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Swimming towards Marriage
There goes another good man, I thought to myself, as I watched my friend Jack Andrews about to say his vows at the altar and sentence himself to a life of marriage, kids, crabgrass on the lawn, bills and more bills. Not for me.
Never. It was a spring day in San Francisco. The wedding was in one of the city’s parks. The setting was perfect, a cloudless blue sky, sun shining down, even birds chirping away in the trees. Jack had the usual bridegroom’s sappy smile on his face. You wouldn’t think he was going to his doom..
Jack was one of what I thought of as “my Crowd,” a group of young people, most of them UC Berkeley grads, I’d fallen in with when I’d moved out to San Francisco from New York City a few years before. My entry into the Crowd was a friendship with Gil Foreman, who worked in the same ad agency where I’d found a job. The Crowd usually met Fridays at a downtown bar and almost always someone was giving a party or knew of a party to go to over the weekend. When there wasn’t a party we’d cruise around the city, maybe to the Buena Vista near the Marina, sometimes to an Italian restaurant on Telegraph Hill, when the weather was good to Sam’s in Tiburon, where you could sit outside drinking beer and enjoy a great view of the City.
During those years, a couple of the guys in the crowd, and now Jack, had gotten married. Gil, the more or less leader of the Crowd, had been engaged for almost two years, to a girl named Joan Castle, although there was no date for a wedding and I didn’t think Gil was in any hurry.. I was still in my twenties and had no intention of getting married. Of course I’d been with several girls, but had made it clear that I wanted no long-term relationship. I’d just started seeing a secretary who worked in my building, Amy Brown. I hadn’t asked Amy to go to the wedding with me because I didn’t think she’d fit too well into the Crowd. Amy was pretty enough but she was from a small Midwestern town, had only gone to a community college and, to be frank about it, wasn’t terribly sophisticated.
After the ceremony there was a reception, food and drink, quite a lot of drink. I was at the bar when Joan Castle came up. “No date?’ she asked.
“Nope. I’m by myself.”
“Not really.” No need to bring up Amy, I thought.
Joan looked like what I thought of as the typical California girl, an attractive blonde with a great tan, although, like Amy, she was originally from the Midwest. She was also smart, a successful buyer for a large department store. She knew as much about sports as any of the guys and could drink most of us under the table. I admired Joan and she in turn had become more or less my guardian when I’d joined the Crowd. She insisted that I needed someone to look after me and kept close track of my bachelor life. “Hmm. I wonder, “ she said. “I think you’re hiding something. Don’t forget, you’re not getting any younger.” Before I could reply, she turned and melted into the crowd.
The next weekend Amy and I were sitting outside at Sam’s in Tiburon. The good weather had lasted and the skyline of San Francisco stood out against a cloudless blue sky. It was the first time I’d taken Amy to Sam’s and she was thrilled with it, even when a seagull had swooped down and tried to grab her hamburger. She was telling me what a great time she was having when I heard my name called. I should have known, on such a nice day, the Crowd had come over and now, led by Gil Foreman and Joan Castle they pulled over a couple of tables and sat with us.
I had to introduce Amy to everyone and Joan asked how long she’d known me. When Amy told her it had been a couple of months Joan made a wry face and said she guessed I’d been keeping her a secret. While I engaged in the usual conversation with Gil and the others about the 49ers’ prospects for the coming season I overheard Joan asking Amy about herself. It seemed that Joan knew all about the small town where Amy had grown up. Everyone ordered hamburgers, Sam’s specialty. That same pesky seagull swooped down and this time Amy jumped up and scared him off. “I’ve been keeping an eye on him,” she said. As we left, Joan told Amy the Crowd was having a party the next weekend and to be sure I brought her to it.
The party was at a house on Pacific Heights that Joan shared with three other girls. The apartment was crowded with young people, all talking about the usual San Francisco topics, which politician was on the take, what local celebrity was having an affair, who was secretly a homosexual (this was before the gays came out). Joan Castle came up to me and said she thought Amy was very nice.
“Yes, she’s nice enough. Not terribly sophisticated but definitely nice.”
“Oh, sophisticated. I wouldn’t give two cents for all the sophisticated people in this city. Amy is real. I hope you realize that.” With that Joan walked away. Hmm, I thought. Joan had really taken to Amy. After midnight, people began to leave. Pretty soon only the Crowd and a few others were left. Amy had found a guitar somewhere and she strummed it, then began to sing. It was a time when folk songs were popular and she sang “Blowin’ in the Wind” in a nice clear voice. Soon everyone was listening to her and asking her to sing their favorites. When we finally left, Joan whispered to me, “She has talent, that girl.” I supposed she had. Surprisingly so.
It was a Sunday morning a few weeks later. We were in my apartment on Octavia Street. Sun streamed through the windows. We’d just finished breakfast (Amy had cooked eggs and bacon) and were sitting in my small living room reading the Sunday papers. My cat Mickey was sitting on Amy’s lap. Like Joan Castle, she’d taken to Amy and now seemed to prefer sitting in her lap to mine. The phone rang. I picked it up. It was my mother, making her weekly Sunday call. She asked me how I was feeling.
“I’m fine, Ma.”
“Good. How is the job?”
“The job is fine.”
“How about that girl you told me about? That Amy? Are you still seeing her?”
“Yes, I am.”
Amy came over and poured some more coffee in my cup. “What’s that I hear?” asked my mother. “Is there someone there with you?”
“Yes,” I answered.
“Who is it?”
I sighed. “As a matter of fact, It’s Amy. She just came over.”
“Can I speak to her?”
I supposed it was inevitable. “My mother wants to talk to you,” I said to Amy. I handed her the phone. I picked up Mickey and stroked her while I listened.
“Yes, a few months now,” Amy said.
“Yes, he’s always been a gentleman.”
“I think he looks good in glasses.”
“He did that when he was small. No, he hadn’t told me that.”
“Oh, yes, I knew he went to college”
“I didn’t know he had a scholarship.”
“Oh, yes, I knew he was very smart.”
I could only imagine what my mother was saying on the other end of the line. Finally, Amy handed me the phone and said, “Your mother wants to talk to you.”
“That girl, Amy, she seems very nice.”
“Yes, she is.”
“She sounds very solid. Reliable.”
“You’re not getting any younger, you know.”
Not getting any younger? First Joan Castle, now my mother. Was it a conspiracy? “Ma, I’m only 28.”
“Your father was 21 when he married me. I was 16.”
“I know, Ma.”
“All right. A word to the wise. I’ll call you next Sunday. Say good-bye to Amy.”
It was a month later. Again, it was a party in Joan Castle’s apartment, but she wouldn’t be sharing it with the other girls any more. The weekend before she and Gil had gone to Tahoe and had finally been married. This party was by way of celebrating the marriage, something like the reception after a wedding. I’d taken Amy, but I’d started talking to some of the guys in the Crowd, she’d wandered off and I’d lost track of her. I looked around; no Amy. “She’s in the other room.” It was Joan Castle, who’d appeared at my elbow. I looked. Yes, there she was, having what looked like an intense conversation with a tall, beefy guy. At least, he looked intense, his face very close to her and, if I wasn’t mistaken, looking down at her breasts.
I elbowed my way through the crowd to the other room. “I’ve been looking for you,” I told Amy. She started to introduce me to her friend, whoever he was, but I interrupted. I gave my name and said, “I’m Amy’s boy-friend.” I turned to her and said, “Come with me. I have something important to ask you.”
It was another beautiful spring day and another wedding in the city park, but this time it was my own. All of the Crowd was there. Gil Foreman was my best man. Joan Castle was the maid of honor. I still wasn’t sure how it had happened. I felt that I’d been innocently bobbing about in the ocean and that an irresistible tide had come along and carried me to this place. I looked at the bride. I think I’ve said before that Amy was pretty. In her bridal gown, she was beautiful. I was sure I had the usual sappy bridegroom’s smile on my face.
© Martin Green Feb 2010
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