Friday, April 25, 2014

"We're just in from the country"

Or, What I Did on My Spring Break, by Shawn C Turner

Last week (in loose chronological order) I:
  • watched the first half of an Arena Football game, Cleveland Gladiators vs. the L.A. Kiss. The Kiss is a new team in the league this season, apparently — apparently owned in some fashion by the rock group Kiss, a monster band when I was in high school during the last century, now magicians of new media and getting people to look at them.

    The broadcasters explained Arena Football rules constantly, which is their enduring burden, I suppose. The field is about a fourth the size of a regular football field; it looks like a padded hockey rink; the playing field in Anaheim's Honda Center is gray. It's a passing game, or should be, the broadcasters said constantly, and the wide receivers start running in great arcs before the snap, timing to cross the scrimmage line just as the quarterback gets the ball.

    Cleveland has a wide receiver who was drafted by the Cleveland Browns a few years back, played four games in the NFL. He's first to show up for practice and the last to leave. He's hungry to win, the broadcasters tell us, constantly.

    The L.A. Kiss wore chrome-plated helmets fringed with flame; Cleveland wore the matte helmets that more and more teams seem to like now. Arena football feels like a test market for future NFL fashion.

    A mom and dad and their 2.3 kids, their L.A. Kiss official game jerseys draped like Bedouin tents about them, waved to the camera.
  • lunched with Nancy and my sister at a place in the Santa Ynez wine-growing region where wine is served Automat-style from a wall. Servers give you a credit card, which you slip into a slot next to the displayed wine you want, the bottle nested behind a little window. A clear tube stuck in the bottle draws and dispenses your order, whether you buy a sample, half glass or whole glass.

    No need to listen to someone talk about the wine before you drink it. No need for conversation at all. Make your picks, drink your wine, eat your lunch.

    I had beer instead.

    (Figueroa Mountain Davy Brown Ale, quite good.)
  • met the sister of actor Kurt Russell, who runs a wine saloon near my hometown and pours the wine that Russell makes, also the wine that actress Kate Hudson makes, also the wine that Kurt Russell's wine-growing mentors make.

    "Isn't your brother Kurt Russell?" my sister asked. Kurt Russell's sister liked that she asked it that way.

    She poured a flight of wine for Nancy and my sister, talking about each wine before they drank it, talking about planting by the alignment of the planets and time of day, talking about the unusual quiet of this little town on a Sunday afternoon (it's rocking on Friday and Saturday, apparently), talking about where Kurt Russell is at the moment (skiing in Colorado, I think), talking about how much he loves to be in the saloon talking with fans.

    I had a walk instead …

    ( … to hear shortstop Brandon Crawford hit a walkoff home run. San Francisco Giants beat the Colorado Rockies, 5-4.)
  • swam in an aquarium. You know it as the Pacific Ocean, Southern California annex.

    For months and months I've read the facebook posts of many who swim the ocean off Laguna Beach and La Jolla. Months and months of reading about crystal waters and garibaldi galore. Months and months of expressing my jealousy, months and months of their extending an invitation.

    Finally last week we took them up, camping for a few days along the coast so I could swim with them.

    The first swim was out of Shaw's Cove in Laguna Beach. At 6 a.m. My exact response to the invitation: Ulp! We didn't know our way around Southern California, never mind in the dark. Though we scouted Shaw's Cove the night before, it didn't guarantee we'd find it in time.

    Like kids at Christmas Eve, we couldn't sleep. Hard ground helped. We were on site with time to spare, coffee drunk, bodies warmed.

    Sun behind the overcast brightened the morning to slate gray, and in the light emerged the stars of all those facebook posts, like the cast from a favorite TV show, produced for my own enjoyment, now asking us for a guest appearance.

    Into the cove we went, the water comfortable, the waves obliging. Not 20 feet out, the fish scales fell from my eyes. Even though I'd read how clear the water was, I wasn't willing to believe it. Something moved below me and I did a doubletake: Great stalks of kelp swayed and reached from far below to the sun, and I could see all the way to the far below.

    Then fish! Poppy-colored garibaldi, the state fish, and silvery darting little fish, a world going on below me. I've seen three fish in four years of swimming my Lake Natoma.

    Lynn Kubasek, swimming my speed (though I still think she had some gears she wasn't using), stayed at my side and within sight at all times. She took me through Patsee's Portage, named for swimmer and tidepool photographer Patsee Ober, a shallow trough through some intertidal rocks, conveyed by the the rocking waves.

    I was giggling, even though it was not Giggle Crack, one of the group's other thrill rides.

    Homeward on the first morning's swim, Ray Meltvedt took me through Ray's Crack, a sloshing frothy space between cracks in tall Seal Rock named for him.

    "You wanna do this?" Ray asked. With every swim I looked to the swimmers' faces for cues. They were confident, smiling. I joined, and Ray took us through the washing machine through the rocks, a trick of timing with a coming wave, of stopping in the right place as the waves withdrew so we didn't bang into the ragged rock, and swimming fast with the next wave to escape its violent tossing.

    The gang took me on another route the next morning toward Bird Rock, when I realized I'm not the water baby I thought I'd become. I had lost my ability to dive, a necessary skill for escaping the canopy of the giant kelp. I swam over the heavy scratchy leaves instead.

    (Note to fellow butt buoy users: The bright orange inflatable bladder that I wear in Lake Natoma to alert boaters to my presence does not work in kelp. Not only wouldn't it let me dive, it also caught on the great stalks, and I had to unleash it and throw it ahead of my, like a water polo ball, on my first swim back. I never wore it again at the ocean.)
  • listened to our Giants win — and lose — by the force of a hundred butterfly wings. Though they won two out of three from the Dodgers in L.A., the Giants lost two out of three from the Padres in San Diego, and barely hit in any of the games. It looks like the Giants are re-creating the team-wide no-hit, barely-pitch, forget-the-fundamentals slump that sunk the team last year.
  • got the grand tour of La Jolla Cove with Dan Simonelli, a swim coach who helps run the La Jolla Swim Club. Dan swam where I could see him at all times on a leisurely long look at his playground.

    I forgot to breathe many times, trying to take in the world below, the great fields of sea grasses whipping violently below me, the garibaldi hiding halfway in rocky nooks, the starfish gardens of almost perfectly round holes set deep into the rock, that Dan said he had just learned about even though he's swum the cove for years.

    With a wave's help, Dan took me into a tunnel along the coast where a couple of sea lion slept, wet and brown as the shelf of rock on which they lay.

    On the way to the starfish garden, a sea lion swam below me in the opposite direction, giving me a sidelong glance.

    The waves crashed hard against the shore close to where Dan dove to point out the starfish. He didn't seem to mind the waves, so I didn't either.

    We were done too soon, but long enough to know I want to come back to La Jolla and Laguna.

    My beloved lake back home was going to have a hard time measuring up.
  • never shook the feeling, from Camarillo into Orange County and out again to Barstow,  that we were always in someone's way wherever we drove.
  • watched a crazy (good) movie in a crazy (strange) theater.

    "What does 'Luxury Cinema' mean?" Nancy asked as we made our way to a matinee. We found out soon enough.

    We were in Cinépolis in Laguna Niguel, the only theater within miles showing a movie we felt like seeing ("The Grand Budapest Hotel," loopy fun, a tale well told around the digital campfire; see it at least twice, to catch everything and revel in the mirth).

    First strangeness: No ticket booth. We walked in and across the lobby to a concierge desk.

    Second strangeness: The woman processing our tickets immediately showed us a computer screen with a diagram of where our seats would be if we chose. She highly recommended these seats for optimum viewing. She also told us only one other couple was scheduled to see the movie, which is a weird bit of information for the operator of movie theater to convey.

    I'm not sure, but I suspect we could have paid a lower price for seats farther back in the theater.

    We had only come to see a matinee and feel like kids playing hooky. Instead we paid more than usual evening prices for whatever it was we were getting into.

    And it was this: The theater is off-the-Strip Las Vegas lounge meets "Wall•E:" Instead of theater seats, the terraces are carefully arranged in pairs of massive leather(ish) recliners. Each row would accommodate only 10 or 12 people. Little tables separated the chair pairs, and lamps lit them softly. Food and drink menus stood at each table. Patrons could press a button and summon a server to take their meal orders.

    Not us. We had already spent more than we could have imagined.

    The other couple walked in shortly after us and took their chairs one row up.

    "Have you ever seen anything like this?" I asked the man.

    "Oh, yeah, we come every week. We like Tuesdays."

    Which is when I wanted to say, "Well, we're just in from the country. We aren't used to such as this." I slunk in my chair instead.

    The irony of CinĂ©polis is that it's not for movie goers; it's for pamper hobbyists. When a server takes an order, as we saw one do for the other couple, the server talks. And the patrons talk. And talk. Orders take some talking, as you well know. De rigueur in a restaurant … defeating in a movie theater.

    Imagine if we had a theater full of hungry patrons. The movie may as well have been silent.

    It was hard not to note the parallels of "The Grand Budapest Hotel" and our time in the fabulous section of Orange County in which we had been tootling. Both bespoke an embarrassment of riches. All a bit too bright, too big, too palatial, too clean, too other-wordly for my comfort.

    Both even had a funicular, though the one at Strand Beach in Dana Point was broken.

    "How was the movie?" a server asked a third couple that had snuck in (why weren't we informed?!). We like watching the end credits and listening to the music; someone went to a lot of work to create them, after all, and sometimes they hold surprises. But the server and couple talked all through that.

    Like I said, not really for movie goers.
  • braced against the winds at Manzanar War Relocation Center, where in World War II American citizens of Japanese descent were forced to live out of our national fear and shame. It's a National Historic Site now.

    It's easy to pass by on Interstate 395, up against the snow-dusted spires of the Eastern Sierra. That's a shame too. Drivers should be forced to drive right into Manzanar, should be required to stop and rejuvenate their sense of justice, and of how easily injustice can go south.

    Of course, forcing people to do such a thing would violate our principles of freedom, but the irony would be palpable and refreshing.

    It's ironic that the inhabitants of the camp named their newspaper the "Manzanar Free Press," ironic that the nearest town is called Independence, ironic that men interned who said they would not fight for the government that held them captive — and would not disavow allegiance for the Japanese empire for which they didn't have any allegiance in the first place as American citizens — were considered a danger and sent to bleaker camps still.

    Ironic that in spite of this, our government still does this to U.S. citizens, and we let it.

    Few barracks remain of the 540-acre encampment, as if the memory of this dark time is still being erased. The camp's auditorium is a visitors' center, where you can get your fill of the story and the stupidity.

    And the wisdom:
    As long as the world shall last, there will be wrongs, and if no man objected and no man rebelled, those wrongs would last forever.  Clarence Darrow
    They who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.  Benjamin Franklin
    When will we ever learn?
  • used the can opener on my multi-tool for the first time. Heck, used my multi-tool, a gift from my Boy Scout Troop eight years ago, for the first time. The peanut butter may never come out from its gleaming like-knew nooks and crannies.
  • found campsites in Joshua Tree National Park almost comical in their geologic abandon. Some sites were nestled amid stacks of rounded boulders the color of yams and the size of houses and locomotives. Others hugged shining mesas of Joshua trees against stark mountains, vastness and quiet beyond.

    We didn't camp in any of those.

    We camped in the one place in the park that allows reservations, a place of civilization on the northwest corner that nature is actively and savagely winning back. The road in is more pothole than pavement, the sites sort of randomly placed on slopes of scrub. We weren't in a receptive mood, having left the ocean for gray dark wind and a place that didn't look anything like the pictures of the national park. By our last morning, the sun shone and the campground blazed crisply with the spiky green-yellow Joshua trees, making us feel better about our choice. Still, I wonder why campgrounds in the center of the park are first-come, first-served.

    A volunteer had wandered off with the key to the cash register at the visitors' center the first day, so the camp host couldn't sell us a topographical map. We drove 16 miles to the main entrance of the park to find one.

    "Do you also sell park passes?" we asked the clerk at the visitors' center there.

    "Sometimes," he said, explaining at length the conditions in which he may sell passes. This day did not fit those conditions. Finally he explained that the ranger at the park entrance could sell them. He offered the park brochure and newsletter we had already received.

    "You don't really need that fancy map," the clerk said. He had already sold us the map.

    It is a strange land.
  • saw:

    1 roadrunner
    13 sea lions
    2 1 eagle ray
    3 bat rays (Lynn dove to show me; my goggles proved too dark at sunset to see them clearly)
    Too many garibaldi to count
    1 skunk
    1 California striped racer
    black lizards
    silver lizards
    California brown pelicans in healthy number, enough to make themselves pests of charter fishing guides trying to clean off their boats at Dana Point
  • ended up in a tiny box of varnished yellow pine for Easter. Our Savior of the Mountains in the little town of Lee Vining, in sight of Mono Lake east of the Sierra Nevada.

    It took Nancy some doing to find us a Mass to attend, just her and her smart phone against the signal-crushing granitic might of the mountains. Our Savior offered a mid-morning Mass. We were forced to take our leisure on our last morning of vacation. It was the only part of the week we hadn't planned.

    The caretaker of the little church informed the little crowd that the priest was running late, racing from and overflow Easter Mass in Mammoth Lakes 30 miles south. And he was tardy as a rule. Look for him in his white jeep, rolling in on two wheels Joie Chitwood style, the caretaker said.

    A half-hour later, in rushed a Spanish speaking Friar Tuck, prankish and happy. He switched from English to Spanish at random. He doused us with holy water from a 5-inch paint brush, smiling as he sloshed the keyboardist twice in the face. Over and over again he raised the giant paschal candle toward the ceiling, each time exhorting us to clap and cheer and whistle. He gave us all thin plastic crosses that we could also use to measure things in inches and centimeters.

    "The world is like a mirror," the priest told us. "When the world sees you frown, it sees you and acts accordingly. When the world sees your smile, it radiates to the world."

    We skipped the Easter egg hunt and the coffee and doughnuts to make our way home, happy.


  1. Small correction: 3 bat rays, one eagle ray. And you didn't mention the soup from Olamendi's? OOOhhhh...
    We will have to cook up something better for you on the next go round. What a delightful visit.
    We still need to do a Lake Natoma field trip.

  2. thanks! i was running way long as is … hadda leave something on the cutting room floor! it's not that i didn't love the dinner, and you'd be hard pressed to find something better. and you're always welcome up here!