Chapter Forty-Nine

“Comparing notes, turning
green over the grass, may reveal 
some harder feelings on the side.”

 

“Over in Sea Cliff…” 

“Right in Sea Cliff? Like where Robin Williams lives?”

 “Well, not right there in Sea Cliff…”

“But in Sea Cliff proper, right? With the Sea Cliff views and all…”

 “Uh, not smack-dab in that Sea Cliff itself. Sort of right outside, so to speak…”

          She was sizing him up, pinning him down beside the Aerobic/Kinetic energy globe she’d paused to pore over a bit further along the Crissy Trail. This leg illustrated the dynamics of carbo-loads and stamina potential of electrolytes, aminos and kale. Not unlike Reese Paulen and I, a heavily logoed LaVie Claire jerseyed cyclist had braked for hazardous curves, only his pneumatically beefed-up Diamondback mountain bike stirred up even more gravel dust than Gate winds were now generating without pause. Who could blame him, as the tied-back blonde in tight black Helly Hansen skins was shaped and sculpted like a Cal power rower.

          The outbound biker surely had a better shot than we did, flexing in a sleeveless 24-Hour Fitness sweatshirt and straining Capo biker shorts. But his guns, much less slight love handles, betrayed the beginnings of fortyish hang and sag. And who knew what was under his silver metalflaked Limar helmet? Moreover, his tread-bare hit lines had rudely cut into her smart-ass phone time, so she was already profiling him with a cool, calculating eye. At the very most, she was looking to get into his pockets, while he was aiming to get into her pants. Not that we ourselves were lingering about this vigor-themed globe to see that transaction through.

          “I get it, near Sea Cliff…like, the Richmond,” she said, disdain coarsening her sandpaper voice.

          “But right there on the edge of Sea Cliff—about as Sea Cliff as you can get.”

          “Minus the Sea, and the Cliff…own it?”

          “No, sort of rent-controlled—it’s a good area, though. Anyhow, Robin Williams doesn’t much live in Sea Cliff now, anyway. He’s mostly rehabbing on his spread up in NapaNoma…”

          “Oh, I see him around,” she said, peeling off from the guy’s GPS misdirection play, as though he were a Jack terrier trying to mount a well-groomed Afghan out of heat. In other words, she basically kicked his ass to the curb, had there been one there. “See you around…”

          With that, the blonde was making tracks in toward the Marina, as we ate the cyclist’s dust out toward Crissy’s former Coast Guard compound. And how frackin’ quickly that fog was hauling in via the Aleutian low. Dishwater grey-white, the seatop mane snaked in through the Golden Gate, unfurling like an ermine train, collaring around Alcatraz Island, and tailing points east.    Bridge fog

          Along the way, it again undercut the bridge’s main deck, crept over the span, climbed its rust red towers as though aerosol foamed. The bridge thus shrouded, gate fog continued spilling over the coastal hills ahead of us, south to north, forming something akin to the receding forehead hairline of that biker’s male pattern baldness.

          “There, see? The utter futility of it,” Paulen said, abruptly tapping his earphone’s blinking voicemail button. “That bloke was probably just making some harmless conversation.”

          “C’mon, he was making to ride her like a stationary gym bike,” I replied, growing addled by the various confabulations and configurations overheard. “You aren’t in friendly neighborhood Boulder anymore…”

          “That’s neither here nor there,” doc replied, recoiling ever so slightly as I edged closer on our way out trail. “But as to Boulder, I’ll tell you one thing. Even on the wildest off chance those harassment accusations were to become true, it would have been the work of le autre mos, le judis moi—the Franco-Italio Verniere side of me. Not the reborn Paulen-mere mentsch that I endeavor to be today.

          “Kinda aiming to be more your mother’s than your father’s Oldsmobile?”

          “Good side, bad side, Herbert—we all have our different natures to address…”

          “Like volleyball—side in, side out, huh? Pour vous vieux, or vous neuve,” I prodded, bouncing off his cryptics—scratching the small of my back at that one.

          “Molto divertente,” Paulen countered, visibly annoyed. “How clever of you, so front of mind. Nevertheless, I am serious, my friend. For instance, how on earth could I countenance my Gallic side any longer, when there is a Jewish population of over one-half million there that dates back to at least 1791, who have stood at the barricades arm in arm with the French Left through the revolution, Vichy, deGaulle, le Pen, what have you. At least until the Second Intifada and 9/11. Now, it has come down to a barrage of Israel delegitimization, of anti-feuj hazing and hatred, the Nazification of the Jewish State—swastikas and flaming vandalism by neo-Nazis and the radical Islam Maghrebi on a scale not seen since the 1930s—all in the service of the so-called Palestinian cause. And what do I face on my Italian side? That corrupt old lecher, Silvio Berlusconi…”

          “Eww, I don’t know, doc. Vive le France, la Dolce Vita…tough walking away from all that,” I replied. Right, it would be like blowing off my Irish side, or Scottish side, or alter-either, or them…both. “Anyhow, what was that you were saying about CU, your suspens…”

          “Well, even if warranted, that nonsense would have been a product of my blamed seducer lothario side. But I have discovered there is a vast difference between tree-lined and shady, Herbert—and I much prefer basking in the brighter light of day. You see, no Marrano nor Derrida de Man am I now. Why, that would be like my father dissing mother all over again…”

          And a familiar fog pattern it was: Central Valley heated up, sucking in circling ocean winds and cold waters, the latter condensing into fog as it spread ashore on its inbound course—scrubbing the air, dispatching bay area pollutants eastward along the way. Beautiful, it all remained to this day. Still, with fog came the dampening chill, driving the combers and birders up here, away from the shoreline, trudging toward the promenade through bayside dunes thick with Yerba Buena, orange California poppy, tangles of swale and arroyo.

          A particularly patch-pocket pair of shuddering Audubonders merged into our slow-witted lane from a sandy feeder path, then turned 180 degrees around us, toward the Mason Street diagonal trail, nothing warm and fuzzy about them, fair or fowl.

          “Ah well, in any case, perhaps it is for the best,” Paulen continued, rather wistfully at that. “I’m afraid the progressive party is over at CU, what with all the genderversity and budget cuts, let alone the statewide Republicans reining in. Then there’s the faculty-student dating clampdown and tenure reforms. Did you know barely 60% of the faculty is on tenure or even tenure track anymore? And the whole ‘dismissal for cause’ mishegas is ratcheting up willy-nilly, not exactly distinguishing between academic deadwood and dissenting views…”

          “Not to mention the moral depravity mishegas.”

          “Harrumph, be that as it may, my faculty colleagues in the aggregate are feeling altogether under siege of late,” doc lamented, gazing out upon Crissy’s cleared away barracks grounds and converted hangars. “Lawmaker hacks were calling our overloaded 50-hour work weeks lazy and over privileged. Then they started threatening us with academic efficiency and productivity ratings—and that was before those chicksas started in with the ‘Pig Man on Campus’ calumny toward me.”

          “Snakebit in the sosh pit, huh? Still, Boulder’s not exactly a slavish coal mine or sweatshop environment, now is it…”

          “All well and good, provided one can actually survive there. But the way things are going, perfectly competent faculty are one performance evaluation away from the itinerant teaching circuit, running lesson plans campus to campus out the trunks of their cars.”

          “Really…some mighty beautiful stop-offs though,” I reflected ambivalently on painful decisions once made. Feeling that shrinking sensation in my Orbital Frontal Cortex all over again. Emotional over rational, primordial feelings to the fore. Promethean intelligence detoured to the intuitive route. Back to the bad decisions, foul behavior—with less and less limbic capacity to stem the tide of sociopathia. Still, get a grip…

          At roughly the same time, an Abercromied couple heated up on a concreted barrier bench, just this side of the stairway to a long footpath bisecting the Meadow commons. Facebook hooked-up, the young foreplay daters cuddled tightly in the moment, oblivious to this inspiring bay view: deep sea-fed splendor formed some 8,000 years before. They seemed blissfully unabated, disinhibited, undeterred by the uniformed rustling around them—no mere social bussing here—anatomically between discreet fondling and a full K-Y Jelly appliqué.

          “Don’t particularly care to find out, thank you,” Paulen countered, somewhat straining of wind. “Universities pay lip service to future permanent hiring, but about half of the faculty members are adjunct or ‘at-will’ employees constantly under review, term after term, Ph.D.s or no. That’s just not where advancement is, much less the money anymore.”

          “Let alone college teaching jobs themselves—the way I hear it,” I  filled in the vanished WW II billets and company area, which used to take me back to Fort Campbell BCT, back to de-harried new draftees slitting their wrists rather than making sadistic 4 a.m. formations. “Still, it’s better than washing dishes at The Sink…”

          “What Sink? That place went down the drain quite a while ago…”

          “Whoa, I totally don’t need to hear that,” I suddenly felt like an old D-Day trooper revisiting what remained of Utah Beach. “I dug The Sink and its crazy Llloyd Kavich murals—hell, Sundance Bob Redford got blotto and waited tables there.”

          “Then of course there are those blasted Pick-A-Prof and Creeper Teacher Websites,” doc said, as we barely avoided another, oncoming park ranger glued to his phone screen like Roger Ailes to CNN and MSNBC. “There’s a tectonic leverage shift going on campus—the classmates are taking over the asylum. It’s the contingent part-timers and adjunct mind pulpers who are really at the mercy of that.”

          “And the minimum-wage slave grad students, I’ll bet.” I recalled holding things together with Moon’s take-home scraps from the Coach Light Inn. “Because they’re still the ones actually teaching everything, right?”

          “The bleaker point is, your alma mater’s getting to be a sky-high playground for out-of-state rich kids…”

          “Getting to be,” I asked, flashing on troubled squareback eruptions past. “Guess it all depends on your financial horizon.”

          “Whatever, many of those kids have no discipline or discernible drive. Laptop social surfing, IM TXTing, podcast lectures—they’re by and large just phoning it in. They read with constant A.D.D. distraction; their writing is atrocious, at best. And it is all we can do to keep up with their cheating. They’ll sneak in a test taker, cut-and-paste plagiarize a sociology study or Tristram Shandy, or just download an entire term paper from sites like ProfEssays.com—any tricky angle and wrangle instead of using that energy to actually study and learn. They might as well go the University of Phoenix route and get it over with…”

          “Like your granny once said, just the grades, doc, just the grades. Though you did some shortcutting yourself way back in the day, as I recall.”

          “Ahem, well bubbie’s largesse is all but a spent force. These days, it’s the Pritchard axiom, scholastic Whack-a-Mole—a never-ending battle for scholastic integrity. Add in fending off of textbook publishers—indeed, the entire publish or perish the thought syndrome. Little wonder some professors come unhinged and bludgeon their loved ones like a relapsing, laid-off logger.”

          “Truth, justice and the academic way, add in the march of techonology,” I replied, thinking back to grad school days, our own testy relationship, much less the odd studious classmates with whom I’d actually parried. “But c’mon, there’s gotta be some some serious grinders there— like the ones mortgaging their whole damn lives for tuition and fees. I’m just saying some students must have cross pressures to deal with, too—like, a boatload of stress…”

          “Stress? Poor babies have tutors, personal trainers and advisors at their disposal for all their purported mental strain. Safe zones, saunas, organic health food bars, free wi-fi everywhere—miles of slopes to ski, rocks to climb. Moreover, we’re not exactly talking Cambridge or Cal Tech here.”

          “Seems ‘Harvard in the hills’ has been plenty Ivy enough for you all these years, hasn’t it,” I asked, delicately balancing the dopamine and cortisol. I recalled relishing the morning swims and skating at the Rec Center, Front Range mountains in full picture window view. A gig was a gig, but who was he to be hatin’ on Ralphie and my good ol’ black and gold? Dissin’ the brilliant sandstone walls and red clay roof tiles of its Tuscan Vernacular campus, aglow with a fresh dusting of Champagne snow? Particularly when I in some ways still missed it so…

          “I’ll admit it has had its moments, light-headed ones though they were,” Paulen rolled his eyes. “And yet, what do your stressed-out little undergrads actually do nowadays? They get binge plastered in every bar on the Hill, power-chug themselves to death in Greek pledge hazing, flood 4/20 smoke-ins, trash Columbia Cemetery, crash coed apartments, gang rape bare acquaintances, slice up botched drug deals all over the Hill. Then they Provigil and Adderall out of their hangovers, that is if they make morning classes, at all.”

          “Desecrate…Columbia Cemetery,” I gasped, picturing the very same gravesites where Seamus and I used to commune with founding claim jumpers past—wondering if the professor and I were both getting a bit too old and cranky for our own good. “But, hey, that kinda crap’s going on everywhere, right? Look at Rice, Virginia Tech—the melodrama at Duke or Colorado State…mostly just isolated stuff, kids cutting loose after class.”

          “Hmph, I’ll have you know it is prevalent enough to keep CU in the upper crust of party schools. Just wait until it’s all legalized.”

          “So is Dartmouth, for that matter. Besides, didn’t I see where the Buffs have totally reformed their football program?”

          “I suppose you are referring to separating the strippers from the draft picks. Seven all-American gridiron rapes—three lawsuits and counting. Gratis drunken lap dances instead of running laps. It remains to be seen whether that rebuilding is a promise the athletic director can actually keep.”

          “Yeah, but how else are they gonna recruit those wide receivers and wildcat scat backs out of East L.A.? Anyway, we did blow our own smoke around Tulagi’s back in the day?”

          I now had the time to observe the sheer, shameless ardor of that young couple, as Paulen was abruptly fielding yet another incoming curious, enervating earphone call. I slide stepped to the far side of that concrete stairway, leaning against its narrow metal banister like a bookmaker picking an over-under from the Morning Line. Truth was, I needed the break, to reprocess, cache up, catch my drift—although I could have done without that Abercouple’s pre-coital power of suggestion. It got me to reflecting on the sheer sociology of this all—forks and knives, roads taken, tracks washed out and abandoned. How doc seemed a bit creakier for his age, a lot more opinionated and doctrinaire. How we thought so much unalike, and yet, cytoplasmically alike—nice to nasty, nasty to nice, just more non-complementary behavior, all but glutamated, so to speak…

          Soon enough, I took in the quickening marine activity of regatta and more official-looking craft out on the bay, from Fort Mason to the old Coast Guard pier and beyond. But damned if Paulen didn’t instantly voicemail the call, turning his attention back my way.   GG Bridge foggier

          Tulagi’s? Long gone, the way of Dot’s Diner and Nancy’s…”

          “Dot’s, too?! Jee-sus…” No more devouring sunnysides and home fries, looking out on the snow-draped Flatirons while passing around the hot coffee pot.  Where else was I ever going to load up on chunky apple oatmeal and buttery piles of raisin toast?

          “Face facts, Herbert. Boulder is not what you remember it to be,” Paulen cautioned. “Not even the place I remember, nowhere near as free, innocent or easy. I’m afraid the town is getting too big to fail in, and too costly to flail in. It’s a magnet for every counter-social climber, suburban cowboy, fringe techie and crisis midlifer, coast to coast. All those cute local companies like Crocs and Celestial Seasonings have gone meta corporate conglomerate. Little food shops like the Sausage Mart have been squeezed out by newbie haute cuisine.”

          “So much for Dot’s,” I sighed, reluctant to give up the hashbrowns and post-grad ghost. “But at least frontier brick still rules Pearl Street, right?”

          “Yes, although engulfed by fake brick face office suites and the occasional strip club—clear out into the valley. They can’t keep overbuilding like crazy, gorging the Flagstaffian cliffsides, water running dry, without eventually paying some kind of price…”

          “Then again, what about all that amazing NASA Saturn/Cassini action, firing up those spooky moons and rings,” I replied, images of horse pasture jogs and pre-dawn Mercier spins to Table Mesa flying on by. “And you can’t beat Boulder for running and cycling, now can you?”

          “Provided you don’t get mowed down by some stoner 4×4. Add in the real estate bubble along the green line…forget about it. Honestly, who can afford to live there anymore?”

          “Hell, who can afford to live here anymore either—let alone Sea Cliff…”

          “You tell me, Herbert, you tell me,” Paulen snapped, robotically taking a re-call. “Un momento…”

          “Speaking of cliff hangers…”

Care for more?

Chapter Fifty. More male ire, 
some directed to those over the hills, 
begins roiling much closer to home…