Chapter 80

∞ STAGE FOUR ∞

             “Midday, flying high
               late day, into the tank,
                           each day poles apart.”             

              

“Are you some kind of pervert, or what?”

“Damn, it was a total accident, I…

“I could have you up on a molestation charge, you know that,” the runner raged, having herded me off to the side of an old quartermaster building, as though this were a freeway fender bender. “How about assault and battery, or statutory rape, how does that sound? Or a civil suit, punitive damages, I’ll own your heinie in perpetuity!”

“Hey, don’t get me wrong, I’m just trying to get my legs and lungs going here…” I coughed, entirely flat-footed by comparison, amazed she could stand there, jogging in place in her royal blue Etonics without missing a single breath.

“Tell it to your lawyer,  friend,”the runner said, a gust flapping her blue sleeveless Boalt Hall T-shirt, overhanging slick black tights. “I want your name and address, like right now…”

What lawyer, what address?” I was beginning to feel guilty as charged, though with my recent diet and regimen, I had the testosterone and sex drive of a neutered basset hound.

“I hate yokel shmucks like you, coming out here just to gawk and hit on women in shorts,” she sneered, reaching into her slim black fanny pack, bouncing up and down like a thinking girl’s Barbie Doll on overcharged batteries. She CAT scanned me until my fetid T-shirt and shorts felt ionized, pumping her knees up to her aerobic waistline. So you’re lucky I’m in such an elevated mood—do yourself a favor, and take that bumpkin Halloween costume back down to the Tenderloin…”

Time had fleeted, days washed, nights wrung away—well through a Fleet Week of gun metal gray battleships, destroyers, and carriers rank and filing into the Bay under cover of fog—which had most recently lifted into a clementine Indian summer. Oh, how the seasonal disjunction threw off my calenderial body clock. Just when I was gearing to post-Labor Day buckle down and work through a blustery autumn and winter, summertime finally hit town.

Off balance, disoriented inside and out of my preoccupied mind: I couldn’t seem to integrate things thrown and gale forced my way. It was such a day-to-day jumble, so cumulatively confusing. One minute things would all seem to come together; the next minute it would all fall apart. While the rest of Marina Green’s parking lot tinkered with or swore at their vehicles, slung Frisbees, strung box kites or just soaked up midday rays, I waited out meager paydays, whittled away at idle hours and a junkfed waistline with some physical and kinetic dysfunction. Got to where I just had to escape, run away from it all, so I eventually started jogging again to quell my conscious or conscientious strain.

Nevertheless I hadn’t progressed to stretching and preening machinations the real runners grunted through before trailing off in mesh tanktops, swoosh trainers and split-seamed shorts. Rather, I made do with a grimy Flatirons tee, unwashed cut-offs, some discarded sneakers and mismatched thermal socks. Instant scorn, immediate derision—from sweatbanded, racing-flat marathoners to the silken running suit set turning two fashionable laps around the Green. 

I didn’t know my ass from Adidas about then, and was having trouble enough bucking an inevitable 20 m.p.h. headwind along Marina Boulevard. Yet a comparatively calm Tuesday lured me into tackling the Bay Trail, right lung nearly collapsing approximately where the real runners Jim Fixxed to catch a second wind. From there, it was past the West Green’s ‘bikini junction’, and a public men’s john full of cruisers, trollers and funny business unstalled.

Once I had squeezed about the corner, windward side of the St. Francis Yacht Club, there was no turning back. Knees aching, heart stressing, I pushed out by the shoreline to wide-open flats and former airstrips along Crissy Field. Press, press, I gasped, try to keep pace with the elevated endorphine junkies, the outgoing sloops and cruise ships. Going for the limit, army barracks, Coast Guard station, hell, maybe clear out to the bridge itself, Fort Point tucked like a gold ring beneath its graceful southern arch. Yah, bust through the stitches, catch another wind, like in Marquette Park, run until the land ran out and there was nothing between the Gate and Hilo except seasick freighters and a few scruffy islands. Until there’s no mainland left to run from; short of that, run until you drop…

Instead, I hit major walls long before reaching runners’ exhaltation—sucking wind, inhaling salt and sand through fits and starts, every wobbly step of the way. I’d lose my breath, then my stride and poise, and with every new pain threshold, cramp and side pain, came waves of fresh glidiators legging aerodynamically past. Spacious as the trail was along bay’s edge just beyond the Coast Guard station, runners and hikers from both directions had to squeeze through a virtual choke point: an opening between a cluster of army supply and storage buildings, commonly known as ‘the slit’. Foot traffic thickened and clogged there like the Bay Bridge toll plaza come Monday morning, bottlenecking six-minute milers cold in the middle of their cadenced breathing. By now, I was breathing heavier than them all, high-kicking, windmill flailing my arms for momentum, anything to push wind, coax my flabby shape the rest of the way out to that bridge. But I thrashed my arms a little too hard, once too often, and caught this curvy Mary Decker type closing up behind me squarely in her jogging bracouldn’t have cuffed her any better had I tried.

Before I could catch a breath and respond, she had re-merged into outbound traffic with the effortless energy of a Turbo Carerra, basically cutting me loose. With her, went any desire to hit another wall. So I hobbled back toward Marina Green with aching arches and muscle cramps. Some 1.8 miles of runners’ dust and water torture had done me in for the afternoon, tailwind or no. I grabbed a Motel Six memorial towel from the Volvo, and sweated out the dustup over to Funston Park’s fieldhouse shower room—irked in retrospect that I didn’t really cop a decent feel for all her fury and dressing down. Then again, the odds were stacked against me all along.

“She called me a pervert, a yokel bumpkin…”

“Told you…”

“Was an accidental brush, that’s all…” Returning to the parking lot, I was even more flustered over it, if only for lamely pleading nolo contendere. But what else was there to do, belt her one?  Just a slight skim, minor incidental contact, barely more than a near miss…”

“Running’s bad for your legs, bad for your back—bad for your whole digestive tract,” Sherry stirred some potluck hummus. “Skimmed her where?”

“Aww, just kinda caught her in the, you know…jog bra…”

“Uh-huh, figures,” she said. So I take it she gave you a pity pass, huh? Lucky you, ’cause if it’d been me, I’d have wrung your little neck right there.”

               “I say let’s jump her,” Eric said, looking up from my engine department, around which the whole sullied parking lot crew had huddled to blow the remainder of my off-day.

“Whoa, get real,” I paced about the Volvo’s front end, trying to keep a bead on Eric’s wrench work, let alone a few steps further away from Sherry. “She’d run us in for life…”

“No, I mean your heap here. Still and all, you wouldn’t catch me getting near a bitch like that. Try to be neighborly and they’ll just call you a goddamn pervert.”

“I say it’s all in your hands,” Clifford paged through my riddled owner’s manual, oblivious to the double-wides speed walking by, the larger woman sporting a pink sweatshirt that read, ‘Running Sucks Wind…And Passes Gas’, front to back. “And how you finesse it…”

“Finesse what? She was a goddamn lawyer,” I twisted a metric deepwell, U-joint and extension like a Magic Cube over more lawsuits in Lycra legging past, while Eric re-synched the linkage on my HS6 carbs. “If anything, It felt more like getting manhandled…”

I gazed plaintively out toward the East Basin’s fully loaded docks. Long rows of bare matchstick masts waved like Eric’s amp meter, the bay beyond its breakwater still churning, ketches and Lasers bobbing on leavened whitecaps in the wake of tanker and freighter traffic plying through the Gate. Graduality, summer pattern, those foggy, dead-still mornings and hellishly windy afternoons seemed to be easing by the day. I first noticed what passed for a seasonal shift come sunrise. My car windows were a bit less steamed up, the dash radio crackled less loudly as its transistors warmed to local drive-time happy talker, Dr. Don Rose. It was easier to kick out the overnight curvature of my seat cramped spine.

Spackles of sun light broke through the marble sky somewhat earlier in the midday; warm, high sky clearing lasted longer before marine layer freezer burn and shredder winds revisited the Golden Gate on raw panther paws. Afternoons wore on longer before the fog bank mounded over the bridge and coastal hills, before subsuming bay islands, Alcatraz and Marin County altogether, blowing flotsam and jetsam over to Oakland until settling down for the night. We outliers welcomed the subtly calmer winds of incremental change with open windows and doors. In this case, modest income and front seat fever had me taking up Eric’s earlier offer to crack my hood and make the Volvo roadworthy, dead battery and all.

“I still say we jump her,” Eric tapped the Volvo’s voltage regulator with his flathead screwdriver.

              “No, let’s push it, then he can pop her one,”said Clifford, closing the manual, glancing toward Sherry and his camper side Corvair.

“Who’s got jumpers anyway,” I surveyed the engine compartment for stray ratchets and sockets once Eric had pulled away, handing me the dented regulator like a dentist would pulled wisdom teeth. “Mine are trashed…”

“Well, mine are up in the blue Porsche” Eric said, pointing toward the Van Ness service station, closing cash balance due apparently still in the mail. “None of my front bumpers hardly have knockers anyway.”

“Forget it,” Sherry nodded. “Some elbow grease and a good shove will do the trick. We’ll even help do the pushing…”

“Whoa, I vote we go with the Corvair,” Clifford weighed in, jealous of his reading and rendering hands.

Hell of an afternoon for fits and starts. The Marina neighborhood looked marvelous at the moment, a brilliant sky having deepened toward day’s end, keeping the off-shore fog bank at bay—a sterling, airbrushed blue worthy of Beach Street posters and cards. Boulevard mansions glowed with inflated ROI, their clear picture window views of the bay and Marin adding equity by the hour, District off-whites and pastels unfurling with Spanish tile rooflines behind them, all the way to Cow Hollow and Pacific Heights rising beyond. Even the pigeons made way under foot, seagulls squawked a cappella to the rhythm of the runners’ gate, sunlight firing up their white feather undercarriages. Whole squadrons of V-lined pelicans swept west toward the bridge, dive bombing for shallow fish stocks, then rising back into their glide path, smoother than any ‘Blue Angels’ formation.

“By the way, who’s that weirdo guy walking around the lot lately with a shit-eating grin,” I asked, desperate to change the subject, dismayed that my genderal relations had come to this.

“Yah, nice duds, huh? Heard him say he works for the city, or something,” said Clifford. “Think he lives somewhere around here…”

“Then he must be on the night shift,” Sherry added, “because he’s veggin’ around here fat and happy about every afternoon these days…”

We all hands-on backed the 122s out of its parking space, squaring up as Clifford swung around in his Monza to line up its upright tow bar with my rear bumper. Crabber Don came over and tossed in a can of Instant Starter. Atop Eric’s red 912, Bruno growled at General Ripcord in passing, then that Guatemalan and his family dogs. Clifford beeped, I waved out my driver’s window, slipped the floorshift into first gear. On we rolled, 10-15 m.p.h. onto the Green’s wider main drive, he gave me one accelerated shove, then let me fly. I popped the clutch, the Volvo bucking and backfiring, grinding as pressure plate hit flywheel, driveshaft whiplashing like its u-joints were worn rubber bands.

Yet catch, she did before clutch-in coasting to a stop: voltage regulating, points and plugs sparking—internal combustion that was bent on blazing new NorCal trails. I pumped and revved, waving Clifford off, U-turning to an Iranians Dealing Gas station over there at Marina Boulevard and Buchanan for a gallon or two. Blessed re-mobility, far as it went; though it appeared I’d first have to idle awhile in a lengthening gas line, what with a crisis going on.

sr dingbats

“Don’t know.”

“Okay, then. Would you say, A, B, C, D, or…”

“None of the above.”

“Fine, now moving forward…how would you answer this final question on brand usage? Do you consume Little Critters cookies 1) Regularly, 2) Often, 3) Occasionally, 4) Seldom or 5) Never?”

“I’d say somewhere between 2 and 4. And when do I get my prize?”

“They’ll mail it to you in a month or so, maam.” I said, straight from the script. We appreciate your time and cooperation. You be sure to have a nice day…”

Vince and the PBT mailroom, had had their fill of me, as had Able Temps. So I’d drifted over to Ready, a rival agency that happened to be swamped with temp demand from a couple of marketing research firms that specialized in telesurveys. They chucked me into the line of phonic fire at a hot boiler room just down from MacArthur Park. Scripts in hand, I turned out to be a surprisingly quick study, just smooth enough on the horn, hitting shift quotas like Mister October a fastball, to where Ready Temps put me on call. These part-time gigs left more than enough free, fretful time to mobilize into perpetual motion—with just enough money to keep me in gas and junk food, if not enough to wheel me out of this Marina ditch.

Whence California wanderlust soon made perfect intercranial and Dybbukian sense. The more I roamed, the less my varied hassles seemed to dog me. Couldn’t pin anything on a rolling rockhead, right? Tunnel vision, freeform dissociation: what better way to keep trouble on the run than fresh, ever-changing scenery, a steady rasher of wanton abandon? Forget creature comforts and square mealtime, the highway to happiness was paved with plain old asphalt. Mind on my money and money on my mind: and to hell with another trail run-inI felt more driven to pour my depreciating assets into oil and gas exploration.

Routine being, I’d more often than not sleep in the Frostline bag until any remaining fog had cleared, waking up to the cawing of blackbirds, a windshield full of Marina Boulevard mansions, the racy roadsters and luxury chariots passing by, to and from Doyle Drive. Hitting time, weather and ‘Gold Dust Woman’ on the AM dial, I quickly offed the Blaupunkt to spare my battery, then brushed up over rust stained steel pots and basins in the lot’s de fresco john, shying away from that haggard face in its corroded metal mirror. Soon I was transient and fully tanked, with a stash of sourdough, overripe Chiquitas and Skippy Crunch from the Marina Safeway ‘meatmarket’ nearby.

Then it was a quick shank over to Chestnut Street,dialing up Doobies ‘Open Your Eyes’ on KYA for a breezy cruise to a corner Italian deli’s styro coffee. I couldn’t help eyeing a Marina parade of sunshine starlets already strolling and strutting by the increasingly chichi shops displacing everyday practical businesses that had served District dagos for decades. Young, fresh and flawless ex-coeds with longboard blond hair and beach sandy voices, strutted, strategically strolled in Nike, Adidas, Puma and New Balance. Self-absorbed, insolent babes named Kristen, Kirsten, Kathleen, Katie, Christine tossed their cheeks and cleavage around like catnip, unapproachably leerworthy at every turn.

Which was what most of the wet-combed lunks in workout suits were doing,the number crunchers in hard-pressed designer jeans, to the District’s overgrown, self-detonating mammas’ boys fingering coin returns for their allowance. All but collided with passbook bearing landlords of pioneer stock, kamikaze baby strollers and a nodding army of blathering curb and doorway crazies, mental and medicated, who had spent the night who knew where.

Little better and double parked in a red zone, I quickly picked up a paper and candy mints at Jack’s smoke stand, the Clarion leading with another Lafayette Park strangling—familiar psychosexual brutality, similar MO—name withheld pending notification, no suspects yet positively IDed. Not my bag, man, and I was off, catching Joltin’ Joe climbing out of his Fleetwood, gracefully Clipping over to the Chestnut Super for steak s, spuds and produce by the bin. Sure, just ahead of that hungover old goombah humping down from the Marina Lounge with a hair of the dog shine on, like a marionette without strings.

I honked and waved to a scowling DiMaggio, then drove down past Funston ball fields and Syd’s place, checking for Foxy and any signs of open studio time. No Audi, no chance encounter, so I wheeled onto Van Ness, intent on airing out my Solex carbs and some aggravating personal circumstances, Michael McDonald belting ‘Here To Love You’ on the radio. From there, I was all over the map, hopped up on weak coffee and Little Critters, cutting through the Broadway Tunnel, oogling North Beach skin showgirl barkers, George Benson riffing real jazzy on the box. I ramped up to the Embarcadero Freeway, gunning triumphantly around the Ferry Building and Justin Herman Plaza, past that ungodly waterfront YMCA, pumping ‘On Broadway’ full blast, feeling that sun-powered high-noon energy that fueled The City That Knows How. That music groove took me around 101 onto the Central Freeway, KSAN laying on the latest Starship Earth, tracking ‘Runaway’ and ‘Crazy Feelin’ back to back, interjecting some dish about Marty Balin screwin’ the pooch over returning to the band, since Kantner had canned Gracie after her slurring onstage fiasco in Germany wherein she blamed all of Deutschland for Hitler’s atrocities.

In any case, before I knew it, I’d spun up Fell Street to Fillmore, back to stirrings and soul of it all. Creeping up on Geary Boulevard, I could about hear the choir in Bill Graham’s house of worship. Chet Helms leading the Family Dog into ‘Hello, Hello’ greetings from the Sopwith ‘Camel’; The Charlatans joining in to stage a smokin’ neo-vaudevillian revival; Sons of Champlin serving as altar boys, lighting candles for the Flamin’ Groovies and LaFlammes. Such A Beautiful Day for it, if only I didn’t have to pass that Peoples Temple turmoil, namely Reverend Jim’s recent Psychotic Reactions, to get there from here. Mox nix, everybody knew how Santana got here: practice, practice, practice in a makeshift studio up Fillmore Street in Pacific Heights, before Carlos could catch Bill’s ear.

“Right next door,” said a flip-floppy ex-Texas waitress, twanging and hanging loose, in the Janis Joplin fetish mode. “What’ll it be, the Leek Soup and baguette, or…”

“Just coffee, thanks, room for cream,” I had settled into a tiny window case table for two, amazed that it had opened up, just as I hit the door. “You said Santana’s studio was…”

“On the other side of the Clay, up above Browser Books,” she said, visibly annoyed that I’d grabbed premier seating, albeit in a down-home sort of way. “All that’s left is a two-room shell up on the roof with acoustic tiles, windows all stripped out. That’s where he used to rehearse all day, then go hound Fillmore stagehands, trying to audition for Bill Graham himself. Sure as shootin’ worked, didn’t it?”

Steering clear of the gamy Your Asia Grill, I grabbed a full-meter parking spot between California and Sacramento Streets, across from a long vacated variety store that suggested this stretch of Upper Fillmore was betwixt better days. Difficult as it was to pass the frosted twists at the all-hours Donut Hole, much less the burger baskets at Sugar’s Broiler, I crossed Sacramento, past the sultry, black-tiled Hillcrest Lounge. Here, upper Fillmore Street had a delicious post-grad campustown flavor: Cheshire Cheese and Tea Victorian, Ten-Ichi sushi and a mouse hole of a Fully Belly Deli across the way—lots of liquor and flower shops, church and Junior League resale stores. Wasn’t until I closed in on the bookstore and Clay Theater that echos of Carlos’s capo and fretwork began to ring and pound through my ears. The movie house marquee still read ‘Manhattan’ with a midnight ‘Rocky Horror’ chaser. However I was more taken with the scene next door.

“Guess what hooked me was Abraxas,” I said, as she returned with a cup and china creamer, definitely Sydney grade.

“I’ll bet,” said the waitress, low-cut sweater, more back than bust. “Those big bare knockers on the album cover, huh?” 

“Uh, not…I just was into Samba Pa Ti,” I winced in the bright light of the front window case, the name Millard’s angled and gold leafed stylishly across the glass—not long for this upscaling block, if hovering real-estate vultures kept swooping their way into the Heights.

“Right, well you should check out our shot puller, Tori,” Noreen sniped, swaying back to the six-stool bar. “She’s built like a broodmare…”

Queen Victoria once said she thought the 13thAmerican president was the handsomest man she had ever met. So it followed that, trimmed in red and blue, Millard’s facade now cut a smart little sliver between the art house and a corner Owl Cleaners. Formerly the hobbling Hob-Nob luncheonette, this deep, narrow space had been transformed into a trend-setting crêperie/cafe, where a tout petit kitchen steeped and sizzled with saucy repast. Young Pac Heights food faddies, nearby hospital and dental school staffers, Jacques-en-le-Box refugees joined neighborhood artists, movie mavens and Santana spurred musicians to fill the counter and six tiny rear tables, often lining up out the door.

KJAZ radio and Rumours of Fleetwood Mac alternated on speakers among the homey plants and nicknacks; talk turned to cinema reviews and weekend bashes up on Tomales Bay, whispers of skinny dicking at China and Muir Beaches. Hawaiian shirts, baggies and an occasional ‘Full Sail’ or Marley ‘Exodus’ track lent a sandal-tapping ‘Here Today, Gone To Maui’ vibe to it all. Then again, there was Tori, drawing double capps on the espresso machine right above me with a minxish smile, Springsteen’s ‘Darkness’ plastered across her tight, brooding T-shirt. But hinted in her wink my way was that Bogarting this prized table over a lone cup of house-brewed wasn’t très cool at all. I inferred, deferred, settled up with Noreen, who said use more counter intelligence next time. So I sailed away, edging past a waiting couple of nurses onto Fillmore Street, as steamy caffeine pumped as Tori’s handles.

Feeling the Pacific Heights groove, I buzzed the Volvo further up Fillmore, flipping off that drag-ass bank branch, past the former horse stables and carriage garages. I blew through crosswalks and stop signs up here, waving off styling salons, estate jewelry and apothecaries like I really was somebody, the second coming of Fee Waybill, or Boz. Cruising the Heights like all the rich kids in their Mercedes and Beemers, matching them decibel for screeching decibel—the Dead Kennedys blowing ‘Mondo Bondage’, White Punks On Dope mainlining what they wanted from life besides more trust busting, putting more of their Tubular monkey business out on the streets for all to see.

Riding the manic rush, I punched in Eddie Bucks’ ‘Two Tickets To Paradise’ on the AM, dialing over to ‘I Go To Rio’. But such speedway projections only got me so far. Up to Broadway in fact, with Syd’s Casa Cossala meltdown right around the corner. That’s when I drank in the makings of a foggy sunset out beyond the Golden Gate Bridge, a churning eventide that would bring me back to another gauzy nightfall.

sr dingbats

“Loyal Republican, are you?”

“Me? No, not—guess I’m more of an independent…”

“No such thing around here, lad. Just so long as you’re not bleedin’ orange.”

After watching a cruise ship steam seaward into the sunset at Broadway, I turned things around and shot back down Fillmore to California Street, past the fabled Old Waldorf and fortified JCC. Needing a change of tune, I then angled over by Silk Degrees to Clement Street, where the pastel avenues took on numbers, rolling out straight and unwaveringly true. Wasn’t long before I attacked my dry rot at the roots, namely a green, driftwood trimmed pub mid block just this side of 5th, parking the overheated Volvo out front a spicy Chinese produce market, bins overflowing with leafage and collards untold—the neighborhood’s Euro underpinnings washing away in a tenacious Asian tide. Nonetheless, here was a prime scenario for a little more genealogy, soon as I tuned out ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’—reverting to more tricolor tribal familiarity amid all the cumulative alienation—drawn in like a peat bog grouse. Ahh, here was to the verdant beauty and tranquillity of the Auld Sod…

“Huh? Not that I’m aware of,” I squirmed on my bar stool. 

“Then you don’t object to contributing to the campaign, now do you,” said a carrot-topped bartender with a graying handlebar, pouring me a black and tan pint just so, spatula planing its head like a fried egg off a griddle.

“I’m really not into politics, you know?”

“We’re not talking ballots, mate,” said another, younger bartender, making his bullet point about gunboat diplomacy by sliding a large beef jerky jar reading ‘Moral Support’ over beside my mug. “We’re talking about The Cause.”

Eire Rising was another inner Richmond Irish bar, albeit more militantly so. A cavernously dark place, barely illuminated by yellow house lights and neon beer or whisky signs, the ER was a smokehouse of unfiltered cigarette plumes, to where I could hardly make out paintings and posters of Yeats and Pearse, Connolly and Michael Collins—alongside tricolor flags, murals of Killiney Bay, Muckross Abbey and the Gap of Dunloe.

San Francisco’s Irish strong, native and fresh-faced newcomers, tipped pints of Guinness and Harp, toasted Bailey’s and Bushmill’s between dances. Strumming and fiddling away on a small backroom stage was a Wolfe Tones cover band that reeled off renditions of ‘Uncle Nobby’s Steamboat’ and ‘Skibereen’, rousing blasts of ‘Big Strong Man’ and ‘God Save Ireland’ further firing up the more febrile of this Celtic crowd. But the migrating whispers of IRA recruitment for NORAID fundraising efforts and gun runs soon had me tossing back what remained of my Stout, shying away from the money jar altogether. My blood ran colder than greener upon realizing the ER’s roots went deeper than shamrocks and shillelaghs. Much as I could relate to the 32 County cause, my ire was already rising, and I wasn’t up for further foreign entanglements.

All the same, I reflexively flashed back on negotiating RUC checkpoints, sitting curbside along Belfast’s Oxford Street, shooting close-ups of the city center when a British soldier tapped my telephoto lens with his gun barrel, ordering me to put my black-body camera away lest it be mistaken for hostile weaponry. Tensions had been building all morning, lunch hour crowds thickening—with security forces moving everybody along like nobody’s damn business. I was packing up shortly after 1 p.m., feeling uneasy enough to take leave when the first of 24 explosions hit Ulster Bank, then the Brookvale Hotel.

From there explosions went off like a string of crown jewels, Great Victoria Street station, to Liverpool ferry terminus to the M2 Motorway and Queen Elizabeth Bridges. The attacks seemed to come bomb-a-minute in Belfast’s worst day of violence, city center and environs blitzed with smoke and scattered fire. Workers, shoppers all around me fled with hysterical screams, but nowhere else felt any safer. I was beside myself with disorientation and regret for hanging here so long, now playing deadly dodgeball with no visible means of retreat. Detonations concussed in my ears, as if in some kind of uncivil war zone. Soon downtown streets were strewn with flaming storefronts, crumpled vehicles and mangled body parts. Six people died at the Oxford Street bus station, three more at a shopping center out on Cavehill Road that July 21, 1972, with some 130 injured during a grisly 80-minute fusillade.

The IRA was blamed for the bombings, allegedly triggered by the breakdown of Storemont peace talks with Unionists and British Home Secretary William Whitelaw the month before. Provos insisted they had given advanced warning of the strikes, that Ulster security forces had irresponsibly ignored them. The Brits responded with an ‘Operation Motorman’ military clampdown in Belfast’s ‘no-go’ Catholic areas, the sectarian strife that began in October, 1968 continuing to this very day.

I had barely scraped my way out of town in one piece that Bloody Friday afternoon, ears ringing drum to drum, hitching a ride amid panic-driven traffic up to the Larne ferry for Scotland. Yet here the Troubles were, getting in my face again, if only for face value donations to the cause. Even more unsettling was chatter overheard at this pub, that while British PM James Callaghan had already visited Washington D.C. without venturing to San Francisco, the doof’s foreign secretary was due in town around Poppy Day. Couldn’t help but wonder whether Niall and Corrigan were at the smokey other end of the bar. Or if the switch to some bootlick named David Owen would somehow impact their plan.

Either way, it still wasn’t for me to say; time to pack the Tricolor in until St. Paddy’s Day next. So I scraped out of Eire Rising, rattled enough as I already was. Nevertheless, this latest tribal reckoning did get me to thinking about Sydney’s embrace of her Hebrew heritage, which made a lot more sense through this prism, albeit in the dim, distant light. Hell, at least they were over there making Mideast peace and shaking on it, instead of just blowing things sky high…

sr dingbats

“Newsradio’s City Bureau reports that the Reverend Jim Jones has launched a full-on response to recent charges of Jonestown irregularities. He has enlisted attorney Mark Lane to refute ‘bogus rumors’ regarding his behavior and conditions in his Guyana compound, claiming a ‘massive conspiracy’ by U.S. intelligence agencies. They threaten an array of media organizations with libel actions for spreading ‘lies and innuendos’ in the guise of ‘fabricated’ exposes.

Besides reaching out to the Soviet embassy for possible political asylum, Rev. Jones has reportedly written President Carter and Secretary of State Cyrus Vance for protection from the many enemies whom he claims are destroying his Godly work. Allegedly included in Jones’ letter to the president is his offering up of his wife for sexual favors at a time and place of Mr. Carter’s choosing. We are following this story closely, and will update at 11 PM …”

How ironic—make that paradoxical—no, it was merely coincidental that I found myself passing Peoples Temple while flipping to the latest AM newsbreak. Could have made another kamikaze sortie out to the O’Shaughnessy Seawall at Ocean Beach, but rather I had turned around over to Geary Boulevard as a quick escape from mickville and the encroaching marine layer. Not before witnessing Robin Williams, however, as he bounded out of the Holy City Zoo, monkey climbing all over a pair of idling powder blue squad cars, Morking into the 6thAvenue fog, nanu, nanu. Instead, I headed toward downtown, past Russkieville piroshki bakeries, Chinese chow mein parlors and the dratted Scandinavian deli that got me into this fix earlier on, again picturing Moon picking away disquietly at her kidney bean-cucumber salad before that head-on collision at Syd’s.

Chugging through the Fillmore once more, I couldn’t miss the vigil and demonstration gatherings outside Peoples Temple, all but set to music by the guitars blasting from the fabled corner auditorium, Bill Graham apparently having snared Petty and the ‘Breakers for a two-night taste of Damn new material. Thus distracted, I missed Fillmore Street altogether, thinking of backtracking to Divisadero until recalling that it was shut down for the dead of night, allowing house movers to haul whole dilapidated Victorians out of the Western Addition on curb to curb blocked-up trailers—in the name of urban renewal—bound for renovation and better addresses in the greater beyond.

So I plowed ahead on Geary by Japantown to Civic Center, missing Franklin Street entirely in the shuffle, punching up KYA and ‘Over My Head’, just in time to re-examine my priorities. Tracing that Van Ness near-death march through Auto Row proved painful enough, but by the time I reached the edges of Lafayette Park and Sydney’s former flat, the crime scenes began piling up like crates of Cordite, even today. Sequenced green lights drove me past Henry Africa’s down Chestnut Street to a Sylvester disco beat, doing glancing recon on Syd’s new apartment. I wanted to see if garage lights signaled she was creating away in her studio on our commission like a good little painter, searching for any sign of her car, or his. Not as I could notice, and I dared not approach any closer since I’d yet to come up with Josh’s parcel.

I then accelerated further along Chestnut to Fillmore Street, dialing through ‘Don’t Give Up On Us Baby’ via soft-rock radio, left turning to scope out whether she had parked her red Fox hereabouts, say to hit a work-out session at Marina Fitness, keeping so slim and tight.  I guessed maybe she had swung down to the ferned wood and brassy Chestnut Street Bar and Grill for nicknamed sandwiches on the patio with the gals. Except she seemed to have no gals nowadays, mostly guys, helpful, happening guys—at least more so than I could ever hope to be, scarcity trapped as I was.

That burned me even more as I circled the Fillmore to Scott Street circuit over and over, hawkin’, gawkin’funny words there, but had nothing to do with me. Winging it ‘With A Little Luck, we can make this whole damn thing work out’ and ‘Can’t you feel the town exploding?’ I looked to the sensitive synth pop for any hopeful nod. Trying to grasp and identify with who she was becoming, get closer to the heart of it all, yet drifting further and further afield, getting no kick whatsoever from munching stale, dry Kix as ‘Sister Golden Hair’ played on the AM dial. I vowed to find a role, an angle, some sort of inroad—that’s right, be Mr. Indispensable Lifesaver Mentsch like before, make myself relevant again—if only to make this all bloody worth it. Meantime, I tuned into KYA again, Donald Fagan singing, ‘Goin’ back Jack, do it again, wheels turning round and round… you’ll be on your knees tomorrow.’

Then again, that was at least a long, tempestuous night away…

Care for more?

Chapter 81. A lot of bitching and 
breast-beating carries over to one 
hell of a Halloween brew…