I moved for college. But I could have gone anywhere. I moved to Stockton for family. There was an idea in my mind. We would spend time together. And we would get to know each other. Be closer. It didn’t workout.
I did spend some time with my sister. I know once we went to my favorite coffee shop. It is almost a chapter in itself. But I was busy with school. My sister was busy with her own life. There is no blame. This is just how things turned out. Rather, I am sure what blame there is, is mine.
In my apartment complex I knew no one. There was a neighbor who had problems. I never called the landlord or the police. But one night someone else did. My apartment was over the carport. You could see in the window a little. One of the neighbor’s friends did once mention: “I always wondered who lived there.”
Then again I was rarely home.
At school I made a few friends. There was a woman I was attracted to in one of my classes. We even went out to coffee. But I think she was younger. And she clearly didn’t seem interested. Over time we just stopped talking to each other. Like so many other people in my life. It wasn’t a choice, but it happened by itself. There were a couple others I would talk to when I saw them on campus. But we weren’t friends. But when I wasn’t in class I wasn’t on campus.
At the tax job I worked mostly alone. Though I did get to know the couple who ran the office. There were some friendly women working in the office too. And we got along well. But not in a deep or lasting way. Once the job ended I never heard from any of them again. Except for the couple. A few years later I went back and had them do my taxes again.
The woman who hired me at the gas station job was odd. It wasn’t her only job. As a result she didn’t need to cash her pay checks. But I can talking to her. Once I used the word “tome” and another time “epistle.” She had told me before how she was so smart. It was the only reason I would use those words. I thought if she didn’t know what they meant, she’d like to know. She didn’t know, and didn’t want to know. And got upset. She was one of the people who know everything. If you agree with her your smart. If you don’t then your wrong and dumb. She never had much respect for the owner. And while there were things he did which were wrong. He did start several businesses in his life. And I’ve never even started one.
There was a younger man who worked there for a while. He did things his own way. Sometimes he knew the right way, and just didn’t care. But he was just young and still growing. He had a lovely girl friend and a child. At some point he got a better job as a painter. He just quit without notice. The owner said whoever hired him wasn’t smart. Because if he quit one job without notice, he would quit another the same way. But I hope things turned out for him.
After he quit the woman quit sometime later. She cashed all her checks and caused the owner a little problems. I am sure it wasn’t as bad as she had hoped. But after she left a Pakistani man worked with me. He was funny. Once I joked about putting my head in the oven. “No, no… don’t do this, it isn’t funny,” he said. And I thought how funny you think I could kill myself like in an electric oven. The doors wouldn’t close with my head in the way. And surely it would take a long time to do any damage. But he was always there, and a good worker. At this point I was doing most of the cleaning. He would give me a ride home.
For a while a woman worked at the store. I had no interest in her. But her sister came around sometimes and we flirted. Then one night I took her to my place. I may have made too much of a point about it not being serious. She was a nice girl. And the attraction was mutual. But I knew I’d be soon leaving town. Her sister had already quit working at the store at this point. And afterward I didn’t see either one of them again. It was a lesson.
The next person I worked with was Asian. He would say, “I’m not racist.” But he was. When he talked about black people he said they were thieves. You can’t trust them, he explained. Maybe he didn’t understand what being racist meant. I got along okay with him at work. We covered for each other. But he wasn’t someone I liked. When he dropped his phone in the toilet – I told him to turn it on. Even though I was pretty sure it was the wrong thing to do. He had to replace his phone.
Once someone brought in a fake $10 bill. After we found it in the drawer we got scared. Getting rid of it seemed like the only solution. Otherwise the owner would be angry. So, when a couple came in arguing he gave them the bill in their change. The couple left. About 10 minutes later they came back. The guy tried to buy something with the bill. My co-worker had the guts to tell him we couldn’t take the bill because it was fake. But the guy forgot who had given him the bill.
Towards the end of my time working there I cleaned less. The owner hired a Filipino man to clean. He wasn’t here legally. A fact I discovered when he gave me a ride home one night. At the store he was a good worker. Focused and hard working. He looked Hispanic so a lot of people tried to talk to him in Spanish. But he didn’t know the language. Some would get upset. I’d explain he was from the Philippines. One night he was giving me a ride home. We stopped at a red light. A cop car was at the signal to our right. I made a joke about not running the red light. Then he did run the red light. We got pulled over and he didn’t have any papers. The police let him go, but said I would have to drive. I drove to my place and then he drove home.
But all this is just school and work. While in Stockton I found a cute little coffee shop. And there was a cute girl there too. A couple of them to be honest. But one I had my eye on more than the others. A small group of us would hang out at the coffee shop. One of the guys I had known while living with my mother. He had lived downstairs from her apartment. At the coffee shop we hung out. I took a lot of pictures. It was about this time I got a good camera and started taking a lot of photos. Camera phones weren’t common at the time. Taking selfies had not become a national past-time. I still have those photos.
The girl lived down the street. She was younger than me. At times I thought there might be a potential. A couple times we went to her house. She lived with her father. Once I kissed her on the cheek. But then we spent less time together. I was wrong about the potential. And it was okay. It was a bit disappointing for me. But I wasn’t planning on staying in town long.
In my experience there are moments which bring people together. They form bonds and groups. Small networks of people and relationships. But then the moment passes and people drift away. When I got to know these friends it was summer. I had more free time. Then school came and we all had different priorities. One of the girls went to my college. When I saw her around campus we would spend some time together. But age does make a difference.
The name of the coffee shop was Lola’s. It is closed now. A good friend of mine came to visit one night. We went to the coffee shop. We had also spent time together in Boulder. While in Boulder we were often at a place named Lolita’s. She mentioned the odd fact.
One of the oddest friends I had in Stockton was LJ. He would come to my job at first. And it was okay to chat with him at work. At work I feel like I am a different person. I put on my friendly customer service face. But there is some security there, because they are just customers. But one day he called me on my cellphone. One of my co-workers had given him the number. And at first I was pissed. It was a stupid thing for him to do. But me and LJ did become good friends. He was gay and hoped I was gay too. Not the first and not the last time. But I told him I wasn’t and he respected me.
Well one time he saw a photo of me. I was laying on the grass. The camera was over my face when I had taken the image. Like someone looking down on me. He told me this was what he had always wanted to see. Kind of crossing the line, but he never pushed things beyond flirting. Thinking back I am sure being a black gay man in Stockton was an odd existence. When I moved out of Stockton he helped me move – and lost his van in the process. This is a story for later.
There were a few other people I knew from the gas station. A lady who worked for the police department in dispatch. She came in every night for iced tea. This was a perfect example of the customer service me relating to someone. And there was a girl who talked to me. She seemed to take a fancy to me. We got together outside of work once. But it went poorly. I don’t recall the details. But she wasn’t the kind of person I felt with which I had much in common.
When I left Stockton, I left them all behind. I tried to keep in touch with LJ, but it didn’t work out for long. Once settled in Arcata I was busy again. And we never really got very close. There are few people in my life I have gotten very close to, including family.