We continue Humqaq where we left off last week, with the narrator one his way to a camping spot in Jalama, alone until he reaches the shore.
Humqaq, part 2
By Jeff McElroy
Driving down old Jalama Road. Riding that black snake—twisting and turning under my headlights. Crazy L.A. poet, Jim Morrison, Lizard King, sang black leather dreams via speakers—”Riders on the Storm.” Surfboards and beers rattled in the back as I banked turns. The moon pretended to hide behind the knitwork of gnarled Oak branches, reaching fingers, webbed moss, fog tufting and parting at the windshield. Spirits.
Lightning flashed. The ocean came into view, white-capped and angry under the lightning snapshot. The offshore oil platforms flickered in the wind, light and oil pollution combined. The road lowered down the salt-bleached cliffs. The sparse manzanita and chaparral leaned with the northwest wind. The campground was empty (yippee!) except for one bonfire north. I steered clear of their campsite to respect their solitude. The light rain on my windshield spread thin in the wind. I backed my truck into a campsite sheltered by wind-dancing bushes. Killed the lights and engine, but not “Riders on the Storm.” I turned it up loud and hopped out.
The wind pierced my clothes and numbed my cheeks. I pulled on my Levi wool-lined jacket, opened the camper shell, and propped the window up with the special bamboo stick I’d found washed up on the beach by an El Nino storm a few years back. I opened a beer with the back of my lighter, took a long pull, and got to work twisting newspaper tightly into kindling, throwing it into the metal ring fire pit. I stacked the smallest pieces of wood over the newspaper and lit it in several places. The wind was rough with the baby flame, tugging it towards darkness, but baby came back stronger—climbing, worshipping, consuming—”Come on Baby Light my Fire.” She took off, a baby no more. A woman now. Many-pronged, she tangoed with the wind.
I stacked my surfboards under the truck by flickering firelight. Got my wetsuit in the cab where it would stay dry during the night. I rolled out my blankets in the camper shell for later, so all I’d have to do is climb in and pass out. Beer numero dos. The dark frothy ale warmed my bones. I lit a cigar, burped, and swung my feet from the tailgate. A big ol’ grin crinkled my cheeks.
Morrison sang “When you’re strange, faces come out of the rain,” and two dudes in hooded sweatshirts walked up, beers in hand. “‘Sup, dogs?” I said.
“Saw you roll in,” one of them said.
“You guys surf today?”
“Yeah. Tarantulas. It was sick.”
“Overhead. Building tonight.
“This wind ain’t good.”
“Supposed to swing around offshore by morning.”
We watched the flames in tribal silence. One of the dudes offered me a pipe. “Wanna bowl?”
I lit the nest of sticky buds. Inhale. Hold. Release. Passed it on. We didn’t say much, just exchanged knowing smiles. A big snap from the fire—echoed, echoed. A large ember lifted skyward and faded. Lightning flashed—faces in the white cliffs. The wind spoke vowels. Thunder—jester Coyote scampered towards Point Conception on skinny haunches. Morrison wailed “The End.” The pipe was empty. Another log on the fire. I handed out beers to my new friends. We laughed for the sake of laughter, big belly chuckles. No sarcasm. No punch line. Just pure laughter. We exchanged lies about waves surfed, women, and, later, tailgate philosophy, until my bed started sounding real nice. “Night, boys.” I said. “See y’all in the water.”
I climbed into my camper shell and got under the blankets. My toes were warm and numb. I didn’t even bother kicking off my boots. I put my head on the pillow and watched the fading fire make shadows, forms, on the walls of my encroaching cave. The wind rocked my truck. The waves were static. Morrison moaned, “This is the End. My only friend, the End.”
To start from the beginning: