Sharon Hastings was a little alarmed when her aircraft flew between buildings on its approach to the San Diego airport, but none of the other passengers seemed to think it odd. That was reassuring. On the left side, there came into view a harbor much bigger and more impressive than that of Boston. Very likely, that was a precursor of things soon to come.
Once down and at the gate, she waited impatiently for the aircraft door to open. Even when it did open, a couple of squalling children clogged the aisle. Sharon wondered vaguely why anyone would want such little encumbrances. They might represent the future of the human species, but, as far as she could see, the future didn’t look good.
Finally emerging from the building with her pack, Sharon realized that she could actually walk downtown along the waterfront. Everything was spectacular, the foliage, the big bay with aircraft carriers that could blow away half the world, and the amazing number of small boats. Moreover, the people she passed looked a little healthier and more muscular than the people of Boston. Despite the many exceptions, it did seem that overall health was correlated with a positive attitude, and perhaps even with intelligence. She began to get the idea that, whatever they meant to do, this might be a good place to do it.
Now that she was eighteen, and able to legally sign documents, Sharon had come west to find accommodation for the summer for all of them, and particularly for Tim, who had signed with San Diego’s new team. She had never house-hunted before, but Audrey and Meredith were busy, and it was agreed that Sharon would do better then the boys. After checking in at the YMCA, she got a map and began riding busses. Every other bus had on board a crazy man who shouted uplifting things to himself or others, but seemed harmless. As far as Sharon could see, no women behaved in a similar way.
There was really only one long beach, but it was sub-divided between Pacific Beach, Mission Beach, and Ocean Beach, each with its peculiarities. Starting with Pacific Beach, the northernmost one, she realized that it was the center of the local youth culture. At a café, she sat down next to three young ladies who could utter the word, ‘like’, three times in as many seconds. That could just be a verbal tic, but one went on to say, “If a man’s like smart, he’ll make at least a hundred thousand a year. If he’s not smart, dump him.”
The others nodded, and Sharon wondered how widespread that measure of intelligence was. Then, after hearing a little more dialogue, it did seem that the girls were themselves idiots. If they were indicative of Pacific Beach, and a little further investigation suggested that they might be, it was hardly the place for her brother and friends.
Sharon had on shorts and a T-shirt, and she walked through the surf line to get south to Mission Beach. It was the biggest surf she had seen, and meeting a surfer in a black wet suit, she was taught to look for the ‘big sets.’ The skill of the people balancing on their boards was impressive, and was obviously the thing one learned to do.
A little further south, a beautiful blonde couple suddenly shot up on the beach in front of her on their boards. At first, they reminded her of Audrey and Howie, but she supposed that there might be quite a few such people so near Hollywood. Anyhow, they greeted her and introduced themselves, with obvious British accents, as Ted and Diana.
Sharon wasn’t used to being greeted quite so effusively in a strange place, particularly by the nationals of a country known for stiff standoffishness. But it was nice, particularly when they offered to teach her how to surf. Dressed as she was, she was put on Diana’s board and taught to paddle it out. After being knocked off it a couple of times, she got it out through the first line of surf. The water was rather cold, but it was fun to shoot through the foam and bounce up over the crests. A little further out, she was surprised by her success with a bigger wave. It knocked her back, but not off the board, and, continuing to paddle with her hands, she came out on the other side.
The real trick was to catch a wave, stand up on the board, and then maneuver it back through the wave. That was going to take some work, but Sharon did manage to stand briefly, thrilled to be riding high above the water, before wiping out.
Afterwards, Diana produced a big towel to wrap around Sharon while she took off her shorts and T-shirt, wrung most of the water out of them, and put them back on. Assured that she would dry the rest of the way in the sun, Diana suggested an outdoor café a little distance away and said, “Everyone goes there wet and leaves their seat damp.”
As they ate their fish tacos, Sharon noticed that Ted had a rather odd way of speaking. Waving his hand at the scene, he remarked,
“Despite the pleasures of surfing, all this is a bit too foreign for us. Our idea is to make money in America, and then take it back to Sussex. We could there live a life of some ease.”
Sharon thought it impolite to inquire how they made money, but Diana volunteered, “We’re rather on the edge of the entertainment industry. We started out as actors, but you may have noticed that we both have a slight speech impediment. We were sent for speech therapy, and, in fact, that’s where we met.”
There was laughter at that, and Ted continued, “They made progress with Diana, and she’s had some worthwhile roles. But I was declared hopeless. I’ve therefore taken up directing and producing in a small way.”
Sharon understood that both of them indulged in English understatement, but wasn’t sure how much. When asked about herself, she explained about Tim and the others. Ted reacted, “That’s wonderful. He has only to punt the ball, and is effectively rich.”
“Yes. I’ve agreed on the condition that he doesn’t do anything likely to get himself badly injured.”
“Quite wise. There are Rugby injuries, but those are nothing compared to the ones in murderous American football.”
When the conversation turned to living arrangements, Diana explained, “We’re spending some time on a large old boat filled with young people who seem to pay rent irregularly.”
“And the owner doesn’t mind?”
“It’s in the marina over that way that doesn’t allow live-aboards, except that they do. There are a whole series of tacit understandings, one of which doesn’t allow drugs aboard the boat. One of the young men who uses marijuana keeps it and smokes it in the top of a tree at the edge of the parking lot. He was doing it the other day when a man pulled up underneath, got out of his car, and had a fight with his girl friend over his cell phone. So our friend was marooned on his tree top for a long time.”
Sharon started laughing again, and Ted said, “One of the things that keeps the boat situation going is a large osprey nest on top of the mast. It’s an endangered species, and the American government pays the owner not to move the boat. Since the boat probably couldn’t be moved in any case, he’s well satisfied.”
“I am looking for a place for us to live. If there’s any free space, I’d certainly pay rent regularly.”
“I should think there is. A bit tight, perhaps, but the people here are used to that. When Diana and I leave, there’d be extra room for you.”
“I guess I should sign us up and pay some advance rent.”
“Not even necessary. When we get there, Diana can outfit you with dry clothes.”
Sharon had been told that most of the residents on the boat were young kayak instructors at a nearby kayak rental agency. The male instructors were mixed. Some were large and muscular, evidently able to overpower the water, while others were lean and wiry, perhaps using a whip-lash motion to paddle. The half dozen women had swimmers’ shoulders. Sharon guessed that all of them raced one another, but it was hard to guess who would win.
One young man was making a wooden kayak on an empty part of the deck, and a young lady had an easel set up. It was said that there was a model railway in the engine room. A kayaker who was giving Sharon a tour explained, “The boat originally seems to have been some sort of cargo carrier. Everything is really massive, but the mast isn’t tall enough to have given it much sail area. Even so, here at the stern, there’s an exposed steering wheel of the sort you’d expect on a sailing vessel. On the other hand, in the large deck house, which might have been added later, there’s a much more elaborate navigation system. All in all, nothing makes sense.”
“Except as an osprey nest and youth hostel?”
“Yes, that’s about it.”
Sharon noticed that the large open deck, uncluttered but for hobbies, could have been used to give parties. But the people all seemed a little too serious, and a little too busy for that.
The available living space was below deck, with only port-holes for ventilation, but there were six beds in three cabins. Diana said, “We’re short of bathrooms, and it’s crowded up in the marina rest rooms. But we pee in bottles and buckets, and supposedly dump them in the marina toilets. When no one’s looking, we dump them overboard.”
Ted replied, “It’s illegal, but urine is actually pretty clean and non-polluting. Many people in India drink their own urine.”
There was something about Ted that suggested to Sharon that he might engage in such a custom himself.
Now in Diana’s dry clothes, Sharon settled down for tea with the others on the foredeck. According to Ted, they were just out of range of the droppings of the ospreys, now being noisy high overhead. Diana added, “We’re pretty sure that someone’s sitting on eggs up there, but we’re not sure just how they manage things.”
Sharon was always fascinated by English accents, partly because they made their possessors seem so much more educated. Ted’s accent was even better than Diana’s, but Sharon came to realize that she was actually more articulate. The pattern seemed to be for Ted to lay out a topic, and for Diana to elaborate or adjust what he said with greater subtlety. There was often a slight frown on her otherwise smooth forehead when she did so.
Ted now opened, “You may be wondering what sorts of films we make. They’re quite peculiar, and come in two parts. Diana and I construct the first fifteen minutes in which we try to establish characters and lay out a plausible plot line in which two or more persons relate to one another. She usually takes one of the roles with our other actors, and I direct. Then, just as the characters are moving into sexuality, the film becomes pure pornography. There are body doubles for the original actors, and I turn things over to a man who has experience in that area. We don’t even stay to watch.”
Again, there was that wonderful speech in which Sharon couldn’t detect the slightest impediment. Even the most ordinary things that Ted said sounded well-considered, and even wise. When he got on to something that might have embarrassed most people, there was that Olympian distance (These sorts of things do exist, of course, but we actually have nothing to do with them). Before Sharon, rather amused, could say anything, Diana spoke, “Americans, and perhaps others, have an extraordinary desire simply to watch sexual intercourse. No matter how repetitive it is, and how boring, they sit there with their eyeballs glued.”
Sharon said, “I’ve heard that some people watch those things while they have sex themselves.”
“Yes, in the way in which golfers may watch a golf video while they swing a club. But I think it’s mostly male, mostly working class, and satisfies God only knows what appetites.”
Ted replied, “We don’t question that very much. Our only problem is that certain hard-core viewers get bored with our more
Diana explained. “It’s too bad. The beginnings are erotic in the way that they anticipate what’s going to happen and create some suspense.”
“I guess it’s always easier to sell bad stuff than good.”
Diana nodded, “That’s what bedevils all artists and musicians. Anyway, when Ted and I first saw you on the beach, it occurred to both of us in an instant that you’d be perfect for what we’re doing now.”
“Is it about lesbians?”
The others seemed embarrassed as they admitted as much, but Sharon explained, “Some months ago I announced that I was a lesbian. I’ve experimented some, and, even though I’m not really one, I guess I project something.”
“We were going to offer you something, but, in view of your brother’s financial position, you might not be interested.”
“I wouldn’t mind making a little money on my own, but I’m a horrible actress. My best frenemy said I was ‘embarrassingly wooden’ in the school play.”
Diana rejoined, “I haven’t heard that word before. Was Brutus a frenemy?”
“It’s not necessarily the knives in the back sort of thing. Your frenemy, under the guise of honesty, may tell you something unpleasant about yourself which may not be true. But, if it is, it destroys a little bit of your self-confidence.”
Ted replied, “Well, then, perhaps you weren’t wooden at all.”
“Yes, I was. But I might manage a tiny non-speaking part. Perhaps a waitress who’s about to be fired for incompetence.”
“That would be interesting. But much harder than a waitress who just repeats orders and writes them down.”
Diana said, “Traditional actors undergo years of training, and the non-verbal parts can be as demanding as the speaking ones. But there’s something else. Some people have a natural way of behaving which attracts other people’s attention.”
“You mean, exhibitionists?”
“No, that’s put on. Your motions, gestures, and your total appearance is attractive in itself without your intending or doing anything beyond, in this case, walking through the surf. Ted and I noticed at once.”
“I think I may have a sense of enjoyment of the moment that people who are burdened down with problems don’t have.”
“And may you stay that way! We could accomplish a lot by just following you around with a camera in such a way that you’d forget that we were there.”
“I guess I could manage that.”
Diana then asked, “Have you read Thomas Mann’s ‘Death in Venice’, or seen the film?”
“I’ve read the story.”
“In it, the boy, Tadzio, sexually fascinates the older Aschenbach, mostly by being just what he is.”
“Doesn’t he also tease Aschenbach and lead him on a wild goose chase?”
“So you think I could be Tadzio for an older woman?”
Ted nodded conclusively, and said, “Very likely.”