My Red Bench

This morning I brought my coffee and my journal to the porch and sat on my bench. I love my bench. Not long after we moved in to our house I saw that the neighbors two doors down from us had a bench and I wanted one too. Their bench was honeydew green and had two white canvas accent pillows. It sat on the front porch under, what I assume to be, their kitchen window.

My Red Bench

My Red Bench

I wouldn’t call our neighborhood modern. In fact, except for the trees and a few over-the-top remodels, if you were to drive down our street, you might think it was 1956.  Most of the homes on our block have grass and maybe a brick pathway that leads from the curb or the driveway to the front steps.

The house with the honeydew green bench had curb appeal. One of the two women that lived there was rumored to be a landscape architect. She designed her front yard in sections with rock borders and exotic plants and a winding slate path that led you to the front of the house. When Bill and I first moved in, we’d walk over and take pictures of their plants so we could buy them and plant them in front of our house.

“I want a bench,” I said to Bill. We were standing in front of their house. I snapped a picture of their bench.

“I don’t know why they have that bench.”  Bill said. “I’ve never even seen them sit on it.”

“You don’t know.” I said and turned to Bill. “They might sit on it when we’re not looking.”

“We don’t need a bench.” Bill said. He was standing with his arms crossed staring at the house.

“It’s curb appeal.” I said. “I want a bench.”

Bill turned toward me. “You probably won’t ever sit on it.” He said.

“I’m buying a bench.” I said. Bill rolled his eyes. He turned and headed back to our house. I followed.

He stopped at the foot of our driveway and crossed his arms. I caught up and we stood there for a few moments looking at our home.

“I’ll go on line to that garden store, Smith & Hawken.” I said. “I bet that’s where they got their bench.”

“Don’t.” He said. “I’ll build you a bench.” I reached up on my tiptoes, kissed his cheek, and walked up the driveway to the house.

Bill built me a sturdy pine bench. I helped him paint it. We chose candy apple red. She sits at the end of our porch under the kitchen window. I bought two black pillows with white piping and lean into them as I write and sip coffee in the mornings. In the summer, our neighbors Susie and Jerry join us for cocktails or beers. Bill and Jerry stand in the driveway and talk about boy things like boats and the weather and motorcycles while Susie and I sit and page through the latest Crate & Barrel or Pottery Barn catalogue. Bill and I sit on our bench and watch the rain. On warm nights, sit and we’ll look at the stars and talk. I love my red bench.

The two women have since moved and a couple bought the house. He’s tall and she has platinum blonde hair. I rarely see them. The lawn is dying and the plants look tired and thirsty.  The porch is empty.

The View From My Bench

The View From My Bench

We’ve gone drought resistant. Our gardener planted lots of colorful dwarf trees and shrubs like Dwarf Day Lillies, California Redbuds, Dusty Millers, Evergreen Current and Fairy Lilacs.  What once was our lawn is now river of grey sand and rock with blue grass accents that runs through pea gravel the color of the beach on a rainy day. When Bill gets home from work, we’ll sit on our red bench and watch the bees, butterflies and hummingbirds drift from flower to flower.

This morning I brought my coffee, my journal and one of my black pillows with white piping outside. I sat on my red bench. The air was thick. The clouds hung low and heavy in the pink and blue sky. A woman walked by with her dog and waved. I waved back.  A man jogged pass on the other side of the street. A white Toyota slowed down in front of our house and stopped. I noticed the driver lean toward the passenger side window and aim her phone at our front yard. I think she was taking a picture.

A View From My Bench

The View From My Bench

The List

 

Honey, if you’re off that list, it’s because you don’t inspire her anymore. He said.

It was my brain. It usually is. Once when we were on the phone she told me, I don’t get you. One minute you’re spiritual and the next you’re all business. I was standing in my driveway, her voice condemning me through my cell phone. The sky was grey, cloudy, it looked like rain. My ear was hot. I hate talking on my cell phone without a headset.  She was rattling on, criticizing my thought process. I just don’t understand you, she chided.

I can confuse people. I switch gears, sometimes faster than others might.  It’s how my brain works.

I take myself off topic. I digress. I’ll start one place and end up somewhere else. I started in New York and ended up in Torrance. How’s that for digression?  It wasn’t all me though, we moved to Beverly Hills and then I digressed myself right out of there to San Diego, to Hollywood. I mean the real Hollywood, when it was more grit and grime than fluorescent colors and pop.

There was England, Ireland, Wales, not in that order and Santa Barbara and Marina Del Rey and Redondo Beach and Phoenix and then back to Redondo, then Manhattan Beach, now I’m here, settled, done digressing in Torrance. Almost.

I ran around to run away.  Instead of escaping I was spinning.  I spun myself deeper into the guts of my life, the dark underbelly.  You know how if a car, if it’s stuck in the mud or the snow, if you try and push harder on the gas and make the wheels spin faster you’ll get even deeper in the mess you’re already in? Well, that’s me, the car and the gas pedal and the person pressing hard on the gas trying to whir the wheels free. I twisted myself in pretty darn good.

I remember this one night, in Santa Barbara, sitting around a table, around a mirror, around lines of cocaine, surrounded by empty bottles and filled ashtrays, cigarette smoke clouds and voices. I was thinking to myself, what am I doing here, with this group, around this table, in this city. I went to the bathroom, bent over the stained toilet and threw up.   Time to get off this list.

It was around that time when I took my foot off the gas and pressed it onto the break.

I went to see my friend Wayne. I waited outside on the steps of his apartment.  My eyes were tired and red, my lids felt like sandpaper each time they blinked closed.  I hurt. I sat, smoking, waiting for Wayne to wake up.

Eucalyptus

He came outside, a cigarette hanging from the left side of his mouth, the screen door slammed behind him.  I’m done.  I told him.  He walked a few steps down, inhaled his cigarette, the cherry glowed bright and he sat next to me on the stairs, pushing smoke up form his lungs into the morning air.

The eucalyptus trees shaded us, their scent colliding with our cigarette smoke.  I watched the smoke swirl up toward them, wondering about photosynthesis and how trees cleanse the air and if there was anything that could cleanse me.  Wayne was playing with his cigarette.  He was waiting for me.  Waiting for me to maybe change my mind or explain why or what I meant.  Waiting for me to say, hey don’t worry about it, gotta line?

He waited for me a lot.  He’d wait for me after my shift at The Jolly Tiger where we met.  He waited for me after I got fired and got a new job at Pascual’s. He’d wait for me to visit him, sit at the bar, and eat dinner at Arnoldi’s when he was working.  He might even have been waiting for me to love him.  All those late nights at Mel’s bar, the upsets when I’d leave with someone other than him. Solid Wayne, funny Wayne, chubby Wayne, with his blond mop of unwashed hair, stained tee shirts and impulsive grin. I waited for him this morning so I could tell someone.  I’m done.  I can’t do this anymore. I’m done. I said.  I’m done.

He looked at me.  Okay. He said if you say so. 

I do.  I said.

Not too long after that Wayne stopped waiting for me and I stopped letting him.

In Santa Barbara I spent years looking for a spark, something to stimulate me internally rather than externally.  Looking for inspiration, to bring myself back to my life. I needed CPR and I came to Santa Barbara to find it.

I knew, on the phone that day, in my driveway, when she was complaining about me to me,  that it  had nothing to do with me. She was spinning her wheels like I had for so long in Santa Barbara.  I knew it wasn’t my speed that bothered her.

We all move at our own pace.

Honey, you don’t inspire her anymore he said, it’s not that big of a deal.

You’re right, I answered.

My Bench

Summer At The Bench

I woke up this morning and it was a hot summer day. I was looking forward to sitting on my favorite bench at the beach. It was my favorite bench for no other reason than it was mine. I like to go and sit. Sometimes I can sit for hours staring at the ocean change colors. When I got down to the beach and approached my bench there was a large man sitting on it. “That’s my bench.” I said. “Oh yes, well would you like to join me? I come here to look at the ocean. My wife disappeared last month, the sky just took her from me and I like to come here to look for her. I look out onto the ocean and see if she isn’t swimming toward the shore. She wasn’t a very good swimmer, but with all this practice, well, she must be quite strong at it by now.” I felt bad for this large lumpy man. He wore a black and blue plaid suit. His chin spilled over his tie. I just wanted to sit on my bench. I squeezed in next to him and sat staring at the ocean with him. “How long have you been looking for her?” “Oh for years now.” He said. “I have been coming to this bench every day for years. Although sometimes I go to the one over there or the one over there or the one over there.” He lifted his thick arm through the air and pointed each time he said the words ‘over there’. I saw his arm moving in my direction on the third ‘over there’ and I pushed back as far as I could so he didn’t hit my nose. My nose is worth protecting, that’s what I’ve always said. We watched the ocean together. It changed colors maybe twelve times that day. We watched the toy poodle and the bulldog play the shell game. The toy poodle was cheating, taking the bulldog for everything he had. “Trickery!” I said. “Trickery!” he agreed. “Trickery!” the bulldog barked. When the sun sunk into the ocean we stood up, shook hands and went our separate ways. The next day it was sunny again. When I arrived at my bench it was empty. I had so much room I could move my legs or even lie flat if I wanted and turn my head to stare at the ocean. I didn’t. I sat straight and tall and pushed myself as far as I could to the edge of the bench. Somewhere out there, someone was struggling with the sky.

August 21, 2012