If you listen carefully to the Pacific ocean you’ll hear the music. You will hear, “Lay Lady Lay,” and “After Midnight”– “Some Girls” and “Ruby Tuesday.” That’s why I came back.
Because Fred and I were out one Sunday in New England, and we drove up to the hills to a new used bookstore. I lived in that town right after my divorce ten years ago. And everyone played Mary McCaslin. When Fred and I went to the old bookstore–in that same town, they were still playing Mary McCaslin, and I had a hunch–if they’re doing it here, they must be doing it there–playing the same songs in California they were playing ten years ago. And so I moved back.
Another detail: A man Fred knows stared at me that day at the bookstore and I called him–Fred gave me the number– to thank him for that. I called where he works and he wasn’t there.
“And what is this regarding?” someone asked.
“Nothing,” I said. “But it’s important.”
When he called back, I thanked him for looking at me. He said, “No problem, you are an easy woman to look at. Would you like to have dinner?”
“No,” I told him. “I just wanted to say thanks. It was a good day not counting Mary McCaslin, and that’s just a bad memory. But you looked at me the way they do in California. Also, I’m dieting.”
“That’s it?” he asked.
“That’s all?” Fred asked. “He asked you out for dinner and you said no.”
“He is a mean man, from what I hear,” I said.
“But I thought you were going through a mean man phase, honey.”
“Not anymore,” I said. “Not since I’m moving back to California.”
“Why are you going?”
“The music, the iceplant, the spunk–the ocean, especially the ocean at night. Mostly, I need to find someone who will throw pebbles at my window and then carry me down to the beach at low tide. I can’t do that here. I want to wade in the tide at midnight and watch for grunion. I like the idea of sun screen.”
“Let me get this straight.” Fred said. “You’re moving back to California for iceplant and sun screen?”
“And for the music.”
“You could buy the music.”
“Are you kidding? In California it will be on the radio.”
“Do you know this for a fact?”
“Was Mary McCaslin still playing? What do you need, a lightning bolt? Use your head. It’s the same thing. Towns get stuck in music. Didn’t you ever notice?”
“Where will you live?”
“In a one room shack as long as it’s close to the ocean, but not too close. If it’s too close, the man won’t have to carry me far enough. I’m dieting.”
“Jesus Christ, Fred. I’m dieting to save that man’s back.” “Which man?”
“I have to hang up now. I need to get some diet Jello. Get with it.”
I wound up in California around midnight and sure enough, the radio was playing “Some Girls:” French girls they want Cartiers, Italian girls want cars. American girls want everything in-the-world-you-could-possibly-imagine. I found a place in Solana Beach, and I bought some pebbles on Ocean Boulevard. I got a bargain.
At night I walked down to the ocean. I was looking for the man. I took off my sandals and walked in the surf. In the morning I bought sunscreen. I put pebbles near the bedroom window and I waited.
“I’m running out of money,” I wrote to Fred. “I might have to get a job. I could waitress or I could make necklaces with the pebbles and the shells. The shells are good and sturdy here. Or I could become a psychic. Set up a crystal ball, and wear a turban, everyone’s doing it. California has dumped shrinks for psychics. They’re cheaper. Even the psychics go to psychics. So do the shrinks.”
I bought a surfboard and began surfing. The neighbor kids called me flower girl because I bought so many plants. The roses were as big as grapefruits, and at night I slept better than ever. I was drinking too much but it didn’t matter. I loved the smells–the wine and the waves, the scent of sand combined with sun screen.
One night I woke up to the sound of pebbles being thrown at the window. I looked out. And there he was. I motioned for him to come in and he carried me down to the ocean and we talked about music.
“What do you think of Mary McCaslin?” I asked.
“Who’s that?” he asked.
“A folk singer who sings in a small town in Massachusetts. I’m not sure. When will the grunion be here?”
“Any day,” he said. And then he carried me back to my bed and kissed me goodnight and left. I stayed up watching a candle and I listened to the ocean. Then I got up and went to Safeway and bought some iceplant and that reminded me of eggplant. I bought the ingredients for ratatouille.
“The man came.” I wrote to Fred. “He carried me perfectly, with my legs dangling, and we sat on the place where I sat ten years ago, the night I drank rum from a paper cup and decided to marry David. I will keep you informed as to when the wedding will be. I miss you. You should come visit.”
The man came back three nights later and carried me down to the ocean again.
“What do you do?” he asked.
“I surf, make necklaces, I’m practicing to be a psychic. What do you do?”
“I’m a lawyer,” he said.
“The kind that makes no money because he defends poor people all over town. My clients are angels, they are lost souls. They get the shit kicked out of them.”
“Yes, they are all poor. There is Poor Rivera, and Poor Lupe, and the Poor twins from Escondido. Don’t forget Poor Mr. Sanchez. Let me take you home now.”
The lawyer stayed that night. We drank wine and listened to the radio. We went to bed and ate the ratatouille, and oranges. We danced to “Beast Of Burden” and “The Twist.” When I woke up he was gone. I looked out the window. The pebbles had all disappeared. The iceplant had dried up. When I took a shower there was no water pressure. So I got in the car to get some more pebbles.
“Don’t sell ‘em here,” the man said.
“You did last week–this is Ocean Boulevard isn’t it?”
“Yup, and we ain’t sold pebbles for years.”
“Huh,” I said and got into my car. I turned on the radio. A woman named Whitney was singing about survival. I changed the station and got Karen Carpenter. Back at the apartment I decided I was very tired and I went to bed early.
The phone rang and it was him.
“What happened to the pebbles?” I asked.
“I don’t know, do you want to see me?”
“Sure,” I said.
He showed up in a Corvette wearing a three piece suit.
“Expensive clients today?” I asked.
“I’m an expensive guy,” he said.
“What happened to the Poors?”
“Who? Are you feeling okay?”
“Sure.” He was wearing sweet cologne. I could barely breathe.
After he left I called Fred. “The music is drying up,” I said. “And people are turning out strange.”
“Oh, no–what will you do?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “In the background of ‘The Wichita Lineman’ I heard, ‘Try Me.’ I might come home.”
“Good,” Fred said.
It took some time but I finally found the phone number for the man who was staring at me at the bookstore, that old run down Sunday. I called him.
“Do you want to have dinner?” I asked him.
“You’re done dieting? What time?”
“I live in California now. I’m coming back.” In the background I heard “Some Girls.” “Turn it up,” I said. “I’m on my way. I’ll send you postcards okay? But the main thing is, don’t turn off the music.”
“I won’t” he said. “I promise.”
Driving across the desert, I noticed a big mountain of junk. I slowed down, I stopped the car. “Buy a piece of California,” a sign said. I saw iceplant and water, pebbles and Poors. Roses, and in the background I heard Mick Jagger and Bob Dylan.
“How much?” I asked one of the sales clerks.
“What you want?”
“A couple pieces of iceplant and a few ocean breezes. A good chardonnay, ‘Some Girls,’ some pebbles. And sun screen.”
“Twenty bucks,” the man said, and loaded up my car. I bought a postcard at a truck stop. Wait till you see what I’ve got. I’ve got it all–See you soon. xxxx, I wrote.