I didn’t think anything of meeting on the plane. Random, I told myself. Absolutely random.
I’d met Tom on a plane going north to San Fran from Los Angeles. We’d joked around, taught each other bits and phrases of language from other countries we had visited. Ciao is hello and goodbye, I said. I know it’s the most obvious, I said. He taught me Swedish cuss words. We ordered a couple small airplane style bottles of vino. After the flight, Tom and I exchanged phone numbers. A short flight and random stranger, I told myself. He’ll never call.
Tom looked young, like he still had baby fat to shed. He was just finishing college, and I was almost done with my graduate thesis.
“Are there a lot of drugs up there in the city by the bay?” he asked.
“Yeah, but I’m trying to move on from all that. I’m almost finished with school.”
Even though Tom was only a handful of years younger than me, the gap between undergrad and grad school was vast. But we had shared some good laughs, wine, and looking back on it, the school and age gap didn’t matter.
About a month later, I got a call from Tom. He was going to see a friend’s band play in the city, right down the street from my new apartment. He asked if I wanted to spend that Saturday with him and his friend Issac exploring Golden Gate Park and checking out the remodeled art museum. I needed a break from working on my thesis so I agreed.
I met them at a coffee shop near the park and ordered hot chocolate with extra whipped cream. Tom was taller and thinner than I had remembered on the plane. His friend was tan with very white teeth and dreads. They were friendly and told me all about their upbringing in Orange County.
“It’s so different here,” said Issac.
“Yeah. Less judgmental,” I said.
Tom tried to make a joke about the double D blonde women that parade the streets of southern California. He continued these jokes throughout the day whenever he saw a woman that looked like she might be from LA.
“Look at that one,” Tom said. “A stripper I bet. A dollar to make you holler,” he laughed. On the plane, this sarcastic wit was funny, but in the café, sober, drinking hot chocolate, it was kind of annoying. I just wanted to hang out with them as friends. I was sick and tired of men trying to impress me with repetitive witty humor or girly gifts.
Issac was a little more mature and reserved than Tom.
“Tom. Jesus Christ, man. Nothing changed. You’re still the obnoxious prankster you’ve always been.”
“Don’t be jealous, fool,” Tom said.
“This hot chocolate is amazing. Want to try some?”
I looked at Issac.
“Wow. That’s a damn good cup of coco,” Issac said.
We went to the top of the art museum where there was this incredible view of the city. For a long while the three of us discussed how lovely the open green spaces of the park were. How we wished there was more places like this.
“All the new developments, especially in Southern California make houses look exactly the same,” Tom said.
“There’s no character down there,” said Issac.
“The day San Fran becomes like LA is the day I buy a
one way ticket to the moon,” I said.
Tom and Issac surprised me with this conversation about open space. I felt like the bad jokes and silliness temporarily disappeared. Now it was like I was talking to people my own age. People out of college concerned with the real world. And there was a closeness forming between all three of us that made me think, I’ll know these guys forever.
I invited them over to my new apartment for drinks and we decided we’d walk to see the band afterwards. My new apartment was impressive. It’d been a lucky find on Craigslist. My roommate, Sancho, a fifty-year-old Brazilian man, was laid back, and told me never to ask about having parties or strangers over. He had said, “This is your house. Don’t ask me.” The whole time I lived at Maritime Place, I never really knew Sancho’s true profession and I didn’t really care. He’d stocked the place with fancy leather sofas, a huge flat screen TV, and a coffee table he claimed had real gold South African coins embedded on the surface. The view was the best part. From my balcony, you could see all the trading barges coming in and out, sail boats, the Bay Bridge, and the glistening steel city buildings. Our place at Powell and Sacramento was only blocks from downtown, Chinatown and North Beach, and you could even run to the wharf in only a couple of miles. You could see all the people hustling here and there, Asian fishermen, women in business suits, stray muts, the elderly, children holding hands in matching school uniforms. It was all there, right before me. Everything breathed life. It seemed even the buildings, covered in a haze of fog, some with birds perched outside their windows, all things had a breathing rhythm that you could hear and see and feel.
From the roof of my apartment complex was a 360 degree view of the city, which meant you could see the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate. Also on the roof was a vacant fully-stocked bar that may have belonged to the owners. I wasn’t sure. My doorman, Saul, had a tendency to mumble. I think he’d said it belonged to the owners or manager of the building. He said they were usually never at the place because they constantly traveled.
It was my idea. Up there, mostly sky. The bar, loaded with liquor. Inside the bar, black leather loveseats and a flat screen TV. I couldn’t resist. But I wouldn’t open the door. It was my building, not my bar.
I asked Tom, “Why don’t you just try and open the door? I’ve always wanted to sneak in.” I knew I’d already established some pull with Tom. My wish was his command.
“Why the hell not,” said Tom.
Issac and I looked at each other, laughing nervously. I think we both were thinking, trespassing, cops, jail, handcuffs, not a good idea. No way, fun, just a little good clean fun before we went to see Tom’s friend’s band. I was a little apprehensive, but overall completely thrilled.
Tom lifted up on the handle with force and then pulled it back with both of his hands and the door flew wide open. I wasn’t sure if he’d broken the lock or if the door was just sticky, but we all just strolled like we owned the place.
“This is amazing,” said Tom laughing hysterically.
“Wow,” said Issac.
There was a pinball machine, a telescope, TV, stereo, refrigerator filled with fine champagne and wine. The bar was stocked with shelf after shelf of hard alcohol and liqueurs. There were mixed nuts in round porcelain dishes and large framed photographs of an elderly man with past presidents.
“Can you read the name on the photograph?” I asked Tom.
“It looks like Bob,” said Tom.
“A word to Bobby. Thanks, Bobby, for letting us crash the joint,” said Tom.
“Bobby’s the man,” said Issac.
“Hey hey, Bobby. Gracias,” I said laughing.
“What would you fellas like?” I pretended to be a
“Oh, I’d like a shot of rum. No whiskey. Or, actually, what about gin,” Issac said in an English accent.
“Oh sure darling. Whatever you please,” I said, also in an English accent.
I could see Tom was beginning to feel left out. His arms were crossed and his head down. He slouched over the bar.
“Let’s turn some music on, guys,” said Tom.
“Sure,” I said.
“What the hell is this?” asked Issac holding up a white buisness card.
“It has the government symbol on it,” Tom said.
“Shit, Bobby’s works for the government,” I said.
“Dude, we should probably get out of here soon,” said Issac.
“Fuck that, man. I say we have a party up here and invite the band later on,” said Tom.
“Probably not the best idea,” I said.
“Whatever, we’ll leave in a bit,” said Issac.
Issac came over and turned the stereo on to a local radio station.
We began to dance all over the joint. I jumped from black leather love seat to black leather love seat, shaking my hips, moving my arms up and down.
“Imagine the parties you could throw up here,” said Tom.
“I know,” I said.
“No one would know,” said Issac.
“This is a party. Our very own, secret party,” said Tom.
Tom had to use the loo. While he was gone, Issac and I bumped booties, and ran around the place like chickens with our heads cut off. We had taken over the bar. It was ours now. We claimed it, and no one knew. Up here, with all the sky and fog around us, it felt like we were in a floating castle. I was like the queen with two kings or a goddess with two gods.
“Breaking and entering is kind of sexy. Don’t you think?” I asked Issac bumping his bootie.
Before he could answer our attention shifted to an elderly man. Jesus Christ. Bobby? Was it the one and only? Had he heard the music? Did he live in the penthouse suite one floor below the bar? I had a bottle of some old European liquor in my hand that I had never heard of before and Issac was sipping his fourth shot of gin. This could be pretty bad. I was genuinely scared and I think Issac was too. His eyes were bigger, and he shot me a look that said, oh shit. It’s over. Trespassing, cops, jail, handcuffs.
“Hi. I live on the twelfth floor. This bar’s for everybody right?” I asked innocently.
“No,” he said.
“Oh. I’m sorry. We’ll just be leaving then,” I said.
Tom returned from the restroom, and before he saw the elderly man, he screamed out, “I love you Bobby.”
“Hi Tom,” I said in a clear loud voice.
“Oh shit,” Tom said as he walked in to the bar.
“Hello. I see you know my name. Have we met?” asked Bobby.
“No. Sorry. I’m Tom.”
“I heard some noise so I came up the stairs to see what the hell was going on up here. I live in the penthouse right below.”
Bobby’s right hand was in his pocket and he shook something inside. Keys? A gun? He did work for the government. In my head, I planned how I would duck if he started shooting.
Bobby’s right hand lifted from his pocket and he tapped the counter. “Do you guys want a glass of wine?” he asked.
Issac and I looked at each other with a little relief. We were both trying hard not to laugh. Not out of humor, but fear. Nervous laughter. Bobby still could have a gun in his pocket.
“Sure. Wine. This place is fantastic,” said Tom.
Bobby poured white wine into Tom’s empty glass and white wine into Issac’s glass that still had some gin in it and my glass too.
“Why, thank you. It’s a great view. What were you drinkin there, son?” asked Bobby.
“Well. I’m not sure,” said Issac.
“This is the best view in the city,” said Tom.
“It’s so beautiful,” I said.
“Why, thank you. So you live on the twelfth floor young lady?”
“Yeah. I love this apartment complex. Everyone’s so nice,” I said.
“So you’re rooming with Sancho,” said Bobby.
“Yes, actually I am,” I said.
“Real good guy. And a computer whiz,” Bobby said.
As we sipped our white wine, Tom struck up a conversation with Bobby asking him all about his profession, which Bobby would not discuss, and then talked about the band we were going to see and then the city itself. Issac and I looked at each other semi-scared-shitless, semi-enjoying ourselves as we sipped the fancy white wine.
When we finished, we thanked Bobby and he led us out of his bar.
“Can you believe that shit, man?” asked Tom
“I think we’re cool,” I said.
“He seemed pretty chill. All that money. I’d share a bar too, if I owned one,” said Issac.
We left about a half hour later to go and see Tom’s friend’s band. The band, “Royalty,” had us dancing for hours. When we went outside for a break, next door there was a famous author’s birthday party going on. He was turning 90. There was a concert violinist. We crashed the party, drank more free wine, Tom schmoozed with all the old folks, and we even got a piece of birthday cake.