Boogie.

I know this blog hasn’t been very much about surfing. I’ve considered changing the name to avoid turning up in surfing searches (searching surfs?) and disappointing. But even if I don’t write much about it, I think about it a lot. I even try and go. Yesterday I went. The waves were garbage and beautiful and small and frequent and too frequent and coming from too many directions at once. The wind was really high, I almost blew over trying to get the board from the beach to the water. I dropped it in the water and it blew into my shin, it still hurts. The tide was low, I lay down in the shallows and paddled, my hands hit the sand, a wave pushed the board, I tried to stand, shilly shally, I stepped off.  Paddling further out, no one around, nothing to be embarrassed about, the wind perhaps, lifting the board, throwing it over each low wave, further, still too shallow, shilly shally.

Some boys entered the surf with boogie boards, they yelled to me: Are you Paul? Yes, I called back. I could see a puffy coat holding Shanti and shouting into a cell phone above the wind and blowing sand. Was that Debbie Marion, my erstwhile bookkeeper? Why was she yelling into the phone, she must have thought Shanti was loose on the beach. Shanti was loose on the beach. Its her form of exercise, she runs around chasing dogs and kids and looking for me and getting petted and being wondered about, is she stray? is she loose? does she have an owner? is it that guy struggling with that long board in the wind, are you Paul?

I got home later and heard the windblown garbled message on the machine: Ts ‘ebbie ‘arion, ee hav Shanti at ‘urfer’s Bea. . .  I erased it.  Another down coat appeared on the beach, this mom I knew from Bodhi’s school. Her daughter was in a pink bathing suit with an orange foam life belt thingie, trying to use it as a kind of boogie board. I said hello. She hadn’t recognized me cause of my head cowel, my bearded face poking pointy out of the one non-rubberized moment in my ensemble.  Oh, I didn’t recognize you.   I yelled to the girl, addressed her by name, applauded her for getting wet in the freezing water. She mentioned her sad fake boogie board and made some more attempts. I had downgraded to a boogie board myself, the long board just getting stupid there. After a while, I offered her my ‘real’ boogie board and we swapped for the orange thingie. I gave her some simple instruction and wondered if I should teach kids to boogie board. I’ve gotten pretty good at that anyway.

Mexico was a revelation. In the super-crowded water at Sayulita during Semana Santa, surrounded by hundreds, maybe thousands of Mexicans. Waves really good, too crowded to try long boarding, just amazing boogie woogie. The waves would rise up and a hue and cry would build among the kids, a whoo-hoo like in a rock concert begging for an encore, and delight in all the faces, and monster-movie fear. Then it came to me and I jumped up on the front and ripped side to side, steering like Loren taught me and grinding up to the bitter end, hard pebbly sand in my rash shirt, bewildered toddlers at water’s edge. Funny gringo.

“The Man in the Duck Suit” by Martin Espada

Todd’s good friend from college is celebrated poet Martin Espada. He composed this recently for Todd and it was read at the New York memorial on Sunday. More of Martin’s work can be found at http://www.martinespada.net

The Man in the Duck Suit
For Todd Godwin (1957-2011)

He wore a duck suit for my Super 8 movie,
back in the days when I wanted to make movies,
before I found out that I couldn’t buy
cameras or film with food stamps. I borrowed
a camera and a shotgun, then rented a duck costume
for the star of my crime thriller, In Cold Duck.

In between takes, he would pull the duck’s head off
and tuck it underneath his arm, half-human, half-waterfowl,
curly beard and bright yellow feathers, a creature from the mythology
of ancient Assyria pontificating in a New Jersey British accent
about the art of improvisation. Later, after the last take,
he wandered out onto my porch in full duck regalia,
waving the shotgun at passing cars on Johnson Street.

Thirty years later the hunters of Wisconsin still shiver in the reeds
as they recall the Monster Duck who hunted humans.  I know
he was only a man in a duck suit, a secret I can now reveal.
He was my Bigfoot, glimpsed on grainy film, the camera shaking.

(Copyright 2011 Martin Espada)

One brother and some ‘b.f.a.m.’s’* *bruthas from anutha mutha

I have not one brother now, but many brothers. Here’s some stories about some of them. Mark Verlander accompanied me on the airplane Monday, stood by us during this toughest of Januaries and created the beautiful illustration of Todd that we’ve been using for the memorials.  He also created The Sippy Cups with Doug Nolan and me, and was the guitar player and a songwriter for them.  Monday he delivered me into the subway system from JFK. It was a great comfort to have a close friend on the plane with me as I headed away from the familiar to try and understand what happened to Todd in NYC this past Fall.

I arrived at Montrose Ave., Brooklyn and Zak Zaidman, my NY host, arrived at the same moment from Manhattan coming the other way.  Todd called Zak ‘the third Godwin brother’. Zak has been a close friend for 18 years and one of Amee’s and my first friends in the Bay Area. Big-hearted, handsome, a Mexican Jew, he’s as uniquely creative and funny as a male Godwin, with some similar emotional terrain to traverse. These ‘sympatico’ factors drew Todd and he closely together since they first met. They were in constant touch while Todd tried to rebuild his NY life from October to January.  Zak co-created and produced a flight simulator game called Banzai Bug for his company Gravity in the 90’s, and Todd did many of the voices including the main character, who he infused with his Phone Crazy-style humor. Disney worked with Gravity in those days and seems to have been “influenced” by many of the ideas and characters from this project when they created the film “Bug,” several years later.

Zak has brought so much insight to me surrounding Todd’s last months here and his struggles. It has been important to have these conversations with Todd’s NY family and I will continue to do so this weekend in Woodstock. Sunday we will see many more of his East Coast posse, as we hold a small gathering to honor him on his birthday (April 10, 1957).  If you’re in the area and have not heard about the event, here is a link and you are welcome to attend.  Link to Gathering For Todd

Flying.

I’ve flown a total of four times with Todd.  The first was when my stepfather came on the scene.  He flew us to Los Angeles to visit his family. We stayed in a motel in North Hollywood and Todd and I only wanted to hang out at the pool with some kids we met there.  He was eleven, I was seven.  I remember nothing about the airplane, I do remember that Joe drove us by a huge restaurant called “Gale’s”. “That’s my place,” he said.  It took me another ten years to discover he had been joking.

The second time was a pip. For some unknown reason, when I was 19, my Uncle Milton, a real estate mogul, decided to give us each a few thousand dollars.  I know my cousin, his daughter, was involved, after becoming friendly with Todd, she decided he should do us a favor.  We were to go to California to meet with him.  I drove from Boston to NYC and Todd and I took a cab from his uptown apartment to the airport.  We got to the gate and realized he had left the tickets at home. In those days you could actually get to the gates without a ticket.  Todd raised a hilarious fuss, actually yelling “I’m flabberghasted! My associate and I must get on this plane, we have a very important meeting in California!”  Unbelievably, they let us on.  In L.A.. we met Milton and his daughter, Jane, who hosted us graciously and showed us the best side of the West Side.

Then last year sometime, we made a day trip to L.A. for the funeral of our cousin, Danny Morris. Danny was an excellent percussionist and drummer.  He and I had only met a few times but realized we enjoyed some of the same musicians, like Mick Torn and David Sylvian.  Danny died way too young. It was cool traveling with Todd like that, with a purpose. We finally had “a very important meeting to attend in L.A.,” as he had yelled twenty years before.

Yesterday, Todd was in the hold of my Virgin America flight, his cremated remains packed tightly with my sruti (Indian squeezebox instrument similar to harmonium) in my suitcase.  I tried to find regulations regarding the transport of cremated remains in carry-on luggage and could not locate anything. I decided it was safest to check the bag. I’ve brought him this time but he’s got no stories, not complaints. He’s in a plastic box the size of several bricks. The TSA opened it, they must have seen it before, it was well labeled. The funeral home put a metal tag on it, with their name and a number. It broke off and fell out of my luggage like a coin you’d win from some machine at Coney Island or a locker tag from the Millburn Community Pool.  I didn’t know what it was when it fell out, then I thought he’d spilled.

In January, we had a ceremony at Moss Beach, CA, sprinkling some of his ashes into the Pacific along with his dogs Tito and Buzz.  But we’d saved some for East Coast family who’d requested a chance to do some scattering. On Saturday, my nephew Bob and I will bring my brother for his last ride down the Esopus Creek in the Catskill Mountains, where he’d floated, fished, swam and played for decades. Water in the Catskills was so important to him. He thought of it nearly every moment and sought it out so that he might “immerse himself” as Joseph Cornelius would say, on those hot summer days.  He once built a huge swimming pond at our summer house, but that is another story.

The Catapult/Gone today, gone tomorrow.

Once someone check’s out, they are gone. Seems pretty self-explanatory until it’s your brother, spouse, child, life partner.  Parents, it has to happen sometime and in the rightful order of things, they should precede you on the way out, they got here first. This is not to sound callous to the intense loss people feel for their parents’ deaths.  It’s more to focus on the upset caused by this change in the ‘natural sequence’ of things.

We just thought Todd would be around.  We really thought so.  He was such a force. And maybe I’ve said this before, but his departure feels like an elemental shift in the gravitational forces, the natural forces. As if the moon fell from the sky, the wind ceased to blow.

Yesterday, a simply gorgeous day here on the Coast. It would be a day he would visit. A year ago he was here with us for Bodhi’s talent show at school. I’ve been the music director and emcee the last five or more years and Todd finally came last year to see Bodhi’s band ‘The How’ who performed again this year. Todd would join us on a lovely weekend, he was a member of this small family. Bodhi loved the addition of his crazy, engaged ‘Unkie’.  Todd gave everything to Bodhi when he was with him. He got him hooked on flying two-line stunt kites and Bodhi had breakthroughs with that last Spring and became really good. Todd was so proud.

Last Summer, he showed up with 20 feet of 1/2 inch surgical tubing to create a kind of crazy catapult. He set me and Bodhi up on Montara beach with it and ordered us around as he attempted to fire great big rocks into the ocean.  Through trial and error and a lot of yelling and some laughs, it kind of worked but he determined that the tubing was too thick, not resilient enough.  Some relationship to be explored there between thickness and resilience. If we humans are like surgical tubing catapulting life’s obstacles like rocks into the ocean, does it mean the thinner our layer, the more resilient we are?  Do we feel things deeper but respond quicker? If our layer is thick, the feelings and experiences don’t sink in as far, are we less able to spring back, fling emotional projectiles long distances?  Discuss.