Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Little Surfer Boy
By Sikivu Hutchinson
They look over their shoulders before they take to their boards. Watch for the girls huddled in juicyfruit gum popping reverie, the kids beating sand castles into corn mush, the butt-cheek flashing old timers settling down for a flame-broiled snooze under big yellow umbrellas. They steady themselves then take flight, working the waves into submission, salt clogging their nose, mouth, eyes, thrusting them into blindness, into the watery graves they’d been dreaming of, been memorizing from the first time they learned to surf as small boys enraptured with the rip curl gods.
They watch for cues from Jake, rising imperially from the water in a Neptune arc. Suction cup feet steadied on the board like some kind of evolutionary marvel, like some kind of special dispensation from the Lord. Our Jake held the record for staying up the longest before the waves smacked him down on his ass. A lecher exhibitionist toying with each little ripple in the ocean divinely served up to him in a neat little bow. Lucky fuck had never had his neck twisted and wrung out trying to execute. Lucky fuck delivered into this world by a midwife with a fistful of Mr. Zogs easing him out the womb. His bull necked royal highness, all bee stung lips and hot ‘roid lust. We creamed to see him sucking his stomach in concave in the weight room mirror when he thought no one was looking. Smacking fair Wilson on the ass with a wet towel.
They watch for the shoreline audience. Male surf groupies arriving on foot, spilling from the streetcars that dammed up at the beach terminus every hour, leaning out of cars idling for some place decent to park. Wolf packs dodging the bruised roller skating legions of little girls chopping through the dregs of June gloom on this first day of summer.
And Jake’s crew liked that stretch of beach because the wave span was neatest, the elemental Milky Way glide of paranormal orbit in the split second suspension between air and water. The sand castle mushers keeping score with their shovels. The flame-broiled snoozers shaking up their domino bags for the next game. The sweet sixteens talking mad shit about the crew’s bodies in lip-smacking 3-D detail.
They could stay out all summer, basking in 24-7 wall to wall seaweed funk. None of them had jobs except for Wilson; that white trash fucker bussing tables like a fucking Mexican, Jake snickered. The newly minted breadwinner for his mother, laid off from her nursing job, as his father rode off into the Akron sunset for fresh pipefitter leads. Only Wilson had regular money in his pocket. The crew bumming it off him for cigarettes and rubbers and all you can eat hoagies dripping with cheese from the boardwalk stand. It was the last teenaged summer when they could do that shit and have it still be considered cool, shuffling between bouts of community college, applications to Del Taco. The last gasp of the day was hanging around Jiffy Lube for the chance of an opening if ambition hit them. June, July, August were theirs to waste with grand abandon, spreading the seed of the crew all over town, tagging their handle in the beach bathroom, the basketball court, the trash barrels in the sand, staging sloppy drunk pantomimes over the mugs of the surfers’ pantheon painted on the Laundromat wall.
It was Wilson who noticed it first. The shoreline inched up to the street. The arcade, pub, and the laundromat whited out. All of the buildings of his teen dreams swallowed up now in a slow procession of open top cars. Toy Model As honked strung together by a child’s hand. Wannabe flapper girls with their whiter than white skinned arms peeking out of full body swimsuits and bullet caps. Big band swing blaring from the sludge of black vinyl. Passengers spilling out of the red cars in ant streams. A new revelation from between the waves, rising and falling as he adjusted his goggles, the other boys having swum ahead to catch the twin terrors, the warm smack of mega surf that came in late afternoon on the night of a full moon.
He paddled, coasted, paddled, coasted. Ignoring their sass about how much of a pussy he was for hanging back, neutered and spineless, lacking proper reverence for the occasion of the full moon. He’d begun to drift eastward to the section of beach near the dividing line of the next community, the snootier, ritzier, heavily refinanced side dominated by salmon toned McMansions and trust fund babies reeking pot. He tried to paddle back but his board resisted, lifting him off and into the water headfirst. His goggles slid down to his nose and he gagged, snorting saltwater, the shore dipping from view. He reached out for the board and came up empty, blearily watching it float ahead of him. The crew just ribald specks of vertiginous light, ducking and twisting with each wave.
Top of his swim classes, kindergarten to senior year, when he bested the Swiss boarding school wunderkind in the 100, his gills getting stronger with each meet. Imbibing the family legacy of being able to hold their breath underwater for death defying lengths. It was their only distinguishing feature, both sides of his clan stamped 3/4s white trash with a little “Cherokee” composted in. Or so one version went. He basked in the glow of dusk to dawn access to the city pools, to the beach, to the water parks whenever he could scrounge up the ten dollar admission fee.
The board was almost a yard away. He could feel everybody on the beach watching him. Wasn’t his imagination, but damned if the flapper girls weren't jockeying for a better view, calling him Romeo. His chest swelled like a red robin's. If only the crew could hear.
He saw a hand grip the board. Then a girl’s head rise slowly up from the water. Syl hoisted herself up, lying on her stomach as the waves washed over her. She paddled expertly with both hands, ignoring him as he struggled to get a clearer view. The waves calmed and she kneeled, bracing herself, listening, rigid with the same watchful posture that he’d assumed a thousand times waiting for the right moment to stand up on the board.
The crowd roared and she stood up. She was taller than him by a few inches. Body like it was all spine, arms folded across her chest. She slid into the snaking furl unfurl motion of fresh surf, trying to establish her center of gravity before the next torrent hit.
He could read novices right off, smell their eager beaver first-hand-up-in-chem-class zealotry, their spanking new assembly-line liberated boards stinking up the ozone. The kind of punks the crew would chew up and spit out in one barnstorming orgy in the locker room, their balls contorted in trash talking, swaggering over who had the shiniest designer gear. He’d been with the crew for five months. Watched them shyly from afar as he sucked down a coke and a slice at the boardwalk pizza joint. Fantasizing that they all had their asses wiped and shellacked with one hundred dollar bills. Burning to be one of them. He plotted his initiation every time he stepped around his grandpa, glued to the game shows and crime lab serials from dusk to dawn in their triplex apartment. He dreamed of making elaborate rescues. Swooping in during a showdown between the crew and the Huntington Beach boys, heimliching Jake from drowning in his own drool. All these micro moments when he could have proven himself, and here he was stuck sweeping up his grandpa's toenails from the bathroom floor, parceling out his pressure medicine, his Vicodin. The horror of being a Rip Van Winkle, waking up five decades later, just like him. Shitting when he was told to, laughing on cue at the laugh tracks, hoarding his Social Security checks for the latest soul saving scam in Africa.
For now, the crew was the ticket, the sliver of salvation that he nursed in bed at night as the walls pulsed with the Lotto results. Yeah he had a raggedy board, but he was prime. Shit, they had called him Romeo. Had cum in babbling brooks saying his name. Had said you'll never have to duck and hide taking the family’s clothes to the Laundromat. Never have to gag again on the five night a week pork n’ bean dinners, never get shit on again about your Pee Wee Herman high water pants, passed down from eldest to middle to youngest brother.
With the right clothes, the right hair, the right cadence of speech he could pass for one of them, perfecting his Richy Rich sneer with a hand mirror under the covers, willing himself to be the Swiss boarding school refugee of his dreams.
She looked out into the swamp of white faces and calculated how long it would take her to get to the other side of the beach. The façade of the new Negro resort rippled like a desert mirage in the west. The waiters would be serving lunch right about now. In spotless white uniforms. Napkins draped meticulously over their arms, fresh cut flowers at the ready on each table. They would give the diners a choice of chicken or roast beef, ice tea or lemonade. Lilting on the smell of King Crab specials whipped up for the VIPs at the grand opening.
In 1911 a parcel of beach front land had been set aside for Negroes. With little fanfare, back patting or congratulation, 40 acres were designated by the city father for an enterprising buyer. Only a handful stepped forward, a speculator fraud in black face wanting to open up a chain of naturopath spas for consumptives. An heiress seeking West Coast investment property using stock from her share in American Telegraph. Then the Bruce woman made us a legitimate offer, and permits were filed for the ground breaking.
They trickled in from the South, the Midwest, the East, small tumbleweed towns and big cities. Schoolteachers, clerks, stenographers, the almost black bourgeoisie scrimping for their first real vacation, for a taste of Pacific splendor beyond the bullwhip gaze of white people. For a honeymoon suite with a view, the snap of gray waves, the night sky bleeding into the ocean.
Opening day she had twenty reservations. After dinner they queued up for needlepoint, bid whist, politicking, a quick hand of gin or black jack dealt by Bruce herself. She wouldn't have gambling on the premises. So the closet addicts hunkered down past midnight, anxious to raise the stakes to something more dangerous, rubbing their bets together like firewood under the table, settling instead upon a wager about the number of survivors from a sunken British ship in the Atlantic. Raise you one scullery maid for three bankers.
Over one thousand feared dead. God be with the rescuers in that witch’s tit cold of a mess. It’s just a bunch of rich Brits and their hired help gone down with their loot. Better them than us. They burned us out of Springfield, lynched us like dogs in Atlanta, and where was the world then?
From Marmion Way