Love Letter.

The car and all of us in it reside presently at red and, insofar as the cars ahead of us don’t creep impatiently forwards, there is the accidental view we have of the alleyways to the right of us, perfectly aligned, so that we see the backs of apartment tenements for blocks and blocks; sidewalk lines meter away and toward a horizon point, to, in fact, a cross street where the horizon is interrupted by a passing of cars, blue and grey. The alleyway is empty save for the new autumn light, which is suddenly and alchemically gold.  The light: it fills everything.

 

A sign warns:   ‘Danger.  Overhead power lines.’  These lines spool perpendicular to the alleyway, downward even towards some ground-level posts (hence the warning sign) in an act of triangulation. I am reminded of driving home—years ago—when I’d tip my car over the steep grade that was Polk Avenue’s biggest hill and watch as power-lines went from an eye-level perspective to something overhead.

 

We lived on Florida Street then, in a small space—we, it seems, have always been loyal to small spaces—and it was a street trafficked by few save for an erstwhile man we dubbed ‘the Florida St. Boo Radley.’  He was this short stocky figure with an incomplete face, incomplete in that his nose met his brow without any suggestion of curvature.  His mouth was a small slit, and his chin jutted determinedly forwards, square and blunted.  He was always walking.

 

Florida Street had its resident pigeons, too.  Among the tracery of power lines, they’d explode upwards in some scattershot orchestra, clumsy in trajectory but always returning to coda—in perfect alignment—on one of the many cables gridding the neighborhood.  There was one brown pigeon in the flock, unremarkable until autumn would arrive with its low-arcing light in tow.  Suddenly, come September, the khaki-colored pigeon would be something luminant, what with the southerly sun glinting remarkably off his white underwings.

 

Jenny and I moved into our Florida St. digs a few months after playing house in a South Park bungalow.  The South Park housesitting gig was our first shot at residing under one roof (albeit shared with my dearest college friend Krista).  We were inexpert at the whole co-habitation thing—those matters of grocery tabs and dinners of amateurly-prepared gnocchi, elastic and glopped with store-bought alfredo sauce—but the days were almost saccharine in their sweetness.  This was a wood-panelled house–not just floors but walls too–with a piano in the corner, window nooks and an impressive armory of books displayed behind Mission style cases with leaded-glass panels.  A wicker basket in the front room was a bounty of cassettes: mix tapes of Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. We would play these in the evening and I would try my damndest to annotate my way through a book on ‘Modernism.’ This was surely the ticket to grad-school—knowing all the –isms, that is, my other reader being something Foucault—and Krista would occasion the piano or else make pasta with margarita salt.  She had a penchant for salt.  I think I gave up on ‘Modernism’ somewheres just past Eliot, but spent some evenings with Jenn writing to her from across the table—her idea—to write love letters to one another in each other’s presence.

 

There was the porch; my absolutely ridiculous ensemble of long shorts, a terried Johnny-collar shirt; Doc Martens and a guitar.  I had a habit of writing bad songs played expertly.  When there’s a porch to strum on and it’s nighttime and the crickets are otherwise playing to empty theaters, anything sounds good. 

 

This borrowed house was borrowed from people I never met.  They were Krista’s friends, an artist and his wife.  The wife was from Belgrade and, reportedly she had sad eyes and a sighing need to return home.  In the time Jenny and I house-sat, said couple was in Yugoslavia (back when it was called that), working things out as it were, while Jenny and I slept comfortably in their bed.  This is all strange in retrospect, and I can—after the fact—consider myself somewhat of an intruder.  But a welcome one, I suppose, if there can be such a thing.  Krista, who had a habit of spoon-feeding the romance Jenn and I were fostering, remarked often (and witchily) that she felt an aura emanating from our temporary bed, the one abandoned by the artist and his wife.  The bed: it was set-up in a Spartan room, white, with a clumsy TV/VCR tower that we utilized to play ‘Henry and June’ on repeat; the window was uncurtained.  It was up high, though, and, as summer waned, it transferred the light perfectly.

 

The artist’s wife—she never came back.

 

Before moving to Florida St., there was September, and Jenn and I had copies of keys from our house-sitting adventure.  We were kids.  We had started looking for apartments and keys of our own.  Our ritual, already established, was visiting the cliffs above Torrey Pines right about the time the light changes and the air suggests crispness.  The chaparral grows high there in the fall.  There are grasses you can weave a hand through while walking a moonlit path toward the ocean.  It’s a pathway routined by college kids from the University across the street, kids outfitted with makeshift bedrolls who nod at you in passing, knowingly, because at the end of the dirt road is the ocean, far and below sandstone cliffs where mattresses are improvised on the regular and where there is the white noise of waves hitting the shore.  Things are whispered there, both in naivete and earnestness—sometimes one in the same—and the air is sticky and full with buckwheat, with sex and with salt.

 

Jenn and I took our keys to the cliff, keys to a house that wasn’t ours anyway, and threw them down the precipice. It was our homage to a summer passed and, as the keys made their particular tintinnation down the cliffside—tink-tink-tink—there was promise to find a home that wasn’t exactly borrowed.  

 

We located an apartment on Florida and, as Krista would laugh, it was just north of the F. Street adult bookstore. But it was a good start, or perhaps a second start, seeing as our beginning resides most certainly in that South Park bungalow.

 

The Boo Radley guy: I still see him walking in that determined way of his.  In odd places, too.  In Kearney Mesa where I hit up the Asian markets.  Down in Mission Beach along the boardwalk.  And most recently, and inexplicably, walking across the SeaWorld parking lot.  Just walking.  I don’t get it.

 

I don’t pretend to ‘get’ most anything, actually.  In those love letters Jenn and I wrote to each other back in the South Park abode, we didn’t touch on parenthood, or the fact that our lives could be complicated with syndromes, worry, or with misaligned chemicals.  We just wrote silly somethings, and looked forward to the fall–cardigan weather–and the changing of the light.

 

Now: the light turns green.  Moving forward into traffic, perspective shifts and the alleyways and power cables are no longer aligned.  Jenn mentions that ‘I’m quiet today.’  I tell her I’m ‘wandering around in my head’ to which she laughs.  This is where I usually am, actually, if not for the machinations of the day-to-day and the pressure of continuous performance, working with the hands in spite of the head.

 

This light—I always love it.  We love it.  Me and Jenny.  This light, it fills everything.     

 

 

 

     

 

   

 

 

 

     

Delaney.

My friend unceremoniously visited the ‘Toaster’ today–his word–dressed in insouciant finery: a Sonic Youth tee and faded pink denims. I admire this idea of dressing down for an occasion, even when cremulators and fibered-brick are involved. RSVP generally calls for black-tie, but flamingo-colored jeans certainly help lighten the mood. 

Dear Delaney:

It’s hot today. My car broke down in near-one hundred degree weather.

Dear Thom:

It’s hotter where I am.

 Delaney had a wicked sense of humor. 2000 degrees won’t erase that. ‘Death’ becomes a strange noun at high temperature. Delaney pronounced it ‘det’ because he was Irish and wrote it as such in notebooks. ‘In Case of My Det’, he penned. He made his wife say ‘die’ and ‘death’ out loud. He figured Americans always anasepticize everything. Especially things terminal. ‘Get used to it,’ he said.

It’s perhaps funny: Irishmen don’t pronounce ‘th-.’ He made his wife say ‘death’ seeing as it was coming, but he got away with saying ‘det.’ Cheeky.

Call it a record: three mornings running and Cayde and I haven’t had an argument. Perhaps I’ve been inexorably changed through all of this. Perhaps curbing my caffeine consumption while otherwise reducing sleep has improved my relationship with my child. In which case, I need a block of cable-time and a catchy name for my new two-step program.

Then again, the program might not be very popular. Step one, after all, involves your friend dying, and the ‘Toaster’ is simply a charming word for the neighborhood crematorium.

I’m driving the 94–it’s really hot out–and I’m ferrying the boys to Lemon Grove, a grossly named suburb of San Diego. One plasticized and absurdly large lemon exists as curiosity in the middle of Broadway. A lemon statue. There are no lemon groves in the registrable vicinity, proving again that city names are mere successors to things they replace. Lemon Grove is supposed to have the ‘most perfect climate’ in all of the combined states. That’s Lemon Grove’s ‘claim to fame.’ But it doesn’t. Climate change is real and the plastic lemon can most likely be thermographed at 100 degrees. In which case, as my radiator issues steam upon parking 30 yards shy of the statued fruit, and as my car bleeds green and the radiator sends up its particular ghost, I’m left with two kids–one in a car seat–and eighty degrees worth of shade, spilt coolant, and a notion that this is far from where I’d choose to be.

Dear Delaney:

Hope you are well.

Dear Thom:

How is Finn?

Finn coos. I’m seated against the brick outside of ‘Mario’s Family Clothing.’ I’ve picked up Cayde’s school uniforms and am waiting for the tow truck. Parking was dramatic. Having finally found a spot, I pulled into it with a relief not generally reserved for asphalt lot luck. Steam issued from beneath the hood as if on cue. I pulled the emergency brake and the front of the car bellowed vapors.

I calmly closed my door, assessed the damage, and sighed. Delaney had most certainly met the kiln by now and the sun blazed tremendous; houses sat upon razed hills just to the north of everything. Cayden asked about SeaWorld (we were supposed to visit). I said, “Hold on, Cayde,” and walked the length of the car. Finn sweatily slept.

Across the street was an adult bookstore and a business advertising both lumber and pergo. I set myself down on the curb, watched the radiator fluid flow downhill. “Pergo,” I said out loud, “Pergo pergo pergo. Fucking pergo.”

Louder, I said: “Sorry, Cayde. SeaWorld tomorrow.” Of course he cried.

You can’t script this: a guy in a blue polo advertising his sobriety walked up. He had a tub-full of pixie sicks and was busking for money. Salvodorean by mention, acne-pocked, near toothless. The car was still spitting fumes and he waved a hand, pushing aside the smoke.

“Dear, Brother”–(he closed his eyes)–“Don’t know if you believe in God (voice rising) but, Brother, let Jesus heal this car and may your children be out of the sun.” He waved his hand over the hood of the car and the steam dissipated for a second.

I thanked him and let Cayden have a pixie stick. “Brother,” he added, “If there’s radiator fluid on the dipstick, then you’ve got a problem.  Head gasket.”  He raised his eyebrows as punctuation, pointed unnecessarily, and walked away.

Needless to say, I totally dug this guy, even though Cayde disliked the pixie stick.

So now we sit: me, Finn, and Cayde against the brick. Cayde shifts position, sits on my lap.

“Let’s play 20 Questions,” Cayde suggests.

“Ok.”

I’m not in a bad mood. This is a fact suddenly important. Finn claps without any cue. Clap-clap. My son’s face belongs to a diagnosis–there’s no getting around this–and he smiles something stereotypic but I rock his car seat, smile back, and meanwhile guess correctly: ‘beluga whale.” Cayde says, “Yes!” Finn claps and laughs. The tow truck shows up and twenty questions is suddenly done in less than seven.

A man walks by as I get up. He points to Finn in an enthusiastic way–he’s a whistling, smiling kinduv guy, obviously–and says: “Number one reason for world peace right there!” He may have even made a clicking sound as he pointed. I wave a hand a smile as thanks; the asshole part of me wants to bring up Syria, else something to disprove his cheeriness, but a whistling-smiling guy doesn’t deserve that, and–although I’m not in a bad mood–I recognize that piece of me, that one unchecked coal which hasn’t yet ashed to white but smolders instead on the constant. I’m not in a bad mood, but part of me is angry and it’s hot; we’re in a Lemon Grove–a city I’ve always hated–and those houses atop the shaved-bald hill are repugnant. Delaney is dead, I’m in a remarkably good mood, and Cayde reports that the radiator fluid has since seeped to the end of the parking lot. I should be breaking down. Instead my car has, by manner of proxy.

Fidel’s the tow-truck driver. He’s small, Fillipino, and wears a sand-camo hat. He assesses our situation and says, “Oh, wow, Boss–you got a ride, right?” Jenn’s on her way. I say, “No worries,” sign what I have to on a clipboard and let Fidel do his thing. Cayde and I continue our game of 20 Questions while Finn continues being happy, irrevocably so; I guess ‘squirrel,’ ‘bean burrito,’ the color ‘green’ while Fidel chains my car’s wheels to the rig.

Cayden’s bouncy-happy. The tow truck is exciting and he almost stumped his dad on ‘sperm whale.’ He skips around–he can never sit still–and he keeps flicking his head up and to the left. He still thinks he has long hair though it’s since been cut and his bangs don’t fall anymore into his eyes.

“Daddy–” he jumps into my lap again, “–it’s really sad we can’t go to SeaWorld.” He says this with protruded lip–certainly affected–and a sorry tone. I kiss him on his tousled hair because I know he’s faking it.  “‘Nother day, Monkey.”

We’re having a good day. Fidel collects eight dollars from me for overage fees–it’s eight miles back to North Park and not Triple-A’s allotted seven–and he drives off.

With the heat and humidity, clouds form loomingly to the east. A few nights ago, when I had the intuition that Delaney was on his way out but before I spent the next two nights trying to write a letter–that last letter–to him, feverishly hot and waking up to only a blinking cursor at 1 a.m., 3 a.m., and 5; me and Jenn and Cayde sat on the front porch at nighttime and watched faraway and rumbling horizons bloom magenta. Cayde put arms round the both of us and pumped his legs as lightning illuminated the insides of clouds. Cayde laughed. I inventoried the weight and heat of Cayde’s hand on my shoulder, Jenn’s smiling presence, and the creeping salvia at my feet. I remember those clouds perfectly, but also the sudden and exact realization I had at that moment: I’m not ever going to meet Delaney.

Cayde points to the clouds today. “That one looks like a ramp,” he says, “And you jump from that cloud to that one. That one looks like an Imperial Star Destroyer, right Daddy?”

I say: “Yes.”

“And then you jump from that one to that one and it goes on forever.” I hold Cayde in my lap. Fidel has driven away, and once Jenn picks us up we’ll have ‘In n’ Out’.

It’s hot. I’m not in a bad mood.

Dear Delaney…

 

Dear Delaney…

 

Dear.  Delaney.