The fog rolled in from the Pacific Ocean this morning in silent, billowy puffs as my friend Arie` and I sat down outside for breakfast across the street from the beach in Laguna. Arie` (not to be confused with my daughter Auri) and his wife Sharron came in from Scottdsale this weekend so that Sharron could attend a seminar in Irvine and they chose to stay at my place instead of a hotel. With Sharron tucked happily away in her seminar, the boys were free to go play. And of course we chose to play in Laguna. Where else?
I met Arie` and Sharron nine years ago in Scottsdale, Arizona where they had just moved to from Israel. Like them, I was also in the process of making a new home in the Sonoran Desert at the time and over the years we have slowly but surely developed a strong and wonderful friendship. It was Sharron, a Doctor of Oriental and Naturopathic Medicine, who guided Les and me through the difficult process of Les' illness and passing. And it was into her arms that I collapsed when she and Arie` arrived at the house a couple of hours after Les died. Sharron has continued to be a friend whose phone calls and words of support and love have never failed to arrive week after week, month after month and year after year for the past four years.
While Sharron and I have gabbed away incessantly on the phone or in person at their home in Scottsdale, Arie` has always in the background, smiling, teasing and busy getting on with his work building one of the most prestigious Lighting Design Firms in the Western United States. His unquestioning approval of our friendship has always given Sharron and me carte blanche to enjoy ourselves in any way that we've chosen to. And this weekend, Sharron got to return the favor.
On a couple of different occasions in the past year and a half since I moved back to California, Arie` has come out to the coast for seminars and business meetings and it was here that he and I began to develop a friendship of our own, quite apart from the friendship that I enjoy with Sharron. And this weekend for the first time, Arie` and I actually got to spend two full days together, tooling around in my new little convertible, walking on the beach, browsing through nurseries and of course, eating. And eating and eating and eating. It occured to me today that I'd really gotten out of the habit of eating like normal people do because I'm alone most of the time and I eat out of subsistence rather than for the enjoyment of doing it. But when there's someone there to enjoy a meal with, it's a lot more fun to sit down and eat. What a revelation! I hated to see Arie` and Sharron leave this evening because it means I'll probably go back to foraging.
Arie` and I went for a walk on the beach in Laguna yesterday afternoon. The tide was low and the sun just barely hidden behind a thin veil of clouds, although close enough and warm enough to make it feel like paradise. Even though I've walked along the beach there in Laguna hundreds of times, yesterday was the first time that I'd stopped to play in the tide pools - something that I did mostly because Arie` stopped to do it. We sat on our haunches at the edge of a little tide pool for about an hour and a half and watched as an entire world came to life before our eyes in this tranquil little mini-ocean - sea anemones, hermit crabs, mussles and cleverly camouflaged hawkfish, all enjoying a brief respite from the endless tides that wash over them every day of their existence.
Arie` was chomping on a toothpick from yet another one of our meals and like a curious little child, pulled it out of his mouth and offered it to one of the sea anemones just to see what it would do. It grabbed the toothpick with its sticky tentacles and pulled it in to its center, slowly folding itself in around the little piece of wood and hiding it altogether in a matter of minutes. Then slowly and mysteriously it opened itself up again to reveal to us how it had magically made the toothpick disappear.
When Arie` tossed a little stone into the anemone, it grabbed that too and repeated the vanishing act. But when he tossed a little hermit crab into the anemone, it didn't flinch and the hermit crab simply scurried away. In fact, we noticed that several little hermit crabs were fussing around at the edges of the anemones, apparently trying to wrestle little bits of food from underneath them - the anemones obviously unconcerned with this foraging. We decided that the hermit crabs must not taste very good - at least not to the anemones. We wondered if the little stones we threw into the anemones might be covered in some tasty miniature seaweed or something that the anemones liked to munch on. Surely they weren't eating the rocks themselves.
As Arie` and I walked back along Coast Highway looking for someplace to get a latte and a cappuccino, he mentioned something about how different it is to be in a relationship with somebody as opposed to being single. And a whole new wave of thoughts started coursing through my mind. In ways both spoken and unspoken, it had become obvious to me that in a town where gay men are a normal and uneventful part of the fabric of the culture, Arie` and I had been thought of as a couple on more than a few occasions during our weekend together. Some had spoken it and I could see it in the eyes and hear it in the asides of others who weren't so forthcoming about it.
Aside from the obviousness of being flattered by anyone thinking I was lucky enough to have such a handsome man as Arie` as my partner, I began to be aware of those subtle little things that make having a companion so different than being alone. Little things, like having someone to sit and play in the tide pools with - someone who sees something I've missed and calls me over to take a look. The world is so big and so rich and so full of life that surely it takes two sets of eyes to take it all in. Someone you'll sit down and eat again with, even though you're not really hungry, just for the pleasure of their company in doing so.
For the past four years, I have been distinctly and curiously single and had almost forgotten what it felt like to be coupled - or to be thought of as something other than just me. Even though Arie` and I aren't a couple, there's something in the ease and the comfort of our friendship that led some people to believe that we were. When a shopkeeper in an antique store intimated to me that we were a couple, out of Arie`s earshot, I played along, enjoying for a moment the memory of what that meant, pondering the implications of how that would feel to me now with so much water under the bridge.
It was a curious cross-pollination of energies between me and Arie` this weekend - him picking up on my energy as a single man and my picking up on his as a coupled one. Arie` being reminded of what it's like to be alone and me being reminded of what it's like to be in a relationship. At one point I told Arie` that I don't find myself longing to be in a relationship as I once did - that being single is as wonderful in its way as being coupled is. And to wile away my time pining to be someplace different than where I'm at, causes me to miss out on what's great about being where I am right now. And as I heard myself say those words to him, I knew that I truly believed them finally.
Laguna Beach is a charming little town that gently pushes its way up from the ocean into the rugged, rolling hills of Orange County along a brief stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway. It has held my fascination and bathed me in contentment since I first discovered it almost twenty years ago. It's where I go on Sunday mornings to eat breakfast alone at the Heidelberg Cafe`, walk along the beach or shop for orchids, CDs and used cashmere sweaters in my favorite little shops. And it's where I take my friends and my daughter when they come to town to visit. It's only a twelve minute drive from my home near the John Wayne Airport where I hear the jets taking off all day long for distant ports 'o call. But to me it's as exotic and wonderful a destination as any of the places those jets are heading off to.
Laguna is a lot like that tide pool that Arie` and I stopped to enjoy for awhile this weekend - a world within a world where the locals and the tourists, the shopkeepers and the surfers, the gays and the straights have all forged out a sanctuary for those who stop and take the time to enjoy it. A world where everyone's differences only serve to make things richer and more interesting.
And it's also a world where I can go and be just Tom or where in the company of my friends and loved ones, be thought of as something other than that. And either way, be OK.
From the water's edge...
All of the pictures on this page are of the well-known and well-loved tidepools in Laguna, taken with my digital camera on a sunny December day.