A Bowl of Soup
I've heard it said before... it takes a generation, an age, to make an individual. The boiling cauldron of self is made with the onions of religion, the potatoes of culture, the pepper of society, the salt of peers and the bullion of law and order.
Believe me when I say that I'm no hater, and yet when I look around me, when I taste the soup, so to speak, it is bitter. The yummy buttery flavor has turned rancid. It seems the potatoes are full of worm holes before they're even thrown into the pot. The onions are tiny little rotten things. The salt has lost its flavor, and the bullion, well, you know.
From an early age I didn't like the taste of soup, because I couldn't see the ingredients; I never knew quite what to expect when I went to take a bite. The dark viscous liquid would always hold within its bowels some unbidden flavor that would cause me discontent. Besides, I wanted my potatoes fried!
I grew up in middle-class America. When I got home from school I enjoyed watching Leave it to Beaver, The Brady Bunch and Gilligan's island. I went to church on Sunday and got good marks in school. Monday through Friday I would stand before the ol' red white and blue with my hand over my heart, pledging allegiance to the flag and the republic for which it stands. By the time I became a teenager, my soup was full of ingredients I was not yet aware of. Adults, television, church and friends had all been competing for space inside my skull for years. They had made me, and what was supposed to be a nice pot of soup, full of flavor.
When I was sixteen I got to taste my own soup for the first time, and wow, let me tell you, I didn't like the way it tasted. It was horrible. I found it as bitter and flavorless as an old shoe. I realized for the first time in my life that I was strictly a reflection of what other people had thrown into the pot. I had no personality other than the one which had been given to me. Granted, a wide range of ingredients allowed for the semblance of personality, but really, the soup just tasted bad.
What I felt I needed at the time was to start over and make a new bowl of soup from scratch. I didn't have a recipe, but I did have a skateboard, so I began using it on a more regular basis. Concrete ditches ran the length of my town, so I followed their course. I went on daily adventures, finding new ditches, new spots to skate, and inevitably, new friends. The friends I met while skating in ditches were not your typical teenagers, and though the public generally didn't appreciate their taste, I recognized in them the makings and seasonings of a different flavor. The skating community I fell in with at the time were all experimenting with the flavor of their porridge.
Earrings, tattoos, mohawks, long hair, no hair, you name it. Bad attitudes and disrespect for authority of any kind, coupled with an eager ability and ready willingness to fight, were our ingredients and flavor additives. Granted, that soup probably wasn't all that tasty either, but it was a nice alternative to what was on the shelf.
When I was sixteen my mom sent me away to live with my uncle in California, as I was an unruly child, and she rightfully assumed that I was on a path slated for destruction. She figured if she could somehow get me out of my environment and away from my friends, she might be able to fix the problem that I had become.
I was landlocked as a kid, and there was no surfing culture to speak of in my local community, but when I got to California the world opened up for me. My uncle had a garage with a few old longboards in it, and he gave me permission to use them whenever I wanted.One afternoon, not long the day after I arrived on his doorstep, he took me to the local beach and taught me the basics of surfing. After the short lesson on the beach he told me to use the boards whenever I wanted, and that basically, I was on my own. He said to me "Don't worry about it, boy, you're athletic enough, you'll be able to pick up surfing just fine." He seemed to understand me a little better than my mom.
Every day after school I would grab an old longboard from out of the garage and hop on the bus headed for the beach. I taught myself how to surf, and every day I had a little improvement to show for my efforts. Surfing quickly became my life.
When I was awake I wanted to surf. I dreamed about surfing when I went to sleep. I thought about surfing when I was at school. When I was working my crappy job cleaning up after college students at the local campus I thought about surfing. I even had a girlfriend at the time, and although I don't remember her name, I do remember her incessant complaints about the fact that all I ever thought about was surfing.
I started skateboarding to the beach instead of taking the bus. I saved enough money in one week to buy a six pack of beer from the drive up liquor store. Surfing, skating, a little bit of work, a pretty girlfriend and cheap beer; life was good.
The summer was fun, and I got pretty good at surfing. My friends and I built big bonfires on the beach. I quit stealing and entertaining myself with destruction and learned how to be a more sensative human. I loved spending time in the ocean.
Unfortunately, life got its claws into me a couple of years later. I got a wife and a life and a serious job all in the same year. The very next year we were pregnant with our first kid. I was knee deep in debt, barely keeping myself afloat through loans and credit cards. I didn't have a second of time to myself, and needless to say, I didn't go surfing. The ocean became something I drove by on the way to work.
My life sucked. I wore a tie to work. Each of my friends was the junked corporate know it all I had always imagined I would never become. I drank too much, sank pretty low, and the whole time surfing was floating back there in the recesses of my mind.
We had another kid and my responsibilities grew. Money flew out of my pocket like birds flying out of the hat of a magician. Even though I badly wanted to get in the water again and go surfing, I couldn't afford it. I didn't have the time. I loved my family. I felt trapped.Added to the feeling of being incarcerated in my own life and choices, my kids where growing up the same way I had. They went to school all day while I went to work. When I was home from work I was exhausted. I would have dinner with the family and then flop down in the Lazy Boy and watch a couple of tv programs before I would fall asleep in the recliner. I would wake up to an empty living room.
One night I woke up again in the Lazy Boy while everyone else had already gone to bed. Someone had turned the lights off and left the tv on. The blue glow of the television illuminated my fat and hairy body. I felt in that moment that I was looking into my future. I wondered if this is what I was working towards; a dark empty house, with only the tv keeping me company. Spending all of my time working for a house that in a couple of years only my wife and I would be living in. Spending every waking hour away from my children so I could give them a good life, and all the while losing touch with them.
I remembered how when I was younger and I got a glimpse of what my soup really tasted like. I'll tell you, when I was laying in that recliner in my living room, I experienced the same sensation. My soup tasted like crap and I knew it. I had spent my life wasting too much precious time, filing up my bowl of soup with things that didn't matter. I knew at that point in my life I had to change the recipe.
Surfing had been my great escape from the perils of life when I was younger, and so I turned to it again. My kids were old enough to learn and my wife said she would give it a try too. The water in California was a little to cold for my daughter, and so she never showed much interest in surfing. My son had tried it a couple of times, but he never got the infectious desire to do it every chance he got.
So I booked a trip down to Costa Rica. I knew the equatorial waters of the Pacific would be nice and warm, and besides, I figured that if the family got bored surfing there would still be a bunch of fun things to do.
Everyone in the family was really excited about the trip. We went to Wal-Mart and bought things like sun tan lotion, a cooler, some swim trunks and a couple of big bags of M and M's.Our big day finally arrived and we got on the airplane. As soon as the cabin doors were opened and I could smell the delicious tropical breeze floating in off the tarmac, I knew I had made the right choice.
We rented a car in San Jose and followed the map to the beach. I tell you what, for a family that didn't like the ocean very much, they took right to it! The kids jumped out of the car and ran straight to the ocean to play in the surf. I took my wife's hand and we stood there smiling at them. I was already falling in love with the place.
We signed up for a week long surfing package at the local surf school. Each of us got a board to use all week and an instructor to teach us how to do it.
I admit, I hadn't surfed in so long that I definitely needed instruction.
Let's just say that everyone in the family fell in love surfing, and no one wanted to go home at the end of the week. I couldn't believe how fast the kids picked up surfing. We were all standing up and riding the waves, and to sum it up, it was simply unbelievable.
When we got back to California I promised to buy the kids a wetsuit so that they could practice what they had learned and keep surfing. My wife, God bless her heart, wanted to come with us on the weekends to the local beach. She didn't want to just surf for one weekend out of her life, she wanted to go surfing as bad as me!
You know what they say, the family that plays together stays together. I whole heartedly approved of the ingredients I was giving my kids to put into their own soup, and I could tell they like the way it tasted. Our family had caught the surfing bug, and I think it saved my life.
"Dad, lets go surfing. Come on, you don't need to go to work today. Take us to the beach." Those words were music to my ears. My kids had caught the surfing bug.