Mod Mark Goes to War
It took three days, but by my third day in Santa Monica, I was beginning to assimilate. By then, however, my self-esteem was completely shot.
I'd been having the vivid dreams of a feverish Malaria victim all weekend. On Sunday, I dreamed that a guy with no arms or legs had asked me to take some papers out to his car. I stepped out his front door and immediately fell into a deep mudhole.
But by Monday, at least, I'd tossed my running shoes aside in favor of some flip-flops, and was wearing a tighter t-shirt than usual. In this manner I fit in. Sort of.
On Sunday afternoon, a few hours after everyone but the Big Apple and I had left, I stood on the corner of The Promenade and Arizona Street, caught in a weird triangulation of a rapper, a violinist, and a homeless guy whose diatribes against Jews and Gentiles eventually devolved into non-stop swearing. At one point, a Lubivitcher canvasser approached me. "Are you a Jewish man?" he asked.
His eyes brightened. It was Sukkot, and he was holding some vegetation. He asked me something in Hebrew. Just now the Jawa informed me that the vegetation he was holding was a Lulav and an Etrov. As a Jew, I still need work.
Which point was driven home Saturday night, when the Big Apple suddenly introduced eight L.A. women that he knew to our formerly all-male group. We'd been sitting at two tables outside our plush suite, soaking up Santa Monica and paying tribute to Mod Markie, who will be going off to Iraq in December. This was the second night of tribute, and we'd found an awesome groove. The high school friends had seamlessly blended with the college friends. The sports guys were allowed to watch sports; the art guys received their fill of art. The sun worshippers went back to the hotel and got all Zen on us, lying by the pool.
The Big Apple is good at knowing people. He's kind of like an indie movie Man About Town. All weekend he ran into people he knew, which was strange, since he lives in New York. So on Saturday night, after several hours of sitting at our tables, these women showed up, and one took heated exception to my explanation that my child attends "Jew school."
"You're ghettoizing yourself!" she fumed.
Three hours later I was walking down Wilshire Boulevard with Uncle Sam, Dug and our friend the American Original, who carried a box of flowers he'd stolen from a nearby wedding. It was past midnight and we were 42 years old, and no one wanted the flowers. All of us, save for Dug, had been in the same fraternity, along with the Big Apple, Mod Markie and Come Fly With Me, back at Santa Clara University. Dug, as regular readers will know, managed a few months ago to forgive me for blasting out of my Volvo at top yuppie speed when I hadn't seen him in 15 years.
As it turned out, the yuppie part hadn't registered, thank God. And in fact, over the course of our weekend, it turned out that Dug, among the crowd, could most easily identify with my job-needing, starving artist/writer vibe. Even though I often wore a baseball cap and shorts.
So we all met up Friday, me telling everyone who'd listen that I had no idea what to expect from the weekend. I was smashing some disparate personalities together, and we had the college vs. high school issues as well. I'd been trying to make Saturday a blowout and already knew that wasn't going to happen. What would we do? Sit around at tables and drink all day? Watch football in a bar, mixed in among throngs of tall, thin guys in bootcut jeans, flip-flops and oversized sunglasses? Sit around some more and argue with strange women? Force guys who don't really know each other to share hotel rooms?
Yes, yes, yes and yes.
By Saturday morning, my fears had lessened. I was staying with the Big Apple, and he was on EST, so we were the first ones awake. We went down to the suite at 10 and knocked. Soon, the American Original met us at the door. He'd arrived late Friday night, and had no qualms about answering the door wearing only a pair of very small shorts. And for all of his mysticism, the guy was in great shape, which left me in a state of awestruck irritation.
We went in. The room was dark. Dug and Come Fly With Me were still lying in their beds, asleep. Empty beer bottles littered the room. It was a tableau more fitting for men half our age, but it somehow calmed me. I had no worries. Everyone was going to get along.
So we sat there, waiting for Mod Mark and the Arcadia boys to arrive, and I watched the Original get dressed, my interest growing as he added clothing, each piece a little bit more outrageous than the last.
He started with a pair of tan shorts, which was normal enough, but then accessorized them with a huge brown belt. Then came a bright green t-shirt with the sleeves cut off, a pair of beige dress socks, and some shoes with Chinese writing inside them. I shook my head in appreciation.
A word about the American Original. He showed up at Santa Clara when we were sophomores as a transfer from UC Davis. He was from Grass Valley, up in the Sierra foothills, and rode a Honda Supersport 400. He wore little round glasses and had a large seashell dangling from a necklace around his neck.
Over the years, the Original has drifted in and out of my life, which I understand, as I am sure I am one of the less interesting people in his world. Right now he lives just a few miles from us, but I hardly ever see him, which is my loss.
On Saturday night, a few hours before I was browbeaten for being a lousy Jew, the Original and I had a great conversation about how much we love people whose freakiness goes unadvertised.
There are very few of these people in Los Angeles.
By Sunday, I'd laughed so much that my face hurt. The weird combo of people had gelled into non-stop comedy. Best of all, Mod Mark seemed to be having a great time. That morning, we woke up, dragged an unshowered, bed-headed, still-wearing-the-shorts-and-t-shirt-he'd-slept-in Come Fly With Me out of bed, sorted through the wreckage, and went to have brunch, weirdly enough, at a Mexican restaurant.
By now everyone was comfortable with each other. As a sports guy, I'd particularly enjoyed the Arcadia boys' encyclopedic sports knowledge, and their eager willingness to watch college football and drink beer at noon on a Saturday. I also liked that they suddenly imported a guy whose father was the legendary Spanish-language Dodgers broadcaster Jaime Jarrin.
We ate our breakfast burritos and checked out the waitresses. Everyone wore sunglasses. Then we walked back to the hotel one more time.
People were getting ready to leave, Mod Mark among them. We stood in a circle in a spot where yesterday there had been a wedding. Mark felt he needed to make a little speech, so he told us how much he'd appreciated our showing up, and how he'd be thinking of this weekend while he was in Iraq. We stood there for awhile and did the math: he'd be shipping out in December, and would be in-country for 270 days. So in around 400 days, he'd go back to his normal life as an accountant for Price-Waterhouse in Boston. Like Uncle Sam, he'd go back to being a weekend warrior.
And then there was a little pause. I was standing next to the Original, who'd been so good and kept his rantings about wanting to "shoot Mark in both feet, so he can't go," to himself, or within the hidden confines of the suite, out of earshot. But right now I could feel the air go out of him, and in fact just about every person in the circle, one by one. And I thought, "I am 42 years old, and this is the first time I've ever seen a friend off to war."
I remembered one time, sophomore year, when our dorm floor put on a dance. Halfway through, I elbowed my way up to the DJ and put on some song, I don't know which one, but something Two/Tone or Mod. Someone said, "This one is for our own Mod Mark!" who, I must add, was then and remains today the best dancer I have ever met.
I don't know. Not the most poignant memory at a time like that, but it's the one I had.
We went back to the room a dazed and quieted group. The Arcadia boys went home. The Original fired up his bio-diesel Jetta and drove Dug and Come Fly With Me to LAX. Only the Big Apple and I stayed over until Monday.
That night, the Big Apple and I had dinner with a women he knew, one of the group that had infiltrated our party Saturday night. She was so SO VERY L.A. and had contacts everywhere. She'd gone to high school with Sean Penn. We went to dessert and the celebrity chef came out to talk to us. And I didn't know this woman at all, but even she said, "It seems weird that the nicest, sweetest guy in your group is the one going to Iraq."
I'm better in print than in person, but the Big Apple managed to skillfully weave a story in which we're in college and he's riding on the back of Markie's Vespa, listening to the wind make a cool flapping noise as it runs through Mark's super-thick hair.
So meanwhile, as we return to our lives and the wreckage that is my checkbook, Mod Markie will be keeping track of his time in a journal that you can find here.
398 days and counting.