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Santa Maria Sun / Art

The following article was posted on March 14th, 2023, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 24, Issue 3 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 24, Issue 3

Santa Barbara native and Hollywood actor Timothy James Bottoms releases 'The Pier,' a childhood memoir and coming-of-age story

By GLEN STARKEY

Everyone has a cherished childhood memory. Maybe it’s that feeling of freedom riding your bike down a tree-lined country road or swimming in the ocean for the first time or earning your own money with a lemonade stand. For Hollywood actor Timothy James Bottoms, it was learning to fish at the Santa Barbara pier, which he’s chronicled in a new book, The Pier: A Fisherman’s Story.


FROM ACTOR TO AUTHOR
Timothy James Bottoms, star of ‘The Last Picture Show’ and ‘The Paper Chase,’ recently penned a childhood memoir about fishing off the Santa Barbara pier.
COURTESY PHOTO BY BRENDA K. ZUCCHINI

In the novella-length memoir, the Santa Barbara native telescopes an entire childhood of fishing into one day in a story he wrote as something to read to his kids, “but that was 14 years ago, so now it’s for my grandkids. More kids need to get off their devices!” he quipped.

The book’s been hidden from public view until this month when at the urging of his girlfriend, Brenda Zucchini, he finally released this elegiac, vividly written coming-of-age story.

“This little book would never have made it to print without her love and persistence,” Bottoms admitted.

This is a fish tale through and through. As Bottoms writes in the introduction, “This is my story. Some of it happened and some of it only in my imagination. Tall-tales fishing stories of the ones that got away and the ones I landed. It is many experiences over several years taking place all in one day. One glorious beautiful day.”

Eight-year-old Tim’s story begins in the back seat of his mom’s “old Plymouth station wagon,” where she’s on her way to the laundromat with Tim’s younger brothers, Joe and Sam, but she agrees to allow her eldest to spend the day unsupervised at the pier.

“I’ll be right down at the laundry if you need me, at the pool if the sun comes out,” she told her son as he scrambled out of the car as his brothers begged to come along.

“‘Thanks, Mom. Bye, Mom,’” Bottoms writes. “I was out the door and turned to gather my pole and tackle box.

Fresh catch
‘The Pier: A Fisherman’s Story,’ a memoir by Hollywood actor Timothy James Bottoms, is now available in paperback and eBook from Barnes & Noble.

“‘I love you,’ she said. ‘I mean it. Don’t go under the pier. And stay away from those bums.’”

Bottoms has a real knack for conjuring up the wide-eyed wonder of youth and how big everything seems to a kid. He smells tobacco and wood smoke from the “Hobo Village” and faintly hears a harmonica. You can feel Tim’s trepidation as he speeds his gait past the place he was warned about.

You can also feel that Tim’s excited to be on his own on a grand adventure full of good luck—for instance when a truck loaded with sardines hits a bump, dislodging a few fish that would be perfect for baiting his line.

“Jumping up onto the sidewalk as the big truck passed, I felt a shower of saltwater and sardine spray wash over me like a wave—a truck filled with boxes of sardines. Seagulls flew overhead and some even landed on the truck, pecking and trying to pull fish from the load,” Bottoms writes. 

And then bad luck when gulls swooped down and got the fish before he could. Then good luck when he snagged two fish before the gulls got them … and then worse luck.


A FISH TALE
In his recently released novella-length memoir, Santa Barbara native Timothy James Bottoms narrows the scope of his entire childhood of fishing into one day, in a story he wrote with his kids in mind.
BOOK COVER DESIGNED BY JOHN BALKWILL, LUMINO PRESS, COURTESY OF TALL TALES PRESS

“‘I’ll take those, sonny.’

“I stood frozen, scared. This man was huge with a big gray beard, long hair, and a brown, stained coat that covered his body. He was wearing a big floppy hat and spoke with the butt of a cigar in the corner of his mouth. The large man was swaying back and forth as he spoke. 

“‘Sonny, this is my spot, and I’ve been waitin’ for that truck to hit that bump to get those fish. They goin’ on my grill, so hand ’em over, sonny.’”

Bottoms is describing the sort of free-range childhood most kids don’t experience anymore. He looks on in wonder at the fishermen lining the pier—they know things he wants to know. Most of them want nothing to do with a kid, admonishing him for scaring the fish, calling him a “wharf rat,” and telling him to move along. But young Tim eventually meets Bill, an old man in pressed trousers who takes it upon himself to show Tim how to tie the right rig to catch halibut off the bottom.

Bill explains: “There is only one fish worth catching for me and that’s a halibut. Bonito are too greasy and smelly. Besides, if you don’t bleed ’em right away, the meat goes dark and is just too strong. Not too bad if you smoke it though. Now, a halibut ... .” 

Bottoms’ characters are so richly rendered you feel like you can see them, and his descriptions are cinematic.

“My pole was very still now, so I set it down and lay prone, looking down and under the pier into the mysterious darkness. Shafts of light from the cracks between the planks gave me a view of an awesome and wonder-filled world. I could hear the sounds of pigeons in their nest below, and then suddenly the slapping of wings as a bird flew under me and out into the light. I reacted with a start, and my concentration broke.”

At its center, The Pier is the story of a young boy among men, learning what it means to become a man himself.

Bottoms, who splits his time between his ranch in the Santa Lucia Mountains and the home he shares with his girlfriend in San Luis Obispo, still makes frequent trips to Santa Barbara. Now 71, Bottoms is semi-retired from acting, but he’s known for critically acclaimed films such as Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show (1971), James Bridges’ law school drama The Paper Chase (1973), and more recently Gus Van Sant’s impactful film about a school shooting, Elephant (2003).

Reach Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey from the Sun’s sister paper, New Times, at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.










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