I was born in the South Bay area of California in 1962 into a family that was notable for its diversities and similarities. On my mother’s side there were the surfers and photographers; on my father’s, the men of science and art. Although I seem to be the only member of the family with a literary bent, as it happened, when it came to photography, the twain met. I will never forget my early childhood, much of which was spent in my grandparents’ home, looking up to my grandfather, who appeared to be a giant.
All fortunate little boys, when they’re growing up, have a role model who is bigger than life. For me it was my Grandpa. When I was very small, we used to take walks from his house in Hermosa Beach down to the ocean, and along the way, every time, we always stopped to talk to all of the people who also respected my Grandpa. Without doubt, he was a local celebrity and fixture. At first I had no idea that his fame spread round the world. All of the great surfers of the time as well as others involved in the daring sport — people like Mike Purpus out on the waves and Dewey Weber, both hot-dogging and later making longboards, to Hap Jacobs, the famous board maker, and even Warren Miller, who still films thrilling sports movies and at the time had a local office for a surfing film business.
I admired my Grandpa — LeRoy “Granny” Grannis to everyone else — more than anyone I have ever known, including several astronauts. As I grew older, into my teens, he mellowed toward me. You see, turning into a young man, I outgrew my hyperactivity and fidgeting and therefore was no longer a strain on him. My grandfather had little patience for many things, least of all hyper kids. When I was 10 he had taken me to buy my first camera, a Kodak Instamatic 110, which I carried everywhere with me until I was a teenager. Then, when I was 15-17, we would take walks on the beaches and cliffs of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, where I grew up (other than many stays at my grandparents’ house). Both of us were armed with our cameras (my 110 against his several Pentax SLRs that were state-of-the-art at the time, each with a different lens). We snapped photos of surfers from the beaches and hang gliders from the cliffs. Sometimes my grandparents would drive me down the coast to San Onofre for better surf photo ops, and on the way wack we’d stop at Carlsbad to eat. My Grandpa was a man who would not lie about anything. Therefore, during the first five years of our photo expeditions, when I would show him my latest work in mounting excitement and expectation of a word of approval from the great pioneer of the sport of surfing and its photography, he merely slipped through them without a word and handed them back. I always knew that was the kindest he could be. Then one day, when I was 15 and we were standing on the PVE cliffs above Rat’s Beach, and I was struggling to stay on my feet against the heavy wind off the Pacific, my Grandpa studied my prints with the same blank expression as always. “Well,” he said, speaking at all for the first time after such a viewing, “that’s about as good as you can do with that camera.” By the time my mind stopped racing, I understood two things: one, he had just given me the highest verbal praise of which he was capable, and two, all of those years he had been studying my improvement. He was just born and raised in a different time and environment, where people didn’t show their feelings the same way. At any rate, the next Christmas, my adoptive father gave me a basic Pentax K-1000 SLR that was like gold to me. Before I was 16, I was hired by a local community newspaper as a news/photo stringer, reporting mostly on the police and justice beat — meaning the police blotter. But I also covered politics, various features and even sports and had two genuine scoops in that early beginning. One I phoned into the L.A. Times South Bay News Desk about a bold armed robbery in broad daylight at a local plaza,where armed men in masks stole $1 million worth of jewels from a salesman. I simply read the lead paragraph as I wrote it to the copy writer on the other end of the phone, who took it down in shorthand without thinking before reading it back with a surprised chuckle, and gave him the name and number of the police sergeant to contact for details or a quote. The next day, my lead paragraph with a quote from the sergeant was on page 2 of the Times — without a byline, of course. The other was an article I wrote about the reported theft of an Old Master painting said to be by the Italian artist Piettro Berrittini da Cortona. The real work, I verified with the curator of paintings at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu, was a mural too big to fit in the alleged owner’s house, and three known versions of which were, at any rate, located in major museums around the world, including the Louvre. The story of the apparent insurance scam made the Reuters wire.
More recently, I have continued writing the short stories and novels the artistic skill for which I began practicing even before my early dabbles in journalism, and several years ago began restoring estate tobacco pipes. I enjoy blogging the details of these restorations, with some admitted literary flair.