Day 1: Airplane day
It’s Friday afternoon and Neil told me that I should take a video of the house so that everyone can see it. He’s cute that way. So I gathered travel supplies, packed my bags, took the video, and then we made sure Felix had enough water and food and gave her lots of love, and finally made our way to the airport.
Eventually we had to get on the plane. And we did. And I hated the woman in front of me who immediately reclined her seat so I couldn’t hope to open the computer. I hated the fact that she didn’t sleep or anything, just talked to the woman next to her, and I kinda feel like it’s not fair to do that when it means the person behind you can’t enjoy themselves. But it was me, and I’d packed 2 books as backup, so I turned back to Battle Royale and all the heinous killing.
Finally, finally, though, we get into Oakland to discover we’ve forgotten everything we remembered about surviving in the wilds of Northern California. Because the nights there don’t stay warm, there isn’t enough humidity in the air to keep the temperature cozy. Oh no, instead, we froze. Well, I’d brought my sweater so I could stay warm on the airplane, but poor Neil in his shirt and shorts and tennis shoes. He shivered.
But then Josh pulled up in a car we didn’t recognize although we had a feeling it was Crissie’s because it was clean, and we hugged and helloed and piled in and got out of the way of the evil traffic directors who believe their whistles are meant to go off every time they breathe.
In the car we find out that Josh doesn’t smoke around Chrissy, but he does everywhere else, that their apartment is beautiful and that Dead Sea Scribes has a new and improved white album that we murmur our ‘oooos’ and ‘ahs’ over as soon as a song’s made it’s way through the stereo. We decline the bar offer (and since when did Josh want to go to bars?) and accept the drive straight home plan.
Josh has some trouble navigating around the streets of Oakland, and we do a bit of cross changing and back tracking. He doesn’t realize he’s about to run a red light and stops right quick after he notices – we only end up half way into the intersection. It’s a good thing the streets of Oakland are quiet after midnight.
We end up on a cute quiet street filled with the kind of houses I’m not sure you find anywhere else in the world; they all have wild gardens that are intentionally overgrown, and are painted rainbow colors. Josh and Crissy live in the cottage behind a two story orange building that’s trying very hard to convince everyone that it’s a Mediterranean villa. They’ve got church windows and a lovely brick stone patio. It’s night, so there’s no way to see how adorable it truly is, but the best part of all is a red-headed woman at the top of the stairs, is newly-awake and waiting give hugs hello. And getting to pet the kitten Posey, who we remember as a little grey fuzzy baby, but who’s bigger than Felix and just as adorable.
We toss out hugs and orders for the lady of the house to go back to bed (she’s been migraine-bound for the last day, which sucks beyond the telling of it). The boys sit down to a smoke and a smoke, and the travel fatigue eases out of my body with the adorable surroundings and familiarity of boy rituals. It’s funny that so much time can pass and yet little things stay the same: the need to show off the newest toy, the giggle over the girlfriend, the talk of ‘what are you’ and ‘have you seen’ and ‘did you hear’ that never changes, even if the endings of the questions do.
We settle in to a slightly under inflated air mattress, read for a while with the overhead light on, and then turn it off and hope we’ll wake up in the morning sometime decent.
Day 2: Telegraph and Party
Plans were discussed on the car ride from the airport to the house, plans involving a walk to breakfast, fresh baked pastries, a jaunt to Telegraph, a lunch at a vegan restaurant, and then a trip to the reception (our whole excuse for coming out). Not a bad sounding day, right?
Well, after waking every time we turned over, we didn’t quite make the coffee and pastry run. But our gracious hosts did it for us, because they’re both so sweet and goofy together. So our first wake up call was Josh’s voice whispering from the door, “hey… guys… time to wake up…” and the bounce of a cat who decided she’d check us out after all. We crawled out and got the real tour of the place, which included more Mediterranean inspired paint on the insides, but really lovely bathroom with a gigantic shower and hand painted blue tiles…
Now that I was mostly over my Josh-shock (it only takes me a couple of hours to readjust to the new him) it didn’t seem out of the ordinary that this house lives and breathes character, and is nothing like anywhere he’s ever lived before. This new place is indelibly stamped with the mark of a girl. The living room couch has pillows, the bathroom has reproductions of tin soap advertisements. The wood on the coffee table, the entertainment cabinet, the sideboard, they’re all of a piece – those kinds of furniture that aren’t quite antique yet, but still have curls around the edges and routed feet. The bed is similar, with soft print on the spread. There is nothing here that makes me think ‘man’ and yet it’s not excessively feminine. Just never in a thousand years would I have expected it to be the house with a Josh.
But it’s all lovely, and the admiring sounds we made were honest, before we took our showers and put on our clothes and headed out into the great wide world beyond the four walls of the house. Of course the day was cloudy and the sky was slightly blue-slightly white, because that’s what weather n the Bay Area is like before afternoon. We made our way to Telegraph and did the short route, which means a visit to Cody’s books, but not to Moe’s, a stop at Rasputin’s music, but not anywhere else, and only the street vendors on the parts of the street we walked. The good part is that there’s no such thing as a street vendor who doesn’t have a toe ring in Berkeley, so I got myself a little sterling silver butterfly that now sits on my right index toe (when it doesn’t turn around because it’s a little loose).
Then back in the car, after Josh’s dreads got comments from the old white hippies (they said he had the best they’d seen all day), and to Ital Kalabash for vegan bliss burgers and fried plantains, with a stop at Whole Foods in between so we could get Chrissy a backrub and try to banish the migraine that was still with her.
We dress in glad rags, the boys stick their goodies in pockets for safe keeping, and all seems ready. It’s then that Chrissy announces, via Josh, that her migraine’s too bad and she’s going to stay at home. So instead of two couples we’re three, two boys and a girl, going to the party. Luckily we managed to find it without Josh getting lost, a feat I’m coming to realize is more complex than it seems. The boys are confused when I wave to people on the street I don’t recognize, but it’s because they’ve got that little orange direction card that came with our instructions to the party, and we’re all going to be in the same place – if you consider friends are family, we’re distantly related anyway.
Funny about Kathy’s reception – it’s a strange mix of wedding and pretty party with an open bar. It probably feels that way because we didn’t participate in traditional wedding activities, and partially because I was there to see other friends just as much as her. I was realistic about the whole thing – I knew she wasn’t going to be able to hang out with us the entire night, not with her family there, and so felt glad at the multiple hugs and the few seconds we got to say hi, but didn’t worry about much else.
As for the rest of the night? We spent it gossiping and smoking and drinking after we were banished to the smoking section of the restaurant. They know how to make smokers feel like pariahs in Berkley, that’s for sure, because we weren’t even allowed out on the back porch with everyone else, but were instead tucked around a corner, behind some tall potted plants, and kind of down a hallway. The only compensation? The servers walked by us to get outside. We decimated entire trays of hors d’oevres.
The best parts of the night are vivid moments of laughter, the fact that Hawk and Miranda don’t need me to say that I love them; they get it from the hugs (which they give back in full measure). The sweetness of seeing Jon B. and his brand spanking new wife and getting to hug hello and goodbye. Having my J-Sue there, really there, even if it was with her silly actor boyfriend. He was fine, it’s just that no man will ever be good enough for her, ever. The silly joy of people laughing over the home video we made so they could see what the place looks like – my narration was pure me at my goofiest. It was hard to leave ‘em that night, even though we knew we’d be hanging out the next morning.
Of course, I discovered as soon as we took two steps outside of the reception that I had to use the bathroom (the wine having finally done it’s work). And since it was only a snacky party Josh stopped at the hamburger shack on the way home and we armed ourselves with those and french-fries. Two remarkable things happened there. One, Neil gave a man who asked for a couple of dollars his remaining dollar bill (he had $20’s left) and then, when the guy asked for any other spare change so that he could get a hamburger, my beloved looked in his wallet, said “Ah, what the fuck” and handed the guy a $20. Two, after this man had ordered his chili fries (he changed his mind once he had the $20) the guy who worked alone inside the hamburger shack saw my crazy pee-pee dance and let me use the employee only bathroom. And halleluiah the angels sang and the hamburgers were ready.
Back to the apartment, with both Neil and I determined to fill up the under-filled air mattress with the hope that we might sleep soundly through till morning. And luxuries of luxuries, they have DSL there so I could at least scan through the email and the flist and realize that I am addicted in the worst way to having my internet connection awake and available. And then there was sleep.
Day 3: Breakfast and Brad & Dar day.
Sunday started with a sweet Josh asking if we were awake again, and the only virtue of being on Central time is that we actually were awake and aware at 9:00 in the morning. We gathered ourselves together and made our way to Katy & Spence’s breakfast party, at Kathy & Spence’s actual house. God it’s adorable. The cute Berkeley houses and cute Berkely streets, and they’ve got one of ‘em smack dab in the middle, so sweet and lovely. And our crew showed up seconds behind us, just when we’d had enough time to find coffee and have a bagel, so we got to do the hugging thing all over again. We hung out on the back porch and watched the little boys play basket ball with the big boys, and talked about inconsequential things like landlords and rain and giggled at each other. Breakfast ended with 15 minute goodbyes, the first time we really got to talk to Kathy standing in her foyer with Josh and Crissy already outside waiting for us. But it was worth it. I love that woman, she is beautiful and wonderful.
We head back, say our parting hugs to the kittens and the kids, pack up all and sundry and get dropped at the airport to pick up the rental car, and all of a sudden we’re on our way to Palo Alto, come hell or high water.
I dreaded this part of the vacation – part of the reason why I didn’t properly anticipate the rest of it. I worried so much about Dar being ok with us coming to visit, with Brad acting like an ass. I wondered how the hell I was going to do as Dar had asked and apologize to Brad about Los Angeles. Something I didn’t care about before – apologizing. Well, no, I cared, but I was waiting for him to apologize to me. Some part of me still is and always will. But if that’s what it takes to make things better, maybe it doesn’t matter who apologizes to who. I sure has hell hope other people don’t hold things against me that I actually did do as long as he’s held against me what I didn’t.
So, yeah, not looking forward to that, was I? And there’s no telling what kind of a mood Dar was going to be in, so no telling if it was going to be fun or like pulling teeth. The only saving grace was that we’d made plans to stay with J-Sue that night, so at least if it was horrible we had an escape.
And then, it turned into nothing horrible at all. Because these two people, regardless of all the fucked up shit that seems to go on over the phone or when we’re alone and all the barriers are down, are both intelligent, sweet, and can manage to fake that everything’s fine for an afternoon. And they did. Dar for us and Brad for Dar, but I’m not going to quibble with it.
We went and saw industrial landscapes. I’m pretty sure that’s what the photography was called. Even if I can’t remember the name of the man who did them. Beautiful and deadly, workers standing serene amidst a wealth of scrap iron in India, where they dump all the oil tankers because they don’t have to worry about regulations there. Or panoramas looking at the bottom of a quarry, with tractors at the bottom. These are the great works of man.
I told Dar, in jest, that maybe in another 2 or 3 thousand years someone would excavate a quarry and wonder if our generations were digging massive temples, the reverse of pyramids, to celebrate our ability to move the earth and control it. She laughed with me.
We played in the museum shop, with baubles and toys that changed their color. We ate at the museum café, where everything needed a little bit of salt, but oh well, it was healthy. We walked back to their apartment only to find it doesn’t really accommodate two people, much less four, and headed to their bar instead. At least the bar had chairs, even if the table (at the other end) was grubby from an entire lobster carcass that was left sitting there. We talked about harmless things, I gossiped, Dar listened, and Neil and Brad did the boy thing on the other side of the table. We looked at the sky and goofed and I drank badly frozen fruity drinks because the boys thought I’d like them (ok, it’s true, I am a goofy drink girl). After enough of those that I was feeling pleasantly mellow and relaxed and comfortable enough to borrow cigarettes from Brad when mine ran out, we decided another meal was in order.
I know, food, food and more food. Sadly, by that time I was kinda hungry. It’s funny though, because Brad knows everyone in every restaurant and all the bars in Palo Alto. Or, at least, it seems that way. But we got a complimentary plate of falafel out of it, which was scrumptious, and I had some freakishly amazing yoghurt lamb that was seriously divine. And Brad shook the floor manager’s hand goodbye after we were done.
Then we were on our merry way. There were no tears, some hugs, and a lot of goodbye’s. It’s hard because we live so far away but it seems as if it was just a minute ago that we saw them last. Partially that’s because they’re in the same place, doing similar things, but in part it’s just because we’re, none of us, changing that much as we get older. So six months doesn’t end the world anymore. It’s comforting, and a little scary at the same time.
One thing that wasn’t scary was the drive from Palo Alto to Jaime-Sue’s house, though. Easy as pie, actually, even if we did get lost. We made our way through the Northern California countryside, with it’s dry grass and evergreen leaves, and it all seemed surreal and familiar and unchanging. We arrived to find her boyfriend had the TV on so loud you could barely think, J-Sue on the computer, the puppies on the couch, and us more tired than we’d expected. I checked email, because of course I knew my dearest girl would have a wireless connection available to me, and I’d missed it, dammit. Not that I responded to any, but I checked it!
We got to play with the puppies, and listen while J-Sue talked about going on vacation in Mauritius. She does have an adorable house and adorable puppies and is very much adorable herself, so that kind of saves everything. Besides, when we see her it’s like no real time has passed.
So we tucked ourselves into the bedroom, and one of the puppies, Azzie, started out sleeping at the foot of the bed. By morning she’d managed to squirm her way between us, and we made one snuggly pile and slept in.
Day 4: Santa Cruz & The Andersens (you can’t go back home again)
Well, we woke up with puppy love. Tazy (the other puppy) decided it was time to join us at about 9:30, and we got to wake up with puppies on the bed, bouncing around, ready for us to goof around with them. It was giggly and goofy and lovely.
Finally we pulled ourselves away and tromped out to the car, figured out how to use the navigation system properly and drove ourselves to the place where we, Neil and I, first met. University of California at Santa Cruz. I haven’t been back, to walk around and actually look, since I left. It hasn’t changed as much as everyone says it has, not really. Sure, there are more buildings, but what did they expect? That the entire thing would stay the same? And no, I don’t like the four story parking lot in the middle of campus that used to be trees… but I remember what a bitch it was to park on campus when I went to school there, and they’ve probably doubled their admissions since then. We went to Crown (where Neil’s from) and tromped around the dorms there. We went to Kresge (where I’m from) and wandered around there, found out Earl is teaching Lit 101 in fall (oh how I missed you Earl!) and got one of his books from the co-op. Semiotics for Dummies. Basically. With cartoons. But it was a funny read on the plane home, so I’m a happy girl.
After that we met Miles for lunch, and proved that Texas Mexican food wins over California Mexican food hands down. Ok, granted, the place we went was in Scotts Valley, so, hey, it doesn’t really have that going for it. But seriously, Texas is where it’s at. It was good to see Miles though, and see where he worked, and get to hug him and make him laugh a little. That part was fun.
Then we were back to San Jose to hang with Jon (and eventually Rebecca). I was frightened the night before because Neil had mentioned that Jon said they had rats and ants and boy did that not sound appealing. Instead we found a paradise of backyard proportions. Jon has a mini-koi pond complete with mini-koi, beautiful grass and lovely potted plants, comfortable chairs and little candles on the table. Yep, it’s a Jon environment. The man is the master of the tranquil backyard. He’s either spent too many decades looking at backyard setups and now has the pictures and the configurations permanently etched in his brain, or he’s just naturally bent that way.
But we sat on his back porch and drank mai tai, talked with him and gossiped with him, and drank and smoked, until Rebecca got home with Thomas. After that we did more of the same, just with dinner and less smoking involved. It was fun. But it felt like no time had passed since the last time we’d visited, even though we had proof positive things had changed: new house, a son twice the size he was when we saw him last, and more gray hairs on all of us.
And then, after conversation gave way to sleepy yawns, we hopped back in the car and made our way to J-Sues’ again, to be greeted by girl outside, with puppies frisking in the yard. We wound down and settled in, and made sure to set the alarm in the morning.
Day 5: The ride home
To explain . . . no, to sum up: We got to the airport 3 hours early, and the flights home were uneventful, except for the knee-knocking 30 second turbulence that got me all worried. Luckily I had my beloved with me, who half-laughed at me being afraid, but held my hand anyway.
And then . . . we were HOME. Home, where the air smells good and the cars drive slow and there are more trees and less lights. Home, where the kitten waited for us, safe and sound, to deliver a constant stream of berating meows because we’d been gone so long.
That, I think, was it.