McCune bought a house in Vallejo. As far as houses go, it’s a nice one. It’s this long blue rectangle on a quiet street and on a sort of incline so you can see Oakland and San Francisco way off in the distance. It has a backyard and an office and two full bathrooms and a fireplace and a Dad Basement and everything. I asked him how he managed to get this thing, what with this being the age of No One Being Able To Buy A House, and he said it was “really easy.” He explained why it had been easy. Honestly, the way he put it, it really did sound easy. I won’t spoil anything for you though.
So I drove to Vallejo for his housewarming party, which was also sort of MccCune’s birthday party, and also a Halloween party. I did not realize it was a Halloween party, and so I was pretty much the only person there not dressed as a Muppet or the Joker or whatever. I drank a bunch of bubble waters and ate from the vegetable platter and wondered just what the in hell I could possibly do with myself there, what with everyone else being a couple in their mid-to-late 30s who I only vaguely recognized from some other party a long time ago.
Which is to say that other than McCune, who was busy making the rounds to greet all his guests, and who was dressed like Nic Cage in MANDY:
. . . I didn’t really have anyone to talk to. So I just sort of putzed around until I ended up in the backyard beneath a pergola, which is a word you only ever use in the suburbs. There was this lonely-looking dude nearby and, sensing that I was also probably lonely, marched right up to me and shook my hand. He said, “I know you from somewhere.” This is always an ominous thing to hear. I reacted how I always do, which is to tense up, and assume the stranger who uttered these words is about to stick a screwdriver in my throat. (I’m like 100% serious. This is one of my paranoid delusions that I just can’t shake.)
To him I said, “Oh no.”
And then he narrowed his eyes, gazing into mine, and said, “You’re the guy from those Pipefest videos!”
(Look, if you really don’t know what that means, then let’s just leave it at that!!!)
Said I: “Man . . . I guess so.”
He seemed nice enough, but he had definitely zeroed in on me because I was the only other Lone Dude Awkwardly Holding A Drink. Sometimes guys like that will try to team up with you so that they don’t have to be alone. I get it. I usually rebuff this sort of thing though, because sooner or later he’s going to ask you if you’re currently watching some TV show you’ve never heard of. And when you say no, you’re in for a real bad time, because now he’s going to explain the show to you. That’s a huge bummer for everyone. I’d rather just suck it up and find the cat, or an empty room or whatever, and wait for relief.
This guy though—he really was going for it. I was eyeing various paths I could take to escape, and he looked back nervously to see what I had been analyzing behind him. He asked me, with sweat dripping down the side of his head, if I was hungry, if wanted something else to drink, how I knew McCune et cetera. He was machine-gunning questions like there was no tomorrow. I started to get nervous when he quickly devolved into “So what have you been up to?” territory . . . an insane angle to play, considering he has no frame of reference for my life at all. To wonder about the recent past of a stranger . . . I can’t abide. I told him I was probably going to throw up, and that I should see to it. I split for the bathroom, where I planned to stand inside with the door locked for three and a half minutes, and then depart again.
But the door was locked, so I kept moving. I walked around the house thinking that I wouldn’t mind having a house, if only to do the sort of thing McCune was presently doing, which was to fill it with food and people, and on and on. McCune had told me the secret, and of course the main ingredient was money, as it always is, and there was just no way I was going to get my hands on any of that stuff anytime soon, if ever. . . . So much for that!
Yes, and so, having worked myself into a pit of self-loathing, I found some side door that was unguarded and walked down the street to get back to my car. The neighborhood was completely silent . . . and man, I’m talking in all directions, even way the hell out there. You could hear a church mouse sigh out there. There wasn’t even a breeze! The parts of Berkeley where I walk every night are dead quiet too, but you’re still in a city, still boarding Oakland, and you can hear helicopters and car alarms and shit, if you really look out for them. I’m here to tell you that there weren’t no sounds at all in Vallejo, manmade or otherwise. It scared the hell out of me for a second, until I Remembered My Own Past, and now this terror melted into a sort of suburban delirium of nighttime comfort that I had not experienced in a while. The silence reminded me of the neighborhoods I used to hang out in in Virginia, where I’m from. I stood there feeling the sad appeal of the suburbs. What a weird thing. As if ancient wisdom had invisibly entered my brain, I suddenly understood why people leave civilization and come to places like this. McCune . . . I mean, the guy has a god damn house in a tomb-silent neighborhood. He can just step out onto his porch whenever he wants and, hey presto, there’s the same quiet unchanging world beyond. Maybe that’s not so bad, when you really get down to it. If the world is a prison, and your house is your cell . . . well baby, then it’s like the fella said: you can make your cell as comfortable as you want. You shut the door and deadbolt it and prison is on the other side. In the cell of your own design, you are as free as you’ll ever be. You don’t have to like it, but you can accept it, make terms with it, and then you can have yourself a good ol time until you run out of time. Even if I never wanted to live in the suburbs of Vallejo, well . . . I wouldn’t dare look down on anyone else who was able to find a little peace there. McCune really did have it all figured out. But of course there was a sadness I felt knowing his house on MLK in Oakland was vacant. In some ways I had witnessed the end of something between my friend and me. He has Settled Down. Guy’s got a house and a wife and a kid, more or less. That is the thing, and I am visitor to this thing, now and from here on out. McCune, bless his heart, he sure was happy to have created that thing for himself. I wanted to cry, thinking about that, because it really was good for him. I wanted to cry because I was happy for my friend. I don’t know. It was a strange spectrum of emotions to slide through standing there on that empty street.
I kept walking towards my car. I could see Oakland way out there in the dark from where I stood on the hill. McCune and I had done a whole bunch of stuff there in the nine years before he left, and now I would go back to it alone. I got in my car and rolled down the windows. I could still hear everyone talking in the backyard beyond the trees. I knew I would never have any of it, and would always be on the other side of the thing. Well, what can you do . . . I’m just not wired to live that sort of life. I mean, we can’t all have it. I decided that was OK. It seemed like the conclusion an adult should come to.
In the yard next to me was an actual boat resting upon a bed of flowers that was filled with Christmas lights and a little fountain. Inside were a bunch of screaming skeletons, and you just know I loved the hell out of that.