On Thursday nights, Pete's on Avila Pier has an open mic night. It seems to have been more or less permanently colonized by a young woman named Audrey, whose lovely whiskey voice and shamelessly self-revelatory lyrics compete weekly with the joy-inducing shouts of the sea lions stationed on the pier supports directly under the restaurant. There is little more delightful in the world than being one of a handful of regulars enjoying the catch of the day, bathed in salt air, listening to Audrey pouring her heart out and the heckling sea lions, with the surf crashing around you, the overcast gray sky silhouetting the prehistoric-looking pelicans, and your friends smiling across the table. Also, Pete's makes really good salsa.
Two young men, with the unsteady and wide-red-eyed look of the intensely stoned, came up to the order window of the shack and ordered some fish and chips (wonderful) and some fish tacos (incredible). Then they came over to us on a wavering beeline.
The crazier looking of them leaned over my end of the table. I resisted picking up my purse. Dammit, my passport was in it... it would be a pain to replace. But I didn't want to be rude.
"We're gonna be having a bonfire right over there later," he yelled over Audrey and sea lion barks and surf. He pointed over my head. I nodded, because I was not turning my back on him and my purse and he was actually close enough to touch me, which seemed undesirable. Robert and Pat looked at the bonfire location and said, "Nice."
"Y'all are welcome to come. Come to the bonfire. We're gonna be having a bonfire right over there, right over there, later. It's gonna be right over there." He jabbed his finger at it. I think he was unsettled by my not looking. Wanting him to go away so Audrey could be heard, I leaned my chair back out of his reach and glanced over my shoulder, not bothering to find the bonfire-to-be.
"Yeah, we'll probably be just hanging out, having some snacks, reading some Scriptures," he yelled. He had lost his inside voice (along with his personal hygiene and whatever internal gyroscope keeps people from wobbling.)
I smiled. "Cool."
"Y'all are welcome to come."
Me, Pat: "Thank you."
Robert: "Well, maybe we will-- we have one more place to go tonight, before they close."
The lunatic's eyes opened even wider. I glanced at his companion, who was smiling, but not with the self-consciousness I had anticipated. He was even closer to me. His smile seemed to be stuck. His eyes weren't focused. He was like a Pat Sajak zombie. I winced; I'm sure it looked encouraging, because the one without an inside voice started yelling again. (So did a quorum of the sea lions below.)
"I'm Ian!" He stuck a dirty hand in Pat's face.
Pat shook his hand and said, "Good to meet you."
Ian waited, rocking forward and back. I thought about meth-heads.
Audrey wailed about nature, responsibility, loving a grandmother even beyond death. The sea lions asked their fellows to please get the hell off of them: they're pretty rude with what would be elbows if they had elbows, which is why their call sounds like "ow, ow, ow."
Pat finally took pity. "Pat."
Robert pre-emptively gave his name and stuck out his hand. "Robert." Ian shook it. His beginning-to-remind-me-of-Ford-Prefect smiling friend mumbled, "do you live around here?" to me but I affected not to hear. I put down my plastic fork and shook Ian's hand: dry, burning hot, hopefully desperation is not communicable. "Linda."
Ian wobbled back two paces. I looked expectantly at Ford. He said, "Hi, I'm Evan."
"Hi, Evan, nice to meet you." I said.
Robert said, "Evan."
Pat said, "Hi."
The fish tacos and fish & chips were done. Insanity fuel. The cook shoved it out onto the ledge of the shack and closed the window, not because he was scared of the men, but because that's just what they do when it's cold outside.
Ian yelled, "So we're having a bonfire over there in a few minutes, actually we're about to start, in just a few minutes. Y'all are welcome to come."
"Great, thank you!" Robert said.
I was starting to fight the giggles. "Great!"
They wobbled off to get their food. "See you there," Ian shouted at us. Evan didn't stop smiling when he ate. Like a shark, I thought. The sea lions moaned and barked.
We ate and chatted with Audrey between songs, getting the stories behind her striking and smart lyrics. I was getting cold. We got up to go to our other destination, Robert closing his portable lawn chair and putting it into its backpack, Pat and I trying to help the embarrassed staff stack our plastic chairs (they wouldn't let us, and they wanted all of us, the evangelists, the Wiccan singer, and we three doubting Thomases, to go away and let them close up the shop.)
A battered pickup truck zoomed by us, headed from the pier parking lot toward land. "See you there, it's about to start," Ian yelled from the driver's seat, leaning over the grinning Evan. We waved.
"Enjoy the red Kool-Aid," I said, but really, not loud enough for them to hear. I didn't want to antagonize. The cook snorted and stacked chairs.
And then we went to have wonderful coffee at a new coffee shop, and talk about Warren Ellis and dragons fucking cars.