How It All Got Started


I was living in Pt. Richmond at the time. I had a very nice one bedroom with space that could be closed off for another bedroom. It was on one of the highest hills in the area. I didn’t have much of a view, but a short walk outside and there was a very nice empty lot exactly opposite. That was a wonderful view of the entire Bay.

It was a great place and the third apartment that I had rented in Point Richmond. This one even had a pool, a small pool, maybe three strokes to a lap, maybe less. It didn’t matter, I never used it, it was just nice to have. I had a custom apartment on top of a hill in Point Richmond, and it had a pool.

At this point in my life I was recovering from an odd marriage and even odder divorce. I was working hard and staying late, and I don’t remember much of a social life or weekend experiences. I was researching a lot about the California Trail so I was buried in books and journals.

My work life was interesting. I provided instructional support for all of the faculty teaching in the evening. Some were full-time, most were part-time teaching just one class once a week, then if they were lucky, they had another class at another college down the road. We called them freeway flyers. Tough life!

I had my normal graphic design responsibilities, but in addition I had a team of student workers that would deliver equipment and media to any classroom on campus. I also had the only accessible copy machine for those last minute handouts.

A number of faculty had gotten used to using my back door to go through the library and on to their classrooms, so there was always a little time to say hello. For some part-timers I became the only connection to the day time college. I started every day at 2:00 pm and on Fridays it was a regular day. If anything new or important had happened I was the unofficial conduit.

One day I noticed a young faculty member go through the mailroom next door. At least I thought she was faculty. She looked younger than most students, but she seemed comfortable in going to the mailroom.

I hadn’t seen her before but after asking I found that she taught speech and had been at the college for several years. Why hadn’t I seen her?

After several weeks had passed I saw that she had entered my backdoor, looking for the copy machine. I introduced myself and the Mita copier, and she immediately began collating her handouts. I just happened to see an example of the copies, and somehow it reminded me of a computer program that we had next door.

I was also responsible for the evening use of a 32 port timeshare Hewlett Packard mini mainframe. It was a very mini mainframe, but it was a computer and this was at least four years before personal computers were available.

Okay, so maybe I also wanted to establish that I was smart enough to manage a Computer Lab. I wasn’t just a glorified A-V boy with a copy machine. I was a techno geek with kilobytes of memory.

I reintroduced myself and suggested that she might be interested in bringing her class down for a session in the Computer Lab. She smiled and basically said, “What?” So I began to elaborate and asked her to follow me across the hall to the lab with all those terminals, all the while suggesting how her students might have a hands on experience concerning the examples that I had seen in her copies.

She went willingly, smiling all the while. I was lost in that smile and the knowing nods of her head. If I had spent anytime trying to listen I would have discovered she was clueless in what I was talking about. It didn’t help that I actually started to blather in my attempt to impress and keep her engaged and smiling at me.
It only ended because she was going to be late for class.

I didn’t see her for several weeks. It was clearly a strike, a miss, and game over. Then suddenly she was at my backdoor, and saying something to me. I was astonished and a bit surprised, so maybe that’s why it didn’t register what she was saying. She didn’t have to repeat it, but it was almost like it was on a four second delay. I saw her lips move, and then a few seconds later I heard the words.

“It’s so hot, do you happen to know if there is a pool near by?”

A pool? Nearby? My friend operates the college pool just a five minute walk from here. It’s Olympic sized, heated, but not too hot! It’s free and available to all staff, even beautiful part-time speech teachers.

But I didn’t say that. What I said was that I had a very nice pool that I never use, and that I could give you my address and a note for my landlord, should he ever ask who you might be.

This confused reply on my part was matched by the confusion on her face. To my credit I recognized this, unfortunately, my response was to repeat the offer several times, thinking that she hadn’t understood my motive.

I mean I wouldnt be there watching you in your suit, swimming back and forth, using two or three strokes. I would be here at the college, waiting for you to return, thankful for my cooling offer.

What was I thinking? I covered the mess by suggesting that perhaps next week we could have an early bite to eat, before class. Her reply was, “Oh, I’m sorry, my parents are in town, from back east, umm, thanks anyway, and thanks about the pool.”

That was the most graceful and kind shutdown I had ever experienced. I was still a complete idiot but she didn’t embarrass me, nor did she make me feel that I was reaching a little too high in asking out a faculty member.

So, I’m not really good as a player, I’m not a ladies man with a practiced line. Certainly she will recognize that, and perhaps even find me charming, without going so far as to label me a complete doofus.

I had stumbled badly, my first attempts at communicating were confusing and ill advised. What was I thinking? I invited her to the pool at my apartment, except that I was going to stay here? She didn’t even know me well enough to have a cup of coffee.

And my attempt to rectify that with a lunch invitation was shut down with a classic “My parents are visiting from back East.” Well, I’ve heard that before… Actually, I hadn’t, but it sounded like a classic block.

However, I had a secret weapon. I still had the only operating and accessible copy machine on the campus. All I had to do was wait.

Waiting for water to boil takes about four hours in mental time. Waiting several days for a second chance to talk to a beautiful woman can take several months.

If I had a printout of my thoughts and the various rehearsals of what I was going to say, well, that would be several boxes of computer paper with the blue lines and perforated folds. There were a lot of words.

My days were basically normal, I did my work, I was congenial with staff, and I was functioning at a high level. But on the days that I knew she had classes, I noticed that I was losing some focus, glancing out the door several times a minute. It’s good to take a break, stretch your legs, get a cup of coffee, warm your coffee with a refill.

I had many cups of coffee that week. Why not add a case of jitters to my increasing nervousness?

The following week, on one of my coffee refill walks, I saw through my open door that she had pulled into the parking lot. She was driving an oxidized green Hornet. Ugliest car that I had seen in awhile. Well, it made it easier to spot her coming on campus.

The problem was that the lot was just below a loading dock that stretched maybe a hundred feet. On one end was the mailroom, where part-time faculty had their campus mail, and then they could exit through another door into the main library, then on to the other buildings for their classes.

My problem was that my door was on the other end of the loading dock. This was where my copy machine lived, and if you didn’t need copies, she could vanish!

She was in the mailroom, should I go over, and check my mail? I could then accidentally run in to her, say a few words, and then… What was I going to say? Which of the several thousand practiced words was going to establish my credentials as a reasonable person, instead of a techno-geek-stalker with a pool?

Should I wait, confident that after checking her mail, she would realize that she had copies to make? There was a bathroom in the mailroom, perhaps she was changing into teacher clothes after her swim in some other pool?

How confident was I? Of course she didn’t need copies, she was going to come over with some fake need, just to talk with me. We will talk about the weather, I will ask about her parent’s visit, and then I will ask her to an early dinner or late lunch. No problem, just wait.

I waited patiently for about 45 seconds, which was about two hours in mental time, then I was out the door, heading down the loading dock to the mailroom.

On the way I was trying to find the right words, the best words in that jumble of potential phrases that was locked up in my frontal cortex. Ahh! Where were they? They were just here! I had been stumbling over them all week. Crap!

There she was, sorting through her correspondence. She looked up, and smiled. I said “Hi”.
Then I went into the bathroom. I stayed in there awhile. Clearly I kept quiet, nothing worse than a flushing toilet while exiting to meet a woman. I washed my hands several times, then came out to find an empty room.

Perhaps she had gone to my office to make copies? I raced down the loading dock, entered my office to find the copy machine sitting there by itself. The lights were on, but no one was home.

That was really smooth! Was that strike four? Or perhaps five? What was I thinking?

“Hi”?

Doomed to being awkwardly single.

I am writing as a response to several recent events, the birth of a grand-daughter being the most significant. The flag photo on this blog has need of an edit. It should be thirteen people, not twelve.

All of the people in that photo are dependent upon two individuals getting beyond the awkwardness of meeting, and developing a relationship. Some of the twelve wouldn’t even exist if we failed. Some would exist, but would find their lives very different, certainly they would not have been in Disneyland on that summer day of 2015.

Thinking about that, and then realizing how badly my plans failed, has caused me to ask how this was possible? I titled the series “How it all Started” as a statement, but in truth it could be a question.

The answer to the question is simple. It didn’t start because of my attempts, I was failing badly, one misstep after another. And the beautiful speech instructor was not without fault herself.

Years later I discovered that my final idiotic move of saying “Hi” and disappearing to the bathroom was seen as a brush-off. Up until that point she had recognized that I was interested, but my failure to follow up was insulting, and she wouldn’t accept that.

Perhaps if I had continued my goofy approaches I could have finally been seen as a nice but hapless person. The fact (as she saw it ) that I had distanced myself had given her second thoughts. Thoughts that she acted upon.

The next week she appeared at my door and she didn’t need any copies. I summoned the small scraps of courage that was left in my psyche, and I asked if she would like to come early next week, and perhaps we could get dinner before her class began.

She said yes!

A small miracle had occurred and I did not have a clue how it happened.

I suppose I realized that there were significant minefields ahead of us. We were both thirty years old and had at least ten years of adult decisions under our belts. Not all of these decisions were wise.

I knew my mistakes, well, most of them anyway. How will she react to them? Do I just dump them upon her like an avalanche? Then I could watch her spinning out of control, down the mountain side, head over tea kettle, gasping for breath, until the final crush at the end? Not a pretty sight.

Do I parse them out? It’s possible that she might not run screaming from them. I have a child, I was married, and it failed. This could be a deal breaker, but maybe she loves kids?

And then, of course, there is her life. She hasn’t been kept in a freezer, only to be let out to teach classes at a community college. What dark secrets did she have? Had she been in prison? Institutionalized? Does she need to take meds?

What was I doing? I had a date with a stranger that probably had a past. I had a past…and I hadn’t resolved a whole lot of it. This was nuts, better to live alone and not be exposed as the idiot, worse yet, discover the idiot across the table.

Gotta think, gotta be proactive. What if she is boring? What if I am boring? What restaurants are close by? We didn’t have a lot of time, and there is a very firm hard stop to our interaction. She had a class to teach and I had to go to work.

Maybe this is a good thing, and something that I can work with.
I planned to take her to a little restaurant that had a simple menu and had windows looking into the ice rink next door. If the conversation lagged we could always watch the skaters.

The day came when the beat-up oxidized green Hornet pulled into the parking lot. I had an even worse vehicle, a 1967 Triumph Spitfire, with a broken passenger seat window. I’m not sure if we went in separate vehicles or if I jumped into her Hornet. Pretty sure she didn’t ride in the Spitfire.

I think at the time that my Spitfire was missing a battery, so I was push starting it everywhere I went. This was probably something not to be shared on the first date.

Throwing the car into neutral, running fast beside it (it was light), then jumping in to kick start it in second gear was inventive as a one time occurrence. Telling her that this was my new normal and that this is had been going on for months was quite another thing.

I think I avoided the whole issue and simply mentioned the broken passenger window. If the date went well it might inspire me to finally buy a battery.

Somehow we got to the restaurant, which was in the bottom level of the local mall. It was fairly new mall then, and it had some nice architectural elements. There was a circular area at the end with an interesting sculpture installed on the bottom floor, and our entrance was on the second floor so we could look over the railing, witness the sculpture, watch the people on the escalators, and it was quite pleasant.

I can’t remember the small talk that occurred as we passed through the mall, except at the moment that we reached the railing as we looked over to the lower level.

“Have you ever come up to a railing like this and just felt like you had to jump over it?”
Hmmm, actually no! Never has this suicidal thought ever come up!! I was torn, should I just run away? Was this a Woody Allen movie and we had to drive between the oncoming lights because it wasn’t really a truck. It was two side by side motorcycles.

What? Who would say this? Is there more to come? Could I walk back to the college in time? Run away!!

Was this a test? Say something nuts and see if he sticks around?
Calm down, this was unguarded speech. I should be thrilled that she trusted me with inner most thoughts. Innermost thoughts of a crazy person.
We used the escalators.

Somehow the skaters were never watched. She shared that she was a vegetarian, the place had salads, soups and tuna fish sandwiches. Okay tuna is meat but never mind.

The point is, that we worked things out. We were aware of the dangers of over-sharing, but it was important to be open. Most of our past simply came forward naturally.

So I met my best friend, there at the mall. The mother of my children, the partner of all my future experiences. And it wasn’t the result of my success, but rather of my failures.

A few weeks later we had an official night time date at a real restaurant in Albany. She dressed up. I dressed up. I even ironed a crease in my slacks. Of course this meant that I left my wallet at home (because of the crease). She forgave me anyway.