Center of the Universe (11)
When a man in San Francisco leapt from 22 stories and almost landed on me, ending his misery instead on the stones ten yards away, I scrambled to the family table.
Actually, I went to work, where I’d been headed in the first place.
But more than force of habit, resuming my morning routine was a wobbly lunge for the ancient quotidian of 45 minutes ago, an abject simulacrum of normalcy. Especially since my primary normalcy-generator of three or four decades, was at the moment across the Bay, teaching, phone off.
I was drowning. And after I arrived at work, didn’t do a lick. And when a co-worker asked the pro-forma social question, I replied, all stoic aspirations aside: Not so good. And my chin began to quiver. And I realized I was worse.
It goes deep — unexpected violence, oceanic despair. Which sounds unsurprising. But how deep was comprehensively surprising to me — as hearing hissed, vision crackled, senses redlined, and in an instant the world turned strange and pitiably fragile, all fundamental questions summoned. And though I’m not the religious person I was raised to be, the first friend I thought of was Reverend Kang, who, before he helped his daughters start Sorellas — after he spent five years in war, flight from war and war’s prisons — had devoted his life to matters of the spirit. Maybe, through all his travails, he’d come up with something more than Jesus.
I didn’t want Jesus. A bunch of folks with matters of the flesh on their mind — coveting, hating, killing — had long ago sunk His rep, for Me. And I didn’t want to be marked as a sucker by a sect with a credo to sell, no matter how holy the salesman. Not to mention, I was proud. After a lifetime of railing and recovering, I wasn’t about to go crawling — like all those other vehement Catholic school alums who cave when it comes to their kids, signing up precious for baptism and, soon, Catholic kindergarten. When the going gets dark, surrender to weakness, laziness, cowardice?
So I hesitated about the Rev.
Anyway, the greater comfort may have been in just imagining he had it sussed, fantasizing there was someone on this clamorous coil who’d achieved inner peace — rather than discovering, by actually examining it with him, that the peace was strictly off-the-rack, straight from the Book of Common Prayer or, for that matter, the SF Theological Seminary, down the lane in San Anselmo, a failure of imagination, a betrayal of the creativity with which the Creator (their notion, not mine) had endowed us.
The more certain refuge was the casserole of wide, flat noodles with layers of ricotta and prosciutto di parma, in meat sauce, beneath melted mozzarella, carbonized at the corners.
That evening, or the next — memory gets discombobulated in the dark — we headed to Sorellas.
It must have been a Wednesday, which the sisters take turns taking off. Which means the incident was a Tuesday. Which means I went carousing with the young men from our company’s oldest client, then preparing to fire us, on a Monday. Ended at Spec’s, a mouse-hole off Columbus, where the homeless man in the alley sketched our collective caricature and the head client haggled the purchase price down from five bucks to one. I wanted to protest, but it seemed to mean a lot to the client: icon — before a blearily indifferent congregation of co-workers — of his primacy. For me, easier just to look away. I was weak, after all. But even the crazy homeless guy, backing down the alley with a dollar in change — not even a bill — was less mad at the shitty deal than agape at the dismal state of agape.
It had been a late night, in other words. That’s why I was going to work late. And the whole thing was like that Eastern religious thing some holy people — and hippies and John Lennon, the first hippie saint, and most of the town of Fairfax — believe in.
Soy was off, and Sonia, the chef sister, was working front-of-house. Maybe I was still in shock. Likely I was pale. Definitely I was exhausted, as anything like sleep had become worse than impossible — startling, horrifying, dreadful, beyond exhausting. I can’t conceive how the combat soldier — Reverend Kang, for instance — ever comes home.
You OK? asked his youngest daughter.
Sonia slid into the corner booth, the family table, under the bust of Augustus, with me and Roni. Once more, the answer was unmistakable. And I confessed. And there was the laying-on-of-the-hands on my forearm, the exclamations of sympathy and absolution, and then, per liturgical protocol, the dispensing of the sacraments.
Nero d’Avola, the red wine of Sicily.
Marinated greek olives, black and green, from her olive-importing Greek boyfriend in Hayward.
Calamari fritti, with spicy red sauce, from who cares, because it’s fritti. Deep-fried.
And, finally, the body and blood of Italian-Korean-Brazilian comfort cuisine: Sonia Kang’s magisterial lasagna bolognese.
I’d like to say that fixed it, then and there. But if it took another year or so — and many more cubic kilometers of Kang lasagna, not to mention 400 pages of soul-searching and, above all, the love and mercy of the bride — to restore that remarkable state of grace known as normalcy, it started one Wednesday evening, at Sorellas Caffe, in a little hippie town, in a big redwood forest, other side of a stout, green mountain from limitless Pacific blue.
On earth as it is in heaven.