This last weekend of the month I find myself in Mission Valley, poolside at the Promenade luxury-resort condominiums, across the street from Sears. I’m with my son at the home of my high school friend Dr. Jon Venn, for the past year a professor of psychology at San Diego State. He has extended to me an open invitation to bring my son down from San Marcos for a day of swimming and billiards, if we get to it. We don’t.
My son Geoffrey will be 31 at the end of this summer, and he has a diagnosis of schizophrenia. It has taken two months to get him to leave his apartment, which, aside from the mess, looks the way I imagine Mission Control in Houston might look, with its banks of computers on which he and his friends (along with several other regulars in various countries) will play ongoing role-playing games like Warhammer or World of Warcraft. Except for periodic sorties to Vons or Fry’s, Geoff doesn’t get out much.
We are at one of two pools at the Promenade, and it is a perfect day for it. Small children and attractive college girls provide pleasing scenery, and the condominium grounds are architecturally reminiscent of Spain, as if it were a northern archipelago of Balboa Park. If you live here or a similar place in Mission Valley, you are fortunate. If not, you should immediately seek out more fortunate friends.
After a shower in the gym, we took a dip, and soon my son was resuming his conversation with Jon, a serious-looking, bearded ectomorph with much wit sheathed in sober, genuine interest. Geoffrey had both the doctor and me interested in his phrase “intellectual delinquents,” which I suspect he may have been directing toward me, maybe Jon as well, and just as easily, neither of us. Trying to establish more about his intriguing phrase (which he would reverse to “delinquent intellectuals” or “delinquent intellect”) was rough going, slogging as we were through computer jargon and references to vampires. The two words were close to the phrase Jon and I and some confederates at Carmel High in Mundelein, Illinois, were labeled by the priests and brothers there: hard-core apathetics.
Later in the day, Jon’s wife, Carleen, joined us, an attractive intellectual (with no evidence of the delinquent about her) whom Geoffrey complimented obliquely by telling her she reminded him of certain female members of my old workshop group, when he was a child. This group comprised aspiring science-fiction writers, some of whom have gone on to be quite famous in the field. Carleen indicated that she was indeed an author and currently working on a book on health care, her field at SDSU. Her very presence reassured me that health care in this country need not be hopeless. She had no way of knowing, but being promoted from a leading authority on public health to science-fiction writer was high praise indeed from Geoffrey.
The word bittersweet occurs as I write this, thinking of the afternoon with an old (as old as I am) and abiding friend, his charming wife, and my son with his good soul and troubled mind, the late afternoon light as it only appears in San Diego and in summer, winking on the surface of the pool like molten, burnished coins and reflected onto the palm fronds overhead. At one time, an occasion like this would accompany the presence of some appropriate alcoholic drink; and it is reassuring to know that it occurred to me only in passing and with a brief laugh to myself when someone brought hamburgers and hot dogs down to the barbecue grill in a Crown Royal carton.
At one point Jon said something about how gratifying it can be to have children, and I could tell he was missing his own daughter, grown now, a literature major and living in Canada. He’s a good father. Instead of immediately agreeing with him or saying anything at all, I felt a greasy wave of self-loathing that I had been concerned about my son’s behavior. That he might embarrass me or them? Certainly my friends were far too generous for that, but apparently not me. And I had allowed this shadow into one of those perfect days God is so conservative about handing out.
Of all my suggestions — as bizarre as some of them may have been over the years — as to what to do with your weekends, this may easily be the best. Spend them with your friends and children...yours, if you’ve got ’em, but don’t be fussy.