Thursday, October 19, 2006

Surprise Visit

Lately it seems that Sandra Bullock, the Jawa and I have become the cliched "family on the go" we swore never to be. Or rather, I swore never to be. I'm not sure S. Bullock does much "swearing never to be," and the Jawa is pretty much open to anything.

I take no pride in being the family on the go, nor do I abhor it as a version of the loathesome sell-out I feared for so long ... until I realized that I was giving it away for free. Waiting tables in your twenties so you can brag about not being one of those chumps who wears a tie to work, and then being required to wear a tie to wait tables will lead you easily to that conclusion.

For the family on the go, each element of its carefully planned schedule must go as anticipated, or else the family on the go becomes the family in chaos. Yesterday, our schedule was interrupted in a good way, by a surprise visit from my old Seattle volleyball pals, the Sports Guys. They were in the middle (literally) of a Seattle-to-Ensanada cruise and had the day in San Francisco. "We're here until 9 pm," they said.

I began working our schedule. I could easily pick up the Jawa at Hip-Hop dance class, then pick up the Sports Guys, giving them time to do the shopping they so love, have Sandra Bullock meet us somewhere and have dinner, then deposit them back at their boat by 9 pm.

Except that Shack would need dinner and a walk, and, oops! Sandra Bullock had a basketball game at 7 pm. So she was out.

I picked up the Jawa, called the Sports Guys and found they had already had dinner. My plan to take them to a place in Noe Valley with the Jawa after swinging by the house and giving Shack dinner fell completely apart.

"Okay," I told them, thinking quickly while simultaneously turning right towards home rather than going straight towards Union Square. "I'm going to take the Jawa home, leave him with Sandra Bullock. Then I'll get on BART and come downtown."

"Well, we should be at the boat by 8:45, and it's at Pier 39."

So the relaxing part -- me on BART -- vanished. Instead, the Jawa and I drove home, fed Shack, and wondered what we'd do for dinner. "DAD!" shouted my resourceful son, "WE HAVE LUCKY CHARMS!"

Two bowls of Lucky Charms later, we stood waiting for S. Bullock to honk the horn, remove the Jawa, and leave me to drive downtown to meet the Sports Guys. BART was out. At the last minute, Bullock decided to come upstairs, but not until I got her a water bottle and towel and put them into a bag that wasn't where she said it would be.

At 6:45, I finally left. "I THOUGHT YOU WERE TAKING BART!" Shouted a slightly annoyed S. Bullock as I got into my car. "No, I'm going to drive to save time!"

I met the Sports Guys, plus Mike from Denver whom they'd befriended on the boat, in front of Old Navy downtown. I had to pull into the cutout because everyone behind me was angry that I had the nerve to slow down to a crawl on Market Street. Now that I think about it, I don't blame them.

"We have one more errand," announced the soothing, Dad-like member of the Sports Guys. We had to pick up the Intimidator, former coach and setter on our volleyball team. The Intimidator is an angry guy and the kind of coach from whom silence is considered a compliment. He moved down here a few years ago and I have not seen him, have not wanted to see him. He makes me too nervous, too intimidated. Though facially he closely resembles the professionally casual Darius Rucker, of Hootie and the Blowfish, the Intimidator is anything but laid-back.

So we drove around and finally stopped in front of the Intimidator's place of work, and waited. And waited. Finally, he came out.

Eventually, we landed at the very appropriate Rogue Ales Brewery in North Beach, because I found a parking spot. And I remembered how much I missed the Sports Guys, and how much I miss playing volleyball and being part of a team. They'd just finished second in the Portland tournament, which is pretty good for a bunch of guys pushing or past 40.

I loved those tournaments, loved traveling to weekend tournaments with the Sports Guys and the rest of our team, and eventually built most of my Seattle social life around them. I've never felt more accepted -- and had S. Bullock and theJawa more unconditionally accepted -- than I was while playing NAGVA (North American Gay Volleyball Association) volleyball with the Sports Guys.

So hanging out with them, and Mike from Denver, and even the Intimidator, provided a good break from our rigid family schedule.

After we dropped the Sports Guys and Mike from Denver at the boat, I was left alone to drive the Intimidator home. And he talked. He has had it with San Francisco, he told me, and though he lives in the heart of the Castro, he seldom goes out. He takes the bus, along with every freaky, aggressive, racist idiot in the City, to work. He still works out, but he's gained weight.

I dropped him off at his apartment, and he thanked me, said we should go catch a Warriors game sometime. He can get tickets. I watched him walking to his apartment, where he hoped his roommate was gone for the evening, and drove myself home, relieved to be free of the tension I felt around him.

I was thinking about the Intimidator today. I thought about how angry I was last night, sitting outside the rental car agency he works at, watching him take his time as he shut down the office. "He knows we're out here," I thought at the time, "but he's going to take his sweet time, to show us that he's still in control."

Twenty-four hours later, I had a different take.

The Intimidator is 42 years old. He's single, works at a rental car agency, doesn't go out, and has been battling H.I.V for many years. He wants to leave his hometown because the people in it are driving him crazy. He's opinionated and abrasive, and happiness, when it does come, shows itself as something forced and artificial.

And with several years and twelve hours time to reflect, I saw the Intimidator in a new light. The guy is just trying to hang onto some dignity, whether things are going well or not. I thought about him methodically shutting down that rental car office while we sat out there, and realized it wasn't about making us wait, it was about holding onto his dignity while a bunch of his friends sat outside and waited for him to finish work.

You know what, Intimidator? It worked. Your are plenty of things, and a good deal of them rub me the wrong way, but you are a dignified man. Everything else can disappear, but you'll still have that.

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