BAREFEET IN THE SURF NOVEMBER 12, 2012
Last week I was reminiscing about the Barefoot, the beer bar smack dab on the Main Beach in Laguna Beach, and was remembering that Fall evening when my customers and I were entertained by a beautiful operatic voice which came rising out of the surf engulfed in seaweed, advancing across the sand and gliding into the bar to finish the aria, and receiving many accolades and cries of “bravo” – when we could identify this visage as Vera Newcomb, the retired opera diva. It’s just a good thing we weren’t a plush place with plush carpeting because there was quite a puddle of seawater left on the floor from all the seaweed. That was her only surprise “guest” appearance disguised as a creature of the “deep.”
It was always a bit slow through the fall and winter months during the week with just the regulars around, so it behooved us to make our own fun and games. One entertainment which was dropped right in our lap, was when we would get the word that the grunion would be running on a certain night at a certain time and certain areas along the coast. When it was going to happen on our Main Beach, we were in 7th heaven, and could hardly wait for the event. I could never figure out how anyone could tell when the grunion would be running, but they knew somehow. I know some people used to pooh-pooh the idea of these little fish coming up onto the beach for people to try to grab them, that it was just a joke, but I had known and participated in capturing these small delicacies all my life. Years back, I recollect how the whole family would go down toDohenyBeach, and we would have a great time scampering about in the surf trying to capture these elusive little devils. And you have State-mandated guidelines about catching them: you just can’t go down to the surf area where they are squiggling about and throw a net to seize a bunch at a time, or use any other device to trap them in. You have to catch them with your hands! That’s the Law! And that is no easy trick. You are racing around trying to snatch them as the tide is pulling them out, and while they are doing their natural cycle of procreation, or whatever— I think, but I’m not sure, that they are trying to deposit eggs.
This is still atDohenyBeach. We would go back to Aunt Mae’s because there was plenty of room. The service porch off the kitchen, had another stove, refrigerator, etc., so it was a natural for ending the grunion hunt. The preparations, such as scraping the scales off, lopping off the head, and gutting them — then deep frying — then we would be gorging them down with great gusto. M-m-m-n, m-m-m-n, Good!
So now, let’s get back to theMainBeach. When those grunion were going to be “running,” we were ready for them. I would always send a scout out on the beach, usually Jimmy, the little bartender shorter than I, to announce their arrival, so we would not be wasting time waiting out there since it was dark and it was damp — besides it would be taking the customers off their barstools. As soon as Jimmy announced the grunion were beginning to show up, the bar would empty out with all the customers joining in the hunt. Of course, everyone was barefoot, and from there it was a mix of pant legs rolled up, shorts, skirts tied up, and some had an extra outfit in the event they might fall flat in the surf and still come up empty handed without even one squirming little fish in their grasp.
Can you imagine all the screaming and yelling that came out of the surf on these searches for those little fish? We would finally go back into the Barefoot with our catch, and 3 of us had to get busy in the little kitchen cleaning the grunion. We de-scaled them with 3 or 4 bottle caps nailed on a little piece of wood, then someone (not I) would lop off the head and gut them, then we would put them into the deep fryer.
As we took the eats out into the bar to be shared with everyone, we would receive a great ovation, then we’d all be sitting there chomping away, loving it all — great camaraderie — and of course, while consuming all these little delights, the customer would have to buy a few more beers to “wash” it all down.
Somehow, to stay in business you have to think of a few gimmicks to keep ‘em coming back. The grunion were a big help.
Yes, Life was good.
MELITAS FORSTER MONDAYS WITH MELITAS