Gil and His Vespa

Friends don’t come out to my house on the North Fork much, because they think it’s two hours away—which it is, but it’s not like that. It’s like you don’t want to get on your bike on a perfect spring day because you think it’s going to be exercise, which it is, but it’s something else too. Or you think you can’t practice meditation today because it’s…uch…you know…you have other things to do—but it’s not like that: when you get there you realize, “Oh my god, I need this.”

Today I was out on my bike (having resisted it), riding to Orient Point, trying to find you an Osprey nest. I forgot the smells by the sea: brine and salt, oil from boats, and something damp and warm that comes from mud and bugs. I forgot the sound of the bike on sand, and the way you wave out here when you pass someone. Two carloads of boys whistled at me. An extremely overweight girl with a bicycle helmet perched on her head like a pillbox hat said “Hi” ecstatically, her face flushed from wild pleasure. I rode without hands going down hill, the way I did when I was fifteen, and I brought back shells.

This is what I was thinking about: My old friend Gil bought a Vespa last week, and last week we tried it out in the hills. First he rode it, then I rode it, then he rode me on it, and then I rode him on it. This was extra fun because Gil and I both owned motorcycles back in L.A. in the early Ninties, and we rode around then, too, until he got in an accident and ruined his bike. (His fall was broken by his laundry, which was in a big bag on his back.) Anyway, I’d like a Vespa like Gil’s out here: a hundred miles to the gallon, take it on the ferry. Some simple things really are heaven: I’m not kidding. The wind all around you; a single bird, chirping.

Gil and I (when he was in his late-twenties, and I was in my mid-thirties) used to do outrageous amounts of yoga together at Ana Forrest’s studio in Santa Monica. Gil managed the place, and sometimes after yoga, we’d play pinball on his computer, and when it was my turn, he’d stand in the middle of the room doing crazy things with his face and body, trying to break my concentration.

When my marriage broke up, Gil stepped in, in a way: I would hold Maudie’s left hand, and he would hold her right, and we’d walk down the promenade swinging her high in the air—she was five—while she laughed and screamed, “Again, again, again,” before it was even over. Gil would take us out for Burritos, then, and then to the candy store, where he’d always steal one of those huge round hollow gumballs, and pop it in his mouth while we looked from bin to bin. Gil is always walking the edge between legal and not, and neither Maud nor I were happy about his tiny thefts. I remember once Baby Maudie, so serious, saying to Gil, at the cash register, in front of the cashier, “Where did you get that gum that you’re chewing? You stole it.” Gil just laughed, his mouth a big happy obvious blue hole. Like I said: some simple things really are heaven.


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