HIPPIE BEACH BUMS by Peter Nolan Smith

Every evening the breeze off the Pacific wreathed the coastal towns north of San Diego in a thin mist. The July mist wreathed the towns north of San Diego and a clear dew clung to the flowers well through the morning.

Some time before noon the sun pierced the overcast and its rays evaporated the teardrops from the flowers to create a fragrant potpourri unknown to the Eastern Seaboard.

After breakfast Pam and Helen went to the art school off the PCH and AK and I answered the siren call of our mutual muses. I wrote poems in my journal and AK banged out McCoy Tyner’s version of IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD on the stand-up piano in the living room.

A ten-finger coda signaled the end of my friend’s practice session.

Several seconds later AK stood at the doorway and flexed his hands.

The gleam of sweat wet his forehead and the muscles on his forearm quivered from the extended exertion.

“How’s that sound?” He was seeking perfection to prove that he was serious about the piano to Pam.

“You’re getting closer.” The song’s modal chorus was etched into my brain by the constant repetition.

“Closer how?” AK expected the truth.

“I don’t know. I’m not a musician.” I put down my pen.

“You listen to jazz.”

“It doesn’t make me a critic.” I hated lying.

“You’re not deaf.” AK had only started playing three years ago. “Why? What’s wrong? I’m a big boy. I can handle it.”

“Nothing’s wrong.” It was the truth, but things weren’t 100% right.

AK’s left hand covered the low bass, but his right hand struggled to match the speed of the legendary pianist’s spontaneous improvisations. I went easy on the truth.

“McCoy’s been playing from before we were born. It’s a game of catch-up and one day you’ll be where he is, but that day isn’t today.”

“Thanks for the encouragement.”

“I don’t know anything.” To my ear AK was ready to be in a band.

“At least you accept that.”

“Well, ignorance is easier to achieve than enlightenment.” I had been staring at a blank page for an hour.
My poetry needed inspiration. “You ready for a swim?”

“Sun’s breaking through the gloom.”

Acceptance of the nature’s cues was an integral part in Southern California and the two of us had adapted to the coast’s natural patterns with pleasant obedience as had Pam.

“I’m ready when you are.” I picked up my towel and packed my bag with the journal, fruit, and a canteen of water. There was no refreshment stand on Moonlight Beach

“Me too.” AK stuck an African thumb piano in a backpack.

Helen had bought the kalimba for his birthday. He had mastered the steel tines in less than a week and his fingertips were as tough as dog’s paws.

“The girls will meet us in a couple of hours.”

“Like clockwork.”

“As is to be expected from another day in paradise.”

AK and I exited from the low bungalow and walked through acres of flower fields. A young farmer was tending to jasmine at the far end of his property. The longhair was cool with our using the path to the PCH as long as we didn’t pluck any of his reefer crop on the way.

After crossing the Pacific Coast Highway we strode up to the parking lot overlooking a rugged beach. A steep trail zigzagged down the cliff. Waves surged across the sand and surfers competed with seals in the funneling tubes.

“What you think the Spanish thought sailing up this coast?”

“Where are all the people?”

“There were people here. They were called the Kumeyaay. It meant ‘those who face the water from a cliff’.” I had read this in a history book back at the bungalow.

“I can understand that from here.”

“Well, the Kumeyaay were why the Spanish established missions here.”

“Later, but it was the Portuguese who first discovered this coast.”

“Portuguese?” I had forgotten they had an overseas empire in the Pacific.

“In 1540 or something like that. I read it in National Geographic. I can’t remember the captain’s name, but his fleet wintered on Santa Catalina and he broke his ankle getting off the launch. He died of gangrene, so watch your step down the cliff.”

His warning did not fallen on deaf ears.

This summer two people had lost their lives from tumbles down the steep ravines.

The loose sand provided treacherous footing and we grabbed onto shanks of withered grass, hoping for the roots held our weight.

Several minutes later we set foot in the sand.

There wasn’t a car or house in sight from the sloping strand of sand.

The beach belonged to surfers, hippies, seagulls, and seals.

The year was 1974 and the season was the endless summer of Southern California.

AK and I spread our towels and stripped down to our shorts. Our bodies were hardened by the weeks of swimming in the heavy surf. Our skin was bronzed to our veins. My hair was going blonde. We were on a long vacation and I was in the mood to extend it longer.

“What you think about staying here?”

“As opposed to returning to Boston?” That had been the plan when we left in May.


The wind hustled off the sea and I held out my arms like wings.

“We can’t crash at Helen’s pad forever.” His friend’s bungalow had two small bedrooms. “Her uncle and aunt are coming back at the end of August.”

“I know that.”

“And our money is getting low.” My vacation stake was down to $600.

“We could get work.”

“There’s none in Encinitas.” The recession had hit every beach community along the coast. Even McDonalds wasn’t hiring part-time and I had asked around for a taxi-driving job, but almost everyone in California had a car.

“We could find jobs in LA or San Diego.”

“Walking doesn’t cut it in California. We need a car.” A cheap one cost $500 with insurance.

“Not in San Francisco.”

“From what you said that isn’t such a good idea.”

“But we wouldn’t need a car.” San Francisco had trolleys. It also had junkies and speed freaks.

“When you talk about staying here you mean being a beach bum.”

“I suppose I do.” No one on the beach had a job.

“If something comes up, I’ll stay.”

“If not we return to Boston.” The New Yorker had a teaching job starting in September and his faithful girlfriend was waiting on the South Shore.

“It’s not like I have a job like you.” I had graduated from college in May. Recruiters from the banks and corporations had sneered at my stutter as a disability. My only job offer had been to substitute at South Boston High School and that wouldn’t start until October.

“But Boston is your home.” AK had left Long Island at the age of 18. His home could be anywhere.

“I’ll always be from Boston no matter what.” The collapse of last year’s Red Sox hadn’t shaken my New England roots, but the cold, snow, and ice were hard to take in the winter. “But I like it here.”

“What’s there not to like?” AK stretched his body, as Helen had taught him. She was into yoga.

“What you think Pam is going to do?” AK and Pam had been sleeping the guest bedroom.

“Go back to school.”

As far as I knew they were just friends. I wasn’t asking any questions. The blonde nursing student had another year left till graduation.

“It’d be nice, if she stayed.” AK liked Pam more than a friend. Any man would.

“Let’s see what happens when it happens. What about that swim?”

“Sounds good.” Neither of us was ready to hit the road and we raced into the ocean for another session with the waves.

The undertow dragged us to the break. The local surfers greeted us by our nicknames.

AK was Flotsam and I was Jetsam.

We timed the swells. Some formed better than other. We gave the surfers first choice. It was their spot.

A large wave rose from the depth of the ocean we propelled our launch with hard kicks and frantic strokes. Our bodies accelerated down the face and we ducked under the water before the wave closed out on the shallow sand bar.

Sandpaper was made out of beach sand for a good reason and our shoulders and shins bore the scars of hitting bottom.

The undertow dragged us back out to the break and we repeated this routine for the good part of an hour.

Each surge was spawned from a menage-a-quatre between wind, earth, sun, and water.

The Pacific swells originated thousands of miles from shore. The current ran from the Arctic south to
Antarctica. We were one with nature and the planet.

Finally AK rode all the way to the beach and I joined him on the sand.

The two of us rested for ten minutes, then drank half our water and ate all the fruit.

AK spent the afternoon plucking a familiar tune on the kalimba, while I wrote in my journal. He was getting good.

“I know that song.” I recognized it from the radio.

“Number 1 in America.” He rocked on his hips to ROCK THE BOAT. “C’mon, dance.”

“Not now?” I was trying to complete a poem about my first sighting of the Rockies from the Great Plains. The view had been from a bar in Sterling, Colorado. It had been called the Inferno Lounge. Pam had met a cowboy there. I wrote ‘fields of wheat fly across the earth with the wind’.

“Let’s see that.” AK snatched away the journal and after reading a few lines said, “The key to writing is putting the seat of your trousers on the seat of the chair.”

“Didn’t Graham Greene say that?” I loved his books POWER AND THE GLORY and OUR MAN IN HAVANA.

“He might have said it, but the quote comes from Mary Heaton Vorse, who was an American journalist and labor activist who predated Greene by a few decades.” AK had a degree in English.

“I stand corrected, but what does that have to do with my writing?”

“Just that you have to keep writing as much as you can. McCoy Tyner didn’t become a great pianist by accident. He worked at it.”

“So my poems are nothing.” The lines didn’t rhyme.

“No, but they need work. Same as my piano playing.” AK handed back the book. “Work, work, work and maybe one day your books will be next to Graham Greene.”

“I doubt it. Graham Greene’s name began with G and mine started with an S.” I lay on my stomach and scratched words describing the gleam of snow on faraway mountains. The white crests of the waves mimicked the Rockies. The time disappeared into the ocean and the high tide ran closer to the cliffs.

A wave surged over my ankle. The tide was rising fast. Getting caught on the beach at high tide was a flirtation with death.

“Let’s go.” AK grabbed his towel and we scrambled to the dirt trail. The surfers crowded the path ahead of us.

Atop the bluff we regained our breath.

Ten feet from the cliff edge a longhaired hippie in a flowered sarong sat cross-legged with a flute to his lips. His tune tested a path through conflicting tempos and his gaunt body rocked with the movement of his fingers. Taking a deep breath the hippie blew a shrieking high note and I winced, as if my ears had drunk bitter lemon.

The flute player opened his eyes. They were as shiny as glass. He nodded to AK.

“Didn’t realize I had an audience.” His accent originated from the cornfields. “How was that last note?”

“It wasn’t a C 3rd Octave. More like an A.” AK’s two years at Berklee had heightened his aural recognition.

“Some people think the highest note is a D,” the hippie explained, as if his body and mind existed on different planes. “Of course dogs and whales possess a more refined range of perception, so there might be a super D out there.”

“I’ve never seen a dog play a flute, but whales sing with their hearts.” AK was starved for conversation about music.

“Are you a musician?” The hippie was a few years older than us.

“I play piano.” AK was modest about his talents.

“And your friend?” His pupils expanded to the edge of his green irises

“I play the kazoo.” I had attempted the bass in 1965. My fingers had been ripped to shreds.

“Frank Zappa used the buzz of the mirliton on HUNGRY FREAKS and Jimi Hendrix played a paper-covered comb to get the busted amp effect in CROSSTOWN TRAFFIC.”

“I love FREAK OUT.” The Mothers of Invention was the first and only record that I stole from a store.

“Help, I’m a rock.” The line came from the longest song on the LP.

The hippie turned his head to the setting sun, as it disappeared into the ocean.

“The end to another day.”

“A beautiful day.”

“They are all beautiful as long as you’re alive. I’ll see you around.” Good-byes were short on the bluff at sunset.

AK and I started walking to the PCH. Commuters were returning home from work. They were glad to get out of their cars.

“He any good?” I asked farther down the street.

“Not bad, but he’s no Herbie Mann.” AK walked at a faster pace than me.

“I love parts of MEMPHIS UNDERGROUND.” I widened my stride to catch up with him. “But I preferred Jeremy Stieg on HOWLING FOR JUDY.

“The hippie had good lungs, but he played without any consideration of timing or intent.” AK worshipped music with the devotion of a late convert.

“Probably because he was high on LSD.” I moved onto the sidewalk. The pavement in Southern California
belonged to the car.

“How could you tell?” AK joined me to avoid a Chevy.

“The extreme dilation of his pupils and the dreaminess of voice.” The outward physical effects of LSD were few, but having dropped acid more than fifty times I could spot a tripper with accuracy.

“He seemed to be enjoying himself.” AK was a devout pothead. Hash was a hard drug in his mind.

“It’s all about your surroundings and your mindset according to Timothy Leary.” President Nixon had condemned the founder of League of spiritual discovery as the most dangerous man in America

“Would you do it here?” AK asked, as we entered the local grocery store.

“My mind is open to anything.” Ideal launch conditions didn’t get much better than on the beach below the bluffs.

We bought wine and vegetables for dinner. Both of us missed meat, but Helen was a strict vegetarian. As her guests Pam, AK, and I respected her wishes and we had eaten rice, vegetables, and beans for weeks.

Our farting was terrible.

The two of us argued about the guitar virtuosity of Larry Coryll versus John McLaughlin through the flower fields and arrived at the bungalow in the deepening dusk. The outdoor shower had no walls. There were no neighbors with a view of the house. AK stripped off his bathing trunks and swiftly washed off the sea salt under a sluice of hot water.

“Next up.” He wrapped a towel around his waist and hung his damp shorts on the line, then carried the groceries inside.

“That’d be me.” The evening was losing the heat of day and my shower lasted less than thirty seconds. I changed into fresh clothes on the porch and joined AK and Helen in the kitchen.

Our host was sketching an apple with a thick graphite pencil on a notebook. Incense burned next to the sink. The scent was cinnamon.

AK looked over her shoulder.

“I thought you were working on nudes.”

“I am. This is a nude apple.”

“How’s Eddie?” Her teacher was well-known for his seascapes, homosexuality, and drinking.”

“He’s a star.” The slight brunette scheduled her classes for the late-morning by which time her teacher had recovered from his hang-over.

Pam worked as their model.

“Is it any good?”

“As an apple, yes.”

“What about this.” She opened her journal to another page.

The drawing had captured the soft curve of Pam’s back with the stroke of a pencil and Pam had matched the color of her blonde hair curling down her spine in black, white, and gray.

“I wished that my poetry was as good as your drawing.”

“I’ve got a long way to go.” She put down her sketchbook and helped us unload the groceries. “But everyone gets where they’re going sooner or later. One more thing. Victor’s coming this weekend.”

“A vacation from Hollywood.” AK’s and Helen’s college friend had majored in modern dance. After graduation Victor had been hired as a choreographer for a small movie studio.

I’m looking forward to seeing him.”

I bet you are.” AK felt the same, but in a different way, because every night Helen lit candles in front of his photo on the wall and I swore that her lips moved, as the mousy brunette stared at his picture a semi-naked young man in a toga. “You want us to leave?”

“No, Victor is looking forward to having a good time with all of us.”

Helen fingered the ancient Byzantine gold chain around her neck. The brunette acted like she was broke, but her ethnic dresses came from an expensive boutique in La Holla and none of her shoes had holes in the soles. According to AK her trust fund was worth millions.

“I could make myself scarce.” I offered, since I was freeloading on AK’s connection to Helen.

“No, he wants to meet you and Pam.” Helen opened the bottle of red.

“Me?” Helen had barely spoken to me in three weeks.

“I told him about your making love to lesbians in Big Sur, and your ex-girlfriend Jackie.” Helen smiled with a sly shyness. “You didn’t think I was listening, did you?”

“To be truthful, no.” I had a tendency to tell long stories after a few drinks.

“I said you were a poet. He likes poetry. Maybe you can read him something of yours.”

“Sure.” I glanced at AK in panic.

“I like LUCKY’S RIDE.” The poem was an ode to broken hearts and country music.

“I’ll rewrite it a little.” I hadn’t read a poem aloud since high school. “Where’s Pam?”

“She went out for a walk in flowers. She likes walking in the fragrance of the night jasmine and the flowers don’t think she looks like Patty Hearst.” Helen was very protective of the younger woman.

“No one stopped you today?” AK asked with concern.
Police from coast to coast were hunting for the renegade heiress, to whom Pam bore a slight resemblance.

“No, but people look at her funny.”

“Is she okay?” AK looked out the window.

“She’s fine, but she could use a friendly face.” Helen pointed toward the San Diego Botanical Gardens abutting the flower fields. “She went that way.”

“Thanks.” AK left the house and I opened a bottle of red wine, as Helen lit a few candles. The nights were dark away from the suburban tracts blanketing the coastal plains.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but what are you planning to do?” Helen pulled on a sweater. The nights were colder than the days along the coast.

“With what?” The subject of her question wasn’t a mystery to me.

“With you life? I know you have some money, but it doesn’t last forever. Our friend will head back to Boston to teach school and Pam will go back to finish school. What about you?” Helen sat on the sofa.

I poured two glasses of wine

“I had been hoping to relive that surfing movie ENDLESS SUMMER.” The director Bruce Brown had poisoned a good segment of American teenagers with the allure of spending the rest of our youth on a beach.

“You have been doing a good job of it too, but that was a movie and this is real life. I’d say that you can stay here with me, but I’m leaving for Paris in the fall to study art at the Sorbonne and my uncle and aunt are coming back.”

“Everything good has to come to an end someday.”

“Sorry to be a bummer, but it’s not easy being a hippie beach bum in a recession and most of the jobs around here pay the minimum wage.”

“Which isn’t enough to live on.” An forty-hour week at $2/hour came to $80 before taxes. A small room in Encinitas cost $60/month. LPs were $3.99, but stereos were a hundred times more. Food was relatively cheap and I didn’t have to worry about the price of gas, since I didn’t have a car, although life in Southern California was almost impossible without a vehicle.

“What was your major in college?”


My original major had been Math, but pot smoking had interfered with my absorption of Multivariable Calculus. My grades in economics had been far from stellar, but B- and Cs had helped me avoid the Draft. Now the Pentagon was winding down the war, the outlook was complicated by a depressing reality.

“I tried to get a job with banks, but they said I had a stammer.”

Their records also showed my involvement with several radical protest groups.

“Only a small one, but I don’t see you working in a bank.”

“Me, neither.” I didn’t see me working anywhere.

“Me neither what?” AK asked, as he entered the bungalow with Pam.

“We were talking about his future.”

“I see his glass is almost empty. It must have been a serious conversation.”

“When I was in grammar school the nun asked Joe Tully, what he wanted do after school, meaning his life. Joe wasn’t the smartest kid in the class and he said he wanted to ride his bike. We laughed at him, but I feel a little like Joe Tully today.”

“I saw a ten-speed bike for sale on the PCH for $30.” AK filled my glass.

“At least he had a plan other than being a hippie beach bum.”

“This is your vacation. We return to Boston, you start teaching school.”

“As a substitute teacher.”

“You’ll be good at it.” AK raised his glass. “To the King of the South Boston High School.”

We clinked glasses and after my third I accepted my present fate. The fourth and fifth glasses rose-colored the world. The sixth and seventh stole my sense of balance and I went to bed before the others.

An owl hooted in the eucalyptus trees.

I crashed into unconsciousness without taking off my clothes or slipping into my sleeping bag.

The next morning I woke late and put on my sunglasses to protect my eyes from the piercing sun.

AK was pounding on the piano. His forward movement on the Tyner piece was apparent with each renewed effort, but the strident bass chords burrowed into my sodden head with the force of a burro’s kick.

By the time I got to my feet, it was time to go to the beach.

AK recognized my misery and we walked to the beach in silence.

The buzz of the bees bore a loud eagerness and the freeway hummed with cars and trucks. Encinitas along the PCH was mercifully spared of commercial activity and late-morning quiet humbled the streets of the suburban neighborhood abutting the bluffs above Moonlight Beach.

The sun sparkled off the Pacific and a light breeze wafted over the lip of the cliff. I breathed in the tonic of nature.

“Thanks for not saying anything.”

“I can be a man of few words.” AK spread suntan oil on his arms. “Only one thing. Don’t be so hard on yourself. You graduated from college. Sure, your grades sucked. You might not be executive material for a bank, but you got a job. Finally you’re 22 years old, we’re in California, and a beach is waiting for us.”

“Put that way, life is good.”

“And it only can get better.”

The two of us climbed down the path to the beach. The surfers were in place. We lay out our towels and went for an hour swim in the ocean, after which AK and I returned to the warm sand. He read John Steinbeck’s CANNERY ROW, while I wrote in my journal.

An hour later I got to my feet.

“Listen to this.”



“No way.” AK clapped his hands over his ears. “I hear that fucking poem in my sleep. Demosthenes practiced his oration with pebbles in his mouth. Go tell your poem to the waves.”

AK turned his back.

I could have attacked his incessant repetition of IN A SENTIMENTAL WAY, but instead walked down the beach for an hour. When I returned to our towels, the poem’s twenty lines were chiseled into my head.

AK wasn’t alone.

Fragile sunglasses rested on the hippie’s long nose, as he strummed a guitar to accompany AK’s plaintive plucking on the steel bars of the African thumb piano. A dark-skinned girl was keeping time with a tambourine. The Nile in her blood was the source of the rhythm.

Leather bracelets adorned her slender wrists and glass beads glistened around her neck. A tan macramé top covered her breasts, although her nipples protruded through the loosely woven material. A matching skirt skated over her thighs. The sun was been kind to her this summer and I realized that I hadn’t seen a black person in weeks. San Diego was very white along the coast.

I wanted to know the dancing girl’s name.

AK greeted me with a wide smile. He had been smoking pot. They all were high and laughed in unison to end the jam session.

“We thought you were on your way to Big Sur.” The longhair yanked up his shredded denim shorts.

“You told them that story?” I demanded from AK with a red face.

“Hey, man, chill out, it’s a good story. You camping with two murdering lesbians and escaping from having to orgy them, only to find them naked at Black’s Beach.”

AK introduced Rockford and Flo. The mulatto teenager was comfortable with her near-nakedness. Sun-tinged hair curled down over her shoulders. I pegged her age at eighteen at tops.

“You seem interested in Flo.” Rockford wrapped his guitar with a towel.

“She reminds me of someone.” As soon as I said those words, I placed the face. “Not so much someone as Angela Davis’ niece.”

“She’s a beautiful woman.” Flo appreciated the comment as a compliment.

“A true revolutionary.” She had been fired from UCLA for inflammatory language.

“My friend is more Altamont than Woodstock.” AK was telling all.

“I am more Rolling Stones than Beatles.”

“I was 13 in 1969.” Flo revealed her true age. “I was living with my parents in Texas.”

“You don’t have an accent.” I remembered Chuck Berry getting arrested for transporting an Apache girl over state lines, but that crime had been committed in 1959. I had been seven.

“I was an Army brat. We moved around.” She arranged the bracelets and shook out her hair. “Were you at Woodstock?”

“No, I worked that weekend, washing dishes at a hotel. I was 17. I went to the Newport Jazz Festival earlier that summer. My older brother and I saw Led Zeppelin, James Brown, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. We had slept in a Little League field. I wanted to go to Woodstock, but I wasn’t into the rain. I guess I was wrong.”

“Doesn’t matter where you were as long as you have the feeling.” Rockford aimlessly picked notes on his guitar before singing, “I just seen a face I can’t remember the place.”

After a few bars Rockford segued into another Beatles song.

It was HEY JUDE.

“Watch out. He hates the Beatles.” AK warned the thin hippie.

“How can anyone hate the Beatles?” Rockford was visibly upset by my rejection of his idols.

“The song is over seven minutes long and Paul McCartney sings ‘Hey Jude’ eighteen times. It seemed like a million times, but why I hate them dates back to before HEY JUDE.”

“We have time. The tide is still out.” Rockford studied at the ocean, as if its substance had shifted from water to gold.

“I’ll give you the short version. I had a girlfriend in 7th Grade. Ginny rejected me, because I didn’t look like any of the Beatles. BEATLES 65 was the last record I bought.”

“You didn’t buy MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR?” Rockford was shocked by my apostasy. The Beatles were gods to most members of my generation.

“No, they weren’t rock and roll anymore.” The control of the band had been taken over by the studio engineer and Paul McCartney’s drive to become the Elvis of the 60s.

“Weren’t rock?” The hippie played BACK IN THE USSR. “That’s not rock.”

“Okay, I’m wrong about that song.”

“And what about this one?” Rockford changed the chords for BABY I’M A RICH MAN.

“John is not Paul.” Lennon would have never written YOUR MOTHER SHOULD KNOW.

“Deep.” Rockford zoned into a buzzing haze and turned to AK. “Your friend is deep.”

“Some times deep as the ocean and other times shallow as an evaporation stain on a desert highway.”

AK was getting a contact high from the tripster.

“That girl was right.” Flo kneeled on the sand and touched my face. Her eyes were an intense green and she smelled of musk and innocence. None of my girlfriends were like her.

Not Ginny and not Jackie.

They were white.

“Right how?”

“You don’t look like any of the Beatles.”

“And that was a good thing. I was more into the Stones.” HIS SATANICAL MAJESTY’S REQUEST was my favorite theme LP. Still Ginny’s kisses had been sweet. “And I just wanted to be me.”

“Me is never a bad thing as long as you are me.” Her pupils rimmed her retina. Rockford and she were tripping on LSD.

“Who do you think this ‘me’ looks like?” I was asking Flo to be my mirror. LSD gave visions. Some came true.

“A drifter. Someone without anywhere to go. Don’t look so hurt. Everyone on this beach, everyone in California is a drifter. Rockford and me. We’re drifting with the weather, the wind, and our whims. Some drifters are good, some are bad.” Flo wasn’t trying to hurt my feelings. This was her view of the world for right now.

“And some are in-between.” I had seen the good and the bad hitchhiking down the coast from San Francisco.

“Not some. Only those not willing to decided whether they like good better than bad.” She reached up for my hand. “Let’s go for a swim?”

I let the young girl pulled me to my feet.

She stripped off her clothes and ran toward the sea.

Rockford winked at me.

“Flo’s on her own.”


“That she and I are just friends. There’s nothing between us. I wish that there was, but she’s not into hippies from Iowa.”

“Thanks for the information.” I followed her to the edge of the sea.

The shore break was a vicious maze of undertows.

“Why is the water always this cold?” She dipped her toe into the spreading fan of a dying wave.

“Humboldt Current.” Geography was my best subject in grammar school and I drew its path in the sky.

“Past Japan, Kamchatka, the Bering Sea down the West Coast to here. This coast knows nothing, but cold.”

“Cold from the cold.” Flo plunged into the sea, taking advantage of a swift rip to reach the break. We swam to where several surfers bopped on their short boards. They greeted her by name.

“You have a lot of friends.” I treaded water in the swells, as we drifted from the surfers.

“I’ve been living here since April. I get to know people’s names, then they know you. It makes life easy. You ask a lot of questions.”

“I like to know people too.”

“You want to hear my story. It won’t take long.” Flo paddled on her back. Her breasts, belly, and thighs created an archipelago of flesh. “I left home at fifteen heading for Haight-Ashbury. It was a tough place to be, especially for a girl of color.”

“I passed through there last month. Some speed freaks tried to rob me.”

“Those people are a bummer.”

“I was lucky to get away from them.” The current ran strong. I wanted to stay close the beach.

“I wasn’t so lucky. I fell into a bad crowd and did some things I shouldn’t have done.” She wasn’t filling in the blanks. “It could have been worst, except two years ago I ran into Rockford. He rescued me from that scene and we traveled up and down the coast staying at communes. The people were always groovy.”

“You were lucky.” The newspapers printed nothing about the murderers killing young girls up and down the coast.

“I know.” She had heard the stories.

I checked the beach. We had out hauled out too far. The cliff looked small.

“We’re caught in a riptide.”

“I’m a good swimmer.”

“Me too.”

Flo swam to the side rather than fighting the offshore stream. The riptide released its grip and we bodysurfed closer to the beach.

“You know he never touched me once.”



“Not once?” The crest of the wave lifted us ten feet in the air. The break was shifting with the tide. The surfers scrapped at the water to benefit from the change.

“Never, but that didn’t stop him from talking about it.” She looked at the beach.

AK and Rockford were not at the blanket.

“Men talk about it a lot. At least when women aren’t around.”

“Rockford is all talk. What’s that I like about him.” Flo’s body brushed against my against mine. Her nipples were hard against my chest. “Do you think I’m pretty?”

“Yes.” The next swell was even higher.

Rows of waves cordoroyed the sea.

Our conversation was cut short by AK and Rockford joining us in the surf.

“Looks like a big set building up.” Rockford eyed funnels of foam circling to the left.

As a child on the South Shore of Boston my parents had packed the station wagon for a venture to the beach. The waves at Nantasket and Horseneck beaches were ripples in comparison to the growlers at Encinitas.

The surfers crouched inside the tubes and skimmed over the tops of the waves with ease. We rode them straight to the beach. One caught me in a washing machine and slammed my body into the sand.

Flo pulled me out of the turgid water.

“Are you okay?”

“Fine.” Stars flashed across my eyes and I shook my head to clear away the cosmos.

“Are you sure?”

“I’m ready when you are.”

I dove into the next wave and raced Flo to the break. She beat me by a body length.

Pelicans floated on the rise of wind. A seal popped its head from the water. Its eyes were coal black. Palm trees rimming the bluffs hid most of the cliff top houses. The sky was sheer blue.

This was the land of beach bums. We were hippies. The surfers were family. Flo and I dove under a breaking wave and surfaced a foot from each other.

“I’d like to trip with you some time.” She held my hand.

“I haven’t dropped LSD in a year.”

“You turn on?”

“The last time I was in the White Mountains with three friends. We sat in the Saco River. The water was ice-cold, but we heard it talking, then some kid comes out of the forest and asked if we knew the way home. My friend thought that he was Jesus and we freaked a little, then his sister came out of the woods and grabbed him by the ear, telling him not to talk with strangers. It was a good trip.”

“Acid’s good at opening your mind.” Flo nodded her head to the incoming wave.

It was a monster.

I caught the swell right and my body stuck out of the face like a log for a good fifty feet before I was buried by a few hundred tons of ocean.

Exhausted after a half-hour in the heavy surf the four of us dragged our bodies from the sea like shipwrecked sailors.

“Can you get my back?” The young girl handed me a towel.

“He probably wouldn’t mind getting your front, if you asked him nice.”

Rockford resumed his meditative pose with his feet tucked into his ankles.

“My front I can do myself.” Flo took back the towel, as AK, Rockford, and I smoked a joint of Acapulco Gold.

I lay on the sand, content that for the last hours I had forgotten about work, my future, and America, because below the bluffs the world was simply sea, sun, skin, and sand.

As the sun lowered to the horizon Flo pulled on a macramé top and skirt and shook out of her curly sun-bleached hair. There was little white about her and I liked that.

Rockford pointed to the rising tide.

“We better go. Newcomers get caught against the cliffs all the time.” The solemnity of his voice indicated that not everyone survived the sneaky sea.

“We head all about it.” AK collected his things and we headed for the cliff path.

When we reached the top of the bluff, the four of us surveyed the ocean with eyes of adoration.

“A fine day.” Rockford stared into the sun, as if it were his creation. “You should come to our house. We can play music and trip on the sights and sounds of the night.”

“His friend had clinical LSD.” The brown-skinned hippie girl rolled her eyes, as if she was experiencing a flashback.

“Count me in.” The sky prismed red to blue above the Pacific. “Where better than here.”

“You might have a point.” AK wasn’t into heavy drugs.

“We finished our last two tabs this morning, but our friend will be coming back from LA with another supply of laboratory LSD. Mark’s a professor at the university and he’s researching the effects of psychedelics on the mind.”

“And you’re his guinea pigs?” Boston’s universities offered a wide variety of clinical tests, but none openly for LSD since Harvard had terminated Timothy O’Leary and Richard Albert.

“We prefer to think of it as an exchange of minds, plus we also get $20 a trip.” Rockford hooked his arm with Flo and pointed out a low bungalow surrounded by jasmine trees. “That’s our place. Give us a day or two to recover, then we’ll talk, brothers.”


AK watched the two enter the house.

“What you thinking?” I had to ask.

“I think Flo likes you.”

“She’s a little young for me.” I had a sister her age.

“Four years isn’t a big difference.”

“If she’s eighteen.”

AK was into Pam. She was 21. They had a two year difference.

“You know I wouldn’t mind not leaving here.”

“You’ve said that before.”

“And I’ll probably say it again.”

“Me too.”

We left the bluff with the sunset at our back.

Within minutes we were in the world of cars, but tomorrow the beach would be ours again and tomorrow was six hours away from today and today was right where we were supposed to be in late July of 1974.

California and it was good to be a hippie beach bum, because I was not alone.

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