Chapter 46

“Two becoming one
via sextile union can
still send one packing.”

         

          “Takes real bowling balls for a guy doin’ that…”

          “What about the apple? Look how he’s workin’ in that apple.”

          “Messy business…like, right there on the stage, in front of everybody…”

          “How the hell’s he keepin’ it all up this damn long?”

          Regardless of what I may have been thinking, undisturbed quiet wasn’t what Sydney had in mind. Where we could have paused to regroup and recoup in verdurous little Allyne Park, she insisted we hit the Street. Fair enough, except today, Union happened to be more than enough.

          There was this juggler for starters, surrounded just the other side of the Gough Street barricades by a detachment of unicyclists in raccoon war vests and Navajo headdresses. Jay Rensal commanded the Union Street Fair’s east-end sound stage between bands, a bulked up Viet vet in blue and white leotards who kept the music crowd bobbing in place like a Cheyenne rodeo clown tossing sample Skoal Bandit plugs.

          He did so by tossing three revolving 16-lb. Black Beauty bowling balls and a ripe apple ten feet aloft, rabidly chomping the Red Delicious each time it rotated around. The ooh-and-ahhing hoard encircled and rushed the stage, further pumped up by the roving unicyclists, who whooped with each near miss, getting juiced by Rensal’s spittled debris.

          “Si vous plais,” Sydney ushered me ahead, around the stage scene, with a sweep of her arm.

          “Oh, I don’t know,” I bounced off a white picket fence, dodging a morsel of apple pulp like shrapnel from a stun grenade. “I was thinking more along the lines of that park back there.”

          “Kenneth, please,” she looped my arm. “Can we just get on and enjoy the moment?”

          “Sure, of course, Syd.” I brushed some juice droplets from my sleeve as we squeezed around the cheering crowd. I didn’t want to make waves, but also didn’t come all this way for vague and cursory dodges. Numb driving fingers and knotted guts demanded a more appropriate response. “What’s bugging you?”

          “So right away, something’s bugging me? Maybe I’m just a little show stressed and frazzled about now…and feeling kinda dorky for a scene like this.”

          That juggler was not too shabby an opening act, framed as he was by big bay window Victorians and a restored, sky blue Octagon House. The landmark with its small fenced side yard, was what remained of a pasture where daisy-tailed Cow Hollow bovines once grazed. From here, the crowd packed Union Street some six blocks to Steiner, though seeming to stretch clear out to the Presidio treeline.

          The street fair was bordered on either side by poppy top acacias and sycamores, ornate 2-3 story Victorians with an array of baying windows, madeover stuccoed Vicky botchjobs and much plainer box-alikes from the post-war era, with wrought-iron balconies—all brightly multi-colored and pasteled.

          Quaint to cutesy to equipoised mannequin chic, Union was a fondue of crafts stores, confectioners, cookie nooks, pie places, gelato/ice creameries and wine shops. In all, they carved up storefronts which had formerly housed tailors, milliners, tabacs, pharmacies and hardware stores—save for the grandfathered plumbers and dry cleaners. Little wonder there were so many dentists and periodontists drilling for gold in offices upstairs.

          “I mean, the question is, what’s with you,” Syd asked. “Coming back out here like this…”

          “Like what?” I self-consciously straightened my Walgreen’s sunglasses and shook back my oily hair.

          “Like you are,” she said, several steps ahead of me, window-shopping natural fiber sweater and stylish pantsuit numbers in side-by-side fashion salons. “Honestly, here you come again—all road rumpled, popping in on people unannounced, my parents yet. I know that’s not the Kenneth I thought I knew…”

          “Hey, I figured I was invited,” I reached in to pull the pink envelope from my sport jacket’s liner pocket. “Lending moral support, like that…”

          “Save it,” Syd leaned back, halting my arm. “That was only intended in the token, spiritual sense. I believed you had to be much too busy career-wise by now to actually…”

          “T-t-that’s not how I read it…”

          “Read between the lines, Kenneth, for godsakes…”

          But for the moment, I found the crowd itself more engrossing, my sociology chops training on visual symbology, the group dynamic along here. The flow was bi-directional, bi-coastal and everywhere in between, shuffling up and down Union to a muddled beat of soft rock, jazz fusion, high-hat bluegrass, country honk and disco funk. Variously gamboling along were troupes of tribal and flamenco dancers, then a lone beguiling redhead doing an Irish jig, with Celtic boombox accompaniment by a bloke who looked vaguely familiar.

          Yet for all the quiche, crab, ribs and mesquite in the air, this gathering looked more partial to feeding off itself. Modesto aggie lightweights oogled the untouchably hip maidens from Marin; football jerseyed Berkeley grads studied the cultivated sneers of the Top-Sidered Farmers from Palo Alto, or Phi Beta movers from the Ivy League.

          Humboldt County mountain men prodded Tony Lamas designer cowboys from the Lone Star Café. Hard-wired Orientals in nylon racing jackets and Porsche wraparounds faced off sleek pompadoured Latinos from the Mission. Kicked back met kick-ass: beaucoup cut-offs, halter-tops, sundresses, designer denim and paisley patched dungarees. Bandstand stoners rocked out with curbside shot and brewers. Heavy metal headbangers overdubbed ghetto-blasted Rastafarians. Izod ’gators danced around Oakland leatherbacks. Union Street Fair

          Bay Area natural fibers wove around L.A. Goldilocks and their gilt-chained lackeys. Dobermans snapped at Airedales. NoCal met fauxCal crossed SoCal and LowCal through the pedestrian snarls and bottlenecks, primarily because the main attraction was the traffic jam itself. What else could account for this relatively harmonic melding of such multi-karmic particles and molecules?

          “Never seen one quite this…big,” I gasped, turning the page. “Half of San Francisco must be here…”

          “You think all these people are really from San Francisco,” Syd asked, dismissing a Gold Country Gauguin’s display booth of snowy Yosemite landscapes. “Like, nobody’s really from San Francisco any more. Everybody’s from everywhere else around here. That’s what makes it so…magnetic.”

          “You mean this kind of deal goes on all summer?” I took into account the fair itself, trying to fight off any sense that although this festive crowd was squeezing us closer together, I couldn’t help but feel some distance building in.

          “Of course, Kenneth, everybody knows that each neighborhood has its own street fair, even though not are all this squeaky clean. Take North Beach and the Haight—or the Castro, yeow—and you do remember Polk Street, now don’t you?”

          Sandwiched between Union Street’s cute-to-kill gingerbread storefronts—with their resident art galleries, styling salons and pricey boutiques—were this weekend’s display stands, stalls, booths, tents, sample trucks, sound stages, kiddie rides, tasting gardens and smoky grilled food courts. While everyday shops bespoke looks, looks, looks, in showy designer windows, street-wise, it was eclectricity, curb to curb.

          We said little past installations of hungry artisans and kitschmeisters from Arcata to Encinitas, Ventura to Vermont: Candle sculpture, ceramic mug sets, peacock feathered floppy hats, tooled vests, sheepskin slippers, porcelain teapots, earthenware place settings, embroidered bells, tie-dyed tees, tire-tread huaraches. Big Sur photography, sandstone seals, soap sculpture, corduroy macaws, ceramic trivets, hand-carved dulcimers, white oak vanities, leaded glass terrariums, India-print serapes and shawls, calligraphed sketches of Muir Woods, framed blow-ups of the Golden Gate Bridge, copper kinetic waterwheels and Omar’s custom cuckoo clocks: But what stopped us cold were the pegboards of scrimshaw and cloisonné.

          “Yeah, well, all these street fairs have to be better than the best thing in Chicago. I mean, everything seems so bright, so vibrant and colorful, so up here,” I fawned, digging deep into my khakis, springing for a carved ivory dolphin pendant Syd couldn’t bear to take off despite herself once the Mendocino earth mother fixed its slender silver chain around her neck.

          “That’s so sweet of you, but I really can’t accept this, you know,” she smiled awkwardly, blushing, nostrils flaring, rising to peck my cheek. “I mean given that I’m…”

          “It’s nothing, the least I can do,” I interrupted, puffing up some, what with this initial gesture of partial re-payment, taking the affection where I could get it. “Besides, wait’ll you see a wild horse creamer I scored for you at a Round-Up Café up by Tahoe. Speaking of rest stops…all that food is getting to me, and we’re only about halfway through the thing.”

          By this time, I’d aromatically ingested avocado crepes, croissant almandine, dipped chocolates, spicy hot knishes, albacore eggrolls, goat-cheese piroshkis, broiled beetburgers, deep-fried mahi-mahi, Louisiana hot links, rutabaga juice, cheese-dipped pretzels, lemon-flavored lox, Smokey grilled ka-bobs and buttered vats of sweet corn.

          We topped all that off with a luscious sampler of champagne and strawberries dispensed by a tie-and–tailed pianist playing a medley of show tunes and the American songbook from the bed of his early-50s Ford pick-up truck. Though ready to retreat to my corner tavern barfood urges about then, I nonetheless followed her epicurean lead into this…Deli.

sr dingbats

          “Tell me, how was it for you back there in Chicago,” Syd focused more earnestly as we stepped up a mill-detailed wooden stairway into her respite of choice.

          “What can I say,” I muttered, gazing awestruck at the bi-way staircase parade, especially those two dollies in leopard body stocking and pink bridal train respectively. “A ton of sheeit hit the fan all at once…”

          “Envisioned it would, didn’t I basically tell you that in Sausalito?” She rushed to secure a prime barroom table.

          “You said a lot of things then,” I followed cautiously as she laid territorial claim, somehow flattered by her undivided concern, her furtive brow and searching eyes.

          “So did you, toots, so did you. But that was then, this is now…wait, hold that thought.”

          Union Street’s Deli Restaurant was a sprawling tawny port maroon and mayonnaise yellow Victorian complex essentially at the street fair’s 50-yard line. It was a delicious spread, all gingerbread and leaded glass—with several side boutiques and a sunny little front veranda facing today’s action like a corporate box at the title bout. Syd had adroitly grabbed a cozy bay window table, all right—front row center, looking out over all that, insisting we needed someplace bright and cheery.

          She ordered up a Chablis spritzer; I obligingly name-dropped a local Anchor Steam. She then abruptly excused herself for a nature call. I was tickled as a stage dad to be watching her skirt schooner-and-stemware wielding social circles all the way back to the convenience, buried as it was beside a brimming al fresco greenhouse terrace.

          “There, better,” she returned, still primping over her currently frizzy, Afro-styled hair upon return. “Now, you were saying about Chicago these days?”

          “It was pretty weird actually,” I continued, watching her sit in again and straighten the plum velvet top and yellow sash about her shoulders and waist. “Just so grim, from the minute I hit town to the day I left…

          “You mean the situation with Moon?” She straightened her new pendant as she sat across from me again, casting about the room for couture rips or reassurance.

          “For one,” I drifted momentarily, their tiny mugs all aglitter down there on the sidewalk, made up like Bozo with a 2,000-volt charge. They were being face-painted by a clown wizard clad in tomato red, who was turning out hobbits, goldfish, ghouls, butterflies, green trolls, blue meanies, scarecrows, Raggedy Anns, Frankensteins, flower princesses and space cadets from her kaleidoscopic tray of metalflaked water-soluble colors. “Those Kids are unreal…”

          “Yep, really…so how is Melissa, anyway?”

          “Huh? I’m surprised you ask…”

          “Look, even if she and I don’t exactly relate the same way now, that doesn’t mean I no longer care…”

          “Well, I dunno, we were still going around in circles the day I left,” I sipped my Steam, wondering about her strained sisterly concern. “She warned that I would self-destruct on impact out here…”

          In the main, this Deli Restaurant served up an oak-lined, fern garnished bar with vividly colorful Tiffany lamps and a sloping glass-panelled ceiling that refracted blinding sunlight into its ficus-filled dining area. The full skylights illuminated its carved oak back bar and wall panels to near radioactive luster. Antique dove cages and marble sconces stood vigil on front bar walls, along with brass-framed prints of vintage Audubon and Currier & Ives.

          A piped-around sound system tracked adult-contemporary numbers like ‘More Than A Woman’ by Tavares, ‘Baby Hold On’ by Eddie Money and Meatloaf’s ‘Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad’. After being rocked, jazzed, funked, salsaed, bluesed, reggaed, fiddled, crooned, banjoed, oboed and synthed out on the streetcorners, I rather welcomed a heavy mellow beat reverberating through acoustically planted loudspeakers. The tunes themselves had me nervously tapping my feet on the Deli’s hardwood floor, thrumming my fingers on its inlaid oak table and brass side railing, trying to figure out what was up her raglan dolman sleeve.

          “I’m sure dear Melissa still cares for you dearly, too…”

          “I suppose, but what’s that to us, right,” I probed. “Besides, things only got worse from there. Watching my old Illinoid friends wasting away, my mom—it was all too much.”

          “Your mother? What…”

          “She died, Syd. Lung cancer…”

          “What? You never wrote…”

          “Write? To where? You never asked…”

          “God, that’s awful,” she gasped, yet dodged some, as she grasped my hand. “I can’t imagine…just couldn’t bear losing my parents…”

          “Heavy duty—she and I were pretty close,” I sighed, traces of creamed herring and beef brisket swirling up my nostrils, calling up mom’s ‘push you’ appraisal. But that’s back-there family stuff. The important thing is, here we are, right?”

          “That’s exactly what we have to talk about.”

          Slumping into a leather-backed wooden chair, I propped my chin on my right fist and gazed out the window to take in the sights outside. Beyond the fair streams, across Union Street, stood a painstakingly colorful row of Victorian and trowelled over storefronts bearing stylish clothes the likes of KoKo’s, BiBi’s, Lobos’ and NoNo’s—anything less chic having been fashion zoned out of existence long ago. Behind them, balconied backsides of pastel apartment buildings stacked uphill to Pacific Heights like cereal boxes in a Safeway display.

          Nearer in, sinewaves of streetfarers floated along Union as though having been looped through some 60-band graphic equalizer into one harmoniously metered and fully orchestrated score. The groove was just so infectious, drawing the Deli crowd fully into its hipstream, a clattering of commerce, unattached snippets of cross-cultural pollination.

          “Talk about,” I asked, turning back again as her eyelids dropped, a perfect seal as she hoisted her face majestically toward the opened skylight sun. “Meaning…”

          “Well, where to begin,” she replied, looking back down toward me, locking in. “Kenneth, I’m seeing you as someone who’s been running—a dybbuk slinking away, way too long for his own good.”

          “Hey, running’s good exercise,” I nodded, picking up on a couple of guys rolling from leather dice cups, tossing back Heineken draughts and mustard pretzels at the bar. “Everybody’s into it, check out all the Nikes and Etonics out there…”

          “That’s not what I mean,” she muffled, glancing about the bubbly, party-hardy barroom, so as not to draw undue attention our way. “All I’ve been hearing from you is how it was where you were. You had a good thing in Boulder and you left. You had a good thing in Chicago and you left. You had a great thing here and you low-tailed it out…”

          “Which is why I’m back here—not running now, am I?”

          “No, that’s why you left Chicago,” she replied, milky cheeks already reddening in the sun. “I want to know why you came to San Francisco.”

          “Come on, Syd, what are you driving at? I’m here, ’cause, you know, we’re here…”

          I inhaled deeply of the vigor and exhilaration. How brilliant the scene’s colors and pageantry amid the sparkle of creativity, inside and out—the meaty charbroiled contrails and tanned, shapely celebrants: This was California, this was more like it! The 360-degree gratisfaction, no frostbitten limbed frustration, no grimy brown brick despair. Everybody from virtually everywhere I had even considered somewhere was here. All things considered, it was intoxicating even without the bar tab—I’d cut and run, beat the rusty Midwest rap and finally, brilliantly arrived. No more hacking to death, staring out scummy skyscraper windows, daydreaming of the dawn. I resolved it was sunrise, a killer new day, all blue skies, goodie boxes and pony rides—feelin’ kinda cocky not dorky now, checking it out!

          “Wait a minute, I think I’m missing something.”

          “Our plans, Syd. That talk in your living room that time…combine and conquer, remember?” Either she was coying it, or this whole conversation was passing by like those Golden Gate Park commandos with the roller blades grafted on good and tight.

          “That was light years ago. Let’s focus on the present. Like what do you intend to do with yourself now that you’re here?”

          “One thing at a time, babe,” I urged, turning to prop my brown suede Adidased feet up on the brass railing. “Like you say, let’s just savor the moment—the food, the sunshine, all these outrageous people…”

          “Uh-huh, then what?”

          “Then? I don’t know,” I shrugged, sipping my beer, warm and slightly watery, not unlike my forehead about then. “I figure we’ll settle in and fly—just like we said…being who we really can be together here, whatever we want.”

          “This is your whole life we’re talking about. Not simply fly by night…”

          “Whoa, I’ve had it up to here with ‘whole life’ Saturn-type crapola. The entire trip back there was one big either/or. No, my decision is made. My decision is you, Syd. You and San Francisco—all the potential, going for the gold together. I’m loaded up, ready to pull the trigger. So let’s roll, huh?

          There my question seemed to drop like an over-larded Munster blintz. I waited, and strummed, and counted the long line at a bank across the street, struggling with some new one-armed bandit-type contraptions called automatic teller machines, tallying the card holders back and forth, head by antsy head, before she could muster a reply.

sr dingbats

          “Let me get this straight,” Syd exhaled, at arm’s length. “You’ve blown off everything in Chicago, everything you worked for there, on my account?”

          “Well, it’s more like I did what’s best for us…” We didn’t move a lick otherwise.

          “Nope, sorry,” she said, the Deli’s house music doing a Commodores’ segue from ‘Easy’ to ‘Three Times a Lady’. “No way you’re gonna dump that on me!  We all do what’s best for ourselves in this world. You didn’t do anything for me, for us—you did that for you…100% self interest.”

          “Wait, now I’m confused. I went through hell-and-a-half to get back here. I needed to dig that hole for myself like a need a spinal tap,” I sputtered. “But it had to be done to give us a legitimate chance.”

          “Us, chance—oh, Kenneth,” she sighed, doing finger furlongs around the rim of her goblet. “That’s not how it is out here. That’s not how it is at all…”

          “How what is, for chrissake?!”

          “You know, life. What you’re saying is so Midwest, so Middle Ages. This is the wide-open Wild West here. People do their own thing, fend for themselves. You’ve got to learn to go it alone, the whole rugged individual trip—get weighted down with us’s and you drown…”

          “What’re you talking about?” I tugged at my blue oxford cloth collar.

          “My parents always tell me I’m responsible for my own self, and that’s a big enough bundle for me to handle. So how can I possibly be responsible for somebody else like you?”

          “Man oh man, Syd. All I know is we set a beautiful agenda, taking on San Francisco all the way up Nob Hill, then the world. Once it sunk in, I did all I could to square with the life I was leaving so that we could soar, free and clear. Damn, I could have sworn we were flying a two-seater, and now you’re talking solos. I mean, what the hell is going on here?!”

          “Hold on a sec,” she snarled, stirring her spritzer. “Who left whom right after that? You deserted me, blindsided me yet, at the starting gate. Sniveling back to your mother fixation, dumping me like I was a leper, or something. How could I ever trust anything you say anymore?!”

          “It wasn’t that way, at all,” I pounded down on my beer mug. “I couldn’t just abandon Melissa in California. She would have freaked out. You know how basically fragile she is. I owed her better than that…”

          “Fragile? Oh, I see. Dumping all over me was kosher, though—you didn’t owe me any better than that.” She proceeded to suck on her spritzer until the stir straw caved in.

          “We’d have been doomed with guilt from the beginning if I’d just stayed,” I pleaded, suddenly aware that we’d become one of the Deli’s featured tidbits. “Besides, how was I to know at that point that we could be so involved. I was flipping out as it was…”

          “How were you to know? I nearly did myself in that very night. You were the most important person in my life then. But just like that, you fed me some wimpy BS about knowing your place, being at peace with your lot in life. You hung me out to dry like some cheap, disposable hooker, then called me right up again like everything was roses—you bastard you!”

          “You have no idea what I was going through.” Christ, not again. Out of nowhere, various neuro-psychology texts I used to skim through in Norlin Library shot top of mind. Graphic images hit me of a hundred billion spindle neurons spiked at once, each one making 1,000 or so hook-ups—all this synaptic and post-synaptic density getting totally out of control, taking me back to that crowbar in my head and fork in the road. “It was on fried auto pilot, I was in a total tailspin when I left your place.”

          “Whatever, like I said, that’s history,” she nodded stiffly, electing not to yield. “But, god, how it’s haunted me what we could have had if you’d stayed.”

          “The climate was just all wrong then, Syd. I needed to straighten stuff out, clear the decks. Good things take time sometimes.”

          “Climate…hmph, another classic Kennethism—I get plowed under and you make like the Farmer’s Almanac…”

          I reflected on whether there was a certain etiquette, a loosely prescribed anthropologic ritual for vignettes such as these. Two oh, so contemporary figures at a round, slightly wobbly café table, ostensibly with the sweet promise of blissful attainment parading before them, glimmering in their duonic minds’ eyes with full flavor and intimacy. Yet therein fell the screen, clean and painfully clear. The wriggler in question draws tightly around the table’s treacherous curve to within a short breath of the intended wrigglee. The laconic tippling of a wineglass, a two-handed grab of the anguished body’s palms, a compensatory display of sincerity and concern. What remained for the wrigglee but to clutch and bottle up like a subway commuter, eyes dripping worse than a glucose I.V. while the wriggler waxed homilies and stroked the appropriate thigh. Damn near knew that shifty melodrama line for line, just wasn’t bucking for a west coast engagement.

          I could feel her quick-release stare, so looked elsewhere. Important to her? This was my ocean beachhead, no further westward for to drive. I framed the Union Street dreamscape beyond two small potted pecan trees and a spiked iron fence, froze it there in time to poke, squeeze and savor, to dissect like a biolab horny toad. Meanwhile, couples cruised about my viewfinder: items, retinues and contingents with designer shopping bags and, trendy safari rags—banana repped outfits with deep patch pockets. Union Street Fair crowd

          Then came the blow-dried crews, the sun-blazed and beer blasted cronies in jeans from nowhere and T-shirts from parts and paradises unknown. Everybody here eyeing everybody else’s somebody else, yet nobody otherwise tipping so much as a maxillary muscle, remaining poised and posed for their Coppola or DiLaurentis opening. I tracked them from the Deli’s gaslights to the mum, rose and carnation stand next door, before mustering some sort of a defense.

          “That’s not fair at…” Red flag blanching to white…

          “Fair—tell me about fair, Dudley! Oh, now it’s all coming back how you set me up and cut me down…”

          “Set you up? Jesus, c’mon, I died some back there, too, believe me…”

          “Well, I came this close,” she scowled, raising micro-metered fingers to within unbearable tolerance of my nose. “But when my moment of truth came, I did what you lacked the balls to do. I chose me! Me and my art—you weren’t there when I really needed you, but my painting was. I dug down to my core and totally rearranged my priorities. It was right then that I got how important my work was to me. So I poured myself into my studio and toughed it out, getting so good nobody can deny me. That’s how I put myself to sleep at night, dreaming about things I could do next. Plus I started taking care of numero uno, and now I’ve landed myself a show, a big first step, and nobody can take that away from me. I’ve even rented an apartment of my own…”

          “Hey, I think that’s all great, believe me, I…”

          “Listen to me, Kenneth,” she whispered deeply, relenting some. “I get what you’ve been going through, honest I do. But the clock’s been running, time and events just have this way of rolling by. And that started for me the minute you ran out of my door.”

          “Wait, I didn’t exactly run out, you know better…”

          “I’m not going to argue words with you. I just know what I know, how I’ve turned my life around. It’s important to me that you recognize that, too…”

          “I do, Syd, what makes you think I wouldn’t recognize your growth?”

          “Hmm, how can I put this,” she ventured, eyes rolling again up, back through the Deli’s cigarette smoke and cranked open roof. “It’s like you’re where you are now, and I’m where I am, you know?”

          “Uh, can’t say as I do actually,” I drew her eyes back to me, cringing, wondering what was next.

          “See, it’s that kind of distance that’s built in,” she leveled with her hands, palms up and down. “Nothing personal, but how can you possibly keep up to speed with what’s going on with me now, when I’m up here and you’re…down here? For one thing, I don’t go by Syd anymore. I much prefer Sydney.”

          “Aww, cut the bullshit Syd…”

          “It’s Sydney. Really, you must do that one thing for me,” she said firmly, squeezing my hand to press the point, leaning in closer to my sagging face with searching, seismographic eyes. “Anyway, now that I see you here, this way, the space and time between us comes clearly into focus.”

          “Anything else, you two,” the gum chewing waitress scooped up my beer stein and Syd’s goblet, dollar bills wrapped around her little fingers, making for a quick escape as I simply covered the tip and tab .

          “What are you talking about,” I asked, wringing my cocktail napkin, though not without noting the embroidered falcons fluttering on the barmaid’s rear pockets. That was as she glided, tray aloft, toward the bustling oak-back bar in perfect synch with Springsteen’s new ‘Promised Land’. “We…”

          “Kenneth, please,” she clasped and chain swayed her new pendant. “This is very difficult for me, and you’re not making it any easier. Now I know you’ve come a long way, only that’s for you—a decision for your life. But I can say with as much certainty as I can right now that I just don’t feel there’s a ‘we’ anymore. I mean, I love you, but don’t, you know, love LOVE you like that anymore. And I think that with everything so up in the air with you, it’s best if we really give ourselves a lot of space to grow, to evolve, explore our own personal potentials to the maximum.”

          “You can’t be serious, what…”

          “We’re talking major life transitions, hard decisions, often the best you can make alone, looking back wise,” she continued, beckoning me out the Deli’s crowded, wide open double doors “By the way, you know what’s funny? My mother says maybe I was just in a needy place when we had our little thing, and that’s behind me now. Faith can be so wise that way.”

          “Yeah, a regular Mother Time,” I muttered, barely over the fading sound of the O’Jays’ ‘Use Ta Be My Girl’. “So what am I supposed to do with a hypothesis like that, pack up and haul my ass back to Chicago, or what?”

          “See? There you go running again, dyb. How typical of you, but we can’t have that, can we? I mean, now that you’re out here,” she led me down back into the street fair lanes. “Still, so you don’t come away from this empty-handed, I want you to know you’re welcome to housesit my place for a week or so—just to help you get a little more situated.”

sr dingbats

          Time had rolled on by. The brilliant sun no longer chased back that mounding fog bank, which now penetrated the street fair’s western flank. A cold, damp wind bowled down Union from Presidio Heights, whipping astrologer flyers and sausage wrappers along the makeshift midway, and gutter dust into the eyes of the fair’s beholders, afternoon Westerlies jostling seashell and crystal wind chimes, playing through bamboo flutes.

          Sound stages were being struck; weary vendors folded up their displays for the day with routine economy. That involved hauling away everything fungible, negotiable and/or edible, heaping everything else into the dumpsters and porta-potties around every corner. Skyward floated the last of the balloons; off staggered the airheads who had bashed their noggins with a full day’s booze, drugs and rock ’n’ roll, but who were now moved by the tapped-out casks and kegs.

          Unscooped ice cream leaked from curb gutter containers until the whole mess was swept up by day-labor cleaning crews that stuffed any recyclable cans and bottles down trouser legs and into brown plastic bags—so clean, so freakin’ fast already.

          We walked arm in arm, ward like, back down Union Street. Scattered clusters of lingering fair freaks milled about closing stores and galleries, or filtered into Perry’s, the Bus Stop, or hidden off-street cafes. Some even peeled away the face paint, sent champagne splits shattering against lightpoles and fireplugs. Streetcorner by trash piled streetcorner, the music just packed up and died.

          Juggler Jay Rensal finished strong with three watermelons and a Gravenstein, apple juice dripping all down his goosebumped leotard. He had his detractors, though, one Black Sabbath jello-head who shouted, “Were your parents first cousins, or what?” To which the juggler shouted back from the stage, “I do my show like you have sex, pal—alone,” nary missing a beat or orbit of his closing act.

          “Huh? Housesit,” I plained. “How the hell’s that supposed to work?”

          “Just look after the plants, mail and things, fake out the burglers—everybody does it around here,” Sydney said, stepping around the twisty trunk of a dogged acacia tree outside Laura Ashley Welsh wear. “I won’t be there, of course, because I happen to be flying back to Chicago with my parents—could even have looked you up downtown there if you hadn’t bailed from your big job.”

          “You’re what?!”

          “For their anniversary, and a postponed Shavuot celebration—a big, huge Mendel family bash—isn’t that fantabulous? Which reminds me, I must be going, since they’re doubling with me and my friend for dinner tonight, he’s a commercial ecotect,” she smiled proudly, beckoning me to shake hands on it. “But you should take me up on the offer. I figure it’s the least I can do, and am even pretty confident you won’t destroy anything—just so you won’t be a keisenik about this. ’Cause I’m kind of concerned about you, Kenneth, you don’t look so well. There, see? You already have at least one friend in San Francisco.”

          Beyond Octavia Street, the wind rustled an otherwise dull, day-ending calm. Oh, wisps of distant laughter and traffic horns, maybe, but little more. Small wonder heads turned, dogs moaned and melons came tumbling down when this apparently normal young couple turned the corner toward that Octagon House and Allyne Park: Some primped up chick patting this slumped over guy, and all he kept screaming like Stanley Kowalski was…

          “No, you can’t do this!! No, no, no, no, noooooooooooooo…”

Care for more?

Chapter 47. A homespun gig, a 
hillside gaff, then strained connections 
make for an untimely, uninviting exit…