Chapter Six


“You’ll never have more need that the heavenly
bodies should befriend you, for your earthly
path is now darkened and confused.” 
                                            (Apologies to Leicester)


  “Senores?  Que tal, quieres Carne Flautas o Tostada Compuesta?”

  “Uh, no—I don’t think we…”

 “Y la Sopapilla esta muy sabrosa…”

 “No, gracias, por favor,” Paulen said, hoisting his nostrils skyward, with a sweep of his backhand. “Muy por favor.”

 Now then, a decidedly Latin flavor wafted from Consuela’s sidewalk steam table—hot, spicy uvula scalders out front of the sprawling Mexican restaurant’s red-yellow and burnt orange storefront.  Radiating like an Aztec Tajin escudo against Fillmore’s pastel Victorians and pale hospital complex amassed up there on Webster Street, next to Sherith Israel’s temple dome in all its incarnadine majesty, this neighborhood cantina had become a bit too overgrown and underfed of late, to where la senora was about fixing to go belly up, and in no mood for any street fair stiff arms.  Whispers were that some Indian or crepe place—crepes and cheese fondue yet—was waiting in the wings to take her space over—how totally ‘70s of them. “Then keep it moving, vagos mio,” she shifted, “we’ve got customers to serve here…”

 “Si, moving right along,” I said.  With that, we did simply sample some of her vegetarian soy taquitos, horchatos and strawberry sangria—las muestras gratuitas—veering into mid street, toward a Raza95 FM radio station’s promotional display with a Sanctuary City theme.  But not before I downed the sangria and exchanged it for a different cup, seldom being one to pass up a freebie of any kind.  I then winced at the sight of the medical center up the hill, site of my mental spinout on that foggy backstretch, the night ages ago I couldn’t quite reconcile the Stroop effect and my chiasma, bring my throbbing cranial beast under control.

“Not to belabor,” Paulen continued, discreetly wiping his chin. “But it has been a veritable springtime for Hitler, would you grant me that?”

“Me?  Haven’t really given it much thought.” Yet apparently here we went back to his premise, into that grating divide.

“Look, I do have my reasons, and all I’m suggesting is it’s more than just Bruno Ganz in SS drag,” Paulen nudged my shoulder in anticipation of the breezy incline ahead, crushing and tossing his tiny wax sampler cup into a large plastic basket. “People are throwing Hitler and Nazi references around lately like cheap beer-nuts and those bloody juice cups—even my beleaguered ethnic studies colleague at CU.”

“Well, I guess it’s an industry, bigger than Elvis,” I said.  “And yeah—I’ve read about that whole Churchill thing. Pretty outrageous, all right—in a Ward and Nederland sort of way.”

“It’s disrespectful and downright demeaning, that’s what it is… trivializes the very tragedy of the Shoah itself…”

“Show…well, I don’t know, but maybe that’s because of World War II and the death camps being in the news so much lately—all the memorials and remembrances,” I ventured, hoping to dismiss this topic out of hand without tipping it. I thought this was all settled anyway, all squared away by me. “People can pick up on such things, with all sorts of axes to grind.”

“No, I’m afraid it goes far deeper than that, my friend…always does.”

Juxtaposed to the salsa radio booth was another police outreach stand, the SFPD’s insignia emblazoned on assorted T-shirts, jackets and sweats–stronger and surer than ever.  This was the business end of event oversight—near enough to the live action evildoers downstreet, nearer yet to the friendlier fire—and anxious, willing wallets—of the more supportive constituents, who placed a nicely higher premium on their protection. Assorted Glock sniffers and PAL types ganged around San Francisco’s finest, schmoozing over service pieces, stun guns, logoed Kevlar vests and other riot gear, buying up midnight blue souvenir night sticks and ball caps from half-cocked patrolmen, whose black-and-white trail bikes were at the ready for disturbances back down Geary way.

In the bargain, the neighborly patrolmen (and a token woman or two) dispensed tales of harrowing heroism over the squawking of their shoulder radios.  Nearby was an adjunct stand of beefy firemen, hawking their similar, albeit blood-red wares, gathering petition signatures against citywide firehouse closures and departmental reductions with so much arson going on.  As we passed by, one full-gear battalion chief was getting hosed by some power walkers and retired busybodies over cruising around in those foul-smoky engine company and diesel hook-and-ladder rigs for no apparent reason or alarm other than marking territory.

“Whew, pretty hot stuff…”

“To say the least,” replied the professor. “If you think of the bigotry purely in sociological terms, Veblen, Kenneth Clarke and Charles Horton Cooley must be burning in their urns about now.”

“Actually, I mean this Ceviche sample,” I spooned snapper cocktail off the bottom of another small white paper cup, Nate’s half-scanned letter still tucked into the Saturday Times clamped tightly under my right arm—keeping up appearances, if not sheathing the past.

A hoop-bellied android clown handed out helium twisty balloon animals to passing pulchritude, of which there were the usual multitudes. Skirting around his/her glowing nose, Paulen and I somewhat gauged and reread one another, before merging once again into the up-fair flow. Here, the warmish weather had brought choice, better-bred, pouty young hotties in the best and brightest of suggestive San Francisco attire. Catching a breath, we followed their sonic trail of chart topping ring tones and random cellphone chatter, leading to the pelvic lure of Latin music up ahead.

Drawing my eyes as well was a display of squiggly blown glass wind chimes, clinking and tinkling in the westerly breeze, a grinning Nicasio artisan hanging his new and improved serpentine wind whistles.  But rather seemingly seizing Paulen’s attention was the perfect storm of well-toned hormones that persisted in gliding by. Who wouldn’t glaze over eyes-wise, what with this coed-to-Cosmo cavalcade: So many lovelies safely north of the boinking age, yet all snugly under 35, with their mounds of cascading dark curls, the streaky blonde hair tied back and pony tailed to varied lengths up and down their fluid vertebrae, strolling so casually in their flips, trainers and colorful Crocs.  Yes, so blessed many of them—so many, so  blessed, all around.

Crushing my sample cup, spindling it around its plastic mini-spoon, I couldn’t help but notice the professor continuing to fix on the whole hip-swaying, groin-stirring procession—nominally, of course, highly analytical, less subjective than clinically objective—or so it would appear. Yes indeed, this was about women as pure visual stimulation, about objectifying young chick bait all over again—their tanned gym rad hard-body parts, their sinewy Nautilus-toned limbs and Brut flute stemware-to-rock climber calves straining turquoise crop pants, deep quad bike thighs bulging under black wicking Spandex cycling shorts.

Broad, shapely shoulders ripping steel blue tops, deltoids bulbing through sleeveless straps, XXL Delta Sig sweatshirts and Bolero wraps cinching steel-belted strategically around steel rod slim waistlines, between Rushmore bosoms and rubber-tight derrieres.  Alas, for all the blinkin’ good it did aging farts like us, settling as we were instead for the furtive sneak and peek, a generation or two removed.

“Be that as it may,” Paulen suddenly regrouped, although still far more attuned to this scene than I dared be. “My only point is this Nazi, Holocaust business—it is all about triggers, hot buttons that have gone from taboo and verboten to common vernacular and catch-all phrases. Look, how is it that a term and point of reference can go from hallowed to ringing so hollow, Herbert?  Tell me that, will you please?”

“How on earth would I know,” I tossed the wadded cup into a blue plastic castered litter bin, next to a pegboard display of beady fused glass necklaces and earrings in kaleidoscopic colors. What was his trip here? This little grilling was taking me back to orals, that academic Star Chamber so long ago—only now I had no thesis, let alone a dissertation to defend. Yeah, there was a part of me that wanted to hang with him on this stuff.  Still, there was another part that didn’t give a hang about any of it anymore, having too much to worry about now. “Wouldn’t even know where to begin.”

“Well, I venture to say I do,” Paulen led me around a debit card sign-up booth waving Visa emblazoned T-shirts as a lure, in behind a dynamic brunette duet in sporting purple and red sequined batik halter-neck tunics and low-riding rolled up jeans, sparking a certain hankering, at least on my part, for the little blue pill.  “It begins at the beginning, has been with us from time immemorial…”

“What…time,” I muttered.  Where was he going with this?  What was it all to him, anyway?!  I figured for sure he wasn’t even Jewish—that much, I remembered.  God knows, I wasn’t being coy, just clueless as to how we had gone from catching up to cracking back to something like that, and was getting chimichanga gaseous just thinking about it.  I’m, like, been there, please don’t go there again... “I mean, should we even be talking about such things here?”

“I say where better, San Francisco being so utterly international, the birthplace of the United Nations and all…”

So I re-checked my backside, took to reading ‘Rearender’ in script letters across the tidy little sweatpants of a liberated Texas Ex. The Lohan-Paris knockoff stopped dead right ahead of us, at a rack of Brazilian necklaces and Rio wristlets, as we moved gingerly on around. “Then what exactly are you talking about?”

“The same old ugly weeds popping up from primordial slime.” Paulen sighed, averting a glance toward a stand of matted Caribbean photographs, more specifically the leilani-like tse-through sundresses and floral sandals gracing colorful Havana doorways.

“Weeds? Slime?  I don’t follow…” In any case, this all really wasn’t my baggage. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t end up a lowly redcap after the fact.

“Then let’s call it what it is, shall we, the world’s oldest prejudice,” he caught a breath, gearing further for Fillmore Street’s steady rise, laboring noticeably in the thicker sea level air. “It is so troubling, but I’m afraid we may be looking at the scourge of your garden variety anti-Semitism—in all its ignominy. Yet how utterly intriguing as a resurgent phenomenon in these presumably progressive times, wouldn’t you say?”

“Well, uh…I suppose, but…” Taken somewhat aback, my initial reaction was to reconsider the broader picture.  That would be StreetJazz’s inviting upward queue of snowpeaked fair tents, their sky-blue panels of ascending grade merchandise in ever more burnished configurations.  I scanned mid-street stands chock with monarch shadow boxes, blown glass ornaments, rock crystal bracelets and pop-art decoupage—the crowds browsing among them, streaming to either side—all these fragrant young starlets surfing, pawing the artsy-craftsy finds, charge cards burning holes in their sunblocked little hands—especially those with their bored stiff frat beaus in tow. “I just guess I never thought of things that way…”

“It’s like an ever mutating virus,” Paulen added, as he gently tapped a collection of Andean leather key pouches, setting them asway on their strappy displays. “Historically speaking, it ebbs and flows, my friend, has since before Jews were exiled in 586 BCE. Still, it grows by the day to this day, even in the most unlikely of places.”

Whoa, time out, this pretty much snapped me back to the viral here and now. Red light, third rail, conversation stopper, poisoning the dialogue, dropping the A-S bomb: Christ, is he really here, am I really here talking about this with him in such a glorious place?  In such polite, politically correct company?  I hardly think so…well, anyway, better divert to that turbo Diesel couple huddling curbside, sharing a styro tray of Chicken Satay.

That distraction led me to a passing trio of daddy’s little heartbreakers in short Gap khakis and lacy citrus camisoles. as I struggled to get on to a more…tactile topic.  They were probably over the bridge from Walnut Creek or Danville for some serious plastic maxxing, looking to trigger at will.  Dutifully tanned and impervious with their copper-clad toe rings—they were fixing to party like rock stars, posing like models in Ralph Lauren ads, all with that cute little upspeak inflection at every statement’s end. Look, but don’t dare touch, however—this much, I still knew after all this time, now didn’t I.  “The women around these parts, huh?”

“Yes, they’re much like Boulder, only slightly older,” Paulen motioned us mid block between racks of homespun aprons, tasty WWF ceramic trivets and spoon rests, back over to the slightly shadier side of Fillmore. “Nicely so, I might add, mid to late 20s…one never can get enough of it. That is, if the ladies are still to your liking.”

“Sure, of course,” I exhaled, over the Michael Breckeresque solo of a lone saxophone player peddling his indie CDs, serenading a waiting line for a sidewalk chiro-massage chair, ostensibly for a little neck adjustment and spinal check. Whatever, this is much more productive, conversation-wise—less incendiary and far more to the point… “I mean, why wouldn’t they? But they really do seem to be to yours.”

“So you say, although it is probably is safer this way.  The campus crop can be nothing but trouble these days—everything stacked against you,” the professor added obliquely, picking up on a tube-topped chippie in pencil jeans, flashing her lime jelly bracelets and barbed wire ankle tattoos.  She quickly vanished behind some dudes gathered around the sax player, and an adjoining display of lacquered Fillmore posters, debating the headliner legacies of Steve Winwood versus Jeff Beck, Morrison Hotel versus Van the Man, over frosted plastic tankards of a Mendocino micro brew. “Of course it’s even going on in Boulder these days…”

“Safer…women?” I found it curious, fetchingly so, that he would stitch these words together.

“Safer spaces, campus all around, PC, trigger warnings, tricky to navigate. And yet a mite more sensual, all things being equal…”

“Or consensual, equally wise, huh…” I then stifled the urge to ask how old or young he might go, and to what lengths. Couldn’t slip up again, couldn’t let on.

Obversely, the guys in question right here were a load-bearing metrosexual mix by and large: The shaggy, strategically ripped D&G denimistas, close-cropped Abercrombie Greek rats with their tidy little soul patches, tippling local beers and Margaritas in wrinkled chinos and awning wear by Lacoste; leathery, slicked back poseurs layering Polo over their Calvins; buff-cut bench pressers sporting their Creatine Tommy guns; teddy boys wrapped in marked-down Prada or Perry Ellis, feeding their faux ennui, but more often than not just side-eying cleavage.  Altogether, the women among them appeared anywhere from put upon to assertively in play; little wonder, the hooking up on upper Fillmore being patently off the hook.

“As the case may be—however, what I’m rather more concerned about is the rampant, repellant prejudice,” said Paulen. “Even the People’s Republic of Boulder, educated as it is, has had its share of minority attacks and hate flyers.”

“Hmph, really—well, that’s not the Boulder I remember…” We might have had an easier go of it on the other side of Fillmore Street, over by a less festering bric-a-brac emporium, spacewalker footwear salon and Victorian ultraceutical skin care store with Steve McQueen’s blistering old red Indian motorcycle in the shop window—as Cooler King primo as it was improbably displayed—much like the classic beast dad always said Uncle Early loved to ride, way, way back in the narrow plowboy Prairie Crossing day. “Besides, I suppose it can happen around here too, you know—the most Jewish-friendly city west of Gotham. Protests and graffiti…incidents like that.“

And right here we were, wading into a particularly dense thicket in front of Pacific Heights’s friendly neighborhood animal hospital, an outsized tribute to Getty family largess that famously treated virtually every domestic species from damn near every part of town.  Stacked metal cages lined the sidewalk, from one end of the block concrete hospital to the other, filled with cuddly kitties, spaniels, Siamese, beagles, Pomeranians and Chihuahuas.  Strays mostly, mutts up to here: the wannabe house pets variously bounded, pawed at or recoiled from the wire kickers fawning over them, when not window shopping the all-too-cute wanted posters tiling up behind the pen rows.  Little wonder our foot traffic was slowed to a stuttering slog by this cellblock petting zoo—capped by a pen of gaunt racetrack greyhound refugees.

“Well, that’s not the San Francisco I remember,” Paulen breathed heavier, noting as how he recalled the pet center being an autohaus repair garage, much like the eye clinic back across the way, that gentrified former body and fender shop beyond the burl table and embroidered throw pillow street fair stands. “But wherever it is, it is patently wrong, am I right?”

“Wrong? Uh, right,” I pushed back, taking my own refuge in that red airship now hovering, humming directly above us, and the sounds of Latin music growing louder up ahead. This wasn’t how it was drawn up, how it was supposed to play out, not at all.  But the money was OK, half up front.  So whatever, just flow with it.  If this was the way in, I had to barge, topic be damned. That’s right—draw him out, size him up further—get him to keep on spooling, whatever it took, wherever it went: cat and mouse-clicks, garrotes and sticks, feints and dodges when need be. “Without a doubt, totally uncool…”

“Good, wouldn’t want to think we had another Mel Gibson on our hands…” He looked me over like I was wearing a suicide belt. “Honestly, where do you suppose such virulent hatred comes from?”

“Huh?  Who knows?!  Not me, jeez…” I mean, how could this stuff still be going on? “That’s not my cross to bear, believe you me.”

“We’ll see about that, now won’t we…”

       Care for more?

 Chapter Seven. Further upward
in secular class and style,
spiritual divergences collide
in scripturally unexpected ways…