“Manning the mother load,
swaddled in the female fold—
break a mold, pain untold.”
“Operator, I’d like to make a person-to-person collect call to a Mr. Ken Herbert. Area code 312, the number’s 566-8110. Thank you.”
CLICK, snap, pop, brrrtt. Brrrrtt, hizzzzz…bbrrrrttt, hizzzzzzz…bbbbrrrrtttt… “Hello?”
“I have a person to person collect call for Ken Herbert, will you accept?” Hssssst…
“Kenn…oh, um, he’s not here now…”
“Operator, operator, let me leave a quick message, will you?”
“Hsssst. “We don’t normally do that, sir. But keep it short.”
“Thanks a bunch, operator. Hi, would you tell Ken Herbert when he returns that, uh, Bill, yeah Bill called from California. And if he’d call me soon as possible at (415) 931-4537. I mean, right away!”
“Tsk, honestly…” Click. CLICK.
Rrrring. Rrrrriinnggg. “Yeah?”
“Kenny? You’re beyond belief, you know that? Expecting me to pay for this call after all you’ve…tsk, what’s going on out there?!”
“Oh, Moon, you don’t know how great it is to hear your voice…”
“What’s this all about, Kenny? Where are you? Denise’s place?”
“Wheww, not exactly, but I couldn’t pay for a call where I am. At least this way, it’s just a station to station rate…”.”
“How thoughtful…so then, where are you? And don’t you dare tell me I’m paying for a long-distance to her place. That’s not her number anyway…”
“You don’t know,” I asked, with a modest measure of relief, and not only that the old phone charge ruse worked one more time. “She moved, whole new apartment and phone set-up…”
“You ass…if I had any sense, I’d hang up right now. You’re gonna repay me for this if I have to sell your record collection!”
“They’re long gone, Moon, just like everything else I left in Boulder.” I thought I detected ‘You Don’t Have To Be a Star, Baby, To Be In My Show’ playing in her background. “But that’s a whole other story…”
Over the course of one blurred afternoon, Sydney had previously sealed her show deal, signed on for an introductory EST guest seminar and leased this stand-alone studio apartment on Chestnut Street, just off Van Ness Avenue. A pivotal move, she explained, before departing for Chicago with her folks on this fantabulous gallery day—one that had burst through the upper margin of her biorhythm chart like mercury through a Mojave thermometer.
Scenario was her roommates had all but dug a moat around their household relationships on Coastal Avenue, filled with lavender ’gators and Brandy Alexander Flamme. Syd in turn resented Edie digging our Boulder phone number out of her bedside address book and secretly snitching to Moon that one time. So this sunny walk-up bachelorette came along on a laundromat bulletin board, and the place had a garage accessing a middling Marina backyard. She had figured it was a perfect spot for to set up a ground floor workspace and make her stand. Reflecting upon the Edie and Diana show, I couldn’t have agreed with her more—on that count, anyway.
“What could I do, Moon? I had no place to go, she was splitting to Chicago for a Mendel family thing, you know? I mean, what the hell after what she pulled…”
“No, I don’t know…and what did she pull?”
“Aww, this whole thing is such a mess. I’m, like, totally disoriented,” feeling as I did so detached and discombobulated, thoroughly disillusioned and dismembered… “Gettin’ so I don’t know where the hell I’m at anymore…”
“Tell me something I don’t know…”
“No, really, one of the main reasons I took her up on this housesitting gig for her was I decided familiar, even this warped kind of familiar, was better than not…” To be sure, better than in another nearby rip-off Lombard Street motel.
“Warped isn’t the word for it…tsk, what am I doing even talking about this on my dime…”
“Wait, don’t hang up, Moon. I’m cut loose alone, sitting here staring out at perfect sunshine. I can’t stand it!”
“Don’t dump that on me, Kenny. It’s pouring out my window and I’ve got my own problems here.”
“Hey, I need to share with you how crazy your sorta-sister really is. I swear, she’s beyond bitchy, she’s becoming a raving megalomaniac, know what I mean?”
“The dime’s running out, Kenny. From what I can tell, maybe you two actually deserve one another.”
“Moon, come on!”
“All I know is I did what I could to keep you in Chicago, but you made your choice. Much as it hurts, I’ll get through, always do. And frankly, I don’t want to hear about any of this anymore. You left me stranded here, so I’ve got to go feed the animules and move on with my life.”
“Melissa, wait. Can I call you again if it gets real bad here? My head is pounding again, I mean if I need you to massage my forehead…it’s always better when we talk…”
“Only if you’ve run out of priests and shrinks—and where you are, that isn’t likely. Promise me, only in absolute desperation, when you’re on your way back to Chicago…”
“Oh, you’re Hail Mary. And Moon, you sure you aren’t involved in that Mendel family thing back there?”
“Bye, Kenny, good luck.” CLICK. CLICK.
So there I was, propped on Sydney’s Murphy bed after an off-again, on-again, flipping and flopping night of unrest. My melon swelled against the headboard, feeling like crawling crustaceans had ascended to the mattress, mites and ticks seeming to march in formation up over the curve of the spread. Somebody was water torturing me with saturated sand and corn syrup, which of course was ridiculous because her entire pad had looked to be stone, untouchably immaculate.
Still, I couldn’t stop scratching, sweating and shivering all at once—even though there was a tremor of the ol’ divine tolerance in Melissa’s voice, despite everything here and there. Was she really not party to the big Mendel reunion? Did da Chicago Bears not shit in the clutch?
I didn’t much know where I was or why, but at least had the presence of mind to tidy up about the brightly sunlit place. I dumped my coffee cups, taco wrappers and Dinty Moore cans down the kitchen garbage chute, rolled my dirty laundry up in a pit-stained CU t-shirt, piling it in a corner toward the apartment door. But screw that! I wasn’t going to totally turn housemaid for a hairpie who’d dumped all over my face—aghh, what was the difference now, for crissake? Honey pot? Tricked by a dirty little trick? What the hell was I doing here, anyway? When I bet sure as shit Moon was gettin’ back there the Mendel fold—and I’m lettin’ it happen, stranded out here while they’re probably all back Shavuotin’ around.
Yet heads up, I did make her a housekeeping promise. So instead I grabbed a soda and sifted through the daily newspapers before tossing them out, too—yeah, try a little catching up on the local press, gloss over the classifieds, uncertain what ads I’d want, even where to begin. Chronicle and Examiner pages were thick with articles and columns on the recent statewide passage of Proposition 13; how San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors had passed a proclamation of revenue emergency, and Mayor Moscone was pushing hefty payroll tax increases to make up for a looming property tax shortfall. While Chron’s City Hall beat uncovered ongoing permit tussles over the Gay Freedom Day parade.
A style feature profiled the Dan Whites’ picture-perfect new parenthood, and the couple’s exciting new food venture over at a Pier 39, bankrolled by heavyweight Warren Simmons, if not The City’s ‘Irish Mafia’—quipping about what this Hot Potato could do for the Supervisor’s political fortunes. Then there was a Crime Log entry on another brutal murder up in Lafayette Park after a fairly long lull. The Clarion had even labeled an as-yet unknown serial suspect, the ‘Come-On Killer’. C’mon, give me a news break—what was it to me, right? Christ, I didn’t know that crazy bastard from Adam or Eve…
Rrrring, rrrrinngggg. “Hello, Mendel residence.”
“Kenneth? Sydney. I’ve been trying to get through for the past half-hour.”
“Sorry, been on the phone, Syd…talking to my…dad.”
“I knew it! Leave you my apartment and already you’re running up tabs!”
“Not to worry, I reversed the charges…”
“We’ll see about that when the statement comes. Anyway, reason I called is I’ll be back in two days, and I’ll need you to do a little something for me. Think you can handle that, Kenneth?”
“Well, sure, I suppose…”
“I need you to gas up my Foxy, then pick up some dry cleaning at Dreyer’s on Steiner, just off Union. Got a crucial appointment in Sausalito, and I’ll barely get back in time. You’ll be a dear and take care of that for me?”
“Why not, nothing much else happening right now…”
“What have you been doing there, Kenneth? Making any progress—and are you watering my plants? Extra car keys are in the kitchen cabinet. You’d better be watering my Ficus…”
“Sure, gotcha…” There, she really does need me after all, can’t live without yours truly…
“Okay, see you when I get in…be sure to be there, I’ll grab the shuttle at SFO.”
“Which will be…”
“When I get there, toots, when I get there. So hop to it. Ciao!” CLICK.
Suddenly, two days later loomed like final billets inspections, worse than an orals defense of a fruitless sosh MA. I crammed and doted thusly, Windexing her crib’s ubiquitous bay window, hand buffed her hardwood floor, dry wiped the upholstered furnishings her parents likely provided. I then 409’d the bathroom tiles and polished a mini breakfront filled with barnyard inspired pottery, hospital-cornered her Murphy bed and defrosted the box. Didn’t know where I found the essentials and adrenaline for it all.
I did take pause that her new necklace remained on the kitchen table, wrapped around my wild horse creamer, but wanted nowhere near that. On the other hand, the package from Josh Gravenek was still sitting on a small Pier 1 straw chair as if it either held solid gold or an explosive device. So it was, beside her butcher’s block, which was where I’d been stacking mail and newspapers. Thus I rationalized her forgetfulness, deferred gratification or benign neglect of matters Gravenek overall.
One last frantic sweep of any and all kitchen debris within arm’s reach, down the garbage chute, and I was done and done. Then it was a matter of changing her stereo’s turntable from Blondie’s ‘Plastic Letters’ to some more Midwesterly familiar Bob Seger, before extra dusting around the living room, not least her mounted, loin busting figure studies. What kept me mopping and straightening about was a series of framed, yellowing half-tone shots of a young couple embracing on a secluded beach, nakedly fit as Photoplay models, giddily in love. Tiny typed captions read, ‘Lovebirds On A Lark’—had to be her parents, and a Faith in her prime was even more than Syd had advertised.
She’d proudly hung the folks out there for all to see: How oedipally complex was that, I thought, homing in, not knowing what to make of the parental pin-ups. But her mother was built like twice the woman with half the sass—enough to keep driving her daughter back to the drawing board figuratively speaking, if not to relative tears.
Handily energized, I schlepped my laundry bundle down to the building’s ground floor Speed Queens with dishpan hands, then fired up Syd’s Audi Fox/Avant, ever so carefully negotiating its tightly beamed garage space. From there, it was lining up top it off at the Chevron, then over to the cleaners, where Dreyers’ proprietress refused to release items for which I had no claim check, could not even describe—particularly finery belonging to one of her favorite new young customers.
Union Street being impossibly crowded, with or without the fair, I could only find a parking spot on Steiner. Nearly two blocks uphill, it was, with a stunning view of the Marina and bay beyond the chalky white and pastel stucco apartment houses—so much so that I missed a residual oil slick beneath the Audi.
A neighborhood kibitzer clipping his topiary had already re-schooled me as I parked: chalk front wheels into the curb downhill, out for up, ’cause who needs the crashing runaways? You’re 180 degrees the wrong way there. Where you from, anyway, that California license plate doesn’t fool me one bit. But he jumped on me in earnest, clippers aloft, when I returned empty-handed, save for an afternoon four-star Examiner. He pointed out as how this showroom new silver Mercedes 240 with Corte Madera plate frames has squeezed into a vacant space in front of me, within an American Express Gold Card of the Audi’s front bumper, bookending a Brit green BMW R/100 with full aerodynamic fairing and touring cases that had wedged on in behind me.
No biggie, nothing to it for an ex-hack like me. Back and forth, to and fro went the exit drill, calibrated inch at a time—easy up, disc brakes, no clutch riding, two pedals rather than one. Her Audi would lurch slightly forward, engine at low idle, then its driveshaft and differential would wind tightly and body frame would twist smoothly as I torqued ever so gently back up to within parking ticket’s width of the BMW cycle’s chrome side pipes.
Rev, shift, goose forward, brake slam, reverse again—jerk, lurch, gas, brake, brake gas, rock and roll, roll and rock. I plied the steering wheel in eighth and quarter turns back and forth, feeling like being stuck in the first descending row of a Riverview rollercoaster. Yet even Syd’s auto-tranny and power steering couldn’t save me from hitting that slick on the tire-smoking back-up, sliding down into that Benz.
No matter my stomping floor pedals and yanking hand brakes, for the Fox lost all traction, and I was running out of legs and dexterity. Its rubber bumper guards spared the platinum sedan any significant damage, other than a triggered siren-like car alarm and cracked license plate frame. Foxy took it a bit harder on the grill and amber parking light, however, to the point where its four logo rings had split roughly in two. The neighbor started in with the I told ya’s and damn out-of-town buggers as I nursed the Audi back up grade—half brake, easy on the gas, like pulling a submerged subcompact out of a fatal mid-river crash scene.
He turned to screaming felonious hit and run as I ever so gradually wedged out of the spot, fore and aft, shiftily rolling down Steiner Street and snaking around Union. But Foxy’s rearview mirror revealed the kibitzer didn’t appear to be jotting down licenses, and I was in no mood nor position to exchange numbers and names.
Still, anxiety raced through me like cold coffee, visions of cracked lenses, concave grill panels, cleft bumpers damping any scenic delights, be they bayfront sailboats or Union Street’s flowery, colorful storefronts, much less Union’s dramatic rise up Russian Hill beyond Van Ness and Polk. Local taxicabs honked around me, Orange and white Muni trolleys crowded in from either side, their power poles and overhead wires snapping and crackling, cross traffic cutting me off.
These hills were steeper than Boulder’s, the traffic quicker and tactically craftier than Chicago’s, and I didn’t think either town would have claim jumped me on a ticketless dry cleaning deed. After all the shouting, the horn blaring, the tire squealing—I oddly found some comfort in returning to an apartment I had no business tending, but at least her place look as good as or better now than she had left it. So I garaged Foxy, electing not to check out her front end any too closely.
I instead grabbed my dried laundry and the evening paper for the latest on the ‘Come-On’ and stuff, heading up to kitchen warmovers, and eggshell bachelorette walls full of front-end visuals largely more pleasing to the eye. Shortly after chowing down, then cueing up some unknown folkie named Will Ackerman from Windham Hill, I proceeded to kick back in relief and spill my 16-ounce Coke on one of her plush new sateen sofa cushions.
Cola spot on vanilla cream—aww, fantabalous, I fretted. Sheeit, where was some spray Fantastik to clean up this thankless break of promise, this housesitting breach of Faith? Really, what were all they doing back there anyway, why was I here? Jacked on up, aced on out—had me wiggin’ alright, pissed me off something fierce. But for the moment, I sat there panicked and clueless, while the stain spread like caramel colored dread on a sundae, bloody sundae.
Care for more?
Chapter 48. A homecoming of sorts
leaves one out of sorts, resulting in
tattered expectations and a differing
of means and ways…