Ventura County side of Malibu. 1969
When I was eleven my whole world changed. That was the summer we talked my Dad into moving full time to the mobile home park in Malibu where we had our summer and weekend home. A good twenty miles from the glamorous homes of the rich and the stars it was nestled all by itself on a curve of the Pacific Coast Highway. And it saved me the more generic fate of being a girl from the Valley.
At first I couldn’t believe that our plan, hatched in the hazy afternoons of late 60s beachdom, had worked. Driving from Granada Hills to Hollywood, where my dad was a film editor, hadn’t been a short jaunt, but it was mostly freeway. However, from Big Sycamore he would have to take PCH south, traffic lights and all, and then travel through Santa Monica and up to work for a total of 40 miles - back in the day when that kind of commuting was pretty rare. My mom, my two sisters, and I thought we would have a bigger task of convincing him, but he went along right away.
The single wide weekend trailer was traded in for a double wide mobile home and we became full time Surf and Sand residents. Moving to the beach full time was an adventurer’s dream for me at eleven. Most of the residents were part timers and only came down on weekends during the school year. During the school week the park was a deserted ghost land, with only a handful of children and preteens to lay claim to the territory. Every path, every hang out, every trail and every tree was ours for the taking. We let ourselves into the unlocked trailers for tea parties. We felt like we OWNED it all.
I remember my mom registering me in my new school. The Surf and Sand was on the Ventura County side of Malibu, so our school district was Oxnard. My 6th grade teacher’s name was Miss Cearasolo. Seeing her name on my registration slip sent me into anxiety attacks that I kept buried deep. I was a shy child, and the week before school started I lived in mortal fear of saying her name aloud in class and getting it wrong. I was sure the kids would laugh at me and I would never recover.
The best part of my new school was traveling there and back. We would stand on the mountain side of PCH in the early morning fog and a rickety old yellow school bus, the kind with a long hood and short body, would come clunking along and pick us up off the road like miniature hitchhikers. The bus ride would wind up the rest of the Pacific Coast Highway and then through vast agricultural fields. Sometimes the fog was so thick in the mornings it was like a twilight zone ride through the clouds. Most of the other kids on the bus were Mexicans, sons and daughter of immigrant farm workers. My first boyfriend was Daniel. I wore his Saint Christopher and held hands with him on the back of the bus. My mother, the daughter of a mid-west dentist, and the product of private prep schools, found out that Daniel was Mexican and made me give him back his necklace. I never told him the things that she said about him and his family.
Fall is the best season to live at the beach. The elements seem to jump out at you. Riding home from school I would sit on the right hand side of the bus where if I was to leap from the window I might have cleared the rocks and landed with a splash into the ocean. Watching the sunlight dance on the ocean’s surface like a swarm of dazzling sea fairies hypnotized me and encouraged my habit of daydreaming. One day a young classmate sat down beside me and with a mirror attached to the top of his shoe, gazed up at my panties for a bit of time. Until my friend Sarah saw him and punched his arm. I might never have noticed myself.
The school bus let us off in front of a bait store, where every day we stopped for bubble gum and candy bars. Candy bars cost a dime back then, and with my quarter I would buy two Reece’s Peanut Butter cups and a Big Mouth bubblegum. The bait store was owned by two sisters, each weighing at least 300 pounds. A recurring intellectual debate among my friends and I, was a discussion on how the two sisters could fit at the same time in the small space behind the counter. One of the sisters was married to a quiet, skinny man and they had a little baby boy. He slept in a wicker laundry basket under the candy counter. I remember they would put a drop of beer in his bottle to keep him sleeping soundly while they ran their business. My mom said that he was born an alcoholic, that he’d inherited it while in the womb.
Outside the bait store were salt water tanks the size of big jacuzzis, with clear plastic walls you could look through. They were filled with live fish, lobsters, crabs, even baby sand sharks. Also outside and next to the the mini sea pools was a big gas grill. Perched on the grill were two giant vats of boiling salted water. On Sunday afternoons my dad would buy crabs or lobsters for dinner. I remember the sound the lobsters made when thrown into the giant vats. A high pitched whine that would totally freak me out. My dad and the skinny bait store owner laughed at me and said it wasn’t the lobsters screaming, just the sound of their shells. I wasn’t convinced; I conjured a vision of my future karma. A clear picture of being boiled to death while laughing-eyed lobsters looked on.
Across the highway was Big Sycamore State Park. Not just a campground, but miles upon miles of trails through the Santa Monica Mountains. On weekends my friends and I would spend all day in the hills and the canyons. Some days we’d play pioneer in the old abandoned ranch about half a mile into the canyon. Right past the ranch was a rusty old gate, which we considered the turning point. A mile further down the canyon narrowed, and the area was appropriately called Dracula’s Forest. Dark and spooky, I took the name seriously. My preference was to hike the mountains’ crests and peaks, which lifted me into the sky and gave me a heavenly view of my world.
On weekdays, when there was only Sarah and I, and Sarah (being two years older and more inclined to just hang out and listen to records) didn’t want to go adventuring, I went by myself. Hiking around a deserted campground. Eleven. Times were different. I remember my mom making me take our poodle, Waldo, when I went by myself, as though he’d protect me from weirdos and rapists. It is from my mom that I got my smidgen of Native blood. I think she understood that Indians should be accompanied by wolves and not poodles. But my father said that one dog was enough.
When I was eleven my whole world changed. That was the year my father started coming home late from work. He grew out his crew cut, grew a beard, bought a silver Camero, and sped out like a bullet each day down to Hollyweird. My mother’s best friends became Coors and Crown Russe. Bitter and angry and taking it out on her daughters, we learned to stay away from home as much as possible. My sisters came of age in open rebellion.
But I spent my time by the sand and the sea; I climbed the peaks and attempted to lift myself into the stars.
When I was eleven, I made a world on my own.