“When matters and manners
seem to dig you in even
deeper, look to the skies.”
“…And when I slipped out of Afghanistan…”
“Here we go…”
“Literally just before the Taliban overran…”
“Bet you never got any further than Kabul…probably never left Langley.”
Trucked in presumably for the EcoGlobe exhibit, three Porta-Toities, blue as the sea, were skidded atop a wood-plank platform on the leeward edge of that shoreline tree cluster. A wind gust slammed shut the sprung plastic door behind me as I re-emerged, relieved beyond belief, nostrils full of deodorizer and worse, to a breathtaking 360-degree view of the bay.
Some wooden benches fat as railroad ties lined the upper beach, within sniffing distance of the crappers. Reese Paulen sat on the edge of the nearest, speaking into his earphone, barely over the idyll conversation of this loose-cut ‘Company’ retiree and a shaggier Marina done-nothing contrarian who had been seen vegging around Chestnut Street for years on end. Once a dreamy, art school couple vacated the less odious perch one bench over, there I lighted for a spell.
“More like the tribal regions…but I can’t really talk about it…”
“Classified, huh—like with Guantanamo. You ex-CIA types are a real hoot.”
“Seen my share of unrest, I’m tellin’ you. And something fishy’s goin’ on around here. Something’s not right…”
“So shut your pie-hole why don’t ya…”
Whatever, I turned my back in no time on this pseudo-conspiratorial exchange. Similarly, these leaning Cypress trees lent a measure of shade and shelter from the Gate winds, benches situated as they were under umbrella arching limbs. Still, the bay before us was in fact showing signs of the rising afternoon tide.
“My unorthodox little survey has covered that gamut, so to speak. Indeed, your hypothesis still rings true. Yes, of course—we should be out there before long…got to go…” (CLICK). “Herbert…”
“So, what exactly have you heard,” I asked, a spate of range anxiety seeping in as Paulen approached. Really, were they actually saying something about me back at CU? “Want we should turn back, it’s getting kinda nastier out here…”
“Nonsense, my friend, figure of speech. Consider it a lovely little figure of speech,” Reese Paulen replied, zipping up to his jawbone. “Come now, these conditions are all the more amenable to our pressing ahead toward a Liverpool Lil’s repast.”
“Kinda roundabout scenic route, wouldn’t you say?” I followed him back toward the Crissy Promenade.
“Just think of the appetites we’re working up here with our little colloquy, you’ll see.”
Gritty beach sand began filling in earlier footprints, the surf now lapping more soundly along the shoreline. Skiffs, sloops and schooners alike were heeling sharply, battling currents and crosswind gusts like the big boaters, from Raccoon Straits over to Richardson Bay.
Windsurfers sacked up to the max as they wrestled mightily with their clear sails, zig-zag darting in from the Gate at a speedway clip, flitting about, so many gnats circling a porch light. Harnessed kiteboarders clung to their reins and control bars for life-or-death grip survival, colorful bat-wing sails folding high above them like misfortune cookies in ships’ channel winds mid-bay. Closer to home, the nearest, shakiest of those three Porta-Toities looked to be nearing the sanitarial tipping point.
“Sooo, you were talking about seeing the Christian darkness and the Judeo light, as in…”
“As in a whole host of ways,” Paulen said. Whether it was his long-winded oratory or shortness of sea-level breath, he had looked to be drawing from his bench strength, pressing ahead with conviction. “Not the least of which as pertains to the monotheistic religious component, which I sorely remember from my father’s day.”
“Religious,” I replied, as we merged with the outbound flow, half speed, at best. “That’s weird…”
“What is…weird, as you so articulately put it, is as annoying as the Evangelicals may be…”
“You mean with their Armageddon in the Holy Land crapola…”
“Precisely, the very same Christian Zionists—with their End of Days, Rapture, ‘blood flowing as high as horses’ saddles’, heretical Jew nonbelievers left behind in the Tribulations—all that nonsense,” Paulen said, mindful of an oncoming pack of helmeted trail bikers. “Still, those zany zealots can’t hold a candle to your Roman Catholics.”
“Mine? What about you…lapsed, are we?”
“Thoroughly dispossessed,” Paulen said mordantly. “But with the Opus Dei bead swingers purging Vatican II, driving the flock back to Latin mass and resurrecting exorcisms while sex-abuse scandals keep erupting, can you blame me?”
“Couldn’t say, first hand…not into playing that blame game…” I skipped a trail rock across the marsh’s western edge.
“Really? How Catholic might you be these days, Herbert,” doc pointed out some hard-core kiters braving force-fours in but Limoland jackets and Thrashin mesh shorts.
“Uh, r-r-right, haven’t been to confession or communion for ages, my own self…”
“Hasn’t stopped bishops from preaching conversion, though, has it? The Vatican has been trying to ‘enlighten’ Jews to the ways of Jesus Christ since at least the Spanish Inquisition, the Edict of Expulsion by Queen Isabella. Back in the 1400s, of course, eternal salvation meant convert or die, confess to Judaizing or…converses by damned.”
“Right, get the hell outta holy Toledo. But Pope Benedict V did give his blessing to Jewish homeland in Palestine way back in 1917.”
“So he signed off on der Judenstaat, big deal. That prejudicial whitlow still has been festering ever since, with the papacy just joining in on the Israel bashing at Durban II. Honestly, how dare John-Paul have applauded bigot Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ!”
“Well, all kinds of people did that,” I noted, as we approached the flat rise of the Historic Airfield’s reclaimed great meadow. “Besides, John-Paul’s history now, anyway…”
“And just look at what the College of Cardinals hath propagated in his wake,” Paulen spouted, peering up at the huge grassy expanse. “A former Hitler youth who now harbors Holocaust deniers in his regime. Have they no shame? Still, what really is the piece de resistance is this infamous Pope Pius affair.”
Fog that had been lipping over coastal ridges burgeoned into a cold, misty curtain winched in through the Golden Gate, pulled along by overheated inland air. Not unlike time-lapse videography, this alabaster froth gradually rolled in between us and the East Fort Baker compound on the Marin side of the bay, then Sausalito’s slope side cottages, Tiburon’s ferry landing and SF Yacht Club—the broad sweep of the Belvuron hills.
Short and fishboard surfers nearly swam out of their neoprene and solar mesh thermal body gloves to reach clearer waters. Yellow-capped triathlete trainers breast-stroked past bobbing sea otters and feeding harbor seals, navigating invasive mussels and bacterial waste on their way back to the safety of East Crissy Beach. Soon, Angel Island vanished in the deepening milky shroud, Alcatraz fading fast. Quickening the pace of this bay-wide evacuation was the ghostly ships’ channel onslaught of a blue-hulled Maersk Line freighter blare horning in.
“You mean Pius XII.”
“Who single-handedly spanned the ‘Black Legend’ of benign passivity in the face of Nazi atrocities against Euro Jews throughout World War II, while his Catholic Church in Germany so quietly and severely exploited thousands of forced laborers, quite the star system there.”
“That’s not how most Catholics holy see it,” I ducked from an errant Frisbee. “The Vatican says he did what he could to thwart Hitler’s totalitarian thrust through his papal encyclicals…”
“Then why has pope after pope ever since then dragged their red slippers on opening secret Pius archives of the Holocaust years? Sixteen million documents—what are they hiding?”
“B-b-but, everybody from Einstein to Golda Meier and Leonard Bernstein have lauded him for the Jewish lives he did save…”
“Mere window dressing, Herbert. The main event will come next spring, if Sig Heil Ratzinger stops hiding his pervert priests, crusades down to mend fences and mincemeat his words in the Middle East. I can just see that ex-Nazi pontificating before the Western Wall.”
“I can’t see him bothering, tense as Catholic-Jewish relations are these days,” I picked up the disc, flinging it back lamely to its meadow Deadheads. “Like, with that Latin prayer to ‘lift the veil of Jewish blindness from their hearts’.”
“Indeed, picture the pontiff facing the music of his Holocaust at the Yad Vashem Memorial, while Jerusalem’s Rabbinate scolds him to quit missionizing or demonizing the Jews. That pope has got to go, and I don’t mean to yeshiva. The cardinals must smoke signal somebody better.”
“And you reconcile all this apostation how,” I winced, “I mean personally…”
“Ah, as I believe Ringo Starr once sang, ‘It don’t come easy’,” Paulen shrugged, glancing up at a picnicking couple up on the green’s chest-high riser line, especially the halter-topped distaff side of the equation. “Look, I can vividly remember how my father long pressed mother to formally convert—catechism, all that. How she passive-aggressively went along in full smile-and-stall mode, humming away in her kitchen, making these amazing thin little pancakes, with Don Sherwood on the radio or ‘The Velvet Fog’ on the Victrola.”
“Lotta domestic history there, huh? Sounds like not that much different from what I grew up with.”
“History? You don’t know the half of it,” he said, slowly casting away his gaze. “Should have heard them when witch hunters persecuted the Rosenbergs here at home.”
“You mean prosecuted,” I said, wondering if doc wondered when all the army barracks that used to stand at attention here had so irreversibly surrendered ground. “They were spies, weren’t they? Treason—a crime worse than murder?”
“They were essentially railroaded, if you ask me, particularly Ethel more than Julius. Better to lay it at the feet of Greenglass and Roy Cohn. But all fell victim to the Red Scare purges so curiously aimed at post-war American Jews. ”
“Right when things were going so well, otherwise,” I nodded, concluding those razed WWII-era billets weren’t top of the professor’s mind. “You know, brand spanking new Israel, Sid Caesar and all…”
“Hmph, I’ll have to gentleman’s agree to disagree on that,” Paulen replied. “Jim Crohn was still the order of the day in many places, while Hollywood was under McCarthy’s blacklist gun despite being rah-rah USA acquiescent for so long. HUAC summoning the symps and subversives to name names and rat out the commie scourge. So many careers derailed, lives destroyed—far too many of them Jewish.”
On the long, narrow beach before us, skinny swim suited juvies scampered in all ashiver from chillier waters, fantasmic sand sculptures dissolved in a now pounding surf, sunbathers’ lean-tos folding like so much origami. Solitary runners in rubber feet high-stepped past inbound, crossing paths with loose water mutts, leash swinging old masters bundled up not far behind, go-for-broker on the gold customer service cell phone line.
A pair of young Scandia lovers hurriedly snapped one another’s digipix against the Golden Gate backdrop whilst they still could, before dashing off to the Fort Mason hostel and some hot-house vegan stew. Eyeing the pink ‘Bjork for Alltid’ pullovered blonde, an old salt in ‘Niner gear tripped over a tangle of driftwood, his long-reach metal detector sent flying, beeping as if it had just unearthed a trove of buried doubloons…small consolation.
“But at the same time, Jewish-Americans were setting up the most powerful Jewish community in the world here, right?”
“Separate begat equal, my friend. A parallel universe of shtetles, primarily in the larger cities. Synagogues, delis, clubs—nearly 500,000 crammed into New York’s Lower East Side alone, stuffed into tenement flats over brothels and opium dens, seeing Eddie Cantor and Sophie Tucker at the Yiddish Theater, Borah Minovitz and His Harmonica Rascals, keeping kosher at the ‘Hassidic Hamlet’. With a little luck and pluck, they stole away to the Borscht Belt to take in the likes of Freddy Roman. So much for ‘the best of times’.”
“Jewish Alps, huh? Had to be better than what they fled…”
“Oh, I see,” Paulen snapped, catching a stop-action glimpse of that retreating pink pullover himself. “You mean, North Africa or Manila, by way of Matthausen? Getting stonewalled and turned away from American shores on the S.S. St. Louis? Blamed like the Judeo-Masonry for causing two world wars?!”
“Hey, how about that Bess Myerson,” I eased, attempting to translate that Bjork silk-screened tagline on the fly. “Miss America, 1945… glamorously opening all those gleaming refrigerator doors…”
“Back up there a sec, Herbert. Sure she was so crowned, but not before Washington’s War Refugee Board diddled and dithered, while Nazis were still turning Jewish skin into hand soap and lampshades. Hmph, such a deal—moronic bigots calling her Miss Jewmerica.”
“Well, plenty of good Americans sacrificed it all to end that war madness over there,” I spouted, Uncle Early’s shell-shocked echo ringing in my ears. “And how about Boston Charlie Wilson, doing hard time for steering warplanes to Israeli insurgents in ’48? While most American Jews were not even bothering to move there.”
“That is only because of what American Jews had long endured to gain a foothold here before the war—going way back to Ulysses S. Grant sanctioning them as ‘intolerable nuisances’ during the Civil War. After all, they had just come off a Depression decade of simmering suspicion and scorn. If it wasn’t American Firsters, it was holy Father Chuck Coughlin ranting on about FDR’s Jew Deal, about Jewish union organizing and communist ties. Don’t get me started about Hitler-lover Elizabeth Dilling: peddling her Red Network screeds from Chicago on commie pinko Jews…let alone seditious old Axis Sally. By 1938, nearly half of America polled were negative on Jews, blaming them for the economic collapse—so how could they give a good goddamn about yellow Juden stars and whatever else was going wrong across the pond?”
“C’mon, not that many breadliners were even hip to the Fuhrerious side of Lucky Lindy…”
“Be that as it may, the 1930s only amplified alienation and animosities building through the Twenties,” he said, apparently noticing as I did that West Bluff’s treeline up ahead was being fog erased as thoroughly as the Crissy barracks had materially been several years before. “Most Jews kept their heads down back then, meekly passing as best they could, keeping their heritage and culture on the down low—torn between Orthodox and secular, reaching for the few quota positions open to them.”
“Bet they weren’t driving many Model A’s or T’s either…”
If it wasn’t beach driftwood, it was large, half-buried rocks where even harsher winter surf had thrust them. Further evidence of nature’s wave forces was torn branches and splintered limbs strewn about these benches, uprooted tree trunks that had been chain-sawed into relatively harmless log lengths for wilderness effect. Affecting me more directly was this soggy elephant gray Mastiff that had slobbered over, cut loosely by his mastress in her black ‘Dogs, Not Dudes’ sweatshirt, dropping something petrified at our feet, drooling my way in search of just rewards.
“Henry Ford was only the most vocal and visible of the anti-Semites in the Roaring Twenties,” doc explained. “His ‘International Jew’ tracts and Dearborn Independent paper railed for years against the ‘Jewish problem’, libeled them as conspiratorial outsiders at best—dirty, cheating Yids at worst. While racist Jay Near ranted in his ‘Saturday Press’. This, at a time when cosmopolitan mercantile Jews were then venturing more into rural towns, where Protestants felt under threat and siege in Jewmerica. Which a demagogue like Ford fed into, with Hitler’s full praise, at least until a defamation suit finally brought the Independent rag down. Of course, the anti-Semitism was further stoked when Justice Louis Brandeis actively and faithfully championed Zionism and a Jewish homeland in his Supreme Court robes.”
“Again, with the divided loyalties, those suspect international ways, that what was said?” Buttons, push those buttons before your fingers freeze off.
“He was from Louisville, every bit as American as Oliver Wendell Holmes. Fact is, Jews landed in New Amsterdam, have been in this country since 1654. They built their first U.S. synagogue in 1730 or so, were Sephardic uppercrust who strolled Manhattan in top hats and morning coats. They had been selling wares throughout the U.S. countryside about as long, and the Spiegel catalog dates back to the 1860s. Still, America recoiled at each new wave of Jewish immigrants who were only wanting to escape hostile bigotry overseas. Look how the rednecks lynched poor Leo Frank.”
“A hundred years ago, for criminy. That bi-pedophile was convicted of raping and torching 12 year-old Mary Phagan, wasn’t he,” I hedged, reshuffling grandma, Aunt Eleanor and the Browsteins in my mind files. “And about to beat the rap yet, is what I’ve read.”
“Hardly justifying mob justice against someone the Georgia elite called a ‘perverted Yankee Jew boy’! Especially since a nearby janitor was the likely perpetrator. Is it any wonder the ADL was born of this very case? In fact, Frank was pardoned posthumously in 1986. For all we know he died an innocent martyr, victim of rabid anti-Semitism of the worst kind. He remains the only known Jew to be hanged in the U.S.—a picture postcard of his lynching spread all across the south, along with souvenir swatches of his shirtsleeves.”
“Curious, by the way, that Leo Frank was 29 years old at the time…”
Seemed once again, a case of Seamus’s canine revenge: I had nothing for the Mastiff beast: I knew it, he knew it, too—and yet he kept drooling and staring me down. Got so I had to look elsewhere—up, out, any damn where, trying to keep it all cool, not to mention my freight train of thought. I keyed instead on a squadron of westbound pelicans bucking a hellacious header, soaring straight up in tight formation, as though hitting a headwind wall—one flap forward, two flaps back.
Behind them, the ‘world’s largest airship’ luffed full-bore to maintain its 40 m.p.h. sightseeing speed, a thousand or so feet above the bay. At five bills a pop, even more for the rearview love seats, those winey dozen deluxe tourists up there would brook no turning around. Besides, the cloud white dirigible sported some 250 feet of floating billboard for an upcoming Pixar flick, and this highly leveraged zeppelin venture wasn’t about to job the Disney empire over a little fog-laced resistance.
Echoes of the Graf LZ 129 Hindenburg, all right—and it got me to scanning the filmy skies for any sign of Saturn’s flaming red blimp—some sort of an encore swing or victory lap. By then, the Mastiff had blinked and begged off, albeit with a slobbering growl. That was when I first spotted the turbo choppers.
“In any case, what is germane here is how all of this is rooted in the eternal, infernal stereotypes,” Paulen said, over the roar of two Coast Guard helicopters, converging, circling above. “The ‘others’—obtuse strangers with their sinister rituals and secret cabals. The J gene, a mutating virus of a people who Sabbath on Saturday, observe mysterious holidays and won’t touch all-American bacon or milk. Remember what Moss Hart wrote about in the wake of the Holocaust. ‘Gentleman’s Agreement’—latent anti-Semitism in America—all that rot.”
“Hey, don’t look at me,” I watched them spin off toward the bridge. “That’s not my trip, I’ve lived in San Fran way too long to buy into that. Besides, didn’t Hart croak of manic depression at 57?”
“Heart failure, Herbert, a chronic condition born of bigotry and hateful discrimination, eating himself alive. And are you prepared to tell me you don’t deep-down harbor such feelings?”
“Me?! Personally? You must be kidding…”
“Would it appear I’d be inclined to jest about such prejudices at a time like this?”
“Time like what, I…”
“Violent times—you don’t adhere to the notion that Christ-killing Jews have perpetrated every ill known to man, from Judas to Freud to the Wittgensteins to Henry Kissinger and the Kristol-Wolfowitz neo-cons? Are behind every conniving, calculated evil, from the Brooklyn Thrill Killers back to Jack the Ripper and Leopold-Loeb?”
“Whoa, where the hell is this coming from,” I spouted, turning his way after following the hovering arc of those choppers.
“You mean you are not just another Bobby Fischer who sees a blood-sucking shylock around every pawn shop,” he pressed, “snakes concocting white-hot financial meltdowns and Black Death plagues?”
“Fischer’s mother was Jewish, you know,” I pleaded, getting to where anti-Shtetlism, anti-Settlementism and anti-Semitism were all mushing together in my cross-reeling mind. “Christ, get off my case on this stuff!”
“You’re not getting away that easily,” Paulen huffed, oblivious to the heightened activity overhead. “Not when you may latently entertain Shakespeare’s ranting Shylock, Chaucerian images of a hook-nosed Fagin in side curls, stirring the blood of Christian children into his matzo-ball soup. When you subscribe to the virulent P.E.Z. dispensers who insist on spinning that old, vicious forgery mashed together from Machiavelli and Biarritz.”
“PEZ,” I asked, “had a clown’s-head one, filled it with lemon and cherry red…”
“P.E.Z., Herbert, Protocols—the Elders of Zion conspiring to rule the world by manipulating liberalism, pulling strings behind the curtain—a classical anti-Semitic hoax foisted by Russian intelligence agents at the turn of the last century, thoroughly debunked by the 1920s, but still peddled by Jew haters the world over to this day.”
“You mean like with that Arab TV series, ‘Horseman Without a Horse? Overheard about it a MeccaJava. Plus about ‘Secrets of the Talmud’ and ‘The International Jew’.”
“Why does that not surprise me,” doc probed, eyeing the Pacific Heights ridgeline of mansions, by now comparatively smoke free, and upper Fillmore Street cafes beyond. “Those damnable Jews kidnapping and killing Christian kids to eat their blood—ever heard of trichinosis, hel-LO! All you blood libel brothers in arms….hatred to where my mother felt she had to hide her very identity!”
“Whereas my mother honored it,” I spouted. Whoa, finally, there’s that temper—now we were getting down to it. Still, this was getting to me, and it was all I could do to keep my concentration and track it all in the intensifying wind and fog. “That’s right, my mother honored that identity.”
“Honored? Pray tell…”
“Yeah, way back when,” I heaved: impasse, face to face. “In a family friendly kind of way. It’s a long story, believe me…”
“Well, that’s not exactly how I’ve heard it. Nevertheless, all told, this is what makes that particular strain of bigotry so much bigger. Now what says you?”
“Me? Not me, I…hey, what’s that supposed to mean?” Why the hell was I putting up with this out here? It wasn’t getting me anywhere anymore, just feeling the constricting pressure crowning the back, top of my head at the posterior cingulate cortex—the supramarginal and fusiform angular gyrus of the superior parietal lobule, falling into a nodding syndrome, further fogging my visual awareness—this time something fierce. So maybe try this more medial tack: “But at least now that you’ve laid down some ‘anti’ red lines, maybe we can dig into this peace-and-equality thing a little bit further. Separate the anti from the Semitic, try to secure enough good space for everybody in that holy hell of a place, once and for all. Though I still can’t figure out why you aren’t back teaching and researching this stuff at CU?”
“Yes, well—that, my friend, happens to be another powerpoint entirely…”
Care for more?
Chapter Forty-Seven. A turn in the Bay Trail,
with a bit of a curve thrown in: surfacing is
one gender-specific paper trail left behind…
Return to Chapter Forty-Five