The Hood


December 2, 2009 by David Gillaspie

A surf-wife stayed over last week, a chain smoker with one arm in a sling.

“Windsurfers flock to thriving Hood River, Oregon, but if you’ve seen one surfer, you’ve seen them all.  Wind, wave, or wake, they’ve all got something a little extra.  Some love the Columbia Gorge so much they stick around town all season.  They give the place that thriving buzz.

People tuned into natural energy like surfers look for other natural highs.  Rock climbing surfer.  Skydiving surfer.  Bungee jumping surfer.  Get them all in a small community and things start changing.  More care.  More concern.  But it’s surfer care, surfer concern.  It’s a different vibe.

What goes better with a surfer-tinged town than surfer dude music?  Cool jazz.  Country swing.  Music that moves like the river.  The good players hook up and stake out their music ground.  Don’t think this is Jan and Dean or the Beach Boys getting a prime parking spot for their Woodie when the surf’s up.  This is real life music from the old soul, not teen ballads to a car.

You know its real life music by the benefits and fund raisers the musicians support.  Real life includes cancer and abused women.  Any band cool enough to raise money for cancer victims or abused women, and still pull a surfer crowd on a Saturday night is a good band.

I went to a fund raiser for abused women with my arm in a cast.  I pulled my shoulder walking my dog down a slippery trail.  I slipped and spooked the dog, who jumped.  My arm pulled out because the leash was wrapped around my wrist.  And I fell wrong.  I explained this to the people who asked and they looked at me like I was telling them my black eye came from slipping and hitting a door knob.  I really was walking my dog.

A friend’s husband played in the band.  They played for the abused women fundraiser because they did so well at a cancer fundraiser.  They have a following.  They deserve a bigger following.  I gave fifteen dollars and spent the evening listening. 

Halfway through a young woman asked me about my arm.  She pointed to another woman with her arm in a sling.

“That’s my mom.  She hurt her arm when I accidentally pushed her.  I didn’t mean to break her arm.  She said something I didn’t understand and I was like, what?  I gave her a push.  I didn’t hit her, didn’t even raise my hands.  Just a shove.  She fell and couldn’t get up.  I think she’s got bone loss.  Her arm should be stronger,” she said.

I changed my posture to move my bad wing away from her.

“See the guy sitting down?  My brother.  A great guy.  Coolest guy I know.  He can explain things I just don’t get.  He has cancer and I don’t get that.  He’s so mellow.  He looks alright, but he’s had surgery.  They can’t do anymore.  He’s really sick, but looks great.  He’s got a place in town now.  It’s like a church, so calm and peaceful.  He’s really a beautiful brother.  He really loves me.”

The man she pointed to sat near the band while a guitar player worked through his jazz progressions.  He smiled and clapped, brightening the room.

“That’s my dad.  He’s got about thirty guitars.  I’m learning to play.  See the other guitar player?  They had a benefit for him.  He’s had cancer treatment, too.  They think they got it all.  The guys in the band always get together for each other.  Cancer, abused women, anything else, they step up.  That’s the important part.  They care.”

The kid drifted away, stopping on the other side of the room to point out her family again.  They looked like a nice group.  I felt sorry for the mom with her broken arm, though.  I know how much that hurts.

The band was tight and tuned, hitting all the breaks on time.  Watching the guitar player with his adult son near by was enough to make me cry.  One fund raiser for the guy fighting cancer, but the kid’s fight is over?  I had to dig deep to understand what that must feel like.  I’m still digging.  But you know, the Hood is a surfer place.  It’s the river.  That kid looked at peace with his world, you know, at one.  His mom came over and hugged him with her good arm.

Nothing’s perfect.  By looking at your B&B I think you know that.  You fix what you can.  It’s like a surfer waiting on a wave, or waiting for the wind; you know it’ll happen sooner or later, you just want sooner.”

Surf-wife waited for the wind to pick up and lit her last Marlboro Light 100 of the night.


4 thoughts on “The Hood

  1. pmdello says:

    Well written, you’ve an ear for dialog. I felt like I was there listening.

    • David Gillaspie says:

      Thanks John, your town is pretty tight, if you weren’t there then you could have been. You know what dialog does? It tells the story behind the story that would be too awkward or painful to spell out. So let someone else do it. I’m doing a story that includes a character who has passed away and he’s more talkative than ever. That third person omniscient point of view covers so much ground.

  2. David Gillaspie says:

    Thanks Mandi, I like to think there’s always more to see if you look hard enough. A nice warm day on the river, or a family meltdown? Or both?

  3. Mandi says:

    I was tag surfing and this photo caught my eye in an instant. I’m very familiar with this shot. I live just 18 miles east of Hood River. I enjoyed reading this post. Thanks for sharing.

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