The morning feeding ritual at Mike’s, two dogs, two cats, the quiet crunching of animals chewing, a dishwasher churning, the bathroom fan, the soothing sound of it like rain hitting the roof, going down the drain spouts into the ground: waking to a cool, morning breeze where I once lived in Mike’s basement in West Seattle, not far from the California Alaska junction, the bars we sometimes visited before we had kids with names like Shadow Land or West 5: coming back that November after five months in France and five in Pennsylvania when Mike put me up with my two cats until I found a place of my own, that birthday I turned 28, a Monday at the end of the month when I’d just started working again and no one said anything, no one knew, the sideways rains of November when I had to take the bus so my pants were always wet, coming home tired and feeling sorry for myself in the basement sulking until Mike came down and got me, they had roasted chicken and vegetables and side dishes upstairs, a small cake, a bottle of wine — and I went to bed feeling good, feeling loved, listening to the rain and smiling.
Five months in Pennsylvania after I left work and went back to where my mom and John lived to watch their house in the woods of New Tripoli, didn’t know my mom was undergoing cancer treatment in France, she didn’t tell me, didn’t want me to worry.
And everything I saw seemed like a symbol for something else because I was reading Castaneda, the fact I walked the same walk all summer long on a road connecting two towns with the Mediterranean right there and a steep wall along one side of it, walked that route every day with their golden retriever Chumley from the condo in Collioure to the house in Port-Vendres where I’d water the garden or check on things, how many times I’d walked by it not knowing what was on the other side of that wall, a cemetery overlooking the sea, and because I was reading Castaneda with so much of his themes about death and how it rides alongside as an adviser, not to be feared, I thought isn’t that funny, it’s like death’s right there on the other side of us, quietly watching.
Yo la Tengo had just put out the album I Can Feel The Heart Beating As One and I saw them play a festival on the Spanish coast that July, but missed most of it because we got way-laid on the beach watching the full moon come out of the sea, something I’d never seen, passing around Champagne, hash cigarettes, a hacky-sack and soccer ball with a group of gay Spanish men my French friend knew somehow, gay men acting gruff with each other (which I’d also not seen) — and when we got to the show there were a dozen or more on stage going crazy, controlled chaos, and I thought I want to remember this time always.
My bartender friend Sean came to stay in the condo but brought a petulant Canadian he’d met named Seamus who never smiled, never removed his cap, and they stayed at least a week until I had to make an excuse I was leaving for somewhere else. Seamus brought back horse meat from a French butcher expecting me to cook it, and we just boiled it for an hour until it was gray and ate it not saying much, knowing it was wrong — and I slept that whole summer in the living room on a fold-out couch in the condo because I was scared to sleep in the bedroom, I’d had such palpable dreams I imagined there must be bad spirits there and tested my theory on Sean and Seamus, acted like I was giving up my bed for them as a favor.
Before I went to Mike’s I stopped by our old house in West Seattle to give the new owners a framed picture of it I still had, that I wasn’t willing to let go but Dawn insisted I should: a photo from the 30s by the look of it, the house so small and modest looking, a bit sad — I went around back and heard Scott in there and called to him, told him I put the picture out front since I thought they weren’t home — they’d finally sold the house next door where Curry and Jaughn used to live: they were cleaning it out, got $600,000 for it.
That first time mom and John came to visit us in that house, they’d just sold their place in France and bought an old house in a small village in Germany, and it was springtime but the weather turned like summer just like that, and the first night we stayed up until 3 drinking and John playing guitar outside, and the neighbors came over and I threw the empty wine bottles in the direction of the raccoons that lived in a western cedar, and Dawn was still acting then, before we had kids, a small enough house when she got sick all of us heard but pretended we didn’t, and she said there’s no better cure for hangovers than having to get up on stage.
The neighbors were what Anthony calls “Old Seattle,” real grit: they had recording equipment in their basement and talked John into coming over one night to play, and a couple months later Jaughn gave me the CD, said it turned out alright, but I still haven’t listened to it.
Curry got his nickname from the VJ on MTV named Adam Curry because he looked just like him, but without the poofy hair: said he knew Mark Arm from Mudhoney, helped him move his records once — and when we moved out I gave my albums to Curry, my De la Soul 12″s, PiL imports, all my Smiths albums, the solo releases Morrissey put out after they split up, The Last of the Famous International Playboys.
After Curry and the other guys moved out, Jaughn lived there alone, and after we sold the house to the new owners they told me the bad news, that he’d killed himself but wasn’t found for a while, Jaughn had a friend who knew he was planning it but the guy just came and took all his valuables, which couldn’t have been much, he was probably in his mid 50s, a musician, worked odd jobs.
Sitting around Mike’s house Friday night on the sectional with Anthony playing records, regarding one another and how we’ve changed in the past year, all of us a bit older: Mike says in the morning any pieces of furniture we buy now we better like because we’ll have them until we die — remembering how the breeze in West Seattle can bring the smell of salt, the Puget Sound, the briny remains along its shores — neighborhoods like Fairview, Fauntleroy, Seaview, Admiral: meandering streets, an element of funk, war boxes, a bit of Portland: occasional freaks on the streets, clay gnomes, signs for Bernie Sanders.
How we’ll pay like $25 for a new album now but just sit and listen like it’s something special, Mike getting up halfway to flip it, the same satisfaction of reading a book almost, feels whole.
Mike has a stack of CDs to return to me and one of them is a disc my old neighbor Jaughn made, somehow he used his computer to record a Rolling Stones album from vinyl to disc, and it does sound warmer with the cracks and the hiss, he wrote the song titles with a pen losing its ink and dated it, July 2005. And I play it in my garage back home in Sammamish with the bay doors open, try to picture Jaughn with the needle bobbing up and down on the record, Beggars Banquet, remembering what I can of him still, which isn’t much.