Monday, April 6, 2009

"Darren" and "Matt"

It is true: I am leaving in June. I was thinking about waiting until just a few weeks before the official announcement via blog, but then I realized that (1) barely anyone reads this, (2) the few people who do read this already know I'm heading out, and (3) I'm really not that big of a deal, so it's not earth-shattering news that I'm leaving Los Angeles... in fact, I doubt that Los Angeles, a city of 4 million, will notice that I'm even gone.

Despite my cynicism toward the city and its concrete, Babylonian existence, I have experienced very formative situations here and met a slew of people who are making it difficult to think about saying "sayonara."

A few people I don't believe I've mentioned in this blog are from the kitchen: Darren and Matt (names changed, as always). These are two magnificent men with witty spirits. Both are Vietnam vets who are bitter about the VA's treatment of them and their peers (not to mention actually having to be in Vietnam, which gets them pretty irked, too). Although they have such youthful and curious personalities it is hard to believe that either of these men could have been armed and face-to-face with the deemed enemy 40 years back.

Darren has so many interests and has been so many places. Each time I speak with him in the garden, I get sucked into a deep conversation about a sect of the world and his travels, or photography and other hobbies, or happiness and the meaning of life. Recently, Darren lent me a book about creating my own dark room when he learned I started teaching myself photography. Darren is engaging in a way I have rarely come across in others, and is a genuine person, not a cocky, arrogant man seeking to teach me the ways of the world, hoping I will gain something from his wisdom. He is instead modest, not outspoken and willing to share--a great conversational companion.

He is about my height, is always searching for a hug from me, and has a slightly high pitched voice which piques when he is most enthusiastic. Darren limps with the wooden cane he juts in his direct path. I have never seen him eat at the kitchen. Rather, he gets a big container and fills it up. I imagine he eats his beans and salad through the day and night, especially when he is unable to sleep because he is stuck in a rut of depression or deep thought.

And Matt... one of the most child-like 60-somethings I have ever met. He is insistent he is living his second childhood, that he was blessed with a second go-around. Topics of conversation include marriage (ours), his Harley which he has yet to purchase, and college sports. He calls me the "Oregon Hippie Girl" and I just call him by his name, trying not to encourage his flirtatious behavior. Nevertheless, we get along well and he is more protective than predatory. In fact, one day I was breaking up a fight in the line, and Matt almost jumped in to "save" me. I had to talk with him to say that his actions were aggravating the person I was trying to calm down, and to go into the garden. Matt didn't like this at all and refused to listen to me. Later in the garden, he said, in good humor, something along the lines of me being too tough for his help.

Matt is huge. He towers over me and I'm thankful I'm on his good side because I'm sure if he wanted to harm anyone, he could. Matt always wears shorts and usually has some kind of USC or veteran propaganda on his shirt. A do-rag or hat covers his grey cornrows and sunglasses block a good view of his yellowing eyes.

These two men are quite different, but are always excited to see each other. Matt usually shouts out a "hoo-rah," and they both talk about how no one says it the right way anymore. Darren sits and watches the people pass, patiently waiting for his turn to speak while Matt lays on his go-to lines regarding our usual topics of conversation.

I thoroughly enjoy both of their company, and have yet to tell them I'm leaving. Telling the guys at the kitchen is definitely going to be harder than telling the community. The bonds with the guys are why I really came here after college, why I re-upped for another year, why I miss work after being sick and home for a week, and why my heart breaks when I imagine not seeing the 3+ days out of the week. My life with be so different without seeing Darren and Matt on a regular basis.

It's all a part of the transition, I guess.