I Choose to be Lightning

It is 1986.Lightning

I am driving through torrential rains on the San Diego Freeway. Lightning strikes every five seconds. It’s the most amazing storm I can remember. And I can remember a lot of storms.

As I exit on Western Avenue, the delay between lightning and thunder diminishes. I stop at the light. A bright flash lights up the night sky but I can’t see the bolt. The thunder sounds simultaneously. My radio goes dead. I think the radio station is off the air.

My windshield wipers sluice rain from the glass. They slow, then stop. I punch buttons on my radio. KROQ. KWST. KLOS. KMET. KNAC. All gone.

I realize my engine isn’t running.

I have always been fascinated by lightning. I spent the evening at a party in college sitting on the patio watching a spectacular dry lightning storm. My beautiful date was inside getting the attention she deserved from any number of guys. I wanted the lightning.

Not long after that I renewed my driver’s license. I changed my signature so the S in my first name resembled a lightning bolt.

I was crossing a bridge in Montana as it was struck by lightning – watched the blue glow travel along the power cable connecting the street lights. I watched another storm from the giant M on the hill behind the University of Montana in Missoula. It crossed the valley towards me, a physical manifestation of my emotional state.

I’ve seen lightning in a snow storm. It was like being inside a light bulb.

I eventually reclaimed my date from the party and drove her home, only to sit with her in front of her parents’ house watching the lightning strike every few seconds.

It is 1986.

My car won’t start. I turn on the emergency lights. They blink – once. I push the car through eight inches of water in Miami-style rain. Another car pushes me to the gas station on the corner.

I leave it overnight. The next day the mechanic tells me he’s had it on the charger all night.

“I don’t know what happened to it, but it won’t hold a charge.”

I have a pretty good idea what happened to it.

I Never Danced With My Mother

It is 1975.Ballroom Dancing

My mother, frustrated that our father doesn’t dance, has decided my brother and I will make up for his failing. Under threat of loss of allowance, once a month we are driven with some of the neighborhood girls to Call’s Fine Arts Center to attend cotillion.

This is where Bobby Burgess, Mouseketeer and lead dancer on ‘The Lawrence Welk Show’, learned.

Chloe Call announces the first dance.

“Gentlemen, please rise, cross the room and select a partner for our first dance, which will be a foxtrot.”

Kami Current is a safe pick. I know her and hope that she feels my pain. I take her white-gloved hand in mine and place the other in the small of her back. We await further instruction.

The music begins. We look at each other. Other couples are dancing. I flag down one of the assistants.

They stop the music. Mrs. Call asks ‘How many of you aren’t familiar with the foxtrot?’ Two hands go up – Kami’s and mine.

And so, it begins.

Mom thought they would teach us, but these kids have been coming for several years, have grown up with it. These are parties where they practice what they know. Lessons are added to the bill, held an hour before the party each month.

I block most of it, save for the night Laurie Ronson wears clogs when we do the polka. I get a kick out of Laurie. So did the kid in front of us when her clog goes airborne.

Out of protest I refuse to dance with my mother.

But one night, at the Blue Café in Long Beach, James Intveld is playing roots rock. There is a woman there who doesn’t know how to dance. I take her onto the floor and tell her ‘Just relax’. She does, and I lead her around the floor like I know what I’m doing. We have so much fun that when Intveld and company take down their gear and head to another gig at the Foothill, we go with them.

Mom has been gone now longer than she was in my life. One of my greatest regrets is that I never danced with her.

I would give anything to dance with her now.

Ion Overload on the Back of the Dragon

It is 2011.

Vince is dying. We have several phone conversations. He reminds me of things from

Little Corona at Sunset. ‘The Back of the Dragon’ in silhouette. Photo by Mark Shadley.

when we were in college. My Les Paul. Songs I wrote. He reminds me of my pilgrimages to ‘The Back of the Dragon’.

I haven’t been in decades. We decide to go there, but the latest treatment has knocked him down. It was crazy thinking he would have been able to make it down to the beach, let alone up onto the Dragon’s Back. So I went there in his honor. I rode ‘The Back of the Dragon’ once more, and I recorded it for Vince.

It is 1977.

Senior year. We have part-time school schedules and part-time jobs. Once a week we drive to Little Corona straight from school. We lay on the beach, swim in the surf, ride the rushing current through ‘The Chute’.

It’s a jet-propelled water slide. In the ocean.

We read Vonnegut’s ‘Breakfast of Champions’ aloud sitting in a circle. We hold it up and show the author’s hand-drawn illustrations, like we’re in first grade. The Dragon is in front of me but I do not see it.

It is 1980.

I have an epiphany about people’s moods improving at the beach. I imagine there is something happening at the particle level, the exchange of liquid and solid that is releasing something into the air.

I have intuited ‘The Ion Effect’. A friend loans me a book explaining that Ions are negatively-charged particles that we take in via respiration. Breathing ions improves people’s moods.

Idea: Places where water strikes hard surfaces really hard is optimal for releasing ions. I go to Little Corona to the rocks. That’s when I see it. There’s a line of rocks receding into the ocean resembling the back of a submerged Dragon.

I climb to the top of the tallest rock. There’s a cleft on the edge like a seat. My legs dangle over the water crashing against the rock below. The ions come straight up the rock into my face.

I go back when the moon is full and the tide is high. It’s a powerful experience.

I’m grateful to Vince for reminding me about it.