Yellow Warpaint

Does California have the best weekends in the world?

I could argue that. As Manilow said, and my buddy Mazur reaffirmed, weekends in New England are fine as well. They have that blush of overpriced wine…wooden bridges and spring-fed ponds.

And Lyme disease.

But weekends in California? We have the toasty damp sand that clings to your bottom, amid the hot sun and the cool slap of the sea. We also have tons of places to find corn dogs and good kimchi.

We win.

Listen, not much saddens me these days. Sure, there’s the humorlessness of the media, the lack-of-funny in network TV shows. The industrial-strength landscaping used around franchise restaurants…that bugs me too; it reveals a lack of taste rivaled only by the food inside.

Beyond those three things, I am good with most everything.

For, today we are at the confluence of three great rivers – the 10, the 57 and the 60 – fighting our way through the trucks and choppers to that little beach we love in Orange County, the one with one lifeguard and 750 people.

That’s it: 750. If you drown, and you might, no lifeguard will show up, no sirens will go off. The sharks will circle. It’ll certainly be a noble exit, you can be sure of that, as the sardines nibble your ever colder toes.

That’s just one of the reasons we like this beach. I’ve never been good with authority figures. And a lifeguard is just one more person who’s going to tell me what to do.

Anyway, we are not at the beach yet, we are at the confluence of these majestic concrete rivers, near the OC country line. Time it right, and the hillsides here will all be ablaze. At night, they’ll look like Dante’s backyard. But the year is young. The fires won’t start for another month or two.

Seriously, surreal tendencies might be California’s greatest trait.

Yet, I tell Rapunzel, who is driving: “Never go east of here for any reason. This is as far east as you ever need to go.”

“OK Dad.”

 “Not Riverside. Not New York,” I say. “Do not go east of here.”

As my daughter, she half listens to me. Just think of the stuff she misses.

“Sit & Sleep,” I say, as we pass a mattress outlet. “Describes my entire life.”

“Sure Dad.”

Hello, summer, my old friend. Summer has loosened the ropes. This day is moody,  typical of late May. The gloom may burn off, or maybe not. Generally it does. No climate follows a series of strictures the way So Cal’s does:

Gloom till noon, sun by 1.

“The cure for anything is salt water: Sweat, tears or the sea,” wrote Isak Dinesen.

We agree, so the car is crammed to the gills with beach gear, for our first big beach day in two years.

It’s a grand adventure, joyous and chatty in the way of first trips to the beach, full of glib idiocies. Beach Boys on the play list, and some Jonas Brothers. It’s like an aural Civil War — the music of a parent vs. the music of our kids.

Been so long since we’ve been to the beach that we take a wrong turn, and suddenly we’re driving through Newport itself, a Gordian knot of cars and businesses, shoulder to shoulder, lip to lip.

Newport is snuggly as a paid second date. For sheer density, it rivals Calcutta.

“Down here, you can get a house for almost nothing,” I tell the kids. “That’s why folks like it so much.”

I tell Rapunzel that if you’re a keen observer here in the exclusive village of Newport Beach, and if your timing is good, if you really keep your eyes peeled and your neck on a swivel, you can sometimes spot a woman with the breasts she was born with — natural, humble and grand. Not often, and not every time. You have to be patient, as if seeking out the bay-breasted warbler.

“THERE’S ONE NOW!” I scream.

“Where Dad?”

“No, wait…”


“That’s a dude,” I say.

Obviously, traveling with me is not for everyone. I often provide a running narrative of nothingness – random rants about Boomer-proof plastic packaging, or how Doonesbury seems to always be on vacation.

I also tell Rapunzel and Smartacus that I don’t understand the fuss over “Mare of Easttown,” or in general the fuss over Kate Winslet, whom I find quite dull on screen. Like the stone-faced Harrison Ford. Or that beefcake cadaver Chris Pratt.

“I just don’t get it,” I say of Winslet. “Know who could act? Angie Dickinson, to whom I happen to be engaged.”

By now, of course, the kids have totally tuned me out. Smartacus has his head out the window, like a retriever, and Rapunzel is stuffing ATM receipts in her ears and chanting: “ma-ma-ma, ma-ma-ma-ma-maaaa,” the way people do when they don’t want to hear you say something.

“We’re here!” I finally say.

“Ma-ma-ma-ma-maaaa…” says Rapunzel.

Crystal Cove is a rustic state park, quieter than most, with bluffs like Omaha Beach. The gulls look like movie stars, unlike in LA, where the gulls all look like junkies.

What I like best about Crystal Cove is that you can bring a barbecue grill – propane, not charcoal, with which to char burgers and dogs, seasoned with a light zest of oily Orange County sand.

Here’s my recipe for a hot dog on the beach: A dog, the cheaper the better, on a super-fresh, billowy bun – high thread count. Or a stale bun toasted.

The mustard is the key thing, the brightest mustard you can find, like the inside of the sun, super yellow – certainly not that muted, depressive brown of Dijon or other fancy stone-ground brands.

I recommend French’s: SPF 30. My summer warpaint.

You torch the dog till it’s nearly black, then spritz it with the mustard, in squiggly lines, almost a Spanish scroll (Rapunzel taught me that).

Ideally, the mustard gets in your cuticles and I always manage to get a little in my scalp, among other condiments.

By the way, Rapunzel at one point pulls out sunscreen for your scalp, a new product designed to protect your head from UV rays.

“Me, I prefer yellow mustard,” I say.

See, this is why you don’t need to go east of here.

This summer, I advise that you go west as far as humanly possible, till your toes are wet, and your tongue tingles and you get saltwater up your snout. Then you giggle and laugh till someone screams: “Dinner!

“The dogs are burned. Dinner!!!”

Then you stop.

The schnitzel is finally healing up, so I hope to have a hike in early July. June is booked for us with graduation activities, then a Gin & Tonic backyard bash (details to come). Meanwhile, cheers to all the grads, dads and Chardonnay Moms celebrating milestones this month, plus the proud grandparents, who made it all possible. Books and past columns:

14 thoughts on “Yellow Warpaint

  1. I grew up on the edge of Newport Beach (in Costa Mesa) and I still haven’t seen a natural set. Loved this column to the moon and back! Although I wish you hadn’t spilled the secret of Crystal Cove. Now everyone will want to go there. P.S. Glad you finally declared your relationship status with Angie. Does she know?

  2. I recently discovered German mustard. It ranges from totally mild to Blitzkrieg. I know, I know, we all grew up with French’s. As I’ve aged I find that I need stronger tastes for something to register on my tongue.

  3. My inhaled sharply when I saw the name on your cooler. What a wonderful tribute to the past and the present

  4. Wait a minute, wait a minute, aren’t you (like me) somewhere from the area of the Chicago dog? Where’ are the tomatoes?

    And again, as for me, I thoroughly loved Mare of East Town. A pretty good whodunit. But I must agree. Her inability to smile is kind of like Queen Elizabeth. Maybe it’s an English thing?

  5. I think your next project should be a cookbook.
    And don’t come any further east. It is hot. Really, really hot. And we’re all into the päntsdrunk craze!

  6. Lacuna to LaJolla, the best of the coast, and lovely beyond telling; where the deceptive ease of Summer is at home year ‘round. I love it, And you will too.. so many beaches and fine dark watering holes, the sunsets rich with the promise of the coming nights, the beach towns still easy to know and fall into.

  7. I was hoping you wouldn’t name the Cove,as everyone and their Grandmothers will head there! After my sister and I were widowed, we would go and sit on the beach for hours , not saying much, letting the waves and salt air be a healing balm for our broken hearts and tattered souls. Nothing is better than saltwater,sand,sun and a sunset for our collective human souls.

  8. So lovely on the south coast from Laguns to LaJolla, with some of the best beaches and watering holes anywhere. Here there is a deceptive ease, a subliminal paen to the coastal life that lifts on the breeze and falls to the sand Like an exhaled breath as you step out onto the cavernous expanse of one the beaches. It will feel like Summer itself: warm, rich, sonorous with the expansive pleasure of being immersed in the resonance of the season’s heat. And no descriptor can do justice to the sunsets. The splendor of the earth’s darkening here will make you realize how mysterious life is, and feel—with the coming of the night—that things have just begun. You’ll love it; as I do. Charred hot dogs, relish, and mustard ? Charcoal smoke? You’re home baby, in Summerland.

  9. Paean. Like this. Not the text editor, the immortal enemy of nuance and proportion.

  10. P.S.Of course, a man who can debate the pros and cons of the Oxford comma ,would know how,(be still my heart) to correctly use “by ,to ,and from, whom.” I would venture to guess you also know the difference between “can “ and “may.” Literary quotes, sports, cooking, handyman father , grandfather, author , gin, you are a Renaissance Man!

  11. Ah! I have a hoodie that says “Salt Water Cures Everything,” and I hadn’t looked up the quote yet. Thanks! Yesterday a man stopped me to compliment my nice, but very white, legs. The last time he’d seen legs that white were on his ex-wife. (Stranger danger.) It’s true. I’m a Celt. In this Coca-cola “try to be less-White” era, I’m displaying my white legs, white arms, more frequently, more proudly. At the beach, I hunker under the Life Guard station. That’s what it means to me. Shade. Of course, at Dockweiler, they shoo you away. Calling you out, Dockweiler. Greedy shade mongers. “That her face at first just ghostly, turned a whiter shade of pale.” Hmm, hmm, hmm …..

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