I had a roommate and friend back in 1980. He sold cocaine to enhance his income. Geoff didn’t particularly like cocaine, which made him unusually well suited to sell it, as he absorbed very little if any of his profits. We worked at a lumber yard, toiling for hourly income, a paycheck on Friday. Geoff was fearless, he spent big, dressed well and never thought about tomorrow. I was more cautious - I knew there was that particular week when rent came due. One of those early lessons in resource management. While I spent my paycheck carefully, Geoff invested his.
Geoff’s dealer lived in the hills above Mill Valley. It was a small collection of people, family, friends, hangers on, I never got the chance to grasp who was part of the house and who was part of the marketplace. But I can tell you this. To this day, I have never known a place so filled with peace. We’d go up there on Fridays after work. It was a dirt road off a rutted asphalt track, the kind you know if you know Mill Valley, but this one was even deeper in the tall trees on Tamalpais' flank. The house was always, in my experience, under construction. There was the smell of framing lumber and drywall compound, doors framed without their constituent parts, or with prehung doors leaning next to their designated opening. Geoff and his dealer would disappear to the back of the house to do their business, but everyone treated me with kindness and dignity. They all had tasks (I always wondered who designated and delegated the work, but it never seemed to matter that much), and I always tried to get them to let me help out. Paper cups of rich Napa Valley red wine and 2x4 Douglas Fir.
Later, Geoff and his dealer would reappear, and his dealer, the predictably big, bearded blond with long hair and a denim shirt, would take a moment to offer me a hit of the purest China white heroin, the kind of thousand dollar per gram indulgence he and I both knew was eternally out of reach to me. And then I’d walk out on the half-finished redwood deck, with the evening fog already dripping off the overhanging trees, the sweet smell of the framing lumber twisting together with the crackle of the woodstoves smoke.
It was a moment, a mere tick of the clock, but I remember it to this day. I often wonder what ever happened to those people. I hope it all worked out, but of course I fear for them. The chances are they’re dead or in prison, that house either torn down and rebuilt or finished and occupied by the kind of clean fingernails financial professional who will never understand what it felt like when it was full of love and promise.
Life is a slog, a slow trudge into an increasingly drab and uninteresting future. But there are moments, brief moments that often mean nothing, yet nonetheless capture everything we ever hoped to be in one fleeting moment that cannot be forgotten. Just a few magic, timeless interludes when we understood what we wanted, even as we understood how unlikely it was we’d ever actually have a chance to find it. We live nigh a hundred years, and if we’re lucky, we’ll know an hour or two of true happiness, of peace, of belonging. Looking back, I feel like the world was trying to teach me something there in that house, to guide me in a particular direction, to make me understand that there were things worth taking a risk to persue. And typically, I stood back and observed, I cataloged the moment and went looking for another sensation. ...