The Laguna Beach Independent is proud to once again partner with the Third Street Writers, a nonprofit group dedicated to promoting writing and literary arts in Laguna Beach and beyond.
By Jennifer Griffiths
It was the end of an unusually warm New Year’s Day in the early 1980s. A streak of orange light spanned the sky. Tina’s roommate answered a knock at the door and there stood three well-scrubbed, college-age kids. From across the living room, she saw two young women and a shy male. He spoke somewhat frantically. “We lost our keys to the car, do you have a flashlight we could borrow? We were at the beach straight down all those stairs.”
Something kicked in as Tina immediately assessed the situation. Not knowing where the words were coming from, she responded, “Yes, I can help you find them. I’ll get my flashlight.” The cottage she shared, and recently moved into, was directly up from The Thousand Steps Beach – a beach she knew well from doing her morning yoga and dreaming out at the water.
As they headed down the street, she felt this kind of grounded delight – almost giddy in a way. Her flashlight led them to the bottom of the stairs in the darkness of the beach. The young man faced left and pointed toward the area where they had been. The beach felt luxurious from the cool sand, soft from the day’s tramples.
Tina stood quiet for a moment, then, looking up and over facing the cliff, she felt a pull to one area. Scanning with the flashlight and kneeling down she pushed her fingers into the sand. Nothing. Then pressing over slightly to the right. Nothing. This time, closing her eyes, she reached in and felt the cold metal prize. “Here they are”, she said smiling.
Like glee-filled children, relieved and happy, they raced up the stairs to the car parked in front of Tina’s cottage. “Thank you” they shouted and off they went.
When Tina had left Los Angeles, several months earlier, searching for home and for herself, she came to the place where her parents brought them in the summer.
And so it began, in that first year, the beginning of many.
Jennifer Griffiths is a multi-media artist based in Laguna Beach.
Stuck in 2020
By Sarah Durand
He’d taken to carrying the ring in his pocket every time they left home together. Of course, they weren’t going out much these days.
Hand in pocket, Max rubbed his thumb on the small velvet box. Feeling a smooth patch, he quickly pulled away and reached for Janey’s hand instead.
“Wow, so much for shelter in place.” Max adjusted his mask nervously, scanning the area for a more private spot as a group of walkers passed them on the trail at Alta Laguna.
“Let’s walk down Car Wreck,” he said.
“We can’t,” Janey responded, looking down at the golden ball of fluff beside her. “With this guy, we have to stay on the main path.”
They were watching their neighbor’s pandemic puppy. It was some kind of Pomeranian mix with beady eyes and too much energy.
Max sighed and looked at the non-stop parade of people on the ridge. The ring clunked against his thigh with each step.
Initially, the proposal had been planned for July 4. He’d get down on one knee on Main Beach with fireworks bursting above them. But there were no fireworks this year, so he waited for a better time.
He planned a getaway to Malibu in September, arranging for candles and champagne at a chic boutique hotel. But they agreed it was non-essential travel and cancelled the trip, so he waited for a better time.
He thought Thanksgiving would be perfect. Her family would be thrilled to be a part of the big moment! But the family gathering was called off, so he waited for a better time.
Now it was December with a new lockdown order in place. A “better time” was feeling as far off as a vaccine dose for a healthy 32-year-old.
“You OK?” Janey grabbed his elbow as he slid on a rock.
“Yeah. Just not paying attention.”
Back in March, they were thrilled to be stuck at home for a few weeks. They’d moved in together the year before but barely had time to hang pictures. Their weekends were filled with traveling – bachelor parties, girls’ weekends, and weddings. Lots of weddings. Now, days were an indistinguishable stream of working, outdoor walks, and driveway happy hours.
“Maybe we should get our own dog!” Janey’s eyes lit up as she verbalized the idea.
He looked down at the tiny mutt trotting along beside her, drifting occasionally to sniff a bush.
“Oh wait, I forgot—that would be a commitment.” She jabbed his rib gently with her elbow.
He looked over at her grin and rolled his eyes.
As a male with a decent job in a long-term relationship, all those weddings came with a certain amount of pressure. He wasn’t oblivious—he overheard the probing questions Janey gracefully deflected and watched as she dodged bouquets tossed squarely in her direction. They did keep a running list of things they would never do at their wedding, often compiled over morning-after scrambled eggs at Zinc Cafe. But overall they kept wedding talk to a minimum.
He dug his hand into his pocket. “I’m open to a puppy…”
“Don’t sound so surprised! I’m the one who works at home all day. I could use the company.” He pictured himself in their tiny cottage on Aster Street and looked down at the fluff ball. “It would have to be a decent sized dog. Manly.”
Hand in hand, they spent the rest of the walk staring at dogs and trying to agree on shape, size, and color.
That night, as they snuggled in bed watching “The Crown,” he kicked himself for not pulling out the ring… again. He thought carrying it around would inspire him to spontaneously fall down on one knee. Instead, he was learning that he might be incapable of an “in the moment” proposal. It’s not that he was not afraid of commitment; he was a planner.
He pulled Janey towards him for a kiss. “Mmmm… nice,” she said, turning back to Princess Margaret on the screen.
The ring stayed hidden under a pair of socks in the top drawer of his dresser. After all, New Year’s Eve was only 11 days away.
Sarah Durand’s husband proposed 22 years ago at a beach in Malibu, despite high winds and sub-optimal conditions.
By Priya Kavina
It was the middle of winter
When we jacketed ourselves in Gemini skies along the Laguna coast
And watched the universe rain to Earth
Fusing the millions into one.
That night, in the chaos of the cosmos,
The million parts of me, too, became one
And I no longer had to ask a falling star for anything more than charm
Because you became my meteorite
My wish, my Christmas
Turning fear into star dust
And each new year into gold
With you, I am interstellar, love
Infinite and uncontrolled
How can I say you give me butterflies
When you give me so much more
The only thing that remotely compares
Is compressing outer space in a jar
And letting it explode
Priya Kavina is a creative influencer who persuades readers to believe in themselves, question norms, and support unity.
“A New Year with Mick”
By Amy Francis Dechary
“Gotta wear our masks, Poppy.” Harper tightened her mask and pulled a red bandana over her miniature poodle’s muzzle.
Harper knew she was breaking the rules. She often did. Like last week, when she used Mommy’s red and green Sharpies to draw stars all over Poppy’s white curls and Mommy took away Harper’s iPad.
But Harper also was following an important rule: don’t wake up Mommy and Daddy before 7 a.m. Last night was New Year’s Eve, and Mommy and Daddy stayed up way past their bedtime drinking glasses of fizzy drinks while Harper blew a sparkly gold paper horn. They must be tired, because they didn’t hear Poppy whining and they didn’t hear Harper break the most important rule: don’t open the front door without a grownup.
Harper hadn’t gone anywhere lately because of the panda, Mick. It was why she had to rub smelly goo on her hands and do Zoom preschool. Harper couldn’t understand why grownups were so scared. To think there was a real-life panda named Mick roaming Laguna Beach! And today, she would find him.
“Poppy, if you were a panda, where would you go?” Poppy wagged his green tail and wriggled his nose free from the bandana.
Her teacher had told them about pandas. They came from China and played in the snow. Laguna didn’t have snow, but Harper knew two cold places a panda might go.
She closed the gate and, gold paper horn in one hand and Poppy’s leash in the other, skipped down Anita Street. Two blocks away, a cold breeze ruffled the tinsel wrapped around the light poles on PCH.
“Mick!” She honked on the horn, breaking the early morning silence. “Come out, come out, wherever you are!”
The road sat empty of cars, and the windows of Active Culture—the best place for a panda to find a frozen yogurt breakfast—were dark.
“When we find Mick, we’ll come back for a treat.” Harper patted the red star on Poppy’s head and, looking both ways like her parents had taught her, crossed the street.
The roar of the surf washed over Harper and Poppy as they made their way down the wooden staircase to Anita Beach.
“Wow!” Across the narrow strip of sand, a wave curled into a perfect barrel and crashed with a thud. The beach disappeared as the whitewash rushed toward them, stopping just short of the bottom step. Poppy growled.
“Quiet, Poppy.” Could pandas swim? She scanned the beach for Mick. Just up the shore at Thalia, she glimpsed a flash of black and white bobbing in the swell.
“Look, Poppy! It’s him!” Harper waved her arm and blew the horn. “Hey, Mick! Over here!”
Another wave approached, growing so tall that Harper could no longer see Mick. The wind sprayed them with an icy mist. Poppy scrabbled up the steps and snapped at the leash, knocking the horn from Harper’s hand.
“Bad doggy!” Behind her, the wave hit, its thunder drowning out her words. She turned and reached for the horn—just as the water crested the steps and swept over them off the stairs. Poppy’s leash slipped through her fingers.
“Poppy!” The freezing current tumbled Harper like a piece of driftwood. Flashes of black and white appeared amongst the bubbles and seaweed. Was it Mick?
Arms flailing, she bumped into something hard and felt herself being pulled from the water.
“Mick?” Coughing, she found herself clinging to a white surfboard held by a surfer in a black and white wetsuit.
“Hold on tight!” He dove back into the whitewash and resurfaced with a wriggling ball of red and green fur.
“Poppy!” Tears poured down Harper’s cheeks.
“You okay, kid?” The surfer steered them towards the stairs. “You’re lucky I saw you. Where are your parents?”
“I wanted,” Harper’s teeth chattered, “to find Mick!”
“Yeah. The panda, Mick.”
“Panda Mick? You mean ‘pandemic’?”
“He’s a panda named Mick. I saw him, but then the waves—” She was too cold to finish.
“Let’s get you warm and find your parents.”
Shaking, Harper buried her face in Poppy’s wet fur. She understood now why grown-ups hated the panda Mick. He didn’t play nice. He was hiding. He could be anywhere. And because of him, she was going to be in big trouble.
“Mick,” she whispered, “I wish you had never come here.”
Amy Francis Dechary is president of the Laguna-based Third Street Writers; this New Year’s, she’ll raise a glass of fizzy drink and blow a sparkly gold horn in the hope that 2021 will soon be free of the panda Mick.