“Get caught up in the
conflict, and you’ll learn if
you have a taste for the jugular.”
“Roe, Roe, Roe
Godless though you seem.
“Why don’t you go back to Turlock or something?!”
“We will march
through scorn and strife.
For it’s God’s will to
save a life.”
“Don’t you people have anything better to do with your time? It’s got nothing to do with you…”
“If they’re not safe,
we’re not safe.”
“I said, it’s none of your goddamn business. It’s a totally personal decision. What’re you doing in San Francisco anyway? .”
“If they’re not saved,
we’re not saved.”
“Aww, get your holy asses back on the bus.”
The bus, which bus? Take your pick. Big, blue and gray charter coaches, they were cordoned along Marina Boulevard like a Team Pentecostal pilgrimage to Branson Country or Liberty U. These rag-tag, WalMart-clad Christian soldiers had poured forth from them faster than raw recruits arriving at boot camp, lining up in single rank and file, tethered like pack mules, like Darfur slave kids with lengths of braided ropework.
Chanting en unison, the valley-based demonstrators marched westward by the dozen along a broad Marina Green sidewalk, hooting at the bottlenecked bridge traffic honking at them, whatever the stance and motivation. Their placards read, ‘Rescue Them, Rescue Them’ and ‘Love All God’s Children’, posters portraying butchered fetuses and bloody baby dolls, which marchers waved as they passed out smaller Christian Action signs to anyone within arms’ reach.
Screaming teenagers, swaddled infants, middle-aged parishioners pushing wheel-chaired elders: these otherwise god-fearing anti-abortion activists proceeded with smiles perma-plastered on their blissed-out faces. Their modest, off-brand shoe leather appeared holier than thou from all such marches, carrying their pro-life message up and down the Golden State in their Truth Trucks—an I-5 crusade that had ultimately delivered them unto the distended belly of the beast, Sodom and Gomorrah by the Bay, more specifically here to the gateway of Crissy Field.
“Go home, go home,
we’ll choose on
our very own.”
Not that this whole blessed spectacle didn’t draw pushback. Local pro-choice groups had mobilized to counter-intone and employ in-your-face-offs with these far-righteous sovereign citizen zombies barging in from god knew where with god knew what truths and consequences in mind. Local flamethrowing advocates were having none of it, wired bands of hang loose, how they hangin’, free choice, live free or pink and purple hair dye activists—along with in-vitro veterans, stem-cell winders and wizened Planned Parenthood alumni fresh from a string of anti-Prop. 8 rallies down at Civic Center Plaza, mobilized via Tweet-up and flash mob messaging, driven by Zip Cars and guarana-taurine energy drinks.
Two more vocal locals pontificated back, a woman bearing gold ‘100% Choice’ ribbons and pint-sized guy with a papoose full of flyers—sort of a 60s flower in the M-16 moment, only the rifle was a crucifix and the wildflower had its thorns. Park Service and San Francisco police squadrons had sirened in with patrol wagons and K-9 corps, corralling the scene, directing overheated traffic—logging double overtime in full helmets and riot gear—charged with containing the fray, keeping acticrats and antagonists off the books and out of Bryant Street lock-up. Cocked, loaded to pounce and pop, they were no less befuddled as to why these bible thumpers contrived this tedious confrontation way out here.
“Buzz off, don’t wait,
we don’t need your
I simply folded and tossed the placenta red and blue ‘Love Life’ hand-sign a happy culture warrior had thrust my way. Reese Paulen and I had abandoned the Palace’s Exploratorium mayhem, its living museum exhibits on Subductive Science, cryospheric research, succulent pollination and the entomology of Phylum: Mondibulata —all the drooling young guitar heroes and their helicopter parents, depth spinning ice stories and riffing Jimi and Slowhand tabs to play-along fretboard chord changes and full-screen video licks.
What ultimately turned me away was a multimedia ‘Ponder the Mind’ display; I felt no need to delve into mind games any further these days, especially with Reese Paulen sniffing around. Their counterwailing chants cranked me up in equal measure. I had to tack, turn this sucker around, throttle down, spin the dials, all that redirectional bunk before taking on serious water.
“Hey, I’m not anti-any business, okay…”
“Accent on the former, Herbert, not on the latter.”
“Oh, I get it…because I think two states side by side in peace and harmony is a worthwhile goal.” Then again, who was I to say?
“Ah, the much vaunted Mideast Holy Fail,” Paulen sneered, checking out the competing signage. “A jeremiad ill fostered and long unfulfilled.”
By now, I could easily have left things where they stood and bailed toward the Heights. But he would have none of it, edging me over to Marina Boulevard, to the refreshing, wide-open bayfront spaces stretching from Fort Mason out to Fort Point and beyond, chilly and oddly chilling as that prospect was as time wore on. Yet I still might have some fertile ground to plow with him, gig-wise; and he insisted on sweetening the pot. Escort him along the shoreline a while, he coaxed, humor him for old time’s sake, just to see where it led—whatever that meant.
The payoff? A taxi ride over to Liverpool Lil’s Pub he once knew, by the Presidio gate, where he would spring for dinner: Pear salads, tankards of Courage Best, and Manchester Wellington or Braised Lamb Shepherd’s Pie. Meat pie, like Steak and Kidney Pie, I gulped—wondering where that was coming from—countering that I’d prefer cheddar-mushroom burgers, maybe Manchester Wellington and bread pudding. He said we could hash it out once we got there. Hmmm…but I was getting just hungry enough to take my chances, coupled with the fact that I had little desire to forced march back empty handed through the long Marina Green by myself, with all the fraught baggage that might amass enroute. Though really, what was with his phone pings…
“Christ, how hyper-cynical can you get,” I said, as a park ranger steering traffic onto Doyle Drive beckoned us across Marina Boulevard, in the diesel wake of a high-end wine delivery truck barreling back up to the Napa-Sonoma vineyards.
Between these counter demonstrations and motor traffic they ensnared, the boulevard’s tri-fork was a real-time video game worthy of Lucas Digital up the road. We hopscotched our way from pedestrian island to island with school guard care, looking every which way for far-flung projectiles or gunning vehicles, the latter in a land rush to litigate over their viticulture in Yountville and St. Helena.
Still, strides short of the opposing curb, I nearly got clipped by a sleek black limo coach chauffeuring dedicated algorithmic programmers down to the GooglePlex. Partly my bad again, for the abortion brouhaha had clicked me back to the wringer those Two had once run me through: the cyclical miscounts, late arrivals, embryonic panic, paternal cloudiness, aborted expectations—the whole guilt-riddled trip, religious implications aside. To this day, I didn’t know what to say about all that.
“No, hyper-realistic, my friend, because I know whom you will blame when your ‘worthwhile goal’ goes unmet.”
“Oh you do, do you…who?” Yeah, dig, High-Jazz hangover—a taste of Thelonius spinning his bent notes, bipolar trance dancing around his stride piano. Not the romantic counter-melodies of ‘Round Midnight’ necessarily: I’d have settled for some of Monk’s left-handed ‘Trinkle Tinkle’.
“Certainly not the Palestinians,” doc replied, looking like a crossing guard in both directions. “Even though they’re the ones hung up on pre-conditions to any more peace talks—no land, no return, no peace: just no, no, no. They’re the ones with Fatah and Hamas dividing and conquering themselves.”
“So the PA would remain feeble and compromised, huh? Just the way certain Israeli leaders want it, to keep a socioeconomic thumbscrew on Abbas—propping his regime up to babysit West Bank streets, quell the unrest?”
“I’m telling you, Palestinian leaders don’t want a state, but a fount of festering complaint…that’s their peace de resistance.”
“Still, better Abbas than Hamas, right,” I wiped away a faceful of exhaust, stalled as we were on the triangular traffic island. “And you’re saying Israelis want a viable Palestinian state next door to them any more so? It sounds like they just want to maintain a creeping F.O.G. of simmering war, like these overwound demonstrators here do.”
On the last leg of the crossing, we yielded Mason Street pavement to a beepy Model-T replica tour buggy and pesky little yellow lawnmower-sounding GoCars, with a chatty computer guide-a-long, now describing Mason’s converted army quartermaster docks. But then, having negotiated the boulevard’s obstacle course, dodging the drum-thumping music coming out of lousy little beaters, we found ourselves caught in a two-way aerobic stream of power walkers, highly endorphined, sweatback joggers and mud-caked, shellmet-headed cyclists heavy pumping in from Dipsea and Mt. Tam.
A bindied Sikh mother’s maroon and gold sari, her little girls’ bangled pavadu skirts flapped about us once we landed. So, a deep breath or two, and we edged rightward up Lundeen Street toward San Francisco Bay. Stiffening breezes rustled through a tall stand of windbreaking Eucalyptus, whose swaying tree branches shadowed us along the narrow sidewalk. Just the other side of the rotting wood and metal bar push-up station of a scattered work-out route, Little Marina Green’s lawn rocked with a four-pack of volleyball nets, a skosh of flag football and wide swath of ultimate Frisbee. College logoed alums on the younger side played for real, working just as hard on late-day tans, mostly oblivious to the life/choice diatribes escalating but two first downs away.
“Nonsense,” Paulen exhaled. “I’m convinced Israelis would resolve this impasse in a Tel Aviv minute if they could somehow believe Palestinians were negotiating a permanent, durable peace in genuinely good faith, instead of attempting to scheme and hoodwink Israel out of existence…”
“Short of that, better to stall a Palestinian state out of existence?”
“It takes two to fandango, my friend. And just who are you to so rashly misconstrue Israeli intentions?!”
“Hey, it’s not me, doc,” I watched a ripped Cal greeker pumping out two dozen reps on the nearby push-up bars. “It’s Israeli protestors demanding official probes of political-military collusion, Jewish-Americans who question Israel’s Mideast policy, younger U.S. Jews who are distancing themselves from Israel altogether because of it.”
“Simply a nation and Diaspora venting—weary and wary of futile peace and war efforts,” Paulen begged off the frat boy physicality. “It’s gone on forever, from the Meretz namby-pambies to Tikkun mush heads preaching love and compassion to the latest J-Street appeasers.”
“Then I guess they’ll all be damn pleased if the rumors of Olmert’s plan prove true, huh, like if he holds to the Annapolic Conference framework and core issues stuff,” I replied. “I mean, it might be the last best hope to give peace a chance—if he and Abbas are actually committed to reaching an agreement by the end of the year. If he’ll dare to meet with the Arab League to kickstart the whole deal.”
I took to counting Volvo, Saab and Subaru wagons parked to our left along Lundeen as Paulen appeared to toggle from women volleyballers to the beautiful bay waterscape dead ahead. But there was no ignoring a low, weather-beaten Spanish-style hut coming up on the right: the smell overwhelmed at twenty lengths. I could hardly bear to peer through its rusty iron-grated windows, to its graffiti tagged tile walls, piss-stained urinals and dim, stinking ripe stalls. That shitty, pukey stench revisited me with a vengeance, on my knees in there, hurling flat brew and spoiled gwac into stool number two, glancing furtively over my shoulder to see who might be sneaking up on my behind.
No telling with Paulen or what he was thinking about then, and my sickening recall dissipated quickly with the electric hum of a dozen Segways, piloted one after another by neon vested tourists out for a scenic spin, lurching past us, apparently around toward the bayfront or boat harbor due east of this western Green.
I bounced past to presently tense just like that, as we cleared the contained public restroom stench, passing some Chicano Missionaries from Valencia Street, spreading their granulated gospel, line by line. Big, hulking dudes, Samoan in size—maybe bail jumpers, or killer parolees—smoking heavily in a no-smoking zone. They were forensic accounting on some slanted body-curl exercise boards, eyeing the bouncy tankini and halter-topped volleyball chicas over there themselves—elsewise, up to little apparent good.
I avoided their turf glares by glancing back across Marina Boulevard, at the Palace of Fine Arts, now gorgeously golden in the afternoon sun. Paulen himself fixed on the buoyant former coeds, particularly those fresh from UC and USC, who waved to him for having squib kicked back their errant ball. He winked and smiled broadly in kind. Moving safely bayward, we could gaze beyond the Green’s gamer set, following the Segway corps to a harbor filled with bobbing, listing boat masts, pendulum crows’ nests, unfurled mainsails drying out after a daylong outing through Raccoon Straits.
“Yes, well, I wouldn’t bank on that, Herbert.” Doc gimlet-eyed the odd, forward-leaning mobile contraptions. “After all, the PM has a lot on his plate these days. Hamas is pounding southern Israel with non-stop rockets from Gaza, and the bribery/corruption investigations into Olmert’s alleged funny business is likely as not to preoccupy him all the more…”
“Or squeeze him, as the case may be. Funny about the timing, though. It does make you wonder who’s punching Olmert’s time clock now—and why. Especially if he is pressing Abbas hard enough to close in on his peace deal.”
“Couldn’t say. The judiciary marches at its own pace, and who’s to say he won’t cave, call early elections or be forced to step down,” he said. “But your implication being…”
“Who’s to gain, Tzipi Livni? Naw, more like the settlers—and those who support them. Namely, Likud, the radical settler movement and whoever leads them.”
“Well, they do say whatever Netanyahu wants, he eventually gets—be it buttering Bibi up or getting Bibi guns, but at least he appears to be scandal free. And hard lessons have been learned about sending Israel into war unprepared,” Paulen shrugged, sniffing out fresh, salty air. “Still, I hardly think…”
“Yah, think again,” I spouted, nostrils tightening. “Like what message that kind of subterfuge would send…”
“This isn’t about messaging. This is about securing the homeland, safe haven for the Jewish people. Self-defense is sacrosanct, particularly so long as Arab militants label Israel a cancerous tumor, are hell-bent on destroying the country and all its stands for. It calls for harsh medicine, my friend. Mess with Israel at your peril. Never discount Israeli capacity fo righteous revenge—and for every drop of our blood, they will pay in land. In the Middle East, it is: ‘I am strong, I will kill you. You are strong, I will bow down to you’. That’s the way of that world.”
“Hell, maybe all that’s gonna get them is further isolation and torment…”
Still picking up disinfectant airs from the public johns’ urinal biscuits, some phantom traces of rough-edged reefer madness, I turned sharply away. But we had to pause abruptly for a Coventry green Corniche Rollsing over a Lundeen curve speedbump, the commodore’s visiting directors gunning for Mochatinis and Vanilla Mules at the St. Francis Yacht Club’s first cocktail call.
I pointed to SFYC’s sprawling Santa Barbara-style anchorage, boasted of working lunches I’d third-chaired therein several times, planning and strategizing over Hawaiian Black-Salted Arctic Char and Champagne Poached Canadian Lobster with a key client’s corporate governance, sipping Veuve Chicquot Ponsardin. Then I noodled out Clippership Room picture windows, with an eye toward gybbing over to Tiburon myself someday. Heady stuff, all right—swankin’ up the place. Sure, I toasted the clubhouse’s cut crystal, conned the board’s fat asses into pegging me for some consulting astro-visionary—at least until…umm, well… At this, Paulen seemed incredulous; in retrospect, I found it even more difficult to reconcile past brainstorming of a bicamerally different kind.
“So be it,” doc asserted, as he admired the jaunty, spacey St. Francis renovation his father might have killed to hit up and haunt. “Do you honestly think Jewry feel they can depend on the grace of others for their ultimate survival, after all the betrayals and abandonment we’ve suffered over the ages?”
“But what about Israel’s imagery, its founding ideals of being a shining beacon of democracy in the Middle East, all that. C’mon, get this two-stater done, jettison the current separation policy and everything’s kosher with everybody again…”
“Look, it is hard to be a beacon when you’re a neighborhood bulls-eye…”
“Harder yet when you abandon those ideals of justice and equality for all your citizens to settle on a one-state solution that the world and even Ehud Barak fear is becoming more like…apartheid.”
“Gad, there you go with the ol’ double standard, Herbert. Israel is the world’s moral Switzerland, always held to a higher one, with all the attending vitriol. Try as it may to do right the right thing, all it gets for its trouble is more condemnation in the U.N. General Assembly than all other nations combined. And how the Palestinians’ amen corner can attempt to delegitimize something they’ve never truly legitimized escapes me.”
“R-r-right. But I’m not allowed a little constructive criticism here? Why the hell not?”
“Careful, amber line. You are crossing over into dicey ‘anti’ matter again. Even though you actually don’t have agency in this matter, you’re simply not at all invested…”
Momentarily under that old Rolls-Royce spell, we could just as well have dwelled upon the rest of the yacht club’s parking lot: Bentleys, XJs, Maseratis, Cayman/Carerras, Aston-Martins, SL 550s, Lambs, luxury Lexus crossovers and assorted other high-end rides, late and vintage models—no piddling Subaru or ghost white Saturn Vue wagons there. All were sporting their 11-99 Foundation license plate frames, a get-off-the-hook-free card, courtesy of plentiful donations to the CHP.
We might have counted the freelance massage therapists working the lot, looking to finish strong. But the other side of Lundeen Street, we instead skipped up onto a broad promenade plaza, beyond the entry grove, where Paulen marveled anew at the stunning straight-on Bay vistas, while I gravitated toward a bronze plaque I’d never taken the time to regard. Turned out this waterfront deck was dedicated to pioneer aviator Lincoln Beachey, a local stunt flyer of national renown, whose wings were fatally clipped nearly a century ago in the very same Golden Gate winds now sweeping our breaths away.
He had tanked his ‘Le Taube’ soon after taking off from the Marina Green in 1915, much to Pan-Pacific Fairgoers’ horror. The monoplane’s wings folded rearward as Beachey attempted a daring loop-the-loop in week three of the aforevisited world expo. And into the drink he sank—never to soar or be seen again, gaining little for his life and troubles beside an honorable mention on this cold concrete landing.
“Whoa, I’m more personally ‘invested’ than you know,” I shot back, trying to picture where the stunting propduster went down with his high-wire bird. “Besides, I mean, look what the Prods have always said about Irish Catholics: filthy Micks, lazy bead-swinging vermin, breedin’ like gutter rats. And where they all are now? I’m just sayin’ stop with the foot dragging. A little more effort toward peaceful coexistence couldn’t hurt things, now could it?”
“Apples and oranges—whom do you think you’re talking to, Kid Rocky? This isn’t just your little regional spat. Ireland isn’t looking down the barrel of an Iran racing to develop nuclear weapons to blow it off the map. And the last thing Israel and the world need is another Gaza or little Iran on its borders,” Paulen sneered. “Incidentally, you might recall it was a Palestinian immigrant who assassinated your beloved Irish RFK.”
“Kid…dunno, am I,” I winced. Got it, where was he coming from with that kid stuff exactly? “Whatever, ancient painful history all around. So then you don’t have to be Jewish or Arab to have…agency—to offer up a little worldly jawboning, now do you…”
“I’d call it Jew-boning, and we all know where ‘blame Israel’ ultimately leads,” Paulen continued, noting some suspicious squeegee men lurking about the fringes of a high-marque parking lot. “In any case, Israel is awash in domestic self-reflection and public debate as it is. No matter how we might deal with its issues here in the states.”
“Where it seems to be verboten to even bring Israel up in discussion these days…”
Still, there was no denying the beauty of Lincoln Beachey’s watery resting place; a deck full of people was doing just that all around us. Stubborn sunbathers remained slathered on lengthy steps leading down to the Bay, where strollers and hikers headed for or returned from Crissy Field and points further out there. Couples whiled away on slat wooden benches, holding tight to their caps and bonnets in unsteady gales, while runners and exercise junkies stretched, warmed up, cooled down, going through aerobic, isometric, plyometric and kinetic motions against huge concrete boxes planted with indestructible shrub brush—strutting the concourse, relishing the burn, totally feeling the firm, correcting that postural imbalance.
“Who are we to naysay a nation under constant siege, particularly from our safe, cushy armchairs over here? Trust me, the Jewish community has enough trouble navigating these divisive shoals on its own.”
“Despite the fact that most Americans really do have…agency—namely, skin in the game by the billions. Maybe we ought to cut their allowances off, dish out a little tougher love.”
“Bush and Baker already tried that ploy with their loan guarantees, you know. Besides, it cuts both ways—including all the aid that goes to the teetering PA, not to mention what slips through to Hamas,” Paulen replied offhandedly. “But look, things are otherwise going reasonably well in Israel these days—the economy and all. And once its offshore Tamar and Leviathan gas fields come in and the Dome gets operational—that’s when everything will be ‘kosher’ again. So why keep mucking around in this two-state swamp, making wrenching concessions for some elusive peace when you can kick the whole can of worms down the road?”
“Oh, I see. Pay ceremonial lip service, stick with the ground game, gobbling up yardage, running out the Arab clock with a wink of our eye—is that the plan,” I sputtered. “But, hey, there’s a third rail going down that road, doc, and high-voltage third rails aren’t taking us to ‘honest brokerville’, or anywhere but nonstop strife…”
“Your metaphorical mishmash is out of bounds there—false alarmingly so. Look, let it go, will you, please? Rest assured we will always have the Special Relationship first stated by JFK, no less—Israel being our only reliable, democratic partner in the Middle East minefield.
“Just like we may be Israel’s only friend left in the world…”
“Remember: Special Relationship, moral high ground, solid allegiances and commitments—the rest of it is a bloody pack of libels.”
We shuffled westward some, out of camera range of young Euro tourists framing shots of their hostel brethren between a lone, scraggly cypress tree and the distant, fog-tufted Golden Gate Bridge. Not that Paulen could take his eyes off the panorama himself: A white-capped bay churning with tour ferries and deeply heeling sailboats, graceful, low-lying calico hills beyond them. Free-range Angel Island, gilt-edged Tiburon and Belvedere enclaves, see-worthy Sausalito cottages climbed seaward to the Waldo rainbowed Waldo Grade and Marin Headlands just beyond.
Even after all these years, I could have dawdled here for hours, this stunning, windswept vista that never ebbed. Alas, the afternoon was fleeting, and doc soon pointed us away from a narrow beach path, rather over to where the Marina promenade turned into a Bay Trail coursing Crissy Field. With that, we caught deep breaths, buttoned up, prepared to light out for blustier parts, however leery and lukewarm I might have felt about then.
“Yeah, ‘anti territory’—well, I really should be getting back up to the house.” Suddenly I instead backpedaled away from him—antistanding, antisocial, antistatic, antipathy, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antipodal, anti-collision, anti-terror, anti-missile, antiwar, anti-missal, anti-matter…feeling like I was walking on bedeviled eggshells again…antifriction, anticlimax, antifreeze…weighing the odds overall.
“Nonsense, Herbert…the fare would be better up at your MeccaJava Café, or…”
“Hey, c’mon, that’s not where I’m…” I nervously checked my watch once more, with a sharp autorev jab in the back.
“So then let’s head out a ways further, work up a powerful appetite. After all, we’ve come this far…”
“Yeah, a bridge way too far…” But god almighty, hash out any tasty details at Liverpool Lil’s, say over Manchester Wellington and Courage Best. Hunger was getting the best of me, that I couldn’t avoid. Hell, I’d already gotten his hackles up enough, hadn’t I? Must have nailed it down by now, done my job’s worth, held up my end of the bargain. What more could I grab in this tidal wind sock out here, anyway? Still, maybe there’s a better gotcha further out the trail, something to cap the caper, a smoking gun rounding it off. Really, you can never be too dirt rich or intel fat. Haste makes $$$ waste, shouldn’t sell yourself short, you can’t throw the baby out with the…no, wait…
Care for more?
Chapter Forty-Three. Out on the panoramic trail,
fundamental differences are magnified,
key definitions are windblown and blurred…