How Love Becomes Them (A Very Interesting Story)

This was the day Johnny figured was his future, and he was glad. He was in San Francisco at last. It was 1998. He was a long way from his dreams and now so close to his reality he could taste the tang and smell the very perfume of it. These are the feelings of a man pursuing his aspirations, however far away they take him. Little did Johnny know he would remember this day all the rest of his days and they would be the origin of his terminating torment and the wellspring of all his joys. Such was Johnny's life.


Alone—a MAN—with what to his name but a check for $2000? Those who came before: did they get farther west with less? Johnny heard that beyond the final shores of this great land, this land of 48 contiguous states swelling with opportunity, there was another state, buoyed by the waters that hug Mother Earth, called Hawaii. On the Greyhound bus bringing him ever closer to the bus depot, Johnny often thought of that state. It was not like the others in this mighty nation so full of promise, for it was actually a series of islands, each of which had names of their own. These islands were separated by water.

Johnny, slumped in his window seat, looked dolefully at his own reflection as if it were his very palm; as if he could read his future in the pits and creases, the face-framing jowls and the trailing strands of his black mane glued by sweat to his forehead. Fleetingly, he thought about Hawaii. It didn't matter. He could scry nothing save windsheared raindrops coursing across the window as the bus careened down the sloping lanes of San Francisco.

The bus turned into the terminal, and Johnny saw it was time to join his fellow passengers in setting foot in San Francisco, where dreams are possible. Getting to Hawaii would not be possible by foot or by bus, for it was many miles over the ocean and Johnny had but one check to establish himself in this city with. He could go no further.

You know what they say, San Francisco or bust thought Johnny.

So Johnny went to a bank kiosk in the terminal, which was a convenience he had not experienced in the smaller towns he lived in before moving to San Francisco. Johnny was dazzled by the size of the terminal and all its offerings and all the people who milled about within its walls. It was hard to believe that outside this building all of San Francisco still awaited him! Johnny turned around and around; his hair whipped about him: he was ecstatic.

"Sir?" said a bank teller. "Are you in line?"

"Oh, hi," Johnny said, regaining his composure. The Teller standing on the other side of the counter watched him with considerate professionalism. He pulled off his shades. "I wanted to cash this check, please."

"Certainly, sir," said the Teller. "Do you have an account with us?"

"An account? What do you think? I just got off the bus. I moved here to San Francisco."

The Teller nodded sagely. She slid a deposit slip across the counter to Johnny.

"Of course, sir. I will just need you to fill out your name, the account number and the amount of the check."

Johnny's face smeared into a lazy grin.

"I am from out-of-state."

The Teller paused. She looked a bit stricken by what Johnny said.

"You mean your bank is in another state too?"

"Yes, it is," he said. There was a sigh mixed in there. "I have no bank in this state."

The Teller sadly patted Johnny's hand.

"California laws prohibit in-state banks from cashing this check if the bank is not in this state also."

Johnny wagged his finger, rolled his eyes and smiled gently at the Teller. She was easily the most beautiful woman he'd seen in days.

"Don't worry about it, everything's going to be OK," Johnny said. He walked away.

Maybe she's the one he thought.

He dropped himself onto the nearest bench and spread his muscled arms across the backrest. Between his sweat-pantsed legs were the two suitcases that carried all that belonged to him. Johnny threw back his head; his face was contorted into a lionesque mask of outrage that seemingly caught fire as sunlight fell upon his rough-hewed visage.

There were so many rules in this country, which is the United States of America. It wasn't right that people couldn't just do something as simple as cash a check in any state they liked and live life to the fullest. People should just be happy and love each other and trust that everything will work out in the end, Johnny thought. But he knew that the politicians were only concerned about many regulations. It wasn't easy to run a big country, Johnny supposed. But San Francisco wasn't a big country.—It was a big city, in the state of California. Johnny was so happy to be in San Francisco. He put on his shades.


Johnny checked himself into the YMCA nearby. He used his check to secure lodgings there. The Warder of the YMCA was a good-natured man who could see Johnny was a great guy who would work hard and make a name for himself in San Francisco.

"Now even though this check is not from this state," the Warder said, "I know you will work hard and make your rent for the week. When you make $2000, I will give you the $2000 dollars back and then I will cash this check when I visit the state it was issued in. I like to travel."

Johnny laughed. "Of course, you must be kidding that I wouldn't, huh? I worked in finance back in the state I moved out of. I will make money to pay you by the end of the week."

The Warder laughed warmly. He was tossing a football around back and forth between his two hands. Johnny watched the ball; he was mesmerized.

"You play football?" asked the Warder.

Johnny shrugged his question off with a grin.

"I watched football often in the state I moved from," Johnny said. "But it was such a small town I lived in that there were not enough people to play football. So I just watched it on TV."

"To play you only need two people."

Johnny's eyes drifted to a clipboard hanging off a pillar in the Warder's office, thinking of those carefree days before he arrived in San Francisco.

"There were at least two people in the town I lived in before I came here," Johnny said. "Show me how to play."

The Warder and Johnny went into a gym area and tossed the football between them. They stood no more than a few feet apart. This initially bothered Johnny.

"Why are we playing like this?" Johnny asked. "On TV the players are on a big field."

The Warder's brow furrowed.

"Yes," the Warder said. "But playing this close allows us to keep control of the ball and stay in closer range."

Johnny laughed.

"I get the picture, yeah!" he said.


Johnny found it hard finding a job in finance in San Francisco. But he didn't worry about that. He got a job working at a local coffee shop on the ground floor of a hotel. The coffee shop sold the best cheesecake in San Francisco. His supervisor was named Susan and she thought that Johnny would do a great job working in the store because he had such a generous, giving personality that made people just love him.

"He will sell lots of cheesecake to our customers," she told the Manager. "People love Johnny."

The Manager was very jealous of Johnny's winning ways and saw to it that Johnny never rose above being a busboy in the coffee shop for the one-and-a-half years Johnny worked there. Every brilliant idea Johnny had about selling cheesecake and other foodstuffs in the shop were stolen from Johnny by the Manager to improve the Manager's reputation. Johnny, for instance, came up with the cow-spotted design for their general product look, but the Manager took the credit.

"It's bullshit," Johnny told Susan. "I came up with that design. I'm fed up with this job."

Susan warned the Manager Johnny was planning to quit, so the Manager grudgingly gave Johnny pitiful wage increases. Johnny stayed on.

It was fortunate for Johnny he did. One bright afternoon in 1998 as Johnny was carrying a tray with a couple a cherry-infused sparkling waters, a lemon-sprinkled cheesecake, a small hot chocolate and a slice of tiramisu, he saw a very beautiful woman moping next to a window table. He was struck with how beautiful she was. She wore an orange bandana, a flimsy red blouse, an ocher skirt and a pair of moccasins. A wistful thread of steam from the coffee cup in front of her trailed away, up to the acoustical ceiling.

Johnny went over to her.

"Hi," he said.

The woman smiled at him, her smile framed by a blonde pageboy.

"Hi," she said. "My name is Lisa."

"Wow," Johnny said. "My name is Johnny!"

They shook hands.

"My shift is almost over," Johnny said. "Would you like me to buy you something here? It's on the house."

Lisa shrugged.

"Sorry, I have to go. Maybe we could meet sometime for dinner?"

"Yeah, sure, that's great, maybe this week? But, ah, I don't have a lot of money right now and I am living at the YMCA."

Lisa laughed.

"Don't worry about it, silly!" she said.

So Johnny and Lisa exchanged numbers, though Lisa could only reach Johnny during curfew hours at the Y after work and he was limited to two personal in-store calls every day. Lisa had a cellular phone but she often incurred roaming charges and went over her minutes, so it was best if she called him. Still, they got together and had dinner—the first of many. Lisa paid for that first dinner, but Johnny did buy her red roses (the Warder lent Johnny the money) .

"Red is a beautiful color for you, Lisa. It makes you so sexy."

"Thank you, Johnny. How sweet of you!" Lisa said.

They took a trolley over to a hill to see the Golden Gate Bridge at night. It was beautiful. It stretched across the waters of San Francisco Bay. Lisa was bored; she wasn't impressed, since she'd seen the Bridge many times before. But she thought Johnny was amazing. How long would she stay with him, she wondered? How much happiness and wealth could she squeeze out of him? How many of the best years of her life would she sacrifice to make their relationship work?

All that was in the future, Lisa supposed. Their reality—her and Johnny's—was now; their dreams spread out before them like the Bridge and the shimmering waters that flowed beneath it. These were the feelings of a young woman constrained by the expectations of a dominating mother; the feelings of a young woman who smells the musk of her man and wants it all. Little did Lisa know that that hot, sweaty, sexy night in 1996 was the beginning of seven years of hell with this prick; the most generous, giving man in all of San Francisco, it sometimes seemed. Life was strange these days. Who cared? Lisa wanted it all, anyway.