“Go against the grain
too long, and the going
is inclined to get tougher.”
“You shootin’ me?”
“You shootin’ me?!
“No, please—gold…big boat…”
This looked to be a culture clash: couple of exiled Tahoe ski stoners sparking a blunt, cupping it against the wind, turning harshly on two apparently H1B programmers who were speaking oddly broken English—looking more Hindu than Hamas. But like these scruffy snowboard washouts in scuffed-up hiking boots would even know the difference. Visual-thinking Bangalore whiz kids, over here in the states coding for Oracle, they apparently were up from Silicon Valley for either the 49-Mile Scenic Drive, or something a bit more nautically electrifying, with hi-def handycams at the ready.
“I’ll cram that muthafucka down your raghead fuckin’ throat!”
“Hey, wait up, bud—that’s really cold. I mean, goin’ so ghetto, a really bad look.”
“Better than bringin’ A-rab farty here to the party…”
“Hindu, dude—I’m thinkin’ these two’s Indian…”
“Whoop de fuckin’ doo—kimosabe this…”
Emerging from the Golden Gate’s fog mane was a magnificent trimaran sailing ship, 90’ by 90’ with a 16-story mast and a revolutionary navigational side wing at least 60 meters long. Idolizing skiffs, dinghies, sloops and barkentines suckled up around ‘Thoracle’ like puppies to the bitch, their slate Kevlar mainsails glistening with every tack and trim in what remained of the visible bay sunlight over that stretch.
Festooned with German Luxe car logotypes on out to the very tip of its wind foil, Thoracle was the latest high-tech shot at America’s Cup domination. None too shabby for a nice Jewish boy from Southside Chicago, I marveled. And the smiling Oracle coders remained in corporate thrall to where they kept their cameras rolling despite any physical foreboding. Too bad the good sightlines seemed to be zipping closed in the black mega yacht’s wake as it raced past us at about 30 knots.
“I’m trying…in my estimation, he has amply demonstrated the capacity, appears to fit the profile, all right. I just have one more substratum to peel away, simply to be certain. Yes, heading straight ahead, nearing the bridge. Heat? Not so as I can tell. By all means, I will try to detect that, as well—by the nuclear family option, if need be…must go, bye…CLICK. Herbert, wait—over this way. Where were we…”
“Just hanging out, waiting for you to hang up,” I said. Doc may have been off the hook at last, yet not so for the coders. “Otherwise, just jawin’ with myself. Trouble?”
“We’ll see,” Reese Paulen replied, averting from a Bugler-smoking old salt leaning not far away along the sea wall, staring us down. “Depends on how you define trouble…”
“Those guys…crazy, huh,” I asked rhetorically, watching the lesser of two skivils pull his hooded sidekick away down trail before any cameras were broken or punches thrown. “Male anger issues, straight outta the blue here…”
“On that count, I’m not lacking familiarity,” Paulen said, visibly disturbed. “Think it is any saner in Boulder? You should see the homeless squatting in city parks, the hopelessly wasted, throat-slasher runaways panhandling up and down Pearl Street Mall. Sad truth is, there is a second degeneration of hippie boomer babies, doped-up parents begetting screwed-up progeny. Freaky at-risk problem children prowling about—all dreaded and pierced and Sketchered and Croced, like those two ski bums over there. It’s patently zoological, quite the petri dish, when you think about it.”
“Good for the sosh business, I guess…”
“Hmph, they’re the bored, disinherited sort who swarm to clandestine fight clubs up at Chautauqua, who raid their parents’ prescription drugs, going the dorm-dive suicide route, or climbing in through bedroom windows on designer ecstasy, crawling into bed at 3 AM with terrified CU women—the whole overall climb of Uni Hill crime. Lunatic A.D.H.D. behavior, clinical bordering on the sociopathic. It is rowdy, stupid, oversexed as hell, I tell you: bare-breasted bacchanalia lorded over by the Flatiron formation.”
“That’s nothing—you shoulda seen Polk Street Halloween here way back when,” I closed in, mindful of hitting a nerve. “But, c’mon, they’re just kids acting out, right? A little hypoglycemic, maybe, what’s the big…”
“Look, I have my reasons, let’s leave it at that, shall we? I’ve just been lucky to get through the month of AV without visible scars…”
Paulen and I had moved on by then. He had insisted, I’d persisted—so near, and yet not so far. Taking his curveball responses as a point of departure, I gazed up to Crissy commons, drawn by even more kite flyers having a field day in these winds. This meadow-wide kitefest was nearly too much to process. A brilliant color calliope soaring, pitching, dipping, bobbing and weaving with the gusts and gales, in tune with larger board-surfer brethren out on the bay. Carrying their pilots along like so many loose sandwich wrappers—striped, crescent-shaped sled kites crossed flight paths with anime-emblazoned diamonds and eddies. Knotted multi-tails streamed from rainbow deltas.
Mid commons, more competitive kiters did battle with Rokkaku dragons and red-orange Kimono Sodes. Celestial black-yellow tombstone shaped barn door kites undershot the twin keels of double-skewer doperos. And a leaping kennel array of faithful kite dogs chased after them all, tongues wagging like the long satiny kite tails that they trailed. But when a Vipered Scorpion split-frame roller broke free from its lines and lofted downwind, wary kiters began scanning these now more gusty skies, reeling in their diamonds before the Westerlies got too rough. I tracked them all no less, until a beach-soaked Water Spaniel brushed by, bringing me back down to earth.
“Anniversary of the gamut of calamity of the Jewish people, Herbert. Fifth month of the ecclesiastical year of the Hebrew calendar. The darkest events of Jewish history have occurred during the first week and a half, which culminates in the Tisha B’Av.”
“Really…sooo, where does that leave you?”
“Neither here nor there, in the here and now—but I suspect you grasp what I’m saying,” Paulen searched for any reticence on my part.
“Sort of, I guess…” I scuffled along a little faster, what with the Spaniel hiking his leg just past me, then robustly pawing, clawing his ground, turf flying everywhichway.
“In any event, truth be told, I’ve been growing a mite weary of the whole left-right tug of war back in Boulder. CU is this liberal island in a sea of white conservative supremacy—one that’s eroding faster than a South Pacific atoll. Whether it is the thought police, the language police, the peace camp or the Air Force anti-Semites of Colorado Springs.
One minute, the Quad is teeming with PETA and Operation Rescue. Then NOW is taking on purity balls and Promise Creepers, or NORML is blowing smoke rings around the R.O.T.C. If enviro-anarchists aren’t torching corporate recruiting booths, gun-packing College Republicans are aiming for a shoot-out at the Packer corral. Pretty soon, there will be no left left, at all. Honestly, if it weren’t for my Jewish Studies program, I…”
“Like I said, isn’t that what a university is supposed to do? A free marketplace of ideas, throwing light on differing views? Like you said before…” All I could think of was all the sunny afternoons studying on the aspen and pine treed Quadrangle—no unrest nor upheaval there and then…
“I suppose, just not so stridently bifurcated, frozen in place—all the rude, co-belligerent white noise…”
“And you think it’s any quieter in the Bay Area? The anti-abortion buses back there, remember? Hell, we’ve even had an Evangelical Christian concert here bashing San Francisco values—damn near filled the Giants’ ballpark,” I said, threading ‘Being Saved’ and ‘Born Again’, even to Werner Erhart’s ESTy ‘getting it’ back ’70s way.
“Nevertheless, hopefully, it is still home. On the whole a tad less judgmental, I might add…”
A clique of teched-up teeners had remained LOL gathered around an isobar-ingrained EcoGlobe, ostensibly snapping cel pix of one another before its ‘Act Now For the Environment’ theme, and the e-waste and Post-its affixed to its lava brown grooves. Between clicks, they were TXTing their little thumbs off, preppie boys and twittering SXTpots likely shooting cutie booty and nudie proposals, hot and slutty, to their A-list friendsters—the ol’ digital leer and lure—networking their validations, hot-housing their glioma and meningioma, blowing up their phones. Yet the OMG shutters turned quickly to shudders for these BFF facemates, as they WTFd at sandy wind gusts that could perforate their LED screens. But that didn’t deter them from clicking some quick selfie digi-snaps back at the blue laundry undergarment-laced globe, then it was CUL8R Spanx, Victoria’s Secret, Hanes and Maidenform.
“Still and all, this mini-sabbatical may be a blessing in disguise, since my whole administrative thing is likely to drag on a while.”
“Why would you hope for that?” I couldn’t help wondering how I might BAR along with them.
“Time to decompress,” Paulen shook his head resignedly, as though blind to the prep schoolers’ romp and circumstances. “Panel investigations, the departmental reviews—methinks in the wake of the football and golf scandals, university brass are of a mind to clean house, and they are making me out to be a big dust ball in the middle of the hall. Toss in the e-mail harassment and PMOC nonsense, why subject myself to all that?”
“B-but if you’re innocent, don’t you have to mount a defense?”
“Look, they are convincing themselves that I am detrimental to school integrity, a moral and financial exigency, somehow threatening to the student body,” Paulen groused. “I suppose I conveniently fit their mold of a Churchillian misconduct problem. Ironic, though—those same student bodies mate like minks, and Boulderites run Halloween naked on the mall. Yet yours truly is getting crucified for some alleged improper fraternization—innocent as that may have been at the time…”
“Dunno, doc, forced oral sex to make the grades: that’s a pretty serious charge. But at least it’s a heteroscandal, huh?” Was he or wasn’t he? Only his hard drive knew for sure…
“It’s preposterous on its face, utter fantasyland,” Paulen rebounded, with a sudden glare my way. “Still, I suppose I should have seen it coming—probably wouldn’t have happened at all if I hadn’t had my Jewish awakening.”
“Aww, now that’s a real paranoid stretch…” Or were these my plainly paranoid delusions, like seeing as how these oncoming seabirds might be half-blind and cross-eyed, dive bombing to hit me head on?
“Oh, it’s all so petty and vindictive,” doc spouted. “Then again, worst case scenario, I suspect I could appeal to the Faculty Committee on Privilege and Tenure. Or sue for reinstatement…ethnic or age discrimination, something along those lines…”
“Yeah, it’s not like you’ve been dealing meth or anything, right,” I asked, studying him in turn. “I mean, you haven’t killed anybody, nobody died…”
“Uh, god forefend…”
That Thoracle black racing cat and its heeling entourage had sailed in on pitched foils beyond us, following the fog tail and ships’ channel past Raccoon Straits toward Angel Island, with the onshore video coders in tow. Meanwhile those unfriendly Tahoe toughs sat toking away on a driftwood piling amid the narrow beach sandbar.
We ourselves turned back trailward to face a quickening, thickening flow of inbound trail traffic bearing down upon us. Odd then, that leading the pack was likely the least mobile of an intently kinetic crush. Imagine that, a three-legged German Shepherd mix pulling his rear-end guide/support wheels, a bun-haired trainer in nurse white shoes and blue veterinary scrubs legging right alongside.
Not far behind, a young mother chased after a wind-blown baby blanket that had flown off the alloy-framed buggy her househusband had struggled to hold steady. This sullen long walker, complete with cross-country poles, then lost his Mets cap, baring nothing but the fringe on top. Batten the comb-over crop: Sad to say, I could be heading down that road as well, what with the anxiety of trudging along out here despite myself against the prevailing winds and flow.
“Whatever, best-case scenario, they proceed, I win a court judgment,” said the professor. “CU most likely wouldn’t have the budget to collect on, anyway. The state legislature is seeing to that.”
“I get reinstated in a resentful department, teaching larger and larger classes of hostile kids, while losing any hope of instituting my critical anti-Semitism program in the process—and I just can’t let that stop me…”
“But at least you’d be back on Boulder’s smart grid, right?”
“To what end,” Paulen huffed, seemingly oblivious to growing turbulence about the bay. “Producing more arcane socio-research, teaching narrower and narrower underfunded courses, advising grad student slaves who have little or no hope of suitable faculty appointments? I’m thinking I’d rather just take any buyout they might have in mind.”
A small, fractious gaggle of northern geese honked discordantly overhead as they flapped south-southeast, away from the coastline. Waving them off was a weekend pedal pumper seemingly just as disoriented, leaning high on his Schwinn’s saddle seat, against the next EcoGlobe to our right, stopped cold by harder core gusts. Underdressed in a Wilco tee shirt and Warrior shorts, he was checking his heart monitor strap, PDA for GPS, m.p.h., BPM, HDL vs. LDL—who could tell from that tiny byte-sized screen?
All I knew was that, even with his leg up on the globe’s pedestal, its caption was still visible enough to betray a peculiarly midwestern theme. Deep subway green with crème-colored commuter coaches and red-lined map patterns, its general message may have revolved around public transit, but the visuals bespoke checkered Chicago taxis sharing Michigan Avenue with bio-buses from the Metra/CTA. Now, WTF was up with that—like, way the hell out here?
“You know, it is nice to be so near the water again—somewhat therapeutic, in a way,” doc sighed, now panning out around what visibly remained of the headlands and Golden Gate. “Particularly after being so thoroughly thin-air landlocked for lo, these many years…”
“Yeah, but what majestic land, hey?”
“Indeed, if you prize brush and rocks, remember? You’ve got droughts and scorching heat that bring raging wildfires like the Haymen, aspens and bristle cone pine dying all over the Rockies. Everybody waiting breathlessly for the next ignitions, if not getting flash washed away.”
“But Pine Beetles are doing the trees in, right,” I asked, looking over my shoulder, eastward toward burn zones and brown scars remaining from the Oakland Hills fire. Who couldn’t recall fondly those woodsy summertime campfires up past Caribou? “That’s not Boulder’s fault…”
“So they say, but I have seen it rain and fire in the sky,” Paulen dismissed. “Then the blustery Chinook winds roll down over the Front Range, through the canyons, ripping off rooftops. Just in time for backcountry avalanches—before you know it, the foothills are blizzarded, and Boulder Valley is in full white-out mode, schools closed, roads piled up, snowshoes de rigueur. It’s a wild and wooly climate there, to say the least.”
“Drive over the Wasatch and Sierras, did you? So the cabin used to rock and roll under quilted bedcovers sometimes, while roofs peeled off through the valley—part of the high mountain drama package, all over the wild, wild west.”
“They’re not even close to being buried alive in Colorado. “That’s what chafes me the most. Never been much of a skier, and I’ve simply grown tired of all the snow shoveling, the eternal digging out…”
“Yeah, been there, done my share of that,” I said, reflecting on all the blueberry bran muffins and hot cocoa Moon always had readied after the big digs, then racing Seamus up through the blanket drifts of Chautauqua Park. “Did the morning-after driveway plowing more times than I can count, thanks…”
“Ah, yes—the little driveway thing. I’m well acquainted with that terrain. Rest assured, I know precisely whereof you speak.”
“You do, huh…” What the hell does he mean by that?
Total geo warp. Maybe it was because the Golden Gate Promenade appeared to rise slightly, as if to more level off with the Great Meadow. Or rather that the commons was sinking—or that this was merely a topographic optical delusion on my part. Still, the few remaining kites dipped closer, flying Frisbees spun nearer, the Aussie Shepherds leaping after them whisked by with diminishing margin for error. Why, for that matter, did the bay shoreline and an Asia-bound Hapag-Lloyd cargo ship look to have risen higher than the slender beach that brought us within spitting distance of tidal immersion under duress? Made me dizzy just misperceiving it…
“But, you know, maybe it’s not CU, or Boulder at all, doc. Maybe it’s just you, trying to talk yourself into or out of something.” Couldn’t remember where that little bon mot came from; no matter, as I just let it float out there in retrospect.
“So have at it back there, Herbert—be my guest. Perhaps you could return to Colorado and really tease out your narrow predispositions.”
“Predispositions? What narrow predis…” Then again, I could lay it on the earaches I was cultivating, due to these onshore winds howling through my outré auditory canals, pressure poking vibrating the ossicles, thumping the tympanums, banging the malleus, hammering the incus as they galed toward my cochlear ducts and eustachian tubes until I could almost taste the superior olives’ decibel rush. Could have used some back-country ambient headphones about then, just sayin’…
“You’d know better than I. However in my case, I’m afraid it all comes down to the gratuitous wrath of some demanding, ungrateful little bitches. Women, right? Can’t live with them…”
“Me? I’m not so sure about that. Guess it depends on which little…bitch you’re talking about.”
Care for more?
Chapter Fifty-One. On guard against
academic exile and unlikely foreign
incursions, their thoughts turn to the
innocence of a glittery little girl…