Licking Elbows, A Movie, An Argument, A Girl

October 21

I’m writing this on the floor of a dark tent. It is the journalist tent, erected hastily on sand dune when they decided to move the contest site to the other side of the peninsula because the wave here is better. I’m lying on my stomach on the the floor of the tent to stretch my back because it began to tighten during my morning surf. I decided to surf because the tide was too high to walk along beach to the contest site and my outside pass put me too far out on the road to walk in with a bad ankle. I can’t see the surf – no one in the journalist tent can see the surf – so I’m thinking back on a night in France. I love Portugal, but my old brain is still in the Basque country.


“Transgressions,” naturally. (My apologies to the people who love me. My apologies to my body. “Oh, wake my body!” I can still hear Alexander singing into my dome from last week, the night after Jack from London, was sneaking around a bar in “Centraaaaal” with his friends trying to lick people’s elbows without getting caught. He said, “My French is good enough to get by living in a van, but not good enough to explain why I’m trying to sneak up and lick a man’s elbows.”


(The back part of the elbow, Sion Yates told me in Portugal, is apparently called the “weenus.” How a 22-yr-old, ex-Ricoh salesman traveling around Europe in a van knows such things, I forgot to ask.


The night before I watched a movie in a bar with the director and his editor. The bar had the not-so-subtle name, Dick’s Sandbar. The film was a documentary on Hossegor. The documentary did what too many surf films do, glorify and justify surfing’s drug culture in a sort of folksy way. Make cute its history of smuggling drugs in order to keep surfing, promote that idea of rebellion through travel, through partying. The bar was empty during the film. The attractive bartenders played pool in the corner with a couple of locals while American music from the 70’s played. J., the director, said he couldn’t finish the William Finnegan. A, his editor, said it was the most boring book he ever read. A. was saying that he didn’t understand why it was a book, it was just about a guy surfing a bunch of places before anyone else. I was trying to explain that it was more about an obsession, like all good writing. The story, too, was more about his love of writing and surfing and taking them as far as he could while keeping each separate, despite the consequences. The editor wouldn’t give in. He’s surfed for five years and says it’s like going down a sled and going “wee.” J. Intervenes, says most surfing in Southern California is for exercise, not thrill. They both go off on professional surfing, say that pro surfers should embrace the party culture and drugs that have surrounded it. The editor is saying they should celebrate the drug culture, promote it even, not try to make it like the NFL, where all the athletes appear squeaky clean or end up on TMZ. He says they should get the managers and handlers out of the way. He doesn’t get it. These athletes, in the top 24 in the world, are pretty squeaky clean. When I said to Connor Coffin, I was last here in France ten years ago, he said, me too. He was fourteen then and competing on the world stage. You don’t travel the world competing at a high level, under the watchful eye of your parents, and be the life of the party. If you do, you won’t last long.

Two men in their twenties and two women run across the dance floor. The men don’t look like most of the men I see around here. They’re somewhere around the mid-five-foot range, bearded, but with large bellies spilling over their pants. Their pants, that sad fashion, business casual, khakis with open button-downs drunkenly half tucked in. One’s beard is red and the other’s black. One of the girls is wearing something like a pantsuit but it hugs her ass and tits and she’s not shy about it. No one’s on the dance floor except she keeps skipping out onto the dance floor, “shaking it” and smiling at us until red beard drunk-stumbles over to her, kind of circles around her, tries to get her into a corner to kiss her. Our conversation has trailed off into watching this display. It is sad and gross and we can’t stop watching. “We’re bearing witness, but what responsibility does the witness have to a train being labeled as a good time?” is not a question either of them ask. He’s so drunk and she’s so desperate for attention and I’m too old for this show. I order a shot of whiskey and a shot of water and walk over to Red and give him the whiskey. Its none of my business, I know. But this girl needs this guy to pass out, but she’s too young to know that. He downs the shot. When we’re leaving, they’re outside. She’s let the guy move her against the wall outside. She’s put her arms around him. He’s saying something in her ear. She turns her head, looks at us, three men all a decade or more older and smiles and winks. We walk away toward our cars. I’m Orpheus. I try not to look back but I can’t help myself. There’s a mist too heavy to be called a mist and too light to be called a rain. You can see it fall through the orange light of the street light, making everything moist and dull.

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