Saturday, November 21, 2009

Where do we all fit?

Saturday November 28th at 1:00 pm
The ship the "White Light" docked at Lido Village will depart at 1:00 for a 2 hour service....

The charter lasts approximately 2 hours and will perform the scattering in the ocean with a view of Newport Beach and then circle the site before heading back to the harbor.

Born August 29, 1954
Died September 29, 2009

So, another friend from a long time ago is gone. Like Jim D, Jim B, Steve S, and Alan, gone before they should have, gone before their life could be considered full, gone without putting it all together. Not like Tony, who did seem to have it all together. But like many others though, gone after a struggle with addiction as well as that old problem, where do I fit in?

Facebook (and Diane, bless her heart) distributed the news. Thanks to that social medium, we got to remember the Balboa Peninsula Point gang, and as Vic, Joe's brother, described it with our gangs of tanned kids roaming the streets of what many, including me, didn't recognize as paradise while we were growing up. Many reunioned last summer, and by all accounts, had a ball strolling down memory lane. Balboa for me back then was beach, surf, skateboards, girls and boys, an enclave where kids could be out late, be relatively safe except for whatever trouble, the normal kind given that it was the 60's, we could find. Those gang members that got together last summer are adults now, with marriages, with kids, careers, mortgages, and the memories that tie us together.
Summer school teachers living in the Pacific NW didn't make it down for the party. Missed it. “You really missed it, Williams!” Oh well, wait until next year, maybe, until Facebook delivered this news.
Pick up the phone. Call Larry to get the scoop. Call Vic. Hadn’t talked to either for over 40 years. “Blast from the Past.” “What happened to Joe? Where have the years gone? Do you have kids? What are you doing with your time? ‘I’m sorry to hear that, but it’s great to hear your voice.’ What happened to all of us?”

But others missed it as well, including Joe. What's with that? Larry and Vic filled me in on the bare outline. The rest I can just guess about.
Joe lived there, still. In the house where he grew up. Where I had made my first friends since the move. After my Mom died, my Dad remarried within a year, and then we moved, away from my friends, from the baseball I played, from the school I enjoyed, where I had thrived, down to that ‘paradise’ (You’re moving to the beach? Lucky!) that I didn't recognize.
After a year of being out of sorts, wondering where I fit in, reading the World Book Encyclopedia (yes, I read it all), finally there were friends, Vic and Joe. They introduced me to the Wedge, their front yard. They played poker in their rooms upstairs, fought like cats and dogs (I wonder if the holes from the steel-tipped darts that Joe fired at Vic and landed on his slamming door are still there?), and pinball. Vic was cool, the only kid I knew with an actual pinball machine in his room. And we surfed. Bodysurfed, and later after their Dad got them twin Gordy long boards, (I got a Velzy that year for Xmas, knew about it before the Big Unveiling by sneaking upstairs and checking out Santa's stash), we surfed on boards. Road the waves. Shot the curl. Tried to Hang-Five. Maybe even Ten. Newport Pier, Santa Ana River Jetties, where the OC sewer met the OC sea, Huntington Beach, Surf City, here we come. We surfed a lot. Joe's mom (Vic’s too) would drive us and we surfed every chance we could get.

And Joe got to be pretty good. Real good. As we got older, other activities crowded into my surfing time. My Dad insisted I get a job, first a paper route, then at the supermarket, so my summers were wasted (Ha-ha!) bagging groceries. Coupled with that came all the drama (girls, and other hobbies) that high school itself involved and most of that took up the rest of my time.
But Joe still surfed. Taking on the Wedge on the big days. Always in the water. Once, during one of those times when the swell was up but I had to take my shift at the El Rancho (that's what we Williams did, we were responsible! On time! Earned a paycheck!), Joe chided me. "Summer's the only time to get really good, Williams!" implying that I wasn't a good surfer and that he was, and we both knew that. And, after a particularly epic summer day of huge south swell, glassy conditions, hot, wet and thrilling, that I spent as a shopping cart jockey, Joe rubbed it in, ‘“You really missed it, Williams!”

Adolescence, then adulthood, and hobbies, including alcohol and dope, coupled with other responsibilities and interests, girls, sex, relationships, where do I fit? Who am I? What I am to be, I am now becoming, or something like that, it says at RHS, but what if I don't like either who I am or what am I becoming? Which group suits me best? Surfers? Jocks? Brains? Stoners? Artsy? Where should I go? Why do I have to be burdened with this 'great potential' that my Dad doesn't want me to squander, or I that I don’t want to squander so he would once again be disappointed, but I could give a rip about really, especially if the waves are good and I don't have to be responsible for myself, my friendships, the way I treat others, relationships that in the words of the day, I can just choose to 'shine it on,' plus potential, what’s with that anyway, and deal with the regret and what might have been later, self-anesthetizing all the way.
Manny, Martha’s husband and who makes a great chile verde, described us as spoiled, rich kids, especially when listening about this adolescent, existential angst. He’s right, you know.
I went away to college, started to grow up in fits and starts, traveled, made different friends, found out I wasn't so smart, maybe didn’t have more potential than all the other overachievers who surrounded me, found others who shared my hobbies, (alcoholics and addicts can seek each other out), worked, went to grad school, met the woman who saved my life, and finally moved away from California all together. Kids, careers, mortgages, family triumphs and tragedies, some unexpected, some not, bar and bat mitzvahs, raising teenagers, paying for them in college, learning that the scary thing is knowing how much trouble I could get away with without my parents' knowing and that my kids could do the same...(Did they know?  Or did they not know how do talk about it, so it was easier for them just to have another drink, or more likely, they were dealing with their own demons and confusion, and just making it up as they go along, the secret of adulthood...), and wherever you go, there you are.

And, Joe still surfed. And, apparently, lived in the house with the Wedge in the front yard. Jim made it as a lawyer, but ended up surrounded by boxes of wine, an infinite collection of Dylan, a manuscript that no one would read, and an internet girl friend. Steve didn't make it through film school, never held a job, and died in front of his face-to-face girl friend. Alan, probably the most talented and creative of them all, died in a parking lot, or so the story goes. Too many Luckies. Did they ever find where they fit in?

Christmas the real paradise with the family, June-baby asked me to go with her to meet some friends. Those friends met several times a week, some every day. They shared a hobby and liked to talk about it, had to talk about it, why they had that hobby and what it meant to them and to those around them they loved. And, the words just came out. Yes, I belonged. This is one place where I fit. There are plenty of others, including family, at the college, among others. I’m fine, thank you, and quite lucky to be a survivor.

And it's fitting that Joe's ashes will be spread in the ocean he loved, where he seemed to fit. But, it was on dry land, with other people, with the complexities and the responsibilities, the compromises and other messiness of relationships, that adult world, where Joe and Jim D and Steve S, could never seem to get it together.

Hank was right, "You'll never get out of this world alive." That's not the point. It's being here now that's the point. We all can be somewhere else later, and maybe, probably, it's not about us anyway. It's all about the compromises and the messiness and everyone else and the relationships. Maybe I won't be on the boat on November 28, but I'll be there in spirit, and I'll be at the next reunion in person to see all the other survivors.

1 comment:

rpd said...

Sorry Andy. This is all so bittersweet isn't it.