(if you missed the introduction to SUMMER | unscripted click here)
SUMMER | unscripted – OCEAN DAYS – part 1
a post with no photos... on purpose, kind of
And just like that, Lake Days turn to Ocean Days.
Well, not just like that.
First there are several intense and discombobulating days of travel and travel preparations… packing and repacking, cleaning, driving, rental car pick ups and returns, flights bought on the cheap and therefore taking us in quite the wrong direction in order to transfer to a plane that will take us the right direction, tired kids awake for a full 22 straight hours, terrible airport/rest stop food, one screaming match with the credit card company who decided that all my recent travel most certainly means “fraud” and that my account had been “compromised” so they took it upon themselves to cancel the card, which I only discovered at the a car rental counter in LAX (not my finest moment), one 25th high school reunion (mine), and one massive car vomit (not mine).
I haven’t posted in several days, but not for lack of writing, my friends. I have 5000 words on the subject of Lake Days that will post shortly (I know you can’t wait to get your hands on that puppy), but in the meantime, to stay current, I turn my attention to Southern California.
From the airport, we drive, famished, to Venice, to the On the Waterfront Café at the corner of Rose Ave. and the beach, for crispy shoestring French fries served with mayonnaise. It’s a slightly - delightfully - dive-y beach joint with seating on the beach side, and a courtyard in back, pool tables, pinball and dartboards inside. I don’t remember how we chose it exactly, but it became our place in Venice Beach a long time ago.
There’s always a pleasing mix of vacationers, local surfers, and bona fide Venice Beach characters hanging out there, drinking tall glasses of Erdinger with lemon wedges in the middle of the day. When I retreat to LA on my own periodically, I come here to write in the afternoons, nursing a glass or two of chardonnay until the sun goes down. An older black woman with a karaoke machine and a lawn chair sings standards in front of the café for hours at a time, and in my head she’s the soundtrack of many things I’ve written. I love her confidence, and total relaxation in doing what she knows she does well.
The kids order 7-Up and fries, and I think it’s fair to say that at this point I deserve a midday glass of wine, so I have one. We make big puddles of mayonnaise and swirl the ketchup in. We are disproportionately pleased with this fare. We are really, really happy.
I reach for my phone to take the kids’ picture, and realize I have left it in the car. I immediately think, Rats, now I won’t have pictures of today, our first moments in California. And I need them for the blog!
We finish our snack and saunter across the walkway to the beach, dodging cyclists. We take off our shoes and dig our feet the California sand. My ankles are swollen from the flight.
Violet breathes deep and says, dramatically, “Ahhhh. This is what the beach is supposed to smell like.”
“Guys, we have less than an hour,” I say, because our car is on a meter. “Today we’re just having a little wade, getting our feet wet.”
We find a spot in the sand; we have nothing with us, no towels or blankets, just our flip-flops and ourselves, a tube of sunscreen and a paper takeaway cup of leftover soda. The seagulls attack us anyway and take our 7-Up. I’m not kidding. A bird gets thirsty.
We walk to the edge of the water and wait for the first fizzy wave-edge to burble over our feet. As soon as it does, we whoop and wade in. “Don’t get your clothes wet,” I say, ”We have to get back in the car soon.”
The day is SoCal perfection. 77° and sunny, light breeze, the temperature of the water exactly right for swimming – startling for the first few seconds, then just comfortably cool.
The kids immediately go in well over their knees. “Oops,” they say flatly. Hutch’s baggy bermudas are drenched at the bottom and it’s quickly wicking upward; Violet’s cotton dress drags in the surf.
“I have to go in, Mom,” Hutch says. “Please can I go in my shorts? Please?!”
I understand completely. I want to lie right down in the soft bubbling sand here at the edge of the water and let the surf roll me… (Of course, last time Hutch did that, he wound up with sand crabs in his bathing suit that he didn’t discover until they fell out in the toilet at the restaurant where we went for lunch).
I cannot deny them a swim.
Hutch takes off his shirt, Violet removes the outer layer of her dress, leaving on its light cotton under-slip. They run into the water, laughing.
For twenty minutes they jump and dive, hurdle the white caps, let the waves tumble them like ragdolls. I stand knee deep in the ocean and watch them, and watch the clock, and again wish I could take pictures of this moment -- the moment of their return to the place that, even though they are true New Yorkers, is somehow their hearts’ equal home, as it is mine.
Kids around them have floats and sand toys, things we love, but don’t have with us today, and my kids are not wishing for those things right now. Being in the ocean is everything.
I feel my breath drop down into my belly. I mean, I actually note the moment that this involuntary shift happens. I love New York so deeply, but I wonder sometimes if it has made me a chest breather.
Too soon I have to call them out of the water. To my pleasant surprise they come with little fuss. We are here, for now, and for however many weeks it lasts; they know we will spend a lot of time at the beach.
As they wade toward me, they glow like St Elmo’s fire. It’s the sun reflecting off the surface of the water, of course... and it’s happiness. I feel like I’m seeing them in a pure state, in their element, unfiltered, unguarded -- and that something of each child’s personal essence is especially visible.
Hutch is kind of fundamentally a surfer dude. I mean that in the most positive possible sense – not some cartoonish way, of a slightly dim bleach blonde guy who uses words like “righteous” and “sick” in peculiar contexts. The surfers I know personally are intelligent, creative, sensitive, attuned people – writers and filmmakers whose experience of/respect for/relationship to the ocean is the substance of intellectual, spiritual and artistic pursuits. Hutch loves the water in general – lakes, pools, rivers - but he feels an inexorable pull to the Ocean; he recognizes (and loves to explain in excruciating detail), the individuality, potential, and splendor of each wave; he tells long stories about his “epic” encounters with them, and never tires of trying to somehow become one with them. Although at this point he's still just a body surfer and boogie boarder, you can tell he feels something in the ocean that goes well beyond mere refreshment and thrill seeking.
Violet, as she emerges now from the water, in drenched flimsy cotton, red hair dripping and windblown, looks almost unnervingly Botticellian -- like something that was just this moment born on the half-shell and raised from the depths of the sea. She is exhilarated, free, innocent… at eight, she is a child, a little girl who, despite her considerable intellect, still loves to be my baby. But her loveliness (can I say this as her mother?) is a bit beyond her years (my husband is fond of saying that "She is better than the sum of our parts," which though true, is pretty rude to say to one's wife) and there is this terrific contrast, this tension between the lithe beauty she is growing into and the coltish child clomping awkwardly out of the water, tripping and falling in the sand, laughing goofily, unselfconsciously at her own clumsiness. It’s an exquisite and sort of heartbreaking moment because it will only last this summer, maybe one more. She reaches the beach and momentarily notices how naked she looks in the wet slip, and like Venus in the myth, is suddenly modest, not yet ready to embrace and embody the fullness of her place in the world. I swoop in like one of the attending graces and offer to pull her dress on over top. Then, just as quickly, she forgets her shyness and plods across the sand as is, drying quickly in the sun and wind, the slip gradually becoming opaque again.
We head back across the beach, toward the car.
Violet says, “I can’t believe this is only our first day here!” She pauses. “Wait, IS this our first day here?”
“Violet!” I say. “Goose, we just got off the plane three hours ago!”
She laughs. “Oh!” she says. “I went into the water and forgot everything but the waves!”
I hear you, girlfriend.
As we drive through rush hour traffic to see friends in the Valley, the kids briefly fall asleep in the car. Their heads loll to the side and their sandy legs curl onto the car seat. They’ve already been up for 17 hours, and they sleep deeply if only for a few minutes.
I consider Violet's quip and realize that, more than just saying something cute and true, she captured something quite profound. Didn’t she simply and succinctly express the essence of my Summer | unscripted writing project? To go into the Lake, the Ocean, the Canyon and forget everything you thought you knew and just experience it? See what it has to tell you, show you?
I must consciously place myself in that mental/spiritual space, devise a writing project as catalyst; she just exists in that space, with no sense of time - in the clock sense or the life one - no ideas about what’s to come, or what ought to be. No agenda.
I was suddenly glad - well, no, not glad, but conscious that it was a good thing - that I had forgotten my camera, that I was “forced” to just be in that experience. I can see that a liability of this project is that, even as I'm making a mindful choice to experience something – the canyon, the ocean, the lake of my childhood – to just be there, to listen - I can’t un-know the fact that I have also committed to writing about it. And at some level there will always be a remove, a meta factor that my kids don’t yet have.
How to be present without being precious about it?