Tales From the End of the Bus Line is a long-distance collaboration between daughter/father Megan and Bill Broughton to collect the many adventures of Bill’s young adulthood in Van Nuys, California. Installments (and photos that should or shouldn’t see the light of day, if we’re lucky) are penned by the two of them.
The stereo was playing John Prine’s “Paradise” in the backyard, loud enough to be heard from the street. I walked up the side yard through the open gate, expecting to find Bob and Dan, his roommate, drinking beer in the afternoon heat, but no one was there.
Most people, even young adults, as I was at that time, have a built-in sense that keeps them from messing with a situation of which they have no knowledge. I didn’t have that sense back then, and it’s still some people’s opinion I don’t have it now, either. Anyone else probably would have just called out their names, but instead, I lifted the needle from the record and waited. They came out the back door quietly and cautiously about a minute later, Bob with a baseball bat in his hands, Dan with something else, and simply shook their heads in mild disgust when they saw who it was. I lowered the needle back down and Prine went on singing about the coal company beating the Hell out of the environment, and the two invited me in for a last drink. They were out of beer, so they served me Chablis in a porcelain coffee cup.
They were moving, and had finished packing that morning. I was going to help them load a truck with their stuff. I’ve moved many times, – small moves around town back then – but across the country four times since, and have seen everything from one suitcase (just me) to a three bedroom house (current situation, where my wife Deena had everything boxed precisely, with each box labeled with its full inventory and the room it was going to in the new house), I had not, however, seen anything quite like what Dan and Bob had done. I believe it was Albert Einstein who said “It should be as simple as possible, but no simpler than that.” They were each moving to a different place, so all of Bob’s stuff was on one side of the living room and all Dan’s stuff was on the other side. Simple and elegant.
Dan would later go on to inherit his father’s print shop, and I wound up working for him part-time in the nineties, putting in six hours at his shop in Canoga Park from 11 pm to 5 am, then driving back to Valencia to work from 6 in the morning to 4:30 in the afternoon. I’d get home, shower and eat, and get four or four and half hours of sleep before doing that all over again. It was a nice shop and the guys who worked for him both liked and respected him. I was sorry when I heard it closed in the recession.
Bob was moving in with Debbie, in her Mom’s house, where they stayed for a couple of years. They wound up getting married (a secret I knew before most anyone besides family). I overheard it completely by accident, I swear. It was known that Bob and Debbie were buying a house together, and I had gone to her Mom’s to help them pack up. At least I didn’t have to move a refrigerator this time. I was standing out front talking to her Mom when a neighbor walking by stopped and asked when the big event was happening. “No, they’re just buying the house and moving this month” her mom replied, “They aren’t getting married for a few months still.” I can imagine the look on my face, I was that stunned. Bob looked at me, saying, “You cannot tell anyone, got it?” This, I sensed, was much, much different than when he told me I could not do other things in the past, like hitting on the company vice-president’s new girlfriend at the Delta company picnic, or when I accidentally spilled the beans about his surprise birthday party, or when I started singing “A Dog Named Blue” at someone’s bachelor party, real loud, off key, and yes, that verse at the end. So I made sure I didn’t mention it to anyone.
There was a box of invitations on a small table in the hallway. They had planned on having the ceremony on a field somewhere in Moorpark (or as we knew it, “Krap room” spelled backwards) and yes, back in the day it was mostly fields out there. They were going to say their vows while standing in a hot air balloon, then untie the tether and float off together into their bon voyage of matrimony ala the Montgolfier Brothers to the sounds of Champagne corks popping from below. I was supposed to stand on the ground next to Bob’s mom and wait until they had some decent altitude, then say, “Those wings should be unfolding any moment,” and ask her if she had ever seen anyone hang glide out of a balloon before. Bob liked to freak his mom out on a regular basis. It was his idea, but I didn’t have any problem going along with it, so I think that says a lot about both of us.
In any event, it didn’t happen quite that way. Debbie twisted her knee at work, and that Spring it was really windy, so they wound up getting married in their new back yard. His brother Greg, who was best man, and some of the guys from work spent a few weeks getting it whipped into shape. We had planted some rose bushes along the back wall, and also on the sidewall behind the garage. It looked much nicer than when they had moved in. I had come over to the house early on the big day – there was still lots to do, setting out chairs, arranging tables on the patio for all the food, and putting up an archway behind the little raised dais where the minister was going to stand. Then, after a few last words to Bob, the traditional, “Are you sure about this? Because we can have you across the border in Mexico in two to three hours, you know.” I left to get showered, shaved and dressed, and then back in time for the ceremony.
I was not taking part in the actual proceedings, or so I thought.
When things got going though, they realized there was no one to walk Debbie’s mom down the aisle and sit beside her, so I got volunteered for that. It was a very traditional exchange of vows, but still very moving and sweet, and I’ll be the first to confess I really don’t remember any of it. Afterwards they walked back up the aisle to clapping and smiles, and the toasting started from the back while they were still moving. When the wedding party had left from up front, I stood and took Debbie’s mom by my right arm, and then, since Bob’s father was by now filming everything, I stopped and extended my left arm to Bob’s mom, and walked them both back up the aisle. Debbie told me she didn’t even notice this until she was watching the videocassette a week or so later. She told me she thought it was sweet.
Anyway, I got them both to the house, and went to give Debbie a kiss on the cheek and shake Bob’s hand. It was while I was doing this that it hit me, (yes, I’m slow, no one ever said I wasn’t) and I was shaking his hand and saying, “You just got married up there!”
“Yeah,” he said, laughing and smiling “I know, I was there!”
Everything in the yard went from full color to stone cold grey, and then started to slowly spin. Bob was moving away from me, and nobody seemed to be talking, because it had got real quiet. I could see Bob and Greg reaching toward me, and they both caught me just before I passed out. Later I was told they took me into the living room and set me down on the couch, putting a glass of scotch on the coffee table, and went back outside.
Later Bob’s dad said, “He was just too close to the action, it probably went though his mind that it could have been him up there. It got a little too emotional for him. It’s kind of touching, in a way.”
A few months ago, mom and I were passing through Moorpark and though dad had just referred to it as “Krap Room” in this story, mom drove me down the old town main drag twice just to recall an early date of theirs. It had been a misty morning, and they’d driven out from the Valley on now-closed roads for no reason other than to meander together. That funny disconnect between dad’s “buddy version” of Moorpark, and the “relationship version” pairs well with my own murky double vision when it comes to those things.
For dad, fainting was like a reset button. Everything’s fine, just fundamentally different. Dad’s physical reaction to Bob’s wedding is as close as I can get to defining my own inner processing over weddings and marriage. For whatever reason, every wedding and baby announcement floors me still, though I’m several years deep in them (and, in fact, overdue for an RSVP for one at the moment). The era of shock is over, but the inexplicable confusion – mostly with myself – is here to stay. Though I do consider it all exciting in a general sense, I find myself feeling unnecessarily territorial over the times (I perceive) marriage changes, as if I’m stuck in a chapter of someone’s life that they’re closing. I know it’s fairly unfounded. Chalk it up to Younger Sibling Afraid of Being Left Behind Syndrome. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can stop reading. You’re probably one of those people who navigate life transitions easily.
For good friends, time stands still in its fury of happenings and emotions. Major life events like weddings or babies cut straight through these phenomena, forcing us to acknowledge the strength and tenuousness of the space we’re in together. I don’t always do well with notions of time. I certainly appreciate its malleability, but I can be fickle with the day to day – things are too slow, things are too fast, I don’t know what I’m quite after.
I’ve yet to faint at a wedding, but let’s just say I do appreciate a quality open bar.