Chapter 56

“Coasting into panic mode,
past and present collide—
soon cutting both ways.”

          “Get those hands up…”

          “Left, the left!”

          “Quit your dancin’ around, stick and move…and lead with your right!”

          Like a tomato can’s corner cut man, I couldn’t leave the bruising wound alone. To hell with his Stetson and snakeskins, no way the cowboy Christian gets away with that. Brother Joe got his unjust reward for genuinely serving the Lord, walked God’s picket line for some blessed redemption, only to die on a scummy sidewalk with the final judgment of a blade in the back? And what about if I’d caused Joe’s demise by red-cape waving his tracts in the crazy cowboy’s face?

          That bluesy, punch-drunk old fart was the only friend I had here, for crissake, taken out by some god-less carpet bagging Jesus fraud. In one blinding moment, I wanted to strangle the righteoutinhorn, to knife him in raging earnest, to rush him amid his self-righteous screeds and carve his Beelzebub heart out right there beside that closed-up flower stand. But better judgment and my prefrontal cortex kicked in this time as I turned away and drifted south along Market Street, keeping that particular demon under wraps then and there.

          Instead, I fixed on Brother Joe, mourning him, revering him, absorbing him, making of him my saviour, my redeemer, my Otis, MLK, RFK and JFK. I felt impelled to hold vigil at his altarpiece, retrace his very steps, devour warehouses full of testaments and tabloids on every blessed, lurid detail of his dreary little life. I wanted to hold his candle, carry his torch, lead his crusade up and down Market Street in his very same sandwich signboard and burlap wrappings, conning and converting every creeping glob of street scum as if being the missionary’s heir apparent.

          Most immediately, I visited Brother Joe’s likely haunts, if only to spread the dreadful news, maybe find out more about his nest and kin: It was the least I could do. First stop was Palace Billiards, climbing the former Graney parlor’s 37 steps as if the smoke-stained 24-hour relic were the Mount of Golgotha, banking slate/green felt pocket billiard to bumper pool table, delivering the word of Joe’s passing to a furtive slew of white collar and no-neck eight balls who couldn’t place—or didn’t know—him from Adam 12. So buffeted, this pilgrimage next led me back across Market Street, to where my message figured to carry a bit more immediate impact. Palace Billiards

          “Stop with the pitty-pats, and  work that hook and your corkscrew, why doncha…”

          “Yah, who do you think you are, Carmen Basilio?”

          “Little shoe skinner thinks he’s Carmen Basilio…”

          “Who’s Carmen Basilio, asked one of the young fighter/hangers on, draped across the ropes.

          “That’s like asking who’s Ray Lunny. Sweet Carmine was only the champ in two different weight classes. He knocked Tony DeMarco out twice as a welter, then took the middleweight crown from Sugar Ray Robinson, beat his best candy canes in a 15-rounder. Yep, won the Hickok Belt in ’57—athlete of the year, no dancin’ around there…”

          “And he never would have lost that one Johnny Saxton fight if the Chicago mob hadn’t fixed it—goddamn Frankie Carbo and Blinky Palermo.”

          Who was Ray Lunny, I asked rhetorically, having lightened my footwork up to two grubby, grumbly old trainers in overripe sweats, ringside coaching a couple of sparring, aspiring Kid Gavilans. Bosworth’s Gym was a bright, ruggedly decadent arena over on Jones Street, which opened in the Roaring 20s,  flourished in the 40s and 50s on a rich regimen of raspberries and cauliflower. But today, it sweltered somewhere in the high 70s, afternoon rays broiling the place through an overhead skylight hardly smaller than that stained-glass marvel over the Palace Hotel’s Garden Court. Bosworth’s domed daylight reigned over two training rings dead center in the aging gym, its pigeon-pocked wire glass panels effectively bleaching out an already talcum white, albeit soiled interior.

          Both rings were bordered with identical red, white and blue Everlast ropes and turnbuckles, leftovers from the Bicentennial, with long fluorescent fixtures hanging from the rusty skylight cranking assemblies directly overhead. Each ring also sported a pair of these local lightweights—grunting, bouncing, jabbing with Golden Gloves ferocity and dark, hungry eyes, trash talking the fights of their young lives through rubbery mouthpieces and protective headgear. Before long, however, they were rope-a-doping themselves into wheezing exhaustion without so much as landing another punch.

          “Who was Ray Lunny? That’s like asking who was Verne Bybee,” snapped the taller of two staff handlers, tossing towels to his baby brawlers in ring number two. “And who’re you anyway? Lookin’ to go a few rounds?”

          “Uh, no, actually I was just asking around about a sidewalk preacher type named Brother Joe, know of him? Short, squat black guy, he was a fighter earlier on in Louisiana, worked his way out here years ago, so I thought he might have hung around here…” Bosworth's Gym

          “I dunno, the ol’ ham ’n’ eggers come and go,” the other groomer said, hobbling over from the first, left-side ring. “Most of  ’em walkin’ on queer street. What the hell’s the difference…”

          “It’s kind of important,” I said, breathing in the sweat and calamine. “He was murdered a short time ago, over by the Old Mint. I’m just trying to help sort things out by him.”

          “Kissed the canvas, huh? Well, we sure don’t know nuthin’ ’bout that.” The taller trainer rolled a cigar butt corner to corner across his lower lip, turning toward his supply room. “Who keeps track? There’s been a whole cavalcade of chins workin’ out through here over the years, good and bad. If they could hack it, they’d be contendas, otherwise just more mule meat on the pile. Gwan, gotta stock some shower soap…”

          “Sure, I only figured maybe…” My thought tailed off and jaw dropped like cut crystal as my eyes followed him toward Bosworth’s office and supply room. The length of its front wall was lined with fading framed photographs of Ring Lardner vintage: could have Brother Joe been among them? Was he raising a victory hand versus Bobo Olson, going toe-to-toe with Jersey Joe Walcott, KTFOing Ezzard Charles?

          I stepped around a three-row set of seat-worn bleachers for a closer look, at Speed Graphic blowups of Archie Moore, Floyd Patterson and Rocky Graziano, Ring Magazine flashbulb snaps of Basilio throttling Gil Turner, against crowd shots of shouting, chomping, stomping stoolies bloodthirsty for a Paret-Griffith kind of beating. Above, sketch portraits of Marciano, Tunney, The Brown Bomber, John L. himself and Jack Johnson swung from the gym’s pillar posts and skylight stanchions, looming over the ghosts of shady managers and purse skimmers, of bolo thumpers, fresh off the Greyhound, pounding the bags, of local creampuffs just skipping ropes. But beyond a rough-edged wall diorama of Louis-Schmeling came the main Bay Area event.

          DING, Ding, Dinggg: I could almost hear the timekeeper’s bell as all eyes focused on the slick, gray-headed PA announcer, puffing out his red silk cummerbund and velvet-trimmed black tuxedo center ring. “Ladies and gents, headlining tonight’s card, The Brisbane Buzzsaw versus The Pride of the Mission”. A gallery-style sequence of photos captured some bow-tied, medicine ball of a referee named Jack Downey overseeing the gloves touch between lightweights Verne Bybee and Ray Lunny respectively.

          The next showed a third-ranked Lunny dodging the iron-chinned Buzzsaw rushes that had already bested world champ Chalky Wright, sharpshooting back on Bybee’s button, even with his brittle little hands. Capping the set was a yellowed Civic Auditorium poster, trumpeting undercards the likes of Jacklick vs. Montes, Sullivan vs. Tarzan, Shiroma vs. Romero—hometown pugilistic heaven on the brink of world war. Lo, the sweetness of that local science…

          “Ya know, I do recall this punch-drunk street jake coming around shadowboxing sometimes, an old walkover from Market Street, think he said he lived in a flophouse out by Dogpatch,” said the remaining trainer, having sent his sparring partners off to the showers, now wiping down his ring’s canvas. “Just more mule meat, liniment on the brain. But if I come up with anything else, I’ll letcha know…”

          Working my way out, I could picture the gym on amateur night, Guadalajara cockfights likely more civil than this house between rounds. Fedoras, Panatella stubs, double-breasted vest coats, Wild Turkey half-pints winging from these low bleachers toward the ring, the referee sweeping the blood-stained canvas like a homeplate whisk broom, side bets and bouts breaking out in darker corners.  It appeared that every able body came to train at Bosworth’s in those days, with photos and news clippings as proof positive, not least one shot of a mugging young Cassius, with Billy faking a knockout blow Clay’s way.

          Still, Bosworth had been gone several long years now, and the gym couldn’t keep pace with his legend. Today, water-stained glass stress cracked in the skylight, plaster peeled like scabby poultices off support pillars. Overweight stiffs were set back on their heels by ragged punching bags, CYO kids pumped some rusty iron on creaking benches, slaphappy palookas bobbed and weaved around one another for $4 per hour—the entire exercise cadenced by a punctual tape loop of three-minute bells. Essentially losing this round, I took leave of what remained of Billy Bosworth’s gym. I wasn’t quite buying its trainer’s jabs, but couldn’t land much of a haymaker in response.

          “Joe was better than that, you know—a genuine contender in his day.” I snapped my mind back more into a Rocky Balboa/Sugar Ray Leonard timeline. “Anyway, much obliged. Find out what you can, I’ll check in again right soon, okay?”

          “Yah, sure, you and your Brother Joe…meantime, don’t be takin’ no rabbit punches in the clinches out there…”

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          “She’s gone, up to Tassajara’s Green Gulch Zen Center or Synanon some place—still playing lost and found. What planet are you on?”

          “Uh, I’ve been around, was just stopping by to say hi…but, uh, how do you mean?”

          “I meeeann, we’ve been getting weird phone calls, then this overnight letter came…”

          “For me?”

          “No, for Ram Dass—here, you owe me another one…”

          Came away thinking maybe Bosworth’s trainer was right. Figured, backing another boozer, another loser—sure could pick ‘em, but then I’d long developed an eye for it, what with the ol’ man. One thing, deadbeats like that didn’t seem to ask much from a person on the come, but they sure take a truckload when they go. Surrender to the Lord—Joe did that, all right…off living his white cloud dream, still shoveling the bullshit—bless that wunnerful name of Brother Joe, lousy bastard, leaving me behind like this…screw it, that’s mighty whitta ya, had to go liberate the Volvo. Still, I had sunk deeper into that funk with every step toward the Eddy Street Garage, skulking down Jones like a lone troop playing taps, looking for the way, an angle, any acute angle out of this—as sign that struck a righteous chord, marshaling whatever remained of my resources, a trumpet that sounded the charge.

          Rather, I caught another billboard. This Foster and Kleiser special grabbed me at about Ellis and O’Farrell, perched diagonally atop a permanently shuttered hot-type printing shop, and what a heart-stopping work of commercial lithography it was. A brilliant Sonoran sunset amid the drunken Tenderloin squalor, cactus shadows dotting the foreground, a lone, sombreroed horseman galloped across the horizon, directly above the poster’s bold headline: ‘A Desperado’s Greatest Getaway’.

          The Bandito Tequila logo stuck in my throat like a wedge of lime by now, past images of Forrester, Blaine Advertising further blurring my present horizon—Michigan Avenue and the InEquity Center, taxis to the Art Institute and Orchestra Hall—Bob Gelvart making a killing, toasting Lacey Abbot-Tanzer and Larry Castalone en route to the corner office. A dash of salt for the walking wounded: that entire cooked-up Chicago scenario was now little more than a haunting peek at someone else’s parade.

          So I plodded over to the Eddy Street police garage, hands in my pockets, clutching my Wig-Wam sock rolled wad, resigned to springing that blasted car—not discover, devise, remember? Blow them away with the pitch, see that baby through if it kills you…it’s tough out there, and don’t you forget it. Lighter by the tally of bail and storage a couple of days on, I drove west along Geary, back in the saddle, tuning into Dusty Street cueing up Boston’s latest, ‘Don’t Look Back’, desperate to get away from the Tenderloin, gnawseous at the prospect of sweating any more nights in and out of the Central Y. But where better, and there it be…

          Hitting a string of timed green lights a couple of parking citation and jimmy-free days on, my mind drifted to great escapes even farther afield: Boulder, yeah…no, can’t go back now! Oregon, Seattle, that might work, someplace green and clean, real friendly—no crime, no foreigners, no fruits and nuts, nobody out for the big palm job. Maybe Missoula or Santa Fe, like with Jackson Browne on the oldies KYA—shit, not enough gas money for that. But anyplace, somewhere different, somewhere else. While the motor’s still running, while you still have a chance, ’cause that clock’s still running too. That’s it, Dyb, strap on those waffle soles… Yet reality soon hit me like a Park Presidio red light: fuel tank half empty, oil pan at least one quart low. That’s about when I flipped a right on Fulton Street, wheeling westward with Bill Graham authority, on cruise control, opting to pay a little friendly visit, just flow with it, hadn’t one shred of an idea why.

          “Who the hell would,” I looked the envelope over, scribbled on as it was, front and back.

          “Don’t ask me,” huffed Regina Tzu, standing firmly in her doorway, like some after-hours bouncer at Studio 54. There would clearly be no welcome wagon from Denise Kharl here, no ease of re-entry, much less any overnight stays. “All I know is the bizarre crone making those phone calls was from another epoch entirely…”

          “Right, well thanks much and say hi to Thibeaux for me, will…”

          “He split back to St. Louis, stuck me with the rent, too…” SLAAMMMM.

          And like that, she was gone. I broke away from their Richmond District crib with mixed signals and emotions, steering out Fulton Street, turning into Golden Gate Park at 30th Avenue, that Express Mail letter sitting like a claymore on my shotgun seat. Now, Spreckels Lake, with all its swans, geese and remote-controlled model yachts, seemed a perfectly placid place to detonate the envelope, so I pulled over along the lake’s boathouse side, KSAN tracking side two, ‘Wish You Were Here’ on the FM dial, hinting at yet another wall-busting Pink Floyd release, slated for later in the year.

          The letter bore a Prairie Crossing return address, little more legible than that chicken-scratching with my name. A measure of morbid curiosity had me fingernail shearing open the envelope flap, unfolding a two-pager on school-ruled tablet paper, with a short feed store-labeled note attached. Spreckels Lake

          Signed by a Mrs. Ruth Styler, she introduced herself as a widow woman neighbor of Dellis Herbert’s, then explained as how she’d been helping my uncle as best she could through the sad ordeal spelled out in this enclosed letter. Crudely hand written by Dellis himself, with her clarifying scribbles on the margins, it apologized for telling me this way, but only just found the Fulton Street phone number in his brother’s effects… effects?…didn’t know how else to reach me…for what?!…because so much had to be done…done?

          Deciphering Uncle Dellis’ scrawls as best I could, there was no massaging the message. His brother, my dad, had suffered a busted gut (per Ruth: a ruptured aneurysm on his aorta) all alone in the backyard house while his younger sibling was admittedly serving a little bout in the cooler after his latest weekender blow-up at the Prairie Town Tap.

          By the time Dellis had returned to the Herbert homestead, he found Ed on the kitchen floor, his corpse having exploded like a tire tube in the stuffy, sealed-up bower, blood and innards (Ruth: distended organs, intestines) all over the floor and walls, the stench somethin’ putrefied. After the county coroner left and they deterged, disinfected the mess, Dellis was in no shape nor mood to conjure up any semblance of a funeral, so he had the remains done (Ruth: embalmed), then hearse hustled his big brother off to the family plots. Sorry for the late and lamenteds, but somebody had to do somethin’ fast, Dellis signed off, you want any of his skimpy belongin’s back here? Ruth Styler had cosigned with her neighborly prayers and condolences—a wish you were here, underlined, adding a smiley face in good faith.

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          Okay then, what was done was done…and gone. Had to be there to really appreciate the descent effort, folks, but thanks a sonly heap anyway for the kind thoughts back there. Job well done, so have a cigar, boy, shine ‘em on you crazy diamond. Right, just pull away, Scot free, dollars to donuts, you know you’ve gone far—like nothing happened you could have actually helped anyway—wasn’t your doing, just like with Brother Joe. So why did I shoot out past Rhododendron Island and the Buffalo Paddock on JFK Drive, coast bound in an unchained reactive blur of unfree association—caught in the crossfire of childhood and faraway laughter, if only they all could see me now.

          The fog in the head, dig? There was so much more to assess and reassess, gotta have some air now…stuff comin’ at me from so many different direction, cracks in the cerebral walls. I steered past the equestrian field and golf course, skirting the earlier tri-strangulation of Rainbow Falls altogether, thinking this was just Brother Joe all over again, only hitting much closer to home back there, like a hundred-car trainload of soybeans and corn. What were the last words: It’s awful lonesome here sometimes, God’s honest truth…dratted stomach’s been actin’ up more… Dellis ’bout drive me to drinkin’ again…I’ll send you a little somethin’, a guy’s gotta eat. Just stay in touch, son…after your momma’s gone, the two of us’s all that’s left…Yeah, only needed a couple of bills to get me back on my feet…sour Scots, my ass.

          Those bitter filial pills overshadowed the beauty of Queen Wilhelmina’s Tulip Garden, the splintered, ramshackle majesty of the Dutch Windmills. How did Syd put it, ever see anything so fantabulous? Sure, compared to the rusty, so Middle Ages Midwest. Still, I couldn’t bear to revisit that first glance sunset stretch of the Ocean Beach Esplanade, instead gunning along the Great Highway past a run-down Beach Chalet and the park’s soccer field, side glances fixed on the churning Pacific like a Panavision-mounted camera car. Right, how about back home, smart ass—Moon over miasma, that door still left slightly ajar at Forrester, Blaine—there’s always Chicago if all else fails…that’d be classic, crawling my way to the suffocating place all the bright, daring people leave…back to what? Wellen and Gelvart would be Bandito sniggering all the way to the cantina…big trailblazin’ genius, gonna kill ‘em on the coast…you’d have nothing more to say until your dying day…

          No blazing sundown today, as frigid, mid-flood gusts overwhelmed all the way down Ocean Beach, fog building in, sand piling over a stony seawall, onto these southbound lanes of the Great Highway. I rolled tight Volvo windows to the pounding wind and grains, as if that were the root cause of my shivering. Never had I felt so at odds with what I saw. At least the due west escape route out of Chitown held such infinite promise; but here I was, with nowhere east to escape to and nowhere west to go. So what about south, Santa Cruz south, Big Sur south, Malibu south, Baja south, what the hell, the Bandito and whales did it…but is that it, the pride? If pride’s the only thing…hell, that’s only openers—it’s what you did and didn’t do here and there. The difference between being a cut-up and a fuck-up, only the joke was on me. Everyone, everything you touched went up in smoke, torched ’em all.

          That went on the length of the coastal highway thus far, these voices pounding me like breakers against that tide-riddled beach. I drown in them, losing my grip on this wily, desolate stretch of shoreline until it dawned that I was damn near blowing town again in a last-legs junker out on bail, with my cameras still doing time. I swerved, skidded into a windblown parking area across from the city zoo and old Fleishhacker Pool—about as far south as the Great Highway dared to go.

          Think about it, Melissa you’ve destroyed, walked her right to the brink of paradise, then hacked her to pieces, nearly sent Syd over the edge. Came riding in out of the west like Gabby Hayes, forcing mom to go under the knife to take her life—killed your own mother you son-of-bitch! Your own dad split open like a hot melon, exploded in his own bile because of you and how you weren’t there to help him instead of hitting him up for a grubby touch. That wasn’t enough, so you did Brother Joe in for grins—might just as well have personally stabbed your only stinkin’ friend in town!Ocean Beach

          I screeched in between two seemingly vacated camper vans, then stalled the engine trying to jam into reverse. Trapped. I looked myself in the rear view mirror, and in the van’s reflective window. Sobbing, trembling, I punched the Volvo’s steering wheel, busting its horn ring and somehow firing up the FM oldies radio, quickly flipping off another Manilow ‘Mandy’ to Dan Fogelberg’s Illinois ‘Souvenirs’. Up the coast, down the coast, in, out—where was a life killer like you got to go? Everybody you touch you kill—everything near you just wilts and dies—you’re rat poison, radioactive agent orange… I fumbled with the Blaupunkt, but the music only got louder. Reaching into the side door map pocket, I pulled out a yellow handled Phillips screwdriver, fixing to stab the blasted radio into silence until it stopped me from shaking. Instead, I kneed it once in the push buttons and it squelched. So what was left, you’ve destroyed everything else in your life, all that’s left is you. Why the hell not, nobody’ll know, nobody’ll care—it’ll be a big load off everybody. ’Cause god’s honest truth, what good are you to anybody?!

          I turned the screwdriver toward me, grabbing it firmly, drawing it to my chest. I poked lightly about my breastbone, to any fading echoes of ‘Mandy’s’ drums. I gripped the grooved plastic handle ever more tightly, fire in the brain, hands drenched and throbbing. Do it push, do it, motherfucker—do it, you selfish bastard and get this bullshit over with. Drive it clean through, no more wimpin’ out—push it, push it, PUSH IT!!! My head raced mercilessly as flailing waves broke over the seawall, against the failing shore, pressing me, cornering me, entreating me to take the final plunge.

          Voices, crescendos of taunting voices demanded I go ahead with it, that I do no less than what I’d done to everyone I’d known. There they were, all of them floating in on driftwood barges over ever quickening waves. And all their brethren, disciples, cohorts and co-conspirators, an a cappella chorale: Do it, you devil, do it! Do it, chickenshit, push it clear through to the seatback and be done with it. Do the dirty deed like everybody says—aren’t you even man enough to get this done?!  There, ready, breath deep, count one, two—swallow your tongue and kill somebody… I felt a prickly pain in my chest, shot-like, a spurt of red dampness warming my skin…

          TAP, tap. “Xin Loi, lòng…’scuse!”  *

          “Get away from me,” I shouted through the window glass, over the resurging radio and some ungodly timed Beach Boys on the FM. Squelch, szzook, ssst, squelch… ‘…My way to sunny Californi-ay. On my way to spend another sunny day…’

          “Không, dùng ląi,” yelled a short, squalid figure, tapping more hotly on the side window, his gaunt, molish face trembling with horror. Layered in patched and overpatched raggins, he balanced a full potato sack on a shoulder pole. “Đó là rât xâu!  Công cų, nó sê giêt ban. Stop!!!

          Dizziness set in, swirling images congealed, then dissolved between me and the vast, empty sea. I could feel the blood trickle, clot in my CU T-shirt, soak and stiffen my chest hairs. Rolling, mushrooming mescaline swirls bobbed behind my eyelids, grotesquely vivid and colorful. Seemed all the more redemptive voices were chiming in: mom, Moon, Aunt Eleanor, Dame Thornia, even dad and Uncles Dellis to Early—but maybe that was just me. Squelch, sst…‘water, water—get yourself in that cool, clear water…the air’s so clean it’ll take your mind away, take your mind awaaayy…’

          TAP, TAp, tap. “Xin vui lòng, vê nhà đi, pleeeze. TAP, TAp, tap. The man looked Asian—Chinese, no smaller, maybe Cambodian or Vietnamese. He’d dropped two fishing poles to his side so as to rap the window bloody to get a rise from me, his round-brimmed straw paddy hat canting back to reveal an aged, salt weathered face.

          Damn radio had come back up, just like that. I finally turned my gaze his way, picking mindlessly at my sweater, winging the screwdriver viciously over my shoulder against the Volvo’s rear seat. I downed the window halfway and nodded. “Thanks, I’m all right, was just…”

          “Tôt, không có gì,” the fisherman snapped obediently, reaching down for his poles, carefully rebalancing his shoulder load. He then started down a low, crumbling cliff to the shoreline—lures, keys jangling, his rubber boots squeaking in the sand. “Cám on ban, tąm biêt, bye…”

          “I’m all right, Jee-sus…” I wailed, mortified, downright scramble-brained, but gratefully heaving nonetheless.

          ‘…Cool cascades of that clean, clear water…and the chaparrals flow to the sea, ‘neath waves of golden sunshine…’  Fuckin’ Beach Boys, everlivin’ stereo teenage dream: I cranked up my window and broke down like Mekong Delta rice paddies after the saturation bombings. I double-checked my door lock, pressed my aching forehead against the steering wheel and cried, moaned, trembled worse than a Memorial Day mourner on the National Mall.

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         …Police sources say the murder suspect was apprehended without incident. He was allegedly ID’ed with the assault in progress on the frame margins of security video captured by The Mint’s new external camera system. Speculation on motive centers around a turf conflict between Market Street’s so-called sidewalk evangelists. Further details on Newsradio 840, top of the hour.

          An offshore fog bank had moved in markedly during my personal storefront, accompanying winds rocking the Volvo, whistling through its weatherstrip-worn windows. A diversionary flip of the radio dial brought a hint of welcome developments, yet I still needed some air and a bit of distance between myself and this steamy rig. That I got, a frigid, full frontal blast that dried up my drippy cheeks the moment I opened the car door.

          Yet my skies must have been clearing some, for I could soon see most everything now, and everything was foggy gray. Relentless winds pushed me back as I edged toward a low, crumbling cliff. They braced me, helped crust the blood blot on my Colorado T-shirt, plugged the prick cold, at once settling and agitating me, like the sheets upon sheets of frothy, furiously white-capped sea. ‘The air’s so clean, it will just take your mind awayyy…’

          Yeah, fuckin’-A California dreamin’ Beach Boys—little deuce draggin’ with J&D, surf jammin’ at Laguna with Dick Dale and the Deltones. Righteous waves, raising you up, supporting, transporting, transcending you from your landlocked Midwestern ways, your longing for paroxysms of paradise, an endless, heavenly California of the mind—riding those waves, cruising the strip, soaking up that west coast sunshine, with the girls all getting so tan. Not freezing in this cold-cocked, soupy, dreary squall…

          I looked for the fisherman, who by now had vanished, as if he’d never happened by—just another shuffling loner along miles of seaweedy, gray-brown shoreline between ghostly Sutro Heights and Pacifica. Among the scattered, frizzled wind-combers, bundled up couples tossed sticks to their wet Labs and Samoyeds in the tide, as acclimated to the steady coastal battering as the shifting dune grass and sandblasted apartment houses out here, up and down 48th Avenue. Deep sighs drew in salt spray, the aroma of sodden kelp, and stench of beached sea life picked over by monster gulls—all mulled in a thick, penetrating mist like pictures of the Salton Sea. ‘On my way to sunny Californi-ayy, on my way to spend another sunny day…’

          I turned back to the Volvo with water and ‘Surf’s Up ‘Til I Die’ on the brain—where to go, already sucked in the undertow, stuck with the goods in a leaky brown paper bag. You wanted it, you got it! I shook my fist defiantly at the reflection in my car window, down here on the ass end of San Francisco, rust-gutted clunkers along dull, nameless Outer Sunset streets, grim fog blankets over Twin Peaks and Mount Sutro. Somewhere, the sun was shining, everybody was blond and bronze. Christ, there were even tree-lined places with porch swings, though I could no longer remember how to get there from here.

          But amid one long, lost-cause pan along The City’s backside, a huge, lording crucifix atop Mt. Davidson caught my eye. I didn’t know what that had to do with anything, though it brought to mind mom and Brother Joe, somehow penetrated my aching axons and dendrites.

          Crawling back into the Volvo, I flipped on the end of another radio newscast, a glib, gossipy item about the latest celeb sighting out here at Ocean Beach, of all places: ‘A certain mayor known to get down to business in his Alpha-Romeo with a young thing named Maggie, addressing affirmative action, were they, all in the lines of duty?

           Then came the Doppler prognosis: ‘Coastal fog with patchy low clouds extending inland nights and mornings, partial clearing in the afternoon’. Sounded familiar, too close for comfort, but inevitable, just the same. You got it, I buttoned up, blinked and swallowed, casting up and down the beach for a smoke-filled, hard-rocking Alpha-Romeo. So shake it off, asshole, snap to—let’s get it on…and this time, get it rightwhatever it happened to be

* (ED Note: Punctuation not precise.)

End of Stage Two.

(Prepare to Rendezvous
with S/R 1978, Stage Three.)