Thursday, January 24, 2013

Mucho Frio

When it gets cold like this—(‘How cold is it?’ the disembodied voice of Ed McMahon asks in my very much embodied brain)—like well below thirty degrees (Fahrenheit), and twenty nine is well below thirty when we get down in this range, I know what to do.  At least, I know what I do.

I get out the old Ipod touch (circa 2008, I like vintage issues), jack it into the Bose sound system I bought (equal payments spread over 12 months, which somehow I have turned into a lifetime of debt penury), tap on the playlist called “Surf,” crank up the volume to the point just below where the fillings in my teeth would liquefy, and grab my board. That last bit—about the board—that’s metaphorically speaking.

Not that I don’t have a board…well, actually not that I actually have a board.  I have pictures of boards, lots of pictures of lots of boards, so I grab one or more of them, and that’s close enough, or as close as I care to get.  To the board.  Same-same, as we used to say, back in the day.

I always wanted to be a surfer…ever since I heard surf music.  Even before I could distinguish Dick Dale from Link Wray from the Chantays from the Ventures from the Trashmen.  All that mattered then, as it does now, was that sound, that electrified glass Mexican ukulele equal parts ice and mercury sound.  And the pictures that went along with it; that were produced by it.  Warmth.  Warm water.  Warm sunshine.  Warm sand.  Warm bodies.

How old was I at the time?  Who was counting, back then, especially now when I’m old enough to know better and will never tell?   All I know was that I knew there was a place, there had to be a place where people, kids actually, as kids were the people I cared about, were living the life in the pictures created by the electrified glass Mexican ukulele equal parts ice and mercury sound.

We had kids here, where I lived too, but they weren’t living in any picture of warmth, believe me.  Plus, those kids, over there, had an ocean.  Which we did not. 

And girls.  We had girls too, but these girls, being real, weren’t about to waste their precious time with me.

And their girls were blonde, or blondes, real blondes, not like the suicide blondes that weren’t about to waste their precious time with me.  Those blondes weren’t coming my way.  They weren’t going my way, either.  Which didn’t give me a whole lot of confidence in my way.  As a matter of fact, pretty much nothing was going my way, which, I’m sure, you’ve already figured out is the back story to this back story.

But enough about that.  Nobody’s looking for pity here.  Least of all me and even if I were I wouldn’t look for it from or among you lot.  No way, Jose. 

Those kids had the Pacific Ocean, blondes, bikinis, and wonder of wonder, parents who didn’t mind, or didn’t care, if those kids spent hours, days, school years at the beach exposing flesh to wind, sun, salt, and each other, in excess.  IN EXCESS.  What lovely words.

Where was I?  Here?  There?  Now?  Then?  Whatever.  I wanted to be a surfer for reasons too numerous to mention which I have already enumerated.

And I could have been one, too.  Except… well I hated water.  Still do.  Don’t even drink it, if I can avoid it,   unless it’s convincingly masked by something else, that something else being alcohol whenever possible.

Swimming?  Then?  Only because I had to in order to pass physical education in order to graduate high school, so I could avoid being drafted and go to college and be drafted after I graduated college.  Helluva plan.  

Swimming?  Now?  Out of the question.  Part of being an adult, a senior adult is being able to arrange one’s life to never ever do again the things you always hated doing.  Like high school.  Like dating.  Like getting drafted.  I pity you, you young ones.  Not that I’m gloating.   It’s not nice to gloat, and if you think I am, well go ahead and sue me, pischers.  Take it up with my lawyer.  Hah, hah.

Where was I?  Swimming?  No.  Not swimming?  Correctomundo!  That certainly puts a crimp in the old surfing safari, though, doesn’t it?

And then again, I lived in the Midwest, back in the day when it was the industrial Midwest.  We had rivers and lakes.   We even had something that qualified as a Great Lake, but really, everything’s relative—great compared to other lakes, pathetic compared to the ocean, even if such a comparison could be made, which it should not be. Besides, a lake is water.

Even if I didn’t hate water, I was hardly about to venture into a lake, or worse yet the river, which was truly more industrial canal than river, with rats just a bit smaller than alligators and twice as territorial.

So surfing then?  Not happening.

I didn’t get to California until I was nineteen and by then I thought I was probably too old  and it was probably too late to learn how to surf, surfing being in my mind akin to ballet or Olympic gymnastics—start young or never.

Where did that leave me?  Here?  There?  There it left me on the beach, scanning the beach for real blondes in real bikinis.  That was as close as I got to surfing… then.  And it was close, but no cigar. 

Still, I actually saw the surf, and I heard the sound emanating from the surf,  the  electrified glass Mexican ukulele equal parts ice and mercury sound, with just a touch of crystal meth added for seasoning—this being California and all during that period when speed and crank were like mother’s milk to some. 

There was the music and I never felt that I was betraying my roots in rhythm and blues, soul, Motown, blues by hoarding disc after disc featuring that electrified glass Mexican ukulele equal parts ice and mercury with just a touch of crystal meth sound.  Especially since I pretty much kept it secret from my rhythm and blues, soul, Motown, and blues loving friends.  Then.

Now?  Now I’m an adult, a senior adult, and I don’t care what anybody thinks.  About me.  About music.  About anything.  I thumb my nose at the whole bunch of you.  Go ahead and sue me.  Hah, hah. 

So today, or a day like today, when the high is eighteen degrees (Fahrenheit) and the low is not to be discussed in front of children, I hit that surf playlist and as Shannon sang in another era, the disco era, “let the music play.”

The Ventures. Link Wray, inventor of the power chord.  Dick Dale, the king of them all, who brought the Mediterranean to California, via Boston,  with his “Hava Nagila” as written for and played on a nail gun.  The Looney Tunes.  Who can ever forget that hit by the……uhh, just a second, it’s on the tip of my tongue—yeah the Blazers… called “Beaver Patrol.”  One of my favorites, for obvious reasons.  And the Esquires, from Texas of all places.  Not much surf in Texas but there’s some sort of weird connection between Texas and California.  Texas, after all, was the home to the 13th Floor Elevators who made the greatest psychedelic rock song ever “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” which was hardly about a summer of love.  That too is another era and another story.

Now? I’m much, much closer to surfing.  Closer than you might imagine.  My wife, you see, was born in Hawaii, honestly.  Even has a Hawaiian middle name, Leilani.  Leilani, believe it or not moved to California, well actually her parents moved but she went with them.  

In California, she surfed.  Honest to god real surfing with a board in the ocean.  In Laguna Beach where she lived and then in Santa Cruz where she lived.

And….Leilani is a real blonde.  Strawberry blonde, to be sure, but that’s close enough.  And she wore bikinis, back in the day.  

I hit that playlist and get my surf on.  I put on a pair of baggies, my huarache sandals, my Hawaiian print shirt (100% rayon, naturally), my sunglasses, and then that thing that pulls it all together, that white stuff on my nose.  

Well the table is set, so to speak, as is the mood, and I’m transported to that time of times which is right now, never was, and always will be, when it might be freezing cold but forever warm.  And my wife, whom I met in New York City, in January, when we agreed to share a cab to get out of a snowstorm… I call to her as the music builds.   “Honey, grab your board and your bikini.  Surf’s up!”

S. Artesian

January 24, 2013


  1. Great, now that Shannon song is stuck in my head.

    I grew up in Seaside Heights, too drunk to really get the hang of surfing, but I can appreciate the sentiment.

  2. Wow. Nice. Greetings from overcast, 55 degree southern California.