Thursday, March 15, 2012

Anyone for Cocktails?

Running for a bus about 10 days ago, it hit me: This is how I am spending the cocktail hour of my life.

That marvelous phrase is not original. Ken Page, the personable actor and cabaret performer, said it some years ago at the Kevin Kline Awards show in reference to his own life. I embraced the phrase and ran with it – yes, sometimes for the bus.

“The cocktail hour” – how “Mad Men,” how decadent, how glamorous. Taken literally, the phrase conjures up images of a welcome transition between the rigors of full-time work and the free evening yet to come. 

Listen, and you can hear the clink of martini glasses (thank you, John Carney) and see the gleam of the burnished wood on the bar. Or maybe the cocktail is something frothy and tropical (thank you, Baja Discovery), enjoyed in a beach chair. Perhaps it’s a sip or two of a Negroni (thank you, Ross) before beginning preparations before dinner.

In my life, a literal cocktail hour takes place once a month when I join friends (thank you Susan, Judy and Denise) on the night of the full moon for an extravagant alcoholic beverage and lively conversation. We also order a burger or crab cakes -- or both -- to share, along with salty truffle fries. Some nights, we get to watch the sun slide into the sea (thank you, Cliff House), and we always look forward to finding the moon later in the night sky. Still, the highlight of the event is reading the elaborate descriptions in the bar menu, choosing just the right cocktail and anticipating that first taste.

The figurative nature of "the cocktail hour" fits my life perfectly -- all the time, not just once a month. Sitting on that bus, not even out of breath after running, I settled in and looked at the other riders. I saw many different kinds of people, as that’s one of San Francisco’s strengths. I saw young people, and in their faces I could see what they will look like when they are old. I saw old people, and in their faces I could see what they had looked like when they were young.

At one point, I saw my own face reflected in the window across from where I sat. I saw me as I am, but I also saw me as younger and as older. I smiled at my reflection. “I look good,” I thought. "I'm so happy to be right here, right now." Then I began to consider exactly how I am spending this, the cocktail hour of my life.

The most important moments right now are those when I hold a baby, a baby I seemingly have waited my whole life to meet. He is my grandson, a huge source of joy for his entire family. Right now, my sense is that he thinks of me as a friendly, soft, overstuffed chair. One day when I was holding him as he slept, I said to my daughter-in-law, “This is what I want to be when I grow up, this is what I want to do.”  She smiled and pointed out that I what I want to be is exactly what I am – a baby holder, and so happy to be just that.

I spend time with my extended family, which is always a pleasure. I work a little, or a lot if deadlines require it, and then it’s right back to a little. From my living room window, I watch ships of all sorts come in and go out of San Francisco Bay, and when I can't see them, I listen to the mournful fog horns. I hang out in familiar neighborhoods and I explore neighborhoods new to me, popping in and out of stores, sampling restaurants and relaxing in coffee shops. I ride the streetcar to the beach and meander along the edge of the continent.

Usually, I work out three times a week and go for walks other days – unless it’s cold and rainy, and then I stay in, drink hot tea and read. One of my hobbies is checking in with the Social Security benefits calculator, to try to determine when to claim what’s mine.I go the theater, I visit museums and walk around the zoo. I take biscuits to the dog that works at the insurance company on the corner.

Of course I keep up with friends in St. Louis. I’ve even gone to four or five parties there, via Skype. It’s always great to spend time with the Five Favorite Female Friends. They put the laptop in the middle of the table at the home of the hostess and I sit at my desk. We all nibble on snacks and enjoy drinks while we talk, just as we have done for decades. I also send cards to cheer people on (thinking of you, Bryan), to express heartfelt sympathy (thinking of you, Ann) and to check in (thinking of you, Elliot). 

I make time to go play when friends come to town, which happens often. Gail was just here for four days. We went whale watching, toured Half Moon Bay, shopped at a flea market, visited seven tee-shirt shops and downed Irish coffees at the Buena Vista. Judy and Scott stopped for brunch Monday, on their way from Las Vegas to Portland. Michael is here now, and we’ll get together early next week.

And I do literally run for buses, the buses that take me just about anywhere I want to go. I’m so good at this now that usually I can quickly figure which of the three or four routes I prefer to take to get home from any neighborhood. True, riding the bus takes more time than driving, but I never have to worry about wacky traffic or finding a place to park.

Besides, I have the time, here in the remarkable cocktail hour of my life.