“Loner one’s best friend
separate, unequal still,
such a bitter pill.”
“L’hai maucato, a sinistra!”
“Via di qui!”
Dark hours had passed, days even, yet I was still thinking things through. On the other hand, I eventually did notice something was missing. It was a bleary line of thinking that netted me back to Aquatic Park, searching like the devil for Josh’s box, and pounding out the sideswipe dent that had in fact misaligned and jammed my left rear car door. Climbing over the Volvo’s front seats, I was hell bound to find that package somewhere in there, to set things righter by Syd.
It took ensuing daylight stretches to dig, ferret, sort some stockpiled belongings out the right side doors. Debris, really: crusty clothing, filthy blankets and towels, lost traces of mutating edibles; I sifted through everything that had accumulated between Nathan’s Northside crib and the here and now. Nights were a frenetic, ham-handed smear of neural activity, only to leave me shuddering in the morning chill at the prospect that I’d somehow overlooked and left the sucker in my abandoned VW wagon back in Chicago.
Naww, couldn’t have, I alibided my time, moving aft cabin heaps forward, front floorboards’ dross and clutter halfway aft, my mitts already stiff and sore from wringing them the night before. Books stacked and teetering on the sidewalk, particularly rancid underwear were likely to dissuade any poachers eyeing my heavily yellow highlighted texts while I combed under bucket seats, overturned the rear bench cushion and reached behind its backrest, clawing in like a Bobcat at a demolition site.
Moreover, the trunk offered little beyond rusty metric wrenches, old spark plugs, a seeping oil filter, cartons of useless kitchenware, ice skates, and a bustedbumper jackbehind a punctured spare tire. Came up empty again Josh box-wise, so I proceeded to do a bit of overheated delousecleaning, inventory assessment, resource consolidation as I re-jammed what remained of my worldlys into the sedan. Just when I’d all but packed it in, the crew goaded me over to a shady spot nearer the bocci ball courts, and a lunchpail brunch of Sherry’s leftover goulash-gumbo—if, for nothing else, to give the authorities wider swath.
“Dammi quelle palle! Ti mostrero!!”
“Rompi le palle…”
“Va all’ inferno!”
The courts themselves were fully in session, side by side under that winged awning, now thick with pigeons pecking and crapping all over its corrugated fiberglass roof panels. Below those flying rats, pigeonus pensionus lined the court sides with stooped shoulders, pinched scowls and sharp staccato growls. There they be, snorting, spitting, chomping on their tiny Optimos and Toscanelli cigars in a semi-sonnambulistic stupor, squatting along shaded wooden slab benches like they were waiting for Heaven’s Elysian Express. All bundled up in bulge-pocket cardigans, rib-knit pullovers and Sunday pew-worn slacks, water-stained felt Borsalinos and quail-plumed fedoras yanked down over their tired, baggy eyes. A gathering of gumbas, along with oversoaked Dolphin Club cove swimmers weary from dodging aggressive sea lions and sewage-spewing squatter yachts. Commonality of purpose, molto benne: They were old and Italian, what better way to spend the day?
“Fuzz sure keep dickin’ around here, don’t they,” Eric noted, eyes peeled on the caravan over across Aquatic Park’s main drive, ostensibly checking on his dog.
“Tell me something I don’t already know,” said Sherry, as she dished out her re-course in separate small sauce bowls. “I mean, they’ve probably got the bocci mob over there spyin’ and rattin’ us out…”
“Mafiosos on the case, man—on-the-case,” L.T. mused, looking over the lot of us, all in our most crumpled casual rags, then grabbing for bowl one. “Why’m I not surprised, way y’all act like you do?”
“Which case,” asked Clifford, disquietly reading of the very latest overnight slaying up in Lafayette Park, front page of the morning’s Clarion—yet another brutal pounding and strangulation.
“Try that fruit gettin’ offed in the tunnel,” Eric blurted, reaching for his portion like a raw recruit in an overcooked chow line as he deflected L.T.’s jibe. “Hittin’ way too close to home…”
Yet the dons didn’t miss a shot, drifting in and out of their Federazione Italiane Bocce clubhouse with waxed cups of Lambrusco and fists full of caramel iced panettone. Huddled under the T-shaped awning, these backbench consigliere comprised the self-appointed judges and arbiters of all rules and issues bocci ball across the full six courts, eagle eyeing for any tipsy toeing over the volo line, tracking those small composition balls from board to board, living and dying with every roll and giro round—odds, T-bills and Social Security checks in the balance.
So bicker and bargain they did, arguing over every little silvery steel pallino, wagering on a backspun power play to blow a shot pattern wide open, dicker over the chances of a 50-foot point caroming off the waist-high carpeted backboard, aiming to erase a three-point deficit by finessing the reds. They’d feud over whether a line shot kissed off the left sideboard halfway down court, flick their thumbnails off their two front teeth at hedge bets the ball would bank slowly toward the cluster to pick off green #1. All but come to blows when that jack nudged the green bocce, snuggled up against red ball #1 like it was cradled in deep cotton, smoother than billiards in buttermilk.At least that was how things sounded: back and forth, roll by roll, players rightly planted to look out over our shoulders.
“Fruit? How do you know that,” Sherry asked, soundly tapping the ladle clean in the face of Eric’s stolid feedback.
“Had to be, right? With that bath house and everything,” Eric backed off, pushing aside his bowl on the park bench, leaving it halfway full. “Figure they’re…connected?”
“Who knows? It can be all for one, one for all glommed together,” Clifford ventured. Either he’d already chowed down, or had no appetite for sloppy seconds, what with the current seating arrangements, only taking a small white tablet Sherry had handed him with some green tea. “Just so they don’t think we have something to do with it…”
“Yep, better get our stories straight,” she joked, putting a finishing lid on her brunch bucket, then turning my way. “That what you think?”
“Me? I dunno, got other fish to fry right now,” I scooped the dregs of my stew bowl, having worked up a powerful hunger, easy on the Cossala comparisons and review
“What fish?” Eric belched, setting his bowl aside.
“Lox, gefilte fish—take your pick…” I stared off blankly to the park’s sun-brazed promenade and Black Point cove, belching up some gumbo brine.
Wasn’t long before ourcrew began peeling away. The police and forensics team had disbanded and shot up Van Ness Avenue like they were Mustang Frank Bullitt after some hard Charger hitmen. But lounge-chair lizards still sprawled over Aquatic Park lawns in sagging Speedos and bikinis, bagging those high sky rays. Tourists pressed in from Beach Street, from behind the ficus retusa and cypress trees, trampled out of the gladiolas and hedges with their Instamatics and fanny packs. While fat, wurbling pigeons lined up along the chain-link fence behind us like vultures on a roadside wire; and the bocci kept getting more and more bellicose. Sherry and Clifford gathered themselves to head back over to their Econoline van. L.T. watched them for a spell, then turned toward the S.S. Maritime Museum, likely preparing to lug more of Kathy’s textile crafts display boards up to her Beach Street stand.
“Just can’t keep eatin’ that slop,” Eric drew a monitory bead on his caravan once more, spotting Bruno leaping out the white 912’s sunroof to take care of business. “C’mon, I’ll pop for a real lunch…”
“St. Zita’s again,” I asked, with reflux of the worst kind. “Thanks, think I’ll pass…”
“Naw, this place’s legit, trust me…”
“That’s what she said…”Thing was, this invite sounded marginally better than car sitting through any more police sweeps, not to mention fresher eats. So we turned onadime, roughly following in L.T.’s wake along the promenade, until he suddenly ducked into the bathhouse—whether for spins or for grins—no telling from here.
“What who said?”
“Six? Take your neo-crypto-poly fascist proclivities and ram ’em up your imperialist, ultra Ku Klux Klan conservative orifices. And pick a damn number that’s at least marginally more tasteful and playable than that death dirge you’re asking for, or buzz off, Benito! I said, I don’t do Wagner, hear?”
“All right, then—number nine.”
“Number nine…number nine? Whatdya take me for, John ‘n’ Yoko? It’s tzaro-sado- masocapitalistic huns like you that’re conspiring us into this power trippin’ the whole world!”
Above and beyond the Maritime Museum, Beach Street was a clamor of sidewalk-level arts, crafts, hoodwinking and pedestrian sophistry—all geared to and aimed at dissembling lines of lost, bored, distracted and disoriented tourists. Those dawdling, unsuspecting, prime-pluckin’ sightseers converged along here from more parochial cities and hinterlands, with nothing but time and money on their hands. Truth told, San Franciscans loathed them, berated them, bemoaned their summer infestation like the tourists themselves hated mosquito season back home. If only Everybody’s Favorite City didn’t need these visitors so much: their wastrel spending, how they replenished hotel tax coffers to carry this tourism whore of a town through to pest season next.
So artless paintings, loopy sculpture, coarse sketches, laminated icons and unlimited edition prints: everything with San Francisco, Bay and bridges emblazoned or crudely plastered all over them.
Here was nothing not being peddled elsewhere about town, of course—Kathy’s intricate textile artisanry excepted. Then came less this wobbly, cartoon striped cardboard Wurlitzer before us. Capping an endless block of souvenir T-shirt shops and commercial art galleries, Mister Jukebox stood strong in the shadow of the Irish coffee-fabled Buena Vista, amid a tight crescent of tourist riders, captively queued for the next Hyde Line cable car downtown. Perdue in a rigged up refrigerator carton, he was a manic, vitriolic musical voice in the murmuring street corner crowd—a discordant, distempered Oz behind a pullied canvas window, who stopped us and a clutch of touristas stone cold.
“Ah, number eleven the man says! Sir, it’s attitudes like yours that ravaged Europe, defiled the exotic splendor of Indochina, now threatens the damn sovereignty of Central America,” raged that voice from behind the curtain. “Your CIA concocted paranoiac expansionist catatonomies which stifle The Peoples’ aspirations throughout the hemispheres—from the Bay of Pigs to the Ivory Coast!”
“Forget it, Meg—this jerk’s on dope,” muttered a Wyoming hay roper in a creased John Deere cap, his wife and other tourists cheering him on.
“Hey, don’t go away mad. That doesn’t mean I won’t play John Denver drek if you so choose. By all means, press the tab again and feed the machine. I accept all denominations, but keep your corrupt corporate plastic to yourselves.”
The routine was to push a proper cut-out tune tab on one side panel, and stuff a coin slot on the other, whence Mister Jukebox cranked up the puppet show-size window. Wrong play, wrong pay, and he skipped the beat with an emphatic rimshot, dispensing more socio-political commentary. His carton front was an out-of-control panel of painted-on knobs and selector buttons, sprinkled with celebrity snapshots. Signed photos of Herb Caen and Mayor Moscone swayed and shifted like a metronome when the number was harmonic and the price was right. Up rolled that test-patterned curtain, the music man showed his face, and it wasn’t as pretty as the requested tune. There he was, fully goggled, in camouflaged jumpsuit glory, military stars & stripes and battle patches from long-hair collar to cuffs, a cigar-butted bandoleer slung over his bony shoulder. Photo tax,yelled Mr. Jukebox, with a Rasputin stare, pointing to a designated coin slot as the rubes hooped and cameras began to click and snap en masse.
Still, the laughter froze as he broke into ‘Rocky Mountain High’, flawlessly orchestrating piccolo, trumpet and kazoo. Watching Maestro JB work in all those chimes and whistles dangling around his scrawny neck was well worth the extra quarter—how he’d fixed that turntable platter atop his Spitfire aviator skullcap, spinning a Toscanini LP around it without missing a note, then giving his Dylan harmonica a timely blow. But RMH by any other measure still evoked blissful Boulder to me, and a strap happy cable carload clanged past us up Hyde Street, so we swiftly left Victoria Park behind. Plowing past an equally light headed bunch fresh from the Buena Vista Irish Coffee bar—yeah, Irish, I could still hear those blokes at the Abbey, hashing out their booming Poppy plans. Anyway, we crossed over toward the Cannery, dodging another corner recruiting team from that blasted Universe Theatre.
“Yah, gotta watch yourself in this town, never know who’s packin’ what,” Eric said, as we passed beyond earshot of cable car bells and Mr. Jukebox’s next picky harangues. “So, what you fryin’?”
“Aww, nothing,” I said, curling around three generations of Nebraska tourist gothic, a pack of 4-H cadets in Jayhawks basketball shorts, colored Keds and striped tube socks—then two Salvadoran refugees hawking what appeared to be waxed, short-stemmed roses in clear plastic tubes. “Shouldn’t even have brought it up…”
“But you did, so spill,” he replied, buttoning the breast pocket of his green mechanic’s shirt, over what looked to be a bank slip. “That chick, right?”
“She drives me crazy,” I blurted, no more prior restraint—needed to talk—forgetting just whom I was laying this on, wary of what good could possibly come of it. “She drains me, every time I’m with her. Never fails, I’m just tapped out for days afterwards.” Yet I immediately regretted the outburst, feeling outflanked, exposed, but less like at the mental health clinic than in those public showers under the bleachers. Good thing she wasn’t here, because I sure as hell must have been whining again…
We ramped down Beach Street, sidewalk vendors, arts farts and enterprising card hustlers staking out their three-to-five foot patches, roughly two scams per concrete square. This stretch was one of The City’s last bastions of cut-throat Barbary Coast capitalism, and the competition on both sides of Beach was wearing everybody a bit thin to where some form of regulation was setting in. These hucksters were barely off the truck as it was, barely out of the Sixties, many living off-hours in the shadows of Dolores Park and Potrero Hill. The lot of them setting up stands along this no-rent Rodeo Drive for their slice of the Golden Gate goose.
Into the old Del Monte Cannery we ducked, short cutting through its center courtyard, a red-brick menagerie of local street art characters. Prowling its low, octagonal redwood stages, springing from behind old grove magnolia and olive trees were a deadpan juggler named A. Whitney Brown, this Lord Fauntleroy magician in everything but a full redingote, calling himself Hokum Jeebs, bound for network TV. Beyond that pear tree clowned a painted face Bozo in a scarecrow shirt and red-on-white checked pantaloons, blowing up cable car balloons for the munchkins. We were further entertained by bluegrass banjos and stand-up piano on our way through the flower colorfully bustling courtyard. Giddy shoppers and browsing tourists from the Cannery’s galleries and kitscheries filled scattered benches and small bleachers, ice cream in hand. All so far removed from the fruit and vegetable conveyor belt lines that once packed tin containers in here.
“Down the drain, huh? She got you snaking her pipes, or…”
“Naww, she’s an artist type, a painter. It’s like every minute I spend trying to do for her—taking her crap and carrying it. Answering her questions, solving her problems, zeroing in on her needs. Seems none of it’s ever enough, because what she’s doing at any given moment is the only thing going on in the world.”
“Your standard give-and-take. You give, give, give, she takes, takes, takes…”
“Whatever, nothing I say’s going to change anything,” I muttered, avoiding the literary airs and dark-roast aromas from that Cannery Coffee House, much less the hours spent scribbling down that damn PBT proposal. “She’s all she knows—Syd and her art, her career.”
“So why she figure she can be doin’ you that way?”
“Aww, she’s like that with everybody.” Instead, I picked up on the fresh-catch marine stench of Fish Alley, over along nearby working docks. “All these minions she’s got running around for her.”
“But why you?”
“Guess I kinda owe her—for some past history…”
Goose them, con them, play them, ream them, trick and scheme them: From the Cannery on, Jefferson Street’s tourists were ripe for the basting. Lost in their maps, seeking directions and local faves, they were being serenaded with fiddles and soft-shoe shuffles, teased and tickled by cocky mimes, seduced by fleshy bellydancers, buttonholed by fringed soothsayers and fortune tellers like Dame Thornia to beautify the everyday, walk on the wilder side, free as a seagull. But not before tipping the guitar case or Mason jar, contributing to the cause.
Grayline lemmings ate it all up: the flavored yogurt, ices, gelato, chippy cookies, caramel corn, licorice, cheese pretzels, cotton candy and saltwater taffy they could get their down-time mitts on, block by block. Underdressed bellies in T-shirts from every other stateside tourist trap, Bar Harbor to Knott’s Berry Farm, or sweats and windbreakers from every team, college and agricultural extension south of Stanford and east of the Berkeley Hills—let alone the misshapen overseas crowd. Tourists bagging tourism swag, being tourists with other tourists, easy pickings that they were.
“History? Damn,” Eric sputtered, casting about the Leavenworth Street corner and Anchorage Square. “All these fresh fish swimmin’ around, and you’re letting this piranha suck you dry…”
“She’s not a piranha,” I growled, tugging at my blue ribbed pullover—as if making up for my recent stand-down, dutifully taking up her cause. “If she weren’t so special, I’d have kissed her off long ago.”
“Special, huh? Let’s see here. Pushy, demanding, center of the universe, non-stop lackeys—not a JAP, is she?”
“No, see, Syd’s not Asian, she’s…”
“We’re talkin’ the Jewish-American variety, Horatio, plain as the nose on your face.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I injected a little plausible deniability.
“Means she’s a pampered little princess.”
“Sorry, never really heard that term before,” I wanted nowhere near this territory, particularly in the here and now. “Anyway, what would it have to do with anything?”
“Accounts for the whole deal, man,” Eric shook his head. “Believe me, I know what I’m talkin’ about…”
Fisherman’s Wharf wasn’t hurting for mug and shell shoppers either. Window after souvenir shoppe window displayed San Francisco-labeled bobbles and trinkets, pewter porpoises and porcelain whales, Limoges Golden Gate platters, Muir Woods ashtrays, redwood framed wall plaques with lacquered Rod McKuen verse, which linked lyrically with the stuffed sea birds and overstuffed Jonathan Livingston Seagull. From here on, Jefferson Street was a gaudy glut for the eyes, which explained all the sidewalk sunglass displays, Tony Bennett’s heart bleeding out of virtually every postcard-racked door between the Cannery and Taylor Street.
“As in your Aspen snow queen,” I asked warily, sensing a slight fissure in his Rocky stonewall.
“We’re talking about you,” said Eric, with a cold-eyed stare. “Just leave it that I’m hip to the terrain. Ain’t Catholic, are you?”
“Well, yeah, on my mother’s side…”
“There you go, so she’s got you all tied up in guilt and shame.”
“Hey, do you mind? We just buried her a few months ago…”
“Not your mother, man,” he snorted. “Your harpy artist.”
Beyond the Wharf’s most panderous excesses came what remained of its original mission: the few old family marine supply and cordage outfits that still actually serviced Bay fishing crews, instead of sugar tilting toward the tourists. Shell fish companies that fed nearby grottos daily, tucked between and down Pier 47’s narrow alleys, along which cleaners stacked smelly crab crates packed with bass heads and entrails for shipment to rendering houses—so many McFishwiches in the making.
The Wharf itself further afforded no-nonsense views of the genuine working flotilla: two slender docks packed beam to rubber bumpered beam with dipping, bobbing and basket loaded commercial craft. Most were cupolaed little crawlers held together with tar, wood putty, 50 lb. test wire and soggy visions of the catches got away. But given their dry rotting nets, the cracks in their prows and rudders, much less a pernicious rock cod and salmon slump, touristy photo-ops and chartered sport fishing fantasies kept the fleet and their salty crews ever so haphazardly afloat.
“Stop it, will you?! You’ve got it all wrong.” I firmed up a defensive position, this being Syd we were talking about, me still thinking things through on that score. “And she’s not a…princess, okay? She’s just smart and ambitious and going for her full potential. But if anything, she’s the one all tied up, in EST and…”
“No shit, into cult crap, too? Like with that Jimmy Jones cat.”
“I’m talking intensity,” I grumbled, “the intensity of our relationship. Hell, I’ll admit she’s yanked me all over the map. Made me feel like everybody from Nick Nolte to Alvy Singer, but…”
“Question is, why are you putting yourself through it?” Eric nodded at two passing buckskinned coeds from Humboldt State. “Hoistin’ her royal ass up on some kinda pedestal. What’s in it for you?”
“In it for me? This isn’t some kind of business transaction…” Yeah, just more tough love…for a stand-up guy like you…
With that, he led me away from the fishing industry processors of Pier 45, if not even further astray. We instead directed our attention to sourdough row, along the wall-to-wall grottos with old family dynastys like Tadsino’s, Balduso’s, Pompei’s and Castagnola’s. Lippy, street slick baritone fishmongers served up shrimp cocktails, crab and prawn walkaway delights with lemon wedges in red checker paper baskets. Gleaming glass and stainless steel cases and steam counters stood flush with fresh scallops, calamari, half-shell oysters—abalone and whole lobsters iced for the packing, along with all those loaves and starter kits of famous San Francisco bread. Three generations of grottoteurs delivered blocks of ice, crab crates, hosed down counters and walk skids, cracked Dungeness with crusty mallets. All the while they fisheye tracked the tourists—unblinking as the stacked striper heads in their refrigerated cases—as they’d clearly seen it all before, actually had it in their blood.
“Then what is it with you? Listen to me, fool,” Eric said, sneaking a couple of cellophaned oyster cracker packets from a shrimp basket as consolation prize, the split second a steamy chowder meister went stir crazy answering inane visitor questions. “Ask yourself, what do you want from her?”
“Sorry, I just don’t think of a relationship that way…”
“Bullshit, man, then what keeps drivin’ you back,” he needled, as we crossed bustling Al Scoma Way. “Less’n what’s really important is between the sheets.”
“Look, let’s just drop it, okay?!” Syd’s bedside entreaty re-struck where it hurt the most.
“Yeah, and those sheets better be silk and satin, am I right?”
“Christ, that’s the last thing…”
“Hell it is. Probably what’s got you down here in your car,” Eric winked. “So don’t tell me you’re just in love with all us and the view from Aquatic Park.”
The crackers would have to hold us past pricey Scoma’s and Alioto’s grottos, their delicious Bay view dining, let alone Carrazone’s and Joltin’ Joe’s. Rather, we fled the garlic essence of filleted mackerel and halibut or batter-fried prawns, past a hokey Ripley’s andwax museum midway, the latter featuring brand new tributes to John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. Tourists scrambled by us, bound for Bay cruises at Pier 43.5, for Alcatraz ferry and tour helicopter tickets under the Ferry Arch. Those choppers and a fleet of tugboats ushered in the S.S. Oriana ocean liner toward Pier 35, white smoke swirling from corn-colored stacks, fireboats spray welcoming her to San Francisco. But all we got were catcalls from a motorized cable carload of conventioneering ophthalmologists.
“Yah, well, your whole silken scenario stinks, if you ask me.”
“No man, what reeks is that chicks like this come across like some kind of priceless commodity a guy can’t live without,” Eric countered, pushing through a cross stream of visitors over from the Powell-Mason cable car turnaround. “Well screw their feminism, ’cause they’re really just after our bucks, our jobs. They want to castrate us, pickle our balls in a bottle, that’s what…”
“Wow, talk about paranoia,” I said, taken aback by his acridity. “One snow bunny dumps on you, and you’re ready to write off half the human race…”
“Hey, man, that don’t mean shit. Around here, we’re the big prize, okay? Well, I’m sittin’ tight with my trophy as their bio clocks tick away—yep, me and Senor Wences…”
“Or you and your dog…”
Nevertheless, all those Fisherman’s Wharf distractions delivered us unto the Embarcadero and a shiny new tourist shopping playground about ready for the ribbon-cutting, a gaudy geegaw theme park and faux driftwood experience billed as Pier 39. Basically more shirt shops and a cookie/candy arcade—souvenir and gift traps stretching like a fabricated peninsula out into the bay. One of its more notable tenants was a Hot Potato stand, if only because it was being operated by financially strapped City Supervisor Dan White and his missus. Apparently that Balclutha fundraiser was paying off, all right—they likely owned his toady butt outright by now. In any case, we passed on Pier 39’s chicanery row, shuffling a bit past Grant Street to the real San Francisco deal.
“I’m only sayin’, a guy spends his best years tryin’ to please women, suckin’ up all over town to jump in their jeans. Before he knows it, he’s hittin’ on one regular, she’s his main squeeze, understand? Got him all bound and gagged with a crib full of rug rats before he’s hip to the fact that he’s in for a life sentence. Just about then she’s raggin’ and saggin’ no end. So one night, he’s up chain smokin’ at 4 a.m., huffin’ and coughin’ on the back stoop when it creeps into his mind like a bathroom cockroach that she wanted it just as bad all along, cat fought other twats for it, needed to tie some sap down, any sap, or at least fleece him in court. I mean, who the hell needs that shit?!”
“Sorry I asked…guess that’s just not how I feel about it,” Enough said, better left unsaid. I gratefully begged off, changing the subject, to any other subject, toe tapping on a wavy, dented hardwood floor. “Sooo, how’re you swinging this lunch deal, anyway?”
“Hey, no problemo, Horatio.”
Eric’s tout was that this was the best spread north of The Pantry in downtown L.A. I had no basis for comparison beyond Dot’s Diner in Boulder, and didn’t want to ask him how did he. Not when we were seated at the counter to a meat loaf platter and petrale special respectively, washed down with two cold Anchor Steams. That would be the Original Eagle’s daily special, in a genuinely heaping hash house that had been serving waterfront dockworkers, sea dogs and stevedores since well before Prohibition days, along with a multi-collar clientele of every station and pinstripe ever since. Once a steamship ticket/waiting room,the Eagle’s aging wooden structure stood stubbornly around the curve from Fisherman’s Wharf exploitation, yet uncomfortably close to the sham-flammery of Pier 39.
Tar paper barn roof, brown tongue-and-groove slat siding, the wino-fronted haunt squinted straight out on Alcatraz and Angel Islands through breezy venetian blinds, not to mention the harbor slips and covered piers at this western edge of the Embarcadero, down here in the shadow of Coit Tower and Telegraph Hill. Smack across from the diner stood a three-masted, steel-hulled merchant clipper ship that once carried European wool, whiskey and window glass around Cape Horn to San Francisco, grain and gold rush losers back. Today the moored museum piece was but a tourist photo prop, nowhere near so lively as the Pier 35 cruise ship terminal, now fanfaring that huge, stately S.S. Oriana.
“Look, I just know I’m in no position to cover this,” I nibbled at a blue platter full of ground beef slabs, mashed spuds, green beans and butter rolls, undergirded by a chipped bakelite tray.
“Don’t sweat the small stuff,” Eric smacked, lemon wedging his sole. “So happens I’m in the process of unloading one of my Porsches…”
“No lie, which one?” I rubbed elbows with a pedicab rider on break after a Union Square to Buena Vista run, trip and tip wheeled in.
“The blue 912, took a partial deposit on it yesterday.”
“I knew something was missing over there…”
“Got the bite on a windshield note, dude came right over with cash in hand,” Eric grinned, fingering a French fry. “Said he dug my renovation. Yah, moved the heap up to the Shell Station on Bay Street until I cash out and turn the keys over.”
No renovation here, the Eagle stuck with this four stool lunch counter and elbow-to-elbow gorging on two long mess hall-style center tables, surrounded by separate linoleum-top tables along open-windowed outer walls. Along those smoke tinged walls were driftwood framed blow-ups of feluccas, tugboats and tall ships, brass bells, rusted rigging and grapnels, tattered fishnets and maritime standards, tarnished helms wheels, waterlogged life buoys, splintered tillers and rudders. A framed series of yellowed newspaper page-one accounts of past dock strikes and lockouts dating back to FDR’s first term, along with every Embarcadero parade from Panama Canal Day to Panmunjom.
What caught my eye between gravy-soaked helpings was that stuffed mountain lion over the nearside wall bar, between photos of the U.S.S Haleakala and U.S.S. Henry B. Wilson, bookending a scorched mahogany backbar with autographed Seal team portraits of Joe Brovia, Ferris Fain, Dino Restalli and Dairo Lodigiani. We stared through them and aerials of a packed Seals Stadium—before Charley Harney sacked it by conning The City into ‘Sticking its new ballpark where the sun don’t shine. Longshore regulars puffed Roi-Tans, nursed Bloody Marys out of paper Dixie cups, listening to a Giants road game from Chavez Ravine. Altogether, here was an Eagle chloroformed in San Francisco time, dripping in lore and legend like the liver and onion platters being fed through its kitchen’s short order window, and bosun’s mulligan stewing at its steam table.
“Mucho thanks, Eric—what an epic place,” I said, hoisting my long-neck Anchor Steam. “Even though I still can’t believe you’re unloading that heap so quickly…”
“Expert salesmanship, man, that a Fairfax doper couldn’t refuse,” Eric chortled, toasting me in kind. “But I wouldn’t get too attached to this joint. I hear they’re either gonna bulldoze it for a parking garage. Or even worse, trig it up, haul the shack over there to Pier 39. Whole town’s movin’ and shakin’ that way…”
“Anyway, really much obliged. Been a while since I’ve chowed down so…”
“Let’s just say you owe me one…more…”
Care for more?
Chapter 75. Flushed out of their comfort
zone, viewpoints come from different angles,
turning the gang Green and mean…