June 6, 1992
"Don't let it worry you," she said. "It happens to everyone," she said. "I don't mind," she said, "Really."
Well, I sure as Hell mind.
Yesterday has to rank right up there with the weirdest days of my life. And right down there with the worst of them.
First there was the letter from Cal informing me that "We are terminating your contract for teaching services, effective immediately." There was more about the cost of liability insurance and their "deep regret", but the gist of the thing was that yours truly was out of a job and that was a helluva note.
Then there was the homebrew disaster. I'd set aside 40 22-oz bottles of an extra-malty porter that had always turned out nicely in the past. I'd planned on cracking 'em for the "graduation" party I was hosting that evening for the students in my climbing class. My last climbing class. But, after I read that "Dear Drew" letter from Cal's Extension Learning program, I popped the cap on one, intending not so much to drown my sorrows as to take them out for a nice, brisk swim.
"Blech!" The first taste soured me on that idea. And made it clear that I was probably going to have to spring for commercial beer, if the party it was too late to cancel wasn't going to fall as flat as my homebrew.
Then Alison came over to help with the preparations and one thing led to another and, well, that's when she went all supportive and reassuring on me. As if my self-esteem wasn't already as deflated as my...
I guess I should have been more gentlemanly about it, but the truth is I was spoiling for a fight. And, by the time I reached the greenish-black, moldily purescent stage, Alison accomodated me.
We said things we shouldn't have--things we'd regret. (Well, okay, I said things I shouldn't have--things I'd regret. Things I still regret.) Still, she shouldn't have thrown that bottle at me. It hurt.
Did I mention Alison pitches for the Cal Women's Softball team? Or that they led their division last year?
"Drew Wilde," she said, in a calm, quiet, infinitely dangerous voice, "I am sick and tired of you and your stupid, male ego! You are, without a doubt, the most self-centered, oblivious, juvenile excuse for a human being I've ever..ohh, why should I even bother to waste my breath..?!"
She turned and marched to the door. (It was a short march. My place is tiny.)
"I'm sick of wasting my life waiting for you to grow up! You're nothing but a forty-five-year-old Peter PAN! Don't call me and I won't call you! GOODBYE!"
The door slammed so hard my glass bong fell off the planed-off chunk of redwood burl I use for a coffee table and spilled its gungy brown water all over my faux-Persian rug. And, just like that, Alison was out of my life.
I counted to ten. Then I swore. I picked up the bong and discovered it had acquired a chip in its rim, just where it would inflict maximum discomfort. I threw it back down, disgusted and angry at the loss (like me, the bong was a relic of the 60's). It promptly shattered into a million pieces, spreading chocolate-colored glass slivers all over my living/bed room.
Did I mention I was barefoot?
. . .
Luckily, I had calmed down (and cleaned up most of the glass) by the time Pith knocked on my door.
Leslie Pith is my oldest friend on Earth. We're both Berkeley boys, high school buddies who've never drifted out of contact, even when I went to Cal and majored in Telegraph Avenue street action (with a minor in psychedelics) while he went to 'Nam and concentrated on living through the experience. One Purple Heart later, Pith came home to spend the next two years in physical therapy, forcinging the scar tissue he'd acquired courtesy of a VC claymore to stretch enough to keep the mobility in his legs.
I introduced him to climbing in the 70's and he'd returned the favor by making a cyclist of me. He made his living as a bike messenger, supplementing that with the odd construction job and occasional small-time dope deals. He's in great shape, for a man who came home from 'Nam in a wheelchair.
"'Lo, Drew," he replied, with that slow, lazy grin that makes him catnip for the ladies. "Lovely day."
I made a face.
He cocked a quizzical eyebrow back at me.
I considered pouring my whole, sad story out to him, but I settled for, "The homebrew skunked on me."
He nodded toward the bicycle I kept hanging from the ceiling by the front door. "We'd best be on our way, then."
. . .
Between us, we managed to wobble back from the Safeway with four cases of Sam Adams. It wasn't my homebrew porter, but at least I wasn't going to have to subject my guests to Budweiser.
I got my Weber clone out and started a chimneyfull of coals, while Pith made another run for French rolls. Then he watched the coals and the phone, while I went to get meat for the grill.
Pith is a born diplomat. At no time did he ask where Alison was or why she was missing. By the time I got back with a load of designer weenies, he had a fat bomber going and had just tipped the coals into the grill. He handed the doobie to me, while he busied himself using my barbeque fork to spread the glowing mesquite in an even layer across the bottom grill.
Sometime in the ensuing ten minutes or so, I went from being angry, frustrated and despairing to being really very nicely toasted. Everything that had been wrong with my life was still wrong, except that now it all seemed vaguely silly and somewhat distant, as if those problems belonged to another guy who just happened to live in my skin. A little beer to counteract the cottonmouth and I was actually getting close to feeling human again.
Then the doorbell rang, and I went to greet the first of my party guests.
. . .
The party went on 'til after 3:00am. By that time, we were pretty much down to the batchelor graduates of my final rock-climbing course. Besides Pith and me, there were Bill Wilson, a grad student in geology who was planning on putting his enhanced climbing skills to work underground, rather than above it, (he was an avid spelunker, or "caver", who was already a pretty fair climber before I got hold of him,) Tran "Tong" Lowe, an Afro-Asian biker-type who really didn't have much interest in the class in the beginning and Blanford "Blandy" Wellington Carstairs III, a rich, 20-something white guy who was Tong's friend and the one who'd apparently talked him into signing up to begin with.
And Mantami Khasim.
Mantami is a weird one. He has an unplaceable accent, odd, lustrous, dark brown hair and the climbing sense of a mountain goat. That guy can free-climb rocks I wouldn't dare to tackle without serious protection. I was never sure what he was doing in my class, because he could outclimb me any day of the week. He didn't know much about the gear, though, and I suppose that's what attracted him to my course.
We'd reached one of those companionable silences that happen at the end of a long, hard party. Everyone was sunk into the lawn furniture on my postage-stamp-sized rear deck, sucking down the latest of an endless string of Pith's hand-rolled Humboldt County masterpieces and quaffing the remains of the third and final beer run of the night.
Mantami stood up.
"Mister Drew," he inquired, "may I be saying to you all a thing of importance?"
"Knock yourself out."
"A story I am to telling you," he began. "Then I have to you a favor to be asking." He paused to look around.
"Do your dance," Pith told him.
"You will not be believing me," Mantami continued, "but I am saying truly." He looked around at us, as if gathering his courage.
"First you must be understanding," he told us, "that I am not like you."
"Word," Tong chortled. "85 per cent..." He looked to his right. "Like Homes here..."
"Yeah, dude, your Grandma," his friend Blandy replied, mildly.
Tong continued imperturbably, "Can see you not from the 'hood." He looked Mantami up and down, considering. "You ain't no cave boy, neither. One of them 'stan' countries be my guess."
Mantami shook his head.
"I am not coming from any country of your hearing," he said.
"I am not coming from your planet."
"No leg pulls, Homeslice," scoffed Tong. "You buggin', you blunted or you playin'."
Mantami gave him a wounded-puppy look. "But Mister Tong," he protested, "it is a trueness I am telling you!"
"Ri-i-ight. An' I'm Tony Montana."
"Tony Danza, dude," corrected Blandy.
"Fuck you, peckerwood," Tong replied, conversationally, his gaze still directed at Mantami. "You ain't no space alien, Homey. No way, no how."
"Not from space," Mantami said. "From Methven."
Tong made a rude noise.
"Gimme one reason I should listen to you, fool."
In response, Mantami picked up a gym bag he'd casually tossed in the corner some six hours earlier. He unzipped it and turned it over, spilling a pile of neatly rubber-banded bundles of currency out onto my deck. Twelve bundles in all, with 100 $50 bills in each bundle.
"Is good enough reason?" Mantami asked.
(Copyright© 1997 by Thom Stark--all rights reserved)