I. The Other Loyalist.
P says take Instas. We met a couple from NY—Long Island. They moved here 1977. They live in El Segundo. I pronounced Camarillo wrong. I didn’t know where my brother lived. We drank wine and looked out at what was left of the rest of the country. Our view was of the Santa Monica Mountains, the San Gabriels. The San Bernardinos were not in view. We could see just the masts of the sailboats moving along as if floating on water. Joggers trundled along a path along a levee. We were surrounded by wetlands. The wetlands were grassy and marshy, the real water was farther out. Just the land was wet, not the water, not yet.
There were ducks, there were waterbirds. We heard frogs. Mixed in with the frogs was the sound of choppers, hovering. There was a silhouette of a palmtree in the gloaming: that blue orange yellow of last light. Condos abounded. This was Howard Hughes’s land. I remembered in college written on the chalkboards of biology lecture: something about a summer internship with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The setting sun set afire the glass of distant west-facing houses. A fellow with two black labs took his dogs for a walk while he awaited an order from the Szechuan place next door. The four of us, me and B and the NY expats, drank white wine. She took her sunglasses off when the sun hid behind the last of the condos. I asked her about the marine layer in San Diego. Like so many other conversations, this one also started with discussion of the weather.
They’re listening. They’re listening to see if I can go. And dammit, I can’t. I can’t make a sound. They’re right next to me, pissing a foot away, relieved in their racket. I’m here so deep and so far into my head that I’ve fashioned myself a waterproof seal….
Oh, Korea, I was right—
look at all the Arizona in here.
Dream of a chef’s name,
text from Dad—
“You can turn on a light.”
Cool morning, no dew. Cars starting to roll by on Culver Boulevard. City of Los Angeles sign twenty feet away. I’m out on a little patio area right outside our room. It’s 4:45 and dark. There are streetlights and a very bright, round Worm Moon. She said two different meteorologists called it a Mini Moon. I am thinking of tea.
Our room at the Inn at Playa del Rey is spacious and urbane. My feet hung off the end of the bed a little though. Harrison Ford crash-landed his vintage plane in a golf course not far from here yesterday. We couldn’t have been far away when it happened. We were up at Santa Monica and then down to a used bookstore in Venice, blocks away from the Panmar Golf Course where he brought it down. We ate In-N-Out Burger last night. We went inside and ordered. The drive-thru line was 20 deep, maybe more. But it moved. My brother paid. He’s been driving us around. He’s been great.
We had lunch at the Border Grill. Tacos, a margarita each for them, a chewy cheesy queso with pico on top. I had a Dos Equis Amber, killing that keg. Then a Negro Modelo. Yum, yum. We walked to the beach, then up onto and on down the pier. There were a lot of busker types. A couple of people dressed as Minnie and Mickey. A couple of guys painting scenes on glass with their hands. I looked closely at one of the guy’s fingers, embroiled in oil paint. Singers, some quite strange. I heard three different singers do Bob Marley. “Redemption Song” is stuck in my head. Characters with reptiles wrapped around them. A guy with cockatiels. Two singers in classic Mexican garb.
I went into a Famima! convenience store for water and a peach Snapple. The water was for B. I had some in my pack but I said she should get her own because I thought I was coming down with a cold. Something fierce hit me on the plane, leading to an excruciating last 90 minutes. All of a sudden my nose just opened up, the right nostril specifically. I went through all of my Kleenex and one American Airlines cocktail napkin. Some I used over and over even though there had become wet to the touch. I had a pilot sitting next me—not the pilot, obviously. I could only imagine what he was thinking: Great, this guy next to me has a cold. I took a Zyrtec but it wasn’t until several hours later that my decongestion lifted. My throat hasn’t been sore. My head doesn’t hurt, or feel full. I’m not sure what to make of it. It could just be allergies.
I’m on my second cup of tea. B has just exited a bath. She says she was stuffed up, too. Plane air is bad air. My brother will join us for breakfast. Then we’ll head up the coast for a hike in Topanga State Park. It’s supposed to be a clear day. Could hit 80°. The Santa Ana winds are blowing out, to the ocean, taking all of the particulates out there with them.
The wetlands we’re near are called the Ballone Wetlands. There’s a book in the room detailing the flora and fauna of the wetlands. It suggests the frogs we heard are Pacific Tree Frogs—tiny things! “The males are the one who sing in the springtime.” There are some old posts about 150 feet out from the deck of the Inn. We looked at them last night puzzled. They constitute the old Red Line of the electric car running from downtown LA. A small black and white bird I saw flitting around last evening was perhaps a black phoebe. I could also see purple and yellow flowers. One of the lighter purple flowers, almost pink, could have been Sand Verbena. The lavender flower might have been Silver Dune Lupine. The yellow ones are either Beach Primrose or Goldenbush. There are binoculars and a spotting scope in the breakfast room. If only I had all the time in the world. It’s 6:02.
We went for a pleasant walk this morning, down Culver and then turning right down toward the marina. There are all sorts of bodies of water and we saw a ton of birds. Coots, grebes, cormorants, a pintail, godwits, gulls, herons, egrets, (heard) a different sort of sparrow, pelicans, a goldeneye (small with a white cheek). Mallards, crows, doves. The grebes included two or three different kinds. The small were Pied-Bills. The longer-necked were Clark’s or Western. They dove and resurfaced thirty seconds later. Neither of us had bothered to put on our sunglasses. As we walked to the northeast the squinting became a pain and we had to turn around. There were some joggers out along the hike and bike trail we walked along, the trail itself running north/south. There were lots of bikers. Some human fishermen. It was a little chilly but clear. We walked for forty-five minutes. We stepped onto the beach only briefly, not wanting to accumulate sand—not yet anyway.
I’m through three cups of tea and a little coffee. I asked my brother to meet us for breakfast at 8:30. B is out on the back deck reading. I saw a kestrel falcon and some green-winged teals out in the wetlands with the 10×50 Olympus binoculars the Inn has on hand. There are a bunch of gulls and other assorted water birds further out, in the lake out yonder. I had the Celestron spotting scope trained on them but none stood out as being this or that. My eyes tire easily when I’m using those types of glasses. Maybe I need to have my reading glasses on too. I’m pretty sure I saw a little black oystercatcher gliding along the water along the path, with its very distinct orange beak. Lots of snow geese too. Brandt’s cormorant. This Ballone flora and fauna book also has photos of butterflies and dragonflies—neat. There is a photo of “Dowitchers in the mud.” Maybe those are the birds out on the lake.
IV. A Lot of Time Passes and then Me and B Are at a Seafood Restaurant in Oxnard.
A crab is clapping his hands
The fish in the tank,
furious for an exit.
Toothed, red band, large.
A pitcher of 805,
the locals love it.
Feeling of sunburn on my face
Recent memories of my brother.
This all in one seafood promenade.
V. Oxnard/Ventura: A Bit More Time with my Brother.
It’s 7:19 the morning of Saturday, March 7th, 2015. A mallard hen out on the marina water has been quacking all morning. The moon hung above the water in the morning’s pale pink and blue light. A grebe is diving for crustaceans. We can hear traffic from 101 but only somewhat. Boats glide silently, mostly out to sea, south past us, out of the marina, through the harbor, jogging then slightly west for the Pacific. Most of the boats heading out in this fashion have fishing tackle rigged up.
My brother paid for lunch. I said, “Why?” but I didn’t really put up a fight. We each had two beers at Anacapa Brewing. It was busy but we had good service and talked fantasy baseball podcasts. I shared all of my favorite sleepers. What do I care, we were just chatting. He had pulled pork. I had a salad with Szechuan vinaigrette and then fish tacos (cod). I enjoyed them—no fried today, breaking a three-day streak of guilt and indulgence.
It was warm today. Hot! A bead of sweat coursed down my left sideburn as Nick drove me home in his 12-year-old blue Honda Civic sedan. There was a Goldfish (cheddar) down alongside the runner of the front passenger floor that I saw every time I got inside. Who dropped it there, I wanted to ask. But I didn’t. That’s his business and I don’t need to know.
He drove an hour and a half each way to spend a couple of hours with me: to have lunch and then a couple of cokes in an empty sports bar called Rookees. The tab there was $26. I had a Double Barrel Ale and a $12 shot of Don Julio (it was a good pour). As we sat at the bar we could easily hear some crazy gal outside—I assume she was crazy—yelling with all her might at someone to get out, get out of here, with curses, even an n-bomb, as in “n-er-m-er-f-er”. And she did not let up right away either. The bartender says, “Welcome to downtown Ventura.” He grew up in Oxnard but based on his conversation with the only two other patrons at the bar it sounds like Main Street Ventura has come a long way in the last ten years.
I liked it in Ventura. It was a memorable afternoon but even if it wasn’t memorable I’d make it memorable by never forgetting it. We got onto 101-south briefly before taking Harbor Boulevard south to Oxnard. He was going to take Highway 1 home to his place by the airport. In Westchester. He had gotten his hair cut this morning. He said he had to after seeing how he looked in the photos we’d taken over the last couple of days. Thursday afternoon in Santa Monica. Friday morning on the Los Liones Trail, south of Malibu. I took a shoddy selfie of me and him in that bar. I got too much of my face in it. Not enough of his.
From the marina in the morning to a surprising breakfast to our walk on the beach in Ventura’s Marina Park to the free parking off Chestnut to the kale smoothie at Blenders in the Grass to the cornucopia of spices and tea at…whatever that spice place was called. I enjoyed even the few minutes I spent in the Ventura County Library while I waited for my brother, just checking my phone, staying out of the sun….
We are driving to church. Looking east are the hills, backed by mountains. We have classical music playing, something baroque. Handel. Water Music Suites in #2 & 3 FHWV348. Says our car’s rich FM receiver. Momentarily we’d been on 101 south.
This morning at sunrise B and I walked to the boat ramp on Oxnard Harbor. It was clear and cool and there were several groups sitting in their boats ready for a day on the water. There were a lot of gulls loitering in the parking lot. Just south across Victoria Avenue was land belonging to the naval base. I’m pretty sure the boats I saw yesterday out toward the Channel Islands were military. Perhaps the Seabees that the base suggests via banner—”Home of the Seabees”—it is known for.
We’re in a silver Nissan Altima with Washington plated that strikes us as something of a piece of crap. Its brakes hiss like a tea kettle. It has some piece of rubber hanging down from the undercarriage that is certainly scraping the road while we drive. It has a few dings and scratches along the back that I took photos of before we drove it off the lot. Our experience with Hertz at LAX has been underwhelming—but it was the best rate we found so of course we went with that.
This area is heavily immersed in the produce industry. There are, literally, strawberry fields forever. There are also patches of some other fruit, berries it appears, where the plants are trained upward on strings. They are covered overhead by a plastic-sheeted canopy. Raspberries? We pass the outlet mall, reputedly one of the nation’s best. The church, Mission Street, is a in a cinema off of Ventura Boulevard. My brother-in-law, who presided over our marriage ceremony, is the preacher.
We are now sitting in Masa sushi awaiting the goods—a takeout order of a bunch of fish. Church was good. Graham gave a good sermon. Their house band was adept. We filled up with gas and meandered through this shopping center. In and out of Ralph’s. The good stuff was behind the glass. So we went to some liquor mart on the corner, dodging a request for Cancer Society aid and then a pitch for Girl Scout Cookies. The liquor mart was jankety, a real hodge-podge: a welter of unmarked bottles of what I was sure would be overpriced booze. I wanted to grab Graham a bottle of something quality. I went with the Pultina, a single malt, but I’d never had it and I was taking a risk. We’re going to take the collection over to their condo for a little bit of fish and some day drinking and maybe get in the pool at some point.