The sun has been in my eyes a lot lately. Last night, I rode home from UCI to Costa Mesa along the Back Bay trail a lot later than I’d planned. It was after 19:00, and the sun was low on the horizon. It no longer beat down with the intensity of a bright, pure daylight. Instead, it was a pale amber syrup, pouring forth from the horizon, seeping under the visor of my helmet and filling my eyes. Sometimes I couldn’t even see the faces of the other riders or joggers as they passed me unless I turned my head at the last minute. Eventually, I stopped turning my head and forced my eyes into the light.
It reminded me of a quick morning jaunt I took last week, a car trip down to Rancho Santa Margarita at about 8:20 on Monday. The morning sun was up, coating the highways and windshields and executive parks with a golden honey glaze. Sleepy, but infused with a deep glow. The morning air, still cooled slightly by the nearby marine layer, breezed in through the driver’s side window and out across the empty passenger seat. The sun had yet to heat up the day, but I could feel the warmth mixing in slowly with the breezy currents.
I was listening to the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St. The album always reminds me of a very specific weekend from what feels like another lifetime. Years ago, after my first real heartbreak, I went to a garage rock weekender in Las Vegas. It was the only time I’ve ever found Las Vegas tolerable. I think it was because someone there introduced me to Wild Turkey and Exile on Main St. Neither the person nor the Wild Turkey are at all relevant to my life. The someone didn’t last much past the end of the year, while the Wild Turkey stuck around a little while longer. But the good stuff – the music – is still with me. I expect it to never let me down. In fact, I’m still waiting to find someone who will hear “Loving Cup” and want to play it for me with a stupid grin on his face.
As “Let It Loose” played, I thought about the shirt I was wearing on the first day of the weekender. It was a shirt I’d bought on a whim, very inexpensively, in the aftermath of the heartbreak. Tight, three-quarter length sleeves, bright vivid colors, a sort of madcap pseudo-’60s hippie Indian paisley pattern, a keyhole neckline with a cheongsam-style frog closure. The primary colors were pink and orange. It sounds downright awful in description, but it was the sort of borderline downright awful that was somehow adorable and that I could somehow pull off at the time, with my two pigtail braids, my tragic doe eyes, and my big smile. Plus, thanks to the heartbreak, I was skinnier than I’d ever been in my life, and full of a strange, lighter-than-air confidence.
The shirt must have had some batshit insane self-destructo magic woven into it. When I wore it that night, someone from Brooklyn materialized. He introduced me to Wild Turkey and what would become one of my favorite albums ever. When I wore it a year later, someone in San Francisco materialized. His story cannot be summed up in a sentence. It was a very different time. I was a very different person. The kind of person who would wear that shirt.
On the drive to Rancho Santa Margarita, I thought about the shirt as “Shine A Light” came on. The day before, I had joined my neighbor at the OCC Swap Meet. He had taken my bags of old clothing in his Westfalia van after I loaded them in at 6:30, and I had gone over at 7:30 to start selling my stuff that wasn’t fit for eBay. Among the items had been that shirt. Some time in the mid-morning, a middle-aged Asian lady picked out the shirt from a pile of clothing. I think she was Chinese, but I’m not sure. All I remember is that she was wearing an insane outfit, some matching top and pant set with a hugely loud pattern. She had on an enormous hat and some scuffy slip-on sandals. She held the shirt up to me, along with another. We looked at each other. It was the swap meet. I was lucky to be getting any money for certain items, most of which I’d considered just donating. After the most half-hearted bargaining I’ve ever done – I knew I was no match for her – I let both of them go for $2.
I watched her walk out, happily clutching my pink and orange shirt in her hand. It struck me, at that moment: Lady, you just bought a fist-full of memories. For a dollar. And I had let them go for so little. But maybe, when I put the shirt in the bag, I knew. It was time. The shirt wasn’t even worth a dollar. And in a lot of ways, neither were those memories.
It wasn’t even noon when I let go, but the sun was beating down on us.