I drove down to Orange County this afternoon, to Newport Beach to see my mother's elderly cousin Q. He is 75 and republican and racist and a life-long bachelor and we have nothing at all in common except our family and California.
He is really quite terrible, dropped some horribly racist comments over dinner about interracial relationships, remarked that Bill O'Reilly really plays a fair game representing both sides equally, and insisted we listen to Michael Savage on the way back from the restaurant. I don't bother aruging with him. It's useless. I try to limit the conversation to family and ask him questions like who he thinks is hotter: Pam Anderson or Anna Nicole Smith. (He went with P.A., but only because A.N.S. is "nuts." He also threw in that Britney Spears used to be his favorite until she got all knocked up.)
So what was I doing driving 45 minutes south of Venice to have dinner with this man? I don't know really. I asked myself that question several times over dinner, which took place at a nice restaurant overlooking the marina. Something to do with family, I suppose, with that kind of connection, with someone who checks in on me about my job and school and my finances and what kind of insurance I have (although he didn't actually ask that one...and it's shitty Kaiser, in case you're wondering), and wants to give advice and asks if I need anything and tells me that I'm a catch and seems proud of me.
I started crying leaving his place. It was dusk and the last rosy fringes of the October sunset hung just on the edges of the darkness and as I pulled out onto the wide boulevard I had that thought that I have a lot about California...this kind of moment really, this taking in of the air and the light and the palm trees and the wide open streets and the wide, wide open sky...and I could feel exactly what the memory of this moment would feel like...could literally, viscerally, feel myself ten, twenty years down the road, paused at a kitchen sink in a different house somewhere in New York or Connecticut or Rome or Portugal or Jaipur, paused and reflecting and remembering what it was like to be young and in California.
I got on the 405, heading north, still crying, listening to the same Wilco song on repeat, and I knew exactly where I was headed and it wasn't home, and it wasn't Venice, and the tears began to stream at this point and I could feel my throat closing as I took in slow, slow breaths. I exited at Golden West Boulevard, and coasted to a stop at the light, the light where I had sat so many times before on my way to my father's condo in Garden Grove. I could feel him everywhere, remembered sitting in the passenger seat of his car as he drove me to the condo after having picked me up fresh off the plane from New York, remembered after I lived here, sitting at that light in the same Saab I was presently sitting in, after having driven down from Hollywood where I was living with Mike, smoking a cigarette and taking deep breaths between drags.
I looked across the street at Allen Tire Co. and remembered my father joking with the owner while they repaired a tire on his car. And at Harry's Place where my father introduced me to California breakfast burritos, and at the Radio Shak where we had gone together to get matching cell phones, and at all these useless, usually meaningless chain stores so imbued with meaning in this moment and I shifted into drive and turned off of Golden West onto Knott St and then made that old familiar left turn onto Lampson and then turning so simply into the driveway of the condominium complex, this stupid place that would never mean a thing to you if you drove by it a million times, but for me felt like home and like the thing that is missing, the thing that screams inside my chest, and all I could think about was how all I wanted was to park in the carport where I used to park and walk around the corner and up the sidewalk and put my key into the door of #95 and push my knee against the swollen doorjam to open it and walk in and into my father's home with his black leather couches and equally tacky black laquered furniture and absurd collection of lava lamps and to have him be sitting at the computer and for him to turn and see me as I walk in, and to see that old familiar look of pleasure and relief on his face and to hear him say, "Monkey, you're here."