My sister’s first truly serious boyfriend lived in the in-law unit of a rundown Victorian on Ashby Avenue, a few houses from the corner to Shattuck. Before I met him, I remember wondering who lived in that house. I was in my very early twenties and still not much of a driver and turning left onto Shattuck from Ashby was always a semi-traumatic experience. I’m not sure why I made so many left turns onto Shattuck, but for some reason I did. I guess that’s why I noticed the house. It was always the last thing I saw before I got stuck in the middle of the intersection, too scared to take the turn, with at least a dozen cars honking at me from two different directions.
The first truly serious boyfriend was a New Jersey/NYC transplant who went “out West” after college, and landed in Berkeley. Before I met him, I’d only ever heard “go back East” but never “go out West.” In fact, my sister’s FTSB was the first person I ever met from the East Coast. My relatives were as follows: pig farmers, ranchers and fundamental Christians from the Midwest, Jesus Freaks and New Age flakes from the West Coast, and Republican alcoholics from the Southwest. My childhood friends in Arizona were from either Arizona or Mexico. A fair amount of my Bay Area high school friends descended from Okies, but that was as exotic as it got.
But the East Coast and NYC? To me, they weren’t much different than the Lost City of Atlantis. Sure, I’d heard they existed, but who could know for sure?
In California, my sister’s FTSB went hog wild West Coast. By the time they got together, he was a militant vegan and a pothead with a hemp heavy wardrobe and a couple of obligatory Mexican ponchos thrown into the mix. His girlfriend before my sister was also a Jewish East Coast transplant like he was, only ten years his senior and even more kooky Californian. She practically lived at Harbin Hot Springs (RIP Harbin…) and drank her own urine for health reasons, a practice she talked him into doing when they were together. (In case you didn’t know, this actually is a “thing.” I just googled drink your own urine health and this article came up. Considered yourself enlightened.)
The FTSB gave up the practice as soon as they broke up, and he was extremely embarassed and sensitive about the topic—he was pissed, no pun intended, when he found out my sister told me—so I didn’t really ask him any questions. But once, when we were stoned together, I couldn’t help myself. I asked,
What does pee taste like, anyway?
Pretty damn bad, he admitted.
My sister stayed together with her FTSB for over six years, most of them spent in Portland, Oregon. After years of nagging, she eventually convinced him to move with her to NYC—he was determined to stay West Coast until he died. A few months later, they broke up in the only gentrified apartment in a rundown apartment building in East Harlem.
My sister moved back to San Francisco by way of Brooklyn a couple of years later, but the FTSB stayed back East after all. The last time I saw him was around ten years ago at a dim sum place in NYC’s Chinatown. His hair was short and he was no longer a vegan. In fact, when I saw him, he and is wife had recently visited some Inuit village in Canada where they ate dolphin stew. I don’t know about you, but I figure eating dolphin stew is about as far away from veganism as a person can get. Apparently, Flipper doesn’t taste much better than a big morning mug of body temperature urine.
But back when I used to hang at their place in Laurelhurst, with bathroom walls painted the color of Peptol-Bismol, snacking on popcorn flavored with nutritional yeast and dining on root stew, my sister’s FTSB said he often forgot I wasn’t the older sister. He was born in 64, which made him exactly ten years older than me, but I got his cultural references in a way my sister never did. When I was in Portland for my first and probably last vegan Thanksgiving, the one when he was bemoaning turning 30 and I was in awe I actually knew someone that ancient—by the way kids, if you’re reading this, 30 is not old, not in the least—he finally figured things out.
You get what I’m talking about because you’re so close to your dad.
Yes, I was very close to my dad, in many ways too close, and my sister was exactly the opposite. But we don’t need to get into that here. Therapists have to earn a living somehow, right?
A good part of my paternal symbiosis? I’m up on my Star Trek and Twilight Zone; I know who Johnny Wadd is and I was pretty much raised on rock and roll.
My father died nine years ago, on my older daughter’s first birthday. To pay tribute to him, I will now listen to Cream’s “Sunshine of your Love” and “Strange Brew” back to back.
RIP, dad. You’ll always be missed.