The trouble with Cayucos these days is that it's been overrun by boring rich people. Life can be boring enough in a sleepy little slice of utopia off the central coast, but the addition of really boring rich people makes it even more boring and, frankly, vapid.
These boring rich people proudly surround themselves in the trappings of the bored rich, and they are all white, usually old, unless they're part of the geeky techie invasion in San Luis Obispo, (the same ones who siphoned all the personality and eccentric characters out of San Francisco) and believe me, this breed is about as vapid as it gets. Maybe they became as unbearably boring as they are because they have devoted their lives to the desires and schemes of getting rich and accumulating items of great value and have little time to be fun and funny and stupid and tantalizingly shiftless like all the colorful no-accounts who've dwelt in Cayucos over the years and mostly disappeared by attrition and been replaced by boring rich people.
Old white boring rich people love to talk with casual authority and smugness to fellow old white boring rich people about their stock and real estate holdings (unless it's grandchildren, God help us), and how to invest their largess and how they became rich; especially when they go on cruises where they don't have to do much but eat and drink and be entertained and waited upon by peons while their wives drag them to tourist spots in ports and shop and snap pictures to show their fellow boring rich friends when they return home.
Boring rich people, while together, also like to castigate politicians who create ecological restrictions to their access to new riches and go overboard in enacting safeguards to protect the peons from their unchecked greed to never stop getting richer and richer, and many of them still have the sour taste of Franklin Roosevelt, the SEC, and now Obama stuck I their craws.
The boring rich people in Cayucos seldom if ever leave their dogs off the leash because they fear their dogs might offend other dog owners, (lawsuits are always a great fear) and their dogs usually are tiny pampered pedigrees who yip and yap and either quail or feign attack when coming across big friendly slobbering dogs off their leash who only want to make friends with cringing boring rich people who side-step them, eyes averted.
Boring rich people in Cayucos have big spotless newly minted homes, usually two stories, and they are constantly hovering around their turf making sure nothing is out of place, that the trash cans are hidden from view before being taken out on trash pick-up day, and taken in immediately after being emptied so as not to appear negligent as they slavishly bow to the cycle of maintenance; and of course their spanking new high-end luxury cars are always gleaming and spotless and never dusty and dirt-coated like those owned by the sparse scattering of paupers still clinging to Cayucos like barnacles.
Boring rich people can be really finicky, especially while dining in one of the two Cayucos high-end restaurants, where they judiciously and relentlessly question waiters about sauces threatening high cholesterol counts, gluten, and wine, for boring rich people, if they do drink, and mostly in moderation, sip wine, and can be easily disgruntled if their wine is not perfect on their educated palates, as many of the boring rich people in Cayucos spend much of their spare time visiting many of the over hundred vineyards out around Paso Robles and have invested much time on their computers scouring the very best in wine and studying various vintages, and they take pride in talking intelligently about wine as well as stocking many of the most acclaimed award winning wines for when their boring rich friends visit from their boring rich white communities where everything is safe and orderly as it should be.
Many of the older white boring rich men have haircuts and hair like Vice President Mike Pence, (and wives who imitate Nancy Reagan). They are always polite if fleetingly so, like Mike Pence is forced to be around liberal democrats who think he's a hypocrite and a Christ-crazed zealot, because he is of the highest profile and needs to be accepted and even liked if he is to continue being a boring rich white guy trying to pass laws that enhance the lives of fellow boring rich white people while fucking everybody else.
Boring rich people will not be caught dead in the old Cayucos Tavern, but sometimes on Friday evenings in the Schooner's Wharf, when the little bar is packed and the tables of diners are filled out on the deck, a boring rich couple will stand in the doorway observing the deafening racket, hoots, guffaws, and joyous idiocy raging among the Happy Hour's Who's Who that counts, realizing they must endure this little rowdy compartment if they wish to wait for seating outside. Only five feet away will be the Pirate, filthy from work, bushy beard stained with plaster, holding court with a crew of admiring reprobates like Jake Straw or Dwayne, a retired salesman who has been drinking VO and cokes since one in the afternoon, and possibly Tag Morely, who is at least elegantly clad, and myself, as we all partake in aimless, disconnected conversations where we are yelling at each other to be heard above the din; and, if the boring rich people happen to brave the crush and push toward the interior and receive the attention of the bartender, they might hear Straw and myself:
“Jake, do you realize you're the stupidest person in this bar!”
“So what! I'm happy being stupid! The less you know about this bullshit the better off you are!”
“Only good thing about you is you like dogs!”
“Only good thing about you, asshole, is YOU like dogs!”
“Your dogs are stupid just like you are! That's why they obey you!They don't know any better!”
“Your dog won't obey you, cuz he KNOWS you're stupid!”
“I'm not stupid. I'm a fucking published writer for Chrissake! I've read Dostoevski!”
“Never mind! I've read BUKOWSKI!”
“A drunken poet who lives with drunken whores and writes about their drunken sexual escapades!”
“Well, if I'm gonna read anybody, I'll read HIM!”
There's usually nowhere for the boring rich people to sit at this time, as the cushioned back seats with tables in front are taken by regulars, and they are being buffeted by gorgeous very young waitresses and Mexican busboys and the constantly circulating gadflies making the rounds...
...and so the boring rich couple, sometimes accompanied by another boring rich couple, all of whom came to dine with a magnificent view, are forced to wait downstairs by themselves, where there is no view and they will be all alone as they sit or stand among others waiting for a table, and so they end up going to one of the two high-end restaurants that are quiet and civilized and the wine list is extensive and excellent and they can settle comfortably into their hard won trappings, soothed by musak and the tinkle of cutlery, sans a view.
The Pirate has his own stool in the Schooner’s Wharf in Cayucos with his name engraved on a brass plaque that reads “Patron of the Year.” But everybody knows he is beyond such a meager title and is actually at the very top of the pantheon of who’s who in Cayucos, and should have the engraving changed to “Citizen of the Century.” Or maybe even a statue outside the establishment like famous athletes have outside sports arenas, for the Pirate, born and raised in Cayucos and now 62, is a living local legend of ever-shifting images.
The pirate’s stool is dealt with in a sort of reverence, like a shrine, and is always situated at the corner of the bar just as you come in. When the Pirate arrives for his own personal happy hour, which precedes the real happy hour, and somebody happens to be seated on his stool, they’ll quickly jump up as if royalty has arrived. Even if this royalty seems rather short, round, bushy-bearded, elfish, sweat-stained ball cap squashed upon a reddened merry Santa Claus face and merry perennially bloodshot eyes, plaster-stained sweatshirt torn at the shoulders to reveal the arms of a man who has been working nonstop since he was a child.
Almost always, the Pirate will shoo you back upon his stool, especially if it is occupied by a female, for the Pirate holds great sway with the ladies, almost all of whom adore his grungy, work-splattered being.
I first observed the Pirate back in 1989 during the July 4th Parade, which in those days was not a corporate creation of Fresno and Bakersfield fossils waving from antique cars, but mostly a bunch of hooligans partying on floats, followed by cowboys and cowgirls on horses that shit in the street, and hula girls shaking their fringed bottoms.
Anyway, the Cayucos Tavern had a float which was essentially a flatbed hauled by a truck. The flatbed was made up as a card parlor, and the Pirate, a young man in those days reputed to be the most artistic stone mason in the county, was on that flatbed, drunk, up all night and wired to the gills.
He somehow fell off the tail of the flatbed and while doing so completed a back flip and came up standing, yet missing the half pint of Korbel’s brandy that fell out of his back pocket and rolled to the crowd. A young boy picked it up and handed it to the Pirate, who bowed, handed the boy some candy, snatched his bottle and uncapped it, took a reassuring swig, recapped it and sort of zig-zagged back toward the float, where Tag Morely and friends pulled him up.
At that time, the Pirate was a fixture in the Cayucos Tavern, and owner Bill Larkin, who hired the Pirate to design the facades of both his bars (Camozzi’s in Cambria), paid him by erasing long held bar tabs. Also, if the Pirate put in a long night of drinking and passed out on the seating area at the back of the bar, Larkin allowed him to sleep it off and offered him coffee in the morning before he set off to work as a plasterer. The Pirate never misses work no matter how hungover he is, and the Pirate, despite eating mostly meat and keeping long hours, is never sick.
The Pirate owns nothing but another of his long line of croaking pickups that warn you he’s coming from several blocks away. The Pirate owes nobody anything except his weekly bar tab, which is always paid off. Out on a ranch where the Pirate rents a small house and has tamed a feral cat, the Pirate grows veggies and often drops by friends in town to hand off squash, avocados, tomatoes, etc.
The Pirate was once a commercial fisherman and hunting guide and plays the guitar and had his own band, the Motowners. The Pirate has been smoking since childhood and his few remaining teeth show it. And, since he is a pirate, he swigs shots of rum with his Mexican beer and goes arrghhh!
I first got to know the Pirate up close and personal in 1992 when I was off work from my bartending job at Happy Jack’s Saloon in Morro Bay and boozing it up pretty forcibly on a night off in the Tavern, when I heard screams and scuffling back by the shuffle board.
The bar was packed, the music loud, but since I was in the area I drifted over and discovered two framers kicking the Pirate, who was on the ground, bloody of face, his left leg still weak from recently getting a cast off. So, wanting to be a friend of the Pirate, I ran at the scene and gave one fellow a running forearm football-style shiver to the jaw and proceeded afterward to park his friend beside him.
By this time, a few patrons came on the scene, and after that, as we pulled the raging Pirate to his feet, as he savagely cursed his attackers, who quickly fled, the sheriffs arrived. At the sight of the bedraggled Pirate, they sighed and shook their heads.
”You again,” one of them said.
“I’m gonna kill those chickenshit cowards!” raged the Pirate, his face a swollen pulpy mess.
“No, you’re not,” said one of the officers.
“What happened?” asked the other officer.
I stepped forward and explained what had transpired. The officer looked aggrieved.
“Do you want to take responsibility for him?” he asked.
“No,” I answered. “I am barely responsible for myself.”
“Well,” said the officer. “We’re sick of throwing him in jail for drunk in public and other shenanigans. We don’t want the paper work. So why don’t you take him home.”
“I’d like to,” I said. “But I’ve had a few drinks.”
“You don’t seem drunk.”
“If you tested me you’d have to jail me.”
“Look, he only lives half a mile from here in town. We’ll let it go if you take him off our hands.”
So I agreed to take the Pirate home. They watched me lead him to my 1976 Olds Cutless Salon with much duct tape and pile the unwilling, still very riled up Pirate, who wanted to find one of his several guns and shoot the cowards, into the front seat. He had accused them of stealing his tools.
At that time I was living with Miranda, two blocks from the Pirate. And at that time, Miranda was working at the liquor store several blocks down, halfway between the Tavern and our residences. So I stopped at the liquor store, ran in to inform Miranda that I had no idea how late I’d be home—she was getting off at 11, in five minutes–because the county sheriffs had put me in charge of the Pirate, whom they characterized in that wide open era as the Tasmanian Devil.
Well, when I returned to my car, it was gone. I set off in a mad sprint toward the Tavern. Just as I arrived, at least 20 people were sprinting out of the bar while the Pirate chased them swinging wildly with a baseball bat, a Louisville slugger, he’d obviously found in my trunk. There was screaming and roaring as drunks scattered. I reached the Pirate and said, calmly, “Gimme the bat, please.”
The Pirate complied. I ordered him to my car. He grumbled about wanting to get his gun and shoot the culprits who beat him and those who stood by and allowed it to happen. Once we reached his upstairs one bedroom apartment, I locked us in and the Pirate broke out some beers and a bottle when the sheriffs showed up and asked about the bat. I showed it to them. They said, “If we see that bat and that Tasmanian devil on the street again tonight you’re both going to jail.”
I promised it would not happen. We sat and talked about the stacks of detective novels the Pirate read, and his exploits, and drank, until he passed out in the wee hours, and from that point on we’ve been comrades for life. For he comes by several early afternoons a week, before hitting the Wharf, beeps, takes a while to get out of his work truck, finds a bag of dog biscuits, and, while Wilbur paces and drools, wings a couple biscuits up onto the deck and cackles as Wilbur instantly devours them.
I always thank him and vow to meet him at the Wharf and buy him a beer. Nobility must be honored.
I ran into Richard just off the seawall yesterday morning around nine as he was returning from his walk on the pier. Richard is tall, slender, a little stiff in movement, a trifle hunched, wears glasses, sports a 1950s style mop of hair, is in his early 70s, and is highly educated.
At one time he was into a jogging regimen (in fluorescent sneakers) that involved at least 5 miles in a gait slower than my walk. Richard became a real estate agent about 25 years ago; and why I don’t know, because he is not particularly ambitious or money-crazed, but reasonably calm and personable almost all the time, a picture of consistency in a nerd’s grown-up suit. Though he doesn’t wear suits, no, just a plain shirt and plain pants and no tie.
Richard has a small office on the main drag, and another in Santa Barbara where he says it’s much easier to sell a house. He shuttles back and forth, and I would say, the best quality about Richard besides his honesty and compassion, is his appreciation of irony and sarcasm and especially absurdity; though unlike myself, he is in too serious a business to be an “absurdist” like me.
“I hear there’s eleven real estate offices in Cayucos these days,” I said, after initial salutations. I’ve known Richard from back in the days when I was a bartender in Morro Bay and he slummed with his ex wife, a bit of an adolescent hooligan in grown-up skin. Richard, never a boozer, is long-suffering to say the least.
“Probably more,” Richard said. “Lots of real estate agents in Cayucos, and not much to sell. What there is, is too expensive.”
“Lots of empty castles and ghost streets.”
“Oh yes. I’d say at least eighty per cent of the beach front homes along Pacific Avenue are empty almost all the time.”
“Not even for the Fourth and holidays.”
He shook his head. “You walk on the beach, and maybe a handful of homes have people enjoying them. Mostly they’re rentals.”
“And whole blocks where people used to live, where kids and dogs played, empty. Ghost streets, I agreed.”
“Pretty much. These people from the Valley have a lot of money. They build these Carmel-like mansions, up to 3,500 square feet, though they can cheat by claiming storage space. They pay gardeners and caretakers to keep them up, and they’re never lived in. And then they go up for sale for astronomical prices nobody can afford.”
“How do you sell them?”
“Well, you know I work with Dale.”
“He sells most of them. We work as a team. I do the writing.”
“Yes, you have to write up a house like it’s a person, or a personality. Make it attractive. You sit down and give it a script, and try and make it enticing as possible—like a movie trailer, say…making it beautiful…even if it isn’t, even if it has flaws…”
“Like a romance novel.”
“Pretty much, yes, I’d say so.”
“And Dale won’t do that?”
“Dale can’t be bothered, and he’s not one to do it anyway. Dale talks. Dale sells.”
Dale is the biggest real estate maven in Cayucos and one of the biggest in the county. Dale is the opposite of Richard. Dale seems hyperkinetic and has the cell phone out. Richard is never in a hurry and seldom on his cell phone. Even when you pass by Dale’s office and he’s at his desk doing nothing, he appears antsy, as if he’s about to jump up and do something earth-shaking serious.
He is a world class bullshitter about nothing and everything, while Richard is a bullshitter on just about any subject, for he reads and listens calmly while Dale has the attention span of a parakeet but knows what to say and can be entertaining. Above all, Dale really, really knows his business. Unlike Richard, who is a touch frumpy, Dale is perennially youthful and charismatic.
And Dale is impossible to dislike even if what he does for a living contributes hugely to the radical gentrification of Cayucos. If it wasn’t him, it would be somebody else, and I have come across a few reptiles in town, one woman in particular who appraises you as not worth bothering with if you don’t look like you can bankroll at least a mini mansion.
She wears suits and high heels and drives a late model sports car, and is married to a grinning geek. Her cell phone is almost always affixed to her ear, her face wreathed in concentration, worry, and greed. She is a handsome woman, utterly unappetizing.
Real estate agents are everywhere in Cayucos, like locusts. And since, like Dale, they are outgoing and sunny and engaging and wear constant smiles when it matters, which is most of the time, they are accepted and saluted in the streets. My friend and former mechanic, George Borque, who was flushed from town over rent hikes and bought a home in shabby Los Osos, blames Dale solely for the ruination of Cayucos and his own demise and would torture him before executing him if he had his way.
“So what’s going to happen?” I asked Richard. “I mean, that place on Park sold, right? It’s a monster. Nobody but a big family can move in there. Six bedrooms? So who buys it? Another zillionaire for a tax write off? Weekly rentals to whole clans? Or some retired fossil who’s going to share it with his fossil wife?”
Richard shrugged. “Who knows. Most families can’t afford to move here. So you don’t see as many kids as you used to.”
“You see old fat rich people with little dogs and little to do.”
“There’s a lot of that, too.”
“Someday, that’s all it will be, until they die and their kids sell the places to people like their parents, or knock them down and build these gross castles nobody can live in—like living in a fucking mausoleum in a cemetery.
Richard laughed. “Well, maybe it won’t be that bad. Hopefully not. Anyway, I’ve got to get going.”
Richard left, a slow shamble from the area off the pier to his office a few doors down.
On my way back with Wilbur, I passed Dale’s office. He saw me, raised a hand in greeting, jumped off his chair, grabbed a couple biscuits and, to prevent Wilbur from plowing into his office and inciting his dogs, fed Wilbur the goodies. We exchanged pleasantries, and then I moved on…
…but later that afternoon I passed by his office on the afternoon walk, and this time he handed me the biscuits in fear Wilbur would take his hand. He then started laughing and told me he thought one of my pieces about the radical gentrification of Cayucos in the Cal Coast News was hilarious.
“What do you think about the radical gentrification of Cayucos?” I asked.
“Well, it’s sad,” he confessed. “But it seems unavoidable.”
“Lots of people blame people like you, and specifically you, because you’re big.”
“I know, but also you’ve got these people coming in who don’t live here, who Air B&B their places to get more than they can renting them out full time, so you’ve got people who don’t live here running around and not caring about the town.”
“So the full time rentals are shrinking, and the ones available are too expensive to rent.”
“Whole streets that used to have people in every house, are almost empty but for three or four, and sometimes one or two. Ghost streets.”
I didn’t want to press and torment Dale. His sunny disposition and readiness to bullshit and laugh eliminates most of the target. It’s a dirty job, being in the center of radically gentrifying one of the last affordable beach outposts in California. But I guess somebody’s got to do it. And get rich in the process.
He’s usually entrenched in a parking spot just off the south lot a couple yards north of the little area where the seawall begins. He’s like a cat who has methodically explored and found its place in which to aspire to the ultimate comfort zone, a sort of headquarters to come back to after more exploring. He’s always in good spirits and ready for a little conversation. He’s around 55, slender and a little bent, heavily tattooed, and wears flat silver rings on all his fingers.
He has to be slender to sleep in the rig he’s created—a 6-foot long flat trailer with a bed of cushions and comforters and covered with canvas pitched into a mini teepee. Two small American flags fly from his teepee on either side. He stuffs all he owns—except a simple white plastic deck chair—into the teepee, and hooks the trailer to his mountain bike when he needs to find necessities in town or sometimes in Morro Bay, where he shops in thrift stores for objects to pound out with his little hammer to create crafts of a sort, which he sells and sometimes gives away.
He stays busy as an artisan, yes, but also has plenty of time to idly savor the beauty and pace of Cayucos; and pulls up his plastic chair to soak it all in or study his smart phone or pass the time with locals and tourists fascinated with his rig and his life style, which evidently he’s honed down to an exactness of economy and precision, for he seems to lack nothing. A restroom and outside showers are at the end of the seawall off the pier.
The first time I discovered him was on an early morning walk with Wilbur, when a black jacket was flung over the front opening of his teepee, against which was wedged his chair.
A couple days later I spotted him pedaling down the main drag pulling his rig, flags flying, the canvas filled with blue and red odes to veterans. He was in no particular hurry. Later that afternoon, while I was walking Wilbur, he was seated at his adopted spot pounding little silver objects with a small hammer, head down.
I decided not to interfere with his work. I thought, maybe he’s a recluse not wanting to talk to anybody, beaten down from the system and wanting to be left alone in his suffering. But I knew different when a couple days later I parked in the south lot around 6 in the evening and he was conversing with two young women in an animated manner as they looked over his wares. He talked with his hands and smiled and nodded and laughed like a man totally attuned to the endearing humanity of life, happy to cavort with whomever came along and share what he had to offer.
The next morning, on my walk, he was sitting in his chair doing nothing as Wilbur approached him. He immediately held his hand out to Wilbur and fondled his ears and smiled at me. His teeth were fine. His eyes were benign in a face that had a kind of warped look, leading me to believe much had gone on in his life to send him where he now was, utterly at peace while eschewing all entanglements and conventions, perhaps the happiest and most well-adjusted person in Cayucos these days.
“How’s it going?” I asked.
“Great, man.” He smiled. “How you doing?”
“That’s Wilbur. He’s a pretty big personality down here, kind of an institution.”
“I’ve seen that.” He kept petting him.
“You a silversmith?” I ventured.
“No, not really, I just work with stuff. Some I sell, lot of it I give away if people like it.”
“That’s quite a rig you got there. You fit in it pretty snug?”
“I sure do. Fit perfect.”
“No trouble getting in and out?”
“Nope. Everything I own is in there. I sleep with it.”
Wilbur finally spotted another friend and pulled away, and I told the guy it was nice talking to him and he told me to have a great day and went back to gazing at the sea and sipping his coffee from the local coffeehouse or the gas station on the corner.
My guess is he gets social security or has a pittance to live on because as a couple weeks rolled past I discovered him eating a big sandwich, but never boozing. Sometimes his bike and rig sat by itself, and I passed him while walking Wilbur on the main drag and discovered him conversing, standing up with Hubert and a couple guys who idle away days every day doing nothing and always say hello and pet Wilbur. They like to roost on the benches in front of Skipper’s old diner, which closes at 2 in the afternoon.
This homeless guy fits right in. He is unerringly polite. One day he was pounding out some silver to look like an eagle’s wings. I halted to watch him work and he claimed he found the silver at the Cayucos thrift shop.
“It’s the best and cheapest thrift shop in the county,” I told him.
“I love it. And the ladies who work there. They’re so nice, and so helpful.”
“Those old ladies are the backbone of Cayucos,” I told him.
“I can see that. I keep finding more good things about this place.”
I noticed in my walks that he was making more and more friends among locals. He was becoming one of those people others are drawn to. A homeless woman who lives in her dented yellow Honda SUV and boondocks in the north lot on the other end of the pier, visits with him.
I’m sure the county sheriffs and the highway patrol who cruise through town have noticed him and his rig. I’m sure the newly affluent and entitled have noticed him, and hope they do not complain to authorities, fearing their antiseptic existences are tarnished by their interpretation of what is perhaps dirty and tainting.
Most of the homeless people in this area cluster down by the river near the power plant in Morro Bay, which the police clean out every now and then. I’ve seen some homeless people sleep in bags at the park by Cayucos creek. Those that live in cars park them in no-man’s land streets away from homes, like on Park Ave behind the Catholic Church lot. Early mornings they move to the lots around the pier.
I struck up a conversation the other day with the new homeless guy, whose name is Dave, curious if he was an army vet. “No,” he said. “I just like to show my respect for the veterans who allow me to live like I do.”
I didn’t bother to question him. I don’t know what our veterans have really fought for since WWII, unless it’s oil or the arrogant hubris of trying to convince others to live as we do, though the very existence of them strikes fear in anybody who feels aggressive towards us.
We kept talking and he mentioned that he’d been here almost a month, and it was the best place he’d been to, his last being Huntington Beach. I told him this was the last outpost and maybe the last place he could live outside of some small beach towns north of San Francisco. I told him I hoped he’d stay a while.
He paused and smiled at me, but there was no telling where he’d go if he got the restless traveling itch. Maybe Big Sur. Certainly not Cambria, which is truly a kind of artists colony and a bit snootier than Cayucos. I don’t think he’d fare well in Cambria.
I remember my traveling itch after I got out of the army, when I couldn’t sit still and set off from LA and hitch-hiked all over the country and worked on a riverboat on the Mississippi River; and later accessed the entire country by thumb, and slept where I could, and people were generous and kind but for a few nasty exceptions over which I prevailed.
On the road, with only my small pack and sleeping bag and no entanglements, personal or material, I don’t recall ever being as happy, though I had not achieved as compact and skilled a system of survival as the happy homeless man now roosting in such copacetic ease.
Yesterday afternoon, coming up from the beach with Wilbur on a crowded Saturday, I noticed that he was away from his usual spot; but when I walked past Sandy and Carrie’s little shops on the main drag, he had taken over a little area back from the street where he’d parked his rig and assembled his wares on a picnic table before a bench and under some trees, and was holding court with several people, gesturing, nodding, smiling, possibly giving a little away and taking a little in, finding that perfect balance in life Aristotle always preached.
I ran into Dave this morning while walking Wilbur. We’ve become friends, visiting every time I come by. The other day he ran me down on the beach, excited because he had landed a job as handyman and the boss put him in a motel overnight.
He had also shown his crafts to the head of the local art association and was accepted as a member. He is hoping to earn enough money to move here to something small in Cayucos.
But this morning he ran into trouble, as trouble has been brewing among a few locals who have spent time observing him and complaining. And this morning a large black diesel truck pulled up and the driver, a great big guy, informed him that “You’ve been here three weeks now. School’s out. My children will be coming down here. Time for you to move on.”
The tone of the man’s voice was threatening. Dave is always clean, and told me he has tried to avoid a scattering of other homeless people in town because he doesn’t want people to think he is starting an “invasion.”
“I gave a homeless guy a blanket, but otherwise, I’m avoiding him. I’m trying to be careful. I know I’m homeless, but I’m not mooching off anybody, asking for handouts. I’m not a druggie or a crazy person. I just choose to live as I do, and I’m looking to improve my situation. Believe me, this life isn’t easy.”
Others have complained, claiming they work for a living, and ask why bums are hanging out in Cayucos, tarnishing its image, threatening their children with the awful sight of people who are in trouble, ostracized, estranged, mostly miserable; in many cases victims of outrageous rental costs in a state with huge divisions between the rich and poor.
My question to the people threatening Dave is this: “Where is your compassion? Where is your ability to try and walk in the shoes of those less fortunate? Do you know anything about the Great Depression, when the forces of greed and evil and power subjugated the common man? Have you read Upton Sinclair or John Steinbeck? Do you realize you are basically vigilantes, abusing a man who is trying to survive while bothering nobody but your dark mentality, your ignorance, your cruelty?”
Being homeless is NOT against the law.
Perhaps this has all drifted down from Donald Trump’s depiction of everybody who is not rich and white, creating a tribe brimming with arrogance and intolerance and just plain meanness at anybody who is not like them. These people want to drive our happy homeless man out of town, to the Netherlands, just as Donald Trump wants to drive people who are not basically white and rich out of America, and, as a bully dehumanizing underdogs and minorities, making America great again.
The middle school built this state-of-the-art gym a few years back and later replaced the outdoor basketball courts bordering Birch avenue with school rooms. As a long time basketball player, I relished the idea of a gym in town. I could go down there and shoot around, and a few of us grown up locals could start games with the teenagers in town who loved the sport. When the gym was completed, I went there one afternoon with my ball, and a woman of official standing at the school ordered me out, claiming the gym was for students only, and I was not permitted. I asked if the gym would be open on weekends for citizens of Cayucos to play on, and she said “absolutely not. The gym was “for the kids.”
Later, I ran into a longstanding member of the school board and broached the idea of opening the gym on weekends for locals to play on, informing him that I grew up in Compton across from Roosevelt Junior high and many of us local kids hung out in the gym and learned to play under the mentoring of older players, and this is where we learned to compete and understand sportsmanship as well as the brotherhood of team sports. I told him that the school paid a student athlete from the local high school to make sure nobody wore street shoes in the gym, or brought in food or drink and that he also kept the peace.
It was a way of life growing up and it kept us out of trouble.
The member expressed enthusiasm as his eyes appeared doubtful and he mentioned insurance problems and injuries and law suits, and I told him a sign could be put up that said “people play at their own risk involving injuries.” He expressed more enthusiasm and that was the last I heard about it. I went to a school board meeting and realized that the longstanding member didn't want to listen to questions about opening the gym for locals and ran the meeting like Stalin while female members who looked like they could chew their ways through the Berlin Wall concurred with his dictatorial manner, and their only aim was to raise money and more money and boast of raising money and boast further of their accumulation of new hi tech equipment for students who mostly had their own high tech equipment home. I soon realized furthermore that a school board was not about the community, or the children, but appeasing wealthy parents in a wealthy district, and when I asked around about the gym what I gathered was that it was used sparingly for the brief basketball season (if there is a team anymore) and mostly for plays and student activities and a venue to raise money and more money and more money.
This has been going on for years now, and when I was walking my dog Wilbur past the downtown coffee haunt one morning, I ran into big old Pete Schuler, the newest and more liberal member of the school board. Pete, a college water polo coach and former All American at the sport, said, “The gym just sits there, empty most of the time, a waste. I'm going to see what we can do about opening it up to the kids, to the community.” He added: “It won't be easy.”
I said, “It'd be a perfect place for fathers and sons to go down and play on weekends. This used to happen at the out door courts back in the 1990's.”
His friend Nick, a hulking former basketball player, said, “The problem is, there aren't hardly any fathers and sons around here anymore. This isn't the 1990's. Hardly any kids play hoop. Mostly they surf.”
“Well, it's worth a try,” I said. “Maybe if they opened the gym, they'd come to play.”
Fact is, I've seen more than a few kids walking around town dribbling basketballs. I can see where the breed of over-protective parents moving into Cayucos would be terribly fearful of allowing their kids to play a violent contact sport like pick up basketball, especially, God forbid, if it is unsupervised by school authorities and parents. I can understand why parents would want to deter their teenagers from playing basketball in a gym where they might fall and scrape a knee and get a boo boo or twist an ankle and have their parents sue the city or the school board and force the stuffed shirts to live in a world of prevailing terror over law suits and injuries to whomever wants to play one of the great American athletic pastimes.
I recall a few years back when the school board successfully sued my friend Dan Chivens, (lawyers fees were in the thousands) a working class man wanting to put his two boys through college, over a petty infringement of his property on the school district's alley beside the bus barn, and he was so infuriated he actually ran for the school board. Yet, once in the cavernous veteran's hall, where debates were taking place among candidates, and he realized if he won he'd have to break bread with this crew of reptiles, I told him I'd vote for him and hoped he'd lose. After the debates, he whispered, “I hope to God I don't win. Please don't vote for me.”
“Then I won't vote for you.”
After he lost, he said, “Thank God. I'm no politician.”
Neither is Pete Schuler, but, as a coach and teacher, he's smart enough and experienced, and certainly tough-minded enough to do something about opening that gym, or at least getting after the reptiles, so that it's about the kids, and not the parents, and not the goddam money all the time.
This is a good time, with daylight savings providing an extended radiant sunset as I sit in my car, seat in recliner position, listening to Coltrane's “A Love Supreme” while surfers, their vans and pickups with camper shells parked backwards in the lot facing the sea, mill around or sit on tail gates drinking beer. This popular parking lot (called the South Lot) is a block off the pier and beside Jim Ruddell's Smokehouse. A few surfers in wet suits trudge up the sand and arrive toting boards while a few others sit on boards waiting for last rides in moderate surf. Some change beside their vehicles, wearing towels to hide their asses, slipping into shorts and hooded sweatshirts, hoods pulled tight over ball caps—style of the breed, or some say a cult, but mostly a tribe.
This is my occasional after dinner ritual. Sitting and watching some kid riding the curl, joggers along the shore, dogs chasing birds or frisbees or plunging into the ocean after tennis balls, couples strolling along the beach wall, flashing photos with their smart phones. Tourists picking at shells and rocks and mountains of driftwood from the storms, oblivious to their surroundings.
But the crew of ten or twelve joking and laughing and exchanging surf talk one car over from me have perfected jocular lollygagging into a profession. One of them, tall slender longhaired John, is a sort of icon. He is a writer and for almost ten years lived directly below me in an old white wooden house with his girl friend, their small child and little aggressive weiner dog. He held parties next door in three of the last adjoining empty lots in town, the music blaring from a local volunteer rock band, old heaps lined up along the block. I never ventured down though occasionally John invited me, but these are young people getting it on with booze and drugs like I did in the old days down south before I got worn out and moved up here to sleepy Cayucos to salvage my existence.
John's rental was such a happy old battleaxe of a house, and now it has been razed, along with the two towering trees that provided shade, to make room for three no-personality super homes built by a millionaire from the Valley who bought up the triple lot with cash. He is fat with success and has another home around the corner, which he seldom lives in except during the July 4th parade week when he drives around in a golf cart with American flags flapping in the wind. He is glad handing unctuous, and the entire neighborhood is leery of him and will probably continue to be so when he sells these homes to people like himself who are never in town, so that these monstrosities sit empty while some of the blue collar surfer boys right here live in their rigged up vans as boondockers, or on the couches of those fortunate enough to find an affordable place, as John did, down the street in another old wooden box where he took on a couple room mates to help pay the rent.
The street where I live seems a little dead now, but here I am, the crescendo of Coltrane elevating me into some form of spiritual hierarchy, like the choir at the black A.M.E church on Adams in LA as a couple surfers spot me and tip their beer bottles in salute and I bip my horn and wave, keeping my window down so their music and guitar plucking doesn't interfere with majestic Coltrane.
There are a couple girls among the crew, surfers, shapely jock hybrids willingly accepted, raised in town when their daddy's put them on boards as toddlers. Several rescue mutts, including John's, circulate, some chasing hurled balls on the sand, and one comes over by my door and stares at me, and it occurs to me I probably rolled down my window a year or so ago and gave him a biscuit. I roll my window down, inviting the blast of music and pet him as he rests his paws on my door, but he's peering into the car and I tell him no and he gets down and walks over to a girl in tight fitting jeans and halter top who, like a needy but pretty poodle, has visited with all the guys for lingering hugs when not patting at her hair or sitting in her little jalopy reapplying make-up, all the while consulting her smart phone and moving to the music like a child born of crank-afflicted parents. Hummingbird.
The sun is plummeting toward the horizon. Shards of crimson and tangerine creak through scattered gray clouds. It is winding down. Ragged engines start up and rattle. Soul shakes and hugs are exchanged. Some who can no longer afford to live here but come for the surf and camaraderie, will drive twenty miles to Atascadero, a sort of bible belt with its landmark In-N-Out, and Paso Robles, an over-grown bus stop where rents are cheaper. The boondockers will steer their rigs down by John's house or spots where no neighbor will complain, after a visit to the bathrooms beside the pier. Or maybe they'll have a beer at the nearby Tavern and Schooner's Wharf.
Unlike in jam-packed LA and Orange County beaches, where prime surf spots turn into ant-hill turf wars, Cayucos surfers are a joyously unstructured brotherhood where men with pudgy bodies and snow white hair and kids a third of their age religiously share the waves while pursuing a lifelong passion and look out for each other like foxhole buddies.
It's all good. I turn off my radio and pull away as the sun dives down below the horizon and the last surfer heads toward the lot with his board.
I keep running into this very nice lady when I walk Wilbur early mornings along the street I live on. At first she said hello and smiled, but when Wilbur snuggled her she spent time nuzzling him, and now she brings treats strictly for him. We all have this relationship as she gets in her morning exercise walk, a woman perhaps in her mid sixties. We began making pleasant meaningless small talk, almost like friends, but this morning she began searching her pockets for a flier inviting me to a function at the local church. I told her to save it, very politely, and explained I was a Jew.
“Well, there's a Jewish man who comes to our church,” she said, hope in her voice.
I know this church. Occasionally on its sign board is HE WALKS ON WATER. “Well,” I explained. “I'm a renegade Jew, a disenfranchised Jew, an agnostic. The only church I've been to in over fifty years is the black A.M.E church in downtown LA.”
“Well, we have a black member.” She said. “Just one.”
“I liked the choir at that black church. There were hundreds of people. There was a lot of love. My brother in law, who works with impoverished minorities, and I were the only whites in there and we were treated like celebrities, got hugs and everything from the ladies. They all invited me to come back and be a member.”
“Well, we have a very nice bunch of members,” she explained.
“I'm sure you do,” I said.
I remember the pastor of this church back in the 1990s. He was a very nice person who came out to play on the then outdoor basketball courts at the middle school. We had a pretty good contingent of locals who'd played at the local high schools and the games were highly competitive and spirited. Right off the pastor tried to mediate the games. He was only a decent player and tried to tell people where to go and what to do, hogging the ball. He stopped to chastise us in a not pushy but lecturing way about arguing and cursing and trash talking. This was when I, the oldest player, pulled him aside.
“Cussing and arguing and trash talking is part of the game,” I explained.”This isn't your flock. And this isn't a church league, it's pick up ball. You can't control us. Furthermore, you're pissing everybody off, and because you're a man of the cloth, and a very nice person meaning well, these kids are afraid to say anything, when ordinarily they'd tell you to get lost and run you off. But I'm telling you very nicely that you are ruining these games, and unless you want to just fit in and play hard like the rest of us, you are eventually going to have to endure the usual playground abuse reserved for anybody who plays here.”
He was rendered speechless and took his ball (which we refused to play with) and went home, never to return.
Well, the very nice lady, whom I'm sure is happy and truly benevolent, and therefore possibly considers me the same, and which I appreciate, continued to search for a flier to invite me to a spiritual gathering. Still not realizing that to me religion and proselytizing is a disease I flee from like a terrified hare, I was relieved she did not have one on her. Then I wondered had she voted for Trump and I began to feel bad.
“Well,” she finally said. “You have a nice day.”
“You too,” I said with great enthusiasm, not wanting to ostracize a well meaning person who loves and brings treats for my dog, who is certainly a reflection of his owner.
A man walking his little Chihuahua dog past me, wearing one of those sun hats, always slows down to say hello as the tiny dog sniffs Wilbur who seeks pets from the owner. For the first time, as he observed the NYPD emblem patch on my navy blue hooded sweatshirt, he asked, “Were you NYPD?”
“Nah,” I said. “I got this sweatshirt for two dollars at the Cayucos thrift store. It's almost brand new.”
“Oh,” he said, perhaps disappointed. “I'm retired Fresno PD.”
“Oh,” I said, nodding, and moved on.
I wear this garment as much as I can and am looking for a NYPD cap to go with it. Almost every body I come into contact with glances at it but few question me about it, though I do receive various looks of suspicion and surprise, considering I am mostly unkempt, wear rags, usually need haircut, and do not cut the figure of an ex cop. The other morning at the sea wall just off the pier, in fact, I ran into Jake Straw, a sometimes drinking buddy at the Schooner's Wharf downtown, as he hung out with a man who owns a big new van with Montana plates and tosses a ball onto the sand to a black Lab named Zeke and with whom I've conversed pleasantly several times, though he could not keep his eyes off the NYPD emblem.
As I tried to kid around with Straw, a construction contractor who was taking the day off because it had been raining and more rain was predicted, and his three little dogs yapped at Wilbur, he was relatively glum as I accused of him being one of the most un-knowledgeable, foolhardy, shiftless and lazy (lazy is untrue) people I'd ever known, which is unlike when he's boozed up in the Wharf and laughs at my insults. When he grabbed the emblem on my hoodie and asked, “What the fuck is this?” I explained I'd purchased the garment at the local thrift store, and the Montana dude took in a deep breath and sighed, shaking his head slowly.
“And all this time I thought you were an ex cop. I'm relieved.”
“Cop?” Straw told him. “He's a former criminal.”
“You should talk,” I countered. I turned to the Montana dude. “He and his woman have been living together for twenty five years and she hasn't slept in the same bed and the same room with him in twenty years, is what she told me.”
“Your woman told me the same thing,” Jake countered.
“Yeh, but we don't live together. Charlotte told me that even when you two go on trips out of town together, she makes you get an extra room.”
“That's true,” Jake admitted. “Your Miranda told me that when you two go on trips you're too cheap to get an extra room and you have to sleep together and she ends up on a sofa or the floor.”
“It's me gets the floor,” I explained.
The Montana dude followed us back and forth as we bantered on.
The notes, thoughts, and opinions of an original American voice: author Dell Franklin.
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