Joe La Suza lives in Carpintaria which is twelve miles down the 101 from Santa Barbara. They have a great beach in Carpintaria, smooth sand, no rocks, no seaweed and no tar. Everybody goes there in the summer. I don’t mind crowds at the beach. Everybody is happy and relaxed, they don’t bother me. Teenagers used to blast their boom boxes at the beach, but no more, they have ear buds and smart phones, lying on their towels, as quiet as clams. They don’t bother me.
A good beach day, we bring big towels, two Tommy Bahama folding beach chairs, and one large Tommy Bahama umbrella with a screw-into-the-sand pole. Almost everybody around here buys Tommy Bahama chairs and umbrellas. We are part of that crowd.
Except if you go up to Coal Oil Point where the college kids go – they just bring towels, they don’t being chairs or umbrellas, for whatever reason – to be different? It’s just something I have noticed.
We bring books, one for her and one for me. Sometimes I bring a rolled up magazine, like the Economist or the New Yorker. Laurie might bring a section of the newspaper, but that seems too hard to deal with at the beach with the wind and sand. Mainly I just bring a book, and, as you already know, this year it’s My Struggle by Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard.
Sunblock lotion, SPF 30. Chapstick, SPF 30. Don’t forget to protect your lips. A thermos of ice water. If we think we’re going to stay a long time, we bring sandwiches. Here at the beach you don’t want anything too messy. I favor peanut butter and jelly sliced into halves, one sandwich for her and one for me. Or to be more ambitious, for a longer beach flop, bring the small ice box with a shoulder strap to carry, put in Persian cucumbers and hummus, and sliced apples in a small plastic bag plus the sandwiches.
This is where experience and team work pays off. Bananas and citrus are messy and might even be sticky. Apples slices are neat and can be very tasty.
Finally, a flannel shirt for me and some long-sleeved cover for her – when the sun gets to be too much, or when the wind begins to blow late in the afternoon.
Lately, we have left the boogie boards and wetsuits in the garage. Those days might be over for us. Now I skip the boogie board and skip the body surfing, and just paddle out a bit further and swim back and forth, up the beach, then down the beach. Good exercise beyond the crashing waves. Loving salt water, feeling it seep into my bones.
Except for Jaws – you know – sharks! I’m not going into the whole shark question here, but there are more of them out there these past few years. Too many if you ask me. Better that we eat them, not them to eat us. Resume shark fishing is my solution.
I love to merge into the salt water. Laurie, being a California native, is more fastidious. She goes in the water only late in the summer when it is good and properly warm. Her beach history is different than mine. My yearnings, coming from the Midwest, are not the same as hers, yet we have met and stayed together these past six years and spent many happy hours at the beach together.
Joe La Suza is a retired contractor. His voice used to be gruff, now it has a velvet tone, smoother, less bellowing, no more barking orders. He smiles underneath his broad white mustache and greets me with pleasure at the Mesa Harmony Garden where we both volunteer.
Joe drives the twelve miles from Carpintaria to the Mesa Harmony Garden. You wonder why he couldn’t find a volunteer garden job closer to home, but I guess he doesn’t mind.
Joe has dedicated himself to installing an efficient drip irrigation system in our 100-tree fruit orchard. He has the plastic pipes laid out in four sections, each with its own timer. Each fruit tree has two driplines to plunge the dripping water six inches below the ground.
You don’t drip out the water on the surface, less evaporation steal it. You bury the dripline outlet six inches down and you put all that water to work. Then you put in two driplines, one on each side of the tree for balance, because the tree sends out roots to where the water comes in.
And you have to maintain the system by walking the lines at least once a week. Hoses break, connections slip, water gushes out and gets wasted.
Once a volunteer left the hose running and we didn’t find out until two days later, and $50 worth of water got wasted.
Joes maintains it all. He has been faithfully coming to the garden every Saturday for months. On his hands and knees, pushing his blue foam kneeling pad from one tree to the next, under peach and plum, under apple, pear, fig and citrus, each tree gets two driplines, and if they get plugged up with dirt, Joe unplugs it.
But he’s doing all the work lately, and no one is helping him. He wants help or he wants to quit. I think he should stop working and take a rest. That’s what I’m doing. I noticed two things – that he was tired of doing all the work himself, and that I am darn sure I don’t want to do that work either, so we should take a rest.
Randy Stark is not so easy to talk about. He is difficult. I have needed to defend his behavior, saying oh he’s not so bad.
He became very angry when he discovered that the Fund for Santa Barbara had donated money to the Mesa Harmony Garden. This was filthy money in his opinion. The Fund for Santa Barbara had also donated money to Planned Parenthood -- baby killers! The garden should not accept money from that fund.
Other board members found that view extreme, as did I. Randy is a very conservative Catholic, and this is how it gets sticky:
The Mesa Harmony Garden is a community garden sited on a piece one-acre of land that belongs to the Catholic Church. We are a formally organized non-profit with no affiliation to the Church, yet our one hundred fruit trees are planted on Church property. In other words, the orchard belongs to Pope Francis and we’re just passing through.
Remember Joe, out there on his knees, using the blue foam rubber knee pad, going from apple tree to peach tree to hook up the drip emitters. Joe could give a flying fuck about the Catholic Church and its sacrosanct dogma, its ancient ritual and its perverted priesthood. Yet Joe toils on Church land and you must pay the piper.
And the piper’s name is Randy. Randy is the deacon for Sacred Heart parish, not quite a priest, he was a wife and a daughter in college. He has a remodeling contracting business and makes a decent living when he isn’t in church assisting at daily Mass, at funerals, weddings, and baptisms.
The old priest, Father Louis, speaks with a slight accent. He is from Belgium and he longs to return to his homeland next year when he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 75. He is content to let Randy do the heavy lifting.
Randy is fifty-something, a native of Santa Barbara with a beer gut, a buzz cut on his over-large round head and a voice to match his buzz cut, loud and rasping.
His devotion to serving God is sincere. His face twitches when he tries to focus. He represents everything that is wrong with the Catholic Church – what some people say is wrong. Or maybe he is just a pain in the ass.
We can’t get rid of Randy, I have explained that to the other board members, but Randy can get rid of us. He drops broad hints of influence – talks about a recent phone conversation with the bishop, talks about old Father Louis not being up to much and leaving the major non-sacerdotal chores to Randy.
What can we do? Pack up our fruit trees and leave? We are stuck with Randy and this makes him happy. I am an observant Catholic myself. That is, I work in the community garden and I observe other Catholics going in the church for Mass, but I never go myself, except some days, during the week, I come in the church and light a candle at the side altar. Close enough. But I went to Catholic school all the way through – Saint Joseph grade school with Franciscan nuns, Loyola Academy for high school with the Jesuits, and St. Michael’s College in Toronto, run by a French order known as the Basilians – they are priests who enjoy a good glass of wine and know the difference.
So, even though I am lapsed, I can trump Randy on Catholic trivia, or hold my own, and he needs a friend.This is where my adopt-a-stray-dog personality comes in. Because Randy is not a very likeable man and he knows it. He talks loudly, adamantly. He can’t help it. But he serves at Sacred Heart parish, he does the yeoman chores and sees to it that someone keeps the parking lot swept, sees to it that Father Louis does not allow too many homeless people to sleep in their vans in the parking lot, sees to it that the Mexican families don’t make too much noise at the parish center when the wedding or quinceanera comes around.
He does all that because he wants somebody out there to like him. Me, I have plenty of friends and I know how lucky I am to have all these friends, close friends, medium-range friends, long-distance friends, every day friends, now and then friends, every kind you can imagine, in abundance. So why don’t I be a pal to Randy?
The other board members at Mesa Harmony Garden accept him with difficulty. Two Jews serve on the board, Larry Saltzman and Josh Kane. They are quietly aghast at Randy’s tirades, and cringe at his friendly smile that often conceals a tirade about to commence. Our board president has a particular angst. Hugh Kelly is of British descent, his pleasant accent pleases our ears. He is a devout and formal atheist. What an exquisite punishment for him, because it has been Hugh’s life dream to plant and maintain a fruit orchard using the most advance organic methods. To do it right!
And we do it right at Mesa Harmony Garden, but we do it on church property, within sight of the rectory where Father Louis nods his nap, within sight of the parish center where the Mexican familiar have their feuds and parties, within sight of the Sacred Heart church itself, where at least one candle burns night and day.
Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ our Lord Amen.
Try forgetting that prayer. We only said it every night at dinner for as long as I can remember when we were kids. The same exact prayer with the same exact words. Everybody said it back then. Everybody meaning Catholics. Us. Protestants had to make up prayers on the spot, but why? We had one memorized and ready to go. And Jews, who knew what the Jews did? Mom said the Jews were as good as us but they were clannish.
I was ten-years-old when I heard her say that and I almost choked. Clannish? Mom, we’re clannish. We visit with our relatives and people from the parish. Period. Us. As in everybody who says grace before dinner just like we do. We don’t visit with other kinds of people. We’re not in the international friendship market.
My Dad liked Jews. He did business with them and they were his friends. Mom and Dad often had dinner with Art Shapiro and his wife. Shapiro was a fishing tackle wholesaler in Chicago. The business was called Faber Brothers after the previous owners. There were a lot of Jews in the fishing tackle business. They didn’t fish, but they bought and sold and my Dad liked them.
The Suns lived on the corner of Forest Avenue and 17th Street, on the block where I grew up. It was a dark and lovely red brick house. As a child I found it very pleasing, and so quiet. They only had one kid, Billy. They had so much room. I walked by their house every day on the way to school. I knocked on their door a few times to see if Billy could come out on play, but he was younger than me and seemed to be very sheltered. They were the Jews. The rest of the block was all Protestant except for the Giambalvos. I knew that because if they didn’t go to school or church with us, they couldn’t be Catholic. I don’t remember the nuns saying anything bad about the Jews or the Protestants. They were good people. Too bad they were going to hell when they died. The nuns didn’t dwell on that unfortunate fact. They kind of glided past it. My life was not full of glaring contradictions, so I could live with that one.
I walked away from the Church when I was 18. When I left for college I stopped going to Mass. Didn’t say anything to anybody or get mad, I just stopped going. That’s how it has always been. It would be too much effort to take up some other religion. Why would I want to be a Methodist or Buddhist or whatever? Or formally renounce my tradition like it was some kind of debate and I needed to choose the right side? I would rather stick with the teaching I grew up with. Stick it in my pocket, or hide it in the garage under a used tire. I didn’t raise my kids Catholic.
Why do I bother thinking about these things? Memories are a curse. Bad memories remind me of my stupidity. Good memories make me wish I was younger which is also stupid. Better to forget and be here now…… but O God that is vapid hippie logic! Be present? Well, you cannot really be anyplace else, except the present is such a narrow, tiny space, and the past is huge, the past is bigger than a cathedral with echoing marble halls, the years marching by gloriously.
I slept poorly last night, I began to think about the time we camped on Illabot Creek in the late summer of 1978. Susan was pregnant with Eva. Eugene was one-year-old. My stepson Tommy was seven, and we weren’t really camping, it was more like we were homeless and had no place to go.
We didn’t even have a tent, and the other people wanted us to leave. But I was a defiant. Steve and Katy Philbrick said the camp was full and there was no more room for other people, but I said, “I don’t have to ask you if we can stay here. This land belongs to Gordy Campbell and a long time ago he said we were welcome to live here, and we will live here unless he says no.”
Gordy was an Upper Skagit Indian and a dead drunk. But it was true. In 1971 when my house burned down and we needed a place to go he told us about his small property on Illabot Creek and we were welcome there.
I had that right, at least as far as Steve and Katy Philbrick were concerned and they became quiet – and barely friendly.
Where else could we go? We slept by the creek. I borrowed tools and split cedar planks and made a lean-to. We had a cast iron kettle – made oatmeal for breakfast and beans for dinner. Eugene slept in a suit case. Susan and Tommy and I slept on the ground.
Illabot Creek runs right off the high mountain snow banks in the Cascades. The water came gushing down the foothills and spread out to flow smoothly over gravel beds. It was purely delicious water. Even one cup full was worth a million dollars, worth a mother’s smile and a father’s heartbeat. This pure water was our salvation. The wind blew through the shivering alder trees over our head. We stayed there all through August and then found a cabin to rent in Marblemount for $40 a month.
But why remember that? Today is Thursday, almost the end of June and many years later. Illabot Creek is still rushing by in cascades of pure water, but I will never see it again.
Now I live in Santa Barbara and the creeks are dry most of the year. Mission Creek flows from the foothills past the Mission, through the downtown area and into the ocean, but this time of year all you see are rocks and sunshine filtering through sycamore trees. We are going to the Mission this afternoon. We go every Thursday in the evening, to the Mission rose garden to do some pruning and dead heading. The garden has over 800 roses of many varieties. Laurie and I are assigned as volunteers to one plot of four roses – The four varieties are A Touch of Class, Duet, Sweet Surrender and Falling in Love.