but years later I’m realizing that even at a young age he was just a keen observer with an eye for critical details.

This same razor-sharpe awareness for people and place is evident in a recent edit he made about his study abroad experience in South Africa, earning him a spot as the Adventure of the Week.’

——

Nanä -Polo & Pan

Summer in San Francisco is a lonely affair. It’s cloudy. It’s windy. Fog reigns. Even the Sunset district, curled up next to Ocean Beach, gets dismal and settles into gloomy hibernation, suddenly self conscious of its cracked sidewalks and sagging roofs.

Francois and my brother visit, both from warmer climates. We drink too much for old times sake but get lost in the dizzying effects of the booze, waking from restless sleep with dry throats, suddenly aware that it’s almost time to go back to our separate realities. Pull the chair closer to the desk. Start anew.

But for now we hike above the clouds and the sunlight makes the dry grass gold – warm -we’re suddenly aware of how big it all is. The vast space spans further than we can see.

We cross the Golden Gate, orange and strong, and I start to feel summer is ending, fall beginning. Frankie puts on a song, Nana, and we bounce into the city. From East to West, Nana delivers a bit of familiar energy – weird and lovable – melancholic but comforting.

———-