Words & photos © Tim Keller


 

Card Tricks

The way my mom tells it, Uncle Matt was always a card short of a full deck but made up for it with creativity. He could fill a gray afternoon with jubilation. More often than not he had friends around. Alone wasn't his strong suit.

He could write you a song on his guitar or draw your portrait on his napkin. If you were a girl, he'd add his phone number to the napkin. In the picture I have, beneath the straw cowboy hat his lip is split but he's got a mischievous smile, like you know what he did but you both know he'll never get caught.

Ford Falcon Futura c1963

Of course it was alcohol that did him in. He'd been in town drinking with friends. Grandpa had taught him how to drive on the north forty but from then on it was these roads out here, treacherous even when you're sober. Mom says these roads didn't phase him, that he'd drive his truck through the canyon like Mario Andretti was breathing on his rear bumper. Matt's charms led him to believe he led a charmed life. People liked him. Of course no amount of charm is going to straighten a road. Mom says each can of beer adds three miles per hour to your speed around the curves.

His truck was on jack stands that night, in the garage for one fix or another, but Grandma let him drive her blue Ford Falcon Futura to town. It was probably a football game on TV, his friends gathered on a Sunday in December. It wasn't a girl or she'd have been with him. Good thing.

They found him ten yards down the hill from the car. A seat belt would have saved him but he led a charmed life. He would have smiled. Seat belts? We don't need no stinkin' seat belts. And he drove off, bat out of hell. Call him the joker, or the jack of hearts. Mom says he was a card.

 

Sketch fiction, December 2, 2018

 


 

If You Sit Still Long Enough

The best thing about winter is that the flies are mostly gone. You keep your windows closed, and the flies have flown to wherever flies spend the winter. Maybe New Zealand.

The land goes dormant. This year's harvest dies. Have you ever seen a year-old weed? No, you haven't. Some things you just run out of time and can't get them done. Weeds.

Regardless, the earth keeps flying around the sun. The dead cornstalks out there remind me every day that winter's coming, and I didn't get the job done. I tried.

Old tractor in dead cornstalks

It was Roger's job but we were a team. With him gone, I've tried to do it myself. The door's coming apart and letting the cold inside. The wind is flapping at a panel on the shed. The tub drain is slowed up. There'll be more.

In the morning I open my eyes once just to sense the day. Is the sun out. Then I close them back up to consider. What am I going to do today. I try to line it up and feel good about it.

That goes well and I'm up. Or it doesn't and I adjust the plan. Autumn is a time of adjustments. The darkness comes so early. The time is so short. You can't get everything done.

Come May I'll be dancing a jig and planting corn and the days will lengthen to meet my stride. I'll throw off my sweater and wear a hat to shield the sun from my eyes.

You've got to be an optimist to believe in May.

 

Sketch fiction, November 30, 2018

 


 

November 16, 2018    The Birth of Skateboarding

Tim Keller skateboarding atop trash can in contest, 1966

I've just posted Braden Walker's "The Palisades: Birthplace of Skateboarding" at Skateboarding's First Wave, my clearinghouse for everything published about the Palisades Skateboard Team and its place in the birth of skateboarding in the mid-1960s.

Palisades News, Pacific Palisades, California

Braden reached me in Santa Fe last summer and we did a long interview by telephone. I sent him to Don Burgess for a copy of Don's documentary film. Braden's resulting article wove together information from our phone interview, my original article, Don's film, and Braden's own background knowledge as a longtime avid skateboarder. The Palisades News published the feature September 12. Since then, neither Braden nor I have been able to get a response from the editor or publisher to our request for a PDF digital copy of the newspaper feature for posting at the webpage. Finally, I created my own layout and republished Braden's feature.

Terry Keller nose-ride on skateboard, Kenter Canyon Elementary School, 1964 Tim Keller, Palisades Skateboard Team, at Honolulu airport, August 1965

We were forming a skateboard team in 1964 when I photographed my brother Terry Keller speeding down the bowl section of Kenter Canyon Elementary School on the nose of his homemade skateboard, above left. (Click any photo to enlarge it.) One year later store-bought skateboards were suddenly everywhere. Top manufacturers Hobie and Makaha were joined by our sponsor, Palisades Skateboards, and as team captain I was holding a new Palisades Skateboard (and Brownie camera) when I arrived at Honolulu airport for a month of Hawaiian surfing in August 1965. I gave a skateboarding demonstration at Outrigger Canoe Club where I saw Duke Kahanamoku.

Tim Keller surfing at Santa Monica Will Rogers State Beach, c1965

Coincidentally, fifty years after my last surfing session, I've just bought my first pair of board shorts and we're flying to Hawaii. Christina convinced me to fulfill my "pipedream" of someday being on Oahu's North Shore in December to watch the annual Pipe Masters surfing contest, the final contest in the professional world tour every year. The contest window is two weeks long, with competition being held across several days of optimal surf. On the off days, we plan to rent surfboards (yes, that's me above, surfing 53 years ago--and atop the trash can in the top picture, around the same time), and on another day we'll rent masks, snorkels, and fins for snorkeling. We're also taking boots for hiking. On contest days, I'll have my Nikon D5 with telephoto lens--the break at Pipeline is close to the beach--in hopes of getting some photos as good as these. No doubt I'll be blogging about the trip here and on my photography blog; meantime, enjoy Braden Walker's fine feature on the birth of skateboarding in the mid-1960s in Southern California.

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November 4, 2018    Joni Lou

Joni Louise Lambo with her grandfather Tim Keller, Austin, October 2018 Joni Louise Lambo, Austin, October 2018

Christina and I flew into Austin last weekend for a quick but fabulous three-night two-day visit, the second visit with our now six-month-old granddaughter Joni Louise Lambo and her parents, my daughter Darcy Day Keller and her husband Jarrett Lambo. They're all travelers, too: Joni is already a veteran of New York City subways, and this weekend she's in Los Angeles and Ojai, smiling in the picture I've seen from LAX, enjoying the airways and roadways with her parents. Christina and I were home from our 15-day western road trip for ten days before zipping down to Austin. Because we live 240 miles from the closest airports (Albuquerque, Denver, and Amarillo are equidistant from home in Raton, New Mexico), it was another road trip as we drove to and from the Amarillo airport.

 Darcy Day Keller and husband Jarrett Lambo, Austin, October 2018
 Darcy Day Keller, Tim Keller, Joni Louise Lambo, Christina Boyce, , Austin 2018

Joni's our first grandchild and being a grandparent is all it's cracked up to be. When Darcy told us last year that Joni was on the way, she said she wanted Joni to have summer camp with us up here in New Mexico, where we'd be responsible, she said, for teaching Joni "to do her chores and eat her zucchini," apparently a reflection on Darcy's summers with us 30 years ago. Joni's chores will include weeding and harvesting the zucchini, and we're crazed with anticipation of the first summer we get to have her here.

Jarrett Lambo with daughter Joni, Austin, October 2018

Meantime we'll continue visits to Austin, twice a year at this point. The last couple years we've been enjoying spring road trips to the Texas Hill Country and San Marcos, where I taught at the high school for eight years while living there and nearby Wimberley. I earned my masters degree there at what's now called Texas State University, often seeing fellow student George Strait in the hallways. We prefer the small-town pace of San Marcos to the big-city traffic of Austin 30 miles away so we'll still stay in our little San Marcos Airbnb casita sometimes, but Joni's Crestview neighborhood in northwest Austin is tranquil and relaxing once we reach it. Good thing, 'cause we'll be spending a lot of time there in the foreseeable future! We're looking forward to it.

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November 1, 2018    Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Pier

Almost without exception over the decades, every visit I've made home to Pacific Palisades has included slow-walking the length of Santa Monica Pier, often taking pictures and often enjoying a seafood lunch. The pier is a great Southern California landmark about five miles down the beach from where I grew up. Route 66 swept around the curve through the Santa Monica tunnel and emerged at Santa Monica Pier on Pacific Coast Highway--PCH--headed north up the coast to Pacific Palisades, Topanga, Malibu, Ventura, Santa Barbara and points beyond. Now it's Interstate 10 from Florida to the Santa Monica Pier--the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. If you want to revel in the beauty of American diversity, take a slow walk out on Santa Monica Pier.

Santa Monica Pier afternoon silhouette

I jumped off the end of the pier at age 11 as a requirement of my Junior Lifesaving course, swimming through the pilings back to the sand. I've bodysurfed beside it, rollerbladed beneath it, and once as a boy on the sand in midday I saw a group of thugs beat a man and dump his inert body from the pier onto the sand far below; I've no idea whether the man survived. Since then I've seen countless movie scenes and full-page photo spreads and advertisements photographed near the same spot. When I posted that top picture to Instagram, Don Burgess commented that he's made the same photo several times, the first of which was during his filming of Forrest Gump. To this day you can dine on the pier at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., on the pier's north side a few feet from where a boy named Tim once saw a man tossed off the pier.

Fisherman on Santa Monica Pier

In the second row of my Places Gallery, you can see earlier photos of the pier--in predawn light, at an information booth, and at the ferris wheel, all beautiful photos--the place is immensely photogenic. Three rows further down is a darker take on the ferris wheel. Click on each of those four photos to enlarge them. I took these new photos, posted here, a couple weeks ago near the end of our October road trip. The daytime temperature was 80. A few days later, back home at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, at 6800 feet elevation, we had snow and an overnight low in the teens. That's one of the marvels of travel. Marvel as in marvelous.

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October 24, 2018    Pacific Palisades

Pacific Ocean from Asilomar cliffs, Pacific Palisades, CA

I grew up with this view. Our house at 530 Muskingum Avenue was three blocks from the Asilomar cliffs, amidst two miles of cliffs that gave Pacific Palisades its name. Located between Santa Monica and Malibu, my family moved to the Palisades in January 1956, the month after I turned five years old, as construction began on the new Santa Monica Freeway (The end of Route 66! Interstate 10 from the Atlantic to the Pacific!) within a block of the 34th Street house my parents had bought in Santa Monica as newlyweds. We lived at 666 Palmera Avenue, purchased for $18,000, until 1963 when we moved across the canyon to the Muskingum house, purchased for $38,500. I began skateboarding at Palmera and we lived at Muskingum when we started the Palisades Skateboard Team. The film Skateboarding's First Wave documents the team's birth at the house, and half the contemporary interviews were filmed in the house in 2014. With our parents gone, my brother and I sold the Muskingum house last year and he moved to Asheville, North Carolina, ending our immediate family's West Los Angeles presence that went back to our grandparents on both sides all moving there in the 1920s.

530 Muskingum Avenue, Pacific Palisades, CA 530 Muskingum Avenue, Pacific Palisades, CA, 2018

The house looked about the same when we sold it as when we bought it, as pictured above left. The new owners have painted it light blue and added a short fence to keep their twin toddlers close. We walked by earlier this month to see and enjoy the changes.

Tim Keller at his boyhood home, 530 Muskingum Avenue, Pacific Palisades, CA, 2018

I moved away to college at 17, came back the next summer to work as a lifeguard at Mar Vista Pool, then never lived here again, but my family never left. In the end, my brother was living in the house, my dad living on Ranch Lane in nearby Rustic Canyon. Across the decades, I averaged one or two visits per year as I moved on to Sonoma County in northern California, then southern West Virginia, then the Texas Hill Country, then Santa Fe and rural northern New Mexico, then to Dallas, and finally, nearly 20 years ago, to the rural northeastern corner of New Mexico just below the Colorado border. My family lived in the Muskingum house for 54 years, far longer than any of the newcomer music and movie stars and screenwriters and executives that live in the Palisades today.

Tim Keller on the Asilomar bluffs, Pacific Palisades, CA, 2018

Though I was never tempted to move back, it's always been a lovely idyllic place to visit, and every visit has included group (and solo) walks three blocks to the Asilomar bluffs--sometimes more than once a day. It's a photogenic spot so cameras often come out. More than a year after my family is finally entirely gone from the Palisades, Christina and I enjoyed revisiting the neighborhood this month and walking the bluffs above the Pacific Coast Highway ("PCH") and the Pacific Ocean. They'll always be there. We feel more gone than ever, but this won't be the last time we return to enjoy a visit.

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October 18, 2018    Oregon Coast

Christina Boyce and Tim Keller arrive at Brookings, Oregon coast, Oct 2018

For the second consecutive October, Christina and I made a 15-day, 4000-mile Porsche road trip from New Mexico through Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Oregon, California, Arizona, and back home to northeastern New Mexico. Although a road trip doesn't require purpose, we had three in mind: exploring the redwood coast, touring and tasting in Napa Valley wineries, and the road itself. We took different routes this year, to different destinations in the same regions, enjoying new roads and new sights. Last year we drove west through a heavy blizzard crossing the Rockies near Vail; this year we drove west through hurricane-driven rains for two days across Utah and northern Nevada. When we finally reached the Pacific Ocean, it was at our Airbnb on the edge of Brookings, Oregon, a few miles north of the California line, where our host offered to make us welcoming margaritas. We said Yes! And enjoyed the deck outside our window.

Oregon coast at Brookings Oregon coast at Brookings
Oregon coast at Brookings Oregon coast at Brookings

The view changed often during our three-night stay, from dramatic clouds to deep fogs to cloudless afternoons to pink sunsets bouncing colors between clouds and sea. I took all of these photos with my iPhone 7 except the top left photo of the bay, where I used my Nikon D4 with a wide-angle lens to better capture what we saw, including our private hot tub at the bottom of the stairs. (Click any photo to enlarge it.) Christina spent hours in the hot tub, day and night; I joined her only once but was impressed with the sense of an infinity pool in which the hot tub water seemed to extend right into the sea. Not bad. The hot tub was especially appreciated during the foggy mornings.

Christina Boyce at the Oregon Coast, Harris Beach at Brookings Christina Boyce at the Oregon Coast, Harris Beach at Brookings

We explored the redwoods and the coastline. We ate seafood twice a day, a practice we continued as we proceeded south to Calistoga and St. Helena in northern Napa Valley and then in Santa Monica where we enjoyed Enterprise Fish Co., a block from where I once lived in Ocean Park, and our longtime favorite Santa Monica Seafood Company. Back home now where fresh seafood is hard to come by, we're still enjoying fresh memories of another great western road trip.

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