Magnets and Miracles

Night often finds me sitting on the sea wall, fretting the label off a bottle of Fat Tire. Sometimes I sit so that I can see the lights of San Francisco, and when I’m finished sometimes I throw the bottle against the rocks so I can hear the crash and bitter tinkle, wasted glass sluicing through the boulders to cut an unsuspecting hand later. I feel momentarily guilty before I shrug and remember that life’s a bitch, eh, and I tuck the label into my pocket so that it will come out in the wash, filling the dryer with paper lint. Other times, I sit on the dark side, looking across the Bay to the indistinct muddle of Richmond, Berkeley, lights dancing along the bridge which glitter in an out like a tired disco ball.

For some reason, I had a dream last night that was so intense and vivid that for a moment I thought I was in a different place. I had two dreams, actually, but the one I’m going to tell you about is about books, childhood.

I remember when I was young, in Caspar, I would take my father’s coffee up to him every morning. He got in late at night from working at the bar, but somehow managed to be cheerful when I charged upstairs at eight in the morning, filled with a zest to do something. If the day was sunny, my father would say:

“Let’s make potato pancakes,” and we would, and I would see how many I could eat before I might feel faintly sick, and then we would do the dishes and pack a thermos of chocolate milk and go to the beach. Sometimes we would walk to Jughandle, and sometimes we would walk to Caspar beach, and we would build dams and pry limpets from the rocks and drink chocolate milk made with inky black Indonesian chocolate until the afternoon set in, and started to get cold, and then we would walk home and cook dinner.

Other days, it wouldn’t be sunny, and I would be filled with restlessness. My father would let me set the Monopoly board up on the bed, and we would play for pennies and later dollars, or maybe we would play chess, and he would say:

“Do you really want to move there?”

And other days, oh, glorious day, I would coax him into taking me to Mendocino, so that we could go to the bookstore and visit Katy, and the smell of fresh ink and paper would fill my nostrils, and I would use my saved up pennies to buy a book, or sometimes I would wheedle him into buying one for me. Katy used to give me reader’s copies sometimes, although I didn’t know they were reader’s copies, then. Other times, when they stripped the covers off books to send to the publisher to get their money back, she would rescue the books from the recycling and give them to me. Knowing Katy, she’s still passing on good books to kids who need them.

In those days we still owned the white Volvo with the holes in the floor in the back, and I would bound into the front seat and my father would roll a cigarette while the engine warmed up, and then we would trundle down the road to Mendocino, speculating on whether or not the fog would lift.

In those days, Bookwinkles was still around the corner from the Gallery Bookshop, in the little white building with the tower, and my father would find a parking spot and I would race out into the bookstore to run my fingers longingly over all the books while my father went down the street. I still remember that in between stage, when I would go the Bookwinkles and realize there was nothing there for me, anymore, and I remember the first time my father pulled a piece of adult fiction from the shelf and said:

“I liked this when I was a kid, I think you might like it too,” and I took The Tin Drum home and read it from cover to cover.

In my dream, my father and I were driving down the road to Mendocino, and I was little, then, wearing my favorite blue a-line skirt left over from a dance performance. But my father was as old as he is now, with white hair and nervous hands and a distant look in his eye. When we arrived in Mendocino, everything was gone, some sort of strange yuppie paradise had arisen with condos and malls, and my father’s blue jeans and plaid shirt looked just as out of place as my shabby blue skirt and Keds, and he took me by the hand and we tried to find the ice cream store, but no one would answer us when we asked for directions. And then the dream was over, and I was waking up, tasting Black Forest and smelling the waffle cones they used to make at the ice cream store, right there, while you waited in line. The odd thing about the dream was that everything which is still there in Mendocino was gone, and yet I dreamed about the ice cream store, which hasn’t been there for years. Some sort of strange flipped time warp.

I remember the last time I tried to go to the ice cream store, it was New Year’s Day, 2000, and a bunch of us woke up late after a party and walked to the ice cream store and it was gone, empty, even the ice cream cases. Each of us tried to remember the last time we had been, and realized that it might have been gone for weeks, perhaps even months, and none of us had noticed.

What haven’t you noticed?