40. MAGNOLIA BEACH part I

Fredrick was the first of my friends to move out of his parent’s house and onto his own. Some petty squabble over the length of his hair or his choice of clothing prompted them to issue an ultimatum and he called their bluff. He persuaded a landlord to temporarily rent him an unheated garage near Fisherman’s Terminal where he could use the laundry and shower facilities reserved for the fishing fleet. He laid in some furniture from the local Goodwill store and his place soon became a hangout for those close friends he trusted.

He and I had been spending time exploring the parks, greenbelts and ravines around our Magnolia community since I was a little kid and had discovered areas below the bluff that had once supported an extensive community. Most of the homes had suffered destruction due to the frequent mudslides that would occur during storms each winter.

The only ones still occupied were the beach houses near the road that led to Magnolia’s business district a half mile away.

Our friend Ivan Koons had already rehabbed one of the dilapidated structures. Utilizing an existing platform, he constructed an A frame cabin with boards that had washed up on shore and windows he had scavenged from used building supply stores and abandoned buildings. He only stayed there on weekends and during the summer but it served as terrific getaway during the school year when we required a break from studies and a closer communion with nature.

I would go down during low tide to inspect the tide pools and beachcomb for items that had washed up. Sometimes, if the weather were warm enough, I would construct a crude raft and pole out to the kelp beds where I could tie up and drift along with the elements. One day, I wandered a bit further than usual and soon heard some ferocious drumming coming from one of the beach homes and went nearer to find out what was happening. Just as I neared the cabin the drumming halted abruptly and a lone figure with bright red curly hair stood out on the deck. “Hey, what’s happening?” I inquired. “Sounds great!” “Just practicing for a gig and rehabilitating my hand from an injury”, came the reply. I introduced myself and wondered aloud how we hadn’t met before since I’d been coming to the beach for a couple years. “I’m Lee Rogers, I think I know your brother William. Doesn’t he play the harp?” “Yeah, that’s him”, I answered. “Well, tell him to come down some time, we’ll jam”, said Lee. “Sure”, I responded, “I’m sure he’d like that.”

Ivan and Fredrick appeared in the distance and I waved them over. Lee had already met Ivan and invited us all in for a pot of tea. He had an outstanding record collection and put on a couple of obscure sides. “Listen to the drumming on this one.” Lee said enthusiastically, and put on a long cut by sitar legend Ravi Shankar. The exotic music instantly transported me in time and place and the seemingly repetitious nature of the sounds enhanced the meditative quality. I looked over at Lee who had his eyes closed and was keeping a counter rhythm with his fingertips on the coffee table. The music seemed a natural background to the gentle surf outside and was punctuated by the cawing of seagulls overhead.

The music ended and Ivan set his cup down with a bright clink and broke the trance. “I gotta go and work on my place. Fred’s gonna give me a hand. I brought a roll of tarpaper and I’m hoping to seal the roof by tonight.” “I’ll help”, I offered and collected the empty cups and set them on the kitchen counter. “Thanks Lee. We’ll see you later” said Fredrick as he lifted himself out of the wicker chair that he’d been sitting in. Lee waved his bandaged right hand as we hiked further down the beach towards Ivan’s shack. I had the tarpaper roll on my shoulder and Ivan carried his toolkit. Fredrick had a sack full of groceries and a jug of water and pulled out a wicked looking army-style pistol. “It’s just a BB gun”, he explained. “Just a bit of a persuader in case any rats show up.”

Ivan explained how Fredrick was going to move in and look after the place while he helped him fix up another abandoned shack they had discovered past the dead end at the other end of the road. We spread the tarpaper over the A frame roof and tacked it into place. Ivan sealed the seams with duct tape and covered it all with a can of cold tar that made it watertight. Fredrick fitted the front door with a heavy hasp and a sturdy lock and gave one key to Ivan. “Here” he said with a smile. “Any time you need to use it, just let me know”. “Right”, replied Ivan. “I can make it down tomorrow morning and help you get started on your place. Wikstrom, you can keep a secret. Come down tomorrow with a hammer or shovel and we can knock this out in no time.”

Fredrick knocked on my door around nine o’clock the next morning. “All set?” he asked. He carried a bag with a handsaw, some black plastic garbage bags and a steel rake. “Yeah, let me get the claw hammer and machete. The small shovel’s in the garage.” It was an exciting walk down to Beach Road as Fredrick described how he and Ivan had cut through an imposing wall of blackberry vines at the end of a gully past the dead end and found the rundown place. Of course the city had posted “No Trespassing” and “No Dumping” signs around but that seemed almost an invitation and a helpful determent to curious busybodies.

“I got dropped off an hour ago,” said Ivan, when we met up with him at the bottom of Beach Road. “My sister drove the old man’s truck and I brought this.” He gestured to a solid door and a small two-pane window that were leaning against some garbage cans. “Here”, said Ivan. “I’ve taken one window up already. We can leave this one here for now. Can you get the other end of the door?” I slipped the hammer into my belt and gave Fredrick the other tools. Ivan grabbed one end and I took hold of the other and we started up the road about a block to where the dead end gave way to a steep ravine leading down to the rocky beach. “The trail’s over here” said Fredrick and led the way past some broken slabs of jagged concrete and around a scarred utility pole. It looked to me like a solid wall of blackberry bushes. He reached for a wire inside the bushes and untwisted it from the pole and drew back enough branches for us to get through. Ivan closed it behind us and it was impossible to tell that an established trail led further into the woods and around a point that seemed inpenetratable.

Ivan had leaned a half rotten log on one side of the ravine and chopped the branches in a way that gave us footholds. Fredrick went first and threw some of the tools up before coming back to help with the door. We muscled it up the side of the bluff and tried to be as quiet as we could. There were million-dollar mansions on top of the bluff and even though they were a ways off there wasn’t any need to give ourselves away. We rounded a bend that provided more seclusion and Fredrick pointed to an area between some thick poplar trees. “Right there” he said quietly. “C’mon”.

Just then, a two-stroke gas engine started up and startled some birds out of the trees. “Perfect. You were right Ivan!” said Fredrick. Ivan gave me a wink. “I noticed a lawn service truck last week parked above here. Let’s hustle. No one will be able to hear us for a couple hours.” We rushed towards the trees with our load and Fredrick pulled out the machete and began to clear the trail that revealed a broken down staircase with only a few steps still intact. At the top of the staircase were two dilapidated buildings, completely overgrown with bushes, blackberry vines and ivy. One was a small shed with open-air windows and a dirt floor strewn with trash and weeds. The main building was more substantial with a solid floor and some built-in cupboards inside. They’d already cleaned it up some and had several full garbage bags piled in the shed. Besides the window that Ivan had leaned against the house there was a pile of two-by-fours of different lengths in front of the doorway. “Let’s tackle that first” he said pointing to the doorway and reached for his tape measure. I started clearing an area behind the small house where we could stash our supplies while Fredrick and Ivan replaced the doorjamb with new boards and fitted the door as snuggly as they could. Fredrick pulled a calking gun from his sack and began filling the cracks liberally with white acrylic.

The lawn mowers had finished their task above and the quiet signaled a break from construction. “Let’s get these garbage bags outta here and retrieve that last window,” suggested Ivan. “You go ahead,” said Fredrick. “I’m gonna stay and muck out the inside some more.” It had started to rain and the sound of the leaves being splattered drowned out our noise as Ivan and I each grabbed a couple bags and headed back down the trail. The rain made the path muddy in a few spots but we managed to get down and threw the trash bags into a large dumpster at the bottom of the road.

By the time we got back with the last window it was raining pretty hard but that just made us more determined to do as much as we could while our noise was concealed. Fredrick had filled a couple more bags of old wallpaper he’d stripped off and he’d thrown the rotted boards into the surrounding woods. Ivan sized up the window frames and was cutting boards to fit around the new windowsill. I helped Fredrick inside by stopping up cracks with scraps of wood and sealing them with calking. “Save enough so we can put a good bead around this window”, said Ivan. “We should have this secure in another hour or so.”

By the time we were ready to quit for the day the inside had been cleared, scraped, patched and calked and Fredrick had even covered a fair portion inside with primer paint. Ivan had completed putting in the door and both windows and calked them tight. I’d cleared an open area adjacent to the house and straightened up the shed and even replaced a few of the boards in the staircase. All in all it was an extremely productive day and we agreed to meet up the following weekend to try to finish it out.