Twice a year–Christmas and summer–I return to Orange County. Growing up there, I knew the beach more like a relative than a place.
The Pacific is cold, and I stay out of it now, but then I rode the waves–and got turned every way but up–in a large inner tube, and afterward stood shivering in front of fires built in rings that have long since disappeared, I believe. Even on summer nights the car heater was on for the drive home from the beach.
I remember the Western Whitehouse being at the south end of San Clemente. When Nixon was there, security guards turned you back if you walked that far. On one of those days I remember that I was reading a Charley Brown cartoon book.
Then there was my Aunt Lacy looking down from the cliffs of Corona del Mar and saying she felt an urge to jump. (I use this recollection in one of my novels-in-progress. “Do you want me to hold your purse?” her stepson asks.)
I remember being at Sid’s Bluebeet (now the oldest bar in Newport Beach, a google search has just told me), and my embarrassed date pointing out that everyone but me had stopped talking to listen to the music. I had been too interested in whatever I was saying to notice. Like a lot of young men on dates, I was full of myself. I wonder how anyone stood me?
I remember dancing at Finnegan’s Rainbow while a projector showed Popeye fucking Olive Oil on the wall above our heads. Lots of joints were smoked in Finnegan’s foggy parking lot, on a bluff of Costa Mesa above Newport.
I remember a winter night during high school when a friend picked me up in his VW and we cruised the beach thoroughfares looking at girls. I wonder if either of us knew that only one of us was really into that sport?
As a young man I wasn’t always sure what to do with my time. I remember lonely trips to the beach when I didn’t know why I’d come: not swimming, certainly not girl-watching, trying not to boy-watch. I got into my car and drove home feeling as unsatisfied as I’d felt on the drive there.
Above, Todd, my other half, with the Balboa Pier behind him, December 2013.
[Anyone especially interested in Orange County memories should look at http://www.octhen.com/. I discovered it when I was trying to see if I remembered correctly the name of Finnegan’s Rainbow.]