|The light in the wilderness|
I could not go from a pinprick of light, brilliantly glowing in the timeless night void, to a grain of sand, lost in the endless sandy beaches of Southern California, without feeling ungrounded. That minute spark in the blackness was tangible proof of my presence, my very existence, whereas that grain of sand would likely remain forever, only one of an infinite number of others. Piling together those grains of sand together, however, like the sandy beaches of SoCal, creates some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.
The first morning I was in SoCal, Denise and I strolled under idyllic skies along the berm in Sunset Beach, between homes lining the coastline, and the ocean. We gazed out to sea on the left, while inconspicuously trying to spot the barbecues belonging to each home that we passed on the right. Having both partied and stayed over in spots exactly like one of these back in the day, I felt strongly nostalgic there for a minute or two.
Fast-forwarding from the time period following my graduation from high school, to fifty years into the future, is enough to grind the gears of any 68-year-old “senior.” I could not differentiate between the cloudy images in my brain from my youth, and what I saw in front of me as Denise chauffeured me around her ‘hood.
When I said I felt ungrounded, I don’t mean that I felt so in Denise’s home-perish the thought! Set amidst a track of homes built in the late fifties, it is located about four miles from the coast. Her home has a spacious area out front and a back yard that is larger than normal because the road curves out in front of her home, elongating the back.
Having arrived at Dee’s late on Tuesday afternoon, I woke up Wednesday morning feeling buoyant. Part of this I attributed to the success of my plane flight and survival of the ride home from the airport, but most of it was because I had managed to fulfill a promise I had made to myself to visit Denise in her space.
Before I was drafted in January of 1972, I had spent more than a fair amount of time in this neck of the woods. Every chance I got I had strapped my ten-feet-one-inch-long Chuck Dent surfboard on top of my Nova and headed over to Bolsa Chica, or what had been called Tin Can Beach. When we were done with the early morning dances-with-waves part of the show, we would venture up the coast a short distance to Newport Beach. Food, rays and body surfing were the purported reasons for being there, but that was all subterfuge to the real mission: chicks. Fortunately, girls were also attracted to food, rays and body surfing, so it worked out nicely. I’m not sure I ever realized that people actually lived down there near the beach.
We ended up walking down the center of the divided road, though, because masks on the locals were few and far between. The beautifully coifed median strip was planted with grass and palm trees, both central props for SoCal, but so perfect in their symmetry as to create an almost artificial air to the block.
What were the folks who lived along here like? Would living in this aesthetically stunning environment jade the average palate? Could one still find evidence that this was just an ordinary neighborhood in an extraordinary setting?
We were suddenly aware that an older model pick-up truck had drawn up alongside us from behind. The extended left arm of the driver, a weather-beaten older man, held out to Denise the scarf that she had unknowingly dropped on the avenue a few minutes earlier, a hundred or so feet back.
It was such a genuinely sweet act of kindness (the scarf is one of Dee’s favorites) that it brought a glow of appreciation for a neighborhood that could be so kind to a total stranger. It also effectively answered my question about whether or not this could be an ordinary neighborhood in an extraordinary setting.
The proof is in the returned scarf.