Elephant Seals are Strange Creatures

I graduate from high school. I planned to go to college and major in interior design but my father kept busting my chops. “You’ll never get a damn job with an art degree.” That’s coming from a man who majored in music.

I’m working in Colonial Williamsburg selling gingerbread cookies. It feels like 130 degrees in the bakery due to historical interpreters demonstrating baking via a three foot wide flaming oven.


I’m walking down Duke of Gloucester Street when my best friend Thomas pulls up on the no vehicles allowed street honking his shiny blue ’68 Dodge Coronet, a car that looks like the Batmobile minus the wings.

“Hey Kathy, want to go to a party tonight?”

I pray my boss is not around.  Thomas weaves through the hordes of tourists strolling down the street and honks goodbye.

I meet Thomas my senior year in high school. He reminds me of the comedian Gallagher, not because he’s into smashing watermelons with a mallet but because they resemble each other and they are total goofballs.

We are best friends at first sight. Both of our fathers are college professors and we are both the youngest children of large tight knit families. It’s an instant connection.

Thomas and I head to the college fraternity where the party is located. I take a seat in Jeff’s room. He’s a quiet, intense anthropology major. Jeff is nice and easy to be around.

Jeff passes me a bong. He takes a hit, blows out a cloud of smoke, coughs and says, “Death is our eternal companion. It is always to our left, at arm’s length. Death is the only wise advisor we have.”

I say, “I’m not a fan of death.”

“The fear of death is not the way of the warrior. These are the Teachings of Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda.”

I say, “No offense, Jeff, but the death talk is not elevating my buzz.”

Jeff moves on to discussing Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy about dream experiences and music while we listen to Sun Ra, an artist whose music sounds like the planets Venus and Saturn took LSD and composed jazz.

The next day Thomas calls me. “Hey Kathy, do you want to go to Ventura to see the Grateful Dead?”

“Sure, why not?”

I quit my job. I leave a note for my parents: “Dear Mom and Dad, by the time you read this I will be on a Greyhound Bus to see the Grateful Dead in California. Don’t worry about me. I have $188.00 and a sleeping bag. Love, Kathy.”

Thomas and I are on the bus weaving colorful embroidered bracelets that we hope to sell at the show.

Thomas has a photographic memory – my memory is more like a polaroid instamatic. “The Battle of Chickamauga was the first battle in Georgia in September 1863. The Confederates won. There were 18,454 Confederate casualties and 16,170 Union losses. It was the second highest loss after Gettysburg.”

A few moments of silence. Then Thomas continues.

“There were one hundred and twenty generals at Gettysburg and nine of them were killed? Nine. That’s a lot.”

“Pickett’s Charge had around twenty thousand Confederate soldiers but Gaines’ Mill had more than fifty thousand Confederate Soldiers.”

I weave bracelets like nobody’s business. “If I was a soldier I would run away. I would run away and hide behind a big log. If I had Elmer’s Glue I would glue leaves all over my body and lie still in disguise.”

“They didn’t make Elmer’s Glue back then.”

“Well, they made some kind of adhesive. It may not have dried clear but I would make sure I had a bottle for my clever leaf disguise.”

After the concert Thomas and I catch a ride up North. We drive through Santa Cruz and up scenic Highway 1 to a beautiful and remote beach called Greyhound Rock.

We join a dozen or so hippies who claim the beach their temporary home. Below the craggy cliffs is the wild and dramatic Pacific Ocean. Greyhound rock, a massive rock boulder the size of a super-size whale reigns supreme over small rock boulders in the shoreline. Elephant seals bask in the sun. Sometimes they make a noise that sounds like a singing garbage disposal. Watching the elephant seals helps me feel much less awkward about myself.

Sleeping bags are scattered on the beach along the bottom of the cliff. Each day we walk a treacherous climb up the cliff to the parking lot and catch a ride to Santa Cruz where we eat at a soup kitchen and hang around town. We return to the beach and party all night. The vagrant lifestyle gets old quick.

I’m coping with anxiety. I’m around people 24/7. I feel like an oddball and let me just say that if you feel like an oddball around a group of smelly hippies that live on a beach, smoke pot all day and engage in free for all dancing around a bonfire like a neolithic summer solstice celebration it’s symptomatic of a serious issue.

After a few weeks I’m at the beach camp while everyone is sleeping. I’m wide awake and very stoned. The moon is full. I can see figures moving around but I cannot tell if they are elephant seals or Charles Manson’s cronies lurching behind the rocks. I pretend to be sleeping. I reckon the Manson cronies will kill the sleeping hippies located closer to them. I’ll sneak behind the big boulder to my left and either a) find a rock to throw at them or b) run like hell.

The next day I wake up and wonder why I’m living on a beach with a crew of folks whose main vision of their future involves where to score the next joint. I return to my parent’s house and try to figure out how to get my act together.


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