The grubby doorway yawns wide and its frame is mildly akimbo. It’s entry to a sallow stone building that is blocks from prime oceanside real estate, a place where squandered dreams live on. I am a sucker for an underdog, eager to savor and save what I can: “Let’s see what’s in here.”

Inside, the air holds a dark room together. The bar is topped by a long, ancient surfboard and it’s lined with wooden circle-topped stools, some of which are staffed by long-haired men with vaguely-stubbled faces. Their posture is a study of nonchalant geometry, elbows on the alert to thwart a fight. They are clad in the universal uniform of southern California youth: tee shirts, shorts, and flip flops. Even in the room’s sudden, dim shift from the blast of sunlight outside, their blond hair gleams with wetness, certifying that they’ve recently been in their elements. It’s a scene for conversations scarred by life when the time is 10:00 a.m.

Since I’m escorting a trio of teens fresh from the Midwest, I back around, headed for the door, because I don’t want them to tell their mother and father about this place. Aunt PJ already has an uncommon allure.

But it’s too late. The slack-jawed children stand amazed in the midst of celebrity, the world-class surfers of Huntington Beach:

“The waves were bad ass this morning, dude.”

“No kiddin’, man! My old lady pissed and moaned but I was sleeping in my trunks, so it was easy to roll over and slide out the door.”

“But what beach did you surf, dude? I didn’t see you.”

“I was there. 6:30 A & M. New Rip Curl suit, man.”

“How many rides?”

‘Dude’ pauses to pull on his beer, perhaps mentally tallying: “Don’t know. Lost count – isn’t the point anyway, man.”

I notice that the two had yet to turn to face each other as normal conversationalists do. “Gotta a job?”

“Naw. I’m a slacker. Got my application in with Oakley, hoping for access to their employee discount store so I can stride proud.”

I successfully herd my teenaged guests onto the sidewalk, where I know the summer crowds will surge us toward the ocean. I try to divert attention to the surf medallions on the local walk of fame, but the cunning ears of Midwestern youth will have none of it: “Aunt PJ, can you take us to the Oakley discount store?”

“Let’s go to Jack’s. It’s only a couple of blocks away. It’s a very famous store, stocked with every brand of surf-related gear and California style. Perhaps you can spend the $100.00 I am going to give you there. And the store across the street has hand and foot prints of famous surfers. Do you remember the Robert August tee shirt that your dad got when he came here 25 years ago? I’ll take your photo standing on his concrete square.”

“Who’s Robert August?” A response that assures me that the kids have switched topics, just as I’d hoped. So much for ‘let’s see what’s in here’. Tomorrow we’re going to Disneyland!