The Skies Ran On Forever

The classic Orb song Little Fluffy Clouds has resurfaced twice in my life lately. What makes it especially spooky is that it’s come to me from two totally unrelated quarters – my two closest male friends; my ‘adopted brother,’ here in the City, and my best friend, in New York City, who know each other only in a secondhand fashion, through me (poor bastards).

 

My best friend put the song on a CD he made for me for my recent SoCal road trip. It is a special memory between us, as I was working as an intern at its distribution label back in 1991 and it was one of the first acts I promoted, giving out copies of the CD like candy to my contemporaries at the time, including him. We were skinny and smooth and broke, happy to work together in menial jobs, making $5.50 an hour while singing along, ‘layering different sounds……when I lived in Arizona, the skies ran on forever……..’

 

It reminds us both of being so young and gorgeously reckless. We were deconstructing it recently and I said, ‘Doesn’t that remind you of being 20 and you’d go over to a friend’s house on a Sunday afternoon and they’d be all, hey I’ve got some E, you want some? And you’d be all, OK sure, and pop it like an aspirin, all, who cares if I have to work tomorrow? And now, you know, if you were going to take any kind of hallucinogenic, which you wouldn’t, because by now most of us have seen, you know, enough of the inside of our own heads, but let’s just say you were for the sake of argument, it’d be a goddamned two-week planning process. At least. You’d have to get everything all in order: your silky modal sheets, your favorite jammies, lotion, a couple gallons of water, 2 packs of cigarettes and a whole industrial strip of gum because you sure aren’t leaving the house and going into a store for anything, and 20 of the most perfect CDs, in fact you might have to burn some just for the occasion……….’ and so on. None of us can even be bothered with all that anymore. And we laughed, and said yeah, basking in the joy of understanding and mutual memory.

 

So then last week my ‘adopted brother’ sent me a YouTube link to the video, which I’d never seen.

 

“OMG!” I typed back in IM, “No way! I didn’t even know you knew that song! That song has total meaning in my history!”

 

He replied that it had deep meaning for him, as well as for nearly everyone he ever knew from Back In The Day. But it doesn’t mean anything to his girlfriend, and that makes him just a little bit sad. She is mad cool and all, not a dork or socially inept or anything, but she just wasn’t, you know, down like that. She can’t, though she may nobly try, get his references in that respect. She was too busy getting a degree, on schedule, and getting a good job, while the rest of us were pole dancing or rolling in the desert or winning Mr. Pan Dulce contests or whatever.

 

But eventually all of us got off the pole or out of the desert and got our shit together. We went to school (or not), got ‘professional’ jobs, made our way in the world in whatever fashion is working for us and became timely rent payers, tax filers, and general all-around responsible citizens – but with flava. And there’s the rub. My best friend and I have lamented long into the night about the elusive Holy Grail of Boyfriends – a man who is both equally well-seasoned, rich with life experience and sticky floors and long nights, and yet gets up on time and goes to work and balances his checkbook, uses big words and buys decent bed linens and doesn’t get busted for driving drunk or selling pills or not paying child support or have a whole bunch of court dates on his dance card – a man more like, well – us.

 

Hot, sweet, charming, and problem-addled boys are easy to find and easier to enjoy – until Monday morning, when they’re sleeping off the weekend while you force yourself out of bed to make coffee and get your downtown game face on. Or until Thursday night, when you come home after a hard day at work dealing with The Man and he’s sitting around in his shorts illegally downloading music onto your laptop and smoking cigarettes in your living room, and dinner isn’t on the table and the dishes are piled up in the sink. And that just won’t do.

 

And then there’s Mr. Milquetoast, Mr. Good on Paper. He’s easy to find, too. He’s passably attractive, if not smolderingly alluring, and he does all those responsible things that you do and you appreciate in a partner, but he doesn’t get Little Fluffy Clouds or comedowns, tales of skinned knees and dollar bills and playa dust. He may not judge you, but he doesn’t get you, and he usually doesn’t have very good taste in shoes, and that just won’t do, either.

 

It’s not as simple as Nice Guy/Bad Boy. Would that it were. Where is the hybrid, the blend, the guy who is just like me and like my best friend, who pays the rent but wears cool kicks and gets it? Where, I ask you, is the love?

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A Simple Kind Of Life

So I was married once. Almost had a kid with the guy. But didn’t. It was sad and tragic and hard, and I came out feeling like I’d had a layer of skin burned off but much wiser about who I am and what I do and do not want – wisdom that money just can’t buy, but blood and guts and tears sure can.batiquitos

 

Me and the ex have stayed friends and usually have monthly conversations in which we catch up – I tell him about my dullsville but decently-paying job, my dogs, or my latest purchases or plans for short-range trips, and he tells me about his endless Bacchanalian partying, the girlfriend du jour, any recent legal woes, and all the working for a living he’s not doing. And then we laugh over milky Irish tea and old memories and know that we love each other still and always will, no matter what, even though our couple of years together chewed us both up and spat us out, but the love was real and always will be.

 

Last time we talked, a few months ago, he was going to go to France and Spain to hang out and party on the Continent with his new ho, I mean bitch, I mean, ahem, love interest. I’m just teasing. I’m sure she’s a lovely girl, but I never miss an opportunity to take the piss, especially at the French, which she kind of is. But anyway. If I sound bitter, it’s not over the love interest, it’s that he’s fucking off across Gay Paree while I’m sweatin’ the spreadsheets and ain’t nothin’ goin’ on here but the rent, yo. But the truth is, that’s on me. I had my chance to sleep in train stations and shift sultry foreigners on rocky beaches and do lots of drugs on MDMA-addled moors and, historically being far less adventurous than I’d like to believe I am, I didn’t. If my ex has the chance to fecklessly shag and roll his way through Western Europe, more power to him. God bless him. I just hope he doesn’t drink himself into the grave while doing it, which is a real possibility.

 

It dawned on me a couple of weeks ago that I hadn’t spoken to him in ages, so I tried to ring him but it wouldn’t go through. Ah well, that’s broadband phone service for you. Whatever. Then, yesterday, out of nowhere, I get a text message (he’s European, so he can be forgiven) from him reading: “Hey darlin. How u doin. Got news 4 ya. Gimme a ring whenever.” Now I know, surely as I know the sun rises in the east, that ‘news,’ phrased thusly, means one of two things: a bid or a baby, and I was pretty sure I knew which it was.

 

And I was right.

 

Thank God, no stints in Mountjoy. His current sentence will be much, much longer: the fertile little Frog is six weeks along.

 

“When’d you find out?” I asked.

 

“Saturday,” he said.

 

“Wow,” I offered, “so, how do you feel about that?”

 

“Well,” he replied, “I’ve been on the piss ever since,” meaning, as I quickly did the math, he’s been drinking for five days straight.

 

Which reminds me of an awful late August night, many years ago, when I took him up on the back stairs of my flat with a bottle of Jameson’s in hand, overlooking the dome of City Hall* (where we shortly thereafter got married) and the sparkling lights of downtown, and as he unscrewed the cap I told him there was a stork in the post. He blinked, blinked again, swallowed hard, and then cocked back his arm and threw the cap of the whiskey bottle off into the vast, dark night and said, “Well, we won’t be needing that again,” for which I will always love him. And then he asked me what we were going to name her.

 

But this is now, today, 2006, and he’s in Ireland and I’m in California and he’s giving me this difficult news, telling me he’s been on a weeklong piss-up, and then does the quintessential Irish recover: “Ah no, no, it’s grand like, it’s cool, it’s cool,” and my heart sank, because I know this boy, and I know it ain’t cool. Not at all.

 

I congratulated him and we agreed to talk later, when he’d sobered up and I had more time. And I sat and observed my emotions flow by like fast-moving clouds in the sky: shock, apprehension, anger, sadness, melancholy, relief, and hope for him and her and he or she, which is where I’ve arrived at and hope I will stay.

 

It’s like this: it’s on me that I didn’t sleep in Spanish train stations or drop E in cornfields when I was young and meaninglessly employed and easily could have, and that, I regret. And it’s also on me that I kicked him to the curb (which he would never have done to me), put him on a plane and sent him home (although he managed to get a two-week holiday in the Scrubs between the two, but that’s another day, another blog) to get himself together because it sure wasn’t happening in my house, and that, while it might sadden me just a little, I don’t regret.

 

And it’s on me that I won’t ever be giving the news that he gave to me to anyone. I don’t want to birth kids of my own, and I’m cool with that. Real cool. I’ve seen what sacrifices people, especially working- and middle-class people, have to make in this country to have kids, and I am not signing up for that shit. I have never been a patient woman, and I don’t particularly fancy wee humans for more than a few hours until they can, you know, reason, and as an only child of crazy parents, I’m not big on dependent and needy, so, small children are pretty much out.

 

But my ex, I always thought he would make a great Dad. His playfulness, his imagination, his own childlike qualities in general, and the fact that he was second oldest in a brood of five all bear out this belief. When we babysat my Goddaughter, he was the one with her up on his shoulders and running around the jungle gym while I sat on the bench reading the Sunday paper and worrying the crossword puzzle. Whether he can manage to be a good partner to the mother of his kids is another story, but I cultivate a cautious hope, like millions before me, that perhaps this child will be the key to him finally living up to the promise of his manhood and turn him into the stand-up guy I always wished he would be. And me? Though I have nothing but respect for parenthood and motherhood, I have turned my back on that cozy, damp, claustrophobic domesticity and towards something else: autonomy, sleeping in, writing letters til midnight, the open road, cheese and crackers for dinner if I damn well feel like it. Some might call that selfishness. I don’t give a fuck.

 

These are the decisions we make, that we have to live with, and that we learn to make peace with and even love, even though we might sometimes play the ‘What-If Game’ or think about roads not taken. About a month ago, I was driving down the 5 from San Clemente to San Diego, listening to CDs my best friend, also fiercely independent, had made for me. As I was crossing the bridge that spans the Batiquitos Lagoon in Carlsbad, which has always seemed magical to me, Gwen Stefani sang out of my speakers, “Sometimes I wish for a mistake/now all those simple things are simply too complicated for my life/how’d I get so faithful to my freedom?” and a fierce wave gripped my heart and my chest hurt. But I wasn’t sad, I was joyous: joyous to be free, be at peace with my decisions and their consequences, which, while not easy, were absolutely, irrevocably mine.

I’m Very Afraid

So my glamorous weekend was filled with things like washing the dogs, paying the bills, and stocking the cupboards. To this end, I decided a little jaunt to Trader Joe’s was just the ticket. Since grocery shopping on an empty stomach is a dangerous proposition that never ends well – unless you consider a larder full of peanut-butter filled pretzels and macaroons viable – I thought I’d stop in at Una Mas for just a little cup of tortilla soup before I entered the grociferous (yes, I made that shit up) fray.

 

I ordered my sopa, sat down, and opened my latest read. All of sudden, out of nowhere, this sad little man materialized next to my table. Middle-aged or getting there, very rumpled, baseball cap, clutching a tatty notebook. Too clean to be homeless, but had that off-kilter, transient vibe.

 

“Can I talk to you for a minute?” he asked in a stilted voice, to which I haltingly replied that I was reading for a school assignment (16 years of deflecting both homeless hustles and predatory male come-ons makes San Franciscan women really fabulous, off-the-cuff liars).

 

“Please?” he asked in a way that was so heartbreakingly plaintive I acquiesced. He sat down and I actually closed my book, pushed it aside, put my See Jesus In The Face of Outcasts hat on, and gave the guy my full attention.

 

“I’m really scared,” he said, “I’m very afraid. I have a lot of fears. Can I have a hug?”

 

Yeah. It was like that.

 

I never did give the guy a hug, but I sat there for fifteen minutes or so (wouldn’t you know, they lost my order, which I only found out after I went up the counter asked them to make it to go, please, andale) listening to him and answering his repetitious questions. I learned that he lives in a nearby board & care home, that they yell at him for eating too slowly, that he was called a child molester at the mall by a security guard (I checked out the Megan’s Law database when I got home; no sign of him), he has an older brother who told him it was OK to talk to ‘older ladies’ (ahem) but not younger ones, and that he’s 52. He asked me if I were married, and as every woman in public knows, the answer is always ‘yes.’ The conversation went kind of like this:

 

“I’m really afraid. I’m scared. Tell me it’ll be OK.”

“You don’t need to be scared. It’s OK. What are you afraid of?”

“Will your husband beat me up?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Cause he’s a nice guy.”

“Can I give you my address?”

“Yes.”

“Will your husband get mad? Will he call the police?”

“No.”

“Why? I’m really afraid. I have a lot of fears. Tell me it’ll be OK.”

 

………..and on and on and on. I managed to learn his name and get his address, and get a quick peek at his notebook, which seemed filled with pages of really trippy scrawls I’d have given about anything to get a good look at. He asked if he could go grocery shopping with me and I delicately extricated myself from that proposition, but I did let him walk me out to my car. He left me, waving, and yelling, “Bye!” as I drove away. I was glad the encounter had ended, but a forlorn feeling followed me for hours. Something about ‘retarded’/developmentally disabled/whatever folks has always brought out extreme pathos in me, kind of like abandoned pit bull puppies or stray kittens or something. And the guy was kinda pushy and everything but I couldn’t help wanting to, I don’t know, make him feel better. Or less afraid. Or something.