Chapter Fifty-Eight (FINIS…)
“When faced with unsettling
fates and consequences,
resolve to settle on a
meeting of the mind.”
“All I can say is, if that’s the way your river’s gonna run, you best be prepared to shore up some levees and dams, at least until the peace ship cruises in.”
“So be it. Firstly, let us get past all the injudicious bigotcha business, Herbert, and really talk things out, once and for all,” Reese Paulen raised his voice some, even though we remained detained in the unmarked car.
“Counter the cynics and no-nothings with some curative commentary,” he continued, dialed down. “If not us, who? It’s patently clear that the scourge of anti-Semitism is on the rise yet again—like a resurgent Teutonic mythology, Long Knives and Von Ribbentrop back from the dustbin. Enter the ghosts of T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, the inanity of Pierce’s ‘Turner Diaries’, Roger Waters’s, hatred of ‘illegitimate’ Israel—the same sinister old blood libels are spewing forth the world over.”
“Huh? I’ve heard about Counter Currents and the Daily Stormer even being around the Bay Area, but Ezra Pound?” I panned about us as the crowd began dispersing from this blunted stone arrowheaded space pointing due west. “Is that what you say is really afoot now?”
“Indeed, white supremacist barrel scrapers 4channing cucks and Pepe the Frog are just the beginning. Look what’s stirring up in Denialist Europe right now—ever more Franco synagogue terrorism and neo-Nazi Valhalla in Germany.”
“Read in the Guardian Online that a Henry Levy or somebody says it’s due to Holocaust overkill fatigue and Israel aggression in the Middle East, Jews losing the battle of competing victimology narratives, takes like that…”
“It’s all intolerant dog whistles and anti-Jewish alarm bells, Herbert. Cloaked in anti-Zionism garb, but inevitably revealing itself as rabid Israel destructionism, hatred toward Jews as individuals, as a people and culture—as a race and religion, for heaven’s sake—through renewed lies and bodily attacks. Too rich, too powerful, too privileged and conspiratorial blah, blah, blah…all the insinuations, the recriminations and remonstrations. This is why Jews are fearful and retreating to their God-given homeland in droves.”
Rad, man: Several neoprene hooded, half stripped down surfers in squishy rubber slides toweled their way back past us—laughing, shaking their heads, totally in the curl, gnarly haolies all. Replaying Eric and his Pacifica car con way back then, I just couldn’t meet them eye to eye. Rather, my gaze drifted off to West Bluff’s bushy, scrubby cliffs, their occasional burst of yellow poppies, sloping down so jagged sharply to the beeping clamor of a Marine Drive rigged with concrete bollards and steel trench plates. Among them rotted a ring of defensive gate installations embedded in coastal hills north and south of the gate, once gunning for any Huns or Hirohito’s heathens daring to encroach on San Francisco Bay.
This south gate stretch of the Coastal Range then dipped, tapered gently via a Battery East Trail down to Fort Point, that impenetrable Civil War era brick sentry in the shadow of the bridge’s gateway arch, which was designed to shelter the flat-top fortress in the first place. No safe harbor today, though—camo-bereted National Guard riflemen, DHS and Coast Guard contingents were seeing to that, not to mention any mayhem any militant plotters they may have been chasing down.
“Sooo, what am I supposed to do about it?”
“Why, you can seize the opportunity to fully redeem and cleanse yourself of latent residue, for starters,” Paulen said, noticing how milling National Guardsmen were busy hitting on the skimpy, Lady Nikes sprinting by in a serious tailwind, even those with boy-chested jogbras spare as a tranny in a chest binder. “Yes, compassion and redemption, that’s the ticket…”
“Redeem? Sure,” I said skeptically, “as in with a winning lottery ticket…”
“Which would very well come in handy at a bail hearing.”
“Funny man back there,” snapped the shotgun detective.
“Yeah, we nabbed the second coming of Robin Williams and Cosmo Kramer this time,” Treywater replied, scanning through his rearview mirror.
Good cop, bad cop: like we really had much choice in the matter. Between these two and the blare of bullhorns and comtech of spit and polished park and bridge patrollers, I sought strands of relief up in the foggily unfamiliar hollow San Francisco’s finest accused me of knowing all too well. My eye followed the climbing fenceposts and rope rails of a tipsy earthen/wooden stairway curving up to the Andrews Road trail. Hikers and runners alike now scaled the craggy steps amid felled tree limbs, scattered pine, juniper and soaring eucalyptus, through shriveling lilies, tangled ivy, orange-flowered ironweed and poison oak. Yes, up where pupping, bushy-tailed alpha coyotes were known to prey on pet dogs and feral felines, where San Joaquin kit foxes and dreaded San Francisco garter snakes roamed free.
I suddenly recalled how we once held a proximity talk up there near the mulchy, shadowed hollow, which was currently a caution tape jamboree. But I was too spooked by Dame Thornia’s eternal pronouncement to even think about trodding her sacred ground by my own self. And these dicks were expecting me to perp waltz up there, no matter how goddamn interesting a person they might find me? Better to overhear their police scanner frequencies and Lisle’s two-way radio, something about preparing to detonate an untended backpack discovered on the Fort Point chain-link ledgeway, diabolically beside the bridge pylon—a bottle rocket’s throw away from the Gate’s anchorage and foghorn serenade.
“They got him! Got the bugger just in time,” shouted a weary park police cadet on approach to the trapezium space, wiping perspiration from underneath his ranger brim. “Clear untangled him and everything. Betcha they’re glad they didn’t blow up the guy’s pack after what he pulled off…but what a godawful waste of time and traffic…”
A Bridge Patrol officer then sauntered up to the converging interagency officers and bereted Guardsmen to spin an even more improbable terror scenario.“Damn fool had tied off his board against a chainlink stanchion. He grabbed mask and fins from his backpack, stashing dry clothes and beach towels in it on the ledgeway, just about where they shot that Vertigo thing,” said the bridge cop, pointing out toward the fort.
Turned out the feared suicide bomber was more of a Good Samaritan—a good surfing Samaritan, at that. “Says the pained barks kept growing louder. So he dove scuba style into turgid side-span currents, like those bridge workers who sank bedrock dynamite wells way back when they were great white sharkbait,” the bridge badge continued. “But in actuality it was a seal or something snagged on WW II submarine netting, ain’t that a bitch? So, kerplunk, he went under, checkin’ it out…”
“I heard the cries, too,” a cyclist rode through stalled traffic, just in from Fort Point, wiping mist from his brow with a yellow glove matching his muddied trail bike. “Watched the whole thing. Gonzo surfreak told the bomb squad that after a long, gnarly underwater struggle, he freed up a rambunctious 375-lb. sea lion that must have strayed from his over-extended family around at Pier 39. Guess the like, 8-foot pinniped got his whiskered snout snared in some ancient anti-submarine netting strung after Pearl Harbor.”
As a NPS ranger returning to HQ went on to explain, “Spicoli there came up for air a couple of times, thinking all the fuss was in support of his rescue mission.”
Seems the surfer finally re-surfaced near the Fort’s granite seawall to fetch his pack. That was when the SWAT, DHS and USCG air/sea crews were all over him, so too the newscopters and satellite trucks. Yet all the waviator, this natural wonder in neoprene cared about was that the wounded maney seal might need some TLC at Marin’s Marine Mammal Center.
“Somethin’ huh? All this ruckus,” said a nosy parker fisherman, regathering his gear to drop a new Torpedo Wharf line. “But looks like we dodged a bombshell—this time, anyhow.”
“Jeesh, talk about rampant paranoia,” I blanched, having heard all this out the car window, straining to peer out toward Fort Point with a sigh of ambivalent relief. But wait, didn’t this mean maybe those South Asian guys weren’t the MeccaJava mates, after all—weren’t so fidgety, so furtively adrift. Really, they weren’t like any terrorists I ever knew about anyhow. Instead, what if they were really H-1B visa techies up on a day trip from Silicon Valley, engineers and programmers breaking from brutal 18/7 codathons?
“Yes, once again, just because things seem to be doesn’t mean they’re reality,” Paulen shrugged. “It’s like with Jewry today—as in, these aren’t the 1930s anymore. Now Jewish communities must be proud and self-affirmed, not shamed or shying away from challenges.”
“I still think your whole ‘enlightened occupation’, managed encapsulation or neo-colonial control—whatever they want to call it—is of a piece with all this enmity. But short of hammering out a genuine, agreeable 2S/2P solution, I can’t see easily moving that darkness needle much these days,” I refocused.
“Who’s to say about that, hey? Especially the likes of you and…”
“Whew, one thing though, our mock trial run of the Israeli-Palestinian complexities has helped me better grasp both sides of the divide, all the blame difficulties any real peace process will face. It for sure is no walk in the park.”
“Wait—of a peace—that’s it! You may have something there, Herbert,” doc brightened. “Let us begin with that, shall we?”
“Huh? How do you figure?” I was still stunned by this breakneck turn of events—nicked in the jest of time at the Saturnian finish line.
“Sure, like you said, perhaps we should take our little disputation on the road, sort of like an Arab-Israeli-focused Frost/Nixon or Buckley-Vidal? Volleying like Connors and McEnroe, Stiller and Meara. We could team up on the Middle East issues and all, build an act out, maybe even co-author a best-seller, then take it on the road. Indeed, why should only ultra Jews study burning issues such as anti-Semitism? Take my case—I may be genetically part the anti, more the Semite.”
“Well, I’m not either, but it looks like neither of us has anything better on the docket anymore. This goddamn tape recorder job is worthless. The only other tire I still have in the fire is an occasional sociopathfinder assignment for City Services—you know, scarin’ them up, talkin’ them down, sniffin’ out henhouse foxes and loner wolves, like at MeccaJava and so. Plus there’s a little Web content troubleshooting, baking cookies, stuff like that. Just call me a serial gigger…”
“You’re a serial something, alright,” Lisle fronted.
“On the other hand, I do have a sizable newsclip file on the whole Mideast quagmire—how do you think I boned up on this stuff,” I said, lips smacking of enlightened self interest. Besides, the whole idea did begin to feel right somehow. With that, I banded the mic wire around the jammed recorder, ready to toss it into the bay; on second thought stuffed it back into my vest pocket, spectre of an Eisenhoff agency payback tipping my scales.
By now the terror freeze started to ease in earnest, however. Those South Asian techie types had even scurried guilelessly back up into their tour bus, as if fleeing Fallujah or Peshawar. Traffic began to move, though apparently not quickly enough for the powers that be. Orders having shifted via two-way: there would be no hoofing up to the crime scene while it was still being processed, no yellow caution tape. Treywater then cranked the ignition, straightening his mirrors, re-cocking his paisley-banded Popeye fedora. The Feds having turned us over to the SFPD, a lone park police squad car still fixed to follow us downtown, apparently to sit in our Hall of Justice bare-bulb third degree. We commenced pulling away from the congested park delta space, but that was about as far as things got from there.
“Indeed, if we can reach an agreement on principle, why can’t the principals reach a similar concordance on the ground,” Paulen replied, leaning back in the seat as if no ground had shifted. “So once we resolve this present predicament, what say we get out and and give the roadshow a go? Take it to the campuses, civic councils and the like? Tackle the barbs, attacks, alarm bells, the Holocaust denials, scrawled swastikas and blood libels—even boycott the boycotts, if need be, dedicated to the spirit of Robert Wistrich and Elie Weisel! Why, we could even seek to criminalize such bigotry, or at the very least be envoys or lobby for some sort of anti-Semitism Awareness legislation. Just think of all the forums, the followship. Real, meaningful teaching moments—even one on one—infinitely more palatable than the likes of Moledet, ADL or ZOA, ending all the ugly anti-semantics and false flags. The sheer power of innovation—who knows what further grief and evil we might forestall? And God forbid what could happen if we don’t.”
Detective Lisle then waved off some pesky, lawnmower-buzzing yellow GoKars and a flaming red Moto-Guzzi out his door window. Swinging a quick, officious U-ey, our plain black sedan ran up against the tail end of a nougat brown Nissan Sentra, which happened to be stalled at the hands of a ranger traffic cop. Around us, emergency vehicles slowly cut through the tie-up like Arctic icebreakers, while hasty Coast Guard response teams stood down in procedural return to stations by sea and air, chastened withdrawal to everyday quarters about the bay. Closing in on the left from Mason Street was a rickety cordon of collector quality Model T’s and A’s, retirees from down Del Monte/Pebble concourse way, screegie horns cranking as if nothing fishy were going on. Then there came a cautionary yellow Saturn Turbo Sky roadster—chilling, jive honking with its white top down.
Irritated by the vintage ooog-gahs on parade, picking up on the motorcycle’s impatience, Detective Treywater took to revving his V-8 Impala, tapping his horn, rather than resorting to his siren. Still, he was lightly goosing the Nissan’s ass end bumper, prompting quite the irreverent response. Impudent, in fact—as in finger. Pure, unadulterated digitus imputicus, a fighting gesticulation harking back over 2,500 years—Caligula to the Boston Bean Eaters, et al. Flipping up right there in our faces, centered in the Sentra’s rear window: A Frickin’ Finger of Fate—this one, the Michael Jackson autographed FOF model, studded, sequined glove—Bruno’s raised Chessy paw logo in prominent display. Electronic middle digit mogul Eric Torskie had struck again, still capitalizing obscenely on the ravages of road rage (see ’78 story). I could but stifle a sour little envious smile.
“Yeah, I mean if it is as much of a problem as you say, somebody has do do this. Plus the job security, way that peace process charade is going, players may change but the game remains the same,” I ventured, as that Boot Camper repaired to her SUV, that rollerblader gliding freely by. “Sure, mind over anti-matter, actually countering anti-Semitism with foot-candles not a cudgel. And, god help us, think of the fees—fault-free enterprise. Hope rings Saturnal, after all!”
“Fees? Au contraire, strictly public service, this is far too important a humanitarian undertaking…”
“Bono pro or con on that. But what would we call ourselves, the Anti-Anti Buddies, or…”
“Close, though why not shorten the name by one Anti—double negatives, and all,” Paulen mused, as we shook hands like Begin and Sadat, smiling warily like Barak and Arafat. “So, Two AntiBuddies. It’s not much, but it is a start, and at least it will do until we’re really able to proclaim the ultimate deal. Are you game?”
“Sure, why not, huh? At least until they get back to the peace table with some better, more workable plan. That is, if all hell doesn’t break loose in the meantime,” I craned for some view angle on Pacific Heights with separation anxiety ablaze, wondering if and when I would get back up to the house, whether it would be a little too little, a little too late. Christ, if I didn’t keep tabs on her, she’d do herself and the place in, for sure.
“Ah, the eternal, infernal iffywhen. But you are in, even with our…divergences of opinion?”
“Roger that. Not to worry, doc, it’s Waters under the bridge on him…”
Marking time as we waited for the CHP traffic conductor to grant us passage up the Long Avenue hill up to Lincoln, I glanced up relievedly through the door window at that fog woodsy Andrews Trail not taken. I was befuddled at what the cops figure I might find up there at Dame Thornia’s unsettling burial site. Better that I’d never have let pathetic Richard take her reign; that sank in even deeper, until I could look and quease no more. A band of freshly footloose runners strode down Long hill before us, marathon colors against gray, leading my eyes back in the general westerly direction of a brick Fort Point remarshalling its composure, right up to its sallyports and small lighthouse tower on its far cannon corner. Anything to avoid the gum-smacking surveillance of Detective Treywater, never mind the seething, bullet swivel stares of Officer Lisle.
As I tracked the joggers negotiating a bi-way crawl of overheated vehicles along Marine Drive, I found myself of all things, squinting. Through the bridge’s ghostly towering ironwork arches, there actually appeared swatches of a late-afternoon sun. Far out there on the ocean, likely well beyond the foghorns and Farralones, but short of the Pacific’s dead zones, this dense, dour fog bank lifted from the ocean’s horizon line like the bottom of a center stage curtain at the Curran or Geary Theatre.
A tease nosing in under the gilded sash, a modest hiking of the veil, some rays of light slipped through amid this momentary maritime gloom. They once again revealed Ft. Point’s parapet walls and a barbette tier where Columbiads once launched 65 pound cannon balls two miles, even casting faintly across the bay. Such a thin sliver of sunshine salvation, it was—San Francisco’s micro climates on partial display. Just barely enough golden daylight to allow Saturn’s white-on-red emblazoned airship to glide by with abandon, clearly certain to rendezvous anew when time was due, but as for now drifting silently away.
“Done, and gladly done. Here’s to peace in the Middle East, a rightful leavening of the land. We could even toast at Liverpool Lil’s, if and when.” After shaking on it, however flaccidly, Paulen gazed off at the Golden Gate, that salami blimp passing above it all. “My, will ringed wonders never cease.”
“So then I’m picturing a curative, life-saving debate rap—being, like, Savatars, or something…” I then noted a choice ’51 Ford coupe rumbling up right beside us, raw primer on a low-riding, channeled frame, surfer flames raging across its grille and hood, must have been that surfer demigod, cranking out the Pointer Sisters’ ‘Yes We Can, Can’. Behind the Ford cruised a chopdrop ’47 Chevy Fleetline Aerosedan with chrome spinners and full fender skirts, a Richie Valens CD on the dash deck, up from Hollister for a sunny bridge backdropped photoshoot that never quite panned out: how I knew that bummer, too…
“Whatever floats your boat, just pipe down back there,” shouted Treywater, now riding his car horn, on the verge of tripping his siren. “You’ve got muckier matters to deal with than that rughead pissing match over there.”
“Yah, clam up,” Lisle spittled over his shoulder, menacingly twisting his badge chain like Isadora Duncan’s scarf in the Amilcar CGSS. “If you want any chance that we’ll kick on it, at all…”
“Indeed, we do first have to beat this rap,” Paulen whispered. “Yet it would appear we could do well by doing some serious good. If only we can get through this…fall.”
“Gotcha, spreading a little good/well in the process. Let’s take this on, give it a shot—but I’ll bring the Kevlar, just in case,” I said, bucking up before easing the tension by aping a noir escape. Odd what a guilty conscience will make a body do. “Sooo, boss, should we make a run for it?”
CLICKKK. “I’m afraid it’s a tad late for that, Herbert,” doc sighed, as the rear doorlock buttons plunged like tiny gavels. “Still, this could be the beginning of a beautiful rapprochement, far as I can see.”
“Yep, lookin’ to last at least a Saturnity…”
“Only one little problem.”
“I am constitutionally partial to working solo…”
“Crazy, come to think of it, so am I.”
“Steady back there,” Treywater shouted, 10-4ing his radio. “We’re rolling out.”
“All right, agreed then,” Paulen whispered as he glanced back at a clearing Fort Point. “We singlemindedly go with our two independent frames of mind, side by side…forging a doable, durable peace process as we go. ”
“Sure, one peaceful meeting of the mind. Sounds like a solution to me. Yeesh—otherwise, I’m pretty much wrung out about now.”
“Well speak for yourself, Herbert, speak for yourself.”
“Tahkeh, so am I.”
Care for more?
Chapter One. Stay tuned for
the Returning of Saturn via
(For if two’s a calamity, could three be a charm?)