It was January 8, 2017, the air was brisk but warm and a gentle breeze blew in from the ocean as I walked from Balboa Island onto
the Ferry which carries three cars at a time and as many as thirty people from the Island, lined with expensive Bayfront homes, to Balboa Peninsula which fronts on the Pacific Ocean.
There are so many areas on the shores of the Pacific named after explorers and writers; Dana Point after the author of Two Years Before the Mast, the many locations recalling the Spanish explorer, conquistador and governor Vasco de Balboa, Coronado Island after Francisco de Coronado and many others.
I crossed the bay, alit on Balboa Peninsula and walked along the honkytonk strip with shops and play grounds and a Ferris Wheel, boats for hire, trips to Catalina Island to rent, fishing boats to sign on and all kinds of water sport rentals. The area was less crowded than in the summer months, but it remained busy throughout the year due to the moderate weather year around.
I had not been to the pier for many months and first wandered in the sand and watched the surfers before stepping onto the long pier which extended onto the ocean. At the end of the pier was a Ruby’s old-fashioned restaurant with its red and white decorations, and advertising the same sodas and burgers that had brought it fame fifty years ago. On the dock level, several fishermen were casting lines with shrimp as bait into the ocean fifty feet below and to my surprise were actually catching ten to twelve inch fish every so often and throwing them into buckets. These were not catch and release; these were obviously the catch and eat variety!
I went up to the second level of the restaurant, giving one a broad view of the ocean expanse, and ordered a lunch of burger and fries from a red and white skirted waitress. The music played in the background was 50’s and 60’s rock and roll, blaring all the songs so familiar to me from my youth. Shortly after my food arrived I was joined at the next table by an elderly man with a broad-rimmed hat partially concealing what appeared to be hair blackened with dye and partially replaced with hair plugs. He was tall and thin with a familiar face which at first I couldn’t place.
I introduced myself and he told me his name:
“ Harry Schneckendorf.”
“That’s quite a handle,” I commented, and he smiled. “You from around here?”
“Well, I’m living in a cottage on the ocean in Zihuatenejo, Mexico now. Very private and solitary. I like the beach and the water. Go scuba diving for lobsters every morning. Ever been down there?”
“Actually, I have. Went there with my first wife many years ago. It was delightful; quite deserted back then. Understand it’s gotten quite crowded now.”
“Yes. But I have a deserted strip of beach quite a ways from the town and I’m pretty isolated…never see many people,”
“That’s nice. How often do you come up here?” I kept staring at him. There was something so familiar yet I couldn’t put a name to it. I watched as he talked.
“Get up here once a year on my birthday. January 8. Born in ’35. I’m 82 this year.”
“Well congratulations, Herman.”
The music was playing in the background. First “Splish Splash, I Was Taking a Bath,” and I noticed that Harry was starting to move with the music and hum softly; then they played “It’s So Easy To Fall In Love”, then Paul Anka started crooning “I’m Just A Lonely Boy…All I want is someone to love… to hold…to kiss.” Harry had really gotten into the mood, swaying with the tunes and then it happened.
There was a brief pause and the next song came on and I looked at Harry as he sang along. “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” When he started with the low voice he was unmistakable, he continued “Do you miss me tonight? Are you sorry we drifted apart?” He was older and thinner but the facial features were the same and the voice had the soft emotional lilt. My eyes widened in disbelief.
“It’s you. You’re him. You’re…”
He stopped singing and held a finger his lips.
“But the drugs, the death?”
“Have you ever considered life with no privacy, no time to yourself, under a microscope every minute of every hour? That’s Why. A lot of planning.”
“But Graceland. Don’t you miss Graceland?”
“That was fantasy. Deadly fantasy and I would have died if I continued on in that life. I sometimes miss the singing but I sing to myself on the beach. The wife and daughter know, of course, but that part of my life ended years ago.”
“This is incredible! And nobody knows? How’s that possible?”
“I had a burial and who’s going to believe all these nonsense sightings. And I’m an old man now. You didn’t recognize me until I began singing. I have to watch myself about doing that in public. That was one of my favorite songs, you know.”
The few people that know I come here wanted to name the pier after me…Elvis Pier!. I don’t think so. My agent laughingly thought he’d have them call it Schneckendorf Pier, but then he’d have to acknowledge my existence.
I was in awe of the old man. I would have asked for an autograph but realized he would turn me down and anyway, I had intruded on his privacy, the privacy which had driven him to this life of anonymity.
He finished his meal and when I turned to pay my bill, he had gotten up and disappeared from sight. I looked all around but couldn’t see him anywhere. I had seen him. I know it was him. It must have been him. Could I have been dreaming? Did I have a lapse of consciousness from the heavy food?
No. I paid my bill, got up and began walking back down the pier toward the beach; there were several people around and
I looked among them, but he was gone.
I called a friend as I walked along the long pier and spoke into the phone to her.
“You never know who you’ll meet at the beach,” I said, about ready to explain what had happened. At that moment a guy and girl were passing me and the girl, who had heard my lasts words smiled at me and said,
“You met me!”
I paused and nodded, then I decided to keep my story to myself. After all, if Harry Schneckendorf wants privacy…give him privacy!