Chapter Fifty-Four (Edited)
“Prepare to man your
directional signals before
you turn a corner.”
“Naw, just a drill…”
“Feel anything? Maybe it’s an earthquake deal, like the Bay Bridge in ’89!”
Stone people, stone pets, stone shapes and patterns of all sorts: We had migrated from odorous curving concrete stairsteps across the Promenade to a low bayside breakwater for Reese Paulen’s confessional reckoning with Boulder homing devices, past and present. Atop the low shorewall we paused, watching this ever-grinning Japanese stone artisan regathering, reconfiguring jumbled rocks, driftwood and sediment into an odd-lot menagerie despite the winds, painstakingly balancing sea-smoothed flotsam into amusing wet stone and stick figures, which dried precariously in place along the narrow beach strip until the next wave once again washed them away. This hard rock assemblage delighted young kids—a mass relief to their harried, exhaling parents—and to the welcome distraction of us both, as well. The same could not be said for out-of-towners and local faithful, gathering to assess the looming disruption.
“Code BS-ish, flaming madder livid, if you ask me…”
“What I’ve done,” I spouted, as yet somewhat oblivious, unsure where Paulen was heading with his own emission of code words. “What are you talking about?!”
“Come now, Herbert, we both know…”
The fog had snarled in over the Gate like Godzilla into Tokyo, snow mass through Berthoud Pass. It enveloped the bridge towers, Crissy Field beaches and all the sun-kissed life that was now fleeing them, temperatures free falling some twenty degrees. A ghostly container ship snuck in under the gray-white cover, pushed through by the staccato blare of fog horns dueling from either side of the shrouded headlands. That mid-channel freighter parted brazen sailboats, chased off leopard sharks, dragging trawlers, scattering windsurfers and the lollipop bobbing of colorful wing kites, control lines rising through the overcast, their harnessed boarders barely seen gripping at the control bars, swallowed up in the soup below. Scaups, murres, Western grebes and gulls flapped out from the fog’s underside like in Hedren’s retreat, what with all the commotion, particularly overhead.
“Know, nothing…and what escapes me, by the way, is how you can live with yourself, much less anywhere near that haunted 15th Street house.”
“Easy as steak and kidney pie Herbert. I’ve had a very sweet deal on The Hill for quite some time…”
“Steak and kidney…what the hell kind of sweet deal?”
“Funny thing,” Paulen leaned over as we crumpled our hotdog wrappers. “But there is something else I’ve been meaning to tell you.”
“Screw funny. What the fuck’s been going on with University Hill and you?”
Cold concrete, piles upon piles of sediment setting in as I shifted and squirmed, looking out upon the hockey stick leg of Torpedo Wharf, fearless fisherfolk barely visible now for all the fog. Kids squealing, parents moaning and groaning their exhaustion: I restively nudged Paulen back toward the safe haven, sanctuary city skyline, mostly gray blanketed though it was. But he quickly, assertively spun me 180 degrees around with some outbound gesticulation. This led us to the Warming Hut and Gift Shop, the crowded apron around it which formed an intersection of the Bay Trail and a graded by-lane that fed onto Torpedo Wharf itself.
The large, barn-like Park Service hut and bookstore, recently reopened after a suspicious fire, was packed to the gills with retreating stiffs raising their core temperatures via coffees, cocoas and Golden Gate souvenirs of sunnier settings than today’s. Out front here, milling about was a discombobulated bunch of day trekkers: Horticulture therapists far afield, dejected birders holding out for a rare glimpse of an marsh egret, least tern or clapper rail; backyard botanists debating hydrospheric research and the succulent science. Panicky southland sorority goddesses further irradiated their salivary glands and temporal lobes by aimlessly staging selfies, tapping out distress-O-Ss and TXTplanations, talking smart-ass, phony phone trash, living their gossipy little TMZ lives out loud before retreating into the warmth of hut and waiting rides.
Ecosystems versus egosystems: weaving around them all was an Indian family in full maroon and gold saree kameez, their young girls in matching pavada and davanis, Bindy dotted foreheads and nostril jewels. Passing between the Hindu five and us shuffled some fertility tourists over from the Benelux, a May-December couple just off a mid-July spiritual marriage. Warming Hut proper was abuzz with conjecture beneath two swirling, thwakking Coast Guard copters, its gunners riding the doors. Coolpix were snapping like shutterbugs along the velvet ropes come Oscar night, near as the eye could see.
“All right, then,” Paulen said, folding his arms before him, as though launching into a after hours remedial lecture. “To begin with…
The following passage to be
revealed in due course…
Crossing before us, a pack of Chicano and Cantonese fishermen bolted from Torpedo Wharf, nets and tackle in tow. Their side draft upended a Gay 90s big-wheel bicycle, and the herringbone tweed fop riding high atop. This wobbly misdirection put off a hairy unabummer woodsman down from the Oregon wilds—somewhere past strewn carcasses west of Eugene—who was handing out flyers for everything from powerless empowerment to unfaux fur to ‘Don’t Meddle With My Medijuana’. Got me to wondering whether he had once been roommate Edie’s lumberjack.
The mishap set him to laughing, maniacally Nicholson so, to where a couple of preening Marin cougars in graphite sports suits took ruffled leave from a low retaining wall across from the Warming Hut. Craigslist hook-up cruisers, quite the milfs at that, had been scouting out the tender beefcake on parade, but they hastily packed up their virginity kit bags and flibanserin, alongside their wet dreams of canoodling with some buff young studs. Seemed even the best-laid plans were being blown away in the trail dust…
revealing section to come…
(upon ’78 story’s ending)…
Skirting this anxious, clotting crowd, we angled back around the off-kilter Warming Hut, one-time military engine warehouse, to a polygonal open space between the barn structure and two smaller, rectangular buildings due west. Somewhat filling the airy space were late-day trippers disgorged from a variety of vehicles in a rear-side parking lot. Dismayed tourist parties from a string of stretch Lincoln limos, Googly black leathered Ducati bikers up from Alice’s Restaurant on Skyline, shaking their heads in irritation at overcast skies, ready to toss their Bell helmets and throw down over a rallye misled. Yet fuzz dicier elements sprang from a couple of metalflaked Buick scrapers—vintage 50s, with chrome spoked rims, mainly Outer Mission accomplices—along with Bernal bangers in their turtle-top beaters, out for some innocent air and a casual casing. Looked to be suspected mean street snipers or body dumpers once the sun went down—alongside gang taggers cruising for a little date rape and toss.
A smattering of green taxis and boisterous yellow GoCars nibbled at the adjacent parking area’s edges. Bewildered, ill-timed tourists wondered what they had bargained for, all this way from the Euro Zone, let alone what they were in for now, what with meters and guide tapes still running strong. No less rattled by the sirens and scrambling, I scanned left along the Hut’s western wall, which is when I spotted two final EcoGlobes and a revealing sponsorship plaque…
Vaporblocked, more to come…
Crowd bursts froze in place with morbid curiosity as sirens quickened and coalesced, apprehension washing in. It was like Loma Prieta all over again all right, only with the temblors at bay, the storm door opening, monster rain squalls on their way. Paulen fielding a fresh call, I edged along the Hut wall like a mouse along a baseboard, drawn to that laminated plaque standard, between a stenciled red-hot EcoGlobe patterned with the faces of Environmental Volunteerism and another, thermal plotted with colorful translucent ripples encircling carbon dioxide danger zones. The slanted, corporate signage acknowledged generous contributions of leading co-chairs and an august roster of CEOs, titans, barons, magnates, chieftains and advisory board directors—so many of them curiously based in Chicago.
Blowing in from the Windy City as well was the thematic message and thank-you verse from EcoGlobe co-founder, Lisa Samuels. But what sent me all ashifting was her heartfelt inscription at the bottom of this filigreed gold-leafy panel, in honor of her creative partner in climate consciousness. Samuels’ eternal gratitude was directed in demibold italic script toward…
Rattled in kind, lost in the fog, I averted my gaze from the compactly brimming Globe gal, into Hut’s gift shop window, poring over its rustic open-beam décor, tan slat-wood walls covered in bridge posters, tongue-and-groovy green counters brimming with Golden Gate swag, tchochkes, bric-a-brac, historical tracts, coffee table picture books, gift cards and souvenir T-shirts and sweats. Scores of chilled, touchy visitors browsed about, coffee cups dripping over from the Hut’s far-wall snack bar, amid the organic aroma of Tomato Bisque and vegan avocado quiche.
I rather itched to join them, Paulen having peeled off aways, idling in circles as he entertained another earpiece call. Damn, has he set me up for this? Instead, don’t know why, but I reached for Nathan’s letter, tossing away the Saturday Times. I ripped open the rolled envelope enough to loosen a yellowing newsclip…
The a-ooog-a horn of a replica Model-T touring buggy summoned its sightseeing load to the parking lot startling me to my waffle-worn soles. Paulen soon gathered me up with an abrupt tug of my elbow, back to the Promenade, if not to my senses. At his insistence, we rejoined the Bay Trail mix, antsy everywhichway as it was, the entire Warming Hut apron a restless blur. On the periphery, several young Arab-looking chaps strode hurriedly by us, having emerged from a fire lane between two adjacent low storage buildings, park signs up which pointed out toward a row of public restrooms. That crew reminded me of regulars I had seen during my long hours in the MeccaJava Café. But then, as doc here was apt to say, all those bloody Muslims looked alike.
“Me? I don’t know what to think about now…”
“Join the club, Herbert,” Paulen cracked, distracted by an inbound train of propeller heads forward leaning on their rented Segways. “Honestly, what in heaven’s name is going on out here?!”
“Mad Jihadis, a tsunami advisory, Woody Harrelson climbing the cables with Free Tibet and PETA banderoles, who the fuck knows,” I shuddered. “Aww, c’mon, doc—let’s just head in…”
Each of the five structures in this compact cluster was painted vanilla crème with Spanish red roofs, a dab of army green trim around the windows of a long, outermost former engine supply shop, now a NPS administration headquarters. This pallid uniformity proved less a visual refuge for me than the distant San Francisco skyline over my shoulder, that phallic Coit Tower, as well as Telegraph and Russian Hills, fog ringing all but the needle peak of the Transamerica Pyramid. A westerly wind-fed fragrance secreted from the explosives storage shed cum restroom row, pungent as tipped-over Porta-potties on a sewer treatment site, affording me little further incentive. Still, this was no time for regrouping, Paulen coaxing me deeper into the helter-skelter Promenade swarm, head-on facing the fog-shrouded bay sally and scramble beyond Torpedo Wharf.
Yet I couldn’t help but pick up on a park placard noting as how the storage buildings we were passing once served as army mine depots. Turned out the twin corrugated steel sheds, so innocuous now, housed loading rooms dating back to 1910, where munitions troops assembled mines and depth charges, to the point of field laying an underwater obstacle course out and around the Golden Gate to ward off enemy ships and submarines—a scattering of explosive distribution boxes suspended by floating buoys and deep sea cables. Curious this: some fleeting history amid the crowd swell, the confusion by land, sea and air. That was about when some old crusties huddled around a transistor radio atop the breakwall suddenly cut in front of a band of scant runners hauling ass inbound. Therewith, their salty loss leader decried newscast rumblings of a bomb threat against the bridge itself.
“Easy, my friend,” said Paulen. “I’m afraid there is no heading back.”
“Uh…I…shit, I don’t even know what that means…”
“Trust me, you will— and before you know it, at that.”
Care for more?
Chapter Fifty-Five. Around a revealing
corner, some way past familiar figures
pose a disturbing meet and greet…