Chapter 77

“Shy away from strife
stuff temper down deep inside
no way to live life.”

“This is where I work, understand. I really don’t have time…”

“I know, I know, just wanted to touch base, that’s all…”

“Look, it’s the middle of the day and I’m swamped here. And I’m expecting a very important call, okay?”

“Who from, a gallery, or…”

“What does that matter? Don’t you have anything better to do?!”

In that respect, I was a tad out of sorts, spiritually, mechanically, not to mention environmentally. From here in the phone booth, I could narrowly spot the length of that oil slick. At the moment, my Volvo was a hood’s-up disaster, a Warshawsky or J.C. Whitney’s catalogue of metric debris scattered under and around the sedan’s wheelbase, and line to yellow line across the parking slots to either side. There was no mistaking or escaping it; neither the magic buses nor camper vans hid my embarrassment and dismay. When that disemboweled specter first hit me squarely in the crankcase, I had decided to drop everything and dial up Sydney, if, for nothing else, a mea culpa and status report on a work in progress—checking in for a timely update, apparently one time too often.

“Well, sure I do, but…”

“And if you must know, it will be from Laine Blakely,” said Sydney, ‘Jive Talkin’ on the radio behind her. “We’ve ironed things out, and everything’s real tight with us now. It was all just a big misunderstanding. Besides, I’m slaving away on my painting and following major Middle East peace talk developments at Camp David on cable. How about you?”

“Uh, great,” I said, muffling the receiver in a sudden, isolated gust. “Things are moving right along, and…”

“I can imagine, Kenneth, but some of us have important work to do, and you’re tying up my line.”

“No, I understand totally, just thought I owed you an explanation why I cut out that last time,”

I jabbered, twisting the receiver line as I panned about the East Harbor and parking lot, wondering how the remerging sunshine could so conspire to dampen my spirits. “Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t mean to blow it or…”

“I know, just Kenneth being Kenneth, never there when you’re needed the most,” she sighed, tapping brush to palette. “But promise you won’t call me again while I’m in my studio, okay? This is getting out of hand.”

Out of hand? I only wanted to see how you were…”

  “Fine. In fact, don’t bother calling at all until you have Josh’s package for me—and sooner than later on that, if you please. He called me, you know, it’s become even more important, recording-wise. So I do hope you haven’t lost it.”

“Oh, yeah, the package—well I…”

“Ciao, Kenneth, best luck,” she said, Bee Gees breaking into ‘More Than A Woman’ in the background. “Find that blessed package. Otherwise, I’m preparing for Rosh Hashanah—you know, atonement, penitence? And need I remind you, I don’t back losers.” CLICK.

This was real down time, down and dirty. No rush back to the Volvo now: Thirty-weight cans on the apron, seeping through the drop cloth, gumming up the sockets and gaskets—thoroughly mucking up bolts and washers like dark cocoa fondue. But then the odds weren’t much better for my filthy oil filter and Solex carbs getting back into the operational scheme of things. As for Josh’s package, another bumper-to-bumper search of the rust heap left me dumbfounded and doubling down.

“Land one yet,” Eric asked, wiping clean his timing light, evading the fact that it was his pit stop goading that drove me under the Volvo’s oil pan in the first place.

“Job? Naw, that was more of a personal call…” I couldn’t help glancing over to Gary’s bread truck again, the Post-’Nam head case having hawkeyed me all the way across the parking lot.

“No wonder you look so bummed,” he smirked, glancing at my oil slick, getting his own taste of schadenfreude. “She must have you whipped something fierce by now.”

Aww, don’t start in with…”

“Why else would you be getting so defensive?”

“I’m not getting defensive, dammit. Don’t say I’m defensive,” I spouted, on hands and knees, mopping up the lube spillage as best I could with a CU gym towel and several pre-oiled blue shop rags. “I can’t help it, it’s just that she makes me feel so damn…defensive.”

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On the other hand, it was a great day for exploratory surgery, late summer weather cooperating, at least through the noontide hours. Temp gigs were still a no-go, and frankly, I was tiring of the headhunter put-offs and qualified placement putdowns. I’d pinched just enough dinero to stay Kix malnourished and mired in the Marina, within earshot of all intensifying crosstalk.

Yet however stormy my personal affairs of late, the weather never caught me unawares or otherwise let me down. This was no overnight sensation, the timely tidal pattern of June-August gray wouldn’t yield without considerable upper level pressure. San Francisco’s damp, chilly, recycling fog machine provide the rhythm with its impossibly dense advection brume: warm, damp surface air meeting that upwelling cold bay water roughly at the dew point.

This brooding gray bumbershoot hovered over the bay through Labor Day. Marina mornings were blanketed down to the waterline, distant East Bay sunlight breaking through only well beyond Treasure Island—and then only at the fog’s racier bottom fringes, making me want to toss and turn in the bucket seats until this poy pulled back. Overall, the marine layer draped the bay and coastal hills like a shawl over those broad, rolling shoulders, fingering seductively through the peninsula gaps, over the Waldo Tunnel, between the Headlands and Mt. Tam, sunny Marin County slipping in behind, erasing all in its path. Fort Mason, its piers and train tunnel: all vanished, or were ghostly outlines at best.

The drizzly gruel muffled fog zone sounds like acoustic tiles, a mute button on morning clamor, save for the moaning of Gate and Alcatraz foghorns, a reveille serenade. So contained, so cyclical, so on-time predicable a daily factor, like those increasingly disconcerting Jonestown revelations. By 11 or so, a high-beam sun would burn that grey-on-gray-on grey fog bank away on its ascent, straight-edge shaving with steamy barber’s cream, leaving a brilliantly clear afternoon. Fore and aft, Northern California’s coastal fog machine sandwiched goodly parts of the day, virtually every summer day, air conditioning The City morning and night as if on a thermostatic teeter-totter—this midday, our front row vantage being no exception.

“What’d I tell you? They’re the ones turnin’ it into one big game,” Eric remarked, bent over into his red Posche’s rear end. He raised his line of sight as a day shifty hooker type walked off a long Marina Inn rencountre, shimmying by in miniskirt and kinky patent go-go boots, cleavage down to midnight and beyond. “Dollin’ all up, tight-ass garb. What they’re really into is trappin’ some horny doofus with half a wallet.”

“Maybe the women you’ve known,” Clifford offered forth, stepping aside the spreading residue of my DIY dump-it-yourself oil change. “Frankly, sounds like a personal problem.”

“Hey, if that’s an Aspen crack, I blew her off because she blew me off because I blew her off because she started blowin’ me off, OK?! End of story…” His wail reverberated well in our end lot caravan cluster: his two decomposing Porsches, Sherry’s Econoline and this clunker of mine, L.T.’s van presently nowhere to be seen.

“Okay, could we clear the air on this relationship stuff,” I pleaded. But by now the air couldn’t get much clearer, this morning’s fog having dissipated, any lingering smog banished Oakland’s way by slowly building tidal breezes. That left blue crystalline clear sky past an inbound red-orange frigate, sandwiching between Marina Green and Marin hills. Plenty clear enough to watch a Toyota freighter coasting in with the tide, to the gills with Celicas and Corollas, an Army helicopter thwapping above it, on a daily courier run to Crissy Field’s landing pad and the Presidio.

“Hey, mon, that your Volvo,” beeped a Latino grande who had just pulled up to us in an orange low-rider Ford Ranchero with some mean pinstriping and flaming fenders. “Lookin’ to take care that bodywork?”

“Uh, no thanks,” I muttered, blotting and mopping, over the constant clang of harbor rigging, trying to process what Eric had said.

“I fix up those quarter panels for you, right here, real fast. Pound out dents, match paint, max primo…”

“Meaning, max Bondo, ,” Eric countered, loud and clear. “Anyway, you won’t catch me ponying up for some chick’s white picket fence fantasy. Ain’t givin’ up my seat on no bus.”

“Half price for you, on the premises, dig,” said the Ranchero driver, toning down his in-dash War/’Smile Happy’ cassette. “Just ’cause I like your ride, mon—tomorrow, I go back to L.A.”

“Naw, I’ve got bigger problems with it than dents and dings,” I rose, turning again to Eric. “Bus?”

“Problemos over that rust heap?” With that, the body/fender man fishtailed his pin-striped black 396ci pickup away. “Tu loco…” 

“I mean what the hell you doin’ callin’ up that artist of yours again,” Eric asked sternly. He tracked a retiree Gauguinist dragging an easel and palette over to the promenade, much too closely to the white Porsche for comfort, Bruno scratching and growling on its sunroof.

“Just wanted to straighten some things out,” I sniffed dual exhaust and burned rubber, the Ranchero winding out around Marina Green like a South Central McQueen. “But she said I was getting out of hand…”

“Well, were you,” Clifford asked, who had nosed out of his book on Western vs. Eastern Idiom, what with the accelerating volume.

“Me? No way.”

“Maybe what you’re not gettin’ is that she’s done with your ass,” said Eric.

“Who knows anymore? Really, caring deeply about somebody. How is that out of hand?”

“Depends,” Clifford said, with curious, barely concealed amusement. “On if she feels you’re crossing a line.”

What line? And even if that’s so, who decides where it’s drawn…”

“She does, who do you think—it’s called a woman’s prerogative,” entered Sherry. “Sometimes love is a lesion, has to be cut right out.”

A thicket of East Harbor sail masts gave us a cell door view over to Alcatraz Island, intervening marina slips and full floating berths awash with the rituals of casual nautical navigation—port to starboard, bow to stern. Yellow booted sea swabs in varying layers of foul-weather wear scrubbed boat decks, scraped hulls, mended fraying gybe lines and re-cleated halyards, as though fitting out for the Farallons or Potato Patch, if not some Trans-Pacific Cup Challenge.

Mylar jibs and vibrant spinnakers hung across mainstays and mizzenmasts like bedding on a backyard clothesline, sun drying or simply status flagging before crewmen carefully repacked them for storage in the below-deck compartments of clear-coated fiberglass hulls. The forestay and topsail patterns were eye-catching, if not mystifying—especially to Marina regulars like the Monsignor and grizzly, landlocked dock rat pushing a Safeway cart with burlap sacks of recycled pickings. Both stood before them all with the idyl reverence accorded some Madonna apparition on a well house wall.

“Naw, love is a loogie, just pick and roll,” Eric chided, spraying WD-40 at his Porsche’s heat exchangers, then slamming its rear hood. “So, push the wrong buttons, misfire on the G-Spot did ya?”

“No, I didn’t, then maybe I did—don’t know which was which…or when…”

“Who says you’re supposed to,” Sherry’s voice sounded like razor wire by now. “Ever think it just goes with the territory?”

“Territory? Whose territory,” I gasped, engaging in some topgallant envy my own self. “Are you saying that if I don’t come on just right, at just the right time and circumstances, that’s reason enough to 86 the whole deal?”

“Ever heard of mutual gratification,” she grinned, not nearly so nautically absorbed. But it’s what she’s saying that matters.”

“Well, what she’s saying is I’m not decisive enough, not assertive enough—not man enough to know what I want and go after it, full speed. Meanwhile, she’s coming on like gangbusters, Ms. Free Spirit, No Boundaries. I’m just trying to keep up on her…progress, you know, without getting in her way over it.”

“Uh huh, and how are you going about that,” asked Sherry, ruffling about her mu-mu pockets, pulling out a small plastic pillbox. “On her terms or yours?”

“All right, wait a minute,” I said, having mopped up the oil slick as best I could. “You’re implying that some level of behavior can be good or gauche, and taken with affection or rejection, depending on…”

“Dependin’ on the chick’s mood, Horatio, like whether maybe she’s on the rag,” Eric laughed, calming Bruno’s haunches, the painter have passed cleanly between Porsches one and two. “See, that’s the rub, it can be seventh heaven or a third rail, depending on how she feeeeels, at any given moment— she decides.”

“In other words, it’s the price you pay for preying her way,” Clifford said, with that smartass wink of his.

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The shade of an adjacent cypress tree beginning to chill our discussion, we all moved over to a pair of benches between beds of succulent ice plants overlooking East Basin. The promenade walk crossed before us, then there was a sharp drop off of closely clumped Echium to the rock rimmed harbor water. We sprawled over the side-by-side seating for a little sun and sea, talking over the interior monologues of nearby camper vans and the shrieking Coupe de Ville. Ravens and starlings continued their noisy feeding through the copse of Metrocedros trees to our immediate west. But even more annoying were the gray-white gulls scrumming on the lot lane behind us, big as holiday dressed turkeys, flapping and squawking like car alarms as they pecked over discarded hot dog wrappers and soiled strands of bait string. Still, there would be no throttling us now.

“That’s nuts, not how it’s been happening, at all,” I spouted, wiping hands, wringing several rags. “Besides, how is a body expected to know when pursuing a relationship is being hopeful and when…when…”

“When it’s hopeless obsession, or worse,” Clifford asked, quickly swallowing the tab she gave him, washing it down with a shot of carrot juice. “There’s just some threshold of acceptable civility.”

“Civility? How are you supposed to know when…” Flustered enough, I gazed off to a straight-on view of an unspoiled, gently sloping Angel Island, and the hillside condos of Belvedere on its rear westward flank.

“With Sherry, she just lets me know,” Clifford now idly paged through his text. “’Cause she’s bigger than I am.”

“So you’re saying there is a line,” I asked, distracted this time by a shouting match between Gary and that Crabber Don person. I couldn’t make it out, but they were carrying on like two flea-bitten mutts over a hambone. “All right, let’s take it to the extreme. That guy Gary over there, you know his story. How does it get from courting to court orders? Because she’s turned off that a guy doesn’t behave civilly and perform on cue?”

“Why not,” Sherry replied, re-capping the juice. “What a woman does with her needs and emotions is entirely her business.”

“Meaning she can flick the switch of fate anytime she pleases? What about the guy’s needs and emotions? What about alienation of affection, and all that?”

“Depends on how alien the guy’s being,” said Clifford.

“Jeesh, where do you really come down on this? I can’t tell if you’re just being arbitrary, or Sherry’s got you by the jewels with vise-grips.”

“I’ve just made peace with what women are doing these days,” Clifford looked up from his personal philosophical codex: a little Descartes, a dose of ‘Ethics’ by Spinosa. “They’re due, it’s their time, we’ve been dumping on them way too long. So go along and get along, that’s what I say.”

“Well, sorry, I can’t turn my emotions off that easily,” I caught Crabber Don out the corner of my eye. It appeared he and Gary had not parted amicably, and he was headed full steam our way.

“Correct me if I’m wrong,” Sherry stretched out on a nearby slat bench, pointing at me with her juice bottle.“But you must have done so with that other woman back in the Midwest. How did you turn off the faucet on that one?”

“No, wait, wasn’t like that,” I shook my head sorely upon reflection. “If it was, I’d have cut clean and clear. Anyway, I’m trying to work through all…”

“Providing that’s what you actually wanted,” she replied, “instead of crawling back and forth there on your hands and knees…”

“It’s way more complex, trust me,” I panned away to a goateed hipster in frayed tan cords and chinos, bound for his boat in progress, a dry-rotted 25-foot caulk job down on berth number four.

“Screw that, lets make it plain and simple,” Eric blurted in a moment of ball peen lucidity, turning his red rear hood into something of a podium. “Way I see it, the deck is stacked. If a guy hits on a chick like he thinks she thinks he’s supposed to, four things can come of it, three of them not so hot. She’s in the mood, digs it, he’s adorin’ and adorable, a Mr. Right romantic hero—the whole trip. If not, and he comes up short, he’s Mr. Wrong and she blows him off, says, ‘I need my space, let’s be friends’. But if he sucks it up on good behavior, or takes another shot, she lays in with the humiliation, laughs and lies to his face, tears his pride and sorry ass down. And if he’s really hooked, he keeps comin’ back for more abuse. She avoids or ignores him altogether, until he crosses that line of yours, pursues her to where she gets uneasy or freakin’ out fearin’ him—so she brings in the badges.”

“How over-simply Neanderthal of you,” Sherry scoffed at Eric, while glancing askance at a young mother walking her son along on a leash and harness, like the little scamp was a Llaso Apso or water spaniel. “And you’re speaking from vast personal experience, I’m sure…”

“Naw, just’ve had time to think about it,” he replied, cleaning, caressing a liberated Snap-On torque wrench. “When is a guy a wooer with his heart on his sleeve? And when’s he an obsessed rapist needin’ prior restraint? Is he a lovesick gawker or a sicko stalker? It’s totally her call, right? No mystery why guys like us are confused, clammin’ up, and man-cavin’ away from the femotional warfare. Or just cavin’ in to gaymania like the fruitcakes around Frisco. Well if the damn man-haters want somebody to hate, I got their man right here.”

“Talk about easy pickin’sso why don’t you bring back the Salem witch hunts while you’re at it?”

“Really, what’re you smoking, Eric,” I asked, fishing more earnestly than ever for an out. “Just don’t get any idea I’m like that, believe me…”

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“Not like wha,” asked Crabber Don, on wobbly approach. No telling what he’d been up to in the public bathroom. But whatever, it was all over the front of his rag tail shirt. His button down oxford cloth and wide lapel sport jacket were Purple Heart thrifty to begin with—print on plaid, in marblelite grays and salmons peculiar to mid 1950s Robert Hall. Once dried the wine and rotgut splotches had woven themselves into his haphazard fibrous mosaic.

“Nuthin’,” Eric said, as yet another jogger strode by, body painted in red Adidas sweats—aerobically tight, C-cup chest erect, as only a Runner’s World marathon model could be. “What’s up with you and Gary over there?”

“I’m Ken, pleased to actually make your…acquaintance,” I spread further out on the wooden bench, for distance sake, Sherry and Clifford shying away altogether. Unlatch, detach—curious case study in social isolation. Wonder if they would submit to individual socio-profiles, or would I…

“Yah, just tryin’ to hit the dude up for a smoke, mudderfugger jumps all over me. He’s psycho, talkin’ that shit,” Crabber coughed, as if his lungs were post-picnic briquets. He steadied himself against the bench’s end, finishing off a waxed cup of gin and root beer. Then he roared once more “Not like who?”

“We were just debating the vicissitudes of the female of the species,” Clifford sallied. “So please do enlighten us, avail us of your worldly wisdom.”

“Fems? Right up my alley, bro,” Crabber lit up a butt from his shirt pocket, as a bionic duo followed by, the nearest to us wearing a sheer sleeveless jersey reading, ‘The World’s a Bitch, and So Am I’. “Hey, mommas, from the neck down, you’re a goddamn Commie plot. Yoo hoo, darlins’, I’d eat a mile of your everlovin’…”

“Not even on your birthday, perv,” the runners chimed in passing, with their best ‘Have A Nice Day’ smiles—effortlessly in stride, triggering earth tremors with their toned, barely hundred pound frames, hoofing it out toward the Bay Trail.

Mid afternoon flooding in, the bay continued to swell like a K-Mart wading pool, fashioning a peculiar vector from where we sat, as though the waterline were actually higher than dry shore, about to spill over East Basin’s seawall just beyond the harbor, all but driving the fisherman off a catwalk atop the concrete barrier. Their seaward flight led me to a V squadron of fifteen pelicans above them, with a Golden Gate heading until they dove in formation toward the water, apparently spotting their catch of the day among the tides of the bay, dive bombing between a skiff regatta and a long, floating parade of colorful spinnakers.

“Wanna know wisdom?” Crabber grumbled, albeit with degenerated swagger. “Them titties’s like bouncin’ beach balls, nice to play with now’n again, only too much trouble to be bringin’ home.”

“What home,” laughed Sherry, as he stood drooling in front of us, his crooked, downturned grin under the strain of sliding dentures. “Don’t think you’ll need worry about that…”

“Yeesh, don’t encourage him,” I sat chagrined, poised to bolt right there—gotta split this shit before people begin to think I’m actually with these clowns…we of the fluffy muscles and washrag abs.

“Way I see it, don’t go hangin’ ’em out there, honey, if they don’t want ’em looked at. But then they’re P.O.ed if you don’t,” Crabber replied, looking horny as a day laborer just in from the Alaska Pipeline. “Then they go lookin’ at me like I’m gonna chain ’em up in a wood shed. Nope, if I’m goin’ down on a rape rap, it’s gotta be for somebody a whole lot finer than that.”

When in fact, Crabber Don claimed he hailed from down around Manteca, not Fairbanks, his sagging jowls having resulted from too many winters working along Oregon’s gloomy rain coast, a little ways north of Coos Bay. But word about the parking lot linked his facial linage to that mad passion for sun poisoning peculiar to pale California immigrants from the Pacific Northwest. Oregon’s incessant tell-tale gray could explain that bold technicolor sash around his cocked and crushed white canvas sailor’s cap, which he doffed periodically to press his point. Wrinkled skinny and pigeon toed, he said he was bowlegged from riding too many kegs, straddling too many seatless toilets, aboard fishing boats and in outhouses behind the sawmill. That’s what landed him on comp and SSI.

“It’s because they know from experience that there’s nothing grosser than an unwanted come-on from most of the swishy sleazeballs in this town,” she said.

Yah? Well, when they’re young and beautyful, can’t live without ’em,” Crabber shook his melon, gazing up several young beauties stretching and yoga posturing over on the Green. But when they turn tubbie up, ain’t no damn livin’ with ’em, and their cottage cheese gams.” 

Yet more woman joggers pass by, more hard gluts with Beamers, buzzed on the espresso of exercise, if not the heroin of dehydration/rehydration—pronating and supinating in tandem, breasts heaving, little sweat half-circles forming about their short shorts’ crotches, great stems, none of those citified pipe cleaners for legs—no curdling there. This parade got me to wondering what it would take for me to catch up with them, whether I was man enough cut it anymore.

“You mean retinas burned by the reflection off your bald spot?” Sherry snapped, who appeared to be carrying more body bulk by the day, as if to keep the pigs and wolves away.

“Least that comes from hard, honest work,” Crabber said, winking through dervish, milky eyes. “Not porkin’ out on the couch with a bag of bon-bons.”

“You should be so lucky. she shaded her eyes for a better view of a skywriting biplane sweeping cursively over the bay, dotting the ‘i’ on a message reading, ‘Molly Will You Marry Me? Ronald’. “Now, what kind of woman would marry a bozo who’d airmail his proposal for the whole world to see? Hmph, the smaller the wienie, the thicker the wad.”

“Hey, don’t look at me,” Eric packed his gleaming torque wrench into a long brown velour pouch, welcoming a sniff-and-spray roaming Bruno with open arms, glancing at Clifford. “But takes one to…”

“No, you’re just into the canine variety,” Sherry cut in, skank eyeing his dog. “Speaking of wads, what’s the story with that blue clunker you’ve had on the block?”

“Not to worry, money’s comin’ any day now,” Eric pulled Bruno away by the choke collar, now glowering my way. “Hey Horatio, while you’re spillin’ over that artist chick, don’t forget about her JAP attack…”

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“Your lady friend is Hawaiian?” Clifford asked, perking up from his speed read.

“No, that’s just Eric’s idea of a joke,” I said hesitantly. “Actually, he was referring to, you know, Jewish American Princesses…”

“I don’t find that so funny personally,” he replied. “See, my stepfather’s Jewish, and he told me a family story after my freshman year at Amherst. His parents lived in a small German village between Cologne and Dusseldorf before World War II, Opladen, as I recall.”

“Your stepfather, Germany, really?” Uh-oh, stop sign, end of discussion…even though Clifford looked more like a Lutheran apostate. I averted right there, casting out about the harbor, spotting a blue and crimson striped mainsail that looked more like a huge corporate necktie, draped as it was over the martingale of a 40′ sloop. Then there was that third-berth spinnaker with Sri Chimnoy emblazoned in red, gold and silver on a field of purple passion, drying across a brass trimmed jib boom, squarely between white cone-topped wooden pilings.

“Yes, his family ran a respected dry goods store—community leaders, Lloyd’s mother helped found a nearby orphanage. But slowly the townspeople started freezing them out in the late 1930s. Not because of business, or anything else in particular, or even that they had anything against Jews themselves. Just because Nazi pressure moved from Bavaria to Westphalia.”

“Wow, heavy duty,” I said flatly, almost annoyed that he would lay a Shoah trip on us at a time and place like this. “Like in that recent TV series?”

“Only much grimmer in reality. Lloyd told me before long, the family was out of business, and had to barter their merchandise for food to support his mother and Uncle Jacob. Finally, things got so bad with the Nuremberg Codes, his father decided they had to leave town. Two of his cousins were already in camps somewhere east of Augsburg.”

“Christ, were they…”

“In fact, the Meisingers never heard from them again,” Clifford sighed, his voice slowing, unburdening, measuring every word, as though they were scripture. “The family packed up bolts of whole cloth, strapped Leicas around everybody’s necks, left everything else behind and fled for Bremerhaven.”

“Why…cameras,” I asked, finding this scenario all the more interesting as it unspooled.

“Their best means of liquidity, along with exchanging leftover marks and pfennigs with a few sympathetic American tourists on the docks. Guess they figured there was always a market for good quality German equipment—so long as they were willing to take it in the shorts.”

“Tell me about it, my cameras are still hocked up down on Sixth Street…” I squirmed on the bench at both prospects, focusing on an outbound Maersk container ship surrounded by flitting yachts, then the waves crashing against the East Basin seawall in its wake.

“Took just about everything the Meisingers had to get on a ship out. At that point, Jews could travel on German luxury liners as long as they spent some big bucks onboard. Lloyd remembers the little cans of orangeade, he was but a kid.”

“That’s when they came to the U.S.?”

“Couldn’t get through the quotas, Britain was even worse,” Clifford sneered, pounding a philosophy book. “His father said he never trusted the French, but honestly hated the English from then on…”

“Just ask the Irish about that…” Although no news was still good news on that front, on a bomb plot likely too overbrewed to be true.

“Instead, they went through the Suez Canal onto Manila. There they sold the remainder of their Leicas, traded the bolts of fabric for food, begged up menial jobs. That only lasted until the Japanese came. Then they had no choice but to cash in everything left for steerage here to the West Coast. They finally scraped their way cross country to New York City.”

“Know what?” I gasped. “You’re the first person I’ve ever met who talked about people directly affected by all that…”

“Don’t kid yourself,” Clifford replied sharply, clearly not eyeing the parade of jiggling T&A. “Lloyd says every Jew’s got a tattoo, one way or another—even your princess ladyfriend. Some, it humbles; others, it sets a fire under. Point is, Germans made them their scapegoats, and the world chose to turn its back until it was too late. Hence, my atheism, since I’ve actually got German in my on my birth-father’s side…”

“Yeah? Where’s he?” Trouble was, I did like my Germany tour, so what did that make me?

“Bastard left us years ago, and my mother divorced him,” Clifford grew a bit more agitated in the telling. “Last I heard, he was co-habiting somewhere in Provincetown…”

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Lufthansa’s 747 made its graceful, clockwork climb over the bridge, turning out of a west-northwest SFO take-off, steeply gaining altitude, Rhine-Main Frankfurt bound, jettisoning a cargo load of USAEUR memories on the ascent. Afternoon onshore winds were picking up, to where headgear and lunch bags came blowing by, knocking over the retiree’s easel altogether, paint tubes and brushes flying down the promenade.  

A long view out the Golden Gate evidenced that the inevitable later day fog bank was not far behind. The sudden chill and this testy chinfest left me having to tap both kidneys, so I troubled Clifford further for a whizz pass, then cut through the bus and camper van dwellers, between a broken Tioga Arrow and the hulk of an American Clipper, holding my own toward the parking lot’s johns. Yet even with the wind at my back, the seagulls flapping sideways at best, I couldn’t make it past Gary’s little motor pool without getting stalled.

“Best stay away from that psycho,” he shouted from his driver’s seat, shuffling and restuffing his shoeboxes, like so much gunpowder into field artillery. The milk wagon’s PBJ colored, high-disruption camo was fading in the high sky sun, with side panel bullet holes and fisted bumps keyed out as though grease pencilled into a crime scene photo. “He’s crazier than a shithouse rat, and don’t even know it…”

“Who, Crabber?” I asked, glancing back over to the benches, where Don stood hooting, flirting with more jogettes, large and small, wielding a bottle of Ricardo’s Rose after coughing phlegm into his bandana. “He seems harmless…”

“Comin’ around, bummin’ smokes,” Gary droned on like a DC-3, apparently proofreading a complaint letter laying out his setbacks and obligations for whom it may concern this late in the game. “All I can say is the dickhead best steer clear of yours truly.”

I couldn’t miss the small crosses tattooed on each of his remaining fingers as he sorted and snorted, yet looked away anyway, aiming for a quick release to the public toilets. Beautiful though this setting, the Marina Harbor’s parking lot became more and more an auto graveyard as the day wore on. Most slots were dripping with dismembered trannies and oil pans—crusted with flaked rust and road dust. It had devolved into a towaway zone of gas hog Fairlanes, Bonnevilles and Torinos, a truckulent fleet of God-mobile timebombs preaching ‘Get With God’ and ‘Jesus Died For You’ on bumperstickers plastered like ‘Been There, Done That’ decals over every dent and salt-eaten hole a body could bear.

The stronger among these road burners clicked and clanked, popped and hissed in spring-worn sequence as they settled in further between the yellow lines, if only for the time it took for their vehicular dwellers to drain crankcase goop into the bathroom heads. Weaker rigs were jacked up, propped up, blocked up and cranked up, everything short of fired up—Gunked gears, gaskets, belts,pumps and bearings strewn beneath and about them in oily, metal-fatigued clusters, with scant millimeters of hope of pulling their load ever again.

“Yeah, well got to take a leak,” I shook lose. A Chronicle, page-one blew by, and I grabbed it like the last swatch of bun wad in a Greyhound terminal to take my mind off this mess. City Hall gossip led with the tidbit that Mayor Moscone was still seething over the Board of Supes’ 6-5 shoot down of his P.D. consent decree, how Dan White had crossed him on the deciding vote, and he’d rub the backstabber’s dick in the dirt over it. Then there was that little item about another brutal killing the night before, this one off Polk Street, in Sergeant J. Macaulay Park, just shy of Larkin and O’Farrell, but fitting a pattern. I rolled up the news page like a relay baton and turned toward the johns, all but busting a bladderthinking gotta get my ass out of here, gotta make things right, gotta leave all this bushwa behind…

“Hittin’ the head, huh,” Gary shouted behind me. “You plan on roamin’ out again tonight like the rest of your posse? I seen you wander off last night—yep, make it my business to watch all what’s goin’ on…”

“Me? No dice…what do you take me for?” Couldn’t break away fast enough, so I pivoted toward Gashouse Cove, Fort Mason piers and the Russian Hill high-rises well beyond. I clenched past doper Datsunites and delightful afternoon trysters, a couple of Jeeps and VW 181 ‘Things’, greasy bodies under sagging chassis and engine hoods.

Just outside the men’s latrine, I crossed paths with a dirt poor young Guatemalan pushing a shopping cart filled with black garbage bags. Trailing him, tethered with clothesline to the rolling basket, was a family of stout, silent dogs—black on tan, gray on brown—they looked to be male, female, a pair of growing pups—might have been Staffordshire mixes, their condition no less the pits. I froze, almost pissed my pants right there on the spot.

“Su perros, esta bien,” I asked, with ungodly concern.

“Si, senor, muy bueno…”

Care for more?

Chapter 78. Taking it downtown,
 with its downtown ways, leads him to
 filing in a dead letter box.