Chapter 84

“Go, think for yourself
for once in your meager life—
mind cuts like a knife.”

“Montpelier, or Montmartre.”

“Uh, I don’t think that’s quite…”

“Or Monte Moore…”

“That sounds more like…”

“No, Monte Mar, that’s it, by God. His manse looks out over Sausalito and everything—the whole megillah. I’ll be basing up there while I’m in town.”

One other sun-up role call came in. A bell rang through the Marina Triangle parking lot like Easter Morning services, not that long after I had packed it in from the long night. Apparently a persistent ring, an authoritative tolling of stellar consequence that caught the ear of a passing Monsignor, who took the call from that public phone booth, then levitated over to the Volvo, tapping my door glass with a sanctified smile. His beatified summons shook me out of a troubled sleep, sent me scrambling to the phone booth, cotton mouth sweating through a harried call from Ready Temps. Something about the new client in town, needing a crack photographer for a series of commercial color shots, chance of a lifetime for us all. Ready staffers combed their roster files and mine was the only profile that came anywhere close, and that I’d better hop to it because they had pitched my ass full bore to this megabucks new mover and shaker from back east. Feeling so jarringly obliged, so thoroughly pre-bought and sold, I was halfway out the phone booth, tripping over my tongue and untied bootlaces before catching the specific wheres, wears and when.

“And all this,” said Nolan Anderle, a slightly Greenstreet sort of cherub, gratuitously vain and self-possessed in light of his true physical presence. “Yes, indeed, it pays to have hail-fellow well met friends in high places the likes of Benjamin Jay Booker. Then again, Jay can say the same thing when he decamps to my Manhattan pied-a-terre.”

“I’ll bet,” I replied, wincing as he assessed me, head to toe.

“Now as to you, however, the Ready agency vouches for your integrity, and I myself detect something in the cut of your jib.”

“Just a little wrinkled, actually,” I tugged at the sleeves and lapels, some quick and self-conscious hand pressing. “I’m sorry about the jacket—been traveling, was going to get it dry cleaned and everything…”

“Not to worry, m’boy. We’ll take care of all that,” Anderle flipped through a clear plastic sleeve of Ektachrome Euro slides I’d packed away in my trunk-banished rucksack. “The important thing is you are able to shoot a brilliant snap that tells a compelling story in the realm of a hotel narrative.”

“Yes, well, have a little problem with that, too.”

I stumbled back and forth from my Volvo to the public john to transmogrify into presentable zoom and groom. Still half asleep, I barely noticed that our little motor pool had rather cleared out from the red curbed parking lanes. Gone were Sherry’s Econoline and Clifford’s Corvair; Eric’s Porsches remained in place, but neither he nor Bruno’s remains were anywhere to be seen. I did spot a swirl of flashing amber tow rig over by Gashouse Cove’s boat lift, and what looked to be…whoa, Gary’s bread truck? It appeared to have rolled diagonally halfway down that rocky embankment beside the cove’s inner channel, his crates and shoe boxes tumbled out of the driver’s door like CARE packages out of a C-47 cargo plane, into the oily water—who knew the why’s and wherefores?

Gary himself was nowhere to be seen hereabouts, but then neither was Crabber Don, unless he was holed up in his boat sitting gig with a bottle of yesterday’s sauce. Yet after the way last night went down, I wanted nowhere near any patrol cars or emergency vehicles, especially on an achingly bright morning such as this. So I slicked down, buckled up and stole out the Fillmore side exit, hoofing it to Chestnut Street for a circumspect MUNI ride downtown.

“So you’re not exactly Cartier-Bresson or Avedon, son. Nevertheless, time is of the essence here.”

“Let alone Robert Frank,” I smiled nervously, wondering where the hell that came from. “On the other hand, I’ve had some hotel experience, Ritz-Carlton actually. Maybe I can do a little writing for you, in a pinch.”

Precisely! The point is your pictures show me you can read an exposure meter, at the very least frame and focus,” he held the pocketed sheet up the the window light. “And…hmmm, a not altogether blind eye for line.”

“I appreciate that, sir,” I said, mildly flattered, to say the least, which was what Anderle just offered forth.

And be aware that you will be working with the best in the business, the tops in their field,” he continued, as he brushed straight-edge talc from his smooth black linen lapels. “I foresee some very big things for you, indeed.”

“Uh, well the biggest thing right now is my gear…”

“It must be up to standard—of that, I’m sure…”

“No, quite frankly, the problem is it’s up to here in…pledge,” I raised my hand to my off-center Windsor knot.

On a left-side bus seat, facing safely away from Syd’s place—let alone the wiles of Lafayette Park—I unspindled a rush-hour Clarion left behind. Its page-one piece detailed the latest complaints of maltreatment, even some suspicious deaths, looming over Peoples Temple, from Geary Street down to Jonestown. Such that Congressman Leo Ryan had vowed to personally lead a Guyana inquiry into defector horror stories soon after the upcoming election. His fellow International Operations Subcommittee members have already called it a ‘crazy trip’, while Jim Jones labelled Ryan a right-wing conspiracy nut. The page-four jump and 47 Van Ness bus carried me to California Street, where I jumped on an inbound cable car, grip hanging onto the trolley’s backside all the way up here.

“Hmmm, I see, beholden to a poor man’s banker, the vipers who traffic in human setbacks, hey? Well, we can’t have that now, can we,” he slid his hand back and forth expressively between us. “Tell you what, we shall simply march in there and reclaim your rightful equipment, that’s what. Free your creative tools from such pecuniary encumbrance.”

“What? I can’t ask you to…”

“M’boy, you’re not asking for anything. I simply wish for you to unshackle those divine tools and skills, to soar with the creative eagles!”

“Really, Mr. Anderle, that’s the most considerate…”

“Considerate, nothing. Consider it an advance.”

“Advance…”

“Why, against future payment, son. Of course you could just leave your photographic equipment there and let the scoundrels peddle it out from under you. There is a time limit on such arrangements, is there not? I’m sure a bright young man like yourself has been keeping track.”

Up here being atop Nob Hill, magnate and mogul row, lofty home to some of San Francisco’s earliest tycoons, to the Big Four: Fairmont, Mark Hopkins, Stanford Court and Huntington Hotels, more or less surrounding a massive Willis Polk brownstone mansion, the only structure up in this neighborhood to have survived the 1906 Earthquake. Originally the home of silver baron James Claire Flood, the mansion had become a private social club as early as the mid-1800s—legacy front lawns and all—a mens-only clubhouse by charter, members being the captains and capstones of Northern California industry and society. Ready Temps had directed me here, to meet their new client at this Pacific-Union Club, and I couldn’t have felt less presentable on my way off the cable car running boards, much less upon running up steep stair steps toward P.U.C.’s uniformed doormen. Good thing this client so assuredly answered their verifying call, albeit on Ben Jay Booker’s dime.

“Uh, sure I have,” I muttered, leaning in on the leading edge of a tawny leather settee as if it were eggshells Baroque. “What do you think…”

“Well, then, are we on board,” Anderle pressed, sipping from a stemmed crystal goblet, brandy perhaps, cognac more likely. He hadn’t offered me the opportunity to find out, but then neither had he actually offered up a drawing room seat.

“Can’t see why not,” I nodded curtly, wiggling and wriggling against a crested doilied arm. Hell, I couldn’t even remember where I’d left the pawn tickets.

“Splendid, m’boy,” Nolan stared triumphantly through me, turning his goblet ponderously across his lips.“Yes, splendid, indeed.”

“I mean, once we iron out the details and everything,” I said in passing, as I pivoted away from any eye contact, toward the view outside that arching cut-glass window, panning from the stodgy, bordering-on-fusty Georgian brick Huntington Hotel across California Street.

A cable car pulled my eye around to the exalted Beaux Arts fortress on Mason Street, built for mining magnate and U. S. Senator James Graham Fair in 1907, with a Vanderbilt money ponied in. A world of flags flew high above the Fairmont Hotel’s grand porte-cochere, limos converging as though statesmen were still drafting the United Nations Charter in its Garden Room; Sammy, Ella and the Toastmaster General were working the Tonga’s Tiki Bar, Tony Bennett was leaving his heart in the Venetian. “Some neighborhood, huh? Must cost a fortune to be a member here.”

“Top of the Mark, m’boy, nothing but the top of the mark—Jay and I would settle for nothing less,” Anderle leaned back in his satin upholstered wing chair, checking his Vacheron Constantin, still on East Coast time. “Indeed, for my money, Nob Hill is San Francisco. It’s much like home, so very Upper East Side.”

“Your home is like this?” I fixed on the wiry thin gray strands of his pasty combover, ears perked to zip code and decor.

“Would you expect to find anything less on East 70th just off Fifth Avenue? Son, I count among my closest neighbors Niven and the Frick Museum. Yes, in town from my Somerset County farm, I pour a snifter from my Hepplewhite, then settle my silk robe into a Louis XIV to admire my original, exquisitely framed baby Monets and Magrittes—my favorite being ‘Une Pomme’ –or look out upon the horse carriages of Central Park. Where my dear friends are always welcome to do the same. Play your cards properly and one day you may find yourself ensconced there for a sumptuous spell, as well.”

“Wow, New York, I…”

“Nevertheless, it appears you are situated quite well here,” he said, with an eye to the Club’s sculpted iron and etched glass light stands, muralled and tapestry paneled walls. “San Francisco is a little big city unlike Los Angeles, which is simply a big little town. That I know, as I happen to be departing for the southland tomorrow evening. Therefore, we must firm up our positions tout de suite.”

“L.A., too. Incredible…”

“In certain circles, that is,” Anderle zeroed in on me, tight jawed and four-square, monogrammed hanky to his high, polished brow. “I have a similar accommodations awaiting me in Beverly Hills, on Rodeo Drive, as a matter of fact, two gorgeous queen palm trees or so south of Wiltshire. Which is precisely why we must move on this arrangement, young man. I am prepared to seed you enough to retrieve your photographic equipment, and remunerate you at a rate of $25 per acceptable shot. You work off the initial seed redemption, then will receive this more than generous payment from there on.”

“Wait, that could take,” I reeled, struggling to guesstimate the pawn ticket bottom line. “And what about Ready Temps?”

“Fear not,” he dealt, rolling hand over wrist, like flipping an omelette over easy, yet with a firm, flourishing pat of the spatula. “Between you and me, there will be ample work. We fully intend to sell all of San Francisco’s finest establishments on my marvelous publishing venture. As for the agency, they can fee me, and we’ll simply work around the rest.”

“We…but how do I know who…”

“Tut, tut—a presume we are all gentlemen and women here, dealing from a position of eminent trust,” he said sonorously, as if sensing a close. “Better you should lose the tools of your trade to some shyster loan shark?”

“Well, no,” I muttered, calculations hitting bottom and frittered away. “But you’re saying shoot my way out…”

“Precisely! See, I knew you’d be decisive,” Anderle grinned anew. “Soon as my operative arrives, I will have him escort you down to that little Waterloo of yours and redeem your wares.”

“Operative, what…” I winced at the very idea, drifting off into the drawing room’s soaring inlaid ceiling, its capital crowned marble columns, largely lush potted palms.

“Jason, my crack copywriter. Best in Gotham, I must say, which means best, period—a hybrid between Maugham and Vidal. I’m flying him out, sparing no expense, of course. For we all know there are no real writers out this way. Should be here first thing in the morning.”

“Yeah, well, what say I sleep on this, call you in the morning, first thing?”

“Au contraire, m’boy. You will join us tomorrow, elevenish at that delightful breakfast spot across from the Sir Francis Drake. Sterling’s is it? A full staff meeting before I depart for SFO to sell out the best of Los Angeles. We’ll reserve a rear corner booth, just like at Elaine’s. Valerie will be there, as well. You’ll not miss her, of that I’m certain.”

“I’ll mull it over, see what I come up with,” I sighed, tuning into the Mahler and Hyden piping prudently through. “Will bring you a final answer then, okay?”

“All you need bring are those pawn tickets,” he insisted, admiring his fresh manicure, then reaching into his jacket for a small leather holder. “Now, allowing as how I have a theatre engagement, I must request you take leave. Until tomorrow, my card…”

“Tomorrow,” I nodded warily, rising to shake his flaccid hand. “Pleasure meeting you…”

“Rest well, m’boy. Come morning, we mobilize our top drawer enterprise, conquering California, north and south. That’s right, as God is my witness, there surely will be work for us in the City of Angels, as well.” He then lightly grasped my elbow, leading me out of the drawing room back to PUC’s parqueted foyer, along a velvet cushioned banquette, handing me over to its cloakroom attendants and valet de pieds. “So welcome aboard, and incidentally, run a quick press over your shirt and slacks, for heaven’s sake. Remember, from here on, it’s first class all the way!”

“First class…so agreed,” I scanned a business card reading, Prism Publications, as uniformed doormen ushered me out the club’s gaseliered, pillared portico to the sheerly declensive front staircase, then the clang and clatter of crossing cable cars. “I’ll take it up with my…gentleman’s gentleman.” Guess Mister Anderle couldn’t prismatize the creases and wrinkles in my jib But who knew if he was legit, anyway; then again, he didn’t know what I was up to, what I was all about. I really had to think this all through…

sr dingbats

“Looks like they’re road tripping again, can’t keep those two off the highway for long…”

“But, so sudden…”

“Who knows, maybe they were spooked by last night’s fireworks, or all those park killings? What say you, bro? Where you think they off to, and why?”

Me? How would I…”

“I mean, you been hangin’ around this crew long enough now, ain’t you?”

“Well, in and out…”

“That’s what I’m sayin’…”

“Frankly, I don’t have a clue what you’re saying.”

“Just remember, ain’t nobody can hold you captive like your own self.”

So what was he implying, what the hell was he accusing me of?! That was the thing about L.T., I couldn’t quite figure out where a con like him was coming from. All I was asking was where Sherry and Clifford had disappeared to, and he started gaming me this way. The last thing she said to me was, “even if you win the rat race with these downtown jobs, you’re just going to be another rat.” Nevermind getting into what Gary’s truck and the morning’s Gashouse Cove gumball brigade was all about—wasn’t going anywhere nearer that than I’d already been, namely this side of outright avoidance. The only thing I’d returned to the Marina Triangle for was my car, and with Nolan Zanderle still blowing in one ear, I wasn’t about to let some rasty jailbird blow out the other. Everything seemed upended in the parking lot we’d called home, with L.T. lingering like a pusher at People’s Park.

Well, no dice. I gave him a neighborly stiff arm, so to speak, strategically re-positioned some traffic cones and coaxed the Volvo over to the Iranian gas station for a two-dollar fix. Then it was off on an early evening mission up Bay Street, time to take my back back, start spreading the news. A photo gig, could be branching out to the Frickin’ Big Apple and L.A., jet set coast to coast. Damn straight, we’ll even the playing field—water reaches its own level, right here and now, Syd, just in the nick of time. Let me just turn the corner here, sniffing your turf like a pimply freshman the homecoming queen—flip from ‘Baby Come Back’ by Player on the AM to Patti Smith’s ‘Because the Night’ Belongs to Lovers on the FM side and…whoa, wait, what’s that?! Can’t be a cobalt 450SL , not there in here puny little driveway—that’s not how this is supposed to go. Okay, just seeing things, blink of an eye—gotta take a spin around the block, change my perspective, not fixin’ on some fixation or anything, just adjusting my aperture and shutter speed to a new horizon.

I proceeded to drive myself dizzy with poor sleep, bad food groups over it—much less a rapid fire succession of eroto-misfiring imagery. wheeled up to a Lombard Motel Row deli, scoring stale sourdough and sour milk, then acted upon a gyrotransponder compulsion to cruise through the inner Marina’s silent, lifeless streets. Across Octavia, up Gough, block after tree-free block of chalky bungalows, two-flats and apartment buildings offering sunny, saltwater breezes and concrete vistas, from Pacific Heights down and out to the Golden Gate. But by the time I’d doubled back around Van Ness and Lombard to Syd’s on Chestnut, that Laine dude was helping her into his Benz, the both of them decked out for some serious date night action, some Greasy Saturday Night Fever after that, by the looks of it, anyhow.

All the more sour to the gullet: No way, she wouldn’t, must be my mind playing tricks, not her doing them. But popcorn brain again, M-80s going off, a seiche of burning images. This wasn’t my idea of action, didn’t factor this into my plan. I fumed as they pulled away with a cross-console buss and sped down Van Ness Avenue. Here I be, gearing to spring a Hail Mary pass and ending up with an act of constriction—gripping the gearshift and steering wheel like they were Silly Putty in my hands. I punched up and down the radio dial, landing on a KMEL set of new Doobies at a red light, getting honked along and headlight winked through a right hand turn. Round and round,Van Ness out Lombard Row to Fillmore Street and back up Chestnut again, horning traffic like a dirt track cracker through ‘Here to Love You’, but I couldn’t spot that goddamn SL valeted anywhere. Then it hit me, must be some bank deal, a PBT corporate affairat least until the FM tracked to ‘What a Fool Believes’.

Yeah, no fuckin’ way, this wasn’t about about me anymore, or me and her, this was about her or me, goddamn beyond me, as the case may be, with or without my consent or regard. ‘Minute by Minute”, the storm rained in—double cross, no triple cross, leaving me to carrion as before, tire tracks on the forehead, cloud of road tar over the carnage..leaving me here in the dust, angel dust, gold dust, Nixy ‘Gold Dust Woman’ dust, damn bent…in all, a theoretical construct I had no power to reason away…

Nothing to do but kill the radio and crawl back to the Marina lot before…uh-oh, too late, the Volvo began sputtering and coughing at Gough Street, where I coasted over to a white curb loading zone, fuel gauge buried to the left in the now dead of night. Head cracking open like a petrified walnut, I could have packed it in right then and there. Instead, I locked up, figuring to walk this all off, think things through, pick up the pieces down by the shoreline—naw, better to air it out with a hike uphill to park my achin’ ass where we had been and gone before…

sr dingbats

ED: Trigger Warning…

Ask me, they’re lookin’ to make Moscone look bad, tryin’ to cost Chief Gain his job, that’s why.”

“Figure they’re getting all kinds of heat from up the hill, too?”

“You got it. Pacific Heights don’t cotton none to the pink invasion, ‘specially anywhere near this part of town, understand? Not like they’d ever own up to it, but…”

“So you’re sayin’ the badges will keep draggin’ their feet on this park spree, no matter what they’re fed…”

“Just another loser whacked in the park, boss—pass the coffee and donuts…”

“Meanwhile somebody’s gettin’ away with murder. Shit, may the force beat with you. Man, I’m outta here.”

Not only couldn’t I recall how I’d wandered from point A to Point B and back again, but how the corner Bay/Van Ness Shell station let me pump a gallon of regular leaded into a plastic milk carton salvaged from its backlot dumpster. That and some frantic gas pedal priming bought a one-way trip back to the Marina Triangle and a little sun-up downtime. Maybe it was the caffeine comedown, the mind cleaver that was Anderle’s greet and meet, then another long overnight wringer, but I had packed into my Volvo like a bloody laundry bag. Sliding under the Frostline in holey Looms, I buried my throbbing melon in an arm-rested throw pillow from the Boulder days, picking up a wispy scent of Moon’s Dr. Bronner’s soapy shampoo again—pillow from the trunk, but still no blasted Josh box. From there on, I blew off the entire afternoon in a bucket seat coma, draining the 122s’s battery with a low-volume lullaby of KSFC Hit Radio, marginally oblivious to the squabbling seagulls and cross-cackling crows. Even to that smiling gladhander and screaming woman’s Coupe de Ville carryings on—which by then involved sitting on her trunk lid in sweater and underpanties, flailing her fists and rolling her bleached blond head like an asylum seeker just outside the garden gates.

So another beautiful autumn day in the Marina Triangle had worn on without me until the onset of a waxing moon eventide. Whereupon neither the AM hit parade nor rev and rumble of the parking lot’s motor pool could entirely drown out a door-to-door exchange between some plain looking black Caprice sedan and what looked and sounded similar to L.T. in his van. But a sneak peek up and out my driver’s window only got me a rubbery squeal and fog of ring worn exhaust from a dark truck blowing off the lot. I’d all but forgotten that the worm had turned 180 degrees, worm gear, at least, so I soon pried my eyes wide open to a full-on windshield view of the Small Craft Harbor, looking away from the boulevard mansions, steering clear of any further parking lot intrigues.

What I could make out of that clandestine conversation was nothing I wanted to hear about then anyway. Lying low until the Caprice pulled away, I then abluted the hell out of there in what could best be described as subdued street clothes, leaving the Volvo to its own restorative devices. More than ever, I had to break away from here with no evidential chains or gas pains, had to change my tune. Safeway afforded the takeaway coffee, Fort Mason the clear path to what Van Ness Avenue had to offer in the way of POV and breathing room. At least until I dodged slamming traffic across Bay Street right out of the globe-lit iron gate, following a scruffy cart pusher who stopped cars left and right against the light, with drop dead attitude, if not coinage to spare. Come curbside, he turned to hit me up for that, as though some sort of self-decreed toll taker for having blazed an easier trail. “Thanks, anyway…”

Would that it had ended there, but from the corner Shell station on, a small, though gathering gas- queue shed headlights on another nettlesome line down Van Ness, peopled by crepuscular figures who likely preferred living large outdoors, among the sunny daytimers in Aquatic Park and shadowed tree cover and shrubbery under Fort Mason stars. Too soon to tell whether The City was on the verge of becoming a homeless magnet or homeless magnate, but tonight this realm cried out for lucre of any kind, even with a screaming high school football game across Van Ness at Galileo’s OJ Memorial Field.

“Hey, brother, make my day,” yelled a corner panhandler on the prowl, bed blankets wrapped around his shoulders like a reptilian boa, scored cordovan oxfords ripped out at the counters.

“Aww, sorry, but don’t go ruining my day, okay,” I snapped, bypassing his encampment between hydrant and scrawny acacia tree—hey, you’re supposed to be helping derelicts like that…

Your day? What the hell about my day?”

And so on—between Bay and Francisco alone, I negotiated a gauntlet of ragged street types in transition, coming to the very end of things, guys nicknamed the Necktie Strangler and Stinky the Rapist, up all night after regenerating like crocodiles in the afternoon warmth. They had brought all their anxieties, phobias and animosities to the grand avenue, commingling and blathering in indeterminable tongues, bringing a new wrinkle to mere survival of the fittest, some destined for either the Bryant Street lock-up or the morgue. Sitting or lying all over the dog tagged sidewalk, many were toxically loaded, blowing stubbed Bugle smoke, rocking or rolling over to scratch their pet bugs and sores. Others preened, took detached stock of their rebel selves, or shadowboxed like Muhammad Ali pounding Leon Spinks into submission in New Orleans’ Superdome. Behind a trashbasket, some Uneasy Rider took a bare-ass curbside crapola, yanking his jeans back up with a defiant bird to all, his Captain America chilblains shivering nearby him, rolled up in an army blanket, eyes fluttering, lips flapping, shaking out of his oversized laceless boots, blissful grin for his wingman.

So I moved on along a block of four-story brickface and stucco apartment buildings, as if to wish away a vomit sighting. Greeting me across Francisco Street was a soaked dude cloaked in a plastic dry cleaning bag and wet, baggy pants; then a hairy-faced hulk in soiled movers’ threads turning to shout into a metal-gated apartment building door window reflection, “Hate that you’re fag, man,” over and over again.

The aroma of minute steaks and Mongolian BBQ may have been wafting from boxy upstairs bay windows, but down here at street level, it was all caked urine and boozy heave. The wages and rages of chronic starvation, pre-famine indicators: hunger pangs turned to tongue swelling, stomach perturbation, saliva became thick and foul-tasting, throat feeling like barnwooden tubing. Soon the appetite went from nothing to anything but food, with a fixation on water, sugary at that. Until heads commenced spinning, muscles lost strength and mass, hallucination and lethargy setting in. Then body fat turned to liquid, bodies began feeding on themselves. Luckier buggers survived on a strict diet of take-out discards and shredded cheese in a baggy, like eating and coughing up long hair. Chez Panisse, it wasn’t, nor St. Zita’s for that matter.

“Yah, you only steal from a store you can afford to get booted out of.”

“It’s been real, bro…”

“Real what?! Wake up and smell the concrete, will ya? What don’t kill you’ll drive you crazy.”

“I’m just wakin’ up smelling you.”

These younger bucks would be the gutter swipes and skateboard sages, hitting up fast and strong, in and out of garage door recesses, dispensing such crack-wise morsels—in other, more lucid words a school of street sharks diverting marks from the pick and con between flickering street lights exhausted ficus and crackling trolley poles, suddenly sucking mooks like me into their distended day-to-day dramas. But on approach to Chestnut Street on a steel-grated sidewalk, sidestepping splice box covers and a hefty leopard-jacketed bottle blonde walking a bone-thin Afghan hound, I decided I’d have none of it, opting instead for a jumbo carry-out black, no sugar from this Vanro Market. Yeah, nyet my problem, no more sweating the small stuff, not when I had some real displeasure to work through…

“Four-star Clarion, latest on East Timor and Angkor Wat, read all about it!”  This, over the roar of passing buses and downtown traffic, a news hawk dealing from his cubbyhole tarpaper stand next to the MUNI stop. Vanro Groceries/Liquor was the all-hours cornerstone of a six-story Arabesque deco apartment building with an ornate mezzanined foyer behind iron gating, and crested detail throughout. Typical fluorescent convenience store: postered, boarded over front windows, lots of quick, packaged junk food inside, household essentials, door upon door of beer and cheap wine in the dairy case, and even more security mirrors angled for a rear-facing counter, just inside the skin and movie rag racked entrance. I’d bagged a mini-donut pack along with the coffee for dinner, a craggy, eagle-eyed proprietor monitoring my every curious step back out to Van Ness, past a block-letter sign: ‘Thank Your For Shopping Here’.

“Carter lauds further progress on new Israeli-Palestinian peace talks at Camp David, final Clarion Edition!”

A revving yellow Barracuda pulled up to grab a weekend edition from the aged, overgrown paperboy in his full Giants garb, then peeled out before a blaring tour bus. Enough with that noise, I tracked the Grayline Coach riding that Plymouth’s bumper through a green light, picking up on the bright orange neon lights of the motel cater-cornered across Van Ness—sleep, sweet clean-sheeted sleep—but instead turned around the corner onto Chestnut, staying tucked under Vanro’s brightly lit metal awning next to of all karmic things, a billboard reading, ‘Shot From the Hip’, with a shooter and lime image for…Bandito Tequila.

“Supervisor White blasts cop quotas again, breaks with the Mayor on police funding. Is he stepping in it like Supervisor Pooper Scooper? Or is a political hot potato eating him up? Exclusive in the Clarion…”

Man carries his own baggage, burrowing headfirst into your own grim little mole hole, blah, blah, blah, more of those voices sneaking up on me, as if speaking truth to powerless. I place set the top of a traffic light switching box, wolfed down three chocolate donuts and half a cup as a 30 Stockton trolley bus rounded, sparked blue-red as its power poles clattered through the overhead wire junction down Chestnut toward Jefferson Loop, which I tracked past Syd’s place, all the way out to the Presidio ridge line. Yeah, so much work to do, got a gig, babe—work on me, work on …her, work on me and her, work on her and me, work on me and her and here. Work over her but good, her and him. Might as well go all the way with it, no measly snooping, no pervo window-peeking, just kick that bank wimp out of the pix, airbrush him right out, straight up, where else you got to go?  Caffeine and glucose hitting the synapses, the neurons and norpinephrine, Neil Sedaka’s ‘Bad Blood’ boiling over from my subconscious courtesy of afternoon radio. That sent me to walking sorely down Van Ness toward Lombard Street to mull things around the block.

Turning at the Black Magic Voodoo Lounge, I tromped along Motel Row again, past tourist trap bars and motor inns, traffic swinging off Van Ness by me, gunning out Highway 101 North to the Golden Gate Bridge and Casa Manana, tossing dust like a Badlands coal train. Think about it, fool, quit turning corners, read between the lines. If you don’t want to stay here and don’t want to go there you won’t be getting out of this here that you don’t want to be, unless you go there where you don’t want to be. But the only way you’re gonna get anything together enough to get your ass out of here to where you don’t even want to be, so you can finally go where you want to be the way you want to go there. Simple as that and how many times are you going to have to run through this before it sinks in, and it best sink in fast…whoa, not going wobbly again are you?!

I lapped around Franklin and back up Chestnut, each street lined with pastel stucco and brickface apartment houses. After numbly jotting my name on a Prism card and slipping it into Syd’s mail slot, I crossed the street from her place under cross-cawing light pole crows, landing back at my coffee and cookies outside Vanro Market. HSPs off the chart, more intercranial pressure, electrochemical spillover—cortisol all over the amygdalae, left and right— uncontrollable, swelling across the hemispheres in my lesioned brain: I brooded safely distant from any red Foxes and 450SLs—crazy love sick or just sick of love—de Clerambault’s Syndrome in auto reverse, reason being slave to the passions. Yah, but what if that little schemer is one step ahead of you again? Pushing the buttons, pulling the strings, conniving to keep running things…Maybe she and her family have really worked Moon over back there, so Sister Golden Hair has run filial interference for sure, actually did sandbag me out here just long enough to get Melissa back into Lester’s fold, and now can move on to Sir Moneybags. That Billy Joel’s got it down, all right: ‘She’ll promise you more than the Garden of Eden, then she will cut you and laugh while you’re bleedin’…blame it all on yourself, because she’s always a woman to…’ he!

Meantime, she’s getting away with your whole trip, asshole, squeezin’ you by the gonads whether she’s here or not. Whoop, look out, there she…nope—how perfect, how typically perfect—just the way people like that operate, huh? Damn straight—you know, like dad said, that’s how it is with those sheenies, pure confirmation bias, straight outta Marquette Park. But what do you expect from chasing a chosen rich girl? That’s what you get for skinnydipping in the Jewess pool. Really, what made you get messing around with those connivers anyhow?! Letting them job you up and down this way—see, it’s not you, it’s them, whether Moon buys it or not. No manic, no panic, that’s the work you’ve got to do now, making it right, for Moon and for Uncle Early…need somebody to push you, not eat you alive…never meant to lay a hand on her—jaw clenching, swallow my tongue kill somebody! Just wait until she shows her two chiselin’ faces out that door—you just wait…Hold on, there she...can’t be, all dolled up again, how could she—if she’s with him again, I swear…

“Unnamed body found floating in Marina’s Gashouse Cove, read it in today’s Clarion!”

“There, that full-up bus, jumpin’ the back!”

“Wha ’bout dat…”

“Jus’ go, get on it! Who care? He jus’a dirty ol’ Jew…”

Goddamn commotion, all of a sudden—hey, a little quiet, I’m busy thinking here…Around the corner there—over by the newstand—two corduroy disco-suited punks piled up through the rear exit door of a 47 trolley. It looked to be cram packed from the rescheduled Galileo-Mission High football game, pulling out southbound through an amber caution light. That shrieking, chanting busload even drowned out the startled news hawk, who was loading his remaindered editions onto an arriving Examiner delivery truck, packing it in for the night. Tossing a torn edition over toward Vanro’s doors. He then climbed aboard to take leave. The ruckus had thoroughly scared off a District Two activist handing out flyers for his earlybird mayoral challenge, as though he sensed some political daylight, or was just taking names and contact info for later stalking ground.

“Aaaaggggghhh, help! Somebody help me, oh please!!!”

“Huh? What the…” I glanced around, against my better judgment.

“I’ve been robbed, (cough, cough)…they stabbed me bad…”

“Oh, Christ, whattam I…” I turned the corner to see Vanro’s owner slumping out his storefront doors. From what I could gather, he had spotted the duo milling about the Mumms and Freixenet, then shoplifting Granny Goose Garlic or something—all on his security mirrors. So he came out from behind his counter to confront them, to a payoff of flashing blades, with the pair smashing and grabbing at his cash register on their way out.

“I beg of you, call the…phone, counter…anything (cough)…please, I’ll do anything…”

In any case, the man’s white shirt and apron were awash in spreading red. He laid out there under his store awning and bright facade lights, nobody else now anywhere near. No panic, no manic: I mindlessly raced into his store and rang 911 on his counter phone, grabbing some deli towels on my way back out. Where the hell was anybody else around here?!  Wailing and moaning, the proprietor gasped and gurgled fluids, as if on the verge of passing out cold. “Please help, before I…”

“Here, let me just…” Not that I had clue one what do do, but I knelt down and raised his balding head onto my knee, sopping his bloody chest with the towels, loosening his shirt collar and sleeves between his wheezing breaths. That was when I noticed the fading 59304 tattooed on his forearm. There, stay with the man, son—do it for our grocer, Mister Rosen and his family for helping us so much in Willow Grove, and all their holiday gifts. Mom? That you, mom? Moon, Aunt Eleanor, Uncle Early? Where in heaven are…what’m I supposed to do here with…

But her voice was soon at the mercy of racing sirens and flashers. I pushed a strand of gray hair out of the storekeep’s rolling eyes, then pulled the shirt sleeve back down over his left forearm. There I waited with him until a fire department ambulance screeched up Van Ness here to Chestnut Street.

It was all I could do to release the injured man into paramedics’ hands and watch his store until the patrolmen double-parked their powder blues, then riot stormed the armed robbery scene. I stood heaving relief and disbelief over it all, grabbing that loose Clarion newspaper, fixing to hatch my anti-heroic getaway like a true Bandito in the night…

 Yet not without thinking: Wait, so maybe everybody does have a little Jewish in them, right?

Care for more?

Chapter 85. Food for thought, feast
for the eyes, guide rules are laid down in a
New York minute, with orders to go…