Chapter Seven

“Change be upon you,
the challenge being to
fathom eternal truths….”


          “Staffordshire, actually…

          “But basically pits….

          Well, the darlings have been through a lot,said an SPCA volunteer to several cage tappers. “But are very gentle, loving companions at heart. 

          That wasn’t how I remembered them, especially down there on Marina Green. Just ask Bruno, or whatever was left of him, about gentle and loving terriers on a tear. I shuddered at re-thinking about it.

          “Anyway, what you said, it is a mystery to me,” I mindlessly knuckle rattled the animal hospital’s sidewalk cages, like playing cards clothes- pinned to a bike wheel, relieved to have spotted no Irish Setters in them.

          “How’s that,” Paulen replied, rather more eyeing the females of our species.

           “You know, about Mel Gibson and that virulence, how it all ends, like over time…”

           “Time will tell about that, now won’t it.”

          On pet center fringes stood larger, more steely cages stuffed with beleagured, cowering boxers, mastiffs, dobermans and flagging German shepherds—battered abandees from bad, sadistic masters—terror and beat-down distance in their eyes. Clearly, bull terriers had caught the worst of it, from neglect to cruel rejection to inbred torment and flame-broiled abuse, to where muzzles and breed-bans came with the territory these days, especially further up in the neighborhood.

          A dispiriting sight, to be sure—all the barking, mewling and whimpering, ears and tails dragging from tough-love emaciation. Then again, the far corner pen of half-starved greyhounds was another tale entirely, scarred and chewed up just as badly, however rescued they may have been from the mechanical rabbit and trifecta finish line.

          But few strollbys were so moved as to buy in and carry them away. Nor were we, for that matter, instead crossing the Fillmore intersection before doggone guilt could bite us in the behind.

          “What an absolute rush…”

          “Omigod, it sounds soooo incredible up there.”

          “I mean the whole thing was so sensual—so, like, totally orgasmic.”

          “Soooo awesome…and fun.”

          “Exactly, and who’d have guessed it could be that good…I mean, who needs male complications, anyway? Like that whole fish-bicycle deal…”

          Now manning the barricades, or at least pausing for a breather against them at Washington Street, we couldn’t help getting caught up in some heavier breathing along the white rail, several black stripes down. One maiden late twenty-something propped herself back against the barricade, sight straightening her orange Pearl iZUMi mesh top and aquamarine gauchos, sand blonde ponytail tied back tighter than her pink performance Reeboks, sweat beading across her forehead in the beating midday sun. Beside her, a lean, leggy gal pal sat perched atop the railing, dark hair tucked up under a yoke-yellow Adidas cap, sporting mauve crossback straps and a taupe leotard, tapering down to baby blue Nike Frees, twisting provocatively in the breeze. Faces full of sunglasses, they were looking pretty damn good nevertheless.

          Evidently, the pair was as tuned into the upstreet Fillmore music as most everyone else here crossing Washington. At any rate, so were we.  A brassy Latin Sound permeated the intersection, from those chalk-white apartment buildings across Fillmore, over around the green step terraces of Alta Plaza Park, out beyond Steiner Street. Everybody toe-tapping and hip swaying, queuing before the four corner foodstands, for wicked good Cajun Jambalaya and Chicken Apple Sausage, paper platefuls of Kaabli Chana, Tikka Masala and Pad Thai Barbeque: They were feeding and feeling the ero-erratic beat; neither not totally unfamiliar, as I’d seen them around the upper Fillmore shops.

          “See, that’s precisely the problem,” said Paulen, as if with an empirical shake of the head.

          “What problem?”

           “Put some mileage on them, and all you get is attitude and duplicitous rancor.”

           “Huh, rancor? Someone in particular?”

           “You’d be surprised…”

          Otherwise yupscaling these Pacific Heights were a J. Crew of bicoastal power school alums, with some Bigger Ten, Rice and Vanderbilt sprinkled in. Haughty, salon peeled, gamefaced, cliquish chicks scanned the beef herd behind their smoke-lensed Revos and Donna Karans, caressing wine cups, nipples perking beneath lace camisoles and mock-neck jerseys over white pleated-pocket shorts, on the look-out for somebody safe and worthy—or for how weird the next encounter might actually be.

          In any event, cell phones were at the ready for the inevitable vibration ping or melodic ring.  Posed for action as well were the gelled, Geoffrey Beane and Perry Ellis number crunchers and deal makers, the shaggy, stubbly adventure capitalists in re-preppy herringbone and madras wear, jumping the Paul & Shark—networking and networthing over higher techquities and exit strategies—Google versus Yahoo versus social net, P/E rations and quiet period IPOs—the strategic pump and dump. Looks and books: these early-stage movers and shakers were largely rooted in Ivy or The Farm.

          No Burning Maniacs or Suicide Girls here either, and however daring the sheer Balenciagas and paisley Hugo Bass, they were all toned and tanned Banana Republicans in their cool, calculating hearts—not to mention at least up a level or two from where we public schoolers stood. Sorority sisterhood in full flower, fresh from Vassar, Smith and Radcliffe, out here trying to explore the quirks and wild sides for a spell, bringing little more than Voguey poses to the party, their every sentence beginning with, ‘that’s so funny’.

          Professor Paulen here just muttered something about this all being hard on the stomach, but real easy on the eyes, in an acquisitive sort of way. I slipped that card into my vest pocket, figuring he wasn’t referring to this canopied wheel cart of kishkas and spinach-sweet potato knishes on the corner we had just inadvertently approached.

          “God sent his son Y’Shua to be the Savior of the World for those who rely on him…”

           “The Christianistas—they’ve brainwashed you!”

           “And then there was another Jewish preacher named Paul…”

           “Yeah, it’s like EST all over again, all right…only this time it’s more like Evangelical Spiritual Transgression…what have you been smoking, anyway?!”

           “Not to worry, rejoice.  Just remember, Jesus loves you…”

           “The hell…”

           There probably could have been a better time to be encountering this. Nearby the knish and kishkas, just outside Margaret O’Grady’s fashion studio, was a gray wooden demo stand sharing a counter top with petitions against force-feeding geese and ducks for foie gras. A small blue and white banner tacked across the front of the stand read, J.J.J.—that is, ‘Jews Joining Jesus’ in smaller block letters just below. A slim middle-aged woman behind the counter was dispensing ‘Is Your Messiah Too Complex?’ pamphlets in her lavender ‘Co-Ex-Ist’ pullover.

          Wearing a cabala necklace and Solomon’s sealed blue beret, as well, she stood blissfully steadfast, somewhat like a sedated Barbra in ‘The Way We Were’, increasingly toe-to-toe with a brown-vested knish disher taking his break from the canopied wheelcart.

          “On the other hand, there you go, exhibit A,” Paulen said, as we emerged from under a salty, sweet-sour cloud of smoke choky tent stands of Ginger Wasabi Ahi, Papusas and Key Lime Calamari.  “Moishe Rosen’s converted Christian robots, utterly preposterous in the extreme—even if the messianic rabbi does happen to be a CU alum.”

          “Preposterous? You mean the Jewish thing?” I folded, filed said pamphlet into my vest pocket. Backing and filling, I followed his lead back across Fillmore, up past that Frenchy new corner café, falling in behind two former Pac-10 rival coeds, sporting their XXL Stanford Cardinal and blue Golden Bear T-shirts respectively over roomy khaki shorts nearly down to their NewBie slip-ons. The Cal gal seemed to be cheerleading their conversation, something about the highlight of her day being catching Him in a lie: To wit, how could she be waking up next to this loser—in her raspy, beach-gravelly vocal fry.

          “No, I mean the Jesus thing. That whole Rapture shmeer, the Second Coming—seven some years of apocalyptic tribulations for the non-believers left behind.”

          Everybody had their triggers. Mine was this blamed intersection, an earlier era, another crowd milling about in overheated disorientation. Only that time, it wasn’t mesquite-smoked open grills of Jerk Chicken or Salvadoran corn cakes, but a broad arch of locals pressed in around the hood of a marooned Ford pick-up truck, glued to a small portable TV atop its hood, plugged into the dashboard cigarette lighter, providing the only news available in a blacked-out ’hood. What about aftershocks?  Were the bridges all down?  Loma Prieta had laid low San Francisco, Muni trolleys still thirsting for electric power, stalled in place, dead overhead wires still whip snapping in the eerie stillness of Indian Summer.  My mind temblored, my feet turned jell-o just re-thinking about the Earthquake of ’89. For Paulen himself, Washington at Fillmore apparently discharged an entirely different caliber round.

          “I have no problem with these particular neo-Christians, per se—even if they are inherently Jewish,” he continued, trashing his brochure. “It’s simply their evangelizing, the pious proselytizing, the provoking—just don’t be throwing that apostate bible-thumping in uninterested Jewish faces, thank you very much. The First Amendment shouldn’t extend that far.”

          “Well, I could see how that could…” Catching myself, checking my backside, I again tracked the erstwhile coeds’s bobbing tied-back ponytails, their subrosa midseason form.  “I mean, especially for those of the Jewish persuasion.”

          “Precisely…” Paulen winked at a decoupled duo of black-fashion slaves. “The so-called Saved ones—they believe messianic Jews have a better chance of converting other Jews and Israelis to their crusading Christian dominionism.  Hmph, ‘Jews Joining Jesus’—might as well have  ‘Catholics For Cromwell’, what’s the point?”

          More broadly, hereabouts was still a variegated multi-culti crowd, but this particular stretch of upper Fillmore appeared even a tad more of the meatmarket variety, only with the choicer prime cuts.  For example, these were hautier hang-loose women—coy, hypercritical, mostly career-minded for now, the more daring harlots handily juggling organic Gauloises cigarettes with their ring-toney cels: Lotsa sleek, well-schooled sneak-a-peek prescreening before any thoughts of a real meet and greet.

          The social drill was to network—PDA connectivity—hook up in public displays of huggy bear affection, make it happen.  Either that, or pull up, step back—a quick, clean control>alt>delete orchiectomy, then beat a hasty, discreet retreat to abstinence+ and cohabitating with their appropriate urban tribe, recounting what a total gross-out the encountered ‘other’ had just been.

          No crybabies, no wardrobe malfunctions, their blasé-faire posturing came wrapped in appliquéd silk caftans and embroidered Moschino jeans, in tangerine bright scoop neck tops and yellow clamdiggers. I-Poding Wilco and Smashing Pumpkins, toe-tapping their Tevas, air-cushy suede clogs, even off-season Uggs—sharpshooter clicking their camera phones at the white-capped tent jumble of nouveau art glass, Australian opals, Navajo turquoise, naïve watercolors, ecospheric photographs, baobob lotions and Japanese feather vests—their UV tan faces full of Versace and Bolle sunglasses, tumorphones grafted to their jewel-studded ears.  And that’s to say nothing of the parading malestrom.

          “Then you’ve got those loony Christian Zionists flocking by the charter load to Israel, bankrolling some of the most militant right-wing players—tax-free, yet,” Paulen added, “trying to evangelize ‘The Chosen People’ with all their crapture about how Israelis are just place holding the Holy Land for them until End Times. How Jews resisting conversion are blocking millennial utopia…”

          “Right, I read where that was really going on in Colorado Springs,” I nodded, picking up on a flock of feral cockatiels swooping down over StreetJazz from nearly Alta Plaza Park, whistle-ruckusing to beat the bands.

          “Dobson’s crowd…and at the Air Force Academy, no less. Hmph, prophecies, Revelations: biblical injunctions, and by the Second Coming, of course, Jews either convert to Christianity or go down in flames—such a deal, for godsakes,” Paulen sputtered.  “I mean just whom do those Armageddon-peddling charismatics think they are dealing with?  Do those morons really believe Jews were born yesterday?”

          “Or born again yesterday, for that matter.” No denying, this breezy conversation, this meet-greet small talk here was bringing on some old, all-too-familiar splits. Honestly, who in God’s name was he offended by, anyway? Whose good book was he throwing, and at whom? Hmm, what if it was a little bit of both…Christ, it felt like my prefrontal was flapping open like a screen door in a tropical storm, a heady paring back of the ol’ parietal. “But then, who are we to say, right?”

          “Who, indeed…Ezekiel and Deuteronomy—the International House of Fruitcakes—how patently baseless and misinformed…”

           “So,” I re-aimed, “they have about as much chance with their proselytizing as we do of winning over some of these sweethearts, huh?”

           “Speak for yourself, Herbert,” he gazed about. “On that score, speak for yourself.”

          Huffing further up Fillmore, we inched past a school of alpha studlies beta testing their latest lines, something on the order of ‘How’s your bars’, working on their sans-block tans.  Here, too, Ivy League T and sweatshirts served to pre-screen better than  those Mastercard sign-up tents on seemingly every StreetJazz corner, only with a post-graduate kicker: a scattering of Boalt Hall, Tuck and London School, a spreadsheet of Palo Alto, Fuqua, Wharton and Sloan.

          The better dressed among these guys sported Izod pullovers and spinnaker-brilliant Nautica knits tucked into patchy cargo shorts, over thatched leather sandals or sleek OP clogs.  The real clothes stallions maintained Ferragamo linen and crisply pressed Gant dress shirts over creased three-bill blue jeans, at easier Yalies fashionably sockless in tassled Bottega mocs—wrinkled, spread collar Tyrwhitt gussets and French cuffs afly.

          “Anybody I should know about?”

          “Not so as I can tell now, Herbert.”

          “Well, it’s not like me to pry, so…”

          “I should hope not,” Paulen replied, pulling me out of the path of several even higher margin trollers. “Some trails are better left unscaled.”

          Whatever that meant, these dudes were the gen-next players and comers, fashioning cool faux-hunk poses, with black leather courier cases and freshly minted MBA profiles—more often than not already striking paydirt, seldom if ever striking out.  Between here and the antique stores and designer boutiques across Fillmore, these chic magnets flexed and preened and circled to bolster their cell strength…bicoastal, multitasking, tapping their Treos, pounding their Palms in real local time, if not txting that hot little number at the Skybar or Hotel Roosevelt down in L.A.—or ringing up pre-producer buds star-schmoozing around the Chateau Marmont jungle garden and overheated starlit pool.

          Checking their family heirloom Brequet and Blanc Pain watches, they adjusted their Revo Polars in the neighborhood goldsmith’s display windows, steadily driving less net-worthy San Franciscans out of this part of town.  Other trustfunder trendoids chatted up their black MotoRazrs and earsets, systems analyzing, wealth counseling, vulture capitalizing the next potential ground-floor start-up with stratospheric upside, shrewdly culling the cred from the crud—committing holy hikikomoria on a 24/7 basis until the deal closed, then speed dating, popping ecstasy between 300 thread-count sheets, micro wines and fruit brews well in hand.

          Didn’t know about doc here, but in some ways, I still envied them; in others, I was just thankful to be statistically beneath and beyond it all—so cognitively on the periphery while remaining in the thick of it in the physical realm. Yet the cross-sphere tugs and tensions, doggedly spread across my lobes…

            Sure, there were the odd comparative-lit Brownies in Bermudas, white socks and REI sandals with matching fanny packs. Yves and Calvin clad symposium devotees cruised with their exquisitely sculpted, powered poodles and skittish wiener dogs.  But either way, the conversations we  heard piecemeal were over our heads or hitting us below our budgetary belts—altogether, a mighty imposing young crowd.  And each in our own way, we gulped and couldn’t help feeling the gulf.  Still, drawing everybody inexorably forward in concert and common cause were those intoxicating Latin rhythms.

          “Intriguing multivariate skew to this demography, nearly its own tribal moral community,” the professor said, suddenly making with some socio shop talk, then pointing across to a canopied Symphony resale shop, which was softly piping out some ‘Air On The G String’—no doubt its staff’s classical interpretation of the Bacchanalia that lay outside their doors.  “Say, didn’t there used to be a neighborhood pharmacy over there?”

          “Yeah,” I replied, eyeing a come-lately estate antique store. Enter the cognitive inhibition and dissonance: how did that tune go, holding two opposing views at once, both being equally true?

          “Next to where that great old Russian appliance repair guy used to be. Had a great old-timer phonebooth.”

          “But then I suppose that was a long, lifetime ago…” Paulen’s eyes rolled up  toward that red airship, as though spotting it for the very first time, not necessarily with environmentally PC automobiles in mind.

          “Right…like, somewhere between the Second Coming and End of Days,” I smiled thinly, patting his shoulder with my folded newspaper. The rejiggered plan was just to toe gently at the edges this roiling anti-Semitism sea of his, even though I felt like I was cliff diving with leaded flippers into tar balls and deep water plumes.  Still, I had signed on, and my credibility had come at a premium, going way back. Anyway, what was the worst that could come from a reasonable little discussion of unreasonable discrimination and disparagement?  If I had only known…

          “By the way, whatever has happened to you, Herbert? Going ghost the way you have all these years. Why are you hiding? What are you hiding… not into anything indictable, I trust…”

          “Me? No way. But I’m working on something, don’t you worry,” I stammered, not wanting to tip any scales. Pulling the rib-tickling pamphlet from my pocket, I caught a quick glance at the flip side, before carefully angling it back into my vest. It seemed to have a disclaimer stamped in fine print on its rear panel, referencing among others, the acronyms JFP and ZOA. But it all came as more like some Grimm revelation to me, if that. “Yep, got a lot of hats in the ring, and amworking on a project—upside big one, real consequential, as a matter of fact.”

          “Yes, I’ll just bet you are…”

Care for more?

Chapter Eight. Ante is raised,
some overheated trance music
leads to news of past transgressions…