Chapter 32

 “Saturn’s action is to condense aqueous 
vapor and to excite tempests. When Saturn 
crosses the equator, the atmosphere 
is greatly disturbed.” A.J. PEARCE

 “Saturn aspecting Saturn tends to suggest 
a combination of individuals who bring 
out each other’s insecurities.”

           “…Airlines flight number 608 from Chicago with intermediate stops in Des Moines and Salt Lake City is now arriving at the B Concourse, Gate 35…”

          “Bradley Walker, Bradley Walker, come to the white courtesy telephone, United Airlines baggage claim area, please, Bradley Walker…”

          “What are you doing here…tsk, how did you even know?”

          “I was just about to ask you the same thing…”

          “Well, are you going to take my bag, or do I have to drag it all the…”

          “Sure, Moon. Uh, so how was the flight?”

          “Well as could be expected…God, Kenny, what do you think?!”

          “I don’t know, hon…this whole thing sort of catches me, you know, off guard.”

          Circuits activated, connections routed and fully linked: the instant Sydney went public with her mate accompli, Princess touch-tones tripped crossbars, overpowered relays, sizzled phone cables like detonator fusing from San Francisco to North Shore Chicago. Once Faith Mendel grasped the implications of her daughter’s latest border incursion, she lit up the Saversohn rec-room extension faster than pro-lifers on call-in talk radio. Therewith, Melissa’s dad signal-jumped microwave towers back across the Great Plains to Boulder, his shock and dismay trunking line-of-sight, transmitter to repeater to repeater—pre-empting party lines, aluminum siding solicitations, 911 if need be to voice his unmitigated support. This was his only baby out there.

          Trouble was, I hadn’t direct dialed with comparable dispatch. According to the damage-control pact, Sydney would ring up the folks from her place, and I would more or less conference in to Melissa from Denise’s. Only somewhere between the two, red light by left-lane red light, this emancipating little proclamation began weighing on me—emotional ballast, heavier than a ton of adulterated treason. Who knew that halo effect could have such a ripple effect? How could asana heaven turn into such yoga hell?

          About the same time, Mountain Zone, Moon recounted, she stopped baking long enough to hear, ‘darling, the clown’ll come around’ and ‘there, there, maybe they deserve each other’ from her father, with nary a clue as to the genesis of his outrage. ‘But, Melissa dear, you haven’t heard…’ finally frosted her, stickier than her latest cookies and buns. Then, when Edie had called her out of the San Francisco blue to shoot up a warning flare, Moon flew out of Stapleton International like Dutch Reagan out of the GOP primaries. The entire turnaround consumed six hours, if that: from Syd’s call to the one-liner Moon telegraphed to me upon her touchdown at SFO. Witness the marvel of modern communication and space available transport under fire. Witness the depletion of current accounts.

          “Now, what’s this all about? Oh, Kenny—you are beyond belief, you know that?!”

          “Cool down, Moon,” I urged, wrestling with her convertible overnight bag, then wrapping my other arm about her tensed, shapeless shoulders. “It’s great you came like this, really…time you check out San Fran…why so sudden, I can’t figure, but…”

          “Are you being coy,” she replied, finding scant comfort in the immediacy of my embrace. “Or are you just being incredibly dumb?”

          “No, I mean it, babe. Maybe you’re right-on with this move, you know? We can sort everything out here and now…”

             “Bradley Walker, Bradley Walker, please check with United Airlines immediately regarding baggage claim and your Airdales, thank you.”

          “God, you are being dumb,” Moon said, dragging several steps behind me along the D Concourse in her precious woody clogs. “And how may I ask did you know my flight?”

          “I…uh…happened to call Boulder,” I winced over my shoulder. “Paul Verniere answered, of all people, said you were at work. “So, what was he doing at the house?”

          “Oh, yeah…Paul,” she hesitated, rifling through her macrame purse. “Nothing, he was just looking in after Seamus and Pags and locking up… somebody had to…I’ll explain it all later.”

          Our forced march through the rush of ticket counters, standby lines, skycaps and rose-bearing Krishna seemed nigh on interminable. I fretted, she fussed, from the crab and sourdough bread stands along conveyor walkways shuttling us to Tier 3, Section G-18, where I was certain I’d parked the squareback. Or was it Tier 2, Section B-28… whatever, she paid.

          “Locking up, huh,” I said, dismissing Verniere altogether—rather a defensive move on my part as we finally chugged out onto Airport Drive. “See, the City’s welcome sign’s a cable car…George Moscone’s on there, the mayor clanging the bell…traffic’s not too bad. Better than Denver, or O’Hare…you leave the Toyota at the airport, did you? Look up at the hills there—where the fog’s rolling over. That’s because the ocean’s right on the other side, Moon…you’ve got to see the Pacific…we’re definitely not talking lake here! Yeah, ocean, bay—water, water everywhere…oh, you’re gonna love San Francisco, you’ll see. Yeah, I’m getting more and more psyched you came out…hungry, Moon? Sure, after the flight, you must…Denise’s place is really nice, right across from the park…tell you one thing, it’s much better flying out here…gotta be. The drive’s a…oh, beautiful and all, but Nevada…”

          We were halfway up the Bayshore Freeway to Candlestick Point before word one came from the shotgun side, over the radio crackling of ‘Love Is Thicker Than Water’ by Andy Gibb. “Eat this, Kenny. Here, open—before your tongue implodes.”

          “Hmmm, terrific cookies,” I grinned, crumbs spraying across the windshield. “The best, like always…see? The ‘Stick—Giants play there, big leagues…not right now, I mean…but they’re not that good these days anyway…” Christ almighty, how much did she know and when did she know it?!!!

          “They’re ginger pear. There I was, lining cookie sheets and stirring you two around in my mind when my father called…my fa-ther, Kenny! So let’s have it, what am I doing here? Better yet, what are you doing here?!”

          “Uh, depends on what you mean, ‘doing’, Moon.” Hell, I didn’t know. What was to do here? This whole thing was beginning to spin my beaters, too. Was I talking to her, or to her? I was supposed to know what was happening, with all this traffic merging right to left? It was enough just to keep a bead on the freeway—on those lane-grabbing tour buses up there, the ‘High Flyers from Solvang’, no less. “I’m sort of scoping things out, testing the waters, trying to set us up.” How did her fa-ther know so soon? Jesus, Syd! Lost in the slipstream and bus fumes, trapped between cruise and passing lanes, the squareback was rapidly losing ground.

          “Set who up?! You and who…”

          “Us, Moon, us…jeesh. Hold on, I’m going around this damn bus.” I gunned the Volks into the fast lane, lurching through Hospital Curve, past Potrero Hill’s cliff-hanging cottages, fighting off a hard-shimmying pull to the shoulder as a flip to the FM dial yielded a ‘Peacemaker’ track by Loggins & Messina.                         Hospital Curve

          Downtown’s skyline unveiled around the bend, as though from behind another massive tormentor wing. Houses and highrises alike glistened under clearing skies, BofA tower to the Hilton Hotel on O’Farrell; banks of brilliant cumuli mounded above Treasure Island and the Bay Bridge towers, snowy against a clear, stunning blue.

          “Never seen anything like that, huh? I tell you, this place is as near to paradise as a city can get…” I punched and clicked off ‘Fly Like An Eagle’ on the Blaupunkt—where was that coming from? Since by now I was about as soaring and chipper as clipped shorebird.

          “So, which us is us?”

          “Moon, come on! You see what I’m saying here, or what? Man, after Chicago and Denver, you’d think…”

          “I’ve nothing against Denver,” she said, staring toward me, yet several degrees northward, in the general vicinity of the San Francisco Mint… though she appeared to care not a Susan B. Anthony for the view. “You’re the one…the Rockies are much more to my liking. Even Chicago—I think the Lake Shore can be beautiful in the spring. Things are stable back there, solid. The important things…anyway, what do you expect me to think under the circumstances?”

          “Watch, I’ve got to cut over or we’ll end up in Oakland somewhere,” I sighed, scanning my mirrors: cluttered Buena Vista hill, the abandoned Hamm’s brewery, anything to avoid her silver dollar eyes. “Think? About what?”

          “Look, I didn’t come all the way out here for guessing games,” Moon replied, pulling her flowered muslin collar tightly around her neck. “My father is wigging out long distance, telling me about Sydney’s edict. The phone pops off my shoulder and a whole morning’s cookie sheets ricochet all over the kitchen floor! Now you just tell me about us.”

          I followed 101 North’s lower freeway lanes as they wound past the Market-Van Ness triangle, then tailed off for the Fell Street exit. This drab double-decker stretch, no treat the first time I drove it, was hardly a breeze right now. “Believe me, Moon, it gets better. We’ll be at Denise’s in a…flash…”

          “Sure, fine—good thing Denise is out of town—you’d probably have hit on her, too…”

          “All right, already! Let’s just get settled in, OK? Then we can talk all night.” That’s it, maybe buy a little time through Golden Gate Park. “Bet you’re up for seeing her place, you won’t believe her roommates—a crazed silversmith and…”

          “Kenny, you know how I get when things get weird. The airplane food was posterboard.” A bumpersticker up ahead read, ‘Don’t Get Mad, Get Even’. For Moon it could easily have gone, ‘Don’t Get Even, Get Hungry’.

          “By all means, hon…I saw this unbelievable spot on Geary, near…”

          “I don’t need unbelievable, I need good, and fast.” Melissa should have been 225 lbs., but weighed in at a steady 98¼. Nerves gnawed it away. She called them her psycho-emotive tapeworms, something she conceptualized in Repressive Psychology 201, that summer she scrounged for an elective to nudge her through her BA degree.

          She didn’t exactly burn along the pre-professional track. Father was footing everything; her initial career move was a quick right to the altar with Lester Mendel. And now look where that got her—which she hinted she’d been doing mid-flight, from tea over Telluride to V-8 and cocktail nuts over Livermore.

          “Trust me, at Van Hermann’s, I’ll bet we’ll get the full treatment.”

          “Trust you, huh,” she rubbed her elfin fists into her eyes. “That’s what got me into this slough in the first place.”

          “I think most of it’s in your head, really,” I said. Hell, what was I to know what was in her head? I hadn’t a clue what was in anybody’s head at this point—especially little Ms. Darling of the Phonewaves across town.

          Van Hermann’s was one of the few choice legacy eateries left standing among Geary Boulevard’s increasingly minor franchise fare, if by nothing else than the sheer force of its identity. A delicatessan—not kosher, not German—more your basic Hollander, down to wine, wooden shoes and neon windmills. Its storewide deli case disgorged smoked turkey, cheese blocks and tray upon tray of multicolored salads. Artichoke salad, celery root salad, carrot raisin salad: Salads for health, for vigor and happiness—mixed salads and Kaasplankje too rich, varied and caloric to deny.

          Dark ryes stacked neatly atop the counters, elephant salamis swayed from thick overhead hooks, leading hungry eyes to the menu board and dike-to-dike tulip garden murals, which framed the place in ersatz tradition and lore. While Melissa tiptoed past the salad case, I lost myself in the beer cooler, among the AASS BOK, Alten Munsters and Dinkel Ackers, struggling to gauge what in fact was happening here. What was she bound to accuse me of, and with whom? Although on that last point, there was little room for choice.

          I ordered Bal Gehakt with Mortadella on pumpernickel from a round, red-cheeked Hummelware maiden, and instead twisted the silver foil off a Dortmunder Ritter Brau—as I had so often in the musty stubes of Heidelberg.

          “What you having, hon,’ I asked, drifting over to pinch Moon’s waist, between modest crocheted drindle bulges.

          “Gonna dabble,” she replied, with a twinge of anorexic anxiety. “Some cole slaw, a fish cake and dab of Ambrosia. Oh, and maybe just a crème soda or something. Now, what did I tell you about meatballs, and those pickles, ugh…”

          “Six seventy-five, bitte,”  the cashier said, in a strept, wintergreen-lozenged Marlene Dietrich.

          “Uh, here,” I fumbled for my wallet.

          “Wait,” Melissa countered, “this’ll be Dutch…”

          “Awww, Moon, you’re always the joker,” I gushed, sensing an opening. No joke. We each paid, and toted our respective plastic trays like strangers in a midtown Automat, over to Van Hermann’s small luncheon alcove, to a blue-checked corner table with matched Grolsch bottles, sprouting red silken tulips and crossed sandwich pick Dutch and American flags.

          “I’ll thank you to help me with my chair,” she said flatly, as she presumed a window view.

          “Great joint, huh,” I replied, settling in across from her. I bit deeply into my meatball sandwich, jaw muscles vising around the pumpernickel tighter than a metal compactor in an industrial park.

          Tough and getting tougher was the task of meeting Melissa eye-to-eye. So I instead browsed Van Hermann’s murals: canal-side picnics, wooden-shoed Hollanders in faux finished gardens; rotund Dutch burghers in their wein stubs, puffing long-stemmed pipes among kasks of sherry and tawny port. The sun-bleached paintings thrust me back on that overnight express to Amsterdam, with mammoth windmills sweeping the early morning sky. I wanted to share that so with Moon, but she never cared to look beyond the ‘here we be’. So anchored, so homey, so plodding and Midwestern methodical: it made me want to slit her bowlines but good sometimes.

          “How’d you find it,” she asked, barely tearing away from her chilled Ambrosia, save for glancing humbly at nearby patrons. “Oh, of course—you came her with her…”

          “Naw, Moon, I just drove by once.” As I gazed out Van Hermann’s front windows, images of her red Fox flashed by, Sydney waving from behind the wheel, on yesterday’s drive to the Cliff House. The slight misspeak made me wince. Our relationship had never been Harlequin, but at least it was honest. Strangely, that mere thought, those solid memories, shored my levees some in the here and now.

          “Really, you had the time, did you?” She shot a stare at me, then returned to the consumptive security of her cod.

          “Come down off it, Moon. What’s important is what’s happening…the damn potential. California’s not like Colorado, and for sure not like the Midwest. Anything’s possible here—this is the wide-open west, sky’s the limit! Hell, a person can do anything, be anything…it’s so fresh and dynamic…not cowtown or played-out rusty like back east. You know how I’ve been floundering—hey, not here, I can just feel it.”

          “So tell me, what is it you really feel, Kenny? Talk to me for once…”

          “I don’t know, maybe like breaking into something totally different,” I continued, washing down some courage with my Dortmunder. “Just because my degrees are in Sosh doesn’t mean…I’ve even been thinking of going it on my own.”

          “Doing what?! There are things we need,” she pointed with her slaw-filled fork. “We’ve bills to pay…”

          “I’ll work it out, in time. Seriously, I think I could maybe clean up as a photographer or something. It’s so visual here, and all…”

          “Photography? Sweetheart, you’re confusing you career with hobbies. How are you going to cover your loans taking pictures? Now taste this cole slaw.”

          “Well maybe if you…I mean it could be a whole lot easier if you just got behind me on this thing, like…”

          “Wait a minute,” she said, pulling back the unrequited slaw. “This isn’t you talking, you wouldn’t come up with something this haywire on your own. It’s Syd again, god!”

          “Naw, bullshit, Moon—I’m perfectly capab…”

          “You’ve already told me what an influence she’s had. Power, I think you put it. Tsk, you weren’t joking, were you…”

          “Believe me,” I said, ripping into some more Ritter Brau, as if late for the final strassenbahn to Mannheim for bed check. “Sydney’s got nothing to do with this.”

          “Oh, talk about ground bull,” she snapped, self-consciously stabbing at my Bal Gehakt. She was loath to raise her voice, a personal violation of her post-marital vows. She prided herself in her equanimity since the screamathons with Lester Mendel. Casual, dispassionate calm—that’s what she valued most about our relationship—keep it cool if it killed her. “I may be a little gullible, Kenny, but please, I’m not nearly as dense as all that.”

          “Look, I don’t know what your father told you, or what whoever told him told him, but…”

          “Come on, you’d know better than he or I,” she hissed, pushing away her Ambrosia, the entire plastic tray. “After all, you got it first hand.”

          “Jesus,” I slumped, chugging the Dortmunder, then slamming the slender green bottle against Van Hermann’s artificial tulips. “Maybe we should get out of here.”

          “Tot ziens,” the cashier waved stiffly, muscling over to clear our florid vinyl placemats.

          “Yeah, you too.” I ushered Melissa brusquely out toward the squareback, parked two storefronts down. “Hell with it, we’ll take the scenic route.”

          We rolled stormily up Arguello Avenue, missing Denise’s by a good twenty blocks. I goosed the Volks up through Golden Gate Park’s arch, then around a Conservatory Drive to JFK—UC Medical Center and Twin Peaks mounting Parthenon upon Acropolis dead ahead. Moon stewed silently, peering down side trails, through dense park shrubbery, and out over Inner Richmond rooftops as I downshifted beyond the white Conservatory itself. I searched for signs to the Great Meadow, Stowe Lake, any refuge short of that feline pavilion.

          So entirely different, so much to absorb; yet nothing was said. Sometimes my mother would brood a whole morning away, staring holes out her kitchen window, scrubbing the oatmeal pot through to copper—particularly after dad’s all-night sieges. But then Melissa always had been more of an afternoon person. “Look there, past the Avenues. The Golden Gate Bridge, Marin…”

          “It’s not gold at all,” she said, tangling her purse strings. “It’s tomato soupy red, if you ask me.”

          “Uh, yeah. Crazy, huh…” For my part, I tussled with the curious shivers of pleasure from the attention, the odd ironies herein. Explanation, perhaps, why I’d bypassed the park’s museums, bandshell, and Japanese Tea Garden, opting for the precise spot I’d visited the day before. I could still see Sydney beside Rainbow Falls, weaving her heady dreams of power and payoff extraordinaire. Christ, was that merely 24 hours before?

          “Why are you stopping? Where’s Denise’s?”

          “We’ve got to talk, Moon,” I sighed, idling over curbside. “Got to hammer this out right now…”

          Couldn’t help myself, I parked between the very same white space markers, chalked my wheels the same degree curbward, then fought back a vicious little smile by smacking the corners of my wilding moustache. The exercise was not lost on Melissa, now more rattled than riled by a devious grin she’d never even seen from me until now.

          “So,” she said, finding little inspiration in either the Falls or large Sayerbrook Cross lording overhead. Or that small, whirling turtlepool Rainbow fed into—a baby whitewater rapids ruffling hand-fed ducks and swans—the entire tableau backframed by a Greco-columned façade. One of those dowdy drakes seemed to be telling her there was more gnarled here than some Australian Tea Trees.                          Portal Past scene

          “Soooo,” I shifted in my seat to face her, back against my door. “I just want to know what’s going on in your head about what’s going on.”

          “OOOooookay.” Much as she had forced this confrontation, she appeared to welcome the uncertainty of it all like a Brinks crew welcomed a breakdown. “No big mystery—my father just said he’d heard from Faith Mendel that Sydney had called, ecstatic because she’d finally found this perfect man. And that Mr. Perfect was none other than Mr. You.”

          “What?!” The load was dropping with my jaw, and maybe—dammit, maybe all the promise, the potential, all the sunny daydreaming just wasn’t in the cards, after all. I peeked behind me at that memorial bench, foggy images of Sydney sitting there sketching, sobbing all alone. I turned to Melissa, here beside me—so immediate and perfectly reliable. How did she put it, the difference between life and hobbies? You don’t dump a natural straight for a few wild cards, right? “She said what?”

          “You heard me,” Moon copped an indignant posture she likely prayed she could maintain. “So, what exactly did you do to become my best friend’s Mr. Right?”

          “Uh…” I drifted off to Lindley Meadow, a broad fairway of kite entrails and picnic tables across the nearby bike lane and horse trail. Several young friends or lovers sunned there, grouped blankets and goosebumps, free and easy as the Pacific westerlies. “Let me explain…”

          “Spare me, please—you think I really want to know,” she asked, then reconsidered. “Okay, let’s have it.”

          “All right. I saw Sydney standing back from the serpentine tree, palette in hand, smeared canvas at her side. I burned to reach out for her, but she dissolved in dripping gray. Upon further reflection, wow, two chicks, man—just like that tune. Surf city, two girls for every boy…unbelievable… But then reality set in. I clenched my face into a ticked, cynical sneer, biting my words like wedges of sour saloon lemons. “It’s just a big bunch of crap about nothing. We talked—you know how she talks. I guess she got way out of joint over it, that’s all. She’s so damn headstrong…”

          “No one’s that headstrong without encouragement, Kenny.” Melissa rebuffed my stare, looking instead to the kites and running dogs, as in Boulder’s foothills, like Chautauqua on brighter days.

          “Aww, come on, Moon. She’s your sister, or whatever, not mine. But goddammit, she’s basically a spoiled little bitch who pushes until she gets what she wants! I suppose I was just humoring her, going along…didn’t want to jack around your closest…”

          “What are you saying? You’d ply her for my sake,” she shouted, picking righteously at the barrette above her left ear. “You must be…I really thought you were smarter than this.”

          “No, hey—of course not. Anyway, what was I supposed to do, tell her to kiss off altogether? That would have flipped her out for sure. I mean, she’s a doll and all, but kind of desperate, you know? All hung up on her art and making it big here. What’s worse, she’s a lousy cook, Moon. A chick like that can bring out the worst in a guy.”

          “So I see…”

          “Believe me, she wishes she had half the ability you do. Like, around the house—no lie.”

          “You expect me to buy that,” she yielded some, though still fixated on the greens.

          “Hey,” I leaned over to her, sore, wind-swollen lips flapping to beat those duckbills. “You know I need somebody strong, stable—like you. I know it, too. Remember how you handled that jackknifed trailer? Compared to you, she’s papier-mache. You’ve got real chutzpah…”

          “What do you know about chutzpah,” she shot back, pushing me safely left of the gearshift hump.

          “Moon, really…I just heard her say it once. Hah, about me, yet…”

          “Hmph, that is a laugh,” she shrugged, seemingly wanting for the life of her to believe I was coming clean.

          “We’re the team, you and me. Nobody can split that up.” I reached over once again to hold her. She quail trembled, drawing strength from my touch. “You’re my love, Moon. You know that…you know that.” I was not so fortunate. Another quick glance at the Leptospermum branches bore somewhat the weather prognosis: fog lifting for brief afternoon sunshine, but new storm system closing in on the Portal of the Past.    Portal of the Past

          “So be it,” she said softly, nuzzling over into my shoulder. “But we’re going to settle this mess once and for all.”

          “Hey, settled it is,” I sighed squeezing her fleshy shoulder.

          “No, I mean bury it, Kenny.” She pulled away sharply, facing me square. “Settle it in everybody’s mind. No misunderstandings, got it?”

          “Sure, hon…whew, what more can I say about this?”

          “Nothing to me, not one more word need you say to me.”

          “All right then. Let’s hit Denise’s, settle you in.” I fiddled with the shift lever, then fired the ignition. On the radio, came some new solo Teddy Pendergrass.

          “It’s what you’re going to say to Syd,” she said, with sudden, unblinking resolve.

          “What?!”

          “That’s right,” she replied, fighting a twisted little grin of her own. “We’re going to get together, the three of us. You’re going to call her Kenny, now.”

          “No way, Moon…” Christ, I’d know her, what…four years? Never saw a smile like that before. “I’ll just send…”

          “Oh, yes. You two concocted this goulash, and you’re going to gag on it. I’ll be there to make sure you do.”

          “For godsakes, we can’t do that! You don’t really…”

          “That’s the deal,” she pressed, patting my cold, pale cheek. “Otherwise, I’m on the next plane east, and you two can go back to scheming your little buns off!”

          “Have you any idea what you’re doing, Moon? The two of you will be history, for sure—and the families. Is it worth that, for Christsake…she’s the nearest thing you’ll ever have to a sister?”

          “Let’s go, Kenny,” she replied, without pause. “It’s your call. And don’t you dare let on I’m in town.”

 Care for more?

Chapter 33. Collisions occur in due 
course, without any insurance to 
assure some peace of mind…