81. Puffed Up Arms in San Francisco

Early 1966

I thought about it most of the night and chose not to return to the hospital that morning as I knew it would be far too difficult to leave at all.  

I trusted Alok was safe and I hugged and kissed my children before leaving for the few days I assumed I’d be away.  My previous job at Santa Ynez I had left on good terms and with positive reference, as was my habit of doing.

I knew in my mind that if I was going to get to Fiji it was now or never.  Diana drove me to the station so I would catch the 10a Greyhound into San Francisco.  After dropping me off she went back to the hospital to bring Alok home.

For the most part it was a straight through drive up north with only a few key stops along the way.  I arrived some time that evening just after the dinner hour.  Upon arrival in San Francisco I took a taxi to a friend’s apartment.  I’d known Morris since Fiji.  This is where I’d stay for nearly a week.  

It just so happened the Seafarers’ International Union of North America was across the street from his apartment building.  What were the odds?

Next morning I took that fateful walk across the street and made myself known to them, stating my intentions and then fell into their process.  One of these things was to take their form to a doctor (choose one from a list f I didn’t have one up there, which of course I didn’t) for shots, check-up, etc.,  whew!  What a lot of technical to-dos.  

I returned to Morris’ apartment late that afternoon with the certificate of completion of the union’s medical requirements.

I also had the need to go to bed.  My arms were loaded with shots, painful, swollen and these caused me to feel quite ill.  Well I was forewarned by the doctor this most likely would be the side effect.

I did manage to call home and check with Diana about Alok’s health, how Amar and Asha were doing, how she was getting on, things at home and you know, stuff.  

She comforted me, telling me that all is well and how wonderful it was having Susan and Lisa with her young son just next door.  I told her about the not-so-fun time at the doctor’s office.

Fortunate for me, Morris’ wife nursed me a bit, fed me good Indian food and I was able to rest the remainder of the day and the night through.  The next two days I was really a mess.  I felt much better the third day.

In that next morning I returned to the Seafarers’ Union office to submit the doctor’s completed form and certification showing I had all the proper vaccinations.  

After what appeared to be a thorough review the staff behind the counter gave back to me all of my papers, the ID clearance card which I had previously obtained in Long Beach and my identification to include my British passport and my Green Card.

I was instructed to sit with the other fellows over in the reception area.  We would wait. Little conversations took place, something to pass the time.  I noted I was the only Indian, there was a small handful of African origin gents, a couple of Irish men and the rest were American or something.  I’m guessing.  It’s not really important, is it?

My name was called and I went back up to the counter.  I was told,  “We need a waiter.”  The one agent asked if I was experienced.  I replied, ‘Yes and I have worked on a ship before.’  I was then instructed to throw in my ID card, like literally.  

It felt like a gamble; it’s the way they do it.  Other people reviewed my papers and near immediately I was accepted for the position.

Next thing is I’m being told where the ship is docked.  It was at my own expense to get to this ship.  The location is on Suisan Bay at Concord, California.  I’ve been given everything I need to report to that ship.  Grateful for the job I returned to Morris’ apartment and shared my exciting news.  

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Suisan Bay   a part of Contra Costa County which is located in north-­central California.  This is where you’ll find the Concord Naval Weapons Station.  That’s about 70 miles southwest of the capital of Sacramento.  

 

67. Amigos & Coo Coo Rachas

‘What do you think about getting married?’  Diana was really happy about this prospect and had no hesitation in starting a life of permanency with me.  I knew it would make my mother happy to hear that I wasn’t alone anymore.

I asked how we would accomplish this marriage.  I had told her father about my previous marriage in Fiji and that I hadn’t received official documentation of our divorce being finalized.  Whether or not it was Ralph who advised us or another, I cannot remember and really it doesn’t matter; it was suggested we take a trip south of the border and get married there.  

With her father’s blessing the two of us went to Mexicali.  It was a hot July, the weekend of the 4th to be exact.  We took the Greyhound Bus all the way. The further southeast the bus travelled the more arid we became.  

It was very late in the day as we arrived in town so the first thing we did was get ourselves a motel room.  We cleaned up, cooling off as best we could and then set out to find our evening’s meal and the justice of the peace.

We asked any and everyone who we thought might be of assistance, where the courthouse was located.  It actually wasn’t that easy getting someone to respond with a little English (besides taking our order for food in the restaurant).  

Finally someone did respond and we were thankful.  The next morning we made our way to the courthouse -it was already blazing saddles hot- and inquired with the clerk.  

He told us the judge couldn’t be located this morning and he very well may have taken the day off.  Wait, what?!  Then he told us that he’d go have another look around, maybe he’d find him.

He returned to tell us he found him … a few dollars later.  Yes it was a good thing we each changed up a $20 bill to single ones, it was just a hunch but nonetheless glad we acted on it.  The clerk told us the judge will be in the courtroom shortly. We just look at each other.

We did meet him in the courtroom.  The judge told us that we needed to have 3-5 witnesses; did we have them?  No. He told us there were always people just outside who may be convinced to come in. “You will have to pay them,” he told us dryly.   We just look at each other again.

Now I was thinking about the amigos Diana and I saw hanging around outside the building, would they really want to join us?  The judge sent a different clerk outside to gather some of them. He returned with 3 sun-stroked looking men.

Or was it simply siesta time already.  Either way they approached the magistrate and he looked at us with a simple finger rubbing thumb gesture.  We knew right away to dig up some dollar notes.

I set $6 into the clerk’s hand for the men.  He took it up to the judge. Each of the men signed a piece of paper, were handed their money and left the courtroom, one of them slightly smiling and acknowledging Diana and myself as they walked out.

The judge then called us forward to his bench and continued the process in pretty good English, the standard marriage vows (in Baja-California anyway).  After the ‘I do’s’ and his declaration of our marriage, we kissed, hugged and then had to sign the certificate.

He reached into his desk pulling out a stamp to which he then applied the ink from a pad on his bench quite deliberately, stamped the certificate firmly and applied his signature within the stamp.  Before handing it to us he did the ‘gesture’ once again.

I placed some bills onto his bench.  He handed us the one piece of paper and Diana immediately suggested we have a copy as well.  She asked him if we could get a copy and for a moment he didn’t answer.  Then he rubbed his index finger to his thumb and Diana handed him two dollars.

He went into the back and returned with a copy.  We stepped outside as Mr and Mrs Blue Masala. It was even hotter than a devil’s armpit now that the sun had pretty much reached its zenith.  

I remember being extremely thirsty, we both were to be sure.  Diana noticed a little market across the street and we made our way over.  Oh my goodness!  see the coo coo rachas scatter across the street everywhere.

I bought 2 bottles of ice cold 7-Up and stepping back outside with open bottles, we cheersed our green glass together and tipped up till we emptied them.  Gotta say, that felt really good!

We had planned to spend that night there as well and to call it a honeymoon?  I guess for now this would have to do.  We caught the bus the next morning back to Los Angeles and to a celebration with her dad and his ‘friend’ Doris.

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61. A Surprise For Dave!

Those days, after more than a year in San Francisco I began to feel like I stepped into suspended animation once again.  I concluded my life wasn’t moving forward.  True there’s always various options one could look into; these eluded me in that moment of my existence.

I found myself just hanging around and not doing much apart from work and roaming the city.

It was roughly a little more than a week after that first trip into the Los Angeles area when I realised this young man from the Fiji Islands was craving the warmer climate of southern California.  You’re surely not surprised are you?

By the end of the 2nd week I had given notice to my employer.  Leaving the hotel restaurant in good standings as well, I offered to stay with them till they replaced me.

Autumn was definitely in the air when I bought my one-way ticket on the Greyhound bus and headed down to Los Angeles.  I got off the bus at the Santa Monica station.  After a little searching I found myself a motel room for about $2.75 per night.  This was on Wilshire Boulevard in West Los Angeles, a nice place to be.

I would stay there for about a week.  Settling in the first thing for me to do was take a walk.  I returned to the room feeling relaxed.  Turning to the pages of my little notebook I refreshed myself on a couple of goals.

Before I left home my brother had suggested I carry this with me at all times as it would prove really useful.  “Write our home address in it just in case you suddenly feel like sending home a postcard,” he told me.  The first Palm Pilot right?  

One of the things on my to-do list was to try and find a treasured childhood friend, made through the mail.  Yes I’m talking pen pal here.  It sure would be nice to meet him face to face.

I inquired with someone as to the location of the address.  Go close to Overland and Pico someone said.  “This street you’re looking for will cross Pico Boulevard and then you’ll make a right turn.  From there it may be another mile or so,” another friendly face told me.

Someone else said to take a bus and go towards Rancho Park Golf Course.  I was directed east.  Well there was no shortage of people willing to give me directions.

Once I finally arrived in that neck of the woods I popped into a local business asking for continued directions, just to be sure you know.  One man in this little store told me, “If you’re walking it’ll be a ways.”  Well I was prepared to take the walk that might lead me to a childhood friend;  this was my only plan for the day.  

Eyeing me out of curiosity I think, he continued, “First there will be a golf course, don’t worry the street will give way into a residential area.”  A couple more directive words and I was set.  Thanking him I left his shop and began the longest part of my journey.  

And once I made that right turn I passed the golf course everyone seemed to mention.  The road started to slope a bit and then it went up again.  I began looking at the house numbers.

I had walked and walked but as I was taken in by the the layout of the neighborhood I didn’t really feel the distance.  

At last on my left hand side I came upon the address I’d been hoping to find.  It was a wonderful white painted, single story home.  So there it was, the actual home of my un-met friend, my pen pal of years past.  

I stood silently there for quite some time wondering what I should do now.  A hundred thoughts raced through my mind … what if?  What if it’s the wrong address?  What if the people inside think I’m a bad person and shriek in fear?  What if …?

I finally pressed the doorbell button.

It must’ve been nearly 3 minutes before I heard anything besides my own heartbeat and that was the click of the door.  Well that certainly was enough time for my nerves to be in more of a spin than they already were.  

A beautiful lady cautiously opened the front door and only slightly at that.  “Can I help you?” she said.  Stunned – I said nothing for a moment.  I wanted to say, ‘Mom.’  I was beginning to feel all too strange but I pushed myself to say something,  ‘I am looking for my friend.  This is the address I’ve got for him.’

“Who’s your friend, have you a name?” she asked me with the door still ajar.  I nervously replied, ‘Dave? David.’  Her eyes grew bigger yet she was listening to me in quiet thought I suspect.

I bravely continued to speak, ‘My name is Parma and I’ve come from the Fiji Islands and now to Los Angeles to meet him …’ and then my voice sort of trailed off.

She turned her head slightly towards the inside of the house and said in a louder voice “Honey! Dave, come here!”  Soon the door was opened a bit more and a young man was looking at me with the same wide-eyes (apparently he was recognizing me from the earlier photos I had sent to him in our communications).  

He said with a brightly lit face, “Mom!  This is my pen pal Parma!  We used to correspond when we were so much younger, remember?”  Instantly her face showed immediate relief and the door opened wide.  ‘I told you Dave, someday I will come and meet you.’  

I was practically rustled into the house with overwhelming affection.  Only once did his mother call me by my name because after that it was, oh honey this and honey that and on and on and lots of hugs too!  Imagine how the questions flew around in all directions that afternoon.

And when his dad came home, his surprise was worth a thousand dollars as well.  He had entered the living room simply expecting the normal evening when his eyes fell upon me.  “Who have we here?”  

I stood up right away and Dave taking the cue also rose and immediately introduced us. “Remember dad how I used to correspond with a kid in the Fiji Islands years ago?” Dave asked his father.  

Mr. Elson looked thoughtful for a few moments and then his eyes lit up like a Christmas tree, just like Dave’s had earlier.  He couldn’t believe it either.  This family truly welcomed me and yes, before dinner was even finished, I was asked to call them only mom and dad.

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Parma (that was a nickname Dave used with me and I absolutely cannot seem to remember how that came to be).