"That summer of 1965 was the year marijuana first hit La Jolla,” Geoffrey remembers. Before that, he and Tom Coman had taken up daily collections for kegs of beer at “The Slots,” a hidden section of the beach where under-age drinkers were safe from police. “We weren’t exactly troublemakers, but too outrageous for La Jolla at that time.”
Geoffrey remembers Tom Wolfe as “some weird old man hanging around who asked questions while we made up a lot of the answers.” (Several other Gang members I talked to say that Wolfe’s story contained more fictitious incidents than factual; for example, Wolfe described a “toga party” which no one remembers.)
“It was an insane summer,” Geoffrey continues. “It sort of began in December when Leonard Anderson came down to the beach and shot his girlfriend Donna because she wouldn’t marry him. We all watched as he shot her and then shot himself.” Geoffrey stops as if to conjure up a mental picture of the scene. “Then, two of our friends’ husbands were stunt pilots, and they flew over the beach to put on a show for us. Something screwed up and they crashed into the ocean and both drowned while we watched.” Again he pauses. “Of course, it was also strange to go see the Watts riots for fun…” (Some of the Pump House Gang jumped in a VW van and went joyriding in the riot area in L.A. during the 1965 riots.)
Geoffrey’s sleek, bored girlfriend nudges his arm impatiently. She is tired of his reminiscing and wants to leave. They stand up, and as he walks away, he glances back, “I was disappointed in Wolfe’s translation of our scene…”
In the same restaurant, another Pump House devotee works as a waitress. Susie (Brandy in those days) Brandelius arrives in a white ruffly dress, high heeled vampy shoes, with her pony tail swinging. Now 22, she is eons away from the Brandy pictured in New York Magazine, leaning on the Pump House in the arms of her 16 year-old boyfriend.
“Tom Wolfe really was a jerk when he was with us, and when the story came out, we knew he was a jerk.” Susie sits down and lights a cigarette. “After it came out, someone wrote ‘Tom Wolfe is a dork’ on the Pump House, but it’s gone now.”
Susie agrees with Jackie that police harassment added to the breakup of the Gang. “One day Artie—who’s now married and lives in Hawaii — got mad because some tourists wouldn’t move off the beach. While they wandered down to look at the ocean, he sat down on their blanket and ate their entire lunch!” She laughs at the memory. “Boy were they speechless when they came back and saw this kid finishing up their picnic… but then they called the police.”
Asked why so many members of the Gang still reside in La Jolla, Susie suggests that it is the nature of La Jolla itself. She likens it to a small village, in which money and status are the common denominators of the residents. “Everyone has their roots here… Some of the kids haven’t changed in seven years,” Susie says. “Rupert Fellows is still surfing every day and partying every night!” Susie puts her cigarettes away to start her working shift.
“We had such good times,” she reflects wistfully. “I’ll never forget jumping into John Shine’s van and blasting out ‘Catch Us If You Can’ by the Dave Clark Five, as the police were chasing us through Sorrento Valley…”
Vicki Ballard, called “little Vicki” by Wolfe because she was only 13 in 1965, is still petite; she lives less than a mile from the Pump House. “We were all so tan. We couldn’t believe anyone could be so white,” she recalls as her first impression of Tom Wolfe.
Vicki has a degree in English Literature from UCSD and is planning to attend graduate school in the fall. The house she lives in is still decorated with the pointilistic, almost surrealistic, paintings of her older sister Liz. Wolfe described Liz in the summer of 1965 as “wearing her great ‘Liz’ styles, a hulking rabbit-fur vest and black leather boots over her levis.”
Vicki says Liz is still a “style setter,” and is presently living in Paris with her six year-old son. She models for a fashion designer and is studying mime.
“I was the youngest member of the Pump House group, and I guess I was accepted because they all knew Liz.” Vicki says when she first read Wolfe’s story, it seemed “absurd.” “But now, all the years have mellowed me out, and I think maybe we did do all those strange things.”
Vicki has also remained in contact with her old pals. “The girl Wolfe called ‘Yellow Stretch Pants’ was Gay Burns, and she now teaches handicapped children somewhere in the Midwest. Jeff Thayer is a military policeman in Germany, Vernon Stacy works in a restaurant in Solana Beach, and John Shine goes to City College.” She doesn’t know what happened to Neale Jones or Tom Coman.
Later in the afternoon, the nostalgic group agrees to meet at the Pump House once more for pictures. The sky and the ocean are lead gray, but despite the dreary day, people cluster on the famous stretch of beach.
“I can’t believe we ran up and down those stairs fifty times a day,” puffs Jackie Haddad Hellingson, as she and Tanya scurry around posing for pictures.
Susie Brandelius stands in the ice plant in front of the peeling Pump House, where she stood years before with her high school sweetheart. “Look how messy it is around here,” she remarks, kicking a beer can angrily.
The sun-worshippers on the cool sand ignore the running, giggling group of old friends. They don’t realize that eight summers earlier they would have been bombarded with a barrage of water balloons or run off the beach by a giant tractor-size inner tube, tumbling down the steep stairs with a gleeful surfer inside.
“It’s too bad more of us couldn’t show up, but I guess everyone is into a different thing now,” Susie shouts from her lofty perch on the Pump House roof. She looks down at her old hunting grounds where they all once frolicked in the sun.“I’m glad that Tom Wolfe captured that summer,” Jackie says to the quiet group. “it was a beautiful time that I think won’t ever happen again.”