Pathetic, but true:
I was puzzled why it was so hard to find a rental car for Friday until I arrived at the alternate rental car outlet at 7:30 in
the morning and saw the lot of us waiting for the gate to open. We are molecules waiting for heat. I could see by the baskets of road trip shtuff, the smell of SPF 30, the bickering between couples that would surely result in tears before bedtime that night, that a major holiday was commencing.
I was just going to a wedding, a birthday party, and a confession that day. And I needed a car to make it to each of them.
I didn’t mention it.
There was a lot of charming and cajoling going on immediately in the rental car office. Either you had a reservation or you didn’t. If you had one it wasn’t eligible for the loudly advertised pennies a day special outside or it was. If you were eligible it was applicable to an SUV upgrade or it wasn’t. This seemed such complicated striving, that I slipped quietly into the Saturn (platinum) and left. The clerk had pointed out eight areas of damage on it. A couple times I tried to find them again. No luck.
At the County Clerk’s office, I parked directly across the street in a hugh swath of unfilled parallel parking spaces. I assumed they had been vacated in deference to a security alert and that the car would be immediately towed for suspicious resting. The potential fine, detention, and misdemeanor possession charge were large enough to render the first risk of parking negligible: I left the meter gaping for coinage like a tiny bird.
We snapped digital photographs of the happy bride and groom as they ceremoniously walked to the counter and took a number to wait for their turn. A photograph was taken of the clerk as she processed the paperwork. A photograph was taken of the cashier as she accepted the $13. A photograph was taken of the receipt. Frank offered me his seat in the Wedding Room because he was planning to remain standing so he could take photographs. We all were given bunches of lavender to hold, and the photographers juggled them.
But to hear these dear people speak so plainly to eachother in commitment, to learn the language of the separated state encouraging them to love one another, to put our arms around them, and to take the hands of the groom’s parents and congratulate them?
It was just a very good way to start a morning.
I returned to the car and had not been towed or ticketed. As I exited, someone slipped into the space behind me instantaneously. No beats were missed.
After 90 miles of stop and go, I took a shady spot in a strangely empty block of parallel parking spaces across from the Capitol. The meter accepted quarters only, and I had dimes. I decided to accept the ticket because I had evaded the earlier one, and set off across this flat hot sea of governmental seat to find the birthday party of my old college roommate. She was turning 42 that day: the answer to the ultimate question of the meaning of life, the universe and everything. If she wanted to sit on the Capitol Lawn (across, we realized, from Jerry Brown’s old place) and have a picnic, well…
I passed many picnics: the kinds legislators have for their staffs and campaign contributors on the eve of a major holiday. There were lines snaking everywhere to be served from the chafing dishes that were being heated to 1000 degrees in the relatively mild 96 degree weather. Every line had one or two servicemen in formal uniform.
Our picnic was under the shade of an enormous tree and I called out to the guest of honor from 20 yards out. How did you know it was me, she asked? We haven’t seen eachother in 10 years and my back was to you. You look exactly as I remember you, I said to the 42 year old woman. She nearly crushed me in an embrace. Her husband, who I was about to meet, winked at me from over her shoulder.
A friend made a gift to her of a flag she picked up in Italy. It was your classic Castro rainbow flag with giant letters on it: pace (the Italian word for peace). She also included some snapshots of how Italians were flying this flag from their houses, rather by the kerjillions. A small packet fell out of the bag on the grass, and she apologized. I got these nudie men cards for you because I thought they’d be really hunky, but… and she trailed off. So we said in unison: They’re really gay? Yes, she said, relieved we understood. Not a problem, as the birthday girl ripped off the cellophane. Who’s up for a game of Go Fish?
We all were.
I trailed the entire game and was abused for my mishandling of the nude gay men. But ultimately I won the game (?). I was immediately abused for winning, so I realized all was well.
When I got back to the car, there wasn’t a ticket on it.
It wasn’t until I passed my brother going the opposite way that I had to pull a righteous 10th-grader in the high school parking lot 180 to catch him. His choice was to go 40mph in reverse. That’s when the blue placard fell out from the passenger side visor. Apparently I had been using a handicap parking permit, visible only from the street in the upper corner of the windshield.
Not luck, misrepresentation.
I had made an appointment with him to find out about his ailing marriage, and I think he was avoiding it. Instead of remanding to a bar, he managed to lead me to his house which was filled with children, wife, and leaping dog so we had to be restricted in our conversation to niceties, of which we had plenty. They were so delighted to be together for the extended holiday, and delighted I popped in. I pretended to ignore the side conversation which included an accusation that he had been withholding the news of my visit. I can only talk about it here. Now you know and now when I wait for the next thing to happen, I am, to some extent, not waiting all alone.
My last appointment was with my first boss. As one of the first people not bound to me by blood who seemed to be inately convinced of my abilities, I lean on him prior to making big decisions. I was prepared to tell him my story of reluctance, or is it Reluctance. I would not sugar coat it. I would not be clever. I would tell him how Reluctant I was, and how Impossible-making it was all Becoming.
After about 10 seconds in his office he turned to me and began to weep a little and then, just as quickly, instantaneously recover. I leaned forward to look at him closely, then said
We better go.
Five hours later, I had learned the story of his extremely complicated 50-year old life. It was, I have to say, Beirut-y, with
all deference to actual residents of Beirut. Such heartbreak and missteps and tragic miscalculation and sad, sweet intent. It was
captured in this metaphor of the front room of the new house he had escaped to on this flood plain of Sacatormento:
A gorgeous empty room but for an enormous television sitting on a towel on the floor.
That’s all he has to furnish this room. And it’s not even plugged in.
I had planned to stay the night but I climbed in the rental car and hurtled home. I had to sing, football terrace style, songs from
Sesame Street to stay awake. I placed the crappy radio on scan so I could shout out the name of the song before it evaporated every five seconds. The road was empty.
Once home, I wept under the stream of the shower at all the fantastic… human-ness of these people. MZ asks me how everyone was and I tell him he’ll have to wait until we’re in line for a show with doors that remain closed much to the dismay of all of us who showed up hours ago but the headliner is having problems with the soundcheck and it must be resolved before the house can be opened. Then, I said, I will condemn the artist loudly as a mental defective, and commence telling you the story of this day. Can’t you tell me even a little? he asks. There isn’t enough time before sleep overtakes me, I explain.
I woke up when MZ took the pen out my hand, but that’s really all I can remember.