I am sitting on a park bench, painted a nondescript beige, which sits on a circular cement slab set on a grass plateau overlooking a placid Pacific Ocean. It is at the north end of “Cliffs,” a popular surf spot in Huntington Beach that is now known as “Dog Beach,” as one can take one’s dog onto the beach and let it frolic in the surf and sand there. A woman carrying a bright blue bag glowing from the morning sunlight walks a Golden retriever at tideline. A couple, carrying a leash in hand, stroll together as their untethered dog chases after a ball that the man occasionally throws.
It is early. A beautiful morning. A light Santa Ana wind is blowing. The sky has wisps of white cirrus clouds that give dimension to the powder blue canopy arching above.
I look out. Palos Verdes rises to the north. I am reminded of Mt. St. Victoire, a landmass recurring in many of Cezanne’s paintings. But from this vantage point, Palos Verdes floats on the horizon, above an expanse of the ocean reflecting the sky blue, an uncertain foundation for this distant landmark.
Then my eye scans the horizon a bit further south. There looms the island of Catalina, 34 miles of silhouetted ridges. Cliffs, known as “The Palisades,” reflect light at the south end of the island, and are distinctly visible on this clear day. I have hiked most of the island from weekend jaunts spent there on our various sailboats or during two-week spells at a summer camp I attended there for a couple of the years. The land is arid, dried grass brown, but not without charm.
What comes to mind today is the jukebox, a glistening neon-lit one with scarlet keys, which stood on the patio of the café at “The Isthmus,” the mooring we most frequented there. I am a boy on the cusp of puberty. The sounds from the jukebox hit me in the gut on our evening forays ashore. Music that resonated in a vague way, arousing something inarticulate but potent, a heaviness and sort of ache in the pit of my stomach. Songs like “In A Gadda Da Vida,” or “Light My Fire” got my pulse going but it was the slow songs, like Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country,” and, “Lay Lady Lay,” that more matched my personality and really spoke to me.
And on the patio, teenagers gathered in couples or groups and hung out, allowing the spell of the music and evening to work their magic. In the shadow, couples kissed or “necked” to use the slang of the time. This was so foreign to me. I had yet fallen in love, seen Franco Zeffirelli’s “Romeo and Juliet,” or read John Donne’s love poetry. Necking was something teenagers did that had little relation to me at my age. Yet a magic and curiosity were felt along with a sort of repulsive ickiness at the thought of all of that mixing saliva.
So from brief awkward peeks at teenage couples necking to the sounds of the jukebox on the patio of the Isthmus, I was initiated into the wider world that adolescence and maturity were to present.
Such are the thoughts aroused by the view of the island of Catalina etched on the horizon on this beautiful clear morning.
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