Chapter 64

“Starving from 
dissention can only 
eat one up inside.”

           “Anyway, great stuff. So it got me to thinking…”

           “Yes, well that’s encouraging…”

           “You know, for old times’ sake and everything…”

           “Not that old, not that much time…”

           A sweaty drenched jog over to the refuge of choice had me coming up dry. Turned out Tony Panescus was off to Reno/Tahoe for a long, lounging weekend, and the Hilton’s hallway catering carts had already been picked clean. After sneaking some cold black coffee and cheese Danish crumbs out of a vacated conference room, then sniffing about the Gazebo Grill for bar snacks, I shied away from the escort services, dodged Hilton’s house dicks, buying time to muddle through my gyrating indecision. But with the length and breadth of the lobby closing in, I resolved to try one more phone call on somebody else’s dime.

          “I mean, like you said once, it can be pretty tough out here.”

          “Told you so, but somehow this doesn’t seem…kosher.”

          “It’s just that Mister Wellen sort of left the door open a sliver, and I’m hoping my copy slot’s not filled yet. So maybe think of it as a draw on expenses, an advance on account, just in case…”

          “You’ll have to take that up with Ralph,” said Lacey Abbott-Tanzer. “But to be perfectly honest, this entire phone call is borderline bizarre.”

          Borderline, boundary lines, crossing them like a bounty hunter on the scent and bootleg sauce. On my way to the phone bank, that Bandito Tequila billboard poured into my brainpan. So the reasoning went: hey, look at it as some sort of sign, an omen, a precursor to Saturnian inevitability dressed up in sunsets and the pleasure of the Sierra Madre. That aha moment led me not south of the Rio Grande, but east of the Mississippi, strategic placement of their message designed to reach out to me in the most personal, pointedly impactful way. Sure, what a brilliant stroke—how clever of Bob Gelvart—such a purely creative effort to bring me back into the FBC fold.

          They knew I was out here, right? And a little demographic market research would before long track me down: I was so thoroughly blown away by the strength and sincerity of their campaign effort, the resources the agency had applied. All right then, point taken, allow me to give in and grace Equity Center portals with a humble return call. And when Andrea Dudic accepted my reversed charges and patched me in to Lacey, I knew that they knew their advertising had driven its Unique Selling Proposition home and turned my head around. Yes indeed, I was deeply, profoundly touched, appreciative to the core that the agency wanted me back this passionately. Well, never fear, here I am out here. Let’s talk…

          “Bizarre? Must be the connection, huh, being I’m so far away,” I cupped the mouthpiece ever tighter, hard pressed between a sales rep reading off a machine tool order sheet and HR manager yapping on about collective bargaining disagreements. “But great advice about Ralph Wellen, Phil Richmond even. I should take this matter right to the top, that’s what…”

          “Adios, Herbert, it’s getting late here and we’re on deadline. Give my regards to the Bay. CLICK.

          Adios, vaya con Dios, bottoms up, signing off and all that. In any case, I must have looked mighty ashen spinning away from the pay phones, all but tripping over a loose bootlace, washed-out enough to draw the attention of a roving hotel security guard, who had been diligently tracking slugs like me. He drew a lead-pipe black flashlight from his green and gold epaulet—looking to aim me toward the hotel exits without so much as a souvenir matchbook or mint, all but prompting me to drop Tony Panescus’s name in vain.

          “Got business, do ya,” snapped the guard, tapping the long, blunt light against his thigh. He stared me up and down, as though he had spotted me in this lobby once before. “Here in the hotel?”

          “Uh, not presently, but…” Not much of a persuasive response, because I was busy trying to figure out if Lacey was trying to tell me something. Was she saying how desperate Ralph Wellen was to have me back in the FBC family? Well, I’ll just let him stew a while longer. That way, I could firm up my position, bargain from strength…make out like a bandit. I mean, I’m out here now, not back there–gotta count for something. I’ll drink to that, or maybe not so much…let me see…figure it out before…

          “Well, then let’s move it on,” the guard said, rattling the d-cell batteries in his light stick.

          “Yeah…right, just hold a second, got to tie my shoe,” I plopped down on a nearby throne chair, trying to re-gather myself as best I could under the climate-controlled circumstances.

          “Now, I said, go,” the guard ordered, as he tapped my knee lightly with the butt end of his flashlight.

          “Keep your billy club off me, I’m goin’,” I erupted, boot tied, ejecting out of the lobby chair—going postal without prior notice. “Just don’t touch me, don’t want anybody touching me! Hands off, I’m telling you—think this is Marquette Park, or…”

          “How’s that,” the guard asked, moving squarely before me, cradling the light across his chest.

          “G’wan, where’s your armband, Fuhrer,” I spouted, straight-arming in salute as I edged around him toward the Hilton’s entranceway.

          “This way, sir,” a gold braid-on-black concierge staffer cautiously ushered me out the revolving door once more, security guard close behind. “It’s a beautiful afternoon for a nice walk about town, don’t you think?”

          “Lay off, just lay the hell off!” I suddenly shook him off my elbow, thrusting about defiantly amid cab whistles and horny airport limousines. Startled, an outside doorman gave me ground, while garment bagged businessmen and seminar junketeers swept clear wide altogether. Centrifugal throw weight carried me stumbling off the curb into the path of a screeching Yellow taxi, fresh from SFO with a hefty airport fare.

          HHONNKKK. “Look out, nutcase,” the cabbie screamed out his door window.

          “Up yours, you hack son of a…” Before I could finish my thought, I rolled off his right front fender, down the sidewalk toward Ellis Street, a full inbound limo slowing across Mason to gawk out at their first San Francisco freak job.

          Stinkin’ pig, tryin’ to push me in front of a cab, my own damn cab, must have actually been a Checker…that you, dispatch? Wasn’t trying to rip-off your load…O’Hare, you bet, get you right out there…lemme grab those bags for you…dispatch, can’t quite hear you…the Conrad Hilton? Be there in snap…snaaaappp…what you all lookin’ at?!

          A dizzying momentum carried me back down into the Tenderloin, past Dawning Redemption’s Memorial Church. I swore I could see Reverend Thrall preaching from the bed of a pick-up truck, Sydney there dancing and singing with Tinus at sunrise, wrapped in her rouge red Danskin and tangerine veils, those scandalously pink flowers in her hair. Lacey Abbott-Tanzer rollicked to the reverend’s left, tossing ten-spots rolled into tight little straws, tossing them off in every direction, but Bob Gelvart and Tony Panescus seemed to be catching them all, and Dawning’s soup kitchen was all closed down. Clapping, exalting, glory be to Tinus Thrall, to Moon and Sydney—glory be, you bastard, sailing sacramental Frisbees to that blessed Setter, Seamus with the high-protein sheen…gimme a break, Melissa…just can’t help it. I’m broke and starving, not a goddamn thing I can do…

          The Hilton Hotel tower cast its shadow long and noisome over my Tenderloin trail. The 40-story sucker dogged me past encounter parlors and plywood window peep shows, around collapsed figures in pissed out doorways, wasted lechers and lepers looming at every corner and turn, shivering against the stiff winds of change. I myself was a far cry from impervious, though it took me to the Civic Center before fully recognizing telltale numbness, for I was too busy swearing off any more intoxicating billboards and going nowhere near the Hotel Central Y. Damn, had to take the chill off a minute someplace…sun was goin’ down, I could feel it—middle of summer and I was freezin’ my ass off…

          Some place, all right: Public Library, City and County of San Francisco, steamy heated and stacked to the rafters with well-read volumes and dog-eared wildlife. This Italian Renaissance fortress on the eastern edge of Civic Center Plaza bore the overhead inscription, ‘Throned on Imperishable Books Maintained and Cherished From Generation to Generation For the Improvement and Delight of Mankind’. It carried on a municipal legacy of that honored liberal precept of universal literacy and learning, local intellectual home to Balzac, Milton, Thackeray, Cervantes and Holmes.

          But outwardly, the library was a roost. For the pigeons, its tall cross-girded windows were home; everything else made way for longer-range birds, scavengers of a differing feather literally bombarding portals and pavement with guano of a moister, heavier kind. Turkey size seagulls and ornery crows hovered about the front steps, flapped from the light poles, stringing out a pecking order to either side of the main library’s massive wooden casement doors. Had to be heat in there, though, four solid stories of dim corners, slumped over tables and comfy sit down chairs. Easy enough: just go in, grab a book and get lost until the light of learning warms you down to your ingrown nails. Where I might regain my bearings, warm up and cool down some, not to mention hit the head. Why not, I’d always found solace in Norlin Library at CU.

          Yet most of the deadbeats in here were still fighting over St. Zita food chips, staking out shut-eye territory after peeling bean sauce out of their beards and cavities, in the doorways they called home. The aging library was infested, actually crawling with them, from the main reading room to the Philatelic and Siberian Paleontology shelves upstairs. Burping, bean-fed drifters and burnouts warmed up to a good book the full length of the center Travertine marble staircase, lounged on its long slab benches, uncanny in their proximity to toasty forced-air registers. These wastrels, sponge lushes and ne’er-do-wells curled in and around the colonnade’s Doric columns, flipping through colored picture and comic books—or simply laid-back picking at their body bugs, gazing up at, tripping on lily pods lacing the corbels of the reading room’s barrel vaulted ceiling. Old SF Public Library

          Beyond its 2nd floor john—reeking like the rear end of a tallow truck, sinks doubling as laundry basins, toilet stall action beyond any bent over imagination—I found scant relief in the library overall. There was little consolation from a harried checkout desk, even less elbowroom at the card catalogue drawers. Acutely hallucinating visionaries prowled the art and music room, mechanical engineering wash-outs miscalculated all over science/technology, Peter Pans and Tinkerbells of every age and stripe flitted about the children’s collection, overgrown juveniles giggling uncontrollably in the kiddie seats, gravitating toward Dr. Seuss and Winnie the Pooh.

         God’s honest, this here was no library I knew, not like CU’s Norlin. This was more of a loony bin—a semi-literate asylum for the mentally disadvantaged—no, disabled, make that diseased. There was less learning in here than delirium, even less research and all-nighter study, the only cramming being saltines down the gullet, cellophane and all.

          I soon closed the book on the place after a run-in with two tu-tued ballerinos simulating a rude pas de deux amid the social science collection, unspeakably furious at being face to face with head games like that. Though I did pause to skim through a pole-bound Chronicle in the reference room, however—today’s headlines heralding the prospects of fresh Middle East peace talks, and a follow up on how POA bluecoats were openly resenting the way Mayor Moscone was backing Chief Charlie Gain and the consent decree, that they were taking their beefs to Supervisor White’s office for some hardball counteraction. I just flipped the paper aside, then checked out of SF Main unstamped, unenlightened, still cold and unsettled all to hell.

sr dingbats

         It hadn’t turned any warmer out here since I’d ducked into the library. An early evening wind whipped through Civic Center and United Nations Plaza as I hurdled the body count on my way out of Learning and Literacy’s fortified front doors. The gale smacked me good, actually revived me some, halfway down deserted McAllister Street before I could even begin to determine which way to go. It also snatched big floppy leaves from the plaza’s grotesquely stunted sycamore trees, sailing a few into my sightline, as if this were a stormy heartland autumn.

          Only it wasn’t autumn, and this was hardly the heartland. Not with the tangled, alien trees and that Renaissance blockbuster of a city hall ahead there, behind blue/gold palace gates, its majestic dome and Roman columns flood bathed and kilowatt blazing like centenarian birthday cake, haloed by the in-rolling fog. How glorious, how pristine and flawlessly grand: For that matter, so were War Memorial Theater and the Opera House, sandwiching Van Ness Avenue in enriched pearly white light, squeezing The City’s principal north-south artery into sheer slices of pork barrel munificence.

          From there, a pack of screaming squad cars shot up over to Polk Street, into the Gulch. Didn’t know what, didn’t care why—had nothing to do with me, right? Right. So I buttoned up my shirt collar, tucked in my crew neck sweater, crossing Civic Center over to Van Ness at McAllister headed due north. Wait a second here, I paused at the corner, this isn’t summer either; call this summer? No place this summer’s this cold, not even Colorado, no way. Even Chicago wasn’t this cold until Veterans Day, much less this drizzling misty. Actually wasn’t heavy now fog-wise—not like out at Ocean Beach—just what weather junkies called frizzle. It came in with the wind, as if piped in through steamer nozzles, too light to bead or moisturize, but enough to dampen the spirit, ice down the soul. Which this sea spray did to me right off, lacquering my face with cumulative grating force of a riot hose as I turned up Van Ness Avenue.

          The divided thoroughfare prove to be a slow, lengthy climb out of Civic Center, driving a whipping wind spit several notches higher on the discomfort index—somewhere just below mosquito spray out the back of an abatement truck after an early freeze. Down here, storefronts were a shabby lot, coffee shops in transition, quickie printers, credit rent-a-furniture, guitar legend music and small cc motorbike shops—all mere pendulum swings away from urban developer wrecking balls.

          “Quarter for coffee? Tell ya a coupla dirty jokes.” This from the second of two squatters who had planted flat cardboard in successive doorways. The frizzle was thickening, as the long day turned to evening dark. Most shops had closed early, dropping their shades and security grills for lack of commercial foot traffic, which left the storefront scapegraces to conduct business on the nightshift.

          “Hey, wanna cop some China white,” came whispers from the cross-legged figure in a decorative tile store doorway further along.

          “What am I gonna do with dishes,” I grumbled, stepping up my gait, trying to slow down the mindflow, scanning for any way out.

          “Naw, man, you don’t…” said the grubby buckskin longhair, fringe even stringier on snot-stained sleeves

          “Get away from me, I don’t even have a roof, for chrissake!”

          “Dig it, man, who does?  So you ain’t no better’n me.”

          “I hear ya…hard to argue that…”

          Mainly closed down up to Eddy Street, this stretch of lower Van Ness had basically become a teeming artery through a ghost town, traffic bypassing to better parts of town, time-sequenced stoplights paving a bi-directional flow clogged only be a ragged army of sign bearers shaking down drivers from the median strips. Further on, more doorways were dead quiet, though not so far gone as their after-hours inhabitants. Except for the snooker parlor upwards of Ellis. Manlon’s was still open, hustlers screwing their pool cues out front of the place, chalked up for a bumper crop of action. Sorry, bros—no stick, no bank, no game worth hustlin’ here…

          “You!  The fire department, you know?  This guy in the neighborhood told me personal, right to my face. Kid down the block got on—couldn’t even lift up a poodle dog out a burning building!  Little sissy bought his way out, his ol’ man pulled the strings, that’s right.” He was an aged Van Ness vet slumped in front of Katto’s Cleaners next door, a bundle of filthy hound’s tooth, gray hair covering the warts on his runny nose. “I catch that faker in my place, I’ll frack his ass!!”  Fortunately a place, he seemed to lack, and the only blaze that seemed realistic was the sudden fire in his otherwise doornail eyes. But everybody looked that way around here, if they had any discernible expression at all.

          “Leggo my pocketbook!”

          “What…pocketbook,” I snapped, to a puffy, red-faced harridan just inside the portal of a Bombay curio import shop.

          “I’ll call a cop on you, so help me…”

          “Lady, Jesus…” I jumped away, as if I were indeed some sort of purse-snatcher, as though she was still a lady. There she sat, leaning against her shopping cart, onion sacks of clothing stacked around her like Delta sandbags. She’d wrapped an Indian scarf about her head, its tails dangling over bare shoulders down to her hairy armpits. With one hand, she scratched sores bleeding below her collarbone, the other kept smoothing out her mangled skirt.

          Here again, Van Ness Avenue took on the appearance of a macabre midway sideshow, each next alley or doorway revealing some deviation on the lunatic mean. Shoulders sagged, hands dug deep into torn patch pockets, chins stuffed, grafted into moth-pocked vested chests. Even the quieter of them lay wrapped in burlap and moving boxes, sleeping off some Thorazine binge—motionless, save for the motor-crazed flinching of their faces, or essential tremoring of claw hands and counter crushed shoes. All told, it looked like some demented, schizophrenic, manic-depressive dumping ground for Northern California’s de-institutionalized debris. And I was beginning to feel right at home.

          “Frisco’s hidin’ ’em, I got proof…right in my coat pocket. King of Paraguay put up two million smackers—today’s dollars—to send their top agent here to get them. Take the butchers back to Germany to execute ’em for war crimes. What’d the cops do? Ambushed the agents, that’s what. Look, it’s all in this story…”

          “Get outta here,” I paused to catch my breath, reasty as it was.

          “Sure, S.F. cops are killing innocent folks. We’re next, nobody’s gettin’ out alive—they’re gonna get everybody before they’re through, City Hall, the works. D.A., CIA’s in on it too.”

          “What’re you talking about,” I huffed off, dismissing this paranoid yawping head with a wave of the hand. The clinical psychos ranted back and forth across Van Ness in breathless, myopic purges, one ideo-illogical cause, one synaptic delusion after another—like committed delegates at a strap jacket convention.

          “Got it all right here, you wait and see…”

          “Cops, city hall—total gibberish, had to be…” I finally cupped my ears and raced across Ellis Street, other people’s demons static blasting my head in cross-wired stereophones, pointedly pushing the issue to my own self. No!!! Wouldn’t listen to any more of this, won’t have any of it. These people should be locked away tight…rubber room. What’re they doing in those doorways with the garbage cans and dumpsters?! Blathering away—jezzus, who let them out on the streets, hassling normal people, dragging them down?  Christ, doesn’t this hill ever quit…

          Van Ness didn’t quit exactly, but did manage to level out some, roughly between O’Farrell Street inbound and Geary Boulevard out, therein starting on a livelier roll. At that very corner sat Tommy’s Joynt like a full-color cartoon set piece, long hof-brau to the star-struck tourists and self-styled boulevardiers. Christ, I could smell and savor the braised oxtails and Buffalo Stew like their steam tables were right out here on the walk. But I’d only have scooped up some handfuls if they were. And right across Geary sprawled the Wurlitzer Hilton, that being the Modernist eyesore nicknamed for old, washed-up British sailors: the Jack Tar Hotel. Bet Herself was in one of those 403 guest rooms, ESTing and doing the yamayama right this very minute.

          But get real, huh? San Francisco P.D. wouldn’t go Gestapo, right? Ganging up on the mayor and all the rest? They couldn’t, papers would be all over it. Hunter Thompson’d gonzo it up in a minute…Caen, McCabe and Delaplane—I’ve seen their stuff, they’d write an editorial on it, page one…just like on the Alcatraz takeover or Attica…shit, it’s getting even colder, why doesn’t it rain and get it over with? None of this half-ass drizzle business back home…

          In any case, from here on, the Van Ness abyss shifted abruptly to the last vestiges of fabled Auto Row. Once-lavish, monumental showrooms were still up and down this stretch, pillared and palmed palaces to marques the likes of Cord, Packard, Pierce-Arrow, Jordan and Hupmobile, garnished to their classic cornices with elegant, streamlined broughams, phaetons and landau cabriolets. All of upwardly mobile Northern California steered their greenbacks new and old toward such mighty chariots, these conspicuously Golden State symbols of an ever-sunny American Dream, and the grand, genteel showcases that so haughtily displayed them.  Vintage Van Ness Auto Row

          Odd that few of the lavish salons housed domestic models these days. Alfas, Beemers, Benzies, Jags and racier Italian wheels: each glass and marble mausoleum chandelier sparkled with rotating Rolls, Rovers, Bentleys and turbo Targas, along with the revolving Gold Card credit to fuel inject all those four-wheel fantasies. Eventually even some cheaper Detroit models crept over the horizon—Sevilles, Coupe de Villes, Continentals, like that. But these gilded imports left those cheesy domestic jobs somewhere west of Laramie. Not that I could manage any of these bombs, no matter what assembly line fit and finished them, or where.

          “Hey, I saw that!”

          “So I owe you…”

          “Get back here, you…” The corner grocer at Bush Street raced out of his store, headed in pursuit of a penny-ante filcher who had swiped a ripe plum in passing from one of his sidewalk produce bins. The Arab storekeep stopped curbside as the traffic light turned red, waving his arm in the most menacing of ways.

          “I’m good for it…ewphhh…” I yelled over my shoulder on the scot-free side of accelerating inbound Bush Street vehicles, getting away clean until that plum slipped loose from my shaky grasp—smashing, rolling off, collecting sidewalk grime into the gutter drain.

          No stopping there, yet at long last, Van Ness crested about Sacramento Street. But I had peaked nearer to Pine, by a lower market Volvo dealer no less, an Intercooler GLE Coupe gleaming in the show window, reminding me that home was really where my 122s was, although where that was, I was no longer sure. Only that my gut was on empty, albeit with acidic sloshing—a crankcase six quarts low, an oil pump grinding gear dry, me sucking wind and spewing toxic rain, head brickish for a good, long sleep.

          Still, where was the goddamn California sun? How the hell was I supposed to find my car if I couldn’t find my direction, and how could I find my direction if I couldn’t even find the sun? Where was it setting, where the hell was it at? Couldn’t even see the moon in this weather… where was Moon? It was getting darker and darker…all I could see was the sea of flashing neon furniture signage, tourist motels and multi-screen movie marquees. All I could sniff out were these prime-rib steakhouses with the town cars being valeted out front. Wait, that hamburger place—yeah, Hippo’s. God, that’s by Syd’s old place, meaning Lafayette Park was right up there on the hill. Sure, there was that goddamn park again…

          Visions of sugar buns suddenly puffed in my head as I approached Coastal Avenue and Donut Haven across the corner. Coming back just as quickly was the horror of that passion misplay, my rocky springtime dash around the block. I pushed ahead despite myself past Hippo’s, flashing on her former building and that perfect nearby palm tree: scene of our triangulated firefight. But forget it, Syd wasn’t there anymore, Moon was long gone…had to make my own choices, my own way. Like she said, I had to create my own space somehow, was responsible for my own life. Couldn’t worry about their games, got to mind your own game. Hah, fat chance, feeling so fucking weak—my head, it was burning up, sidewinding and whirling like Darvoned dervish—had to find something to eat. Carve me some Beef Burgundy and Tommy’s turkey wings, slop me some more St. Zita’s surprise. A little just desserts or crow, even. Where the hell are you, Sydney? Givin’ me the runaround here, this is no damn game anymore…

          “Hey chippy, lookin’ chipper, let me screw you one time, one time in the ol’ cooloo,” hooted a blathering drunk seated between a trash basket outside the donut shop and a uniformed young waitress pacing at the MUNI stop for a tardy southbound 47-line bus.

          Not me, babe, not to be: Still, I kept a watchful side eye on her as I closed in on Donut Haven, shivering sorely, picking at my neck and hand while I surveyed through its front windows. Then again, everybody around this corner was scratching and pulling away at something or another, especially inside the shop. A split-screaming monster in half-assed dragging drawers stomped about the place with a cinnamon twist; a vacant-minded visionary doted over his cruller and coffee, blindly lecturing a mother inferior kicking at him with her linoleum shoes. That high-tech wizard in the corner synthesized silicon circuits from his splintered stirring sticks: Taken together, they weren’t much, but at least they were eating, to an unlikely musical stream of Air Supply and J. Geils Band’s ‘Musta Got Lost’ on its piped around radio.

          That wolfman in there who looked like he had crawled out of a Presidio compost bin and was fixated on his devil’s food swirl? I could damn near have hit him up for the spare coins he had semicircled like a Donut HavenNavajo burial site on his orange and yellow plastic tabletop. Get me my sugar fixation, fast—a sweet glucose rush, a turbinado cane contact high—a custard core sample, plus or minus double granular blind. But moment of truth, air was what I really needed, so I stumbled away, furtively passing the anxious bustop waitress, that randy drunken mumbler by the trash can who had already nodded off, and this gray ghost of a former self who had been slinking up Van Ness from Broadway, rattling handles, door to door.

          Broadway, that had to be a greater, whiter way, a car-clogged artery to stanch the bleeding. My head was spinning with the possibility it was mainly downhill from here. Parietal Lobe burning, Prefrontal cortex pounding me senseless, I lost balance after a few halting steps, bracing against a TV fix-it storefront, then bouncing off a tattoo parlor sandwich board. Knees spongy weak, I hoisted myself further up Van Ness, steadying against each parking meter pole. A MUNI 42 Loop doused me in diesel fumes, on top of all the stale drifter and dog piss.

          Trembling, sweaty, I shuffled along a vaguely familiar driveway gate, hitting a rough stone block wall before crankling to the reverential front steps of…St. Brenda’s. Yet where were the reciting schoolkids, what about the strictly praying nuns? Locked, closed up tighter than a high-holy tabernacle. Catholic churches were supposed to be open, dammit…Christ, open up your goddamn doors!

          When I couldn’t stand for it any longer, I dropped in a heap on the cold concrete front staircase, back against the church’s massive, filigreed steel main doors. Crap, it was chewin’ me up, I could feel it viscerally—my gut chompin’ down my gullet, kidneys soppin’ up my liver, bladder devouring my jejunum and duodenum, bowels sucking up my a-hole, all the way down—with tapeworms on a thankless tear, eating up the organ progression like coyotes at a fat, fallen calf. Achingly angry, refluxing all kinds of noxious bile, I swept a crushed flip-top Winston pack away. The cigarette box opened at it tumbled down the steps, two bus transfers and a matchbook popped out onto the sidewalk. Empty, shit, I snorted, coughing up some residual tar and nicotine from aeons ago, could have about used a crush-proof smoke myself, knowing that, once planted, the nicotine jones never really went away.

          Except then I noticed something poking out of the box, the creased corner of some small, rolled-up paper, slightly keyed by the amber streetlight above. Given everything that had gone awry on this block, the least I could have done was not become a litterbug, too. So I slid down the seven mist-slick stairs, reaching for the Winston box as if plucking it from one of those Y Hotel commodes. Out fell that tight little roll the moment I poised to jump shoot the pack and its detritus into the corner trash basket.

          A tender, finely etched face peered at me from the sidewalk, real distinguished like, all but commanding me to unfurl the roll. Basically green and silver, the paper revealed itself as a Federal Reserve Note—with with the penetrating eyes of a bushy maned Andrew Jackson, his sterling presidential image framed by the number two-zero—feeling a bit powdery to the touch. Couldn’t have been more unlikely, couldn’t have been more current: I glanced around me for anyone who might be swooping in to retrieve the box and/or the bill. Nobody, nowhere to be seen—I held the double sawbuck up to the streetlight, suspecting it was counterfeit or bank serial-stamped, second glancing about for candid security cameras. Free and clear, so in my side pocket it went, as though I were a six-grader shoplifting some dime store’s candy bar.

          I leaned against the lightpole and heaved with circumspect relief, images of supermarkets sprawling before me, vast buffets of sirloin and Denver omelettes, mushrooms and stringy Gouda and AA’s, extra large. Shaking, clutching my pants pocket, I swiveled around, gazed about—still nobody in sight to take it all away.

          Rallying, speculatively so, I digested my nouveau riches, realizing my capital gain—to where I saluted St. Brenda‘s ornate Greek Orthodox archway and testamental spires, then turned gamely toward Broadway. No near-death spiral, no billboards, no bullshit, I was just looking for a more positive sign. The pedestrian light flashed white, and I strutted northbound on Van Ness. There had to be a sliced pizza or sub shop somewhere up by the Lombard corridor—think replenishing under pressure, refueling on the fly. Maybe further into the frizzle on a fuller gullet, I’d grab Syd’s envelope, even go so far as to reunite with my car.

          Whichever—from here on, it should be a regular walk in the park…

Care for more?

Chapter 65. The drumbeat of exotic 
tribal rhythms inspires deeper digs into 
prickly personal matters: guy stuff—at 
least until scales and a distaff side weigh in…