I could live here.
Sandra Bullock decided that for herself last year. The Jawa (then 11 years old) and I came upon her one morning when she'd finished walking Shack. She was strolling past the small playground that's across the street from our hotel, the Cayucos Beach Inn. Shack was half-covered with sand and ocean water, smiling from ear to ear. In true Sandra Bullock fashion, she saw us, waved and, as she approached us, said, simply, "I want to retire here."
Sandra Bullock's plan for "retirement" depended on a few slightly uncertain factors -- primarily, the idea that I would, within the next decade, shed a lifetime of underacheiving to emerge as one of the most well-regarded (and well-compensated) authors of the 21st century.
I quickly got on board. Who doesn't love an idea predicated on their own potential success? "Sure," I told her Tuesday night, while we sat at the cramped second-story bar of Schooner's Wharf, looking out over the beach. "I'll be like Stephen King -- this famous guy living undercover in some small town. Esquire magazine will have to come here to interview me."
Nothing that has happened so far in my life suggests that this is a likely scenario, but where would we be without our dreams? Even if they're likely to dry up like a raisin in the sun?
Privately, I adjusted the picture to include a world where she continues to carry the burden of success for both of us, this seeming, based on past performance, the more likely outcome. Were we to sell our house -- someday, long after the market leaves its present doldrums behind -- we could maybe buy a modest home here. Not the incredible beachfront place she wants, but we'd be in town.
We first came to Cayucos, twenty miles northwest of San Luis Obispo, in 1991. We were 26 years old and new enough to each other that staying in a run-down room at the Dolphin Inn seemed romantic. Seventeen years later, our limited vacation budget brought us back to Cayucos and the Dolphin Inn, where we could approximate a beach vacation for a pittance. Four days at the Dolphin Inn cured us of any romantic notions about poverty that may have remained, but we were hooked on the town. We came back last year but did not stay at the Dolphin Inn.
This year, with an expanded budget but Bar Mitzvah-generated time limitations, we came back.
If I could get inside my wife's head, I'm pretty sure that whatever I'd find would be arranged in an orderly, intuitive fashion. Except for the part that controls spelling; that department would be a mess.
But over in the decision-making areas, everything would make perfect sense. Ideas would be neatly lined up, ready to take their turns in the spotlight. Clear evidence to support each decision would be easily accessible, stored away in a modern, accessible file system. There would be nothing, no scraps of plans or inspiration on the floor, lying around, unusable. It would be an efficient, user-friendly place.
This is why she appeared that one day last year and announced that she would like to retire here, in Cayucos, California, population 2,000. It simply added up.
Over here in my cabeza, things are not so copacetic. As anyone who's spoken to me more than once can attest, the place is a mess. Drawers are left open; ideas both great and ridiculous lie around, unused, inaccessible. The decision room is staffed by a bunch of incompetents. There are no logical practices in there; the staff simply grabs whatever flies by and throws it against a wall, hoping it will stick.
So you'll forgive me if my moments of clarity appear unannounced, their arrival the result of a seemingly unrelated, unimportant series of events.
I was driving up Highway 1 early last night, coming back from Morro Bay after spending two hours doing laundry. You go away for a week, you have to stop in the middle and do laundry. This is no problem for me. I don't mind doing laundry in strange places. It's sort of exotic. Sharing a run-down laundromat with two giant white beard guys, a couple of migrant workers, a nervous lady and her daughter and some poor guy carting around a cylinder of oxygen is okay with me. It's better, actually, than only seeing other people on vacation.
I guess there's a feeling of accomplishment that I get from completing ordinary tasks in unusual places. If memory serves, it was while doing laundry alone that I decided I wanted to live in Manhattan. That one is still (and may always be) pending, but you get the picture.
So it should come as no surprise that it was while driving back from doing laundry, clocking about 55 as the evening clouds began to roll in, that I committed to my wife's idea. Whether or not I die famous, that is.
Everyone goes on vacation and imagines themselves throwing their cell phones in the ocean, Corona Beer commercial-style. But really, what would Cancun be like when you run out of Benadryl or the first time it rains? Would you still want to chuck it all when you realized you wouldn't be going out for margaritas every night?
That's why I get these inspirations while doing laundry. Maybe it does make a kind of twisted, completely erratic sense. As I neared the Cayucos exit, I tried to picture myself here on a cold November, the town empty and quiet, the bright lights of the nearest city a 20-mile drive through the rain away.
I was listening to this great power pop song I'd recently dug up on iTunes. How would that play at 60 years old? Would I still be spending hours finding new songs on iTunes? Would I be doing it from my Cayucos living room, space-age laptop opened on the coffee table, everything slightly damp from living so close to the beach? Would I be alone, waiting for Sandra Bullock to come home from the retail job she would get to avoid going insane from lack of things to do?
Would we wake up, ride our bikes into town, sit at the Rogue Wave Cafe and read the San Francisco Chronicle, still keeping tabs on our old hometown? Would we drive into San Luis Obispo on Thursday nights for the Farmer's Market, or would that soon bore us?
Last night, I lay in bed listening to the sea lions. Today, the Jawa promises he'll teach me how to surf. One week of surf camp and he's a self-proclaimed expert. That's what happens when you're thirteen, I guess.
On Saturday, the sun will set on this year's beach vacation. Next year, though we'll be hamstrung by the Jawa's several-years-in-the-making demand for a Disneyworld trip, we'll carve out a few days to come down here, and maybe our now-passing interest in local real estate will ramp up just a bit, almost imperceptibly. I have a feeling that each year brings us closer to the time we drive down here, unpack and just stay.
Right after we close escrow on that place we bought with the advance from my second book.