Local Tribes is a tour de force, gripping and intense drama of a young man's search for his ultimate truths in a hostile world not of his choosing. The introduction into the story by characters from the margins of society add a bizarre texture to the already twisted reality Marco must navigate. The realization and coming to grips with hidden family secrets haunt Marco up into the stories surprizing conclusion. Written with fast-paced action scenes and vivid descriptions of the Santa Cruz coastal environs, Local Tribes gathers steam like a huge wave about to break on an unknown beach of intense emotions and uncertainty.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.54(d)|
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By Thomas Hansen Hickenbottom
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Thomas Hansen Hickenbottom
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMarco spun the nine-six O'neill Intruder surfboard towards shore and pulled hard as the last wave in the set approached, a grinding nine footer. The wave swept in, felt its way along the reef, peaked up at the point and began to hollow out. Marco buried his arms deep in the wave's face, pulling the surfboard down into the steep mass of ocean energy. He leaped to his feet, pointing the nose of the board downward into the hollowness, jamming a hard turn at the bottom of the watery void as the wave hammered the reef.
The board tracked high up in the heart of the wave as it hollowed out even more, then picked up speed as it hit the shallower reef along the cove. Marco took four quick steps toward the nose and squatted down inside the tube, as he raced to the inner section. Inching closer to the nose, he drove the Intruder at top speed.
The wave opened up even more, becoming a long, concave pipeline of energy. Marco held his breath as he entered the final bowl and forced the board down to the very bottom of the wave. He feared it was so steep it would cause the tail and fin to slip out. Pushing harder, he squatted with head lowered and arms outstretched in front, charging into the green/gray tube as the wave lined up the full length of the beach. The wall of water pitched over him and he was locked inside. As the thick lip descended, he dove off the nose to escape the heavy pummeling. The wave exploded on the shore with a thrashing, pounding roar, pushing a churning mixture of foam, sand and kelp shards up against the shale cliff. Marco dove under it all, then surfaced as a seabird glided overhead.
He stood up in the waist-deep frigid water, pulling his drenched baggy swimsuit up into his long-sleeved wetsuit jacket. The skin on his bare legs tightened in the freezing ocean.
As he waded to shore through the sandy foam, he thought about how strange it was; moments ago the entire cove was awash in raging swells, and now an almost eerie calm descended. That's the way it always was for a surfer: one moment you're racing along, adrenaline surging, using all your skill to ride the natural energy without being consumed by it; then you find yourself sitting quietly atop your board in still water, wanting to experience the stoke of it again.
The Intruder lay forty yards down the beach, fin up, in a mound of tangled kelp, with only a few minor scratches on the rails and bottom. A small spotted seal barked at Marco as it cruised just outside the surf zone. He wondered if it would join the others on Seal Rock by "the Lane" after dark or find refuge in a more secluded rock-nest on the Westside. He smiled as the seal turned and swam through the orange-glazed ocean.
His bare legs began to shiver as November wind turned on-shore. Bits of kelp and sand stuck to the hair on his shins. Goosebumps rose on his thighs and lower back. He zipped up his wetsuit jacket tightly at the neck and snapped the crotch flap together over his " baggies." Another set approached on the horizon as the sun cast a gold hue on the ocean's mottled skin. Bulbous dark clouds began to gather high above.
It had rained hard for three days and let up just long enough for the sea to glass off for two hours. Marco was the only one to paddle out during the calm and knew the conditions wouldn't be stable for long.
That's the way it always was. He was either there when it was happening or he missed it, one of the unwritten laws of surfing. The conditions during storm season could change radically within the briefest period of time. It could be bumpy and choppy one moment, then smooth out and form a glassy skin the next. Only those who were closely aligned with the sea knew that truth. It was almost a kinetic thing, an inner knowing he'd acquired after years of living by the ocean.
Marco was becoming a true devotee of riding " the Cove." It was his passion, his quest, and everything else in life paled in importance. He checked out the conditions several times a day, even during storms to see if it was surfable. He'd just scored again with the perfect surf, the beautiful moment, while everyone else in the world was doing something else.
He was stoked the 1966 north swell season was now pumping in constant waves. The warmer surface water from the hot days of summer had disappeared. Marco switched from a wearing a sleeveless vest to a full wet suit jacket. By January the water temperature would become freezing, when offshore winds blew from the chilly valleys and frost-covered foothills.
Marco wrestled the twenty-eight pound Intruder up the side of the cliff. He cautiously climbed the slick, drenched shale, pulling up the heavy board ever so carefully. His feet turned purple and felt numb from the intense cold. The ocean was probably fifty degrees or so, the air temp around forty-five, with a side-shore wind against his wet, bare legs, turning to a penetrating freeze. He watched another eight-wave set roll through and pictured himself inside each tube as they curled into the shore break. The wind rose in strength, causing the waves to "mush out," losing their perfect shape, becoming lines of choppy water unfit for riding.
He clutched some ice plant tendrils, ascending ever so slowly, at last lifting himself and the board onto the top of the muddy cliff. As he stood shaking in the freeze he felt almost like a guardian of the place, he and the other members of the "Cove crew." It was their break and no one else was welcome. Locals only, man.
Gravel from the road stung the bottoms of his tender, frozen feet as he trudged along West Cliff Drive with the board under arm. He turned down Almar Street toward Oxford Way. His cold fingers stung from gripping the fiberglass rails of the board. He dodged pods dropping from eucalyptus trees as he made it past the Mitchell's house.
The "Cove" was named after them, Mitchell's Cove, because the Mitchell brothers had surfed there during the fifties and lived only a block away. They also opened the very first local surf shop in 1956.
That was back in the balsawood era Marco reminisced, before the "foamies," when boards made out of glued-up balsawood planks were 9'6" to 11'2" in length and weighed between thirty-five and forty pounds. He knew that the shaper, Johnny Rice, had to hone each wood board down with a drawknife and block plane. He was glad that era was long gone and loved his new O'neill foam board. It was so much lighter and way more maneuverable in the waves.
As he trudged down the wet street, he pictured the spring of '57 when he first started surfing, right at the end of " the wood era" at Cowell's Beach. Back then, he had to borrow boards from the older surfers, "grubs," they were called. He'd paddle out at Cowell's Cove, near the beach, and perfect his moves after many a wipe out in the numbing water. He'd only last about forty minutes or so without a wetsuit, but nobody had wetsuits then. After a few freezing dumps in the water, he'd paddle in and try to warm up next to a blazing driftwood fire. Those memories made his legs shiver.
He turned the muddy corner onto Oxford Way and set the Intruder down on the smooth gravel in front of the white two-story house. Light raindrops ran down his cheek. He pulled off the wetsuit jacket, hosed the salt water from it quickly and hung it to drip-dry over the swing on the porch. Then he turned the hose on himself, quickly rinsing off. It was cold as hell, but beat having his body covered with an itchy, salty crust all night long. He wasn't allowed to use the warm indoor shower or rather agreed to not use it. That way he didn't have to pay any utilities. Every now and then though, when no one was around he'd sneak one.
Inside his little room, the sun porch, his " baggies" plopped to the floor. Marco stood next to a small electric heater and cranked it up full blast. He shivered. Wiping wet cornstarch from his arms, he watched the red-hot strips of the heater blast on and off in the darkness and listened to the fan as it pumped out heat. Marco used either cornstarch or baby powder to get his arms to slide into his stiff rubber suit jacket. Cornstarch was the best; it was cheaper than baby powder and who wanted to smell like a baby's ass in the water anyhow. He slid into some levis, a white tee shirt and donned his dark green O'Neill team jacket. He tapped his numb feet against the wood floor. They itched, tingled and burned, turning deep red from purple as sensations returned. Rubbing them briskly brought back the natural skin tone, although they still throbbed.
He fired up a Camel, inhaled and slowly stopped shivering. As he lay back on his narrow, canvas cot, he thought about his dad's recent death and his mom's reaction. Things had gotten too hard for him to live in that house anymore, the house of his youth, the house of death. He just couldn't hack it with her night crying ... the drinking ... and her mood swings. He tried to stick around and help her out, but it was too much to handle and he felt pretty burned out being there.
To get some space from it all, he moved into the sun porch of the Lang and Jenks' house. He didn't have to pay rent, just mow the back lawn and help out with the chores. The Lang and Jenks' kids lived there alone. The Lang brothers' dad married the Jenks' kids' mom, then split town a month later, leaving his two boys with his new wife. Six weeks later, she left suddenly with some new guy for the east coast, leaving all the kids "temporarily" as she put it, promising to send some money soon.
A siren wailed in the dark distance. It faded into a receding drone, reminding Marco of last month when the ambulance took his dad to the Sister's Hospital on West Cliff Drive. A sick feeling pinged in his gut as he remembered that night ...
"Marco ... get up ... your father ... help me ..." His mother, Marie, padded back down the hall in her bathrobe, with Marco, half-dazed, in tow. A plastic crucifix and some framed photos crashed on the thin, carpeted floor as they groped along the wall. His dad, Louie, lay quivering on his stomach in the corner of the bedroom. " Turn 'im over," she yelled. "Quick."
They rolled him onto his back. Marie stuck her fingers in his mouth. " He bit his tongue again." The doorbell rang. " Let 'em in." Marie pointed to the door.
Marco flicked on the hall light. Two orderlies burst in with a litter.
"In there," he pointed towards the bedroom. Moments later, they hustled Louie outside into the foggy night. Marie hurriedly changed into some clothes. They slid the litter into the back of a waiting ambulance. "I'll go, you stay," Marie sobbed, then climbed in the back as the double doors slammed shut. They disappeared seconds later, as a group of neighbors gathered just outside the waist-high, redwood fence next to the persimmon tree and camellias. Marco could hear them mumbling in Italian and English, gesturing towards the house.
Marco shut the door, killed the lights and peeked through the blinds as the neighbors dispersed. He slunk down the hallway to the little living room and sprawled on the couch, staring at patterns on the wall from streetlight slipping through lace curtains. He breathed short and shallow breaths. He waited for the phone to ring, and imagined his dad being hooked up to tubes in the hospital.
Marco picked up the black and white photo from the floor of his dad's boat, "the Three M's," studying it carefully in the low light. Louie was waving with a stogie in hand at whoever was taking the picture. Marco knew it had to be another local fisher. In the photo, Louie had the outriggers out and was trolling for albacore about fifty or so miles outside the bay, in what fisherman called, " the blue water." That meant you were way outside the influence of the bay, running off the coastal shelf of the continent, in the warmer Japanese current, where the albacore migrated.
Louie always felt at home out there. It was a place where a man could be alone with nature and his thoughts, away from " the petty bullshit in town," as he called it.
"Once you've worked on the water," Louie always told Marco, " you'll never wanna work on land again."
He'd often tell Marco about what it was like "out there," at sun up, when the "albies" were running in great schools, and hitting all the lures at once. "My god," he'd say, "what glory when we'd pull in next to the wharf with the hold filled with albacore and unload them, already cleaned and ready to sell." He loved to set the autopilot for the bay, light up a smoke and butcher the guts and skin off the fish, carving perfect foot and a half long fillets. He'd sing and toss the innards into the air while gulls squawked and dove for the free lunch, as "the Three M's" rose and swished with each swell. And then he'd have a swig or two of wine or whiskey or whatever. Louie told Marco he'd teach him how to " fool the albies" after he graduated from high school. He didn't want to take him out so far from land until he " became a man."
On weekends in late spring and during summer vacation, Marco remembered helping out, washing down the decks and cleaning fish during salmon season. He'd go out with his dad for the salmon troll because they weren't usually very far off shore. Louie taught him how to steer the Three M's with the swells hitting the boat from all directions, and just last summer showed him the way to set a course using the compass. Marco already knew how to set the various lines from the outriggers and gain the right speed for trolling.
But albacore was an entirely different matter, and Marie would never allow Marco to go. He reflected on all the fights they'd had about it. She'd been around commercial fishermen for long enough to know how quickly things could change when they were way off shore. She'd heard all the stories at the family parties, when the men sat around and chewed on cigars and sipped homemade red wine, while the women peeled garlic, cooked pasta and gossiped. From behind the boiling pots of steaming water, she'd listen to the tales of engine troubles and VHF troubles and sudden squalls and even a few episodes of boats disappearing altogether. The Coast Guard might reach them in time, if their radio worked, but if things got critical and they were stranded, they were just way out of luck. It was Davey Jones they'd be having they're next drink with.
And then there was the time when Louie lost the small finger on his left hand. He was winching up crab pots in a squall while the Three M's rocked side to side in the heaving swells. His hand got snagged in some frayed line and was sucked into the steel rollers of the winch. He jerked it out before the entire hand was sheared, but the tough nylon rope cinched down hard on the finger, tearing it off at the lower knuckle. He quickly wrapped it up in a greasy rag, taped it to the next finger as a splint and continued to pull in the pots. It was a good catch that day he said, but he had to leave a little bit of himself there in trade, " a little chum fer the crabs," he'd laugh. He stayed out for a few more hours, re-baiting the pots one last time before heading in. He had to hit the whiskey a little earlier that day.
Once ashore, he drove home. Marco recalled Marie unwrapping the wound, crying and screaming at him for not going to the doctor right away. She bundled up the hand in her apron and sped him to Sisters Hospital, just above the wharf, in his old Willys pickup, grinding gears each time she shifted. Marco rode in the bed of the truck, witnessing it all.
The doc sewed up the jagged tear as best he could, put him on morphine and antibiotics and told him to not use the hand for three weeks. Louie gave him a fifty-dollar bill and nine live crabs in a burlap sack in trade for the doc's handy work. And three days later when the pain and throbbing started to ease up a bit, Louie headed back out the bay with the tide for the fishing grounds, cranked up on morphine. Since then, he was nicknamed, "Stub," by his fellow fisherman. Marco loved the way his dad would always gesture with a stogie or cig in the mangled hand as he told the tale at parties.
Marie couldn't stand to think of losing her only son at sea during albacore season, not if she had anything to say about it, which she always did. It didn't matter how much Marco begged or kissed up, the answer was always, "No."
Excerpted from LOCAL TRIBES by Thomas Hansen Hickenbottom Copyright © 2010 by Thomas Hansen Hickenbottom. Excerpted by permission.
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