“Deal with your devils,
sell out all those filmy dreams
for iffy income streams.”
“August, ’76, wasn’t it?”
“Nolan, stop that…”
“Come now—August, am I right? I can still picture it.”
“September, actually, but that’s not why we’re here.”
As paramedics had applied tourniquets, stanching the grocer’s wound along with some emergency CPR, I angled to take all due leave of Vanro Market. Meanwhile the police were jotting names, asking questions—already processing the crime scene. Going the strong, silent route, I only allowed as how I’d seen nothing of the actual robbery, could not positively I.D. potential suspects beyond the ass-end of some disco suits, then left the bluecoats to their scribbled notepads. I was gone moments after the store owner’s family arrived to lock the market down, not knowing whatever came of the paramedics’ efforts, how the victim had fared on his flash-dash evacuation to SF General’s ER—was only heartened that he’d thanked me to the heavens. Wobbling back to the Marina parking lot in a state of toxic shock, I caught news of another Lafayette Park murder in that discarded Clarion. By then I’d vowed to finally 86 the all-nighters, crashing with a head case of Saturday night fever, this time minus the AM/FM soundtrack—even tuning out the foghorns and gulls, not to mention the overnight whereabouts of Sydney Mendel.
Bright new day, however, high time for a coarse correction, to purge my baser urges, shake off the dad-blamin’ Semi-crossfire resentment; psycho/philo reconcile with Syd as best I could, in a drowsy manner of speaking. Otherwise, stanch, suppress: I really couldn’t begin to sort through the nightmare before. But early bird and all that: I saluted a beset General Ripcord first passing glance, then the mechanic and a somewhat oddly preoccupied Mister Gladhand. Waving good morning to East Harbor’s unfurling sailboats and outboards, I popped on some of KSAN’s ‘Although the Sun Is Shining’ and ‘Rattlesnake Shake’ from Peter Green-Era Fleetwood Mac.
Otherwise, it was a matter of trundling over in cut-off fatigued jammiesto the public john, clutching my Dopp kit and motel towel, hearing a top-of-the-hour radio blast from one of the motorbike-racked Winnebagos, which signaled there was just enough time to meet this hit-or-miss commitment. But not without a quick towel pressing of rumpled attire on the overheated hood of my car, having turned the Volvo’s interior into a mobile steam bath in the process. Hand ironed out at the margins, I even felt comfortable shaping up on a breezy Hyde Street cable car downtown, having to do something to get away from the Marina Triangle and all that.
“Well, that’s a measure of sartorial improvement, I must say,” Nolan Anderle greeted me with up and down scrutiny, and a flourishing re-spread of his napkin. “Welcome to our world.”
“Thank you, sir,” I approached his rear corner for-four in a brimming, open-tabled dining room, stopped in my tracks on a checker tiled floor. “Hope I’m not too late or…”
“Too late, indeed—and we can’t have late, now can we,”he said, gesturing toward the last of four functional black chairs. “We’ve already been at it for hours.”
“Hours? You said eleven…” I seated myself, facing forward through the long, narrow restaurant, back to its mirrored, photo-framed rear wall, a side cherry wood pendulum clock reading, five after the hour. But what really stopped me cold were the two other people gauging me over a mid-table jam and marmalade lazy susan like I was a stack of buckwheats coming up two bucks short.
“We’re on New York time, m’boy, no time for dawdling, nosirree,” said Anderle, leaning forward in a navy silk and linen Paul Stuart blazer with a burgundy windowpane and equestrian ascot, tailored white shirt opened two buttons down. “Time is money, coast to coast. We’ve already ordered, so what will it be?”
“Uh, whatever you’re having is…” I did my best to avoid further eye contact all around, especially those disarming blue-gray burners across the black, inlaid Spanish-style table.
“Then 18 Swedes it is, specialty of the house. Good thing, as we’ve taken the liberty of ordering that, too…” He waved majestically over to a stout, brunette waitress by the bussing table retying her red hair ribbon, then repositioned his lap napkin over tan cotton and linen trousers.
A world famous specialty, at that. Sterling’s was in fact Sears Fine Food, a peculiar San Francisco institution since 1938, when a former circus clown opened on Powell Street with an 18 little Swedish pancake platter smothered in whipped butter and maple syrup. The breakfast treat instantly drew long wait lines out the door, and Sears greeted them with storefront heaters and music, not to mention two pink Cadillacs parked right in front.
“Some scene, some treat,” I glanced about the dining room, intimately spaced square tables filled with local and tourist breakfasters, many of the latter from nearby hotels, Nob Hill to Geary Street’s theater district, with ‘burbers gathered for Sunday in The City—patrons of all shades, threads and stripes.
The sweet aroma of hotcakes and bacon, of MJB coffee permeated the place, cast around by swirling overhead fans, syrupy vapors clinging like bee pollen to Sears’ tan shotgun gallery walls. Meaning they were filled thicker than bay shrimp omelettes with commemorative and Scandinavian-themed mounted plates, ovalled family-style portraits, plus framed caricatures and glossy VIP photos, peppered between tall carved wood casements housing brass light sconces matching its white globed, center aisle chandeliers.
As our black-clad waitress delivered pitchers of coffee and fresh-squeezed OJ, I scanned the framed stills and head shots, grinning poses scribbled with celebrated scrawl. Current and yesternames such as Henny Youngman, George Burns, George Goebel, Bing Crosby and the Velvet Fog; Vic Damone, Nina Simone, Diller and Rickles, George Jessel, George Lucas, Carol Channing, Dagmar, Auntie Mame, Uncle Milty, Jacks Benny and Paar, Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, Jimmy Stewart, Kim Novak, Hitch and Tippi, Malden and Douglas—on and on, a once vogue gallery of notables and quotables from the world over, Hollywood on down. Everybody hand pumping and shoulder grabbing with a veneer of San Francisco brio and bonhomie, faces fat full of Smoked Salmon Benedict and lingonberry waffles, if not the famed Swedish specialty itself.
“Well, that’s very…thoughtful of you,” I faltered, panning quickly around the table, to blank expressions over stirred, steaming coffee.
“This is how we do things in Le Gran Pomme, m’boy,”said Anderle, toasting a Soju Bloody Mary from Sears’ adjacent mahogany bar. “Yes indeed, this is how we work at Prism Publishing.”
“We, being…” I seated myself beside him, leaning back into a red-vinyled, slat-back chair.
“Ah yes, may I introduce my associates. Mister Ken Herbert, here we have Jason Guthrie, the bang-up copywriter I mentioned to you, hot off the red-eye.
“Pleased…” To a nod and thin, manufactured smile—an owlish Ivy sort in round horned rims, brown melange J. Pressed, at that, chasing his coffee with a pre-meal mimosa.
“And last but certainly not least, my West Coast account executive, Valerie Prentiss-Brown,” Anderle slyly winked her way. “But then she hardly needs any introduction, now does she…”
“Nice to make your…” I reached out to the stunning I. Magninimous strawberry blonde in across the table, who simply shook her flowing hair out with an impassive cock of the head.
“Dear Valerie is quite simply the finest sales representative this side of Park Avenue…”
“That’s only because I choose not to reside in New York City,” she sighed, twining through the wispy ringlets of her perfectly cascading California tresses.
“Matter of time, my dear, matter of time,” Anderle winked, reaching for his coffee cup. “We’ll pry you out of this city that knows how—how to laze and graze, that is. Indeed, I can see you in my future back there. I’ll whisk you off to the big stage for some serious business.”
“Tsk, dream on, Nolan…”
Which was about what I found myself doing until the waitress arrived with our platters. After centering Anderle’s New York steak and eggs before him, she handed me the special, those 18 silver dollar pancakes in a neat little circle, dolloped with mounds of melted butter, topped with sliced strawberries and strawberry jam. The dish was like Swedish roulette, coming up a winner with every round; I didn’t know whether to hand frame a photo shoot or dig into the spread and dare to ruin such a delectable picture. So I poured slowly, deliberately clockwise from a tiny stainless steel pitcher, a dicey enough exercise as it was without Valerie’s glaring consternation, shifting there, sipping her blueberry Belini.
“Yes, Jason’s flight was late, so we hit the streets as soon as he landed,” Anderle liberally peppered his poached eggs. “That’s how to get things done out here, not a moment to waste.”
“Gotcha, not a moment,” I picked at the edges of number three, reluctant to blemish this breakfast creation, or even determine where to begin: which fork, hold that knife. Rather, I diverted to sniffing another waitress, passing by with a tray full of Southern Corned Beef Hash and eggs, with sides of broiled grapefruit.
“You should try those pancakes sometime,” Jason cracked, gesturing with his fork before taking on his Smoked Chicken Apple Sausage and eggs. “I hear they’re great when still warm…”
“Uh, yeah, heh, heh,” I winced, staring straight into a lava flow of buttery maple. “A writer’s gift of observation, huh?”
“Photographer, is it,” Valerie asked suddenly, looking up from her Eggs Florentine, having melded her hashed browns and Hollandaise to helical perfection.
“So to speak,” I had settled on carving curvy semicircles with my dinner fork, mouth full of half dollars, a dribble of butter syrup streaming down my jowl. Her timing was impeccably brutal; still, better that than meeting her eye to eye. It wasn’t that she was so toned and lithe, so utterly striking, it was that she was so casebook cool and casual, purely emblematic of starlets from Sommer to Somers, so quintessentially California beach chic that all those screen queens seemed mere generic bimbos and clones by comparison.
“Caution, m’boy,” Anderle chortled, as he drained the coffee decanter and summoned the waitress for one more. “Dear Valerie knows her photography.”
“You, uh, shoot?”
“Are you asking me or your pancakes,” she fired back without pause or genuine cause.
“Hooo,”Anderle gloated, patting down his pattern bald gray pompadour. “Absolutely precious. It so happens that Ms. Prentiss-Brown knows her photography from the other side of the camera.”
“Nolan, verboten, we agreed,” she blushed, flapping out her napkin with chagrin.
“There she is, Playmate of the Month, September of the Bicentennial Year,” Anderle beamed, reaching over to wrap his crawfish little arm about her elbow. “In the flesh, only not quite so as then…”
“Uh, sorry,” I flushed, “I don’t…” And I hadn’t, sad to say, nor did I know whether to seek her autograph, or rise and salute her. So I dared not even look her way. “Grad students can’t afford luxuries like…”
“No-lan—I thought we had an agreement about the touchy-feely, too,” she pulled away, eyes harlot ablaze.
“Oh, now I’m the dirty old man again, am I,” he needled, before waxing rhetorical to his assembled. “God in heaven, when did it become so…hip not to look at and appreciate gorgeous womenhood? Ever stop to think how sick that is? It’s getting to where it’s more insulting to set eyes upon an attractive female than to ignore her anymore. And just when you happen to treat a woman like a real lady, you get set upon by feminist attack dogs like Sontag or Adrienne Barbeau— piranhas devoted to eating men alive. What is this world coming to?”
“Apparently not to you, love,” Valerie smiled, smugly folding her arms across an accentuated bustline.
“Perhaps this is why I hired you, my dear. What was your nom de playmate again?”
“Tsk, Rachel,” she replied tartly. “Rachel le Pointe…”
“Ah, yes, I remember her well, in terms of endowment, that is. Although I barely recognized you with that dreadful airbrushing and red-rinsed hair. Et tu, m’boy?”
“Me? Like I said, never had the pleasure,” I muttered, poking further around my Swedish silver dollars, fighting an urge to flake out to that McDonald’s hoarder bookstore I passed in the Tenderloin, combing its musty stacks for a back copy and rattlesnake shake—or simply leer at the real deal right here. “Great alias, huh?”
“Should have been—came up with the whole bio myself, in about 15 minutes.” A slight frown creased her tan freckled brow while she finger twirled her curls.
“Must have really been some…experience.” I fussed with some hardening syrup on the clear plastic tablecloth, nearly rubbing through to the yellowed lace underneath.
“Cost me my marriage, hubby dared me, then couldn’t handle the overexposure,” she said matter of factly, her composure sensors returning her to calculated calm on the dial. “But I say let’s dispense with the cheap thrills, shall we? That whole Playboy bag is way past history…”
“Must have read like Erica Jong,” Jason erupted, as if energized by his caffeine and mimosa pileup, emerging from his transcontinental trance, albeit with a voice jet lagging several time zones behind his mind. “Well, I say beware of women in baggy clothing, especially here in San Francisco. Never seen a place where men masculate women so much and women emasculate men.”
“What would you know about that,” I asked, just making conversation while catching a syrup drip down the corner of my mouth with my breakfast fork—for what did I know? “I mean, you just landed here right?”
“Actually I’m from here, born and bred—Lowell High School to The Farm, then on to a Columbia MFA,” Jason said wistfully, smoothing back his wavy auburn hair. “But every time I come back, I see my city changing, although I’m not sure for the better. Seems to be turning into a sissy girl town in my absence.”
“It’s called leveling the playing field, gentlemen, setting things right,” Valerie said, dabbing at a Hepburn chin with her napkin, as though exposing me to some table manners. “Get used to it.”
“Ahem, be that as it may, it is getting to be too much trouble trying to bed today’s lovelies, getting sucked into all their Ms. Cosmo expectations. As if a night of carnal pulchritude is worth a lifetime of fattened aggravation,” Anderle dismissed, calling the meeting to order with a spoon tap at Bloody Mary glass. “This is why my new M.O. is regarding the fairer sex merely as fertile shopping machines. Thus let us get down to work, shall we?”
“At long last,” Valerie sighed, pushing away her barely dented Eggs Florentine with Eileen Ford discipline and determination.“I was almost working up an appetite here…”
Just when the table appeared to lean forward in concentration, I felt like falling back to a more neutral standing, seriously of a mind to quit while I was only marginally behind. That Fleetwood Mac tune did have me in over my head again, cocked and ready for the starting gun: flight, not fight to my Volvo in Marina Triangle, what with pained tightening at the crown. On the other hand, back there might result in more fight than flight, trouble and time served, with so little left to lose. Still, this Anderle character was popping for breakfast, springing my cameras, calling his meeting to order, and I had for better or worse come this far—a bargain under most any circumstances I could surmise.
“All right then, we have before us a tour de force to produce,” Nolan bellowed, in a flurry of napkins and newsprint. “I have deduced from our efforts thus far that Union Square proper must be the focal point for the San Francisco section of Prism: California. For there are many establishments to spotlight, tourists galore to enlighten and explore.”
“You mean exploit, don’t you,” Jason cracked, as we watched Anderle map things out with his silver Cross fountain pen on a Macy’s double truck in the Chronicle.
“Edit yourself, son, listen and learn. Valerie will continue to sell the blue blazes out of downtown. I will cover men’s clothiers and the Sutter Street galleries. Darling, you will then fan out to Union and Sacramento Street boutiques, as I will call on the antique stores of Jackson Square.”
“What about restaurants, Nolan,” she nudged, arched forward, yoga stretching right there in her chair. “Even I must fuel some of those placements…”
“Fuel,”I asked, finally mustering the courage to look upon her, a beauty that just wouldn’t quit, so how could I? Still, that ‘Angel in the Centerfold’ hit by the J. Geils Band, kept making my blood run hot and cold.
“Elementary, my dear. We will simply split them and work some trade-outs with the four-star rooms,” Anderle shrugged. “Same with the hotels themselves.”
“So, uh, where do I come in?” I puzzled, as though I couldn’t decide whether to fold, spindle or mutilate any visions of her Playboy pages, replaying all the issues I had peeked through in newstands over the years, trying to picture a Rachel LePointe here as some September’s three panel center spread, arched back on a featherbed with pursed, frosty lips, nipples up, and staples in her firm, flat tummy. Strictly fantasyland, since the best I could offer was a quickie trip back to the Volvo. So I focused on other issues, namely the hows and wheres of my position in Anderle’s Prism.
“You, m’boy will join Jason in the second wave, as Valerie and I feed you the client rosters,” he rifled through the Sunday Chronicle’s front section, a below-fold headline standing out that M/M. “Contemporaneously, I prefer, taking your cue from Jason, who will ferret out each establishment’s salient sales hook as only he can…”
“Won’t work, Nolan,” said Jason, although taking pleasure in his bubbly mimosa.“Flattery will get you nowhere near any more discount rates from yours truly.”
“Hah, don’t be pulling my legacy, son. What I mean is you will capture the unique essence of the store, etc. in 125 words or less. From that, you and the client will determine the most compelling visual approach. Then of course Avedon here will set up his equipment and take masterful shots with the appropriate grace and panache.”
“Right, panache…I’ll do what I can with what I haven’t at the moment…
“I’m way ahead of you, have briefed Jason on this pawn ticket business. The two of you will resolve it on the morrow,” Anderle surveyed the table, then pumped down his carafe of coffee, casting aside remaining sections of the Sunday paper. “Well then, are we in accord? Splendid! I sense monumental synergy here. So I’m off to Los Angeles for several days to set up the southland operation…”
“Uh, are you sure I should, you know, hit the streets cold?”
“Of course, m’boy, aren’t you? Simply think upon it as a grand learning experience, no less than the opportunity of your lifetime! Today, San Francisco—tomorrow Hollywood, Manhattan, for heaven’s sake. Who’s to say how far you’ll go.”
“Monsieur Motivation here,” said Valerie, neatly folding her napkin, depositing her alligator datebook into a tropical Hermes bag.
“Agreed then,” Anderle gavelled the table with his pudgy fist, china and silverware rattling the sugar rushed nearby waitress back our way with her check tray. “Now let’s settle up this little tab, shall we?”
“Here, allow me,” Jason mocked, as if reaching for a Coach wallet full of premium plastic from his plaid wool sports coat, coming up empty. “Or maybe Valerie would like to level the paying field…”
“In your dreams, hackboy,” she purred, with a finishing nip of her Belini.
“Now, now, I’ll handle this,” Anderle said, drawing a Cartier bifold from the liner of his gold heralded blazer, pulling out AmEx Platinum. “I’ll itemize and expense it to your respective accounts on the plane, and we can settle it come payment time, if we are tous a bord.”
“Bored isn’t the word for it, love,” Valerie blew him a kiss. “And how on earth can we thank you?”
“By turning Prism: California into the New Yorker of hotel guides, of course,” Anderle gestured us to rise en unison, pocketing the breakfast receipt stub. “But for now, I must repair to the Platinum Throne, then hail a limo to SFO. I have a flight to catch. Valerie, you will man the helm while I’m off to the land of the Bel-Air and Polo Lounge, with a Demitasse brown sun-roofed Biarritz waiting for me at LAX.”
“Beware of all those palm trees and nudie sculptures, Nolan—don’t get any ideas,” Jason smirked.
“Not to worry, son, I’ll be too busy selling ad space everywhere from Rodeo Drive to the La Cienega Art Walk,”he offered us a handful of Prism: California business cards from his Gucci attache. “Should the need arise, Valerie can reach me, I’ll be staying at a dear friend’s on Rodeo south of Wiltshire.”
“Uh, Mister Anderle, that advance you mentioned,” I asked feebly, pocketing several business cards. But he had already pivoted toward the men’s room.
“Jason is prepared to handle all that pledge business, m’boy,” he smiled over his shoulder, checking his gold Audemars Piguet. “Just take it up with him. Valerie dear, I shall meet you at the door for some pre-sells and parting thoughts on our way out. Ciao, gentlemen, and remember, Prism: California demands nothing short of sheer brilliance, cover to cover!”
“Wait…pledge?” she zeroed in on me, then toward Anderle’s impish backside, as he tight-ass pronated on the insides of Magli slip-on heels. “You, now? Tsk, Nolan, not him, too—you are something else…”
“Huh? What was that?” I swivelled between them.
“Follow me, Kapra,” Guthrie grabbed me by the forearm.“Let’s get out of here before Nolan cooks up more of his Prismania…”
We passed signed photographs of Tony Bennett, of Joe and Norma Jean, squeezing our way through Sears’ next customers out the door, pausing under its maroon and gold awning to Powell Street. In and outbound Hyde cable cars crossed paths before us, tourist hoots and revelers hanging and gangling out their backs and sides, high-fiving one another on by. Beyond them, red-suited Beefeater doormen and greeters whistled up snarling taxicabs to the majestic Sir Francis Drake Hotel’s loading zone for Scala’s Bistro departees to the gills with Lillet, Fernet-Branca or Ricard Pernod, if not lagging hair of the doggers from up in the Starlight Room. Hard to imagine gorging on 18 little pancakes over there—about as likely as the Drake’s Beefeaters being tea-sipping vegetarians.
“So, where you off to,” I asked, over the click and clang, the truculent horns and power brake screeching.
“My parent’s place, over in St. Francis Wood,” he replied, fixing the clasp on his battered briefcase, to the whirr of underground cables, dueling bells and rumbling of Hyde car wheels.“You?”
“Uh, over toward Cow Hollow, the Marina. But I think I’ll hang down here a while, kinda get the lay of the land, store-wise. You know, being you’re a writer. How do you like that life, anyway?”
“As they say, a good day writing is better than a bad day shoveling horse dung, or about the same…”
“Guess you weren’t shoveling that up in Sir Francis Wood,” I said, as we walked slowly down Powell Street toward Union Square. “Why’d you leave the Bay Area for back east, anyway?”
“I didn’t want to join the long list of loser San Francisco writers. Even Mark Twain nearly committed suicide here, remember? Look at what it’s gotten Brautigan and Gonzo. No, it’s easy to bet on wrong horses here, since there are so few right horses. Too many deadbeats treading water, up to no good. So I opted for better choices, broader horizons in the Big Apple.”
“Well, I’ll cop to being unclear on that concept. I mean, bigger is not necessarily better, especially when it comes to a city like this.”
“It’s called ambition, as in if you can make it there, et cetera, et cetera. Here, you don’t do what you want to do to succeed in this field, you do what you have to do to merely survive, however much sludge sucking that might entail. I just decided to shine in a larger, more opportune pond, that’s all.”
“So why come back for this Prism thing then?”
“A chance to visit the family, take the current pulse around here,” Guthrie shrugged, reviewing Sears’ light-boxed facade menu, as if noting what entrees he might have chosen instead, cognitive dissonance eating at him already. “Besides, Nolan Anderle’s from high in the Vaishya Indian caste, and can be very persuasive. I’ve worked with him on the Prism: New York edition. Was between freelance gigs, and the Upper West Side’s not cheap. He may be eccentric, but his co-op overlooks the Frick Museum’s formal garden, his foyer is virtually across from Central Park. He knows I’m well familiar with San Francisco, and offered to pay my way, so here I am.”
“Maybe you missed it some, too, huh? A little homesick?”
“Not really. After New York, San Francisco seems a bit too thin-skinned parochial for my tastes anymore,” Guthrie looked down Powell Street toward the St. Francis Hotel and Union Square, clear to the Emporium storefront wall across Market. “To me, it’s like smugly putting every other place down, but if you criticize something here, you’re a narrow-minded rube. Getting to be there are so many people from so many different places crammed onto the tip of one little peninsula, everybody’s touchy, spending too much valuable time trying to reconcile so many irreconcilable differences. So everything’s lowest common denominator multi-lingual—devoid of subtle wordplay.”
“And Manhattan’s not?”
“But at least everybody’s so real there. A ‘fuck you’ is a ‘fuck you’ in New York City, here it’s ‘have a nice day’ with a ‘fuck you’ underbelly. People are afraid to rock anybody’s boat directly, or they’re too busy feigning beautiful, playing rich. In New York, nobody’s reluctant to push others around and out of their way, set people straight on things. There’s a refreshing honesty to that kind of belligerence. Relationships and transactions are purposeful, meaty—not like the sourdough filler around here.”
“C’mon, you’re making me wish I’d ordered a side of bacon with those Swedish cakes,” I said, Chicago and Michigan Avenue crossing my piddling mind. “But it sounds like maybe you’ve been away too long, bashing your own hometown like this.”
“Native’s prerogative, just a little tough, truthful love, with the perspective of some critical distance,” he reflected. “Product of a writer’s eye, wouldn’t you say?”
“Sorry, can’t really speak to that,” I replied, conflicted, flummoxed with mixed messages, for I didn’t find myself feeling that way. Instead, I was beginning to see it differently, maybe an avenue out of my current lot, a ticket out of the Marina lot, a sneak peek at the other side of the divide. Moreover, it was such another beautiful day. “Gonna grab MUNI there, or…”
“Rule number one: Smart New Yorkers don’t grab buses, they hail taxis. I’ll summon one over there on the St. Francis line. Who knows, perhaps I can split it with Fatty Arbuckle…”
“Taxicab humor, funny…”
“You have something against taxis, do you,” Guthrie asked, as we passed the comparatively compact Churchill Hotel mid block.
“No, but I know all about cabs, believe me.”
“Fine, then I’ll meet you here in Union Square tomorrow morning, nine sharp, all right? Bring your pawn tickets, then we’ll hit the client stores.”
“Yeah, what’s even funnier—New York writer, Playmate of the Month, and I don’t even have my cameras, let alone a portfolio. So why do you figure Anderle chose me?”
“Hunger, desperation, the right equipment in the right places,” Guthrie led me across teeming Post Street, between the MUNI and tour buses roaring by. “Maybe that’s the best thing you have going for you in his eyes. So gut feeling plus simple expedience, he needed somebody in a New York minute.”
“Wonderful.” I couldn’t decide whether to focus on the formidable St. Francis Hotel or yawning expanse of Union Square on the other side of Powell Street. “Anyhow, at least you’re suggesting Anderle and his Prism Publishing is an up and up operation with some New York prestige behind it…”
“That is, if you overlook the fact that Nolan underwrites it with his Priapismic porn division… Taxi!!!”
The lay of this land fulcrumed directly across Powell Street. Left to forfend for myself, what with a St. Francis bellhop having ushered Guthrie’s cab away, I decided not to revisit the idle strife or addled conversations of palmy Union Square, but to scout its perimeter. Point being, the task before me was to take the measure of surrounding stores and businesses, bone up on these top drawer products and services, with an eye toward capturing their elegant display windows and bejewelled, gilded facades. Cutting over to Geary Street, I kicked off with a quick pop into Lefty O’Doul’s Bar for a taste of Anchor and whiff of hofbrau steam table corned beef, an inspirational sepia photo tour of PCL and Seals Stadium greatness and baseball lore.
Corner news stand headlines included the confirmation of Rep. Leo Ryan’s fact-finding trip to Guyana, to address rumors of holding people against their will and threats of mass suicide. In reply, Peoples Templers demanded no press coverage of, or concerned relatives in the Congressional delegation. The cigar chawing newsbarker in a Bataan bomber jacket wisecracked from a Herb Caen column that if Henry Ford couldn’t make Fordlandia, South America work, how could Rev. Jim in Jonestown? But that was little more than added background noise to me.
So hitting the streets, I then assumed a pro photographer’s pose, freeze framing I. Magnin’s and Macy’s sumptuous, fashionable elevations, gauging sightlines, gaining perspective on this gleaming commercial circus—however overheaded and empty handed my aesthetic approach may have been. Still, business was business, so I trained my virtual viewfinder on Magnin’s white marbled colored strongbox, across Stockton Street to the eviscerated carcass of that venerable City of Paris, now subdivided into the likes of Liberty House, with demolition on the drawing boards. While Newsradio 74 beamed from the corner flowerstand that ‘the body found floating in the Marina’s Gashouse Cove had been positively identified, pending notification…’
I wondered if it was by fingerprints, or possibly lack thereof. Recrossing Geary in minor dismay, I blinked twice to envision reading an exposure meter, stopping down my aperture to f/16 star kiss the sun glare on such haute Stockton Street store windows as Bulgari, Chanel, Gucci, Dior, Yves, stalwarts like Bally and Johnston & Murphy. Then 1/500 sec. panned up to soaring overhead billboards for Chivas nights, touting Japan and Philippine Airline non-stops to the Pacific Rim, with a from-the-hip snap or two down boutique cute, quaint Maiden Lane, Gershwin and Ellington loudspeakering out. That back stretch along Post Street was wide-angle lensworthy, over to the vaults of Tiffany & Co., the Powell corner flagship of Saks Fifth Avenue—the massive St. Francis anchoring it all. Then it was a telephoto zoom shot down Post, depth-of-field compressing the Gumps’ furnishings, Shreve’s precious metals, Dunhill tabac, the traditional pin-striped, button-down tailoring of Cable Car and Brooks Brothers’ Clothiers into an old-money, blue-chip montage. Yeah, that would work…
Got so I was genuinely getting caught up in all this international luxe and finery, to where I could even visualize the ghost of Raphael Weill’s Beaux-Arts White House over toward Sutter Street, stage textured available light 200 ASA portraiture of his exclusive French-Style dry goods, tripod and cable release compositions of the grande dames from Pacific Heights to the Peninsula frequenting his Parisian Tea Room and in-house art alcoves galore. Before long, it occurred to me that nothing less than a fisheye lens could capture the ever-expanding Wilkes-Bashford haberdashery empire. Then it was further up Sutter to scope out the fine-art houses full of trend and market setting painting and sculpture. Headier stuff here, exquisite Nikon and Canon fodder in display windows and along track-lit gallery walls.
I was actually beginning to anticipate, to breathe and feel the big-time glamour, increasingly rising to Prism: California’s challenge, screw its alleged provenance. At least until coming upon Reyland Gallery, one heavy hitter between Powell and Mason, renowned for its fine L’Hermitte and Fromentin oils, the impressionist T.E. Butler—along with alder carved and sensual bronze sculpture. However, Reyland’s latest showing was of a half-dozen brilliant paintings from San Francisco’s promising new artist, Sydney Mendel.
Her up there, me down here: picturing it was rough enough—but hopefully I wouldn’t have to put any of that into words.
Care for more?
Chapter 86. A blur of San Francisco’s
finest shops and galleries brings
personal shortcomings into sharper focus…