Thursday, February 26, 2009

They can tell and they know all about you.

Moving is an interesting thing.

I grew up in Santa Barbara, and if you drive away from our house towards Washington School and keep going, you will get to Monroe School (McKinley school is right across from both our place and Santa Barbara City College, where my dad just got a job). Anyway, we are living in a small 2 bedroom place, sort of a place with two or three units on Barranca Street. It's me, my sister and my mom and dad. We are about to move to a bigger place on Isleta St. My dad is teaching at the College and Charlie Atkenson has just suffered a heart attack and passed away. He was chairman of the Art Department and I could tell everyone was really shocked that he died so suddenly. I was playing with his kids, on a pile of dirt, I think some gardeners were preparing the soil for some soon to arrive plants. I could hear the freeway somewhere off in the distance, and maybe this was a memorial service, it was foggy in a "it looks like dawn or dusk all day" type of Santa Barbara way.

So, I am just young maybe 4 or 5, because I haven't started kindergarten or anything, and we haven't moved to Isleta Street yet. Isleta St. is only a few blocks away, but there I will meet a neighbor who is building a small wooden boat in his garage, it has a square front and is made of varnished plywood, somehow, it seems we go look at it many times, they do live next door. Right around the corner were the Smiths, Susan who is my age and Emerson, her dad and her Mom who's name I can't remember, they live around the block and when we moved to Sea Ranch Dr. some 4 miles away, down past Monroe School and past the beach, the Smiths sort of stopped being our friends. Emerson buys a Vespa and comes by once or twice and my mom says he will most likely get killed on it. He does tell us that he is a safe driver. My mom says "it's not right that we've invited them over a number of times, and they cancelled last minute because they can't leave the new dog."

The house on Isleta has a gravel driveway and we bought a used Fiat Sedan, which ended up as a rusted out art project at our next house. My mom suggested we take our pet goldfish out to get some sun, they liked it but they died. On my fifth birthday my mom made a cake that looked like basketball player. I also, watched a bee crawling on the lawn. Years later, I go back to the house on Isleta, as an adult to a party, with my parents and it makes no impression on me. I don't think, wow, I used to live here when I was 5, nothing. I am sure it is the same house, but I don't remember why I am here, I think it is now another art teacher's house, Mr Robertson's, and therefore, his party was at his house which was once our house, (the one on Isleta St.) If all that is correct, it means that I also know his son Danny Robertson, who was the first person to hassle me when I started surfing, even before I started surfing.

I had just bought a surfboard out at the swap meet for maybe $12 and some change (my dad didn't really want me to be a surfer, so I wasn't getting a board at a surf shop). It was a faded red board, one that was definitely not pink, but a sort of dingy red-grey with a touch of brown. Short boards were in and long boards were out, it was the transition years, and this board was a long short board, skinny with a swooping nose and a narrow tail, not a long board, but also, it was a board completely not suited to the small end of summer waves at The Pit. I did get a wetsuit, or I should say half of a wetsuit, the farmer john, long-john sleeveless and therefore freezing kind. My dad was, as I said sort of not buying into the California surfer thing, perhaps he was noticing some of the guys around The Pit, like Bill Ledbetter, who a few years later decided to kill himself and put a flare gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. This attempt blew out his teeth, and tongue, but he survived, until he killed himself a couple of weeks after getting out of the hospital. Once at a party at the Culinary Alliance Hall, Ledbetter, said "The next motherfucker that bumps me is gonna get fucked up." Soon he was bumped and blindly threw a punch at what turned out to be one of the bigger gentleman at the party, who while perhaps not actively looking for a fight was, not only "up for" but also decidedly prepared to give Bill Ledbetter a sound and actually, quite sever beating. In those days no one really thought about breaking up a fight, so it went on for a long time as everyone went back to watching the band playing some rock and roll cover song.

My dad might also have noticed Mike Anderson, who got "into shaking up cars" by jumping up and down on the trunks, then cupping his hand over the gas tank and taking what would today be considered a "mega bong hit" of gas fumes. Was it a good buzz, or just good theatrics? Either way Mike ended up working at a tire shop.

Marco got shot 7 times by the cops while breaking into a restaurant over on Milpas St. Turns out he was stealing 2 cartons of cigarettes and 3 avocados, he and his buddy got surrounded and tried to make a run for it, the cops thought the cigarettes were guns. Marco, lost some fingers, and was shot in the leg, chest, arm, stomach, etc...and he lived. After he got out of the hospital he told me the story and added, "Dude, this is just all bonus time, I should be dead." A few weeks later his car hit a Palm tree near my house at over 100 mph.

Anyway, now that I am 13, with my new swap meet surfboard and a fresh coat of coconut scented surf wax applied to the deck. I am walking in a crisp fall sunshine from the back of the parking lot towards the beach. This is a moment very much like when you buy a guitar that you "hope" to learn to play and you walk out of the store with a cheap guitar and realize that you are a complete phony, because you are walking down the street with a guitar, but you don't play guitar, and the people who are walking past, well, they are either out-of-it and not cool, or they know, they can see it, you're not a guitarist, you haven't even been to your first lesson. They can tell and they know all about you.

So, I am actually feeling okay about the board and the walk, I have friends that learned to surf over the summer when I was away, so we've talked at Jr. High and I know a little bit about the sport, and there's Danny Robertson, he's got a VW van and a girl hanging out with him, and it looks like for 16, he's got a pretty good mustache coming along. So Danny takes a look at me and announced to the general area around his van "Kook" and well, I keep going. Now Danny and I both have VW bugs, and Danny's still surfing the Pit. His sister Edie, was in a band in the 80's called Generics and owns a restaurant now, I see her with a chef uniform from time to time.

Coming home to Santa Barbara, the old memories flood back, but it was a different life then and it was a different world. Could it be that I was really that person that grew up in this place?

Honestly it does seem possible, because, while yes, I have spent a year or two here or there and I didn't actually arrive in Santa Barbara until I was 4 and a half tears old, the truth is, I am just moving across town, but somehow, it sort of feels like I've been here before.


  1. *applause* more! more! *applause*

  2. lovely writing. Glad trakka nudged me to take a look.

  3. This is a great peice of writing about a slice of time in Santa Barbara that I miss...a lot actually. I wish it was still this way for my kids. I hope you write more...