Tuesday, October 20, 2009

High Marks for Top of the Mark

Grandma Neets and Grandpa Howard came to visit last year. Well, they came to visit a ritzy cruise ship that departed from the Bay and took them on a ten-day voyage to Mexico, and I just happened to be in the city. But that’s beside the point.

They live in Ocean City, New Jersey, and I’m used to seeing them either on a beach or at home in Oregon. Never once had we been in another town together. It was strange chatting with my grandmother when she wasn't wearing a multicolored, one-piece swimsuit that exposed her olive skin, crinkled from age and many years in the sun. And I hardly recognized Grandpa Howard out of his usual setting: lounging in a low beach chair that stretched across the sand, napping and snoring in the late afternoon light with a Tom Clancy paperback resting on his bare belly. Instead he held a Scotch on the rocks and flaunted a Tommy Bahama button-up and pungent cologne.

I couldn’t help but wonder whether my grandparents spent more time as Beach Grandma and Grandpa or Cocktail-Hour, Cruise-Ship Grandma and Grandpa. Was this a more typical scene? Had my own flesh and blood been fooling me all of those years, posing as beach bums? Slipping on their suits and theatrically preparing the beach toys during the two weeks that the kids were in town, when otherwise they wouldn’t? I shook the image from my head. I like Beach Grandma and Grandpa, and that’s how they’ll stay.

“Oh, Megafoo!” Neets pulled me in for a bear hug when I reached the hotel in which she and her ten friends were staying. They would all be cruising together. (I can’t wait to be old.) I had taken the bus straight from back-to-back interviews and hadn’t had time to change. I wore a black suit, subtle black kitten heels, and a hideous, purple and black cotton shirt with an awkward pattern that doesn’t scream “hire me” so much as “call the fashion police.” (Don’t ask what I was thinking. I’m still shocked I got both jobs.) “You look so professional!” Grandma Neets said in her sweetest, most Grandma-ish air while looking me up and down.

“Thank you,” I replied shyly, although I was beyond thrilled to see her and had been looking forward to it all day. At some point between the first interview and the bus-ride to the second, though, I had snapped out of my fashion coma and realized how tragic I looked. I didn’t recall getting dressed in the dark, so what the hell happened? I would’ve stopped at Nordstrom for a new top if I’d had time.

I sat between Grandma Neets and Grandpa Howard while their friends drilled me with questions, and they looked on adoringly. Some of their pals I’d met as a kid, and others were strangers, but the most familiar face in the crowd was Jack Ramsay’s. I come from a long line of basketball worshipers, and this guy, “Dr. Jack” (as he’s known to the world), had done it all: played, coached various NBA teams
including the Portland Trail Blazers, which he’d led to a championship in the 1970s and broadcasted for the Indiana Pacers, the Miami Heat, and ESPN. He even made it to the Hall of Fame. Darren idolizes him.

After the group of 80-year-olds fired its last round questions at me, we took a cab three blocks to the restaurant at Fisherman’s Wharf. (In addition to the cruises, this is one of the perks of being old
you can take cabs for three blocks and $4 and no one says anything about it.)

Satiated from the crab, lobster, and other delectable fish that I could never afford to buy for myself, the party animal in Grandma Neets (which I call "Neeter Doggie") suggested we have drinks at Top of the Mark after dinner. Her friends obliged. We took another cab to Nob Hill’s renowned cocktail lounge, located on the top floor of the Mark Hopkin’s hotel. Until I started working at the 60-story, 450-foot-tall Millennium Tower, I’d never seen a prettier view of the city. Darren joined us for flashy martinis, elaborate desserts, and grown-up conversation (which included picking Dr. Jack’s brain).

Although the cruise ship is what brought Grandma Neets and Grandpa Howard to town, I’ve been begging them
in my most loving, granddaughter-ish whine to come back for months. As Neets would say: “What an adventure that was, Megafoo! Those are the days we remember forever.”

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