The Crystal Ship

Oil Platform Holly

An interlude from “At Play in the Apocalypse,” about my experiences during the 1970 Isla Vista riots…

Joel and I walk on the beach; he’s brought a blanket and I carry a bottle of Japanese plum wine. Hand in hand, we stroll at the edge of the water. Warm waves splash over our bare feet. We go far from the beach stairs; then he lets go of my hand and slips his arm around my shoulder. We turn away from the water and pick our way toward the cliffs between clumps of tar and ropes of seaweed. Together, we spread the blanket out on a patch of soft, dry sand. Underneath the salty smell from the ocean, there’s a faint whiff of petroleum. Oil platforms dot the Santa Barbara channel–ugly, metal structures that look like erector sets looming up out of the ocean, but at night, when they’re all lit up, they become palaces. The oil company gave them names like Henry, Grace, and Gilda. The one standing sentinel in the water off Isla Vista is named Holly, but we call it the Crystal Ship; Jim Morrison of The Doors wrote the song one night when he was on this same beach.  It’s lit up like a fairy castle, and the light from it makes a sparkling path across the water.

Joel and I sit down on the blanket and he opens the plum wine. We lean against each other and gaze out over the water. He hands me the bottle and I take a long swig. It’s sweet and the warmth goes all the way down to my stomach. The ocean rushes in, then rolls back in its endless rhythm. Out on the water, the Crystal Ship sparkles and glows.

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