22. The Fable of Origami

I’m twelve.  Or thirteen. Or fourteen.  My mom is chasing whatever was so important back then: yoga, eastern mysticism, organic food, the ERA.  I, like a lot of my friends, was left to my own.  We cruised around on our bikes making fun of the sailors down on Rosecrans or the Hare Krishnas who chanted in the park. I don’t know how it started, but probably inspired by Hare Krishnas, I started my own religion.

I became the sage, Origami, and I would get together with my friends the Gladkoffs and Aaron Oakes and Johnny Ford and I’d relay to them the fundamental teachings of Prefabi.  There were five powers, I would tell them.  The Power to Teach.  The Power to Learn.  The Power to Observe.  And the Power to Understand.  And then there was the Fifth Power which was unnamable and could not be known by the minds and hearts of men.  A few times my friends would talk me into preaching to their older siblings.  Dick Ford and Mike Coon, Gerry’s brother, lounged about taking hits from a bong.  I sat before them and conveyed to them the meaning of the Fifth Power.  They got high and listened until they fell into hysterics.

Junior high starts, kids get high, kids get lost.  Even more so in high school.  Dick Ford went to San Diego State and joined a fraternity.  Alpha Chi Omega.  Riders of the Night.  Mike Coon signed up for the marines and disappeared.  I wanted to get a job and get some money so I could buy a car and run away.  At fifteen I started making the rounds at every restaurant in Hillcrest asking if I could bus tables.  Everyone gave a flat no.  That is until  I walked into the the Soup Exchange and Marissa Saunders sent me to the back.  The manager Brian looked me over, desperate but not too impressed.  Can you start now? he asked.  A dishwasher had failed to show up.  Within minutes I had an apron on and was behind the line as mountains of bowls and plates piled up.  At some point the door swung open, a muscled guy set down a heaving tray, and looked up.  Ear pierced, hair short.  It was Mike Coon.  It had been years.

ORIGAMI! he shouted and pulled me out from behind the bucket of bleach and dangling scrub hose.  Listen, you need to listen to this guy, he said.  He pulled together the prep cooks and whoever else was back in the kitchen.  This is Origami, he said.  He needs to tell you about Prefabi.  Tell them about Prefabi, he said.

That summer I learned to like Molsens.  And how to hang out with adults ten years my senior.  I watched Saturday Night Live for the first time.  And took to riding my bike ever longer distances.  That autumn another dishwasher and I rode from San Diego to San Clemente, took a look at Nixon’s old house, turned around and came back.  When I rode up to my house at three in the morning, I had ridden 140 miles.  I learned that was a good way to ruin your knees.

Mike Coon eventually left for Seattle.  My future wife, Anna, once saw him spinning down Pike Street on a bike in the rain, a toddler in the basket, laughing wildly as he raced to catch the ferry.  He had built a cabin out on Vashon and that’s where he was scraping together a living with his wife and baby.  The cabin was raw and cold.  They kept themselves warm by burning wood.

21. The Fable of the Cat Killer

For those who lived it, California in the 70’s and 80’s was time run wild. It was the years of water bed shops in OB, British Invasion rockabilly revival, Dylan being booed at the Sports Arena for going Christian on the eve of Johnny Rotten.  It was the drought ridden years when people drained their swimming pools and boarders from Venice Beach learned to skate them.  Of  PSA 182 crashing in flames in our neighborhood.

PSA 182 crashing in North Park

Most of my friends were selling weed and discovering ever better ways to rip each other off.  It seemed that if you were fourteen in those years, your parents were gone or disappeared in divorce or drinking.  And so their kids pulled their own disappearing acts into weed and meth.

The only truths told were the lies to one another.  And it was all mostly bad whether it was true or not.  You might say one day that Gerry Coon’s sister worshipped the devil. You might say that she had gathered with her friends at the pentagram laid into the stone work of the old Presidio. And that they performed satanic rituals there.  That she had stolen someone’s cat.  That she killed it that night.  But it’s not true.  None of it.  She never drank the blood.  She did not kill the cat to be real cool. Despite how the stories spread.  A song was never written.  How could it have been?  We were kids.  Not the stuff of legends.

20. The Wood Shop

Best to begin with the wood shop.  Best to see how the epic is born from the banal.

Nearly a decade done with college and with little affinity for power tools, I had little business being there.  And yet there I was, in a woodshop at Mission Bay High in San Diego on a cold night in January.  A handful of adults also filled the room, all of us wanting to learn how to use woodworking equipment.  One older woman wanted to make a clock to hang in her kitchen.  A new father wanted to make a bassinet.  Someone else a cabinet.  So once a week we gathered in the fluorescent lit room smelling of sawdust and singed wood. The teacher, a blond middle aged man who surfed, had a comforting even presence of mind, which was probably key for a guy who’s job was to show people how to work with machines that could rip their arms off.

On the first night, as we were taking our first tour of the planers and table saws, drill presses and routers, I recognized someone. Up front, drawn in under a Greek fisherman’s cap, sat Gerry Coon.  We’d grown up together in Mission Hills in San Diego. I thought somehow that he should have been dead, but perhaps that was just because of his brothers.

After class we approached one another.  He asked why I was there.

I want to build a table, I said.  And a chair.  You?

His voice was so quiet I had to strain to hear him.  I want to build a boat, he answered.