Years ago, when I was soft and pale and destined for an early grave, and so on, I moved to California and got a job at a cafe on College Avenue in Berkeley. It did not pay much and I only got two days a week and no one there liked me because I talked about death too much. I ended up meeting Sir Ian McKellen there one time, but other than that it was a shit job and nearly everyone I worked with was a either a stiff or a square.
There was one person there who did like me no matter how many dark things I muttered in the vicinity of my coworkers, and that person was a girl named Nani. I have no idea why Nani liked me. She was a sort of optimistic person who owned a ukulele and played sports and woke up early and was close to her family and stuff like that. Maybe she liked me because I was the opposite of her.
I liked Nani a lot. She wore Sambas too. She was cool.
Nani gave me her phone number and said we should hang out sometime, and I said: “Yeah all right!”
I went to her house maybe seven or eight times that summer. It was always in the middle of the night. She would text me around midnight and ask me to come over and I’d bike from West Oakland to her house on the Berkeley border and she’d let me in and put my bicycle in the living room for me and then we’d go hang out in her room.
I remember she had a couch in her room, and we’d sit there and drink cheap beer and listen to Townes Van Zandt and not do a whole lot else. It was real good. It was my favorite kind of Hanging Out With Someone and it seemed to be hers too.
She’d always tell me I could sleep over, and I always slept over. In the dark we’d hold each other or whatever and talk until one of us dozed off. I tell you, there weren’t nothing sexual at all about it, and I thought that was great. She’d spoon me, or I’d spoon her, and we’d fall asleep that way with the music still on real low. In the morning she’d wake me up and tell me she had to leave the house and I’d put my pants on and grab my bicycle and bike home.
I never wondered about it and we never spoke about it. When we did work together, we didn’t really pay any special attention to one another. I don’t believe anyone at work had any idea that we were friends. We would talk to each other, but we didn’t talk a whole lot on account of her being up front and on account of me toiling in the back with the bakers who hated my sense of humor.
The last time I ever spent the night at Nani’s house, she took me into the kitchen and gave me a brownie and I ate the whole thing in one bite. I remember her saying: “Whoa, dude. That’s kind of a lot.” And I said, “What do you mean?” Nani said, “Well I mean I hope you know that’s an edible!”
We went back to her room and I waited for the insanity to kick in but mercifully it never did fully unveil itself. My mind got a little slushed as the night went on, but it was OK because she was a little slushed as well. We went to sleep a while later listening to ‘For the Sake of the Song’ and I had my arm around her and she said, “This ain’t bad.”
Next morning I biked home in a complete clustered haze. I was reading the numbers on the street signs and I had forgetten where and when I was. I’d been living in Austin just two months before, so I followed the signs all the way to 34th Street to get to my house there, only to realize I was actually in Oakland, and that I didn’t live on 34th Street in Austin any longer. It took me two hours to bike a mile and a half, but eventually I found my house and went inside and collapsed in my bed.
A week later I quit my job. I’d gotten a better job in North Oakland. Nani and I stopped talking to each other for no good reason after that. I reckon it just wasn’t as convenient anymore. The summer had ended and I grew more depressed and Nani kept on doing whatever it was Nani did.
About a year later I was hanging out at my house in West Oakland with a Polish masseuse. She wanted the spare bedroom in my house, which I eventually gave to my best buddy Laura Rokas—the world-famous French Canadian multimedia artist who I would take a knife in the throat for. Neither I nor the Polish masseuse knew this at the time, so we sat in my living room smoking a joint she had found in her purse. We were laughing like hell about something. She told me she had three cats and asked if that was a deal-breaker. I told her I’d have to think about it even though I was pretty sure it was a deal-breaker.
My friend McCune called me and asked me if I wanted to go to the Oakland Museum of California downtown and look at some shit since it was First Friday and the entrance fee was only five bucks. I told him I did and said good-bye to the Polish masseuse and about ten minutes later he swung by with his girlfriend and picked me up. We drove the hell down there and found a parking spot right up front. I gave the lady at the front desk a five dollar bill and went inside.
I was accidentally stoned out of my head just then and wound up on a dimly-lit outdoor walkway on the second floor. I stood alone there with my arms on the railing and looked at all the people on the street. Two people came out of the museum and onto the empty walkway and I looked over and saw that it was Nani and some guy. She squinted and recognized me and walked over and said hello. She awkwardly introduced me to the guy she was with as her “boyfriend” and I shook his hand. I told them I had lost the people I had come with, and that I had decided it would be nice to be alone and in a dark place outside. I guess she felt weird about having to stand there and talk to me while she was with this dude. It wouldn’t have been weird if she hadn’t acted weird about it, but I didn’t blame her. They said good-bye and wandered off. I never saw Nani again after that.
I wrote this because I wanted to remember Nani. I don’t know what good it does to remember people who are probably gone forever. I imagine it doesn’t make much of a difference one way or the other. But I liked her and I liked listening to music with her in the dark. I liked that we could touch each other in that way and not have to have it mean anything more than whatever we wanted it to mean. Really it was just as simple as two people holding each other because it felt good and was harmless to us. She was a good friend to me and we had a nice thing for a while. It was a secret only because it didn’t matter if anyone else knew or not. It is gone now but it happened and for whatever it’s worth I remember it.