Dear friends,

 

Happy New Year, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and holidays to you! I hope you are in good health, warm company, and fine spirits as this letter reaches you – if so, you’ve beaten the odds; and if not, I hope this helps.

 

I am well enough; certainly in good health and in the loving company of my family, though as for spirits, I must confess those dive and soar as the waves of life roll past. I know that I haven’t written you in quite some time – I can say this safely because I haven’t written anyone in quite some time: it just hasn’t been a part of my life lately. Nonetheless, there is a certain tradition to the end of each year; a sense of finality and closure, and I’d like to do my bit to convey some of the fading wonder of my 2010 to you.

 

This time last year, I was in Nicaragua – a lovely country with wonderful, but far from home and family. I spent my Christmas with a handful of travelers and expatriates on a remote beach on the Pacific shore, throwing rocks into the ocean out of cell phone range, as far from the modern world as I could manage. For New Years I got disgustingly drunk with people I barely knew, making a complete ass of myself in front of a girl I had been trying to impress, and ended up burning a long list of everything I wished to remove from my life in a bonfire – I distinctly remember both “my ties to the country I was born in” and “the baggage of my past” being on that sheet of paper. Judging from my present position, that worked out amazingly well, and I’ve had no further problems in that area.

 

After the New Year, I hitched rides down to the capital of Nicaragua, rode buses to Panama City, and spent entirely too much time at border crossings in an attempt to meet up with a good friend and ride the same plane as him down to Colombia. Being as he had all the details on where we were going, it was only fitting I never saw him. Instead, I got into a late-night argument with a fabulous girl from New York, and we ended up traveling together and dating. (Let that be a lesson to everyone – if she opens the conversation with “Oh my God, are you still on your fucking phone?!” she is a keeper.)

 

Anyway, Natalie and I had a wonderful time, and after I convinced her to blow off her trip to Peru, we did a tour of some of the more beautiful parts of one of the more ridiculously beautiful countries on the planet. Seriously – find someone who has been to Colombia who will dispute the awesomeness of this country, and you’ve found a complete curmudgeon – congrats. America has Natalie largely to thank for rehabilitating her image in my mind: I guess I figured that if someone as great as her could come out of the country, then it couldn’t be all terrible. She and I spent about 3, 3 ½ weeks together, and then out of nowhere she was gone and I was alone again. Following a terribly overwrought airport goodbye scene and a crazy cokehead-driven bus ride north, what else was there for me to do except check into a mountaintop paragliding school for the next month?

 

I almost died there – not a joke at all – I’m a bad paraglider. I ended up in the bushes a few times, draped a glider over some power lines, and on my very last flight crashed into a tree and fell 40-50 feet to the ground. It’s no small miracle that I’m still here to tell this story. Still, it was a legendary experience, and nothing I’ve ever done before or since can directly compare. At the end of February, I said my goodbyes, packed my bags, and the very next morning took off to the airport. There I undertook one of the weirdest transitions in my life – torrential rain delay, 12 or 15 hours of flights (Colombian Airlines are great by-the-by) and then straight into “Snowpocalypse” – a huge blizzard with sub-zero temperatures. Did I mention I flew to NYC to visit Natalie in lieu of coming home? Yeah, that happened.

 

So there I am; torn jeans, pack of smelly clothes, t-shirt with volcanoes on it, and I’ve invited myself to come live with a girl I’ve known for less time than you’ve known the guy at your local gas station. Crazy, right? Definitely – crazy is a good descriptive word for the life I was leading. I got a cab to Natalie’s apartment, showed up extremely nervous she would just see me and slam the door, and instead was treated to a fabulous time with a lovely lady. She’d even “borrowed” a coat from some guy who had left it at a bar – good thing too, or I would have died of cold for sure! As it was, I invaded her life, she took me in with striking hospitality, and we made the best of the cold and poverty. It was a great time, made better by that strange sense of transience that comes from knowing one of you is going to bail out of town at a moment’s notice – As it was, I left just before her birthday. What can I say? I am a classy man.

 

What ended up happening is that I had placed a posting on Craigslist asking if someone was headed in the general direction of Los Angeles, and would they be so kind as to take a total stranger along with them? It worked better than I could have hoped: five hours after I sent my message, I received one from a man named Matt, who just so happened to be moving to LA. I called him, he sounded exactly like I didn’t expect a serial killer to sound, and that was good enough – the only drawback was leaving Natalie earlier than I wanted to. We had this fabulous goodbye; just like a romance novel really, and then she went off to school, and I went back into to the coffee shop to wait for my ride. Here’s how good this goodbye was – a little old lady came up to me as Natalie faded into the distance and told me that she only saw people part ways like that in the movies!

 

Then Matt called to postpone our departure – he’d found another rider who wanted to pay for gas. I went back to Natalie’s place, killed some time, and managed to delay leaving just long enough to see her coming home from the subway as I went down to the subway to head into the city. It was… the opposite of a romance novel goodbye. We made out on the cold sidewalk for a bit and then I – stupidly! – headed into Manhattan and let her get away again. As it turned out, Matt was running even later, and I was too broke to do most anything. I hung out with my cousin for a bit, and spent a couple more hours casually hiding inside the Apple store drinking cough syrup to keep from freezing and reflecting on how much better my life would be if I’d just stayed at Natalie’s place. Nonetheless, as a legitimate homeless person, I felt that a certain image had to be maintained – I’m sure the real patrons appreciated it.

 

Sometime after midnight Matt and I finally met up and began driving. The other guy – forget his name – and Matt rode up front, and I passed out almost immediately among the strewn books and bags and detrius of a man’s life uprooted. By the time I woke up, we were in Ohio. Illinois? Ohio. With 3 people you can swap drivers from here til next week, and nobody really gets tired of it, so it only took us 16 or 20 hours to get to Nashville, even after detouring to drop off Adam or Steve or Jesus at his family’s home and eat their peanut butter sandwiches. I took a few pictures – the best being a “Florence Y’all” water tower in Florence, and a street sign with Church going one way and Gay the other. Also, Matt pointed out the eye of Sauron on a local high rise. Finally, we found the Music City hostel, and made ourselves at home.

 

Nashville was a treat – country music Mecca, busking musicians everywhere, country dancing, swing bands, and we happened to pull into town right as the biggest college basketball conference tournament I’ve ever personally seen rolled into the city. Every night it was dance parties, every day strange adventures and surprisingly awesome Mexican food. With the foreign travelers and artists and drifters, I felt right at home. Matt and I enjoyed it all so much that we barely made it out of town with money enough for gas!

 

Lacking funds, food, and with my randomly-imposed March 17th deadline fast approaching, we booked it across the country. If you consider the 12 or so hours we spent at the home of the always-hospitable Becky and Seth in Durant as “on pause”, then it took us just under 48 hours to drive from Nashville to Venice Beach, where Matt and I parted ways forever friends. Speaking of friends, one of my best buddies Rad drove wayyy out of his daily life to come pick me up and buy me dinner that first night, and the gratitude I felt I still feel now. A friend will give you ride, but only a true best friend will come pick you up, tell you that you stink so badly that he’s not allowing you to go to a restaurant, and then buy you pizza! I spent the night with Chad and Rad, their respective girlfriends, and the infamous Jake motherfuckin’ Wood, who I’m sure you’ve heard of. If not, you really need to get out there. They took a lovely shot of me passed out about 3-4 hours after my arrival – It was a bit of an adventure!

 

However, all adventures end, and this one came to a pretty abrupt close just as soon as I made it back home. Little aside here – by this point, I have had a quite respectable epic adventure. I’ve crossed nations, I’ve changed continents, I’ve flown, I’ve crash-landed, I’ve met a girl, fallen in love, and moved in with her, I’ve made a handful of lifetime friends, I’ve been threatened with arrest and thrown out of very nice establishments. These first 3 months of 2010 have set an incredibly high bar for the rest of the year, no? Well, as it turns out, this is where the whole mood changes, and 2010 becomes the hardest year of my life.

 

If you didn’t already know, my younger brother is Schizophrenic. He’s not only schizophrenic – it isn’t a definition – but it’s certainly something you ought to know about the guy before you meet him, because once you do meet him, you’re going to want that sort of an explanation! Otherwise, depending on his mood and medication level, he’s going to strike you as anything from “slightly eccentric” to “Holy shit.”

 

When I first saw Ken after nearly 15 months away, I wasn’t prepared. At the time, he wasn’t diagnosed, wasn’t medicated, and while my mother had sent me many emails about his declining condition and her worries about him, there just isn’t any way to prepare for something like seeing your brother after his descent into madness. He was a wreck – not at first, when he came to pick me up and drive me home, but 3 hours later, when he began vividly arguing and gesticulating with someone imaginary in the hallway, it became very clear that something was horribly wrong.

 

The whole time I was gone, I had this snapshot of my family just as I had left them. In in, we’re all happy, smiling; I’m trying to shove the dog’s head in my mouth – we’re a normal, happy, family even if Dad takes blood pressure pills and Kyle had seizures as a kid. All of a sudden, we weren’t normal. That snapshot was bullshit. I had just been fooling myself all along. I walked into my family home and it was like a whole other family had inhabited the bodies of my parents and brothers. They were automatons going through the motions and each individually seeking to escape the terrible situation thrust upon them, and to come into that as I did, hopeful, ecstatic, energized to take on the world and beat it – well, it took the life right out of me.

 

To be fair, I was forewarned – my entire homecoming had been orchestrated in response to a series of emails received from Ken, mom, and a trusted friend while I was still in Panama. Actually, that moment I met Natalie – “Are you still on your fucking phone?!” – I was reading a lengthy email from Ken about how the parents didn’t understand him and were conspiring to lock him up in prison. It’s not so much I didn’t know, but really that I couldn’t see the situation accurately from afar – I didn’t want to, I wasn’t able to, I didn’t.

 

I abandoned pretty much all my plans upon coming home – Becky has warned me as we left her house that family problems tend to suck everyone in, and I’d sworn up and down that I would never, ever, for any reason, let that happen to me – driving across Arizona I’d sworn it to myself a dozen times. Yet within 48 hours of coming home I surrendered to the task at hand and started rebuilding. I put away all my photos – I’ve never shown traveling pictures to anyone, ever. Most of them never made it out of my camera except to be copied to my hard drives. My pack is still mostly packed, sitting in a corner of my closet, full of memories and trinkets. I swallowed my stories, let the fire in my eyes ember, and went into damage control – and what damage there was.

 

Mostly, I went into a tailspin. Transitioning from travel to home is difficult in the best circumstances, but going from full-on transience to sedentary life, trading hitchhiking for a desk job, and giving up writing, music, singing, and dancing all at once? That’s just a recipe for disaster. I fell apart, got a data-entry job for the Census, and the next few months are a blur of a job I hated, a home life I hated, and brief gems of home – letters from friends out in the world, free rock climbing with an old friend, and occasional escape to my sanctuary with Chad-Rad-Jake at the new “Boy’s House.”

 

I don’t mean to sound as if I wasn’t happy to see my family – I’m sure that comes across, but isn’t true – I was perfectly ecstatic to see them again, but to see them like this hurt like a sword through the chest. You never want to see your loved ones doubting their own existence, blaming themselves for genetics, or squirreling themselves away to hide from the failing family dynamic. Nobody who hasn’t been through a complete family meltdown can quite grasp how it undermines everything else in your life – we were all spending our days just trying to get up, work, eat, and get back to sleep again, and any day where all that happened without something else breaking was a good day. Looking back from right now, in a slightly brighter but still grim present, I have no clue how everyone pulled through that.

 

Slowly, it did get better. Ken got a diagnosis, new medication, birthdays passed, I got a job waiting tables, Dad graduated the police academy (3rd time through, those fucking bastards) and on the whole, things looked like they might be recovering. Also, some long-time friends got married, and celebration always helps to bring up the spirits. I mean, Ken did cold-cock me in the eye at one of the weddings after going cold turkey off his pills, and I started my new job with a fantastically swollen black eye, but we got through all that, and it’s been a gradual upslope ever since.

 

Yes, except for Dad losing his job, and my hours being cut so that I had to take a job washing dishes at minimum wage, and Ken’s recovery hitting a plateau, and Kyle’s grades, and Mom’s mental health, and the stolen trailer, and the broken pool motor, and the money trouble, and the arguments, and the silent malaise overshadowing every instant of our lives, it’s been a steady rise to the present. One might even say we’re quite lucky really – most people can’t take another crisis, whereas we’re so used to them that it’s all taken in stride. “Oh look,” one of us will yawn, “While we weren’t home tonight, the peaceful dottering old dog we all love and cherish fell into the icy pool and drown because she was too blind and weak to get out. How perfectly appropriate.” Don’t you wish I was making that up.

 

I think we’ve been cursed perhaps, or maybe pissed off Apollo or some of those Norse gods – not enough sacrificing, or insufficient lamentation. Perhaps life on the shit end of the stick was just too good for us, so we’ve been downgraded to the shit itself. I don’t really know the answer, but I can tell you that ever since I came home, it has been a struggle simply to wake up each morning and not sob myself back to sleep. What kind of person abandons his family to run off and have fabulous, unbelievable adventures while the people he adores fall apart? Who does that, and then, when it’s his turn to suffer along with them, spends every spare moment dreaming of running away again? Pray you don’t have to wrestle those demons.

 

And yet… I can’t bring myself to really believe that leaving wasn’t the best thing that could have happened to me. When I came back home, I was a strong enough person to deal with all the hardship and misery that this year has thrown my way, and still have inner strength to support my family. The old me, the one who never had to live on coffee for a week, the one who never had to fight parasites or crash paragliders or hitch rides from drunk drivers would never have been able to do what I have. Further, if I hadn’t been out of the picture, what’s to say I wouldn’t have just sunk down into the muck with everything else? As it turned out, my re-entry forced a lot of jolting and adjustment within the family – If I had been around the whole time, that unfamiliarity, that different view, would never have been what small help it was to swing things around for the better. Vagabonding forged me to survive, and it has been a welcome source of strength in these trying times.

 

Now, as the year and this letter come to a close, let me share a few future hopes and plans with you, so that we can perhaps end upon a much happier note. The holidays have been fabulous for us – we took a family ski trip in lieu of material gifts, and the change of scenery certainly helped to level out our mood swings. Tahoe is a very gorgeous area, we managed to visit between the massive storms, and the snowboarding, sledding, and horseplay were all therapy to us. Afterward we drove down to Grandpa’s house, did the family Christmas celebration, and managed to get home before family togetherness got the better of anyone. From there, I headed up to Santa Barbara to visit friends, wear a suit, and ring in the new year like a classy individual. It kind of worked – I spent the entire 31st sick in (someone else’s) bed, but managed to rally before midnight, got dressed, and between surprise visitors and good company, it was a great time.

 

My next step (which I’ve actually started already, since I’ve been slacking on writing this letter) is to take a leave from my job, fly to New York City to see Natalie again, then hitchhike to Oklahoma to live with Becky and Seth and write a book of my adventures. I’m looking forward to the coming year – with the family slowly recovering, I feel comfortable enough to leave again, and I’m looking at a job teaching English abroad. Travel and adventure seem to be my calling, so I’ll be doing as much of that as I can while I’m still able. I will have to work hard – I don’t have much money – but I’m confident that I can find what I’m looking for if I keep searching. For now it is enough to be back on the road, living out of a bag, and unsure of what tomorrow will bring. I hope that you all are living the lives you desire, surrounded by loving people, and happy with your present. If not, it is never too late to change your reality, and I hope that you do not settle for a life that does not fulfill your dreams.

 

I would love to hear from you, so if you ever have the chance, call me, email me, write me, skype me, facebook me, instant message me, (that’s still a thing, right?) send me a carrier pigeon, or send me a smoke signal. We live in the future – it has never been easier to contact each other!

 

Until next we cross paths, -k

A Quiet World Cup

July 13, 2010

Once upon a time I lived in Santa Barbara, California. People tell me it was wonderful – I certainly gained a lot of life friends out there, but I can’t really say because most of the best moments are gone to me now – not forever, just in my sober self – and unless I get reminiscent-drunk I can never pull out the best stories. Also, they’re incriminating as fuck, and I like my friends. All of this makes it very difficult to tell anyone about our wild adventures unless I don’t know you at all, and this being the Internet, I know you all too well to expect anything to stay secret.

Still, this is a fun story because it doesn’t have to be secret – nothing too bad happened, nobody stole any street signs, nothing too heinous was ingested or baked into a turkey dinner. No, it’s just a little snippet of our old lives, played out by older (and not much wiser) selves in the old stomping grounds. There is drama, men dancing in high heels, wine, a carousel, and some British folk in this tale – here’s what I remember of the World Cup weekend.

Nobody cares about Soccer here.  Example – I sat in a little restaurant in town for the Germany-Spain game, desperate to not simply watch the game alone like usual, and instead of camaraderie I listened to two old men debating American Football teams past and present. Nobody else even glanced at the TV except my brother and I and the Russian owner’s daughter. No, if you’re in the USA any time a World Cup is going down, I feel sorry for you – there’s nothing even close to the parties that the rest of civilization throws for this sport. I remember being in a bar in Honduras packed 400 deep, men drinking themselves to sleep, people shouting repeats of the announcer’s cries to keep the unseeing back of the crowd satisfied – that was just a qualifying game! Another qualifier I watched with 50 or so others on an old TV, rabbit ears fine-tuned by the silent artist-owner, in rapt silence or screaming ridiculousness depending on the on-screen action. One night as we sat above Tegucigalpa and watched the fireworks as the parties raged, I realized how much Futbol is the world’s religion, and perhaps the biggest shared human experience around. No other sporting event I’ve ever seen can compare with the love, anger, happiness, lust that come out of kicking a goddamn ball around a field for 90 minutes – what a fantastic thing! Still, in the USA, nobody cares about the World Cup… except my crazy friends.

They’re way bigger fans than I am – they got up for the 4am games after working late, kept me updated via Twitter on the games I missed, yelled a lot more, made brackets, learned the players’ names – all the crazy fanatic stuff that I miss out on since I’m satisfied to simply turn the TV on and watch the best futbol matches I’ll see for 4 years without any of the background. When the girls decided to throw a Cup party at their house, I knew I had to come – too many years gone, too many parties and birthdays and holidays missed – and in case I didn’t know it the girls basically did their sad puppy eyes and reminded me that I’d soon be off again and wasn’t I a bad person if I didn’t show up? Yes, but that’s not the point – I never had a choice about going up to this game, in this town, with these people. It’s like destiny, if destiny used social media to plan a World Cup party.

“It’s going to be mellow.” I distinctly remember those words, and even more remember Chad’s protests as the weekend progressed. “I thought you said it would be mellow!” he yelled more than a few times – “it was supposed to be” the only response necessary. Our gatherings have this amazing way of turning into parties, and our parties take on a life of their own. In this case, however, we really outdid ourselves, which is why I’m writing in the first place.

I joined the festivities Friday after carpooling up with Chad and Muey – we pulled into the house late, expecting greetings and maybe a drink or three before bed. Instead we went straight for tequila and before anyone could get going the girls were asleep at midnight on the couches and Jen, Chad, and I were nursing cigarettes and unconscionably strong Margaritas. I think everyone was in bed by 1 or 1:30, which brings me to another fun aspect of our little tribe – we’re barely kids any longer, our old bones get tired, and some nights we just strike out. Friday was pretty weak, but don’t worry, we make up for it later.

By later I mean Saturday – we’re all up early-ish for the Germany-Uruguay game, Chad and I make breakfast because that’s the proper place for a man (in the kitchen cooking) and besides, who lets girls around fire? We solve the riddle of “do you think it’s possible to make blueberry pancakes with too many blueberries?” – it absolutely is by the way; they won’t even be pancakes any longer, just mushy blueberries in a light batter-sauce. Somehow we fix that dilemma and then it’s time to watch the game. It’s a great one, nobody diving too hard, none of the poor sportsmanship of the entire rest of the cup, back-and-forth with plenty of action. Really, that’s because it was for third place, and “who gives a fuck, they’re playing for third loser.” Jenn is our best sports fan – her twitter @hoorayjenn was pretty much my lifeline the entire time I was bouncing around and needed to know game scores and how Wayne Rooney is sexy. (I don’t know either!) She’ll probably end up with some Indian guy and have 6 daughters.

Game over, we get around to showers, cleaning up, and shaking out the old bones. In the olden days this would be the point where we all started binge drinking in preparation of the 5 o’clock nap collapse, but we’re responsible and socially active now, so we spend 3.5 years and a decent amount of whiskey getting ready, smuggling beers into purses, coordinating our small tribe for battle. The goal is Pride, a big concert, BBQ, gathering, excuse to drink socially celebrating how awesome it is to be LGBT(q?) – from what I’ve heard, it’s pretty great. Cars packed, teeth brushed, Devon prank called, we’re off to downtown and adventure.

After dead-heading the cars at Devon’s Dr. Seuss house – named for the fantastic floors sloping whichever way they choose to – it’s time for a taxi and a ride cross town. After a few minutes we’re at the beach, which I never actually see because right now we cross the street and head into Chase Palm Park. If I recall, our conversation at this point consists of a lot of yelling “Chase Palm Park!” over and over and pointing out the amenities of the kiddie playground because we never really grow up, and we’re embracing that now.

Pride is pretty awesome, aside from some ex-girlfriend sightings and horrendously expensive beers – we get around to the side of the stage right as the musical acts start, and so we’re in prime position to watch this hilarious procession of scantily clad lip-syncing beauties of sometimes-ambiguous gender. The Aussie pop diva who keeps yelling “Woooo San Diego!” is pretty fabulous, as are the men dancing in bootheels and stilettos – they’re seriously talented, those things are huge! Jenn and I wait forever for a man in jeans, blazer, checkered hat to do something with his umbrella, but once he sings “I’m only happy when it rains” there really isn’t anything left to do – free haircuts booth was closed, photo booth on the fritz, it’s time to mosey. We gather our growing herd, now 9, and make our way out of the park after a short detour to the carousel.

That’s right, carousel. According to some plaque on the wall, the guy who invented the carousel built this one, which sounds pretty cool but basically it was just a carousel – nobody rides them except little kids and well… us. We pile on, get our horses, and proceed to yell like idiots and pose for our cameraman. The poor kid there with her mother and grandmother must have thought we were all mental cases. Anyway, $2 well-spend, and we’re off again for the next stop, which is of course wine-tasting, a word that doesn’t really describe the activity very well, because after 17 samples of wine you’re really not tasting anything. Oh yeah, and we are just shooting these because half of them taste weird and the lady with her dog have lost their novelty, and it’s now we’re just slugging back wine, the employee is drinking with us, the dog is passed around hot-potato, and we’re done suddenly, standing up, thanking everyone, piling back out into the streets.

Another short walk brings us to Sharkeez, a personal nemesis where people who should know better serve huge buckets of sugar water heaped full of booze and plastic sharks to other people who should also know better than to get involved in this sort of nonsense. I vaguely remember once throwing up ALL OVER the hallway in front of the bathrooms here, just zero to proj.vom in nothing flat. Still, if you’re looking to get drunk(er) cheaply and eat a ton of chips and salsa, this is the place to be, especially since it’s still barely 7pm and we’ve been going strong for hours. A bucket of blue goes down pretty smoothly, and we’re smoking on the porch when a few local homeless/drifters roll up and start chatting with us. One of them, a dread-locked guy named Adam tells a few off-color jokes, someone gives him a cigarette, and since he seems alright I drunkly start talking with his companions, Luz, or Luce or something, Derek, and I-don’t-know-because-he-didn’t-talk. They’re bumming around, coming north from San Diego, and since hitching and bumming around are things I’m pretty into we start up a nice conversation.

Now, off to my left there’s a storm brewing – Adam’s joke train has taken a turn into gay-bashing misogyny, and that doesn’t go well with Lauren, who starts into him. He goes off, gets offended, they’re bickering, and meanwhile I’m telling the others about how Craigslist is a brilliant asset for any would-be hitchhiker in the US and they’re telling me how you can apparently catch freight trains south of Santa Barbara if you’re careful. It’s a really fascinating talk, but now we’re leaving and people are angry, and there’s the “WTF are you doing?!” split for an instant – I keep forgetting that the part of me who thinks bums are awesome doesn’t exist in pretty much anyone else at all. I shake a few hands, give Luce a buck and Derek my cigarette, then head in for some more salsa, grease, and salt – it’s like building a crash pad for future alcohol.

Anyway, another bar, another situation – this time with giant syringes full of vodka and Jello. Being upstanding citizens we all just slam these into our mouths and go on with our business, which gets the attention of a couple sitting nearby, and as luck would have it they’re Brits! All of a sudden I’m giving them shit for coming to America during the Cup finals, and they’re introducing us to the other 2 travelers with them and we’re talking futbol and I’m spilling gin out of nowhere and now it’s vodka redbulls and the dance party heats up, and oh look, there’s Nick finally showed up, and everyone is friends and it’s fantastic.

Thinking about it, I’m at my absolute drunkest right here – the colors blur, I spoke Spanish with someone, the music blares and I’m just glowing with good energy and friends all around. It’s perfect, and it probably would have led to me slumped in a corner somewhere if not for one thing – Chad scared the shit out of me.

I’m standing, focusing deeply on not looking like I’m focusing deeply on just standing, when BAM hand on the shoulder! I jump, spin, gin on my shoe, and it’s Chad looking as bad as I imagine myself to. “We’re getting out of here man, call a cab.” Fuck, I’m in charge of something. I hate being in charge of somethings. It’s ok though, because I prepared for this moment sometime after Jello shots by writing the taxi driver’s number in pen all up my arm. It worked great for remembering, but I realize belatedly that everyone assumed some drunk girl or guy had claimed me with the huge phone number tag. Ah well. I call the taxi, slur something close to “9 of us at Sandbar” and hang up. “Dude, we’re 13 now!” Devon yells at me from a foot and a half away.

“What?!”

“We’re 13 now – someone invited the Brits!”

The night got underway after that. On the way out the door, giggling at our good fortune, I run straight into my partner in crime – Jake! “Jakeeeee!” I yell into some poor girl’s face, and then we’re hugging past these random strangers whose only misfortune was to be between us. “We’re coming in man!” “We’re leaving! Party at the girls! British people!” We’re off again.

I end up in the car with Jake and his sister and his sister’s friend and also Devon, so we go to drop Devon off at home for work in 4 hours and go about our merry way. That’s all that happened at Devon’s house. Hugs and we’re off – last ones to the girls’ house, we walk into what might be best described as our natural element – beer pong, dancing people, a lot of yelling – a real Santa Barbara house party, I might just cry.

No tears – instead it’s cigarettes and margaritas on the porch – someone told me that for best results you just have to mix every type of hard booze, beer, and a ton of wines together, so I guess we were trying that. I don’t know, except that Jake and I kicked ass at beer pong, and Micah was there – holy shit, haven’t seen him in years Micah! More yelling and jumping, I cut in on Jake and Aurora dancing, we do a fantastic drunken two-step or something. Point is it was fun. People coming and going, Beer pong, beer pong, beer pong, beer pong – oh shit, we lost… Girls talking shit, people are passing out, but there are least Chris and Eloise still awake and so we fight on – no way are some dirty foreigners going to out-party us! They’re hilarious too, getting us too say “wankers” and “bollocks” then putting on their best American accents to say “fucking a man,” and toss out some surfer slang. We keep going, the sun comes up, Jake and I finally prevail at the beer pong table, and then it’s Jake and Lauren with a beautiful sing-a-long, and I’m on the couch humming to myself and nodding off. Hell of a party.

Sunday starts rough, being as the day doesn’t start until after you’ve slept and we went to bed at 5:30 or 6 – hangovers all over the place, Lauren and I debate the merits of her driving the Brits back downtown to check out of their hostel, and just before I’ve convinced her that they’re well and truly passed out and we’re going to invite them to our World Cup party, Chris is at the door and Lauren drives them downtown. I meander outside, drink a lot of water, stretch. It’s like 9:30am, and I’m still heinously drunk. Everyone is though, so we’re alright. World Cup is considerably more low key than Germany-Spain, partly because the teams are playing rough and mean, but also because we’re all tuckered out. Food, showers, nap time, and it’s like 6 before we’ve done anything more meaningful than go to In-n-Out. Except Devon – he worked all morning then came back to hang out. We say our fond goodbyes, smooches and hugs are given, and then it’s back on the road to our masked identities, the people we play on TV when we’re not being a bunch of lunatics.

I promised Jake a ride home so after a stop in Orange we’re off to Pasadena and I’m spending another night on another couch in another home that isn’t mine but feels right anyway. I love that feeling – utter exhaustion and inner peace. 7:30 Monday I set out for home, and everything is just as it was when I left it – what a strange world. Next World Cup, let’s all go to Brasil! Honduras! Antarctica! Anywhere that actually parties for the biggest game on Earth!

We're awesome


The Last Hurrah

May 19, 2009

I wrote this in late January 09, right before life got crazy and I ran off to Honduras.  It’s not my happiest piece of writing, but it was a great trip looking back, and has some well-written parts, if I may flatter myself.  One of my other posts is contained entirely within this one, but that part was completed well before the rest, and I think it stands alone fairly well.  Hope you enjoy!

I have this battery inside me, and when it runs down, I fall apart. Life gets dull and the fire inside starts to ember and cool, and all of a sudden everything in my world falls to shit. I fight with old friends and family, get snappy and abrasive, and sometimes even fall physically ill if I let it die down. In order to recharge it, I have this constant need for randomness and chaos – perfect for a life exploring and partying, but not so good for settling down, being responsible, and living a normal life. This is the story of my latest adventure, my latest recharging, lest I forget it, and in case anyone is interested in what I’m up to.

This is a metaphor.

This is a metaphor.

First, a little backstory: I’ve wanted to take a California road trip for a while now – ever since I left Santa Barbara and known that I was going to join the Peace Corps, the idea had been rattling around in my gourd. The problems were money and time, and having neither, I let the road trip slide and resolved myself to working in SB for my last summer in the country.

So when my service got delay at the end of last summer, the silver lining was that I now had the time to take a wild trip or three and say goodbye to my good friends and family. I of course didn’t take advantage of this for months, the result of working 2 jobs, 1 of which was nigh-impossible to get time off from. However, I used my free time to plan out my travels, and the jobs got me out of debt and gave me a small cash pile to feed myself and my car. For a while, the thought of running away was literally all I had to look forward to – the Peace Corps was dragging its feet waiting for a new assignment to open up (Honduras, leaving Feb 24) and I really couldn’t stand San Diego. The town is too spread out, too Conservative (big C), and just too unfriendly. I found a kindred spirit in one of my coworkers, picked up a stalker and some friends from ballroom dancing, but by and large I spent the last few months with my close family or working my ass off. I’m not good at making new friends in the first place, and this suburban nightmare really didn’t help.

Anyhow, the battery was already running low, and the holidays didn’t help much. I worked too much, went without vices or companionship, and worst of all, my attempted road trip had to be aborted at the first stop, Garden Grove, because I got too sick and started seeing double while driving. By the time I had recovered, it was too late to head far, and I never made it past SLO and SB. Not that living with my old roommates for a week wasn’t a blast, but I didn’t get out on the road, didn’t see the world, missed half the people I wanted to see and didn’t recharge enough to pull myself out of the slump. Worse, I blew all my money drinking and living and buying shit I didn’t need, and for a while it looked like my plans for adventure had all turned to ash.

I got a lucky break though, as I returned home to find that an old employer from SB (Wedding/Event Florist, Worst. Job. Ever.) had finally mailed me my last check, only 4 months late. Along with a couple weeks running the swim store, I scrounged enough together to pay for another wild run up the state, and I started scheming.

Sunset over San Onofre

Sunset over San Onofre

SUNDAY: My plan was simple enough – I didn’t really make one. I hate planning vacations, simply because it tears all the chaos and impulsiveness out of life, and it just stresses me out. That said, I had a basic outline based on things I wanted to do, and the time I had off work.

The idea was that I would leave after work on Sunday the 18th, drive as far north as I could, hopefully hitting San Jose before I fell asleep driving. Over the next week I was to hit as many friends along the coast as possible, while spending 1/20 in San Francisco for the inauguration. (And really, where else aside from San Francisco was I going to find a whole town celebrating the end of a terrible era? Certainly not San Diego!) From there the plan got a bit fuzzy, but I knew that I needed to make it south to Santa Barbara by the 23rd for a masquerade and didn’t care what else happened. As it turned out, this was the perfect approach to the week ahead.

The trip started out right on schedule: I closed up at work, filled Sally’s fuel tank and my own, and hopped on the 5 North. Now, as anyone who has driven 5 for the long haul can attest, it is absolutely mind-numbing. Nothing for scenery, few real stops, a lot of cows, a few prisons, and hundreds of miles of open road. I love it, but I can’t blame most people for feeling differently. I love looking up and seeing a million billion stars splashed across the sky, and if you ever pass a driver hanging his head out the window and looking straight up on 5 in the middle of California, chances are you’ve found me. It’s not the safest way to drive, either.

Even loving solitude and stars as I do, there’s still a lot of vacant time to kill on a drive up the state. I’ve gotten a bit sick of my music lately – especially the stuff I have on CDs – and there’s a certain point where you lose a lot of the radio stations, get tired of talking to yourself, and you’re left to your own devices. I have yet to figure out how to write and drive without crashing, so generally that means bringing in some outside help.

I have this old flame, a girl with whom I have a lot of history; the person who made me realize what “love” actually means. Years back, I’d fallen for her hard, and she had liked me too, and we’d struck up one of those relationships between lost souls. She made me happy, and gave me a reason to live in some of the darkest points of my life. I like to think I returned the favor, but who really knows what goes on inside the heads of others? Our problem was distance – we never lived close, a 100 miles at best – and our infrequent meetings and long-distance longing weren’t able to overcome the terrible strain of the gap between us. Life got busy with both of us in different colleges, working at crossed hours, far out of sight. We started to fight, she found a closer guy, and I learned what “heartbreak” meant too. Long story short, we were right for each other in a world wrong for us both.

As to why I called her, out of anyone I know, it’s because we’re still close friends. The advantage of getting very close to someone who lives so far away is that you end up with a confidante, a soulmate who won’t judge you, or even if they do, can’t do anything about it. We’ve leaned on each other more times then either of us could count over the years, and I can usually count on her for a long deep conversation.

Lately though, things have gotten both worse and better between us. Worse in that we both know I’m leaving the country soon and paths are about to split, but better in that we have both admitted that there still is something there between us. The “L” word (not lesbian) comes up a lot more often as my departure comes near, probably because it’s easier to be honest with someone who is leaving your life, but also because the two of us have gotten a lot closer over the past months. Thinking about it, things have really just gotten worse – it’ll hurt all the more for me to go – but what the hell, I’m a glutton for punishment, and she’s always worth talking to.

So there I am, driving too fast up the 5 toward the unknown, voice from my past in my ear, and I’m in love with this life. I like to think I’ll die like this, and if I did, it would be the most beautiful way to go out. I think about death too much like art: the reality is nowhere near as good as what we imagine. I tell her that thought, and she says she understands; she always does. It’s all I can do to keep going north instead of cutting over to the coast to spend the night with her. I have to fight myself at every highway interchange – 126, 46, 42 – until finally I’m free of my sirens. She has to go out with her friends, she tells me, after I’ve passed my test of will. I can hear the disappointment in her voice, and in mine as well: we both needed a good fuck. Goodnight babe, we’ll meet up again soon. She hangs up the phone, and I’m left wet around the eyes, again to my own devices. I’ll miss her terribly when I’m gone.

I stop off in a no-name “town” somewhere north of the 5-46 exchange. It’s really just a couple of gas stations with built-in fast food dispensers. I can’t dignify them with the name restaurant, that’s an insult to too many shithole diners and truck stop watering holes. These are just gas stations for people as well as cars – open your tank, pour in some fuel, (87, low grade all the way) and hit the road again. I opt for some trail mix, chewing gum, and a red bull, which is still probably better than Taco Hell, in a starving-yourself sort of way. I’m too excited, nervous, anxious to be hungry just yet. Sally’s gassed up, I have a few snacks to chew on, and so off we go again. I glance at the dashboard clock – 9:30pm, 2 hours to go. I’m on the road.

The next couple hours are barely worth talking about. I sing sad songs and drive too fast, and the hours fly by. Sally does her job and my phone’s GPS makes it too easy to find Jake’s apartment in San Jose. Actually, the iPhone was a blessing this whole trip – the Bay area is insane in terms of roads and signage. Somewhere around 5-101 I was passed by a beautiful girl in an old Charger, and I fell in love with them both. We played around, passing each other, throwing winks and smiles, until I blew her a kiss and took my turnoff. Another life, perhaps, but for now I had somewhere else to be. I call Jake, find a parking spot, and somewhere around 11:30 or so, I’ve reached my destination for the first day.

San Diego to San Jose is not a bad drive, under 7 hours if you drive like an idiot, (I sure do) and I’m too wired to sleep. Luckily, Jake is the sort of guy who, despite working early the next morning, is completely ready and willing to have a good time. Further, he’s a party in-and-of-himself. If you’re going to go on an adventure in Norcal, a stop at Jake’s is highly recommended.

How do I describe Jake? Well, here’s how I met him this time: I’m getting out of Sally and stretching when this mustachioed hipster in a red leather jacket and flannel shirt comes over and greets me. His striking red beard has transformed into a handlebar mustache, he has hair like a beatnik, and he dresses like the clothes were designed for him. The guy is just cool – he makes me look bad just by being around, but at the same time, you can’t help but love him. If I’m Saul Paradise, he’s Dean Moriarty: the bad boy, full of energy, who all the guys want to be friends with and all the girls want to.. you know… be better friends with.

Not that he’s short of either friends or fucks, but the real thing you notice about Jake is his energy. Before the bags are even out of my car, he’s telling me a dozen wild stories, how he saw a Johnny Cash cover band, got drunk and shaved himself a handlebar, (looked hysterical) how he might have a gig with a band, the joint some bum gave him in exchange for a cigarette, and the girl at the pizza parlor across the street who wants to know if he’s down to just “fuck around.” Jake always amazes me in that while I have to go out in hunt of adventure, it all just seems to come looking for him. Plus, he’s the youngest in our group of friends, yet he’s the one with the stable job and responsibility. If life was possibly made for a certain type of person, Jake is that type.

Further, he has a fantastic apartment. It’s this little hole-in-the-wall off one of the main streets in San Jose, hidden right above the street, where you can look out the window and watch the whole world unfold beneath you. Great location, and the entrance is hidden right between a couple stores – if you don’t know it exists, the place pretty much doesn’t.

So I follow Jake up the stairs, and we’re carrying a ton of bags and boxes, not because I travel with too much stuff, (quite the opposite) but because I somehow got stuck with all of the left-behind possessions when we all moved out of our shanty in Santa Barbara. Of Jake’s, I had his old trumpet, alto sax, and a mic stand – Jake being of course an incredible musician; almost a one-man band.

Anyhow, here’s the scene: second story landing, middle of the night, two guys loaded down with cases and bags and odds and ends. Jake opens the door to his apartment, and all the familiar smells of our life together pour out. Beer, pot, a hint of mystery, bachelorhood. Fuck, for a minute I’m transported right back to our glory days in Isla Vista. It’s all I can do to keep myself from tearing up. I miss that old life so badly, even if I’ve since outgrown it.

We’re dropping stuff off in Jake’s sitting, dining, tv, recording studio room (did I mention it’s a tiny flat? It is.) and he introduces me to his neighbor, this girl Jessica, or Jennifer, or some name I’ve since forgotten, since that is my thing. We drink the last round of beers in the house, smoke a bit, fall back into our routine of inseparable friends living now separate lives. It’s both heartwarming and terribly sad that Jake and I can be at once so close, and yet interact so little. It says a lot about our friendship, but I always feel a bad friend for not keeping in touch.

Once the beers are drained we walk across the street to the liquor store for some more drinks. Outside the liquor store we pass a group of kids, probably 14-15, hanging out smoking cigarettes. One of them asks us if we can buy them a swisher – potheads starting early. I say sure, and Jessica takes their money. Inside, Jake and I go for the beer, Hefeweizens tonight, while Jess buys the cigarillo. The clerk almost doesn’t sell it to her, but she begs one out of him. They really ought to just let kids fuck themselves up early – the stigma drugs get in this country prevents anyone from acknowledging they exist, much less dealing with them rationally. We pass the kids their prize on the way out of the store, and walk the ½ block home. At the corner, we pass a guy pressure washing the sidewalk, and seeing the beer, he stops and flashes us a smile as we walk by. I think poor people are good people, at least to each other.

Back at Jake’s, we pass the night drinking a few rounds while Jake DJs with his record collection. He’s great at it, and we’re listening to the Stones flow into Cake rolling through Zepplin. I’m telling stories about our lives in Santa Barbara and about the Peace Corps, and Jess and Jake tell me about their good times in San Jose. At some point, I tell Jess that I’m going to run for president, and give them both a campaign pitch. I’m not even sure what all I rambled about, but I made a decent impression, I think. As Jess was leaving, she told me I had her vote, and to go change things, and I said that I knew that I did, and that I would. Around 1:30 or 2, Jake and I go to bed, and I pull the “foot on the floor, hand on the wall” routine to keep the room steady. I’m out of drinking shape, and it shows. I drift off on Jake’s futon, and dream of San Francisco to come.

The Famous Jake (and Kelly's foot makes a guest spot)

The Famous Jake (and Kelly's foot makes a guest spot)

MONDAY: Monday was a drifter day, and I spent most of it killing time before my Uncle was home and I had a place to go in San Francisco. Around 7 or so, I woke up dimly to watch Jake leaving, and we exchange farewells as he goes off to the real world. I nod off again, and pull myself out of bed around 9. I didn’t plan for today – nowhere to go, no plans, nothing – and so I waste the morning away getting high and doing calisthenics. ($5 word) Around 11, I’m debating food versus another beer, when a repairman knocks on the door and tells me that he needs to replace the fusebox and so he’s shutting off the power for a few hours. I beg 15 minutes out of him to shower, and then sit and watch him and another guy just on the off chance they’re not very dedicated con artists.

These guys… I don’t know their names, but they were Larry and Curly – just a comedy of errors and miscommunication. Larry, short, stout, bald, and bossy is trying to teach Curly, tall, pale, lanky, and goofy how to replace the box, but it’s like everything is being shouted through a small tube. If Larry says left, Curly cuts a few wires; if Larry yells stop, Curly almost cuts a hole through the wall with the sawzall. I almost offered to lend a hand, but I think they would have taken it as an insult. Instead, satisfied they weren’t going to steal Jake’s recording equipment, I walk down the street to the best little ravioli place in the world.

Just my luck – it’s closed Mondays – so I settle for Chinese across the street. Waiting outside, I’m struck by how much this part of San Jose resembles Main Street USA. The people walking, the architecture, the small-town feel; it’s a really cool place to hang out, and I’m considering taking a walk when the lady from the Chinese joint brings out my order. I came very close to forgetting my food!

Back up in Jake’s apartment, I’m sitting by his living room window watching the world and eating lo mein and writing in my journal. While I’m doing all this and silently laughing at Larry and Curly working, Jake comes home. Turns out he comes home for lunch, and I just got it without him – some friend. He goes for a sandwich, is back in 5 minutes, and we talk shop and eat. When he’s done, we say our goodbyes (nothing serious: I’ll be back in 2 days) and he heads back to work. I promise to make sure the workmen are done and lock up after, and I’m left alone in Jake’s life again.

A couple hours later, 4 or so, Larry and Curly finish fucking around and finally install the fusebox, and I’m on the road again. 280 straight through to San Francisco, easiest directions in the world. I make the trip in a little under an hour, and I’m soon pulling up to my aunt and uncle’s place.

Perfect timing too – as I’m parking I see Howard pull into their driveway and start to unload. Time for a little Uncle-Nephew bonding, and to be honest I’m not sure what to expect. We haven’t hung out much outside of family gatherings, but to be honest, I’ve always had the sneaking suspicion that he’s a much more fun and much less restrained person outside of those confines. I sure as hell am. We unload his van and my car, say our hellos, and go inside.

Howard and Wendy have a great old house in San Francisco: tiny, multi-storied, built before the age of pre-fabricated over-engineered homes. It has soul, like any old house, and the garage actually has carriage tracks from ye olde days. They’re lifelong activists, and the garage is a museum of old political signs and slogans. I see Mondale, No Nukes, Gay Rights Now, and a lifetime of causes staring back at me from the walls. They’re my kind of people, and their eclectic old house has always felt like home.

While Howard is taking a shower, I charge the gadgets, stretch out a bit, and generally kill time. I’m fantastic at it, because I’ll just sit and think deep for a bit, and before I’m through everyone else is ready to go. So sure enough, I’m only halfway through planning out a permanent Peace Coalition of activist groups to oppose AIPAC and the Pentagon’s handlers when Howard asks me what I feel like eating. For a second I’m at a loss but I remember that Devon, the only San Franciscan I’ve lived with, used to go on about Ethiopian/Eitrean cuisine, and so I ask Howard if there is any. He of course knows the perfect place, just a 2 mile walk, and so wallet, keys, phone, jacket, off we go.

It takes me only a few blocks to remember why I fall in love with this city every time I visit. The air, the crowds, the architecture all draw me in, but I think more then anything it’s the fact that I can walk a few miles and visit a dozen worlds. I can be a perfect stranger there, no matter how long I spend in the city. Different tongues, different faces, a sea of unknowns. For someone like myself, I can’t imagine a better place to spend my time.

We bop along down toward market, talking politics and art, graffiti and activism and parties and girls. My uncle is a cool cat, and he tells me stories about the changes he’s seen in the city over the years, and points out highlights as we pass them. He’s so damn organized and cool and on top of his game that I feel inadequate almost – I’d hate to plan things out like he does, but I can’t deny how well he lives because of it. We’re both fast walkers, like everyone here, and with the conversation and my giddy energy, we make the walk in no time.

The place we eat at, like most of the restaurants in the city, is a hole in the wall that I never would have found unless I was looking for it, or perhaps if I was using Yelp. It’s small, cramped, full of foreign smells and names and walking inside I might be in another country, or another world altogether. We take a small table off to the side of the room, and a young man in blue jeans and a white T-shirt comes over. Informal – I dig it. We get a round of blue moons, and my uncle orders a list of dishes I could hardly pronounce. I’m in his world now, so I just let him pick what we eat; not like I’ll do better by picking at random.

Our food! When it comes out, I’m introduced to a whole new way of eating. Everything comes on a huge plate, which it itself covered by a wide, flat, tortilla/pancake stepchild. It has a real name, I’m sure, but I’d rather just call it a pantilla. All our entrees are served on this pantilla, and to eat, you tear off a corner of the pantilla and pinch up food with it. It is the most informal and personal way of eating I’ve ever experienced, and if I was in charge, we’d eat like this every day. And the food itself made me feel bad for real Ethiopians and Eitreans, who I know for damn sure aren’t eating anything close to this delicious. Easily one of the best meals of my life, so thank you Devon and Howard both.

From dinner, we meander downtown to watch Slumdog Millionaire, which for the people who haven’t seen it, is A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. Seriously, go see it, and you’ll remember what a movie is supposed to do to its viewers. Between the culture, the juxtaposition of poverty and wealth, crime and virtue, and the mix of good and evil, the movie is just a pleasure in every sense of the word. Sure made me feel bad for watching the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still without gagging, I’ll tell you that. We had to get up at some unholy hour the next morning, so after the movie, we walk back home – 8 miles fly by when you’re in love with the world around you – and go to bed.


Across UN Plaza, 8am

Across UN Plaza, 8am

TUESDAY: Inauguration Day! I’ve never been happier to be waking up before 6 am in my entire life then I am today. Finally, a man who was never fit to be chief executive of his own asshole will be forced to stop deep dicking our nation and just be another moron private citizen instead. On a more positive note, I’m really excited that Barack Obama, a man I actively campaigned for, gave money to, and promoted as best I could, is going to be elected. He’s not perfect, by any means, but he’s smart, and articulate, and he LISTENS TO PEOPLE WHO DON’T AGREE WITH HIM. The combination of Bush being evicted and Obama being inaugurated got me up and at ’em at 5:45, despite the drinking, driving, (not together) and cold.

Howard and I drove down to U.N. Plaza in front of city hall by 6:30, and it was bitter cold. Despite this, there were already an easy 100 people there, setting up chairs, taking their places in front of the Jumbotron. We tossed our donation of socks and boxers into a container and took up places standing around aimlessly. A disheveled looking man came up next to me and asked if I wanted anything from the liquor store, “you know, champagne or something man.” I told him I loved the dedication but that I was penniless, and he wandered off. Half-true; this was shaping up to be my ultimate budget vacation, but I really couldn’t do bubbly at 6:45. What I could do is Coffee, and Howard and I headed to the Blue Dolphin, a little hole in the wall that my phone found. I had the best cappuccino of my life, served out of a roll-up door garage in an alleyway. Did I mention how much I love San Francisco?

We walked back to U.N. Plaza a little after 7:30, and by now the crowd as beginning to turn out. The hundred diehards had been joined by perhaps 300 others, and the Jumbotron broadcast was showing something inane while Andrew Card gave the Bush Administration a final deepthroating. There was a poster set up off to one side inviting people to write their aspirations for the Obama years, and I write “Dear Mr. President, try not to start any more wars, and end the corporate chokehold on American democracy, and you’ll go down as one of our greatest presidents” right in the middle and sign it. I wish I was stupid enough to believe it would happen, but hey, hope is in the air, and at least for today, I’m feeling the Obama fever.

The real festivities aren’t until 9 but around 8 the broadcasters stop wanking off and actually show crowd shots and the opening speakers. I find an open spot near my uncle, and watch Rick Warren and Aretha Franklin and all the rest do their thing. The crowd is really digging now, and it stretches across the plaza. Every shot of Obama or his family spurs loud cheers, while Cheney and Bush are roundly heckled. I spot dancing, smell weed, and everyone I look at is smiling and laughing. I’ve been in a lot of crowds, but never one this joyous or well-behaved. I got the feeling that people were just happy to have a leader they could trust, a man they could look up, and hold us as a standard. Maybe I’m just projecting, but President Bush is an embarrassment to our nation, and knowing that he was only minutes away from not being our President made the crowd giddy with anticipation.

Finally, 9am, zero hour. Twitter lights up, I get a few dozen texts, and I watch live in a crowd of instant friends our new president fuck up the oath of office. I love it – you know you would do the same in Obama’s place! There must be half the world listening and watching, and even a cool cat like Obama feels the pressure – although to be fair, Justice Roberts messed up the words too. That said, I love dada, and the random twist of the dry oath made me smile. The crowd in San Francisco loves it, every word. Right as Obama finishes, there’s a wild cry, a cheer of relief and excitement and longing and love. We’ve all been waiting for this for so long that to finally see it drives a lot of people to tears.

One moment I’ll never forget occurs right after Obama finishes the Oath of Office. Howard and I have been standing next to a young (mid-30s) black couple, whom I noticed mainly because the husband was very funny in his shouted barbs toward Bush, Cheney, Rick Warren and co. As the crowd is erupting in cheers, he turns to me and grabs me in a spontaneous bear hug, tears on his cheeks. “Finally my brother!” He yells, “Finally we’ve done it!” I laugh and hoot and hug him back, and for a moment we’re the best of friends. Then we release, and he turns to hug his wife. They vanish into the crowd a moment later, and Howard and I do a goofy little dance before embracing. The connection I felt with that man, whom I’ll never meet again in my life, was one of profound brotherhood, perhaps love even. We just shared a supreme joy, then parted ways forever. It was one hell of a moment.

After Obama’s inaugural address and Rev. Lowery’s Benediction, (let the red man get ahead, man!) Howard and I drive to his work. He has a beautiful office on Fort Mason, on the north edge of the city, but its too pretty out to stay there for long, so after I meet his coworkers, I need to get out on the town. Since he had to work the rest of the day, I found a transit map in a nearby hostel and took off to see what I could do to kill time until the inaugural balls that evening.

Wandering the city is amazing. From Fort Mason, I walk East, run to catch the 47 bus toward Market, and transfer to the F train toward the Embarcadero. I figure I’ll watch some skaters for a bit, since I’m short on cash, and I might be able to find some tourists to tag along with. Riding the cable car, I look out the left side and see that someone has changed all the signs on Bush street to read “Obama.” Love it! I pull the cord, hop out a stop after Bush, and hoof it back just in time to see a street crew pulling the signs down. I found out later that they had been there since the early morning, and that the city crews had left them up in honor of the inauguration. It was in the general feeling of the day, and I snapped a few shots of Obama street, and the “End Bush, Start Obama” sign posted at the end of the street before moving on.

Having no real goal, I wandered toward Chinatown, slipping through alleys, looking at graffiti and writing on the walls. Eventually I made it into Chinatown, and spent a few bucks on post cards and a box of dragon snaps to scare tourists. I threw 2 at a little kid who loved them so much that I just gave him the whole box. What can I say? I’m a sucker for kids. I think I built up some good karma from that one, as just one street later a young girl handed me a 20% off “Inaugurating Day” coupon at a local restaurant, plus free wontons and ice cream. Like I said, the whole town was partying.

After a delicious and cheap meal at a restaurant I never did figure out the name of, I found Jack Kerouac street (more of an alley) and the Beat Museum, but it was closed, and I ended up wandering northeast. I really liked this part of my day, because I managed to get completely off the beaten path, and just wandered neighborhoods in North Beach. I climbed some hills, found a few old cars, a stray cat that stayed just out of reach, and rested a bit on a hill overlooking the East Bay and the touristy parts of town. At one point, I scared the hell out of some lady, simply because I was deep in my own head and was following her too closely. (Had to apologize for that one!) With all the panic and activity and bustle of my life lately, it was perfect to get out of my world and just wander.

Eventually, I found myself climbing Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower. I’ve been there once before, with family, but I really don’t remember much about it except that I wanted to go back to hitting golf balls into the bay. This time, I figured I could go to the top and take pictures, which was a great plan until I found that it cost $5, and I didn’t even have that. Instead, I sit outside on a wall and watch ships sail through the bay and scribble furiously in my journal. Nothing good, I just want to get thoughts on paper, along with some poetry. A pretty girl with a sad soul comes over and sits near me, and we strike up a conversation about how pretty this part of the city is. She’s open about everything except for herself, and when I ask her why she was so sad, she tells me it was none of my damn business,and leaves. I sit there alone for a while, then decide it really is none of my business, and get over her. She was beautiful though, and I hope she finds happiness somehow.

Leaving Coit Tower, I head west down Lombard toward something else. I’ve never really been in this part of town before, so it’s a relief when I run into the 10 bus headed East. Any port in a storm, and I take the 10 south of Market, almost to the airport. I hope off the 10 in the middle of nowhere, and just walk. I have no idea where I am, don’t care, and spend the next hour ignoring my map and just wandering North. It sounds weird and almost like punishment, but I live for this – being a stranger, invisible in a world too busy to notice me, is something I need to do from time to time.

If San Francisco has one glaring weakness, it is a lack of the natural world, and by mid-afternoon, I’m craving some ground cover that isn’t dirty or hard. I end up sitting in the Yerba Buena Gardens, shoeless in the grass, writing postcards and listening to Salsa music on my phone. I’m still giddy, even after walking all day, just because of the energy the city is projecting today. Everyone is happy, friendly, and helpful – I honestly didn’t meet an angry person all day. I think everyone was just glad to be out from under the reign of President Bush. Sitting in the gardens, I watch random acts of kindness around me: strangers joking and talking, people going out of the way to help each other. I just wish that this attitude would last, instead of burning out in a couple days when Obama breaks our hearts.

Howard calls me around 4 – He’s finishing up at work, and wants me to me him at Fort Mason at 4:45. I hang up, notice that my phone battery is next to dead, and hoof it to Market. From there I catch the F train (2nd time in a day) down toward the Embarcadero, spending my last $1.50 in the process. I ride to the far end of the line, doing some people-watching and checking out girls as I go. I hop out an exit before the turnaround at Jones because I see a sign advertising “Free Art” and I want a goofy gift for my aunt and uncle. After picking out a little piece of the city, I hoof it west along the shore, going barefoot and walking in the sand to rest my feet. All across the beach are written messages, conversations, hopes, dreams. The city’s good moods lay spread across the sands, and I added my own (“Peace now!”) before moving on. I jump a fence, jog across an idle construction site, and pop back out right on Van Ness where I began. Thus ended my day of exploration, and thus began my greater adventures of that night.

Kerouac "Street" was a disappointment.

Kerouac "Street" was a disappointment.

4:45 right on the money, (not bad for a guy perpetually late) I walk back up to my uncle’s building on Fort Mason. I try to call him to get into the building, realize that my phone is completely dead, but he sees me through the window and lets me in anyway. Howard asks me what I did in the city, I give him the rough account, and then drink capri suns and stare out the window while he makes a few last-minute phone calls. My feet hurt and I’m broke, but I’m deliriously happy, possibly from the dehydration. After he’s done, we lock up and get ready for our inauguration ball across the bay.

We end up leaving a bit later then we had planned, so instead of heading home to change, we drive across the Golden Gate to Fort Baker, a base I had no idea even existed until then. It’s a pretty cool place, hidden just east of and below the bridge. The base is decommissioned, but the officer’s club is used as a bar for special events, and Howard and his coworkers have enough play with the Park Service to get it opened for the night. There’s a little turn off just after the bridge, and the road meanders down and around until it opens up onto a run-down little harbor, with a few 40’s looking buildings and warehouses. Fort Baker is not much to look at, but this trip seemed determined to teach me that looks can be deceiving.

The plan, as Howard told me while we were unloading his car, was for a few dozen people to get together, watch the inaugural speeches, talk about our hopes and dreams for the Obama administration, and knock a few back. Later in the night a band, the ‘Blues Disaster” would blow a few tunes, and people might dance. Truthfully, it didn’t sound all that amazing to me – my uncle and his friends are easily 30 years older than me, and I figured I would be out of place and under-dressed at a high-brow party. How very wrong I was.

Howard and I ended up being the first people to arrive aside from the bartender, Leo. We clear out a dance floor, set up chips and munchies, decorate, and pop open a few brews. A few more coworkers show up, people set up a projector, and Leo and I haul some kegs up from the basement. The building is fantastic – a bar upstairs, with a studio and warehouse below. I go exploring in the warehouse and find 70 years of debris and history: piles of old machines, tools older then my parents, and everything needed to run an old navy outpost 2 generations ago. It could have been a museum, and instead Leo got to run the bar so long as he made sure nobody stole things or wrecked the place up. I tell Leo how lucky he is to run the place, and he just laughs and agrees.

Carrying the kegs upstairs is thirsty work, and so Leo and I drink pints of Blue Moon while we watch the Park Service folks arrive and set up their decorations. I hang streamers and carry in speakers for the band and generally work my ass off, but I’m full of nervous energy and high spirits and the movement feels right. I overhear Howard and someone talking, and his lady-friend (not like that) is saying that the party has exploded from a few dozen people to a few hundred.

Just then Leo’s other bartender, Kristin, shows up, and she tells Leo that her friend isn’t going to be able to come in and bus tables for the night. Leo’s none to happy, and they argue for a while about how they’re going to avoid running out of cups during the party, which seems to be getting wilder by the minute. I watch bemusedly and sip my beer, until finally Leo turns to me and asks if I’m down to bus tables for free drinks. I’m broke beyond a joke, so I agree wholeheartedly, and the deal is struck – cleaning tables in exchange for everything I can drink – and what a dangerous deal it is.

The party itself kicks off probably around 7, and people start pouring in. The initial theme of celebrating Obama gets abandoned like a prom-night baby, and the whole place disintegrates into a wild dance party. No one minds. The band is fantastic – they’re playing jazz, rock, blues, funk, reggae, covering anything you’d want to dance to. Howard strands me at the ticket table and gets down on the dance floor; I’m laughing too hard to be mad. Hes pretty good though! People are paying 3-4 times the donation asked, and they keep coming. I lost count about 120, but I never started counting at an empty building. I keep jumping off to clear tables, stealing drinks people haven’t finished, leaping over chairs, cutting through the dancers in a wild effort to keep up with the drinkers. Leo and Kristen are raking in money hand over fist, moving with a frantic efficiency that just barely keeps the place hydrated. People are drinking to get fucked up – no other way to put it. I’m watching 60 year olds down drinks like it’s Mardi Gras, and people older then my parents take 2, 3 shots straight off. The party is phenomenal, one of those rare occurrences where everyone is just trying to shake off bad memories and celebrate a truly great day.

I’m another 6 pints of Blue Moon deep when Howard finally relieves me at the front door. He ribs me to go dance, and I really don’t need much prompting – I’m out on the floor dancing with women twice my age, having a blast, high and happy. I keep dancing until Leo yells at me that he’s out of glasses, and then Kristen and I run around frantic to grab armfuls of cups and glasses and clear tables. The party keeps growing, and the dance floor keeps gobbling up more of the room. People are pushing tables toward the walls, old couples are dirty dancing, and I’m running and bouncing through the middle of it all, looking for girls anywhere near my age.

An aside here: women under 30 or so are by and large no fun when it comes to dancing. Older women love to dance, and will enthusiastically take you up on any offer, but the younger ones are either too shy or too haughty to accept. I really dig partner dancing, and I can teach ANYONE to dance if they’re willing, but I asked every young girl I could find to dance, and got turned down by all of them. I really don’t care – I just got out on the floor with the older women and had a blast, but it was downright depressing to see every girl I had a chance with sitting at a table watching bemused while the rest of us had a great time.

After a few hours, I end up outside on the balcony with a beautiful Japanese woman only a couple years my senior, talking world travel and the Peace Corps and smoking Camel lights. She’s digging my Obama shirt and hair, and I’m digging her eyes and her laugh. We click in a big way, or at least drunk me thought so. Just when it starts getting good, one of the Park Service guys comes up to me and asks me to help carry some shit down to the cars, and so I promise the girl I’ll be back as fast as I can. I am, but she’s gone, never to be seen again. I smoked those Camels for nothing!

Kicking myself, I wander back inside, do the rounds, clear some tables, drink another beer, and work my way back to the floor. By this point, the dancers are clearing out a bit just from fatigue and heat and I head straight to the middle of the floor and just start feeling the beat. It’s not something I’m particularly good at, but so long as I don’t think about how stupid I must look, I can usually pull off cute-in-a-dorky-sort-of-way. Within a couple minutes I luck out big time, and this gorgeous blonde dancing nearby looks over at me and bursts out laughing. I pull a couple moves, she kinda throws em back, and for the first time all night, I’m dancing with someone who couldn’t be my mother. At the end of a song, I grab her by the hands, pull her in close, and ask her if she’d like to really dance.

“What do you mean?” She asks a fair question.

“I can teach you to ballroom dance if you’re willing to follow.”

:I’ve always wanted to learn.” she smiles at me, and I know I’m in for something special.

I lead her through a country 2-step, something easy to learn, and a confidence-builder. She picks up on it fast, and within a few minutes we’re spinning around the room, laughing and narrowly dodging the few other dancers left. We foxtrot, run through the basics of swing, and also rumba. She’s great at following, and that’s really all you need if the guy can lead. The party is definitely dying down by now, and after a few more dances, the floor is pretty much clear aside from us. I catch Leo giving me a thumbs up over her shoulder, and I couldn’t agree more. This is pretty much exactly what I was after. The band plays their last song, we do a slow waltz, and when the music dies we keep dancing to our own beat as the party falls apart.

“So what now?” Her question surprises me – I was just thinking that it was a shame I had nowhere else for us to go, and she’s caught me off guard.

“I don’t know, really. I’m here visiting, so I don’t know where else we can go.”

“If you want to keep dancing, I know there’s an inaugural ball up in Marin. We could go crash that.”

“With you, I’d go anywhere.” It sounded less completely corny in person, I promise.

We bail as soon as we can say our goodbyes – or really, as soon as I can; I notice she really doesn’t know anyone there. I say goodbye to Leo and thank him for the job, he tells me to wrap it up, and I find Howard near the door, bidding the guests farewell.

“Howard, we’re going to head up to another ball in Marin. I’ll call you if I need a ride or anything.”

“Alright,” he says, “you kids are crazy – I’m about ready to hit the sack, and you’re going out to dance the night away.” He laughs, “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

I zing back, “what does that leave out?” and we step out laughing into the cold damp night.

Walking toward the parking lot, I notice my dance partner is shaking with silent laughter. I ask her what the joke is, and she says “that guy, Howard, he called us ‘you kids.’” I must have looked clueless, because she keeps laughing and asks, “how old do you think I am?” I guess 28, and she almost falls apart giggling. “Sweetheart,” she gasps between fits of laughter, “I’m 42.”

“Really?” I’m floored.

“Really.”

“Well, I never would have guessed it.” And we keep on walking to her car.

Passenger seat, 90’s Volvo – We’re driving north into the unknown, or at least, into somewhere I haven’t the foggiest, a woman 20 years older then me driving, and me coming off a whole lot of drunk beside her. I can’t keep myself from staring; she’s gorgeous, and I still haven’t reconciled her age with her looks. However, I’m not a damned fool, so we talk about dancing and politics and the human spirit. She turns out to be one of those super new-agey chicks you find floating around the bay area, deep into energy and acupuncture and chi and all of the rest. I can’t quite believe what is going on around me, and I distinctly remember my subconscious bubbling up at one point and asking me “is this real life?” Still, we’ve gone this far and I’m not turning back, so onward we speed into the night.

To this day I have no idea where we drove, but a bit after midnight we end up at some hotel, resort, ballroom, something on a hill overlooking the city. We park her car and walk past rows of BMWs, Mercedes, and a few valets far better dressed then myself. Walking inside, our path is blocked by a very large bouncer, who, after a moment to consider a pair of disheveled dancers in jeans, lets us in at no cost. I tell him he won’t regret it, and we walk in to the dance party.

Inside, its all tuxedos and evening gowns and fancy coats and jewelry. I’m wearing an Obama T so worn out you can barely read it, shoes with holes, and jeans I’ve worn since San Diego. My dance partner is better by half, (at least she’s in a dress) but together we’re the worst-dressed pair in there: people actually stare and step back as we move into the room. We can’t stop laughing, and I drag her into the middle of the floor, shouting salsa steps over the hip-hop beats as we push into the mass of bodies.

Once there, we get down; salsa, west coast swing, rumba, two-step. I can’t believe how well this woman can follow! She’s picking up everything I’m laying down, and we’re lighting up the floor. Not meaning to brag, but you know you’re dancing well when people step back from what they’re doing to watch you. Either that or we stepped on too many toes and feet and legs and pissed everyone off! We spin and twirl and twist and flirt, dancing dirtier then I’ve ever dreamed with a woman twice my age. After an hour or so, we stumble off the floor and grab a couple waters, gasping for air and talking about how they ought to play something we could tango to. Too hot inside, can’t hardly think, so we make our way out onto the balcony.

Outside the view is gorgeous. The balcony overlooks all of the bay – the glittering lights of San Francisco, the bridges illuminated in twinkling yellow and white. Overhead, the heavens stretch eternal, and I say that to her as we lean out over the balcony. She laughs, tells me I’m going to be heartbroken my whole life if I don’t stop being such a damned romantic. “Love who you are, not who you would like to be,” I say, ripping off the Lawrence Arms as I slip an arm around her. She shrugs me off, gives me a knowing smile, and asks me to teach her how to tango. I turn wordlessly, grab her in the dance position, and let myself slide into the rhythm of the dance. I don’t know why or how, but I’ve lost this one, and the night just doesn’t feel the same after that.

After we dance a while on the balcony, she asks me if I’m ready to leave. I’m coming down off the drinks and the dancing, and my dogs are dragging; I’m happy to leave. We make our exit through the thinning crowd of fancy suits and gowns and walk out into the chill of night. She offers me her couch; I accept readily – there’s no real alternative. Dead phone, flat broke, far from home, and alone. We drive home talking about spirituality and faith, and the crime that is religion corrupting the human spirit. I doubt we made much sense, but we talked in that vein, excited, intellectual, honest, like good friends but not lovers, all the way to her house. We stumble in, she tosses me a few blankets, and I pass out dreamless on the couch. Thus ends my first fling with an older woman, wildly successful in every way except in bed.

WEDNESDAY: Early Wednesday morning I wake up smelly, sticky, and sore, not to mention thirsty as all hell. My lips are sticking together, so I stumble into the kitchen looking for a drink. Once again, I thank whatever instinct I have that wakes me up early in the morning after drinking just in time to get water. I can’t even count how many hangovers I’ve dodged this way. After a couple glasses of tap water, I wrap myself back up on the couch and snooze and stare at the crazy patterns on her ceiling, while I wait for her to wake up.

A few hours later, she’s awake and in the kitchen. I make a show of getting up, stretching, wasting time while I think of what the hell I’m going to say to this woman. As it turns out, she and I get along fine, laughing about the insanity of the previous night. She offers me a ride into the city, I happily accept, and so after I wash up a bit in the bathroom, I bum a ride back home. Somewhere along the way, between stories and comparing families, I look at her and say something I know to be true. “You’re in love with love, aren’t you?” That kills it. She looks at me, quiet, with something deep in her eye telling me I’ve cut too deep this time. She looks out the window, and I drop my gaze. She never answers, and we drive across the bridge and into the city in silence.

Mercifully I have to give her directions soon, and the rest of our ride is spent in calling out turns and trying to orient myself around town. “I hate this place,” she tells me. “When I moved here, I used to love it, but I realized that the city has no soul, no heart. It’s all noise and crowds.” I tell her I love to come visit, and she smiles and tells me that’s because I’m young, and the world hasn’t beaten me up yet. Finally we get to my uncle’s house, and I thank her for the ride. I kiss her on the cheek, tell her to keep dancing, and she wishes me good luck in the Peace Corps. We run through a few minutes of small talk banter to avoid saying the obvious “goodbye forever” that we ought to. Getting out of her car, I briefly hesitate, thinking I ought to ask her her name before we’re separated by eternity.

“Fuck it” I think, “it makes the story better.” I slam the door closed and don’t look back as she drives away out of my life forever.

I turned around from taking this picture and found a book in the gutter.

I turned around from taking this picture and found a book in the gutter.

After a shower and shave, the rest of Wednesday sneaks by unquestioned. I call Howard to tell him I’m alive, nap a bit, go for a walk, and spend most of the day lounging and reading a book I found in the gutter near Castro and 29th. Mid-afternoon my aunt Wendy calls me to get a ride home from the airport: she’s home from DC, where she was for the inauguration. I go to pick her up, and we swap stories until Howard gets home. After he’s back from work, we walk to an Indian Restaurant they’re in love with (for good reason!) and gorge ourselves on good food and good company. It’s my last night in the city, and I’m sad to have to leave – I know this is the last time I will be seeing my relatives for several years. However, the times we have had in this city, are a perfect last hurrah, and we part happily, with love in our hearts, and fond memories to carry us through until next we meet.

Once we’ve parted ways, and I’ve said my farewell to the city, I chart a course south back to San Jose. I’ll hit Jake’s place again tonight, on my way down to San Luis, and Santa Barbara beyond. Balling down the 280, I make fantastic time despite the rain; it’s nice that people in northern California don’t freak out whenever the sky gods take a leak. Just before I hit San Jose the storm completely opens up, and it suits me just fine. I ease Sally into town, and before long I’m pulling into the same parking spot I left 2 days before. I dodge inside with my bags, calling Jake as I do, and end up soaked to the skin by the time I’ve ran the half block to Jake’s apartment.

Turns out he’s not even home, so I sit outside dripping until the neighbors wander by. I must have looked in sad enough shape, because they stopped to ask me if I needed somewhere to stay. I waved them off, and after a while Jake came home with some gifts from a friend of his. The neighbors reappear, and we play old records and tell stories and joke into the night. The beer flows, I get told more guys ought to be like me for some reason I forget, and I end up sleeping on Jake’s other couch, thus keeping my streak of “never waking up in the same place twice” alive another daydiary entry

Looking out Jake's window, aka spying on the world.

Looking out Jake's window, aka spying on the world.

THURSDAY: Thursday I spent a lot of time writing – this story mostly, in notebook form – staring out the window, people-watching, smoking, wasting time. I take a walk around Jake’s neighborhood, wander into a thrift store, remember I’m flat broke, and mosey on home. Jake is off work around 3:30, so we take off for Santa Barbara once he’s packed and we’ve eaten. On the way out the door we grab a bunch of CDs, and ride down the 101 singing and talking about the screen play we’re writing together.

In SLO we stop to see my brother since my whole family is worried about him – he’s been depressive and quiet every time I’ve seen him lately, and I get the feeling he’s in a low point of his life. We show up Kenny’s house after dark and go out for sushi at some crazy-overpriced little joint. The food is great, but I end up paying a cool $80 bucks for the meal, everything I’ve saved for the trip and then some. Time to tighten my belt and live off a liquid diet for a while. Still, it’s great seeing my brother, and being a part of his life again. Once I leave for the Peace Corps, it’s the moments like this that I’ll miss.

After dinner I call my friend Lea to see what she’s up to, and since she’s one of those studious types, it turns out that she’s studying in the library. Jake, Kenny, and I head over to the Cal Poly library to bug her, and end up pissing off pretty much everyone in the building. None of us are the quiet or discrete type, so we end up racing up the stairs to the top floor, talking too loud, running through the stacks, and just being a nuisance. I don’t get to talk to Lea for long, but its good to see her, and I could see she felt the same. After sitting around joking and catching up for a bit, we try to find a way onto the roof, and once that fails (we were just sane enough not to open the “alarm will sound” door to get to the roof access. One last race down 5 floors, some yelling and swearing, and we’re off again. Jake and I drop off Kenny at his house, say our goodbyes, and keep on driving.

We’re far behind schedule, so instead of going on barhopping with some friends once we arrive in Santa Barbara, we’re mercifully allowed to not spend shitloads of money on watery drinks in loud nightclubs. Nothing against bars in general, but Santa Barbara’s aren’t worth their weight in drunk slutty STI-carrying coeds. We head over to Devon’s house, drink a few beers, watch TV, and catch up like the old friends we are. It’s more my scene anyhow. Jake calls the bed, so I end up sleeping on the slanted floor of Devon’s crazy old Victorian house. The floor is cold and hard, but after a day driving and a lifetime of sleeping where life takes me, I’m out like a light.

Jake in the Costume Shop. Why did they kick us out?

Jake in the Costume Shop. Why did they kick us out?

FRIDAY: Everyone starts coming out of the woodwork on Friday. Jake and I take the day slow since we’re broke, and spend a lot of time watching TV and waiting for it to stop raining so we can walk downtown to get food. Neither of us packed worthwhile cold-weather gear, so we’re pretty much trapped the entire day. We spend our time talking, brainstorming for the screenplay we’ve been writing together, smoking, and watching Curb Your Enthusiasm.

I really like Devon’s house, because he inherited most of the furniture and decorations from our shared house in Santa Barbara. Being there feels like home, since I’m surrounded by my favorite things. Plus, his house is weird and poorly designed and leaning all sorts of directions – my sort of place. The bathroom and bedroom are right next to each other, yet you have to walk through every room in the house in order to go from one to the other. Both the kitchen and bathroom slant significantly to the east. The floors creak, it’s barely insulated, and it’s dark in most of the rooms. I love it because the place just stinks of character; it’s almost like the house itself is your roommate.

Around noon the rain dies long enough for Jake and I to get lunch and go walking downtown looking for masquerade masks. We strike out on the masks, but the sandwiches and pretty girls make it hard to be disappointed. Santa Barbara has a lot of strikes against her, but the beautiful people are out in force here. We eventually have to go driving to a real costume shop to find masks, but the payoff is this fantastic little shop – ornate costumes, masks of all variety, all for a pricetag I can’t imagine paying in this life. Still, Jake and I have a blast trying on masks, taking pictures, goofing around. That is, until the employees on duty got involved.

Two older women ran the store, and they were not amused by Jake and my antics. Several times while we were there one or the other came over and yelled at us for trying on the costumes, or taking pictures, or touching things, or breathing. Pretty much everything we did was wrong, but we were just trying to have fun! You can’t take creative minds, stuff us into a room full of inspiration, and then expect us not to touch anything. Between the crotchety women and the price tags, that place sucked the life out of us, and we left with a handful of dollar masks and our tails between our legs.

Back at Devon’s house, some of our other friends are arriving. Rad and Katie, not a married couple but hardly single, show up right about the time we get back, and Devon comes home from work smelling of coffee and cigarettes. He showers, the rest of us get comfortable, and soon enough Chad, his girlfriend Muey, and their friend Jamie arrive. Instantly the house is packed – 4 rooms and no doors works just fine for Devon alone or perhaps a guest, but the 3 of us was pushing it, and 8 makes the house feel stuffy and overcrowded. The girls get down to getting pretty, Devon comes out of the shower to a standing-room-only crowd, and we all start the ritual that is getting ready to get hammered.

Chad, Rad, Katie, and Muey (Pronounced May, call her Mooey and die) had made cardboard and photo-paper masks of each other, and the results were hilarious. They turned anyone into a creepy, empty-eyed, soulless version of one of my good friends, and who wouldn’t want that? We amused ourselves taking pictures and catching up, all while dodging between and around and over each other like an unimpressive circus act. I wouldn’t pay to see it, but the choreography was stellar. Thankfully, Jake, Devon, Rad, Chad, and myself made up 5/7 of our old Santa Barbara house, and the close quarters and lack of privacy have never bothered us. I don’t know what the girls thought of it, but presumably they didn’t care, or they would never have been hanging out with us in the first place!

Anyway, to cut this story to the interesting bits, we showed up to the party later in the evening and got down to the drinking. The masquerade was at the girls’ house (partner to our late, great boys’ house) and we all fell right into our old routines and roles. It’s both funny and sad how much we all play the same characters when the whole gang gets together. Kelly goes back to being a lush, drinking red cups of vodka and forgetting how to speak. RAD gets hammered and passes out on something, but doesn’t get written on or fucked with because he’s so well-loved. Lauren and Rachel are stars, somehow playing perfect hostesses while drinking themselves blind on cheap wine and “princess punch.” Chris and Trav, poor guys, came to the group of friends late, and they mostly skirt the party, smoking cigarettes, getting stupid, but never quite being “in” in the same way as some of the rest of us.

My role in the group is one I’ve never really liked. I play this wallflower guy who gets overly drunk, doesn’t know when he’s being overly creepy or weird, and who eventually bails on the partying to go do his own thing. Of course I could just change this, but this being my last party with this same group, I’m so desperate to taste the old feelings and emotions that I dive right in. By 11 I’m gone – between drink and tea I can barely feel feelings. Nobody even notices when I walk out the front door and wander the neighborhood. I end up walking a long while in the cold, kicking a can through empty neighborhoods. I don’t know why I’m in such a funk. By all rights I should be happy; surrounded by friends and pretty women, on vacation, at another party. However, I just can’t help thinking that this is all pointless, that it doesn’t matter what I do anymore, or who I meet, because I’m leaving soon enough and won’t see anyone again. It’s an awful world view, but I’ve been slipping into it more and more lately. I suspect it will get worse before I leave.

After a long circuit of the block, in a dark mood and a darker night, I walk back to the house drunk tired and still depressed. Worse, as the booze starts to wane off, I’m exhausted and spinning. I elect to spend the night in my car rather then go back inside, where I can hear my happy friends singing and laughing. I’m just too far down for them right now, and realizing that is perhaps the most painful part of this whole fucked-up party. I climb in the passenger seat, kick it back, and pass out staring at my torn up roof, tracing the old scars from moving, from drunk friends and good times; a visceral reminder of how much I once shared with these people I’m now leaving behind to go take another path, to adventure, self-discovery, and who knows what else. What sort of asshole ditches his friends to go live in Honduras?

About two am, maybe, I’m awoken by my concerned friends knocking on my windows. They’d come out looking for me after I hadn’t returned, and after they’d dealt with Kelly’s drunken self. I’m in no shape to get up at this point, drunk, half-asleep, depressed as all hell, and while I’m touched by their caring, I just can’t drag myself up and into the house. It takes a good while, some hitting, some swearing, and finally some good old-fashioned shaking, to get me moving. The shaking was a low blow for sure, but it does the trick as it makes me want to hurl, which I proceed to do straight into the gutter. Almost hit Jenn too, if my browned-out memory serves me. Luckily for me and her both, she’s a good sport and used to this sort of thing, and dodges my review of the night’s party. Someone says “Fuck man!” which is about what I was thinking as the bile and booze and I went our separate ways.

After I finished up, we made our way back inside, I took some good-natured ribbing, and found Kel mostly naked and mostly passed out in the main room. The party was gone, my friends having taken a cab back to Devon’s or made their ways back to various homes in Santa Barbara. All we had left were the girls, their guests, mom, and Kel and I, the ones too drunk to leave. He and I laugh at our stupidity and predicament, gladly accept blankets, and pass the fuck out for the rest of that too-short night. Weird scene, to be sure. Still, every trip has it’s dark side, and for me this night was most definitely it. I felt it pass, the darkness, and as I lay there half-awake as Kel sucked the oxygen out of the room (or tried his hardest to) I knew that things would get better just as soon as the room stopped taking sudden dives to my right every few seconds. Foot on the floor, hand on the wall, and it’s time for some shuteye.

"Chad" and "Muey" Arrive at the party.

"Chad" and "Muey" Arrive at the party.

SATURDAY: I’ll tell you this – despite a lifetime of experience sleeping and waking up on strange couches, floors, futons, hammocks, and the like, there is always something jarring and difficult about slipping back into consciousness dehydrated, hungover, and tasting vomit. Doubly so when there’s something, like a best friend’s snoring, that reminds you of a distant, near-forgotten part of your life. Lying there, eyes half-open and mind as well, I was thrown back into the my early college years when Kel and I were roommates and his snoring-choking-sucking routine was my lullaby every night, and my rooster every morning. It took a few minutes to pull myself out of that pleasant fantasy, and when I did I was unhappy immediately. The taste of last night’s booze, the smell of bile and sweaty drunk, and the angry pounding in my temples met me at the starting line this morning, and they weren’t going to let me get away easily.

A few hours, rips, and cups of water later, I’m feeling adventurous enough to wake Kel up, so he can do a lot of the same. The girls are stirring, and we put the front room back in order (sort of) as everyone prepares for the second half of our family tradition, the hung-over group breakfast and storytelling session at Cody’s, a little place across the street. In the old days, when everyone drank until they passed out, it was our best option to get edible food without anyone having to drive or be sober. Now, despite having much better choices available to us (Alfie’s what?) we still end up at Cody’s a lot, scarfing down omelets and coffee, bloody marys and country-fried steak if you’re Jake or Devon.

Remember how I said I was broke? Still relevant now, and a search of my pockets turns up $4 and change. Worse, my emergency cash, the “if I have to flee town” money, is in my car, along with all the change I’ve saved up over the years. I’m straight broke, so I do what every good American has been doing for the last couple years – ordered what I wanted, not what I could afford. Orange juice, coffee, fruit, sourdough toast, and 2 eggs over-hard with country-fried potatoes. The waitress takes our order, all 22 people, and I feel like a shithead until the food comes. Well, not that bad – I was still hung over and hungry, and that makes me mean.

After fooding and talking, reminiscing and drinking, the routine is done. The magic fades, the spell breaks, and people start to go their separate ways. Chad has to make it back home, so he and Muey say their goodbyes almost immediately. Brandi and her friends head downtown, the girls have work and homework, and the group collapses back into routines, obligations, and “real life.” I stiff the restaurant for my food, leave my $4 as a tip, and walk out feeling not even a little bad about it. The girl I would have felt bad about, but the restaurant has a few hundred of my dollars already; they can live without these 10. Saying goodbyes, I try to guilt Brandi, Lauren, Chris, Trav, and a few others into doing something that night – my last with them for 2 years – and head back to Devon’s to shower, shave, and lay low for a bit. The last week has been doing me in, and I take a much needed lie on Devon’s floor while waiting for Jake to shower.

More TV – something I shy away from at home, but it’s a good time filler when you’re recovering from a binge or 5. I can’t party like I used to for more then a few nights now; the old concept of partying all night, 5-7 days a week, for months is so beyond me right now. I have no idea how I used to pull it off. The best I can manage now is a few nights, a week maybe, then my body starts to fall apart on me and I feel something awful. I start to feel introspective, a death sentence when the trip is still on, and Devon, Jake, Rad and I make damn sure that can’t happen any more. We blast our brains out with something illegal, then sit around talking old times and past experiences. I’m supposed to leave by noon, but I don’t want to and besides by the time it rolls around I can’t drive legally. Using this flimsy excuse I decide to waste the rest of the day hanging out, reminiscing, visiting old hangouts, and by the time the late afternoon rolls around it’s decided that we’ll head to our old dive bar, play some pool, have a few beers, and I’ll leave tomorrow. Jake, Rad, and Katie leave to head up to Jake’s place, and so I say a heartfelt goodbye to Dean Moriarty and that’s that. Jake and I aren’t the sentimental type, but I felt awful watching him go and not knowing when we’d meet again.

So we do that thing I just described, and I get a lot of free drinks tossed my way, lose a few games of pool, and say all the goodbyes and meaningful things I couldn’t the day before. It’s a lot more my style then the bingefest the night before, and after a few hours we all split amiably, give last hugs, and I walk out of yet more of my friends’ lives. Looking back on it from this position a few months in the future, this was one of the hardest days of my life, and regardless of where my life goes from here, I’m proud to have had all of these people touch my world.

Devon and I head over to Brandi’s to hang out a bit, but she kicks us out early on so she can do something, which leaves Devon and myself lying in Sally the Saturn’s cockpit, too drunk to drive, with no way to get home, no way to move the car out of Brandi’s parking lot, and so we end up lying there listening to Minus the Bear for an hour or so and reminiscing. I don’t recall a lot of what we talked about, but I remember all the things I needed to say pouring out in a rush of word vomit. I was in shit shape, emotionally, physically, spiritually even.  After a while I drove very slowly and carefully the 2 blocks to Chris and Trav’s place, figuring that there was no way I’d make it all the way downtown, and knowing that we always had a spot on their couches.

The problem with this plan was that they were fast asleep and we didn’t want to wake them. The logical solution was thus to break in through their front window, open the door quietly, and crash out on their couches. The only solution really. As I remarked to Devon before passing out facedown, Chris and Trav are some of the only people who would be more upset by us waking them up at 2am then breaking into their house. After that, and a few minutes of Wall-E, I remember nothing else until morning.

SUNDAY: Sunday sucked. I’d overstayed my planned trip, still had no money, had to be home to work by midday, and was hung over like unholy hell. I stole a glass of OJ from the boys, left them a thank you note, and Devon and I drove to his place to shower, grab my stuff, and drop him off for work. I said goodbye to my surrogate big brother, gave him a bearhug, and drove out of his life, and my once-home, for the last time for a long time. I drove the whole way home with a lump in my throat, the same Minus the Bear album playing, unable to look in the mirror.

Made it home just before work, and walked into the swim store looking haggard, emotionally dead, and past the point of caring. Stepped seamlessly into my old “new” life, bit my lip, and kept my head down. I had done what I needed to do, said what I had to, and was left with more longing and answer-less questions then I’d ever had. I wish I could say that this trip was fun, but really the second half sapped all the life out of the first, and in the end all I could do was survive. I know better things are to come, but I never dreamed it would be so hard to leave this miserable existence behind. I guess we’ll just have to see were it turns out, but at least I know that if it ends up shitty I can always crash on a few floors and couches.

A few notes: I never slept in the same place twice. I never had sex. I did smoke a lot, drink a lot, and throw up on my shoes. I didn’t get to kiss Lea goodbye. I missed Kenny’s upcoming breakdown completely. Jake and I bonded like no-get-out. I wrote the last 2 days worth of bullshit on April 6, 2009 because it was too painful, so if it’s wrong chronologically or factually I’m sorry. Everything is as true as I can remember, so help me dog.

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