Just passing through
If my visit to see my friend, Ben, had been a scene in a movie, it would have taken place entirely in the kitchen. Well, no. First, you would have seen me driving through the winding back roads that connect Sonoma to Cotati, a 20-mile stretch that I drew out into nearly an hour and a half, bypassing the more traveled Hwy 116 in favor of thoroughfares that had no numbers, because they were so small, taking turns that were so sharp, you almost had to come a complete stop to navigate them. Winding past vineyard after vineyard that basked in the late afternoon sun, the white light hitting the tops of the green leaves only to shoot through on the other side as golden rays from a prism, the camera would have been panning out the entire time to reveal the countryside from above in all of its sprawling glory, an amazing technicolor dreamcoat draped over the hills and valleys. Then you would have seen the abrupt transition into civilization, the light suddenly as blue as a back alley, mixed with the glare of the stoplights and the traffic and the parking lots, one of which I would pull into, and then the shot would cut to me, wandering the fluorescent-lit aisles of a small-town liquor store, looking passively at the shelves and shelves of wine, and I would suddenly be on the phone talking to Ben, asking if he wanted beer or wine, red or white, and he would recommend a local organic blend that he discovered recently, but I would not find that one and I would instead settle on something else from the area and then I would be turning left and right, the camera at street level inside the car as I navigated neighborhood streets, past square lawns and rectangular homes, until I found his, parking on the curb before walking up the path with Rennie, the bottle of wine in its bag under my arm, the same arm holding Rennie’s leash, and then Ben would come to the gate and open it just as I was approaching, and I would be meeting Ben for the first time, because he is my sister’s friend and has been since the mid-90s, when they were both going to all-night raves, but we had never met till this moment, and just as we would be going in for the greeting, two large dogs would run out past Ben and Rennie would bolt, ripping my arm in one direction and releasing the bottle from its cradle against my body, and you would hear the muffled crunch of glass breaking as it hit the driveway and you would see the brown paper turn dark like a blood-stained rag, and you would not smell it but you might know that the air suddenly filled with the acrid smell of fermented grapes. And then you would hear me say with a chagrined laugh, “Well, nice to meet you.”
The wine got replaced. Ben and I walked around the corner to the local grocery store and he waited outside with Rennie while I picked out a different blend, maybe even a better one, and then I noticed some local cheeses from nearby Petaluma, so I added that to the bill, and then we walked back to the house, an ample place that forms a U with a central courtyard tucked into the crook and a large backyard directly across from it, just over the living room that connects this household of six that happily shares its space with outsiders. The night I was there, two Australian CouchSurfers were in town, and they were going to make spaghetti alla carbonara for everyone, once they got back from sightseeing in San Francisco, and the night before that, two of Ben’s friends had dropped in unannounced on their way back to Oakland, and there had apparently been a cheerful, impromptu party surrounding their visit.
But the part I was talking about earlier, the scene in the kitchen, was what was so priceless. Picture Ben and I standing at the counter across from the sink, and we each have a glass of wine in our hands and there is a spread of local artisan cheeses, in addition to the two I had bought, and we don’t move from that position for an hour and a half as we talk about everything from a tour route he had just plotted out for his parents’ upcoming visit, to the people we know in common back in Athens, Ga., to being transient and how Ben has finally settled and how I am yearning to do so myself, to a cross-country biking trip he took several years ago, to the open people you meet on the road and the barriers people can put up in their everyday existence, to the lovely life he has discovered in California since leaving Georgia, to making homemade kombucha. And we are just sort of leaning against the cabinets, rather than sitting, while the level in the bottle is gradually shrinking and shrinking, and then, here’s the key part: in the background, coming from the sofa just beyond the wall, plays an acoustic Crosby-Stills-and-Nash-esque version of The Cure’s “Friday I’m in Love,” over and over and over again as housemates Tom (or maybe it’s Thom) and Sarah (I don’t think it’s Sara) practice it, Tom strumming on the guitar and Sarah singing, trying to get a version they like to play in public.
And it is not annoying; I don’t mean to say that at all. It is, to be clear, comical and in the best possible meaning of the word, because it so wonderfully sums up the mood in the house: relaxed, easy tolerance and accepting love.
The next morning, as Ben and Sarah and I left the house at the same time, Ben and Sarah stopped at the door to look at the motionless, snoring lump on the sofa that had apparently appeared at some point after we had all gone to bed.
“Who is that?” one of them whispered to the other, who shrugged in reply.
Just another nomad in the night.