I let this encounter bounce around in my mind for a week before I put the first word up on the screen of my laptop. At about this time 2:20pm PDT last Friday, I was coming off the freeway after a five hundred mile trip from Ontario in San Bernardino County to San Francisco. Eight hours on the road mostly on the Interstate 5 North running at 75-80mph through the monotony of the Central Valley of California can put some wear and tear on the saggy boney butt of an old white dude. This aged condition requires a pit stop every two or three hours and it was at Santa Nella that I made the exit to find a bathroom at the tourist trap called Pea Soup Andersen’s Restaurant and house of overpriced trinkets.
After some bladder relief and a quick splash of water on my tired eyes and face, I wandered back out into the gift shop/lobby of Andersen’s and perused the bounty of mostly stupid stuff. I was looking for a silk rose or something that I could present to Sirenita Lake when I arrived at her house in San Francisco. If she was up for a visit, it was the least I could do to bring a small token of esteem. There were all kinds of crap all over the place, but no silk flowers that I could see and the candy and other stuff just wasn’t right. Then I ran across a gaudy over-priced pendant with a crystal glass dolphin which inspired me to search for a mermaid. After all Sirenita is the mermaid of the lake. In my mind I was looking for something like this:
But other than elaborate overpriced angels there was nothing like that around, until I ran across something like this:
The one I chose for Sirenita is almost a twin sister which had a glittery sequined rainbow tail: perfect! So I took my little doll and lined up at the register behind an older gentleman with a large hammered copper sheet sculpture of a wind mill. He was with his wife and another couple in their 70’s who were wandering in and out of the register line with lots of smiles and loud laughter at really bad jokes. They were just the kind of older AARP Republican folk with too much time and money who give America’s senior citizens a bad name. I restrained my impulse to crush their skulls and refrained from screaming while I patiently waited.
Eventually the gentleman with the wind mill plopped the thing on the tiny counter and was informed by the cashier that he couldn’t purchase the assembled floor model. She locked the register and returned it to its proper display position and disappeared for five minutes, while I considered tossing a ten dollar bill on the counter and walking out the door, but except for the C-note in my wallet, I was short on cash sooooo… I waited! Eventually she returned with the cardboard Made in China box and for a mere $122.68 the AARP dude got his copper wind mill (Some assembly required.).
From Santa Nella I followed the signs to North 101 and exited in San Francisco at Caesar Chavez as per the inverse of my Google maps print out and quickly found Sirenita’s house and miracle of miracles an un-metered parking spot directly across the street from her address!! I called her number on my new used cell phone and after screwing around to remember that I needed to 1 and the area code because that’s just the way Verizon does things, her husband picked up. I introduced myself and asked to speak to Sirenita. As luck would have it she was just out of the shower and wrapped in a towel. “Hi James, where are you?” she asked. “I’m parked across the street about thirty feet from your garage door,” I replied. This proximity flustered the mermaid, who exclaimed, “Jeez I was hoping for a bit more warning.”
I apologized and complained about the traffic, so she sent nanatehay down to open the gate. I climbed out of my beat up 1991 Nissan Pathfinder and before I could lock up, cross the street and push the button, the “n-man” appeared at the top of the stairs.
With nanatehay what you see is what you get.
nana buzzed me in and in less than the time it takes to shake hands and say Hello, good to meet you, we were inside the entryway of Sirenita’s house and I was introducing myself to her husband who offered tea or water. Her husband, who I’ll call Robert because in some strange way he reminded me of Robert Altman, was busy on-line with his job-job so he left me and nana to entertain one another in the living room, while Sirenita made herself ready for company. I took a seat in a wonderfully comfortable overstuffed leather chair and we sipped water and chatted one another up about my trip to LA and the recent stuff that’s been going up at Open Salon. In a few minutes Sirenita arrived, sat on the arm of the chair and welcomed me to her home.
It was then that I reached down next to my right thigh and pulled out the Little Mermaid doll. Serinita was surprised and genuinely delighted because the brown yarn that served as hair for the doll was almost exactly the same color of her curly hair. nana quickly found his camera and the photography began. Shots of the smiling Serinita and her new doll, followed by shots of Serinita and her doll hugging me, followed by more shots of the doll carefully posed among other stuffed animals on a pillow on the couch; nana was a man on a mission to completely capture the moment.
We talked over around and through the next half hour or so, while Sirenita sipped her herbal tea and nana did his thing with the camera. We talked about San Francisco. We talked about Mark Twain’s first time living and trying to find work in San Francisco: One of the coldest winters I can remember was a summer I lived in San Francisco.
We talked about her posts on Open Salon. We talked about the “dust ups” that got everybody wrapped up around the axel with the exposure of multiple identities and accounts to boost ratings and comments. We talked about Jan Sand, Jonathan Wolfman and Libby Liberal. We talked about what we all had in common; but as I recall very little was said about cancer or dying; which we left largely unspoken amongst some solid laughter.
Early on I expressed surprise to discover that Sirenita was only four years younger than me. With her dark curly hair, pleasant smile and smooth skin I said that she looked to me to be in her forties, a remark that brought a laugh and a big smile and perhaps just a hint of a girlish blush. I would have made surreptitious notes, as I’m normally wont to do, but I had forgotten to bring a pen so all of this comes from the uneven and often unreliable terrain of my disintegrating grey matter. Besides, it just somehow didn’t seem to be the right thing to do.
Serinita was having a really good day and announced that she felt like going for a walk. Four circuits around a neighborhood park was a solid mile, so while she pulled on her hiking boots and nana packed up his camera bag and tripod, I went down to the Pathfinder to retrieve my ugly lime green down jacket. I really didn’t need the damn thing but in San Francisco you never know from one hour to the next when the temperature might drop twenty degrees.
I moved the Pathfinder about five feet forward to make room for someone else to park. Open street parking in San Francisco is hard to find and the least you can do is not hog two spots. By the time I finished and locked the beast, nana and Sirenita had joined me and we were off down the block to the park where nana set up the tripod so that he could do the automatic shutter thing and make a picture of the three of us together.
Serinita wanted to keep moving, because standing still was a strain on her reserves and walking actually took less energy. So she and I set off while nana packed up the camera and tripod. Alone with her for the first time, the tenor of our conversation shifted and we nibbled around the edges of the unspoken realities. We started to talk about our parents who died from Alzheimer’s, and shared a bit about the trials and tribulations of that common experience. I’m not sure how much we spoke about the time we both had left. I know that barring some unforeseen massive stroke or accident, that if I stay on top of my Diabetes II I’ve probably got at least another decade before my brain goes south, another fifteen years if I’m lucky. Sirenita’s prognosis is much more dire, but again I didn’t feel right about probing into that shadowy prospect.
Soon nana joined us and we walked about another quarter mile before he peeled off to stop by a neighborhood store to pick up some smokes and iced tea. I could see that Sirenita was running out of gas, so I asked if she was up for another circumnavigation of the park or should we head back to the house. She voted to go home but realized that she left her keys at the house. We walked the short distance to the gate and she pushed the buzzer so that Robert would let us in. Once inside, he grinned as he ceremoniously presented her with her key ring. With an open invitation to return, I took that opportunity to bid them adieu and went downstairs to Pathfinder. nana was walking up the street so I crossed back to shake hands and say good-bye and then I started up the beast and set out to find my way to the Golden Gate Bridge.
I knew that I needed to head north; but working with forty five year old memories of the streets of San Francisco, that turned out to be something of a challenge in rush hour traffic. It took me a solid hour and some help from a few residents to find my way. Finally I turned left on Lombard Street and after a quick stop for some gas, I made my way home. The trip from SoCal had taken just a bit less than twelve hours. I was exhausted but I had the pleasure of the company of a pair of magical mermaids and experienced the miracle of street parking on a sunny afternoon in San Francisco.
Driving north over the Golden Gate the low sunlight sparkling on the bay was spectacular!
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