Words and pictures by Elliot Harris
Jeff is a true surfer, the real thing, as pure an example of the
rare breed as any you’ll find. To look into his eyes you see
years of feral surfing wisdom reflected in his soul. We all know
somebody like him: mysterious, unique, almost old-fashioned;
his gifted surfing prowess seems almost supernatural. He can
make the wave do what he wants. He creates the sections and
bends them to his will.
He is still “one of us,” but also better than us. He is the surfer
willing to endure any adversity, any hardship, any suffering, in
pursuit of his chosen prey, the surf. It is his torment. And his
quest becomes your quest because you know that if you stick
with him, his karmic dues guarantee waves for everyone else.
Surfers are a very superstitious bunch; punishment,
pain, sacrifice, and self-denial are part of the surfer
mystique. And Jeff wore his skinny poverty with pride,
proof of his dedication and commitment to the “cause” of
hunting down and catching surf. And it paid dividends. Jeff
got waves. They’d come to him, naturally. And as long as
you’re satisfied with the second best wave of the set, you’ll
get some too – without jealousy. It was a pleasure to
watch him surf a wave to its highest potential. The guy
could surf a wooden door if necessary and make it work.
But sometimes that obsession got the better of him. While
driving in Mexico he got a little over-excited by a big set we
could see from the road and a Mexican cop stopped us for
speeding. We tried to bribe him but instead we had to
follow him “downtown.”
We pulled up next to a non-descript cinderblock building amidst a
gang of dirty-faced children who appeared out of the dust to view the
new arrivals. It must have been pitifully obvious to everyone but the
most tormented of gringos that this was a jail but it still didn’t look
like one to me. They took Jeff inside and left me in the car. I was
sick from mixing carnation condensed milk we bought at a mexican
gas station with some frosty O’s and I didn’t care if I lived or died. I
was in no mood to negotiate.
It was just as well. Jeff always seemed to know how to talk
“Mexican.” He was charming and could make anybody like him. He
was in there for a long time.
Then I heard a distant voice, shouting. I perked up, craned my neck
around and twisted my head, straining to make out this strangely
curious, faint high-pitched cry drifting across the breeze. It was
coming from the direction of that hideous cinderblock building.
But again it came back, from the second story window. “Ah! Ah! Ah!
Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah!” Someone’s in pain. I walked closer and closer
to the source of the excruciating exclamations. Was I the only one
who was alarmed by this horror? I motioned to an old lady on the
sidewalk as she strolled past, pointing up towards the second story
window, indicating in my broken Spanish, “Was this real?”
Louder and louder the human cries were drawing me toward their
source. It was now very clear as I stood facing the cinder block
jail, its windows wide open to the sea breeze. In between bone
curdling screams I could hear voices, one a hoarse voice
shouting angrily, another beseeching mercy, pleading, weak, with
nothing more to loose. It was the most agonizing, unbearable,
primal form of communication imaginable, a piercing cry cutting
down to my very soul. I stood aghast, eyes unblinking.
I was listening to some sort of insane macabre dialogue, the
content of which seemed very important to everyone involved,
yet with no apparent conclusion. And then the excruciating
sounds of torture would resume. The loud voice was spouting
rapid, unintelligible Spanish, and an equally unintelligible answer
spewed back in anguish.
I was listening to some sort of insane dialogue, the content of
which seemed very important to everyone involved, yet with no
apparent reason or conclusion. And then the excruciating
sounds of torture would resume. The hoarse voice was
spouting rapid, unintelligible Spanish, and an equally unintelligible
answer spewed back in anguish.
Yes, there was some horrible torture happening upstairs in that
Mexican Police Station. And my buddy Jeff was in there.
I rounded the corner and ran through the door, past the official
Mexican government flags. I felt a strange magnetic courage
leading me toward the unseen horror getting louder and louder.
The lobby of the police station was unoccupied except for an
empty desk. No one was around. The place was empty.
But it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. My stumbling gait up
the stairs was like the most determined zombie ever seen. I
was in an altered state, transfixed on the screaming, now louder
than ever. I could hear a blood curdling exchange of
viciousness the likes of which my innocent American upbringing
had never heard. The summit of the stairway revealed nothing
but an anticlimactic empty hallway, some doors on both sides,
and still, nobody around. I was calm, yet simultaneously blazing
with an indignant, demanding, morbid curiosity about the
gruesome screams and shouts.
I began to realize that the man being tortured was not going to
be my buddy Jeff, but a man of Mexican decent. His pleading
protestations were in Spanish. I hadn’t noticed it before, but
as I approached the door, my arms by my sides, tight, yet
loose, loose, but ready, listening to a man suffering at the hands
of another man, I realized that they were both speaking
Spanish. I couldn’t understand the words they were saying
exactly but I could gather by inference that it was something like,
“I don’t know anything about what you’re talking about,” or
perhaps, “Really, I’m not guilty,” or maybe even, “It was like that
when I found it,” or some such protestation of innocence.
Suddenly, from down the hall and around the corner came running
my old buddy Jeff, hustling toward me at a rapid rate, his pupils
fully dilated, his gate purposeful, and his gaze-intense. His hair
was slightly mussed and he grabbed me by the shoulder and said,
“Let’s get out of here.” His momentum was irresistible. Before I
could have any say in the matter, we were stumbling down the
stairs and outside the building, heading toward his car. The
bright light and open air of the outside world seemed surreal.
I said, “What happened? Did you hear that guy?” but received
no answer. Instead, we hurried into the car and closed the door,
leaving just he and I facing each other. I asked him again, “Did
you hear that guy being tortured?” But he continued to say
nothing. I pointed to the building and said, “You could hear it.
They were torturing some guy up there…” I pointed back toward
the building. Cars were driving by, kicking up dust, people were
going about their business despite the transgression of human
dignity taking place within earshot.
“Didn’t you hear that?” I asked him. I needed to know, to have
some personal verification that this in fact had actually happened,
but he acted as if he had not heard the sound. He just sat there in
the driver’s seat, gripping the steering wheel with both hands,
looking out through the window with grim determination as we fled
north up the road. I did manage to find out that the cops took
every cent he had, all his money, except for one dollar they let
him keep to pay the toll to back to get back into the United
Did that really happen?