Wherever I am, whenever I hear the Beatles’ song “Penny Lane”, it somehow takes me back to a simpler time back into the 1960’s and it transports me back, as if whooshed into a wormhole space/time continuum mode of time travel backwards and where am I? I’m at the end of the pier in Manhattan Beach, California. Back to a place when we were all more innocent, read comic books, played outside all day, and where we loved where we lived before it became a real estate commodity.
I’m wearing my snazzy olive green Van’s deck shoes and I’m fishing with my brother. We’re holding onto our large fishing poles, it’s early in the morning and we can barely see the water below through the thick morning fog and it’s low tide tide, there’s a murmur of small waves hitting the pylons below and the air smells of sea salt and anchovy bait. Dave props up a small transistor radio that is permanently set on KHJ and we listen to all the new songs and it seems that “Penny Lane” is played once every fifteen minutes. Seagulls cry frantically above begging for spilled popcorn or a piece of hot dog bun that’s sold from the bait shop and the surfers below bob up and down in the low swells, impressing their Gidget girlfriends who are planted like an iris bed on beach blankets on the shore. None of these surfers could ride a wave if one came along anyway but they look impressive on their long boards wearing baggy trunks with sun bleached hair and they all seem to look like Jan and Dean.
The fog has lifted and the Santa Monica Bay turns into shards of broken glass that glints happily with the mid-morning sun, the only thing so far we’ve caught is a deranged looking sea bass too small to keep and lots of kelp, snagging enough on our lines to keep our boredom at bay. I look out at the horizon, anxious because my biggest fear is a tidal wave appearing out of nowhere — and I am terrified of tidal waves. Dave reassures me by saying that’s why he brings the radio along and this reassures me.
There’s a strong tug on his line.
“It’s probably more kelp,” he says, nonchalantly. Then his reel whirs and hisses and his pole bends down and it takes all he can do to hold it in place. He’s wearing a pair of jeans, a tee-shirt, and even though he plays JV football, he’s clearly out of his league. The line slacks and he reels like mad, more hissing and whirring of the line. The older men and old salts take notice. The man who runs the bait shop removes his paper hat and joins into the crowd that is surrounding my brother. My big brother is suddenly the celebrity of the pier. Tourists begin to join in too, cameras are snapped.
“Hold onto it, boy!”
He does. His line starts to scream. He struggles and his entire body presses against the railing. The scratchy transistor radio still plays the hits, the seagulls above still scream; his right hand struggles to keep reeling and his left arm is even more tired as he holds onto to the pole with all his might. The pole bends more and more and it emerges from a wave, it has surfaced. All we see is gray flesh, a wide jaw clamped down, and a dorsal fin slices the incoming waves head on. More people join into the pier frenzy, and old salt exclaims, “You caught yerself a baby thresher shark, hold on!”
Dave somehow reels it up, his pole shakes back and forth like a Richter Scale. Fifty feet up the shark finally gives up without oxygen and the crowd is screaming. The surfers below catch a thankful wave back in and everyone is on the beach now. It’s a three foot thresher shark and as Dave steps into the middle of the pier, the old salts and fishermen help lift it up over the edge. It flops around on the tar pier dying.
As “Penny Lane” plays on again I hear a scream. It isn’t the gulls, it’s my brother. After all the back patting and others pulling out all the large hooks with someone waiting to weigh it at the bait shop and to take a photo, my brother’s introduction into manhood isn’t the shark he caught. He stripped off his t-shirt and crashed through the crowd; cradles the thresher shark and throws it back into the welcoming ocean below.
Within five minutes, the pier looks exactly like it did when we flung out our lines three hours earlier. We walk back home together, changed, and happy, like Penny Lane.