Childhood Dreams at Old Man’s Beach: San Onofre

I had a free morning so I drove to San Onofre State Beach. The internet told me they have beach camping there, the kind where you can pitch your tent right by the sand, but I couldn’t get anyone on the the phone to answer questions about availability, so I checked it out with my free day. I did not find what I was looking for. I found something different entirely.

When I was ten I did not know much, but I did know I wanted to surf. I had just discovered complex math and the associated reality that meant I would never be an astronaut. I had always known I would not play in the NFL, so the only dream I had left, at ten, was surfing.

I grew up inland, but on the side of the Mississippi that flowed toward LA, not New York, so cool was all T&C rather than CBGB. We knew we were posers with our long bangs and neon shorts, but I wanted to move past that. After years of begging, my parents let me go stay with my aunt in California the summer before 8th grade. It was a step closer to my dream and I was planning my path in my head. I figured I would have to start out with a boogie board, but if I got good enough I would advance to standing up. I would need a board. I was ready for the breeze and splash of salt water. What I got was dirt and cactus because Aunt Nancy lived in Palmdale. It was a lesson on the dangers of mobilizing in ignorance.My last hope was college, because I had been trained to know that I must go to college, but I didn’t know anyone who had ever been to school in California and everyone told me I could only afford in state. So I stayed home. Eventually jobs, kids, and adulthood squeezed everything childish, like the dream of surfing out of my head. I moved on. I grew up.

I gave little thought to my childhood self when I took a job an hour east of LA. I was just thinking I needed a job.

Then I made that drive to San Onofre.

There was no paved parking lot and no packs of families lugging coolers canopies and beach chairs. There was no pier and no one renting out tandem beach cruisers. There were only surfers.

“Great morning right?” a leathery grey haired man asked as I closed my car door. He was sitting on a log facing the water. Next to him sat another old man wiping down his glossy red board. “Uh… yes. Sure is.” I replied awkwardly. The two men both smiled and went back to chatting with each other. I looked out at the water and it was bustling with people bobbing up and down just past the breakers, some paddling up and over the waves, and then, out there and everywhere, people were surfing. They stood up on their boards and shuffled out to stand on the nose. They popped up, cut left, then right, then pumped the board to stay out ahead of the whitewater. I loved seeing it.

I looked around on the rocky sand wondering when Anthony Keidis and his band of hooligans were coming to tell me to go away. They weren’t there. In their place were happy people who looked me in the face and said hello. There were men and women, old and young, and they all looked happy. I knew they were surfers, and only surfers, not because they were blonde or said “stoked” but because they all had boards. I saw a wrinkled bald man covered in tattoos chatting with a woman who looked like my frumpy mother. I saw a white guy with dreadlocks playing paddle ball with a child while a boisterous group of ZZ Top beards came lugging giant boards out of the water. There was what looked like an Abercrombie model chatting with some little guy who was wearing what looked like a beret, and a striped shirt that matched his striped board. It was some sort of intergenerational utopia based on a shared vision of riding on waves standing up.​

 

​My childhood aspirations came flooding back and I did not like it. It made me loathe myself.

Here I was standing right in front of what I had always wanted and the thing I felt the strongest, was that I did not fit. It looked like everyone was welcome, this feeling wasn’t coming from them- it was coming from inside me. My mind defaulted to this excuse making checklist of practical reasons why I could not join in. Not just right then, but forever. I live more than an hour away, I do not own a board and do not have any extra money to invest in a hobby that I could reasonably only think to dabble in, and I am fat. I am a poser. I remembered that I always wanted this and I do not belong. The list came so quickly and so naturally that I disappointed myself.

I am grown and capable. I can find solutions. I can learn. I have lived a life standing just outside closed doors and have nearly a half century’s practice of picking locks, borrowing keys, or kicking the door down. If I really want this, I can have it. Knowing this made me tired. I felt lonely.

I could save up money and buy a board. I could set my pride or awkwardness aside and ask someone to teach me. I could make some arrangements and over a period of time, maybe years, I could carve out a schedule allowing me some beach time. If I want it I can do it.

So the question is always whether it is worth it. Do I want to be on that side of the door bad enough to do the work? What will it cost? What will I gain? When you pass through previously closed doors, you inevitably leave something back on the other side. Often you leave someone. What if I am not trying to leave anyone? What then?

Traffic made the trip home take 2 ½ hours. Sitting in my car in my long pants and wingtips, thinking all of the things I just typed out above, I came to the conclusion that I think too much.

I should knock it off and just surf.

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When You Imagine California: Santa Barbara

When you imagine California, what you are picturing, is Santa Barbara. Some might say Hollywood is the quintessential California, but those who imagine Hollywood aren’t really thinking about the place, they are thinking about themselves and dreaming of becoming famous. No, Santa Barbara is the SoCal we think of when we look at a map not a mirror.IMG_5951It is the sort of place that surely has some history, possibly some substance, but mostly it has an image. The beach is beautiful, peppered with surfers. People wearing shorts and sunglasses drive convertibles to the marina past white stuccoed buildings flanked by palm trees.

I did not see it, but I sort of assume everyone here writes everything in cursive with pink glitter ink.IMG_5789You can rent beach cruiser bicycles and eat arugula salad on sidewalk cafe. You can visit a Spanish Mission or fish from the pier. You can do or see all the things you imagine doing and seeing in California minus all the things you associate with LA.

It is all Saved by the Bell and no LA Law. It might be a little bit Flaked – but glossier.IMG_5677

I’m not sure who actually lives there, though I have heard some stories, but most people I know only visit. They, or we, drive in and stay the night. We shop and browse light breezy dresses, Tommy Bahama, and beach towels fashioned to look like the California state flag. We eat something light then pay ten dollars for a scoop of ice cream on the pier.IMG_5772Then we get back in our cars, sit in traffic, sit in our cubicles, sit on our couches watching Saved By the Bell reruns, and do our best to ignore the pan handler at the off ramp.IMG_5679

Not Hipsters

There is, or at least can be, a fine line between clothing and costume. A fine line between doing your thing, and schtick.

I appreciate those who do their thing, but I fear far too many are just trying to do “a thing”. For example, I present to you Teddy Roosevelt doing “a thing”.IMG_2573

Now compare Teddy doing his thing.IMG_2571

See the difference?

In one, there is a born and raised New Yorker who has gone out West and dressed up in what he thinks Westerners wear, and in the other, he is wearing something suitable for what he is doing, and where he is doing it… in New York.

So on that note, and along those lines, I present some archival finds that should make any hipster eat his own heart. Not to say that any modern day man trying to claim gender normative manliness with a little extra panache’ shouldn’t rock a hat, but these guys absolutely do it better.IMG_2596

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Rest in Peace Glenn O’Brien

As a 14 year old struggling for a small slice of social acceptance I used to flip through the pages of GQ magazine. Mostly I would just look at ads in search of the perfect haircut thinking that if I could get my own just right, maybe I could one day be as cool as these guys looked. No. That isn’t quite true. I was mostly just hoping to get just a little bit closer to cool but I knew I would never really get there. So I just flipped through the pages looking not reading.IMG_2747

Except for this one column, “The Style Guy”.

I grew up in a world where people were very much judged by what they were wearing, but almost no one knew a thing about style. It was just her skirt is too short, His pants are too saggy, and what brand is that? I was aware enough to know I was clueless and too ignorant to really know where to look for guidance. My father could tell me exactly what someone might have been wearing in 1825 Wyoming, or the importance of socks while hiking, but would then communicate that thinking about clothes at school was too trivial to be concerned with. Mom could point out a Mondrian or a Rembrandt but had no interest in either Coco or Chanel.

My only hope was Matt Hilbig.36654_1511282859621_2937488_n

Matt lived around the corner and taught me that you could buy boat shoes at Payless and no one would ever know they weren’t Bass. He also taught me that you could find everything from GQ ads in Nordstrom, but that my money was probably more in line with J. Riggins. Matt was the source of all of my practical and tactical sartorial lessons- but he was also 14.

Then I discovered the Style Guy.backyardbill_glenObrien42

As I got older it was The Style Guy that answered questions I never knew I should ask, and that even if I knew to ask, I had no one around who could answer. He explained to me the difference between a barrel and a French cuff, which one might assume everyone would know but I didn’t. He taught me what a contrast collar is and helped me understand that they probably aren’t for me. Above all he taught me that I could think about this kind of stuff without just trying to imitate some external norm or marching in some sort of conformist regimental order… and how to do so without being an idiot.IMG_1916

I had been reading the Style Guy for quite some time before I learned that he was that one grown up who used to show up on MTV talking about news. It was long after that when I learned this guy grew out of the Andy Warhol Basquiat punk rock New York and into the suit wearing wingtip world of GQ, without doing some sort of image dance that wasn’t really him. This man was amazing.

I have to say was because yesterday he passed away and I have lost the best teacher I ever had in how to be less of a dork, while still being me. He was the best.

 

 

 

Matt, you were second best. Just sayin.

That Place With All the Lights: LACMA

The first thing I saw when I walked in the doors of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art was a giant portrait of a guy wearing a kilt. The little plaque at the bottom said the subject shared my last name which obviously required me to like it.

But it wasn’t my favorite.peoplelights

I gravitate toward American artists, like the Eakins they had there, but at LACMA this was also not my favorite. Nor the Rembrandt. Not even the Picasso exhibition which came complete with a guard who tells you to stop taking pictures, even though the painting were picture worthy- still not my favorite.people0

I think LACMA had squeakier floors, more construction, and just plain more wear and tear than most of the museums I have been too, definitely more than the Broad or the Barnes, but what made up for it, what became my favorite, was the people.people7

It wasn’t quite like some other places where you go inside and the only people there are retirees wearing clothing from the gift shop and bus loads full of middle-schoolers on field trips. No. This was more like if all those people who run up the Rocky steps in Philadelphia, then proceeded inside the museum. No one in Philly actually goes inside that place, in LA, they do.people5

I will not forward that the art is better, or that the patrons appreciate it more, just that there were more of the folks you see out on the streets- inside.people4

People of all sorts are always my favorite.people6

But aside from them, what LACMA did best, at least in my Philistine opinion, is what California has always done best.

Mid-mod.surfboard

The Eames duo were not LA natives, but no one is. But those chairs go with those paintings, which work in those normally awful (shall we say severe) buildings, and they then find themselves in LACMA.eams

Yeah… they have other stuff there too:picassoclaw

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The Coolest Possible Answer to the Question, “What Do You Do?”

What is the coolest possible answer to the question, “What do you do?”

Fighter pilot. Hands down winner. Race care driver and rock star will always be the best answer at a bar, unless someone else chimes in with “fighter pilot”.

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I would go on to argue that this is the coolest possible answer NOT because of the movie Top Gun, but rather Top Gun exists as a movie only because fighter pilot was already the coolest possible thing anyone could be.

Now the coolest jet to ever take flight, is the SR-71 Blackbird. Again, no contest.

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Not only has this plane flown higher and faster than any other plane ever built, but it looks like something right out of the Dark Knight Batman movies… only scarier.

Make note that I said the coolest jet. I did so because the coolest plane is up for debate. My vote has always gone for the P-38 Lightning.

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Something silly was going on over at Lockheed (the company that designed both the SR-71 and the P-38) back in the day and they produced a series of planes that look more at home on the pages of comic books than at an air port.

Which is where I saw them.

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March Field Air Museum is the kind of place where the 12 year old me gets very angry at the current me, for never becoming a fighter pilot. I am now much older than 12. The adult me no longer cares for cartoons, doesn’t really get into make believe, but I still very much want to fly in a fighter plane.

Soooo badly want to fly in a fighter plane..

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There was this old TV show called Amazing Stories  where I watched a tale of a gunner trapped in the a ball turret of bomber whose landing gear was stuck. I loved that show. It aired in 1985 and touching this turret brought it right back like yesterday.

That show was awesome.

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I have never been a big fan of death. Wait, maybe death isn’t my real issue but more so killing. Death is inevitable, killing is almost always avoidable and bad. But if looping, spinning, great graphics or design, and even explosions (missiles and bombs, not planes) could all be in play without the actual killing… I’d die for that job.

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And also- I touched a MIG.

Eat your heart out Maverick. I touched a MIG.

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Perspective

My wife calls it “Fakebook.” I call it “intentional online messaging.” It is that thing we do where we present an image online of our most happy and prosperous selves.rxbg5470

For example, I have only beat this “Jared Raynor” in chess twice out of 200 hundred games. But I did in fact beat him and I think it no coincidence that I did so on the same day we met this guy on the street. It is also no coincidence that I have not previously posted screen shots of my losses. No coincidence at all.

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I do not eat this beautifully all the time. But sometimes I do. I assume you have no interest in my peanut butter jelly sandwiches. They are neither artisan nor farm-to-table. They are pedestrian sliced bread Jiffy spread things best stuffed in elementary school lunches not posted anywhere on anything.

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This is because I am a positive guy and my online life is not my life. My online presentation may be derived from reality but is not, nor has it ever been my, or anyone’s totality.img_2756

So I share the things and places that are good and worth knowing. worth doing, Possibly worth replicating. Like Leo’s successful execution of California casual unintentionally blending with my living room decor. That is worth replicating.

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But not everything is interesting or good or presentable. I choose mostly the good. I choose this so that when I present the bad, perhaps it might get some notice. Maybe when travel tips and food pics gets crashed by the realities of racism, some of us will take an extra pause to consider.

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Maybe we will do more than consider and we will act. We will do something. Act. Exert. Do good.

So I spare you my morning breath and laundry laden bedroom floor. You don’t need to see my kid’s mistakes or my neighbor’s noise. Because so-what. Who cares.

What you should know is that I find double monk strap cap-toe shoes to be incredibly versatile. They dress up and down like a grown up but not an old man. You should know that Bodega Louie is the best pastry in town.

And you should know that racism is real and we should do something about that.img_6726

Venice Beach: exactly what you expect

There are in fact canals through the neighborhoods of Venice California, just like in that other place in Italy, but I’m pretty sure that is where the similarities end. I’ve never been to Italy so I could be wrong, but I’m going to guess the other Venice doesn’t feature a nearly nude bearded man on roller skates selling what he ensures everyone is a “medicinal” plant.freak showI didn’t take a picture of captain roller hair, I did not want that image captured, but that doesn’t mean I don’t advocate for the venue. Quite the opposite. You really should go there.

Just know what to expect.Every city has its place where the odd-balls go to commune. Portland makes the argument that they are that place for the whole United States, but Venice Beach is a little bit more. you see, there are places where “weird people” go to be with each other, and then there is Venice where people go to BE weird in hopes of being seen.IMG_5384

I mean, this is LA. Everyone is trying to get discovered, why would society’s outskirts be different?

drum circleSo, as you head to the promenade be ready for:
Your general knick-knack vendors, medical marijuana card vendors, crowds, people who are crazy, people who are high, people pretending to be high or crazy, drum circles, people riding beach cruisers, good street music, muscly folks working out at Muscle Beach, almost homeless artists selling art, homeless people selling almost art, pick-up basketball games on the outdoor courts ala “He Got Game”, street performers break dancing, street performers snake charming, street performers being a human statue, teenagers acting like this is Vegas, trash in the sand at the beach, a great skate park, beautiful sunsets, funnel cakes, hot dogs, beach houses too expensive to afford, signs advertising the world’s smallest front yard, a sign advertising the world’s laziest dog, cops looking uninterested, cops looking interested, and sometimes, you will see me.mewalkinvenice

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BLM, Police, and Kids These Days

When I was 14 my friend Matt and I were supposed to be sleeping over at Eric’s house, but we all snuck out the window. We didn’t have anywhere to go, or even anyone to meet, but it was summer, we were bored, and we were going to manufacture some adventure in any way we could. In my pocket I had a brick of firecrackers my dad had brought back from Wyoming where they were legal. We headed off for the gully where it was rumored devil worshipers held strange ceremonies involving kidnapped children. Where else would adventure seeking suburbanites go? When we got there we did not find the pagans, but we did find a lone cop, sitting in his squad car with the windows rolled down.usguys1

Eric told me to wait in the bushes and he would be back in a minute. I dumbly complied. About two minutes later a string of firecrackers lit up the inside of the cop car. I could hear the officer shouting in shock even louder than the pop-pop-pop of the Black Cats. Eric came hurdling over the bushes and ran down the street not waiting to see if I was following. I was.IMG_0496

That was more than 20 years ago and I have told that story a million times to thousands of people. Eric is a responsible well employed adult now- no harm no foul. Funny thing is this story gets different reactions depending on who hears it. Most of my white friends laugh in wonder at the foibles of youth. Most black people with whom I tell are at best, annoyed. Some are quite upset.1923755_1165089124994_2895697_n

You see, most of my white friends, more than you might think, counter with their own stories. Thanks to them I have quite the collection of stories about idle vandalism and general teenaged delinquency; enough to re write American Graffiti ten times over. But this would be a very white movie. None of the black people I know have the same sorts of stories. No, that isn’t quite true. They do have those stories but the endings are very different. The black stories I hear trend towards much less actual destruction and much more police involvement. It is possible that the black people I know are just lames. Maybe they were blerds. I of course have not met all black people, nor do I represent all white folks, I am just a middle aged collection of anecdotes. But with that being said, we, my black friends and I, are all Americans but we did not grow up in the same world.

This reality was made even more clear to me, and more alarming, last night.IMG_2749

I attended a local public forum on race and policing. Up on the stage were a row of chiefs. There was the local police, the county sheriff, even the school district pd. The mayor, a black woman, sat there too, joined by another row of pastors and local clergy. Out in the auditorium the public lined up behind two microphones to ask their questions, make their comments, and the chiefs gave their answers. It was a mostly cordial event. I support having more of them. Yet there was a theme coming from that stage that troubles me.

More than one officer, and a couple pastors, even one black officer from the crowd, talked about how the youth are different today. They talked about how the youth of today don’t respect the police. One officer suggested kids are responding to things they see about cops in the media and two pastors said this is all a result of the lack of Bibles in school. There was a common thread that the police wanted to understand, more so to be understood, and that they are constantly frustrated by the public’s lack of cooperation.IMG_0503

The challenge of policing in a violent racialized society is definitely complex and difficult. I get that.

But I also get that American Graffiti was released in 1973. I also know that I knew all the words to that Officer Krumpke song from West Side Story when I was ten.  That movie was released in 1961. I know that all through my youth the cops were the ones who got mad at you for throwing water balloons or eggs, chased you when you hopped the neighbor’s fence, and cops were the ones who stopped your car when they got calls of possible gun shots coming from a black Tercel. The car was blue, not black, and the sound wasn’t gun shots, it was the noise made when a bat hits a mailbox.

We were never respectful, we were too annoyed that our spirits were being oppressed.IMG_2750

But maybe I haven’t spoken to enough young black kids today. Maybe they are the ones who have changed. Maybe it is the black people of my generation who would never have dared to throw a lit firecracker into a cop car or who got arrested for being out too late. Maybe the black kids today would hit the mailbox or would throw the egg.

Does this mean things have gotten worse?meandpetedisco

Maybe bad guys and cops have both been pulling triggers for generations and the only thing different now is cameras. Maybe the black folks who never threw eggs back then are more afraid of bullets and are now willing to throw bricks. I know that plenty of the guys I grew up with, the ones who did the same things as me, have grown up to be cops. These are great guys. I love them.choirhazing2

But did we forget? Where is the empathy? Why has the phrase “kids will be kids” been replaced by the word thug? Is it because these kids today, these thugs, are worse than we were? We, the Dazed and Confused kids were just messing around but these thugs are a real danger? Really?highschoolgroup

I struggle with this. I struggle because in 9th grade I watched my classmates smoke weed and shoplift. In 10th grade I watched a bunch of kids hop out of a car at a strip mall and beat up a stranger for no reason. I saw one kid beat another with a bat behind the movie theater over a girl. Jed got stabbed at school. My good friends did meth, dropped acid, sold coke. Stole a car, drove drunk, walked away. I saw all of that. But we are all older now and we have learned our lessons. We have matured now and we teach our children better. We were kids.highschoolgroup2

Really, the biggest difference I can see between us back then and the kids today, is that for the most part, we were all white.

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