- Paul Cleary
- Del Mar
TEN YEARS AFTER CLASS
Two old friends sidled up to me separately and confided that they were considering a move to San Diego.
It was July 5, 1980, and about 150 self-conscious people drank and mingled at the Moose Club in Oneida, New York, for the ten-year reunion of the Oneida High School Class of 1970. I scanned the crowd again. I had already danced a slow dance with my old girlfriend, causing flashbulbs to pop and tongues to wag. Shortly after graduation, she was hired as a file clerk and now, ten years later, still had the same job but was divorced, with a two-year old daughter. I had spoken with the ex-football player I had helped to pass Spanish, now just about to get his M.D. degree; the gay entrepreneur and community activist who was most of the way out of the closet in this city of not quite 12,000; and the former majorette who starred in a porno movie I caught at the Guild Theatre in Hillcrest a few years ago. Everyone was well dressed and looked healthy and happy.
Paul Cleary: Our last ride dropped Ed and me off at Belmont Park, and we ate our first taco at the Mission Beach Jack-in-the-Box.
I applauded and laughed with the rest of the class as the presentations were made for Longest Married To the Same Person (an ex-cheerleader, ten years). Most Children (a twenty-eight-year-old stepgrand-mother, eight). Perpetual Student (the M.D.), and others. They even gave me an award: Most Changed. By rights I deserved the award for Traveling the Farthest, too, but since I was voted Most Stubborn in high school, I didn't say anything, lest they discover how much I hadn’t changed. For those who stayed in Oneida, I suppose, Houston is just as many light-years away as San Diego.
Two old friends sidled up to me separately and confided that they were considering a move to San Diego. Galvanized into reflection by these revelations, I thought about all the Central New Yorkers who had passed through my variously spacious and crowded residences, some to visit and others to stay, since I serendipi-tously landed in San Diego eight years ago. And that provoked contemplation of the ripple effect of people visiting and staying with the people who had visited and stayed with me.
It was July 5, 1972, and Ed and I climbed into the car with an Air Force sergeant who would drive us to San Francisco. Before we left, we confirmed with Kelli that she, Diane, and Ellen, all recent nursing school graduates about to embark on a crosscountry trip, would meet Ed and me at “the plaza” at 3:00 p.m. on July 21. None of us had ever been to San Diego, but we knew there was a plaza.
After we wandered around San Francisco and leisurely hitchhiked down the coast, our last ride dropped Ed and me off at Belmont Park, and we ate our first taco at the Mission Beach Jack-in-the-Box. Leaving our luggage in the care of some kind folks at a Pacific Beach church, we searched the semiprecious-stone-named streets for a suitable (cheap) apartment.
We found one on Turquoise Street. True, the shower curtain featured poodles holding pink umbrellas, and it was furnished with lawn chairs and dirty rugs. But the landlady didn’t ask for references, a security deposit, or the last month’s rent, so we eagerly scribbled our signatures on six ten-dollar traveler’s checks each and fetched our meager belongings from the church. We were now San Diegans!
Those early months were glorious. The common sequelae of East to West transplants — smugness and insecurity — were tempered by the wonderment and freedom of a First San Diego Summer. Wide-eyed exclamations on the ocean (big and salty), automobiles (no rust), vegetation (obviously plastic), women (beautiful), even the grocery stores (avocados! papayas! coconuts!) were dashed off regularly on postcards to the less fortunate in Oneida. The sand, sun, and surf beckoned daily, and we bounced barefoot across every Bermuda-grass lawn between our apartment and the beach at the foot of Law Street. We met our neighbors: Dean and Ann, a just-married couple who played Alice Cooper and Rolling Stones records and lived next to the Scientology people who always had a sign on their door saying, “Closed — In Session”; Allen, a freewheeling surfer who smoked his joints through an orange and skateboarded to his grocery stock-clerk job on the graveyard shift; and Renee, a shy factory worker with musical laughter who ate salads a lot.
We walked to movies at the Roxy or Cinema Leo, ate the Mexican Special at Tug’s every Thursday, and used false identification to drink at the BathHouse and other renowned beach-area watering holes. We spotted a dead coyote pup on Mount Soledad, and slowly acquired the impeccable tan of the true beach aficionado. And, of course, we got lost in Tijuana because we thought all the streets were named Un Sentido.
At the appointed time we had taken the “R” bus downtown and met Kelli, Diane, and Ellen. The reunion was short-lived, for Diane and Ellen soon moved to their own apartment and faded away, and Kelli got homesick and flew to Oneida. Ed finally left to resume classes at Brockport State University near Rochester. I took a job flipping burgers at the Bird Rock Jack-in-the-Box, determined to stay in San Diego, “alone” if I had to. But then the odyssey from Oneida began in earnest.
Sometime during the fall of 1972 Bill was hitchhiking in New York and an accommodating soul drove him from Buffalo to the front door of my Turquoise Street apartment. Bill and I were on the same high school wrestling team and we both wore loafers long after they had peaked as fashionable footwear. After his graduation in 1968 he joined the Army and spent some time in Vietnam as an infantryman. I remember him in his Utica apartment after he was discharged, spending quiet evenings alone with a bottle of wine and a good book. He only stayed briefly on Turquoise Street before hitchhiking to Oregon to plant trees with an old Army buddy. After that short-lived venture, he passed through my apartment again, pausing just long enough to take my right loafer with his left as he hitchhiked back to New York to start classes at Plattsburgh State University near the New York-Canada border.
Bill’s brother John, a mesomorph with intense blue eyes and an infectious smile, was also on the wrestling team, but he chose the Air Force after graduation. I answered a knock one morning to Find John standing on the back porch with a duffel bag. He had hitchhiked down from Norton Air Force Base in San Bernardino (“San Berdoo”) after completing his service there. We took him in and he started surfing with Allen and attending classes at Mesa College on his G.I. Bill. When, after a two-month absence in 1973, I returned with Lenny in tow, John bought Allen’s orange truck to live in and parked it at Tourmaline Beach for six months while continuing at Mesa. But eventually he returned to Oneida, and last I knew he was extremely overweight and working at a menial job in Syracuse.
I next saw Bill around Christmas of 1977. The summer before, I had met a vibrant, engaging woman arid that winter we flew to Boston to meet her family and to Oneida to meet mine. I threw a big party, and Bill dropped by and said he planned to move back to San Diego soon.
A few months later he made the move. First he stayed with his sister and her husband in Ocean Beach, and then he moved out near San Diego State University. I had dinner with him at his sister’s new home in San Carlos a few months ago and, like all old friends, our conversation picked up where it had left off. At last report he was living in Pacific Beach with a younger brother, recovering from a broken leg received from an errant Mission Beach motorist, working as an usher, and pursuing a master's degree in journalism at San Diego State.
The 1973 winter break at Brockport brought Ed back to San Diego for a brief visit. His irreverent sense of humor had recently manifested itself by having him pose for a photograph as the central Figure in Oneida’s municipal Nativity scene, and he regaled me with other such tales of his Brockport life. After graduating from Brockport in 1975, Ed and a friend bicycled to San Diego with a firm resolve to settle in the Land of the Sun. They rented an apartment on Agate Street in Pacific Beach near Lenny’s Archer Street house. By that time Trish and Barb, two of Ed’s other Brockport friends, had arrived and taken up residence on Turquoise Street. Ed tried hard to find a job and was unsuccessful; he left broke and disillusioned a few months later. Trish and Barb hung on a little longer, but by the summer of 1976 they, too, were back in New York.
Ed and some enterprising cronies opened a couple of taco restaurants in the Brockport area, and from what I heard, Ed was in his element, flitting about as a small businessman, juggling accounts, and living in a large farmhouse with other taco shop employees. Somehow he wrangled a “business” trip out of himself in the fall of 1978 and visited that vibrant, engaging woman (Mary) and me, who were by then living together in Del Mar. Ed returned again during the summer of 1979 and, when he wasn’t laughing, beamed beatifical ly as Mary and I were married in Torrey Pines State Reserve.
Ed was one of the old friends at the reunion who said he was thinking of coming to San Diego. He was restless after recently selling his share of the restaurants, and he knew he was rapidly deteriorating by staying at his parents’ house in Oneida. So in August he packed his green van with all his worldly possessions and drove to his friend Harry’s condo in Mission Valley. He stayed there a month and then rented his own apartment in Old Town. Now he’s getting into local politics and taking a photography class, and this time he assures me he’ll stay.
In August of 1973, on the return leg of a trip to New York for a friend’s wedding, Lenny met me at the Denver airport. In high school Lenny was my best friend, hero, and mentor. Fastidious and fashionable in his appearance, his polite speech and manner around adults allowed him to get away with antics that would otherwise be frowned upon. In a shoe store once he picked up a lady’s pump from the display and began hitting himself on the head with the heel and moaning, “I love it! I love it! Will you buy me this pair?’’ and thereby prompting me to pretend I didn’t know him. Another time we stopped in a cafe for a cup of tea. Wanting to sweeten it, Lenny politely asked the man at the next table, “May I borrow your honey?’’ The man assented and then Lenny turned to the man’s female companion and said, equally politely, “Okay, honey, let’s go.”
During high school he worked at the fast food restaurant that employed so many of us/He drove his parents’ 1965 Continental for a while, and then he drove his parents’ 1966 Continental. After graduation he moved to Albany, where in 1972 a serious automobile accident almost cost him his life. But on that sunny day in Denver he looked relaxed and at peace with himself, and we drove his partially settlement-bought car to the Turquoise Street apartment.
Lenny stayed six months and then returned to Oneida to continue his settlement battle. He came back in late 1974 and rented a house on Archer Street. Tom and his brother Scott, both alumni of the fast food restaurant, followed Lenny to San Diego. Scott landed a job as an engineer and still lives in San Diego. Tom worked in a factory and as an airline reservation clerk before moving to Laguna Beach.
With the settlement issue resolved, Lenny didn’t have to work for a while, and he busied himself decorating the house, doing yardwork, and bicycling. He became involved in a fundamentalist religion and attended several local colleges. He later moved with his younger brother to Fullerton, where they both manage clothing stores for different chains. Lenny has his eye on a possible opening in San Diego so he can move back down here. He recently drove to San Diego for a weekend, and as he, Ed, and I sauntered down the beach in Del Mar, we considered carefully the convolutions and perturbations of the fate that brought us together once again.
Debbie was a bold, attractive cheerleader at a rival high school when she worked at the fast food restaurant with the rest of us. I attended a concert with her once, at which she dressed as an usher and marched through the crowd ahead of time to secure us the best seats in the house. After a grueling trip through physical therapy school, she languished at her parents’ house in Sherill, near Oneida, until Christmas of 1976, when Lenny and I came to the rescue by hauling her, brass bed and ail, back to San Diego. She lived in my garage on Gresham Street for six months, and then she and her yacht-selling boyfriend rented a house on Archer Street across from Lenny. Shortly thereafter, Debbie, her boyfriend, and Lenny got involved in an expensive series of self-help seminars. Eventually Debbie became the San Diego coordinator for the seminars; after considering the price and the proselytizing, Ed impishly described the seminars as an “Amway of the mind.” When Debbie tired of the seminars, she returned to physical therapy, shed her boyfriend, and moved Kim in with her. Kim, a classmate of Tom’s and another fast food alumnus, had moved to San Diego for her health six months before Debbie arrived, and took up residence in Ocean Beach. Tom comes down from Laguna Beach from time to time to see her.
In the fall of 1977, Cindy, a classmate of Debbie’s in physical therapy school, independently arrived in San Diego and, during a job search, bumped into Debbie at the hospital where she was then employed. Debbie took Cindy in, and a few days later Cindy’s New York City high school friend Judy showed up, so Cindy and Judy rented a house on Oliver Street, from which Cindy soon moved as she quickly got married. By that time Harry, a Brockport friend of Ed’s, had moved to San Diego with Ed’s encouragement, so he moved in with Judy. Judy’s mother approved of this arrangement because she had the mistaken notion that Harry was gay, and she became quite irate upon discovering otherwise.
Actually, both Harry and Judy were recovering from their respective divorces and were not then interested in new romantic entanglements. Judy eventually moved to Florida to live with her mother and go to college, so a few months ago Harry bought a condominium in Mission Valley. Now some of Harry’s Albany-area friends are trickling out to San Diego.
George is the latest Oneidan to debut in San Diego. In high school he hung around with Ed, Lenny, and me. After he took his business degree, a Fortune 500 company snapped him up and sequestered him in various parts of the country for the last Five years. George was the other old friend who approached me at the reunion about moving to San Diego. I assured him that he should have his head examined if he was offered a transfer to San Diego and he turned it down. With my encouragement and the special persuasion techniques available to an employer, he had his household effects crated and shipped to an apartment underneath Mary and me, which fortuitously opened up just as he appeared on the scene.
He’s still somewhat skittish and apprehensive about the move. We take him to the beach to soothe his ruffled soul. So far he’s making all the appropriate comments for a newcomer: the freeways are too big; the women are beautiful; there is no change of seasons; the plants all look plastic; the fresh fruit is cheap and plentiful; the beach is great, and so on. So he’s still ambivalent. But I’m pretty sure he’ll stay for a while, at least. People are already planning to visit him.
THE GARDEN OF MR. MANDAHSI
Mr. Mandahsi left Iran in 1960 and has lived in San Diego for most of those twenty years, but we met only this year. As a landscaper I was hired to redesign his new home overlooking the Pacific. A friend of mine who also knew the gentleman brought us together over afternoon coffee and a tasty Middle Eastern dessert made with carob and almonds.
After quiet sips of coffee and brief exchanges between the two gentlemen, the attention was drawn toward the garden. “What do you see?” Mr. Mandahsi said, gesturing toward the overgrown west garden. “What do you see you want to change?” He smiled grandly, beaming with youthful, brown eyes, belying the aging, rough face. His fine, white hair played freely in the California sea breezes.
I offered several possible plans, enunciating very carefully as I spoke.
“Don’t overdo it,” my friend said. “After all, he’s been speaking English longer than you have.”
“I understand you do good work,” Mr. Mandahsi continued. “I trust these judgments. Your ideas sound good. There is only one thing.”
“Yes?” I asked.
“I have these daisies. English daisies. Not all that pretty, but my wife and I brought them from England. We got the seeds from Stratford-on-Avon, Shakespeare’s home. We would like for you to incorporate these daisies in your design if you could.”
“Very easily,” I said. “Especially since they are so sentimental. That’s what a garden is all about.”
"Then you will come tomorrow?” “I’ll be here.”
“One thing more,” he said. “I mention this only because so many people get upset, but you know I am Persian.” “Yes,” I said.
“I do not want you to feel, uh, awkward. Many do.”
“No problem, Mr. Mandahsi.” This was not entirely true. I was uneasy. I had never known a Persian prior to this meeting. With recent events and newly established hatreds, I carried with me no feelings of animosity and had no fear of communicating such, but I did not want to go to the other extreme — overdoing humility, becoming ingratiating, patronizing, and generally being less myself by trying too hard to be so much more than myself.
The next morning I arrived at the ocean-front estate and was greeted by Mr. Mandahsi’s wife. “Hello, Michael,” she beamed. “Mr. Mandahsi will be here in a minute. Come. I have coffee for you.” She led me to the patio and placed coffee and rolls in front of me. “It’s a bit cool this morning,” she said. “Perhaps you would prefer inside?”
“No, thank you,” I said. “I enjoy the cool.”
“Oh, so do I,” she said, pouring coffee for herself and sitting across from me. “We love it here. We’ve never had a house on the ocean, so we feel we’re on a perpetual vacation. And we’ve been here almost a year.”
“You speak English so well,” I said. “I should,” she laughed. “I was bom in Pasadena. My parents are Italian and Syrian, but in Iran I pass as Persian. After twenty-five years as Mrs. Mandahsi, I guess I am.”
‘‘Did you meet Mr. Mandahsi in Iran?” I asked after a pause.
‘‘No, oddly enough, we met in Palo Alto. I was a Stanford student. He was a visiting business consultant. Within a year I was living in a mansion outside Teheran. Then we moved back to California. We had plans to return to Iran, but not now!”
‘‘I can tell you miss it, though.”
“Oh, yes. But things have a way of changing. Khomeini has destroyed all our religious centers in Iran. To be a member of our religion right now is worse than being an American. So we will not be going back. Many have, and have not survived.”
At this moment Mr. Mandahsi opened the sliding door to the patio. ‘‘Good morning, good people,” he laughed heartily. ‘‘This day is beautiful. Ready for creating, Michael?”
‘‘Well, destruction first,” I said. ‘‘Clear out what you don’t want, define what we intend to keep, and locate best places for the new.”
‘‘Sounds like new nations and displaced persons, doesn’t it?” Mrs. Mandahsi quipped. Then, changing quickly, ‘‘You know about the daisies, I presume? Those fellows have traveled with us no matter where we go. They seem to symbolize freedom for us, I guess. Almost as if it’s not totally all right without them. Just call us sentimental.”
I spent a week at the Mandahsi home, renovating the property. Mr. Mandahsi occasionally worked with me — something I would ordinarily reject. But he was always so joyous and thrilled to learn something new. ‘‘I like to participate in nature,” he said. Toward the end of the project, we sat at lunch under the umbrella chatting about the weather, birds, and his niece in Los Angeles. ‘‘She is the daughter of my brother. She is like a daughter to me. In fact, I look after her now.”
‘‘Her father is in Iran still?” I asked.
‘‘We lost him one month ago.”
“I’m sorry. It must be rough on the daughter.”
“It’s all so tragic. We tried to warn him.”
“He was called back to Iran, presumably to take care of one of his businesses. He owned several in America and Iran. We told him not to go. Somehow, we did not trust the situation. As soon as he arrived he was placed in jail, where he was forced to stand in a cell so small that he could not sit. For three months he stood! Torture! And then, found guilty of something. No one understood just what. Witnesses say he was shot by firing squad. Was forced to sit in execution chair. But after standing in his cold cell for three months, it caused so much pain for him to sit that he begged to be shot.” Mr. Mandahsi’s eyes misted over and he stopped for a moment. “Khomeini is a madman. Where will it go? I do not understand.” Then, with a shift in tone, “Let us move on. I want to ask you something.”
“Sure,” I nodded.
“I have control of my brother’s business in San Diego and it needs new plants. Not a lot of land, but it needs to be made nice.”
I soon started work at the business complex in the heart of North County’s industrial community. Each business within the complex had its own small garden, which I redesigned. And soon I became a permanent fixture on the grounds. As such I overheard deals made and broken, dates made and broken, and many hearts broken as sales reps flew from one secretary to the next like so many bees in a field of clover. Peyton Place West, I called it.
Of particular interest was the business at the end of the complex. My interest was created only because of the trucks used for this small company. Whereas most of the cars in the lot had the usual array of Carter, Reagan, and Anderson bumper stickers, “Honk if you love Jesus,” “Charger Power,” and “Save the Seals” stickers, these trucks were slapped with “Iranians Go Home” stickers, plus a few more graphic, but with the same pointed message. “If they only knew,” I thought. “That the one they pay rent to is....”
One very clear day when the Navy jets overhead seemed to be in dress rehearsal for World War III, I was preparing the soil in front of this very business when Mr. Mandahsi walked by to greet the new day as he had every day for a month. “You look worried, my friend,” he said, extending his arm around my shoulder. “Perhaps you overwork yourself.”
“I’m sure I’m not doing that,” I said, caught by the irony of this stately gentleman standing within lens shot of the red-and-blue bumper sticker. He caught my staring, studied my eyes, then turned to see the sticker.
“Oh, that,” he said. “You know, if you try to understand their frustration and fear, you can see why.”
“But,” I said, “I thought we had learned something from the treatment we gave Japanese-Americans during World War II.”
“Do not fret. Sometimes I talk with these people with all that hate. I talk to them. And sometimes they feel better.” He paused. “Except for the owners of this truck. Last week they confronted me, thinking I was a new tenant. They let me know that the new owner was an ‘Eye-ranian,’ as they pronounced it. ‘If I could get my hands on him,’ one of them said. And there I was within arm’s reach. And he never guessed. I assured him the new owner is American. Which I am. I was an American citizen before he was born. I finally told him I was born in Iran. With that, he went inside his office and closed the door.”
"And he still has the bumper sticker,” I said.
"You know, it’s funny, Michael. Truth is, I can't go to Iran. If I do, I will certainly meet Khomeini’s wrath.”
"But don’t you have fear in this country, with the lunatic fringe running around ready to shoot you just because you’re Persian?”
"True, there is some reason for caution. I’ve had my car windows broken. Even a dead dog was delivered to our house. But we will not stop. I will not interrupt the joy of breakfast overlooking the Pacific Ocean. And I will not stop enjoying my English daisies. We are, after all, safer here than in Iran. Who knows, I may go to Australia. Many Persians are doing so just to get away from hatreds here. But I will not change my name or lie just to protect my identity.”
“It’s frightening,” I said, "to be without a country. I’ve lived here all my life. I can’t imagine being displaced.”
“I love my country,” Mr. Mandahsi said firmly. "The land. The people. Regimes come and go, but the land is always pure. Somehow, we survive.”
“I wonder about the guys in there,” I said, pointing to the comer business.
"If it were not us, it would be someone else. Michael. There are those who need a ‘them’ to be opposed to. You know, I think that’s Khomeini’s problem.” He laughed. ‘ ‘How strange, too. If we get into a war, do you realize that most of the fighting soldiers in Iran right now were trained right here in this country? And, as usual, it will be the children who will die first. The ones who have little concept of ideologies.” He turned away to get inside his car and said, "Don’t worry, my friend. It will work out one day.”
I stood feeling sick and spent. I looked up as Mr. Mandahsi pulled out of the parking lot and noticed that he, too, had a bumper sticker. It read, "One Planet, One People. Please.”
- Raymond Boulder
Raymond Boulder: I heard my name. I turned around to see if it was true and it was! Joe looked at me and said my name again.
I remember an incident in junior high school that changed my outlook on life. I was a fat kid, going through the changes of leaving old friends behind. Because I was overweight, I had no social life at all, so to occupy my time I got involved in my classes. History was my favorite subject, followed by math. The class I disliked the most was — you guessed it — physical education. I looked ridiculous out there in shorts and a tank top. A lot of people thought so, too, and they let me know about it. I shied away even further so I couldn’t hear their remarks that hurt me.
One day in physical education I suited up to go through our daily routine of running laps before we broke off into teams for the sport of the week. This week was softball and I was looking forward to it because baseball was the only sport I played. Being so big, I had lots of power. My arm had accurate aim. but I lacked a running game, so I guess it all evened out.
Emerging from the locker room, I spotted a group of guys from my class. They were all the super-jock type, the ones we all wanted to be — popular with everyone, especially girls. It’s just like how in every group there is always one who stands out as a leader; he’s usually the best at everything. Our leader was a muscular, black-haired boy named Joe. Unlike most jock leaders, Joe was modest instead of bragging all the time. And he made it a point never to criticize anyone — a suggestion here and there, but it was up to you to take it.
So the coach sent us down to the other field to run laps. As we got started, I knew I was destined to finish with the back of the pack as I usually did. As Joe passed me he smiled and said, “Come on, Ray, pick up those legs. ’’ I don’t know what came over me, but I took his advice and started to run all-out. I trailed the jocks by a quarter of a lap all the way around on each lap. It felt good to be out of the back of the pack and actually ahead of someone.
Coming up to the last lap — breathing heavily, feet pounding the ground, and a red face covered with sweat — I struggled to make it. The end of the lap came within sight and I felt so happy to accomplish what I did.
After finishing, I slowed my pace to a walk so I could catch my breath. Getting ready to go back to the top field, I saw my coach. Knowing what I had just done, I beamed a big, proud smile and said, “Hi.’’The coach responded with, “What did you do, cut across the field?’’ I told him I didn’t, but my protest was in vain. He sent me to run another lap. I felt crushed. All I did . . . just to have it destroyed by some words. So I ran the lap with a heavy heart. This time I finished in the back of the pack.
We made our way up to the top field and listened to the coach pick captains for the softball teams. Joe turned out to be one of them, but I was so downhearted it didn’t matter. The captains started calling names for their teams. I knew I didn't have to listen for my name because I was normally picked toward the last, like all the other back-of-the-packers. But to my astonishment and everyone else’s, I heard my name. I turned around to see if it was true and it was! Joe looked at me and said my name again. I was flabbergasted. I walked over to the team and the thought that I ran for nothing disappeared. Someone had noticed! It paid off!
After the teams were chosen, Joe asked what position I'd like to play. I said, “Second base,’’ and he replied, “You’ve got it. ’’ That day I made quite a few good plays at second and went four-for-four, driving in a couple of runs. Everyone was amazed, especially my coach. After the game, I received many compliments.
From that day on, I ran the laps with everything I had. I watched what I was eating and I played harder, which resulted in weight loss. Before I knew it, I had shed the old image. I was noticed by people, especially girls. My social life took off!
It all changed because of this event. I tried for something and someone helped me stay on the right track. But there was one thing I forgot to do, not realizing then what had been the turning point. I’m saying it now: Thank you, Joe, for the helping hand. May your life be filled with the happiness you put back into me after running those hard laps.
- Pat Mooney
- Mission Hills
ADRIFT IN SHALLOW WATER
Pat Mooney: I did not dare say to Richard, “Why are you plying this kid with drinks?”
It was a cool night in mid-April. The gate leading into Mission Bay Marina snapped closed behind me as I headed for the boat on which I was living with my boyfriend, Richard. He and I had both found temporary jobs in San Diego to earn enough money for docking fees and to finance our impending sailing trip to Hawaii. I was exhausted from an unfamiliar clerical job and felt ready to drop right to sleep.
When I entered the small cabin of Richard’s twenty-six-foot sloop, I found Richard and a young boy who couldn’t have been more than fourteen years old, sitting close together in the forepeak of the cabin. I sat down in the quarter berth, across the galley table from them. Two cans of beer stood open next to two tall glasses of amber-colored liquid. I saw the bottle of Christian Brothers brandy, which had been a going-away present to me, half emptied and set in the sink to prevent the rest of the contents from spilling. The boat quivered and rocked, and outside the halyards jangled against the aluminum mast.
‘‘Hi, ” I said. I did not know what else to say. Richard was giddily inebriated, I could see, and so was the boy, as far as I could tell. I did not dare say to Richard, “Why are you plying this kid with drinks?” or to the boy, “What are you doing here? Please leave.” Then I caught sight of several pornographic magazines lying open on the berth beside them. Not Playboy or Penthouse, but a harder-core variety, with pictures of two men together, three men together, men dressed as women, and women wearing dildos.
I was scared and did not want to stay an instant longer. My wild imagination conjured up Richard’s possible motives for luring the boy here, as well as his providing the accoutrements my eyes had just alighted upon. Suddenly, I knew exactly what Richard was up to: he wanted a menage a trois with the boy and me. This realization sickened me. I wanted to leave the boat immediately, but where would I go?
‘‘How old are you?” the boy asked me. “You’re cute. Do you fuck?”
I ignored him and spoke to Richard. “What’s going on?”
“Relax,” Richard said. “Meet Tony. Have a beer.” He plunked an unopened can of Budweiser in front of me. “Get comfortable. Take your shirt off.” He grinned.
Usually I did not mind doing anything Richard requested of me, including leaving my home in San Francisco, quitting my job, and abandoning my friends to seek adventure with Richard on his boat. San Diego was to be our cast-off point to Hawaii. Already I’d befriended some of the other “boaties” — people who lived aboard their vessels outside the knowledge of the marina management.
Perhaps I could go to stay on Melissa and Ron’s cruiser. Melissa and I had tried unsuccessfully to find employment together as waitresses. Melissa had since applied for work at Pacer’s, San Diego’s most popular topless club, and now she danced there three nights a week. If Melissa and Ron were home, I might be able to find shelter with them.
“Well, I’ve, ah, got to go to the bathroom,” I hedged, glancing at Richard and his friend. I collected my handbag and contact lens case. I would not be spending the night here, no matter where else I might end up.
Tony leaned forward, drunkenly, over the mess on the table. “Can I come along?” he asked snidely.
“I’d really rather go by myself,” I told him hastily. I was panicking. I wanted to escape without a hitch.
“Aw, she’ll be back soon enough,” Richard turned toward the boy. Tony was stuffed between Richard and the starboard bulkhead. Tony sulked but did not try and move away.
“Bye,” I said, stepping outside the cabin. In the evening air I could stand to my full height. I clambered off the boat; it rocked dizzily for a moment, then settled back into its lazy slide from one side of the slip to the other.
As soon as I had reached a distance outside Richard’s earshot, I ran to the cruiser where Melissa and Ron lived, on “A” dock, parallel to “B” dock, where Richard’s Flying Dutchman lay. Out of breath, I knocked on the starboard rail, hoping that Melissa or Ron would hear me. Their German shepherd, Boy, acknowledged my presence by pacing the deck and whimpering. “Don’t bark, Boy,” I entreated. I did not want Richard to know where I’d secreted myself. “Pat!” Melissa cried, swinging open the hatch and catching sight of me. “Come aboard. ” Beyond her, in the cabin light, I could see Ron’s shaggy beard and that grimy Greek sailor’s cap of his. “Hey, climb in,” he said in his customary friendly growl.
I was happy to whisk myself inside, out of view of Richard and his friend. From Ron and Melissa’s Maybell-Lee, the Flying Dutchman lay five or six vessels to the west and across the water. I could see Richard’s cabin lights were still on. I wondered what could be happening. Would the child willingly engage in any sort of lewd act? I didn’t know to what extent Richard would go, in his alcoholic haze. But I could imagine what two males could perform together, sexually.
My heart shuddered when I realized that whatever happened, perhaps I would be an accessory to the fact. I felt sorry I’d left Tony there, alone with Richard, although the boy had acted quite a bit more sexually precocious than he had at first appeared to be.
“What’s happening?” Ron asked laconically. He sucked on the dying ember of a roach, then knocked the char off the hemostats. He reached into a cupboard behind him for a baggie full of dark-green, matted weed.
“How’s Rick?” Melissa asked.
“Oh ...” I stopped short. I did not know what to tell them. If I expected to spend the night on their boat. I’d have to tell them something. I decided to gamble and tell the truth. “I don’t know. He’s, well, I think he’s gotten crazy. He’s entertaining a boy on the boat, who looks twelve. They’re getting drunk together. It was weird. I didn't know what to do. I just wanted to get out. Is it okay if I stay here a while?”
Ron laughed. “Rick’s into that scene? Who would have guessed? Well, you done right getting out of there.”
“You spend the night with us,” Melissa insisted. “Right, Ron?”
“Damn. Sure. You don’t want to go back to that boat." Ron shook his head.
By this time I was feeling more calm, and curious. I stepped onto the deck of the Maybell-Lee and gazed out at the Dutchman. I was not surprised to see that Richard’s hatch was no longer open. The lights inside his cabin shone out amber through the yellow curtains I had sewn for the portholes. I walked back inside the Maybell-Lee. “Something to eat? Potato chips?” Melissa offered. She liked me because she and I were the same age and she said it had been a long time since there had been another twenty-year-old woman in the marina. Ron was thirty-one, the same age as Richard.
“No thanks, not too hungry,” I said.
“Beer?” Ron asked.
“Okay,” I replied.
Beer in hand, I shared a joint with Ron and Melissa in an effort to forget what was happening on Richard’s boat. Such a thing as what I imagined was going on would have big consequences. I did not want to continue living with such a degenerate man. However, it was hard to think for long in such terms because Richard was the only person I really knew in this big, new city. He and I had been together for two years.
After what seemed a long time — probably one hour since I’d slipped away to the Maybell-Lee — I stepped out onto the deck for a second time to check on Richard’s activities. The first thing I saw was a blinding light directed from the dock onto the Flying Dutchman. I blinked to clear my vision and looked again. I saw that someone was training a bright flashlight on the interior of Richard’s boat. Then I noticed there was more than one person; they were police. I gasped and called to Melissa and Ron. “Look!” I pointed toward Richard’s boat. “Police. What do I do now?” My heart was in a nervous flutter. Where was Richard? I couldn’t see him anywhere. The beams raced from inside the Dutchman’s cabin to all around the exterior of the sloop and then toward other parts of the marina. “They’re looking for me,” I whispered tersely.
“We’re not letting any cops get their hands on you,” Ron said gruffly. “Get back inside the boat.”
I remembered that when Melissa and I had ridden around town on the buses seeking employment, she had mentioned that Ron had been in prison for a while. She had never said why. I now felt glad that Ron had a distaste for the police and would not insist that I make myself known to them.
Within moments after the lights had been extinguished, I was asleep in the top bunk; Melissa and Ron had squeezed themselves into the lower bunk. I could not sleep past 7:00 a.m., however, and by 7:15 I had been drawn to the Flying Dutchman.
The boat looked totally innocent in the light of a new day. There was a note folded and stuck between the hatch cover and the padlock. It had my name on it. Frightened but certain that nothing was rigged into the note, I opened it and read. “Ms. Mooney, please contact Detective Pry immediately.” There was a telephone number. I felt like crumpling up the note but decided against it. I put it into my pocket, snapped open the combination lock, then climbed through the entry way into the cabin. I had expected that things would be much different from when I had left. They were. On the foreberth was a suitcase I had never seen before, containing women’s clothing — none mine; four or five dildos of varying shapes and sizes; and a jar of Vaseline. The same pornographic magazines I had seen, plus a variety of others, were scattered everywhere. Empty beer cans littered the table and I saw that the brandy bottle and water glasses were empty. I pulled out Detective Pry’s note and kept looking at it, wondering whether I should contact him. I did not want to get arrested and spend the rest of my life in jail. I weighed reasons to speak with a detective and reasons not to, and finally arranged by telephone to meet with Detective Pry later that day.
Detective Pry’s office was a cubicle with a desk and two chairs. A framed family snapshot oversaw the clutter of papers on the desk. “Please, sit down,” Detective Pry said. He reached over his desk to shake my hand. “How do you do?”
“Fine,” I said, the way I do when I don’t feel very well at all. Detective Pry looked pretty nonthreatening. He had brown hair, a receding hairline, a short moustache, and a beady-eyed look with which he appraised me. He wore brown polyester pants and a white short-sleeved nylon shirt. I supposed his job as investigator obligated him to dress like a civilian so that people would feel at ease and talk more freely.
“How is Richard?” I asked the detective. “Can I see him?” I looked around the office as though I could see through walls and Richard was somewhere beyond one of them.
“Richard is in our downtown facility. He’s fine. Now, I’d like to get a statement from you. What happened last night? Can you tell me everything you were doing from 5:00 p.m. on?”
Later Richard would ask why I hadn’t requested the advice of an attorney first, before answering the detective’s questions. But that did not occur to me. I started outlining everything I could remember about the previous night. Detective Pry encouraged me with more questions. “Do you know what the charges are, Pat?” he finally asked.
“No, I don’t.” I waited tensely for him to tell me.
“There are several, including sodomy, molesting a child, and copulation with a minor. ” He waited for a reaction from me. When there was none, he went on. “How long have you and Richard been together?”
“Two years, sir,” I said.
“And how long have you been in San Diego?”
“And you’ve lived on the boat all that time?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“Have you and Richard ever engaged in anal sex?” he questioned me.
Tentatively, I asked, “Do I have to answer all of your questions, Mr. Pry? I’d like to go now.”
"Oh, you can answer as many questions as you like,” he said congenially. “But I only want to help you. Obviously, what’s happened has little to do with you. Richard is a bad man. We’d like to see justice served. If he is really telling the truth, the court will find him innocent. But frankly, Pat, I don’t believe Richard is telling the truth.”
I looked down at my shoes. I had believed Richard was innocent, even with all the facts of the matter lined up like shooting ducks, spelling his guilt. Richard couldn’t have done anything as serious as the charges now brought against him.
“Can I go now?” I asked, standing up.
“Sure,” Detective Pry said, standing and clasping my hands. “But if you remember anything else important, give me a call anytime, day or night.”
“Okay,” I said as I left his office.
My most pressing need was to see Richard and find out what he had really done. As luck would have it, the office building where I was working housed two law offices. On the day after my interview with Detective Pry, I retained the services of Vincent Siefker, the youngest-looking attorney I’d ever seen, who wore stifflooking flannel three-piece suits. Vincent had enough pull with someone at the jail, who let me in to see Richard that same day, Thursday, even though visiting hours were on Sundays only.
Richard didn’t look any too happy at the other side of the filthy, two-inch-thick bulletproof window with bars. He and I spoke to each other via telephones. I noticed he’d lost some weight, maybe five pounds. His face looked drawn and agitated, not so arrogant. “Richard, what happened on the boat? Why were you arrested?” I asked him.
“Nothing. Nothing happened. Me and the kid were playing around a little, that’s all. But nothing else. We didn’t get any further than pulling off our pants and just looking at each other. I swear,” he told me.
I said nothing.
“Do you think you could put some money in a jail fund under my name, love?” Richard begged.
I nodded mutely.
“The bail was $4500 but is now $10,000 because the judge thought I might sail away on my boat. You could mention .to the lawyer that you were present, Pat, when this occurrence was supposed to be happening,” Richard eyed me.
I digested his lie. “Are you all right?” I asked him. “Has anyone tried to hurt you?”
“Only the cops,” he laughed miserably. “They threatened to knock my teeth down my throat and knock me through a wall. I don’t know what statement I made to them but I retract everything because it was forced out of me. How are you, love?” he asked.
“Oh, fine. I’m meeting new people and enjoying my job,” I told him. I did not mention any details, such as the hitchhiking I had begun to do one day when I didn’t have a quarter for the bus. I certainly did not want to mention an upcoming dinner date with his attorney.
“That’s good, love,” he said. Our time was up. We had only had a half hour. There was more I wanted to find out but it would have to wait until the next time.
When I saw him Sunday, two weeks later, he was more glum than I’d yet seen him. He slumped dejectedly in his faded blue work shirt, and he had to keep hitching up his blue jeans; he had lost about five or ten more pounds. He tried to smile but ended up scowling instead. I was sorry he did not seem to be in a more receptive mood, because of the news I intended to give him. “I’ve had a chance to think about this, Richard. It’s really hard for me to say, but I don’t think you and I are meant to live together.”
He spoke into the black telephone, which was probably ridden with hepatitis germs. “Are you sure it’s not just the strain of me being here and this whole felony thing?”
When I shook my head, he looked down at his hands. Then he spat, "That’s fine for you to say, out there. But I’m in here; there’s nothing I can do about it, nothing I can do to convince you.” Richard stood up and wouldn’t look at me. He dropped the telephone back onto its hook and walked to the hallway leading back to his cell. He never glanced back. It was the last time I saw him.
Vincent scrambled to get two of the charges against Richard removed completely and to have bail lowered. “Richard could be out of jail any time in maybe the next two weeks,” Vincent told me. “Do you know if he has any money? He hasn’t paid me a thing yet.”
One day Vincent gave me news that Richard might be out of jail in a week. “Richard asked me not to tell you he was getting out until a few days after he was already out,” Vincent said. “Don’t worry,” he added when he saw the shocked look on my face. “I don’t think he’d do anything stupid. He’ll be on parole and very closely watched. If he did anything dumb now, it would be back in the can for him.”
Richard had been in jail for one month and ten days when he was released. Within this time I was able to move off his boat into a small apartment of my own in East San Diego. I had an unlisted telephone number and did not think Richard could track down my new address. However, he knew where I worked and I jumped every time the phone in the office would ring, though he never called me.
It was not easy to forget Richard after being with him for so long. What bothered me most was never having known him at all. I never went to visit my friends at Mission Bay Marina because I did not want to run into Richard. But a friend of mine who kept his schooner at the marina sometimes took me out for pizza at Marino’s and would bring me up to date with news about Richard. “Your friend,” as he would refer to Richard, “is now seeing a tattooed lady who looks even meaner than he does. I hear they ’re planning to sail to Hawaii together. ”
About the contest
Appearing in this issue are four of the seven articles selected for cash prizes — the second-award winner and three honorable mentions. Next week’s issue will feature the two remaining honorable mentions and the first-award winner. Pending authors’ approval and the availability of space, the Reader will publish in December several more contest entries.
A total of 226 submissions were received, 164 of which were written by women. The great majority of articles were written in the first person and ranged in length from three to nine double-spaced, typewritten pages; forty-three were two pages or less, and thirteen were handwritten.
The most popular topic (sixty-six entries) was the recounting of some personal experience that took place in San Diego, with positive experiences only slightly favored over negative ones. Thirty-seven people wrote about personalities — well-known, well-loved, well-remembered — including a fire walker, a reformed prostitute, Charles Lindbergh, the Great Gildersleeve, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Pat Nixon. Other popular subjects were impressions of San Diego by new arrivals, encounters with the police and judicial system (drunken driving accounting for several), beloved pets, life-threatening adventures, matters of the heart (four of which dealt with affairs resulting from newspaper classified advertisements), incidents at work or school, and incidents while riding San Diego Transit buses. Five people were the victims of burglars, four wrote about supernatural experiences, two discussed their attempts at suicide, andLfour their attempts at running a marathon. Ten people submitted poems (not eligible) and one described his life in a Soviet prison camp (not San Diego).
We sincerely thank everyone who participated in this competition.