Very sensitive stuff…
“The more you dig
into something, the more
it can pin you down.”
“Because they’re cursed, that’s why. Ever since they cheated on that Bobby Thompson bomb…sham heard ’round the world.”
“Weren’t cursed in ’54, were they? Or in 1989…”
“G’wan, ask my A’s, sweep city—who’s got more hardware, hey? Gnats playin’ in that glitzy amusement park…”
“Your fuckin’ A’s—sinkin’ in that toilet bowl over there—can’t give their tickets away. Shit, the Orange ‘n’ Black’s getting better alla time. Just wait’ll them kids come up from Fresno. They got some arms in the pipeline, you watch. Not like your Oakies, tradin’ all their good ones away.”
Old scores were being settled, dating all the way back to Merkle’s boner a century ago, bitter ancient rivalries renewed. A pair of advanced middle-aged night-shifty dropouts munched on the meaty proceeds from a free hot dog cart, courtesy of some mortgage-peddling savings and loan. They sat chewing over the sad state of Bay Area sports today: Two too many teams, with nobody left to hit one out to Mt. Davis and Three-Bag Alley. They also were listening to an interleague game on transistor radios, sporting their disrespective color gear: orange and black, green and gold. Their more localized beef likely traced back to the Giants-Dodgers West Coast opener down at Seals Stadium in ’58, aggravated by the Kansas City Athletics’ arrival a few years later. It would probably have been better for these hotdogs’ blood pressure if they’d just scored on an innocent little porn run and warmed up in the bullpen to pound ’em inside.
Reese Paulen and I were only privy to this foulmouthed clash because I had tripped over an unruly shoelace as we set out on the Bay Trail. Stopping at their wood slat bench’s end to hike a leg and retie my battered country hikers, I landed right between the lines of the gamey ball dudes’ trash talking over their scratchy little radios, while Paulen gazed out at the wavy shoreline vistas. That was when the radiocasts went to commercial, some men’s store chain with a familiar Neil Diamondesque jingle: an unabashed mash-up of ‘Forever In Blue Jeans’ and ‘Solitary Man’.
Yeah, scintillating, but it was all good and gone: Not least 1989 again, the Quake Bridge Series…fire trucks on the infield, Candlestick fading to black, the Marina Green over there crowded with more dazed and confused than at the ’67 Be-In in Golden Gate Park.
The wait line had grown for gratis foot-long and chili dogs, crowding this scenic promenade deck, already with jammed with aerobic types warming up, cooling down, stretching tendons and muscle groups, working out all the kinks and cramping. They strutted, prowled, pivoted, squat-thrusted, vaulted and four-point spread-eagled about the concrete concourse, energized by the Bay view—the Marin Headlands, passing sailboats, clanging masts and rigging, this whole beau monde St. Francis Yacht Club milieu. The grub line now way too long, we instead braced for a stronger headwind, doc nudging me to turn toward the Crissy trail, setting sights on a bridge to everywhere that greenly mattered—some whitecaps whipping up, sand commencing to blow with conviction.
We resolved to move out along the gravel trail, leaving the balky ball hawks to continue riding their proverbial pine. Nevertheless, doc and I shagged their baseball theme, and zeroed in our far-reaching ABCs all the more. However, it turned out we hit on on some mean knuckler details a bit sooner than anticipated.
“B?” I asked, beyond hungering for a shorter hot dog line-up, particularly since the whole poppy seed bundled, variable rate home loan promotion seemed on the verge of bottoming out.
“So, A and C then…”
“No C. Only A.”
“Then what about B?”
“They’re all in on A, but partially B…”
“Any of C?” Time for some clarification…areas of definition. I was still trying to decipher designated areas, as per the interim Oslo Accords—that calico schematic divvying up the West Bank so. Whereby scattered Area A cantons were under full Palestinian security and control; more numerous B patches shared security control with Israelis, and vast C swaths were under full Israeli control. Hence, the constant fission creep throughout erstwhile Judea-Samaria, Jerusalem testily aside.
“State Lands? Not one blessed inch of C!”
“Guess Ehud Olmert will see about that…”
“Hmph, the PM will probably try to throw Hebron into his desperate peace giveaway.”
“Yeah, so…” Getting back my sea legs, I saw the frank wagon shutting down, dog depleted, cola dry, line fizzling in guttoral growls and scowls. I had to balance that empty promise against my forced march westward and befogging onshore gales.
“Hebron, Herbert, Hebron, Tomb of the Patriarchs, integral part of the Kingdom of Judah, artifacts dating back to Eighth Century BCE. A Jewish presence for more than 2,000 years. Don’t even think about it!”
“But Ibrahimi Mosque, the Kiryat Arba settlement—its long history of unrest and massacres…”
“Believe it was Marzel who said, ‘if you believe Jews should not live in Hebron, you are an anti-Semite’.”
“Really, he said that? When…”
“When is not the point. It is the enduring reverence, the passion. Much like, say, with your Sir Paul Walrus and his anthem, ‘Give Ireland Back to the Irish’.”
“Then again, always been more of a Stones fan, myself…”
“No surprise there, but where were we? Ah yes, you were straddling that amber line…dancing right up to it as I recall.”
“Uh, r-r-right…and you were insinuating I was…”
“Look, we all know where that ‘blame Israel’ nonsense ultimately leads,” Paulen continued, as he cinched tighter the strap on his shoulder bag. “More to the point, might you be in need of even more schooling and sensitivity training?”
“Whoa, I wasn’t blaming all of Israel, like I wasn’t questioning its history or anything,” I said, regrouping, recalibrating–reloaded for the homing stretch. “Just questioning some of its recent…claims and expansion.”
“As night follows day, Herbert, as night follows day,” doc replied, shaking his head. “I am simply hearing ‘it’s those goddamn Jews again.”
“Okay, here’s what I don’t get.” I sidled up to him, hand to glove, as we angled into foot traffic, trying to catch his draft—that old highway tactic, remember? Nuzzling up to those 18-wheelers, slipping into the curl of headwind friction, easier on the gas gauge until you hit a patch of ice. “I mean, does flaming on Tony Blair for poodling through the Iraq run-up make you an anti-Anglo? Does bad-rapping Silvio Berlusconi’s orgiastic corruption make you anti-Italian? Where exactly do you draw these lines?”
“There’s a big difference—six million differences, actually. Let’s be candid, shall we? It all comes back down to the scale and scope of rabid anti-Semitism, the now doesn’t it.”
“Does, huh?” Jumping to that conclusion, were you? “Then tell me, for instance, do you have to be non-Semitic to be anti-Semitic?”
“Not necessarily, any intolerant shlub can join that club,” he answered, noting my catch-up move, cuffing my shoulder. “But funny you should ask such a question…”
“Sorry, how’s that again?” I was slightly distracted by a distant oceanic liquid symphony washing over from the horn-like acoustic sculpture of the Marina Harbor’s Wave Organ, gurgling and rumbling out at spit’s end, past the Golden Gate Yacht Club and heaped marble and granite ruins of old architecture and cemetery stones, luffing clear over this way, even against a stiffening onshore wind. “Not totally getting…”
“Just rest assured you’ve come to the right department.”
Only here, we quickly got waylayed as I tightened up, hemmed in behind a ruddy trail mix of slow-mo’s and fast forwards intercutting either way along the San Francisco Peninsula’s uppermost shoreline, right about where the Bay and all its beauty came to town. Gravel crinkled beneath our feet as we pressed westward, windblown sand giving us an eyeful, a gritty taste of the granules. Beach sand had long drifted against low mesh fencing that bordered both trailsides, restraining the National Park Service’s conceptually landscaped berms, mounds and ever-shifting dunes—albeit to dubious effect in these daily afternoon gales.
“Whatever you say,” I allowed, hankering instead after a mouthful of chilidog. “For starters, do you have to be pro-Semitic to be anti-anti-Semitic?”
“Good question. You have to consider the source.”
“Then, for another, if you’re pro-Palestinian, does that make you anti-Semitic?”
“Seems to, more and more these days. Let’s just say, hate is in the eye of the beholder. But to paraphrase the Supreme Court on pornography, one knows ugly bigotry when one sees or hears it.”
“So being anti-Zionist must make a person anti-Semitic too, huh?”
“If it steps like a goose and schleps like a goose…”
You just had to ask the young mother struggling to push a buggy through such a soft spot, her terrible two year-old grabbing a handful off the sand pile, thinking in terms of Capt’n Crunch as her mommy swatted it away. Breezing around her was a comparatively chillin’ parade of day strollers. Everybody was so laissez-faire casual, hugging insincerely, more me-phemisms than you-phemisms in the air, affecting such a semi-stoned consciousness.
But nobody fully trusted anybody anymore, assuming everybody around here is up to some degree of no good or they wouldn’t be here. Everybody getting hungrier like me, more wary—fixin’ to hunker down and hang on, come what may. Maximum in, minimum out—compensating with so little compensation. Admittedly, I could manage to relate about now.
“Seriously, is being anti-Palestinian and pro-Israel anti-Semitic? Again, Semites are Semites—it’s sorta a family squabble, right? Kinda like the Ulsterite Prods and Catholic Republicans—Celts to a man. I’m just sayin’…”
“Not at all. The word, Sem(ite) is rooted from biblical patriarch, Sem, Noah’s son. All Shemites are not necessarily Jewish,” Paulen replied, dodging a gray-brown Australian Shepherd bounding down from the tall grass of neighboring dune, scampering past us after a relieving dump in the hay. “But you see, anti-Semitism has developed a specific connotation. It’s long become the province of bigotry toward the Jewish people.”
“Then how about being pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel, but ‘anti’ their cockeyed situation?” I looked past him to a parking lot chock with dusting over, late-model Lux-UVs and assorted status wagons—alarm clocked, fuel efficient, enviro-friendly, GPS coordinated, comfortably climate controlled. This, while my corpus callosum was beginning to twist and bake like a sportsbar pretzel. “How would that work?”
“Look, I suspect it would depend on the context. Use it in a sentence, will you please?”
“Whew, where to begin,” I replied, somewhat shaken by the starter gun shot back by the yacht club, a fleet of forty-footers tacking toward the first mark. “Okay then, what about being pro-Israel peace camp, but against militant Likudniks and fanatical Haredim—like, against certain Chosen People who choose to hate on whatever they please? That make you anti-Semitic? I mean, if we’re going down this road, give me some of your socio-guidelines.”
“You are implying as in Reformer versus Orthodox?” Paulen asked, getting handed some ‘God Loves You’ pamphlets by a blissful pair of wayward Jehovah’s Witness-like endroids who had apparently split off in the biblical sense from that pro-life, Armageddon flock. “Well, there you run the risk of being labeled a Tikkunik or lumped together with self-loathing Jews like Marx or Finkelstein or Tony Judt, and fellow travelers such as Noam Chomsky.”
“Huh…fellow who? I don’t know about that…” God, spare me any Jehovah peddled neurotheology; got no more bandwidth for postulates, prayers and meditation trances. The thalamic misconnections to the frontal cortex…as if spectrum imaging radiating through any god module ecstasy…clear as a ring of my cranial dogger bell.
“Hmph, I should think you’d have a fairly good handle on the ignoble naysayer role by now.” He tightly spindled the leaflets.
“Nope, I’m totally wanked. Seems like moral indignation is all over the map nowadays…” Oh, I get it, more with the same ol’ subterfuge—pressing, getting me to guessing—catching, keeping me off guard. As if I didn’t see it coming this time around. As if I was first rung up yesterday.
“That it is, I’m afraid, that it is…re-surfacing all over the map—nation and worldwide.”
But my concentration was further rattled by the loud snap of a Kevlar sail in full crank and release. The leading boat in a race of Lasers jibed away from the shore toward the channel buoys, in the early leg of a city front course—the flapping if its mainsheet, clang of its rigging reminiscent of long-gone Marina nights.
About then I got clipped from the blind side by a finely toned young runner blowing past us on the right. More specifically, by the MP3 player strapped to her muscular bicep—better that than getting whacked by the water bottle she was squeezing like a spring gripper in her other swinging, energy braceleted arm. An aerodynamic blur of black form-fitting tank and shorts: Just like that, she was outbound and history, as though neither doc nor I were ever there.
Turned out, beyond all the sauntering daydreamers, the blathering poets, the roaming sketch artists—pocket-vested birdwatchers tripped over the scrub brush, 16-x binoculars glued to their furled, bushy eyebrows. As it happened, this Bay Trail was a high-speed flyway for duckhawks pushing against the western windfall or gliding like California Condors back home.
Yet I preferred to admire her cadenced gait while the crowd flow zipped closed in her wake—longed to jog in behind her, to follow, break away from this grating confab and soar. But then there was my old Foosball injury, on top of two scarred, wobbly knees.
“Couldn’t say about that,” I said. “I just want to know what anti-Semitism is—who’s what, when, where—once and for all. Like with the Mideast situation now. Talking about the frustrating peace process is not exactly anti-Semitic, but the settlement issue is? Security isn’t, but IDF incursion talk is? Preconditions aren’t, but recognition issues are? Israeli prisoner release isn’t, but Palestinian prisoner release is? The Golan isn’t, but Gaza is? Palestinian stonewalling isn’t, but Israel’s wall talk is? Two-states isn’t, but one-state is? I mean, is it is what it is, or what you say it is? Throw me a lifeline here…”
“Don’t niggle me, Herbert,” doc scowled, seemingly fixated on the runner’s Asics himself, rather more bowing to her stern. “Nevertheless, if you are sincere, and this is on a need-to-know basis…”
“No niggle, it’s just all so confusing, the red lines keep shifting in the sand, just want to know where to safely stand,” I clamped by elbow firmly down on my newspaper and letter, then gripped the papers he handed me, rolling them into a ball, attempting to flick them into a wire frame trashbin, before the wind blew them out of my hand.
“And what about Jews from Eastern Europe,” I added. “If they’re not from the Middle East at all, how can they lay claim to the Palestinian homeland? I mean, spell it out for a common layman like me to understand…”
“Is that common layman or lame man? And as for that ‘Thirteenth Tribe’ business, the operative term is proportionality. That is, slim Khazar proportionality to the Jewish population overall, Ashkenazi and Sephardic. They could be from Siberia, for all I care. However, if you have to ask, you’re on the right track. So pay attention, Herbert. There may be a pop quiz later on this, as well…”
Squinting to keep track of Jenny Jet and her Asics was like straining to follow the contrails of a Lufthansa 747 on its daily route over the Golden Gate—enroute to Frankfurt or Berlin—once again wishing this would all go away. Ah, Baden-Baden, ahhh, the Heidelberg way, rusting swastikas on Mannheim’s military kaserne banisters, Third Reich be damned. I inevitably lost sight as the sky swallowed the blue and yellow-tailed jumbo up somewhere beyond Vallejo.
So I settled on the white walls and Spanish red rooftops of the sprawling Presidio Army post turned civil park off to our left, the imposing new LucasDigital complex, more than a half-dozen fortress factory buildings outputting movies, video, games, special effects with Star Wars intensity yet Skywalker calm. Streaming before the Lucasplex were the glistening windshields and rear windows of vehicles along Doyle Drive, coming from or climbing up to the Gate Bridge, now in and out of a thickening fog bank mounding over the final Highway 1 curve before the toll booths way out ahead of us.
The crackle of waffle soles, of knobby bicycle tires brushing by, brought me back to ground zero—crushed stone shifting underfoot as we eased aside, nearer a low, long concrete breakwall noticeably caked with seagull guano and minibike-sized skid marks. Soon greeting me was the frown of a park ranger who had just grabbed that paper wad with his with his extension gripper, jamming it into his trash baggy before the wind could carry it any further inland, clearly bugged as he was by my littering ways.
“How’s that saying go? I sometimes know what I know and don’t know,” I nodded, taking note, ruefully deflecting my gaze out toward the distant Golden Gate Bridge. “But I don’t otherwise know what I know and don’t know…something like that…”
“Then consider one simple question,” Paulen replied, shaking me off with a little admonishment of his own. “Are you against Israel’s policies or against Israel’s people?”
“Huh? Me personally? I’m not against…” Whispers of free-range anxiety began seeping in for real. “Green lines, red lines—outside-in, inside-out—really, makes me no nevermind…”
“So then, have you a problem with Israel’s support, or with Israel’s supporters… and why would that be?”
“Meaning…” Yep, digress for time, Cubbies, Pale Hose, Magnificent Mile landmarks nothing—no bridges like that in Chicago—even though it took a Chicagoan to build the Golden Gater. But Robert Strauss did have to come out here to innovate, didn’t he? Sure as hell did…
“Meaning, do you take issue with Israel’s hawks or its doves?” doc replied, tossing back his salty, wind-blown hair. “Or with its hawks and its doves? That is, are you conflating the Jewish state with the Jewish people, being hostile toward the Jewish government or toward the Jews?”
“Hey, no, not the people…who am I to be judging folks?”
“You would say that, now wouldn’t you. That you give no quarter with such negatively coded myths, traits, stereotypes. And of course, some of your best friends are Jewish…”
A massive Chevron tanker crudely steamed in under the bridge toward Richmond refineries, airhorning a swarm of weekend watercraft out of its channel lane, if not harm’s way. Scenic Red & White ferry boats bobbed over the burgeoning whitecaps, slipping around both sides of the fuel ship in opposing lanes—at least as far as I could see. For sand was blurring my vision by now, spackling eye sockets, nostrils and earholes to either side.
“Well, come to think of it…” Still and all, here we were. But what was up with these big, bizarro-looking globes?
“You appear to be at the very least ambivalent. As evidenced by the way you pulled back when I told you about my embracing my mother’s side.”
“Pull back? Now wait a minute…” Hey, didn’t…”
“Point being, did this revelation of mine bring you pleasure, or did it give you pause? Do you respect or revile me for it? And why?”
“How is this about me?! I’ve got nothing against…I mean, what does your paternal side make of it, for that matter?” There you go, split the difference… “That’s getting mighty personal, like me asking you why that CU chick had it in for you.”
“Hmph, sounds like a false negative to me, non-denial denial,” Paulen deflected. “After all, who does admit it, right? Still, swastikas keep cropping out, cemeteries trashed, synagogues continue to get torched like brushfires. And a person can be anti-Semitic without realizing it. It’s entirely possible to be perfectly rational about everything else and still be mad about the Jews.”
“Yeah, well…why should I have any problem with, you know… synagogues?”
“That’s not for me to say, Herbert…”
“Who then, exactly?” Also questioning why I kept playing ball out here…
“Just chalk it up to common consensus on societal values and norms.”
“Dunno, doc,” I sighed. “Can’t help thinking the more you bring this kind of stuff up, the more you bring it out…”
“That, my friend, is unavoidable, purely by divine design.”
Care for more?
Chapter Forty-Four. A conversation stopper
continues to be a controversy starter,
as they take that third rail further
out, hot on the scenic trail…