Chapter Seventeen

Know more/Know less:

This chapter contains detailed
dialogue regarding comparative spirituality
and the Jewish religious calendar. If you 
couldn’t care less, continue on to this briefer
Saturn ‘flyby’, rather than clicking to the fuller probe.

“Saturn’s not concerned
with denominations,
but with domination.”

          “What about Kabbalah?”

          “Yeah, what about Madonna?”

          “Well, there are fakirs, and then there are fakers.”

          “They’re fake?”

          From Filbert Street on, things got a bit more physical…metaphysical, as well.  Across from that endive green health food store was a high-performance running wear outlet, which burgeoned forth from a big gray-slate office box, hack-job remodel style, Nike’s footprints all over it, with some field track and triathlons thrown in. Upstairs from that was the office for one of my joblets, which entailed news curating for a political hitman and blogosfear monger with a Burton-Boxer clientele—culling periodicals for his clip file, aggregating around the Internet, on casual remote. The part-time gig kept me reading through everything—left and right, right and wrong—fodder for his ricinous campaign pamphlets and doorhangers. Not that I was any keener on owning up to the professor here about that.

          “Look, you’re the one who brought religion into this, Herbert—along with that astro-spiritual bilge about Saturn Return,” Paulen said.  “And if you’re thinking in terms of Kabbalah and Madonna, that is not what I am talking about at all.”

          “But Madonna just popped into my mind when…”

          “Pop indeed, because I can assure you the religion aspect I’ve been exploring runs a whole lot deeper than mere celebrity culture.  And I am barely scratching the surface of what there is to know about it.”

          “Amen…still, isn’t she Jewish by choice, like Robin Williams is?”

          We eased around a pack of charity 10k trainees bouncing about the storefront, trying out a variety of stiff new shoes.  Across the way, a mostly empty DVD rental dispensary ground floored a light moss and pewter corner Victorianesque building, victim of Netflix and the BitTorrent download blues.  An upstairs suite housed a second-story Spade & Archer-style detective agency with its window blinds perpetually drawn—opening so very occasionally, if only a crack.  Fraud and infidelities mostly—en delecto flagrante indiscretions: still, rumor was these no-dice private dicks were ever keeping keen eye on all things Fillmore, ear to the street below.  Yet there was nothing that mysterious about the walk-up stairway behind black iron-gated bars: This Eisenhoff Agency had been around since the wanton Sixties, so testified its bleed-out red bay window signage, complete with fingerprint and spyglass iconography.  Rudy and his broad-beamed PI snoops had putatively cut their teeth on Lucky Strikes and major cases—particularly the haunting and harrowing variety, once flower children began suspiciously pushing up daisies around Buena Vista and Golden Gate Parks.

          Safe to say, I had unearthed that little tidbit first hand, striking up momentary conversation with the head dick one time while waiting in a locksmith line at the vintage hardware store, there up Fillmore.  Although on balance, Rudy mined studiously more from our exchange; so I had but nodded warily to him in passing ever since.  Eisenhoff was known to skulk the neighborhood in his off hours, ever in black suit, vest and topcoat, cowboy boots trimmed in gold.  The chrome trim of his midnight black Acura was even gilded in kind—the whole package making him a perfect noir cartoon caricature of himself, if he weren’t so spot-on Scalia with a porn stash, a real pot boiler in the making, cynically spitting his pumpkin seeds into his stained coffee cup.  Rudy was a little too stocky, a little slicked back; a trifle crooked, known to pack.  That last little gem I did pry out of his operatives, who tossed a measly crumb or two my way every now and then, a lick of opposition research and the like.  I scooped them up like Comstock nuggets, hoping to further hustle some Website design work or something on their behalf.  Now, a dagger-eyed blonde in a black twill anorak descended from the walk-up, through the iron gated door, furtively carrying fiber-taped, bubble-wrapped manila envelopes to the final Saturday pick-up at the local Lombard Street post office—retro old school mail drop, analog style.

          “Hmph, Madonna’s phony as Shabtai Tzvi.  Caught up with that Rav Berg huckster peddling Kabbalah as just another Werner ESThard New-Age theosophy.  Honestly, what do such glam dabblers and dilettantes know about classical Jewish mysticism and Rabbinical Judaism,” Paulen said, ducking under branches of a scraggly sidewalk tree that had suffered over its share of dog doo.  “About Divine Election or the Zohar and 613 Laws?  Have they familiarized themselves with the Siddur like I have?”

          “She could always do a video about it, I suppose, but…” I dutifully turned my lower back toward detective agency in grubbing honor.  Yeah, bring on, Rudy—a little CSS, XHTML and Flash action on the side—and I’d ramp your site up but good.  Some extra WYSIWYG body and header work.  Had to make my nut here, Rudy, livin’ and dyin’ by the code.

          “Hmph, how could any of them possibly do justice to imitatio Dei or the Torah and Deliberate Choice?  Or be aware that the cornerstone of Judaism is justice in this life?  Or that the faith doesn’t recognize hell, per se—rather, multi levels of heaven…”

          “Uh, totally…” My head was beginning to swell with this unmediated input.  A quick passing glance up at Eisenhoff’s Agency netted the sudden updraw of one window’s Venetian blinds. Rudy himself stared down, as if he knew me from somewhere, or something—seeming to motion my way with a sharp shiv of his forearm.  Either that, or he was just brushing away all his cigarette smoke. “Deliberate Judaic justice, that sounds about right…”

          “On the other hand, what would someone like you know about the Pentateuch or Eighteen Benedictions?”

          “Who me?  Nada, not a chance,” I sputtered, looking away, toward the backbone of a chiropractor’s window display.  “But I did go to a Bar Mitzvah once—back in Boulder, believe it or not. Oh, and vaguely recall sitting in on a…saber up in Marin.”

          “That would be seder, my friend,” Paulen said, giving ground to several German-looking hostellers fixing to jay-step across Fillmore.  “A ritual and feast plate celebrating Pesah…”

          “Right, seder…Pesa?”

          “Passover, commemorating the Exodus from Egypt to 40 years of wandering the desert—to Moses and Mount Sinai, and onto The Promised Land—to wit, the veritable birth of the Jewish people.  Rest assured I have become quite well versed in the lunisolar calendar…and the grand holidays I have been missing all these years.”

          “I just remember bitter horseradish and holey shingle bread.” My cranial pressure was mounting along with this expanding volume of unsolicited information. C’mon, reveille time, sport—wake up that sleepy, anesthetized melon, slowly swell those EEG waves, get the high-frequency hertz kicking in, reforge those neuro pathways until it hurts.

          “You mean unleavened Matzo…part of the kosher Haggedah,” Paulen replied, smacking his lips.  “Passing from the bitter herbs of slavery to the sweet wine of freedom and covenant with God.”

          “I think it was, like, a few small cups of Man-o-Manischewitz,” I recalled, as we negotiated sinuate foot traffic along the gentle sidewalk decline.  “We stopped at four…”

          A true Victorian stood beige-on-tan next to that; more accurately it leaned next door to the gumshoes’ agency like Pisa tower in repose, tipsy no doubt from too many termite binges or minor aftershocks.  At street level, on its equally weak foundation, was a black hole of a Comet lounge that had long been reputed to bear watching by somebody.  Propping up the three-story Vic on its lee side was a squat stucco-frame bandbox, mustard yellow with wood stain trim—those days a Scandia design store, furnishings rustic yet urbanely clean of line.  But a sidewalk plaque standing out front an adjacent Taco Loco bar commemorated an earlier incarnation.

           Paulen was far too religiously absorbed to recall that a plain square two-story retail space across Fillmore had once been home to the Six Gallery, which so long ago hosted a poetry night to Beat the band.  For OMing over here from North Beach that epopic evening was no less than a 29 year-old Allen Ginsberg, who stood up, stroked his beard prophetically, Saturnally, then unleashed ‘Howl’ on a dissolute, disillusioned new generation. His first full-length public reading of the provocative poem spanked the sleepy 1950s to life, sowed the rebellious 1960s—potent, plaintive verse that still pulled hopeless romantics everywhere into the existential alienation first expressed so freely that legendary night:

            “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed
             by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging
               themselves through the negro streets at dawn
               looking for an angry fix, angelheaded hipsters
               burning for the ancient heavenly connection…” 

          In the here and now, however, those German hostellers bowed before, studied the reverent brass memorial, its pedestal Sakrete reinforced and sunk two feet deep into the cement sidewalk to keep uninhibited GenNext drunks from trashing or carrying the sucker away for dorm-room trophy display.  Poetic justice, one Frankfurter wisecracked aloud, still deifying these degenerates?  What hell-raising hath Howl wrought, even as the transcendent spirit of Allen Ginsberg still rang youthfully worldwide, and fellow traveler Ferlinghetti continued raking in the Beat Era’s literary spoils in bright City Lights?

          “But I have to admit it was a pretty big holiday spread up there in Marin,” I reconnected, getting past searing memories of that CHP checkpoint headache near Nicasio as the Passover seder of Her cousins toasted to a close.

          “Not to mention the Shavout harvest festival to top it all off,” Paulen marveled, taking in the long view up Fillmore, all the way to a patchy telephoto snippet of the Marina Green open space and San Francisco Bay beyond.  “Little wonder most observant Jews spend the summer months fasting in preparation.”

          “Now that one doesn’t happen to register in my memory bank.” I avoided a vista that was all too painfully familiar, instead just glimpsing the broader background Belvuron hills, breathing in the vapors of Orgasmic Pizza wafting down Fillmore Street. “Then again, I can barely keep track of when Easter rolls around.”

          “Yes, well, not to worry, because right around the corner comes Rosh Hashanah in early autumn, then Yom Kippur, the last and most solemn of the Days of Judgment—no washing, eating, working, eating or drinking allowed on this holiest of holidays—or sex, for that matter.”

          “Maybe that’s why there was a war about that.  Celibacy, the root of all upheaval.”

          “That was during Yom Kippur, not over Yom Kippur.”

          “Gotcha doc, but you’re killin’ me with information overload.”  My appetite was also tempered some by this cerebral grip infecting my instincts, stirring my emotions—the whole psycho-survival stew.  “When it comes to this stuff, I don’t have a prayer…”

          “I know my high holidays, if that’s what you mean.  All the wonderful holidays I’ve missed in my life.  Besides, I’m only endeavoring to keep you honest, Herbert. You wanted religion? You’re getting religion.”

          “Well, that ship sailed long ago, believe you me…” I glanced back over my shoulder, toward the steeple of Saint Vincente‘s Church.  But no more time for sidestepping sensitivities and splitting hairs; for some ungodly reason, the pressure was on.  Had to step up, dial it up a notch, pay closer attention, get up to speed, so to speak—had to deliver as planned, even if it that forced me to poke and provoke, without really getting anywhere near this.

          At that moment, I spotted a dowdy neighborhood poet, familiarly gray frizz-haired, loosely clad in denim on denim—a perennial Beat Era throwback, osteo-slumped over her walking stick, pausing for wind at the Ginsberg plaque with a wistful, mystical grin.  I’d crossed paths with her for years, and she’d taken on a shrunken, bowed posture all too familiar, enough to make me look askance, up Fillmore, toward that retrofitted first block beyond Chestnut Street.

          “Time will tell, Herbert, time will tell,” the professor appeared to be more mindful of the caped, henna-haired young acolyte helping her by the elbow along.  “Just keep in mind that such penitence somewhat evens out with the Sukkot’s music and fall harvest feasting.  Ah, then comes Hanukkah: ergo, the lighting of a menorah candle for each of eight Kislev evenings. Accompanying that is an ongoing festival of treats, songs, gifts and games—well before Santa Claus is even dusting off his sleigh.”

          “So you’re saying that makes Christmas, what, irrelevant?”  I caught myself flashing back on a long-lost Boulder Yule, and the gulf that was never bridged.  “You’re baggin’ on Christmas now?”

          “No, I’m simply saying that makes it somewhat…awkward—gratuitous, if you will…”

          “Awkward,” I heaved, reflecting upon Yule’s recently passed, “suppose I can relate to that.”

          Yet this was a markedly different Fillmore Street by now.  Sure, there was an acupuncture/RX office and kiddie clothes store in that nondescript cube of a commercial building we were presently passing.  But aside from a corner brown-green Victorian across the way, with its timeless Japanese print and silkscreen shop, we were coming upon Pixley Street, the threshold of a wide-scale demographic shift.  Architecturally, we had all but reached the end of the Victorian era; culturally speaking, the Beats were history—banished back to North Beach’s Kerouac Alley.  We were treading guard-down into seculand: a different, youthful energy altogether, attitudinally and anatomically into another place and time—likely as not unmoved that Paulen and I kept bangin’ on this religious vibe.

          “Then you can see as how the Jewish calendar is a year-round delight.”

          “Hey, who said it wasn’t, right?”  Still, I kept my wits just enough to remind myself that as long as he was gonna keep laying an epic lecture like this on me, I might as well begin pushing his buttons a little, to see what shakes.  Maybe even play contrarian—for sake of argument, for sake of the arrangement, let alone arraignment—with whatever hell to pay. Really, I couldn’t remember exactly how I got roped into this, but the deal was: make note, take names, mandated reporting, get it down cold.  Wasn’t gonna get paid a thin sandwich dime unless, until I delivered the dish.

          “That’s precisely what I’d like to know,” he pressed, as we abruptly pulled up to the half-block intersection of cozy little Pixley Street itself, a pumpkin Audi TT ragtop blowing through the narrow crosswalk, hanging a hard-body right.  “Nevertheless, the whole religious lifecycle—from bris to Bar Mitzvah to Shiv’a, Kaddish and burial makes for one glorious faith, wouldn’t you say?”

          “Sure, you get the holy megillah…”

          “Spare me your chochmeh, Herbert.”

          “OK, but Madonna fits into this how?”

Care for more?

Chapter Eighteen. High culture or low
culture, there was no backing down to the beat,
or bowing out on a high note right about now…