International Writers Magazine: Friends
and the Difficulties of School
I first saw Daniel Larson walking along with a crowd of friends
trailing behind him, smiling and talking in the sunshine outside
the gym at Oakland Tech, I knew from then on that this was a smart
dude. And of course, being the competitive dude that I was, I
was bound to find myself trying to outsmart him.
And from there on,
a series of conversations began between us, about life, about history,
about... of all things, Star Trek: Next Generation. He became
a good friend and remains so to this day. Although, there was one time
the competitive aspect of our friendship completely dissapeared.
We were both in our second or third year of college. I was home from
U.C. Davis, and he was home from U.C. Santa Cruz. The both of us somehow
got together again. Maybe I found his old phone number lying on a table
somewhere and gave him a call.
"What's up Daniel, long time no see?" I say into the receiver.
"Actually David, you called at just the right time."
"Yeah. I'm about to be heading out to Alameda beach. Wanna come?"
"Okay, I'll drop by your house at about a quarter to seven."
His beaten up Chevy pulls up in front, and I hear a car horn and close
up my game of Warcraft III. The sun is setting in the golden Oakland
sky, and I dash down the blue porch steps and hop into the open car
We set out driving, and ride down fifty first street, toward the highway,
only the two lights on Shafter and Fifty First street holding us back
on our way.
"See this David," he say, knocking on the frame of the car.
"This car may not be able to drive, David, but, you see, but, if
I get into a car crash with even that SUV over there, I will knock the
heck out of it!"
"I fail to see why you would want to do that..."
"Just for hypothetical purposes, that's all."
We blaze past the SUV and down the open freeway, hot summer air blowing
through the windows and ruffling our hair.
"Here we are, Alameda beach," we get out of the car and out
onto the beach.
"You use the bathroom," I say, "I'll change here in the
We get down to the beach together and start swimming. The water is salty
"Alameda beach isn't exactly the greatest place to swim David."
"So I gathered," I reply, spitting out water and breathing
"But what can you say, it's all we got down here."
I start kicking harder and say, "You know I used to always be afraid
of swimming in water like this."
"What do you mean?"
"Dark, murky, can't see the bottom. God knows what's underneath.
Sting rays, sharks, man of war..."
"You've got a wild imagination. This is Alameda beach, David. There's
nothing living down there."
"Yeah, I suppose I do have a wild imagination."
"I was a bitch Daniel."
"Making fun of everyone. Acting tough out on the playground. That
time I threw the apple back at Stephen and hit him in the balls. Skateboarding
with Mike Craig. It was all a show. I was afraid as hell of Tech, the
guns, the violence, the fires in the trash cans, those days when we'd
all get called out to stand around in the yard while the police would
come in and check for bombs."
"I think we all were David. It's just... you can't... there's nothing
you can do about it."
"Don't go! That's what you can do."
"Don't go to school? I don't know about you but I had no choice."
"And now that I think about it. It feels like neither did I..."
"You want to hit a movie?" Daniel asks.
So we drive over to Emeryville, the AMC 16, Bay Street, and plunk down
ten bucks apiece for Collateral. And we get out into the dark air and
start walking toward Daniel's car.
"Well, what'd you think of the movie?" I asked.
"You know what David?"
"That Tom Cruise was really tearing it up in that movie. Man! I
wanted to be just like him."
"What, an assassin?"
"That's not the point."
"Well you're right that he was kicking butt... even though he was
"Yeah! Just like Tom Cruise. What a tough mofo."
"I guess you got a point there... even if the career was a vile
"Yeah," Daniel finishes the conversation seriously, and then
he starts up his old steel Chevy.
John lives across the street, and has always lived across the street.
My dad met his dad, and then we started playing together, and have been
playing ever since. His brother Edward would sometimes join us, but,
as we all know, two is company and three is a crowd, so sometimes fights
would get started between us boys. We had water gun fights in the summer.
One summer when we were having construction done on our house we had
a water balloon fight on the scaffolding, tossing water-baloons up and
down at each other. And Edward almost died, almost flew clear off the
scaffolding, except for that his foot caught haphazardly onto one of
the cross bars and he hung there dangling in the air screaming for help.
John would show up every morning to walk to school together, and we'd
have breakfast watching Sonic the Hedgehog, or Doug, or the Exo-Squad,
a cartoon show about humans moving house onto mars itself. He'd grown
up with some sort of hearing problem, so he couldn't read well. And
he never talked about school but was always in some happy place inside
his own mind, laughing at all his funny memories, of which he has thousands
and thousands, and could sit telling stories of his own for years. His
father, Richard, is a Vietnam veteran, and I still get spooked out whenever
John talks about playing shooting video games and his dad running and
ducking behind the couch. Flashbacks, he used to tell me, and I'd feel
a spooky electricity run through the air.
"So what about college John, go back to school?"
"You seemed like you like it back in the day. I mean you used to
always be talking about Laney."
"I got too much into politics!" John reprimanded himself and
seemingly went deep inside to a place he didn't like very much. "But
you should've seen how I turned this one polysci class into a Kindergarten,"
he laughed, and I laughed along with him.
"You're a grea political speaker dude. Remember that one time,
when we're buying that little green book for my dad's birthday, and
we meet those guys in the back of that occult shop."
"Yeah, yeah, I remember."
"Dude you just started talking and it was like they were mesmerized.
They couldn't stop listening no matter what. Just like you were a hypnotist
"People do say I should go into politics."
"So why don't you?"
"Yeah, I should."
"But first you gotta get yourself a job on a political campaign
or something. Work as a little man, and then take yourself to the top."
"Everyone always wants to get to the top..."
"You never did well on tests in school?"
"I liked filling in all the banks with weird random answers and
pissing off the teachers. That'd show 'em," John smiled real big.
"Haha. I think that may have been the better way..."
"Well you got a talent for learning. Man I wish I could learn a
language like Japanese. I tried learning Spanish once but the words
just wouldn't stick. As soon as I learned 'em, I forgot 'em."
"But if you kept on practicing... you'd learn it. Don't you think?"
I tried to encourage.
"You know, sometimes things just don't work out."
"No, I suppose not..." I shrugged. "Unless you want to
learn some Japanese," I say, smiling.
"No! You tried to teach me that in Japan but that didn't work either."
"Comon, just repeat after me. Ohayou gozaimasu. Good morning."
"None of that! None of that! Just give it a rest would you."
We pass by a family fishing all together.
"So what, do you got a girl yet?"
"No, but I'm looking. I've got a million unfinished love stories
anyway. My heart is ribbons. I'm already on my fourth or fifth broken
"And Marilynn, and a million others... but what about that girl
down at the Moroccan restaurant? What's her name."
"Yeah, Julie. Have you asked her out yet?"
"I don't know. I'm just not that kind of dude, messing with a girl
"It ain't messing. It's love dude."
"Yeah. You just gotta wait for it. You'll be out there, and then
you'll be feeling it, like some sort of heavy attraction in the air.
But the thing is, you gotta wait for that right moment. Just when she's
ready and you're ready. It's the desire to wait that's the key. Otherwise
you'll be bugging her all the time, either that or you'll end up high
and dry, wondering where she went. Just wait for it."
"There'll be something that relates the two of you. Maybe you always
get off at the same time, and maybe there'll be one night when she's
kind of lingering and she wants someone to walk to the bus stop. Or
maybe there'll be something really exciting in your personal life, outside
of work, like some concert or something you're dying to see. Just, when
you feel it, go with it, and don't doubt yourself. Just go."
John gets to thinking for a while, but then he twists up his face and
says, "Now that's all well and good for fantasizing and things
like that but what about Alice?"
"What about her? You had your moments."
"Oh no. Oh no, she was a terrible memory I wish I could forget."
"She did you wrong. She was just... mean."
"She'd try to tell me that I needed some reason not to want to
go out with her anymore. Like there'd have to be something more than
just not feeling it."
"You don't need to listen to that crap."
"I'm just telling you what she did."
"I know, but man, I'm just trying to tell you that there's always
hope for new love after a broken heart. You've just got to get Alice
off your mind, and pay attention to Julie. The time will come, man,
just wait for it. There's always a right place, and a right time."
"I think I've had enough of your Tai Chi mumbo jumbo..."
The two of us wander off from each other and begin walking back toward
the car. I wonder where K and Ruben are, and if they even ever left
the car to begin with. Maybe they'd just sat there the whole time chatting
about that new Saint's Row video game that was coming out soon and was
supposed to top even the old Grand Theft Auto, reigning champion of
horror and gore on the streets.
Tai Chi mumbo jumbo... I'd spent an entire year studying that mumbo
jumbo and had felt some of the craziest sensations, as if I had been
traveling through space and touching the tips of the fingers of some
extra terrestrial living on another planet, reaching out to greet me.
But it was true, I thought, true enough as I knew John and I were heading
to the same neighborhood even though our conversation had fallen flat.
All life was connected by an energy field that you could feel as thick
as if it were soup after practicing Tai Chi for an hour.
As we plodded together down the beach, I looked out at the sea, and
then at the hills, covered in trees. And I realized that I came from
here, there and everywhere. From the wheat in the fields, from the fruit
in the trees, from the plankton on the ocean face. As I walked I understood
just how wonderful a creature a human being truly is.
© David Tavernier October 2006
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