Center of the Universe (58)
Map of the Universe, Virgo Supercluster, Late November
The camera drifts in, pans the tightly packed table and pauses on a couple locked in conversation: SHE, not just the first women’s mountain biking champion, but champ five times in a row, besting all the women and damn near all the men in those mixed-gender races, a kind of Muhammad Ali of her sport (a characterization she would reject utterly) when it was barely a sport and definitely not an industry, an extraordinarily natural athlete with style, wit and an agenda, Jacquie Phelan (you remember Jacquie), champion of strong women, extreme recycling and immersive bohemia, bipedal raccoon, daughter of Tarzana, child to trouble, Middlebury grad (en Français), betrothed for 30 years to mountain bike designer/maker Charlie Cunningham, who’s still getting over (with a little help from his friends) a ridiculous fall from a mountain bike (not the first, in six decades of hellbent bikes, go-karts and test-driving your own inventions) that broke a few bones, but delivered what seemed to Charlie a negligible knock on the noggin — one that, a few weeks later, sparked a cerebral hemorrhage and has left him struggling, cognitively, for two years; HE, her conversational foil, Bob Wilbee, distributor of industrial pumps and commercial trash and linen chutes, former manager of the Larkspur Landing Steak & Brew and a genial born-and-raised local who looks like that guy, that actor, you know — the genial dad on some TV sitcom or maybe a middle-aged Gene Kelly — and was genial next-door neighbor to Samuel “Sandy” Pearlman, round the corner from H&J Tires, in one of those faceless one-story business complexes for businesses that don’t really need a face, and is brother and business partner to Jimmy Wilbee, ex Zen monk in Japan and lapsed actor in San Francisco whose clavicle-length white mane makes him a dead ringer for the King Lear figure in Kurasawa’s Ran and who sits to the right of his husband, Jeff Hoey — with the long Chinese warrior mullet — with whom he cohabits on a boat in the same San Rafael marina where Sandy, post-salad-days, lived briefly on a Chris Craft so funky you could put a finger through the hull (as our pal Captain Tim demonstrated, in a last-ditch attempt to dissuade a landlubber from purchasing it, even for chicken feed — even rabbit feed, which is what Sandy dished out to the floppy-eared critters that cohabited with him on the boat), and just to the left of Hi Dong Kang, North Korean refugee, pastor and paterfamilias, with whom Jimmy is now chatting in the Nihongo the good Rev was compelled to acquire during the decades-long Japanese occupation and who is, as ever, at the side of his Brazilian mate of more than half-a-century, Maria Kang, mother of Sao Paolo-born Soyara and her SF-born baby sister Sonia , who are owners and operators of this, the finest Italian restaurant in the Virgo Supercluster, where, opposite Jimmy, to continue our cinematic circumambulation, sits Gary “Wingo” Wingert, inveterate, if not compulsive, customer of said restaurant, owner/operator of Wingo Tech Rescue and ex of Aurora, Colorado (site of a movie theater massacre that, a thousand bodies back, had its 15 minutes of infamy), former gate agent for Frontier Airlines and Deadhead for the Fixx (now his bosom buddies irl), father of a gothy, artistic daughter and two voluble cockatiels, Doobie and Cooper, who shriek in panic when Papa ducks into the bathroom, and cheek-by-jowl with me — from Sheboygan, Chicago, Minneapolis, New York, Detroit and sometimes Memphis — who is, in turn, shoulder-to-shoulder with Roni Hoffman, painter, photographer and soulmate out of Bensonhurst and Coney Island — Brooklyn before it was BK — and on Bob Wilbee’s other side, to complete the circle, Diane Greenfield or maybe Diane Wilbee, his ex-wife, now live-in girlfriend, hawker of fine fragrances at Macy’s, who decided to shrug off retail fatigue and join the festivities after all and is passing out free samples to Jacquie, a hitherto closeted fragrance freak, who proceeds to spritz them in the air, drowning out for a moment the finest Italian food in the Virgo Supercluster (later I get an email from her apologizing — unnecessarily — for “ruining” dinner), all one exceedingly narrow servers’ lane away from the resonant new spinet and the more compact circle commanded by Wendy Fitz, formerly of Malibu, by way of Port Washington, NY, barroom chanteuse, blues, r&b, country and, indeed, jazz pianist (no matter her averral), a circle encompassing her man and bassman Steve Webber, inescapably of Des Moines, son of a preacher turned Planned Parenthood sex preacher, grandson of a radio station owner, and her drummer, the mighty John Molloy, ex of Newburgh, NY, ex of NYC punkers Brad Factor, currently (intermittently) of the Company She Keeps, but, most impressively, for a rank Anglo, longtime member of an Outer Mission Latin outfit called Jose Najera & the Bernal Beat, not to mention husband to Soy, brother-in-law to Sonia, father to Conner and Jack, and to Lauren by a previous, son of Rina, son-in-law of Maria and Kang, doting grandfather to five-year-old Trent — the mind brims, even as the table (actually two four-tops shoved together to host 10) overflows with a visit by an eleventh, the inimitable Georgie P. — inescapably, by the accent, out of deepest Brooklyn (not far from girlhood haunts of Hoffman) — a recently retired merchant seaman, shipboard chef and, between sailings, purveyor of fine herbs, a man who used to feed a crew of 30 three meals every day, but doesn’t like to eat en masse (it’s the only way you could describe 11 at a table for 8), though eating en masse is what you might call George’s typical double-entree dinner (that somehow hasn’t turned him into a double-man), and refuses to sit — even if the physics could accommodate another chair — which seems to cue the recitative, with rare diction, of the night’s featured foodstuffs, by the widely cherished Heather Houseman Roach, accomplished cellist and veteran server, Marin native, bride to the central valley’s Adam Roach — who in addition to strumming and vocalizing for Beso Negro owns The Forge, Fairfax’s first tattoo parlor — and now mother to 1.5-year-old Baby Jack, who is surely the next generation of Sorellas family, or the next next gen, behind Soy’s and John’s sons, Conner (a junior in high school) and Jack (Grownup Jack, halfway through UCSB), both of whom capably reinforce the restaurant’s staff when on school break, which makes them more than just Molloy/Kang family by blood, but our family, by bolognese sauce; and now, within the earnest tete-a-tete of Bob and Jacquie, a pump king is unspooling to a bike queen the run-on sentence of supernatural connections, “coincidences” doubters will try and tell you — beginning with Bob’s own full name: Robert Duncan Wilbee!—that led to our discovering Sandy had been stricken, because it was Robert Duncan Wilbee (who we didn’t know from Adam Duncan Wilbee three years ago) who first got the news when his grandson told him mommy found a sick man in that parking lot there, Citibank in SR, and he called his ex-daughter-in-law in Fairfax, the formidable Jamie Carney (whose formidable aunt happens to be Rebecca Solnit), and she said it’s true, man named Pearlman and Bob said — exclaimed — Sandy Pearlman?!? his studio is right next to our office, and then called Sorellas (of which he happened — “coincidentally” — to be an occasional patron) and left a message asking if the owners knew a guy who owns an ad agency who comes in with another guy named Pearlman — because that’s all that Duncan W. (him) had gleaned of Duncan period (me) from coffee conversations with Sandy, Roni’s and my friend since long-ago NYC, when he was still riding high — or, rather, low and sleek — in Porsches and Maseratis as svengali of the Blue Öyster Cult (and as the band’s producer, the real-life “more cowbell” guy on SNL), whose characteristic black, billed cap, a “Swedish paratrooper hat,” in his indignant description, dangles, in tribute, just outside the bedroom door where I am writing this, temporarily replacing the portrait of my kids — when they were in Manor, the grade school around the corner from Gary — that was my birthday present one score years ago, but had discolored (even though it’s black-and-white) after hanging in the sun so long and which I took back to photog Art Rogers down the boulevard in Pt. Reyes (who happened, in the day, to be Wendy’s photo teacher and happened, in another day, to take the pic the artist Jeff Koons appropriated that led to Art’s famous winning lawsuit), who avowed that it should have never happened, sun or no, and he would reprint, free of charge — our forever homie Sandy, who had a crush on Heather back when she was scooping frozen treats at Double Rainbow in San Rafael, well before she was scooping hearts at Sorellas, who took us to Europe with the band for our honeymoon, who helped us get our first California apartment and me my first straight job and about whom Soy phoned me at the office one morning, much as she did when inviting us to family birthday parties — John’s, Trent’s, Rina’s — leaving me fully disarmed as I leaned back and said to what do I owe this pleasure, and she said you’re not going to believe the strange chain that led to this call and went on to deliver one of those gut-punches for which that infernal gadget is notorious, especially when your defenses are down: Sandy’s in the hospital, Marin General (where, unbeknownst to any of us, Giovanni had just been admitted with a busted leg, and, six weeks later, Charlie would be rolled in with his brain bleeding) and the caller (Bob) told whoever was going to listen to the voicemail that it was touch-and-go; and it recently dawned on me that exactly such a strange chain of connections, links, circuits, is what this is all about — THIS thing, this so-called blog — actually a book, really a mash letter to a municipality, deep down an investigation of the mysteries of affinity — as well as THAT thing, the so-called restaurant, where the lasagna, its raison d’etre, is really ancillary to the toothsome solidarity served up six nights, even as, reflecting on Jacquie and Bob — just the latest worlds-collide confab in that back room — set me to reflecting (again) on me and Kang — me, Wisconsin, Greenwich Village and exile to mythic California, and Kang, a village in the north, POW camp in the south and exile, via India, to unimagined Brazil — our tracks, paths and trajectories, what I often think about when we’re together, and how it is even possible, what accident of spacetime navigation, whose god, what astrophysics or biochemistry or legerdemain, could conceivably have delivered us to each other’s company in this tiny, faraway corner of Eden (once the smoke clears and the mud doesn’t slide)? — it dawned on me that, to work this out in my mind, I needed to work it out in a chapter, and, yes, I know a map or diagram of that gurgling quark soup, the chain-reaction chowder that begat atoms, molecules and, for that matter, maps, not to mention mapmakers, going all the way back to the dust of stars, might have been easier to follow, but a run-on sentence is like life, and, to that point, even as I am cantilevering this one over the void, the phone rings — perhaps the Tetragrammaton himself — but it’s Kang, and he’s asking for Jimmy’s number, because he wants to complete a circuit with the Lear-haired Wilbee, thanking him for the Korean goodies he’d dropped off, unprompted, at Kang’s and Maria’s dollhouse behind Soy’s and John’s, completing his own Zen circuit in the afterglow of Saturday’s transcendent chaos, etc., etc., etc., dot, dot, dot, as the camera drifts back: from a couple locked in conversation to a glowing azure two-ball to a cartwheeling supercluster and, 46.5 billion light years later (or is it earlier?), the impenetrable gloaming of a Swedish paratrooper’s hat.