I am a Kook

A Kook is, but is not only, a person who is bad at surfing.

There are a million ways and reasons to be bad at surfing, but one of the kookiest, is to have no clue as to what you are doing wrong.

Perhaps the most kooky thing, is to make no effort to learn what one is doing wrong, yet continue surfing.

I am a kook.

I don’t want to be one, but there is so much I don’t know, that it will take a lifetime for me to get half a clue. That is my best-case scenario; one half clue.

I’m putting in an honest effort but there are obstacles.

For instance:

  1. I’m not a real athlete, I’m more of a beast. In other words I’m more made for smashing and lifting than I am for balancing or doing anything at a high speed. Or a medium speed. Or anything involving the word speed.

             Except eating.

2. I need to lose 50 pounds. I require a lot of buoyancy to counteract my displacement to equal gravitational force. In other words, It takes a lot to make me float. Maximum displacement does not improve surfing. But more than that, surfing requires a lot of paddling and other things that resemble physical activity and at least 50 pounds of me are in no way helping. Those 50 pounds are the guy who lives on the couch, eats from your fridge, but doesn’t pay bills.

3. I live in Rancho Kookamonga. Kook is in the name of the place. No, it is not really spelled that way, and no, the word itself isn’t REALLY the problem, but the geography is. I am at least an hour away from the beach with no traffic. Everywhere in California has traffic, and gas is expensive.

4. Money. It would be nice if I had more money, or if things related to me surfing didn’t cost as much money. I’d be happy with either solution, but as it stands gas, road tolls, wetsuits, surfboards, and TIME are prohibitively expensive. I have found ways to scrounge out some time (for now), tolls come in small bite sized chunks, but that board. I currently ride on the homemade generosity of an older board that has been beat up almost as much as me, it weighs as much as me, and while it currently helps get my oversized self upright on a wave, it pretty much only allows that. And I’m not sure how much longer it can handle this one job. Surfboards, the ones big enough for me, are expensive.

5. I’m getting old. Not just older, but I am solidly closer to old than young. I make friends with retired people. There are things my body could once do, that it no longer can, and when I try it hurts. Things always hurt. It doesn’t matter what I do, the pain just sort of shifts around depending on the activity.

6. Excuses. The idea that the board, or my geography, or the tides, are why I’m not a good surfer, are excuses that don’t really hold water (though unfortunately the board does indeed take on water). I should just eat less. I should find ways to earn, or save, more money. Eating less might help that. I think if I ate less I could be more of an athlete. I have known these aforementioned things long enough to have done something about them yet this list remains up to date.

But mostly I just want a new board. A magical one. One that would make me better.

And that is why I am a kook.

Because of 1 through 6, plus this last bit…

I intend to persist.

I can’t help it. I’m stuck. I’m snakebit. I’m stoked. Addicted. Hooked. I’m no good at it and it is still fun. It is fun every time. It is hard every time and once I think I have improved, something proves me wrong.

Every time.

And I have fun.

So I will be there this Saturday morning as the sun comes up. I will be trying to get better but battleships are hard to turn even when they have an able Captain.

And I will go down with this ship.

July 24th, Pioneer Day

In 1833 William Beebe joined the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in upstate New York. At this time, the church was just 3 years old. Louisa Newton married William and joined the church in 1835. They were living in Nauvoo Illinois when the United States expelled the church, and while sheltering in Council Bluffs Iowa, they had a daughter, Ruth. The family waited 2 years for Ruth to grow, then walked to the Salt Lake Valley in 1852.

As a child in Providence Rhode Island, Leprelet Hopkins skipped school and stowed away on a ship. He stayed aboard six years and was eventually washed ashore after a shipwreck in New Orleans. When Johnston’s Army marched to Salt Lake, to occupy the Mormon territory, Leprelet followed them working as a mule skinner. When the army left Utah, he stayed behind- and married Ruth.

Jesse Hobson was baptized a Latter-Day Saint in 1834. When the church began preparing to move west, he and his wife Catherine were assigned by Brigham Young to homestead along the trail to act as a sort of liaison with the Pawnee. While there they had a child, Henry. They finally moved to Utah in 1852. Henry grew up and married Emily, the daughter Leprelet and Ruth.

Joseph Field was baptized in 1844, in Yorkshire England. By 1857 he was living in the Utah Territory where he married a widow, also an English immigrant, Sarah Brook. There they had a son, Joseph.

Louisa Kent was born in Calcutta, the daughter of an English officer and an Indian woman. She married Charles Booth, whose English family had been living in India for generations. The two of them joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and left India in 1855, traveling by ship to San Francisco. They settled in San Bernardino, till Johnston’s Army was marching to Utah and Brigham Young called all the members from San Bernardino to move to Utah. Louisa and Charles moved. In Utah they had a daughter, Mary Louisa.

Marry, married Joseph.

This story continues a few more generations till my mother is born and then of course came me.

I was raised in Utah where every 24th of July the state celebrates the arrival of the Mormon pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley. There are parades and fireworks. We celebrate those people, the things they endured, and the things they built; which was cities, institutions, and families. Many take great pride in the accomplishments of our ancestors. We go to great lengths to always remember and never forget.

Except for the parts we don’t talk about or have already forgotten.

Just this year, 175 after the Latter-Day Saints began settling that valley, a monument to the Black people who were part of that exodus was erected. 3 men, who were held as slaves by members of the church were in the vanguard of that first wagon train. This part of the story was not really remembered, or celebrated, till after a sustained and lengthy campaign carried on by Black people and other allies.

The lore I was taught growing up was that the Salt Lake Valley was unpopulated when the church arrived. Of course that wasn’t entirely true. It was especially not true for the valleys up and down the Wasatch Front where Shoshone and Timpanogos people were forcibly displaced either by armed violence or by the destruction of their preexisting eco system.

We barely remember any of the instances or ways in which our ancestors might have been wrong, yet we insist that there must be a remembrance, and of course what we believe should be celebrated, is only the good. Which is fine. But it all depends on who “we” define as “us.”

Just today, in church, the congregation listened to the family story of a very good person whose story included, as a side note, the one time some Native Americans invaded their ancestor’s home, but that luckily the Natives had not come to kill, but to simply steal food.

There was no discussion or remembrance, of the experience of that Native person. That person was an example of one of the trials “our” ancestors endured, a story which could never be comfortably retold if one of that Native person’s descendants would have been sitting in the congregation.

We would tell it differently if we really considered Native people part of “us”.

I have only learned this lesson myself because I sit next to a Black person in those pews every Sunday. It has helped me think a little bit more about the stories we tell and the perspective from which we view them- especially when it comes to how we remember the 1850’s in North America.

When I look at my family tree and lore, then look at where and who I am now, there is an obvious throughline. I am who and where I am now, because of who they were and what they did. But I don’t know the whole story. I only know our own retelling. I don’t know who my ancestors might have hurt, or how, or why, and many might question why anyone would want to know such things.

And to such I would say, because there is no value in remembering the past at all, unless that memory is full of truth.

If we remember a walk on the moon, but erase all traces of physics or science, we will likely get the story all wrong. What then is the value of remembering? Perhaps there would still be some, but it would be trivial, which would be shame as that event was more than trivia. We can learn from it. It helped form the world we live in now, but without knowing the science there is little practical use to that tale.

So we should be careful in how we remember, and be even more careful if we are telling “others” to forget.

If we are looking to take credit, then we must also accept blame. If we want to celebrate or glorify the past, then we must have a full understanding of what that was, or who that was, because these celebrations aren’t just a communication of who we are, but who we hope to be.

If we have to ignore or erase groups of people from the past in order to celebrate today, then we must continue to ignore and erase those same people moving forward.

How Do We Know Who the “Good Guys” Are?

Two major obstacles to curbing gun violence in America are: the concept of good guys/bad guys as a static thing or type, and then the partisan practice of demonizing the political opposition.

When we create a world view where there are good people and bad people, and that they will both always be that thing, and then we paint our political opposition as the bad guys, there will never be any room to collaborate or compromise – ever. Because in this worldview the other political side will always have bad intentions and always be working toward bad outcomes. One will be fighting against that opposition’s assumed identity rather than addressing the issues at hand.

We cannot allow ourselves to give in to this bias, not just because it is based on a fundamental lie about human nature, but also in that it absolutely cripples our ability to improve society.

People are not fundamentally good or bad. Even the most extreme evil doer will also be capable of benevolent acts. A mafia don may both order a murder and then financially support those in need. A person who has done nothing but good, maybe even been heroic, can later commit acts of atrocity. Those who have done horrible things, might never repeat such acts but rather commit their lives to humanitarian service.

Humans are neither static nor one dimensional.

The idea that bad people will always do bad things no matter what laws we pass might be true at an incident level, as in bad things might always happen no matter the law, but it is completely untrue at an individual human level. Meaning, an individual may or may not have their actions influenced by any given law at any given time. A young man may have bad intentions and try to harm a large crowd of people at one point in his life, but if the tools are unavailable or inconvenient, requiring additional effort and a longer timeframe, it cannot be assumed that this person will maintain those bad intentions indefinitely.

Our intentions and energy level fluctuate. Anyone who has attempted to get or stay “in-shape” knows this at a fundamental level. While an individual’s actions or motivations vary through time, there may at any given time be enough actively engaged fitness minded people to keep a gym in business, though the individuals actually showing up will always be in flux. Bad things may continually happen but they are not necessarily done by a stagnant, limited, group of individuals.

Political parties are made of people. Party platforms shift and change. The idea that one party is all good or all bad, or that either party will stay whatever it is forever, is wrong. To believe as much is the definition of bias.

Such biases are magnified in the gun debate.

The safety of children cannot be managed via political tribalism.

Arming the good guys to defend against the bad guys assumes that we know in advance who is who. Disarming bad guys in advance requires the same assumption.

I do not know how much I will weigh next year, but I do know I eat less when food is less convenient. I also know that working out takes a lot of work and sacrifice and maintaining motivation over a long period of time, is hard. I usually give up. Or slack off. Because I’m a person and my mental and emotional state shifts over time.

We need to keep this fluctuation in mind when crafting policy, passing laws, voting, or in our pursuit of justice.

Middle Management and the 1619 Project

Anyone who manages a team for a living can attest to how much effort is involved. Depending on the size of the organization, a team leader might even have to bring in extra managers, not to get the “job” done, but just to help manage the people who are getting the job done.

Keep that in mind when considering that George and Martha Washington’s home, Mt. Vernon, generally housed 4-6 family members, and anywhere from 150-300 enslaved people.

The Washington’s lived in their workplace and their roles in that workplace was not to actually plant the tobacco or wheat, but rather to “manage” the people who did. It was a 24/7 job because all of them, the Washington’s and the slaves, lived at their workplace. I use the word “manage” flippantly. Imagine how much thought and effort would go into running an organization where none of the workforce wanted to be there. Imagine if you had to resort to violence to keep them going. Imagine if your entire workforce being there was itself an act of violence.

Could you run it as an afterthought? How much intention and effort would it take?

Intention.

I run a very modest sized team and I cannot schedule a simple one hour meeting without having to consider the effect it will have on the attitudes and productivity of my PAID employees.

Is it reasonable to think that slavery was a footnote or afterthought when George Washington and his cohort were forming a new nation?

41 of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence owned captive Black people as slaves.

Icarus is Thwarted Before He Even Gets off the Ground

I have an epic tale to tell, which I won’t get to now, but I must report a part.

The gigantic surfboard was crafted long ago in a Hawaiian garage, meant to carry a large man through the foamy tides of heaven. As the craftsman finished his work he looked up and saw that the night’s crescent had set, giving way to morning, and feeling a wave of inspiration grabbed a pen and gave the board its name- “Half Moon Gone”.

Despite being loved, Half Moon Gone had been retired to a Californian garage where it sat unsalted, replaced by other professionally crafted boards called “custom”.

One day Zeus with his custom craft, observed the ambition of an overweight Icarus struggling to fly on a board Zeus declared much too small for one with such oversized ideas. Deity had compassion on this mortal as he reached into the garage of his heart and dusted off Half Moon Gone, and he gave it me.

With this new board I began to fly.

The two of us, Half Moon Gone and I, looked like the love child of a turkey and condor. A most glorious wingspan centered on a total mess. A happy, soggy, salty, mess.

As this mess began growing feathers it became evident the wings needed a little upkeep. I climbed mount Google, presented an offering in the temple YouTube, then religiously, devoutly, applied sealant, sandpaper and paint.

Half Moon Gone was on its way from Condor to Phoenix. And I was ready to climb aboard and soar to the sun.

The final step required some inter-religious multi-cultural cross pollination, which in retrospect may have been the root of the problem. I left Olympus and submitted a request to the North Pole’s Saint Nick. I asked for a specialized altar allowing me to mount Half Moon Gone atop my car and the fat man, giggling, gave me one gift on which I could carry another.

I was happy. I was ambitious. I was ready.

But over on another peak, in Rancho Kookamomga, feeling ignored, was Santa Ana.

He watched me wake before the sun rose, scoffing as I placed Half Moon Gone upon its altar.

He let me get 25 miles down I-15 before he waved his hand and ripped the entire rack off the roof of my car, sending Half Moon Gone, with the rack still attached,

up into the air,

then smashed,

down upon the highway.

It was, and I still am,

Crushed.

Living in Style: Brian Bent

Brian Bent is not pretending or acting. He is what, and whom, he presents himself to be. And he is great.

What he presents, is a hot-rodding rockabilly surfer circa 1968, or maybe 1953, I can’t pin down exactly when. You can find images of him all over the internet riding a checkered surfboard while wearing a striped shirt and captain’s cap, ya know, like the one Thurston Howell III wore on Gilligan’s Island.

The pics look great. But what is even better, is that on any given day you can easily run into Brian out in the lineup at Doheny or San Onofre, and he will look exactly like he does in those photos, and he will ride that log for all its worth. He can surf.

When he is done he will haul that log into the parking lot, load it onto a homemade hot rod, and head home to paint.

His paintings are what first caught my attention.

People have been paying attention to his art for decades. He is not new. His work is a loose mix of what appears to be fashion illustration, shapes, and storytelling. He renders spindly stylized characters like you might imagine would exist if Jack Skellington targeted the world of Gidget. He made a splash back in the 80’s when he was designing the interiors of the Becker surf shops and his work was eventually picked up by galleries. He has been and still is, producing.

Producing as in continually creating. Making. All sorts of stuff.

I met Brian as he and his wife were headed from the beach back to their car. I was (still am) just some soggy kook in a wetsuit hollering “Hey Brian” and they stopped and graciously listened as I told Brian I loved his art. He was gracious. They were nice.

Then last weekend he opened up his home for a “garage sale” and Mrs. Hammas and I went to check it out. The Bents were exactly as they appeared at the beach, super gracious, and their home is the best representation of a stylized life I have ever seen. They execute a designed life to perfection.

In front of their modest sized house is a teal, tailfinned car with anchors painted on the cab, then three steel home-made hot rods, and of course all the vehicles are outfitted to carry a surf board. In the garage are tools upon tools and a quiver of hand painted longboards next to a pile of banged up single tailed skateboards.

The house is a collection of mid-mod vignettes made up of furniture, instruments, and art. Skatalites played on a record player, easy going people not wearing shoes milled about the kitchen, and the Bents appeared sincerely happy we were there. They showed us around, shared a bit about their life, and went out of their way to make us feel comfortable.

And I was. Thanks to them.

This comfort came largely from the Bent’s authenticity. The 60’s, or 40’s for that matter, are long gone and most of us do not dress or design a life like the Bent’s so it might be natural to assume they might be a little… weird. Or act eccentric. But they don’t. They are, again, normal. In the best possible way. In the way that makes a person a real person rather than a performance. In a way that makes Brian a master of style rather than a relic.

Brian is not living in the past, he is living in style.

And I didn’t even get to his music.

Slightly Choppy: Scott makes cool stuff

Scott saw me gawking through the open door and invited me in. The studio isn’t in a general retail space, situated upstairs from a real estate agent, but he didn’t appear all that surprised to see a visitor. I suspect it happens regularly.

Scott Richards runs, or rather is, a company that produces hand painted nautical flags denoting the West Coast’s favorite surf spots.  I asked him if he considered these triangular canvas flags nautical, or if they are pennants, and he just shrugged. That sort of technicality, or rather strict terminology, does not appear to be his concern. He rather offhandedly added that he would suppose they are pennant like in their one sidedness but nautical in their construction, which tells me he has thought all of this through, he is not flippant, just casual and unconcerned. What is important is that he makes them, and that people, including himself, like them.

I like them too.

Scott went to art school and came out as a “visual communicator, the air quotes were all his. He went on to work with all the cool kids at the cool companies, Quiksilver et all, but has now decided to spend his time just making cool stuff. Less corporate, more making, and if you wander around his studio space, because he will let you do that, it is obvious that this guy is tactile. Little knick-knacks and block prints fill all the open spaces on shelves and in corners, objects and made images, the sorts of things that aren’t ads, but advertisers work hard to incorporate. This place isn’t so much projecting an “image” but is very much making the base level stuff on which images are built. It is hard not to love it. All of it.

We chatted a bit about art, about surfing (how I’m really bad at it), and a bit about business. He is doing a National Park series, all sorts of custom orders, it looked like things are going great but mostly they just seemed relaxed and happy. I left appreciating not just what Scott Makes, but enjoying the whole thing. Scott’s studio, the company, the company he keeps, the way he goes about all of it. It is materialism done right.

Less of needing and wanting more stuff and accumulating or winning- more of the taking what is tangible and crafting meaning and value.

For me, it’s Doheny.

CRT Simplified, Conclusion

That’s pretty much it. There is of course a full library of Critical Race Theory scholarship that goes much deeper, but what I have shared the past few days is enough to give anyone a working idea of CRT’s foundation and elements.

So let me add, here at the end, what Critical Race Theory is NOT.

It is not about hating America. Or hating White people.

It is not about blame.

There may be some who, thanks to these tenets, learn something about this country and then feel some animosity, anger, or possibly hatred- but those things are not principles of the Critical Race Theory framework. Those things (animosity, anger, hate) can grow from any number of sources, including from learning truth. This does not mean we should avoid truth to alleviate anger.

Maybe some would prefer that tactic? Willful ignorance?

Either way, angry or otherwise, a patient being diagnosed with cancer should not blame their illness on the diagnosing doctor.

CRT is very much about diagnosis and understanding what is, or has been, happening and why.I have not read a single article or study by any Critical Race Theory expert, who upon making a find, prescribed hate as a solution.

The Holiday Reunion We All Need

Nostalgia is a key ingredient in the potpourri of holiday cheer, and for in this dumpster fire of a year, this is the Christmas reunion I need.

Outkast is solidly enshrined in the pantheon of Hip-Hop legends as well as being respected fashion templates, but what many might not know, is that their first big break was on a Christmas album.

In 1993 Atlanta based LaFace Records released an album featuring songs from their stable of acts including TLC, Toni Braxton, Usher, and introducing this young rap duo called Outkast.

A lot has changed since those days, Big Boi did not yet tend a house full of exotic animals and Andre had not yet donned an old lady turban, yet my love for them persists. 2020 needs an Outkast Christmas concert. I also demand it be held at the back lot of Four Seasons Total Landscaping.