When friends come to visit, I put them up in my small apartment - on the floor or squeaky couch - and in the daytime we see San Diego’s wide range of free tourist entertainments: Balboa Park, the pedestrian bridges nearby, and (if someone has a car) the Scripps Aquarium.
At night I take them along on my after-dinner walk through the neighborhood, Hillcrest. The Chicken Pie Shop and the Mayfair are big hits, even with jaded L.A. people, who think they’ve seen all the world's freaks. Other high spots are the side-by-side bookstores down the street (one deals in old books, the other in new ones), and the small fruit market, run by ancient Greeks, where a New York friend of mine can linger for hours, feeling nearly homesick.
Glum commentary can be a part of these tours when we pass the Pacific Telephone Building, a grey slab monster with its entrance on a back street. I often turn the other way, down the dark, residential streets, and lead us to a bar of old drinkers (one of several such bars in the neighborhood).
I can’t tell you what is is about this bar that attracts me. I never come here alone, only with visitors. And then, in my role as tour guide, I feel this urge to tell my group about the average faces along the bar, and about some places we’ve together seen that day - not monuments or museums, but places you might not notice unless somebody pointed them out.
I am lucky to have friends who are good travelers, who can walk all day and still be curious. For there are stories to tell about the neighborhood and the people who live here. The stories aren’t grand. They’re merely for visitors who wonder about cottages, local bars, the moon, and other foreign matters.
Clean and white under bougainvillea, Wanda’s house was the joy of her life. When she found it four years ago, she thought she might never move again. She took out three-year subscriptions to magazines. She had personal stationery printed. She bought tools and a garden hose, started a savings account, looked at brand-new couches.
The cottage was situated behind a stately, two-story house-the kind that makes you think of a country judge, though it was owned by an engineer in the city. He told Wanda one day that her cottage must have been a servant’s quarters and she clapped her hands together and laughed. A servant’s quarters! This was the house that had saved her from that. She would never be anyone’s servant. She remembered opening the screen door for the first time, and seeing the abbreviated living room, and thinking: “One house for one person.” It was as though the spirit of a former servant were speaking to her, telling her plainly that the ideal society is one in which everyone has one plate, and washes it.
“You’ve only got one plate,” Harry said, over his first breakfast with Wanda.
“Yes,” she said. “I’ve been meaning to get another for months.”
Harry was quite fond of Wanda, admired independence in one so young, and eagerly learned her rules, though he felt some of them were affected. (No shoes indoors. Smoking by the window only.)
They were lovers for a year. The break came when he asked her to live with him—insisted, rather that they couldn’t grow unless they shared more. Harry left his small apartment and spent a lot of money on a place for him and Wanda, thinking she would move when she saw he was serious.
“Don’t blame me,” she said. “I never considered moving. And don’t pout. It’ll be easy to get a roommate. Everybody wants to live in this area. ”
When the fighting was over, they tried being old friends. And now, after many talks, they began to like each other again. (Harry remained convinced that Wanda’s life was narrow; Wanda saw a thousand ways Harry was unhappy.)
One night, late, Harry wanted very much for Wanda to be with him and his new friend, Anne-Marie. He got up to find the telephone.
“I would if I could,” Wanda said sleepily. “Where are you?” “The Mandolin Wind. Why can’t you come?”
She yawned. And Harry had to yawn.
“I just took my shower and I don’t like to walk past the Mayfair at night,” she said.
Harry said nothing, then Wanda laughed. “You may like crazies, but I don’t Not at eleven-thirty on a Tuesday.”
“This lady I’m telling you about is unbelievable,” he said. “She knew Frank Lloyd Wright—” Wanda was humming to the radio.
“-listen: she was in the Air Force during the war and had to resign to have babies and put her husband through military school so he could join the C.I.A. and take that picture of Artie Bremmer shooting Wallace.”
“Ooh. What’s her name?”
“Mmmn. Where does she live?”
“In a cottage a few blocks from you, near the Pac Tel Building.”
“I don’t know where that is. But she does sound interesting. Maybe we can see her sometime.”
“She leaves Thursday for Hawaii.”
“She can’t find work here.”
“Goddamnit Wanda, because she's sixty and doesn’t have a car.”
“Well I’m very sorry.”
Silence. Wanda sighs; Harry is angry. Silence. Things don’t change.
“Can you hold on a minute?” said Wanda. He heard her put the phone down, heard her tread squeak over the polished floor. The door opened. He imagined the cat, high-tailed, stepping carefully in. He could see her cottage, and her calm, lovely street, the houses like sitting hens. And so many signs: “No Agents or Peddlers.”
“Listen, if I can walk alone past the Mayfair and the Brass Rail you can certainly take a chance—”
“—You know I would, Harry. But tonight, I can’t help it, I'm all settled in.” Then she was cheery. “ I do appreciate the call, though. I really do.”
Harry returned to the table where Anne-Marie was talking to a busboy. Harry had seen him before, a sincerely casual guy. From their gestures - the way he laughed and touched her shoulder - Harry took them to be old friends.
They were talking about her cottage.
“Where are you staying now?” asked Anne-Marie.
“Around. I was in Clairemont, but I got out of there. Place is insane. Nothing but women in huge fuzzy slippers.” (He laughed.)
“And so. What does your place rent for, anyway?”
“One hundred and ninety a month,” she said. “And it’s going up.”
“I’ll take it!” he said.
TWO BARS, ONE MOON
Bob the shop steward usually tells bar fares to go to hell. But I like bar fares because they're easy to find.
I happen to know where Bocardo’s is because I walked in once to use the phone when I was looking for an apartment. I remember the name - Bocardo’s — the open sound of it and the fact that it sounds like rum. Bocardo’s and Coke, If I owned the bar or even worked a there I’d make that a drink.
I picked up a bell for Bocardo’s about nine-thirty on Friday night, my first night of work. (I was hanging in Hillcrest because I know it and because there was plenty of business from the market at least.) I drove right there, parked in front, and walked into the bar holding my hat and asked the bartender who called a cab. “Margie?” he said.
A lady with a wig and old-lady glasses and a big chest that blended with the rest of her was Margie. She looked at me with her mouth hanging open and the ceiling lights reflected on her glasses like bowls. I kind of tensed like she was going to fall over but she spoke clearly. “I’ll be with you in a minute,” she said.
I went out and opened the curbside door to the back seat, then got in and did my trip-sheet. At least she waddled out. She was wearing gold sparkly slippers. “Where’re we going?” she said, following her hands like a sleepwalker toward the open door.
“I don't know ma'am. Didn’t you call a cab?”
“Oh, don’t you know all the places?”
“No ma'am. I’m new in town.” I looked at her in the back. She looked a little distorted but not at all drunk. “How about Club 20?” I said. “They got a piano bar now.” She nodded. “And it’s close,” I said, throwing the flag and pulling out.
I took a dark back street so I could turn up on the front side of the bar. After a while I noticed her hand on the headrest beside me.
“Oh my God, look at that moon,” she said quietly.
“Jesus, that is a moon, ma’am.”
It was low and not quite full, a muddy yellow color like old newspaper. It hung just above a silhouette of eucalyptus trees.
She thudded back in her seat. “It’s your moon. You brought it out. Oh, you brought it out for the world.”
“Ohhhh...that place back there is so damn dead. All damn dead!”
“Piano bar up here, and a good singer too.”
I think she fell asleep. Anyway she didn't talk again until we got to Club 20. I got out and went to open the door for her. There was a guy my age, unshaven and unsteady, aiming his hand at the door handle.
“Hang on,” I said. Margie opened the door herself. “You already call a cab?” I said to the drunk man. He looked at me like he was trying to keep from sneezing, then shook his head. “I’m waiting for this old lady to get out,” he said.
“Give me some damn room,” she said. The drunk man laughed.
“Step back,” I told him.
“It’s all right, man. I know her.”
She was unbending from the car when their corkscrew faces met. “Margie!”
“Oh no!” she said, and coughed.
I was expecting to see a little reunion, with them hugging and happy to see each other. But after he helped her up on the sidewalk, he shouldered past her and got in the car.
Margie never seemed to notice him. She paid me, gave me a fifteen-cent tip, patted me on the shoulder.
“Take him wherever he wants to go,” she said. “Just don’t bring him back here.”
I got in the car. “Where can I take you tonight, sir?”
“I don't care. Lamplighter I guess.”
“Where is it?”
“You know Bocardo’s?”
“Next door. This place is a graveyard.”