Center of the Universe (37)
I think I’m losing my soul. And I don’t need to tell you what that looks like. Soon my heart will shrink, along with my hands, and my head will sprout a terrifying tumbleweed-cum-loofah.
Maybe not that bad.
What happened? you ask. What happened is 23 miles. It’s a trifle, as the crow flies. But that crow don’t fly — not these days, not between seven and nine a.m., from western Marin to 101 South. And as our own fledglings flew the coop and those morning migration minutes mounted and the long-promised personal gyrocopter did not drop into our driveway, I cast about for something better than a bleary-eyed, wake-up routine of an hour-and-fifteen bumper-to-bumper in the Prius.
Yes, I used to ride my bike — three sedentary decades and 50 adipose pounds ago. Used to ride the enchanting trans-bay catamaran, too — but it’s now a 30 minute slog just to get to the ferry terminal, with a schedule that’s limited and firm. And the bus, well, it’s lumbering and smelly and, if you try to read, nauseating, and not any faster than the car. With a schedule that’s limited and firm.
At first, I didn’t tell Hoffman. One of the bad things I do, one of the ways I repeatedly sully this soul I’m losing anyway, is not tell my sainted wife. But then I don’t tell anybody, not family, friends, co-workers. Not when I’m scheming. Not before the nefarious plan is fully baked and ready to serve. And it’s the serving I’m focused on. The presentation. The sell. The con. Because, by and large, whatever I’m secretly planning is either imprudent, improvident, impractical, or all three.
So I skulked. Sneaking a scan of Craigslist, including rooms to share (though the two female flight attendants looking for a male to share their “lower Nob” 3BR might’ve been a tad too porny for Hoffman). Mapping addresses to calculate the distance to Bush and Sansome. Pondering — as much as an innumerate can — the economics of selling the crazy, hippie-built cliff-house in Fairfax and moving to San Francisco vs. not selling. Not selling, and instead piling another residential obligation — rent — onto our mortgages, the variable-rate second of which had funded our children’s higher ed (emphasis on the higher) (cheap shot) and had since ballooned, as everyone had warned, alarmingly. Mind you, we had no savings to speak of. No investments or reserves. 401k cashed early — incurring all major penalties everyone had also warned — the last time I’d had a big idea: getting rich in Putin’s Russia. There was food, including healthy groceries (Hoffman insisted) and four or five meals a month at beloved Sorellas (discounted, but not free). And, for Tipmas and the other high holies, a silly suit — zoot-cut red satin? or bedazzled black velvet? — from Siegel’s in the Mission. We were hardworking, tax-paying, law-abiding, semi-superannuated, sober-ish citizens and many furlongs from bad-off, but strictly paycheck-to-paycheck — said paycheck, it might be noted, emanating from an independent, uninsulated small business in a volatile industry in the roiling backwash of a Great Recession.
It was a no-brainer not to take on another monthly bill. And I was just the no-brain to do it.
What the hell, it had been a good year. Best in 20 (which meant, karmically and otherwise, we were surely headed for a fall) (we were). And the checks were fattening. And then I found this totally dope crib. Ten minutes walk from the office, a tiny studio, with balcony on the bay and the inescapably lucky designation as Apt. 1313. Calling it the perfect pied-a-terre makes the idea sound as la-di-da and ludicrous as it was — 1st-world to the Nth. But that view — the enchanting catamaran skimming by on its firm, limited way, the Hong Kong freighter, piled high with colorful containers like a cargo of giant Rubik’s Cubes, the swooning sailboats of Saturday and Sunday, Coit Tower, standing phallic sentinel over all at eleven o’clock, and all utterly mesmerizing, in sun no less than frothy cumulus or foghorned gray.
This was something I could sell.
Hoffman didn’t want to have anything to do with it, fending me off with increasingly irritated arguments about income and expenses that, frankly, left me distracted. Fending me off, fending me off, and then — knowing it was never about arguments, or sense, let alone the numbers I could only marvel at, ignorantly, fearfully, like a Kubrick ape before the monolith — fading to black. I’ve never seen this quiet woman fall quite so quiet — scary silent, 23 million miles away, rethinking existence, definitely her marriage — as on the flip to Fairfax after we’d put down a San Francisco deposit. Turned out that was her best argument of all.
OK, if you don’t want it, I said, with true remorse, I don’t have to. We’ve got 24 hours to cancel.
Turned out that was my best argument of all.
I thought it was nothing, no biggie. About traffic and convenience, about walking to work. I thought it was a lark, a change of scene, a celebration of renewed independence, turning tables on the empty-nest doldrums. And I thought the anxiety — hers — was solely about numbers, scratch, the burn, about not saving, being unprepared, un-cushioned, vulnerable, about sliding back to broke. I thought it was surface (surface!). Left-brain poppycock. Five-and-a-half years later, I find out what Hoffman always knew, that, even in a digital world, a virtual world, a world of instant communications and cheap flights, it goes deep, where you are. Where you actually are. The meat world. IRL.
And as I think about the gang at Sorellas on the lee of Mt. Tam and who did or said or ate what this week or six weeks ago or six years, who sat in with Wendy or sang, or if they ever found Dave’s other trumpet, about the specials of the day (salmon or trout, with mango salsa or white wine and garlic), and the week’s sick report and the kale crop at the Kangs and those sweet, sunny sisters and Gary’s sad, busted Subaru and what to write next, I think about it. We haven’t been to Fairfax in three weeks and that’s a long time, longest since the trip to Holland. But last time it was cold — cold for Cali, where we’ve gone soft — and damp and I’d come down with a cough and sniffles and stood in front of the roaring living room heater and nothing could make me warm. And finally I said to Hoffman, Fuck this. Can’t take it. Not coming back till spring. And now I’m better and not sure I meant it. But I have found a new quiet spot to write in the city, when I’m not writing at the little round table in 1313 overlooking SF Bay, and a few new city friends — acquaintances really, nothing at all like the folks in Fairfax — and a few new city grooves, new bars and restaurants. And it occurred to me yesterday I might be losing touch.
And that’s not all.