The Santa Monica Blues

When I woke up the next morning, I decided it was time to return to California. I was sensible enough to know my snowboarding was getting out of control and I needed a change of scene. I decided to go back to see some friends in Santa Monica, figuring I would do some surfing and return to my old life.

In the back of my mind, I harbored the thought that one day I might return to the Himalayas, but I seriously doubted it. While I loved both Master Fwap and Nadia, they just weren’t like me. My world was competitive athletics, and theirs was enlightenment. It just seemed to me that “never the twain shall meet.” I gathered up all my belongings, what little there were, and made travel arrangements back to the United States. I was more than happy to be getting out of Kathmandu.

I flew back the next day. After landing at Los Angeles International Airport, I cleared Customs and grabbed a cab to Santa Monica.

It was late afternoon in L.A., and the freeways were full of cars, the whole landscape one big smogged-out parking lot. The cab driver wisely decided to avoid the freeways, staying on the surface streets instead. We reached Santa Monica in about forty minutes.

I shared a condo on Santa Monica Boulevard with three other surfers. When I arrived no one was at home, so I assumed they were all out catching the late-afternoon swells.

I was exhausted and was feeling a little weird about being back in the fast-paced world of California with its rock music, freeway nightmares, and “party on, dude” mentality. Although I was having trouble consciously admitting it, even though I’d been back for less than an hour, I already missed the Himalayas.

Like most people who live in or around L.A., I have a love-hate relationship with the city. The beaches are beautiful, the people are easygoing, the surfing is good, and the snowboarding in the local mountains is adequate. Its other two outstanding features, from my point of view, are that it is home to thousands of the most beautiful women in the world, and world-class snowboarding is just a short plane ride away in Colorado and Utah.

A great many of the most beautiful women in America come to L.A. assuming that they will instantly become mega-movie or TV goddesses if they just get discovered. The vast majority of them, however, end up with short-lived walk-on parts in soaps and spend most of their time waiting tables and standing in long audition lines.

The good news is for the L.A. guy. If you’re rich, famous, a producer, or a director, you can definitely get laid every night by a different beautiful woman if you want to. This situation is also good for studly young surfer types. For some reason, there is a heavy physical attraction thing between aspiring wanna-be actress types and surfer dudes.

My problem with L.A. was that I could see the air I was breathing, I don’t particularly like crowds, and I was much better at snowboarding than I was at surfing. Since L.A. is definitely a party scene, its attraction for me was ephemeral.

Okay, so why did I live in L.A. in the first place? I had been asking myself that for a while. I liked the warm weather and I liked my roommates, Bob, Jeff, and Sandy. They were all excellent surfers. I had tried to get them into snowboarding, but to no avail. I would go surfing with them up at Zuma Beach when I was in town, and we definitely enjoyed one another’s company.

I walked around the condo for a while, familiarizing myself with it, reached for the phone, then hung it up again. Who was I going to call?

I wandered around like this for a while.

I was too tired to fall asleep, so I got my surfboard and wet suit out of the closet, hopped into my ‘67 beige V.W. bug, and headed up the Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu.

The traffic wasn’t too bad, and I made it up to Zuma Beach in about forty-five minutes. As I pulled into the parking lot, I got a look at the waves, which were much bigger than I had expected.

I parked and locked my car, changed into my Body Glove suit, and headed for the swells. Paddling out to my spot, lo and behold—Bob, Jeff, and Sandy were all occupying our usual salty turf.

Sandy spotted me first. He gave me a quick nod as he caught a left-breaking wave. I paddled over to Bob and Jeff and greeted them.

“What’s with the big waves?” I asked. “Is there a storm coming in or something?”

“No, man,” Bob said, smiling, “it’s ‘Big Wednesday.’ ”

“Big Wednesday” is an intrinsic part of the surfer mythology. According to surf legends, the biggest waves always happen on Wednesdays. I had never seen any discernible difference between the waves on Wednesdays as opposed to other days, but for whatever reason, today was definitely “Big Wednesday.”

Both Bob and Jeff caught the next wave together. It was a long curl that broke fast on the inside. I decided to hang in the water for a while until something a little smaller came along. After a few minutes I saw the wave I wanted, started paddling with my hands, and then stood up on my board and caught it. It was a super clean ride in. After my last snowboarding experience in the Himalayas, it definitely felt good to be back in the water.

We surfed until sunset and then hit the beach. There were a bunch of other surfers hanging around, waiting for the “Blue Flash,” so we joined them. On clear days, there is a moment, just after the sun dips behind the ocean, when a flash of blue light shoots across the water. I had seen it a few times but never as strongly as that day.

“ ‘Big Wednesday,’ man,” Sandy said with a sigh. “Well, let’s pack it up and party on!”

Everybody loaded their gear into their cars and drove down the Pacific Coast Highway back to our condo in Santa Monica. We all showered and then dressed in our blue jeans and surfer shirts. Now the question was, what was on for the night?

“It’s good to see you back, man,” Bob remarked. “Like, it’s been quiet without you. How was the boarding over there?”

“Most excellent.” I said, putting on my best L.A. smile, which obviously wasn’t fooling anyone.

“Come on, my man, what you need is to party out,” Sandy yelled with enthusiasm. “We have some serious action set up for tonight. There’s a wild sorority party over at U.C.L.A. that we’ve been invited to. It’s going to be a long night, man. Long and good.”

The U.C.L.A. campus is located in Westwood, about twenty-five minutes from Santa Monica. All of the major fraternity houses are adjacent to the west side of the campus, and the sorority houses border it on the east.

When we arrived, it was a madhouse. Music was blaring, tequila, vodka, and beer were flowing, and couples were all over each other on couches, the floor, and—I assumed—upstairs in the bedrooms.

We went over to the bar and Sandy immediately took charge. He ordered us all shots of tequila, with lite beer chasers. After we had belted down about six shots each, Bob and Jeff drifted off and started dancing with some attractive co-eds, leaving me alone at the bar with Sandy.

“What’s up, man? Is something the matter?” Sandy asked me, his voice now slightly slurred from the tequila, as he sat down on the bar stool next to me. “You don’t seem to be getting into the spirit of the party.”

“It’s probably just jet lag, Sandy. I’m sure I’ll feel better in a little while.”

“Well, my man, let me help you out. Let me speed the process. There’s nothing that will put you into a better space faster than a fine lady. There is someone here I want you to meet. She just broke up with her boyfriend, and now she’s on the rebound. I think you two will hit it off.”

“It’s cool, Sandy. I just need some space, that’s all. The Himalayan thing just left me in a strange place. It’s going to take a few more days to adjust to being back in the Western world, that’s all.”

“No way, dude. You can’t cop out on this. You definitely have to connect with Carol. She’s a sociology major, and that’s what you need right now, some righteous socialization! Let me go hunt her up. Now don’t go away, I’ll be right back.”

Before I could object, Sandy had backed away from the bar and disappeared into the crowd. As I sat at the bar drinking myself into oblivion, I felt more and more that I just wanted to be alone. Something was nagging at my subconscious, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what it was.

I asked the bartender for another shot, downed it, and just as I was about to order another, Sandy appeared with a very attractive woman on his arm.

He introduced us and then walked away, looking, I assumed, for someone to pick up. I was left sitting alone at the bar with Carol. I decided to make polite conversation.

“Sandy tells me you’re a sociology major. What made you pick sociology?”

“Well,” she replied in a relaxed L.A. Valley Girl tone of voice, “when I graduate, I want to work with kids who come from troubled backgrounds, although I may decide to get my master’s degree first. What do you do?”

I looked at Carol for a moment, conjuring up an answer. I was pretty drunk, and she looked, what shall we say, very appealing. She was about five foot two, had brunette hair, was slim, and had beautiful jade green eyes. She was wearing a short black cocktail dress, which did not leave a great deal to the imagination.

“I’m mainly into sports. I surf, snowboard, do martial arts, and mountain climb. I’m not in school right now. I thought I would take some time off and travel. As a matter of fact, I just got back from Nepal today.”

“Where do you live?”

“In Santa Monica, on the Boulevard. I share a condo there with Sandy and two other dudes. We all surf together.”

“I see,” she said, pausing to assess me.

“How about a drink? What would you like?”

“Vodka and tonic with a twist, please.”

I ordered her drink and another shot for myself. After we had finished our drinks, I asked Carol if she wanted to dance. She agreed, and the two of us headed for the dance floor.

On the floor, couples were gyrating back and forth to some heavy rap. We began to dance, and in a few minutes I started to feel better. Dancing is always an instant “up” for me, and Carol was a better than average dancer. Pretty soon we started to smile at each other, and the sexual energy started flowing between us.

We danced for about an hour. Then we hit the bar for a few more drinks.

“Would you like to come up and see my room? It’s just up the stairs.”


I had been drinking a lot, and judging from the shaky way Carol ascended the stairs, she was pretty high too. Carol led me into her all-pink sorority room and closed the door. The two of us fell down on the bed and started making out. A few minutes later our clothes had been shed and we were having sex. I remember Carol laughing a lot and talking after we had finished making love. Then everything got hazy and I passed out.

When I awoke some time during the night, the party had ended, and I was alone in a bedroom with Carol, on the second floor of her sorority house. I was still drunk and starting to get seriously depressed.

Carol was lying next to me asleep. I liked Carol. The sex had been fun. During the course of the evening she had told me all about her two brothers, Ron and Michael, who worked as producers at Capitol Records, about her father, who was working at Hughes Aircraft on the latest Air Force bomber, and about her mother’s addiction to sitcoms. I had also learned a great deal more about sociology than I really wanted to know.

Try as I would, I just couldn’t fall back asleep. My main problem was that I kept thinking about Nadia. I felt strange lying next to Carol and thinking about another woman, particularly because Carol was so attractive, intelligent, fun, and more on my wavelength than Nadia had been.

Carol wasn’t forcing me into the mysterious world of Buddhism, magic, and mysticism. She was a normal, healthy, bright U.C.L.A. co-ed who shared my interest in sex, rock and roll, and dancing. She was an all-American girl with a good sense of self-esteem, sensitivity, and career goals … and she bored the absolute hell out of me.

Without disturbing Carol, I slipped out of bed, noiselessly put my clothes back on, and exited from the sorority house. I had no idea where my roommates had disappeared to, but I assumed they were all sharing rooms with good-looking co-eds somewhere within the sorority.

I hopped into my VW, drove up Sorority Row to Sunset Boulevard, and headed west toward the ocean. According to my watch it was a little after three o’clock in the morning.

Crossing over the 405 Highway on Sunset, I continued driving west through Pacific Palisades until I reached the Pacific Coast Highway. I turned right at Gladstone’s 4 Fish, and proceeded to drive up north to Malibu.

I had no idea where I was going or why. I was just driving.

In about thirty minutes I had reached Zuma Beach. I turned left off the highway, but instead of turning into the beach parking lot, I turned onto Heather Cliff Lane instead.

I followed the curving road up to the top of Point Dume. Along the way, the strong smell of the eucalyptus trees that lined the road blew in through my open car windows.

Parking my car near the end of the point, I proceeded on foot to the top of the cliff at the very end of the point. From there I could look out over the moonlit Pacific Ocean that I loved so much. On my left side I could see the glittering lights of Los Angeles, and to my right the dark stretches of Zuma Beach and Broad Beach that were punctuated by house and street lights.

I directed my gaze back out toward the moonlit Pacific. I watched the concentric wave patterns moving toward the bottom of Point Dume, where they crashed loudly on the rocks below me.

For the moment, I had stopped thinking. Standing alone in the night with the ocean wind buffeting my body, I felt as if I was back in the Himalayas. This feeling lasted for several minutes. I then descended the hill, returned to my car, and drove home to Santa Monica. When I got home, I lay down on my bed and was overwhelmed with the greatest feeling of despair and loneliness I had ever known.