Now I Out Walking

Somewhere between my time travel stay at Tin Can Beach and being abandoned by Tilde in the Venice canals, I’d lost my cell phone. I had not missed it because no one ever calls me, nor did I ever call them. Occasionally I got a text from Sylvie giving me the score of some obscure baseball game. And I also sometimes spaced out playing any number of chess puzzles in an app I’d downloaded. But my use of the cell phone was sporadic, and most of the time I didn’t bother leaving the phone on. Walking away from Tilde’s folks’ place on the canal I thought of calling Wormy, but I couldn’t find my phone. I figured he was probably off time travelling on the Vespa anyway, and wouldn’t pick up. I crossed Speedway, continued north on Ocean Front, and cut over to the Boardwalk at Muscle Beach. North of the Venice Breakwater, where the beach is wider, deeper, I walked down to the water. I dropped my kit just above the water line and stripped down to my swimming trunks and walked out into the surf, close enough to keep an eye on my stuff up on the beach, far enough out to get a good washing. I slipped off my trunks and scrubbed them in the sandy salty foam, keeping just my head and shoulders out of the water. The trunks nearly got away from me in the surf. The beach was not crowded. I got the trunks back on and dove under a few small waves and swam out just beyond the break, turning and treading water, looking back at the beach, up and down the coast, out to sea, thinking about my trophic level in the food chains, walking about, in the water, up on the beach, in the Walter Group, in the Army, in the Church, in the library, in schools, on the streets, walking through the Los Angeles Basin with the hobos tramps and bums, with the blue pink and white collar workers, rich and poor sick and skaters bikers surfers and hodads, police preachers thieves detectives buskers, moms dads and kids, dogs cats coyotes racoons rats mice pigeons and opossums, work shifts, job gigs, sleeping on the beach, hiking up through the canyons, onto the Santa Monica Mountain trails, hiking through downtown, sleeping under an overpass, the traffic sound ongoing like the surf, day and night, night and day.

“Now I Out Walking” is episode 55 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.

Cut and Run

By the time we finished packing and loading up the car with goods for the girls and Tilde it was too late to start out for the long drive to Frisco, so it was decided we would stay the night at Tilde’s parents on the canal in Venice and get an early start up Highway 1 come morning. Tilde insisted I install car restraint seats for the girls, the full rig for Harriet, who was under 8, and a booster seat for Nancy – thus we’d be legal and safe. But it took some time for me to modify the seat belts for proper fit, and I had to make a trip in her father’s pickup to a local auto parts store. Meantime, the girls were helpful in packing and loading up their own gear: dolls and teddy bear; blankets and pillows; notebooks, crayons, and pencils and pens; magnifying glasses; a violin and a Martin Backpacker guitar; books; sunhats; backpacks with clothes, water bottles, cell phones and chargers (this last forcing another errand to the auto parts store for an adaptor that would allow for charging devices using the dashboard cigarette lighter); dog food and dish and water bowl. With Tilde’s father’s help I attached a surfboard rack to the roof of the car and tied off the girls’ two bicycles. Tilde packed into the trunk a 5 man camping tent, a camp stove and lantern, and a bigger cooler stuffed with food, ice, and drinks. Tilde’s father, the girls called him Papa Papa, wasn’t a bad guy, and we got to talking about life in Venice living on the canals, but as an alleged close friend of Wormy, I got the cold shoulder from her mother, and was consigned to the front porch on the canal for sleeping quarters for the night. Tilde slept with the girls in their room, her mom stowed away in the master upstairs for the night, and Papa Papa and I sat out on the porch watching the water and drinking beers and when the beer was all gone turned to a bottle of Scotch Whiskey. We talked into the wee hours, and I awoke late in the morning, the house closed up and quiet, a note taped conspicuously to the porch door: Dear Glaucus, I am perfectly capable of driving myself and the girls to San Francisco, but thanks for your help. Good luck, Tilde. Out back, I saw that Wormy’s ’56 Chevy Two-ten packed to the gills was gone. Tilde had left my cowboy roll on the porch for me, and I hooked up and headed off in the direction of the Venice beach and boardwalk, first letting loose with a vociferous hobo piss in the empty alley, footloose.

“Cut and Run” is episode 54 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.

Room for Two More

We didn’t get far, off Vista del Mar and onto Culver, when Bridgid let it be known she needed a pit stop, and I pulled off the side of the road in the Ballona Wetlands. Tilde put Brigid on a short leash and walked her into what I guessed was sagebrush. I stayed with the car, the traffic on Culver heavy in both directions. The basin was lovely though in the noon sun, buggy and birdy, hot wild flowers, liquorice, a stew of smells. Tilde got back to the car, turned, and whispered, oh look, and we stilled and watched a blue butterfly bopping around what Tilde said was buckwheat. Back in the car we crossed over Ballona Creek and came around onto Lincoln, then the first left and onto Admiralty Way to continue north around Marina del Rey, then left on Washington to Pacific Avenue. And that was where and when Tilde blessed me with the second surprise of the trip (this one a gobsmack bit more of a bell-ring than the dog) Wormy had neglected to mention. We were to stop off at Tilde’s parents’ place on Court D in the Venice Canals, where we would pick up Tilde’s two daughters, Nancy and Harriet, aged 10 and 6, who would be making the trip north to San Francisco with us.

“Room for Two More” is episode 53 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.

Three for the Road

Quiet finally filled Wormy’s place as an early morning fog rose over the dunes from the ocean beach. His plan to slough off Tilde awoke a sleeping shrew. They fought and argued and cried and wrestled and scratched, clawed and scolded each other all night long, Tilde’s wails crescendoing up and down scales like fiddles in flight. Why he couldn’t wait till morning to tell her I don’t know. Something about he wanted to give her time to pack and say goodbye. Late morning I got up and went inside and made coffee. On my way to the bathroom I passed their bedroom and saw them sleeping head to toe. The ’56 Chevy two-ten was gassed up and ready to go. I packed my bedroll kit and stashed it in the trunk with a small cooler of ice, a couple of beers, a chunk of cheese, and a loaf of bread. I waited outside with Brigid, sipping coffee, feeling the breeze begin to shift offshore to onshore. We were not getting the early start I had asked for. Wormy came out with his coffee. We heard the shower come on through the open bathroom window. Tilde came out, her hair still wet, her backpack fully rigged, and walked straight to the car without a word. She stowed her stuff in the trunk and climbed into the back and whistled for Brigid who jumped into the back seat, the two of them hugging and snuggling in a way that did not suggest goodbye. I gave Wormy a questioning look. Oh, yeah, he said, turns out Brigid is Tilde’s dog, not mine, and she wants to keep her. We were now three for the road as I pulled onto Grand Avenue and drove down to Vista del Mar where I turned north to San Francisco.

“Three for the Road” is episode 52 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.

Intermission: A Smoky Sea

On the floor of a sea of smoke
crawling to an empty conch
I pass a woman out walking
her dog neither with a mask
and she smoking a cigarette.

And some bony lady jogging
thru the smoke and fog up
and down the local side
walks a serious jogger in
deed sans nuisance mask.

Toodeloo, I whistle in my
mask, in my car, windows
rolled, destooled, the bars
all closed, on my way to
the store for milk and beer.

Now a Worst World Air Award
for this smoke covered coast
an Atlantis sunk in smoke
a coal drenched London
an orange Tambora scarf.


An Old Rig and a Passenger

Wormy had a girlfriend, was in a relationship, he wanted to get rid of, to get out of. He had a plan. He wanted to do some time travelling on the scooter. I tried to tell him that was a bad idea. All times are the same, same rotten humans unhappy with their lot. The only road to true happiness was to live like a gypsy in a caravan putting down only shallow roots if any, keeping with your family. Nonsense, he said. The girlfriend was called Tilde, a nickname ascribed to her from the way her eyebrows grew: ~ ~ . The plan was I would give Tilde a ride up the coast with me to San Francisco, where she had a sister Wormy was in touch with who would take her in and help her find a job waitressing. Tilde had been tending bar at the Orange Orchid Tiki Bar and sleeping with Wormy and had grown accustomed and comfortable with the arrangement, but Wormy was beginning to feel cramped and closed out and wanted to kick out before wiping out, as he put it, and did something really stupid like get married. He would tell Tilde it was all over between them, but that I would give her a ride up the coast to her sister’s place. Tilda’s sister was some sort of professor at one of the Frisco colleges. Her beau was a veteran right fielder for the Kyoto Kinks who owned a fancy Japanese restaurant in Frisco. Long ways to go two on a Vespa, I said. Impossible. You’re not taking the scooter, Wormy said. You’ll take the Chevy. The Chevy was his restored 1956 two-ten with a rebuilt 265 cubic inch engine, 3 speed synchromesh manual transmission. Cream white with turquoise roof and lower side panels. Not as classic as the Bel-Air, but a nice ride for a coast cruise. Go ahead, Wormy said, who had backed the car out of the garage and was beckoning me to take the wheel and we’d go for a test drive around town. It was a different kind of time travel, the ’56 Chevy, and maybe I’d had enough of the scooter for a time, and I agreed to Wormy’s plan.

“An Old Rig and a Passenger” is episode 51 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.

Brigid

Knowing the chance of my seeing Wormy again slim, I stayed on through the weekend at his Orange Orchid Tiki Bar, working the back room, enjoying the festival carnival. I slept in the backyard in my cowboy bedroll, with Wormy’s dog, Brigid Kildare, nestled against my legs. But in the early morning, Brigid did her dog thing, up early eating and drinking then hopping through the fence into the ice plant on the dunes and over and down to the beach where she must have rolled around on some dead gull or crab, come back wagging and nuzzling me to get up and follow. And she had rolled in some beach tar. The tar pads that stick to your feet walking the Southern California beaches are too often blamed on the oil business, the tankers docked off El Segundo, the water pipeline connected to Standard Oil, now buried under the beach and ocean, the old wood twin pier deconstructed, the rigs and drills up and down the coast dating back to the late 1800s. And the oil concerns have made a muck of maritime stuff over the years. But the tar Brigid had found and rolled around in this morning like as not was natural, floating up and washing in from natural petroleum seeps in the ocean floor. Whatever, Brigid was a smelly mess of rotting fish, dead bird, and sticky tar. I got up and walked her back down to the beach where we both got a stimulating morning wash in the salty waves, the air clear, a slight offshore breeze, a thin, faint fog already lifting as the sun came up over the dunes, orange shafts of smeared light flaring through the lazy billowing smoke puffs from the stacks of the oil refinery. Ah, she draws my ire, she does, when she does like that, comes in smelling of a red tide, Wormy said, as I explained where we’d been, Brigid now warming up deep in my bedroll.

“Brigid” is episode 50 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.

Intermission: Two Songs

The song he sang bang bang
wronged his world in ruin.
The song he sang rang rang
in a public call box.
No one by picked it up
to hear his sad sack tale.

Who does not doubt
the flood zone maps,
the flow of the fire line?
One in trees, one underground.
One flies to the sky.
One climbs to a fallout shelter.

One portrays, one predicts.
In two camps the singers roam.
The songs below go gong,
in the trees so tinkle.
One pulls down, one pulls up.
One rises green, one drops red.

Pip Pip at the Pub

Toedeloe to the floor of the Vespa scooter, I cruised north up Hwy 1, the Pacific Coast Highway, in real time, present time, though I wasn’t always sure what week I was in or even what day it was, and guessed the time of day from the position of the sun in the sky and its shadows on the ground. I had no plans, no expectations, great or small. I had no doubt the locals I passed along the way had some, if only to make it to and from work without going stark staring bonkers, mad as hatters, excited as the March hares, gaga and crackers, freaked out. I wondered how it all held together, the daily commutes, full of horrible honks and screeching brakes, from the kid who was off walking and whistling to school homework in disrepair but excuse at the ready, to the CEO rolling off in his Rolls to explain to his Board of Directors the various whistleblower reasons for the latest decline in stock value, still revising his business plan, the new crew hired yesterday to be let go tomorrow. The buses jostling stop to stop, the big box ambulances curling their way noisily through a mess of traffic, the delivery trucks, 18 wheelers, pickup trucks, station wagons, hot rods, muscle cars, convertibles, vans, bicycles, skateboarders, walkers, and scooters all sharing the same roads. But unlike a schoolyard where the chaos of recess empties like a beer bucket with a bell the yard quickly returning to the quiet of pigeons descending from classroom roofs to snap up the crumbs of snacks, the kids all back inside heads on desks for a rest, their teacher reading aloud a short story, or his head too on his desk for a rest, and all is quiet – unlike the school yard, the road never fully empties, all day long, every day, vehicular traffic moving like the tides, in and out, up and back, to and fro, stop and go, this way and that, all manner of folk crisscrossing at the crossroads. Back in the 1950s, hitchhiking was more prevalent than today, and a military uniform and duffle bag in hand almost guaranteed a quick ride. In the 1960s and early 70s cardboard signs signifying destination were popular with travellers on street corners seeking long rides: Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Portland. So I was surprised when I rounded the Long Beach Traffic Circle on Hwy 1, on my way to Redondo Beach, and I saw a bald man in a Franciscan robe holding a sign saying El Segundo / Mission San Buenaventura. I glanced at him and shrugged my shoulders, as if to say no room on the scooter. But I was even more surprised when, a few hours later, having cruised leisurely through the beach cities on a solid gold weekday, and again stopping at Wormy’s Orange Tiki Room in El Segundo, where I planned to spend a few nights out back, working some maintenance to pay for my stay, Wormy planning a weekend long Pip Pip at the Pup in celebration of a local annual surf festival, and who should be there standing in his brown robe at the Orange Tiki Room bar, but the Franciscan I’d seen back at the Traffic Circle. You made it, I said. Pip pip, he replied, picking up his beer and taking a long gulping drink. Ah, he said, that’s the ticket to the pip pip. Wormy came in and introduced me to the monk, a Brother Juniper, a regular, apparently, who never failed to make Wormy’s annual fundraising Pip Pip at the Pub, this weekend being the 12th year in a row, all proceeds going to help fund the surf festival. Late afternoon now, evening glassoff in the offing, but I sat with Juniper in a corner of the bar where we both relaxed after our harrowing commutes from down south through the beach cities up to El Segundo. Wormy’s place gradually filled with pip pippers, a three piece country swing band showed up, a dart tournament grew some serious competitors, and out back a dunk tank was busy with dollar a throw chances to dunk a few local celebrities. The sun went down and the tiki torches came on and the festival was going, the street blocked off, the band now playing some straight ahead surf riffs. Out in the street a travelling carnival with rides for the kids started up. Face paintings. Balloons. Arts and crafts tables. Booths for local businesses and churches to pitch their stories. A police car parked at each end of the block.

“Pip Pip at the Pub” is episode 49 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.

Used to It

Revving up the time travelling scooter I pulled away from Tin Can Beach and 1954 and the veterans I’d met and spent a few days and nights with hanging out and drinking beers listening to stories they’d brought back with them from Korea. I drove into the traffic on the Pacific Coast Highway heading north in present time. I thought I might continue north on Hwy 1, camping out nights, and see what more I might experience along the way, moving back and forth in time as suited my mood. I had thought about spending some more time with the veterans, maybe even putting up a shelter of my own on the beach. The cold water in the morning a short walk away provided the kind of wake up call one yearns for without knowing what exactly it is until you’ve hit the water a few mornings running. There are two ways of jumping into the ocean. One, you wade in, gradually getting used to the cold temperature until you’re out far enough to dive under a wall of white water. The other way is how I learned and preferred. You start at the top of the berm above the water line and dash down toward the water high jumping the waves until you’re deep enough to dive under one, come up, and keep swimming out, fireflies buzzing on your skin, biting, until they all wash off under the waves and you’re suddenly used to it. But Tin Can Beach was rife with disadvantages. My second night, sleeping in my bedroll in the sand outside the vet’s hut, we were wakened by a woman’s scream out on the beach followed by the sound of someone running clumsily through a pile of tin cans. We got up and walked about a little ways up and down the beach, but it was dark and quiet and still, and what we’d heard was apparently not that unusual. We went back to sleep, and in the early morning were again wakened, this time by an early surf fisherman who had stumbled across the body. It took the cops almost an hour to finally show up. One of them questioned us, but they knew the woman, and they already had a warrant out for her partner in crime. The interview cop wanted to know our addresses for his notes in case the authorities might need to get ahold of us later, and as we all tried to explain this was it, Tin Can Beach was our address, he shook his head and said, I don’t get it. I don’t get how you guys get used to it, living like this. We got to talking with him. Turned out he too was a Korean War veteran. Funny how we all seem to turn down different roads he said, but no one laughed. It wasn’t that kind of funny. But you get used to it – a war, sleeping out, incarceration in a system job, ticketing people, retreating far from some madding or smug crowd, time travelling. And I didn’t want to get used to it, used to anything.

“Used to It” is episode 48 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.