Postcard #22: California Dreaming

The boat thumps against the dock, jerking us forward. ” Sorry!” calls the sailor, his apologetic tone slightly slurs, indicating he had been asleep and wakening at the last possible minute.

“Where are we?” my companion asks as they stretch, crossing their arms behind their neck and rolling their neck back and forth.

“Give me a moment,” I say, looking around at the pier. It reminded me of Santa Monica, with a beach folded out to the sides, except this one was more bare, without the rides and food stands, the Bubba Gumo Strimp Co. restaurant capitalizing on the popularity of a long ago movie. ” I don’t know California very well, although you think I should after frequenting it so many times, but we are somewhere along its coast.”

“How the hell did we manage to take a ferry to California?”

“Shhhh. Do not ask questions. Sometimes you have to suspend belief and just go with it. Otherwise, you’d be trap inside, having no fun at all,” I start the car and drift it into the nearest parking spot. The tires are over the line, but I am old and no longer care for neatness. “Come on, you’ll forget all about it as we walk and talk, finding our way to the nearest ferris wheel. I’ll be damned if my body doesn’t feel one last bout of exhilaration.”

There were so many reasons I ended up in California, and none of them were made on my own: tagging along to visit universities, meeting relatives from far away and this was the most convenient meeting spot, unable to afford Italy yet nonetheless want to take a birthday or Christmas trip to someplace kind of warm, and a random, impromptu bonding trip where we would live on the perks and benefits of one of us having a cushy ESPN job. The list goes on and frankly I have forgotten some of them. What I haven’t forgotten were the sights. L.A was a little drab, the roads congested with heavy traffic and the streets jam packed with people itching to find a celebrity or hit up all the hottest spots. I was fortunate enough to run across familiar faces that had graced my screen, but I thought nothing much- they were no more than ordinary people.

“When we treat the ordinary as extraordinary, we tend to forget ourselves and end up disappointed. They, too, are disappointed because deep down they want to be humans, not Gods, which is what everybody wants. To be human. Now the reverse is also true, in which treating the ordinary as less than ordinary disappoints everyone involved, even if they don’t know it yet,” I raise my arrogance, as is appropriate for my age, for I believe I’ve reached the wise-mentor status. Although just because I have years does not automatically mean I should be respected, especially if all the awful things I’ve done I continue to do(and ‘awful’ is completely subjective here). But I am looking at a mirror. I expect the mirror to be looking back.

I was squeamish in L.A. The crowds, the expensive style and tastes, and the upscale atmosphere did not match who I was. But I went along, determined to fit in with the others. Surprisingly, I enjoyed the NBA slam dunk contest, despite having to sneak in because not all of us had tickets. It was exciting, thrilling even- both the contest and the sneaking- yet part of me hoped to be caught so I could find myself wandering back to that part of town I called the “Artist’s Corner”, that part that I was most comfortable with. I wish I knew how long I stood staring at that wall, the one covered and designed skillfully of a surfer scaling the fresh, crisp wave, yearning to be in the painting.

“It’s beautiful, absolutely beautiful. Street art. The purest form of expression and the biggest gallery there is. The more there is, the more you know how freeing the area is because there are people who are not afraid to tell it how it is, to not lock themselves in a cage and trap themselves in a muzzle so they won’t scream, they won’t fight, to break loose. Oh, the beauty. How it lightens everything and brightens everything around you,” my companion breaks off, their mind wandering wistfully. I pull them back, as their feet carried them in the path of a biker. The biker swerves, curses. I shrug. Youths, I mouth.

“There was also this bookstore,” I use my words as a lasso and wrap it around their waist, pulling them back again. ” Nothing too remarkable, although sometimes the most simplistic design can be the most breathtaking. I remember it was cozy, and as I plucked for a book I noticed this deal. A pile of books were wrapped in paper with only the genre written on top. I had no idea what the book would be, but I took it, curious and fascinated by this game which would introduce me to a story I would otherwise never have picked up.”

“So what you’re probably saying, in that roundabout way of yours, is that sometimes you have to pick up things without knowing what they are because not only will you open you’re eyes and see something knew, but you’ll learn something, breaking the confines of the mind so its a vast open field of knowledge,” they layer each word with pretentious mockery, going further by flinging their arms out in a display of grandiosity.

“Tease all you want, but you’re learn to love my after school specials!” In turn, I smack them with the backpack I had managed to grab from the car before both of us forgot. ” Life Lesson #4546382837: Always carry a bag, for you never know when you need to hit someone.”

After escaping from the heart of L.A( to be honest, I was relieved when there had to be a choice of who could come to this high class after party and I was able to leave, return to where I was most comfortable. However, there was a lingering gulf that spread wide between me and everyone else, reminding me how much different I am from everyone else, how disconnected I really am, which disheartened me as I trotted towards the cab) I returned to the house we stayed in along Manhattan Beach. Manhattan Beach, although just as crowded, was better simply because of the beach. Also the stretch known as muscle beach reminded me a little bit of home, albeit slightly more upscale. There was a skatepark, a giant warrior-ninja-eques playground, half naked men showing off their muscles, and so much more that served for great people watching, or watching people’s stories unfold. But mainly I was there for the water, and the waves that sailed overhead. Whether I was there or off the coast near San Francisco, I was getting in there, renting a beat up board and paddling out among the whales.

“Like I said, surfing is where I’m most free. I don’t have to be surrounded by people or worries, for the water washes everything aware and the calmness settles in as a glide, whooping as the thrill captures me as well as the success of riding the full length of a wave. Catching a wave isn’t easy, and paddling out can be just as enduring, just as gruesome as my body is battered and I must find a way to move, to get past the buffet or else get tossed around in a washing machine. But I will at some point get tossed, and its’ coming up and doing it again and again that matters.” We walk upwards, climbing a steep hill towards a small shack sitting beneath a knotted tree. I pause, needing to catch my breath, disappointed that my body is not what it used to be yet still going, always going. “Find… something… you… love that gets you away. Because being trapped inside your own mind is unbearable. Find something whose challenge is motivating and exciting, not dreadful and done mechanically. Find something you can be proud of and hang onto it.”

Creak
The swing goes back and forth
Empty
Yet I place my hand
Where his ghost sits
Swinging, swinging, swinging
His laughter bright and
Jubilant

Whoosh
The pages flip back and forth
Missing
His fingers that eagerly lived
For the swirling words that
Shaped, shaped, shaped
A fantasy
Where he could be happy

Boom
The lightning flashes
And the thunder roars
As I see his
Silhouette
Standing, standing, standing
In the shadows
And I place my hand
Where my brother once was
Smiling, laughing
Smiling, laughing
 His heart beaming proudly
Before he was struck
Down, down, down
And I never heard what
I loved most
Again

California boasted some of the coolest, greatest surfing spots, especially for big wave surfing. I was hoping to catch sight of Maverick’s, and a climbed up and over, through dry hills, and past silver gates warning us not to pass, yet still the biggest waves- which require a ridiculously long paddle and strategic timing through essentially what can be considered a conveyor belt- eluded me. It wasn’t the right season, although it was the right view. I could see for miles, standing on top of the world and thinking that maybe, just maybe, there were endless opportunities waiting if only I were not too afraid to go get it.

“And that’s the thing: as I stood out looking out at the world, my head filled with dreams that excited me. Maybe I’ll go back to school and study film or art, maybe I’ll go live in another country or another state, maybe, maybe, maybe. A lot of maybe’s that lingered on dread and fear and getting out of what made me safe. I like safe, I like routine, but I don’t like being stuck in a place that may or may not be good. Exploring the world means exploring the mind and finding all sorts of connections, although its easier said then done because how do you do it? How does someone do all these things that are so innate? What am I missing?”

“Shouldn’t you already know?” they ask.

I shake my head. ” I can spend all my life searching for the answers, but there will always be more questions because I will never be done learning. I can only hope to be satisfied and not take for granted for the things I have. I don’t want to leave, for instance, because I don’t want to lose everything I found. My confidence isn’t strong enough to not need support. It is incredibly difficult- as you will see- to go at it alone all the time. You should be able to stand on all your legs, but there might be a leg that is broken and it would help if something or someone could lend you theirs.”

Manhattan Beach was a beautiful spot, although beauty does come with a price. The problem with moving from one area to another is the price that may not be accounted for, and the beauty does a well enough job distracting me from the cost of living. I will never forget this restaurant-however, I will forget the name of it because sometimes I will some and lose some- where coal firepits lit up the room in a orange-blue glow, creating an exquisite atmosphere. The bread was the best part of the meal, so divine and soft, the dough cooked perfectly, and yet it added to the total cost, which was only cheap for those who had money to spare. Money was a concept viewed differently in our family and there was a clear line drawn in between. Money was something that also stayed in the back of my mind as I took a bike ride through neighborhoods with expansive, neat white houses often with a balcony, singing “Ocean Avenue” while zipping along Ocean Avenue in a jean jacket that somehow made me simultaneously blend in and feel laid back, relaxed. Once again, beauty made me forget there’s a price. For a glorious moment, I thought I could be here, form a life her. The idea was pleasant, but like most dreams it was just a dream.

The paint drips
Slowly
Slowly
Slowly
Down a wall flat and
Colorless
Through cracks that are not
Supposed to be there
Yet they are and
The paint drips
Red
Blue
Yellow
All the things that are not
Supposed to mix
But they do anyway
Down a wall flat and
Colorless
But in need of more colors
Than the world could possibly
Give

The paint drips
Slowly
Slowly
Slowly
And the painter yells
For the others to
Stop
Before they ruin
What is already perfect
Even though it is not
Because the cracks have been
There
And the paint has fallen between
Mixing
With others they were not
Supposed to mix with
The paint drips
Red
Blue
Yellow
To where it should be
Even though the wall
Flat and colorless
Is not ready to bear
Orange
Purple
Green
All the colors
It's okay to be.

For some strange reason, San Francisco turned out to be colder and foggier than most other parts of the state. Perhaps its location has something to do with it, but I am not a scientist nor do a believe I am capable of being smart enough to store that bit of knowledge in my memory. There’s another thing preventing me, along the myriad of reasons, from seeking change: I do not think I am smart enough to obtain in, so I settle for what I have. The problem with settling is that it leads nowhere and is barely satisfying; there is always an ache for more, but the barrier prevents a person from believing there could be more. I saw this reflected throughout San Francisco, and more importantly the towns-although gorgeous, the name has slipped from me. I was attracted to the boat houses bobbing up and down in the water, yet I knew I would never be able to live in one, or so I convinced myself. The stored in town were quiet and quaint, the food, especially the ice cream, delicious, but this disconnection convinced me it wasn’t the lifestyle for me. For every optimistic notion, the foolish hammer slammed into it, knocking it away from ideas that could not be real.

But as I walked through this town, I was happy. I wasn’t talking much to the company I was with, if only they were too busy having conversations among themselves. I was okay with that, for a didn’t have to struggle to find the words to say, the level of bonding between us on different levels of compatibility. I didn’t have much interest in some of their topics, and they didn’t have much interest in some of mine. That’s just how dynamics work sometimes, and I am learning to be okay with that.

“After all, you can’t make a turtle wear a hat,” I say as we round the corner, passing the small shack and the array of palm trees lining alongside us.

“I don’t think that is an expression,” they say.

“It is now,” I reply tartly.

But that didn’t mean there wasn’t anything that existed between us. We all took a hike through the Redwood National forest, enjoying the deep green canopies while avoiding the mountain lions. For once, there were no arguments, no self doubts or self possessive judgments, no accusations of manipulation. There was peace and calm in something we all could agree to like: nature. We paused and took a picture because sometimes pictures are the best way to preserve a moment, capture a feeling that can help bring out the euphoria when the mind is bogged down in darkness.

“Some hikes are best taken alone though, aren’t they?” my companion steals the words out of my mouth, a thief robbing a valuable jewel in the middle of the night. I gesture for them to complete the sentence. “Because only then do you get to make your own decisions. I have a feeling you let people decide for you, being agreeable to a fault.”

I laugh. “You got that right. behind the place we stayed at- a cozy little house that had a loft and I was quick to snatch it, although the downside to sleeping high above in a triangular space is that I could hear everyone going to the bathroom- there was a back garden with a trail. While everyone went shopping, I followed the trail all the way to its highest peak. The wind was fierce, nearly blowing off my hat and sending it to the depths of the ocean below, yet I plowed through, determined to choose my own path. So often I push down what I want because it often isn’t compatible with others, but not that day, not in the early morning. I chased the lizards and the flowers, the road that seemed to stretch forever. I could have kept going, but my propensity for winding up lost stilled me, and after a few hours I returned, hungry and sweaty and brimming with joy.”

“So you finally we able to make a decision while around other people and do what you wanted to do? That must be so nice. Because whatever I want to do, it’s wrong.”

“Nothing you do is wrong. Unless its a crime because that technically is illegal,” I grin. “Sometimes you just have to bid your time and wait. Other times you just got to go do what you want to do anyway, regardless of whatever someone says. The only approval you need is your own.”

The hill beneath our feet slopes downward. On the other side we see the beach, its bright sand trampled by numerous footsteps. Lifeguards stand from their stands, peering out at the glistening water where bodies float and dive. Along the edges, skaters skate and bike riders ride, avoiding erected statues and stopping when the reach the pier where a giant Ferris wheel gloats proudly as a small roller coaster snakes in between its ribs. I remember getting on that roller coaster once, with people I least expected, and it produced an unexpectedly wonderful time. We were children again, innocent and full of laughter and bonding as we should have bonded before but have forgotten.

“You know, I keep coming back to California because its really not so bad as the supercilious lifestyle purports it to be. It is such as big state; really if you search it enough you will find the right pockets that holds everything that you are and need. Over near Pepperdine University you can get your religious fill, L.A and San Francisco has its artistic and diverse places, and San Diego… well, I know I’ve been around there, I just have no memory. And that may be I just didn’t care. Then there’s Malibu, its beauty too magnificent and can make you forget about the expensive taste – and its also perfect to catch some waves.”

Besides Redwood National forest, there were many, many other forests, some with waterfalls but because of the naturally arid climate they had dried up. I took an Uber once to one such park. Unfortunately, I went by myself. I say unfortunately because when I needed an Uber back- which proved more difficult than I realized because parks have terrible cell phone reception(I guess they really want you to be off the grid)- the Uber driver gave me a strange look. “Why the hell are you calling for a ride up here?” I was prompted to concoct a story: my nonexistent friends abandoned me. This led to unsolicited condolences and me having to look grumpy and sad the whole ride back. I felt bad about the lie, but was embarrassed to admit the truth. Fortunately, I would never see him again.

Unfortunately, I would never see MarijuanaBro again. Oddly enough, I can strike up conversations with strangers when I travel, but not in my own hometown. I was sitting in a lovely coffee shop, getting some nourishment after that Uber ride, when a dusty haired man came up to me. It was a pleasant conversation, one that felt natural and not strained, and he told me how he was going up north to start a marijuana business. I told him I was about to head on a flight back east, but not before getting another tattoo that I wasn’t supposed to get. We grinned.

“You see, you never know what is going to happen no matter where you go. Staying home has its perks, but some people are not meant to stay in one place. I don’t know if that person is you or me, but I think its probably a good idea to try to discover what we can, even if we take baby steps to do it.” I am staring up at the roller coaster, its one single loop staring down at us. The terrified and excited screams of its passengers pass us by, and I grab myself by the hand, pulling them towards the entrance.

“Are you ready?” I ask, giddy with excitement.

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