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.