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.

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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?”

New York Part 2

D-man went to New York to see old homies and unhinge to the riffs of reverb-soaked guitar; I went to get laid. Too crass? I went to make some love that lasts. Better? Maybe.

h/t flowebro

It was a Thursday and it was snowing. Blizzarding, actually. I think we got two to three feet in as many days. Our bus driver plowed fearlessly through the storm, past rest stop scrums of eighteen wheelers and snow blasted billboards. My mom always says that some people were put on Earth for a reason. Well, I swear our bus driver was put on Earth to pilot Greyhound buses through blinding snow storms. After seven hours of certified rotten movies on mute and the intestinal cramps that accompany brake lock-ups, we were unceremoniously dropped off in the middle of Manhattan. That’s not true, the unceremonious bit, we – us riders – clapped when the bus slid to a final stop. Good job, boss, I got a lot riding on this.

I’d taken the weekend off. Sort of. I told my boss my grandfather was having a procedure done in New York City and needed me to accompany him. ‘Bad juju, man,’ D-man once told me when I pulled the same stunt to beatjuice around San Francisco with him. It’s one thing to drag your brother’s health into the karmic doghouse, but now your grandfather’s as well? Shit. Whatever. I’d had New York and its… colorful potential circled on my mental calendar for months. Girls from college, one in particular. I must have choreographed the reunion thousands of times in my head, during the purgatory of early-morning commutes and late-night, stare-at-the-ceiling boredom. Time to act, BopPop would understand.

 

I am acutely aware that my daydreams often play out less shapely and conclusive than the versions I conjure on the movie screen of my imagination. Especially the sexual ones. Oh, but it played so well in test screenings, my make-believe critics remark after each flop. I suppose that one scene was a little ambitious. The ice cube? That was never going to happen.

I pull my duffel bag from the snowbank where our bus driver had enthusiastically deposited it and begin down the street, blissfully ignorant of my location within the city, unabashed to be lost in the romance of no return ticket. Pulling out my phone, I announce my arrival in the city like a Cessna pilot carving a vapor trail message in the sky. Except by taciturnly worded text, not prop plane.

 

Wait, but that message wasn’t supposed to go out until later tonight, or even tomorrow, when forwardness is blunted by several scotch & sodas. Look at that, I’m already aberrating from the script. This screenwriter sucks anyway, I tell myself, hasn’t written a hit in years. Cars, plows, people, music, shouts, murmurs and light of all colors throb through the streets I tread like blood flow in our veins. Eight million heartbeats or just one? I can’t tell. I’m drunk on New York without taking a single sip. Time to be lucky.

The capacity to make such dubious gifts is a mysterious quality of New York. It can destroy an individual, or it can fulfill him, depending a good deal on luck. No one should come to New York to live unless he is willing to be lucky.                                                        – E.B. White

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.’

——