Best First Date

Malibu.  Philippa Clare.  A most bizarre gig. 1980


The day was a stunner. Crystal clear. The Santa Ana’s buffeting Point Dume with hot desert wind. I’d taken the day off and gone down to Big Dume, a secluded beach just down the road from my cottage. Sometimes I’d run and memorize lyrics on Big Dumes’ long shoreline. But today I just wanted to cool off, watch the waves, and feel the sand under my feet. Slow down enough to hear the surf ricocheting against the shore.

To reach Big Dume you had to hike down a steep sandy trail from The Point, a 200-foot tabletop headland. Though not too rigorous a trail, it kept the number of visitors down. From atop the Point on a day like this you had the ultimate panoramic view. To the south you could see across Santa Monica Bay all the way down to Palos Verdes Peninsula. Looking east, were the monolithic Santa Monica Mountains.

The parade of wildlife here is outrageous. Slick cormorants dive-bombing for breakfast, and lazy sea lions basking in the sun on giant water-bound rock piles fifty yards out. Even the mighty California grey whale, puffing vapor like a sea chimney, pass by in winter.

I loved diving the kelp beds; it put me in mind of underwater cities wavering in the current. I could easily imagine the Chumash Indians some two hundred years ago fishing in this very water, their red-bark canoes loaded to the gunwales with abalone and swordfish.

Once, while snorkeling, a rambunctious sea otter bolted straight up to me. Must’ve come eighteen inches from my nose. How odd I must have looked to it. Just as suddenly it burst into an underwater acrobatics routine, making as if I should follow. I did. When it faced me again we eyeballed each other, curiously. I felt as though we were simpatico, distant relations – two creatures, same planet. Connecting with nature, like I had as a kid, always gave me a sense of belonging to something bigger, where I was just a small part, and that all parts were equal in value, like pieces of the same puzzle.

Big Dume beach is off the beaten path, the only houses are those perched high above on the sandstone cliffs. If you wanted to shred your clothes and let the California sun bake your naked body, you could. The Valley crowd hadn’t discovered it yet, nor had the boys in the barrio, or the hoods in the inner city; just a few local surfers and a handful of sun worshipers frequented the place. I could see Father Dumetz – the Spanish missionary who Point Dume was named after – turning over in his grave at the sight of the naked heathens.

The ocean was numbingly cold, but once past the shore break I was refreshed, invigorated.

It was great to be snorkeling naked again, but I felt vulnerable too, remembering the kayaker who was lost to a great white while paddling around the Point a few years back. I turned my attention back to the water and how it made me feel like I was in my element, like I was part fish.

After swimming parallel to the beach about ten minutes I saw her. Stopping in mid-stroke I wondered, “Who’s the mermaid?” She was diving with the grace of a dolphin – wearing nothing – seamlessly gliding through the water, unguarded, child like.

The sunlight glistened on her sinuous body, and made her appear ethereal, but she was real enough. I didn’t want to appear rude, but there was no taking my eyes off her either – curvy hips, long waist.

She surfaced right next to me above the swaying kelp beds and looked me over through bright cactus-green eyes. A smile formed on her voluptuous mouth. Wordlessly we dove straight down, following a pair of Garabaldi through the crackling kelp, side-by-side. In unison we rose to the surface, hungry for a lungful of air.

“Nice down there.” she said, taking off her mask. Her face was interesting, exotic – Audrey Hepburnish.

“Yes it is.” I answered, taking off mine.

“Do you come here often?” She wanted to know. There was some kind of an accent, French, Italian? Her voice was smoky, musical.

“As much as I can,” I said, “I live just up the road.” Introducing myself, I asked where she was from.

“Durban, South Africa.”

We became acquainted while bobbing, hands fanning back and forth, legs kicking like frogs. Her name was Philippa, she lived in West Hollywood and worked in an antique store on La Cienega. Had only been living in L.A. a few years. She’d come to Big Dume with her good friend Jill. It was surreal being in this idyllic setting with her.

My teeth were chattering after twenty minutes of water time. At 34 degrees latitude the water temperature here dips into the low 60’s. Even in summer it’s cold. We swam back to shore. With each step out of the water she became more exquisite. She looked about 5’8, in her mid-twenties, with coal black, shoulder length hair, and bangs over her high forehead. She had smooth olive skin and small breasts with nipples that must have stood out half an inch. “My God” I was thinking, “can this really be my life?” Her lips, sensuous and full, were almost blue from the bracing water. She stood shivering, goose bumps all over, unselfconscious. A wave of heat washed over me when she bent down to retrieve her towel.

After drying off she offered it to me. I was glad of the towel because the chilly water had shriveled my unit, and I didn’t want her to get the wrong impression, being more of a grower than a show-er. Sufficiently dry and thawed, I asked her if she wanted to take a walk. She gave me a “sounds like a good idea” nod. Dropping the towel, I offered her my hand, and we headed south down the wide beach towards Pirates Cove, electricity surging through our fingers.

Philippa was easy to talk to, and I liked the sound of her voice. She told me about life in South Africa – the dichotomy of a beautiful, rich, fertile country soaked in the blood of apartheid. We paused to watch surfers shredding the waves at Little Dume, a smaller beach with a nice peak. The light wind felt good wafting against my skin, the moist sea air smelled so clean I could taste it. Three pelicans in staggered formation swooped low over the surfers.

She asked if I’d ever heard of “Durban Poison?” I hadn’t. It’s a strong variety of marijuana grown in the hills outside Durban South Africa, she told me. A friend of hers had smuggled some back to L.A. It keeps getting better.

She wanted to know about me; where was I born, what did I do, how was life in the Malibu? I gave her the short version. When I got to the part about being a songwriter, she said, “I hope to have the pleasure of hearing your songs” delivered as though she really meant it.

One of the reasons – at least for quite a few male musicians I know – for becoming a musician in the first place, was the realization that the dudes who were playing instruments seemed to be chick magnets. It never hurt. I’ll vouch for that. Being in my early thirties, and shy, I wasn’t the guy at the party who’d walk up to a beautiful woman, introduce himself, and boldly ask for her number. I was slyer. If I could sing or play for her, then I might stand a chance of landing a date, or if I got lucky, sleeping with her. It’s definitely gives you an edge, and some of us need all the edge we can get.

When you watch someone play or sing, it’s very telling, their essence is revealed – it’s almost like being naked. Which brings me back to Philippa. We continued our snail-paced stroll, both of us nude as the day we were born. Long thoughtful silences punctuated by bursts of lively conversation.

Our casual nakedness brought me back to a few years earlier when my first wife Carole Cook – who was English and very proper – and I, had the most bizarre gig ever. We were a duo; with her swan-like long neck, she sang close harmony and some lead, I played acoustic and sang. We did mostly original music with some covers thrown into the mix. My Santa Monica bass-player friend Armando Compean asked us to sub for him at Sandstone, as he’d been double booked and couldn’t make it. I said I’d never heard of Sandstone. He didn’t go into details, just said it was a fun gig, in the mountains above Topanga Canyon not far from where we lived. Grinning in a way I couldn’t read he said, “Help me out tonight, you guys, you’ll get a kick out of doing it, and the money is great.” It sounded too good to be true.

When Carole and I pulled up to Sandstone we realized why Armando was so evasive. Attractive couples were gathered in small groups, engaged in deep conversation – without a stitch on. Was this a nudist camp or something?

No, we found out much later, Sandstone was a swinger’s paradise, a bold experiment in sexuality, and a vanguard in the “wife swapping” gatherings that occurred quietly and regularly in Southern California. Once a couple became members, they could swap partners in a relaxed social, intellectual environment. I could see Armando laughing himself to tears this very minute, gig bound, driving down Santa Monica Freeway. We discovered all this in a matter of minutes. Carole’s face turned from Devonshire cream white, to Tiptree strawberry red. But a gig is a gig. We didn’t have to perform naked – though I suspect we could’ve if we wanted.

Sandstone was a decent sized sprawling ranch house with out buildings and a pool, set on fifteen or so acres. We set up in the largest room – oak paneled walls, a stuffed mountain lion, exposed beams and a Persian rug on the dark hardwood floor. The stone fireplace painted a flickering glow on the bodies of the swingers; conversing amiably, drinks in hand. It was like a large house party.

At the top of the hour we began our show. I can’t speak for Carole, but it was the strangest sensation playing for people so exposed. Though I probably felt more exposed than they, after-all, there were more nudists than not. My mind was spinning – the lyrics, the chords – the Rita Hayworth redhead with the most beautiful breasts I’d ever seen. It would have been all too easy to let myself get carried away. But I was walking a razor’s edge here, gigging with my wife.

The big difference between this audience and say, a normal audience is these folks were openly fondling each other as we played – some even fondling to the beat. There was a sense of community, they acted friendly and seemed to know one another. They sure didn’t appear to be withdrawn or uptight.

Nobody was hiding behind the artifices of expensive clothing or jewelry. I hoped none of the men would get the wrong idea and come on to Carole because I didn’t relish the thought of slugging it out with some hairy-chested naked guy, and didn’t think I could handle the wife- swapping bit. Though who knows…

We continued singing as best we could, under the awkward, but titillating circumstances, (“Don’t go changing…I love you just the way you are”…) As our set progressed, we watched members of the audience disappear in small groups. Caressing and whispering what must have been words of enticement, they went off to make love, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Maybe it was. “Whatever works” I thought. Who am I to say? There were no fistfights, or catfights: only adventurous souls searching for enlightenment through open sex. Anyway, they seemed to have just the right ingredients for a swell time because they were sure enjoying themselves, and we were too.

We took our break after about forty-five minutes. An older gentleman – who I assumed was the head honcho – said, “You may wander about the building and grounds if you like.”

We thanked him and stepped out into the cool mountain air. I didn’t know what Carole was thinking – she wasn’t saying much – but I sure as hell was eager to know where everybody had gone. Following a rosebush path we came upon several outbuildings, their doors wide open. In Zen like candle-lit rooms on pillow-strewn floors was our audience, in every position of the Kama Sutra; duos, trios, even a quartet, writhing and moaning in the throes of ecstasy. Carole grabbed my arm and pulled me out of there or I’d probably still be there; a scholar interested in human relations, a student of art studying the human form in motion – a pervert in other words!

We didn’t have to play the second set because the audience was gone, which was just as well, because I wanted to go home with Carole and reminisce. Whenever she and I talk these days we joke about the most bizarre gig. I must confess, occasionally I fantasize about what it would’ve been like had I gone back alone.

Meanwhile, Philippa and I were moseying along, shooting the breeze. After finding a comfortable place with a view of the surf, we sat down, our backs against the warm smooth rocks, and started kissing. Standing there talking one second, tongue-swallowing match the next. Wrapped around each other like vines, as though we’d known each other for years and just happened to start French kissing on the boulevard: old lovers, husband and mistress.

Her skin was hot from the sun, and smelled like Tahitian vanilla. I had to restrain myself from making love with her right then and there, but it just wasn’t the right time or place, as some surfers were coming our way. I worked hard at cooling my ardor. We made plans to meet at sunset, and have dinner at a friend of hers in Decker Canyon. She slipped her arm around my waist as we walked back to Big Dume. I was glowing, and felt like I’d won the lottery.

There was powerful chemistry between us. Sometimes things fall right into place, like they were meant to happen. That’s always the best. You don’t have to manipulate a thing; you can just step into the water and let that current take you where it will, fully knowing you’re in the hands of destiny.

The Malibu was a great place to live; close enough to L.A. to do business, yet far enough away from the sprawling city to be surrounded by nature. It’s where the mountains and East Pacific meet. It’s where I feel best: living near the water.

I first visited Malibu in 1970. My good friends Greg Dalessio and Carol Bates lived in a rustic one-of-a-kind shack/cabin six miles up Corral Canyon off the Coast Highway. Their house was the furthest back in the canyon, perched just below the rim.
They had an outside shower, a small but deep pool, and an outhouse on a precipice surrounded by cactus with a view of the dry meandering canyon below. I sang, played my Gurian acoustic, and wrote many a tune up there in the raging quiet.

From the fire trails just above the house you could see the San Fernando Valley off in the north, and the sequined pacific to the west. There’s a sandstone cave up there where I’d meditate. I’d grown to love this twenty-six mile stretch of land with its rugged mountains, wooded canyons, sheltered coves and quiet beaches.

You could count on the Pacific Coast Highway being closed a few times a year when gigantic sandstone boulders would lose their grip in a heavy rainstorm, and slide down the mountains onto PCH. During the Big Rock Canyon mudslide of ’77, the county offered a ferry ride from the Malibu pier to the Santa Monica pier, roundtrip for $2.50! I would have paid ten times as much just to see the dolphins, seals, and flying fish that were our entertainment on those fun excursions to town. The danger of wildfires spreading in the dry-as-tinder mountains also kept things interesting. Fierce furnace-like Santa Ana windstorms would fan the flames towards the sea, charring anything in its mindless path. I narrowly missed being caught in the big fire of ‘76 when it stopped a half-mile from my cottage.

I met Philippa just before sunset at Rheo’s weathered geodesic dome in Decker Canyon. Rheo was supposedly a great cook and was dicing garlic when Phillipa introduced us. I’d seen him around town: the black cowboy hat and silver headband, the salt and pepper beard. Friendly, but reserved, he was in his late thirties, maybe early forties. A Latino, possibly with American Indian blood. His gig was caretaker for Jack Nicholson. From the way they were eyeing each other it looked as though he and Jill were in the first stage of new romance: bubbly, close, never taking their eyes off each other. He offered me a glass of red wine and Phillipa took hold of my hand and led me out to a redwood deck set into the canyon rim overlooking the ocean. The sky turned magenta; the cool early evening air carried with it the scent of eucalyptus and sage.

She wore a black skintight leotard with red cowboy boots, and a leopard-skin silk blouse, halfway unbuttoned. On her long lovely neck a strand of pale pearls. Ruby-red finger and toenails with matching lipstick complimented her ensemble otherwise she wore no makeup. A subtle, but highly effective perfume engulfed her. If she was trying to make an impression on me, she certainly had. My heart rate increased, as did my awareness of her seductive beauty. Philippa was my first date since separating from Carole only days before. Six years with one woman and now this love goddess was standing before me.

Thinking I might explode if I so much as brush up against her, she leans up, plants her lips firmly on mine, slides her greedy tongue down my throat and runs her left hand down over the hardening length of me. I reciprocate in kind, but only for a moment, so as to whet her appetite.

She produced a fat pungent joint, rolled perfectly, and with a sly wink fired it up saying, “It’s the Durban Poison I told you about from my home country.” We passed the spliff back and forth as the sky darkened and the sun fell on Osaka.

Time slows, my senses become heightened, and I feel the energy behind my breath. “Powerful herb” I tell her, coughing my lungs out. The sauna was steaming hot when we entered, but it wasn’t the heat we were seeking, so much as a place to bare witness as to what would surely come. The slow drawn out foreplay of the morning, and the thrill on the hill five minutes earlier had served to waken the sleeping dragon and now it was hungry.

She undressed me, taking her time, lingering for a moment to kiss and lick me. Slowly she continued like this until I was as we had first met, only this time we were alone.

Taking my time unclothing her, I rediscovered her awesome beauty, exploring her body, tasting her, rubbing my curly hair on her belly and breasts. Like the dynamics of a Coltrane solo we shifted gradually from first verse to the chorus and beyond. She tore at my back and wailed in gibberish, which I took to be a good sign. I meanwhile, was hanging on like a champion bronco rider, and counting backwards from one thousand. This ancient dance went on and on, time out of mind. We finally tore loose from our entangled embrace, took a few more tokes of the killer herb, and began once more, no hurry now. Lost in lust, but feeling closer to God somehow.

Jill and Rheo meanwhile had prepared a wonderful dinner of garlic sautéed swordfish, steamed broccoli and mushroom-baked potatoes. They had a glow of their own. Rheo popped the cork on a bottle of Louis Roderer Crystal champagne, and we toasted to each other’s health. Secretly, I was toasting to one hell of a day and night. I’d had passionate first nights before, but nothing like this, and it couldn’t have happened at a better time.

After dinner Philippa and I navigated our way to the guest bedroom and like lovers separated for eons resumed where we’d left off. Only this time finding new ways of pleasuring each other, carrying on well into dawn. For me, it was the beginning of something; an awakening, a new chapter – and I hoped the returning sun would please take its time climbing over the mountains, as I didn’t know if this kind of magic would ever happen again.

But it did – for nine wild months. The girl was insatiable. I think it rubbed off on me too. She really enjoyed making love and couldn’t care less as to where or when. All that mattered was being in that passion play as much as humanly possible; as if she might die tomorrow and so hasten to drink deeply of what sensual pleasure she could. This was more than fine with me, as I enjoyed it as much as she, if not more. It was easy being her accomplice.

Life being what it is, that mad romp through the fields of wanton desire had to come to an end. We didn’t have that much in common in the end, and so went our separate ways.
But I recollect that day at Big Dume with a most satisfied grin and a grateful smile; knowing it was beyond a doubt my best first date.