During which time, in October of 1971 to be exact, a couple of good friends from law school and I – whose birthdays were on three consecutive days -- had our thirtieth birthday celebration together, five years out. With friends and lovers we whooped it up on a beautiful late Indian summer afternoon on a San Francisco pier, with a string quartet, fine wines, champagne, and a tank of helium. As I left, the party was dissolving into evening. Blissfully and utterly smashed, I aimed my old Chevy sedan at Concord through the Caldecott Tunnel. As I approached the tunnel's Oakland entrance I realized I couldn't resolve its multiple, slowly moving images, but I really didn't care. Then I crashed into a concrete wall at the tunnel's entrance, destroying the car and very nearly myself. But characteristically I was lucky, and subsequently I found myself uninjured and resuming my life in Concord with Mark the landscape contractor, his wife Paula, and their baby boy, John.
Mark and Paula had been sweethearts in high school and married two or three years after graduating. In 1972 Baby John was a year old. Papa Mark owned a landscaping business and Paula kept house. Like everyone in Concord aged twenty to twenty-five, Mark and Paula partied a lot and smoked grass. Probably less typically, my housemates practiced Scientology, popped little white Benzedrine tablets for fun and profit, and dabbled in wife-swapping. I say "profit" not because Mark was a dealer – most every doper dealt some -- but because speed tabs were Mark's bottom-line currency for paying his landscaping employees.
I'd stopped programming computers, and I paid my share of the rent by gardening for Mark. And I'm here to testify that bennies made it fun to crawl around planting bushes and trees. But as time passed, I realized that however workable speed-for-wages was in terms of getting the gardening done, Mark's habit wasn't working for his business as a whole. What with the construction boom underway in Concord in 1972, Mark could have made good money just contracting one job and completing it, then contracting another and completing it, and so on, mixing in the bread-and-butter maintenance jobs. But no, Mark always had to be juggling at least three balls at once -- estimating, completing, and maintaining enough different jobs so he wouldn't be dead-heading between estimate sites and work sites; so as not to be wasting time between keeping appointments with prospective customers and getting equipment rentals onto work sites and returned, or between personal visits to home and other visits to his dope connections and numerous friends.
Such is speed that frequently a juggled ball got dropped.
Howsoever, immobilized after wrecking my car, I started building mobiles and hanging them from my bedroom ceiling. More interestingly, Mark and Paula and I started stoning out on bennies, grass, and red wine, nude at night in the light-dimmed living room. The unclothed part was new to me. Moreover, I'd lusted for Paula from the first time I saw her. Although my attraction to Paula never became blatant in our evening stoner sessions, I knew Mark was hyper-aware of it. But to all appearances, Mark was oblivious to my lust for Paula. In time, I realized why that must have been. On one subject, and one subject only, Mark could be counted on to give Paula a hard time -- her failing to enter sufficiently into the spirit and practice of their wife-swapping.
It was Paula's pretty, hardheaded fidelity to her concept of traditional Christian values that prevented her from joining equally enthusiastically with Mark in their wife-swapping soirees. Nonetheless, I wasn't surprised when Paula appeared in my room by my bedside before light one morning and said Mark had told her to come have sex with me. I said, "But do you want to?" Paula left without a word. A while later she came back, saying in effect, "...this isn't just because Mark told me to do it.... I do want to, you know, I really do...."
That was the only time Paula and I slept together, and late in the spring of 1972, I found transportation and started a trek which ended with me living in Oakland, but not before a quiet evening in Concord when the family and I were eating supper at the dinner table. Baby John was gurgling and struggling in his high chair while Mark talked about some of my Mexican co-workers who were dissatisfied with so many bennies instead of dinero for their labors. One of the Mexicans had mentioned it to him, and Mark had told him that if he didn't like it, he could quit -- Concord had plenty of unemployed Mexicans willing to take his place.
"You know, Paula, I just can't give a damn about those guys," Mark said. "Compared to my family responsibilities, those guys are nothing. You, me, and Baby John are all that matters." The man was almost radiant. "Nothing comes before putting food on the table and having a good place for the three of us to live. We're a family, and, f*** anybody who tries to interfere with me taking care of my family."
(Written 2004, 2008)