[ I lived the first 30 years of my life outside the knowledge of the Lord and His Grace, but not apart from His providence. The people I knew were were rough, and most of them died young, but many of them showed me small acts of kindness, which I haven’t forgotten.]
Tim Bowlen was a young Irish brawler. When I was twelve and Tim was in his early to mid-twenties, I used to go down to the beach and sit on the wall outside the Club Del Mar bar and grill, in the evenings (I was a proud member of the Del Mar Surfing Association). With the wide Pacific Ocean on one side, and the giant Hotel Del Mar on the other it was a fair enough place to sit and take in the early evening.
Tim was a regular patron, a brawny man with curly black hair, maybe 5′ 10 – 6′ 2″, 220-30 lbs. and a bit of weight around his middle. On a few occasions I was there to witness Tim in a couple of the wildest 4 to 6 man brawls I ever saw. You’d hear the glass breaking inside and within seconds they’d come spilling outside, swinging, punching, kicking, grunting and cursing. Inevitably, Tim would be in the thick of it. And usually getting the best of it.
Tim was also the last line of defense, the ultimate enforcer for our straggly gang of surfers who claimed the Del Mar beach and station #7 as our home turf. Tim himself wasn’t a surfer, so I’m not sure how that came to be. We were mainly made up of local boys from the home town, and some Jewish boys from west L.A. Our ages ranged from 12 to 19 mostly, but with a few 20 to 30 year olds. Among the local boys and West LA Jewish boys, there were no fighters, that’s how I came into the role of the unofficial first line enforcer. We’re not talking about good fighters, just any kind of fighter.
The other reason I took on the role was because I was also one of the least accomplished in the crowd, which at the time included some of the hottest young riders in California, many which were already riding for the Malibu Surfing Association, MSA, which was probably the top club on the coast. To earn my keep so speak, and be able to tag with the hotties, I had to be willing to take my lumps.
I was one of the youngest, skinniest in the crowd, and wore big thick glasses. However, if any body from outside our turf stepped across the line, I would jump in and start punching, kicking and if necessary biting the transgressor. Because I wasn’t that good of a boxer, I would often try for a quick headlock, and attempt to grapple them down and hold them under water until they gave up.
Things didn’t alway work out. Unless there was a second line enforcer around, a 15 -20 year old, I often had to walk away with a bloody nose and in obnoxious defeat.
But to make a long story short. i was hanging on the north side of the pier one day with a bunch of my chums, when a big older guy from Van Nuys asked if he could borrow my surf board. I obliged him and he took it out and rode a few waves as his two friends watched. When he came in he asked me if I wanted to take him on in a “surf out”. I obliged him again, and since he was not a good surfer at all, but a real kook, every one acknowledged that I had won, hands down when we came back in.
He then asked me what was worse than a poor loser, I said I didn’t know, and he informed me it was a poor winner, and with that, even though he was years older and much bigger, he punched me in the nose, knocking me down. He then punched me a few more times, laughed and sneered at us and walked away.
We were outraged.This was our turf, we ruled it, and these Van Nuys kooks were running us over. I was sniffing and trying to hold the tears back, but not entirely succeeding. The call went out and with in minutes we had around 15 young beach rats and we gathered together and hunted down the transgressors. The trouble was, none of us was over 4 and a half feet tall, most smaller. We found them, confronted them again, being careful to stay out of the range of the offenders long arms, but they just laughed, “Come on boys, what you gonna do? You little punks!”
Though my heart wasn’t in it, I charged in again and took another shot on my bleeding nose and another upside my ear. I crawled away covered in sand and sniffing back the tears. We searched some more and found some bigger locals, maybe ninth graders. By this time, the bad boys from Van Nuys were on the boardwalk buying hotdogs and swaggering around in the most belligerant fashion. I stayed out of it, watching from the beach while nursing my wounds and my damaged pride. Again they were confronted, again our boys backed down.
Then one of younger Jewish boys said, “Hey, look, that’s Tim Bowlen on the beach over there.” I looked to my right, and sure enough, there laying on a towel next to a pretty girl, as usual, was Tim Bowlen, watching the goings on.
One of the boys ran over to Tim and explained the whole thing to him. I saw him nod his head, look over to me, and then, ever so slowy rise to his feet. I could feel my heart rise inside my chest and watched in anticipation as Tim slowly lumbered across the beach towards the board walk, dodging carefully all the bodies in the sand. His girlfriend lit a cigarette in boredom.
There were three of these Van Nuys intruders, all about nineteen and around 6 feet tall, and fairly tough looking. They were calling to the young boys, challenging them, “Come on, You want to do something? Want to make something of it?” Tim had approached within 15 feet by then, and he casually said, “Yeah, I’ll make something of it. I’ll take you all on”. You up for it?”
On hearing Tim’s voice, the leader spun around with a look of scorn on his face, which quickly faded as he sized up the new opponent who was looming towards them. “Um, uh, No. I don’t think so, sir.” His friends quickly backed away from him, a fact that wasn’t lost on him. He began to back away himself, and muttered, ” We were just leaving.” “Good idea”, said Tim Bowlen, “Why don’t you do that”? “But our hotdogs, we havn’t got our hotdogs yet.” said the big Van Nuys bullies. “Forget your hotdogs, okay? just leave. Now. And don’t show your face around here again for awhile, okay?”
The one time hostile intruders now beat a hasty retreat, while all the little beach boys threw trash and derision at them. I just sat there grinning like an idiot, and watched Tim lumber back to his beach towel and beautiful girlfriend. Before he had totally prostrated himself on the towel, he glanced in my direction and threw me a half wave, then turned his attention back to his refreshment and girl.
Tim Bowlen was dead within the year, the circumstances of which are not relevant to the story but were tragic to all that knew him. I never spoke more than a few words to him, and all I knew about him was that he liked to drink, didn’t mind a brawl, and was prone to take risks. I didn’t attend the funeral, and don’t know what people said about him. However, after 48 years, I still remember the young brawler that wasn’t too big to recognize a scrawny 12 year old, and take up for him, if even in a small way.
And whatever his short comings, he won a place in my heart more assuredly that day by his actions, then he ever could have done with words.
Have a great day.