The Cardboard Scalawag's Guide to Pirate's Cove
“Oh. My. God. I’m back — I’m home. All the time .?.?. We finally, really did it. You maniacs! You blew it up! God damn you! God damn you all to hell!”
—Colonel George “Heston” Taylor, Planet of the Apes (1968)
No one will donate a stupid fucking pirate costume unless there’s going to be a photographer. Headquarters says no costume, no story.
I contact Smith, Collins, Gerber, Vallance and Reynolds and explain the situation. Smith, Collins, Gerber and Reynolds are out.
Vallance is in. Vallance is broke. I’m broke. There’s no way around it: We’ll have to make our own clothes out of cardboard. And print up some fake press passes, in case we meet up with lifeguards, or worse. And an old two-megapixel Canon, for legal purposes.
And what if Pirate’s Cove is no longer there? I haven’t seen it since 1978, when the remains of my family moved from east-central Illinois to the high desert north of Los Angeles. I made new friends. The new friends — and, I soon learned, all residents of the Antelope Valley — referred to L.A. ominously as “down below.” The new friends drove me down below and out to Westward Beach, a quintessentially picturesque span of Malibu shoreline stretching east from Zuma Beach to the tip of Point Dume. There I learned how to bodysurf, and that the next cove over — just beyond the Point Dume promontory — was called Pirate’s Cove.
In 1978, Pirate’s Cove was a nude beach.
To the 15-year-old mind of Dave, the term “nude beach” registered as just the right amount of coconut-and-lime-scented Playboy bunnies tag-teaming me at the water’s edge like an army of Deborah Kerrs on Burt Lancaster. Then back to the volleyball, the fucking, the volleyball, fuck, volley, fuck, volley .?.?.
New friends and I were having too much fun bodysurfing to be bothered with voyeurism. But soon enough I turned 16. I got my driver’s license. I inherited an old big car and traded it for an old small one. I drove the two hours from Lancaster to Westward Beach, dreaming. In my Hawaiian-pattern Ocean Pacific trunks, I climbed through the rocks of Point Dume and beheld the wonder of Pirate’s Cove: a dozen or so saggly baggly old chunky, jiggly-ass, middle-aged, mostly (probably) male, half-burned, hirsute, shrivel-dicked naturists and their even chunkier, older, gray-pubed friends and — I choked to imagine — lovers. Some strolled. Some sat. All looked at me — tan, lean, wide-eyed vestal youth, loins censored by swim trunks.
Who the fuck is that idiot?
Twenty-eight years later, two idiots, Vallance and I, approach Zuma by land from the north, then head east along Westward Beach Road toward the promontory. No longer a nude beach, Pirate’s Cove is just another perfect inlet along the shore of the legendary Forbidden Zone, of Planet of the Apes notoriety. It is here, at Point Dume, that the 1968 film reaches its poignant or melodramatic conclusion as mute beauty Nova (Linda Harrison) and imperious Taylor (Charlton Heston) come upon the irradiated, half-buried remains of the Statue of Liberty: “God damn you all to hell!”
But for now, the radiation is mild. Vallance and I pay the gatekeeper $7 and proceed to the east end of the parking lot. Above us, a Moorish castle juts from the cliff. There we don our ridiculous cardboard gear — hats, swords, eye patches and so on, all emblazoned with the “Pirate’s Cove Malibu PRESS” insignia we’d spent all night designing — and head to the rocky point. Beside the trail head, a second gatekeeper sits cross-legged, eyes closed. He’s enormous, seminaked and meditating. A fully clothed woman shoots him with what appears to be a Hasselblad H2D-39 — a $30,000 digital camera — as two equally clothed supervisors mutter and mull off to the side.
Expensive camera; expensive target. Vallance recognizes the photographer’s target as the Malibu Swami, a.k.a. Yogi to the StarsT. I’ve never heard of him, but Vallance is certain, almost.
The swami’s eyes are closed, but he nods toward us as we pass to his left and up.
The path is simple at first, one rock leading to the next. Then it gets more complex. The path goes high, the path goes low. It probably doesn’t matter which route to take, but while scanning ahead for guidance, I spot the third gatekeeper, a Rastafarian high upon a boulder, inhaling and exhaling deeply. He’s apparently been watching Vallance and me in our moment of indecision.
“Each of us,” the third gatekeeper calls out from above, “must find his own path.”
I nod in appreciation, select the high road and proceed. Vallance takes the low road, and a few minutes later we emerge. We’ve arrived at Pirate’s Cove.
The water’s clean. The sand is clean. The sky is clean. It’s a perfect day.
Vallance asks a reasonable question: “What is it that we’re supposed to do?”
Oh, yeah — that. I shrug. Vallance shrugs. To our immediate north, a lone raven calls out from atop a small golden boulder — an auspicious sign. We drop our gear at the base of the raven’s stone, which affords us a fine view.
The cove is occupied by a dozen or so scantily clad civilians, more women than men, all pale. Two of them are children in the water, the rest adults on towels or foldout chairs.
We set up our ancient camera and shoot a series of photographs to be used as evidence. We shrug, we sit, we look around.
How long are we to stay? We stand, then sit again. Others look our way, and we wave. Our waves are not returned.
Where do we go from here? Will we be arrested? Will we be reimbursed for fuel and cardboard?
Four young adult women emerge through the rocks. Tan, lean — models or college students, or both. They laugh warmly and say hello to the pale cardboard pirates as they pass, then spread their towels just above the high-tide mark nearby, remove most of their clothes and begin slowly, methodically anointing one another with expensive oils.
Vallance waves. They wave back.
I smell coconut. And lime.