"Well, what did you think your Friday nights would be like?" one might well ask of oneself if one were in the habit of that sort of thing. Friday nights in San Diego cannot be characterized any differently than Friday nights in any other good-sized city with a few large colleges, quite a bit of retirement and military money (though most of the latter is not, theoretically, going for kicks and giggles, that is, leisure), and throw in a lot of water and beaches and boats, and then the more than usual amount of sun. Other than that...well, you certainly can't say we're just Cleveland with palm trees, but neither are we Venice emerged, if you know what I mean. Occasionally I feel surprised, disappointed, or unexpectedly pleased at how I am enjoying myself on, say, a Friday night and if I were to ask myself that opening question. If I sort of mentally squint and travel back in time to Brooklyn, New York, May of 1980, I might imagine my Friday nights in my new life in California 25 years down the road something like this:
I'd be at the BBQ grill around 6:30 p.m., waiting to put the half dozen steaks on. (I would always grill the steaks myself when it was my turn to entertain that month, and not, say, one of the others in my small, but tight circle of friends.) Sometimes the grill or hibachi would be set up in the cockpit of the ketch and sometimes on the dock. I can picture my 30-year-old self squinting through cinematically falling calendar leaves, trying to imagine what I will look like at, holy shit, 55!
A picture was summoned (oh, and I did think about it, don't you?) of a thinning, gray-haired, Ben Franklin--looking paunchy guy; doddering (whatever that is, exactly) and wheezing, bespectacled, cackling over a barbecue, a whisky clutched in one hand because that would be the one constant, the one friend who would never die or leave or reveal himself, Mr. Jack Daniels, as a fainthearted liar and thief of something more precious than dream.
Am I serious? Barbecue? What else, golf? No, no, it's just that -- I'm in Brooklyn, remember? Carroll Gardens. Used to be Red Hook before the real estate Yuppies. A barbecue grill is as swank as a boss short, say, a '67 Mustang, and I do love grilled meat. Back then I had the esophagus and teeth for anything as well.
Anyway, I've got one of those cordless phones that look like WWII (or even 'Nam era) combat radio units, only smaller, and I dial or punch in or speak, maybe thumb-in, fingerprint-code/cortex implant/nano-second com-placement (however they'll be worked in the early 21st Century) the number for my closest friend since I moved to California. Doug, I'll call him.
I don't want to name drop, so I'll refer to the famous that hang around with me with pseudonyms. Doug (say his real name is something like, oh, Michael Chabon or, well, it doesn't matter) jokes around, "Say, John, I believe you should bronze your marinade baster and place it on your award shelf...you keep doing, what do you call it? -- 'Steak Satisfaction'? Like this: perfect every time."
"Well, here's the old rooster himself. He might have something to say about that."
Mike Jagermeister, a pretty famous rock and roll singer, arrives, walking up the dock, his arm around an unlikely drinking buddy (the tabloids would never believe this, but here they are); Mike in at least sensible ballet shoes for a boat's deck and Davis Desaris, the humorist from The New Yorker, out of sheer perversity, no doubt, wearing Nudie cowboy boots. "Well, hello, or avast or whatever you say," Desaris cracks. "Smells great, would you look at that sunset! I should say something cynical and witty about how they're always perfect in San Diego, I suppose. But I'll save it for the crack of Doom if everything goes well tonight." He squeezes Mike's backside in canary leather hot pants. In Jagermeister's equally perverse fashion sense, the short shorts are two sizes too big, and his suspenders give him that hilarious Tyrolean thing. The man must be almost 60.
The joke about Doom is an inside Hollywood crack about Mike starring in the movie adaptation of my best-selling novel of the same name: a kind of wacky, offbeat bedroom farce about AIDS and the Brazilian rain forest (the profits from which went to pretty much saving the whole rain forest thing and the now famous Creamsicle cure for HIV!).
Surfacing from below decks is Diana Rigg, now more famous for her successful 25-year cryo-suspension than her once lively acting career. She is languidly adjusting her bikini strap. What strap? What am I saying? Heh heh, in fact, what bikini? Yeah! What bikini!?!
Six steaks. That's me, Diana, Mike, Davis, Doug and....
Who am I kidding? Even 25 years ago I would never have thought of cocktailing on a yacht with Mick Jagger or any other celebrities (maybe a writer I'd always wanted to meet), but the truth of it does not make for what one of my editors calls "lively writing."
The truth would involve me in my spacious home library next to my private home movie theater. I already have something sort of like that, but the term spacious would not apply. Then as now, I would prefer, if socializing came into it at all, a small group of friends, say, no more than five. And I still enjoy a good steak but only find the idea appealing once every few weeks rather than nightly -- if I had once had my way there.
But whom would that sixth steak be for? A lot of entries come to mind that might provide a chuckle or two for the column reader; but the one I am most comfortable with is my son, a man who would have been eight years old at the time and now an adult: whole, happy, and every bit as much a friend as anyone else there. Today, at present, we're working on getting there, but we're not, by any means there, not today. Some days it seems merely around the corner and sighs and prayers of relief are at the ready. It would be grand if one of those days were this one, this Cinco de Mayo as I write. It is not.
But then, there's always (am I saying this right?) Seis de Mayo, isn't there?