I’m not sure when I decided that all things to do with explosives meant some really fun, inventive sequences that ended with a bang or a boom; noisier, better.
It’s very possible I derived this fascination through my mother’s own enjoyment of things that go bang in the night. I recall we were visiting her family in Virginia one summer during July. I was young, perhaps seven years old, as we made our way to the reserved seating in Washington, D.C., for the greatest event baring actual war that occurs every year on July 4. Fireworks in 1960 weren’t nearly as awesome as they are today, but the fireworks show in our nation’s capital is an hour long celebration with fantastic, heart-thudding, shockingly loud, constant, flashes of color, miniscule moments of time, mixed with thumps that move you in your seat. You don’t need to dance, it moves you in ways you can’t imagine.
It was a saturday afternoon, we were all expecting Richard and his wife to show up and they were late according to my parents. He drives up, gets out, I was the first to see him, and he turns smiling big and hands me a pack of firecrackers. To see my brother again was always wonderful, to have fireworks was beyond comparison. I fairly leaped and shouted for joy. I had in my hand 16 wondrous experiences that all (knowing that there was going to be a dud or two but ignoring that fact) ended in some sort of bang.
He asked if he could see the pack for a second. I gingerly handed it to him, thinking that once again fate was in his hands. He opened the pack, held it out, lit the combined fuses, and tossed it aside. Shock didn’t describe my feelings as I watched the entire pack ignite and explode not five feet from me. I was instantly stunned, amazed, furious, shocked, and speechless.
He walked to the back of his car, asked me over to the trunk. I looked at him with fury in my face and he was grinning this huge grin so much so that I it made wonder what he was about after he had blown up 16 perfectly wondrous firecrackers. Sixteen firecrackers he had given to me! They were mine, because he had given them to me! I was not able to make coherent sounds.
He reached down into his suitcase and extracted a brick of firecrackers. I had never seen a brick before, I didn’t know they existed. It was opened and a few packs were missing, but the total count were it full would have been 1600 firecrackers. As it was, It was missing less than 100, so I had a brick of around 1500 firecrackers. My eyes grew wide and I really at that moment could not comprehend such wealth, so many hours of fantastic fun.
You must understand: fireworks of any kind were such a rarity, and only to be seen on the fourth of July. It never made sense to me that fireworks were only available at that time of year. I could look at a pack of firecrackers, or a bunch of “safe and sane” fireworks and imagine all the fun in an instant, then change it to more fun in another instance. My mind would race about, choosing things to blow up, ways to blow things up, ways to make even more noise, ways to adapt to some other fun.
As I said, standing at the back of his car looking down at this absurd package of firecrackers, I was lost in my mind, I couldn’t get past losing the first pack so quickly and now looking at thousands of instances. I was frozen in time, my mind churning madly but not able to comprehend these numbers of unique experiences when there was this tremendous explosion behind me. I wheeled about in stuck-brain mode as Richard handed me a box of M40s.
An M40 is slightly more powerful than a cherry bomb, and half as powerful as an M80. Rumor has it that an M80 is half a stick of dynamite. I don’t know, having never seen an M80, for obvious reasons.
Twelve years old, I and a friend discovered this amazing mixture, we discovered that inside every cap is a little bit of this substance, and would spend hours working through a roll of caps to get that powder.
I remember sitting at my desk in my brother’s room, now my room since he had moved out and away to San Francisco. Seems it was his room and never truly my room even though I lived in it for seven years, and he lived in it for a mere five years previously. His desk was now my desk with its scratched glass top to protect the wood from all manner of possibilites I suppose; the excuse was to make it more prone to being able to write on a sheet of paper on top of the glass.
I had just finished gleaning a roll of caps, about 50 caps, of it’s gold and had opened one of my firecrackers to mix the two for the purpose of making a bomb that I can call my own. The opened pack of firecrackers was at the opposite end of my desk, a formidable distance of two feet from The Pile. Not quite thinking about friction, I began to casually move the The Pile towards the firecracker powder, then pausing to move the firecracker towards The Pile, when lo and behold, I discovered something else inside firecracker powder and the entire Pile ignited in a poof. To be sure, it was a wondrous poof in front of my face and I sat awestruck at the poof, the surprise of that spark, and disdain that my Pile was gone, when something occurred that drew all my attention.
A firecracker pack is sixteen firecrackers woven together by its fuses. Firecracker packs are laced liberally with powder on the outside prior to packaging. This allows strings of firecrackers to be strung together for the purpose of having a few thousand firecrackers going off in a sequence.
This opened pack of firecrackers consisted of twelve firecrackers still strung together with two unstrung but close to the fuse weave, and one firecracker precariously near the pack but not part of the pack.
It was a tremendous Poof! in my room on my desk. I think I lost some eyebrows when it flared. I was blinking and writhing in disgust at myself for losing all that wondrous powder when I heard the oddest sound: a fitz, followed by another fitz. My watering eyes glimpsed the pack of opened firecrackers and the miscellaneous bit of powder near its fuse weave when a small spark ignited a fuse.
I leapt out of my chair as the pack caught hold of fire. There was no thought in my mind, just fascination as the pack began to, seemingly in slow motion, come apart as firecrackers exploded. There was this sudden realization that I might be too close to the action, so I hastily retreated to the other side of my room, to the other side of my bed. I was in awe that the firecrackers followed. For a brief instance I imagined the firecrackers landing on my bed and starting a fire and that’s exactly what happened the instant after I thought it.
Doug and I were walking the path to the quarry. It was an old quarry, the first part of which had been converted to an outdoor amphi-theatre, while the lower part remained pretty much the same when they stopped mining. The upper was a wide expansive circle, the lower, a wide path leading down a hundred feet, then veering to the right a full half circle and contining down another hundred feet. Between the road stood an untouched bit of earth, like a decision made to keep this one bit of earth standing tall without blemish while the road cut down on the right then on the left of this free standing wall which ended at the slice of half circle. The sides of the quarry were high, so this one finger of earth had been mined to its current height, as the road bit down deeper, thrusting this middle up. To reach the top took effort and balance, this finger was not even with anything other than its own stand. Once up, the finger stretched to its end, the half-circle road, level and about eight feet wide.
Doug McCormack called me on the phone many years later, I should guess when I was around twenty, to tell me how he found Christ. He was highly excited, as most new Christians are, Doug believed, and I knew it the instance he told me. Sadly, at that time, I was in denial of a dozen things and I didn’t really show enthusiam as I should. I know you and yours can accept my deepest apologies.
It was early evening on a sweet summer night. We wore light jackets to ward off the usual chill mixed with fog that arrives in this place in the evening. We both knew we were heading to a new spot that we had recently discovered in the daylight hours. A quarry is an interesting place at night. This night there was a slight moon out, so we had light to steer by as we threaded our way down the amphi-theatre aisles, then changing course, we began to hop the seats.
It was seating on the cheap: cement rows of benches, everywhere rough cement forming the bench backs, the floorboards, and the four or five aisles, down to the stage. The one saving grace was laquered wood laid to match the benches so one didn’t sit on cold hard mean cement.
I had met Doug through his sister, Ann. My friend and contestor for the prize would agree, we both thought Ann was the most beautiful woman at our school. Where Bob was the aggressor, I was not so much, then I met a new friend tho’ a year younger, still an amazing fellow.
Doug and I strolled down and past the amphi-theatre, onto the road, stopped to observe the path up to the finger of land, and climbed up. Once up, and looking to the end of this finger, away from the amphi-theatre, on our right, the road was below about fifteen feet, on our left, the road was below about fifty feet.
By the time we arrived on the beginning part of the finger, the sun had set and it was fast becoming dark. The path of the finger to its end fairly glowed comparetively with the surrounding dark rock, weeds, grass, and forest. We paid great attention to walking to the lip. It was precarious during the day, less so at night because we could not see the dangers on both sides.
We found a spot and sat. Doug lit up and we did our usual pastime in this new area of thought. Once done, we each lit a smoke and reclined to view the quarry at night. It was a strange sight, nothing can prepare you for what you might see in rocks and crevices in the dark of night. We didn’t see anything that alarmed us, but we did see faces, skeletons, a dragon head, other oddities that leapt at us from the moon lit white and shaded dark of unmasked earth.
After about an hour, we decided to head back, and we began to make our way back to the amphi-theatre. As we cruised through the theatre, we both decided to exhert more energy by leaping from bench to bench. About halfway up the rows, Doug and I both stopped at exactly the same instant. Doug remarked, “what the hell is that?” to which I looked and we both saw something that made us flee. When we were several hundred feet away from the amphi-theatre, we stopped under a light and caught our breath.
Both of us saw the same thing at the same time. Further description is not necessary, suffice to say we both saw evil that night, it terrified us into running away faster than I know I can run. Niether of us beat the other out on the run, we were both equal in fear.
Later, he and I discussed what we saw, and compared notes to other events we had heard about but had not witnessed. I remember surfer friends describing a huge bonfire on the cliffs above the beach of this one bit of private land that we could view parts of but never bothered to discover the path. Black robed inviduals dancing around a great bonfire was the rumor, and that it happened on cliffs and deep in the country in certain meadows on specific nights. From what we witnessed, we saw truth within the rumors.
Jimmy Alison got me started, Don Medina helped quite a bit by telling stories of his Dad’s underwater adventures. The ocean had seen me dancing within it as a body and board surfer, a swimmer and flocklicker, now it was to see me beneath its surface.
On an early saturday foggy morning, Jimmy, Don and I drove to the breakwater in Monterey. We wrestled into the 1/4-inch thick chest, pants, and hood wetsuits, attached the wieghtbelt, and strode to the sea. At the waters edge, we put on our flippers, prepared our masks and put them on, cleared the snorkels and strode into the ocean. The temperature outside was a balmy 60 degrees, the water on the surface was around 50, ten feet beneath the surface, it was 45, twenty feet, 40.
The breakwater is a man-made strip of land meant to protect boats at harbor from the open sea. Breakwaters are typically made with great rocks for the sea to pound against, to hold a road, and to bear the cement for certain structures. This particular breakwater had visible owners too, a herd of walrus laying vacariously on the rocks knowing the sun would burn off the fog and warm their bulks.
That first time was an amazing adventure. The coasts of Monterey are known for diving pleasure and visibility, the key to good diving, being able to see a distance, that day was a good day, visibility was at least forty feet.
After an hour of diving down, swimming around, and surfacing, it got cold. I was the first to seek warmth of getting out of that cold water. We had swum out a hundred feet from shore so the breakwater was the closest exit and offered many dozens of somewhat flat rocks to lie upon to recover body heat.
The first one I reached was half buried in the water. I used it to stand up and hop onto a rock just above it. Not ten feet away lay a huge heaving mass who eyed me curiously. When I got my footing, I took off my flippers and my mask/snorkel and laid them on the rocks, then I stood up. A mistake and a challenge to he who owned that rock. This mass moved towards me a foot while raising its mass up and barked an order, a challenge, at me. I immediately jumped into the ocean.
This huge walrus nimbly returned to her previous state. I gathered my courage, retraced my steps to that same rock, to which she eyed me curiously again, but this time I remained seated. After only a few minutes she and I agreed it was alright, as long as I didn’t visibly challenge her in front of the other walruses. Don’t ask me to explain that, it’s something animals and I do.
The breakwater became a favority dive spot. On a different dive day, it was an odd morning, the fog was on the water, and the water was so calm it was glassy. We had gotten smarted, in that we carried our equipment out on the breakwater, found a spot to enter the water, equipped ourselves and slid into the ocean. This day was very different, there were jellyfish everywhere. They were so numerous that diving down, we had to pick our way to the surface to avoid entanglement.
Another dive day, it was one of those times when the ocean had its say and visibility was at a minimum, say maybe ten feet. I was about fifteen feet down and something came out of the murk, did three circles around me, then dissappeared into the murk. I didn’t panic, I suspected the beast, I actually knew what it was as it circled me and I knew what it was doing. Again, don’t ask me to explain that. It knew I knew it knew. Laughter was on its lips as I surfaced not ten feet from it. Ever heard tale of an otter laughing? They sure do, as do all animals, when you pay attention. He was laughing so hard he was having trouble floating.
The dive that we made at Lighthouse Point, known worldwide as Steamer Lane, was an interesting day too. There is a lighthouse on this stretch of rock. Looking at the lighthouse and out to sea, on the left is surfing, on the right beaches, out in front a rock pathway leading to a hewn rock stair down to the sea. Beyond that and a bit to the right lies Seal Rock, a bit of round rock standing some twenty feet above the ocean and usually covered in seals.
On that saturday, underwater visibility was a very unusual twenty feet, typical was less than five feet. We decided to swim out from the beach on the right, give Seal Rock a fair distance, to the huge kelp bed a hundred yards from Steamers. It was a long swim, but we were young and dumb. After ten minutes of swimming we were approaching Seal Rock on our right and about fifty feet away. We both changed position and swam on our backs. I looked at the seals, they were looking at us, then I did something that I didn’t think about at the time, I barked. I barked a few times, seal heads arose, then a wall of seals leapt into the ocean!
Jimmy and I didn’t expect that, so we dove down and swam hard for a minute submerged. I had this sense that many seals had swam out to us, felt our fear, and changed their minds. When we surfaced, the seals were returning to their rock, and ignored us. Again, I know there was more to it than simple vision. How to explain that, I cannot, there is no point of reference with you, dear Reader.