The Other End of Sunset

Sunday, March 18, 2007

You don't taste the alcohol, it's all the other things in the drink that make it good

Looks to me there's lots more broken
Than anyone can really see
Why the angels turn their backs on some
Is just a mystery to me.
--Bonnie Raitt

I am reading a book called Ghost Rider by Neil Peart (the drummer from RUSH). He wrote the book in a time of tragedy for him – in a matter of months, his only child and his wife both died (the first in a car accident, the latter of cancer, although he blames grief). The book details his coping strategy after the deaths – he got on his BMW motorcycle and rode several thousand miles.

You can probably imagine why I’m reading the book. You may not know that I considered doing precisely the same thing – just getting on my Victory and running away from all I knew, and all that knew me, leaving the ghosts behind, or perhaps becoming one of them.

Not be reminded by her voice on the answering machine, nor the colors on the walls that we “argued” over; and, perhaps most of all, not have people look at me that way.

What is that way, you ask? It’s the way you look at ancient, very fragile statues extracted from the destruction of Pompeii – so old, so fragile that if you look at them the wrong way, they will crumble into dust.

There is a famous joke that goes “on the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog”. My paraphrase… On the road, no one knows you’re a Death.

It was really tempting to do it.

But, like always, my head got in the way. I was worried about if I crashed, who would help me? I was worried about my dogs, or my health insurance, or … well, I was worried about anything I could conceivably worry about. And my best friend needed me just then.

So I decided not to go on my ride to escape; not to go on my ride pursued by death and her minions, grief and anger.

Instead, we face them here, together, my friends, you and I.

Regardless of all this thinking, running would be wrong. Forgetting would be wrong – I want to be reminded. I shall never forget the grass on the hill, despite the gouges, nor do I want to.

I remember the missing ones
--Neil Peart

I’m with him. So, as is my wont lately, let’s remember a few things.

I drove all night to get to you
Is that alright
I drove all night
Crept in your room
Woke you from your sleep
--Cyndi Lauper

I always talk about endings. As I have said, endings stink. So let’s talk about beginnings, shall we?

I don’t think I’ve talked about my first dates, with three important women in my life – the lovely Italian, Jeanne, and SL. Wanna hear the stories? Come on, it might be fun!

It also might be amazingly boring. If so, sorry.

So, what’s the right order to use here? Chronological? Reverse chronology? Alphabetical by first name?

I was working at a think tank in Los Angeles. Yes, there is really only one, so I might as well name it, but what’s the point – why change my (lack of) naming convention now? Anyway, I was working there. I was a member of an organization called the Human Factors Society. Don’t ask, I thought it was cool. Deal with it.


There was only one other member of the Society at my think tank. We noticed each other in the annual membership directory, and he came to hunt me down. He popped into my tacky little office, and changed my life.

I’ve been blessed in my life to run into people who can help me, who can make me better, at many points in my life. This was one of those.

He and I became friends. He had been having lunch every Friday with this group of guys for several decades. Yes, that’s what I said, several decades, every Friday, these guys had lunch at some cheesy restaurant in LA. And I got to join this group of people, and learn from some of the great minds of their generation.

These were the guys who figured out industrial psychology, and the application of experimental psychology to a bunch of fields – like radar, learning, and task analysis. The guys’ names are written in every textbook in the field. It was awesome. I may not stand on the shoulder of giants, but every Friday, I got to sit at their feet.

As I sat there, and engaged with them, I made new friends. Granted, they were all 45 years older than me, or more, but it was great for me. One of these giants was spending time being a professor at a state school in LA, teaching psychology and statistics.

He had a student – a lovely, nontraditional student – who caught his eye. Not for himself, but for his young friend. That would be me, for those of you who aren’t following the multiple indirection.

My professor friend had a little sailboat. Most Sundays, he went out sailing in the Pacific. Every week, he asked me. Every week, I told him no – I am not crazy about waves. I get seasick.

Finally, one week, I caved. I told him I’d go sail with him. He was very happy.

What I didn’t know at the time was that about 30 seconds later, he was on the phone to that student of his – the Lovely Italian – trying to convince her to go boating that weekend. After a great deal of pressure, she said yes.

And his plans were set.

The problem? The Lovely Italian thought I was a pompous jerk. I was nervous, and so got snippy and arrogant. All my worst behaviors. She didn’t like me, at all.

So much for the Professor’s plan.

And yet, a surprise remained – remember that whole waves thing? They have waves in the Pacific. And I get seasick.

Guess what happened? Yup, I was puking off the bow.

Apparently, afterwards I was funny and ironic, and she liked me. A lot.

I asked her out after we got back to dock, and the rest is history. In more ways than one, I guess.

So, net of it all, my first date with the Lovely Italian included vomit. I guess everything goes with vomit.

The first date with Jeanne was quite different. No waves, no regurgitation, just a lot of interest on both parts. We went to play pool at a pool bar in Pleasanton (it’s closed since then, apropos of nothing at all).

She was very excited about our date. She went and bought new shoes. They were 4 inch heeled strappy sandals. Yes, THAT kind of shoe. She was wearing a white pantsuit. She was into pantsuits – tight white jean-like pants and a jacket over a blue turtleneck.

Most yummy, in case you were wondering. She was definitely advertising. And, yes, I was shopping.

She had been bragging for weeks about her pool abilities. Her dad had a pool table, and she had played her whole life on it. Well, part of that was true. Her dad, at one point, had indeed owned a pool table. Of course, Jeanne was at college at the time, but he DID own one.

Based on her performance that night, she’d never held a pool cue in her life. I had to give her lots of coaching; of course, now that I think about it, that was probably a ploy on her part as well. She was always craftier than me. Even if I was tricked, the ploy worked out well for me – no, JR, let me show you (Douglas reaches around her to position her hand from behind).

You get the picture. Our first kiss was that night, crammed into a Porsche.

Altogether more auspicious than the first date with the Lovely Italian – no vomit, for example. But the rest, here, is history as well.

// Side note: Every time I write a new story about JR, I get a strange anxiety. I can feel my breath catch, my heart race a bit, and my vision tunnels. I wonder if that’s feeling loss? Or perhaps fear at telling all these personal details? Who knows, but I think it’s probably good to feel. And I miss her. //

The first time spent with SL was neither a boat, nor a pool bar. Rather it was a small, red bar in the Bay Area. I drank champagne, she drank sangria. From my biased perspective, anything made from fortified wine and cheap fruit can’t be good. I was wearing cowboy boots, she was wearing a skirt. (We were each wearing more than that, I assume, although I don’t remember.)

She didn’t blink the entire time, as far as I could tell – her eyes were fixed, as were mine. And we talked for hours, about her life, and Jeanne, and my loss, and my past.

In fact, she gave me the third degree. I felt like there should be a light shining in my eyes. She wanted to know about my past relationships, my family, my hopes and my fears. But I, apparently, passed the test. She pressed her leg into mine the entire time. Either she had a strange lack of spatial perception, or I was doing well. Anyway, my friends like her. So do the dogs.

And it’s not history, and it’s hopeful. We shall see.

Take me where I only feel
The wind across my face
Let me know there's someplace left for me
Waiting just for me.
--Bonnie Raitt

The weather is turning here. It was sunny and warm this weekend. We’ve been on the motorcycle a few times.

I hope the sun is shining on you as well.