I’ve been rewatching “Rome,” the HBO series on guess-what. Every time I watch a costume drama I wonder whether horsemanship is part of a British actor’s training. So many of them ride very well, and it’s not easy, doing it on camera. I recall an actor who played General Custer saying the hardest part of inhabiting the old general was riding a horse to a mark and getting it to stand there.
I also wonder how British English became the default accent of filmed depictions of antiquity. Maybe because it has a wide range of accents within it, from Cockney to Buckingham Palace, that we Americans somehow recognize as Street and Classy.
Yes, these are the thoughts that occupy me on a Thursday after a long week. They’re all long, aren’t they? And despite the pleasures of working at home — sitting around in yoga pants all day, making banana bread on my lunch break — there’s something about not having a quitting-time whistle, or its associated rituals, that tells you it’s time to put down the hammer and go sit on the porch a bit.
Or it might be that I’m just in a sour mood because I came across some tracking video in the course of my research today, and was repelled by it. You know what tracking is, right? A politician on the trail is followed by an opposition operative with a video camera, recording every word that comes out of their mouth in a public setting — and whatever private moments they might be lucky enough to get, at least if it reflects badly on their target. Both sides do it, oh yes they do. I once sat at a joint appearance by Sen. Debbie Stabenow and former Rep. Pete Hoekstra, who was angling for her job. I was sitting in the front row, and when Stabenow was done talking, her tracker got up from the seat next to me and another young man took his place, taping Hoekstra.
It’s just business, but imagine being in this business. If this was your job. You had to get up every morning and be that asshole, hoping to get the next macaca or 47 percent moment (yes, I know the latter wasn’t gotten via traditional tracking, but it was tracking just the same). You want to know why politicians never speak honestly, why you have to pay a fortune to hear one talk about bitter clingers (not that that’ll ever happen again), why they’re such robots — this is one reason.
OK, enough. Time to stop staring at this screen, because it’s not good for me. (Andrew Sullivan says so!)
Why I don’t watch CNN anymore is no mystery (we cut the cord). Why I didn’t watch it for years before we cut the cord is pretty well encapsulated here. Also: Wolf Blitzer.
Mike Pence disapproves of you badmouthing the police. Just thought you should know.
I think I’m ready to go surfing again. Have a great weekend.
The mail is so exciting in campaign season.
Do you think it’s an invitation to the inaugural ball?
Alas, he just wants some money.
I’m so OD’d on you-know-who that I’d like to talk about something else: Brangelina, kaput, at least temporarily. Am I the only one who thinks Jennifer Aniston is still pretty hot, while Angelina Jolie has starved herself into a bundle of sticks and a jawbone? And while Brad Pitt is still capable of being kinda sexy onscreen, when I see him I mostly imagine he is the sort of guy who has near-constant B.O., but no one around him will say anything.
Jen, on the other hand, while extremely thin and no slouch at jawbone projection herself, at least looks like she had maybe half a sandwich — cucumber, on extra-thin bread, with low-fat cream cheese and just a tiny bit of it — in the last 24 hours. And she has those great blue California-girl eyes, plus excellent comic timing. Who doesn’t like a girl who can be funny more than one who is obsessed with saving the world?
Meanwhile, this guy:
Sorry, I was looking for a picture of Brad looking all scruffy, but even then, he’s still pretty cute.
Whenever celebrities divorce, somebody always expresses disappointment and the belief that these two were “for real.” I’m reminded of something Anna Quindlen wrote, I believe about the severing of Brigitte Nielsen and Sylvester Stallone, who were briefly married. She was said to have met him after she sent a nude photo of herself up to his hotel room. After they split, Quindlen wondered how people could express the slightest surprise. You want to be surprised? How about a man who walks into his kitchen after 15 years of marriage and three kids, announces he’s leaving because he just now realized he doesn’t love his wife and never did. Now that should be news. And it never is.
I’m sure Brad will land on his feet, maybe after spending the fall with his buddy George Clooney, at his Italian villa. And then Clooney will get divorced, too.
Wednesday is looming, and I have no bloggage, because I was Truth Squadding all day and will continue tomorrow. You guys always have better ones, anyway.
All I want to do tonight is digest the very disappointing Mexican food I mistakenly consumed earlier today. You drive 45 minutes, thinking of all your dining choices, and settle on one: Indulgent-but-worth-it Mexican, at a place you know that makes fine tacos and with a liquor license to serve the margarita you really crave. And then what happens? The place seems to have changed hands, or changed mindsets, or done something to make the beef chewy, the chips stale, and the whole experience so, so disappointing.
I’m going to correct myself with salads and vegetables tomorrow, delicious ones. Money spent eating bad food out always taste bitter.
So, the bloggage:
Chris Christie, it’s all over. What do you see when you look in the mirror?
So, found and arrested within hours. Another loser. Why am I not surprised? Testosterone poisoning is a real thing.
Let’s hope for forward progress tomorrow, eh?
(Note: This is long, I know, but well-illustrated, and in my defense, I’ve written longer pieces about mass transit, tax policy and road repairs. Mea culpa.)
On the flight out to California, en route to a week at Endless Summer Surf Camp, I tried to inventory and analyze my fears. You know: Confront your monsters, call them by their names, face them down. In no special order:
** The Big P. I’m a good swimmer, and like most Midwesterners, I’ve been to Florida and the Caribbean, but apart from some dabbling in little wavelets in the Gulf of Mexico or Bahamas, I’d never been in saltwater over my head, never mind contended with riptides, sharks, stingrays or any of the other dirty tricks an ocean has up its sleeve.
** Physical limitations. I’m going to be 59 in a couple months. I’m pretty fit for my age, but my age is eligible for AARP membership and my knees are a mess. Big one, right there.
** Looking like an idiot. We all fear this one, right? The older I get, the less it bothers me. Still, it bothers me.
There were others. But those were the biggies — failing utterly, breaking something, shark attack. I could very easily see a scenario where I spent the week on the beach with an ice pack and crutches, and that was the best case, the one where I wasn’t airlifted home in medical humiliation or a body bag.
It didn’t work out that way, thankfully. For this I can only credit the good people at Endless Summer Surf Camp, which I’m mentioning by its full name again and putting in this post’s tags, because I want anyone like me who might be considering a stay there to find this post high in the Google results.
The first surprise was the camp itself, which is in the San Onofre State Park. I envisioned nights drifting off to sleep to the eternal sound of the ocean. Um, no. I was envisioning a mini-Yosemite, and was brought up short by what it was — a strip of asphalt for camper parking, a belt of chaparral, high bluffs over the Pacific and the beach itself. In fact, it was carved out of Camp Pendleton, the Marine base:
The sound of their ordnance roaring in the hills was sometimes startling, but for anyone who’s camped near Grayling, Michigan? Pretty familiar.
Neither asphalt nor chaparral is welcoming to tent camping, but Jason Senn, the camp’s owner, has made it work — an RV parked at either end of a strip of spaces, grass-colored carpet laid between, and about 20 tents hard by one another, in two rows. If you brought adequate padding and a decent sleeping bag, it was no worse than sleeping on any forest floor. The surprise was the noise from the San Diego freeway, which was, no kidding, maybe 100 yards to the east. So no ocean sounds, but what Realtors call the Detroit river. What’s more, about halfway between was a rail line, and a busy one, although thankfully not near any crossings, so no horns at 2 a.m. After a day it all became white noise. Much like the ocean.
This was where we spent our days:
It’s probably a half mile walk down from the top. Even on Labor Day, when the parking was filled to capacity, we had the beach almost entirely to ourselves. I guess even Californians get picky about recreation when you have to walk so far, and then walk back up a steep hill.
For beginners, it’s hard to imagine a more welcoming spot — a long beach break, with waves breaking far enough out that a clumsy oaf like me has enough time to clamber to her feet before arriving back on land. For the more advanced surfers, the waves were long, many of them “a-frames,” like the ones sought by Col. Kilgore in “Apocalypse Now,” that break with symmetrical right and left shoulders. (The point of surfing is to travel parallel to the wave; perpendicular rides are for coming in or beginners like me.)
But first you have to get “outside,” beyond the breaking waves to the relatively calm ocean beyond. It’s no small thing, because the ocean really doesn’t want you there.
On day one, I and two other total newbies, Adam and Susan, were paired with Romolo, an instructor. He said he got into surfing via downhill skateboard racing, which suggested a certain X-Games fearlessness. Venezuelan, slender and fit, with a cockscomb Mohawk and rapid-fire speech, brown as a bear and so graceful on a board it looked like a part of his body, this guy was put in charge of three middle-aged adults. He gave us a lesson on the beach, and then it was time to paddle out, shuffling our feet through the shallows (stingrays) and following instructions. As we picked up our boards, he crossed himself. It was a startling gesture for someone who’s gone downhill fast on a skateboard, but who am I to argue with a man’s faith? I crossed myself, too, just in case he knew something I didn’t. (Of course he did; I’d never even been in the Pacific Ocean.)
The water was warmer than I expected, maybe 70 degrees, but I was still grateful for my wetsuit. We shuffled through a few knee-high crashers, then it was time to go belly-down on the board and paddle. Within seconds, a wall of whitewater was bearing down on us. “Turn over!” Romolo called, but I couldn’t process the command — he was calling for a turtle roll, where you roll off onto your back, holding the board over your face and letting your legs trail. The wave hit me smack in the face, a HOLY SHIT WHAT WAS THAT moment, but I stayed on the board.
“Celia! You have to roll over!” I heard Romolo calling. (Adam’s name he mastered, but Susan and I became Sonya and Celia.) I knew he was talking to me, but rolling over just wasn’t in my skill set yet. The next wave was bearing down. I hung on tight. SMASH. Honestly, it wasn’t too bad; later in the week I learned a different strategy for getting through, but for my first trip out, I committed to punishment, even as I gave Romolo every reason to be grateful for his religion. Finally, after a few more direct hits, we were there, outside, and we sat up on our boards. Romolo scolded me; you can’t just power through like that, you can get hurt, if the waves were bigger, etc. I was honestly just letting it all pour over me, like the waves; I felt a fugue-like disassociation. Where the hell was I, and what was I doing out here? Is this the ocean? Are those bombs? And more to the point, how the hell was I going to get back to the beach?
I’ll spare you the details of every ride. Romolo spotted the waves for us, and gave us the push we needed to get up to speed, because none of us had any idea how fast you have to paddle to catch them. For the first, I couldn’t rise from my stomach, again because it was just so strange and disorienting. The second, I got to one foot and knee. There were wipeouts galore along the way, and those taught me as much as the fleeting successes — that the ocean might throw me around like a rag doll, but I wouldn’t drown or lose my board (thanks, leash), that each one would pass, that I could still swim, and that this rolling and tumbling was useful. Stressful, too, with a whirl of unfamiliar feelings and emotions, including fear but also the dawning exhilaration of what we were all working toward. When I think of that first day, I don’t remember moments so much as a slide show of images and sounds — white water overhead, smashing down; Romolo’s face, worried under his wet Mohawk, lips white with zinc oxide; the blue ocean beyond; the way the waves outside lifted and lowered us as we sat our our boards; “Celia! Paddle-paddle-paddle! Faster-faster-faster!”
I was grateful to walk back up the hill at the end of the day. But inside, I was also itching to get out again.
Day two brought a new instructor. I figured I had ai-yi-yi’d Romolo into enough of a tizzy that when an amiable Brazilian ambled up to me on the beach and introduced himself as Rafael, my first thought was: I see I’ve been bounced to the special class. But Adam and Susan were still in the group, so maybe it was just the rotation or something. In any event, either Rafael was a much better fit or it was one of those when-the-student-is-ready-the-teacher-will-appear things. His accent was drawling, his mood chill, his encouragement gentle. He had a “two-step pop-up” that seemed made for less-nimble people. And I knew what to expect now.
I also had a bigger board, a foot longer and noticeably wider. This may be what made the difference when I finally wobbled to my feet and stood, more or less upright, and stayed up, almost all the way to the beach. It was different from my first belly ride in many ways, but mainly the illusion of being just a tad more in control and the pressure on the bottoms of my feet, all of which said: So this is what a flying carpet feels like.
For the record, this is what a flying carpet feels like. And I couldn’t even steer it yet:
So. Thus reassured that I could, and would, eventually be able to do this thing, it was possible to relax a little and pay more attention to my fellow surf campers. Besides Susan (who is from Grosse Pointe, and traveled with me) and Adam, there was Rusty, an instructor, seen here making breakfast:
When I met him I said, “You look like you were sent here from central casting.” He laughed, because he’s Australian and everything amuses him. He introduced me to the Cosmic Psychos, an Aussie punk band responsible for this song, which tells you a great deal about Aussie punk bands. When I was showing my pictures around the office last week, one of my colleagues took a look at Rusty and said, “He looks like he was sent from central casting.”
There was also Margery and Tony, Canadians, who come all the way in from Whitehorse, in the Yukon, to surf at Endless Summer every year. They’re both in their 70s, and meet up with their son and his partner. And they get in the water, yes. Paul was a childhood friend of Jason’s, a quasi instructor, quasi because he was rehabbing from a terrifying motorcycle crash a year ago that sounds like it could easily have cost him a leg. Here’s Paul and Susan, Paul elevating his leg because it was swelling. But yeah, he surfed, too:
Irish Mike came all the way from Dublin:
That robe he’s wearing is in every surf shop. I thought it was maybe some sort of cult garment until I figured it out — it’s a modesty coverup so you can change into your wetsuit commando, which I guess a lot of people, especially guys, prefer. The driftwood stuck in the sand behind him was the wicket he and Rusty set up for a cricket pitch they made. He surfs year-round in Ireland, in frigid water, requiring dry suits with hoods, gloves and booties. I’d say he earned this kelly-green tattoo:
There was Daria from Montreal, Cara from New Jersey, Preston the Navy dentist on leave, Ron and Marisol from L.A. and Cristophe, French by way of San Diego. Many others. We socialized on the beach and in the camp, watching surf movies on TV — there was a lounge, with couches, a nice perk for asphalt campers — and sitting around the fire, where we talked about Donald Trump and Detroit and all the places they were from.
And day by day, I got just a little better. I started to recognize the tides, asked Preston about the Marine watercraft sitting far offshore, watched a school of baitfish fling themselves out of the water a little farther outside. (I tucked my arms and legs onto the board, unsure what, exactly, might be chasing them.) Three pelicans flew by in formation 20 feet from my face. The waves rolled by in moving pyramids, the wind whipping their tops into spray, a beautiful sight. And this happened:
Dolphins, not sharks.
And then it was over. Susan and I made our way back to Los Angeles, via the same rail line that ran through the camp. (It kills me that LA, a city perhaps more associated with cars than even Detroit, is so far ahead of us on mass transit by rail.) I was working my way through a burger as big as my head in Marina del Rey on Friday night — and please, feel free to file that under “sentence fragments you hoped you’d never read here” — when it struck me why I was feeling so buzzed by the week just concluded: It was all so very unfamiliar.
My vacations have always fallen into one of two categories. There’s the kind where all you want is total sloth and torpor — lead me to a beach/pool chair, put a drink in my hand, refill it at regular intervals and point me to bed hours later. And there’s the kind where you embark on an adventure, a dive into a new culture, a strange place, and go-go-go until it’s time to board the plane home.
Some people are partisans of one or the other. A true moderate, I enjoy both. This summer, I took two vacations, at the beginning and end of the season, and both were the latter kind. Iceland was a world away, San Clemente on the other side of the country, but both are places so different from my usual routine that they left me feeling …bigger, somehow. Expanded. More open. Wider, maybe, although that may be all the granola bars I ate on the beach. But different somehow, a little wiser about things I thought I was smart about but it turned out I was dumb about. And isn’t that the point of this journey? To enlarge ourselves, to encompass more, to get out of our ruts and see the world? We’re all just visitors here, so we might as well try new things once in a while.
So until next year, Adam, Romolo, Susan and Rafael:
I leave you with a bookend to the other pictures I shot all summer — sunrise in Grosse Pointe. Here was the first-day sunset over the Big P, with the tiny crescent moon coming down on its own journey:
This is the new lock-screen photo on my phone. Reminding me it’s out there, waiting for me next summer.
Some photography by me, most by A.J. Mcclintick.
Jeez, what a first week back. Nothing like a late night in Kalamazoo to…make you think that would be a great movie or novel title, right? “Late night in Kalamazoo.” But it was nice to celebrate Bridge’s birthday with a giant slice of cake at Bell’s, one of the great local breweries here in Michigan.
I drove over with my editor, and met him at his house. His wife reported later that when she asked their daughter who daddy had left with, he said, “Some blonde lady who looked like Hillary Clinton.” I had no idea.
Things should smooth out soon. I hope so.
So, Trump was in Flint on Wednesday. He met Little Miss Flint:
I don’t know who took this picture; it was bouncing around Facebook all day, and someone texted it to me. Little Miss Flint is famous for having written a letter to the president and lured him to Flint. If you click that link, you can see she had a somewhat different reaction to meeting Mr. Obama.
Little Miss Flint! Blink twice and we’ll send in the extraction team!
I dunno about you guys, but I’m starting to move past incredulity, past exasperation, past anxiety, past everything, and arriving at simple irritation. When will this ordeal be over? How much more Dr. Oz bullshit do we have to endure? The damage this has done to the country will take years to overcome. Yes, it’s funny in a dark way, but this is a comedy at a time when we need something else entirely.
And then, just like that, comes another [Blink. Blink.] moment.
Oh, do I need this weekend. I hope yours goes well.
My beloved Roy has an expression he uses when confronting news stupid enough to induce utter dumbfoundedness: [Blink. Blink.]
So it was when I heard that Herr Trump would be “revealing” his health details via TV doc Dr. Oz. [Blink. Blink.] It’ll be broadcast Thursday. I have another long drive and a deadline.
So here’s a surfing picture:
And here’s what I’m really doing this week: Taking work calls during dinner.
Carry on, people.
This is one of those days when all I want to do is read. Fortunately, many links, so let’s get to it:
A lovely essay from last week, passed along by J.C. Burns, that ties together history, policymaking and? And? Yes, SURFING. Not only that, but surfing just a short distance, as the gull flies, from where I was last week: Surfing in Nixonland. Enjoy.
Ta-Nehisi Coates peers into the basket of deplorables and makes an obvious — and yet still unappreciated — point. Maybe she’s right.
The case for treating sugar like an addictive drug. Once upon a time, I’d say it would never happen. Now, not so sure. Robert Lustig:
There are four things that have to be met in order to consider a substance worthy of regulation. Number one: ubiquity — you can’t get rid of it, it’s everywhere. Number two: toxicity — it has to hurt you. Number three: abuse. Number four: externalities, which means it has a negative impact on society.
Sugar meets all four criteria, hands down. One, it’s ubiquitous — it’s everywhere, and it’s cheap. Two, as I mentioned, we have a dose threshold, and we are above it. Three, if it’s addictive, it’s abused. Four, how does your sugar consumption hurt me? Well, my employer has to pay $2,750 per employee for obesity management and medicine, whether I’m obese or not.
And into the whirl of the week we go, eh?
I’m back, and I had a wonderful time. I’d like your indulgence to work on a longer post about the experience, which I’ll post in a few days. It turns out I have a few thoughts about the last week, and I don’t want to rush into just bleating them out there, but at the same time, I also don’t want to put in a few hours of work crafting them while I’m still on vacation. And I have a couple of big-busy days ahead — it’s Bridge’s 5th birthday this month, and there are parties and panels and places I have to be, none around the corner from the office. Oh, and checking the calendar, I see I have a deadline in a few days, too. Grr.
Well, I asked for this life. All I need is a little forbearance. In the meantime, how about a picture or two?
Here’s the group from surf camp — some day campers only, most overnighters, all tons of fun:
That’s me, second shaka sign from the right. Our group included two doctors, a dentist, more engineers than you could shake a stick at, bankers, a police lieutenant, firefighter, sales people of all kinds and I don’t know what.
And here’s the photographic proof I was there and successfully stood more or less upright on a moving surfboard for at least a few seconds:
Oh my, was it ever fun.
I stayed plugged in, news-wise, but there were things I was happy to let pass by like a wave in the lineup, unridden by the likes of me. The Matt Lauer thing, for one. Gary Johnson wondering what a Leppo is, for another. One of the best things about vacation is sitting around a campfire, listening to other people talk about stuff, and only joining in if you feel like it.
Needless to say, I usually join in. It’s m’nature.
But this is the start of a new week. Hillary has pneumonia. Oh, what joy to consider the slime that will be stirred through the national stew as that one gets around.
Maybe I should go back to California. I got money saved. Hardly anyone would miss me.
But no! The wave is coming — gotta start paddling.
This summer I upped my swimming from twice to three times a week, in preparation for the surfing safari I’m currently on. As I believe I’ve mentioned at some tiresome length, this summer I’m swimming at a different pool — the one at the Grosse Pointe Shores city park. They have a program for early-morning lap swimming, open to non-residents.
All five of the GPs have a pool, of course, and each has its stellar feature. The Woods, where I live, has the largest and nicest of the five, with a great double water slide, but it doesn’t have Tim, who coaches us gratis all summer. The Shores pool is shallow in its lap lanes, but it’s the best-situated of the five, in that it overlooks Lake St. Clair, which lies to our east.
Which started me on my summer-long campaign to capture how beautiful the sky was, almost every morning.
Your basic establishing shot: The pool, the people, the lake behind. The sun already above the horizon just after 6 a.m. A perfect Pure Michigan day ahead. It’s already too late for a good sunrise shot; once the orb clears the horizon it bleaches out every attempt to capture it, at least with an iPhone.
A couple weeks later. You can’t go all the way down to the lakeshore, not without climbing a fence or going through some locked gates. So for a while I shot through the kiddie splash pad, seen here with no water running, because the kiddies are all still in bed. Almost exactly the same time, but the sun’s lower in the sky.
At some point it occurred to me that the sunrise picture is the biggest cliché in photography, and I started trying to make them more like abstract art. I was also cropping out a feature I came to call That Bush.
It was a dry season, so clear skies almost every morning. The pictures got prettier as the sunrise came later. This is the look of a day when the humidity will try to kill you, but still — very pretty. There’s That Bush.
Sometimes I’d try to capture something other than the cliché sunrise, so here’s the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club, next door. That tower is always described in historical and tourism materials as stately and Moorish. But even that day I realized…
…the sunrise is still prettier. I think it rained a little overnight; those are the clouds heading off to the east.
Brutal, brutal heat and humidity that day. Tim altered the workout for it, because it was difficult to breathe, even in the early morning. That Bush is seen with its twin, That Other Bush. (Yes, I know they’re really pampas grass.)
The rain was starting to come back by now, and this pink-and-purple morning color theme emerged for a few days. I stopped worrying about clichés.
Totally bananas pinkness this day.
I told myself, “No more stupid sunrise pictures,” but then I spotted those geese.
And now we’re in the final week. Let us pause for a word from E.B. White:
The crickets sang in the grasses. They sang the song of summer’s ending, a sad monotonous song. “Summer is over and gone, over and gone, over and gone. Summer is dying, dying.” A little maple tree heard the cricket song and turned bright red with anxiety.
Last day for me. Oh, so sad! It’s dark!
School started this week, and the outdoor pools closed. When I get back, I’ll be swimming inside for the long, long school year. Soon enough, there’ll be no sun in the sky when I arrive, and little enough when I leave. But lord willing, Tim will be there, and we’ll keep turning lap after lap and waiting for next year.