So we arrived at the apartment at about 8 PM, after a long drive back from Vegas and through bad traffic. “Tired?”, I asked. “A little”, she said. “Hungry too, but let’s explore.” It was a little chilly outside, so we put on our jackets and I led the way.
(Not before the book tour, and the cat tour. The cats were a little bemused by this new visitor who crooned at them enthusiastically, but they coped. Except Elvis, whose default reaction is set to Distrust With Extreme Prejudice, and who scampered into his True Mistress’s room and locked himself in. Um, no, he did not lock himself in, that was just a figure of speech. Elvis The Scaredy Cat just refused to greet the new arrival until he was sure she did not intend bodily harm.
The book tour made an impact, the right kind, except for the unopened boxes. “You have too many books.” Don’t I know it.)
So we headed out, and I gave her a tour of the Marina behind my apartment, brightly-lit and welcoming as always. We passed the boats lapping gently in the water, and I pointed out the amusing names some of them had. One was called Mon Cherie. ”That’s not right”, she said. “It’s bad grammar.” “Sure”, I chuckled. “Maybe you should go correct it.” I showed her my favorite boat, one named Tooth Ferry. “Sometimes, in the evening, you can hear a pig squealing in the distance”, I said. “Or at least I thought it was a pig, but then I realized that it was probably a seal.” She had begun to laugh, but the mention of seals piqued her interest, and more so when I mentioned that we could probably go kayaking one day of the week.
We did not go kayaking, but we got to see seals. That is a different story.
By the time we reached the other end, it was clear that we were losing the hunger game. “I know just the place for dinner”, I said. “It’s a fifteen minute walk.” We doubled back, and there were joggers running by, and people with pets. “So people in LA do walk”, she exclaimed. “I thought it was only cars and more cars.” “Not necessarily”, I said. “I don’t have a car yet. And this is Marina del Rey, not Los Angeles.” “Same difference.” She had the happy grin I recognized, the kind of grin I usually have when I am walking through the Marina by myself. The only difference was the lack of a soundtrack in my ears, but the company more than made up for that.
When the lady at the front desk of the Cheesecake Factory asked us if we wanted to sit outside, facing the water, we looked at each other, a little hesitant about sitting in the cold. “We have the heater turned up, don’t worry”, the girl smiled. Outside it was, then, facing the beach and the distant lights. By the time the drinks arrived, both of us were grinning at each other, happily munching on the bread that in our hunger tasted like the Greatest Bread Ever Baked. When we waited, I told her about the cute waitress who once served me there last year. “Hi, my name is Penny”, she had said. And I looked up at her, looked down at my menu, and hoped she did not realize I was trying to conceal my grin. “Oh, it’s fine”, Penny from the Cheesecake Factory grinned. “I get that all the time. Just don’t knock on your table three times when calling my name, and I won’t throw a plate at you.” It was probably rehearsed, but I collapsed with laughter. Penny wasn’t there this time, but Micah made us feel comfortable. The food, when it arrived, was delicious. She could not finish her’s, as I knew she wouldn’t – dang American portions. I bulldozed through mine with the rugged pace of a Terminator model T-1000. I ate every slice, sipped every drop, and I knew I would be back.
“Are you ready to walk some more?”, I asked. She was, or so she said.
By the time we got to Venice pier, we had decided that ice-cream for dessert was out of the question, tantalizing as the Creamery looked. Thankfully, last-minute moral dilemmas were avoided by the closed sign on the door. Besides, it was too cold for ice-cream – the wind whistled in our ears and tickled our necks. As we got nearer, the sound of the waves drowned out the music from the bars nearby. “We could drop in at the Whaler later”, I said. “Uh huh”, she said, with a huge grin on her face, all her attention focused on the ocean. I had a feeling the Whaler wasn’t going to be part of the night.
The pier glowed bright and welcoming, with a row of lamps leading inward. I hadn’t been there in a while – I preferred to walk there in the afternoon, where the warm sunshine tamed some of the sea breeze, and when it was teeming with the strange variety of visitors that Venice Beach was known for.
“How much further does this go?”, she asked. All we could hear was the rushing of the waves below us, and the lights on the beach turned smaller and smaller. The lamp posts that marked our way just showed us the path, but a few meters beyond lay the darkness of the ocean. For a second, I thought of what would happen if there was a power-cut just then, if we would see anything but black, and keep walking until we plopped into the ocean. I stifled a mental giggle, and thoughtfully did not say anything aloud.
When we got to the end of the pier, we found out we were gatecrashing a quaint little soiree. A couple slow-danced in the middle of the circle, oblivious to our presence. The guy sang softly and the girl hummed along to a few phrases. ”Is that… German?” I whispered. “Spanish”, she whispered back. Somehow it felt necessary to whisper, and disrespectful to interfere with their mood by declaring our presence. From time to time, they laughed together, full-throated laughter that merged with the whooshing of the waves and made us smile to ourselves.
Confession: the ocean at night always reminds me of this Buz Sawyer story that I read as a kid. It was just that the colors in the cheap Indrajal reprint were very evocative, and the story itself, about a seagull’s egg and Buz’s down-on-his-luck brother and his family was poignant enough to be the main point of association in my mind for an evening stroll by the sea.
After sometime, the song died away, the lovers bid their adieu, and exited stage right. We stayed. We sat on a solitary bench that faced the darkness, and though our jackets felt paper-thin against the wind, after sometime the cold bothered us no longer, and the bench felt more comfortable than it should have. We looked up at the stars twinkling through the parts of the sky that were free of clouds, and at the city lights shimmering behind us. Every now and then, a plane hummed above, drowning out the constant, reassuring ocean roar with its own banshee scream. That and the distant sirens in the city reminded us that the world existed beyond that well-lit circle, that time and our ears had not really frozen.
We sat there for a long time. Silent. Happy.