There, Now

It’s a sunny Saturday evening and I’m out of step. I try out elements of my regular habits, but they don’t fit comfortably.

I lay down to sleep in my own bed. My blankets seem unfamiliar.

There’s an almost empty carton of milk in the refrigerator. It’s not yet expired, but it tastes stale.

The dishes need washing.

CDs cases are not put away. My pile of unread books is looming. When did I buy these? Who says they’re mine?

Robert calls and asks for help. He’s a stranger, how did I get involved in this?

I walk down to the waterfront to take some pictures. I hobble back behind The Aquarium, my back stiff from kayaking.

I over-caffeinate at Bauhaus and read Murakami. I’m finally starting to get a grasp on the book, sitting there among a dozen people whom I’ve seen a million times but have never spoken to. I was away and now I’m here and so are you.

The vacation is fading from my mind, but I’m still far away from Seattle.

The Man

We drove up to Anacortes and took the ferry over to Orcas.

We had some time before check-in at our cabin, so we spent an hour or so snapping photos on a lake-side trail. We were in the habit of saying hello, after greeting other hikers on the trail, so we said hello to a man who was moving dishes from a picnic table to the trunk of his car. He was middle-aged, expressionless, and wore a flannel shirt.

“It’s a great day isn’t it?” he said.

One of us agreed and the next thing we know, we’d received as much information about the island as can be fit into the time it takes for two people to get into a car. Among the new facts in our possession: The best place to watch the sun set on Orcas Island is at Obstruction Pass.

We waved good bye to the friendly man and continued our vacation.
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Cynic/Ascetic

Today neither Ingrid nor Jessica can say for sure that she remembers who the other is; but Ingrid was at Re-bar for Jessica’s twenty-first birthday party four years ago. I was curious about Ingrid, so at one point during the evening, I sat down and said hello. Truth be told, my usual reaction in those circumstances would have been to avoid eye contact and not talk to her. But someone had taken my seat while I was in the restroom.

Ingrid’s icebreaker was this: “So. Jeff. Do you practice ascetics?”

I hesitated and said that if I was practicing ascetics, I wasn’t doing it consciously, since I didn’t know the meaning of the word.

I don’t remember how the rest of the conversation went – except the end. Ingrid asked me, “Do you want to dance?” And I answered, “I can’t dance.” To the untrained ear that means “I’m not really interested.” In my case though, it meant, “I can’t dance.” Oh well. C’est la vie.

Almost four years later, Ingrid and I found ourselves sitting at Re-Bar again, in what may have been the very booth where we had our first conversation. I turned to her, ready to say, “So. Ingrid. Do you practice ascetics?” But I chickened out and said something else instead.

It worked out in the end. I posted something oblique about Ingrid the next day. Then, knowing it would lead her to her entry eventually, I emailed her a link to Beans For Breakfast’s sister site. (This is a technical violation of the Good Blogger’s Rules of Conduct. But I defend it by claiming that the entry works on a basic narrative level as well as on a help-me-get-a-girlfriend level. There’s something for everyone.)

We had each other’s attention again. A bunch of stuff happened after that, but you don’t want to hear about it.

Sidebar: In the Jessica entry, I was going to claim that I’m a cynic. Cynic wasn’t quite the word I wanted, so I looked it up on thesaurus.com and of course one of my words was “asceticism”.

Half-Vagabond

Yesterday my friend Jessica surfaced. Nine months ago, she sold everything but her guitar (though she couldn’t play it) and moved to New York.

We walked around downtown and she said how strange it felt to come back and stride around in her old life again for a few days. Her and her mother will shortly be packing her mother’s belongings into a truck and hauling it to Florida. After that, she doesn’t know what she’s doing or where she’s going. But she’ll probably take her guitar (she knows how to play it now).

Jessica believes in everything and I barely believe in anything – so I always had a good time picking on her. (She appreciated that, I could tell.) I didn’t get many barbs in this time around and I’m not sure why.

The Big Game

Two teenagers are playing catch with a football as I walk past the bus tunnel. The older one backs up onto Olive Way, usually a busy street – no traffic at the moment due to lazy Sunday traffic and maybe a trick of the stoplights. The kid on the sidewalk passes the ball with an exaggerated jerk of his arm. The kid in the street puts his hands out behind him, ducks his head down, catches the ball behind his back, but immediately fumbles it. He picks up the ball and jogs back to the sidewalk, the light has changed and two cars – one from each direction – will converge shortly on his spot. The kid steps onto the sidewalk beside me and tosses the ball back to his friend. I continue my stroll up Olive, but am interrupted a moment later when the ball falls down beside me and gets tangled up in my stride. I look back and see the kid several yards away, jogging over to pick up his missed catch. I pick up the ball (it’s surprisingly soft – it needs to be inflated a little), and toss it to him backwards from my crouching position – in sort of a modified hike. The ball comes down a few feet short. The kid stretches his arms out as far as possible, but it hits the sidewalk and tumbles away.

A Sappy One

We talked things through and over. We walked through our planned evening, spending our already paid for tickets. We traded friendly greetings with acquaintances, common and uncommon. We walked back, saying the wrong things – because there were no right things to say. When we hugged before you left, my hand found a familiar place on your back that I’d forgotten was there.

The Argonaut

Jason stops the boat, takes down the jib(?), and goes for a swim. I change into Ingrid’s shorts and jump in feet first. There’s a bit of a shock when I hit the water and a shot of Lake Washington up my nose. What am I doing? I remember to swim and paddle up to the surface. The others are laughing. What? What did I do? Did I look funny when I jumped? A wave hits me and I take in another mouthful of Lake Washington. The boat is slowly creeping away from me. I can’t quite manage a reasonable breaststroke (I chalk that up to the choppy water.), so I just dog paddle after it. The waves aren’t helping, it seems like I’m not moving at all. Jason tosses a little buoy out in case one of us gets too far away. (The buoy immediately detaches itself from its line and floats away.) Finally I manage to reach the boat, I clutch the pontoon and just hang there for awhile, sometimes relaxing and letting my body float to the surface, sometimes wrestling with the waves or with the boat.

Tails Never Fails

Scott believed in lucky pennies. When I visited him in Oakland a few years ago, we went out walking. He stopped occasionally, picked a penny up from the ground, turned it over in his hand, and set it back down. I asked him what he was doing. He explained that the pennies we’d seen had all been tails up and were therefore unwanted – because lucky pennies are always found heads up. But by turning the penny over, he was making it lucky for the next person who came along. He explained that his roommate had laid out the idea after Scott had caught him doing it. I chewed on this for awhile, I’d never realized that lucky pennies had to be heads up, I’d assumed any unexpected penny was a lucky one. I didn’t recall ever having claimed a penny as anything other than one cent, so I figured I was going to be okay. I asked Scott, “What if you came upon a penny that you’d turned over the day before – would it be lucky for you?” This seemed to unsettle him, “I think if enough time passed . . . – I don’t know.” I don’t know if he just shrugged that off or not. I hope he wasn’t disillusioned. I hope he still has faith in pennies.

Labeling

The utility maintenance worker spends his day repairing equipment with several different companies’ names cast, embossed, printed, or hand-written on them. The company he works for isn’t the one that was created in a court-ordered break-up twenty years ago, though they bear the same name. His company is the end result of a web of mergers, acquisitions, sheded subsidiaries, new markets, bankruptcies, and other transactions. The company name came from one transaction, the manhole covers from another, and the board of directors from yet another.

Somewhere in a closet someone has a dusty old telephone with the words “Property of [The Company]” embossed onto the plastic shell. If the phone were ever returned (even though it has The Company’s name on it), the equipment would have to be dated and they’d have to backtrack through the various mergers to find out if the phone really belonged to them.