July, 2011

 

Almost 5 years after Virginia and I split up I was still carrying a torch. I’ve taken her note out and read it once a month at least. By now I know it by heart, Doc. That amulet was to prevent this from happening. According to my grandmother the wisdom of Solomon and spirit of the Kaballah had been put to work for me. There was no way I could be unlucky in love. I didn’t know it at the time but that was about to change.

One day I’m going to ask you in therapy about recurring dreams and dates. You know that Bill Murray flick, Groundhog Day, with days repeating themselves? The 4th of July is like that for me. You’ll probably say, “That’s patriot day and you’re a patriot.” Sorry Doc, no more patriotism for me. I think it’s about the fireworks between me and V. Things have happened between us more than once. No way I should have bumped into a flamenca on the 4th of July.

Mindy and I had an on-again off-again thing going after the night we met on Coronado beach. I was persona non grata with Jaki. I knew before I stood her up at the Bajamar it wasn’t going to work out; the night with Mindy made that very clear, so I gave up my Califa for fair-skinned Mindy of the violet eyes. On the 4th of July we sat on the roof-top of the Wharf House at the Capitola Beach Pier between the 2 sea cliffs where the Soquel Creek flows into the Pacific. A rock'n'roll band was playing Oldies for brunch and a bunch of middle-aged hippies. The food was awful but the view and the music made up for it. Bobbing surfers and seagulls were an appropriate backdrop for the band’s cover of Good Vibrations. Mindy knew the leader of the band and between sets he joined us for a drink and to reminisce about his days on tour with The Godfather of Shock Rock, Alice Cooper.

“Tell your Mom to save me that dress I liked, Derek. Good to see you.” Mindy bought clothes in Derek’s Mom’s store on Capitola’s main street.

We walked to the mainland.

“This is your town, baby. I’m hungry. Any good eats?”

“All the tourists want to ride the tram to.Shadowbrook. But it’s not a cool thing to do.  Taking a tram for dinner in Switzerland is a cool thing to do! How about this place? Never been but I heard good things. Should be crowded though.” Trendy Zelda’s was ahead of us on the Esplanade.

“Let’s see whaz up.”

Zelda’s was a zoo so we kept on walking and ate slices at a pizza stand while the sun set over surfer-specks riding sea waves in the darkening distance. The shops and restaurants of the esplanade gave way to a malecon that dead-ended into a cul-de-sac for summertime music and art exhibits.

Mindy tugged my sleeve. “We’re in luck, the music’s still going.” Guitars, a cajon and hands clapping accompanied 3 stomping flamencas. Their performance ended with the sky’s scarlet sombrero fading to black.

The guitarist gestured to two women to join the group. “We finish with Amor Eterno a famous song by Juan Gabriel of Juarez, Mexico written for his mother. It is normally only sung but we are blessed, we have a mother to sing and her daughter to dance. This is our homage to Rocio Durcal. The choreography was created by our dancer at UCLA. I present Maria and Virginia Kaldera...”

Virginia and her mother strode from the shadows. V waited, hands at her side, then reached for the sky her fingers stretched as her mother sang. I understood she was reaching out. V had explained to me the emotions flamencas express with fingers and hands. She twirled slowly with her skirt doing its own dance.

“I know her,” I whispered to Mindy.

The audience broke into applause at the finish.

“I want to meet them. Introduce me.” Mindy took my arm. The troupe had begun packing up their instruments.

“Not a good idea. We didn’t part on good terms.”

“Before Jaki?” Mindy knew about the sudden-death ending the day after we first met.

“Yeah.”

“Tell me more.”

“I had too much to drink and ditched V at the Hollywood Bowl.”

“Jesus, you’re a piece of work. How well do you know her?”

“Pretty well. We went out for 6 months.”

“Introduce me or I’ll introduce myself. I want to ask her about the song and dance they just did.”

I didn’t answer. V and her mother stood by the sea wall waiting for the troupe. Mindy joined them. They chatted for a few moments before Mindy beckoned me to them. I didn’t move. The fire in V’s eyes could do that to me. Her mother walked away. Mindy and V laughed approaching me.

“Vicky forgives you. Her mother doesn’t. I invited them to come to my place. Her mother said no, she’s going back to LA. We’ll have a drink at the house.”

 

After 5 minutes on the 101 we were greeted at Mindy’s front door by a sweet brute. Mangan, ‘bear’ in Gaelic, was one of the reasons I came to Aptos. He was a well-trained rottie Mindy and I walked on Seascape Beach early mornings so he could chase gulls dashing in and out of the surf. I didn’t know about PTSD service dogs then, but he’s a prime candidate.

Mindy’s place was a split-level bungalow remodeled with high ceilings and lots of glass after the ‘89  quake. Mindy went straight to the kitchen.

“Thomas Pynchon lives around here. I’ve never seen him. Wouldn’t know him if I did. Bet he lives in one of the houses on the beach. Get a fire going, please Cliff. Red wine, ok?”

V took a chair near the white stone-mantled fireplace. “Fine by me. Who is Thomas Pynchon?”

Mindy set 3 glasses and a bottle of merlot on a table. “Famous writer. I’ve never read him. How about you, Cliff?”

“I read Gravity’s Rainbow when I was in Iraq. The guy can write that’s for sure. He has one of those brains that’s an encyclopedia. Consulted at Boeing for a while. Right-brain left-brain type who did technical writing before writing novels.”

Mindy opened the wine. “I didn’t know you read fiction.”

“Not too often. A Polish buddy in Iraq recommended it. I was depressed. Alex gave me Pynchon to get me to laugh. It helped.”

Mindy filled our glasses. “I grew up in Mexico City. I know the song you did.”

“You never told me that.” They watched me blow on the kindling, especially Mangan.

“You never asked. My dad was a producer in the music business there. Did you choreograph Amor Eterno, Vicky.”

“Yes. My Mom loved Juan Gabriel’s music and the way Rocio sang it. Mom was born in Durcal.”

“So you know the story then?”

“Of course.”

“Clue me in. I don’t know the story.” The fire finally caught and I sat on the floor between Mangan and V; V didn’t look my way. Mindy told the story.

“Rocio Durcal is the singer’s stage name. She named herself after a town in Andalusia. Her manager asked her to point to a map for her last name. She pointed to Durcal.”

V nodded. “Rocio means ‘dew’. In Spain the Franco government was gone and there was new freedom for the young. She was young so her manager named her after the morning dew. She sang flamenco and pop in Madrid before she made movies. My Mom says every girl in Spain wanted to be Rocio Durcal in the 60’s.”

Mindy re-filled both of our glasses; V hadn’t touched hers.

“And every woman in Mexico wanted to be her in the 80’s when she recorded with Juan Gabriel. My Dad produced some of those records. Ironic that a Spanish singer is the most famous singer of ranchera. Together Rocio and Juan were the best. What thoughts did you have choreographing Amor Eterno?”

“My mother, of course. It’s what Gabriel’s song is all about. We are Roma. Mothers and daughters are very tight in the gypsy world. Even though I am excluded my mother and I stay close. She doesn’t blame me for refusing to marry my father’s choice for me. My uncle looks after me at school. He’s an outsider too, he teaches at UCLA.”

I almost flinched.

“I had no idea you were an outsider.”

“You have no idea of a lot of things when it comes to women, Cliff. You might be good in bed, good with dogs, but the rest of it needs some work.” V looked to the fire avoiding Mindy’s frankness. “You know how Juan Gabriel wrote Amor Eterno after his mother died?”

“Yes, he heard about her death when he was in Acapulco.”

“Such a beautiful, emotional song. Rocio sang it crying. There was a rumor going around that her child died on the beach in Acapulco. It’s not true but half of Mexico still believes it.”

“LA’s Latinos believe it. Rocio was big with the old folks. I’ve seen her on the Internet and she really feels the music. That’s why I relate. She sings with the heart of the flamenca.”

“I’m goin’ to bed. I’ll leave you two to talk. Besides V, Lila Downs and Salma Hayek are the only Mexicanas I’m familiar with. You’re all music to my eyes. It was good to see you again, Virginia. Thanks for the pendant. I still have it. Good night.” I leaned over and kissed Mindy. Mangan followed me.

“Good night. He can’t help it if he has a one-track mind.”

“I know.”

V smiled. I took the hand she placed on Mangan’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry for leaving you at the Bowl.”

“I got over it. Good night.”

“Good night. Come on, boy.”

 

I stayed awake waiting for Mindy. Mangan took a spot at the foot of the bed and in a few minutes we were both asleep. The next morning he nuzzled me. Mindy’s spot was empty and unruffled. Slipping into a running shirt and shorts, I let the dog out the sliding glass door and surveyed the Pacific in the distance from the patio. When he finished we went upstairs. V slept on the sofa. Mindy sat in a love seat watching her.

“I just woke up. I really like Vicky. We stayed up all night tracing your circuitry. You never told me about your grandmother and the gypsy camp in Auschwitz. You’ve got gypsy in your soul.”

“And a one-track mind according to you and V. It’s a beautiful morning I’m going for a run in the park with Mangan. Wanna come?”

“No. Watch out for the bikers and the lions. Poke the fire before you leave will’ya. I’ll get breakfast. You need to leave early to beat the traffic.”

“Right. I doubt if I’ll beat the traffic though. It’s gonna be a marathon from here to LA. I’m gonna check traffic when I come back. See if I’m taking the 101 or the 5.”

Mangan and I took the Z to the car park. Nisene Marks Park’s a favorite of bikers and mountain lions. Conservationists are unhappy with one group and happy with the other. Two miles running through redwoods would get me in the right frame of mind for the 4th of July drive and LA’s gridlock. We didn’t come across any mountain bikers, just a lone mountain lion eyeing us from a hilltop.

Back at the bungalow Mindy and V sat at the kitchen table giggling.

“You and Mangan are inseparable. First sleeping together now a run through the woods. I never figured you for Jean Paul Putito.”

“Who’s that?”

“A Mexican superhero, cabron.” V giggled at her joke making the Sign of the Horn with her index and little fingers.

“Omelette?” Mindy nuzzled Mangan. “I’m gonna miss you, big boy.” Mangan rolled on his back for belly rubs. Mindy was on business travel tomorrow and I was taking him to LA with me.

“Him more than me I’ll bet. I’m gonna shower first.”

 

I packed my bag and sat down to a 3 egg-white omelette with mushrooms, tomatoes, onions and sharp cheddar. Mindy cooked healthy. She helped me clean up my act from drugs and booze. When we were together I was a model citizen, other times not so much.

“Omelet’s good.”

“You need a ride to LA, right? You can go with me tomorrow. I have to go to LAX.”

“Thanks, but I have to be back tonight. I can get a bus.”

“Go with us. We can fit. It’ll be fun. Mangan loves the hatchback.”

Mindy shook her head. “He’s crazy.”

“I know but I have a rehearsal tonight. You sure we can do it.”

“Bus is not an option. It won’t get you there in time. We’ve ridden with Mangan together.” I looked to Mindy.

“But not to LA.”

“First time for everything. What time is your rehearsal?”

“Eight.”

“Better get on the road.”

I removed the top. Mangan curled himself into the hatchback. His kisses and smiles at the wind blowing in his face more than made up for the lack of conversation. The 101 from Aptos to Los Osos was not too crowded at 9AM. We made it in a little over 2 hours. 

“I’ve made this trip once before with him. We were alone. He loves Montana de Oro. So do I. Mangan’s a bear and knows the Spaniards named the place Los Osos because it’s the place of the bears.” Pecho Valley Road twisted and turned on its way to the sea.

“I didn’t know you were into dogs.” V held Mangan while I put the top on in the car park at the Bluff Trail parking area.

“Never had one when I was a kid. Always wanted a rottweiler though. They’re misunderstood. Maybe that’s why I wanted one - I relate. Smart, strong, gentle, loyal and loving if you treat ‘em right.”

“So then, why’d you run away from me?”

“I didn’t want to, I got drunk. You wouldn’t forgive me.”

Blue and yellow wildflowers splashed the coastline. It ended at a bluff overlooking Spooner’s Cove. Mangan strained at the leash and I let him go racing into the surf chesting the waves. We marveled at the powerful force he was. He came back to us shaking water like his namesake.

“It took a while but I forgave you. You left because you were just doing what men do when a woman won’t go to bed with them.” V crouched, rubbing Mangan’s back before he took of for the water again.

“That wasn’t why, it was something that happened in Baghdad.”

“You never talked about what happened over there.”

“I have PTSD. I went to a shrink. He’s helped me but it will always be there. Now at least I understand it a little.”

“What do you understand?”

“There was a helicopter at the Bowl that reminded me of a bad day in Baghdad. I started drinking and took off.”

Mangan came back with seaweed in his mouth and got the attention he wanted. V took it from him.

“I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, me too.”

I took Mangan’s ball from my pocket and tossed it into the water. He went for it and brought it back. A half hour of throw-and-retrieve and we were back in the car. We made it to the UCLA campus at 7:45PM.

Friday night after her business trip Mindy stayed in Marina del Rey with an old friend. Saturday morning I walked Mangan on the jetty promenade that sat between the marina channel and the south end of Venice Beach. Mindy was waiting at the end of the jetty where the sailboats turn into Santa Monica Bay.

“He loves the water.” I handed her the leash.

“He sure does. Loves you too. All things come to an end though. Say goodbye, Mangan.” She leaned on the railing, watching a UCLA sailing class practice tacking with Venice Pier and Malibu in the distance.

“I thought we were going to eat at Bay Cities.”

“I did a lot of thinking in my hotel room while I was away. I like Vicky a lot and we’re going to be friends. You’ve never looked at me the way you looked at her, so I don’t want the hassle of seeing that look every time we’re together. You’ve got your one-track mind, you’re good in bed and I know where that leads. I’m not the woman you want. Vicky is.” She led Mangan back to the street.

“But she’s not interested.” I caught up with them.

“Don’t be so sure. Take care, Cliff.” They entered the first house on the street that T-d into the promenade - the house everyone notices because of the pirates hanging from the roof and the windows.

Being dumped for the first time didn’t feel good so I drove to Bay Cities Deli in Santa Monica for LA’s best sandwich. I was sorry I hadn’t said goodbye to Mangan but Mindy’s parting words about V’s interest gave me pause chomping into my Godmother.  

 

September, 2011

 

I stayed clean that summer. Mindy’s cooking had helped me drop 10 pounds. No bread, no pizza, no coke of either kind. I was doing between 3 and 6 miles, 5 times a week and played beach rugby with some Aussies in Santa Monica. Mission Bay began practice in late July and guys were pissed at me for setting such a torrid pace for the 1500 meters.

“Cliff, save it for the season will ya.” The new coach from New Zealand yelled, trailing us off the pitch. He lowered his voice when he came abreast. “Thanks for helpin’. Keep pushin’ ‘em.”

Diana Krall’s guitarist, Anthony Wilson, was playing the Blue Whale in Little Tokyo as the band leader for Cyrille Aimee. I called Virginia.

“Remember the gypsy jazz girl singer from France we listened to on the way back from Mindy’s? She’s at the Blue Whale. You busy tomorrow?”

“OK, I dig the Whale. Mindy, told me she wasn’t seeing you anymore. I wanna hear what happened. She wouldn’’t say.”

“Maybe I won’t either. You want to eat before?”

“Yes. I’m in class until 6. I’ll meet you.”

“Sushi Gen. I’ll go and get a table so we don’t have to wait.”

I consider myself qualified to talk about sushi having grown up in the Bay Area with Japantown besides knowing LA and Little Tokyo. I’ll take the sushi joints in LA. Sushi Gen’s one of the best. By 6 in the evening there’s always a waiting line. I arrived just after 6 and gave the hostess my name. V arrived just after 6:30.

“Got a ride from a friend who lives in the Arts District, did pretty good. We got here in less than a hour.”

“Damn right you did. LA rush hour’s a bitch.”

“So whaz up with you and Mindy?”

I had thought over the answer beforehand. “She dumped me’s best way to describe it. First time for everything. You want the special?”

“OK.”

“One special and a tekka don with a bottle of the house saki.”

“Doesn’t figure, she really liked you. Said she always fell for guys who could love dogs the way you were with Mangan.”

“How’s school going?”

“Don’t change the subject. Why’d she break up with you?”

“Ask her. Maybe she was afraid there was too much gypsy in my soul. All she said was that she could see we weren’t going anywhere and I’d be better off with someone else.”

Miso soup and two small salads arrived.

“Is that how you felt?”

“She’s sexy and smart but I didn’t give her the pendant. Keeping it until the right girl comes along. Fucked that up once already. Mindy and I still think of each other as friends. Now can we change the subject?”

“OK. I’m going to Cadiz for 6 weeks.”

“Flamenco classes?”

“Yeah. I’m surprised you remembered. They give classes for credit there. I’ll be in Cadiz for Carnaval. My classes start after it’s over. I’m going early for Carnaval.”

“Cool.”

“Big Carnaval  there. Clubs work all year long to get ready. They do some pretty funny stuff. The skits are on YouTube.”

“When is it this year?”

“First and second week of February.”

“No rugby from December to March. Maybe I’ll go. Sounds like a blast.”

“Better brush up on your Spanish.”

“You’ll be there. You can be my interpreter.” I smiled, pouring heated saki from a white porcelain pitcher into 2 white saki cups.

A plate of assorted sushi rolls, sashimi and tempura for V and a bowl of sashimi tuna over rice for me were placed on the table.

“I’ll be with my friends from school.” Didn't want me in Cadiz that was clear.

“Then I’m excluded?”

“That’s not what I meant. You wanna go, go.”

“Bad joke, but I’m curious. You never told me anything about ostracism from your Roma family. I read a little about it when we met in Ensenada .”

“My Dad wanted me to marry a Roma for business. I wouldn’t do it, so they said my Roma karma was gone. That’s the way it is. Best thing that ever happened. Now I come and go as I please. Just like you.” Between the wasabi and V’s sarcasm there were tears in my eyes.

 

The Blue Whale’s in a secluded second floor corner of a plaza in Little Tokyo. The bar’s minimalist mahogany, glass and chrome serves the place well. Anthony Wilson was chatting up the bartender about the wine selection. I had met him at a cancer fundraiser where his dad’s band was hired by EnterpriseTec. Anthony’s experience and mine were of the opposite kind when it came to parents. He came from a musical family and helped his 90 year old father with the band. Besides being a helluva guitarist, it was clear that Anthony loved his Dad when he led him to and from the stage at the fundraiser.

“Hey Anthony, que pasa hermano?”  

“Hey bro, I’m cool. You?”

“Good, good. Lookin’ forward to hearing you and Cyrille.”

“She’s good, really good.”

“Yeah I know, my boss clued me in a while back and I checked her out. You remember Lester?.”

“Yeah hired the band for your gig. Loves my dad’s arrangements. Anthony Wilson.” Anthony took V’s hand.

“Virginia Kaldera, pleased to meet you..” Virginia’s eyes flashed at me, then Anthony. Was she mad, or smiling?

“El placer es todo mio.”

“Anthony speaks Spanish. His mom’s Mexicana.”

“Mexican-American. I want to choreograph your father’s Teri.”

“We’re playing the Catalina next week. You can ask him about it.”

“I’ll be there.”

Maybe I’d lost V to the night, the music and Anthony.

“Whaz up with you? What about flamenco?” I had to say something to stay in the game they were playing.

“Flamenco can work with jazz. We’re in the USA.”

“I like this girl, Cliff. Where’d you meet her?”

“Ensenada...”

She butt in. Anthony had her attention. “I live in LA. Dance major at UCLA.”

“Dad will be impressed. Catch you later between sets maybe. Gotta go.” Anthony gave Virginia a business card and wandered off to the greenroom in the back of the club. I should have known Anthony was just making small talk. He was a guitar player not a game player.

“Nice enough guy.”

“Sure is.”

“Do I hear jealousy or sarcasm?”

“A little of both. I’m sorry you’re right he’s a good guy. When it comes to who you give attention to I’m possessive.”

“Possessive? I wouldn’t think that about you after your disappearance.”

“Another part of me came into play at the Bowl - the PTSD part.”

“Tell me more about it.”

I gave her an abridged version; not the one you heard, Doc.

“When you told me you were a SEAL I thought about not seeing you again but you didn’t say much else so I didn’t walk. I can’t handle bravado and macho bullshit. Reminds me too much of where I come from.”

“I hear you. I learned a lot when I went over there. Therapy’s helped me sort through things. You’re the only girl I ever gave the pendant to. You’re special to me. It was fucking dumb to run away, but I was scared.”

“Of me?”

“I get all mixed up. I’m scared of you because you’re so damn strong. The chopper came and I just ran. I’ve changed. Sex is unnecessary, let’s just enjoy each other and the music.”

We moved from the bar to Blue Whale’s listening lounge where 20 black leather divans provided seats. The lounge was half-filled when Anthony’s quintet strolled onto the postage stamp stage.

“Joel Frahm’s playing too. Cool.”

I had seen Joel with Cyrille and Roy Hargrove on a Youtube video made in a small club in New York City. He was an NFL-sized sax player who blended well with Cyrille’s scat singing and had toured with Kurt Elling and Jane Monheit. About 2 minutes into “Night in Tunisia,” Cyrille joined the group with an infectious scat. Applause was enthusiastic when the set ended.

“Wow! She’s really good! They all were!” Virginia was all smiles.

“None of them make any money they just make music. It’s what happens when you get hung up on jazz.”

“Or you dance flamenco.”

We stayed for 2 sets. There was a ticket on the windshield when we got to the car.

“Bienvenido a Los Angeles, the city of angels.” V handed me my $50 parking fee.

“I’d really be pissed if the music hadn’t been so good. Cyrille grew up in France. She’s not a gypsy but the town she lived in had a festival every year of Django Reinhardt music. That’s why she did ‘Nuages’.”

Our night ended with a hug at the door of V’s apartment; a new beginning with the same old ending.


 

 


 

December, 2011

 

A couple of months with the hug at the door repeating itself. I was getting frustrated; it took a while for me to be able to tell her what I was all about, Doc. You remember that counseling session with Virginia when I said?

“Virginia, I gave the amulet to you and didn’t explain what it means. It means you have my heart, girl. My grandmother gave it to me and told me that when I met the woman of my heart I would know and I would give it to that woman. I gave it to you once. I’m giving it to you again. These words meanbone of my bones and flesh of my flesh’.”

I showed her the  inscription on the amulet and what grandmother had written in my copy of the Song of Songs...This is the only part of the Torah that explains the heart. Carry this book and wear this amulet always.  

V lowered her eyes then looked at you, Doc.

“I came here because Cliff wanted me to. Why am I really here?”

Doc, you moved your chair closer. “Cliff told me he wanted to give you the amulet again. He asked me to be here so I could tell you how much it means to him. He and I talked about the amulet in therapy. His grandmother was the mother Cliff never had. She raised him like her son, their hearts are bonded. He wants you to have the amulet because you have the same strength of heart.”

“I am touched but I won’t take it. If I had known what it meant the first time I wouldn’t have taken it then. It’s like an engagement ring. Cliff, I care for you but I’m not ready for this. I may never be ready. I hope you understand.”

“I don’t.”

“Until I sleep with someone my heart is my own. We haven’t made love, we haven’t slept together. Until then keep your heart and your amulet.”

Doc, you said in your therapist pose - legs crossed, elbow on knee, chin in hand, “I don’t have the right to ask. You can tell me to stick it where the sun don’t shine. Why haven’t you slept with a man? You’re a woman who does what she wants.”

“You think I need psychotherapy because I don’t sleep with men?”

“Not at all. Just asked to help me understand. Cliff’s my client.”

“Until I was 16 I lived in a Roma family and we don’t have sex until we’re married. If we have sex an arranged marriage can’t happen. When I said no to my father I moved out of the house. Now I don’t have sex because I don’t want a baby, I don’t take the pill and if I love someone I will not ask him to use a condom. Am I normal, doctor?”

“Perfectly.”

Having put us in place, V got up to leave. I didn’t want this to be how we were going to end. I had to let her know the session wasn’t about sex. I needed her.

“Your answer helps me a lot. I’m not used to girls who think like you do. It’s part of your strength. Don’t take the amulet I still want your friendship. Maybe down the line we can be lovers.” I’ll always wonder if the words about friendship was a lie.

“Don’t pressure me. I do dig your ponytail. You’re like my blonde Cortes.” She pulled my hair and went into the waiting room. She had told me Joaquin Cortes made her feel sexy once. Remember at the end, Doc, you asked if she would come back. I was surprised when she said she would.

 

February, 2012

 

Carnaval in Cadiz began the second week of February. I asked for 2 weeks off. Lyle called and suggested drinks after work at the Del to discuss it. When we walked into Babcock & Story Lester sat at the bar munching on braised mussels and fries.

“Join me.” He gestured to the empty bar stools beside him.

“Not by coincidence I’m sure.” Lyle and Lester were joined at the hip like Penn and Teller. They had cooked up meeting here.

“What’s a little conspiracy among friends.” Lyle’s arm went around my shoulder.

No doubt Lester was here with bad news about my vacation. “You’re not letting me go. Why?”

“We have an idea to go over with you. Burgers here or pizza in ENO? Have some mussels and pommes frites. Three of these.” Lester raised his martini glass to the bartender and slid the open shellfish and fries between Lyle and me.

“Nothing comes easy with you two. Decisions, decisions. The white cheddar burger’s to die for in here but the grilled asparagus pizza is better for my health.”

“That chick from Aptos still have you a diet, eh? When do we get to meet her?” Lester speared a mussel.

“She’s history. Dumped me.”

“And Stephanie tells me Jaki’s engaged. Sounds like you fled paradise and found disaster. I figured you were doing the Aptos girl when Lyle told me you wanted 2 weeks for Spain. Let’s do ENO in honor of her and good luck with whoever comes next. Salud.”

“Salud.”

“Salud.”

We raised glasses.

ENO was the Del’s artisan-style pizza and wine bistro - half on the beach and half indoors. We sat outside next to the fire pits to ward off California’s mid-winter chill.

“I envy this guy, don’t you? It must be the hair.”

“Gotta be more than hair. I heard some things about the rugby season he had. Whole body must be workin’ pretty well too.” Lyle armed my shoulder again.

“You’re right, it’s the hair. Virginia calls me the blond Cortes.”

“Whoa, there cowboy! Virginia, better known as V, is back on the sonar?”  

“We’ve been going out. She’s talking a flamenco class in Spain so I got a condo with a buddy and his girlfriend.”

“I met this girl the night our cowboy left her high and dry at the Bowl, Lyle. Don’t get the wrong idea, Cliff was really the high and dry one.”

“I remember. I gave him the tickets, really wanted to hear Elling that night.”

“Cadiz is the place to be in Spain for Carnival. Helluva party. One of the best in Europe. Another round?” Lester waved to the waitress.

“Glass of cabernet please and one Giardino Fresco.” The waitress nodded at my order.

“There’s a Napa cabernet I want to try. Give us a bottle of Cultivar and a Salsiccia pizza.”

“Cancel my cab, I’ll try the Cultivar.”

“You’ll like it, sir.” She nodded again.

“Our condo’s in El Puerto de Santa Maria just outside Cadiz.”

“History goes back to Homer and the Odyssey. ” I had no idea that Lester was into history.

“We’re going to Granada. I bought tickets to the Alhambra on the Internet.”

“Perfecto, you’ll be knowledgeable about Arabic and the Moors after that. I want you to meet me in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia when your vacation’s over. That’s why I’m here.” Lester love-tapped me in the chest.

“I thought business was good enough that you wouldn’t be trying to save on airfare.”

He laughed. “Things are good and you’re the one who’ll save on airfare. Expense the whole trip first-class. Take this and read it in your leisure before we meet.” Lester handed me a legal folder folded like an accordion.


 

The condo in El Puerto, as the locals call Santa Maria, was newly remodeled. VRBO was the Internet site rugby buddy Dennis used. We rented the place for a month to take advantage of the reduced rate. Dennis and his girl were as good as married after 3 years. They wanted privacy. We agreed that if something came up in Spain we’d like to do together we would, but for the most part we preferred to be on our own. The door from the street opened onto a tile courtyard with ferns and flowers filling a 3-story atrium surrounded by a spiral staircase. There were 2 units on each floor with a few finishing carpentry details to be done but everything in the condo was in working order - appliances, telephone, hot water and the unnecessary TV. There was a note on the fridge when I arrived from the airport.

Be Back on Friday. Went to Gibraltar. Denny and Carol.

V had bought her ticket through UCLA as tuition. She was staying at a hostel in Cadiz with friends from school. I took the ferry to Cadiz the next day.

“Que pasa, hombre?” V looked exhausted.

“I’m ready to party.”

“You won’t do much sleeping from here on out. I’ve been here 3 days and slept maybe 4 hours. This is one big party!”

“How’s the hostel? My condo is the shit. Everything new and just painted. Adobe walls, tile. My buddy and his girlfriend went to Gibraltar for a couple of days. You can sleep there if you want. There’s an empty bedroom”

“Hostel’s cool but not for sleeping. People coming in all hours of the night. What day we goin’ to Granada?”

“Tomorrow. I have tickets for the Alhambra Friday morning.”

“What time’s the train?”

“8:30.”

“Maybe I will sleep at your place tonight. Oops! I forgot, I can’t.”

We walked under the limestone and marble arches of Puerta de Tierra into Old Town. It began to drizzle and we stopped for an umbrella at a plaza Spanish cities have made famous. Flower shops and restaurants surrounded the plaza’s statue; V stopped .

“Columella was a Roman. They call him the prince of farm writers. Wrote about agriculture and trees. Bienvenido to the Plaza Las Flores and the flower market. A couple of friends are meeting us at Las Flores. They can fry you an egg. I saw huevas on the menu.”

Las Flores was my introduction to eating in Spain. The tables were small and filled with talking heads. V’s friends waved when they saw us. The waiter butted another table into theirs.

“I’ll order. The waiters don’t speak English. What do you want?”

“You know what’s good so you pick something with a fried egg and coffee.”

We sat, chatted and ate for more than 2 hours. It was late afternoon when we left the restaurant. Los Flores was not the Del in Coronado; no designer ambience, no fire pits - just coffee, fried fish, eggs, to-die-for potatoes and talk. The rain had stopped; I bought V flowers.

“Thanks. I’ve gotta go check on my classes. The beach isn’t far.”

“You go ahead. I’ll check out the beach and head back to read some stuff for work. What about tonight?”

“I’ll see you at the train tomorrow. I have to say goodbye to someone tonight.”

She’d only been here 2 days and already farewells to make. I guess there were other guys who saw that dancer body and those gypsy eyes.

“Trains at 8:30, remember.”

“I’ll be there at 8. C’ya.”

“Yeah, c’ya.”

Who had she met that was someone she had to say goodbye to? V made it clear and I agreed before we came on this trip; she didn’t owe me anything, even though I was picking up the tab for the trip to Granada and the tickets to La Alhambra. Learning not to have expectations was a recurring lesson when it came to women. Was she really what her name said she was or was she playing me?

A mist settled over Old Town. I sauntered through a narrow alleyway bordered on both sides by 3-story houses and apartments in one of the most densely populated cities in Spain. What damage an Apache could do here. I shuddered at the thought. An old lady called from one of the windows to another. They were both hanging clothes on a line strung between the two houses. The other laughed and cackled back. I couldn’t understand either of them but it was pleasant hearing them laugh. The walk was longer than I figured on. Cadiz thoughts lingered from breakfast. One of the oldest cities in Europe but the rebuilt buildings weren’t that old. Fires and battles destroyed much of the city over the 4 thousand years it had been around. Clothes, technology and transportation had changed over the years since the Vikings, Columbus and Saint Brendan first crossed the Atlantic, but some things hadn’t changed. The breakfast I had eaten could have been eaten by a Moor or a Spaniard when Spain and Cadiz were ruled by Alfonso X in the Middle Ages. Fried fish and eggs could have been served in Cadiz to Hercules, Hannibal, de Falla, a Phoenician, a Greek a Roman or a Carthaginian. All of them were part of the city like the swells breaking against the sea wall. Cadiz, Spain was a history lesson. When I arrived in Baghdad I didn’t give much thought to Baghdad’s place in history. After what we’d done to the city I didn’t want to give it much thought.  

The sun appeared just above the horizon where the street opened onto a vista of the Atlantic. A malecon marked the end of car traffic and the beginning of Playa la Caleta. Between 2 castles the malecon curved like a horseshoe beside the beach. The Spanish fleet had harbored here; Columbus had set sail here.

Cafe Quilla sat in the middle of the malecon. I didn’t want any more coffee but the view was too good to pass, besides after my walk from Las Flores I was ready to rest. I sat with a Perrier watching the surf trying to make sense of what was going on. After meeting with you, Doc, V and I were closer. We partied together over the holidays and we decided it would be OK if I came to Spain. Spending my first night in Cadiz without her bothered me; I decided to confront her on the train the next morning. Maybe Cadiz had a lesson to teach more important to me than its history.

The sun was dipping into the ocean -  my first sunset over the Atlantic. I tried comparing it to the Pacific. As the sun neared the horizon nature took control. I was in the moment with California memories replaced by imagined steel-helmeted Conquistadores watching sunset from this spot. The fire in the sky above forged an imagined bond as the surf pounded the crenelated sea walls of San Sebastian and Santa Catalin with a scarlet glimmer presaging nightfall. What must it have felt like to be a SEAL 520 years in the past?

 

A taxi and ferry took me back to El Puerto. I opened Lester’s folder and began reading the history of Saudi Arabia and the Rand corporation’s The Muslim World After 9/11.  It was around midnight when I put the folder away.  Reading about politics was not how I expected to spend the night. What was she doing? Who was she doing? I fell into a fitful sleep and awoke before the alarm rang to catch the ferry to Cadiz. The walk from the Cadiz ferry dock to the train station gave me time to frame how I would put the question. I arrived a few minutes before 8; V showed up a few minutes later.

“Coffee? You look rested.”

“Coffee sounds good. My aunt had an early train to Madrid so we had an early dinner. She had 2 beds. I slept in her hotel room.”

Expect the unexpected. “I forgot you have family in Madrid. How does that work now that you’re excluded?”

“Gilda’s my Mom’s sister so there’s no problem between us. She respects my decision not to accept my father’s choice. She was sorry she couldn’t meet you. No hangover? I’ll have an orange and coffee.”

“Spent the night reading for work. An orange and coffee with one of those cheese pastries for me. You order. My Spanish you know. It’s not Sunday morning but Wallace Stevens would approve.”

We headed for the train; both of us fell asleep before we reached Seville. The 2nd leg from Seville to Granada through Andalusia reminded me of early spring in central California - sandy soil with small green patches yawning for spring’s arrival.

“Didn’t expect to see snow.”

“Andalusia’s full of surprises.”

“Like you. I didn’t expect you to say yes to me tagging along and I didn’t expect you to see Doc Morse with me and, most of all, I didn’t expect you to be with your aunt last night.”

“Does it tell you anything?”

“That you’re unpredictable like most women.”

“And you love it, Cliff. How many women you been with?”

“Never counted ‘em.”

“You don’t keep score?”

“Guys talk about scoring but it’s not like that with me. It has been in the past at times, but I think I’m over that. Never been like that with you.”

“You don’t know as much about women as you think. I have moments when I want to teach you then I say to myself forget it he’ll never learn.”

“What is there to teach? You either want to be with me or you don’t.”

“That’s what I mean. A woman, this woman, can want to be with someone but chose not to be with them. It’s not because you left me once. That doesn’t hurt anymore. I understand you more now but that doesn’t mean I trust you. You think everything is about performance. Lots of guys do. Especially when it comes to sex. You play rugby, you were a SEAL, you drive sports cars, you make money. None of it’s bad but it tells me the kind of man you are. You gotta be doing something at the top of your game. I respect that but I want a man to be able to stop and listen, to be quiet together. A man doesn’t always have to be at the top of his game. He can have an off day. I can have an off day. We all can. I don’t think you believe that or you want that. Besides you don’t want someone who’s your equal.”

“Morse and I talk about a lot of things like that. I’m trying to change but it’s hard to stop being top dog. Doc says the underdog always wins.”

“You and Morse have gotta lot to learn. Topdog-underdog is man talk. The battle between the sexes is a man-made metaphor. We're not fighting you, we’re training you to understand us.” She laughed. “Let’s enjoy the city where Lorca wrote his canto jondo.”

The landscape outside changed as the train slowed entering the outskirts of Granada. Snow-capped mountains and ski trails looked down on a city where magic spells were cast like stones into the confluence of 4 rivers.


 

I had booked a room for four in El Albaicin, originally the Moorish part of the city. La Alhambra looked down on us as we walked up the hill to a hostel with a deck facing the castle-fortress.

“You have a registration for Porter. I paid on the Internet. The other couple won’t be staying with us. Do you have any accommodations for just 2?”

The scruffy guy behind the registration desk chuckled.

“No senor, every bed is booked. It’s Carnaval.”

I frowned at V as if to say what do you want to do.

“We’ll take what you have.”

“If someone comes in I’ll give them the other 2 beds and reimburse you.”

“Keep it as is. Leave the 2 beds empty.” V looked to me for agreement.

My heartbeat quickened. “Yes, it’s paid for let it be.”

“Your passports please.”

He checked us in and gave us 2 keys.

“Top floor. The stairs at the end of the hall near the bath lead to the roof. It’s a great view at night. Welcome.”

The room had 2 bunk beds.

“You never know who might come in in the middle of the night. No problem. Yours and mine.” V put her bag on the bottom bunk near the wall showing me the one by the window.

“You sure you won’t be cold?” I joked, hiding my disappointment.

“Plenty of blankets on the other beds if I’m cold.” V smiled. “Let’s check out the deck.”

The view was breathtaking - very different from the luxury hotel Lester had suggested.

“A pearl among emeralds!”  V gasped at the roseate cream-colored fortress surrounded by English elms in the waning sun. “That’s a Spanish poet’s description of La Alhambra. Imagine being born in Granada. No wonder Lorca wrote poetry.”

“We’ll have all day tomorrow up there. Our tickets are for 9AM. The train leaves at 5.”

“I could use a nap.” V crawled into her bed and me into mine; she could have been my sister the way things were going.

 

It was almost 9 before we left for dinner. On the way V asked the guy at the desk where to get a taxi.

“Bottom of the hill. They don’t come up here. Where you going?”

“Restaurante Sevilla.”

“You won’t need a taxi. Head for the cathedral. It’s on 12th. It will take you 15 maybe 20 minutes.”

The walk down the hill was easier than the walk up, especially without bags to carry. Granada’s Arabs lived in Albaicin. The vibe walking through the streets was tranquil. It came from the darkness and empty streets. There was no industrial lighting, just La Alhambra - a castle in the sky glowing in the dark. I took her hand; she squeezed it, I squeezed back.

“I like this place. Gives me a peaceful feeling.”

“Singin’ an Eagles’ song? You’re in Albaicin, man. I’m glad the tourists don’t visit here, it’s better without them.”

Once we left Albaicin, Friday night in Granada was like Friday night in LA. Everybody was out and about. Restaurante Sevilla was packed. The guy at the door found us 2 empty seats at a table for 6. Nobody seemed to mind. Some guy started talking to V. I watched them for a minute but soon everybody was talking. A couple at the table spoke English so I wasn’t at a total loss in the crossfire of machine-gun Spanish. More food and wine appeared as quicky as it disappeared. I wasn’t sure what it was going to cost but I hungrily crammed down shrimp, octopus, serrano ham, patatas a la pobre and to-die-for white boquerones (anchovies), washed with wine.

The guy who spoke English tagged me with a friendly poke.

“Take it easy, my friend. Bodega Castenada sherry’s not top-grade but there’s plenty more. This is tapas. Put it on your wineglass. We use tapas to stop the flies from drinking the sherry. Americans know how to do burgers but tapas leave to us. I heard that American kids dream of climbing the corporate ladder at McDonald’s. Do Obama’s kids work at McDonald’s?”

“Burgers are the cornerstone of a nutritious breakfast. I like this sherry. Don’t drink sherry much at home.”

“Fino sherry and Tarantino are the best.” Getting my Pulp Fiction quote, a girl raised her glass.

“Go to Hole in the Wall in Los Angeles when you want a burger. Jules Winnfield says, ‘that is a tasty burger!’”

“What is it about you guys? Best burgers, best movies, worst manners and the worst futbol. Everybody loves futbol except the US.” The guy who first spoke to V leaned over the table feeling no pain.

“We play our national anthem before every game so we don’t forget who we are.”

“Every game?” The girl put her hand on the boyfriend’s chest and pushed him back in his chair.

“Yep.”

“We only do anthems at internationals.”

“Makes sense, but not gung-ho patriots.”

The check wasn’t as much as I expected. V got up from the table.

“I’m going to the ladies’ room then Sacromonte for flamenco.”

“Sounds good to me.”

The boyfriend shouted, “I knew they were tourists.”

 

On the bus V clued me in.

“One of my teachers told Sacromonte’s dancers I was coming. My Mom brought me here when I was little. The Roma live in caves they built into the side of the hill and do flamenco for the tourists. It’s how some of Granada’s gypsies make money, instead of stealing like everybody thinks. This is the real deal. Roma’s best. Just keep your mouth shut, listen and watch.” She laughed and gave me a kiss.

“People are friendly here. They say what they think.”

“Lots of students in Granada. It’s an open-minded city, diverse.”

“Not like Baghdad. The US military and Saddam didn’t promote free thinking. You were on one side or the other.”

We got off the bus in Sacromonte above our hostel in Albaicin. I was happy we’d be walking downhill on the way home. The cave we entered was a family’s home. The interior was spotless with chairs and people lined up along the whitewashed walls. A man sang at the far end. I couldn’t understand a word. The only other place I had heard pain and sadness like his was in Baghdad.

About a dozen people stood or sat against the wall. A man led us to 2 empty chairs.  A flamenca was stomping to a guitar and cajon. Her stomping feet quickened and she began to dance yelping occasionally joined by the people lining the wall. Then the tempo changed and she became a dervish with twirling hands over her head. Her finale was one last foot stomp with hands fallen to thighs, head raised in defiance.

The man who ushered us to our seats whispered to the guitarist and curled his index finger at V. She joined them and whispered briefly. The man nodded and spoke.

“Virginia Kaldera bailara Pajaro Negro desde Latcho Drom por Tony Gatliff.”

V danced; the singer sang; the guitarist played. The cinematography and soundtrack of Tony Gatliff’s film are exquisite. I had seen Latcho Drom at UCLA with V just before she left LA. The movie tells the story of the Roma diaspora from India. Wherever they went they carried music with them - Turkey, Egypt, Roumania, France, Spain. A singer from Badajoz, Spain named la Caita sings, more like spits, “Black Bird.” La Caita sings that gadjos respect their dogs more than they respect the Rom. V’s hands were clenched at her sides when the dance ended.

“I never thought I would see you dance that music. Incredible.”

“Roma as a despised black bird speaks strongly to me. I had to try to choreograph it.”

“What did the ending gesture mean?” I knew a little about the meaning of movement in flamenco.

“The battle with my duende is over. I defy the gadjo with the strength of the duende, La Caita and the Rom.”

V may have been ostracized  but she still had Roma karma. That night was the epiphany of epiphanies, Doc. I gave Virginia my heart again, or maybe La Alhambra returned my heart to me. On the walk back to the hostel we stopped 3 or 4 times to gaze at the illumined castle on the nearby hill. The ‘pearl among emeralds’ shone golden under silver stars shooting across an obsidian sky.

“In Baghdad there was no sense of history; we supposedly went there to find Osama Bin Laden, instead we blew up part of the history of civilization. Some of us enjoyed the killing. To guys like Chris Kyle the enemy wasn’t human, he was just a rug rat. Wars should only be fought by guys who enjoy killing. Six, 7 hundred years ago the Moors built that castle, it’s a beautiful thing floating through time like Space Odyssey’s monolith. That was something to believe in. Once the apes started to believe in something that was like a religious symbol, they started to fight. You're an infidel according to your enemy. In this war if you’re Christian you’re an infidel to Islam and if you’re Muslim you’re an infidel to Christianity.”

“The blond Cortes has become a philosopher. I like it.”

We walked the rest of the way in silence.

I was almost asleep on the lower bunk when she walked across the room and kissed me. “Good night.”

I took V’s hand. “The amulet is yours anytime you want it.”

 

The ticket-taker at the entrance welcomed us the next morning. It’s easy to see why La Alhambra’s a World Heritage site. The architecture and the writing on the walls are spellbinding. If I’d seen it before Baghdad I doubt I would have signed up to go and fight in the Middle East. The only place I’d ever been like it is Eglise Notre Dame des Victoires on Bush St. My grandmother took me there a couple of times. It’s a church built in San Francisco for Frenchmen who came to California for the Gold Rush. The interior is modeled on a basilica in Lyon dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The French believe she saved Lyon from the plague. The peace of the place is enveloping; I had the same sense in the Nazrid Palaces.

I didn’t understand the peace of the Nazrid when I was there. The currency wielded there was the currency of power. Columbus stood in the Hall of the Ambassadors before Ferdinand and Isabel for their support and money. I learned later that the purpose of Islam construction is to raise human consciousness, bring mankind closer to Allah and the peace of Jannah. The builders of La Alhambra didn’t know about DNA but they built the repetition found in DNA’s double helix. It’s found in all life. The arabesques and fractal geometric forms show the way to the infinite, the residence of the deity.

Not a place for facts or analytics, La Alhambra has to be experienced. Visually the patterns on the walls are hypnotic. They deliver a peace of mind only great works of art can deliver. The Muslim columns, arches and domes could have been stolen from the church on Bush St., but I didn’t see any humans like the Virgin of the Eglise Notre Dame des Victoires or Christ on the cross. Whatever works to get you on your way to Heaven or Jannah - the concrete reality of the Crucifixion and the Blessed Mother, or an infinity of arabesques and fractals. I still don’t believe in Heaven or Jannah, but if I’d been asked at La Alhambra I would have answered, “Yeah OK, maybe there is a God.”

 

The train ride to Cadiz felt like Vienna Waits for You - a yearning for something coming down the road. I felt sad leaving Granada but Carnaval in Cadiz was next.

“Now I get all you’ve told me about Andalusia and flamenco. La Alhambra was more cool than I expected. The architecture was like a video game for the soul. Why so many gypsies live there?”

“Granada’s kind of where it comes together. The weather’s good, feels like home in India maybe. Next time I’m here I’ll ask the homies why they stay. You like Lorca?” V gave me a look that said I better have a good answer.

“I feel him. I know what ‘duende’ and ‘canto jondo’ is all about. You better have soul if you’re a flamenca and, baby, you got your share of it. I wish I had it.”

“Everybody’s got soul. Everybody’s got duende. Same thing. You got it. Duende’s spirit. It’s like a muse we battle to create. In flamenco you fight it till you kill it or it kills you. Duende demands sadness. Technology hates sadness. Today’s pop music sucks because it’s synthesized, lacks humanity, lacks pain.”

“I feel you, Virginia. Never thought of it like that. My guitar gently weeps for you.”

“You have a dirty mind.”

I didn’t mean it the way V took it but I didn’t correct her because I do have a dirty mind as you know, Doc.

We slept most of the way; it was early evening when we arrived in Cadiz.   

“I have our costumes for Carnaval. My friends are waiting for us at La Plaza de las Flores.”

We slipped through the side door to a back room at Las Flores. V’s friend had brought our costumes and we changed. When we sat at the table to eat the celebration was in full swing. One of V’s friends shouted, “‘The vox populi’ accompanies the artist whose pain knew no bounds.”

V was unibrowed Frida Kahlo in blood-stained Mexican clothes with part of her trolley accident sticking out her back. Ironically, I was the guy in a Guy Fawkes mask from V for Vendetta.

Dinndr over, we made our way through a crush of people in the streets. Most of the throng in front of Gran Teatro Falla drank from goat skin wine botas. Two different groups - chirogotas and comparsas - performed their skits from a stage in front of a theater. They were comically critical of the government, society, the Catholic church, and all things deemed hypocritical. The chirogotas featured “juego de palabras” and slapstick; the comparsas were intellectual and acerbic. Carnaval in Cadiz is different from the rest of the world. Not a sexy spectacle like Rio’s - Cadiz’ party is a unique Spanish tradition, heavily spiced with sarcasm and wordplay.

Two hours of shoulder-to-shoulder drinking and soon I was going to be a passed-out drunk, but in the moment I was about to be a pissing drunk.

“I don’t know about you but I gotta go.”

The look on V’s face scared me. What was she thinking?

“This is an all-nighter.”

“Walk me to the pisser. I might get lost. I don’t wanna be Yogi Berra.”

“What the fuck you talking about?”

“He said it was ‘deja vu all over again.’ I'm thinking about the Hollywood Bowl.”

“I erased that tape.”

“I haven’t.”

She took me by the hand. “Don’t play it again. Plaza de Mina’s not as crowded and maybe we can find some Pan de Cadiz.”

She was wrong on both counts. We stopped at two cafes and V asked for Pan de Cadiz. No luck, we were told to come back at Christmas. At the third cafe four people were waiting to use the WC. I spotted a public bathroom. No line.

“I can’t wait any longer. I’m going.” The stench of urine was heavy. I pissed and added the smell of my vomit to the stench before I cleaned myself off, then returned to the cafe. I’d been gone less than 20 minutes I thought. V wasn’t there.

I asked the waiter, “Habla inglese?”

“Un poco.”

“Where’s the girl in the Frida costume?”

“She went.”

“Where?”

“She have anger. She went to find you I guess.”

I rushed back to the public bathroom. No V. An hour of wandering the Plaza with several interim stops at the cafe led to a last stop.

The waiter smiled. “She come back.”

“Did you tell her I was here.”

“No. You weren’t.”

“I mean before.”

“No senor. She was angry.”

I was exhausted, confused and pissed off. “If she comes back tell her I’ll be at the ferry.” I handed him some money for his trouble and left.  

It was 4AM. In 3 hours at the ferry terminal 2 ferries came and went to Puerto. No mas for me. I was going to be on the next ferry when Frida appeared with our bags.

“There you are.”

“And there you are.”

“What happened this time? You were gone a half an hour and I figured Yogi Bear was deja vu all over again.”

“It’s Yogi Berra, not Yogi Bear.”

“I don’t really give a fuck. What happened, Yogi? When you said you hadn’t erased the tape of the Hollywood Bowl, it was the perfect setup. I had almost forgotten that night, but it all came back to me in a flash. Maybe I have PTSD too.”

Maybe she wanted to be, but she didn’t seem as angry as she pretended to be. I got up and took her hand.

“I really am sorry. I got sick in the men’s room and by the time I got back you were gone. The waiter said you went to look for me. I went back to the men’s room but couldn’t find you. Shoulda stayed at the cafe I guess.”

“The waiter told me you came back and were looking for me too. I went and got our clothes.”

”I’m not used to drinking like this. Mindy and Doc Morse have straightened me out. I need some sleep.”

“Me too.”

“Your place or mine?”

“You have a place for me?”

“Always in my heart. Come on.”

An hour later we were at the condo.

“Nice.”

“And it’s all ours. My buddy went to Gibraltar. Hungry?” I asked without thinking; the fridge was empty.

“A little.”

“There’s a place around the corner.”

More deja vu. Everyday's Wallace Stevens Day in Spain. We had coffee and oranges. No rug, no cuckatoo. The sun had come up by the time we were back at the condo.

“I need some sleep.”

“I’m with you on that.”

“You can have the bed. I’ll take the couch.”

“We can share the bed.” V took my hand. I felt the fire in her eyes. “Now’s as good a time as ever to find out if you can be the man I want you to be.”

Five years I'd been waiting to hear those words and all I could say was, “Sleep first, please. I’m better in the morning.”