Thursday, September 05, 2002

Tomales Bay

The town of Inverness has been around for some time, and while the trans-bay swim does not have the 98-year history of the Fourth of July road races after 28 years it has its own traditions. There is a pancake committee that creates post swim hotcakes, and the kayak escort will give you a swig of tea during the swim.

Everyone seems to know each other's first name. My mom, who invited me, was invited by her friend Nancy Jo. It was in general an earthy crowd.
Inverness did not have the traditional immigrant waves like the rest of the country, but was settled by Czechs, hippies, bikers, and John Carpenter - horror movie director. The fashion was less from Paris more of an Advance Studies in Pottery Class mode. The group looked like it could be quite happy bird watching.

There was a range of swimmers from nouveau dog paddlers to a guy who qualified for the Hawaiian Ironman. Having far more swimming gear than actual technique, I put on a full wet suit, body glide, and swim cap. I began to think that I might be over dressed for the 70-degree water, and looking around I notice a few who had a different view of their bodies.

Freedom, baby, freedom.

Apparently there was another tradition besides the pancake breakfast. A woman a few feet over from me completely shed her clothes while remarking, "I guess I forgot my suit." By the looks of things she was more Woodstock than Burning Man. A couple others joined her by going topless. Maybe it really was closer to Paris after all.

I do have to say on that list of things for which I am truly grateful, somewhere near the apartment with a hot tub and that I still have all of my teeth, is the fact that my mom and her good friends decided to wear their suits. There is only so much family history I want to know. Even now I shudder.

The nudists did go to the front of the group picture - important to keep a memento for the yearbook.

The shots were taken and we headed out across the bay. The dangers are more legendary than real - the bay is on top of the San Andreas Fault line and great white sharks breed at the northern most part, but the difficulties are more with mud and sea grass. The distance lies the vague small town scale where the fish that got away was always a yard long - the route was claimed to be a mile and a quarter but was most likely less than a mile round trip. The day had flat water, sunny skies, and the swim was soon over.

No one has ever asked me to be a godfather (I think my friends expect me to give no more guidance than "pull my finger"); I have not had a close seat at a baptism in a while. And while the event did not have a religious slant, there is something more than just exercise when a town goes down to the sea. Places have their traditions whether they are pagan or brought to you by greeting card companies. Perhaps it is that realization that when you are swimming across tectonic plates it is better to do it in the company of neighbors than to struggle at it alone.

Monday, September 02, 2002

Circles in the Sky

It was a story told late night in bar. The margaritas helped the telling, and I did my best to listen over noise from the pool table to a girl at a mutual friend's goodbye to San Francisco party. A blond from the Midwest she told a small cluster of us about a wedding she went to over the weekend.

For me weddings come in waves. You can go a year with no one being hitched, and then out of nowhere you are spending your Thursday's shopping at Pottery barn for gifts, Friday's traveling to wherever a college roommate grew up, Saturday's blurring through a reception, and Sunday's trying to make it back for the dry cleaners. The conversations melt. You think you have told the first time you got really drunk with the groom or bride to everyone, but you can't really remember the last time that you did anything with them that wasn't about the wedding.

There are little things that separate the events apart. One might have a "make your own sundaes" at the reception, a barbeque on an Iowa farm, or a cute bridesmaid. This wedding was held on a Sunday. The requested attire was Renaissance.

A satellite keeps in orbit by constantly falling and missing, and some relationships follow the same circle of being too attracted to leave but too uncertain to fall completely. He might have commitment problems. She might think she can do better. Their friends spend hours listening to them in coffee shops or a bar on buffalo wing night. No one is sure.

This is when entropy enters uninvited. People complain that their relationship needs a jolt but freeze when that moment comes. Six months ago she found out she had liver cancer.

I can't quite hear about the treatment process - a couple next to me is talking about a triathlon. There is something about not getting a transplant and the medication not really working. She is going to switch to a different type of treatment, but it looks like she has about three months left.

I don't know when he proposed or how she could plan for the event. Maybe the secret is to keep it simple: gather a few friends and find a good beach on a hotter than normal Indian summer day.

The crashing waves and gawking gulls served as music. A large hat hid her baldness. They wanted each of guests to bless the wedding rings during ceremony. They gathered in a circle and passed the rings around. Somebody held the ring up to the sky. Somebody held the ring close to their heart.

One by one family and friends spoke. Nobody was thinking about Pottery Barn.

The girl telling the story wandered to get another round of margaritas and the rest of the crowd went either to the restroom or to the pack playing pool. Now alone except for a coaster I watched Newtonian physics of the balls on the pool table colliding and breaking away, and then glanced up to see mingling of old friends, the flirting of new acquaintances, and the contemplating of those also alone at different tables or next to pillars. A few hugged the one leaving San Francisco and I realized the great need to celebrate in front of partings.