Chapter 75

Loathe to open up
             last to crack the flood gates,
            first one out the door.”


“Absolutely, you got that right.”

Lots of people would kill for this.”

“Yeah, who wouldn’t?”

“Guess that’s what they’d like to know…”

The fog had come on Danner engineer motorcycle boots and steel-toed service shoes. Not that long after Eric and I split our differences on Fisherman’s Wharf, the authorities came in for the sweep. Meantime, I had sunk deeper and deeper into the Frostline sleeping bag, scrunching my legs, straddling the Volvo’s gearshift knob again, propping a rolled-up jacket between my shoulder blades and the passenger side door. If only I could have pulled that arm rest out the back of my irritated neck. I reached down to the floor mat for a kiddie carton of warm milk and some stale Cheese-It crackers, but still couldn’t come up with Josh’s box.

Thinking, what the hell happened here? Not just with Syd up there, but with Melissa back there? Yeah, Moon, none of that flashy jive playing mind games, filling those ‘me’ bags, tossing out gripes and criticism, keeping mean score. Back there was some trust and respect. None of this using people—we didn’t use each other, did we, Moon? Yeah, we knew where we stood, so damn solid, then whammo: We didn’t have a leg to stand on. Things were so nice and easy, no ego shit, no making it, no getting it—don’t even want to hear that word again. Yeah, common ground, just don’t meet me halfway there, meet me halfway here. For godsakes, Moon, send me a sign, give me a cookie hug, shoot me a goddamn sign!  Zipped up to my anguished chin, I shuddered at these reptilian brain thoughts, the anger dwelling and welling deep down, or was it just the cold, drizzly fog…

“Wouldn’t you?” Sherry asked, flapping out a bed quilt from the back of her Econoline. Clifford squeezed in beside it with his battered Corvair, valves and lifters clacking loudly under its rear engine lid.

“Me? Dunno if I’d go that far…” I just stood wedged between the Volvo’s open driver door and its lube stickered jamb.

Really, maybe it just was this place, where it wasn’t even summer when it’s summer everywhere else. Starting with the late afternoon wind: Onshores had slammed through Aquatic Park like the season’s first hurricane through Galveston and Port Arthur, drove cove swimmers and their all-weather bravado back under the bleachers, hard-up shore leave sailors back to their ship, all but ripping masts off heeling bay sailboats, blowing a full day’s park trash into the lagoon. This steady gale raged through the Gate without compromise, pushing Eric and me backward, stinging our faces like ice cream gobbled way too fast.

The fog had lock-stepped in with a corrosive incoming current, making the park feel ten miles farther out to sea. Crabbers double secured their nets on the breakwater pier, fishing trawlers raced reeling displeasure boats back to port. Sheeted whitecaps spilled over into the lagoon itself, weltering Hyde Street Pier’s Thayer schooner and Eureka side-wheeler like bentwood rockers, sending tank-topped Sacto tourists fleeing to their station wagons from Ghirardelli’s chocolate-covered curios, Fisherman’s Wharf sourdough safaris, from sandblown beaches and bleachers alike. Seasons changed, moods turned—but never so quickly as here. Cramming every last plastic bucket and sun mat into tailgates, coolers and roof racks, the out-of-townies mounted a cold-sweat run not evidenced since Godzilla bore down on Tokyo and Yokohama. Lawn lizards and bocce dons just bundled up tight. 

Dense Fogust gray had swept overhead, steadily blotting out all but scattered inflammations of a dimming sky, obliterating San Francisco like an art gum eraser off charcoal paper. Tour boats and helicopters pushed full throttle through the coalescing patches, but by this time it was curtains for the bay at large, from Land’s End and Fort Point to the East Bay hills. We could barely make out The City skyline, much less Alcatraz and Angel Islands. Save, that was, for down at the water line, where a ribbon of dying daylight hinted that the sun still shone over most of mellow Marin, while that Alcatraz beacon cut broad, circular slices through the thickening wrack.

So with this impenetrable oatmeal had come the invasive fuzz. Having folded up the Beach Street fabrics display, Kathy dragged her wears back over to L.T.’s truck. She complained about competitive crafties slicing one another’s van tires in territorial squabbles, a redwood ashtrays peddler sabotaging the dragon kite master and peacock/pheasant-feathered milliner for prime sidewalk turf. Maybe it was time to try Sausalito or Tiburon, she waned, what with business slumping along Beach, the shaved ice tourist season melting away.

“I overheard talk that something was up, cops and park rangers planned to clear all the overnight vehicles out of Aquatic Park before sunrise,” she’d laid it on us, while helping L.T. reload their Dodge van. “They’re saying we’re a nuisance, vagrants taking up primo space down here.”

“That tunnel hit sure didn’t help,” L.T. added, as he peeked out from inside the truck, reading us all up and down. “But we haven’t heard the end of that deal, you can take it to the bank…”

“Maybe this is a situational omen,” Clifford entered in, wanding a granola bar.

“Or a Gestapo state. What I heard is they’re putting in a four-hour parking limit along here, no more overnights,” Kathy said, with her smokey, softly granular voice, refolding a crocheted coverlet. “Maybe we better hit the road before our tires get slit.”

“Yeah, but where?” Eric spouted, glancing away, over toward his now two-Porsche caravan, with Bruno rolled up and snoozing outside the white 912. Everyone else stood about, stunned and mum, starting with me. “Wait, I know a place…”

“Dig it, we could join you at Zita’s or Jones’ Temple for a freebie luncheon,” L.T. mocked, as he rolled up his truck’s window and prepared to pull away. “Later, people…”

Sure enough, squad loads had descended upon Aquatic Park in the amber dark of night, and we were ousted before dawn. Could have gone either way from there. I might have hightailed it out to Ocean Beach again, or lowtailed it back onto I-80 East in another fit of yellow line fever. Instead, I followed up on presumably more middlin’ ground, thankful enough that the rested Volvo had actually sprung back to life on a carburetor or two.

So the crew paraded en masse over here to the Marina Green, in some cases tunneling back and forth like an old Belt Line train. We schlepped up over Fort Mason, through Black Point Bluff’s dense laurel trees, around pre-Civil War Italianate Style manses and prim Victorian frame cottages. Else we hauled and humped it all where rosy garden paths wended about a one-time Point San Jose promontory that strategically overlooked the beauty of the Bay. But there turned out to be nothing middlin’ about any of it.

“No way, can’t see this working,” I muttered, surveying the harbor rimmed parking lot.

C’mon, look around you—it’s millionaire’s row here,” said Eric, who had quickly bought and settled in, two Porsches side by side, with Bruno free roving between them.

“With a postcard view of the bridge yet…” Sherry pointed toward the Golden Gate.

“Which is why we’ll probably get booted again before morning…”

“Not to worry, just soak in the history, the topography, the anthropology of it,” said Clifford, gesturing like de Mille. “The sailboats, Sausalito glimmering over there, hills near enough to touch, the bay flowing to the ocean—not just any ocean, mind you, the Pacific Ocean, traversed by the man-made grace of that bridge.”

Right, a bit more breathing room, with a view. The idea was to keep options open, needing wider open spaces in which to spread out, work on, all the vans and cars. Some place near, not too far from the essentials, the action, from any wishy-washy or emotional attachments. And what was not to like: the bay, the boats, the bridges. So here we resettled, at the very spear tip of the peninsula, San Francisco on cartographic high. Marina Green’s eastern parking lot looked out over the Golden Gate, Mt. Tam and Angel Island, with Alcatraz lurking off to the right, embraced by coastal headlands on over past Belvedere and Tiburon glistening across Marin County hills. Across a bay that perpetually ebbed and flowed into the vast blue sea—a spectacular confluence of natural force and beauty damned near mystical, equalled in only several special places on earth. Above all, it was so damn kinetic, with airliners soaring out to the world, cruise ships steaming in.

That being so, the Green and its bordering Marina Boulevard mansions were the penultimate in low-lying upward San Francisco mobility, a cause ferme of monied enviroconservatives since the 1915 Pan Pacific Exposition. It was at once the precious protective foreskin on this great pud of a peninsula, and a front row seat at the drive-in. On screen: one long Panavision Cinerama sweep, pretty as a 3-D postcard, that could give a guy a hard-on just taking it all in through hazy glass. Trouble was, this adjacent public parking lot had devolved into a dead-end dumping ground for hopeless strays, haywires and over-the-hillers who had already blown their wads elsewhere.

“See? I scoped this spot out once before,” Eric continued, Bruno curling up on the roof of the white 912. “Safeway over there, johns right here, and public showers over at Funston Playground’s fieldhouse. Just check out the view, Horatio. Take your mind off your chick problems…”

“What chick problems,”  Sherry asked, eyes up from her muesli.

“Uh, nothing, he’s just been snorting too much Valvoline.” Again, with his public showers, so I instead sought to tamp out any oily fires right here.

“Some artist’s got him all hung up in her cause celebrity,” Eric wiped Gunk from his hands with a shop rag. “I been tryin’ to straighten him out…”

“Hey, why don’t you just mind your own…Porsches,” I said, “starting with the blue one there uphill…”

“No problemo, it’s up to you and the dames,” Eric sorted through his boxed and open end metric wrenches, in full mechanic mode. “Just waitin’ to hear back from the dude with the rest of my cash. Then I’m done with that heap.”

Beautifully open as it was: spacious, spongy lawns, a boulevard of pastel mansions, litters of colorfully cupped spinnakers on a white-capped bay, the Green’s eastern lot then bore an odious resemblance to an Oakland salvage yard, minus the riot fences and grease-fed German Shepherds. But that didn’t mean it didn’t have its share of dogs. An L-shaped stretch of down-slanting asphalt, one broad lane angling Golden Gateward into two, the parking area was designated for short-stopping bay gazers and permitted all-day sailors moored in the harbor wrapped around it. Orderly on paper; on pavement, however, it was the end of the line for an odd lot of wounded road warriors only the westernmost coast of a manifest-destined nation could abide.

“Dames, as in plural?” Sherry perked up even more.

“Naw, nothing like that…he meant in general…”

“Come clean, Horatio, I want to hear all about the dames…”

Setting aside the everyday strollers, joggers, strummers and scrummers who passed around us on the winding harborside walkway, far more curious were these relatively static figures planted like wildflowers and crabgrass on the Green’s scattered benches and berms. Some were more obvious than others, clinging to the Marina’s shoreline as stubbornly as ship barnacles through degaussing. Bumped Napa asylum cases wrapped in their sad rags, possessions all about them in discount supermarket bags. Motley, droop-shouldered little mongrels with dirt-caked, swollen faces, scratching at the back door, scrambling for scraps—for any momentary home and hearth where they might find it, if only in their long pickled minds. Many were living minute to minute, burning all of their meager energy simply to stay alive. But at the moment, they were looking down on us with ‘there goes the neighborhood’ through red, swollen eyes.

In a netherworld not so blatantly ravaged were some Marina Green irregulars—true only to their compulsions and their own rigidly obsessive routines. The defrocked monsignor, for one, who strutted his rostrum with brogue and shillelagh intact, anointing with a spray bottle every blessed creature who managed to cross his path. A frayed Roman collar and patched black robe flowed out from beneath his Moses graybeard, riding the lost soles of his sandals, that cardinal’s cap over his veined cheeks and blistered brow. On the hour, he recited from the Gospels, sermonizing to the pigeons as though he still had a flock.

Then there was the Green’s poet laureate, that femmy little devil in the plaid topcoat who counter cruised the monsignor from west to east, a blathering bundle of rabid McKuen and Thoreau with a hand-wringing fetish that had claimed the fleshy manpads of his palms. Or the dishonored sergeant at arms who patrolled the lot’s perimeter in full combat fatigues, marching to his own fife and drummer, four-star general’s ranking on his collar, missing pieces 12 and 13 of his M-16 and certain shell fragments of his mess hall mind. Upon further review, I saw any hold on reality bleeding through their skin-boney fingers, actually began to fear General Airborne’s ripcord and cranial minefield by the second or third day. Yet it was the moles holed-up in their vehicles all day who defied detection, if not diagnosis, or any clinical description whatsoever.

“Jeezus, Eric,” I scowled, shooting daggers in the general vicinity of the Porsche insignia on the 912’s right rear hubcap. This while Eric back crawled under the red bomb with an oil pan, further and further beneath the tangle of exhaust manifolds and heat exchangers that gave these forced-air German engines an internal monoxic bouquet. “Forget it, there’s nothing to tell, that was just a little guy talk…”

“I see,” she rounded out her sunburst smock, tossing the remains of her muesli bowl over the small parking island’s coarse santilina and weed grass. “As in little boys sittin’ around yankin’ their wienies?”

“Careful, luv,” Clifford said, unfolding the morning Clarion in washed out L.L. Bean Navy chamois and frayed tan Bedford cords, Gore-Tex duck boots worn thin at the heels. “Sensitive territory…”

“Don’t I know it, speedo,” she lobbed me a half-jar of beer nuts from her van door’s inner pocket. “Here, you can’t just live on Jif and Kix,”

“There’s no there there, I’m telling you,” I huffed, an old sea dog in a split pea coat and billowed khaki pants catching my eye, piss stains raining down his inseams. He was casually brunching out of a Dempster, while tearing through the classifieds, likely for a bin or doorway in which to survive the night—or feather his bedroll. That was unnerving enough to make me pocket those nuts for later reference. “Besides, they’re not dames…”

“Who’s they…what, are we talking triangle or something?”

“No, c’mon, figure of speech, there’s no angularity about it…”

“Wow, sounds like something you don’t want to get into, or out of,” Clifford said, cinching a top line over the Econoline’s overpacked roof rack, then commencing to futz with his Corvair.

Weird thing was, this inner patch of Marina Green did form something of an obtuse triangle, the parking lot itself its base, vehicles herein working all sorts of bizarre, scalene angles of their own. In slot after diagonal slot, sagging, corroded Chevys, dead Plymouths with mangled fenders, flat tires and expired out-of-state plates leaked gear grease, tranny fluid and motor oil in thick round pools onto the drain-graded asphalt. Rusted hulk Microbuses, cab-overs from West Covina held together with Mexico tourista stickers, wayward Broncos with pop-out windows and pop-up tops crowded shiftless school buses from Oregon busting out all over with rainbow electric Kool-Aid warpaint, knotty pine bay windows and dormers, plastic Kesey dashboard figurines lording over their tribal wanderings. Not to mention bastardized RVs and Winnebagos up the wazoo.

Even more adventurous were the Aussie Land Rovers, seemingly off-road modified for the Deniliquin Autocross, windows screened up and dirt caked like the rigs had just de-safaried from Lake Disappointment. Or the bubble-topped German vans, plastered with decals from Saarbruken to Swaziland and Saskatchewan—their continental drift charted on dotted side panel maps that ran from rear propane tanks forward to the mosquito meshing and grill-mounted mud tires. Somehow, our measly little caravan had shoehorned into a just-vacated spate of side-by-side spaces under the cover of foggy after-hours darkness, employing a little backpack and cooler blocking action learned in snowstorms back flyover way.

“Eww, now it’s getting juicy,” she grinned, reading me like a prosecutor a hostile witness, a skill she likely picked up from her father. “So where is this…chick?”

“Just somebody I know here in San Francisco,” I responded, an Asian wanderer passing by, playing air bagpipes in emperors‘ clothes.

“Where in San Francisco?”

“Uh, nearby…not so far…” I gazed over beyond the Great Meadow toward Chestnut Street.

“So what’s her story, meet her here?”

“In Boulder, actually…”

“But she’s here, right,” Sherry asked, over the screams of a woman from the back seat of an all but abandoned, Delaware plated Cadillac de Ville. “What was she doing in Boulder?”

“Just visiting…family…”

“Really, what family?”

“Sister-ly, sort of,” I fudged, trying to ignore the middle-aged shrieking, steadily being modulated by the woman’s loudspeakered radio airplay of Janis’s Pearly strains. “But I’d prefer not going down this road, if you don’t mind.”

“Oh, but I do. Like, what’s ‘sort of’ supposed to mean,” Sherry’s voice sounded increasingly caustic, just this sandy side of Drano. “And where do you fit in?”

As what had become habitual, we gathered around our mangy fleet, midway between the third and fourth red-curbed tree islands dotting the parking lot’s center lane. Having taken leave to whizz pass over to a low cinderblock public john, I’d squeezed around a step-van and prickly California cypress tree, wind twisted and big as a Roadmaster, much like the two-tone yellow job parked on its opposite side. The Buick’s expired plates read Idaho, but it might as well have been Indochina for all its chances of traveling any further. Over my shoulder, the monsignor and General Ripcord crossed paths in opposite directions on the sidewalk stretch near Gashouse Cove, holey vestments meeting fatigued olive drabs in broad daylight, on the harbor’s edge of last-chance gulch.

Between there and here, I’d skipped past a busted Bronco from Carlsbad, then an ungodly little turtle shell NSU that had crawled and clawed its way from Hamburg before spinning its main bearings toward this end of Doyle Drive. Amid a bumper crop of baby Bagos—pounded out, patched up, sheet metaled, stove piped, off-color jokes of dreamwagons—had settled two all-too-familiar 912s, Sherry’s van and my sorry 122S. Still crowding her right flank was that tow-barred Corvair, held together with stickers proclaiming ‘Curb Your Dogma’ and ‘Nietzsche is Pietzsche’ respectively: on second glance, it could only have belonged to Clifford. Taken together, wasn’t long before I suspected I might have been better off hanging with the strolling cloth and brass.

“Look, it’s kind of a complex situation to be going into here, alright?”

“Complex, with the sort-of sisters, I don’t get the connection.” Sherry spread out some stale bread crumbs for a swarm of gaggling pigeons.

“Just that I knew the one before I got to know the other, okay?”

“So which came first, the nearby chick or…” Clifford waded in casually from the trunk lid of his Monza.

“The other one…” I couldn’t ignore General Ripcord happening by again on the baywalk, his fisted face a fevered, hypertensive red. He was spitting toothpick bits on this lap, forced marching through his flashbacks, as if his whole army tour were passing before him, amounting to a clean DD 214, couple of minimal service medals and a giant enough disability to keep him in picks and Chinatown dives, ducking from enemy fire.

“The one in Boulder,” asked Sherry.

“No, in Chicago, she’s back there now…”

“The first one or the second one…” She side-eyed the hulk of a purple Coupe de Ville, as though watching over the screaming, wretched excesses of her collective sisterhood.

“Nope, the second one just got back here.”

“So, who’s in Boulder?”

“Neither one anymore…”

Laguna Pequena, Crabville, Shrimp Camps, Harbor View, Washerwoman’s Lagoon: By whatever name, these former sand dunes and salt marshes once became an industrial zone of shipbuilders, iron works and heavy forging through the turn of the century, sooting up the north shore with belching smokestacks, at least until the 1915 Pan-Pacific Exposition cleared that all away. More immediately, this tiny inlet served as an unloading dock for Australian coal, which was converted into vaporous fuel by the San Francisco Gas Light Company. Its drum-like gasometer storage facility, long dominant on the Marina shoreline, was the largest tank west of Chicago, prompting the moniker, Gashouse Cove. Today, it was stem to stern, slip to berth with sailboats that had hardly ever caught wind of hydrocarbons, much less a lick of honest labor. 

“But if one sister’s back east, and you’re out here closer to the other one, how does that work?” Sherry continued feeding a helter-skelter swarm of pigeons, and the pesky black starlings that pecked away at the margins, seagulls swooping in.

“Not so well at the moment,” I hedged, instead, shooing them all away. “Let’s just say the picture gets…foggy…and blurry.”

“Okay then, back to basics,” Sherry pressed, the entire scrum scattered to nearby Leyland cypress and Catalina Ironwood trees. “You’re in Colorado with two sort-of sisters from the Midwest…”

“Actually, she was from here then…”

“The first person,” Clifford followed up.

“The second one. She was passing through Colorado, from back there to here.”

“And you happened to hit on her en route?” For some reason, Sherry shot a glance at my slept in, button-fly jeans.

“Jeesh, no—the person I was with invited her…” I watched Bruno spring from the white Porsche’s sun roof, barking and flushing out the regathering birds altogether.

“The person you’re no longer together with invited her sorta-sister in to blur the picture…”

Like those heavy heaving joggers petering out over on the Marina Promenade, there where more normalized people roamed, I appeared to be hitting a wall. But it wasn’t Sherry’s cross examination so much as that solid row of storehouse piers just beyond Gashouse Cove, extending perpendicularly well out into the bay. The massive Mission Revival style pier sheds were mostly vacant now, standing down between assignments on stilted concrete pilings, their creamy stuccoed concrete weatherworn and water stained, red clay-tile roofs fading in the afternoon sun, peaks lined with dress-right-dress seagull formations.

Phil Burton’s machine had recently steered the GGNRA through Congress, and Fort Mason overall was awaiting duty call as the first urban national park, those three historic waterfront sheds included. Rumors had it the surplus military piers and four three-story dockside warehouses were slated for a peacenik campus of artsy/craftsy studios, classrooms, museums and workshops—community culture on the cheap and free, egalitarian and non-violent as could placidly be. For the moment, I flashed on government issue dogfaces and poor Uncle Early—an entirely different theater of the kind.

“Actually, that happened a bit later,” I offered, after recalling how that was what Melissa did, whether she wanted to or not. “But they weren’t sisters, more like in-laws—kinda ex…”

“So the second person was married to your first person’s brother,” Sherry said grittily, commencing to thrum her fingers on the hood of my car.

“Uh, not exactly…” Why the hell did Moon do that, anyway?“ It was more the other way around…”

“Your first person’s sister was married to her brother-in-law,” Clifford asked, between bites of a browning banana.

“No, the person I’d been together with was married to this other person’s older brother. But they’d split up, though staying real close,” I rambled. She says she didn’t intend that in a million years, but she knew Syd better than anybody, for chrissake! The sort-of sister, that is…”

“So you’re saying this person of yours invites her pseudo sister to come into the picture on your way here from the Midwest,” Sherry recounted, thrumming away. “The second person does so and everything went blurry in Colorado…”

“No, I wasn’t on my way at all. She talked me into driving her out here. It got blurry on the road, that’s where. By the time we got to San Francisco, things were getting…”

“Super blurry? These persons of yours, have names do they?”

“Let’s not go into that,” I rattled, pausing to take in the scene, blue bay, bridges and hills up to here, the schizophobiacs lucubrating and lubricating the day away in their trances and cars. “Anyway, the Colorado person got wind of it and flew out here. That’s when the shit hit the fan…”

“And she went back to Colorado, the first one,” Sherry groaned. “Yeesh, enjoying this, are you?”

“No, uh yeah, I went with her—see, I owed her that,” I tracked a 40-foot sloop reentering Gashouse Cove, before that long wall of sagging, wind-scarred piers—a decayed pumping station and green, tree-lined escarpment backdropping them, atop which army barracks used to stand. “But then we retreated to the Midwest, kind of a Saturn Return thing. It blew up back there, so I came back out here…”

“To the second person,” Clifford, produce bagged his banana’s remains.

“Not really, only sort of. But that blew up too…” Whew, this was getting a little easier, but did it come across as bizarre as it sounded?

“So the second person went back to the Midwest?”

“No, she lives here, I told you…that one’s still pretty blurry. Both are, come to think of it…really blurry, about to be driving me to distraction sometimes.”

“Yah, and the one out here’s jobbin’ him—a JAP yet,” Eric jeered, from underneath his red one. “Way I hear it, she’s screwin’ him royal…”

“Stuff it, Eric, that all went out with the war,” she stood up ramrod straight, like a justice on the bench, gaveling for order. “But this all seems pretty clear to me.”

To the pier sheds add those warehouses and a long foreground bank of former machine shops and desk jockey procurement offices: there was no avoiding at-ease Fort Mason Center’s wartime history from where we stood today. Sherry’s off-target jab could but transport me to the Port of Embarkation, that personnel and logistical hub for deployment to the Pacific Theater during World War II—over a million and a half recruits and some 24 million ship tons of provisions passing through. Pier sheds packed to the gills with goods, guns, tanks and artillery, boom loaded into waiting cargo vessels; belt line trains emerging from that tunnel, switchback supplying distribution depot buildings, grunts filing out of Fort Mason barracks in formation to board cattle-cramped troop ships for Far East jungles and mosquito-infested Micronesian atolls. 

All this was administered from a sprawling upper Fort Mason post of an HQ, BOQs, noncom billets, quartermaster magazines, utility shops, mess halls, medical dispensary, movie house, library, post office and non-denominational chapel—a post-Pearl Harbor pop-up city on a hill. Most of these decommissioned military structures were being leveled by now—enlisted processing, overseas supply, PX, WAC Detachment, NCO canteen—cleared away for a calm, palmy green expanse to be christened the Great Meadow, a lazy, largely sunny open space there above Fort Mason Center, presided over by the huge bronze statue of a disheveled Congressman Burton. Swords, munitions and malaria screens to Frisbees, volleyballs and sunscreen, in the pacifistic blink of an eye.

“How clear?” I looked to refocus on the skirmish at hand, thinking maybe this talking it all out wasn’t such a bad idea, after all. “Any friendlier feedback would help about now.”

“Okay then, I’d say that it’s the most regusting pile of bushwa I’ve ever heard,” she seethed, slamming her fist solidly, rusty chips flying off my front fender. “Eric there, I could expect that from—no, on second thought, he couldn’t get two women to care for him in a lifetime. But I had you pegged for better than…”

“Better than what,” I blurted, as knee-jerk hooked on her reaction as a Catholic confessee, seeing myself in a dark St. Michael’s church booth, searching the waffle grill for due penance from a devout, dissenting voice.

“Than some typical gigolo swine masquerading as Mister Sensitive Modern Man,” she raged. “You bastards are all alike. Say anything to get us to spread our legs. Then split and go gloat about it with your sexist pig pals. Just more proof why we sisters have to stick together.”

“No, hey, it’s not like that—didn’t happen that way.” Oops, I suddenly took a defensive posture, turning crankier than my car. “God’s honest, I wish it never happened at all…”

“Oh, poor baby—spare me the hard luck story. Who do you think you’re connin’ here? Deep down, you’re eatin’ up every minute of this blur. First person, second person, not word one about their pain, their feelings! You make them sound like painted dollies on the side of your fighter plane—just keep tallying those bimbos, score, score, score!!!”

“Whoa, never once—I’m not that kind of…” I coughed, stopped breathing through my mouth altogether, bending elbows against the fender to keep my knuckles from dragging on the pavement. “You’re totally blowing it out of context…”

“Hardly. In fact I’m beginning to think you’re the sort of squishy jerk who’ll milk this soap opera for all it’s worth. Goin’ around, sad sacking on the outside, inside wearing it like a badge of honor…”

“C’mon, do you know what it’s like to be yanked between two people—two totally different women expecting totally different things?” I spouted, getting more hacked off by the critical minute. I knew I shouldn’t have opened up about this. It’s what I get for sharing… “And I’m not squishy, okay? I’m not one of those, those limp…”

“So, now you’ve got a problem with gays,” she asked, glaring at us all. “Like some other jokers around here?”

“No way, no problem…could we just get off this, please?! Jesus, cut me some slack…”

“Figures, but if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got. Just ask that Gary guy over there.”

“Who,” I asked, squinting across the lot. All I could make out was a beat out Rainbo bakery truck parked one row away. “Uh, I’ll have to take your word on it…”

Well beyond upper Fort Mason’s headquarters building—one-time military hospital that it was—a sinking sun radiated pure gold off linen-white Russian Hill highrises. Waving in that direction were the masts of all the moored sailboats flooding Gashouse Cove, its full berths floating like Andes footbridges, gulls riding their cone-topped pilings, tackle and rigging all arattle, deck to deck. Nearer yet, a red bearded stringbean self talker wandered past us, colorful foil streamers dangling from his horned rim glasses, grimy oversize britches and sweatshirt, ‘Masturbate & Be Free’ silkscreened across his concave chest, ‘Happiness Is Being Single’ on the back. What or whether Gary was worth asking about any of this stuff remained up in the fog grumed marine air.

“Okay, this is getting strange,” Clifford bobbed up from his morning Clarion,otherwise turning the page. “Says here the Jonestown drug scene is a jungle time bomb, that Jim Jones has hired some hacks to write a puff book on the whole Peoples Temple scene. But now these Freed and Mark Lane guys are linking up with a private investigator to make a sham movie exposé on the cult deal based on dissenter tales. This Joe Mazor dick claims Jones is nothing but a phony religious huckster control freak.”

“Oh, that’s just great,” Sherry relented, peering over Clifford’s shoulder in read-along mode. “Hasn’t the mayor, even Supervisor Milk called Jones a reverend of high moral character?”

“Takes one to know one,” Eric laughed, from under his crankcase. “But you’d think that cat would be more preoccupied with all the gay dudes getting offed in his parks…”

You mean like the cops who’ve been nosing around Aquatic Park,” she asked, looking toward Clifford rather guardedly. “Hope they don’t start snooping around over here.”

“Not to worry, they’re just going through the motions,” Clifford dove skittishly back into his newspaper. “They can’t be bothered clogging up their casebooks with a slew of throwaway gays”.

“Hey, where you off to,” Sherry asked, as I eased my way back to the Volvo’s driver side door.

“Not into talking current events right now,” I noticed a converted van we hadn’t much seen since fleeing Aquatic Park, as L.T. and Kathy had been way down row, busy repacking her goods and wares. Go figure, little Ms. Sweetness and Light throwing in with ex-con gang-bang survivor who either was beating her senseless or saving her life.  “Got some stuff to straighten up, mull over…”

“Try dumping your tunnel vision while you’re at it,” she replied, watching L.T.’s Dodge van wave and power pump past us, then pull out toward downtown on Marina Boulevard instead of westward to the bridge.

“Yah, gotta watch out for those tunnels,” Eric slid out from under his 912, smearing grease around his temples with harsh wipes of his shop rag. He was fixing to dump a pan of dirty oil and metal shavings into the slips channel, some 25 feet from the nearest moored sailboats,fending off Clifford’s alarm with “…who cares? No tellin’ what else endsup in there.”

“Will do my best,” I muttered, glancing over past Fort Mason’s gatehouse to the darkened belt line rail tunnel.

“Nice ball-busting there, butch,” Eric turned away from me, then sneered toward Sherry, wiping his hands of the pan.

“Go flick your Bic, Eric,” she dipped into the Econoline for a baggy of trail mix. “And your dumb dog’s, too…”

Yeah, tunnels—you bet, enough, already. First thing tomorrow, swear I’m gonna get this mess all ironed out. Should have done it long ago. Gotta know where to draw the line with this kid stuff, looks like some guys never do. Gonna get some work, bail my gear out of hock—then I’m out of this nut hole, once and for all. That’s right, think it through, tune it up, tone it down, torque it tight, stop the insanity, get these urges under control…then figure where the hell you’re going to go…come morning, very first thing…

Care for more?

Chapter 76. Reaching out, still
            hemmed in, another S.O.B. story
           brings more idle discord…