Just that afternoon, Dan told me, he'd gotten "bageled," meaning he'd caught no waves, while surfing Ocean Beach.
"I know, it's pretty pathetic, right?" he said, nodding, covering his mouth, seeing if he could recruit me to agree.
"No, it's not pathetic at all," I said. "Or is it? I mean, I don't really know."
"Believe me, it's pathetic," Dan said. He was a big hunky insecure mess.
Dan was also a catch. A few years earlier he'd written a surf memoir called Caught Inside, and for this, in a review, he'd been anointed an "ontologist of dudedom, Henry David Thoreau doing aerials on a fiberglass board." Dan didn't tell me about the book. Mostly he wanted me to know that prior to getting bageled he'd spent the day depressed, lying on the floor of his room, staring at the glow-in-the-dark stars the previous tenant had glued to the ceiling. I learned about the memoir the following day when I walked up Valencia Street and bought Caught Inside myself. I didn't read the memoir for months. I was too scared. I just memorized the jacket copy and stared at Dan's author photo. He stood on a dune, gazing into the sun, looking self-conscious and endearing.
That spring I'd left Chicago because I wanted, needed, something to happen in my life. I've always tended toward stability while fearing boredom, so every few years I give myself a swift kick. Before San Francisco my plan had been to move to South Africa to witness the post-apartheid truth commissions. This struck me as a good way to solve two core problems: my feeling that I didn't know anything about anything (which I now see was related to the problem of being twenty-six) and my increasing annoyance with the chirpy magazine articles I wrote to pay my rent. But then I heard about a man building a civilian spaceship in the Mojave Desert, and, wanting change more than I wanted anything in particular, I decided to write a book about him. I loaded my clothes into my Honda Civic, bought a Johnny Cash box set, and pointed west. En route I blew my head gasket and skidded out in a spring blizzard in Donner Pass. Still I kept moving forwardmy specialty and downfallhoping to leave behind the last traces of what I considered to be an embarrassing youth.
Like the textiles. God, the textiles. I'd grown up in Wellesley, Massachusetts, in a home filled with awful fabricspastel chevron-striped sofas, rust velour loungers, a canary yellow pleather couch. Worse, I seemed to have inherited the bad textile gene. Before my junior year in college my mother drove me to Bob's Discount Furniture, where she allowed me to pick out a pink-and-white-striped La-Z-Boy chair. I felt fantastic about the chair until I moved it into my dorm and saw with hideous clarity that I carried the family curse. As I drove west from Chicago I committed myself to a lifelong plan to thwart the gene's expression: I'd buy only wood furniture. The plan worked for a couple of years.
A few days after meeting Dan, I thought up an excuse to call him. A friend was visiting from Chicago. We'd driven to the Marin Headlands, looking for a gorgeous hike, but ended up in Muir Woods with the tourists on a paved path. My ontologist, surely, could deliver me from this problem.
"That's it, huh?" Dan said, teasing, when I phoned. "You just thought maybe I could suggest a pretty hike?"
"It's true!" I protested. Or at least it was partly true.
The next Tuesday, at Mars, Dan arrived flecked with salt again.
"So, did you make it to Coyote Ridge?" he asked.
"Yes, thank you. Did you get bageled?"
He laughed, eyes bioluminescent. Then he put me out of my misery and asked me on a date.
Everyone has a theory of marriage; few of them agree: The happiest marriages are based on the least romantic expectations; the happiest marriages are maintained by spouses who cling to rosy lenses and insist on holding their partners in delusionally high regard. In a happy marriage, the focus is inward, the relationship comes first; in a happy marriage, each spouse encourages the other to attain individual goals.
Excerpted from No Cheating, No Dying by Elizabeth Weil. Copyright © 2012 by Elizabeth Weil. Excerpted by permission of Scribner. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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