“Right when you’re thinking
you’ve got things right,
something else crosses
your line of sight…”
Coda to this upper Fillmore leg of JazzStreet, struggling to get a tune in edgewise against the bigger bands, was a young combo calling themselves ‘RCane’. Four pieces, full of promise if not delivery, the amplified group was fronted by a wavy-haired strawberry blond named Yelba Storm, or at least so read RCane’s lacquered drum skin. Just call her Stormy, she shouted at a coyly admiring heckler, possessing as she did a #80 coarse sandpaper voice, rubbed raw before its time by non-stop club dates full of untrained melodies, Lucky Strike Longs and Joplinesque ingestation. Still had her looks, though—there pounding out a medley, rough-cut meandering between Joni Mitchell’s Paris period and Diana Krall.
Yet crowd attention was rapt, not least among the uber males fixating more on her ‘I’m a Reader, Not a Breeder’ T-shirt, as though she were Liz Phair with an Elektra makeover, even though sporting a Bend Sinister shield tattoo on her lefty bicep. In turn, many of the unwound career gals keyed on RCane’s bulked up guitarist, his long Fabio hair falling over a battered Rickenbacker lead, black sweatshirt emblazoned with ‘Bane’ in white block letters.
“Shall we?” I once again found myself with a touch of backscratch fever, tracking that red blimp still hovering above.
“Powerful pipes on that young thing,” Paulen said. For his part, he hadn’t taken much notice of the tangoists, but seemingly couldn’t keep his eyes off Stormy. “Takes me back to the ol’ Blue Note on Pearl Street.”
“Guess that was after my time…” I proceeded to step gingerly around a wary eyed Wellesley grad walking her oversized pet Savannah.
“Bane…what’s that about?” By now, the professor couldn’t believe his eyes, leaving his biodegradable water bottle atop a real estate magazine dispenser.
“What about Bane? That’s like not knowing about the Ramseys…”
“What about the Ramseys,” Paulen asked guardedly, abruptly changing course.
“You know—ransom notes, beauty queens, the whole confounding Christmas tragedy…”
“What more is there to say than that little star baby will be the death of the People’s Republic yet. Like I said, most Boulderites rue the night it ever happened.”
“And how about you,” I probed, recalling it was actually deemed to be an early morning kill. Off with his minced words–my right brain zeroed in more on his Anglophiled inflection, his lecturn intonation, his seminar-affected stances and gestures: an on-campus odyssey, from West Coast wiseacre to a cultivated classroom dandy, but for God’s better graces there go…all that…
“I am among them, of course. Would that she had never been exploited and…violated at all,” Paulen looked away, rather detached, at that. “Curious case study, though. Perhaps the only upside from the sordid affair is that the Ramsey house of horrors is now on the market for about two million two.”
“Who says crime doesn’t pay, huh? Still, a sticky situation…with the family, and all…”
“Fraught, heartbreaking, to be sure,” Paulen replied. “Utterly… wrenching, on the face of it….”
Attention grabbed by that African Bengal cat was quickly diverted back toward RCane, where StreetJazz had gotten a bit more ragged at the margins. Of all things, a Banana Slug had joined the torch singer-in-training in a ragged ‘Stormy Weather’ duet. Dude was wearing a grey UC Santa Cruz hoodie, ripped Billabongs and footloose Cobian Vents—no J. Crewman here—this still, after all, being California.
Over by the Lucite-framed Miro knockoffs, two catcalling USC party animals pretty much dug it, packing Cuervo Especial and Trojans in their cargo pockets. Some Amherst and Penn undergrad types seemed to think the whole Crane improve was an absolute hoot.
Not nearly so amused, however, were the neighborhood regulars inside Tally’s Coffee—pensioners mostly, indignant over this street fair nonsense, and how the trash such raffy fare attracted did little but destroy Pacific Heights as they had known it. In passing, we could see young tip-jar slaves pushing house blend and pulling long capps to the RCane beat, spotting the crazy street guys who were out there air guitaring, finger-fretting phantom tabs, singing wildly off key. Apparently, Talley’s part-time staffers were too fresh-faced to realize that oddball Fillmore Street characters like that once became Boz, Steve Miller and Carlos Santana.
Then again, these baristas-in-training were too busy serving and suffering a shop full of fat, arthritic and osteoparietal cranks, biddies and fussbudgets. Their bulbous old snouts stuck in discarded ‘Economists’ and ‘Financial Times’, or just pitched sternly aloft, the ill-funded retirees nursed cold paper cups behind half-readers and oversized sunglasses, nodding off, mostly waiting for afternoon services at the massive cathedral across Jackson Street. Yet they jealously guarded their faded Saks and Neiman-Marcus shopping bags, or muttered away through store windows at this raucous parade of unending urban decay—not entirely without reason, they would say.
“Hmph, Calvary Presbyterian,” Paulen said, again changing the subject, nodding toward that ages-old monument to Pacific Heights protestant certitude. “Some things never change…”
“You used to go there?” Bane aside, I followed him around a horseshoe of police barricades that fed the crowd across Fillmore, at the jazz fair’s Jackson Street conclusion. We paused mid intersection, where the metal barriers backdropped RCane’s low-rise stage. From here, we could review the long, crowded length of StreetJazz, southward past the bandstands and white tent-tops, clear down peninsula to San Bruno Mountain.
“Yes, ages ago.” He glanced cautiously up and down the cross street, as though once again a child looking out for the clack and clanging of a cable car on the dead and buried Washington-Jackson line.
“Oh, Christ…” About then I nearly slipped on another of those blood red leaflets, and couldn’t help picking it up off the crosswalk’s wide yellow stripes, not unlike picking at a sore. “This stuff is so totally uncalled for…”
“More like outrageous,” Paulsen huffed, passing glance at the flier, then once again fixing on Stormy, who had regained sole control of the microphone and torn into Rickie Lee’s ‘Coolsville’. “Look, it’s like in Boulder—these Blame-Israelogues see the Mideast warfare and Israel joined at the hip. Is that anti-Israel or anti-Semitic—you tell me.”
“Me? Why…” Leaning harder into the barricade, I diverted my glance up and down Jackson Street, from Tally’s Tudor-style apartment building, across toward a cater-corner Arab convenience store—the only one that mercifully stayed open with kerosene lanterns to feed quake-rattled neighborhood strandees on that long, powerless Loma Prieta night back in ‘89. “What makes you think…”
“I mean, how can a person turn the other cheek to this rubbish when it keeps coming back full bore?” He grabbed the flier from my hand, crushing and spindling it with his own copy, to where he nearly lost his elbow grip on those magazines. “Then again, even the Presbys over there are BDS-ready, to boycott, sanction and divest from corporations doing business in Israel, while they preach ending U.S. aid. Honestly, if they aren’t endorsing the Bern Perspective, they’re seconding the Israel-bashing Amman Call…”
“Hey, don’t look at me, I still basically bleed Catholic.”
Besides those randy post-grads, the jazz smoothies in from the suburbs and beyond, the downbeat city-wides with their polygluttonal tastes and tongues, there was that edgier fringe element for Tally’s coots and codgers had to contend with through espresso steamy windows. Namely, the thicket of immigrant school skids passing around Jolt Colas and off-brand smokes, blocking entry to the other corner market, those color-coded Bayview bangers in cockeyed ball caps hip-hopping atop some garbage bins next to the grocery store, battle dance krumping wild-ass to RCane’s keyboard riffs, rap sheet Sinatras pumping their cranked-up heads to the beat.
Steady streams and sweet-sour stench of blue Porta-Potties stretched along Jackson to the Newcomer/Montessori High School. Two peach-fuzzy Mormon cadets, their recruiting mission impossible rejected non-stop, had shed bible packs, black trenchcoats and shaken faith, sparkin’ a blunt, tossin’ down a little spiked Monster with some bad-boy basketball jonesers just off courtside from the school playground, street begging the question: Was this still the old folks’ snooty neighborhood, or just The City’s latest demo downsliding ’hood?
“Well, I’ve heard Calvary’s pretty tolerant and tame,” I watched some hydrating cycle cops swoop in to corral a squadron of silver Vespas, there towing mediated trailers, upon which posters advertised the latest flavors of SoBe Elixer.
“Strangling Israel’s economy doesn’t sound all that tame to me,” the professor turned to cast a critical eye upon the imposing 104 year-old church’s arching stained glass windows, then down Jackson toward the school. “You know, I went to that place when it was Pacific Heights Elementary—before mother got me into Stuart Hall.”
That’s when Calvary’s massive dark oak doors opened wide and bells pealed, even overdrubbing Stormy and RCane, presumably heralding the celebratory ending of a matinee service’s Gloria Patri, Doxology, offertory and benediction: such reverent affirmation, ever prim and proper Christian solemnity. Except that this postludal procession happened to be led by a long-bearded rabbi, yarmulkehed mitzvah boys bearing Torah scrolls immediately behind him, Calvary ministers and deacons deferring to either side. In their wake, what seemed to be an entire Beth Zahav congregation—unfurled their banner, proud and joyful as all get out as they descended the main round arched stairway of the church’s classic Roman and Italian Renaissance façade.
“This borders on post-structural phenomenology,” Paulen said, visibly flummoxed by the biblically improbable vision, this testament to spiritual inversion passing before our eyes.
“Well, it is San Francisco,” I replied, as we crossed Jackson Street in something of a daze, between swarming taxicabs, noting an otherwise perfectly respectable Polo partier bending over down by the school fence to toss his piecemeal JazzStreet lunch as though at a Roman vomitorium.
“Be that as it may, I foresee a measure of qualitative and ethnographic analysis on my agenda,” the professor then noted a vision of two exuberant young women slapping their pink and yellow flip-flops down Calvary’s front staircase—one in a dark blue jersey screened, ‘Jewcy’, the other’s green tank-top reading, ‘You Had Me At Shalom’.
“Maybe it’s, like, a two-faith solution, or interfaith, or something,” I replied, suddenly downloading, employing jargon I hadn’t referred to in aeons. “But statistically speaking, it looks like a pretty unstandard deviation from the mean, now doesn’t it…”
“A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, Herbert. So better we do keep it on the lay down, shall we, please?”
“Still, only in San Francisco, huh? Birthplace of the United Nations, and everything…”
“Yes, well, I won’t hold that against it.”
“Simply put, the U.N. has been no friend of Israel’s of late. And a ‘no friend of Israel’s’ is no friend of mine.”
“Bingo, gotcha—guess I’m just trying to figure out why…”
That was when a tap on my shoulder, and this stocky old neighbor in a Planet Hollywood Hawaiian shirt, white linen slacks and a crimson-sashed Panama hat said, “she’s at it again, you know, a real plaster blaster this time…”
Care for more?
Chapter Ten. A puerile confrontation with
religious undercurrents hastens a reckoning
with the spectre of Saturn Rendezvous Two…