Sunday, June 18, 2006

How I Got Here & Little Henry

I moved to San Francisco from Boston in 1996 after agreeing to marry the man I thought was the love of my life -- against the advice of my best friend, Erica. This advice came in two sittings:

In the first, we were at lunch in the cafeteria of Houghton Mifflin publishing, where we earned enough money to drink beer at Charlie Flynn's after our graduate writing classes at Emerson College. (That cafeteria made killer butternut squash that we could eat by the tubful.) The conversation went something like this:

E: Are you in love with him?
Me: I used to be. I used to want to marry him when we first met.
E: You used to want acid-washed jean shorts, but you wouldn't wear them now.

I had to concede that was a pretty good point.

The second advice session occurred over dinner on another night at Small Planet, where we were addicted to the Thai shrimp and noodles with peanut sauce. (Years later when we visited, the waiter swore they had never served such a dish. Mysterious.)

Erica emptied out the container of white sugar, pink Sweet & Low and blue Equal packets onto the table and assigned each color a point value of 5, 10 or 15. She asked me to name all the negatives and positives about marrying Mark, and as I did so, she plunked the packets into two piles.

Positive (15): I could have children.
Negative (15): I'd have to move.
Negative (5): I wouldn't be able to date anyone else ever.

And so on. We had to do the exercise three times before "marrying Mark" came out with a better score than the alternative once all the packet points had been added up. (I have since found that the sugar-packet method of decision-making is surprisingly helpful.)

So ... off I went. Mark, a Northern California native, had gotten a job at Stanford, and I followed.

The rundown apartment he rented for us in Noe Valley, which earned our money by providing a spectacular view, lasted longer than our marriage. That screeched to a halt just shy of our third anniversary, when Mark headed off to a Stanford graduation ceremony and never came home. (OK, I'm being a bit dramatic here. He had said he wanted to leave, and I said, well, then, go. You'll see on his Web site that he's since morphed into a local lounge singer.)

I was in that apartment for 10 years. Well, I mean, not continuously.

Then last year, on June 10, the doctors told my 82-year-old father that he had stomach cancer and not long to live.
(Here's me and my Poppie dancing to Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" at my wedding.)
I returned to the town where I had grown up, to the only house I had ever known, that he and my mom had bought in 1955 when the family of eight they would go on to have was still a family of four. A Cape Cod-style cottage in Newark, Del. Four bedrooms, two baths. A basement that always scared the crap out of me. Surrounded by azaleas planted by my mother, who died in 1990. And a Christmas tree out front that was at least twice the size of the house -- from the first Christmas my parents spent there.

The rest of my siblings also came east, and we celebrated Father's Day with a picnic and pretended to be a normal family.

He died June 26, with three of us by his side, in the same room where, I imagine, I had been conceived.

I inherited a small amount of money, enough to claw my way into the real estate market in homeowner-resistant San Francisco by joining three other singles -- a police officer, a nurse and a computer trainer --in a tenancy-in-common in the Richmond District.

It's just a short walk from the Sutro Baths, Ocean Beach, the Coastal Trail and innumerable beautiful sights and conveniences. And we have roses (!) in the backyard.

Yesterday, I walked to the public library, reminiscing about how much I used to love the library as a kid. It was 12:30 when I arrived to find the building was closed until 1 p.m. So I ambled down another few streets to find a place to get some breakfast.

There it was, at the corner of 36th and Balboa: Little Henry Italian Cuisine. I ordered coffee, scrambled eggs and bacon, and it was fine. Then I looked around and realized -- everyone else in the place, the staff and customers -- were Chinese. In an Italian restaurant. Were there just so many Chinese joints already on Balboa that Little Henry thought to branch out? It put me in mind of another San Francisco riddle I've never been able to crack: Why are there so many restaurants that serve "Chinese Food and Donuts"? What do those two foodstuffs have in common?

And just who is Little Henry?

1 comment:

Pink Lemonade Diva said...

I'm sorry about your father.

And I love libraries too.