After a few months of not sleeping because of terror and uncertainty, it was a welcome relief to not be sleeping because I was actually excited about something. After meeting two members of the Holy Ghost Tribe by the Huntington Beach Pier, and being invited to their gathering at Tower 7 the next morning, I just lay in bed and waited for the sun to rise. I was so curious about what the day would bring, I couldn’t even shut my eyes.
In 2015, I’d just finished working a contract in Saudi Arabia, and after a summer tour of Europe, returned to Huntington Beach for my parent’s 50th anniversary. We’d all chipped in to rent cabins for a weekend at Newport Dunes, a favorite family camp spot and marina on the Back Bay.
My Dad had had a stroke a few years earlier, which he’d only partly recovered from. He was having a hard time getting out of chairs, and was increasingly relying on a scooter to get around. A few days before the get-together, he started speaking about a vision he’d had while sitting in his chair in the living room. In it, he said that Jesus, and a friend of his who’d recently died, appeared to him because they needed him for a special mission.
He was a Lutheran pastor, with a background in the Born Again and Jesus People movements of the early 70s, so to hear him speak of visions, God coming down to earth to speak to man, was not out of character. That weekend, however, it was impossible not to notice that he was acting manic, and that wasn’t normal at all. He started to elaborate on his vision, which involved going into partnership with the Disney Corporation, and using the Dunes as the training grounds for a new generation of apostles. The more details he divulged, the more far-fetched his idea began to sound.
By the end of the weekend, we were all worried enough to think he should probably see a doctor. It had gotten to the point where he was talking for hours on end. We suspected that a mix-up in the multiple medications he was taking was the most likely explanation for the change in his behavior.
My brother from Anaheim and I took him into the emergency room that Monday, thinking we’d be returning with him a few hours later. After hearing him expound upon his visitation and the Great Revival he had all planned out in his head, however, the doctors decided to keep him for a few days of observation. The few days turned into a few weeks, and during that time we got the news that he’d contracted pneumonia and was now in the ICU.
Six weeks after taking him in for a simple consultation, he passed away in a room overlooking the Pacific Ocean. To say that his rapid decline came as a shock would be the understatement of the century.
My original plan had been to be in California for three weeks and then to fly to Mexico City. I’d already bought my ticket. When my Dad went into the hospital, I told everyone no problem, I’d stick around and help see things through. There was no hurry. I had a little money saved and nowhere I really needed to be.
Then he died and that changed everything. I ended up staying in a camper in my Mom’s backyard for over a year, getting into a special education internship that required me to find a job, and then failing to do so. Eventually, my desperate financial situation forced me to take another contract in Saudi Arabia that I’d barely suffered through.
Now, only a year and a half after surviving that torture, another crisis had caused me to fall into the exact same trap, back in a camper in my Mom’s backyard. That, to my mind, was so unacceptable it had resulted in a mental breakdown, causing me to drink so much that I’d had a seizure when I stopped, and had lost my driver’s license as a result.
In my desperation, death had seemed like the only option. I’d gone to the pier, with the idea of jumping off it, but had then been diverted by the bonfire gathering that the Holy Ghost Tribe was having. Their invitation to join them when I met a few of the members was now my only hope.
Before my Dad’s stroke he’d bought a bike at Jax Bicycles on Main Street. It was a good bike, an Electra, with three speeds, but the design he’d settled on, a black and white Holstein cow pattern, undermined the stature of the ride. I’d taken ownership of the bike, and when back visiting, would ride it up and down the coast, stopping at bars along the way. The Cabo Cantina in Balboa. Blackie’s in Newport Beach. Perq’s or Kilarney’s on Main Street. My favorite dive bar, Red’z Juke Joint, on 17th Street. I didn’t know anyone in the area, but could at least get a little dose of comradery when there was a good football game on.
My plan was to ride my Dad’s old bike to the gathering. I’d been up all night, and with the sun rising before six o’clock, still had to kill a few hours before leaving the house. I didn’t want to be too early or too late. I gave myself just enough time to pick up a coffee at 7-eleven and arrive there exactly at eight o’clock, but once I was on the road, realized that the brakes had rusted out so badly that they almost didn’t function.
After getting my coffee, I was heading downhill through the parking lot by the pier, when I had to stop suddenly for cross-traffic on the bike trail. The brakes on the front tire seized up as tightly as a vise. Stressing out, I flipped the bike over and tried to pry the tire loose, only managing to cover my hands and forearms with black grease. I ended up having to lift the front tire and walk the bike the rest of the way, and now, after all those hours of just waiting around, I was going to be late.
By the time I got to Tower 7, I could see that the gathering had started. The exertion of pushing the bike, along with the alcohol from the night before that was starting to exit through my pores, meant that I was a nervous, sweating wreck by the time I reached the edge of the circle and collapsed in the sand.
As I sat there, dizzy in the morning sun, listening to them pray their prayer and read through their creeds, my mind quickly began to make the connections. All of them had the same black rings around their eyes. Some of their faces were almost translucent. They talked about what a hell their lives had been and the deliverance from poison and addiction they were seeking. Then they went around the circle, introducing and identifying themselves.
When they came to me, I followed their lead, stating my name and adding that just like all of them, I too was a hungry ghost.