Tuesday, June 26, 2007

This Guy, Jeff

How strange is it when someone you don't know except by sight completely dominates your day? I found this out yesterday, when Dug's friend Jeff appeared three times in conversation before finally showing up in the flesh at Taqueria Can-Cun for a late dinner. I don't even know this guy, to the point where I sat three feet from him at Taqueria Can-Cun and didn't even feel comfortable waving "hello," and yet, there he was, showing up repeatedly in my Monday.

Jeff was the guy matching Dug's casual hipness the day I demonstrated my complete and utter lack of street cred by yanking my Volvo over to the curb, bursting out in my Banana Republic garb and then babbling like an idiot at a guy I hadn't seen in 10 years. While this all went on, Jeff stood a safe distance away, probably silently lamenting the fact that his neighborhood, which he moved into 15 years ago when it was one of the most remote outposts of the city, was now crawling with perky, bald yuppies in Volvos.

That day I gave Jeff a little wave, as I did remember him as one of Dug's core friends 15 years ago. One night at 2 a.m., Dug, Jeff and I sat in a place that I now realize was probably Walter Haas park, in my own neighborhood, and looked own at the city. Yesterday, I gave him plenty of my time, but no wave.

It began in the morning, as I drove the Jawa to day camp. This week he has camp, which explains why I am sitting here in workout clothes, trying to erase the damage I did to my aging body last week, when he did not have camp. We were listening to KUSF, which we seldom do because it normally plays very challenging music from Afghanistan that we'd probably enjoy a whole lot more were we not narrow-minded bourgeois Americans.

This time they were playing a local old-time band called the Crooked Jades (I would have linked to their home page at www.crookedjades.com, where you can see a photo of Jeff in his bluegrass guy gear, except blogger is not linking right now, which I blame on my laptop, of course), who, I'd read recently, were back in town to do prerecording on their new album before going to Germany for some shows. Jeff is the leader of the Crooked Jades, which explains why he is also the guy who sometimes sits in front of the coffee place playing bluegrass music.

"Hey," I said to the Jawa, "remember that time we pulled over and I talked to that guy I knew from college?"

"Yeah?"

"Remember the guy who was standing with him?"

"No?"

"I just read about him yesterfday, and now he's on the radio. Isn't that weird. We saw him, and here he is, on the radio. He lives in our neighborhood."

I'm not sure the Jawa got into the weirdness of the vibe. He did not know that our Jeff-centric day was to continue.

To be fair, it was more of a Jeff-centric 24 hours, since I'd read of him Sunday, then heard him on the radio Monday. This made two Jeff intrusions into my life in less than a day, and honestly came after about a month of wondering where the guy was, once I figured out that a) he lived above the hardware store a block away from us and b) he was the guy playing old-time music in front of the coffee place.

Now I had my answer. He'd been on the road.

A few hours later, I was talking to Markie, long-distance. Before moving to Boston to volunteer for 1992 presidential candidate Paul Tsongas, Markie was a San Franciscan and an intimate member of Dug's social circle, which included Jeff, plus Rick the Barbarian, who later became the soulful, wildly successful folk singer Richard Buckner.

As you can infer, Dug's friends ended up with so much street cred that extra quarts of it sit in the back of their closets, like where we keep those tennis rackets we bought last year, thinking tennis would make a good family activity.

Markie will be leaving for Iraq in October, so I'm trying to organize a get-together for him out here on his beloved West Coast. I told him I saw Dug recently, and then about the recent Jeff-ness of my life. "...and when I saw him with Dug," I related, "he was wearing jeans, work boots, an old dress shirt, and a vintage sport coat. So bluegrass."

Markie laughed. "That is so bluegrass. Was the sportcoat brown?"

Indeed, it was.

As it was several hours later, when Ken Dunque and I filed into Taqueria Can-Cun for a late evening dose of Mission Mexican food. I thought we were there because Dunque's first choice, La Mexicana on 25th street, was closed. Now I realize that we'd been drawn into Jeff's immense gravitational pull. We were powerless, just as I was powerless in my attempts to not order any food, especially once Dunque offered to buy.

So I sat there, mesmerized. What a climax to my Jeff-ish day, to be here, a picnic table away from his actual, brown-sportcoated presence. I wondered if I should say "hi," but knowing that unless I reminded him that I was the idiot in the Volvo, he would only stare at me blankly, wondering if maybe I was a particularly rabid Crooked Jades fan, even a stalker, I kept my mouth shut.

And I'm not, by the way. A stalker. I like the Crooked Jades fine, though my tastes run more to honky-tonk than old-time. I did not consciously try to fill my Monday with Jeff readings, live radio shows, discussions and taqueria sightings. Normally, if I'm going to obsess over someone I don't know, it'll be someone more like the woman in the pink baseball cap who honked at me twice from her Range Rover this morning while I was waiting to make a left turn onto Tennessee Valley Road. That sort of obsession makes sense to me.

I'll bet Jeff doesn't even have a car. He's that cool. If he does have one, it's either an old pickup truck or a Ford Fairlane.

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