When I was a teenager in southern California a million years and four months ago, there was one guaranteed route to the interest of girls, and to my infinite chagrin, it was neither facility with language nor quick wit, of which I’d lots. It was surfing. I’d grown up terrified of the water, and learned to swim only on the verge of adolescence, but was far from confident about my abilities. Watching others surf at D&W (that is, Dockweiler) State Beach in Playa del Rey, I was pretty sure that if I tried it, the surfboard would fly high into the air, and then come back down on my head, greatly diminishing my facility with language, at best, or killing me, at worst.
I nonetheless importuned my parents to let me buy a surfboard with some of the money I’d earned delivering fruit a few years before, and later delivering the Westchester News-Advertiser a couple of times a week. They reluctantly agreed. I had somehow managed to attach myself, barnacle-like, to Mr. Gary Green, who was a good drummer (he’d later star in Warner Bros. recording group The Glass Family), and, much more importantly, cachet-wise, the boyfriend of our junior high school’s beyond-ravishing Marilyn Monroe clone, Pat Wymer. He had a surfboard for sale. I calculated that its becoming known that I had bought Gary Green’s surfboard might cause those few who realized I was there at all to think of me as less an irredeemable dweeb.
|Gary's in the middle.|
We negotiated, Gary and I, and I got him down to $51, which will sound odd to those unaware of the fact that a buck in those days was a significant amount of money — worth around $267 in today’s. I took my new…board home, and, as I waxed it down in the garage, felt almost like a real boy, in the Pinocchian sense. Sooner, or later, though, I knew that if I didn’t actually take it to the beach, my parents, avid believers in not squandering money, would give me an earful of grief. So down I went, and, with the utmost trepidation, into the water, where I almost immediately got in the way of a fellow surfer (a fellow surfer!), whose fin pretty nearly cleaved me in two as he whooshed exultantly overhead. “Maybe I’d better give this some more thought,” I thought, and headed back to the shore, where I waited for a girl resembling a younger Ursula Andress to come over and suggest we have sex. That, mysteriously, failed to transpire, and I decided I’d had enough surfing for one day, whereupon I carried the damned thing (surfboards in those days weighed approximately as much as Volkswagens) the two miles home.
Thus both began and ended my surfing career, at least the sort done with a surfboard. I later became a reasonably accomplished and very avid bodysurfer, but bodysurfing didn’t get one laid.
We now fast-forward a million years and four months to yesterday, September 11. It was infernally hot yet again, so I drove myself down in mid-afternoon to Santa Monica, to the beach on which I’d frolicked with my parents as a four-year-old. I went in. It was strangely unrefreshing. I lay for a while on the beach, and then resolved to walk south toward Venice. I hadn’t gone 10 steps before I noticed what looked like American paper currency in the water. I was right. It was a $1 bill. Which was considerably less exciting than the $50 one I noticed near to it, and managed to snag. For a moment, I was afraid someone — Neptune, himself? — might shout, “Hey, put that back, you,” but no one did. I headed south with great rapidity, past the part of the beach popular with blacks and Latinos, and under the pier, probably the coolest (in terms of temperature) place in Los Angeles County, $51 richer, thinking that maybe the Pacific Ocean was paying me back for Gary Green’s surfboard.
Hats off, incidentally, to Gary. As a hopeless dweeb turned fawning acolyte, I had nothing atll for him at the time, but he suffered my devotion with unflagging grace. If only there’d been many more like him in my childhood. Better yet, if only I hadn’t bought in to the idea of the things I was good at being valueless.