Jenney, Mike (Otis), Shayne, and Em post-dip; Ocean Beach, San Francisco, September 1999

Late summer 1999 was a rough season. Jos had died (unexpectedly, tragically, heart-wrenchingly) in August, the bloom was long off the rose as far as work was concerned, and I had stumbled through one too many impossible romantic relationship-type-things over the course of a few months.

Then we found out that DaveG was moving back to Baltimore, and whatever torn seams may have started to mend in my little world threatened to tear again. I didn't know at the time that his departure would be the first of many in the years to come; I only knew that it meant a quiet end to the particular flavor and feel and flow of the everyday that I'd grown used to.

His leaving meant no more Em-DaveG-Otis show at work and on weekends (not the SF version, at least), no more late-night donut football, no more marathon sessions at Mario's, no more of so much that we had come to take as a given. It was a crappy thing to contemplate.

There were a number of send-offs, including a particularly besotted evening at Dalva and Ti Couz, but the most memorable by far was the cable car on wheels party. Credit (or blame) for the idea goes to Dave's friend Will, who made sure we were all sufficiently plied with drinks both beforehand and onboard so we wouldn't protest too loudly about how riding on a cable car on wheels was such a touristy thing to do, and so far beneath the overeducated and erudite 20-somethings we were at the time.

Will's plan worked: we didn't protest. In fact, we had a great time. The sequence of the evening blurred somewhat between the Golden Gate Bridge and Twin Peaks, but at some point we stopped at both the Cliff House and the Beach Chalet (which, for the non-San Franciscans, are about a quarter of a mile apart overlooking Ocean Beach). At the former site, a spilled drink (whose? how?) led to sticky hands, which I then insisted we wash off not in the restrooms at the Beach Chalet but instead in the ocean.

How it happened that I convinced Jenney, Mike, Shayne, and Daryl to join me in this ridiculous plan, I can't say. Nor do I know anymore what possessed us to decide that a swim would be a fine idea--but we decided precisely that, and as it was still nominally summer and we were in San Francisco, we were dressed in warm and copious layers. The only option, of course, would be to take them all off.

So we did, and went running into the surf, shouting to each other across the waves and straining to see fellow bobbing heads in the (mercifully dim) moonlight. The water was, unsurprisingly, freezing, but I coaxed myself through the cold, thinking, This is for Jos, who did so much in so little time. Thinking, Let this be my new mantra: the more you live, the less you die. Thinking, Your mantra is from an ad for snowboards. Thinking, Well, what the hell.

Thinking thoughts I couldn't even fully form: What I know is changing, always. Something about endings, beginnings, letting go, dammit this water is cold, time for another beer.

We shivered ourselves back onto the beach, back into our clothes (pausing for a photo, of course), back onto the cable car on wheels, where our fellow passengers looked at us in disbelief. Snapshots from the rest of the evening show us grinning hugely, as if we had been snapped into pure happiness for a while by our bare, icy dip.

That swim, of course, didn't change the fact that Dave soon left--or that Shayne, Daryl, Jenney, Jed, Otis, and so many others would eventually follow. Nor did it kick my life in another direction, or bring me astounding clarity about things that seemed murky, or stitch up seams that were splitting.

All it did was net me a funny photo, a good party story, and the realization that sometimes there's nothing more worth doing than streaking boisterously into the unknown.

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