“We cling to the edge of the continent, shaken by loss, too foolish to run, or too much in love.” Steve Lopez on California

I have a feeling all the places I was describing in this excerpt from my first novel are ash. The first photo included is of Malibu, circa 1960. The second photo at the end of the post I borrowed from a friend.

I visited the canyon above the beach described below to see a production designer. A prominent actor from a Hollywood dynasty frequently appeared to check in on her father. Everyone lived in cottages that had originally been built by a country club to house horse trainers and to hide starlets — which was the way management referred to prostitutes employed to entertain club bigwigs in the 1930s. Shortly before the book was published the city bought out the community that had sprung up in the 1960s and 70s, I think each of the cottage dwellers got close to $400,000 to relocate. As far as I know nobody moved in during the interim, although I think the reason the city bought out the residents was because there were plans to develop the land. So, that’s the truth of the excerpt, all that I wrote below is fiction.

 

In the early twentieth century wealthy East Coast families such as the Rockefellers and the Astors would send their more-than-usually dissolute ne’er-do-well offspring various distant places out West. Places like Cody, Wyoming, which is, to this day, referred to as a town of remittance men, the remittance, or funds, to run huge ranches and keep their sons pickled in booze being transferred on a regular basis from thousands of miles away.

The rich folks of the West Coast liked to keep their black sheep closer to home. So the descendants of acting dynasties and railroad barons could often be found scattered around in places on the outskirts of Los Angeles. One such mildly insalubrious locale could be found in a canyon that wound down to the ocean. There, old country club outbuildings were furnished with family heirlooms and had electricity haphazardly supplied by hundreds of feet of orange extension cord, strung in dangerous loops and swirls, and pirated from municipal power lines. The pong of marijuana hung like a mist over the neighborhood, and toddlers ran naked from house to house. Of course, these infants often had European au pairs or nannies, the money for whom was provided by concerned grandparents, but once these young people began inhabiting the canyon things became—to put it mildly—very informal.

One denizen of this improvised habitat had been exiled in 1969 from San Marino by his oil-rich family for preferring cabana boys to suitable young ladies. He spent his days surfing and his nights toking. By the time the eighties rolled around he was thirty-two and ripped. He was physically gorgeous, and mentally—let’s just say he had a Zenlike disposition derived from fumigating his brain. He was considered old by the other surfers, and inscrutable. His survival as one of the elders in the surfing community was based on his placid temperament and the fact that he kept his personal life closeted. However, as serene as he appeared, he was profoundly lonely.

In 1982 Steve and Becky Nelson were living in an apartment on Valleyheart Drive in Studio City. Becky worked twelve-hour days in the legal department at Warner Bros. Steve, equally driven, had recently been laid off from a design firm for sitting on a client’s Pomeranian. After a week of self-castigation, Becky insisted he take a break. He spent his days trying to recoup at the beach. At ten in the morning he would load up the clatter trap Volvo with towels, books, and sandwiches and head out to Zuma.

At sunset an offshore wind stirred and with the water backlit, Steve spotted a dolphin riding, submerged, at the heart of a perfect azure wave. The moment struck him as magical—and even more so when the dolphin emerged from the wave on a board and stood to ride it to shore. What he thought was a completely different kind of mammal turned out to be a man. The man walked straight from the Pacific to Steve. In his early twenties, Steve Nelson always responded to a strong aesthetic impulse, and the cast-off oil scion in his early thirties, Alex G., always went where the sea delivered him.

Picture this: instant recognition. Who cares if their acknowledgement consisted of hey and hi and prolonged eye contact? No disrespect to Salinger or Robbie Burns, but their meeting was more of Gin a body kiss a body—Need a body cry? After a golden hour together in which they found an easy sensual bond, they linked arms and went back to the canyon of misfits…

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