Thursday, August 11, 2005

Countdown to Ecstasy

Steely Dan's songs have provided the soundtrack to my life since junior high school, when "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" and "Hey Nineteen" were in constant rotation at that pre-teen mecca, Golden Skate in San Ramon. Back then I was too young and naive to realize that the lyrics were somewhat disturbing, what with their references to illicit drug deals and sex with underage women. I just knew that it felt good to fly around the rink, holding the sweaty hand of some boy from Junior Kadima while the loudspeaker belted out "please take me along when you slide on down . . . ."

In a way, I even associate them with setting Chef and I on the right path after spending much of our early twenties in a constant state of breaking up and getting back together (due mainly to my relentless dithering). The winter after I graduated from college, he came to visit me in Santa Cruz on a stormy, blustery weekend. His arms were full of gifts, including bags of the strong, dark coffee and Swedish dill mustard sauce that you could only find in Humboldt County as well as a bunch of old Steely Dan albums he picked up at various thrift stores.

We did a lot of fun things on that visit - we went to a fancy Sunday brunch at the Chaminade Hotel and ate hot knishes at a funky cafe overlooking the beach - but what I remember the most is hanging out in my little rented house up in the mountains. We made breakfast together, read the Sunday funnies out loud, and drank huge mugs of coffee by a roaring fire, the whole time listening to the swirling saxophones and refined harmonies of "Can't Buy a Thrill" while rain pounded on the windows. By the time Chef left that Sunday night I knew I wanted to spend every weekend for the rest of my life feeling as cozy and contented and unconditionally loved as I did right then. We were married two years later.

Nowadays we rarely even get a chance to finish a cup of coffee or listen to music other than the Wiggles or Winnie the Pooh - never mind enjoying those long, lazy, caffeine and jazz-filled days like we used to. Maybe I might put on my Two Against Nature CD while I do the dishes or pack the kids' lunches, but that's about it. So I was pleased to discover, completely by accident, that a Steely Dan cover band called Aja Vu was giving a free concert in a park nearby.

The band was playing in Oak Hill Park, located in pristine, moneyed Alamo. We drove past country clubs and million dollar homes with carriage houses and riding stables in the back, finally arriving at one of the nicest parks I have ever seen. There were acres and acres of lush emerald grass, a sparkling lake with picturesque ducks and geese floating by, a sprawling state of the art playground, and a stunning view of Mt. Diablo. It was lovely - so much so that I started feeling a twinge out of place with my ratty green army blanket and my big greasy bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken. This was only exacerbated by the group of people next to me, whose picnic area consisted of a little table covered with a linen cloth, tapered candles, and a jug of Italian wine poured into crystal glasses.

Then the music started and the Steely Dan melodies took effect, enveloping me in peace and well-being. All the discomfort was gone, and I was just happy to be out with my family on this wonderful warm night, watching the clouds turn pink over Mt. Diablo. The kids, as usual, were clamoring to stand right in front of the band and dance. Now, I am a terribly awkward, clumsy, self-conscious dancer and in fact I will skip out of weddings and banquet dinners early rather than suffer the possibility of some well-meaning hostess trying to pull me onto the floor.

But on this night, I didn't care - I whirled and twirled and swung the kids around and sang the choruses at the top of my lungs, and people all around me were doing the same. The band was incredible - they played all the songs you would expect: Deacon Blues, Josie, FM, and Reeling in the Years - plus a lot of my favorite songs that are not as well-known, like Black Cow, Pretzel Logic, Home at Last, and My Old School. It was as good as seeing the real thing - better actually, since it was free and we could sit as close as we wanted and the setting was much more serene and beautiful than any stadium or arena.

It is so rare that you experience a truly perfect evening. There is always something - it was too crowded, the traffic was bad, the weather could have been more cooperative, you wish you could have been there with someone else. Saturday night was the real deal. The music was amazing, the warm summer breeze felt good, and there was no one I would rather have shared it with than my two wonderful kids . . . and especially my husband, who has provided me with eleven years of unconditional love. (Happy anniversary!)


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