“Off in different
directions at varied speeds,
“It was like he didn’t even exist…”
“So maybe in his own mind, he didn’t.”
“C’mon, how many Rallimores could there be in Marin County?”
“Sonoma, actually, but it sure sounds like the kind of pot best left unstirred. Here, try the kind never best left unsmoked…”
Needed an out, had to blow town, cut loose, break free from the local yoke, from becoming the loco joke. That mental health clinic had been closed for a conference, with a door sign and ledger that instructed clients and patients to leave a contact phone number. I had none and no patience for wait lists, so off I went, the evening from there on being a terrible, forgettable blur. Morning next, I had scribbled out Syd’s PBT proposal on an Aquatic Park picnic table, roughly titling it ‘The Golden Touch: Your Bridge to Everything Good’, then MUNI busing down to the Central Y Hotel to type out the three-pager on one of their pay-time IBM Selectrics, with no prospect of staying over there again.
What I still couldn’t deliver was Josh Gravenek’s package—clueless as to where that thing was hiding—so I had quietly slipped a sealed brown envelope under her lobby door enroute up to PBT’s Pacific Heights branch. At long last, Uncle Dellis’s check had cleared, as had skies across the Golden Gate Bridge. With a new battery and refilled tires, the regenerated Volvo carried me around Doyle Drive, over a foggy deck, up Highway 101 north like one of those jetliners climbing to cruising altitude.
The Waldo Grade afforded rubbernecker views of The City scape, an outbound Princess cruise ship and inbound Far East freighters, those bridge towers popping up through the remaining fog like cinnamon wafer sticks in a whipped cream sundae. San Francisco vistas and these calico headlands soon disappeared altogether through Waldo’s rainbow tunnel as I steered over to Marin’s slow lane, horned off by Ross and Tiburon/Belvedere-bound Benzes, if not tour busses doing the Sausalito swing.
“But his kid’s hanging by a thread back there, Tony…”
“Well if so, a man don’t do that, alright.”
“Nooo, for sure, a guy can’t disown his own flesh and blood… especially not some high-falutin lawyer like that.”
“Especially since it turns out Gary didn’t make it.”
At tunnel’s end came the other side of paradise. I had free fallen some 70 m.p.h. down the Waldo’s backside, counting off a string of cliffside mansions dotting summer golden hills, and snug yacht harbors along Richardson Bay tidewaters. I rolled down Redwood Highway past battened seaplanes, Sausalito houseboats and winding shoreline trails, soon leveling off to Strawberry strip malls, Persian rug outlets, diamond exchanges, import motors showrooms and hot tub centers lining frontage roads all the way through San Raphael, up to the 580/Richmond interchange, San Quentin looming hard-time penitentially nearby. Wanted me nothing to do with anything to do with that place…
From there, I could have easily gone a lusher, leafier Sir Francis Drake Boulevard route to the coast. Instead, I’d V-lined due north like a stray dog out the pound, radio blasting Eddie Money’s ‘Two Tickets’ and AWB’s ‘Pick Up the Pieces’, a warming breeze through opened door windows as I cruised past Hamilton Air Force Base and the flatter land suburban sprawl of greater Novato.
The plan: Dybbukin’ all over the North Bay for a free-range spell, sleeping all around. But my gas gauge sank into fumes and fuel-poof territory just short of Sonoma County, so I finally sputtered into Petaluma, ‘Egg Capital of the World’, a riverside heartland of a town with Spanish touches, a socialist heritage and colorful Mesa Boogie hippie edge.
I’d briefly drifted into downtown, sunned in a couple of palm-studded parks, vegetated for an afternoon or so. Gassed up on Two Stiffs self-serve, I soon spent a couple of nights car-sacking in a shady spot along Old Redwood Highway upwards of Cotati. There I nursed a Lucky longneck in some hayseed hipster hangout by night, waking up roadside to Chevron ablutions, bountiful truck-farm produce stands, then a fresh egg and slab breakfast back at Petaluma’s Three Cooks Eats. Comfort zone: I was getting right familiar with the small-town feel of ‘good ol’ Chickaluma’, its frontier Victorian storefronts and homegrown rock ‘n’ roll vibe, the colorful legacy Eastlake and Queen Anne Vicky neighborhoods a short walk away.
Yet it was a brass plaque on downtown’s prestigious iron-front McNear Building that had caught my roving eye. ‘Law Offices of Rallimore & Rallimore’— top top floor, top drawer—this had to be Gary’s father, as least one of them anyway. I may have had no idea where to scare up Moon’s friend Denise up here, but doing Nate Grimaldi’s bidding was something I could manage to pull off. Trouble was, the trudge up three plush-runnered flights landed me a stonewall reception. I relayed Gary’s plight, and a grandmotherly office manager patched through a couple of sotto voce extension calls. Never heard of him, she told me in guarded response, already showing me the door, wherein I couldn’t help noticing a photo portrait that closely resembled the Gary I recalled. Still, the prim, gracefully aged receptionist insisted that neither brother had left any former family behind anywhere. Then she asked why I’d want to be snooping around town about something like this, whether I knew what might come of it if I persisted. I did, so I no longer did—that was that.
“Say what?! Where did you hear…”
“Natorious told me so, called the other night. Said he was like, among those at Gary’s bedside when they pulled the plug.”
“Christ, had no idea…” I was stunned, taking a measured toke, staring off into a cluster of native shade trees.
“Hey, snap to, Heebert,” Tony Panescus took the blunt off my hands, fastening it to a rawhide braided roach clip. “You’ve got to shake it off, roll with the gut punches.”
“It’s just beyond me that his ol’ man could blow me off like that under the circumstances, whichever brother it was…but they’re a heavy duty goddamn law firm, so I did what I could…”
“But you’re still kickin’, ain’t you—and out here now,” he leaned in to draw deeply of some Mendocino verde. “So you gotta nut up and take it like man…”
Instead, I had chickened out of the Egg Capital, headed for greener bovine and poultry pastures. Topped off with a temporary DMV pink slip for the Volvo and bag of humongous French chocolate donuts, I skimmed out of Petaluma on Bodega Avenue, past chicken processing plants, dairy and veggie/berry farms, to a Jerry-Jeff and Willie radio tune. Holsteins grazed in white railed pastures, across wide open, rolling gold hills creviced with scrub green brush—miles of sea breezy breathing room along a winding two-lane ribbon that rollercoasted down into a general store/B&B couplet at the scenic Route 1 T intersection with Olema.
“Think of that whole deal as the price for chasing this California Dream, you know,” Tony said, blowing smoke like eighth-take Dennis Hopper. “It’s about leaving all that negative crap behind.”
“Dunno about that, but guess it’s paid off up there,” I said, scanning out toward the North Bay’s most prominent peak. “In your case, too…”
“No shit, Sherlock. Mount Tam’s a whole lot better than looking at the stockyards and brown brick slums,” he shot me a crooked glance. “Whew, you been campin’ out, or what?”
“What, me? Nope, just out on the road, kickin’ it,” I said, suddenly mindful of a two-day growth, my sleep-pleated flannel and 501s. “You know, trying to pick up all the pieces…”
Olema’s National Park HQ had looked inviting as hell, but by then, Point Reyes Station was more my speed. A quick blast of coffee at the Station House Cafe, and I hitched the Volvo to a corner spot outside Station’s wild west saloon. Even over the steel guitars and bluegrass fiddling, I could hear a pair of ink-bleeding wretches in from the Point Reyes Light newsroom, spread out over the barnwood bar. They were comparing notes on some mind-control hi-jinx at a compound up above Tomales—Synanonomous with splittee beatings and live-in member disappearances from a statewide addiction rehab empire—couldn’t be something Denise’s speed, right? A cult ruled by an explosive former alcoholic martinet, that was said to have become increasingly violent and corrupt: The emerging scandal was all over the evening news—strange happenings all right, even for rural West Marin. Some prize local scoop that could be, if anybody bothered to read this throwaway rag.
Being no second rounder, or one for long-hair hoedowns, I had settled up and split to scout out a dark clearing just west of town, near the foot of Tomales Bay. I parked the Volvo to pull another all-nighter behind the wheel, that saloon’s Lefty Frizzell guitar riffs still ringing in my ears. Waking to roosters and restless cattle, I drove out Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, alongside the slender bay to a small, one-launch resort hamlet named Inverness. Must have been a hundred rallye motorcycles there: Ducatis, Triumphs, Beezers and Beemers cooling down around a small blue cottage turned local hot house for country omelets and fries. When the fully-leathered Riders fired up in faired unison for a Bodega run, I was all but shaken off Maggie’s porch, weary brain scrambled worse than my basic bacon and eggs.
What had eventually eased and stabilized my vital signs was a long midday venture out Point Reyes’ Limantour Road, several quiet nights’ rest in some mid-park hostel, then long, fog-cleared, cat-tailed, croaking frog pond hikes on the Limantour Spit Trail toward Drakes Estero. There I hoofed it out among renewed Tule Elk, spotting gray whales out on the vast blue ocean beyond, at least until I could run away no farther. This moment of truth took me back to the brink of the Connemara where, after a long ago Ireland summer of bumming and barn lofting, I reckoned it was time for what best be called a personal you-turn.
“Well, just don’t go to pieces in the process…”
“I hear you,” I nodded, having no idea what he meant by that. “So, how long you been out here, Tony?”
“Goin’ on 17 months, twelve days—lessee, six and a half hours since I left Chicago,” Tony checked his Casiotron clone. “Soon as my pal Waddy at the Conrad Hilton set me up with this gig, I grabbed the first flight out of O’Hare—left behind everything but a suitcase.”
“Last time I saw you on Rush Street, you were dodging Lila and her process servers…”
“I totally beat that rap,” Tony handed me a fresh twist top Dos Equis from its cardboard six-pack holder. “Chick got to be bad news, man—zero. I let her to sort it all out—pig’s got nothing better to do. I’m just glad we never did the marriage trip. Tell you one thing, I left her everything, and she’s not got dime one more outta me since I split.”
“Think I recall Nate once saying you cold-cocked her the night before you took off, slid her nose over a couple of inches…”
“That’s just Natorious layin’ it on with a trowel since the bar went belly up,” he popped a top and toasted me. “Anyway, it’s dead history, far as I’m concerned.”
“Sure, Tony, like I said, only trying to fit things all together. I heard he was really pissed Lila kept calling him, accusing him of aiding and abetting you.”
“Fuckin’ Natorious, still back there livin’ his Twelve Bar dream,” Tony swallowed hard. “He oughtta wake up, get his ass out here—it’d clean his head real fast…”
“Little late for that, I guess—with his kid situation and all…”
“Well, we know what can be done about a little mix-up like that.”
There was a lot of Ireland around here, the sparkling shores and drop-dead coastal bluffs. After a rest stop in Stinson Beach, sucking down orange juice and bananas with the surfers and baggy boarders, I had chugged up Route 1 to the Panoramic Highway, leering over my shoulder at every rising turn and switchback, toward the ocean and grand strand left below. Having sliced between Green Gulch and Dias Ridge, wheezed over the twisting, mossy wooded hump beyond Bootjack, I drafted down to the hillside homes of Mill Valley, catching snippets of the distant San Francisco skyline between thickets of redwoods and pine. Another caffeine jolt at the old train station bookstore/cafe, and I wound down off my panavision high, out of sweetwater cool Mill Valley until Blithedale Avenue hit Camino Alto toward the bazaar commercial clutter of Tam Junction.
Bad form on the Rallimore front, but I had to regain some semblance of function. So I took Tony up on that home phone call from a HoJo vestibule in the heart of Tamalpais Valley. Get your butt up here, he crowed, which prompted me to gun past the Junction gas convenience stations, redwood burl stores, crafts stands and pull-out produce trucks along Shoreline Highway, climbing and winding through lower-lying commuter bandboxes, Starship’s ‘Ride the Tiger’ turning to ‘Keep on Rockin’ Me Baby’ Steve Miller drivel on the static strained AM radio. With altitude came more big, hot houses and crystal palaces about Marin’s dry golden hills, rustic fence posts tacked with roadside posters for Eckankar, Synergetics and consciousness-raising clambakes. Snaking up between horsetrails and tiny cowlick pastures, my own mood was elevated by all the lee cliffside hideaways tucked in cool sprays of pine, cypress and weeping willows.
“Couldn’t tell you, Tony,” I replied, sipping in kind. “It’s not like my exit from Chicago was a whole lot more graceful…”
“Dig it, but that was then, right? Shit, there I was, sweatin’ to clean up the Twelve Bar mess, when they offered me the maintenance engineer job out here at the Hilton, biggest goddamn hotel on the West Coast. Mostly electrician stuff—I was all over it, would have scrubbed toilets, if that’s what it took…”
“Blues bar czar to little blue Tidy Bowls, hell of dream,” I said, the cervesa now going down like Torreon tapwater. “Then again, look where it got you…”
“Not right off, I did some hard time in the beginning,” Tony said, leaning back in his chaise lounge, brew in hand. “Took a bare-wall studio on the edge of Chinatown. First couple of months were pretty bleak—winter cloudy with not enough rain. It was work, work, work, then I’d pick up a bottle of Lancer’s Rose on the way home and read Gibran stuff until I nodded off. Me, read—unbelievable, no tube, no tunes, no furniture, nothin’.”
“Still, you were doing a whole lot better than I am these days…and you’ve got all this going now…”
Marin Drive had soon forked into Marin Lane, natural wood, glass-walled extravaganzas spilled down down both shoulders with little solid foundations in fact. Stepped, stilted, wedged or cable suspended, these palatial dream homes defied social convention as well as gravitational pull, teetering precariously with their skylights and solariums, flipping off the heavens as if built on Gibraltar instead of lookout mudslide mountain. Up here, on Drives like Starling and Flamingo all the way to Coyote Ridge, the high point was a two vanity-plated BMW carport with the glorified Craftsman homestead tucked quietly underneath, purview solely of neighbors on yonder hill. Immerse that carport in rampant manroot and ironweed, pile any trimmings neatly next to the firewood, to bedroll a big, lazy chocolate Lab—that was marvelous seclusion.
For hereabouts, drive-by thrill snoopers got only rooftops and mysterious drop-off stairways, unmarked mailboxes all in a row. I could barely stay focused on the sinuous lane, craning for glimpses of Tam Valley, the Tiburon Peninsula and Richardson Bay that peek-a-booed behind redwoods and wild huckleberry around every turn. Still I had caught enough vistas to grasp that Marin took Boulder’s hillside spreads one further, wrapped them in lusher Fritillaries and Nasturtium, fashioned them into environmentally correct eyries, occupied by demographically, if not anatomically correct nouveau wastrels and speculative mortgagees.
“But you gotta go through it, Heebert, a guy’s gotta sweat out the sludge,” he said, sun beaming down on his ‘Here Today, Gone to Maui’ Hawaiian shirt and blue cord Ocean Pacific baggies. “I don’t regret those Chinatown days, no way…had time to get my head together, learned how to survive on my own, man–cook up some chili and franks—make it without the apron strings…”
“Sure, but how do you square…” I could hear a hi-fi inside, auto-reversing from Aerosmith to Tom Waits’ ‘Nighthawks At the Diner’.
“Listen, do your own thing for a while, make your own damn way here. Comin’ off a bummer’s the best time for it. Just keep thinkin’ positive, no matter what…”
“Easier for you to say, Tony…” I grabbed some munchy nachos from a Frito’s bag.
“I’m serious, after Lila, I had to get off that drug. Like, how the ol’ lady’s always doin’ your clothes, feedin’ your face, pattin’ you on the ass—a guy gets real hooked on that stuff. I was, sure as shit. But that’s what you gotta do, man, break that chick addiction, or they’ll keep eatin’ you up, doggin’ you down. Just get your own place, do some cookin’, ironin’—the whole Lone Ranger trip. That way, you start it all over, turn your whole thing around. What choice you got now, anyhow?”
“Choice…right…but what do you know about my…”
“Natorious laid the whole scene on me, how you’ve been clingin’ to two skirts at once. Perfumed poison, man—shake it off, learn to survive and live without ’em. That’s why you gotta spend a little time with yourself, take some of your own lumps, focus on where everything’s really at. Eventually, you’ll get it together enough so you won’t scare off the good stuff—you know, somebody right.”
“Uh, Tony, no offense,” I squirmed in an upright lawn chair. “But I really don’t think you have enough of a handle on my situation to…”
“OK, step back, Jack. I’m just sayin’ that it can’t hurt to fly solo awhile, might save you more crashes later on.”
“Yeah, well, I’ll take that under advisement…” I tuned into Nighthawks track bouncing from ‘Warm Beer and Cold Women’ to ‘Better Off Without a Wife’.
“Whatever works,” Tony toasted, bagging some chips of his own. “You’re the one with all the diplomas…”
Ecologically, his roost was fit and a half. All I could see from Marin Lane was a wood-burned burl address sign poking out of leather leaf fern and tangled, creeping hibiscus. Hummingbirds, wrens and warblers flitted from iris to lilac, then winged onto a low, obscured shake roof with the bluebirds in deference to fat, feeding bumblebees. I had paused over one long, last bay vista at road’s end that unfurled clear to Napa and Vallejo, before parking across from his short two-car driveway. I’d inhaled the deep penetrating balm of eucalyptus, agog at how his place tucked so snugly between redwoods and pine, then heard debut Journey, side one as I pushed through the ivied picket gate, along a curving brick walk coated with needles and cones.
Inside an oak and wrought iron front door, the ensconced house, a built-out Eichler, revealed itself to be three descending levels of hardwood panelling and window walls with a killer rear deck overlooking a garden of plum trees, baby redwoods and token dwarf palms. Magnolia trees and flaming ixora ever so gently shaded bush ferns, rock mosaics, thistle and those suspicious green plants—cooled the entire yard except for a slender shaft of sunlight keying on that tempestuous little hot tub. From this redwood deck, a straight detail of Mt. Tam in the distance was framed by cocoa palms and sequoia.
Still, the demographics were somewhat skewed here: one minor pock on paradise. Everything else was so excruciatingly right, any thrill seeker worth their voyeurism could positively primal scream. And here was this Chicago joker in his Ala Moana special island shirt, splitting chest hairs over his little chained silver spoon and comparative quality of life. After some obligatory reconnecting and catch-up over cold Dos Equis, we had meandered into my misread of matters Rallimore, then this.
“Maybe so, but that doesn’t help me understand how you got from there to here…”
“Hard work, Herbert,” Tony said, after swigging from his no-return brown bottle. “Plenty of long, hard work…”
“But the Hilton pays this well?” I set mine down on a redwood burl coffee table.
“Hah, I wish. Takes real ambition, my man—pushin’ hard, workin’ edges on the side…”
“I’ll bet, can’t imagine this stuff comes cheap…”
“Naw, livin’s not cheap here at all, that’s for damn sure. It’s just that life is cheap—everything in Marin is hyper-inflated except the people, they come five for a quarter. Plus, my rollin’ pin helps out some, know what I mean?”
“Rolling pin, I…”
“There she is now,” Tony snapped, to the beeping of a car horn outside. “Name’s Cindy, my… housemate. Soon as I met her at Henry Africa’s everything clicked, bein’ we’re about the same age—you know, 29. She was fixing to leave her North Beach crib, and landed this set-up as a second sublet—from some engineering professor on a sabbatical world tour. Her first roommate split for Santa Barbara at the last minute, and she needed somebody to chip in on rent. So I jumped on it, just like that…”
“…Jumped on her, just like that…” I glanced away from that image, again out toward Mt. Tam, that soaring ridge, the highest point in Marin County, now shadow green with gold splotchy meadows at its base, topped by huge golf ball radar globes, first line of western defense. Defense, early warning, surprise attacks: they were such distant notions here in greater nirvana, but then so were the remnants of trained Ack-Acks and combat boots.
“Yah, rent ain’t easy, man…$1,200 a month,” Tony said, perking up at some rustling outside the front door. “But she makes good bucks as a paralegal down on Montgomery Street, and her ex-husband left her with hefty alimony and a 280Z. Plus there’s some family money, so I just pitch in, best as I can.”
“Sort of like housesitting,” I nodded, cringing at the thought of how that had worked out , vis-a-vis Sydney and me. “That way, I guess you’re not exactly in over your head with all this…”
“Let’s just say, I am takin’ care of business all around—a little THC, a little TLC, with a little toot on top—that’s TCB, dig?”
“Gotcha, Kemo Sabe, but what about chick addictions and flying solo…”
“Been there, did that—time came to come out the other end,” Tony re-fired his reefer and inhaled, roach clip braids wrapped around his palm. “Besides, this deal’s totally different. Cindy’s not a sweat hog, she’s a stone fox…”
“Not like Lila,” I asked, this hitting too uncomfortably close to home. “Talk about the power of positive thinking…”
“It’s called tradin’ up, Herbert. There are all kinds of lonesome chicks like this out here,” Tony rankled, popping up to straighten his hang-loose shirt. “Dolled up and set for life, plenty ripe for the pluckin’…”
“Hel-lo, Toneman, little help,” sang a soprano voice, in through the squeaking, iron-knockered front door.
“Right there, bun…” Tony propped his Sergio shades atop a blow-dried, diminishing wave.
“Bun?” I followed him toward the front room, grabbing my beer and the nacho bag.
“As in cinnamon bun, all right,” Tony whispered, over a Cr02 Dolby cassette auto-reverse shuffle to ‘Silk Degrees’. “It’s an in-house thing…”
Cindy Carpenter was a tallish, straight-haired south coast Blonde, tan to the toenails, athletic as hell—likely the most beautifully agreeable visage to cross the Chicago greaseball’s coordinates outside the sticky pages of his fold-out magazines. Her personal charms and genetic assets were clearly beyond question; her gravitation toward Tony Panescus an open question entirely. Full yellow tank top, tight pink Adidas shorts, bottom end like that chick in the tennis poster, holding her tired left…bun: Cindy had grown up near Montecito, bailed out of Berkeley, spun in and out of a whirlwind marriage, dropped out into North Beach with paralegal training and a perfectly retrousse nose to blow. This apparently was about the time Tony came in.
The home’s bright, spacious living room burgeoned with sectional sofas and tall walnut bookcases to either side of a massive flagstone fireplace and ceramics filled redwood mantel. Picture windows converged at the far corner, overlooking the backyard wilds and the uppermost of Mt. Tam’s Middle Peak. Giant rubber plants and ficus overgrew the entire room; two brass dove cages hung near both windows, chained to vaulted ceiling beams cresting directly over the sofas. But something didn’t jive here—no doves, no hookahs nor Marley posters, sheets all over the furniture, walls solid with modern art, bookshelves crammed with hardcover classics, engineering manuals, professional journals, and electro-magnetic abstracts. While the Tony I knew was hard pressed to get through a Popular Mechanics or Penthouse Forum; place reeked of temporary quarters.
“Here, hon, I liberated your suit at the dry cleaners,” said Cindy, handing Tony a clear plastic garment bag. “Let’s unload the groceries so I can get cooking and you can change into your duds. Crowd will start coming in no time. Hi there, you’re…”
“An old pal from my Chicago days,” Tony held up the bag for spot inspection as she reached out to firmly shake my hand. “He just got out here recently…”
“Ken,” I nodded, holding and shaking a second or two too long, like she was a wet-combed Farrah Fawcett. I then glanced at Tony, hanging up a three-piece Lee Rider leisure suit, and could only picture him at Nate’s Northside pad in black work pants and a sweaty wife-beater, grooving on ‘Let It Bleed’. “Pleased—can I help?”
“Sure, why not, just pop up the fastback hatch out there,” she blew a wisp of bangs out her eyes, leading me out to the burnt-orange Datsun. “Midwest, huh? The old country, Capone—never been, or east of the Lake, for that matter. I’m genetically a California girl…”
“Can’t blame you,” I followed closely, seeing Cindy on every Beach Boys album cover I’d ever wet dreamed over on frigid winter days. “It can be pretty dark and dirty compared to…this.”
Lugging two Trader Joe’s bags into their kitchen, I caught the second verse of ‘Lido Shuffle’ on the high-end McIntosh-Mark Levinson stereo. Tony had already cleared some counter space, setting aside a nibbled away tray of stoneground crackers and diced cheese, a several bottle selection of other import lagers—how far he’d come from our Wrigleyville Blatz blasts and half-gallon Meister Braus. He slammed the door of an avocado green refrigerator, tub of guacamole in hand, and directed me to set the shopping bags on a tiled countertop coordinated with the rest of the designer kitchen.
“Thanks so much, Ben,” Cindy smiled, plopping two more bags on the counter, already unpacking them, quickly turning away to beckon Tony to join in.
“Uh, no sweat, we’re even,” I said, starting to pick at the gouda and Monterey Jack cubes. “I’ve never been into Tahoe or Yosemite…”
“Oh, you’ve got to go…” She gestured to Tony to separate the fresh fruit and salsa cans from the pre-prepped paella and eggplant parmesan, then winked at him to clean up his act for the evening’s festivities. “I’ll take care of the rest, dear—you’d best go shave and upgrade your threads.”
“You bet, dear,” grinned her suddenly docile housemate, who shrugged my way as he scooted his huaraches toward that sharply pressed suit.
“Oh, and sweetie, don’t forget you’ve some chopping to do…” She shot me a deeming eye.
“How could I forget my little chore, dear,” Tony smiled, then nodded at me to revisit the rear deck.
“Uh, think I’ll finish my beer out there and do just that,” I muttered, leaving my reply as open-ended as Cindy’s El Capitan slight. Busy as she’d quickly become, the interpretation was mine to misconstrue.
Boz crooned on to ‘Lowdown’ when I shuffled back through sliding glass doors. But late-afternoon shadows had cooled the deck, my Dos Equis had gone warm and flat—then their guests started to arrive. Before I knew it, I could peek in at a blur of tan, sun-glassed, plunged-front sirens in revealing scarves and veils, aloe-vera starlets in Peruvian gypsy prints, sheerly hot sun dresses hiked up and hanging down. Real women didn’t dress like this, I thought, then again real women didn’t look this good, glowing like group-rate Bo Dereks, already sipping chardonnay and chablis like blessed nectar, yellow poppy, twinberry and Seep Monkey flowers in their hair. Toreador boleros with sequined velvet trim; bone white, pastels here and there, but most everything else in varying shades of muslin. Embroidered collars turned up, stitched to tight pocket jumpsuits snug with stretch-band waists, flared inseams dropping to spiked heels, woven sandals or glove leather Birkenstocks.
Blond, bearded Fords and Chevys sauntered in wearing linen drawstrings and flowery designer Hawaiian shirts, shaking out their shag cuts—nodding to straw dogs in Egyptian cotton jackets, Panama wide brims and Puma tennies. Swelled-belly gigolos swaggered in with their shiny open-collared shirts, hopsack slacks and nautical brass belt buckles, curling their walrus mustaches toward white sheathed tables of veggie/fruit platters and a banquet of store-bought canapes and hors d’oeuvres. Some players pulled Zodiac and biorhythm charts out of shoulder bags for openers, Club Med snapshots to carry any conversation from there.
The rest were patch-pocket Banana Republic safarians in from the foothills, the silk roads, the hang-loose cliff dwellings up and down the coast. Scores of would-be musicians, writers, producers, directors and artists in the making, meanwhile keeping afloat on a sea of real estate and drugs, gateway to grateway. Tony’s house got more crowded and clamorous by the minute, everything stridently mellow, calculaid-back, while posturing peacocks passed around fat Kona Gold doobies and cleansing bottles of Perrier. Not a few were name dropping on the Grateful Nation’s Deadhead invasion of Egypt, to rock Gizah’s floodlit Sphinx and pyramids, along with Bedouin tar drummers and a Nubian Youth Choir, all in the name of concepetual art and cosmic harmony.
Who were these people, free-floating out of my league, I so fretted, draining the Dos Equis, reaching to cover over my odorous flannel and denim with X-crossed arms. I negotiated through a squall of hash pipes and perfumed cigarettes, occluded fronts of cumulus cannabis, suddenly seeing everyone here as slicker than merely stylish, but beyond me in any event. Too smooth to handle, impossible to grasp and hold—something of a predatory pleasure trip, tinted sunglasses masking disdain and intentions—lots of gold chains and preternaturally altered brains. I squeezed around a streaked brunette in pink Bali embroidery and a macrame ankle bracelet, dancing in ballet-inspired slippers to ‘Midnight At the Oasis’, aiming for the avocado kitchen.
“They’re Cindy’s friends mostly, scorin’ on these primo digs while they can,” Tony sniffed, chopping away at a parquet cutting board. “I’m just along for the ride.”
“Yeah, well that’s just great, Tony,” I said, looking about for a back door out. “But I’m not exactly dressed for the occasion. So I think I’d better be heading out—you know, like back to The City…”
“I dig, pickin’ up more pieces, huh,” Tony sat there at the kitchen table, razor-blading out long, neat white lines in his lime green disco shirt and napkin white leisure suit, like some Gregorio Valente on the Gulf Shores Riviera.
“R-r-right, thanks for the hospitality and good words, by the way…”
“That’s cool—we’ll do this again some other time, Herbert, you can try out the hot tub,” he taste-tested a bit of snow. “I ain’t goin’ nowhere anytime soon…”
“Hi, dear,” Cindy suddenly ducked her flowing blonde tresses in the kitchen door, now into a sunny little dress of her own. “What’s for dinner?”
“Oh, the usual prime cuts, sweetheart,” Tony smiled, blowing her a kiss. “Coming right up…”
“Mah-velous, my darling…” With that, she was back to the action, carafe of chablis in hand, ignoring me altogether.
“Sooo, what’s with the lovey-dovey routine?”
“Aw, it’s her idea, just a little domestic role game we play. She says it makes her feel more to home,” said the erstwhile greaser, sniffing, modestly chagrined. “Look, I never dreamed of having this—and I’ll keep it goin’ however I can, for as long as I can, whether I can afford it or not…”
“Can totally understand that, Tony.” Who wouldn’t under these circumstances, I thought—besides, what did I know about it? “And I’ll take your advice real seriously, believe you me…”
“Cool, ’cause I’m hip to your situation, man,” he grinned, rubbing his nose, preparing to serve the living room. “We Chicago bros gotta stick together. Like with Chris and Gary our age, goin’ down that way. So if you’re flyin’ solo and need anything, let me know. Just don’t come by the hotel askin’ around anymore, ring me up here. I gotta keep that Hilton gig together awhile…”
“Gotcha. Hi-Yo Silver, away…” With that, I slipped out a side door, eyeing Tony as he delivered some Champagne powder to the party, now ‘Shame’-fully dancing to Evelyn Champagne King.
My ears popped, nose ran on the Marin Drive descent, head spinning like a cock-eyed gyroscope curve to tangled curve. The plan was to coast down Shoreline Highway to 101, then limp across the bridge. Given Tony’s high-wired to-do, I couldn’t wait to get back down to The City demons I knew; but given everything else up here in Marin, maybe I could.
Anyway, I was beer/bud nodding off into Tam Junction, and had no more stomach for chemical stimulation, however convenient it may have been around here—much less for a pullover from the CHP. So I wheeled the Volvo into that Howard Johnson’s parking lot under fogging cover of darkness, settling in a far, darker corner between two roadside produce trucks locked down for the night. Sliding into my Frostline bag, straddling the front bucket seats, I fiddled with my FM dial, landing on KTIM, namely a ‘Kick Back’ track from former Clover singer/harmonicat, Huey Lewis—a local Marin fave rumored to be chord changing into jazz-funk with his American Express Band.
Good for him, I thrashed, even though I myself had little to mellow out about, here in the shallows of Tamalpais Valley. Really, what the hell was all that? This Chicago scuzzball turned rock czar turned pisser scrubber telling me to be a man about it, go it alone like a charter signatory to the Declaration of Independence, then rolling over into a fox jumping, boy-toy Beaver Cleaver role playing. Nut up or shut up, grow some or go home, my ass—how about carrying a big stick, walking the talk? Sounded like an implausible delusional disorder, but who were you to judge? And that Rallimorass—how could a man do something so weasel callous and cowardly like…that…ah, r-r-right…but don’t overthink it, just make the damn jump…
That sobering dos-a-dos drained any cognitive energy I had left. So I began to doze off kicking and screaming to KTIM’s Kinky Friedman lullaby: he and his Texas Jewboys country honkin’ between ‘Catfish’and ‘They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore’. Turn ‘it up, turn it up, little bit higher, radio…’
Instead, I heard a frenetic tapping over my shoulder at the Volvo’s window and door…
Care for more?
Chapter 70. A brush with The City
sparks a race to the bottom, then
some mind bending on the curve…