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Monday, January 05, 2004


Laura and I had a lazy weekend.........putting away all of the Christmas decorations and picking pine needles out of the carpet. I put the Christmas tree on top of the Jeep, and we drove up to the Mt. Soledad Christmas tree recycling center. It smelled like a heavenly pine forest instead of a place where used and unloved Christmas trees are dumped and later ground into sawdust.

I confess that as I prepared to heave our tree on the stack, I thanked it for its beauty, and for the pleasure it had brought into our lives. Then I laid it gently on the stack of its hapless brethren, rather than heaving it. I think that The Great Spirit is infusing me!!

The view from Mt. Soledad is spectacular! A 360 degree view of San Diego, the Pacific ocean, the valley in which Miramar Air Base is located(Top Gun was filmed there), the coastline to the North and South, and the mountains to the East. Hot air balloons drifted down the coast in groups of 3, and parasailers and hang gliders were drifting over Torrey Pines.

It was also damned cold!!! A steady 15-20 knot wind had been cooled by its passage over the cold Pacific, and made it uncomfortable to stay outside for very long. After a year, I'm starting to show signs of having learned that California gets COLD in the winter, and that all of the Beach Boys songs, and all of the Annette Funicello beach movies, were talking about a narrow window of beach comfort which only exists during the SUMMER!. The songs and the movies gave the impression that it was warm and sunny and "surfy" all year long.

People from the Midwest, and from Eastern states believe that myth too. On Saturday, Laura and I took a walk along the cliffs above the ocean. I spotted a car from IL, and looked around to see if I could guess which people had driven out here to escape the brutal cold of their chilly state. It didn't take long to pick them out of the many people who were on the cliff. Everyone, including us, was dressed in sweaters, jackets, long pants, and some even had gloves and wool caps. Everyone except them. They were dressed for a Beach Boys song!

Alone, as if in quarantine, the family of five sat huddled, shivering on the lawn at the very edge of a cliff. They were having a wonderful picnic in th esun, by the ocean, in one of the most beautiful spots in the world. That must have been what they thought when they began their trip that day.

In reality, it was a family of five, all wearing shorts, short sleeve button-up-the-front Hawaiian shirts, and sandals. They were huddled together, shivering, trying to have fun. One of the children, a little girl of about 10, had wrapped some very ugly pea-green thing around her legs, and a boy about 8 had wrapped his legs with a few pages of a discarded newspaper. The father, a graying, nearly bald guy was trying to keep the family's spirits high as they shuddered in the cold and ate their foil-wrapped sandwiches. Even the seagulls, the California version of ants at a picnic, left them alone. It was too windy and too cold even for the seagulls, who, on any ordinary bad day, would fight a tiger for a piece of a potato chip. Laura and I watched them from our seat on a nearby bench.

"Why would they come here dressed like that?" she asked. "Because", I replied, "because they're from Illinois, and they thought it would be warm here." "If we were to ask them, they probably have their swimming suits in the car". She chuckled. "Do people back there REALLY think that the water in California is that warm in the Winter??" Ruefully, remembering my own SHOCK the first time I entered the ocean in La Jolla, I said "Yes, a lot of them do". The difference was that I had made my entrance into the water in the dead of Summer, when it was "warm". It was not even nearly warm. Not since Pleistocene days, or before, has the water off the shores of California been warm.

I used to hate swimming in Lake Michigan in the Summer because I thought that it was so cold that only polar bears and ice fishermen could be happy in it. My fingers would turn blue, and I would begin to shake and shiver........preludes to hypothermia. I loved the Gulf of Mexico, and all of the Caribbean, because the water is so pleasant to swim in. Swimming in Lake Michigan, I thought, was another curse of life in the freezing, mosquito-infested Northern Flatlands. When I was driving to California, I had visions of me running recklessly into the warm surf, like those teenagers always did in the beach movies of the sixties.

I only ran recklessly into the surf one time after I got here. The effect of that icy water was to jolt my entire system of homeostasis into profound shock, and I'm sure that my body thought it had just died.

Since then, we've gone swimming, and every time I do, I silently denounce as liars and charlatans, the Beach Boys, Annette Funicello, Jan and Dean, Frankie Avalon, and all of the other people who contributed to the myth that California beaches are warm and sunny all year. Even as I made my first "Hollywood run" into the surf, I had known and had observed that ALL of the surfers wore wetsuits. Since I believed the Beach Boys so completely.........I assumed that wearing a wetsuit was some new California youth fad that I was unaware of, sort of the modern version of Huarache sandals.. The effect of that first instant of contact with the icy Pacific was the same or worse than when you take a shower and someone turns on the hot water in all of the rooms with sinks, and all of the toilets in the house are flushed at the same time. You are left standing naked in a cold stream of water from which you can not get away fast enough! In an instant, you formulate a plan to save yourself..........usually to turn the shower head away from you and smash yourself into a corner of the shower where the water can't hit you directly, but the damage has been done!

It must be like childbirth for an Eskimo baby in the days of old............happy, content, and surrounded by pleasantly warm water one moment, and then violently pushed into a freezing cold environment from which there seems no escape. For the nascent Eskimo, there is no escape. For you, racing to evade the icy stream, the only recourse you have is to loudly berate the bastards who did this to you....the ones who took your hot water away. In my case, as soon as I hit the water, I tried levitation, and tried to fight all of Newton's laws as I sought to instantly reverse my forward motion into the freezing brine and rise above it, back to the warmth of a towel and my clothes. In that same millisecond, I also cursed the above-mentioned celebrities who had lied to me through their songs and their movies.

Getting back to the folks from Illinois, the father's milky white legs were turning blue, and his balding pate no longer had its rosy had turned gray. They were trying bravely to have a "Beach Party" picnic, without the surfboards, the tan boys and girls, the exciting surfing music, and most importantly, without their goosedown jackets and gloves. These poor people had driven 2,000 to live in a myth. They were shivering, shuddering, and shaking. They finished their food and left so quickly that we didn't see them leave..........we only saw that they were gone.

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