I met my wife one year after moving to San Francisco, in 1999, when she began working as a waitress in the bar and restaurant where I worked as a barman. She was out for the summer on a J-visa from Ireland, between her second and third years of university in Dublin, her native city.
For our first date I met her on Market Street and guided her onto a bus that carried us to Candlestick Park, to see the Giants host the St. Louis Cardinals on Orlando Cepeda Day.
We were two of 50,435 at the park. It was July 11. A young J.D. Drew would homer for St. Louis; Marvin Benard for the Giants. Mark McGwire, still exalted, went 0-for-4. Barry Bonds, also exalted though two years from his crowning glory, came up in a big spot and popped out to the catcher. St. Louis won 5-4.
It was our first date, which is important. It was also Marie's introduction to baseball, which is important, too.
She giggled every time a manager or pitching coach emerged from the dugout to visit a pitcher or argue with an umpire. She found it amusing, she explained, that they wore uniforms like the players. She couldn't get over it.
I kept score in a notebook, which irritated her. She said something about how delighted she was that I was paying so much attention to her. A sign of things to come. (As my fellow barman at the restaurant, Bruce, patiently explained to me several days later, it's good in a girlfriend also to have a good sparring partner.) There in the right-field stands, I asked Marie about her family and she told me her siblings' names, but they were totally foreign to me. I couldn't seem to pronounce them. Visibly frustrated, she grabbed my pen and wrote them down in the notebook: 'Ciaran' and 'Roisin.' I wasn't accustomed to someone writing in my notebook. Wordlessly, I returned to my score-keeping.
I'd been a straight bartender in San Francisco for a full year, and all I had to show for it at that point was an ephemeral, dysfunctional fling with a girl who aspired to be an astronaut. Even women - mostly married - who threw themselves at me (this was 60 pounds and a nearly full head of hair ago) at the restaurant only intimidated me. As Bruce would explain in the baseball lingo that we frequently used, I needed to become "a closer."
So I wasn't a closer. But even given that, I could not know as we walked back down the concrete ramps that overlooked the Navy Yard and bay, among the hordes of mild Giants fans, how poorly that first date would end.
We took a bus back to the Mission district where I lived, in "El Corazon de la Mission" - 20th and Mission Streets.
I said I knew a place that had good margaritas - but first I needed to stop off at my rented room and drop off my book bag.
Until that very moment, with Marie standing near me in the small room with the bay window overlooking 2427 Mission St., it had seemed a perfectly suitable living space ...
* * *
We're getting a bit of news this week from San Francisco-based OpenDNS, an Internet navigation and security services provider, that the Atlanta Braves have chosen the company's cloud-based Domain Name System (DNS is a sort of telephone book for the Web, but it operates with IP addresses that end-users rarely think about) for the team's multi-site network.
Specifically, the Braves - who surely are delighted to this point with their highly touted prospect, outfielder Jason Heyward - deployed OpenDNS throughout its organization, which includes a spring training facility in Orlando, minor league teams in Mississippi and Georgia, and a facility in the Dominican Republic.
The team's director of IT, Sherry Millette, said criteria that factored in Atlanta's decision included not having to travel to each physical location to deploy, then manage a filtering appliance - which saves money when man hours, shipping charges and travel expenses are considered.
"We tested OpenDNS initially with only a few users," Millette said. "We were so happy with the results that we fast tracked it to production."
Before using OpenDNS, Braves workers had no malware protection on their network, according to the organizations.
Ravi Dehar of OpenDNS says in a blog post that he's "thrilled" with the Braves choice - despite his own baseball fan leanings.
"As a San Francisco, California-based company located just a couple of blocks from AT&T Park, I have to admit that our loyalty lies with the San Francisco Giants," he said.
* * *
I've never been to what's now called "AT&T Park." By the time that spectacular stadium opened, I had left San Francisco for good.
And it all started on Orlando Cepeda Day.
Back in my room in the Mission district with Marie, I suddenly felt that my living quarters were inadequate: a bed, some makeshift bookshelves made of cardboard boxes, a dresser with a small TV.
We went to Club Latino for margaritas, then to another bar, where I lost a game of pool to some guy and, now drunk, fixated on the loss. Marie and I ended up at Dalva's on 16th and Valencia, where I sat cursing to myself, irritable. She tried making conversation but I was distracted. Gently, she excused herself and took a cab home. I thought I'd blown it, but she agreed to go out with me again (she brought a friend to our second date).
There's a line in Pat Conroy's "The Prince of Tides" where the narrator describes his grandfather as "one of those rare men who are capable of being fully in love only once in their lives."
If you're a cynic, the key word here is "fully." Try to picture that sentence without it - doesn't work.
I'll hang my hat on "fully," though, to say briefly that, every time I need to get the oil changed on my Honda Fit, I fall in love with the girl who works behind the register at Oil Star on East Main Street in Stamford, Conn.
It's a sunny Saturday and she's stuck in a cramped space where exhaust fumes creep in from the 3-bay garage next door, dealing with paying customers who are in a hurry, who are looking for a deal, who don't like the magazine selection in the waiting area she oversees.
But she couldn't be more upbeat. She seems to know many of the customers herself. She makes polite conversation based on the makes and models of customers' cars. I hear her talking to two men about their dog and she shares the fact that she also has three dogs of her own. She smiles all the time. She must know something that I don't know. You wouldn't get it if you just saw a picture of the Oil Star girl. You'd need to see her in person - see her in action.
"He was one of those rare men who are capable of being fully in love only once in their lives."
If you're a romantic, of course, the key word here is "capable."
After that first date, I trawled the Mission district's many second-hand stores for items I suddenly felt I needed to bring my rented room up to snuff: an easy chair, a coffee table, a stand-up lamp. I went to a hardware store and bought three lengths of copper pipe, and hung them on nails above the three bay windows. I then bought green and blue bed sheets and cut them into curtains that I sewed around the pipes, using extra strips from the green to tie back the blue curtains, and vice versa.
A few years ago, Marie and I returned to San Francisco for the first time since we left, together, at the end of that summer of 1999. I would follow her to Austria, where she spent her third year of university studying abroad, then to Ireland, where she spent her final year. We moved together back to Stamford, in 2001 and got married on March 10, 2003, also my 28th birthday.
We walked back past 2427 Mission St. and I was secretly thrilled, even emotional to see that, seven years later, the curtains I sewed to make my room acceptable for Marie were still in the window, though sun-faded (see the picture at the top of this post).
I keep a picture of her here at work, in my cubicle. Marie, I mean - not the Oil Star girl. It was taken during that summer of 1999, from the deck of the ferry that runs out from San Francisco to Tiburon. She's wearing the semi-embarrassed look of the publicly photographed - even blushing a little. ("Blushers are good, Mike," Bruce told me that summer.)
My car isn't due for an oil change until 33,000 miles - still a few months away.
Even with that prospect - and I mean this - the only thing I'm capable of today is sitting back and smiling at that photograph of my wife-to-be.