Last night, after four-plus hours on the road, Mark Gagan steered his Volvo XC90 off of the 280 freeway and onto the Monterey Boulevard off-ramp. His older brother Brian lounged in the front passenger's seat. In the back seat, metaphorically holding back a storage area full of luggage and golf clubs, were his other brother Kevin and me. It was closing in on eight o'clock, foggy and cool.
I was too busy thinking about how great it was going to be to sleep in my own bed, in my own bedroom, with the breeze blowing through my window, so I almost forgot to tell Mark to turn right at the bottom of the off-ramp. We almost went straight, to their parents' house, who live about a mile away from Sandra Bullock, the Jawa, Shack and me in a house they purchased for $33,000 about 40 years ago. "Turn right!" I said hurriedly. The panic was unnecessary. In front of us, also turning right, was a Subaru with two bumper stickers. One read, "END ISRAELI APARTHEID!" The other said, "PALESTINE WILL BE FREE!"
After a week away, I was home.
A few blocks away, at my house, all around was evidence of the limitless industriousness my wife is capable of when freed from the needs and wants of her husband and child. Twenty-five glass vases sat on the kitchen table. A mound of origami fish sat on the center island.
While you might think that a looming Bar Mitzvah would sap a person's energy, I am not relying on hyperbole when I say that I don't think I've ever left home for a significant amount of time and not returned to find something different about our house. This is not even considering the legendary Sunday morning, several years ago, when I awoke at 9:30 to find that she had demolished the downstairs bathroom. And she wasn't even mad.
This time, not much had changed. As we were talking about our respective weekends, though, for some reason she kept looking up toward the archway leading from the entryway to the living room. Finally, I followed her eyes to find a gigantic wall clock where before there had been only wall. "What do you think?" she asked enthusiastically.
"I think there's a big clock on the wall," I thought. "It will be nice to not have to go into the kitchen to see what time it is. How much did it cost?"
"You don't like it," she said while I was thinking this.
"No, no, I like it."
This morning at 10:45, I realized that I'd set up a meeting to see a house in Pacific Heights at 11:00, demonstrating again how little I know about the adult world. A normal, savvy adult would never have scheduled a meeting on Monday morning after being away for a week. He would have settled back into his routine first.
Not me. I schedule meetings based on how I feel at that moment, not how I might feel on the day of the meeting. So I had 15 minutes -- actually 10, after I found the car keys in my wife's big green bag, not on the hook in the kitchen -- to get to Pacific Heights. That's a 20-minute proposition on a good day.
Let me apologize in a public way to the visitor from Arizona who today endured five blocks of me looming large in the rearview mirror of his PT Cruiser. I know you were just trying to sightsee, or maybe you were looking for City Hall but weren't sure if it was on Van Ness or Polk. It's an honest error. Had it been an hour earlier, I would have been relaxed and charming, and in all probability would have patiently given you directions to whatever landmark you sought. I am not the monster you saw behind you, red with panic and rage, knifing in and out of traffic. Hopefully you watched me tailgate that little Mercedes after I passed you, sighed and said, "It's obviously not me. That guy's crazy."
I arrived at Jackson and Franklin at 11:09, parked and assumed the demeanor of someone who's been on the go all morning, instead of someone who woke up at 9:30 and read magazines in bed for an hour before checking his email, continually patting himself on the back for working the system to such a degree that he could return from a week away and sleep until 9:30 the following Monday while still making the same amount of money he'd be making were he obliged to get up at seven and ride BART downtown to an office.
"Sorry I'm late," I gasped, adding the winded effect for more legitimacy.
"No problem," said the Realtor.
If our Subaru-driving friend's Pro-terrorist bumper stickers hadn't been reminder enough, a quick trip across San Francisco in traffic while late clinched it: I was home.
And if that didn't make it clear enough, meeting the owner of the house I was looking at, a $5.8 million dollar rehab job with 6,700 square feet and an upstairs wet bar whose marble countertop came "from some post office in the Central Valley," did. He wiped out my smug self-satisfication by appearing in the huge, mahogany-paneled entryway of his $6 million house at 11:00 in the morning on a Monday wearing flowered shorts and a Champion sweatshirt, eating a bagel and spending an hour-and-a-half showing me around before finally saying, "Oh, yeah, I should get going. I've got some things I've got to take care of."
Did I mention that he was 35 and had a gloriously full head of hair? On Saturday he had about 75 people over "and the place still seemed empty." He was selling because his girlfriend had moved out. "I'm never living in a place this big again," he said.
Yes, I was home, where people who've made millions in the decade since they graduated from college are just as likely to be hanging out on a weekday, wearing flowered shorts, as self-styled rebels are to be eagerly tearing open envelopes from mail-order incendiary bumper sticker clearing houses, then lovingly affixing their "radical" message onto their vehicle before ducking back into Muddy Waters on Valencia Street for another black coffee, hold the capitalist oppression.
Just as there will be fog in July and I will find a new clock above the archway in the living room after being gone for a week. And there will be 25 glass vases on the kitchen table because there's only 25 freaking days until the Bar Mitzvah and we have a long list of things we have to do before it comes.
For example: my list is incomplete. Right now it reads --
1) Slide show (choose photos, scan photos, Jawa edits and adds music)
3) Candle-lighting (complete list of honorees, help the Jawa write a sentence about each, choose music for each)
4) Inform my father that he will have to say a few words when presenting the Jawa with his Tallit -- the one he wore at his Bar Mitzvah, in 1951.
Oh, hey, I guess I just did that. Dad, you need to say a few words when you present the Tallus.
Meanwhile, my wife is affixing Godzilla movie posters (in Japanese) to the glass vases and doing something with Chinese restaurant takeout boxes. It's as close as we can get to business as usual with the Jawa four hours away at camp, incommunicado except for a form postcard he sent early last week. According to it, he is currently rappelling down the face of a dam.