Friends on the Move
Twenty-one plus years ago, Little Bake and I are setting up our sophomore year dorm room, when in walks the guy from across the hall. As I am not yet 20, from Southern California and showing off very long pink shorts, I have never seen a person like this before. He is urbane, impeccably dressed, serious, and speaks in the warm tones of the cultured. Using impossibly long strides, he covers the room in three steps, then grabs my box of Cheez-Its from my desk and starts shoving them in his mouth five at a time.
Six months later, now Fraternity brothers, this same guy teaches me how to open a Macy's charge account to get the Perry Ellis sweater I coveted, though I have (as usual) no cash. Sometime around then, he shows me how to be drunk with style, one night dramatically throwing a glass into the fireplace at the Fraternity house just for kicks.
Imagine, as a clueless and mostly classless Orange County kid, the impact that this Peter O'Toole-alike from San Francisco can have. But wait, it gets better.
Three months after we graduate from college, Peter O'Toole marries his girlfriend, Princess Grace. They stand untouchable, well above the fray, glamorous homeowners in Marin's most glamorous city at 22 as I move to Seattle, take up residence in the basement of a crack house, and begin a long, dreadful career as a waiter.
They come to Seattle in 1989. I have two clear memories of that visit. One is Princess Grace refusing to enter my crackhouse apartment because it smells awful. The other is sitting at a table with O'Toole, Princess Grace and my suddenly very young-seeming girlfriend at the time.
Many years pass. I recover from Seattle, move to San Francisco and meet the very efficient and down-to-earth S. Bullock. We schedule a meeting with O'Toole and Grace, me thinking that there is no way on this earth that my regular gal will have anything in common with the couple I've come to think of as my version of royalty.
To my shock, the (I later realized) unintimidatable S. Bullock immediately takes to the royal pair and they shortly become our favorite people in the entire five county area.
But we move back to Seattle.
I am here to tell you today that we would not have moved back to San Francisco if not for Peter O'Toole and Princess Grace. And that if not for the Jawa, they would not have their own lovable little twin moppets. I don't know, something happened. We all found a wide, comfortable wonderful middle ground. And then, when we moved back to San Francisco, we welcomed others into it. Ours became a good, almost magical place, something like the surface of Updike only with even more good stuff in the subtext.
Last night we all gathered at the tasteful, comfortable home of O'Toole and Grace, to wish them luck on their move to New Jersey. Seems that O'Toole, who -- if you'd never seen him shoving Cheez-Its into his mouth or wearing a tattered baseball cap -- would seem to have been born wearing a subdued, well-fitting business suit, has finally outgrown our small city and is being recalled to the New York metropolitan area.
So we all sat in a giant bubble of denial on their deck, looking out at Tiburon and the bay, with Berkeley in the distance, eating pizza, watching our kids do insane dances, which is something we do often, at each others' homes, or yearly for a three-day weekend at Stinson Beach. We debated whether they'd return, the odds of native Californians surviving just one New Jersey winter. And what the rest of us would do with our splintered group, now that our crown prince and princess were gone. Of course, we'll manage. In the past six years, we've become a tight unit, able to survive the loss of a couple of team members.
This is strange. Usually we're the ones who leave. As I wrote recently, time passes and you don't see the people you want to see. Things creep up on you. Months go by and you don't see anyone, even though you mean to. As I write this, we've got a line-up of people we're trying to schedule stuff with.
And yet, somehow, you manage to fit in the things you'll remember. A few weeks ago I drove through the bubble of denial into Tiburon, where I had an open house. It was a condo, and when I stood on the deck, I could see O'Toole and Grace's house, clinging to the side of a hill. I could also see the street where we take the kids trick-or-treating, the pool we take them to, the grocery store where we stop and buy a six-pack on our way up the hill every time we come over.
On my way home from the open house, I ran into O'Toole. He was driving behind me, so we pulled over and talked, and I laid on him my shock at how awful it felt to have them leaving. "We probably wouldn't have moved back down here if it wasn't for you guys," I told him, which wasn't fair. True, but not fair. I left out the part that, even if they never move back here again, it was more than worth it to follow our impulse and come down here.
On that day, I was the one wearing a tie. O'Toole was in his usual casual wear, some gigantic shorts and a tucked-in shirt, along with some sandals that Sandra Bullock could never, in a thousand years, talk me into wearing. There are many people with more in common than Peter O'Toole and I, and certainly with more in common than Princess Grace and Sandra Bullock. But for some reason, it's worked better than most anything I know.
Of course they'll be back. Princess Grace in Jersey?