The 4:34 local bus was, for a Friday night, unusually empty. Just me, the driver and a few assorted blue collar types like myself, making our way home at the end of the work week. The driver, a middle aged black woman, almost too short to see over the wheel, was singing along at the top of her lungs with The Silhouettes "Get A Job" on the radio, which was turned up loud enough so everyone, inside and outside the bus could hear it. It was contagious... by the time we were crawling up the Eastern side of the bridge, leaving San Diego behind, our little motley crew was howling right along with her. It was just one of those odd moments that will forever live in some closet of the mind, just ready to be pulled out when you needed a smile. We crested the bridge and started down the long decline into Coronado as the song ended. She looked up into the big mirror mounted over the windshield, smiled at us and said,
"Yeah, you's guys is OK! Hey, hippie, Avenue D comin' up!"
That was for me. I'd been on her bus many times and she always dropped me off at D, even though it wasn't a regular stop. I stood up as she started to slow down and did the drunk walk to the front of the bus, hung onto the pole by the door and put my hand on her shoulder.
"You know, you're OK by me, ma'am. And, I'm not a hippie..."
"Well, watchu doin' wit dat long hair, den?"
"It gets me laid..."
"Heh. Well, if dat's all it takes, den I guess you's doin' OK, huh?"
She laughed out loud as the bus came to a halt and I swung down the steps and out the door.
"Go get'm, hippie", she called after me.
"See you Monday", I called back.
I flashed a peace sign over my shoulder as she pulled away.
I headed East on D, toward the harbor, and what was supposed to be my home. I was rarely there any more, it had turned into a place to be when I needed some alone time and when Karen told me I needed some alone time. For the price, which was $23.00 dollars a month, I couldn't beat it and it wasn't worth giving up. Not that I had any place else to go. I suppose I could have moved in with Karen, but we weren't quite there yet, and I wasn't sure enough of it being the right and good thing to do, nor let such a cheap rent go. I was sharing the third floor of an old Victorian with my friend Oliver, who I'd know in high school back in Jersey. After we'd graduated, he and his family move out to Coronado. His father was a Navy Commander who retired while Oliver was a senior and as soon as he was done with school, they packed it up and headed West. His father bought a small print shop in San Diego, on 5th Avenue and a year afterward, Oliver called me and asked me if I was interested in moving out here and working for his Dad and him at the print shop. I figured, sure, what the hell. I was a decent pressman, I'd been doing it since I was a sophomore in high school and I was always up for an adventure. Besides, he caught me at a bad time. I was reeling from the after effects of an abruptly ended first love and needed to do something different than sit around and stew, so I packed it up and took off for California.
Oliver's parents had bought an old Victorian home that was literally spitting distance from the harbor beach on Coronado in which he lived in the top floor, in what was originally the servant's quarters when the house was inhabited by the owner of the ferry company that carried everyone and everything back and forth between Coronado and San Diego back in the heyday. His parents charged him $46.00 a month rent. How they came up with that figure was never clearly explained to me, but half of that was certainly manageable, so I moved in with him. For a Navy brat, he was an odd duck. Total stoner, total loner, total nerd. I guess all those years of moving around caused that. I don't know how we hooked up in school, we were the exact opposite. I looked like a freak, but didn't mess around with drugs, had a shit load of friends and was, in my own mind, quite worldly... but friends we became, none the less. And good friends. We played off each other. We'd go on all day Saturday road trips in his beat up old Dodge and have the grandest of times, getting lost, finding cool places and having the most obtuse conversations. Opposites attract, I guess. Anyway, where the hell was I? Oh, yeah...
After I got off the bus, I headed to the house, climbed the three flights of outside stairs to the side door and went inside. Oliver was still in the city, he was big on the Friday night bar scene. I grabbed a quick shower, got dressed, packed a bag for the weekend and headed out on my walk across Coronado, West, to the ocean side, to that mystic place over Jake's Cafe... to her.
It was a nice sojourn, even in the July heat. Coronado was a pretty lively place, there were always people out and about, no matter what the time of day or night, especially when the weather was good. It was just about dark by the time I made it to the Pacific shore and I walked to the beach and stood looking at the last glow of the sun, which was now well below the watery horizon, beaming down on tiny island worlds and mysterious Asia... The beach was still full of people, some of which were winding down their day and some who's day was just starting. It was a world of coast people. As Jack Spicer said, "There is nothing out beyond us, but ocean." Damned right. Life on the left coast.
I wandered back across the ocean front street into Jake's, where I grabbed my usual single by the door and dropped my bag next to my chair. Karen must have been in the kitchen, she wasn't out front, dancing between the tables. I sat there for a few minutes and Jake came out, spied me and walked over.
"Hey, man. Karen's not here. She's upstairs, took the day off. You want something?"
"Yeah, she's fine. Her sister came to visit so she took the day. Coffee?"
I must have had a bewildered look on my face, because he stood there staring at me and said,
"You ok? You look like you're going to hurl!"
"Uh, yeah, I'm fine. Yeah, coffee is good. What's for dinner?"
"Just coffee, thanks."
"You sure you're ok?"
"Yeah, just some coffee..."
He turned back to the kitchen and I sat there staring at the greasy poster taped to the opposite wall announcing Jimi Hendrix at the Filmore West, June 22nd, 1967... Ok, she had a sister. She never told me she had a sister. I guess I never asked. Then again, I never talked about my family much, either. This was monumental. And nauseating. I was considering the situation when Jake returned. He set down one of his mammoth mugs, filled to the top, pulled over a chair from the next table and sat down across from me.
"Man, you look like your dog just died. What the fucks wrong?"
"I'm just a little surprised. Didn't know she had a sister. Did you?"
"I wonder if I should go up there, I mean, it's pretty personal, having a visit from your phantom sister and all..."
"You're such an ass, man. Listen, she really, really likes you. When she's not bitching about the music I listen to, or having to deal with some stoned out surfer asshole, she's yammering on about you. Got it? She likes you. Muchly."
I blew across the mug and took a sip of hours old coffee. Nothing went to waste at Jake's place. Not even day old coffee. He was at least sixty years old. He wore a gray ponytail down to his ass and had been around the track more than a few times. I liked him. I think I saw a bit of my own future in him, god help me. He was a good, honest soul. And he cared for Karen as much or even more than I did.
I looked over the mug at him and asked,
"Do you think so? Really? She really came at me from out of left field, I mean, we have a good thing going, but sometimes, I'm not sure what it is."
"Look, man, she's a good person. I wouldn't let her get involved with someone I didn't like, I mean, she's like a daughter to me and if I thought she was into something bad, I'd toss your ass out of here faster than you could say 'Jack Shit', but you're ok, too. Drink your damned coffee and go up and meet her sister. I think you'll be surprised. Gotta run. Don't be a fucker, man."
"Ok, I won't be a fucker. What do you mean, you think I'll be surprised?"
"Heh. You'll see. Don't be a fucker, or I'll kick your ass."
He could do it, too.
I took a few more sips of my coffee, then got up, walked over to the service counter, dropped a dollar down, said "Good night", to Jake. I picked up my bag and went out the front door. I considered walking back across the street and hanging out with a bunch of surfers who had a considerably large and illegal bonfire going on the beach, wiling away the night and contending with things in the morning, but instead I forced myself up the front stairs to Karen's place over the cafe, opting for the front door, rather than just barging in the kitchen door from the back stairs in the parking lot. I stood and stared at the door and listened to the unusually loud music inside, it was The Beatles "Revolver" playing and I could hear talking and laughing, but I couldn't make out what was being said. I opened the ratty screen door and wrapped with my knuckles on the glass of the inside French door. Nothing. I waited a minute and tried again. Still nothing. Ok, fucker, time to cut and run. Be a coward, nothing new...
As I was standing there, staring at my forlorn reflection in the glass, the door was pulled open and these she was, although I hardly recognized her. She was wearing makeup. I never saw her wear makeup. And a sun dress. I never saw her in a dress before. And sandals. She always wore sneakers. High tops. Always. When she wore shoes.
Something just wasn't right.
"Can I come in?"
"I don't know. Who are you?"
Ok. What the fuck. My first and almost overbearing impulse was to turn and run down the stairs and hope that when I got back to my rented place that there wasn't some big green pod waiting for me...
"Uh, it's me..."
Well, that was stupid.
She turned and yelled over the music into the apartment,
"Karen, I think it's for you!"
Ok. What the fuckity fuck fuck... "It's still not too late to jump off the porch into the street below", I told myself, "Maybe you'll get hurt, or maybe you'll get killed, but you've got to get out of here. NOW!".
But I didn't jump. I just stood there with my mouth open when yet another Karen walked up behind this one, looked over the first Karen's shoulder, started to laugh and said,
"It's ok. Let him in. Just don't stand between him and the coffee pot."
I couldn't move. Seriously, I was physically and mentally paralyzed...
"Is this your boyfriend?", Karen number one said.
"Yeah, I'm sorry to say, it is", Karen number two said.
"Are you going to come in?", asked number one.
"I think he's gone dumb", said number two.
Number one grabbed my arm and pulled me inside. I still couldn't speak. I just kept looking back and forth, trying to figure out just what was going on.
"I think we've harmed him," said number one.
"He'll be ok", said number two.
Number one stuck out her hand and said,
"Hi. I'm Della, Karen's sister. Nice to meet you."
I took her hand and mumbled something about it also being nice to meet her while I stared at Karen, or number two, or whoever she was.
It was sinking in. She was one of a perfect pair. Twins. Just fucking damn.
"Uh, you never told me you had a sister... You look... alike."
Number two replied,
"Yeah. That happens with twins. I'm actually cuter, though. And younger. Della was born seven minutes first. Are you really ok?"
"I'm not being a fucker. Yeah, I'm ok."
"Ok", said Della, "what ever that means, I guess it's good."
'She Said, She Said' was being sung by John Lennon.
"I need some coffee", I chimed in...
"Della, be a dear and put on a pot, ok? I think I need to hold his hand until he comes around."
"Yep. I never cease to amaze you, right?"
Della returned from the kitchen.
"So... you're the guy who's banging my little sister, huh?"
She said, she said...
*with apologies to King Crimson...