I call his room from the hotel lobby. It wakes him up. A brief silence. He asks me whether I want to go up. Hesitation. I respond that I will wait for him in the lobby. I am not in the least bit offended; surprised a little; flattered somewhat, but interested, I am not.
I grab a cup of coffee and the local paper, and settle into one of the plush chairs in the foyer. I pore over the Carmel news with gusto. A local resident has come across a $20 counterfeit bill at Dolores and Ocean which he dutifully turns in to the local authorities. A squirrel has munched his way through the front seat of a car parked at Mission and 7th. A resident on San Antonio finds the tires of her car missing. The culprit turns out to be an ex-boyfriend who has disabled her mode of transportation in exchange for the money she owes him. A teenager is found in possession of 1 oz of marijuana. In the world of tragic events, where masses are massacred at a whim and billions of dollars are pillaged by crooks and thieves who go unscathed, it is comforting to learn that in this corner of the globe, petty theft, pot and pests make front page news.
He arrives, coiffed, shaved, well attired – looking endearingly impeccable. We had met the night before at a high end Jazz club. A chance encounter. The $15 martinis kept the riff-raff at bay. The admission fee was steep enough to assure the clientele of plum picking. He was tall, lean, unintimidatingly handsome - affable. So when he approached, I gestured to him to join me. I couldn’t hear him too well against the backdrop of deafening music. I left it to our rendezvous of today to partake of the charm and wit I hoped would be hidden behind the pleasing exterior.
We set off; first for a coffee at the local Starbucks. He leads, I follow – the conversation that is. First stop – the shallow world, the institutions, the rat race. He tells me how Americans have lost their connection to self and to each other, selling out to mammon. He is American he proclaims but doesn’t feel like he belongs. I gingerly suggest that introspection requires time – something the American has little of. He chuckles. The exchange may be likened to a friendly game of badminton - slow, delightful, and pleasurable; the intent being to pass the time. So the shuttlecock gets thrown back and forth, while we sip our coffees, and enjoy the tête–à–tête.
The conversation turns to children, long enough to extract tears from this gentle soul. She took the child, he tells me, and moved, and there ensued the black tunnel of loss. I reserve my curiosity to ask why he did not fight. More pertinent, I wonder, what caused her to leave this Adonis of a man with all of its paraphernalia, opting instead for the tough, drab and lonely life of single motherhood. I know better to say anything. I settle in to hear about the nightmare of an abandoned father whose only child knows him through monthly checks, goofy birthday cards and sporadic visits in between business trips. The outpour fails to accomplish the intended effect of softening me up prematurely. I empathize but am reluctant to engage in the arena of betrayals. Once he learns that I am not game for exchanging war stories, he suggests we leave. Gratefully I respond in the affirmative. The day, being sunny and beautiful, begs to be explored. We set off on the 17-mile drive.
The night before, he was relatively quiet sipping from a glass of Sprite – the hallmark of the dry alcoholic. His nifty moves on the dance floor betrayed a wild youth. This morning I find the American to be chatty. I turn the music up just a tad subtly suggesting silence. Sade groans from the speakers; cooing the listener to surrender - Sweet Taboo, Smooth Operator, Jezebel. He won’t surrender and keeps talking. So, I surrender to listening. The splendor of nature and wealth in this place, the provocative lyrics, the twang of the electric guitar and the fierce azure ocean pounding against the rocks, come together to provide, I hope, solace - a natural balm for this wounded spirit who appears to have recently made the acquaintance of misery and poverty. Were it not for me having given up black humor in exchange for inner peace, I may have interjected the atmosphere with a clever zinger. As it was I simply provided quiet company. I decide I want to know this person. Perhaps I will learn a thing or two and just maybe I will be afforded a chance to pass on the karma. So I connect, offering the intimacy only conversation and glances can assure. I lift my sunglasses momentarily, inviting him to look at me. He can’t resist the smoky brown eyes calling him hither to fall for the dimple on the left cheek – my good side. He recognizes the cues; relaxes into the conversation, lets his guard down; and invites me to leaf through the storybook of his life.
He asks that we stop at Bird Rock so he can take pictures. Truth be told he is dying for a smoke. It is by now noontime – a mighty eternity for a heavy smoker to go without the nicotine fix. I am turned off by the stained teeth; but enjoy the throaty voice that comes with the habit. From behind my Jackie O sunglasses, I focus on the pronounced lines along the sunken cheeks. These delicious tracks extend mercilessly to the crow’s feet which adorn magnificent blue green peepers. Soft pink eyelids enfold the windows to his soul; thus shrouding them from harm. There is a gentleness with which he looks here and there, a lazy flirt as he takes in the scenery while his ever so long and curly eyelashes almost sway in the breeze. He tells me that he has recently picked up smoking. Yes, and I was born yesterday. I chuckle and let him enjoy my outward gullibility. I can almost read his mind, thinking, me a ‘foreigner’. I relish the anonymity. I can be anybody today, so I try ‘stupid’.
He inhales fast and deep. Five drags and he arrives at the cigarette end. He deftly flicks the ash and then chokes the butt with his thumb and index finger. His eyes roam the surrounding area looking for a depository. He identifies one, sets off in long strides to drop off the sin and returns to me; hair blowing away from his chiseled forehead, hinting at a receding line hidden underneath light brown curls. I marvel at the way he moves his lithe body effortlessly through time and space. He has the perfect gait; no slouch despite his height. The broad shoulders ensure a balance which hint at the confidence of experience. The tilt in his hips is unmistakably well rehearsed; the gallant posture acquired. Poise, the hallmark of the elite, is absent. I doubt him to be a child of privilege, though he does emulate well.
He is talking to me about the politics of the land, the economy of existence in today’s America. He tells me he is happy – yet his sad face tells another truth. He tells me he does not care for material goods, in a manner not too dissimilar to a trust fund baby proclaiming boredom on the topic of money. He can’t, however, help pointing out the price of every luxury around here; the green fee at Spanish Bay, the room rates at the ranches which dot the valley; the sail in Monterey Bay. Thus he betrays his humble beginnings. In another lifetime, perhaps, I fancy him having been part of the ‘in’ crowd; possibly associated to wealth through marriage. Yet I bet he was quickly and cruelly casted out once she left – the first slap in the face after the decree nisi. That life is now a distant memory, to be flicked off just like the ash from his cigarette. He bites his lower lip conspicuously lest it start trembling. The eyes are pools of water – years of drinking, perhaps? Could it be that she departed, taking the child with her, leaving him to drown in the bottle, or did the bottle find him after she left? And now this carcass at Bird Rock stares at the jetties. The explosion of water against rock, spraying upward; the droplets catching the rays on their downward journey, before they are washed back into the ocean is a magnificent display we watch together. Could this be mirroring his life, once intact, now shattered to smithereens? Theories; conjecture – the nourishment of my vivid imagination.
Back in the car we drive some more. Chris Botti this time. He comments on the music – so soothing. This is no poor black blowing into his saxophone pleading the case of the ghetto. This is the jubilant rich white man heralding victory in his music, telling the story of love, passion and dreams that came true. I smile and encourage him to do the same – to enjoy the moment. He joins in reluctantly; tapping the console. Life is good, he says. I am not convinced he believes his own words.
He suggests we go to Pebble Beach Golf Lodge. Something tells me I should not broach the subject of eating at Stillwater, where the waters are anything but still. Early on this trip I had enjoyed a glass of wine and crab cakes there for what I surmise to be his hourly support rate of his vanished family. Still I would not presume lest I offend. I toy with the idea of taking him there myself and footing the bill. I think again. As handsome and delightful as he is to look at, he lacks substance and charisma; the ‘Je ne sais quois’ which would compel me to reach for my wallet. I don’t consider the venture worthwhile and I am not into charity giving. Yes, the views are magnificent I remark. Let’s try the market nearby. They do have good sandwiches. He is a little disappointed for I think he had hoped to get a meal with a view out of this encounter; yet thankful for my consideration of his situation. Graciously and without words I acknowledge that his days of dining at this lodge are long over. So it is that I veer us off the balcony of accomplished dreams to the verandah of the common man’s reality – the picnic bench.
As I pull into the parking lot he starts to talk to me of Jesus and the Bible. I quote him passages from Corinthians and Ecclesiastes; throwing him a lob. He takes the conversation up a notch or two. The mental badminton is long finished. The easy subjects are a thing of the past. He can’t entice me with an elaborate meal; he knows by now that I am not dumb or enamored enough to pay his way either. So he resorts to seduce with intellect. He offers to share a sandwich with me. I accept. We foray into the game of mental squash. Khayyam, Rumi, Nietzsche and Kant, Wall Street and Welfare, Woody Allen, Sarkozy, Freud, Wolfowitz. He believes he is making headways; fancying himself to have scored high in this round. I am enjoying the exchange, marveling at the breadth of knowledge of this American; but surprised at the dry detachment. He proves to be a still life; hanging in the museum of the human zoo; a passionless portrait. This is raw and angry arguing with self. There is no conviction in the words. He merely parrots them as if reciting from a documentary he once watched. I can barely stand the listlessness, the resignation. He has lost the battle and the war. When will I witness a smile that is not loaded with self-loathing? He is hoping that the elaborate vocabulary, his sophistication of the subject matters and his respective in-depth analyses would make up for the measly meal and his lack of charm.
I remain passively engaged, eyeing my surrounding, flirting absent-mindedly. I am now toying with him; attempting to cheer him up. My body language and glances beckon him closer. I feign interest in the bag of goods he calls his life? I pretend I can’t wait to peek in further. This is his cue to prepare for the next game. He now fancies himself an eagle scoping the land, gliding round and round, circling the prey. He attempts now to skillfully take the conversation to the next phase – his ultimate destination. He figures he has a captive audience; so he readies for the kill. The naivite of a 200 year old history and a slew of easy loots have failed to equip him with skills to slay the conniving Persian.
He aims at surprise as the mode of attack. Out of the blue, he announces his wish for a meaningful relationship. Is there any other kind I wonder. I have a huge mental guffaw. Kant and Khayyam are left in the dust. Rather than enter the field with promises of romance and sweetness, he clumsily cuts to the chase stating his intentions – academically, coldly, and with military precision. He says that he is in search of a long term union of body, mind and soul. We have now entered the world of comedy – of errors. I want to fall in love he states – as if he is ordering a hamburger to go. Ambitious, self-entitled, ignorant – his inexperience with the complex female is beyond pale. I will my face not to betray my amusement at this display of boyhood. I busy myself gathering my things. I place the empty bottle of water inside of the brown bag the meal came in. It is now my turn to look for the trash can. I fancy dumping him right there alongside my half eaten lunch. He is oblivious to my disinterest; by now fully consumed by his carnal desires. Intellectual talk has both exhausted him and triggered his libido. He has misjudged the prey – diving in far too fast and dangerously deep - head on. He has missed the target entirely.
He retreats for a moment or two, returning now to appeal to the ego – in an attempt to extract envy and lust leading to surrender. He shows off his sexual prowess, treating me thus to past encounters, of which there are many. He brags. I even get to find out he has no need for Viagara. His thoughts and feelings are now completely unraveled. The mystery of the Persian baffles him. I have disrobed him with my silence. I don’t even need to take him to bed to find out he is an unimaginative lover. He is delivering the goods right at this park bench. I am staring at a one dimensional oaf – by now blinded by the urge to copulate. He openly admits that he has been in one relationship or another for the past decades. There is only one encounter that lasted beyond a few months. I sheepishly ask what he has learnt from these escapades – would he care to share nuggets of wisdom? His repartee is to politely but mockingly accuse me of inexperience. I smile inwardly – thinking him a bigger fool than those watery eyes betray. And so it is that for the first time during this glorious day, the American assumes quiescence. We enjoy a reprieve, he and I. A break from words, I breathe a sigh of relief. He hears it and is now resigned to defeat. He looks down at his unfinished food, embarrassed. He has said too much. And I have listened too closely.
He starts off gently; apologetically almost; finally, turning to candor – the last bastion before imminent parting. He admits that he has never made it to a third date without sex. He simply doesn’t know how. He looks at me pleadingly as if I hold the answers for his inability to keep his pants up. He is human, injured, terrified, and abandoned; a letch. All by himself he comes to the conclusion that he is not fit for a relationship, long or otherwise. He just wants to get through the night. My heart goes out to him. I feel that I am reduced to the pill he pops in at night to go to sleep, or a drag on that cigarette; maybe even a sip of the scotch he will miss every day of his remaining life. I am the quick fix. All the theatrics he displayed for the better part of the day, is to get that shot, now, soon. I weep for him inside. The chasm between us widens. I catch a glimpse of his inner anguish – pleading eyes – willing me to reach out and become one with him if only for a moment, to breathe life into this beautiful lifeless statue. I reserve disdain and opt for compassion instead. I choose to be kind and careful; allowing him to keep his dignity. With a gentle pat on his shoulder I suggest we leave. It is getting late.
There is silence on the 17 mile drive back; how apt for Chris Rea’s lyrics of pain and anguish in the background. We listen. He confides in me as a man does to his mother, that he has left all the ones who surrendered; yet he misses the only one that didn’t. He weeps openly. We always want the one we can’t have, I whisper. He wants her back. We can never step in the same river twice, I respond. He looks up and a sweet gentle grateful smile adorns that lovely face. I have passed on the karma.
I deposit him near his hotel. He asks me to send him my writing. I lie to him that I will. He wishes me luck to find what I am looking for. I give him a big toothy smile assuring him that I will. I always do. You too, I say as I bid him farewell. From the rear view mirror of my car I see the American wander into his future, having parted with his story for the price of a drive around Pebble Beach. All I had to do was to listen and nibble at half a sandwich.
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