As I entered the 101 freeway this morning, my phone rang. Not having my hands-free device handy, I normally wouldn't have answered. But this was someone who never calls me. Someone who never calls me calling me at 8:15 in the morning. Someone who almost always calls me from a blocked number calling me from an unblocked one. So I answered.
I would have expected our conversation to be full of reminiscences and future plans to meet again, plans to meet that would not be met. Instead we talked about mortgage rates and mental health licenses, about difficult relationships (hers, mine) and the economy. There was absolutely no traffic. Considering that this was morning rush hour in Los Angeles on freeways that run through the center of town, I was surprised. I exited the 110 at Exposition, 15 minutes after my drive started. This was my quickest commute ever.
Our conversation spanned the entire drive. I told her I was pulling into the parking garage at work. She casually mentioned that she was passing the exact same parking structure at that very moment, on her way to an appointment at the elementary school down the street.
This would have been a perfect opportunity for me to say something like "You're across the street from me. We haven't seen each other since 1998. Let's meet at the Coffee Bean, the one that each of us could walk to in less than three minutes." And I did say something like that, except I left out the whole 1998 thing. She said no, she has to work, her appointment is in a few minutes. I got out of my car and looked out onto Figueroa from the fourth floor balcony. I tried to see if I could find her car but what would I be looking for? That little white car she drove around Fullerton back in 1989 when I first met her, in college. That's the only car I know.
Later in 1989, I sort of stalked her once. Not in an illegal way, nothing close to that. But there wasn't much to do then. I was living in Brea - glorious Brea, dirty Brea. By that fall, my coterie of friends had diminished - John was in Ohio and that damn circle of close-knit friends and more-than-friends, the circle that spawned hundreds of pages of bad poems (and dozens of pages of good ones) from at least three unpublished poets, well that circle dissolved into stray dotted lines across north and central Orange County, lines walked upon by mannequins and corpses and one or two of the living. She wasn't part of that circle, not even close.
It was late '89, around the holidays. I liked to drive around then, listening to cassettes of bands not played on the radio. One night in particular I drove east from Brea. I crossed the line into Los Angeles County, heading toward the town where she grew up and still lived. I had no reason to go there. It was a good 15 miles away. There was nothing for me there. But still I kept going. I knew what I was doing. I wanted to drive through the streets of her town.
This wasn't all that creepy. It's not like I knew her address. I didn't expect to spot her white car coming towards me. Her town wasn't that small. I just wanted to, you know, drive around.
At this point in the story I'm going to toss in something I call a fact but you might call apocryphal. Like there's no way that happened, like I had to invent it to keep this story going. But yeah - I was listening to the Go-Betweens. I was listening to their best album 16 Lovers Lane. And as I drove around the town of XX XXXXXX, I played the song Streets of Your Town. I played it more than once. I rewound the cassette - side two, song one:
To me this song is more a lament for the place than the person whose town it is. The narrrator associates the town with a long lost love. He begins the song with the chorus (a technique that should be used more often) - "Round and round, up and down, through the streets of your town." He ends it by saying "I still don't know what I'm here for." The "you" of "your town" isn't coming back. The town isn't coming back. They shut it down.
But yeah I listened to that song. Kind of creepy but not as creepy as listening to Every Breath You Take or Elvis Costello's I Want You. By the way, never ever put Elvis Costello's I Want You on a mixtape/mixCD/playlist intended for a person you like/love. Don't even do it ironically. It's never taken the right way.
I only did it once, drive through that town. Even after another 20 years, 14 of which I've lived in the greater L.A. area, I've never gone back there. No reason to. No freeway traverses it. It is not in between places I go.
(Did you catch that last joke?)
Nothing much in the way of love came of my stalking and my pages and pages of poetry about her (pre-Internet, pre-Facebook, all communication between humans was done via poetry). I told myself (and others) that I was in love with her. I never told her but it's likely she knew. We remained friends. We had lunch or dinner once or twice a year through the 90s. I moved to the Midwest. She got married. I got married. She got divorced. I got divorced. Grant McLennan, the Go-Between who wrote and sang lead on Streets of Your Town died in his sleep at age 48 in 2006. Sad.
In 2007, someone gave me a mix CD with a fine cover version of Streets of Your Town by the band Ivy. That meant a lot to me. The one who made the mix CD and the one who refused to meet me for coffee this morning - they live in the same town now, a much bigger town than the one I drove through. I thought about moving there too - Long Beach is big enough for all of us. But I like where I'm living. No one is stalking me as far as I know. Living at the dead-end of a short cul-de-sac in a house with massive picture windows, I can't be stalked without me knowing.