Wednesday, January 04, 2006

A Loss for Words Pt. 8

(CONTINUED) I was asleep long before Ruben came home and didn’t wake until the first rays of pale sunlight crept through the blinds and fell across the hide-a-bed. I could tell immediately from the milkiness of the light that there was fog. I quietly got dressed and went outside. The city was just beginning to move. I heard trucks and busses and laughter from somewhere down the street. Then I heard the foghorn boom from off the water and decided to walk the couple blocks down to Point Lobos. Soon the towering Monterey pine and cypress, which survive nowhere else, appeared overhead and then quickly gave way to the ocean, wholly concealed in mist. To the left was the Mechanique Museum and its rows of dusty old arcade games, levers and spindles and pulleys yet waiting to do the bidding of anyone that wanted to bring the archaic machines to life again. I might’ve gone into the museum to examine some of the quaintly bawdy dioramas or have my future told, but it was still early and the museum closed. Farther south, through whisps of fog, I could just make out a few figures walking along Ocean Beach.

I began to follow the dirt trail down to the remains of the Sutro Baths. Water had ponded at the base of the old ruin and the wind was whipping in from the Pacific. The foghorn boomed again and I could see nothing beyond the closest whitecaps as they broke noisily against the shore. I made my way to the water, then up to a small tunnel through the rock. At the edge of the tunnel I stopped to face the ocean. I could feel the spray on my skin, but my clothes were not wet. Soon a sixtyish man came out from the other side of the tunnel. He had a big, white beard and I could see tie-dye beneath the collar of his windbreaker. A sailor’s cap was crammed tightly over his skull and he reached up occasionally as if to ensure that it was still there, although it moved not a millimeter in the gusts. He was, I was sure, an original Haight-Ashbury hippy. The last of a breed that had been dying since the day they’d first appeared.

“Are you from here or just visiting?” the man asked, after leaning against the rock for a few moments, looking out at the impenetrable fog.

I considered the implications of the question. I could smell the salt in the air and already taste it on my lips. “I don’t know,” I replied. The man tilted his head to one side, whether interested or bemused or wary I couldn’t tell. “I’m originally from Boston,” I went on. “But I’ve lived here for many years. Until recently, that is. My now-ex-wife and I moved across the bay a couple years ago though.” I’d already said more than I’d intended, so I just stopped. The man nodded and turned back to the ocean.

“I live on a houseboat in Sausalito. Been down there for almost two decades. But last week the damn thing sprung a leak and it’s in dry dock now for repairs. I’m staying with some friends in the city ‘til she’s seaworthy.” He reached up and touched his hat again, then shook his head. “I’ll tell ya, living on a boat gets rid of a lot of problems, but the ones you’re left with are doozies. I woke up to take a piss and stepped into two inches of water. If those couple brewskies I’d had before bed hadn’t been knocking on my bladder I mighta gone down with the ship.” I almost laughed but didn’t when I saw that he’d pursed his lips grimly.

We both looked out over the water. A minute or two later the man turned to leave and said, looking back up the cliff, “It’s still a hell of a town, but not like it was. Not like it was at all.”

I nodded and he started back up the trail, the hand now reaching for the hat more frequently as he went.

Eventually I turned and headed back up the cliff, but instead of going back to Ruben’s I began to walk north. The air was cool and damp and the horn continued to blow and shreds of fog blew in off the water and disappeared into the trees. I tried to think of nothing in particular and it seemed that decisions would be made—were being made—as long as I kept walking.

I kept on along the waterfront, a few people clambering over rocky outcroppings down by the water or sitting beside huge fishing poles. I kept on through Lincoln Park and skirted China Beach, flanked by huge homes with exquisite landscaping, each seemingly undergoing some manner of reconstruction or remodeling. I continuously passed port-a-potties and heard snippets of Spanish as workers arrived to begin their day. I dropped down to Baker Beach and made my way along the strand. On the far side some nude men were out sunbathing, although the sun was nowhere in sight. It wasn’t until I reached the old army bunkers just south of the Golden Gate that the fog began to lift. At the bridge I hopped a bus and headed back into the city. I suddenly wanted to talk to Ruben, but he wouldn’t be up for another couple hours. So, I stopped at a café on Geary and had some breakfast while I read the paper.

When I got back to Ruben’s he was just waking up.

“Where were you?” he asked, dropping the top back on the coffee maker.

“I went for a walk along the water. Then I got some breakfast. How was work?”

He yawned. “Same old, same old.” He sat down at the kitchen table and grew more serious. “You talk to her?”

I took a seat across from him. “Yeah, I saw her.”

He shook his head. “Just got right down to business, eh? Did you say what you wanted to say?” He reached over and grabbed two mugs off the rack on the counter. “By the way, just what DID you want to say?”

“It turned out it didn’t really matter. She’s pregnant.”

Ruben put one mug in front of each of us then leaned way back in his chair. “Whoa! I wouldn’t have figured she’d…” He stopped, trying to choose his words carefully. “You know, I just wouldn’t have thought it would’ve happened so soon.”

I picked up the empty mug and put it back down. “It’s mine.”

Ruben’s eyes got bigger and he leaned forward in the chair again. “Holy shit! She must be pretty far along!”

“Almost two months.”

He considered this, making some calculations. “That means this child was conceived after you were divorced. I know, ‘cause I was with you when the papers were filed.”

“Well, old habits die hard,” I muttered, tracing the embroidery on the tablecloth, but immediately felt terrible for saying it. I raised my head: “I didn’t mean that.”

Ruben seemed to be looking at me very intently. “I know you didn’t. You don’t have to be like that with me. I spent a lot of time with both of you.”

He got up and poured us each a full cup, then put the pot back and sat down. He sipped at the coffee, but it looked too hot to me. “So, what are you going to do?”

“I don’t know. I’m not really sure what my options are. But she’ll let me be involved in raising the kid, I know that.”

“Do you want to do that?”

This, then, appeared to be the big question, but it didn’t feel like it. There seemed to be something else just below the surface, some other factor that needed to be considered before I could come to any firm decision. Yet this other element was illusive and remained just beyond my grasp.

“I’d never even thought about having a kid until she told me this.” I sipped at the steaming coffee. “It scares me.”

Somehow Ruben had already finished his first cup and was refilling his mug. “Yeah, but the question is: ‘Do you want to help Anne raise this kid?’ The other stuff doesn’t matter. Not right now.”

I drank some more and then put the cup back down. “I think I need to talk to her again.”

Ruben smiled. “You’re really in trouble.”

I laughed. “And you love it, don’t you?”

“You know I do.” (CONTINUED)

All photos of SF, CA.

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